Table of Contents
My wife Linda and I arrive at the Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem on Saturday morning November 18, 2000. It's cold but the sun is out. Music is playing and, Girls on the Move, about fifty women who have bicycled from Portland Oregon to New York City are getting ready to ride a last symbolic mile to Central Park. Girls on the Move is an Outward Bound project designed to educate and inspire girls across the country. "We're Laura's parents," we say to a buoyant woman. "Laura's parents!" she shouts. "Laura's great! I'm Charlotte. Welcome! I've been waiting to meet you," she says hugging us both.
at the Continental Divide
Our daughter Laura, one of the riders, is shining. Laura hugs us saying, "It was incredible! We biked in heat and snow and rain. We'd finish a day exhausted then go into a school auditorium and tell our stories. We were telling girls they can live their dream. We gave festivals in the big cities. It was hard but so exciting! One day we rode across a mile long bridge in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and hundreds of Girl Scouts lined the bridge and cheered for us."
Linda and I join parents, friends, staff members, and parade through Harlem to Central Park, where we are greeted by the bicyclers with high fives. They had ridden 3500 miles in ten weeks and give us high fives
for our mile walk. Now that's support! And support is what I feel. These women have had long grueling days, no privacy, endless meetings, a tight schedule. They've made it and they're glowing. They made it because they supported each other. One of the women, Muriel, is 72, a Holocaust survivor. Another woman, Candice, lost the use of her legs when she was twenty- one. She propels her bike with her arms. Heidi Zimmer, a mountain climber, is Deaf and Laura was interpreting for Heidi. This is Laura's
first job after getting her Master's degree in June.
At Central Park there is a main stage and a circle of small white tents where people can learn about Outward Bound, nutrition, YWCA, Girl Scouts, outdoor education and the like. At the opposite end of the field are three huge yellow cranes holding up 35 foot high climbing towers. The climbing towers are made of hard black rubber. The towers have knobs on them climbers use for their hands and feet. The towers look like giant black caterpillars standing on end.
Laura says, "We brought the climbing towers across the country. We'd hire cranes at festival, blow them up and let people climb them. Want to try Dad?" I change the subject. I used to love heights. Not anymore. And I've felt weirdly dizzy the last two days. I do not want to climb the towers.
Now Laura is standing on stage in a colorful purple ski parka, interpreting for a woman speaker as the day long festival begins. Olympic athletes, singers, dancers take the stage.
Linda and I go to one of the white tents to hear JoAnn Deak, a psychologist, speak. Laura had told us JoAnn was terrific. JoAnn is saying it's important to challenge yourself. "For instance," JoAnn says, "Those people out there on the climbing tower are taking a risk." I wish JoAnn would use another example. "It's like baklava," JoAnn continues. "You take a risk and it's like adding a layer to yourself. And if you turn away from the challenge, that's another kind of layer."
I excuse myself and go outside to a table to ask about climbing the tower. "Sorry," a young woman smiles. "There's a long waiting line. Come
back at 12:15." Yea! I'm free! At least for while. With any luck it will be crowded all day. Usually when there's a risk involved Linda says, "No, it's silly Jay." Why is she being so quiet today?
On the main stage people cheer Candice Cable who sits in a wheelchair at the microphone. "I was in an accident when I was twenty-one," Candice says. "I'd never walk again. I got totally depressed but in time began to listen to my friends and family. They loved and supported me." I'm inspired listening to this gracious, beautiful woman who's just biked across the country using the strength of her arms. Now another rider, Kat Deshayes, takes the stage. Kat is about five-six. Kat speaks of playing basketball as a girl. The boys in her family didn't play so Kat thought it was a girls' sport. Kat got a four year scholarship to Georgetown to play basketball. "And I'm short," Kat laughs. The audience is enchanted.
|Jay climbing the tower in Central Park.
Photo by Laura O'Callahan
The call of the tower persists. I go back. "No," I'm told. "Come back at 2:15."
Good. I tried. I go back for my last try at 2:15. "Yes," the woman says. "You can climb. Right now." The climbing area is roped off. I am escorted into the climbing area and the rope is refastened behind me. I'm cut off from the world. Trapped! One of the women bikers helps me put the harness on. "Any advice?" I ask. "Yes," she says. "Use the strength of your legs not your arms. Let your legs do the work. You'll go after her." The sun is gone now. The clouds are gray and hard looking. The wind is up and it's freezing.
I watch a young woman begin to climb the tower. She climbs about twelve feet then stops. She's in trouble. I can feel it. I can see a cloud of fear passing over her face. She's looking straight up. She's not sure what knob to grab next. A staff woman standing on top of the tower doesn't see the fear on the young woman's face. The moment
passes and the young woman begins to climb down. At the crucial instant when she needed encouragement no one had seen she was frightened.
"Your turn," I'm told.
I begin the climb. I get to where the young woman looked up and I too feel it's too high. My shoes are too big. I can't get a real foothold on these knobs.
I hear Linda and Laura shouting. "Come on Dad! Come on Jay!" I move up fast as I can saying to myself, "Legs. Use your legs. Use your legs." Up and up I go planting my foot on a knob reaching out with my hand for yet another hard rubber knob. Almost at the top I can't find a knob for my hand. The staff woman on the top says, "Use the rope." It's just the bit of guidance I need. I've done it! The gray sky is beautiful. I've done it.
At a crucial moment Linda and Laura called out, supported me. All of these women who biked across the country supported one another and inspired not only me but thousands of people across this country. They did it. Baklava!
"HEY LAURA, READY FOR THE HIMALAYAS?" Ted said. It's Christmas afternoon. We're sitting by a fire in Wellfleet, Cape Cod. Ted is studying a map of Mount Khumbu in Nepal which he plans to climb in April. Laura goes over the map with him for she hopes he will be her instructor in April. Laura goes back to writing proposals for her new venture. Both our children are striking out on new paths. Ted, a poet and expedition leader, is spending the winter in graduate school then will go to India and climb mountains in Nepal. Laura is applying for grants to enable her to complete various courses in wilderness training so that she and two other women can start the first wilderness program for Deaf Women Survivors of Domestic Violence and Deaf Students. I am in awe of their spirit!
|Laura and Ted studying a map of the Himalayas at Christmas.|
Our children grew up with a delightful young woman named Kezia. After college Kezia, drawn to nature and the North River, returned to Marshfield and Linda and I became friends with her and her family. She now teaches yoga and writes superb newspaper articles about the local environment and does graphic design work.
Last winter Kezia announced she was engaged to Chris Bernstein, an extraordinary photographer, an earthy unpretentious man with a marvelous sense of fun. Kezia asked if I would perform their marriage. Wow!
Kezia explained that Massachusetts grants a one day permit for an ordinary citizen to marry a couple. The procedure is to have someone write a character reference to the Secretary of State and if approved you're all set. I was honored and thrilled and told a friend, Anna Higgins, I was going to marry Kezia for a day. Anna looked puzzled and a little shocked. Anna said, "That isn't like you Jay." After that I learned to say, I will officiate at the marriage of Kezia and Chris.
My friend Joe Beals wrote the character reference. Joe said he had known me for years and I was of good character, sound morals and Joe added, "He's a powerful swimmer." The Secretary of State approved the request doubtless feeling that if the wedding were anywhere near the water the bride would be saved from drowning.
The wedding was held on the edge of Little's Creek, a broad expanse of salt marsh and one of the most beautiful places on earth. Two hundred people stood in a semi-circle at the edge of the marsh for the ceremony. The sun was about to set so the marsh grass was alive with yellow light, the breeze had a touch of the ocean in it, the vast marsh was still and just before the ceremony two stunningly white gulls flew overhead.
As Kezia and Chris took their vows, they looked into each other's eyes with an intensity and electricity that caused the sun to blink. The official ceremony ended with Kezia and Chris in the middle of a great circle of guests singing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."
|Above: Kezia Bacon Bernstein, Jay O'Callahan, and Chris Bernstein at Kezia & Chris's wedding on Little's Creek.
At right: The happy couple.
Photo by Dennis Thornsbury.
When our daughter Laura was home we invited two friends over for supper. We had ingredients for making pies ready and each of the five of us made a different pie:cherry, pumpkin, peach, blueberry and chocolate cream-from scratch. We baked them and sat down to a long dinner of five pies. We soon discovered that chocolate cream pie didn't fit with the others, so we set it aside for DESSERT!!!!!!! That's entertainment!
|Jay, Jenn Guerin, Laura O'Callahan and Melissa McKay
about to dine on five pies.
Photo by Linda O'Callahan
I declare two women as Women of the Year: Mary Gay Ducey and Sherry Gardner. Gay Ducey, one of the leaders in the storytelling movement, was in an accident some months ago in which her hand was badly damaged. She's had operations on her fingers and continues the long difficult process of healing. Her accident gave me a chance to pause and reflect on how powerful both her leadership and her storytelling are.
My other nominee is Sherry Gardner, a friend and neighbor in Marshfield who has raised a family, held down a job, struggled with multiple sclerosis and is now finishing five years of work on a master's degree. All summer long she worked eighteen hour days and now as she comes to the end of her studies, I celebrate her achievement.
Everything melted into quiet because it was so hot. Only the ghosts were playing tennis. Our dog, Rufus, lay in the middle of Forceps Avenue. Maybe because it was cooler there. I was lying on the sidewalk looking at the tar bubbles that swelled up like little gray and black hills. I touched one softly and it gave a little puff then sagged. Inside it was a smooth liquidly black like the black of my sister Patricia's fancy black shoes.
The smell of the tar bubble reminded me of the time they paved Forceps Avenue. They had trucks with hot black tar and a huge rolling machine and the street was covered with sticky tar so even my bedroom smelled of tar and heat. It was an army of tar and heat.
I popped the next tar bubble as the Hood's milk truck came creaking to a stop. It sounded like a band; the milk truck banged and rattled and squeaked to a stop. The milkman, Mr. Gray Grump, got out with his metal carrier filled with bottles of milk for us. "Ruumph," he said to me which was the longest conversation we ever had. Up the outside back stairs he went clanging all the way. If I were him I'd be happy to be making all those sounds and to have a truck with all the ice shavings.
A stream of water ran from his truck down Forceps Avenue. The milkman came down the stairs clanging differently because he had empties. Mrs. Lawrence drove into their tin green garage across the street and got out with two bags of groceries. "One delivers the milk of bovine kindness," Mrs. Lawrence said to the milkman as he pushed open the Lawrence's wooden gate. The gate bonked shut quietly because it was hot. Everything was hot. I popped a third tar bubble. The inside was sleek and gleamed in the sun. The milkman got back in his truck, let the brake out and coasted twenty feet to the Beams' house. When I looked down at the tar bubble, there was an ant stuck in the gleaming part of the tar. It squiggled. I got a little stick and pushed the ant in all the way.
"Oak,"Mrs. Lawrence called. "Could one give me a hand with these groceries. I am undone."
"Sure," I said running across the street. I leapt over Rufus. "I wilt," Mrs. Lawrence laughed. She had lots of bags. I got two and followed her through the garage door which led into the yard. "We have a crowd of doctors coming from the hospital tonight," she said. "One prays for fair winds. What are you up to?"
"Nothing,"I said. "Popping tar bubbles." That made the engine of her laugher start. Mrs. Lawrence was skinny as a new tree but she laughed like a train. Her laugh started way down and built up till it erupted in a series of low sounds that made her jiggle.
"Perhaps we'll bring the doctors out to pop tar bubbles," she laughed.
That night Mother and Father went across the street to the Lawrence's to the doctors' party. I could see them all standing in the living room and on the front porch which I'd never seen used. Everyone stood up straight and talked. That was the party.
I suppose God might push me into hell the way I pushed the poor ant. He was done for anyway. What if I pulled him out? He would have had tar on him and been like Old John of the tennis court, limping around all his life.
The doctors would have had more fun if they came out to see the tar bubbles.
Michael Parent's play, A FROG STUCK IN THE ICE, is a funny, poignant drama of Franco-American life. The story, set in Jean-Paul Boisvert's living room in a milltown in Maine, is about Jean-Paul coming to grips with life after his wife has died. The dialogue is sharp, the humor marvelous, the play superb. Opening night in Lewiston, Maine was a smash.