Tag Archives: NY

Recharging my creative batteries at the Irish pub

Sitting at a local Irish pub and writing.

Sitting at Barry’s Old School Irish Pub and writing.

As a writer, the biggest thing I struggle with is staying motivated. Working from home, I’m easily distracted by things that need to be done in the house, by the dogs, by Netflix. If I pack up my stuff and go someplace else to work, I often forget files I need or simply go blank sitting in the coffee shop.

Part of my problem is just not feeling comfortable out among people. Writing is such a personal thing, too intimate an act for a public venue. I’m comfortable at home, but retreat into my shell. I’m out of my shell in public, but my thoughts are often too shy to leave my brain and meet the page. I feel like, if I’m writing in public, I should be creating something worthy of public scrutiny, when really I may simply be musing on my blog about reality TV or cats.

It’s like wearing a mink coat and then having everyone realize that underneath you’re still in your pajamas.

Today, I’m at Barry’s Old School Irish Pub, in the village of Webster, NY. While researching my Irish ancestry, I got involved with the Irish American Cultural Institute (IACI), a group focusing on Irish cultural heritage – movies, literature, history. They’ve been welcoming and kind, and very patient with my endless questions and novice knowledge of my fairly recently discovered ancestry. I’ve been working with Barry’s owner Danny Barry on some social media for the IACI, and immediately fell in love with his little village pub.

While I’ve always been enamored of my Italian heritage, it’s been my Irish genealogy that’s connected with my soul. As I’ve waded through old records and documents, I’ve met my great, great, great grandparents and researched their journey from Ireland to Massachusetts, putting together pieces of the family puzzle, and immersing myself in my blue collar, mill working, large family.

I can feel the Irish blood pulsing through my veins.

So today, I sit at a corner table in this small bar, Irish music playing over the speakers, the owner’s wife and mother among the employees behind the counter, baking and cooking and laughing and singing. When I asked if it was OK for me to hang out and write (Danny had already told me it was, but I hate being in the way), they not only welcomed me but told me to take the cozy corner table, with the padded seats and bright window light. They said it was the best place to work, and assured me that I wouldn’t be in the way of the lunch crowd.

They’ve refilled my coffee, chatted away, and given me updates on the delicious treats as they come out of the oven. And for the first time in a while, I’m able to write. Maybe it’s the mournful bagpipes mingling with the scent of fresh pumpkin bars, the laughter of the family dancing with the fiddle, or just the warmth both physical and spiritual. But I’m eager to fill the blank page with words, to once again open a vein and bleed on a page, to be creatively naked in public.

Where’s your favorite place to recharge your creative batteries?

 

Finding Emma Moore

The likely spot where Emma Moore's body was found in 1855.

The likely spot where Emma Moore’s body was found in 1855. The circled area is all parking lots and buildings now.

For a couple of years I’ve been doing some research on three women who died in our area in the 1800s. Just everyday women, but their stories really stuck with me. One of them is Emma Moore. Regular readers know that I’ve been taken with the story of the single woman who disappeared in November 1854. Her disappearance sparked a city-wide panic; the mayor refused to investigate, insisting she left town of her own accord. Her family had no reason to believe she was leaving town, and they feared the worst. The citizenry rose to the occasion and formed committees to do their own investigation. Thousands of people assisted. Rumors of screams heard near her home that night sparked committee members to question witnesses all the way to the lake. A line search was conducted from Brown’s Race to Irondequoit Creek.

Her body was found in March 1855, in one of the races that powered the saw mills. She was about six months pregnant, and it’s believed her body may have been there the entire time.

I’ve wanted to find the place where her body was found, but for a long time all I had to go on was “in the race, behind the Thorne Building.” No one seemed to know where that was; the Thorne Building wasn’t on any maps. I tried the library, the landmark society, maps. I just didn’t have enough information to go on.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t really try that hard; I had a lot of news stories to read through, and other women I was also researching. But I always had Emma Moore in the back of my mind.

About six months ago, I started going through the mounds of research I’d amassed over the last year, and found a very detailed description of where her body was found – down to the direction of race, how many rods in distance from the post office, what the walkway over the race was made of. I had details; now I needed to find a map.

This weekend was the annual River Romance along the Genesee River, so I took advantage of the chance to explore the city, from the river to the rooftops of the library. Today, I brought along my new information about where Emma’s body was found. And while on the tour, the guide, Hal, pointed to an area where he thought the mill races used to be – where we were standing, in a parking lot.

Later, he emailed me a map detailing the buildings I’d mentioned, all from the new research I’d just waded through. The map is from 1875, twenty years after Emma’s body was found. I probably didn’t even bother to look at that map when I was researching in the library, thinking too much had changed since 1855. But low and behold, there it is. The spot where Emma Moore’s body was found.

The area I circled is now parking lots and buildings. (For those of you in Rochester, that’s a block of buildings near the corner of Exchange Street and Main Street, just over the Broad Street Bridge.)

There’s still a question about whether she lay there the entire four months, or if her body washed there from farther up the river or race. Or if it might have even been held someplace else and dumped there during the winter. I have stacks of research to still read through.

But for now, I’m happy to find the spot where she was found. I’ll be going back to snoop around.

RELATED POST:
Emma Moore, Sarah Bardwell, and Me

It’s time to say “Thank You” to our police officers


(Video of the moving eulogy by Lt. Eric Paul at the funeral of Officer Daryl Pierson)

It’s been more than a week since Rochester Police Department’s Officer Daryl Pierson was gunned down by a repeated parole violator he was trying to apprehend, and just a few days since Pierson’s funeral and the community-wide gathering in his honor. While there was a memorial last night at the East Rochester High School football game (Pierson grew up here, attended school here, and lived here with his wife and two young children) the press has moved on to other, more pressing subjects.

But this morning, a young wife and her children awoke, just one of thousands of days ahead of them as they learn to live without their husband and father.

And this morning, hundreds of police officers across our community pinned on their badges, strapped on their guns, and went out to do the same job that killed Officer Pierson.

For you.

It’s been on my mind this week that while our community has rallied around the Pierson family, the Rochester Police Department and other area law enforcement, it’s only natural that our devotion will wane as we move farther and farther from the event that shook our city just 10 days ago.

That bothers me. I’m the daughter of a police officer; my dad is a retired Gates cop. I know firsthand the toll the job can take on a family, a marriage, a life.

I think the vast majority of people in Rochester understand that the police are the good guys. Are there bad apples here and there? Sure, but they’re a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the family of men and women who wear a badge.

That’s why you hear about the bad ones; it’s not a big news story when a cop goes to work and no one complains, when he serves a warrant and takes the criminal into custody without incident, when he stops a car and apprehends the suspect and no one is killed.

I know that you believe they’re the good guys, too. But even so, I think most people take for granted that when they dial 911, there’s an officer on duty – and what that means for him and his family. Continue reading

Sharing my essay “The Unsung Celebrity,” in honor of Officer Daryl Pierson

In honor of Officer Pierson, who was killed this week in the line of duty, and in support of law enforcement in your area, consider putting a blue light bulb in your porch light.

In honor of Officer Pierson, who was killed this week in the line of duty, and in support of law enforcement in your area, consider putting a blue light bulb in your porch light. You can learn more a http://www.GoHeroes.us or by clicking the image.

This week, a member of the Rochester Police Department lost one of its own when Officer Daryl Pierson was killed in the line of duty. By all accounts, the 32-year-old was a remarkable officer, recognized more than once for his character and exemplary work; he was also a member of the Army National Guard. He was a devoted husband and father, with a 3-month-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, who had just started kindergarten on the day Pierson was killed.

Included in my book, “What The Dog Said”, is a piece I wrote a few years ago about meeting a soldier in an Ohio airport. While this piece isn’t about a police officer, I think the message is fitting in the wake of Officer Pierson’s death, and I’d like to share it with you here. (Note: I recently learned that while serving in the Army, Daryl Pierson spent time in Korea defending the DMZ, which makes this piece even more fitting.)

At the end of the piece, you can find links to ways you can support Officer Pierson’s family as well as first responders in your area.

One last word: If you like the piece, feel free to share the link to this post, but please don’t copy the story and paste it other places. Thanks for being considerate of the copyright.

Joanne
East Rochester, NY

* * * * * * * * * * *

The Unsung Celebrity
by Joanne Brokaw

He looked like just another fresh-faced, Midwestern college student heading back to classes after spring break. Tall and handsome, dressed in jeans, a hooded sweatshirt and baseball cap, he was surrounded by what could only be his family, gathered together to send him back into the big world.

I was returning home to Rochester, NY after spending three days in Dayton, OH for the Erma Bombeck Humor Writer’s Conference, where we’d been encouraged to see the humor in the mundane, the laughter in our surroundings and the comedy in our pain.

Maybe that’s why I noticed the young man. A woman who I assumed was his mother was wrapped tightly around his waist, reluctant to say goodbye, a gesture I was all too familiar with whenever I used to send my daughter back to college, an entire hour from home.

I was with two other women from the conference, chatting and laughing, and the young man ended up behind us in the security line. I leaned across our group and tapped him on the arm. “Where are you going that your family is going to miss you so much?” I asked with a smile.

“The DMZ in South Korea,” he responded politely. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50: #22 Flowing with the river of life

life is a river

For most of my life, I’ve been consumed with finding my purpose in life. I believe that I’m here for a reason – that God created me for something and that I’m not here by accident. And yet I’ve never really felt like I could put my finger on what that reason and purpose was.

Then a few years ago, I stumbled on a quote by Cardinal John Henry Newman, which reads in part:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”

I wrote about it in this post, 50 thoughts on turning 50: #17 Be a link in the chain. But I wanted to take that thought a bit further today, after reading an article last week written by local sportswriter Scott Pitoniak, in which he looks back on forty years spent working at his dream job. Continue reading

When you’re dead, you’re dead a long time

Words of wisdom inscribed on the headstone of Robert and Grace McGowan, Mt. Hope Cemetery

Words of wisdom inscribed on the headstone of Robert and Grace McGowan, Mt. Hope Cemetery

Here’s the thing about death: it’s permanent. Regardless of your beliefs about the afterlife, in this life, when you take your last breath on earth, the story is over.

Think about it. In 100 years, with the exception of a handful of those who will defy the odds and live beyond a century, every single person on the earth will be dead.

Everyone. Gone. Me. You. Babies born at this exact moment, whether here in America or in India or China or Europe. In 100 years, billions of new humans will walk the earth, and while they’ll share our DNA and genealogical ties, none of them will be us.

How’s that for putting your life into perspective? It’s true. When you’re dead, you really are dead a long time.

Reflections on a fallen tree and the brevity of life

This is one of the trees that stand tall over my house. The trees shield us from rain and snow and the sun's rays, provide a home for squirrels and birds. I've never realized how incredibly gigantic this tree is or what power it holds for both life ... and death. Photo (c) Joanne Brokaw

This is one of the trees that stand tall over my house. The trees shield us from rain and snow and the sun’s rays, provide a home for squirrels and birds. I’ve never realized how incredibly gigantic this tree is or what power it holds for both life … and death.
Photo (c) Joanne Brokaw

Coming home from today from a walk at White Haven with Bandit, I took the detour down Main St in East Rochester (they’ve got the street to our house completely torn up with construction) and came across what was clearly an emergency situation.

There was a man directing traffic as a fire truck came towards the intersection, and a crowd of people stood staring at a giant tree that had fallen across the road. I could see the front of a car under the tree. I waited as the fire truck was in place, until I was given the go ahead to turn.

My first thought? I should run home and get the camera. It was a big tree (100 years old, I later learned) and there are always cars parked on that street. It seemed like one of those “moments in history” when it seemed appropriate to capture the images on film (digitally, speaking). I’ve taken lots of nature photos like that- trees down in cemeteries, a train derailment just a block from my house, snowstorms that shut down our town, and the like. I think I’m drawn to the power of nature vs. man in those situations.

But when I got home, I could hear my neighbor telling someone there were people trapped in the car and I decided to skip the “isn’t that interesting” picture-taking opportunity. A giant tree falling is opportunity for photos of nature; people trapped in a car is gruesomely voyeuristic.

Then I saw tonight on the news that the tree fell on a car that was driving down the road, killing the driver and sending the passenger to the hospital.

Imagine for a moment what exact timing there has to be for the tree to fall on the car at the precise moment the car is driving past. In a fraction of a fraction of a second, you’re before the tree, then under the tree, then past the tree. It took longer for you to read that sentence than it takes for you to drive past the tree.

What are the odds?

And what if, under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t have been driving down that road? With Lincoln Rd. under construction, all traffic is routed through town. What if you weren’t really supposed to be there to begin with, but on that one day you happened to drive down that road, a tree happened to fall?

What are the odds?

A few years ago, a train derailed just up the street from my house. Cars were hanging over the overpass, had fallen onto the road below, and had skidded just feet away from homes in the neighborhood where the trains speed by several times a day. While there was damage to cars parked in the lots right next to the tracks, no one was hurt. Which is a miracle, when you consider how much sustained traffic is on that street, how many people are walking to and from cars, up and down the road. And yet no one was hurt.

What are the odds?

But today? Someone is driving down the road and BOOM. Under bright sunny skies, a tree falls on their car and they’re dead. It’s sad and eerie and a little difficult to comprehend.

Even eerier for me was to realize later that, had Bandit and I left our walk at the park just a few minutes earlier, we’d have been driving down that exact street, possibly at the exact moment when the tree fell.

Who decides when it’s your moment to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? What supernatural forces are at work that keep you just a few minutes longer where you are or that would have you be in exactly one place in exactly a specific moment?

I wondered later about a giant BOOM Bandit and I had heard while walking. At White Haven (which is a cemetery memorial park; ironic) we’re just a mile or two away (as the crow flies) from where the tree fell.  It’s possible that what we heard was the tree falling, based on witnesses who heard it fall and said the sound was terrifically loud. In fact, the BOOM scared Bandit because it sounded a lot like thunder. It’s what actually ended our walk. Bandit is frightened of thunder, and given that we’ve had two days of storms, when he heard the BOOM, even though the skies were clear and sunny, he made a beeline back to the dogmobile.

I’d wanted to stop walking a few minutes earlier. I’d been feeling a little queasy all morning and was ready to head home. But at a fork in the road in the cemetery, Bandit (in what is a very regular occurance on our walks) stopped, and when I said, “OK, you pick which way we go,” he opted for a longer route back to the dogmobile – until he heard the BOOM.

What are the odds?

I wouldn’t normally dwell on my own mortality, except that last week I celebrated my 30th birthday for the 19th time. Last night darling husband and I were out to dinner and I was musing about how I’ve accomplished nothing of value in my life, left no mark, and wasted much time and opportunity. And really have no prospects that things will change in the near future.

I suppose birthdays are like that, especially as you get older, moments for reflection and a little bit of self-pity.

But I think today the lesson learned is that there’s no value on worrying about the past or fretting about the future when you don’t even have control of this exact second. There are no odds. There is force at work greater than our desires, our plans, our wants, who controls the moment for reasons we will never understand in this life. The only moment we have is now. That is the only thing we can be sure of.