Random thoughts on a Thursday

…..I don’t think I want to see another tomato for a good while.
…..What a long summer we’ve had in Pennsylvania.
…..I love the pictures on FACEBOOK of people’s trips.
…..I wish they would take me along.
…..Violence certainly begets violence in this country.
…..Love the interview with the guy who blames Obama for 911…”He wasn’t even at the Whitehouse that day.”
…..Love the people who go to church every Sunday…and hate people of a different color, different religion, different nationality, etc etc etc.
…..Maybe they need to be born again…..again.
…..Why can’t we build a wall to keep the cold air in Canada this year?
…..I’ll pay for it.
…..I feel sorry for Brad and Angelina….their hearts can be broken just like the rest of us.
…..Where are the people of peace when we need them…Ghandi….Dr King…Jesus…?
…..My cousin says that Halloween ought to be my Feast Day.
…..Can’t seem to lose weight….even though I have a Slim Fast shake with every single meal.
……Re-reading the Somerset Maughm short stories.
……Some are only 3 pages.
……Why oh why have the pools been closed all this month. Perfect weather.
……I want to go to Italy asap.
……Got a big batch of cards for my birthday….still nothing like the written word.
……Friends who drift away seem to leave an empty spot in our lives, but eventually that spot seems to be filled in again by new ones.
……Still sad when that happens.
……My recipe for sweet pickles called for 14 cups of sugar.
……My pickles ought to be REALLY good for you.
……I suggest eating a half at the most.
……Our new clothes post at the cottage is 24 inches over the neighbor’s property line. He has 10 acres and an abandoned house. He wants the post moved.
……People can be strange.
……I can name every teacher I had from first grade…high school…college and grad school.
……I think Barbara Tischler stole the organ key when we were in the eighth grade.
……Barbara won’t be going to Heaven.
……At a dinner party one night where the host had white carpeting and plastic covers on his guest beds there was a discussion about dusting the top of one’s water heater.
……I replied that I wasn’t even sure where mine was.
……Sometimes conversations end rather abruptly.
……Woof likes to be called a lake dog.
……Doesn’t everyone like a nap now and then?
……Or every afternoon?
……Had one of those scam IRS calls again and decided to do what my friend Rob did….take the number down and keep calling back…asking for a pizza delivery or to make an appointment for a colonoscopy.
……My first costume for Halloween when I was six was a tiger….I kept the big secret from my best friend Suzie…and she did the same. The she arrived on the big night with exactly the same tiger costume.
……I knew then that God hated me.
……I kinda hated Suzie too.
……John Robert and I call bananas narbunas.
…….Hell if I know.
…….Floating on the river with the city lights all around…a nice bottle of Spanish wine…listening to the Beach Boys…..as good as it gets.
……My lawnmower is fixed.
…….Real friends are those people who’s feet get cold when I have a hole in my shoe.
…….Wine festival in North East this weekend. Expecting huge crowds.
…….Remind me to have a garage sale before I die.
…….Remind me gently.
…….If you tell me some of the things that you believe…..I’ll bet I can guess who you’ll be voting for.
…….This has been the summer of VERY cute outfits.
…….Time to start separating the peonies.
…….Or take a nap.


The lifestyles of the rich and famous took off immediately on Emily Street.

In no time at all my cousin and I created something that looked like half movie set and half Liberace palace. My friend James and I had recently discovered that one of the local cemeteries didn’t pile all the floral tributes on the graves, but instead tossed them all into what we called the “dump”. Every Saturday morning we made a trip there to gather up flowers for the house…plowing through ribbons and banners, secure in the knowledge that the deceased wouldn’t mind a little recycling. Hence we always had dozens of roses, orchids floating in chipped crystal bowls, and centerpieces that only guests over nine feet tall could possibly see over. The ambiance was fabulous with our newly opened log burning fireplace..that only sent the faintest of fumes wafting into the dining room.
My cousin and I were young and adventuresome on Emily Street. Neither of us had ever quite acknowledged our sexuality, but when my cousin went out with friends of his to a wildly popular half gay half straight dance bar and saw me dancing like a maniac in a wedding dress on the giant video screens the gig was up. Suddenly the parties at the house took on a much more diverse flavor, and the arrival of two fierce looking drag queens at the formal Christmas party sent shock waves through the whole relationship. Some of our older aunts and red neck cousins probably still talk about it. One of the “girls” actually became my friend Timmy’s cleaning lady…who arrived every day in cleaning lady drag and drank all of his vodka.
My cousin recalls the night I went out with my then boyfriend Gary who was dressed as a hooker while I was in my best Miss Campos (the piano teacher) ensemble. Since it was a chilly night, I’d flung my mother’s old mink coat over my shoulders just to ward off a possibly deadly chill. I must have been over-served that night because Gary had to drive home…for some reason or other I decided to climb up over the terrace instead of using the stairs that night…and awoke to a very disapproving cousin who was picking little pieces of mink out of the ivy plants. The only other time I remember a problem with shedding was when I forgot my key and had to climb up a ladder to my bedroom balcony…through the lilac bushes in the same tattered mink…and was caught halfway up by my cousin warning me that my mother was going to kill me.
We had a whole lot of fun in that crazy old house…parties with a mix of people that no normal person would ever attempt to put together. I remember a big burly friend of mine stomping down the stairs from the third floor disco…just beside himself as he warned another friend of mine who was on his way up ” I wouldn’t go up there if I were you…there’s guys up there dancing with other guys”….to which my other friend replied ” Really?…do you want to dance?”.
My dear departed friend Ed ( big Ed ) would often fall asleep on my sofa..a fine dark brown very cheap but very comfortable old warhorse that I’d bought in LA, and Ed could have slept through a nuclear attack once he was out. One lazy afternoon while he was out like a light, and I was bored, I decided that since he really looked like he was dead, I might as well actually ”lay him out”. I crossed his hands on his chest, put a couple of ferns around him and a few of the floral arrangements, lit candelabras on either side and put on some soft organ music. While I was just sitting back having a solitary chuckle, my mother and her friend Frances came to the front door for a tour. That was one of those times when I figured that just the truth might be the best choice…but it kinda fell flat for me that day. Poor Frances just kept looking back at Ed, and my mother just kept shaking her head while she softly steered her friend into the kitchen.
When Ed died I was asked to do his eulogy…and of course I began with ” My dear friend Ed was actually laid out twice”.
My cousin and I moved on from Emily Street eventually. I still ride by there pretty frequently, and marvel first of all that the house is still there, and then I wonder what the genteel couple who lives there now would think if the walls in the old place could talk. When we first moved in there was a picture of the original owner in a beautiful oval frame. We could never quite figure out if it was a really odd looking man in a long dress or a really butch old woman. Maybe he/she set the tone for all the inhabitants who would follow. We certainly gave it our best shot.


Posted on September 21, 2012
My cousin and I decided to buy a house when we were in our twenties. I had just come back from teaching for two years in Los Angeles, and had rented a bungalow while I was out there, and realized quickly how much more affordable Pittsburgh would be. Since I’d been talking my cousin into doing things since we were kids, it was a fairly easy sell. We settled on Crafton, and a very old realty company that was run by a very old man…a Mr. Walker. On our first outing to look at properties, Mr Walker became quickly frustrated by us turning up our noses at most of his houses…too ordinary, or too expensive, or too cute. As his energy was dwindling, he gave it one final shot by saying ” I do have one other listing that no one seems interested in..” it sits up on a hill, has 10 rooms, and is over a hundred years old.” Hmm says cousin and I, and off we went. Mr Walker opened the door with one of those big old keys like they use in every horror film, and as we stood in the entrance hall, he turned around and said ” seen enough?”. Of course we bought the house.

My father’s concern was that one wall of the house seemed to be leaning, but my cousin and I convinced ourselves that it was simply an optical illusion..caused by a leaning drain pipe. When my Aunt had her first tour she was less than impressed…saying that the stairs leading up to the third floor reminded her of Noah’s Arc…then she started to cry.
Cousin and I were undaunted. I bought an enormous old Wurlitzer church organ for the front hall, and we inherited a grand piano…bought pretty good looking fake oriental rugs, giant portraits of strangers which we’d of course illuminate with picture lights, and a has been crystal chandelier for the dining room. In no time at all we were entertaining like we saw them doing in the old movies…giant floral centerpieces in silver urns ( from the local thrift shop ), candelabras ( after all we’re not savages ) and ten or twelve guests who were as crazy as we were.
Our third floor became our disco/ballroom where the pulsating beat would have driven the neighbors stark raving mad if they hadn’t been deaf like the older ladies next door…or else on the dance floor with us as the guys on the other side were. The neighbors actually loved us…with a particular interest in the giant marijuana plant that my cousin allowed to grow for 6 weeks while I was in Europe with my college friends. When pressed by the lovely old Mrs Gallagher as to just what the lovely specimen actually was, he told her it was a special rare fern from California.
My cousin loved (loves) to paint. I have not picked up a brush since I was sixteen years old and while trying to paint a spot above our kitchen sink while my mother was doing dishes…I accidentally dropped the paint can into her dishwater. I’ve been traumatized ever since ( partly as a result of seeing my mother turn such a scary color.) When my cousin returned from a trip to San Francisco to visit my ex boyfriend, he decided that our house should be painted charcoal with a black trim. I came home from work one day, and overheard a horrified Mrs Gallagher saying…”Oh my God Agnes…now they’re painting the house black!”. Looks like I’ll need a part 2 tomorrow.


Friday, July 6, 2012
I think my monkey period began when I was about ten years old. Waldameer park was a short walk up a dusty path from my grandmother’s cottage in Erie. It’s a nice little amusement park that has survived the times, and in spite of a new water park addition, and a harrowing new roller coaster called the ” Ravine Flyer “, a lot of the park hasn’t changed since I was a kid.
They still have some of the kiddie land rides that I squeezed into until I was about 18, but the monkeys are long gone.

The monkeys lived in a cement shelter surrounded by a moat, which was surrounded by a smooth cement wall that was just the right height for a kid to rest his chin on. My cousin and I went to the park every morning…long before the rides opened….just to watch the monkeys. I think there were about 25 of them, and they entertained us for hours and hours. The big mean ones were the most captivating…as they had bad tempers, especially when we’d toss some food to them that they had to go into the water to retrieve. They’d make a real mean monkey face at us and yell something that was untranslatable. They spent a lot of time grooming each other…picking something or other off their backs and then eating it. My cousin would yell “oooh” and they’d all turn and glare at him and look like they were going to swim over and climb the wall and eat him.

Every once in awhile one would escape…like the one that chased our cousin Janet while Aunt Katie chased him…(so goes the tale that none of the relatives could actually swear they’d witnessed.) Usually the renegade monkey would be caught up in a tree, and I’d tell my cousin that he was the reason for all the fuss…a few of those monkeys had it in for him.

Other than the time a giant tree caught fire when the park had fireworks, the most fun we ever had at the park involved the monkeys. We did ride the Old Mill although we were both afraid that the giant belt that made the boats go up the hill was eventually going to snap and send us hurling over the trees into the monkey pit where we’d not be treated very well.

Since I was always the instigator (crowned as such by my wise godmother)…I brought all things monkey-like into our daily lives at the lake. A lot of the really young kids thought I was part monkey myself…as I could ( AND still can ) make really good monkey noises. My cousin Carole was about two at the time and we communicated mostly like monkeys. She now has grown children, but a place in her heart for monkeys…maybe because I bought her all sorts of stuffed monkeys instead of teddy bears, and because she once took a real one for a walk on a leash when her unusual neighbors were away. She loves dogs and has always had a couple of them, but I know what she’d REALLY like to have.

The monkeys are long gone…someone said they all went to the space program…but I doubt that. I still go to the park…still obviously think about the monkeys, and spend lots of time looking for old post cards from Erie…just to prove that a kid could have a wonderfully memorable time at an amusement park without ever getting on a ride.


…My theory about why the trees are still so green is that we’ve had much more sunshine around these parts than we usually have in September.
…..I remember dancing in my basement with someone who is probably reading this today.
…..That was a long long time ago.
…..My kitchen is filled with tomatoes waiting for me.
…..If I end up in Hell it will be due to my kissing the crucifix that I had hanging around my neck on my first Communion morning after it touched the icing on my cake when I leaned over to see it.
…..We weren’t allowed to eat before we received Communion in those days.
…..Funny the things that we remember.
…..I’m practicing wearing clip on earrings so I’m used to them by Halloween.
…..Planting an orchard at the lake.
…..Hillary Clinton has pneumonia. ( in case you missed that on the news )
…..How could you miss that on the news?
…..Feels good to turn off the air conditioner at night.
…..Woof didn’t speak to me for one whole day because I listened to an interview on NPR about how to train a cat.
…..I’m now an expert at something that I will probably never consider doing.
…..I always pause for a minute when the church bells toll for a funeral.
…..Went to see ” Don’t Breathe” last night.
…..For a few minutes I didn’t.
…..Had a birthday last week…and a party…and a lot of cards..and well wishes on Facebook.
…..I’m blessed.
…..Missed that card signed “Love, Mom” the most.
…..My favorite oldie continues to be ” You ” by the Aquatones.
…..How the hell would I know what ever became of them.
…..A box of daffodil bulbs is waiting patiently on my front porch.
…..How can I be expected to look at Christmas stuff when I’m not even ready to look at Halloween stuff?
…..Wish they’d keep the pools open a little longer….we don’t need no stinkin’ lifeguards….if we drown we drown.
…..Looking to rent my third floor apartment….high ceilings…two bedrooms…
…..Handsome and charming landlord.
…..Gracious dog.
…..I am also available to train your cat. (see?)
…..Today is the feast of the Mother of Sorrows.
…..My brother is recovering….slowly.
…..Picked up some food from a restaurant yesterday…that had a sign on the door warning consumers of health hazards.
…..So far so good.
…..Seeing Pittsburgh from a boat on the rivers is a real treat.
…..Lots of people had to look up the word “deplorable” last week.
…..Time to stop watering your amaryllis…let them rest.
…..Do they really make pumpkin scented Clorox?
…..Call me or stop by should you find yourself short on tomatoes.
…..That’s all folks!

Summer reruns (conclusion).

I think the May crowning convinced Sister Alberta that she was really dealing with a pack of demons and subversives. Things went from bad to worse for all of us as the school year was drawing to a close. Sister Lucy was shoved a little harder as Sister Alberta yelled “PLAY!”, the already devout but hungry Paul ate his homemade scones with a touch of indigestion, while Sister watched him and shook her head. She watched Hipsy closely every time the poor thing walked in between the desks, just waiting for her full skirt to do more damage. The talk of serpents in the classroom became an everyday discussion as the asthmatic tortured child tried in vain to breathe normally. Ronald was busier than ever opening and closing the door about a hundred times a day, and Sister was more prone than ever to fly off the handle.
Lots of Catholic school survivors tell stories about how they’d get in trouble in school, and when their parents found out, they’d be in double trouble. My family had a different take on that. When my mother was in the seventh grade, Sister Constancia (red flag….scary name) told the class not to hem and haw if they didn’t know an answer, but instead they should just say ” I don’t know”. My mother took her at her word, and when she was asked something, my mother replied that she didn’t know the answer. Sister responded my cracking her. My mother promptly gathered up her things and went home and her mother made a phone call. Later that day Sister Constancia and another nun (they always traveled in pairs) came to the house and apologized. Like mother like son.
One hot morning in June, when all of the nuns in the building must have been ready to tear their wimples off from the heat, Sister Alberta turned on my quiet, always under the radar, girlfriend Barbara. Whatever she had done struck Barbara as unusually funny. Sister was in no mood for shenanigans that day, and started to refer to Barbara as a “monkey”. (now as I just typed that word, I had to chuckle ). For some reason that STILL makes me laugh. Well that’s just what happened on that summer day, and Sister Alberta went nuts. She flew down the aisle of laughers as the desk lids rose for protection and started to beat me up. It felt sort of like being attacked by a giant crow or something…arms flying, black and white all over me. Quick as a flash I grabbed my books and stood up…heading for the door. ” Whitfeld…get the principal”…as the race began. Somehow she made it to the door before I did and stretched her arms out to block my exit. Just then my friend Jeff who sat near the front of the room yelled something that I’m sure may have already taken him to Hell. Sister Alberta whirled around to pounce on him, and Ray yelled “RUN ! ” and quick as a flash I was gone.
I took a leisurely walk home, even stopped at Greasy Nick’s for a coke, and arrived to find my Mom immediately on alert. “Did she hit you?” she snapped.
“Yep…because I laughed when she called Barbara a monkey” (smile again).
My Dad must have come home for lunch that day, because the two of them were on their way to the school very quickly. My mother says that they met with the culprit and the principal in the office, where Sister Alberta sat like a sweet little old lady with her hands in her lap. My mother still remembers that when Sister said ” your son and I had a little falling out this morning” my mother had the urge to push her off her chair. (honest). Apologies followed of course, the principal confiding that they’d had “a lot of complaints”.
I returned the next morning and was treated like the Golden Boy. I was praised for my musical skills, ignored when I’d laugh, and must have represented the final link between the classroom and the old nun’s home. We all did graduate…even Ray who refused to bring a duster, and my final report card was a complete shock. Prior to our little “falling out”. my grades were always kinda borderline, c’s, a b or two, and “needs improvement” in all the social categories. I graduated that year with a perfect record. Straight A’s..all “very goods”, all a result of the monkey incident. Of course I was then placed in the highest level freshman class that Fall…with all the real brains from the parishes that fed into our High School, and was totally lost.
To say that my eighth grade experiences were memorable is an understatement….obviously. We had a 25 year reunion, and a great turn out several years ago. We talked and laughed until four in the morning, and after a few cocktails I disappeared and returned in a nun’s habit that I’d made, carrying a yardstick and a cane. There was a quick moment of absolute shock..(terror?) as I began barking for Whitfeld to open the door….I swear he started to jump. Thus ends my memories of Sister Mary Alberta CDP…..perhaps it’s time for more victims to step forward !

Summer reruns (9)

All hell broke loose at the May Crowning. The culminating event for the month of May was the crowning of the statue of Mary in the church. There was fierce competition for the role of the May Queen, who would often wear a wedding gown or something similar, and be surrounded by five or six runners up. I used to think the whole thing was fixed. Since Sister Alberta was the eighth grade teacher, it fell to her to organize and oversee the grand event for the entire parish. In those days, an event at the church brought everyone out to participate….maybe decorating the church, fashioning wreaths of flowers for the girls to wear, planning the reception, etc. There was always a grand procession, all the girls in the school of course, the second graders who had just made their first holy communion, all the choirs, and of course the queen and her court. All the nuns must have met in a secret conclave to chose my friend Susan as the May queen…I don’t remember casting a ballot, but I do remember thinking it was rigged, but the nuns all liked Susan, popular vote be damned.
Once again math, science, history,and geography were tossed aside as we had hymns to learn and processions to practice. Sister Alberta commandeered the pulpit, had Ronald test the microphone, and began whipping us into a version of the Nazi Youth. I can still hear her voice booming instructions about how the girls should drop their rose petals. ” one, two,three, DROP ! one,two,three DROP!”, while the choirs sang ” Earth is darksome, we are weary, Satan lays his snares for all”. ( Maybe that’s where Rick Santorum picked up the Satan stuff). Sister’s voice thundered above the music while the girls arms glided up and down with the petal drop. At one point she barked the following ” Should anyone faint, step over the body and continue the procession”. Some of the younger kids looked like they were heading to the gallows.

When the much anticipated big day finally arrived Sister was feeling the pressure. My cousin and I got to the church early, donned our cassocks and surpluses that our mothers had ironed, and began to line up. Now sister had been stressing the proper attire for the girls for weeks…”pastel dresses”…and as the girls began to arrive she was at the microphone clucking her approval as the soft shades of the rainbow started filling in. Then Jane arrived. Poor Jane had never recovered from the taffy apple incident, could never look Sister in the eye, and had developed a tremor ever since she’d arrived taffy apple-less in the Fall. Jane looked very fashionable, and absolutely doomed in her new black poodle skirt. Sister lost it. “POODLES! FOR THE BLESSED MOTHER ! POODLES!” I don’t know what Jane did..I don’t remember her dropping her rose petals…nor do I remember her at all after that fateful day.

What I do remember is how a person’s life might ostensibly be ruined….all because of taffy apples and poodles. ( in the interest of full disclosure, while every incident that I remember so vividly ‘neath the reign of Sister Alberta is factually true, the petal drop and “step over the body” segments are actually stolen from the Pilardi sister’s experiences at Epiphany. ( I’d encourage them to put their memoirs together before they lose their minds…completely.) AMEN