Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Time Has Come ...

... the Walrus said, to talk of many things:
Of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax.
Of cabbages and kings,
And why the sea is boiling hot,
And whether pigs have wings* ...

You know what goes great with pigs and wings? Tom's barbecue sauce. I've debated forever whether to share his sauce. He tweaked it until it was perfect and then guarded it carefully. I, unable since birth to actually follow a recipe, have continued tweaking. For the good of all mankind and summer cookouts, here it is.

Tom's Barbecue Sauce

28 oz can crushed or pureed tomato
1/2 c soy sauce
1/2 c honey
2 T lemon juice
2 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T olive oil
1/2 c brown sugar
2 t chili powder
1/2 t basil
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 t thyme
1/2 t cayenne
1/2 c white vinegar
2 cloves garlic
1 t mustard powder

Combine in a heavy pot and leave on a high simmer (but do not boil) for 2 hours. Cool to room temp the chill for 2 days before use.

A few things to keep in mind. In case you don't already know this, barbecue sauce is an art, not a science, and it's open to interpretation. Also, if you ever cooked with Tom you know he had a rule to double whatever the spices called for in a recipe. These spices are already doubled. But go for it and let me know if you like quadruple thyme (btdt, you won't).

Also, "honey" and "brown sugar" are open to interpretation. You like malt syrup? Go for it. You want to use light brown instead of dark brown? There are no rules in barbecuesauceland. In today's iteration I'm using maple syrup and maple sugar in their steads. I would not recommend corn syrup or white sugar unless you consciously want to highlight another ingredient. In which case  you have to report back.

Also, for the love of God, at least double the recipe. I usually quadruple it. After it's aged I throw it into ziplock bags in 2-cup measures and freeze flat, with newsprint between layers to keep them from freezing into a giant block.

And if you've stayed with me this long, you've earned a bonus "recipe." To make Tom's pulled pork, cook a Boston Butt in a slow cooker with a bottle of liquid smoke poured over (Gross, I know, right? But it works.) for 18-24 hours on low. Remove the bone and waste, discard the liquid, and and break up the meat. Return the pulled pork to the slow cooker, stir in about 2 cups of barbecue sauce and heat through. This honestly could not be an easier recipe unless you used store bought barbecue sauce, which I have been know to do and it hasn't killed me yet, And now I'm wondering what oysters in barbecue sauce would taste like.


* Excerpted from Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Road Test

Blue is me. Grey is 98's Auntie Jeanne.

You're welcome.

Oh, and another thing I forgot about until this very second. So, the tester gets out of the car and I hop in the front and we drive off, into the empty-ish parking lot at the Watertown Mall . And I turn to 98 who's still driving and say, "I'm sorry. But it's not too bad. When we get home, get back online and make a new appointment and you can retest soon and we'll just practice like crazy in the meantime." And he replied, "What are you talking about, Mom. I passed." And I was, "Um, no you didn't." I mean, I was there. I just saw this whole thing with my own eyes. I saw the guy stamp on the permit. I didn't know what it said but I figured it was "retest required." So I made him stop the car and pull over and show me his permit. And sure enough, it was stamped, "passed." I was flabbergasted. I spent the rest of the ride trying not to clutch the door handle too obviously.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Happy Four-Twenty To You

Before I begin, I respectfully request my friends who still think highly of me take their leave. Anyone who loves animals, please also see yourselves out. I’ll wait.

Are they gone?


Starting in December of last year, possession and consumption of weed in Massachusetts is now legal. That said, it’s still illegal to buy without a prescription. Which I don’t have.

When I was a teen I never tried weed because even then I knew that as a parent I'd be the only one of my peers that could tell my kids that I hadn’t. Imagine my surprise, then, when the time finally came, and they asked, and then they didn’t believe me. I was pretty peeved.

Since then I’ve just been curious.

The purchase and sale rules not yet worked out by the state, I knew couldn’t buy it. One day it just so happened that I gave a certain son not named 98 some cash. And in a completely unrelated occurrence some days later I found myself in possession of a plastic bag of a substance I can only describe as smelling like a cross between freshcut grass and vinegar. That maybe someone had left to rot for compost. It was awful.

Weed. I got some weed. Now what to do?

Not that I'd given it a whole lot of thought (I had) but I wanted an edible, so I decided on that old classic, brownies. After a bunch of lectures from people far more experienced in the consumption of cannabis about how  "It stays in your system much longer if you eat than if you smoke, and are you really sure you don’t want to just smoke it, Mom  stranger?" I found a recipe for cannabutter, which involves a crockpot, butter, some water (to keep the butter from burning and the THC from vaporizing) and about 8 hours, according to the Internet, but I could only stand the smell for about 3.

So I simmer in the crockpot per the instructions and then strain the mixture through cheesecloth, just like they said. Anticipating the yummy brownies I'd make with the butter, the cheapskate in me got the better of me, I saw the leftover  steeped leaves and thought to myself, "I bet that’s still good for something,” and set the bundle aside on the counter until I’d had a chance to look it up. In the meantime, I chilled the butter mixture and called it a night. This was on a Sunday and I figured I'd make brownies on Monday.

Maggie, if you’re still here you should leave now.

The next morning Zoet had a case of the Mondays. She wouldn’t get up to go outside, but who could blame her? It was January and still cold and dark and she was asleep. So I picked her up and brought her out, and she did her thing per usual. We went back inside and I gave her the requisite treat, but she turned her nose up at Milk Bones, holding out for Greenies which any dog knows are way better. So I tossed the Milk Bone onto the floor next to her (probably muttering about how if I wanted a bellyacher I’d stick with teenagers but I don’t really remember because, well, I'm getting to that. The rest of the morning is a bit of a blur.)

A little while later I was back in the kitchen; the treat was still unconsumed and Zoet was still lying on the floor, but now in a puddle of pee. I panicked, and quickly called the vet to let them know I was bringing her in, and off we raced.

They noted her unusual demeanor: clumsy, jittery, and peeing all the heck over the place. They reassured me, took her for the day, and sent me on my way. They’d be in touch after they ran some tests and knew what was going on.

Back home, head spinning, I sat down to breathe. My eyes fell on a sock Zoet had been chewing. I’m the first to admit that normally when I see something chewed up on the floor I’ll just leave it there, with the rationale that if I pick it up Zoet will just find another sock/t-shirt/towel to chew on, so I’m being frugal. Since she was gone I picked it up to toss it, and only then realized … it’s the cheesecloth from last night. The weed cheesecloth. The cheesecloth that had all that leftover weed in it. HAD.

Instantly, an angel appeared on one shoulder and a little tiny devil on the other. Do I call the vet and admit what I’ve found? Or do I pay for all those tests and keep my mouth shut? Prioritize the dog’s needs? Or humiliate myself? Will it be the dog? Or me?

Is Maggie still gone?

If I live to be 120 I shall never overcome the shame I feel admitting this: Pride won. I’ll just pay for the tests. I can’t tell them! What would they think?

At that very second the phone rang. It was the vet. The situation’s urgent, Linda, and we’re taking her to the emergency vet. I knew this was God’s way of telling me to come clean, so I spilled. The weed, the butter, the cheesecloth. I told them everything.

They had never had this situation come up before (that they knew of, at least no one had admitted it) and after some vet-to-vet consultations and some more observations, it was determined that there really wasn’t any treatment and that she’d be fine, but we’d just have to wait and let her sleep it off.

And oh my goodness, did she sleep it off. I made my butter on a Sunday, brought her to the vet Monday morning, and that poor little thing pretty much slept until Thursday. She was able to walk about as usual by Tuesday morning, and by Wednesday she had mastered the stairs but it wasn’t until Thursday that we got our first bark at someone out front then run to the couch to bark at them on the off chance the walk into the woods out back. Because that’s how we roll.

After the fact that I realized that the cats were all a little more lazy than usual. I surmise now that Ruby, who I fed on the counter to keep the other cats’ food safe, consumed a bit of the butter, and knocked the cheesecloth to the floor, where the other cats had a chance with it, before Zoet swooped in, in that Zoet way, and scarfed down whatever was left to be scarfed. They were all back to normal before I even realized they might need attention, too, so I left the vet out of that loop.

In case you've never seen one, this is what it looks like when a doggie is ... resting comfortably. Very comfortably indeed.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Newsletter 2016

Holiday Greetings from the Gentiles!

Well, 2016 has been nothing if not eventful. A hinge broke on a kitchen cabinet (stay with me here). This was the third time this particular hinge had broken and it was a corner cabinet and a pain to replace. So, if I had to replace the hinge I might as well replace the stupid door. And I can‘t replace just one door and have a mis­match, so I have to replace them all, so why not get that pull-out pantry I’ve been eyeing forever? And since I’m replacing the cabinets, I might as well move the fridge to where I’ve always wanted it and replace it with the French door model I’ve always wanted, right? But the new stainless fridge would certain make the ivory dish­washer look shabby, so that’s gotta go, too. And with the new appliances and new cabinets, of course I need a new counter, which gives me an excuse to put in a peninsula where the table’s always been. And you know what would really pop? A backsplash that plays off the blue flecks in the countertop. Don’t mess with me, hinges. When I go, I go all in.

Probably my favorite part of the whole project (which also included a new floor. There should be a law against using grout on a kitchen floor) – when they pulled off all the backsplash they found the walls were not sheet­rocked, but were plywooded. “We’ve never seen anyone do this before,” the project manager said. “You never met my husband,” I laughed in response, but secretly confident that a cabinet would never rip away from the wall from being overloaded. Oh, Tom -- always taking things to the next level just because he could. The counter installers called me “Deb” for good reason: Scrawled in pencil on the plywood, and not in Tom’s handwriting, the message, “I’m sorry Deb. Will you still marry me?” As far as I know, Tom only knew one Deb, and she did marry the scribe who was apparently visiting from overseas during the last kitchen renovation. I’d love to know what that fight was about.

In September I spent 6 days in Iceland. I wanted a place where they drive on the right, somewhere I could get to nonstop, and where language would not be a barrier, so Iceland seemed a logical choice. It was the coolest vacation I’ve ever had, in the most beautiful part of the planet I’ve ever visited, and on the flight back I was already plotting my return. Loved it. Loved everything about it.

David had an eventful year too. He and Hannah are still doing well.  Now a junior, he changed his concentration (they don’t do majors at SLC) from theatre production to computer science and advanced math­ematics. That’s almost the same, right? He’s also starting to think about grad school, or what else might come next.

I mentioned last year that Geof would be joining the Army in 2016. He did, indeed, leave for basic training and armor AIT in August. The Army was not a good match for Geof, and the Army agreed to release him from his obligations in Nov­ember. He’s back home now and planning to start school in January in an aviation mechanics program. So while his career plan no longer includes the Army, that experience got him on the path he’s on now, and he hasn’t ruled out returning to service after graduation. So I see a good year coming up for him, too.

We wish you all the best for 2017, but now that weed is legal in Massachusetts … let’s be honest, we’ll talk again in 2018.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Kitchen Update

Before. Note the missing cabinet door in the far corner by the window.
I picked the cabinets first.
Apparently I'm fond of light wood kitchens.
Then I picked the counter. I knew I wanted something
with a little more character than the plain ivory Corian, 
but I loved that  nearly indesructable Corian counter. 
I went with quartz. Apparently these drainage grooves are very European. 
La-di-dah. I just wanted to free up counter space.
My colors. I wanted to get rid of the tile and grout on the floor,
but also knew I didn't want hardwood since you step directly
into the kitchen from outside. I thought about trying to
add a mudroom, but instead I went with a vinyl plank floor
that is actually commercial grade with a lifetime warranty
in residential applications. The planks lock 
and it looks like hardwood, but is very soft on the feet.

Backsplash detail.
I'm not fond of the vast swaths of solid color of plain subway tiles,
but I knew I wanted a solid color with just a little visual interest.
This blue perfectly matches the flecks in the countertop. The grout is an epoxy-type that requires no sealing.
Only the wall behind the stovetop is on the diagonal. The sink backsplash and box window seat are straight..

The famous proposal.
She still loves you, man.
I had a very hard time finding them online when I was calling them handles.
They're knobs and pulls. Duh.

Now, the fun stuff.
Here's my pull-out pantry ... 

... and my broom closet! My brooms
have their very own space now.
The pantry and broom closet butt up against each other,
back to back. These tiny shelves  are perfect 
for the shot glass collection.

I kept my much-loved range, hood, oven and microwave. 
The microwave predates me, but man that thing is a monster,, and has
a convection feature. I put a warming drawer under the oven. 
The drawer has a slow-cooker feature, so you know I'll be trying a pulled pork in there soon.
I always wanted a french door refrigerator, but it couldn't go in its original spot because of the dining room wall, so I switched the oven and fridge locations.
The stovetop stayed where it was originally.

And what kitchen is complete without a pull-down, hidden knife rack
I never even knew I wanted one and now it's my favorite part of the kitchen.

Iceland, Part One

Iceland: Beautiful. Friendly. Rainy.
This sign greets visitors arriving at Keflavik International Airport,
about an hour outside Reykjavik. Words both wise and welcoming. 

Comprised of literally thousands of delicate layers, this formation reminded me of a fragile, sweet mille feuille.
From a little farther out, you see the basalt columns that formed naturally as the lava floes  spread and cooled and cracked  into their crystals.

 The photos above give a clearer view of the formation for sure, but I had to include this next view from a distance, for sheer scale. That tiny red dot at the cave entrance (center) is a person ...

Black Sands Beach was about a 2.5 hour drive from Reykjavik, outside Vik, on Iceland's south shore. I had decided early on that I'd stop at any information point/travellers' center/lookout that struck my fancy so the 2.5 hour drive ended up taking nearly 7, and I barely got there before sunset. I was particularly glad I was alone that day. If 96 and 98 had been with me, they surely would have smothered me in my sleep that night.

I drove past this memorial on one of the main highways several times before I finally stopped one day, expecting to maybe say a little prayer and be on my way. Sometimes I say a little prayer for people figuring even if I don't know their names, someone does. I was particularly touched by one of the markers: If you look closely you can see that one of the crosses has another, smaller, cross attached. I figured it was for a mother and child. I asked an Icelander learned the story. Roughly translated, 'These crosses are in memory of those who have died on [the road named] Sudurlandsvegur, between Reykjavik and Selfoss.' The memorial was erected in 2006 both as a way to remember the loss of life on the curvy road and to highlight for all the importance of maintaining the country's transportation infrastructure. I was very glad I stopped there and found this sweet, simple memorial.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

This will probably come up in the Christmas Newsletter, but ...

... I just got back from Iceland. More to come. But here's a funny story.

I was at a souvenir place looking for a magnet for my fridge. (Also coming soon: new kitchen pictures, including black stainless appliances that hold magnets! Yay for black stainless!)

I digress. So, I'm at the souvenir place and find a couple of magnets I like. I particularly like the first one, because Mark Twain is supposed to have said this about New England first, I think, and it's kind of a mantra around here. It was also crazy true about the few days I was in Iceland.

I also liked one printed in Icelandic but I didn't know what it said. I didn't want to buy it if it said something raunchy so I brought it to the cashier and asked her to translate. She responded, "I don't speak Icelandic." So I replied, "That's okay. I'll find another person to ask," and took back the magnet.

"No, no, no!" she laughed, and said again, "'I don't speak Icelandic.' That's what it says!" 

It was a classic Laurel and Hardy and I fear I embarrassed all Americans with my ignorance because ég tala ekki íslensku.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Happy Fatlipiversary, 96!

We all remember the great April Fools Day Blizzard of '97, right? In case you don't, it came at the end of an otherwise sparse winter, snow-wise, although I barely remember this, as Tom and I were still adjusting to the tiny human who had joined us five months earlier.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knew Tom, we had a very strict division of labor. The litter box  rule directed that he took care of the back end of the cats and I took care of the front end. Little did he know I early on discovered the rule's corollary: One cat's puke is another cat's gourmet take out.

Always looking for ways to educate myself about health concerns get out of the worst chores,  of course we I wanted to minimize my exposure to dangerous pathogens aforementioned worst chores when I was pregnant whenever I thought I could get away with it.  And until the day he died he took care of the litterbox, because "I might be pregnannnnnnnt!"

Another rule we had was that he did the driveway, and I shoveled the steps. This was our first major snowfall with the baby. We looked at each other, and at the snow outside. What we we supposed to do?  We finally decided,  "It's a tiny baby. Where is it going to go?" and put 96 on the floor on his back under one of those jungle gym things he could entertain himself with for five minutes while I went out and shoveled the steps. Really, no more than five minutes. I mean, it's three steps. How long could it have taken?

I came back in, and 96 had rolled himself over. I have no idea if this was his first time rolling over. But he was certainly new to the rolling over game, because he smashed his face in the process, giving himself his first bloody nose and fat lip.

Of course I took a picture. Then I applied the cold pack.

So, Happy Fat Lip and Bloody Nose Day, 96! Love you!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

This is Linda

This is Linda.
Linda talks a good game.
Linda is full of it.
Put your groceries away.
Avoid tragedy.
Clean the cellar more than once every five years.
Don't be like Linda.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Newsletter

Holiday greetings from the Gentile Family!

I suppose like every year, 2015 had its ups and downs. Two very sad moments came early in the year. First, when my mom, Ann, died on January 4, mere hours before her 85th birthday. And we lost Tom’s mother, Madeline, just a month later. In fact, her funeral on February 7 marked Tom’s fifth anniversary. They are all certainly loved, and truly never forgotten.

The kids are thriving this year. A sophomore at Sarah Lawrence, David is loving his academic life, including this semester stage managing a production of Marie Antoinette as the project for one of his classes. His very sweet girlfriend, Hannah, shares his interest in theatre production but is at SLC for premed. Hallelujah with a side of cowbell, she’s also teaching David how to drive. She’s in line for a lifetime supply of homemade cookies or maybe even some cold hard cash if she can actually get him a pretty little driver’s license all his own.  She’s a bit of a Renaissance woman.  Speaking of which, how picky is spellcheck at spelling Renaissance?” There’s 5 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

 Geof has had a pretty eventful year. Becoming the athlete of the family a couple of years ago (You may recall previous newsletter references to track and lacrosse. Or maybe you don’t because let’s be honest. This is the Christmas newsletter. Who reads them? Never mind who actually remembers them from this year to next? No one. That’s who.) this year, his senior year,  he took on football, wearing number 82 as defensive back and wide receiver for the Arlington Catholic Cougars. After visiting Old Dominion in Norfolk, VA over the summer Geof was beginning to envision his college life there and was even talking about starting ROTC once there. But the military bug bit a little stronger than anyone expected, and he spoke with a local Army recruiter around the start of the school year. He passed his physical and his ASVAB a few weeks ago and took his Oath of Enlistment on November 17. He ships out for basic training at Fort Benning, GA in August, 2016.

I am still at Dana Farber a day or two a week, and have also done some volunteering at the Greater Boston Food bank. Every now and then I think about gainful employment. Then I think about all the new people I’d have to meet, and all my weirdo quirks and foibles I’d have to explain or hide and I sigh and shrug my shoulders and go back to my rainbow hair and my knitting.  I’m putting the finishing touches on the blanket I’m knitting for Geof. David got his blanket in time for freshman year at SLC, but Geof certainly won’t be taking his to basic training, so I want him to have it before he goes.

I spend a remarkable amount of time cleaning up cat poop and dog pee. Or dog poop and cat pee. I don’t keep track. All I know is the clock is ticking on these animals and every time I clean up one mess or another, every time the contents of the kitchen trash can get spread across the entire first floor of my house, every time I choke on animal fur free floating in the air, I remind them that extraordinary life-sustaining measures become less and less likely. Still, Zoet does her doggie things, and the Scruffy, Pixel, and Momo do their kitty things and all stays balanced in the world.

So, that’s it from us this year.  We all hope you have a safe and wonderful rest of this year, and a happy and healthy 2016.                 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015

Ann Tagan Gillis

January 6, 1930 - January 4, 2015

A few weeks before her final decline, Mom's dear friend and neighbor, Elaine, sent her an amaryllis bulb. My brother Jack planted it for her and watered it, under her supervision. Then she was hospitalized and we abandoned her house for three weeks, including her plants. When we returned to the house the day after the end, this is what Jack found.

The official obituary is HERE.


Ann Tagan Gillis (Jack's Eulogy)
I'm going to start with a very famous poem about death.
Even though it's famous and about death, it's so jarring it's not heard very often at funerals--but in the case of our Mom I think it works.
Do not go gentle into that good night
by Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
It works for our Mom for a couple of reasons. First because she went out a fighter--fearless. For 84 years 360 days, she fought to live. For five days she fought to die. She won both fights, an absolute trooper to the end.

The other reason it works is simply because she loved Dylan Thomas. I remember her showing me that poem when I was ten or twelve. She loved reading, she loved literature, she loved words.So for her tribute today, first her children picked words to describe her, then we asked everyone we could over the last few days for words, too, resulting in the crossword puzzle we built as a tribute. The word Jeanne picked was about words.


We were such word nerds growing up that my Mom would give us, or occasionally one of us would discover, a new word and then we'd spend the rest of the day competing over who could work it into conversation the most. Mom's attitude was always: why use a 5-cent word when there was a 50-cent word that was ten times better?

I remember the year she resolved to read a book a week.

She didn't quite make it. Got to 50 and a half or so. If it was me, I'd have rounded up and called it done and dusted, but she couldn't because she had carefully recorded every book, with start and finish date, in a little spiral notebook which I think is still upstairs. She was detailed-oriented .... okay, okay, she was a little OCD, but in a good way. Just enough to keep her life in order and to help everyone she saw who needed help. One of the reasons why she was capable of anything, the big things, is because she was always in command of the little things.

Anyway, she read those 50 books that year, and hundreds of more since,  and loved them for the learning, a true philomath. For her, literature and learning and words were exciting.


For our Mom, as soon as her life was settled so she could be adventurous, she was, and remained so to the end. You would think we should talk about her eight day trip down the white waters of the Colorado River. The camping out, the cooking by the fire, the carrying out everything they brought, leaving nothing, and I mean nothing, behind. It's an adventure most of us will probably never take. Or we should talk about the trips to New York on the Eastern Shuttle to visit the famously secret 56th floor of Rockefeller Center where the Rockefellers kept their family offices.

But it's a non-adventure that shows how adventurous she was. Days before Linda's high school graduation, she was shopping for the party, and stepped off the curb in the parking lot and sprained her wrist, and spent the party in a sling. Mortified that people would see the sling and ask, "Ann! What happened to your arm?" And she'd have to answer "I fell off the curb at Stop and Shop," she decided to joke around that she had sprained it parasailing. People believed her. And the fact that no one batted an eye at her spraining her wrist parasailing ... Well, that's the mark of an adventure-filled life.

That was funny. She was funny and she especially loved dark humor, which I've heard tell is a Tagan family trait. She was compassionate enough to know when it was "too soon" for those outside the family, but for those of us inside the family, all the tragedy of life was fair game for a joke. Here's a funny tale from one of her favorite writers, W. Somerset Maugham:

"The Appointment in Samarra"

The speaker is Death
There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there
Death will not find me.
The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating gesture to my servant when you
saw him this morning?

That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

Last week, LAST WEEK, on her deathbed, our Mom was weak but alert, her eyes were twinkling and she bore a mischievous smile and I couldn't bear it so I asked, "Mom, what are you thinking about?

"Appointment in Samarra," she chuckled, with what remained of her breath. I giggled, too. After all that careful planning to stay at home, Death caught up to her in the wrong place. So she laughed.

That was oh so witty. But it was not only her wit that was elegant, it was also her style, her manner, her bearing. Everything about her was perfectly appointed, her kitchen, her scarves, her hair her yard, her ears. She was a real lady.

Which reminds me, I have to excuse something—we have to give our Mom one last excuse after a lifetime of them. Those of you who were at visitation may have noticed that her earrings didn’t match. In fact, not only were her earrings unmatched with each other, they didn’t even match her outfit.

Now ordinarily, our Mom wouldn’t be caught dead out in public like that . . . (Don’t say I didn’t warn you . . .) but in this case, each earring was a handmade gift by Jeanne and Linda. Mom gave her girls the love and enjoyment of craft. Digital or analog, papercutting or photoshop—and frequently both, as you see in the hundreds of personalized cards she created and sent over the years.

But it wasn’t just her daughters and not just craft; our Mom was a mentor to everyone who needed it--and that was pretty much everyone she met, even the medical professionals she spent too much time with these last few years.  She taught us things, inspiring things, that helped us live better lives.


Mom was as tough a person as we’ve ever known.  What initially came to mind while searching for words was that Mom was “tough... tough as nails” which brought up “galvanized nails,”... which sparked “galvanized.”  Sure, we know as a good liberal Mom was a Hillary supporter back in ‘08, but when she got an idea and wanted to act on it she followed Obama’s “fired-up, ready-to-go!” advice, explaining her motivation to any listener. She was so strikingly articulate they almost always got on the same page.She was ALL ABOUT righting a wrong and not only for her own self-interest, for instance with being unfairly labeled in “observation” after her fall and her subsequent assignment to a rehab. 

Even in her fragile state, she did the work, she networked, she EVEN asked for (or we should say “allowed folks to”) help. Senator Ed Markey even invited her last Summer to testify to Congress on the issue.

She did all she could to produce desired results, in any endeavor, big or small. It’s a good thing Andy’s new job isn’t customer support, if it were, he’d know to just put Mom on the “just-refund-her-money-in-full-and-give-her-a-coupon-after-you-hang-up” list.“Galvanized” is sort of a two-pronged (dual-meaning) word, too, which our Mom would’ve liked, and it fits perfectly with the word I chose.

Because once she got fired up and determined to act, she went about it in a special way. Our Mom never violated the law and very rarely broke a rule. But when a rule was manifestly unjust or pointless, she fought it. But why violate the law when there’s a technicality to exploit? Why break a rule when you can bend it?

Two instances. When she returned to college she took the CLEP life experience test, which is like the SATs for adults—it’s run by the same people, actually. So she took the test and she was so intelligent she earned the maximum allowed credits. She started at UMass Boston before discovering that they didn’t accept CLEP credits.

She thought that was uncommonly stupid. The whole point of that school at the time was as school for commuters and returners and the CLEP credits were created for returners. She told them that but they wouldn’t listen. At first. But over the years she wore ‘em down, she pulled strings, wrote letters, showed up at meetings were she was the only member of the public present, and eventually they gave in. The trustees of the University of Massachusetts surrendered to this feisty little lady. And now every student with CLEP credits can use them.But then a new problem popped up. In the meantime she had acquired so many classroom credits she hardly needed the CLEP credits anymore. But like those customer-support folks with their refund-and-coupon list, some Dean over their was smart enough to realize that it would be a really bad idea to try to tell Mom that now that she could get those credits, she wouldn’t. So they said, “Oh, hey, now you have so many credits we could almost award you an Masters. So how about you throw in a thesis and we call it a deal?” She did and they did.

The other instance is one of her own stupid rules. Once when I was 14, on May 31, 1967 just before midnight (I know the exact date because I googled it), Mom stuck her head through the doorway at the bottom of the stairs to my room and stage-whispered, “Jacky? You’re still up? It’s a school night! Turn off the lights and the radio and go to sleep.”

“But Mom” I whimpered, “The new Beatles album is coming out at midnight.”

“Well, you can’t listen to it up there because you’ll wake people up.” She said nothing for a minute as I was thinking, how the hell does she know I had the radio on AGAIN? She confessed later that the duct work went from my room down through her closet and acted as an echo chamber. After that minute she whispered, “Come down to the kitchen and we’ll listen to it together.

We listened to the whole thing through and looked at each other at the end and just said “Wow.” That was cool. She knew in that moment that her own rule was pointless—we had a million school nights in our lives but there was only one Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. So she subverted her own authority, because what was important to me was more important than some dumb rule.

What was important to her was injustice, and humane values, which is why the word we picked for Jimmy is

Whenever she saw the weak, the sick, the small, or the untutored struggling, she always protected them as best she could, from the songbirds in her yard threatened by those nasty neighborhood cats, Jimmy trying to cope with the world that was destined to hurt him. Or one of her friends up at the computer group desperately trying to figure out how to use this e-mail thingy to download a picture of a grandchild. She was a mother to all of us, and she was like a mother to all of you, and to countless others.

She was always there to help, and help she always did.


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