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.

21
Oct
2015

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.

 

 

31
Jul
2015

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….

06
Mar
2015

A Recipe for Memories

I just spent one hour looking for my recipe for artichoke dip. Though it’s simple to make, consisting of three ingredients; artichoke hearts, mayonnaise and parmesan cheese, and I’ve made it every holiday for the past 25 years, I still needed to rummage for that dog-eared document.

It’s kept in a ragged, taped, gold cardboard box labeled Schrafft’s Miniature Chocolates, a vessel that affords me my yearly trip down memory lane.

All sorts of recipes are stuffed inside, some printed neatly on index cards, handwritten on scraps of paper or torn out of magazines, most of which are no longer in print. But they come from the people I have cherished throughout my life.

The largest number are from my late mother-in-law, Dorothy Fisher, or as she writes on the top of all her offerings, “Dot Fisher.” They appear in her handwriting with little added gems: “These can be frozen for later use and, in fact, are good eaten frozen.” I’m immediately thrown back to Christmas pasts, recalling how Dot’s buttery wreath cookies melted on my tongue. (I have yet to replicate her delicate perfection but I always make her cherry cheesecakes and chocolate chip cookies.)

Her son (my late husband) Charlie, was a great cook in his own right. So the recipe box includes some of his contributions. The one for chicken marsala is written in Charlie’s hand on a memo sheet from United Press International (my first job as a reporter).

Decades ago, my sister, Susie, started me on a collection of recipes, each one painstakingly handwritten on yellow 3 X 5 cards. A personal comment was added to each, such as on the one for 1890 chicken she wrote, “3 guesses where I got this recipe…” (Our mother.) Or her recipe for Chocolate Chip Cake that calls for a bundt pan. Knowing me to be a novice in the kitchen, she added, “A bundt pan looks like a jello mold pan (Again, a shoutout to our mother) with a round hole in the center. I’m sure you must have a dozen lying around.”

For some reason, a graduation card from my sister with a 1973 postmark remains in the box. I know it’s out of place, but I look at it every year and put it right back inside.

I have recipes from old friends, including two exceptional cooks, Carol Bress (all of hers are meticulously written on index cards with little heart borders and encased in plastic,) and Helen Bosley, who 20 years ago the day after I attended a cocktail party in her house and proclaimed how good her broccoli casserole was, a recipe arrived in the mail. The box includes recipes that remind me of my kids as preschoolers. One says, “Parents: We made Apple Crisp in school today. If you want to make it at home, here’s the recipe.” Of course, we did the next day.

Every time I pull the old candy box from the cabinet I think I really should organize the scattered pieces into a tidy collection of recipes. And then I just say, Nah, and replace the rubber band that holds the lid on the box.

I never did find the artichoke dip recipe.

But, I never actually needed it.

26
Dec
2014

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I wasn’t sure I wanted to go but I had convinced my childhood friend, Barbara, to fly in from California, agreed to meet a few old friends for lunch and mailed in my check.

The die was cast for me to attend my high school reunion. And so I did, this past weekend.

Before you respond like so many of my more recent friends, “No thanks, I wouldn’t go to mine,” let’s consider the sway of the high school reunion:

Where else do you experience equal doses of curiosity and familiarity?

Where else do you party with 100 plus people, all of whom know your age?

Where else do you see the first boy/girl you ever kissed, and a couple of others you wished you had?

Where else do you talk with people who remember your childhood house?

And your parents? And that Miss Raycroft really was tough on you in English class? And that you always did want to become a writer?

And where else do you enter a room filled with football jocks, Ivy League braniacs (shout-out to you, Cuz), far out artistic types and ordinary kids, like me, and it no longer matters?

Truthfully, who cares? At our age, we’re just grateful we’re able-bodied enough to attend.

Three days later, I am still thinking about the evening, feeling elated that I went. If only I could get this tune out of my head:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

CHEERS to Lower Merion High School class of 1969!

08
Apr
2014


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