The Future Is in Her Hands

I recently wrote about how cool it is when your kid is good at something that you aren’t able to do at all.  But how about when your kid is BETTER than you at something you are pretty good at? 🙂
My family are writers from way back.  My mother has a journalism degree; a former journalist for the Catholic press, she’s tried her hand at everything from children’s books to plays to feature articles on a variety of topics.  Her great-grandfather was the founder of the Kentucky Irish-American newspaper.    I know there are more and if she’s reading this she will probably chime in!
I like to think I am a good writer.  I’ve been making up stories before I could write them down.  I was co-editor of my high school paper and won awards back in the day.  I churned out A papers throughout college and got an Honors degree in English.  I was a reporter and columnist for the Catholic press for many years.  I wrote some pretty good X-Files fanfiction a few years back.  And of course there is this blog.
But my daughter Emily is the real writer.  She writes all the time–it’s necessary to her.  She fills up notebooks with partial stories, lists of names for characters, character sketches, story ideas.  She’s written two entire short novels.  She’s majoring in Creative Writing and plans to go to graduate school to continue studying writing.  All she wants to do is write.  I have no doubt that she will be a published author some day.  She is amazing.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so, because last week she was awarded the Rev. Andrew C. Smith, S.J. Poetry Prize at the Honors Convocation at Spring Hill College, where she is a Junior.
I cried when I read the poem, which hit pretty close to home (you’ll see) especially considering what I had just written myself the day before.  But Emily doesn’t think it’s that great, and I had to beg her to let me publish it here.  If you disagree with her, please leave some love in the comments.

The Future is Out of Reach When I am Holding the Past in My Hands
Nothing turns my stomach like the acrid odor
Of charred photo albums
And the five waterlogged childhoods
Lying smeared and ashy within.
The leather of the albums cracks
Like a battered body,
Housing secret pain.
What the flames did not get to,
The hoses made short work of.
Scorched snapshots
Bleed ink and memories
That my mother cannot face.
Twenty-two years of marriage
A life
A family
And a history
Leak into the whorls of my fingerprints;
My newborn face
Grandmother’s blouse
The green of the hospital walls
Swirl together and muddy the waters
And stain the skin on my hands
Coloring my calluses
Losing this picture feels like losing her twice.
There is mildew on my first birthday card
And I could drown in all this roasted ink;
These charbroiled mementos
Of a time when we had no idea
what real suffering was.
I salvage the past two decades that no one else will touch.
Great-grandmothers grandfathers friends cats Christmas trees rocking horses china dolls wedding gowns school uniforms jack o’lanterns baptisms
Form a fine layer of ash beneath my fingernails.
My hands are black with what we’ve lost.

A Breath of Smoke and Ashes


It’s there every time I go into the garage.  The smell of fire.  It’s there, and then I’m here:

That’s not a place I really like to be, figuratively or otherwise.  In fact, it’s become a bit of a thing:  I don’t drive down that part of Northshore any more, no matter how inconvenient the detour.
But I can’t avoid the garage.  And the boxes of pictures and books that survived the devastation.

I’ve decided that the books will stay in the garage.  We will put them on shelves, and whenever I decide to read one I will attempt to clean it then.  Occasionally I will pick one up and flip through it, and leave the garage with sooty hands that smell of fire.


Then there is the box of photo albums and baby books, miraculously rescued from a cabinet in the office.  The pictures need to be removed from the albums.  They are probably deteriorating.  I can’t make myself do it.  Emily will finish the job she began over Christmas this summer, I’m sure.

Right after the fire I worried that I would always be haunted by the smell of burning, that I would never be able to enjoy the scent of a campfire again.  But that’s not the case.  Campfires, smoke from a barbecue, the aroma of someone’s fireplace in winter, even the mulch fire running amok near downtown right now–that doesn’t bother me.  It’s the singular scent of our own personal fire that I find uniquely disturbing.
Seven months later it both seems long ago and very close, especially when another loss makes itself felt, when I suddenly think of something that I have only no, I don’t have it anymore.  It’s a little joke around here, saying, “I had that, but IT BURNED UP!”  But there’s a morbid part of me that keeps me lying awake some nights going room by room (not of the burned house, which to be honest never really felt like home, but of my Victorian house), looking in each drawer at things that are gone, remembering even what the drawer pulls felt like, torturing myself with my incredibly clear visual memory and discovering new things that I haven’t had a chance to feel sad about yet.
 
 

Red Red Red

In my pre-fire life, I used to think about redecorating my kitchen.  Apparently some people actually do that kind of thing, but in a single-income seven-member family, you replace things when they break with whatever you can afford–you don’t “redecorate.”  Granted after twenty-some years of marriage and five kids, most of what we had started out with had been broken and replaced already. Nothing matched, and I’d quit caring.  It was so miserably hot that I spent as little time as possible in the kitchen anyway.
Still, a girl can dream, and I used to dream of a red kitchen.
Post-fire, the kitchen was gone along with everything in it.  Located next to the garage which seems essentially to have exploded, it was incinerated.  Shards of dishes were buried in the ashes beneath the former location of the cabinets where I kept them.  Jake dug through the ashes where the pots and pans were kept, hoping to salvage my favorite cast iron pot, but its bottom was gone.  The only things that remain are two spoons we found in the yard, some plates and cups that were left out in the car, and the last remaining fork from our wedding flatware, which Jake retrieved for me from the blackened hulk of the dishwasher.
One of the first of many, many gifts we received post-fire was a set of Paula Deen cookware.  And it was RED.  Suddenly I realized that redecorating was a necessity and the red kitchen could be a reality.  Happily, the palette of the new house lent itself harmoniously to the red theme.  Target gift cards supplied coordinating appliances and accessories–it’s actually amazing how many red kitchen things there are!  Serendipitously red kitchen gadgets arrived from friends as if by magic.  Even the donated dishes (I’m still way too thrifty to buy red dishes when we were given at least three separate sets) harmonize with the redness, and I find their definite late-80s vibe comforting.
Our new kitchen is open to the adjoining family room, so there are a few red accents there too, and I got a red rug and hung some red pictures down the hall to the office.  I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and it makes me happy every time I look at it (when it’s clean, that is).
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Sanctuary

When I was eleven my family moved to a new house. It was a split level, and I had the basement bedroom. I had a three yellow walls, one wall with yellow roses, and wall-to-wall spring green carpet under my French Provincial 1970s bedroom suite, complete with canopy bed (covered with one of Mima’s afghans, of course–yellow and green!). I wish I had a picture to show you. I guess it was a little loud, but it looked like springtime, and I loved it.
As a teenager, I spent a lot of time in the privacy of that room.  I used to love to sit on my floor, listening to my record albums (usually my soundtrack to the animated version of The Lord of the Rings), drawing with my colored pencils in my special sketchbook.  I studied there, in front of my wall heater. I wrote a book there, reading chapters aloud to my sister as I finished them.  I talked on the phone for hours there (by pulling the long cord of the downstairs extension into the room!).  I entertained my friends there.  I cried there.   I loved being able to go downstairs and lock myself in, away from everyone.  It was a sanctuary.
For four years in college, I shared a bedroom.  Then I got married, and quickly was sharing my bedroom not only with my husband, but with a succession of babies and small children and an abundance of clutter.  First we had a creaky old bed; later we switched to box spring and mattess right on the floor to keep rolling babies safer.  When we moved into our Victorian house, I had high hopes for the bedroom-as-sanctuary:  it was a large room, with a fireplace and a door which once led to a balcony.  We even had a loveseat, but it quickly became a magnet for clothes waiting (and waiting, and waiting . . . )to be hung up, and the rest of the room quickly filled with the clutter that was overtaking the whole house.
The bedroom in what the little ones have christened “the burned down house” was kind of an anti-sanctuary.  We could not even get our boxspring up the stairs of this 1960 split level, so we had our mattress right on the floor.  It was stiflingly hot from May through September, and there were no screens on the windows, so that we learned to live with pollen everywhere and an abundance of flying and crawling friends.  We usually had two cats in bed with us, not to mention Lorelei AND William.  There always seemed to be either dirt (courtesy of the aforementioned bedmates) or crumbs (thanks, to John, who WOULD NOT STOP eating crunchy snacks in bed) amongst the sheets.  And this room was smaller than the last, and the clutter just as bad.  I hated going in there, frankly.
But now.  Oh my.
Can I just say that going up to my room at night is just about my favorite part of the day?  And not just because I love to sleep.  No, it is that sense of sanctuary that was pretty much completely missing from ANY room of the last place we lived. (And is it any wonder, in retrospect, that I never felt quite safe or at home there?)

The room is enormous.  And there’s no clutter because we don’t own any.
There’s a huge bathroom with two sinks and a spa tub.

Lorelei enjoys the spa tub

It has a walk-in closet.  You’d laugh if you saw a picture of that.  John, who was given all my Uncle Charlie’s clothes, and received shirts and ties from many other sources as well, NEEDS the closet (for that matter, as an attorney, he needs the clothes).  My side, on the other hand, is sparsely populated at the moment!
I love the furniture in the room, donated by a friend of my father and step-mother.  And there is no accumulation of knick-knacks to detract from it (the collection of . . . shall we say, CRAP, that used to sit on John’s bureau had been annoying me for years.).
And the bed.  Oh, the bed.

The bedspread is EXACTLY like one I inherited from Mima that was lost in the fire.  I never got to use it because it was too long with the bed always being on the floor.  The sheets are Ralph Lauren with a ridiculously high thread count.  Getting into this bed every night with my book and my book light and my reading glasses is truly one of my greatest pleasures in life.


By now it probably goes without saying that every single thing in this room–the pictures, the linens, the books, the furniture, the pillows–even the nightgown I sleep in each night–came from the love and generosity of friends, family, even strangers.  That makes the room feel like even more of a blessing.  I feel safe and loved here.
What about you?  Is your bedroom a sanctuary?  Do you have another place that is–or has been–a sanctuary for you?

Cat People

This morning, the first thing on the agenda is to take Mace to the vet for his first set of shots.  Mace is one of three now half-grown kittens who adopted us when we moved here.

Jake holding the first kitten to appear

We didn’t start off being cat people.  John never had a cat growing up.  In fact, he SAID he didn’t like cats.  Certainly, he was allergic to them (dogs, too).  My family had one cat when I was growing up–only because my little sister begged.  Celeste was a part of the family for 17 years, but we felt like she was an exception.  She was not like the other cats.
We never made a decision to own a cat, either.  Cat ownership was thrust upon us when Rosemary appeared on our deck, homeless and expecting kittens, when Teddy was a baby.  She stayed 15 years.  Mima urged us to keep her.  Children should have pets, she said.  She’d pay for all of it, she said.  She did, and we did.  Rosemary was a sweet, undemanding, affectionate cat.  For a time, we had a companion for her, another stray–a fat furry black and white creature named Tosco–but they never got along well and when he wandered off one day and did not return no one missed him much.
Rosemary disappeared one day shortly before we moved to the house that burned down.  She’d been gone for a few days before, but this time she didn’t come back.  I still miss her.
Lorelei and William decided they each wanted a kitten of their own.  I did not consent to this.  John and Emily between them brought home two kittens from Emily’s roommate’s cat.  Both were supposed to be girls; both turned out to be boys.  Carrying on a theme, we named them Pepper and Parsley.
Watching those two grow up was a joy.  They had so much fun playing together.  We had five acres of woods behind the house and it was a wonderful playground for them.  Wildlife abounded, and Parsley was a merciless hunter, killing something just about every day.
Those cats were spoiled rotten.  They ruled the house.  Rosemary was rarely inside.  Those two had windows open so they could come and go as they pleased.  They slept right in the bed with us.  I posted so many pictures of them on Facebook I embarrassed myself.
Lorelei in my bed with her kitten, Pepper.

Under the tree

Spoiled Rotten

Brotherly Love

After the fire, we never saw Pepper and Parsley again.  Pepper hadn’t been seen that day.  Parsley was in the house when the boys left at 4 p.m.  By ten, the house was in flames.  There was a window open for Parsley, of course.  We hope the fire scared them, that they ran into the woods, that when they came back to a foul-smelling blackened shell and we weren’t there, they found someone else to love them and take care of them.  That’s what we hope.
Lorelei and William didn’t care about the house.  They didn’t care about their toys.  All the cried about was their kittens.
So it seemed like God had a hand in sending those three little kittens to our porch only a few days after we moved in:  Cicely for Lorelei, Mace for William, and Mr. Kimutis (after his religion teacher) for Jake.  They will never replace Pepper and Parsley, but they are sweet and loving and have helped us heal.
First night

Eating us out of house and home

It's a bed if we say it's a bed

Saying her prayers

Drying off after getting caught in the rain

Just pitiful

New and New to Me

For seven years, our family lived here:

It was built in 1889, and parts of it didn’t seem to have been replaced since then.  It had been patched and smoothed over so that we did not realize what we were getting into until it began to disintegrate around us.  We are not handy and we could not afford the extensive renovations it needed and deserved.  But we loved it, and no modern home will ever have that much personality.
To go along with our old house, we had lots of old furniture.  John’s first apartment was furnished with his grandmother’s old living room furniture and his grandfather’s old bedroom furniture.  We added my old bedroom furniture and then started acquiring things from my friend’s antique shop.  The old furniture suited the old house.  We had armoires, a secretary, a sideboard, bookcases.  As older relatives died, we inherited heirlooms, an old cabinet radio, paintings, clocks.  Almost everything we owned was pre-owned, and we loved it all.
Well, it’s gone now.  And maybe it would be out of place in a four-year-old house anyway; I don’t know.  One thing’s certain:  we don’t mind at all that all the lovely things we have now are only new to us, because that is what we are used to.  That is comforting.
Here is a picture of my favorite piece of furniture we were given:
This came to us from a church friend.  It was her mother’s old kitchen table.  I can’t tell you how delighted I was when I saw it. (I had not idea about most of the furniture until it arrived in our home the day we moved in.)
My grandmother had a table that was very similar.  This was the kind of kitchen table a lot of people were still eating on when I was a little girl.  And someone even gave me some Melmac if I want to be even more authentic!
Here’s a close up:

This little breakfast nook turned out to be the perfect spot for the table:

 
I think that John thought the table’s placement there was temporary and that when we get the Queen Anne dining room furniture from his grandmother’s home would would be moving the oak dining set from the formal dining room into the kitchen.  But he is wrong.  This is not going anywhere.

Some old things you treasure just because they are old.  Others are special because of their history, their sentimental value, their family connections.  Someday I will write a weepy post about some of the heirlooms that are no more.  For now, I will just say that I feel sick at the thought that so many things no longer exist to be passed down to the next generation.
That’s one reason I was thrilled to acquire the item below, which while currently brand-new, will become an heirloom one day:
This beautiful quilt was handmade for me by my friend Emily.  She blogs here about her various crafty projects in progress.  I am amazed by her talent!

Right now this beautiful heirloom-to-be is putting in its time as camouflage for the old office chairs that provide additional seating in our living room, nice side chairs being one of the few things that have not yet come our way.  It is also being used by John to keep him warm when he naps on the living room couch.

Evidence of Conviction

“If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
As Christians, our lives are supposed to be our witness.  In the Gospel of John (13:35), Jesus said to His disciples: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  And this was true of the early Christians, according to Tertullian: “Look . . . how they love one another . . . and how they are ready to die for each other.”
I would like to think that my life gives some indication of my beliefs:  my kids go to Catholic schools, we attend Mass regularly and are active in our church, and of course Facebook and blogging have given me a public platform to witness to my beliefs.
But I also used to take comfort in the many visible, outward manifestations of Catholicism with which we adorned our home.  We didn’t just head out to the Catholic knickknack store one day and come back with a bunch of decorations; no, our collection was meaningful and gathered over several years.  Almost every room in our home bore evidence of our family’s religious convictions, daily reminders of what we believe to be the real purpose of our lives.
For some reason last year I went around and photographed several of my pictures and now I am so grateful that I did. 
This is a portrait of the Blessed Virgin as a child.  It had a companion which I did not photograph of the Child Jesus.
Obviously, this is the Madonna and Child.
And here’s the Holy Family.  I purchased all of these, at different, times, from my dear friend Antoinette Fritz, the proprietor of Myrtle’s Mess in South Knoxville.

When I was a little girl, we lived across the street from two brothers from Lebanon, Hafez and Joseph (Youssef, really).  Hafez and been in the U.S. for awhile, but his brother, who was a college student, was newly arrived and didn’t speak English very well.  We becamse friends with them, and you cannot imagine how incredibly exotic this was in Knoxville in the 1970s.  The above picture was originally a gift to my mother from Joseph.
This was the Polish Madonna that once hung in my laundry room.  It was my blogging friend Dwija‘s tweet about this picture yesterday that inspired today’s blog post.
Finally, my Kitchen Madonna.  I loved this visual reminder that Mary was a homemaker, too.
I also miss our crucifix, and the marriage cross that we received as a wedding gift that hung above our bed, and the statue of St. Patrick that I won in the Irish Basket at the St. Joseph Fall Festival, and the small print of the T.Chandler painting of our church, and the multitudes of crosses and rosaries, and more.  I know that what’s in our hearts is most important, but these outward manifestations are important to Catholics, and my house feels bare and soulless without them.

The Book Addict Gets Her Fix

We had eleven bookshelves in our last home.  Several were floor-to-ceiling and almost all were full.  And there were boxes in the garage, and stacks and stacks all over the house.  And we were always buying more.

The loss of my books was a tragedy of a magnitude I doubt a non-bibiliophile can appreciate.  Call me unnatural but I am every bit as upset about my books as I am about the pictures of my kids.  I’d known many of them for far longer.


The VERY FIRST item of furniture we purchased ourselves for our new home was a bookcase. (The second was something to sit our new gigantic television on, but that has nothing to do with me.)  We still have room on it for pictures and whatnots but I can assure you that will not last.  We’ve never had any use for bookends because our shelves were always crammed so full, in some cases two layers deep.


Since the fire I have felt wary of collecting possessions, of growing attached to anything.  I hesitate before saving the pictures Lorelei brings home from school.  I toss birthday cards in the garbage.  My closet holds just enough clothes to get by.  I guess it’s a measure of how central books are to my identity that this fear no longer extends to them.

I’ve joined three book clubs.  I’ve raided McKay’s and my church’s book swap.  I’ve claimed the discarded books of friends.  (“This feeds my soul,” said John, while going through several boxes of books given to us by my friend and her husband.)

So, what have I been reading?  I’ve just recently completed a couple of bestsellers:  The Hunger Games  by Suzanne Collins and Stephen King’s 11-22-63.  I couldn’t put the first one down–I read it in a day.  Spoiler alert:  The romance angle didn’t cut it for me.  That love triangle/constant misunderstanding thing is SO Harlequin.  As for King’s book, I adored his descriptions of the 50s which made me wish I could travel back through time myself, and also that he should just settle down there and live a happy life with his girlfriend and forget all the Kennedy stuff.  Because–SPOILER–wasn’t the ending obvious from the beginning to anyone who has ever read a time travel book?  It was to me, and I felt cheated having to hold that super-heavy hardback book for hours to find out that trying to change the past is a BAD IDEA.

I read those two for my book club.  On my own, I’ve discovered two new authors who write the kind of legal/crime thrillers I enjoy.  Having already consumed everything by Patricia Cornwell, Jonathan Kellerman, and Lisa Scottoline, I was excited to find more.  I cannot rave enough about Greg Iles, an astonishingly versatile writer who refuses to be boxed in by genre.  I’ve enjoyed all his books, especially the ones featuring his recurring character, Penn Cage.  I never gave a second thought to Natchez, Mississippi before reading his books, but now I want to go there.  He brings the city alive, and he writes about the South brilliantly and authentically.  Plus his stories are good.

Phillip Margolin is another recent discovery.  His books are not on the same level but they are page-turners with likable characters and evil villains and courtroom twists.  He sets his books in Oregon but he does not succeed in making his stories organic to their setting.  I also was able to figure out big parts of the plots ahead of time.  But that’s okay–it takes some of the stress out of reading them.  And they are intriguing enough to have kept me up late two nights this week finishing them.

I have Jeffrey Deaver and Michael Connelly books waiting in the “to be read” stack that never grows any shorter . . .


[UPDATE:  The nearly empty book shelf is now stuffed completely full and there are stacks of books next to it.  Both shelves of that table above have books stacked several feet high.]

Best Laid Plans

This week my life became simultaneously easier and harder.  Explain, you ask?  Well, over the weekend we acquired a new (to us) car (more on that in a moment).  So no longer do I have to drive Teddy to school while John drives Lorelei.   Teddy gets to drive himself!  No longer must I roll out of bed at 6:30 and nominally (maybe I should say MOMinally) dress myself in my “uniform”–the well-loved skirt that requires me to pull my sweatshirt WAY down while sidling like a crab if I must go into Weigel’s for lunch money on the way to school.
So how is this harder in any way?  Well, folks, I am still in my nightgown.  The other kids are abed.  It’s early, I’m tired, and the only one setting the schedule around here is me.  My bed calls.  And now every morning I must resist its siren song and enter the office instead.
Now, about that car.  Well, when our house burned down, two of our cars were totaled as well, John’s Lincoln and the Dodge Durango that we were saving for the kids to drive.  Right away, my dear friend Kris emailed to say that she and her husband, Colin, wanted to give us a car that they no longer needed.  (thank you, THANK YOU, Kris and Colin!!) Problem is, they live in Florida, and it took us until last weekend to get ourselves together and figure out how to get the car here.  So last Friday, John flew to Tampa (there’s actually a very cheap one-way flight!) and on Saturday, he drove home in our “new” 1997 Mazda Protege.  Since it’s small, and a stick shift, and gets 35 miles a gallon, it makes sense for John to be the one who drives it, leaving me with my minivan and Teddy with John’s 1998 Lincoln.  We feel safer with him in a larger vehicle, yet another reason to mourn the tank-like Durango.
Wait a minute, I can almost hear you calling, while you count on your fingers.  Teddy can’t be 18 yet, can he?  No, Jake just turned 18!  Why is Teddy driving anything anywhere?  What happened to “my teenagers aren’t allowed to drive until they are 18?”
Life happened, y’all.  Our views have not changed, but sometimes philosophical views take a back seat to real life.  Here’s how it happened.
When our house burned down, Jake and Teddy were immediately deluged with offers of temporary homes with their friends.  We were staying with my sister, who never complained, but six additional people is kind of a lot.  It made sense to lessen the burden–and to make their homeless situation “fun”–by letting the boys stay with friends.  It also solved what would otherwise have been insurmountable transportation problems.  With only one available car, three kids in school, and John in court in as many as three counties in a day, we needed help.  All Jake and Teddy’s friends could drive, and we really had no choice but to cave on letting the boys ride with other teenagers–even after we had our own place–until we settled with the insurance company and acquired another car.
The problem is, you can’t really put that horse back in the barn, can you?  And once you’ve let the kids ride with other teenagers, it doesn’t make any sense to say they can’t drive themselves.  Our plan had been working as foreseen with Teddy–he got his permit as soon as he was able and started begging to practice.  Pre-fire, he was already doing almost all the driving, albeit with a parent in the car.  So shortly before he turned 17, John took him to get his license.
Neither Emily nor Jake drives.  Emily got her learner’s permit over the summer.  I recently observed Jake studying for the test.  Our plan did not work with them because once they knew they wouldn’t drive at 16, they lost all interest.   William is not quite 11, and I know better than to state absolutes that far in advance.  Our current plan is to hold to the driving at 18 rule for him, BUT require him to obtain his learner’s permit and start practicing as soon after he turns 15 as possible.

A Quarter of a Century

That’s how long ago it’s been, as of today, that John and I have been a couple.  On February 16, 1987, he asked me if I would be interested in going out with him, and I bet if he could have seen the future, he would have run the other way instead.  But I guess if any of us could see the future we’d run the other way, right?
I went to college with the express intention of finding a husband.  I also said he would be a lawyer (because I thought all attorneys were rich!) and that we would have a lot of children (I wanted ten) and I would stay home with them.  I got what I planned for, although it doesn’t always look exactly the way I thought it would!  John went to college to prepare to join the Foreign Service.  He was going to live a wild bachelor existence until he was at least 30, and he wasn’t really interested in having children at all.  He also got what I wanted. 🙂  I think he’s not sorry, most days.
Our early courtship was . . . shall we say . . . complicated, because John had been dating my roommate first.  But we worked through that, and all the things that followed.  We were best friends first, and I know that helped (still does).  We also enjoyed one of those romantic, chemistry-charged beginnings–and we can usually recall those feelings when we need a boost, even if that kind of intensity cannot be sustained non-stop for 25 years.
We’ve always celebrated this date with the same fervor as our wedding anniversary–which is probably why Valentine’s Day has never been a big deal for us.  The first year we were dating, we exchanged cards on the 16th of every month!  John planned to pop the question on August 16, 1988, which would have been our 18 month anniversary, but once he had the ring he just couldn’t wait, so he asked on July 16 instead.
I have an exceptionally clear and detailed memory of my whole life up until I started having children.  Ask anybody.  And I’m glad, because I can conjure up not only the feelings of those early days (not wanting to eat, seeing John’s face floating above the Platonic dialogue I was supposed to be reading, being able to think of nothing but our next meeting . . .) but the actual details (what happened each day leading up to the 16th, where I sat and waited for John to meet me after his class, him playing “Only the Good Die Young” whenever I came over– and no, it did not work!).  This is more important than ever now.
Because normally today I would go to my dresser drawer and pull out a sheaf of love letters and cards from the first year of that courtship, still in their envelopes, many addressed not to “Leslie” but to “Pumpkin” or whatever the pet name of the week was, neatly arranged in chronological order.  It embarrassed John to hear the things he wrote back then, but I treasured them, and realizing they were reduced to ashes was the post-fire moment that brought me closest to tears.
Which brings me to a happier story that I don’t think I’ve shared yet.  When I tell people that our house burned down, the thing they all are most upset by is the loss of all our pictures (we will be the last generation that can lose pictures to fire, thanks to computers).  Now, honestly, I was more upset about a lot of things.  That’s because I made triple prints of every photo and sent one whole set to John’s family in Baltimore, so I knew that most pictures of our kids survived somewhere.  I thought, though, that our pre-kid pictures were gone for good.
One day John went over to the ruins to get our fire proof box, which had all the negatives for our pictures, including our wedding pictures.  Sadly, fireproof does not mean waterproof, and everything in the box was ruined.  But John also came home with a photo album with some salvageable pictures.  I sent him back to look again and he returned with most of our photo albums and the baby books too! Somehow, amidst the utter destruction of the room they were in, the built-in cabinet they were stored in provided some level of protection.  The albums are singed and many pictures are ruined.  But many can be saved.

I can’t do it.  Looking at the destroyed ones upsets me and so does the very strong smell of fire.  But Emily worked on it at Christmas time and will finish the job this summer.  And because of this little miracle, I do have a couple of courtship pictures to illustrate this story.

My 21st Birthday

Diplomatic Ball – Georgetown 1988