The Big 5-0


Back in 1967, after five years of trying to get pregnant, my parents knew that the prospects of having a second child were slim. In fact, they had begun the process of adoption when my mother happened to catch a segment of The Mike Douglas Show as he interviewed a prominent Boston ob-gyn by the name of Dr. Lynch. She right then picked up the phone to make an appointment. That second opinion eventually gave her a second child, then a third and a fourth.

This photo of me and my mother looks like it was taken in 1935.

Growing up Dr. Lynch was almost this mythical figure to me. I don’t remember meeting him, of course, but I knew my parents always felt they owed him a great deal of gratitude. And I clearly do too.

Turning 50 is a funny thing. I feel like I am supposed to have the direction of my life figured out by now, or possess some other deep insights. Perhaps, there would be ambitious goals to announce. Honestly, December 13th kind of felt like another day, a good one, but nothing profound.

I will say I have noticed as I get older that I feel a deeper sense of appreciation and love for the people in my life who always have my back. As for Alice Flynn, she’s had my back longer than any of them. The occasion of my recent birthday seemed like a good opportunity to thank my mother for being the leader of my cheering section from the beginning.

Here I offer a few pieces of evidence:

For my fourth-grade play, I was cast as Snow White. It was not a musical, which may explain one of the key reasons I was tapped for the leading role. A few weeks into practice I came down with a brutal case of bronchitis and missed school for a week. The teacher, apparently worried about the fast-approaching opening and disappointing our audience of kindergartners, decided she must select a new Snow White. I learned about my replacement when I returned to school. 

My mother didn’t think that was fair, not one bit. I had already memorized all the lines. She went straight up to school and asked to meet with the teacher. In the end, we had two plays with two separate casts. I was Snow White in one, Doc in the other.

No photography exists of my award-winning performance.

It’s funny because I don’t remember it not being 100 percent normal to have two plays with two casts. No one made me feel badly. My mother said she was perfectly reasonable in her request. The teacher apparently agreed with her reasoning.

Cowl necks are back in style.

Back in seventh grade, a boy I liked told my friend that he didn’t like girls with freckles. I was devastated. I told my mother that I wished I was prettier. She told me that if you are too beautiful, you don’t develop into a complete person because the world is reacting only to your looks. It’s more important, she said, to develop a personality that people find beautiful. The advice certainly made me feel better at the time. However, I have since met women who are stunningly beautiful with amazing personalities, which my mother conveniently forgot to mention was a possibility.

Shortly after starting my first job as a newspaper reporter, I got into my first car accident. It was what they call a “courtesy crash.” Someone stopped to let me out, but it was a two-lane highway and the person in the other lane didn’t also stop. I drove my parents’ old Ford station wagon right into the side of this brand new Volvo station wagon. The female driver was not exactly understanding. She was kind of mean, actually. I called my mother as soon I got home (pre-cell phones) and started to cry. I was so sorry, I told her. I will pay for the repairs.

“This is why we have insurance,” my mother said. “Don’t worry about it.” End of story.

Fixer-upper is one way to describe our first house. To paint a more accurate image, you should know we had to hire the folks at Trauma Clean to treat the mold in the basement. Picture the movie ET where the crew in white haz-mat suits descends upon the scene. Sort of like that. We bought the house “as-is,” which means we also had to get rid of everything inside.  My mother, always the optimist, was sure we would find something of value in the garbage bags and cardboard boxes haphazardly stacked in piles in the living room, the basement, the bedrooms …

So there we sat, side by side, for hours upon hours, sorting through old papers – wedding announcements, love letters, sales invoices, phone bills. We sifted through old clothes, bags of hair curlers, broken appliances. We never found any money, jewelry or shares of old stock. There was a life-size paper cut-out of Mr. McGoo and some old wooden Hood milk crates, which we still have some 17 years later.

My mother took this picture of my husband, Paul, carrying me over the threshold of our new home.

On April 1, 2001, one month after the closing, we finally moved in. Before she left, my mother picked some early forsythia blooms from the back yard and placed a vase on our freshly painted mantle.

After the birth of our first daughter, I didn’t want my parents who were waiting outside to come into the delivery room, not just yet. Sarah had been rushed to the special care nursery after swallowing meconium. We were scared. I wanted to be able to tell my parents that she was fine and protect them from needless worry. We were still waiting for some news when my mother came in. She told me that I had forgotten that she wasn’t just worried about her new granddaughter. She was worried about me. She picked up a brush on the side table and began to smooth my matted hair. 

A month or so after my brother, Tommy, died, my mother and I made a trip to their nearby Trader Joe’s supermarket. She wanted to pick up a few things, including some American cheese to make burgers for my dad for dinner that night. We couldn’t find any. When we asked about it, a pretentious worker told my mother that they don’t tend to carry American cheese in this store. My mother sheepishly whispered to me that this is more of a place to buy Brie or Camembert. I was steaming mad and feeling fiercely protective. Without my mother knowing, I asked to speak with the manager. She apologized, and agreed this worker’s tone/attitude was unnecessary. I then proceeded to join my mother waiting in the checkout line. After a few minutes, the manager walked over with two bouquets of flowers and presented one to each of us.

I felt vindicated, and knew exactly how my mother must have felt after the Snow White incident.