family, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…Fake News!

Our Commander-in-Chief has popularized this colloquialism to the point where even the most casual political observer is moved to call into question anything written or spoken by the Fourth Estate.

Skimming over articles about immigration reform, a potential government shut down and the volatile stock market has left this reader hopeful that the upcoming Olympics will steal every headline with stories of courage, persistent dedication and national pride.

But after tossing the paper into the recycling bin and turning off the television, I spent more time than necessary analyzing an article that turned up while continuing my New Year’s resolution of cleaning/purging things from our home.


My Mom’s tenth birthday party was considered part of all the news that was fit to print in the Syracuse Herald Journal’s evening edition of September 10, 1941.

Not fake news.

I can’t help but smile at each word of copy and the fact that it appeared in the newspaper at all.  And to think, the very next generation of ten-year-olds would have to stealthily pass out birthday invitations to a select few to avoid brazenly leaving someone out. And the generation after that would be encouraged to invite the entire class just to avoid hurt feelings.

But in 1941, it was socially acceptable to use mainstream media to inform a whole bunch of uninvited 10-year-olds and their parents that they missed out on a table set with birthday cake and water lily candles. That’s hilarious.

I’ve never even heard of a water lily candle. I turned for insight to the all-knowing Google machine, which only succeeded in suckering me into Henri Bendel for their water lily scented candle touted as a great Valentine’s gift. (And I swear I could hear my Grandma Hogan screaming from heaven, “Who the hell would ever spend $30 on a candle? Your Mom’s whole 10th birthday party didn’t cost me that much!)

As I hit “complete order” I whispered to the heavenly voice in my head, “Pipe down Grandma. They’re half-off. It’s a good deal.” Then I opened another storage box and immediately felt guilt-ridden.



These WWII ration books belonged to my Grandpa Frank and Great-Grandpa Sebastian Barthel.


Only three months after my Mom’s newsworthy party, the United States would be thrust into war. Shortly after that, families would have been given War Ration Books. I can’t even imagine grocery shopping using removable stamps for certain rationed items, like sugar, meat and canned goods. When your ration stamps were used up for that month, you couldn’t buy any more of that type of food.

Kind of puts perspective on how not making the cut on a birthday party list paled in comparison to worrying about sending a son off to war or how you would be able to feed your family on rations. I remember my Mom sharing the memory of an Army car slowly traveling down Park Street one summer’s day a few years into the war and stopping at a neighbor’s house to deliver the dreaded news of a young soldier’s death. She said the entire street stood quietly except for the sound of the mother wailing. Decades later, you could still sense how deeply haunted my Mom was by that moment.

Am I over-romanticizing a time in history? Is my mind’s eye falsely envisioning the norm of that era being every American holding God and Country in highest regard? Am I creating an undeserved image of a people who respected authority and an authority who respected the people, the balance of power and the potency of peaceful protest?


A few weeks ago, a paragraph in a Sunday New York Times article caught my attention, as it suggests we are a more tolerant generation, despite what comments on Twitter and Facebook would have you think.

The article referred to “the first wave of European immigrants coming to America to escape the aftermath of World War II, the greatest refugee crisis in the last century. And yet public sentiment was opposed to immigration. More than two-thirds of Americans then objected to allowing Jews and other Europeans into the United States. For comparison, an April 2017 Pew Research Center Poll found that 48 percent of Americans don’t believe the United States has a responsibility to accept Syrian refugees.”

I guess I don’t want to be in 1941 America, but 2018 America is not that palatable either. The Presidential tweets are bizarre and frightening and not reflective of even a minimum standard of professionalism expected for the Executive Office. On the other side of the aisle, I’ve been disappointed by people I have long respected who, in one breath, are inspirationally calling for the rights and protection of all women, and in the next breath mocking Sarah Huckabee for her physical appearance just because they oppose her politics.

You can’t have it both ways.

I drew a little perspective from Notre Dame’s Daily Gospel Reflection this week that focused on a passage from Mark’s gospel where Jesus said, “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile…it is what comes out of a person that defiles.”

So while it does matter what Trump says, or Nancy Pelosi or Sarah Huckabee or Harvey Weinstein or what anyone else in this messed up world has to say, what matters infinitely more are the words you choose. We can only enact change through what we say, how we say it and to whom.

I don’t mean to come off as some judgmental holier-than-thou windbag. Seriously, I have so many skeletons in my closet that I don’t even need hangers anymore. They just hold up all my clothes, and the worst part is the skeletons win “Who Wore It Best” every time.

But we, as a nation, need to embrace Michelle Obama’s directive at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, “When they go low, we go high.” We need, as Americans, to embrace the concept of a “kinder, gentler nation” that George H.W. Bush put forth at the 1988 Republican National Convention. We need to embrace my Dad’s directive to “never burn a bridge” and my Mom’s to “always treat others the way you’d like to be treated.”

I need to count the blessings bestowed upon me in 2018 America and share them willingly with an undefiled heart.

And I will attempt to do so, awash in the glow of a grossly overpriced candle.



The front page of the same edition that buried the story of Mary Anne Hogan’s 10th birthday party.




family, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…The Ghost of Christmas Past

Christmas is my favorite time of year in our house. This year was particularly magnificent as our home was filled with the laughter and stories of thirty Parks family members shared over Christmas dinner.

Decorating starts the day after Thanksgiving when the girls and I put up our tree with It’s A Wonderful Life playing in the background. The stories and memories associated with every ornament are retold with greater appreciation every year.

It takes me more than a week to decorate the rest of the house. After the girls leave on Sunday following Thanksgiving, my brother comes over for a few days to help me decorate. We, too, share happy memories of past Christmases and dream about ways we can make this year special as well.

Taking the Christmas tree down, however, is a solo act. And it’s more spiritual than utilitarian.

I spent almost a full day, with college basketball playing in the background, packing the ornaments away. I savored the memories associated with each and every one. I can track the growth and maturity of our girls from the priceless ornaments they made and the ones we gave them each Christmas commemorating something special from that year; from Veggie Tales and Barney, to American Girls and Hannah Montana, piano keys and play marquees, drivers licenses and diplomas, a red solo cup and a rather stern looking Boy in Blue.

I say prayers of thanksgiving as each ornament brings a memory of the vacations we’ve taken, the houses in which we’ve lived, the schools in which we’ve studied, the teams for which we’ve cheered and the friendships made through it all.

And I repeat countless prayers to God asking for blessing and protection for each family member and friend whose spirit is somehow tied to a memory, enmeshed in a symbol and attached to a wire hook. I ask God to keep those people happy and healthy until the next time I hold that same wire hook in my hand and again thank Him for their place in my life.

In an attempt to outsmart the January sadness that routinely and quite stealthily sneaks in trying to fill the void left by the now-curbed conifer, I started 2018 armed with a plan.

Energized by goals I’ve set for the year, I wasted no time diving into the “house organization” objective. I started with a tiny little drawer in our family room that sits partially hidden behind a chair.

The drawer had a blanket shoved in there along with an unopened murder mystery dinner party game, cocktail napkins featuring Santa’s face, a balsam fir-scented candle boasting its unblemished wick, and a book.

The book was Traveling with Pomegranates: a mother-daughter story by Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees, and her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor. I opened the front cover to reveal my mother-in-law’s handwriting, “Christmas 2009.”

I immediately felt as though I had been kicked in the stomach.

My in-laws have the beautiful tradition of giving each adult and child a book every Christmas Eve. Their selections are made with great care and consideration of the interests, essence, and place in the life of each distinct family member.

Clearly, this little drawer somehow became a time capsule of Christmas 2009. These items must have been placed in there and summarily forgotten.

Christmas 2009. Our last Christmas together. And the reason why, for every Christmas moving forward, taking down the tree has become a spiritual exercise.

We would never have guessed what the next months were to hold. Weeks after these items were curiously stowed away, Pat would come home from playing squash complaining of pain. Hernia surgery would follow. The pain would not diminish. More doctor visits. More questions. Mid-July would come the news of cancer cells. And on August 12, without even the chance to say goodbye, Pat peacefully offered his last exhale. His pain abated and ours began.

I speak often of the fog that follows such a devastating loss. I’m not sure how long it lasted. Quite frankly, there are days that I’m not convinced it still doesn’t linger.

And now I hold in my hand a gift given to me from the time I will always think of as the “just before.”

Life was good, and all was right with the world.

So, I’ve since abandoned my cleaning goal and found a place on the couch with this literary Ghost of Christmas Past. It is astounding how much more appropriate the message is for me now, so many years later.

Described on the jacket cover, this mother-daughter undertaking is a “wise and intimate dual memoir…each on a quest to redefine herself and rediscover each other” written primarily over two trips to Greece and France.

The mom is struggling with turning 50 and the daughter, a recent college graduate, is struggling to find her path. I’m enjoying the back-and-forth first-person narratives and find myself empathetic to both authors especially since I just turned 50, and my oldest daughter just graduated from college.

I’m only two-thirds of the way through the story, but I am feeling personally inspired by their reflections, profoundly grateful for the depth of love and, now, adult friendship I share with my own daughters, and pretty damn sure we need to visit Greece and France. Soon.

One paragraph, however, jumped off the page for me. Now a year or two into her 50s, the mom, Sue Monk Kidd wrote, “My only personal encounters with death have been with those of my grandparents, who were ripe with old age and the fullness of their lives, and with that of my father-in-law who died abruptly of a heart attack at the age of sixty.”

Wow. I honestly don’t know one human being who can share that sentiment.

Death has been a part of our lives since my children’s earliest memories. As I read this mother-daughter memoir, I can’t help but acknowledge how our life experiences have given us a different base of perspective, a unique appreciation for what is truly important, and a depth of communication that spans their entire lifetimes.

On some level, nearly impossible to articulate, I am aware of the impact loss has had in defining who we are—without actually defining who we are.

Which brings me to this morning. I sat down with a cup of coffee to read another chapter of Traveling with Pomegranates when a text dinged its arrival. My eyes were first drawn to the date at the top of the phone… “Thu Jan 25”

One month ago, this house was filled with a flurry of activity. And now I sit, reading, reflecting on the past and contemplating the future. Immediately drawing me out of any melancholy was this text sent to our family group chat.

Apparently, we don’t need a “wise and intimate dual memoir” to grapple with life’s deepest questions. We just need a Thursday morning in January when the oldest daughter (clearly very busy in the work world) texts, “If your life was a movie what songs would you want to be in the soundtrack?”

I needed all of six minutes to draft my knee-jerk playlist.

And then I went back to read and reflect with Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor, but this time with Stevie Nicks singing in the background.

Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too.

I can only hope this literary Ghost of Christmas Past adds force to a Landside set in motion by my hopes and dreams for 2018.

The soundtrack of my life is still, very much, a work in progress.