My Lucky Day

today it seems to me there are signs and wonders coming thick and fast…

hang-him-at-dawnAll I can say is sometimes you just get lucky. Me, I got lucky three times in a 24-hour period, and each time it was because I put myself out there, either by picking up the phone or by walking instead of riding to run the day’s errands.

The first time was on Sunday morning when I used my feet instead of a car to cover the two miles downtown and back. Just as I was passing the doughnut shop, I spotted a 12-year-old boy striding along with his father. They were both laughing and the dad had his arm slung affectionately around the boy’s neck when suddenly he stopped them both mid-stride and kissed the child smack on the side of his head.

Seeing that would have made my day all by itself, but I got lucky again just a few hours later when I made myself call the cable company to see about locking in a good rate.

“Your wiring is extremely old!” exclaimed the customer service rep.

 …AND, you need a better router,” she added. 

“I can actually send a technician out tomorrow, would that work?” She said he would be here for several hours, she and no, there would be no charge (!) And didn’t that technician sure enough come, the very next day. He slapped a ladder up to the side of the house, descended into the Land of Lost Things that is our basement and in general worked here for three solid hours, leaving me at day’s end with a signal strong enough to let me Facebook with the folks on the International Space Station.

Then the last piece of luck came along the next morning when, headed into the city on business, I left my car on its perimeter to save on parking costs, then took a taxi the rest of the way.

My driver was a woman in her 60s with dreadlocks and a big wide smile, whose cab was filled with the most wonderful music, to which she was singing along. Finally, I just had to ask: “What IS this?”

She tilted the rearview mirror so she could see my face. “Caribbean music!” she said laughingly. “The music of Haiti!“ And then she gave a five-minute tutorial, with examples, on the difference between her Haitian French, called “Creole,” and the French that is spoken in Paris.

I loved the lesson. “But I have to know,” I said then. “Who is this singing? “

“Oh!” she said. “My friend and I made this CD. My voice is the deeper one,“ she added, and resumed her singing by way of demonstration.  

When we reached my destination, she picked up a worn Bible from its place on the passenger seat. “This was our text,” she said. “It’s from the Book of Acts, Chapter 20,” she said and showed me the passage, all in French. “Take a picture of it with your phone!” 

So I did take a picture, and once I got home, I  looked up the English for this piece of Scripture that in part  has God saying, “I will show wonders in the Heavens above and signs on the earth below.”

“Isn’t that the truth!” I thought, because today it seems to me there are signs and wonders coming thick and fast all around us – and all we really need is the eyes to see them.

On Houseguests and the Laundry

Carrie packing it up to go homeFor most of the last decade I moonlighted as a massage therapist, and this story begins in those years.

It begins on the day a tall big-boned woman of 75 appeared in my office for her first appointment. After completing the intake form together, she and I entered the massage room itself where she took one look at my thickly linened table and without preamble turned to me. 
“So you’re Irish,” she said.  “How did you know?”I said back, startled.

“Hey just look in the mirror” she shrugged, and then nodded toward the table. “And I see you do a WHOLE lot of laundry!”
“I sure do!” I sigh, thinking of the Santa-sack of sheets and face-cradle covers I toted from office to home and back every day.

“Well,” she went on matter of factly, “it’s lucky we Irish are good at washing because we sure ain’t much in the kitchen!”

I laughed out loud then. And I’ll admit that for all its ethnic stereotyping, her remark about laundry has made me smile many a time since that day.

In fact I am thinking of it now. Why? Because for the last two weeks we have had five extra people in this house, three young children and their two parents.

They are family so I love them already, but the truth is I love it anytime guests come to this house and sleep over. I just find the arrangement so …cozy.

I mean sure it was a little more work having five  ‘boarders’ for a fortnight. And yes the children brought with them everything but their very beds; from favorite books to their stuffed animals to the small electronic devices all school-age kids seem to have these days.

But in general they were among the most low-impact guess we have ever had. They prepared the food. They cleared the table. They loaded the dishwasher. They emptied the dishwasher.

And when they climbed the stairs for bed each night, they did so taking every last sneaker, bookbag and babydoll with them, leaving our first floor as tidy as the rooms in a funeral home.

They left this morning, – that’s a picture of my girl Carrie above starting to make their move – which is why I find myself now once again doing laundry.

I have gathered the linens from four beds and a crib; I have dragged downstairs the tall damp mountain of towels left in their wake, and all these I have submitted to the slow churn and gurgle of the washing machine; to the busy spin of the drier.

And now, in remaking the beds, I am finding traces of this family’s stay. Here, for example: here is a tiny sock. And over here: here is a small stuffed bunny.

I’m also learning things as this task progresses. I’m learning that one child appears to have slept all these nights with a giant box of tissues right in under the covers with him. I’m learning that his mother has curled up all these nights attended by a travel pillow in a hand-stitched pillowcase case from the 1890s.

Chiefly I am relearning things I already knew. I’m learning again that I rather enjoy sending a fresh clean sheet aloft with a billow and a snap, whether it is to settle finally on a message table or a bed;

And I am learning again that I do so love the feeling of having lots of people here in the dark midnights, all breathing safe and quiet under the same roof. It’s what I imagine God must feel too, gazing down, from that Heavenly realm, on all our little heads.

callie in her bed-within-acribour littlest houseguest, 

The Balloon Lady

balloons for saleThe boys and I went into the city last week. They’re just done with Kindergarten and Third Grade, so the subway ride alone offered them food for thought. They feasted heir eyes on every passenger and sign in our car.

Then, having climbed up out of that dank subterranean space, they looked around even more:

At the sunning pigeons and the equestrian statues, and the Golden domed Massachusetts State House and the elderly woman who sat in her collapsible chair shaking a fistful of bells, a donation basket on the pavement next to her bare and swollen feet. We waded in the Frog Pond and rode on a carousel. We ate an Italian ice and watched horrified as a bicyclist tearing across the Boston Common braked so suddenly to avoid a darting child that the cyclist flew clean over his handlebars. All this we did see.

And then we met Sheila.

Sheila sells balloons twisted into shapes that are not the usual shapes, like Mickey Mouse head or Bugs Bunny heads, but shapes more whimsical and improvised. One balloon looked like somebody’s appendix, and one looked like a sweet potato. The balloon the Kindergartner was drawn to looked like DNA’s double-stranded helix, three feet long with a braiding of skinny balloons of red, white and blue.

We asked to buy that one.

“Howsabout a face at the top?” she offered, and, opening a bag of shrunken balloon ‘heads’, invited them to inspect it.

The boys chose the superhero Wolverine and Sheila talked as she pumped air into him.

“People ask ‘aren’t you afraid you’re gonna bust ‘em with all that pumping?’ and I want to say “If only you could SEE how many I bust!’ I learned to do this from the balloon men across the park. I got laid off last spring but I have a hawker’s license so balloons it is, for now anyway.”

At last she handed us the DNA one with a bulbous yellow Wolverine balloon tied to its top.

“We just saw the Governor go by!” said the big brother of my pair.

“Did you darlin’?”

“Yes and we were excited because we had just seen his picture in the paper holding his new grandbaby,” I said.

“He has a grandbaby, does he?”

“His oldest daughter’s baby who weighed only two and a half pounds when she was born.”

“Well, there’s nothing like family, whatever size or shape,” she said.

“Right!” I said. “These boys are my family. My grandsons, Edward and David here have two moms at home.”

“There you go!” she shot back. “And this is Malachi,” she said, indicating a boy about ten who we had not noticed before. “He and his brothers have two fathers! And I’m their grandma who takes care of them.”

Family is what family does. You know that I bet,” she added, addressing my two. “We look after each other and it is ALL GOOD in the Lord’s eyes!”

“I think so too,” I said.

We had to move off then, as another party was just approaching her little balloon stand under the trees.

“She was really nice!” Edward exclaimed as his little brother bumped his balloon along the old paving stones.

“Watch out!” I said, but even as I spoke, Wolverine’s head exploded with a bang and the strands of DNA, rapidly unbraiding, turned back into three latex worms.

So, we lost our balloon, but we weren’t sad really.  We had had our day with its delights and dramas. And we had met the wonderful Sheila who I am guessing we’ll remember for a long, long time.

Happy Birthday Fatty

This in honor of the recent birthday of my youngest, seen here in Fifth Grade, impersonating America’s tubbiest President, William Howard Taft.

mpm as fatsuited wm howard taftFor a while there, we were in danger of some real solemnity in this family; of growing downright grave what with practicing the quieter virtues. We had two children at first, both females, and I can tell you we all floated along on a great river of calm.

Even when a third child had come and was, of all things, a boy, we still moved with tranquility, and for a while the baby seemed to do so too – until the day at about 12 months old when he stood up in his crib and began hollering to his stuffed animals. A certain vividness surfaced for us all then; and quiet understatement went down for the third time.

This little boy’s grandmother had been a wise-guy and we all loved that about her. She died when this third child was only three so he doesn’t remember her.

But I found myself calling my sister not much more than a year after her death. “I know this sounds weird, but I think Mom’s back!” is what I told her. Because this third child was a happy little wise-guy himself, and brought to the once-peaceful supper table of family life a level of hilarity we never would have predicted.

He fancied toilet plungers as a First Grader, and when, at the hardware store, he saw a display of very small ones, he cried out with joy and began promptly applying them, with great sucking sounds, to his ears, mouth, and bare tummy. He asked for half a dozen for his birthday.

He told us in Fourth Grade that the teacher said they would need string for that night’s homework.

“What if we have no string?” he asked her. “Use dental floss,” she replied, setting herself up for it. “I can’t,” he answered with mock-sadness. “My family doesn’t believe in oral hygiene.”

We dreaded the next parent-teacher conference.

Around this same time, he got a new jacket imprinted, as these jackets often are, with our town’s name. The nice man helping us pointed out that with so many jackets alike, it was a good idea to have his name stitched on the sleeve.

“OK!” he agreed readily  “Only have it say ‘Fatty,’ he added, and three grownups could not talk him out of it.

At this point he was four foot eight inches tall and weighed 72 pounds. Every spring at his yearly checkup, the doctor would say, “Due for a growth spurt soon!’ And every year he would look ironically over at me.

But while we awaited this famous growth spurt, we had some dandy fun.

I recall the time he pulled some hair our of my hairbrush, glued it to his bare chest, sauntered into the living room and said in a theatrically deepened voice, “Dad, I’d like to use the car tonight.”

When he finally turned 11th, I remember we got him everything but more toilet plungers – and also a cake reading “Happy Birthday, Fatty.”

Of course he insisted on being the one to light its million candles; then rushed into the darkened next room and made us march in with it, singing.

“What did you wish?” one of his sisters asked after he blew out the candles.

He wouldn’t say – some things are serious, after all – but I knew what I wished: that night. I wished we could rewind the eleven years and run them clear through again.

And the 11 years that followed them too. Ah, those years too.

David & Michael Junior year

Window on the Morning

I sure do like it here. Who thinks up all this entertainment for us?

Four hours ago the world was indigo-blue when I shot up in the bed and let out a yelp. I had dreamed a bird flew at my face, then got stuck in my hair, which Old Dave calls ‘the Net’ because all kinds of things get stuck there.

He heard me yelp, dealing as he was with Chapter 20,569 in Dave’s Own Book of Insomnia. He says he just opened one eye, thought “Good ol’ TT” and went back to sleep.

So four hours ago we had Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” around here and now in a few minutes the sun is going to be up and spreading its unconditional love all over the place, even on the messy lawns and sidewalks ankle-deep in leaves with last night’s winds.

People are glad to wake up, that’s what I think, however much they moan about having to crawl out from under those covers.

We all have our rituals, the bathing, the drinking something hot, the stretching… Maybe we fire up the television and let the paid cheer of the morning news team wash over us. “They care!” we’re meant to think. “They want us to start the day informed of the latest roll-over, low pressure system, house fire!” It’s not exactly the way our mothers used to wake us but it will do.

So here it is Monday of the week of heavy obligation I whined about yesterday, only rather than feeling burdened I feel content. Content and even happy to be stitched so tightly into the fabric of my community.

Just now our neighbor inched up out of his driveway just like always. The newspaper whumped down onto our sidewalk at the usual time too. All over the land teachers are walking down the still-empty corridors toward their classrooms, and the lines at the drive-thrus are eight and ten deep with the eat-on-the-run types.

When I get up, I make coffee and sit right down here for an hour – and now I’m remembering I told a favored friend I would find her some footage of a ginkgo tree and sure enough here is a YouTube clip of one in Anduze, France.

I watched it three times before I noticed what people left as comments underneath it. Two years ago somebody wrote “That’s a beauty!!!!” Then eight months ago another person said “Ginkgo the best!” Lastly a year ago, somebody else again viewed the same footage and wrote “my cats staring at me and I’m worried cos i havent fed him, mmmmm nice tree.”

I like that last one ungrammatical as it is, the way the person registers obligation and beauty. Her cat and this lovely old tree having its hair combed by the wind. The near and the far. It shows just exactly how we live.

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.

This is What You Shall Do

“This is what you shall do,” wrote Walt Whitman in the preface to the second edition of Leaves of Grass,the collection of verse that shook the literary establishment clear down to its knickers.

I keep the whole passage in a frame on my desk and have read it so many times that it has entered me by now. I hear his voice in so many places I visit.

I certainly heard it at sunset the other day when I drove to the stretch of city shoreline known as Revere Beach.

Let me set down the whole of what Whitman says and you will maybe see why he sang to me here. He tells us,

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals; despise riches; give alms to everyone that asks; stand up for the stupid and the crazy; argue not concerning God; have patience and indulgence toward the people; go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and the Mothers of families; dismiss whatever insults your own soul and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency, not  only in words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the  lashes of your eyes and in every last joint and motion of your body…

Whenever I need to feel better I reread this and then I go out to where the people are. ‘Stand up for the stupid and the crazy,’ he says and I know that one day I will very likely be what the world calls stupid. As for crazy, my sister thinks I’m that already .

It’s fine if I am. It doesn’t matter. I went to this beach and was smiled at by every single person I gave a smile to.

We were all just there together. We walked or sat or stood, right where we should be: where God first put us and where He can find us again, here in His light, in His glorious late day-light.