Where is the Warmth?

IMG_2500You’re grateful for any sun-up. Look at the beauty of this little stand of buildings facing on an alley I looked down at from a hotel room once.

Mornings are the best!

Even when it’s so cold out the birds’ whistles and peeps sound as wheezy as kazoo music. 

Even when it’s so cold the leaves of the long-suffering rhododendrons are needle-thin, shrunk down, as I imagine, to reduce the surface area exposed to these frigid winds.

Because there are winds all right, and my God are they frigid.

Most years by the end of February, even here in the provinces north of Boston, fat-hipped geese have begun waddling around like they own the place. Crocuses have begun poking their small praying hands up through the soil, even if the soil still rests under a mantle of snow — though these last weeks you wouldn’t call it snow even; it’s rock-solid ice, with the last day’s snow-dusting it over it.

Nature sprinkles a little snow every 48 hours the way county folks once scattered corn meal on dance floors: so you could glide more. Last night I ‘glided’ under a parked car while trying to billygoat may way onto the open road and nearly snapped tibia and fibula both, like a couple of chicken bones.

Where is spring? Where oh where are even the signs of spring? We can’t  glimpse it even on the far horizon. 

It’s 8:15 already two hours after sun-up. I need to work on next week’s column, vacuum four rooms, quickly change the batteries in the two smoke detectors that I can’t actually reach, then go out and buy groceries, a decent bedspread and six pillowcases, all before I see the bodywork Pilates wizard who is helping me strengthen my messed-up back. And all before noon when a whole other list of tasks loom.

I love to see that lady wizard. And what’s more fun than buying bed linens?  But with temps like these I’d like it better if I could do all the outdoors stuff WITHOUT ACTUALLY LEAVING THE HOUSE.  

Study these Pictures

Study these pictures, taken over the past ten days and see if you can see what they have in common. 


I know that one Mary Woolf is going to know right away. And possibly Downton Abby’s Mr. Carson would be quick to see as well.



I mean this kind of fun has to rise on SOMEBODY’S back, right?


Ach I have to give it away: Thanks, dear husband, for always always always doing the clean-up.  You’re a  man outstanding in your field all right! 

a man outstanding

Nice Weekend. Good Times

It was such a nice weekend:

ONE PERSON threw up eight times.

ONE PERSON watched 21 episodes of Modern Family

TWO PEOPLE gave a dog a bath using Johnson’s No More Tears, offering him a pedicure after. Lucky dog!


THREE PEOPLE played the board game Risk for hours.

TEN PEOPLE devoured a yummy meal made by the dog-bather above: super-fresh thin-sliced swordfish drizzled with cherry tomatoes in oil, broccolini, braised kale with shredded parmigiano reggiano cheese, roasted cauliflower and a wheat-berry side dish.

ONE OF THOSE DEVOURING PERSONs also blew out some candles….


… on a chocolate  cake made by a family of five who ended up fleeing before the plague of throwing-up and so were not present for the fun – but! who, in their niceness, also left a giant shepherd’s pie for us all, a homemade banner saying Happy Birthday and a wonderful card.

ONE PERSON, having recovered entirely from the throwing up fits, enjoyed an iPad, with headphones so as no to drive the rest crazy with the sound.


ONE PERSON enjoyed the cake so much he had several pieces.


And ONE PERSON  watched it all with very wide eyes.


It was a very nice weekend. A family is a family is a family all right.

Wait, what’s that you say? You’ve never seen that HBO documentary? Here’s a 45-second clip from it. Dare ya to watch it unmoved. 🙂

The Joke’s on Me

me falling on the ice

Just after the last really big storm I drove over to the ABC House and was just hurrying up the hilly sidewalk to get inside when – whoops! – the icy walk got the better of me and I slammed down on the ice on both knees. I tried to get up and slipped again. And worse luck, everything in my hands flew out of my grip, and landed far out of my reach across the treacherous stretch of sidewalk. What to do, what to do?

Luckily, since my phone was tucked into the pocket of my jeans, I still had it anyway.

 Crouching down so I wouldn’t fall a third time, I called the house phone just inside and one of the students answered.

“Bryson, I fell down out here. I’m fine but I keep falling down somehow. I can’t seem to even take a step. Plus I lost my keys, which are like six feet away from me.”

“What?! ” said Bryson. “Oh God, I’ll be right out!”

And sophomore Bryson did come right out, along with senior Hazees, and together they led me up the hilly path into the house.

“You were so alarmed, it was sweet,” I said to Bryson once we were safely inside. “Did I really sound that panicked?”

“No it wasn’t that! It was when you said you lost your keys. I thought you said you lost your TEETH.”

Lost my teeth! And me a mere baby of 65 as of today.

Still I take scant comfort; losing my teeth could be next all right, all right. For now, on this quiet birthday I’m just feeling grateful.

For friends and family…

For the full set of teeth I grew in my own once-little mouth…


me at age 5

and for the help of the young and strong. Thanks, all of you! Thanks for all the fun and learning, you super ABC guys! 


Wrong Audience

Ever say something that gets met with a silence so profound by those listening to you that you can hear the sound of their blood swimming laps inside their bodies?

It doesn’t happen because what you’ve said is wrong in itself, most times; it’s just that you’ve said it in front of the wrong audience. In life, it’s all about knowing your audience. 

I knew I had the right audience the time I was addressing a roomful of women and proposed pantyhose for the upper arms. General hilarity! 

I also had the right audience when I was asked to speak to a class of Fifth Graders about the joys of first-person writing. I warmed us up by having everyone think about how funny it can be when people get the words wrong, and, by way of illustration, pointed to the many little kids who think the Star Spangled Banner is all about bums bursting in air. More hilarity!

But sometimes you just have the wrong audience for your remarks. 

I think of when I went to get my car serviced last month and in seeking to remove my car key from its jangle of fellow keys, came upon the one that opened my dear uncle’s apartment, in his grave these two years now.

I began telling the young mechanic about how I found his body.

And crying. 

Which utterly flummoxed him.

I had the wrong audience.  

Another day, in my book group of highly refined ladies, I was trying to help us remember the name of the next book in our lineup.

“Wait I know what it is! It’s on the tip of my tongue! The title is one word. Two syllables.” 

“Bootstrap!” one person said  and everyone laughed. 

“Hiccup!” said another. Again with the laughter. 

“Butthead!” I sang joyfully. 

Nobody laughed. 

Wrong audience. Again. 

And then there was the time last week when my mate and I went for dinner to the house of friends we have seen maybe eight times in the last 20 years. 

As we were packing up to leave at evening’s end, this spouse of mine picked up my little tote, one of those soft, six-section bags that the liquor store gives you if you buy a few bottles of wine.  

“You never know WHAT she’s going to have in here,” he told our hosts in jocular fashion. “Rotting fruit, random beverages, which then spill…” 

I shot him a look. It’s true I often carry produce in there, as well my traveling mug with the coffee still inside it – even though the thing has long since lost its spill-proof sealing gasket. 

But then, peering down into the bag, he went on: 

“Whoa, wait! You have a bra in here too? Why on earth are you carrying around a BRA?”

At first a look of horror started across my face. Then I gave up and chose Truth:

“Why is my bra in my wine tote? Because, everyone, I took it off during dinner, that time I slipped away to the bathroom.” 

I held my breath. I looked at our hosts – who  after a short pause, broke into peals of laughter.

It’s true we’ve only seen them eight times in 20 years, but 20 years is 20 years and they know me sure enough. Luckily, that time I had the right audience.

Why I Could Never Live on Some Farm

Because our family business was in the Berkshire Hills in Western Massachusetts, I spent my first 17 summers in the country. I feel safer in the dark than I do in a street-lit road but still: I say give me human habitation, the opportunity to wake mornings and see the houses of others, like I did 24 hours ago.


The moon was just setting when I woke at 6:30 and looked across the street .

Two minutes later, the sky was just that much lighter:

predawn 6am feb 16

And by 6:45  – well, you can see the change.



A few lights on here, a path yet unshoveled there.

Where are these neighbors right this very minute and what are they doing?

On Thursday at the height of that storm, my neighbors Carol and Jim ran and got their own gear and shoveled me out when I got stuck half in and half out of my driveway, with wheels that simply spun and an engine that raced and whined.

Carol had been walking her dog and came upon me.

Maybe a dog is the thing to get; then you’re out there ALL the time, connected to your fellow man and trotting mornings past house after house, all filled with the sleeping and the wakeful and the little children just leaping from their beds .. 

looking out the study window



False Gods

Justin Bieber Arrested2You hear a lot these days about our young people: How they don’t know much. How they can’t name the last three Presidents, say, never mind the first three. 

I read a survey of youth designed to reveal what they wanted in life – lots of money, they said, fast cars, fame – and It has me remembering the time a 13-year-old I’ll call Jenny came to my house and said it outright: 

“I don’t want to be known for any one thing,” she said cheerfully. “I just want to be famous.”

“You know Jenny,” I  remember saying back.  “You could say that I’m so-called ‘famous’ in every town that runs a picture of me alongside my column in the paper but.. it’s nothing. I mean it doesn’t help. Mostly it just means strangers stare at you and think you don’t have feelings.”

“Listen to this,” I went on: ‘One day an older woman beckoned to me from a group of women she was standing with. ’My friends wanted to know who Terry Marotta was,’ she said. They looked at me. Nobody spoke. ’That’s all,’ she finally added. ‘They just wanted to see what you looked like.’

 “So see what I mean? It’s not helpful. And sometimes, it hurts. And seeking it can be a kind of addiction.

Years ago, I went to a wedding where the father of the bride was so famous he had to sit in a chair the whole night wearing an expression that said,  “Please. It’s my daughter’s day.” People respected that – until the second or third drink. Then they surrounded him, and his smiled was forced and tired.

“No, don’t wish for fame, Jenny, I ended by saying. “The Queen of England has fame and who are her close friends do you think? The serving woman who helps dress her? The serving man who brings her her breakfast tray?”

The survey also cited the famous people the kids said they wanted to be like: Entertainment figures and athletes to a one. There were no political or spiritual leaders on the list. No humanitarians. No inventors.

But the kids aren’t to blame here. If they worship money it’s because we worship it. If they crave gadgets and fast cars it’s because we do too. If they covet fame and the big life is may be because they think it can protect them from a rising sense that the small life is not enough.

One day, I was driving  with a 15-year-old I I’ll call James, who needed a ride to a place where he could take some standardized tests, because he wondered if he should go to a new school.

He had had a bad year, and was at a loss. Three months before, a fire destroyed his home. His mother was severely burned. His little stepsister perished, as did the younger brother, who he had always said was his best friend in this world.

But on this day we didn’t speak of that. We spoke instead of the survey, for he had seen it too, and it bothered him.

“Entertainers,” he said.

“Fame,” I said.

“Money,” he said. “Cars.”

“Is that what we’re here for?” I asked rhetorically.

He paused. He looked out the car window.

“I always thought we were here to serve God.”

No, fame and money don’t help – and they appear to have done very little to ease the troubled young heart of a Lindsay Lohan, say, or a Justin Bieber, who is  running widely afoul of the law right now.

Let’s hope more of us can learn to be like James, who gave me permission to tell his story here; and who, in trying hard to do well and find his path is surely  serving God.

Memory Distorts: The Winter of ’64

Memory sure distorts. I could have sworn the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show the same night I had that party where nearly 60 kids showed up and, as my diary, tells me, “ground chips into the rug, dumped sandwiches on chairs, tore books, spilled Cokes, flicked ashes, broke the television (Freddy fixed it), broke the glass punch ladle etc.” Maybe you can make out the writing for yourself down below here.

I also had the memory that, as the Beatles sang and the party roared on, some of the more poorly behaved boys, the ones who arrived smoking, were seen holding a bottle of Clorox. I know that the next morning I found out my little pet alligator dead, his ivory tummy thrown to the sky  in the shallow water of his enamel tub which smelled suspiciously like a swimming pool. (The party was held in our basement where the washer and dryer were, as well as the clothesline, which we took down for the night. (Clotheslines! Remember clotheslines?))

It’s true all this happened but it wasn’t the Beatles-on-Ed Sullivan night at all. The party was on January 4, 1964 whereas the big night on NBC was February 9 of that year as we were all told again and again yesterday.

How I blush to see what I revealed of myself in that diary: the way I was ‘auditioning’ one boyfriend and easing out another at age 14. The way I so callously described my mother’s poor bloody hand when she climbed up over the counter where we folded the clothes, hoisted the sash of the window she was bent on polishing for this silly party with one hand and then – too late – saw that same sash slam down onto her other hand. I only say that it ‘bled disgustingly’ but  even at the time I remember my heart swelling with love and gratitude to her for trying to make things nice for me and help me work my way in to the big new school.

Here’s my favorite picture of the pre-Ringo Beatles, just as they were just starting out – and here at the top, obviously, is that diary entry too. Long time passing since those days all right!

george john paul at 16


Mock Away

IMG_2736People mock you when you have a minivan. They mock me,  but hey: when somebody  wants to transport a coffin I’m the one they call – and I notice they’re not laughing then.

I’ve had six minivans over the years, all made by the company that shares a name with that gorgeous Art Deco spire in New York City.

I had a red one, then a maroon one, then a white one, then a green one and now a midnight blue one.  

These last years, of course, they’ve all had the famous Stow ‘n Go Seats, where you just pull a couple of straps and the chairs all sink down into the floor, making room for your sideboards, sinks and sarcophagi.

Also I love the design of the thing, with its cute high-hipped look, like certain breeds of puppies have, or colts. The running board is well off the ground, see, so you don’t have to shrink and stoop to get into it. Plus then you ride high, like a long-distance trucker.

You rule the road. And the speed at which you can accelerate is nothing short of amazing. 

Above is my baby today, just waiting to shake off this cocoon of snow and take me where I want to go tomorrow, when the sun is once again shining.