Category Archives: Friendship

Summer’s Parting Shot, and a Friendship for the Ages


Until the beginning of this week, the weather has been so warm here that I was getting lulled into thinking it was still summer. While I’d prefer that it not be 85 degrees in October, the ongoing heat suggested that time was standing still.  Had we finally found that “Hold” button I’m always wishing for?  It almost seemed so.

But the world must be spinning, and moving in its orbit.  Monday’s rain ushered in more seasonable temperatures.  It triggered the pine straw showers that turn our driveway and the hill beside it golden-red every October.  We had one beautiful, crisp fall day.  Yesterday brought cold, insistent rain, and it continues today.  It’s time to search out my gloves and the rest of my warmer dog-walking gear.  But I need one last look at summer.

A bit of summer’s essence is preserved in the photo above.  It shows our daughter and two friends on stand up paddle boards this August.  It was just before sunset, the air was unusually balmy, and Cape Cod Bay was calm and smooth.  It was toward the end of a very special day, when we had a visit with friends from home.  This was an unusual event.  We don’t typically see Virginia friends in Massachusetts.  Our Cape friends and our home friends have, until now, remained completely separate; they inhabit two very different worlds.

But this year, our neighbors decided to vacation in Plymouth.  This is the family with whom we often spend Thanksgiving.  We met them when D and their younger daughter began Kindergarten together.  The girls have been close ever since.  Their friendship is not of the on-again, off-again type.  It’s not stained by gossip, catty commentary, competition or envy.  They never discussed being “best friends.”  It’s a friendship that doesn’t require numerical ranking or constant rebooting.  The two girls are not and needn’t be exactly alike.  But they seem to have a genuine regard and respect for one another, and a true appreciation for their differences.  They have a rare thing going. This kind of comfortable companionship doesn’t happen often.  If we’re lucky enough to find it, we need to hold onto it.

All during elementary school, the girls had a standing Tuesday playdate.  It’s been a pleasure to watch them together through the years.  I would peek in as they made up games in the playroom, watch from the window as they dashed around the yard in the sprinkler or performed acrobatics on our rope swing.  They were nearly always laughing, and their friendship struck me as familiar.  I could see me with my childhood friend Katie, with whom the most mundane activity could be fun.  She and I shared a similar bond, and it’s one that has endured.  I expect that, in years to come, D and her friend will eagerly catch up with one another during winter breaks from college.  I’d be very surprised if, thirty years from now, they’re not exchanging Christmas cards (or whatever kind of virtual correspondence has taken their place by then).

The older daughter is now a high school senior.  Her interest in several New England colleges prompted the family vacation in Plymouth.  The ideal elder sister, she is patient, encouraging, grounded and wise.  She has never been above socializing with her sister’s younger circle.  My daughter considers her a good friend and trusted advisor. I find it reassuring to know that the three girls are all, for this one year, in high school together.



The two photos above show the friends at our local Memorial Day carnival in 2008. When our girls were in elementary school, this event was an annual tradition, not to be missed.

These kind and thoughtful sisters, as would be expected, embody the same values as their  mother and father.  Once you’re a parent, your child largely determines your friends.  The parents of your child’s friends become the people with whom you spend time, like it or not.  Our daughter chose well for us;  we are very fortunate.  H and I enjoy a real sense of camaraderie with the mother and father and with their two girls.  It was a welcome turn of events when it happened that our families would be in the same area at the same time for our summer vacations.

The day that our friends were arriving in Truro, we were filled with anticipation.  Text updates told us they were getting closer.  When they pulled into the shell-paved parking lot, we were crossing the green to meet them.  D was excited to show her friends her favorite summer place.  We knew the whole family would appreciate the bay and its charms.  They wouldn’t be put off by the seaweed.  They’d find the odd marine life amusing.  They wouldn’t wonder why we didn’t opt for more luxurious housing.  They would enjoy Provincetown’s beauty as well as its eccentricities and humor.  The day would be relaxing, easy and fun.

And it was.  It was a lovely day.  There was time to sit back in beach chairs on the flats during an impressively low tide.  Time for the girls to create a big moated sand castle.  Time to watch the water reclaim it and most of the beach.  After an early dinner at the Lobster Pot, with no crowd and no wait, we wandered among Ptown’s unique sights.  We returned as sunset approached so D and her friends could try out the SUP boards.  The water was gloriously tranquil.  The typical chill of the evening never descended.  We talked, laughed and watched our girls floating happily on the smooth, glassy bay.

The photo of my daughter and her friends on the water is my parting  summer shot.  It captures the luxurious ease and the rhythm of summer.  And it speaks of the promise of friendship to transcend the seasons and the years.

Provincetown’s Music Man, Bobby Wetherbee

As I’ve mentioned, just a mile down the road from our quiet cottage on the beach in Truro is bustling, partying Provincetown, incredibly rich in its offerings of theatrical and musical entertainment.  This small seaside town has been a mecca for the visual and performing arts since the turn of the twentieth century. We try to sample something new every year.  But no matter what else we do, we always devote at least one late night to the music of Bobby Wetherbee.  

The ageless Bobby Wetherbee has been entertaining audiences in Ptown for fifty years.  From June to October, Thursdays through Sundays, he’s at his piano in the lounge of the Central House at the Crown & Anchor.  He’s a beloved icon, and our family understands why. 

Bobby’s musical gifts were evident early.  He recounts how, at age three, he sat down at the piano and simply began playing fluently.  Shepherded by his mother, who gave up her own acting career to be his manager, he was performing by age six.  He trained in voice, piano and acting, first in summer stock and private lessons, and  later at the New England Conservatory.  He’s had long-running gigs in New York, at the St. Regis (in the famous King Cole Bar) and at the Carlyle, and in Boston at the Copley Plaza.  Bobby makes his home in Boston and spends winters in Palm Beach.  But summer finds him in Provincetown, and Provincetown sure is lucky. 

We discovered Bobby twelve years ago as we were walking with my husband’s parents down Commercial Street after dinner.  We were drawn to  lively, infectious music spilling out from the Landmark Restaurant, where he was playing at the time.  A vivacious, strikingly tan man was holding forth at a piano positioned immediately by the open window.  A tightly packed crowd surrounded him, singing along enthusiastically.  The song was a family-friendly standard, perhaps Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah or Do-Re-Mi.  Our preschool-age daughter knew it as well as we did, and we all joined in.  My husband took her in his arms so  she could get a better view.  When Bobby noticed our group, he sang the rest of the song directly to our little daughter.   We added our appreciative applause to that of the patrons inside, and Bobby blew D a kiss.  She was delighted.  We all were. 

After another year of enjoying a too-short taste of Bobby’s music from the street outside, we all agreed:  we wanted more.  Since then, we always catch Bobby’s show.  Sometimes H and I go with his sister and her husband.  Sometimes H’s parents join us.  Sometimes we all go.  We’ve brought our daughter along many times. 

Bobby’s performance is compelling in its vitality. His repertoire is wide-ranging, but he favors classics and show tunes from the 1940s on. He doesn’t pause between numbers; he doesn’t take breaks.  In fact he never seems to tire.  One song segues smoothly into the next.   He may hold a final note for an improbably long interval, never losing volume or breath, before launching, with gusto, into the next song.  He pauses only to take the occasional exuberant swig from his ever-present water bottle.  One medley transitions into another, and the momentum builds: Dorothy Fields, Cole Porter, George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, The Sound of Music, and on to Chicago. He may include a couple of his own songs, perhaps the spirited break-up song History, or the poignant That’s a Lie (which he wrote at age twelve).  You get the sense that Bobby knows what it means to win and lose at love, and to celebrate life, with humor and compassion, through the good and the bad. 

The unique appeal of Bobby’s show is hard to explain.   Certainly he has heaps of talent, but it entails far more than talent.  I’ve been to piano bars, to British pubs, where the crowd sings along happily, and it’s fun.  But Bobby makes the experience truly special.  His presence is effervescent, warm and outsized, and he is extraordinarily generous.  Nearly every night, he welcomes a professional or amateur to step up to the piano for a solo.  Sometimes it’s a fellow musician visiting from out of town, or a young performer fresh from a local revue.  Often it’s Tony, Provincetown’s ebullient Director of Tourism.  Bobby’s encouragement and his nuanced piano playing bring out the best in a singer.

Or would-be singers.  Bobby’s generosity extends to his entire audience. Not only does he invite the participation of everyone in the room; he somehow convinces each one of us that we’re really good. He brings us in almost conspiratorially, makes us a crucial part of the show. Toward the end of All that Jazz, he slows down the tempo and proclaims, “OK kids, this is the time when we sell it!”  You find yourself thinking:  he needs us; he can’t do it alone!  And then the entire room resounds joyously with “You’re gonna see your Sheba shimmy shake, and all that jazz!  She’s gonna shimmy till her garters break!  And ALL THAT JAZZ!!  We’re all in show biz, and gosh, we’re terrific!  Bobby makes you believe it, and you love him for it. 

An evening with Bobby Wetherbee attests to the unifying, civilizing power of music.  The audience at the Crown & Anchor spans generations and is diverse with a capital D.  But with song after song, false boundaries and perceived differences–all the stumbling blocks we set up to keep us apart–they melt away.  By the time the standing-room only crowd combines voices to join our gracious, considerate host in God Bless America, or another patriotic favorite, the dream of peace on earth seems not only possible, but likely. 

SJ's iphone pics August 393

This photo, taken in August after a show, captures Bobby’s generosity, kindness and warmth:  he hugs me as though I’m the star.  He makes me think, while I’m with him, that I could be.  That’s why he’s the real star. 

Thank you dear Bobby, for the music.   We’ll see you next summer. 

WTV Turns Two


Wild Trumpet Vine is two years old today.  A big thank-you to all my readers, whose numbers are growing steadily. I’m especially grateful to those of you who let me know, in some way or another, when a post strikes home.  And as always, I’m interested in hearing divergent points of view.  May we continue creeping along together, through the good times and bad, as the years go by.



Back Again, on Shore Road in Truro

When we turn off Route 6 onto Route 6A, Shore Road in Truro, we’re five hundred miles and twelve hours’ driving time from our house in Virginia. But we feel like we’re coming home. And we are, in a way. We’re here every year. We like to think that we’re more than tourists, who are just passing through, perhaps never to return. We will be back; we’re a sure thing. We’ve been coming here so long that we can’t imagine not going back.


Each summer’s inaugural drive down Shore Road finds the three of us exultant.  Our time at the Cape is something we agree on completely; we all hold it equally dear, for our own reasons.  The trials and traffic of the long trip are behind us.  We eagerly scan the familiar land- and seascape along the mile and a half that leads to our little cottage complex.  It’s rare that we are greeted by any major changes, and for this we are grateful.

The water, the sand, and the light are in constant daily flux, yet from year to year, this sliver of the Outer Cape appears virtually the same.  The manmade trappings along Shore Road are modest; they make no effort to compete with nature’s spectacular beauty.  There are bungalows, saltboxes, and of course, Cape Cods, but no high rises, no glitz.  There are groupings of rental cottages.  Most are small; some are unbelievably tiny.  All are picturesque.

Those lucky enough to get a toe-hold along this enchanted strip of land don’t easily let it go.  Homes are passed from one generation to the next.  The same weathered, typically hand-painted signs in front yards have greeted us for decades: Beach Rose, The Little Skipper, The Sea Gull, Pilgrim Colony.   Occasionally a cottage is resided, reshingled or otherwise refurbished.  Some grow more charmingly dilapated every year.  Once in a very long while a new building appears.  Mostly, though, all remains reassuringly the same, and seems to promise always to be so.

Lush, vibrantly colored flowers adorn the minuscule front yards of many Shore Road cottages.


A rusty owl keeps wide-eyed watch in front of one home.


This weathered, shingled cottage, with its Pineys sign, has been here as long as I can remember.


Hydrangeas, in great profusion, flourish along the fencerows.


The vacant motel, languishing in a perpetual sense of comfortable decay.


A vigilant seagull caretaker. After seeing The Birds this summer, I will keep my distance.



Simple bayside cottages, brilliant blue sky, luxuriant green grass.
This is our Cape Cod.

Lessons from Vacation Bible School, Part II

My daughter and her little friends, VBS 2003.

I retired from Crafts and led Bible Adventures for the next two summers.  The following year, when previous VBS directors had had enough, I agreed to lead the entire program.  I’ve done so for nine years now.  I may be starting to get the hang of it.  At least I’ve learned some valuable lessons.

My first few years as VBS director were rough.  I was reluctant to ask for help.  I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone, so I tried to do too much.  I was hesitant to schedule planning meetings, knowing that every church volunteer  has too many such events already glaring out from their calendars.  I often awoke around 4 AM, worried that I couldn’t get it all done, uncertain what “it” was.  I got angry and tired because I didn’t have the help I needed.  It was a vicious circle, and it wasn’t doing anything for my spiritual well-being, or for anyone else’s. 

I was anxious over every bump in the road.  And there were, are, and always will be bumps.  What if I can’t find a preschool leader?  What if I can’t get enough volunteers to provide meals?  (Our VBS is held in the evenings, and we begin with a light supper each night.) When would I find time to buy all the necessary items for Crafts?  Where are  the robes we’ll need for Bible Adventures?  Will I be able to locate the place where I can pick up dry ice?  (VBS typically requires many odd props.)  What if very few children participate?  Or what if there are way too many, far more than we can handle? 

I fretted  about the task of organizing the children into the crews in which they rotate from one activity to the next.  There are many subtleties to consider:  these two siblings must be together; these cannot be together; this child doesn’t get along with that one; these two get along too well and will conspire to create chaos; these four cousins want to be in the same crew;  this kid wants to be in a group led by his older sister, but the sister needs a break from her brother, etc.  Then there are those difficult children whose strong personalities overshadow those of their peers.  And each year there are some children I’ve never met.  Are they painfully meek, or boisterously gregarious?  On the afternoon that VBS begins, I have devised neat lists of kids,  organized into apparently cohesive groups.  An hour later, with the walk-ins and the no-shows, my carefully considered groupings are shuffled unrecognizably, turned upside down.  This problem will always be with us.  It’s not improved by my worrying about it. 

Gradually, I began to let go of more worries.  Every year in VBS, we tell the kids about the power of prayer:  Don’t worry about anything.  Instead, pray about everything (Philippians 4:6).  The message finally got through to me, too.  I started turning my worries into prayers.  Before long, I was hearing an answer:  ask for help. Evidently I had somehow managed to give the impression that I had everything well under control. Once word got out that this was completely false, offers came rolling in. Some were from people who had no desire to be surrounded by a mob of children; they realized they could contribute in other valuable ways. One volunteer, who has a gift for composing, editing and polishing text, had the idea to publish a Wish List in the church bulletin and newsletter that spelled out our needs, both supplies and personnel. The Wish List, and the gracious generosity of our church family, allow me to go on vacation immediately before VBS and know that progress is ongoing; my vigilant and efficient friend is minding the store. I found that, if asked, a surprising number of people are glad to be of assistance. It helps immensely that our current minister, who knows how to rally the congregation, is our VBS head cheerleader. Each year, more people get involved, resulting in less work and greater camaraderie for all.

D and a friend, after the VBS finale, 2003.

For the past several years, we’ve been fortunate to have the right volunteers for every job. Our music leader, a talented singer-songwriter and versatile instrumentalist, is enthusiastic and easy-going. He has helped me realize that we shouldn’t expect perfection, from ourselves or from the children. He reminds me that when something goes wrong, as long as no one is injured, it’s usually not a big deal. In Crafts, thankfully, we have creative leaders who take the messiness in stride and manage to enjoy the kids. Heading up Games is a dynamic young woman I watched grow up in the church. She possesses boundless energy and a formidable sense of dedication. Leading the video-discussion segment is a husband and wife team skilled in engaging the kids without condescension. My daughter recruits a few buddies, and they handle Bible Adventures with imagination and a sense of fun. D shoulders more responsibility every year; she has become my assistant director.  She excels at the tasks I find most difficult, and she knows the ropes, having lived and breathed VBS every August for as long as she can remember. Our preschool leaders are caring, calm and unflappable; serenity reigns in their classroom. I no longer have to worry about arranging meals; this burden is shouldered reassuringly by a well-organized friend. We couldn’t pull off VBS without our youth; they bring their friends and shepherd the kids from one rotation to the next.  Due to all these many considerate and capable volunteers, my job has become pleasant, even rewarding. 

After all these years, it’s begun to make sense to me: an important aspect of VBS is building community.  There is no glory in going it alone, beaten down by worry.  It’s about working together, guided by prayer, in a spirit of optimism and generosity.  When we combine our unique talents and pool our resources, that crucial VBS message resounds further and remains resonant far longer:  Jesus loves you so much! 

Lessons from Vacation Bible School, Part I

Two weeks ago, our church held Vacation Bible School.  This is an annual event, and my daughter and I don’t miss it.  Each August, as soon as we return from Cape Cod, we jump into Vacation Bible School.  This year was no different.  We were there, trying to do our part.  Barring the unforeseen, we will be there next year.  I’m not going to sugarcoat the experience, which, like life, has its ups and downs.  There are times when I dread it.  Just before it starts, I wish it were already over.  But I can say, and with complete conviction, that it’s worth all the trouble.


My earliest church memory  may be of Vacation Bible School.   It’s a vague, but agreeable recollection:  I’m about three years old, sitting with several other children in miniature wooden Sunday School chairs.  A sweet-faced elderly lady tells Bible stories.  We have juice and cookies.  There’s an old piano, and we learn the Zaccheus song:  Jesus said, Zaccheus you come down, for I’m going to your house today.  We finish with “Jesus Loves Me.”  As I recall, I was content to be there in the little stone Methodist church in the Kentucky town where my grandparents lived.

Back then, it was  just Bible School, not yet routinely prefaced by “Vacation,”  not yet shortened to VBS.  It wasn’t slickly packaged or corporate.  But the essential message, then and now, is the same:  Jesus does, indeed love you.

This is a message I wanted my daughter to hear from others besides me and her immediate family.  I wanted Vacation Bible School to be woven into the fabric of her early life, just as it had been for me.  She first attended when she was two and a half.  We had found our church home, and she would be starting preschool there in the fall.  VBS was her first taste of being away from me, in a group of her peers, for a short time.

My daughter and I have both come a long way since then.  D, of course, has grown from toddler to teen, from plump baby to willowy young woman.  During her initial VBS, she was a somewhat reluctant participant in the preschool group, one who would rather not leave her Mama.  Now she and her friends lead Bible Adventures.  As for me, back then I helped lead Crafts, and I was youngish.  Now, as the mother of a high schooler, I’m closing in on oldish.  I have, however, become somewhat wiser.  I’ve learned a few things from all my years of VBS.

First, I learned that I don’t like leading Crafts.  It took me two years to realize that this was not my niche. One night I was standing by, trying to assist, as a child locked a bottle of white school glue in a death grip.  Glue puddled on the construction paper, on the table, on the boy’s hands.  Still he kept squeezing, resisting my helpful advice: That’s enough glue!  Once the bottle was nearly empty, and as though in utter surprise, he began to wail, “Too much glue!”  Yeah.  No kidding.

I hate leading crafts, I thought.  I hate the excesses of glue and glitter.  I hate trying to organize the multi-piece, pre-cut foam assemblages, each small segment (moon-faced child, smiling sun) individually wrapped in cellophane.  Certain pieces  tended to vanish, causing great distress among the kids: I need a red bird!  Where’s my purple dress?  Did you take it?   The Crafts experience, under my leadership, didn’t seem to be furthering the “Jesus loves you” message.  At the end of each sticky, messy, frustrating evening, I wanted to run away and never return.  I wanted to be far from any church, far from all children, far from everyone.

D, during her first VBS in 2001. She appears, at best, somewhat ambivalent.


But on the final night, I remembered why we were there.  H and I got to see our tiny girl standing at the front of the sanctuary with all the other children, singing the songs they learned during the week.  Even before I became a mother, I’ve been a sucker for kids singing in church. Watching our daughter participating with the group made it magical.  She looked like an angel. It was for moments like this that I had always wanted to be a parent.

Then a minor tragedy occurred.  In Crafts (and under my purview), the kids had made shakers for use during the final musical program.  We had filled paper plates with small pieces of gravel and stapled them together.  D was brandishing her shaker enthusiastically when a staple or two gave way.  Chunks of gravel and a cloud of dust exploded all over the choir loft.  D burst into tears and bolted, screaming, searching frantically for me in the pews.

Another thing I learned that year was this:  don’t use gravel to make shakers.  The instructions in the Crafts leader guide need not (and should not, in certain cases), be followed to the letter.  I would give this advice to a future Crafts leader.  Next year, I would find a better fit, and I would go on to learn more important lessons.

D in 2004, next to the sandwich board sign my husband and I were recruited to build and paint.

In the Way Back, the Old Swing Set, Going Back to Nature

The backyard of my childhood home in Atlanta, like most of those in the neighborhood, is narrow but very deep. It has two distinct sections, which my friends and I differentiated in this way: the area just behind the house was the back; the more remote area was the way back. Sometimes, for emphasis, we called it the way, way back. The same terminology, of course, referred to the seating arrangements in those old station wagons from the 60s and 70s (including our 1965 Dodge Polara, with its rear-facing seat, as well as the one appearing in a current movie of the same name.)

We bought our house from a family with four children who played in every inch of that yard, as the numerous toy soldiers, cap guns, pen knives and dolls with mold-encrusted eyes, found in the unlikeliest places, attest. In 1968, when we moved in, the landscaping left much to be desired. There were a few azaleas and some dogwoods in a wide-open sea of scraggly weeds and spots of bare earth. We didn’t devote much time or thought to real gardening; we had more than enough to keep us busy with the ongoing renovation of the house and the rehabilitation of the extremely patchy front lawn.  (See Morningside Begins its Comeback, July 2012.)  But a mere four decades plus later, in the absence of an army of hard-charging children, nature has worked its own special magic.  Behind the house now lies a sort of enchanted urban jungle.

It’s not that we stood by and did nothing.  In that case the house would now be completely hidden by a tangled Sleeping Beauty thicket.  Daddy has always been out there clipping and pulling weeds.  Since his retirement, he has spent the greater portion of his waking hours combating  the constant, determined creeping of the vigorous, semi-tropical plant life that thrives immediately outside the walls. If it’s daylight, Daddy is pruning, pulling ivy, gathering fallen sticks, clearing away the ongoing accumulation of natural debris. Nearest the house, in the back, Daddy’s efforts are keeping nature’s tentacles in check, to some degree. Atop the steps leading from the rock garden, there is a central area that to this day remains recognizable as an actual yard.

Further back, however, the battle has long since been lost. The way back luxuriates in a state of benign neglect. With my every summer visit, it’s substantially lusher, more enclosed, more overgrown. Every year, the vines have thickened, reached higher, delved deeper. Nature’s resolve to have its own way is everywhere in evidence.

When we bought the house, the way back was especially barren, strewn with pine straw and sprouting a few weeds. It was here that Daddy set up my red and green metal swing set. Brand shiny new when I was two, he assembled it behind the small house in suburban Lexington where I was born. While our family bounced around from Kentucky to North Carolina during Daddy’s graduate school years, the swing set found a temporary home beside the chicken lot at my grandparents’ farm.  Once we settled in Atlanta, it settled there with us. In the theatrical production of my childhood that runs in my head, that old swing set is a crucial backdrop, an essential set piece. It boasted none of the fancy components seen in today’s typically elaborate play sets–no castle, fort, or climbing wall–just a two-person glider, a couple of swings, a trapeze and a slide. It was nothing special, but it was where my friends and I gathered. Located, as it was, in the remoteness of the way, way back, it was where we met to play, to pretend, to talk, to argue, to make plans. It was our place.  A kids’ place.

The swing set, during a rare Atlanta snow, in 1983.

Not all memories the swing set conjures are idyllic ones. Several years during elementary school I struggled with the mind-gripping demons we now refer to neatly as OCD.  It didn’t have a name back then. Thanks to the patience and understanding of my mother, who had experienced a similar near-insanity as a child, I managed not to fall apart completely. Mama sat at my bedside every night, when I’d tell her each worry, and she’d tell me not to worry.  A general, all-encompassing “Don’t worry” meant nothing.  I needed her to respond to each anxiety individually.  It was exhausting for both of us, but she never complained.  During the school day, when I was occupied, I was OK. I don’t think any of my buddies knew I was crazy.  In the late afternoons, if I didn’t have the company of friends, the beasties roared back, preparing for the free-for-all of night. They often demanded my fealty in the isolation of the way back. I can see myself running yet one more time around the swing set, zipping joylessly down the slide again and again, touching the rusty spot on the top bar just once more.  I have to do it.  No, I didn’t touch it exactly right. I have to do it again. I’m a weary, restless, ten year old nervous wreck. Fortunately for me, that time passed.  I either outgrew the demons, or they got bored and went on to torment another, more defenseless child, one without as compassionate a mother.

As a high schooler, having learned a few moves on the rickety uneven parallel bars during gym class, I used the high bar of the swing set to practice. With the picnic bench positioned below, I could propel myself onto the bar and execute back hip circles. I shudder to think how close I must have come, repeatedly, to flying off and breaking my back, my neck, or worse.

Vines, here in their early stages, are covered by snow.

During my college years, there were fewer hours to be whiled away in the way back, and nature asserted itself in earnest.  The wooden seats of the glider rotted and disappeared.  The slide weathered to a warm, rust red.  A few vines, wisteria and grape, managed toe holds and began to wind their way up, across and over.  One hard plastic swing was anchored in place by a vine that braided itself delicately along the length of the chain.   Year by year, each element became more firmly rooted, more tightly entwined. 

The vines might have held the swing set up for decades to come, had not a nearby giant tulip poplar been tossed onto the slide during a lightning storm.  While one side is crumpled like a broken toy, the other still stands, held fast in the candy cane clasp of a massive wisteria vine.  The glider is locked in place, as well, vine-trapped.  Vinca, ivy, Virginia creeper and mahonia flourish along the ground.  Unchecked plant growth closes in from every direction.  Going on right now, and for the forseeable future, at least, it’s a wild foliage riot in the way, way back.  In the midst of it all, my old swing set remains, ever more adorned, yet ever more fragile, a monument to simultaneous decay and growth.  A monument to life, and its circle. 

The state of the swing set, June 2013.
The crumpled slide, embraced by foliage.


Way back when it was almost new: on the swing set at my grandparents’ place, 1967.


(Middle) School’s Out Forever!

This morning, my daughter caught the middle school bus for the last time.  She’ll return barely four hours later (early release at 10:20, classes twelve minutes long.) I packed her last eighth grade lunch yesterday (no more washing of the thermos and tupperware salad containers for a couple of months).  Actual school work, of course, ended a while ago.  The final week is a mere formality, a period loosely filled with awards ceremonies, desk and locker cleanings, movie-watching, yearbook signings, and saying goodbye.

It’s hard to believe that all those highly anticipated school events requiring so much preparation are now in the past.  Guys and Dolls, in which D played the faithful Mission girl, Agatha, is ancient history.  The music department’s competition at Busch Gardens: barely visible in the rearview mirror.  The same goes for Mayfest Playfest, a day of short plays written and performed by local middle schoolers throughout the county.  Standards of Learning exams in reading, geometry, civics and science: duly completed and scored.  (Eight years ago, when D began elementary school and we first heard of the SOLs, my husband found the acronym hilarious.)  The eighth grade dance: over.  Year-long projects: researched, written, presented, evaluated and returned.  Exams: completed and graded.  End-of-year orchestra concert (featuring a beautiful rendition of I Dreamed a Dream): it’s history.   The final, quite comical performance by the drama class (30 Reasons Not to be in a Play):  c’est finit.  

When D returns home very shortly, she’ll be accompanied by a crowd of friends. I’ll drive them to the pool, and summer will begin.

When school resumes in the fall, our only child, our baby, will be a high schooler.  H and I graduate to another, if not more mature, then at least more elderly parenting bracket.

Seventy-six days of summer stretch out before us.  Once, ages ago, that sounded like an eternity to me.  Now I know how quickly the season will pass.  Every year, I vow to appreciate these precious days, to relish each one for what it brings.  I don’t really like the expression, but I’ll use it anyway:  I’ll try to be present for these fleeting days of summer.  They will vanish in a flash, as always.  We’ve been waiting in line 180 days for our turn on summer’s roller coaster.  The cars are pulling up, and soon we’ll be inching up that first hill.  This season, I will pay attention and enjoy the ride.  I hope you do, as well!

My daughter and a fellow actor as Mission Girls in the school musical, Guys & Dolls.


D made these “Lazt Day” earrings (no more s’s in the abc beads) in 6th grade. She has worn them once a year ever since.


European Vacation, Part V: England

We arrived at our London destination around midnight.  For the next few nights we would be bunking in a dormitory of King’s College Hall.  Instead of five or six of us in a communal chamber, as before in France, each of us had our own tiny cell.  The barren, ascetic rooms offered limited distraction, and you’d think this would have been our chance to get some rest.  But no.  Katie, Jackie and I stayed up that first night until around 3 AM, indulging in giddy doses of adolescent humor.

The next morning we were in a fog of drowsiness on a bus rolling through London.  Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben, still black with the coal dust of a century and a half, were blurry, dream-like images dancing improbably before my eyes.  Once we began our walking tour, I was sufficiently awake to be irked at not having more time to spend in the Abbey, and at seeing the Tower of London only from the outside.

That afternoon we went shopping at Selfridge’s and Marks & Spencer.  According to my journal entry, I wasn’t especially impressed; I described them simply as large department stores similar to Atlanta’s now long-defunct Rich’s.  I’ve never been an enthusiastic shopper.  Postcards and guidebooks were my primary European purchases, but in Marks & Spencer, Rebecca and I bought identical fuzzy white wool sweaters.  London meals and evenings are among the vaguest of my memories.  I’m certain, though, that we prolonged our nightly festivities at the dorm until well into the morning hours.

On our second day in England, we were back on the bus, heading to Stratford-on-Avon.  During the drive, we were all elated when snow began to fall.  Snow!  In April!  This offered further, indisputable proof that we were very far from home.  Has a snowflake ever fallen in Atlanta in April?  Possibly, but if so, it was terribly lonely, and it melted immediately.  The English countryside was as beautiful as that of France.  Scenes worthy of Christmas cards were plentiful: medieval-style barns, peacefully grazing horses and sheep, neat, increasingly white fields criss-crossed with ancient rock walls.  We stopped briefly in Oxford, where we got off the bus for a glance at Christ Church College.  The visit was long enough for me to fall in love with this town of unbelievably gorgeous student housing, and to determine to get back there one day, when I could linger, and wander.

In Stratford, we hit the usual tourist attractions, including Shakespeare’s birthplace and the cottage of his wife, Anne Hathaway.  That evening, many of us at last managed some sleep.  Unfortunately it was during a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V.  We were not at all prepared for the play; we had no idea of the plot, the actors’ Elizabethan English was indecipherably foreign, and we weren’t anywhere near the action.

Outside Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Stratford.

After our extended nap in Shakespeare’s theatre, we headed back to London.  The last thing I remember about the trip was our group assembling the next morning on the sidewalk in front of King’s College, awaiting the bus that would take us to Gatwick Airport.

The long trip home has completely dropped from my memory, and in a way, I’m glad.  In the years since, I’ve learned that going home requires far more time than getting wherever it is we’re going.  It also demands vaster sums of patience and fortitude.  But in my mind, I can skip right over all those tiresome hours of waiting and traveling.  Suddenly, I’m my fourteen year old self, hugging my young parents in Atlanta’s as yet unremodeled Hartsfield Airport. Soon we’d be turning into our driveway, and I’d see that the azaleas were in full bloom.  Daddy would be unlocking the door to the back hall, and my dog Popi would be waiting at the top of the stairs.  I’d look into his eyes and know that he missed me.  I’d drop my bag in my room and look around at the familiar surroundings of home.  I would be completely happy.  Happy to be home.  And happy to know that one day, somehow or other, I’d get back to those far-away places that now seemed a little closer.


Most of us were not ready for this photo, taken outside King’s College, but we were ready to go home.  Our remarkable teacher, Mrs. Correll, smiling at back left,  is her usual cheerful self. 

We miss her!

European Vacation, ’75: Part IV: Crossing the Channel

After our night at the lycée in Saint-Malo (See European Vacation ’75, Part III), our group was back on the bus early the next morning, heading to Le Havre and the Channel for our crossing to England.  I was surprised at the size and relative luxury of the ferry; I guess I had been expecting something bare-bones and rudimentary.  I hadn’t imagined that it might house several restaurants, shops and comfortable lounge areas.  It was fortunate that it was roomy and fairly pleasant, as the crossing took over six hours.  My friends and I wandered freely all over the boat, exploring every level.

When someone discovered a door that led outside, we stumbled upon a real thrill:  the open decks.  We had never felt such a fierce, strong wind.  We were amazed that we could lean into the wind at a sharp angle and remain there, without falling.  With the wind behind us, we could jump and be carried as though in flight.  Luckily, no one sailed over the railings into the icy waters of the Channel.

After a while, when we began to feel the chill, we noticed two teenage boys hanging around farther down the deck.  They were older than we were, probably around sixteen, and they weren’t involved in wind experiments.  We could hear their English accents.  Evidently this Channel crossing was old hat to them. They soon walked by, ostentatiously ignoring us, trying to appear caught up in their own conversation.  When we returned inside, we saw that they remained near the door, still deeply immersed in their dialogue.  We began once again to ramble throughout the ship, to see if the boys would follow us.  They did.  We conspicuously refused to acknowledge their presence, and they did the same to us, despite trailing us at a distance.

After a meandering circuit of the ship, the boys climbed the stairs to the observatory lounge.  We remained on the level below.  Not long afterwards, several younger English boys appeared.  They looked to be about twelve or so.  After much heated whispering among themselves, with frequent glances in our direction, they shyly approached.  It didn’t take long for them to start firing off questions:  How old were we?  Where did we live?  After each couple of inquiries they would dash upstairs to the observatory, only to return quickly with more questions.

The older boys, apparently, had opted to send in scouts on a reconnaissance mission.  Once the younger boys had run through all the questions they could think of, they revealed their purpose.  They had been sent to report that there were two “lads” on the upper level who would like to meet us. Due to their accents, we couldn’t at first decipher the word “lads.”  Two whats? Lads?  Oh, lads! How unbelievably quaint! None of us had ever before been pursued by a “lad!”

Nevertheless, we weren’t interested in the elder lads.  They appeared overly serious and lacking in humor.  Tall and gangly, they verged on being men.  Although we were flattered by the attention, we knew we had no business flirting with men, or almost-men.  Looking back, I wonder at their interest in us, several goofy, wind-blown fourteen year olds.  Maybe our American-ness gave us some cachet.

Jackie, Rebecca, me and the mighty wind.

The younger lads, though, were an altogether different type: funny, cute, spunky, sweet, smaller than we were, and non-threatening.  Their Englishness was simultaneously exotic and reassuring.  They reminded me of members of Fagin’s gang of urchins in the Disney movie,  Oliver!  We never went upstairs to meet the older boys, but spent considerable time chatting with the twelve-year olds.  They told us they lived in Staffordshire and were returning from a school “holiday” in Normandy.

I talked primarily with a golden-haired, blue-eyed boy named Graeme Bailey.  He gave me his address, which he wrote on a page torn from a small notebook.  On the other side was his drawing of a soldier.  The address was other-worldly and old-fashioned.  It included only one number, and that was a single digit.   In looks, in name (and its spelling), and in accent, Graeme was perfectly, enchantingly English.  But because he was so open and approachable, before we said goodbye I felt as though I had known him for a long while.

That night, I wrote in my journal that this had been one of the best days of the trip, even though all we did was travel.  As I remember, I was feeling rather elated, wide open to life’s possibilities.  Before setting foot in Britain, I had met a quintessential English lad, one who took a friendly, cheerful interest in me.

I think I was beginning to grasp the transcendent power of travel.  It’s a truly wonderful thing to experience first-hand the vastness and variety of our world’s natural and cultural beauty. This is certainly an adequate reason to roam the globe.  But to me, the real power of travel is this:  it reveals the depth and strength of the bonds that unite us as a human family.  Custom, language, differences in physical appearance–these are simply thin layers of veneer, the candy coating on an M&M. No matter where we were born or where we live, we are more alike than different.  This awareness equips us with a powerful force for living with compassion and understanding.

My future pen-pal, Graeme Bailey, on the ferry.