The Year I Broke with Tradition

coral-reefIt was soon-to-be Christmas and all I knew was:  I couldn’t be home for the holidays. Why? Too much bad had happened. We were coming off two years of horror with my husband’s terminal disease.  He died on January 1st, of that year; we all limped along, in recovery, for 12 months; and now, the holidays were fast upon us.

Now, don’t ever think “terminal” just refers to the patient. When that verdict comes down, the whole family suffers. You never get away from it. Each moment is tinged with “Will this be the last time for this?” At other times, you just want the “awful” to end.

It’s soul-crushing.

So, because I didn’t want to be around the wassail bowl answering Uncle Mattie’s ever-exasperating questions (“What will you do with the house?” hardly hiding his sexist expectation that no woman could maintain all of this alone,) I determined to take my girls and me to Cozumel.

Yep, Mexico would have us.  With that, I booked a flight; minimally-packed; got us in a limo to Boston and flew out.

When I say ‘minimally-packed,’ I mean it. I was so bent on my mission that I allowed my 8 year old to pack her own suitcase (crazy?) meaning she took what she thought important:  When I opened her suitcase in Cozumel, her giant history textbook  popped out—a book half her size. She neglected to bring seasonally-adjusted clothes, like shorts and tops.  After all, we were in winter zone at home and she thought everyone was. As I said, she was only 8.

How’d our trip turn out? It was one of the most memorable and beautiful ever. We snorkeled—the three of us—off the rocky coast of the island, mesmerized by the gorgeous coral, mango yellow, and neon green fish, darting about.

We bought a Mexican crèche on that trip and hand-carried it home (that’s it in the photo in a previous post.) We spent New Year’s Eve with a bunch of rowdy revelers, blowing horns wildly, and dancing about.

That trip was the year we broke with tradition…the day we three went on our own. It would be the precursor of longer trips to come as we became world travelers.

On that trip, I realized that breaking with tradition can be a far better route– one necessary in the growth process.

Maybe some of you reading this need to break with tradition for your own sake.

Wherever you are in the process, I wish you peace and a good year in 2017.

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Authors and Payback

To borrow a well-known phrase from best-selling author, Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: ‘If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.’ —

My own version:  “You never want to piss off a writer, for you never know when pay-back will come.”

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“These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…”

creche-mexican-turquoise

(A nativity scene my girls and I got in Cozumel, Mexico, years ago. We hand-carried it home. It’s now a colorful and cherished part of our tradition.)

In the glass display case running along the corridor at Rhode Island Hospital, are gift boxes of Mr. Potato Head, a Rhode Island-designed toy, made right here at Hasbro Toys, in Pawtucket. Those boxed gifts transport me to the era when I spent hours, as a child, redesigning the head of a potato with the stick-’em-in parts.

I loved Mr. Potato Head. As a child, I inserted his changeable parts of eyebrows, nose, mustache, lips, teeth, ears, into a raw potato, creating a multitude of different characters.

I liked him so much, I bought a Mr. Potato Head (now they supply a brown plastic head instead of child using a potato) recently as Christmas gift for my grandchildren, knowing full well it won’t “do the trick” in the excitement category. Why? Mr. Potato Head doesn’t perform in any grandiose fashion. He doesn’t sing, talk, or transform into a menacing moveable character.

But I hope they love him, anyway.

If Mr. Potato Head brings back warm, fuzzy feelings, it’s because he represents a throwback to a simpler time. In short, he reminds me of my childhood. But he’s just one of the memories I have of Christmas in my youth.

For instance, I remember shopping for family gifts. On the Saturday before Christmas, Dad gave each of us kids $25.00 for our Christmas shopping. He’d drop us off on Main Street in the merchant district of Arctic where we’d do our gift-buying in a few hours. I spent most of my time stressing over Mom’s gift, only to end up getting her another milk glass candy dish (to add to her collection) or the small, cobalt-colored glass bottle of Evening in Paris cologne. I bought my brothers and Dad socks (let’s face it–I didn’t have much left after Mom’s); bought a stuffed animal for my sister (4 years my junior) and candy for Nana. When I got home, I tucked my treasures into the far corner of the dormer of my bedroom.

Anticipation for the big day built over weeks. At church, I eagerly awaited the birth of baby Jesus who’d finally lay in the cradle of straw in the manger, following midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I loved the candles that bathed the manger scene in amber light, made more festive, still, with votives twinkling nearby. When the choir sang, I joined them in thrilling tribute to the “Newborn King.”

But, few gifts left serious imprint in my memory. When I was 8, I got the crystal rosary beads I asked for in my “I want to be a nun” phase. They were housed in a grey-blue taffeta-covered box almost as interesting (to a child) as the beads, themselves. I’d hold the strand up to the light to watch the reflection of the crystal’s prisms dance on the wall. But I wouldn’t have them  long…

That Christmas night, when Mom and Dad  took us kids downtown to see Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music,” I brought them along, because I couldn’t bear to leave them  behind. But, at some point during “The hills are alive with the sound of music,” I lost them and that loss broke my heart.

One year Santa brought me the white transistor radio I’d asked for. The little Emerson was housed in a tan leather jacket, with a perforated patch where the sound came out. But oddly enough, as a child, I wasn’t as impressed with its capacity to deliver music as I was in awe of its gold-tone buttons and leather casing that buttoned on its side. When I see older transistor radios in antique shops, today, they bring me back to that time and I relish the memory.

I got a bird in a cage, when I was 10. Apparently, the hours after my going to bed were close to murderous as my father (never good at fixing things) nearly strangled the parakeet in the door apparatus, when he sought to connect its feeder. They kept the frenzied critter quiet after his near-death experience by putting its coverlet over the cage.

I hadn’t asked for it but got it, probably because my grandmother had birds (as pets), and Mom doubtless wanted to pass along that family tradition, in the same way I want to share Mr. Potato Head with my grandsons.

That same year I became “Official Wrapper of Family Gifts,” and Christmas lost its mystique. A few days before the big day, Mom sequestered me in an upstairs bedroom, closed the door, and shouted encouragement to me whenever I showed signs of flagging energy. From that point on, I knew what everyone was getting ahead of time. She even had me wrap my own gifts (not the bird), with her caveat “You mustn’t look in the boxes,” ringing in my ears.

So, there you have it: a Mexican creche, a pint-sized radio, rosary beads, Midnight Mass, Mr. Potato Head, a paranoid parakeet, gift-buying and gift-wrapping for the family…–an eclectic batch of memories of “the most wondrous time of the year.” But I find it noteworthy that in that cluster, there’s nothing spectacular of a material order (the spiritual’s another matter).

That tells me: Like Mr. Potato Head, the things that impressed me most, as gifts, were really quite simple.…Even more telling: Those memories grow more meaningful with the years.

I wish you all “Merry Christmas” and wonder: “What’s your positive memory?”

mrpotatohead.htm      mr-potato-head

(Click on above link to read some fascinating data about Mr. Potato Head, one of Rhode Island’s more famous exports. Did you know, for instance, he was the first toy to be advertised on TV?)

 

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Christmas in Our Cape

 

like-210-pulaskiOur home glowed orange during the Christmas season, since that was the color of the candles Mom positioned in the windows throughout our two-floor Cape. I felt it a fine color—the glow seemed heavenly.  Some lights were tiers of three candles, while others were singular, but they all bathed our home in a warm amber light.

Nowhere was that light more pronounced than in the dormer of our girls’ bedroom, for here I’d transformed the cloistered space into a sacristy (picture above is similar, if you take away garage and side entryway.)

On a table nearby, our kids’ red and white record player piped in soft Christmas music.

On the walls of the dormer I’d taped Christmas cards depicting the birth of Christ or the Three Wise Men following the star of Bethlehem, to the manger in Jerusalem. All the illustrated people wore the necessary faces of piety and solemnity. Since it was still the era when most people sent cards (requiring twice-a-day-delivery by the Post Office,) I had plenty to choose from.

I’d transformed Mom’s cedar chest into an altar, covering it with a white sheet, and on that, I placed my tabernacle which had been a neighbor’s cigar box from which I’d removed a panel,  glued white construction paper to each of 3 sides, and ran a knitting needle across the expanse of one for a curtain rod. From that, I hung a cloth I’d gotten from a package of Dad’s new white handkerchiefs.  It had to be perfect, for behind that curtain stood the chalice.

That goblet was one of Mom’s best crystal glasses topped off with a cardboard square (again, covered in white paper), and it held the small, perfect circles of Sunbeam bread I’d cut, using a half dollar coin as pattern. They awaited the singular moment I’d transform them into the body of Christ—the Host.

To prepare, I draped sheets about my body, to mimic the garb the priests of my church wore. I’d already anointed my younger sister as altar ‘boy.’ At 4 years my junior, she was only too happy for her role in the drama.

Then I invoked the heavenly spirits– God, Jesus, angels and archangels and I began the chant that was hardly Gregorian.  It was a child’s rendition of the holy words, rising in crescendo, at times, just as I believed I’d heard them at church.

At the high point of my delivery, I held the ‘host’ on high, genuflected, as my sister rang the dinner bell I’d conscripted for our use. Next, I turned, deposited the “host” in her mouth, and did the same for me. We bowed our heads appropriately.

My sister and I performed this nightly ritual all through the pre-holiday season, leading up to Christmas day when I was 8 years of age and she was 4.

We merely mimicked the ceremonial actions we saw the priests and my brothers (as altar boys) perform.  In later years, I’d see the Catholic church bend its rules and allow girls to serve in that capacity.  But in our era, that service wasn’t possible.

So, my sister and I created our own church, as only children can.

In retrospect, I might have seriously entertained the idea of becoming a priest if that occupation were open to me. Instead, I became a teacher– “doing God’s work,” as some friends describe it.

But in that dormer, I sought… as a child… to leap the constraints my church and era imposed.

It would signal the beginning of a lifelong struggle.

Merry Christmas to all of you.  I wish you every blessing in this New Year.

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Latest Reviews of My Guest-Speaking

Dear Colleen,st-lukes

“What a wonderful day we had at Leisure Learning. Everyone was so impressed with your presentation! You have inspired many from the youngest to the oldest.  You know from the audience’s response you held their attention to the very end. I am so proud that I was able to introduce you….” (photo is of St. Luke’s Peirce St., East Greenwich, where I spoke.)

From Eleanor Keating (the woman who booked me), Leisure Learning, East Greenwich, RI

Dede McMahon of Leisure Learning said: “I found (Colleen) to be refreshingly candid and open, exceptionally humorous, and very entertaining….”

____________________________________________

The following is from Director of two elder-living sites in West Warwick where Colleen spoke this fall. Colleen’s now invited to the third site this director oversees in Johnston for a presentation in 2017:

Colleen Mellor and her husband were guest speakers at two of our elder living sites this fall… Plaza Esperanza in West Warwick and another visit to Wildberry Apartments.

“Our experience with Colleen Mellor was extraordinary!

“Colleen was funny and very entertaining. She was a burst of energy for our elder residents.  She inspired them to consider the history of their lives and to be their own memory keepers. Colleen engaged the residents to reminisce…

“I look forward to hosting Colleen and her husband again at our other senior housing sites. Not only is she a wonderful guest speaker, but she is also a genuinely kind person.”

Lucy Goulet, CRSC

Housing Opportunities Corporation

My Grandpa and the Truck books are available at my presentations, and they’re available on our website, too, until Dec. 18 (we can’t guarantee shipment in time for Christmas or other holiday after that date.) I personalize by child’s name if you add in Paypal instructions and I sign as author (how cool is that?) Your intended child gets actual author-signed book, one backed for authenticity by biggest trucking group, OOIDA, and Women in Trucking (WIT) and recommended by teachers, parents, and kids!books-for-yard-sale And contact me if you wish guest-speaker. I’m loving my new role…and apparently audiences do, too.

For children’s books, go to http://www.grandpaandthetruck.com

 

 

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Never Be Fooled by the Outer Package

pool party john cropped
27 years ago….

The scene is a party I hosted for my brother who’d accepted a physician position at George Washington University Hospital. He and his family would be leaving Sudbury, Massachusetts.

We in the family all chipped in to give him this party. Only problem? My fiancée (with whom I’d bought this house seen in background) had just died. Boxes of packed items sat all about, in the home. We hadn’t even unpacked everything yet, when he’d suffered a heart attack. He lived only two days.

The irony was:  The first party in this new home was supposed to be our wedding reception.

Now, I had to pick up the considerable pieces of my shattered life….

I didn’t feel I could cancel my brother’s party. People were coming from out of town and there’d be no time for our family to get another venue.

Instead, I threw myself into getting the yard and the house ready and baking 5 calzones (they ALL went, even before the caterer’s offerings, a caterer my older brother, sister, mother and I hired.)

That’s me in the swimming pool, wearing a turquoise bathing suit and a smile (contrasting with my true state.) This picture—and what it portrays–is testament to the reality that one can’t know what’s going on, in another, by outer appearance, for this was the year that almost broke me.

I’d already gone through terrible crises—a divorce from first husband, raising my first child alone, a second difficult marriage, culminating in a two-year terminal illness with that husband.

The death of my fiancee became my 3rd. crisis.

My world (and that of my children) reverberated with terrible challenges.

But if you see this “happy pic” you’d never know it…….And I say: A snapshot of any one of us at a certain time will never tell the true nature of our well-being, for I hung onto sanity in the months ahead, by my fingernails.

From my future book, “In the Shadow of Princes.”

***And if you want to be alerted to new postings or future books (first one to come out this year will be “The Asheville Experiment,” in 2017, about Paul’s and my many year search for the perfect retirement town.) We found it but we left it, too, after 9 years. My book is a cautionary tale (with a lot of really good realtor tips, since I did that career, too) for all who consider buying and/or selling a home anywhere (yep–not just out of state.) And it’ll contain my trademark humor. If interested, pls. sign up, at top right hand corner. Your email will go nowhere else–promise.

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Guest Speaker: Colleen Kelly Mellor

 

leisure-learning-guest-speakingKathleen Monahan of Leisure Learning, St. Luke’s, East Greenwich, says:  “Thank you for the outstanding talk.You positively affect the lives of your audience (that was the talk from the group at lunch.) You gave us energy and courage. We laughed out loud. No one fell asleep. You connected! A good quality, very hard to achieve.You are the best. I am so grateful that our paths have crossed.”

Janet Noke at Leisure Learning, says: Speaker Colleen Kelly Mellor demonstrates ‘professionalism, quality, timeliness.’  She’s ‘very entertaining and enlightening.’ “

“I knew who you were (from my columns in the Journal) but I never realized how funny you are, in person. I loved your talk!” another said.

‘Inspiring’….’Moving”.were other observations.

As a freelance journalist, I write Op-Ed articles (mostly on educational issues) that appear regularly in the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Providence Journal. But my work’s also appeared in Wall St. Journal, Asheville, North Carolina’s  Mountain Xpress, Scripps-Howard, World News, etc.

Now I guest-speak before audiences, encouraging them to take their life experiences and ‘go higher’ on a plane of self-discovery. My talks are spirited, humor-laced, and by all accounts, ‘rollicking good fun.’

My Grandpa and the Truck children’s books have been heralded by the top international truckers’ association (OOIDA) and Women in Trucking WIT). Teachers, librarians, parents and children love them, too. The trucker/hero and I have gone before audiences of 200 children to present our lively show. My childrens’ book website is www.grandpaandthetruck.com.

Along with guest-speaking and freelance writing, I complete “The Asheville Experiment,” about my husband’s and my move to Asheville, NC , an artist enclave in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a town consistently on lists of “Most Popular Retirement Towns in America.”

Our story will be a cautionary tale for all those considering leaving their native state and a “must-get” for any who consider purchase/sale of a home—anywhere.

Prior to being a freelance writer, I was a 30-year secondary teacher of English and Journalism and a highly successful realtor. I’m a 15-year breast cancer survivor whose experience with that dread disease became the Cover Story in Providence Journal “Lifestyles” Sunday magazine in 2002. Widowed twice by the time I was 45, I raised two daughters as single parent.

All this makes me the perfect vehicle for engendering hope in audiences to meet and harness the crises of their lives, as growth opportunities.

Now, in workshops and guest-talks, I address how to make the senior years the most productive of one’s life, for I am true embodiment of my beliefs.

I welcome your contact, regarding how I might give my hopeful message to your group.

Colleen Kelly Mellor

My other website where I offer my children’s books: www.grandpaandthetruck.com

ckmellor@cox.net

***Please subscribe in top right hand of this site, to get future posts and alerts as to when “The Asheville Experiment” is ready (a humor-laced book for home purchase/sale anywhere, and especially for those going out-of-state.)  Children’s books are ready now. Guest-speaking dates open. Let’s have fun!

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The ‘Real Fabric’ of Kent County: Its People: The DeSilva Men—

desilva-boys-we-served-best-and-brightest(Picture above shows, from left to right: Albert, Richard, Manny, Arthur, and Eddie in succession.)

The following story of mine appeared in the Kent County Daily Times. But to tell you the truth, in interviewing them,  I thought we might be kicked out of the Cozy Grille, on Tiogue Ave., in Coventry. Why?  Our laughter got so raucous, for the simple reason:  The De Silva “boys” are a hoot.

I can only imagine what life must have been like for their parents who raised 4 sons, longing finally, for a daughter. Alas, it wasn’t to be. That’s when the youngest—Eddie came into the world–fifth and last of the DeSilva boys.

He’s the one who contacted me, asking if I’d like to do a story on the 5 DeSilva “boys” from West Warwick who all served in the military (that’s their picture in uniform, 1 Army and 4 Navy).

They were all raised in West Warwick, across the street from Mac’s Bowl—A-Way, in the Lippitt section of West Warwick.

Their Mom was Brazilian-born Mary Branco, a Portuguese woman who emigrated to America. In Lowell, Massachusetts, she met and married Richard, Sr., a British subject from British Guiana, South America.  He, too, was of Portuguese descent.

Then, they came to West Warwick, in the wave of various ethnic groups who arrived to fill factory jobs.

Apparently, the DeSilva boys were paperboys for the Providence Journal.  As such, they turned in their weekly customer collection money to none other than my grandmother (Kelly) who acted as neighborhood bookkeeper for the newspaper (something I never knew.)

‘Stern and unforgiving’ were terms they used for her, when their amount conflicted with what her books said they owed.

Two of these “boys” had my father, John J. Kelly, as teacher and coach, and I begin to realize that in doing this series, I am learning about my own family in ways I never knew.

They’re now “up there” in age. The youngest, Eddie, 83, a retired teacher and former administrator at West Warwick Jr.High, now lives in Massachusetts. Coventry resident, Richard, 94, was a meat-cutter, by profession; and general handyman, Albert, oldest at 97 lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. The brothers visit him in winter.

The two oldest DeSilva brothers are fresh off the laying of the wreath at the grave of the Unknown Soldier, at Arlington Cemetery, on Oct. 1st. They were selected for the honor, since they’re now ‘the oldest men in New England who served in WWII. ‘

An organization flew them and bused them to the ceremony.

I asked why the younger boys switched military service affiliation, from Army to Navy.  Eddie said oldest brother, Albert, warned them “Not to be a ‘dogface’ because Army soldiers ‘dig foxholes and get into them.’ Then, ‘the rains come and they get soaked.” The brothers listened:  the next four went into the Navy.

Two middle brothers, Manny and Arthur, have since passed on.

The fact that all 5 served in the military initially intrigued me, but in interviewing them, another story emerged.

They all considered their growing up years in West Warwick, a positive experience, where they got the chance to mix with different nationalities (the ‘melting pot’ who had come to work in the mills). They feel fortunate for the opportunity to learn others’ customs, food, and traditions.

Because their parents suffered the Depression, there were few luxuries. But they all praise their parents as hard-working, with good senses of humor. The DeSilva’s were a close-knit family who enjoyed their time together.

Their Mom worked as lace spinner in Royal Mills, for years, and Dad worked at textile print works in Clyde. In 1935, after years of hard work and saving, the parents opened their own small grocery store in Lippitt, DeSilva’s Market, near the bowling alley. There, they all worked.

As such, the DeSilva’s are the true embodiment of the American Dream.

The picture below is of the 4 boys, before youngest, Eddie, came into the world, thus dashing hopes for the long-awaited girl. desilva-little-kids

The good news for the family? Four of the “boys” married Portuguese girls, so this Portuguese family got their girls, after all.

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There I Was—Back at My Father’s Childhood Church

I’m pretty amazed at my life.  I never know where the next door leads. I just keep going through doors that present, trusting…even if, at times, I hesitate. sspeterandpaul

A perfect example is what I’m embarked upon now—guest-speaking.

You see, I’d never have believed guest-speaking would become something I love. I just had too great a mountain of panic to overcome. It all started when I was a junior in high school, in Mr. Al D’Andrea’s class:

To this day, I can conjure up the fear…the anxiety.

Our eleventh grade “Problems in American Democracy” class held 30 seats and mine was the back seat in the second row, in from the door. Near the big plate glass windows. Where a cold draft blew in, in winter.

I often sat back there, quaking nervously.

I feared Mr. D’Andrea’s walking about the room, gradebook in hand, containing the roster of students in our class. On this day, his eyes swept along the column and then he called out: “Miss Kelly.”

I froze in my seat.

Slowly, I got up and walked to the front of the class, to stand at the podium,  awaiting questions which would come, rat-a-tat-tat-style,  of a rifle.

I felt the class’s eyes on me, examining my every fault and imperfection.

He asked:  “Miss Kelly, tell me what you know of the Dred Scott case.”

I said nothing.

Now, it’s important to note that at times such as this, all moisture disappeared in my Sahara Desert of a mouth. My tongue became cemented to the roof of my mouth.

He asked again.

Again, I said nothing.

After 5 punishingly-long minutes, he dismissed me.

I wanted to scream out:  “Yes, I know the Dred Scott case, and frankly, there’s nothing I dread more than being exposed before my class and you, my adored teacher….due to my fear of public-speaking.”

Instead, I slunk back to my seat.

_______________________________

Where am I today in all this? As a 71-year-old guest-speaker,   I love my audiences and have great fun with the people.  But I share my original fear of public-speaking as a hurdle I needed to overcome in my journey to become the person I am today. I encourage others to go forth–to conquer their own fears.

This past week, I enjoyed a wonderful night, speaking before 25 ladies (and one priest) of SS. Peter & Paul church on Highland Street, in Phenix (West Warwick, RI).

Soon, I will go before 150 women in East Greenwich, a Leisure Living group who, I’m told, will have ‘lots of questions.’

Baby steps….baby steps….

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Guest-speaking: A Hoot!

colleen kelly mellor--guest speaking poster with 5 locationsI’ve spoken at Plaza Esperanza and Wildberry Apartments in West Warwick, in past two weeks, and now will go before an audience at SS. Peter and Paul church, Highland Street, in Phenix, West Warwick, RI. on Wed. night, Oct. 19th. 7:30 PM (I’m gonna try to have them out in time for debate.) What’s so unique about this opportunity? This is my Kelly ancestors’ church where my Grandmother Kelly went (and probably my father.) I can’t wait–It’s gonna be exciting!

P.S. To book me for your event, contact me at ckmellor@cox.net or call 401-884-1969.

sspeterandpaul

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