Sunday, August 17, 2014

Five Milestone Birthdays: Celebrating at a Beautiful Family Lakeside Cottage.

This is the huge Pollock family, five of whom are celebrating big milestone -- the second number being zero -- birthdays. (As the attention-loving patriarch, I naturally grabbed the front and center spot with two grandkids, Aidan and Nathaniel.)

How old are the celebrants? Sorry, no can say. They have let me know in no uncertain terms that I should not dwell on numbers --  if I want to live that is, which I do. All I can safely say is that the numbers all end in zero.

Hard for me to believe, but my grey-haired son Greg recently turned -- cough, cough, choke, choke --  well, it's up there. My oldest kid practically a senior citizen! Greg's cousin Jimmy also turned the same number ending in zero. My wife Barbara will soon turn a zero number and my brother Vic's wife Marianne just reached the same number. My baby brother Reggie made the same age earlier with minimal fanfare.

These were the five milestone birthday celebrants.

That is a story in itself, starting with my planning a big birthday bash for my son Greg. But as I made calls to my four siblings, one after another reminded me that they also had a recent milestone celebrant -- and wanted in.

I'm gonna say no? I repeat: I want to live.

But first, I had to see if this was okay with Greg. He had no problem sharing. Thanks, Greg!

Next, I had to get a date that my son Greg and his wife Kelly could make, then one that I and my four younger siblings could make, and one that the cousins could make. 

What a job! I called and called. No date agreeable to all in June. Ditto in July. Finally, I came down to one final date, Aug 2. All could make it except for one cousin, Nanci, who lives in California. It came down to either that date or no date. I decided to go with the last-chance date, Aug. 2. 

Nanci was disappointed and so was I. Sorry, Nanci, I wanted you there; we all did. If it's any consolation, you were there in our thoughts -- and very much missed.

But all five Pollock siblings were there. With distances, five different schedules, and everybody busy-busy, that's no small achievement. Here we all were at the party, with Reggie and I showing off our Pollock sweatshirts.  

From left to right are Marion, yours truly, Victor, Reggie, and Ruby. I am the oldest. Reggie -- a birthday celebrant -- is the youngest. He is the baby brother that I taught to swim at three when we were in the same foster home in Stoneham, Mass. -- by hanging onto my neck for dear life.

All of us were abandoned and grew up in different, ever-changing, uncaring, often abusive foster homes without family of any kind. It is the basis of my e-book novel, "State Kid," a tome which took me years to write.

My new e-book, "Something Tells Her," is a short novel about the horrendous experience of a 12-year-old foster girl who runs away -- and builds a life entirely on her own, something that all five of us have done. 

Marion became a nurse who rose to Director of Nursing at a major hospital in Malden, Mass. Ruby became a social worker and today is the longtime Director of Social Services at Crescent Manor Rest Home in Millbury, Mass. -- though she is years beyond retirement age.

Vic served 24 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He retired as a stern, no-nonsense Drill Instructor. Yet he had no trouble serving as my "rock bitch" when we worked together building a good-sized stone wall at  his beautiful home in Sturbridge, Mass.

When I needed a big rock, I just yelled, "BITCH!!!" and Vic came running. He was back in no time with a  good rock. Here was a former tough-guy, U.S. Marine Drill Instructor happily doing what he was told.

The irony was delicious: I was a one-time U.S. Army soldier busted to private for telling a drill sergeant,  in front of the entire company, to "kiss my ass."

Building the wall, Vic and I had a great time, laughing practically nonstop. And when we had finished, lucky for us, wife Marianne "loved it," said Vic.

The only sibling not to graduate from college and earn an advanced degree is Reggie. He had no interest in college. Yet he has built just as successful a life as his siblings. A craftsman extraordinaire in both iron and wood, he has worked steadily at well-paying jobs.

Reggie and wife Jeanette have a nice home all paid for in a great New Hampshire neighborhood. He built an iron and wood bench for me that is a master's work and that has been on my deck for years. It's a keeper!

From no family, here are the five of us today surrounded by family. If that is not cause for celebration, I don't know what is. From weirdo ostracized "state kids," here we are leading full, happy lives and even considered "normal."

I hear groans. OK, OK already, so I'm not normal. I got it!

When the five of us get together, as we did on August 2, the bad old days do come up. And we marvel at where we are today and how long-gone those awful days are.

Now here are scenes from the Aug 2 party, starting with five cousins and spouses. From left to right in the back row are Linda, Jonathan, Greg, Glen, and Jimmy. In front are three spouses, Kelly, Patty, and Janet. Those smiles are real.

Above, big-smiling Jimmy and Emmalee head up the long lakeside dining  picnic table. The yakking and laughs were nonstop over tons of great food, most of it homemade. In sharp contrast to our early-days "state kid diet" -- pasta, half a glass of milk, no seconds -- we had a feast: baked ham, meatballs, salads, fresh fruit, homemade desserts galore.

It was all you can eat, of course.

 Now scenes from the party:

Vic and Porky take a nice long, l o n g break.

Reggie and Jeanette do a little fishing and looking.
Kelly's family, with little Dallas, enjoy.
Greg and Kelly hard at work floating.
Greg tosses around brother Jon's son Nathaniel.

Cam and buddies D.J. and Collin chill out.
James takes Aidan and Logan on a fishing expedition.

Now you're wondering, where is the group picture of the five milestone birthday celebrants and their beautiful birthday cake with all their names on it?

Good question. The answer is, I don't have one. What? Why? 

Whoa, calm down. Let me try to explain (or, if you prefer, make excuses).

Just as Greg's birthday turned on its own into a celebration of five birthdays, the same thing happened with the absence of a group photo of the milestone celebrants. Without anybody realizing it, the five-milestone party morphed into a celebration of the extended Pollock family.

That sort of thing seems to happen every time I try to plan something.

I had planned to line up the five milestoners outside with the beautiful lake in the background. I, the patriarch, would be the MC. Starting with Greg, I was going to go down the line, saying something about each and inviting others to do the same. In fact, James had written out what he was going to say about his dad Jimmy.

I was going to talk about Greg; how he was born in Kenya; how as an infant he miraculously survived two deadly diseases -- malaria in Kenya and dengue fever in Nigeria; how he has shown remarkable resilience all his life and giving plenty of examples. 

On hand was the basket he rode in all over East Africa as an infant. Inside the basket were photos of his Africa days and also a book, "Child of Africa," put together by his cousin Linda and me. I had planned to quote from it.

Of course, as I talked on, I imagined that everybody would be snapping photos of the five. Then we would present each with a little arbor vitae tree decorated with scratch tickets, bring out the cake, sing happy birthday, and then enjoy the rest of the day.

But it turned out that it was more convenient to do all this inside. The trees and cake would not have to be lugged out. It was more intimate. It would be over in a flash simply because of something bigger and more powerful than my patriarchy: the voice of the people.

The place was a joyful, noisy, out-of-control madhouse. I had to shout and wave my arms to get the place quiet. When things finally calmed down, I said, "First, this started off as a party for my son Greg. He is willingly sharing it with four others today. I looked at Greg and said, "Thank you Greg."

The place broke into loud applause.

Meanwhile James waved the paper of his planned remarks while shaking his head. He sensed that this was not the time nor place for a speech. I nodded my approval.

"Also," I said to the assembled group when they quieted down, "I'm only going to say two sentences."

The place erupted in wild  applause, louder than before.

The family had spoken: shut your mouth and sit down. I did what I was told.

In all the noise and chaos, the singing of happy birthday and presentation of gifts to the five was over in a flash. People rushed outside to  enjoy the day at Ruby's beautiful cottage.  In all the confusion, I forgot to get a photo of the birthday five.

But you know what? Even though nothing went as I had planned, it all happened for the best. It was a triumph of democracy that turned out to be a great day for our family. And I'm sure I can figure out a way to take credit for it.

I'd like to end by thanking a member of the family who made this great family gathering possible: my sister Ruby. Forty years ago, she spotted this cottage for sale, saw its potential, and bought it for $13,000.  Over the years, she has spent all kinds of energy and money maintaining it and making it what it is today. And, while still working full time, she continues to do so.

Here she sits at the cottage's new natural stone patio:

Thank you, Ruby.

So long and keep moving.

                                                       E-Books by George Pollock

"State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his real-life experiences growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison; "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life. "Unlove Story," is the true story of a husband -- writing anonymously as "Elvis" -- who is dumped after 38 years of marriage and lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.

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