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BY: JAMES F O’NEIL

SURPRISE: An unexpected or astonishing event, fact, or thing; to occur to with a sudden feeling of wonder or astonishment, as through unexpectedness; to come upon or discover suddenly and unexpectedly; to cause someone to feel amazed at something unexpected; a feeling aroused by something unusual or unexpected; feeling unusually alarmed or delighted [from American Heritage College Dictionary].  “Unexpected” or “unusual” can be divided into SURPRISE: sudden wonder or disbelief, unanticipated; ASTONISH: overwhelming surprise; AMAZE: astonishment, often bewilderment; ASTOUND: shock, or unprecedented in one’s experience.  (Is it all clear now?  Were you surprised at your last surprise?  Is that sur-PRIZED, or sup-PRISED?  Hmm.]

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THESAURUS EXERCISE: Copy the following into your speckled notebook for next Friday’s spelling quiz.  SURPRISE!  (Just kidding.): astonishment awe wonder shock nonexpectation unforeseen  godsend  miscalculation  unexpectedness  abruptness jolt precipitance  marvel  amaze  astound  flabbergast  stun  startle  stand aghast  miraculous  catch unawares  taken aback  unbargained for confounded  wondrous  incredible  suddenly  magical  without notice  remarkable  breathless  mirabile visu (“wonderful to behold”).

* * *

“The only thing that should surprise us is that there are still some things that can surprise us.” –Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“And to my niece I leave . . .”

I heard those words at the reading of my Grandma Schuma’s will.  I was in 11th grade.  The niece was my mother.  The Grandmother was really my Grand Aunt.  My Uncle Joe was really my Grandfather.  My real Grandmother Anna had died long before.  Grandma and Grandpa raised my mother as their daughter.  I didn’t know this Family Secret  until I was a sophomore in high school.  SURPRISE!  The reading of the will and the word “niece” was a real “shocker.”  I never thought of my mother as a niece.  And my Uncle Joe?  He was never my Grandpa . . .  And as far as  I was concerned, my mom and Aunt Em were still “sisters”  and not cousins . . .  That’s another story.

“A Scout is never taken by surprise; he knows exactly what to do when anything unexpected happens.” –Robert Baden-Powell (founder of Boy Scouts)

“It’ll just take a moment.”

I always locked my bike when I went into the public library.  This time I was only returning books to the Ogden Park Public Library near our home on Chicago’s South Side.  I wheeled my bike into the bike rack–unlocked–and ran up the stairs.  In a flash I was inside, in a moment, putting my books through the Return slot, and was out the door.  SURPRISE!  No bike.  Gone, in a flash.  Wham!  In the chest!  Heart-stopping bam!  What to do? tears covering eyes of reason.  Went inside, blubbering.  Park policeman came.  I made some kind of report.  I walked home, seeing ever crack in every square of every sidewalk.

Over a year later, the bike was recovered.  I walked a long, slow walk to claim it at the park police station.  It had been stripped clean: I recognized the frame and the tires and seat.  I gave thanks, and rode home, teary-eyed, remembering too well, “It’ll take just a moment.”

“Do not always expect good to happen, but do not let evil take you by surprise.” –Czech Proverb

“In sickness and in health . . .”

“We want as many children as we good Catholics can have.”  “SURPRISE!  It’s a healthy boy.”  “Don’t plan to have more than two children: you are Rh+ and your husband is Rh-.”  SURPRISE.  “We want to have as many children as we good Catholics practicing birth control can have.”  Two . . .  “SURPRISE!  It’s a healthy boy.”  The end.  The beginning . . .

“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.”  –Henry Ford

“SURPRISE, Loser!”

I have a notebook filled with Loser Letters, those “Sorry, Charlie” or “We regret to inform you” or “Another candidate has accepted the position.”  I’m not sure why I keep them, for it’s been a very long time for Loser Letters.  I applied for my share of grants and scholarships and degree programs as others have done.  And I have received the “And the envelope, please.”  “Nope.  Not this time,” in so many–sometimes many–words.  I kept trying, up to a point in my career of forty-nine years.  And that was that.  “Wait!  Princeton University is advertising for . . .”

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise.  It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.”  –Ashley Montagu (1905-1999)

“Some good stuff . . .”

“SURPRISE!”  “It’s your 80th Birthday Party!”

“SURPRISE!”  “You got accepted!”

“SURPRISE!”  “They called and offered you the job!”

“SURPRISE!”  “It really was your appendix!”

“SURPRISE!”  “They approved your loan!”

“SURPRISE!”  “Oh my gosh!  That’s my new typewriter!”

“SURPRISE!”  “She said Yes!”

“SURPRISE!”  “The house is now yours!”

“SURPRISE!”  “You’re taking the Honor Students to Cambridge!”

“SURPRISE!”  “They want you to tell your story on WBEZ!”

* * *

© James F. O’Neil  2021

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“I HAD A NAP BUT NOW I DON’T KNOW WHO I AM OR WHAT YEAR IT IS.”—qtd.  from tumblr

* * *

I have noticed lately, especially now that I have walked slowly and arthritically past the 80-year milestone, that I am craving a nap more than I was ever aware of before.  In fact, I hear myself talking to myself, “I need a nap.”

Around 11 a.m., I hear myself repeating that “Need-a-Nap” mantra.

“At the end of the day, the mantra is meant to bring you back to simplicity.  We live in such a complex world that it’s easy to get lost in all the details.  Mantras can help you circle back to the simplistic approach to life and focus on those things that inspire you and truly make you happy.” —Chopra 2021.

Now talking aloud to oneself at 11 a.m. is usually all right, but pre- or post-Covid-19 it is not such a good idea.  It draws a lot of attention, and stares, from those not in need of a nap, mostly the young.  I find my wife, however, is my best audience, agreeing, as she holds her second or third cup of coffee of the day.

The day: When does it all begin that I require a nap?

A day, as we know it, begins at midnight or 12 a.m.  We sleep away already part of the day at night.  My “day” can begin when my ROKU is turned off, ending my viewing pleasure of some Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, or Apple TV+ program, usually about 1 a.m.  So, I am tired, and I go to bed, to sleep.  My dear wife is already fast asleep.  At her feet, the cat.

Our cat is a good sleeper.  Mostly.

Now our days begin when he wants them to: play time or hair-ball, or walking and purring on my wife, whom he adores; our days begin when we have medical appointments, when the garbage pickup days occur (soon after 8 a.m. on Tuesday and Friday.  “Don’t put out the garbage the night before.”  Rats, racoons, coyotes, possums…) Most days begin at 0700 or even 7:30 a.m.

This may come as a shock to those who think that retirement or growing old means sleeping in until nine or ten every day, as portrayed in some fantasy movie.  Not so!

“I Need a Nap!”  Even AARP and major health establishments shout out “Take naps!”

When I was growing up in Chicago, I had to take a bus and an L to my high school.

CTA

I don’t recall often sleeping on the trip to school.  I was mostly studying.  But in the afternoon (or evening after an after-school event), I would definitely “nap.”  But that was not a nap (even though occasionally I would sleep past my stop).  No,

“A nap is a short period of sleep, typically taken during daytime hours as an adjunct to the usual nocturnal sleep period.  Naps are most often taken as a response to drowsiness during waking hours.  A nap is a form of biphasic or polyphasic sleep, where the latter terms also include longer periods of sleep, in addition to one single period.”

I never attended kindergarten, never had a special time-out when I and my classmates lay down on soft cushioned material, covered myself with some kind of blanket or “woobie” and took a siesta-nap.  My two boys-to-men had the napping experience in pre-school and in kindergarten.  Those experiences prepared them for family camping outings or for other napping occasions “nestled in mosquito nets, nothing above but dark night sky and stars ever so clear.  No soft meditation music to help fall asleep, only the howling sounds of wild coyotes out in the desert, and the muffled thundering sounds of big-gun field artillery conducting their fire missions off in the distance.” —US Army Veteran

afghanistan cot for nap

Except for my own naps, those of the children I taught in the Head Start Program in Minnesota summers, in a time long ago, were most pleasant.  Sixteen little bumps resting after morning activities, playground, lunch, finger painting, and then the need for rest and time out before snack, before departure.  Quiet time for me and my aide to gather our breaths.  Ah, nap time.

In time, I dozed off–certainly during faculty meetings or at boring convention presentations (perhaps some conferences even required a return to my room for a “nap” after lunch. . .).  I might have “napped” before teaching some night class, or “napped” before attending an evening faculty function.  These and other like examples become noteworthy as respite, relief, or calm.

Now my nap, our naps–“Wanna take a nap?” –can occur soon after the morning weather with Julie Marquez, two pieces of Martin’s raisin bread toast, a Halo mandarin orange, one to three cups or coffee, one apple fritter or Boston cream donut, or any combination of these.  Perhaps Frosted Mini-wheats or Honey-Nut Cheerios?  And then the local and world news events.

10:30 a.m.

Garbage Picked Up (Tuesday and Friday)

11:00 a.m. Nap Time

(Too hot and muggy to take the cat for a walk.  Maybe tonight when it’s cooler?)

CAT ON LEASH

* * *

“Are you tired?  “I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a nap,” she said.

* * *

“I’m worn out watching all those National Geographic films.  I’ve emptied the oceans; I’ve dug around Egypt; I’ve climbed the Andes Mountains.  I need a nap.”

* * *

A nap.  A blessed and sacred event.  Well, not really, but something we do look forward to, do need, do miss if we don’t get one.  A special time.

The special time is any time, between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.!  That’s right: 7 p.m.  Sometimes a long doctors’ clinic afternoon requires a late nap, before supper and evening news.  Sometimes a condo board meeting that began at 10 a.m. and adjourned at noon: a cold refreshing McDonald’s shake before a nap is the perfect remedy to heal the stresses of board budgets and owners’ complaints.  Ah, an afternoon nap.

As you can see, there is no set Head Start Nap Time, like 1:30 p.m.  We are flexible nappers.  We can nap anytime–and anywhere.  The best place, though care must be taken lest the body think it’s bedtime, is on the bed, with quilt covering feet, temperature set at 74-76°.  Next is the living room, sure to have cat-company.  The TV room has a couch for reclining, with accompanying cedar chest for feet and sit-up short nap, or doze-y nap, with one eye on the TV. 

But I have the most Special Place, the two-position recliner.

MY FAVORITE RECLINER

I kick back, settle, relax, and doze.  And if I am lucky, I’ll have a purring feline with me for an hour or so, curled in comfort on my lap.  I cannot, however, nap too long in the chair.  My back tells me when it is time to get up and move around, so a two-hour nap is more than enough.  A good nap, with dreams (!); and with air conditioning, an excellent nap.

And so it goes.  Each day beginning so differently, with catwalk, breakfast, doctors’ appointments, humidity, garbage trucks, coffee stimulation (or not), or a variety of other obligations or choices for the day (early morning blood tests?  Did I mention those?).  And we think about where we might be able to have nap time set aside.  Yes, that is true.  It’s like family planning, dinner planning, or planning for the rest of the day. 

Or, often, the day will simply proceed, and we will say aloud,

“I NEED A NAP!”

© James F. O’Neil 2021  

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“Aficionado: A person who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about an activity, subject, or pastime.”

My Uncle Bill wanted me to become a gentleman salesman; he was disappointed when I became a Teacher in Chicago.  Yet in a way, I was that salesman in the classroom, selling English grammar, composition, and literature.  That satisfied him somewhat.

He smoked: Pall Mall cigarettes and White Owl cigars.  He was determined to teach me the ways of a “gentleman” ((he was an executive for US Steel): cigars and scotch.  I was smoking Camel cigarettes. [https://memoriesofatime.blog/2013/08/05/pack-of-camels-please/]

So on occasion, usually after a family gathering, he would offer me a good cigar (perhaps a Garcia Vega), and a glass of scotch. I’m not sure now whether single malt, or the age.  It was scotch.Then we moved away, and I moved away from cigars and scotch until later in my life.  I smoked until 1972; I was 31.  I had been smoking for 12 years, then suffered from severe bronchitis.  “You should stop smoking,” I heard the examining doctor say.  “That’s not very forceful,” I countered.  “Stop smoking!”  I did, then, at that point.  (“Cold turkey,” whatever that means.)  I got better, and was better at scotch (and vodka).  Too much.  Until six years ago.  (“Cold turkey…”)

Now retirement has brought some new drinking delights: Arnold Palmer iced tea and Diet Dr Pepper, with cigars.

Cigars?  My two sons have become my Uncle Bill: introducing me to A. J. Fernandez, Rocky Patel, Ramon Bueso, and other tobacco-leaf friends of theirs.  I have my humidor, cigar samples, lighters, catalogs, and conversations with them as I learn and enjoy.

I smoke outside, behind our cozy 860 square-foot condo.  My lawn chair faces the two-lane busy street, busy with cars, beer trucks for the tavern across the street, public transportation buses (I can see the bus stop not far from my resting place), and trucks laden with wares of all kinds for the large grocery store, its parking lot always filled.  Even not far away is a fire department house, with two engines.  Sirens and lights.  Excitement.  And ambulances for the hospital a few miles away.  Ah, retirement.

Using Mayo Clinic’s Guidelines for Tobacco Use (“How many cigars can I smoke a week?”  “NONE!”), I limit myself to no more than two a week.

Enjoyment and relaxation.  So much better than a cigarette.  Oh, I used to light up a cig after a meal; that was really good.  Or have a smoke while sitting on a bench relaxing; that was good, too.  Cigarettes, however, are pressure pleasures.  (“Gotta have a smoke!”  “Gotta extra smoke?”)  (“How much?” “A pack a day.”)  Cigars are relaxing pleasures.

One or two puffs, maybe three, a minute, rolling the cigar between the thumb and fingers, not coughing, not inhaling.  Just relaxing.  Puff.  Smoke.  Make as much smoke, look at, watch, the smoke.I sit under the trees, the clouds.  I see the Chinese Restaurant Take Out customers across the street.  Then the setting-sun light, the parking lot lights switch on full blare.  Maybe it’s quiet.  In the quiet I’m lost–and soon the cigar, I realize, has burned down to the label, or I am so relaxed, or it has become dark.

Or the mosquitoes…

Time to go inside.  Time passed so quickly, either alone or in conversation with others.  But that cigar. . .

A cigar is as good as memories that you have when you smoked it. —Raul Julia

One of the joys of cigar smoking is it allows us to delve into interesting thoughts and observations.

[It is said that Freud smoked 20 cigars a day…]

 © James F O’Neil 2020

 

BY: JAMES F O’NEIL

“Many are called, but few are chosen.”

. . .

Let me tell you: My cousin Leonard was a Marine in the Pacific in WWII.  (He never told me war stories when I was young, but he showed me his samurai sword and a Japanese flag.)  My cousins Ed, Bill, and Dick were all Marines.  (They all had pretty neat tattoos.) My cousin Jim O’Neil was Army.  (When I first went into scouting, I inherited his sleeping bag.)

My brother Tom enlisted into the Navy, serving on the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown during the Vietnam War.  (He inherited Agent Orange illness.)

My brother-in-law Dave was an Army tanker.  (He patrolled in Europe during the Cold War.)  My other brother-in-law served in the USAAF long before I met his sister, my wife-to-be.  (He was based in Newfoundland.) 

My one son became an Army career officer with 30-years’ service, a bird colonel.  (He’s got medals and ribbons.)  His son, my grandson, follows in the Army.  (He moves and transports people and tanks.)  My other son learned the ways of the military in Navy ROTC in high school.  (It helped him win an Air Force scholarship.)

Me?  Here I am, how I turned out.  That’s the story here.

“Many are called but few are chosen”: I heard this mantra weekly–sometimes more than once a day–when I entered the high school seminary in Chicago in 1955.  I was fourteen years old, a 9th grader.  (At present there exist fewer than 10–maybe 5–high school seminaries in the United States.  Check Wikipedia.)

QUIGLEY SEMINARY in CHICAGO

I was marked, though, during 7th and 8th grades as one of the chosen ones to attend the “minor” seminary: high school, grades 9-12.  I was “special” to the nuns and priests.

But during this time, I still had the right toys and guns, leftovers from my Previous Age.  I lived, however, during The Cold War, The Red Menace, The Yellow Peril: the war in Indochina and the Korean War.  Additionally, I still had a close intimate cinematic relationship with William Holden in the film The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), and with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas and old war movies and war comics.

When I was a child, I played soldier.  In high school, I planned priest-to-be.  Not quite enough time for war stories and movies, though I did manage to squeeze them in whenever I could, especially during the summer months.  Now I was, however, “putting on the armor of Christ.” I was a different kid.  Oh, I rode the city bus and had a school bus pass; I studied physics and trig, English and rhetoric, but Latin and Greek, too.  And “the spiritual life.”  Up at “oh five thirty,” church attendance, off to school-classes at 0830, and the day schedule, in the uniform of the day: suitcoat and tie (never mind that they didn’t match). 

Acne Pic of Me in High School Photo

Thus, I carried on, for four years, until college–where all changed: “You’re in the Army now!”  Well, not really.

DAILY SCHEDULE

0530 Rise

Great Silence (Magnum Silentium) until post breakfast, 0730

0800 classes until 1530

Dinner

Magnum Silentium

2230 Lights Out

[with all other duties and activities]

And so it went.

Instead of “Eat-Pray-Love” it was “Pray-Study-Pray” for the most part.  During this (college) time, I had little exposure to war-related items except for studying history or translating the Aeneid from Latin or the Iliad from the Greek.  Singing of arms and men or singing of the wrath of Achilles: it was war.

In 1962 I was able to see the film about the D-Day invasion, The Longest Day.  (I had read the book in my “free time.”)  Somehow, I was able to make my way through the great–and large book–The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) by William Shirer. . . .

“In the world, but not of the world.”

In November 1962, I had completed full three years of “service.” At that time, I decided to leave my position of prayer and studies, turn in my “uniform” by which I was recognized: Roman collar, cassock, and my three-cornered biretta hat, with pom-pom.  No need for those items as I became part “of the world.”

Pic of Me in My Service Uniform Cassock

I left the ecclesiastical service with no regrets.  I was disappointed, at times, with myself that I did not remain longer: for more studies, for strengthening of friendships, and for a bit more maturity and discipline that I was obtaining.

DISCIPLINE: training that produces obedience or self-control, often in the form of rules.  The word “discipline” is from the Latin word disciplina meaning “instruction and training.” Discipline is to study, learn, train, and apply a system of standards.  It’s training, especially moral or character.  And, of course, rules (with “punishments”) and followers (“disciples”).  If I can use ONE word to sum up my experience in my years of training during the years of service, in preparation to go into the world to do work, that word would have to be DISCIPLINE.

Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord–these are the gifts taught to us for us to learn as we became good soldiers.  (The last one was really inculcated during room inspection by the Dean of Men, the “Lord.”)  But by our daily lives, we were highly disciplined, made to learn organizational skills, use of time, even good manners.

I must add, though, we had no firearms, no weapons training.  We did march, sometimes, in line (not on a parade ground), stood and sat to the sound of a bell in the refectory (dining hall), had times of the Great Silence (sometimes for days at a time). 

We made our beds (racks?), a habit I continue, kept our rooms clean, our lockers in order, and our desks neat and tidy (I am not good at that today).  A luxury we did have, though, was laundry service: we dropped off and picked up weekly.  This laundry business I had to learn on my own at home after my separation.  Later, my new wife, thankfully, knew all the intricacies of “whites, lights, and darks” –which I soon mastered, and later taught to our boys when they were able to learn this discipline.

And that, basically, is the end of my story.  That’s all that I’m going to say about it, some sixty years later.  Writing this, I have a tiny inkling of what a WWII Mustang fighter pilot must feel when answering questions about his war exploits or war record during the time of his years of service, no matter how long or short.  “What was it like?” “Were you ever scared?”  “Are you glad you joined the Army Air Force?”  “Any regrets about leaving the service?”

These are some actual questions that I have asked fighter pilots whom I have met in the not-so-distant past.   On the other hand, I have many of my own “war stories,” as it were, memoriesofatime, that I can share about my time together with classmates in hallowed halls, classmates who still reminisce about “duty stations” (classes and work details), “officers” (deans), the “general” (the rector); “S.O.S.” (creamed chipped beef on toast).  But I am not so naïve to make comparisons, to say that academia was completely like military service.

Though, at times, recalling an instance or event that I lived through, I’ll comment, “That’s no different from the Army way.”  And so it goes.

Was I ever in the Army?  Nah.  But note that I did have a draft card when I turned 18. . . .  “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  Some of my “comrades in arms” were called and chosen . . . some have already “slipped the surly bonds of earth.”  

©  JAMES F O’NEIL  2020    

 

 

 

 

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