About Terry Connelly

Terry Connelly is a retired high school English teacher. She earned her BA and Single Subject Teaching credential from California State University of the East Bay, in Hayward, California. Her short story "The Visitor" was published in the Noyo River Review after winning first place at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference in 2019. She taught for 18 years at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, California. She was gifted to work with both College Prep students and those with learning disabilities.

The Meaning of Christmas

the angels sang a lullaby

the night that Christ was born

in chorus of sweet harmony

they sang  upon that morn

the Magi came from far and wide

to worship at His feet

they knelt and prayed right by His side

and vowed of Him to speak

the shepherds gasped in awe and fear

for Christ had come that day

to bring a message all must hear

before they fall astray

a star shone bright up in the sky

above His tiny head

and peace to all it seemed to cry

while He slept snug in bed

and so, dear friends, let us all fall

upon our knees and pray

for we must answer Christ’s call

rejoice in Him today

Love Me Tenderly

Love me with all your heart

Or bid me goodbye.

Very few have touched me

Even though many have tried.

My mind spins at cyclone speed

Even when asleep, and so

The challenge is complex.

Enough so that I stand alone.

No one by my side as I cry

Dear One, come to me

Each day, every night.

Reaching for that special person,

Looking for the light love,

Yearning for precious caught moments.

Summer of 1964

Exactly one month after the end of my freshman year in high school, we moved.  Not just across town, but halfway across the country, from the damp climate of the Ohio Valley to the foggy San Francisco Bay Area of California.

There is some back history to the move.  During World War II my dad was stationed in San Diego, and then in San Francisco, before being shipped out to sea.  He fell in love with the mild temperatures and friendly people. He promised himself that when the war was over, he’d move to San Francisco. He never forgot his dream of someday living in such a pleasant place even though work, marriage and family delayed the move.

My family was not quite destitute, but certainly was considered low income.  We were never truly homeless, but often in between housing.  My mother did not work when we were young and this placed a major financial burden on my dad.  He sometimes worked a forty-hour week at one job and then picked up extra hours driving a cab or helping on construction projects.

 In 1963 my mother developed chronic asthma brought on by the mildew that grew in the crawlspace beneath our house.  While she was never hospitalized, there were several close calls.  After one severe attack the doctor declared that we had to move if we wanted her to live.

That was when we began planning for the trip to California.  This was well before the Internet so we made many trips to the library to gather information.  My brother and I took on the role of California experts.  We analyzed climate options, for there is a wide range, and decided that the Bay Area would be the best match for our mother’s needs.

One discovery that tingled our toes was the Community College system.  At that time the tuition was miniscule and therefore affordable even to us.  For the first time I had hope that I could become something other than someone’s wife.

As the time to move neared we sold things too bulky to take with us, gave away even more, and packed the bare essentials into our boat-like station wagon.

One morning we loaded everything into the car and literally drove away with the sun at our backs.  The car was jammed full with a family of five, the pet dog, clothing, bedding, and travel games sufficient to keep my brother and I occupied.

The early parts of our journey were boring.  We drove past one cornfield after another as we crossed Indiana and Illinois.  Colorado was much more promising with its spectacular vistas and unfamiliar trees.

All had gone reasonably well until that point. The car had performed marvelously, we’d been able to find affordable lodging and there was food to eat. Things changed when we were high in the Rocky Mountains.

Rain clouds darkened the sky.  Huge, boiling, black masses of clouds that drastically dropped temperatures and brought ripping winds that nearly blew us off the road.   Amazement at the high craggy peaks quickly turned to fear.  While we knew tornados, we were ignorant in the ways of mountain storms.

My dad persisted, however, for we had limited money for luxuries such as an extra night in a hotel or additional meals on the road.  Unfortunately, it was his persistence or stubbornness that nearly doomed our journey.

An awareness arose that mud was washing across the road.  Not just an oozing of dirt, but bubbling masses of dark brown, saturated mud that quickly covered the road, obliterating edges and lines.  My dad, the determined explorer, kept us pointing westward.  No mud was going to delay us.

We slogged on, albeit slowly, mile after mile until an avalanche blocked our path.  Rain was pounding so hard on the windshield that the wipers could not move the water fast enough for clear vision.  My Dad leaned forward, bent over the steering wheel straining to see ahead, following taillights of a vehicle in front of us. No matter how much mud was on the road, my dad kept us moving westward until traffic came to a complete halt.

My dad has never been a patient man.  He always had a hard time sitting still.  He was happiest working with his hands, building, scraping loosening, greasing, keeping busy, keeping moving. Imagine him in his thirties, which was how old he was at the time of our move.  He was brass, bold, daring, critical, mouthy, and arrogant.  While his business was an admirable quality, my dad was not a pleasant man unless things were going his way.

Dad being who he was, was flustered by the avalanche.  We could not move forward and there was no way he would turn around. Retreating would add precious travel time and expenses.  After sitting motionless for what felt like at eternity, he got out of the car, to do what, I was not sure.

He stalked over to a group of men standing under a nearby tree.  I assumed that these guys were drivers of other trapped cars, talking about what to do.  Through the rain-created haze, we watched our dad approach the men. His posture and stride were aggressive, typical of the man I knew. When he stood face-to-face with the men, we could see, but not hear, his lips move. His gestures were angry and accusatory, very familiar to me as I was often a victim of his ire.

Eventually my dad returned, not with a solution, but with extreme anger. Using a bevy of foul swear words he explained that the wall of mud completely covered the road.  No one could get through from either direction.  We were stuck just like all the other drivers. My dad despised helplessness in others, so imagine his anger at being the one who could do nothing to change our circumstances. He tortured the steering wheel, my mother and myself and my siblings since there was no one else that he could attack.

I have no idea how much time passed while we huddled inside our car, but my older self believes that it was possibly no more than an hour.  My brother and I knew to keep silent but our sister played with her dolls, singing and talking and laughing. I feared that she would bring Dad’s anger down on me, for it was my responsibility to watch over her. Obviously, I wasn’t doing my job.

 My mother, ever the nag, didn’t help when she began calling my dad a series of disgusting names.  The tension was horrendous as I knew that Dad would explode and that someone would get hurt.

Just as his arm swung out to smack my mom a loud roar erupted not too far from us.  Through our foggy windows, we watched mesmerized as a large truck moved out of line.  It crossed over into the opposite lane which was empty, thanks to the slide.  When the truck was parallel to our car it suddenly stopped.

All of a sudden there was another roar and then the truck shot forward.  It went up and over the mound of mud with the grace of a gazelle leaping a small hill.

That did it.  My dad’s male ego was seriously threatened.  If that truck could climb the hill of muck, then our station wagon could do the same. 

  If I had known what I do now about weight and trajectory and propulsion, I would have calculated that we could never make it over the mud hill.  Even if I had known all those things, it would not have deterred my dad’s intention to match the truck driver’s bravado.

Following the truck’s example, my dad pulled us out of the line of cars.  He positioned us into the still empty lane.  He wiggled us back and forth until we were aligned with the hill of mud.  He put the car into forward gear, jammed the gas pedal, and when he was sufficiently satisfied with the sound of the engine, took his foot off the brake.

We shot forward.  The force of the movement plastered us to the back of our seats, much like being on an accelerating roller coaster.

The car approached the wall of mud which was now clearly visible despite the continuing downpour.  My eyes must have grown huge when I saw that it was taller than our car.  In fact, it was so tall that I could not see over it and so wide that Icould not see around it.

Determined to succeed, my dad kept the gas pedal glued to the floor.  Our front tires touched the mud noticeably raising the front of the car.  My view changed from mud to blackened sky in a matter of seconds.

All of us, including my dad, whooped and hollered.  We raised our hands in the air and envisioned us cresting the hill and the victorious descent to the other side.

That didn’t happen, however, because instead of climbing the hill, we came to an abrupt halt, heads still pointing skyward, our bodies still melded into the seats.  Nothing worked to move us forward, not my dad’s cussing nor his attempts at accelerating us up and over.

Exhilaration rapidly turned to fear when there was a slight shift in our position.  We weren’t moving upward. We were sinking into the muck.

My view of sky became a view of mud. I realized that we were now even with the crest of the hill. That was not the end. Instead, our car continued to sink, more and more, until we stopped with nothing but mud in front, behind and on both sides.

My dad pounded the steering well as he swore like the sailor he had been. Eventually he turned off the engine and pushed opened the door.  Mud oozed in, covering the floor of the front of the car.  To prevent that from happening, my dad stepped out into the mud and pushed the door closed. 

He moved away by lifting his feet uncomfortably high. As he did so, mud coated his legs to slightly above his knees.

My dad slogged his way back to the men under the tree.  It must have been humiliating for him to admit defeat, but he had no choice.  His family was trapped in a car surrounded by mud.

We sat for what felt like an eternity, but was probably no more than twenty minutes.  During this time, the rain slackened.  No longer a deluge, it fell softly on the windshield, making only tiny dots. I anxiously awaited my dad’s return, not knowing what his mood would be and who he would blame for our predicament. It could be me even though I had kept quiet the whole time, but that was the way in our family: someone had to pay.

When our dad finally returned, he wasn’t smiling, but the angry look was gone. He reported that the wall of mud had stopped growing and sliding.  Because he could now see over the top, my dad had seen a tow truck that was already working on the other side.  It appeared that it was going to plow a passage through the mud and all we had to do was sit and wait.

I still remember the excitement when the flashing lights atop the tow truck became visible. Their whoosh-whoosh lit up the sky as gloriously as fireworks on the Fourth of July.  My heart pounded with barely contained excitement.

Imagine my reaction when the mud began moving.  It was hard to tell the difference first because the change was so slow, but as the revolving lights seemed to move closer, the texture of the mud hill changed well.  It bulged.  It bubbled.  It slid.  It separated like Moses dividing the Red Sea.

The plow appeared first, popping up out of the muck like a chick from an egg.  Then came the grill and in quick succession, the hood, the windshield, and eventually the rest of the truck.

The tow truck had managed to clear a good portion of the road. It didn’t stop there, but instead turned around, prepared to plow through from our side. Before it took off, my dad got out of our car and began yelling at the driver of the truck.  When the driver got out, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. If my dad started a fight, we’d be stuck. If somehow, he could present himself as a clam, reasonable man, then maybe the driver would help.

When the two of them walked around our car as best as they could while slugging through the mud, I breathed a sigh of relief. My dad must have been calm or the driver would not be walking with my dad.

When the inspection seemed to be finished, my dad got back in the car. He told us to put a halter on the dog and get out.  All of us. In the mud! 

A normal person might have been horrified, but not me. I was excited!  To have permission to get filthy dirty was a glorious thing, even though I was a teenager. 

Stepping out into the mud was better than a birthday gift or the discovery of a dime from the Tooth Fairy or even the baskets of candy from the Easter Bunny.  If I had known about the Richter scale, I would have placed this at monstrous earthquake strength.

I didn’t step gingerly or make disgusting girlish faces.  My sister did both, but not me.  I smiled. No, I beamed brighter than the sun, which was now peeking through the clouds.

I planted a foot in the muck and then another, and another, and another, walking proudly, even as it clung to my shoes and ankles and legs.  My heart soared with joy.  A balloon never flew as high as I did that day!

Once we were safely away from the car, the tow truck maneuvered into position in front of us by pushing the mud this way and that.  Once it was lined up with the front of our car, it lowered its contraption until it fit under the front end of our car.  The driver employed a series of straps and chains, and then engaged a motor. Slowly, the car arose, like King Neptune rising out of the sea. What a glorious site that was!

Once the car was in the air the truck did what is was supposed to do: it pulled us through the muck to the other side.

There was no fanfare from the watching crowds.  Instead, for the first time, I realized that the other drivers were jeering and pointing and slapping backs.  When I looked at my dad’s face, I saw humiliation.  Arrogance no longer sat on his shoulders, replaced by a profound embarrassment.

I learned a few things from watching my dad.  Bravado has its place and time.  Self-assurance is a good thing, only when tempered by a voice of reason.  Safety of family must always be first.  Competition is healthy, when appropriate.  Keeping an eye to the prize only works when flexibility is allowed to overrule potentially stupid actions.

More than anything, I knew that I would never forget that day in the summer of 1964.  And I haven’t.

Tough Words

When your dream becomes a reality

you will believe, with some certainty

all your hard work was worth the effort

now earning you well-deserved comfort.

The sky is the limit, some will say

and encourage you to not delay

the constant climb for the cherished prize.

Only then will there be no surprise.

The path is rutted and deadly steep,

filled with boulders and crevices deep.

Yet each small step leads toward success.

You have to focus, with faithfulness.

Dreams are supposed to inspire us, true.

Failure and struggles will challenge you,

orchestrating real disharmony.

Though the reason is still unclear to me.

Thoughts about Whining

Recently I chose two different surgeries to remove excess skin left after weight loss.

The first, back in August, was on my upper arms. For years I’d had chicken wings, or flags, that waved whenever I moved my arms. When I swam, I heard a whap, whap every time my arms entered the water. Often, when wearing a short sleeve shirt, I’d hear the same sound as my arms contacted my torso. It was embarrassing to wear short sleeve shirts and to put on a bathing suit.

Good-meaning friends told me to exercise more. I thanked them for their advice, knowing that I’d been focusing on my arms while working out at the gym. I’d even hired a private trainer to help, but even all his great exercises made no difference.

The wings weren’t going to magically disappear. I met with a surgeon who explained what she could and couldn’t do. She could remove excess fat, but my arms would never be skinny. I didn’t want skinny: I wanted normal.

The surgery went well, but the recovery impacted my life in ways that I hadn’t foreseen. I couldn’t swim, bathe or walk uphill. When I walked, I had to keep my arms loose at my side. I had to wear a compression garment for six weeks. It was so tight that it hurt.

I whined, but not too much. After all, I had done this to myself.

There was another surgery that I desperately wanted: to remove the roll of excess skin around my belly. The surgeon explained, once again, what she could and could not do. I would still have droopy legs and poofs of skin that would stick out whenever wearing a bra. She would remove and tighten front, back and sides. It sounded good to me.

Whereas the first operation was three hours in length, the second was seven. As an after affect, my asthma has been triggered. Considering that it had been largely dormant for a number of years, this was a disappointment. But, I did it to myself, right? So I don’t complain.

With the first surgery I could do many things as long as it didn’t involve lifting. I could sit at the computer and type for hours. With this surgery I have had to remain on my back for much of the day. Now that I am 20 days past the surgery date, I am able to sit for longer, walk about on flat surfaces and resume doing some of my favorite things as long as they do not involve exercise.

And, once again, I have to wear compression garments that are terribly uncomfortable.

There have been times when I was tempted to whine, but then I’d remind myself that this surgery was an option that I chose. I do acknowledge that the roll of skin is gone and that makes me smile. However, I am still limited as to what I can do. Sitting here while I type this is taxing my body. I will soon be reclining, but I won’t complain since I did write something new! Yippee.

I realize that people make huge sacrifices every day: eat food or pay the rent. Put gas in the car or buy new shoes for the kids. Live in a homeless shelter or sponge off of friends and relatives. Stand in line for free food or be too proud to ask for help and therefor go hungry. In some countries, running for your life even though that very act endangers your same life, is a tough decision to make.

Whenever I am inclined to whine, I think of those less fortunate, those who are unhoused, hungry and poorly clothed. How can I complain when my discomfort is self-imposed, while for those poor individuals, they are in those circumstances because of unaddressed mental issues or due to the high cost of housing that they cannot pay even when working full time.

I am blessed to be able to afford the operations. There is no doubt that if I had wanted this done years ago when we had young children at home, there would have been no money for such extravagances. These are the things that sustain me, that keep me focused on the outcome, not the current discomfort.

 I swear that no whining will pass through my lips. I am grateful for all the blessings in my life.

A Humbled Man

Things have been rough this year.

My wife died giving birth to a stillborn child.

I lost my job to a younger man.

The earth shook and things went wild.

Alcohol became my best friend

Keeping me warm on cold winter nights.

Teeth fell out and tongue turned brown

And vagrants challenged me to fights.

One rainy night, down on my luck,

No nickel to my tarnished name,

I stumbled into an empty house

Where I could hide in shame.

I searched through cabinets covered in dust

And looked under every loose board

Hoping to find a morsel to eat,

A blanket, a shirt, anything to add to my hoard.

Upstairs in what was a little boy’s room

A magical things I did find.

Buried beneath a pile of rags,

A book to challenge my mind.

A stubble of candle sat on a shelf

And so I quickly lit it with glee.

By the flickering light I eagerly read.

A realization soon came to me.

The story spoke of a man long ago

Who owned very little but love.

He roamed his world bringing peace,

Goodwill, a message from God above.

I am like He, I began to think,

With nothing to lose nor fear.

Resolved to act I fell asleep

Like a child, both loved and dear.

When the new sun brightened the world

I stumbled, confusedly, into the hall.

For there surrounded in unearthly glow

Hovered the Man to whom I did fall.

“My Lord, forgive this humble man

who long ago fell out out of Your grace.

Today I beg you, I am renewed

And ready to take my place.”

A breeze arose, tore off my rags

And dried the tears from my eyes.

Gentle fingers brushed my cheek

And lifted away my cries.

That was the day when I took control

And rejoined the human race.

From that day forward I was His man

And walked with smiling face.

I now believe that my wife and child

Truly did not die in vain,

For their sacrifice brought me back to God

And to feel His love again.

Testimony

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m here to testify.

“Amen,” you say, “Amen.”

I cross my hands and cry

The Lord, our God, is here

I see Him in your eyes

with a fire hot to sear

and drown out all your cries

He loves us, don’t you know

He calls us to follow

His straight path and to grow

in love.  He brings a glow

a radiant glow of love

so pure, so strong, so fine

that we look up above

and are blind by His shine

but don’t worry, my friends

for we can easily

cross over, make amends,

climb the heights, dizzily

basking in His wondrous

gift of spiritual life

spreading a bounteous

blessing to man and wife

children, bow down, I pray

I place my hands and sing

calling His love your way

and the joys He will bring

Halleluiah, Amen

Halleluiah, my friend

Halleluiah, again

Halleluiah,  the end.

Missing Him

           

I wonder where my dad is now?

What country or what town?

Do the people even know he’s there?

And care about his men?

I wonder what he’s thinking of?

While I stare at the clouds?

Does he see the same sky that I see?

And smile at the bright sun?

I wonder if he questions

What the war is all about?

Does it make a difference what he does?

And how will it all come out?

I wonder when he does come home

Whom he will smile at first?

Do you think he’ll even recognize me?

And know that I’m his son?

I wonder if he wonders

What I’m thinking of today?

Does he pray for me on bended knee?

And whisper I love you?

Talk to Me About God

Let’s not argue about God.

Whether you believe in a He

     or a She,

Buddha, Yahweh, Christ,

or the words of Kahlil Gibran,

or maybe no god at all other

than the inner workings

of your soul,

matters not.

Why waste our time discussing

the merits of one or the other,

when all speak a common

language?

Tranquility, peace, love,

care for humankind,

trust, giving from the heart,

faithfulness

and honesty,

are more important than

whose “god” is holier.

It makes no difference if you are

born again, or

newly discovered,

a long-time believer,

or a thinking-about-it

skeptic,

for we all approach faith

in our own way,

in our own time.

Tell me about your God,

for I truly want to know.

Show me, not with words,

but with actions,

what it means to follow

His/Her way.

I’ll listen, with open mind

and heart,

for who’s to say

which way of believing

is better?

Not me.

Faith: a Personal Definition

One aspect of faith is the belief in the inherent goodness of humanity.  It may be a naïve way of thinking, especially considering these troubled times.  It may be a bit misplaced in terms of focus considering the quantity of murders, robberies, beatings, and home invasions that take place every day.  However, if we cannot believe that the bulk of those traveling through life with us do so with goodness as a driving force, then we cannot live as faith-filled people. 

Back when I was still teaching something occurred at my high school that challenged my faith in humanity.  An article appeared in the school newspaper referring to a group of students as “Tard Kart.”  In itself, the label does not seem offensive.  However, the members of this group described themselves as crazy misfits who were not accepted by the school population at large.  Hence, to them, “Tard” was a derivative of the word retard.  Kart referred to the food carts which were staffed by Special Education students, the connection, to me, was quite obvious.

Believing that it was a simple mistake, I contacted the teacher who oversaw the Journalism students.  The teacher found nothing offensive about the inclusion of the name in the article.  When I asked her what she would do if a group called themselves “Spics” or “Wops.” Would she print that?  Of course not, she said, as those are ethnic slurs.

The teacher herself had been subjected to ethnic slurs over her entire teaching career.  She had been found crying, many times, over the cruelty of students who mimicked her accent and who left insults on the white board in her classroom.  One would think that if anyone would be sensitive to negative stereotypes, it would be she.

Earlier in the same week a student was attacked outside my classroom.  He was a relatively small freshman compared to others in his class. When I heard loud thumps outside my room, I went outside to see what was happening. My student was on the floor curled up in a fetal position, holding his groin area.  Large tears coursed down his cheeks.  He was unable to speak or move for more than thirty minutes. When I found out what has happened, I was horrified that two very large seniors had slammed the smaller boy against the wall and kicked him when he was down.

I believe that it was a prank that got out of control.  Yes, the students involved tended to be aggressive, defiant, and general malcontents.  Yes, they were not on track to graduate in June.  Even so, my faith tells me that this “beating” was not a planned act of violence, but rather an opportunistic reaction.

In my seventy-one years of life, I have not only witnessed, but also been a victim of comparable events.  As an abused child, I grew up in an environment that was not conducive to the development of faith.  It’s hard to believe in a God that allows physical beatings, verbal harassment, and emotional debasement.  I prayed, every day, for salvation.  My prayers went unanswered, or so I thought.

It was not until I went on a trip to the mountains of southern California with a Catholic youth group from my university that I understood faith.  Looking at the towering mountains and walking amid the amazingly tall trees, I realized that there is a God who loves the world so much that He gave us places of solitude and introspection. 

God does not always our wishes for He knows that we need to be forged by our experiences.  We may not want to walk our given path, but we have to believe that the journey somehow leads us to a clearer understanding of who we are meant to be.

When I stood in that forest I knew that I was not the horrible child that my parents saw.  Faith allowed me to witness the goodness inside myself, the goodness inside my parents, and the goodness in those sharing the moment with me.  It sounds like a cliché, but I truly felt a golden glow spreading through my body.  That glow was faith.

Since that day, my faith has been my rock.  It gives me the strength to transcend the travails of daily life.  It opens my eyes to the good intentions of others and allows me to feel generosity of spirit.  When disheartening or disturbing events rise forth, it is through faith that I am able to process what is happening.

I do believe that all humans are capable of living lives ruled by basic tenets of kindness and generosity of spirit.  Even when the news is filled with stories of turbulence, I do not let my belief waver.  That is my belief in the goodness of humanity. That is my faith.