It is with a deep sadness that I write about my childhood neighbor and longtime friend, Gilberte Najamy, who died on July 26, 2015.
Gilberte and I grew up on Putnam Drive in Danbury CT. She went by the nickname of “Bunny” and lived in the house next door to my family. Coincidentally, my sister, Sara, and Bunny were born on the same month/day/ year.
Putnam Drive was a housing authority tract of upstairs/downstairs duplexes built in the post-WWII era for low income families. It was a great street to live on as a child. There were many children to play with, woods behind our houses to explore, and it was close to Rogers Park, the largest city park in Danbury.
My earliest memory occurred during the summer I turned 4 years old...1954. The event was the birth of Gilberte’s sister, Sarah. When her mother and father came home with the newborn child, we all ran down to their driveway to get a peek at the baby wrapped up tight in a blanket.
Gilberte, Sara (my sister), and I were frequent playmates. We did so many things together, it’s impossible to isolate them all now. It’s one long fabric uniting a bunch of kids from the mid-50s through the 1960s. Along the way, Bert (as we began to call her) became the neighborhood “Tomboy”, an outdated name for a girl who liked to play sports, climb trees, build forts, and smack the hell out of you in a neighborhood snowball fight. She was always in the thick of it on the street and in the woods...and she gave as good as she got.
And then Bert and Sara became teenagers...and along came Beatlemania. They ate, drank and slept Beatlemania, each one fantasizing about which Beatle was their favorite. Sara loved George. I think Paul was Bert’s favorite. In 1964, we were among the first in line for the premiere of “A Hard Day’s Night” at the Palace Theater, and the next year our faces were splashed across the front page of the Danbury News-Times when we became the first customers for the initial showing of “Help.” That same year, we saw The Beatles at Shea Stadium...50 years ago this month. (I was going to email Bert in a couple of weeks to reminisce about that golden moment in our lives.) Then a year later, in 1966, we saw The Beatles at Shea again.
Bunny and I spent less time together when I started college at WestConn in 1968, even though we still lived on the same street. Oddly enough, we started hanging out together in the summer of 1971 after her first year of college, at the UCONN branch in Waterbury. We had dinner together, went to see some bands, and then we worked together.
Bert’s father, Fred, was a well-known caterer in Danbury. He also ran a restaurant, “Freddie’s Country Kitchen” every October at the Great Danbury State Fair. Bert worked for her Dad during the summers at clambakes and ran a breakfast tent, called “Bunny’s Ham and Egger” adjacent to her father’s place at the Fair. She asked me to work for her. During the summer and fall of 1972, I worked for Bert at summer parties and at the Fair (one of the greatest experiences of my life).
I began to view my longtime friend in a different light. She was dedicated and responsible when it came to working for her father. She took her job seriously. Very adult for her age. When it came time for us to get tickets to see the Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971, she decided not to attend because of a job Fred was catering that day. I went to the concert, but her loyalty towards the family business won out. However, we made up for it in 1972 when Bert, my future wife, Donna, and I saw John Lennon at the One-to-One concert at Madison Square Garden.
“Loyalty” is what I think of the most about Gilberte. For the better part of her adult life she demonstrated that loyalty towards a friend who completely disappeared off the face of the Earth. Bert became friends with Kathie Durst in the late 70s/early 80s when they both attended WestConn in Danbury. I’m sure that most of you reading this are familiar with the infamous Robert Durst, who many, including Bert, accused of murdering his wife Kathie, and two other people as well. Bert and Kathie were close friends, who confided in each other. In fact, Gilberte was the last friend to see Kathie before she joined Robert at their South Salem NY home in January 1982. No one ever saw her again. Kathie told Bert that if anything happened to her, it wouldn’t be an accident.
Years went by as Bert and other close friends of Kathie’s tried to get an official investigation of Durst and the role he played in his wife’s disappearance. Bert was undaunted in her quest to find the truth about what happened to her friend. I must admit that early on, during the mid-to-late 80s, I wondered if Bert was the victim of an overactive imagination. Every time I spoke to her on the phone, she told me that Kathie had been murdered by her husband and that the body must have been disposed where no one could ever find it. Had my old friend seen one too many mystery movies?
However, as the years went by, it became increasingly obvious to people in law enforcement, that an investigation was warranted. Finally, in 2000, Bert’s pursuit of justice for her friend paid off when Robert Durst became a person of interest in the Westchester County District Attorney’s office.
Bert and I had sporadic communications over the last 20 years of her life. We spoke on the phone every now and then, and caught up with each other at Christmas time with notes and letters in the cards we exchanged. She never really went full-force into email. We sent condolences when our parents died. We had several emails over the last ten years or so. Her messages were brief and my emails were verbose. However, the last one I received from her was on March 18th of this year, after Robert Durst’s verbal confession of “I killed them all” into a live microphone he forgot was still on. His statement made the news. I asked about her reaction to what Durst revealed. She was ecstatic, stating that she had been “waiting 33 years for this to finally happen.”
When I think of her now, and there are so many memories flooding my brain today...too many to recount here...I think of all the good times we had on Putnam Drive, her college days in that basement apartment of hers in Waterbury, and the week she and her sister, Sarah, spent in Arizona with us when Donna and I lived there during the mid-70s. A lot of laughs...a lot of fun.
I know it’s a cliché, but Gilberte was one of a kind.
Now there is a void in the hearts of all who knew and loved her.
My father-in-law, Arthur DiRienzo, died on January 25, 2015 at the age of 91. He was an extraordinary man. Growing up during the Great Depression, he learned to do many things. He was a carpenter, machinist, auto repair...you name it, and Art could do it. He was quite thrifty and didn’t let things go to waste. But, what he loved to do most was play the guitar. He started playing as a youth and continued his love affair with the guitar for the rest of his life. He played in bands and with others in and around the Boston area where he grew up. And later, when he married Janet, my mother-in-law, and they moved to Branford Connecticut, he taught dozens of kids (and some adults) how to play the guitar from the music room in his house. As I recall, the first song beginning students learned how to master was “Glow Worm."
During the 1960s and 1970s, he played in small local bands, often performing at weddings and other events. This is where I came into the picture. I’m sure most of you reading this can identify with meeting your significant other’s family for the first time. It can be a nerve wracking experiencing as they look you up and down. I met Donna in early 1972. It wasn’t long after we started going out at our college in Danbury CT that I was invited to dinner to meet the DiRienzo family. Donna’s older sister, Susan, had just been married to Steve, and I was about to have a big dinner with Donna’s family and the newlyweds. Was I nervous...you bet.
However, my nervousness subsided as I engaged in conversation with my future father-in-law. He found out from Donna that I was a big Rock fan and crazy about The Beatles. All of a sudden he started telling me that his band played songs by Lennon and McCartney. He mentioned names like Clapton, Page, and Hendrix without hesitation. I was shocked that this “old guy” (he was in his late 40s then) knew so much about the music I loved. Talk about feeling at ease with your girlfriend’s father. I didn’t realize it then but that conversation led to an over 40 year discussion about music with Art.
That’s my earliest memory of Dad. Over the decades to follow, Art and Jan were close to Donna and me, as they were with Sue’s and Lori’s families. As much as I loved my own parents, they both seemed like my parents as well. When our daughter, Amanda, arrived in 1986, both Mom and Dad were there to help. Art and I built things together, though admittedly he did most of the work. We painted my house together and when I had a used book store for awhile, Dad made all my shelves.
If you knew Art, he was a talker...always speaking a mile a minute. He had the kind of mind where he could talk about one subject and then make a leap in his mind to another, leaving you in the dust. His synapses were always clicking. After awhile one learned to listen because he would always go back to the original subject.
He had a high-pitched voice and never lost his Boston accent, even though he spent his last 20 years or so living in South Carolina. During the early 90s, Jan and Art owned a small trailer on Cayuga Lake, not far from where Donna and I live. They came up from South Carolina in late spring and returned down south in early September. One day, Dad started raving about a wonderful diner they went to for breakfast in the town of Locke. He said it was called “Bob’s”. Donna and I scratched our heads as we were quite familiar with all the various restaurants nearby, but had never heard of “Bob’s.” Finally, we decided to join them for breakfast on a Sunday. Art drove us there, still raving about how great “Bob’s” was. As we drove into the parking lot, Donna and I noticed the sign on the restaurant and smiled at each other. The name of the restaurant was “Barb’s”, but with his accent, Dad sounded like he was saying “Bob’s.”
Already in his late 60s, Art and Jan made a very successful transition in leaving their home in Connecticut and moving to South Carolina, near youngest daughter, Lori. Mom died in 2004. By the time Dad died, he had many friends from his church and other associations, and especially a woman friend he loved dearly named Sharon. We credit her with helping him to feel needed again after grieving for Jan.
I saw him get angry and discouraged only a few times (especially after Mom died), but he seldom complained and kept himself occupied with many different activities. He was the most industrious person I ever met. Always going forward. That’s how he lived to be 91 years old.
All of us...his daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren and great-grand children will miss him tremendously.
Copyright: Marc Catone, 2015
Click here to see photo of Art from 2009
Click here to see video of Art playing the guitar:
January 17, 2013
Kevin Javillonar died on January 17, 2013. We had been frequent email buddies since 2000, following a gap of many years in our friendship. I first met Kevin when we attended Main Street Junior High in our hometown of Danbury Connecticut...some 50 years ago. I didn’t know him well as we weren’t in the same classes together. He was the kid with a Filipino last name that no one quite knew how to pronounce.
In the fall of 1964, a couple of thousand Danbury students entered the newly constructed Danbury High School on Clapboard Ridge. It was during our freshman year that Kevin and I had the same courses together. Our homerooms were on the same floor. He was an energetic and bold teenager, became very popular with his classmates, and wrote a column in the school newspaper, “The Megaphone”.
In the mid-1960s, we were all enthusiastic about The Beatles and Rock music. Danbury and the surrounding area produced a lot of local bands. One of them was a group called the Nomads comprised of students from our class of 1968. Kevin was their drummer. Back in those days, the only boys who grew their hair long were members of Rock bands. It would be a year or so before the length of hair of the male audience would match those on stage. Kevin was one of the first kids I knew who grew his hair long, and given the attitude of the adults in charge of Danbury High School, he got into trouble because of it.
During our sophomore year, circa 1966, we were in our 7th period Geometry class when over the intercom came the stern command, “Send Kevin Javillonar to the principal’s office.” A hushed “uh-oh” fell over the class. Whispers among us guessed that Kevin was summoned because of his hair. It’s laughable today, but our school officials were upset because Kevin’s hair was long enough to fall over his ears and the collar of his shirt. He became a hero to us for that one hirsute incident. Kevin was our rebel with a cause.
After our high school days, I got to know Kevin better. Many Danbury High students went on to college in Danbury at Western Connecticut State College. Kevin and I were among them. During our first year at WestConn we were in many classes together, and spent a lot of time hanging out in the student union snack bar. Kevin had always been a jokester and I was often his unwitting victim, particularly during a weekly lecture in a large classroom with stadium-seating. Note taking for that course was next to impossible as Kevin, who sat to my right, deliberately nudged my writing hand and made most of notes unreadable. On another occasion, Kevin wouldn’t stop talking to me as I tried to listen to the instructor. The professor became angry and told me to be quiet. Meanwhile, Kevin innocently looked away and appeared to be busy writing. Ironically, Kevin went on to have an over 30 year career as a teacher, whereas I, the student trying to get everything right, did not.
After we graduated from college, during those heady days of being in our early-to-mid 20s with each year bringing new circumstances, different opportunities, and new people to meet, Kevin and I lost touch with one another. He remained in Danbury where he taught high school English, and also became a well-known tennis pro. I met Donna, got married, and moved back and forth across the continent within a three year period, settling in upstate New York. Kevin kept in touch with our DHS class of 1968, and became part of the reunion committee. I wasn’t interested, checking “will not attend” on the Reunion invitations whenever they arrived in the mail for the next twenty years.
In 1999, I got hooked up to the internet. A mutual friend gave me Kevin’s email address and urged me to contact him. Once I did, it was like picking up where we left off 25 years earlier. He was still the humorous, quick-witted guy from the past, and we hit it off right away. In 2000, Kevin convinced me to attend a group 50th birthday celebration that the Class of 1968 was holding in Ridgefield CT (just outside of Danbury). At first, I didn’t want to go. I hadn’t seen most of my high school classmates in almost 30 years. It was scary thinking about it. But Kevin wouldn’t take no for an answer. I went, and had one of the most wonderful times anywhere during my adult life, talking to people who meant so much to me when I was a teenager. They were all very accepting of me...no pretenses, no bragging, none of the stereotype confrontations one witnesses about reunions on TV shows and in the movies. They were still my classmates. We had all experienced the Sixties together, and that bond was still there. We were a bit older, but we were still young at heart. And I had Kevin to thank for rediscovering my past. Seeing him for the first time in decades was one of the highlights of that incredible night.
And so for the next dozen years, Kevin and I wrote many emails to each other, saw each other a few more times, and just last year began something new. Both of us are writers...Kevin was also a poet. We decided to exchange our writings to critique and enjoy. I’ve been working on a manuscript length remembrance of things past for a few years, and Kevin had started to write down some of his memories. He said he wanted his younger relatives to know about his life once he was gone. Although our childhood and teen backgrounds were different, we discovered that many of our memories about growing up in Danbury were similar, especially when it came to writing about what our fathers meant to us.
Kevin was a very thoughtful man...keen insight combined with the same prankish humor from his youth, but there was a sadness about him as well...a slight darkness to some of his writings. Kevin never married. There were some references over the course of our latter day friendship about women who had been in his life when he was in his 30s and 40s. From another friend, I learned that Kevin had been engaged to someone at one point in his life. I don’t know what happened, and although he didn’t say so directly, I think he had regrets about that. In his early 60s, and newly retired from an extensive teaching career, there was a part of him that was lonely.
I want to share with you, something he wrote. It was a rough copy, and he intended on changing and expanding it:
"Food is Love", by Kevin Javillonar
This is a true story about my Father entitled "Food is Love".
I was in my arrogant and self-centered twenties, a college student, and living in my own apartment. I was speaking one afternoon on the phone with my Dad. It had to be a Monday because that was his only day off. He asked me, and this was somewhat unusual because he was usually so taciturn and brief...
"Son, would you like to have supper with me?"
"Sure Dad," I answered, "What time?
"OK, Six O’clock”, he said.
"Great," I answered. "See you then," and hung up.
My Mom was off somewhere and of course, I didn't give her a second thought. In the meantime, some friends stopped by my apartment and suggested we go to a bar or two. I cheerfully accepted and spent the next several hours carousing and carrying on.
When I got back to my apartment it was close to nine o'clock and I was starving. Thoughtlessly, I figured I would go to my folks' house and dig up some leftovers. When I got there almost all of the lights were out except for a dim glimmer. This came from the rear of the house, which served as the nightlight for the kitchen. I walked in the door and saw the kitchen table. It was neatly set with two plates, knives, forks, spoons, and napkins. Pots and pans were on the stove with their covers set and undisturbed from their cooking. Slowly and softly I could hear footsteps come down the stairs. My Father came into the room and said, "Hello Son, would you like to eat now?"
"Yes Dad," I replied as he sat me down and served me the humblest and most loving meal I would ever eat in my life. We sat together and ate. We made small talk and I never forgot how much love was put into that cooking and especially the waiting.
He would not eat until his "Son" joined him. O God, how did I deserve such love? How did he know how to do that? “
When I saw Kevin for the first time in years at our class 50th birthday celebration in 2000, it got towards the end of the evening, and people were saying good-bye to one another. I couldn’t find him. The hall was emptying, and some folks were going to carry on at a bar somewhere in Danbury. I didn’t join them, and figured Kevin must have gone ahead.
At our 35th Reunion in 2003, I also couldn’t find Kevin at the end of the evening, but didn’t think much of it. There were so many conversations with so many people, and after all, I wasn’t the only person he wanted to visit. I must have just missed him when he left.
Then, we celebrated our 40th Reunion in 2008. Kevin was seated next to me the whole evening at the same dinner table. We gabbed all night...all the old stories, remembering the craziness of our high school days...both of us with a few drinks inside. About 11:15 or so, he took a very deep breath, got up from his seat, and without making eye contact or saying anything to me, he turned around and walked towards the door between the banquet room and the hallway. I turned around and watched him walk out of the room. I thought he was headed to the Men’s Room. But, by the time the party was over, Kevin had disappeared.
When I got back home, I emailed Kevin to tell him what a good time I had at the reunion. I asked him what happened because he never came back to the table. His words conveyed that it was difficult for him to explain, but he did tell me why. Kevin wrote that for the first few reunions in the 1980s and 1990s, he always stayed to the very end, but he hated saying good-bye to everyone. He always had such a great time, and was so happy to see his friends that he didn’t want the evening to end. So, after one particular class gathering he made a decision that from then on, whenever the evening had reached its height of happiness, fun and frivolity, and the end of the night was near, he would leave without telling anyone. He so much loved his classmates, and enjoyed the time he had with them, that it was too painful for him to say good-bye.
Now, he has left his classmates again, unannounced, as we remember the friendship and joy he gave us. With tears and sadness, we find ourselves having difficulty in saying good-bye.
He kept at true good humour's mark
The social flow of pleasure's tide:
He never made a brow look dark,
Nor caused a tear, but when he died.
~Thomas Love Peacock
Photo of Kevin and me in 2008:
Copyright: Marc Catone, 2013
July 6, 1927 - November 19, 2012
"The little girl with the big smile" (caption under Mom's picture in her 1944 high school yearbook)
My mother, Martha, died yesterday, November 19, 2012, at the Seaside Healthcare Center in Portland Maine. Mom resided there for the past two years. She broke her shoulder after a fall in her apartment in December 2010, and wasn’t able to take care of herself, or live independently after that.
Mom was 85 years old, and had many infirmities and illnesses which led to her death, but I'm happy to say that she went peacefully without pain. The last time I saw her was on November 11th, ironically my late father's birthday. The last time I spoke to her on the phone was November 17th. Our conversation ended, as they always did, with us telling each other, "I love you"
I’ve been trying to think of a way to convey how much my mother meant to me, but I realize the totality of that is impossible to portray. So, I just want to concentrate on one aspect for now...which comes from something I wrote about her originally for inclusion in a book manuscript I’ve been working on for a long time. I decided not to include this passage in the book, but find it most appropriate now:
“My mother was the most important influence during my childhood. In addition to her myriad duties and responsibilities towards her children, Mom taught me to be compassionate and understanding of others. She always told me to put myself in the other person's shoes when I didn't understand them or their motivations. To this day, I try to imagine how others might feel when they do something I wouldn't do. It all goes back to Mom's insistence that there must be a reason for each person's behavior.
Though Jewish by birth, my mother was never a very religious woman. However, she was a major proponent of the Christian Golden Rule. She didn't lecture, yet always managed to get her point across. An incident in the early 1960s comes to mind.
Every summer, the volunteer firemen of Danbury CT (where I grew up) held a carnival. It was a typical local event with cotton candy and amusement rides. The location of the carnival varied over the years from a parking lot behind the old Danbury High School on White Street to where a junior high school now stands in Rogers Park(less than a mile from where I lived on Putnam Drive). Although the carnival paled in comparison to the Great Danbury State Fair in October, my sister Sara and I begged our parents to take us there every year.
One summer, in the early 1960s, my mother and sister, some friends of mine, and I went to the firemen's carnival in Rogers Park. The big draw that year was a man shot out of a cannon. After the human projectile completed his stunt, my mother bought some ice cream, and told us to sit down while we ate it. As dusk began to turn into night, we sat on a nearby park bench, and enjoyed our snack.
Then, someone in our group started laughing and pointing in the direction opposite us. We all stared at a man about 100 feet away. He was extremely overweight, and walked very slowly towards us. All of us, except for my mother, started to make nasty comments about the man's obesity. I was a fairly hefty kid, but that didn't stop me from being the most vociferous of the bunch in my derision of this very large man.
Sitting alone on another park bench, several feet away from us, was a demure woman staring straight ahead. We were so involved in our ridicule that we gave her hardly any notice. Suddenly, the woman on the other bench bolted upright, ran to the man, took him by the arm, and walked away from us.
My mother looked at me sternly and said, "That man was probably her husband. She must have heard every word you said."
Mom didn't scold. She didn't lecture. She didn't need to. I was old enough to understand. And, I was old enough to feel terrible about what I had done. Many times during the past fifty years, I have played the scene of that moment over and over in my mind. I see us guffawing at the very fat man, comparing him to various large animals, speculating out loud about his weight, and wondering how much he ate, all in the crudest of terms. Then my mind’s eye focuses on the woman sitting near us. I notice her clutching a handkerchief. I see her sitting stoically all alone on the bench until she leaps up, and runs to her loved one, whisking him away from those children with the viper's tongue. He didn't hear us, but she did, and by doing so she bore the pain and humiliation for both of them.”
This is me, back again in November 2012. My mother was probably not unlike yours. We love them for everything they did for us throughout our lives. Sometimes, we roll our eyes when they still treat us like kids after our attainment of adulthood...but we still love them. After all, they are our mothers. They helped make us who we are today.
My mother was far from perfect, but she gave me the foundation for feeling empathy, and that’s how I remember her today, one day after leaving us.
Rest in peace, Mom, rest in peace.
Find obituary at:
Photo of Mom and me:
Copyright: Marc Catone 2012
February 20, 2012
Last week, I planned on writing something about a significant anniversary in Donna's and my life, but it has become bittersweet from an event which happened this past weekend.
40 years ago this month, I was in my senior year of college at Western Connecticut State. I was in the Young Democrats, and became the student coordinator for George McGovern's presidential campaign. In February 1972, I signed up students to work in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, held in early March. One of the students was a sophomore by the name of Donna DiRienzo, who along with her roommate, Diane Houle, and another "dormie" by the name of Vicki Swanson, braved the snows of New Hampshire on Senator McGovern's behalf.
Well, the rest is history...to be precise, my "history". Donna and I became a "couple" by the day of the primary, and got married in 1973. 40 years later, we are still together, and although George McGovern didn't become president (he might have had the true nature of Watergate been revealed before the 1972 election), Donna and I are still together. So, thank you, Senator McGovern. If it hadn't been for you, Donna and I would never have met.
Soon after meeting Donna, I got to know her friends as well. Over the last four decades, many of us, including four couples who met at WestConn, have stayed involved in each other's lives. In addition to Donna and me, they are Diane, Jim, Vicki, Gary, Joan, Mike, Shirley, Dharm, Betty and honorary members, Joe, Susie, and Gerry. However, there is now a glaring omission in that roster of friends.
Among the many people that came into my life when I met Donna was another Litchfield Hall dormie...Carol Iannacone, who I am happy to say also remained a close friend, through thick and thin, as life went on, jobs came and went, children entered the picture, and all the other patterns of life that evolved over the years. This past weekend, after many years of physical ailments, including the last four months spent in hospital and rehabilitation centers, our dear friend Carol died.
I can say, without reservation or equivocation, that Carol Iannacone Crimi was the most kind, considerate, generous, selfless person I have ever known. I'm not sure if those adjectives are enough to describe her. Despite her physical limitations, she was always there for family and friends, often using her skills at counseling, and in the field of geriatrics, to help us get through the bad times. And her advice was always spot on. She helped me with personal problems, and how and what to do for my aging parents. She was both friend and confidante. Her sense of humor was immense...I loved to make her laugh, which I tried to do each time we spoke on the phone, or saw each other in person. And what a unique and hearty laugh she had, often displayed with jokes and within her own self-deprecating humor. But she was tough, and didn't suffer fools gladly...or silently. If I got too big-headed, or did something stupid (which happens frequently), she let me know it. And she was always right when she did.
Finally, her decade’s long battle with diabetes, and more recent complications due to heart, kidney, spinal, leg, and mobility problems took their toll on her. Donna and I tried our best to encourage her to keep the good fight despite a body that continued to betray her. The combination of that pain and the grief of losing her husband, Fred Crimi (who died just 7 months ago), made her come to the conclusion that recovery was near to impossible. And despite me biting my tongue and telling her that she could still get better, she knew the truth. Last week, she did a very brave thing, one that I don't know if I could do myself...she decided that she had enough...and said "no more" to the 3-4 times a week dialysis treatments, and all the "one-step forward, two steps back" physical episodes she endured. After that, it was just a matter of time.
During my last conversation with her, this past Wednesday, February 15th, she was lucid, calm, and collected as she explained why she was taking steps which would eventually end her life. She knew exactly what she was doing, and was at peace and resolute in her decision. Those of us who loved her tried to get Carol to change her mind, but she was the one who lived in her body, not us, and knew what was best. She couldn't control what was happening to her body, but she was able to control her destiny. In her last words to me, she told me to cherish life, to enjoy the little things, to continue to use my writing skills and said other words which will remain private. By the next day, she was not able to respond well, but with eyes closed, she nodded "yes" and "no" for awhile. Late in the afternoon this past Friday, February 17th, she passed onto the next world leaving those of us who witnessed her death sad, but immeasurably better off for having known her.
A few years ago, Carol realized a life-long dream to swim with dolphins in the Atlantic...one of the most joyous moments of her life. I'd like to think that she is swimming with them now.
Carol, old friend, I know that they didn't write this with you in mind, but this well-known Beatles lyric describes you and your legacy:
"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make"
Carol grew up in Norwalk CT. Here is her obituary from the Norwalk Hour:
Carol smooches dolphin
Carol swims with dolphin
Campbell D. Catone
November 11, 1924 - July 4, 2009
My father, Campbell, was born on Veterans Day, or as it was called back then, "Armistice Day". He used to joke that his birthday was so important that there was no school that day. Ironically, he died on our nation's birthday, July 4th, 2009. The following are two writings I did in the immediate aftermath of Dad's death. The first one was to a newsgroup about obituaries, the second formed a thank you email to friends who had sent me cards and sympathies:
Written on July 4, 2009
"No, he's not anyone whoever got his name in the papers, or held a
government office, or invented something that we all use today, but it
is with deep sadness that I tell you that my father, Campbell D.
Catone, died this morning. He was 84 years old.
He left school at age 16 to help support his mother and sibling,
joined the Navy, but didn't tell them that he was deaf in one
ear...once discovered, he was promptly given a discharge(and maybe I
wouldn't be here today if he hadn't), he was a stonemason by trade,
just like his father and grandfather were, briefly owned a shoe store,
and in his mid-40s became a real estate broker.
Dad suffered a major stroke a little over a year ago, and was confined
to a nursing home, where my mother, his wife of 62 years, came to
visit him almost every day, right up until the end this morning.
They say that when one dies, their life flashes before their eyes,
well today, my father's life, as it relates to me, flashed before my
eyes, and I saw a montage of events with him...teaching me how to
throw and catch a baseball, plant a vegetable garden, tie a tie, paint
a house, make spaghetti sauce, and a myriad of other things we did
together when I was a boy.
I'm sure that many of you reading this have lost a parent, or possibly
both parents, so you know the gamut of emotions one feels at this
My mother said that this morning she told Dad that "Pop", his father,
and his grandfather, were waiting for him. Just a few minutes later,
he joined them."
Written on 9/6/09
It's been a strange last four months for me. Undoubtedly, I will never forget 2009 for many years to come. In early May, I came down with pneumonia which sidelined me for a few weeks, and caused me to cancel a trip to visit my parents in Maine. In late May, our 13 year old dog, Angel, had to be put-to-sleep. Then in mid-June, my father, bed-ridden for over a year in a nursing home (due to a massive stroke) began to get worse. In late June, I went to Portland, and on July 4th, my father died.
I've been quite remiss in thanking you for the many cards, flowers, plants, gifts, emails, and phone calls in the immediate aftermath of Dad's death. I want you to know that I appreciated your kind words, thoughts, and deeds very much. And also thank you for sending cards to my mother.
Obviously, I had not lost a parent up until now, and many of you had gone through the death of one, or both, parent(s). Your advice to me was warm and sincere, but I must admit that it was such a confusing time during those first couple of weeks, that I didn't truly understand what some of you told me...that the impact of a parent's death stays with you, and sometimes you don't realize it until you least expect it.
For the past couple of weeks, I've been staining my back deck. It hasn't been done in a few years, and was in need of waterproofing. I've been doing it a little bit at a time, usually when I get home from work...assuming that some other chore, or taking care of my baby grandson, doesn't take priority. I've got one of those decks with spindles holding up, and decorating, the railings. 95 spindles to be exact. The porch was built in 2003, and although I've stained the floorboards of the deck a couple of times, I had never done the spindles...after all, it's a lot of close, busy, time-consuming work. Earlier this year, before the illness and the deaths, I decided to do the entire deck, spindles and all.
You're probably wondering what all of this has to do with my father. Well, among the many occupational handles he wore during his life, my father was a painter. During the middle 1960s, he was part of the paint crew for the late Great Danbury State Fair. The Fair ran for ten days in October, and the crew took about 4-5 months to get ready for it, painting all the buildings, and exhibits. Then from the late 60s until the early 70s, Dad was an independent painting and wallpapering contractor. He and his partner, Ken Mitchell, had a small business called "A-1 Painting and Decorating". They worked mostly in the Danbury, Bethel, and Newtown area of Connecticut, where I grew up.
Dad was a very good interior and exterior house painter. He knew his stuff...what supplies to order, what kind of paint to use, what brushes were necessary and how much paint each job would need (one year he won the bid to paint the Bethel Town Hall). One summer in the late 60s, he noticed that his lazy, would-be-hippie son did not have a job, and decided that I should work with him.
My wife's (Donna's) late grandfather, upon hearing that I once painted houses with my father, remembered working on projects with his father, and said to me, "It's hell working for your father." And yes, at times it was...mostly because I didn't know what I was doing. My father was not a very patient man, and he reserved most of his impatience for me, in many areas of my life. However, he was different when we worked together on a job. It became a father/son bonding experience. He taught me the intricacies of painting...the scraping off of the old paint (I hated that), painting the primer, then painting the final coat. He also gave me the jobs that he didn't want to do...the hard to reach places, the side of the house that had more paint to be scraped off than any of the other sides, collecting shingles and painting them separately...well, I didn't think it was fair at the time, but heck, I was the rookie, so it was inevitable that I did the "dog-work". He didn't get too angry with me. However, I remember him yelling at me for messing up a gable end of a house as I watched a girl wearing a bikini sunbathe in the yard next door.
I haven't painted that much in my adult life...an occasional room, here and there...but every time I have, how to do it has always come naturally to me. Suddenly, as I was staining the deck last week, going through the logical sequence in my mind...always paint from top to bottom, never break that pattern, that way it will dry quicker and you can catch any drips that fall on the part to be painted next...it just hit me...that was Dad inside my head. He taught me that, decades ago, and I never forgot it. Here it was, six weeks or so after he died, and I sobbed harder than I did at any other time since.
Yes, you told me that it would hit me in waves, or a little bit at a time, and often in ways that didn't seem to fit what one would consider a "normal" pattern of grieving. You were so right.
Today, I finished those 95 spindles and posts, and hopefully in the next day or two, now that I've stained everything on top, I'll give a coat or two to the floorboards, which need it badly. I don't know if it was my mind's eye, or a twinkle of sunlight catching me just right, but I thought I saw my old man, circa 1969, in his paint overalls, checking out the deck, just as he disappeared around the corner of my house.
Copyright: Marc Catone, 2012
March 25, 2012
This is a very difficult piece of writing for me. Brian was only 25 years old when he died. He went missing during the last few days of January of this year, and was found dead this past Thursday in the Cayuga Lake inlet in Ithaca NY. He had been the subject of a missing persons investigation by the City of Ithaca Police Department as of January 30th. There were not many leads, and then he was found a few days ago. How he came to be dead in the waters of Cayuga, we may never know.
This remembrance is difficult for me because Brian was my daughter's boyfriend, and the father of my grandson.
I first met Brian a little over 5 years ago. He came from a very large family in Buffalo NY where my daughter, Amanda, was living and going to school at Canisius College. Both Amanda and Brian came to live in Ithaca during the Summer of 2007. Shortly after that, Amanda became pregnant. My grandson, Xavier, was born the following year.
To say that Brian and Amanda had a rocky relationship over the last few years is an understatement, but despite a few separations, they always had love and came back together. They both loved their son very much.
I don't want to dwell on the negative here, but suffice it to say that despite being a great friend to all who knew and loved him, Brian had demons in his young life. Some were not his fault, and others were his own doing.
My wife, Donna, and I tried to be examples and mentors for both Amanda and Brian. Especially when they lived with us, and even afterwards. Although, we weren't always happy with the choices they made, we always gave them our support. I don't think it is a stretch to say that we sometimes thought of Brian as a son, and we worried about his well being. But, he was a tough street kid from B-lo, and fended for himself as best he could.
One thing that Brian was involved in was Rap music. He made music in studios, and occasionally performed with others in clubs in Buffalo, as well as his adopted city of Ithaca. Donna and I, being old fart Sixties people, were not particularly fond of Rap, but I understood its importance to Brian and his friends, and often heard him practicing the words he had written...always very personal...and the music he made on his computer. On that level, I could identify with what he was doing, especially when he was expressing his grief over his grandmother's death in 2007. She helped to raise him as a child, and they were very close (listen to link below).
Brian had big dreams of being a major Rap artist. Life kind of got in the way...as it often does with many people who aspire to making music, writing, or art. Too many demands...too many distractions...too many temptations along the way. There is no blame anymore...just peace.
We are all grieving now. The word "sad" is an understatement of what we've been feeling the last few days. Brian leaves behind a mother, Brenda, several brothers and a sister, my daughter and grandson, and his daughter, Harmony, from a previous relationship. We all miss him, we all love him. It is so difficult to imagine that he isn't around. I keep thinking I'll hear him calling to me, "Hey Pops", the name he asked permission to call me when he first moved to Ithaca. I half-expect to see him sitting at our table enjoying my wife's cooking, watching TV, sneaking down to the basement for a smoke, and playing with the son he loved and adored.
Here are a couple of remembrances of him performing the music he loved, which were posted on YouTube by one of his friends from Buffalo. He was known as B-Dolo and B-Dolo 716. Some of the words are coarse to hear (especially for an old white dude like me), but if you can look past them to what he was talking about...it's all down to understanding.
Copyright: Marc Catone 2012
Sr. Lura Grace (February 21, 1949 - July 14, 2013)
I met Lura for the first time in 1996 when she was visiting her brother, and my good friend, Ed Stewart in Ithaca NY. At the time, I was the owner of a used book store that was doing quite badly. Lura was the successful owner of a book store called “Volumes” in Houlton Maine, the same town where she and brother Ed (known to her as “Ted”) grew up. I had made a decision to close my shop and explained the circumstances to Lura. She was quite understanding of my situation and showed great empathy.
In 1999 when I got the internet, Ed gave me Lura’s email address, and we began a series of lengthy emails to one another. We commiserated over being unsung writers, shared some of our writings together, and struck up a great online friendship. Lura wrote more in a literary vein than I did, but she enjoyed my writings as well. We also shared details, both quite personal as well as mundane, about our lives. One morning an email arrived from Lura in which she told me about a harrowing experience hitting a deer with her car. She asked me not to tell Ed about it...she didn’t want him to worry. At the time, she was working for L L Bean in Maine, taking orders over the phones. She often worked the late night shift, and it was on one of those nights that she had her encounter with the deer.
From 1999 to 2001, when my family visited my parents in Portland ME, we met up with Lura and had lunch. It was shortly after our last lunch with her in 2001 when Lura revealed to Ed and her friends that she had found her true calling...to be a Nun. We were all quite shocked at this. Lura had quite a few jobs and positions in her life. She was a bookstore owner, Chamber of Commerce director, banker, held many jobs of a clerical nature, and was involved in town government as well. She also followed many avenues and avocations, some of which were unsuccessful, but Lura was never afraid to try something new...she went wherever her intuition told her to go.
Many years ago, I read a book by Robert Jay Lifton entitled “The Protean Self: Human Resilience in an Age of Fragmentation”. Lifton wrote about the late 20th century trend of people changing what they do and who they are to challenge society’s changes, to fulfill their personal desires of experiencing many aspects of life, and to not be pigeon-holed into one category of being.
“We are becoming fluid and many-sided. Without quite realizing it, we have been evolving a sense of self appropriate to the restlessness and flux of our time. This mode of being differs radically from that of the past, and enables us to engage in continuous exploration and personal experiment. I have named it the 'protean self,' after Proteus, the Greek sea god of many forms."
I can think of no other person who fits that description more accurately than Lura Lane Hastings. I must admit that I had a certain amount of skepticism when she began her trips to the Community of St John Baptist in Mendham NJ. I wondered if she would be happy giving up all her possessions, taking a vow of poverty, and living such a radically different life than she had ever known. However, she jumped in with full spirit and commitment, and a few years over the age of 50, she became an Anglican Nun. Lura went on to become Assistant Mother Superior, and director of two homeless shelters in New Jersey and New York. She was very loyal to those she served, many times giving her all to assist them and become their advocates.
On New Year’s Day this year, she tripped over a telephone wire in her room, and fell down. Shortly after, she had extreme back pain. After a few months of medical visits, cancer was discovered. This news was met with much sadness by all who knew her. However, Lura was determined to live life to the fullest for as long as she could. Brother Ed and family visited her a few weeks ago, and found her to be in a state of relief. No longer wondering what was happening to her physically she felt a sense of release. Her sisters at the convent gave her palliative care at the Community of St John Baptist. No hospital...no tubes or wires sticking in and out of her body. She died peacefully this past Sunday, July 14th.
The last time I saw Lura was around 2010 when she made a visit to Ithaca. I have wonderful memories of her, including one that only she and I shared together. Back in those heady days of long emails in 1999 and 2000, Lura and I conjured up a character in our writings. I can’t remember if she thought it up first, but I’m pretty sure that I gave the character a name. It all began with wondering about creating alter egos for ourselves in our writings. We came up with an alter ego for Lura, and we called her “Meg”. Although Lura was fun-loving, enjoyed a good joke, liked to drink and smoke (before joining the convent), lived the hippie life for awhile (she went to Woodstock with Ed), Meg became the “bad girl” side of Lura. Meg was bawdy, lusty, liked a good time, enjoyed her liquor, but she was a good-hearted soul. Lura wrote a few paragraphs now and then about the “Meg” character. Throughout our correspondence, even when Lura became Sr. Lura Grace, we made references to Meg. Lura was quite busy with her work in the convent and in homeless shelters during the last few years of her life, and our emails were infrequent, but every now and then she would write me something to which I would ask if that was Lura or Meg speaking. And invariably, she would reply, “Yes, that’s our girl, Meg.”
There are many people who knew and loved Sr. Lura. I’m realizing that from all the Facebook posts I’ve read. She made a difference in so many peoples’ lives. I know she made a difference in mine.
Sr. Lura, may the afterlife be as great as you expected...and more.
copyright: Marc Catone, 2013
Click below for photo of Lura:
Click below for Lura's obituary