21


Dad and his beloved dog Jesse on Wimbledon Common

Today marks 21 years since Dad’s sudden death. Has my grief matured, at the ripe old age of 21? I would have to say no, much as I have not matured, at the ripe old age of 60. I still think of Dad every day, and I still miss him every day. While I am no longer throwing myself on the floor and howling or having strange experiences like not remembering what my name is when signing a check, or suddenly finding myself at Grace Cathedral with no memory of leaving my apartment, locking the door, and walking up Franklin Street and down California Street, I find I am very sad today.

I soon learned after Dad died that grief is not linear. I thought I would feel a little better each day, but it doesn’t work that way. At all. Some days, you feel OK, and the next day, you feel terrible. Just because today was an OK day doesn’t mean tomorrow will be, and this is also true of bad days. You have no control over this, and it’s scary. Some days you remember the happy memories, and some days you are really sad about your loss and the fact that your life will never be the same again. There’s before, and there’s after, and there’s no return to before or escape from after.

This year is a sad year, and I will just have to accept that and try to comfort myself with the knowledge that, much like in the picture above, Dad and Jesse are together and they always will be. Both of their ashes were scattered on Wimbledon Common, their favorite place to walk together. I like knowing they are keeping each other company. I hope they are watching over me, and I hope that Dad was wrong about their being no after life and that I can tell him so one day.

I love you, Dad. You are always loved, always missed. Thank you for being my best friend and confidant, and for always loving me, no matter what. I was lucky to have you in my life. I just wish we had you around a little longer.

Nostalgia

I emerged from the Immersive van Gogh exhibit into the dazzling sunshine overlooking Market Street:

I intended to take Uber back to the motel, but it kept saying pick up on Mission no matter how many times I entered the address, so I decided to just take the bus. The stop was right there, one of the new and fancy ones. I looked up the fare on my phone: now $3.

As the bus lurched northwards on Van Ness, an older gentleman struck up a conversation with me. It turned out that he was a Vietnam War veteran, and he showed me, that Memorial Day weekend, the scars on his neck and head, and told me of having bullets removed from his head. I thanked him for his service, and we enjoyed our conversation until I hopped off the bus at California Street. It was just like the old days, when I lived in the City. People were always talking to me on buses and cable cars, and I love that.

I took a stroll down Polk Street, noting what had changed and what hadn’t. The building I first lived in when I moved to San Francisco now has a security gate on it:

making it very difficult to see the “San Benito” in the mosaic on the stoop:

The building survived the 1906 and the 1989 quakes. I lived on the top floor, reached by a sweeping spiral staircase, and the apartment had a wood-burning fireplace. I wonder how much it rents for now?

Bob’s Doughnuts was thankfully the same:

As I joined the eternal line, a policeman emerged with a box of doughnuts, headed for his double-parked patrol car. He said, “I know, I know. Cops and doughnuts!”

TEN YEARS AGO: Festive 50th birthday to me!

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Missing the legendary Ramones. I still love them.

90


Mom

Today is my mother’s 90th birthday.

I think it’s still your birthday, even if you aren’t here to celebrate it. Looking back over these pages, I see that Mom was not here to see most of my entries about her birthday, since she died after a mere 73 years on the planet, after a long and courageous battle against breast cancer.

She was tough, and she was a survivor. Life dealt her a pretty rough hand from the get go. Her birth mother abandoned her on the orphanage steps as a newborn. She suffered from mental health issues her entire life and never got it under control. I think she had serious post-partum after my sister Megan was born. She spent the whole summer in bed, which at the time (I was 9 years old), I thought was what happened when you had a baby. Dad left her* after 25 or so years of marriage, and her second husband, a complete jerk who was about half her age, also left her after he spent all her money. She ended up on welfare, living in a trailer on my sister’s property.

I see a pattern of abandonment in her life which must have been really painful for her. I wonder if she had been born later if there would be better psych drugs and treatment available to her to make her life happier and healthier. Maybe she shouldn’t have had children or gotten married. Maybe she should have had more freedom in her life and her life choices.

We always had a complicated relationship. I don’t think she was that crazy about me, and I am OK with that. Like John always says, if you have one good parent, you’ll be OK. Now that I’m older, I understand that this was about her, not me. She always seemed kind of distant to me. If she was awake when we went to school, she was having black coffee and a cigarette. It was never suggested that she drive us to school or even to the school bus stop, a good half mile away, a long walk in the snow, when we would follow the path we had made the day before. Dad did the cooking, read to us, and took us grocery shopping and to the library on Saturdays. Mom was kind of a ghost in our house.

I wish she had experienced more joy in her life. I wish her death had not been so long and painful and terrible. I’m glad I took care of her at the end and did everything I could do for her. I do love her, and I do remember her smile, her love of music and appreciation for beauty. We share our green eyes. There are good memories, too.

Happy birthday, Mom. I wish you were here to celebrate with us.

*Fun, Jerry Springer style fact: he left my mother for my boyfriend’s mother. Extra credit: boyfriend’s mother is still alive and well at 90 years of age and we are good friends. We email each other often.

A YEAR AGO: My brother Jonathan’s road trip adventure.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Mom’s 85th birthday.

TEN YEARS AGO: Mom’s 80th birthday.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: I still hate the heat. Pretty sure I always will.

Remembering


Dad and Me

Dad’s birthday this year found me feeling sad. Some years, I remember all the happy times, and others, I feel sad or even angry at how long he’s been gone and how senseless his death was. Sometimes I think that he was spared the indignities of getting old and losing his intellectual abilities, which he prized so highly, or his physical abilities, and having to be vulnerable and helpless in front of others, whether they were us or paid help. That’s about the only positive thing I have been able to come up with in the nearly 21 years he has been gone, and it’s not much.

I soon learned after Dad died that most fathers were not like mine, and that most people were not close to their fathers. It made me feel even more alienated and alone in my grief, since nearly everyone I knew still had their fathers and most of them didn’t really want to hang out with them. Whereas for me, my trips to England to visit Dad were the high point of my life, and no one has ever known me or loved me like him. We knew all the worst things about each other and we loved each other anyway. That is a rare gift, and one I am grateful for when I am not mourning the loss of it. I don’t know if it’s worse to have it and lose it, or never have it at all.

I do know that I love my father as much now as when he was alive, and that I will miss him until I follow him into the darkness. I hope he’s wrong and he is there to greet me, reaching out to hug me on arrival, like he used to do at the airport.

A YEAR AGO: Dad’s 90th birthday.

TEN YEARS AGO: Dad’s 81st birthday.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Remembering Dad on his birthday.

Anniversary


Our Beloved Star

A year ago, we lost our shining Star. The photo above was one of the last ever taken of her, just four days before her death. Doesn’t she look beautiful, shiny, and healthy? She always looked beautiful on the outside, whatever was happening on the inside.

Her death was expected, but unexpected, sudden, but a process. We knew she had cancer (though we did not know exactly where, and we will never know), and we knew her days were numbered, but we were still surprised when the day came. Maybe that’s the nature of death and how we humans deal with it.

On the last night of her life, Star seemed a little tired, but she was as overjoyed to see me as ever, and walked me to my car with Megan, where I watched them in my side mirror until they were out of sight, and they watched me.

Star died in the garden around 1:00 in the afternoon on the next day. It was swift and merciful for her. I don’t think she knew what happened. She was lying peacefully on the grass and in the sun, in a place she loved, with Stella close by and Rob working near her. She felt safe and happy and I bet the sun felt good on her fur. Stella started barking, Rob took a look at Star, saw the blood coming from her mouth, and ran for Megan, who was sleeping after her third 12 hour night shift of the week. By the time they returned to the garden, Star was gone.

Losing her was the most significant event of 2021 for me. A year after losing her, I am still a little surprised by how huge a hole she has left in our lives. I never realized quite how much she meant to me until she was gone. I took her beauty and love and joy in seeing me for granted. She was part of the fabric of my life, woven into the heart of it. I regret not appreciating her meaning in my life more while she was still here. She was the heart of Megan and Rob’s household, and it will never be the same. I think we will always miss Star’s presence. I still look for her to come running up to me joyfully when I visit. We were lucky to have her as long as we did.

Thankfully, we still have Stella, with her adorable goofiness, and Stella is very happy with her companion Millie, the playmate she always dreamed of. Millie is still nervous around humans other than Megan and Rob, but she has no reticence at all about playing with Stella or climbing all over her or sleeping with her, all of which Stella loves. Stella was so sad without Star that it was utterly heart-breaking to see, so it’s wonderful to see her so happy with Millie. They are a very cute matched set:

It’s so sweet to see them together and see them so happy.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Weather was variable.

TEN YEARS AGO: Miscellaneous news.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Escape from New York was not easy.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: A day in my life in San Francisco.

Soup

Our good friend Lu mentioned to Megan the other day that she was going to make “snowflake soup”. This delighted us both more than you would expect for such a simple phrase. It’s because it reminded us both of Dad, and also that Lu knew and loved Dad, too. She even wore his sweetpeas at her wedding, so he was there in a way.

Growing up in WWII London and living with rationed food from the age of 9 to the age of 23, Dad had a horror of wasting food, which he passed on to his children. It’s alive and well in us. One of his habits – and ours – was to use up vegetables and miscellaneous food in the refrigerator by making it into soup. Since the leftovers varied and two soups were ever the same, we called it “snowflake soup”. So it was fun to hear someone outside our family use that expression. As time goes by, I realize there are very few people left who remember my parents, so I really treasure it when I can share those memories.

As for me, I recently made an appropriately spring green, though non-snowflake, soup:

It’s chickpeas, spinach, shallots, garlic, and ginger whirled together with vegetable broth and garnished with a squeeze of fresh lime, a drizzle of curry oil, and a shower of fresh mint. Springtime in a bowl!

A YEAR AGO: The beginning of the end for our beloved Star. Her loss is a great one.

FIVE YEARS AGO: More news about cats and dogs.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: A clean bill of health for our cats.

Aspirational

I was reading a New Yorker article today where they mentioned that someone was “comically wealthy”, and I thought, “That’s exactly what I should be.” If only I had followed my original career choice of Idle Rich, perhaps I would have achieved a comic level of wealth by now.

When I was in 5th or 6th grade, we had a career fair. We were supposed to write down what we wanted to be when we grew up. I now look back at this with astonishment. Nearly half a century later, I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up, and I’m beginning to suspect that I will in fact never grow up. If I haven’t grown up by now, with my 60th birthday looming on the horizon (less than 5 shopping months left, Suzy fans!), is there really any hope that I will?

Also, how did the alleged grownups who were running that particular show think that 12 year olds had any idea of what they could or should be doing in their distant grown-up futures? And imagine being held to a decision you made at that age, when you probably thought your name should be Princess Sparkle and you wanted to eat pizza every night and stay up late with your friends?

OK, to be fair, I still want to do most of those things, and while I wouldn’t actually call myself a sparkly princess, inside I feel like I am one.

At this career fair, I wrote down “Idle Rich” as my career aspiration. I got in trouble for this, the Powers that Be thinking that I was making a mockery of this preteen career decision-making, when in fact, I was 100% serious. I was indignant that I was so misunderstood and that the grownups once again failed to understand me. It was a Ramona moment.

I really think I would be an excellent idle rich person. I would never be bored, and my days would be filled with glamor and beauty. I would be a wonderful patroness of the arts. Maybe in my next life…

A YEAR AGO: Winter was not very wintry. It’s been conspicuous by its absence this year, too.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Stormy weather.

TEN YEARS AGO: Rob’s ongoing neck issues were a real pain in the neck.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Sometimes an Oreo can be a madeleine.

20


Dad

It’s been 20 years since we lost Dad.

I look at that statement on the page and it shocks me almost as much as hearing the words from my sister on that early morning phone call.

Two decades.

I knew this would be a hard day to face, but I was even more sad than I expected. It didn’t help that the sky was hazy and the light was eerie and creepy from the Dixie Fire, 200 miles away near Chico. It felt doomy and apocalyptic. Maybe that was appropriate.

On Tuesday, I found a single perfect raven feather in the courtyard at work. I picked it up and wondered if it was a sign from him, even though I know he would laugh at that. I hope he was wrong and there is an afterlife. If there is, he is probably laughing at his daughter’s superstition.

On the morning of the Evil Eighteenth, I started reading “The New Yorker”, and the article I picked up happened to be about how a bird seen only in Australia somehow appeared in an Italian Renaissance painting from the 15th century. I thought how Dad would have enjoyed that article, combining his love of birds, art, and a good mystery, and that if he were still alive, I would have shared it with him. Again, this felt like a sign from him or about him. I admit it, I’m superstitious! He would have laughed at my silliness. I miss that, too.

That evening, Megan and I went to Ledford House. Our favorite bartender was working that night, and it seemed like the perfect place to toast Dad as he had suggested: “The old man wasn’t so bad.”

A YEAR AGO: Thinking of Dad.

FIVE YEARS AGO Dad’s favorite flowers.

TEN YEARS AGO The tenth anniversary of the Evil Eighteenth.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Miscellaneous thoughts.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Dad’s sudden and untimely death.

Restaurants

Last weekend, I had a craving for Thai food. When you live in Hooterville, or, in my case, on the distant outskirts of Hooterville, fulfilling your Thai food craving is not as simple as calling the restaurant and having them deliver it. It means about three hours of driving. But it’s a beautiful drive, and it was a beautiful day, so off Wednesday and I went.

Even as I drove down the Ridge:

I wondered if I was really going to do this and if I was out of my mind to go so far just to get dinner. I am such a bad decision-maker. Even when my course is set and it’s too late to change my mind, I’m still wondering if I made the right decision.

The ocean was feeling pretty that day:

It was a lovely drive, with trees arching over the roadway:

Cows grazed peacefully in meadows full of wildflowers, and horses’ fur shone in the sun. Three little spotted fawns stood by the side of the road with their mother. They were incredibly cute.

As I drove, I thought of our long drives to Maine in my childhood summers. It was about 600 miles and took more than 10 hours. I realize that the drive to Maine was one of the rare occasions when we actually went to restaurants as kids. We’d usually stop at a Howard Johnson’s on the way. I still remember the orange roofs. And the fried clams and rainbow sherbet. Once in Maine, we would get popovers at Jordan Pond House – still a delicious Island tradition – and lobster rolls at Beal’s (ditto). But back in upstate New York, we did not go out to restaurants. In fact, I can’t even think of one in the little village of Dryden, where we lived then.

We certainly did not eat Thai food when I was a kid. I wonder what I would have thought of it back then. Present-day Suzy was quite pleased to arrive at the restaurant right when it opened, first in line to order. As I waited, I admired the décor:

It wasn’t long before I was headed back home, with fresh spring rolls, Massaman curry, and crispy cashew prawns. It was a delightful drive and a delightful dinner.

A YEAR AGO: A beautiful tree to remember The Beautiful Harriet.

FIVE YEARS AGO Some bad omens.

TEN YEARS AGO Things were unglamorous.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Construction criticism.

Canelés

I love canelés de Bordeaux. When I lived in San Francisco, I used to buy them at the French bakery on Polk Street, a charming place with little green metal tables on the sidewalk under a striped awning and delicious delicacies inside. Of course, this delightful place is long gone, along with the French lingerie shop, Polk-Vallejo Market, and the combination shoe repair and tailoring establishment run by an elderly Italian couple who used to have lunch together at a table on the sidewalk every day, complete with a glass of wine and their dog napping peacefully at their feet. They are part of the San Francisco I loved, now lost to time and encroaching soullessness. I feel lucky that I lived in the City when the neighborhoods had distinct characters and it wasn’t all rich people and Starbucks.

Here in distant Hooterville, the closest place to get a canelé fix is at Franny’s Cup & Saucer, an hour’s drive from Chez Suzy, and they don’t always have them. I did pick some up on my way to Bodega Bay recently, and as I enjoyed its distinctive crust and creamy interior, I began to wonder if I could make them myself.

Locating a recipe on the ever-helpful interwebs, it didn’t look very difficult, though special equipment was required, including the pan and food-grade beeswax, which is apparently essential for getting the dark, crispy outer shell. Once I obtained these items, I ventured on my first batch ever of canelés.

I used my prettiest kitchen equipment to inspire me:

The trophy measuring cups were actually useful as well as pretty, especially since I used the smallest one to pour the batter into the molds. Before long, the house was filled with the distinctive scent of canelés. As I took them out of the oven, I thought, “They look pretty convincing”:

The recipe said to unmold them while they were hot to keep the crust crisp. If you leave them in the molds while they cool, they will sort of steam and become soft. They unmolded easily:

When I was ready to test one, I was pleased to see that the inside was appropriately custardy, while the outside was crispy and caramelized:

The hardest part was dealing with the beeswax and butter mixture, which is used to brush the molds before pouring in the batter. You have to do it quickly, before it hardens, and then cleaning the pan you melted it in, the pastry brush, and eventually, the pan you baked the canelés in is not easy. Getting buttery wax off dishes is challenging. But it was all worth it.

A YEAR AGO: Things were rocking and rolling in the family garden.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Another look at the local message boards.

TEN YEARS AGO: My attempts at gardening.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: It’s here. The official Month of Death.

50


Birthday Girl

Today is my sister Megan’s 50th birthday.

It’s hard for me to believe that the little baby who came home from the hospital on my 9th birthday is half a century old on this day. I still remember being called to the office on that bright spring day. I felt so small as I walked down the empty, echoing school hallways*, reviewing my recent crimes in my head and then sorting them by the ones I thought I could have been caught at. I had reached no conclusion by the time I reached the principal’s office.

My criminal musings were ended by the school secretary cheerfully informing me that I had a baby sister. I skipped back to my classroom, slammed the door open, and announced the happy news, which was greeted by “Yay!” from the girls and “Boo!” from the boys.

My first glimpse of my sister was when our parents brought her home from the hospital on my birthday. She was wrapped in white blankets, and was so small! It seemed I had to dig around in the blankets for a while before I found the baby. We were excited that she was a brunette after the rest of us were blonde.

Despite my youth, I took care of Megan as a baby, giving her bottles (she was allergic to formula, and drank soy milk) and changing her and doing the laundry. I was surprised that the smallest person in the family had the most laundry. All those cloth diapers and onesies! I remember the first time she laughed. She was in her playpen, watching the snowball bush outside the window dancing in the breeze.

Megan lived with me during high school, and I had to make decisions about her boyfriend** staying over, how late she could be out, birth control, and minor things of that nature. Don’t forget that I was a mere 9 years older and in my early 20s at the time. There’s a reason that Nature generally does not allow parents to be so young. Looking back, I think I did a pretty good job of fake parenting, and I like to think that I had a little something to do with Megan becoming the amazing person she is today***.

I am so proud of her for living her life with integrity, humor, and love. She has worked in emergency medical services for almost 20 years, and if the shit is hitting the fan, if you have been in a car accident or your loved one is dying or you are giving birth, she is the one you want to have there. She is the best person to be there on your worst day. She is calm, decisive, and commanding, whether driving the ambulance or working in the ER. She takes no nonsense, but she treats patients with respect and compassion. She is beloved by her team at work, where they are like a family. Facing the drama and the long, dark nights together, when things tend to happen, brings you close, like being in battle. And in a way, they are.

She has been married to Rob, our brother’s best friend, for 30 of her 50 years****, and they have grown and supported each other together over the years. The good times and the bad times have just made them closer. As Megan says, whatever life throws at them, they just hold each other’s hands and walk through it together.

With our brother, Megan and Rob have homesteaded their property, living off the grid, digging their own wells, and creating a beautiful vegetable garden, flower garden, and orchard out of inhospitable pygmy. My sister has achieved a lot in her half century on this planet, and I for one can’t wait to see what the next 50 years bring. I am so proud of you, baby sis! And I love you with all my heart.

*Years later, when Megan was in high school and living with me, I would find going to her “parent”-teacher conferences equally intimidating. I always felt like they were going to make me go back to school, since I was clearly impersonating a responsible adult.

**Still my friend!

**When asked in job interviews what my greatest achievement is, I always think, “Megan”. Though I never say that. Now you know the truth!

****And without our beloved father for 20 of her 50 years. She was out of parents before she was 35. Have you called yours lately?

A YEAR AGO: I know a lot of secrets.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Celebrating Megan’s birthday in style.

TEN YEARS AGO: A rainy birthday for Megan. I see I did not not note it was her 40th.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: The joys of almost dog ownership. I still miss the Lovely (and dignified) Rita.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Feeling proud of Megan on her 30th birthday.

Firenze

In 1984, my father was invited to work for a few months at the University of Siena. He brought my mother and sister (who was 13 at the time) with him. I convinced him to take me along (I was 22), due to heartbreak and drama in my life. It was a good decision, not only because the outrageous admiration I received from Italian men was extremely therapeutic, but because living in Italy, even temporarily, was an amazing experience.

April 1, 1984

Two trips to Florence and one to Pisa.


Bus ticket to Florence

We visited the Uffizi gallery and the Raphael exhibit at the Pitti Palace. The rest of the palazzo was shut off because of the exhibit, but the rooms which housed the exhibit were as remarkable as the exhibit itself. I especially liked the first room where the actual paintings were set up, it was like Wedgwood, very textured, white and palest pink. There were no more than 20 paintings, but they were all very beautiful. In the following rooms, there were x-rays and ultra violet photographs of the paintings, examining the paints used, and drawings with the final paintings beside them.

The courtyard of the Uffizi was covered in graffiti, almost shockingly so. Inside the gallery, there was almost too much to take in, but the unforgettables for me were the unbelievable Botticelli “Spring” and “Birth of Venus”, which were breathtaking and almost made me weep for their beauty. The wonderful 5th century BC [actually 1st century] Venus in the Tribuna looked so alive and so beautiful you could fall in love with her. There were two portraits in the Tribuna of women who glowed out of their frames. There were also two wonderful self portraits by Rembrandt, painted 30 years apart. In the older portrait, he looked very dissipated indeed! He must have had a lot of fun in those 30 years.

Florence is a small (600,000 people) city and all the historical buildings and art galleries are quite close together, so just walking around is an experience and gives you a feel for the city and the people. We also explored the market in the Piazza San Marco, which was a great deal of fun and full of lovely things – lace, shoes, scarves, jewelry, gloves, all jumbled together.

It was a long drive to Pisa, but it was a radiant day, and since it was mostly new places en route, I wasn’t bored. When you leave a town in Italy, they have its name on a sign crossed out! We drove through the Chianti wine country, through groves of trees and up and down hills. You seem to climb imperceptibly in Tuscany and then you look down on a splendid view of the country beneath, farms, vineyards, houses. I still cannot get over the way everyone lives in medieval structures. Sometimes, you see an ancient, crumbling building that no one could possibly live in, but then you see the inevitable line of laundry hanging from the window.

Some delightful details en route: two carved wooden dragons over a doorway, a forsythia tree at the base of a palm tree. One English word the Italians seem to have taken to is “jolly”. There are Jolly hotels, cafes, restaurants, even garages!

In Pisa, the only thing to see is the tower, which was much smaller and prettier than I imagined.60% of Pisa was destroyed during WWII, so most of the town is new and not very interesting. The tower is white and grey, and Dad, Meg, and I climbed it – Meg even went up the part you needed a ladder to reach. You get a token and go through a turnstile like the subway.

After that, we drove to the sea. It was the first time Mom had seen the Mediterranean [I spent the summer of 1979 on the French Riviera, where I was shocked by the warmth of the Mediterranean’s waters. Among other things.]! Meg found some beach glass and a little tile worn to a perfect triangle. The sea was as blue as it is in France. It is very beautiful, exciting, yet hypnotic. We drove home past Volterra, a village famous for alabaster and Etruscan ruin

Amsterdam


Alice and me at her home in Amsterdam, 1991

I recently came across a box full of my travel diaries, including one with an account of a visit to my best friend, Alice, at her home in Amsterdam in 1991. It is shocking to think that this was 30 years ago. On the other hand, it’s delightful to know that we are still best friends and email each other pretty much every day. In fact, an email notification from her just flashed across my screen as I typed this.

So hop in the time machine and let’s go to Amsterdam, circa 1991!

March 22, 1991

I arrived at Gatwick at 11:10 and thought that I would have a lot of time to kill until the 12:15 boarding time [those were the days!], but by the time I had lined up for a boarding pass, passport control, and security, I had about 10 minutes to wait.

It was worthwhile getting a window seat, because I got to see a lot of England as we flew over – an impossible green divided by roads, hedges, and rivers – the Channel, and some of the Dutch coast and brilliantly blooming tulip fields. Met by Alice at the airport and we were so happy to see each other that we held hands all the way to the train station.

Alice and Claudie’s house is close to the central station in the old (that’s what the “O.Z.” stands for in their address) part of Amsterdam. It is also in the heart of the famous Red Light District, so I got a good view of the girls sitting in the windows.

The house’s foundation is from 1490, but the part where Alice and Claudie live is only from the 18th century. There are heavy wooden beams and many windows. Because of the height of the houses and the narrowness of the staircases, each house has a tall, wide window in front with a hook for a pulley, to lift furniture in and out of the house.

Alice and I went to the famous flower market and bought 40 beautiful tulips for about $9, lipstick pink at the ends and white near the stem. We went for dinner at a local bar and then drank and walked our way through downtown, a real walk on the wild side. We stayed up talking until 2 am. We are so very glad to see each other again!

March 23, 1991

Alice and I spent the day shopping and window shopping. We bought dinner ingredients and for the first time in our long friendship, we made dinner together. Alice was always so unapologetically undomestic when we were younger that it was odd to see her cook. [Now we are constantly exchanging recipes and she is an amazing cook and one of the top restaurant reviewers on London’s Zomato.] We made pasta with pesto and Thai beef salad.

Amsterdam is like a toy town, with narrow streets, sidewalks that are mere suggestions, tall, narrow buildings leaning at odd angles due to extreme age, canals everywhere.

March 24, 1991

Time to head back to London. At about 6:30, Alice suggested we check to see if my flight was on time. It was; I wasn’t. I was convinced for some reason that my flight was at 8:45 pm when it was actually at 7:45 pm. Panic!

We rushed to Central Station and caught the train for Schiphol [The name of the airport; it means “ship’s hold”. The airport is below sea level, at about the level of a sailing ship’s hold.]. Thankful for Dutch efficiency; imagine being in that situation in Italy!

So I did make my plane. I went through the “nothing to declare” line at Gatwick and was stopped. This guy looked through everything. He looked inside each blossom of my light up tulips, shredded a tampon, and noticed that my coat lining had been resewn (by Margaret [my stepmother], mending a tear in my coat before I left), asked where I stayed, how I met Alice, and examined my ticket. It was a really embarrassing experience and I actually felt guilty.

Margaret and Dad think it was because I was coming alone with just a carry on back from a weekend in the drug capital of Europe, but it was hard not to take it personally. I guess it’s all part of the experience.

A YEAR AGO: Weekend cooking.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Jessica became a teenager. It happens to the best of us. Still can’t believe she is now 18!

TEN YEARS AGO: An update on the kitties.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: A little culinary showing off.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Sunday morning coffee on the roof deck of my building in San Francisco, overlooking the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

90


Dad and Margaret at the Tate Gallery, London

Today would have been my father’s 90th birthday.

Is it still his birthday when he isn’t here to see it? I would like to think it is. His birthday is always his birthday to me. This year it falls just four days after we lost our beloved Star, making it all the more painful. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of Dad’s sudden and untimely death. I guess it’s just sad all the way around.

Although Dad’s life was too short, it was a wonderful one. His last few years, with his much-loved Margaret, may have been the happiest he ever knew. I believe she was the love of his life. They were so happy together and had so much in common, growing up during WWII, loving travel and adventure, art, wine, good cooking, and family. Margaret was the perfect travel companion, happily hopping on African buses full of people and livestock in the tropical heat, or sitting by a dusty roadside waiting for the bus to get repaired and start up again. It was all good fun to her, and she never complained, all while being perfectly dressed and coiffed at all times. I am so thankful for the love and joy they shared, right until the end.

I’m proud of Dad’s work and how he helped to get DDT banned and get the peregrine falcon off the endangered species list, as well as his work on the effects of oil spills and detergent dispersants on sea birds, and his efforts to clean up the Great Lakes. He was often called on to be an expert witness, and his work lives on, continuing to be cited by other scientists and inspiring young scientists to do new work. When he died, he was still editing the scientific journal “Ecotoxicology”, which he founded, and was set to chair an international OECD meeting later that month. He was still working, still making the world a better place than he found it.

But more than a great scientist, he was a great father. He just wanted all of us to be happy. He never pressured us to follow in his footsteps. He knew all the worst things about me, and loved me anyway. He always gave me great advice, and he was never wrong.

I am lucky to have been known and loved like that. And to have had a father who was my best friend.

Love

My good friend A was born on Valentine’s Day, an unfortunate date for a dedicated foodie like her, one of the top restaurant reviewers in London on Zomato. On Valentine’s Day, restaurants are full of amateur eaters, there is scarcely a reservation to be found, and you are likely to be presented with a “special” menu instead of the regular one. I’m sure she also receives the dreaded combo gift, much like those who are unlucky enough to be born anywhere close to Christmas. All right-thinking people know that a birthday gift is separate from a Christmas gift. I am lucky that my birthday is situated six months from Christmas, for optimal gift-giving. I have always found my birthday to be completely satisfactory.

On these Valentine-adjacent days, I look back and realize that Love is not something I am particularly good at. I was never one of those bridey girls, with wedding fantasies and dreams of gowns and bridesmaids. I never wanted to get married. I believe that you should be with someone until you don’t want to be, and that involving the state and/or church and/or everyone you know with unrealistic promises of forever is setting yourself up to fail. So it’s probably not all that surprising that I ended up getting divorced, though it may be surprising that I stayed married for 14 years or so.

I don’t consider that a failure. John and I had many happy years together, and he is a very special person. I am still his emergency contact, and if he called me in the middle of the night and needed me, I would not question it as I grabbed my keys and ran out the door. I will always love him in my own way. I have no idea how he feels about me, since we don’t talk about that kind of thing, even though we are in regular email touch, especially since he keeps me updated on my new love Frank and the happily flourishing kittens.

When I was young, A, who has been my best friend since we were about 17, was a model, so I was around a lot of guys who liked hanging around models. I was never intimidated by the models. I knew what they looked like without the makeup and lighting, and also I just enjoyed them, like flowers or pretty scenery. I still got a lot of male attention in those days, and my general strategy was to go to the guy’s place so he did not know where I lived, in order to avoid his showing up again. I rarely, if ever, spent the night.

I did have a couple of guys who stalked me, one of them showing up at my job when I wouldn’t call him back and the other one not only doing that, but standing outside my house and also telling me places he had seen me. Unfortunately, Guy Two and I had crazy chemistry together, so that drama went on longer than it should have*. He stood me up one Valentine’s Day, and my next-door neighbor at the time, who happened to be A’s ex-boyfriend (her way of breaking up with him was to move to Europe. Neither of us were good at ending relationships) came by with a heart-shaped piece of coke to cheer me up. Hey, it was the 80s!

Looking back at my extremely checkered (to the point of being tartan) past, it’s clear that relationships are not my forte. We can’t all be good at that kind of thing. At least I had the sense not to have kids. Can you imagine?

*He also got into a fist fight with one of the vice presidents at my office Christmas party once. I don’t know if it’s more amazing that I didn’t get fired or that I didn’t break up with him then.

A YEAR AGO: A power outage and a sink full of sewage. How romantic is that?

FIVE YEARS AGO: Driving around with boys.

TEN YEARS AGO: The excitement of snow! Probably not exciting to those of you where it’s a regular occurrence.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Walking the lovely Rita in the park. I miss her.

Past


My Proudest Achievement

I have noticed that when I tell people stories about my childhood which I think are funny, they often get a horrified, yet struggling to be polite, look on their faces. It’s only at this fairly advanced stage in my life that I realize that what I considered benign neglect by my parents is considered just plain neglect by others. Also that their abandonment of their parental duties is not the way most people do things.

When my sister Megan was born, I was about a week away from turning 9. She came home on my birthday – in those long-ago days, a recovering mother was allowed to, well, recover a bit and enjoy the assistance of trained nursing staff after the ordeal of giving birth. In 1971, it was not as common as it is today to have a baby in your 40s, so Mom had a lot to recover from, including her second Caesarean section.

Even by the standards of the time, I was a naïve child, and I never wondered how the baby came about or how she arrived. Nor did I really think about my mother’s increasing size. I think I thought we got her at the hospital. When Mom came home, she went to bed and stayed there for the rest of the summer, about three months. I thought that was just what happened when you had a baby. Now I understand that she had very serious post-partum depression and never received the help she needed.

So there I was, 9 years old, giving the baby her bottles (soy milk; Megan had a lot of allergies), changing her and dealing with her cloth diapers, and doing the laundry. I even did the ironing, having been taught by my Victorian English grandmother the correct way to do this, including Dad’s shirts (when I was in college, he would save them for me to iron when I came home to visit). I remember thinking that Megan was the smallest person in the family, but had the most clothes.

When Megan entered her teen years, Dad and Mom had separated. Dad moved back to his native England, and Mom’s mental health issues made it impossible for her to parent Megan. So I moved from one city, where I had a good job and was very happy, to another, in order to take care of Megan. I was lucky that my job not only allowed me to move and keep my job, but even paid my moving expenses.

I had a hard time persuading Dad to give me money for rent and food. I would not have rented a two-bedroom apartment if I weren’t taking care of his child, and that child needed to eat. Eventually he agreed to this logic. He should have been grateful that he didn’t have to deal with birth control and parent-teacher interviews like I did. Whenever I went to the meetings at the school, I was struck by how it smelled the same as when I was in high school, along with an irrational fear that they would discover I wasn’t a real grown up and make me go back to school again.

I did my best, and I think Megan turned out pretty well. I am really proud of her. Whenever I get asked in job interviews what achievement I am proudest of, I always think (but don’t say), that it was raising Megan to be the amazing person she is.

Someone to whom I told this story recently pointed out that while I am not technically a parent – and at this point, I never will be – I have had some of the experience of being one, from caring for Megan as a baby and then as a teen. I had never thought about it that way before.

FIVE YEARS AGO: It seemed more like spring.

TEN YEARS AGO: My first day at the jobette.

Memories

It’s probably not surprising that I am looking toward Christmas Past rather than Christmas Present, which is basically a non-event, though there are a few presents under my tree.

When I was a girl, our tree was always a real one, since we had our own grove of pine trees on our five acres of land. On the first Saturday in December, we would put on our snowsuits and troop with Dad through the snow to choose just the right tree. There was always a certain amount of discussion and debate before the winning tree was selected.

We stood back while Dad chopped the tree down, the clear note of the axe ringing out in the cold, clean winter air, soon joined by the sharp smell of pine sap. We dragged the tree home triumphantly across the snow to show Mom our trophy. And then there was the excitement of putting it up and decorating it.

In my memories, we went to my mother’s parents’ house for the great day itself. My grandparents lived in a small town not far from Rochester, New York, about an hour and a half’s drive from our house, though it seemed much longer. I am a bit shocked when I think that my mother used to smoke in the car, and of course the car windows were closed against the cold winter air, so we must have smelled horrible by the time we got to Nana and Hoho’s house:

My grandparents lived in a rather grand Victorian house. It was a wedding gift from the town sheriff to his daughter. My grandparents lived on the ground floor, and two maiden ladies, Frieda and Maretta, lived in apartments on the second floor. The third floor attic was full of marvels, like souvenirs from Nana’s brother’s grand tour of Europe, ballgowns, and my great-grandfather’s Civil War sword and sleigh bells.

From the rarely-used front door of their house (seen above; we used the back door into the kitchen), you could see all the way to the town square, where the town tree was decorated and lit up. This was a particularly magical sight at night. Nana and Hoho always had an artificial tree, which seemed very glamorous to me. It was in the seldom-used front parlor, and on Christmas morning, we would have a wonderful breakfast of scrambled eggs, home-made cinnamon rolls baked into the shape of a stylized Christmas tree, and juice. I’m sorry to say that we rather rushed through these delights in order to get to the present-opening part of the proceedings.

When that great moment came, my grandmother would dramatically open the pocket doors that separated the two parlors, revealing the grand Christmas tree in all its sparkling glory, with the presents beneath. It was a magical moment, and time stood still as I took in all the ornaments and lights as well as the gifts heaped below. Even as a child, I loved the sparkly. I still do.

And while things might not be merry and bright right now, they will be again. Thank you for coming along with me on this journey. I wish you and yours all the best this holiday season and in the new year.

Amy

I love my birthday, but I have never liked my name. Susan Jean is about as dull as you can get. I have always felt that I deserved something more glamorous, though I don’t know what that would be.

My much-loved maternal grandfather, HoHo (named for his distinctive laugh), used to call me Suzy. When he died, I was only 15 and I was crushed. I didn’t want anyone calling me by his special name for me. But after a couple of years, I missed it, and my family and close friends started calling me Suzy. At work, I’m Susan, but here and in my real life, I’m Suzy. A little more sparkly than Susan, who sounds so dull and responsible. Both the Susan in the Narnia books and the one in the Swallows and Amazons books certainly were. Even the Divine Jane’s Lady Susan was pretty obnoxious.

My mother, whose enjoyment of the sparkly I inherited, wanted to name me Amy Victoria. My paternal grandfather’s middle name was Victor, for the Queen (both of my grandfathers were named Ernest), so it would be a compliment to him as well as the Old Queen*. Despite that, my English father vetoed the idea, and they somehow settled on Susan Jean, the Jean for Dad’s only sibling Jeanne. I would like it better if I, too, had the French spelling, but what can you do?

Mom didn’t give up on Amy Victoria, though, and when she was expecting the next baby after me, Dad agreed that this one could be Amy Victoria. He even gave Mom a little pin:

The baby turned out to be Jonathan David.

By the time the last baby came along, many years later, the AV idea was forgotten, and it was decided that the new baby would be called Colin if he was a boy and Megan if she was a girl. The baby turned out to be the Megan Fairbanks (Mom’s maiden name) we all know and love.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I were Amy Victoria. Would Amy still live in San Francisco? Or maybe she would have stayed in New York state. Maybe she’d be better at relationships and marriage than I am. Maybe she’d have children. Or maybe, just maybe, she’d be just like me. Maybe a Suzy by any other name is still a Suzy.

* Queen Victoria fascinated me from a young age. And I have to admit, I love the Royal Family. My English father could not care less about them, but I do. I made him take me to see the open State Rooms at Buckingham Palace once. He enjoyed it much more than he expected.

**I have always loved this Elton John song. It is from Honky Chateau, which Mom played a lot and is one of the first albums I can remember.

A YEAR AGO: A wonderful afternoon at the Symphony.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Getting ready for Thanksgiving.

TEN YEARS AGO: Skipping Thanksgiving. I did that this year, too.

Nostalgic

I took a couple of days off, and you know what that means! That’s right: a searing heat wave! There was an extreme heat warning for Friday and Saturday. And extreme it was. It hit 100 at the family estate and was probably in the 90s at my place, though I don’t have a thermometer or the room temperature readout on the heater like I did at the old place. Sometimes, you’d rather not know.

Despite having an irrational fondness for the old place – In spite of its faults and quirks, it will always have a special place in my heart – I was glad I wasn’t still living there. Its total lack of insulation meant that it was a nightmarish oven, particularly in the sleeping loft, where the heat gathered and loitered with intent. The new house is well insulated and has a water tower on top, which helps to insulate further. So it was (relatively) cool inside while the onslaught of heinous heat raged outside.

I did venture to the Village on Sun Stroke Saturday, though. Usually, I try to avoid shopping on weekends, but sometimes it’s inevitable, and this was one of those times. As I stepped outside, I noticed it was definitely warmer than I would like at 9:00 am, and also that it smelled like summers in Maine, with the sun heating up the pines and scenting the air with the distinctive scent of sap and sun-warmed forest. This was further reinforced as I got closer to the ocean and could smell low tide, which always makes me think of Maine, no matter what the time of year.

Arriving at the rather old-fashioned grocery store, I was lucky enough to park right out front and find that the store itself was delightfully uncrowded. I didn’t even have to wait in line. My shopping style tends to be grabbing what I need and getting the hell out. I later regretted not getting those tangerine popsicles, though. Note to Self: Popsicles are always a good idea. Especially during a heat wave.

As I drove home with surprisingly few cars impeding my summertime progress, I thought of how this shop was quite similar to the Don’s Shop’n Save* in Bar Harbor. Also that the summers that I was nostalgically recalling were half a century in the past.

*It is no longer the Shop’n Save, having been bought out by a chain called Hannaford, but I am pleased to say that Don himself is still around.

A YEAR AGO:Drinks with the girls at our favorite watering hole.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Harvest time.

19


Dad at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, 1993

Nineteen years ago, my life changed forever with a phone call. I will never forget hearing my sister’s voice telling me that our beloved father was dead. I understood the words individually, but not together. They seemed to hang in my brain, jostling each other and moving through a cloud as I struggled to understand what Megan had just told me.

To be fair, we had been informed that he was recovering well from routine gallbladder surgery and was expected to be released from the hospital just a couple of days later. There was no expectation that he would die.

Dad was only 70 when he died, just twelve years older than I am now. He was still editing a monthly scientific journal, and was slated to chair an international meeting OECD meeting in Germany a couple of weeks later. Plants he had ordered for fall planting in his beloved garden arrived a few days after I did, and the bird list he sent weekly to the RSPB lay on his desk, with his pen and glasses on top of it. When I first saw his study after his death, it looked like he would walk into it any minute and pick up his work. The work he loved.

There was no reason for him to die.

The hospital staff took Dad off blood thinners before the surgery so he wouldn’t bleed out. Then they forgot to put him back on them afterwards, and he died of a blood clot. Totally preventable.

He died in his sleep around 6:00 in the morning, the time when he usually arose for the day. My sister told me later that all the lines were gone from his face. She got into the hospital bed with him and put his arms around her. She stayed there until physically removed. She could feel the broken ribs from the pointless CPR efforts. She could feel his stopped heart. She could smell his scent. She knew he was gone.

She wasn’t even 30 years old.

Nearly 20 years after his death, I can understand why Queen Victoria mourned for the rest of her long life after losing Prince Albert. I will be mourning the rest of mine, too. Some days, I feel as devastated as I did that summer morning when the phone rang. Sometimes I remember Dad with a smile, thinking of the many happy times we spent together. I still think of him every single day. And I will always miss him. I will always mourn him. I will always love him.