7:40 in My Bedroom

img_2745It’s 7:40 in my bedroom. It has been 7:40 in my bedroom for some months now, and a comforting sort of hour that is, whether morning or evening.

The reason it is 7:40 in my bedroom is that for some months I have awakened to the sight of a sweet clock, small and round and newly-broken, but dear to me still, a thing of brass and glass, and fashioned to look like an stop-watch.

This time-stopped clock sits on a bureau which is time-stopped too in its way, as I realize while slowly looking around for a timepiece that’s actually accurate. The bureau once belonged to a very old lady I lived with in my baby days, my Great-Aunt Margaret, who would sit for hours at the whim of us kids, pretending to be a queen, or an ogre, or a conductor on the “train” we made by lining up the empty chairs in the dining room.

Quite near this old bureau sits another, this once belonging to an even more ancient lady, my Great Aunt Mame, who lived with us too. I treasure it because it just feels like the 1860s, the decade when it and Great Aunt Mame came into being. In its slender spare quality, it feels too like that lady, the famous-to-us creator of endless pies and jellies, of moist cookies and plump and steaming biscuits.

As a sort of bachelor brother to these, a third chest of drawers stands over by the window, tall and narrow-shouldered, with a marble top and ebony-colored drawer-pulls as long as the ears of a cocker spaniel. It is the one thing my groom and I ever bought at an estate auction, for the princely sum of $187.50.

Here too stands the knee-high table that my grandfather had built for his “little dearies” as he called them, the four children under six whose blue-eyed mother died in pregnancy at the age of 31. Here as well are the silver hair brushes of that young woman, who left life all too early and took her fifth child with her.

Here in this room, where it is 7:40 always, stands the old bed we found left behind in the attic of our first house, a two-family in the city. At the time, its headboard was black with coats of varnish. I refinished it and we sleep in it still. Three babies got their start in this bed and kept coming back to it, on unquiet nights, with  their blankies and their little afflictions.

My mother died some years ago now. A swan-shaped planter from her last bedroom sits on my night-stand, together with a photo of her at 22, squinting shyly into the sun.

In this room Time is stopped. But outside it, Time, and messy life, have hurried onward, I remember the December that the furnace fainted and cooled, and one of the cats dragged a still-warm squiggle of mouse-life into the kitchen. Around that same time someone spilled soup on the living room sofa. A revolving band of environmentalists kept coming to the door to ask for money. A revolving band of Boy Scouts kept trying to sell us evergreens.

And every day real winter loomed. And every day the Holidays threatened.

When you’re young, you think “Hurry, Time!” You want to be 10 or you want to be 20. You can’t wait for the birthday or the big game to come; you can’t wait for prom night, or for summer vacation.

Then things change and you grow older. Time moves plenty fast enough without your urging, you find. And suddenly a room where it’s always 7:40 is a lovely place in which to wake up, and nicer still when  Mister Sun hoists his own old self high up enough to bring true daylight.

this is our room

 

Easy Street

a turkey knows when it's done

I was pretty spoiled as a kid. Raised by a mother-and-aunt combo, I never had to do a lick of kitchen duty. Instead of enlisting my help, this  were forever shooing me away so I could rest up for the night’s homework.

Man, was that a sweet deal.

The amazing thing is, they  didn’t even seem to mind all the holiday cooking they had to. Rather they seemed to actually enjoy the job, perhaps  because of the amazing tales it yielded up over the years – like the one about the Thanksgiving Eve deep in the Depression years, when their lawyer-father came home with a peculiar kind of payment for handling somebody’s case:

A turkey, slackly wet and freshly slaughtered. “Here you go, girls!” he cried happily, slinging it down on the kitchen table and walking away fast to take up his pipe-smoking ritual in the deep peace of the cozy front parlor.

As the story goes, the bird had been butchered, sure, but not completely plucked, alas and alack. Decades had passed by the time my sister and I first heard the tale of this night and our grownups’ frantic city-slicker efforts at getting those feathers off . There was the tweezing attempt, the singeing-over-an-open-flame attempt  and more. We never forgot the gory facts, and them every November from then on begged for more details about out how they finally got the job done. (“Six words,” my mother finally said in a show of merry candor: “A good big bottle of Scotch.”)

So for years Thanksgiving meant pure ease for me, right on through the first chapters of married life when my young groom and I would nervily show up at each of our childhood homes in turn, to gorge ourselves and stretch out like fat lounging hippos in the living rooms afterward. We didn’t cook a thing.

THAT sweet deal came to an end about five years in to our marriage, when seeing us off, my tiny mother-in-law sidled in close and gave it to me straight: “Next year? Your turn.”

From then on, I TRIED with the turkey every year, I really did, but so much went wrong: There was the one I roasted with the giblet-mess still inside, smelly and dark in its butcher-paper wrapping; the one I cooked upside down for added moistness which, when I went to remove it five hours later, disintegrated like papier-mâché and came to the table looking like a fourth-grader’s failed art project; and let’s not forget the one rendered SO moist at cooking’s end that it shot straight out of the oven and slid into home plate on the kitchen  floor.

Those were some hair-raising meals all right. Luckily there were only about 30 years of them.

Now, with this reputation going before me – AND a daughter who wedged culinary school training in between college and grad school – I am back on Easy Street, with Thanksgiving at her house and the lightest of assignments for me: The salad, and come on, who eats salad on this High Feast Fats and Flour?

Finally, a picture of me back on Thanksgiving back in the early golden years at my mom-in-law’s house, she bustling busily around the kitchen amid her pretty-spoiled sons and me, her brand-new not-quite-getting-it daughter-in law, perched on a stool and sampling some grapefruit.

Thanksgiving Day with the fam

 

 

White House Decor Then & Now

This is a picture of the Yellow Oval Room in the White House during the all-too-brief Kennedy years. Tradition dictates that the walls stay yellow in this room, and that there be some of those white-legged French Provincial chairs and tables. Here’s how Jackie tricked the place out.

yellow-oval-room-kennedy-yrs

I know she had a great eye and all but I’m really not wild about this look. To my eye the yellow in the wall covering is too coercively cheerful somehow.  To me it looks like a house in Palm Beach circa 1960, maybe that very Kennedy house where Teddy, old enough to know better, wandered around half-dressed, before waking up his two nephews to get them to accompany him back to the bars when they were both in their beds and half asleep. And really couldn’t you almost curse just anticipating how you’d catch your foot on those spindly glass-topped occasional tables?

So that was the Yellow Oval Room as the 34th president and Jackie arranged it.

Now here’s that same room the way the 44th president and Michelle have set it up:

Obama White House As Home

Of course we see it from a different angle with the three windows in view and that makes it more appealing right there. But I so much prefer this buttery yellow, and the particular green of the window treatments and the sofas – and of course the deep sherry colors in the carpeting and velvet chairs. It all makes me want to take a bite, just like when I see a freshly scooped bowl of Mocha Almond ice cream – yum!

I’ll admit I had to smile at one thing though: the sight, flanking that center window, of the two candelabra, each teetering atop a slender pedestal. Weren’t Sasha and Malia just little girls when they moved in here in 2008? When my youngest was barely two, he took his little white baby shoes on walkabout, ending up in our living room where an immense Boston fern perched, regal as the Queen Mother, on a mahogany fern stand. The minute he went in there, we heard a whooshing sound followed by a muffled crash. The whole rest of the family tore into the room – where our baby boy, in his uncertain Diaper-bottomed stance, turned toward us eyebrows in the air and lisped out one of the few phrases he had learned. “Just kidding?” he lisped hopefully. That flouncy old dowager of a fern was never the same.

Now let’s go back in time and see what patrician Jackie told the TV audience when she gave that famous White House tour in 1962.  And if you don’t have time for that, check out Vaughn Meader impersonating JFK at a press conference during which his pretend wife Jackie also raises a questions. You might as well laugh as cry in life, and I hope Vaughn Meader felt that way too, even if his career doing send-ups of the Kennedy family came to a crashing halt on that fateful November day in ’63.

 

 

Let’s Get Scary

scary-guy-with-abe

Sometimes, come Halloween, I ask myself: Who would I dress up as if right now today they announced an actual Halloween for grownups?

Back in the old days, little girls went out dressed as princesses or kitty-cats on Halloween; as witches or ghosts, if they could stretch far enough toward the dark side.

Little boys seemed to resist the whole dress-up thing somehow, maybe because they got stuffed into jackets and ties a lot more back then. Maybe it felt to them like yet another conspiracy on the part of the females in their lives to deck them out like fools – then go taking their pictures even. So I guess they went out dressed as hobos, most of them, borrowing outsized cast-offs from a handy male grownup, smearing their faces with charcoal.

My sister Nan and I went out as hobos ourselves, come to think of it. Nan set the whole tone for my whole childhood, with her nose for the slightly ‘transgressive’ as the saying goes. For one particularly instructive period during a certain autumn, a dead cat came to our attention in an alley we then began visiting the way pilgrims visit a shrine. “A corpse!” we exulted on first discovering it, giddy with that blended jolt of joy and revulsion. We’d have gone out that Halloween CARRYING the dead cat if we’d dared to. If we hadn’t by then taken the common childhood pledge to shelter our grownups, innocents that they were, from life’s spicier side.

Today of course males of every age are far more “plumed” than they once were, and less fixed on the need to seem macho too. It’s my sense that these days little boys’ costumes are as elaborate as little girls.  This year they will once again going out dressed to the nines, in masks portraying horror-movie villains: Jason. Chucky and the rest. Every now and then you sometimes even see old Tricky-Dick Nixon, who still enjoys a strange afterlife in the Rogue’s Gallery of your standard costume shop.

And the point will be what it’s always been: To startle. To counter expectation.

We had a good friend back in the 80’s. Didn’t smoke. Didn’t drink. Took old bikes from the dump, fixed them up good as new and gave them to kids who didn’t have bikes. On the Halloween immediately following one lunatic’s murder of several people by slipping poison into random Tylenol bottles, our friend took his kids around for Trick or Treat, himself dressed as a giant Tylenol capsule – and was actually surprised when another dad offered to punch his lights out. THAT escapade countered all our expectations.

By partying indoors on Halloween, you can cut down on offers of violence (depending on who you friends are of course) and have fun too – by seeing the dedicated beer guzzler come dressed as a Mormon elder, say, or the biggest Don Juan in the group come decked out as the Pope.

I don’t go in for much in the way of girlie stuff as a kid; never even wore makeup til I got to be 50. But one year at an adult Halloween party I dressed as Early Cher, in heavy mascara and spangly bathing suit top and hip huggers, and of course a giant wig exploding in cascades of inky curls.

I looked ridiculous. It was awesome. And my mate, Sonny to my Cher, looked even better, in the 70’s-era peasant shirt our kids found for him, and some baggy bohemian pants and a Prince Valiant wig.

Of course with his wire-rimmed glasses, he looked more like early John Denver, or actually with the wig more like Moe of the Three Stooges than either of those two, but still – he SEEMED like Sonny Bono.

That’s the fun of Halloween: getting to seem like someone else for the night.

So whatever you might be up to tonight, just be careful, like my old cat Abe here. ‘Cause you just never do know who you’re going to meet.

Acting Your Age

baby-dressed-in-granny-wig“Act your age” grownups were always saying to us when we were kids. I recall vividly one time I heard it. It was the time my big sister Nan flipped me onto my back, straddled me, pinned my arms out to either side and began ever so slowly lowering a long string of spit down from her mouth toward my screaming face.

That’s when our mom suddenly loomed in the doorway and boy, did Nan get it then. “Here you are almost 20 and acting like this!” she shouted by way of winding up her tirade.

In fact Nan was all of 12 at the time. And she was acting her age. Sort of. Certainly the 12-year-old boys we knew were doing this kind of thing to each other all the time

Whether or not Nan ever did heed the command to act her age, I know I could never quite seem to. I say this because when I was 14 I acted like I was 40, probably as direct result of the sad thing happened in our family that year. All I really know is that within a month of this terrible detonation I had changed completely from a carefree self-involved 9th grader to someone who had committing herself to a habit of over-functioning that lasted for more than 50 years.

Give you an example: Every Thursday night in my early 30s I would leave the house to tutor some young people in English. I would get them started on their essays, tear over to choir practice at the church just across the street, then tear 90 minutes later to work with the young people for another 90 minutes. I thought I could add in anything, help anyone, transport some ride-needing youth clear across the state and still be back in time to make the supper. Of course I could! I’d just need to get up a little earlier in the morning.

I might have gone on like this indefinitely if the year 2016 had not offered me some surprises.

First, I broke a bone in my back by running around the edge of the swimming pool to get to a shivering grandchild. Then, six months later, I tore my biceps tendon by lunging for the ladder of a dock while attempting to leap jauntily from a moving swim raft. And just last week I twisted my fists into my eyes, causing one of my contact lens to fold in two and shoot up into my head, where it remained for four excruciating days and causing a painful infection that had me just about blinded for almost week.
But what did I expect, knuckling my eyes so childishly? And trying to stretch like Gumby between a moving swim raft and a stationary ladder? What did I think would happen when I ran around an indoor pool past no fewer than four big signs that read “NO RUNNING“?

It’s a mystery to me. At 14 and all through my teen years I behaved as if I were 40. Now in my 60s I’ve been behaving as if I were ten. Will I ever come to understand how old I really am and start acting accordingly? Check in on me when I’m 90. If you find me in long sable curls and my bell-bottoms from the 70s, take me aside and counsel a wiser course.

PS. Of course I did also fall into the lake when I practically yanked my arm out of its socket reaching for that ladder – and that reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from On Golden Pond. Enjoy!

 

 

 

I’ve Stopped

planning the prom at Somerville High School

A couple of weeks ago I stopped writing the column I have been producing every week since the fall of 1980.

This is what I looked like when I started. I’m the one in the puffed sleeves, I should say, the one with the post growing out of her head.

in  those 35+  years, I never once missed a deadline.

I leaned in, you might say.

I wrote it recovering from an early miscarriage and the fierce spinal headache that put me back in the hospital two days after the D & C.

Two years later, I wrote it as labor began and finished it in the hospital the morning after the birth of our third child.

That time, my husband took the copy home, typed in the final two paragraphs I had composed there in the hospital, photocopied it and put it in the mail to all my subscribing papers. (Transmitting a thing electronically to a newspaper was almost unheard of infancy then – heck,  faxing seemed to us all like a literal miracle – and for years there, filing the column meant quite mailing two fat handfuls of envelopes.)

But this past summer, for the first time ever, I did take a little time off, only because the media group who was my biggest customer needed to cut its freelance budget,  and knew for first time what it felt like to be on  vacation. I enjoyed the break, though I felt kind of floaty as week after week passed and I stayed silent.

But slowly, slowly over that time, I began to realize that for quite a while now, Change has been knocking at my own personal door. And so, a couple of weeks ago, I notified all my various editors to say that I was quitting.

The Winchester Star’s Melissa Russell who is among the most talented editors I have ever worked with, did this piece about my stepdown.

In the next little while I’ll come back to the topic of what it has felt like to stop doing a thing I have long been doing, and maybe I can ask you others what that experience has felt like to you.

No longer the girl in the puffed sleeves with the wannabe Farrah Fawcett hair  I am content to be  just Terry,  just another blogger, peeping away in that vast blogger meadow.

 

 

You’re Doing That Wrong

you're doing that wrong.jpgIn  my post of a few days ago, I did all this bragging about how competent women are; about how we women GET THE JOB DONE.

This  Harry Bliss cartoon shows the flip side of that in that it illustrates our need to control and/or comment upon just about every aspect of life around the house.

Maybe that’s a human thing more than s a gender thing though, because in truth we all have our domains.

My husband’s domain is Pantry Management. Every three or four months he takes every single item off the pantry shelves and lines them all up on the kitchen counter according to category. That way, when I note an absence of, say, cornstarch, and go to the store and buy some, he can do what he always does: With neither fanfare or remark, he walks over to those many shelves  and take out all three, or four, or five of the boxes of cornstarch that I somehow didn’t see.

Come to think of it, I guess I should count myself lucky that he never, in our many years together, has said I was doing the shopping wrong. (It’s true he never buys the food or helps me bring  it in from the car – “I have no shoes on!” – but he does put it all away God bless him, and that’s a job I hate even more than. emptying the dishwasher!