Books Personal Essays


So, a few weeks ago, I was packing up to move to LA, land of no clouds and overly happy people. I was holding up each item and asking myself, “If this went in a flood, would you cry?” If the answer was no, I got rid of it. If it was yes, I put it in a pile for further consideration later. I started to feel uncomfortable with all the things I have carted around for years and years. They haven’t any use to me, have no sentimental value, and take up space that I do not need or use. And, because my apartment in LA is substantially smaller than my house in the Hamptons, I have the dilemma of expensive storage and travel across the land.

I think of my long ago deceased mother-in-law. She was very wise and taught me many things. She was here for a long time and lived in a huge apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York City. She had tons of stuff. Lots of times when I would visit, she would encourage me to take something that I’d admired.

“I’m not taking your things.”

“I don’t know why not. I promise you when I’m gone, they will be disbursed within days and you won’t even know they were once the culmination of my life’s experiences. At least I know if you take it now you will get it.”

She was right. Within days, everyone took everything. Really fast. But I never saw the pillboxes she collected put out on living room tables the way she had them all those years. They were divided up between a ton of us, and the power of them as a group together was lost along with my mother-in-law. I use the one I have for pills and think of her whenever I use it. I also took a small green marble elephant that travels in my handbag with me, and because my handbag’s journey in a given day can be tantamount to one of those disposals you have in a sink, it lost its leg. I feel badly about that. I feel like I didn’t caretake it the way she did and it suffers because of it.

I look at the hundreds of books around me. I never look at them. Never. My daughter will never look at them. Never. I think about a close friend of the father of my child (I am also so pleased when I call my ex that instead of my ex; he’s really not an evil man), Joseph Alsop. Alsop was a political writer (after JFK did the rounds on inauguration night, he took a girlfriend to Alsop’s house, woke him up and they all had eggs). He had a massive library filled with books he bought at used book stores. He wrote in them – in the margins and on Post-its that would stick out of the top and side of the book. You would pick up a book when in his library and read his notes. He actually had a card catalog for the books as well. When he died, a good part of the book collection came to live with us. We actually built a library for it and a librarian spent the good part of a summer cataloging it. I never once went in and looked at the books. My ex would tell you he does, but he would be lying.

Truth is, Alsop used the books for his writing and his pleasure. They didn’t mean the same to those left behind. I realize that my view of myself as a book person is limited to a fantasy, not my reality. The idea of the books around me is what I like, not actually looking at them. So, I am sending them to the local library for their book sale. And, I’m going to buy more books on my Kindle where they will not take up space I no longer have instead of hard cover. While I do prefer to touch a book when I’m reading it, truth is I can regroup.

My sister recently moved from two houses to one. She was telling me how mad she was at herself with the culmination of stuff she had. She said she had tons of broken suitcases (you know the kind on wheels where the wheels break off). She called ‘We Cart Your Stuff’ or some such company, and it actually cost her thousands of dollars to dump it. If she’d thrown things away along the road of her life, she wouldn’t have had the trouble she did moving.

So, between my sister’s experience, my mother-in-law’s lesson and my recent expedition in looking at my belongings, I’m traveling the road of life a little lighter these days. Feels good. I highly recommend it.

Health Personal Essays

Memorizing Phone Numbers

I used to know everyone’s phone number. I’d think about calling a person, pick up the phone and quickly, firmly, confidently punch in the numbers that made up that person’s identity. Knowing your number meant we were connected, and I really like that notion, especially now as technology takes us further and further from each other. Now, everyone’s number is in the contact section of my cell. I plug in their name and it’s dialed automatically. I don’t even have a landline at home. Some people feel you need them in case of an attack, but my feeling is that getting things like landline phones in case of an attack is like betting against yourself.

Back to memorizing phone numbers. I think we need to revisit this.

I drink Diet Coke; ergo I have to worry about memory loss from the aspartame in it. Remembering numbers is a synapse link that’s important to memory retention as you get older. Did you know that the short term memory capacity of the average person is between five and nine digits? That’s why numbers are seven digits. Do not ever say you don’t learn important trivia on my blog. I wonder if that is still true. We don’t memorize phone numbers anymore and I bet it’s like a muscle not used, it atrophies.

To be honest, I don’t even know my own number right now. I have two cell phones; one is my new business cell phone and the other my personal phone that has been with me for about ten years. My business cell number is on my email signature so I don’t have to give it out to anyone. I’ve had it a month, and I have no idea what the number is. Last week I was on the phone in my office, and the person I was talking to asked me for my business cell phone number. I quickly picked up my business cell, called my personal cell and read them the number as it appeared on my personal cell as it rang as the incoming call. How personally pathetic is that? Innovative. Quick thinking. And yes, pathetic.

I am a really busy person. I’m not an important person, but I am very busy especially now with the new job, moving to LA, finding Pet Jets for my dog, becoming Obama Mini Me and other personal goals. Why I decided I needed to do the following needs to be explored with a shrink if I had time for one.

I decided to memorize five new phone numbers a week. That was three weeks ago. So far, not so good. I have not memorized any yet. Here is what I have done many times since I decided to try this experiment. “I’m so sorry, I must have dialed the wrong number.” And,  I haven’t made some calls I wanted to make because when I dialed what I thought was their number twice, I gave up and went onto something else.

I know it’s a reach to say that my Partzeimers (my version of Alzheimers, I have it partially) is based on technology taking away the need to memorize phone numbers. I know that I have to take personal responsibility for my Diet Coke addiction and it’s repercussions, but I also would love to start remembering phone numbers to give credence to my relationship with my friends and colleagues.

How about you all answer your phones when I call, “Hey Chris, it’s 917.648.7182?” Support me in my endeavors to be a stronger memory person.

Movies & TV Personal Essays Women

Diversionary Explosions

I used to love what I call diversionary explosions. You know what I mean. When someone else’s drama takes you away from your own to do list. Or, when you can avoid doing that which is imperative to your happiness, future, or promise to another because something “came up” that takes you away from doing what you really should do. Some call it procrastination, but the difference is you pretend there is a legitimate reason you haven’t gotten something done. It’s the perfect camouflage and therefore leaves you not feeling guilty.

Perhaps you need an example. You have a ton of deadline work to do, taxes to prepare, commitments to people, etc and a friend calls. They have a drama which is more than two degrees of separation from you. Instead of murmuring for a few minutes and then getting back to what you need to do, you take on their drama, drop everything, head over to support and enable, and the next thing you know that which you were supposed to do is not done and the obscure diversionary explosion has taken the anxiety that you didn’t do it away – for a little while. You didn’t procrastinate, you helped a friend.

I feel that we do this as a country more and more. Entire hours last night on the Letterman issue flash before me and I can’t help but think David doesn’t need me to be involved in his drama. He seems to be handling it well on his own. Letterman is an entertainer. If what he does in his private life between consenting adults doesn’t allow you to be entertained, than turn the dial. But do we really need legal analysis of his standing for hours last night keeping us from the dishes, time with the kids, or emailing me about how much you love my blog?

I know people who sat in front of the TV for three days following Ted Kennedy’s death. I assure you they had things they were supposed to do. But you can set that aside ‘when something happens that takes precedent.; “How often will his funeral be on TV?” “I want to honor him by watching.” Huh?

Tim Russert was another one. I was surprised by my tears when he died suddenly. I didn’t know I liked him that much. But three days watching his life and death before me? I had real things to do. But while I was watching the TV I didn’t feel anxious about not doing them. He was my diversionary explosion.

I was on a teleconference recently speaking with a hugely successful sales person who must multi-task in a way that could make her God’s right-hand man. I asked her how she does it. She said, “I always do what is in front of me right away.” I knew what she meant and have never done it. I open emails and don’t deal ‘until later’ which often never comes. I open mail and put it in a pile. I look at the to do list and instead of doing it one item after another, I skip around and do those that are easiest rather than those that need to be done.

I bet Obama does his to do list and doesn’t let diversionary explosions into his life. He wrote a book, ran for the Senate, patched up a marriage in trouble, voted no on the Iraq War (now there’s a diversionary explosion) – all in a few years. The man gets his to do list done. Diversionary explosion issues is not part of his personal sentence structure. That said, when Iran’s nuke antics pop up, that kind of diversionary explosion is not in the mix with the ones I’m talking about.

Think about Michael Jackson. I saw the people lined up for days trying to make his drama their own. I could see just by looking at them that they had other things they should have been doing for their own lives and had dropped those things – and the anxiety around them – and headed to be part of the celebration of this complicated, troubled soul. I saw a bunch of them interviewed and one person actually said she went into major debt to get there.

So, today my to do list is filled with things like pack for the movers coming tomorrow morning at 9:00 am (Yikes), get my car packed which is being picked up at 9:00 am on Monday and get myself packed up because I’m being picked up on Monday to go back to my new Obama Mini Me, diversionary explosion free, white food free, valet-filled life in LA. Let the games begin.

Personal Essays


I live in Los Angeles now. I say it once a day out loud to someone to remind myself. Today I said it at the restaurant to the waitress. “I live in LA now so I will not have the pasta for lunch but rather the leafy green salad with the dressing on the side and iced tea.” No one drinks Diet Coke in LA.

One of the good things about LA is that you can drive everywhere. There is no parking but it doesn’t matter because there is valet at every restaurant and even at Neiman Marcus. There are young, great looking men standing there and they take your car and return it swiftly when you come out of wherever you were. I am very nice to those guys because I’m sure one of them will be the next Tom Cruise and I want him to remember me and mention how nice I was when he receives an academy award. But, back to valet parking in LA. Since there is very little parking, where to the guys take my car when I hand it to them? I asked a number of friends and no one knew the answer.

“I don’t know where they take the cars. Why do you care?”

“They park them in garages I guess. Why do you care?”

“Who cares? Why do you always ask about totally inane things?”

My LA friends are not as supportive as my New York friends.

I was not deterred. I didn’t think they parked them in garages because there isn’t time to get a car out of a garage and get it back as fast as they do. I decided to check it out. I saw a valet person trotting (the guy was close to running, but it really was more of a trot) down an alley so I followed him. There behind the restaurant, in the alley were a bunch of cars almost piled on top of each other. He took one of the cars out and headed back down the alley with it. I followed another valet guy last night and he took the car three block and parked it on the street. I couldn’t help wondering if my insurance would think this was fabulous. I tend to think not. Then last week at a Japanese restaurant, we paid the valet $4 ($5 with the tip) and he parked the car right in front of the restaurant at a meter exactly where I got out. I could have done that myself.

I’m sure there is a new business somewhere in this valet issue, but I haven’t figured it out yet. Suffice to say that it’s not my problem and I no longer care where they take my car.

Personal Essays


It’s 9-11 again, and that day eight years ago returns as clear as that crisp blue sky and brilliant orange ball of flame. My New York story is not the same as anyone else, but it’s not that different either. The clarity of it always surprises me, and I encourage myself to remember it in detail every year on its anniversary as if my memories give them all life once more – even if for just a moment.

It was election day, and I was driving out to the Hamptons to work on a campaign for a friend. I had just crossed the Triborough Bridge and was heading down the expressway toward the Long Island Expressway on the phone with the candidate. The towers were a mile south. I saw the first plane approaching, and aside from its low altitude no where near the airport, what struck me how fast it was going. Planes land at 160 miles an hour, and this plane was going 500 miles an hour. Then there was the ball of fire.

“A plane just went into the towers and a huge ball of flame just shot out of it. I have to go.”

Traffic stopped.

We all got out of our cars and watched the smoke pour out. No one said a word but about ten of us stood together near the railing on the side of the road. There was no where to go and nothing to say to strangers all trying to clear their minds of this unthinkable reality playing out before us. Then the other plane arrived. It came from another direction and it was higher than the other plane. It sort of dove into the second tower. I think someone screamed. It might have been me.  We were all hugging then, and I don’t remember when we started the huddle.

Then the fighter pilots arrived, which in some strange way was the most confusing part.

A man next to me said, “We are being invaded.”

“By who,” I replied. “Canada?”

We watched them circle the city and we still were without any commentary other than our own thoughts and fears. My first thought was getting back to the city to get to Sarah.

The first tower, shrouded with smoke, quietly slid to the ground and then the second. We all cried together. Not sobs, but silent tears that we didn’t want to wipe off our faces because they were marking the moment on our cheeks and our souls at the same time. It seemed unnatural to wipe them away.

Someone turned up the radio on their car and we all heard the commentary. I think it was Howard Stern.

Then a police car came down the side of the road half on the highway and half on the walkway. He said we had to drive, they needed to clear the roads for the rescue cars. I never got any of their names – my compatriots -those ten or so people who shared the most momentous moment of my life. That is a hard part of it all. I want to see them on this day, this anniversary of the death of American safety. We never exchanged names. There was no time and no thought of it in the moment.

A few days later, when they were still trying to find survivors, it was pouring rain, and I was walking Sarah to school. She has her own 9-11 story. Her memory is of being herded into the auditorium, asked to keep cell phones off, fearing that kids whose parents working in the Towers would hear the news before their parents could call and say they were safe; calls that in some cases never came. I can’t speak to her story because it’s hers, and the one thing about that day is that each and every friend and New York neighbor has their own story, different and similar to mine. But anyway, I was walking to her school with her, and I commented on the fact that the rain was gong to hinder the rescue. We are not a religious family, and her response hit me hard. “Maybe God needs to cry Mom. Just let him.” She was fourteen.

It really was the only time she commented on it all. And, it was the only comfort afforded me in those wrenching days.

But here is the thing. I’m so grateful to be a New Yorker and have my own story that day. I wear my story each day on this anniversary as a monument to those that went down with the towers that clear, crisp day. I take it to the beach with me each day on this date and somehow it’s a comfort.

Personal Essays

I Could be a Gardener.

Another summer is almost over and another garden didn’t happen. I have visions of myself, brimmed hat tipped away from the sun, shears in hand with a flat-bottomed basket over my crooked arm, cutting my peonies for arranging in fun vases set under my sink where my dishwasher detergent now sits. I am 56 years old, and I have promised myself since I was in my early thirties to do the garden thing. I move a lot and gardens don’t, so when I head to a new place, I leave behind the remnants of a never-finished garden.

This is like the yellow peony that never had a chance.
This is like the yellow peony that never had a chance.

Obviously, I love freesia. I love lilacs. I love roses. I love peonies. I actually bought a $150 peony one year and planted it. Planting one peony (it was stunning – forget the name, but it was yellow and lush and fragrant in the picture) ensures that your gardener who you bring in because you have no idea what green thing is a plant to come or a weed doesn’t have a clue either. Yep, he pulled that sucker out of the ground and threw it away. I cried. Not because of the cash, although I realized that I was ridiculous for sure, but because I had been such a bad caretaker of something so precious.

Then there is the vegetable garden I will live off of that hasn’t quite come to pass. My vision of trotting out to pick basil, cucumbers, and of course a variety of tomatoes springs anew every spring. Not so much. I am at the farm stands as always, wondering if the $60 plus bill is worth it. Yes it is, by the way. I even see cute wooden stakes (I bought them once) where I’ve written in my lovely script the names of the herbs I’ve planted for the summer dinner parties lasting long into the summer nights. My sister Leslie planted a veggie garden this year and had dreams of her niece picking the fruits of their labor and bringing them to the table. Her caretaker picked the beans (told her that they were going to go bad) and she is sure he replaced them with some from King Kullen when he dropped them in the kitchen because they didn’t taste the way she thought they would. Ah, the best laid plans.

I think gardens and flowers are important to feeling good. One of my favorite things is when my friend Claire, who is a floral and event designer, brings me a huge bunch of peonies from her garden every year. This year they were late, and I asked her every day where they were. I remember vividly the first time she bounced into my office with a huge bunch of them in her arms and I was truly ecstatic. (Trust me, ecstatic is not a word associated with me often.)

One of my favorite books to read with Sarah was The Secret Garden. Ok, compelling story of poor orphan girl making it big, yes, but really it was the garden. The idea of finding it, seeing it come to life and then living it. Not living in it, but living it. I loved it. I made a secret garden for Sarah in the bushes of the beach house, and that’s where a little plastic house sat, and where the Tiffany Turtles were let loose after they died but before Sarah knew it. I loved that secret place.

I understand that the best laid plans… and all that. I really do. But I also realize that 90 summers make a lifetime, and I can count to ninety licky-split. It’s time to fish or cut bait or should I say plant or move to concrete. Oh, right, I am doing that. Good decision.

Parenting Personal Essays Women

My Mother-In-Law on Marriage

A new, but good friend of mine is getting married the end of this month, and I just found out that I can’t go because of a business situation. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and I want to offer her something – some amazing piece of information about marriage that will make up for the fact that I won’t be there. I really have no business offering advice on marriage. I’ve been married twice, both unsuccessful and am presently alone. This track record does not make for advice giving. What to offer…

My mind wanders to my mother-in-law. She was an amazing woman. She was ninety when I met her, and she happened to live in my apartment building before I started going out with her son. Once I was getting into a cab she was getting out of, and I reached into the cab to give her my hand to help her out. She swatted at me with her cane and said, “I can do it myself!”

When I realized her son was my boyfriend, I told him the story and he laughed. “Well, she likes to do things on her own, and it seems to me you would like someone like that. She’s not going to be in your space. And, you remind me of her.”

She taught me many things. She had really long hair, but no one ever saw it down. She told me her hair down was reserved for her husband and only when they went to bed. Her husband had been dead close to twenty-five years when I met her, and every day at 4 p.m., wherever she was, she went into a room by herself and chatted with his memory about this and that. Every day. Twenty-five years.

She told me that I should know that a wife needs to be three things to her husband: a wife, a lover and a mother. “Never be the mother in your bedroom, and never be the lover anywhere but the bedroom.” Made sense, and while it didn’t work for me, it was probably because I just couldn’t approach it her way.

She told me other things as well. She told me that if you need to use someone’s bathroom, you have visited long enough and it’s time to go home. She told me that she had taken 90 plus years to accumulate all the things in her vast apartment, and that I should mark her words that by the time she was in the ground, they would be dispersed. So what was the point? She was right — her things were gone quickly, and I remember now the lesson of the waste of accumulated things.

She was very French, and so is my ex. She tried to teach me French, which didn’t work out so well, through no fault of hers. She was explaining once about how you determine which things are masculine and which are feminine when you assign the masculine or feminine to the noun, and she said, “Look, it’s confusing because there is no rule. But here is what I’ve noticed. If it’s something of worth, something you need or would want, it’s masculine and if it’s frivolous, it’s feminine. Sad, Christine, but you know men and they designed the language.”

She was cheap and hard and also commited to me as a daughter-in-law more than I deserved. I visited her weekly, and when our daughter Sarah was born, she did too. I tended to dress Sarah in Osh Kosh overalls when she was a toddler, so she could crawl and explore. I would deliver her every Wednesday in her overalls, and she would be returned later that afternoon in a dress. We never discussed it, but I knew my mother-in-law loved it. So did I.

So, my advise to my friend whose wedding I will miss, who reads this blog, is that she should remember to be the three things to her husband-to-be. And, that she should take some real time to know her mother-in-law in hopes she can find in her what I found in mine.

Personal Essays

I’m a Lucky Girl

I had a bad day. Suffice it to say I was almost arrested and my car was almost towed. I forgot my wallet and couldn’t get through the tunnel into New York City. I borrowed $20 from my daughter. As I was leaving the city, I got in the E-ZPass lane, but alas left my E-ZPass at home as well as the wallet. I gave the police officer who came to the car the $20 and apologized profusely for being the jerk that didn’t wait in the cash line. He asked me for my license, which I didn’t have. He said if I had no ID, I would have to have the car towed and go ‘in’ until they got proof of who I am. When he went back to the booth, I called Claire, who said, “There are a zillion illegal aliens in the country and they are going to take you in? Tell me where your wallet is and I’ll drive it in.”

When he came back to the car, I told him I was going to have a nervous breakdown if he made me go anywhere and towed my car, and I promised I was a nice girl who had a bad day and please could he pretend I was his mother instead of a possible alien with no ID.

“Look at me.” I took off the Gucci sunglasses. “Does this look like the face of anyone other than a disorganized person who doesn’t have her life in order? I can call a zillion people who will tell you my name. And then I’ll give you the iPhone I’m calling from and we won’t even call it a bribe.”

He finally laughed and said it was my lucky day. He let me go.

I started thinking about it. I really am a lucky girl. I’m one of those people that bounce back. I don’t stay down. I find something to look toward, and I am so grateful to be like that.

Driving home from the city, I was singing to my iPod, and Whitney Houston’s One Moment in Time came on.

“My finest day is yet unknown. Give me one moment in time, when I’m more than I thought I could be.”

Love it. When I’m more than I thought I could be. My finest day is yet unknown.

Isn’t that the best part of life? We don’t know when the best day is. The unknown future can be something much bigger than we perceive in the present. I love that about my life. The sheer possibility of it all. While the vote is in and I know I will never be a singer on the radio, I do know on some secret level that my finest day is yet to come.

I heard an interview with Kenny Chesney, the country singer, when I got home. He said, “I was just a kid who wanted to play a song on the radio.” And, he is now the most successful country singer in the world.

And then the fabulous Oprah mentions that she believes that God’s dream for her was bigger than her dream for herself.

So, here is the thing. I see those that walk around with what isn’t happening, and while I can go there for a few minutes, I know there is something in me that doesn’t stay there. I wake up the next morning believing.

And that makes me a lucky girl.

Personal Essays

If It’s Fifth Grade, This Must be Cleveland

Moving. People don’t move so much anymore. But at dinner the other night, my friend Randy mentioned that he’d gone to twenty-two schools by the time he was in high school. And tomorrow morning I’m picking up a friend at the airport who is moving here from San Diego. Her husband is driving across the country with their son and two dogs and she is flying in. She has been fighting cancer for the last six months; the chemo and radiation is done, and this is a new beginning. 

I’m not sure if I moved fifteen times by the time I was sixteen or sixteen times by the time I was fifteen. No matter. It’s my personal timeline measuring stick. When I ran away from home with three peanut butter sandwiches and one change of underwear in the back of my Red Ryder wagon, we lived in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, so I was six. When Scott Ricker took my hand and skated with me down a frozen stream, kissing me before sprinting away, we lived in Northbrook, Illinois, so I was thirteen. (Actually, I was twelve but I don’t want to appear like a ho.) When my grandmother died, and I flew to Cape Cod for her funeral, the airport was in Westport Connecticut, so I was nine. And so it goes. Where I lived is my chronological clock as to my age at the time my life memories happened.

I loved moving. It was a time to start over, recreate myself in whatever way I’d wished was mine in the prior city. I could be Christy in Chicago because Christy Haggerty was amazing in Cleveland. I could be the sophisticated Christine in Michigan, because Christine Elmford had breasts and wore a bra before the rest of us in New Hampshire.

I loved, at least in the early years, being the special person marched into the classroom by the principal, introduced to the class and assigned a seeing eye person to show me the ropes. Usually, the most gregarious of students was chosen for this task, so I was instantaneously drawn into the popular crowd. I have often wondered why they didn’t choose the smartest person so she could actually have a friend, and the new person would have her strong academic standards to mirror.

It wasn’t all wonderful mind you. There are real issues with moving so much. Where I lived in second grade, they learned to write in script in third grade and vice versa for where I lived in third grade. This meant I taught myself to write in script, because I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone I didn’t know how. Personally, though I hold my pen incorrectly, I think I have lovely penmanship, so not much was lost there. Where I lived in fourth grade, they learned their multiplication tables in third grade, and yes, you guessed it, where I lived in third grade, they learned them in fourth. Truth is, I never learned them – multiplication tables don’t have the same necessity value as writing in script. To this day if the multiplication is over a multiple of six, I have my own method of doing it. I divide it in half, multiply it and then double it. This is complex and calls for an example. Eight times nine. Four times nine is thirty six — doubled is seventy two. No one ever knew, and since I was not destined to a math path, there is not much of a down side.

There were bigger problems. I want to take you to the beginning of Bloomfield Hills Michigan, which was eighth grade, so I was fourteen and using sophisticated Christine. It’s early fall, and school has started already. 

When you move a lot, and are presented to the front of the classroom where everyone else has the security of a desk in front of them, what you wear that first day is critically important. My outfit is fabulous. It sings of cool from Cleveland Ohio’s seventh grade. It’s a Lady Bug purple plaid skirt with pleats, a purple v-neck sweater and knee socks that match the sweater.

The best laid plans go awry when you take a chance on purple knee socks on the first day of a new school where all the girls wear nylons with garter belts. I had nylons but they were safely tucked in my drawer for a dance, in case they had dances in Michigan.

I called my mother before second period and was able to set it right before I got to lunch, so not many people saw the Cleveland me. While the chameleon-like mentality of this approach to moving might seem without leadership qualities and warrant the lambs to a slaughter lecture, I assure you it is paramount to a moving person’s future in a new place. Being a leader can only take place after you are a part of the group, and if you insist in purple knee socks in a sea of nylons, you haven’t a prayer of being elected class president. Trust me on this.

While, for some, these stories are the basis for therapy years later, I can’t say that was the case with me.

It’s still with me in my adult years; this need for fresh starts in newly painted rooms. I still move a lot, even though there is no reason for it. If I am not buying and selling my houses under the guise of investment opportunities, I move the furniture around to create a new beginning every time my world shakes. Look, I don’t drink, and I don’t smoke. If the damage of a lifetime of moving can be added up by furniture purchased for the size of a different wall than the one presently housing it, I’d say I’m ahead of the game.

There is one serious lingering issue. In elementary schools across the country when I attended them, you brought in a dime each week to put in a savings account that was run through the schools. I am confident that we never closed those accounts as we left each city. Somewhere, across fifteen or sixteen cities in America, those dimes have added up to substantial amounts that I can’t quite figure out because – you guessed it – I missed Algebra in the move between Bloomfield Hills Michigan and Portland Maine.

Personal Essays Women

My Aunt Nancy

I have an Aunt Nancy. I’m not sure how old she is now, but she must be close to eighty. I have gotten to know her much better since starting this blog because she sends me comments almost daily. I am so grateful because they are always interesting, insightful and usually tell me something I haven’t thought about regarding what I write. Ok, it’s true, she is also my biggest fan and tells me all the time how great I am. But I swear that’s not why I’m writing about her today. 

The fabric of my childhood has Aunt Nancy in it, and I think we all have an Aunt Nancy.

Aunt Nancy lives on Cape Cod. We visited the Cape every summer staying at my Grandmother’s across the street from Aunt Nancy and her three kids. Aunt Nancy is very exotic; she has always worn her hair (and still does) in a tall, tall beehive with a colorful silk scarf tied under her chin. She always wears bright red lipstick on her lips, and she has the kind of Angelina Jolie lips that no one had back in the fifties, sixties and seventies. She laughs that husky laugh from deep within somewhere, and she uses it generously. She wears maybe a hundred silver bracelets on her arms so you hear her coming before you see her coming. She also wears huge, colorful kaftans and floats into the room. Her Jackie O sunglasses hide her stunning eyes, but she will lift them up on her forehead to look at you through and through. She would throw all us cousins out of the house for many a reason including her daily soap opera, her baths, or just because she’d had enough of us. My older sister was close to Aunt Nancy when we were young because she was exotic as well, but I was the in your face, tomboy, butch-boy haircut girl that really meant I wasn’t of much interest to Aunt Nancy. But I saw her and was in awe in the way you look at something you can’t quite figure out.

Let me tell you a few Aunt Nancy stories that sit seared in my memory like a branding iron’s message.

My Grandmother had Alzheimers which back then was called hardening of the arteries. Aunt Nancy finally put her in the hospital after caring for her daily for a few years. My mother, sisters and I flew out to the Cape during winter, I think to say our good-byes. We all piled into Aunt Nancy’s beat up station wagon (She never had money; who had time between the baths, soaps, cats, etc for business building?), and went in a blizzard to the hospital, after which we got an ice cream cone at Howard Johnsons. We were in the car, in the middle of the blizzard, six kids, two crazy ladies, driving down the four lane highway Interstate highway that goes through the Cape. All of a sudden, Aunt Nancy screams out, “Look at that idiot! He’s driving the wrong way down the highway!” She says it again and again about each consecutive car, never doubting her own direction, until my Cousin Cliff (the oldest and most aloof to the peon cousins beneath him) said, “Mum, you are driving the wrong way down the highway, not them,” after which he slumped back down into the car seat back into his book. Me? I was fixed on the ice cream cone in the middle of winter and couldn’t have cared less about which way the cars were driving. Aunt Nancy laughed and kept right on driving until the next exit.

When my Grandmother finally died, Aunt Nancy was sent to the store to get a lipstick for my grandmother to wear in the open casket. Aunt Nancy, not having much money, and being the kind of frugal that comes from genes that tilled the land since the Mayflower came over, found one at the store that was on sale for only 29 cents, so she bought it. I remember my mother looking at her mother in the casket with her Halloween orange lips in horror. I myself thought they were fabulous, and that my grandmother had never looked so good. I remember Aunt Nancy barking at my mother’s criticism, “She is only wearing it once! And she doesn’t care, why do you? And, if you cared about the color, you should have gone yourself!” I was flabbergasted. She was so right.

My cousin Jody, Aunt Nancy’s daughter, was very brave and daring. She was my age and we always hung out together. One night, she insisted (surely I would never have done it on my own) we sneak out the bedroom window in our pajamas and walk to Main Street in Hyannis to play Putt Putt Golf. We must have been eleven. We were also felons. We had played that afternoon with the fam, and Jody showed me that if you hit your ball into the dense bushes, you could go back and get another one. If you brought a ball in, you got a free game, so we hit our balls out that afternoon, snuck back later and had free passes. Anyway, we were minding our own business playing miniature golf at 11:30 at night, bothering no one in our pajamas on the Main Street of Hyannis, and my mother and Aunt drove up a hundred yards or so from us. My Aunt Nancy rolled down the window and screamed out for the entire world to stop and stare (They were all there, I assure you, the entire world), “You girls get in this car right now before I leave it in the middle of Main Street and get out and kill you.” It was the most danger I have ever been in to this day, and I loved every scary minute.

The thing is, imperfect as I’m sure Aunt Nancy’s life sometimes might seem to her, she lived it her way. She didn’t really care what others were wearing, saying, or doing. She is what she is and seems to me to be comfortable in it. Her missives to me regarding my blogs continue the message of my childhood to be who I am and not what others see me being.

After my post on Victoria’s Secret, she wrote me the following comment.

one of the funniest christmas gifts I ever got was a gift certificate to VS from Gary some years ago.  I learned later that all of his lady family members got one.  I laughed at the time wondering what the hell I could possibly get for myself at  what I  assumed was a sort of upscale Giorgio’s  ….I didn’t go in right away…  felt silly and didn’t want to be seen there..   but, one day I   finally bit the bullet and  walked in, shamelessly,  as if I owned the place, and had a wonderful time just poking around looking here and there, touching this and that…

the smells, the colors, the feel of everything was delicious and alluring..

I finally settled on some soaps for me and some flannel PJ bottoms for ‘ les girls ‘..  figured that was safe and the deed was done….

I haven’t been in since, but, in a strange way I sort of relish my one and only venture into ‘ the unknown ‘…….  in truth,  most ‘ unknowns ‘ are not as scary or fearsome as you might think….

I often ask her why she emails me rather than posting her comments on the blog, and she scoffs at her ability with words and with insights that might have been missed by others. I thinks she’s dead wrong. But here is the thing. I grew up in the fifties and sixties when women/girls still had the bars of becoming the status quo or be shunned, and my Aunt Nancy was the voice from the other side calling out to do your own thing when it wasn’t in Vogue. While it was a secondary voice, somewhere in the back of my mind, it was there as a beacon that it was ok to be just a bit different.

So, thanks Aunt Nancy for being so ingrained in the fabric of my youth and now, later in life, being the voice that points out something different to my experiences. If any of you in cyber space have an Aunt Nancy, write her a note today. I’m so glad I did.