Friday, January 9, 2009


[A special "shout out" to Wendy for trekking this taste treat back apres Christmas. ISALY'S CHIPPED HAM AND BARBECUE SAUCE. As you can tell by the label price, I am well worth it. And yes, that is for a full pound of delight. It is very yummy, vegetarian (no "real" meat product can be found in this deli-wonder) and should only be consumed once every 5 years, according to a FEMA handbook.]
This might be a real shock to many of you, but I am from Pittsburgh. My credentials are presented in the two bookend photos.

When dinosaurs roamed the earth, I attended school near the original WQED Public TV studio where Mr. Rogers began spinning magical spells. I loved Mr. R, King Friday, the trolley and the rest of the crew, with the exception of Henrietta Pussycat. She annoyed me to no end. In fact, I hated her.

Warning: The following transcript excerpt may not be suitable for children. Shield your retinas from potential scarring:

Mr. Rogers: Good Morning, Henrietta! What a lovely hat you are wearing.

Henrietta: Meow. Meow, meow, meow. Meow meow, meow meow.
Mr. Rogers: Oh! It’s a rain hat! It does look like we might have a shower.
Henrietta: Meow, Meow, MEOW. Meow. Meow. Meow.
Mr. Rogers: Okay, Henrietta. Say hello to King Friday for me.

[Photo of Ms. H. Pussycat during 1958 studio session]

Now, just how nauseating is that saccharine exchange? All I could determine every time I watched her, listening to those conversations like a train wreck, was that Mr. Rogers was “loop –d-loop” thinking he was having a conversation with an ugly cat puppet. I would, like my Dad’s mother, Grieg Gar, speak to the TV as if it could hear me.

"WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, MR. ROGERS????? I would say while balling my fists. Are you hearing voices like Saint Joan of Arc? (Yes, there was a heavy influence from The Lives of the Saints from an early age.) Do you understand people when they speak in tongues too?" Now, at this point in my life, I would diagnose his behavior as being slightly schizophrenic with delusional features. Mr. Rogers championed this social issue and went on to great things. Eventually, he had his turn as Pittsburgher of the Year by Pittsburgh Magazine of WQED fame.

This year’s award winner is a fantastic role model for kids and adults alike too: Professor Randy Pauch. In September of 2007, he delivered an incredible soul searching and spiritual “last” lecture. Pittsburgh Magazine put forth an insightful feature on him this month, accenting his philosophy, approach to living the balance of his life and suggesting how people could improve their quality of living.
His presentation is titled “REALLY ACHIEVING YOUR CHILDHOOD DREAMS” and is available on line through and as well as the Carnegie Mellon University page dedicated to him:

His book is on my stack waiting to be read for a book club this spring. I’m looking forward to it after seeing the video clips and reading several articles about him and his valiant fight to stay on the planet.

The Irish believe that, even after death, you continue living as long as people remember you. It is good knowing tributes are still going his way. He should be around a long time.

January. Snow (for some of us). Cold rain (most of us). W-2 Forms. Retirement fund summary sheets (Gad!). Salted cars (especially in Western Pennsylvania). Melting snow and flooding. Snow shovels. Sidewalk salt. All true wintry signs.

There is another seasonal sign slowly sneaking its way into our homes, folks:

These has-beens must be taking advantage of hotel conference room discounted rates now that all Christmas and holiday parties are back in storage boxes until later this year. Locally, they are available at 5 convenient Holiday Inns in the greater DC area.
I have but one question:

Sure, in the 50s and 60s there were different levels of imaginative and artsy sensibilities. Some people went well into the 70s with either hanging these paintings on walls or demonstrating their love of abundantly lighted plaster-based lamps resembling satellites. (Are your ears burning, Kae Lewis?) Unfortunately, my parents didn’t have the wisdom to invest in the art world.

The Brannigans of Morewood owned several extravagant pre-70s object d’arts from a different school. One was a rather large Papal blessing made out to The Brannigan Family and signed by none other than my personal favorite pontiff of all times, Pope John XXIII. I am sincere about that, too. I always felt a real connection with him. He came across as sincere and deeply interested in our flawed souls even though he looked like Tele Savalis' uncle. There wasn’t one designer shoe in his blessed closet. He was the driving force heading the Ecumenical Council and Vatican II. Ladies, this is the man who liberated us from wearing bi-fold toilet paper on our heads secured by a bobby-pin before heading into the temple of our chosen God.

Three cheers for JP II.

The other fine art piece in our home was a print of an oil study showing a large musical salon in a fancy-schmancy mansion with a woman seated on bench, playing a piano, in a red dress. That woman was none other than


Or so I was thoroughly convinced. It could have been another Jane Wyman look-alike, but I just knew it was Mom. I was rocked senseless seeing it on display at another friend’s home. Why would they steal it? It was SO beyond me what they were doing with our painting of Mary Lou during her prime that I asked my friend’s mother if she’d please return it. Little did I know that it had been mass produced. This one I really do love because it still reminds me of Mom when she was young and care-free, sitting in a mansion, which she so richly deserved. The setting actually does bear a slight resemblance of my Grandmother’s home on Winebiddle Street. That home was a museum awaiting an entrance fee. My friends Dora and Jack own a copy (unless they stole our original) and when I see it at their home,
I still have a warm memory wash over me.

Meanwhile, Starving artists: please get a real job and perhaps express your artsy-crafty self on the side, if only for your own sake. On the way, you might want to go buy a sandwich first. As a personal favor, in return for this career advice, take Bob Mackie and his wearable art fashions with you. He can pick up the restaurant tab with some of the millions he’s clearing from QVC and those ugly billboards he calls clothing.

THE INAUGURATION IS NEAR! Considering our current reputation in some boiling mad places of the world, security should be the utmost concern. That is a given. However, this swearing in is beyond measure. They are proposing to shut down EVERY bridge connecting Virginia to DC. Essential personnel live in DC, Maryland AND Virginia. Traffic is going to be simply nutz, so creativity is the order of the day. People will have limited methods for getting into town. No cars...just forget about it.
Those inflatable beds will be going for a pretty penny and people will be setting up camp in the new Resurrection City on the Mall. It is conceivable that it might take someone a full day to arrive at the place of employment. What makes this a bigger challenge is that is isn't just one day, it goes on for several with celebrations, balls and all that come with it. Every hotel has been sold out for months.

I can’t wait to watch it all in the same location I watched the Pope: my living room. Congressman Moran is working hard to make sense of this situation. The government isn't going to allow anyone to even walk over a bridge. He said on the news that unless they relax some of the traffic plans the best method to get there will be to swim the Potomac. Uh, no thanks.

I’ve been living in the DC area since the days of William McKinley, so I’ve witnessed the historic changing of the U.S. guards a few times. I worked on my first election with Mom during JFK’s campaign in Pittsburgh. I was so psyched that I could put election pins all over my clothes AND she thought it was adorable AND that I wasn’t being pulled aside to be told how to act properly. She thought JFK was so fabulously handsome and my Dad thought it was wonderful she was preoccupied leaving him to snuggle up on the sofa napping at his own discretion.

During LBJ’s election, I signed up to be a JOHNSON GIRL. Things were slow socially that year, because the next week we were all collecting BUCKS FOR BARRY at the same location. Hey, we were out of the East End and that was all that mattered. LBJ held his massive rally at the then Civic Arena. I was seated one tier up, stage right by the very front, with my friends Sally and Ginny Anne. We were absolutely the most happening chicks around with our straw hats and red/white/blue regalia over our white dresses.

About 15 minutes before LBJ took the microphone, I saw Ginny Anne’s mother, Mrs. Hughes, and my Mom walking down the aisle coming near our location, but on the floor level. Mom was wearing sun glasses, bobbling her head ever so slightly side-to-side, while tilting it upward. She had a white stick in her hand and tapped it from the right to the left with remarkably unassuaged cadence. Mrs. Hughes deftly held my Mom’s elbow, who was ever so resplendent in her most beautiful mohair, kelly green coat, guiding her as they processed to the front row of seats. From there they could properly worship at the democratic altar.

I called to her. She didn’t hear me. Nothing new, since she was, and still is, hearing impaired. But, then I KNEW she saw me and was really IGNORING me, which I couldn’t believe. I was blown away. Wasn’t I doing the right thing? Wasn’t I fighting the good political fight? Damn. What had I done? I continued to wave madly hoping for recognition.

Finally, Mrs. Hughes came over and told us the only way they could get front row seats was to pretend one of them was blind. We were to stop trying to communicate and to simply knock it off. She had driven with a ST. LUCY’S WOMEN'S GUILD FOR THE BLIND parking notice on her dashboard to get a plum parking spot. From there, Lucy and Ethel decided to pour on their partially-sighted charms and tap their way in. Part of me wondered if it was the right thing for them to do. Part of me said, “Way to go.”

The next morning, Mom cleared the air about her acting debut at the Arena. Then she asked where I had received the potted poinsettia. I quickly responded that I had helped myself to one, like everyone else was doing, from the stage skirt. There had been millions rimming the stage. Later, Mrs. Hughes called crying on Mom’s shoulder It seemed that Mr. Hughes, possibly canonized before his death for having married her, had “borrowed” them from the lobby of the Alcoa Building’s Christmas display. He was alligator deep in trouble since they had mostly evaporated the night before and were decorating the democratic homes of Pittsburgh all over the city. Mom offered mine back, which made me mad since no other people were going to be caught and forced to return theirs. Oh, well.

Although I lost the plant then, I get the point now knowing it was the right thing to do. I’ve also pulled my own Lucy and Ethel episodes. I imagine apples and their tree are still somewhat co-located.

To all of you in the DC area, here is my official O’Bama Inaugural Advice: buy your milk, juice, toilet paper, and all other essentials early. In my case, some moderately priced champagne will be on hand. This day will either be of biblical proportions or a lamb preceded by a lion. My glass will be chilled along with champagne and my remote control will be warmed up and ready for action.

And so it goes.


  1. Gee, you must have been rich. All we had on our walls were four diamond shaped pieces of wood with broken egg shells glued to them,spray-painted gold with four plastic flowers glued on top.

    PLUS-- in case we had a need to put our feet up. We always had the ottoman made out of 7-five pound coffee cans and used panty hose.

    Remember Ruth, envy is a sin. You wouldn't want the Pope to look down from his picture disaprovingly. (is that a word?I wasn't smart enough to go to SPC)

  2. Irene,
    I vividly remember your Mom's artwork and LOVED it. Maureen would laugh at me, but I would sit and study at the feet of the mistress. How about those little arrangements made of bread dough or the baby food jar candle sticks? Can't get better than that.

    Oh, and I am safe. The Pope is with Patrick.

  3. OMG what a hoot that was to read for me...I can just imagine Mrs. Hughes and your mom doing that.. My greatest memory of Ginny Anne's mom is attending one of the fab-u-lous basement parites and walking thru the laundry room to see Mrs. Hughes washing the dishes...yes, the dishes in the washing machine...with the dayglow paint and "Timothy Leary's Dead" playing in the background it all seemed so right and made alot of sense..hahahahaa what great days they were!
    Where is Ginny Ann anyway? I would love to talk to her..
    Three blogs for one...what a from the lake KK

  4. KK,
    I think we could do an entire blog on Mrs. Hughes---not a posting A BLOG.

    How great it was that we were nutured in such and environment and time. I love that
    there were people like Mrs. Hughes around to focus our lens on plowing through life
    in the face of whatever. She certainly lived a life, n'cest pas? (a little nod to ma Souer
    Marie Etienne.)

    I remember being there the night they found out a student who was living with them
    "lost" his snakes somewhere in the house. Talk about OMG! How about the time
    Jane Fonda were there. (Someone I knew years ago was all excited because Jane
    Fonda married BOWIE Hayden. He was a black community activist from Homewood.
    Meanwhile, I think it was TOM Hayden.) GAH certainly pegged the meter more times than once.

    As for Lil' GAH, I don't know. 25 years ago she was married and living in Columbia, MD.
    I'm sure if we really wanted to, we could shake some trees and find her. The Once and Future
    Mrs. Joe McGinty (NOT).


  5. Hi! Girl Friend,

    I was a Mr. Rodgers watcher and so were the kids. But, I did not like the whole cat thing as well. I thought it was to unbelievable even for the children. And, they did not understand how he knew what the cat was saying and how the cat could understand him. It was a great topic of conversation. But, it was a good learning program and one they enjoyed watching. So, we talked and watched the cat in action. It was great fun for them.

    And, about the book that you are planning to read with your book club, it is true!! As long as the person who has passed away is remembered in any way. He will live on forever and we truly believe that as well. We Irish are something else and the rest could take lessons from us on allot of things.

    And, the Starving Artist Column was fantastic!!! And, oh! , so true! I went one time with my girl friends and her mother to see one of these show in D.C. The pictures were terrible and the people were buying them up like they were real. Even my girl friends mother got two for their family room. I am with you, get a real job and leave the art to those who really can draw and paint with some kind of skill, in fact, any kind of skill.

    Our house had mostly family pictures and pictures my dad did when he started his working career as a bill board designer and then went on to work for the Navy making maps for the submarines, known back them as copper plates, of which I am proud to say that I have two of them. My dad could take a picture that you took on a camera in black and white and color it in to look real life. He did one of my sister, brother and me. We each have them and I just love mine. Now, he was a true artist in every sense of the word. And, we to had a few pictures of Saints and the Pope as every good Catholic on the block did in our neighbor.

    The story about the picture of your mother was truly wonderful. I can see you asking the parent to return the picture and not understanding that it wasn't your mother.

    There is a picture of my Grand-father, my father and my brother at the same age of eight with the alter boy outfits on. They all look like the same person. When I was about 14, my mom and I were looking through some pictures for a project I have to do on the family and came crossed these three pictures. I, of course, though they were all my father but my mother wrote on the back of every picture she ever had the persons name, date, age and where it was taken. By reading the backs of each picture, I realized that they were three different people yet they all looked just like each other. But, as time marches on, they did change and take on their own personality and looks and that was the way it was. But, for that space and time -- three generations of McFadden's looked exactly alike and I have the pictures to prove it. Not giving them up either. I did make copies for my sister and brother but the originals belong to me.

    About the inauguration, I think it is crazy to go to all that if you truly want the people to be there and see it in person then you must make it available to them. Not close them out!!

    I, to will watch some of it, at home. I am not as pleased about his inauguration as you are but will probably watch some of it. The only inauguration I watched the whole way through was the Kennedy one and that was because my Aunt Helen got me tickets to the inaugural ball. Since them, I have not really been that interest in that but do watch parts of them from time to time. I do wish him well but I am afraid of what he will do to this country after he takes office and can only pray that he does the right things for all of us to keep us safe and protected from harm.

    Thanks, so much, for allowing me to be part of your blog and for taking my comments as well. I love reading them and thinking about them.

    Have a great week and thanks again for letting me share in your very interesting topics.