Saturday, December 31, 2016



I minored in French Lit at Brown University, and one of my favorite professors was a young man (just out of the Navy from WWII, as I recall). He was handsome, accomplished, charming. And wonderfully gracious. He and his wife would often invite batches of his students to dinner. They were the parents of twins (?---again, can't remember for sure).

And the evenings in their house were what we, as young women, dreamed about for our perfect futures. The inevitable and delicious tuna casserole, the daddy going upstairs to read a bedtime story to the kids, the immaculate little house. We drooled with envy. (Please don't get yourselves in a snit, people---this was the '50s. We were the first generation of women to even go to college in large numbers, but our models were our home-bound mothers.)

Because I had taken several courses with him, and was an avid pupil, he and I became a little more than student and teacher. Not equals, given the formal relationship between students to teachers in those days, but certainly a budding friendship. And after I graduated, and my husband and I returned to Brown for a reunion or graduation (which was often, since my husband had also gone there and three of our siblings and two of our sons followed), we would be in touch with him, and sometimes meet for coffee with him and his wife during reunion weekend.

When I wrote my first book ("Marielle"), a historical romance set in the France of Louis XIII, I sent him one of my first printed copies. I had slaved over the research---the historical personages, the battles, the politics of that turbulent time. I smugly challenged him to find anything inaccurate in my book.

His letter in reply said something along the lines of: "I don't think a Frenchman of 1629 would accuse someone of being "as treacherous as a rattlesnake", a New World snake, barely nine years after the Pilgrims had landed in Plymouth! "An adder, maybe," he suggested. One word to carp over, but otherwise he found the history to be spot-on.

I laughed ruefully about that for a long time, but, thanks to him, it led me to check any questionable word I wrote from then on, to be sure it was appropriate for its time. (I have lots of dictionaries, which help me on that score.)

 But that correspondence deepened our friendship immeasurably. After that, I sent him every book of mine as it was published. (I wish I'd saved his letter about my book about French strolling actors---"Dreams So Fleeting" by Louisa Rawlings---who meet the great Moliere on their travels. We had read Moliere in class together, and I swear that his letter in comment of the book had teardrops on it!)

From then on, when my husband and I came for reunion, he and his lovely wife took us out to dinner, sometimes even picking us up on campus to drive back to their apartment. (He had retired at that point to a near-the-campus  retirement complex, where many Brown professors lived.)

It became a joke, every time we came for reunion---and as he and his wife grew older---for him to say, "Don't wait another five years! I'm xxxx (whatever his age was at the time)." And five years later, I'd write or call and say, "I'm still here and so are you! See you at the reunion!"

I missed my 60th reunion last year, because I was in the middle of a move. I had hoped to visit him and his wife---perhaps over the summer. But then his dear wife passed away and I got frazzled and busy with the move.

The whole point of this is to tell you that, as usual, I sent him a Christmas card. I'm crying as I write this, because I just got a card back today, with a long, chatty note in his distinctive handwriting. He is alive and well and just turned 96 (!).

I am so grateful for this. I will write him back. If I could send hugs through the mail I would. I'm determined to visit him next year, even if it isn't during graduation. I can't begin to describe how happy and grateful I feel at this moment.

Thanks for listening, people. Just had to share.

P.S.  Had a sudden memory after I published this: He smoked a pipe. (Very sexy, in those days.) And he always came into class with the pipe in his mouth. He would go to the window, open it, and tap the ashes against the outside wall to empty the pipe. It was such a graceful, masculine gesture that I found it entrancing. And many, MANY years later, I had my hero, in "Autumn Rose" by Louisa Rawlings, do the same thing!

Friday, December 16, 2016


No, this entry isn't really about Christmas or the holidays, though one can hope that this time of year makes us stop and reflect for a bit.

I want to talk about JOY---giving joy to others, receiving joy in return. It so often comes from the unexpected, from someone going above and beyond the norm, reaching out, sometimes only in little ways, to do something kind, when they don't have to.

This thought came to me when I saw an item on the news recently. A young man, who had been in a car accident and was now in an arm sling, nevertheless had returned to work at a fast food establishment. The YouTube picture of him at work, even though he was somewhat disabled, went viral. When asked why he continued to work, he said that he needed the money to pay his bills, but also to purchase food and supplies to the homeless people in his town, which he did regularly. Someone else, moved by his selflessness, set up a GoFundMe page, and he has collected a great deal of money, which he intends to use for the homeless.

Think of all the JOY in that story! His ongoing joy in being able to help people, the joy of the people who heard the story and had the satisfaction of being able to contribute. The joy of the homeless, who know they aren't forgotten.

How often do we stop to think about doing something special for someone else? I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that I like to compliment strangers on the street if they're wearing something that makes them look good. "Oh, you ought to wear that color all the time!" I'll say to a woman in a bright coat, and watch her beam in pleasure. But I also take joy from making her feel more attractive. No big deal for me to do---takes a second or two out of my day.

I had lunch the other day in a local restaurant. The waiter has helped me before, but in a professional way. I ordered a cup of coffee and a sandwich. He walked away, then came back, opening the menu. It seems that the sandwich I had ordered (a fish fillet) could be had on a platter as a lunch special, with coffee included. He told me he could arrange to have it as a sandwich, but he would charge me the lunch-special price, which was cheaper, since the coffee was free. Now it didn't really amount to a big difference, but he was so pleased that he could do this for me. It brought me joy to see the joy on HIS face! As I drank my second cup of coffee, we chatted for a bit---two human beings making a connection where none was necessary or expected.

Think about how little effort it takes to do a good deed, people. So why are we so wrapped up in our own worlds that we forget to reach out to others? And the satisfaction ISN'T a one-way street. Both the giver and the receiver get joy.

Many years ago, we took our three sons on a Massachusetts vacation, visiting all the historical spots. (They were probably 11, 13 and 15 at the time.) In Boston, we visited the old North Church, where Paul Revere's friend had set the lanterns to warn Revere of the British soldiers' plans to attack Lexington and Concord and arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams. When we entered the church, we saw that there was a workman carving something into a marble plaque on the wall. It contained the names of all the churchmen who had served in the church from its very founding in the 18th century. The artisan was carving the name of the most recent appointee, a tall man resplendent in his vestments, who watched the process with a pleased look on his face.

And he was someone I had gone to high school with! (I was raised in Massachusetts.) I immediately recognized him and said hello, congratulating him on his honor. Can you imagine his joy? To be able to share that special moment with someone who knew him? And we were able to share in his joy!

He greeted my husband and our sons, then told them that Paul Revere had been a bell-ringer in that church as a young boy. He explained that the steps to the belfry were old and rickety and in need of repair, so tourists were not allowed on them. But he would make an exception for us. We carefully made our way up to the belfry, Then he handed the bell rope to each boy in turn. "Would you like to ring the bell that Paul Revere rang?" he asked. The joy on our sons' faces still brings tears to my eyes.

Incidentally, that minister, my old friend, had the honor of escorting President Gerald Ford to the belfry to ring the bell in 1975, the Bicentennial anniversary. His picture was on the front page of the New York Times. We were all thrilled to see it.

One of my favorite JOY stories involves a bride at the Bridal Salon, some years ago. A young woman came in, halfheartedly looking for a wedding dress. She was tall, a bit "solid" and heavy-set, though not really very overweight, but clearly unhappy with her self-image, in spite of a lovely face. She told me that she was in the process of losing weight, but just wanted to look at dresses. I think she might have been happy with a dress that made her look okay, and nothing more. I assured her that she was fine the way she was, and that I had a dress for her. (I've spent enough years sewing my own clothes to be cold-blooded about body types, so I can usually scope out a bride and figure out what would look good on her shape,)

I found the perfect dress, laced her into it, put on a veil and a tiara. The expression on her face as she looked in the mirror was well beyond the OMG moment I'm used to, when the bride know that THIS is the dress! Her face expressed wonder, astonishment, disbelief that she could look beautiful. "I want the whole package," she whispered.

I grinned and said she'd have to look at herself a little while longer, while I went to get the paperwork. She said she had to call her mother in Boston. (I believe this was long enough ago so cell phones didn't yet have cameras.)  When I came back, she was sobbing into the phone. Not happy little tears, but huge sobs of relief and wonder, as she explained to her mother that she looked beautiful. She hung up and tried to apologize.

"Nonsense," I said. "This is a special moment, and your mother is far away. Look," I added. "I have four kids and a mess of grand-kids. Do you need a 'Mom' hug?" She fell into my arms and cried a few more grateful tears on my shoulder.

After she had paid for the whole package and left, my manager at the time congratulated me on the sale. "You'll take home a good commission for THAT!" she said.

"No," I said. "That's not the gold I'm taking home tonight."

It's moments like that, filled with shared joy---given and received---that send me happily to work each day.

Try it. Stop to give a bit of joy to someone, and see how your own heart swells with the joy of their happiness.

P.S. As has happened in the past, I'm getting emails from friends who want to post a comment, but can't figure out how. I think I've finally figured it out myself!

1. Go to bottom of blog entry you wish to comment on, where it says "Comments" with a number, or "No Comments"  Click on.
2. Write your comment in the space provided.
3. In "Comment As" spot, scroll down to AIM and click on.
4. It asks for a "User name", which will allow you to put in anything you want.
5. Publish your comment.