Friday, May 5, 2017

Passages: Josephine Eleanor Austin DeStefano, 1937-2017

Thomas MacEntee (l) and Joe'l DeStefano (r)
Chicago, IL - August 2016

One of my mother's sisters with whom I was quite close just passed away this Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Known as "Joe'l" - a shortening of her given and middle names Josephine and Eleanor - Joe'l DeStefano (Austin) was much like all of the Austin girls including my mother Jacqueline.

I remember my Aunt Joe'l's flaming red hair; her husband, my Uncle Jerry, and their children; the tiny apartment in Jersey City, New Jersey; and all the Italian food! We often spent weekends with them after a two hour drive down from "the mountains."

I also remember the summers we spent at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and when she'd come to visit me in Washington, DC. I last saw her in August 2016 when she came out to Chicago for my wedding celebration.

How can you put into words how much you'll miss someone and how painful it is to see your the oldest generation in your family slip away?

You can read the obituary for Josephine Eleanor DeStefano in the Asbury Press (New Jersey) by clicking here.

© 2017, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

I Give Thanks - 2016 Edition

I Give Thanks - 2015 Edition - by Thomas MacEntee

It's that time once again for this year's edition of I Give Thanks. As I do each year around Thanksgiving, I am looking back at my life in 2016 and everything for which I am thankful.

So far 2016 has offered me blessings and opportunities that have gone way beyond my expectations. Again, I continue to work hard, treat people the way I want to be treated, try to live an authentic life and a life marked by abundance. This year, I give thanks for . . .
  • My Creator who knows my name, every hair on my head and every cell in my body. And despite what others may say, each day I celebrate that I am a child of G_d, that death has no shadow, and I choose to live in the light.
  • My family, including my ancestors, whose efforts, perseverance as well as their mistakes and failures, helped bring me forth. I owe my life to them.
  • My country where I can enjoy many freedoms and I hope never to take them for granted. And a huge thank you to the men and women in all branches of the US military who work and fight to keep those freedoms for us all.
    • The ability to get out of bed each morning, of my own will and strength; the ability to dress myself and cook for myself and family. There are many who can't do the simple things that each day I take for granted. I also thank the caregivers who help those who struggle with these daily tasks.
    • The wisdom to understand the difference between what I must do and what I want to do. Most days I am truly blessed, for they are the same.
    • For my health. I have lost an amazing 110 pounds since July 2015 from a bariatric operation that has saved my life.
    • That I live in a time and place where I can be who I am.  And I can accept others as they are.  And I can voice an opinion.  And I can listen to the views of others.
    • The knowledge that ABUNDANCE and the ability to let go is a true blessing. My mother, a wise woman if there ever was one, once told me: "Let go of what you are holding on to. Only then can your palm be open and face up to receive the next good thing coming your way." Words I live by each and every day.
    • The desire to play the entire keyboard that is life, not just the most common keys.
    • My husband of almost 17 years who celebrates me at my best and still loves me at my worst. He appreciates that: I've never been on America's Most Wanted, that I've never owned anything Hello Kitty, that I can find Waldo almost every time, and he loves it when I'm opinionated. He knows I would follow him anywhere, and that I have. And we both know that it just gets better every year.
    • A vibrant and generous community of genealogists and family historians including those I only know in the online world. Each and every day you challenge me to look at genealogy from new perspectives, you share your knowledge and resources without a second thought, and you encourage me to get back up and do the genealogy dance despite bouts of occasional ill-conceived reasoning and mistakes.
    • The family of fellow genealogy bloggers: how they inspire me, how they challenge me, and how they make me think.  They are more than just a group of memory gatherers: they animate facts such as birth dates and death dates; they bring to life how their ancestors lived and loved; and they often share the personal, from reflections to feelings, from past to present.
    • A career in genealogy and family history, doing what I absolutely love.
    • Knowing that the greatest prison people live in is the fear of what other people think. And that only dead fish go with the flow.
    • A roof over my head and a meal on the table each and every day in 2016. I'd like to do this one again in 2017, please.
    • The friends and loved ones who have passed on this year and what their lives meant to me.
    • A universe that bends towards justice.
    • And to my mother. I can never say thank you enough to the woman who brought me into this world and to someone from whom I learned life's lessons.  Mom gave me my work ethic, my sensitivity, my love of learning.  We didn't always agree, but she also let me know that was okay too.  She also taught me how to say, "Thank You."
    I give thanks.

    © 2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

    Sunday, September 11, 2016

    Remembering 9/11 - 15 Years Later

    [Editor's note: this post originally appeared here at Destination: Austin Family on September 11, 2008]

    On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was living in San Francisco out near Ocean Beach in a small one bedroom apartment where I had lived since 1993. It was a Tuesday and since I usually got up at 4:00 am to walk the dog and then catch a bus at 5:00 am to go to the gym, I'm not sure why I slept later than usual. All I remember is the phone ringing slightly before 6:00 am Pacific Daylight Time.

    My first thought went to, "Why did I oversleep?" which was quickly replaced with, "Something is wrong." My phone just didn't ring at 6:00 am unless it was my mother in New York.

    For years, Mom could never get the time zone thing right and I was used to receiving calls anywhere from 4:00 am onward. And after her early on-set dementia diagnosis in the summer of 2000, phone calls at odd hours of the day and night became commonplace.

    As I said hello I could tell that my mother was flustered. First, she was at home and not working which concerned me. Second, despite suffering from memory loss, she had the wits enough to simply say "Turn on the television - something is wrong with the World Trade Center in The City." Having grown up only 90 miles northwest of Manhattan, we always called it The City.

    Mom said "Call me back," and I quickly hung up and ran to the television. I was still half awake and was not understanding what was going on. I do remember Katie Couric's voice, or some other female voice, stating that there was something wrong with air traffic control perhaps since a large airliner had just hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. It was only after having watched the second plane hit the other tower, live as it happened, did the announcer and I both know that this was no accident.

    I sat mesmerized for the next 30 minutes before I put on some sweats and took the dog out for a short walk. My next task was to call George at his home in Oakland.

    George and I had been dating for about 16 months and had not yet decided to move into an apartment together. He had been home sick the day before with a severe sinus infection, so I knew he'd be sleeping. And I also hesitated to call since he wasn't known to be entirely coherent in the mornings. But due to the nature of the events, I dialed the phone. As he answered I tried to explain what was going on, and realized I should have followed Mom's example and kept it simple. There are times when Mom really does know best. Finally, exasperated, I simply said what so many loved ones probably said that morning, "Turn on the television," and I hung up.

    The rest of the morning is somewhat of a blur. I do remember calling my boss who lived in the East Bay and basically told him that I would not be coming into the office. He agreed that from a safety perspective, and what with working downtown in San Francisco's financial district amid large skyscrapers casting permanent shadows along Montgomery Street, being in an office was not the best place to be.

    As I sat on the computer reading the news stories about the attack, the phone rang again. It was Mom and I could just feel the sense of confusion in her voice. I thought about what it must be like for someone who did not have all their mental faculties to witness such events and how they could possibly process them.

    Did she think she was watching a movie? She probably wasn't the only one who thought that - many of us did as we first turned on the television. Then as I watched the first tower collapse, I said to Mom, "the building is falling." At which point she started crying and told me she loved me and that I should try to get out of the building if I could. I had to explain over the next 10 minutes that it was the building in New York collapsing, not my own apartment building.

    Oh, if all the confusion and panic of those events had been so easy to explain in only 10 minutes that day. I do remember, as others have described, the "eeriness" of the streets, the buildings, the towns - big and small - and how things just didn't seem right. There was less traffic on the streets, there wasn't the usual small talk at the grocery store or the dry cleaner, if one could even think about seeking refuge in the mundane world of daily errands.

    There was no air traffic. Planes were not crossing over from the Pacific Ocean only 10 blocks away to land at San Francisco International Airport. And for the next few weeks, once air flights resumed, their usual engine sounds which were usually ignored, seemed amplified at least three times by having witnessed those horrible events, that sad history.

    And life did not resume quickly for me or for many others. Dinners out seemed like an extravagance, an indulgence despite the advice of television psychiatrists and counselors about the "need to take care of oneself." Music was not played loudly, jokes were not raucously repeated, kids did not run after each other during recess at St. Thomas' Catholic School across the street. In those few short hours which stretched out along my mental and emotional landscape for what seemed like months, the world had changed and would never be the same.

    I had changed and would never be the same. Mom was going through her own personal terrorist attack, with daily pummelings to her mental capacity and her psyche. Before September 11, 2001, I already knew that she would never be the same. I was just hoping that the world around her would be and that I could still protect her from it, as much as an oldest son 3,000 miles away could do.

    In those years since, time has passed quickly but not so quickly that I can't pause and take time to remember what was, what could have been and what may be because of those attacks. And as I remember I will do so as I hold my loved ones a bit tighter tonite, cherish the memory more fervently of those no longer with me, and pray not as silently as usual that we all appreciate what we have when we have it, thank those who protect us when we need it, and love those who love us despite the madness of the world around us.

     Photo: Rescue workers conduct search and rescue attempts, descending deep into the rubble of the World Trade Center. September 14, 2001. Source: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Jim Watson. Public domain.

    © 2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.