Back in time with Valli, ‘Bay-yay-bee’

How could an 84-year-old man make me feel like a teenager again? All it took was hearing Frankie Valli croon “Sherry, Baby” in 12 syllables.

Nearly 24 hours later, I’m still savoring the musical journey through six decades that he led on a stage once graced by Elvis Presley in an historic Florida theater. Frankie’s still got it … and the audience let him know it. Much paunchier and less mobile than the adoring crowd of fit, suntanned youth at Four Seasons shows I saw at Steel Pier in Atlantic City in 1965 and 1966, this audience nevertheless made just as much noise. On our feet often—although not as sprightly—we sang the lyrics and moved to the rhythm, and waved cell phones instead of cigarette lighters. Kids again, for an hour or so.

For me the devotion began in 1962 at age 15 in my grandmother’s rowhouse in South Philly when my cousin Tommy, a couple of years younger, told me about a new group called the Four Seasons and their soon-to-be hit “Sherry.” Huge fans since then, he and I still call each other with any news about the group. He once surprised me with a CD of songs they performed before making it big when they called themselves the Four Lovers.

My collection of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons albums, scratches and all, is treasured. Christmas a year ago my boyfriend bought me a turntable, mostly so I could play them again.

frankie valli jan 2019 1

 But my favorite Four Seasons song, “Soon (I’ll Be Home Again)”—three syllables, soo-ooo-oon!—which came out not long after “Sherry,” is on only my oldest album and they didn’t sing it at any concert I saw. In the early 1990s before they performed in Hagerstown, Maryland, I had the thrill of doing a phone interview with Frankie for my newspaper and asked him why they never do “Soon.” He acknowledged that it’s a great song and he just didn’t know how it got dropped. Today I go there to buy shag shoes, but back in the ‘90s Judy’s House of Oldies in North Myrtle Beach had the best selection of 45s, many obscure. Digging through the bins, I found “Soon.”

frankie valli 3

Fast forward to 2006, a dear friend since childhood told me she had a perfect idea for celebrating an achievement in my life—a new Broadway show called “Jersey Boys.” She knows me well. That weekend in New York with three friends from high school holds cherished memories.

Seems like Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons have marked milestones through most of my life with their music, even in my senior years. Early in my now six-year relationship with my boyfriend, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” became ‘our song.’

For the concert last night, I used a favorite evening bag. Inside was a ticket from a 2004 Frankie Valli show at the same theater. To be honest I wondered how much difference I would notice in his voice. The other three Seasons have long been replaced multiple times, most recently with energetic young performers who keep their beat alive. Still a fabulous showman with a huge orchestra, there’s no doubt that Frankie Valli is an old man. Now and then verses seemed to be an octave lower. But especially with “Stay”-ay-yay, just a little bit longer—which actually made me hoot—and “Sherry,” his sweet falsetto sounded as strong as ever.

frankie valli jan 2019 2

Oh, what a night!

 

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Flashback: Christmas in the ‘50s

This morning I was on the road by 8, my holiday to-do list heavy on my mind. Last night my boyfriend reminded me that I said the same thing last Christmas, about being overwhelmed by holiday obligations and cutting back for sure this year. The short drive from his home to mine took me over the picturesque Intracoastal Waterway. Heading up the ramp I tuned into a Christmas music station just as Jingle Bells started to play. Took me straight back to my childhood. And then … chills … a turquoise and white Chevy that I guessed was a 1954 model appeared in my rearview mirror. I slowed down to allow it to pass on the top of the bridge. Not sure if the driver saw my thumbs up. I tried to block out the high-rise apartment building on the left and the sprawling Mayo Clinic complex on the right and pretend it was 1954 when I was 7 and still believed in Santa Claus. Instead of shopping and decorating and doing a million other things when I got home I opened a box of old photos looking for snapshots of Christmases in the ‘50s.

Remember waking up on Christmas morning to scenes like this?

Christmas 1952 2

This was 1952. Oh, what a happy feeling! Santa had been there. It truly was magical. As I write this it’s still a single-digit December day. Many people have their trees up by now, even real ones. When we were really young that was part of our Christmas morning surprise, too—a tree decorated with silver tinsel, colored lights and shiny balls. As we kids got older and wanted to help trim it our tree went up before Christmas Eve, but never more than a couple of days.

Here’s one from 1954:

Christmas 1954, Lorrie 7, Gerry 5

 

My Cinderella watch was as high-tech as it got in my childhood Christmases. This is the last year it was just me and my brother Gerry waking our parents before dawn on Christmas morning. Joe arrived the next year, and Chris the year after that. Dad built that wardrobe for my dolls’ clothes. He told me he was helping Santa. It ended up with one of my younger cousins. I wonder if her granddaughter has it now?

After Mass on Christmas morning we would make the rounds through the neighborhood to see what the other kids got, sometimes on brand new bikes. Then they would come to see our stuff.  One of my fondest memories is being with family and friends between Christmas and New Year’s. We visited all our aunts and uncles and cousins, and they came to our house. We “showed the gifts,” played games and music, and ate cookies and other snacks such as cream cheese and olive dip on crackers and little ham salad sandwiches. People popped in and out all week. I doubt if they phoned first. These days, I don’t go across the street without letting my neighbor know I am coming.

Later in the 1950s Dad set up a Lionel train on a large platform he built for the track and the tree—fun for many Christmases to come. As I write, thinking of those early holidays, I can smell that smoke if I try hard. After the four of us were grown and gone, Dad set up the train in the basement each Christmas—for the grandkids, he said, but we knew it was for him, too.

My sons with Pap Pap and his train in the 1970s:

Christmas 1970s, Dad with Tom and Tim and Lionel train

In this fast-paced, high-tech age, it’s my wish that my grandchildren, too, experience the joys of simpler things that make priceless Christmas memories.

Hoping that the youngest comes to cherish my mother’s animated Santa that used to fascinate his dad at his age:

Jace with Grammy's Santa Christmas 2018

No matter how much I scale back on decorating, writing cards and keeping up, however, this Nativity goes up first to keep it all in perspective.

Christmas 2018

Merry Christmas! And as my toddler sons used to say, “Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus!”

 

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Lighten up; keep love alive.

“I just realized who you reminded me of the way you dressed for bed last night,” my boyfriend told me as we were leaving the gym this morning. “That woman in the comics.”

“Who, Daisy Mae?” I teased.

“No. One square. A smart aleck.”

“MAXINE?”

“Yes, that’s the one.”

Mic drop.

Then we both laughed, as we did the night before when I paraded this outfit—complete with my favorite t-shirt from the 2005 Super Bowl in Jacksonville and what he calls my Cat in the Hat socks:

MAXINE Nov 2018

(Took enough guts to post a picture of the clothes. Nope, not going to pose in them.)

Hey, it rarely gets this cold in Florida and my Pennsylvania blood has gotten pretty thin. Considering I was at his house with not much more than the few clothes and other necessities I carry back and forth in tote bags, my getup was at least functional if not fashionable. Add Herbie, my microwaved bean bag, and I stayed toasty warm as the temps plunged into the 30s.

Now that I think about it, maybe I should be concerned that my boyfriend no longer feigns jealousy of Herbie, claiming, “That’s my job.” And downright alarmed at being compared to frumpy, grouchy Maxine! Being comfortable in a relationship has a sneaky way of evolving into complacency when you’re not looking. Dressing like a ragamuffin probably doesn’t help to keep things fresh.

From the beginning, we agreed that a strong relationship requires hard work and we have made conscious efforts to avoid becoming complacent. For example, almost every time we part we do this you-me-together-forever signal that a houseguest peeping out my front window mistook for sign language. We continue to be thankful for finding each other in our senior years and we absolutely are aware that what we have is rare and good.

We’re coming up on six years since our first date and, to be honest, being together has become much more, well, comfortable. We talk about how taking each other for granted and becoming indifferent frequently occur about this time in relationships and promise not to let that happen to us. Conceding that we sometimes stumble with conversation, absolutely No. 1 and the subject of my previous post, I maintain that we score pretty high in two other categories critical to a strong union—gratitude and humor. “Thank you” and “Thank you, God” flow as easily as “I love you.”

Perhaps, for our relationship, humor was the catalyst and is the glue. Independent people who were content in our lifestyles when we met, we resisted getting serious—until we realized how much we were making each other laugh. That felt good. It still does. Explains those red leggings.

Not much feels better than a belly laugh that catches your breath. We’ve got that down.

On a recent cruise our unintentional comedy routine became the anticipated attraction at dinners with our friends. “I was right where I was supposed to be,” he cut into my rant about getting lost in a maze of hallways after asking him to stay nearby when I used a restroom in Belize. Panicky and running late for an excursion, I finally found him here:

IMG_6142

All right, I’m exaggerating. But he was close to here, not close to me. So the catchphrase for the guys in our group all week after that was, “Staying right here, ma’am. Not moving an inch.”

Usually a spot-on packer, his shortcomings (specifically dress socks—thanks for the loan, Bob!) sparked funny table talk another evening. “Not on elegant night,” I argued when he went on about how cool it would look to wear jeans with no socks and a sports coat. “Especially baggy old-man’s jeans!”

You get the point. Besides …

MAXINE 2 nov 2018

Except, wait. One more thing. As for that sleeping attire … (wink-wink) … thank heavens most Florida nights are warm!

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Can we talk? Political divide inhibits conversation

“How would I know the difference?” he deadpanned when I asked if he knows the signs of a stroke in case I start acting weird. Made me laugh. Thank heavens we still share a sense of humor.

Not that there is one thing funny about strokes and their symptoms. In our 70s, they are striking former classmates and dance friends and others in my orbit—a real possibility of the thing I dread most. It got more scary when my normally low blood pressure skyrocketed into the danger zone early last year—not long after Inauguration Day. “Knock it off,” an ER cardiologist told me concerning the excessive CNN viewing that was contributing to my extreme anxiety.

This blog post is not about strokes, however. That’s just part of a jumble of fears and emotions and frustrations that I am struggling to write about, similar to the stifling sensation I sometimes feel when talking to my boyfriend. I have blogged before about our political differences but kept the dialogue light, as he and I had attempted at first. Lately, though, it seems like even having a conversation about conversing gets testy.

Last night:

Me: “All we can talk about any more is your new puppy and what we are going to eat.”

Him: “That’s not how I want it to be.”

“You and your coffee buddies are so civil when you talk about politics and disagree.”

“We don’t get so serious about it.”

“You defend “him,” no matter what.”

“You say you can’t stand him.”

Deadlock.

politics2

Agreeing that our nearly six-year relationship is definitely worth preserving for a million reasons, we lightened up recalling how we used to joke about this stuff. During those years he has often made “stirring the pot” motions to make me laugh as he talked about liberals. Not too long ago he was offended when I told him we wouldn’t have gotten together had we met now, given this political divide. I explained that I genuinely admire his conservative convictions and patriotism. That hasn’t changed, yet neither of us can comprehend how the other is thinking in the current arena.

Not a deal breaker, though.

I reminded him of “The man I have been waiting for” list I whimsically wrote the year before I met him, when at 65 I had pretty much given up on having a meaningful relationship again. He nailed all 55 points, except for politics. And even that, I see now as I reread it, somewhat passes:

“Is politically compatible ~ or, if not, respects my view and does not argue about politics. Is not radical, either way.” 

In all fairness, he doesn’t pick political arguments and I am more likely the one to snipe. In these divisive times, political allies fan the flames by sharing on social media stories that support each others’ beliefs and disgust. Such as last week’s Politico cover about what’s now widely known as (and what I self-diagnosed early on) as Trump Anxiety Disorder, which has couples seeking counseling and patients filling up psychologists’ couches. The story by John Harris and Sarah Zimmerman states that nearly a quarter of respondents to a Galileo market research survey said their political views have hurt their personal relationships.

A New York Times opinion column by Thomas Friedman this month titled “The American Civil War, Part II” discusses how the country has moved from partisanship to tribalism, how no one can find common ground to respectfully disagree, and how people don’t even want to socialize with folks of other political parties.

Didn’t used to be that way. Thoughtful discussion actually changed minds. No more.

I’ve often wondered how political experts Republican Mary Matalin and Democrat James Carville make their marriage work—for 25 years now.

BLOG politics James carville and Mary matlin

A 2016 Naples Daily News story quotes Carville as saying, “Sometimes you just have to understand you are going to disagree. You’re not going to change anybody’s mind so why talk about it? You just have to let things go.”

Hmmm. Maybe silence is the solution, after all.

 

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Old cars, sweet memories

“What’s that?” asked my neighbor as I used a dash-mounted device to back out of a parking space. It’s a backup camera; my car is too old to have a built-in one, I told her, sparking a conversation about cars today vs. those nostalgic models from our youth. Heck, my car does have a CD player, it’s that old! Never mind airbags, GPS, Bluetooth and Sirius XM Radio, cars from our childhood didn’t have power windows, steering or turn signals, and certainly not seatbelts. Although when I was 16 I took my driving test in my aunt’s automatic Chevy, I learned to drive on Dad’s manual transmission, and knew how to give hand signals.

That conversation sent me searching for this old photo, one of my all-time favorites:

cars pontiac 1955 for blog sept 2018

My brother Gerry and I—ages 6 and 8—are sitting on our cream and maroon Pontiac in front of our house in October 1955. The colors would probably have more sexy names today. But that car was a gem in its day. I emailed the picture to my three brothers, each of whom responded with their own memories. Joe said it was the first car he rode in as a baby. He remembers that it had a push button starter. Chris, the youngest, remembers that it didn’t have seatbelts. We all remember that it sat in our back yard by the alley after it died, until Dad sold it. Gerry recalled its leather seats (I can still feel and smell them) and said he always wished he was old enough then to keep it for himself.

The three-hour trips in that car to visit Mom’s family in Philadelphia were memorable. Gerry and I fought for space on the back seat, sat on the floor to play with toys and leaned over the front seat to ask Dad if we were there yet. “You’ll smell it,” he joked, referring to the South Philly refineries. I can still picture him flicking cigarette ashes out of his wing vent window. To pass time we played alphabet games with billboards, counted states on license plates and called out the kinds of passing cars—back when there was usually one make and model and you could actually know. And yep, we laughed reading those Burma Shave signs.

Joe slept in a flimsy bassinet—made of netting, I believe—wedged lengthwise between the seats. I suppose Mom held Chris. Lord! Yet safety awareness was slow to improve. I cringe recalling a trip from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts when my firstborn was 6 months old. His crib mattress fit perfectly in the back seat of our Impala. I thought it was ingenious that he could play and sleep in that space all those miles and hours. When he was a toddler Dad would take him for car rides, tucking him snugly behind his arm as he stood next to him. Truth is, he probably was safer there than in the lightweight aluminum and canvas car seat we hooked over the front seat.

At the newspaper where I worked one of the most popular reader participation features we ran was about favorite cars. Readers shared memories of their old cars, most accompanied by photos. Folks associate special events with cars they had—graduations, births, weddings … Many wrote about their first cars. Most of the cars had names. One of my favorite board games, Times to Remember, requires players to come up with years things happened. Discussions like “Uncle Bob just got that red Mustang so it had to be in the late ‘60s” are common.

Fast forward more than a half century, car dashboards resemble those of spaceships more so than 1950s Pontiacs. Vehicle purchases today include lengthy tech instructions, often by teens hired by dealers for that purpose. This summer my boyfriend and I rented a Volvo at an airport in Michigan. Neither of us could figure out the GPS system, which required aligning a wheel with an alphabet thing. We asked for help from a young attendant who, seemingly confounded by it, too, muttered something like, “They must not have old people in Sweden!” Never mind, we told him before we drove off, we’ll use our phones.

Now we’re hearing that in 10 years none of this will matter because everyone’s cars will be driving themselves. Yes, I know that’s here now. Saw it up close and personal when I met a friend at a coffee shop to see her new Tesla. As we stood in the parking I watched in astonishment as she opened the doors that turned into wings, backed up the driverless car and parked it next to my Antique Altima.

cars Judy's Tesla Nov 2016 - Copy

“I’ll get in my stagecoach and go home now,” I told her.

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Dance in his honor

After a beloved member of our Carolina Shag club died suddenly last weekend a Facebook post notified members that our Sunday beachside dance would go on as usual. He was a regular there. Posters commented that we should show up to dance in his honor. The crowd was easily double the usual attendance. Maybe triple. Shaggers are known for their camaraderie and the need to be with our shag family was great that afternoon. We cried. We laughed. We prayed. And we danced.

“This is what I want when I die,” said one friend nodding toward the dance floor. “Keep on dancing.”

There’s something about moving to music that soothes the soul. Somehow it helps to heal the hole in your heart.

His funeral service this weekend included talks by friends who shared stories about his passions: sailing, fishing and dancing. Attendees were invited to a celebration of life where a shag DJ played beach music. A lover of life who always wore a grin, Butch was surely smiling down on his friends who danced as a slideshow of his life rolled in the background. Gone too soon at 70, his death broke our hearts.

Butch dance sept 2018

A nearby display of memorabilia that included his shag shoes helped to tell the life story of the West Point graduate.

Butch shag shoes Sept 2018

Mingling at the reception we shared our shock at his untimely passing while knowing full well that we’re all up next. Many of our birthday party cakes now say “Happy 80th.” While we dance and socialize to help keep ourselves young, we are getting rid of stuff in our homes, making sure our kids know where to find financial and other important documents, and planning our own funerals. If we aren’t, we should be.

For sure, though, we shouldn’t live like we are going to die tomorrow. At this stage of our lives, most of my friends, thank God, are active, agile, aware and, yes, fun.

That philosophy became real this weekend when my boyfriend got a puppy. Granted, it was always his decision, yet I struggled to suppress my “what if” persona in recent conversations, saying things like “Do you realize how old we are?” and “It likely will outlive you.” But my apprehension evaporated as I looked at his smiling face and fell in love with the furball, too.

Best to take the sound advice of Norman Vincent Peale: “Live your life and forget your age.”

RIP, Butch.
Welcome, Shilo.

Shilo 8 wks, 1st day at home1, 9.8.18

 

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Just breathe

Checklist after traveling 2,300 miles to touch my own soul:

  • Breathe
  • Blog
  • Meditate

The best part of last week (West Coast ~ how’d you guess?) by far was being with family. Close second was following their lead to decompress, returning with genuine intentions to get back to things that bring pleasure and calm. Not that there aren’t people everywhere who practice mindful breathing, praise the universe and protect the Earth, but there is something about the gentle culture of Southern California that brings a smile as my plane lands. For example, the morning after my arrival my 9-year-old grandson was eager to walk a mile for breakfast at a place called Plant Power where he proudly took charge of ordering a bacon, egg and cheese muffin for me and a chicken and waffle sandwich for him. With no traces of pig, cow or chicken, our soy-based meals were quite tasty. At that age, his dad would have jumped in the backseat for a two-block drive to McDonald’s.

Raised Catholic and Protestant back East, my son and his wife have embraced a Buddhist congregation that offers spiritual and social fulfillment for their little family. Another morning found me in their temple with my shoeless feet on pillows, eyes closed, concentrating solely on my breathing … battling with my busy mind but doing better than before when I tried to meditate. A parenting discussion that followed focused on appreciation, awareness and consideration. Their kindness warmed my heart.

That afternoon my family gave me sweet gifts that included this mug, which I treasure:

Breathe mindfulness mug

Still feeling that glow at a movie the following day, I relished hearing my grandson giggle when Winnie the Pooh tracked honey through grown-up Christopher Robin’s house and when the talking Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet and the gang startled a taxi driver.

But real life is not a storybook and reality can smack hard. After the movie I turned my phone back on to messages, texts and calls inquiring if I was OK. A mass shooting had just happened in Jacksonville, where I live. My breathing was far from mindful as I searched for updates of the horror so close to home. Blessed to be with my beloved family, I appreciated even more how fragile and precious life is. On the drive back we read Winnie the Pooh quotes aloud to bring some sanity, humor and clarity back to our lives.

Then … returning home on primary election day in Florida after the polls closed I was glad I had voted early. “Breathe,” I whispered, stunned by the results of the governor’s race and dreading a contentious runoff. So telling, those numbers … the reasons behind them compounding my stress and unleashing my runaway mind. The next morning I gathered these treasured gifts from friends through the years to create a small shrine to help with my good intentions:

Breathe pillows and Buddhas

I deliberately keep the political controversy that too often consumes me out of my blog and other writing. On the contrary, I find sharing my thoughts on aging, family, friendships and life in general therapeutic and fun—something that warrants more of a priority in a busy life that still struggles for balance even in retirement.

On this first day of a new month I flipped a page of the calendar featuring sayings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, that hangs in my kitchen. September’s message:

Breathe calendar Sept 2018

Also a gift from my San Diego family, the calendar provides daily inspiration to slow down, breathe, smile, give thanks, don’t worry, expect good, want less and appreciate more—all effective to fight stress and improve health.

Simple wisdom of Winnie the Pooh (courtesy of A.A. Milne) helps, too.

Breathe Pooh2

 

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