Tuesday, August 26, 2014


For years I had this fixation on my mailbox. It was kind of like an affair. Unable to stay away, I ran out to check it two or three times a day, this mailbox that held my future in its steely hand. Would my manuscript come flinging back, or would I get a letter saying I’d sold it? Would an editor write, asking to see the rest of my book?  Or a worse possibility--would I leave the mailbox with the sidewalk pulled out from under my feet—dragging myself back to the house in a haze of rejection?    

At times I knew my fixation on the mailbox bordered on kinky.  

But hey, e-mail has made unsavory fixations like mine a whole lot worse. These days it’s my computer screen I rush to embrace like a clandestine lover. I run to this being first thing in the morning, several times midday, and in the last moment of longing before bed. Will my screen yield what I want so desperately . . . an agent?  Or even better, a publisher? 

If you think I’m crazy, let me tell you about my friend whose book is agented, and now sent out to seven publishers. She goes to the grocery store with her cell phone clutched in her fingers. “I can hardly pick up more than one tomato,” she says, “or even an avocado, because I have this thing in my hand. Every few minutes I need to peek at my screen and see if anything came in.  Like one tomato ago.” 

She finally admitted that a mere few weeks earlier, her phone suffered a brief, e-mail-free breakdown. “It was a relief,” she said, “to have both hands usable. I could go to the grocery store and get my stuff in half the time. Of course during that week I was always rushing  home again, tearing up the stairs to visit my computer.”  She sighed. “You don’t know what it’s like to be emotionally tied like this—to a laptop lothario.”  

“Oh, but I do,” I said. “Between me and my virtual lover, there’s this flight of stairs. I don’t gallop anywhere else, but I’m a lickety-split stair climber. As soon as I sit down, I become a dewey-eyed screen gazer, pouring my very soul onto this blue field with white letters, gazing at it with all the hope, all the eagerness I once bestowed on my teenage boy friends.”

Oh, Lord, I thought, my husband won’t like this. Or worse, he’ll think I’m nuts.

After this frank admission to the world I can see a problem arising in a somewhat bigger arena. Everybody will think I’m nuts.    

Monday, August 18, 2014



The woman tapped my husband on the shoulder and asked, “What year were you born?”

Rob happened to be standing at the counter of Der Wiener, ordering his usual Polish. He turned around, saw she was quite tiny . . . and also that she was Japanese. And very aged.  Ultimately, as usually happens with Rob, the two exchanged stories—not only that she was from the big island in Hawaii and ( to his surprise), didn’t speak Japanese but, to her surprise, that he and his family had recently been there.  

Before I go further, let it be known that Rob regularly astounds me as we watch Jeopardy. Some evenings he gets more right answers than the contestants. “How did you know the name of that river . . . the one that runs between Laos and Thailand?” I ask.

“I don’t know how I know. Must have heard it somewhere.” 

“And you knew what year the Hindenburg caught fire. How did you happen to get that?”  

“I saw it in the paper,” he said.  “I remember the exact year and month—and how old I was at the time.” He looked at me. “It’s one of those events I’ll never forget.”

“Well, I remember reading about the Hindenburg, too. Besides the awfulness of the description, and grasping that the blimp’s gondola was full of people and the whole thing came down in flames, all other facts escape me.”   

“I felt like I was there,” he said.

But back to the tiny Japanese lady and how it all began. “I was born in 1926,” she offered quietly.  And then again, “What year were you born?”

“A year later than that,” said Rob.  “Why?”

She touched a spot near his waist.  “I was just curious,” she said. “See this tag?”

Rob looked down and suddenly read her assumption—that he was an elderly man living alone, that somebody had to put him straight. 

She said, “Your shirt is inside out.”


Thursday, August 14, 2014


Words Count As Much As Pictures

            I didn’t expect a note like that—even from a granddaughter who’s good with words. Her handwritten card started with: “Happy Birthday,” and after a few thoughts about my apparent youthfulness, ended with, “We love you to the moon and back.”

She’s a grown woman, now, and married. But for me she sets a new standard in declarations of love.

As an author, perhaps even more as a parent, I’ve cherished my kids’ words as much as their pictures . . . possibly because I’ve carried some of their best quips in my head, ready to share at the drop of an Appropriate Moment.   

Saving Words began with my younger brother, who at age six, stood in our front hall with his trousers gone and his young legs an awful display of shredded skin and dripping fluids. “Oh, Hilary,” I cried, “What happened?”  I was sixteen.

“My legs are burned,” he said. And then he looked at me with understanding beyond his years. “I’m pretty badly hurt for a little boy, aren’t I?”

I was too shocked to answer--that he’d so perfectly grasped the situation . . . also that he’d managed to couch it in such perfect English. He survived, but I’ll never forget his words.  

Later came my own kids: Chris, barely walking, who took my hand as we went trick-or-treating. At the first house, a lady handed him a wrapped hard candy. He stood for a second staring at the yellow treat. Then he reached out, handed it back, and said, “Open.”

From babyhood, my kids knew I had a thing about choking. So when our oldest, Bobby, went with me to the park, he noticed a big, friendly dog with a tennis ball in its mouth. Leaning into the dog’s face, Bobby said earnestly, “You might choke yourself, honey.”

I wish back then somebody had given me the advice I give my kids and grandkids. When it comes to your children, don’t just take pictures. Write down what they say. You’ll soon cherish their words as much as their images.

So there’s our grandson, Dane, about four, who watched Rob’s ninety-year-old mother, Ruth, lean on her cane as she hobbled out our front door. After she was well gone, Dane leaned over an imaginary stick and slowly tottered across the family room. “I can do the old thing,” he said.

Only a year later, Ruth died. On hearing this, Dane asked innocently, “Is she dead as a doornail?”

On a daily basis, I’m reminded that my grandkids feel free to make up their own family labels. One of the boys calls me “Babe.”  Another addresses me as “Grandmama.” And then there’s the one who occasionally whispers close to my ear,  “Graham Crackers.”  

Now, with the next generation, I’ve been writing down what the young ones are saying. One day my little relative, Nora, then threeish, went to Irvine Park with her older brother, Oliver, five.  All the way out there, Oliver regaled the adults by reciting Capitols of States. Once at the park, without telling anyone, Nora rushed off to find a bathroom. The adult who caught up with her scolded her gently about dashing off without adult supervision. Nora took it only so long. Finally she broke in and turned to her brother. “Oliver, talk to her about the states.” 

As if I didn’t know it before, I realize our grandkids’ written words are just as precious as things they’ve said. And I have it here on paper, expressed better than any words of mine. For the first time, someone loves me to the moon and back.