Happy Mother's Day!

with mom at the old saybrook train stationI miss my mom.  I think of her every day.  There are so many things I want to talk to her about.  She had a unique sense of humor and I'll catch myself laughing at sights or phrases or stories that I know she'd so enjoy.  So much of what I love in life came from her: gardening, swimming in the ocean, cooking, poems, English literature, art.  I didn't inherit her talent for drawing and painting (although both my sisters did,) but I do have her love of art galleries and museums.  So often I'll see an exhibit and think of her, and wish she were there to see the artist's work with me. She loved the beach, and I'm sure that's one reason I'm happiest with bare feet, walking along the tide line.  We would spend summer days building sandcastles, finding shells and sea glass, swimming to the raft, crabbing at the end of the beach.  Often she would sketch while my sisters and I played and swam; frequently we'd all be reading, covered with sunscreen, lost in our books.

When I grew up and moved to New York City, I'd take Amtrak to Old Saybrook CT nearly every weekend.  My mother would meet the train, no matter what time it was; Sundays came too soon, and I'd never want to leave.  The photo above (taken in 1988 or so) shows us at the train station, waiting for the train back to NY.  I read her expression and know she wasn't ready for me to leave.  The picture brings back that moment and many emotions.

She died way too young, after a long illness.  After her death I was filled with memories of nurses and hospitals and the great sadness of losing her slowly.  But time has passed, and you know what?  I rarely think of her illness anymore.  The gift of time has been that I remember my mother being young and healthy, painting nearly every day, writing every night.  I remember watching Julia Child on Saturday afternoons, then cooking dinner together--sitting around the table at Hubbard's Point, enjoying the meal with my sister and her family, laughing and talking and feeling that it would last forever, that our family would go on forever.

I wrote about her in an essay called "Midnight Typing."  It appears in the collection What My Mother Gave Me, edited by Elizabeth Benedict.  Please comment below for the chance to win a copy of the book as well as a canvas tote bag printed with the cover of The Lemon Orchard.  I'd love to know about your mother, hear your stories and memories.

[UPDATE 5/12: Congratulations to Leela FitzGerald, our Mother's Day winner!]

Strangers on a Train

We don't see each other enough.  Sometimes once a year, often less.  But that we know each other at all is a gift, a twist of fate. Our friendship began on a train from New York in 2002.  She, her husband and daughter, and I, occupied the last seats in the car, two-and-two, separated by the aisle.  David and their daughter sat together; Paula sat next to me.  I noticed she was wearing a Bruce Springsteen tee-shirt. The night before I had gone to one of the Rising Tour shows at Madison Square Garden.  I commented on her shirt, and Paula said they'd been at the same show.  A man two rows ahead of us was speaking loudly on a cell phone, letting us know all the details of his day, week, and life, and Paula and I exchanged smiles.  I commented on her tee-shirt.  We rode north along the coastline, talking about the concert, Bruce's music, and other things: her family, my family, how I'd be getting off in Connecticut and they'd be riding all the way to Boston.  I told her I was a writer and she told me she'd been a lawyer but had given it up for a love of books.  She worked in a Boston-area Borders book store.

We exchanged numbers, addresses.  Paula Breger, Luanne Rice, take care, nice to meet you, stay in touch!  It could have ended there--it most often does, right?  You meet an interesting person on a train or plane, pass a few pleasant hours, and never see each other again.

It wasn't that way with Paula.  We wrote and called.  We had family tragedy in common.  We'd lost our parents too soon.  We'd seen them through long illnesses, and it was healing to talk to someone who knew, who'd felt some of the same things.  When i went to Newburyport on book tour, she met me at Jabberwocky Bookshop.  The next day she and her daughter took me to the beach on Plum Island, a six-mile long barrier beach and Parker River Wildlife Refuge, to swim and walk along the hard sand looking for sand dollars.

One year we met at the Newark (NJ) Museum for an exhibit, Springsteen: Troubadour of the Highway.  Photographs by Annie Liebovitz, Frank Stefanko, and others illustrated the cars and road motif used in some of Bruce's songs.  While we were there, "The Ghost of Tom Joad" played in the background.  We both liked the picture of Bruce leaning on his Corvette (1978; Frank Stefanko, shown above.) The exhibit was haunting; I loved seeing visual proof of an artist's inspiration.  But mainly it was a focus for Paula and I to meet.

Other meetings: Philadelphia to attend a concert.  I rode the Acela beside the late Danny Federici.  Paula and I happened to be staying in the same hotel as Bruce and the band, and saw Little Steven on the treadmill while we swam in the pool.  Sitting in the lobby, after the show, we heard someone call, "Tim!"  Then, in case we'd missed seeing Tim pass by, the voice called more loudly to make sure we knew, "Tim, Tim Robbins!"  The next day Paula and I walked around the old streets, climbed the great stairs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to tour the collection.  But that trip will be forever known to us as the "Tim, Tim Robbins" weekend.

For a long time we seemed to believe we needed an event to shape our time together.  It started out as a shared love of Bruce, his music and lyrics, the wild and mysterious energy that explodes at his shows.  We live far enough apart so it's not easy to just get together.  But along the way, something has shifted.  We don't seem to need a reason anymore.  It wasn't so hard for her to email me this time, say she and her family were heading to the Jersey Shore, could she and I spend an afternoon together.  Yes, I said, of course, in spite of my hermit tendencies.  She has hermit tendencies too.  Go figure...

She'll be here soon.  I'm thinking about friends and what they mean to me.  How each friendship has a different context: how we met, where we met, how long we've known each other.  Sometimes friendships are in rhythm, other times they can be, as my college roommate put it once, "out of synch."  But if we sit tight, let time come around again, what we loved is still there.   Mim, my grandmother sang, "Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold."

And to think we were once strangers on a train.