That Old House

My mother hated the house on Speedwell Avenue. She may have had her reasons. The kitchen was small, the sink was too far from the stove, one bathroom served six people, and the whole place drooped slightly so the bedroom doors wouldn’t close.

Then again, it was home.

We moved there in 1979. I was six. Before that we’d lived in the house where my dad grew up. It was built in 1886 by my great-grandfather John T. Murphy. My dad told us that John T.’s ghost still lived in the attic. I don’t think my mom liked that house much either.

I didn’t hate those houses. I loved them, especially the Speedwell house, which was quirky in the best way. [Read more…]

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Darling Buds Are Here Again

The thing about spring is you forget how great it’s going to be. Life can be a drag. Winters can overstay. But spring is about hope, and hope is the thing that pokes its way out of a robin’s egg.

We take family walks. By the pond in the cemetery we happen upon a pair of turtles that are, um, trying to start their own family. I turn it into a teaching moment, but biology isn’t my best subject. What I can do is sing.

It’s a fact, it’s natural, everything is satisfactual.

[Read more…]

The Girl Who Cried Moose

New Hampshire, as my mother-in-law told me recently, has five seasons: summer, winter, fall, spring—and mud.

The tourists come in October to see the leaves change color. They come again in February to ski the White Mountains.

The Hennesseys come in early April to see the mud.

April is “off season” in the Granite State. The slopes are melting, the trees are leafless, and the lakes ice-bound, but the mud is in full bloom.

If you enjoy boots that sink to the ankles and splatter marks up the back of your pant leg, come to New Hampshire around Easter.

Spending time with my mother-in-law is of course the real reason for our visits. She and my late father-in-law moved up from New York City 15 years ago, before any grandchildren came along. They built a beautiful, sturdy house in the woodsy shadow of Mt. Kearsarge. It’s a great spot.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.”

[Read more…]

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…]