Tag Archives: Buffalo NY

30 Days of Wisdom — Day 3: Now We Are Getting Somewhere #shakespeare


This is a good one. It’s me to a T.

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
― William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”
tags: wisdom 31502 likes

This is making me miss Mom. She was so smart about Shakespeare; she knew all about this stuff: his backward phrasing and puns and little twists. I have asked Mom to help me with this one, so I’m just gonna let this one flow…

So often in life I have felt the fool and wondered about my point of being here on this planet. I have wondered what am I supposed to do here? Often I sit and wax existential and gaze upon my navel wondering if any action is the right action. Then I come to the conclusion that inaction is probably the Worst Thing of All. It’s better to make a mistake and learn from it than to do nothing at all.

This quote is all twisty. If a fool thinks himself to be wise (aka, a blowhard) and a wise man knows himself to be a fool, then aren’t we all blowhards, just some of us are better at faking it?

I feel like this quote braids with yesterday’s post about being silent. I know a few people in my life who just can’t help themselves, they can’t be silent, they have to chime in and illuminate us with their brilliance. I tire of them. One of the things that I hope my kids at least can count on is that I don’t bother trying to impress anyone anymore — that my mere existence can speak for itself and that if someone wants to get to know me, they can take that chance.

The other thing about me is this: I play my hands. I don’t sweat being quiet or prim to satisfy someone else. When I was quite young, apparently I was interested in attention. My father has this story about me banging my forehead on the railing of my crib to be let out, to be attended to, to be heard. I used to think that story was funny because he would tell it in such a way and mimic my crying and get all animated and work himself into a sweat portraying it. Now when I tell or think about that story, I don’t think it’s so funny, nor do I think the manner in which he told it was very funny, because if there’s one thing my dad can do it’s accurately portray a moment in history or at least the way it felt to him. So leaving a little toddler or baby alone and in a crib until she started banging her head against the railing isn’t so charming a thought now is it?

I have two scars on my forehead from a cut I sustained due to my incessant caterwauling. I didn’t discover the link until my dad told me all about those crib-banging stories. I think about my younger self and I feel a twinge in my chest for that little girl who was left to cry out to be heard, seen and understood. She was brave though. She saw incongruities and called them out despite their constant denial and said things weren’t funny when they weren’t funny. She grew up into a young woman who wore rage like armor and who spoke candidly but with some humor because we all have to get through this together. She has strong mercury lines on both her hands, she will be heard by the people who need to hear her because she is willing to say the things that need to be said. She then became a mother who sees through veneers, who sees around corners, fearlessly cares for her cubs and who tries delicately and artfully to work through a controversy. If it doesn’t work out delicately, then that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I can’t sweat this stuff forever: I have laundry, cooking, sweeping and writing to do.

That’s where the wisdom comes in. The other day, when we were driving back from Buffalo, I might’ve been an idiot. I woke pre-dawn and saw the sky, it was dark and gray. I didn’t check the weather radar on my phone, which I am glad of now because we made it home safe and sound, but it was stupid of me. I made this plan, “We are out the door by 8:30 am no matter what… ” the trip TO Buffalo was always “weather permitting” but the trip home was never allowed that nuance.

At 7:00 I woke the boys. Told them to eat. As the sun rose, I saw my car. It had 1.5″ of snow on it. It was fluffy stuff for it was only 22˚ out. I swept it off my cousin’s front stoop, started the engine, and loaded up the car thinking, “This is winter in Buffalo, this is what happens here…” not thinking at all to look at the weather, which is TOTALLY unlike me. We say our teary good-byes to my cousin, her husband and her kids, and we all pile in.

This is what we saw on the highway:

And later, this about six more times:


During that drive, my cousins were texting us. “Come back if it’s too snowy!” and “Turn around!” Thing 1 replied and said we were pushing through because we had moments of this:


I suppose I could have, maybe should have turned around. Around 2:30 I had had my son read the weather alert:


But we kept on keeping on. “I was practically born in this weather. This is no big deal.” I pressed on. That weather report was absolutely correct, there were moments when I couldn’t see beyond 40′ in front of my massive SUV with the brand-new tires (thanking God right now for that). The kids weren’t outwardly nervous but there was more bickering in the back seat than usual. I wondered about my wisdom then, I wondered if I was being intelligent, but I knew this: that turning around would expose us to more of what we just experienced and the Lake Effects snows are not things you screw around with. I knew that we’d seen the worst of it. Each time we passed through another squall. I knew that the more south we ventured, the more hospitable were the roads.

Once we crossed into Maryland it was as if snow was simply prohibited. The medians were dry and the sun was peeking through the clouds. So yeah… I was a fool, but a wise fool.

I don’t just suspect, think, know I am a fool, I AM a fool. That’s what makes me wise, I guess. Or a fool, depending on if you’re Shakespeare or not. Those pockets of dry road showed me that I was doing OK. There was one point where a large trailer was blocking a hill’s ascent and we had an opportunity to turn around. Because I wasn’t a local, I did turn around and just looked for signs that said SOUTH and I knew that either east or south would’ve gotten us home.

I am one of the first people to ask for help. I throw up flags when I’m lost. I find great liberation in not having all the answers. I just know what works for me; I will say this though: I also have allowed my “feeling” part of myself (my intuition) much more in the game than I ever did. My gut said to keep driving.

Part of growing up in the world in which I did meant that you learned to doubt your intuition. Listening to it is what has brought me the most peace. The gut feeling I get from things is what I heed. I think getting our undies in a bunch about stuff we can’t control is so utterly and completely pointless. When my own kids are all worked up about something, I listen to them and then we talk and then I say, “Does it matter? Really?” Depending on that answer, which is usually “Yes” we keep it up. It’s all about feeling heard.

I do know this: that when I feel the most blustery is when I need to access that wiser part of myself and just Shut the Shut Up. I need to do my counting-to-ten thing and walk away. I’m not always good about that because when I get blustery is when I feel unheard, threatened and little again and that my life or my sanity depends on saying what I need to say. The thing is, now: my life is not in straits. My life is OK, good even, and that’s when I need to come back to Now.

Wow. This went a lot deeper than I thought it would.

I guess the point in this is to admit we are born unto this world not knowing a blame thing and that once we admit that, we are ready to become wise, but to always know that we aren’t ever done learning. It’s those of us who think we know it all who really have the most to learn. Those Guys. Yuck. Be careful: we are one “Ya know what…” away from them.

Thank you.

Hail Marys


Note: these are my really random thoughts about Monday. I have been reluctant to post anything about it because I am leery of standing on the shoulders of the injured to make my “voice” heard. But I can’t suppress the thoughts, woes and observations so read or not, but know that my heart is heavy and in the right place.

When I was in elementary school, our homeroom procedures went like this: we would put all our stuff in the cloakroom, sit at our desks, say the Our Father, then the Pledge of Allegiance and begin our lesson. My school, Holy Angels Catholic Elementary, was situated in Buffalo, NY’s “West Side.” When we moved in, in the 1800s 1970s, the West Side was beginning a cultural transition. The houses, parks, libraries and churches were wonderful. Fantastic residential architecture sat nearest Lake Erie, which is where I lived. As you moved away from the water, you would see more standard row-house-ish types of narrow-plotted, deep-into-the-rear yet ample homes. Our block, which was closest to the water, boasted some fantastic homes designed by some of their era’s premiere builders. Buffalo, for some time, was a crown jewel of the northeast.

I digress. As I often do when I talk about Buffalo.

The West Side was home to all manner of people: rich, poor, Italian, Irish, Polish, Latino, African American, German, but mostly Italian. That’s neither here nor there; I mention it to paint a picture of the fact that the ‘hood was rich in tradition, benign religious rituals, and family values. Often I’d see a kindergartner walk to school with his granny and her mom in a wheelchair. Family mattered there. Life mattered there.

I told you the architecture was insane. This is my old school.

I told you the architecture was insane. This is my old school.

Throughout the day at Holy Angels, an ambulance would go by the school as it was nestled between two arterial streets.

When the wails reached our ears, our teacher would stop her lesson and ask us to bow our heads for the people in trouble and to pray for drivers of the ambulance and the doctors who were needed. That everyone would be held in God’s hands and “His will be done.” (Tears are streaming for me at the moment, because thoughts of Boston are pouring into my head — I have hidden from the news, I have played ostrich to the newscasts and the websites; I simply can’t handle it all.)

More often than not, the prayer would be a “Hail Mary.” The final words, “Pray for us, now and in the hour of our death, Amen” pulsing through my ears. Still, now, they do. After a while, the ambulances became more frequent, especially as the weather warmed up, and there was a time when we were saying them every hour. My grandmother had a phrase, “think of the living” when someone would die; she had tremendous faith in the existence of heaven, and I find comfort in that thought, because the dead are at peace. It is their families, the survivors and the injured, who are at times, living in “hell” on earth.

image (c) humblepiety.blogspot.com

image (c) humblepiety.blogspot.com

In football, a “Hail Mary” is a last-ditch effort on an offensive drive to score a touch down as the clock is running out. I liken it to getting in to Costco before they start closing down sections while the front doors are still open. I suspect the label is used in other sports, but I don’t really watch too many sports because I find some of the competition and exploitation of the athletes to be disturbing.

(c) image: investingcaffiene.com

(c) image: investingcaffiene.com

I watched a soccer game last night on our DVR: Dallas Vs. LA Galaxy. It was a good game, and with about 4 minutes left, a Dallas player (George John) who’d made numerous uncessssful attempts at a goal, finally had his chance: it was a little murky, but he made it, and immediately after the ball went in, but probably at the same time it was propelled into the goal, a spectator threw a bottle at this player in idiocy assholicry frustration and injuring John. The projectile, a bottle, hit him in the head (where he’d suffered a major concussion about a year ago) and sent him to the turf grabbing his head in agony, his body curled up like a shrimp as his blood seeped between his fingers and through his dark hair. He got up a few moments later, cleaned up and returned to the game with something like two minutes to spare.

I said a Hail Mary when I saw that. The incident happened on Sunday, before the marathon, but it showed me that humans are awful at times. I said multiple Hail Marys during the day on Monday after I heard about the bombing. But they were in vain; what’s done is done, but it hurtled me back to those days at Holy Angels, when although there was this great truth that there was nothing I could do about whatever was going on, there was something, no matter how small I had to do: offer a moment of peace and love to all involved.

One of the best detached, metaphysical and philosophically elegant posts I’ve ever read about the Boston marathon tragedy and how life goes at times was written by my friend Lillian Connelly at her It’s a Dome Life blog. The post is called “Creativity Vs. Destruction” and if you’ve got about five minutes to spare, indulge yourself and read it.

I read a headline today and it reminded me of a bunch of words that I didn’t used to have in my consciousness or my lexicon:

  • suicide bomber
  • pressure-cooker bomb
  • weapon of mass destruction
  • meant to maim
  • crude bomb
  • amputation
  • mass murder
  • genocide
  • school shootings
  • pipe bomb
  • dead children
  • terrorist
  • hate crime
  • angry mob
  • collateral damage
  • friendly fire
  • ak-47
  • first responders
  • assault rifle
  • security lock down
  • baby rape
  • gang rape
  • armed teachers
  • drone strike
  • Newtown, Connecticut
  • Aurora, Colorado
  • Trade Center bombings

I have a neighbor, she’s 30 and still lives with her parents. She drives her dead grandmother’s car. She has a child from an unwed situation (not judging, just giving context) and has recently divorced from another man who was belligerent and abusive to her. Her parents ostensively raise her son: she goes out for take-out for one. He’s a good kid, a little shy but really smart and he has a vivid imagination and he’s luckier than hell that his grandparents are young, fit, healthy and gainfully employed. She has a bumper sticker on her dead grandmother’s car, with a red capital A beside the slogan, “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.” I try not to grit my teeth every time I pass that bumper sticker. I am all for people having their religious views and stating them; but I really have a hard time with the concept of blasting religious views at the expense and denigration of 3,000 innocent people who were murdered on 9/11. Hail Mary.

Monday was not all horrible in my personal universe: I know of two babies that were born that day, a boy and a girl; and I have a dear friend who celebrated her birthday that day as well. I refuse to live in the darkness about this matter; to court the sadness and to see all of this as horror, melancholy and fear.

But the point, right now, at 10:01 on April 17 2013, is that I can’t do this thing justice; I can’t eloquently express my rage and my confusion at a person or entity that has only hate on its mind.

My garden's bleeding hearts.

My garden’s bleeding hearts.

So, I can go back to my hole, my garden and over-prune my hydrangeas. I can whittle a gorgeous euonymus down to a nub in my fear and my frustration. My garden is my labor of love: it’s the place that reminds me every spring that no matter how downtrodden things might seem, there are forces at work, invisible forces, that remind those hosta spears, and fern fiddle heads, lily-of-the-valley pips, bleeding hearts and unwelcome yet justified maple, oak, or poplar saplings to push through the hard, cold, sometimes frozen, compacted and seemingly dead earth only to fight for their survival; to fight for their spot in the sun.

Thank you.

Veteran’s Day – My Great Uncle Bud McGowan

Veteran’s Day – My Great Uncle Bud McGowan

So I have always felt out of place on Veteran’s Day around here, where I live. In fifteen minutes by car I could be at the Pentagon. The other direction, I could be at Fort Belvoir, an army proving ground. Another thirty-five minutes from Belvoir and I would be at US Marine Base Quantico. In scant over an hour, I could be on the doorstep at the United States Naval Academy.

We are a civilian family, surrounded and befriended by senior officers, both active duty and retired in all the branches of the United States armed services. These people are some of the nicest and most dedicated people you’d ever want to meet. Their sworn oath to protect and defend has no bias or prejudice. Many have seen “action” in Iraq, Afghanistan, in Bosnia, in Viet Nam, in Korea, in the Pacific, and have proudly protected our ports and shores at home. I adore these people, I adore their spouses and children. I am grateful beyond measure for their service and their sacrifices. Yet I feel awkward around them on days like today.

I feel awkward because there is NO WAY I could ever repay them; there is NO WAY I could ever prove my gratitude. There are masses I could go to and there are ceremonies I could attend and while those are all nice ideas, they don’t seem to cut it for me.

I am grateful beyond measure that I don’t know anyone who has died in active duty and I know, living around here, that’s an anomaly. Maybe it’s because I know senior officers; but I know, boy do I know, that their knowledge of active duty deaths more than makes up for my supposed deficit.

I also used to think that I had no connection to the wars other than seeing my friends’ faces when they came back from their tours. I remembered earlier today, thanks to a bag of old family pictures my dad gave me in September, that I do have a connection. My great uncle, Anthony J. “Bud,” McGowan, Jr., a young tank corpsman, whose troop landed in Normandy immediately after the initial invasion, died in the war. Bud’s given name was that of his father’s, my great grandfather Anthony J. McGowan who hailed from Ireland.

Bud isn’t exactly a straight great uncle; my family’s story is one of those, “come again?” stories but here’s the super fast: Great grandfather Anthony’s first wife Sarah was my great grandmother. They had my grandmother and her sisters. Sarah died after returning from a trip to Ireland. Anthony sent word back to Ireland and Sarah’s niece Delia came to America to help raise the girls. Anthony and Delia married and then had seven more children. Bud is from Delia; my grandmother is from Sarah.

Ok. You’re welcome to re-read that a few times. Look, I know because Delia and Sarah were related, that the lines are even slightly more complicated than simple half-sibs, but I’m content to leave it at that. I have relatives with whom I can be both a cousin and a niece simultaneously.

My approach the photos and letters was bittersweet. I couldn’t give them enough respect, yet I couldn’t wait to learn more, and I knew there wasn’t a ton. I remembered my father showing me the collection of letters from Bud and he said, “Oh boy… There he is, poor guy. Poor Bud. There it is…” and he folded it up and we looked at more photos.

As I was going through those old pictures today, I remembered my father, a newspaper journalist and excellent writer in his own right, wrote a Memorial Day piece about Bud a few years ago that appeared in my hometown’s newspaper, in Buffalo, NY. I asked Dad about it today, and he told me this:

I wrote that his mother, Delia, would go downtown to the newsreels to see if they might have a scrap of [footage] Bud alive after the Normandy landing. It was heartbreaking. You have a picture of him there, [in the newspaper piece from 1944] as you said. Otherwise I didn’t know what he looked like.

I have better than a picture, I decided. I have some of his letters, pieces of him. The letters I have are those he wrote to my grandparents, my mother, and her brothers when they were children. Bud would have been in his very early 20s when he enlisted in January 1942. He went overseas in August 1943. In 1944, my mom would have been 10. He wrote these letters to my mother’s parents before he went overseas.

Seeing them today, when we have instant everything and can shoot a digital video on a phone and send it over the air to Iceland where it can be seen on another phone; when children aren’t being taught cursive in school anymore, it’s a lost art; and when actual words like “swell” and “top shape” were used often as “LOL” and “OMG” are today, I become nostalgic.

The letters make me grateful. They are private only because they’re personal. And by “personal” I simply mean: written to specific people; as you will see, nothing is scandalous. They make me wish for a simpler time. Without war. I don’t think I’m alone in that, you’ll see what I mean when you get to my grandmother’s letter that was returned.

Some context: ‘Bub’ is my grandmother’s nickname, she was Bud’s half-sister and maybe 10 years his senior; “Bill,” is her husband, my grandfather. Their children, “Mary Joan,” “Billy,” and “Peter” are my mother and her brothers, respectively, Bud’s very young and possibly only niece and nephews at the time. Well, ever, for him.

This is a post card from his time at training camp at Fort Knox, KY. It is dated February 7, 1942, about a month after he enlisted. He was preparing for his barracks inspection the next day.

The next letter I have in my records is dated seven months later. At the PS you will see that he explained why he couldn’t use ink.

page 1 – this final line on this page, “I suppose it’s silly to hope I never have to shoot but I do” touches me.

Page 2. (“Mimi” is Mary Joan’s nickname)

This letter is addressed on the envelope to my mom, who was just seven and a half years old at the time. I love his encouraging words and how he asks for prayers and promises some back. He must’ve been a terrific guy, to be so upbeat to his precious niece and nephews, telling them to be good when he was so new to the army.

Valentine’s Day letter 1942, page 1.

Page 2. This letter’s envelope is stamped Feb 14, 1942 1:30 PM. It had two one-cent stamps on it.

Here is another postcard from his training at Camp Polk, LA. He writes of starting maneuvers in the next month or so, which “ought to be something like the real thing,” he said.   

Imagine: he talks a bit about his neglecting his own letters home. I am guessing this post card was sent between the first two missives, but I don’t know. At this point, although Bud might think his notes are boring, they are not. I love his sense of “well, here I am…” and to me, writing that you have nothing to write, is still writing. The writer is considering you and your involvement; the writer doesn’t want to waste your time.

I don’t have much for about another couple years. He must’ve shipped off to Europe then. I have just two more separate items that can help tell the rest of Bud’s story.

On August 21, 1944, my grandmother wrote him this letter. I don’t have a copy of the letter she references that he sent to her on August 8, 1944, two months and two days after the formal invasion. “Berta” must be a nickname for Roberta, Bud’s sweetheart; Paula and Nancy are two of his sisters, referenced near the end of the letter:

page 1.

Page 2.

Page 3.

Page 4. You can see her signature on the bottom left of page 1. Seeing this makes me miss my grandma, “newsy news.” I can hear her. I really loved her. Her references to “your mother” when speaking to Bud about his mother is how she was, very proper and respectful.

Bud never read that letter. It was returned in the envelope below because seven days later, on August 28, 1944, he was wounded. I imagine the letter was in transit before he died and it didn’t reach him.

I don’t know when my grandmother received the envelope that held her letter above. Its jarring tell-tale stamp, “DECEASED” on the left side and the iconic “Return to Sender” stamped on the front give me pause.

And in October, he was written about in the city paper.

Bud’s picture is second column, lower right. You’ll read that he was engaged to be married. I see my brothers and my sons in his face. I see my cousins too. I see a life taken too soon and a man who, like too many before and too many after, never saw his people before he died. He died on September 4, 1944: two years to the day when he wrote the letter home to my grandparents and said of his nephew, Peter, “I’ll bet he’s getting awfully big & probably won’t even know him when I get home.”

The postcards themselves are in good condition, just yellowed, as you can see. And the envelopes are sound. their condition, better than anything else in the pack of family memorabilia is in the best condition, for obvious reasons. Why I am the lucky one to have this stuff is still a mystery, but reading these letters and seeing his face helps me remember that I am attached to Veteran’s Day, and Flanders Field whether I like it or not.

Thank you, Bud. Rest in peace.

I have many other family service members to thank for their dedication, and I am grateful to them all.

Thank you.