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Summer Sunflowers

Hubby is so proud of two of his sunflowers. The one near the front stairs is about as tall as I am and has a huge flower. The one out by the side stairs is smaller but just as pretty. In the garden outside St. Christopher’s Church, someone is tending to two gigantic sunflowers. They are a joy to see as we look out the church windows. In our own yard, the clematis plant, between our two sunflowers, has many beautiful purple flowers on it. Some of our hybrid tea roses have begun to flower again. That is why we always purchase hybrid teas.

As I mentioned in last week’s column, Hubby and I, along with niece Terri, flew to Norfolk, Virginia, to celebrate the 80th birthday of Hubby’s brother John, AKA “Scotty.” John and his wife Joe Ann live in Portsmouth, VA, but the birthday cookout was to be held at their son’s Pat and his wife Cathy’s home in neighboring Suffolk, VA. The evening before the celebration, we did some exploring. First of all, we checked out Pat and Cathy’s home to make sure we could find it the following afternoon. Then we went to Wal Mart as our desk clerk at the hotel had suggested. Hubby went off to one part of the store while Terri and I went toward the women’s section. We didn’t see any bathing suits but I just happened to see a lovely while and blue floral top in Terri’s size. She tried it on and it was perfect for the cookout. We also bought bottles of water and then returned to our hotel. We flopped into bed and slept soundly. It had been a long day.

The next morning we took advantage of the Holiday Inn Express’s breakfast. What a variety of food they had! There were three different juices, milk, even cocoa (in packets), tea, and both regular and decaf coffee. There were packets of oatmeal and even packs of grits. Most people took French toast or waffles. I took half a waffle and put Smucker’s sugar-free syrup on it. Hubby even ate the other half with the Smucker’s syrup too. We agreed that Smucker’s was positively the best sugar free syrup we had ever tasted. There were also scrambled eggs, toast, bagels, bananas, and sweet muffins. I didn’t look any further. I was filled.

We decided to go exploring a little more. We found another dollar store and proceeded inside. Then it was back to the hotel, via Wendy’s, where we grabbed three cheeseburgers with tomato and lettuce. We already had bottles of water in our fridge. Terri went off to the hotel’s computer room while Hubby and I rested. We all got moving again around 3 p.m. Since this was to be a cookout, we didn’t have to dress fancy. That was great because it was very hot. Terri wore her white and blue top that she had purchased the previous evening. Hubby wore a shirt with a straight bottom so he was able to wear it outside his slacks. I had a semi-sheer top with pale lavender flowers, almost like wisteria, all over it. Daughter Sue had made me a bracelet of pale purple, pale green, and clear Swarovski beads that matched the blouse perfectly. Off we went to the cookout.

When we arrived, both of the honoree’s daughters, Beth and Gina came running to greet us. So did their brothers, John Jr., Pat, and Mike. John Jr.’s daughter Molly and her Mom Alice also came to greet us. (Molly is my e-mail buddy.) John/Scotty’s and Hubby’s brother Jerry was already there. To pass the time, Hubby joined his nephews in a game of horseshoes. He probably hadn’t played in 40 years so he wasn’t up to snuff. (There are some great photos of the guys playing horseshoes.)

As it came closer to 4:30 p.m., everything slowed down as we waited for John to show up with his wife Joe Ann. (Joe is named for her grandfather.) Their car came in the driveway. Out came John and Joe with astonished looks on their faces. Their kids had not even told their mother about the party, knowing, full well, she would let it slip. As John and Joe Ann looked around, their smiles grew bigger and bigger. They were stunned to see Terri, Jerry, Hubby, and me from Massachusetts. Many of their friends were there also. They went around to everyone and hugged and kissed each one. John said, “When I drove in the driveway and saw a kayak on top of a car, I wondered who was here.” (John Jr. and his family were going to a cabin in Maine for a week after the birthday cookout and would be using the kayak.) It was quite hot that afternoon so most of us either stayed in the garage where it was a little cooler or went under a canopy, moving our chairs as the sun moved. Hostess Cathy and some of the other women were fixing lots of the food inside the house while host Pat took care of the hot food from his large grill.

Then we were called inside. It was lovely and cool inside as we loaded our dishes with the wonderful array of food on the kitchen table. Some of us went into the dining room to eat. There, on the dining-room table, was a large sheet cake, with the words “Happy 80th birthday, Scotty.” That should be enough cake for the 50 or so guests. There will be more about John’s birthday cookout in next week’s column.

I was delighted to receive a note from Maryann (Slattery) Burrows the other day. Maryann and her family lived in her grandparents’ home right next door to us for quite a few years. In her note, Maryann mentioned that her parents, Jim and Lorraine Slattery, have just celebrated their 59th anniversary. The whole family gathered at Evelyn’s, which is a local fish & chips/ lobster restaurant on the Sakonnet River in Tiverton, RI, for the celebration. (Maryann had her photo of the beautiful view from Evelyn’s Restaurant on the front of her card.) I can hardly wait to hear about her parents’ 60th wedding anniversary celebration in less than a year. By the way, Jim and Lorraine were married at St. Ann Church on June 3, 1950. Our whole family sends congratulations to Lorraine and Jim on their 59th anniversary.

The other evening on Ch. 2, Hubby and I watched the second of the concerts by “Celtic Thunder,” a group of five Celtic singers, on our PBS station, WGBH/Ch. 2 in Boston. (This second special is called “Celtic Thunder: Take Me Home.”) One of the singers, George Donaldson, was in the Ch. 2 studio with host Anne Sweeney. He is the oldest of the group at 41 and is from Glasgow. He seems to be a very pleasant man but he is a little difficult to understand because of his Scottish accent. (My half-Scottish grandfather would be upset with me.) Damian McGinty is just 16 and Keith Harkin, 22. Both are from County Derry. Paul Byrom is 30 and is from County Dublin. Ryan Kelly is also 30 and is from County Tyrone. The group will be back in Boston at the Wang Center this fall.

Thanks to Harry Brett, a judge in the Mayor’s Garden Contest, I learned that Gary French was one of the finalists in the Mayor ‘s Garden Contest. Gary, when he was a sergeant in the Boston Police Dept., was assigned to District C-11 and is well known to those who attended the monthly Police-Community Relations meetings at District C when he was there. I had a chance to speak with Gary and learned that he and his wife Pat won first prize in the contest. Gary’s pal Jim Claybourne took photos of their garden and, thinking it was beautiful, submitted them to the contest. Gary and Pat will receive the Golden Trowel Award sometime this month. Watch for them on TV being honored by Mayor Menino.

Thanks to a call from my friend Margaret McCauley, I learned that our mutual friend Mary Donahue had passed away on Aug. 3 at age 64. Mary was the partner of our friend John McGuire, the secretary of Boston’s County Mayo Association. We would often see John and Mary at the County Mayo functions and would be so pleased if they were free long enough to sit with us for a few minutes. We also saw John and Mary at the home of Tom and Margaret McCauley’s home in Southie each year on the day of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. When Hubby and I went to Mary’s wake, John told us that Tom had recited the Lord’s Prayer in Gaelic just before we arrived. Mary had taught in the Boston Public Schools at the Phineas Bates Elementary School in Roslindale for 38 years before retiring. At the wake, we also learned that she and her friend Mrs. Sullivan had tutored newly-arrived Irish immigrants for five years at the Irish Pastoral Centre so that they could pass the GED exam. She was an amazing woman. Hubby and I send our sympathy to John, his children, to Mary’s cousins, and to her many friends. She will be sorely missed. By the way, Hubby last saw Mary and John at Florian Hall at the reception for the Irish President Mary McAleese in May.

I was also sorry to read of the death of Joseph “Michael” Quinn on July 28. I send my sympathy to Michael’s wife Toshiko, to his children Kenji and Cristina, to his sister Catherine Keating, and to his brother and my friend, former Attorney General Robert “Bob” Quinn.

Here is a saying by Helen Keller, in keeping with our sunflowers: Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It’s what sunflowers do.”