Summer Salad (with a Dash of Kids)

This year June seemed to last forever, yet here we are at the final day of this most beautiful month. Could it stay awhile , cool as it was and lovely every day? Alas no, it cannot.

In its last week we looked in on our younger grandson’s First Grade Show and Tell Day, arriving nice and early in our cool summer clothes.

enr route with papa

We admired his artwork, and played on the classroom terminals,

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ate strawberries and bagels outside and watched as he said goodbye for now to his best friend Diego.

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Then this past Friday we kicked off summer.  We went to Legoland…

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then dropped off little Miss Sundress at her house and continued on, taking her two big brothers away for the weekend, where Auntie Annie, pregnant on not still did all the cooking for us .

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On Saturday, the guys in the family chatted away, and hit golf balls. We had a fire, and when bedtime came we made a bed on the floor that everyone wanted to sleep in, even me. Even though it was on the floor of my own bedroom.

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Next morning, there was a game of Sorry with David Marotta the Younger and Auntie Annie,  as Annie and John’s  puppy Archer, who is the size of a large file cabinet, kept Annie’s growing baby warm.

annie & archer relax

The boys fought some of the time and we found out that now, as grandparents we’re not quite as good as we once were at taking that in stride. (At one point, when they were hitting each other with OUR i-Pads I snatched them both out of their hands and all but clashed them together like cymbals. At another, David-Marotta-the-Larger picked up Mini-David-Marotta the way a man might pick up a bag of laundry and carried him by the waist into our room where he made him lie for ten minutes on his improvised bed on the floor, while ‘Papa’ lay on our bed, calmly doing his crossword, same as always.) 

Nothing came of these small microbursts I’m happy to say. The boys know how we love them and are ever merry and loving back, and as we began the longish drive to return them home again, the car was full of laughter and the eating of McDonalds.

And now it’s June 30th, with a short week ahead and summer, summer, summer stretching like that big happy  dog of Annie and John’s before he thuds to the floor all puppyish elbows and knees.

 

 

 

Shop Talk

For a person who hates to shop, I do love going to go to the store.

Last week at Macy’s, the most cheerful clerk I have ever encountered stood waiting on customers and complimenting them on their choices, even as she swung the garments this way and that, patting them into neat rectangles the way a storybook mouse might fold and smooth his little hanky after the wash. 

When it came my turn at her register she was just upbeat with me as she had been with the others. After I swiped my credit card in the magic slot, she said, “Now just sign your name and we’re done!” Then in recollection her face opened into a wider grin.

“Yesterday I told this one lady to sign her John Hancock and she actually wrote the words ‘John Hancock’! Do you believe that? People kill me!”

People kill me too, which is what sends me out into the world to find them.

Find more of them I did, a few days later at the supermarket when I was treated to a second friendly exchange: A woman in her late 50s pulled up behind me at the check-out, the seat of her shopping cart filled with a small two-year-old boy with a girl of about six standing alongside.

I smiled at the girl, who was looking directly at me.

She held my gaze for several seconds, and then beamed. “That’s my Grammy!”  she whispered conspiratorially, her eyes shining with affection as she slid them over to the woman pushing the cart.

“Is that your Grammy?” I said in the same conspiratorial way. It was not really a question but more of an exultation to match her own, and it caused the woman to look at me guardedly, until I spoke directly to her.

“I wish MY grandchildren were with me right now.”

“Oh aren’t they wonderful!” she cried. “And yet you love them so much it scares you. You have so much to lose!”

“I know!” I agreed. “We’re really out on a limb now!” 

And with that we parted ways, each, I think, reeling with this truth.

Finally, just yesterday the following happened when, again at the supermarket, the cashier and I came to the swipe-the-card moment – only this time, instead pulling my card from the wallet I was not actually carrying, I pulled it from and returned it to, a far more accessible place. 

“Did you just put that in your bra?” The young woman asked.

“Yep,” I said.

“I do that too!”

“Really? I thought only eccentric older people who didn’t care what others thought did things like this!”

“Oh No.” she said. “The way I figure it, you’ve got this… SHELF….” 

 “A pocket with no holes!”

“That’s right! Plus you there’s two of them and, really, what else are they for?”

“Exactly! Well besides a baby’s food needs.”

I decided to leave aside for the moment what these wondrous things are NOT for, namely an industry based on the male gaze, and profit, and exploitation – which was a good thing since just then it occurred to me to look at the boy bagging my groceries.

“Sorry about the girl-talk,” I told him.

But he just smiled. “Oh no problem!” he said.

“Actually I like it. All the talk makes my day really fun!”     

 And I couldn’t have said THAT any better myself.

Such Days

IMG_2100Such days, such perfect days! The morning light alone as it pours thick as honey through the window pane! How can we not thank God every minute of our lives here? 

Here is a passage from one of John Updike’s stories about a bot sick in bed as a child, seen through the eyes of the man he would become. All the longing for that simple time, all the gratitude in it I feel too right now. Bittersweet!

“He had awoken with a sore throat and stayed home from school. Ferguson, turning the newspaper pages, heard the child’s mother mounting to him with breakfast on a tray and remembered those lost mornings when he, too, stayed home from school: the fresh orange juice seedy from its squeezing, the toast warm from its toasting and cut into strips, the Rice Krispies, the blue cream pitcher, the sugar, the japanned tray where his mother had arranged these good things like the blocks in an intelligence test, the fever-swollen mountains and valleys of the blankets where books and crayons and snub-nosed scissors kept losing themselves, the day outside the windows making its irresistible arc from morning to evening, the people of the town travelling to their duties and back, running to the trolley the people of the town travelling to their duties and back, running to the trolley and walking wearily back, his father out suffering among them, yet with no duty laid upon the child but to live, to stay safe and get well, to do that huge something called nothing. The house in all its reaches attended to him, settling, ticking, clucking in its stillness, an intricately worked setting for the jewel of his healing; all was nestled like a spoon beneath his life, his only life, his incredibly own, that he must not let drop.”

Ah! Indeed we must not let drop this life, this only life…

 

 

Professional Translater For Hire

languagesOn a recent trip in Europe, I was at first slightly cowed by all I did not know. 

Luckily THAT didn’t last. Sure, I was surprised to find out there are still seashells from a long-ago ocean to be found in the Bavarian Forest. And yes, I was interested to hear that the old city of Vienna is home to one of the world’s first Ferris wheels. But if you’re a true provincial like I am, your surprise would soon give way to the smugness we Americans tend to bring everywhere with us.

I mean, it didn‘t take me more than an hour to be smiling indulgently at the inscriptions outside many of the shops and eateries, all gamely aiming at a jaunty, American-style English. “Nonstop buffet!” read the sign outside one such place. “American Rump!” it said outside another. “How quaintly earnest,” I smiled in my smugness. And only after some days did I realize that of all the signs in languages other than my own I could read….…Exactly none.  I have no German. I have no Hungarian. I have no Italian. And I’ll admit this fact almost made me feel slightly inferior. 

I say ‘almost’ because any trace of inferiority disappeared for me when I traveled on a smaller craft up a narrower section of the Danube where the guide began speaking not only in Hungarian, Italian and German, but also in French.

“French!”  I crowed inwardly, because didn’t I just study French in high school? I figured all I needed now was confidence. I envisioned myself with a Parisian waiter’s tiny mustache and in my mind touched its tapering tips. 

Then, with an elegant flourish, I began translating for my American friends every French sentence the guide was speaking. And here, without further ado, is what he said:

“Ladies and gentlemen, commence to please yourselves! The suitcase sits upon the cat!”

He pointed to a castle we were just sailing past. “Fix the eyes: on this place are fixed 65 anniversaries, which George dragged under his bottom.” It’s true I didn’t know who George was, but I was getting the gist for sure. I was ON this.

“Eh Bien!” he went on, a common French phrase meaning ‘oh beans.’   “Inform yourselves! In Roman Times George found himself hung from this bridge, a deviant.” Poor George, I might have mused. But I was too busy translating for actual thought.

“Imaginez! To your right, it is seen, a great bubbling from the nose,” he said. Surreptitiously, I checked my own nose. Then he waggled his eyebrows in meaningful fashion. “To your left is found the green plaque in the mouth of the king.“

I nodded knowingly. ‘Those lazy royals,’ I muttered. I’ll confess I wanted him to like me. I wanted him to see that I got it all. I gave him my biggest American smile.

He didn’t smile back. 

Expert as I am in translating French words, I couldn’t read his mind of course. Yet in my own mind suddenly flashed the phrase “American Rump!” It was as if we had some kind of mental telepathy. And that was kind of funny, you know, because… well, because who would have thought that here on the river, the guy would be thinking of steak? 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Would Have Called You Gramps

Nice day, Sunday. We cleaned house. Remember Lady Macbeth saying “Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him,” just after slicing the king up as he slept? That’s how we felt yesterday when we cleaned out the cabinets where we store liquor. Who knew the Marottas could open a saloon?  Most stunning was the realization that we had five entire bottles of Creme De Menthe.

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My sister likes to have a stinger after dinner when she visits us from Florida every three or four years and stingers are made of brandy and this creme de cremey stuff and I guess she brings a bottle every time thinking ‘Surely they’ve have finished that bottle from 2002.’  But it seems we never finished that bottle or any bottle. To me the stuff is kind of eh. I mean, I’ll just as soon have a shot of Scope.

It was Father’s Day of course so I asked David to wear his Hop on Pop T-shirt in part so people could see I didn’t make that story up about how he’s too highly evolved to brag in his class reunion book and how he’s so simple in his needs and hangs on to his clothes forever. That story I told last week and it’s right here.  And that piece, which was once a column that I only much later turned into a chapter in my second book? I wrote that piece in the summer of ’96, almost 20 while years ago and still the T-shirt gets worn. He also so worked in the yard for many hours so here’s a picture showing him taking a break, with our middle child Annie beside him and her giant dog’s tiny dog toy in hand. (They weren’t acting as extras from the prison scenes in a local production of Les Miserables. It was the sun painting those stripes on them from the deck beneath which they sit.)

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Then later, the rest of our gene pool came over and there was Chinese takeout and a little FIFA watching and a long fun game of whiffleball out back. It was all very nice.

Later, after they all had left, I opened Facebook, and saw that everyone was putting up pictures of their fathers but I never knew mine, so posted nothing. And I guess I write this now by way of focusing on what I have instead of what I ever lacked.

Anyway here’s the man now, taken when my sister Nan was a baby and he was still around.

Hap Sheehy US Marshall

One time, a minister I knew and respected told me he saw sorrowful-looking older man bending over me in his pastoral office where we sat talking. “Was there an older man in your life who might need your forgiveness?” my friend asked me. There was I supposed and it would have been our dad.

But who doesn’t need forgiveness, even now, even decades after the harm they might have caused? I think most of us inwardly punish and hold ourselves responsible for the pain we have caused in this life. I think we all know the ways we have failed others, and I think we are all sorry.

Anyway here’s to you Francis John “Hap” Sheehy of Wilmington Delaware. I hope that you’re resting in peace, wherever you may lie buried. And I’m sorry that you never had a Hop on Pop T-shirt yourself, or knew the four children who would have called you Gramps.

 

 

Meeting Mozart


There’s an old John Denver song that says the farther we go the closer we are to one another. It’s a sentiment that felt pretty true to me the day I met that singer in Vienna: 
I was just exiting the grounds of the pale-yellow-and-cream wedding cake that is the Schönbrunn Palace, my eyes still joggled by the sight of its many frescoes and paintings, when I heard a loud and melodious voice.

A man with gold-painted skin, a golden wig and gold brocade clothing stood on a small wooden box, gorgeously executing an aria. He was what they call a Living Statue such as appear at tourist sites like New York City’s Seaport District where you can routinely be startled by a quietly breathing Lady Liberty rendered exactly, from her grey-green skin and robes to her windowed crown to the torch she holds tirelessly aloft. 

“Who is THAT?” I said to one of my traveling companions.

“That’s Mozart of course!” he said, as we began walking toward our tour bus.

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Stunned by the beauty of his voice, I began walking backwards, to keep him in my sight – until it occurred to me that the small cylindrical container in front of him had a purpose.

I hurried back and dropped in a couple of Euros.

And that’s when this living statue came to life for me.

“Ah, many thanks,” said the painted gentleman, taking my hand in his two golden ones. “And from where are you?” 

“The U.S.” I said. “Massachusetts, specifically.”
  

At that he began singing: “Feel Ah’m goin’ bahck to Mah-sa-choo-setts…”

“The Bee Gees song!” I love the Bee Gees!” I started to say. He stopped me abruptly then and regarded me with somber mien.

“They are all dead but one,” he intoned. 

“I know, it’s so sad,” I said. “And that one… was it Maurice Gibb? How could he die so young?”

He shook his head. “The road,” he said.

“The road?”

“Anyone it will kill.”

“Really?”

“I KNOW. For 20 years I am a singer and I have traveled. I have, so to say, toured. Is not good.”

“Why not?”

He shook his head. “The drinks in the bars after. The wines. The cocaine. It’s no good for people. No good for me for sure.”

“And yet you were trying to do something with your music,” I said. 

Still holding my hand, he answered me with freshened feeling. “Listen. I tell you what I do for my music today: Every Thursday I study with… you call it a ‘voice coach’, and I am today a far better singer.”

“You certainly are a fine singer,” I said – but just then one of my traveling companions called my name from 30 yards away. 

I turned to see that she was taking pictures of Mozart and me deep in our conversation.

It was a conversation I won’t soon forget, and not because of the illusion that I had leaped across centuries to have it. It was a conversation I won’t forget because of how it reminded me that wherever you wander, through space OR time, you find that people are all the same. We all just want to guard our health, and use our gifts, and sometimes stand outside, singing our mortal hearts out in the sunshine.

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Back to The Kale and the Tofu!

It’s back to the kale and the tofu for me, but boy did we eat great on that riverboat cruise!

Here’s the menu for the Captain’s Dinner on the second-to-last night of our trip – and, as was true every night, the wine was not only free but it kept on coming:

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Since we got back  I’ve purged my kitchen of all cookies and crackers and the fridge of that lovely thick cream, a teaspoon of which I often blopped into my coffee mornings.

Still though, STILL I have that Homer Simpson tummy. Paying the piper even these three weeks later.

Here I am on the third floor of our house back home, looking out the window and envying the sparrows their svelte little bodes. (Gad, my bikini undies are even tight! May have to go to a thong til the weight comes off. 😉

 

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Happy Birthday Dear David

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday. I used to write a lot about him in the paper-  jokey pieces, mostly – in which I mostly revealed my own petty nature, enviously describing the way he was permitted to sleep late Saturdays by the same small children who wouldn’t leave me alone for three minutes together. Him they treated like a combination lounge chair and entertainment center, watching cartoons in our bed while balancing bits of toast on the shelf of his sleeping flank, leaning against his broad and gently-breathing back.

It was after describing such a scene that a man came up to this husband of mine. “You’re David Marotta,” he said. “I don’t know how you stand it!” He meant being the subject of intimate revelation. He meant being described in the paper. 

Well, I had no wish to embarrass the man, so after that I pretty much stopped writing about him. But he has always been there in the background.

 He was there the time a strange woman approached and began attacking me for a light piece I once wrote about Christmas cards filled with endless bragging. That lady went after me like a pit-bull. I tried everything I could think of to win back her good opinion.

David saw how rattled I was. “You should just say, ‘Look, it’s my job. It’s what I write; it’s not who I am.’” Ah, but what I write is who I am, which is why it means so much to me that the papers I write for print my address. I have learned so much over the years from my readers’ reactions.

One thing I have learned is how much folks prize certain qualities in their fellow citizens.

This husband of mine owned one suit when we got married, bought for his Junior High School graduation. He was a scholarship kid, and has always identified with those who by virtue of birth or circumstance found themselves excluded from the great American bazaar of getting and spending. 

He never boasts. You can hardly get him to tell where he went to school or what his work is. Before his last college reunion, I had a terrible time getting him to fill out the class questionnaire. I finally said “I’ll read the questions and write down your responses.”

It asked for your special achievements.

“Leave it blank,” he said.  “Or else put ‘My family’”

It asked if you’d served on the Board of Directors of any companies. 

He does. “You do!” I said.

“Leave it blank.”

He doesn’t care if the world thinks him successful. It just doesn’t matter to him.

What does matter to him, what he has saved the best of himself for, are those same untidy children who lean on him still. He plays golf, but mostly with clients. He never plays on the weekend. I asked him yesterday how many suits he has now. “One,” he said. “One that I can wear.” I like that. I can’t say how much I like that.

This year, for the first time, one of our kids is spending all eight weeks at a summer camp. On Visiting Day, we noticed that most of the other campers are New Yorkers, with parents in fancy cars. At one point, we found ourselves at the basketball court where a lone father in Louis Vuitton loafers and a Versace shirt was shooting baskets.

David had on shorts and his Dr. Seuss T-shirt with “Hop on Pop” stenciled on the front.  I knew he wanted to shoot with our son, but was holding back, not wishing to interrupt this well-dressed dad. 

“Go on out there!” I whispered. “He’s just some cardiologist!”

He laughed. He knew what I meant.

I meant, Some rich guy in fancy clothes? Some rich guy is no match for a man with just one suit.

Now these little stories chapter will embarrass him, I know. But he said it himself: It’s my job. 🙂

 

 

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If I Could Give the Talk at Graduation

Let’s pretend it’s graduation day and I am the speaker and you are one of the many young people there in your rows of fanny-squeezing chairs. This is me talking to you now:

“What I would like to do in my time at the podium is tell you about a topic that arose the time I went on a seven-day retreat with some other young people. There, in our daily evening sessions, some music got played, and some special topics got looked at, principally about our lives and what God was maybe hoping we might do with them.

“My ‘job’ that week? To offer thoughts lively enough to act as inspiration for the journaling the kids would do during their daily Quiet Time.  So for twenty minutes each night, their young faces were pointed in my direction, just like yours are now.

“Of course it’s thrilling for all us old folks to be given the chance to talk to you guys, so I thought and thought about what I might say.

“I decided finally on a walk through the great ‘Stages of Life,’ the all-important Who am I? stage at life’s beginning no less than the wonderful end stage when we’re meant to give back and pass down all we have gained in the way of riches and wisdom. The Using Your Gifts stage came up too of course, as well as what I’ll call the Changing-the-World’s Light Bulbs stage.

“But the phase of life that really made their eyes light up was the one we all come to when we begin to look around for a partner.

“I don’t know any more about this subject than the average guy, of course, but I did find my own life’s companion when I was just one year older than these kids, and I am with him still. Thus, I just offered a few tips on Love, and, in the hope that it might bring a light to your eyes too, and I’ll repeat them here:

“One, don’t expect to like each other every second of the day. Even Gandhi found their close companions annoying at times. And yes, I know all about cranky old Sartre with his Hell is other people’ talk; that’s just nonsense. Other People are the ones who heal and redeem us.

“Two, find a partner who makes you laugh.

“Three, make sure that person gets a kick out of you too.

“Four, don’t be afraid the relationship will break if you have a fight. It won’t break, as long as nothing really cruel or spirit-withering gets said.  “Five, in fact just never say those hurtful things. Learn to hold your tongue. In my marriage, the more one of us screws up the less the other one says about it and why? Because people see when they’ve done a dumb thing. If nobody starts berating them about it they can skip the defensiveness and give themselves  a pretty stern lecture.

 “So I said all that at the session devoted to partnering and the next day three different youth approached me.

“‘It was great what you told us,” one said to me.

“‘I could never picture myself married ‘til last night,” said another.  

 “’Can you give us another love talk?’ asked a third.

“But it’s all a Love Talk really, your teachers’ lessons, your parents’ advice, and every last speech you hear from old fogies like me. Because it doesn’t matter a bit that school is almost out. Straight though the calendar and our whole lives through, Love is and will be the great and only subject.

Bump in the Night

cave paintingDarkened with bruising even these seven days later, my back looks like a map drawn by a caveman.  That’s why I haven’t written here for a while.

It wasn’t because because of the end-of-year party we put on in the organization so close to my heart, or because of the graduation ceremonies the following day. It wasn’t because because I have had nightly visitors in the form of alums of that same organization who are so much fun to be around I could practically sell tickets to strangers to come hang out with them. And it wasn’t because I gave an hour-long talk last Friday at the local high school, or because of the DMV trip I made with my favorite new driver, or because of the potluck supper I went to, bringing crab cakes on a bed of greens, as promised.

It was only because last Tuesday night I once again got a 10-on-a-scale-of-10 leg cramp, causing me to shoot out of bed with pain that felt as if the character the Mountain from Game of Thrones was twisting my leg off.

I ran into the bathroom for hot water – I find my leg cramps are eased by hot water.

“Fill the tub!” I thought, but that would take too long and the pain was too excruciating.  “Hoist the foot into the sink like when you’re shaving your legs and run hot water on your calf that way!” – only how could I do that, stand storklike on one leg when my knees were knocking so?

“Wait, why are my knees knocking?” asked myself.  And why am I light in the head?”

“Ah, Terry,” came the answer from some wiser, more inner voice.  “Do you never learn? You are light in the head because any minute now you are going…

to…

faint. 

I tried to sit down so I wouldn’t hit my head, like I did that time ten years ago when they made me wear a Holter monitor around for a week because they didn’t believe it was just a faint brought on by a leg cramp.

And did sit down – I think. All I really remember is that there was a sharp crack! – then a brief blank period – and then I woke, halfway into doing a sudden sit-up. Thirty seconds later I was back in the bed.

“What was all THAT? said David who has grown used to loud noises when to comes to his wife.

“Oh nothing,” I said. “I fainted.” And I really did think it was nothing.

The next day though, when I went to the Y for Pilates and found I couldn’t sit. I guess I’m a little slow. “Really?” was what I thought.  “You can have arthritis in your sitz bones?” Then, an hour later, the class over, I reached for the car door and felt pain in my arm. “Really?” I thought again. “That shot I got at my annual exam is STILL hurting after all this time?”

It wasn’t until two days after when toweling off after a shower in our bathroom with the mirrored wall just opposite the tri-fold mirrors over the sink that I saw: I was – and still am – black and blue everywhere, on the delt of one arm, on my whole back, and, as I just saw this morning while in fact shaving my legs with one foot in the sink, on my left sitz bone, where the black and blue I got there a full week ago is still a lurid purple. 

I can’t picture any of it but I’m guessing I lost consciousness halfway through the-gettingdown-so-I-wouldn’t-fall-down motion, landed hard on my bottom, had my torso slam back onto the tiles, even as I unconsciously kept my head upright, thus effecting that sudden sit-up I woke to find myself doing.

I’m darkened with bruising even these seven days later, it’s like I say: my whole dorsal side looks like a map drawn by a caveman, and all I can do is to wonder: 

How DID I clatter down to the floor really?

And what would it take to get a nanny-cam installed in the bathroom, for the next time, because I mean really,  who doesn’t love forensics? 🙂