Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, A tale of a fateful trip, That started from this tropic port, Aboard this tiny ship.
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, A tale of a fateful trip, That started from this tropic port, Aboard this tiny ship.

(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

AT MOM’S the day was spent laughing our way through boxes of old photos. Sisters C and Ch were there. We had a nice time reminiscing. Emotions ranged from high to low as various pictures were pulled from the boxes. The highs were had when cute babies, comical toddlers and asinine teenagers were passed from hand to hand. The lows were drawn out by relatives that were no longer with us and “Xs” – ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-husbands, ex-wives. I soon began scanning pictures and throwing them onto web pages. I just had to share some of the fun with you all!

The pictures on this page were taken way back in the 1960s. We were at the shore in one of those little photo booths. The pictures contain Mom, Sister C, Cousin B and myself. Notice our sailor hats and Mom’s Phyliss-Diller-feathery-head-thing! I wonder how many chickens gave up their lives to make those things back in the 60s??

WE WENT to the Jersey Shore a lot when I was growing up. Often we went with Pop and Gram. They always had trailers. We would stay in a campground near the beach for what seemed like months as a kid, but was probably only a week or so. We went to Sea Isle City a lot. I think the name of the campground we used to go to was something like “Timberlane.” There was a little store there, a laundry mat, a game room. I remember buying giant Sweetarts there. The truck would fog for mosquitoes every evening. I distinctly remember hearing the Guess Who’s “American Woman” while Cousin P and I were in the game room. (Yes! Their original version of the song is WAAAAY better than Lenny Kravitz’s version!)

The mate was a mighty sailing man, The skipper brave and sure, Five passengers set sail that day,	For a three hour tour, a three hour tour.
The mate was a mighty sailing man, The skipper brave and sure, Five passengers set sail that day, For a three hour tour, a three hour tour.

One time someone in the family rented a house or something in Brigantine near Atlantic City. It was back in the 1970s when the movie “Jaws” was first in the theatres. I remember the Cousin P was considered old enough to see the movie, but I was not allowed to go. I was also scorched by the sun during our time there. I had such bad sunburn on my hips that it hurt to put my jeans on. I had to wear this pair that had soft denim. The worst part was that it was extremely hard to participate in the nightly toad catching activities with my cousin. I couldn’t bend all the way over! I felt like such a sissy! And my cousin was quick to label me as such!

The weather started getting rough,	The tiny ship was tossed, If not for the courage of the fearless crew, The minnow would be lost, the minnow would be lost.
The weather started getting rough, The tiny ship was tossed, If not for the courage of the fearless crew, The minnow would be lost, the minnow would be lost.

Here is a thing that was always a great mystery to me. My grandfather had this amazing ability to walk barefoot over the sand no matter how hot it was! He would walk right onto the beach without even hesitating or blinking an eye, leaving a column of hobbling grandchildren in his wake. I bet to see us would leave one wondering if it was our feet that were hurting or if our knees were weak the way we faltered and bobbed along.

The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle, With Gilligan, The Skipper too, The millionaire and his wife,	The movie star, The professor and Mary Ann, 	Here on Gilligans Isle.
The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle, With Gilligan, The Skipper too, The millionaire and his wife, The movie star, The professor and Mary Ann, Here on Gilligans Isle.

I HAD a major issue with insect bites when I was a kid, especially mosquitoes and bees. Each time that we went to the shore, it was almost a guarantee that various parts of my body would be swelling up by the second day. I can remember having swollen ears from mosquitoes. More than once my eye was swollen shut by those blood-sucking vultures! When I was 6 I had to wear a patch over my left eye. It was goofy! I had an “8 Ball” sticker right in the middle of it. Weird, huh? Well, at least it covered my puffy eye.

So this is the tale of the castways,	They're here for a long, long time, They'll have to make the best of things,	It's an uphill climb. The first mate and the Skipper too,	Will do their very best, To make the others comfortable, In the tropic island nest.
So this is the tale of the castways, They’re here for a long, long time, They’ll have to make the best of things, It’s an uphill climb. The first mate and the Skipper too, Will do their very best, To make the others comfortable, In the tropic island nest.

ONCE, on our way to the shore with Pop and Gram, Pop stopped at Sears and bought brand new bikes for Cousin P and I. They were the coolest! Purple banana seats. Wide slicks on the back. Cousin P’s had a nice high sissy bar on the back. Unfortunately mine peddled like it was in fifth gear all the time. If I didn’t get tall I probably would have had the biggest thighs going! We rode those bikes for hours at the campground that year.

No phone, no lights no motor cars, Not a single luxury, Like Robinson Crusoe, As primative as can be. So join us here each week my friends, You're sure to get a smile, From seven stranded castways, Here on Gilligan's Isle.
No phone, no lights no motor cars, Not a single luxury, Like Robinson Crusoe, As primative as can be. So join us here each week my friends, You’re sure to get a smile, From seven stranded castways, Here on Gilligan’s Isle.

MY FAMILY enjoyed many good times at the Jersey Shore. We would go to the boardwalk, buy souvenirs and salt water taffy. Many hours were spent playing cards and bingo for prizes in the trailer at night. Gram always made sure that she had lots of prizes for us. Even the ones who did not actually win still got a prize at the end. We had happy days, back when time was not something that concerned us as kids. Life was so much mystery and adventure to us then. We had not learned much sorrow yet.



(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

“WITH the winter sun on our backs, this concludes our service of remembrance.”

So said the aged funeral director once the priest had finished with the funeral rites. The director announced that everyone was invited to my cousin’s house for lunch. The crows called to one another somewhere behind us. The snow began to thaw. Traffic on the road continued to pass by. We stood frozen in that moment, reluctant to leave. No one spoke.

(Click the image of the prayer card to see a larger version.)

Slowly people began to move, approached the casket. Single carnations were placed along the top of Gram’s casket, first by her daughters, next by her great grandchildren. Soft words were spoken amongst us. Directions to Cousin A P’s house were announced. We made our way to our cars, each taking his turn to rejoin the flow of life at the cemetery exit. The quietness of the funeral slowly faded as the sounds and activities of life returned from all directions. Someone turned the radio on. A nephew was singing in the back seat. Bellies were rumbling. The fuel light came on in the car.

AT the viewing on Thursday, many tears were shed, many arms were extended with love and sorrow, and many missed relatives were embraced. Each face brought with it its own lifetime worth memories. Some of those faces even wore the resemblance of family members which had passed years before. Friends and acquaintances brought a reminder that our family is not isolated. There are others who love us as well.

It was moving to see the children through these days. They were so brave. They brought their tears and their love and approached Gram’s casket with courage. Grammy Durnin had loved them completely. That love seemed to yet radiate from her body and they drew near to her. There they saw their faces in pictures placed in the casket. They took their seats with questions in their minds. Who were the other children in those pictures? Who are all of these people seated here with weeping eyes? Who am I among these people? And so, because of the love of their great grandmother, they considered the issues that matter most. They pondered the foundations of life. They wrestled to grasp the significance of death. They probed the mysteries of faith, God, Jesus, resurrection, heaven. Thus, strength was invested into our family again.

BELIEVE IT or not, there was quite a bit of laughter in our midst this week. Some of this may be attributed to nervousness. Sometimes, when you are so afraid of the unknown, all you can do is laugh. However, I would say that the deeper reason for our laughter is that it is a natural part of our family. It is part of who we are. Many in the family have such a great sense of humor. When we do gather, the laughter cannot be prevented. There was a common thought too that Gram would want it this way. She loved to hear laughter. Even during her last hours, when she was too weak to say any of our names, she did manage to laugh when she heard laughter around her. I believe that our laughter during this week, even in the funeral home, was not disrespectful but honoring to her. It was cathartic to us as well.

I WAS allowed the honor of speaking in eulogy to my grandmother at the funeral service. Seven years ago I was asked to speak at my grandfather’s funeral. Yesterday my words were a continuation of what I had said then. My grandparents were unified in their love for their family. We were their greatest possessions. It was impossible to speak of Gram without speaking of Pop as well. They invested themselves in us. They were kind. They were generous. They were not striving to own a big house with nice furniture that you were not allowed to sit on, or expensive collectibles that you were afraid to even breath around less you knock one over. No, they lived and gave for us. They did not think of taking vacations alone. They insisted on dragging as many of us as possible along with them. Their earnings were spent on pool tables, mini bikes, snowmobiles, grills for picnics, tickets to amusement parks, mobile trailers to haul the grandchildren. I could have spoken for hours about these things at the funeral.

MANY of us went to Cousin A P’s house in the afternoon. A beautiful spread of food and drink awaited us when we arrived. The coffee was hot. The wine was soothing. The company of one another was refreshing.


Plans were made to have a family picnic in June. There was a common feeling that it has just been too long since we last gathered as a family. There needs to be some good times. Our children need to see us gather for joyous occasions not only the sad ones. Second and third cousins need to know who their relatives are. Those of us who are older need to restore lost relations, catch up on one another’s history. There is a need for healing. Like any family, ours is made up of humans. Humans fail. Humans sometimes hurt one another. Yet, we can learn to forgive. We can learn to make amends. Some relations in our family may never know complete healing, but perhaps those relations can be made better than they now are. For the sake of all involved, we can only hope so. Life is so short.

(This family photo is not of the best quality. Click HERE to see a larger version of it. Click HERE to see a second family picture.)

MY grandmother’s funeral activities are concluded. However, her influence upon our lives will never end. She lived for us. She spent her last days at home, her last hours with many of us near her. She died at home. This is what she wanted. We would have it no other way. Her warmth, kindness, humor, and generosity will be with us. Her investment in our lives is now complete. I hope that her values and qualities will live on in those of us that she left behind and in those of us who are yet to come. This will be an honor to my grandmother.



(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

“A PENNY for my thoughts?”

WELL, today it might cost you several pennies. My thoughts have been all over the place! I am still experiencing that emotional “floating” experience, sometimes drifting randomly like a feather on a summer afternoon, sometimes ricocheting between reality and denial like a steel ball glancing off of bumpers in a pinball machine.

I AM on bereavement leave from work until Monday. That adds to the randomness of my thoughts. At least at work I can concentrate on my projects and tame the wildness of my mind somewhat. I can be around friends who don’t share my grief and take shelter in the “life as usual” atmosphere. (Please don’t take me wrong. Some at work have been very consoling. Here I mean only that they don’t share my grief in the sense that they are not experiencing it first hand as I am.)

IN THE MIDST of the sadness caused by Gram’s death, there are also the demands of life that come with such unconcern. Laundry still needs to be done. I did this today. T needed me to go to the middle school and fight a battle for him. I did that yesterday. T, S and J argued as normal teenagers last night. The dishes (the most indifferent group of all) needed to be washed. I did half of them yesterday. S did the rest today.

But I have found that these seemingly uncaring chores carried hidden blessings with them. There is a certain sense of accomplishment when six dryers’ worth of clothing has been folded. Plus T went with me and we had fun hanging out together. Speaking my mind on T’s behalf to someone at the school felt great! There is nothing like putting a school secretary in her place first thing on a Tuesday morning! When I’m wearing a tie and walking with that certain “I-rule-the-world” kind of stride, you don’t want to be getting in my way! Dealing with these things helped to focus my thoughts for brief periods of time. So maybe they weren’t such heartless demands after all.

HERE IS a stray thought! While doing the laundry, I kept finding pine needles from the Christmas tree all through our clothes. It reminded me how certain annoying things in life just never seem to go away. They just keep poking you and irritating you. (If you read between the lines here you will probably see X.1 and X.2 as examples of what I am saying. But that is just between the lines. I didn’t really say it!)

The persistent pine needles musings then reminded me of a guy I used to work with at “The Dairy.” This particular guy was a good guy with a great sense of humor, but he was also a maniac when it came to personal safety. He was insane when it came to dirt bikes and the like! One time he crashed his 4-wheeler while blazing along the railroad tracks. He was so wrecked from that accident! He had countless stitches. The pine needles reminded me of him because, for months after he recovered from the accident, he was picking little pieces of black railroad gravel out of his scalp. It was like they steadily rose to the surface. I won’t try to find any moral in his gravelly scalp condition. I just thought I’d mention him.

IN A FEW hours we have to attend the family viewing for Gram. I don’t think that anyone in the family is looking forward to this. Making funeral arrangements yesterday was not a pleasant experience. We had to go down into the basement of the funeral home where the paneling has been hanging since the 1960s, all dark and morose, and the plumbing ran clinging along the ceiling painted brown. We looked at caskets. All the while the thought lurked in my mind that Gram was in this house somewhere. My mind insisted on thinking of her enjoying her coffee and laughing as I told her a joke. I certainly wish that that were what I will be viewing in a few hours.

I WILL BE a different man by the end of this day. Perhaps that is what my thoughts keep shying from. Maybe it is the fear of facing life without Gram in it that is causing such disorder in my thoughts. I am sure that that is one thing that I fear. How can I not? She is such a foundational aspect of who I am. Her warmth and her encouragement were always there. She gave the best back rubs in all the world! I remember sitting on the floor in front of the couch while she rubbed my back with her nails in a magical way. I cannot remember her ever raising her voice. I am sure she did. With a mischievous grandson like me, she must have raised her voice at least once! I just cannot hear it now. I don’t want to think of her as “gone” or “passed” or any other word for her present condition. I do not want to change and face the world without Gram. Just let me sit this one out. Call in a substitute and let me sit on the sidelines for a while.

If it were really possible to avoid the reality of Gram’s passing, what kind of grandson would I be if I followed that easy path? What kind of man would I be? What kind of human would I be?

It is time to get dressed to go.



(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

THIS ENTRY is a tribute to my grandmother who passed away yesterday morning. This is a poem that I wrote for her in February of 1988, nearly 13 full years ago. I gave it to her on lined notebook paper. She framed it just as it was.

These roses grew in front of my house last summer. I wish I could give one to my grandmother right now.


I wanted to bring you a rose, so red
Because I see beauty in you
I wanted to give you a daisy of joy
For you helped to make my life happy

I wanted to give you a violet, so bright
To reflect the light of your eyes
Or maybe a lily of delicate grace
Befitting a lady like you

I offer thankfulness and love
Which ever blossom within
My heart as never ending beds of color
And boquettes of deep appreciation.

In loving memory of Anna Durnin, June 4, 1912 – January 9, 2001



(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

THE MOON rose full this evening. Venus watched from the southwest. The sky was clear. The air was cold. It is January. But the world just isn’t quite the same now. My grandmother passed away this morning.

The undesired call came at 7:50 this morning. Sister C informed me that Gram had passed around 7:30. Her words entered my ears and were effective only in the sense that they gave a factual knowledge of the event to my brain. It was a sterile knowledge. It had no influence on my emotions. What did I feel? What did I experience? I was blank. I wasn’t shocked, nor was I numb. Floating was more like it. I spent the day floating, bouncing between the stark reality of Gram’s death on the one hand and the narcotic safety of the remembrance of her sweetness on the other hand. I tried to stay in the middle, equidistant from these two extremes.

CRYING did not happen today, except for a few brief moments when my eyes filled to the brims but did not spill over. At those points I tried to turn my attention back to the things that would produce average emotions: talking to friends at work, checking my email, hunting for coffee when it had run out in our area, checking my email again, nearly gorging myself on pizza and scungili at lunch, etc.

When people asked me about the details of Gram’s passing, I spoke of her sickness and her leaving as if I was talking about someone else’s grandmother. I think I even felt a certain type of sympathy as if I had truly convinced myself of this and was concerned for this poor one who had lost someone dear to him. It just wasn’t happening to me. If I were to tell you what I really believed, I would have told you that I knew that when I walked into Mom’s later, Gram would be sitting up in bed with her tray across her lap, lifting her coffee cup to her lips. Even as I type these words it feels like it is someone else’s story, not mine.

THOSE OF US who were able gathered at Mom’s yesterday to be near Gram and one another. Mom, Aunt M, Sister C and I were there for most of the day. Later we brought our children. A few of my cousins were able to be there. It was good to see Cousin A P and Cousin C, whom I hadn’t seen in quite a while.

Cousin P came and for me it was like he brought fresh strength with him. When someone said that he had arrived, I jumped to my feet. It felt so good to shake his hand and to see his face.

COUSIN P and I spent a lot of time together while we were growing up. We are only two years apart in age, he being the elder. Many of our childhood days were spent at Gram’s house. What summers we had! What adventures! There was the tree house so high up that I only had courage to climb all the way up to it but one time, and that only to poke my head in for a look and then right back down I went! There was the “Indian Trail.” I was convinced that Indians truly made it in times of old. One of our passions was stock car racing. We drove the “Dune Buggy” around the field for hours pretending that we were Whip Mulligan, Stan Polaski, Frankie Schneider or the “Double Zero” Buzzy Rudemin. We would ride our mini bikes until the palms of our hands were red and itched like mad from the vibrations. In the winter we had the snowmobile. We would put our sisters into the sleigh and cruise across the field at top speed while they held on for dear life. And who could count the number of hours we spent around the pool table?

One very common interest that Cousin P and I had as teenagers was the music and weirdness of Alice Cooper. I guess I can take the credit/blame (depending on how you look at it) for getting us into that. My very first album was Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” I let Cousin P hear it and he was hooked! The two of us were some of the biggest Cooper fans going back then!

Last night we started talking about Alice. I brought it up. Over the past few months I had such “hankerings” for Alice’s music that I was on Ebay searching for Alice Cooper CDs every day. I now have most of the early ones that we used to listen to as kids. As we talked about Alice, I realized that beneath the conversation there was something deeper being said. I can say that, on my part, I was saying, “Hey! I miss you! I remember you! I remember a time when we were closer and the hardships of life hadn’t yet cut so deeply.” Why couldn’t I just come out with those words? Why were they disguised in the image of Alice Cooper?

Our common musical interest is only a reminder of the fact that we share the same life. Greater than the influence of our music is the influence of those that loved us and cared for us, of whom Gram was one of the dearest. Quieter than the decibels of our rock-n-roll was the steady love of our grandmother. Calmer than our often-reckless adventures was the unfailing attention that she gave to us. As the two of us stood speechless at her side last night, Cousin P caressing Gram’s hand, I realized this in a significant way. With great clarity I understood that, despite whatever differences Cousin P and I may have had over the years, our lives are extensions of a common life, like two branches growing out of the same tree, and we are family.

IN TIMES of bereavement, I have always felt that my interaction with those who are still living was crucial. I often regret that I haven’t done more or spoken more at those times. Just as the tears refused to fall from my eyes today, so the words often hang in my throat in refuse to come out when I most need to speak. I just hope that somehow those around me sense my appreciation for them. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, I hope that my eyes will convey my heart when my lips refuse to carry my words. The passing of a loved one is an event that seems to strip us of much that is frivolous and shallow, revealing the deeper areas of our hearts. I just hope that I can take advantage of this during this time of grief for the benefit of my family. Perhaps I can boost someone’s spirits, or make someone feel a little less alone, spread some warmth and, perhaps, promote some healing. I know that this is how Gram would want me to act. This is how I will honor her.