NAILS1She carried anxiety like I do, but she tucked hers away expertly. She had lines on her forehead and made funny, sucking sounds with her mouth. Sometimes, she would fidget with her long nails or leave one cigarette burning in a crystal ashtray, and light another one. I adored her and fled to her for safety.

She was an expert on fun. Fun helped cover up the pain. Fun sometimes came from trips to warm, tropical places. She stayed in the shade then, or in the cabin of the boat. At night she would dress in her finery and order dessert for me before the appetizer course. She loved gin and caviar, and oysters and lobster and taught me to love these things too. The gin came later, but the lobster was consumed at six, on my birthday. I threw up all over the car, but she did not get angry.

Sometimes, we went to the southern mountains on vacation and she would pack gin in her suitcase. This was because the hotel did not serve alcohol with room service. Also in her suitcase were beautiful dresses and ladylike shoes with pointy toes and dainty heels. I once argued with my mother for weeks, wanting heeled shoes without a strap. I used Chapstick on my lips in place of lipstick and grew my nails and stopped biting them. She wore gloves when she went out on occasions. Some were short and white; others long and black. While she was napping, I would try them on and prance in front of her dressing room mirrors. There were four mirrors that swiveled and if I positioned them just right, I created a chorus line, wiggling and dancing to an imaginary song, gloves and heels adorning my kilt and woolen knee socks.

She slept well at night because she took a pill that knocked her out. We would call her in the evening, but mother would bang the black receiver down on the rotary phone. “Damn pills!” she would yell as she slumped in her kitchen chair, taking a drag on her low-tar cigarette. In the morning, I was often dropped off at her house before I went to school. She drank cold coffee and lots of orange juice. There was gin in the orange juice, but I never smelled it. She would map out her day in the morning. Maybe there would be a trip to the grocery store, in her gleaming, always new, Cadillac. Maybe she would invite her friends over and they would listen to Barbra Streisand on the Victrola while telling stories and chain-smoking. Sometimes she went clothes shopping and brought me with her. Other times, she would dance around her living room to Frank Sinatra, or paint my nails bright red, or let me look at the large charms on her bracelet that jangled when she moved her long arms. She sometimes danced on the coffee table, her feet bare, except for her silky stockings. Laughing, she would kick her legs and show me the flapper dances that she learned in her youth. She was beautiful then, and I knew that she had been stunning when she was younger. I could imagine her in a beaded dress that shook as she shimmied. I understood why he had been drawn to her.   She had a charm that was magical and magnetic and drew you into its spell.

I went away to college one fall, and called my family once a week on the hall telephone. The phone was on a small table, and there was a chair where I sat as I dialed home. Others hovered nearby, waiting their turn to make their calls. They pretended not to eavesdrop. I dialed home to tell my mother that I was fine and that I was doing well in school. That was the gist of these tedious, once-a week communications. This time though was different. I learned that she had died. I was young and the pain of loss was new to me. It was a loss that was not unique; loss is universal. I would learn, though, that she had left behind a legacy. I would dance with my children, and to sing in the car. I would sometimes allow them ice cream, before dinner. We would plan adventures and I would keep my children close and keep my heart light. I would talk about her and share my stories; the day she danced on the table at Kelly’s, the time that she gave me ten dollars and let me shop on my own in the city, the time that she told me to eat more slowly and not gobble up my food. She was a force greater than death and I hear her laugh now. It is in Oakland and in New York and in Middletown.



It was a small, smooth stone. Shaped like a flattened egg, it measured no more than two inches in length. At the lake, it could have been used as a skipping stone, but a decision had been made to save it instead. It had been stashed in the pocket of a fuzzy, fleece jacket and had remained there until its discovery, a few weeks later. The owner of the jacket was small as well. He loved the lake, and the trips that he would take there with his mother. When he found the stone in his pocket, he decided to put it on the shelf above his bed, along with a baseball that his father had caught for him at a ball game. When the weather turned cold, the boy no longer went to the lake as often.

One morning, the boy woke up and remembered the stone. He stood on his bed, pajamas loose around his hips, his feet bare and cold. Reaching up, he took the stone in his hand and sat back on his bed. Crossing his legs, he rubbed the stone between his fingers, marveling at its perfection. How many waves had caressed this rock, shaping it into this cool, opaque object of beauty? How long had the rock been tossed along on the shoreline, before he had scooped it up, taking it away from the place where it had belonged? Carefully, he dropped the stone within his bed sheets, creating a protective nest for it. Looking at it as he walked towards the bathroom, he thought of the lake. He thought of the feel of thick, grainy sand between his toes, the warmth of the sun on his back. He thought of his mother and of the wind blowing her hair, her face tilted towards him.

His splashed water on his face brushed his teeth and glanced at his face in the mirror.

Maybe he was looking older, beginning to change. He knew that one day, he would look into the mirror and decide that it was time to should shave. He wondered if he was beginning to look more like his father and less like his mother. He thought could see a hint of his father’s reflection as he turned his head and headed down the hall. The stone would not change. It would always look and feel like the object that he had found and kept. After dressing for school, the boy decided to picked up the stone, turning it and observing it from many angles. He lifted a sweatshirt from the floor, shrugged it on and put the stone in one of the front pockets.


His mother accepted his gift after he had rummaged for his backpack on the hooks by the back door. She straightened up, turned towards him and looked into his eyes. He could see that she, too, remembered the day at the lake. She took a minute to look at the stone, before she placed it in in a gilded, green bowl. The bowl contained keys, glasses and other things that she would commonly misplace, and so it was always on the table near the door.

As time passed, the boy would occasionally see his stone, if he happened to look in the bowl searching for his car keys, or a loose quarter for the parking meter. He became busy, and would not stop and study it in the same way that he had on the day he decided to give it to his mother. It was just a thing, no different than other things. Eventually, his mother would move the stone, placing it in a wooden box filled with other things. The box would be placed on a shelf in a dark part of the house.   The boy would come home and then leave again for periods of time. He would eventually shave, and pack his clothes in a duffel bag and drive away from the home. He would find the girl who he would look at in the same way that he had once looked at his mother, that day at the lake.   The stone would remain in the box.

The house became neater, sparer. One or two coats would hang by the back door. A small purse might be placed on the table by the door, and it would rest next to the gilded, green bowl. The boy’s bedroom would be simple, and used as a guest room for company. Sometimes, a few books were arranged on the shelf above the bed, but that was all. When the boy came home, he no longer felt in possession of the room. It was no longer his place.

The day that his mother found the stone was the day that she had removed the wooden box from the dark shelf. She had been packing her things in a cardboard container and had found the box, nestled next to a stack of old magazines. His mother sat on the floor cross-legged, and opened the box, lifting out the gray stone. She turned it over in her hands, looked at it for a long time. Eventually, she stood up, and then placed the stone carefully in the pocket of her cardigan.


IMG_0445It is that time of year; the time of year when, young or old, rich or poor, urban or country dweller, our hearts turn towards bodies of water. They may be the chilly waters of Lake Michigan, or they may be the enclosed, buggy ponds of New England. In many cases, on the East Coast, getaway plans often include the gorgeous, multifaceted coastline of the Atlantic Ocean.

I am made up of this briny, salty water. It courses through my veins as blood courses through the veins of others. It is where I spent my childhood. It is where I learned to swim and where I spent countless hours diving, body surfing and rafting. It is where I was stung by a Man-O-War, caught countless crabs for dinner and fished for dark, oily fish that I would eat for dinner. I would turn very brown, never used sunscreen, wore the same three swimsuits in succession and clambered off to the same small movie theater on rainy days. I would eat an ice cream or two from Springers, or decide that I was more in the mood for soft-serve ice cream with the frozen chocolate shell surrounding the luscious custard cream. Many early evenings, I would forage the cheap, Five and Dime stores, looking for shell bracelets or other similar treasures. My bicycle was my ticket to freedom, and I would careen around my neighborhood, or into town, one hand on a handlebar, the other hand feeling the wind blow through my fingers, or ringing the bell attached to my bike, warning those in front of me to move aside. If I had enough cash, I would buy a Fifth Avenue chocolate bar as a treat, somehow never gaining an ounce from my endless sweet tooth.

I would spend my formative summers right ON the beach. An unheard of extravagance now, it was a treat then, to be sure, but not out of the question. As a typical child, I took much of it for granted, until years later. Of course everyone goes to the beach, I would think. This is just what you do in the summer. My parents carted my brother and me to our beach house directly following the end of the school year. Shucking our tunics, jerseys and khakis, we threw on shorts and polo shirts and scrambled in the back of our family station wagon; a large, clunky car with plenty of room on the back for two kids to roll around with comic books, crayons and coloring books and mad libs in hand. Seat belts? Huh?? Car seats? Wha? This was fun. This was staring out of the back window at the drivers of the cars behind us, making silly faces, tickling each other in the ribs, or reading Archie and Veronica to one another. Our excitement would build as we crossed the first of many bridges that would lead us to the Jersey Shore; as will say in Philadelphia, “down the shore.”

Our house was a glass-fronted, modern affair. All of our rooms faced the ocean, paying homage to the vast sea beyond. I would wake up in the early morning to the sound of the surf pounding in my ears, yards from my bedroom. Waxing and waning, it called me like a siren as I scurried out of bed, eager to get outside. Having to wait until 9am before feeling the sand between my toes was torture. My torture included delicious, cream-filled donuts with which I would stuff my face each morning and the brand new, just invented, Lego set with which I would build wonderful model homes. Still, the sea called me, as it called Aeneas into its cold embrace. Come to me, it would seem to say. Hear my roar, feel the coolness of my water, feel the warmth of the sun on our back. Smell the salt air. There has been nothing quite like it, in my life.

Am I at the shore now? Do you assume that my passion for the sea continued throughout my life? Right on the second count. Wrong on the first. I made a fatal mistake; I fell in love with a wonderful, bear of a man. His family hails from the Midwest. He despises eating fish. Body surfing does not come easily to him. His swimming prowess is, well, so-so. Don’t get me wrong. There are many things he does well. He played football in college like a pro. He is a pretty good cook. He thinks with numbers instead of words; a skill I find impressive and intoxicating as it is something I cannot do. He loves children, animals and family. He loves golf. I mean–he LOVES golf. His love for golf is a crazy love, spawned from childhood. His family would drop him off at the course in the morning and pick him up at the end of the day. The schedule has not changed; or should I say, he drops his family off at home in the morning and picks them up at night. Just as the ocean was the backdrop to my life growing up, so the lush greens and brutal bunkers of the golf course were his. “So what?” you say. “Your marriage is fifty-fifty,” you say. “You should be at the sea while your love is on the course.” Yes-I might answer. But the course is near the city, and it is one of the best in the world. One cannot find a course even close to its excellence, down the shore. And the shore–it takes an hour or so to drive there, and the costs of home ownership and rentals have gone through the roof. These costs extend everywhere: not just here, but up and down the coast, from Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, all the way up to the rocky shoals of Maine. One family, right now–at least, this family–cannot have both golf and salt water. If I am lucky, I might carve a week here or there out of my summer to obtain my fix. My lucky husband, on the other hand, keeps his clubs in the car and hightails it to the course every weekend. My backdrop is not as portable as his and yet its scarcity gives it a more magical quality.

How strong, you ask, is love? I guess it must be strong. Because I sit here, alone, on a sunny hot day, dreaming of my beach. I picture a bike with fat tires and a basket on the front. I picture myself in a frumpy black bathing suit, cover up and straw hat. I see myself pedaling to the waterfront, flip-flops on my feet, towel in hand, umbrella collapsed in my other arm. I have the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in my beach bag, along with a beach read, my phone and my needlepoint. I have already slathered myself with70 SPF sunscreen. I am in heaven as I pick my way among throngs of beach goers, finding a spot on the sand to call my own. Dream. I close my eyes and dream of such wonders. Dream a little dream….

We all have our dreams, our fixes; memories that will last well past our ability to enjoy them in reality. Will my dream comfort me in my old age, as I sit in a nursing home, remembering my youth? Probably. I am damned lucky to have these visions, these memories. I have my youth and my parents to thank for them. In the meantime, I try each year to love golf in the same way that my husband loves the game. If you cannot beat them, join them? Maybe? I try. Maybe one day I will be on par with my husband. Maybe? I try. I hold out though. I hold out for my ship to come in, for the hidden treasure to be discovered, for the winning lottery ticket. One never knows. One can always dream. I hear the surf pounding in my ears seventy-four miles away. I don’t have to be next to it, to know that it is there.