Sunday, March 24, 2019
A while back on St. Patrick's Day, I had been thinking about the Irish, my grandfather, Thomas Francis (“T F”) Reilly, and about you and me.
T F was an Irish immigrant who came to these United States of America as an orphan. Like many another he worked with his hands. And some hands they were, “Two-fisted Tom Reilly” was his moniker when we was a railroad man. After that tour of duty he became a contractor and a millionaire. My earliest memories of him were of this very big man we called “Poppa”. Of course all people seem huge when you're a kid, but he was exceptional. When he passed on in his late 80s he was still over 6 feet. I can still see him sitting in his living room on a straight back chair listening to Bing Crosby's recording of Toora Loora Li. Poppa became a proud American like so many others who were not born here. My clearest memory has him seated at the head of the table with a bowl of boiled potatoes as his side dish. A part of Ireland that never left him.
Yes, besides thinking of Poppa on St. Patrick's Day, I remember too my own celebrations in New York City. Certainly they were memorable with so many Noo Yawkahs wearing green and the Big Parade. I too marched for a block with my own very young offspring, just so they could say they had marched in New York City on St. Patrick's Day.
You don't have to wear green or march in the parade to celebrate St. Patrick's day, but it's fun to do so. Just about everyone in Manhattan is Irish for that day. It's a beautiful thing. My memory is especially keen about my late friend Mel Sokolow and I celebrating the day at Tim Costello's watering hole on the East Side. St. Patrick Day parades are held in other cities to be sure, Charleston, South Carolina, and Savanah, Georgia, two notable examples. But New York is New York.
Saturday, March 16, 2019
By happenstance (not by design I can assure you) I came across a picture of my own self taken circa 1948. Who is that feller?
Certainly, it was long ago. I am wearing a pair of white canvas short-shorts, then fashionable among the Jersey Shore lifeguards and we lesser mortals who hustled for a living by putting up umbrellas, setting out beach chairs and coaxing the unknowing into renting canvas surfing rafts.
There I was, coming in about 135 pounds with a suntan that would stop any modern-day dermatologist right in his/her tracks. George Hamilton broke that deep-tan barrier decades later, but in the Forties we thought we were bronze gods.
Then time and Mother Nature moved us along. Chests went south. 135 pounds became the weight of each thigh. PC was unknown at that time, “body shaming” although decades away, loomed threateningly. So we dug in to defend the last frontier – a great tan. It sounds crazy now to recall how teenagers mixed baby oil with iodine to enhance the tanning process. But we did. Some of the more insane amongst us doused their hair with peroxide and came forth as carrot tops. Orange was “in” for a few weeks before parents with scissors ended that madness.
It's fun to turn back the hands of time once in a while. But in the main many, if not most of us, prefer to live in the present. Where else can a chubby, balding, 90 year old find an attractive younger woman who loves him these days? Life is good.
Monday, March 11, 2019
No one likes to get sick. This includes you, dear reader, and certainly this writer. How men handle illness and how women handle illness provide two interesting and very different approaches.
With men, we see a return to wanting Mommy to make it better. After all, didn't she do just that in days long ago? Unhappily, for many of us, this is no longer possible. Now, to be clear here, when I speak of sickness, I'm thinking about everyday maladies – a bad cold, a touch of flu, nothing truly serious. Granted when it is YOU having to cope with a bad cold, touch of flu, etc. each setback takes on monumental importance.
For men, it starts with facial expressions. Think of the sad-face Bassett hound. Then add a bit of moaning, especially when our wives are within earshot. Pour in a tad of muttering along the lines of “don't worry about me, I'll be alright (pause) eventually.” Being simple souls, that's pretty much it. Just repeat, repeat and repeat.
With women, circumstances are far different. (It is good for men to keep in mind that only women are capable of childbirth with all the pain that accompanies it. They deserve to be honored for this alone.) And not so by the way, when it comes to common illnesses, most women simply carry on come hell, high water, or near-pneumonia. So this leaves us with that atypical +handful who do not. They are the truly memorable ones. Broadway cannot handle the oceans of dramatic tears these few inflict on the rest of us.
Women are emotional by nature, so when routine illness strikes this handful of memorable ladies, it opens up the floodgate of opportunity for full expression. Moans become thunderclaps, gestures reach for the heavens. No avenue is left untrod.
Friday, March 1, 2019
I love my bike. It's right outside, waiting for me to mount up and pedal off to another adventure.
It's true that my biking today is a far cry from when I used to ride 15, 20, 30 miles a trip. Mother Nature, a bad back and wifely concerns have combined to limit me to a modest 3 three-mile jaunt. I have no complaints, however. Any bike riding is wonderful to me.
The day I first soloed on a two-wheeler is firmly etched in my memory book. There is no plaque marking the site and my first solo fell far short of the distance Wilbur and Orville flew at Kitty Hawk. But that day on the side yard at 2403 North 50th Street in The City of Brotherly Love was historic nonetheless. My father, a patient man, held the fender of my rear wheel, gently pushed me, all the while steadying the first few feet of my efforts. (I wonder if you too recall your own moment.) After my father left to go back to the office, I got on my bike, pushed and pedaled to move forward. Better to try things without an audience, plus having a comfortable grassy landing site if things went south.
Success! Joyous success. I ran into the house to tell my mother who promptly telephoned my father at work. I yelled the news. Dad congratulated me, excited himself. It was a big Reilly day all around. Only now, so many decades later do I truly understand how blessed I was. First, in having a bike at all in the midst of The Great Depression, and more important, to have such caring, supportive parents sharing my success. If you've been lucky in this life, and I have, nothing beats having had loving parents.
As for that first two-wheeler of mine, it was a beauty. Fire engine red with fat white-walled tires. I wonder if it still exists somewhere out there short of the scrap metal heap. If so, name the price. I'll be there. My steed today still sports fat tires in keeping with my own body type. It is rusty but reliable. The young women and men who pass by me on the road, which includes virtually everyone, are cyclists of the first order. Most of them are athletes and fitness buffs. They are also friendly and encouraging. They seem to welcome old timers like me even though we are slowpokes, for we too are part of the sport they all love so much.
Friday, February 1, 2019
Civic-minded organizations often sponsor events for the general public. Pancake breakfasts immediately come to mind. In principle, they are win-wins for all involved. Money raised benefits the community or the cause, a piece of the action goes to the sponsoring organization and notably, the public gains (for sure in calorie counts) from such tasty treats. Happily too, they give many homemakers a chance to get out of the kitchen.
Pancake breakfasts are usually “hosted” by organizations like Rotary or Kiwanis, notable for their good works well beyond breakfasts. Rotarians, Kiwanians (or whatever), members of the Chamber of Commerce are generally good-natured guys with broad smiles and cheery dispositions. So too are the ladies in such groups. While we are used to women smiling and preparing meals, men doing the same, not so much.
Why, in the first place, are we having pancakes? Well, the meals themselves are relatively affordable and easy to prepare (imagine the challenge in preparing coq au vin for several hundred hungry folk!) There are many benefits in showing up for the pancakes. Meeting new people among them. At the last one I met men and women who live just a few blocks away, yet our paths had never crossed before. Nice people too.
Yes, there are commercial places that specialize in pancakes, the famed International House of Pancakes (IHOP) most prominent among them. But it ain't the same as having your neighbors flipping the meal. Plus, at community pancake breakfasts, you can avoid grappling with a “suggested gratuity” schedule.
Monday, September 3, 2018
The 2018 tennis season is winding down. It's a good time to reflect on the year, and perhaps on the game itself.
My love affair with tennis began in 1948, when gifted by my Aunt Catherine with a wooden Bancroft complete with genuine gut stringing, I ventured to the sideline of a tennis court. Sideline, not on the court as a player. For the next couple of years, I was manager of the college tennis team. I learned a lot by observing and observing and observing our players in action. Eventually, this loyalty paid off by being promoted to playing status. On the third doubles duo to be sure, but varsity nonetheless. My rise up was aided mightily by the team captain, Taney (pronounced “Tawney” ) Willcox, and player John Bateman. My college record was mediocre. However, I did earn my letter.
Off campus, I battled in singles play with my lifelong pal, Hugh Jones. This competition was marked by rare brilliance, nonstop bickering as to whether a shot was in or out and a bedrock of fraternal affection that has served both of us well over more than a half century. So here I am now in my 90th year, rich in tennis memories of the Greats I saw play the game and of matches where I worked the lines as an official. (Not the least of which was calling the center line when Pancho Gonzales was serving. Unable to move fast enough to avoid his blistering serve, he nailed me twice in the chest.)
The equipment has changed dramatically from the days of my 1948 wooden Bancroft. High tech racquet innovations, plus an emphasis on player physical conditioning have resulted in booming serves and volleying from the baseline, a far cry from the all-court movement that was the hallmark of those long ago days. Young spectators today know only baseline play. Any departure from slugging it out “long distance” causes gasps from the gallery.
I gasp too. But mine is more of a sigh of regret that the game has become so one-dimensional.
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Newspaper people are wont to look ahead. Inevitably at some point, “looking ahead” becomes “now.” That moment has come. Senator John McCain has moved on to the Great Unknown. Knowing of his physical challenges, I have had John McCain on my mind for some time. Along with my personal sadness, however, I will always be remembering the happy time Joan and I shared with him one night at a military ball.
For me, McCain was the epitome of a military person. A no-excuses kind of guy. Many of us who wore the uniform, certainly those of us who had relatively easy service, will always wonder how we would have stacked up against his standard of courage when facing brutality as a prisoner of war. Reading the excerpts of what McCain and others went through in captivity makes you sick to your stomach.
For most of us, it was an honor to serve in uniform. The three words “Duty, Honor, Country” mean a lot. Later on, as veterans, they epitomize our pride when recalling our time in the service. We cherish these three words when we honor those who gave their lives in defense of our nation. We remember as well those who sacrificed through endless days as prisoners of war.
Sometimes it seems like we have so few heroes anymore. It's not true, you know. They exist everywhere across this blessed land. We just don't know about them because they serve silently, or until some event places them in the spotlight.
The President of These United States is, by virtue of his office, the Commander in Chief of The Armed Forces. What a sad, sad day it is when Mr. Trump failed to even mention Senator McCain's name when he was honored by Congress and We the People. Until he had to.