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Have a ________ New Year

By Barbara L. Sherf

It’s ironic that as a wordsmith, I have been struggling for weeks to come up with a word that might replace the Happy in the slogan that seems to absentmindedly roll off the lips of friends, colleagues and well meaning strangers:  “Happy New Year.”

Don’t get me wrong, I do wish all of you a “Happy New Year,” however we all know that the year will be filled with joys and sorrows.  That’s life.  Having been trained as a journalist, it’s become second nature  for me to see both sides, and I feel fortunate that I fall into the category of ‘realist.’

So reality slapped me in the face early in 2016, despite a receptionists cheerful refrain of “Happy New Year” that came rolling off her sparkly pink glossy lips at the Madden Animal Hospital in Ambler on January 3rd.

Waiting for the new credit card cycle to roll around, my husband and I took our sweet golden retriever back to the Victorian home where Dr. Madden lives and works to secure a second set of x-rays in the hopes of determining whether a growth on Tucker’s lung had increased in size.   As we were ushered into the exam room and sat silently waiting, I wondered if the bubbly woman behind the desk had any clue that we were not there for a regular check up.  If she was clueless, then I would let the “Happy New Year” refrain go, but if she clued in, then I wanted to reach across the counter and place my hands around her neck if she came close to spewing that refrain to the next pet owner.  Clearly I was on edge and so I turned my attention to working on this puzzle of a term: “Happy New Year.”

Following the x-rays and in his classic Irish brogue, this  devoted vet who had treated our two previous golden rescues and watched as they passed over the Rainbow Bridge, Dr. Madden came in with one of those good news/bad news scenarios (another phrase I could do without),

“The bad news is it’s grown by 20 percent in six weeks.  The good news is that it’s still encapsulated and very much operable,” he told us, patiently answering our questions and handing us the name and number of a surgeon, before sending us on our way with a off with feeble “Happy New Year.”

“There has got to be a better term,” I thought, rolling my eyes in amazement.

In retrospect, the search for the new word started on New Year’s Eve, with my first stop at the Chestnut Hill Quaker Meeting to view the Skyspace installation.  The greeter, who knew of the year I had had, wished me a “Happy New Year. “  Following 2015 the triple whammy deaths of Uncle Norman, my Mother, and Aunt Lil, I would have been very happy with the refrain: Have a Mellow New Year; one that was not filled with highs and lows but just a ‘steady as she goes’ kind of year.

After musing about this while looking up at the indescribable light show change the colors of the sky, I proceeded to Erdenheim, where friends were having a “Happy New Year’s Eve” party complete with party hats, banners and horns.

When friends of these friends walked through the door to shouts of “Happy New Year,” I truly wanted to gag.   Perhaps the word Happier New Year might have been more appropriate, or even Healthier New Year, as we all had whispered about the tales of woe that this couple had experienced.

Linda, in her early 60s, had been diagnosed in 2015 with colon cancer, and while on the operating room table, Linda’s mother passed away.  While recovering from the fairly invasive surgery, Linda’s husband, Steve, got word that he had a tumor on his brain that needed to come out in January.  Happy New Year?  Really?  As the alcohol set in and the shouts of “Happy New Year” freely flowed, I feigned a headache and left the party early, stopping at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill to walk the labyrinth.  While making my way around the circular maze, I stopped in the center to continue my deliberation on THE WORD issue.  Perhaps in this holy place my muse would come deliver the proper word.  She did not.   Did I leave her back at the party?

Once safely home with our 90-pound dog on the couch, I picked up my 5-year-old laptop and started searching for a word to replace “Happy” on the thesaurus tool.

The computer was slow to startup and thoughts of getting a new MacBook Air for my Birthday in March vanished in a haze as the reality of a dog ultrasound and possible surgery set in; not that I’m complaining.  Dog trumps new computer any day. Finally the ‘happy’ synonyms came up: content, lucky.  Hmmm.  Have a Contented New Year?  Have a Lucky New Year?  I think not.   Going further down the list, I ticked them off aloud while Tucker’s big brown eyes stared back at me;   pleased, glad, joyful, cheerful, blissful, exultant, ecstatic, delighted, cheery, jovial.

Nope.  Nada.  Zip. Not hitting the mark.  I put the computer and thinking cap aside to watch the ball drop on TV.  “Happy New Year!”

The following Monday, while meditating in the Resiliency Center in Flourtown, my mind (as it often does) wandered back to this puzzle.  And then it hit me:  Have a Resilient New Year.

Now granted, it doesn’t roll off the lips like the tried (but tired) and true “Happy New Year,” but my intention in all of this is to acknowledge that, for want of a better term, Compost Happens.  And when we are thick in the middle of that pile of doo doo with terrorist attacks, the deadly combo of untreated mental illness and illegal guns, stocks plunging, health issues arising in pets and people, and Seasonal Affective Disorder setting in, wishing one  “A Resilient New Year” seemed more appropriate.  No?

The following Sunday, as I made my way to sit with Friends at the Chestnut Hill Quaker Meeting, I tried out my new slogan on a greeter  “Have a Resilient New Year,” I said.  This man looked at me quizzically for a moment, thought about it, and replied, “Okay, thanks.  I guess we can all use resiliency in our lives.”

As various messages came through during the meeting regarding gratitude, I thought perhaps incorporating gratitude into my new New Year slogan might be nice as well.  And as I was rolling that around in my mind, the message developer in me realized that instead of limiting myself  to a three-word catchphrase, I could reach into the language of love using many words as I wanted and needed to properly express myself.  There were no rules like the 140 character limit on Twitter, rules that drove me to become a ‘Twitter Quitter’ years ago.

So sit back, fasten your seat belts, and listen to the imaginary drum roll, please:

My wish for you is a New Year filled with gratitude, resiliency, prosperity, relatively good health, peace, joy, contentedness and love for yourself and each other.

Amen.
Author of “Cowboy Mission: The Best Sermons are Lived…Not Preached,” Barbara Sherf lives and writes in Flourtown. Barb@CommunicationsPro.com.  Please visit her Facebook page for updates on Tucker at http://www.facebook.com/BarbaraSherf.

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Love Lies To My Father

By Barbara L. Sherf

Lies to my father come tumbling out of my mouth with increasing frequency these days.  I call them “love lies.”

You see, at 87, Dad has dementia and is often confused about where he is and why.

On my visits to the Veteran’s Home in Vineland, New Jersey, where he is being treated with dignity and respect, the lies roll off my lips in rapid succession.

Dad opens a Christmas card from me with an illustration depicting two horses and a sleigh pulling a pair of passengers.

“This looks familiar,” he says.  I marvel as I had recovered the cards along with his personal papers nearly three years ago, before getting him settled into the home.

“I never liked them because of the way the horses hoof is bent at an awkward angle. It isn’t right,“ he says pointing to the disfigured joint.  I look closer and indeed, it is not right.

There is a glimmer and a connection before he starts with the questions and the  “love lies” start rolling.

“How long am I staying here?” he asks.

“Until you’re better.  They are taking good care of you here and this is where you need to be.”

“What’s wrong with me?” he’ll ask.

“Well your legs aren’t strong and your brain is fuzzy, probably from too many falls off the animals in the rodeos.  Remember those days?” I ask, trying to divert further questioning while reaching into the top drawer of his bedside table and pulling out the book we wrote together and presented to partygoers seven years ago, for his 80th Birthday.

The cover is worn, but the glossy image of father and daughter sitting on horses outside of Monastery Stables in the Wissahickon Valley still shines.

He is on Wyatt, and I am on Seamus.  Both horses are retired now.  Wyatt’s owner died too quickly; too young.  But maybe that’s better, I think.

The front title shouts out in bold black letters: “Cowboy Mission: The Best Sermons are Lived….Not Preached.”  By Barbara L. Sherf and Charles Sherf.

“I wrote this?” he asks.

“Some of it and some of them you told to me over and over while we were riding and I wrote them down.  They are still great stories,” I say as he closes his eyes and listens.  I read the story about a bull named Rodger’s Pet, who traveled the rodeo circuit from places like Sally Starr’s Ranch to Cowtown Rodeo to Totem Ranch.  There’s a photo of Dad as a muscular teen riding the bull.

He opens his eyes.

“I remember.  Nobody could stay on that bull for 8 seconds.  They’d pay you fifty bucks if you did, but nobody could get the job done,” he smiles.  “Many tried.”

I read him the story about the happiest day of his life.  It was during the Great Depression, when as one of five kids, he had managed to save $75 picking tomatoes and delivering them by horse and buggy to Campbell’s Soup Company in Camden.  While he gave a good portion of the weekly pay to his mother, she would hand some back to him every week, and when he had saved $75, he and his best friend, Charlie Pfluger, traveled on Pfluger’s horse from Maple Shade to Ray Hinkson’s Dude Ranch in Camden.  Once there, my father settled on a one-eyed horse and named him Paint, because of the brown and cream colored splotches on his coat.  He loved that horse.  Still does.

While my father never even kept a copy of his Birth Certificate or Divorce Decree, he still had the receipt for that horse.

“How’s Paint doing?” he asks.

“Oh he’s getting older; very mellow.  He let’s me hop on him, but only bareback.  No saddle.”  I “love lie” again.

“Yeah, I paid $75 for him and didn’t even have the $5 to pay for the old army saddle.  Rode him home bareback.  He likes that.  It’s good to ride bareback.  You’ll become a better rider,” Dad lectures.

I turn the page.  There is a photo of Dad coming out of the shute at Cowton Rodeo on Paint during a calf roping competition as his younger brother, Tommy, sits on the fence watching in awe.

“How’s Tommy?” he asks.

“I heard he was here this morning and seems to be doing well after his heart surgery,” I reply.

“Oh yeah, yeah, I remember,” Dad says.  I sense he does not remember, but let it go.

“How is my mother doing,” he asks.

“Oh she’s slowing down too, but she still gets out to collect the eggs from the chicken coop and makes them for Grandpop nearly every morning,” the “love lies” are flowing smoothly now.

“That’s good.  I loved that farm.  Did I ever tell you the story about how we boys would go skinny dipping in the fishing pond?” he asks.

“No, ” I “I love lie,”  “tell me.”

He proceeds to weave the yarn about how his brothers and Pfluger would all jump in the swimming hole “buck naked,” and if his sisters or any girls would come near, the boys threatened to run out and expose themselves.

“That scared them away,” he laughs.  “I don’t think we’d have the guts to do it, but it kept them away,” he chuckles, as I turn the page.

“I like this one” he says of a photo of himself on Paint right next to Pfluger on his horse as an 8 or 9-year-old Tommy balances himself with one knee on both of their shoulder in a triangle formation; no helmets, no nets.

“You’d never be able to get that shot these days.  Look, nobody is wearing helmets.  Uncle Tommy could have fallen off and gotten stomped to death by those horses,” I exclaim, realizing that this is no lie and wondering who took the photo.

Craning my neck looking over his shoulder, I ask him to move over and we continue looking at the pictures.  His eyes close as I read more stories.  He is back there on the farm or maybe we are riding in my beloved Wissahickon Valley section of Fairmount Park.

Gently removing his glasses and putting aside the book, I slide down and cuddle up next to him.

Half asleep he pulls my hands to his chest and murmurs,

“Oh this feels good.  So good.”

The tears come rolling down my cheeks, but I do not move and try to muffle the weeping.

I hold onto him like he held me as a little girl.  Time stands still.

Dad is fully asleep now; twitching and dreaming.  I imagine he is back on the farm riding Paint through the fields, or picking tomatoes to get more money for a saddle and feed.

We lost Mom in May, so he’s the only parent I’ve got left and I tighten my grip.

He is sleeping.

Slowly, methodically, I untangle my arms and hands without waking him. Smoothing his thinning gray hair, I kiss him gently on the cheek.

Do I wake him to say goodbye?

No.  He is at peace, dreaming, and so I exit out a back door so the staff do not bear witness to the river of tears streaming down my face.  The realization sets in that I have really lost both parents and the guilt surfaces that Dad didn’t hear me say goodbye.  But I knew if I had awakened him, the painful questions would have come again.

“Where am I?  Why am I I here?  When am I leaving?  Are you coming back tomorrow?  Who is taking care of Paint?”

Safely home, I speed dial the nursing station.

“Was my father upset when he woke up?” I ask with hesitation.

“Oh no, he was in a chipper mood and he just went down to dinner,” the aide shares.

“I’m glad.  Please tell him I won’t see him tomorrow because I need to take care of his horse, Paint,” I ask the aide with hesitation.

The aide assures me he will relay the message.

He understands the love; the lies.

 

Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf is a writer and personal historian.  She can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.

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More than Massage

I found much more than I bargained for while doing a story on the closing of the Flourtown Farmer’s Market this past weekend in the form of a healer whom I believe channeled my Mother’s spirit to me.  As I recounted the story to my sister that night, she broke down sobbing because I – not she – had had the encounter with Mom.  My Mother visited me with and through a Glenside woman who works out of a placed called Healing Center in Erdenheim.

As some background, my Mother passed not so peacefully at her home on May 22nd. Of the four grown children, I was her namesake and her Power of Attorney who had to make the tough call regarding ending her treatments, and ultimately her life.

After interviewing vendors and customers in the crowded Flourtown Farmer’s Market aisles, I spotted Andrea Borowsky, who had established Beck’s Catering more than 20 years ago.  As a regular customer, she asked me where I had been and I explained that my Mother had passed and that I simply stumbled upon the fact that the market was closing this weekend and transitioning to a new location and was there to do a story.  Andrea introduced me to Cara Brind, “my friend and ace massage therapist,”  and someone she highly recommended.  I said I was already working with someone on massage but craned my neck offhandedly commenting that I should have gotten in there before the week was out.  After the exchange, Cara followed me a bit and I knew she was someone on some level I needed to connect with.  Cara hung around and after I got all my photos and quotes, she offered a complimentary massage for what I had gone through with my Mother.   We both looked at our calendars and decided to get together just after 5 pm, even though she had already closed shop and was simply heading home for the weekend.

As I entered her space, I commented on the large blue butterfly poster and butterfly décor and I commented that the butterfly theme had worked its way into my Mother’s passing.  I had even printed my mother’s story for her service on paper bordered with butterflies.

In short order Cara worked my body like it had never been worked before, and I could feel the energy coming through her fingers.  I asked if she did Reiki as well, because the energy was so strong, and Cara responded that sometimes she couldn’t stop the energy, even when she was doing a regular massage. Reiki (pronounced ray-key) means “universal life energy” in Japanese, and Reiki practitioners are trained to detect and alleviate problems of energy flow on the physical, emotional, and spiritual level.

At some point the massage ended, and Cara excused herself and told me to use the room as long as I needed.  As I lay there with a heated gel mask on my eyes, I thought I heard her come back in and I clearly felt the Reiki energy over my legs.  It was so powerful that I just assumed she had come back into the room to perform some light Reiki and that’s when Mom visited happened.  I said aloud that I could feel my mother’s presence in the room and through her fingers.  My mother was telling me she was at peace, and that I should be too.  Again, thinking Cara was in the room, I said I wished I had gotten one last hug from my mother, and as I lay there, I felt an otherworldly compression on my chest.  It was a spiritual hug.  At that point, I whipped off the eye mask to see that Cara was not in the room.  I wandered out to the hallway and Cara said she had been out there for 20 minutes or so waiting for me.  I told her what had happened and she said she wasn’t surprised.

“Your mother was with us from the start.  I felt her energy going through me as I was massaging you,” said Cara, who said that in another life she was a Shaman, but that she only shared that with individuals she felt understood the afterlife.  Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact with the spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world.

As the tears flowed freely Cara said my mother told her she loved me very, very much, and that she trusted me to make the right decisions.  She told me that  my mother said that “she was okay with the way things happened in the end, and not to worry, she was okay with all of it.”   Cara had not known that I was my Mother’s Power of Attorney and that I had to make the call on discontinuing treatment.

Cara told me she didn’t normally bring up the spirits who visit during a healing session, unless the person she was working on brought it up.

She said she was glad I was open to receiving the healing as she believed my Mother’s spirit had attached itself to her and would not let her go.  As we walked out the door two-and-a half hours later and with absolutely no discussion of or exchange of money, Cara thanked me for letting the spirit speak through her, allowing her to go home and walk her dog and get on with her weekend.  She also told me that my mother has more to tell me and that she will visit me in my dreams.  Thank you Cara, which means ‘dear one’ in Latin, for being a dear one to me on Friday.  I received more than a massage, I received a clear message that my Mother is at peace, and so I am at peace.

 

Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher Cara Brind can be reached at 267 752-6046 or www.massagewithcara.com.  Barbara Sherf can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com or 215.990.9317.

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Our mother, Barbara A. Sherf, has passed

Happier times at our wedding.  She was in a state of bliss the entire day.  She is at peace.  I am at peace.

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.

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A Heartwarming Story – Author Unknown

“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.

The Moral:
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
THAT TELLS
WHAT KIND OF LIFE YOU HAVE LIVED

 

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Goodbye Tooth by Barbara Sherf

cowboymission_editI 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.

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James Turrell Skyspace Exceeds Expectations

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)

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)

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What Kind of Sandwich are You?

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.

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