An Ode to Jo

I end this year on a sad note. My best friend from grammar school and high school passed away on Christmas day. I received notice via an email from her sister. She was 51 years old. And with that news, came a flood of childhood memories.

Joanne Rita Dunlea Ezell Broyles moved to Florida in my second year of high school. I remember her telling me that her mother, who had been divorced from her father for some time, had met a man who lived in Florida and they were moving. I didn’t believe her. And for the life of me, I can’t remember when or how she left. She just did. There was no big fanfare. I didn’t help them move. I don’t even think she called me on the phone to say she was leaving. She just did. It was odd for me, because up to that point, she had been my best friend. But she left to live in another state and I never knew when or if I would ever see her again. We wrote to each other for a few more years and then in 1985 or so, I went to Florida to visit with her. That was the last time I saw her or spoke to her.

We met by way of our sisters. My sister, Gloria, and Joanne’s sister, Kathy, met in school and became best friends. It was only natural that if we wanted to get out of the house and go with our sisters anywhere, we would have to deal with each other. Just like how many good friendships form, we didn’t like each other at first. But if we wanted to go where our sisters were going, we had to put up with each other. But then we found a commonality in the fact that neither of us had a best friend. If nothing else, it was convenient having someone closer to our age to talk to while our sisters were off doing God knows what. (Seriously, God really does know what you two were doing. Shame on you!) Kidding.

Our families had much in common. Initially, the Dunleas lived two blocks away from where we lived in Greenville. We all went to St. Mary’s school together. Gloria and Kathy were in the same class; my brother Jim/Jimmy and her brother Jim/Jimmy were in the same class at St. Mary’s as well. Interesting to note that my brother now goes by the name “James” (I think he secretly wants to be a chauffeur or a butler) and her brother later on was better known as “Michael” or “Mike”. I’m not sure when he became “Mike” but it was sometime when he was in high school I think. Joanne and I went to St. Mary’s as well but we were in different grades and therefore in different classes. So if we wanted to see each other, it would be after school or on weekends.

It’s hard to imagine it now, all of us in our little Catholic gray and navy plaid uniforms, crossover neckties, white starched shirts and knee socks. All of us, supposedly getting a good Catholic upbringing; the best that money could buy in Norwich, CT. But my oh my, I’m sure we did NOT turn out to be what the nuns had in mind. Far from it. Sister Mary Francis Mary Elizabeth Mary is off somewhere shaking her head in disgust at this very moment.

The Kane’s and the Dunlea’s were all matched up except for Christine, Joanne’s oldest sister, and Raymond, my younger brother. But somehow they survived.

Joanne’s father, a big irish-looking man with red hair and red mutton chop sideburns, was a postal worker, a mail carrier. (Note, Kathy, Joanne’s sister works for the post office. My father worked for the State of CT and my sister works for the State in the same building that he worked in. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!) Mr. Dunlea, whose first name was Jim (My father’s name was Jim as well) also worked evenings as a bartender at Club 41 in Norwich. He would take Joanne with him to work and sometimes I joined them. She would entice me to go to keep her company by saying that he would give us Coca-Cola with cherries in it. He would fill a bar glass with maraschino cherries to the brim and then add the soda. It was the best! Not to mention Club 41 had the best pizza in town! Eating that pizza and drinking out of bar glasses was a treat! It made us feel all grown up. In my house, we didn’t have soda, so that was a huge draw for me. I would do anything to get away from Wyler’s lemonade and Tang! Pitoo-ey! Yack!

One of my memories of Joanne’s father was when he took Joanne and I to the drive-in in Uncasville. Joanne’s parents had gotten divorced and it was his weekend to have Joanne. With four kids, my family never went to the drive-in. So this was a treat. We didn’t care what the movie was, as long as we were doing something out of the house. I was 14 at the time.

The three of us were sitting in the front seat of his car, nestled in to see the movie. The speaker was hung in Mr. Dunlea’s window. With a highball between his legs, and candy for us to snack on, the movie started, and we were all content to sit back and enjoy the show. Keep in mind again that I was 14 and the scariest film I had seen to that day was probably “The Wizard of Oz”.

The movie started out with a zoomed in view of a model’s voluptuous lips as she sensuously parts them, while a photographer talks her through it and snaps pictures of her.
“Hmmm, what is the name of this movie again?”
As the movie progresses, not long into the movie, a fashion model gets brutally raped.
“And what is this movie about again?”
“Just eat your candy” Slurppp. As he downed his highball and made another.
The rapist goes to trial, gets free, comes back and rapes the model’s little sister. Then the little sister takes revenge.
Hmmm. Wonder what that movie was rated? It certainly wasn’t a Disney flick, that’s for sure.
In the front seat of his big Chevy Impala-like car, we all squirmed with discomfort as we watched the movie together. Joanne and I, elbowing each other in every uncomfortable scene, as if to say, “Did you see that?” And him slugging down his highballs hoping we wouldn’t notice the inappropriate nature or theme of the movie by turning down the volume on the speaker. How could we not?

I was so young and innocent, I would have preferred to be on the swings at the drive-in. But alas, just like every experience I had with Joanne, it was an educational moment that none of us had planned for. I’m not sure I even knew what sex was, let alone what rape was. Truly an unforgettable memory.

Our mothers were a lot alike yet different. My mother, Benita, was a stay at home mom and Joanne’s mother, Rita, worked for the State Hospital. (Benita and Rita rhyme!) Joanne’s parents got divorced during a time when it wasn’t fashionable – not like it is today, when it is common to hear that someone is on their second, third, even fourth marriage. But back in the 70’s, you didn’t get divorced. “For better or worse” meant “We don’t care how unhappy you are, you will stay married.” But Mr. and Mrs. Dunlea, for whatever reason(s), had to separate and did.

This impacted Joanne in ways that only she understood. Joanne was the type of girl that hid her pain well. She had smiling Irish eyes just like her Dad and she never let on that she was sad. She talked about the more painful experiences of her life in such a calm manner that it was as if she had conditioned herself to not allow herself to show or feel pain. She was completely opposite of me. I wear my heart on my sleeve and cry when I’m in pain. This wouldn’t be the only thing we would be opposite in. But as they say, opposites attract.

After the divorce, Mrs. Dunlea had become a free woman. Something I’m sure my mother envied. I can remember some of the men Mrs. Dunlea dated. She was an attractive French woman, with an olive complexion, and beautiful teeth (they were false teeth but nobody would know it. Well, I guess they do now! Ha!) Joanne hated all the men that her mother went out with, but never uttered a word to her mother. As her friend, I just listened but honestly couldn’t relate until I was much older. One of the men she dated, I think his name was Roger, had a son who was a little younger than me by maybe a year. Joanne and I had to go to Roger’s house to visit and the son was there. The son didn’t want us there any more than we wanted to be there. The merging of these two family units wasn’t how they portrayed families doing it on TV like on the “Brady Bunch”. “Call it much more than a hunch, that these two groups should NOT form a family”. Anyway, Joanne and this boy were not too keen on the prospect that they could become instant siblings if Roger and Rita so chose. They were both angry and leary about that notion. Before going in the house, Mrs. Dunlea had laid down the law that we would all get along on this visit. Her future seemed to depend on it.

Why was I there? I was just there probably because I had slept over the night before and didn’t want to go home. (I slept over their house a lot.) Hey, if they were going to get married and this boy was going to become Joanne’s step brother, he needed to know that I came with the package deal.

Anyway, we were at Roger’s house and Mrs. Dunlea wanted us to behave ourselves because I can only assume that she wanted to make a good impression. When we got there, we were instantly shooed off to join the son in his room to try and "make nice". The son, equally as angry over the intrusion, didn’t exactly make us feel welcome. An altercation broke out when I picked up the boy’s Elton John album to look at it. He told me not to touch it and then he hit me. I hauled off and hit him back. I underestimated his rage over the situation and he lunged at me and we started to fight. Mrs. Dunlea came in to find us fighting and the look on her face was one of complete disappointment and disapproval – at me! It didn’t matter if the boy had hit me first or that he was punching the crap out of a girl. I was blowing her chances possibly of marrying Roger. If looks could have killed, I would have been dead on the floor and buried with that Elton John album. Joanne was there and didn’t like the prospect of her mother marrying Roger. But at the same time, her mother was angry at me and so she didn’t speak to me the whole ride home. To this day, I can’t hear the Elton John song, “Harmony” without thinking about that event. (Darn, I wish the song playing at the time had been “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fightin’”. That would have made a better anecdote. Oh well.)

Anyway, Rita, no, excuse me, Marie, no wait, it was Marie Rita. (All the girls in Joanne’s mother’s family were named “Marie” and they went by their second/middle name. “Marie Julie” was Joanne’s Aunt Julie, and so on and so forth. There were like eight sisters that had the name “Marie”. Did those grandparents like the name Marie or what?) But alas, Mrs. Dunlea, Rita, Marie Rita, never ended up marrying Roger. That was not to be. She married a gentleman from Florida and had a long marriage until he passed away a few years ago. To that, I say, “Dear Mrs. Dunlea, You could have ended up marrying Roger. See? I saved you from that!...You’re welcome!”

My mother I think wanted to be like Mrs. Dunlea and wanted to divorce my father. But unlike Mrs. Dunlea, my mother couldn’t drive. She didn’t have her license and therefore she was stuck with my father. He was her transportation and connection to the outside world. Other than that, I always thought that my parents too should have split when I was at an earlier age. Knowing this, this seemed to comfort Joanne and we had the commonality of watching our parents fight together and helped each other through. I think that the Dunleas felt that we had it better than them because our parents stayed together. But in essence, we had our own demons to battle. We were no better, just different.

Mrs. Dunlea could drive and had a car and once in a while she took my mother to bingo with her. I can picture their car so vividly. Because I went everywhere with Joanne, I spent a lot of time in that car, listening to WICH on AM radio. I can remember one time “Macarthur’s Park” came on the radio and I blurted out, “I hate this song! Someone left the cake out in the rain” I mimicked. Joanne quickly elbowed me in the side and whispered between her gritting teeth, “Shhh. That’s my mother’s favorite song!” I seemed to always step in the proverbial it and Joanne was always there to elbow me for doing so. After a while I just stopped talking.

I have great memories of going to Misquamicut to the Andrea Hotel and riding the waves; to Beach Pond (where Joanne and I had to be rescued once because we had paddled out too far in a kayak and couldn’t get back in to shore. That was scary. Again, the stern look of disapproval from Marie Rita standing on the shore. Crap! “Please, Mr. Lifeguard, I’d rather you just let me drown.”) The State Hospital had a reservoir that we went swimming in often. You had to be a State employee to get in. It was located where the SEAT bus depot is in Preston now. Mrs. Dunlea would sit and read a book while Joanne and I raced each other to see who could swim the fastest to the diving raft. She, of course, always won. Being older than me, she was much taller than me and more experienced. At the time, I think because she was the youngest in her family, I was the little sister she never had.

Back to the car, ironically, on my commute to work every morning, I pass by a car that looks just like the car the Dunleas had. It was similar to the one below and every day that I pass it, I think of them:

I have fond memories of going with Joanne and her mother to the Lincoln Inn for the $1.99 spaghetti dinner special. It wasn’t particularly good Italian, as I now know Italian food to be. It was jar sauce over spaghetti, with one meatball and came with garlic bread, all served on red and white checkered tablecloths, with old chianti bottle candle holders with dripped wax on each table. But it was good to us back then and you couldn’t beat the price. Years later, when my brother Ray bought the Lincoln Inn, I reminisced about those times and even wrote about it in another blog story, In My Little Town. Now it’s a saloon type joint with saloon doors and a cowboy theme. Nothing ever stays the same, does it?

I always looked forward to going there with them. I think that’s where my incessant need to go out to dinner started. Again, with a family of six, we never went out to eat. My mother always cooked supper and we ate at the dinner table every night - a thing that Joanne was visibly uncomfortable doing at my house. She wasn’t used to everyone sitting around the table and “passing the peas”. She preferred me to go to her house where we could make Kraft macaroni and cheese dinner. Keep in mind that Kraft was new at that time. It didn’t take us long to become experts at making it. The other thing we would make was Appian Way pizzas. It was pizza in a box. It came with pizza dough flour and sauce in a can. We would put Kraft single slice cheese on it and think it was the best thing going. You couldn’t pay me to eat that garbage today! But I suppose that this is where I acquired my love of cooking and am grateful for having had the opportunity.

I can so clearly picture everything about their house. Better than I can picture my own house. Although the duplexes have been re-sided, here are pictures of where I spent a good portion of my youth, Joanne's house in CT:

When Joanne’s sister, Chris, got married and moved to Somers, CT, I went with Joanne to her house to visit and had my very first onion dip fondue. It was all the rage of the 70’s. Lipton soup in a packet mixed with sour cream. Joanne LOVED that. She loved any and every opportunity that she got to spend with her siblings. She was the baby of the family and looked up to all of them. She idolized them. If they thought something was cool, so didn’t Joanne.

I went to my very first concert with Joanne. Chris and her husband Ray took us to see Jethro Tull at the Hartford Civic Center. I don’t remember much about the concert, and the little I do remember I can’t discuss in a blog. But it just now occurs to me that on Christmas day, when Joanne passed, my sister and my brother-in-law, Chuck, came over and spent Christmas morning with us. He came in and he hadn’t even taken his coat off yet when he was asking me if I had heard Jethro Tull’s Christmas CD. I said no and popped it in to the CD player. That’s what we listened to Christmas morning. Jethro Tull. How odd is THAT?! I haven't listened to Jethro Tull in years! Never mind on Christmas morning! Never! Tell me that isn't odd!

A lot of my life’s “first” experiences were either with Joanne or because of Joanne. Some of those firsts I won’t go into here. But we were best friends and we did what best friends do. We talked each other into doing stupid stuff. And we did an awful lot of stupid stuff.

We smoked our first cigarette together – her idea. We drank our first bottle of wine together – Boones Farm, Plum Hollow, of which I puked my guts up after – her idea (age intentionally left out!). We kissed our first boyfriends in her bedroom at her house while her mother was at work – her idea (again, you don’t need to know how old we were when that happened. For my kids' sake, let’s just say I was 35.). We hitchhiked and almost got killed – her id…no, I’m not sure whose idea that was. But that’s another blog story that you can read about by clicking here.

She was older than me by two years, and therefore she got her period first. I grew up in the age when getting your period wasn’t discussed with your parents. My mother certainly didn’t tell me anything. That wouldn’t have been proper. “Oh no, I can’t” my mother would say in her English accent. It wasn’t explained to me what a period was. Sitting here today with my daughter Rachel, who is 10 and on the cusp of puberty, with American Girl book in hand, reading it to her and asking her if she has any questions about what a period is, etc., it occurred to me that times have certainly changed. Here I am discussing body functions with my daughter. I never talked with my mother about such things, to this day, and I still wouldn’t want to. Ha! During this very important discussion that I was having with my daughter, it occurred to me that everything I knew about periods and menstruating and how to put a tampon in, was all learned from my friend Joanne. Joanne was the one who told me there was such a thing as a tampon. And thank God she did. I’d still be wearing pads today probably! (Too much information? Sorry.)

Ok, so Joanne and I did everything together. Then one day, we had a fight. I can’t remember what it was about. Something stupid I’m sure. All I know is we stopped talking for about a year. Then I ran into her at the Palace Twin theaters in downtown Norwich. She was with Beth Fratoni. Grrr. I hated Beth Fratoni. She lived up the street from me. Her mother and Joanne’s mother were friends. I always got the sense that Rita, no Marie, no Marie Rita, no Mrs. Dunlea, wanted Joanne to hang around with Beth and wanted them to be best friends. I guess I can see it. What wasn’t there to like about Beth. She was pretty, active in school, blah, blah, blah. I, on the other hand, was shy. I never said two words when I went to Joanne’s house. I was easily intimidated and certainly wasn’t confident. But Beth Fratoni was confident. Now that I’ve grown up, I guess I can understand it. But the thing was, Beth was boring. Ever meet people that you have things in common with and everything points to the fact that you should be friends, but they’re just so damn boring that when you’re with them, you want to shoot yourself in the head? Yeah, I think Beth was like that for Joanne. After we met up with each other at the theater after a year of not talking, Joanne called me on the phone a week or two later and we talked like a year hadn’t gone by. We were back to being friends again just like that. She was sorry and remorseful for whatever she had done. Of course, I can say that now because, 1) this is my blog and I can say whatever I want and 2) she can’t refute it now can she. (I’m sure she’s up there right now cursing me out.) Nah, we never apologized to each other for anything. We just continued on.

We created a song together that was the fruit of our boredom in my room. I shared a room with my sister and she had a poem that she hung on the wall. Joanne and I worked hard at putting the words to a tune, harmonizing with each other, and secretly pretending that we were discovered and were on stage singing our big hit. Here is the poem.

I do my thing,
And you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you,
And I am I,
And if by chance we find each other,
It's beautiful.

- Frederick E. Perl

You have no idea how many times we rehearsed singing that with hair brushes in hand in front of the vanity mirror in my room. The words stand true. And although you can't hear the tune that we put those lyrics to, I personally can't "read" those lines or type those words without hearing the tune. I can only sing them in the manner that we put them to music. The tune and how we held the notes in certain places are etched into my brain. She would indubitably remember this!

Joanne and I walked everywhere together. Soon after we met, the Dunleas had moved from Greenville to the Hamilton Street projects. After that, we lived 1.1 miles apart and we would meet halfway at Mr. Bigs, a department store that was in Norwich. If we had money, we would go in and order a soda and fries at the counter. Sometimes if we had a lot of money, we would walk to downtown Norwich to D’Elia’s grinder shop and split a ham grinder. We loved to eat. I’m not sure we had all that much in common except that we both liked the finer things in life. And by finer things in life, I mean, of course, Jolly Rancher watermelon candies! Somehow through the years they have changed the recipe and the Jolly Rancher watermelon candies are not the same as they were back then. Now they are the consistency of hard candy. If you try to bite into it, the candy will break apart. Years ago, if you tried to bite into one, it would stick to your teeth but yet still maintain its hardness. A great filling remover. Yup, the finer things in life. And pistachio nuts. She once enticed me to go with her to her Aunt Julie’s house in Massachusetts under the guise of “She has pistachios! The good kind…the red ones!” How could I pass that up?

Did I never get fed in my house or what?

Here’s a story that happened on the day I found out about Joanne’s passing. This is another one of those strange, but true, stories:

Going back to when we were probably 12/14 years old. Every chance we got, we would go to Charlie’s Supermarket near her house and buy Doritos Nacho Cheese chips. They had just come on the market and we thought they were the best thing since sliced bread. Every time we had money in our pockets, we either bought Doritos or Jolly Rancher watermelon candies. But Doritos were THE thing back then. Hard to imagine now, since they are everywhere now and in all kinds of different varieties. But back then, there were only the Doritos Nacho Cheese flavored ones. We would devour an entire bag in one sitting. Our fingertips would be orange for days! (Hey, we didn't have much in those days. This was our only source of entertainment.)

Flash forward to this week, the same day I found out the news about Joanne’s passing, an hour later, I was in a Subway Sandwich Shop with my 10 year old daughter. We were standing there ordering our sandwiches and she asked me if she could substitute the apples that come with the kids meal for something else. I said that the store probably wouldn't let her do it. Mostly I told her that because I didn’t want to be bothered because I was deep in thought about the news I just received and just didn't want the aggravation of asking the question to the sandwich maker. She could eat the apples. It wouldn’t kill her. But then I snapped back into reality and thought, I should just ask. So I did and the girl behind the counter said she could substitute. My daughter, having no knowledge of Joanne’s passing, having no knowledge of Joanne and I's fetish for Doritos, having several choices of chips to choose from, (Fritos, Lays potato chips, etc.), who rarely chooses Doritos as a snack, grabbed a bag of Doritos Nacho Cheese chips off the shelf and said, "I want these". And it wasn’t until then that I thought of just how many times Joanne and I ate those when we were young. I instantly got teary eyed. I joined my daughter in eating her Doritos as my own little way of paying homage to Joanne.

Coincidence that this and the Jethro Tull thing happened? I think not.

Joanne’s life was not easy. She had witnessed her parents getting divorced and her mother remarrying. Both Joanne’s father and my father liked to drink. It was yet another thing we had in common. Joanne’s father was a bartender and due to the occupational hazard of serving alcohol every night, he became an alcoholic. Or maybe he got a job as a bartender because he was an alcoholic. I’m not sure which came first. But shortly after Joanne moved to Florida with her mother, her father, in his early to mid 40’s, passed away from the disease. I hadn’t seen Joanne for a few years and when she came to CT for the funeral, I went to it, but we didn’t speak. It was awkward and we were still too young to know how to handle those types of life’s events. I just didn’t know what to say. But I was there if she needed to talk. She never spoke to me about it, but I know that this was her first major loss of many that she would have to endure in her life.

The point of this blog is not to air all Joanne’s dirty laundry now that she is gone. I won’t do that because I respect her privacy. But I will say that she was faced with many challenges in her life – the loss of her brother Mike, who also lost his life in his 40’s; the loss of her son Lucas, who passed away this year as well, who was only 30. She endured bad relationships and divorces, etc. She wasn’t without life’s struggles. And I believe her inability to cope with the tragedies in her life ultimately caused her demise. She passed away due to a medical condition, but a medical condition that was acerbated and compounded by the relentless losses she had to contend with and coping the only way she knew how; by following the only examples that had been set for her; by drowning her sorrows. And the empathetic side of me doesn’t blame her for doing so. I know too much to pass judgement on her. Given the same set of circumstances, my outcome may have been the same.

My Kaneclusions: Although Jo, as she liked to call herself when we were young, and I were only friends for such a brief period of time, about 10 years, she and her family shaped so many things in my life. So many of my blog stories have Joanne in them, not by name, but if she were alive and read them, she would say, “Hey, that was me!”

It makes me sad to think that I have all these memories of the things we did and it’s extremely probable that she didn’t remember any of them. In speaking with her daughter, she told me that Joanne didn’t speak about her past or her childhood much to her kids. I find that to be sad.

With her passing, I no longer have that person that I grew up with that can verify and commiserate with me on the things that happened. My memories are truly just my own now.

Although we weren’t friends in our adult lives for various reasons, she made an impact on my life that will never be forgotten. I have so many memories of things we did together. It’s crazy what comes back to you when someone passes away. I haven’t thought about these things in years. But now they are in the forefront of my mind. And I can honestly say, with some of the memories I have, we were both lucky to have survived as long as we did.

Unfortunately, this is the second childhood friend that I have lost this year. The first one caused me a world of aggravation at the end of her life and I was angry with her for doing so. But when I found out she died, I was surprisingly moved. In both cases, it’s not the adults that these women became that I miss. Far from it. But it’s losing those close childhood friends that somehow leave an empty hole in one’s heart. Remembering the children that they were instead of the adults they became. I think sometimes facebook is the root of all evil. Reconnecting with people in your past can be detrimental. Some things are best left in the past.

I am convinced that the people surrounding me don’t understand that in both cases, this was a loss for me. Relationships aren’t founded purely on the status of where you left them, but rather on the blocks of time and events that lead you from the start to that end. Just because I wasn’t friends with these women in years, doesn’t mean that the experiences I had with them as kids simply went away.

With the passing of Joanne, a little bit of my childhood was ripped away and maybe others can’t understand that. Our sisters are still alive and still friends. It seems to me that they, if anyone, should understand what this would mean to me. But they don’t. To no fault of their own. Their best childhood friend is still alive and I suppose they can’t relate until it happens to them.

As much as I joke about Mrs. Dunlea, (Note: She is now, and has been for years now, Mrs. Caldwell, she will always be Mrs. Dunlea to me) I have fond memories of all the times she took us places and all the times she let me sleep over at her house. I am particularly grateful for the time Joanne and I got home after midnight with no reasonable explanation and she never called my mother to rat on me. In those moments, I like to think to myself that maybe she didn’t dislike me…or at least, not all that much.

I could write an entire book about this one family that was so intertwined with my family through my childhood. Just the experiences Joanne and I had with our sisters is a novel. But this isn't about them. It's about Joanne.

My heart goes out to Marie Rita Dunlea Caldwell who has been faced with having to bury not one, but two of her children; her husband, and her grandson. Nobody should have to endure all of that.

And to Joanne's surviving sisters, Kathy and Chris, who have had to endure burying their father, their brother, their step father, their nephew, and now their sister, nobody deserves that amount of grief in one lifetime. As much as it is all part of life, my prayer to God is for Him to ease up on them and let them get through their own lifes circumstances without tragedy for a while.

As much as my mother was a fantastic cook and had supper on the table every night, I always, ALWAYS, chose to eat at Joanne’s, even if it was just Kraft Mac and Cheese. Joanne had a way of making everything sound good. She was influential in my life and could talk me into anything. Having survived them all, I can say that I don’t regret any of those things. Some were good experiences and some were not so healthy. And when we parted ways, it seems as though I grew up and grew out of the things we did as kids. But Joanne, it seems, kept the party going. And I would have been supportive of that had it not ultimately killed her.

I particularly feel bad for her two sons and daughter who are now faced with reliving the sadness of their mother’s passing every year on Christmas Day. I hope they can somehow find a way in the years to come to find the happiness that the day should bring. She will never be forgotten and lives on through them and their children.

I believe the best Christmas gift Joanne could have received this year was to be able to see her son, Lucas, her brother, Mike, and her Dad, in the afterlife. It’s not sad when you think of it in the terms of, has there ever been such a greater gift granted to one? Certainly beats a toaster! I picture them all standing there in Heaven, waiting at the pearly gates, holding a cold brewsky for her that has her name written on it. Not talking to someone in 25 years doesn’t change the fact that, as her best friend, I know that nothing would make her happier.

So cheers to you, Jo! If you’re watching me from above, can you point me in the direction of finding some oldtime Jolly Ranchers!?!

Oh, and keep a cold one on ice for me!

Why Do I Wait in Line?

Before I had kids, one of my favorite things to do at Christmas time was to go to the New London Mall, that is, when it was a mall, to watch the single night of the year that one could bring their pets to see Santa. If you didn't get the chance to see that, you missed one of the most joyful and funniest things that southeastern CT had to offer. People would bring their pets to sit on Santa's lap to take pictures. The more exotic the animal, the more entertaining. The ones I can remember are iguanas, a pony, St. Bernard, baby chicks. Then, of course, there were dogs, cats, puppies and kittens. The pets that resisted being there were the best. But for whatever reason, probably law suits, that came to an end. A shame because I would love Rachel to be able to see that.

But then I had kids and I have found that to be equally as entertaining. Those that don't take the time to take their kids to see Santa, or begrudgingy do it, are, in my opinion, missing the point.

Why do I wait in long lines to see Santa every year? It's easy. He makes me laugh. And why do I want my kids to believe in Santa Claus? It's easy. He makes me laugh.

So often, it's so easy to get down around the holidays. I find that even though I hate standing in line just like everyone else, waiting patiently for the 1 minute of time with Santa, it always fills me with joy and the waiting that seemed to be a waste of time all goes away and becomes totally worth whatever aggravation it was.

Doesn't the fact that Santa makes you smile make it something worth believing in?

Watch the below video of Mia visiting with Santa. We had travelled to Holyoke Mall in MA during a snow blizzard. The mall was empty due to the snow. There was no line and we hit it just right. We basically just walked up and sat on his lap.

Mia, who was 9 1/2 at the time, was on the cusp of questioning if Santa was real or not. Some kids at school took it upon themselves to tell her that he wasn't real. It was my goal that year to prove them wrong...

After she got off his lap and we walked away, I asked her if she noticed his beard. It was real, indicating that he had to be the real Santa, not one of those "Santa helpers" she heard tale of with fake beards. I told her that due to the road conditions, he must have gotten there by his sleigh which was parked on the roof. The mall was so dead, it was obvious that nobody was on the roads. We walked away and shopped a little bit. When we walked back to the end of the mall that our car was parked at, we peeked in on Santa and there was a different Santa sitting in the chair. A "Santa's helper" with a fake beard. I pointed him out to her and said, the real Santa must have just flew in to see her because now he was gone. We stood and listened for a while and the "Santa's helper" didn't "Ho, ho, ho" or make jokes, or anything. He was kind of boring with the few kids that were in line. With a sparkle in her eyes, she said, "Sha, that HAD to be Santa Claus. Look at his beard! And he must have left on his sleigh! Do you think he came here just to see us?"

"Yes, Mia, I do. That's what I believe."

It gave her belief for one more year. The following year, we went back and sure enough, Santa was there again! This time she asked him if she could tug on his beard. He let her. And again, another year of believing. (We couldn't video it because the mall personnel wouldn't let us. Even Santa was dismayed by that. "It isn't the same anymore," he said with sadness in his voice. Commercialism was taking over and the main point of visiting Santa was to get the picture package for $399.99. Santa was troubled over that and so wasn't I. It's no longer about telling Santa what you want for Christmas; it's no longer about kids visiting with Santa. It's strictly about the photo shoot.

How did this happen?

We went the next year, and to our disappointment, the real Santa wasn't there. It was a Santa's helper. I was greatly saddened by this and wondered if he was sick. I hoped not. I decided to instead believe that he was disgruntled with the new mall policies and boycotted the mall, and hoped that he was at some other mall spreading joy and laughter as he had done for me and my family in years past.

Unfortunately, there came the time that Mia stopped believing. She had lost a tooth and put it under her pillow for the Tooth Fairy. The next morning, she unfolded the dollar bills that the Tooth Fairy had left her and in those bills, there was a Stop and Shop receipt tucked inside. The receipt had the same exact items that were bought at the grocery store when she had went shopping with her mother. When she told me this, she asked me how this could happen. I didn't have an answer. I was dumbfounded at the stupidity.

The difference between Mia's mother and I can be explained in this one very significant moment: Upon hearing this from her daughter, her mother laughed. Upon hearing this from Mia, I cried.

I saw it as the end of her innocence. Oh I know it had to happen sooner or later. I just wanted it to be later.

In this same conversation, she asked me if Santa was real. And to me he is, so I said, "Don't be blowing this Tooth Fairy thing all out of proportion, Mia. Of course Santa is real." But I knew it was over. And the truly sad part was, Mia and her mother moved out before the next holiday would occur, before I could go over the important reasons on why it's important to believe in things that you can't see.

To this day, I can not listen to the Polar Express theme song, "Believe" by Josh Groban without crying. Particularly, the lyrics:

We were dreamers not so long ago
But one by one we all had to grow up
When it seems the magic's slipped away
We find it all again on Christmas day

Believe in what your heart is saying
Hear the melody that's playing
There's no time to waste
There's so much to celebrate
Believe in what you feel inside
And give your dreams the wings to fly
You have everything you need
If you just believe

Tearing up just typing it. (And the bleeding hearts of the world unite.)

My Kaneclusion: The loss of a teenager who is still living may be the hardest thing I have ever had to go through in my life. And every holiday, particularly Christmas, I relive the good times, and hope that someday she understands that I wasn't a liar. I wasn't a fraud. I just wanted her to know how to believe. I wanted her to know how to find joy in the season, even if sometimes, life can get you down. That there are real Santas out there that can lift your spirits and bring joy and laughter if you seek them out.

One of few Christmas wishes I have for this year: That Mia has a wonderful Christmas and gets everything she wishes for. And I hope someday she will somehow believe again. Even if it takes her getting to my age, I hope she believes in the magic of Christmas again in her life and know that she is thought of, more than she knows.

When I get melancholy about the situation, I watch videos like the above. It makes me smile. I hope it made you smile too.

Twelve Days of Kanemas

My year in review. In the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, I have encapsulated my blogs for the year in this tidy little parcel. If you are unfamiliar with the events of which I speak (talking in old English style to set the mood), thou shall click on the links to the right and be delivered to most amusing tales of woe and triumph. Yonder, you will be enchanted by most delightful yarns created by yours truly to enlighten--

"Oh bloody ‘ell, would you just get on with it!”

Okay, okay. Don’t get your knickers in a bunch. Geez, you yanks are so impatient.

I proudly present to you,

“Sharon’s Twelve Days of Kanemas":

On the first day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me...

Oh, I forgot to tell you to make sure you sing along with it. It's okay. Nobody can hear you. Unless you’re sitting at your computer really belting this out loud. Then of course they can hear you. And if you do that, don’t be surprised if someone comes to the door with a pretty white coat for you to wear. You know, the kind that ties your arms behind your back? Anyway, please either sing this to yourself in your mind, OR feel free to break out the karaoke microphone and go all the way with it. Show your spouses and children that you can get down with your bad self. Okay, maybe this isn’t exactly the best song for that. But listen. Just sing it, okay? Here we go…

mmmmmmMMMMMMM <----This is me pretending to have one of those pitch devices that the nuns always used to help us kids start off in perfect pitch. Really? Did it really help with that? "Excuse me, Sister Mary Elizabeth Aloysius Dymphna Mary Catherine Mary, could you do that for me one more time, my pitch is slightly off". (Did you know that St. Dymphna was patron saint of the insane? Me either.)

Okay, seriously, start

On the first day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me,
A pre-cut firehouse tree.

On the second day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,
Two annoying cats,
and a pre-cut firehouse tree.

On the third day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,
Three Depends,
Two annoying cats,
And a pre-cut firehouse tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,
Forty boring blogs,
Three Depends,
Two annoying cats,
And a pre-cut firehouse tree.

Stop. You stopped singing, didn't you? You're just reading it now just to see what I typed. That's no fun. Practice with me. Sing, "Five Golden rings." Louder. "FIVE GOLDEN RINGS." Better. Proceed. Sing!

On the fifth day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me,
FIVE Jersey blocks!
(Good thing we practiced)
Forty boring blogs,
Three Depends,
Two annoying cats,
And a pre-cut firehouse tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,
Old classmates drinking,
FIVE Jersey blocks!!!
Forty boring blogs,
Three Depends,
Two high-maintenance cats,
And a pre-cut firehouse tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,
Seven facebookers commenting,
Old classmates drinking.
FIVE Jersey blocks!!!!!!!!
Forty boring blogs,
Three Depends,
Two annoying cats,
Don’t stop now, keep singing with me!

On the eighth day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,
Cancer-free recuperating,
Seven facebookers commenting,
Old classmates drinking.
FIVE Jersey blocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Seriously, can we stop here for a minute and just think about that? FIVE blocks in the middle of winter. Never again. Wait, you don’t know what I’m talking about? Shame on you for not reading about our trip to NYC. You really should have. If for nothing else, then this song would make a whole lot more sense, now wouldn’t it? (heavy sigh) You people. Okay, anyway, back to the song…

FIVE Jersey blocks!! (Ugh!)
Forty boring blogs,
Three Depends,
Two annoying cats,
and a dying pre-cut, firehouse tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,
Rachel HipHop Dancing,
Cancer-free recuperating,
Seven facebookers commenting,
Old classmates drinking.
FIVE Jersey blocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Forty boring blogs,
Three Depends,
Two annoying cats,
What did you expect? This blog is free!

On the tenth day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,
Ten-year-old cars stalling,
Rachel HipHop Dancing,
Cancer-free recuperating,
(Yay Dianne and all that survived this year)
Seven facebookers commenting,
Old classmates drinking.
FIVE Jersey blocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Forty boring blogs,
Three Depends,
Two non-paying cats,
And there's needles everywhere from the dead tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,
Eleven kids a-raking,
Ten-year-old cars stalling,
Rachel HipHop Dancing,
(NOT stripper pole dancing!)
Cancer-free recuperating,
Seven facebookers commenting,
Old classmates drinking.
FIVE God forsaken blocks!!!!
Forty boring blogs,
Three Depends,
Two annoying cats,
And my true love doesn’t really love me.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,
Twelve “bitches” pokering,
Eleven kids a-raking,
Ten-year-old cars stalling,
Rachel HipHop Dancing,
Cancer-free recuperating,
Seven facebookers not commenting?
Old classmates drinking. (Some things never change.)
FIVE Mother Friggin’ blocks!
Forty boring blogs,
(including this one!)
Three Depends,
Two for sale cats,
And it all started with that darn tree!


My Kaneclusion #1: What I need is…what I want is…what I yearn for is…what we all really need is, well…we...

We need a little Christmas, right this very minute…
...For I've grown a little leaner, (Not!),
Grown a little colder, (Since the trip to New York),
Grown a little sadder, (Indeed.),
Grown a little older, (Yup.)…
…For we need a little music,
Need a little laughter,
Need a little singing,
We Need a little Christmas now!!

My Kaneclusion #2: If my true love EVER gave me turtle doves, hens, geese, swans, calling birds or a partridge, I can tell you they would be out the door, and right quick! I HATE birds! And I certainly wouldn't want drummers drumming or pipers piping. What a racket! And if I wanted to see ladies dancing, I'd go to a zumba class. Or maybe back to see the "Rock of Ages" again. (NOT! Never!) And lords a-leaping? Really? Seeing men jumping about in leotards? This is what you thought to buy me for Christmas? OUT! Get OUT! And take those eight milking bitches with you! (slam) I hate milk! But I'm keeping the five golden rings though. (I'm not stupid.)

My Kaneclusion #3: After writing this blog, it has become abundantly clear to me that I need to pray to St. Dymphna more often!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

And yes, I even mean you!


As a present to you, (as if the above wasn't enough!), I have included a video in this blog. Every time I write a blog, Dianne gets the first read. I decided to video her this time. By the way, she never knows what I'm writing about until this first read. Enjoy! Click here.

Thanksgiving in New York City

I will never…read my words, people…I will NEVER go to Jersey City again. For this trip alone, I could write an entire book. And as you will see, I almost did! I suppose I could just say that we went to the parade and had a nice time and that’s it. That would probably satisfy some people. But so many things happened, that I want to document it all. If, for no other reason, for Rachel’s sake. She doesn’t remember anything from when we went to the parade when she was three years old. This trip she might remember. And if not, she will have this to remind her.

There is nothing worse than having to read about every detail of someone’s trip or having to politely look at their pictures as if you care. I understand that. But this blog is all about our trip to New York City for the Thanksgiving holiday and I can tell you that if you set aside some time, lots of time, (approximately 1 1/2 hours from beginning to end) to read this one, you will be going along on one of the best/worst/scariest trips we’ve ever been on. And yes, you might even laugh at us along the way.

Because it’s so long, I have broken it up into 3 blog articles. I have posted them all and have provided links to each so you can continue reading them all in one shot or can break them up into 3 separate reads and easily pick up where you left off. It’s best if you read them in order because it’s like a book that continues a story.

So go get a cup of coffee, glass of wine, a syringe, if that’s what you’re into, and sit back and read all about the “Adventures of the Out of Shape, Bad Decision-Making, Forgetful, Vigilante Girls Who Hit the Big Apple”.

Part 1 - Days 1-2: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Part 2 - Day 3: Broadway Shows and The Invasion

Part 3 - Day 4-5: Statue of Delivery, Ellis Island, Going Home

New York & Jersey City 2010 - Part 3

If you missed Part 1 and/or Part 2, click on the below links before reading on.

Part 1 - Days 1-2: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Part 2 - Day 3: Broadway Shows and The Invasion

Part 3 - Day 4-5: Statue of Delivery, Ellis Island, Going Home


Part 3 - Day 4 – Statue of Delivery and Ellis Island

I woke up at 7:00a.m., rehashing the day before’s mishaps in my mind. I knew we had agreed to go home first thing that morning. But I had bought tickets so long ago that it seemed to me to be a waste to leave without using them. Not to mention I had practiced going up and down stairs at the Pequot Museum Observation tower (312 stairs) in preparation for this trip. Who knows when we would be able to do this again? And who knows when I would be healthy enough to do this again? We needed to be at the Liberty Harbor Park at the Statue Cruise by 8:30 to go through security and what not. If I got Dianne and Rachel up, we could still make it. Dianne wanted to go home. But I said, “Why are we going to let these jerks ruin our time here. On the way out, we’ll stop at the office, now that it’s Saturday it should be open, and talk to the manager about what happened last night.”

We all got dressed to go. This time we didn’t dress in layers though. No long johns on for this day. Walking up 354 stairs was going to be hard enough. We didn’t need the extra poundage to be hauling up those steps as well. I called a taxi service to come get us at the campground (of course they didn’t know where it was!) and we headed out to the office.

When we got inside, Carmen, the campground manager was at her desk. We politely asked if she had a minute and she said yes. Dianne started:

“Last night, one of your security guards came and knocked on our door at midnight—“.
Before she could finish, Carmen interjected in her Spanish twist on English, “I told him to do that.”
“You did WHAT?”
“I told him to do that. Your credit card didn’t go through and we needed payment.”
Immediately Dianne’s face started getting red and her pitch got higher.
“Do you know that he scared the crap out of us? He came knocking on the door at midnight! And you sent him there for a credit card number? Are you kidding me?”
I knew it was time for me to step in. Otherwise I’d be witnessing another bitch-slapping like the one at the parade, except this time, I’m fairly certain that Carmen would be dead by way of a kitchen knife in the throat.
I interjected. “Carmen, do you have kids?”
“Naw, I dawn’t.”
“Okay, well let me explain something to you for when you DO have kids. When some stranger comes knocking at the door at night, at midnight, it scares the kids. It scared all of us. My daughter was horribly upset and was crying because she didn’t know what the stranger wanted.”
“Well, I very sorry—“
“Carmen, had this been during the daytime, I could have looked out my window in the light and saw that it was security. But at night, it was dark, it was late, and we were not going to answer the door. We called the police we were so scared. I understand that you had a problem with the credit card. You had our phone numbers, why didn’t you just call us?”
“I dit try to call jew and jew ditn’t answer. Three times I try to call jew. I can pull up the phone bill on the computer and show—“
“That isn’t necessary. Was this really something that HAD to be taken care of at midnight?”
“We get customas all de time coming here, staying, not paying. We don’t have a gate to lock people in, so all de time they leave without paying. We told security that if people leave without paying, that we take it from THEIR paychecks. This way, they make sure they get the payment.”
“Carmen, I can understand that. But at what point is knocking on the windows of my camper and not announcing himself at that late hour okay?”
“He dit that?”
“Yup. That’s when we called the police.”
“Oh, I apologize if he was unprofessional.”
Dianne ramps up again.
“Unprofessional? Knocking on my door at midnight IS unprofessional. Scaring all of us half to death all over a credit card, that HE probably punched in wrong—“
“Well, I told him to do that. We needed payment.”
Right back to where we were. “Come on, Dianne. Let’s go.”
"Can I see the form that I wrote the number down on?"

Carmen showed the form to Dianne. The credit card number was written down correctly.
“See, the number is right! Your guy typed the number in wrong. And another thing—“
“Come on Dianne. Let’s just leave. She’s not getting this and nothing you’re going to say is going to make this any better”.
This went on for a few minutes more. Dianne gave Carmen her credit card and all was taken care of. The credit card went through without error. All the way out, Dianne kept saying, “See, he probably punched in the number wrong.” We left the office with no satisfaction at all.

Upon getting outside, a security guard came up to us and asked if we had called for a cab. We said yes. He pointed to an unmarked car waiting across the street in the parking lot. “That’s your cab.” Due to the night before’s fright fest, I asked security if he was sure it was a taxi. He nodded politely.

We got in and drove to Liberty Harbor Park, NJ. We got our tickets, stripped ourselves of our weapons to go through security (no, just kidding, although if Dianne had that kitchen knife taped to her leg I wouldn’t have been surprised), and headed outside onto the ferry with the rest of the buses full of high school students there for the day. It was cold out but there were blue skies. I was freezing because I didn’t have my layers on and I didn’t really bring a winter coat with me, but more of a jacket. Those stairs to the crown would warm me up though in no time.

We got on the ferry and took a seat inside. I had to admit that it was a relief not having to walk those 5 blocks to the PATH station.

We snapped several pictures of the Statue of Delivery. That is what Rachel called it when she was 3-4 years old. The Statue of Delivery. We also took plenty of pictures of the New York City skyline. You can’t look at the skyline now and not think of 9/11/2001. There’s such a void where the Twin Towers used to be. Looking at the city from afar, it just looks like any other city now. The Twin Towers that towered over every other skyscraper building is what distinguished New York City from the rest of the cities in the world. We may as well have been in Chicago. Oh sure, there’s the Empire State Building, but that looks like just another building now.

But still, it’s New York. We took pictures, but somehow they didn’t come out as nice at the view actually was.

The first stop on the ferry was Liberty Park where the Statue of Liberty is.

It was suggested to me by one of the park rangers that we go directly there and do the walk to the crown first thing. For two reasons: 1) As the day goes on, more people with tickets will start to come and lines will form, and 2) as the day goes on, the hotter it gets in the crown. So when we got off the ferry, we headed right to the ranger’s station, got our wrist bands for entry into the crown, and got in line. No, first we made a pit stop at the bathroom because we were told there were no bathrooms on the way up to the crown. We wouldn’t have had to worry about that had we wore Depends like I wanted to do. But oh well.

So we did our business and then got in line. While we waited, we got the 2 minute run down on how the torch was replaced at some point in time. I couldn't tell you when because, quite frankly, I wasn't listening. I was still trying to thaw. But here is a picture of the original torch so you can get an idea of the Statue of Liberty's size.

We asked a ranger how many stairs it actually was and he replied “354 up and 354 down.” I had read on the internet that it was only 171 up and 171 down and told him that. He said that it was probably that they didn’t count the pedestal stairs. I asked if we could take the elevator that everyone seemed to be taking up to the base of the pedestal and then walk the rest of the way up the stairs to the crown. The answer was no, that because we had crown tickets, we couldn’t take the elevator. So let me get this right. Taking the elevator up 170 steps (give or take a stair or two) to the base is free of charge. But if you actually spend money on tickets to the crown, you can’t take said elevator?
“That is correct.”
“Why is that?”
“Because to walk up the stairs to the crown is a matter of pride and accomplishment. You can do it. Just take your time.”
"So, let me get this straight. 'It's not important how fast you get there, or what's waiting on the other side? It's the climb' that is important?" (Shoot me now, I'm quoting Miley Cyrus!)

By the way, did you know that Dianne is afraid of heights? At every level, she stopped and wasn’t sure she could continue. The walk up the pedestal was relatively easy due to the big, wide stone steps.

When we got to the crown access, we had to give our bracelets to a ranger that was sitting at the start of a huge spiral staircase. Looking up, you could tell you were inside Lady Liberty’s dress. (She shops at Victoria’s Secret, in case anyone was wondering.) At this point, Dianne had frozen up and reconsidered doing the rest of the climb.

Before going there that day, she and I had a discussion on whether she should go at all. She tends to panic and I didn’t want Rachel to be afraid to do this adventure with me. So I told Dianne that if she was going to panic and make it unenjoyable, that she should just wait for us at the bottom. Kids take on the fears of their parents or from other adults. I didn’t want Rachel to be afraid to do this. Dianne wanted to do it and was going to try to persevere. However, when we reached this part of the journey, she started to question whether she should do it; or rather could she do it. Ranger Dave, the ranger at the base of the spiral steps, somehow talked her through it and bet her $10 that she could make it up and down just fine. We had to wait for her to talk herself through it. I couldn’t be too hard on her. After all, the night before she was our mighty protector. I owed her for at least pretending to know how to wield a knife.

This is a picture from the base of the spiral looking up. The square metal thing on the top is the first platform level that one can take a rest on. There were several of these sections to climb:

Okay, so we spent enough time on this level, giving Dianne psychotherapy. We were all rested somewhat and needed to continue onward and upward. Rachel went first, then me, then Dianne. Something you should know about the spiral staircase that leads to the crown – the steps are really, really narrow. Had I had one more piece of NY cheesecake, I may not have been able to fit through. No exaggeration. However, these stairs actually turned out to be easier than the previous stone steps because you can lean on the center column and pull yourself up using the hand rail, as opposed to actually stepping up. As you can see by the paint scraped off the column that others used this plan of attack as well:

At every 75 steps or so there was a metal landing. Dianne trailed behind and periodically I would call out to her to make sure she was still okay and still heading upwards. Once we started, going back down wasn’t an option. There was a completely separate set of stairs for going back down. Once you were heading up, if people were behind you, there was no going back down. Luckily, we had nobody behind us which meant we could take our time. We stopped at some of the metal landings but skipped most because of the looking down factor. It was quite steep and I knew if Dianne looked down, it would be all over for her. Out of breath, I kept yelling to Dianne not to look down. I have to admit, it was quite scary being contained and being so high up. Anyone suffering from claustrophobia could never do it. It was tight quarters.

Almost to the top, we took one last break. I said I was out of breath. Rachel retorted, “I haven’t even broken a sweat.” Oh to be young again!

We made it to the top, wherein Dianne was fine and felt victorious that she had overcame her fear and accomplished it. Upon reaching the top, the space that is the crown is about a 6’ X 6’ area. There are windows that you can look out of to see a view of New York City, the Brooklyn Bridge, The Hudson River, and New Jersey. Here are some pictures:

The three of us, after having accomplished the goal of the climb, inside the Crown of the Statue of Liberty!

If you look out the window on the right of Rachel you can see a Norwegian Cruise ship and, of course, NYC to the left.

This is the view inside the Crown, showing the small space and the actual curve of the top of Her head.

This picture is the view looking down at the park below. The window on the right was open, which made for some eery sounds.

Ironically, I was fine on the climb up. But once we got up there, I didn’t like it. The Statue actually moves from the wind and sways a bit. It made me nervous. The ranger that was stationed up there said that it was normal that we were moving. But all I wanted to do was take some pictures and get the heck out of there.

Remarkably, climbing down was harder than climbing up. This is Dianne coming down the sprial staircase. As she pointed out, it was harder because you are faced with looking down at where you're going and forced to see how high up you are. This is just one little section of it:

As I said, climbing up was like pulling yourself up by the railing. Coming down, I felt the affects of having to step down the deep spiral steps. My knees were sore and my legs were starting to feel like jelly. I was amazed at this because I had been able to walk the steps in the weeks prior at work without any problems. But I guess I hadn’t taken into account that I would be walking 10 – 15 blocks a day prior to having to do this exercise. Plus walking on the streets of New York wreaked havoc on my body enough - Avoiding potholes, walking on grates, avoiding stepping on garbage, walking up and down curbs, dodging around people, riding on subway trains standing up and trying to maintain balance. All of it was strenuous on my knees and I certainly felt it when I was coming down the 171 step spiral staircase.

All-in-all, I would say that, yes, it was strenuous, but it was doable.

Next, we went through the museum at the Statue of Liberty. Here is my daughter, the comedienne:


Oh yeah, Statue of Liberty, your ear might be bigger, but MINE is green!

My Little Booger

If you’re reading this blog to get facts, you’ve come to the wrong place. I would recommend that you plan to take a trip there yourself…but avoid going in the winter or summer months. It was very cold there on the day we went. The wind was at least 40-50 miles per hour at some points and the wind chill factor was at least 10 degrees below zero. At one point, we were outside trying to take a picture in front of the Statue and I had to get on my knees to take the picture. When I went to get back up, I couldn’t because the wind was so strong. Rachel kept laughing at me and the more she did, the more I couldn’t get my balance.

We couldn’t wear hats, it was too windy. It was so windy that I got an earache that took hours to go away. My whole jaw and teeth ached from it. Rachel seemed to be fine. I’m thinking that the molds from her hearing aids blocked the wind and prevented her from getting the same thing.

Next, we grabbed a bite to eat in the café. The sitting area was limited inside and only had a few tables. Every time someone came in or left, the door would let in a burst of cold wind that was strong enough to blow the food off plates. It was not enjoyable, but it was sustenance, giving us strength to move on to the next island.

We got back on the ferry and rode it to Ellis Island.

The Canadian Immigrant

At this point, we were very tired from traveling, walking up and down 708+ steps, walking around museums, and staying up until 1:30a.m. to debate credit card transactions. So we noticed upon entering that there were movie theater shows in the museum. We asked at the information booth if the movies cost anything and the man there said no. The next movie was at 1:30 and it was 1:00 so we got in line to wait for the doors to open. At 1:15, the doors opened and people came out. When everyone was out, we made our way in and took seats in the middle aisle in the most middle seats in that row. We got comfy. I laid back and closed my eyes for a minute. Fifteen minutes later, some Amish high school kids took the seats next to us and on their way in, banged the seats, waking me up from a deep sleep. I looked at Dianne and asked if I had been snoring.

The theater started to fill in. Then the theater ranger lady came in. She was a fairly large woman in her 60’s I would guess. She started yelling that the door that we all had come in through was not supposed to be open and that nobody should have come in through that door. She said that everyone in the theater had to have tickets to be in the showing that would start at 1:30. If you didn’t have tickets, the next show was at 2:30.

What tickets? Dianne and I looked at each other. She continued saying that she was supposed to collect the tickets at the door but seeing as the theater was already full, she would let everyone stay where they were, she just needed to see our tickets. Again, “What tickets!?”
“If everyone would hold up your white ticket that you got at the information booth so I can see them…”
I looked over at Dianne and she had her hand up in the air with nothing in it. No white ticket, just her hand. Brilliant, if we can get away with it. I then held up my empty hand.

It worked. Dianne and I were quite proud of ourselves. Nobody was asking us to leave and we could watch this showing of the movie. More importantly, we didn’t have to stand up, which was the real intent of us being there in the first place. All was good as long as the Amish boy sitting next to me didn’t squeal on us. He knew we didn’t have tickets.

The theater ranger lady shut the door and started her spiel of no cell phone use, etc. Yes! Score! We had pulled it off! We were almost high-fiving each other, until I looked at Rachel’s face looking up at me, saying, “But Mommy, we don’t have tickets.” Oh, for the love of God. Can I just do the wrong thing this time?! I told her to watch the movie and I would explain afterwards.

Upon leaving, I told her that 1) the tickets didn’t cost anything so we weren’t stealing anything (true) and 2) had other people came in with tickets and needed seats, we would have gotten up and left (not sure if that was true or not). I explained to her that the man at the information booth that we had stopped at to ask about the movie never said we needed tickets to get in, so in essence, it was his mistake. She understood and we carried on.

We walked around the rooms that the immigrants used back in the late 1800’s. The floors and walls were original. It all seemed institutional with cracked ceramic tile that ran halfway up the walls. Old-time pedestal sinks in the bathrooms. You could almost picture people sleeping in the hallways and leaning against walls and sitting on the floors, waiting for their chance to be admitted into America with only the clothes on their backs.

The self-guided tour was cut short because we were exhausted by this point and still had to make it back to the RV.

We got back on the ferry and went back to Liberty Harbor Park. When on land, I called the taxi company to come get us. We got back to the RV before dark which we were grateful for. We ate leftover Chinese and went to bed.

The next day, we got on the road early to beat the traffic. We got home around 1:30, unpacked and then headed out again. Every year, it has been our tradition to go tag a tree first thing the Friday after Thanksgiving at the same place we have been going for years. Being away this year, we missed that tradition. The weather was nice when we got home so we decided to give it a shot to go tag a tree, even though we weren’t optimistic that we would find one. We went to two tree farms, and as we suspected, there were nothing but Charlie Brown trees left. Oh well, we’ll probably have to buy a pre-cut tree next week. We’ll see.

My Kaneclusions: There are many Kaneclusions I came to in the short, yet very long, 5 days that we took to go on this trip. Here are the ones I can list:

1) Whatever weight I lost by walking 10 blocks every day, by climbing up 354 steps and then down 354, and in general, walking around New York City and Jersey City, was outweighed by pastrami sandwiches, New York cheesecake and tiramisu. I got a lot of exercise. But then I ate sinfully fattening food. I weighed myself when I got home and it was a wash.

2) It’s clear to me now that Rachel has inherited the uncontrollable-laughing-when-tired gene from me. We were tired a lot, therefore we laughed a lot. Particularly when going through the turnstiles in the subway and PATH systems. Like clockwork, Rachel would go through the metal bar and it would spin letting her through; Dianne would follow suit, no problems; then every time it was my turn, it would get stuck. At every turnstile we went through, I would crack my hip on the bar because I just assumed it would spin upon me walking through. And every time it didn’t work, Rachel would be right there, looking back at me to watch it happen again and again, laughing at her mother. Good times.

3) If I’m ever found stabbed to death, please, someone out there check to see if any of my kitchen knives are missing.

4) Lady Liberty was a sign of hope for the millions of immigrants that came to America. When they saw her upon their arrival, they had thought that they had attained freedom from the countries that they were leaving. She represents all of what this country was founded on. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Or in our case, the pursuit of trying to climb a gazillion stairs without having a heart attack.

5) And even though you can't see it, being up in the crown on a windy day, it was obvious to me that Lady Liberty sways both ways. Yikes! If she sways both ways, shouldn’t we allow our military folks who protect our liberties to sway any way they like?

6) This trip turned out to be all about pyschotherapy and facing our fears. For me, it was to overcome my fear of public showers, to heal from the scars that were inflicted in junior high school. I have to think that they no longer practice monitoring showers in schools. I would think that in today's world, it would be illegal to have a teacher watching you while you shower. I can honestly say, now that I'm an adult, I can take a shower in a public shower. Although, if given the choice, I still will never pick that as my first option. For Dianne, it was to overcome her fear of driving the RV into cities AND overcoming acrophobia. She climbed up the stairs to the Statue of Delivery Crown! Good for her!

As cathartic as it all was conquering our fears, unfortunately new buttons were instilled during this trip that we hadn't had before. (Thus keeping the therapists in business.) It will take us years to overcome the fear we faced from the credit card payment stalker. And Rachel, who hadn't needed therapy up until this point, will now have to undergo intensive therapy to overcome her fear of strangers knocking on doors; fear of her mother getting arrested for not paying for tickets in museum theaters; and to undo the images of strippers dancing on poles in her mind. Poor kid.

I'm not sure if any of us are better for going on this trip or worse off. But if nothing else, we all overcame abathroomaphobia. Take that, Depends!

7) I had gone once before to the Statue of Liberty when I was in my early 20’s. And it took me 29 more years to come visit again. I say with certainty that I will never go inside that monument again in my lifetime. I must be having a midlife crisis because there’s just something so final about that, even though I know that it is indeed true. I told Rachel that even when she has kids and wants to take them there, I will wait down below while she takes her kids up. I have no desire to ever do it again. And yet it sort of makes me sad that I won’t ever cross that bridge again.

8) I will never take advice from strangers standing in line with me again. And I won’t buy tickets to shows that have people handing out flyers to see their shows again. Seriously, “Rock of Ages” was the worst play I have ever seen. This includes third rate school plays, kindergarten performances, and watching people on the street with split personality disorders. I would have rather paid that money to see the hispanic chicks duke it out at the parade again. That’s how bad the show was. I paid $76 per ticket to see a bad rendition of “I Wanna Know What Love Is” (Foreigner). And I provided Rachel with a lifetime of reminding me and/or throwing it in my face “remember that time you took me to that strip show when I was 10?” Never again. The only good thing about the show was the fake lighter they handed out upon entering the theater. For those of you too young to know this, back in the 70s and 80’s, concert-goers would hold up lit Bic lighters at the end of concerts as a way to entice the band or singer to come out and do an encore. It’s interesting to note that everyone had a Bic lighter back then. Everyone. What for? Ummm. Hmmm. In case you were stuck in the woods and needed to light a fire? Yeah, that’s it. Anyway, in an effort to duplicate the Bic lighter encore experience, “Rock of Ages” handed us a fake one (it’s not cool to wave around fire in theaters anymore) to light up at certain times during the show.

It was a cool idea…but not for $76 a pop! Speaking of “pop”, in hindsight, we should have gotten tickets to see “Mary POPpins” instead. At least with that show, the worst that could have happened to Rachel’s psyche would have been thinking that she could jump into chalk drawings on sidewalks after having spoonfuls of sugar. As opposed to teaching her that she can strip and dance on stripper poles for money.

9) The nice thing about traveling in the RV is having a refrigerator. We took home some great doggy bags from NY. While we were home enjoying them, it was one way of bringing back all the great experiences that we had to our minds. The pickles in New York delis are the best. When I bit into one in my kitchen, I was right back in the Stage Deli warming up after the parade. Spoonfuls of leftover tiramisu brought me right back to Carmine's and the feeling of contentedness I felt there. There was a time when I couldn’t find a decent place to eat in NY. But now, I could go back just for the restaurants alone.

10) With recent events of home invasions in CT, it brought to light that the one place in the world that one should feel safe is their home. The RV is just an extension of our home. Due to what happened with Joe Security Guard, I no longer feel safe in our "home". Even though nothing bad did happen, it’s the thought of how easily it could have. That single experience has ruined any future trips I take. Forever now, it will be in the back of my mind. One thing is for sure. As vulnerable as we were in the RV, you will NEVER catch me sleeping in a tent. Talk about vulnerable!

11) On every trip we go on, when we come home, there is always something that has happened – flood in the house, dead mice in the toilets, things like that. Upon getting home from this trip, I found nothing to be out of place and no destruction. The only thing I found was I had left the sliced cranberry in the refrigerator from the previous Sunday’s Fake Thanksgiving meal. The cranberry was on a dish and covered in plastic wrap, but somehow it managed to leak all over the refrigerator. How does that happen? I might have to set up a webcam in my fridge next year to see how that juice manages to escape the plate and plastic wrap and end up all over of the shelf. One of life’s great mysteries I suppose.

But if this was all we had to come home to as far as disasters go, I could take it. Maybe God gave us a break this time around knowing that we had endured enough on the trip.

12) And finally, like I said in the beginning of this novel, I will never, never ever, NEVER stay in Jersey City ever again. Not because of the exercise and inconvenience of having to travel for over an hour to get to the city; and not because of bad plays; and not because I never want to go to those particular monuments again. Even though these are all very valid reasons, it’s mostly because their 911 operators and dispatchers basically leave you for dead. To this day, we never received a call back. Unacceptable.

Never again. The end.


To go back to any Parts, click below.

Part 1 - Days 1-2: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Part 2 - Day 3: Broadway Shows and The Invasion

Part 3 - Day 4-5: Statue of Delivery, Ellis Island, Going Home