Category Archives: family

Another haunting

Synchronicity is a gateway to faith and if not faith, then at least to the recognition that the world is more mysterious than we know, and isn’t that recognition a lot like faith?

Synchronicity can show up as a haunting or a miracle. Sometimes it’s funny. It’s always worthy of attention.

I’ve had three synchronous moments lately — one a haunting, one a sly joke, and one a gracious note from the dead (which of course is not the same as a haunting).

Today, I’ll relate the haunting. It’s about my sister. Of course it’s about my sister.

For our holiday meal, rather than clean up a half-finished jigsaw puzzle, we brought in a small oak table from the garage. This table has history. It was where my family sat and ate dinner for years — on Glen Terrace, Cypress Drive, Glory Drive, and Whitman Road. After my mother remarried, she brought it south with her to Lighthouse Point and then back north to Essex.

In the early years, my parents occupied either end. Sometimes the table was up against a wall, sometimes centered in a dining space. Either way, my sister sat on one of the long sides while my brother and I occupied the side opposite. I think it was probably this seating arrangement that inspired Noreen to learn how to pinch with her toes. Don’t laugh! She could really inflict some pain.

It’s also where my father used humor to drive home the difference between can I and may I. If you were to say, for instance, can I have the ketchup, he’d deadpan with yes you can or I don’t know, can you, and keep eating. He managed to make it funny. And we learned.

After my mother died, the table went to my sister. When my sister died, it came to me.

I didn’t think I was sentimental about the table until I was scraping off mold and cleaning the disgusting, nearly black gunk from between its center seams. Both gross. To look at the burns and stains scattered on its surface was to see my sister’s dysfunction made plain. Again. I found myself wondering what, exactly, prevented her from performing the simple tasks that make up a life. Was it so hard to wipe the table clean once in a while or slip a plate under a plant? For her, yes it was too much.

Or was it? Maybe it was just what she told herself. With Noreen it was impossible to tell and in the end, I realized it didn’t matter. The result was the same. A disordered life. A stained, ruined table.

Anyway, I managed to get a sliver. The sliver was almost impossible to see and took a magnifying glass and some real wrangling to remove. There were moments I thought I imagined it. This is when I said, Hello Noreen. The sliver might’ve been a bristle from a toothbrush I used to clean the tarry seams or it might’ve been a piece of the table itself.

Either way, my pinky got infected. It hurt. It turned bright red. For days, even after the splinter was out, I had to apply hot compresses, soak it in salty water and hydrogen peroxide and once, use a sterilized pin to poke out a blob of puss.

Not to belabor the point, but this is a pretty apt metaphor for being in relationship with my sister. Working hard to clean up one of her messes, a job I never signed up for, by the way, only to get shafted. Having to deal with the emotional wreckage after a visit for days. And even that hallucinatory quality — is this real or am I making it up — speaks to how convincing she could be with her narratives of blame. Maybe I was, in fact, a complete shit. Maybe I wickedly shortchanged her.

That inner dialogue occurred even as I knew that nothing was ever gonna be enough for my sister and even though I knew that withholding was a critical form of self-protection. She was forceful. She pinched me under the table with her toes.

So that’s the haunting. I’ll save the other two incidents for the next post. This is long enough.

By the way, in my sister’s papers I found reports from elementary school. Elementary school! One was a report about Alaska, another about bats. Around Halloween this year, I made a spooky paper collage and then digitally double-exposed it with the cover of her bat report. That’s one version, above. Another version, sans bats, is below.

Not one thing or the other

My sister had not yet been gone a year when her blue glass baking pan shattered. Like a grenade going off, it sent big and little shards of glass all over the stove top and floor. What a perfect way for her to appear, I thought. During food prep, of course, with violence, of course, and narrowly missing injuring me. So much for the sentimentality of a delicious roasted chicken prepared in an inherited pan — Pyrex, by the way.

Then there was that time in LA when one of her large paintings came loose and dropped like a guillotine to the couch below. Both boys were there, my brother, me — the entire surviving William Mallon bloodline. Dramatic, scary, and inescapably about her. A signature move, in other words. Nobody was hurt.

But she was an excellent cook, gave generously at Christmas even when she had no money, and she was a wizard with plants. Her windowsills were always lush with them. She knew when to pinch and cut them and when to leave them alone. She knew how to propagate new plants with cuttings. Even when she was actively dying and couldn’t care for them, her windowsill plants thrived.

Salem, Mass. March 2019

With geraniums, I never had any luck overwintering them, even after doing research and putting them in the basement with bags over the pots.

The geraniums inherited from Noreen, on the other hand, I put in a cold east-facing window for the winter and pretty much forgot about them. They sprawled. They bloomed. They transitioned to the outdoors beautifully. All summer, they graced deck corners and patio edges.

This geranium above is the same one you see below.

My point is we are not one thing only and neither are our relationships. It is a testament to how difficult my sister was that it took three years for the sweeter memories to start percolating up, but they are, and I’m grateful.

Barcelona and Covid

I borrowed a friend’s super duper HEPA filter. I have three fans in position, ready to circulate the air. My husband’ll take our bedroom and bath and I’ll take one of the boys’ bedrooms and their bath. We’ll wear masks.

Because? You guessed it. He caught COVID. K spent the week in Barcelona duking it out with Tylenol and room service. He didn’t make his presentation. “It’s like a bad cold,” he said, as many do. He stayed longer than his coworkers but is traveling home now after a positive test.

I know. I know.

I stopped to buy ham so I can make one of his favorite meals this weekend: ham, au gratin potatoes, and something green. I also bought a generous pack of chicken wings to add to the chicken carcass that’s in the fridge. This batch of chicken soup has to be good, silky-good. His senses of taste and smell do not seem to have been affected.

Today is cool. A beautiful first day of fall. Finn sniffed things on our walk this morning per usual and tried to roll in some very stinky soil amendment near The Terraces which was not usual.

I listened to This American Life — about a couple that travels to Switzerland for an assisted suicide. The husband had Alzheimer’s.

Did I already post this? (speaking of dementia!)

No one understood why I didn’t want to go to Spain with K. I kept saying, “It’s because I don’t want to get Covid.”

When K gave me the news earlier this week, I laughed and said, “You didn’t have to get sick to prove me right!” (Not immediately, of course. That wasn’t the first thing I said …)

I’ll be back to answer comments from last post. I seem to be missing some of my usual mojo lately.

PCC image this week: B&W photos of men

My heart is a potato

A belligerent refusal to stand down, even when others’ well-being was at stake. She couldn’t be wrong. Everyone else was wrong —wrong! — including the experts.

Sound like my sister?

Yes, yes it does, but I’m describing Typhoid Mary aka Mary Mallon. People died because Mary Mallon couldn’t be wrong. Such a tale of misdeeds, makes me think belligerent homicide should be a thing.

I’ll be goddamned, I thought reading about her for the first time years back. We must be related.

I might be thinking about family — about our particular pathologies, the Irish quirks of mind — because of this potato. I’m not kidding.

My heart is a potato

It’s a little silly, maybe even hilarious — my heart is a potato — but it also strikes me as some of the truest words I’ve ever written.

Potato leek soup and Irish soda bread on a plate that was my mother’s

As I fling myself about in search of a new writing topic, it’s clear that this time I’d like to draw from my own history.

I know so little. I said to my cousin Ginny recently that everything I know about the Mallons could fit into two paragraphs. I’ve heard a bit more about my mother’s side, but because of one particularly unreliable aunt (talk about personality disorders!), I don’t know how much is even true.

Not that it matters for writing fiction.

My mother, on the right, was the middle of three girls.

Glorious sun and pansies

Life goal met — there are pansies on the property! Last year we waited too long and there were none to be had. My mother loved pansies too.

For Easter, we used to hide treasure-filled plastic eggs in the yard, pack baskets with glorious chocolates and jelly beans, and serve up a special dinner for extended family. One year I made a batch of chow-chow to dress the asparagus. Another year I made carrots out of marzipan for the top of the carrot cake.

This year, I am making a carrot cake. That’s it. No marzipan. No company.

The space created by a less-populated social calendar continues to feel more blessing than not. I like my friends, I like my relatives, and still this is true.

On a related note, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about K’s absence as he trudged back to the office and I’m still not sure, but this morning the quiet is glorious.

Have I really used the word glorious twice in one post? What besides chocolate and silence can be glorious?

Soft scarves, dry socks, insight, a welcome email, a piece of writing, a hot bath.

Also: Indictments. Perp walks. Lost law licenses. Exclusion from holding public office. Tarnished reputations. Huge fines. Ankle bracelets. Media bans and gag orders. Jail time.

Kushner is in the news again. If the beltway press wasn’t so hopelessly tied to GOP talking points, the Kushner news would be loud and pervasive. And of course, had a Democrat’s son-in-law done anything remotely this corrupt or dangerous to national security, the coverage on Fox would be nonstop with belligerent threats of hearings should leadership in the House change.

The building could have a 666 on it but I suppose that would be overkill.

So as not to end on such a vile note, the photo from Assisi (below) showcases an Easter bread, blessed by a priest two days earlier and served in an olive grove.