Archive for May, 2010

I went to Cambridge today to meet my journalism classmates for lunch. There are moments in a person’s life where time falls away.

As I climbed the stairs of Widener Library, I looked across Harvard Yard. The pennants of the different colleges were hung in the trees. Across the green, on the stage stood a slim, blond woman of a certain age in a red suit. It was Drew Faust, President of Harvard University and my former professor.

Long ago in 1982, in the life that exploded and gave way to this life, I sat in a classroom and learned Southern history from Drew Faust. This was at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. It felt fitting and poignant that she is now President of Harvard, and that I am a student climbing the library stairs. There we were, occupying the same space, separated by decades. How things change, how life goes on. When she was my professor she was expecting a baby and brought her dog to class. The dog lay down and slept through the lectures. Her classes set me on a lifelong history kick. That love of history flowed down to my children. I was so young when I was her student, and she was young too. I wonder if she ever thought she’d be president of Harvard one day, back in the days of teaching The American South.

The stairs of Widener were a favorite place of my two oldest children. The years falls away, they really do. I looked up at the beautiful banner and savored the perfect moment.

Libraries are like churches. They feel sacred and full of hope.

I got a stack of books for summer fun reading, and proceeded to the lunch spot. The day was hot, hot, hot. Lunch was wonderful. Friends are life’s flowers.

Then we parted ways and I took the subway to the bus station, carrying books and bread. I settled into the air conditioned bus for the hour’s trip back to New Bedford. My phone’s battery went out, and I was wondering how I would call home. Then all of a sudden I saw my daughter’s dear friend, and my problem was solved.

All of a sudden, there was Bud in the family van, and a mile later, there was home. Home, with spaghetti cooking and a dog wagging her tail, and the cats walking around with their tails straight up and tall children asking me if I had fun.

I certainly did.

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My son graduated from college two days ago. The night before he graduated, we had one of those family parties that was full of merriment. One of the kids built a fire in the backyard. There were Christmas lights in the trees. The air was full of poignancy for this era that was about to end for the graduates.

I remembered when I was young. Oh life, you are so beautiful.

Yesterday I went for a walk with four of my children. On the way home, I stumbled and couldn’t stop my feet from moving. It was the oddest thing. I grabbed a tree to stop and tumbled onto the street. All four children were screaming. I was alright though. It took a few minutes to get it all together again. Then we proceeded home slowly.

We heard the horrible sound of a child being beaten and a father yelling profanity. “@#$!$! you!” “This is the last time I’m going to tell you to do your @#$%! homework!”. Soft thud, soft thud. A child’s groan. A child’s sobbing.

We went home and called the police.

If I hadn’t taken the spill, we’d have missed being ear-witnesses to the incident. God Bless all the poor children who weep alone. God help the parents who grew up being humiliated, and violently treated.

A two hundred fifty pound man can do a lot of damage to a sixty pound child. Beating a child over homework isn’t going to motivate the child to do better. And the rotten legacy continues.

I was thinking that the window I heard the noise coming from looks out onto our same leafy neighborhood. At dusk you can hear the evening birdsong. The leaves rustle in the golden light. In that window a few blocks away, a child was frightened, a child was hurt. It was so disturbing to me and to my children.

I have gotten as frustrated as the next person with my kids. Kids have a way of getting under your skin and bleeding your last drops of blood from you – at certain key ages. But that isn’t a reason to lose it. That is a reason to take a deep breath, the way you would if you were coping with a horrible boss and needed to keep your job. Take a deep breath and calm down.

If you cross the line, then you have to feel awful and apologize to your child. I don’t even know what to do about this stuff because I feel so strongly against corporal punishment. I think it is a horrible mistake in families, and it breeds dysfunction and despair amongst children. For the parent’s moment of release, damage is done to a child.

Whoever says it didn’t bother them is lying. That I know is true.

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I’m writing about Daddy and looking out the window at the canopy of maple leaves. They have grown overnight into full green hands. The sun is bouncing off of them, trying to come out. The sky is a mass of thunderclouds. It is humid and begging to rain.

A while ago I was on the front porch watching the neighbors come and go. I was brushing the dog’s coat and her tufts of hair were airborne, floating up, up, up to the sky. The birds will add them to their nests.

I’ve made two kinds of spaghetti sauce and bread for dinner. While making the bread, I listen to This American Life on the computer. I have wireless speakers that beam Ira Glass’ voice into the butler’s pantry where I was working.

Now I am on one of the three old computers that we can’t bear to say goodbye to. My youngest is watching Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday”. Bud sits across the house running his business. Every so often he leans back in his chair and calls across the hallway to me, asking my opinion, calling me to look at something.

I return to writing about Daddy, and I just get stuck at the enormity of the story, the impossibility of all he had to endure, and the monolithic blocks on impossibility that we all had to live through.

Yet, here we are, here I am. I am fortunate to be in this life, which is different from the life I came from. Now we are entering a season of celebration. College graduation, end of the school year for everyone including me. Trips abroad.

In this room, right now, two cats sleep contentedly. One cat, Tigger, sleeps on the dog bed. Awita, the dog sleeps on the sofa and the children ask her to sleep on her bed, but they can’t move Tigger. Bunny, one of the white cats,  sleeps on the arm of the sofa.

It feels like the late afternoon it is. Time to bake the bread.

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The Lilac Bush

Years and years ago when I lived the widowed year amongst friends in Philadelphia, I had the intense feeling that time was flying. I didn’t want it to end, because I loved them all so much. I knew that their departure would mark, for me, my time of truly being alone.

But then, spring came and my heart woke up and I fell in love again. I remember the smells of spring, and the flowers. Oh the lily of the valley, and the daffodils. Oh, the rhododendron and forsythia. Oh, the blossoms of cherry and apple. Oh, the lilacs.

I am particularly fond of lilacs because they are a flower that blossoms so beautifully in New England. Right now I am admiring the lilac bush we planted when we moved to this house. Its purple blooms are so fragrant, and my favorite thing is to sit on the porch in their reach and breath it all in.

Yesterday was the 27th anniversary of our first date. I was very worried at the time. I had a large group of friends, but Bud was new. He seemed very kind. He carried his great-great grandfather’s tobacco pouch for a wallet, and had a very reserved air. Later on I would know that this was his demeanor when encountering a new experience. We ate at a place that is now closed, “The Fish House”, and when we went outside to go to the Academy of Music, the sun was still high.

On the way back to the Madhouse (my student house), in a big yellow taxi, I remember hoping that he would like me. I also felt the immensity of life and felt myself on the brink of something huge.

As he stood under the blossoming cherry tree and told me he was an agnostic, I thought that he was handsome. He said he would call me when he came back from his visit home to Cohasset. Ten days passed, and then he called me.

I think of these things whenever the lilac bush blooms.

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