Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Earth—A Bead of Memory

My first memory of second grade at St. Mary’s Grade School in Independence, Missouri, delights me. Fondly, I gaze within, at the slim volume held in my childhood hands. It’s covered with thick blue paper with dog-eared corners. It’s my first Baltimore Catechism.
            From second through eighth grade, I studied a catechism for “religion” class. The paperback books presented the beliefs of Roman Catholicism through the method of questions and answers. The name of the catechisms came from the city in Maryland where, in the nineteenth century, U.S. bishops had determined that Catholic children needed a book to learn the basic doctrines of their faith.
            Each year the Baltimore Catechism got thicker and the questions more detailed. Line drawings illustrated each volume except for the one I had in second grade.
            That first catechism was probably about 6 ½ x 4 ½ inches with perhaps sixty-four pages. Each two-page spread had the same format: On the upper corner of the left-hand page was printed a square. As I remember, it was large—probably 2 x 2 inches. Beneath the square was the catechism question for that week.
            The right-hand side of the two-page spread provided the answer to the question along with a story about that answer.
            My favorite two-page spread was the first one. It asked, “Who created the Universe?” In simple words, the right-hand text recounted the story in Chapter 1, Verses 1-11, of the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures.

From go
            During the first week of school, I memorized not only the answer to the question but also the entire text of the creation story. Sister Mary Anne would award a sticker to those of us who answered correctly. The sticker for the creation question remains vivid even today: Against a sky of cobalt blue speckled with distant stars floated the green earth and its vast indigo oceans. Swirling over all were wisps of cirrus clouds.


            The depth of color, the vastness of Universe impressed both my mind and my imagination. I was so overjoyed when Sister Mary Anne called on me and I answered her first catechism question—“Who created the Universe?”—with the correct answer: “God created the Universe.”


            Joy surged through me as I licked the sticker and attached it to the blank square on my catechism page. Throughout all of second grade I’d frequently return to that first two-page spread to gaze at my sticker. My mind was unable to grapple with the distance of the starry skies or the rounded perfection of Earth, but the intensity of its beauty enthralled me.


            Today I searched Wikipedia and the free site I use for a photograph that would recreate my memory. But none were the cobalt blue, the indigo. And so I’ve given you four photographs. Each captures some aspect of what I remember.
            The artist who painted the Earth from space for the catechism sticker left such an indelible mark on my memory that when I first saw the NASA photographs from space, I thought, “Yes! That’s exactly right!”
            I’m wondering what vivid memory you have of first or second grade. For me this one is a treasured blue bead on the necklace of remembrance that encircles my life. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

St. Mary's Parish and School

Moving to what was meant to be Grandpa and Grandma Ready’s retirement house in 1943 meant changing schools. Mom and Dad somehow came up with the monthly tuition of three dollars—that would be $39.95 now—for my attendance at St. Mary’s Catholic Grade School in Independence, Missouri. From 1943 to 1954—that is, from second grade through graduation from high school—St. Mary’s Parish and school indelibly influenced my life.

The city of Independence, founded in 1827, sprouted like a mushroom for it was the “jumping-off” point for three trails headed west: the Oregon—which stretched 2,000 miles; the California—also 2,000 miles; and the Santa Fe, which took the early pioneers on a 900-mile trek southwest.

A map of the Oregon trail.

Many of the Independence settlers opened shops to “outfit” the emigrants. For weeks that stretched into as many as three months, they traveled these trails in covered wagons with oxen pulling them across the “sea of grass” beyond the Missouri River.

A covered wagon or prairie schooner.
Saint Mary’s was founded on the western frontier of Missouri in 1823. According to its website, it “has survived uprisings among settlers of different faiths, raids by outlaws, and the Civil War.” For the first few years of its existence, missionary priests came to the parish to celebrate mass with the early settlers. 
Then in 1848, the parish got its first pastor. Reverend Bernard Donnelly “purchased a wagon shop on February 12 for $250. This wagon shop, 24' x 36' made of brick, became the first Catholic Church” in the territory. The cornerstone for the existing church was laid in 1864.                                                                    
In 1853, Father Donnelly converted a one-and-a-half story building standing next to the original wagon-shop church into a school. He did all the teaching the first year. Then a local woman took over and taught without pay. By 1865, the school had two teachers paid by the town of Independence as they instructed both Catholics as well as non-Catholics.   

In 1877, a cyclone destroyed the original school building. The fourth pastor immediately built a new structure “made of brick and 40 'x 60' in size, which included an attic and basement and faced on North Liberty Street. The building was to be used as a combination convent and school for the next 75 years.”                                                                                                                         
In 1883, two Sisters of Mercy nuns came to Independence to teach at Saint Mary’s. They set up a day school and a boarding school—or high school—for young ladies. The founder of the Sisters of Mercy was Catherine McAuley, who was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1778.

Mother Catherine McAuley wearing the “habit” of the Sisters of Mercy.
Forty-nine years later—in 1827—McAuley used her inheritance to establish “the first House of Mercy on Lower Baggot Street in Dublin, Ireland, . . . as a place to shelter, feed and educate women and girls.” In 1831, the Dublin bishop asked her to form a new religious congregation: Thus was born the Sisters of Mercy.                                                                                                                                        
In 1843, the Roman Catholic bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, invited the Mercy nuns to the United States where they established hospitals and schools. By 1878, two of them were teaching at Saint Mary’s in Independence, Missouri. Sixty-five years later, when I first began to attend Saint Mary’s Grade School, four nuns taught the eight grades. Several others taught in the adjacent high school.                                                                                                   
When I took the entrance examinations at the College of Mount Saint Scholastica in 1954 and did well, the Benedictines there complimented me on the excellent schooling I’d had at Saint Mary’s. I still remember fondly many of the nuns there. They greatly influenced my life and in postings throughout the next few months, you’ll meet several of them—Sister Corita, Sister Mary McCauley, Sister Edith from Ireland, Sister Rosaria, Sister Bonita, and Sister Aquinas. All of them taught me well.

PS: Next Sunday, on my new blog—my life as a word-crafter—I’ll be posting about the ways in which the study of Latin and diagramming sentences has influenced my writing.

FYI: The information in today’s posting is from the websites for Saint Mary’s Parish; the town of Independence; Saint Mary’s High School, which provides the history of the first convent and grade school on the site; and the Sisters of Mercy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Moving to a New Home

In the spring of 1943, my Grandpa Ready died.  Before his death, he had been building a retirement home for himself and my grandmother in the Missouri countryside. He chose property just two farms away from where my family lived.
            The house was unfinished when he died, and Grandma Ready had no desire to complete it or to live there alone. So she offered to rent it to our family for $25 a month, which would be $331.08 today.
            Grandpa had already framed the walls of the one-story house and shingled the roof and exterior walls, but a lot of work still needed to be done. The interior wall studs supported the ceiling beams, and Grandpa had nailed the wall laths to these studs, but Dad needed to apply the plaster both to them and to the ceiling, finish the floor, and insert windows into the gaping holes on the outer walls.
            Each evening that summer and on Saturday, Dad worked on the house. Before school started, he had it ready for us to move into. He and Mom had painted the walls with a blush of spring green and had bought additional furniture because we now had two bedrooms and a larger living room.
            Several things were not completed—not then or by the time Dad died in 1975. He never surrounded the windows with indoor frames. To keep out the chill, Mom stuffed the four-inch wide by four-inch deep cavities with newspaper and hide the unsightliness with drapes. In addition, Dad painted only the front of the house. The other three sides remained unpainted during all the years he and Mom lived there.

Mom on front steps.

            Dad also never laid the kitchen floor, so we walked all those years on the wide boards that formed the underbelly of the floor. Narrow gaps between those boards allowed snakes to slither into the kitchen. But only one did during the time I lived at home. Insects, too, found those cracks.
            The city had not run water lines out into the countryside so we used a well and an outhouse. The small room between the two bedrooms would one day, we all hoped, become a bathroom with running water and toilet. In the meantime, we kept a slop bucket there for use during the night. I emptied it in the outhouse each day until my little brother got old enough to take the chore on. Dad never put up doors to the two bedrooms or that smaller room, so mother hung dark blue curtains in the three entryways.

Mom and Dad with outhouse in background.

            The house had six rooms: the living room flowed into the dining room. Those two rooms and the kitchen took up the left side and middle of the house. On the right side was a short hallway. At its front end stood Mom and Dad’s bedroom, at the far end the bedroom in which my brother and I slept. Between the two was the makeshift bathroom.
            In the coming months, I hope to share with you my life in that farmhouse and my adventures on the twenty acres on which it sat. I grew up there. It was there that I learned to dream.
                                                            (Continued next Wednesday . . . )
PS: Tah! Dah! I am beginning a second blog today. It will be about writing. Specifically, my writing: How I began and how I continue. What success I've had and what I've discovered about the craft. What my hopes and expectations are and what my daily writing life is like. I’ve named the blog “my life as a wordcrafter.”
            If this sounds interesting to you, please click here to read the brief introduction I posted there today. My regular posting day will be Sunday.
             On the new blog this coming Sunday, I'll share with you the adventure of asking four blogger friends to help me rename “Twelve Habits of Highly Successful Cats & Their Humans” and design a cover for the re-issue of the book. All that happened this week and I’m so grateful for the support of others as I work at being a writer. Peace.           


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Buddhism and Ménière’s Disease

(Continued from Wednesday, August 22 . . . )

Two weeks ago, I posted the story of how Blue came into my life during an asthma attack when I was eight. Today I’d like to share a happening sixty-two years later.
            In May 2006, Ménière’s Disease imprisoned me for eighteen months. At any moment, I could pitch forward onto the floor, tumble down the steps, bang my head on a rock in the perennial garden, fall against a window pane. The house became both refuge and mine field. Terror camped around me, and I often spent the day crawling from room to room, unable to stand balanced.
            Vomiting, dehydration, and a loss of mental capacity accompanied these acute rotational vertigo episodes, which occurred almost daily. I couldn’t drive or walk outside. I couldn’t watch television or scroll a computer screen. Parallel lines brought on episodes, so I could not read. My life narrowed to my thoughts, books on tape, and the walls of the two-story house.

            One day in late summer, I sat in a chair listening to a tape. Abruptly, an attack thrust me to the floor. It rotated. The walls rotated counter-clockwise. Moving. Moving. Moving. I vomited. My head fell into the mess.
            I didn’t know how long this episode would last—one had gone on for twenty-four hours—so I wanted to be in bed. I slowly turned over. My brain had become tangled yarn. The walls rotated. The ceiling—the  floor—moved inexorably.
            I crawled down the hall, into my bedroom, to the four-poster, mahogany bed that had belonged to my grandparents. With great effort, I pulled myself upward onto its high mattress. Everything rotated. I lay on my back, the room rotating. I fixed my blurred gaze on the far right-hand corner of the ceiling. Fixing one point could keep me from continuing to vomit.

The cats and I and my 1904 bed on a “normal” day.

            Panic deluged me. What to do? What to do? What to do? The walls rotated. My stomach churned. My head felt heavy.
            Then thought came: “It’s not my fault this is happening. I can’t do anything to make it go away. I have no control over it.”
            Another thought passed like ticker tape through my muddled brain. The year before, I’d read a book on Buddhism. In it, the author suggested that when we feel deep, sometimes frightening, emotion, we let ourselves “sink” into the feeling. We let ourselves breathe within it.
            So that’s what I did. I simply sank into vertigo. I stretched out my arms on the bed and opened my palms so that they could accept whatever happened. I let myself become the episode and in doing do I experienced a cessation of panic.
            Ultimately, the episode released me. Exhausted, I slept for long hours. But I learned, as I had so many years before with asthma, how to let go and sink into a frightening experience to enter calm waters.
            Why hadn’t I entered Blue when these acute rotational vertigo episodes occurred? A good question and the only answer I have shows how narrow, perhaps rigid, my mind truly can be. It just never occurred to me. This wasn’t asthma and somehow I never thought that Blue, which was my nirvana for that disease, could be used for Ménière’s. Ah, how frail we humans are.
                                                            (Continued next Wednesday . . . )

PS: Some of you may want to know more about Ménière’s Disease. Last year I posted a series of seven stories about it. You will find these under the label “Ménière’s Disease” on the right-hand side of this blog.

PPS: “Twelve Habits of Highly Successful Cats & Their Humans” was downloaded 741 times during the three days it was offered free during the recent blog fest of which I was a part. “A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story,” which was offered free for only one day, was downloaded 1,384 times.
             As many of you know, I’m a rank novice with regard to social media, so I find all this amazing. It happened only because of the generosity and expertise of Elisa Hirsch who sponsored the gala affair. I want to thank both you and Elisa for its success. I feel I’ve hitched my wagon to a rising star.

Photo of stairs from Wikipedia.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Do you like FREE eBooks?

Welcome to the Labor Day Book Fair! 

Wayman publishing has teamed up
with many phenomenal authors
to bring you this Labor Day weekend event.


For three whole days
--September 2-3-4--
you can download these featured 

e-books  for FREE.

. . . And . . .

You can download many other books
to entertain you in the days ahead.

Discover Upcoming Books!

Author’s biography The author was born in Athens, Greece in 1955 and is a dual U.S. / Greek citizen. After obtaining his Engineering Sc. B. degree in mechanical engineering from Brown University in 1977 he went on to Harvard Business School where he earned his MBA in 1979. He is married and has two children and lives in Athens but often visits America (Boston where his daughter studies and his son works). He is currently employed by the largest Greek manufacturing Co. (10% of Greek exports) as the Senior Financial Analyst. His interests include poetry, romance fiction and actively following economic developments in the U.S. and Europe.
Coming Soon!

 More Details Coming Soon!


. . . Also . . .

You can enter to win CASH or physical books
by outstanding authors such as
Valerie Bowen,
Adrienne deWolfe,
Peter Thomas Senese,
Lucy Swing,
Kara Tollman. 

In honor of Melynda Fleury--who has bravely been fighting diabetes and almost completely lost her eyesight--Wayman Publishing and Rick Gualtieri are also donating 5-10% profit from select physical book sales to the American Diabetes Association

We hope you enjoyed discovering new authors and their stories
at our Labor Day Blogfest and Book Fair.