On the heels of the 24th Winter Olympics closing ceremonies in Beijing, now with the unfolding tragedy in Eastern Europe, I felt compelled to feature this playlist this week in my music blog. The playlist was originally titled “London Calling” highlighting songs with world cities and countries in their title or prominently featured in the song. But in light of the current world state of affairs, I changed the name to “We Are The World” as the theme seemed to better highlight what I feel we need badly right now, perhaps more than ever:
There comes a time When we heed a certain call When the world must come together as one There are people dying Oh, and it’s time to lend a hand to life The greatest gift of all
Among the best-selling singles of all time, “We Are The World” featured artists brought together to help support famine relief in Ethiopia included a virtual who’s who of anyone who was anyone in the rock and pop music scene of the 80s, in order of appearance: Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, Al Jarreau, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Loggins, Steve Perry, Daryl Hall, Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper, Kim Carnes, Bob Dylan, and Ray Charles. Chorus members included Dan Aykroyd, Harry Belafonte, Lindsey Buckingham, Sheila E., Bob Geldof, Jackie, La Toya, Marlon, Randy and Tito Jackson, Waylon Jennings, Bette Midler, John Oates, Jeffrey Osborn, Smokey Robinson, members of The Pointer Sisters and Huey Lewis and the News.
These efforts were organized primarily by Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Irish rock band The Boomtown Rats. He also starred as “Pink” in Pink Floyd’s 1982 film “Pink Floyd – The Wall,” organized the charity supergroup Band Aid, co-writing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, also among the best-selling singles of all time. His efforts culminated in the concert I’ve mentioned on occasion in my weekly blog, as well as in my blog introduction – Live Aid ’86, simulcast from Wembley Stadium, London, and RFK Stadium in Philadelphia, the location I attended with my brothers and uncle.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but while the advent, rise, and prominence of the internet has unfortunately promoted much of our focus and attention to the media and a digital world and life, drawing us away from humanity, it also has the potential to make the world a much smaller place, allowing us to bring those of different countries, continents, cultures, races, religions, and beliefs into our homes and lives, breaking down barriers and helping us see our similarities rather than our differences.
On Facebook yesterday I saw a post about the Human Library. The Human Library is an international organization and movement that first started in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000. It aims to address people’s prejudices by helping people talk to those they would not normally meet. The organization uses a library analogy of lending people rather than books. These people often have experienced prejudice, social exclusion, stigma, or other difficulties and challenges in life. Participants can ask them questions so as to learn about the other person and also challenge their own prejudices. It can help us break down barriers and gain care, concern and love for all those around us. What a great initiative to restore our humanity.
Music has the ability to do this as well, to bring us to different genres, cultures, and perspectives. The playlist include songs such as “Marrakesh Express,” “Katmandu,” “Kashmir,” “China Girl,” “Still In Saigon,” “Back In The U.S.S.R.,” “London Calling,” “Vienna,” “April In Paris,” “Mexcio,” “Kokomo,” “Panama,” and “Only A Dream In Rio” among others. I included some songs that, while not having a city or country in their title, prominently feature one in their lyrics, such as “In The Days Before Rock & Roll,” “La Isla Bonita,” “An American Dream,” and “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” I did NOT include song with country adjectives in their title, such as “Spanish Eyes,” “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” or “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant.” Perhaps that’s a theme for a future playlist!
Billy Joel, just referenced above in “We Didn’t Start The Fire” and “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,” here with a song from his “Nylon Curtain” album, wrote of the horrors of going off to war in “Goodnight Saigon”:
Elton John’s video of his live cover in Moscow of The Beatles “Back In The U.S.S.R.” now has an eerie, surreal significance with what is going on in the Ukraine right now:
Madonna has seemed to embrace and celebrate foreign culture and history, here playing a young Evita Perron in “Evita” signing “Buenos Aires,” though sorry for the grainy video, the best that’s available on YouTube (rent and watch the movie for better quality – it’s definitely worth a view, for the story, the music, and Antonio Banderas and Madonna’s performances):
And then her exploring all that San Pedro has to offer in “La Isla Bonita”:
Coming full circle, after the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 inspired a 25th anniversary recording of “We Are The World” embodying the same enthusiasm, sense of purpose and generosity as the original recording 25 years earlier, joining together to help the people of Haiti. This time assembling some of the top artists of the time, soloists including Justin Bieber, Nicole Scherzinger, Jennifer Hudson, Josh Groban, Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, Miley Cyrus, Enrique Iglesias, Jamie Foxx, Wyclef Jean, Adam Levine, Pink, Usher, Celine Dion, Orianthi, Fergie, Nick Jonas, Lil Wayne, LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, with old-timers Tony Bennet, Barbra Streisand, Carlos Santana. The chorus included the likes of El DeBarge, Brandy, Jeff Bridges, Zac Brown, Natalie Cole, Harry Connick Jr., John Legend, Julianne Hough, India Arie, Randy Jackson, Bobby McFerrin, Vin Diesel, Gladys Knight, Katharine McPhee, Jason Mraz, Jordin Sparks, Robin Thicke, Rob Thomas, Vince Vaghn, and Ann, Nancy, and Brian Wilson, among others. It was quite the lineup.
We are the world We are the children We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving Oh, there’s a choice we’re making We’re saving our own lives It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me
When you’re down and out, there seems no hope at all But if you just believe there’s no way we can fall Well, well, well, well let us realize Oh, that a change can only come When we stand together as one
And there are people in this world who choose to follow a difficult path to make a difference in the lives of many people, people they don’t even know, and may outwardly seem to have nothing in common with, apart from the humanity they share. One such person is my friend Sean Forrest, who had the compassion, vision, and courage to open a mission in Haiti, establishing an orphanage, a school, an elderly home, and a medical clinic, all to serve the poorest of the poor.
I had the privilege to spend a brief time at his mission with my daughter assisting his efforts in what little way we could. It was an eye-opening and humbling experience.
If anyone is so inclined, and wishes to support Sean’s efforts in serving the poorest of the poor in Haiti, consider making a donation to this more than worthy cause, to reach out to others suffering in the world, in need of our compassion, love, and help.
So I hope this inspires some of you to get out of your comfort zone to find ways to care about those around you. While not a city or country song, I chose to end the playlist with what seems a fitting entreaty by Diana Ross in “Reach Out And Touch”:
Reach out and touch somebody’s hand, make this world a better place if you can.
I hope you embrace the challenge, and strive to make a difference in the world, bringing us all closer together, as well as enjoy the playlist.
I hope that this music and my blog truly serve as a “revival: a new presentation of something old,” a springboard to return to the music of your youth, or perhaps to find artists you want to discover anew. Rediscover the passion of music in your life.
American bandleader Glenn Miller was the superstar of his era. From a modest start he became one of the best-selling artists of his time. 81 years ago this month he was awarded the the first gold record for his single “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Despite his wealth and fame, the attack on Pearl Harbor inspired him to join the U.S. armed forces where he supported the war effort through his music. His tragic disappearance over the English Channel on December 15, 1944, remains one of World War II’s unsolved mysteries. Over nearly a century his music has touched people and inspired musicians.
His “Chattanooga Choo Choo” lends to this week’s music blog theme, songs about US cities and states.
Songs on the list either contain a city or state in their title, or featured prominently in their lyrics. Songs range from “Sweet Home Alabama” to “Hotel California,” “Hollywood Nights,” “Midnight Train To Georgia,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Please Come To Boston,” “Carolina In My Mind”, “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Walking In Memphis,” “Graceland,” “El Paso,” of course “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” and the playlist’s title song “New York State Of Mind.” There are some songs that don’t have a city or state in their title, but feature a city or state prominently in their lyrics, such as “Dancing In The Streets” (multiple: Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, WDC, Detroit), “Take It Easy” (Winslow, Arizona), “Rock ‘N Me” (Phoenix, Arizona, Tacoma, Philadelphia, Atlanta, L.A.), “Rocky Mountain High” (Colorado), “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” (Chicago), “Dirty Water” and “Rock & Roll Band” (Boston), and “Deacon Blues” (Alabama), among others.
Some great videos of songs feature on the playlist include:
So the playlist opens with Martha Reeves & The Vandellas “Dancing In The Streets.” While many artists have covered this classic song from the 60s, this version, released for the first time at the Live Aid Concert I attended in Philadelphia in 1986, is so quintessentially 80s:
Stepping back a decade, this song epitomizes southern California folk rock of the 70s. Co-written by Eagles Glen Frey and roommate Jackson Browne, it was the Eagles first release.
The story behind the song is worth a read:
Continuing on in the mellow 70s with one of my favorite Billy Joel songs “You’re My Home.” Billy was my first concert, and I’ve since seen him several times more, including a college tour as well as performing with Elton John.
And back to the 60s with The Mamas & The Papas signature song “California Dreamin’”:
And back to the 70s with one of the biggest hits of the decade, “Hotel California”:
This fan made video of “L.A. Woman” is a great insight into The Doors as well as the 60s and 70s:
And while the video is poor, it’s still worth a watch to see Johnny Carson at the helm of The Tonight Show in the early 70s introducing John Denver, singing “Rocky Mountain High,” such memories from my childhood:
And a bit better preserved performance of “Take Me Home, Country Roads”:
And bouncing to the 90s for one of my favorite city songs, Marc Cohn’s “Walking In Memphis”:
And I can’t pass up a chance to give props to one of my favorite American Idol alums, Crystal Bowersox. I’ve seen her a few times, and she never disappoints. Here is a “double shot” of Crystal:
Crystal reminds me of Bonnie Raitt, a blues rock goddess here singing “Angel From Montgomery”:
And while not the version included in the playlist, this cover of “Sweet Home Chicago” is pretty ridiculous, with rock and blues guitar royalty, including Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, Hubert Sumlin, Robert Cray, and John Mayer:
Here is my Uncle Joey performing in San Diego with his band The Hip Replacements covering “Viva Las Vegas”:
And closing out the set is Billy Joel’s “New York State Of Mind,” doing his best to write a Ray Charles sort of lounge singer standard:
So let these songs take you around the country on a musical journey. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
I hope that this music and my blog truly serve as a “revival: a new presentation of something old,” a springboard to return to the music of your youth, or perhaps to find artists you want to discover anew. Rediscover the passion of music in your life.
February 14, Valentine’s Day, originated as a Christian feast day honoring one or two early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine. Through later folk traditions, the day has become a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and love.
In popular movies, there are a variety of presentations of romance and love.
In the film “Yesterday”:
Meg Ryan made much of her career in romantic role, including opposite Anthony Edwards in “Top Gun,” her eventual husband Dennis Quaid in “DOA,” Val Kilmer in “The Doors,” Nicholas Cage in “City Of Angels,” Hugh Jackman in “Kate & Leopold,” but is perhaps most remembered for her romances opposite Tom Hanks, in “Joe Vs. The Volcano,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail”:
And two of the most famous rom-com lines in history, “You complete me” and “You had me at hello” come from “Jerry Maguire”:
The chemistry and romantic tension between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence is undeniable in “Silver Linings Playbook”:
And in “While You Were Sleeping” Bill Pullman finally gives his love Sandra Bullock the world, or at least Florence:
In movies it doesn’t get much more romantic than Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in “Sabrina”:
And who could forget the Bogey as the uncaring Rick who sticks his neck out for nobody, yet is noble and selfless in the end for his lost love Ilsa in one of the most famous endings of a movie, one of my all-time favorite movies, “Casablanca”:
And this tribute to Audrey Hepburn, set to “Unforgettable” is, well, unforgettable:
Romance and love are more than just a feeling. They are an action. And while love and romance can be a candle-lit dinner with wine and roses or a hand-in-hand walk in the moonlight, they can and must be so much more.
In a scene in the movie “Phenomenon,” Doc states George still has his love at his side because he bought her chairs. Love is finding out what her “chairs” are and making sure she has them.
Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of sharing many special moments with my wife. While I’ve not always gotten it right, and there are always bumpy roads along the way, the importance is to try to stay true to the purpose of the journey, to be there, to care, to love.
It started with flowers before a movie for our first date – perhaps a bit too desperate, but what did I know? Unfortunately, I then made the further mistake of setting the bar way to high with our engagement, proposing to her in Paris after a romantic dinner on the Champs Elysees, including roses from a gypsy, then a cruise down the Seine, getting down on one knee in front of the Eifel Tower under the light of a full moon. It was all downhill from there!!! What was I thinking?
But we have had many more moments of romance and love, if not quite as dramatic, equally important. Walks on the beach in Bermuda, or along the canals of Venice, or in the mountains of Switzerland, or the cobblestone streets of Assisi, or the cliffs of the Amalfi coast.
Sipping wine and enjoying caprese salad with fresh mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, basil, and balsamic at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius. Or riding a chairlift and skiing down a slope together, or ice skating and sipping cocoa on the Victorian ponds of Nestlenook, in Jackson, NH. Enjoying the mist of the waterfall in Johnsonville wearing our wedding attire best, or the mist at Niagara Falls, or at Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica. Or the sheer joy and tears watching “Miss Saigon” in London, or “Les Mis.” “Phantom,” “RENT,” “Lion King,” “Aida,” “Wicked,” “Hamilton,” and so many others. Or enjoying the sights, sounds, shows, rides, and fun of Disney Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Finding my wife’s “chairs.” Or looking across from the choir, where I was singing at Christmas mass, seeing sitting next to my mom my beautiful wife, glowing, radiant, still taking my breath away, realizing the gifts she has given me over the years in the birth of my three children. All love. All romance. All among what brings life value and meaning.
Over the years I made many mixed cassette tapes, and eventually CDs for my wife, starting when we were dating. They were a way for me to express my love when words just weren’t enough.
Back in the day it was much harder to do so, needing to mix songs from albums, 45s and cassettes coherently on a cassette tape. The advent of music streaming and iTunes made it easier, but you still had to own or purchase the music. Now with music streaming services, the options are endless. So this week’s playlists are my ultimate playlists for romance, love, and lost love.
To me, romance in music is more a feeling and mood that the sound and lyrics create, more than just a beautiful love song. So I’ve created 3 playlists – one for romance, “Isn’t It Romantic,” one for love songs, “We Are In Love”, and one for lost love, “Lost Without Your Love,” for those of us who like to wallow in despair over love, those of us alone on Valentine’s day, those who have loved and lost.
This deleted scene from the film “Yesterday”, demonstrates the power of a song to cut to the heart:
So on to the playlists. Play them when you’re with the one you love, or when you’re missing the one you love, to create a mood, and to bring back memories, and rekindle those feelings that led you to fall in love. Among my favorite artists, with voices that exude romance, are Van Morrison, Lionel Richie, Otis Redding, Nat King Cole, Linda Ronstadt, Sade, Celine Dion, Nora Jones, and Diana Krall. They could make singing the phone book romantic.
To get a sense of what I’m talking about with romance, here are two videos/songs that demonstrate the mood and feeling that such songs can create. I actually forgot to include them in the initial release of this blog. For those joining late or revisiting, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them:
And while you can’t get much more romantic than Carlos Santana and India Arie, this next song by Calum Scott and Leona Lewis comes close.
Starting off is “Isn’t It Romantic,” a playlist full of songs that create a romantic mood just from their feel and sound, as well as their lyrics. If you’re trying to rekindle romance in your relationship, this is the list to turn to. Songs ranging from Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” “Into The Mystic,” and “Someone Like You,” to Billy Joel’s “You’re My Home,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” Cat Stevens “How Can I Tell You,” Lionel Richie’s “Truly,” Sade’s “The Sweetest Taboo,” Celine Dion’s “The Power Of Love,” Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness,” Dooley Wilson’s “As Time Goes By,” Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa,” Diana Krall’s “Isn’t It Romantic,” John Legend’s “All Of Me,” so many songs just oozing romance.
The second list “We Are In Love” is comprised of songs of love, though not necessarily romantic in mood and sound. Some greats include James Taylor’s “Something In The Way She Moves, Eric Clapton’s “Anything For Your Love,” Billy Joel’s or Bruno Mars’ “Just The Way You Are,” Elvis’ “Love Me Tender,” Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes’ “Up Where We Belong,” Jim Croce’s “Time In A Bottle,” Dan Fogelberg’s “Longer,” Jorney’s “Open Arms” and “Faithfully” among others.
The last melancholy list, though with many beautiful songs, is “Lost Without Your Love.” Spoiler alert – don’t watch the next video if you haven’t seen the new version of “A Star Is Born” with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Do yourself a favor, and go see it. And bring a box of tissues…
Some songs may not outwardly sound as though they relate to lost love, such as the Eagles “Best Of My Love, Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight,” Lenny Welch’s “Since I Fell For You,” Poco’s “Crazy Love” Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” Sade’s “Smooth Operator,” Adele’s “Someone Like You,” or Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.”
These playlists get to the heart of the matter in romance and love. May they bring, warm, fond, loving memories of wonderful moments with the love of your life.
I hope that this music and my blog truly serve as a “revival: a new presentation of something old,” a springboard to return to the music of your youth, or perhaps to find artists you want to discover anew. Rediscover the passion of music in your life.
Some 80 years ago today, On February 6, 1942 perhaps the single most important person on the planet, at least to me, was born. She is one of the strongest, most resilient, caring , loving persons I know. She is my role model, my hero, my mom.
So many times we pay tribute to those we have lost. But why does it have to be that way? Why not pay tribute to those close to us while they are still alive? We should have something similar to the Kennedy Center Honors, which pays tribute to performing artists for their lifetime contributions to American culture. But why not pay tribute for a lifetime contribution of caring and love? Seldom do we share such feelings and memories in such a tribute fashion to those close to us.
I remember when 13 years old my maternal grandfather dying on cold winter day in January, and the kind words people had for him, and my sadness at his passing, my first close family death. That did nothing to prepare me, however, for my father’s unexpected untimely death at the age of 49, when I was just 19, while away taking college classes in Spain. That loss was devastating, not only for me, but to see the pain and grief of my mom and two brothers. Many kind, loving words were said at his funeral, and I eventually made a CD of music in his memory for my family upon the death of his father 2 decades later, which I expanded upon and made the topic of my October 6, 2021 music blog (see Archives: “Dance With My Father & Big Bad John – Dad Tribute”)
A few years after my dad died my mom wrote the following piece for publication in a bereavement newsletter, both as a form of therapy, as well as in hope of reaching others feeling the same way in their grief:
As I listen to the old Christmas favorites and look around and see the stores, homes, and people preparing for the holidays I think of those who are experiencing a deep loss in their lives and how difficult these days are for them.
It has been three years since my husband’s death and I am still filled with both sadness and joy as I look to the holidays ahead. I recall the mythical story of the Velveteen Rabbit with the Rabbit asking the Skin Horse how one becomes real. The Skin Horse’s reply was that “real is when someone loves you for a long, long time and sometimes it can hurt but you don’t mind because you are real and once you are real you can’t become unreal, it lasts for always.” I believe the message presented in this story has been part of my experience with close relationships in my own life. My closest friend and mentor was my husband. Having him love me for a long, long time I knew that I could be real with him.
…Look at the image portrayed in celebrating the holidays: beautifully decorated homes, the abundance of food and drink, many people happily gathered around the piano singing Christmas Carols, and so on. Is there room for one who is in great pain in the midst of this wonderful image? I remember the most difficult struggle I had during the first year of bereavement was in celebrating with others… That first Christmas I went through all the motions in preparation for the holidays. I tried hanging on to some of the same traditions and did what I could. The busyness helped remove me from the pain and grief. It wasn’t until Christmas morning when I came downstairs and plugged in the lights to the Christmas tree (another Christmas tradition) that the intensity of my pain struck me. As my family gathered around opening our gifts to one another we were each exposed to the reality of our own deep loss.
Once again as I prepare for the coming holidays I am in touch with my own deepest feelings and truths about myself and those I love. As I am filled with God’s gift of love for me in the rememberance of the birth of Christ, I know that within me still lives the love that makes me real. I’d like to close with part of a poem I wrote shortly after my husband’s death:
But now your love has even a new dimension to it for it is in accord with our God who has brought us to this place to recognize the depths that love can endure whether here in this world or in the next and so I pray to recognize His call to follow His chosen way to help me fulfill my love for you in others if I may then one day I will truly know this love we have shared has been glorified in His very name
Writing this poem helped me to express my intimate feelings and belief that the love I shared with my husband continues to live on through my children, my family, my friends, and the lives I touch.
Let the real gift of Christmas truly be yours: cherish one another and treasure the gift of love.
Noreen Storo, November 1988
Not long after that, only a mere 3 years after my dad’s death, I again felt the crushing loss of a close family member, with the death of my younger brother in a house fire. He was only 19 at the time. I found comfort and solace in a mixed tape (back in the pre-CD and music streaming days) of music he liked or that seemed to speak to the tragedy. I later revisited and updated this list, the theme of my December 28, 2021 music blog (see Archives: “I Won’t Forget You – Tribute to my brother Bob”)
Dealing with such grief is intensely painful and lonely path. This video speaks across the centuries to this universal unfortunate but inevitable experience. Interestingly “Hamilton” lends somewhat of an underlying theme to this blog, though a little to hip-hop for my mom’s liking, this song kills me every time I listen to it, but I so love it:
Fast forward just 4 or 5 months later, and my mom, having recently lost her husband, son, dog, cat, and house, was diagnosed with breast cancer, to soon lose a breast as well. Life somehow didn’t seem fair. But my mom diligently received her treatments, looking cancer in the face and saying not in my house, beating her cancer, and now being a long-term survivor.
Had she died, I truly think I would have dropped out of medical school and moved to the Caribbean selling coconuts on the beach. Life was too short…
But that didn’t happen, and life carried on, as it has a way of doing.
After those multiple losses, many people would sink into a prolonged depression, or just be bitter about life. And to be sure my mom had times of profound grief and sadness. But she picked up the pieces and continued to create a life of meaning and value. Having worked for the church in religious education for years, she shifted to working in bereavement ministry. She says they have a motto in this ministry: “you either get bitter or better,” and she got better.
She was born of first generation Italian American parents, with Italian immigrant grandparents.
While not quite a unicorn, a pony is still a little girl’s dream, at least in the 40s. Dance class and recitals balanced her days at school with friends. Her mom, a dress shop worker, made much of her wardrobe over the years.
Vacations with family at Hampton Beach and visiting relatives in Schenectady and spending time on the farm in Esperance, upstate New York, with Tanno aunts, uncles, and cousins were almost magical. Annual Vercillo family 4th of July picnics were a summer staple.
Teen years were filled with cheerleading, sock hops, trips to Lake Compounce and Savin rock, listening to music on the juke box while eating pizza at Tolli’s, or across the street at Tommy’s.
With a mother struggling with mental health issues over the years, mom often served more as a mother than an older sister to her younger brother Joey. When he was just a toddler, he once walked behind her when she was practicing with a golf club, inadvertently being struck in the mouth, losing several teeth. Luckily they were baby teeth.
Joey was practically born with a guitar in hand, spending a live in music. He played at Noreen’s wedding at just 8 years old, was in his first band at 13, and played until the day he died too young at just 60, yet another loss for my mom, who was there for his final days as his lifetime of hard living as a rock musician took its toll.
Give a listen to Joey at 13 on East Haven, CT radio 05/01/67 performing “Slow Down” (just 13 years old, with THAT voice):
She was very close to her Uncle Bill and Aunt Kiki, who lived across the street. When she was a baby, Bill went off to serve as a Marine in the infantry, stationed in the Pacific in World War II. He would write to a then toddler Noreen professing his love for his niece.
He became a father figure in her life, especially after the passing of her own father to cancer when she was only in her late 30s. And Uncle Bill became like a grandfather to me and my brothers, and great grandfather to my kids. A wonderful man.
She met my dad by chance and unusual circumstance. She was visiting a friend of hers George in the hospital. George and his friend John were in the hospital recuperating from a car accident in which John wrapped his Triumph sports car around a telephone pole when drag racing another car. She had heard of John but had never met her. When she asked George how John was, he said he was in the bed right next to him, his face all wrapped in bandages. That was their first meeting, and the rest is history.
This married her into the Storo family, a first generation Italian-Polish family dominated by Nonny, the matriarche who insured that the family remain close, with regular visits, parties, vacations, and events. Aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews were regular visitors.
Married life led to children, 3 boys, my older brother John, me, and my younger brother Bob. A stay-at-home mom, fresh baked cookies upon arriving home from school were always a special treat. Shuttling us to scouts, little league baseball, bowling, swim lessons, music lessons, drama rehearsals, art lessons was all a full-time job. My dad firmly believed in annual beach vacations, no matter how tight money was, usually renting a cottage at the beach, typically Wildwood Crest, NJ, North Hampton Beach, NH, Cape May, NJ, and eventually Clearwater Beach, FL, when Uncle Bill and Aunt Kiki moved there.
We’d have our own family picnics and parties, always including bocce and horseshoes. Italian food spreads that were almost beyond imagination were a staple of my mom’s entertaining.
Over the ensuing years she remained an important part of my and my older brother’s lives, offering her love, care, guidance, and support.
She eventually remarried a wonderful man, her hairdresser, and the husband of one of her coworkers at the Diocesan office. But before you jump to the wrong conclusion, it’s actually a beautiful story of how they met and fell in love. When looking for a new hairdresser, my mom’s friend and coworker Maria recommended her husband Fred, who became her new hairdresser. But sadly Maria grew gravely ill, ultimately succumbing to the complications of a stroke. On the morning of her passing, my mom had a hair appointment with Fred, and he just received the call that he needed to head to the hospital when my mom arrived for her appointment. Shaken and distraught, my mom offered to drive him to the hospital. After Maria died, Fred sought consolation and companionship over the ensuing months after, and their friendship grew stronger, eventually into a budding romance.
People often ask me how I felt about my mom remarrying. I tell them I honestly couldn’t have been happier. She has been alone for many years, and had so many losses, it was wonderful to see her so happy with yet another husband who loved her so much. Fred was a wonderful husband to both of his wives, and was a wonderful father, stepfather, grandfather, and step-grandfather. He was a gentle soul, a big teddy bear from the Dominican Republic. Many fun times were spent at his lake house in Pachaug, at York Beach, Maine, Disney, Punta Gorda, and briefly in North Port. They were married 9 years, before he grew ill and passed away, very gently and peacefully in the end.
But there it was, my mom a widow a second time, having lost 2 husbands, a son, and a breast before turning 64. But she channeled her love and energy into her neighbors, friends, and family. She has been a loving grammy to her 12 grandchildren (including step and adoptive).
Eventually family would transition her from 20 years in Florida to live near us in Bluffton, SC. For the first time in decades, she can have dinner or go to church regularly with one of her sons. It’s a very welcome change.
In planning an 80th birthday celebration, I asked several relatives to share a fond memory or moment they recall spent with my mom.
Fond memories of Noreen (with still more to create):
One of my fondest memories of mom is all the time and love she spent encouraging me in the kitchen. I remember coming home from kindergarten to the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I was eager to learn how to make them myself, not to mention knowing to the victor go the spoils, that is, he or she who bakes gets to lick the bowl! My earliest recollection of learning to cook something on my own was toast. I’d sometimes come home from kindergarten, and mom would perhaps be out in the garden or talking to a neighbor, and I’d pull a stool over to the counter, climb up on it (which I still do today, minus the stool, lol!), and put bread in the toaster, butter it, and have my own after school snack.
My college schedule afforded me the month of December home with mom and dad. I spent much of it helping mom make pizzelles, angenettes, sugar cookies, thumb print cookies and other treats for the holidays. I also learned to make lots of delicious Italian food from mom, though I still can’t equal her meatballs – they’re the best. I think it’s the love she puts in them that’s the secret ingredient. Her spread of food at a party was beyond compare, exceeding the eye-popping displays of Italian holiday food spreads.
Some memories of mom involve her being there for me at my darkest moments. I recall when the wound of losing dad was still so fresh, I was contemplating not returning to my language study abroad program. But she urged me to reconsider, relating that grief wasn’t go to be over in a day, a week, or a month. It was a process, and she and my brothers would still be working through it upon my return. She encouraged me to return to finish classes, and travel with my friend Mike around Western Europe, our travels taking us to Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice, Nice, Avignon, and London. It was my first experience abroad, and she was so right. I was able to enjoy my travels, using it as a means for healing.
She also was there to console me after our miscarriage, assuring me I wasn’t cursed, despite losing dad, Bob, almost losing her to cancer, and now a baby, our first. She was there to love me, and encourage me to look at all the good in my life.
I remember being on the other end of the consoling as well, that first Christmas morning after losing dad, just holding each other in tears and sadness. Or in the office with her and the surgeon when he told her she had breast cancer.
I remember a few years before moving from New Hampshire her being in our basement, “schooling” our kids in ping pong. I never knew she was that good, but I guess she played a lot as a teen. Who knew? Her spending time with my kids, whether at the house, York, Cape May, or some other vacation, their developing a relationship with grammy, seeing first hand what a loving, caring, special person she is, not to mention all the wonderful times I spent on vacations with mom at Hampton Beach, Wildwood Crest, Cape May, Clearwater, York, and our trip to Europe, where the whole time she kept saying to her girlfriend Sally “It’s too bad bill didn’t get the engagement ring in time to propose in Europe,” unaware that I DID get the ring in time, but didn’t tell her, to throw her off, and the excitement of Regina running up to her that night in Paris to show her the ring, are among my very favorite memories of mom.
with utmost love, Bill
One memory of mom that sticks in my head is from our trip to Europe in 1992. Bill and I went on a group trip across Europe with Noreen and her friend Sally. From London to Brussels, then a cruise down the Rhine, Heidelberg, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Venice, Florence, Rome, Paris (where Bill and I got engaged) – such a great trip, with great sights, great food, and great company. BUT wherever we went, mom and Sally not only had to buy some souvenir to bring home, Sally had to buy 4 of everything, one for each of her kids. And since we had less stuff to bring back, it was Bill and I that got stuck hauling everything back in our checked and carry-on luggage! Still so much fun!!!
Much love, Regina
My favorite memory of Grammy would have to be all the summers where I would spend a week or two with her at her camper. I have fond memories of playing guitar, and her encouraging me to keep playing throughout the day, or when we would play cards late into the night, listening to music, while she would reminisce about the many joys she has had in life.
I can remember her cooking cheese steaks, or driving to Wooster Street pizza, or watching in amazement as she would pour herself a drink from a massive 2 liter bottle of Absolute!
I remember one time while I was visiting, we were driving, I can’t remember exactly why, but she was looking for a certain church in East Haven. We drove all day, stopped at Foxon Park, got some pizza (a recurring theme in my life) at this hole in the wall, and just talked about life.
I often think about the few summers I spent some time there, and wish I still could. To me, that camper was not some single wide in the mountains of CT, but it was a place to relax, learn, grow, and love. I will always fondly remember my time spend there, the memories we made, and the life lessons I learned.
I mostly remember when we would visit her in Florida and the nights we would spend playing cards. I distinctly remember my first time playing Sequence and when I learned how to play Golf (because, at the time, I was too intimidated by your guys game of Hand and Foot to learn that one).
I’m fairly certain she was the one who told me if I see a gator to run zig-zag from it – I was a child but this was all I could think about any time we visited her thereafter 😂
I also remember making pizzelles and angenettes with her at Christmas time whenever she was up in NH with us. Christmas baking was always one of my favorite things about that time of year – though I think I was more in it for the cookies and scraps I got to eat 😂
I have many fond memories of Mom, so it is hard to choose just one.
Winter:I remember her dressing my brother Bill and I up in our snow suits (we could barely move – aka the movie “A Christmas Story”), in Meriden, so we could go out and play in the snow. Huge snow forts with snowball fights and sledding with friends were waiting. Mom would have hot chocolate and a snack ready for us when we came in from the cold. We also had a blast when she took us to Wickham Park in East Hartford to go sledding down the huge never-ending hill! Christmas was always magical, with presents, food and relatives!
Beach:I also loved the many days at the beach with her. Those included beaches in CT, RI, MA, NH, ME, NJ and FL. Most memorable were the vacations in Hampton Beach, York Beach, Clearwater Beach, Wildwood and Cape May. Mom was the one that taught me how to body surf in the ocean. I became really good at it. I would ride a wave 40 feet into the shore in Cape May until I hit sand or ran out of breath. LOL, I never ran out of breath at body surfing or talking! I passed the torch and taught my kids how to body surf.
Food:Food. My love of good food. Mom had the best teachers, Italian and Polish! Too many foods to list, but she followed the Italian and Polish tradition of not only making delicious food, but in abundance! I remember all of the holiday, parties and picnics where good food and great times with family, memories that I cherish. When going to a picnic she did not bring just one item but multiple dishes.
Faith:You were my greatest teacher on faith. I watched you growing in your faith as I grew up. You provided me with a good foundation. Where you really shined and taught me the most though was through the hard times in your life. Losing your father to cancer, your mother, brother, Aunt Kiki, Uncle Bill, Fred, Dad and Bob. You were so strong, relying on God, your faith, family, friends and community to bring you and us through it all. Your faith and love for family and friends inspires me continue to grow in my own faith and love that you have instilled in me.
Thank you for being my mother. I love you Mom! Happy 80th Birthday!
There are so many fond moments to share, to pick just one seems impossible. The one I will share became a metaphor to our life together. An experience that has been witnessed in our relationship throughout the years where we have stood in the gaps for each other (mainly you standing in the gaps as a true mother would).
We were driving to Bill’s in Virginia, at night, during a torrential downpour. I’m sure you remember it well. We couldn’t see where we were going but tried to be each other’s eyes and encouragement as the windows fogged and the car hydroplaned. I drove first until I no longer felt it safe. You naturally took over the wheel until our bladders and common sense willed us to exit the highway. Little did we know, the only place to stop was miles away at a crummy (and very scary) truck stop. Well, we two brave gals got out of the car and did what nature called us to do. We made it out of there alive, thank God, and hit the road again. We had a destination to reach and just kept moving towards it.
We finally made it to Virginia safe, although wet and frazzled. That experience was one of many times we would face fear and uncertainty together, but the key has been “together” with you oftentimes taking the wheel and leading the way. You are truly another mom to me. A safe place to land. Home. As years pass and roles evolve, it is my honor to take the wheel and stand in the gaps a little bit more. To continue being your “daughter”, a safe place, your home.
One of the fondest memories we have of Gram is her drive to manifest happiness through food.
Several years ago, Jo and I visited with her around Easter. Little did we know, she had hoarded pasticcio di carne (meat pie) to bring back to my parents.
Come 4 am of our departure day, she reveals her plan to me. A then freshly caffeinated Gram proceeds to insist to barely coherent (and hungover) Austin that we must bring back the pies to my parents. She continues to leverage that since we only had a two hour flight, the frozen pies weren’t going to spoil.
However, this wasn’t my main reason for contesting her judgement… Gram had wrapped the pies into bricks of foil layered with Saran Wrap. Little did she know, she was expecting us to mule nearly 2 keys of meat pie on a domestic flight… We were sweating in anticipation as we waited at the bag check area of the airport. We knew that even if the dogs didn’t catch a hint of defrosting meat, the X-ray technicians were bound to be suspicious of foil-wrapped bricks.
Since we understood denying Gram’s wishes wasn’t an option (she’d check in once we got home to see how people liked the pies) we decided to put the pies in our checked bags.
Luckily that judgement call saved us from TSA questioning… or worse, the wrath of the matriarch.
One of my funny memories with you, Noreen, is when you and John were moving from Meriden to Vernon. Sal and I went over to help with the move. Sal picked up a box that was SO heavy, and said, “Noreen! What the heck is in here?” To which you responded, “Rocks.” The rocks were for a painting project you had in mind for the kids, perhaps for Boy Scouts. To me though, that box wasn’t just a box of rocks, it was symbolic of you and your many projects: always being creative, always doing good, and always thinking of others, especially kids.
Another fun memory is the time we got into the hot tub in your house. We were having a great time and at some point one of the boys came home from school and rushed in and said, “What’s going on??” Oblivious to us, we had steamed up all the windows in the house! We had no clue, just having a lovely time relaxing and talking away!
Noreen, you were also one of the first to introduce me to Italian food. I grew up thinking Italian food was a can of stewed tomatoes over pasta, but you changed all that! You made your own sauce – how novel! And you made so many countless wonderful Italian meals for our families over the years.
I have so many wonderful, special memories of you, Noreen. And most of them involve sitting around your dining room table, eating your wonderful food, and sharing and laughing. Noreen, you are such a shining example of how you live life. Creative, strong and amazing! Happy Birthday.
Noreen, let’s just get down to it – you hosted fantastic parties at Risley Road! As a kid I always looked forward to coming to your house. When we arrived, the house smelled so good, the vibe was fun, and everybody was so happy to be together. You would be preparing a delicious feast in the kitchen (with Beatrice often sitting at the table close by). Family was in small groups in conversation in the living room and the kitchen, and watching football on TV in the den. And the big bowls of snacks in the den! Oh the Jax cheese poofs and Ruffles and pretzels! Always such bounty for all of us. And in the summertime, the pool and Pop Shop sodas! Honestly, going to a party at your house to me was like vacationing at a resort! So much fun and so many good things to eat. You created countless special gatherings for all of our family, and it was delightful.
Noreen, when I think of you, I also think of your love of dancing. At family weddings and events, it was always so nice to see you and John, and you and Fred, floating so beautifully out on the dance floor. I thought it was pretty romantic too.
And one more thing! Did you know that whenever I see a Pizzelle, I think of you? It’s true! Whether it’s at a bakery, or at someone’s home – YOU are the person that comes to mind. Yours were always the best.
Noreen, wishing you a very, very Happy Birthday, and sending thanks and gratitude for creating years of wonderful memories through food and love! Love you!
Happy 80th Birthday, Aunt Noreen! When Bill asked me to share a memory of you, a flood of them came to mind with so many centered around family and food. Two of my favorite things! As a kid, I always looked forward to summer picnics in Vernon. When I think of you and these times together, I remember feelings of warmth and comfort and love. You brought together generations of family, which added to the depth of these family connections. Everyone was so happy to be together. And the food! You showed me how much food can be a connector and an expression of love. I remember lots of bustling and laughter coming from your kitchen with the promise of favorite Italian dishes (and no shortage of them!). I’ve yet to taste Italian food as delicious. Your love for family and the importance you put on bringing us all together is something I will always remember and cherish. I love you and I am so grateful for the many special memories you created for all of us.
One of my favorite memories of Aunt Noreen is the night she made spaghetti and crab sauce, which is delicious and a real treat. We used to always have it in Cape May on vacation. I always looked forward to it. But this time we had it at the house on Risley Road in Vernon. Well that night Johnny, Billy and I went out to the bars in Hartford – I think Boppers and the Russian Lady. Well when we got back to the house at 2 in the morning we were pretty hungry, so we pulled out that spaghetti and crabs and ate it all. When Aunt Noreen got up the next morning she wanted to know where all her spaghetti and crabs went. We took care of those leftovers! You can make spaghetti and crabs for me any time Aunt Noreen.
Happy 80th Birthday!
Your mom had the patience of a Saint putting up with our shenanigans. Some good memories were working out and hitting the heavy bag in the basement. Making a whirlpool as stong as we could in your pool. We would crawl in the storm drains all throughout the neighborhood. One time someone had pot and a bong, your mom came home we were in the kitchen, Bob said it was a science project for biology class . Don’t think she bought it. We would always sneak out at night and go hang out in the fields up at the top end of the neighborhood, just shooting the breeze, and of course the many back yard parties we had over there. One thing we always talk about is the artistic ability Bob had. He had a gift in his ability. I often wonder what he’d be up to these days If he were with us.
February 6 has other memorable birthdays, all seeming associated with “shots” of some sort.
Baseball star Babe Ruth, who called his shot in game 3 of the 1932 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley field.
Political figures Aaron Burr, a man who shot an “almost president” – Alexander Hamilton, and Ronald Reagan, a president who was shot.
Music greats Bob Marley, a man who shot the sheriff; Rick Astley, who shot to the top of the charts in 1987 and 1988 with “Together Forever” and “It Would Take A Strong Strong Man;” and Axl Rose, of Guns ‘N Roses fame.
Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, from Austria-Hungary, whose Archduke Franz Ferdinand upon being shot along with his wife in Sarajevo, Bosnia set off a chain of events leading to the start of World War I.
While not on February 6, but less than 2 weeks later in 2016, the eventual Broadway smash success “Hamilton,” featuring the aforementioned shooter Aaron Burr, opened off Broadway. I thought I’d give my best shot at a playlist paying tribute to music of impact to my mom over the years.
The music ranges from Big Band, Vocal Jazz, Doo Wop, Crooners, Pop, Rock, Jukebox/Sock Hop Rock, Easy Listening, Country, Latin, TV Themes, Broadway Musical and Religious/Inspirational genres of music. One big departure on this tribute playlist, is that I was actually able to enlist the help of my mom, to whom the list is dedicated. My previous tributes were for those I had lost. But my mom is still here and was able to help me out by contributing recommendations for her own playlist and continue to weave her tapestry of life and love.
Like Eliza in “Hamilton” who has lost her husband and son, mom has always taken on the task of creating good in the world, touching those around her, seeing those she has lost in the eyes of those around her, and insuring their memory lives on.
“I stop wasting time on tears I live another 50 years …You could have done so much more if you only had time And when my time is up, have I done enough Will they tell your story? In their eyes I see you, Alexander I see you every time And When my time is up have I done enough? Will they tell my story? …Oh, I can’t wait to see you again It’s only a matter of time Will they tell your story? Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”
When eulogizing my dad at his funeral, my mom, with all of her strength and love, quoted “Les Miserables”:
“And remember the truth that once was spoken To love another person is to see the face of God”
“…it is the future that we bring when tomorrow comes.”
So we cherish the past, learn from the past, insure the memory of those we loved in the past lives on. We plan and hope for the future. But we do so by living in the present, creating a legacy through our actions, works, and love of those all around us. This is the lesson I continue to learn from my mom, trying to make each day a gift.
To quote Master Oogway in Kung Fu Panda:
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, That’s why it is called the present”
But in that gift of the present, we continue to remember the people and events that got us here. We not only pay tribute to them in our words, but in our actions, carrying on the legacy they passed on, keeping their memory alive in our minds and hearts, shaping who we are and become. They live through us and in us, even when still with us. Parts of my father, brother, and mother, as well as many others who have touched my life, live in me. And it is not only my duty but my joy to carry them with me and through me.
So this blog is in honor of my mom, a tribute to my mom, yes, while very alive and well. I wish it to serve as a memory of her, as well as the playlist, which I hope brings many memories of special moments with people near and dear to her heart over the years. I know it does for me. I have listened to much of the music of her childhood, young adult, and later adult years, and have come to love and appreciate it perhaps as much as she does, though I can have no love and appreciation as great as that which I have for my mom. I believe “I have been changed for the better because I knew you… I have been changed for good” mom. I love you beyond word and song.
“I’ve heard it said That people come into our lives for a reason Bringing something we must learn And we are led To those who help us most to grow If we let them And we help them in return Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true But I know I’m who I am today Because I knew you…
It well may be That we will never meet again In this lifetime So let me say before we part So much of me Is made of what I learned from you You’ll be with me Like a handprint on my heart And now whatever way our stories end I know you have re-written mine By being my friend…
I do believe I have been changed for the better And because I knew you Because I knew you Because I knew you I have been changed For good”
Mom’s life story is a story of love, perhaps best summarized by this scripture verse from 1 Corinthians, as mom exemplifies every one of these attributes of love:
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, It is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. …So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Mom’s lifetime, still ongoing, still with a story to tell and a journey to continue, has been many years, many “Seasons of Love.”
“How do you measure a year in the life? How about love? How about love? How about love? Measure in love. Seasons of love.”
Mom has been the measure of love in my life, and the life of many around her.
And on to the playlist, which is long, over 12 hours of music. It is alphabetized in general for ease of finding your favorite songs over the years, thought alternate takes, Broadway Showtunes, and religious songs appear at the end.
And an epilogue of sorts. Mom, over the years you have help me grow as a man, grow closer to you, and to my God, through your gentle guidance, love and example, and by sitting with me, raising me up to more than I can be. I know there are many others who can say the same of you. For that, among so many other things, I am forever grateful. I love you.
When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary When troubles come and my heart burdened be Then, I am still and wait here in the silence Until You come and sit awhile with me.
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas I am strong, when I am on your shoulders You raise me up to more than I can be