What can I say, it was raining again, and my hair was too weird, darker than it should be which looks funny with my gradually disappearing eyebrows.
That’s a family thing with the eyebrows. Some of my family members have no eyebrows at all to speak of.
At least I started out with some ..
Do you doubt me? There they are on that chick in the middle:
I guess I was in my early twenties when that picture was taken.
When I was 19 they were DARKER STILL:
(I know, I know. All I need is a mustache and I’m Tom Selleck in a wig circa 1980.)
But even my sturdy Irish brows are thinning now and the it seems the roses have gone my cheeks as well. At the frame shop last month my friend behind the counter said, “Well hello! Your HAIR is so dark I didn’t know you!”
I mumbled something about how I told my stylist how I kind of hated the blonde direction he was heading in so he made my hair dark. But In the days just after he colored it even I could tell it was a mite TOO dark; just a mite too Morticia Addams. Plus I could sense small children edging away.
“I thin it looks better to have light hair around the older face,” she said. Whose older face she meant was pretty clear to me.
And so it was that I ducked into the salon last week and showed him my roots.
“So these are basically the color of old snow,” I said pointing to the half-inch of grey sprouting up from my scalp, “and this is, like shoe polish black, practically,” I added, pointing to the other 15 inches of hair. “So what do you think, can we look for something less dark that will diminish the contrast between the real and the dyed as the hair starts to grow in?”
“Sure!” he crowed. He’s waited for years to throw the whole Magician’s Book of Color at me.
And so yesterday with rain one again pelting down on the Ark we’re all bobbing about on in this soggy month of June, he lightened it a tad, got out the bleach and the tinfoil and gave me a kind of maple syrup with tones of umber base with streaks of Christina Hendricks Red.
Christina Hendricks: That’s Joan Harris on Mad Men, as I’m sure you know. You see the resemblance I’m sure? Uncanny isn’ t it?
And even at 9:30 last night bands of daylight still cling to the horizon. Every year at this time I feel like I’m walking around inside one of those 1940s children’s book you can still find in second-hand stores, with the perfectly puffed clouds set against skies of heavenly blue. I look around and think Where are Grandpa and Grandpa who the children visit on their farm? Where is the littlest child with her doll carriage eternally trying to dress the cat in baby clothes?
Every year at this time I feel I am back in Eden, that state that all of us seem to dimly remember, before we and the world tilted into brokenness and error.
It seems we inhabit a sort of continual Present tense on any June morning with its blossoms and its birds. There is no future to fear, no past to either regret or pine for.
Maybe it’s the color of the grass, or the proliferation of blossoms everywhere. You’re not expecting all these blooms somehow. I know I’m newly amazed every year all the plants that go to the trouble of flowering, even the small humble one that you picture at the bottom of the ladder, that plant whose mission you thought was to clutch soil merely; even this plant is staging a great show of beauty. It reminds me of the bike parades you went to as a kid, your dented little Schwinn festooned in flounce and sparkle.
The world is so festooned right now. Just walk outside and see.
I hope everyone enjoyed the day yesterday. I know I did. I spent it as I spend all days, with the father of my children who I fell for at the tender age of 19 when I saw how his story matched my own, both of us fatherless, both accustomed to a life where we were special to no one in the great world, looked on with special favor by no one.
That part was OK. Most people are in this position.
David’s dad contracted stomach cancer when David was ten. Mine…well, mine had his own problems, which I have said a little about here. He came to see me only once on the occasion of my baptism and by a stroke of luck somebody took our picture. I’m the sleeping one in the arms of my Aunt Julia. He’s the sad-looking one in the hat, face turned away.
The picture was taken at my grandfather’s house where Mom went to live as after he left us. He stayed only an hour as she told me 20 years later. He didn’t speak to Mom and he didn’t so much as look at me. He had left us eight months before and felt ashamed I imagine.
He did his best in life, of that I am sure.
And this is David’s doomed young Dad beneath here, when he was in high school. His first-born son, David’s big brother Toby, looks quite a bit like him as you can see.
But lacking a dad doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy that third Sunday in June.
Nor does it mean you can’t be a great dad yourself, as my kids’ dad is and has been since our very first child first drew breath in this world.
This is the man, in summer once by a lake.
Here’s to all fathering then, whatever form it may take!
The other night our baby of the moment, still bald and in a high chair, put her head down on her tray and wept like a man broken by life. We were all out to dinner, meaning her two parents and her aunt, her brothers busy making art on their plates with their ketchup, and we her grandparents.
It was something about the cup the restaurant gave her for her water: It was plastic, with a lid perforated by a straw that was twice as tall as the cup itself, thus presenting her with a physics problem beyond her ability to solve.
In her eager baby thirst, she hoisted the thing, poked herself in the eye with the straw, and saw the lid pop off, causing a floodtide of water to wash down off her head and get into her eyes, her nose and even her mouth.
And oh how she cried, her head resting in the puddle!
I would’ve cried too. It’s awful when you find yourself in a world governed by rules you don’t grasp, in this case the ones involving gravity.
Think of the times you didn’t know the rules and floundered around, trying to figure them out. I can think of lots of times I’ve been in that position:
On first attending Catholic services as a very small child I remember coming to understand that you must not talk but rather sit or kneel while contemplating the top of the pew in front of you. (In those little-kid years, I think I mostly stood and licked it.) But then I was faced with an altogether different expectation when, with my college boyfriend, I began attending a Protestant church where everyone turned clear around in their seats and gabbed away until the service started.
I also remember my first year at summer camp when I was the first one ‘up’ in schlagball but did not know in the least how the game was played never mind what the rules were. As I recall I faked a faint and got mercifully toted by my armpits to the infirmary. (But why wouldn’t the counselors make sure at the outset that we were all familiar with this game? Did they enjoy watching some of us struggle, as when adults get their little kids to recite the words to patriotic songs so they can laugh when they get those words wrong? I mean MAYBE it’s funny when the kids sing about “the bums bursting in air” but do they have to try getting them to sing it over and over, just for their own amusement?)
It’s a dark impulse, this desire to laugh at others. It’s a darker impulse yet to maintain whole sets of rules and expectations that are somehow a secret kept from all but the people already ‘in the know’.
I remember when my sister first moved to Florida, and settled into a development with many unstated ‘rules’. How she pitied that other new family that hung their bed linens outside in the fresh air, only to have whole teams of neighborhood busybodies tut-tutting about them behind their backs.
All this did I reflect on as I watched our baby, who was instantly plucked up out of her soggy seat and comforted by all seven family members.
Some rules are the Universe’s rules, like gravity, and must be obeyed.
Other rules you just sometimes wonder: Who are they serving really?
I spent all weekend fixing things, or trying to, so today I’m dressing up as my mother and meeting my friends for coffee in the living room… My friends are all imaginary so I won’t have to clean up much.
See how pleasant we all look? I’m the one with the dark hair.
The kids are playing stickball outside, we think. Johnny sassed his little brother earlier but we’ll have to wait for Father to come home to deal with that since after all Father Knows Best. Or, er, Ward Cleaver maybe, the Beav’s dad…ha ha. A little irony for you guys today! In truth my hair has never looked as tame as the hair of the lady on the left.
Here’s how I really look today, a fresh two inches of rain having fallen on my little head last night.
Truth in advertising ha ha! And while I’m telling the truth I should admit I borrowed the photo on top from a Chock Full O’Nuts ad in a magazine.
This past weekend everything broke.
First, on Saturday morning, the washing machine lost its mind and began throwing water all over everything. Water filled the back hall and migrated into the bathroom. It soaked three rugs so thoroughly you could hardly lift them. It also leaked down into the cellar and flooded the table we use as a tool bench. We have one of those nifty folding suitcaseythings in which every screwdriver and awl, every plier, pincer and nut nestles in its own contoured bed of molded plastic. Alas each one of these wee beds was also waterlogged.
You wouldn’t think a hammer could float but ours seemed to be doing just that.
I did the wash for the rest of the weekend by turning on the main water valve and standing there while the tub filled, turning off the water while it agitated, turned it on again to bring on the rinse, tuned it off again to supervise the spin and so on. This method worked pretty well, galling as it was to spend my time this way. The repairman can’t get here for days, the shop says.
Then the toilet in the downstairs bathroom became similarly unstable, leaning dangerously – almost like a skittish horse – when you sat down on it. We tried tightening it but that’s not as easy as it looks. When toilets go wrong, experience has taught us you pretty much have to loosen the bolts, pull the thing clear out of the floor, buy a new beeswax collar to act as your seal, and jam it down again as hard as you can and then retighten the bolts. I have seen my man do this before, but this time we both thought well the plumber guys are coming anyway… So we kind of just closed the door to that little room and went on with our weekend.
Finally, things got really bad when, last night, the case on my Kindle wouldn’t fold up nicely, that seemed like the last straw. The little lamp is attached to the case and if the case won’t fold right, the light won’t illuminate the ‘page.’ What will I do?” I moaned to David “How will I get to sleep if I can’t read in the dark?”
He took the Kindle from me; checked the places where it attaches to the case; unbent the case a little and – voila! – the fault lay in a plump red Gummy Bear that somehow got lodged in there somehow. Sigh. David can do anything. Maybe tonight when he gets home from work we’ll tackle the washing machine ourselves. And I have to say I find it strangely thrilling to see him with hoist 140 pounds of porcelain and bring it in for a landing… What a man!
“Those children are right,” he would have said. “They stole nothing from you, my dear. These things don’t belong to you here, you now. They belonged to her, that other you, so long ago.”
Oh, thought Mrs. Bentley. And then, as though an ancient phonograph record had been set hissing under a steel needle, she remembered a conversation she had once had with Mr. Bentley–Mr. Bentley, so prim, a pink carnation in his whisk-broomed lapel, saying, “My dear, you never will understand time, will you? You’ve always trying to be the things you were, instead of the person you are tonight. Why do you save those ticket stubs and theater programs? They’ll only hurt you later. Throw them away, my dear.”
But Mrs. Bentley had stubbornly kept them.
“It won’t work,” Mr. Bentley continued, sipping his tea. “No matter how hard you try to be what you once were, you can only be what you are here and now. Time hypnotizes. When you’re nine, you think you’ve always been nine years old and will always be. When you’re thirty, it seems you’ve always been balanced there on that bright rim of middle life. And then when you turn seventy, you are always and forever seventy. You’re in the present, you’re trapped in a young now or an old now, but there is no other now to be seen.”
It had been one of the few, but gentle, disputes of their quiet marriage. He had never approved of her bric-a-brackery. “Be what you are, bury what you are not,” he had said. “Ticket stubs are trickery. Saving things is a magic trick, with mirrors.”
If he were alive tonight, what would he say?
“You’re saving cocoons.” That’s what he’d say. “Corsets, in a way, you can never fit again. So why save them? You can’t really prove you were ever young. Pictures? No, they lie. You’re not the picture.”
No, my dear, you are not the dates, or the ink, or the paper. You’re not these trunks of junk and dust. You’re only you, here, now–the present you.”
Mrs. Bentley nodded at the memory, breathing easier.
“Yes, I see. I see.”
The gold-feruled cane lay silently on the moonlit rug.
“In the morning,” she said to it, “I will do something final about this, and settle down to being only me, and nobody else from any other year. Yes, that’s what I’ll do.”
She slept . . .”
I was in a bad mood last weekend, I’ll admit. It was the weather of course. People are so silly about the weather. What’s that old saying ? As a rule man’s a fool, when it’s hot he wants it cool. When it’s cool he wants it hot, always wanting what is not. True enough!
It was 41° on the Friday of that three-day weekend. Then six days later, it was 91°. ”A 50° difference in less than a week!” we all exclaimed.
People whined like you wouldn’t believe.
I whined. Here in our part of the country where the air is crisp enough it seems practically mentholated , most of us hadn’t even dragged out our window fans yet, never mind digging that dented and drooling boxhead of an AC unit up out of the basement.
Thus, the heat came as a shock to us all as we rummaged through closets for shorts and T-shirts and remembered for the first time in months why it is that people actually wear antiperspirant. We griped. It’s what we do.
I met a man at a book talk I gave once who told me he lived outside of the United States for 15 years and was only just now returning. ”What do you notice most about Americans, now that you can look at your countrymen with fresh eyes?” I asked him.
“People complain! They complain about everything!” he said. “I couldn’t believe it at first. It’s as if nothing is ever good enough.”
That shivered my timbers, I can tell you. I didn’t want to be one of those people.
So I got to considering: Maybe instead of griping, we should actually delight in the variety the world presents. Even the weather, aside of course from the terrifying and violent climatic swings such as the ones that have brought drought to Colorado and tornadoes to Oklahoma.
“I’d really like to try doing that,” I was thinking later that day as I walked into my local cobbler shop or “Shoe Hospital” as its owner has dubbed it.
Here, a young girl around 11 was munching on a chocolate chip cookie and chatting in familiar fashion with the proprietor.
“She must be one of his grandchildren,” I thought, so wide was the smile she flashed him as she ducked back out of the store.
“Is that your granddaughter?” “I asked as I handed over the ticket to reclaim my newly reheeled boots.
“No,” he said. “She just comes in here all the time. She says she loves the smell of the place.”
“Ah!” said I. “The smell of leather, and shoe polish? Maybe the smell of the oil in these various machines?”
“Exactly,” he said handing me my boots.
“You know it wouldn’t kill you to polish these now and then,” he added with a wink.
I purchased a tin of saddle soap displayed there on the counter then and there, took a whiff, sighed happily, and exited the shop one happy camper, through with complaining for a good long while.
Some things are funny, sure, but hilarious suggests such an over-the-top reaction to a thing that might, maybe tickle your funny bone it just puts me off.
Plus, not to sound like a grouch here, but I don’t think you get to say “Oh, listen to this, it’s hilarious.”
I mean, the person himself has to decide what’s funny, no?
Otherwise it’s like the hard sell.
It’s like what advertises, or the media do with sex vis-à-vis young people:
They take it away from them, take away what is rightfully theirs, their endowment as human beings, trick it up and try selling it back to them.
It just makes me feel a mite queasy, you know?
When I joined the Fewer Than 12 Items line at the supermarket recently, the woman directly ahead of me turned and made the ‘After You’ sign with her hands. “Go ahead,” she said. “You have only one item and I have 12.”
“Nah, it’s fine,” I said smilingly back, and we both turned to watch as the sales associate rang up the purchases of the man in front of her, a process that took a while, what with the weighing of his produce and the waiting while he dug out his reusable bags.
Finally he was gone and this nice woman was next – but instead of unloading her items on the belt she turned to me once again. “Go!” she said again, standing back as if to let me pass in front of her. “You need to go, I can tell. I have an instinct.”
“No, really,” I said. “I mean, my day is no busier than yours. It’s not like I’m the Pope.”
“The Pope! I wouldn’t give my place to the Pope!” she laughed.
“You don’t like the Pope?” I asked, worried that I had wandered into a dicey realm.
“It isn’t that. It’s more that… well, you know. Popes, Presidents: they get all kinds of breaks.”
This was true, as I knew from my junior high boyfriend, who has worked protecting both Popes and Presidents. They don’t even carry any money.
She went on. “So see I like to do what I can for …”
“For the little guy? Regular schlubs like us?”
“Exactly,” she said. “Now go ahead of me.”
So… I went ahead of her.
And she didn’t even seem to mind that I turned out to be carrying over one shoulder my own silky reusable bag, which I use to put my items in as I shop, to save the trouble of using one of the store’s wire baskets. Thus, like a magician pulling rabbits from a hat, I drew forth a packaged salad, a bottle of water, and a pint-sized container from the aisle of bins where you can scoop out your own nuts, grains and seeds.
“What’s this?” asked the cashier holding up the small container.
“Oh I’m sorry!” I said. “It’s Red Wheat Bran. That’s what the bin it came from said.” He stopped and drew out a booklet and began laboriously hunting through columns of small print for it for the Wheat Bran code number. “I guess I was rushing so much I forgot to label it. I’m scheduled to meet someone in the eating area at the front of the store,” I added lamely.
“See? I was right!” said the woman, now behind me. “I told you I have an instinct! You did need to go first!”
I thought about this exchange for the whole rest of that day, and what we mean when we use the word ‘need.’
I guess maybe I did sort of ‘ need’ to get through the line fast and meet my party. But what I needed even more was to meet someone like this, people who keep their her fine antennae tuned outward, toward others, rather than inward, toward themselves, ever aware of what they might do to help. Those people are our real spiritual leaders in my book.
Once a week I take the ABC scholars of my town over the landmark Zakim Bridge to tutor kids in the historic Boston neighborhood of Roxbury. (This is that bridge with Boston Harbor and Paul Revere’s famous Old North Church in the background.) And here you see ABC scholar Enderson Naar, Winchester High class of ’15, helping a child with his math – and that’s his WHS classmate Tobi Omola in the background.)
The place we tutor at, 826 Boston, has done some amazing work helping kids unlock their potential as writers and readers and wide-wake individuals in general who never miss a trick. The children come after school to do their homework and learn, even as our ABC scholars come to assist, and admire their writing and help them feel about reading the way everyone else in the place does.
I’m only the chauffeur on these weekly jaunts. Four years ago when we started doing this, I decided it would be best to stand aside and let them shine; also to let them really own the experience. They have to commit to a day and a time-slot ahead of time and register online. Then at 2:15 when they’re just out of class themselves, I appear, my car loaded with snacks, and we head into the city, talking the whole way.
It is wonderful to arrive there on the Roxbury-Dorchester line, the place I was born and spent the first ten years of life. I love the area, and these eight guys seem to love it too, as they are from some great old neighborhoods themselves: Harlem and Philly, Queens and Brooklyn, and two from the proud old Connecticut cities of Bridgeport and Meriden.
We perk right up when we move through the tunnel, get off at Mass. Ave, and go right down Melnea Cass Boulevard. Sometimes take a new way, trying to shave time and see all new things. When we passed a Popeye’s last time, LaVon said “I feel like I’m home! Stop the car!”
When we arrive at last athere, they walk into the whimsically named Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute and get down to work.
I, meanwhile, sit in my car dreaming back to the time my big sister and I attended the old Notre Dame Academy the site of which is not 1000 yards away. A fantastical place that old school was, with long-gowned nuns floating down the marble hallways, their feet as invisible as duck’s feet. The Dimock Health Center, once the New England Hospital for Women and Children, was built at the same time and has the same beauty. See?
When I went to school here, this Egleston Square section of Boston was unlovely, with the elevated train darkening all its streets.
Today I find it nothing but lovely. I recently walked to the very site of my school and took this picture.
Here is the old stone wall made of Roxbury Puddingstone, at the edge of what was once the school’s grounds and is now a graceful apartment building:
And these are the homes we pass along Washington Street.
When the boys get done with their 90 minutes of tutoring they bound out to my car with their spirits even higher than they were. They laugh, and listen to Bob Marley, or Frank Ocean, Justin Timberlake or Bruno Mars as I carry us homeward. Often they sing. And sometimes when I think they’re not aware of it, I prop my phone on the dashboard and record them doing it. I couldn’t love this weekly task more if the ABC program paid me to do it but everyone’ efforts for the program are donated. Tell you what doing it makes me feel so alive I often think I should be paying ABC.
This was Annie, who sucked her thumb in secret for years in the cloak room of the Children’s Own School.
Annie, who befriended the ugliest wrecks of dolls, giving them fancy names and making them costumes so they could compete in her specially declared Doll Olympics in that steamy summer of ’88.
Annie, who, when her little brother came, was heartbroken briefly yes and seen crying in every video I took for the first three months of that new baby’s life. But Annie, who then devoted herself entirely to his care, abandoning her own room to sleep on the floor under the desk in his room.
To keep him company, she said.
Annie, who made all his fun.
Annie, who, come to think of it, made a whole lot of our fun , for all the lucky years when she lived in our house.
This is Annie above, making her nephew David’s fun one beautiful day last September, with just a box of crayons and her warmth.
And these are the iris, which bloom every year on her birthday.
Here’s to you Annie Payne, and to many returns of this day!
One, protect my noggin from those harmful UV Rays. I’m all set in that department, as you can see.
Two, tone up my arms, which are looking a mite doughy after the long winter.
Three, keep the blue contact lenses. Yes!
My smile I’m ok with. Can’t improve on this one I figure.
OK really this is my namesake’s namesake, Caroline Theresa the fifth, called Callie.
She’s ready for summer too.
These are the three people I spent the holiday weekend with.
(Edward doesn’t REALLY drive yet but it won’t be long! Nine years old and growing like a weed!)
As for the other two, they’re pretty little still.
Young David, doing the Britney Spears thing here with little Callie in his lap, still speaks with a lisp, made worse now that his has lost his first-ever tooth. How happy he was when it popped out on Saturday as the took that very first bite of cold cereal! It’s a rite of passage losing that first tooth, and he waited a long time for it.
Six-year-olds are as eager to lose a tooth as 11-year-olds are to get braces. Many other kids have them and that’s all they care. (I just thank God I came up in a house where it would never occur to my grownups to spring for that kind of luxury. I looked ok enough with my baby teeth but that sure changed when those big teeth came in! Even today, the left front tooth is trying to cross at the ankles with the right front one, as these grandchildren happily point out to me when they sit in my lap. But steel bands right inside your head with you? I’d rather keep a ferret for a pet, and ferrets smell to high heaven.)
So here’s Little David seconds after the tooth came out, with big brother Edward helping to celebrate.
And here I am in kindergarten with my own little toy-piano-key chompers.
And finally here is David once again, trying to sing Frères Jacques, with some Zapruder-film-style camera joggling on account of the baby, who does insist on coming right up to you to touch your eyes and step on your feet. Gotta love it though! Family Life is rich life!
A cousin of mine was getting married and some of us relatives were sitting over the remains of breakfast at our out-of-town hotel, the wedding party having been long since whisked away to endure the final lacquer-and-buff-job deemed necessary before such a momentous event. The rest of us didn’t have to worry as mere guests; people who, if we appeared at all in the day’s pictures, would appear from behind, or shuffling though the receiving line, or shot from the side in mid-step on the dance floor.
Thus, we were killing time and lingering over our toast crusts when an older relative said something I have never forgotten
His remark came out of the blue, it seemed, as we spoke in a casual way about the news of the world.
“I’m glad my time here is nearly done!” he declared hotly. “It’s all falling apart now – anyone can see that. I hate to think what’s coming!” Then he ducked his head and took a loud sip of coffee.
I was shocked that he spoke this bleak sentiment aloud, all the more so because he spoke it within earshot of our young people at an adjacent table.
I wanted to suggest suicide to the guy if things looked so bad to him. I wanted to help him commit it, I was so mad – because nothing seems more destructive to me than for an adult to speak despairingly of the future.
We adults have many tasks, one being what custom calls the Maintenance of the World. This means it is up to us to safeguard and protect what was built by those living before us. If we think of what we are maintaining as a graceful structure, erected over many decades as the great cathedrals were erected, then our job becomes one of standing guard over it. Ensuring its soundness. Lovingly restoring it as necessary. Our job is certainly not to declare it condemned and scuttle away, predicting imminent collapse.
We approach this Memorial Day as a nation still at war, as at war we may well remain if global acts of terrorism continues to be committed.
Thus the easy if less imaginative outlook to take is the dark one.
But I am encouraged by something Joel Meyerowitz said five years after the events of September 11, 2001.
Joel is the man who shot thousands of pictures at Ground Zero; who was there all through the discovery of the body parts that in the end accounted for less than half of the day’s victims on that site. Joel in fact was the only photographer allowed unrestricted access to Ground Zero immediately following the attack.
I heard him say in an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, let’s rebuild on that awful site, sure. But let’s plant trees there too, one for each victim, set in the earth in the same clusters where the remains were discovered.
Trees, he said. Sources of oxygen, as he put it.
Memorial Day is here again and we have many to mourn, God knows; many on whose graves we might lay wreaths.
It’s the custom in this country to bring flowering plants to the graves of the people we have lost, though most of them are soon cleared away by the cemeteries’ grounds crews.
So let’s now try what Joel suggested. Like Noah after the Flood, let’s plant anew.
Trees, yes. Trees at every site of devastation. New trees at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, for example. But let’s plant seeds of hope too, and weed out all despair even as we honor all our fallen.
We really should be asking “What is your JOB?’ this blogger says. because what you DO is a whole other (funnier) conversation…
It’s warm and sunny it’s warm and sunny. I shut my eyes and can almost believe it – even though an hour north of where I’m going tomorrow they’re predicting snow. SNOW.
Here’s some video I took 48 hours ago at my favorite litte jewel of a municipal pond.
I’ll just have to keep chanting to myself: “It’s Warm and Sunny, It’s Warm and Sunny” until it all of a sudden IS.. May that day come soon!
Bummer of a weather forecast !!
At least we have the iris to look forward to.. Here’s the first bloom..
Halfway through the week and I need to catch my breath. The other day I pulled 30 square feet of English Ivy out of the ground, a vine so tenacious you fall over backwards when it finally comes loose from the soil. I felt myself strain one of my pectoral muscles someplace in there. It may have been all the raking that followed the pulling-up – and I wasn’t even alone with the task! I had four strong male teens helping!
David and I have both been waking up at 5 with the skies so bright these mornings. “I almost died in the night of a heart attack,” I told him cheerfully.
“No you didn’t he said. Much of my family has dropped dead of heart which is why that time I fainted twice in two minutes the doctors gave me the full workup.
I see a cardiologist still though I think I can safely stop now. I don’t appear to have the Maloney heart that killed my mom, my aunt, my great-aunt, my great-grandfather and hsi little daughter who was ony 12.
I have the Sheehy heart – thanks Dad! – and whatever gets me it likely won’t be heart.
Still, it gave me pause. See? There I am with them up top ha ha. So now I’m thinking Relax a little. Take a day off now and then from the blog.
So that’s what this is if makes sense to say you;re taking a day off when obviously you;re writing anyway .
The plants I put in to replace the English ivy are adorable by the way. I couldn’t be happier if I planted 12 baby bunnies out there!
I grew up next door to a girl who looked like Grace Kelly. When she was 20, she sat for a formal portrait. I can still see the strapless gown she wore in that photograph: how the light played on those bare shoulders; how the dress billowed at her hips. That June she married and moved away. The next time I saw her she had on a hat and a high-necked blouse, and her whole torso was unmistakably encased in the tight rubber hug of a corset. She looked 50. I was 12 at the time, and I have to say: it scared me to death.
Expectations for women may be subtler today, but for sure they’re still out there.
Take hair color, for example. Women are simply expected to color their hair at a certain point. Now I always had black hair. When some grey began appearing, I thought, Fine. “But you’ll look …. old!” said the hairdressers, mournful as morticians. So then for a while I had hair the color of somebody’s liver; the color of cow-tongue even. And I hated it.
I mean you care about you appearance; you want to fit in – but not that much, you know what I mean? I think of what Secretary of State Albright said once in an interview. Sometimes she dresses up, sure. “But when I work, I really work: I rub my eyes and my makeup comes off and I stick pencils in my hair.” Bravo, Madeleine! I thought, reading that
“Stay attractive!” is the message the world sends women generally. Attractive and slim if at all possible. Buy great scarves if you can’t stay slim, but please: Go easy on our eyes.
I understand these impulses. I want to look nice too. I don’t want to be rendered invisible, which is what this youth-centered culture does to the old.
At my last college reunion, I met a lady who got a masters degree a few years ago and went to work teaching women in prison. Once somebody unpleasantly asked one of the incarcerees what exactly they were doing in this course. ’’Right now we’re reading Maya Angelou,” said the inmate with quiet dignity.
My new friend beamed proudly as she told me this. Oh and did I mention? She herself is 77 and wears her hair in a crewcut tinted a deep burgundy.
Maybe it was she who helped fuel the rebellion I feel building lately inside me.
I’ve always hated slips. I’ve always hated pocketbooks. That hot day just past week I was doing without both, wearing just a sundress and the cellphone I rely to keep in touch with my young people and my editors. I had it hooked on my bra-strap as I chatted with the proprietor of the shop I go to every day.
It buzzed, causing me to glance down at the little square bulge it made under the cloth. “Does this look like a pacemaker? “ I asked, suddenly wondering.
“Yup” said my friend the merchant.
I undid a quick button and hooked it on the hip-band of my undies.
“Now it looks like a colostomy bag,” he said dryly.
Pacemakers. Colostomy bags: the language of mortality.
We’re all bound to age, sure enough. I guess I’d just like to do it my way.