Sunday, April 14, 2013

DEATH OF A VINE



 

 

Today was a good day to work outside. It was the one day of Spring lately allowed by Mother Nature each week. I decided I should try to do something about the beautiful euonymus vine which last year became an invasive prehistoric plant attaching itself to my shed and actually snaking between the boards and the roof - growing INSIDE the shed. I have always wanted vines on my house, but John was adamant that vines are not good for the mortar. So, when I saw this euonymus vine getting bigger each year, and when John didn’t say anything, I let it have its way with my old wooden shed. Until today.

 
John sawing away at the base of the thick vine.


Only intending to use my new handy dandy trimmers to cut off the top branches of this vine, I took my step ladder and set it up. As I studied the situation I was horrified to see that this vine was now like a tree trunk and had actually grown into the joint of two of the walls. It was literally ONE with the shed. Now was the time for John to get involved. After he got over the shock of seeing a growing vine taking over his shed, he had to take a saw to the bottom of the vine right at the root. And that is the end of the beautiful vine which climbed over the top of my shed each summer.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Death of Maria Tallchief


My mother, Marilyn Moran, was a lover of the ballet. Unfortunately, she was born in 1929 just before the Depression hit making an already shaky family economy even worse. There never was money for any activities such as the study of dance at a proper school. When my mom graduated high school and secured a job, she began taking adult ballet lessons at the Edna McRae School of the Dance in downtown Chicago. This must have been quite the thrill for her given the poverty and deprivation of culture she had experienced as a child.

 

When I was born in 1954 she was determined that I would have what she did not and so I began my dance training with Edna McRae in 1961. My mother would have none of the cheesy neighborhood dance schools and insisted on a proper school. This meant driving downtown for lessons. First, once per week, on Saturdays, and later, as my training intensified, two and three times per week.

 

Aside from the lessons, my mother, who attended the ballet whenever possible, with her good friend Barbara Kiessling, began taking me to the ballet also. I still have her many programs from the many ballets and concerts she attended. One program, from a performance of The Royal Ballet which listed Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev as principle dancers, has this inscription in her handwriting: Gina Moran, June 16, 1963, Swan Lake (first program).  I was almost nine and remember the production to this day.

 

One of my mother’s favorite dancers was American Maria Tallchief. I do not think that I ever saw her perform on stage. I do remember seeing Maria on television. I am not sure if my mother ever had the opportunity to see her on stage, but I do not have a theatre program for any performance which tells me she did not. Ms. Tallchief died yesterday at the age of 88. She was quite the dancer and quite the lady.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Robert Joffrey and Me


I am watching PBS’s American Masters – Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance. In about 1970 Robert Joffrey brought the Joffrey Ballet to Chicago for a series of performances which included the traditional ballet, Petrouchka. Robert Joffrey never staged full-length traditional ballets. He concentrated on new and avant-garde culturally relevant productions. So, an evening with the Joffrey would consist of maybe three short ballets. Instead of a novel, it would be three novellas.

 

In 1970, at age 16, my ballet training was somewhat sporadic for various reasons. However, Robert Joffrey needed extras for the one traditional mini-ballet that he was staging in Chicago and so, at the behest of my former teacher, Edna McRae, I auditioned for Petrouchka. Mr. Joffrey himself conducted the audition. We were instructed to wear our character dance clothes – meaning the clothes used for ethnic dance classes such as (Spanish/Flamenco, Russian, Polish, etc.) character shoes and character skirt.

 

I never even had the chance to display my dance capabilities (mediocre) because he looked across the room at me and said, “You look like a peasant! Go over there and get behind the bar.” Then he turned to a friend of mine (an outstanding dancer), also of Italian extraction, and said the same to her. She and I ended up being the peasant vendors enthusiastically imploring customers to buy our wares. Of course the “real” dancers of the Joffrey Ballet did the actual dancing, including Geoffrey Holder who had the role of Petrouchka.

 

Meeting Robert Joffrey and working with his dancers was an experience few sixteen year olds will have and so I am grateful for the experience. I really had no future as a dancer, but I still laugh at the memory of Robert Joffrey looking right at me, pointing his finger, and telling me that I looked like a peasant.

 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Why I Can't Vote For President Obama


Over these past four years, I have been unable to verbalize my literal dis-ease with Barack Obama and his performance as President of the United States. I have tried, within myself, to find the words to describe this dis-ease, but have been at a loss until this past weekend.

 
I have watched him, as president, approach serious events with a kind of flippancy that I attributed to our cultural preoccupation with being cool and detached. He appeared to be above and beyond the stodgy seriousness of all of his predecessors. This is the new age president in the new age presidency.

 
But that explanation still did not go deep enough and the latest responses by President Obama with regard to the death of Ambassador Stevens and three others in Libya made me more discouraged and uncomfortable. The lies of the administration made me angry as their diversions were an insult to the intelligence of the American People, but something continued to gnaw at me as I tried to grasp at how to characterize this president and the trickle down chaos that seemed to follow from the half-hearted leadership of President Obama.

 
And then it hit me. This man and his promoters have no reverence for anything, whether in heaven or on earth. They do not revere the Scriptures, the Constitution, or those virtues that are rooted in those writings. They have no reverence and therefore no virtue and therefore they lack the depth to truly take anything seriously.  Without reverence, there is nothing for which to fight or die and everything is fluid and subject to change based on the whims of the moment.

 
Reverence - a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration.

Friday, September 28, 2012

George, Bridget, and the Family Wedding


In 1914, Bridget Higgins, born on February 13, 1897, in County Mayo, Ireland, arrived in Chicago, having left her home in the hamlet of Ardgullen, near the town of Swinford. Her cousin, Mary Lavin, sent her a ticket to come to America. She walked from her home to Kiltimaugh, took a train to Dublin, a boat to Liverpool, and then sailed on the 26th of April, 1914, from England, like so many other Irish coming to America. The trip across the ocean took eight days and she landed at Ellis Island. After an eye exam and a payment of 5£ in gold sovereigns, she was released and proceeded onto Chicago. The doctor who examined Bridget was African-American and the first black man she had ever seen. Bridget had left her parents and siblings behind and joined her Lavin cousins on Chicago’s south side.

 

Once here, Bridget began working for Mercy Hospital as an aid. Her salary was $15.00 per month, from which $10.00 of her first paycheck was sent back to her family in Ireland. Bridget worked six and one half days per week, thirteen hours per day. After nine months she contracted scarlet fever and spent six weeks in a contagious hospital during her recovery. Once she was healthy, she worked for one more month at Mercy Hospital and then began a new job with Western Electric for $5.04 per week.

 

On July 24, 1915 she joined her cousin Nora and co-workers for a cruise on the Eastland passenger steamer from Chicago to Michigan City, Indiana for a company picnic. But there was a problem. Bridget and Nora each thought the other had the tickets -- but neither did. As they turned around to leave the pier, they met their boss as he arrived for the cruise. He gave them the money to buy new tickets since they could not possibly retrieve theirs in time. He proceeded onto the Eastland, but when they returned with the new tickets, the steamer was filled. Nora and Bridget then boarded the second of three steamers available, the Theodore Roosevelt.

 

Bridget Higgins missed her opportunity for a cruise and a picnic. Like most of Western Electric’s immigrant workers boarding the Eastland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Petosky that day, it would have been her only opportunity for a holiday from work.

 

Another young person scheduled to be on the Eastland that morning was twenty-year old George Halas.  When George was home from college, he also worked for Western Electric. George played football for the University of Illinois and had been preoccupied with putting on weight over the summer in order to be a more effective player. His brother Frank caught him as he was leaving the house and made him weigh in to check his progress. This short delay was just enough to cause George to miss his access to the Eastland.

 

The Eastland never made it out of the Chicago River and into Lake Michigan. The federal Seaman’s Act of 1915, signed by President Woodrow Wilson in reaction to the Titanic disaster, required that ships be retrofitted with new lifeboats. The weight of these lifeboats made Great Lake’s steamers like the Eastland top heavy and therefore more dangerous than if they hadn’t been outfitted with such cumbersome gear. Twenty feet from the wharf, in twenty feet of water, the Eastland slowly turned over on its side killing 844 people.

 

 

Since George Halas was listed on the passenger list, his friends thought he had perished with the other victims and headed to the Halas home to express their condolences. They were stunned when George himself answered the door.

 

Bridget Higgins and George Halas never knew each other. Halas married and had two children, Virginia and George Jr.

 

Bridget married Harry Cassidy and also had two children, Rosemary and Harry “Bud” Cassidy.

 

Why were Bridget Higgins and George Halas spared? This all seems rather unremarkable until you look at this picture.

 

                                                                    Natalie and Michael

 

Ninety-seven years and four days after the Eastland disaster, in a beautiful church, on Chicago’s north side, Michael Danaher wed Natalie Catron.  Michael is the great-grandson of Bridget Higgins Cassidy, whose daughter, Rosemary, married John Danaher. Natalie is the great-granddaughter of George Halas, whose daughter Virginia married Ed McCaskey.
 
 

 

Friday, June 29, 2012

TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS AGO TODAY


                       TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS AGO TODAY



Rebekah and Rachel were approaching two years of age when I began to entertain thoughts of another baby. When I shared my thoughts with John, he wasn’t so sure I was thinking clearly. The girls had just been completely weaned and potty-trained and he was looking forward to a diaper-free zone and a more structured lifestyle. The girls turned two in October and I was not feeling so well. By Christmas we had confirmed that I was pregnant.



In the middle of this uneventful pregnancy we sold our house in Houston, Texas, and moved the family, including one Irish setter and a cat, to my parents’ home in Chicago. My father and mother were a little apprehensive about our invasion, but their two cats were more than annoyed with the presence of my goofy dog and unfriendly cat. When Mumbo, the 90 pound setter, wasn’t in the backyard trying to protect the house from incoming planes on landing approach to Midway Airport, he was in our basement with Kitty. It was a tense situation there for a few months. John likes to remind us that during that time, “Not one plane ever landed in the backyard.”


We did find and purchase a house, but could not move in until the renter’s lease was up. That meant that the baby would be born before the house was ready. My father was joking that he was going to move to a Y if we weren’t moved out soon.  On June 29, 1984, David Joseph Danaher was born at Little Company of Mary Hospital.


It wasn’t long before David became the most-kissed baby in the whole world. Between his sisters and me, he barely went a few minutes without someone kissing and squeezing his cheeks and sometimes bossing him around. John used to say, “David has three mothers.”



By the time the little cherub was two, he was speaking clearly and holding conversations about his obsession with dinosaurs. For the most part David was an obedient child, but like most boys, he couldn’t resist a good science experiment. He was never prone to putting things in his mouth, but then there was the time he decided, at three years old, to swallow a dime he found under a bed. He began choking and although he could communicate, he could not cough it up. John (I was not home) called the ambulance, deposited baby Matthew at my neighbor’s house, and ultimately David had to be anesthetized while the doctor extracted the dime from his esophagus. John called this the “twelve hundred dollar dime.”



David proved to be a quick learner and advanced in our home school rather smoothly. This is also a testimony to the wisdom of the one room schoolhouse method of education. As I would be teaching his sisters their phonograms and math lessons, he would be putting his puzzles and legos together on the floor of the family room. This meant that he heard those lessons over and over before he was of school age. He was particularly annoying to Rachel and Rebekah when they were all a little older and they would be doing math lessons. I would read a word problem out loud from the day’s math lesson and before the girls could think it through, David would blurt out the answer. That was met with, “Daaaaaviiiiid!”



As his math skills progressed through high school, he passed me up and began to teach himself from the books. David was very disciplined as he prepared to take the ACT. Every day, he would retreat to a bedroom and complete a practice test. I never had to prod him to do what he needed to do to get good grades. He eventually majored in physics at college and obtained a Masters in Physics from NIU.



He was a determined little guy. When he was about eight, we took the family to watch the South Side St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Just like his mother, David’s favorite part of the parade was the bagpipe bands. He began pestering me to take bagpipe lessons. In all my life, I never would have thought that my kid would be interested in learning such an odd instrument. It must be in our blood. My mother, the Italian, loved all things Scottish and made sure I attended a concert of The Black Watch Highland Pipers when I was 18.

I made some phone calls and before long David was taking lessons. He never failed to practice or miss a lesson.  Highland piping became and is his passion. His skill as a piper earned him a significant scholarship for college and provided an income far beyond what he would have earned in a typical college job. Of that I am very proud.




Although I butted heads with David more than any other of our children, I had the most confidence in his ability to make his way in this world. Except for swallowing small objects and sometimes stepping on those ketchup packages from McDonald’s (a bloody mess on the wall of John’s office), David has been a sensible young man, blessed by God with a strong sense of loyalty to all that is good.



He has been a blessing in his own right, but last year he blessed us even more when he married Kathy Dyer and brought her into our family. I pray that God will bless them with many little bagpipers and I have every confidence that David will make a great and godly father.


We love you David.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Perfectly Purposeful by Rebekah Danaher Anderson

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you..." Jeremiah 1:5

From the mouth of the ancient prophet Jeremiah, God's truth was proclaimed - that from the depths of eternity God foreknew each and every life that would ever exist. Since the first seeds sprouted in the belly of Eve, every child conceived since has Divine intent and purpose. King David sang, "You have been my God from my mother's womb." (Psalm 22:10) Even before any of us are fully conscious of a purpose, God has indeed created and ordained a plan for all.
And yet, last week I noticed an article that was circulating the Internet, written by two Italian researchers, promoting "after-birth abortions." They argue that an infant immediately out of the womb has no more faculties or awareness of life than the "fetus" that previously would have been a candidate for abortion. Since the baby is unaware of its potential and not yet "formed any aim" for his or her life, these researchers suggest that the baby can and should be killed before its awareness develops. The authors claim at the very outset that "fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons."
And it's not just children with abnormalities. Even healthy children would be victim to the same fate, should they be unwanted by the mother. Infanticide isn't a new concept and the debate in certain philosophical and ethical circles has been going on for decades, particularly in regard to "quality of life" issues. That's sick enough. But what really alarmed me about this article was that one of the main defenses for their thesis was that having a child with a disability has the potential to be an "unbearable burden for the psychological health of the woman."
Essentially, the authors say that a child with Down Syndrome or other birth defects could be a detriment to the lives of family members. They write, "Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk."
The WELL-BEING of the family is at risk?!?! Yep. That's what they wrote. Thankfully, this article has been met with widespread outrage and its savagery condemned. But I personally fell on my face before God begging Him to have mercy on a human race where sin and self-worship have so corrupted our sense of goodness that two people in the bright of day would dare put such thoughts into writing. I know most people would share my horror, but I pray we continuously call out evil when we see it and that we never waver in our defense of the defenseless. Life is precious. It comes from the very hand of God Himself. Honestly, I admit, there was a time not long ago when I quaked at the thought of giving birth to a child with special needs. I felt in no way equipped to handle that challenge. But a few months ago God turned my heart upside down and I came face-to-face with a reminder that no life is irrelevant. Let me tell you the story....

This past Christmas, while at the mall waiting in line to get my children's photo taken with Santa Claus, I looked up and straight into the dark, beautiful eyes of a boy named Anoop. I say boy, though his stature and dark stubble placed him perhaps in his 20s. But everything about this man was boyish. He stared at me unabashed and then stared down at my children. A broad grin spread across his face. His unrelenting gaze was a bit disarming, especially in a society that is often in too much of a hurry to make eye contact. I looked past him to his mother standing in line with her husband. She gently turned her son away from us as he leaned in closer to gape at us. I had guessed by now that this precious boy probably had the mental capabilities of a small child. "How old is he?" I asked his mom as Anoop moved closer to Santa Claus. "Twenty-three," she said. "But he's never stopped believing in Santa. We've tried and tried to tell him but he won't believe us. He LOVES Santa Claus." She looked at her son with such tenderness that the mother heart inside me squeezed and tears gleamed in my eyes. What a woman. Here she was, in the middle of the day, standing in line with a bunch of squirming toddlers so her adult son could experience something special. I could see Anoop getting more and more excited for his turn to meet Santa. He paced a little and as he stepped up to the jolly fat man he laughed and clapped and then turned a little bashful - pure delight on his boyish face. I studied that young man and I considered that perhaps he was living a gifted existence. What may clinically be diagnosed as a disability or deficiency was manifested here in a gleeful, delightful human being. I thought instantly of the passage of scripture where Jesus tells us that we adults need to become like children to enter His kingdom. To become like a child. What does that mean? Free from cynicism, free from pride, full of faith! Before Anoop and his family walked away, I said good-bye to his mother. "He blesses you, doesn't he?" I asked. "Yes, he does," she answered with a smile. Far from worthless, this special guy rocked my day. Far from disabled, this boy enabled me to see God in a situation where some might say God was absent. I felt like God placed Anoop and his mother in that line in front of us for a purpose. I've always believed that we're all perfect in God's sight, but that day I needed a special reminder. See, at that moment, I was carrying in my womb my own boy. A boy with Down Syndrome.

But I didn't know it yet. I had just been to see a specialist that morning. The doctors were concerned about the way the baby was forming. I was terrified. A few weeks earlier Elliot and I had been celebrating the news that I was carrying twins. I was over the moon for joy. Then the heart of one baby stopped beating. The babies were fraternal so my doctor explained it was possible for the stronger twin to survive even as we watched the other baby disappear. I begged the Lord to let us keep this baby. The heartbeat was strong. I prayed and prayed. You know what, I even told God that I would take any challenge, anyone, even a baby with Down Syndrome. I actually spoke those words. I have no idea why I prayed that. I don't say that to sound like a super mom. I don't think I'm particularly strong or capable or patient. Sometimes I feel like I'm the worst mom on Earth and here I was telling God I would take a baby with special needs. Years earlier, the idea of giving birth to a child of special needs would have been a nightmare. But God had taught me a lot through the loss of three babies to miscarriage and now and I was desperate to keep this baby, come whatever! Did I ever think he'd actually grant me that prayer? No. The specialist that morning had put my mind and heart at ease. Everything that had looked concerning earlier had vanished. The baby looked perfect for 10 weeks. I saw tiny arms flailing and a head bobbing on the ultrasound screen. My heart soared. I skipped off to the mall. I met Anoop. I praised God for the good news I had been given. "But," I whispered to God. "I would take an Anoop in a heartbeat."

One week later, at 11 weeks, I was in the same exam room sobbing, raising my voice to heaven, asking God why He had taken another of our babies. The baby was gone. The heart had stopped. Somewhere within those seven days, its life had left mine. I didn't have any answers and neither did the doctors. The ultrasound pictures the week before had been perfect. I grieved hard. A few weeks later I went to see my doctor. She swiveled on her chair and looked down at test results and then up at me. "It was a boy. He had Down Syndrome." Stunned silence. Then I shook with tears. Me? I'm not in that "demographic" to have a Down Syndrome child. I couldn't believe it. That prayer I had whispered once had been answered. I don't know why God chose to answer that prayer and not the rest of it. I'm not holding my little boy in my arms. And I won't until I meet him in heaven. I wish I had some understanding. But what I do understand deep down inside, to my very core, is that every life has meaning and value. I believe God walks us through trials to grow us, to perfect us, to make us more like Him. God used this experience of loss and a seemingly insignificant meeting with a boy to challenge me to live what I always claimed I believe. Was I willing to walk the walk? My purpose in sharing this isn't to seek sympathy for myself or to sound so high and mighty and holier than thou that I'd have been a willing servant to care for a person who likely would have needed intensive care. My intent is to encourage you all with what God has shown me. That it's not up to me to decide who is valuable. That's it's not my choice who God plants in my womb. Choice sounds like a funny word in the discussion. Not one bit of it was my choice. If I'd had my choice in the last three years, I would have four other children here on Earth. No one has any right to take validity from a life God created. I believe He created Anoop whole, 100 percent for the life He intends him to live. For professionals to assess what qualifies as a meaningful life is dead wrong. Let's never forget it. This doesn't mean life always is going to be easy. I'm sure Anoop has bad days. I know families raising children with special needs have bad days. I've had bad days. You've had bad days. But we can trust that God created us all in His image and is working out a perfect plan for each of us. Let's lean on that perfect plan. Because in His perfect plan, I went to the mall to see Santa and I met Anoop. :-)