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.




If This Is My Biggest Mistake…

What did I know about raising a dog? I grew up with a turtle.

The turtle, which for some reason that escapes memory was called Oscar, lasted two days. Its successor, creatively dubbed Oscar 2, vanished on day three only to be rediscovered a room away and under the television.  Apparently, as far as my mom was concerned, my sister and I had used up our pet quota. Never again did we have a pet – of any kind.

Years later when I married and had my first child, I imagined the picture-perfect family – one with a white picket fence and a dog in the yard.

“Don’t do it,” my mother-in-law warned. “Dogs are like having another child – worse.” Despite her experience-laced comments, I wasn’t about to let her prove me wrong. I could do this. Seriously, how hard could it be to own a dog?

I never considered that our child was only one-and-a-half – a full-fledged, energetic, curious toddler. Or that we had just built a house on a plot of land that was thick and rich in lush mud. Or that it was mid-December – glacially cold and two hectic weeks before Christmas. Or that even the breeder suggested we get an adult dog and not a puppy given the fact that we both worked and had a small child. What did she know? She couldn’t even control the puppy’s grandfather – long past infantile cuteness – who chumped on a glass Christmas ornament while we were signing the papers. Who understood DNA back then?

So we did it. We bought a big, whopping golden retriever puppy with paws the size of sandwich plates. Did you know a puppy’s paw is an indicator of its growth potential?

It pains me even to this day to admit our getting a puppy at that point in our lives was a mistake. But it was. Maggie ate everything in sight – except dog food.  Gone were the adorable porcelain salt and pepper shakers someone sent as a Christmas present. And the $22 filet – styrafoam, plastic and all – that we were about to put on the grill. She pooped indiscriminately – the muddy backyard, dining room carpet – no difference.  She competed with my daughter for our attention. All day in a crate while my husband and I both worked became her bedtime. All night in the house while my husband I both slept became her daytime.

Surrendering, we advertised for a couple without small children and who had access to lots of ground for roaming. They could have pure-bred Maggie for free. They came. She went. I was horribly sad. Two years later I bought my kids Ralph.

He was a red eared slider. A turtle.


Try Iceland for New Year’s Eve

The following article first appeared on The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The centerpiece of Ellie Slott Fisher and Jon Roth's trip to Iceland was spending New Year's Eve in Reykjavik. They are shown here at the Seljalands waterfall.

The centerpiece of Ellie Slott Fisher and Jon Roth’s trip to Iceland was spending New Year’s Eve in Reykjavik. They are shown here at the Seljalands waterfall.

When I told my Norwegian friend Lise that we were going to Iceland for New Year’s Eve, she questioned my sanity. In contrast to its nearly unlimited daylight in the summer, in the midst of winter, Iceland relishes about four hours of sunlight a day. Its skies change from rain to sleet to snow in a blink, and the ground is frequently so icy that you need to add metal tracks to your boots.

But even in winter, Iceland provides extraordinary vistas of ice-covered lava fields; natural hot springs as prevalent as community swimming pools; seafood so fresh it may have been caught that morning; breathtaking geysers that entertain every few minutes; tap water so clean it makes bottled water feel, well, foreign; waterfalls so majestic as to be humbling; and the piece de resistance: a New Year’s Eve display of bonfires and fireworks like nowhere else in the world.

Read the rest on The Philadelphia Inquirer.


And the Real Tech Generation is…

When I ask my English Composition students to consider what has had the most impact on their generation they typically say technology. True, at eighteen or so that’s all they know. But I would argue that technology has had a greater impact on the preceding generations, the Gens X’s, Y’s and Baby Boomers.

Their lives have been revolutionized by technology.

When I was a little girl my grandparents had a telephone party line in their house. I would eavesdrop on the conversation of strangers by merely, and stealthily, removing the handset from its base and listen in.

Now I do that through social media.

I watched in wide-eyed fascination the first televised movie filmed in color, The Wizard of Oz. (Incidentally, the electric-green bad witch and terrifying anthropomorphic flying monkeys scarred me for life.)

Now I turn to Neflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes or I DVR. If I forget, I do it remotely from my phone.

As a teenager, I took pride in reading maps and charting a course to anywhere in the continental United States.

Now I no longer even think of asking for directions, much less squint at a map. My GPS has become like family.

Assigned a story as a news reporter, I researched by interviewing numerous people, in person and by phone, and probing the library and the newspaper morgue.

Now I Google.

I listened incredulously to a prescient college professor tell my class that one day we would all have a personal computer in our homes. Now it’s in my pocket. That same professor lectured that we would do everything on this personal computer, including shop, work, read and communicate.

Now I barely remember life without it.

I bought music in record stores, not online, and in the form of 45s and 33s.

Now I buy downloads with my Starbucks coffee.

I empathized with my late husband, Charlie, who left the military with a recurring case of jungle rot because his boots never fully dried out during monsoon season.

Now we send unmanned aircraft to limit those boots on the ground, literally.

I received breaking news – like when Jack Ruby ambushed and fatally shot Lee Harvey Oswald – on one of the three television networks.

Now my phone alerts me 24/7 the instant something happens.

So when I ask my students to tell me what has most impacted their generation, and they say technology, they have to be willing to share ownership. Because while it might be commonplace to them, its effect on the generations before them has been nothing less than profound.

P.S. How’s this for a perfect crossover – a breaking news app with Walter Cronkite’s image and voice. And if you say, “Who’s that? Well….


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