Epilogue…

River

In many of the cards my parents would give me on my birthday, my father would often write the chapter of life I was entering. On my Facebook post on his past birthday in January, I wrote, “Happy Birthday, Old Man…here’s to Chapter 86!” I feared it might be the last … and it was. Hence, the title of this blog.

Years ago, my father asked me to write his obituary. No doubt we were fighting at the time, so I retorted strongly, “You don’t want me to write your obituary!” He smugly asked, “Why?” “Because I would tell the whole truth, and you’re not gonna like that.” And off we went into another argument.

Well, today, I’m gonna tell the truth, but not the whole truth…so, please help me…God. I am going to use some of his own words to sum up the man.

When I was little, I looked up to him….literally. I felt safe when he was home. I felt he could solve all our problems. I thought he was the smartest man I knew. Then I became a teenager…and my parents didn’t seem to know that much. It would be decades before I realized how much they did know, how much they suffered, how much they sacrificed….

I loved my father, I loved him when I hated him. For years, he was my rock. I knew he loved me unconditionally, despite his inability to express it. In my fifties, I came to realize my father was just a man, a man fraught with all the weaknesses of being human and then some. Weaknesses I share with him. Did I love him less? No, in fact, my heart grew to love him more, even when I knew he would never change, even when things were very difficult. I can thank God’s grace for that.

I used to look askance at the Serenity Prayer, thinking it was kinda trite….well, in the nine years I lived with my parents, I came to cling to the words, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” God did indeed grant me his wonderful serenity. A serenity that enabled me to help in his final, difficult months, help with some compassionate patience (not all the time, mind you) and provided me with a wonderful, gracious final moment with him. “Until we meet again, Dad….”

The past couple years have been brutal. My father’s descent into dementia was exacerbated by his worsening COPD. The COPD is what did him in, but the dementia is where we lost him. One moment he was his rascally self, the next he was sickened with paranoia and anxiety…just wanting to go home. All of us in a rousing, frustrated chorus for over a year tried to reassure him, “You are home.” In his mind, though, he was not.

There’s only one story I’d like to tell. In the summer of 1983, I went to Belgium with a summer missionary group. As we all know…my father was not “a nice, quiet, peace-loving man” like John Wayne in “The Quiet Man”, a movie he loved. He was robust, loud, gregarious, pugnacious and often worried a great deal. Every family member can tell a story in which he helicoptered them, sometimes calling authorities to make sure they arrived at a destination and were all right. So, now, here I’m off to Europe. Pretty far away. I know he was a little nervous. So I wrote out a scripture verse for him with strict instructions to read it everyday, especially when he got worried.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”    –Philippians 4:6-7

I had a great time in Belgium even though the first month I received no letters from home. I wrote home expressing my homesickness….and the following card – a card which I treasure now, a card that I copied and gave to my dad on one of his recent birthdays – sums up the man, sums up the things he loved. A card that could almost be a self-written obituary, if you will. This is the Dad I miss even today.

7/14/83 – Thursday – 7:07 p.m.

Dear Donna:

I just got home from work and your letter dated 6/31/83 arrived today in the mail. I know how you feel, I was overseas for almost two years & you always look forward to mail from home. I was homesick the whole time I was overseas. I even sneaked home Christmas of 1952 for a few days. You will also learn that San Francisco is the most beautiful city in the world, the Russian River Area & the land of the Redwoods is the most beautiful countryside in the world. (proof on the reverse side of this card.) And always remember “There’s No Place Like Home.”

We all miss you, especially your Dad, please let us know about your travel schedule, i.e. dates, time & destinations. In other words, when are you coming home? Your city, your block, your house, your room, your bed keep echoing the refrain “When is the Jibser coming home?” I keep telling them, she ate someone’s big toe & then she split. (ha ha!!)

The weather here has been gorgeous, quite hot at the River, 100° plus & 80° right here on the Coast. I’m looking at the Pacific Ocean right now, right outside our window, its almost sunset here now. It’s going to be a lovely sunset.

Joe Hurley’s father-in-law, George McKeever, passed away Sunday, he went all thru College (St. Mary’s of course) with my Dad, they were very close friends. I went to the Funeral Mass yesterday morning. During the Offertory, the choir sang “Danny Boy” & at the conclusion of the Mass when they carried the casket to the outside of the church, the choir sang “The Bells of St. Mary’s”, very, very moving, even though old George was 93, he was the last of the “Old Gaels”.

Well, anyway, that’s about all for now, I will write soon again, everyone says hello & all miss you very much. Hurry home.

Love, Your Dad

P.S. I read the card every night!

You’re really home now, Dad. But, your city, your football field, your river, your wife, your kids, your grandkids, your great-grandkids and the many, many friends you’ve left behind all miss you, but with a sad gratitude, we know you have finally gone home. May you rest in that peace that transcends all understanding. We’ll be along soon.

Thank you, Dad, for all you gave me and my children. You’ve built a legacy which includes being Irish, a San Franciscan, a river rat, a Gael and a Moore as well as the rich construction legacy you inherited from your father that I now enjoy. I hope your legacy and your parents’ legacy will be carried on by my kids and my grandkids. Aloha…

Free Pizza* recorded a song in my dad’s memory:

“Goin’ Home”.

https://donnafentanes.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/goin-home1.mp3

*(John Moore, Eugene Fentanes and Audrey Maloney)

 

 

The Old Man Walking Down The Road

Here is an excerpt from my self-published book, “The Plight of the Hare & Other Stories From the Shoe”. Illustration by Breena Nuñez.

old man

I was driving home one Sunday after trying to go to church. I was angry we hadn’t made it to the service because of the little war that erupted in the car. While driving, I noticed an old man walking on the road. The road was a busy four-lane street without sidewalks. He was walking in the direction I was driving, and I was coming up behind him. From the back, I noticed his ill-fitting suit and his brown derby securely on his head. He reminded me of my old, agile Portuguese neighbor whom I’d admire from my window as he repaired his roof.

I passed the old man and glanced at him in the rear view mirror, thinking maybe I would see that old Portuguese face. I knew I wouldn’t because that neighbor had already left this world. And this man was very much alive. He was defiantly smoking a cigarette while walking at a brisk pace. He wanted to cross the four-lane road, and I glanced in my mirror again to see if he was successful. I thought maybe I would stop to help. But, he was determined and sure-footed. He didn’t need my help, he would make it.

This old man, his clothing, his hat and his defiant manner reminded me of my carefree childhood when men like him were all over the place. The most discomfort I felt was the anticipation of doing chores, or the consequences of not doing homework. My most pressing concerns were whether that cute guy was going to be on the bus or if I had a ride to the dance on Friday. What a stark contrast to today! Driving home with a car full of children worrying about a bank account empty of funds, my concerns had dramatically changed. There are creases on my brow from the sheer weight of my responsibilities. Men, like that old man walking down the road, had the same creases. My father had the same creases.

My father told me of a time when the weight of his responsibilities were at their heaviest. Confronted by his boss to quit drinking or to quit, he purchased a six-pack to think it over. After that was gone, he got a ride to the Russian River where my mom and we kids were. In the cabin, he was lying on his bed contemplating the wife, the kids, the mortgage, the houses, all the cares; and these responsibilities pressed hard. He could hear the kids splashing and laughing as they swam, careless, without worry, while he was carrying the load, however imperfectly, on his fragile shoulders.

Fast forward forty years, my children were silent in the car because they knew I was mad. I looked nervously at the little gaslight that comes on when the tank is empty reminding me of the many empties in my life. Now the burden was on my even more fragile shoulders, and I felt like my father did. But that old man reminded me of the kind of folks who were around when I was a kid; they had their creases, their responsibilities, but somehow they made it. That six-pack was the last my father bought, and he made it, too. I looked back one final time and saw that the old man made it across. So I drove home that quiet Sunday afternoon, believing I would make it too, like my father and like the old man walking on the road.

Playing in God’s Backyard

God'

This blog was featured in my self-published book, “The Plight of the Hare & Other Stories From the Shoe”.

Like a lot of San Francisco families, my parents have a cabin up at the Russian River. We’d spend all summer there when we were kids until the summer of ‘72 when we all got busted raiding the parents’ bottles. Before that though, after our chores, we kids would find our friends and hang out. We’d walk into town and get candy at Lark’s: the berry lollipop, the apple rope gum and even the candy cigarettes. We would hike up the hillsides and build forts. But most of all we would spend our summer days swimming in the river.

I took my kids up there a lot too. We couldn’t swim until the sun hit the pier. So while we waited, we would go to the park or to Armstrong Woods or even hit up Lark’s like I did as a kid.

Sometimes though, we would just hang out in the backyard, and the kids would start digging holes. My kids love to dig holes. What is it with kids – a shovel, a pail and a ton of dirt? I don’t know, but they can be happy for hours playing in the dirt. Sooner or later though, my father would holler from the deck some 25 feet above them and tell them to quit digging holes and to fill ‘em up. We sadly filled the holes and just waited for the sun to hit the pier.

Another time, my kids were in their own backyard in the East Bay, and they started to dig a giant hole. They spent hours and hours digging it real big and played in it like it was a fort. I couldn’t care less, I always enjoyed when they were wholesomely occupied. But their dad showed up and told them to fill the hole and not to dig anymore of them. What a bummer!

One day, years ago, my sister, her kids, my kids and I went to Pacifica State Beach in Linda Mar. We grabbed all of the play toys and marched to the shore. What do you think was the first thing the kids did? Yep, they started digging holes. But, unlike the other times, no one told them to stop. Rather, it seemed like God joined them in their play. His laughter roared in the sound of the waves as they played. The waves would playfully fill up their holes. And as the surf retreated, the kids were challenged to dig more holes. And they did!

The waves roared back, laughing, playing with the kids. They played all day digging and running away, only to dig and run away again. It was delightful to watch. No one told them not to dig holes; instead it seemed as if God was playing with them. He didn’t mind them digging holes in His backyard.

Playing in God’s Backyard

holes at the beachLike a lot of San Francisco families, my parents have a cabin up at the Russian River. We’d spend all summer there when we were kids until the summer of ’72 when we all got busted raiding the parents’ bottles. Before that though, after our chores, we kids would find our friends and hang out. We’d walk into town and get candy at Lark’s: the berry lollipop, the apple rope gum and even the candy cigarettes. We would hike up the hillsides and build forts. But most of all we would spend our summer days swimming in the river.

I took my kids up there a lot too. We could never go swimming until the sun hit the pier. So while we waited, we would go to the park or to Armstrong Woods or even hit up Lark’s like I did as a kid.

Sometimes though, we would just hang out in the backyard, and the kids would start digging holes. My kids love to dig holes. What is it with kids – a shovel, a pail and a ton of dirt? I don’t know, but they can be happy for hours playing in the dirt. Sooner or later though, my father would holler from the deck some 25 feet high and tell them to quit digging holes and to fill ’em up. We sadly filled the holes and just waited for the sun to hit the pier.

Another time, my kids were in their own backyard in the East Bay, and they started to dig a giant hole. They spent hours and hours digging it real big and played in it like it was a fort. I couldn’t care less, I always enjoyed when they were wholesomely occupied. But their dad showed up and told them to fill the hole and not to dig anymore of them. What a bummer!

One day, years ago, my sister, her kids, my kids and I went to Pacifica State Beach in Linda Mar. We grabbed all of the play toys and marched to the shore. What do you think was the first thing the kids did? Yep, they started digging holes. But, unlike the other times, no one told them to stop. Rather, it seemed like God joined them in their play. His laughter roared in the sound of the waves as they played. The waves would playfully fill up their holes. And as the surf retreated, the kids were challenged to dig more holes. And they did!

The waves roared back, laughing, playing with the kids. They played all day digging and running away, only to dig and run away again. It was delightful to watch. No one told them not to dig holes; instead it seemed as if God was playing with them. He didn’t mind them digging holes in his backyard.

Autumn and Joe Montana

joe montana

A family member brushed shoulders with Joe Montana several years ago. My father had called and asked, “Guess who so and so ran into?” I wasn’t in the mood for any guessing games; there was a heat wave, the kids were going crazy, and I’m sure a million other things were going wrong. “I don’t know, who?” I surrendered. “Come on, guess.” “I don’t know, Arnie?” “Bigger than Arnold.” Oh, great, who was bigger than Arnold here in California? “I have no idea.” “His initials are J.M.” I tried to think of someone and gave up. “I have no idea, I have no brain cells left to even try and guess.”

“Joe Montana.” He whispered.

“No way!” I exclaimed, “no way!” “How? When?” He went on and told me the details of the encounter. I was genuinely impressed and very envious.

Joe Montana. The man who I think is the greatest football player in my lifetime. I couldn’t believe it. This man and his extraordinary ability on the field found their way into our family’s existence. I’ve never met him nor ever will. But the thought of Joe Montana not only conjures up images of great football, but also images of intimate, warm memories of autumns gone by. His ball playing added color and vibrancy to my little life here in Northern California.

Today is the first day of autumn, and it’s hard not to recall the autumns of my youth without Joe there, albeit on the sidelines in the game of my life. See, I love fall, I love Halloween and Thanksgiving. I love oranges, and browns, and forest greens. I love the way the wind changes during Indian Summer with the sweet Santa Anas blowing off the East Bay hills. I loved playing and watching football, so for many years, Joe Montana was a part of those colorful memories.

When I was very young, our family went up to the Russian River for our Thanksgiving holiday. My father had a cabin up there; but we went to my uncle’s cabin for the big meal. That cozy cottage has become a shrine in my memory. The dining room table, enclosed on three sides by three benches where we five kids sat below a shelf lined with Italian wine bottles, was where we had our Thanksgiving dinner; I can still see my little Irish grandmother puttering around in the small kitchen, tasting from one pot or another and even offering us some of her mince meat pie. We gently refused. An intimate fire always warmed the living room and off to one corner was a small twin bed where I slept on my rare overnight visits to Uncle Bill’s cabin. Near the bed was a bookshelf, filled with all sorts of literary treasures, and when I was there, I was in heaven.

You know, when you’re young you’re not conscious of the beauty around you, those moments go by, but somehow they’re stamped somewhere in your mind and when the stresses of the present weigh you down, you look back and those memories have become jewels. I wish I spent more time with my grandmother, I wish I could remember her voice, her face – I wish I could ask her about when my father was little (probably would explain a lot), about my grandfather and about her.

But, where does Joe come into this picture? Well, my father played ball for the Navy and then went on to coach. So football was a big part of our lives. Every Thanksgiving guaranteed two things: that incredible meal and tons of football. Football was the only thing on TV from Thursday morning until Sunday night, and if you didn’t bring a book or something to occupy your time, you were destined to watch it all. One year I tallied how many games I had watched: 11; I guess that doesn’t seem like too many now with cable and ESPN.

The highlight of the weekend was always the Notre Dame game. One year some upstart 3rd string quarterback came in and won the game for the Irish. We didn’t know then a legend was in the making. Watching those games with my dad with the redwood logs crackling in the fire, rain pattering on the roof and my mother baking something delicious in the kitchen all at the time seem so average, so typical, so mundane; now, they are photographs in my mind, colors and flavors of who I am.

When I think of Joe Montana, I am flooded with these beautiful memories. Were they idyllic? Absolutely not, there were darker shades that mar some of these memories, but strange as our memories are, those hues fade a bit to the background.

But Joe Montana, like football, transcends seasons. His presence would reappear in bolder, more spectacular strokes with that catch in 1982. After that unbelievable Super Bowl, I went to the celebration downtown to pass out religious tracts. San Francisco hadn’t been rocked with such a force since April of 1906. That was the place to be on January 24, 1982. And in my own life, I too was rocked, with a divine force, after I had recently embraced a living faith in Christianity.

But, that happiness in January of 1982 was just a deposit of things to come. He took San Francisco to the Super Bowl three more times. He catapulted the 49ers into the league with Green Bay, Miami and Pittsburgh. Time after time after time, with seconds to go and touchdowns to make, Joe, with his cool expertise, would go in and do the job.

Football, as you know, is a manly, messy, bloody sport. The sport that gives men license to beat the hell out of each other and gives us fans an outlet for adulation for our team and hatred for our opponents. With the language of longshoremen and the manners of adolescents, Joe Montana took these elements of the game and, effortlessly, made them beautiful. He is an artist of the utmost ability. After he retired, I pretty much quit watching the game. I caught a few Super Bowls with the kids and that was fun, but no comparison.

But after witnessing who I believe is the greatest to play the game during my lifetime, there is no desire to watch anymore. Thank you, Joe, for the beauty and grace that you created out of pigskin and mud, and gracing our autumns with such spectacular color .

Kinda Irish

IMoore Emblem

I’m kinda Irish. Actually, I’m half Irish, but it’s old Irish blood that runs through my veins, and I’d like to think there’s still a “lilt of Irish laughter” in me. On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone feels kinda Irish. It’s a happy day that celebrates the beauty of an old culture. Of course, we all know that St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish, but he has become the patron saint of the Emerald Isle for his missionary work nearly two millennia ago. Everyone wants to be an Irishman on St. Paddy’s Day. Well, there are some Irish folks that I want to be like.

Every summer, my family went to the Russian River like a lot of San Francisco families did. One of those families was the Murphy’s. I knew Tom Murphy. He always drove by the pier in his totally cool green boat and would wave. I liked how it matched his red hair. Tom was a nice guy, a good guy, solid. I met his sister in my sophomore year at Mercy, she was a year behind me. Ann Marie – I can still remember clearly – was always laughing, smiling and telling jokes. You couldn’t be in her presence long without cracking a smile and heaving a laugh. I didn’t know then that an illness ran in the family, a devastating illness to which both Tom and Ann Marie would succumb. Surely, a mother’s hell.

Some years ago, I was reading the Irish Comics — the obituaries — and came across Mrs. Murphy’s obituary. The obituary writer summed up the character of this amazing woman.  She was “a woman of faith, patience, endurance and grace, she faced head on the heavy onslaughts that nature threw against her and she stood up with courage and hope and without complaint.” What a eulogy, what a legacy! In the midst of my own troubles, none worthy to compare to her sorrows, I was encouraged, if she could endure “with courage and hope” all that she lived through, so could I. I was strengthened to go on “without complaint”. I am still working on that one. She exemplifies the kinda Irish I want to be like, and the kinda Christian I’d like to become.

I know some other Irish folks — the kinda Irish I want to look like. I first met the Carlins when I was a wee lassie, probably up at the River as well. I envied their twinkling blue eyes, beautiful wavy auburn hair and chronic joy. According to Mrs. Carlin, Mr. Carlin was a “hundred-percenter,” meaning both parents were all Irish. He reminded me of James Cagney – not “Public Enemy” Cagney or “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” Cagney — but the charming “Yankee Doodle Dandy” Cagney. Decades ago, I spent a couple days with this family, one of my first outings alone. “American Pie” played non-stop on the radio Helen kept on all night. I took that habit home, much to the consternation of my sister. Helen and her sister walked me all around from West Portal to Stonestown.

Often when I take the kids on a drive through the City, I drive by St. Cecilia’s. I tell them that’s where their grandfather went to school. I drive pass the Carlin’s house, but can never remember which one was theirs. I hoped to see one of them in front yard. No such Irish luck — well, not until a Sunday in 2013.

My daughter had a CYO game at St. Cecilia’s. She had gone ahead with a friend, and her sister and I were meeting her there. Impatient to get to the game on time and not wanting to get stuck turning left at Sloat, I drove straight and took West Portal to Vicente and happened to drive on the Carlin’s block. As I passed, I saw a figure stooped over the little garden in the front yard. It was Mr. Carlin. Yay!

“I’m gonna drop you off, I’ve got to visit someone.” I said to my older daughter and dumped her at the St. Cecilia’s parking lot, “I’ll be right back.” I was so excited to see Mr. Carlin. By the time I got there, he was no longer in the front yard, but the garage door was still open. I illegally parked across the street and skipped over to his open door. “Hello…, Mr. Carlin,” as I knocked on the door frame. He got up and was happy to visit. I wasn’t sure if he remembered me, but he remembered my father. I told him I had always wanted to stop by and say hello, but forgot which house was his. He said I was always welcome, told me the number and to come by again. After our little chat, I told him I beat him and had ten kids…then he remembered, “Yes, your dad told me about that.” His beautiful blue eyes still sparkled as he smiled. I hopped back in the car, very happy and went to the game.

No big deal, huh? That little visit blessed me so much. I had hoped for so long to say hello to this old family friend, and I got the opportunity. I’m sure he was as blessed as I was. Everyday we have opportunities to say hello to someone or smile at someone, even if it’s the Burger King guy who is just trying to get the order right. Those little things are blessings that we can be a part of. It doesn’t take much, folks, to lighten another’s load or warm another’s heart. “You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while.”

So this St. Patrick’s Day, I am gonna roast me a leg o’ lamb — I don’t do corned beef and cabbage — listen to some Christy Moore and Ronan Tynan, and top it off by watching “The Quiet Man”. I will also remember the kinda Irish I admire, Mrs. Murphy and her strength of character and Mr. Carlin and his smiling Irish eyes. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, folks!!