Together at the Table

norman-rockwell-thanksgivingNowadays families eat in their cars, eat standing up, eat in the shower practically but once: things were different.

Once what times we had in the great days of the family meal!

In the house I grew up in, we talked so much at the table it was a wonder anybody got any food down at all. Weeknight meals, Sunday dinners, holiday feasts: each took a full hour as we kids sat and listened to our five (count ‘em) grownups hold forth.

On and on our grandfather would go: about President Wilson’s and the League of Nations, about the assassination of President McKinley, about Lindbergh’s flight talking of these events as if they had happened just yesterday. (We all know about the Lindbergh flight but how many little kids learned know about the two French aviators how went down trying to match Lindy’s triumph?) And these meals took an hour ONLY IF our grandfather didn’t then decide we should get down on our knees and recite the Rosary, right there at the table, each of us crouching with heads bent and forearms resting on the the seats of our chairs.

We moved from that happy house when I was nine but I can still see the shadowy old dining room with its oak paneling and its heavy velvet drapes that separated it from the front parlor. Our grownups drew them when the nights were cold and an East wind off the Atlantic rattled those big front window. To my sister and me they were like the curtains at a theatre and the room itself was like a stage set, where any dramatic thing might happen -even beyond the falling-to-our-knees part after the meal. 

Forty years before at that table, our pretty aunt Grace was only eight, her elders stifled laughter as she read aloud her book report in those same French aviators who, poor things, had gas for 40 hours.  

I knew that story and I wanted to make my older people laugh too, so in the show-off-y way of the family baby, I stood up next to my chair and did imitations of a girdle ad showing how little constrained this one housewife felt by what was basically a straitjacket without the arms.  

I also did the prologue to the old Superman show at warp speed, which turns out to be the only way you CAN do it; “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane it’s SUPerman!” it began. I can recite the whole thing to this day. And I killed ‘em in that house off Blue Hill Ave.

But most dramatic time came when our tiny great aunt, was born a scant year after Lincoln’ death, fell sound asleep during dinner and fell right over onto the rug. Didn’t she jump right up though, dust herself off and scoot back to the pantry to fetch the pie she had baked.From the apples she had peeled. And quartered.And even picked herself.

I see her now in her baggy dress and her little blue Keds and her falling-down hose that wound like the red banner on a barbershop pole around her skinny legs. 

I see her and I miss her.

I guess thought my sister and I could stay forever at that family table and be looking at those same dear faces, but no. The faces are different now if no less dear. And the times are different too, God knows God knows.

I hope that you all  find a table to gather round this weekend, as you eat, and laugh and tell stories. Let’s all send up a prayer too, even if we’re not kneeling by our chairs when we do it.


Safe to Port

happy annie david ocean course

This is a picture of our girl Annie with her little nephew David, on vacation on Kiawah Island a few years ago.

  And this is from a poem called “To a Newborn Baby Girl” that I found when  Annie was born:

Now from the coast of morning pale
Comes safe to port thy tiny sail.
Now have we seen by early son
The miracle of life begun.

She looked like this at the time of her birth, seen here with her mom:

baby anne two days old

She was so little when she was born! – and the pregnancy had its complications, so we worried.

Here she was a few days later, still in the first week of life, with her Grandma Ruth:

ruth w infant baby anne

But in time she grew. Here she is with her Dad at age five:

annie & her dad 1984

And here she is, on the left, with her first best friend sister Carrie.annie-carrie-84

This was Annie is at age 15 with our ABC host son Dodson who was halfway through RPI here.)

annie dodson 1994

Was it just two years later that she and John fell in love? I think so.

Time passed.

And passed.

annie & john & a map of the world

Until, last December, when they got married.

And, after ten years of being everyone’s favorite auntie (seen here with little Edward in 2006)…

Christmas 2005 061


Annie and John had a baby of thie own, just a couple of days ago, and named her for their paternal grandmothers.This explains my being away for a while, not that I did any work. (What do women say about a grandbaby? The best work they never did? 

Anyway here is little Ruth Alice now, to be called Ruthie Magee.

Seen here with her proud dad.IMG_4088

 And again with him and a madly ecstatic looking grandma. 

delighted parents of the mom


Well done you two! So can we come over later today? 😉 


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Gandhi and Mother Theresa? Maybe Not Yet

St. Franicis 2I sometimes think I want to be the kind of old lady my mother was, breezily calling them as she saw them, as with the docile babies in the TV commercials. “That child is drugged!” she was always yelling at the television.

Most times though, I want to ​be an old person like my kindly Uncle Rob whose eyes would fill with tears watching those same babies, and who loved everything in sight: the supper you made him, the squirrels outside, even the two stiff high school photos of my sister and me smiling eternally away there on the living room table. 

I guess I​’ve hoped in general that both David and I would grow sweeter with age in this way. And I thought this was actually happening, to David anyway, the day he felt a little spider land on his nose and begin rappelling down toward his chin like a climber descending a cliff-face.  When I saw him unhook the delicate rope of web, go to the door and set the whole thing down outside, all I could think was, “What a Gandhi of a guy! What an out-and-out saint!”

Well, I don’t know what happened to THAT man, but he sure was among the missing on the day we discovered a huge hornets’ nest peeking out from the ivy that crawls across the garage roof. 

“We have hornets!” I yelled over to the neighboring family as we stood watching a zillion bees zooming back toward the hive and squirming wiggle-hipped inside it.

 “It’s nothing,” said David. “Who’s afraid of bees?” “I am!” said the next-door mom from her porch. “What will we DO?” I yipped, panicky.

“Take ‘em out,” David said, with that exact smile Jay Gatsby smiles when Tom Buchanan reveals his bootlegging past.

He trotted inside and emerged almost immediately with an aerosol can of bee killer bought in the 1990s.

“YOU can’t do this!” the next-door-dad called over. “Get the professionals!”

“At least go put on gloves!” called his wife.  “And a hat and jacket!” she added.

“At least long sleeves!” I said. “DAVE,” I added in my meanest wifely voice.

But no, he said. He had it covered, he said. He would wait and spray them when they were all back in the nest for the night.  In an hour, he said, just before he went out for his weekly card game.

And so it happened that in an hour he went back out to do the deed.

He stood three feet from the nest.

The rest of us watched from the safety of our houses as, within four seconds of the spraying, he came barreling across the grass, thundered up the back steps and slammed into our house.

It seems that the first burst of insecticide had no sooner left the can than the bees swarmed furiously out, one to find Mr. Gandhi-No-More and sting him – zzzt! – right in the ear.

Was I nice to him in his pain?

Well, sure. Sort of. 
After I got through delivering the small I-told-you-so smile of the longtime married.

And what about him? Was he chastened at all? 

Not a bit. He even boasted about the incident to our kids the following day.

“In the first round it was Bees 1, Dad Nothing. But when I got back from cards at midnight, I had another go at them and Boom! Bees Zip, Dad 250.”

Boasting! About all those bee corpses!                 

Maybe neither ​one of us is ready for sainthood yet. 

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Raking is Better?

raking leaves 2

Raking is so much better than leaf blowing with those powerful hoses you hear people say – but they’re mostly NOT the ones stuck with the rake.

Here’s a poem  on the subject called Gathering Leaves, by Robert Frost. It’s about raking but also about much more. (You know Frost!)

Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight,
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who’s to say where
The harvest shall stop?

Maybe you hear some people waxing nostalgic about the joys of raking but I’m more with Frost: gathering these husks, these shells , these vegetal corpses just reminds ME, as he is suggesting in spite of the pink bow he ties it up with at the end, of how hard it is to harvest anything in this life.

If they must fall and die then let them. But bear them away quickly, as the men did in my yard yesterday morning. Strangely cheering to watch this brisk householder’s task .


Guyways and Byways

man driverI’ve been away for a while, dreaming up semi-curmudgeonly tales. I call this one …WHAT I LEARNED FROM MEN.. So much of value have I learned from the women in my life! – but if I’m honest I’ll admit I have learned quite a bit from the men as well. Anyway I have learned how they navigate the world, which can be quite different from the way we ladies do that.

I should probably admit that having grown up a house of females, I didn’t actually KNOW any men close up until I met the man I married. Not until I was in my 20th year did I see a man shave his face or shine those big tie shoes. Never until that year did I see how a man might knot a necktie or tuck in a dress shirt.

But let’s move along now to the lessons themselves, which are offered in fun, I’ll say up front, lest an angry mob with torches starts marching toward my house. Also I will say that of these following ten items, only one item might possibly, sometimes, be a rule of of my own sweet spouse.  And so without further ado – Ahem! –  Rules to Live By, Guy-Style:

  • One, if people ask you questions you don’t know the answer to, feel free to make something up. If they’re asking, it’s clear that they don’t know the answer either, so you’re safe. Improvise!


  • Two, in classroom settings: If you’re that guy who hasn’t done the reading and the teacher calls on you, try denouncing the biases of the author, maybe just based on his name. Or, if you’re feeling frisky, call into question the whole syllabus. Wasn’t there always that teacher in your early days who liked to be steered away from the lesson? Maybe this teacher/lecturer/workshop leader is secretly like that too. 
  • Three, never, ever, ask for directions. Who knows better than you do the best way to get from point A to point B? You’re a human compass! 
  • Four, don’t stop the car. Even if you end up driving to Florida by way of California, red lights and traffic jams are for chumps. Go around. 
  • Five, if a woman is crying, act like you don’t notice. If the person comes over and starts tugging on your sleeve while crying, tell a joke.

woamn weeping

  • Six, let others, more ordinary mortals, answer the phone. 
  • Seven, don’t feel you have to jump right in and reply to an email. If the email is directed to several people at once, you can really feel free in this regard, as someone else will surely take the lead and reply in your place. 
  • Eight, since most health problems resolve without any intervention, steer clear of doctors because really, what do doctors know? 
  • Nine, most “issues” are just in people’s heads. Never visit the inside of another person’s head. 
  •  And finally, Ten, steer clear of the inside of your own head especially.

Cleave to these rules and you will live a happy, carefree life – at least until you see that mob with torches coming in your direction – sometimes from inside your very own house.










SCARIER Than Halloween

DSC_0154So this is my spine.
You might have to look closely to see it.
David took the picture for me in our bathroom Thursday night.
I had him take it because,  earlier that day, at our weekly session,  I had asked the very gifted woman who works with such care on helping strengthen the muscles that hold me upright to do something:
I had asked her to draw…
in white chalk on my brown shirt…
where the ‘buttons’ of my backbone were.
This she did and here are the results. This picture below is a close-up.
The lateral line is my braline.

If she had kept going and drawn the ribs too, we could all see that I’m listing sharply, like the Titanic, 30 minutes after impact. 

In the last few days I’ve been fixing to blog light-heartedly about this scoliosis that has so recently expressed itself in my body, even though one is apparently born with the condition. But then, just now,  when our ridiculously late Saturday mail finally came and I saw that Mass General had sent me  the images on CD of the MRI they did of my lower back, my comic impulse kind of drained away.

The hospital failed to include any narrative about my case  – I will have to ask my PCP for that on Monday – but the images are pretty horrifying if I’m reading them right.

The timing is funny because just yesterday Dr. Scott Fuller, the wonderful chiropractor I see every other week, took a notion all on his own to draw a sketch of my back,  based on his X-rays, and mail it to me.

2014-11-01 09.06.18
I consider it such a kindness that he would do this for me. I have wanted so much to be able to really picture what was happening in there in there, so I could understand where the pain was coming from and maybe help alleviate it. 
Now I have these official images and I’m feeling more alarmed. It’s what behind the little beaded curtain that’s significant. And the curve looks different because this ‘picture’ is taken from the back and Dr. Fuller’s was looking at me from the front.
2014-11-01 16.32.57

My lumbar spine looks like the tail of a lobster! Now I just want to SEE Dr. Fuller, I just want to SEE Dr. Bennett and get somebody to explain what I’m looking at. It’s hard to be alone with pain at night, but in the daytime at least it’s nice to have some other kind humans willing to help shed some light on what’s going on in your little insides. I don’t feel hurt or mad; I don’t feel like my body betrayed me – nothing like that. I just want to befriend this faithful servant who has done my bidding so uncomplainingly all these years..