Just a Day

The sun came up and shone all day.

A robin sat on a bald bush and peered through the screen of our kitchen door.

Then a workman came and fiddled with that old curved window in the attic.

He really knows what he’s doing and what a great pleasure that is to see in someone.

He‘ll be back in a month when the new panes of glass have been fashioned -‘ the storm windows too.

It’s cold in this old lady of a house. I hope fixing these windows helps.

Today I also thought about that son of mine quoted here the other day as a little boy. He starts a new job next week. I thought how thin he is, like his great-grandfather Chauncey Payne and his uncle Toby. We named him not for that man but for a different great grandfather who was smallish but handsome too, ah handsome. Twice widowed, he never stopped serving as eye candy to the good women who watched him live his upright life.

I thought about Michael’s sister Annie in her new place 40 minutes west of here.

I thought about Annie and Michael’s sister Carrie and her Chris, the two new mothers of yesterday’s post.

When I think of their baby I feel that old tingling in my shirtfront, hard as that may be to believe. “Sarah laughed” remember? Then along came Isaac. Miracles abound.

When I think of this earnestly scowling new soul I think too of her two older brothers who stayed with us all weekend.

Before dawn on their last morning here, the little one came thundering across the bare floor of the upstairs hall and burrowed under the covers with us. Ten minutes later the other one appeared. It was still dark and nobody spoke. We lay quiet for 30 whole minutes.

Only David their grandfather kept his eyes closed. We three others looked out at the window and around the room. We stretched and shifted and pummeled our pillows and nestled back down in them. The younger one, still only four, raised his hands to the ceiling and waved them around in a pattern. The big one, eight, hung his feet over the edge of the bed and sighed. We maintained the silence as if by one accord.

Maybe we were thinking how our lives had changed as they surely have, and in a twinkling too: Old Dave and I now have a granddaughter who, I imagine, will understand us without our ever having to offer a word of explanation. These two little boys now have a sister who I bet will help them understand themselves, in both good times and bad.

What a miracle it is when new people come into your life. When the new people are babies because you just know you’re going to love them. But the real miracle comes when the news people are not babies at all or even relatives but just people you know you’ll be walking with for at least this next stretch of the road. You don’t KNOW you’re going to love them but you end up loving them, for their sheer flawed familiarity as fellow human beings.

I think loving is the default human stance, I really do. Love your enemies said that guy Jesus, which I take to mean Pay attention to them long enough so that Compassion flows in where Judgment once was.

This was my day yesterday and these the thoughts that came to me in it.

Women of Steel

When I had my first baby, I acted like the walking wounded. Whined. Limped around the house in my bathrobe for weeks. Had the devil’s own time getting into that heavy cotton nursing bra.

I remember drinking gallons of water to stock the dairy case, so to speak, and when I spiked a fever and got a lump in one breast I called the doctor in a cold panic thinking, Breast cancer! An episiotomy and now breast cancer!

He took my panicked call and agreed to see me.

“Uh, that’s milk,” he said on examining me.

“That’s just a blocked duct,” he went on and patted my hand. “Put the baby to the breast more often and you’ll be cured in a matter of hours.”

And so I did and so I was, but I was still a wreck for at least the next 12 weeks – right up until the time the baby pushed herself up on her elbows and started smiling like mad at her pint-sized Raggedy Ann doll.

Well this is that smiling baby above. She had a baby two days ago and talk about a contrast.

Let’s just say that I don’t expect much limping and whining.

She did most of the labor at home. When I came by the house, she was calmly reading in the tub while timing her contractions.

She and Chris got to the hospital somewhere after 9pm and the baby came shortly after midnight. When we saw her there 9 hours later she looked as fresh as a bouquet of apple blossoms in her tank-top and skirt, with nice shiny hair and lovely pink cheeks.

In short there couldn’t have been a greater contrast to my experience, I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s because she played sports in high school whereas when I was in high school there were no sports – unless you called cheering for the boys a sport.

Girls today are tougher than we were, what can I say? They can look sweet and pliant but underneath? Pure steel. You think it’s easy bringing one of these into the world? This is the new little Marotta-Campo baby, to be called Callie, short for Caroline.

I hope she goes easy on these two big brothers of hers (and they think playing games on their grandparents’ i-Phones is a challenge!)

Kids, huh?

Let’s not sell the young short. There’s a lot you can learn from them, whether they’re little OR big.

It was from the young that I learned how easy it is to push a keychain with its small silver beads far back enough in your nose that you can then reach toward the back of your throat and – Presto! – pull it out of your mouth. Sure, it takes some convulsive gulping but it can be done.

You can also press “Play” on your iPod, insert the two ‘ear buds’ of your headset into your nostrils and say “Ah” and yup, there’s another pharynx trick: the music rolls right out over your tongue.

Some of these things I have learned from my own kids, some from the ever-renewing crop of teenagers I work with in my volunteer time.

My own kids are grown now and gone from the nest, I should explain, but I have a really good memory. And between what I remember learning from them and what I remember learning from these many other young people, I have a whole headful of lessons.

For example, from the VERY young I have learned that as a specimen anyway, I am vastly interesting.

Not as an individual, mind you, but as a specimen.

And as any little child can demonstrate, you are interesting too.

Just think what they do when you hold them:  They look in your ears. They tug on your hair to see if it’s stuck down.  They put their fingers in your mouth, perhaps asking themselves if a career in the oral health field holds any appeal for them.

Because he was our last and had two older sisters and four or five honorary siblings, our youngest child, pictured here, grew up with a blizzard of talk around him.

This meant that from toddlerhood on, he gave voice to his every thought.

“I love your nice fat arms!” he said to me once, squeezing the place where my biceps would have been if I’d had any biceps.

Another time he returned to our towel at the beach, looked down at what I had vainly imagined were my attractive Coppertone-slicked legs and said, “Your thighs look like hot dogs.”

Learning to befriend my extra flesh was his gift to me.

.Reminding you of your place in the universe is another such gift.

Fret aloud about your appearance and one of them is sure to look at you with pity.

“Mum, it’s fine” he or she will say. “Nobody’s going to be looking at you!” And yet they speak the words so kindly, even lovingly – often with little pats to your arm.

Really what they are saying is that you don’t have to be ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ and only think what effort this knowledge will spare you in the end!

I am happy to know that if I ever trot out my old platform shoes, or my college bell-bottoms, or God forbid, that halter top fashioned from two scarves, they will gently distract me and hide all three items.

One day last summer when we were all together as a family, I pointed to the skin on my arms, now crisscrossed with tiny fine wrinkles.

“Look!” I said turning to one of my girls. “My arms are starting to look like Grandma’s arms!”

“I know,” she said with the most loving smile. “Isn’t it great?”

I got her meaning right away because it is great. Of course it’s great.

 Because only the lucky grow old. And the really lucky get to know a few young ones, whose high spirits can gladden any heart.

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Break a Leg Billy!

Billy Crystal’s big night is tonight. I love him; I root for him, even though he now looks a little like North Korea’s newly deceased dictator. Even though to many viewers’ minds it will be as if someone dug up Teddy Roosevelt and asked him to host the Oscars.

It’s not that way for me. And old Teddy Roosevelt could never do what Billy can do, however jovial he might have been with those great big chompers.

Just look at this tape from the early 80’s. It’s so funny with his bit about his high school full of meek Jewish kids facing off against the giants from Erasmus High.. And the part where he talks about puberty hitting. Billy sure had it ~  and my money says he still does.


Never mind the robins acting like nuns in my last post, the seagulls act like fussy little school principals – or maybe like my Latin teacher when I was in Eighth Grade.

He was a plump little man with a named that rhymed with Chardonnay. He giggled at inappropriate moments and rolled his hands one over the other, like Mr. Burns on the Simpsons.

He gave me three demerits for incessant talking and when my fearsome older-mother-of-a-mom hove into sight like the Queen Mary, he giggled some more, did a rapid nervous blink and in a doomed effort to ingratiate himself, blurted out the confession that as someone whose family came from Montreal, he got his Latin and his French mixed up all the time. (That did it for Mom. You might as well have told her you didn’t know the difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland.)

She gave him a devil of a time about the Latin but the demerits were left to stand, right there on my Permanent Record, as they used to always tell us our crimes would do.

I only bring all this up so I can speak about seagulls, who as you know often appear many miles in from the briny deep. 

The seagulls I watched a few hours ago reminded me so much of Mr. Chardonnay the way they skittered and plunked skittered and plunked. They really did look like fussy little pedagogues.

I love the way can take off at a trot, the way those drinking straw legs propel their plump bodies, bip-bip-bip-bip across the ice. Bip-bip-bip-bip they go again; then stop on a dime, all turn and face left like Civil War Generals posing for a studio portrait. Then, ten minutes later they all turn right.

There’s always that one you see on the shore standing on one leg like Ahab on the deck of The Pequo .  Ahab only had one leg, remember, the other having been chomped by the white whale Moby Dick.

I saw that seagull yesterday too, standing on one with the other tucked up against his body. He was squinting into the wind trying to look like a Civil War general himself, just hoping someone would take his picture.

 I’m a nice person. I took it:

I bet he wanted to look fierce, like when Snoopy tries to look like a vulture to scare little Linus here.

“Be afraid! Be very afraid!” he is saying – Unless I’m completely wrong and really he’s pretending he’s a flamingo and would like nothing more than to trade this tan-bland landscape in for something more gorgeously hued, preferably with palm trees and a turquoise pond, where he could stand around striking poses and looking like a lady’s drink in a cocktail lounge in Key West.  (They call that projection ha ha. That’s where I wish I was, my one long leg in fish-net hose.)  

Remember Simon and Garfunkel’s The Zoo? We humans try to anthropomorphize the animals, as the images in this clip show. It’s so sweet and sad! It says everything about Poor Lonely Us and very little about Majestic Self Sufficient Them.

Because the animals, God bless ’em, just go on being animals.

Spring is…. Coming?

So what if we do get a little snow today? I’m watching three robins prowl silent as the nuns of my childhood, eavesdropping on the poor worms passing between classes in their underground corridors.

I’m looking at two crocuses holding up their cupped blossom like so many pale-purple shot-glasses. “Fill us!” they say, like young Oliver Twist at the workhouse. “Please, sir, may I have some more?” they are saying to that warming sun.

We laugh at the snow and wind. Look at these blooms from the Smith College hothouse. Soon these blooms will be everywhere

Well, wait a minute.

Sure I can laugh, safe in the land of the Alcotts and Thoreau, in quaint old not-much-doin’ New England where things are generally quiet.

I guess I wouldn’t laugh if I lived out by Boulder County Colorado when these winds came through on Wednesday.

Here is a video of what a wind can do. I’d show you the truck blown over out there but the footage is embedded in the Channel 9 News site and first you have to watch a long ad in which a heavy lady talks about how her life changed when she skinnied out on some miracle diet product.

It’s upsetting to see a truck go over on its side, as bad as seeing a race horse founder and fall, because you know there’s a person in it. It does show what Nature can do though; and it isn’t funny at all.

That Channel 9 News site also showed a schoolboy with his backpack being blown right over and skidding upended like a turtle along the roadway. That wasnt funny either.

It’s never funny when Nature does this. Remember the floods of ’94?

This was the Chagrin River in Ohio that year,

We forget.

We shouldn’t.

Junk Food Not So Junky?

If you ever have teenage boys staying with you, one thing you learn is that the REAL food groups are Fruity Bits, Gushers and Root Beer. A chocolate birthday cake can also come in for a mention, along with Cocoa Krispies and Sprite, Root Beer in a bottle and Apple Snapple, which is fun to say even if you are dubious about how much actual juice is in it.

When I inherited these two male teens on Sunday night I brought them directly to the grocery store where all these items got quickly gathered up and plunked into my carriage. (Well actually we had to hit Micky D’s before we could even GET to the store, that’s how hungry they were – we basically ordered everything on the menu. And, I should maybe say, this is the same grocery store parking lot where a certain spine-tingling thing happened that I told about here the other day.)

Anyway, this handsome lad above, Enderson by name, is the younger of our two house guests. He offered to make beans and rice the way his mom fixes them, so we bought all those ingredients too and, once home, lined them up on the counter – which is where they have remained unmolested ever since.

They chose their rooms right away. With the State Wrestling competition the next day and both of them competing, they wanted to settle right in, so upstairs we traipsed in search of beds.

We have one newly fixed up guest room we jokingly call “the Bed and Breakfast room.” Rayvoughn claimed it. OH yeah! I see myself in here!” he said, as soon as we walked in. “Got the little desk for studying, then flip my laptop around at night catch a little Netflix action from the bed…”

Then we just had to find a place for Enderson. The big attic room wasn’t available; Dave and I took it out of the running just last weekend as part of our attempt to clean out the crawl spaces.


The room below wasn’t available either, being in off-and-on use by our son Mike who, since moving back from Brooklyn where he had a real studio, is working to complete his final ‘commission’ in it before switching careers from Maker of Art to Whatever Comes Next.

the work station: easel and chair

I tried pitching Enderson the really small room under the eaves with the crib and changing table right by the narrow bed but no. “I don’t want to be up here all by myself!” he said. “Even if it means you get your own bathroom?”“I don’t need my own bathroom.”

So back down we went to the second floor where we had one last option: the room generally in use as an office with the big roomy armchair that turns into a bed. Sort of. He liked that so we made it up with sheets and hunted down a couple of pillows.

Then all they had to do was inspect their singlets for the next day’s wear. Both were torn all along the upper hems at chest level; that’s how rough the sport is. Could I maybe sew them, they asked? Did I have a machine by any chance?

So sew them I did and an hour later with that last job done to bed we all went, curled up in each in own room, all cozy, within ten feet of one another on the second floor.

David and I got up the next day and did our same-old jobs as grownups in the world. The two boys got up, got themselves to the high school parking lot, boarded the bus to States and at the end of two long days of panting, grappling and pinning, brought home a Gold Medal apiece.

All of which is to say how amazing it is to me what the young can do, and the excellently coached, excellently trained young especially.

Still it does make you wonder if there really aren’t benefits to a diet of sugared cereal, Sprite add Smart Food after all.

Continue reading “Junk Food Not So Junky?”

Dear God It’s Me, Terry

I just wanted to say thanks, wherever you are, for letting me get older and spend so many nice afternoons sitting on this sunny window seat putting off work.

Thanks for my nice husband David who still think it’s funny to hold my nostrils shut while I’m sleeping.

Thanks for my  family,  the kids Carrie, then Annie, then Michael, then Dodson and Chris ‘Chol-Monopoly’ and Rob and Horace, and Susie-and-Kevin – and Gary of course and – the list goes on.

Thanks for the people my kids love and whom I have come to love, Christine of course and Veronica, John Magee and Ben-and-Suzanne,  then Sarah and Michael’s good pals like Brynn who feels like one of ours.

Thanks for the grandbabies who are babies no longer but boys who between bouts on the play structure at McDonald’s can sit and talk with you ’til you’re all ready to fall down dead.

Thanks for all four pairs of black yoga pants that Old Dave hates but that get me to the gym five days a week.

Thanks for movement, and energy.

Thanks for the people in the two great organizations I volunteer time with, my town’s Multicultural Network and A Better Chance – and also for my membership in the Old Cambridge Shakespeare Association (OCSA) where I once had to sing “Where The Bee Sucks There Suck I” because I was assigned the part of Ariel and that’s the expectation: that you sing what is obviously written as song.

Thank for expectation, which stretches us.

Thanks for this new person who will become a baby as soon as she gets done being a fetus – or a foetus as those crazy Brits say.

Thank you for my cousin Sheil and Kath who never forget me.

Thanks for my first friend, that sun and stars of my childhood days, my big sister Nan who yesterday sent a bristle of fruit from the Edible Arrangements bunch and then called me at 8am with a funny story of falling down underpants. (some karma there! she used to pull my underpants down, just for grins, when we were really little. Now the gods are loosening the elastics on hers!)

Thanks for keeping my parents safe up there in heaven, and for helping me forgive my dad who doubtless did the best he could with the tools he had to work with.

Thanks for my mom-in-law Ruth who gave me such good advice all those years, up there in Heaven now too, reunited with her young husband Ralph who died so young, younger than Actor Peter Krause is, younger than Chris Rock even.

Thanks for Uncle Ed who did not die young but is alive and joshing at 91 and comes out with me twice a week to eat food and inspect this one pond.

Thanks for that pond, and for the moon, and the wind, and food on my table.

Thanks that I can write every day and take pictures of the world with my words.

Thanks for all the pictures. Thanks for the camera that is our two eyes.

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Wait, I’m DRIVING?!

These things happen, what are you gonna do?  One minute you’re minding your own business puttering around the house and the next you’ve shot yourself square in the face with a household cleaning product and you’re staggering around bellowing like Oedipus when he finds out he married his mother.

That was two weeks ago. A more recent goof-up took place last Friday. It was less serious but a lot more humid:  I went through the car wash with the driver’s side window down, even after smirking at the kid when he said, “Put ‘er in neutral and close those windows!”

“I haven’t done this before?” the smirk said. “What do I look like, a chimp behind the wheel?”

Then whoosh, everything inside the car was wet: My pants. My jacket. My lovely hair so carefully flattened not two hours before with chemicals and jolts of electricity. And that’s not counting the car’s interior, which looked like our Aunt Gertrude did that time the lion sauntered up to the edge of the cage and aimed a torrent of pee stronger than a firehose at her there in her new Sunday coat.

But then yesterday! My God, yesterday was worse than any of these.

It was actually last night. Darkness had fallen, I had my two young houseguests in the car, fresh from their wrestling match. We had just been through the drive-through and now, here in the parking lot outside the local supermarket, they were chomping on their two sackfuls of animal fat while I was busily devising a food list rife with fresh fruits and vegetables, black beans and yogurt which I hoped to introduce into their unsuspecting systems over the next several days .

I was pulled up in one of the middle rows of the vast parking lot and we were talking. That’s what teen males like. I have found. They like to be in the car with some music tuned in low while they talk – just talk, joshing a little and speculating, narrating the world as it passes before them  I don’t know anything more fun than hearing them do it.

We had a good 30 feet in front of us and really the parking lot was pretty empty, and  good thing too.

Because they next thing I heard was when one of them said  “Wait you’re driving?”

“OH GOD AM I DRIVING?!” I yelped and sure enough: I only thought I had put the car in ‘park’ whereas really it was still in ‘drive’ and I just had my foot on the brake……

Until I suddenly didn’t have my foot on the brake and we were just sort of coasting across the parking lot like a little toy ship under sail.

It’s my birthday today and it’s true I’m gittin’ up there but before you say you think I’m losing it let me just say in my own dubious defense: I’ve always been like this; just ask my family.

When Your Friend’s Parent Dies

My heart leaped when I heard her voice on my answering machine. It was Judy, who we teased so in college for her youth: she was just 16 for most of our freshman year. Judy my roommate and bridesmaid from the days when young women had hair down to their elbows and dressed in gowns as flowing in gossamer as you’d see on a host of angels.

But glad as I was to hear her voice, I was that sad to learn why she called: Her mother was hospitalized near here and she had dropped everything back in Manhattan to come sit by her for her final weeks.

I don’t know how many times I saw Judy during this period.

Once was for perhaps the saddest New Year’s Eve dinner she will ever spend, with her mother going and her dad having gone just last June.  Once it was to meet at my dry cleaners, where she left off the clothes in which her mother would be buried.  Once I brought her straight from the hospital to the movies, where the two of us sat in the theater’s garage, downing the chicken cassoulet I had thrown together so she could eat before the show.

Naturally, I saw her at the funeral, where she rose and spoke so movingly  of her mom’s life, beginning in 1920s Brooklyn and going on through the marriage and parenthood, right up to her final years when, even with growing dementia, she could still beat the pants off her husband in Scrabble. This is the lady above.

And this is Judy on the piano bench at 12.

She spoke of her childhood and family life in Brooklyn, then Cincinnati, then Dayton. She told what her mother had loved: Her children. Music on the stereo.  Things of beauty, like the high-end jewelry she sold for years in her career.

I took in every word.

And afterward, as I stood studying the gorgeous photo of her mom as a young woman, Judy came and stood beside me.

“YOU love pictures!” she said. “I have literally hundreds of them back in my hotel room. Would you like to come see them the tomorrow night as I pack everything up, maybe even keep some for yourself?”

I said I would relish having one last visit with her and this time I brought chili and a Waldorf salad. “Why are you always feeding me?!” she laughed when she opened her door.

As we ate, she told me the story of her family, who had come here in the early 1900s from the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. She spoke too of the ones who did not come, on her dad’s side; whose letters had abruptly and heartbreakingly stopped – just stopped – as Hitler’s dark shadow stretched over Europe.

I heard about Brooklyn grandmothers in funny old grandmother shoes.

I heard about her family’s migration to suburban Cincinnati where grandmothers drove actual cars and wore sleek Jackie-style pumps.

We spoke of all this and then turned to the hundreds of photos, from jocular candids to formal studio groupings and beyond.

“Take some!” she urged.

She also gave me a brooch, a single gold ‘S’ for her mother’s name.

“Your LAST name begins with ‘S’” she said. “At least it did when I met you. And I have no family member with this initial.”

“But you might someday,” I said. “I will keep it for you until then.” And so I will.

I took a lot of photos too and in the days following scanned them and saved them on my computer, where I go and look at them often.

I look at them very often, in fact, struck as I am by my good fortune in being near her during this passage; struck as I remain by the generosity of spirit that takes a mere friend from the old days and turns her into family.

And this is the Judy I met at 16, here seen at 20 the day before our Smith graduation:

No friends like the old friends