Archive for December, 2009

Going Home Again

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

In August, my oldest son, who is a high school senior, and I packed the car and headed off on a week-long tour of college campuses in the Midwest. It was a great week with ample father-son bonding. We even seemed to agree on what music to play in the car. Before heading home, we made a detour north to my hometown of Orchard Lake, Michigan. The main purpose was to visit my mother, who is 93 now and, despite the expected age-related infirmities, has retained her good cheer and optimism.

Those of you who have read my memoir, The Longest Trip Home, know Mom quite well. She was a colorful firecracker as a younger woman and, blessedly, has retained a good deal of that spunk into old age. It was great to see her, and to see how my 17-year-old could make her face light up just by being there. Mom entertained us with stories from her childhood, which she remembered with crystal clarity even though she has trouble remembering what she had for lunch. (That’s her above, mid-story.) My son found the stories highly amusing, especially the ones that involved her getting into trouble with her own parents. Some aspects of the parent-child relationship just don’t change.

While in town, I had another item on my agenda. I wanted to revisit my childhood haunts, the places I describe in The Longest Trip Home, the ones that helped shape me. And so, video camera in hand, I walked the neighborhood streets, dropped by my old grade school, found an open door into the church where I had my disastrous first confession, and where two decades later Jenny and I were married. I walked down to the neighborhood beach on Cass Lake where we swam and smoked cigarettes as kids, and to the special place my brother and I would steal away to when we were skipping Sunday Mass.

You can view the video of my trip home here:

As you will see, much has changed in the old neighborhood since I was a kid. And some things haven’t changed much at all.

Happy New Year!

Santa was a cheapskate, but we loved him

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Christmas is a week away and I’m actually less behind — which is not to say ahead — than usual for this time of year. Tis the season to be stressed out, tra-la-la… Most of the shopping is done, and gifts are in the mail. The cards are done because there are no cards to do. A few years ago, I decided holiday gang emails made a lot more sense than snail-mail cards, which ate up huge amounts of time, mostly because I insisted on writing a personal note on each one. (Don’t you wonder what’s the point when people send cards and simply write their names on the bottom?) I no longer even feel guilty about going the electronic route. I’ll tell you, it’s liberating.

We still get real trees, though. Jenny and I brought home a beauty of a fir last week that cleared the nine-foot ceilings with two inches to spare — YES! — and now it’s twinkling in the front window, covered in decorations that tell the story of our children’s artistic endeavors over the years, beginning in pre-school. My favorites are the paper angels they made one year with photos of their faces pasted on below halos made of pipe cleaners. Oh, where have those little angels gone? Whisked away and replaced by mutant teenage alien life forms that make strange monosyllabic sounds and eat incomprehensible amounts, mostly of ice cream. Thank goodness for those ornaments that lock fleeting innocence in time.

Pulling out holiday decorations always gets me thinking about my own childhood and how magical Christmas was back then. At the invitation of Book Club Girl (, I recently wrote about the holidays of my youth and the very special, oddball Santa who dropped down our chimney each year back in those days. You can read it here:

Happy holidays, everyone! Group hug!