Monday, June 29, 2009


I am betting, hoping and sure my brothers don't read this. I am at liberty to be sappy without embarrassing them. A while back I wrote a little note about Christopher Sean. This one is for Peter James.

When I was young I thought my brother Peter's mail said Peter J. for "junior" and my father's Peter D. for "Dad." Peter is enormous, he played college football. His shoulders were and still are incredibly wide. In my book he always made actors playing Hercules look pitiful. He used to pretend when I hit him it hurt. Mom would dress me in maroon and white and we would cheer Peter on at Colgate after long hours of tailgating. It was a ton of fun, but I didn't like him playing football. I remember thinking it had to hurt and seeing him all torn up asleep on the couch in the living room. I remember his college graduation party, I was about five years old.

Pete would take me out to buy Mom Christmas and Mother's day presents. I used to stay up really late waiting for him to come home from school or Connecticut. He gave me my first computer, a Mac Classic, and my first iPod, GPS, Stereo, and my first CDs (10,000 Maniacs and The Proclaimers to be exact).

When I was seven he brought Janice home. I was instantly in love with her. She was sleeping and Mom told me to leave her alone. So I tied a note that read "get up and come downstairs" to a balloon and floated it over her bed. The Christmas after that Mom bought plastic champagne glasses in case there was an engagement. Seven years later there was.

Pete is successful and smart, he knows everything and loves researching information. When I see an interesting article, he's who I want to send it to. He isn't very good at backing up SUV's and tends to hit poles, my car or our Aunt's car. But that's okay, no one is ever in them when he does it.

This last weekend Pete helped me through my first half-marathon. I took a bus to NYC where he insisted on picking me up. As if he could be more of a super hero in my eyes, he is also capable of driving in the city. We hung out and drove home. There are few people on this planet I can talk with like I can with Pete and the others don't really compare because I value what Pete says about a million times more. I'm not aware of time when I am talking to my brother, it just flies by unnoticed.

I spend hours laughing at how cute he is with Jan and how amazing his kids are. I could listen to his youngest call me Aunt Mary every second for twenty-four hours and not once get annoyed, cause I love it. His kids love video games, Star Wars and Lego's. Jan makes my favorite food, I love my family.

On Sunday Pete and I head out to the race very early in the morning. Before I get out of the car he tells me he's proud of me. I'm nervous and he almost makes me cry. I run. At the finish line he's there with Jan and the kids, I was overwhelmed happy. Within five minutes we are planning the event for next year and he is going to run with me. He says I inspire him. He's out to make me cry.

My nephew helps me stretch in the water and we sit at a beach restaurant having lunch talking about whatever. We have some time to kill so we go sit on some rocks in the sun and look out at the water. Pete and I are just continuing conversation but I'm holding a feeling inside that is huge. Our mother loved the water, she kept us near it in the summer. I would climb rocks just like these with lighthouses in the distance and run right out into the sea. She always let me run into the water, she always had something else for me to wear. She preferred landscapes with lighthouses. Pete, Tyler and I were sitting together in one of her landscapes. We were grown and could be anywhere else but we were together there cause we chose to be. The feeling I had was that she could see it maybe even lead us there in our subconscious.

The day ends with Pete driving me to the train talking about starting to run. I tell him I started to help my insomnia, it helps me sleep. He tells me that me being in his house helps him sleep. He sleeps best when he has his family home. He says its a sad irony that the people he has the most fun with are his sisters and brothers yet none of us live near each other. Its the most painful thing in my life cause its very true. I would want my kids to know how our family works, I wouldn't want my favorite people to be strangers to each other.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Green Thumbs

I have no garden of my own right now. I could do something at Lucas Lane, and the fact that my current little home has a supply of tiger lily, azaelea, peony and rose helps keep me sane. But I haven't paid it much attention, just grateful for the touch of it keeping me from going without. The women who raised me loved to dig in the dirt. Some years more than others, but always with a great deal of love. I truly miss my garden and although this is poorly organized I'm keeping it as is because it was completely unprompted - this is how it fell out of my head. Today, I realized while this was being typed, that I have a very large part of my heart in a garden so much so that I know my future happiness will have a lot of dirt in it.

If all else failed that season there were always the shasta daisies. In a good year though, the flowers never stopped in orchestra from the spring overture to fall serenade. Crocus, tulips and big bright dafs announced the hostas and columbine.

Displayed in height order from the far back and tall delphiniums and ornamental trees to the creeping myrtle floor of the edge of the bed.

Some flowers were heirlooms, grandma's dahlias and peony bushes franchised around the west end. From the side of Cherry Road to the deep reaching perfection of Winkworth Parkway.
The peonies were pale pink and fat with silky abundant petals so dense the bud weighed down the branch. At Cherry Road they were completely unexpected and tucked on the side of the house that no one ever went, where we kept the long ladders and brush clippings. They couldn't be seen from the windows in the living room, but lying in my parents bed with the casement open I could smell them.

I would have pressed my face into them regularly, but their nemesis proved protection and I was not a beetle's friend.

We'd tuck hen and chicks into the rocks at Cherry Road and make beds of impatiens in the shade. The stone path at Winkworth saw geraniums and allysm under fresh fluffy peat. Grandma Holmes taught me how to water hanging shade baskets on the back porch and Grandma Rhoades would walk her Ormsby Drive garden letting me help her pull weeds. Mom grew wild strawberries and a field of flox. Grandma Holmes grew eucalyptus for tea.

From my bed I had a view through my box window past the white birch to the wall of forsythia that would blaze sunny yellow in spring. Summer would flash by until the mums came in and the flower boxes were stored and a pumpkin put out with corn stalks tied to the lamp-post.

I've tried to build a garden, then had to abandon it. I foolishly thought it would be mine. I thought I would stay in one place long enough for hydrangea to mature or to culture a wall of daylilies. I thought I would split bulbs of tulips and daffs of my own, imagined I would finally master a rose bush and bring up a rhododendron from the root. I cower at the thought of my corner stone perennials mistaken for weeds and put to the corner. My only hope is some wise passer by picked the garbage.

I was nursing a lilac bush and exchanging seeds with my neighbor. I stayed long enough to see the cosmos and viola survive by the holly and then it was gone. The earth I thought I claimed and had the privilege of playing in for a few seasons was never meant to be. I liberated it from sprawling juniper and infused it with little fragile dreams. We were dependent on each other for survival and now left to attempt to make on our own in the wild.

I wonder if the people there now know that all that ivy came from a single twig. I wonder if they know that the dwarf iris patch is touchy and the hostas need to be moved to the shade.

Aunt Sue had a small jockey statue in her back garden near the pool and we would play in the dark hiding in her annual beds. Aunt Carolyn liked the hardiness of vinca over impatiens. Aunt Sharon created a dream. I've walked Versaille many times but no garden has come close to the perfection of Aunt Sharon's Winkworth Parkway. I'll never forget Janice's bridal shower in her back yard. All the white dressed tables, the perfect day, the flowers.

When you take a small frail, maybe half dead plant and you bring it up into something beautiful its so gratifying. It has no voice but you try to anticipate its needs. You try to read it, understand it, listen to silence and nurse it to health. And if you fail it withers, it gives you clear signs and time to mourn. If you succeed it amazes you and blesses you with colorful and aromatic thanks.

I grew up in gardens.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

eight years ago today

Josh and Dad bought a keg.

People drove from all over to Cherry Road.

Jessica and I painted our nails and made chili.

Paul didn't show up.

Jason couldn't make it.

John needed directions.

Jameson brought the funnel.

Its the last night I see Raquel, Lara and Sarah in the same room.

My Dad bought Mom some Mike's Hard Lemonade.

I lent Rory a copy of Live on Two Legs.

Sols and Hightower are monitoring the beer.

My parent's get rid of the police at the door.

Mom was playing drinking games at the table with my friends.

We had a fire in the backyard.

Jess is teaching Yanks a thing or two about beer drinking the British way.

Jess had to go home, this was a party for her.

My neighbors were at their camp.

Ziggy's friend took a liking to Jess.

John and I fix the neighbor's phone and dance as everyone passes out.

That was eight years ago today.

Such a long time ago today.

What if Paul showed?

What if My neighbor's remembered to turn off the answering machine or lock the door?

What if I payed more attention to Cat and not him?

Could Ray Bradbury better explain that butterfly effect?

In my head I know. If it didn't happen the way it did, I would have never learned who I am. It had to happen that way. I never liked an easy lesson. I always have to earn it. I'd rather go up hill, counter current, against the grain. I opt for scars.

So now here I am.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

why not

I have been wondering a great deal about the following topics lately.

Adult Playgrounds:

Remember when it was a challenge to climb the monkey bars? I'd like that again. Can we please have an adult playground? Really high slides, huge jungle gyms and exaggerated teeter totters.
I can not figure out why these don't exist. Instead we'd rather pay fifty dollars a month to run in place in front of CNN.

Gift Exchanges:

Kids, little ones, don't care if something is new. I think schools should have nights where the parents just come exchange crap instead of buying more.

Tents Welcome Here:

Ok, so I travel and I'm cheap. One of the nicest things a stranger ever did for me was invite me to camp in his yard. I was in Florida and the couple was from Montreal and we were seated together at dinner. They gave me their contact info and said if ever I was in Montreal I was welcome in their yard.
I have looked into couch surfing, like the idea. But want to offer my yard someday to anybody who needs it. Why not? If they're the type of people traveling with a tent they are probably ok by me.

Doggy Bag Donation:

The other night I was leaving the restaurant with my family and a homeless man asked me for my leftovers. Sure. No problem. We have such heavily traffic'd restaurant areas why not a little flag on a pole that signals a place to drop off perfectly good food? Hungry? Wait here and half a steak will be with you shortly.

Community Bonfires:

Firestation fundraiser? Ok, I will walk with my sling chair and six pack, give you ten bucks, and you burn something and let me stare at it. Deal.

Sunflower Pirates A'la Zak:

My old neighbor, Zak, is a creative man who loved gardening. One night we took a bunch of Sunflowers he started and planted them around the neighborhood. We hit abandon lots and un-lived in houses, and people who's gardens we deemed too perfect. I still feel the urge to fill abandon lots with sunflowers.

I'm not sure how original my thoughts are, but they're my little thoughts... what are yours?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Father's Day

This Father's Day I want my Dad to yell at me. I want him to pace a room at four o'clock in the morning demanding to know where I've been. I want him to carry on red in the face arms flailing and vocabulary mind blowingly complex handing down incredible consequences. I want him to explain ad nauseum why what I did was stupid and how I am lucky to be alive.

I want him to stare me right in the face and tell me he is disappointed in me and send me to my room.

I want to remember what it felt like to doubt he loved me, to believe he never understood, to think he was wrong and incredulous.

That ignorance wasn't bliss but it was easier. The power of love, the guilt for what I put him through and the acknowledgement of how right he was is the hardest and most important lesson of my life.

Now all he does is tell me I'm beautiful and how proud he is. Now all he does is wish I called more and more and more. The only time he raises his voice is in excitement when I see him. He isn't some tower of muscle with an acre of shoulders and power, he's a gray haired old man who needs help walking straight. So I put my arms around his small shoulders and support him. The shoulder's I sat on for years, the ones that straightened me out.

I love you Dad.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Treasure Hunt

For me there is hardly an easier way to fill an afternoon than thrifting. I am capable of hunting through a store full of already owned goods for ages. Never really looking for something in particular, just something interesting. As a rule, if I go looking for anything I need, it won't be there. But, there will be eight of them there the week after I've bought it at Target.

I like to find old glasses with monograms for friends with the same. A partial set of beer mugs etched with an F for Finchy or a B for the Byham house. You just never know what treasures you'll find.

I can get carried away going through unwanted or vintage greeting cards. I love finding the one that was slipped in with the rest but was already written in. Dear Len and Sal, congratulations on your wedding. I stand for a second every time wondering if I might find Len and Sal. If they are still crazy after all these years I'd love to give them the card.

I can tell you from first hand experience what you should never buy new. Never buy a new 25th Anniversary tray or photo frame. There is always something that says Happy 25th Anniversary at a thrift store, even the bad ones. Never buy a new framed Monet print, its another guaranteed item right along with a bread machine.

I think I know why I love used things so very very much. It goes back to the weekend we had to clean out Dad's house. My brothers, sisters and I had to go through each and every corner unearthing everything familiar and attached to our time there. We dragged it out to the driveway, to the curb and to the cars. It was either salvaged by us or someone passing by.

Slowly my home was just an empty house. We bought a shredder and I sat there with decades of Dad and Mom's old tax documents shredding garbage. I lost track of time in tears reading through little ridiculous check registers with Mom's writing. Some of Dad's archive of unneeded minutia was just interesting. But he no longer had the luxury of storing forty years of tax returns or credit card bills from the early eighties with stores no longer in business.

I had a pile of what I thought should be kept and the rest went out. Everything from our parent's life passed through us like sand through a sieve and out to sea. Or to the self storage a mile down the road.

Dad really had no idea what was going on. I'm not sure he knew his house was gone and so was most everything in it. I think of that as I wander isles at some charity store. I think of the items from an obviously long established home. I think of the work it took someone to donate away everything familiar or had to for someone they love. Maybe someone who once took care of them and no longer can take care of themselves.

I just think its respectful to try to get things there first. A trench coat some son hates to part with, it reminds him of his mother, he passes it on hoping someone finds a use for it. Cause we can't keep it all. I know. Everything can mean something and you can bury yourself with sentimental stuff. Even a mostly used pencil has spirit if you let it. And maybe you decide that's it, you can't part with it. But you can pack up the dishes.

They aren't stores they are part museum, part charity, part halfway home, part graveyard. But most of all, they are a second chance and a happy ending.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Shel Silverstein is a super hero. He wrote for Playboy and children. Lyricist and poet for Cash and The Rovers. He penned The Unicorn, and I sang it at the top of my lungs at every chance as a kid. Rats, cats, elephants.

Last night I listened to some of my favorite lyrics live, one line always makes me think of Mr. Silverstein. "My world begins where the road ends, watch me leave it all behind." I think the tone is different but my mind thinks of Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Shel Silverstein could appreciate a child's fragile perfection. The poem still gives me chills. I won't stop trying to find what's past the end of the road or where the sidewalk ends, I used to know... I swear it was right there a second ago.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


It was around six in the morning, not quite time for the alarm to sound to wake me up for the day but I was already awake. The morning storm had me out of bed to close the windows, but not all the way. Just enough to still hear the rain and roar in the early morning sky.

I laid in bed and thought about how wonderful a way it was to wake up. With no one to share it with I felt alone. It was an otherwise, perfect morning.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Rules of Mountain Climbing

I'm slowly climbing up the left side of the Bethesda Metro escalator. It is seriously crowded. The man behind me is fussy. He doesn't like how we have to stop every so often. He wants to know what the hold up is, or so he says.

I understand he is aggravated. His aggravation is aggravating me probably just as much as his impatience is aggravating him. I want to turn around and tell him to relax. Maybe some little kid is ahead of us and he wants to see if he can climb it all by himself. Maybe its an old man and he wants to know he still can. Maybe its another chick like me and she's fallen a few times.

I want to tell him he doesn't matter and the world would go on without him, so it isn't going to speed up or slow down for him either. Not today. No one likes waiting in line, too bad. Don't try to explain to me that you've got it all figured out that you couldn't use a couple minutes with nothing to do but wait and think. If this line is going to make you late, that's your fault. Be better prepared.

Right now he is probably forgetting his sister's birthday. Stop and think please, no one cares what your cruise control is set to. Get on your fancy phone and start apologizing to whomever you're holding up. And don't blame the escalator for adding two minutes to your commute, get up earlier.

Be human please, and do not assume I am with you, don't expect me to second your ridiculous mumblings. I know damn well my existence isn't worth the fuss. Keep your head down, mouth shut and climb with the rest of us. The person behind you would catch you if you were stricken with a heart attack just now, we wouldn't let you fall back. So don't worry if we can't let you run past. Take what you can get.