Monday, September 1, 2008

My First Flying Squirrel and Other Memories

I saw my first ever Flying Squirrel the other night. Not counting Rocky of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

He was sitting atop a bird feeder on our deck a couple of nights ago and for some reason I glanced out and could see his shape on the feeder.

I went to fetch a flashlight and call Rita to bear witness. I shined the flashlight on the little critter, and he didn't budge. I thought it was a chipmunk--it was about the same size. But how on earth did he get atop the bird feeder and a deck two stories off the ground?

And yes, nature lovers,it was a flying squirrel. I googled them up and found quite a bit of information on little guys. They range almost all over the United States and parts of Canada. They are nocturnal, small, and have skin webs between their legs that when they are extended serve as sails. In pictures when airborne, they look like flying handkerchiefs. Apparently,they mostly glide rather than fly,

Which is all to say that when I reflect on the previous 62 years, it's amazing how many 'firsts" are burned indelibly in my mind. I suspect it is the same for you. Yes, we've all suffered on those awful unexpected firsts no one could ever want. But when it comes to "top of mind" things -- it's the happy firsts that really matter.

Yes, I am sure we can all recall there are many common firsts in the human experience. The first love, the first day you could drive a car, the first time you ... well, you know.

I'm writing about some of the many other firsts that when you start putting them together really define your life. I started to reflect on them and the more I pondered, the more I remembered clearly. These are the memories that matter and allow us to get through the tough times.

My first dear wife, Kay, died of a rare cancer at age 41, but not before she presented two fine children to me -- Kris and Dave. I remember the first time I saw Kay after she delivered each one more than I remember seeing them. I guess my first thought was for my wife, and then for the kids. So the first memory of each of them is their mom.

I have been divorced -- imprudence on my part, I suppose -- and a truly horrible experience. My first remembrance from that brief disaster was one of escape. The first time I saw the single apartment two-room apartment I would rent in Plainsboro, NJ, by myself I felt a sense of elation I can clearly recall. It was as if my life had been handed over to me again. Oh, I didn't straighten out my life from that point on. It wasn't all uphill and I sank a bit further before I could bounce back. It took a good woman -- Rita -- to help me do that.

My first remembrance of Rita was in a classroom at Prudential in Horsham, Pennsylvania. It was in 1995. I was teaching a securities class and she and another woman marched into my classroom -- this was a day I clearly recall. Rita and ?? were different than my average students in that they were Pru management to begin with and the others were new hires, mostly recent high school graduates.

Other life shaping first remembrances: walking up a "big" flight of steps to enter Kindergarten at the Bohamton School in Edison, NJ, in 1951. The school is still standing and there are only two steps leading up to the door.

I recall clearly my first day leaving home for Little Rock Air Force Base in January 1969. My mother crying and my father driving me to Newark Airport in kind of an awkward silence. We didn't communicate in the same way young folks communicate with parents now, I think. It was a cold bitter day, and when I arrived in Little Rock a few hours later, it was 80 degrees. I thought I had arrived in hell. Looking back, I think I left one family to join another there -- people in the Service look out for each other.

Other big firsts: seeing Phil for the first time in uniform (Valley Forge Military) and on parade in 2006. What a proud moment,and what a magnificent positive, academic turnaround Phil made there.

And shortly after joining Rita, Phil and Meredith as family in 2001, I clearly recall Meredith running away from home for the first -- and only -- time walking out with a brown bag of candy and chips and wearing a bathrobe. She was 12 years old She left a note that told us not to worry and don't be upset, but she was "sick of this shit!" She came back 2 hours latter. It got dark out.

When Dave graduated Penn State and took a job in D.C., I remember our first real goodbye. I packed a van load of stuff up with him to drive to his first solo apartment in Virginia. I was filled with pride and hopes for his future, also with great regret that his mother could not be there that day. I felt the same pride and regret for Kris as she graduated from West Point and I saw her march across that huge parade ground to the graduation ceremony. Her mother so wanted her to finish West Point.

The first time I met my dear daughter-in-law, Stacey, was in 2002. and I recall her charm. elegance and graciousness like a true Southern Belle Beauty Pageant Queen. I challenged her to do her runway Pageant walk, and she, with a great sense of humor, did just that. We all smiled.

Too many other firsts to write about., although I wold love to record each and every one of them thinking of them now on a beautiful Labor Day Weekend. I see how they have framed my life in a very positive way. Kind of like a huge quilt with different unique colorful squares woven together.

Maybe the flying squirrel won't be in that quilt when if is finally finished. But I am looking forward to putting many more squares into it before its complete.

Your comments are welcome, including any of the firsts you care to share!


  1. Your pal at NJ Audubon could have told you all about flying squirrels. Interesting little critters. Hope you don't wind up with a bunch of them in your attic. Seriously, a nice list of firsts -- you old softy, you.

  2. I saw my first one this fall; like you, I didn't realize they were around here (Monroe area). It was sailing from tree to tree, and landing with a surprisingly loud "kaplunk," which made me laugh. I expected silent grace. Apparently, there's little of that to be had even with these little guys. (I'll leave the more serious ruminations for others)

  3. I remember the first time I met the Beardsley clan. I was excited, overwhelmed and frightened -- all at the same time! Maybe it was because it was my first time away from my family for the Christmas holiday. Or, maybe it was because I'm an only child and I'm not used to all that sibling raucous! Who knows…could’ve been because it wasn’t just a casual afternoon cookout meeting of the family. Oh no. It was a several day trip – including overnight stays – with the family. No way, nowhere to escape in case it wasn’t going well.

    The funniest part of this new-family holiday experience was a little interaction between my eventual father-in-law and me. It was just the two of us; Bob getting to know me by asking what I read. I responded with a truthful (at the time) answer that also sounded shallow: I don’t read. Don’t really like it. Except for Cosmo and Glamour magazines!

    A short while later, as the family gathered for present-opening (one of my favorite pastimes), I opened one of Bob’s presents to me. A book! Hmmm. An awkward moment? For me? For him? Not so much…we laughed about it and I committed to Bob that I would read the book: Secret Life of Bees. Ever since then, I’ve become more interested in reading books. And ever since then, Bob has continued to give books for Christmas presents (thank you!).

    A great first memory that I often look back on…and smile. P.S. The entire family made enough of a positive impression that I decided I would keep them. Lucky me!

  4. What a beautiful post, Bob! Made me feel nostalgic and wistful, but also made me smile...