“Hi I bet you folks are wondering why I gathered you all here today. My name is Clyde and I have quite a fanciful tale to tell. Long ago, Bob Dylan and several other folk singers and groups sang a very important song about quite a pivotal incident in my life. Maybe you all even know ‘Froggie Went a’ Courtin'”. That was how Clyde the Frog introduced his tale of boundless joy and woe to all who were willing to listen to him. Long ago he got his very heart and soul stolen forever by Miss Mouse, whose beloved uncle was Mr. Rat. Always the raconteur, old Clyde, to this very day, enjoys regaling folks with the tale of how he fell for the girl of his dreams and all the misadventures that thereafter ensued. The really old folks over in Luzerne County, in northeastern Pennsylvania, where Clyde was born and raised, remember to this very day his uppity antics. “Well let me tell you,” said one old couple, “that there ‘Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’ was nothing compared to old Clyde! Twain shoulda seen our Clyde in his day!” That part of Pennsylvania is quite the mountainous region but Clyde, according to local ages-old legend and folklore, could most certainly handle it quite well. He could hike, climb, swim and do just about anything. Local folks swear he was a World War I flying ace under Black Jack Pershing. Clyde’s such a big star in northeastern Pennsylvania that each year, without fail, on July 3, there’s a big parade to commemorate his exploits in the 1878 Battle of Wyoming against the Iroquois Indian Raiders. Folks march all the way from the American Legion post in Dupont to the Public Square in Wilkes Barre in old Clyde’s honor on this magnificent occasion. Unfortunately because of old age, Clyde’s been getting a bit cantankerous and set in his ways these days. Folks around here are all still quite proud to know him though. He’s the ultimate inspiration to one and all.
I’m fifty four years old. The older I get the more I’m required to associate with very old people. When I was still actively involved with Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s Knights of Columbus council 794, in Lindenhurst, I was constantly surrounded by a significant number of couples who were well into their seventies and eighties. My oldest living relative, Uncle Frankie, will be ninety years old in August. He was married to my mother’s older sister, Aunt Mary Theresa. My parents both died last autumn when they were eighty. I’ve learned from having to associate with them all that old age brings with it a combination of extreme good and extreme bad. Old people can be quite a source of story telling, humor, wit and insight into bygone eras. Because of all the physical, financial, emotional and other problems that come with the passage of time, though, they can also be very hard to handle. Their habits, because of the passage of time, are so irrevocably entrenched into their lives that they can’t get rid of them. I’ve never liked the Willard Scott mentality, that refers to the very old as a hundred (or whatever) years young, as if to refer to someone as old is somehow an insult. This does a major disservice to both the young and the old as it renders the concepts meaningless. Language must never be exploited as an ideological tool. It must be used only at the service of the truth. To the degree that a culture has been infected by liberalism it inevitably respects neither the old nor the very young, the ill nor the handicapped. I agree with what I recently read in Communio, the International Catholic Review, that the left’s ideas, influenced by John Locke, want a world populated only by young, healthy, autonomous, self-sufficient adults. They want a world where the only people who really count are the kind who are the equivalent of Adam before Eve showed up. In order to be worthwhile, each individual must be entirely self-sufficient. Our culture now puts children into school as soon as possible in order that the state can have as early and as thorough a control over them as possible. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s claim that “It takes a village to raise a child” is lethal to healthy family life. The old and otherwise incapacitated, thanks to the mentality espoused in Obamacare, are subjected to treatment based on what’s cost-effective rather than on the absolute dignity that inheres in each specific individual simply because he’s a human being. We desperately need more people like the little sisters of the poor, at Queen of Peace Residence in Queens Village, New York, and the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, at the Little Flower Manor in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. I’ve never liked the idea of being young at heart, as young as you feel or any other such cliche’. That type of language reinforces the ideas, espoused by the left, that only the young are worthwhile. I like the idea that each age range has a share of beauty, truth and goodness that are intrinsically proper to it. I can also understand, though, that it seems so odd, and gets odder with passing time, that I’m as old as I am now. Whenever I see my sixteen year old niece, a high school junior , or my two nephews in their twenties, I have all sorts of flashbacks to when I was that young. It seems as if it were only yesterday. Minutes go by too slowly and decades go by too fast. I should really like to think that by the time I am old enough to qualify as undeniably old I shall have more of the quick-witted story-telling throwback in me than the self-pitying creep who lets his aches, pains and regrets mess up what’s left of his life. Maybe I shall be like Arte Johnson’s Tyrone F. Horneigh character from “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in”, who’d always hit so hysterically on Ruth Buzzi’s Gladys Ormphby. I’ve always been quite a walking anachronism anyway. By now I know quite well that hep Larry always seems to have ideas that are much better than what real Larry puts into practice though. I should imagine that people will find me quite seriously ornery and cantankerous. They will be expected to put up with even more references to how my current surroundings stack up against Jackson Heights and Lindenhurst, and what the current administration is like compared to those of Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter. Pain and death are as scary for me as for anyone. Eventually I shall have to succumb to them. That will be the hardest thing for me.
A while after my mother’s death my father and I got things ready to put a marker upon her grave. We only got a few chances to visit her grave together and to take care of a few official details. He died on November 7, 2014, forty five days after her death, after having been suddenly taken ill. He was rushed to the Veteran’s Hospital in Wilkes Barre and died there. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see him on his last day because he told me on the phone, at about 7:30 a.m. , not to bother to drive to the hospital in the bad weather. It was raining and very foggy that day. I went to the hospital after his death to sign some paperwork and to make official arrangements to get certain things done. Uncle Frankie, Fran, and Mary Anne and her family all showed up a very short time after his death to help with the funeral arrangements. His funeral, as well as my mother’s was at Our Lady of Sorrows Church at St. Monica’s Parish on Eighth Street in West Wyoming, and Gubbiotti’s Funeral Home in Exeter. Father Leo McKernan celebrated the Mass. Many of the same people at his wake and funeral had also attended hers. Because he was a veteran of the Korean Conflict, there was a very impressive military honors ceremony, with some men from AMVETS, at the gravesite. The aftermath of each death was a busy time because of all the people calling and visiting and all the extra responsibilities that accompany that kind of change. I spent my first Thanksgiving since my parents’ deaths at cousin Michelle’s house in Dallas. All of Aunt Lauren’s family were there. I spent Christmas with Mary Anne and her family in Long Beach and have been here ever since then. Life without either of my parents has brought with it many very drastic changes.
The Fourth of July went so well this year. As always we ended up visiting my father’s relatives in Hilldale for a few days. The weather was perfect for anyone who enjoys the heat. Most of the kin showed up. Mary Anne and Steve, as well as Michael, Sam and Bridget, were here. Unfortunately, though, Erin wasn’t available. My mother still has lots of trouble with her cancer so she couldn’t go. Each of us took turns staying with her. I was especially happy to see Maelene, Joe and most of their family from North Tonawanda, and Vinnie from North Carolina, as well as Larry, Rose & their family from Massapequa. Anthony showed up from Brooklyn too. An inevitable reality of this occasion is the incessant reminiscing. Predictably we all got together & relived our past circumstances, especially the kin’s obnoxious references to all my supposedly bad driving. We also celebrated relevant birthdays and anniversaries. Rich, the Ronald’s son, got me an especially nice poster of Beatle Ringo Starr. Alas there was no softball game but I don’t play anyway. One night several of the cousins went to Friendly’s but I didn’t go. I was too tired. Unfortunately we didn’t go to Jitty Joe’s. Michael and I made sure we got our traditional cigars though. Music, religion and politics, and current events provided much conversation. I spent lots of time in the pool so I made sure I pot on lots of sun screen. The lay Carmelite meetings have been going well lately in Wilkes Barre, at the Little Flower Manor. So have Fr. McKernan’s men’s group meetings at Our Lady of Sorrows. Recently Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church at St. Joseph Marello Parish, on William Street in Pittston had their annual bizarre. I made sure I spent around an hour there each night. It was a very nice time. My mother still needs a lot of medical attention but we’re keeping track of it well. Aunt Lauren, Uncle Frankie and Fran come over fairly frequently and Mary Anne and family come in whenever they can.
My mother has been home from the hospital for a while by now. She has lots of trouble with pain but she’s been keeping up with her therapy & doctor appointments. Because we couldn’t have an eightieth birthday party for her on her birthday we had one for her this past Saturday night, combined with a St. Patrick’s Day party. Mary Anne & Steve were here with Michael & Erin, Sam & Bridget. They brought the dog. Uncle Frankie & Fran showed up. Aunt Lauren, Uncle Jim & Elaine were also here. All went well but as always it was entirely too fattening. Alas Michael & I never got our traditional cigars. He bought some fancy beer instead. He gave me a Dell laptop computer that they no longer need at work. I met Robert F. Kennedy at his last St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The morning of the party I went to my monthly lay Carmelite meeting at the Little Flower Manor on South Meade Street in Wilkes~Barre. The papal conclave that started on March 12 was filled with suspense but all worked out so exceptionally well. The cardinals only took a fairly short time to elect Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, from Argentina, as Pope Francis I. He’s the first South American pope, though his parents were both from Italy. He’s also the first Jesuit & the first one named Francis. Eight years ago, when Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI, Bergoglio was in second place. Spring is only two days away but unfortunately we still have snow. I went to Frank Gubbiotti’s Auto Lodge in Plains this morning to get an oil change & my annual inspection. I don’t usually get to keep in touch with my New York cousins but I called up Gary on his birthday, February 27. It was nice being able to talk to him for a while.
On December 1, 2012 I donated blood at St. John the Evangelist Church on Willliam Street in Pittston. It was a double red cell donation. This past Monday I tried to give another donation at O.L. Sorrows Church on Eighth Street in West Wyoming. I wasn’t allowed because my last donation was too recent. My mother has been in Geisinger Hospital in Wilkes~Barre for most of the time since early December. She also spent a short time at John Heinz Rehabilitation Center , part of Allied Services, in Wilkes~Barre. Geisinger is exceptional. John Heinz is also very good. She gets both physical therapy & occupational therapy. She had a serious operation on the early morning of December 8. Her recovery has been really slow & there have been all sorts of complications. She was forced to spend Christmas Day in the John Heinz Center & her eightieth birthday at Geisinger. Her birthday was the day of the nightmarishly nasty ice storm so she got no company. We visit her as much as possible though & so do many other relatives.
The Carmelite meetings have been going very well lately. Msgr. Grimaglia & Sister Mary Robert’s attendance isn’t perfect but it’s very good. We’ve finished the last chapter of the book we were reading & are about to start another one at our next meeting. At the end of September, until October 1, I went to most days of the novena for the Feast of St Therese of Lisieux at the Maronite Church of St. Anthony & St. George in Wilkes~Barre. As usual I made sure I got something at their annual bake sale too. I always see the same people there each year including Fr. Bill’s brother. Because of construction, the traffic was an absolute nightmare for the first two days I went. A few weeks ago Gino & Michelle gave a really nice party at the Checkerboard Inn in Back Mountain. It was in honor of their having officially adopted their three children. My mother couldn’t go but my father & I were both there. So were Fran & Uncle Frankie. Many friends & relatives of theirs were there, all the usual familiar faces including people from St. Monica’s in West Wyoming. Gino drove the old guests from the parking lot to the main entrance in a cart. The foliage there was especially impressive because of its having changed colors so much earlier than in most places. I’ve been reading quite a lot lately.
Pittston’s annual Tomato Festival was a couple of weeks ago. As always I made sure I went a couple of days. Each year I see the same guy from the San Cataldo Society. He always recognizes me & reminds me that I showed up the previous year. This year, instead of a basket of cheer, he sold a basket of lottery tickets. I had a really nice time but it’s more about eating than anything else. I didn’t get anything to eat this year. Each day, on my way over there, I could never help noticing that on Main Street in Pittston, there was a nice little barber shop that only charged five dollars a haircut for the duration of the festival. I made sure I got one. I usually go to Rose Chairge in West Pittston but I couldn’t resist the price. It was raining when I went there. I parked in the library’s parking lot & walked down to the barber shop’s neighborhood. This month’s lay Carmelite meeting went really well too. We always meet at 9:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month at the Little Flower Manor in Wilkes_Barre. We always welcome new members. Nothing significant or drastically different happened at the meeting. St. Monica’s Guardian of the Redeemer men’s group still meets regularly too. St. Barbara’s Catholicism meetings are over. The last one was last night. Br. Patrick went to California for the summer so Fr. Phil covered for him. Gino & Michelle have succeeded in adopting officially their three kids, who have all started their first day of the new school year today. Uncle Frankie’s birthday party went well. He was just recently away for a week to visit Fran so I ended up having to get his mail for him. Yesterday was Jo~Anne’s birthday. She’s one of my oldest friends from Queens. My nephew Michael’s twenty~fourth birthday was on August 24. He had a really nice day with his girlfriend Erin. My parents spoke to him on the phone.
The weirdest thing happened last week. One day, during the middle of the week, my father & I went on one of his usual jaunts to the Veteran’s Hospital in Wilkes Barre for his check up. I always have to drive him there. As I pulled into the parking space I wanted, the guy directly opposite me said we needed a new right rear brake light. That wasn’t the highlight of the trip. On the way down River Road in Plains we always have to pass over a railroad track that doesn’t have a gate that comes down when the train is on its way. There’s one like that on Eighth Street in West Wyoming too. As we passed by the track he made a comment about how there was an accident between a train & a car. The next morning, in the Citizen’s Voice, I read an article about the accident. There’s a couple, Rocco & Liz, in their seventies, who attend St. Monica’s Church on a regular basis. Liz was the driver of the car. She’s seventy~eight years old. Amazingly, although her car was totalled, Rocco said she went away from the accident, after only a brief time in the Geisinger Hospital, with minor bruises on her nose & wrist. That’s most certainly the luckiest break I’ve ever heard of. The meetings at St. Barbara’s Parish, St. Anthony’s Church in Exeter, have been going really well so far on Tuesday nights. Oblates Brother Patrick McLaughlin hasn’t been available for the past few weeks because he’s visiting his family in Albany, N.Y. Fr. Phil Massetti has been covering for him. We have a big crowd each week. That girl Mallory is the only one we’ve lost so far. Last night was her last night. She is moving to North Carolina. Today is cousin Jamie’s birthday. Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead, would have turned seventy years old if he could have lived until today. Tomorrow’s birthday girls are cousins Fran & Elaine.