The Greatest Gift

The feminine half of humanity has a charm that naturally finds a place in my heart. I remember “My Fair Lady,” that musical with its lovely, barely educated heroine. And professor Henry Higgins was able to draw out the best in her — what a tremendous feat to make someone into their full potential. To give such a gift!

I spoke to my brother a few days ago, and he told me, now that he’s in California, people tell him he has a slight accent. “Of course,” I said, “you have a New York, Long Island North Shore accent like I do!”

You see, I met Henry Higgins at the National Council of Teachers of English convention in Baltimore in 1965. We were at a round table of English teachers, and since Loretta and I arrived late, I introduced us to the table. On the opposite side of the table from me, sat a dimly remembered man who announced, “You’re from New York.” Aware that a New York accent is recognized throughout the country, I was at first unimpressed.

Then he added, “As a matter of fact, you’re from Long Island.” I looked at him sharply silently. Where was he from? Then, with a triumphant tone, he spit out the words, “You’re from the North Shore.” Astonished, I searched for a reply. I had grown up in Manhasset, L.I.

“Yes, east of Montauk,” I answered with humor. But nobody got it, not being familiar with the geography of Long Island. Nevertheless, I will always be grateful to that sage, that Henry Higgins, probably from the Midwest, for that brilliant display of phonology.

Little Joys with Big Ones

There are small joys as well as big ones in all of Creation. Outside my patio door there is a red oak that I was able to identify now that it bore acorns. They are beautiful nuts, and last year I was afraid they were going to waste. But this year was different.

One morning I saw a gray squirrel eating an acorn, shelling it while perched on the lowest branch of the tree. The harvest was so bountiful, lying at the base of the tree, that he had to take only a few hops from the base to get another one. Then I saw the other two.

It was Oktoberfest for all of them! They were darting all around, acorns in jaws, and resting on nearby branches to eat them. Ecstasy had arrived in the animal kingdom. All this while Loretta, Paula, Ilana, Freddy and I celebrated Loretta’s birthday.

Without Reason

Things, to some extent, don’t have to make sense for me anymore. Loretta and I were incompatible blood-wise. I was A+ and she was O-, and if we wanted children, that was bad. Nature seemed generous, though, and it was not till our third son was born that it made itself felt.

I saw him in the nursery at North Shore Hospital, jaundiced and scrawny. “Oh God, don’t let him suffer,” I prayed. They call that a blue baby, and Dr. Degnan took charge. He changed that child’s complete blood supply four times! I went to see Loretta in her room. She was doing fine, yet she listened to my complaint about our little son. “I’m going to name him Frederick Emmanuel Von Burg, after you,” she told me. That put me in my place.

I’ll never forget Dr. Degnan’s name. That baby changed color and began to grow! He’s now 6’4″ with a wonderful wife and daughter, and he’s going to buy me new molars. If there is no providence, explain how we’d get through that one if we lived in Siberia!

Origin of Halloween

I like to celebrate the day after Halloween, All Hallows, of which Halloween is the eve. (Get it?) If you do, you’ve just saved me a lengthy historical explanation. All Saints is a day on which I rest mentally with the thousands of people who made it to Heaven, and with whom I’m free to communicate, according to the communion of saints (it does seem a one-way communication, but don’t judge yet).

I was once influenced by the example of St. Francis of Assisi to give away large sums of my money (is that one way communication?) and believe it or not, I never regretted it. Fortunately I recovered, and in return learned something valuable about life. Of course that was before I assumed the fatherhood of a family, but ever since I have viewed material gains with a certain disdain.

So, there I was, if ever, in a two-way communication with a saint, fostered by God the Holy Spirit. A name has meaning, and words also, if they are used effectively, can throw light, even if we hear them by chance.

Adjusting to Reality

They all turned out all right, those three boys, but the youngest, Freddy, impressed me the other day. He invited one of my brothers and us to a dinner at his house, and his wife, Paula, prepared the reception. He’s now a multiple employer: He just hired Amos, an Amish man from his supplier, and Amos is learning how to handle the electronically based clientele that deals with Freddy.

As we ate our dinner, I choked on an unchewed piece, and my son said, “That does it. Dad, you have to get your teeth looked at. Every time we have dinner, you choke. I’ll pay the dentist bill.” I looked at him. He was a real Pater Familiae (I still remember some of my high school Latin), the role I once had. I have to get used to these changes.

I thank God.

Other Worlds

I’m currently reading a book, “Something Deeply Hidden,” by Sean Carroll.   He explains quantum mechanics, and the fact that there are different explanations of it.  One of the explanations, which he favors, is that there are multiple worlds, or universes, accessible from this one, which provide a place for the multiple outcomes demanded by quantum mechanics.  I wonder how I’m doing in that other universe?

What I really care about is how I’m doing in this universe.  I’ve worked at it, and made some wonderful friends, and I want everything to turn out OK for them.  Quantum has taught me that this world in not just the material, and experience has taught me that such things as prayers are answered (at least for me).  I’ve tried to convince others of this, including Loretta, and I can’t wait to find out if I’m right.  How about you?

Another Storyteller

My second son, Paul, was an English major in college. Would that he were alive today, when people such as Nobel Prize winning author Robert Shiller (Narrative Economics) are calling for more storytellers and saying things like “Compartmentalization of intellectual life is bad.” Shiller deplores the drop in the number of English majors.

Paul had already developed other skills. He would leave his Fairfield dorm on a warm fall day and walk in the nearby woods. All he needed was one scratch-all match and he’d have a safe blaze going to counter the evening’s chill. As a matter of fact, he didn’t need the match at all — given the right dry wood and tinder, he could start a fire from a quartz stone and his Swiss Army knife. He could utilize solitude like we profit from socialization. He was an Eagle Scout.

But he took after his father. He was a good storyteller, and I have told many of his stories in my books. I’ll remember him at St. Edward’s on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the day he died.