New Year 2021


This is not our usual ‘New Year’ celebration, is it? We are now two full years into this relentless pandemic. We are, as Americans, at each other’s throats every single day over concepts both serious and stupid. Should we work to protect the rights of all voters to express themselves in each election? Should we push back against the biases we see in our media outlets? Do we really have to wear masks in the grocery store? Why do I need to get a vaccination if I’m not likely to die from this disease?

This year we find ourselves facing a New Year’s Eve that is fraught with anger, with frustration, with fear, with sorrow.

For me, and my immediate family, this is the year without our parents. This is our first look into a future with neither Mom nor Dad. A year in which we feel unbalanced, unanchored, adrift.

I want to write the usual hopes for the upcoming year and the usual funny looks back on the mistakes and mix-ups of last year.

But I can’t.

This year, I find that I am simply blank. There are too few thoughts in this weary head.

As I watch the waning days of 2021, all I feel is resignation.

I am resigned to the fact that more and more people are going to get sick in the next few weeks. I’m resigned to the realization that our country, and humanity as a whole, has completely mismanaged the enormous challenge of our global pandemic. Even though we KNOW that viruses cross borders, that viruses do not care what languages we speak or which gods we honor, even though we KNOW that every human on this little planet is at risk, we have still failed to look out for each other.

We have vaccines, but we aren’t going to share them because…..money.

My disappointment in the human race is profound.

I am resigned to the fact that the country in which I live is headed off a cliff, and that there is nothing in the world I can do to make it better.

Politicians will continue to yell and scream about nothing. People will continue to insist that they are on the “good” team. Temperatures will rise, storms will rage, glaciers will melt.

I’m sorry.

I’m usually able to summon up at least a modicum of hopefulness; I am a woman who surrounds herself with children, and that in itself is usually enough to keep me optimistic.

But as we come up on the first anniversary of our near insurrection, I read that our government is “weighing the possibility of seeking criminal charges”. And I realize that none of this theater is actually about stopping us from charging off that cliff. It’s about stringing things out until we get close enough to the famous “midterms” to impact the way we feel, and the way we will vote. It’s about liars, cheaters and traitors trying to wiggle out of the responsibility they have for what happened, and about those who are supposed to be holding them accountable finding the most politically expedient way to do that.

As our children are about to head back into schools that are literal petri dishes of infection, with no actual plan in place to keep anyone safe, I am aware that as a society we are happy to sacrifice our youngest children and their teachers so that the factories can keep churning out the endless piles of junk that we all so enjoy ordering online.

I have no uplifting, hopeful, empowering thoughts for next year.

I’m sorry.

I am blank. I am bereft. I am as empty as any candidate’s promise to save us.

So.

I wish you a 2022 of abject boredom, in which nothing remotely dangerous or scary happens to you or to anyone you love. I wish you a year empty of new variants, devoid of new mask recommendations, extra boosters, or anything involving the word “antibodies”.

May your greatest surprise in 2022 come in the form of an unexpected blossom on a plant you thought you’d lost. May your biggest challenge be trying to remember the name of that wonderful teacher from elementary school.

I wish you peace. I wish you rest. I wish you at least one fabulously delicious meal shared with people who make you laugh out loud.

Most of all, dear friends, my New Year’s wish for all of us is that one year from now we find ourselves saying, “Well, that was certainly an improvement.”

Happy, healthy 2022 to everyone on planet earth.

Happy Christmas Memories, Everyone


When I was a child, Christmas was really magical. I mean, seriously magical. As part of a giant Italian family, the celebration of Christmas spread over several weeks.

There was the night when Dad placed the bright, hot orange window candles in our bedroom, and my sisters and I would fall asleep bathed in that magical glow. We’d whisper about hoped-for gifts, promised treats, and the possibility of actually seeing Santa this time.

There was the setting up of the tree and the hot dusty smell of those huge old painted bulbs. Do any of you remember those? For a few years they would be perfect, but every time they were lit, they’d heat up and cook the paint that covered them, eventually leaving it cracked and peeling. That hot paint smell is one of my best and sweetest Christmas memories.

And we had the joy of a Sicilian Christmas eve. Oh, the food! Octopus, cooked perfectly by my Grampa, salty and “al-dente”, studded with green olives and tiny capers. Exploding in my mouth, telling me that Christmas was truly here. The shrimp, the pasta, the array of cookies.

And the exchange of gifts. On Christmas eve, we got gifts from our Nana and Grampa and from our loving aunts and uncles. Dolls, books, playdoh, brand new crayons in the box with the sharpener.

These Christmas Eve gifts were the appetizers of the Big Day for us.

Because when the evening was over, we’d head home to await the big guy. Oh, my gosh, the memories of trying to sleep with those warm orange lights!!

One year, my sister Liz and I woke up in the night. CHRISTMAS EVE night. We heard sounds on our roof. Seriously! We mean it! There were sounds on the roof!~ We were shivering with excitement.

The next morning, we woke up and ran outside. It had snowed that week, so the roof was coated in a nice white layer. And there on the roof, right in front of our wondering eyes, were long, thin trails where something had been dragged across the snow……

We knew, without a doubt, that we were seeing the tracks of Santa’s sleigh. We had no thought for the tall willow trees that stood beside our house or the way that their long branches used to drape across the roof in the wind.

It was Christmas magic.

When I grew up and was the mother of young children, the magic of Christmas happened through my kids.

Oh, I know how trite that sentence is. I know it’s boring and cliche and completely unoriginal.

But in my case, it’s completely true.

I remember coming out of my parents’ house on Christmas Eve. My Grampa was gone, but the tradition of the Sicilian Christmas Eve was carried on by my Mom. The octopus was there. The shrimp was there, along with the meatballs, the eggplant, the ridiculous supply of cookies. My kids opened gifts from aunts, uncles and grandparents. They played with cousins. They became more and more wound up as the party progressed.

I remember trying to get them out the front door and into their car seats. I remember pausing, somewhat obviously, and gazing up at the sky over the house. We live in a very rural area, far from any airports. My parents’ house was less than 20 miles from Logan Airport. So as you can imagine, there is always a flight or two overhead.

“Oh, wow,” I remember saying, pretending to be casual, “Do you kids see that red light way up there? I wonder……just thinking…..could it be…..?”

Invariably, all three kids would jump into the car and demand that we “get home, get home! Hurry!”

That was a kind of magic. And the magic of staying up until 2AM trying desperately to get all those presents out of the attic, wrapped, put together and placed around the tree….while not waking up any of the three kids. Well….that was a wonderful magic that Paul and I complained about but loved so much.

I remember one year when the toys were finally placed by 2AM, and the kids woke up at 4. I love looking back on our sense disbelief when we heard those little voices whispering, and asked each other, “This can’t be the end of the night, can it……..?” I remember falling asleep in front of a movie, on the living room floor, at 6pm with our youngest in my arms.

Magic.

Now the magic of Christmas is found in the simple repetition of traditions. Now I make the octopus. Now I fry the shrimp.

Now I give gifts to my grandchildren a day or two before Christmas. I am the “appetizer” to the big event.

Now the magic comes to me in the annual gathering of cousins and the few remaining aunts. It comes from seeing my Grampa’s eyes in the faces of his grandsons. It comes from the taste of the octopus, cooked by my little brother, as perfectly flavored as Grampa ever did it. It comes from my sense that life goes on, that children still believe, that a few marks on the roof can give little children faith in something more beautiful and profound than our everyday lives.

There is magic.

Christmas is magic.

Tomorrow morning I will lie in my bed, with a dog on each side and my old husband snoring beside me. And I will smile, knowing that my daughter and her husband are probably looking at each other in the earliest light of dawn, asking “This can’t be the end of the night, can it……..?”

Buon Natale a tutti.

Merry Christmas, friends. I hope you are able to find your magic.

Oh, Mama, How Do I Do This Without You?


My beautiful Momma…circa 1949.

Dear Mom

I’m sitting here tonight in my house. The Sunday dinner is in the oven. The house is clean. The laundry is folded.

I don’t know what to do with myself.

Mom, this is the night before your wake.

How do we come to grips with that fact?

Everything is in order, just as we think you’d want it to be. There are flowers, and beautiful music, and photos of you and Dad and all of us. All through our years together as a family. It’s all set. All organized. Your kids will do you proud, I promise.

But, Momma.

How do I do this without you?

For all of my life, you’ve been there when I needed to dress up and present myself well. Today I looked through my closet, trying to choose what I should wear tomorrow as I stand beside the casket that holds your precious body.

Will I look OK? Will you be proud?

How do I know if I’ve chosen the right clothes, without your unerring sense of style to guide me?

Mom, I don’t know how to conduct myself without your guiding hand.

I’ll do my best. I’ll channel my inner “Zena” and put on makeup. I’ll wear earrings that match my blouse.

But.

Mom.

I’m not sure that I can really go through this without you there. When Dad died, we had you there to help us. I stood beside you. I handed you tissues during the wake. I sat beside you on the couch as we chose the music for his service.

Now what do we do?

Momma, I’ll do my best. I’ll stand there and smile. I’ll shake hands and give some hugs, even wearing my mask. I’ll thank people for coming, and I’ll say all the right things. “She lived a long and happy life. She had a peaceful death. We’re happy that she’s with Dad now.”

I’ll say all of that.

But inside of me, inside of the little girl who hides within my aging self, I will cry and sob and ask the universe, “How can you possibly go on without my MOM?????” I’ll ask myself, over and over and over again, “Did I do it right? Did I look OK? Did I ask the right questions and give the right responses?”

It will all be done well, and everything will be fine.

But long after your wake and funeral are over, long after the last flowers have faded and the last cards have been filed away, I will ask myself, “Am I OK? Did I do it right? Does she know that I truly loved her?”

Dear Momma,

My best prayer for you is that one day, in that special place on the other side of the veil, you will look at yourself and see yourself as we do. I pray that one day, on the other side, you’ll look at yourself and say, right out loud, “Good Lord! I was fabulous, wasn’t I?”

Until then, dear Momma, please know that every time I find myself needing to get “dressed up”, I will think of you, and try to follow the stylish lead that you have given me.

A Lesson From Moana’s Grandma


My mother died last week, the night before Thanksgiving. She lived a long and very full life, and she left that life reluctantly.

Mom was a practicing Catholic, so my family grew up with the typical Catholic imagery of life and death. Heaven or Hell and all that. In her very last days, Mom was unsure of what was coming. She expressed her doubts that she’d really be reunited with our Dad, who was the love of her life for over six decades. She worried that her death would be a true ending, and she held on tenaciously to every fading breath.

It made me incredibly sad to hear her.

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Yesterday I spent the day with my grandsons. I hadn’t seen them for 10 days, the time of our vigil by Mom’s bedside. Both had been sick, as had their Mom and sister. They were in COVID quarantine, and as I grieved for my Mother, I missed all of them terribly.

So I was filled with relief and joy to have them here yesterday, although I worried that my sadness and my distracted mind might bother them.

I should have known better.

My little Johnny, all of four and a half years of wisdom, was working on a puzzle of the “Polar Express.” I was sitting with his baby brother on my knee, just watching the puzzle master at work. Suddenly, Johnny asked me,

“Is Great Grandma a spirit now?”

“Yes,” I answered. “She is.”

“But, what is her spirit?”

“What do you mean, honey?”

“What is it? What is her spirit?”

“I don’t know,” I answered as truthfully as I could. “You can’t see it. It’s the part of Great Grandma that loves us. It’s still around us.”

This seemed a bit too metaphysical for such a young child, but I wasn’t sure how to proceed. My daughter and her family don’t go to church, nor do we. I know that the kids have talked about life and death. I know that they have looked at and thought about the deaths of birds and salamanders and other animals. They’ve been through the death of their family dog.

But I didn’t know how much of the “invisible spirit” idea a four-year-old could grasp. I didn’t want him thinking of ghosts.

Johnny never stopped placing his puzzle pieces. He never even looked up at me.

He just said one thing before I broke down in tears and he came to give me a hug.

“Nonni,” he said. “I think her spirit is you now. I think it’s you.”

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It was later in the day, as we were eating a snack, that I asked Johnny what he thought about spirits. He thought for a minute, then looked up at me seriously.

“Remember Moana’s Grandma? She turned into a spirit of a ray.”

That was all this sweet, wise little soul needed to know. He wasn’t thinking of Heaven or Hell or worthiness or sins. He was thinking that he’d learned everything he needed to know about spirits from one Disney movie.

Call me crazy, but I am so happy to think that my strong, powerful, smart Momma is out there somewhere in sparkling spirit form. Maybe she is a spirit cat, like her precious kitty Tess. Maybe she is an octopus, so fitting for our “pulpi” eating Sicilian family.

Or maybe, just maybe, her spirit really is me.

I don’t know yet.

But I know that Johnny has taken a valuable lesson from one sweet movie. He doesn’t fear death, because even at his tender age, he understands that spirits go on and that death is not goodbye.

This, if you ask me, is the most perfect belief a human could have.

My Surprising Reaction to the Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict.


I have been home lately, at loose ends some days. I have had extra time on my hands.

So I’ve watched and listened to a lot of the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse and also the McMichaels trial. I have learned quite a bit about the American legal system, about the laws that govern many of our states and cities and about our American relationship with violence.

As a confirmed lefty, of course my initial reaction to the Rittenhouse trial was one of pure outrage. I believed with every fiber of my soul that he was guilty of murder and should be sentenced to jail.

And that goes triple for the actions of the men who chased down an unarmed Ahmaud Arbery and killed him for trying to protect himself from their loaded guns.

I watched both trials with all of the ingrained beliefs of a good progressive left wing activist.

I have two Black Lives Matter flags on my property. I have a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker on my car. I have been a slightly socialist voter since the 1970s.

But in the past couple of weeks I have learned some things, and I’ve changed my mind a lot in terms of Kyle, if not the McMichaels.

I learned that in spite of the assurances from my lefty news sources and social media contacts, Kyle Rittenhouse’s Mom did not drive him across state lines with a loaded AR15. She didn’t drop him off in a riot zone.

I also learned that in the state of Wisconsin, people routinely carry loaded weapons around town. I learned that in Wisconsin, it’s illegal for a minor to purchase an assault weapon like an AR15, but it is not clear that it’s illegal for that same child to own or to use that gun.

I learned that the conservative part of our country honestly believes that the surest sign of patriotism is to grab your gun and head out into the streets to stop those “bad guys with guns.”

So I’m thinking.

At the tender age of 17, a boy in Wisconsin is not allowed to vote. He’s not allowed to buy himself a beer. He is not considered an adult, and can’t sign a contract, consent to medical treatment or ask to be emancipated from his parents.

Why not, you ask?

Because medical science, and neurological research, shows that adolescents do not have brains that are developed enough for them to make logical decisions about their lives. Science understands that the adolescent brain is impulsive, disorganized and deluded into believing that its owner is immortal.

So why do the adults who make our laws allow those same immature brain owners to carry loaded weapons into dangerous situations?

I’m not excusing the reprehensible actions of Kyle Rittenhouse. In my view, carrying a loaded weapon is proof that you want to shoot someone. Sorry, but that seems obvious to me.

But that doesn’t convince me that Kyle should be in jail.

I do NOT want to see even one more young life lost to the endless gun violence in this country. I can’t see any way that any good could come from putting this kid in jail. He would have become a martyr to the right. An immature, pudgy, gun toting martyr.

No lives would have been saved.

No lessons would have been learned.

Instead, it is my deepest wish that the law makers at every level of this country walk up to the nearest mirror. I want them to look into that mirror and I want each and every one of them to ask this question: “What the hell do we think is going to happen when we allow every man, woman and teen in this country to drag around a loaded weapon? What do we think is going to occur when we let hidden, loaded guns be brought into bars, restaurants and churches? Why do we act shocked when people with loaded guns end up shooting each other?”

I am angry about the deaths that happened in Kenosha. I am disgusted, and appalled and horrified.

But I don’t hold one stupid, meat-headed kid responsible.

WE, in this country, WE have allowed ourselves to live in a nation where weapons of war are bought and sold by people who have no training and no experience. WE have allowed our teens to buy these weapons because, in the words of Kyle Rittenhouse, they look “cool.”

WE have allowed our elected officials to air campaign ads in which they hold those same “cool” guns while threatening anyone who has a different point of view. WE have voted for people who brag about murdering their colleagues.

I am disgusted. I am scared. I am in shock.

But I don’t think putting the blame on one idiotic kid is the solution to the mess in which we find ourselves.

We need to look into our own mirrors.

Tonight I Had to Make the Cutlets


Nana style cutlets

My mother is in her last days. She has had a good, long life, filled with struggles and triumphs, as are the lives of all who are lucky.

This has been a difficult journey for her, as she has very, very slowly lost her strength of body, but never her strength of heart.

I am sad. I feel helpless to ease her on her way. I am blessed, and I know it, because I am surrounded by my loving siblings and because I have a chance to tell Mom how much I love her and what a good Mom she has been.

Still, I feel deeply sad that I can’t find the right way to honor her.

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I woke up this morning in my own snug bed. As I slowly rose to consciousness, I remembered a dream. A very vivid dream of my Nana, my Mother’s mother. In the dream, Nana was serving us dinner, as she did thousands of times in my life. She made chicken cutlets, in her special Italian way.

I woke up with the taste of those delicious cutlets in my mouth, and the determination to make them today in my heart.

Because I am something of a food hoarder, and a patron of our local farms, my freezer is well stocked with fresh and local meats. I got up early and took a package of chicken breasts out to defrost.

The day went on as usual, and I was busy taking care of my two little grandsons. There was playdoh and hallway soccer and trucks and more superheroes than I can count.

But as the afternoon wore on, I decided that I wanted to enlist the boys in the preparation of my “Nana cutlets”.

So the boys helped me to slice the chicken breasts, to pound them (18-month-old Max was particularly thrilled with this part), and to bread and fry them.

As the chicken simmered, I talked to the kids about Nana. I used the few little Italian phrases that I know. I told the silly story of the way that Nana would call us in for lunch by yelling something that I thought was in English.

“Come in, fill your belly” is what I heard.

It was many years later that I realized she was saying, “Come in, figli belli!” She was calling us her ‘beautiful children”, but we didn’t understand that.

I smiled to myself today, looking at my own “figli belli” and making cutlets with them. I loved the way that my Nana’s memory was shaping my day with the kids.

And after the boys went home, I looked at my leftover flour, bread crumbs, and egg/milk combination. I didn’t need any of it, and would normally have thrown it all out. But then I remembered Nana. I had a clear and wonderful memory of her standing at her stove, frying the cutlets.

When all of the chicken was gone, and only the coatings were left, Nana used to make a little pancake out of them. She would mix it all with a fork, and pour it into the hot olive oil. Then she’d mix it up in the pan, and gently flip it over to form a crispy little something that she let her little grandchildren eat.

Nana called it something that sounded to us like “Bishy woh-woh.”

It was DELICIOUS.

“Bishy woh-woh”

Once again, it took me many years and several classes in Italian to realize that this wonderful leftover treat, given as a gift to the grandkids, was actually called “pesce uova”, or “fish eggs”.

I love the history of this little dish. I love using my Nana’s recipes, although none are written and all are stored in my aging head. I love sharing this food, this love, with my grandchildren, just as Nana shared them with us.

I love that tonight, as Mom is readying herself to cross through the veil and join her parents on the other side, I love that tonight my grandkids helped me to make Nana’s cutlets. And that we will eat “Bishy woh-woh” with our dinner.

I pray that my dream means that Nana is close and that she is reaching out to Mom. Reaching out to bring Mom home.

I pray that one day one of my grandchildren will wake up from a vivid dream, and will make some special meal that they remember from their time with me.

Those Who Bring Gifts


Photo by David Everett Strickler on Unsplash

When I was a child, I thought that gifts were something tangible. I believed that they came in boxes, and were carefully wrapped in shiny paper, with bows attached. Just the other day, I told my little grandson that I was giving a gift certificate to his Dad for his birthday.

“No, Nonni,” he said, “Presents have to be wrapped! You have to open them and they have to have wrapping paper.”

I smiled. And I hugged him and assured him that I would carefully place the gift card in a “real” birthday card which I would decorate.

But for the past few days, I’ve been thinking.

One of the things that the pandemic has taught me is that the world is filled with gifts and that many of them come from the people around us, whether or not they are wrapped in ‘shiny paper’.

I’ve been looking back on my 65 years of life, and I’ve been recognizing those gifts.

I am thinking about the girl who was my very first “best friend” in the world. She lived right next door to me, and we went to kindergarten together. I remember that I loved her very blue eyes. I loved her creativity. When I was too timid to make up good stories, Patti pretended that the big lilac bush between our houses was a rocket ship, and we were heading off to space. I can still remember the thrill I felt, way back in 1961, pretending to be inside a rocket on its way to the “atmosphere”.

Patti was a key part of my life for the next few decades. Her gifts included some adventures in hiking and swimming, some moments of getting into a little bit of trouble, and some serious laughter that I can still recall.

Those were gifts. I didn’t necessarily see them that way at the time, but in my elder years, I see them for what they were.

And I’m thinking of my old friend, Sue. My first school buddy. Sue was fascinating to me from the very first time we met. She had flaming red hair, pale white skin and freckles, a beauty mark that this Italian American yearned to share.

Sue was the best reader in our grade. She was smarter than anyone I knew. She and I used to walk to the town library and come out with stacks of good books. We’d sit on the wall outside of the old building, with a pile of snacks beside us, reading “The Black Stallion Mysteries.”

Sue introduced me to the “Hobbit” and then to “The Lord of the Rings”. These books changed my life, ignited my love of words and provided solace for me through the next five decades of life.

Sue gave me more gifts than I can count.

And I am remembering the family that hosted me when I became an exchange student in 1973. I was sent from my safe, middle-class, Catholic family in Massachusetts to the wilds of North Africa and into the arms of a family in Kairouan, Tunisia. A family that turned out to be a safe, middle-class, Muslim family in a beautiful city.

The gifts given to me in my three short months with them are uncountable. The gift of understanding. The gift of acceptance. The gifts of new and wonderful foods, a new and beautiful language, new music, new art, new ideas. The gift of realizing that this is in fact a very small world and that we all share it.

A gift that came back to me many many years later in the person of an unknown cousin in Italy, who welcomed me and my family into his home with love and food and laughter. A cousin who answered my apologies for bursting in on them unannounced with the statement that “Tutto il mondo è una famiglia”. All the world is one family.

A gift. Right?

I think of the many, many gifts given to me by my students.

The child who told me, “You’re kind of a weird teacher. You really like the boys.”

The child who said, “It makes me happy to look at your eyes.”

And the one who said, “You are a very funny lady.”

I think of the lessons they taught me, about how to be fair. How to be kind. How to support without judgment.

And I think of the many, many gifts given to me by their parents.

Sure, some of those were tangible gifts, like the necklace of silver beads that read “Teach, Inspire, Love”. But there were many more intangible gifts given by these parents. The book about “Social Stories” that helped me to help my students with autism. The Mom who gave me a book of math challenges to support my above grade level students. The parents who sent me messages when my father died early in the school year and I had to take some time off. The families who thanked me and those who challenged me to do better.

I remember one child who told me that my attempts at humor made him uncomfortable. “You like to say, ‘Because I am she who must be obeyed. I really don’t like that.” And the little girl who asked me to stop saying, “Oh, my God!” because her religion found it offensive.

These were things that helped me to grow.

They were gifts.

They all were gifts that have helped me to build the person, the woman, the mom, the teacher that I believe myself to be.

Gifts do not always come in shiny paper. They don’t always have ribbons or cards. Some of them prick a bit when you get them. Some go sailing right over your head for a few decades.

But every act of sharing, every act of trust, is a real and true gift.

I am so grateful to be the recipient of so many lovely presents.

What On Earth Did the Latest Election Teach Us?


Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Well, here we go again, fellow US voters. Every two years, one political party shocks us all by beating the other party in a bunch of races. Every damn time, the “majority party” was projected to win by a landslide, but voters turned on them for some inexplicable reason!

“How could this happen?” political pundits ask in hushed tones. “What is the message for the party in power this time around?”

Oh, heavens to Betsy, what could it possibly mean!?

Does party A need to be more aggressive? Does party B need to be more empathetic? Should the party bosses take a tiny little step to the left? Should they boogie to the right? Is it all about being a “centrist” instead of a “radical”?

Whichever of the two parties has pulled out the win this time is the one that gets to brag about “saving democracy” and “protecting the rights of working people.” Whichever one got the foot in the face this time gets to practice the epic sport of “spinball” by promising that “the American people will see that we are the good guys any minute now.”

Puh-leeze.

I have a completely different explanation for why the American political system (a phrase I use with a sense of irony) swings back and forth every two years like a tire swing on an old oak tree.

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

This year the R’s dealt a blow to the D’s. In two years, the D’s will shock the hell out of the R’s. Back and forth we will go, from one to the other and back again. And the airwaves will be filled with the deep thoughts of countless historians, news reporters, and pollsters, trying to predict what in the world is going on in the hearts of the voters.

Here’s what I think.

I think that this whole situation reminds me of my first job after graduate school. I was doing speech/language therapy with small groups of preschoolers. Our little school was located in a small, scruffy city. There weren’t a lot of places to go for lunch, especially given the short time we had off and the salaries of preschool teachers.

My coworkers and I usually brought out lunches to work, but once a week, we would treat ourselves to a take-out meal.

Yay us.

There we’d be, every Friday, ready to have a treat. We’d discuss our choices with hunger-fueled excitement.

“Should we get a burger at Bell’s Place,” I’d ask my friends? “Or would you guys rather go to Ming’s?”

“Well, last week we ate at Ming’s,” one of us would say. “And it was OK, but it wasn’t that great.”

So off we’d go to Bell’s for the burger and fries.

A week later, the same conversation would come around, and one of us would say, “I had heartburn after we ate at Bell’s last week. How about Ming’s this time?”

You get the picture, right?

We needed to eat. We wanted to go out for a treat. But because of our location and our jobs, we were limited to two choices. Both were OK, but neither was great. Both were food, but neither was a gourmet meal.

So we would ping back and forth, never completely happy, and always looking for a change.

That’s what I see in the current political reality of this country. I see a bunch of tired, hungry, slightly aggravated voters who are bouncing back and forth between one heartburn-inducing choice and another. Neither is actually interested in governing because both are focused on outmaneuvering the other. Neither is what we want, and neither is actually good for us. But we know we need to pick one or the other, so we keep dithering back and forth.

Like the majority of voters now, I am registered as an Independent. I don’t send my precious dollars to either “team”. I’m a liberal, a lefty, a progressive, but I’ve been voting since the 1970s and I’ve learned a few things.

Neither of the two “real” political parties is going to provide universal healthcare to the people of this country, in spite of the fact that the rest of the world is aghast at that fact. Neither will make sure that we have a well-educated population across all socio-economic groups. They won’t demand clean water or clean air and they won’t change the way business is done even if that would mean securing the survival of the human species.

Both have learned to point fingers at each other. Both have learned the script needed to induce just enough fear of the “other side” to keep us hoping that this time something will change.

I’m here to tell you that as long as our choice is either the greasy burger or the limp egg rolls, we are never going to see any improvement. We need to either resign ourselves to a life of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or we need to organize and bring in a decent restaurant where we can get a healthy meal that actually gives us what we need and want.

What do you plan to do?

Playing “The Shell Game”


Photo by Olmes Sosa on Unsplash

I don’t remember the moment when I first learned The Shell Game. It may have been when I was at an orientation weekend with other young American exchange students in June of 1973. It may have happened when I was with my Tunisian family, celebrating the beauty of summer at one the many beaches along the coast of that gorgeous Mediterranean country.

I don’t know for sure.

All I know is that I have memories of happily scooping sand into my palm, forming a small dugout hole on the beach. I would repeat the motion over and over, forming two parallel lines of holes, six on each side. At the ends of the rows, a larger hole was scooped out, forming a kind of collecting space to hold the shells each player had won.

I clearly recall feeling the soft, shining sand as it poured out of my hand. I feel as if I am back there on a hot summer day. I feel the bright pressure of the sun on the back of my neck, like a blessing hand. I hear the waves and smell the briny sting of the gentle breeze.

The game was played by putting four little shells into each of the twelve sandy holes. I’d be playing with one other person, and I can picture each of the smiling faces from that long ago adventure. My Tunisian sisters and brother. The other young American kids who were there with me that summer. I don’t know for certain how may of them played “The Shell Game” with me, or what we called it in either Arabic or French. I just remember that for me the game was a unique and wonderful part of my first travel experience. For me, it was a part of Tunisia.

When I returned to the US after three months with my Tunisian family and friends, I rarely played the Shell Game. I think I tried to teach it to some of my local friends, but it wasn’t the same on the shores of the Atlantic, and I put it back into its place in my memory. I rarely thought about it any more.

So it was with a great deal of surprise some years ago that I stumbled upon the game “Mancala” in the school where I was teaching. In one way I was happy to see my game again, but in another it felt as if I’d lost something special. If anyone could buy a wooden board version of my beloved sunny shell game, was my memory still unique and special? I felt as if those deeply visceral sensory memories had faded into pale and commonplace versions of themselves.

Mancala

But something wonderful happened last week, as it so often does in my absurdly lucky life.

I was playing with my little grandson, Johnny. At the age of four, John is learning all about game strategy. If you’ll permit a bit of grandmotherly bragging, I’ll tell you that this little boy is already mastering the planning needed to win at both Tic-Tac-Toe and Checkers. He beats me at both on a regular basis.

So when he wanted something new to learn to challenge his Nonni, he pulled out a Mancala board that had been stored in my closet. We set up the board and I explained the game to Johnny. We played one round very slowly, carefully counting out the shining stones that were in the set instead of the shells I remembered.

After one round, it seemed that Johnny was ready to get serious. He played with a determination and sense of joy that made me smile to myself with pride. I won a game, but he won the next. As we settled in for another competitive round, I looked at my beautiful boy. He was up on his knees, with one hand pressed to the dining room table, holding himself up above the board. His dark brown hair was curled over his ears and forehead. His shining dark eyes were fixed on the colorful stones as he carefully counted each step.

I saw his small hand, curved into the shape of a scoop, holding the stones as he moved each one along the board. And something about the way he bent his fingers to scoop up the little treasures suddenly transported me from my home in cool Massachusetts to a glorious beach filled with sunlight. Something about the tender shape of his neck took me back to the sight of my young friends. Something about the joy of that moment was a collapsing of time that put me right back into the joy of those long ago days.

I grinned at Johnny.

“I love this shell game!” I said happily.

“It’s a stone game,” he answered simply as he scooped out a pile and carefully counted them out for the win.

Go Gentle Into That Sweet Night


Photo by Altınay Dinç on Unsplash

You are a fierce warrior. You have stood up straight and strong for all of your nine decades of life.

You are powerful. You were the first warrior woman I ever knew. You stood up for yourself when the Catholic Church told you to stay quiet and obedient. You stood with your hands on your hips when the schools told you to send your girls out into the snow wearing skirts.

You have never backed down, even when the idea of standing up made your hands shake.

But.

You are a tired warrior now. I think that you have fought all of your battles, and I think that you have nothing left to prove.

You have raised a troop of healthy, happy children. You have watched your grandchildren grow and thrive and multiply.

I think that your journey is complete.

In my loving daughter’s heart, I think that you have earned your turn to rest.

I stand outside tonight, under the Hunter’s Moon. I breathe in the crisp scent of the dying year. The gentle exhalation of the oak leaves, the wet smooth smell of the soil, the bitter scent of fallen seeds. I pull them into myself. I hold my breath.

I think of you.

I think of how fiercely you are holding on to this life.

I wish that I could tell you that your work here is done. You have earned your gentle rest. You have been a loving wife, a supportive mother, a loyal friend. You have done enough. You have been both good and worthy.


“Please go gentle into that good night,

Old age should sigh and smile at close of day;

Embrace, embrace the dying of the light.

And you, my mother, there on the proud height,

Bless, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Please go gentle into that good night.

Embrace, embrace the glowing of the light.”

You can, if you choose, let go.