My Dear Friends, Christmas 2022
I ran into my old friend, David McAndrew, at the Dunns Corner Market a couple of weeks ago. Over the years, I’ve found that Dunns Corner Market is not only a great place to shop, it’s also a great place to reconnect with old friends. I remember David from my Pond View Racquet Club days, playing tennis over forty years ago. David was an outstanding athlete and highly regarded as one of the best tennis players in the area.
“David!! How are you?” I said while extending my hand. “You look great.” He laughed and in typical David fashion said, “Thanks. I feel great.” By the way Mal, he continued, “do you know what the three stages of life are?” “Hmmm. No…I don’t think I do. What are the three stages of life?” David laughed again. “Well, he said, first there is Youth. You feel like you can do almost anything. Then you have Middle Age. It’s not quite like Youth but it’s a nice time of life. And…finally you have, hey…you look great!” …and we both laughed. Yes…we agreed, “we both look great.”
Over the years, I have often written about the challenges my brother Charlie and I faced growing up on the family farm in West Greenwich. When I was five years old, my Mom and Dad bought a forty-acre farm that might best be described as being “out in the middle of nowhere.”. It was their dream. The house reportedly was built sometime in the 1700s. It was in the middle of a 2 1/2-mile dirt road. The nearest neighbor was about a quarter of a mile away in one direction and the next neighbor was over half a mile away in the other direction. The house was heated with two wood burning stoves. One was in the kitchen and was used for cooking and heating the room. It was a gray, cast iron Victor Duchess model that, I believe, dates back to around 1905. It might have been earlier…or a bit later. I don’t know. What I do know is that it was the center of attraction every Saturday night when my Mom would make baked beans in her old brown clay bean pot with a generous slab of salt pork on top. Saturday was also the day she baked bread for the week. I remember her always asking if we wanted biscuits or Dough Boys (fried dough) with dinner. Dough Boys, typically dripping with homemade butter, won hands down.
Sundays were just as special. Before we left for Church, Mom would get the temperature gauge on the oven door up to a certain number and then insert a special “something” to roast which would be ready to eat when we returned home. I remember the porcelain roasting pan with the roast in the middle and potatoes from our garden on the side. Sometimes the roast was chicken or duck. Sometimes a rabbit or partridge. Sometimes it was squirrel. Ugh!!! That wasn’t my favorite. I remember how we would always hold hands around the table as my Dad would ask the Lord’s blessing on our food…and on us as a family.
The stove in the living room was strictly for heat. It was cast iron and tall and round enough to take several large chunks of oak or hickory that would last the entire night. Charlie and I would huddle around it in the morning while getting dressed for school. Here again…we learned to be careful about how close we leaned into the warmth of the stove on cold winter mornings. I remember working with my Dad cutting the oak, hickory, and maple trees that we would use for firewood. I’m not sure why, but my memories of cutting firewood are good ones. Dad and I always worked well together. We never bought wood for the stoves. We cut it ourselves. I am convinced that one of the reasons I learned to play golf as well as I do is because my Dad and I spent huge amounts of time chopping and splitting logs by hand.
Running water came from a hand pump in the kitchen that was fed by a single pipe from the well in our front yard. There was no hot water until it was heated in the pot on the wood stove. On Saturday night my Mom would fill the tub with hot water so Charlie and I could bathe and wash our hair. Sunday morning, we all went to Sunday School and Church. Pastor and Mrs. Bell were beautiful people who loved their Lord, worked hard to do His work, and made it their mission to keep a watchful eye on two young boys growing up on a small farm in the middle of the woods. We raised
goats. We had chickens and ducks. We always had a couple of pigs and a cow. Lots of dogs. We planted two fields with what seemed like every vegetable known to man. Tomatoes. Potatoes. Beans. Peas. Greens. Corn. Popcorn. Rhubarb.
Squash. Cabbage. Carrots. Turnips. Cucumbers. Onions. So much. In the Spring, our neighbor and friend, Kermit Matteson, plowed and harrowed the fields with his Farmall Cub tractor. We planted by hand, and we weeded by hand. I remember how cracked and angry the skin on my Mom’s hands would become from all the time she spent working on the gardens. As things ripened, we would feast on our bounty. Mom filled canning jar after canning jar with all kinds of things and then stored them in the dirt storm cellar designed to hold a winter’s worth of Ball jars filled with love. We had a freezer locker at Hianloland Farms which was nearby. It was primarily used for meat and fish. There was a very private trout stream on the property, and we would sometimes see a helicopter flying President Eisenhower in for a day or two of fishing. I would dream of receiving an invitation to fish with him…but of course it never came.
We picked blueberries which grew wild along the edges of the clearings where trees had been harvested before my parents bought the property. The “Blueberry Man” would come to the house twice a week in season and buy whatever we had picked. Charlie and I discovered that we could make twice as much if we rode our bikes to the main road and sold them to people driving by in their cars.
For the first two years, our family bathroom was an outhouse that was about fifty feet from the front door. It was Charlie’s and my job to shovel the path in the wintertime when it snowed. There was other shoveling that we had to do, but we don’t need to go there. Dad and Mom actually did the plumbing themselves to install a water pump and tank and an honest to goodness flush toilet in the bathroom. The old outhouse became a woodshed.
Charlie and I worked hard because there was always something that needed doing. But we played hard, too. We learned to ride our bikes everywhere. We fished in another private trout pond that was about a mile away on our road or, as my Dad loved to say, “down the road a piece.” We knew where we could hide our bikes so they wouldn’t be seen and then walk the path through the woods that would take us to the very back of the pond where no one ever went. One of my favorite photos…which I’m looking at as I write this…is of two young brothers kneeling in front of the Victor Duchess Wood stove, with fourteen brook trout displayed on newspaper on the kitchen floor. They (not the trout) were wearing big smiles and baseball hats with the “West Greenwich School” logo proudly displayed. I think that Charlie was six or seven at the time. I would have been ten or eleven.
That being said, one of my great sadnesses is the lack of pictures of us as we were growing up. I have a handful of old black and white Kodaks, but they don’t do justice to the good times that we had as a family. Charlie passed away from a brain tumor in 2003 at the age of 55. Almost twenty years ago. I will never forget his funeral. I wrote about it then…and if you will indulge me, I’d like to repeat some of what I said in my 2003 letter.
I am overwhelmed with what I want to share with you. My only brother, Charlie, died of cancer at age 55 on October 31. It was the day before my birthday. His wife, Diane, was beside him, comforting him as she had continually done since the tumor was discovered. His three children, Bob, Malcolm, and Charles were nearby. What could have been the most horrible of experiences was actually a moment filled with faith, love, and a family’s commitment to God and to each other.
Charlie was amazing. My most vivid memories of Charlie are as a child…when we were living on the family farm in West Greenwich. Back then it was better known as, “out in the middle of nowhere.”
In many ways, Charlie and I were mirror opposites of each other. I was always into something. He was laid back and relaxed. I would think of intricate, detailed, well thought out excuses for why I couldn’t finish my chores or fill the wood box on a particular day. Charlie would simply sit in the middle of the tomatoes and announce that he was tired and would not be weeding any more that afternoon.
I grew up dreaming of becoming successful. I was always looking forward to whatever my next step would be. I wanted to catch a bigger fish, hit a longer ball, or get a better grade. I always wanted to be the best at whatever I was doing. I dreamed of a life that did not include the chores of farm life.
Charlie was content to totally enjoy wherever he was…whenever he was there. He was never in a hurry. He didn’t worry about “being the best” although he was a good student and a better than average athlete. He enjoyed himself immensely. And, if you talk with some of the people from his church where he was the “media guru,” they will tell you without hesitation that “Charlie was the best.”
He and I used to play a game we called “Parachute.” Along the fields, we had a number of long, thin birch trees.
We found that you could climb some of the birches, and if you picked carefully, could climb to the top of a given tree, hang on with one hand and JUMP. The tree would bend slowly and bring you softly to the ground. One day I chose a tree
that was a little too tall and a little too strong. Charlie suggested that maybe I had a “bad tree.” With him watching, I climbed…I jumped…I dropped halfway to the ground. I hung there trapped about eight or ten feet above the ground. I screamed for him to get help.
Well, as I said, Charlie was never in a hurry. He wandered toward the house and found my folks working in the yard. Mom asked, “Where’s Malcolm?” “Oh yeah…he sent me to find you. He’s falling out of a tree.” My Mom ran up that field like she had yellow jackets buzzing after her. She got to the tree just as I lost my grip…fell…and kicked her in the stomach, practically knocking her right into the middle of next week. Parachute was taken off our list of games.
As years passed…our lives changed…we did different things. We never lost touch but didn’t keep the close contact that many brothers do.
Charlie knew that the thought of his death was very difficult for me. I don’t think that he believed that he would die, at least not then. But he was content, and even willing, to accept whatever might come.
Charlie left us much more quickly than anyone expected. For me, it always seems as if there was plenty of time to say or do whatever needed to be said or done. There would always be tomorrow. But one of the humilities of adulthood is that “tomorrow” is what we hope for, not what is guaranteed. Today is the day of significance. Today is the one day we can all count on. I can only hope that Charlie knew how much I loved him each of his days.
At this point, I will tell you that I thought that I was prepared for the difficulties of the next few days. The fact is, that I was totally unprepared for what my brother was about to teach me. It began at his wake. I must confess that I’m not especially fond of the whole wake/funeral process. But as Martha and I sat with Diane and her sons at the funeral home, I began to understand the healing that can begin to take place. We would greet people who had come to pay their respects to my brother. I expected family members and a few friends. At some point, I realized that I had been on my feet shaking hands and receiving condolences from an awful lot of people. I mean…a LOT of people. The story was always the same. “You look just like your brother. Your brother was the most wonderful man. He helped me…move to our new home, move to a new apartment, move my refrigerator, fix my television, fix my toilet, fix the window that was stuck, fix my car. He…took my kids or me to church, scouts, choir practice. He just showed up when I needed help. He wouldn’t let me pay him. He was a saint. He was God’s servant. He was such a quiet, good man. He was the best guy. Whenever I needed help, he was always there.”
At one point, the line of people extended from his family to the casket, down a long hallway and out the door. My heart filled with pride for my brother and his family as hundreds of people came from everywhere to honor him.
The following day, the funeral service at the church featured more of the same. I assumed that there would be a quiet somber service and then a ride to the cemetery. I was so wrong. The church was filled to overflowing. And it was as far from somber as it could possibly be. The service was a full-blown celebration filled with music, poetry and the most beautiful slide presentation of his life and family. One testimony after another spoke of a quiet, spirit-filled husband, father, friend, and servant of God who had dedicated his life to helping others.
I’m sure that, if he had been asked, Charlie would have said that he was just an average guy. That’s what he pretended to be. But Charlie was an extraordinary man with a huge heart, who lived his life focused, not on himself, but on those around him.
The graveside service was my final lesson. It was a twenty-minute ride from the church to the cemetery. It was late on a Sunday afternoon. It was cold and rainy. But as the full moon suddenly slipped out from behind the clouds for just a moment as if to pay her own tribute, I watched in astonishment as people continued to pour into the cemetery to bid my brother farewell.
After the service, I was the last to leave the cemetery. It was now well into evening. I placed a small white rose on his coffin and whispered a final prayer. The gravedigger patiently waited for me to leave so that he could complete his work. He was a young man, perhaps in his late twenties, with eyes that seemed haunted from seeing too much of life’s hard times. “Who is this?” he asked respectfully. “I’ve never seen so many people in the cemetery for anything. He must have been someone important.” I shook his hand. “Yes,” I smiled. “Yes, he was.”
It wasn’t until my brother’s passing that I learned the truth about his life. I can’t begin to say how deeply proud I am of him…or how much I love and respect him. His lessons were given with deep eloquence.
So…about a month ago his son’s wife…my nephew Malcolm’s wife, Melanie, emailed me with a link to a film they had created. My Mom and Dad loved movies. We had no money at all but somehow, they had an eight-millimeter camera and loved to film “anything” that involved the family. Melanie found a bundle of old eight-millimeter films that
Charlie’s wife Diane had preserved and protected. Melanie and Malcolm had them digitized into something one could see on an iPad or computer.
“Here is a link to some of your family’s old videos,” she said in an email. I watched the video with tears pouring down my face.
I saw my Mom. I saw my Dad. I saw my dear brother, Charlie. I saw the reason why even though times were tough…even though we had very little growing up…we had so much. We had each other. I saw us playing badminton in the aftermath of Hurricane Carol. The poplar trees in the front yard were gone but we had the net up and played. Mom and Dad loved to play. It never mattered who won. It only mattered that we played.
As teenagers, Charlie and I had motorcycles. I remembered mine but had forgotten his. I watched as he and I zipped around the front yard with my Mom riding on the back of my bike as we took jumps and turns. As we loved life as a family.
I saw my son, Daniel, as an infant and remembered all the dreams I had for him. I saw my Dad, who tragically died the morning of my first final exams as I was graduating from college. He had worked so hard to conquer the demons that exploited him. He was so close….
I saw my graduation from college. There were at least a dozen people from my little church who traveled all the way to New York with Pastor and Mrs. Bell to celebrate my graduation and to be with me.
I watched the video once…twice…three times. I am still watching it because it brings me back to the things that are most important in my life. My family. My roots. The people who intervened to help me become the person I am today.
How could my nephew’s wife possibly know how important her video would be? But Melanie and Malcolm somehow understood. And I am deeply grateful. Beyond grateful. Thank you so much.
And I share all of this, just to remind all of us, that family and friends are the cornerstone of our lives. Our memories are who we are.
It hurts my heart to see the deep divisions within our country. I know our history. It hasn’t always been something to be proud of. I’ve always believed that we learned from the past. I’ve always believed that it was our understanding of the past that made us stronger in the present. The past does not necessarily dictate our future. Quite the opposite. A clear understanding of the past may help us change the future. A clear understanding of the past might be what saves us…not what condemns us.
I love this country. I had the opportunity to learn, to gain an education, to grow and mature. I had the opportunity to work hard and build a life for my family and myself. I’ve had the opportunity to help my friends/clients do the same. Martha’s and my parents, grandparents, uncles, and cousins all believed that this country was worth fighting for and sacrificing for. We still do. Someone asked a while ago, “Why do you always wear an American flag pin on the lapel of your suits and jackets?” Easy reply. “Because I love this country and I am proud to be an American. I want to honor the risks and sacrifices my family and friends have made over the years.”
I met with my dear friend Elly Heyder recently. Elly was my very first client. I’ve written about her in past letters. She is beyond amazing. She is healthy, mentally sharp, enjoying life to the fullest, in her 90’s and looking forward to her next sky dive. She brought her book of pictures from her trip to Mongolia. We talked about her numerous “travel books” that are filled with her fabulous pictures. She said, “If the time ever comes that I have to go to a home to be taken care of, I will have my books and my pictures. They will remind me of who I am.”
I love you, Elly.
So, what about “today” you must be saying. “What’s going on?”
“What’s going on? Indeed! Stock and bond markets are down. Inflation is up. Gas prices are…I can’t come up with an appropriate word. It’s disgusting.
The questions we hear most often are: “Are we going to be, ok? When will things start to get better?” Or more to the point… “Will things ever start to get better? Will the markets improve? Are we going to be, ok?” My answer is a resounding, “Yes.”
I frequently say that my glass is half full, not half empty. Today we are living in very complicated and divided times. Yes, I know that’s not exactly a “hot off the press” newsflash, but it still bears repeating. I remember when we could read the newspaper and believe what we read. I remember when we could listen to the radio and believe what we
heard. I remember when we could tune in to the 6 o’clock news and believe what we watched. And sadly… we have learned that much of what gets reported to us as “fact” …may or may not be. We have been forced to ask questions. To dig deeper. To follow the recommendation made famous by President Ronald Reagan when quoting the Russian proverbial saying “Doveryai, no proveryai” which translates to “trust but verify.”
I had the privilege of being invited to attend and speak at the Barron’s Hall of Fame conference in Palm Beach in October. Our PPG team took the train to Boston to participate in the Shook/Forbes Investment Advisor Conference in November. The speakers and many of the attendees at both conferences were, in my opinion, some of the smartest financial professionals in our country today. We were reminded that the volatility that we are witnessing in both the equity markets and the fixed income markets are normal market movements which are being exacerbated by the Fed raising interest rates in their efforts to combat inflation. We have had the unique experience for about a decade of extremely low interest rates which benefits housing, business, and startups. But now, as rates rise, markets slow down because spending slows down. That’s the point of raising interest rates. But history clearly tells us that this is perfectly normal. It’s not pleasant and trying to accurately time movements both up and down is very difficult… if not impossible. At PPG, we believe that investing in diversified portfolios with a long-term focus is both appropriate and historically prudent.
Many of our speakers reminded us of historical events which precipitated a pullback in the equity markets, only to be followed by the eventual corresponding recovery. It’s interesting to go back to events like “Pearl Harbor,” “the Cuban Missile Crisis,” “JFK Assassination,” “MLK Assassination,” “Watergate,” “the Dot Com Bubble Burst,” “9/11,” “2008 Recession and Global Financial Crisis,” “Covid-19 Pandemic,” …and now… “Today.” What we don’t know about “Today” is when recovery will begin. Some suggest that it will begin early or mid-2023. Some suggest that we may have already seen the worst of it. Some suggest that most of 2023 will be difficult. Regardless of what some news programs or news articles may suggest, I don’t think that there is anyone who absolutely knows when the recovery will begin.
However, I absolutely do believe that the recovery is ahead of us and that we will be OK. Of course, my crystal ball is pretty cloudy but…I believe that if you have invested wisely and have properly diversified your investments, you will be able to hum along with Aileen Quinn who sang the title song in the 1982 film version of “Annie.”
“The sun’ll come out tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow There’ll be sun.…”
Yes. The sun will come out. And tomorrow will eventually arrive. In the meantime, thank you for your trust and for allowing us to have your back.
Many of our PPG team attended the Ocean Community YMCA Leadership Recognition Breakfast at the Ocean House earlier this month. I was honored to be a recipient in 2015. I was reminded once again how generous our little community has been and continues to be. Each of the recipients echoed the same sentiment of gratitude that they live in a community as rich and as full as ours.
I was in Wilcox Park with several members of our PPG Team for the opening of the Starry Lights celebration. I remember about a year ago when Lisa Konicki, Executive Director of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce said, “Mal, I have an idea I’d to talk with you about.” I’ve learned that Lisa’s ideas are rarely inexpensive. But more importantly, her ideas are rarely anything but fabulous. She talked about building tunnels made of white, glowing stars that people could walk through. Families. Kids. Pets. Friends. Individuals. Everyone could participate in a glorious community event. Stars would be constructed throughout the park and in public places throughout our community.
Sponsors would have individual stars with their names shown and decorated with lights that would be displayed out of doors during the celebration. I remember shaking my head, “Yes” several times as she explained her vision, but I really didn’t have any idea about the magnitude of her dreams. I saw a small seedling…she saw a forest. I saw a small stream…she envisioned the ocean.
People had been working everywhere, building, finishing, and identifying each of the displays. Dozens of volunteers and craftsmen, some young and some not so young worked for days to be ready for the “Lighting of Starry Lights.” There were star sculptures constructed in Wilcox Park, Donahue Park, and Veteran’s Park. In addition, I’m told that there are over 180 Sponsor’s Stars displayed on businesses, shops and professional buildings throughout the community and downtown areas. It was broadcast live on WBLQ. (Our dear friend, Chris DiPaola was deeply missed but his spirit could definitely be felt.) The countdown was…Three…Two…One…Oh my gosh. In a time when there is so much pain and fear throughout the world, in a time when there is so much division and conflict…there was happiness and joy, laughter and celebration in this small southern New England Ocean Community.
I looked across the park at our beautiful PPG office building that Martha had so lovingly brought back to life over twenty years ago. I watched members of my PPG team laughing as we walked through the Star Tunnel that was ablaze with small white lights. I watched our community celebrate our friendships, the love that we feel and the undeniable fact that we have all been so incredibly blessed to call this our home.
Thank you again, for your friendship and for allowing us to be a part of your lives and your dreams. It has been a most unusual year. We have been recovering from almost two years of masks, lockdowns, and uncertainty. We have stayed home trying to avoid gatherings and crowds. Some of us are slowly beginning to learn how to hug and shake hands again. We seem to constantly be told to remain alert, to be careful, to follow the protocols…to keep our guard up and remain vigilant. It’s exhausting.
I’ve lost too many friends/clients this year. Maybe I’m getting older. I guess all of us are getting older. Whatever the reason, it’s been a difficult year. For those of you who have lost family members and other loved ones, please accept my condolences. I’m so sorry for your loss. I do understand.
We lost our beloved, Reddy in February. You may remember that Annabelle passed very suddenly in April of 2020 from a terrible affliction not uncommon to larger dogs called, “hemangiosarcoma.” We realized in early February that Redd was struggling, and it might be the same condition. We decided to cancel plans for Florida and keep him home. One night he simply lay down by my chair and we could tell he was close. Martha played some special music on her phone that helped him stay relaxed. I just lay with him in his bed and held him. Sweet Reddy.
Friends constantly ask us when we will get another dog…or two? They know that we love dogs. I still sit in my chair in the den and reach down out of habit…but neither Redd nor Anna are there. I still look for them when I enter the kitchen in the morning. I still look for them when I come home from the office but the window where they would both stand on the couch and watch for me to come home…is now empty. We miss them terribly but…another puppy…(sigh)…no, not just yet.
All of us at PPG: Joanna, Mike, Dan, Chris, Peter, Eileen, Patrick, Keri, Lee-Ann, Jennifer, Shawna, Andrea, Melissa, Stephanie, Jonathan, Tina, Logan, Harrison, Martha and I, our families and, of course, the spirits of Bromley, Annabelle and Reddington wish you and your loved ones the happiest of holidays and the very best of everything for the new year ahead. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your family and for being a part of ours. We truly appreciate and honor the trust that you have placed in us.
And, of course, the annual, obvious question, “Mal, are you getting ready to retire? And, of course, the annual, obvious answer. “No, …not yet.”
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah,
Additional information, including management fees and expenses, is provided on Professional Planning Group’s Form ADV Part 2, available upon request or at the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure site https://www.adviserinfo.sec.gov/Firm/108868.