Posts Tagged 'mother'

Dress Rehearsal

If all the world’s a stage then I have begun dress rehearsals for an off-off-Broadway drama, entitled Empty Nest. It’s a familiar, timeless story; I once played the ingenue in a dinner theater production starring my mother. After making a sweeping exit in Act I, I waited backstage for my cues as a voice-over in anxiously-awaited phone calls and letters to the leading lady.

Now, preparing to assume the lead myself, I am called upon to improvise, as the original script is still undergoing extensive re-writes. In the updated version, the ingenue, played by my younger daughter, is scripted for an encore; with her senior year and college applications looming, the dramatic tension mounts toward a second, more final, send-off. And, while the writer-gods debate my character’s ultimate fate, I have time to rehearse how I would like the action to unfold. Comedy or tragedy? I’ll look to the unsinkable Molly Brown, not Hedda Gabler, for inspiration.

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Toothing with Mimi

As what would have been my mother’s 94th birthday (January 18) nears, and housebound by the Blizzard of 2011, I am thinking of her, and of my snowless childhood in the Sunshine State. I wrote this in 2009.

In my early childhood, many days included a trip to the beach with my mother. Some days I came to swim or build sand castles, but often the churning sea was a decorative scrim, remarked only for the state of its tide — low tide being ideal for “toothing.”

By accident of prehistoric geography, the Florida beach town where I grew up is rich in fossilized sharks’ teeth. Vacationers line their suitcases with a bright array of scallops, clams and oysters, bivalves that the Atlantic disgorges split in half. Staunch shellers, pilgrims to the beach-combing meccas on the Gulf coast, would spurn the relics of a Ponte Vedra vacation.

Mom and I left mere shelling to the sunburned tourists whose blissful ignorance of sharks’ teeth worked to our advantage. Let them clamber over conchs with the ocean’s roar whistling inside: we kept our eyes peeled for more valuable unburied treasure. Make no mistake: our sharks’-toothing was a competitive sport, one where an 8-year-old and a 50-year old were evenly matched.

Beach Picnic, 1963

Heads down, we would pace the sand, eyes laser-focused to zero in on sharks’ teeth, black specks on the orange carpet of coquina. Trained by hours of toothing, Mom and I could readily distinguish all sizes and shapes of the tide-polished teeth from other black shells, imposters that conspired to fool our practiced eyes. To keep from poaching each other’s territory, we would hunt at a respectful distance, calling out triumphantly each time we scored a tooth. Occasionally I would feel a twinge of guilt when my younger, keener eyes gave me an edge over my acutely near-sighted mother, whose relative height put her farther away from the bounty at her feet. I eventually learned that it was unseemly to over-enthuse upon finding a small tooth, even though logic might argue that it was the proverbial needle in a haystack. In toothing, size definitely mattered, and the possibility of finding “the big one” was what kept us in the hunt day after day, year after year. Arriving home with stiff necks and sand between our toes, we would tally our respective takes before pooling our loot in a communal jar, claiming a proprietary interest only in exceptional specimens.

On my 18th birthday Mom surprised me with a gold necklace fashioned from one particularly fine tooth in our collection. I have worn it almost continuously since I left Florida for college and never looked back, and in the big cities where I’ve lived strangers regularly remark on my necklace. I enjoy their surprise when I tell them the tooth belonged to a shark millions of years ago and that I found it on a beach. Continue reading ‘Toothing with Mimi’

Mamarazzi

You and your sister are trying not to look like tourists as you stroll down Melrose Avenue, toward the Urth Caffe. The Southern California sun has made you thirsty, and you are approaching a prime celebrity watering hole. Scanning the sidewalk crowd, you wonder: is that Robert Pattinson smoking at one of the sidewalk tables? Could the petite blond be Reese Witherspoon ordering a post-yoga smoothie? 

And then, from a few feet behind, you hear, “Wait. Stop a second. Let me just take a quick photo.” You are caught in the hunter’s cross hairs.

Rolling your heavily-lined eyes, you pause, pivot a slimming quarter turn, tilt your head just so, and smile for the camera — but not with your eyes, as Tyra Banks of America’s Next Top Model would be quick to detect. It’s hard to shake Mamarazzi.

No one can embarrass you like your mother, especially when she’s armed with a digital SLR, stalking you like a celebrity. Continue reading ‘Mamarazzi’

You Go, Girl!

On the second anniversary of my mother’s death, I am posting a piece I wrote in 2006. It doesn’t have anything to do with E.B. White, but I think both he and Mom would appreciate that I spent an evening revising it, “omitting a few needless words” from the original version.

There’s a first time for everything. In my mother’s case it is attending her first rock concert at the age of 89. “Rock” as in Bonnie Raitt, not Guns N’ Roses. Let’s not split hairs here – this will be Mom’s first concert not involving a symphony orchestra or a big band.

Mom’s giddy anticipation has dominated our every phone conversation for the two months since I surprised her with the tickets and one of Bonnie’s CDs as an 89th birthday present. The birthday read, “You’re just a young person that a lot has happened to.” I fly in for the concert from my home near Boston, bringing backstage passes secured by my husband, an old friend of Bonnie’s from her time at Harvard in the late ’60s. Continue reading ‘You Go, Girl!’

In Defense of Standards

I had not read anything by David Foster Wallace until, following his premature death by suicide late last year, I could not open a paper or magazine without encountering another of the dozens of anguished and adulatory tributes calling him the greatest writer of his (my) generation. My curiosity piqued (the more so after learning that, like me, DFW had been a competitive tennis player), I bought his 1,000-plus-page novel Infinite Jest and a slimmer collection of essays, Consider the Lobster. (A three-pound paperback edition of the former waits patiently in my bedside stack until someone invents a contraption that will suspend and hold it open so that I can read it in bed without injuring myself. I recommend the essays to DFW novices — those who can countenance never eating lobster again and the withering criticism of Tracy Austin’s vapidness in “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart.”)
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In Appreciation of John Updike

In hearing the sad news of John Updike’s passing this week I suppose I should not have been surprised to learn that E. B. and Katharine White were among his earliest fans and that, likewise, Updike was an admirer of EBW’s.

In a January 1962 letter to Updike, EBW wrote:

I would rather read an unwritten novel by you than a written one by almost anyone else. The piece in this issue is wonderfully moving, moved me wonderfully, is almost unbelievably good, except I believe it….I keep trying to discover what it is (what mysterious thing) that elevates writing to the level where combustion takes place, and I guess it it is simply that in writing there has to be an escape of gases or vapors from the center — Core Gas, that is. And even this explanation is unreliable, because God knows there was always a lot of gas escaping from Hemingway but a lot of the time it reminded me of the farting of an old horse.

Continue reading ‘In Appreciation of John Updike’


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