Radio Diaries

Essay: Loving Your Life

May 18, 2018

Most obituaries are rather similar—idealized portraits full of memories and tributes and good deeds.  But occasionally I read something original and striking that makes me think—not only about the person who died but about myself.

This happened recently when I read the sentence:  “He loved his life.”  He loved his life!  I wondered if I could say the same?  It haunted me, that phrase, and I began to talk with friends about it, asking what they thought it meant, to love your life.

Essay: Blame Me

May 11, 2018

“Maybe I wasn’t the greatest mom,” I say, “but I must have done a few things right.”

“None,” my daughter says, grinning. We are sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and catching up. Sara is married now and working two jobs, so we grab whatever time we can to be together.

“Maybe there was one thing,” she says, and I wonder what it could be. Hoping she might say how much she appreciates the way I read her books or helped with homework.

“You said I could blame you,” she says. “Remember?”

“Remind me.’

Essay: Generosity

May 4, 2018

I grew up with a very frugal father.  Having lived through the Great Depression, he had a “cash and carry” philosophy.  This meant you paid cash for purchases and didn’t purchase unless you had cash.

My mother was the opposite of frugal which was a source of problems in the marriage—problems my father often brought to me.  “She spends so much,” he complained but I couldn’t stop her.  What I could do was be careful with money and I still am.

Essay: Creating Chaos

Apr 27, 2018

Years ago I worked with a woman I’ll call Janet.  She often arrived late, full of apologies and excuses.  Her car wouldn’t start, the dog got away, her kids missed the bus.

We all sympathized at first, but when the behavior persisted and the excuses came round again, we just looked away.

Still, I enjoyed Janet’s company and occasionally we got together outside of work—where it was the same story.  I’d be waiting at the restaurant for a half hour before she rushed in, breathless and explaining.  She ran into a friend, she had to answer a call.

Essay: Black Coffee

Apr 20, 2018

In my family, dinner ended with the children being excused to go play while the parents and grandparents stayed at the table to drink coffee and talk. At first, I was eager to leave but as I got older, I yearned to stay and listen.

When I was finally invited to join the adults (somewhere in adolescence) I discovered the price of admission. If I drank half my milk, I could fill the glass with coffee. What a privilege! And what an awful taste!

Essay: Being Safe

Apr 13, 2018

In my mid-twenties, I moved to Chicago to live with some college friends.  Our apartment was on Dearborn Street, an interesting old neighborhood a few blocks north of the Rush Street jazz clubs.

I had never lived in a big city before and although it seemed full of glamor and possibility, it also seemed full of danger.  I was on constant high-alert, imagining a mugger down every alley.

Essay: Asymmetry

Apr 9, 2018

A big silver maple lives a couple blocks from me, taller than any house on the street. Staring up, I notice how crooked the tree is, how unbalanced where its branches have been chopped off. Year after year, the city crews have trimmed it to make room for power lines.

Essay: Lenten Breakfast

Mar 30, 2018

I get up earlier than usual on a school morning and my father is already shaving in the bathroom.  “Well, well,” he says, “Looks like my date is ready.”

“Aw, Dad, I’m still in my pajamas!”  But my outfit is laid out on the bed—my red plaid dress and patent leather shoes.  Today is the Father-Daughter Lenten Breakfast at our church.

Essay: Anticipation

Mar 23, 2018

I grew up with a father who had some kind of proverb or platitude for every occasion.  One of his favorites was, “Anticipation is always greater than realization.”  Since I was just a kid, I assumed he was right.

He was warning me to not get my hopes up, to be prepared for disappointment.  Maybe he thought this would protect me from getting hurt.  But it’s a rather bleak invitation to the future.

Isn’t being young all about dreaming big and aiming high?  When I told a friend about my father’s advice, she said, ‘You might as well kill yourself.”

Essay: Solutions

Mar 16, 2018

I stood in the doorway of Art’s office, asking for help.  Art Maha was my boss—a corporate sales star who’d been promoted to advertising manager for the whole company.  It was a big manufacturing company—and he wanted to make us look as good as we were.          

I was in my mid-twenties with a master’s degree in English and no advertising experience.  But Art had hired me as a writer—to help his engineers describe our products in ordinary language.  Which meant I had to learn about those products—high-precision components of materials handling equipment.

Essay: Spider Rescue

Mar 12, 2018

It’s early winter and spiders are making nests in the corners of my ceilings.  They hide themselves so well, they’re hard to spot—but when I do, I’m not happy.

Now I know that all life is sacred, including spider life.  And while I respect their right to be, I prefer them to be outdoors.  So I fetch the step-stool and reach up to capture them in a kleenex,  and gently release them onto the back porch.  My husband scoffs at this ritual.

“They’ll die anyway,” he says.

“But I’m giving them a chance,” I say.

Essay: Recipes

Mar 2, 2018

I pull out a file folder called “Recipes” and paw through the wrinkled, stained papers to find Sharon’s “White Bean & Barley Soup.”  She has translated the quantities for a crock pot and I follow her pencil marks sideways up the page.

Later, when the soup is bubbling in the pot, I reflect that it is seasoned not only with oregano and thyme but our long friendship.  Sharon and I have been trading recipes since our daughters were toddlers, crawling around at our feet.  Today we are both grandmothers, still sharing menus and cups of tea.

Essay: Rain Changing to Snow

Feb 23, 2018

Rain changing to snow in the forecast. Two doors down, a young man hauls a roll of carpet out of the house. Virginia’s house, I think, but not anymore. She died last summer at age 88 and a young couple has bought it. Their first house.

A slim woman staggers out onto the porch under another roll of carpet and hands it up to the young man who has backed a pick-up truck into the yard. He covers the carpet with a blue tarp and pulls up the hood of his jacket.

Essay: Peak Experience

Feb 16, 2018

We climbed steadily for four days and set up camp at 10,000 feet to rest before our descent. Deep valleys fell away into shadow while the white peaks of the Himalayas stood out along the horizon.

At a distance from our tents stood a tiny stone hut—a Buddhist place of worship—with a single prayer flag fluttering from a tall pole. I stepped through the low door and laid marigolds on the rough altar.

While most of our group of seven women wanted to relax, a few of us decided to hike to 13,000 feet the next day. Surely, we could see more if we stood higher!

Essay: Inheriting the Couch

Feb 12, 2018

I have an old Victorian couch which belonged to my grandparents. It has blue velvet upholstery and a curved wooden back. Although its delicate little legs look too small to support it, the couch has proved remarkably sturdy.

As a young girl, I sat on this couch with my grandfather, my feet just reaching the edge of the cushions. He read poetry to me and showed me his big books of art reproductions.  The couch wasn’t blue then but covered in a beige fabric that scratched my bare legs.

Essay: Free Spirit

Feb 2, 2018

It was the end of the nineteen-sixties—that decade of conflict and liberation—and I was  working in Chicago.  Young and single, I enjoyed being on my own, being a free spirit.

Then a boyfriend asked me to visit him in California.  Ray was renting a house west of Hollywood where he and his roommates were waiting for their “big break.” Everyone I met seemed to be waiting for a big break—as an actor, a director, a screen writer.

Essay: Dime Store

Jan 26, 2018

A few months ago I was out on my bike and stopped at the Ben Franklin store on Eighth Street for some stickers and yarn.  It reminded me of the dime store I knew as a kid, the one we always called “June’s” because my mother’s friend worked there.

While my mom chatted with June, I browsed around in the back where the kids’ stuff was:  trading cards, jacks, marbles, crayons, coloring books, furnishings for a doll house.  And since I  had very few dimes, I looked long and hard before I put my money down.

Essay: Caretaking

Jan 22, 2018

Last summer, my husband had a serious heart operation and was in the hospital for a week.  While visiting him there, I marveled at the efficiency of the staff—doctors, nurses, attendants, food servers, custodians.  Everyone so capable, courteous, upbeat.

Then Dick came home from the hospital and it was me.  Just me, the primary caregiver.

“You’ll have to do everything,” a friend told me—and everything turned out to be more than I had imagined.

Essay: Brown Sweater

Jan 12, 2018

Glancing down, I see a bug on my sweater—but no, it’s just one of a million little balls of wool that have pilled up on this ancient garment. And as I look more closely, I am suddenly and properly embarrassed.

How can I wear this ugly old thing? The cuffs are crusty with food, the sleeves fuzzy with cat hair, and the pockets stuffed with Kleenex. It is the most disgusting sweater on the planet, hands down, and I put it on every day.

Essay: A Place for Myself

Jan 5, 2018

During my first year at a university, I lived in a single room in the dorm. The girls on my hall were fun, but at the end of the day I needed my own space where I could do my homework and play my Frank Sinatra albums.

Still, when the opportunity came to pledge a sorority, I seized it. I thought it was a chance to change my shy, serious self into one of those popular girls—the ones who were gregarious and social and attractive to boys. My friends thought I was crazy.

Essay: Blizzard Conditions

Dec 18, 2017

I stare out the window at what the weather man calls, “Blizzard conditions.” Heavy snow, strong winds, poor visibility. And I have to admit, it’s just beautiful!

Easy for me to say because I’m standing here in my nice warm kitchen. The storm is wild and wonderful as long as I don’t have to travel. As long as my loved ones don’t have to travel. I review the list and am grateful they’re all at home today or living far south where no blizzards threaten.

Essay: Wooden Elephant

Dec 11, 2017

Some years ago, I traveled to Nepal with seven women and spent some time trekking in the Himalayas.  We also visited a jungle park in the southern part of the country where we rode on elephants, another kind of adventure.

Toward the end of the trip, I began to buy gifts for family, friends and colleagues.  Seeing a small wooden elephant, I thought of my secretary who collected miniature elephants.  Then I bought it for myself, because of the jungle ride.

Essay: Voices in the Dark

Dec 1, 2017

When I was a child, I didn’t need a nightlight. What comforted me was the sound of my parents’ voices downstairs in the living room. Lying in the dark, I would hold very still and listen. Not for their words exactly, just the soft murmur of conversation.

If I didn’t hear them, I would get out of bed and tiptoe to the door. There, I strained to detect the slightest sound—even the rustle of a newspaper—to confirm their presence.

If everything was silent, I would go to the top of the stairs and call down, “Mom?”

Her musical voice would reply, “Yes?”

Radio Diaries: Treats

Nov 17, 2017

My husband and my cat are waiting up when I get home.  I am late and know my husband has been worried.  As for my cat, I see no evidence that she ever worries about anything.

No, she has waited up because we have an evening ritual.  I throw her some cat treats which she likes to chase.  My veterinarian said they help remove tartar and I’m glad they’re good for something because they smell terrible.

“You must have had a good time,” my husband says.

Radio Diaries: Studying Poetry

Nov 14, 2017

When my granddaughters were about eight and ten, I offered to teach poetry as part of their homeschool curriculum. One afternoon a week we sat around my dining room table to read and write together.

It wasn’t long before Emmy asked, “Why are we reading more boy poets than girl poets?” A teachable moment. Because that’s what I studied in college, I explained. Literature written by white males and taught by white males.

We spent the next year studying African-American and Native American poetry. Followed by  Chinese, Japanese, Latin American. And lots of poetry by women.

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