Is It Really All Random? Headline Animator


I try to pinpoint words that when strung together, like beads in a necklace, express something with texture and richness; I hope for the occasional sparkle of a well placed gem. I frequently fail miserably. But on a good day, as with a candid photo, I unexpectedly capture a heartbeat, and it feels as if I've successfully seized fog with my hands.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Autumn Chill

Mid-July. Front of the home goods store poised for college retail. Bed-in-a-Bag. Towels. Desk organizers. Laundry sacks. Plastic baskets for bath items. Piled high. Waiting for moms and soon to be dorm residents to file by. In full acquisition mode.

Noted the bounty and continued another step, till smacked straight in the gut. Wallop of emotion. Sadness. Loss.

I loved going back to school. Shiny, new shoes and scratchy wool skirts worn in weather too warm. Stiff new books with a certain smell. Sharpened pencils, clean erasers. Neatly arranged in cigar box keepers. Rituals. Friends. The fresh start to a new school year. Pretending that none of it mattered. 

But I dreaded when my child ran behind the cyclone fence, through the play yard into class. End of shiftless summer days. Nights that rolled into wee hours. Daylight traded for Standard time, followed by too soon morning. Good-bye late night Nintendo, and drive-through burgers in pajamas.

Dinner early, bed early, up early. Homework, afterschool sports, library, supplies, brown bag lunches. Counting down to winter’s dreary chill poured into shortened days. Life as regimen.

Tapping toes till 3:00PM. And Friday night.

I hustled to the car to sit, to reconcile my turmoil.

I'd felt summer rushing by. And life. Boy’s childhood blew right through me. Sudden autumn chill. 

No pretending now. Summer packing up. Readying its leave. Fall squeezing through the cracks. Stirring winter scheming. Woven, woolen textures standing by.

I longed for spring surprise and summer warmth. To see Boy run and jump and laugh with childhood abandon. As once he did. When I was banned from kissing near the school. His cheeks were round and sweet. His hugs were bold.

Is this a mid-life crisis? Played out on the linens aisle. Spurred by neon trash cans? Postponed till quarter three when leaves start their sneaky accumulation. Soon to sprint toward ground. 

I’ve been asked, when was it the best. Which age did I like most?

Boy’s tiny fists clenched in frustration, learning to roll over? Toddler walk or pre-school questions? After school hugs and snacks? Eye-rolling high school. College. Child lingering on the steps of adulthood? Searching for Easter eggs mailed to his out-of-state apartment.

All of it. The time I loved the most. Boy’s. 


Thinking in car, seats hot from summer glare, sun shines brightest after September solstice. Low, better for catching rays.

And along with crunchy leaves, I aim to snag them all.

 "Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."
Albert Camus

Monday, August 15, 2011

Summers Time

Yesterday would have been the 79th birthday of my dear friend, Sue. I met her when I was 23 years old. She was 43 with kids my age and younger. Six of them.

This past weekend those kids created a family reunion to celebrate her birthday, her memory and the mega-family my friend and her husband produced. She literally has more grandchildren than can be counted. I know, I know—how can that be. Because one of her daughters has officially and unofficially fostered, adopted and touched so many young lives that they cannot be counted. Therefore, among this abundant group were the biological, adopted, fostered, and always beloved grandchildren and great-grandchildren that sprung from her six kids. Sue had adored them all.

Five of her six were present, and friends and friends and friends. As well as her husband, Jack, who said as he surveyed the brood, “One way or the other, all these are related to me.” 

I don’t know how many we were. In the creek, and in the pool, running, sitting, standing, cooking, sleeping, eating, talking, laughing, and sometimes crying. (Teen girls were in the bathroom. No telling how many of them were stuffed in there.)

Years had evaporated as we were each checking off items on our to-do lists. Building lives, raising another generation. Now toddlers had toddlers and I could only stand in surprise at what had happened when I wasn’t looking. Her kids no longer, some with grandchildren of their own.

As we caught up to present there was a point when we all spoke of Sue. When we knew her. How we knew her. What we remembered. What she meant to us. 

One of my first posts when I began the Random journey was about reconnecting to this family, believing I was the director of a phone call scene that brought me back to them, only to find I was a bit-player in a scheme far beyond my reach. I re-post it now in honor of Sue Summers’ 79th birthday and her delightful, uncountable crew.

To the Summers women, thank you for including me. Thank you for knowing, as I did, that something larger than any one of us was at work when we found each other again. 

My heart will be with you today as you send your mom's ashes to meet her spirit where it always was. Ever free.  

Some Mornings Are Different

Is it really all random? Here’s a story. You be the judge.

Awakened one morning and checked email. Saw the date. Ah. The birthday of a friend. One I hadn’t seen in 15 years. Or talked to either. Every year on this date I thought of her, even made two half-hearted attempts at finding her. Had stopped at an antique store where she had a booth for selling her wares. Asked about her. They said she’d moved a long while back. Didn’t know how to find her.

How had it happened when we’d been so close? My husband died and she was having marital woes. Each of us in a thorny hedgerow. Nothing left for the other. No hard feelings. Only good wishes. We went on to heal, separately. Changed. They'd retired and moved away, together. That was good.

This morning was different. I needed to find her. She’d been too important. Shared my wedding. Drove me to the hospital to have my daughter, stayed when the baby died. Witnessed my son’s christening. There for the elevating, and the leveling. So dear to me. That part wasn’t random.

Her name was common. Each search brought up thousands. But I remembered her son-in-law’s name, foreign and rare. Only one pass needed. Called him. Got her number. 

The telephone rang. She answered hello with her deep, raspy, lounge-singer voice, before her squeal, “It’s my birthday! Did you know?” Sure I did, happy to have brought such delight. 

Emails and calls back and forth. Catch up. Catch up. She lived in Michigan close to my Ohio client. We made a plan. I’d be there in two months, grab a car and drive to her. Set in stone. Details sorted.

A couple of weeks before the anticipated visit, her husband phoned to tell me. She died. He hated to give me the news. Knew I was counting days to what wouldn’t be. She’d been counting, too. He wanted me to know. 

I thought I was on a search for hello. But I was part of wrapping it up. A teen-age shriek as she said my name on that first call. A loving treasure left behind. A solid good-bye hidden inside hello. I didn’t know it then. Didn’t know I looked for her so she could give me that gift.

Monday, August 1, 2011


I first met Irene 20+ years ago. It goes like this…

Sis is Bestie's younger. Sis is married. Her husband is my friend, too. The girls and the guys, we're all close pals. We work and play together. 

At a family gathering I met Irene, Sis’s mother-in-law. And that's when I learned firsthand about Greek moms.

Bestie and I have compared our Greek and Italian mothers. They share some characteristics. Passion for family. Exacting standards where issues of homemaking are involved. Fretting. Secondary to exacting standards. Being and looking appropriate for all occasions.

And in the case of Bestie and me, our moms were CHOs, a term I recently read and liked. Chief Household Officers. They handled kids, school, transportation needs, volunteering, budget, nutrition, religious education, entertaining, and social calendars. They cared for, and were devoted to, their husbands. All of these areas and their associated rituals are within the purview of Greek and Italian moms.

The vastness of this array of tasks and responsibilities, executed with dedication, produced a great deal of drama. No more need be said. Well, maybe. A great deal of drama. That they also have in common.

The Italian women who raised and surrounded me were clannish. Cordial to outsiders. But outsiders remained outside. No telling how many times I heard blood is thicker than water. Was admonished to avoid allowing outsiders inside. Told to keep firm boundaries with those who don't share my DNA, no matter the hurdles jumped to give evidence of their trustworthiness. In the case of my now 83-year old mother, she believes this completely.

Greek moms, however, give an arms wide-open invitation to join the family. Join the fun. Eat food. Hear and tell stories. And most of all, share the love. This is done with the feeling that any division, cloak or badge borne by virtue of outsider status is invisible. A Greek mom is inclusive.

This took getting used to.                                 

While I held back, not wanting to intrude or impose, assume or presume, Greek arms opened wider to make way.

Irene was my picture of Greek mom. I say was because Irene died last week, on Bestie’s birthday.

This is my favorite Irene story.

On New Years Day of 1998, a day when Greeks and Italians cook a big meal to set the stage for an abundant year to come, Irene invited me to a New Years feast. As the meal concluded, Irene carried the traditional vasilopita to the table.

Vasilopita is a Greek New Years cake, named for St. Basil (Vasili, in Greek). Baked into the cake is a coin or charm. The person who receives the coin is blessed with good luck for the year. In Irene’s cake, a quarter would be wrapped in aluminum foil to keep it hygienic.

You do remember my telling you about the exacting standards component of the Greek mom, right?

I was included at dinner because I was alone that day. Alone doesn't bode well if one believes New Years day activities predict the year. Alone didn't set with Irene.

“Come, come. We have plenty. You can’t stay home alone. Everyone will be here.”

I spent the evening at her large dining table with three generations of family, and noise and food and laughter, a liberal sprinkling of complaining about the work at hand and worry about overdone lamb (fulfilling the fretting compulsory), followed by a bit of there she goes again eye-rolling, and ending with the vasilopita.

“Now, Pam, this is important. Whoever is lucky enough to get the quarter will have good fortune all year long. Look at my son. He’s had the coin many times and he’s the luckiest person I know. Successful in business, with a beautiful wife and good children. That’s what the coin can do.”

Irene sliced her cake and passed the plates. As she neared the end of her duties, requiring just two more pieces, clink. The knife met metal resistance. She maneuvered the knife to scoot, then wedge, the coin into a portion and slide it onto a plate.

“Oh my goodness, Pam, look, you have the coin, dear.”  Not engineered. Fated. 

By Christmas of that year I was engaged to be married. No surprise to Irene. For she rarely missed an opportunity to tell me I was a gift to be treasured, and never treated me otherwise. She took pride in having assured my future by way of cake.

She loved me because I came with Bestie, who came with Sis, who married her son. She loved my boy because he came with me. She loved my new husband because he made our lives richer when he came to us. A long chain linked to one big heart in which there was perennially sufficient room.

Tomorrow we say our official good-bye to Irene. We will go to the Greek Orthodox church to express our affection and appreciation. Our loss and our sorrow. To send her off with a celebration of who she was during her time with us.

But how do I say an adequate thank you to the lady, the Greek mom, who gave me a Greek designation to show my place in the family? I am the fili. FEE-lee. The friend. For whom she manipulated a coin into a piece of cake so I could have a husband.

Thank you, Irene. For taking such good care of us. For inviting me in. And then again. Until I walked through your door to learn there was a place for me.

And to your sons, and daughters, and grandchildren, thank you for sharing her unselfishly.

May she rest in peace with her beloved husband, Gus. And may we all live up to everything she believed us to be.