Morning Has Broken

DSC_0006This morning the bare tree limbs outside these windows nod and shift and look to me like a gathering of stags as they lower and raise their antlered heads. The rain is gone and with it the warm windy air mass. It’s below freezing. The flowers I’ve arranged for our Thanksgiving table rest in the tiny north-facing bathroom whose thermostat registers a nose-biting 52 degrees. No wilting there!

I have made the coffee and eaten a little breakfast and David is reading the paper.  When our son Michael gets up, he and I can tackle the spinach-with-raisins-and-pine-nuts dish, the only ‘real’ thing I have to prepare this year.

Last Sunday, our daughter Carrie and her Chris borrowed from us 20 sets of china and silverware, three gravy boats, two ladles and two white tablecloths, a store of things accumulated here over the last 35 years. Thanksgiving is at their house, so instead of waking at 5 to jam a giant bird into a too-small oven, David and I slept until 7, which was nice since we were up ’til almost 2:00 so as to greet our returning son, home for the weekend from faraway Arkansas.

I’m to make the gravy when we get to their house, that being my only other job. I have packed the chicken stock and the non-clumping flour, my best sieve and a good pot, and that wondrous invention the gravy separator. I’ve packed the coffee, which I wanted to brew myself and also a can of salted peanuts just like we had when I was little, the nice greasy kind, in the very bowl in which our grownups served them too.

Carrie and Chris live in a house built exactly 50 years ago, so they have decreed this a 1963 Thanksgiving and planned foods and drinks to match that theme.

Easy enough! I thought, on hearing that, for inside my head it is at once 1963 and 1958 and 1979 when we first moved to this old house, a young couple with two babies, and began doing the holidays ourselves.

I hope everyone’s day is nice as ours promises to be. The dark comes early but oh this morning light! – and family to enjoy it with. Happy Thanksgiving to all! 



In Your Going Out and Your Coming In

holiday trafficI’m trying to picture you now. Are you in the traffic? Are you in line at the airport, waiting to wrestle with your shoes and belt and outerwear to get through Security?

In either case, you’re probably there with hundreds of others, since the record shows that the biggest travel day of the whole year is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. 

Are you on a train now, rocking slowly back to the land of your childhood? 

Are you on a bus, as I was this last week?

For me riding the bus is an experience as singular and familiar as the smell of wet mittens after a snowball fight. When we get on a bus we are all children again.  Anyway, we know we’re no longer driving.

Folks board a bus and automatically start heading for the back, I notice.

It’s very dear and human, the way we all think there are greener pastures ahead, but on the bus the plan often backfires: You’re just as likely to splash up against that rear wall and then be forced to backtrack, this time against the tide of your fellow boarders, having found no better seat there than the ones you passed along the way.

Me, I look for a seat as close to the driver as I can and, in my mind at least, keep him company.

On fine days a person can see forever out those big bus windows. On rainy ones like today, the windshield wipers tock to the left and right like a metronome.

The bus keeps its nose down, inhaling the road, as the anteater inhales its tiny victims.

Beside you, smaller vehicles pass or are passed. You can look down into them like a god from your greater height. 

Here now: here is a person fiddling with the controls on his radio. Here is one stretching one arm and then the other up toward the car ceiling.

Here are two talking a mile a minute to each other.

Here is one piloting the vehicle in seeming friendlessness, as his passengers all lean and snooze together beside and behind him.

You could say we are all on the road and we’re all heading home.

So I‘ll ask it again here: Are you in traffic right now, or waiting in line? Are you flying over the land or rocketing about inside it on some underground channel?

Are there people beside you? Take a look at them. Admire the complexity of the human ear, or the bare limb like a table-leg deftly and turned on a lathe by some skilled Artisan?

Are you venturing out as you read this? Bless you in your going out and your coming in then, from this time forth and forever as it says in the Bible, but especially in this small season designed for giving thanks.

Waiting CAN be Fun

DSC_0084Waiting can be fun if the company’s good. 

We had set out before 5:00 to get to the campus of Milton Academy to hear a talk by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who in 1971 first came to this elite boarding school from the projects on Chicago’s South Side. He was a scholar with A Better Chance, the unique-in-the-country program that, since its founding, has helped more than 1400 students of color graduate from some 300 of the country’s most rigorous public and private schools and go on to careers in medicine, the law, government, you name it. (Read more about it here.)

When I say ‘we’ I’m referring to the seven scholars in my own town’s ABC program, who live together in a cozy old house to which they came the summer before their 9th grade year.

We had left for the event before 5:00 but now here it was almost 7:00 when ABC Executive Director Sandra Timmons stood to tell the crowd that foul weather had grounded the Governor’s plane in New York.

Well, we could believe that;  even here in New England, dark clouds boiled and spit and winds were gusting up to 40 miles per hour.

She said we shouldn’t worry though because, upon learning that his flight has been scrubbed, the Governor had started to drive, a four-hour journey under the best of circumstances.

After some short remarks about the program, she said, “ Enjoy these wonderful appetizers!” “And… have fun networking!”

“Have FUN?  Networking?” I’ll bet many were thinking. But in the end it was fun, in part because when you’re waiting, you can relax. You’re where you’re supposed to be so for once you can let time spool, and enjoy the exchanges that come your way.

One nice exchange I had occurred when I went to wash up from the buttery heaven of the appetizers and was greeted by a woman just drying her hands.

“Welcome to the Ladies Room!” she cried and before we knew it we were talking passionately about the role of public education. Later, in that basement hallway, a gentleman and I laughed at the sight of a little brown lizard executing his calisthenics as he inched up the wall, blown up north, we joked, on this tide of southerly rain. And shortly after that, I stood at the beverage table where a third person and I noticed a bowl of greenery that appeared to be offering itself to one and all. We were examining it with interest when, in the nick of time, we saw a fork plunged in its pretty midst.

 “This is somebody’s salad!” we both yelled simultaneously, and just barely missed committing the faux pas of trying to make off with that guy’s supper.

A stir arose near the back of the hall and suddenly the Governor was bounding to the front of the hall.

“Can you hear me without this? “ he asked, indicating the microphone.

“Yes!” everyone  called back.

Then he spoke simply, his hands clasped before him, about the lessons he has learned along the way.

He said he now sees that his grandmother was right to say the prestige of having been admitted to Harvard meant less to her than opportunities her grandson would have there. He said you need to really peel back the surface layers of a thing to find its true meaning. Do that, he advised all of us. He said that when a young person asks something of you, you should try to say yes, and then stay faithful to that promise. 

He had stayed faithful, in fighting his way across the miles to see us. 

We had too, in waiting for him. 

And if we had some smiles along the way, why all the better.


(Sometimes it’s good to have your schedule changed or to be blown a bit off course… )

governor patrick & gamaral

      especially when your wait is really worth it  (Gamaral Sawyer with Governor Patrick in his office) 


Um, Those Are Your Underpants

t ivy day ;70On a lighter note today, my pal Mary just sent me this video, made eons before MTV, of Nancy Sinatra and her own 60s-era fly girls, dancing to These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.

Did women really dress like this?

They sure did. My mom was 63 years old the summer my sister Nan and I got married and wore two mother-of the-bride dresses so comically brief above the knee they looked like paper doll outfits.

And as for the hemlines on the really young women?

Well here was our rule: if your fingertips didn’t brush skin when you let your hands drop down by your sides, your skirt was too long.

Nan and I would come downstairs set to go out for the evening and our mother would rattle her teacup in its saucer and tremble so hard her cigarette ashed all down onto her clothes. We both remember the time she yelled “Oh the bust! Oh the hem!” (Luckily we married at 21 and 23, young enough so there were no consequences to be paid for going about all tarted up like that.)


Anyway this is me before the Ivy Day Parade at Smith College.

I dressed this way for a ceremony! On Commencement weekend!  

We even dressed our babies with leg showing it seems.

This is from the Christmas of ’78. The shy one looking down is my firstborn Carrie. The leggy lass beside her is Nan’s one-an-only Gracie, as we called her then whose marriage I told about here.

70s babies xmas of '78

But on to the video, seven women in their underpants doing the pony and the swim and sort of a timid shimmy. Mary’s one wry sentence appended to the message she sent it with: “I still dance like this!” Haha, she does not (but boy did I laugh…)


The Sunsets are Wondrous

These short wide days: their beauty just stuns me.

We recently had cut down a number of trees at the edge of our yard and our landscape is so altered I gasp going past the windows.

Remember Emily Dickinson on sunset?


Here she is: 

Blazing in Gold and quenching in Purple
Leaping like Leopards to the Sky
Then at the feet of the old Horizon
Laying her spotted Face to die
Stooping as low as the Otter’s Window
Touching the Roof and tinting the Barn
Kissing her Bonnet to the Meadow
And the Juggler of Day is gone 

Who is Watching? Everyone

I think of you high school seniors, all you once and future college applicants! You have long since endured the Make Way for Ducklings exercise that is the campus college tour, led by cheery chattering student guides. You have worked on, or are even now working on, those fearsome college essays. What can I DO? you must wonder. Write about overcoming adversity? Speak of an inspiring figure in my life? Or should I do an ‘I Used to Think But Now I See’ piece to show how I have changed? Could be a good way to spin that D I got in Tenth Grade History, come to think of it.

I picture you with such thoughts as you sit there, agonizing! I feel for you, walking through these fires! 

But now I must remind you of another whole section of your college application, largely invisible to you:

I speak of the college recommendation, written by two or three adults who have worked in a supervisory capacity over you.

I began writing college recommendations as a young teacher, when Richard Nixon was still shaking his angry jowls at a recalcitrant nation and I’m writing them still, as I find myself once again working with high school students – which is why I can say this with some certainty: Writing the letter of recommendation can be an easy, even pleasurable task for your ‘recommenders’ to take on, if, and perhaps only if, you have let your true self be known by them. Why? Because a recommendation shouldn’t be a list of glowing adjectives but rather a series of telling glimpses into the applicant’s true self. Let me give an example.

I recently spent an hour at a church rummage sale with a high school sophomore who is under my ‘care’. Though two long years will pass before I’ll be writing a letter for him, I note everything he says, even as I do with the other six young people I currently help supervise.

At this rummage sale, for a mere $5, you could take home whatever you could fit in the standard grocer’s brown paper bag.

I watched as this boy happily chose items not ynlu for himself but also for his brothers back home. Gym shorts, cool T-shirts, hoodies: all these went into his bag.

Then we climbed the stairs to the book-sale room where you could fill a bag for a mere $3.

Almost immediately, he spotted a gorgeously illustrated book called Egyptology.

“Oh no,!” he exclaimed. “There’s  a whole series that this book is part of and THIS is the only one I could never find!”

He had looked and looked for it, he said, and, finally despairing, ended up giving the whole collection away.

“And now you can have it,” I said.

“And now I can have it,” he repeated, looking down almost reverently at the volume as he placed it in his bag.

“Maybe there’s a message for me here,” he added.

“What would the message be, I wonder?”

“If you want something enough, you will find it? “ he tried. “If you love a thing, it will come to you? I don’t know, really…”

He didn’t know. Sometimes a person can’t know a thing like that right away. But I knew something I did not know before. I knew that I had just had a glimpse into his young soul. And don’t think I won’t remember his letting me have that glimpse.

So my real message to you, you high school seniors, both for now and for later?

Let yourselves be known. Open yourselves and speak your truth. We are all watching one another, and we all gain strength from what we see.

IMG_2410and here, right on Amazon is another book in the set, his for the asking and $15 plus shipping 


Pictures from a Wedding

I’m not done yet with the residual joy I had from this recent family wedding.

There were pictures displayed outside the ballroom, of the bride and groom as little children. 


the bride

IMG_2454the groom

I wish I had known Troy then. I knew Gracie, as we called this godchild of ours from the day of her birth. She was the first baby I knew up close and wonderful to say, still has this same little dimple high on her cheek. Her mother is my sister Nan who I have written about here and here and here and in five books and countless newspaper columns.

Grace’s father Tom was my husband David’s best friend and a force of nature all on his own. He died one matchless August morning sipping coffee and having the day’s first smoke, moments before his regular Sunday game of tennis.

He had just turned 50.

Grace was just done with  her 9th grade year. It was a hard time in life to lose a dad and she shared the loss with her four siblings from Tom’s first marriage.

How they got through those years I do not know. Nan dreamed once that first year that he appeared in their bedroom, looking sad, which he never was in life, and still in his tennis togs. ” I want to come back,” he said quietly.  Were there tears welling in his eyes? “You can’t,” Nan said, tears in her eyes and voice both. “Your  friend Jan took your job and we gave away your clothes,” her dream self-told him and the pathos of this exchange was almost more than a body could bear.

But time passed and brought new happiness. The man who had built the couple’s new house, himself newly widowed, fell in love with them both and became like another father to Grace. He and David, having showered love on her ever since, got to both walk her down the aisle.  

Troy has his own story of course, which I so look forward to learning more of. His brother told us in his Best Man toast, that before he became a Marine he was voted the strongest 17-year-old in Pinellas County. He’s a strong man still; anyone can see that.

How did they find each other again, knowing each other only slightly in high school? What miracle sets one person’s life down next to another’s with a landing as smooth and resolute as the jet makes when once again, lightly, it touches the earth?

I’ll stop now just show a few more of the imperfect pictures snapped by us amateur cameraman, lucky loving witnesses to this lucky event.


David on the left, Chuck on the right

at the church

the ceremony

a happy new familytwo families, united

the clouds part

Troy & Grace Webb and G’s fond godparents


a hug for all dads



The Ones Who Come Home – for Veterans Day

The Ones Who Come Home (For Veterans Day as the sun is setting) 

The ones who come home live a life like anyone – sometimes.

In our family one uncle lived that normal life, and one didn’t.

grace & jack '43

Uncle Ed at 22

The one who did wrote poems during his two years in the bloody Pacific and maybe that helped. The one who didn’t prayed to a bottle when it hurt too bad and died standing by his fireplace in his mid-50s.

I spent this quiet holiday walking and thinking about the healing qualities of the simple everyday; walking and thinking and  feeling so grateful to have been part of a family event that I will remember all my life, when this man, Troy married this woman, Grace, the child of my sister, the child of my heart.


More about this joyful event soon but for now, thanks all you who served, in wartime and peacetime both. I think of you, the lost, as the sun goes down this November 11th ..

only sleeping

for a Navy man


It’s not often that I repost something from another site, but I was so struck by the video below of pianos placed in certain places around Boston and the time-lapse photography that captured who sat down at them.

This D.H. Lawrence poem below also carried me back to a time when pianos were the heart of every house and everyone knew how to play them.

It and the video have stirred so many images in me.

I was a child at the end of the great age of the piano.

I feel I must stop everything I am doing and pull these images  back with me into the dark cave of memory to listen for all that perishable/imperishable music that once sprang from their cracked old throats.

This is D.H Lawrence:

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

And below is the video, as published today in the  Globe. The Boston Public School department’s Office of Instructional & Information Technology created this video of the city’s recent public piano installation and posted it to its YouTube page this week with the following description:

The piano locations featured in this video are: Boston Common, the Old State House , the Museum of Fine Arts, Copley Square, Castle Island, the Esplanade, Faneuil Hall and City Hall Plaza. Praise the visionaries who knew what these sounds and images would bring to those who passed by, or stopped to play, or even only watched it here!

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Stress Nation

It’s an anxiety-filled age, all right, filled to the brim with stress and anxiousness.

Just last week, a friend described to me the older woman he met in the supermarket who had lost sight of her little grandson.

 Paralyzed by her own panic, she could do nothing but stand rooted to the spot, alternately calling his name and the name of her creator.

My nice friend went right over, got a description of the child, and began trotting along the aisles, looking for the pint-size blonde in a blue shirt.

When he spotted such a tyke standing in front of a younger woman with a smaller child on her lap, he pointed.

“Here’s a blond boy in a blue shirt!” He called to grandma.

Whereupon the younger woman leapt to her feet, snatched both kids in a vice-like grip and shot her hand out, fingers spread wide.


Looks like being a Good Samaritan just doesn’t pay the way it once did.

It’s that people feel such stress. We’re fizzing with it, like apple juice just turning into cider. We’re buzzing with it, like hornets trapped in a jelly jar.

I was parked alongside the curb yesterday when a woman in the car in front of me showed signs of trying to pull out.

I backed up to make room and waved her toward me.

Her hands flew in the air in a gesture of frustration and the next thing I knew, she was standing by my car window.

“Uh Oh,” I thought. “Angry lady!”

But the lady wasn’t angry. The lady was near tears. “I can’t back up!” she cried. “I can’t do anything!”

“See this cast?” she went on, holding up one arm, encased from the elbow down in rigid white. “Six weeks I’m wearing this cast! And now the doctor says two weeks more.”

“Awful,” I countered.

“I can’t brush my hair!” she said.

“You can’t do your bra!” I said.

She lowered her voice, constricted now with emotion. “I can’t pull on my pants,” she all but whispered.

“Here’s the trouble,” she went on, pointing to a thumb similarly encased and held fast to the rest.

“Wow. Well, you know, cut that part off,” I suggested. “Have you got a hacksaw at home?”

“Cut it off?! You can cut off your cast?”

I shrugged. “My young cousin did.  As a matter of fact, she took off her own braces.”

She pondered a minute. “I’m calling the doctor back. I’m making him free my thumb.”

“Right,” I said. “Just say, ‘See here. This won’t do.’”

“Right!” She cried, and dashed back to her car with fresh resolve.

Later I thought to myself “Hmmmm. Here was a person buzzing around in a perfect little go-cart of stress and what did I do but climb in beside her and help drive?”

But tension is like that, as quick to jump hosts as the friskiest flea. Quicker to spread than the most contagious flu.

Maybe what we all need is a mass inoculation.