Thursday, May 21, 2015

Uncle Jack

I want to talk about my Uncle Jack. He was my father's older brother and my godfather. They looked alike, more and more as the years went by, he and my father, with the same distinctive nose and smile. Uncle Jack always slicked back his hair with some sort of old-school hair grease, maybe a bit aggressively applied. He always made me feel that he was happy to see me. I adored him.

Uncle Jack worked nights. He drove a truck that delivered newspapers, and the depot was pretty close to our house, so on weekend mornings, he would often stop by with The Sunday New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and a bag of fresh kaiser rolls. I would ask, "Which do you want, tea or coffee?" He would make a choice, and I would promptly forget and fix him the opposite. He thought this was hilarious. He would sit and have a roll and tea/coffee,  and talk to my dad about I don't know what, but it pleased me to see them together. They really got along well.

A couple of times, he had me climb into the cab of his truck so he could "teach me how to drive." I would start it up and travel a couple of feet. "That's enough," he would say, laughing. Then he would go home to my Aunt Cathleen, who is from Ireland, and his three kids, Johnny, Patrick and Cathy. I would pore through the newspapers and get all kinds of ideas of things to do, like teen sleepaway camp in Mexico, which my parents would not allow. I also believe that these weekly deliveries are what got me interested in becoming a journalist.

Uncle Jack worked hard. I never saw him complain. Sometimes, at a family gathering at his house in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx, he would emerge in his work clothes and announce that it was time for him to go to work. "Nature of the beast," he would say, smiling.

When my father died in 1991, Uncle Jack said: "Anything you need, you ask. Anything." I knew he meant it. I saw him less frequently after my father died, mainly at weddings and funerals. His son Johnny, his eldest, died of esophagus cancer in his 40s. My brother drove Uncle Jack and Aunt Cathleen from the funeral mass to the lunch, and I was in the car with them. He cried bitterly. "The son is not supposed to die before the father," he said. "That's not the way it is supposed to be."

In recent years, both Uncle Jack and Aunt Cathleen had been sick. I had plans to visit them this winter, but there was an ice storm that kept us from traveling. I feared at the time that it was my last chance to see him.

It was. Uncle Jack died yesterday.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Yesterday, I was mistaken for a non-writer.

I was enjoying a post-yoga brunch with some fellow students and our teacher. One student, a successful writer of books and teacher of writing, asked if we would all attend a practice run of a workshop that she is developing for non-writers.

Non-writers. I kept silent. Though she is more acquaintance than friend, we are part of the same monthly poker night and I've know her for a couple of years. Yet she does not realize that I am a writer, something I've noticed before, but never bothered to correct, which is obviously my fault, not hers. Many times, when she has talked about her projects, I've thought to chime in and say...what, exactly? That I worked as a magazine writer and editor for many years? That I have a tiny blog that I never write in? That my freelance part-time writing career has dwindled down to nothing? That I have the type of writer's block that makes Fran Leibowitz look productive? I consider myself a writer, but now there's always something more important as the day dawns. Monday: tending to a sick child. Tuesday: accompanying my mother to a chemo appointment. Wednesday: French class, followed by matinee of The Heidi Chronicles, followed by telling husband that things are really no better for women now than when Wendy Wasserstein wrote this play 25 years ago. Thursday: Yoga, then reminder that I am supposedly a writer, then laundry, then carpools, then dinner, then homework help.

Today, there's nothing that stands in the way of me writing, until 2:09, when I take my Girl Scouts to sell cookies.

In a way, I am a non-writer. I don't write. Do I bother to start again?

I thought I might write a response to a essay that a couple of friends posted to Facebook yesterday, in which one mother scoffs at another for attending to her children too "preciously," creating time capsules of each year of the child's life.  The author championed the parenting style of her own 1970's mother, who sent the kids out to play unattended so she could drink cases of Tab in peace. The author's argument is that she turned out fine, so her mother's parenting philosophy must be correct.  While I agree that Tab is delicious, I wouldn't advocate emulating my parents just because I grew up to be sort of ok. They would take my brother and me to the drive-in wearing our pajamas, and tell us to sleep in the back seat, while they watched Goodbye, Columbus and chain smoked with the windows rolled up. My brother and I thought this was a fun night out, but no parent today would do this. Our parents did what seemed right to them; my husband and I do what seems right to us. Or sometimes we make one decision and reverse ourselves. We have no idea, really, what to do with a teenager. (Don't tell our son, or we're even more screwed.)

I get very exhausted when one parent denounces what they see as a pernicious trend in parenting. I've said this before, but the people who come up with the theories of parenting are always justifying their own choices. You make your choices; I'll make mine. We have no way of knowing how our kids will turn out.