Keep Pedaling

No one taught me how to ride a bike. I learned it on my own. At least that’s what my mother said. One day I just came cruising down the lane on a neighbor’s Huffy Thunder Road, sitting high in the saddle as if that bike had been made with me in mind. As if I’d been riding one all my life.

I’m one of those who learns by doing. If I’m not drawn to something by my own curiosity then chances are good I ain’t learning what it means or how to do it. The classroom environment was always a struggle.

“Young Matthew is not living up to his potential,” was a common report at school. “He can be a distraction to his classmates.”

Guilty as charged. Distracting classmates was more fun than conjugating en Español, and I sure put my back into it.

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Learning to Lighten Up for Lent

My grandfather grew hard of hearing in his old age, aggravated by parish acoustics that weren’t the best. One Ash Wednesday he thought he heard the priest make a peculiar announcement.

“Did he just say there’s brandy in the ashes?” Grandpa asked Nana.

“No, dear,” she replied. “He said to step forward and they’ll brand you with the ashes.”

Grandpa was mildly disappointed. He was a Wild Turkey man but wouldn’t have sniffed at a snifter on a raw February holy day.

Brandy in the ashes may not be Saturday Night Live material, but it’ll do during Lent.

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Keys in the Song of Love

The elevator that takes you up to the Gramercy Typewriter Company is as ancient as the machines they sell there, though nowhere near as cool.

The names ring distant bells: Royal, Underwood, Remington, Corona. Restored to original glory, they gleam like vintage showroom Buicks.

I visited the Manhattan store twice in December, both times looking for something real and rooted to plant under the Christmas tree. Kids seem always to want the newest and latest things. Parents dream of passing on the sturdy and meaningful things.

Can a business machine have meaning? These beauties did—at least to me. [Read more…]

Christmas Is Not (Just) A Story

There’s nothing like a little baby to make a household happy. The Hennesseys have had a run of good luck in that department—little babies landing on our doorstep at a pretty regular clip the last few years.

The latest is Our Billy, a mischievous and scampering adventure pirate if ever one existed.

Billy is teething now. He moans and groans. Keeps us up all hours. Starts out in his crib, ends up in our bed. It’s exhausting. But, man, does he know how to put a smile on my face.

He’s mostly all cheeks. The sight of him slaughters me.

The feeling I get gazing at him is love, I guess, but it deserves a different name. It’s bigger than love, really. Deeper than love. More.

Maybe the wind knows its name.

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We Have a Yeller

Our Billy is a growing boy. He had his first birthday over the summer and has recently taken up toddling. He’s also an early riser, and wants his breakfast on the tray about two seconds after his butt hits the high chair.

Did I mention he’s a yeller?

“GWOAAHK!” he yelps if the first banana of the morning takes a bananosecond longer than necessary to peel and slice. My guess is his perch at the bottom of the birth order has taught him that it’s better to be annoying than to be ignored.

Smart kid. He’ll go far.

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All Are Welcome

You know what they say about pro-life Catholics. We only care about babies before they are born. Tell it to Chris Bell.

Bell has done more than just about anyone to help women and babies over the last 30 years. Since founding his first crisis pregnancy center in 1985, Bell has seen 1,090 children born at his network of Good Counsel Homes. He now runs seven in four states, providing new mothers shelter and comfort during the hour of their greatest need.

“We take any woman who is pregnant and needs a place to stay,” he told me recently. That’s not idle talk. Good Counsel operates a 24-hour hotline and has “an open intake policy. If there are no beds in one house, we will find you a bed in another house.”

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Another Office Drone with Vacation Brain

The summer’s gone. Soon all the leaves will be falling. Won’t that be grand? For now, however, it’s simply time to get back to the grind. Work, school, regular order.

I guess you could call it life.

My reintegration to the office routine after just a week splashing toes in New Hampshire lake water was not friction-free. For all the difficulty I had getting dressed and out of the house that Monday morning, you’d think I’d been gone a month.

I found I really resented having to shave.

The commute was bearable, but at my desk I noticed something amiss. My typing fingers didn’t work anymore.

They managed to find their starting positions—asdfjkl;—the way sleepwalkers can tie their shoelaces in the dark. But when the order was given to march, my hands simply flapped around the keyboard like a pair of slippery ham steaks.

The clear lake water must have shorted a circuit in my primary motor cortex. [Read more…]

Everyone Was a Bird

I had my appendix removed. For days after the procedure I did what I was supposed to: slump around the house, slow-step up the stairs, studiously avoid anything resembling useful behavior.

I was under strict orders to take it easy. This boy’s a good soldier. You don’t need to tell me twice.

The episode shall henceforth be known as “my convalescence.” I imagined myself a war poet sloughing off shell shock in a quaint sanitorium. Dulce et decorum est convalescere.

When you’re housebound and hunchbacked, you notice stuff that may otherwise slip by. Staring absently out the window one morning, I spied a bird with a busted wing flailing around at the end of the driveway.

It’s the kind of thing that happens every day in the big, bad world. It’s not the kind of thing you see every day in your driveway. [Read more…]

Lilly’s Big Day

Poor Lilly Grace. She was only trying to enjoy a Saturday afternoon in her own backyard. It was the day of her first Holy Communion, a blessing that comes but once in a lifetime. And it wasn’t the only blessing.

The sun was shining, kids like her were being left to their own devices, and no one was guarding the cake. How often does that happen?

On such an occasion nine-year-old Lilly deserved every blessing that the Lord had bestowed upon her. She didn’t deserve to have old Mr. Hennessey trying to ask her questions for his newspaper column.

“I’m going to try to interview Lilly. Is that okay with you?” I asked her mother, Maura.

She is the kind of Yonkers-Irish hostess who makes you feel like you are the only person at the party who matters. She also knows a few Wolfe Tones songs, which earns her a double shamrock in Hennessey’s book.    [Read more…]

The Called Me the Wanderer

I didn’t always have five children and a wife. It wasn’t that long ago that I had no children and zero wives. On TV, they make bachelorhood seem a paradise of freedom and adventure. Not for me it wasn’t.

The missus and me just blew past our fifteenth wedding anniversary—a mini-milestone. Not to be glib…oh, never mind, glib it is…I’d rather be in jail than be single again.

The carefree life of a stallion was never the one for me. In those days I was Johnny Lonelyboy. Maybe you’ve been there too?

My restless heart had an emptiness. No time did I have for religion. I spent many an hour devising my own. It had a liturgy and some saints. It had sacred texts and heavenly hymns.

My way of worship was the wanderer’s way. Bartenders, not priests, prepared the high altar. We lit cigarettes, not candles. Irony, sarcasm, and wild abandon stood in the places where sanctity, grace, and sobriety should have shined.

Things are different now. The cigarettes are all ashes. I have rare occasion to enter a saloon—or even a salon. But you can’t keep me out of the Church of the Four Marks—one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic.

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