About Me

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My husband tells me I am a makebate. So, what's wrong with that? I love to write. I have 2 great kids and 1 grandson. I'd love to say I am "retired" but really, who retires from life? Shoot me a question, comment, rant or rave. They are all welcome here. Love dogs, my family, and most of all, debate. Pro NRA, conservative and a right wing lady.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Beans on a String

I wouldn't say that I have excelled in writing obituaries, or delivering eulogies, although I have done a few over the past few years.  Often times, an uncontrollable abundance of words flow from my mouth, and the filter gets dislodged along the way.  People are either left laughing or crying; I hope for the first, but am okay with the second.  It's cathartic, or so someone said.

What can I say about Betty McArthur Estep?  In her 90s, she could still write a wonderful letter, filled with newsy information, bits of family history and even a recipe or two.  As she began to age, I noticed the letters began to grow shorter, and you could see the instability in her handwriting; I presumed her hand was quivering from fatigue.  But the letters came, and I felt supremely blessed with the arrival of every handwritten note.

When I first met Betty, my husband John had brought me to a McArthur/Burns family reunion in London, KY.  I drank too much on the plane, got a bit sick, made a jack ass of myself and got off the plane and into eye shot of my new brother in law Walter (Mac) and my young nephew Rob.  I can only imagine what my new, gracious country folk family were thinking - "Boy, John sure knows how to pick 'em."  I'm all about first impressions, so I went all out.  I wondered if Walter ever told John to return me to the land of fruit and nuts that is California.

Having never experienced a true southern family reunion, I knew nothing of canning, quilting, pie making.  I was from a large Irish Catholic family where we were more likely to throw darts at each other as foreplay to dinner. So, here, in the dead of July, I found myself amongst a large group of Kentucky southerners, and a table that reached from here to the next county, filled with every imaginable food dish possible.

As I surveyed the dishes, I can upon something that resembled a pile of worms  found in a garden.  I stared at  that dish, trying to examine it from numerous angles, hoping that I might be able to identify what was in a large bowl in front of me.  "What the hell is this?", I whispered to my husband.  "Shuckey Beans", as he placed an enormous helping on his plate.  I considered passing the  mystery dish all together when John insisted I try just a bit. 

Bravery can be a strong suit, but at that point in my life, trying different foods was not my purple heart heroism award.  I suddenly felt a great, imposing presence behind me.  I looked over my right shoulder and then gazed up towards the tall trees.  There behind me stood one of the tallest, ominous, stern, bible loving faces, clothed in a somewhat plain dress, glasses and gray hair women I had ever seen.  Eyes burned holes straight through me and could have ignited anything.

There, in all her glory, was the woman who had prepared the bean dish, doubling as earthworms.  I suddenly felt the taste of my own leather shoe in my mouth and most like shrunk 5 inches in height.  My face turned red, my knees trembled and I slowly reached for my husband's now absent hand.  "Oh Lord', I thought...I'm about to have someone mark me, "Return to Sender".

As a courtesy, I placed a small amount of Betty's beans on my plate, and sought out a quiet spot where I might be able to retreat to Yankee territory or hide amongst the cattle grazing in the adjacent field.  Surely these people aren't going to kill me on the first night.  I began to taste the food I had selected, bite by bite, slowly allowing the food to dance upon my palate so that I could play..."Identify the food".  Finally I could no longer avoid the brown, worm shaped things on my plate.  One bite. 

"Hey, these are pretty good", I thought.  A rich aroma of hickory filled my nostrils, and the sweet taste of honey, brown sugar, ham stock and butter filled my mouth.  "These are NOT earthworms"  3 helpings later, I had stuffed my stomach full of "shuckey beans".  They were divine.  I couldn't get enough of them.

I often wondered if Betty saw me going back to the mile long table and filling my plate with what I had mistaken for worms.  Was it the eagerness to consume this dish that tasted like something from heaven or that I made a point of thanking her for the lovely dish she had prepared?  Either way, I believe great strides were made that day in London, Kentucky.

For us Yankees, a "Shuckey Bean"  is a string bean that after harvest, is strong up with twine, hung neatly in a root cellar and dried.  No doubt, this was a custom handed down from generation to generation by the tough as nails Appalachian women in Betty's family (The McArthurs).  These beans hung in root cellars and then were "revived" by soaking them overnight. 

The first batch that Betty sent me about a year after the McArthur/Burns family reunion arrived just in time to be prepared for a family dinner with John's brother Jimmy and then partner, now husband Jim Daugherty.  At the time, I was still into the Martha Stewart fad of actually cooking.  Jim Daugherty and I were like old friends in the kitchen.  I made a ham and Jim helped me prepare a blueberry cobbler that was to die for.  The Shuckey Beans came out and were introduced to the ham stock.  I have my own way of preparing a ham.  I make a very rich, aromatic and flavorful stock.  Those southern beans from the wilds of Appalachia simmered for quite a spell in a Yankee/California stock until they split wide open and turned a brownish color; like the earthworms I thought they were years ago.  Home made buttermilk biscuits, corn bread and Irish mashed potatoes were part of the menu.  It was divine.

I had begun to write to Betty a few times a year, along with her remaining sisters, Margaret and Mary Lou, lovingly referred to as "Punk".  I wrote with great fervor of the feast I had created with the very beans she had shipped to me.

Those 3 sisters brought such humor to me.  I would write each auntie their own letter; those gals would copy and send the letter to the next one in order to be sure no one missed a bit of news.  I would later write one letter, and Xerox it 2 times and send it and the original to the Appalachian aunties.

One custom I found out was that John's mother Ms. Juanita (McArthur) and Auntie Betty shared the same birthday, Christmas day.  As another "lucky" lady, my birthday falls a week later.  I never had the honor of meeting my mother in law. as she had died suddenly of a brain bleed earlier in John's life; in fact he was in the U.S. Navy, overseas, when he received notice of his mother's untimely passing.  At any rate, Auntie Betty and Ms. Juanita, along with Christmas cards, would make sure that both received a birthday card.  Those "combo" cards and gifts can be such a sublime habit.

I have always enjoyed writing letters to my elders.  So much can be learned from the notes.  The pages contain history of a family.  The southern way of life had been so very rough for the McArthur/Burns clan back in the days living at the foot of the beautiful, mysterious and often times deadly Appalachian mountains.  Their way of life was decades behind how I was raised.  I felt almost unworthy to even begin to believe that a letter from a young lady in California would be good enough for them.

The first few letters went well.  I would receive either a phone call from one of the sisters, or 3 letters in return.  Each hand written in long form (BTW, an art form we need to rediscover) discussing their daily adventures, and I could close my eyes to be transported to Benham, Gate City, Harlan, Webber City and imagine their lives. 

My first and thus far only trip to Benham, KY where my husband was raised, shocked me out of my too good for anything attitude and towards a deep respect for the southern Appalachian way of life.  Steep mountains almost overtook the small coal mining town, where the sun hit the streets from about 10 to 3 p.m., then would cast everything into chilled shadows.  Poverty was evident everywhere.  I realized that these coal mining families had an abundance of love and the fierce determination to survive. Upon seeing the house where my husband was raised, I felt guilty.  But, as I walked through the back door of the house on Spruce Street, I had an epiphany.  It's not the amount of money that one has but the love within their hearts.  It filled me with utter joy.

As the years passed by, I continued to write to the three sisters.  Margaret was widowed, with children and had very long sweeping penmanship.  Sometimes pictures were included of grandchildren, cousins, etc.  Margaret was the first to pass away.  Then there is Punk.  She is a hoot.  The story goes that Ms. Juanita and Punk would sneak booze into red solo cups or coffee cups, and drink (innocent drinking), hiding their rambunctious behavior from Betty who was a devout Scottish Presbyterian.  At the family reunion, Punk and I did the same thing; filling red solo cups with wine, and then sitting outside, on the patio swing, giggling and believing we were getting away with murder. I still laud my telephone calls to Punk.

To carry on in my mother-in-law's shoes, I wrote Auntie Betty a birthday card every year.  20 years of exchanging letters and birthday cards.  Even though we had only met once, a solid and life lasting relationship was formed through those cards.  There was a sense of comraderie between two Capricorns lost in a world of wrapping paper and a jolly man making a late night appearance down a chimney. 

In one of my letters to Betty this past June, I told her about my son Bryan's excellence in cooking.  I let her know of the fond memories of the infamous experience with Shuckey Beans, during the summer of 1993.  Before I knew it, a small square box arrived, filled with long strands of beans; dried and strung, ready to go.  Just a few weeks ago, I made mention to John that we would have beans with the ham I was going to prepare for Christmas Dinner.  How would I know Betty would leave us before Christmas?

Dozens of letters fill a box.  I look at them, re-reading each line.  Pages filled with years of advice as to how to raise a family, how to laugh, to pray, to find God, to live each day as if it were your last.

A green bean, a stern woman, a family reunion, 20 years of letters and birthday cards taught me, the Yankee from California how to embrace life, cherish family and most of all that a bean on string is the path to happiness.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Pour Me Another Shot

The rich amber color, the once peaty smell, the slight tingle as it passed my lips - it was my poison and my passion.  "It" was Irish Whisky. 

More often than not, I would find myself lingering on about my lover.  All that encompassed my life, my time, my thoughts; everything fell by the wayside at the mention of Whisky.

Songs are composed about the drink.  From Willie Nelson to Miranda Lambert, lyrics celebrate the spellbinding powers of whisky.  Love songs, drinking songs, victory songs, stupid & silly songs - even lamp shades on your head antics.

By 14 I was under the mesmerizing addiction of whisky.  Small sips from my parents' somewhat limited alcohol stash knew my name.  Of course, in those days, my palatable sense of addiction was not so astute.  If it erased the pain, I'd try it.  Never in a million years will I acquire an infinity for Cr√®me de Menthe; even if it's a grasshopper.  But, neatly stowed away was the liquor cabinet in my parents' living room. If it had an alcohol content percentage, I would drink from it.  I will never know if my parents caught on to my samplings; and I'm quite sure I wasn't the only one of my siblings nipping at the cooking sherry.

What makes an alcoholic?  Addiction, the taste, the feelings that follow; becoming numb to the outside world?  I am of the firm belief that there is no real strong scientific evidence to prove or disprove the causes of addiction.

My personal love affair, riddled with self-loathing and unbelievably low self-esteem became part of me at an early age.  The introduction of booze was born during my teen-age years; confusion mixed with all the hormonal fireworks occurring made booze all the more comforting.  From the first sip, I knew I would be fighting a life time, full fledged war.  I would be the only soldier on my team, the only POW, the only casualty. 

Many a mistake were made while under the influence.  No one is perfect, but my compass pointed in all directions - truth be told, I was unable to locate "magnetic north", and the needle spun in all directions.  Unable to get my bearings straight, I wandered aimlessly through life, nipping at the bottle during the entire journey.  A finish line was nothing but a clever distraction for me.  My compass was just how many ounces remained in the whisky bottle.

Some doors never open.  They remain locked.  Fear keeps them bolted shut.  Complete and utter despair enveloped me during my teen-age years.  Coming of age was like a jigsaw puzzle, missing a piece.  I remained in a constant state of apprehension.  My home life was frightening.  My parents did their best, but as an adopted child, there was never a level of comfort for belonging to a family unit.  I'm not blaming anyone, but I do wish that my parents could have been better at recognizing the signs. 

I crawled into a deep hole, a secret hiding place, where no one could hurt me.  At least that's what I thought.  Yet, there was truly never a safe zone.  Persistent anxiety crippled me.  My only sense of calm was when I was buzzed.  My total transformation into the adult club of alcoholism did not arrive until after my 25th birthday. 

I was sexually assaulted when I was 17.  It is only now that I feel safe in letting go of that secret.  While my rapist will remain nameless, he did take my innocence.  The strength and psychological resilience which I prided myself in, had become translucent.  My veil was beginning to erode before my very eyes. I never told my parents.  I carried that baggage with me; the feeling of being violated.  There was an abundance; an over-flowing silent scream inside my marred psyche praying for a release and a Band-Aid.

I was blessed with 3, yes 3 beautiful miracles in my early years.  I suffered a late term miscarriage at the age of 17.  That left a huge hole in my heart.  Then, in 1983 I was blessed by the birth of my daughter Eryn Corry.  I love her with all of my heart.  In 1984, I lost my son Michael Ryan shortly after he was born.  The sting and ripping grief from that has never left me.  Guilt, extreme sadness and a huge void are ever present reminders of a little blond headed boy.  1985 brought another boy, Bryan Scott who is nothing short of a miracle.  He is the kind of son that every mother dreams of.  He stands by me no matter what. 

The 1994 death of my beloved Daddy pushed me over the edge.  Every single cell in my body ceased to exist the night he died.  The man that loved me the most, loved my children, was the best pa-pa, the softball, baseball, soccer coach, Saturday afternoon hiker who was my best friend left my already fragile world.  My life shattered on that rainy night.  Even now, 21 years later, the mere mention of his name renders me helpless.  So many events or circumstances left scars, but the death of my Daddy, my "Secret Pal"  left me caught in an almost terminal whirlwind.  Drinking became a full time play.

There are some who presume that what they see on the outside is the true reflection of a person.  What a facade!  Dig deep and you'll find a woman who is insecure, scared to death, wrought with fear and crippled by anxiety.  6 years ago I did not know how to deal with the list.  Hiding it was my main mission. 

Suddenly, and without so much as a warning, God put me face to face with someone who was battling breast cancer.  "She's fighting for her life", I thought.  "And look what I'm doing to mine".  That was June 9th.  Cold turkey - and I'm not talking left over Thanksgiving dinner-I put down the bottle and have not looked back.

While I may have become sober, I hurt many people along the way.  I'd like to believe I have been able to make amends to those I've hurt.  I am crestfallen that those I harmed the most were my precious gifts in life - my children.  My son, Bryan has forgiven me.  He has a million reasons not to.  I was absent for most of his childhood.  Not physically, but emotionally and mentally.  He forgave me.  And he did so with no boundaries.  He remains to this day, one of my strongest supporters.  The love that my heart and mind hold towards him is bounteous.

My beautiful daughter Eryn Corry has not been as forgiving.  I love her regardless and always will.  She has every right to have the grudge she has.  My prayer is that eventually she opens her heart.  Perhaps with the birth of her son Christopher, my handsome little grandson, she may come to terms with my failures as a mother.  I wanted to be her role model, someone she admired.  How can I even begin to cast any blame upon her.  As with Bryan, I was physically there, but emotionally I was far, far away. 

The most paramount emotion I have garnered from my years as an alcoholic is that of forgiveness -Towards people who hurt me; the rapist, those who skewered me with cruelty and often time brought me to me knees with despair. In exchange, I hope that those affected by my drinking can forgive me.  Mostly I seek that forgiveness from my dear husband John and the 2 glorious gifts from God - my children.

6 years seems like a lifetime to me.  But, it's also marks the day I took stock in my life, catalogued every fear, poor decision, empty whisky bottle, threw them in the garbage and reclaimed my life. 

It's been a good day.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Daddy's Wool Jacket

That day in March was long.  A soft rain fell.  It's not often that a thousand days can pass without so much as a second thought, but then, before you are aware of it, the sun ebbs away and a stillness fills the emptiness that is night.  There is no sound.   That night; that long night in March, a soft, gentle rain fell on the sand and against the windows.  As you gazed out towards the ocean, a reflection looked back, and with every breath, the window fogged.

Daddy was a smart dresser. Trousers, carefully creased, silk ties, crisp shirts and a suit jacket. As a little girl, I found myself earning dimes and quarters by pressing my Daddy's dress shirts, monogrammed handkerchiefs and other linens set aside for attention.  To this day I find ironing to be one of the most relaxing, rewarding and strangely addictive household duties.  As a little girl, being able to be responsible for my Daddy's dapper appearance gave me a sense of pride.  Those were the days of dreams.

Fast forward some 30 years, to a small beach side community, and you could still see that same dapper appearance.  The characteristics were still present, although somewhat dulled by age.  The rich heathers, greys and mossy colors of Daddy's wool jackets were still calming to gaze at.  The jacket that once fit a strapping young man, now hung loosely on an older man whose disease owned his frame. A nicely pressed handkerchief could be found in one of the pockets, as well as a rosary and most likely a prayer card.

The jacket still conveyed a sense of character; it drew a vein of respect and appeared like a well told tale; the type of story the Irish are famous for.  There would be no tall tale on that long day in March.  Daddy's gentle spirit tired easily, but his hands, bony now from age and disease still held an air of distinction.  Daddy's hands wiped tears from 2 daughters' eyes, guided 2 brothers' in baseball, danced with grandchildren and embraced my mother.

Cancer knows no financial bracket.  The disease truly does not discriminate.  If you've a beating heart, then you're ripe for the disease.  Once dashingly handsome with black wavy hair, dancing Irish eyes and a generous smile, dimmed from the daily grind of an overpowering cancer.  The end was close.

The jacket smelled of moth balls. There was a small tear in the silk lining.  Regardless of these small imperfections, the jacket held its distinguishable traits.  It had been worn with pride.

That last evening, the Pacific Coast brought forth a fine Irish rain.  Soft and steady, it fell like a serenade, a love story calling back a long lost son.  Far off in the distance, Daddy could  hear the melody of the rain falling.  Surrounded by those who loved Daddy, we gathered around his bedside in the living room.  As a family, we honored our Daddy's last wishes to be able to die at home; to admire the poetic beauty of the crashing waves cascading against the rock.   Memories of years with his children and grandchildren flooded his mind.  There were the happy explorations of small tide pools with little creatures hidden within the cracks and crevices.  The days at the beach with Daddy.

Saturday evening came.  The priest arrived for the final anointing of the sick.  We gathered  around Daddy.  Private discussions had taken place; one by one, over the course of a week.  Apologies, recollections - the "should have", wish I "would have" and "if only" were offered.  A daydream gave Daddy the last bit of pure joy as he walked towards the tunnel of light.  And then, with night drawing to a close, soft rain caressing the sand, and the sound of the mighty ocean splashing against the rocks, Daddy took his final sigh of relief.  It was over.  No drama.

The rosary a few days later, an open casket for those that needed closure, and I looked at my Daddy in his plain, simple and beautiful casket.  A rosary has been intertwined upon his hand.  I did not want to accept his death then nor do I now. 

And there, a small frame ravaged by the cruelty of cancer laid a gentle man.  An Irishman.  A father, husband, grandfather, friend - a gentle soul.  And as if they were companions for their lifetimes - Daddy wears his tweed styled, wool jacket.  The wool jacket.  It was something else, indeed.

**This is dedicated to the memory of my dearest Daddy, Peter J. Gartlan, who left this world far too early.  On a rich, rainy Irish night on March 4, 1995, Daddy went home to heaven. 69 years were not enough.  He had so much more to accomplish.  There were unfinished jokes.  Hugs left unhugged.  Daddy, you are missed.  20 years later and you are still my Secret Pal**

Much love forever and always,
Your daughter, Ann Corry


Friday, January 30, 2015

Blurbs from the 'Burbs

Sticking to New Year's resolutions are never easy.  More often than not, they are made while either heavily marinated in liquid libations of liquor or during some well intentioned examination of failures and dreams within ourselves.

Aside from the usual promises of dieting and eating healthy during 2015, my other resolution was to write more often.  2011-2014 had been torturous.  A moderately severe back injury coupled with serious complications including blood clots and a pulmonary embolism had me sidelined for most of 3 years: 3 long, wasted years.

Chronic pain can be, well, a real pain in the ass.  Pharmacology might as well have become my major for life.  Already somewhat educated in medicine, I read my MRI reports, blood test results, patient summaries with lackluster enthusiasm.  To brighten the situation, I bought a pink flowered walking cane, to replace the bland blue that I had come to rely upon.  And then came the well meaning comments of "your cane matches your clothes so perfectly".  How did it come to this?

So, as 2014 was making its exit, I decided I'd reached my limit and kicked my own ass into gear.  The dieting has been going fairly well.  I'm on track and bad habits are falling away from the picture.  The weight never comes off as a dieter wishes, but at least it's falling off.

My biggest obstacle was to start writing more often.  I love to write.  It releases stress, allows me to vent, gives me peace of mind and most importantly, let's my soul soar!  Living in a fog of narcotics, blood thinners, etc...my creative vein seemed to dry up.  Sure, I continued to write; sometimes serious topics and then, much to some of my friends' dismay, the political rants and raves were bounced around.  Truth be told - I enjoy the rants more.

When my husband began a new job that required a tremendous amount of travel, and time away from home, I knew I'd be in need of activities to stimulate my mind.  I'm not a very good housewife.  Gone are the days of creating some culinary feast.  I've never been good at sewing or other creative crafty things.  So, writing has been my outlet.  It's therapy for me.  And it sure is cheaper as well.

Today FOX News reported that Mitt Romney has decided not to run for the Presidency in 2016.  While I am a conservative & Republican, I couldn't help but sigh a breath of relief.  Mr. Romney is a great gentleman, but sometimes, the third time's a charm mantra is way off. 

The shenanigans of the current clown in the White House has made me even more passionate to see who comes out of the GOP and leads our country back to its once proper place in the world.  Whomever emerges from a list of at least 14 hopefuls, the GOP needs to put forth a candidate who can put a smack down on Mrs. "What Difference Does It Make" Clinton.

So, that's my thoughts for today, 1/30/15.  Exciting?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  But either way, One month into resolutions, I'm determined to stick with it.  I'm going to trim the fat - I hope our government can do the same.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Letter to Al Sharpton - Obama's Advisor

Dear Al: 

Or do you prefer Rev.?  What's with you? 

While most of your public life has been filled with turmoil, ridicule, race baiting, spewing lies, creating half-truths and being like gasoline on a fire, the latest stunt or plea for attention in your imaginary wheel of so-called racism is laughable. 

Calling an "emergency meeting" as to the lack of black actors and actress being nominated for this years Oscars takes the cake.  I'm left wondering if I should laugh or cry.

With all the turmoil around the world; terrorism alive as was evidenced in recent event in Sydney, AU and Paris, France - why on Earth do you equate the Oscars deserved of an emergency meeting?  Beg your pardon, but who the flip cares?

Did Mommy and Daddy not give you enough attention as a little boy?  Were you wronged on the playground after a kickball game?  Did someone steal a pencil from your desk?  You behave like a spoiled brat. 

Have you ever considered a job in construction?  This would be an ideal profession for you.  No one is more capable of moving a molehill into a mountain.  You can move a mound of shit with so much finesse. 

Could it be that the Oscars and those who make the decisions simply did not find any black person who gave a performance that was worthy of a nomination?  Why does it always come down to color with you? 

You need a vacation.  I suggest you visit our brave men and women serving in the middle east, if they'll have you.  There you will find a rainbow of nationalities.  Each and every person of color is treated with equality.  They all get the same chow, the same deluxe sleeping cot, they are all banding together, the same boots that get filled with sand from time to time, the same OD green fatigues,  and the best of our troops is their willingness to consider every person within their group a brother or sister.  They all bleed red.

Consider it, and even better, let me offer you the airfare to get you there. 

Sincerely,

An American Who is Fed Up With Your Bullshit.