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August 2012

Wrong Answer

Our son Seth called us from Martha’s Vineyard the other night.  It was his first visit to that beautiful island off the coast of Massachusetts, and he found it quite terrific.

I told Seth that I had fallen in love with his father during a weekend on Martha’s Vineyard about forty-six summers ago when we were camping there with some friends.  It had rained very hard the first night, and I recall that, once it stopped, we gathered around a campfire.  Peter was putting his wet sneakers on a rock close to the flames to dry. 

It was as if I was hit by a ton of bricks because I suddenly realized that I was in love with that man drying his sneakers.  I don’t know if it was watching him interact with his close friends, or what, that caused me to realize that he was the one for me.

Unfortunately, he was a little slower at falling in love with me, but the years have proved it was worth the wait.

After we finished our phone conversation with Seth, I asked Peter when he realized that he had fallen in love with me.  I got this very blank stare.  “No idea, he said.”

Wrong answer.

Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen’s new memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, chronicles her thoughts about approaching sixty. She thinks she is entering old age.

Quindlen writes,  “Age is experience, and arthritis, and receding gums, and old stories, and old friends, and presbyopia and hot flashes.” “But what is old?” she asks.  Her answer, “Old is wherever you haven’t gotten to yet.” 

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, is full of wisdom and wit.  But compared to us 70-somethings, Anna Quindlen is pretty darn young.  She ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

"The Straight Story"

There are some Friday nights when all you want to do is veg-out in front of whatever Netflix DVD is in the house.  Last Friday was one of those nights.  The red envelope had been sitting on the kitchen counter most of the summer, and we had forgotten what it contained.  But we didn’t care.

“The Straight Story,” produced in 1999, tells the truth-based story of an old guy named Alvin whose estranged brother lives 300 miles away and has had a stroke.  Alvin wants to visit him, but can’t get a driver’s license due to his age, so he hitches his John Deere lawn tractor to a trailer and drives across Iowa.  On the way he has a few adventures and although it’s one of the slowest moving movies ever, we got involved.  It did have a few memorable lines, such as Alvin’s response when asked “What’s the worst thing about being old?”  Answer, “Remembering when you was (sic) young.”

But a little over an hour into it, the dreaded faulty disk thing happened.  It just stopped dead. We wiped the disk and started it again, fast-forwarding through the part we had already seen.  No luck. It stopped in the same place. Frustrated, we sent the usual bad disk message to Netflix. 

We hope Alvin got to re-unite with his brother, but we’ll never know.  We just can’t fast-forward through it again.

We decided to go back to reading.

Thinking about Squirrels

On a mid-August bike ride to work, the traffic was light.  So I couldn’t help but notice the squirrel that paused at the curb, then took off like an Olympic sprinter and crossed the street right in front of me.  When he reached the other side, he ambled across the sidewalk and into the front yard of the nearest house.

How do squirrels learn that they need to hustle when they cross a street?  Do their mothers dread the first time that their offspring cross the street on their own like I did? Do they teach them about cars? 

Do squirrel mothers worry when their offspring leave home and forever after?



Our sons, Jeremy and Seth, attended Becket, a YMCA overnight camp, for years.  Seth went from camper to counselor-in-training to counselor to village director and Jeremy, who also followed the camper to counselor route, eventually led a Becket International Campers Exchange to China single-handedly.  To say that Becket was formative for our children is an understatement. Peter and I give it credit for many of our kids’ best qualities.

Last week we got a forwarded email from the camp. Apparently, Becket launched a campaign to raise funds for scholarships. Here’s what a Board member said in his keynote speech at Becket’s campaign kick-off celebration.

“Seth Kugel was an Aide in 1986… Seth was assigned to my Cabin in Iroquois Village my first summer at camp. Back then, we had the same Aide for almost every cabin activity and thus Seth was like a second counselor to me. As I came back to camp over the next four summers, Seth had progressed from an Aide to CIT to Counselor (and) on to village director. Miraculously, every year I came back, he was assigned to the village I was in. Although he was never my direct counselor he took the time to talk with me whenever I had a problem and never minded if I joined in on whatever he was doing…

When I was asked the question of why do I give to camp, it’s now   simple. I give in order to allow a generation of kids who can’t afford the cost of camp, to be shaped by the Seth Kugels…, it was life changing and I truly believe I am a better person for coming here. 

Which is why my wife and I have decided to give $1 million…”

We couldn’t be prouder.

Florence at Camp


My (half-) sister Florence went to summer camp for two weeks.  At age 95, she wasn’t the oldest of the 100 campers.  That title went to the 101 year-old-man who “power” walked every morning.

Peter and I were just an hour away, enjoying a week in the Berkshires.  We had planned to visit Florence, and after failing to reach her by phone, we just showed up. It took us over an hour to find her because there were so many activities going on, but we caught up with her in the dining hall at lunchtime. 

There she was in a navy Walker Art Museum sweatshirt, light slacks, and sneakers.  She was having a great time, and was thrilled to see us.  She told us about her busy camp days filled with lectures, the gym, swimming, movies and lots of eating.  She told us that she attended an event the evening before where they played all the Academy-Award-winning songs since 1937 and that she knew all the words.  But, she added sadly, "I can’t remember what happened yesterday."

Florence is charming; she looks twenty years younger than she is.  It was great to be with her.  It made me wish that we had found each other much earlier in our lives.

Peter took the picture above before we left.  As we got into the car, Florence said,

“You know, I don’t refer to you as my half sister—you are my sister.”

Monterey, MA


Unless your kids are within an hour’s drive (ours aren’t), you never see them enough.  We visit the grandchildren for a weekend every couple of months, and everyone comes to us for Thanksgiving.  But this summer, we rented a house in the Berkshires and nabbed everyone for a week. The house was beautiful and completely grandchildren-ready with toys and games galore--air hockey (whatever that is), pool, ping pong, Legos, all kinds of board games, a kayak and more.

We had great weather.  We were a three-minute drive from a lake.  We hiked and swam and went on nature walks.  We picked blueberries from bushes we could reach from the deck. We watched about an hour of the Olympics before bedtime each night.  Our only disappointment was that Uncle Seth, flying back from St. Petersburg, Russia had a plane cancelled and instead of having thirty-six hours with the family had only fifteen hours, including sleeping time.

Memorable moments:  Eight-year-old Leo to his grandfather:  “Gramps, your nose looks longer today.”  To his grandmother when asked his favorite subject in school:  “Recess.”  Leo is all football, all the time, quizzing us about quarterbacks we’ve never heard of.

And Grady, in love with every caterpillar, Legos and entertaining us with typical five-year-old’s jokes like What does one tomato say to the other?  Answer:  Ketchup with you later.

Driving home, I was sad.  I thought I should be happy because I am so lucky to have had this week.  But I was sad.

That is until we got home and Peter served me an extra- large dish of coffee ice cream.   

Squeaky Clean

You know how it feels to have a great shower.  Not when you are rushing to get somewhere, but when you have the time to be “in the moment” in the shower.  You emerge feeling as clean as clean can be.

It was after one of those showers last week that I had a vivid picture of my dad sixty years ago, post squeaky-clean shower and shave.

We had only one bathroom in the house where I grew up.  So we were keenly aware of when it was occupied or when it was not.  Dad (who passed away forty years ago this month) would emerge from the bathroom, showered and shaved and emphatically announce, “I’m the cleanest person around.  Who wants to kiss me?” 

He’d have a towel wrapped around his middle, but more important, his head would be wrapped in a shaving towel à la Sheik of Araby.  His signature after-shave lotion, Old Spice, permeated the hall as he emerged. My mother usually complied with the requested kiss.

Dad was impeccable about his appearance, probably because he had no money growing up. As a successful businessman, he wore only the finest high-end suits and ties. No hair was ever out of place, not a speck of dirt under a finger nail.

Squeaky clean.


Looks Like Thanksgiving

Although we are used to Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal who come back to us every spring and the not-so-brave bunnies who scamper when I go out to get the morning newspaper, we don’t have a lot of wildlife in our small yard. 

However, of late we have some new visitors.  A family of wild turkeys now comes marching through pretty much daily.  Yesterday, all five were hunting for breakfast bugs in our front yard.  One of the “children” seems to have a limp, but gets around on its own. 

I have heard that you don’t want to confront wild turkeys.  I also have seen evidence that they pretty much decimated a neighbor’s garden.  But Peter’s irreverent comment, “Do we have room in the freezer?” aside, it is kind of fun to watch them.

This morning, I didn’t see them.  I started to worry.  And then I realized that I have enough to worry about.  I don’t need to add turkeys to the list.