How Sound Entered the Forest

Mrs. Macintosh picked up an acorn from the schoolyard and confronted our second grade class with her own version of Aristotle’s famous question. Mysteriously lifting her eyebrows, she asked us, “If this acorn falls to the ground in the middle of a forest where there are no human beings or animals to hear it, will it make any noise?” Always inquisitive, I stood chewing on this puzzle and on a wisp of hair that had escaped my braids. I conjured up a picture of the empty forest and watched the acorn tumbling to the ground as our teacher moved more deeply into the question. “Do you think sound can exist without at least one ear drum for it to bounce off of?”


When my mother began speaking to me at the retreat house of Paul’s death, her voice grew flatter than it had been when speaking of Mary-Louise. She recited dully the sparse facts and as much of our family’s feeling world which she had ever dared remember: almost nothing. In 1959, she told me, history simply repeated itself. Oh, technically, new variations on a theme, but the same theme. Paul was sick with a bronchial condition for a long time the winter of 1957–1958, but it cleared up. In May he and Betsy got their tonsils out.

14 | Side By Side

A few weeks ago we invited the family of our son’s girlfriend to Sunday dinner. We’d resurrected this old-fashioned ritual when he moved back to town. His girlfriend had been raving about our meals to her parents, though it was pretty basic fare, usually including broccoli and cheese sauce because that’s the only way I had ever gotten our son, now age twenty-three, to eat vegetables.

It was a classic setup for awkward conversation, of course, hosting total strangers who, like us, harbored the secret thought we might become family some day. But the parents and little sister were lively and fun, the lasagna was decidedly runny but tasty, and no one embarrassed the “kids.” We only touched lightly on politics and religion and the interesting fact that our guests were Black, and Gerry and I were White. I went to bed that night feeling a little flushed with the social adventure but happy.

17 | Finding Our Way In The Dark (After The 2016 Election)

Every December, winter’s darkness curls up inside me. It incarnates as a palpable energy. Even as I relish the beauty and mystery of Christmas, I notice the familiar melancholy, left over from too many losses at this time of year, pulling me inward.

This year, though, the darkness I experience doesn’t even belong to me. Its center of gravity is neither in the solstice nor inside my psyche, but instead in the world around me. So many of us are in mourning. A terrible specter has come crashing through the pale winter skies ahead of Santa’s sleigh, announcing itself with a broad flourish of trumpets.

Some shrug off the sense of cataclysm. They point out we need these dark times to confront our illusions. They remind us that our country has always been controlled by power-hungry narcissists. You just couldn’t see them behind the curtain. Even the progressive departing president we so love has had to make a few offerings at the altar of the powers-that-be, the oil barons, the one percent.

11 | Wishes
My daughter, at age thirty-one, confessed during her recent holiday visit that she had always longed for an American Girl doll when she was growing up. I received her comment with my mother-guilt in full throttle. I chastised myself for never realizing how much it mattered to her, and thought, "If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't hesitate to buy her Samantha."

I sat there judging myself for the intransigence of my simple-lifestyle principles when the children were growing up. Was I just cheap, as they implied? Silently, miserably, I replayed images of those lost years: my daughter prancing into the living room on Christmas morning, taking in all the toys surrounding our tinseled tree. I noticed for the first time how she fixed her smile, and swallowed her disappointment, and cheerfully embraced the doll-who-wasn't-what- she-wanted. And I wept inwardly, for her, for myself, for the hurt that I caused when I could so easily have made her happy.

Chapter 28
Cold Heart
Fall 1967
Going on Fifteen

It’s hard to imagine Dad was once a skipper on an LST boat in the Navy, back during World War II. We have photos of him in uniform, resembling one of those dashing guys in the old war movies. I try to imagine him running a shipload of sailors, though, bossing them around like the captain in The Caine Mutiny, his favorite book, having the time of his life as Mom says he did, but he just doesn’t seem the type. I’m jealous of those sailors who got to see him at the helm of that LST, gazing out over the Mediterranean, and then every night writing gooshey love letters to Mom which we discovered one day when we lived on Jefferson: “My Dearest Darling Mollie …” I took the stamps off the envelopes to place them in my stamp album. One says, Win the War, and it’s only two cents! I don’t know if it bothers Mom looking at the letters and pictures, but it bothers me. I keep wanting that Navy skipper to come back.

Excerpts from
Fresh Springs ​Deep Down

Excerpts from
Ollie Ollie In Come Free