Monthly Archives: September 2016

The Crew


This picture is not dated, but based on my father’s glasses, it was taken before I was born. He’s third from left, my dad, and four of the other fellows are my first cousins. (There are two I don’t recognize, which doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t related to me, too.) It would have been early morning, when they gathered for orders before scattering to various job sites, and a chilly day. Late fall, I think. That’s my driveway, the one I grew up with – dad’s contracting business was based in our house – and I’d forgotten there was ever a lamppost just there.

They all had names, the men who worked for my father, but mostly I knew them as The Crew. I was young, and I wasn’t paying much attention unless I knew you already, or you distinguished yourself by wearing overalls with no shirt and white chest hair everywhere in the summer, or by riding your bike up the road to work, no hands, arms crossed on your chest like a cigar-store Indian.

I don’t think I was down there much in the morning when they gathered, though sometimes I ran leftover donuts down from the kitchen. When I did go, my primary impression was, oddly enough, of safety and warmth. I didn’t belong there, in a gaggle of men dressed to lay brick and sucking down coffee before a long day of hard work, but I scuffed around the dusty floor with impunity. Some of the men were rougher than I was used to, but every one of them had a smile for me, or a pat on the head.

I am taller now, and less likely to be patted when I appear in their lives, but I’m still reaping goodwill from those men. Not even counting all the cousins, it’s an ordinary occurrence for someone to say, “You know, I worked for your dad when you were born.” (The Crew fluctuated in size over the years, but I think the mid-seventies were a high point.) One man, now dead these many years, told me sternly every time he saw me, “Your parents were good folks. There might be folks as good, but none better.” Dad had given him a job when he was fired from a long-standing position for, Dad was pretty sure, being too old. I think if he had found Dad standing over him with a knife in the dead of night, he’d have been sure there was a really good reason.

Because our house was built as both dwelling and business, it was a little odd-looking, and whenever anyone from school visited for the first time, they usually said, “That’s your house?” Our house was unusual, it’s true, and it wasn’t perfect. But it definitely had some things to recommend it.

Portraits in Neglect

Hello friends.

Did you have a rough week? A rough morning? Are you questioning your basic competence? Feeling bad about your children’s future therapy bills?

I’m here for you.

These just went up on the mantel this afternoon. Nice, right?

It’s a lovely shot, really. There’s a funny painted rock, but you could make a case for that being what pulls it together. It’s not perfect but clearly one of the kids painted it, so it just shows our commitment to the family. Or something.

Setting aside the fact that the camera doesn’t reveal the thick layer of dust, let’s talk about those picture frames. They’ve been sitting with the store photos proclaiming the frame size in them for at least two months. I’d finally gotten around to replacing the ones that had been broken on two different occasions involving balls being thrown in the house. The later of those incidents happened when a high school babysitter was here. She’s in her second (third? I lose track …) year of college now.

I wasn’t too upset, though. The glass stayed in the frames both times so it wasn’t dangerous. The pictures were ruined but we have digital copies and also they were two years out of date at the time.

Given my track record, those pictures above could be on the mantel until both kids are in high school.

See? You’re doing fine. If nothing else, you’re way ahead of me on the picture thing.

That Time I Ran Track


Well, there are just so many places to go with this, aren’t there?

  • Yes, I was once upon a time on a track team. One season, in the seventh grade. I was trying to find the thing I was good at. (Spoiler: It wasn’t track.)
  • Is it possible I used to be an even pastier hue that I currently am? Maybe it’s just the lighting.
  • Speaking of lighting … squint much?
  • And while we’re in that general area, the glasses. Saints preserve us. I remember those glasses. They had a horrifying curlicue on the temples. There’s no accounting for taste, especially when you’re twelve. I’m pretty sure they appear to great effect in another photograph, but I am absolutely sure I’m not emotionally ready for anyone to see that particular picture at this time.
  • Could I look less comfortable?
  • I think it’s possible that there’s a banana clip on the back of my head. The eighties. It was a difficult decade for hair.

I don’t remember a lot about that season except being terminally discouraged at every practice. Meets were worse. The coaches did not know what to do with me, and I did not know what to do with myself. I was awkward and miserable and as out of place as a polar bear in Ethiopia. I still don’t know why I stuck it out for the entire season, except possibly that I had to prove something to my mother, who didn’t really want me to be in any sport ever. (Seeing the schedule some people maintain to get their offspring to all their practices and games and meetings has given me more sympathy for her position in recent years.) Unfortunately, I think the only thing I proved to either one of us was that I was stubborn as sin, which was not exactly news.

The one bright spot that still shines in my memory is Bobby, a guy who went to the same church I did. He was an upperclassman at the high school, a standout athlete, and movie-poster handsome. The middle school and high school teams practiced at the same time on our town’s lone cinder track, and he knew my name and used it, nevermind I was a weird, dorky kid. He was nice to me every single day, while also not pretending I was going to be track star, which was frankly a relief. I could see the toll it took on people to be falsely encouraging. (“We’re going to find your event, Carol!” the one coach kept saying. “What do you think about trying hurdles?” I thought she was crazy was what I thought, but I gave it the old college try anyway and picked cinders out of my knees and palms for a few weeks.)

I hear a lot about sports teaching life lessons and I don’t disagree, although I don’t think what I learned in seventh grade track is what people are usually thinking of. I believe the lesson, as I sit here in my forties and remember someone who just said hello to me every day when I was twelve and hated the way I looked and the way I felt and the way I was in the world, is a very simple one.

A little kindness goes a long, long way.

Sidewalk Art

As I herded the children outside to catch the bus this morning I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a chalk drawing on the cement. 

“Oh, wonderful!” I thought to myself as I went back to look at it. That hits all the right notes. They were outside! They weren’t in front of a screen! They were being creative! Using their writing! I may achieve Pinterest mom-hood yet. 

Or, you know, NOT. 

Holding the Baby

Our friends Matt and Katie have a new baby. I was sitting here looking at his picture and blissing out on his cheeks – Is there anything better than fresh baby cheeks? – and I got to thinking about the last time they had a new baby. It was in the spring of 2014 and I remember this because right then, things was rough.

I was stressed out on all fronts and I was really, really looking forward to my trip to the East Coast in a few weeks, when I was going to be in a friend’s wedding and hang out and see some other friends for awhile. I remember saying at one point that for a week, the only bottom I’d have to wipe would be my own. (Potty training is a difficult time and may result in inappropriate poop comments from all parties involved.)

Mostly, it was getting harder and harder to watch the slow decline of my mom’s mind. I was just so sad all the time, and angry almost as often. Except I had this little reprieve once a week when we would go into our Sunday School classroom and either Matt or Katie would hand me the baby, and I would sit there and smile at him, or stand and sway if he wanted the motion, and pat his perfect, padded little behind.


Not actual baby. Free stock photo, because I don’t have permission to plaster their kid on the internet and I’m not texting to ask because they just had a baby and I am socially awkward but I do understand some things.

You guys, he was the bestest baby. They’re all the best baby, I know, but truly he was. Just this tiny unblemished warm bundle of humanity, content to snuffle against my chest for an hour. Paul, who is the most unrepentant baby hog I have ever met, never took that kid from me one time. I asked him why once and he said, “I just can’t. You look so happy.”

So I went on the trip and tooled around Cape Cod in the summer time in my rented convertible and I had a pretty good time until my sister called and said they had found my mom lying on the sidewalk between our houses. I went home. Instead of being in a wedding, I helped plan a funeral.

When we went back to church after, I was feeling pretty raw and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to Sunday School where there were fewer people and they might expect things from me like actual responses to polite conversation. But Paul convinced me, or something, and I went in and sat down, and somebody handed me the baby.

I am certain I did not hear one word that was said in class that day. I sat there and held the baby and bawled. Paul put his arm around me, and Matt and Katie sat beside me quietly and somebody handed me a Kleenex and everybody shut up and let me be.

Sometimes I hear people say that they are afraid to go to a funeral because they don’t know what to say to the grieving, and I kind of understand this, but mostly I think it’s balderdash. It matters very little what you say (unless it is something like, “Well, of course he got cancer after he smoked all that time,” or “Buck up, camper!” in which case the bereaved would be entirely justified in punching you in the face). Just show up.

Show up, sit down, hand over a hanky. It isn’t complicated (although that doesn’t make it easy). Grieving people don’t need you to say something profound. They need you to be there, and to love them while they suffer. The loving them bit almost always looks less like a perfectly crafted statement of sympathy and more like action. Maybe bring a casserole. Maybe bring them a hug. Maybe hand them the baby. You’re smart; you’ll figure it out. And even if you don’t, it will matter most that in your glorious, awkward, fragile humanness, you just showed up.

Fish Stories

Levi’s homework involved reading a story about Rosie and her dad going fishing and then answering a series of questions. The last question was open-ended. 

A worthy lesson, I think, if not exactly what the author intended.