Safe! The Turkey Rounds the Bases!

Remember how in elementary school we made paper buckles for our shoes for Thanksgiving,  and paper Pilgrim hats for our heads?  

One year my 5th grade class made all of Plimoth Plantation on a felt-covered mound in the back of the room: a whole little village of cabins made of small painted milk cartons, with a forest behind, through which the gracious natives would come, bearing corn. (Years later I visited the real Plimoth Plantation and learned that those first settlers pretty much steered clear of fresh water, choosing instead to drink a healthful quart or two of beer a day. Looking at the real slaughtered hog hanging headless and upside-down by a doorway, I could understand how they might have needed it.)

If they drank to get through the big day as well, they sure weren’t the last to do so: My mother and aunt used to tell the story of her dad once coming home a freshly killed turkey given him as payment for his services as a lawyer.

“Here you go, girls!” he said to them, slinging it onto the table and moseying off in search of his slippers.

They took one look at it, with its long feet and enough feathers to stuff a pillow with and headed straight for the Scotch.

Turkey is never all that easy to make; don’t let anyone fool you. If four people in a family are snoozing away Thanksgiving morning and wake at 10:00 to the delicious scent of roasting poultry, it means a fifth person got up at 5:00 and stood alone in the kitchen. bathing an ice-cold carcass before heaving it into the heavy roasting pan.

Things don’t easier once it’s in the oven either. Roast it breast up or breast down, wrap it in cloth or muffle it in paper, every tactic brings its consequence.

One year I set our bird on fire. A few years before that, I basted it in such a way that when I opened the oven after the usual five or six hours, it shot straight across the open door and slid into Home Plate against the table.  And some few years before that, when I took my first look at a dressed bird with its neck and organs packed tidily inside it, I fainted, just as I had done faithfully in church throughout my whole long childhood.

Still, on the great day itself, few of us prove vegetarian. We eat some of that big clumsy bird, then take a walk, or watch the game, then sit down to eat some more.

I recall the moment on one Thanksgiving in my adult years when my mother and aunt arrived, the “here you go girls” of family lore.

I heard their voices before I saw them, the one light and merry, the other deeper and more ironic.

“Here they are!” I remember thinking, and felt once more like a little child of seven.

Their voices are stilled, as this Thanksgiving approaches. The faces change. The years blink by.

I stepped outside early this morning, into a day all still and misty.

As I watched, six leaves seemed to spill down together from the little oak tree across the street. But just I saw them, sadly thinking, “Goodbye then!”  they changed direction, became six live birds, and took to the sky.

It felt like a message to me, and the message brought me comfort. ‘Be content where you are,’ it said. ‘Do not fear where you will one day go.’ A falling or an ascension: it depends upon your angle of vision.


 Some days all you can do is pray on it all. This picture if from 1986:

This one is from 1988:

I was 36 when I met these guys. I was the English  tutor in the ABC program.

Now I’m 62, yet I can still feel my 13-year-old self inside me, so serious a girl then.

I was merry as a small child, then I grew grave as my circumstances changed. Then I met David and married and have been merry ever since.

He thinks I’m funny. Wrong a lot, but funny. 

I think he’s funny too. Truth is, we’ve only recently stopped dumping cold water on the other guy while he or she is in the shower… Good times~

Uncle Ed is 91 today. Our honorary daughter-in-law Veronica bought all his favorites foods to him at lunchtime. She and I met at his apartment and it was so cheery on a dark rainy day.

Once he looked like this when he was four years in the South Pacific:

Life is so mysterious. If I get 91 years it will be 2040… Can’t wait to see where we all are by then!   

How Can I Not Show This?

I am named for a certain person and this is her wedding gown, which she wore for four short hours in 1903 when she married the lad she had met in college and a fine-looking lad he was as you can see up close by clicking on his photo below. Who knew he would one day become a judge and the Chairman of the Boston School Committee and take on that scalawag mayor of Boston, James Michael Curley? He was but a lad then, the first in his family to get past 8th grade and she the third child of the weaving supervisor at the mill. They were born in the 1870s to people with fresh memories of the Crossing. 

Anyway, yesterday I took out this dress again and noted again how she had sweated into its bodice, this girl who died so young that her children for all their trying could not bring back her face much less the sound of her voice, being only one, two, four and six at the time.


My mother was the two-year-old. Reports are that the one-year-old cried inconsolably for weeks calling “Mama, Mama!”

75 years later, when the then-six-year-old lay dying as an old man in a hospital bed, I brought in to him his mother’s silver mirror-and-brush set and he said he could then ‘see’ her again; see her for the first time in his mind as she sat at her dressing table brushing her long, long hair.

I can’t see her because I never knew her; but the first time I saw the bodice of her wedding dress I pulled my T-shirt right off and tried it on. Then I knew about her tiny waist and small breasts. And when I pulled the long silk skirt from the yellowing tissue paper, I kicked off my jeans then and there and tried it on too. That’s how I found out how tall she was.

She was my height exactly and she haunts me, ah how she haunts me. Her death set off a sadness in my family that has ramified down through the decades. I feel so lucky that her young husband did not die but lived to be an old man and grandfather to many, modeling a kind of willed optimism that made of me the merry child I was, when things could so easily have gone in another direction.

A fatherless child, I lived in his house and under his care.  He called me ‘Blackberry Top’ for the tight dark curls emerging on my baby head.

We owe for so much in this life; how can we ever repay it, except through reverence and thanks?  

Some things fade: these flowers are starting to fade, and the dress comes apart in my hands. This silver creamer, meanwhile, seems to endure, as does this image of that Maloney daughter called Caroline Theresa who lived on the little rise of land just across from the mill. 

Not a Mile Down the Road

sleepin-it-offMy most recent newspaper piece is David’s Uncle Ed – you’ll find it right up at the top where it says “This Week’s column” – and it occurred to me that maybe people would like to see what he looks like. Here he is on his honeymoon, pretending to be exhausted by his husbandly demands. He was 33 when Auntie Fran set her sights on him and she was 40 and a real ‘looker’ as they used to say.

Here she is seeming to point in merry fashion at the bed in the little New Hampshire cabin where they had their honeymoon:

Two people on their honeymoon have only each other to take pictures of so here’s Ed with the drinks at sundown and then savoring one of his first breakfasts as a married man.



They had 45 years together though for the last ten of them Fran was like a bird trapped in a cage: perplexed, sometimes cross and finally so resigned to the her state that she stopped talking altogether – even let the food you put in her mouth dribble right on out again the second you looked away.

Fran isn’t even a mile down the road now, over in Oak Grove, in the lot which was bought for David’s young dad, dead so tragically at just 45 and now also holding David’s mom his wife Ruthie so that Ruth and Francis Payne sleep together as they slept as children in the little house in Manchester, New Hampshire, two girls born when the century was in its teens.

Ed was born in 1920. He wrote poems in the War – also profiles essays and funny songs, all while stationed in the jungles of the South Pacific with the bodies rotting on the beach. Then he came home and took care of everyone: his darling Fran, his mom til she died in the bathtub, a heavy old lady weary with the years. He takes care of me now. though he thinks it’s the other way around.

Here he is two springs ago holding our newest family member. Not your wispy old man with a jawbone thin tin as an axe-blade. He’s as substantial as they come in every way. He will leave a very large void when at last he goes to join the Payne girls over in Oak Grove not even a mile down the road.