Tuesday, June 20, 2017


I'm distracted, sitting at my desk, trying to work on a complex edit.

It's the birds... just outside the office window in the tree that was just a sapling when we moved here almost 11 years ago.

I don't know what kind of birds they are (I leave such things to my birding half-sisters) but each fall we find the remnants of a nest no longer needed on the ground beneath the branches. While they are in that tree, we are treated to early morning vocal concerts filled with trills and whistles.

We had birds near the Mt. Laurel condo in which we lived for 19 years before coming here. But living on the second floor, we didn't benefit from their songs as often or as audibly. Still, they were there, along with the noise of traffic on the roads in front and next to us and the incessant roar of landscaping equipment.

In Berlin, where the girls and I "grew up" together from 1978 to 1989, we had birds, the shouts of children at play, nonstop barking dogs and the meows and yips from our own pets. We also had music... all kinds of music playing at all hours, from classical Mozart and Beethoven on the phonograph to 80s rock 'n roll on MTV, the new craze everyone in our household followed.

As a child, I took piano and voice lessons, practicing at home the requisite half hour per day, walking into town once a week to either Mrs. Bozarth's cozy cottage with the huge baby grand in the living room or to Mrs. Ewald's home, the manse of the local Lutheran church where her husband was pastor and she ran through the scales in her lilting soprano.

My parents were music lovers and I was never criticized for playing my Elvis records over and over again. When they took dance lessons at Arthur Murray, my stepfather taught me to jitterbug, usually to one of Elvis' or Bill Haley's classic songs.

To this day, if I close my eyes and concentrate, I can hear the sounds of each place in which I lived. Voices of those I loved, long gone but never forgotten, are harder to conjure up. Sometimes only a single word or a snippet of laughter echoes in my mind before it slips away. The old home movies don't help much. They preserved the faces and the occasions, but left the voices to memory.

The birds are singing as I write. Someone's horn just blew as a car passed the house. Otherwise, it's quiet. Silence is good, but things like the gentle lap of the ocean, the roar of the waves in the wind, the gurgle of a happy baby, the deep laughter after a joke, the halting voice of an aging relative or the sweet murmur of a loved one's voice are the pieces of life we remember.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

My mother

She was a beautiful lady, both inside and out. As a child, I often wished to be as pretty as she, but I settled for "smart" because it at least seemed something positive I could hang my hat on.

Mom went through life with an attitude that was part-positive, part-negative and part-resignation. She went about the business of keeping our home (when we finally had one of our own) as inviting and warm as possible. She wasn't big on cooking, and thus I didn't learn to be a creative cook, settling instead for feeding my family a steady diet of same-old, same-old. She kept the house neat, often reminding me that, if a house isn't cluttered, people will automatically assume it is clean. I follow that philosophy to this day.

With all the turmoil of my growing up (fears, insecurities, boyfriend troubles, etc.), Mom was the steady comfort I could always count on. When I dated a foreign exchange student from an Asian country, she masked her discomfort and welcomed him into our home. When later I chose a man 17 years older than I (and married), she spoke her mind but then allowed me to work myself through that traumatic period of my life.

Mom loved me unconditionally.

My stepfather used to say she would defend me if I committed murder. He was far too early for the Trump brag of the same nature, but he meant it in the same way. To my mother, I could do no wrong, even when I was very wrong.

She had her first mastectomy when she was 48. We waited out the five-year mark and rejoiced when it passed with no new cancer. But then, in the sixth year, another mastectomy, the spread from breast to bones to brain and after that year she died. Thankfully, the cancer destroyed the pain receptors in her brain so her last few hours were serene.

I'm told I look like her. That is a large compliment. I know I don't have her patience and her faith. What I do have is the legacy she left: it is possible to love without condition, without concern for self. Mom gave that to me in huge measure.

I think of her every day and wish she hadn't gone.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

An evening with old friends

The venue was the Spectrum, Philly's old sports arena on Broad Street.

It was the home of the Broad Street Bullies, also known as The Philadelphia Flyers hockey team.

My first date with Howard, a season ticket holder at the time, was a Flyers game on May 5, 1985.

Of course, I knew nothing about hockey... just that a bunch of men with long sticks chased a little piece of hard rubber around, trying to put it into a net at either end of the ice rink.

Still, I wanted to have an evening with this new guy, so I agreed, thinking it would be a boring night.

First period of the game, he explained the rules.
Second period, I watched the action and figured out how it was played.
Third period, I was on my feet, screaming my lungs out for our guys, the orange and black.

I was hooked.

One of the players intrigued me more than any of the others.
He was a defenseman, #8, Brad Marsh, and one of the reasons I became a fan. Brad was the only guy who played helmetless, his curly dark hair making him stand out.

In a later year, two Boston Bruins sandwiched him in a check that nearly took him out and we watched in silent horror as he was carried from the ice on a stretcher.

He recovered from the concussion, and wore a helmet from then on.

But he never changed his style.

An obvious leader, Brad went through the warmups, chatting with his teammates as they circled the ice and took shots at the goalie, Ron Hextall through most of my game years. Then, Brad would skate up to the net, rest against his stick and watch as practice wore down, then give Hextall an encouraging pat and skate off to await the game start.

No one else did that.

At the end of the game, it was again Brad who stood by the net, supporting his goalie, being a leader to the team.

I was sad when he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Howard bought me a Leafs jersey with Brad's name and number on it and when the Leafs played in Philly again, I met Brad and he signed the alien blue and white sweater.

Marsh now serves as the president of the Board of the Flyers Alumni, an ideal post for such a leader.

And last night I got to watch him on the ice again as the Flyers and arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins played a full 60-minute game to mark their 50th anniversary celebration.

I went way back in my closet, took the orange and black jersey off its hanger and prayed it would still fit. It was a tad snug after all these years, but I wore it proudly. It bore Brad's signature and I looked in vain around the huge crowd at the Wells Fargo Center for another like it.

When the team members were introduced, one by one they came out of the tunnel and were greeted by raucous cheers.

When warmup started, Brad did what he always had... he gravitated to the goal and gave his teammate an encouraging tap.

He still didn't wear a helmet and the dark curly hair is largely gone, but the skater on the ice hadn't changed much at all.

He played at least one shift in each of the three periods, usually more than one. If I didn't know by the number and the face, I would know it was he by the smooth rhythm of his skating and that little lean to the right he added when he glided on the ice.

The Flyers ended up tying the Pens in a classic game that featured so many of the players for whom I'd cheered and yelled back in the 80s.The guys seemed to be having a wonderful time together, and I hope they knew how much fun they were giving their fans.

It was 1985 all over; we were young and energetic and the world was a happier place. For a few hours last night, we were back there again.

Thanks, Flyers, and thank you, Brad Marsh!