Big Birthday Report – Better than Great

Birthday card 1 birthday care 2Brithday card glitter

It’s pretty damn weird that after all the build up I haven’t written a thing about my 70th birthday itself! It was so lovely that I just didn’t want to let go of it even enough to tell its stories.  I just kind of hung onto it for a day.  So here it is:

We all went to Santa Cruz, to the beach: sons, daughters-in-law, grandsons and Rick and me. The boys found a great house with a big open plan, perfect for people whose ages run from 70 to 19 months with an almost-five-year-old Nate in the middle.

It was just what I wanted. Toddlers Jake and Eli eating blueberries and flirting with their grandparents, grown-ups talking about everything from politics to child rearing to just-executed beach walks (of which there were many.) Goofing around.  Reading stories.  Cuddling on the deck.  Coloring. Being gifted with three home-made birthday cards covered in crayon and glitter-glue.  And with an urgently required lemon zester.

Staying up late talking – and listening to the boys talk with each other.  Catching up while the kids slept.  Hanging around in the early morning with the mommies and the little guys.  Walking from our house to the far end of the promenade, a windy point, and then back past the house to the other end, where there’s a lighthouse. We did it in different combinations, a couple of times in the daylight and one gorgeous time in the dark, watching the lighthouse lazily send out its signal and wondering at the full moon and its bright path of light on the sea.

It was, in short, our family at its best.  They gave me what I wanted most: to wake up and wander out in my PJs and find the little ones sitting on the floor giggling; to watch the sunset bundled up on the deck with Nate in my lap, and to enjoy our sons and their wives.  To all be together in the same place for more than dinner.

From each of them came hugs, and humor and generosity of spirit – and lots of love. Times like these are why we celebrate being born at all.

Big Birthday #21: You Asked for It (Notes for a New Mom)

JOSH AND CINDY IN MUIR WOODS 50pNOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from April 29, 2007.

That’s me with my older son, Josh, in Muir Woods outside San Francisco  — pretty many years ago.  I don’t know if you can tell but I’m pregnant with his brother.  Happy to join the virtual shower although despite my adoration of and respect for both Liz and Catherine, I’m from the generation that put their babies to sleep on their stomachs and so may sound a little old-fashioned*.

1. Don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right no matter whose advice it is.

2. Trust yourself.

3. Remember that everybody makes mistakes and anyway a child is not a product, she is a person. You’ve heard that kids are resilient. They are. Do your best with love and if you don’t dwell on your mistakes neither will they.

4. You can’t turn a child into someone. You can only help them become the best somebody they already are.

5. Don’t be afraid to say no. Parents who don’t set limits and help their kids learn self-discipline are selfish. It’s easier but it’s not right.

6. No experience is wasted on a child. Maybe they’re too young to remember, but if it happened, it had an impact. So share as much of what you love as you can – music, museums, trips to Timbuktu or Target — poetry, cooking, washing the car.

7. No child ever went to college in diapers.

8. Listen to experienced people you respect, preschool teachers, friends, even, God forbid, your mother.  Experience really is a great teacher.  Then, though, think it through and then do what you think is right.

9. Everything is not equally important. Pick your fights and win them. 10. Leave time to just be. Lessons are great but quiet time is where imagination and a sense of self emerges.

10. LISTEN to your kids. They are smart and interesting and wise and if you respect them you have a far better chance of having them respect you.

11. Did I say trust yourself?

With love, admiration and the joy that comes from knowing all you wonderful, poetic and caring, committed and in one case, very new mothers on the occasion of this lovely virtual baby shower.

*This post was part of a “baby shower” if pieces by friends of this about-to-be new BlogHer mom.

Big Birthday Memory #19: Thanks to the Man Who Sent Me to BlogHer ’06 and Now It’s ’14 and I’m Still Showing Up

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from August 2, 2014.


In 2006, I was working with David Aylward and the National Strategies firm.  He doesn’t know this but there’s a story (If you know me you know there’s almost always a story.)  We had a client who wanted to reach parents.  David hired me to help and I had this big idea about making a parent website to promote them.

David sort of said “What about these blogs I keep hearing about? Would that be better?” I knew so little about blogging that I had to go look it up online. I found a story about this little conference in San Jose called BlogHer, meeting for only its second year. David and I convinced our client that I should attend this mysterious event and off I went along with fliers for our product and real curiosity about who these women were and what they were up to.
Cindy and Kelley cropped2 Me with jenn pozner smaller

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Cindy and Sarah G cropped






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Shebooks blogher 14Stacey and cindy cropped






Here is what I received – from BlogHer 2006 and every one since:

1.   Access to an entirely new world of remarkablewomen (and men too.)   Including ( a little bit of a yearbook list) Elisa Camahort Page and Lisa Stone and Jory Des Jardins and Morra Aarons-Mele and Cooper Munroe and Emily McKhann and Liz Gumbinner and Kristen Chase and Asha Dornfest and Jennifer Burdette Satterwhite and Mary Spivey Tsao and Danielle Wileyand people I haven’t mentioned here (Sorry – some I’m notcompletely sure who I met in 2006 and who later.) Feels like I’ve known you all forever as well as Sarah Granger and Kelly Wickham and Jill Miller Zimon and Joanne Bamberger andStacey Ferguson and Cynthia Liu and Anita Sarah Jackson andJenn Pozner and  Cheryl Contee (and and and)  And that doesn’t count the new (to me) folks like Sharon Hodor Greenthal!.

2.  An entirely new way to communicate and create.

3.   More fun than a barrel of groovy blogger women knew they could deliver. And – here’s the reason I’m writing this post at all:

4.   Another decade at least of being part of and participating in the new parts of the world – online and on screens, instead of watching from the bleachers.

Lots of boomer women have joined me and the other early birds each year and I am certain they feel the same way (I’ve asked several and besides they’ve written about it.)  At a time when many of our friends are settling into a more and more peer-centered life, we have the gift of having broadened, rather than narrowed, our world and hearing the voices of women we never would have known about, much less known for real. So David, thank you for the gift of my entry into this universe and for the imagination and vision that opened your mind to its possibilities.  It’s a beautiful place to hang out and I’ll always remember who sent me through the door.

Big Birthday Memory #18: Want a Feminist Son? Tips From a Veteran

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. This one appeared on BlogHer on January 19, 2011

Running Boys

“So Dan,” says I, “What would you think if the woman you wanted to marry decided to keep her name?”

“Well mom,” says he, “I don’t think I’d want to marry a woman who didn’t want to keep her name.”

He was around ten then (he’s 30 now), in the car with us, listening to his dad tease me, as he has for years, that he “wouldn’t have let me” have his name if I did want it.  Not a serious discussion of male oppression exactly, but humor teaches lessons too.

Someone asked me how we raised feminist sons.  I don’t have a checklist.  And if I were to respond seriously, I’d start with something really corny: teach them to respect people – all people.  The elevator man.  The bus driver.  Their best friend’s mom.  The guy at the candy counter.  Their friends.  Their parents’ friends. Their baby sitter.  They were Manhattan kids, but they were raised to think of the feelings of every person they met.  Of course, that meant all women, too.  That was an advantage.

Oh, and we respected the two of them right back.

In the families they knew, most of the moms worked as hard as the dads.  Since moms at home were an exception, they were used to two-income families.  The daughters of these moms, the girls they went to school with, wouldn’t put up with much nonsense, either.  That also helped.

We preferred offering choices over fiats.  Most boys go through a Playboy phase.  Call it curiosity.  When the magazines began to stack up behind the old-fashioned radiator in our bathroom, we didn’t seize them.  We talked about what it must have been like for the women in the pictures and how their parents might feel.  I may have said (of course I said) that it offended me, but if they wanted to keep buying Playboy, they’d have to pay for it from their allowance and keep them all put away.   Eventually the fever broke and the magazines disappeared.

Boys Hug

I also changed the endings of a lot of stories I read to them when they were really little.   No princess was given by her father to the guy who solved the riddle or won the quest in our versions. (I also had to change stories like Mr. Poppers Penguins because of terrible racial stereotypes, by the way)  We read Harriet the Spy and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great as well as Encyclopedia Brown and Superfudge.

Also, back then when it was new, we listened to Free to Be, You and Me  until the tape wore out.  When we did come across unpleasant images of women on TV or at a movie, we talked about them.Those movie moments were also “teachable moments.”  As any parent knows, those scenes can enable a dialogue that might otherwise be impossible, whether it’s about smoking and drugs, bullies, sex, or the partnership between women and men. They’re always popping up; not just in entertainment but also on the street, with family and friends, and in easy conversations.  We made the most of those, too.

I’ve sort of written things down here as I thought of them and now as I reread this, I realize how much I’ve focused on image and media.  I guess that’s because those sorts of opportunities were overt and therefore highly productive tools.

The modeling that went on at home was also critical of course.  We were nowhere near as exemplary as couples are now in their parenting and household equity.  It was the 70’s and 80s.  Even so, we were very aware of the issues we needed to pass on and both worked to do it. (For a more contemporary look , try The Feminist Breeder, who, in a consciously egalitarian marriage, describes her own thoughts on raising feminist boys.  or Penguin Unearthed as she offers her own perspective.)

Our boys, from when they were little, learned to cook, iron (that was our babysitter, not us), do their laundry and clean the kitchen.  They made their beds (mostly) and helped out at our parties.   Each has always had close friends who were girls, and later, women.  They still do.

Boys on Boat

As I conclude though,  I return too to the concept of respect.  If you are steeped in a respect for all people – not as a political habit but a deep, personal value, it’s a lot tougher to use your maleness to seize control of a household, a family or a workplace.

Finally, beyond all the values and logistical and modeling issues lies a fundamental fact.  A child who is well-loved and respected is far more likely to accept the values we choose to pass on, and that underlies everything else.


Big Birthday Memory #14: Life and Death on the Coast of France

Mont San Michel sized
On the approach to Mont San Michel


NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from May 8, 2014.

It doesn’t look at all real – I know that.  But it is.  It’s also a place I’ve wanted to see for as long as I can remember.  And here we are.  Here we are!  The sweet, formidable beauty of this place is matched only by its astonishing history – as a monastery, a prison and a target, from ancient times to the carnage and suffering of D-Day.

Mt-Saint-Michel has, for more than a thousand years, stood atop the rock upon which is was built.  Its timelessness is much of what attracts people, I suspect, along with its ice-castle beauty and the awesome commitment of its inhabitants:  the sacrifices made by these men on the mountain top, alone, virtually silent, with nothing to do but pray and take on their assigned chores, meditate and live out their lives in as holy a way as possible

SMEglise ike diorama crop
Ike sends US troops off to the D-Day invasion of Europe that helped win WWII.

Nearby, the small town of Saint-Mère-Élgise  and its museum await  the summer celebration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day and its remarkable exercise in vision, courage and grit.  This diorama of General Eisenhower’s last visit with the men he was sending to fight and die  is a moving one.  Anyone who has ever seen his 1968 conversation with Walter Cronkite knows how well the General understood that half of those he sent out on D-Day would never return.

SMglise resistance
Resistance Armbands
SMeglise death book crop
Prayers to say if death is near; provided by the military

One group of special heroes and heroines represented  at the museum were the Resistance – women and men who parachuted behind enemy lines, worked with local opponents of the Reich to complicate their war and, at great personal risk. transmitted by hidden radios everything they learned about their German enemy.

Aside from their real-life-spying, they also served in special, high-risk, low profile operations, commemorated in history, in films and in novels.  I often used the Resistance stories and the children running messages and doing other support work as a way to engage our sons in history when we traveled.  The drama and courage, and relevance, was and still is irresistible.

What you see here another of the profoundly moving exhibit items at the museum.  Look carefully; it’s a page of prayers to support young soldiers dying in the field.  Breathtaking as you stand among the photos of these young men and see how wise it was to offer them this comfort, and wonder if today’s military is inclined, or allowed for that matter, to provide similar comfort.

In all, the life of the monastery and loss that surrounds the beaches of Normandy really are bookends to how we live our lives.  Life and faith, war and peace, courage, sacrifice, defeat and victory.  It is the greatest gift of travel when these things present themselves and we   remember how fragile, and how wondrous, the privilege of being alive and aware really is.

Big Birthday Memory #13: Best Friends Forever

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from November 17, 2007.

cindy and janeThere we are – Jane and me on her porch one summer during college.  Friends since Brownies, we’ve always had a warm, respectful and sturdy relationship, interrupted by years at a time but never diminished.  Recently she sent photos of a family reunion – her four kids and their spouses and all their kids. And some things she had written.  Beautiful things. Especially about her parents.  I knew them well; I spent so many Saturday nights at their house, even going to church with them in the morning.  They never ate breakfast before Communion but Jane’s mom always insisted that I eat something even though I was going with them  After all, I wasn’t taking Communion so why not?.

cindy_and_jane_yearbookA “nice Jewish girl” in a mill town suburb (here I’m on the right and Jane on the left,)I had no Jewish friends; Jane, Catholic, was my dearest.  What might have been a huge cultural gap was just a curiosity; differences in our lives but not in how we felt about one another.  We’d always sworn to be at one another’s weddings; I’ll never forget her beautiful one in the cathedral at Notre Dame.  Years later, when it was my turn, Jane was living in Dallas and already a mother; she just couldn’t make it.
Then, just days before our wedding, she called.  “Do you still have room on that boat of yours?” (We got married on a boat.)  “I have to keep our promise- I’m coming!”  It was so great and meant so much.  Just as she knew it would.
That was 36 years ago; almost twice the age we were when the top photo was taken.  But it doesn’t matter.  The blessing of shared memories — of remembering each other’s parents and the Girl Scout trip to New York and her first love, who died in Vietnam — and mine, who ran off, perpetually stoned, to Santa Barbara —  those memories make her part of so much of who I was and who I’ve become.  What a gift to me that the one whose friendship blessed me was so blessed herself – generous and fine — helping me to be what she knew I had to be when I wasn’t sure myself what that was…not at all.

Big Birthday Memory #11: Remembrance of Things Past – Tom Jones and So Much More

Albert Finney and Susannah York as Tom and his love Sophie

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from September 17, 2007.

Not to be too obscure here but think about this: Marcel Proust’s REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PASTwas inspired by the scent of one cookie (a fancy one called a Madeline.) Sense memory is a powerful thing.

I saw Tom Jones 44 years ago, with my high school “film club.” The club was just 6 seniors and our creative writing teacher. Our mill town high school wasn’t a culture haven but this young teacher was. He handwrote Irwin Shaw short stories onto “ditto sheets” because there was no budget for the books, started a literary magazine (I was the editor, naturally) took us to Shakespeare performances and — started the film club. At first we rented films (screened on a projector in his classroom) and then moved on to evening journeys “downtown” to local art houses. We saw LA STRADA and THE SEVENTH SEAL, SUNDAYS AND CYBELE and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER — and TOM JONES. The films were so intelligent, so clearly different from the “movies” we saw on our own; the theaters served espresso andeveryone was smoking. How sophisticated we felt!

This morning as I watched this nearly half-century old film – still funny and charming even though the playful sexual innuendo recalls a more tender time, that 18-year-old girl I’d been came back – all of her. I didn’t know whether to be sad — miss all that I was then – all that’s changed — lost — or just plain passed – or to be grateful for the remarkable kaleidoscope of experiences that my life has been. From the adventure of a 36 year old marriage to the joy of raising two of the most spectacular young men on the planet to presences at royal weddings and presidential inaugurations, travel all over the world and great music experiences to a gentle childhood with talents acknowledged and appreciated to memorable private moments at weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduations and other celebrations with family and friends, a lot has contributed to the wiser woman I am today. I know there’s no way to live the life I’ve lived – or any other – without losing some of the shiny stuff of youth but even so it’s a shock when awareness of those losses lands on you in the middle of an unambiguously optimistic movie 44 years old.

Here’s what I think: there isn’t a person on the planet (despite Edith Piaf) who has no regrets. Recalling days that seem idyllic is a privilege – many haven’t got many to recall. Sadness about the joys of the past emerges only from an accumulated reservoir of happiness that is a blessing in itself. As Auntie Mame used to say“Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.” My sisters and I swore we would live by that.

I’ve tried – and I’m still trying. That’s why this blog is called Don’t Gel Too Soon. Wherever that 18 year old film fiend has gone, parts of her are still part of me – informing and enlivening the person I’ve become. The real challenge in this portion of my life is to hang onto the enthusiasm and curiosity of those years – never freezing in place. The last line in Tom Jones, one of my favorite anywhere, was written by John Dryden – way before movies or even radio. It still works though, and I offer its wisdom for us all. “Happy the man, and happy he alone, he who can call today his own; he who, secure within, can say, tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.”

Big Birthday Memory #10: Grey’s Anatomy, Bruce Springsteen, Memory and Me

Fade Away Mountain Lake

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from April 23, 2007.

Research shows that I’m hardly alone in this, but I have a deep and abiding fear of disappearing into the fog that is Alzheimer’s disease.  I’m approaching my 61st birthday, which, these days, is young.  Horrible to contemplate, but NOT old.  Actually even for the last generation it’s not much – my dad lived to be 78 and my mom 80.  So even in WWII generation terms, I’d have a good crack at at least 20 more years.  And when I think about dying I really worry more about the sadness of those I love than anything else.  No one wants her life to be over, but unlike many of my friends, including those far younger, I’m not terrified.

Alzheimer’s is different though.  If you read the statistics, the odds are pretty scary for all of us.  Today the New York Times reports (actually I think a little late – if you don’t have Times Select try this story on amNewYork) on a new awareness program by the Alzheimer’s Association.  Here’s the video(short.)  That’s good.

It even includes Kate Burton, Meridith Grey’s mother (Grey’s Anatomy for those of you not (Grey’s Anatomy for those of you not addicted already.)  Her character, in a series of almost unbearable episodes, suffered from Alzheimer’s.  There is so much written about this disease and the risk to our nation’s future, one person at a time, but if the documents are to be believed research is far behind potential.

As usual it’s a question of money.  And I know I should care about that.  I guess I do.  But what’s tougher for me is to face, almost daily, the small memory losses and forgetful moments of aging and not fear that they are all connected to the disease.  People my age even joke about it – calling it “old timer’s” disease or “senior moments” but all it is is awful.  To lose a word, see know the star of a classic film and not be able to retrieve the name, work a crossword puzzle (recommended to maintain brain “muscles” and besides I love them) and KNOW the missing word somewhere in your brain – but no place where you can get to it…. it’s all terrifying.

Think about it.  Spouses who’ve shared years of generating memories suddenly seeing you lose yours; knowing daily that your access to those moments is disappearing.  Children who’ve struggled to build strong and independent lives burdened with the emotional obligations created by a wasting disease in a parent.  Friends self-conscious and uneasy on visits they know they should make – if they even have the strength to make them.  Can you imagine anything worse – except the painful, protracted ending that cancer often brings?

As I write this, random thoughts wander through my mind.  Most dominant are lyrics from a Bruce Springsteen (of course) song.

I don’t wanna fade away, Oh I don’t wanna fade away, Tell me what can I do what can I say, Cause darlin’ I don’t wanna fade away.

Yeah it’s about the end of a love affair but it’s playing in my head as a kind of Alzheimer’s anthem so you have to listen too.

The other things are really corny but right now I think I need to be corny.  This one is part of what we read at the beginning of our wedding almost 36 years ago:  In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.  It’s from William Saroyan’s play The Time of Your Life.

The other is from Our Town.  And I know it’s old fashioned and sentimental.  But as I look this terror in the eye, I know it’s what I have to do to keep it at bay.

Emily: Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?–every, every minute?
Stage Manager: No. Saints and poets, maybe–they do some.

I guess the answer to all this is to aim for the saints and the angels.  Nothing is going to prevent the future from happening; not faith, not love, not Hogwart’s magic, not even the miraculous gift of children.  So each day I need to be as present as I can.  Whatever happens it’s a blow against the unknown and a prayer of gratitude for the privilege of being present and aware.

Big Birthday Memory #2: Home and Heartache

Home in DC
Home in DC

NOTE:  As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May.  Today – from December 4, 2006.

Yeah, we’re home – and as usual it’s like walking into an electric fan. We landed, unpacked, did laundry, slept (until 3AM) then Rick went back to the airport for a fund-raising trip to California. I’m working on several major projects and wanting to organize for when the boys come home for the holidays. Grocery lists and activity planning in addition to many hours of business obligations.

Lots on my mind. Today a friend told me about the last conversation she had with her father and I was ambushed by a deluge of memories. It’s tough to come to terms with the loss of a parent. Both of mine have been gone for years and there isn’t a day I don’t think of them — and, often, wish I could ask them something – or tell them something — or just feel their love again. I haven’t felt this way in a long time and it surprised me. I just wasn’t expecting the intensity.

I once sent my dad the lyrics to a Judy Collins song about her father. It’s a wonderful evocation of the love between fathers and daughters and the bitter-sweet realization that one’s life will exceed that of a beloved parent. It’s what they’d wish for us but it’s complicated. Anyway there wasn’t a moment of my life when I doubted the love for and faith in me felt by both my parents.

There were also circumstances in my life that led me, in my memory at least, to be less attentive than I wanted to be. I think it will haunt me forever- times when finances or my own parental responsibilities kept me from visits; times when I let my dad tell me not to come because he didn’t want us to “see him like this.” — all those things we all wish we’d done differently. I am beginning to think that this is a real issue for me and one I’ve got to get some clarity about.

This is the second time in the space of the 90 days or so I’ve had this blog that my dad has come up and he’s been gone since 1991. Somehow though I’m more at peace with the loss of him. I can summon memories that make me smile and I know that he had a profound and lovely effect on my sons, which adds to my own fond remembrances of him.

My mother, who died in 1998, haunts me though. I know things in her life frustrated her – and that she would have liked to do more in the world outside the house. My husband told both her and me that I was guilty that my arrival had pulled her out of a promising career but she insisted that that was HER choice and I should get over it. That she loved raising the three of us. I don’t doubt that she loved raising her daughters but I also think she needed more than she was able to get in life as a suburban mom. I don’t know – all I know is that I feel a need to be particularly helpful to elderly women on the street, or the bus, or the synagogue steps. As if I can do for her by doing for them. Agh. I don’t know. I’m going to bed to see if I can beat the last of the jet lag. This is too sad.

Big Birthday Memory #1: My Mother’s Sisters

Wedding Pic Kalish GirlsNOTE:  As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here.  Today -from June 30, 2007: the end of a generation.

They’re all gone now – my mom and my aunts. Here they are at the wedding of Barbara, the youngest, who died this week. My mom, Jeanne, the oldest, gone since 1998, is the one on the right – that’s my dad next to her. On the left side of the photo is Bettie, and my Uncle Jim.

Growing up in the Depression, they were wartime girls – my mom worked for the Office of Price Administration — the agency that controlled prices and tried to prevent gouging and war profiteering. She met my dad there – his hearing loss prevented him from active military duty so he fought unscrupulous businessmen instead. Bettie was in the WAVES. Barb, the youngest, came of age closer to the war’s end; her husband Bob was a Ranger, decorated several times.

The Depression had been hard on them. My grandfather was unable to bring in much. It was so traumatic that once, when Bettie started to talk about putting cardboard in their shoes to cover the holes, my mother cut her off. We were in a car, the three of us, and Bettie was just kind of spinning yarns. But to my mother she was raising things better left alone. I have always understood that these three sisters – so lovely and happy here — went through plenty. I also understood that they were not alone; no one their age was untouched by the Depression and the war.

I’ve come to realize over the years that my parents’ Depression experiences had a profound effect on me. Not only did I read menus from the price to the item – and check dangling price tags before examining clothing on a rack. That was the obvious stuff I inherited. Beyond it though was a sense of sadness for them all. My mother, who was an artist, got a scholarship in education, so she because a teacher. My father, who wanted to be an architect, got a scholarship to law school so he became a lawyer. My Uncle Bob was to be a veterinarian but his wartime injuries impaired his movement too much for him to be able to lift the animals so his dream died too. That was just how it was.

In some ways, they were the lucky ones; all three sisters and my father and uncles — were able, on scholarships, to go to college. All three marriages, despite tensions and tough times, survived with a real friendship between spouses for most of their lives. Each had three children who were smart, interesting, and self-sufficient. Even so, the bounty of choices they gave to us was so much more than they had had themselves. The young women in this photograph, and their husbands, never had the luxury of dropping out of school to campaign for Eugene McCarthy or majoring in music or theater or spending years doing trauma medicine a couple of months a year to pay for a life of mountain climbing and exploration. There was no give, no leeway, in the lives of those whom the Depression and the war that ended it – had stamped forever.

None of that shows here, of course. It’s a wedding. There’s no hint of all the scars the Depression had left on them, no hint of the loved ones and friends lost to World War II, no indication of the profound pain of watching a father who couldn’t support them and a mother who was permanently enraged. Nope. This was a wedding day and a lovely one at that. Tonight – well tonight I’m thinking of what it must have been like as the third sister, the baby sister, married. Who, I wonder, was missing – lost to the war. Who, I wonder, were the absent friends lost to the jolt of economic inequality when their parents retained a steady income and my grandparents could not. What are the stories my sisters and cousins and I will never know?

When we cleaned out my mom’s apartment I found the strangest thing: the Phi Beta Kappa key of the husband of one of my mother’s best childhood friends — a woman whose first husband had died early in the war. Why did my mother have it instead of her? What, if anything, had been between them when they were young? To me, the key is a symbol of all that was never said – the reserve of this brave and noble generation who didn’t want us to know how tough it really was. One picture and so many random thoughts — probably self-indulgently cobbled together here.

I’m writing this at the beach — the ocean slamming against the shore just steps away. This little barrier island on the Jersey shore has been a family destination since I was little –well more than 50 years — so I’m probably more available for all this nostalgia as memories rise up unfiltered on the sidewalks and sand dunes and ice cream parlors. But that’s not all it is; these thoughts are never very far away and when my sister sent this photo tonight many rose to the surface. I so wish I had asked more questions and said more often “You guys were great, so brave, so remarkable.”At my mothe’s funeral I said something to an old friend of hers about their role as “the Greatest Generation.” He laughed. “We weren’t great Cindy. We just did what we had to do. If you have to, so will you.”

Look at this photo and think of all that touched these young women and their families. If, as they did, we faced more than a decade of economic and political upheaval, wiould we be as strong, as determined?

So long girls. I know we always loved you, but appreciate all you were and all you never got to be? No we didn’t do that. At least not enough.