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Archive for June, 2022

My Daddy Jim was the only dad I knew.

I had a biological father who died before I turned one. He was a pharmacist and owned a drug store. I had a stepfather at 12 who died my freshman year in college. He was a lawyer and a judge. You could say I had an abundance of smart, successful fathers, but only one real, true Daddy – my foster father Jim.

Daddy Jim had an eighth grade education. He left school early to work, in order to help his large Irish Catholic family. It wasn’t uncommon then, there were no child labor laws. He joined the Navy, and because his eighteenth birthday fell between two great wars, he never knew combat. He was a teenager when he married my foster mother Nell, and they only had one child.

Their daughter Jackie was a nurse when they scooped me up after my Year of Living Dangerously. Jim was over 50 years old when suddenly he and Nell filled their empty nest with a baby. Me.

Daddy Jim gave me the capacity to love.

I’ve given this a lot of thought; girls raised by a nurturing and loving father have a better than average chance at finding love. After all, some fathers can be driven by their careers, their hobbies, booze or even extra-marital affairs. The young women they raise might think that love can mean detachment, or even abuse. Intimacy can be elusive.

Over Father’s Day weekend, I made a list of the memories I have about Jim:

He Gave me the World – He would read to me from a newspaper. Since Nell didn’t drive a car, Jim would take me shopping for food. I learned how to talk with the butcher, and the baker – how to connect with others. He would take me swimming and ice skating at a pond.

He Would Comfort me – Whenever I was sick, he would hold my hair back. He would always stay with me until I fell asleep. We would stop for ice cream sundaes after Mass every Sunday. Whenever I asked him what he wanted as a gift for Father’s Day, he’d say ‘nothing.’ But I’d get him a new pair of slippers anyway.

He Liked to Surprise me – Every day when he’d return home from work, he’d have a tiny surprise in one hand or one pocket, and I’d have to guess. How did I always guess the right hand? I can’t even remember what these gifts were, probably a flower or a fancy rock? Maybe a nickel? It didn’t matter. What mattered is that I knew I mattered to him. Jim once built me a doll house made of popsicle sticks!

He Taught me How to Play – Whenever I was “bad,” he’d chase me outside all around the house until he’d catch me and give me “paddy whackins.” It was like play-spanking because we’d collapse out of breath with laughter. And every day after dinner we’d play cards for pennies. This was serious stuff. He taught me not to cheat, and to save my winnings in a piggy bank.

He Helped Around the House – In the old days, it was highly unusual for dads to do housework. And even though Nell was a full-time-homemaker, Jim would wash the kitchen floor every Saturday morning while I watched cartoons. We’d dry and put away the dishes after dinner, before gin rummy. He’d clean out the ashes in the coal bin and pick up the dog poop in the yard.

When Jim retired from his government job as the “Transportation Man” – the person who coordinated the trains in and out of Picatinny Arsenal, he was given a watch. I wish I could tell him how much he meant to me, so much more than a watch, or a pair of slippers. He died before Bob and I married, and he’d forgotten who I was at the end.

He was the embodiment of unconditional love. And I was so lucky he chose me as his daughter.

Pop Bob at the Farmer’s Market

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This morning I have two choices – I could write, or I could watch the true crime drama unfolding in DC.

Wait, the January 6 hearing is postponed because someone’s wife went into labor? Great! I can tell you all about my week; the grand event was the installation of the master bedroom closet. Finally. My clothes have found a home! There still may be a handful of boxes left lurking about, waiting to be opened. Like the dream of a second home, the box of sand toys and acrylic wine glasses I reluctantly put away this week.

“These are from my Beach House box,” I told the Groom. The Bride was working a night shift so it was just the boys and the Love Bug as she climbed the step ladder, reaching for my melamine plates high above the refrigerator. I packed that box in NJ a long time ago; back when the Rocker was going off to college.

There may have been a wistful tone to my voice, I’m not sure. But the ‘Beach House’ was one of the last boxes left to unpack, and I knew that once the colorful dishes and beach towels were cleaned and sorted away, my dream of owning a little sliver of sand was over.

On the other hand, unpacking ALL of my clothes was like Christmas morning, every morning for a few days straight. It was also a bit intimidating. I no longer wear high heels, or crew neck sweaters, or anything fancy for that matter. My pandemic style became clear – comfortable cotton things bought at Whole Foods, mixed with an occasional online sale that Instagram knew I wanted. And for some odd reason I’ve accumulated a lot of jumpsuit/overalls? Maybe the result of living in a little city farmhouse.

What to keep and what to give away was becoming less clear. I thought about the Bride asking me how many red shoes I really need. I started asking myself why I have so many summer sweaters when the temps here in Nashville tickle 100 degrees. Then I thought about the stylist who helped me go through my closet before leaving the Blue Ridge – what would she tell me to do?

Find your style! Ha, easier said than done for this transplanted nana. There are the Rumson clothes vs the Southern clothes. Caribbean vacation clothes vs comfy yoga pants and sweats. In a rare moment of synchronicity, Bob and I watched the finale of Grace and Frankie on Netflix. In fact, we loved all seven seasons and 94 episodes! Often I’d find myself wondering if my style was more Lily Tomlin or Jane Fonda…or maybe somewhere in between.

Then I heard about the Coastal Grandma look!

“This week, “coastal grandma” may have suddenly slipped into your vocabulary. The preppy new trend on everyone’s lips is a world away from the micro-minis of yestermonth. Think shingled beach homes, light and airy chambray button-downslinen everything, bountiful backyard gardens filled with various lettuce varieties, and a meticulously maintained chicken coup (an ironic spelling error) with more square footage than a Manhattan apartment. That’s coastal grandma.”

https://www.marieclaire.com/fashion/coastal-grandma-trend/

Eureka! I could relate to that aesthetic and I don’t need to own a beach house to look like someone who owns a beach house. I love cedar shingles, and I always wanted to keep chickens. It’s Bette Midler meets Meryl Streep. So maybe I don’t live on the Vineyard. My new closet already includes lots of linen and straw hats and faded denim. But since I’m living in the Music City I’ll keep all my boots and call my look the Landlocked Nana.

I caught the end of today’s hearing. As Grace said to Frankie on the beach, “Now what?”

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Goose!

Guess what? Bob and I celebrated 43 years of marriage this past weekend. We survived the stress of many moves, launching two children into adulthood, and actually building a house together with a gorgeous view of the Blue Ridge. We joke that we rarely agree on anything, except the big things in life, like religion and politics. Our old VA Senator Tim Kaine Tweeted this morning:

“Virginia requires magazine limitation for duck hunting—no more than 3 rounds in a shotgun. Why? It’s not fair to ducks. Yet when we try to limit magazines to 10 rounds in Congress, we’re blocked. If we can limit magazines to protect ducks, we must do the same to protect people.

This of course presumes that we want to protect our people, our children.

Bob and I agree on ONE thing for sure – that guns ARE the problem. The Republicans are trying to compromise on guns, but they are still blaming pure “evil,” and mental illness for our country’s outstanding deaths due to… Wait. For. It. GUNS. They would like to arm our teachers, the same teachers they don’t trust to pick out books for their own classrooms. I am trying to imagine my guidance counselor, Miss Toye, with a gun.

I wouldn’t call this compromise, I’d call it treachery.

It’s treating our kids like ducks in a pond, in a war zone. Early in our marriage, we agreed never to buy toy guns for our children, not even water pistols. My husband doesn’t like to play games because he didn’t grow up in a competitive Irish Catholic home and try to win best all around athlete at Camp St Joseph every summer. I OTOH love to play games of any sort!

But do you want to play Hunger Games with your children’s lives? Maybe they could outrun a madman with a rifle if he could only buy 10 rounds of ammunition? How many young lives are we willing to sacrifice for three rounds? I remember all my childhood games – duck, duck goose, hop scotch, red light green light, spin the bottle.

I remember being a young mom, moving back to NJ when the Rocker was two and the Bride was seven years old. I had wanted to stay in the Berkshires. Strangers would always ask me WHY we moved, implying that no one would want to actually move to the Garden State.

I was trying to bloom while my roots were being transplanted.

I resisted the new protocol of having to make a “play date” if my child wanted to play with someone on our street! A play date. That was the first sign that this move would be different, there was no going back. There were rules to these new suburban games. I volunteered to coach the Rocker’s little soccer team, and I drove the Bride to cheerleading practice. I tried to fit in, we all try our best to fit in, don’t we?

Unlike my generation, my children didn’t grow up with an internalized fear of nuclear war. There was no such thing as a cell phone, no social media. Bullies were confined to the school bus ride. No one had ever heard of an “active shooter drill.” Like my Catholic school in the 1950s, only the occasional fire drill could pierce the solemnity of the classroom.

When will the party of the right with blood on their hands, reinstate the assault weapon ban? Ban them for good! No time limits, no concessions. It’s puzzling why a leader on this front hasn’t emerged.

I brought a burnt orange jacket to our anniversary dinner, but it was too hot to wear on the patio. Bob didn’t have anything to wear in orange. Wearing orange is also a start, but we cannot stop the momentum. No one needs an AR-15. No. One.

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