Leaving Home

Tomorrow my mom is moving from the house I grew up in. The house my father built. The house where we celebrated birthdays, graduation parties, New Year’s Eve spectaculars and observed shivas. The house where I introduced my parents to my eventual husband and where a missile launched in a fight between siblings still marks the wooden bathroom door. (Did you know you can’t fill a dent with modeling clay, paint it with Cover Girl, and expect your father not to notice?)

I remember visiting the house when it was under construction. I wasn’t yet nine. One night my dad and I drove over to check on carpeting that had been installed earlier in the day. My room had a raspberry carpet. Raspberry! And I loved it. It was the only one in the house that wasn’t blue or white. I took off my shoes and just ran around and around my new room.

Some of you reading this blog may remember my house, having spent sleepovers there and playdates. And, of course, among you is my sister who shared her bed (still there) when I couldn’t sleep, and joined me in playing Concentration with Grammy and Poppa on the orange card table (also still there).

Much like the way we recall our precise whereabouts when we first learn of a catastrophic event like 9/11 or JFK’s assassination, recalling details of our childhood home makes the experience almost palpable. For a fleeting second we think that that 9-year-old kid still exists. I can picture where I did (or didn’t do) my homework, where I played with Barbie and Ken, creating a car for them out of a rectangular Kleenex box (convertible), where I hid my diary, where I watched my grandfather pull a treat from the inside pocket of his camel hair coat, where he loved to sit in the kitchen.

I remember retrieving from our front walkway the Philadelphia Inquirer in the morning and the Evening Bulletin in the afternoon, and riding my bike to Wynnewood Shopping Center to browse Wanamaker’s or the drug store. I remember being picked up by dates at the house and later, lingering just a little too long outside, provoking my dad’s reminder from his bedroom window that it was time to come in.

The side of the garage I wedged my mom’s Cadillac into has long been repaired. The cherry tree I loved to climb has been heartlessly pruned into a mass of stumps. My dad’s vegetable garden has been reclaimed by the yard, not having been tilled in years. The pool table and ping pong table, host of scores of challenges to my friends, are both gone.

My preoccupation with the infinite details of moving my mom into her new apartment has given me little time to reminisce. But now that the date is upon us, I can’t help but remember. Fortunately for me, while my raspberry carpet may be gone, the memories will hang around forever.


So That’s What All the Fuss is About

Charlie and his Mimi.

Charlie and his Mimi.

I became a grandparent this week. To Charlie. Beautiful, wonderful, no-other-child-can-compare Charlie.

It’s not just the arrival of this new person in my life I’ve been expecting for months; it’s that my daughter, Debra, now a mom, and her loving husband, Matt, will experience the boundless joy (and worries) of parenthood. Is there any greater role in life?

Until Tuesday at 4:14 p.m., I would have said “No.”

But now I understand. I’m not just a parent who adores her children, regardless of how old they are. I am a grandparent who already is so profoundly in love with her first born grandchild; I can’t imagine anything more stupendous in life.

I can now offer a co-conspiratorial chuckle with my seasoned grandparent friends when they relay adages like this one by Erma Bombeck: “A grandmother pretends she doesn’t know who you are on Halloween.”

I totally get it.

And this one, by Gene Perret, “My grandchild has taught me what true love means. It means watching Scooby-Doo cartoons while the basketball game is on another channel.”

I get this one, too!

In a little over three days my priorities have shifted. All the things on my to-do list have slipped to the next page, and beyond. (Including my summer newsletter. Sorry, about that).

All I want to do is see him, hold him, smell him. FaceTime will be my interlude. I know I am no different from all of you other grandparents out there. For years, you’ve been telling me how this feels.

Now I know what all the fuss is about.




Games of Yore

The other night while finishing chicken satay in a nearby Korean restaurant I watched Jon mindlessly use his chopsticks to pick up the empty skewers. It got me thinking about old fashioned childhood games.

Specifically, pick up sticks. I remember spending hours by myself or with my friends sitting cross-legged on the basement floor or on the front porch adeptly lifting each colorful wooden stick without jostling, even narrowly, neighboring sticks.

And that got me thinking about jacks.

Does anyone play them anymore? How much time did I invest in playing jacks, either alone or in competition with a friend? Ultimately, our goal was to successfully grasp a handful of metal jacks AND the ball.

And that got me thinking about dress-up. My girlfriends and I would don our mothers’ swing skirts and heels and pretend we were running a household. Today the dress-up costumes kids wear are fashionably different – think super heroes – and, fortunately, their role playing has evolved, too.

And that got me thinking about hide and seek.

All those humid summer nights congregating outside with the kids in the neighborhood. The thick interior branch on the massive Higan cherry in our backyard proved a favorite hiding place for me. In retrospect, it amazes me how many times I commandeered the same spot without getting caught. Eventually, my boundless confidence led me to climb higher into the tree.

And that got me thinking about stickball. Well, actually, it got Jon thinking. As a city kid he and his friends used a cut-off broom stick and a tennis ball and any yard or street as a suitable playing field.

And that got me thinking about board games.

Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, Clue, Monopoly, Life. Sometimes we’d play with friends, sometimes with our siblings. More often than not, it was cold and rainy outside, which served as justification for being indoors.

And that got me thinking about card games.

WAR, Concentration, Fish, Gin. My grandparents would sit at the card table where my parents held their monthly bridge games, and play cards with my sister and me. Remember, Susie, how Grammy used to say, “What a sad story!” when she got dealt a bad hand?

All of this, of course, got me thinking about today’s games for children. In a playing field vastly altered by computers and technology, it’s all okay – albeit very different – so long as they are still having fun.


The Real Symbol of Love

Skip the hearts. Forget the xoxox’s. So much for the bouquet of sweetheart roses. There’s a new bona fide symbol that represents true love.

It’s the tomato.

That red orb of juicy pulp that embellishes the best of things. Without it, there’s no BLT. No gazpacho. No spaghetti sauce. And, at this time of year, no neighborly act of offering a homegrown tomato.

Just the other day my neighbor knocked on my back door, cradling three ripe tomatoes and a cucumber the size of my thigh. His gesture was so sweet I gratefully accepted the bounty and then proceeded to add it to the bowl of tomatoes I had pulled from my own garden.

Looking at my harvest (impressive considering I reaped exactly one tomato last year) I salivated over the prospect of a tomato mozzarella salad and a tomato-stacked barbequed burger. I also considered with whom I could share these delectable fruits/vegetables. A kind of pay-it-forward.

My dad had always planted an extensive vegetable garden and late in the summer he’d bring us a supermarket size bag of tomatoes. Such a delivery feels generous, hospitable and traditional. What else qualifies as all that?

I’m separating my tomatoes now, planning to give some to my mother since no one gardens at her house any more, and to some friends, and to other neighbors who, while lacking a green thumb, nonetheless appreciate eating fresh vegetables.

I’m hoping they’ll feel the love.


Kate: A Brightness that Can’t Be Dulled

For my extended family, this has been a very trying time. Two weeks ago my irrepressible, ebullient and exquisite step-niece died suddenly from as-yet unknown causes. She was 27.

Over the weekend, my step-brother, my former sister-in-law (I use the term “former” for the sake of exactitude because she very much remains a part of our family), my nephew and my niece’s fiancé led a tribute to Kate at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

The memorial service opened with a loving, honest anecdotal eulogy from my brother and closed with the tossing of flowers into the Boston Harbor. The women in attendance were given a tube of rich red lipstick, a favorite of Kate’s, who was a talented makeup artist.

We became a family more than 27 years ago with the union of my mother and their father, both widowed at the time. Between them they had five children, and 10 grandchildren, Kate being the third from the youngest. Despite everyone spread throughout the United States and one overseas, we have come together often, usually for happy occasions like milestone birthdays, weddings, b’nai mitzvahs and the occasional Thanksgiving.

Amazingly, our parents are both in their late eighties, and as a family we haven’t faced a tragic event in more than 20 years. And now this.

As Kate’s parents would want, we remember this young woman, not with sadness, but rather for the joy she brought to life. We picture her at every family event – most recently at two weddings – acting as the social coordinator, dragging her cousins onto the dance floor and moving spiritedly to the music. Her smile and energy filled a space the way helium expands a balloon. And so Kate lifted our spirits.

No life should end as young as this one. And no parents and sibling should feel such pain. As family and friends we can do little but validate their loss, love them with all of our hearts, and remember their Kate in all her vibrancy.

That, and rock her red lipstick.


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