Giving myself the gift of time

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Today, I celebrated another year of living on this precious and increasingly imperiled beautiful blue planet we all call home.

I happened to glance at the clock at 11:11—the moment I made my debut 58 years ago. I love it when that happens, and appreciate the fact that my arrival time was so incredibly symmetrical, numerically speaking. I’ve heard and read about the power of being associated with 11:11. The band Film School wrote a song with it in the title. I also once went to a numerologist who remarked positively upon the power of it. (I’m not sure what the significance really is, but am delighted that it’s part of my life’s story—along with the fact that I was only lefty in a home with seven right-handed siblings and two-right-handed parents.)

I eased into the morning, had a delicious and satisfying lunch of pho and always-fulfilling conversation with my sister—and then headed downtown for happy hour with a few former colleagues on the waterfront of Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. All in all, a low-key but highly satisfying day.

I’ve just arrived back home after a rather long and crowded bus ride, alone in my quiet little house on my modest little street near the town of Woodinville, Washington. My phone has been dinging with notices of Facebook greetings and a few voicemail
messages. I’ve chosen to remain unplugged for the moment, but look forward to reading the wishes from friends and family near and afar. (It’s a definite positive on the social media front.)

On this June 2, 2017 birthday evening, I’m reflecting on the past, pondering the future—and feeling incredibly grateful for this life I’ve lived and all the love that surrounds me.

My birthday gift to me this month is time. I’m not going to rush into the next contract or pursue a position that doesn’t spark joy.

I’m going to take a break, regroup, renew, recharge, recover, return to the gym, write—and forge a new path for the next chapter in “The Life of Marcy O’Hara.”

It’s a gift that will pay dividends for the rest of my life—and the fact that I’ve realized that is making me feel older and wiser even as we speak.

(Happy birthday to me!)

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Mary Anne O’Hara’s Last Song Request

Our mom, Mary Anne O’Hara, made her final exit on August 7, 2001. She was 74;  the mother of eight kids in 12 years. (Her best quote ever: “The ’60s are a blur and it’s not because of drugs. It’s because of kids.”)

I was smack-dab in the middle of the procreation. As the years unfolded, it became increasingly clear that the dynamic wasn’t working for either of us.

In time, I became a “troubled teen,” and my already tenuous and strained relationship with her continued its downward spiral.

I am now almost 58; the mother of just one daughter, now 24.

(I now can understand how overwhelmed she was, yet still empathize with that middle child starving for attention and lacking self-esteem.)

Shortly before my mother died, we had a pivotal moment. I asked her to share something that would be a sign; a signal that would instantly convey that she was there with me in spirit.

She thought about it for a few seconds, and then her beautiful blue eyes shined even more brightly.

“When you hear this song,” she said, that will be your sign.” It was “I’ll Be Seeing You.”

(Superb choice, Mom. ❤️ you, until we meet again.)

I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces all day through
In that small cafe, the park across the way
The children’s carousel, the chestnut trees, the wishing well

I’ll be seeing you in every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way
I’ll find you in the morning’ sun

And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you
I’ll find you in the morning sun

And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you

Written by Irving Kahal, Sammy Fain • Copyright © BMG Rights Management US, LLC

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Remembering Ellen, Three Years Later

 

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I’m now older by a year than my older sister will ever be.

It’s a reality I’d never considered much. “I’m fourth of eight, two older brothers, one older sister, three younger brothers, and one younger sister—all in twelve years.” That was always my standard refrain when asked about my siblings. I’d oftentimes add in a p.s., which invariably elicited a laugh. “I’m the quintessential bitter middle child.”

Here we are, three years to the day when Ellen Marguerite O’Hara took her last breath—and yet, it oftentimes still does not seem real.

I was chatting with my daughter the other day, and the subject of Ellen came up. Gabriella and Ellen had a close bond; Gabriella really trusted and respected her—and the plan for the future was most definitely not this one.

The plan was growing older—all of us—together. Attending future weddings of our many 20-something nieces and nephews. Meeting their future progeny. Making plans to reconnect with all the “West Coast O’Haras.”

Oh, and of course, spending precious time with the Washington state branch of the O’Hara family tree—the Montano men, we three sisters & the two other cousins, Gabriella and Lillie (who now goes by “Levi”).

In time, when the cousins were older, all of us drinking red, red wine in Ellen’s candlelit living room on Spokane’s South Hill on a relaxing Saturday night, savoring whatever was on the menu for the evening. Soup made from a beef stock that had simmered all afternoon, or spaghetti in a sauce that made your senses sing. Whatever Ellen made, it was always sensational. “I just followed the recipe,” she’d invariably say.

One of her last texts to me, before things went from bad to worse and kept on going, was on Valentine’s Day 2014. “Wicked is coming here in May. We should all go.”

It wasn’t meant to be. A different kind of wicked had taken hold; the cancer would soon take its toll.

Three years ago today, she died. Later this evening, Gabriella and I will raise our respective glasses of red wine and send a toast out into the universe in honor of Ellen Marguerite O’Hara. (Will you join us?)

red wine pouring

breeandlilwater

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A Rainy Monday with My Sick Millennial

img_3354Nothing so far today is going as planned, and yet I’m exactly where I need to be.

My 24-year-old daughter is sick; she suspects food poisoning–but it just as likely could be the flu.

I have the Presidents Day holiday off, thankfully, and was easing into the morning when I heard a gentle knock on my bedroom door. (It’s a new chapter in the life of “Bree’s Company.” I’m in the midst of getting my entire kitchen and bathroom floors redone after a dishwasher leak turned into black mold and rotted subfloors. I’m currently staying with Gabriella, Jeshua and his younger brother. “Marcy and the MIllennials,” we could also call it.)

I’m working towards leasing out my entire house soon; hopefully within a few months. Bree has gone back to school. She’s taking Chemistry and Biology plus working as a nursing assistant caring for dementia patients–with the goal of starting nursing school in the fall. So the plan is that I rent a room from them, greatly reduce expenses–and help them out. We also all agreed that we’ll be completely honest all around if the arrangement doesn’t work.

Which is why I was here this morning when that gentle knock came around 9:30 a.m. Gabriella opened the door, and I could see instantly that she wasn’t well; pale and weak-looking. Her glazed eyes and pained expression spoke volumes: “I’m sick, Mom. I think I got food poisoning.”  

A few days ago, I caught the nasty cold that everyone seems to have or has just gotten over. So, I’m somewhat of a wreck–but no matter. I’m able to be here–tending to her, bringing her liquids and Alka Seltzer, and checking in on her as she sleeps soundly.

(Mama’s here, Monkey–and there’s no where in the world she’d rather be.)

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Remembering Rudy

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Yesterday afternoon, I was chatting with a colleague about her high-maintenance pomeranian. (Who knew dogs could have Xanax prescriptions?)

As I was laughing about her stories—hand-feeding the pup one kibble at a time or watching the highly anxious small ball of fur suddenly binge eat when unexpected visitors were arriving—I had a sudden revelation. February 14th was a day to remember an important 4-legged friend of my own.

Rudolph Valentino DeFrancesco, the most handsome dalmatian ever born,  made his debut on February 14, 1991. Little did I know that six weeks later, he’d be mine.

At the time, I was working as a junior copywriter at an L.A. ad agency. The mother of a coworker a was a dalmatian breeder—and one afternoon she arrived with several irresistibly adorable puppies in tow. I scooped one up and held it close to my heart. “How much are they?” I asked. “Well, they’re from championship line,” she replied. “American Kennel Club. They have all their papers. Oh and their dad is an actor. He’s been in several pet food commercials. They’re $800 each.”

She might as well have said $800,000. The price was unfathomable to me at that juncture. “Well, if something falls through and you have an extra puppy, let me know” I replied.

A few weeks later, something did fall through. Two puppies needed homes, and I could have one if I was still interested.

I consulted with my husband, and we agreed that it was a go.  I headed over on a Saturday morning in early April for my “meet and greet”—and entered into a room with a sweet mama dalmatian and her two remaining boys. They were both about a foot long, getting some spots, but much of their fur remained white. Both were utterly adorable, but I was particularly drawn to one. He was more high-spirited and spunky. I scooped him up, brought him home and deposited him on the bed, where my husband was still snoozing.

Our new addition cried a bit for his mom and brother that first day, but soon made himself right at home. We named him Rudolph Valentino, and he quickly captured our hearts.

In December of 1992, another addition arrived—our daughter Gabriella. We were faced with comments from a few well-meaning family members. “You’re not keeping that dog, are you?!” my mother inquired. She simply could not fathom my decision. “Dalmations are not good with kids, you know” another stated.

I ignored all the naysayers. I knew better. And the day we arrived home with our new daughter in tow, the one-and-a-half-year-old Rudy was ready. He literally leaped with joy—springing halfway across the living room to greet us.

And for the next 12 and half years, he and she grew up together. We soon learned that he resented the fact that Gabriella received so many toys and stuffed animals. December was especially rough, with here birthday and Christmas both occurring in quick succession. He’d get ahold of her new toy—a stuffed Winnie the Pooh or fuzzy white bear—and chew the noses off of them. In time, Gabriella’s grandma would come to the rescue, rummaging through her button jar for the perfect nose replacement.

He was a master food pilferer, amazingly adept at snatching unattended delicacies off a dinner plate or a loaf of bread off the counter. I’d sometimes catch him while the crime was in progress, but he was so quick for a chubby 70-something-pounder. He’d scurry out his dog door in a flash, with me in hot pursuit cursing and yelling. One Christmas, he ate a whole pound of fudge that was beautifully wrapped and waiting under the tree. He was perfectly fine afterward, FYI. (I’d heard that dogs can die from eating chocolate; this most definitely did not apply to Rudy.)

He also”talked” all the time—and after Gabriella took up the violin in elementary school, started displaying a new talent. She was playing “Joy to the World” one winter evening and he started singing along in harmony. The tune apparently touched him to the bottom of his spotted soul.

Wherever we went, kids would excitedly approach and ask to pet him. “It’s a dalmatian!” they’d exclaim. Rudy was always wonderful with his fans. As he got older, he got a bit more crotchety—and not everyone was a fan. My younger sister couldn’t stand him, and the final straw occurred one holiday season.  Gabriella’s dad was picking her up, and inadvertently let go of Rudy’s leash. He barreled into my sister’s living room, lifted his leg and urinated all over her Christmas tree, beautifully wrapped presents and white rug. Thankfully, I wasn’t there to witness the moment—which we can chuckle about now…a little.

The day that he died on that summer afternoon was absolutely devasting for all of us. Twelve-and-a-half-year-old Gabriella was inconsolable, as were her dad and I. “Rudy was with me every day of my life, Mom.” I held her close and we cried together.  Later that evening, we wrapped him in one of her favorite towels, buried him and held a funeral in our backyard with her neighborhood friends.

I still miss him so, these 12 years later—and always will. I’m so grateful for the conversation I had yesterday with my colleague. I may otherwise have forgotten to remember.

Happy birthday, Rudolph Valentino DeFrancesco. I may forget your birthday down the road, but know this: you’ll be in my heart, always and forever.

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Happy 50th, Regan Marie Montano

I remember that moment distinctly—the first time I heard of your impending arrival.

We seven O’Hara siblings were playing after dinner out in front our ramshackle Southern California rambler on an early spring evening in 1966.

Mom and Dad were unwinding over evening drinks. “Kids,” we have some news!” Mom announced excitedly. She invited us to offer up guesses about what the news was.
“A new station wagon!” “A pony!” “Disneyland!” No, no, and no.

She paused, and then smiled and announced happily: “I’m having another baby!” Maybe some were glad. I couldn’t have been more underwhelmed.

Then you were born; a beautiful baby girl after three brothers in quick succession. And then you grew, and so did my love for you.

50 years later, I still count you among my most favorite people—and friends—on the planet, and am eternally grateful to have you in my life.

Happy 50th, Regan Marie Montano!

Remembering the “Big O,” always and forever

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Anticipation was building.

In the months leading up to it, you couldn’t escape it. Every time you’d turn on the TV, invariably a promo would run.

“The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults,” a live 2-hour special hosted by Geraldo Rivera, was scheduled to air on April 21, 1986.

Much of America was drawn in by the hype, including my father, Thomas Joseph O’Hara–”The Big O.” He had been born in 1921 in New York, a time when Al Capone dominated the news and ultimately became “Public Enemy No. 1.”

My father had turned 65 the year prior, and had retired from his job as corporate VP of contracts and pricing at Lockheed. He’d absolutely loved his work, and didn’t want to retire. But those were the rules.

Sometime in the early spring of that year, “The Big O” was admitted to the hospital. He had polyps on his colon; “like Reagan,” he quipped. I was 26 that year.

I remember visiting him one evening after work. It was terrifying, seeing him lying there in the hospital bed with the IVs, tubes and monitors, looking so old and frail.

One of my brothers happened to also be visiting, and they were bantering back and forth. “Dad, he said, be sure to leave me all your Lockheed stock when you die.” They both laughed.

The “Big O”glanced over at me, saw me blinking back tears, and knew what I needed to hear. “Lefty,” he said softly, I’m not gonna die.”

He was released from the hospital a few days later. I visited him that Sunday afternoon, April 20th.

I’d brought him a loaf of sourdough bread from a little shop near my duplex in Silverlake, where I was, as my dad would say, “shacking up” with my boyfriend. The “Big O” absolutely loved bread, and I delighted in bringing him freshly baked loaves when I’d visit.

He was relaxing in one of his favorite spots, a scuffed-up ’50s-era Ethan Allen chair at the big wooden table he’d had made years prior in the “eating room” (the O’Hara term for the dining room). A Raleigh cigarette was smoldering in the amber-colored ashtray. His silver Zippo lighter was nearby, along with a glistening tumbler of scotch, on the rocks. As usual, something delicious was simmering in the oven.  The”Big O” loved to cook big roasts with 50 (or so) potatoes, and have them simmer for hours in the oven. You could count on that every weekend afternoon.

His eyes lit up when I walked in, and we both beamed. He looked healthier, relaxed and happy. “It’s great to be home,” he said.  “Didya’ eat? How ‘bout some roasted chicken and potatoes?”

He served me up a plate, along with some of the bread I’d brought. He, too, had a hunk of the bread, along with several slices of cold, hard butter. It was the only way to eat bread in his book.

We chitchatted for a while, and then I needed to go. My boyfriend was playing music nearby, I needed a ride. As I was saying my goodbyes, he winced a bit. “My back,” he said. It’s been hurting since I got out of the hospital. (If it had only been his back.)

The next evening, Monday, April 21st, he, like much of America, tuned in to watch “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults” on live television. After several hours, all that had been unearthed were a few dusty old bottles.

“Big O” had seen enough. “This is bullshit. I’m going to bed,” he muttered, then made his way through the eating room, down the hall, into his room–and out of this world.

Thirty  years after that massive heart attack took him from us all, he’s still in my thoughts pretty much every day–and will continue to be, until it’s my time to go, too.