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I originally composed this poem in honor of my Mother for her Memorial Service.  I think the words speak to the hearts of anyone who has lost a loved one.  On this 10-year anniversary of the tragic 9-11 attack, I would like to share these words with those who lost loved ones on that day and for those who continue to be sacrificed in our fight against terrorism.  I hope that they provide some comfort, peace and closure to their hearts and minds.  Take the time to remember your loved ones that have passed and don’t delay the opportunity to tell those that are still with you that you love them.

What Once Was You

What Once Was You, is still pulsing all around us,

In the memories and thoughts that tied and bound us.

You may be gone, but we can still sense your presence,

There is no form, but there are remnants and essence

Of the love and laughter, helping us to make sense.

What Once Was You, was complex – yet somehow, so plain.

A potpourri of petals will always remain –

Its fragrance guiding us to where we’ve never gone,

To lift our faces up each day to face the dawn

And plant our own gardens of petals and wisdom.

What Once Was You, tenderly touched out heart and mind –

Molding personalities – intelligent, bold and kind.

These gifts you gave us, we will have for a lifetime –

The tools of wit and spunk and balance and rhyme,

Aromas and music and travel and mealtime.

What Once Was You, will now be our inspiration

To hand tradition down by each generation.

To weave the sights, the sounds, the smells of our heart-song

Into fabric that blankets and comforts the throng –

Reminding us, softly, that we always belong.

What Once Was You, would want us to be brave and strong

To continue to move our daily lives along.

But, never forget from where we’ve come and gone.

We pledge to you that we will always say and do

And act with love, in honor of – What Once Was You.

What Once Was You, will live on and on forever

In those left behind and those coming together

To celebrate all that you held so dear and true

And to lift itself up to the heavens’ azure blue

As we recant the milestones of What Once Was You.

(Photo by:  Michael Isaacs 8-2011)


Excerpted from my mother’s blog (Memories and Moments by GrannyJo) from September 11, 2006:

My dad passed away in ’65 at the young age of 58. I still miss him very much today, we were very close and much alike. I also was extremely close to my maternal grandfather. Grandpa Ralph used to take walks with me and tell me stories of his life in Italy, and I still remember his promise to buy me a ‘pony’. He didn’t live long enough to do that.

It’s getting pretty close now to Grandpa Ralph’s 120th birthday and my dad’s 99th. On this day of remembrance and mourning for all those who have gone to untimely deaths because of 9-11 and the resulting conflicts, I spent a lot of time thinking about how rough it is to lose loved ones, and also on how youngsters react to losing someone from their lives. I went back through some of the poetry I’ve written and found this poem from 1972–one of those thoughts that come in the night that you just have to get up and put down on paper. IMO, they come from the memories of the reactions of childhood to losses that we cannot understand. Thought I’d share it here with you today:

Grandpa is an Eagle,
Last night I saw him fly
Up, from the grass on his own front yard–
Going fast and soaring high.

Grandpa is an Eagle,
So, loved ones, don’t you cry.
Grandpa is an Eagle;
But, first he had to die.

I was six years old and the air was cold,
Early in the month of May.
“You won’t be going to school,” I was told,
“Because Grandpa died today.”

They laid him out in his Sunday best,
The neighbors all came around;
And I watched and wept with all the rest,
As they put him in the ground.

So many nights I dreamt him,
And the way it used to be;
Guess my Grandpa wanted to spend
A little more time with me.

In my dream one night, he hugged me tight,
Next, I only saw a bird,
Flapping its wings before it took flight;
And this is what I heard–


Grandpa is an Eagle,
Last night I saw him fly
Up, from the grass on his own front yard–
Going fast and soaring high.

Grandpa is an Eagle,
So, loved ones, don’t you cry.
Grandpa is an Eagle;
But, first he had to die.

That was forty long years or more ago,
Grandpa never came again–
But, there’s times when the month of May is cold
That my memory mourns for him.

Then, when I get to feeling sad,
Wondering why all death must be–
I hear again his happy voice,
Singing out to me….


Grandpa is an Eagle,
Last night I saw him fly
Up, from the grass on his own front yard–
Going fast and soaring high.

Grandpa is an Eagle,
So, loved ones, don’t you cry.
Grandpa is an Eagle………
But, first he had to die.
(copyright 1972)

Click Link to view Video:  Flying Eagle (from YouTube 2006)


Buhl Farm Park, with its large grassy expanses and towering trees, swings and play areas, winding roads where we used to wash/wax our cars and ride our bikes, the band-shell where many a concert was attended, the community swimming pool and the infamous snow sledding hill was the favorite spot for family picnics and reunions.  Labor Day was especially important, not only
because it marked the end of summer, but also because the region was
predominantly steel mills and factories where the American Union workers were
quite loyal and proud – my family among them.

 The large stone reserved picnic pavilion is where most of the Bishop and Falvo/Combine Family Reunions were held.  I can still envision the games of softball, football, horseshoes and badminton that had we played in the adjoining
field.  Those picnics were real events.  In addition to the traditional hot dogs and burgers, everybody brought dish after dish of homemade scrumptious family ethnic foods (ziti, lasagna, hunter’s chicken, potato and macaroni salads, sausage with peppers and onions, fried greens, corn, ham, scalloped
potatoes (See Traditions/I Smell a Memory for the recipe), dandelion salads, homemade rolls and cakes, pies and desserts of all descriptions).  There
was plenty of free flowing beer, wine (some home-made) and soda.

      Boys would go to the lake and bring back all sorts of frogs and toads and salamanders, just to startle the girls and the moms. People came early and stayed late as radios blared Italian or contemporary music and baseball commentators.  We played cards and checkers and, except for a few transient family feuds, enjoyed each others’ company.  The evening was often topped off with sparklers or fireworks and running through the grass with our glass jars – trying to catch fireflies.

It was a time when families were not so far apart and extended families stayed
connected.  It was a time of togetherness that left us with the special remembrances of those days. Today, we usually find it too hot in Las Vegas to spend the day at the park and extended family members are spread out across the nation or have gone to heaven, so our celebrations are smaller and closer to home.  However, we still usually spend time together with good food, good music and good company and use the pool at home for the Labor Day holiday picnic.  Still making memories and spending time together is important to us because it keeps us focused on family connections – a Labor of Love.



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Herein lies a complicated relationship – mothers and daughters.  As I look back on the relationships of my Mom and her Mom, me and my Mom and my daughter and myself – there is a common thread that repeats itself through the generations. The evolution of this relationship has MANY phases of development which can best be summarized by three phrases:

“I want to grow up to be just like Mommy!” Those big blue eyes study you putting on your make-up or stirring cake batter or playing the piano. To you, they are routine, mundane daily activities – but to her, they are like magic.  You can see her little wheels turning as she studies and mimics your every move and asks a million questions.  Wearing a party dress and ribbons in her hair while clomping around in your high-heels – she is a princess. Dancing and twirling on the stage in her recitals or singing a choir solo – she is an angel. Splashing water “fireworks” in the pool to a symphony of music – she is a mermaid.  She is full of hopes and dreams and unconditional love.

“I will NEVER be like my Mom!!” Adolescent angst and tears sometimes stream from those big blue eyes these days. Hormones surge, rebellion bubbles to the surface and staunch independence replaces loving admiration. A battle of wits and wills can overshadow even the simplest of issues.  Arguments and disagreements can be exhausting – thankfully, they are not the entire norm. We both look forward to the quiet times when we can capture a bit of the magic of days gone past – shopping for a prom dress, going to Disneyland, Christmas morning, reading Harry Potter together in bed… “School daze” fogs her mind and tempers clash, but somehow we survive it all. The hopes and dreams and unconditional love are, ultimately, our salvation.

“I never thought I would say this, but you were right all along” (A.K.A. I sound just like my Mom!) Those words are the ultimate high for any Mom to hear! There eventually comes a time when all of the personal investment, support and love kicks in and your daughter reaches the level of maturity that allows her to see the merit in your relationship. Once again, she asks for and appreciates your opinion and remembers all the advice and mentoring that you shared with her over the years.  She shares insight and perspective with you as a woman who has come into her own. The doors open again to bonding, learning from each other and genuinely enjoying each other’s company. Watching her graduate, celebrating her job promotions and recognitions, planning her wedding and sharing a Spa Day all bring joy and love to our relationship.  Your princess, your angel, your mermaid – all grown up.  Her big blue eyes are, once again, full of hopes and dreams and unconditional love – just like mine.

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Our family vacation often takes us to the beach – this year we vacationed in Carpenteria, CA.  The rhythm of the waves washed over us with a calming and relaxing effect and gave us time to create new bonds and opportunities to reflect and reminisce. The sea-breezes wafted in through the windows and the sun sparkled on the water to re-energize our spirits, decompress our stress and help us focus on connecting the dots between us.

Connections between us grew as we worked together on assembling the pieces of our jig-saw puzzle.  Much like our family, the varied shapes and colors eventually came together to create a beautiful picture.  Even though some of our family pieces are now missing, we can remember the times past when loved ones, now gone, “puzzled” with us. We also had a new member with us this time.  Being 15 in this day and age, means Smartphones, video games and social networking – so it may have been a shock to wind down to the manual task of puzzling – but he was up to the challenge and eventually migrated to the table and was actually quite good at locating pieces – partially due to his young eye-sight but also some instinctive trait that he likely inherited from his father (our daughter’s new husband) who is also quite adept at puzzles.  Of course, most importantly, the actual puzzle was secondary to the real goal of sharing across generations and coming together to accomplish a memory.

Puzzle 2011


A hilarious time was had during our family play:  Redemption Island (see TRADITIONS for some pics and a link to the script). Getting silly together can really be an ice-breaker.  We started with an arts and crafts project to design our own personalized treasure chest.  Since our ages ranged from 15 to 74, it was a little bit of a challenge to get them all motivated, but I knew that I could count on their competitive nature to kick in – and by the end of the project, some of them went to great lengths to make theirs “the best”.  Next, came the challenge of costumes.  They all knew their character in advance, so some of them brought outfits and props and I filled in with some homegrown and inexpensive items. No one, but me, has seen the entire script.  I try to weave in parodies of our real lives and personalities to make things familiar, yet also supply a surprise ending – so I keep the script a secret until the acts are performed (and ad-libbing is encouraged).  We are all adults, but we acted like kids and hammed it up – it is always a good time.

Food is a big part of our vacation enjoyment and we eat most of our meals at our rental as a family.  All of us cook, so we can share the burden (and the compliments).  It not only saves some cash when feeding a lot of people, but it also provides an opportunity to share the experience and try new things. Ethnic or party themes (Mexican, Middle Eastern, Asian, Italian, Polynesian, etc) work well to pull together menu concepts and to create more of an “event” than just a plain meal – it is also interesting to pair the beverages and dessert to complement the theme.  In years past, I have worked the dinner plan into that night’s play (e.g. BBQ spread with a Western Theme).  This year, as something new, we went to the Caribbean one night with some Jerk Pork and tropical drinks.  I also prepared some Lentils (see “I Smell a Memory” for the recipe) – which I thought might be a bust, but actually were a hit (and healthy too)! The meals were great, but the coming together of our family was the sweetest dessert of all.

For my daughter there were new experiences shared with her husband and his son as they ocean kayaked, played ladder golf, multiple card games and worked on the puzzle.  We introduced him to the game of Cribbage (a family, competitive, tradition), my husband helped him with getting his kite to fly and our son shared some soccer moves.  It has been awhile since we had a teenager around, so it took adjustments on all sides, but we hope that he was comfortable and enjoyed his time with us and look forward to future visits together.  As a parent, it was special to see our daughter grow into another role as a wife and life-companion.  We wish them all many happy years that grow into a strong and lasting bond – vacations, such as these, will give them a good start on lasting relationships.

Flying Kites

Like the tides, we come and we go – but we forever carry the fond memories of the special times that we share with each other and look forward to the next time…


'Til we meet again...


Remembering the people and events in our lives keeps us connected to our past and encourages us to create new memories in our future.  The silliest things make the most lasting memories and those stories are told over and over again with affection and laughter.  Even sad events give us memories and teach us lessons, if we are willing to learn… All of the building blocks of a solid family, (Traditions, Celebrations and Encouragement) are enriched by Reminiscing.  It keeps us focused on the good and goofy and grim (but useful) events that make us who we are.

By reminiscing we can re-live special moments and re-kindle emotions of the past.  We can re-connect with loved ones who have passed or are otherwise away from us.  Most importantly, we can travel along the lines that connected us in the past so that we can strengthen the lines we build today.


Many of our most pleasant memories are of travel to many varied destinations and experiences that have given us great joy and are the subject matter at many family gatherings or conversation while on another one of our road trips.

Clam-digging, extreme sunburns, first love and deep-sea fishing in Cape Hatteras; delicious beef-in-beer ribs and my young brother Rick’s encounter with a magician at Busch Gardens (“I saw how you did that!”); the giant Ferris wheel, roller-coasters and vanilla custard with French-fries and vinegar at Cedar Point; Pirates of the Caribbean and watching my brother Phil hula at the Polynesian restaurant in Disneyland; Thanksgiving turkey legs on the curb to watch the Electric Light Parade at DisneyWorld; running from “monsters” at Knott’s Scary Farm; wolves outside the tent, bears in our food and trying to make Chinese noodles by twisting and banging rather than cutting in Mammoth; taking the train to Grand Canyon and getting upgraded to first-class; our son and his Grandpa driving to Oregon for college; and watching thunderstorms then wimping out for a motel room at Cave Lake are a few of our many cherished family adventures.

Coming from a small town where extensive travel was not the norm, we boasted about our quests to those less adventurous than we.  I suspected that many envied our sense of adventure and experiences.  It occurred to me, many years later, that what they really envied the most was our unique sense of family and togetherness.  I credit those trips as part of the glue that kept us close in a time when divorce and estrangement became popular alternatives for many.  Those
experiences shared and challenges met helped us understand and support each other and to be tolerant of our differences and to celebrate our accomplishments and band together in trying times. They helped build many strong bonds that have served us well over many years to follow.  While expanding our interest and understanding of other regions and people, we learned the importance of coming home.

We never understood how very special those bonds of love, home and belonging were because they came rather easily to us all.  I credit our parents for that.  It was important to them that we worked through the bad times and worked equally hard at creating good times.  Not until I was a parent myself, did I even begin to appreciate how difficult and special those values really are.

We try to generate more lasting memories by taking an annual “family vacation” and also to take shorter jaunts together throughout the year. Yes, we have to coordinate schedules and vacations and we sometimes run into a rough patch when personalities clash, but all in all, we pull it off and enjoy each others’ company.  My Dad and I are both now retired and have the luxury of taking more continuous time off to take cross-country excursions.  Many memories and bonds are formed during those trips and I will be sharing some with all of you in the future.


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