Crazy Fun

archer has funYou’ve got to love a holiday! We’re here on this Glorious Fourth eating eggs for lunch and left over fried chicken for breakfast, going out on paddle boards and fishing off the dock. Even baseball right IN the water was on the agenda this weekend.

Archer, this handsome Rhodesian Ridgeback of a canine, captured the spirit nicely.

By day there was the swimming and the spraying of hoses on sturdy baby legs by sturdy baby humans.

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Then the  in-the-water baseball looked like this:

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…while and the paddleboarding looked like this:

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By night there were fireworks, every night leading up to the Fourth,  and man they were CRAZY fireworks, that went on and one for an hour, because this is after all New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die state where nobody dares tell anyone else what to do. They were going off from every corner of the cove and from two towns both up and down the lake from this cove.

To me the din was awful which seems strange since you’d think the older you get the deafer you’ll be so no problem about the loud noises.

For sure I am old: if I didn’t know it before the weekend, I know it now. The little baseball player pictured above asked me the other night just how old I was.

“I’m sixty-seven,” I said.

He looked up at me with his large brown eyes and said so sweetly, “I knew you were old, TT! You know how?”

“How?”

“Because your face has those crinkles.  And you have to bend down to hear me. Also, your voice.”

I’m not sure how my voice gives me away. To me, inside the chambers of my old skull my voice sounds to the same way it always has, but who knows? Maybe to the young I sound like Ursula from The Little Mermaid. 

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It is what it is, eh? All I know is I’m just glad to be here on this anniversary of our nation’s birth! Here I am three years ago on the same day with grandson David. It’s the kids who keep us smiling!

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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, 

Spring (almost)

IMG_4558We had a day of warmth.  

One day anyway.

It was Wednesday.

I brought two of my grandchildren to the zoo near us, a small-scale zoo, easily understood and easy to navigate, like some say the city of Boston is.

One of these two is still in his wheelchair, having RE-broken the leg he broke on January 5th, this time by falling down and twisting it just the wrong way in his very own kitchen. (So close to healed he was! Such a shame!)  And so at the zoo we had a wheelchair and crutches, the three of us. ‘We’ were a seven-year-old, his little sister just turned three and me, a person who after this extremely vivid winter looks every inch her age.

As we studied the lynx and the llama, the tarantula and the monkeys, the seven-year-old insisted on poling along with his crutches over concrete walkways as compromised  by frost heaves as all our roads are. 

So I pushed the wheelchair. which his little sister decided to ride in, everyone under eight casting aside these aids every three minutes  to clamber close to the fences  and TRY to see inside the nostrils of the bison; TRY to grasp the sipping-straw legs of the many flamingoes, those comical birds, dipped in pink-orange dye as they appear to be always. 

And when this happened, I would  be pushing the empty wheelchair while carrying the crutches and their two jackets.

An hour in, the boy with his heavy cast and crutches finally did grow weary. “I think I need the chair now Callie,” he told his sister.

Her face showed her disappointment – of course! I mean who DOESN’T want to be propelled along aloft like this. But his little brother, ever kind, said “You can sit in my lap,” 

So the boy settled in the wheelchair,  I hoisted his little sister up into the chair, balanced the crutches across the top and hung the jackets from the crutches’ two ends.

So the day was tiring, yes, but it sure was fun. We kicked every rotting snowbanks we passed along the pathways, yelling “Die, snow!’ 

The little girl loved the snow leopards best. Pointing to the three heavy rubberized balls set in their environment for them to paw and play with, she told me gravely, “Those are their eggs,” and I wasn’t about to correct her.

The chair lurched at every crack in the concrete and we were all getting tired, but just then an older man appeared who volunteers at the place.

“Which way is out?” I asked him, the grounds having begun to somehow seemed to me less small-scale and easily grasped  than I had thought.

“Follow me,” he said. 

And so we had an escort,

AND the fun of snow-kicking,

AND the sighting of two mammals capable of laying large round  eggs.

It was a a great afternoon, and for one short hour the temperature hit 60.

According to weather.com, next Wednesday the day will start out at 17 degrees but we’re getting there, WE”RE GETTING THERE ALL RIGHT …..aren’t we? 

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Funny Lady

ermaLast week, when my birthday rolled around I reflected once again how nice it has been to share the day with one of America’s great humorists. 

At the time of her death, every print and broadcast outlet in the country ran a tribute to Erma Bombeck, the homemaker from Dayton who one day sat down and began sending out dispatches from the front lines of motherhood. The dispatches grew into first a column syndicated to over 900 newspapers and then some 15 books, including the wickedly titled The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.

But as uniformly fond as these tributes were as I reread them online now, many of them read as slightly dismissive, framing her almost as a clever dabbler, a suburban mom who started writing columns as a lark.

As if any writer doing a thing ‘as a lark’ could produce the tightly crafted sketches she was known for. 

As if anyone tossing something off in the odd half hour could describe the child-rearing game the way she did.

She wrote in one column that she once lived in a place so small she had to iron in the baby’s playpen.

She wrote in another that if her kids had looked as good as the kids of her perfect neighbor, she would have sold them.

She spoke about the child who could “eat yellow snow, kiss the dog on the lips, chew gum that he found in the ash tray, but wouldn’t drink from his brother’s glass.”

And then there was the column where she imagined how each of her three kids might someday recall her: Her first-born would think of her as “the slim dark-haired mom who used to read me stories and paste my baby pictures in the album.” Her second-born would picture “the somber-looking bleached blonde who used to put me to bed at 6:30 and bought me a dog to save on napkins.” And the baby of the family, she wrote, would remember her as “the grayish lady who fell asleep during the 6 o’clock news, and was GOING to display my baby pictures, as soon as she took the rest of the roll – at my wedding.”

She had just that light way of describing time’s effect. But funny as she was, she always told the truth.

She spoke of the feeling that comes to women raising kids in the then-newly fashionable ‘nuclear family’ where a man, a woman and their children went off and lived on their own, sometimes far from all kin.

Her commentary on this new arrangement: “No one talked about it, but everyone knew what it was. It was a condition, and it came with the territory.”

She called that condition ‘loneliness.’

I found out about this loneliness when I left my job teaching to care for my own small children. In their baby years, I would stuff them into coats and snowsuits and push, or walk, carry them – somewhere – anywhere I might find another woman in another house trying to do the hardest job on earth all by herself.

But when those babies napped? When they napped, I’d kick the toys under the couch and begin to read and read, looking for something I could not name – until one day in my daily paper I met the writer who would show me what I most wanted to do in life.

Erma wrote a column every week for 32 years. 

By now I’ve been writing one for 35 years – and with every passing birthday I think what a privilege it has been to follow in her footsteps, recording life as we really live it and celebrating its vicissitudes.

the calm before the boy child

this was us in 1980, before the final child come and broke the snoozy,two-little-girls peace

 

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.

 

See It Through THEIR Eyes

new here and lost

For a long time in our family, this was the season when a new person would come to live with us. Every fall for six years running, we would nervously drive to the airport to meet the new young woman from Austria who would join our family and begin to taste the jazzy sauce of American life. How lost and uncertain must they have felt on arriving here on Foreign shores to live for a full year with virtual strangers?

But being a self-centered soul I always saw it from MY point of view: what if the young woman didn’t have enough English to get along comfortably here? What if she only THOUGHT she knew how to drive a car? What if God forbid, she was a disliker of children, a secret pincher, say?

All these old fears came to mind again during the fall when our youngest was a high school junior and we found ourselves again driving to the airport, this time to bring home an exchange student from Madrid.

His name was José and all we knew of him was that he had a ponytail. Within minutes of identifying him, we were walking that long mile to the car, during which my whole family seemed struck suddenly dumb. Desperate to keep thing going, I talked my head off, with great animation and very s-l-o-w-l-y.

“On drugs,” the kid must have thought. But things got easier once we were driving. A Bruce Springsteen tune came on the radio and he said “Ah, de Boss!” – and when “Stairway to Heaven” started, we knew we had not one, but two Led Zeppelin fans on our hands. The rest of the language barriers we got past with pantomime.

At supper that first night, I thought I might go for the historical angle. “So what was the deal with FRANCO?!” I yelled, pronouncing the name of that old Spanish dictator with what I hoped was a meaningful anti-fascist frown.

“Franco!” cried José, and executed a Nazi salute.

But lucky for us all, we were all soon talking more naturally.

My man David is often busy nights with meetings and dinners out, and in the fall of his killer Junior year our poor burdened youngest who was the unofficial ‘host’ of José was constantly plugging away at homework every night.

That left me.

And since by nightfall I have always been way too sleepy for any ‘thinking ‘ work, I spend evenings catching up on mindless tasks. And so José, who was neither busy nor sleepy, would keep me company, lounging on a nearby chair.

I learned the words for existentialism , which is existencialismo, the adjective for manic depressive, which is maniaco depresivo and the term for paranoid schizophrenic, which is esquizofrenico paranoide. (We were drawn to the darker themes, José and I.)

 He told me he thought all humans were basically out for themselves – egoista. I told him I felt sure he would soon encounter at least one person whose unselfishness had helped change lives. 

Prompted by his stay with us, I began thinking back over time to those Austrian girls and remembered that some of them really couldn’t speak much English – and then was that one who is spite of her very earnest nature kept locking the car with the engine still running. 

We loved them anyway; of course we did.

And now here was José who didn’t need to drive, and whose English, if slower than ours, was pretty damn good. Once he left, we missed him like crazy.

So in the end, there was nothing to dread and everything to look forward to on any one of those runs to the airport.

I’ll have to remember how often this is the case – and how we should all recall that if we think it’s hard to welcome strangers, how much harder is it to BE them? 

Now I don’t have a picture of José but here now are two of our former au pairs, Alex and Gabi, once strangers, now our forever friends. 🙂

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 And HERE is Sonja, the one who stayed stateside, went to school, married  and raised her own family, seen at my landmark birthday party a few years ago – WITH the child who was once the baby these young ladies came to help care for.

Sonja with former baby Michael

Time does fly does it not? I never thought he’d even shave!

mpm at five

Holiday Weekend

This past weekend when I realized i was really NOT at the center of things, my time was marked by all I did not do.

I didn’t help put up the new basketball hoop.

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I didn’t hold the toddler so she wouldn’t get hurt as they hoisted it.

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I didn’t even so much as hold a screwdriver

callie has the tools!

 

I didn’t go out and get the fireworks 

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AND I didn’t prepare any meals…

Really I just worked at my work and folded laundry.

Oh and I took these pictures. This is our oldest, Carrie, who had more sense than I did and more energy too. She was a key part of the basketball-net-hoisting duty AND  she, wise girl, got out on the deck.

 

It’s Ok I think. Summer is just starting, right? It is, right? Isn’t it? Someone tell me it’s not a sin to waste a Sunday such as we just had!