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The windchill is 15. I have just opened up my house.

One of my wonderful writing mates, Shirah, now emails from Jerusalem. Recently she mentioned the custom of the daily airing. No matter how cold or wet the morning, windows fly open in her neighborhood and the day starts with new air in the house. Really! I was of the stuffier mind that we waited until that first mild spring day to air out.

Now every morning I turn down the heat and open my house. Cold air can’t wait to get inside and warm up, so in it rushes. In about five minutes, I feel a difference, not in mere chill but in some subtle clarity.

Long ago, my co-worker Nina, a recent immigrant from Moscow, spoke in her satiny Russian accent of winter mornings there. When she breathed in the snap of that cold, she said, she “knew she was alive.”

Knowing I am alive. Clarity. Airing out. My new morning ritual has meaning.

This morning we have freezing fog. The screens around the porch are gauzy with it. It sticks to everything, whitening the world into something lighter, more bearable. To look out and wonder at such air is nothing new. To invite it in is.

I do not want to make this into some shmaltzy metaphor. I just want to state that this is happening when I must face the changes of age and determine how to live with them. Will I be guided by what others think or will I have an original plan for me? Will I have Shirah’s and Nina’s courage for newness? What is in this airing out? Right now I have no idea.


Soap opera

I did it again: I washed a kleenex.

My to-do list for today, the one-week mark before Christmas Eve, stretches from here to Jupiter. Do I really have time to stand there picking kleenex molecules off socks?

Oh, and did I mention the load was darks? I probably didn’t have to because if you, dear reader, have ever done the same thing, you know that Murphy’s statistics favor the darks.

As I stood there pincing tissue seaweed with thumb and forefinger and muttering to myself, my thoughts zoomed back to my mother. But of course: who else to blame for this mess? In our house, nobody moved without a hanky. Hanky. That’s the nickname for handkerchief, an ancient concept involving nose and lace. I grew up with hankies. I carried them daily, matched them to my clothes, dampened and ironed them. I proudly presented them for Mothers’ Day.

I needed them. In our area, gurgling sinuses were universal, so hankies were essential. Of course there were hanky substitutes, such as sleeves, but they were roundly denounced by my mother.

Every morning, after we charged through our one-bathroom four-person prep, Mom would yell as we went out the door “Books? Money? Hanky? Lunch?” Check, check, check, and check, Mom! Eventually it became Booksmoneyhankylunch! and it was our rallying cry for many years after. The hanky, standard of propriety and order: don’t leave home without it.

Ladies’ hankies were pretty. Most were flowered, some embroidered, monogrammed, laced or tatted. Men’s hankies were mostly plain white, though some might have color or pattern. But then everything morphed into the disposable, bland tissue. Hygiene trumped fashion. Thus do I come to wash kleenex.

Hanky wardrobe circa 1960

Hanky wardrobe circa 1960


Em and M

M — that’s me, Maureen. Em — that’s Emily Dickinson. Today is her birthday, and if she were here she’d be 184 years old. It is hard to believe she was born so long before me; she doesn’t seem that far removed.

When I was a senior in high school, having scraped myself together after a most unillustrious academic beginning, I was invited to a tea hosted by the English Department for its high-achieving students. Each of the honorees received a gift, and mine was a small book of poetry by Emily Dickinson. I was euphoric.

Not long after that, my English teacher called me Emily. I think just once, but with some deliberateness, as I heard it. It affected me.

I have lovingly toted that book through life for over fifty years. I have turned its pages cautiously, careful not to let any of that sparse wording fall out.

Now I have a writing mate who is a poet. Tamara has inspired and challenged, and she is the reason I have been hobnobbing with Emily for the last few months. It’s the writer’s journey, isn’t it? We stretch into the present and then to the past. Never the straight line but always the detour, the roundabout, to that anywhere in search of our own voices.

Living with Emily these past months has been intimidating and encouraging. She was afraid and yet not. Me too.

She made nobody-ness enviable. Which is a good thing for writers.

Happy birthday, Emily. From a fan.



Just so

Christmas at our house was a cross between Fezziwig’s party and a root canal. There was serious intent to celebrate with a simultaneous — and cross-purposed — intent to make everything just so. Take it from me: celebration and just so do not co-exist in tranquility.

To me, Christmas was the highlight of the year. Aside from my grandmother’s rages, I loved everything about it, even playing Christmas carols in the summer. (Oddly, my parents objected.) Books on Christmas crafts, Aunt Mary’s spritz recipe, the red plastic Christmas cookie cutters — delirium! transcendence! I stared at Christmas lights as I would an archangel.

But then the tree. Mom dragged me into bitter cold to tree shop under bare light bulbs that dangled in a most unstarry-like aspect over trees stiffer than I was. Only one tree in a million met her standard of just so. I have never warmed up.

Dad had to make the tree fit our living room, which was finite in the extreme. Drag it in, drag it back out. Saw. Repeat. Needles flipping everywhere. Sap-sticky and frozen, Dad was distinctly unmerry.

After they wrestled it into a militarily upright position, the decorating began. Lights with daisy-like reflectors, then ornaments, then tinsel — all according to The Rules, which were immutable for tinsel. One strand at a time, individually smoothed, gently draped at the tip of the branch, one side longer than the other — NEVER hung at the half-way point — MOM! GET A GRIP!

In the end it was, of course, magnificent. I peeked at it reverently from my bed at night. And thus was born my suspicion that the way to Fezziwig was through just so.

From the time of Just-So

From the time of Just-So