Grief That is Coming of Age

SONY DSCI found a new diary app call Day One that makes it simple and fun to record moments on my phone and attach a photo. It’s a wonderful, quick way to capture images and events that otherwise get recorded in my many random notebooks. The images get buried in my 30,000+ photo library and the words and pictures seldom come together again in the same way I felt them at the time. All the entries can be downloaded en masse as a PDF on my computer if I ever want to do anything more with it. It’s brilliant.

This morning I was waiting for a child to awaken and took a moment to look at the pouring rain and remember this, the anniversary of our Dad’s death, 21 years ago today. I opened the Day One app and I wrote this:

It set off a chain of events that have influenced every moment since.

It was as though the words typed themselves, without my knowledge or permission. It is absolutely true, though, and even though it may seem like a surprise to me now, I knew even then that something fundamental had changed with Dad’s passing. I felt it on the train home that day, knowing as I stepped off that when I left Cambridge he was alive, and when I arrived in Concord, he was not. When I got to the house I called my brother and told him Dad was gone.

“How could you possibly know?” he asked.

“I just do.”

My brother was in New Jersey, I was in Massachusetts, Dad was in Saint Louis. It didn’t matter. A long chapter in my life, in all of our lives, had closed and we were free to look back and forward in ways that were not possible before that moment. It’s when memories and myths and mysteries all start to form and weave together ways that are different for every person; truth matters for a while but then becomes so complicated and elusive that you give up, only to go looking for it again later.

It happens this way for plenty of people, I’m sure, when they lose someone so influential to them. The absence of the reflected love, hate, or diffidence changes the image in the mirror and adjustments must be made. In my case it marked the start of the transition from being a child to being a parent, and the quick realization that even that traditional and expected path was not as straight or simple as I thought.

Libraries and hard drives the world over are full of the stories behind this revelation – that life seldom is what we expect it might be and what happens to us brings us unheralded joy, pain and wisdom. It just so happens that on this day back in 1992, my life took a turn in a new direction – if it were a movie there would be a map with a prop plane and a dotted line moving across continents with great zigs and zags, still going forward but making its way around the globe again and again, flying repeatedly over that point where the journey began.

Long Live the Sunday Papers

Will this....
Will this ….
... seem like this?
… seem like this?

We are down to one daily paper and two Sunday papers from a high in 2005 of two dailies, two weeklies and two Sundays. I bore my children every week by announcing a sampling of the papers that flowed through our house when I was growing up: The Daily Record, the Waterloo Courier, the Des Moines Register, the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, L’Osservatore Romano. That expanding concentric circle of news and the priority placed on reading it (no phone nor idle conversations before 9am, ever) was as formative an experience as morning Mass and Sunday dinner. Recalling how frustrating this could be from a kid’s point of view, I have to try very hard not to hide behind the paper each Sunday. I don’t always succeed.

Even though I have read all the major stories online by the time Sunday morning rolls around, I still look forward to sitting down and seeing what I’ve already read in print and the delight of going through each section to read things I know I would missed on any device. Color funnies and Personality Parade (even though it is terrible now)? On paper, only, thanks. Regional news? Still on paper, all week long (I don’t want my kids to ever ask me “What’s a newspaper like?” That would kill me). I set magazines and book reviews aside carefully so that if I don’t get to them they don’t get recycled prematurely. I still keep the front pages from momentous days, good and bad, on my desk upstairs, where they will eventually make their way to a file box in the attic. You can’t pull out a bookmark of a webpage to show children and grandchildren. NY cover same sex marriageI still subscribe to the print version of The New Yorker, and in a nod to marital harmony and environmental consciousness, I save only the covers (an interesting family exercise: pull out a random New Yorker Cover and see if we can figure out what happened that week just from that piece of art – the stories we make up are just as interesting as the real explanations).

I could go on and on…but I need to go finish reading the paper.

Glad for the Cold

Sunrise on the frozen pond.
Sunrise on the frozen pond.

There is something to be said for a cold, snowy January. We are so accustomed to unusual weather that typical weather has become its own event. Holiday winter storms and iced-over ponds restore winter to what we expect it to be, and in these times a plummeting thermometer is truly a breath of fresh air. The garden lies protected under a blanket of snow, paw and hoof prints dot trails across the dormant lawn, and fires burn in the wood stove because they are pleasant, not because the power is out. I always look forward to a January hibernation so that I can regroup from the old year and get ready for the new one. This year, the weather is perfect for that.

SONY DSC

Ending the Year Talking About the Best Kind of 20-Year Olds

Nearly perfect pecan pie
Nearly perfect pecan pie

The world is rightly preoccupied with the details, perspectives, and aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and I have said my piece here. One day just before Christmas, as I blogged and read the news and generally wallowed in the injustices of the world late into the evening, my cell phone rang. It was a 20-year old young man I have known since he was a tot, and he was calling to say he was on our front porch because he did not want to startle us by ringing the doorbell. He and his friend came by to deliver…pecan pie. Pecan pie that they made from scratch (crust and all) that they wanted me to taste and critique so they could make a second pie even later that night. Home from college, they were following up on a pie tutorial they had from our neighbor over Thanksgiving break. The pie they brought me was nearly perfect – better than I’ve ever made, for sure – and they asked me to pull out all of my many pie plates and tins to see if they should try a different sized dish for the next version. I’m not sure if you can justifiably say that deconstructing a pecan pie recipe is a life affirming experience, but I will happily go out on that limb. Watching the meticulous, bright-eyed enthusiasm these guys showed as we discussed how to improve their recipe (it came out eventually that the perfected pie would be proffered to a girl the next day) was the closest I came to pure joy in those days following the tragedy.

As the holidays have progressed, it is this newest emerging generation that gives me the most smiles, the most hope, and the most confidence that we will emerge from this era of dysfunction and despair with our souls intact. I love you guys.

Photo Album: Sterling Fair 2012

On a clear day you can see Mount Wachusett. The Sterling Fair is just the right mix of rides (including our favorite, a real helicopter), animals, tractor pulls, arts and crafts, produce, art and baked goods.

Sheep whisperer.

Oh, and junk food, I forgot that one. I think I take this same photo every year. I love that cone.

Can I have this banner, please? I want to send it to my daughter at college.

Sharp shootin’.

No giant pumpkin this year (did I miss it?) but this is almost as good.

‘Merica.

Disney Detour

I was going through some 2011 photos and found this. The Casey Junior Train is the best thing in Disneyland (there isn’t one at Disney World). It epitomizes everything I wanted to visit at Disney theme parks when I was young, and it is pretty much all that is left of the Disney magic that I can embrace. I didn’t really want to go to Disneyland (crowds, lines, heat) but my son was hell bent on seeing this train, and he was right – it’s the coolest thing there.  I’m amazed that the Disney merchandising juggernaut has not capitalized on the train mania – aside from a pin, you cannot find any models or memorabilia related to this train anywhere in Disneyland. I’m not complaining (okay maybe I am) but it’s so discouraging when you can buy princess everything and Goofy sweatshirts in size XXXL but not a toy train.

The Casey Junior song from Dumbo is my all time favorite sequence in Disney film – every hue and detail perfect. (The colors in the VHS format are actually richer than the DVD, I think.)

And you know what else I love about it? See the patchwork quilt that makes up the landscape? Those are all succulents, planted by Walt Disney himself, in every hue imaginable. Oh, and my boys rode around in the monkey cage. I loved that, too.

Hubba Bubba: Bill Clinton Redeems Himself

Regardless of what anyone thinks about this election cycle, there is no arguing that Bill Clinton gave a master class in politics at the Democratic National Convention last night. He has never given a better speech at a more important moment. It should be required viewing (along with the written version so his brilliant improvisation comes through) for anyone interested in any kind of political career. The Republican strategists on MSNBC openly envied him, saying that their party did not offer anyone close to Clinton’s performance in terms of political mastery. I haven’t had that much fun watching a speech since Reagan.

I used to cringe when I heard Clinton speak as President, and when I stood at a rope line near him in January 2008 in Nashua, New Hampshire, he was charismatic but in a creepy and pandering kind of way. He was clearly worried, angry and exhausted after witnessing Hillary’s defeat to Barack Obama in the Iowa Caucuses the night before. His angsty presence was so distracting while Hillary spoke that he and Chelsea eventually moved behind the campaign bus halfway through her rally. Later, when he emerged to work the crowd, along that rope line he scanned the crowd for the (few) people of color and, reaching beyond me more than once, pulled them toward him to take pictures, as if he needed to prove he hadn’t lost his influence with them.

After being such a skunk during the 2008 primaries, he owed this performance to Obama, and delivered spectacularly. The President has a tough act to follow.

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