Holy Week Reflections

March 2016

By Ellen M. Scarano

Palm Sunday

Jesus made his entry into Jerusalem where the crowd cheered and welcomed him with open arms if not totally open hearts. Other than being walked in astride a donkey, the entry wasn’t remarkable. I have to assume by that day Jesus knew what was coming and exactly who he is. Was there a party in the streets or did Jesus go directly to the temple to remove the money changers from God’s house? Other than fulfilling the old prophecy about the king riding in on a donkey (Zech. 9:9), is there any other significance to the donkeys?

What’s really quite extraordinary, other than Jesus taking the punishment for our sins, is Jesus was willing to die to fulfill God’s requirement and plan to save his most important creation—human beings.

He was willing to die for people who’d lived and already died their earthly death. Plus, his death made all of us who were born and died afterward qualified for the same redemption–before we were even born!

Before his ascension, after the Resurrection, Jesus tells the disciples he will go to prepare a place for them, which also includes other believers. Preparation of the full Kingdom of God must require time, then, because it’s been more than 2,000 years since the Resurrection. Just as creating Earth, other planets, moons and galaxies took time, but it was the first place prepared for us, God’s creations.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? -John 14:1-2


Mary—what was she thinking, watching the crowds listening to Jesus? Did she witness her son cleaning out the temple? Did she try to convince anyone who left the group of followers to stay?

Mary managed a regular life of caring for a husband and children, cooking, cleaning, repairing, sewing, buying, tending animals, helping neighbors. Even though they lived far apart, she kept in touch with relatives, which we learn from her long visit with Elizabeth and Zachariah, the parents of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin.

Mary knew Jesus wasn’t just a regular little boy in the neighborhood. When did she know for sure he is God living as a human being where human beings live? When did she know he’d have to die a cruel and gruesome death? When did she know the outcome of not only Jesus’ resurrection—dead, then alive again—but what it means for everyone who believes IN and believes him?

We don’t read of Mary having sleepless nights full of worry or crying jags from anxiety or fearful discussions with Joseph or a close friend.

We don’t even read Mary cried at the cross, but being a mother we can assume she was weeping softly, with acceptance and wonder, believing some extra special good would come in spite of her dear son’s death, even if she didn’t understand yet.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.- Luke 2:19

Tuesday and Wednesday

From Scripture, it seems Jesus taught and prayed, with and for the disciples and other followers. Passover was coming so it was a time of preparation, which was traditional. Cleaning the house, shopping for food and preparing it was likely “women’s work.” The disciples had left their jobs when they became followers, “fishers of men,” at Jesus’ invitation.

Prayer time was cleaning each person’s spiritual house.

Were the disciples and other followers contemplative? Melancholy? Baffled? Carrying on as before or sharply aware of change coming, yet not knowing what the change would be? Were they waiting for Jesus to say what they’d do after Passover; which new town they’d head for in order to spread his message?

Or was it just another holiday week, becoming ready for visitors and feasts?

People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. –Luke 17:27

Holy Thursday

We call it Holy Thursday now, but it was Passover—the supper which would be the last with Jesus as they knew him that day, but they didn’t know it.  This regular Passover meal they’d observed in their families all their lives would be different from any other in the past or future.

Were the angels of Heaven and demons of hell in a battle that night? Did the angels just watch as God the Father allowed his Son to be arrested, tried, beaten and spit upon, crucified on a cross of wood, with nails in his hands and feet?

Were the disciples afraid they would be next—beaten or crucified one at a time or as a group to convey a message to local people and anyone who might hear what happened–a good and loving Man was killed though guilty of no wrong? But they’d better not talk about it or teach what he taught.

Would I have been a believer or in hostile opposition to Jesus and his followers if I’d lived back in the days he lived among the people?  I have to think I am me, chosen by God to live now instead of then, so I believe I would have been a believer, as I am now. The person I am, whether created and born in the First or 20th Century is who I am.

This life is it, the one life. This life has meaning, significance, purpose and a place in God’s story. I won’t be back again as someone or something else to “try again.” If reincarnation is true, then Jesus’ dying for my sin, making the Way, being the Truth, giving me the gift of eternal Life, would be for nothing.

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.-Hebrews 9:24-28

Good Friday

Seeing the death of Jesus with our eyes is significant.

Compared to today’s population, there were few people back in the days Jesus lived among the people. Like today, some were very attentive; others lukewarm, paying attention to big events, maybe, like the buzz about Jesus in the marketplace, his teaching in the Temple, the display of righteous anger at the money changers.

There were no instant messages or photos or news crews to follow him around and report miracles or viewpoints. For many people, news was old before it reached them. If you didn’t live near the cities, news of Jesus’ actions didn’t reach you soon, if at all.

The crucifixion was begun during the night with the “trial,” or more like a hearing, with Pilate, then travelling to see Herod and back again.

Farmers, shopkeepers, fisherman, housewives and slaves got up early and started their daily jobs as usual. Used their toilets, splashed water on their faces, got dressed, ate breakfast foods, and off to work.

If aware or interested, they may have heard rumors and murmurs about this wandering rabbi who’d been taken to Pilate overnight by soldiers, even when he hadn’t broken any law.

Christians learn Jesus died on the cross to pay God’s penalty for our sins. One sin, just one, deserves the death penalty, according to God’s rule.

God made the rule, knowing full well the requirement of a flawless, perfect, blood sacrifice could never be paid by a human being because people aren’t perfect.

God came to live among the people. God paid the price HE required for redemption and eternal fellowship with him. THIS life on earth has meaning to God. There is no do over—we die once and then the judgment.

But why crucifixion? Such an act is at once hard to reason—Jesus dies and my sins are gone? Where did they go? God writes if we confess our sins he will blot them out and not remember them! It’s uncomfortable to confess, meaning admit when we do wrong or fall short in word or deed, and hard to believe sins can be forgotten.

Why the drama–pain, punishment by scourging, accusation of a man who’d done nothing but good for all the people, nailing him to hard boards to dangle in agony for hours until he died?

Why? Because seeing a healthy, fit man in the prime of life hanging there in extreme pain with no way to get away from the punishment is the visual the people needed to even begin to understand what was done for them.

Jesus could have been “found dead” on the street then discovered alive three days later. Judas or one of the men who paid him to betray Jesus could have killed him with bare hands or pushed him off a cliff or poisoned him.

But, no. Not only was the dying gruesome, it was a perfect visual representation of how much evil had been conveyed to Jesus—as if he looked on the outside the way people’s spirits look on the inside on account of sin. The pain, the burden, the seeping away of life, the sorrow, AND the words of forgiveness to the thief next to him, caring for his mother as he handed over responsibility for her welfare to John—it all showed, clearly and simply.

Sunday, Resurrection Day

If Jesus had just made a little speech after the Last Supper, telling everyone their sins were gone if they only believed him, it would be easy to ignore. Talk has always been cheap when it’s just talk.

Imagine it: “After tonight, My Friends, at high noon tomorrow, all of your sins will be forgiven. That’s right. What’s that? Yes, even the ones you do after tomorrow. Yes, Yes, and all the sins of your family who comes after you AND all the sins committed by those who came before you and already died the human death—yes, all forgiven. Anyone who believes this will have a place with God in heaven for eternity.”

Hmm. Feels good, sounds good, no bloody ritual to do, no hours of sitting in the temple smelling incense burn for days on end.

Jesus cured people who’d been sick, crippled, blind and even dead and still the people didn’t believe who he was. They once claimed he did the devil’s work! How could they just take his words as truth when they hadn’t believed what they’d seen with their own eyes or heard from reliable friends and family members who’d seen these miracles?

There is no way a merely human mind can perceive or know what it felt like in his Spirit for Jesus to have the weight or pain of taking all the people of the world’s sin onto him. ALL the people, yet his act of love is rejected daily.

We see the violence in our world today which has never been this prominent or gruesome or blatant.

The Holocaust was completely awful yet was acted out in secrecy for quite a while. When we saw how the Jews and others had been treated in the concentration camps, it was more than our minds could take in without hurting our senses and our sense of humanity and how it could go so wrong.

Today’s violence is open, publicized, written about and celebrated—abortion, beheadings, burning people alive, blowing up people who congregate for nothing more than worship, entertainment or to share a meal, boats full of refuges fleeing wanton governments, drugs stealing the lives of every type of person without regard for high or low status.

God knows all these things and bears them with us because we cannot bear them alone. Does he show more of it to us in order to invite more people to turn to him for guidance and protection?

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

God will honor the asking and invite full relationship with anyone who asks. Come as you are, not how you want to be or think you should be. Yes, we need fixing and redemption from sin, but that’s God’s job. We just have to show up, be willing to allow it.

All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. John 6:37

The act that killed Jesus, Who banished sin and eternal death forever, had to be something no one could forget.

Here we are, more than 2,000 years later, still remembering, still believing, still thanking, still pondering, (still rejecting), this sad, hurtful, beautiful, hopeful, powerful, wonderful, divine act of love.

Happy Resurrection Day.

All Bible quotes from the NIV Bible at biblegateway.com


Scrolling On The Facebook, apologies to (the tune of) Proud Mary (Rolling On The River) by John C. Fogerty, sung by Creedence Clearwater Revival


Dumped from a job in the city

Working for a man every night and day

And I never had one minute of sleeping

Worrying ’bout the way things might have been.


Mouse wheel keep on turning,

Info highway keep on burning…

Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through the Facebook.


Cleaned a lot of closets’ junk out

Ripped up all the weeds, threw debris away;

Then I explored the good side of the city

During daylight hours, like a poor queen…


Mouse wheel keep on turning,

Info highway keep on burning…

Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through the Facebook.


Rolling, rolling, living near the river

If you come down near the river

Bet you gonna find other people like me

You don’t have to worry ’cause you have no money

Facebook on the ‘puter will always be free!


Mouse wheel keep on turning,

Info highway keep on burning…

Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through the Facebook..

TV Talk Shows Serve a Need

Childhood’s “formative years,” as they were referred to, included nightly, televised-in-living-black-and-white news stories of the war—battles, injured soldiers, taps playing near a flag draped coffin; racial conflicts in the South and angry demonstrations against both; and rebelling “anti-establishment” hippies all over the place. 

Back in 1978, when the Top 40 music was still pretty good and the Vietnam War was over, I was pregnant with my first child. 

I saw many pictures on TV of battles and dead soldiers over there and battles where armed police threw teargas and used fire hoses on black people “to control” them. Their main weapons were words and rocks. 

I heard lots of words and saw “film at 11” pictures with verbal captions but no clear explanations on the WHY of what happened. 

News programs are no different today. 

Yes, we have more immediate pictures available and seldom have to wait hours to see the action. Yes, we have live phone calls accompanied by Smartphone video from civilians to show the live and up-close action. Sometimes we can be duped, learning later videos were staged or otherwise falsely altered. 

Even with all the advances, we still have little deeper understanding of current events. 

During my pregnancy so long ago, I became jobless early on and knew no one in my new neighborhood. I’d never had so much time on my hands that wasn’t regulated and scheduled. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. My friends didn’t live in my new town or were working, as were my neighbors. 

I found Phil Donahue on the TV and a window on the world opened wide for me. The guests and subjects were diverse. The audience asked questions. I felt like I was seeing the world as it was for the first time in my adult life. I ate it up like contraband potato chips. 

In the mid-80s I was in the audience for a show about human sleep apnea and a dog with narcolepsy and I stood to ask a question!  A big adventure in the Big Apple. 

I had no idea about left/right wing, liberal/conservative viewpoints. I weighed everything. It turns out Phil Donahue is a liberal as is his wife, Marlo Thomas, an actress I enjoyed as “That Girl” on TV years before they even knew each other. 

I still appreciate Donahue and the view of the world his show offered. I still explore and weigh everything. My personal political motto is, “Issues, not Parties.”


Ten years before Donahue, I occasionally watched a talk show in the afternoon, with my mother, hosted by Virginia Graham. Graham’s show didn’t delve into newsy subjects and it wasn’t trashy with too much Hollywood gossip. Graham was an older woman, a real lady who watched her manners and speech. She had a natural gregarious manner, a great raspy voice and wasn’t shy about using it and facial expressions to make her point or show amusement. She was clearly entertained by her guests and happy to be a voice for women, to women. There were few women hosts on TV and she was great, even to my teenaged mind. I learned from her and her guests about the larger world around me. 

As a new teen, then young adult, I read a daily local newspaper and watched local TV news and “news magazine” shows such as 20/20 and CBS Sunday Morning, which offered more information about worldly issues and events. A little more was explained or clarified but so much more was left to the imagination without further personal investigation. Their stories teased curiosity or titillated toward gossip. 

Before the Internet it was not easy to follow-up on subjects of interest.  They also offered stories about subjects I’d never known existed. I stopped watching when the stories emphasized the sick and weird among us instead of tweaking our understanding or compassion to common challenges. 

CNN’s debut was unique–all news all day (and still is). I saw stories about strange murder cases or forest fires or drought in the West or politics or Hollywood. I discovered that the news looped the same stories over many hours so there was no need to stay glued to the TV. The channel’s premise was helpful—I didn’t have to wait for only 6, 7 or 11 p.m. to see the news. Yet, the reporting was incomplete. 

The Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 was telecast live on CNN every night. In an eerie green night-vision light, bombs called scuds glowed in lit up lines in the sky. A hit or miss was known almost immediately. 

All that game playing hadn’t been for nothing. Home computers were relatively new and there was barely an Internet, but some people bought them because of the promise of games at their fingertips. From the cockpit of a fighter jet, we saw the pilot’s view, which looked like the newly popular video games for kids.

In June 2001, I tuned into FoxNews for the first time. I worked at a newspaper then—most of which are notoriously liberal; this one was more centered, leaning left or right per issue, as far as I could tell. It differed some as staff changed. The reporters were young, fresh from college and mostly liberal, and I often heard someone at Fox quoted or mocked and I’d never heard of it. After the first week, I was hooked on the analysis shows, such as The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity & Colmes

Yes, I do like the fact that more than one side’s viewpoint and analysis are represented by the guests who are discussing serious issues on Fox.

I had only recently discovered that I am a conservative, with occasional leanings toward liberal. I have voted for Democrats when I was a registered Independent. I’ve been a registered Republican in protest since Clinton won his second term. I’ll probably go back to Independent, which is another story altogether.   

These days, if something really awful happens (such as 9/11 or the more recent events in the Middle East), I’ll switch back and forth to CNN and FoxNews to see what all the educated talkers are saying, using their best analysis skills to unravel events as complicated as a giant sticky ball of government red tape. 

Understanding is comforting in a small way even though I’m well aware there is nothing I can do alone to change events. But I may learn about things to which I will lend my voice and support or objection.  

I definitely learn what needs discussion among “we the people”—and prayer.


Princess Diana: 16 Years Later, Stirs My Heart

Oby  · 

Princess DianaSometimes I think of her as a princess, a modern character in the centuries old Royal Family of Great Britain.

Mostly I think of her as Diana.

There’s no irreverence meant. She was a few years younger than I and we were pregnant at the same time. We were peers—except for fame, wealth and her incredible figure. Oh, and her husband was a prince, the next king. Other than that, we could have passed for…cousins.

I have an ongoing interest in the British royals because my dad always told me that we were related to them through his Scottish side of the family, somewhere way back in history. Going through the public courtship and royal wedding and expecting babies together was a thread of a link, however fanciful.

Admittedly, wondering what it’s like to live in a palace, have loyal servants, have tea with the queen, have beautiful custom-made evening dresses and places to wear them, to wander the world at will and have a prince for a husband visited my imagination.

But the more profound connection came later, woman to woman, wife to wife.

I watched Diana move through her very public marriage. Not a fan of Prince Charles, I was glad to see that they seemed genuinely in love. They had two beautiful boys to complete a traditional family; I assumed there was room for more. Diana was beautiful, sweet, kind and unaffected by the fame, making a life in her royalty as a charitable princess.

It seems Charles practically flaunted his relationship with Mrs. Camilla Parker-Bowles in his young wife’s face. He took advantage of Diana’s innocence, loyalty, trust, youth, lack of experience in public life…and her love. After hearing that he was “seeing” Camilla, I lost all respect for him.

Diana’s infamous interview where she said, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded,” meant that she saw the truth about Charles and their marriage and her precarious place in it. She seemed willing to fight for the family within the marriage, but one cannot fight if the opponent walks away, as Charles did, emotionally if not physically. I often referred to Charles with derogatory terms.

There was no doubt Diana loved her boys passionately. Real princes, they were her boys and she wanted them influenced by healthy relationships–starting at home.

Was Diana flawless? No. She had depression and bulimia and an affair—all of them coping mechanisms. I could understand why she had these problems, how she felt isolated and rejected. Any wife could appreciate the potential for similar events in her own life. I sincerely hoped she could get well.

Diana lived her life in the international public eye, constantly hounded by the press.

I was aware that she was used and abused by photographers who cashed in on her fame. One of the first pictures of her after their engagement was intentionally used as a “gotcha,” exploiting her as a sexual object instead of a respectable young woman, caught unaware by the sunlight behind her. If I’d been the editor, I would not have used the photo.

On the night of the car crash in Paris, the news broke into the show I was watching to report that Diana’s apparent injury was a slash in her thigh. Briefly relieved, hopeful this was a manageable injury, I prayed she would be all right. Then the live pictures of the crash scene were on TV and doubt set in.

Less than an hour later, reports said Diana was dead.

It was so unfair, so wrong, so mean and totally unexpected. She seemed to have found happiness after divorce. She was young, only 36 — still lovely and vibrant with a flair for giving and shining in her charity work. She started over. Diana was living as Elton John’s optimistic song says:

Don’t you know I’m still standing better than I ever did,
Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid.
I’m still standing after all this time,
Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind.

I cried. Sad for her boys. Sad that her happier times were cut short. Sad for all of us who admired her.

Flowers at Diana's Funeral

I was sad that her story was over and I wouldn’t be able to see her become old and finished with raising her boys, her work with charities and the focus only she could bring to them, getting married again, and enjoying her future grandchildren.

Diana would love to know her adult boys, Princes William and Harry, William’s wife, Kate, and the new baby grandson, George. I hope we are kinder and more considerate of them than we were to Diana.

I can’t help it. I still miss her.

Originally published on Aug. 31, 2013 at ThoughtfulWomen.org

Bins, Smells and Dances

It would be great to go back to almost any year of childhood, to August–right before school starts.

I’d remind my dad that if he goes to Caldor’s on Saturday, I need to go, too, to get school supplies. He’d remember. He always remembered important things. Plus, my mother has probably mentioned it to him recently.

Caldor’s was a “discount” store. It sold housewares, toys, tools, glue, fertilizer, clothes, curtains, garden supplies, records, toiletries and seasonal items for Christmas, Easter, the four weather seasons—and school stuff. 

All the school supplies were in bins and on shelves near the front door, just past the stairs to the basement record department. Some were full; most were picked through—BIC pens (blue and black; teachers had preferences and only a teacher was allowed to use red), No. 2 pencils, boxes of Crayons, pink erasers, plastic pencil boxes or flat pouches with pinch/slide plastic closures and three rings to hook into a binder, rulers, rubber bands, and compasses. 

The smell of all this school stuff was comforting and overwhelming, second only to the smell of walking into school the first day, which was similar. 

It was comforting to know this was a new year, a new chance to shine, new things to learn, enthusiasm renewed and hope for better grades that would be more pleasing to parents and students alike. 

It was overwhelming for the same reasons. There were yearly opening statements by each teacher about what we’d study, his or her expectations of the class regarding behavior and goals to reach, and certain things that would not be tolerated. I listened carefully each time, which was more difficult as I reached junior high and had multiple teachers per day. I just wanted to get it right and have grades to prove it.

On the store shelves nearby, cardboard shipping boxes, with one side sliced off by a box cutter, revealed plastic-wrapped packages of lined, three-hole punch notebook paper—100-250 sheets per package. All of the teachers required it. Math problems were worked out, outlining a story and final composition were handed in, and lots of notes filled the pages. Another package was purchased during Christmas vacation for the second half of the school year.

Even in junior high, the back to school shopping trip wasn’t over until I took a walk over to the toy department to see the year’s Barbie doll models to ooh and aah for a nostalgic moment. 

Of course, a trip downstairs to the record department was a given. Allowance money, 50 cents per week, was used to purchase 45s at 75 cents apiece. Do the math. School shopping day was just a browsing day to check what was available and the Top 100 list for the week at the cashier’s counter.

Back upstairs, I walk purposefully back to the supplies bins to find a package of notebook dividers with different colored plastic tabs to identify each class. Dad would not be happy if we had to come back just for that—and it was required.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that the same challenges awaited me within the classroom which had been present the year before. Social challenges outside of class and school were even more daunting. I felt like I was the only one who didn’t feel in the right place or of the right mind and temperament to live in the era I was born to. 

I’d been hoping to wear a poodle skirt and cashmere sweater with anklets and saddle shoes as my older sister had and I’d seen on TV. Both were out of style before I was of age.

In junior high, we had one yearly dance. I’d go to a yearly dance first, in junior high, 
where boys stood up front as close to the band, usually consisting of local boys, as they could and girls mingled with each other. 

In high school we had weekly dances where a few boys and girls danced with each other to officially choreographed and named steps with turns and whirls. Girls wore mini skirts which prevented bending over or lifting arms while wearing a mini dress, and panty hose in place of the garter belt (or the dreaded girdle!) and stockings.

Some girls practiced flirting with their eyes and smiles while others danced a little bit of a fast dance with another girl from sheer boredom and sense of defeat.

On dance nights the gym didn’t smell like the locker room—sweat, smelly towels and stinky sneakers. Well, it did. But we didn’t notice because our noses picked up on Old Spice, Canoe and Aqua Velva men’s colognes borrowed from dads and a dabs of Jontue, Jeanne Naté, Heaven Scent or something trés French borrowed from mom.

Yet over 40 years later, all of this comes back to me—the smells, the array of three-ring binders available, the same BIC pens and No. 2 pencils, Crayons and boxes of notebook paper; the enthusiasm for new adventure with classmates. Tangible tools for a year of anticipated growing and glowing at school and fearing or flying in our social life.

The expectation–of so much newness, undiscovered secrets of the world, challenges to hungry minds and hormonally charged hearts looking outward for “that somebody for someday”–is recalled.

I hope today’s generation of students feels the same because it can last a long, long time.

Summer, 1960:
Moving from Havemeyer Park to the “back country” area of town dubbed Round Hill at seven years old was a traumatic experience.

Although in the same town, our new house on Sumner Road was far away when it came to playmates, school, Halloween candy collecting, familiar faces, church — home. All of those things would be new and different. Changed.

My parents had good reasons to move. I was just a kid and none of them mattered. I didn’t know or care about a bigger house with more land, having my own bedroom, or a better kitchen. All I knew was change was happening whether I liked it or not, and I did not. 

The new starts before I was able to get over the losses of my previous life would fight with each other for a time before comfort set in.

The first day at the new house, I took our one year-old collie dog, Tod, for a walk in the new location. 

The smell of freshness everywhere was overwhelming, in a good way. There was mud everywhere from a recent storm which wasn’t forgiving to the dirt road and our own 500-foot long dirt driveway filled with bulging boulders and rocks. Neighbors told us that just a couple of days before our arrival, there were hundreds of dead black snakes along the road.

At the top of the driveway, Tod and I met our next door neighbor, Mr. Hull. Our driveways met at the same spot. He had been cutting back a little section of his yard as I approached. He introduced himself, advised he lived in the yellow house we could see, and knew I was one of the new neighbors.

I had seen a woman put a dog leash around her own ankle so she could be hands free while chatting and I thought it was cool, so I did that with Tod while talking with Mr. Hull. He pointed out the fact that Tod was a dog at least twice the size of me and much stronger and if he took off running after some wild varmint, I’d be dragged down and scraped up. I’d never thought of that, so I took the leash from around my ankle and held it in my hand, properly. 

He asked me how we liked our new house and other small talk and then told me to come over and meet his wife and kids any time. I was new to socializing with “strangers” so I took the invitation with a grain of caution though I said I would do that as we parted.
Tod and I made our way up the road, observing broken branches and new green leaves already fallen. Everything was still shiny and wet on the ground while the trees had shed the heavy water already. 

Just a few hundred feet past a thickly wooded area, I came upon the first house to my left. It was a white-trimmed, red, ranch style house with a rocky garden island including a tall tree, boulders and shrubs between the driveway and the house. 

Just past the driveway was a short cliff formed from boulders and flat, gray pieces of rock, that shimmered in sunlight. I learned later that the shiny stuff was mica. I wanted to make a necklace of it.

Two little heads popped over the top of the flat rock above me and said hello, surprising me. I said hello.

They asked if I was the new girl? Is that my dog? What’s his name? He’s big! Is he friendly? Why do you have him on that leash? Do you have any brothers or sisters? Can you come over to play?

The boy had red hair, as I did, so that was a nice surprise. His sister had short brown hair in a Buster Brown style. They both had nice smiles and lots of freckles. There were four more kids at the house.

I turned around with Tod, headed for home. My head was filled with excitement about meeting the new kids and apprehension about playing with them. What if they didn’t like me? It never occurred to me to wonder if I’d like them. My two years younger brother and I had playmates right there on the street, just like at the old house! I couldn’t wait to get home to tell him. (Our sister is six years older than I and, at 13, she was not going to play outside with a bunch of little kids. This was understood.) I told my mother about the kids and she said it was okay to go play, but that their mother should call her, to make sure it was all right with her. The next day, my brother and I went up the street together. In my pocket was a small piece of paper with our phone number and my mother’s name on it.

We all became fast friends and daily playmates and made stories—for another time.
I have loved the unique, fresh smell of the woods from that first day on. It’s a mingling of water, sand, dirt, old and new leaves and weeds, wildflowers and trees, living and dead plants, skunk cabbage and honeysuckle, pond scum and snow, soothing rain and heat waves rising from rocks and road. Our driveway and the road were paved with blacktop with a coating of oil and sand on top. The distinctive odor of hot tar was evident during summer heat and became part of the bouquet of outdoor smells. 

Eventually, what I missed at the “old house” became a good, enduring memory and I lived happily in the woods, trails, roads and the “new house.”

I didn’t know it then, but moving from one place to another does not change many important things that need improvement for a happier, calmer life.

Another significant relationship awaited me and its impact has stayed with me for over fifty years. 

* * *

I had told my mother about meeting Mr. Hull in the driveway and his invitation to come over. A couple of days later, I asked permission to go over there and meet the family. My mother said, “Yes, but don’t be a pest. And behave.” 

A couple of hundred feet of lawn and woods separated our properties from my front yard to their back yard, so I cut through the woods, finding myself at their semi-enclosed garage. 

Walking through the garage to the kitchen door, barn swallows, which I’d never seen before, swooped and peeped at me in a frenzy. There was a nest up in the rafters of the garage and underneath, there was no wall; it was open and the birds could come and go at will. 

They swooped low, near my head until I went up the couple of steps to the door and they didn’t have room to fly at me anymore. Each generation of birds protecting the babies did this every time I went for all the time we lived there.

I knocked and Mrs. Hull answered the door, smiling as if she already knew me, introducing herself and her two girls, Lisa and Vicki. They were younger than me and very cute, with dark curly hair. 

Inside the door to the left was a tiny alcove area, like a mudroom; to the right was a den across from which was the kitchen. When I was there, most time was spent in the two rooms. 

I played with the girls in their bedroom, which they shared. Our playtime didn’t last long, but there were dolls and other toys to occupy us. I remember many visits there but not always playing with them. 

I wanted to be with their mother and she seemed glad to be with me. 

Every afternoon at 4:30, the girls went off to play in their room and Mrs. Hull entered the den, sat down on the couch and turned on the TV to watch “The Edge of Night,” a popular soap opera. I didn’t understand one thing about it, but as long as I sat quietly, I could be with her. She made comments to the characters and we talked during commercials. Sometimes she’d describe a little of what happened in the show and I’d ask, “How do you know he will do that?” or “That’s not very nice of her,” I’d reply. The stories were definitely for adults and I could not grasp the gist of them very well.

Sometimes she could get very dramatic with the comments and a little loud and excited. But, unlike my mother, it was a happy excitement, something I would come to know as enthusiasm or an outgoing personality. 

Sometimes she marched into a room as if on a serious emergency mission, legs making big strides and arms pumping. I had to guess what prompted this. Maybe a phone call, or a rush for a paper towel to catch a spill, or an idea struck her that needed writing down? 

The den was a cozy room cabin-like room with comfortable wood frame furniture, curtains and a big coffee table in front of the couch that faced the TV. The rest of the house was more formal. 

On the end table near the door to the kitchen was a strange looking telephone that had the rotary dial on the bottom and a neck that curved upward where one would listen and the speaking area was below. The dial was on the bottom with a big, red button in the center. After dialing and talking, you just set the phone back down on the table and the big red button depressed on the bottom to disconnect the call. *

Any day I could spend with Mrs. Hull was significantly better than almost any time at home. We didn’t do anything special. I was just there for part of the day and then I went home – refreshed. 

Sometimes she’d tell me to call home and ask if I could stay there for lunch. I got to use the funny phone. After I hung up and told her, “My mom says I can stay,” she asked if I wanted bologna or a hot dog. I said bologna. 

Then she did the strangest thing. She put a small pot of water on the stove and when it boiled, she added three hot dogs. After a minute, she took one out and sliced it in thin circles and laid it on the bread that she’d spread with butter. This was now bologna. The other two hot dogs cooked for a few minutes longer, were placed on slice of bread. These were hot dogs. 

Another day she was making a fancy dessert with lady finger cakes and pudding in a big glass bowl. Her girls and I got each got a lady finger and pudding to dip it in for a treat. 

Mrs. Hull was just a nice person. She never yelled at us kids, especially not at me. She answered my questions, no shushing or sharp eyed looks. 

One day she told me to call home and ask if I could go to the supermarket with her and the two girls, if I wanted to go. I wanted to go! She WANTED me to go with them? I never went to the supermarket with my mother. The food was just there, in the kitchen, Mom cooked it (she was an excellent cook) and we ate it. 

My mother said I could go and I should behave. She didn’t have to say that, but my public behavior was important to her. I was on my best behavior, sitting quietly in the car, not bouncing around (there were no seat belts then; kids were free to bounce around like pin balls if the parents didn’t stop it). 

After getting out of the car and watching traffic in the parking lot, we made our way into the market. Mrs. Hull put Lisa and Vicki in the cart and let me push it, with her hands on either side of mine. I turned to look up at her, and she smiled at me. I thought I would burst with pride at being the big girl. 

We got the groceries without crushing other shopper’s ankles with the cart, checked out and piled back into the car. There had been no yelling or whining. It was something to remember. 

I went over to the Hull’s house any chance I could, which was frequently. I don’t know if she loved me, but I felt like she did. She liked me at least and whenever I didn’t know what to do with myself, up the hill, through the woods I went. I said hello to the crazy birds, knocked on the door and was welcomed with a smile and, “Come on in!” 

Mrs. Hull made me feel attached, not like an umbilical cord; more like holding invisible hands but letting go sometimes as well. She was dependable in mood and availability. She seemed to enjoy my company. I knew I enjoyed my time with her.

My mother’s moods were unpredictable and her temperament could be unexpectedly harsh or withdrawn. I loved her but didn’t understand her and my place in her world felt precarious.

When we moved away four short years later, all the way across town again, I missed the playmates and the life we’d made there. Most of all, I missed Mrs. Hull’s smiling face and kind words and demeanor; her excitement over the littlest happy things and her patience with what I’d thought were more annoying events. 

I hoped to be that kind of adult friend to a little girl when I grew up and had children of my own. 

On July 7, 1964, the moving van pulled up, big guys loaded all or our stuff, we walked through the empty house, said goodbye to the kids up the road, and were on our way to a different but similar life in Old Greenwich.

* * *

Greenwich Hospital, December 1989-February 1990

We bought a small house in Stratford in 1978. Greenwich was the dream but the money tree wasn’t producing enough and it was time to make babies. We had two daughters and life progressed somewhat normally. 

I was a stay-at-home-mom and enjoyed it. There was no regret about being home to keep house and traipsing around town for after school activities and errands common to running any household.

My mother lived at Nathaniel Witherell Nursing Home starting in March 1976. It became apparent to me that Mom was an alcoholic, but she also had MS that reared it’s circuit breaking sparks after a 26-year remission in 1968 and her condition needed full-time care. She was 58 years old. I visited her every two weeks for a couple of hours. 

My brother-in-law, Randy, wasn’t feeling well. Just after Thanksgiving 1989, his stomach was acting up. Blood work was requested, cultures were grown. He was admitted to the hospital and everyone waited. He was 30 years old and lived with his parents and brother in Cos Cob.

A couple of weeks after Thanksgiving 1989, the family learned that Mom developed a low fever everyday, late in the afternoon. I’d read a magazine article that said people with cancer often had daily fevers. I didn’t like it. The fever had been recurring for many weeks and the facility’s doctor advised a colonoscopy, to be done at the hospital. By this time, my mother didn’t recognize her children or grandchildren, likely from the MS or alcoholism messing with her brain cells, we were told.

On the same day, we learned that Randy and my mother both had different forms of colon cancer that had already spread and neither could be cured with surgery or chemo.


It was an unusually busy time at the hospital that day. There was one chair in the patient’s room and Randy’s parents and brother were there for long hours, taking turns pacing and sitting. 

Randy stayed at the hospital because there were other complications and the doctor wanted it that way. My mother slept so I went back and forth to her room until after dinner time. My husband stayed in Randy’s room until it was time to go home to pick up our girls, who had been taken for the day by a friend.

My mother was scheduled for return to Witherell by ambulance the next day, to live out her final days in their care. Nobody could say how long that would be but they guessed three-six months. 

Knowing the hospital well, I knew there were waiting areas across from each floor’s elevator bank. So my husband and I wandered off for snack food for dinner and to find a place to sit at one of these areas. We ended up one floor above our sick loved ones, but it was a quiet spot—only the whoosh of elevator doors opening and closing, visitors emerging talking in church whispers and the occasional clank of a gurney broke the silence. There were several empty comfy chairs and a few magazines. We ate our snacks, drank our coffee, and retreated into individual silence. 

Getting off the elevator, one could go left or right into a certain wing of the hospital. On this floor, turning left brought you to Pediatrics.

I sat, processing as well as I could the day’s diagnoses and events. I ran through the girl’s schedules in my head, figuring out how I’d be able to visit Mom and Randy while keeping their lives in relative order. Then I just sat on the couch, staring into space.

The big double doors to Pediatrics flew open and a distraught woman came through them at full speed in long strides, arms pumping, mouth tight, quietly speaking her frustration in unintelligible bits and pieces. Her fear and agitation were apparent as was her mama bear demeanor about something happening back in that wing.

Immediately I knew. The woman spinning her woe and needing to get away from something bad, if only for a minute, was Mrs. Hull. I was so shocked, so pleasantly surprised, but I didn’t say anything to her. Someone came to the double doors and she went back to the rooms.

I couldn’t imagine why she was there. Her children were grown up and she came from Pediatrics. 

I turned to my husband and hurriedly said, “Do you KNOW who that is? That’s Mrs. Hull, the really nice neighbor I told you about from when I was little. Should I go in there? I have to say hello. Will they let me in?

“Go ask,” he replied. “All they can say is, no.” 

Will I be intruding on something serious, I thought? Oh, forget it. Will she remember me? Go ahead, it’s important to see her, be with her even if only for a minute.

I got up the courage to walk through those ominous double doors and asked the nurse if I could see a visitor whom I could see in the hall. She said it was okay and I slowly made my way towards Mr. and Mrs. Hull, who were standing in the hall, talking. She looked the same; he had silver hair.

I approached shyly and asked, “Aren’t you Mr. and Mrs. Hull, my old neighbors? I’m Ellen McCourt.”

Recognition glowed and Mr. Hull said, “Of course you are!” and they both said, “How nice to see you.” 

Awkwardly I asked why they were there and Mrs. Hull said their grandchild was there for something likely minor but he’d been travelling from overseas, so better safe than sorry. She’d marched out to the sitting area in frustration because a blood test or something had been messed up and the waiting was bothering her. I wished her well for him. We had a disjointed and brief conversation about her girls–where were they now, which one was the mother of the sick baby? Then silence. 

Mrs. Hull gently asked me why I was there, and I blurted, “My mother is on one floor and my brother-in-law is on another, both diagnosed with cancer today and there’s no treatment, and there’s nowhere to sit near either room, so we came up here for a seat.” They both offered their regrets for such a predicament.

Mrs. Hull said, “I got your note about coming for a visit a couple of years ago, but we were out of the country for a while and it just slipped my mind about a visiting time.” I assured it was all right and we both said we’ll get together sometime in the future; that I’d love to visit her at their house, the same place I remembered so fondly. 

She agreed it would be nice to visit in person. I gave her a little hug and said I’d better leave so they could get back to the baby.

The atmosphere wasn’t ideal for such a meeting. My emotions were in a spin as were hers. Twenty-five years had passed since we’d seen each other. It was a brief but so uplifting and encouraging meeting, I’ll remember it always. 

On the way home that night, I knew peace. Most significantly, I knew this meeting was God’s work; to see Mrs. Hull again at probably the lowest point in my life and she was an angel to my spirit. 

What comes to mind today is that Mrs. Hull held my heart just by being herself. Her true, honest, generous, caring self. One may never know the impact your life has on someone else.

Did she know about my deteriorating and crazy home life when I was little? Did she know I admired her and enjoyed her? Did she know about my adult life’s challenges? Probably not. But every time I was with her, even all those years between seeing her, were examples of how love never dies. Whether she loved me or not, I knew I thought of her with love. 

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor. 13:13

Flip Side Fantasy

Hey Jude[1],


 I’m sitting here resting my bones, just sitting at the dock of the bay watching the tide roll away[2], thinking of you on this beautiful morning [3] as I write the letter [4] that could change our lives if you will explain yourself so we’ll know both sides [5]now

I heard it through the grapevine [6]that you’re leaving for California, looking for the impossible dream[7], no doubt. Do you know the way to San Jose[8]

At MacArthur Park [9]– you know that weird park where sweet, green icing flowing down from the Mony Mony [10]building gets all over the daffodils and then love is blue[11]

Anyway, my mother’s friend, Mrs. Robinson [12], just gushed that she heard you talking to a girl and told my mother that you said to me, “This guy’s in love with you.”[13] But she must have heard you talking to another girl. If you’re really going to California, how can it be you love me? So far away…well, you know…there ain’t nothing like the real thing[14], right? 

Then I overheard them talking about girls named Delilah[15] and Honey[16]. They’re real girls, too, because they saw them at the Harper Valley PTA [17]meeting. They mentioned that your mom brought that weird red, red wine [18]and little green apples [19]pie for the refreshment table.  What’s that about?

Please think [20]about this. I know I’m just a young girl [21]and you seem to want to go now to the beat of a different drum. [22]But I have memories[23] and I want to reach my dreams of the everyday housewife [24]with you. I think of you every time I hear Classical Gas [25]and remember how we danced and shared midnight confessions[26]. You told me, “Elenore! Gee, I think you’re swell and you really do me well; you’re my pride and joy” [27]etc.

That meant so much to me and now…but a little gold ring you wear on your hand makes me understand. You’ll never be mine, I’m wasting my time? [28]You married her.



I cannot say anything without hurting you. 

The divorce[29] was no tiptoe through the tulips [30]for me. 

So much talk about an Eskimo, the Mighty Quinn, [31]and the unicorn [32]made me crazy. Then, the park with the sweet green icing flowing down and what it did to the flowers?  What does that even mean? It was spooky[33]. Whatever you’re on, I just can’t live with it anymore. I thought for sure I’d end up in jail singing those Folsom Prison blues![34] 

You told everybody that I was a bad buy, a girl watcher,[35] You know that’s not true. 

I do remember the good times, weekends at home or having a relaxing picnic at Tod’s, the most beautiful beach in the world. And Sunday morning–Sunday will never be the same[36], Elenore. I hope you get your life together and find someone new. 

You’ll find someone. My hope is he’ll take good care of my baby[37]. I still care about you; I just can’t live with you. ~~Jude 

Hey Jude, 

Thanks for your note. I hope you see my reply. I feel like I’ve been away forever and it’s been just three months in rehab. But it took me five years to get there! I’ve just gotta get a message to you.[38]I made such a mess. 

My mother says your new wife’s name is Valleri[39]. I hope you will be very happy.

I did cry like a baby[40]. I didn’t realize, in my mind’s altered state, how much time had gone by since we divorced. I should have expected that a nice guy like you would find someone good and get married again. It’s good that you left when you did. It broke the chain of fools [41]we became without knowing it. 

I see now, how much of our troubles was caused by my addiction. Too much booze and then the pills… No wonder I saw the leaves on the trees as green icing! I was much sicker than I knew.

I’m sorry I called you a girl watcher. That was mean and just a cover; to make it your fault while denial kept me from the truth about myself.

If your new love ever leaves you, don’t hesitate to turn around, look at me[42]—take another chance? Who knows…I bet you could probably light my fire [43]again. (smiling!) 

Well, I’m a little down. This Dion song about Abraham, Martin and John [44]and Bobby really got me thinking about the state of the world. It’s so sad, isn’t it? Yet it’s good to be able to feel again without needing to alter myself anymore. I’m ready to face the good, the bad and the ugly[45]. Love, Elenore

[1] Hey, Jude—The Beatles

[2] Dock of the Bay—Otis Redding

[3] It’s A Beautiful Morning—The Young Rascals

[4] The Letter—The Boxtops

[5] Both Sides Now—Judy Collins

[6] I Heard it Through the Grapevine4 Marvin Gay

[7] The Impossible Dream—Roger Williams

[8] Do You Know The Way to San Jose? — Dionne Warwick

[9]MacArthurPark—Richard Harris

[10] Mony, Mony—Tommy James and the Shondells

[11] Love is Blue—Paul Mauriat

[12] Mrs. Robinson–Simon and Garfunkel

[13] This Guy’s in Love with You—Herb Alpert

[14] Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing—Marvin Gaye and Tammi Tyrell

[15] Delilah—Tom Jones

[16] Honey—Bobby Goldsboro

[17] Harper Valley PTA—Jeannie C. Riley

[18] Red, Red Wine—Neil Diamond

[19] Little Green Apples—O.C. Smith or Roger Miller

[20] Think—Aretha Franklin

[21] Young Girl—Gary Puckett and the Union Gap

[22] Different Drum—The Stone Ponies

[23] Memories—Elvis Presley

[24] Dreams of the Everyday Housewife—Glen Campbell

[25] Classical Gas—Mason Williams

[26] Midnight Confessions—Grass Roots

[27] Elenore—The Turtles

[28] Midnight Confessions—The Grass Roots

[29] D-I-V-O-R-C-E—Tammy Wynette

[30] Tiptoe Through the Tulips—Tiny Tim

[31] Mighty Quinn—Manfred Mann

[32] The Unicorn—Irish Rovers

[33] Spooky—Classics IV

[34] Folsom Prison Blues—Johnny Cash

[35] Girl Watcher—The O’Kaysions

[36] Sunday Mornin’—Spanky and Our Gang

[37] Take Good Care of My Baby—Bobby Vinton

[38] I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You—The BeeGees

[39] Valleri—The Monkees

[40] Cry Like a Baby—The Boxtops

[41] Chain of Fools—Aretha Franklin

[42] Turn Around, Look at Me—The Vogues

[43] Light My Fire—The Doors

[44] Abraham, Martin, and John–Dion

[45] The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly—Hugo Montanegro