Harper Jeanine!

The following story is True.  The names and events have NOT been changed in an attempt to protect the “Innocent”!

Me and my infant delinquent granddaughter, Harper Jeanine

Me and my infant-delinquent granddaughter, Harper Jeanine

I’m not sure how she did it.  But I must have a long heart-to-heart talk with my granddaughter, Harper Jeanine!

She was here this week to celebrate Thanksgiving with her mom, Janelle and dad, my eldest son Michael.  It was a great time, and fun was had by all (aside from the attempts to wean certain family members from Electronic Dependency Disease).

We all kept an eye on Harper, because the house is still relatively new to her.  But obviously, all the adults failed.  The kid – apparently a truant in the making – was slinking around the house in full Special Ops mode when no one was looking.

Not sure how she did that during the day … with six other adults around … so she must have been conducting her special brand of mischief under the cover of night.  No doubt in full black ninja footie pajamas, second-story burglary equipment, and mischievous intent.

You may think I’m crazy.  The little trouble-maker is only 9 10 1/2 (Thanks, honey) months old.  What possibly could she have done to warrant this accusatory post?

The evidence however is irrefutable!

The evidence

The evidence

As I labored – as is my habit – in the days following the Thanksgiving holiday to decorate the outside of the house in Christmas lights, I stumbled upon a puzzling discovery while installing lights on the back deck.  Lodged in the rain gutter over the kitchen windows was a 14-inch horsehair brush.

Now I have never owned a 14-inch horsehair brush.  Have never seen this brush, and have no idea how it became lodged in the rear rain gutter.

I dug the offending blockage from the gutter, puzzling all the while how it could have gotten into the gutter and more so, who did it belong to?

The answer was baffling and more than a bit unnerving once I cleaned off the offending object for further inspection.  The timing – just a day after their departure – was the proverbial finger of Conviction on the Scale of Justice.

the big Aha!

the big Aha!

Harper Jeanine is in big, big trouble!

Despite her obvious lawlessness, you can vote for Harper Jeanine in Gerber’s “Growing up Gerber Be our Baby Photo Search 2014“.  I just wouldn’t let her into your house unsupervised …

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Little red-headed Girl

208babc8bed09fe3b5b9e6ed7b733c92During one of those trips down memory lane we enjoy with the boys now that they’re grown, found us recalling an episode in Parenting of which I am not particularly proud.  Fact is, the story – told and retold numerous times over – has provided us a few good laughs over the years.

It was Spring, and although I forget the year, it had to be around 1996.  Spring, when the boys were young, brought us little league baseball at the Liberty Bell fields in the Far Northeast section of Philadelphia.

As was my fate this evening, I was coaching a team on which my eldest son was playing.  Yet I had additional company in the form of our precocious son, Brian James; all of six years old and quite popular with those in his first-grade class at St. Martha’s Roman Catholic School on Academy Road.

Having Brian around always seemed to add an unexpected twist to the day’s activities.

It was not unusual for me to have an extra child around since we had three boys to drive herd on divided by two parental units.  How I ended up with the family’s mischievous character as a “plus one” (Mistake #1) escapes my memory.  With the distractions of coaching however, it’s not hard to figure out the direction in which this story is heading.

At some point during my harried coaching activities, I may – or may not – have granted permission for Mr. Mischievous to set off for the playground, bored as he most certainly was with watching his older brother playing baseball.  This was not a huge problem – normally – since the playground was located within easy viewing distance (Mistake #2).

SuperStock_500-135222Did I mention I was coaching 9-10 year-olds in the basics of baseball with wooden bats and rock-hard baseballs?

Needless to say, one’s focus and attention to detail, like a spare non-playing child cavorting on a pleasant Spring evening, tends to suffer under such conditions.

Now, none of this was humorous in the moment.  We have been able to laugh only in hindsight, and only because it obviously turned out well and the climax of the event was … well, priceless.  You see, Brian was a character then … truly an unpredictable element in both the family and school environments, which made him very popular at school though somewhat less so within the realm of Parenting.  He was all free spirit and little in the way of cautious or with any genuine concern for the roles and responsibility of being a Parent.

Shocker, I know …

Needless to say, when it came time to pack away the bats, balls, and gloves; Brian is nowhere to be found.  I sent my eldest son, Mike, the baseball player to the playground to find our little pride and joy.  “He’s not there.”, Mike announced when he returned.

A distracted “What?” was all I said … until the consequences of this all too predictable development hit me.

imagesPanic was the first emotion.  Quickly followed by Dread … dreading, that is, the phone call home to Mama Bear.  (Trust me … You NEVER want to have to make that call!)  Let’s just say the conversation was mostly one-sided and not suitable for audiences with tiny ears.

After placing a reluctant call to Philadelphia’s finest, I got our first and only lead … an older girl who saw our pint-sized MIA accompanying a trio of like-sized females towards a nearby neighborhood.  And I set out on a widening arc of street searches by car.  Michael watching one side as I scanned the other.

These neighborhoods – for those not familiar with the streets of Northeast Philly – were a tightly packed collection of row homes and duplex apartments for block after block after block.

Trying to maintain calm in my panicked state of mind, I was certain our wayward wanderer was somewhere in the area.  Then I saw the weirdest, most welcoming sight a parent in such dire circumstances would want to see.

As we rounded a street corner I spied a familiar silhouette!

Hitchcock's famous profile

Hitchcock’s famous profile

Seriously … It was just a silhouette!  Think Alfred Hitchcock‘s famous back-lit outline that graced the telly at the beginning of each episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  Just a shadow, but an amazingly well-lit shadow in a row home’s front window.  The silhouette so remarkably sharp and clear, that he was instantly recognizable.

The scene was so odd that at first it didn’t quite click.  I turned to Michael and asked him, “Doesn’t that look like Brian?!?”

What really floored me was that the silhouette was obviously singing, maybe performing would be the better term, and with a hand-held microphone at that!

That has to be him, I thought.  Who else could it be?!?

As I knocked on the door of the house to retrieve my wandering troubadour, I found him singing in front of a small female audience, spot-lighted via a strategically aimed lamp, held by one of his female accomplices, that provided the super sharp silhouette.  He was singing some popular song from the day to a rather fascinated group of fans.

51E8gRiIMKL._SL1500_It took a few seconds to shake off my fascination, even admiration for such a bold performance before Parent Mode kicked in and the fire and brimstone came raining down.  (OK … Admittedly, I was never very good at that.  Mama Bear on the other hand …)

As I dragged the thoroughly embarrassed, admonished, and totally puzzled crooner from the house, and I ask him what he was thinking; how could he do that to me; why would he simply wander off without telling anyone???

His answer was simple, “Dad, I really like that little red-headed girl!”

Sigh …

It’s always a little red-headed girl …

Birth of a Phillies fan

(In celebration of Opening Day 2014, a trip down my baseball memory lane …)

My first recollections of Philadelphia Phillies baseball came during that Season From Hell – 1964!  You really do not have to explain that reference for most Philadelphia baseball fans, especially those over the age of 55.  Most long-time Phillies fans and – due to generations of legend sharing – even many of those newer to the game can recite the scenario that played out that year.

Gene Mauch

What I remember is my father sitting at the kitchen table; the radio playing; listening to By Saam, Bill Campbell, and Richie Ashburn (in just his second year as a broadcaster with the Phils); smoking cigarettes with a quart bottle of Schmidt’s or Ballantine’s beer, a glass sitting on the table beside him.  He would sit there throughout the game listening and visualizing the game being played.  In those days games were rarely televised during the week.

So some of my first Phillies memories were the turmoil and angst being lived and endured – one game after another – as the Phillies frittered and fumbled away a 6 1/2 game lead over the rest of the National League with only 12 games to play.

(Of course none of this in any way led me to feel sorry for NY Mets fans who went through two straight years of this in 2007 & ’08!!) 

It was difficult watching Dad going through that September.  He lived for his Phillies, much more so than the football Eagles.  He would just shake his head, when he wasn’t yelling at a botched play or a wasted at-bat.  But he was hardly the only one suffering from Phillies Depression in my young 8-year-old universe.  Neighbors – both young and old – could find little else to talk about.

When the end finally came, there was a sense of disbelief, then anger … anger at Phillies manager Gene Mauch especially.

That was a HUGE part of my introduction to Phillies baseball.

The Phillies didn’t make it easy for their young, impressionable fans in the 1960s and early ’70s.  From 1965-1974 the Phillies posted just three seasons with winning records.  Among the more abysmal campaigns were losses that totaled 99 (’69), 95 (’71), 97 (’72) and 91 (’73).  It’s hardly the kind of performance that builds loyal fan followings in most cities.

And yet they remained Our Phillies … Dad in particular never lost his love for the game, especially his affection for the Home Team.

Bobby Wine

The players I remembered from my first years paying attention to Phillies baseball were Clay DalrympleTony Taylor, Johnny Callison, Jim Bunning, Bobby Wine, Chris Short, Wes Covington, Frank Thomas, Cookie Rojas, John Briggs, Rick Wise, Jack Baldschun, and of course Richie Allen.

My biggest thrill as a young Phillies fan was my first visit to Connie Mack Stadium as the Phightin’s took on those Houston Colt .45s.

Back in the day, we only saw baseball and all our sports on TV in black & white.  I can remember sitting down next to Dad as he watched a football game (most likely Notre Dame) and asking him which team he was rooting for, the “white” team or the “dark” team?   Whichever one he picked – for some contrarian reason – I would say I was rooting for the other team.  Maybe my sense of fairness demanded someone root for the ‘other guys”.

Clay Dalrymple

That night at Connie Mack I can remember entering the stadium bowl from the tunnel and being absolutely stunned by the colors.  The bright green grass especially … the red and white uniforms … the grays of the visiting team … the colorful billboards … the right field “spite fence” … the brown dirt of the infield … When you are used to seeing an event purely in blacks & whites & grays, you suddenly realize what you have been missing; what color and natural sound add to the spectacle.

To top it off, as we took our seats in the upper stands along the third base line, I was horrified at the steepness of the grandstand seating.  For the first three innings I was so afraid  that, if I leaned forward too far in my seat, I would go tumbling down the rows of seats and be thrown from the grandstand to my untimely – though spectacular – death.

The images and sounds are memories still so vivid I doubt they’ll ever fade.  For me, there was no turning back.  I was hooked.  Hooked forever …

For that, Dad, I cannot thank you enough!

(Joseph Vincent Shortall passed away in August 2001.)

The Power of Pancakes

pancakes2IHOP declared today to be National Pancake Day.  It says so on my Facebook feed, so it must be important.  It is also Happy Faschnaut Day, a.k.a. Donut Day.

National Carb Days are almost semi-religious holidays for corporate Big Carb evolving from fear for the dawning of the Christian Lenten season, where Catholics in good standing will forsake the siren calls of the IHOP/Dunkin Donut/soft pretzel triumvirate.

Well, maybe not so much the latter in this area.  That’s a Philly thing.  We can only go so far in demonstrating our devotion.  We barely survived edicts of meatless Fridays, which tended to put an economic crimp in the local cheesesteak economy.

In any the case, the point of this post is to celebrate the mystical properties of the pancake!  Any connection with National Pancake Day is purely coincidental.

I say this because I witnessed the Power of the Pancake this weekend!

The story has its genesis in the struggle of addressing the needs for elderly parent care.  There is never an easy solution to the question, what do you do when parents are aging to the point where more focused supervision is required?

My experience includes the breadth of care options available, from Independent Living through intensive, full-time managed care to end-life hospice services.  There are blessings and curses with each choice.

Our latest experience and challenge is the decision to invite our last parent to join us in our home.  My father-in law in a good guy, one I have always gotten along with though he has his blustery side and bouts with stubbornness.

When the choice was presented, I agreed easily enough, although there was a bit of anxiety about how such an arrangement might change a home dynamic with which we were all comfortable.  My wife’s piece-of-mind over a relative living alone was enough to persuade me.

KOQ-571.tifOur solution was to remodel our basement in recognition of my FIL’s desire to remain as autonomous as possible.  So autonomous in fact that his new digs are the nicest in our home (just in case your first impression was an episode right out of the King of Queens)!  The transition however has been anything but seamless.

We had to move him in earlier that expected and before his new palace was in move-in shape.  The remaining construction and approaching holidays made the situation a bit dicier, resulting in a hangover that threatened our expectations for limited disruption to the established household routine.

The difficulties which developed involved the usual sources of close-proximity conflict … mismatched expectations, fumbled communications, and the tendency to avoid rocking anyone’s boat at all costs.  Growing frustrations however required that the situation be addressed sooner rather than later; before the atmosphere we were trying to protect turned fetid, breeding anger.

I was tasked with being the Diplomat of Harmony.

My solution?  Breakfast!

nrAjVpmpU4T94vbK4Wmnt7_CmRKB49G7m-wiN6BxBqf03Octsc48KiZUqOpxXfhzNtnR=s151So this past weekend I invited my FIL out for breakfast at Hatboro Dish!  I did not tell him the reason for the invite.  Found out later he was suspicious, thinking we were going to through him out.  (Insert link for King of Queens episode)

Carol, not a fan of Big Breakfast, opted to let the guys hammer things out at an establishment full of sharp objects.

As we sat down, Jim dithered over the menu options.  I chose the bakery-quality cinnamon roll French toast, which is made by Lochel’s Bakery a few hundred feet up York Road, and Jim chose the pancakes … with strawberries … and whipped cream … soon to be marinated in maple syrup poured from a jar, not emptied from cheap plastic packaging.

Did I mention he’s diabetic?  However, it’s my belief that once you get to a certain age, you should be free to enjoy whatever you can, reasonably and safely.  I let him enjoy his loaded pancakes.

Once we finished our morning meals, it was time for The Talk.  Dreading the moment I put all my cards on the table, I wasn’t sure how Jim would take the challenge.  Changes had to be made.  But addressing them would not necessarily be easy.

What I found out though was that Jim was as unsettled about what was going on as we were.  We had a factual, very honest discussion of expectations vs. reality as it existed.  It was more relaxed than I had anticipated … a friendly, direct, unemotional conversation about how to improve the home situation.

Our discussion couldn’t have gone better.  Almost immediately function and comfort returned to our home!

Now this pleasant outcome could be attributed to a number of things –  personality traits, mindsets, shared values – that helped us at the breakfast table that day.  Either way you look at it, it’s hard to have a bad morning when looking over a stack of pancakes!

Because it’s mine

Was so, so close to having the garage finally cleared out from the renovations.

Plenty of room to move around.  No more playing Sliding Block Puzzle just to find the tool box.  Maybe even fit two cars in there for the snows expected tomorrow!

(Get your milk and bread! NOW!!)

And then it was finally time to get the father-in-law moved in.

Mike's Scratch 'n Dent

Mike’s Scratch ‘n Dent

I hate my life.

But my wife had some comforting words, “Stop whining.”

She doesn’t understand me.

No man is an Island … unless an Island he is

zombie-hands

Now I know what a Zombie Apocalypse
might look like …

I stand alone.  It’s official.

At some point this week, my last hope that good parenting, a quality standard of living, and the example – so often set here – that a grounded political philosophy can hold up to any intellectual challenge was smothered in the simple act of renewing a Pennsylvania driver’s license.

My youngest son changed his voter registration to Democrat.  And he is the smart one!

Was the smart one …

How did he express his change of affiliation when asked?  “I changed my mind.”

He made it sound like he was changing his socks.

Maybe it’s a statement on my Leadership.  Maybe I didn’t politically proselytize enough when the boys were so impressionable the correct politic would have been permanently ingrained, like their Philly accents.  Maybe I made one too many mistakes as a parent.

Oh well …

So now I am surrounded.  But that’s OK.  I can take solace in the following.

    • Neither one of them votes to my knowledge; and unfortunately, getting an Absentee Ballot is about to get a lot harder for one Temple Owl!
    • Mr. Hoot is also going to love taking the Broad St Subway back to school in the company of so many of his Democrat buds!
    • The two lost offspring who still list our home as primary residence do not as yet have to buy their own healthcare on those sterling examples of Government efficacy and Democrat “know how”, those Obamacare exchanges.  (I just want to be in the room when they find out how much they will be paying!)

doctor-obamacare

    • Neither have they had to worry about supporting themselves entirely on their own, and by doing so discover just how hard it is to stay ahead of the curve all the while supporting so many who simply don’t bother trying.
    • Nor do they possess the baseline from which they can gauge all that marvelous Hope and Change to which they are obviously drawn.
    • I still hold very limited influence over my Better Half. Carol votes Republican – I think – but has little interest in changing party affiliation for some reason.

In the end, I will continue to stand as the Lion at the Gate.  Politely accepting the political materials dropped off at the house by my Democrat opposition during elections cycles and quietly sorting the mail.   Not sure why those materials never seem to arrive with their intended receivers.

I guess all’s fair in Love and Poltics!

Of course I told the house’s latest Democrat that he will always be welcomed back into the real Party of Progress … once he regains his senses!

But for now, I am the lone Grand Old Party stalwart beating back the political zombies seeking to weaken the ramparts, while keeping the inmates calm and reassuring them that they can have their political say the second Tuesday of every November!

That day in November …

riderless horse

A look at the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy through the eyes of a 7-year-old …

My memories of that day in 1963 are disjointed and spotty.  About what you would expect from a 7-year-old, who was too young to grasp the significance, the gravity of what had happened … A child too innocent to realize how harsh the world could be.

I was barely aware that John F. Kennedy was President.  My appreciation for what he meant to the country politically or to my Irish-Catholic parents culturally was lost among the toys and activities of a sheltered childhood.

Lyndon B. Johnson  takes The Oath of Office

Lyndon B. Johnson
takes The Oath of Office

I can remember sitting in Sister Ann David‘s first-grade class at the Immaculate Conception grade school on Chelten Avenue in the East Germantown section of Philadelphia, PA.  It was nearing lunchtime.  I had yet to completely synchronize my internal clock to the rigidity of your typical Catholic school day.  So I was constantly counting down the minutes to when I could leap from my seat (single file line, of course!); grab my lunch; then run around the schoolyard until the interminable afternoon session began.

The first announcement was sudden and confusing.  Something along the lines of “Please say a prayer, the President has been shot!”

Then several minutes later the statement – much more subdued and uncrushed than the first – resulting in days of dread for those older than me, including those selfless Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary …

TV shot“The President is dead.”

Much of the rest of that morning is lost, that is until I got home early that afternoon after a hurried dismissal.

The oddities in a chain reaction, started on an unknown street in Texas, rippled for days through the country and the rest of the world like a rock that’s dropped into a still pond.  Our home was no different.

Coming home to find Mom on the living room couch, tears in her eyes, hand to her mouth as she watched the small black and white TV.  Dad coming home from work at the steel plant early and joining her in front of the TV – before even showering – for what seemed like hours.  Watching unfolding scenes from Dallas, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.  Mom beside herself; Dad comforting her with that dazed look on his face.

philly.com: When TV discovered what it could do

caissonDays where even the slightest sound or disturbance would illicit an urgent ‘Shhhhh …!” or a more comforting invitation to watch with them something I could not quite grasp.  A nighttime broadcast of an airplane, a hearse, a coffin on a high lift, groups of solemn people, a woman named Jackie, a new President …

Even in my child-eyed innocence I knew something profound had occurred … something ominous, unexpected, and shocking to every adult I saw.  You sensed their disbelief, their anger, their mourning.

They tried to explain what had happened, to whom it had happened, and why it was so incredibly sad.  You tried to understand.  You stayed close to your parents because you could feel an overwhelming sadness coming from them.  As a child, it was unsettling.

For four days our little world among a small strip of working-class homes revolved around a tiny TV set.  Back then this was an extraordinary exception to normal life.  I struggled to make sense of the images.

AP: Nation stopped for funeral

Entering Arlington National Cemetary

Entering Arlington National Cemetary

A closed casket sitting for days in front of a ceaseless procession of everyday citizens and dignataries, a parade like no other you had ever seen … a riderless horse, a two-piece caisson, funeral dirges in lieu of John Phillip Sousa marches, a church funeral service shown live on TV, a little boy caught in a child’s salute, something called an eternal flame …

At some point, it seemed like everything went back to normal, although I doubt any of those people I had seen or stayed close to over those four endless days ever felt that it did.

eternal flame

JFK’s Eternal Flame
at Arlington National Cemetary