The Positive Side of a Negative

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When I woke up on Saturday morning, I thought of Maine. Stubborn as I am, Maine was my desire that day, even though my husband had slammed the gavel down on the idea of taking a long drive to explore a land sale. Before I could linger in my rambling thoughts of a leisurely ride and a sneak peak at Acadia through our car window, the yelps of a bratty puppy told me my schedule was not my own.

So I let it go. I got up to start my day.

No sooner did I dismiss the notion, my focus shifted. I have plenty on my plate on any given day. I am writing my doctoral dissertation, painfully slowly, so there is no such thing as “free time.”

But the day was mine to claim, and once I got through the routine morning tasks, I knew where I had to go.

I have always been proud of our family home in Seymour. Set on a small hill, nestled on a wooded lot that back in the day was like living in the wilderness with only a few neighbors and away from the town bustle, our house was the idyllic place to grow up.

Trees to climb, a lawn to rough up with our sports games, a driveway for bike riding. An outdoor playground that was ours to use in whatever ways our imaginations would suggest.

john skateboard

I headed to my folks’ house intending to do a little yard work and pay a quick visit. My parents are in their 80s now, still living independently in the house my father built for us more than fifty years ago, but yard work is not an activity either of them can manage anymore. In the busy schedules that each of us creates in our lives, neither myself nor my brothers had been able to stay ahead of the yard care that was screaming to be done.

It’s a sentence my father would hate: The yard has become unkempt, to put it mildly.

Overgrown weeds have filled in the once neatly clipped front lawn that had been the site of our sled riding in the winter. The side yard was strewn with remnants of firewood bark, left behind when the winter’s stock was first piled and then deliberately relocated to the bins in our den next to the wood stove.

I know how proud my father is of the home he and Mom made for us, and how much it bothered him that he could not keep up the maintenance as he could in his younger days. I drove up the driveway, parked my car, and took it in. This was not going to be a quick or easy job. After a quick hello to Mom and Dad inside, I put on my work gloves and got to work.

There was a hard rake leaning against the side wall of the yard; the side yard of our house where our basketball hoop was.
hoop view
The hoop pole is still there, rusted but standing. The old backboard is gone, and with it, the netted hoop. But I see it in my mind.

joe dunk

It was the rake that did it. Instantly, as I grabbed it, I was back in my childhood. It was as if my grip on the rake transported me through a whoosh of memories collected over time and filed away as “the past.” dad raking.jpeg

It was the same kind of rake that I had left lying in the grass one day as a kid. I guess I must have dropped it to run off and play. Who knows? The only thing about that memory that I recall is that my younger brother John ended up falling on it.

The rake was lying flat, teeth side jutting up, like the jaws of a tiger. John was running around the yard, like we kids often did, and must have tripped. He hit the rake jaws with his forehead, I think. No scars. Barely a scratch, I recall, but he let out a wail, and I would bet that Joyce, his twin, came rushing to his side.

Even in the fuzziness of that memory, I am smiling. 

It was super humid on Saturday and I spent the day pulling weeds, dragging brush, and unintentionally unlocking memories I had not thought about in some time. That’s they way memories work. You can purposely call them forth and swim in them when you’re feeling sentimental or melancholy or are reliving a shared history with friends or family.

Or they can call you forth, inviting you to dance a while.

joe john chas kotos

This is the house I grew up in. This is the yard I played in with my five brothers and sister, in our childhood. And I love it — every bit of it, from the proud red paint color to the deep crack in the one sidewalk square that has my name etched in it.

It’s the yard where we flung a frisbee in the late afternoons of summers.

mare frisbee

The driveway we all grabbed a shovel to clear the snow in the winter, and where we played “Bank” — using the window on the side of the garage as a teller window that we would ride up to on our bikes to deposit or withdraw Monopoly money.

paul shoveling

I dragged brush from the pile where my brother Joe had taken down a tree a year ago that had been overhanging the yard. He hadn’t gotten around to finishing the cleanup, so the limbs and branches were piled like yard art.

You cannot pile up tree branches perfectly. Their natural arcs and outshoots are firm enough that you cannot make them fit together like puzzle pieces. They have to lie in their free form, twisted and fitting in where they can to form a mass of limber arms entangled but moveable.

I popped in and out of the house that day, taking water breaks and cooling off from the humidity. Each time, my folks sitting in their den would mention a tidbit from the news, or offer me something to eat or drink. On my third trip inside, I was about to pass out from overheating. Mom kept talking, failing to see that I had my head in my hands fighting off nausea.

She offered me ice cream. You’ve gotta love a cute little old mommy who is stuck at home way too much.

So my husband and I didn’t have a Fall getaway to beautiful Maine to look at a possible dream site for our retirement years. But I got a trip to my childhood, and precious time with my parents. And yeah, the yard is looking better already. Thank God for husbands who sometimes say no.

Copyright ©️2017 By Marianne V. Heffernan

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‘Too’ is a 4-Letter Word

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I was a little ticked at my husband for not being willing to just go with it. I’d seen an ad for a land sale in Maine — one of my favorite states to spend time in — and wanted to just be spontaneous and go check it out. We’ve been exploring our options for retirement, and this jumped out at me as one of those random things you stumble upon that says, “Hey, maybe you need to see this.”

He considered it and did not flat-out reject the notion. But when I followed up to make it a weekend getaway, he balked. “Too far,” he said.

That did it. The word “too” is officially my #1 least favorite word. In fact, I may have to banish it from any discussions in the future with anyone at all. Think about it. “Too slow.” “Too fast.” “Too high.” “Too close.” “Too hard.” “Too complicated.” “Too expensive.” “Too cheap.” “Too long.” Etc.

Inserting that word just means you are rejecting something, making a judgment without considering the possibilities of a positive. Limiting yourself.

I just can’t do that.

Here’s how I see it. A few examples.

“Maine is too far.”

No, the long ride, especially right now, means taking in the beautiful foliage along the way; a chance to listen to music together on the radio; to have a leisurely coffee from the Dunkin Donuts we stop at as we get on the road; a chance to feel like we “got away” without having to go through the hassle of airports, extra baggage, whatever.

“The driver in front of me is too slow.”

No, it means maybe I am in too much of a rush. If I were driving faster, maybe I’d be setting myself up for a crash. Or maybe I am missing the roadside beauty,

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or maybe I’m not thinking that this pokey driver is a young person still learning the rules of the road and gaining experience behind the wheel. Or maybe it’s an older driver — like my Dad, in his 80s — who is still driving because it is the last bit of independence he can still manage, albeit slowly; maybe he’s driving my Mom to a doctor’s appointment and is simply trying to get them both there safely. Whatever the scenario, the slowpoke in front of you is giving you an opportunity to ease off the gas pedal and be mindful. Try it.

“The zipline is too high.”

Hmm. Maybe it is. 🙂 Conquer your fear and do it anyway! Learn what you are capable of handling, as it will make you stronger and build your confidence.

Yes, the “too” word stuck in my craw (I so wanted to use this expression, so here’s the Urban Dictionary’s definition):

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A little resentment, sure. I was ticked. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, but it was a thing to do together, so his rejection of the Maine thing put the kibosh on it. For now.

And you know what? It was a good thing I didn’t flex my brat muscle and bitch about it. The “not going to Maine” on Saturday meant I had the day to do something else. Something I had been wanting to do for a while. Something that you can’t always plan. Something that leaves a memory on your heart.

Up Next: The Positive Side of a Negative

Copyright ©️2017 By Marianne V. Heffernan

My 9/11 (Part II): Godspeed, Cowboy

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NOTE: This post was originally published in 2011 and is republished on this newer Walking Distance platform to share Tommy Foley with new followers here. May Tommy Foley’s soul and all the souls of those we lost on Sept. 11, 2001 rest in peace. 

It took me about a day or so after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 for the reporter gene in me to kick in.

Realizing that I knew someone who may be able to give me an insider’s view of the biggest American tragedy since Pearl Harbor, I reached out to my bureau chief at People to offer my help in reporting. Whatever kind of coverage they were doing, they were sure to have a full contingent of reporters and freelancers pitching in, and I just had to be in on the biggest story that I would ever come across in my life.

I had no idea what I was volunteering to do.

I reminded my BC that Tommy Foley was a firefighter in the South Bronx and our readers were sure to remember him. She agreed. “Make some calls,” she said.

I dialed Tommy’s cell phone, expecting to get his voice mail because I knew he would be on site at Ground Zero with his brother firemen. I had every confidence that he would return my call, when he got a moment. That’s the way Tommy was. You could count on him to be responsive, dependable, and always, a gentleman.

To cover my bases, I called his home number too. He had moved into his own home several months before. We had chatted on the phone sometime after that, if my memory is correct, but to be honest, the details are fuzzy after all these years. I do know that our phone call that night was just a friendly call to say hello instead of a reporter-subject interview.

He was thinking about auditioning for Survivor. He was still loving his job, but open to new opportunities for really making the most of his life. We talked for about an hour. He sounded, as always, happy and positive.

When I didn’t hear back from Tommy within a day of leaving him those messages on September 11, I began to get nervous. By then, my BC was calling for an update. Unfortunately, it hadn’t occurred to me — still — that Tommy may have been one of those first responders who rushed in to the towers to help get people out. I hated the thought, but when my bureau chief said I had better call his family and find out what was going on, I knew I was in for an assignment I really did not want to do.

There was no backing out now. I had signed up for this.

There is nothing worse as a reporter than having to call the family of a victim — even if the “victim” has not yet been determined to be one. No sooner did I identify myself to Tommy’s sister, Joanne, the words tumbled out of her mouth and took my breath away.

“We don’t know anything yet,” she said.

I was stunned. Beyond stunned. It could not be true.

Joanne told me that Tommy was due to get off work that morning, finishing up his shift at 9 a.m. But firefighting was his calling, and when duty called, Tommy was there. Joanne promised to keep me posted, promised to let me know when there was news. I filed the briefest of stories that week, and People ran another great photo of Tommy with my information. I hated what it said.

Ten days later, I was leaving Shea Stadium with my brother James after a Mets game when my cell phone beeped a voice mail message. “They found him,” Joanne’s message said.

“They” were Danny Foley, Joanne and Tommy’s younger brother, and KC Gross, Joanne’s husband, who had continued to search the rubble at Ground Zero until they found Tommy. Danny Foley made that promise to his parents, Tom and Pat Foley, that he would bring Tommy home. Miraculously, he kept that promise.

It has been ten years since those horrors turned the Foley family’s world inside out. Last weekend, Joanne Foley Gross took that nightmare and converted it into pure inspiration. Her documentary, Tommy Foley: Legacy of a Young Hero, captured a happy, candid young man of tremendous potential, who had lived every day like it was his last.

To this day, any time I drove across the Tappan Zee Bridge, I think of Tommy Foley, because his hometown of West Nyack is literally the next highway sign that pops up on that route. On those rare occasions when I drive by the Palisades Center mall, I remember how anguished I was, sitting in my car in that parking lot after Tommy was confirmed among the dead at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

I sat there trying to find a way out of having to contact his close friends and family for “comment” for my People story. I have been in those shoes as the sister of a victim, and they are uncomfortable, horrible shoes. Instead, I told myself that my empathy would be, in some small way, a gift to them because I would approach them and those who loved Tommy with a compassion that would never be aggressive or pushy, but would respect their privacy and pain while getting my job as a reporter done.

The Foley family has handled their “victim’s family status” with grace, class, compassion, and generosity. They have steadfastly preserved Tommy’s memory and are sharing him with the world. It takes a lot to do that. It takes guts.

I just want to know: How did Pat and Tom Foley raise such an extraordinary young man?

His poise, particularly in the face of danger or the uncomfortable public spotlight. He was deliberately thoughtful with his words. He was also totally at ease. He was, he told me, that blend of country boy with an ability to be as comfortable in his boots and cowboy hat as he was at a black-tie affair in the city. He just plain liked people, and he admired his parent’s more than 35-year union, holding up that example as the model for himself. If he couldn’t have it that way, he wouldn’t do it, he said.

In the film last week, I couldn’t help smiling at Tommy’s reference to this when he talked about where he saw himself in five years time. The package included wife, kids, home, but also all the things he loved the most. “Bull riding, a firefighter … just to be happy. If I can find a girl like that one day … Giddyup.”

Then he smiled that smile.

Godspeed, Cowboy.

Copyright 2011 By Marianne V. Heffernan

Visit www.firefighterthomasjfoley.com for more information on Tommy Foley and to order a copy of Legacy of a Young Hero. Proceeds from the film sales will benefit the Firefighter Thomas J. Foley Foundation.

You can also visit Walking Distance‘s Facebook page at http://goo.gl/I7CFo for more photos from the film premiere.

 

Celebrating someone who got it right

NOTE: This post is being republished on the even of the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 Terrorist attacks.  

 

When you love someone that much, you don’t leave them behind.

That’s what I said last year, in a blog post about the FDNY’s Tommy Foley, who died on Sept. 11, 2001, rushing in to the horrific scene at what was the World Trade Center. I was making a point about the way we memorialize our loved ones, as a way of keeping them with us as we move on with our lives.

Later this week, Joanne Foley Gross, Tommy’s sister, will introduce her brother to the world in a remarkable documentary she created over the last several years. Tommy Foley — Legacy of a Young Hero, will premiere at a handful of New York locations beginning on Thursday, Sept. 8, with showings through Sunday, Sept. 11, the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

To say that Joanne’s work has been a “labor of love” sounds cliche, but it deserves far better than that. I don’t know what else you would call this film created by a woman who was, until that terrible day, not a filmmaker nor a writer, whose credentials for producing this artistic story are simply that she is the loving sister of a brave New York City firefighter, and she recognized that her brother’s life deserved to be shared.

Boy, can I relate to that.

I had hoped to interview Joanne before this week’s premieres, but since we have not been able to connect yet, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to share this story with you. Joanne recently was interviewed by a reporter for Firehouse.com, so many of the questions I was kicking around were answered in that news article.

You can read the piece here: http://goo.gl/MqpCR.

I can tell you this: Joanne’s commitment to telling her brother’s story was unwavering and beyond admirable. She saw the potential and she made it happen. This week, she and the Foley family will celebrate Tommy’s life in an extraordinary way. With his story now on film, Tommy will live on for others who knew him and for those who never had the privilege.

I’ll be there this week to honor Tommy’s legacy, support his family, and share in what I know will be a transformational experience. Next week in Walking distance, I’ll share my experience with you. In the meantime, if you can’t be there in person, you can order the documentary by visiting http://firefighterthomasjfoley.com/documentary.html. Watch the trailer: http://goo.gl/Vck80

All proceeds will benefit the Thomas J. Foley Foundation.

If you need inspiration to live your life to the max, then meet Tommy Foley. He wrote the book on it. As a firefighter, Tommy Foley worked hard to make sure no one was left behind. This week, his sister is doing the same for him.

Copyright 2011 By Marianne V. Heffernan

My 9/11 Connection (Part 1): Cowboy Up

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Some of you may be wondering why I have been blogging about, posting photos of, and otherwise sharing details about Tommy Foley, a New York City firefighter who died on #9/11. Why have I been talking up a new documentary created by this young man’s sister, which was unveiled over the last several days?

Just how did a girl from Seymour, Conn., come to have a special affection for one of the FDNY’s Bravest, and what makes her think that everyone else needs to know about it?

You need to know about Tommy Foley because he happens to be one of the most genuine and remarkable human beings I have ever met. Let me give you “the back story” on my short-lived and unexpected friendship with this young man from West Nyack, N.Y. and you can decide for yourself.

Have a seat. This is going to take a minute.

It was sometime in 2000 when I was working a side gig as a stringer for People magazine. My bureau chief would call me to offer assignments that usually required me to track down nuggets of info in towns of various celebrities who were “hot” at the time. I’d be sent to places like New Canaan, Conn., back when David Letterman lived there, or to Chappaqua, N.Y. , to nose around about former President Bill Clinton.

Once, I got to cover a red carpet event for one of the Harry Potter films, and got sent to help cover the lavish reception of one of Liza Minnelli’s weddings — neither of which got me all that close to A-List movie stars (although I can give you the skinny on “Ralphie” from The Sopranos, as far as how friendly he was… NOT).

Occasionally, I would get an actual interview assignment for stories about newsmakers like an upstate New York family’s quintuplets, or former Brat Packer Andrew McCarthy (does anyone remember him?).

This time, I got a real gem: How would I like to interview a firefighter who was named #10 in the top 100 list of eligible bachelors? (Tommy was tenth, behind celebs like George Clooney and Derek Jeter.)

Um, yes please?

I was given a phone number and a few details on what was needed, and went to work.
I called Tommy and introduced myself, telling him I wanted to come out to his home and interview him, his family, and some of his friends.

On the telephone, Tommy was instantly friendly. (The other night, while watching the documentary about Tommy, I heard many of his friends speak of his warmth, and I was immediately transported to that first phone call.)

Tommy, then 31, was living with his parents at the time, thinking about buying a house but concentrating on his career with the fire department and balancing that with a landscaping business on the side, a passion for rodeo bull riding, and spending quality time with his family and friends. Many people would say, “Too good to be true,” but Tommy Foley was the real deal.

He invited me to his home, and when I arrived, insisted we go out and have a bite to eat while I interviewed him. He had a seafood place all picked out, and it was as if we had been friends for years. First we sat down at the kitchen table with his parents, Pat and Tom Foley.

What was planned to be an interview became more like a visit with good neighbors. No doubt, Tommy’s friendliness and warmth was an extension of his parents. I gained insight on the character of this young man who could likely have dated movie stars but had instead been a chivalrous teenager who escorted more than one dateless young woman to her prom, usually when asked by a friend to take their sister.

He laughed off the People anointment. The star treatment netted him a lot of ribbing from his brothers at the firehouse — that’s “fi-ya-house” in New York speech, a manner that made Tommy all the more endearing. When he said he was a New York City Fi-ya-min, it was like he had been practicing that phrase his whole life.

He probably had. Firefighting was in his blood. His father, brother, and even brother-in-law all were firefighters, and Tommy was a rising star in his field. He joined the department at 22, was assigned to Squad Co. 41, and after nine years got the chance to join Rescue 3 in the Bronx. Rappeling from a building to rescue a man in 1999 was the first rescue that garnered the media spotlight for Tommy. That spotlight only got hotter, landing him calendar photo shoots and bit acting roles on The Sopranos and Third Watch.

Firefighting was the dream job Tommy insisted he would never give up — not for an acting career or any other, despite the opportunities he was getting due to his uncommon good looks and charisma. “It’s the best job in the world,” he told me.

When People launched the inaugural “Top Bachelors” issue (July 10, 2000), it planned to celebrate it in grand style. Again, I got the call from my editor: “We want you to be Tom Foley’s escort to the People party… We’ll send a limo to pick you two up…”

Of course, I never shy away from the tough assignments.

I watched Tommy work that party that night, where larger-than-lifesize images of him and other bachelors in the issue were set up all through the venue. He was as comfortable in the big-city setting of a fancy party where the Cosmopolitans are flowing as he was in the saddle of a horse — and there, I suspect, was part of the secret of who Tommy Foley was.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you why this New York Cowboy left an indelible impression on me.

Copyright 2011 By Marianne V. Heffernan

How Do You Pack for a Dream?

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The dog is underfoot, stressed out because Joyce and I are running up and down the stairs frantically looking for last-minute things to pack. Bruce, our little brown Pomeranian mixed breed, isn’t allowed upstairs in our house where the bedrooms are, and he just knows that something is up that he is not included in. We try to ignore him, but Joyce, being the animal lover that she is, can’t help but stop mid-stairs, turn around and go back down the stairs to scooch down and give Bruce some attention.

joyce and bruce in the den

Meanwhile, I am running around looking for clean underwear.

It’s the night before our big cross-country trek, and we are 20-somethings who have barely been outside of the confines of the core New England states. We are planning to drive clear across the country from Connecticut to Colorado, stopping at every tourist trap along the way.

<<Pause>>

So, that didn’t happen. Well, maybe in the back of my mind somewhere, it did. 

The True Story (see prior post, She’s Not Here) is that my husband and I are taking a vacation we have delayed for the past 14 years. We are getting ready to soak in the breathtaking views of the West around the region of Yellowstone National Park.

It is the night before our trip, and as usual, the packing never ends. My strategy: Whatever I do, I must make sure that Mike does not get the carry-on bag with the flat tire. No, I am not being considerate. I am simply avoiding the inevitable crankiness that would stem from my husband dragging a bag on wheels that isn’t actually on wheels, completely.

No, this carry-on has a hole in one of the plastic wheels from the thousands of international (and domestic) flights I logged as a communications manager for the company that manufactures the world’s best helicopters. (Sikorsky).

Let me add that the “dragging” of the carry-on will be done through four airports (both ways), since there is no direct flight to Wyoming. You will have at least two connections if you’re flying out of Hartford or Westchester, and at least one out of a major New York airport.

If my husband should end up with the flat-tired bag, you can expect that the grumpiness of a caffeine-starved, sleep deprived, stiff and slow moving guy is going to get real old, real fast. 

You married women know what I am saying. (To be fair, the crankiness of a breakfast-deprived, overtired, too-chipper-for-the-early-hour gal is no cup of tea for the husband either.)

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So we’re packing for Wyoming like the weather will be as it is at home in Connecticut: maybe a little chilly as in “early spring chilly,” and maybe even warm enough for shorts. Comfortable, casual attire, with the ability to layer. No problem.

I pack my new, red NY Giants nylon pullover. He packs his old, gray New England Patriots T-shirt. (And yet, we get along so well…)

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I pack my hiking boots and not a single other kind of footwear.

keens

He packs his sneakers, hiking boots, and, is that another pair of sneakers?

We get the suitcases packed, set three separate alarms so we won’t fail to get up on time to make our flight, and go to bed. And then, it happens.

I am WIRED. As in, my brain will not settle down and go to sleep.

Why not, you ask? It isn’t that I am excited about this great trip we are about to take (even though of course, I am). It isn’t that I’m not tired. Heck, sure I am.

No. It is my affliction that keeps me up. Specifically, I have the Curse of the Writer. I cannot sleep because I have suddenly realized that I have not packed a critical item that I will need literally from the moment we pull out of our driveway.

A pen.

I’ll need to take notes of the funny things that happen, the things we eat, the people we meet, the highlights of our days. Yes, a pen is the one thing I cannot leave home without.

I start the silent meditation. “Pen…. Pen…. Pen….Pen… Pen…”

I am embedding the mental note with repetition as I drift off to sleep, hoping that my subconscious will grab onto it and then remind me when I wake up to grab my favorite pen and immediately put it into my bag.

Pen… Pen…” (snore, snore, snOOOOOOOre).

How blissful it must be, to be able to drop off to sleep, non-pen-dependent and worry free.

I resist the urge to issue a sharp elbow to my husband’s unsuspecting ribs, roll over, and resume my mental chant.

Pen….Pen… Pen… Did I pack anything to read on the flight? I’ve bought John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley to bring with me. Inspiration for my future writing. I need to check that I put it into my flat-tire carry-on.

I would have jotted it down on a note pad on my bedside table so I could see it as soon as I woke up but, well, I didn’t have a pen.

Pen… Pen…Pen…. Somewhere around 11:30 p.m., I must have fallen asleep.

The good news is, I remembered the pen. The bad news is, the journal I packed to write in was tucked away in a carry-on stuffed in my overhead bin. This, you can now be happy to learn, is the true reason airplanes provide barf bags. They doubly nicely as note paper until you can get a proper writing depository for the golden words yet to flow from your mind to your precious pen and onto the pure blank page.

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The next day as we are driving to the airport in the pitch black of 3:45 am, I tell my husband about my sleep crisis and my absurd fretting over remembering to pack a pen so I could capture our adventures in the moment.

As if I wouldn’t be able to find a pen anywhere in our travels (like at a news stand at the airport, or a gift shop?).

He pauses. Ya gotta love a man who takes a moment to pause before passing judgment on your crisis du jour.

“Wow. It really sucks to be you,” he says, with complete compassion for my plight.

Yes. Yes it does.

So grateful that he gets it.

Next up: How Many Dogs Does That Woman Have Anyway?

Bonus content coming up with the next post:

How to find your place to stay. I’ll post some ideas on the Facebook page but if you’re going this year, you should have your lodging figured out by now. Otherwise, consider going off-peak – in the Fall before the park closes for the season.

Copyright 2017 Marianne Heffernan

She’s Not Here

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The one thing you need to know about this big adventure is that it is a True Story.

I love that. I think I will say that about everything I write from now on.

True Story.

My husband and I have been watching the newest season of the television show Fargo, and it starts out every episode with that same message: This is a True Story. Sortof like they are preparing you to be shocked. It’s like a warning label for viewing that might be deemed harmful to your health. Or maybe it’s just a way of teasing people to make them think twice about whether they are really up for the episode’s wacky or stomach-turning madness.

That won’t happen here.

Well, the wacky may happen but the stomach-turning madness, with the exception of one scene which I may or may not be allowed to share, will not. (It all depends on if I let my husband read this before I publish it, giving him the opportunity to censor me).

For example, I won’t tell you how I came to create the Montana Slammer out of necessity.

Montana Slammer

We were in Montana. We needed a happy hour cocktail. We were dangerously close to being out of Bloody Mary mix, our “Go-To” vacation fun drink that has historically set up an evening of merriment (yes, I said “merriment”) and loss of control of the motor functions in my face that allow me to speak clearlyish and without mushingtogethermywords so you really have no idea what I am saying.

Not that I have ever done that.

I won’t tell you what we had to do to maintain “vacation cocktail hour” mode whilst competitively playing mini-golf at an RV campground overlooking the North entrance to Yellowstone, using “sticks” (not putters, because, apparently, folks in Montana that run RV campgrounds that have mini-golf courses call them sticks). Or maybe we started calling them sticks because we had no idea what those long, skinny metal things with the flat heads were or why they were in our hands, due to the slammin’ beverages… Who knows.

Anyway, true story. This trip we are packing for has us last-minute hustling to find lodging when we have already passed the “It’s too late to find a decent hotel” deadline and are now into the “Whose freaking fault is it that we will be driving around in our rented RV looking for campgrounds that are not 100 miles away from our target destination: Yellowstone?

“I thought you were handling all the logistics planning,” I say politely to my spouse. (It’s possible that the way this actually comes out is more like: “(WTF), honey, you are the map and planning genius. Where’s our freaking trip map?!”)

See how polite I am? I mean, I call him honey.

To which my beloved sweetly replies, “(WTF), you just as easily could have done the legwork to book the hotels. You always do it when we go anywhere else. Why is this my fault?”

Sweeeeet.

So instead of booking lodging in a variety of hotels in or around this national treasure park of ours, we end up reserving a 22-foot Class C RV. Points for you if you know what RV stands for. I sure as heck don’t.

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This requires us to now book campground lodging in strategic locations preferably within Yellowstone, so we are scouring the National Park website’s list of campgrounds for a site – any site – that is still available with full hookups. If you have ever camped with an RV you know that this is an important part of the experience. Full hookups mean you will have fresh water to wash dishes, shower in a stall that will make an MRI machine look like the Grand Ballroom at The Ritz Carlton, and be able to do your daily “business” without having to traipse to a public restroom facility.

Oh, the days when a full hookup meant something totally different……

So back to the True Story. The back story to this True Story is the other True Story about two sisters who dreamed of driving cross country before they settled down to “real life.” Wacky adventures were the norm for these two, so Lord knows what shenanigans would hatch.

(Note to self: A+ on the use of “shenanigans!” It is one of the words in my Favorite Words list concocted in the little black mini-journal I carry with me at all times. Everyone keeps such a list, yes?) 

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Oh, you are all in for a fun ride if you are following this so far…

The True Story is not going to bum you out so let’s just say that this version of Version 1 is the truest version it can be without changing 99% plus 1% of the facts to make this fun to read without all the heartache of reality.

My God, this is hard to write!

Before this gets too far out of hand, let’s wrap it up with the True part of the Story. My sister Joyce and I had talked about driving cross-country as young graduates so we could see all the cool sights of America. The Road Trip of our Youth, I guess you could call it. Do this while we are young and before we could be bolted down by the Bills of Adulthood, the Jobs of Adulthood, the Requirements of Adulthood. Blecch. Adulthood.

The plan was not yet fully formed, like most of the plans of teenage girls who get all excited thinking about the world as a welcoming, happy place that doesn’t hurt you, really, and doesn’t disappoint you in the realization of your Dreams.

We figured we would just get in our car (the one we didn’t have yet, because we were teenagers at the time), and drive literally west. As in, turn the key, hit the gas, Go. Keep going. Heading toward the Rockies in Colorado, and stopping anywhere along the way that we felt like checking out.

That’s how kids think, isn’t it?

Well, that’s how we thought, anyway. Dreaming of seeing all the cool stuff in the United States and just enjoying taking in the scenery and the people along the way.

So the hard part in this True Story is that all of those preconceived notions got blown up, like Nakotomi Plaza in the first Die Hard movie. (Or the Death Star in whatever Star Wars installment that was…)

As I prepare for this Trip of a Lifetime with my husband, Joyce is always there. In my mind. In my ideas of what Mike and I might do on this vacation. I have determined that there will be activities that are definite “must-do’s” and there is everything else. That way, I leave it open to the workings of the Universe and whatever it will serve up as an opportunity to meet people, embrace nature, etc.

Whew!

Your reward for sticking with me through this meandering early part of the story is this: my personal recipes for the drinks that made our vacation comical at moments, relaxing at other moments, and downright yucky at one moment in time….

For now, remember. This is a True Story.

 

Trip of a Lifetime

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Note from the author: The story you are embarking on is true. The timing, however, is adjusted for your reading pleasure so you can take this trip with me. The trip is in the can, as some of you who know me already know. I’m writing it in the past tense because I’ve taken some time to let the memories sink in, and to reflect on how this part of the journey went. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

How do you take a trip that you’ve wanted to take your entire life, but were supposed to take it with someone who is no longer here?

I haven’t thought about it like that, but in a nutshell, that’s what I’m doing. Next week. The good news is I’m taking said trip with the love of my life. The hard part is, I expected to take this trip when I was a 20-something, before Life had taken hold to compress me into the Adulting World of work, family, and the dreaded “R” word …. Responsibility. It won’t be spoiling the ending to explain that my upcoming trip was meant to be part of a cross-country adventure that my sister Joyce and I planned on taking when we both finished college back in the 80s.

The problem is, Joyce and I didn’t get past 1984. Well, I did. Joyce did not.

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There is so much “story” to this one, I’ll need a few quick blog posts to set this up. Here’s the scenario:

The What:

A trip out West, part of what would have been the dream road trip for my sister and me.

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The Who:

Me and my husband of 13 years. Let’s call him Mike. He was a childhood crush of mine when he played third base for The Rebels in the George J. Hummel Little League in our hometown of Seymour, Connecticut.

Michael the Rebel

Small-town sports take root early, and in our family of seven children, our parents volunteered for activities that we kids were involved in. It was a way to help out, but more importantly, a way to be with their children in our leisure time, precious that it was. My father was the coach of The Rebels, an expansion team added to the league at that time. My then-future husband, Mike, was a “free agent” from another team that had to offer up a player to the newly formed Rebels. Okay, reeling you back in so as not to get too far off topic, The Who of this story is Mike and Me. Note that the original version was supposed to be Joyce and Me, so keep that in mind.

The Where:

Not so fast, I can’t give away all the details. First, I will have to pose a question to see who can guess this detail. I’ll give you a big hint for starters: We are heading to a major landmark in the U.S., out West as we have already established in this post. Name the primary location we are headed to, and who is responsible for it becoming such a Bucket List location? Visit the Walking Distance Facebook page to offer your answers!

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The When:

One week from today. Wheels up, baby! We’re flying out to [Wouldn’t You Like To Know], getting to our destination a bit differently than Joyce and I were planning to do it, but the journey is not about the logistical details as much as it’s about the experiences throughout. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about traveling, it’s that your expectations should never overshadow the reality of what you are experiencing. That cute little old lady sitting next to you on the flight may offer you some of her homemade Divinity candy and click! Instantly you are chatting like longtime neighbors that share a common driveway. Go with it.

The How:

Camping, RV-style, so we can wake up each morning and decide – Go west or go east? Free to drive along taking in the ride, pulling over to have a bite to eat when the view is too tempting to pass by. It ain’t the Ritz but it sure is heavenly at times.

Okay, so that’s the Who, What, Where (sortof), How. Can you see the former journalist in me sticking to the fundamentals? One critical question left to pose and answer: The Why.

The Why:

Why do we go where we go? What makes “vacation” to each of us? Time off from the daily grind of work, household chores, bill paying, family caregiving, and, did I mention work? Is it the quest for adventure or exploring new places? Do you need down time sunning on a beach, hiking a trail, checking out a cool city?

The Why for this trip has many layers, but the bedrock lies deep in the core time of my life: teen-hood. The days when my sister Joyce and I were dreamy, optimistic, carefree teenagers. Nothing was impossible to us, because we grew up under the tenets of positive parents who encouraged us to shoot for the stars. Well, shoot for the stars, but work hard, get an education, be strong and diligent in your faith, love your neighbor, and a few other things that were the doctrine of our Catholic upbringing in a blue-collar family of nine (that’s including our parents).

The Why of this story will be explained as we go, I think, since there are revelations that come to us that we don’t always see coming or intend to experience. That’s the beauty of having experiences! Shit happens, both good and bad. We can embrace it or not, but either way, it’s going to leave a mark.

Okay, so that’s the setup. Trip of a lifetime, coming right up.

Coming Up Next: She’s Not Here

©️Marianne Heffernan, 2017

The best reason: pure love

I’ve been quiet because words come too fast and also too slowly. The things I want to share about the Trailblaze Challenge I took up were the Who’s, the What’s, the Why’s. I’ve told you some of the How’s. But the W’s… those are the things that need to be digested. For all my ambition to blog every step of my Make-A-Wish fundraising way, I ended up taking a step back from my social media sharing to do what most of us these days are mindlessly forgetting to do: embrace the experience. 

So here I am, on the brink of Hike Weekend, penning a post to let you know that I am still in this, I am still humbly asking for monetary donations, and I am still planning to push myself to my physical limits to hike the Mahican-Mohawk Trail in western Massachusetts on Saturday for 30 challenging miles.

Yep, that’s more miles than a marathon. And hell yeah, that’s 12 miles more than my max training hike was. That one took my about seven and a half hours to do so I’m guessing 30 miles will take me a good 12 hours, give or take.

I’ve learned a lot and I plan to share those stories, post-hike, after I’ve had time to collect the stories of my fellow hikers and their reasons for taking this daunting challenge.

One thing I will share now is this: it is a hell of a lot harder to gain potential supporters when you don’t have a directly personal story that is fueling your motivation. I was surprised by that for some reason, but not discouraged.

So here it is. I don’t need to have suffered the anguish of being a parent whose child is battling serious illness to have compassion and want to do something to help. What I have is a natural affection for kids. It’s nothing more than that. Maybe a few real-life examples will help you to get what I mean.

On a recent training hike, I watched as three little ones joined a woman on the town Green as she did what looked to be Tai Chi. They took her instruction and then mimicked her movements. They laughed, they connected. I looked on, smiling. Warmed. 

In church, I’ve watched children accompany their parents in line for Holy Communion. They fold their arms to accept a blessing or they take the wafer, depending on their age. Or they are carried in the arms of their mother or father because they are too young to walk. Their faces are indescribably beautiful in their purity. That’s a gift, and I have received it more times than I can count.

On a recent training walk, I watched as three little ones joined a woman on the Town Green as she did what looked to be Tai Chi. They mimicked her movements, they laughed, they connected. Another gift. 

On my ride home from work today, I found myself behind a school bus, its back seats filled with rambunctious middle-school aged children trying to get the driver of an 18-wheeler alongside them to honk his horn.

I knew it was a matter of time before it happened. No, the truck driver did not honk. I knew that the kids would eventually turn their attention to me, the lady driver following their bus. I knew. And I was not disappointed. The smile was on my face before those kids even gestured to me.

They started waving.

You know I waved back.

Connected.

It’s the way children express themselves, without hangup or pretense. It’s a purity I can’t find a word for. It’s a combination of things: Joy. Innocence. Love. Humor. Curiosity. Sincerity.

And guess what? All of those things are qualities in the kids I am hiking for, too. The difference is, the Make-A-Wish kids are learning to develop a few other qualities as well: perseverence, strength, and a host of others.

So I’m giving back. Just like all the other “unknown” children — as well as those I know and love — who have put a smile on my face or warmed my heart, I’m giving of myself what I can, in the purest form I can manage. 

With the Trailblaze Challenge looming, I am a mere $425 shy of my $2,500 fundraising goal. I’ll get it one way or the other. Just don’t tell me that I don’t have a good enough reason to ask for help on their behalf. 20160929_182950

Time is all we get. But how much?

I keep telling myself that there are many people who feel this way but the nagging sense of defeat before I’ve even begun is like tinnitis. The constant humming that won’t go away. I’m in this but hey, I can get out, right?

It’s like this: I signed up for the Trailblaze Challenge with the sincere desire to help a worthy cause — Make A Wish foundation, for children — and after a few training hikes I am noticing something. I’m no kid myself.

I hate to focus on age because, what a stupid “barrier” that is to hold up, but the fact is, I’m finding the demands of aggressive, purposeful hiking to be, well, demanding. No big deal, right? Just keep training. That’s the whole idea of training anyway. But I have to admit, I am allowing the concept of quitting to visit my thoughts, here and there.

There are the time constraints, for one. It takes a few hours to do a hefty hike (7-9 miles, I’d estimate, depending on my pace). That’s precious. Time is all we get, and even at that, we don’t know how much of it is coming.

There are no guarantees of years or months. There is only today.

So let’s just stop at that one because blogging also is a time-taker. If I stop right there I should be telling myself, “Exactly. Time is all we get, and we don’t know how much.” And there, with that revelation, I’ve hit on it. That is reality for the children that Make-A-Wish is supporting. It is an even scarier reality for the parents of these children, who are hoping to watch them grow old, have achievements, live their lives.

Time is precious. Every day, precious. Make-A-Wish here in Connecticut is hiking to make those precious moments happy ones for these kids, and memorable ones for their families.

So after logging nine miles yesterday, I took it easy today. I blocked out the humming that’s suggesting to me that my athleticism might not be up to the challenge. And I decided that I will take this one day at a time. Because today is what I have. Just like the kids I’m hiking for.

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