Category Archives: Family and Friends

Relationships and personal interaction

Together again

Once upon a time, more than 30 years ago, there lived three young women who attended The Catholic University of America. Late at night, when their brains buckled under the weight of René Descartes and Saint Thomas Aquinas, they turned to music to unwind.

Within the concrete walls of 109 Zimmerman Hall, the tenor voice of Jonathan Edwards soothed our worries and helped give meaning to our lives. The turntable situated between the room’s two barred windows in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C., spun folk and rock inspiration from all the great modern philosophers—Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, and, yes, Jonathan Edwards. (Not to be confused with the 18th century theologian of the same name).

Jonathan Edwards, theologian

Jonathan Edwards, musician

Jonathan Edwards’ album, Jonathan Edwards, had been in the record collection I took to college. It had come out in 1971, with just one song, “Sunshine (go away today)” having made the top 40. Everyone knows that one song, but few, I’d say, know the other 11. We played that album until there were no grooves left. Whenever the pressures of college life bore down, on us and our friends across the hall, 109 Zimmerman became our shanty.

Six of us went to see him at The Cellar Door in Georgetown in 1979 and managed to get back stage. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Buy me a glass of wine and I’ll tell you the story.”

Anyway, last Friday night, we three girls from 109 Zimmerman got together again—for a Jonathan Edwards show in Annapolis. While sipping cranberry juice, club soda and iced tea, we went back in time. We reminisced and sang. We laughed and lapped up Edwards’ stories, some of which we had heard, as others caught us up on the songwriter’s life and adventures of the last 30 years. We marveled at his still-smooth voice and his wailing harmonica, agreeing with his own characterization of his musical genre – “hard folk.”

One roomie’s husband, who graciously tolerated the reunion, picked up our dinner check.

We didn’t go backstage.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Music

The Entertainer

I was well into my sixes or sevens before I noticed my Dad was different from other fathers.

It wasn’t until the fourth grade that it more meaningfully got my attention. We were asked to write down what our fathers did for a living. (They didn’t ask about our mothers.)

We were allowed to take this assignment home, even though it called for only a word or two. I took mine to my father, asking him how to spell “comedian.” He said he preferred “entertainer.”

The next day at school, we read our responses aloud. There were a lot of businessmen and government employees and several fathers working at the Pentagon. One girl reported that her father told her what he did was nobody’s business. Years later, I realized that her father worked for The Washington Post, when I noticed his byline as an overseas correspondent, then later as chief of the London Bureau and, before retiring, the paper’s ombudsman.

But I assure you, there were no other entertainers.

I’ve written plenty in this space about both of my parents, so if you’ve been around here for a while you have a sense of how my folks differ from yours.

My father turns a big number ending in zero today, so it gives me occasion to reflect on what makes him stand out. Not as an entertainer; most people already know that.

How My Father Is Different From Yours
by Monica Russell; oops, Welch

  1. My father has never worked in an office.
  2. My father went to work at night, usually around 8:30 p.m., after an extremely early dinner and a nap. For much of his career, he did two shows a night, six nights a week, including holidays.
  3. My father often wore a tuxedo to work.
  4. My father worked at a keyboard before yours did.
  5. My father couldn’t write a straight absence excuse after I had stayed home sick from school.
  6. My father took me on a cross-country train trip when I was 9; but he made me use the time to learn all 50 state capitals. Ask me any…
  7. My father took me to church ‘most every Sunday. He often tested me afterward on the homily. Ask me any…
  8. My father has been parodied on The Simpsons, Mad About You, Murphy Brown and Saturday Night Live.
  9. My father hasn’t really retired yet, though he tried. Just this week he said, “You may recall the vow that I made two years ago that I would come out of retirement on the day that congressmen would skinny dip in the Sea of Galilee. I have kept this solemn promise.”
  10. My father could probably make a list just like this one about his father.

Happy x0th birthday, Dad. You’re one of a kind.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Movies, Television and Radio

Family versed

Day Two in the re-exploration of family heirlooms and personal relics being exhumed from the crypt:

I am honored to be in possession of a very special book–written, illustrated and hand-assembled by my Aunt Linda. I am not sure what I did to deserve this treasure, but I’m sure glad to have had it for nearly 50 years. The cover is made of sturdy cardboard, covered in amber-colored burlap. The pages inside are typed on onion skin paper. The pictures are drawn in black felt-tip pen.

Every two pages there is a story, and a drawing that goes along with it, written lovingly about someone in Aunt Linda’s life. I’d like to share two here.

The first one, I presume, is about her daughter, my cousin Lesley, whom you met here about a year ago.

Good morning, dear Jesus, this day is for me.
It’s time to be up and about.
“Morning time, Mommy!”, “Morning time, Dad!”
That’s what I’m going to shout.
There’s a number of things that I’m hoping to do
And things that I’m planning to fix,
So wake up, you sleepyheads, get me some juice,
It’s almost a quarter to six.

This one’s about her Goddaughter, me:

I met a girl names Monica (a very pretty name),
And since I’ve talked with Monica I’ve never been the same.
Though she is only five years old she knows her ABC’s,
Can count to ‘most a million, and always uses “please”.
She has a dog called Gretchen who is unlike any other,
And next to Gretchen she loves best her father and her mother.
I like to listen to her jokes – we have a lot of fun –
And she often helps her daddy when he just can’t think of one.

This project helps me realize how amply I am blessed. Now on to digging deeper into the treasure chest.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends

Sign here

I’ve hit the mother lode (note, not mother load) of mementos.

My husband has been cleaning out our attic, and my box of collected treasures has emerged from the clutter. I’ve scooped out just the first layer, so let’s call this post the first in a series. There are sure to be more.

In this tranche were all those charms I thought I’d lost, some religious relics, including my First Holy Communion book, an Immaculate Conception medal and an honorable mention certificate from Saint Dominic’s Catholic School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. There were a few old pictures, lots of cards and letters and my photo album from summer semester in Spain.

My favorite relic to be unearthed was an autograph book I got as a souvenir of Disneyland when my father took me there in 1969. I scored no celebrity autographs, unless you count that of the five-year-old daughter of the TV comedy writer with whom we stayed in L.A.

I didn’t wear a watch on that trip. I do remember asking my Dad what time it was about every 10 minutes. When I let him sign the first page of my autograph book, he wrote, “It’s twenty after ten.”

My Uncle Henry made note that he signed it on the weekend man first walked on the moon—which had nothing to do with the poem he penned:

Saint Monica, Saint Bernadette,
Her patron saints, don’t give up yet,
For though you’ve seen the demon’s taint,
You’ve seen the promise of a saint.
Imp or angel, bad or bonnie,
In equal portion, that’s our Monnie.

The other pages hold what we all know as autograph book rhymes. Things like:

Don’t worry if your pay is small, and if your jobs are few.
Remember that the mighty oak was once a nut like you.

Remember the girl in the city. Remember the girl in the town.
Remember the girl who ruined your book by writing upside down.

See you in the ocean, see you in the sea.
See you in the bathtub. Oops, pardon me.

When you’re in heaven and it gets hot,
Pepsi-cola hits the spot.

When you get married and live in a hut,
Send me a picture of your first little nut.

When you get married and you have twins
Don’t come to me for safety pins.

It tickles me and makes me laugh
To think you want my autograph.

Never kiss by the garden gate
Because love is blind but the neighbors ain’t.

When I turned 50, my father gave me his mother’s autograph book, which is dated 1927 — 42 years before I had christened mine.

Allow me to share a few ditties from my grandmother’s crackled pages:

Lock up thy heart, keep safe the key,
Forget me not, til I do thee.

I wish I were a bunny with a little tail of fluff.
I’d climb upon your bureau and be your powder puff.

Some write for money, some write for fame,
But I write for the honor of signing just my name.

Down by the river there lies a rock,
And on it is printed, “Forget me not.”

If you get married and live upstairs,
For heaven’s sake, don’t put on airs.

It’s now 43 years after Disneyland and this place is my autograph book. Won’t you please sign it?

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends

Losing it

Humorist Dave Barry once said of memory loss, the nouns are the first to go.

You know the feeling. You’re deep in conversation and, mid-sentence, you can’t remember the name of a simple object or person’s name. I once worked myself into a panicked froth when it took me two hours to remember Roy Orbison. I knew the face. I knew the music—every lyric to every song. Just couldn’t retrieve the man’s name.

I’m here to tell you, officially, that my memory loss has advanced beyond nouns and into adjectives.

We were having dinner last night with some friends.

One was sharing her frustration with having two parents with Alzheimer’s Disease. Around the table, we knew too many people who had suffered from the awful disease and had far too many friends caring for loved ones with dementia. We talked about Alzheimer’s specifically and dementia in general and pondered how memory loss has become so prevalent.

Someone questioned whether dementia truly is an epidemic, or that we’re just hearing more about it. I posited that perhaps we are more aware because there are large facilities that now house dementia patients, whereas in prior generations, a doddering grandparent simply lived with his or her family, blending into the background of everyday life.

One of our dinner guests observed that even the term dementia seemed to be relatively recent. Back when Granny lived with her kids and grandkids, no one referred to Alzheimer’s or memory loss. There was another word.

Yes, there was another word. But what in the world was it?

Around the table, we all tried to remember. How did we refer to old people who had lost their memories? What was that less politically correct, more descriptively exact, word that we no longer use?

The conversation became uncomfortable. No one could remember this simple adjective.

I told our friend, “Stop trying to remember. It’ll come to you eventually. But when you do remember, even at 3 o’clock in the morning, call me. I’ll be up anyway with age-related insomnia.”

Shortly after our friends pulled out of the driveway, our phone rang. I answered.

“Hello?”

“Senile!”

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends, Health

Change of address

When my son was six, he lost a tooth on Christmas Eve.

What are the chances that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy would visit on the same night? Pretty slim, feared my son. The problem? We were 2,500 miles from home.

Suddenly the idea that the Tooth Fairy wouldn’t be able to find him was troubling. This fueled further doubt that Santa himself would be able to find us in Arizona. My child slept anxiously that night, but awoke to abundant reward.

As my son wondered how both Santa and the Fairy were able to find us in a nondescript condo we had rented for the week, I offered a plausible theory:  Mr. Claus and Ms. Fairy had both gone to our house in Maryland to find no one there. Santa had a full bag and the fairy had some heavy coins to leave, but they wouldn’t dream of making their drops in an empty house.

The two teamed up and searched for clues as to where Joseph might be. They noticed three suitcases were missing, and very little food in the refrigerator, and no cookies left out on a plate. Just then they happened upon a copy of our itinerary. When no hotel was listed, they followed clues–souvenir coffee mugs and refrigerator magnets to home in on the city and state, perhaps a return address label from a Christmas card–to Joe’s grandmother’s condo, right next door to where we were staying. Bingo, working as a dynamic duo, they solved the mystery and deposited the treasure.

We returned to Arizona 15 months later. Just before leaving for the airport, as my husband and I checked to be sure the stove was off and all the doors and windows were locked, I found a small piece of blue notepaper, marked in my son’s printing:

Dear Easter Bunny,

We are at the Hilton East in Tucson.

Love,
Joseph

It’s almost Easter; does the bunny know where you are?

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Filed under Family and Friends, Holidays

Only skin deep

My husband’s umbilicus has a significant architectural disorder.

I just thought I’d get that out there.

The plan was to leave his health out of the blog—and all is well now—but he and I could not let a recent lab report go unlampooned.

Now that we know all is well, I can report that the first two months of the year here in Nymphland were focused on my husband’s diagnosis with a Stage 2 malignant melanoma on his left ear, for which he had surgery but for which, fortunately, no follow-up treatment was necessary.

During suture removal, a suspicious speckle was spotted inside his navel.

The good news came in by phone that this abdominal anomaly isn’t particularly worrisome, though he’ll be going in later today for a bit of surgical scraping and scooping, just to be on the safe side. Doctors warned him that his bellybutton could end up in a different place, which I’m imagining might be on his left shoulder or behind his right knee.

Yesterday we received the full pathology report of February’s “umbilicus punch biopsy,” which had my husband and me in stitches. So to speak.

You think you know a man after 29 years, then you learn he has an exaggeratedly reticulated epidermis. Furthermore, there are nests scattered in the vicinity of his periumbilical region. Where the rest of us store spare lint, he carries around a lentiginous dysplastic nevus, which “cannot be fully appreciated.”

The pathologist closed with: “Thank you for sending this most interesting case in review.”

Off I go this afternoon to take my husband downtown for his re-excision. May you have a Happy Nevus Appreciation Day.

Be honest: How many of you are checking out your own navels right now?

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Filed under Family and Friends, Health