Take a Penny, Leaf a Penny

I saw a penny on the kitchen floor the other day while I was sweeping up. The temptation came over me to knock it into the dustpan along with the hair ties, shrunken peas, and dried-out Rice Chex.

I was on my way to the trash can to pitch the whole shebang, penny and all, when Sally, my 5 year-old, piped up.

“Hey, you’re not going to throw away that penny are you?”

“No, sweetie, Daddy would never do such a thoughtless and wasteful thing like throwing perfectly good money in the trash. Here, you take it.”

I offered her the dustpan and winced a little as she plucked the coin from among the fuzz and fur. Letting out a squeak of joy, she held the dull copper coin to the light and smiled.

“Thanks Daddy!” she said. You’d have thought the child had won the lottery.

When did I become such a grinch? A penny’s still a penny after all, even one that isn’t pretty. To Sally it was a windfall. To me it was a pain in the back, sitting there under the kitchen table amid the spilled milk, toast ends, and broken pencil tips.

I wonder sometimes how a thing goes from being so important to being a trifle. Have you looked at leaf lately? I mean, really looked at one? Amazing things they are—marvels of engineering and beautiful, too.

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Our Lady of the Lamp and Hammer

It is a dark and drizzly night. The Hennesseys are enjoying a convivial evening, socializing at the home of The Friendly Family.

All is going unusually smoothly. There’s always a hitch when the Hennesseys go a-visitin’. But tonight? No hitch. Just laughter and good cheer.

Curfew looms. Mr. and Mrs. Hennessey check in with each other. It takes only a look. The youngsters have reached the natural limit. Time to wrap it up. Declare victory on this lovely outing and head home.

Air kisses, handshakes, hugs, and goodbyes. “Everybody into the car,” croons Mr. Hennessey, a handsome fellow with a lovely Irish tenor voice. He slips so effortlessly from friendmode to dadmode.

See how he rolls.

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It Bears All Things

We call our family members “loved ones,” but the truth is we aren’t always that loveable.

The daily grind of home and hearth are not without friction. When you’re in a bad place, the ones you love best usually get it the worst. Who wakes up and thinks, “I wonder how I can make this house happier today?”

My knee goes out periodically. It’s an old injury that flares up once in a while and cripples me. Probably it dates back 30 years to the time I whiffed on a soccer ball and tore something important.

The episodes don’t last long, but while they’re ongoing I get ornery. Hobbling around like an invalid turns me into a mumbling crumbum. I get snippy with people who don’t deserve it—namely my beautiful wife and my innocent children.

“Who put these bowls on the bottom shelf!?” I bark like a mad dog. “Don’t you pork chops know how to load a dishwasher? There’s a right way and a wrong way you know”

Pet peeves get pet peevier when you’re in pain. [Read more…]

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…]

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.

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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.

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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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