Number 3


The I have four  sisters — all younger — Cissy, Vicki, Marylee, Lizanne.  We’ve remained close and see each other fairly regularly.  We’re from the same root but despite  similarities, our unique  personalities and interests seem to predominate.   This October, I visited sister number 3, Marylee, in Olympia, WA.  She is seven years younger than me.  So when I was graduating college in 1969, she was beginning high school. Although I know her uniqueness, there were surprises.

It’s not my first trip to visit Marylee.   While the rest of us live within an hour of the family hometown, Bristol, PA, Marylee has lived in Arizona, West Virginia and Washington.  Who could have predicted our wanderer.  She was a quiet kid, growing up in the shadows of two older sisters.

But there were little explosions of adventure, even daring.  In her junior year of high school she signed up with her best friend, Maureen Mulhern, for a 6 week language program in Aix en Provence, France.

In her Senior year she was eligible to take language courses at Bucks County Community College.  This was an “A” student expanding her horizons.  The local priest at Bishop Conwell didn’t see education but drugs and sex.  Our mother (and Mrs Mulhern) said, “OK, I’m withdrawing her from Conwell.”  Marylee took classes at Bucks Community College and graduated from Bristol High School.  I have always been proud of Cis for standing up for her daughter and education.

In 1974 Marylee participated in a Service Civil International program in Vandoncourt, France.  She made international friends and continued to expand her outlook.  To my amazement, here was little Marylee headed to France again. Her wanderlust continued to grow.   The following year she did a “work camp” outside Copenhagen  with Hanne, a friend she had met in 1975.  It would be 1976 before I made my first trip across the Atlantic.

Marylee’s college nursing program at Holy Family (then College) in Northeast Philadelphia was pretty provincial, back to Bristol.  In the 1990s I taught education courses at HF.  When we discussed controversial issues (that led to long classroom debates at LaSalle) the HF (University now) girls reached consensus in minutes.    Marylee was a diligent HF student.  I recall her sitting on her bed in our family apartment, on Mill Street,  textbook in hand, rocking slowly, back and forth.  Nothing less than “A” grades would do.

She eventually married  a West Virginian, Norval Goe.  They both got jobs with Indian services in Arizona.  I saw pictures of the Navajo Reservation, Chinle, and Canyon de Chelly.  But I never visited.  Where was my head?  My little sister was living there.

If my chronological memory is correct, they moved to West Virginia for several years.  The extended family visited their home on the Potomoc and later a log cabin in Shepherdstown.

Then they were back in the Northwest, coastal Washington State, working on the Quinault Indian Reservation.  Wake up call, for me.  Little sister is doing some neat things.  I visited, twice.  Both trips, I believe were with my parents.  The Pacific coast was not the Jersey shore.  Cars drove on hard packed sand beaches.  Silvery drift wood piled up on the black volcanic sand beaches.  It rained a lot.  The Olympic National forest was miles deep.   Weyerhaeuser owned a lot of land; acres were clear cut; miles of stumps and blackened brush.  The reservation was poor.  We bought small baskets from wrinkled women, arthritic fingers, but tourist prices.  Etched in my memony is an early morning drive north to Neah Bay with Norval.  As we walked the beach, an American Eagle flew overhead, sea stacks emerged from the mist, is this real?  Tidal pools were filled with star fish, small crabs, anomoe.  It was beautiful.  Another world.  A world my little sister lived in.

Briefly they lived outside of Seattle.  I visited once.  The final move for them was to Boston Harbor, 10 miles outside of Olympia.  I believe the trip this October was my third visit there.   The only public  attraction is the Boston Harbor Marina-some groceries, fresh seafood, salmon, postcards, and a few tourist gifts. The current owner is attempting to introduce craft beer on tap.

Her house is delightful.  Mission style oak antiques, Art Deco touches, gas fireplace. The garden areas were so manicured, Diane thought there had to be a gardener.  For better or worse, due to a recent separation, it’s all Marylee.  Norval now lives nearby in Olympia.

My first observation: Marylee is very fastidious, organized, maybe a perfectionist.  Everything in the house has a Felix Unger feel — it’s in the right place.  There were some feathers on the edge of the living room couch.  I though part of a display.  No, I realized they were cat toys.

Marylee is a good cook.  Delicious homemade squash soup the night we arrived.  Grilled fresh salmon and salad night two.  She Delayed buying the salmon in Boston Harbor until she was assured it was fresh caught.  Diane commented on the pre-dinner blocks of local cheese, crackers, and smoked salmon. Delicious.

In the two weeks we spent with number 3, I learned so much about her. Since living on the west coast, Marylee has been an ocean kayaker.   She invited members of her kayak club to dinner one night.  Becky, Albin and Glee.  All were interesting, independent souls with interesting stories.  I got the feeling that since her separation from Norval, these friends were her lifeline.

Several months ago she sent me photographs — she was wearing a mask, with a  welding blow torch in hand.   She was making  a front gate with sun, flowers, leaves, even a cat.  I’m not  kidding.  This is my little sister.  Seems Albin had encouraged and guided the project.  The gate now hangs in front of the house and Marylee is planning other welding projects.  Footnote: I have a welding mask from my father’s tools, can I get it to Olympia?

Although she didn’t participate in the construction, I’ve been amazed at the wooden kayaks Marylee has called her own.  Currently there are two in the garage and at least one previously sold.  On Whidby Island, we visited Redfish Kayacks, where one of hers was constructed.  Thin strips of chamfered cedar are glued together making the hull shape.  Beautiful craftsmanship.  How our father would have loved seeing, doing, making a kayak.

I’m currently reading, “The Oregon Trail: a new American journey,” by Rinker Buck.  He is traveling in a historic mule teamed wagon following the trail to Oregon.  A great story — with many threads. Early in the trip,  Buck introduces us to Narcissa Whitman, who was the first white woman to complete the trip, in a wagon, on horseback, walking from Missouri to Oregon.  She wrote letters back East, raising awareness, yes, you can cross the rivers, climb the mountains, interact with the native tribes. You can follow the trail to Oregon.   You can, like her, even do it while pregnant.  Narcissa and her husband Marcus Whitman were in part driven by a missionary spirit.  But there was more.  They helped to pioneer the path West for “average” Americans.  It’s with some hesitation that I use the word “average” but then there were thousands and thousands who made the trip.   Maybe average then was really exceptional.

Somehow my little sister, Marylee, reminds me of Narcissa.  Libby Paglione (now Vedder) who moved from the family home in Michigan to Wyoming also comes to mind.  When we traveled in Washington, Diane frequently mentioned the number of interesting, independent women we encountered.   Although Marylee and Libby didn’t quite travel West in a wagon like Narcissa, they made the trip.  They left behind home security and pioneered.  They hike in the mountains and kayak in the Pacific.

My mother always said, “it’s the small things.”  Spending two weeks with Marylee, I noticed small things.  How she waded into the very chilly waters of Boston Harbor to launch Albin’s boat, jumping  out of the car to take a photograph with her cell phone, even in 40 mph winds in Port Townsend. We stopped at a yard filled with scrap metal, there are welding projects in the planning.

Marylee is deliberate, organized, planning is a strong suit.  For every trip she laid out drinks and snacks. But then she has a sense of try it, explore.  A few years back she broke bones flipping an off road vehicle she was riding on farm.  Cautious and carefree.  How similar but how differentbwe are.




It’s  been a year since my first surgery to correct a fistula (hole connecting urinary track with colon),  a result of tissue damaged in proton radiation when I was treated for prostrate cancer.  The surgery failed.  I had additional surgery to make a colostomy  and urostomy permanate.  Before that could happen I had triple bypass heart surgery.  From September 2015 to June 2016, I spent weeks in the  Pennsylvania Hospital.  Months later I have a fistula that still leaks (docs want to wait and see), nerve damage in left hand (result of heart surgery, should heal they say).  I’m weak, get tired quickly and I’m  limited in what I can do.

Not complaining; just assessing.  This is retirement, year 3.  The good life.  How good?  We did go to Cape Cod for two weeks with Jen and family.  Drove to Ann Arbor for the wedding of best friends, Paglione’s daughter.  Spent a week in Maine with friends, Sears.  Next leave for Seattle, two weeks with sister, Marylee.  That sounds pretty good.

But I wonder.  Will I feel whole again?  Will I have the energy to ride a bike?  Or to put the kayak on the car for an explore.  Decided not to go to Portland OR on our Seattle trip because I can’t walk all day.  An urban environment probably requires too much.  We will spend the days in a coastal B and B.

Some discomfort is physical.  Some is mental.  It takes me a lot longer to do things from taking a bath, dressing, climbing or descending steps.  I try to bend to pick something off the floor (therapy gave me pick up stick).  I try to exercise.  I try to tell myself that moving slower is OK.  Some might say better.  I try.  But I’m anxious.

I believe each day (or week, month)  should include (1) some work — being retired it’s house cleaning, repairs, gardening, yard work, cleaning out, getting rid of stuff;  (2) there should be some creative academic activity —  reading, writing, carpentry, volunteering and finally (3) some learning-exploration — field trips, to a farm, a museum, a back road, a cooking class, trip to Cape Cod, Maine or China.  This is particularly important in retirement when we don’t spend eight hours or more a day at a job.

Year one of retirement was great, and followed the plan.  All three areas mentioned above were addressed.    It was obviously much harder if not impossible last year.  Now it’s  five months into year three.  Can I can back into the rhythm?  Anxious but trying.

There are so many questions.  The biggest is what do I want from the years remaining?  Hopefully a couple of decades, maybe just one, maybe just a few years.  We usually don’t get an advance timetable.

I know I want to spend time with family.  So, this week I bought tickets for McCarter Theatre’s Christmas Carol for the Kwaits. Eli and Viv are ready for this great show.  We’re headed to visit my sister in Olympia, WA.   I totally enjoy most of the time (we have some rough moments) Diane and I spend together — trip to a local farm, lunch in a new restaurant, watching a movie, an exhibit at the Mitchener. There is  so much we can enjoy together  — 49 years this August anniversary.

I want to stay in contact with friends and relatives.  Recent trips to Ann Arbor (Pagliones) and Maine (Sears) play into this.  Maybe a November visit to Cousin Ellen in D.C.  Then there was the recent crab dinner with Taylor’s at Lovin Oven in Frenchtown.  Or Vault beers with Kathy Posey, Matt Jordan, Trish O’Connor and other remains of the HGP friday club.  We had dinner, Mexican, recently with Edna and Dave Ramirez, Tony Fig, and Father Chris.  It’s a lot less personal but I enjoy Facebook contact.   Some are people I’ve seen recently; others are “ghosts” from the past

I want to travel.  Following the mix of the familiar and new explores.  Some travel is just local field trips. Diane and I do a lot of drives in Bucks and NJ.  We could expand this to more counties in PA.  During year one, I was committed to a day in Philadelphia — train explores, urban adventures.   In year two, Philadelphia was all doctor appointments and time in the hospital.  A limited perspective.  Need to return to City trips probably in the Spring and add monthly New York City trips.

Travel is also longer trips. On a recent DC trip, I bought a new journal at the Library of Congress.  It  was to be a record of  what many call a “bucket list.”  Notes on places I think about visiting.  Again the familiar — I want to return to Europe.  Have a dream of spending months — maybe in Italy, Ireland could also work.  Then there are Eastern European countries?  Something new.

It would be fun to return to Mexico and Nicaragua — important trips in my life.  And there are other southern places I’ve considered — spent some time looking at Carribean islands — not sure which is right for us.  Costa Rica has a draw.

Then there is Africa and Asia.  When Diane and I went into the Peace Corps, we wanted  sub-Saharan Africa — safari country.  Maybe Kenya, Tanzania.  Instead we drew Libya and then the Gaddafi coup kept us from going.  I thought we would go in retirement.  Then there are so many possibilities in Asia — each offering a different  culture and experience — Japan, China, Vietnam, India (to name some obvious choices). Can I travel to places like this with my medical baggage.  I know the answer is yes.  But it makes it harder. I’m still a bit scared.


New England,  New York, and the Chesapeake has been and will continue to be a regular destination for us but there are many other places in the US that we’ve talked about.  A trip to the southwest — New Mexico, Arixonia.  The western national parks.  Our friends, Alonzos, have bought a travel trailer.  We’ve looked at one but . . . I have reservations.  We also thought that we should explore the South more.  We liked Charleston and Savannah and some aspects of Florida are inviting but that’s ben  it so far for our  experience.

Since we’re slowly getting back to traveling,  I must get that bucket list dream journal and prioritize where we would like to go (I mix “I” and “We” — most travel Diane and I plan and do together, although personal trips aren’t out of the question). I believe reading, dreaming, writing is part of making it happen.

I like to be engaged in some creative activity.  Thought maybe I’d do some carpentry in retirement, following in my father’s footsteps.  Although I have some of his tools (others mysteriously disappeared), I don’t think I will create much from wood.  As much as I admire someone like Dave Sears who began to seriously paint, that’s not me.  Certainly not music.


But as I decided in the 1970s,  photography could again be my art.   I helped organize a Yardley Photography club (meets monthly at the Continental) when I discovered some very talented local photographers sharing on Facebook.  Haven’t made a meet since surgery.  I’ve also had plans to buy new Nikon equipment rather that buy Canon lenses for the Rebel I use.  That hasn’t happened yet.  I have been re-reading-looking  at my 100 plus photography books (before selling them).  Trying to use the review to recapture my photographic vision (if I had one).  What do I want to photograph and why?  I have been shooting a bit more than family photos which is nearly all I did for quite a few years.

I need to organize.  We’ve been in this house over 35 years.  I am a collector (you name it) and a hoarder. The number of photographs I have is amazing.  There is a double closet full of yellow Kodak boxes containing trays of 80 or 140 slides.  Digitize or destroy.  I have Over ten feet feet of print albums — these have been recently organized.  Then on the computer I have thousands of images.  Unfortunately I am confused — folders in “Pictures” I-Photo Library, and now the new “Photos Library,”  I even bought Lightroom.  Trying to see the relationship between programs and how to organize.  Some of it is computer programs’s  ability to provide too much.

There are other collections.  I sold two boxes of proof coins but have kept the main coin collection.  What do I do with stamps, post cards, buttons, all kinds of teaching realia, hundreds of LPs — vinyl is making a come back, I know, sell, sell, sell, not to mention tapes and CDs.  I have hundreds of DVDs (teaching, particular the  film course) and several boxes of VHS (throw them out but I pulled out a Nearing tape last week and watched it; wouldn’t be easy to get it any other place).

Then there are books — thousands.  I’ve sold about 35 boxes to a Princeton bookstore (about $500).  Am getting ready to sell the photo books, then children’s books, and on with other collections.  But my plan with organization  (understandably too slow for Diane) is to review, maybe reread, rewatch, relisten, consider is it something for Eli or Viv. Then sell, give away, or trash.  We also need to have a garage-yard sale.  Lots of useless, unused stuff, in the basement, in storage, boxed and sometimes forgotten.


Finally there is home maintenance.  This ranges from cooking and baking, tending the garden, fixing or replacing things that are broken, repairing and painting in the house.  Some of this is fun — I really enjoy baking bread, making apple butter, grilling vegetables or fish.  Much of gardening, buying, planting, harvesting, even preserving excess is fun.  Prepping, mulching, watering, weeding is less fun.  It’s the same with home repairs.  Satisfying when accomplished if not fun, but it’s increasingly difficult. We’ve paid someone for exterior painting and may need to do the same for interior work.

All of this ramble is related to reviewing my life, where I’ve been, why I think, why I believe, who am I?   And then, where am  I going.    I know I want it to involve family and friends, travel, creative activity, organization and home maintenance.  Many more specifics need to be filled in.


My last thought is more difficult.  When I taught I felt I was doing something worthwhile.  How do I continue the worthwhile.  I thought about volunteering.  At several historic sites we’ve visited recently, I met retired teachers who were docents or guides.  Some were even paid.  I thought Independence Historic Park would be perfect for me.  I also thought about the Mercer Museum.  Then one day Jenny emailed me asking, was I going to do something socially significant, socially worthwhile, contributing to a better community, a better world.  There are so many ways.  There are medical issues, with Eli we’ve been drawn to childhood cancer.  And maybe annually supporting the Parkway and Lemon runs isn’t enough.


For years I volunteered on Yardley Borough Council and a variety of local community groups.  It’s all stopped years ago; should some start again?  There are so many opportunities to volunteer, what is right for me?  I’m not looking for fireworks.  Just “value” in how I spend some of my time.  This takes some thought and commitment; and I’m not too satisfied with not having acted on this.  It’s probably the most important thing on this to-do list.