The Aretha Franklin Effect


When Aretha Franklin died last week, it stopped me in my tracks, and made me think about the Effect that her music had on me since 1967. When I purchased the album “I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You”, I was just 16 years old. As I listened to track after track, I was mesmerized by something; I was, in hindsight, too young to completely understand what I was hearing, but I knew there was something in that voice, those lyrics, and those melodies.

I played the album over and over again until it became scratchy and flawed from use. I could not get enough of that combination of angst, sorrow, heartache, resignation, and sarcasm in songs like “I Never Loved A Man”,” “Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream”, and “Baby, Baby, Baby”. There was also another set of feeling and sentiments that arose with the iconic “Respect”. Even though I had no romantic experience to my credit at that time, I felt a connection to Aretha when she told her man what she wanted and needed from him. All of it was powerful and earth-shattering, and I wanted whatever that was!

When I reflect on how many of her songs were part of the soundtrack of my young adult years, the songs seem like a collection of the long-kept letters of a sister, cousin, aunt, or close friend. The letters that are bundled in my den closet, ready to be re-read at a moment’s notice. When I listen to these tunes now, they bring back memories, happy and sad, of another place and time; a time when I was learning about heartbreak, the joys of first love, the sorrow of permanent loss. The Aretha Effect is one of the companionship of fellow sufferers, the elation of sharing newfound freedoms and empowerment, and the bond of sisterhood that makes all women connected.

Merriam Webster defines “soul” as: “A strong positive feeling, as of intense sensitivity and emotional fervor”. So that’s what it was I was hearing and feeling way back in 1967. No wonder I wanted IN.

Thank you, Aretha, Queen of Soul, for bringing me your great gifts of creativity, passion, and love through your Music. You’ll always have quite an Effect on me.

Division and Subtraction

103_5027It is the Fourth of July, 2018. As I sit in my office and look out at the peaceful and idyllic setting that is my back yard, I am conflicted today. Should I in any way acknowledge or “celebrate” this anniversary of our Country’s birth? I don’t feel very much like waving a flag or watching a parade today. It feels, somehow, so hypocritical to do anything “patriotic”, when there is so much division and strife all over America.

Yet, there are tugs at my heart when I think of the brave people, including my own family members, who have served in the Armed Forces to preserve the Freedoms that we would celebrate today. Am I dishonoring their sacrifices? Am I forgetting all that has gone before because of the train wreck that I am watching today?

In 1776, when this Country’s Independence was at stake, my British ancestors had left for Nova Scotia, being Loyalists to George III, and my Italian and Irish ancestors were not here yet. In subsequent wars, my relatives fought to defend their adopted homeland. They came here seeking refuge from poverty, starvation, and discrimination. They worked hard, raised their children, and made this Country stronger and better by being good citizens and contributing their talents and skills to the workforce and the communities in which they lived. All were Immigrants and Refugees in the purest sense.

So, my DNA is part of that complicated woven fabric that has created a garment we call the United States. It has flaws in its warp and woof; but it has remained intact enough to still be worn, holes and all.

The kind of tearing apart this garment is undergoing today may take away important components of the whole piece. Can we still wear this coat of many colors  with dignity? Or will the ripping make it so torn and tattered that we can no longer even tell what it was? I am not certain. But I do know that I feel very disheartened and sad for our Country. Maybe I am, despite my Tory heritage, a Patriot after all.



What? Me Worry?


The other afternoon I was sitting on my couch in the living room, when my peripheral vision picked up a young couple walking down my street. Since it is February, they were bundled up in winter gear and walking slowly on the icy street. I noticed the man had a baby carrier strapped to him and I saw a tiny head leaning forward out of its front.

I immediately started worrying about the baby. With my Generalized Anxiety Disorder and neurotic fears on so many levels, I would never have carried my daughter or any child in one of those carriers. Or a backpack. Or any other unsafe device. I thought about how very, very different people are wired: how their nervous systems are set up to allow such (in my opinion) terribly unsafe situations for their children. Yet, here they were: calmly strolling down the street.

I thought about every possible negative scenario. What if he slips on the ice and falls forward on the baby? What if the baby somehow slips out of the carrier? I went on for a few minutes, and then was diverted back to the  You Tube video I had been watching.

Now sometimes the Universe gives us messages. We do need to pay attention to get their full meaning, but I really believe the messages are there.

I wish very hard every day that I could stop worrying. I wish I did not have anxiety issues that prevent me from doing things, and cause me uncounted hours of unnecessary agitation and fear. But, I have come with this wiring, and all I can do is try each day to overcome it as much as possible.

As I continued to think about the young couple, a few minutes later they reappeared heading back home. I looked out at them again, and saw that the “baby” in the carrier was, in fact, a cat. I had been worrying about their cat.

Now it is my understanding that most cats, if they take a fall, will land on their feet. So, no need to worry even if Kitty had slipped out. I think I need to work harder on letting go of my fear and anxiety. Pretty funny, huh? Message received.





We just had a storm that ended in a freezing rain which coated everything outside. I look out my windows upon a world that is Frozen: encased in a silvery wrap of ice. It’s lovely, but difficult to navigate. Just like the Holidays.

This year has been a tough one. I have said it before, and it bears repeating. I, like many of my friends, have been having a hard time getting into the Christmas Spirit. The list of reasons is too long, (mine includes losing my Mom, getting diagnosed with an illness, and adjusting to the “new normal” of that diagnosis) but you know how hard the daily infusion of bad news is for the minds and souls of each of us. Enough said.

The thing about Holidays, is that many of us carry the “Hallmark Card” syndrome within us. We believe, deep down, that the images of perfectly happy families and cheerful celebrations among totally functional groups of relatives are Real, and we should be a part of those images, which are Frozen within our consciousness. We should be singing Carols, drinking festive punch, greeting guests at the wreath-laden doors of our homes, and sharing special intimate moments with our partners.

Well, Virginia, there may be a Santa Claus, but a lot of the rest of this stuff is Madison Avenue humbug! No, I am not Ebenezer; I just think we’ve been sold so much that pressures us each Holiday into thinking no matter how many blessings we have, it is never enough. We are stuck with goals that are unrealistic and that make us, in the end, feel sad and guilty and exhausted.

The first thing we need to do is let ourselves off the hook. If your Christmas doesn’t look like the final scene of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, it’s all right: hardly anyone’s Christmas looks like that. We are imperfect creatures and that’s okay, too. I think the Person whose Birthday we celebrate had a few things to say about that subject; we are bound to fail as part of the deal of being humans. So take a breath, and have a sugar cookie.

As the Grinch found out, Christmas will come without the presents and bells and pantookas. It will come anyway. It may find you sad or tired or depressed or sullen. But it will find you. If you decide to make it welcome, your Season will be happier and less stressful.

Some of my friends are sad because of the loss of a loved one this year, and some are sad because they feel the accumulation of too much loss over the past years. Some are lonely, living lives without the comfort of a significant Other or family to share the Season. Some are sick, and struggling with just getting through another day, much less a Holiday. But for whatever reason, their sadness seems magnified by the Hallmark reminder of all they don’t have. All of these are valid reasons to feel like you don’t want any part of Christmas, and it should just go away.

However, I am here to tell you that we can enjoy this time if we want. We just need to let ourselves appreciate the little things that come our way, and forget all the Frozen pressures we keep carrying around. I am telling you this, dear Reader, because I need to tell myself these things and remind myself to look outside that commercial box so beautifully wrapped. I need to make a short list of real blessings, and stop there.

So, here it is.

  1. I am healthy enough to enjoy writing, talking with friends, listening to music, watching Christmas movies, hugging my dog, laughing at myself, and eating good food.
  2. I have lots of brilliant, witty, talented, compassionate, and loyal friends.
  3. My Family loves me.
  4. I am insatiably curious, and still interested in making each day better than the day before.
  5. I live in a place where I am free to speak my mind, make my own decisions, and feel safe in my own home.

I am going to refer to this list frequently so that I can remember what is important. I am going to allow only happy memories to flood me as Christmas Day approaches. And, as always, I am going to pray for the World to Give Peace a Chance.






Piece of My Heart


The leaves are almost all down now. It’s late November and only a few trees have refused to drop their coverings in preparation for the long, cold days ahead. But, there are a few stalwarts who stand stubbornly defiant against the worsening winds and icy rains. I admire them.

Late November brings that special last day of the month…….the 30th. Mom’s Birthday. This is the first one I have seen without her being alive to celebrate, and it does feel very peculiar. Even though the last several birthdays were not fully acknowledged by her, due to her Parkinson’s Dementia, there were still presents to open and a special donut or piece of pie. Tomorrow there will be nothing for me to take care of: no gift bags with tissue, no extra floral paper napkins…….nothing to do. She is gone, and there is no cause for celebration in that.

I have been wrestling with Grief for months now; on some days I win, on other days Grief takes me down to the ground and beats the heck out of me. I guess you just keep on fighting until Grief mellows into Sorrow, and you get to keep that forever.

Discovering who you are after both of your parents have died is a process. I find myself hearing their voices in my head and heart more frequently now. Sometimes I quote them out loud to myself or to my friends and family. No matter how much I might have railed against the idea in earlier years, I recognize now that I am a composite of the two of them, with my own special DNA tossed into the mix.

So, if I take the best from both, I am smart, stubborn, opinionated, strong-willed, determined, hilarious, creative, outrageous, anxiety-ridden, sentimental, loyal, and hard-working. I can feel these traits and can now more clearly see from whence they came. I am the keeper of these flames, and they must stay aglow in my heart so that I can still share them with the world.

When I tell you a joke my Dad loved, or point out a swing tune that my Mom loved, I am taking that little piece of my heart and opening it up to share with you. It is somehow comforting to know that they both continue to live in my heart forever. And I promise that I will continue to call forth their lively personalities as long as I am able. I, too, stand rather stubbornly against the oncoming icy, cold winds: Age, Diminishment, Decay. I, too, am defiant.


The Eastland Ballroom & The Two White Gowns

102_8158102_1732I was looking at some vintage photos of downtown Portland, Maine the other day; it struck me that the Eastland Hotel, which has changed names more times than Liz Taylor, played a significant part in my fantasy life. You know, that life that we live in our hearts and minds whether or not it ever becomes Real?

Anyway, it was June of 1968 when I graduated from Portland High School. In those days, the Graduation, Senior Banquet, and the Senior Prom were all rolled into one very hectic day. We called it “the Senior Prom” back then…not “Prom”.  You see, we weren’t too busy to use three words and give it the proper distinctive significance it deserved. I had a super duper gorgeous White Gown for my Senior Prom. It was, in my eyes, sophisticated, dramatic, and just the perfect dress for a seventeen-year-old’s  dreams. I fantasized a night of romance, dancing, and being swept off my feet by my handsome (terribly young) suitor. It was a lovely night, actually. The Eastland Ballroom provided a magical and very glamorous background for the Senior Prom of 1968. We did dance and schmooze with all the other sophisticated Grads; everyone was moving on, and it was a last big chance to do it up right. Later we kissed and hugged and stayed up all night, silly teens that we were. My Mom threw a Luau themed breakfast for all those who had the strength left to straggle in the following morning; having been up all night, most of them looked quite bedraggled and some were still “half in the bag”. I have the photos to prove this.

Twenty-three years later, I  once again walked down that curved staircase at the Eastland into the room filled with well-wishers at my Wedding Reception. This time I had a really stupendous White Gown, covered with sequins and lace. I had dreamed of my entrance with all eyes on the Bride, and it matched my fantasy exactly. However, the magical qualities of that day faded, since my marriage was perhaps largely built on Fantasy, too. I didn’t get to know my Groom well enough before we were married, and it turned out we were poorly suited for one another after all.

The relationship with my charming High School boyfriend faded in the Fall of 1968 when I attended Boston University. How could it not? He was a sweet boy, a year younger than I, and our paths went in different directions very quickly.

The marriage (my second)  whose wedding and reception had been so carefully planned, was a failure after seven long years. How could it not be? We were too different, and that does not work out. I held onto the Fantasy of it for a year or two, but even the most die-hard dreamers have to wake up sometime!

So, as you look at these two photographs of me in my White Gowns, you can see some similarities. There is the young girl in the first photo with hopes and dreams of a teen written on her face. She knows very little, yet thinks she knows so much. She’ll find out.

The second photo shows a 40 year old woman projecting her fantasies and hopes and dreams onto a lovely Wedding Day. She knows very little, still. She’ll find out.

Ironic that these two events should take place in the same room.  Both events shaped me in different ways, and  both held moments of great promise and big dreams. And, as Robert Kincaid said in “THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY”, “The old dreams were good dreams; they didn’t work out, but I’m glad I had them”.


No Receipt Necessary

103_5986Those of you who have been reading my blogs for a couple years now already know that I have written a lot about my Mother, her decline from Parkinson’s Disease, and my struggle dealing with all of that. Today I am writing something different.

My Mother passed away on Saturday, June 10, 2017. There. It’s in writing, so it is officially REAL now. Yet, it seems surreal to me; even after ten years of watching over her every move, it doesn’t seem possible that the person I have known for all of my 66 years is completely gone. Forever. And that Finality is what is difficult for the mind to grasp and process.

So, I have cleaned out her room at the long-term care facility where she spent the last six and a half years. I have gone through the boxes of stuff that accumulated in that room: angel figurines, little crosses, stuffed animals, cards, letters, donated knitted items, and prizes she won playing Bingo. These items show the love that her friends, old and new, felt for her. Most of them will be donated to charities, or offered to her granddaughter.

I will keep a few things: all the photographs, the paper memorabilia from her trip to Italy, and the medium weight fleece coat from L.L. Bean that I bought her a few years ago. She only wore it a handful of times, as she rarely left the building. I’ll wear it when I go for walks in the Fall, and that way I can take her with me as I enjoy the changing leaves.

The photograph that I have chosen to use for this essay is one that captures part of my Mother’s essence. She loved the Sun, and she was ultra stylish; so this 1940’s picture of her ( I think it might be at Old Orchard Beach) really speaks to me.

It’s hard to chose a single photo to represent someone; we are all so many different people as we grow and age. In the same way, it is hard to look through the boxes of belongings that are left behind when someone dies. The person whose life ends in a nursing home has only a tiny fraction of the things they accumulated; by this time most of their earthly belongings have been bestowed upon others or donated. It seems odd to me that the physical sum of my Mother’s long life has been reduced to several boxes and half a dozen large plastic garbage bags. And, yes, I know, dear Readers, that those material objects don’t really represent our Spirits or our Hearts. They are simply evidence that we lived, made choices, developed relationships, and loved other beings.

But, it is still strange. My Mother and Father owned large homes with dozens of rooms, decorated by my Mom, and lovingly furnished. She was an immaculate housekeeper, and a creative homemaker. The kitchen was always redolent of freshly baked pie or simmering tomato sauce. Her closet was filled to capacity with the latest fashions, shoes, and accessories. Her jewelry box overflowed with spectacular costume jewelry. During the Christmas season, she decorated every room in the house with sparkling floral arrangements, wreaths,  and Santa with his reindeer. Now, just a few boxes to represent a life full of joy, sorrow, enterprise, family, and friendships.

I drove up to the donation door of Goodwill yesterday. I unloaded the huge sacks of clothing, shoes, pocketbooks, figurines, and miscellaneous tchotchkes into a rectangular wheeled cart. Thousands of dollars worth of fashion now bagged up in lawn and leaf garbage bags. Remains of a life well-lived. The pleasant young girl with the pink stripes in her hair and the huge tattoo on her right shoulder asked me if I would like a receipt.

I replied “No thank you…I’m good.”





I walked past her room and saw the empty bed. When Beds are truly empty, the sheets are folded neatly, the blankets are tucked in. The bed stood idly in the room with nothing around or near it: no photos, no mugs, no clothes, no stuffed animals, no belongings of any kind. The bed being alone, stark, and lifeless, cried out that which I feared: She is gone.

I walked back toward the Nurse’s station and found Mike, the kind and diligent Nurse to whom I have looked for so many answers  about my own Mother.He sat with his back to me at the computer. I braced myself.
“Mike?” I said.

“Yes?” he answered without turning toward me.

“Helen?” I asked.

He turned slowly, and faced me with perfectly measured compassion and control.

“She passed away three weeks ago. She went quickly.”

I was stricken. Then I complained and argued that I had just been there two weeks ago, but hadn’t had time to visit with her. He assured me that she was gone by then. I listened while he explained the circumstances of her sudden decline and her death. I mumbled something about being glad that she went quickly, and left.

I cried all the way home. My daughter kept trying to comfort me with the only words we have for any of this: She’s in a Better Place.

Strange, how very sad I can be about this lady’s passing. We shared little conversations for the past five years as I came each week to visit my Mother in the nursing home. I tried to brighten her day whenever I saw her struggling to push her wheel chair up to the dining room. Sometimes I gave her a push wherever she was headed; sometimes I just stopped to visit while she was eating lunch. Often, because we shared the common ground of having graduated from Portland High School, we sang the Portland High Fight Song together. She had told me she was a cheerleader in those days, so I knew it always brought a smile to her face to sing “Wearers of the Blue” in unison.

I brought her small gifts and little wreaths to trim her doorway during the Xmas seasons. She gave me sweet assurances time and time again that my Mom was, indeed, “doing so well”. It wasn’t true, but I think she wanted me to know that someone else was watching out for my Mom, and that someone else really cared about her. She enjoyed my Mother’s company for  years before Parkinson’s Disease, and its accompanying late stage dementia, took away my Mother’s memories, access to the present, and ability to clearly communicate her thoughts.

Helen was intelligent and educated. I felt so sorry that she was physically so compromised while her mind remained intact. The amazing thing was that she did not complain about her condition. Even when she looked so bad it was hard to see her without wincing. Even when her hands were so deformed she could scarcely use them. Even when her head was angled toward her neck permanently. She never complained.

Sometimes you find love and compassion and friendship where you least expect to find it.

I would have bet a great deal of money that I would never have made a friend in the last place I would have looked: a long-term care facility. And, I would have lost that bet. Helen became my friend despite my squeamishness and distaste for the sights and sounds and smells of a nursing home.She became my friend despite my weak stomach and revulsion at human illness and deformity. She became my friend because of her heart and her mind and her soul. She was a beautiful spirit trapped in a sadly decaying physical body.

And, thanks to her kindness and love, I came to see her as someone I loved.

I will miss her, and I will remember how she changed me for the better.



Mother’s Day 2017


I usually detect the Blues creeping into my consciousness near most Holidays. Mother’s Day  is no exception. I know, I know. It’s supposed to be about getting breakfast in bed, and useless but treasured trinkets from your kids; or, about a celebratory meal honoring all the living Moms in the family. But these days, it’s more about trying to downplay those memories, and deal with visiting my aged Mom at the nursing home. I’ve written extensively about this subject, so those of you who read my blogs know how tough it’s been to watch this decline. Many of you identify with this process, and have your own troubles to deal with today.

But, something I saw on television this morning has turned me inward and upward today. There were several stories, well produced and worthy of the tears I shed at the end of each segment, about people who had lost their Moms already. In these stories there was a common thread of resilience and gratitude in which I found inspiration. The adult children who shared their experiences spoke of learning to get to know their Moms better as they themselves aged, even though their Mother was no longer physically with them. This makes sense.

The older we are, theoretically, the wiser, yes? So, as we mature and grow, we can more clearly see how we connect to our Moms, and what they gave us. And that, as one person said, is our heritage.

I am thinking today of how grateful I am to have had my Mother for all these years; to help me see what I wanted and what I didn’t want. She gave me so many lessons in how to persevere, how to let things go that weren’t all that important, and how to move on. She also gave me a sense of why it’s important to always be there for your children. No matter how complicated, oblique, or deeply layered our relationship became, I always knew that she was, bottom line, on my side.

One of my good pals  lost his Mother to a heart attack when he was still a very young man. All these years he has lived without a Mom; and today I feel a special sadness for his losses. When he got married, he didn’t have the joy of that hug from his Mom after he kissed his bride. When he got divorced, he didn’t have the comfort of going to his Mom’s for lasagna and encouragement. When he produced a wonderful album of his original music, he didn’t get to call her, while she was listening for the twentieth time, and have her tell him how great his music was. Or hear her singing along to her favorite of his tunes. And when his Dad died, he didn’t have his Mom there to console him and remind him of how much his Dad really did love him always.

I’ve been lucky to have the connection I’ve had with my Mom. It’s never been a perfect relationship, but I guess there really is no such thing, anyway. I’ve seen what happens to people who aren’t assured of their Mother’s love: I’ve seen the way the World rips them apart and tosses them into the churning Sea, time and again. When they don’t have that certainty, they have no anchor to hold them fast against the tides.

Today, in this present tense, I know you won’t understand much of what I am saying. Your dementia has taken you from me and the many things we shared. But I am going to say it anyway….just in case there’s an Angel listening that can translate for me. Thanks, Mom, for being there. For giving me life. For keeping me safe and dry. For teaching me how to be so grateful that I get to be a Mom to my darling Caroline. Thanks for setting an example, that was passed down from your Mother, on how to love and share and “take what comes”. I love you, Mom.

End of the Innocence: Summer 1963

JFK 1963

This past six weeks I have had a series of illnesses that kept me inside, mostly reclining, and thinking a lot. It occurred to me that the last really great summer of my childhood was that of 1963. I spent most of that summer with my family at a rented cottage on Unity Pond  in Central Maine.  Our rental was part of a little compound of cottages in a cove near the golf course. The families who owned the other cottages were friends and acquaintances of my parents, and all the kids were schoolmates of mine.

Now, the reason that this particular summer was so great, was that we were, as a country, still a bit naïve. We knew about war and chaos, and many of the adults in our summer place were WWII veterans. We knew about the dangers of nuclear war, and had even been to the brink in the October 1962 Missile Crisis. But, in other ways, we were still a country of relative innocents.

We listened to Lesley Gore’s teenage angst in “It’s My Party”, and we marveled at the harmonica virtuosity in a song called “Fingertips” by a young lad named  Little Stevie Wonder. I was twelve, so I yearned for the ultimate sophistication of becoming a teenager, which was still months away for me. My girlfriends and I dreamed of dancing with boys when we listened to Bobby Vinton croon “Blue Velvet”, and we weren’t quite certain what to make of the bad boy the Angels described in “My Boyfriend’s Back”.

In our little cove we got up early, put on our bathing suits, and spent the days swimming and boating. On rainy days, we stayed inside and played Monopoly. Our parents had cocktails in the late afternoons on the screened porches of the camps, and the Moms created a flotilla on plastic rafts during the day to gossip and catch some rays.

We had canoes and rowboats and motor boats. We swam to the “float” and pretended we were mermaids, or Lloyd Bridges in “Sea Hunt”. We used our goggles underwater and made up bazillions of games that kept us in the lake all day. When it was time to eat, my friend Dean’s father would cook hot dogs and burgers on the grill. My Mom would make quick and easy meals like spaghetti  and salad and cupcakes. The parents would combine forces and have potluck on the picnic tables. At night you were so tired from playing hard all day, that you slept soundly with the lapping of waves on the beach as a lullaby.

The sun seemed to shine most of the time that Summer. The parents were enjoying their vacations and laughing a lot. A few of the older kids pushed the limits, but most of us behaved pretty well and got along with each other. The Country was in a pretty good place with a remarkably intelligent young family in the White House.We were unaware of major events that would change our happy world, and that is why it was, in retrospect, such a lovely time.

That Fall, I turned 13 on November 21st. On November 22nd, the charismatic  46-year-old President Kennedy was killed. Everything changed. Really, everything. No longer were we a nation of innocents; now we all knew that really bad things can and do happen when you least suspect that they will. I wish we had never learned that.

We changed as a Country on that long, horrible weekend in November, and we changed as individuals, too. This was the beginning of suspicion and mistrust of the institutions many of us had regarded as above reproach before. This was the beginning of a lot more divisiveness and discord. This was the beginning of an era that saw us plunge more deeply into a very unpopular war, recoil from the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, and protest violently against all the injustices that were to come.

It was no longer possible to feel those “Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer” that Nat King Cole sang about. We were too frightened to go “Up on the Roof” with the Drifters, as we had before. And we searched for something that would transport us to a happy place in our minds, as the Beach Boys had done with their singularly American images  in “Surfin’ U.S.A.”.

As the Summer of 1963 faded into Autumn, we were not prepared for the enormity of the changes that we would soon face.  We were unworldly, ingenuous, and trusting. I guess that’s what I miss the most about the Summer of 1963.