Monthly Archives: May 2016

Memorial Day, 2016

Military Heroes Garden of Boston Common, Thanks to Andy Robinson/ Staff

Military Heroes Garden of Boston Common,
Thanks to Andy Robinson/ Staff

This day, I begin with a poem I wrote after the Gulf War.


I cry at parades—
The minute I hear the brass band,
see the marshal strut,
his baton overhead,
I dissolve.

The Monday after the Gulf War,
there was the grandest parade ever—
confetti, ticker tape and flags,
yellow ribbons.
I couldn’t go. I couldn’t watch.

Across the river, mourners gathered.
They followed a lone drummer’s
beat, a beat
to a dirge, familiar
since my first memorial parade,

red balloon in hand,
close to the curb,
a lone and frail World War I veteran
stopped in salute and turned
his bleeding eyes onto me.

As a child, I celebrated Memorial Day in my hometown of Portland, Maine by attending a parade. My dad, the owner of Levinsky’s Army & Navy store, awakened me early to make certain my sister and I stood close-up, at the curb, to watch the Navy and Marine Bands, the Deering and Portland High School bands, the veterans of WWI and WWII march by.

The event was always thrilling— Dad, at my side, saluting to the marchers—strangers to me but known in some mysterious way, by my dad. He was a sales person, a man who spent his lifetime outfitting active servicemen and veterans.

He spoke rarely of war, of the stories he heard and read in The Portland Press Herald during WWII. I intuited—deep in my gut—his essential regard and respect for those men and women who served.

With my own children, I continued the ritual of attending Memorial Day parades. The first sound of the drum core, the high stepping high schools twirlers, was exciting. Always, the most moving marchers were the war veterans —some, in faded uniforms, others in suits, flags in lapels, walking tall and proud, conveying their privilege to serve.

This Memorial Day, I write about the profound annual event of the 37,000 flags planted at the Soldiers and Veterans Monument on the Boston Common. Just five days before this Memorial Day, 500 volunteers, organized by the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, planted row after row of American flags. Each hole dug, each flag planted, honored a fallen veteran, man or woman.

Families of service members who died on active duty since 9/11/2011, read the names of loved ones in front of the flag display. A chorus of voices bore witness and called the multitude of hero’s names to the heavens.

I am grateful to the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund and the 500 volunteers for their gift of remembrance. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The picture of the Military Heroes Garden  is worth 37,000 namesakes and all the more— for to remember is to hold the promise of ending all wars.



Zoe and the Frog


Zoe Burying the Frog

Zoe at Work

I had a disturbing incident in the garden last week. While checking the pond for fallen branches and debris, I heard a rustle and saw a long tailed creature with the head of a bulging-eyed frog creeping along. I was so shocked, I couldn’t move for a minute and the creature scurried away. Seconds later, I came to.

A small rake in my hand, I scratched along the pond’s edge and once again, the tan garter snake with a now recognizable frog in its mouth emerged. I yelled, “No, no.” as I whacked the rake down hard enough to wound. He had captured my biggest pond frog, the wide-bellied one, first to emerge from the muck this spring.

The snake was far too quick for my awkward efforts but he dropped the frog, too big to eat but not to injure. The frog was barely breathing; there was a slight twitch in his front leg. Could he survive such a brutal attack? I imagined not, but I could not bring myself to bury him in case, by some miracle, he might survive. I used the backside of the rake to lift and lay him on a lily pad where he continued to twitch.

My son, Craig, and granddaughter, Zoe, age twelve, were visiting that weekend. Earlier that day, Zoe had frolicked with the frogs—scooping them up to take a closer look then gently placing them back in the pond.

When Craig and I returned from a long walk, the frog was gone. Marv, her granddad, filled me in. Zoe had checked on the frog and noticed the twitching had stopped. She went to the garage, removed the long handled net to retrieve the frog and make certain he was dead. On her own, she searched out a shaded space, dug a hole, buried the frog and covered the grave with branches and leaves.

I first saw the tan snake with a black line down its back a few weeks ago. He was creeping around the pond’s low juniper; I assumed he was searching for eggs or pollywogs. I had no idea a snake so narrow and sleek would attack such a large frog.

Had I know, would I have tried harder to catch the snake? Some predators are too fast and wily to contain or catch. Garter snakes, mallard ducks, a gorgeous blue heron have all preyed upon the frogs. Over the years, I have learned that the best I can do is to chase the predators away when I see them. For that moment, they can do no harm and I am grateful.

Thankfully, after a full week of rain, a bevy of frogs have again emerged. Zoe and her dad have returned home. I am ever grateful to this tender child, almost a woman, for stepping up and saving me the sad task of another critter’s burial.






On Two Requests: Procrastination and Upbeat


Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Out of the blue, on the same day, I’ve had two blog requests—one, from Marisa, a nurse friend, who suggested the subject of “procrastinating,” and the other, from my husband, Marv, on “being upbeat.” I’m grateful and curious about how it will be to write about these two different words.

On procrastination— the most common definition is “to keep putting off something that needs to be done.” I certainly procrastinate from time to time. Usually, I have good reason, as did my friend. She used the word to describe her delay to confirm a pending plan between us. She had just returned from a trip abroad and was struggling with a cold. A full-time nurse, she had hit the ground running. To my way of thinking, the plan was in place. We had time to confirm, and she likely had all she could do to manage her work and personal commitments.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to tell her that sometimes, we give ourselves a bum wrap and are over critical of our behavior to others. In this situation, my e-mail to her arrived at a too-busy time and it took two go-rounds to firm up our plans. Nowhere along the path did I feel she was procrastinating. In fact, she was humorous and upbeat in our succinct messages.

Up beat is defined as “optimistic, a contented state of being happy.” When a puzzling or unusual event occurs, I try not make assumptions and to search for possible explanations. By widening the context and considering alternatives, I often arrive at a positive way of thinking about a situation.

Three weeks ago, Marv and I were awakened at dawn by an odd, rhythmic, tinny sound emanating from the solarium next to our bedroom. Marv’s first take was that it involved our heating system and called the heating company. It was a logical possibility given there were air circulation problems earlier in the month. A quick system check was negative, leaving the chimney as the likely source.

The next time  I was awakened, I bounded out of bed, opened the fireplace glass and bent down to listen. Waves of sound, like wings brushing against metal, vibrated down the chimney flue. I recalled last spring’s event, how a young robin had fluttered headlong onto one window for days, over and over.  Could this be the sound of another bird learning to fly? Could there be a nest near the metal critter-protector at the top of the chimney? Marv recollected that he had heard bird sounds accompanying the fluttery echoes some mornings.

For three peaceful days, the flutter went silent only to briefly return again this morning. Earlier this week, I noticed a red cardinal and his red-beaked lady kissing on a ledge by the back patio. Shortly, an even more vivid male cardinal joined the couple. I felt up lifted and upbeat at the fresh redness of his youthful feathers; there is beauty in silent flight.



Aging Is On My Mind

My First Mentor, Joy Castro & Me, 2008

My First Mentor, Joy Castro & Me, 2008

Can it be possible that starting something new with dedication and passion bought me six additional years, perhaps a decade? I’m aware that writing, the ideas that bubble up, the challenge to shape the ideas into words, the deadlines, the hope for potential readers and response, all fuel my energy and engagement.

According to the opinion piece, Practicing for a Better Old Age, by Gerald Marzorati, in the May 1st issue of The New York Times Sunday Review, my keen interest in advanced training in the writing craft might have created the opportunity to slow my aging and nurture a longer growing season.

“Most of us get good early on at something that took time and devotion,” Mazorati writes. For him it was reading. For me, it was a toss up between reading and listening— a career in journalism or social work. Often, after school, I listened to Mom’s concerns about my brain-damaged little brother and her struggle as wife and Mom to maintain a normal household. I was proud to be her confidant. Two social group work mentors during adolescence affirmed my people skills and inspired my aspirations as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist. For years, I embraced my listening choice and took workshops to evolve and master my skillset. At sixty-six, I peeked.

In truth, I had come to a point where I needed to attend to my own story rather than the stories of others. As a late teen, I left behind the path of writing as a career but continued to write for myself. At the point of closing my therapy practice, I enrolled at the Solstice Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College. At seventy-five, the return to school with much younger women and men was invigorating and daunting. The low residency program was hands on, involving the assignment of a mentor who would guide, read and give feedback to each and every manuscript of twenty-five pages of nonfiction writing every month.

Did it increase my longevity, my potential for a longer and healthier aging process? Both my writing and reading skills improved. I gained a community and a renewed sense of myself as a creative writer. I continue to feel energized and engaged; I am in the world and growing. People often take me for years younger.

The article offers no hard evidence of slow aging. Marzorati points to the effect of “the beauty of a disciplined effort at improvement…You seize time and make it yours.”

I have seized time and made it mine. At least for the time being, I have replaced the narrative of diminishment and loss with one of progress and bettering.

In 2008, I told my mentor, Joy Castro, “One day, I would like to master the art of the short essay.” I am grateful to have arrived at the opportunity to write this blog of shorts with the hope of more to come. Every day brings the promise of engagement in growth and bettering.







Another Birthday

One of Three Spirea, 2016

One of Three Spirea, 2016

The best part of a birthday in April is waking to warm air, a cardinal’s song, the steady green growth of hostas uncoiling, lily leaves fanning, Japanese ferns unfurling. Brown earth comes alive with possibility—plantings and weeds alike, nature does not discriminate. Everything grows.

I believe April inhabits my bones, the anticipation of light. All through winter, my body mimics the habit of bears. I hibernate— not in reality, for I go about my life, attend to the details, but I lack verve in waking. On dark, grey mornings, I drag. A week before daylight savings, the sun in the just-right ascension, a switch goes on. Bright mornings, I am up with energy.

This day, I am in full spring mode, grateful to be alive, strong in body and mind, able to write. Writing is a privilege; it challenges, enhances, feeds my growth. I began to write in adolescence, when emotions poured and fueled my pen. Writing became my balm, a way to sort and sift my adolescent angst. The sheer effort of outpouring— poems, letters never sent—transformed and contained my feelings.

I have always been grateful for my instinct to write. Mom went to business school and typed invoices for Dad. A large, black keyed Underwood typewriter sat on her desk; it was inviting. Around age eleven, I began to play at the typewriter much like I played piano— pushing the keys, enjoying the feel of something tangible emerging from my effort. Over time, I learned to type with two fingers just as I do now on my IMac.

Two years ago, on my 82nd birthday, I made the decision to begin a gratitude diary. The impetus was emotional—the fact of aging, coming out of a tough winter, the myths and realities of potential vulnerabilities, wanting to evolve into a more creative and grounded lifestyle. My first entry, I wrote the story of my birthday trip to Weston Nursery in Hopkington, the starting place of the Boston Marathon, to replace two winter-damaged daphne plants with three spirea.

“ It was a windy, cold, body-chilling day. The spirea plants were at the back of the property requiring a long walk in the rain. The woman waiting on me was reluctant in body and spirit— tired, worn down, as she described 8 years of work and the requirement to be present weekends and workdays all three growing seasons. She expressed little gratitude and I did not try to change her mind but listened with sympathy.

“I have five spirea in an embankment at home,” she said.

“Are they hearty? Do you like them?”

For an instance, there was the face of gratitude, a softness in the tightness of her jaw, the fatigue in her eyes at ease. “Yes, they flame out in spring and are fresh and green all summer and rust in fall.”

Her gratitude assured my choice. On this day in my garden, they flame anew.

I am grateful.