Showing posts from November, 2021

Of mermaids' purses

My grandson and I have our favorite beaches, from Point of Rocks on Cape Cod to Kaanapali on Maui’s westernmost tip. But where boogie boarders rip through crashing breakers on those silvery strands Jackson and I tiptoe along the high tide lines, proding gently with our driftwood sticks as we uncover elusive treasures: mermaids’ purses and devils’ pocketbooks, fragile sand collars and spiny purple urchins.   My six-year-old pal has been combing beaches with me since he was a gung-ho toddler stumbling from one pile of kelp to the next. Today, like many parents and grandparents who are returning to beaches for the first time since COVID emergencies were declared a year ago, Jackson and I are reminding each other to slow down and listen for the tiniest scurrying sand fleas. Nowadays he’s often the one who crouches down to uncover a glistening blue mussel amongst the rockweed. Jackson likes the way a handful of jingle shells can carry a merry little tune. He likes opening a dried-up mermaid

Doing the route step, the goose step

It was an unfathomable moment. At 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 2018, as we stood on the steps of a 12th century Romanesque church in the little French town of Chatillon-sur-Seine, we felt that my grandmother was there, too. Just as she had been, 100 years before.  A young American nurse serving in France with the Allied Expeditionary Forces (AEF), Edith Simpson Cooke Rogers had briefly stepped away from her gassed and broken patients on that November morning in 1918 to watch the celebration of the armistice that marked the end of La Grande Guerre, The Great War. She would later write about that moment: “Down the narrow street that yesterday was lined with trucks and English lorries came lines of gay young soldiers marching in squad formation, their arms about each others’ shoulders, doing the route step, the goose step, any step that would bring them into town for a day of rejoicing, for, ‘The war was over!’” I can picture Nana doing her own little celebratory dance as she looked up: “Ab

My grandmother ‘visited’

If she’d been asked what she did in life, my grandmother might have responded that she “visited.” Half the year she shared an apartment with my mother and me, and the other six months she visited her two nieces or stopped over with long-time friends. Living quarters were tight in the home of the niece whose husband was a school headmaster. The family lived on the premises and Nana used to tell us that she enjoyed the challenge of getting into bed in the guest room that doubled as a train room for two young boys. By day, Lionel HO Gauge locomotives criss-crossed a waist-high plywood platform; by night, Nana scrunched down on her knees and rolled onto the mattress that was laid beneath the silos and grain elevators of a model farmland. Widowed at age 40 with an 11-year-old daughter to raise on her own, my grandmother learned to live frugally on a monthly Social Security check plus a small pension from her Army service in World War I. She counted her pennies and when she sent me to the st

Old enough to be friends

Dateline: Seoul, South Korea October, 2011 In these luminous days of high skies and fat horses, as Koreans describe their crisp autumn season, I feel I have come home—to a place I hardly recognize. Forty-one years ago I left Korea, after working here for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching English at a women’s college. Recently as I stood in Gwanghwamun Plaza, gawking at the skyscrapers soaring above the renovated heart of this ancient Joseon capital, the techno-bling of the new century looked more like Abu Dhabi than the Seoul I recall. The gazillions of “hand phones” I saw on sidewalks and in subways were a far cry from the days when making a call home to the U.S. required a long bus ride from my campus to the downtown post office, where I had to reserve an overseas line a week in advance. But this is 2011, and along for the ride were my wife and my 28-year-old son. We came to the Land of Morning Calm, along with 81 other former volunteers and their families, at the invita

Family outing

Someone handed me the microphone. “He’s tall, dark and hunky,” I heard myself saying, nervously. “He sings and plays bass guitar. He’s incredibly talented and really, really sensitive.” The crowd that encircled us in Stanford University’s White Plaza kept expanding as curious students pulled up on their bikes, listened for a moment, then dismounted and stayed on to hear the stories that were being told. It was one of those gorgeous, high-sky autumn days, and the rainbow ribbons that fluttered from many backpacks added a pronounced sparkle to National Coming Out Day. “I had such high hopes for him,” I said, remembering the little boy who had loved to play dress-up. “He seemed so gay,” I said, floundering. “But he turned out so straight.” Students affiliated with the LGBT Community Resources Center had gathered to share their individual coming-out stories. I’d gone to support them—visibly but silently—as one of several staff advisers to the center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgend

Hitchhiking in paradise

 It was 1968 and I was on the Big Island of Hawaii for four months of intensive language study before I and 150 other newly minted college grads shipped out to South Korea to teach English. We were housed in a World War II-era Army hospital in Hilo, where we had classes from Monday morning until noon on Saturday. We’d been told that we could safely hitchhike around the island, but few of us had dared to try. We’d been there for only a couple of weeks when we were roused and assembled one Saturday morning for a surprising announcement: Pack what you’d need for two nights, board the yellow school buses, and don’t come back until Monday morning.  Huh?  I dashed to my room and grabbed my backpack and a jar of peanut butter. I had maybe $3 in cash.  As we tried to sort out what was happening, our assigned bus headed west. Every five minutes the driver stopped, called two names and showed those bewildered trainees the door.  I was dropped off with a girl who promptly turned around and headed