Rewriting the Past


[ a (Defiled) “This Changes Everything” poster, Somerville Ave, 2016]

Years ago at an anti-war demonstration—Vietnam, this time—poet Allen Ginsburg made a startling announcement from the podium: “If the United States government can illegally declare this war,” he shouted, ” I can declare that it’s over! Yes! I declare that this illegal, horrible war is over! Bring the troops home! Peace at last!”  And the crowd cheered and wept and hugged and released balloons (it was the 60s; we brought balloons to demonstrations back then.)

I cheered and wept and hugged, too. And for four or five seconds I celebrated Ginsburg’s fantasy. I believed it. More important, that brilliant poet had given me, had offered all of us a brief, delicious taste of What Might Be. Could Be. He’d allowed us to experience how it felt, ever so briefly, to live in a country not at war. Imbedded in that contrived moment was an incentive: “Your heart lifted, sang just now? And you were filled with hope? Nice, right? Then keep on keepin’ on. Keep protesting.” So we did.

Sometimes, these days, as my Loved One remembers less and less and my actual childhood is being rewritten to resemble a fairy tale: “. . . and they all lived happily ever after,” I don’t correct her.  Just as I don’t correct her when she confuses times or names or other pesky facts. I don’t remind her that, actually, our relationship was “fraught,” as my father would say. No, instead, like that balloon-releasing moment of unadulterated joy, I briefly savor a childhood that never happened but is filled with love—the same love I now see in my Loved One’s eyes. And, like Ginsburg’s “peace,” possible.

(I guess it’s true: it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.)

Family Business/Family Secrets

chinese opium resized

[1800’s Chinese rice-paper painting of a “cloud couch” (used for smoking opium) in a Chinese home : a Wild family heirloom.]

Saturday, I drove to Bristol, Rhode Island to spend some precious, one-to-one time with my twenty-year-old nephew, a student at Roger Williams University. My first time there, he showed me around the campus; touring the glitzy Global Heritage Hall, he referred to Bristol’s slaving trade history—in the way only a principled young man can bring up such a charged subject: with pain, horror, and outrage behind his widened eyes. Global heritage, indeed!

And I immediately remembered “Traces of the Trade: A Story of The Deep North,” an excellent documentary I’d seen years ago re the DeWolf family and its incredibly lucrative slave-trading “family business,” a film so powerful and eye-opening that my own horror—and realization that many New England families were very much complicit in this national shame—is still with me.

What hadn’t stayed with me was the name of the DeWolfs’ hometown. So while driving through the charming and well-appointed seaside village of Bristol before arriving at the Roger Williams campus, I had not thought: this wealth is the result of slavery! But going back into town for lunch, I saw that waterfront resort through informed eyes.

Which begs the question: what about my own New England family? Were Wilds (and Horries and Coghills and Miricks  and Faulkners and . . .) complicit? And it seems to me that the Truthful/spiritual answer is: of course! In some way, large or small, all 18th and 19th century white families in New England were complicit, tainted; all had benefitted by slavery in some way. Family business, family secrets, indeed!

A Prayer: May that acknowledgement light my way.

A final note: That accompanying rice painting is one of a set of three hand-painted Chinese scenes that had been given to me by my Aunt Amy ( Prescott Wild Zlotnick) in 1980; they’ve hung on a hallway wall for years and years. But one day, prompted by that opium pipe and “Traces of the Trade,” I became curious: did my family have another, more explicit dark secret? Did we have anything to do with the opium trade? The rice paintings had been brought back from China by Isabella Faulkner Ranlett, the wife of a clipper ship captain, Charles A. Ranlett, Jr. Belle, who died in China, had been the sister of my great grandmother, Amy Faulkner Wild. Had Belle’s husband’s clipper ship, The Surprise,* delivered opium? Had Belle known?

Answer: It seems not for 2 reasons: a) the dates when that ship sailed the China seas and the (again, incredibly lucrative) period when the British and Americans sold opium to the Chinese do not align [see Jay Dolin’s excellent When America First Met China for an excellent account) and b) probably not since, unlike other New England families of that era, like the Delanos and the Forbes and the Cabots, my family isn’t that rich!

  • This link, re the Delano family aboard The Surprise, briefly and covertly acknowledges the source of their wealth!





“All Bend in One Wind” (Wendell Berry)


[Norway, October, 2015]

On my way to Friends Meeting at Cambridge Sunday morning, my phone rang. It was my brother; his best friend—someone I barely knew—had died the night before. So in silent worship I held my brother and his friend and his friend’s family “in the light,” as Quakers say. Which, for me, means I waited to hear what that small still voice* might teach me about this sad news.

A lot, it turned out. I found myself remembering Harriet Lerner’s Dance of Anger, for example, a wonderful book I haven’t consciously thought about in years. Lerner pointed out how exquisitely families organize, balance themselves. Recalling her wisdom prompted me to be open to the very real possibility that this tragic loss for my brother will impact the rest of our family. And to spend some time thinking how this wind of death and loss and grieving might bend all of us; what that might look like. And how I might be a Be There (as in that supreme compliment: “He/she was always there for me.”) sister.

Something else came to me in that pregnant silence: How in 1985, when I’d read Dance of Anger, how little I’d understood the concept of interconnectedness. (Safe to say I probably didn’t get it AT ALL!) And how, thirty-one years later, I do. I believe. Without ceasing.

Oh, yeah.


* Sometimes called The Inner Teacher

What The Living Do


[“Whitewashed”: lawn ornament, Somerville, MA, 2016]

Every Monday my husband and I care for our three-year-old granddaughter who arrived yesterday not feeling well. So the three of us spent as-quiet-as-it-can-get-with-a-three-year-old day. Although she never napped, much of the day she created cozy spots for herself and her toys to snuggle under various “blankets”; at lunchtime she even carefully tucked her pomegranate-pear squeeze food pouch under her napkin!

But by 5:00 even cuddly pleasures and rereading favorite books and . . . had lost their charm—so sitting on the couch together and perusing that day’s mail proved an excellent alternative. After scouring a couple of catalogs, she decided Grandma’s “Vanity Fair” (I know!) pretty intriguing. (Can you imagine what a three-year-old makes of a Gucci ad?!)

“Why is that woman smiling?” she asked when we turned another glossy page to discover a full-page Chopard (a jeweler) ad. “Because she’s happy that she’s wearing those fancy diamond earrings and that fancy diamond ring,” I tiredly replied.

Good God! What did I just do? I thought. Bad Grandma! Bad Grandma!

“No, sweetie,” I quickly amended. “That’s not why. She’s happy because she got—” I was about to say “. . . to spend the whole day with her granddaughter.” But the precious creature beside me was way ahead of me, already leaning close and reaching up to give me the most tender, loving kiss on my cheek. “Yes!” I affirmed. “You guessed it! She’s so happy because she just got a kiss from her wonderful granddaughter.”

“We can do no great things; only small things with great love,” Mother Teresa (reportedly) said. In the spirit of racial harmony we whitewash a lawn ornament. We vote. We leave our cans and bottles next to our recycle bin so that the people who rely on “redeemables” to survive don’t have to paw through our trash. We cherish.


by Marie Howe
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss–we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

Water: The New Oil?

[Fresh Pond, Cambridge, MA]
Sunday afternoon as my Loved One napped, I took a delicious post-snowstorm walk around Fresh Pond. (Loved One’s long term care facility sits on the Fresh Pond Reservation, 162 acres of open space and nature trails protecting the 155 acre, fenced-in, Fresh Pond Reservoir, the City of Cambridge’s water supply.)

Until Sunday, my relationship with Fresh Pond had been mixed: YesI’d always relished joining the parade of dog walkers and bicyclists and strolling couples and joggers circling the pond. (It’s about a 2 mile walk). In fact, walking around Fresh Pond on New Year’s Day has become a hallowed tradition in my life, a contemplative (and usually freezing) way to begin a new year. Yet, inevitably, as a Somerville resident, I have also resented that in order to enjoy this urban treasure, I have to drive to Cambridge! Where, as a non-resident. I might easily get a parking ticket.

No more. My car now neatly parked in Loved One’s facility’s parking lot, Fresh Pond is mine!

So, on Sunday, instead of muttering “Why can’t Somerville have acres and acres of unobstructed space—maybe beside the Mystic River? Nature trails and woods and community gardens as far as the eye can see? Huh? Huh?”* or stressing about a possible parking ticket, I was able to appreciate where I actually was. To be present. To grok.**

So, of course, walking past Cambridge’s water supply, I thought of Flint, Michigan. And how black lives didn’t matter when it came to making viable, decent decisions regarding that struggling city’s water supply. How inexpressively outrageous! And how, more and more, we’re seeing water as A Thing. A commodity as precious as oil. (and, like oil, a liquid to spill blood over.)

So as I walked listening to the pond’s gentle lap lap with newfound gratitude, I was also sobered by a water-scarce future suddenly more clear and more fraught than it’s ever been.

“Is Clean Water The New Oil? “What am I called to do?


*So many things to love about my community but its long-term commitment to open space is not one of one.

** A verb meaning to really, really get it and used in that 60s classic, Stranger in a Strange Land—in which for the protagonist, a human raised on Mars, “sharing water” was a Huge Deal.

“Ambiguous Loss”

[Community Bulletin Board, Somerville Public Library, October, 2015 ]
I’m learning how to live with ambiguous loss. Since Christmas, I’ve been enrolled in a crash course.

I’m learning how to mourn someone I haven’t yet lost.

I’m learning how to mourn what has been lost yet never was.

I’m learning how to live with ambiguity. And both-and. (Early lessons learned : it’s exhausting! And pervasively sad.)

As I learn to live with ongoing stress and grief, I’m learning how to live with the Good Enough. I’m shooting for a C- in this class; maybe a solid B on a really good day.

I’m learning how to go with the flow.

But maybe all of us are living with ambiguous loss. The loss of weather we can recognize. Loss of seasons we remember. Loss of polar caps. Song birds. Clean water where and when we always expected it to be. And yet good ol’ Mother Earth keeps circling the sun, doesn’t she; for many of us—God, not all—life just keeps rolling along; doesn’t it? Maybe the pervasive anger all around us is about our collective, pervasive sadness. But maybe we can’t quite admit to that sadness. It’s SO much easier to be pissed! Our loss isn’t obvious, maybe. Yet we’re all mourning a Mother Earth who, yes, is still here but irrevocably changed.

Tears, Tears*


[Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California]

Back in the day, when I taught in greater-Boston homeless shelters and drove a lot, it sometimes seemed as though Spirit manifested Itself through NPR (WGBH, in particular). Heavy-hearted after a particularly grueling or heart-wrenching session with a troubled student, I’d get in my car, turn on the radio, and lo: one of my favorite pieces of music was being played—and at just my favorite part! Although I knew Spirit didn’t actually work this way, this “personalized programming” happened so often that I allowed myself to take comfort from this gratuitous, wondrous gift.

Last Tuesday: same thing! Only this time it was the New York Times website that offered me just what I longed for at exactly the moment I needed it. I’d just come home after visiting Neville Center, a highly respected long term care facility (what we used to call “a nursing home.”) And, yes, although I liked what I saw and, yes, I could imagine My Loved One** staying there and receiving excellent care, my visit triggered a panoply of emotions—some of which I still cannot name, identify.

Idly I sat at my computer and clicked on Safari/the Times website— just as the word “Live” flashed on the screen and, it turned out, just as President Obama marched towards the podium to give his gun-control speech. Oh, Reader, how I needed to hear that impassioned speech! Our insane gun laws tearing me apart, how I needed to see Obama weep over the lost lives of those children at Sandy Hook. I cried, too.

Until last week I would have declared myself way too old and way too contrary to need an elected official mouthing what I long to hear. That I’d feel I was being played should any politician sing my song. Not true any more, apparently. Apparently the horrific and mean-spirited right-wing rhetoric of these past few months has taken such a toll that Obama’s reasoned speech—well, it gave me hope. And lifted my spirits. On a day when I really, really needed it!

This week, renewed and grateful, I wait to see how Spirit will continue to break through as I shepherd My Loved One’s transition to Neville Center. And lo: it’s already happened in the form of a wise and patient social worker who helped me fill out a “Do Not Resuscitate” Form. (Yikes)

Thank you, Spirit, for all your blessings.


* The first as in crying; the second, the verb meaning to break apart (and rhymes with stairs), as in to tear a piece of paper in half.

** I’m being discreet, here, because a) it seems respectful and b) recently had a nasty phising incident so am reluctant to put much personal info online.

My Mother’s Stollen


[Christmas Morning, 2015]

So many things I could write about, so many things to say: about my mother, who is ninety-two and failing, about my complicated relationship with the original Patricia Wild, about my memories of childhood Christmases and trying to relish my mother’s stollen—but so much I want to say feels private. Like a thought or an insight that comes from that small, still voice within me during the quiet of silent worship but, by its intimate and personal nature, makes clear this thought/insight is not to be shared but is, rather, “bread for home.” Bread sprinkled with powdered sugar or, as was the case with my mother’s stollen, slathered with buttercream icing and filled with red and green candied fruit.

So I will simply say this: This Christmas after opening our stockings we did not eat my mother’s stollen. (She hasn’t baked in years.) Instead we thoroughly enjoyed a “secret stollen recipe passed down from generations of esteemed pastry chefs in the Hamburg region of Germany . . . made with hazelnuts, candied fruit, rum raisins and a sumptuous spice blend,” a specialty of pastry chef Bjoern Boettcher, my oldest daughter’s Brooklyn neighbor.

It was delicious. (Happily, Chef Botcher uses au naturel candied fruit.) And tasted like what I believe my mother, who’d grown up in a German-American family, had yearned to share with her family and neighbors. (Every year at Christmas, our kitchen turned into a Christmas stollen factory!)  Like the angel chimes from my own childhood, a magical memory I wanted to share with my children and have, I have come to think my mother had tasted a stollen a LOT like what we’d enjoyed this year —and wanted to replicate that sweet experience for us. But, busy with child-rearing and keeping up with my father (talk about complicated!), she never had time to do the kind of research a pastry chef eager to make his mark on the culinary world would dedicate to such a quest. So, I’m betting she simply tore a “stollen” recipe out of some fifties women’s magazine because it approximated what she so fondly remembered and, like she had to do in so many ways, Pat Wild Made Do. (Those hated red and green candied fruit? Fifties fare, right?)

I’m hoping Chef Boettcher’s delicious and magical stollen will become a family tradition. But as I’m savoring his sumptuous spice blend, I pray I’ll be able to also taste my mother’s fervency with every bite.


Tastes like Home (sub-set: Tastes Like Christmas)


[Christmas in Palm Springs; 2013]

Yesterday my son-in-law dropped off some cardamon bread he’d made over the weekend; it tasted like home, a “home” I never actually had or known! But some flavors, some smells, some vibes are like that, aren’t they? In some mysterious, deep, wordless way, they just feel right! They somehow remind us of something always there, present, and abiding. Like the first time I experienced a Quaker meeting: I knew I’d come home.

There are ways we can manufacture that deliciousness; we can create traditions that somehow incorporate key elements of that Just Feels Right sense. Like the gingerbread cookies I’ve been making at Christmas for close to 50 years. My four daughters and their children have grown up with these cookies. The smell of them baking in the oven (or putting a couple out on Christmas Eve for Santa) equals home.

I’m willing to bet that no one in my family, living in a time when most people consider soft and chewy more desirable than crunchy/best when dipped into milk or hot chocolate, really loves these cookies. (My “Moist Dark Gingerbread” gets way more raves.) But once upon a time they certainly enjoyed making them. Getting flour all over themselves and the kitchen floor. Using their favorite cookie cutters. ( The moose? Or pig? How ’bout the traditional Christmas chicken?) Inviting friends over to help. Decorating them, too. (For years I insisted on only natural ingredients—raisins, nuts, cranberries, etc.—but have lately gone over to The Dark Side and now use red and green sprinkles.) And since the dough is the consistency of clay, they especially loved, when they were teenagers, creating risqué objets d’art. (You can imagine!)

Yesterday I posted a picture on Facebook of my granddaughter rolling out that sturdy, pliable dough and received several requests for the recipe. But I’m actually reluctant to pass it along for 2 reasons: It’s not soft and chewy. Your family and friends might be disappointed. And it requires—wait for it—8 or 9 cups of flour! (This year, way too busy, I halved the recipe. And still have plenty) My recipe requires hours of baking! Who has time?

Here’s my advice: Do what I did half a century ago. Find a recipe that speaks to you. And feels like home. Better yet, do what I did two minutes ago: google Best Gingerbread Cookies Ever.

Here’s one that sounds really good. And guess what! It’s soft and chewy!



Thanksgiving’s Starting A Little Early This Year*


Earlier tonight I was driving home in the dark and the rain; I was also pretty tired. Tense as I always am under those conditions, I felt myself starting to relax only as I got closer to home.

A couple of blocks from my house, I stopped for a red light and although I could have done a right-on-red, decided to play it cautious—because I worried a bicyclist might cruise past I wouldn’t be able to see. But when the light turned green I assumed that no bicyclist, not even the most reckless, no-helmut-no-lights and clueless, would dare to run a red light on such a night. My foot on the accelerator and ready to go, something caught my eye through the lower, left-hand corner of my rain-splattered windshield: a young woman dressed in entirely in black and shielded by a huge umbrella who’d decided to cross the street against the pedestrian cross-walk sign. And right in front of me. As she passed my headlights she gave me this hangdog, apologetic, please-don’t hate-me look. And then disappeared back into the darkness.

I don’t hate her. I just marvel I didn’t hit her. Home, now, registering how tired I am and how likely it might have been that, so close to home, I could have completely let down my guard, it seems a miracle I saw her. Phew!

So: the Sunday night before Thanksgiving, I begin this holiday week with a heightened sense of gratitude. (What’s the difference between gratitude and thankfulness? Anyone? Anyone?) Which, tonight I take to mean: Don’t take anything for granted. Anything! Clean drinking water. Seat belts. Being able to vote. Toilet paper.

“What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want, I’ll spell it out for you right now. Do not pursue what is illusionary -property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life -don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn for happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes can see, if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart -and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it may be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted on their memory.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956


*I’m posting early, too!

Seen/Scene at Connecticut Muffin

[Manhattan Underpass, Rush Hour, 2015]
Sometimes it’s those brief moments, a random glance out a Brooklyn cafe’s window that can be so telling, right?  Sunday morning sleepily drinking my coffee, I watched a young, tense man walk past and as I idly watched, saw his eyes brighten and a smile transform his caught-up-in-plans-and-worries face. No, I couldn’t see what so charmed him but, given that this was Brooklyn, a haven for hipsters and their offspring, it’s probably a sure bet that he’d spotted a child, a child somehow being adorable, but too short to be seen from where I sat.

Catching sight of his softened, tolerant face, I realized how blessed mixed communities truly are. Before Sunday when talking about mixed I might have meant strictly by ethnicity. But having witnessed that man’s face light up, I must now add: by age, too. A community is all the richer and stronger and more resilient when its citizens are reminded, just strolling down the street or seated on a park bench, that it’s a complex, mixed-up, diverse—and, yes, broken but sometimes adorable—world we’re sharing.

Tomorrow I will visit the assisted living center where my mother lives, a well-appointed, attractive, supportive community of and for old people. And I will remember that young man’s smile.


“Privilege Blinds”


[ Summer Vacation, 2015]

Last week, fifteen members of my family, three generations of us, gathered at a funky, run-down, eight-bedroom house on a lake in Connecticut—fairly easy to get to for those of us based in New England; much harder for those living in, say, Salt Lake City or Louisville, Kentucky. (But they came, anyway.)

On Day 2 my almost three-year-old granddaughter wondered, “Grandma! Is this your new house?”

Her question triggered a childhood memory: I remembered visiting a Cape Cod mansion built by my great-grandfather — where another branch of the Wild family summered. I remember how I much I’d wished it had been my extended family’s commodious summer home; how jealous I was that my blond, tanned, barefoot cousins were so little awed, so nonchalant that this elegant house, its private beach, and the pretty wooden sailboat waiting at the dock were theirs and at their disposal whenever they wanted. “I only tell of sunny hours,” the sundial in the garden in front of that memorable, longed-for house proclaimed. I remember how, despite my covetousness, that inscription intrigued me.

“Oh, little girl,” I wish I could tell that jealous, intrigued mini-me. “You have no idea how privileged you are!”

(She wouldn’t believe me.)