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March 2012

February 2012

Empty Bedrooms

My parents sold the house I grew up in while I was away at college and moved into an apartment.  It was a modest house in a modest neighborhood, but to me, it was home.  I felt betrayed.  Back then, unmarried women were likely to live with their families, but I would have none of that, at least not in an apartment.

I remember the day I told my father that I planned to move out.  It was about a month after my graduation. We were sitting on my bed in the new apartment.  It was the the bedroom furniture I grew up with, but it wasn’t the same.

I told Dad that I was moving to Boston because I needed to be on my own.  He was devastated, but he accepted the inevitable. 

I vowed then that my husband and I would not sell the house our kids grew up in while they were still in college.  And we didn’t.  When we did sell it, we bought another, smaller house that had a bedroom for each of them, just in case they needed to live at home. 

In our empty nest, I finally understood how my father felt during that long-ago conversation on my old bed in my parents’ new apartment.

The Party We Missed

My Aunt Ruth who lives in Buffalo turned 100 on February 8th.  It had taken her a long time to decide whether or not to have a celebration.  When she finally decided to go ahead, one of her children told me that they wanted to limit the party to her three sons, their wives and grand- and great-grandchildren. 

So we bought plane tickets to spend her birthday weekend celebrating our grandson Leo’s eighth birthday.  When Aunt Ruth changed her mind and decided to include Peter and me, it was too late to change our plans, and she understood.  We promised to visit her in the spring when it would be just us so we could get all her attention.

Her daughter-in-law Judy called me the day after the party to tell me that Aunt Ruth had been beautiful and strong, better than when we saw her in October.  I was sad to have missed it, but not as sad as when I got my cousin Gerry’s take on the event. 

Gerry wrote “…as I looked around the room…I was astounded and quite proud that this family, unto the fourth generation seems so strong and well-put together.  And, as I think about it, the most notable quality running through the room was humor and laughter.  We all seemed to mark our happiness and love for one another with jokes and smiles….”

“Every one of us,” he wrote at the close, “owes enormous gratitude to Ruth for the grace, charm, dignity and character with which she has infused our lives. 

We will not see her like again.”

Friends We Don't Know

Sometimes people we don’t even know become part of our lives as if they were friends.  Take Jane Brody, for instance.  Author of Good Food Book and Good Food Gourmet, her recipe for bean burritos is a staple in our dinner rotation.  Her cookbooks are shop worn, but remain on our go-to list when we are looking for something new (and healthy).  The picture of her on the book jackets shows a vibrant and beautiful young woman. Now, at seventy, she still writes one of my most-eagerly-awaited columns in The New York Times

When she wrote about how her chronic pain was undertreated, I felt her pain, and when her husband of so many years passed away. I felt her loss.  But her column last week convinces me that we are soul-sisters.  She writes about her relationship to her bicycle, how she rides (as I do) almost daily.  She urges others to ride, but to do it safely and to follow the rules that cars follow.  She too, like me, was hit by a careless driver but continues to bike in her eighth decade.

If I weren’t older than she is; if she weren’t a better writer than I am; and if my boys like hers were twins, I’d think we were separated at birth. 

We Should Do That More Often...

We don’t take advantage of the riches around us.  Although I’ve lived in the Boston area for more than fifty years, I get so embroiled in my daily routine that I forget that people come from all over the world to see what is at my doorstep.

I remember buying Peter a book about Boston’s neighborhoods for his birthday one March.  We decided we would spend the spring visiting one neighborhood each weekend until we had seen them all.   But our busy lives got in the way.  The book remains on the shelf, the neighborhoods unvisited.

So when we ended up in a beautiful old brownstone on Beacon Street in Boston’s Back Bay for a play reading Saturday afternoon, I suggested that instead of taking the subway at the nearest stop, we walk through the Public Garden and the Boston Common to a stop closer to home. 

It was a gray, damp day, but Beacon Hill’s Federal-style row houses with their purple-tinted bay windows were as beautiful as ever, huddled together on the side of the hill.  And the ice skaters in their finery on the Frog Pond on the Common below were a live Currier and Ives painting.

We should do that more often.


Sometimes you are lucky enough to have a friend like no other.  Fourteen years my senior and a work colleague, I never had a better friend than Muriel.  Our friendship, nurtured at work, lasted long after we left our jobs. Even after her retirement to Cape Cod, she would take the bus to Boston and stay with us overnight for a non-stop gab session. 

She was beautiful, full of personality and talented as well as a wonderful advisor.  Even when I couldn’t find her for the last few years, I often asked myself, "What would Muriel say?"  And that helped me to do the right thing.

Because we lost touch, I didn’t hear that her husband of more than fifty years had died until months after he was gone, when her daughter Wendy called to let me know.  She said that Muriel wasn’t doing all that well.

But then I lost touch with Wendy too.  So for the last couple of years, I watched the obituaries, thinking Muriel might have passed away and I could have missed it.

Wendy called last Monday.  She and her husband had moved across the country, but she was back because her mother died on Saturday. Although I had been missing Muriel and “mourning” her for a few years, it was hard to hear that she was really gone.  She had been such a force in my life, the big sister I never had.

I talked with Wendy for a long time.  I caught up on all the siblings and grandkids.  Wendy gave me her new email address, and we promised to stay in touch.

We hung up and then I cried.

In the Blink of an Eye

We try to visit our grandchildren every two months.  Last Saturday we got up at 5:00 a.m. to make a 7:15 plane that got us to them by 11:00 a.m.

That first sighting was, as it always is, surprising. Both boys had changed since we saw them at Thanksgiving. For the first time, we had an inkling of what eight-year-old Leo will look like as a teenager.  And five-year-old Grady, destined to be an architect, was always building, whether traditional blocks or Legos or whatever he got his hands on.  The highlight of the day came when we were alone with the kids while their parents went shopping and Leo asked us if we would come take care of them sometime when their parents went away overnight.  Did he sense that we were less likely to limit “screen” time or was it because he knew how much we would love having them to ourselves?

In the evening, we watched a sweet movie about a dolphin that lost its tail. Sunday morning we had Dunkin Donuts for the breakfast celebration for the newly-eight-year-old.  His brother looked away, not wanting to watch Leo open all his presents.

A birthday party for about twenty at a community center—football for the boys and crafts for the three girls, organized to the tiniest detail by our talented daughter-in-law, filled the afternoon.

Then the Super Bowl in the evening, Leo inconsolable as the Patriots lost a close one. 

Monday morning, kids off to school, grandparents off to the airport. 

Over in the blink of an eye.


On our usual Sunday walk last week, we ran into a couple we know vaguely. She appears to be considerably older than he, although they seem quite devoted to one another.  We exchanged pleasantries and after we went our separate ways, I said to Peter, “If you pre-decease me, I am going to have to give her a call to find out how she got her boy-toy.”

Peter replied by saying that he planned to pre-decease me or at least co-decease me.

Just another Sunday walk, but not just another conversation.


The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is a standardized test given to foreign students who want to study in the United States. But even those who meet a school’s cutoff score sometimes suffer from inadequate English skills.  I remember hearing about the international student who when asked “Do you prefer yellow or blue?” replied “Yes.”

I thought about that story yesterday when I said to Peter, “How are we going to decide which movie to see?”  His answer, “OK.”

Peter was born in Germany.  I wonder how he did on the TOEFL.