A Belated Thank You

I’ve had many blessings this year, many things to be thankful for, but my thoughts lately circle back to my grandparents. They were immigrants—refugees from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, escaping political persecution and seeking economic opportunity. Interesting coincidence: both of my grandfathers were named John. Both grandmothers, Catherine. John and Catherine Macinga, and John and Catherine Menosky. The inspiration for my name is no secret.

John and Catherine Menosky on their wedding day, September 17, 1928. Catherine was just 17 years old, 8 years younger than John. She came to the US on the Queen Mary when she was 9 years old.

John and Catherine Menosky on their wedding day, September 17, 1928. Catherine was just 17 years old, 8 years younger than John. She came to the US on the Queen Mary when she was 9 years old.

My maternal grandfather, John Menosky, died when I was six months old, but I was blessed to have the others in my life, to know them and hear their stories, and to witness their hard-work ethic that made it down the bloodline to me. They came to this country as farmers, but became steelworkers in Northeast Ohio, in the rust belt where an influx of mostly Italian and Slovak immigrants settled. During World War II, my grandfathers made steel for tank treads and ramps for landing crafts. Catherine Menosky worked as a welder during the war, even though she had six children at home. Catherine Macinga took on laundry and sewing jobs. At one point, when the steel mill issued layoffs, John Macinga dug graves at a cemetery—whatever it took to make ends meet.

John and Catherine Macinga were married in Czechoslovakia on June 28, 1928. Catherine was actually born in Michigan, but her family moved back to Czechoslovakia when she was a baby. She had to come back to the US before her 21st birthday to retain her citizenship. John followed when he had saved enough money for the trip.

John and Catherine Macinga were married in Czechoslovakia on June 28, 1928. Catherine was actually born in Michigan, but her family moved back to Czechoslovakia when she was a baby. She had to come back to the US before her 21st birthday to retain her citizenship. John followed when he had saved enough money for the trip.

Along with their work ethic, my grandparents brought their traditions to this country. I grew up eating kolachi (nut or fruit rolls), haluski (cabbage and noodles) and halupki (stuffed cabbage). The smell of boiling cabbage always takes me right back. John and Catherine Macinga had a plum tree in their backyard on Youngstown’s Northside, and I remember seeing them in their basement taking turns stirring a huge kettle for 24 hours to make lekvár filling for kolachi. Both families also had small gardens in their backyards, with clinking tin cans on strings to keep the animals away. I have yet to taste any tomato or cucumber that is their equal.

I lost my grandfather John Macinga in 1988, and both grandmothers have also passed. The family is scattered now, but I remember spending the holidays at my grandparents’ homes, cousins playing, chicken soup simmering—and cookies! Plates and plates of cookies. Thinking of all of my first cousins, second cousins, nieces and nephews, I sat down and did the math. Combined, my grandparents had:

  • 8 children
  • 31 grandchildren
  • 44 great-grandchildren
  • 14 great-great grandchildren

That’s a total of 97 descendants and counting. It’s not just a number, of course. Out of that 97 came teachers, doctors, nurses, soldiers, accountants, a police woman, large and small business owners. And a writer. Blue and white collar workers, all contributing somehow in their communities.

My grandparents lived simple lives. Went to church every Sunday. Hung their sheets to dry on the clothesline. Grew their own vegetables. They were law-abiding citizens who cared for their families and neighbors. They weren’t seeking fame or fortune when they came to this country. They sought a fair wage for honest, hard work, and freedom from ethnic tensions and religious repression. They sought a country where their children would be born with those freedoms. I didn’t understand this when I was growing up. They were just my grandparents who spoke funny words every now and then and had bottomless candy dishes in their yummy-smelling homes. I never got to thank them for their courage to leave their homeland, to get on a boat and travel across the ocean to a start over in a country that didn’t speak their language. How many of us would be brave enough to do that?

So thank you, John and Catherine Macinga and John and Catherine Menosky. Your courage, hard work and sacrifices are the reasons I live this blessed life.

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What are you gonna do?

I’m not usually in a mood. Well, maybe once a month when my husband predictably asks, “Are you mad at me or something?” Other than that I am generally an even-keeled person. My highs aren’t too high, my lows dip slightly below the graph line. Boring, some people might say. That’s okay with me. I take no meds and have outstanding blood pressure—the benefits of a drama-free life.

Today I am in a mood.

It started last night when it felt like a rhinoceros was standing on my head. (I don’t usually get headaches either.) This morning it felt like the weight of the world was on my head.

Why now?

Is it the change in seasons? The images of Syrian refugees? News of another road rage shooting? The lukewarm review some random stranger gave my recent book project? My mother’s health? My daughter’s high school angst? All of the above?

Maybe that’s it. Maybe some days it’s just too much—even for the even-keeled.

Mood or not, I had to go to work. There I got on the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park’s shuttle bus and said hello to my bus driver and friend, Liz.

“How are you today?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said with a frown. “I’m in a strange Wednesday funk.”

I love it when friends don’t lie and say, “I’m fine.” Though sympathetic to Liz’s mood, I was happy to know that maybe it wasn’t just me. We went on to discuss this shared, uncommon mood we were both in, how we both wanted to crawl under a rock and hide from the world. Park visitors got on and off the bus and she asked me to hang back before exiting myself. When we were alone, Liz asked, “Are you going to see the pope?”

What a random, strange question, I thought. But I smiled.

“No. But I love the pope.”

Our conversation took me right back to the day in 2013 when I was at a conference in Portland and got my husband’s text: The new pope chose the name Francis! After your dad!

My dad had just been put under hospice care and my family entered It Won’t Be Long Now world. Indeed, Dad’s name was Francis, named after St. Francis of Assisi—the same inspiration for the new pope. However, my dad hated to be called Francis, so to me he was Pope Frank.

Liz and I talked a bit about Pope Frank, how he seems like such a regular, humble, even-keeled guy—much like my father. Dad didn’t have very high highs or low lows either. Sure, he griped and complained at times, but then he always sighed, said, “What are you gonna do?” and went on his way with a whistle. He helped everyone and treated everyone equally. His funeral was attended by many “regular” people—waitresses, diner owners, proprietors of tire shops, lawnmower repairmen. They all said the same thing: “Frank was a great guy.”

Today I hear his voice clearly: “What are you gonna do?”

What are we going to do? When it’s just too much? When the refugees won’t stop coming? When the violence has no end? When we have to sometimes stand aside and let our children find their own way?

Well, like Pope Francis, we can pray. Pray as hard as we can. Like Liz and I, we can just be there for each other. Have a simple chat. Smile. Remind each other that we’re all in this together and it’s going to be okay.

And then go on our way with a whistle.

dory just keep swimming

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The Shared Lunacy of Writing

The cold depths of winter? Rain-soaked days of summer? On social media these extreme weather days elicit nothing but frowny faces and gloom. Facebook complaints rise tenfold. Whiners rejoice.

For writers, these days are gold.

At least for me they are. I can huddle inside with no guilt, without sun deprivation, cozy with my laptop and the myriad of characters holed up in my brain. “At last,” they say, “we have you all to ourselves.”

They can direct me, persuade me, do things I never before conceived they would do. They tell me about their pasts, share their secrets. They twist plots. Sometimes, they even kill each other off.

Of course, if I give these characters too much time, they can become the Company That Won’t Leave. They get too comfortable, come out of their world and nose around in mine. This past winter one of them followed me every time I got distracted and clicked over to Facebook.

“You’re wasting time,” he would warn. (Or she—I can’t tell.)

“You don’t NEED to watch ANOTHER cat video!”

“Who cares which Friends character you are?”

“The clock is ticking, sweetheart. The kids will be up soon.”


But then something—someone, actually—caught his attention: Ginny Fite, a woman I had only met in person once, but who lived in my neighborhood and was a Facebook friend. Did I mention she is an author? Every time a post of hers appeared on my feed, the voice perked up.

“Ginny Fite? You should talk to her.”

“Hmm…maybe you should have her over for coffee.”

“She’s a writer. You can discuss writerly things.”


So, I did. On a snowy February day I had Ginny over for coffee. We did discuss writerly things. Turned out she’s just as smart, witty and interesting as her Facebook posts led me to believe. And she’s a WRITER. We share the same disease.

On her way out that day, Ginny stopped and turned to me.

“Are you in a writer’s group?” she asked.

My heart skipped. “No.”

“I have to clear it with the other writers first—we like to keep the group small—but maybe you can join us…”

That little voice gloated. “I told you so.”

The rest, I’m optimistically saying, is history. Once a week for the past five months, I’ve met with Ginny, Katherine, Tara, and Karen. Through winter’s slow thaw, the bright green spring, and now this wet, wet summer. Every week we sit, take turns reading aloud, critique, and most importantly, support. This group has taken away some of the loneliness of writing. They offer what no queried agent ever has: actual constructive feedback. I feel like I’ve met kindred spirits. We understand each other—the insecurities, the inexplicable compulsion to write and face rejection, the dogged search for one perfect word—in ways only fellow writers could. It’s almost as if in another life we were inmates in the same asylum. The best part of all: they’re making me a better writer.

My husband eloquently put it in football terms: “You got the ball to the ten yard line…they’re helping you get it in the end zone.”

In June this group of women (with a couple more who are on hiatus) held a joint book signing. The event garnered some press in our local media, including this article in the Frederick News-Post. The article perfectly defines the work we do and the benefits of belonging to the group. I am so proud to be the “she” in the last paragraph.

In addition to the inspiration, discipline (once a week means a deadline—not much time to waste on Facebook), the camaraderie and friendships, one other great thing came from listening to that voice in my head. One day Ginny asked if I would be interested in writing for Fluent Magazine, a gorgeous online magazine “covering the arts and culture in West Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and neighboring regions.” Long story short, this happened:

My first article for Fluent appears in their Summer 2015 issue! (See page 10)

The moral of the story? Trust your instincts. Listen (discriminately) to the voices in your head. I did, and wonderful things have been happening ever since.

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