back to the drawing board

No internet. No smart phone. No apps or social networks. No laser printer, not even a clunky desktop computer running WordStar 1.0.

A typewriter, an ink pen, a can of Krylon, X-Acto knife and poster board. A trip to the printer, hand written mailing labels, postage stamps. These were the tools of the trade when my mother first published “Cook & Tell,” the newsletter she wrote and illustrated for 30-some years.

After the initial mailing to everyone on her Christmas card list, her readership grew in quantum leaps, eventually surging to nearly 10,000 readers across the globe. Subscribers sent letters and postcards, and sometimes grainy Instamatic photographs, posing in their kitchens. My mother delighted in making long-distance calls to random readers at suppertime, the long cord from the yellow wall phone stretching from living room to kitchen. “What’s for dinner?” she’d ask, then chronicle the responses in the “Meals Across the Miles” section of her next newsletter.

Some days, I dream of reviving that newsletter, of going dark, like so many friends have lately. To erase my cyber-presence, to escape political rants and hate and fake news where even emojis are too loud, to be unburdened by algorithms and likes.

Some days, I dream of returning to the days when writing—and people—felt more real. Of punching the dusty keys of the ancient Remington typewriter in my mother’s old studio, a jar of Wite-Out at the ready. Taking posterboard paste-ups to the print shop. Unloading the printed copies on the unwitting postmistress at the little post office—the island’s social network since 1878.

I am not lacking in experience, having entered the fray long ago with my own family newsletter, “The Purple Press,” so named for the pungent purple ink of the mimeograph machine my fourth-grade teacher let me use for copies.

And yet, here I sit, the irony inescapable, typing on a screen. A cog in the blogosphere wheel.


Late August and it’s girls’ weekend at camp. On the deck, edge of the lake. Empty coffee mugs, crumbs on a plate, molasses donuts as distant a memory as the early morning mist. The summer writing project complete and submitted, and I’m taking a few days away from writing.

Linda’s reading “Forum Feasts,” a church cookbook, circa 1968, grabbed off the shelves in the spare bedroom. “Lotta Jell-O in these salads,” she comments, our conversation inevitably shifting to food and cookbooks and recipe cards and potluck suppers and our mothers’ favorite casseroles.

I’ve known Linda for fifty years. Halloween parties and Campfire Girls candy sales and Latin class and now we’re swapping recipes like our mothers, the witty founders of the island Mothers’ Club, born entertainers who played tambourine and piano at school parties.

“Remember my mom’s newsletter?” I ask. “All those stories she wrote and the recipes and sketches?”

“And her cookbook!” says Linda. “You ought to write a cookbook.”

I pick up the novel I’m reading, We Begin at the End. It’s about death and families and love and small towns. I think about how endings become beginnings. How my mother felt when she first began writing. How her stories about families and food and love and small towns would entertain and captivate readers for thirty some years. How the muse never shuts up, even on this weekend away from desk and laptop; even while I’m gliding along the soft rippled lake at dawn in my kayak, the sun a drop of hope slowly cutting through the fog. How, after my parents’ recent passings, I’m writing my own beginning. Hesitantly dipping my toes in the waters of a new writing project, about families and food and love and small towns.

oh, brother

When we were young, John and I went to the old folks’ home—the nursing home, the skilled nursing facility, whatever you want to call it—and there was an old woman clawing the air and yelling, I’m hungry, I’m tired, there used to be a doorway here, and we went to visit Gaffo, my grandfather, my dad’s father, John’s step-grandfather, if that’s actually a thing, I mean, it is, and I know this, because John’s grandfather, who we always called Grampa Jones even though his last name wasn’t really “Jones,” we just liked to call him that, and sometimes John would say a lame-ass rhyme, Grampa Jones, you sure got nice bones, and Grampa would chuckle like older folks do at youngsters while we were basically ROTFLOAO before that was a thing, texting acronyms, or even texting, for that matter; anyway, Grampa Jones was my step-grandfather back when John’s mom and my dad were married, and even after they divorced when we were in our twenties, even then, John was still my brother and Grampa was still my Grampa, I mean, whatever on the “step” part, it’s stupid and awkward and even now, three decades later, long after Gaffo died, long after Grampa died, John is still my brother and I know this because beyond family summer vacations at the lake house with John, his wife and my two nieces, who are, technically, my step-nieces, but at this point, who cares, and are now the age we were when our parents divorced; beyond the occasional snarky texts we send each other, like, often, or the Thanksgiving FaceTime calls (is that redundant? FaceTime calls? like when people say “your PIN number” and I cringe but don’t correct them, I’ll leave that to Dad, but wait…Dad’s gone, I keep forgetting this); beyond all that, John was there for me, my brother, he was there for me, he flew all day from Memphis to Maine to the nursing home where we spent the last week of Dad’s life at Dad’s side and this time no one was yelling about doorways, just the hiss of Dad’s oxygen tank surrounding our sorrow, and again, in case the extended blended family tree is just too much to deal with—like when I get the eyerolls or frowns or puzzled looks from friends who didn’t know me then, or are from families that never divorced, or whose listening skills are not one hundred, or all of the above—here is the Cliff’s Notes version of my life: my dad married John’s mom when we were young and he will always be our dad even though he’s gone and for that I love my brother.