Better Than Watching the Ball Drop

The best thing I ever did on New Year’s Eve was have a baby – which incidentally is nothing LIKE what you see in picture. I remember my doctor calling his pals from the delivery room. “I’ll be there by 9:00!” he gaily told them and that sure put me in MY place. Working to get a human born, hearing all that praise and encouragement from the nursing staff gets you thinking you’ve got the Baby Jesus Himself ready to make an entrance. Then it turns out you’re just some hurdle the doc is trying to clear before he can go back to doing what he’s really interested in doing…

David and I had gone to the hospital at dawn to have this first child of ours and I was ready for anything: I had the lemon drops to suck on and the cornstarch for massaging my mountain of a belly. I had my picture of a tree to pin to the wall and help me get to my happy place…

As for Dave, he had the sports pages and the latest spy novel, the dog.

Together we saw the sun rise and sink away again; saw the team of nurses change and give way to a new team.

The doc thought Pitocin would get him to his party a lot sooner so Pitocin it was.

I did my breathing.

I used up a whole box of cornstarch for the massage, which, by the way,helps not at all.

I looked at my picture of the tree pinned to the wall.

Dave fell asleep.

They they turned up the drip on the Pitocin and all hell broke loose.

When I finally begged loud enough for the epidural, the anesthesiologist showed up and took so much time asking me how much I weighed that I grabbed hold of his shirtfront and growled at him in the voice of Satan himself.

Then… peace.

Relief from pain.

And a special new epidural ward where none of us needed to suck lemon drops or massage our bellies or pretend that the sight of a tree in a forest could help with the pain.

The child came at 7:30 with this pointy little jaw she began leading with right out of the gate. She was a lovely little soul in spite of the iron will that strong jaw foretold, quiet and considerate too.

The jaw stayed strong and the will emerged but still she was sweet, and careful, and kind.

She is all that even today.

So Happy Birthday to you Carrie M. In six more weeks you’ll have your own first daughter and we’ll have another picture then.

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Minding Our P’s and Q’s

Out with the old and in with the new, that’s what they tell us each year. So what Old Thing will YOU choose to leave behind as the days carry us toward 2012?

I know I can name a couple of customs I’d like to see go out with the trash:

I would like very much to see people especially in commercial settings stop saying “No Problem” when thanked for their services. I mean, are we so fixed on problems in this society that the word is ever on our lips? Did the donors of this giant turkey say “No problem” when President Bush said “oh hey thanks for this!”?

Certainly other cultures have more graceful ways of acknowledging thanks

The French say “pas du tout” or “not at all.”

  • Those speaking Spanish say “de nada” which means “It is nothing for me to help you in this way.”
  • And the Germans use the single word “bitte” that appears to mean, by turns, “please,” “thank you,” “your table is this way” and “I’m sorry to say we are out of bratwurst but let me bring you another half-gallon tankard of beer.”
  • All these phrases are nicer than “No Problem.”

So that’s my first gripe. My second gripe concerns the bad grammar you hear on electronic media of every kind.

I would like to see every reporter, news anchor, talk show host and meteorologist go back to school to learn a little more about proper English usage.

Oh maybe they know that a noun is the name of a person place or thing. The family dog probably understands that much. But who understands pronouns, those handy ‘his-her-and-their-type words that save us from having to say “Johnny crashed Johnny’s car when Johnny tried to text Johnny’s buddy while making a too-wide turn at the stoplight”?

Very few.

Pronouns have to agree with the nouns they’re standing in for: that’s the rule. And here is a helpful little refresher:

You know you’re dealing with the NOMINATIVE CASE when you’re looking at the subject of a sentence, like the word “Joe” in the sentence “Joe patted the dog.”

You know you’re dealing with the POSSESSIVE CASE when a noun comes with an apostrophe-s tacked on to it, as in the sentence “That dog is not Joe’s.”

And you’re working with the OBJECTIVE CASE when a noun receives the action of the verb as in “the Dog bit Joe.”

Again, a pronoun has to match its noun in case. Thus, if you say “Mom told Beth and I we could go to the mall” you are making a huge error as you will see if you take out the word “Beth.”

“Mom told I?” You wouldn’t say that!

You wouldn’t say, “the waiter set the plate down before my date and I” either because “before” is a preposition and prepositions take the objective case. You know the above is wrong the minute you take that date of yours away (though it is admittedly stressful to have your dates taken away in restaurants, especially if you’re hoping they’ll foot the bill.)

And now here we are back where we started, in restaurants with patrons offering thanks to the wait-staff for serving them and the wait-staff in one way or another saying they were happy to do it.

I guess that’s the most important thing: that we acknowledge one another’s efforts in keeping that social fabric nicely knit together.


As for thanking ME for this grouchy little harangue, I know you might not feel like doing that. But if you do I’ll probably just say “You’re welcome” because, in case it isn’t hugely obvious, for some of us OLDER folks the breezy approximations of modern speech just plain make us crazy!

Dear Diary

My job for these last days of 2011: write 21 days’ worth of diary entries. I have to write all these now because I stopped writing altogether on December 12th when a sudden piece of illness popped up in the family and, looking back, I think I just didn’t want to make it any ‘realer’ by writing about it.

The details were just that scary, even for an old Premature Burial fan like me. For those of you too young to remember, Premature Burial was a horror movie about these poor people who everyone THOUGHT were dead  – until exhumation revealed that (a) they were alive alive-o the whole time and (b) they had scratched the daylights out of the inside of their coffin lids.)

Then I didn’t want to write the next day since the details were even scarier,  or the day after that either.

Finally I figured I’d wait until all was resolved and I could set down this scary event alongside other, sunnier events, like the day’s harvest of eavesdropping or the funny insults Old Dave and I had traded during the last car ride.

Anyway, the illness did resolve thank the lord but then it was Christmas and you know how that whole thing is.

You’d think for a daily blogger a 21-day journaling marathon would be easy – and it should be. 

But then I remember what I have learned from reading my mother’s diaries, begun in 1916, and my grandfather’s, begun in 1888. (I know huh? Hard to believe a babe like me can have close kin born so very long ago. In my mind my mom was like 60 when I was born. (In reality she was 41.)

She was irreverent, and funny, and yelled “Gad!” in exasperation six times a day. Pretty colorful in other words. Yet most of her 40 or more diaries aren’t good reading at all.  An entry reading “Went to Mass” just doesn’t cut it, any more than my grandfather’s characteristic entry, “Went to town. Retired at 9:00”  does.

Their most interesting entries? The ones where they’re describing unattractive behaviors in family members. But really even these aren’t so good because in both cases they’re mad as they’re writing them. Or aggrieved. Or fizzing with self-pity. And in all those cases they’re the ones exhibiting unattractive behaviors and I sure don’t want to do that.

I’ll have to get back to you once I get rolling on this. In the meantime maybe you have some ideas. 21 days’ worth of overheard dialogue? The latest knock-knock jokes. Lists of current TV shows? I am OPEN to suggestion here!

My Diary This Year (not really, ha ha)

Look at it This Way

So here’s how I really feel….

…Most of the time.

I got used to this position during my Catholic girlhood when, every Sunday like clockwork, I fainted in church.

“Put her head between her knees!” the grownups  were always shouting. (Adults were cruel in those days.)

“Turn her upside down!”

I knew better than anyone in the congregation how much gum there really IS stuck under those pews.

Now of course we all feel this way.

Especially in the month of December at whose rag-tag end we now find ourselves.

This squirrel was in our hawthorn tree all day, even doing the Houdini move to get at the last of the berries.

Can’t blame him.

After the first he too will probably be joining Weight Watchers.

Don’t scoff, yo. It works if you work it. 🙂

The Squirrels Know

feel for this guy, who I found trying to raid the hawthorn tree for berries before the poor birds could get to any.

They’re running out of food out there!

It’s been mighty mild for these parts but still: The critters know what’s coming.

I hung around in my bedroom for almost an hour to get this shot. (I have 20 lousy shots.)

There were four squirrels in the tree at the time but this guy seemed the perkiest. And then he turned and gave me his handsome profile.

And I was just close enough, my breath fogging the cold windowpane  – though if you click on the picture to enlarge it you’ll see the mesh of screening.

Just look at him, shoveling it in with those slim little fingers.  

I suppose he’s offering a lesson to us all, but with the holiday aftershocks still bouncing against me, I’m still too fried to figure out what it is. 

The Last Christmas?

I call this picture “Annie Carries Us All” because she does. Not only is she everyone’s favorite auntie – you can see the shadowed profile of the little nephew she is holding here – but she also cooks. This daughter of ours appeared like the Announcing Angel at 6:00 Christmas Eve and together with this girl in the middle whipped up an amazing supper that proved to be so raucously fun the curtain didn’t close in it until almost midnight, when she’d finally finished working on the dough for the morning’s croissants. She returned to her apartment then but was back here at 6am to roll it out or put it in pincurls or whatever it is that you do with croissant dough.

I didn’t see any of it. I didn’t get up until almost 9. (Our grandchildren wake up in their own house now. They used to wake up here, before it became time to make their own rituals.) All I can do is report that six hours later she had magically cooked a beef tenderloin, a couscous dish, some sort of witchy combination of bread and cheese and heavy cream, an asparagus dish, some zesty pinwheels of acorn squash and a foot-and-half long pelt of salmon served on a bed of lentils and fresh cranberries. A few other people made several other things and by 3 o’clock there were 20 people here feasting. I wish I had a picture of the whole crowd as I looked down the length of the living room at them. I managed to get only one or two, like this weird one in which the Tom Brady fan is about to be hung upside down by Annie’s guy John.

Back in November, he and Annie signed the Purchase and Sale agreement on a house they will take possession of next month. When the sellers accepted their offer, one of the things she said to her parents was, “You’ll never have to do another holiday!” We haven’t seen the place yet but we hear it has a great kitchen, with a work area all girded about with and countertops in the modern way.

This morning when I asked Annie’s papa if he remembered what had Annie then, he smiled a familiar smile. Familiar because it’s the smile you see on the faces of all people whose memories go back to the time when Christmas tree balls were called ‘baubles’ and everyone still owned one or two Santas that looked like the guy in the old Thomas Nast cartoon.

I think it’s the semi-sad smile of remembering and then letting go.

Maybe we never will do another holiday. But I look back now over the six years since Annie went to culinary school and realize we haven’t really done a holiday in all that time. Oh, we iron the tablecloth and set out the china. We do the dishes afterward, polishing those old glasses with three ancient linen towels until they shine like ornaments themselves. And afterward we police the house, picking up wrapping paper and torn bits of packaging.

We were so young when we came here that two of our three children had not arrived. They all did arrive in their time and now two of the three have houses of their own and now it’s time to get ready for a little change I guess – if it’s ever NOT time to do that. I’ll take tomorrow off I think, maybe just put up a picture or two if I can find some. Enjoy this nice quiet day everyone, looking back. Looking ahead….

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When the Big Day Comes

You wait and you wait for that elf to arrive.

Looking out this window and that but



finally he does come

and brings those toys and clothes

some of which are so scary that the children won’t put them on.

So the grownups have to wear them instead..

which is initially terrifying,

but then not so much

In general people seemed to like their presents around here,  especially the one who got a giant abominable snowman jackets.

In general it was like this today around the tree (though the video is from two years ago.)  I just like that little one’s quiet way as he looks around in his webbed Spider Man PJs, taking it all in.

Hope you take it all in too, and are warm and happy and safe as the sun does its quick winter  fade and we rush around fast to light the candles.

The Holiday Card is DONE!

It’s been a thin year for receiving cards I can’t help but observe. Maybe people are too sad or broke to send them out.

I get that. Two weeks ago I thought about not sending a card either. For one thing they’re a lot of work if you’re crazy enough to want to make your own like I’ve been doing since the early 90s.

It’s assembling the exact right photos that I find hard. Then if you have kids over nine never mind over19 they want to exercise their right to censor what you say. There’s all this back and forth where I’m going to them with hat in hand saying “Is this ok? Can I say this?” Or in the case of the pictures themselves asking, “This one is good of you, right?” and the answer is usually No.

It’s a marathon, doing the holiday card.

I got lucky this year though, when a young person in my life showed me this feature on MS Publisher that lets you just choose your however-many favorite photos and make a collage of them.

I did that and here it is. On the front of the Marotta Family card these pictures of the people who made my year:

Then of course there’s a message on the inside that mentions who people are, who lived us with us for a while and who is about to deliver our third grandchild.

It mentions the fact that my children’s dad, Old Dave himself, maintains he can’t tell the difference between his two daughters from the back and so on.

It’s kind of a silly card but that’s OK. There’s no bragging in it anyway and this year I gave up trying to say anything funny about myself.

The card just gives a short cheery shout-out, which is all anybody expects from a holiday card.

And now that it’s done I’m glad I made it and sent it to all those people who never send to me.

It’s a lot like writing a blog come to think of it and there’s a good reminder for us all: to just send our little message of good will out there without worrying about who sends the same back to us..

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A Less Than Joyful Noise? Complicated Feelings at Christmas

The boy is standing halfway up my front hall stairs. He is a little boy and his speech is still imperfect.  The “s’s” at the beginning of his words come out sounding like “t’s” but I can understand him – most of the time. Right now he has paused on the way up my hall stairs to ask me something.

“What are you going to get me for Christmas, TT?” (He calls me TT.)

“Oh!  Well I’ve already gotten it!”

“What is it?’ he asks, twisting his hands together in front of him.

“Ah now I can’t tell you that, can I?”

“You CAN tell me!” he cries with a sudden anguish. “TT, you can!”

Stalling for time, I then do what grownups so often do: I fib.

“Um, let’s see if I can remember. Oh I know! I got you every single thing on Santa’s sleigh!”

“No, you didn’t!” he nearly sobs, even as I am asking myself what on earth I think I’m doing, teasing a four-year-old.

“I’m only fooling,” I quickly say. “What kind of thing would THAT be, putting Santa out of a job?”

“So, what DID you get me?”

“A jar of pickles.” (Gad, I’ve done it again!)

“Not really!” he cries, his expression turning desperate.

“No, not really. I’m sorry honey. Do you really want to know what I got you?”

He sits down on the fourth step like a man exhausted by life.

“Shall I tell you in your ear so it’s a secret?”

He nods.

“It’s a bank that counts your money as you put it in,” I whisper.

At this he turns from me, closes his eyes and leans his little forehead against the wall, a bit of body language that comes through loud and clear.

“You don’t want a bank that counts your money as you put it in?”

He shakes his head no as the tears begin to brim.

“Then I’ll give it to your brother, why don’t I? He loves banks, come to think of it! And you love stuffed animals, isn’t that right? Should I be thinking about a stuffed animal for you?”

He nods his head. Of course! How many times have I seen him arranging the occupants of that toy doll carriage!

“And what would be the best stuffed animal, do you think?”

He tries for a brave smile but he can’t seem to speak.

“Do you have a favorite animal?”

He nods.

“What kind then?”

“A raccoon,” he says in a very small voice.

“A raccoon is it?” I repeat after him.

“Yes!” he now full-out sobs.

He falls into my outstretched arms and there we stand, two people balancing on sharp point between laughter and tears, two people caught on that sharp point (a) because these long weeks of ad-fed hankering stand in opposition to every stated spiritual impulse of the season, and (b) because, thank God, they are


Almost …


On This, Another Short Day

“The bustle in a house the morning after death is solemnest of industries enacted upon earth…”

That’s Emily Dickinson, just after the death of her mother. You feel the truth of her words when a loved one dies. The hush does lift and the busy-ness begins.

Of course at the time when Emily Dickinson was writing, in the mid 1800s, most everyone died at home.

I was lucky because my one parent died at home too. In my home, right in this chair. That’s her cane resting where she left it. Really I just bring it out on the anniversary. Other times it stays in the umbrella stand in the front hall – unless little children are playing with it.

How comforting it has been over the years for me sit on the sofa opposite and look at this chair!  I feel as if she only just rose from it to get something and will soon be back. (And ah that’s the perspective all right, I realize writing it: the belief that have only just stepped away and we’ll soon enough see them again!) It reminds me of something else Emily wrote: “Dying is a wild night and a new road,” she said – “and we the Left Behind know not one thing about it” she might as well have added.

And that calls to mind a frequent remark by the oldest family member I ever knew, Great Aunt Mame born in the 1860s: “Not even a postcard!” she would hiss disgustedly and for comic effect, she who lived into her tenth decade, stripped of every last contemporary, sibling, and mill-girl chum from the 1880s. Not even a postcard: I love that.

And speaking of postcards, here’s one I came upon while looking for information about the school I attended as a young child.

It’s a picture of Notre Dame Academy in Roxbury, Massachusetts as it looked back in the 1880s. The message-side on the back was filled in by one “Mrs. B. Morris,”  who evidently thought she was better than the Catholics. Anyway it reflects the prejudices of that time and place: “A Catholic institution but a very pretty place,” she said of it as you can see here….
…which in turn reminds me of what young Emily Webb muses,  from her place in the Grovers Corners graveyard in  Our Town: “The living don’t understand, do they?” she says to another dead person in that  ground-breaking Thornton Wilder play. “No, dear, they don’t,” the dead lady beside her says back.
And that, folks, is the understatement to end all understatements – and reminds me of something my oldest child once said to me when she was all of 14, just after her father had said something to me that I found terribly vexing.
“Sometimes I just don’t understand Dad!” I said in a rare burst of candor.  
“You don’t have to understand him,” she said back. “You just have to love him.” 
And so it is with this life. We’re not called upon to understand it, its many partings and heartaches notwithstanding.