We had a small hill in our back yard, and I learned how to ski on wooden skis with my initials burned at the tips. My father had a workshop in the basement, and for a while he seemed to burn my initials on everything. The working class version of a monogram.Read More
There is so much to love and find beautiful right now, while memories tug into the past, thoughts of Christmases gone by. I find this time of year bittersweet. I think of my mother, father, and Mim, old friends, a sister who's said goodbye. I remember the house we grew up in, on Lincoln Street in New Britain, Connecticut.
We'd decorate the tree, wrap a lauren garland around the banister, place another over the mantle, and drape one over the front door. Mim would decorate the wreath, hang it on the door. We'd bake Christmas cookies. One year we made clay angels, and our favorite was the one that looked like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family.
Even then, at a young age, there was longing for more connection, especially with my father. If you've read my novel Firefly Beach, you know the story of my pregnant mother, three-year old sister, and my five year old self being held hostage one night, by the man with a gun. It happened at Christmas, and had to do with my complicated father, so that experience is in my holiday memory bank as well.
Isn't it strange the way we sometimes miss sad or painful things? Maybe it's the desire to go back and make them turn out right. My father would be magically happier, the man with the gun wouldn't have come, the cold and dark would stay outside while in our little cape cod house our family would be cozy, drawn together, safe and sound. That's the visions-of-sugarplums version.
In reality there were many visions-of-sugarplum moments. My mother would read to us from The Cricket on the Hearth and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden; A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.
One summer we found an enormous starfish, and began to use it as the star atop our tree. When my father was home he'd place the star; I'd always have a lump in my throat when he did that. On Christmas Eve my mother would tell us to listen for the angels singing, it was the one time in the year that we could hear them, and we always would, just before drifting off to sleep.
Later, after my father died, we moved to the beach year-round. We kept the old traditions but found new ones. We heated with a coal stove, so there was an old-fashioned ritual to stoking the fire. We'd tie red ribbons around all the candlestick holders, and light the night by candlelight.
On Christmas morning, nearly every year, we'd look out at Long Island Sound and see sea smoke: a low mysterious cloud just over the water's surface, like smoke above a cauldron, a phenomenon caused when arctic air moves over warmer salt water.
Sometimes we'd see ships passing down the sound, some with lighted Christmas trees tied to their masts--magical to look far out and see that, tiny bright spots sailing along the horizon--and we'd wonder where they were going, how the crew felt to be away from their families.
At night we'd go outside. Maybe it would be snowing, or the stars would be blazing, and one year a comet streaked through the sky--celestial wonder. The moment brought us close to heaven, and I'd think of my father, I think we all did, and sent him love while also wondering why he couldn't have been happier here on earth, and Mim would stand in the kitchen door calling us back inside, weren't we freezing, it was making her cold just to look at us. We'd laugh and go in.
So many gone, but strong love still here. My little sister and I have each other. Her husband and daughter, and our niece and her husband, and two friends so dear they're nothing less than family to us. We've been creating our own traditions over the last years. We've invited to the table our ghosts and lost loves, so they can be at the celebration too. We carry them with us.
Maybe the lesson, if there has to be a lesson, is that nothing is ever all one way. The holidays seem to promise universal goodness, happiness, togetherness. That isn't always the way, and because of our heightened hopes, the disappointment can be all the greater.
There's beauty in every life, every single day. Sometimes it takes effort and focus to find it. To find that starfish, taking that beach walk we had to look down. Even when your heart is aching for who's not here, you look around and find who is. There's someone who loves you. There's a cat who wants to sit on your lap. There are bright stars in the cold, dark sky. Position the starfish at the top of the tree. All will be well.
[Image at top of page: The Meteor of 1860 by Frederic Church.]
My father joined the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was twenty-one, from a close family in Hartford, Connecticut. When the time came for him to report for training, Thomas F. Rice, Jr. went to the Hartford train station and joined a long line of other young men, ready to board. The line was single-file, until it got to my father.Read More
"Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer." ~ From "Howard's End" by E. M. Forster Many years ago, when I first started submitting short stories to magazines and journals, Daniel Curley, the editor of Ascent, sent me the above quote. I was young, and was positive I knew exactly what it meant: the necessity and desire, both in real life and fiction, of making close ties. It seemed so obvious to me, such a clear life's path, that I tucked it away more as a motto than as guidance and admonition.
It was easy to do. My mother and Mim, the grandmother who lived with us, were still alive. I was in love, and couldn't imagine ever parting from him. Both sisters and I were so close we had our own language and, I swear, saw the world through the exact same lens, through each other's eyes. Childhood friendships were intact.
Life was sheltered and insular. My sisters and I had the same first grade teacher, Miss Convey, as our mother. Every summer our family went to the beach, a Brigadoon set apart from the world by a train trestle, staying in the cottage our grandparents had built. We played with the children of people our parents had grown up with. Those connections comprised our world.
I moved out and on. And on and on. Long story, but don't we all have long stories? Even so, I still go to that family cottage, and I'm still friends with the girl I walked to school with, the boy I learned to swim with.
Now I find the Forster quote more philosophical, and I see a shadow behind it. There's loss in life--people you thought would be with you forever go another way and disappear. People break up, move away, get hurt. It's easier to pile on emotional armor than to keep an open heart. Only connect! Maybe not...
Yet writing this makes me feel very connected to friends and family and people I've never met. All the readers who visit my site, tell me they love my books, share their own connections with my stories and the characters who populate them. How lucky am I?
Still, there are people long lost to me. I think about them and wonder where they've gone. Sometimes I dream about them. Sometimes I regret their leaving or my leaving or things we said or things we didn't say. Some of them were very close to me at one time; others might have no idea the role they played in my life.
Here's one of those: Billy K. We went to Vance School together. He lived in the Children's Home, a large brick building on a distant hill, that I could see from my bedroom window. We were friends because we both had freckles. I'd stare up at the Children's Home and wonder why he was there. Had his parents died? Had he been taken from them? I asked my parents if we could adopt him, and they said we couldn't. He had a sweater with a hole in its sleeve, and I'd see the hole getting bigger and wonder why someone didn't mend it for him.
Maybe he's out there. Wouldn't it be wonderful if he read this and knew it was about him? The internet makes connecting not only possible but ubiquitous. People from the past find each other. It's nice to make contact, take a trip down memory lane, catch up on life's happenings. But I feel "Only Connect!" is more than internet-deep. It's true love, real love, enduring friendship, and the hard work involved in holding on, holding tight.
Still, I would love to know about Billy, a boy I haven't seen since fifth or sixth grade, to hear how his life has been.
This week the paperback edition of The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners is on sale. I'm thinking of the title, of what "deep blue" means. The ocean, of course. But there are other types of deep. Deep love, deep understanding, deep non-understanding, the unfathomability of our own hearts. The novel is particularly interested in fractured families. A mother and her two daughters have spent years apart. How do people become estranged? What are the consequences of a single choice or series of choices? How far can you move apart from someone, and once you've done that, can you come back?
These thoughts are on my mind now. I'm writing this from my own private deep blue location. It's not sad, it's not bad, it's just a spot I came to reflect. Miles from the sea, I'm in a rambling old place surrounded by New England woods. There aren't many street or house lights, so when I look up at night I see constellations in the dark blue sky. I'm surrounded by nature. Thick trees, the leaves starting to turn. A scarlet sugar maple stands outside my window.
I loved writing The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners. The characters feel real to me, all their hiding places and defenses, all their brokenness and goodness and desire to connect. People can be apart so long it feels like forever. But if you break through and find forgiveness, life can start over. It's the same old life, of course, but there's an element of the brand new. Love and forgiveness, or maybe it's forgiveness and love. They go together. I'm just not sure of the order.
It probably doesn't matter.
Oh love. I woke up thinking of it. Maybe I'd dreamed... No, I know. I'm thinking of love because my niece is getting married next week. She is radiant and beautiful, a scientist who left the lab with her betrothed to make a better frozen yogurt in Northampton. Go Berry is delicious and causes cravings. This is a brilliant young woman. Not least of all, Molly is known for having debunked the 5-second rule. I mention it here only because if an aunt with a blog can't promote her niece's frozen yogurt, who can?
Alex, her fiance, is also a scientist. They met at Connecticut College. They love the sea, the ocean, the littoral zone, marine life, diving, swimming, many other things, and especially each other. Their kindness is touching beyond words. They once drove miles out of their way when the snow was lovely, dark, and deep, to give me a hug just because I needed one.
Molly goes through life with such courage and grace. I'm late to her life. I didn't know her well as a little girl, but we've been making up for lost time. My sister Maureen and I are watching her and Alex plan their wedding, proud to be her aunts.
I'm writing this because Love is amazing. It is fierce when it has to be. It forgives. It finds people who believe, really believe in it, and takes them into its fold. This has happened with Molly and Alex. There's sorrow here, yes, there is. There are people we love and miss--every day, but especially now.
The wild gift, beyond the casting off, has come in the form of a great coming-together. Families getting to know each other. The joy of having Alex in our lives. Molly and her cousin Mia have gotten close. Today as Mia heads off to grad school (I feel another niece blog coming,) Molly and Alex will be driving her to Vermont, helping her move in. They're together today and will be again next week; Mia will be one of Molly's bridesmaids.
Twigg will be at the wedding, wouldn't miss it for anything. The Loggias love Molly and will attend. I know my mother and Mim, ghosts for many years now, will be there. And so much family in spirit--I love you, we love you, you know that. We'll celebrate at the edge of the sea together. Be there!
Maura was such a dear friend. She was an amazing singer-songwriter, and I was always touched and honored when she would come to my apartment and play music with me. We shared being Irish Catholic, living in New York, having sisters, seeing the dark behind the light. I wrote a song, You’re the Sea, and Maura sang on the recording.
One summer morning Maura and I went to the Irish Hunger Memorial in lower Manhattan. There was a slight drizzle, and the fog rolling up the Hudson obscured the tallest buildings, enhancing the feeling we’d stepped out of time, out of New York. We walked through the ruins of a stone cottage, up the winding path through a field to the hilltop.
“Feels like Ireland,” she said.
“Because of the weather?” I asked.
She nodded. “And because every stone, every plant on the memorial comes from the different counties, all thirty two of them.”
She carried a certain knowledge, a bone-deep connection with that memorial. It symbolized suffering, and striving, and Maura’s love of Ireland. Maura had a heart unlike anyone I’ve ever known. She felt other people’s pain right through her skin, and it came out in her songs. She found a great songwriting partner, John Bertsche, and to hear her describe their sessions, there was something mystical at work.
Maura’s music broke your heart. She sang with such deep emotion—every song. And it was real, as if she was truly reliving the experience about which she sang. She loved fiercely, starting with her family. She spoke of her mother so often, with great devotion. I remember when she played “Our Lady of Fatima” for me, telling me she’d written it for her mother.
She loved her sisters, and her cousins, her dearest friends, her writing partner. All of that love poured into her music, yet there was often a sense of loss, or melancholy, an unspoken understanding that nothing, not even the strongest love could last forever. She grasped the truth of impermanence. Some songwriters compose around it, but Maura faced it head-on. Perhaps it was her father’s death that taught her, or perhaps it was just that Maura was an old soul.
A mutual friend says Maura had the voice of an angel. She did, but not your every-day-pious white-winged Seraphim. Her voice broke with emotion. She was an angel of the Bronx. I think of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’s Grievous Angel. For Maura and her work with John, it was more like Heartstruck Angel, Devastated Angel, take your pick. Her voice was like no other, and her inspiration was earthbound. She and John wove together songs of the here and now: love, loss, betrayal, and—with into the sun—hope.
We lost her too soon.
A great beach friend from childhood and, in some ways, even before--our parents had been friends when they were young, and our grandparents before that--posted on my facebook page today. We were reminiscing about Helen Hubbard--a neighbor who lived on the Point, and for whom my fictional beach town "Hubbard's Point" is named. Betty reminded me of how we used to crouch under Helen's window to listen to her practice. Helen was an opera singer and voice teacher, and when she sang it was beach music--as much a natural sound as seagulls and wind blowing through the pine needles. Once or twice a summer she would give recitals and invite grownups from the Point. That didn't stop us kids from sitting outside and enjoying the performance.
Betty and her sisters and brother and my sisters and I were across-the-road neighbors, and pretty much inseparable from Memorial Day through Labor Day. We loved summer and each other. The beach was OURS. As I wrote back to her, we swam and laughed all day. Mim, my grandmother, and her great-aunt Florence would hang out together too, tell old stories, go for swims in their skirted bathing suits and white bathing caps.
When Betty's family visited Ireland--often--they would come home with Irish linens, wall-hangings, and tea towels. My cottage is still filled with the many gifts they brought us.
Her family had a party every Labor Day. Such a bittersweet gathering! The weather would still be summery, but fall and school and--especially-leaving the beach--were in the air. We'd walk down the steep steps from their cottage to glacial rock ledge sloping into Long Island Sound. Black-eyed Susans, bright pink sweet peas, and lavender flowered spearmint grew at the top of the rocks. A picnic table would be set with plates of sandwiches, platters of sliced honeydew and musk-melon, and--the piece de resistance--Aunt Florence's soda bread and blueberry buckle.
We'd make that party last as long as possible, because as soon as it was over it was time to pack the station wagon and head up to New Britain for the school year.
As Betty says, our memories are a treasure in themselves. She is so right. Just connecting with her today makes me remember everything, and smile, and feel so happy. I wish I had a picture of us all as children--if I did, no doubt our hair would be wet, someone would be adorned with seaweed, there'd be sunglasses, flip-flops, and a few Good Humors in the picture. And we'd be doing our best and not succeeding to keep from laughing.
I am thinking of someone lost to me. The stories we told each other, the ghosts we summoned. We thought it would last forever. I don't even know what "it" is: our home, our closeness, our lives together. As she would say, "Nobody knows how I feel."
To love a place so much it hurts. When I go there I am haunted by someone ten miles down the road. Our mother used to say, "You'll have many friends, but only two sisters." Hey--Willoughby Moon. Going to keep this up forever? This seems an appropriate day to ask. M's summer birthday.
A favorite poem, and I know you get it. The beach is the valley our fathers called their home. Lost love...
Under Saturn by William Butler Yeats
Do not because this day I have grown saturnine Imagine that lost love, inseparable from my thought Because I have no other youth, can make me pine; For how should I forget the wisdom that you brought, The comfort that you made? Although my wits have gone On a fantastic ride, my horse's flanks are spurred By childish memories of an old cross Pollexfen, And of a Middleton, whose name you never heard, And of a red-haired Yeats whose looks, although he died Before my time, seem like a vivid memory. You heard that labouring man who had served my people. He said Upon the open road, near to the Sligo quay - No, no, not said, but cried it out - 'You have come again, And surely after twenty years it was time to come.' I am thinking of a child's vow sworn in vain Never to leave that valley his fathers called their home.
Written on a random flight, who knows when, on one book tour or another. up in the sky
by Luanne Rice
when i fly, i go up in the sky.
it's true, and i'm up here now.
all around me is blue, except for long cloud highways leading to and from canada and other places. below me, there is haze. through it i can see rivers, ponds, towns, hills, roads. i am in a dream.
in the dream i join a parade of people, strangers, pulling suitcases on wheels, bumping along the jetway and over the narrow space between it and the jet door, and onto this large conveyance. it is a jet plane. i almost never dream of parades. and as a waking hermit, i rarely, well, never, march in them--but that's not even the strange part. the surreal part of this dream is taking off from the ground, going up into the sky, in a flying machine. this is not my natural element.
i did not always feel this way.
when i was young, i was as one with the sky. i flew with abandon. i'd go flying with my cousin--a true beach boy with whom i used to go crabbing at the rocky end of the half-moon beach known as hubbard's point, an experience about which i wrote my very first published story. his name is tom. when tom was 16, even before he could drive, he got his pilot's license. he wanted to get as many flight hours as possible, and i was right there beside him. we flew everywhere. we buzzed his teacher's house in harwinton. we flew home from the airstrip near waitsfield, vermont in a snowstorm.
we used to charter an old seaplane. he would land in the boats-only area right by the crabbing rocks at the end of the beach, to pick me up. i'd swim out to the plane and climb onto the pontoon and into the cockpit. my seat would be soaked with salt water. he'd turn us out to sea, and we'd bounce over the waves. the plane was so old that when he took off and banked right, the passenger door would flap open and i'd be looking straight down at long island sound.
fearless children we were.
then there were the paris years. i lived in paris with my first husband. his name was also tom. we were young and in love. with each other, with everything. every day i would walk along the seine for hours, trying to memorize the exercises my tutor, madame piochelle, had given me. "allo, allo, ici george, qui est la?" "c'est moi, jean!" "vien jouer avec moi?" "oui, j'arrive." "a tout a l'heure." "a tout a l'heure." i would also shop at the marches, especially rue cler, for our dinner. once i bought a whole rabbit. i don't remember how i cooked it, but i do know that i have bad dreams about it now. tom loved my cooking, and i loved doing it for him. to me, that was the essence of love.
once on the terrace of chez francois, near the pont de l'alma, i met bono. actually he said his name was paul , I didn’t figure out he was bono until a bit later. this was just before joshua tree. we started talking--about love, being irish, being american, being writers, and love again. what else was there but love? nothing.
during that time, my mother developed a brain tumor. i flew home a lot, to see her. that was the first time i remember feeling skeptical of flying. would the plane get airborne? would it actually land? maybe i was really afraid of something else, like losing her. i'm not sure. but the way i got myself through those feelings was to think of my father, who had been in the air force.
his name was tom, too.
world war ll, he was stationed at a base at north pickenham on the wash, north of london. he was only 23. he trained for a year in colorado springs. before that, he'd never been in a plane. he grew so close to his crew--as close as brothers. he was navigator-bombardier. once in england, flying missions over france and germany, he stood out and was promoted to the lead plane in the eighth air force. he refused to leave his old crew--his new crew had to literally carry him and his possessions to their nissan hut. the very next mission, his old crew was shot down over helgoland.
that's not the part that inspired me, exactly. although writing it, i see that it sort of did. somehow my father kept going. i can only imagine his grief. he flew on d-day, over normandy. his was the first plane over dresden, shot down on his way home. he was irish-catholic. i think of him, a beloved and sheltered boy from a close hartford family, thrown into war. he had a very sensitive soul.
promoted to the lead plane in the 8th air force, he was the very first plane over Dresden. on his way back from that dreadful bomb run he was shot down. other planes, his friends, went down in flames all around him. he parachuted out, crash-landed in a tree in occupied france and broke his back. he was rescued by a family with three daughters; they hid him in their barn. after he got home and married my mother, they had three daughters. my sister rosemary also has three daughters.
during my paris flying years, i would quell doubt and fear by thinking of all the times my father flew without getting shot down. over 25 missions. back and forth over the english channel, during tempests of all kinds. wild winds blew, making the plane shake. they would lose altitude, but just keep going. i imagined his old bomber, strafed with shrapnel, taking off and landing again and again.
there i was on the concorde--who was i to worry? i was really just a spoiled traveler. anyway, my mother wound up coming to paris to have her chemo at the american hospital. i didn't fly as much after that. although tom took me to venice for my 30th birthday. we stayed in a sweet hotel behind la fenice.
i heard placido domingo singing in the courtyard.
one night tom and i took a water taxi to the lido. i had to put my feet in the sand and feel the salt of a brand new, to me, sea. i thought of thomas mann. there are times when i'm an existential beach girl. but i guess if you're reading this, you know that by now.
the next time i felt tense about flying was many years later.
through life, life, life.
many beaches later. mistakes, mysteries, flights and passions later.
okay, here's the story. i was on book tour in summer, 2001. trans-canada, from fredericton to vancouver. at the time, i was in the midst of a tragic, unbecoming, and completely abusive non-love situation. my third marriage. snares had risen from the depths, wrapped themselves around my ankles. that made it hard to fly. how can you rise--above the earth, above anything--if you are tethered from below?
my itinerary took me amazing places. halifax, toronto, calgary, banff, lake louise. being so far away and so often up in the air let me see my life with some persective.
look down through the clouds and see what is.
that book tour saved my life. it showed me my strength, and that I didn’t have to stay with him. kick him out, reclaim myself. surround myself with real love—not twisted, psycho control masquerading as a marriage. I was out of there.
thank you, sky, for holding me aloft.
thank you, plane, for taking me away.
thank you, my own strong heart, for never giving up.
i know i can fly because guess what? i’m doing it right now.
still, it's a dream.
First published in Good Housekeeping Magazine’s Blessings column. Later reprinted in the book Blessings: Reflections on Gratitude, Love, and What Makes us Happy. God Moves in a Mysterious Way
by Luanne Rice
I’m the oldest of three sisters, something that defines me as much as my name. “You’ll have many friends,” our mother used to tell me. “But you’ll only have two sisters.” I knew she said that to them, too. She didn’t want us to take each other for granted, but she was an only child and didn’t understand: life without them would be like life without air, water, or blood—things I wouldn’t last long without.
When we were young, my sisters and I shared a room. Sometimes after they fell asleep, I’d walk around the room touching the bedposts. Talisman, prayer, or just craziness, I’m not sure. I shared that room with them for eighteen years, until I went to college. My first nights away, I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t hear them breathing.
That doesn’t mean I was a perfect oldest sister. I raided their sweater drawers. My middle sister got a beautiful fair-isle sweater—sky blue with white and pale green around the neckline—for her sixteenth birthday—but I wore it without asking whenever I could. Also, I flirted with my youngest sister’s boyfriend, danced with him too long at a winter dance one time.
We were all two years apart in age, walked each other to and from school. The day I got my license, I taught them to drive. We could make each other laugh with one word or glance. When I saw my mother trying to balance the checkbook, fretting about making the mortgage payments, I vowed to protect my sisters from them; I remember feeling the weight on my shoulders, knowing that I wanted them to stay happy and innocent. I wanted our complicated family to be simple and predictable, so my sisters wouldn’t have to worry about anything.
Was that where it all started? Arrogance on my part, to think that they couldn’t handle life as it was, that I had to run interference for them? Or was I just a not-good-enough older sister, a bad example, selfish in sweaters and selfish in life?
As adults, I moved to a city, they stayed by the sea. I have cats and a career, they have beautiful children. They got married and built lives; I got married and divorced. Three times. I felt like the family embarrassment and failure.
When I look back now, I can’t even define the precise moment that we stopped speaking to each other. I know that it happened after our mother died, when we no longer had the glue of her long, terrible illness to hold us together.
At first we stopped getting together as often. The time between calls grew longer and longer. After a while, the calls stopped, and I remember a moment when it dawned on me—maybe the worst moment in my life—that they had decided to cut themselves off from me and my untoward life. Looking back now, I realize that my life was difficult for them to deal with, and they had to step back. And because I didn’t know how to stop them, I let them.
The silence was so terrible, even now it hurts to remember. Being alone is one thing—but after having grown up with such closeness, it was almost unbearable. I began to have holidays with friends—people I love a lot. But every Thanksgiving morning I’d feel bereft, wanting my sisters instead.
One day I couldn’t take it any more. Literally. I was in a rocky, abusive marriage—my last. It pushed me over the edge. An early winter night in 2002, I jumped into Long Island Sound with my computer. I ended up at McLean Hospital, frozen inside and out, swimming in grief.
I called my sisters.
They came to me. Not in their cars, not up the highway, but straight back into my life. They let me know they loved me. It took a little time, but we saw each other. We talked. They know me better than anyone. Our history is in our hearts, in our skin. Maybe that’s why our time apart was so excruciating—I felt I had been ripped in half. Coming back together has been the greatest blessing I can imagine, and it has shown me that with sisters, love means never having to say “I was a jerk.” It means forgiveness and never having to touch the bedpost to ensure that we’ll always have each other.
A powerful novel of a mystery, a love affair, and a bond that cannot be broken set in a seaside town where miracles are made. On the first day of summer, Mara Jameson went out to water her garden–and was never seen again. Years after her disappearance, no one could forget the expectant mother.Read More
A powerful and complex portrait of family when one woman's homecoming becomes an emotional journey towards a new beginning...After fifteen years away, Nomadic archaeologist Maria Dark hopes that she can rediscover the joy and optimism of her youth in the arms of her family. But things have changed.Read More
Revisiting the remarkable characters introduced in Luanne's bestselling Summer’s Child, she brings full circle one of her most compelling explorations of the human heart…all the many ways it can be broken…and the magic that can make it whole again.Read More