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Connections: November 23

Vernon Hill - 16 - 2015-10Many years ago

we walked a common way

through hallowed halls of high school,

 teenage day-to-day.

That was then and this is now;

our ways are long asunder.

But here and there we’ve grabbed an hour

be-robed, betimes, to wonder

where we’ve been and who we are

how life is still aborning,

and we know the richest cuppa

is friendship in the morning.

More thanks to the S.W. Berg Photo Archives.

And thanks to D.J. Berg for all those early morning summits.



Connections: September 3

NURN - 04 (1)

The other day my friend Ann had the water turned off in her apartment building.

Good thing she has a dry sense of humor.

Here is another photo from the S.W.Berg Archives (thanks, Bill!). Bill’s wife, Donna, is the one who inspired “connections” as my current theme. They and my waterless friend Ann and I grew up in the same town and graduated from high school together. We are all 72 now, and still connected. Isn’t that grand?

A bit more of our ancient connections in Homeroom and Old Friends.



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.


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Old friends

Ann and I go way back.

We met in kindergarten. That was 1948. We went on to grade school together. Same high school, same college, same sorority. We rode our bikes in the summers, grade school through college, long after our peers took to cars. We banged out duets on each other’s pianos. My mother tripped over her at our house and her mother tripped over me at their house. Sometimes it was a toss-up as to which house was whose.

We never ran out of talk. That is still true: we email all the time, and with telepathic understanding. When she writes “dum-dee-dum-dum,” I hear the Dragnet theme. “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” needs no exegesis, Officer Krupke no footnote, tarantulas in bananas no clarification. When I write “Back to you, Chet,” she calls me David. If I mention frocks and chums, she will write of Ned Nickerson, and, when she grouses about how people don’t know nominative case from old underwear, I commiserate and we both blame Sister Mary Clare, our sixth-grade teacher, whose obsession with nominative case makes us both crazed today when we hear “between you and I.”

In college, people exclaimed at how much we looked alike. Nope. We never looked anything alike, which was my loss, but we’d rubbed off on each other. We didn’t look alike; we WERE alike.

We are grandmas now and will be 72 soon. We met when we were five. So that means we’ve been friends for…ummm…did I mention she tutored me through math?

Recently she emailed that it seemed like yesterday when she went apoplectic laughing at my high school freshman picture. How sweetly sentimental she can be.

From Nancy Drew to the Internet. Girls to grandmas. Old friends.



The email came a few days ago: he was in a nursing home and not expected to live much longer. That tall skinny kid with the close-cropped curly brown hair who never could be still? Whose arms and legs were miles long and as restless as his mind? Whose motormouth was legend? Whose presence was felt even in absence? — witness “Excelsior” and “FL” scrawled on blackboards as he lurched through our world. Whose protest song, “…back to back, belly to belly, well, I don’t give a damn…,” wafted over our heads? HE is in a nursing home?

And thus does memory distort and taunt. That verbal Riverdance, without a static cell in his body, left his imprint over fifty years ago. That kid is not in the nursing home. The man cancer made of him is in the nursing home.

I took out a notecard with a picture of a Tiffany window: “Summer” — deep magentas and purples as vital and exuberant as that summertime of life when we were barely adults and had only the looking forward. I wrote a few words to him, but there were really no words, only pen marks. I should have sent him an envelope of silence; it would have had more meaning.

Sputnik christened our freshman year. We were wrested out of the 50s and into the 60s by forces barely imaginable. That bright, intense kid seems the emblem of that life’s summertime, turned so quickly arid by war.

One day in that pre-war summertime, he told me I had great legs, which he likened to an inner latch in a coffin. Today, as I admire their varicose palette, not unlike those Tiffany colors, I hear his wisecrack and I remember the summer. Thanks, David.



September 1958. Sophomore year, first day. I new, the school old. Two thousand kids. I knew maybe ten.

The office sent me to Room 116, which turned out to be a black hole of a study hall, with miles of desks, enough for two homerooms, one mine and the other — gulp — seniors. Were you ever 15? Then you might know how I felt.

My new homeroom teacher waved me to an empty desk in the back of the second row from the wall. I needed binoculars to see it.

I sat behind Bill. For three years. In that time he partnered with Donna as a debate team while I bungled along in Extemp, and the three of us forged bonds stronger than kryptonite in weekend speech meets. On many mornings, Donna walked through our homeroom just to jab at Bill with some incendiary word to keep the fires burning in their Peanuts vs Pogo feud. Our corner of homeroom — Roger the suave, Sandy the effervescent, Bill the brilliant, me, the nice-smile-and-you’ll-go-far, plus the pedestrians, hormones and opinions in high gear, on their respective ways to other homerooms — was the real core curriculum. What I didn’t learn there I didn’t need to learn.

When Bill and Donna made their commitment to be debate partners for life, I was maid of honor. Our lives remained intertwined. Then, recently, mysteriously, we turned 70. We celebrated together with a birthday cake patchworked from a Lilliputian pastry shop. We threw caution to the winds and stayed up past 9:00. In a true flashback to homeroom, we split our sides over Bill’s take on pickle labels. They met my grandchildren.

Of all the floors we’ve walked throughout the years, it’s possible that those worn old hardwood floors of homeroom were the most important.

Because life comes in all flavors, and a lot of it is sticky.

Because life comes in all flavors, and a lot of it is sticky.