13 March, 2011

The Untold Story

There are three dates of supreme significance in my daughter’s life. Hannah was conceived on 25 July, 1989. She was delivered on 4 May, 1990. We celebrate the role that medical technology and surgical finesse played in her rebirth on 17 March, 2005. When it comes to Hannah, there is much to celebrate. When it comes to Hannah, so much has been joyous, but nothing has been easy.
Hannah did not take that first instinctual gasp of air when she was born. The drama took place in that instant of what didn’t happen. It took the efforts of a pediatrician and several nurses to coax her to breathe. She was a nine-pound baby whose lungs were filled with melconium. By the time Hannah was seven, we knew that something was not altogether right about her breathing. Our active, bright child was petite – she did even make the height and weight percentiles on the growth curves in every pediatrician’s office; her place in the front row, center, of every class picture was assured. Despite her size, she was reading by three, calculating volumes of spheres by the time she was five. Hannah had exceptional strength, coordination and flexibility. She was recruited to compete on an elite gymnastic team when she was seven. But the simple act of breathing challenged Hannah. She struggled with asthma, chronic respiratory infections and recurrent pneumonia.
Summers were the best for her. Winters stopped her in her tracks. She rarely complained about the cancelled plans, abandoned vacations and interrupted efforts on performances and competitions. Over time, Hannah developed allergies to all antibiotics. In order to take an antibiotic, she first has to go through a desensitization process under the care of an immunologist in Boston. Rather than bemoan her circumstances, she channeled her energy into academics and pushed herself to the limit. In high school, we discovered she had needlessly suffered for years due to a misdiagnosis of a congenital lung abnormality. By the time it was detected, her condition had deteriorated into a life-threatening situation. After a radical lung reconstruction and ensuing drug therapy for aspergillus, Hannah reclaimed her life. It took a year for Hannah to fully recover from her surgery and treatment. She did more than simply recover. She pushed beyond the physical limits she had always known. The young woman she has become is filled with grace.
Sometimes a story is told in terms of what we can’t see. In Hannah’s transcripts, we can’t see how self-directed much of her education has been. We can’t see the times she was overlooked and forgotten socially because she was unable to attend school. We can’t see her unique ability to make lemonade out of lemons – in three languages! On my bureau rests an empty picture frame; it is surrounded by photographs of my three children, a favorite quote and a picture of my husband. I keep the small glass frame empty for one reason. It holds all the possibility of a thousand untold stories. Hannah is like that empty frame. She rarely looks back at what might have been. Rather, her eyes are fixed on the future and focused on all the bright magic of the stories she will tell.

September, 2008

I wrote this essay to attach as the parents’ statement on Hannah’s application to Georgetown University. Fast forward three years – Hannah is a junior at Georgetown. I could never have guessed that Hannah would have to take a medical leave of absence in spring of her junior year. Her lungs, once again, have raised havoc with her plans. She intended to spend four months studying in Tokyo. Hannah withdrew less than a week before the recent devastating earthquake hit Japan. My departed mother would have offered her wry wisdom, sotto voce, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Hannah at 7

March, 2011

10 March, 2011

Prayer Works

I have every reason to believe in prayer. My first prayers were memorized and recited by rote; they were part of the ritual of mealtime, bedtime and church. The prayers were not my own, but I laid claim to them. “Now I lay me down to sleep. The Lord is good, the Lord is great. Our Father who art in heaven.” I recited these words with the confidence that only a child has that God is listening. Prayer continued to be an integral part of my life as I entered middle school. Growing up, my mother’s younger sister lived with us. She was twelve years older than me and twelve years younger than my mother. My aunt tells the story of how she found me, on the day of her departure to her own apartment, kneeling, bible in hand, before a lighted candle. The thing is, I can remember just how I felt. How I was imploring God to look after this person I loved even if she did have to leave me. I wanted to pray that she would stay, but I knew, even then, that such a selfish request would go unheeded. Just about the same time, I changed schools. I met a whole new world of friends. On our walks to school and home again, we would talk about our teachers, school lunches and whether God existed. I listened, with interest, to a boy – a self-declared agnostic – explain his doubts whether God existed. I made the mistake of asking a devout Catholic boy how he had such utter certainty that God was real. I wasn’t intending to challenge him;I really wanted to know. I paid for that question with a fist to my solar plexus. I went down like a rock. I didn’t have theological debates with that crew again.
Over the interceding forty years, life has presented ample opportunities for me to pray. Driven by circumstance, I have turned to prayer over and over again. The numbers are impressive. A serious car accident, five miscarriages, one Alzheimer afflicted father-in-law in-residence, my husband’s resignation from his job on the day my first viable pregnancy was confirmed, a placenta previa, six months on bed-rest while caring for my one-year old baby. There were the many pneumonias and respiratory infections that plagued my first-born. There was the debilitating illness that wracked my second child for a year before her grossly inflamed appendix was removed. I fought the inexplicable degeneration of my joints that led to chronic pain and surgical repairs and my son’s struggle with demons we didn’t always understand. I used prayer through my eldest child’s lung surgery and battle with the fungi aspergillus and, my second child’s struggle with Ehler’s-Danlos Syndrome alongside the discovery that she had inherited this pernicious disorder from me. I prayed as I stood alongside my mother from cancer’s grasp to its defeat of her. Prayer has been a constant through the years of what my parents once tagged as my “many trials of Job.” My prayers were always answered. I simply did not always recognize the answers that were delivered for what they were.

Each decade has brought with it its own formula for successful prayer; how I pray, the exact mechanics of what prayer is, has changed with time. When I was a child, I would pray to God by calling out his name, then politely making a request. I prayed aloud for understanding and help. It seemed that I was successful using this approach; I began to think that this was a lot like a magic act I’d seen at a church fundraiser. A magician was hired to say the magic words, repeat our heart’s desires and AbracadabraShazaam, a rabbit, peanut butter sandwich or scarf appeared!! It was imperative that we limit our heart’s desires to items displayed directly on the table in front of us. I believed that I should never pray for something I couldn’t imagine.

High school brought its own set of worries and concerns. I noticed that when I turned to the same God I had prayed to in elementary school, I got similar results….despite the odds, things turned out for the best. . “God, please let the boy in eighth grade math notice me despite my leg braces and crutches.” He called that week. However, it was easy to read on the faces of the cool kids that it wasn’t cool to pray in public and definitely not in school. I decided to go underground with my prayer and call it meditation, instead. In tenth grade, I took some lessons in Transcendental Meditation (TM) and learned how to ohhmmm with the best of them. I went from being geeky to being hippie with little more than a mantra. Meanwhile, despite hardships, goodness - godliness – continued to be spill into my life.

In my twenties, my prayer methods evolved to asking for the highest good for all involved. I gave up the notion that I could know what would be the best resolution to a problem. I gave up believing I had any idea of what was on the table. I left it up to God to determine the outcome that would best serve everyone involved. I arrived at this acceptance by way of a funeral I attended for a young man who was killed in a car accident. His death left his wife and two young children disconsolate. The priest presiding over the service declared that humans have a restricted view of God’s will. He likened our knowledge of God’s intentions to a view of a parade -- seen through a knothole in a picket fence. Prayer was a way to make the view a little larger and bring us more perspective about our place in that parade.
My thirties brought a profound awareness that the best I could do was to let go and let God take over. It was a relief to know that I was never going to be cast adrift; in moments of despair, panic or loneliness, I could take a break to ask for God’s presence in my life. If I was quiet and still, God found me.
What served as a resort of last measure in my thirties was my go- to strategy as the mother of three children in my forties. I had enough sense to realize that life was too big, too complex, too much for me to tackle on my own. A little divine intervention was necessary. I decided moving meditations might be an adjunct to those long-ago thirty-minute TM sessions. I found myself asleep in five minutes when I tried long, recumbent meditative trances. (I have seen discovered that I can sleep sitting up -- an highly evolved skill, I might add.) I found a new way to pray. My mantra– heard as a buzzing in my ears-- was a short, staccato sound, repeated over and over……..GodGodGodGodGod. Though somewhat frenetic, this method kept me in touch with my greater power and it worked for me.
It was in this decade that I discovered for myself the indisputable power of sharing prayer. My cousin, Alison, always, upon hearing of my challenges would say, “I will pray for you.” I was touched that she would think of me. Finally, I was feeling so overwhelmed and full of despair that I submitted a prayer request and a ten-dollar bill to Unity Village. Within a week or so, the tremendous weight lifted from my shoulders. Cause and effect? I will never know for sure, but I do know that I drew comfort knowing my child’s life was not solely in my hands. As reluctant as I was to draw anyone else into my personal conversations with God, I discovered that when friends, family and well-wishers raised my prayers with their voices, my small, quiet voice was lifted. Whenever more than one person brings their clear intentions to inviting God’s presence in another person’s life, it is prayer. The whisper of thanks, the surrender to God, these are simple prayers of beneficence. Now. when my.sister-in-law says, “ Good-bye, I will pray for you.” I say, “Please do.”
In my fifties, I have, once again, devised a different approach to prayer that combines the magic of childhood, the quiet, stillness of my twenties, the letting go of my thirties and the prayer in motion of my forties. Prayer is more than desire; it is intention. The prayer of my fifties starts with mindfulness. I hold an awareness of that moment, letting it expand into my total consciousness. Gradually, I let thoughts and concerns drift through without latching too hard onto them. They come, they go with each breath. A refrain of GodGodGodGod taps out in a whisper at the edge of my awareness. The last part involves being aware of what follows. Expect and look for good things and they arrive. Ask for help, it comes. Sometimes in a form or in a manner I could never imagined or considered. Most often in a time frame that I find frustrating. However, with patience and time, I see order in all that transpires. I understand I am one small part of a much larger mosaic. Prayer lifts me and brings me joy even when I have lagging faith. I have learned that faith is a rugged weed and not easily exterminated. Even for an experienced gardener.

October 2010

08 March, 2011

One Week in the Pages of a Magazine

Possibilities are limitless with imagination as a guide. How else can you explain the thread that links Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown (Harper Collins, 1964), Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts (Warner Books, 1998) and The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs (Simon and Schuster, 2007)? I arrived at this commonality during a convalescence after recent surgery. During long hours of solitude, when reading was still a challenge for me, I let my mind drift through book titles I had read in the past. I did mental calesthenics – I challenged myself to list authors, settings, characters. I grouped them by topic, by publication date, by the date I first read the book. By now, it must be more than evident than I am a literary geek. Let’s simply acknowledge that fact and move on.
I started formulating a thesis that the books we read as children shape our dreams and mold our futures. Some of my favorite childhood books were T.H. White’s Mistress Masham’s Repose, Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, The Borrowers, and E.L.Kinigsburg’s From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I looked for adventure, a world within another world, a strong, moral protagonist and a satisfying conclusion. Every book that claimed my attention successfully drew me into its pages, lifting me out of my seat into its plot. Escape.
One of my earliest chapter books, Flat Stanley, recounts Stanley’s conundrum when a bulletin board lands on his bed, flattening him to a record four feet tall, a foot wide, and half an inch thick. At first, the novelty of his situation offers many distractions and numerous escapades. Stanley even solves an art heist. His condition eventually wears on him. His creative brother uses a bicycle pump to restore Stanley to his former stature. My daydreams allowed me to accompany Stanley on his high-flying adventures as a kite, down a sidewalk grate below the street and into the U.S. postal service. I catalogued and stored those pleasurable thoughts for future reference.
Thirty years later, I was, unconsciously seeking the same kind of thrill. Case in point, the book Where the Heart Is. This novel is almost entirely played out in a Walmart. The main character finds herself pregnant and trapped by circumstance and finances inside this giant big-box store. She shows resourcefulness and ingenuity in creating a comfortable world. Drawing from house wares, electronics, and the grocery section, she creates a comfortable environment to live in after hours. Despite all expectations to the contrary, she develops a real friendship with a man who, ultimately, changes and improves her life.
Another vault of mind and I arrive in the pages of A. J. Jacobs’s The Year of Living Biblically. I gleaned what I know about this book from a lengthy New York Times Book Review and a Barnes and Noble research expedition. A comfortable leather chair, a decaf. vanilla latte and a Sunday afternoon spent speed reading the book at Barnes and Noble. The crux of the book is that a less than religious Jewish man undertakes the challenge of observing his faith’s most cited biblical laws for a year. Much like Stanley and __LOOKUP NAME_________, the narrator lives in a world of his own making. He comes out subtly changed, but I will let him tell you about that. Suffice it to say that I was intrigued by the discipline and curiosity that inspired him to follow this path. Would I have the psychological muscle to commit to living so stringently? I completed a one-year Course in Miracles (in sixteen months). Does that serve as a predictor of probable success?
With all this hop-skip-and-jumping, I finally hit upon a thoroughly engaging idea. Last week, I was standing in the checkout aisle of Stop and Shop when it struck me. What would I do if, like Flat Stanley, I found myself compressed and flattened? With the scads of displayed magazines on my right, it was a no-brainer that I would like to enter the pages of a magazine featuring food as its theme. Trapped in an interior world with different rules, how would I do? Would I make friends, adapt, experience an epiphany of sorts? To challenge the notion, I pictured a miniaturized version of “me” hopping through the pages of Cooking Light magazine. For one week, I would eat and serve only recipes wrung from the 78 colorfully displayed recipes displayed therein. Twenty-one meals. On a mission, I visited Forbes Library to pick up a back issue of Cooking Light. I pulled out April, 2007, flipped through its pages, and began to digest my future.

MARCH 2008

Life with Charles

neighbors make,” then we were doing our part to be good neighbors. We had made good use of a four-foot, locked, stockade fence around the pool. There was a 40” picket fence with a locking swing gate around the play yard. Finally, there was a split-rail fence dividing our property from our neighbors’. As a mother, I was never willing to completely entrust my children to those fences. After all, even the Great Wall of China had been breached.
Charles never intended to go exploring, cause a commotion or inspire the careful placement of new road signage near our house. He was simply a 3½-year old boy who wanted to go vroooom. It was late morning on a hot May day. Charles’s older sisters
were at school. I was in the kitchen and Charles was in the fenced in play yard off of the kitchen. At the crunch of tires on the pea stone in the driveway, I peeked out the window and saw Dale. He came through the backyard in order to visit with Charles. I deposited a load of laundry on the dining table next to the slider. Dale came inside to grab a sandwich. We caught up on the news of the morning; while he ate, I folded. Charles was busy with his Tonka trucks cutting swaths through sand in the sandbox. After a kiss goodbye, Dale headed back to work. He paused by Charles, his hand rumpling Charles’s hair in a form of loving benediction.
With one quick, backward glance, I moved through the house distributing piles of laundry. I left leaning piles of clean, folded clothes stacked by bureaus and at the foot of the girls’ beds. I was always orbiting around Charles. I went to check on him. My son was not there. I called without response. I went into the yard to more thoroughly search the area. I was flummoxed to find the gate locked, but no sign of Charles. Irritation gave way to concern “Charles?” I called. Cold fingers of dread gripped my innards. My voice rose in volume and pitch, "CHARLES STRPHEN FRANK, answer me this minute. This is not a game!”
My brain sought to calculate statistical probabilities for the dangers he might face in what amounted to no more than four minutes out of sight. I was frozen with terror that he had drowned, been abducted or been hit by a car…all quite reasonable in a span of a minute. I felt crazy, desperate, helpless. Shaking the locked gate one last time, I reassured myself that he couldn’t be in the pool area. Against all reason, I had to see for myself. If he had somehow climbed over the fence, then unlocked the pool fence, he could be lying face down…I couldn’tcomplete the image in my mind. I held my breath as I made my way through both gates until I stood in front of the still, empty pool. I ducked into the small pool house to look for my stowaway among the filter, pumps and chemicals. I noticed the door was slightly ajar, but thought no more about that when I came up empty.
Reasoning that Charles must have slipped by me into the house, I turned back to the house. In an era before cell phones, I placed a distress call to Dale’s office, begging his assistant to have him call me the second he arrived. Like a lifeline, I clipped the cordless phone to my belt.
Seconds later, the phone rang. I summed up the situation in as calm a voice as I could muster. Before I could finish, Dale cut me off and said he would be right home. I searched the interior of our home – under beds, behind draperies, in the drier, under the workbench and in the dishwasher – all previous hiding places for Charles. I was conscious of seconds turning into minutes and I did not know where my child was. The rumble of pea stone announced Dale’s arrival. I raced out the front door.
“Have you found him yet?” he asked.
“No. I’ve been through the house, I don’t think he is inside. It’s been close to fifteen minutes, should I call the police?”
“You go down the street and ask the neighbors, and I will check the property. You checked the pool, right?”
“Not there. What exactly was he doing when you left? Was he still in the sandbox?”
“I took out the Barbie jeep for him to use but told him he had to stay in the fenced in area of the yard.”
It took three neighbors, two police officers, a man from the highway department and us to track Charles through the twenty acres woods and trails abutting our property. He was nearly invisible within 150 feet of the house, sitting in the jeep wedged in a copse of birch trees. Once he got stuck, he was determined to get unstuck. His technique involved going forward, cutting the wheel, backing up and repeating until the battery died. “Like Daddy does on the lawnmower,” he said. He didn’t walk home because I had always told him if you get lost in the woods, pick a tree and stay still. I neglected to instruct him to answer when called.
I feel an odd sense of history when I drive by our old house and see the prominent yellow road signs strategically placed one hundred feet before the house and one hundred feet after the house. The man from the highway department thought it was the least he could do given Charles’s nature. They read, CAUTION: CHILDREN AT PLAY.

Only once have I been upbraided in public for my lack of parenting skills. It was a harsh indictment, but the loud, chattering censorship of an angry woman seemed justifiable in light of the potential tragedy that day. One of the most important lessons I learned that day was to not underestimate Charles.
When my older children were in elementary school, our family participated in a car pool to and from school. We did not generally use our 1985 Jeep for the trip to school because, due to seat belt configurations, Charles’s car seat had to be placed in front. It was a time when the dangers of the front seat were well-identified, but an era before airbags had become standard. On a very occasional basis, I drove my three children and another child to school in the Jeep. Generally, they rode in our Mercedes station wagon.
One morning, my husband had the wagon, so I was forced to meet our rider using the Jeep. Hannah ( 8 years old), Kay ( 7 years old) and Charles ( 3 years old) sat like ducks in a row in the back seat from our house to the rendez-vous spot. Charles’s head in the rear view mirror was the same height as the girls’ heads because of the elevation of his car seat. When we arrived at our meeting place, a local minimart/ gas station, I parked the car while I transferred and buckled Charles’s seat into the front passenger seat. I left the keys in the ignition so as not to misplace them. When our rider arrived, I wanted to make a quick transfer. I can still recall the satisfying click of the belt buckle engaging after I tugged it down, over Charles’s chest and between his legs. Just as I walked around the car to the driver’s side, our rider’s mother pulled in along side of our car. I pivoted from the front seat of my car to the back seat passenger door of her car so I transfer her son and his schoolbooks.
As I extended my arm to open her car door, my car slowly started to move away from me. Instantly, I perceived that the car was rolling backward toward to (HIGHLY FLAMMABLE) gas pumps. Charles was in the driver’s seat, nearly standing up, peering over the dashboard. His hands were spread side grasping the steering wheel. He was looking out the front window of a car that was rolling in reverse. I heard myself screaming, “HIT THE BRAKES” as I ran after the car. I found my fingers tightly curled around the door handle I was running alongside the slowly moving vehicle. I was afraid to open the door only to have Charles coming tumbling out…perhaps under the wheels of .the moving car. Yet, the imminent danger of an explosion if the car collided with and ignited a gas pump was a threat I could not dismiss.
Abruptly, the car stopped. The car was about twelve feet from the gas pumps. It had negotiated misses with numerous parked cars and several incoming vehicles. Peering out from the driver’s side window were two sets of large, brown eyes. My daughter, Hannah, had jettisoned herself into the front seat and used both hands to pulls up on the emergency brake to stop the car. As I opened the car door, Hannah clambered back to her seat. Charles turned off the car key. The car engine shuttered to a halt. Then he shifted over to his car seat. I was still speechless as I watched him; my mouth was gaping. Charles gazed serenely out the window while he carefully drew the straps of his seat belt over his head and threaded them between his legs. He smiled when he heard the familiar, “Click.” The safety buckle was engaged.

I climbed in to move the car from its awkward stalled position. Suddenly, a woman marched out of the store and rapped her knuckles sharply on my window. She was screaming mad. “What kind of mother are you? They could have been killed. Your are irresponsible and do not deserve to have children. Some people should NOT be parents.” She may have said more – she probably said more, but I didn’t hear a word. I was looking at my children, saying a prayer of thanks for their safety. I felt a gratitude that I can still summon today when the other car pool mother continued to entrust me to take her son to school.

In the ensuing ten years, Charles has brought us to the edge of terror once or twice, to the verge of disaster occasionally (note: a beebee gun, an aerosol can and open fire may prove highly explosive) and to the precipice of despair intermittently. However, not a day goes by that we forget his humor, his intellect, his curiosity, his persistence and his drive for excellence in whatever endeavor he is pursuing. He is finding his way in the world and taking notes as he goes. He is learning from his sisters how to treat women, from his father how to treat friends and how to run a business. From me, Charles has learned how to make french toast, how to waltz, to have faith, and I hope, how to be kind to others. When we celebrate his birthday in a few weeks, we will have much to celebrate. Mostly, we can rejoice in our belief in the man he is bound to become. To Charles, on his birthday, I will simply say, “Mazeltov.”

July 2007


I have a belief; there is order to life. Events and circumstances are an integral part of a pattern to which we are too close to discern. In Portugal, I stood before a ten-foot wall. I saw the hand-wrought details on each of the six-inch square tiles as individual pieces of art. It was not until I stepped back about eight feet that I realized that the tiles comprised a vast and beautiful rendering of a Calais lily.
So it is with life. When life delivers a blow that seems too hard to bear, one asks, “Why?” When we stand too close to the mosaic of our lives, we are limited to a myopic view defined by the immediacy of our suffering. If I stand too close to tragedy, I see chaos. I see an unjust universe, a careless god. I must force myself to step back and see these events as part of a picture that includes the abundant magnificence of nature, the rich warmth of loving friends and family, and all the other sweet pleasures of life.

Dawnings August, 1989
Memorial Service January, 2010

The Geometry of Air

I have the benefit of all kinds of keen insights as I lay recuperating in bed. The strong light of a summer morning spills through the tall bank of windows beside me. The ceiling fan beats air conditioned air, churning it until it settles down upon me. Bathed in warm, yellow light, I am insulated from the summer heat that bakes the grass on the hillside beyond my window.
Throughout each day, my thoughts wander as aimlessly as a small, bare-footed boy with a fishing pole. They may alight upon a sparkling, bright revelation that promises to infuse meaning into circumstance. I walk around the notion, studying, then manipulating it. With a sudden flash, I am there. Standing on the precipice of understanding. Ready to take notes for other travelers. I enjoy that moment with a delicious sense of being connected to something greater than me. These insightful and uplifting moments of perceptivity command an intelligence that astounds me. Then, remarkably, I fail to write down these divine insights, postponing the moment of inscription too long. Like a spent display of fireworks, all that is left is smoke, the stench of sulfur and the memory of something truly grand. I have nothing more to show for my genius than a blank slate. I have learned that without benefit of pen and paper to plot the geometry of thought, it gradually slips away. I am left with the same fading feeling as the inchoate moments after a dream, the details sharp, but surreal, leaving me haunted for the remainder of the day.
Gradually, shadows of late afternoon begin their dance on my bedroom walls. It is that time when light fades from buttercream to dishwater grey. Still, the blades of the fan make their lazy rotation endlessly circulating the cooled air. There is, settled on my feet, the weight of a quilt, hand-stitched by my mother for my twenty-second Christmas. The colorful pattern of cotton squares has faded with the years, but it’s love and memories are intact. I reach down and pull it over my legs. The evening draft has grown too cool .
June 2007

Mary's Restaurant

I tasted a particular kind of liberty in August of 1968 -- blueberry coffee cake in Mary's Restaurant. In a coming-of-age ritual that I expect my own children will themselves enjoy, my parents allowed me to make the trek from our summer cottage on the Methodist Campgrounds into Oak Bluffs – by myself.
I would wake up at 6:30 a.m. or so, dress in yesterday's cast-offs, then tiptoe out the back door. I was careful not to disturb my parents. The world couldn't have been brighter. I was ten years old, an adventurer by myself! Tightly clutched in my curled fist, I held a dollar bill – plenty to buy a square of blueberry coffee cake, hot from the oven, and a glass of milk. At that time of the day, the narrow main street of town, Circuit Avenue, was deserted, excerpt for a congregation of trucks in front of Mary's Restaurant.
I would pull on the heavy, storm-worthy, door, then slip into a world of grown-ups. Sitting on one of the plastic-covered spinning stools, I felt surrounded by my peers. My favorite spot was where the U of the counter opened into the kitchen. I could see the backstage goings-on. Maybe catch a glimpse of the pan from which the coffee cake cooled, ready to serve. The waitress sliced a generous square, then used a spatula and one finger to deposit it squarely on a serviceable white plate. “Butter, sweetie?” she'd ask. “Sweetie?” I thought.
But she called everyone that. My venture into adulthood was not diminished. I would politely make use of the fork she provided, shoveling big mounds of cake toward my face. The blueberries would make sweet, juicy pops in my mouth. I soaked up the conversation like milk in bread. The births, the deaths, the marriages. Yesterday's big catch by the Larsens. The weather. The early morning chronicling of an island, more accurate than a newspaper.
There have been numerous changes on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs since that summer 25 years ago. Mary's changed to Lee's, now to the Pilot House. Other competitors have sprung up. The big crowd meets over at Linda Jean's. And the recipe for that heavenly piece of blueberry coffee cake, a slice of freedom was lost...

The man I married is from Martha's Vineyard. He has two aunts who live in Oak Bluffs, within hailing distance of each other. When we are visiting, we reset our watches for what I call Vineyard time. Time is not measured by minutes or hours, but by whom you see, what you do. In that mode, my husband inevitably finds his way to his aunts' doorsteps. Sometimes, I am with him. We can count on Susie for fresh coffee and baked goods between 5 and 6:30 a.m.. Any later, she has to reheat things, but she is always willing. Aunt Mimi throws open her door around 8 a.m.. Sitting around their kitchen tables, nibbling on homemade coffee cakes, sipping our coffee or tea; we share a moment of our histories. Now that they are growing older, Aunt Susie and Aunt Mimi sometimes buy Sara Lee or Entenmann's. But it doesn't matter. They both appreciate the value of slowing down, listening, conversing. When you stop in for coffee with my husband's aunts, you never know who might have drawn up a chair to that morning's table. Sometimes, the police chief, sometimes a son, sometimes an old friend or a grandchild. It is simply someone who is willing to slow down.
In today's hurried world, we all struggle to preserve a sense of making time for each other. Someone picks up some doughnuts on the way to work. Contractors cluster around a makeshift table on the back of a truck to share their break. After plugging little ones into a constructive project, parents manage to reheat some coffee, slice a piece of banana bread, call a friend.
One fall morning, after my husband and I had been together for over fifteen years, I was sitting at Aunt Mimi's table with the remnants of our snack strewn on it's cluttered surface. Realizing there were gaps in my knowledge of her past, I asked her professions before retiring, and even before running her Island-renowned tropical fish shop. “Well, that would have been when I owned Mary's Restaurant,” she said. I gasped then gaped at her, slack-jawed.
Somehow, I had failed to put together the pieces together. Aunt Mimi's real name is Mary, she explained. She had the restaurant for years until, finally, she was ready for a change, and sold it. My husband started working for her as a very young boy, washing glasses, busing plates. She described him as always a help, always a devil. In all likelihood, his path had crossed mine more than once before I ever knew his name. That is how, in a moment worthy of a shiver, the Mary of my past became the Mimi of my present.

January, 1994