Happier times at our wedding. She was in a state of bliss the entire day. She is at peace. I am at peace.
Barbara Ann Sherf 1/13/36-5/22/15
Longtime Somers Point resident, Barbara A. Sherf, known to many as “the unofficial mayor” of Somers Point, passed away at home on May 22, 2015, surrounded by her loved ones and Holy Redeemer Hospice angels.
Mrs. Sherf (nee Smith) was an aide at the Dawes Avenue School formany years, following the passing of her parents, Leo D. and Anna R.
Smith, who constructed their home on Dawes Avenue from a Sears kit.
An only child, Mrs. Sherf grew up in Philadelphia, and summered in Wilkes-Barre, PA, until the shore home was built.
A graduate of Nazareth Academy, she married Charles T. Sherf of Maple Shade, New Jersey, and lived in Northeast Philadelphia and Bucks County for 22 years before the couple divorced.
Mrs. Sherf then worked in various banking positions in Bucks County to support her four children, before relocating to Somers Point to take care of her parents in their retirement.
Her son, Kevin, lovingly assisted her in caregiving until her parents died, and he continued to live in the home, working full-time at Staples until last November, while taking care of her needs.
In addition to her former husband, she is survived by Karen (David) Jones; Patrice (Thomas) Hilferty, Barbara L. Sherf (Brad Shapiro), and Kevin Sherf. She was “Mom-Mom” to Rebecca (Becky) and Andrew (Drew) Jones; Kaylynn, Evan and Kyle Hilferty; and one great grandson, Bennett. Her firstborn, Charles, died shortly after birth. We pray she is dancing with Charles, reunited with her parents and her beloved Aunt Bina, and all who have gone before her.
The family would like to recognize her many caregivers, the staff and ministry at St. Joseph Church, the Holy Redeemer angels, the Rev. Sandra Strauss and Rev. David Arnold, Gayle Davidson for lending her voice, and the many devoted angels, friends and neighbors who have supported her and us.
We ask that butterfly weeds (not bushes) be planted in her honor and memorial donations be made to her devoted son and primary caregiver, Kevin Sherf c/o St. Joseph Church, 606 Shore Road, Somers Point, NJ, 08244, Becky’s Buddies through The Epilepsy Foundation of SE PA (www.kintera.org) or to the charity of one’s choice.
She is at peace. We are at peace.
“Life may not be the party we hoped for,
but while we’re here we may as well dance.”
Jeanne C. Stein
I was at the corner grocery store buying some early potatoes. I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean, hungrily apprising a basket of freshly picked green peas.
I paid for my potatoes but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas. I am a pushover for creamed peas and new potatoes.
Pondering the peas, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller (the store owner) and the ragged boy next to me.
‘Hello Barry, how are you today?’
‘H’lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya. Jus’ admirin’
them peas. They sure look good.’
‘They are good, Barry. How’s your Ma?’
‘Fine. Gittin’ stronger alla’ time.’
‘Good. Anything I can help you with?’
‘No, Sir. Jus’ admirin’ them peas.’
‘Would you like to take some home?’ asked Mr. Miller.
‘No, Sir. Got nuthin’ to pay for ’em with.’
‘Well, what have you to trade me for some of those peas?’
‘All I got’s my prize marble here.’
‘Is that right? Let me see it’ said Miller.
‘Here ’tis. She’s a dandy.’
‘I can see that. Hmm mmm, only thing is this one is blue & I sort of go for red. Do you have a red one like this at home?’ he asked.
‘Not zackley but almost.’
‘Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble’. Mr. Miller told the boy.
‘Sure will. Thanks Mr. Miller.’
Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me.
With a smile she said, ‘There are two other boys like him in our community, all three are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes, or whatever. When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn’t like red after all and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one, when they come on their next trip to the store.’
I left the store smiling to myself, impressed with this man. A short time later I moved to Colorado , but I never forgot the story of this man, the boys, and their bartering for marbles.
Several years went by, each more rapid than the previous one. Just recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community and while I was there learned that Mr. Miller had died. They were having his visitation that evening and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them. Upon arrival at the mortuary we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could.
Ahead of us in line were three young men. One was in an army uniform and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts…all very professional looking. They approached Mrs. Miller, standing composed and smiling by her husband’s casket. Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved on to the casket.
Her misty light blue eyes followed them as, one by one, each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket. Each left the mortuary awkwardly, wiping his eyes.
Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and reminded her of the story from those many years ago and what she had told me about her husband’s bartering for marbles. With her eyes glistening, she took my hand and led me to the casket.
‘Those 3 young men who just left were the boys I told you about.
They just told me how they appreciated the things Jim ‘traded’ them. Now, at last, when Jim could not change his mind about color or size…they came to pay their debt.’
‘We’ve never had a great deal of the wealth of this world,’ she confided, ‘but right now, Jim would consider himself the richest man in Idaho.’ With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband. Resting underneath were 3 shiny red marbles.
We will not be remembered by our words, but by our kind deeds.
Life is not measured by the breaths we take,
but by the moments that take our breath.
Today I wish you a day of ordinary miracles ~
A fresh pot of coffee you didn’t make yourself…
An unexpected phone call from an old friend…
Green stoplights on your way to work…
The fastest line at the grocery store…
A good sing-along song on the radio…
Your keys found right where you left them.
IT’S NOT WHAT YOU GATHER,
BUT WHAT YOU SCATTER
WHAT KIND OF LIFE YOU HAVE LIVED
I said farewell today to what has been described as Tooth #8 to those in the dental community, but to me it was my right front tooth that had given me a winning smile for more than 50 years.
With eyes squeezed shut and tears streaming down my cheeks, I knew the second it was out and tears again streamed down my face as I asked family friend, Dr. Alan Krochtengel, if I could take the tooth with me.
Alan had thought I was crying from the pain, but those tears were more about the closing of a chapter of my life and the clarity in knowing when to fold.
As he handed me the bloodied tooth, we both saw a small fracture that was likely sustained during a 2008 horseback riding accident in the Wissahickon. Valley. The tooth was a painful reminder of that last ride my father and I would share.
For the record, the accident had not been the horses’ fault. I had brought Sunny into a full gallop along a demonstration trail cleared of rocks and downed limbs by the Friends of the Wissahickon, as part of a pilot trail maintenance program designed to make it safer for bikers, riders and hikers. One thing that could not be cleared were the gnarled tree roots; some apparent and others hidden just below the surface of the soil. It was one such concealed set of roots that brought, Sunny, one of five horses who were part of the Philadelphia Saddle Club, to an abrupt halt. It seems the space between his hoof and shoe got caught in the web-like roots, with the shoe tearing off and sending him to the ground and me flying over him.
As I lay there in shock and assessing my injuries – concussion, broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder- Sunny regrouped and limped over to nuzzle me and apologize.
“It wasn’t your fault, boy, I’m so sorry,” I said looking to see that his hoof had been badly butchered.
My father, riding Wyatt, was behind us and immediately dismounted, helping me to rest on a large rock just off of the trail. What if I had come down on that rock, I thought, as my mind raced to formulate a plan for getting to the ER and my father and the two horses safely back to the barn.
At the time of the accident, both front teeth had come loose, but they had not come out and for that I was grateful. But over time, it was clear Tooth #8 had to go.
Two painful and expensive root canals over the years, followed in July by oral surgery, had not done the trick and I was ready to fold,
Reclining in the dentist chair waiting for my mouth to get sufficiently numb, tears rolled down my cheeks at the memories of times in my life I had folded. Alan came in and wiped the tears away with the pink bib clipped around my neck, telling me that it won’t hurt and that he was in agreement with my decision to take the tooth out. He did not know why I was crying.
Back at home, now swollen but still numb, I carefully washed the bloody tooth before placing it in my jewelry box, where it now serves as a symbol to me of knowing when to say when.
I had recognized my father’s progressive dementia in the months leading up to the accident and his 80th Birthday. When I witnessed him bring the wrong horse into the barn the morning of our last ride, I knew these outings had to come to an end or one of us or the horses would be hurt. The previous week we had ridden under a stone bridge heading to RittenhouseTown, and I shouted for him to duck in order to clear the stone pedestrian bridge hanging over us. While he had ducked, he had misjudged when to lift his head, and I cringed upon seeing a 2 by 6” black velvet flap peel away from his helmet. It was time but neither of us was ready to fold.
Since 2003, my father and I had gotten together once a week to enjoy the trails, followed by a beer and sandwich at a local pub. The excursions had healed the rocky relationship we experienced following my parents divorce when I was in my teens.
Recovering from my injuries, I had the time to write a book titled “Cowboy Mission: The Best Sermons are Lived…Not Preached.” The self-published paperback held essays about our love of horses and Dad’s years as a teen cowboy, riding at Sally Starr’s ranch and in Cowtown Rodeo. I wrote about how he earned more money riding a bull for eight seconds on a Saturday night than he did picking tomatoes all week on the South Jersey farm for Campbell’s Soup Company, he and his best friend used as their rodeo playground.—riding anything with four legs; mules, cows, and work horses.
In the book, I penned an essay about my decision to dismount following a runaway horse incident in which my two riding companions urged me to stay on the horse. But my gut told me the horse was too wound up to ride safely, and so I swallowed my pride and walked a mile or so back to Monastery Stables. It was the first time I had ever dismounted like that, and yet I knew it was the right thing to do, just as I knew that despite three dentists telling me the X-rays looked fine, there was something wrong with the tooth and it needed to go. It was the same gut feeling I had knowing that I would be the one to have to stop to our weekly rides and I was learning to listen to that voice.
So after the accident, I told my father that my husband wanted me to take a break from riding. In truth, he did want me to stop, but never gave me an ultimatum. Dad didn’t know that and he was distraught over the news, but he said he said he understood, and I sensed perhaps he was relieved.
On some level my father knew of my concerns about his bringing the wrong horse in from the pasture, or lifting his head too soon, or getting lost driving to and from the barn. However, I knew he wouldn’t fold, so I stuck to my story and allowed him to ‘save face’ as I took control over ending our rides
On March 8th, Dad is comes up on the one-year anniversary of his transition to the Veteran’s Memorial Home in Vineland, New Jersey. I had spent 6 months getting the paper work together, and when a bed became available, I bolted like that horse. Dad had fallen in his townhouse in January and had hit his head on the tiled bathroom floor. There was a big snowstorm. I was not able to get to Cherry Hill. It was time.
In order to ease him into this new chapter, I stayed at a local hotel near the facility for three nights, and spent time getting him used to the change. Passing out copies of our book to anyone with a remote interest, I shared my father’s stories with the staff and residents, introducing him as Cowboy Charlie, a term I had had embroidered on a denim shirt he wore. The residents and staff settled in and listened to the stories from the book that he reads daily. He is a bit of a celebrity and enjoyed the limelight.
If I had not had the accident, the book would most likely not have come about, nor would another chapter in my life, serving as a personal historian and founder of Capture Life Stories.
Still, when I call Dad, I have to remind him that ‘it’s me, Barbie, your riding partner.’ When I visit, I pull out the book and we look at the pictures, and there is a glimmer.
And then, more often than not, the guilt sets in. Maybe he would have been better off leaving the planet doing what he loved most –riding horses. Maybe I should have let the natural order of things flow. Maybe we folded too soon. Where is that crystal ball?
The bad tooth was another reminder of a chapter in our lives that has closed, and I knew reclining in that dental chair that writing the epilogue will be more painful than the pulling of any tooth.
The James Turrell Skyspace, a public work of art housed in the new Chestnut Hill Friends Meetinghouse, has more than exceeded expectations in terms of the number of visitors and received a ranking as sixth among Philadelphia attractions on TripAdvisor.com with one visitor describing the experience as “unforced serenity.”
In addition to the winter viewing on Sundays at dusk, the Skyspace will be open on December 24 at 4:40 and December 31 at 4:45 . There will be one dawn opening at 6:32 am January 1.
Serving as the Lead Skyspace Host Signe Wilkinson shared her thoughts and the numbers after a recent Skyspace opening.
“We projected a thousand visitors in the first year of operation and we are well over four thousand visitors and counting,” said Wilkinson, following a post-Thanksgiving Sunday evening sunset opening in which many local residents introduced out-of-town guests to the experience. “I just love seeing the visitors come out as most did not know what to expect going in and they leave wide-eyed and inspired. It’s a great way to slow down and unplug and experience art and connect to the spirit.”
In September, 2013 the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting began worshipping in their newly constructed Quaker meetinghouse, which includes the Skyspace, a work of public art that is most dramatic and dawn and dusk, and was donated to the Meeting by world-renowned contemporary American light artist James Turrell.
Turrell transforms entire rooms or structures by installing an aperture in the ceiling with a retractable roof, coved ceiling, and recessed lighting, which focuses one’s gaze on the beauty of the ever-changing sky overhead. Turrell’s Skyspaces create places for silent reflection and meditation, and are featured in galleries and museums around the world.
Meeting members say the installation that opens to the heavens, has also opened the Meeting to new people and ideas, and helped rejuvenate Quakerism in the area.
“The Chestnut Hill Quakers have always been a strong religious group, but the new meetinghouse has breathed new life into the Meeting. We hope to use that new life to better serve the wider Philadelphia community,” said Jon Landau, a member of the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting.
Dona Garrettson was one member who had some concerns about the move.
“I will be the first to admit that I had reservations coming here, but when you see the spotted pines and large rocks and the children playing outside, along with the variety of people coming through our doors, I think that we (meaning Quakers and the community) have embraced this space,” said Garrettson.
Alison Marzuoli, an art teacher in the Philadelphia School District, has been to approximately 20 viewings and also volunteers. She lives within walking distance of the Skyspace.
“I love seeing the faces on people coming out into the lobby. They are usually filled with wonderment and many still haven’t quite processed the experience. I encourage people to lie down and view it, instead of sitting on the benches and craning their necks,” said Marzuoli.
First time viewers Kate and Ramash Churi of Mt. Airy brought their son, Ariel, his wife, Amy Parness, and their two children, Robin, 4, and Marcel, 2 months who were visiting from Montclare, New Jersey over Thanksgiving weekend. Marcel sat under the stars sleeping while Amy spread out on a nearby bench and looked up into the opening.
“I was very familiar with James Turrell as an artist, but words can’t adequately describe the whole experience,” said Parness, while holding a still sleeping Marcel in her arms. “It was pretty incredible. No, more than incredible. It’s hard to find the words.”
“I am taking an amazing yoga class here and wanted to see what all the talk was about and now I get it,” Kate Churi chimed in. “It’s hard to “get” unless you’ve experienced it.”
Anne Harper, who recently moved to Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat and conference center in Wallingford, had visited once before and returned with some out-of-town friends.
“I was curious to see it again and what it would be like a second time. This time I was more curious to see how it works from the technical side,” she said. “It’s really quite fascinating and refreshing.”
Harper’s friend, John Kern, 75, of Roanoke, Virginia, did admit to napping under the stars.
“It was so very peaceful as evidenced by my nap. I’m sorry, did I snore too loud,” Kern joked with his friend. “I would say it’s a unique, one-of-a kind experience.”
“It almost plays tricks with your mind in terms of the color exposure and color theory. At one point I thought, stop trying to figure it out and just enjoy it and I did,” said Gerhardt Weich of Gladwyne.
“James Turrell’s Skyspace at the Chestnut Hill Meeting House is an immense and unexpected gift to the people of this city,” said Philadelphia painter and teacher Stuart Shils who has visited many times. “My life was permanently altered the first time I sat under the Skyspace. Sitting there, we find ourselves face to face with a complex abstract mystery and an unanticipated sense of wonder, and ironically (or maybe not so) in the most unexpected of places, a simple, unornamented Quaker meeting room.”
The Skyspace has also been reviewed on Yelp. One person wrote, “Hands down this is the best art experience I have had while living in Philadelphia. All sorts of people attend, from young, hip twenty-somethings to people my grandparent’s age, and of course the occasional person who falls asleep during the hour that the whole experience takes. Completely free, make your reservations online beforehand, and arrive at least ten minutes early to get a great spot (try to bring a pillow and yoga mat if you can, since you lie down the whole time).”
Actually the Quakers request a $5 donation that can be paid online or in person.
The new, larger meetinghouse allowed the meeting to host homeless families involved in the Northwest Interfaith Hospitality Network for five weeks this year. The new building has become popular for community gatherings from AA groups and yoga classes to board meetings of the local food co-op. The meeting room has also become a popular place for weddings and other social gatherings.
Cyane Gresham, who serves on the Property Committee, has been in awe of the use of the building and the draw of the Skyspace.
“The Skyspace is nested within a larger context of this building. It does say something about awareness and beauty and is at the heart of entire property. There have been days where we haven’t been able to mow the lawn because there is a wedding or other activities. It’s hard to imagine this was an abandoned lot and now people come to honor and respect the Skyspace. It has been truly astonishing,” said Gresham of Lafayette Hill.
The Skyspace retractable roof will not be opened if weather conditions are unfavorable. Specifically if there is risk of precipitation, temperature below 40F, snow on the roof, or high winds. Check the weather forecast for zip code 19118. A 20-minute closed roof light sequence is presented if the roof can’t be opened.
For more information on hours of the openings and to make reservations for sunrise and sunset openings, visit www.Chestnuthillskyspace.org.
Personal historian and Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf has been attending the Quaker Meeting since writing about the new Meetinghouse three years ago. She serves on the Hospitality Committee and can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.
The empty James Turrell Skyspace at the Chestnut Hill Friends Quaker Meeting welcomes visitors on Sundays and dusk and special Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve viewings. For more information on hours of the openings and to make reservations for sunset openings, visit www.Chestnuthillskyspace.org. (Photo by Terry Foss)
As part of the ‘sandwich generation’ I feel like I a panini, being smashed down and heated on both sides. The cheese oozing out the middle is part of my soul.
My parents are long divorced, and of their four children, I am the one who stepped up to the plate to serve as Power of Attorney for both of them. If you ever decide to take this responsibility on, think twice, because in reality, there is very little power until the child-like parent does not remember what year it is, or who the president of the United States is, or, at times, who you are.
That has been the case with my father. I saw it coming. My maternal grandfather had dementia, and trained as a journalist, I did my homework to find out as much as I could about the memory-robbing disease. It isn’t pretty; on paper or in life.
As his dementia got progressively worse, I began the process two years ago to get him into the Veteran’s Home in Vineland, NJ. As someone who was transient much of his adult life, he had very few documents which is why the process took so long, and who could imagine there was a fire that destroyed many documents in the Veteran’s Administration years ago. Not I?
After the winter from hell in which he fell and hit his head and I couldn’t get to the hospital an hour away as my husband had just had hip surgery, I jumped at the first bed that became available through the Veteran’s in early March. His longtime partner pleaded with me to wait until “after golf season”. I could not. There were no guarantees of a bed then, nor that her 90-year old body would hold out under the stress of caring for him. He is where he needs to be, and is being treated with dignity and respect. Yes, there have been issues, but they are manageable.
Despite my mother’s myriad of health issues; obesity, hypertension, diabetes, recurrent breast cancer, mini-strokes, bedsores and a leaking abdominal aneurism, she is still in denial about her fate. As I work with a funeral director who also buried my grandparents at the Jersey shore, I tentatively ask if she’d like a funeral mass. She does. She also wants to be cremated, which is really the only option in the budget. That is the beginning and the end of the conversation.
As I write this we are a family in crisis as I am make my third attempt to get a Medicaid application approved in order to get her into skilled nursing, and out of her home where my 50-year old unemployed brother is doing his best. But as a caregiver who has not been taking care of himself, he has developed a host of health issues that need to be addressed and his ‘best’ isn’t working anymore.
So I pull out her massive file from a wheeled briefcase and dust off the two previous Medicaid applications to get them ready for a third shot and learn that even if she has a Medicaid application in process, she cannot go back into the rehab side of the nursing facility she has been in twice so far this year until she has “60 Well Days” under Medicare guidelines. I count the days on the calendar and despair sets in as November 29th seems like an eternity to keep this together. The house of cards is crumbling.
Add to the mix that there was a hoarding issue to deal with before she came home from rehab and back taxes due, and the overflowing sandwich has landed me in therapy for anxiety and depression. I haven’t been in a deep sleep since getting a colonoscopy in December with the miracle of twilight anesthesia.
My husband is sick of hearing about the woes, and while my true friends have been very supportive, others have fallen away as if the germs from my sandwich could contaminate them.
My communications consulting and personal history businesses have been mothballed and I have been very selective in taking on new projects on, although the pressure is there to deliver to try to keep the ship afloat. My mother and brother are living off of her meager, Social Security check and what we can send.
Before mom was released from her latest stay at the rehab facility, I decide to go back to her room to say one final goodbye because ‘ya never know.’
As I round the corner I catch her in the act of opening a packet of Reese’s peanut butter cups. SHE IS DIABETIC! How did she get these?
She confesses that she ‘won’ them at Bingo. I’ve been to Bingo and know that you get to choose the prize you win. She chose the peanut butter cups over the scarf or the handbag.
Tears flow for the second time that day and I simply say, “Mom, I came back to say while I am frustrated with you, that I love you, but clearly you don’t love yourself.”
She says she does love herself, but continues to open the package.
I give her a kiss and walk out the door for the two-hour drive home, taking what turns out to be a two-hour detour to hit Vineland while “I’m in Jersey” to check in on dad.
It is a 16-hour day. My shoulders are knotted beyond repair, and upon seeing our golden retriever waiting for me at the door, I sink to my knees, wrapping my arms around him in the hallway and let the tears flow.
Tomorrow, I will pick over the leftovers from the sandwich and hope and pray the panini doesn’t go bad overnight.
Barbara Sherf lives and writes from Flourtown, PA and can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com. Assuming her aging parent issues don’t rear up, she will be participating in the kick-off information fair titled “Old Answers to New Questions for Today’s Sandwich Generation – Using Jewish Wisdom to Navigate this Time of Personal Transition” at Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, Montgomery County on October, 19th. Five additional workshops sponsored by the Bucks-Mont Neighborhood Kehillah, through a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, will be held through mid-December at various locations in the Bucks-Mont area. Go to jewishphilly.org/sandwich for additional details.
Barb Sherf and Fifi the Great Bearded Dragon sharing a special moment.
What did I do on my summer vacation? Well this past week I spent more time that I care to admit on an array of Great Bearded Dragon web sites preparing for and getting through my first (and perhaps last) lizard sitting ordeal that started out just fine.
But by Sunday evening I was chatting on a forum seeking answers to the question: “How long can these lizards go without eating?”
I learned from the Fun Bearded Dragon Facts and Information page that these critters can live up to 10 years and beyond, and can grow up to two-feet in the proper container. Pretty straight forward.
But the answers to the question I posed about their eating habits are all over the board. Some say they can go from two to four days without eating. Others say longer if they are shedding, but they don’t appear to be shedding to me. It’s the post from Linda B. who said, and I quote: “If they aren’t eating every other day, you should take them to a vet who specializes in this breed” that troubles me.
I dig out the copious notes I had taken while getting instructions from Flourtown skin expert Rachael Pontillo, before she handed over the house key and left me with these pre-historic looking creatures that have become all the craze because there are no fur/allergy issues. Trust me, there are other issues.
Even though the family had left on Thursday morning, I decide to check on the lizards Thursday evening. They seemed content and I gave Sprite some extra treats in the form of live crickets and Fifi a few more super worms. What the heck — it’s their vacation too.
But as a novice, a cricket escapes and leaps all over the family room. I spend the next 15 minutes on all fours trying to catch the critter. Once in my hands, I wonder if this cricket was destined for greater things, and so I open the front door flinging it outside for a second chance. I toy with the idea of rescuing all of the live insects and switching Fifi and Sprite to an organic vegetarian diet for the remaining four days, but realize – for better or worse–I am entrusted with their care.
Returning on Friday afternoon, it seems Sprite and Fifi are eating less and they seem a bit off. Come Saturday, I check in on Sprite and there are about a half dozen uneaten shriveled cricket carcasses that have succumbed to the heat lamps that are atop his container, and two of the super worms have drowned themselves in Fifi’s water container. Oh my!
On my way to the kitchen trash to dispose of the carnage, I veer outside instead, giving them a little funeral while letting their bodies return to the place they belonged all along. R.I.P.
Back inside with Fifi sitting on my lap for a little quality time, I text Rachael with my concerns. “They aren’t eating,” I type.
It seems like forever before she replies. Damn that Disney!
“It’s okay, they get a little depressed when we are away,” she replies. “Talk to them, play with them, make them feel special.”
So I do what I do when I’m a little down and play Pharrell Williams’ famous “Happy Song” and take each out of their containers and do a little dance with them, remembering that Sprite and Fifi don’t get along at all. He hisses and his black beard puffs out at the site of her.
The little song and dance routine seem to perk them (and me) up a bit. I then proceed to talk to them and dress them up in doll clothes as the girls do. I even resort to the baby talk that Rachael performed when she was giving me the lizard sitting instructions.
“How’s my little Fifiweefee today? How is Spriteywhitey feeling?”
I can’t believe I’m doing this and post some of my antics on Facebook, including a shot and some video of Fifi and I wearing our fancy hats. Big mistake. Within minutes, folks from far and wide who have FB fan pages for their lizards are asking to Friend me. I ignore the requests, spending my time on the forums instead in the hope of gleaning more details about their eating habits.
By Sunday, I’m more concerned about the fact that they haven’t pooped. Rachael even left instructions and paper towels for me to clean up after them. Do they have a bowel obstruction? Are they constipated? I give them more greens and re-read the notes, finding the name of their trusted vet, Dr. Sheldon L. Gerstenfeld of Chestnut Hill Veterinary Hospital.
Do I call to see if we can consult by phone. It’s a Sunday. Do they have an emergency answering service? I opt to give the lizards more greens than protein and hope for the best. I’m a day away from Rachael’s return and my freedom. I will be leaping lizards.
Sunday night I have my first scary dead lizard dreams and Monday morning I stop in early. They are eating a bit more, but still no poop. I again go heavy on the greens, leave the family a little note from Fifi and Sprite saying that they missed the girls, and urge Rachael to check in upon their return. I check my e-mail before turning in and no update. Another restless night with scary lizard dreams.
The next day Rachael e-mails to tell me the dragons had pooped and are back on their food.
Yipeeeeeeeeeeee. I jump for joy like a cricket being freed.
Upon returning the key, Rachael is most apologetic about not sharing the critical information that their eating and pooping habits change when their routines change.
“It would have helped,” I manage to mumble.
The ultimate offense occurs after researching and writing this piece for more time than I care to admit. My right foot had fallen asleep and as I get up from my desk to stretch, I go down on the ceramic tile. At first it looks like just a skinned knee, but when my husband helps me up, we realize it’s the ankle. Sprained. Ouch!
So now it’s time to take care of me.
Poor Barbiewarbie needs a visit from Fifiweefee and Spriteywhitey.”
Barbara Sherf is a storyteller who writes from Flourtown, PA.
Growing up with two older sisters and a younger brother, each about two years apart, I longed to gain entry into ‘the big girls club.’
My brother, Kevin, was in a club – and room—of his own.
We three sisters shared a room, although I was a bit isolated on the top bunk and viewed as the baby girl in the family.
The oldest, Karen, and second child, Patrice, tended to pal around together, only grudgingly taking their “baby sister” with them to play outside or down in the basement. Two was company; three a crowd.
Dressed in their starched white cotton shirts and navy blue Catholic school uniforms with lunch boxes in hand they marched off to school as I stayed behind, longing for the day when I would get my own lunch box and join them as part of the ‘big girls club.’
The big day finally came. Looking back on a faded family photo of the three girls in front our twin house, lunch boxes in tow, I felt pure joy at finally joining my two older sisters on the walk to school and a closer glimpse into ‘the big girls club.’
Once there, I hesitated at the classroom door, looking at a nun whose wrinkled face scared me to no end. On that first day Sister Egidia asked me to stand up in front of the whole class and shared with the newcomers that she had taught my mother. Gosh, she was ancient. I felt so humiliated by being singled out and upon returning home vowed never to return to school again. Of course that didn’t happen.
What did happen that year opened my eyes to the disciplinary actions those nuns meted out on any given day. Early on in first grade, Charles Beaver was given a bar of soap and told to eat it to clean out his dirty mouth. He took a bite and spit it out and was sent to the principal’s office. We never found out what happened there. Then came the day that Sister found a brown bag containing an egg salad sandwich abandoned in the rear coatroom.
When nobody fessed up to owning the lunch, Sister made each student take a bite of the sandwich. Gross. To this day I can’t even look at egg salad without my stomach churning. Yuck. Here I was finally in the ‘big girl club’ and I wanted out – big time. Kindergarten was a piece of cake compared to this.
My next entry into the ‘big girl club’ came later that year. Up until this time, I had believed in Santa Claus. Just before Christmas, I saw my two sisters snooping around in our parents’ bedroom. Hovering at the door I asked what they were doing.
“Shh, get in here or we’ll be found out and in deep trouble,” Patrice said. I hesitated, but wanted in on the ‘big girls club.’ They then showed me toys stashed under he bed and clued me into the fact that Santa did not exist. While I was devastated inside, I was also happy to be invited into ‘the big girls club.’ After the holidays were over, I was again banished to the little girl’s club because my mother found out that they had shared the fact that Santa did not exist.
The next time I remember coming back into the ‘big girls club’ was when I got my first training bra. Being the third girl, I typically got hand me downs, but somewhere around 11 years of age, my mother took me and me alone out for my first bra. I wore it proudly as an outward symbol that I had gained entry into the ‘big girls club.’ My sisters laughed when they saw it as it was just a ‘training bra’ and not the real deal like the ones they modeled behind closed doors in our room.
On my 12th Birthday my membership into the ‘big girls club’ became official. That morning I woke up to discover “I had become a woman.” My sisters were thrilled and congratulated me.
I was somber most of the day, fearing that everyone coming to my first boy-girl party that night would be able to tell. I let my best friend, Donna Fitzgerald, in on my secret, but none of the other party goers.
I do remember we turned the lights off and played spin the bottle in the basement briefly until my father flipped the light switch on at the top of the stairs and threatened to come down.
I also remember visiting the powder room every half hour or so to check that everything was in order and I wouldn’t be ‘found out’ by the boys.
In my sisters eyes I was officially ‘in’ the big girls club, but it was a membership I now wanted no part of – but at this stage had no say in the matter.
Dear Family and Friends,
Thank you for helping me to Live Well, Laugh Often, and Love Much! I also embrace another saying: Cherish Every Memory, Love Every Moment, Embrace Every Possibility.
Borrowing a line from Oprah, This Much I Know is True.
On Healthy Competition
Through my three siblings I learned how to be a competitor early in life and it has served me well. Fight for what you want, need and desire. I’ve also learned later in life how to turn business competitors into collaborators. I’ve learned to ask for help and advice from mentors, colleagues and friends. We are all on this journey together.
Using a term my father often used, I learned the ‘value of the almighty buck’ from my first job when I was 14, serving customers at Goetter’s Restaurant in Feasterville and working a host of similar jobs to get the money to go to college. Getting a good education while working in the real world turned out to be really good investments.
On Choosing a Partner
I knew that Brad would be a good provider and husband. I did not know how willing he would be to allow me to be the creative spirit I have grown into. Brad, you have given me so much, that I have written a separate private letter to you.
Stories Make You Rich
By working as a journalist, and through Nanny and my father, I learned the art and craft of storytelling, and it too has served me well in so many ways; from family gatherings, to networking events, to the many workshops I have given over the years. People want to hear stories. It’s what connects us.
On Playing Fair
While working as a reporter I learned to ask the tough questions, but also to sit back and listen and to be fair in my coverage. One thing they didn’t teach me in journalism school was the value of having empathy for my subjects. Along the way, I did learn to empathize and not to judge others. There is nothing gained and much to lose by being judgmental.
On Having Children or Not
Somebody asked me recently why Brad and I never had kids, and it was because I was exposed to too much information regarding how badly our environment was polluted while working at our state environmental agency. Since the early 90s I’ve learned to weed my garden by hand and limit my environmental footprint where possible. I’ve also learned to love and nurture children who are not my own as if they were my own. It does take a village to raise a child.
On Taking Risks
Upon leaving the corporate world, I learned to take risks in setting up CommunicationsPro in 1996. There were many ups and downs, but I learned to squirrel away money when business was good, and reach into those funds when things were not so good. I’ve learned there is a downside in taking risks and to accept failures along the way. Compost happens. Deal with it.
On Doing the Hard Work
After writing the book about my dad’s stories and then seeing him develop dementia, I learned how important it was to help other families capture their life stories. It is perhaps the most valuable work I have done. In writing this and some of my stories and teaching memoir classes, I have found it to be the most difficult, but most rewarding writing one can do. It’s like peeling away at an onion and getting to the core of what really matters most.
On Making Mistakes
I’ve learned to look somebody in the eye if possible, or pick up the phone and apologize when you need to apologize. We are all human and mistakes happen. I’ve learned that people will forgive you if you offer a sincere apology.
On Births and Deaths
I have learned, from Jewish tradition, not to celebrate the life of a baby until the child is actually on the planet. I’ve learned the importance of showing up for funerals, even if you don’t really know the person; you are showing up for the living.
I’ve learned that people do come into and out of your life for reasons.
I’ve learned to surround myself with a good group of girlfriends, who have listened and supported me as I hope I have for them. (Please see separate Girlfriends and Goddess Gathering instructions). I’ve learned to stand by old friends who may have drifted, but also to develop new friendships along the way.
Good neighbors are hard to find. I’ve learned to invest time with my neighbors.
I’ve learned that life is fuller with a good dog by your side. For us, it was always the rescued golden retrievers. Lenny, Simba and Tucker. They were all very different dogs, but they made us laugh and walk and brought us unconditional love every day.
I’ve learned that for every object or piece of clothing I bring into our home, an object or garment must leave and I’ve learned to let go of material stuff. I’ve especially learned to pass along a good book.
I have learned that I am enough. I have enough.
On Living and Laughing and Loving
I’ve learned to get my hands in the dirt and garden, but also to sit back at the end of the day and relax and put your feet up and enjoy what you’ve created.
I’ve learned to push back from the desk and take a walk at Morris Arboretum on a nice spring day and let the weeds grow a bit longer.
I’ve learned to dance with myself and laugh at myself. I’ve learned to love myself. I’ve learned to tell others that I love them.
Through Nanny and my late mother-in-law, I learned the importance of bringing family together around food and celebrating life. Remember when our oven broke just before Christmas in 2006 and we had Crockpot Christmas? It was one of the most relaxing holiday gatherings for me. We were all well served when Cin Cin Chinese delivery then became a tradition in our home. Slaving over a hot stove is not my idea of entertaining. Sitting down with loved ones and sharing stories over a meal is the key to being a good host.
My good friend, Gina, taught me to cook early on in our marriage. I’ve learned to prepare extra meals, leaving one for an elderly neighbor and freezing one for a loved one on a visit. Thank you for this gift I use every day.
At the age of 50, I finally learned portion control and eating well along with the importance of exercising the mind and body every day. I have also learned the art of pampering myself. I enjoyed nightly hot tubs and artist dates where I just spent time with me, myself, and I.
I’ve learned to give my talents and money to good causes, but I have also learned how to say “no” when giving of myself was harming me or taking away from some of my goals.
I’ve learned to take a good picture, and also to have them processed for sharing, framing and scrap booking. Surround yourselves with pictures of those you love and please take away the pictures of you that I have cherished.
I learned to be a caregiver without complaint, but that to be a good caregiver you must take good care of yourself. I would jump in again without hesitation to help care for a loved one. No regrets. Zero. Zip. Nada.
On Giving a Good Eulogy
I’ve learned o praise an individual for their accomplishments, but also to acknowledge any failings that person may have had – and to ask those gathered to put aside any negative thoughts they may have had of that person. Clear the air. Rest in peace.
On Putting a Card in the Mail
I’ve learned that people appreciate a thank you, birthday, get well or sympathy card. I did. You will find several scrapbooks full of cards from all of you among my material things. Thank you. I know it takes a little extra effort, but it is something tangible people can hold onto in this intangible world.
In 2011 my dear neighbor and friend, Susan Grun, shared a book with me called A Complaint Free World. It was life changing in terms of biting my tongue when a complaint, negative phrase or gossip would come to mind. After a while, the thoughts diminished and for that I am grateful.
On Being Part of a Spiritual Community
In 2011 I started attending Quaker Meeting. With the Friends, I really learned to go within myself and listen. I’ve enjoyed many a Meeting and Quaker potluck, and feel blessed for the spiritual insights shared within this community and for the warm welcome Chestnut Hill Friends have given me. Thank you, my Friends.
I’ve learned that if you want to be heard, speak up. If you want to be seen, stand up, and if you want to be appreciated, zip the lip and shut up…and listen.
I’ve learned the importance of putting my affairs in order as much as possible while still on the planet and the importance of peeling away at my onion.
I am no saint, but I’ve learned to forgive myself and try to be a better person. I’ve learned to dance in the rain, and the power of gratitude. For all of you and for all of these life lessons, I am truly grateful.
This much I know is true.
Barbara L. Sherf