Category Archives: family

Same as It Ever Was, Sorta

I FaceTime with my 87-year-old mom nearly every Friday night. Pretty cool, right? Lately she’s been telling more stories from the past, some she hasn’t told me before. What struck me about some recent stories is how, at the core, they are similar to what people experience today, only back then there were a lot fewer resources to help.

Take job hunting. My mother talked about how hard it was for her to find a job in her early 20s. Sound familiar? It was the early 1950’s, so the economy was fine. Yes, she was a woman, so that was a strike against her. But she wasn’t looking for a career, she was just looking for a job. She was turned down at a little general store in town because she had the same last name as a cousin who’d been fired from the store for doing something bad. My mom wasn’t sure what. There were easily 20 or more cousins in town with the same last name, so that seems somewhat short-sighted, judging a whole family based on one bad apple. The fact that there was a high probability that there was more than one bad apple in that bunch is inconvenient to my story, and therefore irrelevant.

Also, it’s ironic because if they had bothered to get past my mom’s last name, they would have learned she had recently left the convent. What more validation of an honest person can you find? And, no, she wasn’t discharged because of rosary grand larceny or embezzlement of the priests’ sundry fund.

Of course, it was the convent thing that was really messing up her search. At that time there weren’t too many career counselors and coaches to help. Heck, there weren’t even resumes. Just my mom filling out applications and trying to explain where she’d been in the past several years. You’d think that the nun gig would have been a more common thing back then, especially in a town where there was a Catholic church for each of the town’s immigrant groups — St. Stanislaus, St. Anthony, St. Anne — you get the picture. But apparently employers found it just as weird as they probably would today. But today she’d have an army of online and in-person career coaches and websites telling her to emphasize her loyalty, passion, and commitment to her work. And how about “excellent ability to take direction”? She left the convent because she got very sick from the physically demanding chores of hand-washing priest vestments, praying for hours, sleeping very little, and Oliver Twist-like food. The first time she got sick, she returned home to recover and then went back. The second time she got sick, the Mother Superior told her it was a sign she was meant to do something else. She would have stayed if they had let her, so I think you could add “ability to follow through.”

She finally landed a job in the office of a car dealership, but then there were other male shenanigans to contend with. Here’s hoping the starts to change, 60 years later.

The convent thing of course followed her into the dating scene, but the few dates she told me about seemed a lot like the letters I read in a daily relationship column. There was the guy who took her out once, but when she was kind of clueless about the goodnight kiss thing, she never heard from him again. She connected with another guy on the 1950s version of eHarmony — a Catholic pen pal club. That helped make the ex-nun thing less of an issue. They wrote a number of letters back and forth and my mom got excited and thought things were going really well — until he told her he found someone. At least he didn’t ghost her.

So all as a way of saying, sometimes I like to think I  have it harder than others. But, I really don’t. Not only can I learn from those who came before me, I can Google “ex-nun resume tips” and “how to give a kiss.” And that’s pretty cool.

 

Writing Excavation

Before I get into my blog proper, I need to detour one second for this brilliant tweet from @DrAndrewThaler: “Folks, I think we need to start coming to terms with the idea that the rapture happened and only David Bowie and Prince made the cut.”

And now back to our regularly scheduled shenanigans: While packing and decluttering before I moved, I went through my filing box of writing. Oh what a treasure trove of the good, the bad, and the incomprehensible, masquerading as mastery. Here are some of the more interesting (humor me) highlights:

This one I like — I’m not a natural-born poet, brevity being rather foreign to me. However, I do have my moments. I used to take a bus to the train to get to a 7 am meeting in Boston. One thing writers are good at is turning an unpleasant obligation into art, or at least something more palatable.

Early spring bus ride, 6:20 am
The light is so nice
It’s the planet and the sun
We’re doing the tilt.

I found a lot of random notes about possible essays from when Lucas was little. Which either shows my unbridled optimism or delusional tendencies — I had no time or energy to write an essay, but as they say in yoga, intention counts. This one made me smile:

When Lucas was about 8, he played soccer. His coach Giuseppe was from Italy and had a pretty heavy accent. We used to laugh that his son who was also on the team and a great player was the ringer — the kid probably had been kicking a ball around before he could walk. The rest of Lucas’s team was pretty much what you’d expect from a group of rag-tag, half-hearted 8-year-olds. The better teams always thought they had the game in the bag until Giuseppe’s son started weaving his way around them as if they were standing still. I also loved the way Guiseppe told the kids that “practeeks” would help them win. Short of having a wine flask to help take the edge off sitting through 8 am practices in 35-degree fall weather, the Italian imported ringer and the practeeks got me through.

In an unmarked manila folder I found a thin, plastic see-through record, a 45 size, but a 33 rpm. If you are younger than 35, this sentence may make no sense to you. Kind of like this one makes no sense to me (randomly found on a celebrity gossip site): Javi and Briana rub their romance in Kailyn’s face. Who are these people?

Back to my see-through record. It does play on my record player. (Yes, I have one, read all about it here: Put the Needle on the Record). The record is called “Star Track: Stephen Saban’s Greatest Hits,” and has excerpts from interviews by the “hottest” 80s stars, with a slant toward comedians: Judy Tenuta, Julio Iglesias, Bruce Willis, Debbie Harry, Steven Wright, Emo Phillips, Lily Tomlin. I listened to it, and it’s pretty incomprehensible — there is no theme or organization, just famous people saying random things. It says “Details” at the top, which I think means it was from the hip, happening 80s magazine of the same name, which I did not subscribe to. So the mystery remains: why was this (presumably) in a magazine, who the hell is Stephen Saban, how did I get this weird thing, and for the love, why did I keep it? Was it one of those, “Oh, this will be worth a lot on eBay in the future!” moments? We may never know as I threw it away, but was fun to find.

There were many painful attempts at fiction and interview notes from when I spent a few months as a stringer for a weekly local newspaper. Neither genre is my forte, so that’s part of the pain. But it’s not a bad thing to be reminded that being a young writer is what it is — bombastic, obvious, overly earnest, and just plain bad. But I had to write all that stuff to get where I am now: bombastic, obvious, underly earnest, and less bad.

And I’ll leave you with a deliciously bad piece of writing. Here is the winner of the 2017 Best Unoriginal Sentence: Hers was a beauty that was best seen through drunken eyes.

Thank you very much.

Now I’m Worried 

You’re only getting a short tease this week, because I’m packing up to move, and a bunch of other things are going on, including I got to see the kid for parents weekend at his school this weekend. It’s 4 hours away, so I stayed at a Days Inn, a cheap, but clean, no-frills kind of place. But maybe it was too clean. I found this little gem sitting near the TV:Hotels these days have all kinds of messages they place around the room to either tell you how efficient and all saving-the-planet they are with solar energy and washing things in a cup full of rain water collected from the green roof. Alternately they berate you to use less energy by choosing to use your towels and sheets multiple times. But I hadn’t seen this little number yet, so I took a closer look. Turns out this remote is built to allow for full disinfecting. 

Um. Eww?

I appreciate the effort, but 1) the rule of hotels is to work to make me think I’m the only one who has ever stayed there. Ever. So referring to disinfecting the remote very much violates that little fantasy; and 2) now I’m thinking about where that remote has been that it requires disinfectant. And believe me, as I sat staring at it from across the room, I went waaaaay past, sneezing and germ ridden kids. 

Suffice to say, I did not touch the remote or the TV. So maybe that’s actually how the disinfecting works. 

See you on the other side of the move! 

Goodbye, My Friend

Just a short post to say I recently lost a long-time friend–she was my age and left us much too soon. She passed a few days after losing her teenage son to suicide. Why do these things happen? I haven’t a clue. We all struggle with things, physical and emotional, and sometimes it’s all too much. But she had a big heart that connected to everyone she met. And many, many people will never forget her easy, squeaky laugh. A busy life has a way of making us forget what’s truly important, so I want to honor her and remember as best I can to love, live, and be grateful. Goodbye, my friend, we will miss you. We wish you all the peace and love you deserve. 

Mission Accomplished

Just a quick one this week. Life has been coming at me from all sides, some good, some not so good, so I feel a bit like a little kid tossed in the 3-ft wave surf. I come up gulping for air, only get tossed back under. That’s why I missed last week’s post. If I’m lucky, you didn’t even notice. I’m back and staying more above water than below, so this week this I’m concentrating on the good.

A week and a half ago I dropped the kid off at college. A couple of work colleagues said, “You must be sad,” and I got a pretty big raised eyebrow when I said I was actually really good. My neighbor across the street asked me if I missed my son now that I was all alone. They are a lovely older couple, but our relationship is pretty much regulated to waving when we’re getting in and out of cars, and they once drove the kid to school when my car had a flat. I never told them he was leaving. But I forget they are those kind of neighbors you want because they watch everything going on, including apparently us packing up the kid in a very obvious “going to college” kind of way, and not a “hauled off to jail” kind of way. I was a little less direct and said I missed him a little, but was getting used to it. Which is also true.

A long-time friend got closer to it when he asked me if I was done yet running around the house yelling, “MINE! All mine!”

I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be one of those mopey, weepy empty nesters, but I also thought it would be an interesting idea to have minor surgery on my 30th birthday, so you know, I’m not always right. But I was right about this. The weeks before were definitely up and down for both of us. The day of, as we were leaving the house, I told him I would give him a hug now so I wouldn’t embarrass him at school. He asked me not to cry, and I told him I was going to do my best not to. We got to campus, and after 2 hours of unloading and unpacking, his relief that whatever horrible thing he had worried about hadn’t happened was so great, he was actually happy and comfortable. He sent me and his dad on our way with a hug and an “I love you.”

If he had looked stricken, I would have totally lost it. But there was perfect happiness all around. I got in the car and drove home singing joyfully to my tunes.

See, the thing is, the kid never really liked school. And yet he was an honors student and knew he wanted to go on to higher education. This always mystifies me —  I only did well in school because I loved it. If I had disliked it as much as he did, I really have no idea what would have happened. I was scared of the druggy kids, I wasn’t an athlete, and there wasn’t an internet yet to offer me a career in blogging.

Since he’s been 10, I’ve been telling him college would be different. Harder, yes, but also more fun and fewer educational restrictions. In the past year, I had more than one panic attack, thinking, oh god, what if college isn’t more fun for him? Way to lose parental cred, if I ever had any to begin with. So I softened my pitch to, “Just try it for a year. If you hate it, we can come up with Plan B.” I’m such a back-peddling weenie. But nothing ruins stuff like high expectations, so back-peddle I did.

Seeing him standing by his college desk, mostly unpacked, fussing happily over his computer, was the best thing I could have hoped for. Sending us on our way was icing on the cake. Oh, I know, there is still going to be hard times, and he still may tell me at the end of the year that he hates it and is going to sell electronics on eBay for a living. But for now, he is content for the first time in a long time. And so am I.

And I’m still running around the house yelling, “MINE! All mine!”

 

 

 

Eclipsed

The kid and I were in Columbia, South Carolina to see the total Solar eclipse. We’re still trying to get back to Boston, but that’s another blog, or maybe not — 3-4 hour delays seem to be too common to even make fun of these days, at least on Delta.

I could make fun of the total eclipse-related “traffic” we were warned about in South Carolina’s capital city, but I’d have to use Boston as a comparison, and it’s weird even for me to brag about how much more traffic we have: The bumper to bumper crawl around the city or coming to a dead stop on the Pike on any random day just before Boston or between the 3 Worcester exits (that’s Woostah to you) — where you can be stopped in traffic long enough for a drink and a cigarette. Heck, it can take 2 hours to get home on the train after the Fourth of July fireworks. So when they said plan ahead, I was thinking along those lines. Thank you, Columbia for not even coming close.

But none of that matters, because for almost 2 hours, we watched the greatest show on earth. The eclipse forecast, which had been updated daily like Vegas odds, this morning finally settled on 90-plus degrees and 50% chance of cloud cover — even money. The lucky bit was that the clouds were those great, big puffy ones that play cat and mouse with the sun, so I figured at some point we’d see something. But even if we didn’t, we were with a group of other eclipse enthusiasts, at the SC State Fair grounds, surrounded by happy tailgaters from all states, setting up their canopies and chairs, grilling, laughing, playing catch, playing music.

And then it started. Wearing our glasses that looked like we were from a 50s 3D movie, we watched as the first dark sliver appeared. The glasses block out everything else, so all you can see is a sharp gold ball, with an ever growing black bite getting taken out of it. It was great just to focus on that, and try to forget about lying on the ground in the sun’s heat. The clouds came and went. When a cloud blocked the sun, we cooled off in the car. But then I started enjoying watching the way the glasses made everything blank, and then the gold ball would peek through the darkness as the cloud passed by. While the eclipse was already an immense gift, this slow uncovering of the partially eaten gold ball made the experience even more dear. This might be all I was going to get, so I sweated, watched, and decided whatever sunscreen was left on me would have to do. 

The cars next to us were playing music, and I had to chuckle at the appropriateness of “Black Hole Sun” and “Sky Full of Stars.”

Half way. It was taking forever and not long enough. Texts from various friends rolled in, the first from my friend who was watching the total eclipse from Oregon. He was already finished seeing the eclipse before we even started, and he said it was amazing. Sending happy updates to friends, I watched the sun get darker. The clouds began to thin out, with bigger blue sky gaps.

At the 3/4 mark, the dark curve seemed to move faster. It wasn’t quite so hot and a slight breeze kicked up. People who had been only sporadically paying attention were alert and calling to their eclipse mates to come out, to come see. The sky light became more subdued, like before a thunderstorm, but more dull yellow. 

The full eclipse would occur at 2:43 and at 2:40, someone started playing “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and a bunch of us laughed. 

The light arc was now a thin strip, disappearing at the edges…”Turn around bright eyes…” 

The last bit of light flared in what’s called the diamond ring, and we all cheered and clapped. The sun was a black circle with just light wisps of the corona showing. It was magnificent. Tears leaked down my face, and the kid came up behind me and gave me a hug. It was that kind of thing, like you wanted to hug the person next to you because of the magic and the beauty. All around the horizon, in every direction, the sky looked like sunset. With the heat blocked, the air cooled. 

“It’s going to come back soon,” said the kid, and my human instinct kicked in — No! I wanted it to go on a little longer, watch it longer, have a chance to let it sink in. But I am just a speck in the face of these enormous celestial bodies that carry on in their own mysterious ways. 

And then the diamond ring flashed again, and the sliver of light returned. The crowd clapped and cheered again — harder this time — for the flawless performance, and exclaiming delight in their own way. The kid thanked me for arranging the trip, and I gave him a hug. 
People started to pack up, but I lingered a bit, watching the inverse of the event while the light reclaimed its usual state. But nature had given us enough, more than enough, and a sun shower turned into a sun-blocking cloud, and a bit more rain. It was time to go. 

So it doesn’t matter that we’re still sitting in the airport 8 hours later, still waiting to get on the plane to Boston. Today we witnessed an amazing miracle, something much bigger than ourselves, and it eclipsed everything else. 

Love That Dirty Water

When I first set foot on the algae slimed, goose-poop covered banks of the Charles River in the summer of 1983, it was love at first sight. For the first time in my life I felt truly at home. I never left, and while I still love Boston, I can sometimes take it for granted or forget how much I love it. 
Last week good weather and a decent work load combined to propel me outside at lunch to take a walk along those very same banks. It’s much cleaner now, although most people prefer to enjoy it from a sail boat or a kayak. I walked along the bank, lost in thought, until I realized it was time to head back. When I turned and saw the view, I fell in love all over again. 

Exhibit A


That’s a view of the Longfellow Bridge, better known as the salt and pepper bridge because of the shape of the 4 central towers. The state has been renovating the bridge and they took each “shaker” down to restore it and this was the first time in 3 or 4 years that I have seen all 4 back again. Add the sail boats from Community Boating, and you have the quintessential Boston/Charles River picture.

Here’s a close up of the salt and pepper shakers. 


So there I was, giddy and gushing over my city, on my walk, when I came upon city workers posting these signs.


No matter that I had just seen a dog standing in the water and lapping it up, and a while later saw a man sitting in it, communing with nature. We still love that dirty water. Boston you’re my home.