Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Day +82 or as we like to say “11 and a Wakeup”

I just got off the phone with a dear old acquaintance, Tom Musante. Today is his brother’s birthday…  Tony Musante (of “Toma”) fame. I don’t know how I started doing this. I think I saw his birthday listed in the paper one morning and I called Tom. Of course I haven’t talked to him in a year, so we a lot to catch up on. He’s retired and living large on Cape Cod… life is good. Tony’s in Rome doing a movie. Now there is something I would like to do… spend MY birthday in Rome.

Ruth Ann and I did another three laps tonight… she had to come (those caregiver rules), but really didn’t need it after the workout she got doing aerobics this morning. I’ve got PT tomorrow… still working on that balance. It’s getting better. I can now close my eyes and it’s probably TWO seconds before I lose my balance!

I mentioned the other day that Tony and Leonora had left on Sunday… we really miss their company.

I met Tony and Lennie way back during high school… we went to different schools, but Ruth Ann was the connection. Tony and Ruth Ann were first cousins and also only children. The families were close and Tony and Ruth Ann grew up practically as brother and sister. We got to be friends immediately and spent a lot of time double dating all through college. Weekends, semester breaks, summers… always together. We had some of the greatest times… going to the beach or up to Vermont for the day, or just hanging around eating cream puffs at Auntie Angie’s (my Mother-in Law).

Tony had his pilot’s license and he wanted to take Ruth Ann and me for a ride. We met at Meriden Airport and squeezed into a Cessna 172… Ruth Ann in the front seat. The look on Ruth Ann’s face was priceless: white as a sheet! It was my first time in a small plane, too, but I fell in love with flying. By the way, no matter how large the plane (even a 747), she has to drug herself to make the trip.

On one of the excursions we took, Tony and I went to Brainard and rented a 172. Back in the late 60’s you could rent a plane for less than $20 an hour. He needed some landing work so we went to Westfield airport in Massachusetts. When we got there, we decided to get a cup of coffee and some pie at the coffee shop. We started gabbing and got up and walked out without paying… didn’t even leave a tip! I think there’s a poster in the Westfield airport lounge with our pictures.

Our stories of camping are legendary! The first trip that we took together was with Tony’s new trailer to Virginia… Yorktown, Williamsburg and the other historic places. We did this during the 1979 oil embargo by OPEC. Our Suburban towing a 26 footer got about 7 MPG, his LTD got a little better. Because he was a newbie with trailering, we stopped overnight and the way there. No big thing, but he didn’t like how I dumped my holding tank.

When we got to Williamsburg, Heather (their daughter) really started to act up. Becky had just turned six and she and Heather were playing outside, when a blood curdling scream overtook the campground. Heather at taken a swing at Becky and Becky hauled off and decked her. All we remember hearing was Heather screaming “She broke my bones!!!” Ruth Ann and I had to have a talk with Becky, all the while trying not to laugh.  We HAD told her to defend herself (all boys in the neighborhood), but cousins were off limits.

I have a TON of fodder on Tony… WATCH THIS SPACE!!

Monday, June 27, 2011

13 and a Wakeup!!!

For my veteran friends, you know what this means… for everyone else: after 13 days(not counting today), I wake up and I go home! Well, assuming everything goes as planned, that is. There are some tests to get through… a CT scan, a PET scan, a pulmonary function test and some exotic blood work, all of this scheduled for the week of the 4th. Doc says that when I meet with her on the 11th, if everything is OK, she’ll cut me loose. Oh, how I’ve waited for those words. And so has Ruth Ann and Becky and everyone else.

I don’t know what it’s going to be like to walk into our house again… strange, I guess. But it’ll be good to be around my stuff… no woodshop or gardening, tho’… I sure hope my fig tree survived. I talked to Mike, my neighbor, and said it was doing well. The parsley that was INSIDE the lanai is dead, and at some point I would like to replant it and some basil. I also want to put in another sage plant… the guys who spread the rocks around my house buried it and it died. The rosemary is getting HUGE… I may want to dig it up and pot it and bring it inside the lanai with the rest of the herbs.

Gardening is in my blood. When my grandfather died in 1949, one of the things that my father took over was the two-city-lot garden. During the depression that garden kept the family of eight fed. They also had chickens and rabbits, so there was a steady supply of meat. Nonnie and grandpa only had to buy the bare necessities… flour, butter, milk, sugar, etc. By the way, I said my first swear-word at a chicken… I was about 3.

So Dad’s planting several hundred tomato plants and beans, carrots, peppers (hot and bell), celery, onions, garlic… etc.  Around the first of August, a lot of the stuff started coming in… tomatoes, especially. We had a canning shed out in back of the house (over the wine cellar!!) and Nonnie would clean it until you could eat off the floor… and clean the old wood/coal stove, also. Dad would come home after working in the factory and would pick whatever was ripe, starting with several bushels of ripe plum tomatoes. The next day, Nonnie would can whatever he picked. EVERYTHING got canned… veggies, fruit (peaches and pears from our trees), homemade jellies (grape and quince). And of course a whole ton of plum tomatoes. I think I was about 12 before I learned you could actually BUY tomatoes in a store.

This process took all of August and September, filling the shelves of the cellar with stuff to last all winter. Believe me, there is nothing like opening a jar of peaches in the middle of February and eating a peach that really tastes like a peach.

About October 1st, or so, the grapes got delivered. The crates of grapes, and what seemed like thousands of bees! Uncle Pat would come to our house on a Saturday and the grapes would get crushed. Paul and I got to play with the empty boxes, building a fort as big as we could reach. Dad would do two barrels of red and a barrel of white. The wine would be ready to drink by February. Dad only did wine, but I recall a story about Grandpa having a still during prohibition. A relative came to visit from New York and told him that Grandpa’s was better than what the relative was selling. Another skeleton in the closet.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day +78 “Last Night When We Were Young”

Another three laps tonight… you must be getting tired of this dribble about my exercise achievements… BUT, I also did a full set of stairs, up AND down. That is a big deal because my PT has been focused mostly on my balance and whenever my two feet leave the same plane… oh, oh… “TIMBER”. Not tonight, though. Still with the rash on my face, but it’s going away a little at a time.

Tony and Leonora leave tomorrow… we have to get them to the airport about 10ish in the AM. They have been here in Florida (both Tampa and Orlando) for about a week and a half. Tony and I have had a great time… telling stories, watching Clint Eastwood movies, reading and generally having a great time. He was a terrific caregiver… although a mite intense at times. He had an alarm on his iPhone for every activity you can imagine. Also, a special thanks to the “Posse” for taking care of Lennie while Ruth Ann was at school.

I mentioned Nonnie the other day and the story that got her here to the US is really interesting. It was about 1915 that she made her attempt to leave the little village of Ripabottoni in the province of Compobasso: Uncle Joe (big brother) had come to the US several years earlier and had established himself with a job and pretty much found Nonnie a husband… Antonio D’Angelo.

She and her father and younger brother hitched up the donkey to the wagon and made the trip to Naples, only to find the boat had already left… so back to Ripabottoni for another attempt the following week. Her ticket wasn’t first class, so the trip was not enjoyable. About a week later they landed at Ellis Island. She made her way to Grand Central Station (Uncle Joe sent her very detailed instructions and a $50 bill) and found the train to Bridgeport. Upon arriving in Bridgeport, she found there were no more trains to Waterbury that night and had to sit in the waiting room all night. She befriended another young woman (Nonnie was only about 15 or 16 at the time) and they took turns looking after their trunks while the other went to the rest room.

Nonnie turned on the water, to find that one tap was cold and the other was HOT. She had never experienced a hot water tap before! The excitement in her eyes as she told me this story cannot be described. So the streets weren’t paved with gold, but there was hot water. Life is good in the U.S. of A !!!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day +76 “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”

Here we are, better than three quarters of the way through this longest journey. I feel great… still a little shaky on my feet because of the neuropathy… but I managed to do three laps tonight. Only two last night, but I felt better tonight. There is a little problem: Becky and Sean gave me a new 16G Nano for father’s day. No, that’s not the problem, but the Nano has a Pedometer built in. I set it when I started to walk this evening and when I was done I had 2916 steps. Using a nominal 3 ft stride (even though I’m a little vertically challenged), that works out to 1.66 miles. Becky had measured (on the computer) the circle and came out with .41 miles per lap or 1.23 miles. ??? Tony is going to re-measure on the computer again and see how it works out.

The other night I mentioned my Grandmother… quite a gal… died a couple of months short of her 101st birthday. Lots of stories about “Nonnie” as all her 28 grandchildren called her, but I try to tell a few. My folks were living with my grandparents in 1949 getting ready to break ground on their new house. Unfortunately, my grandfather died in the summer of ’49 and left a 50 year old widow who had never worked outside the home and a 10 year old (my uncle Anthony)… ouch. My parents agreed to stick around to get her through this difficult time and ended up staying 10 years. So I grew up with Nonnie.

She went to 7 AM mass every morning and I always waited for her to come home. The coffee on the stove was cold so she used to mix the coffee and milk in a pan and heat it up…latte e caffè, as she called it. She was a renaissance woman… the LATTE. It was always accompanied with some toast… sometimes with Italian bread, and then a special treat, an anisette toast. I was only pre-school age at the time and loved getting spoiled.

We finally got a TV around 1951 and she zeroed right in on the soaps at noon… nobody could bother her during that time. Then on Friday nights I remember there was “I Remember Mama”… how she loved that show! “Rin Tin Tin” was on either before or after “Mama” and with my father bowling with the Holy Name on Friday’s we had the whole night covered… at least for me, I was in bed by eight. Her love affair with the soaps continued for many years. But Friday night would not be complete without a couple of hands of “Double Solitaire”. Nonnie’s love of playing cards was almost a passion and as long as she won, she was happy. Winning was everything, even if it meant “changing” the rules in mid-game, or moving a card or two when a fidgety five year old was looking the other way! How that woman could cheat at cards!!!

Love you all… thanks for the prayers and good thoughts.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Day + 74 “How High the Moon”

THREE LAPS!!! Back in form.

I’m a little tired, but I really feel good. I had PT this morning and it took until mid-afternoon to recover from that, then the walk tonight… oomph! Nothing to do except hang out until Thursday (more labs), then PT again on Friday. Tony and I played some set-back this afternoon… we’re going to keep score until he leaves, then settle up… nickel a point, double in spades. I told him I wanted him to put some money into an escrow account so I’d be sure to get paid at the end.

We used to have a regular game every Friday night and we rotated houses… Tony, me, Rich Jacovino, P.J. Conway, My father-in-law and Tony’s father and father-in-law… 7 of us. We played the same game, cutthroat. It was a great game and no one drank anything except Pepsi. At the end of the game there was the requisite box of Dunkin Donuts. Russ Baim showed up one night and sat in for a few hands… we emptied his pockets in short order. He vowed never to play with us again!

“Hey Brian, this could be an opportunity to get back at your brother-in-law. Challenge him to a game.”

I was never a big board game person… I failed at chess and was never good at checkers, even the Chinese kind. Tony Marks can tell a story about the day he cleaned my clock at Cribbage… UGH! However, I have gotten pretty god at Backgammon. It’s been a couple of years since I played, but Tony’s got the app on his iPad2 and we’ve played a couple of games. It didn’t take long to get back into the swing. I even remembered the good rolls and the awful rolls.

The last couple of comments I’ve gotten about Waterbury and food were about the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel… OH what a food orgy! I worked the “Feast” from the time I was about 10. At first helping sweep the lot the morning after… Tommy Lacila would give us a dollars’ worth of food tickets for working all morning. Of course there were probably 20 kids doing the same thing. And, I worked the soda booth at night. By the time I was 15 I was working in the kitchen during the day… helping the ladies cook the sauce, the veal and peppers and the soffritto; mixing the dough for the fritto apizza (fried apizza). It was a labor of love and because my grandmother also worked there, there was no shortage of pinched cheeks. 

The nights were spent hanging with the kids from the hill, listening to the Carmen Champion Band play old standards and a tarantella, too. Someone who had too much beer would always grab his spouse (or not his spouse) and start dancing! I once actually had the opportunity to sit in for a set with my accordion. No “Lady of Spain” though. Bummer. Of course, it wouldn't be complete without the procession through the streets of Town Plot on Sunday afternoon... there would be what seemed like hundreds of seminarians, priests, and nuns from all over who came to walk the route.  We alter boys had to do it too... hot sunny July day, long cassocks... couldn't wait to shed them.

See you Friday… are there 4 laps in my future?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day +72 “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”

Let me tell you the meaning of +72: four weeks from today (God willin’ ‘n the crick don’ rise) I’m history at the Lodge at Lake Crest. I am so looking forward to that… believe me. I’ve been OK the past couple of days… feeling better than I have in a week or so, especially today. Leonora and Tony have been here and Becky and Sean came to celebrate Father’s Day. It was a great day… some nice Bolognese that Sean made from a recipe from his Italian friend in California. Good food and good company… an unbeatable combination. The only thing missing for me was a nice glass of wine… UGH! Maybe September. We also did a nice mile tonight... about 2 1/2 laps.

Had labs earlier today… numbers are good. Thank God, no more Neupogen, at least for now. They had a Doc look at my face… nasty rash, itchy, bright red. Looks better today and I just have to keep what I’m doing… Hydrocortisone and Claritin. I have a visit with the PA tomorrow. Could be from anything; drugs, Graft vs. Host Disease. But I’ll say it again: except for the neuropathy (PAIN in the…!!!) and the niggling little things (like the rash), I seem to be getting through this without the really bad stuff that can happen. Still have four weeks, and it CAN turn around, but I’m hopeful it’s a slide to July 17th!!!

Memories from Waterbury are still flowing in: Brian K., a Croft grad reminded me of all the theaters there were in the neighborhoods. There was the Capitol in Brooklyn, the Tower, at the bottom of Robbins Street, the Hamilton in the east end, the Alhambra in the North End, and the two big ones in the center, the State and the Lowes Poli (Palace). How about the Armory where we would pack them in for high school double headers. We would draw 1,200- 1,500 on Saturday nights when we were playing the other local high schools. Municipal field where the Saturday football games and the spring baseball games would draw nice crowds. I have memories of skating at either Hamilton or Fulton Parks on Friday nights. Murray Park, Washington Park, and Brass Mills Park, too, for skating… right behind Frankie’s.  I remember one night when everybody agreed to go to Fulton. We got there and there was no one there (at least who we knew). So we walked to Fulton… Pine Street to Bishop Street, through the “Square” to Cherry St, down to East Main and out to the park. We weren’t more than 15 or 16, crazy and stupid, too) and no one even gave us a second look. Can you imagine doing that today???