Sunday Brunch: The Ghosts We Choose

Copyright: <a href=''>captblack76 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>


I’m cheating a little with this post, because I’m really just providing an excerpt to this month’s Sunday Brunch column over at Modern Creative Life.

Here’s the excerpt:

A bottle of Clinique make-up, left in the medicine cabinet in my guest bathroom, smells like clay, but it also smells like Halloween, 1976, when my mother costumed me as Pocahontas and used her normal color to darken my fairer skin. (Cultural appropriation wasn’t a hot topic, back then, but even if it had been, my costume was an homage, not a mockery.)

Forty years later, that scent is so closely associated with my mother that when I see her and she no longer carries that aroma (because she’s long since changed her make-up routine), I have to stop and remind myself that she’s the same woman who bore me, raised me, and whose opinion is still, always, vitally important.

And here’s the link to the complete piece. Sunday Brunch: The Ghosts We Choose

Let ‘Em In? No way!

Paul McCartney and Wings - Let 'Em In


Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell
Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell
Do me a favor
Open the door and let ’em in

I am nine years old and in the fourth grade, and I am already on my way to becoming nocturnal, but it’s not because I’m afraid of the dark and try to wait for dawn before I sleep (that comes later, and only infrequently).

No, it’s because I have a vivid imagination and a mind like a steel trap (my mother says) and I remember things at the most inconvenient times.

For example, two years ago, I was on this kick where I was reading a lot of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries, and even though none of them were particularly scary, there was this one line that made me afraid of my own bedroom. “Frank! Look! The room has no floor!”

The truth was that the house they were investigating had a room where the whole floor was an elevator, and so all the furniture was bolted to the walls. Not a problem, except that in our apartment above my mother’s store, my desk was built in, and my carpet was blood red, and at night I couldn’t see the floor.

I am only seven, so it doesn’t occur to me that my bed and nightstand are not bolted to the floor, so I make a point of leaving socks and things in a trail from the bedroom door to the bathroom door. Just in case.

Sister Suzie, brother John
Martin Luther, Phil and Don
Brother Michael, auntie Gin
Open the door and let ’em in, yeah

I am ten years old and the show PM Magazine, the one with Chef Tell, is running a show about how Paul McCartney is really dead, and if you play the Beatles’ records backwards there are all these codes and stuff recorded in the layers of the tracks, and he was barefoot on that one album cover, and the license plate on the car said 28 IF.

My mother insists that Paul McCartney isn’t really dead, or a ghost, or whatever, that he’s really just hiding in some other country (Japan? I think? Or Australia??) because of drugs, and he’s got this band called Wings.

I want to believe her, but I don’t want to believe her because the spooky story is fun.

But late at night when I can’t sleep, especially if my mother and her husband have been fighting, I turn on my white clock-radio – my first grown-up radio – and listen to the pop station, and while I kind of like it when Eddie Rabbitt sings “I Love a Rainy Night,” when Paul McCartney and Wings sing “Let ’em In,” the scratchy part of his voice makes me not want to turn out the light or go to sleep.

Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell

I am sixteen, and I hate going to sleep, because I can’t avoid nightmares, even though I have nothing, really, to be stressed about. I’ve given up listening to music to help me sleep, because it doesn’t, and switched to talk radio. My usual MO is to keep the volume super-low so that I have to strain to hear it, and the act of straining makes me tired and I fall asleep.

But lately I’ve become hooked on the Larry King radio show, and tonight Robert Englund, who plays Freddy Krueger, is on his show and when people call in he talks to them in Freddy’s voice. I want to sneak out of my room and call in, but the hallway is dark and my parents are sleeping, and bed is safe, right?

Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell

I am thirty-eight years old, and I’m home alone with my two dogs, Zorro and Miss Cleo, because Fuzzy is on a business trip in Florida. Two days before, the first stick showed a pink plus sign and the second one blinked “pregnant” at me, and I freaked out a little, but I was so happy. But earlier tonight I started cramping and spotting, and I called my friend Kathy to come hang out with me – she and Scott both came and made me laugh and distracted me.

Fuzzy will be home late in the morning, and we’ll go to the doctor, but right now, I’m alone and I’m scared I’ve miscarried and equally frightened that I didn’t, and just as I’m falling asleep, Miss Cleo growls at nothing. I’m pretty sure she’s dreaming, but she sleeps with her eyes open, so I’m never sure.

(I did miscarry.)

Do me a favor
Open the door and let ’em in

I am forty-six years old, but I’m also still seven and nine and ten and sixteen and thirty-eight, and there are nights when, even though my husband is sleeping peacefully beside me, and our dogs (different dogs now: Perry, Max, Teddy, and Piper) are also sleeping, that I can’t fall asleep because I keep falling into nightmares, so I read on my kindle and wait for dawn.

Or I wake up Fuzzy, because I’m terrified of something I dreamed, even though I don’t remember what it was, and  he holds me until I’m calm, and understands that I can’t talk about it until the magic of morning takes it all away.

And in the back of my head, that creepy Paul McCartney song is always playing.

Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell
Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell
Do me a favor
Open the


Short Story: Under Glass


SFO CoffinWhen Joe had finally agreed to spend the first weeks of his retirement remodeling their house, he’d assumed that Molly meant redoing the kitchen, adding the island she’d always wanted, and increasing the cabinet space. He’d never expected that he’d be renting heavy equipment and hiring contractors to demolish the garage in order to expand it and add a second story with mother-in-law quarters.

He’d never expected that he’d be working with the guys he’d hired to haul away chunks of the cement that had formerly been the garage floor, or dig out a new basement.

He’d certainly never expected to find a small, sealed coffin under the layers of mud and sand and concrete.

A coffin that still held a body.

Actually, it reminded him of that fairy-tale his daughter had loved when she was younger. The one about the girl in the glass casket. The one who wakes up when the prince kisses her.


Except this coffin wasn’t made of glass. Instead, it was formed from lead and bronze, with a pair of diamond-shaped glass windows set into the top. And it was old. Decades at least. Maybe centuries.

Except this girl, the one inside the box, wasn’t an adolescent on the cusp of womanhood. Rather the pale face he saw centered in the top window, the one framed by jet-black curls adorned with a bit of lace, was cherub-cheeked and babyish, and he didn’t think she’d been a day over three when she died.

Funny, she didn’t look dead.

She looked for all the world as though she’d just been tucked in for an afternoon nap, the dark eyelashes of her closed eyes resting against the soft skin of those adorable cheeks. Those pinch-able cheeks.

“You have such fat, pink, cheeks, Gracie. I’m going to eat you up!” Joe bounced his five-year-old daughter on his knee, laughing with the child as she giggled. “I’m going to stuff an apple in your mouth, and roast you in the oven,” he teased.

Gracie howled with little-girl laughter, understanding that her father was only teasing, and demanding to know, “What else are you gonna do to me, Daddy?”

“I’m going to wrap you up so tight…” This was their bedtime routine. Molly was in charge of bath time and pajamas, but Joe handled Storytime and tucking in.

“Night-night, Daddy.”

“G’night, Gracie.”

But Gracie wasn’t a little girl anymore. She was twenty, off studying at Tulane, with father-daughter bedtime stories far behind her.

Still, Joe thought, his own daughter had once looked just like this child when she was sleeping. Peaceful. Innocent. A little girl taking her afternoon nap.

Only the white rose clutched in her tiny fist told a different story. The white rose and the nameplate on the foot of the box. He reached out with a gloved hand to rub the grime away: Edith, it read. No last name.

Poor kid.

He stared down at the girl under glass for a few more minutes, before he realized that the sun had gone down, and the men he’d found waiting outside Home Depot at six AM on Tuesday, the same men who had found their own ride out to his place for the two days since, had already jumped in their truck and gone home.

He really ought to call someone.

He really shouldn’t just leave her there, in the open. What if some kid wandered in? What would the neighbors think?

Joe left the place that used to be his garage, and went to grab a tarp from the back of his Jeep, noticing that Molly’s Prius wasn’t in the driveway. He wondered where she – oh, right – it was Thursday. She taught at the adult school on Thursdays. She’d left a lasagna out to defrost… he was supposed to start it in time for dinner. Funny how physical labor made you forget stuff like that.

He was about to swing the canvas cloth over the coffin when he caught sight of her face, found her fathomless black eyes staring at him from under the glass.

Wait a second. Hadn’t they been closed before?

Joe dropped the tarp over the casket and retreated from the remnants of his garage. The back of his neck had that cold, prickly feeling, and it was pretty dark out. Better to get inside, start dinner so it’d be ready when Molly got home, and figure out who you call to report a dead child in a coffin under your garage floor.

Was that something you dialed 9-1-1 for?

* * *

Friday morning rolled in with a violent rainstorm, which meant no work on the garage, but while Molly was upset about the delay, Joe was relieved. He hadn’t told her about the coffin. His wife was prone to having nightmares, and he didn’t want to be the cause of another sleepless night.

He’d waited until she left for work, and then he’d called the emergency line after all, because, really, who else would know what to do?

“Sir, this isn’t funny,” the operator informed him. “We have a major storm causing flooding at all the low-lying intersections, and can’t afford to waste time on pranksters.”

“I’m not a prankster,” Joe had insisted, and either she had sensed the anguish in his voice, or she had a friend she wished to twit, because she’d referred him to the county coroner instructing him to ‘ask for Charlie.’

It turned out that Charlie was actually Charlene, and she was also convinced it was some kind of a joke. Joe had gone out to the garage with his smartphone and snapped some pictures, texting them to the cell number she’d provided.

Two hours later, the coroner’s van arrived and a redheaded woman who appeared to be in her early fifties joined Joe in the torn-down garage, flanked by a ferret-faced man who said he was Jasper from the historical society, and a woman in a conservative skirt and veil, the contemporary habit of a nun, who said she was from the Sisters of Innocence and explained that her organization would handle the burial at no charge.

“Mr. Hunter,” the coroner greeted him. ” I’m Charlie. We spoke on the phone. I’m so sorry; this must have been quite upsetting for you.”

“It was definitely a surprise,” he replied, affably enough. “My wife doesn’t know.”

“I’m not surprised you found a coffin,” the historical society rep interrupted. “From the photos you sent, yours is about a hundred and fifty years old… this whole area was a cemetery then. The bodies were relocated around the turn of the century, though… ground’s too wet… coffins kept floating to the surface.”

Joe had no way to respond to that, so he ignored it, except to say, “It’s not mine.” And then, “It’s here… under the tarp.”

But Jasper continued. “She clearly came from a wealthy family. Lead. Bronze. Glass. This thing was built to last.”

Joe turned his back to Jasper.

Charlie did the honors, removing the drape, and the three adults all looked into the window at the still, small, form inside. Her eyes were closed again (or was it ‘still?’) Joe saw, but her mouth looked a little different – the lips seemed redder and plumper – or maybe he was just imagining things.

“Alright,” the coroner said. “Jasper, if you’ll give me a hand moving her, we’ll get going. I think Sister Celeste has some paperwork for you to do, sir.”

The nun had been murmuring a prayer over the casket, and she took a moment to gaze through the window before allowing Joe to direct her toward the house. “Such a beautiful child. So well preserved…”

“It’s because the coffin’s sealed” Jasper said. “No air, no deterioration.”

Joe decided he didn’t care much for Jasper.

* * *

Joe Hunter had never been a great cook, but he figured if he was going to tell his wife what had been removed from where the garage used to be, he’d better ply her with food and drink first. The morning’s rain had left a clear, crisp, night in its wake. Chilly, but not too cold for barbecue. He had a pitcher of margaritas mixed and the steaks ready to go on the grill as soon as Molly arrived home.

The cold pricklies came back at about the same time his phone rang.  Charlie from the coroner’s office calling to tell him that something had happened.

“Happened?” Joe had no idea why she was calling him.

“When we got to the morgue… when we opened the casket… the child… she was gone.”

Joe had no idea what to say, but it didn’t matter, because Molly walked in just then, carrying a white rose and smiling like she had on their last anniversary when he’d given her that string of real pearls.

“Do I smell charcoal?” she asked, and lifted her face to his for a kiss.

“Yeah,” he said. “I thought… we won’t have many more nights warm enough.” He thumbed the phone to an inactive state and set it down on the counter, face down. “Margarita?”


They ate and laughed, and he finally told her about the coffin and showed her the pictures. “It almost looks like her eyes are open in this one,” Molly observed.

Joe agreed that it really did.

They went to bed early, but they didn’t go to sleep because Molly was reading a chapter of some novel on her Kindle and he was using his iPad to send an email to Gracie. “Come home for Thanksgiving break,” he requested. “Your mother and I both miss you.”

Around midnight, after Molly had turned off her light and rolled on her side to sleep, Joe got up to check the house. It was his ritual, one his father had performed long ago. Make sure all the doors are locked, prep the coffee-maker for the morning. Hit the bathroom one more time.

He was passing Gracie’s room on his way back to bed when he heard it. Soft, so soft it was quieter than a dream, a lick of childish laughter.

The kind of laughter a three-year-old might produce.

Notes: I’ve had the concept of “Under Glass” in my head for years. When I went looking for art to accompany this story, however, I stumbled upon a true story about a coffin that was found under the floor of a garage in San Francisco, in the Lone Mountain neighborhood. I know the area because I had classes in the Lone Mountain campus of University of San Francisco, once upon a time. Here’s the link to the actual story: Little Girl Found in Coffin


The Lady of La Paz

Victorian Woman on a Shingle Beach by Lee AvisonThis is a true story… mostly.

Almost every year, during late spring or early summer, I visit my mother at her home in La Paz, BCS, Mexico.

Every so often, on these visits, I see something surprising.

One year, I even saw a ghost. I call her The Lady of La Paz.

The first time I saw the Lady was during the moon tide, when the water crept high up onto the beach, over the road, settling into pools of liquid silver.

An airplane was flying low over the bay, heading toward the airport – the last plane of the night – and as its angle of descent shifted, its lights caught the wisps of the clouds that were still shrouding the moon, protecting us from the full power of its glow.

Closer and closer the plane came, the bright front light changing the shapes of the shore, making creatures of the mangroves, and turning the shadows into living things.

And that’s when she made her first appearance.

Her face was hidden by a veil, but the shape of her hat was unmistakable, as were the lines of her turn-of-the-century dress. She held a parasol.

Her pace was steady, every step measured and sure, picking her way across the hard-packed sand, following the cone of light the airplane was casting ground-ward.

Just as she reached the point, the beam of light that held her began too thin, and her form to waver, as if she was dissipating on the faint breeze.

That’s when the clouds finally melted entirely away, and the Lady turned to stare out to sea.

She never looked my way. I never heard her voice.

Somehow, though, I knew – I knew – that she was waiting – searching – pining for her lost love.

I held my breath and watched, willing a man in a fedora to emerge from the waves and take her into his arms.

But of course he never came.

And when the moon left the sky to the sun, she faded into daylight.

When I told my parents about seeing the Lady, my mother mentioned that she’d seen her, too, on the nights of the full moon. My step-father, on the other hand insisted it was just a trick of the light, a happy merging of surf and fog and the lights from the plane.

I suppose I’ll never know for sure if the Lady of La Paz was real, or just a figment of my vivid imagination.

The part of me that lives in the world of computers and technology and social media knows that moonlit nights and moon tides can do funny things to our perceptions. The part of me that still, deep down, believes in the possibility of ghosts and soulmates wants there to still be magic in the world.

And who’s to say? Maybe the Lady was real at one point. In my head, she’s a pianist, a daughter of the family that owned the gold mine in El Triunfo, a student of Francisca Mendoza’s, and her lover is someone her parents would never approve of, a miner perhaps, or a seaman who helped to bring pianos to Baja Sur.

I keep telling myself that someday I’ll write their story, and then they will become real.

And until then?

If you’re walking on a certain stretch of beach in Baja Sur – the one with the view of El Mogote and the city lights in La Paz –  and you happen to find a full moon above you, and a moon tide lapping at your toes, keep careful watch as the last plane flies low over the water, en route to the airport.

You might see the Lady on her evening walk, holding her parasol just so, and waiting for her love.



Flash-fic: The Rules

monster under the bed


“Harry, remember, it’s only your first night. No one expects you to be perfect. Just go, growl, and get out.”

“I know, Mom.”

“Avoid the light… it won’t actually cause you to combust, but it can still hurt you. Remember what happened to Daniel? He was looking up at the closet ceiling when his assigned Child turned the light on. He was bulb-blind for days. Kept bumping into furniture… nearly got caught.”

“Avoid the light,” Harry repeated dutifully. “Got it, Mom.”

“And don’t forget about the Rules.”

“The rules?”

“Harry, we’ve been over this a fafillion times. If the Child is sipping water, they are Protected. If the Child has stuffed animals they are Protected…” His mother saw him roll his eye. “What?”

“The… stuffed animals… they aren’t Real animals, are they?”

“Of course not, Harry. They’re made of plush and foam and fluff.”

“Are you sure? Because Becky said – ”

“Harold M. Puddle, how many times have I told you that your sister makes up these stories just to bait you. The stuffed animals are not Real.”

“Then how can they Protect?”

“Because Children have Imaginations, Harry. And they Believe.”

“I thought Imagination was what we were made of.”

“Well, yes, but…”

“So if they can Believe we are under their beds or in their closets, and  Believe the stuffed animals are Real…” Harry had a scary thought. “Mom? What if they Believe that we aren’t Real?”

“Hush, youngster. You might as well wonder whether dragons really breathe fire. Some things simply Are.”

“Okay.” He straightened his posture and held out his claw-tipped paws. “Do I look fearsome enough?”

“Oh, very much so,” his mother assured. She pulled him close and gave him a slurpy kiss. “I’m so proud of you, Harry. You’re not even eight hundred yet, and you’ve been assigned your own Child. Just don’t forget about the Blankets.”

Harry knew about those, but his eye grew wider anyway. “Mom?”

“It’s the biggest Rule there is. A Child under Blanket Protection must never be touched. If your Child is under Blankets, what do you do?”

“Go, growl, get out,” Harry repeated the advice she’d given him a few minutes before. But he had a question, “What if… what if a Hand or a Foot isn’t Covered?”

“Well, some of the most experienced Monsters sometimes tickle a Child’s Foot or brush their fur against a Child’s Hand, but you shouldn’t try that on your first night. If the Child wakes up, and you get caught you’ll be sent back to remedial hunting. No one wants to spend their entire life chasing Cats and Dogs.”

Harry had met some of the remedial hunters. They ended up patchy and toothless. He definitely didn’t want that. “I promise not to try it… at least not tonight.”

“Good for you, Harry. Now remember, you’re scary, you’re stealthy, and you can make Children scream.”

“I’m scary,” he repeated. “I’m stealthy. And I can make Children scream.”  He took a deep breath. “Okay, Mom… here I go.”

He stepped onto the Ladder that would take him into the Attic and then into the Closet in the Child’s room, repeating it as he went. “Scary. Stealthy. Scream…”

As the Trap Door opened, Harry heard his mother’s voice, “I love you Harry.”

Harry grimaced happily.  I love you, too, Mom, he thought. Here I go.


Image copyright: innovatedcaptures / 123RF Stock Photo


Creativity-Induced Insomnia

I wasn’t going to do anything intense this month. I mean, yes, August is always the month when my creativity comes back like dandelions in a suburban lawn – profuse and persistent – but this morning (yeah, you read that right: morning) my muse, or at least the creative part of my brain is also downright persnickety.


I mean, it’s 6:43 in the morning and I’ve been up for more than an hour, which would be great if I actually WANTED to be awake, but I don’t. I want to be asleep, curled up with my husband, who, as I type this, is blissfully snoring away on his side of the bed.

It’s really kind of unfair.

Especially since I took half a dose of Benadryl at 1:43 this morning so I could breathe, an amount that typically renders me unconscious for the better part of a night and into the morning.

Tonight, though? It wired me.


So for three-and-a-half hours i tossed and turned and tried every trick I know in order to lull myself to sleep, except singing myself a lullaby, because everyone knows that if you’re the one singing you just wake up more.

Look, I know – I know – I shouldn’t be complaining about having so many projects firing up my brain right now, especially since I have friends who aren’t even getting postcards from their muses, let alone actual sparks or ideas or insights. And really, if I could give them just a couple of hours of this weird energy, I totally would.

Frankly, I could use the break.

Or at least, I could use a nap.

But instead of sleeping, I’m typing this in the dark (I like to write in bed.) And of course – of course – now that I’ve decided to be productive, sleepiness has come oozing back in, enticing me with its siren call.

“Melissa,” it says, “come back to bed. You know you want to.”

I refrain from pointing out that technically, I’m still in bed. Sleep doesn’t really care for the facts.

So I give up. I’m letting sleep have a second (third, fourth, twelfth) chance. I’m clicking “publish, and then I’m turning out the light (again) and nestling under the covers (again) to try and ignore the snores from Fuzzy that are adorable when I’m wide awake and infuriating when I’m trying not to be.


My fickle muse’s new best friend.

Wind and Peppermint

It’s just after midnight, and if the moon isn’t quite full it’s so close to it that it’s not worth it to quibble. From our bedroom, I text my husband in his upstairs office/man-cave. “I’m bored,” I type. “Wanna make out?”

“I’m all sniffly,” he texts back. “Sniffly and blechy. It wouldn’t be fun for you.”

“True,” I respond. After a beat, I rapid fire another message. “Want some peppermint tea? Meet me in the kitchen in five minutes.”

“Sure,” he says.

Hands Holding a Mug of Tea or CoffeeI leave our bedroom, escorted by a posse of pooches who all want to do their nighttime business. I pause to fill our electric kettle and turn it on, and then I open the sliding door that leads to the back yard.

As the dogs rush past me into the moonlight night, a gust of wind washes over me. It isn’t particularly hot in the house – we don’t have heat or a/c running – but that blast of fresh air is as cooling, as invigorating as the salt spray I used to feel when we played on the jetty at Sandy Hook, or stood at the end of the Ocean Grove pier. It only lacks that salty, coastal tang, to be the perfect breeze.

My husband comes into the kitchen just as the kettle finishes boiling. “Pour the water, would you?” I ask him, and I hear him doing just that.

Me? I’m still standing in the doorway, drinking in the wind, watching the trees get tossed back and forth, listening to the different pitches of the jingling dog-tags on the animals and the metal wind chimes hanging inside the house, and out.

I feel his warmth as he comes to stand behind me. “Enjoying the wind?”

“I love this weather,” I tell him, even though he knows I live for storms and blustery days. “It’s going to be 85 tomorrow. I’m not ready for summer.”

“Ugh, me either.”

We stand there a while, and then he brings the dogs inside and beds them down, and I carry our mugs to the table. “Bring the honey, please?” I request, “And a little dish for our teabags?”

The sliding door remains open, just far enough that the wind can flirt with us, but the dogs who aren’t in bed can’t wander back out. (Max doesn’t like to come inside at night.)

Fuzzy and sit at the kitchen table, sipping peppermint tea and letting the wind keep us company while we chat about nothing for a few minutes. Then he gets up. “I left a program running,” he says. He takes his half-finished mug of tea with him, but he kisses me before he leaves.

As for me, I stay at the kitchen table, surrounded by the soft sounds of the night, spinning stories on my laptop.


Image Copyright: dedivan1923 / 123RF Stock Photo

Dinner Music

I wrote this after a trip back east in 2009, but if I posted it then, it got lost in an archive save, because I don’t have it anywhere. I found it when I was looking for a piece of flash-fiction to edit into something else, and decided to post it anyway.  Aunt Molly, mentioned in the piece, died in 2015 at the age of 105.

The comforting burbling of a percolating coffee pot is the bass note to a symphony played by silver, ceramic, and porcelain softly clinking against each other. It’s the kind of sound most people would never notice, but in an Italian family, the dining table isn’t just where food is spread, but where all the good conversation happens, and conversations like that don’t exist without coffee and pastry – cheesecake is preferred, but a crumb cake will do.

Last month, I spent eight days on the east coast, first at my aunt’s wedding, which occurred in a rambling old, cold summer house in Amagansett, NY, and then in and around a small fishing village in New Jersey, which was once mainly populated by summer folk as well, though now most of the homes are occupied year-round.

In both places, while there was singing to be heard, and various forms of recorded music as well, the melodies that mattered were those created as we sipped endless cups of coffee, nibbled on a broad array of desserts (including crumb cake), and chattered into the wee hours of the morning, picking up threads of conversations that had been dropped decades before, or simply starting new ones.

In an Italian-American family, all the good stuff happens after dinner, when the food has been cleared away, and dessert has largely dwindled to a few crumbs. As a child, I would have been sent to bed before any of the really dishy conversation, but I have fond memories of hunkering down on the red-carpeted steps of my grandmother’s house, hiding behind the tall hutch that was set against the staircase, listening to the mix of English spoken in a New Jersey Neopolitan accent and Italian uttered in short phrases and single words, that nevertheless managed to convey images of sunny hillsides, deep red wine, and round, ripe tomatoes.

I remember my grandfather’s voice, belting from the diaphragm as he told a story, or corrected someone else’s version of a tale, or merely laughed. I remember my grandmother referring to my older cousins, as well as my mother and her siblings, as scooch (pest) or scocciamento (pain in the ass – pr. scooch-a-mende), or merely referring to someone as a “miserable wretch.” I remember laughter, always laughter, even on the saddest days. The concept of laughter through tears might have been mentioned in the movie Steel Magnolias, but Italian-American women live it on a daily basis.

As I grew older, I was allowed to have a seat at the after-dinner table – to play my part in the “Coffee Klatsch Cantata,” as it were. I remember rousing games of Canasta and Scrabble, and I also remember hearing stories about relatives who often were only names to me, or faces in faded photographs.

Being back in New Jersey wasn’t just visiting, it was, in many senses, going home. My grandparents may no longer be on this Earth, but my great-aunt Molly is ninety-nine and a half years old, and still remembers every story, every relative, every connection. Sure, she can’t walk any more, but she still smells of Taboo perfume and rice pudding, is always impeccably dressed, and if she falls asleep in her easy chair listening to the Italian-language news on TV that’s okay, because if you put her at the kitchen table and hand her a cup of coffee, she’ll instantly be bright-eyed, alert, and ready to trade memory for memory until the last crumb of cake is gone, and the percolator has grown cold.

As much as the folk music and show tunes I still sing, this is the music I grew up with. The harmonies made not by strings and percussion, but by the rise and fall of voices in conversation while food is being shared around a kitchen table.

Thoughts from the Bath

My usual Saturday evening ritual, at least in cool weather, is to soak in the tub while listening to Selected Shorts on NPR. (I know. I live a wild life.) I use the time to just relax, away from smartphones and computer screens. Sometimes one of the dogs will join me in the bathroom, splashed on the floor like a puddle of breathing fur, but most of the time the current pack all congregates on my bed, as if they’re guarding me from whatever might come through the bedroom and into my bathroom.

So far, their vigilance has paid off, and only my husband has ever come into the room. I’m sure they feel very smug about their track record.

Sometimes in the bath, I plot out the stories I’m working on.

Often, I read.

Last night, however, as I soaked in lavender-scented water and formed castles out of the mounds of bubbles, I let my mind wander and ended up with a stream-of-consciousness that was part life commentary and part idle musing.

It went something like this:

I really need a pedicure. It’s been over a month since I had my toenails done, and hey, this purple polish has pretty good staying power, but really, purple in December? I want to make that chocolate gingerbread again, the one we put the peppermint schnapps frosting on, and I can’t remember where I put the recipe. I just realized; it’s almost Christmas and I haven’t yet used my Christmas mugs. This weird warm weather is freaking me out. I’m so tired of mosquitoes. I promised Deb I’d shoot a picture of her book somewhere in my house. Is that a thing now? I didn’t ask any of my friends to take pictures with my book. Should I have done that. Oh, hey, that quantum relationship thing I wrote for Medium needs to be in the next book; everyone seemed to really like it. What day is tomorrow in MusicAdvent? Oh, right, it began on the first so tomorrow’s the 20th. What letter are we on? Oh, right T. We’re on T. T-t-t-t-t-t-t-t. Oh! that scene in Easy A just popped into my brain.

You get the idea.

Holidailies 2015


Big Dogs and Big Storms

You know that line in A Visit from St. Nicholas? The one about dry leaves flying before a hurricane? I always thought it felt out of place in what was, otherwise, a sweet and fluffy poem, but today that line is echoing through my head, as leaves are being blown about outside my house.

There’s definitely a storm brewing, but whether my part of the DFW metroplex will get any measurable rain is still a toss-up. Most of the time, the fact that our little corridor of I-20 seems to live in a sort of weather-proof bubble is a good thing. A couple of years ago, when tornadoes were hitting all around us, my neighborhood didn’t even lose power.

Stalking Maximus

Be very quiet; Max is stalking something.

Sometimes though, like today, I want the storm. We had crisp, cold weather until about a week ago, and then everything crept back into the 70s, which is fine, I suppose, except that it’s  December, we’re twelve days from Christmas Eve, and we still have mosquitoes.

I actually have air conditioning turned on.

Also, rain and fog make all the Christmas lights look pretty – enhancing the sparkle factor. Not that I’ve finished decorating. In truth, I’ve barely begun, and the recent weather is a big part of that. (Finishing my first book, and getting it ready to put on Amazon is another part of that, but that post has already been written.)

I’m not the only one feeling a bit off-kilter because of the weather. Max and Teddy, my two biggest dogs, have been acting kind of spooked since last night. They’re asking for extra attention, being overly clingy (even for them) and then bouncing off to chase each other around the house and yard as if they have to burn off every ounce of energy that they have right this very minute.

Watching big dogs play can be kind of intense. They slam into each other with all the force of football players, and there is much gnashing of teeth and swiping of claws.

Curious Ted

Teddy is always a bit perplexed.

They growl and roooooo! They dance around each other like prize fighters looking for the perfect opportunity to jab or cross, and then they back off, tails wagging, as if to say, “Aww, shucks, I was only playing.”

After a heavy play session, Teddy, who is four years younger and 20 pounds heavier than Max, will go to his brother and lick his ears, as if to say, “I may have bigger paws and sharper teeth, but you’re still my big brother.”

Max turned seven a few days ago, and his age is starting to show a little. The black parts of his face are bearing more and more flecks of white hair, and his stamina is fading a little bit. Of course, he’s always been a bit of a couch potato, sprawling his spotted legs over the arms of chairs, or letting them dangle off the sofa. Ted is more a hunker-down-on-the-floor kind of dog, as if he knows his soft, black fur will pick up every single bit of dust.

One thing both of these big boys have in common is that they never go too long without coming to my side, poking a wet nose into my hand, offering a callow paw to shake, and then heading off to romp again.

The leaves are flying.

The dogs are rough-housing happily.

A storm is brewing.

And I can’t wait for it to come.

Holidailies 2015