A Back Door Friend

My mother had a sweet, funny neighbor named Theresa who’d regularly cross the yard and enter our house through the back door calling “Ro!” in a singsong voice. They’d sit at the kitchen table and talk, whisper, and laugh for hours over several cups of coffee and a few cigarettes. Occasionally, I’d see Theresa pound her fist and drop her head on the table in a fit of giggles. I’d get a snack and leave, hoping to have a rich friendship like theirs someday.

When I became their age, my neighbor Ellen might be outside first waiting for me in her driveway across the street. For 22 years we regularly walked a three-mile loop around the neighborhood. In every season we hoofed it side by side, bundled in winter gear, carrying an umbrella, or wearing shorts, a favorite t-shirt, and baseball cap.

As a self-appointed beautification committee, we decided which house needed painting or a new roof and whose plantings looked lovely. We consulted each other on our own home improvement projects. What color should she paint her front door? Which curtain rods looked better in my master bedroom?

Topics of conversation marked life phases: careers, growing children, the school system, menopause, retirement, and caring for aging parents.

I saw Ellen teary-eyed when her son left for college, shared her joy planning his wedding, and gushed over photos of her adorable granddaughter. Ellen cheered for my two daughters, too. She rejoiced in all their accomplishments, attending graduations and visiting first apartments. She particularly delighted in their fashions. She’d jog over when spotting them emerge from the car or leave the house all dressed up and give her signature “Darling!”

When my elder daughter’s delicate high school years coincided with my mother’s failing health and my stress level rose to an all-time high, Ellen was there. My daughter would cross the street and soon I’d see the light on in Ellen’s living room. Ellen, a retired high school principal, patiently listened to and counseled her. I never resented this. Rather, I was grateful to have Ellen part of my village, helping my daughter cope through rough waters.

She became a second mother. One tender time that stays with me occurred after my mother died. Ellen helped both teenagers pack for the funeral while I was away in New Jersey planning it. A week later she hosted my family for Thanksgiving dinner when I was still numb. Recently, Ellen comforted me while I sobbed on her couch during my father’s final days.

Besides stories about our children and parents, we related tales about our fun-loving and sometimes annoying husbands and siblings. She’d make a witty remark and I’d stop in my tracks, bend over in laughter, and slap my thighs.

After three miles, we’d go for coffee, taking turns driving to a local café. There, sweaty and exuberant, we’d gab for another hour.

Back home, I’d see Ellen adorn her front door with seasonal wreaths, a Halloween witch, and winter skater boy. Whenever on vacation, we’d collect each other’s mail and newspapers and retrieve box deliveries.

I knew Ellen was home when I saw the outline of her Toyota through the windows on the side of the garage. Then I’d frequently go over with a batch of soup, cookies, or leftovers. Ellen didn’t cook much. In her youth, she swam competitively and played tennis. I grew up with a dust rag in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other.

Last year Ellen told me she was moving. She and her husband wanted one-story living and were done with lawn care. It pained me to see the “Sold” sign on their front lawn.

I miss waving to my good friend. I miss seeing her car pull in and out of the driveway. Mostly, I miss our walks and hearing her call my name when coming through the back door to chat.

A Sea of Poetry

My mother gave my daughters The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis when they were in their early teen years. She sought to inspire them with beautiful words that would lift their spirit.

Choose a collection of poetry that will enlighten you during National Poetry Month because April is the season of new beginnings.

Sea Joy

by Jacqueline Bouvier (1939)

When I go down by the sandy shore
I can think of nothing I want more
Than to live by the booming blue sea
As the seagulls flutter round about me

I can run about–when the tide is out
With the wind and the sand and the sea all about
And the seagulls are swirling and diving for fish
Oh–to live by the sea is my only wish.

 

Photo: Chatham, MA

Every Family Has A Story: Lively Book Club Meeting

I could feel the camaraderie among the women who invited me to their book club meeting last week to discuss Jimmy and Me, A Sister’s Memoir.

Their warm reception for my personal story made me feel deep gratitude. Before I sat down, some said they felt they already knew me.

One woman surprised me when she said she was familiar with the arcane therapeutic exercise known as patterning described in chapter two. Another said she frequently related to the loss of childhood I experienced because she lost her mother at age 10 and had to care for six younger siblings. Several women nostalgically remarked about the 1960-70s culture referenced in the book.

We shared laughs and many head nods of familiarity about our family members. These caring, intelligent women reminded me why I wrote the book: because every family has a story. You will find a way to relate, too.

Invite me to your book club. Contact me to arrange a date and I’ll attend personally or via FaceTime.

The Gift of Reading

I received an early Christmas gift with the judge’s reviews of my books that were entered in the Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards Contest.

Jimmy and Me, A Sister’s Memoir

The author boldly, vulnerably shares what it is like to have a brother who is intellectually disabled. Her account is a warm, honest, raw, eye opening account of the effects her role as caregiver had on her as a child and as an adult. This duel timeframe gives the book a narrative richness but also a richness of insight for others who have lived through similar experiences. The opening scene showcases just how difficult and complicated this kind of life story can be, but the narrative overall brims with love, hope, and compassion. Alongside the story of her relationship with her brother, the author gives compelling insight into how to build and craft a sense of self when one’s identity is so closely linked with someone else. The pace of the narrative is smooth and swift, transitioning well between different time periods and themes. The narrative arc is strong even as the author embraces the complexity and open ended nature of a true life story. The story balances realistic dialogue along with exposition and summary to keep the story moving and give the narrative texture. For others in similar situations, her voice is a gift and a light. The cover photo aptly conveys the warmth and theme of the book.

Musing Off the Mat – memories and everyday moments

The author shares her life—her family, her hobbies, her positive world view—through a series of essays. The essays are uniquely the author’s, but themes of home, food, and family make it easy to relate to and feel connected with the author. The author’s voice is clear and brimming with personality, humor, and compassion. Not only does the author invite others into her life, but she also invites her audience to look at their own lives differently, with fresh eyes. The stories demonstrate a keen eye for detail and emotion, without being bogged down with description or sentimentality. The varying lengths of the pieces makes it easy to dive in and out of the book and hop around to different topics. The loose thematic organization gives the book just enough structure to hold it together without bogging it down. While the essays are focused on the author and her experiences, they also demonstrate a strong empathy for and attention to other people. The cover image aptly captures the tone and content of the book, and it has a very personal feel without making the book seem unprofessional or like a scrapbook.

Buy the books for your Secret Santa, Yankee Swap, or use as stocking stuffers. Because “every family has a story.”

Sharing on Community TV

Recently I was interviewed by Danvers Community TV about my memoir, Jimmy and Me. (Start at 1:30.)

This family story will resonate with many readers: people who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, siblings of individuals with intellectual disabilities, mothers, Italians, educators, health care professionals, and more.

Jimmy and Me and my essay collection, Musing Off the Mat, are available on Amazon. These books make great gifts for yourself, as a stocking stuffer, or a Yankee Swap.