A Chore That Isn’t a Chore

the zakim bridgeOnce a week I take the ABC scholars of my town over the landmark Zakim Bridge to tutor kids in the historic Boston neighborhood of Roxbury. (This is that bridge with Boston Harbor and Paul Revere’s famous Old North Church in the background.) And here you see ABC scholar Enderson Naar, Winchester High class of ’15, helping a child with his math – and that’s his WHS classmate Tobi Omola in the background.)

IMG_1688The place we tutor at, 826 Boston, has done some amazing work helping kids unlock their potential as writers and readers and wide-wake individuals in general who never miss a trick. The children come after school to do their homework and learn, even as our ABC scholars come to assist, and admire their writing and help them feel about reading the way everyone else in the place does.

I’m only the chauffeur on these  jaunts. Four years ago when we started doing this, I decided it would be best to stand aside and let them shine; also to let them really own the experience. They have to commit to a day and a time-slot ahead of time and register online. Then at 2:15 when they’re just out of class themselves, I appear, my car loaded with snacks, and we head into the city, talking the whole way.

It is wonderful to arrive there on the Roxbury-Dorchester line, the place I was born and spent the first ten years of life. I love the area, and these eight guys seem to love it too, as they are from some great old neighborhoods themselves: Harlem and Philly, Queens and Brooklyn, and two from the proud old Connecticut cities of Bridgeport and Meriden.

We perk right up when we move through the tunnel, get off at Mass. Ave, and go right down Melnea Cass Boulevard. Sometimes take a new way, trying to shave time and see all new things. When we passed a Popeye’s last time, LaVon said “I feel like I’m home! Stop the car!”

When we arrive at last  here, they walk into the whimsically named Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute and get down to work. I, meanwhile, sit in my car dreaming back to the time my big sister and I attended the old Notre Dame Academy the site of which is not 1000 yards away. A fantastical place that old school was, with long-gowned nuns floating down the marble hallways, their feet as invisible as duck’s feet. The Dimock Health Center, once the New England Hospital for Women and Children, was built at the same time and has the same beauty. See?

When I went to school here, this Egleston Square section of Boston was unlovely, with the elevated train darkening all its streets. Today I find it nothing but lovely. I recently walked to the very site of my school and took this picture.

NDA Roxbury now a lovely field

Here is the old stone wall made of Roxbury Puddingstone, at the edge of what was once the school’s grounds and is now a graceful apartment building:

a driveway in Roxbury

And these are the homes we pass along Washington Street.

Roxbury today Washington Street

When the boys get done with their 90 minutes of tutoring they bound out to my car with their spirits even higher than they were. They laugh, and listen to Bob Marley, or Frank Ocean, Justin Timberlake or Bruno Mars as I carry us homeward. Often they sing. And sometimes when I think they’re not aware of it, I prop my phone on the dashboard and record them doing it. I couldn’t love this weekly task more if the ABC program paid me to do it but everyone’ efforts for the program are donated. Tell you what doing it makes me feel so alive I often think I should be paying ABC.

Happy Birthday Annie

happy annie david ocean courseHappy birthday to my littler girl, born in a thunderstorm, imperiled from the 20th week in utero on and then suddenly here, thank God ,thank God!

This was Annie, who sucked her thumb in secret for years in the cloak room of the Children’s Own School.

Annie, who befriended the ugliest wrecks of dolls, giving them fancy names and making them costumes so they could compete in her specially declared Doll Olympics in that steamy summer of ’88.

Annie, who, when her little brother came, was heartbroken  briefly yes and seen crying in every video I took for the first three months of that new baby’s life.  But Annie, who then devoted herself entirely  to his care, abandoning her own room to sleep on the floor under the desk in his room.

To keep him company, she said.

Annie, who made all his fun.

Annie, who, come to think of it, made a whole lot of our fun , for all the lucky years when she lived in our house.

This is Annie above,  making her nephew David’s fun one beautiful day last September, with just a box of crayons and her warmth.

And these are the iris, which  bloom every year on her birthday.

Here’s to you Annie Payne, and to many returns of this day!


Ready For Summer

callie set for summer This is me when the sun finally came out Monday, and these are my goals for summer 2013:

One, protect my noggin from those harmful UV Rays. I’m all set in that department, as you can see.

Two, tone up my arms, which are looking a mite doughy after the long winter.

Three, keep the blue contact lenses. Yes!

My smile I’m ok with. Can’t improve on this one I figure.

OK really this is my namesake’s namesake, Caroline Theresa the fifth, called Callie.

She’s ready for summer too. 🙂

Family Chaos

Pulling a Brittney times threeRain or not, you can have fun anytime when the company’s good.

These are the three people I spent the holiday weekend with.

(Edward doesn’t REALLY drive yet but it won’t be long! Nine years old and growing like a weed!)

As for the other two, they’re pretty little still.

Young David, doing the Britney Spears thing here with little Callie in his lap, still speaks with a lisp, made worse now that his has lost his first-ever tooth. How happy he was when it popped out on Saturday as the took that very first bite of cold cereal! It’s a rite of passage losing that first tooth, and he waited a long time for it.

Six-year-olds are as eager to lose a tooth as 11-year-olds are to get braces. Many other kids have them and that’s all they care. (I just thank God I came up in a house where it would never occur to my grownups to spring for that kind of luxury. I looked ok enough with my baby teeth but that sure changed when those big teeth came in! Even today, the left front tooth is trying to cross at the ankles with the right front one, as these grandchildren happily point out to me when they sit in my lap. But steel bands  right inside your head with you? I’d rather keep a ferret for a pet, and ferrets smell to high heaven.)

So here’s Little David seconds after the tooth came out, with big brother Edward helping to celebrate.

first tooth lost

And here I am in kindergarten with my own little toy-piano-key chompers.

me at age 5

And finally here is David once again, trying to sing Frères Jacques, with some Zapruder-film-style camera joggling on account of the baby, who does insist on coming right up to you to touch your eyes and step on your feet. Gotta love it though! Family Life is rich life!


Hope in Dark Times

mt-auburn-treeA cousin of mine was getting married and some of us relatives were sitting over the remains of breakfast at our out-of-town hotel, the wedding party having been long since whisked away to endure the final lacquer-and-buff-job deemed necessary before such a momentous event. The rest of us didn’t have to worry as  mere guests; people who, if we appeared at all in the day’s pictures, would appear from behind, or shuffling  though the receiving line, or shot from the side in  mid-step on the dance floor.

Thus, we were killing time and lingering over our toast crusts when an older relative said something I have never forgotten

His remark came out of the blue, it seemed, as we spoke in a casual way about the news of the world.

“I’m glad my time here is nearly done!” he declared hotly. “It’s all falling apart now – anyone can see that.  I hate to think what’s coming!” Then he ducked his head and took a loud sip of coffee.

I was shocked that he spoke this bleak sentiment aloud, all the more so because he spoke it within earshot of our young people at an adjacent table.

I wanted to suggest suicide to the guy if things looked so bad to him. I wanted to help him commit it, I was so mad – because nothing seems more destructive to me than for an adult to speak despairingly of the future.

We adults have many tasks, one being what custom calls the Maintenance of the World. This means it is up to us to safeguard and protect what was built by those living before us. If we think of what we are maintaining as a graceful structure, erected over many decades as the great cathedrals were erected, then our job becomes one of standing guard over it. Ensuring its soundness. Lovingly restoring it as necessary. Our job is certainly not to declare it condemned and scuttle away, predicting imminent collapse.

We approach this Memorial Day as a nation still at war, as at war we may well remain if global acts of terrorism continues to be committed.

Thus the easy if less imaginative outlook to take is the dark one.

But I am encouraged by something Joel Meyerowitz said five years after the events of September 11, 2001.

Joel is the man who shot thousands of pictures at Ground Zero; who was there all through the discovery of the body parts that in the end accounted for less than half of the day’s victims on that site. Joel in fact was the only photographer allowed unrestricted access to Ground Zero immediately following the attack.

I heard him say in an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, let’s rebuild on that awful site, sure. But let’s plant trees there too, one for each victim, set in the earth in the same clusters where the remains were discovered.

Trees, he said. Sources of oxygen, as he put it.

Memorial Day is here again and we have many to mourn, God knows; many on whose graves we might lay wreaths.

It’s the custom in this country to bring flowering plants to the graves of the people we have lost, though most of them are soon cleared away by the cemeteries’ grounds crews.

So let’s now try what Joel suggested. Like Noah after the Flood, let’s plant anew.

Trees, yes. Trees at every site of devastation. New trees at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, for example. But let’s plant seeds of hope too, and weed out all despair even as we honor all our fallen.


It’s Warm and Sunny It’s Warm and Sunny

It’s warm and sunny it’s warm and sunny. I shut my eyes and  can almost believe it – even though an hour north of where I’m going tomorrow they’re predicting snow. SNOW.

Here’s some video I took 48 hours ago at my favorite litte jewel of a municipal pond.

I’ll just have to keep chanting to myself: “It’s Warm and Sunny, It’s Warm and Sunny” until it all of a sudden IS..  May that day come soon!

Even with 4 Boys Helping

Puppy PawsHalfway through the week here and I need to catch my breath. The other day I pulled 30 square feet of English Ivy out of the ground, a vine so tenacious you fall over backwards when it finally comes loose from the soil. I felt myself strain one of my pectoral muscles someplace in there. It may have been all the raking that followed the pulling-up – and I wasn’t even alone with the task! I had four strong male teens helping!


Bryson suits up

ray & hazees hauling newsletterStill, when the night came and I had pain running down my left arm I thought, “This is it!” – until I also felt that angry pec complaining and realized it was the day’s exertions.

David and I have both been waking up at 5 with the skies so bright these mornings. “I almost died in the night of a heart attack,” I told him cheerfully.

“No you didn’t,” he said. Much of my family has dropped dead of heart which is why that time in 2001 when I fainted twice in two minutes the doctors gave me the full workup.

I see a cardiologist still though I think I can safely stop now. I don’t appear to have the Maloney heart that killed my mom, my aunt, my great-aunt, my great-grandfather and his little daughter who was ony 12. It seems I have the Sheehy heart – thanks Dad! – so whatever gets me in the end it likely won’t be heart.

Still, it gave me pause. See? There I am with them up top ha ha. So now I’m thinking Relax a little. Take a day off now and then from the blog.

So that’s what this is if makes sense to say you’re taking a day off when obviously you’re writing anyway .

The plants I put in to replace the English ivy are adorable by the way. I couldn’t be happier if I planted 12 baby bunnies out there!

baby bunnies

How To Face Down Time

matronly stylesI grew up a few doors away from a girl who looked like Grace Kelly. When she was 20, she sat for a formal portrait and I can still see the strapless gown she wore for it: how the light played on those bare shoulders; how the dress billowed at her hips. That June she married and moved away. The next time I saw her she had on a hat and a high-necked blouse, and her whole torso was  encased in the tight rubber hug of a corset. She looked 50. I was 12 at the time, and I have to say: it scared me to death.

Expectations for women may be subtler today, but for sure they’re still out there.

Take hair colo. Women are simply expected to color their hair at a certain point. Now I always had black hair. When some grey began appearing, I thought, Fine.

“But you’ll look …. old!” said the hairdressers, mournful as morticians. So then for a while I had hair the color of somebody’s liver; the color of cow-tongue even. And I hated it.

I mean you care about you appearance; you want to fit in – but not that much, you know? I think of what Secretary of State Albright said once in an interview. Sometimes she dresses up, sure. “But when I work, I really work: I rub my eyes and my makeup comes off and I stick pencils in my hair.” Bravo, Madeleine! I thought, reading that

“Stay attractive!” is the message the world sends women generally. Attractive and slim if at all possible. Buy great scarves if you can’t stay slim, but please: Go easy on our eyes.

I understand these impulses. I want to look nice too. I don’t want to be rendered invisible, which is what this youth-centered culture does to the ‘older’.

At my last college reunion, I met a woman who got a masters degree a few years ago and went to work teaching women in prison. Once, she told us, somebody unpleasantly asked one of the incarcerees what exactly they were doing in this course. ’’Right now we’re reading Maya Angelou,” said the inmate with quiet dignity.

My new friend beamed proudly as she told me this. Oh and did I mention? She herself is 77 and wears her hair in a crewcut tinted a deep burgundy.

Maybe it was she who helped fuel the rebellion I feel building lately inside me.

I’ve always hated slips. I’ve always hated pocketbooks. That hot day just past   I was doing without both, wearing just a sundress and the cellphone I rely to keep in touch with my young people and my editors. I had it hooked tucked into my bra  as I chatted with the proprietor of a shop I go to every day.

It buzzed, causing me to  glance down at the little square bulge it made under the cloth. “Does this look like a pacemaker? “ I asked, suddenly wondering.

“Yup” said my friend the merchant.

I undid a quick button and hooked it on the hip-band of my undies.

“Now it looks like a colostomy bag,” he said dryly.

Pacemakers. Colostomy bags: the language of mortality but what are you gonna do? We’re all bound to age,  sure enough. I guess all I’m saying is I’d like to do it my way.