May 21, 2017

Dear Mr. Disney, I Thought You'd Like To Know

Dear Mr. Disney,

I thought I'd write you a letter on the off chance you did not die in 1966, but really were cryogenically frozen as the rumors said.  It might be nice for you to wake up to a little fan mail to offset the shock of the bill for the freezing.

I hope you are not disturbed by all the changes in the world.  Some things did not turn out quite as you had anticipated in your big, bright, beautiful tomorrow exhibit.  Probably, you'll be delighted by today's telephones.  Not only can you make and receive phone calls, you can take pictures, tell the time, send electronic letters, listen to music, look up any information (like having a set of encyclopedias in your pocket - but not as heavy), and watch many of your own movies - anywhere!!!  They have also become useful in streamlining a trip to the happiest place on earth, your beloved Disneyland!
We owe this all to you, Mr. Disney!  

And that's what I wanted to write to you about.  Things have changed there.  It's still marvelous, of course.  But there are some changes I think you should know about.

It's not just Mickey and the gang any more.  I'm not sure who's behind the changes, but they keep buying into other genres and characters that are not what you typically think of under the Disney banner.  Star Wars and Indiana Jones, for instance.  Good in and of themselves (you should watch those as soon as you get your phone), but it is rather jarring on me to reconcile these vastly different worlds as I navigate my way through your Southern California theme park.

And, for the record, the Indiana Jones ride leaves a lot to be desired.  I loved the original movie, but the second - universally proclaimed to be the lamest of them - features largely in the even-jerkier-than-Mr.-Toad's-Wild-Ride ride.  In our recent visit, my 9-year-old was traumatized by it, leaving me questioning who amongst Disneyland's decision-makers is suffering from an inability to distinguish  "Happiest place on earth" from "Scariest place on earth."  Even I found it to be over the top in grossness for Disneyland (rats, snakes, spiders).  The best moment of the ride was hoping the rope might break as the car passed under a figure of Indiana Jones, suspended above.  That pleasure is probably limited to the adult female guest population, however.

I'd like to also draw your attention to Toon Town.  They shoved that in at the top of the map, and it is a handy place to find Mickey and Minnie to get pictures taken with them.  It's kind of cute, kind of weird - as cartoons can be.  But, most of us are not going to give a full explanation of how it came to be a feature of Disneyland to our young'ns.  I'll just direct you to the film, Roger Rabbit.  Maybe it would be best if you just watch it yourself and see if your own eyes don't spring out of your head, while you shout "Va Va Va VOOOM!!" at the appearance of Jessica Rabbit.  I am not at all surprised they chose not to let her character walk around the park signing autographs.  You'd have to have a special license for that, probably.

Mickey hugging my tiny friend.  He hasn't aged a bit, has he?

Most of the good old attractions are still there, though they are removing Bear Country and replacing it with, I forget what.  That can't be helped, I suppose.  People these days don't know who the bears are any more.  And, animated figures have come so far these days.  You're going to love what they can do!

A day in your amusement park is still a load of fun.  And I love that at Disneyland, in California, one can enjoy it in a day.  Many people go for several days in a row - or even buy an annual pass!  That is surely a good deal for those who are close enough to go often, because you will not believe what they charge to get in now!  When I was a kid, you still had the ticket books.  You'll be tickled to know that people often use the phrase, "E ticket attraction" to refer to something highly desirable!  It was sometime in the '80s that they moved to a single ticket that gets you into all the rides.  You're probably smacking your forehead now, saying, "Why didn't I think of that?"

My daughter and I are smiling upon admission to Disneyland despite no longer having any  money.

While I was there, I thought of a great new attraction you might wish to add.  Considering your advanced age of 115, you might feel the fatigue some of us do halfway through a day at the park.  Sure, you've had a half century to rest, but still, you might get tired there; it's a big place, as you know.  Especially if you're in the company of children you are responsible for.  It would work well in Frontier Land.  I call it "Siesta Village."  Picture a Mission style courtyard, surrounded by arched, cloistered porches on all sides - deeply shaded, vibrant with hanging, flowering plants.  It is furnished with rocking chairs, hammocks, bench swings and chaise lounges.  Envision a fountain bubbling in the center of the peaceful courtyard.  There should be restrooms, cold drink service - even, perhaps, masseurs on hand.  Of course, these will be called Mouseseurs and wear big, white gloves.  What do you think?  Isn't it brilliant???  Parents will flock there after lunch!

Overall, Disneyland has still got it.  It is amazing how clean it stays and how good the service is.  And the technology they have developed!  This is no  Mickey Mouse operation!  Oh, wait.  Nevermind.  Scratch that.  Mickey and the gang are still going strong and they'll be delighted to see you!  I'm sure they've wished upon a star more than once and your return will be a dream come true.

It still delights!

Thank you for so many great memories, Mr. Disney.  Now, go enjoy that happy small world you created!

Warmest regards,

May 18, 2017

Saint Philip Neri: Heart Specialist

Saint Philip Neri is one of my good friends.  I never knew him during his life on earth, of course, as he lived during the sixteenth century.  But, as with many saints, after learning more about him and his exemplary love for God, I have come to regard him as a great model for the Christian life and have sought his prayers in times of need.  He must consider me a friend, too, since he has come to my aid on several occasions.

He is known as a patron of Rome, of cheerfulness and humor.  But for me, he is my go-to guy for heart conditions.  I’m not sure who assigns canonized saints their areas of specialty.  It probably grows from popular devotion based on some aspect of their lives in many cases.  For example, we ask the assistance of St. Anthony of Padua when we want to find something (a parking space or lost keys).  This sprang from Anthony’s reputation during his life for bringing lost souls back to Christ.  Close enough, right?

 St. Philip was known as a cheerful and good little chap in his youth.  He remained a joyful extrovert through his life.  He is often thought of as a joker, perhaps because of this story.  As a priest, he once famously attended a party with his beard shaved on only one side of his face!  This is often construed by today’s devotees as jocular.  At the time, however, it was an act and reminder of humility.  The party’s hostess invited him out of pride, as Fr. Philip was a very popular figure during this part of his life and she wanted to be part of the "in group."  What appears to us as a humorous antic, was done to take down her (and prevent his own) vanity.  She was, in fact, humiliated by this display of madness.

But, more central to the person of St. Philip Neri was his great love for Our Lord.  From an early age he sought to please God.  He gave himself thoroughly to doing only God’s will.  Perhaps the most significant event of his life was when he went, as usual, to the catacomb of St. Sebastian, just outside Rome’s walls, to pray for the Holy Spirit to fill him with Love that he might love Christ more perfectly.  This prayer was answered in an unusual and visible way that left physical [evidence].  A globe of fire appeared before him, moved closer and, when Philip opened his lips to pray again, entered his body through his mouth.  He knew this to be the Holy Spirit and was filled with a burning love – and heat!  He felt enflamed and threw himself to the ground!  Philip pleaded that it stop - it was more than he could bear or his heart would burst – with love.  When the episode ended, Philip was left with a protruding, but painless, lump over his heart the size of his fist.  He was also left with the burning love for God that he had asked for.  

For the rest of his life, he increasingly experienced such intensity of love for Our Lord that he was swept up into ecstasies.  For instance, while saying Mass, when he thought of Our Lord’s Passion, it was so common for Fr. Philip to levitate that he had to distract himself.  He was known to bring a duck to the altar so he could stroke it to keep him, literally, grounded!  Eventually, he had to give up celebrating Mass publicly because it just took too long.  When he said Mass in his private chapel, even the altar boys had to leave, returning hours later, when St. Philip came back to his earthly senses.  

St. Philip Neri levitating during Mass

Upon his death, the examining doctors discovered that his heart had not only increased in love that day in the catacombs, but it doubled in size, pressing two of his ribs past the breaking point!  Thus the lump.  And thus my dependence on him as a heart specialist!

When my son was born, we learned that he had an Atrial Septal Defect - a hole in his heart.  While not uncommon or immediately life threatening, he would very likely need to have it corrected when he was a toddler, as it looked like it was big enough that it would not correct itself.  A series of appointments with a cardiologist followed.  But, since I did not relish the prospect of open-heart surgery on my tiny boy, I consulted my own heart specialist, St. Philip, and a novena to him also followed.

I was serious in my supplication.  We prayed a novena each month for nine months (a novena2 !), meditating on St. Philip's characteristic virtues and asking his intercession with Our Lord.  It just happened that beginning that month (September), starting on the 18th each month, our novena would end on the St. Philip's feast day, May 26.  Perfect!  It also just happened that when we were assigned the date of our next cardiologist appointment during the novena, it would be May 27.

At that appointment, the cardiologist carried on with the assumption that, as per his original diagnosis, we would keep monitoring another year and heart surgery would follow.  So, we asked for the echocardiogram he had mentioned a few appointments earlier, to see an actual image of his heart.  To his great astonishment, the hole was closed!  We told him we had prayed a novena, to which his gracious response was, "Well, we'll take all the help we can get."  Our son was discharged as a patient.  After he left, my husband noted to me that they didn't actually do anything but monitor it.  St. Philip accomplished everything.

On another occasion, St. Philip came to our immediate aid when called in on a heart emergency.  My husband disturbed a hornets' nest in the ground while doing yard work.  Twenty minutes later, we discovered he is quite allergic to them!  As his symptoms worsened in the car ride to the emergency room, I decided to call for an ambulance to meet us half way.  I didn't know if he would last the fifteen minute drive.  He felt sure he would die, as his heart raced to the point of pain.  Just before the emergency crew met us in a parking lot, I prayed for my husband, laying my hand on his heart, and asking St. Philip's intercession.  In less than a minute, his heart stopped racing, color returned to his face and the ambulance then arrived.  Whew!

It was a real treat for us to visit St. Philip’s church during a trip to Rome.  It happened that it was his feast day!  We made arrangements for a Mass to be said there in thanksgiving for God’s help through St. Philip’s intercession.

St. Philip's relics in the Chiesa Nuova in Rome

 If you need a heart specialist – or a second opinion on a heart condition – I recommend getting to know St. Philip Neri.  If your heart is lacking in the love of God, talk to St. Philip.  He knows the source of love!  I know you’ll love him.  He already loves you!

Further reading about St. Philip Neri, I recommend these two books, which you can get through my Amazon Affiliate link here and here!  They say I'm supposed to tell you there may be some monetary compensation to me, but that has yet to be realized!!

May 4, 2017

Not Just Any Tom, Dick, And Harry

It is the end of an era for the Brown Family of 1234 Cherry Street.

They represent the middle.  The middle of the country.  The middle of the century.  The middle class.  The generic American family.  The common man.  A common name.  The family from the Dick and Jane books.  Every Tom, Dick and Harry.

But the family of which I speak, the Brown Family of 1234 Cherry Street, is a real-life family.  They are my family.  They lived in Springfield, Missouri.  They are the family my own dad grew up in.  A happy American family.  And they were not just any Tom, Dick and Harry, they were my Tom, Dick and Harry.

Actually they were Tom Brown, Dick Brown, Anna Brown and Harry Brown!  It's a great story: Harry was the eldest, named after his father.  Then came Anna and Dick (named after family members).  When another child was expected, unexpectedly, a few years later, it was obvious that, whether it was a girl or boy, that baby was going to have to be named Tom!  And he was.

Sadness and nostalgia surround these happy memories now as Tom is the last of this Brown family still living.  The eldest of these "kids," Harry, passed away only a few weeks ago on Easter day.  My dad (Dick) passed away less than a year ago and their sister, Anna, died in 2014.  I can't help thinking about how lonely this must be for Uncle Tom.  But, it is a loss for us all.

They became a family in 1930, when life was in black and white.  At least that's what all the pictures show.  Everything seems a lot simpler in black and white and it fit this family very well.  They represent a time of wholesome innocence and optimism in mid-America.

The Browns: Anna, Harry Sr., Tom, Mary Margaret, Dick, Harry Jr.

When this photograph was taken in 1953, America had pulled together through World War II and thought well of itself.  Elvis Presley's voice would hit the radio waves a year later.  The Browns were vacationing in Florida, a trip made by car before interstates made it simple.  Harry was on leave from the Navy.

In my dad's whole life, I never heard him speak with anything but fondness about his family.  He often mentioned that he had never once heard his parents argue.  They were happy people.  These are the faces of Americans who made America what it is today - not by themselves, of course.

The character of a place and time is not merely a thing that has been drawn out of it by the occupants, but a thing that has also been put there by those who have resided there.  Not only does our time make us who we are, but we make it what it is.  This dynamism makes up a family and a family line.  Each member who comes along into the family, carves the family resemblance into its future progeny.

It is a strange thing that, though I was not there with them, I love, as my own, the times that they lived.  We can all love the Browns as the everyman family they represent.  When you read, "See Spot run!" you can tell that cynical voice in your head telling you, "Nobody was really like that family." that, "Yes, somebody was really like that family!"  If you can't find them in your own family tree, you can borrow mine.  The Browns - Tom, Dick, Anna, Harry - of 1234 Cherry Street are that family.

As Mark Twain (a Missourian himself) said, "I have come by family  memories that ought to be my memories.  Well, they are now."

And maybe it isn't so strange after all that I want to those happy memories to be mine.  Twain also observed that, "As soon as a man recognizes that he has drifted into age, he gets reminiscent. He wants to talk and talk; and not about the present or the future, but about his old times. For there is where the pathos of his life lies -- and the charm of it. The pathos of it is there because it was opulent with treasures that are gone, and the charm of it is in casting them up from the musty ledgers and remembering how rich and gracious they were."*

How rich and gracious they were!

- "Frank Fuller and My First New York Lecture," first published in 2009 in Who Is Mark Twain?

May 3, 2017

You Won't Get Far Talking Like That, Kid!

My husband is teaching my daughter to play chess.  She's learning really well, but she keeps refering to the game as checkers and calling the pawns "prawns."

(This story has been cleared and approved by the child in question.)

May 1, 2017

How to Safely Navigate the Mother's Day Landmines

In recent years, the Internet environment has turned something as wholesome and seemingly benign as the public observance of Mother’s Day into a social landmine!  Some people feel left out of the celebration because they desire to have children, but have not been thus blessed.  Others may have children, but have not been appreciated to the extent of all those who have posted all over social media the Mother’s Day swag they scored and are saddened at this display.  There are those who admonish everyone else for the insensitivity of mentioning the actual mothering of children as a prerequisite for being honored on the day.  And, God help pastors if they hand out – or don’t hand out – flowers at church!

It makes one’s head reel!

While this seems all wrong, you may be surprised to learn that the celebration of Mother’s Day in America has been fraught with problems since before its inception!

Mother's Day Proclamation
When it was proclaimed an official U.S. holiday by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914, it had already been tried, but failed to catch on, in various permutations, connected with anti-war efforts, caring for the ailing on both sides in the Civil War, and in connection to the temperance movement.*

The presidential proclamation actually only requires that government buildings display the U.S. flag and encourages us all to do so at our homes “on the second Sunday in May as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”  So, really, moms, if you’re expecting more than a flag hoisted in your honor, you may be setting your sites a bit high.  

The person credited with making this thing finally go big is Anna Jarvis.  Even she gave no credit to the previous attempts to put on the books a day to recognize mothers – outside of her own mother’s work.  Her mother was one of those activists who had promoted associations of mothers in anti-war efforts during the Civil War.  But it was Jarvis whose long efforts and tenacity firmly established the practice in West Virginia, Philadelphia and New York.  The idea took hold in all the states and then she focused on the federal government for official recognition.  She succeeded in getting it to be a national holiday.

She favored the wearing of a white carnation by all Americans in honor of the day, or mothers, or her mother – but white carnations.  Because that was her mother’s favorite.

Well, American florists had a ball with this!  But it also put terrible pressure on them to provide the flowers.  The landmines began to detonate almost immediately.  Florists promoted the wearing of red carnations if your mother was living and white if deceased.  And for those who wanted to thank their mothers, but couldn’t get up the energy to actually write a letter to good old mom, as Jarvis suggested, the greeting card industry was there to help!  

Jarvis was so distraught at the commercialization of the holiday that she spent the rest of her life lobbying to rescind Mother’s Day.  Well, the rest of her life until she was committed to a sanitarium, which was paid for by the floral and greeting card industries.  Decent of them.

What I do admire about Anna Jarvis is that it was her own mother she wanted to honor.  She herself never even had children!

1915 postcard from Northern Pacific Railway
How then are we to celebrate Mother’s Day?  It seems like anything goes, really.  Fly a flag, wear a flower, go to church, take her out to eat!  And keep in mind, for when it happens to you, that protesting how someone else celebrates is standard operating procedure!

So, this is what I think about celebrating Mother's Day.  (Duck and cover, right?)

Protesting other people enjoying Mother’s Day because it rubs it in that you’re not a mother is a bit, well, self-centered.  While saying this, I’d like to add that I truly do understand the longing to have children and enduring unwelcome years of the lonely single state.  I have experienced the inability to bring desired babies into this world.  And have suffered the loss of pregnancy and the feelings of failure and desperation that accompany it.  Now that I've got them, I'm not convinced I'm very good at it, either.

Showing off how appreciated you are by your awesome family for being such an awesome mom - or protesting that other moms thus show off is a bit, well, self-centered.

 I’ll go further than that.  Focusing on being a mother on Mother’s Day is also a bit self-centered.  It’s not really about us.  It’s about them: our mothers – and we all have one.  If we’re alive, we have a mother.

I recall my very first mother's day, when it occurred to me that it was now my day, too!  But, mostly, as I sat holding my two-month-old firstborn, I was overwhelmed by gratitude for my own mother and all that she had done for me!  More than ever before I appreciated her!  And that is what I ought to do on Mother’s Day: appreciate my own mother!

Me with my Mommy!  I still feel this way about her!

I think with embarrassment about those times I was caught up thinking of how my family ought to honor me on Mother’s Day, all the while forgetting to show the appreciation and honor I do actually feel for my own wonderful mother!  Mea culpa!

By all means, receive the appreciation lavished – or dribbled – on you by your own children (or spouse), but let them worry about that.  Focus your energy and preparation on your own mother!  Write her an actual note of thanks and love – or buy her a card if you prefer (I won't call you lazy like Anna Jarvis did!).  Your words of thanks, love an appreciation may mean more than any other gift you can give her.

Whether you are blessed to have her still living or she has passed on, do pray for your mother.  If she was a rotten mother, she may need it more than you know.  You can have a Mass said for her; she will appreciate that into eternity.  That is my favorite gift to give – and to receive!

I like to request Masses through the Capuchin Mission Office (  You can easily make your request at their website (at any time of day - or night!) and even request a date.  They will even send a card for you.  What's more, they do a special novena of Masses just for Mother's Day.  I’m sure there are many similar sites.

It is true, not all mothers are motherly and deserve appreciation, but the vast majority of us have our mother to thank for our life and the fact that we are here today.  Your mother may be the woman who gave birth to you, the woman who adopted you, your single father or another person who showed you motherly love.

In some unfortunate cases, a mother was not what she ought to have been and thinking of her only brings sorrow.  This would not be so if motherhood itself were not a great good of which we have many expectations.  If this is your situation, you might be comforted to reflect on the words of Jesus to from the cross to the beloved disciple: “Behold your mother” as He entrusted us to the care of His mother and her to our love (John 19:26).

Whether or not there is an earthly woman you wish to honor on Mother’s Day, you have a most perfect mother in the Blessed Virgin Mary.  May her prayers and example lead you to the One who is the true source of all life and happiness.

I'll end by following my own advice.  Happy Mother's Day, Mom!  Thank you for all you are and do!  I love you!

*  I have gleaned all my information about the origin of Mother’s Day and Anna Jarvis from Wikipedia’s entries on Mother’s Day (United States) and Anna Jarvis.