Category Archives: Growing up

A my name is Alice

When was the last time you jumped rope?


I loved it as a kid, not as much as roller-skating, but more than playing cops-and-robbers with the neighborhood boys. The problem was, there were never enough of us girls, and the boys were too boyish to jump rope, so we (my best girlfriend and I) had to make do by tying one end of the rope to a garage door.


I remember doing it on the playground at school, too – waiting in line for my turn, the silly songs we sang, and the occasional challenge to try double-dutch, with two ropes swinging in opposite directions.

Do schoolgirls still jump rope at recess?

A couple weeks ago I came across a group of young girls – they were an official neighborhood competitive double-dutch team – during a sort of street festival here in Atlanta called “Streets Alive”. The lady in the photos was having so much fun – and I imagine was remembering her own childhood just like me – that it made me want to give it a go. But for my bum knee, I’m sure I could have done it!

Sweet memories.

Outisde the touch of time

To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time. 
~Clara Ortega

This is one of those magical photos that I took almost by accident, but that manages to capture some of the truest parts of my brother Brian. We’d just come back from visiting a local auction, one of his favorite places, and he was pouring over the treasures that he brought home with him. In this case it was a box of old records. The look on his face, his posture and the lighting all contribute to a scene I think I’ve been witnessing my whole life as his kid sister… his total enchantment with anything related to music and with old, discarded things.

Violets: my nemesis

I’ve been trying to grow them for years; this is my latest victim picked up at the local hardware store. We only have north and south facing windows, so it sits on my south-facing desk, soaking up the winter sunshine.

Growing up, my mother had her beloved collection of violets displayed on the dining room windowsill.

Anyone have tips to share to prevent the untimely demise of yet another African violet?


All the chatter at work the last few days has been about the upcoming holiday meal and who’s going where and cooking what.

It’s a pretty diverse crowd and I’ve enjoyed hearing about everyone’s plans for Thanksgiving as well as their family traditions. My own family is pretty typical, I’d guess… a huge meal on the fancy china, but the star of the show is always the variety of vegetables we prepare; we always go a little overboard in that way. It’s hard for me to settle on a favorite, but Brussels Sprouts certainly top my list.

Is that weird?

(It seems like most everyone I talk to hates Brussels Sprouts!)

My answer is that if you don’t like ’em, you must not be cooking them properly.

; )

So tell me… what’s your favorite thing to eat on Turkey Day? Mashed potatoes piled high with butter? Or mixed with whipped turnips? Creamed (yuck!) onions? Lasagna? Arroz con gandules?

We are from

A couple years ago now (!) I invited my brothers to write a “Where I’m From” essay as a way to explore the story of our growing up together…

I’d treasured what they’d written and held the essays close to my heart, but never felt quite satisfied enough with my own version of our story to publish it here. I’m still not, really, but thought I’d share anyway; mostly because their stories make me smile today…

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From Kevin, the eldest:

I am from Mexican dinners, from Cadillac and Lucky Strike.

I am from the typical 1950’s urban sprawl home on a postage stamp property, cut from the fabric of a long gone family farm.

I am from the fuzz of a dandelion, the wind; not always litely blowing me through life.

I am from sauerkraut and pork chops and stomping feet, from Neil and Claire and VonOesen and Whary.

I am from the “last to arrive” and “last to leave” family.

I am from “be careful crossing Middle Road” and “Don’t let a stranger buy you a Coke”.

I am from a Protestant upbringing, but with keeping an open mind and finding my own way to the truth in life.

I’m from Jersey City, Mom’s Lasagna on Christmas Day and Dad’s antipasto on Christmas Eve.

From brother Neil opening ALL the presents on Christmas morning before everybody woke up, the other brother who broke everybody’s toys on Christmas and the Holly Hobby House debacle.

I am from family albums filled with pictures of days gone by, faces almost forgotten, slices of memories, stored in boxes, waiting to be divided on some future free weekend.

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From Brian, the middle child and family poet:

I am from the dirt field where we grew up as kids, from Band-Aids on so many skinned knees with wet shoes and soiled socks so often left in the downstairs foyer.

I am from that big house facing the field, where from our picture window you would show us the seasons as they changed from brown to green to gold to white, never far from its delights, if only to pick flowers next spring so as to surprise you.

I am from the Black-Eyed Susan daisies that grew so wonderfully there, unbothered by the wind, and that sturdy mulberry tree by the jumping fence behind Wolfkind’s, whose fruits always littered the ground with their sweet exhuberance and so stained our hands and lips with their purple goodness.

I am from Friday night fish stick dinners and the strength that was brought to bear in the face of incredible sadness, from Dad, from Grandma VonOesen, from Old Man Wheary.

I am from the solid determination of good Pennsylvania stock and from the hardiness of the anthracite coal our family toiled for so long to bring to light.

I’m that child you told to “sit up straight at the table and mind your manners,” so that Mom and Dad could brag to us and the rest of the family at holidays that they were never embarrassed to take us kids out to a fancy restaurant for dinner.

I am from that busy corner’s stick-built church where Dad was an elder on Sundays and us kids the freest of spirits along for the joyous ride to the corner sweet shop after Sunday School to pick out our favorite chocolate-covered treats. “Remember not to eat it before breakfast,” Mom always said. I am the one who usually could never quite wait.

I’m from a family from Shamokin Pennsylvania and from those Jersey City ballfields we mused about as kids from the raised highway as we passed by them on our way to Aunt Letha and Uncle Doc’s apartment in New York City for Thanksgiving, or Easter, and from Mom’s special lasagna and tomato sauce on Christmas Day and that chilled chocolate pudding we so loved from the icebox in those fancy crystal cups.

I am from the son of a son of an adopted boy who grew up strong and proud as the result of a shared love and kindness the Whary family gave, and from a man whose only son would attend school only to the second grade, but who would grow up to be a power engineer, role model and generous friend to so many people.

I’m from that white-haired Shamokin man whose youngest grandson’s persistence and drive for the better things in life would finally allow him to announce the coveted role of senior electrical engineer to his congratulatory wife at home.

I am the one you see in those black and white pictures from Gerald Square and Washington Park at Easter… the one in that fancy blue baby carriage that carried all us kids just the same, so snug and warm in our new outfits that Mom picked out with so much love and faith for our family’s bright future together.

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From me, the baby girl:

I am from paper-bag lunches, Scooter Pies and tea with Grandma.

I’m from the house on the corner with the weedy front lawn, a parade of Cadillacs in the driveway and pots banging from the stoop at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

I am from firethorn, spirea and quack grass. A neighborhood creek to play in, lounge chair forts at the pool club and ice-cold plums at the beach. A lonely dog staked out back and the shadow of a tall weeping willow.

I’m all legs, blue eyes and skin that freckles in the sun. From the radioman and the roof-model, Neil and Claire and others a part of the past now, too.

I am from late nights at the kitchen table, the coffee always on, talking long into the night. A daydreamer and a dawdler.

From the family that eats together stays together. From little pots that have big ears. From God’s eyes and the healing power of pyramid water. The temple on Osborne and Vacation Bible School at the church on the corner. From children are to be seen and not heard.

I am from the water’s edge and the dour faces of Pennsylvania coal mine country. I’ve never stopped looking back. Forever landlocked within my own body, I lose myself when far from the coast for too long.

From Uncle Doc who peppered his beer and ground his teeth and never spoke Spanish after Franco. From Grandpa with his cigars and baseball games on the radio in the parlor.

From a battered box of costume jewelry and a closet full of my mother’s clothes that I’ll never grow into. The baby girl, the tattletale, the spoiled one. I’m from the stories I heard, but never loved until they stopped being told.

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What’s most interesting to me, I think, are the things we each choose to claim…

Anyway… the template is here… give it a try, share your story.

Is there a badge for this?

Were I still a girl scout, these are the badges I might’ve earned so far in life…
Family living skills
Write all about it
Dollars and sense
High on life
Camp together
Working it out
Plants and animals
Listening to the past
Camera shots
Pet care
The lure of language
From shore to sea
Music fan
Your outdoor surroundings
All about birds
Let’s pretend
Car sense
And some I haven’t quite met the requirements for yet…
Ready for tomorrow
Stress less
Creative solutions
Finding your way
Making it matter
Sky search
Math, maps and more
Art in the home
Let’s get cooking
Healthy relationships
Ms. Fix-it
Globe trotting
Writing for real
I quit going to girl scouts about the time I started being embarrassed to wear the uniform to school… besides softball was more fun anyway. My big brothers were scouts and got to do the cool stuff, like real camping and hiking and getting dirty… not sissy sewing and camping in a *lodge* around the lake. Lucky for me, I got to go along on a few of those neat trips my brothers participated in… tho I was sorta left out for being the kid sister and all.
What about you?

Father’s Day

I create my father each time I think of him.

I mix mud with straw, invent a life of woven twigs, plaster it all together with fragments of memory; their edges sharp, the colors vivid.

This night, I assembled him from fractured recollections of years spent in the company of a brotherhood; this ritual that represented so much of what he used to be.

The white apron bordered in blue and the hollow sound of a gavel calling me to my feet, the mere mention of his name in this room bringing surprised tears to my eyes; the imagined pride in his sons on this special night as biting as the dawn on the November day that he died five years ago.

Sometimes I conjure him from thin air and a whiff of cigarette smoke, summon his memory from the sound of hard-soled footsteps on a wooden floor, see him in the glance of other men looking long over their noses and eyeglasses.

This is the gift in his death.

I have to try hard to remember him as he was in those last couple months before he died. Grown old and frail and vulnerable, he weighed nothing, asked for nothing, his face like an owl relief carved in worn rock.

I watch his head drop, his arm slide off the arm of the couch, a book slip from his lap. I wonder at this man who once held me aloft, in sky and sun, to look down on him. I feel sorrow and fear.

He was a changed man by that point. A flimsy quiet shell of himself.

I can not remember a time when he said that he loved me.

There’s an odd comfort in knowing my brother wanted for those words, too.

In my father’s world, the edges of things were hard and straight. His way was to focus on the small things, the details. My way is different; I loved always to explore the sharp edges of his world with the soft fingertips of mine.

My brothers didn’t understand that about me, about us, I don’t think.

I carry this part of him with me: whole parts of myself locked away for safekeeping; an emotional reticence that I like to think hard to see, but which others sometimes catch glimpses of. Stoicism disguised as strength. Nothing but space and sharp light, the sound of footsteps echoing off hard surfaces, endless empty corridors lined with locked doors.

I see him alive in my brothers now, alive in his hopes for them.

This is the gift in his death.

It is the same for all men. None of us can escape this shadow of the father, even if that shadow fills us with fear, even if it has no name or face. To be worthy of that man, to prove something to that man, to exorcise the memory of that man from every corner of our life – however it affects us, the shadow of that man cannot be denied.” –Kent Nerburn

The pic is of my two brothers… Brian in the funny hat on the left… Kevin on the right… on the occasion of Brian’s installation as Master of Philo Lodge #243… the first time in Philo’s history that a father and his sons all served in that capacity. Congrats Bri!

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If this reads as disjointed… well, I’ve been playing with it for months, since Father’s Day actually, and was finally moved to finish it, almost, by my brother’s post on the 5th anniversary of my dad’s death.

Days at the beach

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.
–Robert Frost

I grew up with a mother that loved the beach… whole afternoons were spent baking under the summer sun, a cooler filled with sandwiches and ice-cold plums. Childhood photo albums are proof that many of our vacations centered around a visit to the shore, as if living within a couple minutes drive didn’t already offer us enough of the ocean’s delights.

My father is mostly absent from these memories… his fair and freckled skin kept him under the beach umbrella or back at home when he wasn’t rescuing me from the breaking waves or my brother’s torments. I don’t remember much beyond the shock of seeing him in shorts, his legs whiter than white, some goofy looking never-worn sneakers, his trademark black dress socks and the huge mole that grew near his left knee. He used to tease that the little fish liked to nibble on it…


Someone, maybe him, or one of my big brothers used to let me ride on their shoulders in the water, out of reach of the sharks and jellyfish that I was so sure would devour me whole.

I spent a couple hours yesterday watching the same stories unfolding for any number of beachgoers… building sandcastles… bodysurfing… eating tuna sandwiches with a fine dusting of beach sand… the heady scent of Coppertone… all reminding me that this love affair with the sun and the water and the sand is in my blood, even though I burn just like my dad always did.

Any beachy memories to share from your own growing up?

Letter to me

Country music is a guilty pleasure I’ll admit to. The sappier the better.

Throw your rotten tomatoes at me now… get that out of the way, first.

OK… so.

I had this great creative writing teacher in the eighth grade and then again as a junior in high school. Mrs. Cella had us write daily journal entries which she would comment on once a week when she collected our journals for grading.

It occurs to me now that Mrs. Cella would’ve loved blogging and the interaction between writers and their audience.

Most often she wanted us to *free write* about whatever came to mind, in whatever format we chose. Those were painful, difficult entries for me to make, faced with a blank sheet of paper.

Kind of like blogging sometimes.


In her comments in our journals she was a writing coach, but as is often the case when working with adolescents, it gave her the opportunity, I suspected at least, to get into our heads and act as social worker and therapist; an adult we could be honest with in a *safe* non-judgmental arena.

Every so often she’d give us an actual topic for our journal entries and usually I enjoyed those; enjoyed a guide with which to focus my thoughts.

I remember one of the topics she gave us was the opposite of Brad Paisley’s idea with this song of his; rather than writing as an adult to our 17 year-old selves, she had us write a letter to our grown-up selves.

I’d love to be able to put my hands on that old journal of mine. Buried in the closet in my childhood home, one of my brothers probably found it when we sold the place and is holding onto it to embarrass me with someday.


(Ramble, ramble.)

Mrs. Cella often criticized my rambling away from the point at hand.

I like the spirit of this song, for all its hokeyness and thought I’d have a go at a similar letter.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Dear Laura,

For Godsakes stop being so shy!

Stop thinking you’re too skinny!

Go with the curls; one day you’ll laugh that you ever wasted so much time trying to have hair like every other girl.

That guy: dump him. Quick! Don’t wait till just before the Senior Prom. That’ll feel sweet, of course, but…

The quarterback of the football team wants to ask you out… and a couple baseball players too, but instead you’re wasting your time with that jerk.

Those other quiet girls in your classes that you won’t give the time of day to even… take the time to make friends with them!  They’ll write the sweetest things about you in your yearbook and you’ll wonder how you never even noticed them.

Dad will not be heartbroken if you drop Calculus. Honest.

Speaking of Dad… give him a break. Enough of your moodiness. Enough of the silent loathing. You’ll regret it sooner than you expect to.

Mrs. Martin… tell her what a great teacher she is. Tell her even though you’re sure she must know. You’ll understand one day how nice those words sound coming from a student.

Smile in your graduation photo… you’ll be looking at that sad face years from now wondering why it looked like the whole darn world was on your shoulders.


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Add something, if you would, of what you’d include in a letter written now to your teenage-self. Maybe just that one big thing.


I promise not to take points off for rambling, either.


We’ve always done a funny thing in my family at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Some people shoot off fireworks; we go out on the stoop and bang pots!

Anyone else do that?

I wonder if it isn’t a city thing that my parents brought with them when they moved down here to the shore. Growing up, I remember a few other families in the neighborhood that did it, but I’ve not met anyone since that looks for the biggest pot and the klankiest utensil as midnight approaches.


I think if I were to do it in the neighborhood where I live now, there’d be police at my doorstep within minutes. But if I get together with my brothers on New Year’s Eve, there’s sure to be pots.

And Brian playing the trumpet to add to the racket out there on the stoop.

Listening to him tonight, playing first Auld Lang Syne and then Reveille, I felt that sense of melancholy that seems almost inevitable on this night; another year done. Reveille tends to turn that around pretty quick tho.


I wonder Kev… did Dad play his horn on New Year’s Eve too, or am I imagining that memory?

Hope it was a happy and safe night for all.