Memories of family the cure for winter blues

February 12, 2000|By GREGORY KANE

Three days into February and I still hadn't shaken the "heavy-snow-in-January" blues. Feb. 3 was the second birthday of my beloved youngest grandson, the incomparable Senor Spences -- who cackles hysterically when odd commercials appear on television. But even that could not stem my depression.

These blues first flaked on my consciousness four years ago, with the Blizzard of '96. My oldest sister, Barbara Noland -- then just 47 -- developed a respiratory ailment as a result of the weather. She had been fighting cancer for several years and was taken to Sinai Hospital for the respiratory ailment but never recovered. She died on Jan. 28. I've despised heavy January snowstorms ever since.

Four Januaries and another heavy snowstorm later, it was her younger brother who had the respiratory ailment. I didn't think the ailment would kill me. But it reminded me of what had happened a scant 48 months before. Now, in addition to shortness of breath and a cough from Beelzebub, I was a candidate for Prozac Poster Boy of the Year.

Nothing good can come of winter snow, my depressed self told me. Not for the Kane clan. Two days after 18 inches of snow were dumped on the Baltimore area, some idiot hit my parked car and knocked the front passenger-side tire onto the curb. That same night, some hood pointed a shotgun at my son and robbed him of a $600 jacket. But that's an earlier column.

"We're cursed," I told my son later. "A heavy snow in January means bad things for our family. The next time it happens, we should all camp out in Hawaii until spring."

It was with that mind-set that I set out on my grandson's birthday to pick up my mother from Easton and bring her to Baltimore for a doctor's appointment.

"I have some pictures of you when you were little," Mom said. "I want to show them to you. Even then, you looked like you didn't want to take the picture."

Yep, that's just what I needed to see. Pictures of me as an ugly kid with an oversized forehead who would grow up to be an ugly man with an oversized forehead. That would cheer me up.

After the appointment, I dropped Mom off at my youngest sister Margaret's apartment and headed out to Forest Park High School to watch my adopted wrestling team, Carver High School's Bears, compete in a match. But that's when it got challenging. I'd forgotten to take my mother's two small handbags and a fur coat from the trunk. I returned to Baby Sis' place and hauled the coat and handbags up two short flights of stairs. The trip left me almost gasping for breath. I knocked on the door then slumped against a wall. When Baby Sis let me in, I plopped into the nearest chair.

"You're clogged up," Baby Sis told me of my cough and shortness of breath. "You need an inhalant of some kind. I haven't spent 25 years as a nurse for nothing." Less than 24 hours later, my doctor would confirm her diagnosis. Having described what was wrong with my body, Baby Sis then tried to lift my spirits by popping a Temptations tape into her cassette player. Mom slipped me the pack of pictures. Baby Sis, her daughter Zari and grandson Xavier did a Temptations routine to "The Girl's Alright With Me."

I glanced through the photos. I found the one Mom told me about. It was a black and white. I was sitting on a stool. Barbara was on my right. My sister Carolyn was on my left. Being Ruth Kane's first-born son accounted for my exalted position in the middle. Barbara and Carolyn smiled slightly. I glowered at the camera, as if I preferred not to be bothered. Or did I have the prescience to know even then, at the age of 3 or 4, that a little more than 40 years later both my sisters would be gone?

Other pictures caught my eye. A couple of black-and-whites of me and my brother Michael. One first holy communion picture. Then a color photo of all six of Ruth Kane's grown children. I paused at this one. I had my arm wrapped around Carolyn, who was on my right. Margaret was on my left, with Barbara next to her. My youngest brother Tyrone was next to Barbara, his head down, almost at 90 degrees, to rest lovingly on Barbara's shoulder. Michael was at the bottom of the picture, his head, eyes and nose barely visible.

I thought the picture might send me into tears. Only three of Ruth Kane's children were left now. Barbara dead in January of 1996. Tyrone stabbed to death in November of the same year. Carolyn dead of heart failure seven months later. But I managed a smile.

"What a loving and beautiful family we had," I thought. Behind me, Baby Sis, Zari and Xavier twirled their hands as the Tempts sang "The girl's all right with ... " and thrust their thumbs at their chests on the word "me." Mom smiled at the performance.

And I felt better than I had in quite a spell.

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