Back to Reality

Sometimes you get home from a week away and find that the pipes have all burst.

That happened to us one winter. We went to my sister’s in Florida, leaving a 20-year-old house-sitter here with the cats.

Her phone call to us three days later was so sweet:

“Well,” she said “things are fine, really. But it’s 33 degrees in the living room and the cats and I are under the electric blanket in your bed.”

She was such a dear. She was from Austria where for all I know it’s 33 degrees in everyone’s living room.

Or maybe being just three months in the States, she thought this was normal for us.

“Thirty-three degrees!” David yelped when I conveyed the news to him. “The pipes are going to burst !”

This was at 3:00 in the afternoon and even down in Florida we knew that temps back on our northerly shores were headed down to zero.

The pipes burst all right. It was New Year’s Day and we couldn’t get hold of the furnace man in time and when we came home the whole first floor was under water.

It wasn’t that bad this time.

This time we came home from our week on Kiawah Island to rain and 56 degrees. Our floors were just fine however. And our nice neighbor Henry had brought in all our mail and kept an eagle eye on the needs of my zillion house plants, still enjoying summer camp on our screened-in porch.

The problem we faced – or rather the problem I personally faced – is the problem I came home with, and isn’t that always the way? My problem continues to be a computer riddled with viruses and an external disk drive so oddly configured by well-meaning amateurs that even the guy at the Apple store couldn’t discern what was on it. I can’t use the new Mac Book until I can bring 30 years of writing over. So it’s back to a period of speechlessness for a while as the files are being ritually cleansed and then brought over, because really how much can a journalist produce just using her smart phone and I-Pad?

I realize that in the last week I have written more about my family than is my custom and am grateful to all who bothered to read it all. We were all together except for Carrie’s wife Christine, ‘Mama’ to those three young children while Carrie is ‘Mum.’ Chris just couldn’t take the week off work and we sure did miss her. Hopefully she will be with us next time, in five more years, when Eddie will be 13 and David 10 and little Callie 5, and who knows? There may even be other little ones by then.

Carrie took this picture of little David at Olde Charles Towne Landing where she brought both boys for an outing while we stay-behind adults worked together to mind one 13-pound baby.

He asked his mother to take it, which almost never happens. He wears an expression on his face her I find very interesting. I can’t say in what it means but it strikes me as oddly reassuring. He looks so content, and assured of something….

Do the young see more than the rest of us? Does he see the day when his little lisp will vanish and he will tower over his parents rather than vice versa? Can he imagine the day when he will perhaps speak at the funeral of these grandparents he spent a week with in the summer when he was five?

Who knows what lies ahead, whether leak or flood or cascades of virus? We are kids ourselves, in the backward -facing seat of that classic old station wagon. We see only where we have been, and thank God for that.

Wedding by the Sea

What’s nicer than a family wedding on a Sunday in September?

When the sky is so blue

And the prelude is by Pachelbel



And even the view from the hotel room just lifts the spirits.

And then we have the bride and her father. Ah the bride and her father~!



Such a day is bound to be happy,


as folks stroll and play

And toast and yell and wave their spoons around …


And everyone claps the “May I present Mr. and Mrs.” moment…


And the dancing goes on for just hours.

Saints? We’re No Saints

Somebody said to me yesterday, “You and your husband must be saints, having teenagers in the house all summer”  -see yesterday’s post “The Give and the Get” – but it makes me so uncomfortable when people start with that you-must-be-saints stuff.

I grew up in a three-generation household so it feels totally normal to me to have a bunch of people under one roof and I’m guessing it feels normal to  Old Dave too. Wasn’t he one of four brothers in a three-bedroom house that also included a single aunt?

Didn’t he share a room with that aunt as a baby?

These are the four Marotta boys on the left here. That’s oldest brother Toby looking like a teen idol, then my future husband David with his striped shirt and his white teeth, then in the front row younger brothers Skip and Jeff.

Even here in our current house we’ve had many years when there were six or even seven kids, only three of whom our biological ‘own’ kids – and this is back in the era when we had just one shower. .

David does occasionally have insomnia these days, so the one request I made to the guys when they moved in last June was that they be out of the downstairs after midnight which is when the affliction really hits. I figure what sleepless adult born before the first moon landing wants to come downstairs with his George R.R. Martin book to find a 17-year-old draped on the couch in front of the Cartoon Network?

They got that. Of course they got that. They also got it that I don’t want to be chatted with when I’m writing.

And for our part we ‘got’ some things too. A long time ago we started ‘getting’ it that most houseguests don’t want to be fussed over. Accordingly, we showed the boys the spoons and dishes and bought them the right milk and the right cereals and the kinds of chees and rolls and coldcuts that they like. We showed them the pots and the cutting boards and kept the fruit bowl full and that was about all we had to do.

They were easy – in part because they are ABC Scholars, young people who because of their academic ability and their ambition applied as eighth graders to the national A Better Chance program and ended up coming here to this town with its first-rate high school. They left home and family at 14 to do this – some came at 13 – and they know better than most of us how to navigate new waters.

Plus having lived with one another in the ABC House, they’re wonderfully neat. The bathroom they used all summer never had so much as a wet towel in it never mind any toiletries. They carry those things in and when they’re done they carry them back out again.

Then they’re so funny and smart and they wrestle each other to the floor just like I used to see Dave’s brothers do with him when we were young and I was first coming into the Marotta family.

So saints? We’re no saints. We’re just doing what we’ve always done in this house. This below is Dodson, our own ABC host son, when he lived here too just before heading off to college in long-ago 1990. Then under that here is he is again teasing our oldest girl Carrie. They painted the study for me and earned money pulling  the old shingles off the front porch roof that summer. I look at these pictures and remember back over  these last two months and think, well, the fun is where you make it in life!

The Last Fun Day

On the last fun day we had together, we built a race track that these two had given to our little guys. They waited this long to bring it forth, knowing it would be a big hit after things had settled down some. After the little boys had done simpler things, like climb into this unfinished cabinet and make twin bunk-bed forts there. After they had worked on their Lego sets for hours and done all the puzzles and cooked up the Shrinky-Dinks.

All my life I wanted to replicate the family feeling I grew up with when my sister Nan and I had a mother and a grandfather, a pretty young aunt coming over every day to work at the family business and the real stars of the show, those ancient great aunties, one in the chair where she sat in her old-lady shoes with her stockings rolled down to her ankles and the other scooting around in her dark blue Keds, making the beds and the jelly and the chicken ‘n dumplings 90% of her waking hours and only then sitting, when her 90-year-old legs begged her for a little time off.

When we came into the kitchen there were always people there, our pretty Aunt Grace with her light high voice like a bell or our mom with her contralto growl. (Was it the cigarettes or was it the irony she cloaked herself in to keep pain at bay? ) Great Aunt Margaret when not saying her beads, would beopening her mail: ten thousand solicitations from the world’s unfortunates. (“I‘m dead with praying for the blind orphans!” she once cried.) And Great Aunt Mame, a spinster since she stopped looking in the 1880s, would be snorting at the engagement announcements in the paper. (“For every old sock there’s an old shoe!” she would tartly pronounce.)

The women cooked all week for the one man in the house, our grandfather, who came home from some bland emeritus tasks at his law office to sit in his wing chair and read his histories and biographies, carefully cutting the pages open as he went with a pen knife once belonging to his own dad (seen here as he looked newly arrived from Ireland in the early 1850s.)

How keenly do I miss these many now! How more keenly still would I miss them had I not been able to make a family very similar to that one I grew up with. By which I only mean to say that for the last week there were nine of us together under one roof, ten if you count that unborn baby. And when our kids were kids it was the same: every room filled with kin, both ‘real’ and ‘honorary’ such that at night to the owls passing high overhead this house must have seemed to billow with our common breathing.

Anyway, here’s the race track in motion. That’s our first ‘honorary’ son Dodson and his Veronica admiring it to the left, and our youngest ‘child’ Michael doing the same to the right. The little guy in the middle, named for ‘my’ David, has the last word, that as far as I’m concerned, can stand for this whole ride of mine through life:

“That was awesome!” you’ll hear him cry at the end. And yes it was and I hope I have the sense to say so too.

Call Me Miss Hannigan

Wow, tough coupla days. Had two hours sleep Saturday night and entertained all day Sunday. Our little grandsons slept over so we could all celebrate a certain landmark birthday of this former boy seen below, who came into our lives back when David’s hair was almost black and mine floated above my head in classic 80s fashion.

He and his bride took the whole family out to dinner at a fancy steakhouse Saturday night.

I had hired a team of big guys from this pool of fun guys to babysit the little guys while we were gone and that was a great success. Only thing is when we came back at 9pm we saw the children were both in the same tiny bed.

“This is unsustainable!” I said. “Leave them be,” David said.  And so into our own bed we got – and lay there wide awake for houes. (I couldn’t sleep so he couldn’t sleep so I couldn’t sleep: you know how that goes.) Then, sure enough, at 3:45 the little one woke with a cry. The quarters were just too close.

David had gone to the living room sofa by then so I put the child in bed next to me but it seems the poor older brother remained awake until sun-up. He wrote a series of plaintive notes that made me feel like Miss Hannigan herself from Little Orphan Annie. Poor child! “What time is it TT?” said one in his little-boy spelling. Sweetheart that he is, he didn’t feel he should just come wake us. 

By 6 though I was up with them both, cooking bacon, mailing toast down into the toaster’s little letter slot, mixing cocoa… And it was all fine – until the little one said he was cold.

Extra clothes didn’t help.

Neither did a hot bath, even with my awesome foam blocks that stick to the sides of the tub.  

By 11, having given up on the church plan I had long nurtured – it was the much-anticipated day for the Blessing  of the Animals – he and I were leaning feebly against each other coloring a fuzzy poster while his older brother was deep into his sixth hour of the Disney Channel though at his house he can watch only two hour of TV, and that only on weekends.

What could we do? One of us had a fever and everyone else was exhausted. The day picked up when the rest of family arrived including the birthday boy  and his parents and the world of great food that they brought.

We ate. We watched football. We even played a little baseball out back. It was a fine day, in sum, but I’m STILL paying the price: I actually fell asleep while ironing last night and that is one good trick.  And even now, on this Wednesday morning, I keep looking at the foam blocks the little one tried so feebly to have fun with and wish I had them both back with us to do a better job grandma’ing. Then I go and have another nap.

Family Centerpiece

We had some 20 people to dinner the other night, many of whom had not seen each other since the 1960s. It was a reunion for David’s side of the family and a pretty important one too. 

Naturally I wanted to make the house look its best and maybe that’s also why home décor has been so much on my mind this past week: I was anticipating this one great night.

Yesterday I talked here about using a cut-up bottle to make a hanging planter and mentioned that for this task you need to get your hands on a bottle-cutting kit of some kind, a device from the 70s that I was pretty sure had come and gone like the Pet Rock. So Imagine my surprise when the very first Google search I did turned up this beauty here.

To cut the bottle you scratch a faint line all around the circumference using the little blade that comes with the kit. Then you insert a kind of sturdy metal implement inside and go clink clink clink all along this hairline fracture and the next thing you know the bottle cleaves in two. It’s like magic! 

The top parts you can use for the many things but I think you’ll agree that the bottoms cry out to be made into….. drinking glasses! You just have to sand the dickens out of the jagged break line so blood doesn’t trickle down into your beverage when you lift the thing to your mouth, but hey that’s easy to do too.

I think they’re adorable though I didn’t bring any of them out to add character to last night’s reunion table. 

For last night’s reunion centerpiece I bought four little vases for 99¢ apiece and filled them with a couple of wildflowers snipped from the neighbor’s flowerbed that abuts our driveway (thank you Fontana family!)

Also the blossoms from two three-dollar houseplants scored at the discount store.

These I interspersed with some favorite fake pumpkins collected over the years, three real gourds, ivy from the side of our house and dried cranberries scattered about for the people who like to eat a centerpiece. Here’s another of those nice fake pumpkins now, this one ceramic –  and a guest brought the flowers, and the candle is from last Christmas :

Then, when the sun went down and the reunion dinner was about to commence I nestled a couple of lit candles down among all these objects…. 






 And what a night it was for my husband’s side of the family. What a night of new beginnings for us all!

Worry Worry Better Hurry

Why does worry loom so large in our lives these days? Maybe it’s all those solemn teasers they put on before the news:  “Cat Leprosy: Will it Jump to the Human Population?” etc.. I bet in the old days people didn’t worry like this. They just spent all their time searching for the food and  pounding the grain and shoeing the mules, then fell into bed the second darkness fell.  You can bet they didn’t need sleep aids OR Valium.

It’s not like that for us.

Me I got up the other day to find my whole body vibrating with tension. How would I ever do all I was scheduled to do in the next 48 hours? Bring a shrimp dish and a salad to the Shakespeare group AND  prepare a passage to read?  Take my elderly uncle out for a ride AND buy his food for the week?  Write the column AND the blog? Meet a friend for his birthday lunch AND finish making the present I had planned to give him? Have a painful treatment for my lower spine which looks like this road sign AND run three high school guys in to the city to tutor little kids? Put in the two hours there, then fight my way back out of the city? Take a health-restoring walk, then dash over to the high school to see the prom kids march past en route to their version of that Stairway to  Heaven evening? See Uncle Ed again and get him food again? Go to a movement class for the pretzel-back (again, see above sign.) Write twice more, try again for that walk  AND THEN HOST TWELVE  PEOPLE FOR DINNER?

But…  I got lucky:  The back therapist postponed our session and the high schoolers had to see to their own studies instead of tutoring others. My birthday friend canceled my lunch and black skies and a tornado warnings canceled my walk. AND, as I came slowly to realize, while I had indeed invited these 12 people to dinner I was doing almost none of the cooking. I just had to cut up some mangoes and make a pot of chili and toss another salad because our honorary kids now living here were doing all the res. Their chunk of the menu consisted of

  • Real fried chicken
  • Home cooked mashed potatoes
  • Rice Pilaf
  • Mac and cheese
  • Asparagus
  • Corn on the Cob
  • Fresh cut mangoes

 Leaving me to just do the chili, the salad, the biscuits, cornbread and the cookies, the latter three of which I planned to buy and then we’d be SET, as indeed we were.

And the moral of this story is?

  • Forsooth, do not sweat what you think you see approaching, for half the time it never comes to pass.

    And also..

  • Live communally if you possibly can, for everything is easier when you are not alone.

chef on the right, sous-chef standing by him

Back in Your Mother’s Belly

The secretary of my college class sent out a group email begging for news of us all. How were we really? she wanted to know

Well let’s see now, is what I thought. I think I’m in better shape than my mother was at my age since women didn’t even walk in the old days, never mind exercise. Men didn’t either plus they all had these little fat tummies which they wore UNDER their belts for some reason.

Everybody was soft, I guess, takin’ it easy after the War maybe – never mind that they all smoked their brains out. My own mother smoked in a closed car on the hour-long ride to our cousins’ on holidays; smoked madly until the summer of ‘74 when she got a bad bronchial infection and was ordered to her bed. She dragged a little TV into her room to watch the Watergate hearings. “That man is disgusting!” she yelled at one point about poor old Nixon, “and this is disgusting too!” she yelled again, looking down at the cigarette in her hand. She stubbed it out and never smoked again and lived until her 80th birthday party when she died within the space of about ten seconds, a little plate of cookies on her lap.

But I figure we’re all going to live so long with our annoying Boomer talk about enhanced sexual performance and all that our kids will be just dying to put the pillow over our faces.

I guess I expect to live up into my 80s – IF I can start paying pay better attention that is and not step off the curb into the path of some big old bus.

So in general I feel pretty much as I did at 19 though God knows what color my hair REALLY is. Still, it’s fun to grow older. I lie in bed at 5 in the morning when the alarm first goes off and time-travel all the way back to crib days. I like that: the way we’re lifting a little every day as we get older and can sometimes survey the whole landscape almost.

My oldest girl wanted to have her firstbaby at home last May and I was a wreck. We watched him kick and we could sometimes feel his little spine right through her skin. We all drummed on his little bottom: “Hello hello are you OK?” we said the way you would to someone trapped in a cave…

Along with not knowing what any body’s real hair color is anymore I find we don’t know what natural labor is like. The doctors hurry everyone along so with their Pitocin and then oops labor slowed down! and oops the baby looks upse!t and then it’s C-sections all around.

I was proud of our girl for wanting to do it God’s own way with her two midwiveswho said “Put sheets you don’t care about on the bed and under those a set of waterproof sheets and under THOSE your very favorite sheets in the world.” There’s the progression of the thing right there, peace at the end of the struggle.

In the end the medical establishment won of course. They took their tests when the baby was ten days overdue and said the amniotic fluid was draining clear away so in the end it was Induced labor and Pitocin and an Epidural after all – everything but the dread C-section.

I wrote all that in my email to the college and they printed like three lines of it in the Alumnae Quarterly.

The moral of the story I guess?How I am is how they are, meaning my children, and right now anyway my children are just fine and that new baby smiles away alone his crib like he was getting paid to do it. Even his big brother three is growing rather fond of him. He said recently that you do too get to go back inside your mother’s belly. “WHEN YOU DIE” he said and well who could argue with him there?