When my brother was a child, he was a somewhat fussy eater. Not picky, as in he absolutely wouldn’t eat certain things. He ate nearly any type of food. We were all like that; the only food I clearly remember refusing (and still don’t like to this day) was lima beans. “Little bags of sand,” my dad called them once. Accurate. My mom didn’t serve those often at all.

What my brother was picky about was how he ate his food. He would eat one food at a time, and he always ate his favorite part of the meal last. So, for example, if we were having chicken, peas, and mashed potatoes, Dr. Bro would eat his peas, then the chicken, then the mashed potatoes. Food was carefully arranged on his plate (by him) to not touch. He did not like food mixed up — well into his teens he was like this. To poke his buttons every now and again, I would mix my food on purpose, because I loved flavor combinations of certain foods. For example, I would put my peas on top of my mashed potatoes, and eat them together.

The look of disgust on his face was priceless.

My mom cooked almost every night. We ate dinner as a family much more often than not. Dinners were always simple — a meat protein, a starch, a vegetable, sometimes a salad. Food was usually prepared from fresh (or, in the case of vegetables, fresh frozen). Mom is Italian, so a dinner of roast, pasta with tomato sauce, and a green vegetable was not out of the ordinary.

Of course, by Friday or Saturday, Mom had had enough of cooking, and would make a casserole of leftovers. Meat, potatoes, and veggies, maybe throw some cheese in there; or pasta, meat, sauce, cheese.

Whenever Mom made a casserole, my brother would carefully separate it into separate piles: a pile of pasta, a pile of meat, a pile of veggies. And then he would eat each pile, one at a time. He was so opposed to mixing up his food, he literally would wait until each bite was done before digging into the next pile.

I don’t remember huge fights about this, or about food and eating in general. But this habit of food segregation used to noticeably bug my parents. Another Dad classic that I remember from my childhood is, “Why separate food? It’s all going the same place!”

And this is how it went for dinners throughout my childhood. My mom provided healthy and delicious meals; we ate; my brother had his weird picadillos. Mom and Dad would talk shop; they worked together for most of my childhood. They asked us about school and sports teams and I don’t know what all. Half the time I was probably trying to read a book.

Eventually, we children left the nest. I went to Duquesne University, where the cafeteria turned me into a vegetarian. I liked mixed up food, but I wanted to be able to identify the components. I survived on ice cream, french fries and grilled cheese, the salad bar, cereal, and coffee. Dr. Bro spent a year at Miami University in Miami before transferring to Johns Hopkins University. Sis traveled; she tried school at a University of Maryland campus; went home; went to Florida and other places; and she usually worked in food service (i.e. a server at restaurants). (She’s a doctor of chiropractic now.)

At one point, my mom was taking classes in Pittsburgh. I had graduated college at this time, but Dr. Bro was still at Johns Hopkins. I remember one week, my mom came down and attended class, then she and I decided to go visit my brother in Maryland for the weekend.

My brother was happy to have us visit. He gave us a quick tour of his dorm apartment: four small bedrooms, two shared baths, and a shared living area and kitchen. In the kitchen, he got super excited.

“Oh, I have to show you something!” he told us.

“Do you cook?” my mom asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s what I want to show you.”

My brother opened a cupboard, and took down a box of…




Hamburger Helper.

“Have you ever heard of this?” he asked eagerly. “It’s great! You get a pound of hamburger, brown it, then add this stuff with water. I have it a couple times a week.”

The look of pure incredulity on Mom’s face is hard to describe. My mom wasn’t much of a yeller, but I’m pretty sure she thought about shouting, “Are you kidding me?”

Honestly, if she had whacked him over the head with a frying pan, a jury of her peers wouldn’t have convicted her.


Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thanks for all the meals, and so much more. I know my own choice to be a vegetarian was irritating for awhile, and I do want to thank you for adjusting to that. You taught me how to read a recipe, and the value of home-cooked meals and family dinners. 

I hope you get a break from cooking today, and get to do something fun and/or relaxing. I love you. 

White Like Me (Part I)

I am not the most “woke” person on the planet, and I’m not here to persuade you of any of my bona fides.

What I am here to do is to start a conversation – overdue, to be sure – about race. I’m going to tell you where I come from. Because I am having these conversations with my children. Because these conversations have to be had.

We can’t NOT talk about race.

My father’s parents were Irish immigrants, and my father grew up in a lower-income neighborhood in Pittsburgh. My mother’s parents were first generation Italian-Americans, and they lived in the Italian neighborhood in Erie, Pennsylvania.

I grew up in Erie, the oldest child of two college-educated white people. My parents never talked about race, but they hardly had to. Erie was strikingly white and Catholic in the 1970s and ‘80s – probably still is for that matter. I grew up in a white neighborhood; my K-8 school was white and Catholic; my parents’ friends were white and non-immigrants, and they had children who looked just like me. All my friends were white.

I, obviously, was aware that people of color existed – I watched Sesame Street and The Electric Company growing up. But until high school, I barely interacted with people of color. Not that I didn’t want to, or felt I shouldn’t. It simply didn’t happen.

It’s safe to say that my parents weren’t (aren’t) racist. We didn’t use racist language, they didn’t draw bright lines between “our kind of people” and any other kinds of people. My parents’ parents may have been racist, but I never heard the n-word growing up. My mom’s father was prejudiced against, to use his words, Krauts and Jews, which I always found confusing.

My pap-pap died when I was 6, and I’ve no idea on his views on race. He was, however, an Irish beat cop in Pittsburgh, so they probably weren’t super enlightened. Although my father has said that his father never used the n-word, and when my father asked about it as a child, he told my father, “We don’t use that word.”

I remember my Italian grandmother occasionally talking about ‘colored’ people, and I used to tease her. “What color were they, Grandma?” So, yes, probably some racism there. But hardly malevolent, white-supremacist-flavored racism.

Fast-forward to high school, and finally, I was going to school and seeing non-white and non-Christian people on a daily basis – not many, but some. I went to a small, Catholic all-girls school.

When I tweeted about this the other day, I said, “I didn’t witness any overt racist acts”, but I’m not sure that’s true upon further reflection. We had one Indian girl who was definitely targeted for some harassment, for example, being asked if she was in an arranged marriage. I didn’t do that; she was someone I would’ve counted as a friend. I bet if I asked Robbie, one of the black girls in my class, she would have a story or two to tell.

I never remarked on this limited diversity in my high school at home. We didn’t talk about race. Again, I think it was more the default position of not *needing* to talk about it, about having enough privilege that racism was something that happened in the ‘60s. Everything was cool in Erie! Everything was cool because of civil rights!

Clearly, since the time of Barack Obama’s running for president, then becoming President, since the shooting of Trayvon Martin, since the (continued and now publicized) murder of black boys and men by white cops, since Black Lives Matter and the Safety Pin Box, it has been made abundantly clear that we hardly live in a post-racial society. If the election of T*ump and the events of Charlottesville are any indication, we may be moving backwards.

I talk about race with my children. They go to school with, play sports with, and live near more black and brown children than I ever did. We talk about shootings (in age appropriate ways). We talk about Charlottesville and white supremacy.

I don’t say we are “colorblind.” I tell my children to see and to be aware of differences in their peers and in the wider world, whether that’s skin color, or sexuality, or religion, or disabilities. Differences matter, although they do not make anyone superior to anyone else. Differences matter, because they mean individuals have different experiences and views.

We have to understand and recognize difference. Knowing in our hearts that everyone SHOULD be treated the same doesn’t mean everyone WILL be treated the same. And we have to recognize when differences lead to injustice, and how, and what to do about it.

*with apologies to the book of essays by Tim Wise, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son – which I promptly bought and will be reading post haste. Buy it here.

Family Recipes

I’ve talked about my maternal grandmother before on my blog. She was a wonderful woman, and many of the memories I have of her revolve around food. If you do not have an Italian cook in your life, I highly recommend trying to get one.

My grandmother was the proverbial Italian grandmother. If you visited, she fed you — it didn’t matter if you were hungry. Frankly, if she fed you, you ate. It was homemade, and it was good: spaghetti and meatballs, pasta fagiole, ravioli, any type of sauce. And the desserts: lady locks, biscotti, and one of my all-time favorites, ricotta pie.

Most people do Easter bread, but my family does ricotta pie. It is usually an Easter dessert, but I think we’ve had it a Christmas time as well.

I used to ask my grandmother for recipes. “Oh, it’s easy,” she would say to me, and proceed to tell me how to make something. She didn’t write anything down, which, for people like my mother and me was difficult. Some people, like my grandmother, can cook by the seat of their pants — probably the way she learned from her own mother — other people need to read recipes.

Incidentally, this is also how my grandmother tried to teach me to knit. “It’s easy,” she would say, and then flash through half a scarf. I finally had to read a knitting instruction manual.

Well, it turns out my mother started putting my grandmother’s recipes together in a binder, pictures and all. As the tweet above suggests, I am very excited. So far she’s got spaghetti sauce (meat sauce), raviolis, meatballs, wedding soup, lady locks, pumpkin roll, and ricotta pie. I requested pasta from scratch and pasta fagiole if she can track down the recipes.

It’s such a treasure. And I’m hoping to get a copy for Christmas (hint, hint, dad).

What are you hoping to inherit from your family?

Copyright for featured image: dionisvera / 123RF Stock Photo

Footloose: Let’s Hear It for the Boy(s and Girls)

Footloose, the movie, came out in 1984, and was my first real experience of movie/soundtrack phenomenon. My best friend, Nikki, had a birthday party that year, and got four copies of the soundtrack!

We loved that movie (and the soundtrack). Kevin Bacon as rebellious teen Ren McCormick! Chris Penn as uncoordinated dolt Willard! Lori Singer as the preacher’s daughter; Sarah Jessica Parker – SARAH JESSICA PARKER! – as chatty, loyal Rusty.

It was the perfect movie for “small town” teens who dreamed of being daring enough to Do. Something. Big. (Don’t ask me how that’s going. The bravest thing I’ve ever done is say yes to Dan’s marriage proposal – or maybe having children after we lost Gabriel. Hardly the rebellious dreams of my youth.)

On Sunday, I attended a high school production of Footloose: The Musical, and was transported back to being 13 years old again. That was the year before I started wearing a lot of black and listening to Depeche Mode.

I don’t have much to say about the musical itself. The teenagers did a good job with the material, singing and dancing. Having participated in my fair share of high school musicals (stories for another time), I commend them for going up there and doing it. The live band was fantastic!

What I reflected on as I watched Footloose was that it was a curious choice for a small Catholic high school. But then I suppose most musicals have adult elements and double entendre. Heck, most Shakespeare has double entendre.

One of the characters is the daughter of a preacher. Although in the play (as I saw it performed) there was only some kissing, in the movie she is very clearly a girl with “loose morals.” Also, one of the songs in the musical is titled “The Girl Gets Around”, and they aren’t talking about public transportation.

The song in the musical that especially struck me though is one called “Learning to be Silent.” Three women characters sing it: Ren’s mother, the preacher’s wife Vi, and Ariel, our leading lady (and the preacher’s daughter). What a fascinating song for 2017!

“Swallowing my words
Staring at the floor
Counting little cracks in the tile
Struggling to smile without choking
Learning to be silent…”

Of course, by the end of the play, the women have found their voices, the teenagers get their dance, and I suppose everyone lives happily ever after.

Now I wanna go watch the 1984 movie SO BAD.

Copyright: jirkaejc / 123RF Stock Photo

A Eulogy for Katherine Patton

These are the words my father wrote when his mother died in 1984. I remember him delivering this eulogy. I have reproduced it here, nearly word for word. I may have added a comma for clarification, corrected a spelling or two, but other than that, it is true to what he wrote, and what he said at her funeral.

I have asked permission to speak to you this morning about my mother, Katherine Patton, to shed a little insight upon the very special person that she was.

I am sure that my brother and sisters could tell little stories about mom, special moments that occurred very briefly, but had that special quality about them that made them very easy to remember, or, more importantly, impossible to forget. It’s as if they occurred only yesterday. In my stories this morning, I’d like to tell you about lessons that she taught me that have helped me cope with this life we live.

But first, a little about my mom. I don’t remember Mother talking a lot about herself. Over the last few years, I would spend time with her in her apartment, and ask her about her past. She would speak briefly about it. The stories were almost always short, as if she didn’t want to draw attention to herself by talking about herself for too long. They always ended with a little laugh or smile, and that statement, “Well, that’s enough about me!”

She told me about growing up on a little farm in Ireland. She remembered walking to school down the road in bare feet, along with the rest of the children. She told me about one of the first jobs she was given on the farm: She had to get up early in the morning and make sure the chicken and geese did not go onto the pond before they laid their eggs. When I asked why that was so important, she looked at me, surprised. “Timmy, if they laid their eggs in the water, that’s one less egg for the family!”

I once asked if she felt poor. She said, “No. You are only poor if you want things that you don’t or can’t have.” Everyone she knew had as little as she did, so she couldn’t remember a feeling of “being poor.”

We talked about school. Here was a woman who encouraged me, pushed me, and prayed me through college. I asked her how long she went to school. She said, with a tone of pride, “As far as I could.” When I replied that I didn’t understand, she told me about her last day. She remembered the teacher calling her up to her desk. Mom figured she was going to get her report card like the other children. The teacher said, “Katherine, we have taught you all we can. You now know all you need to know to go out and get a job, and it’s time for you to get on with your life.” That was Mom’s graduation.

I asked why she came over to this country, and she explained that some of her brothers had come over first. When they sent back letters and pictures, in the pictures they wore shirts with collars. That was a measure of success, so she felt that America offered her an opportunity to work hard and achieve a degree of success. So she decided to give it a try.

I am sure that everyone has a different idea of what a parent should do for his or her children. One of mine is the responsibility of the parent to teach the children as much as he or she can about coping and adjusting to all the things that can happen in life. There are many things I remember about Mom, but I was truly impressed with her wisdom. My mother gave me my faith, taught me about love and about keeping things in perspective, and explained to me how to deal with death. She always lived what she believed.

I once asked Mom how she had the strength and courage to raise seven children in this world. She told me that it wasn’t as hard as I thought. She said, “Every morning, I ask God for his grace and help, and then I would go and do what had to be done. At the end of the day, I would thank Him for His help, ask forgiveness if I failed, and begin all over the next day.” She placed her children in God’s hands, and did what she had to do. She explained it was a partnership: God would do His part, and you had to do yours. She said, “Timmy, God may give you the brains, but you still have to study to pass the test.”

When I was in eighth grade, I fell off the roof [of the house]. [Editor’s note: My dad actually fell out of his bedroom window. He bounced between houses before hitting the ground, and although he didn’t break a bone, he was gravely injured.] I asked her later what she thought about on the way to the hospital. She told me she prayed that I would be normal, free from permanent injury. If I couldn’t live a normal life, it would be best if God would take me [to Him].

I said, “How could you stand to bury another child? Wouldn’t you suffer a lot of pain?” She answered, “Timmy, if I had to suffer pain so that you wouldn’t, that was the way I wanted it.” That’s love, that she prayed for me and not for herself.

I remember one evening on Spahr Street, sitting on the front stoop, feeling sorry for myself over something, and Mom came out and sat beside me. She asked what was wrong, and I told her what was on my mind. She looked at me, and said, “Timmy, if everyone in the world put their problems in a big pile, you would be the first one to take yours back and go home.” With that, she got up and went back into the house. That’s called keeping things in perspective.

When I was very young, my brother Tommy died. What I remember most about that event was my complete, overwhelming feeling of anger! I was angry I had lost my big brother, and angry that people were in my house laughing, eating, and talking as if nothing had happened – one hour after we had buried Tommy. The next morning, I came into the kitchen, and my mother was going about her business.

That’s when I let her have it. Now here is a woman who just did the hardest thing a parent could do – bury a child – and I’m yelling at her for acting as if nothing had happened. Mom stopped what she was doing, walked across the room, picked me up, and set me on one of the hard, wooden, straight-backed kitchen chairs. She knelt before me and spoke in a soft controlled voice.

I’m sure if Mother could have gathered all her family into her room before she died, she would have told us what she told me over thirty years ago. She said, “You know, Timmy, I lost a child that I love very much, but I also have six children that I must live for. All you can do for those who have died is remember them, and pray for them, and miss them. But you must live for the living.”

We have all been blessed with people who love us. We have been blessed with friends and with children who need our love. We must always live for them. My brother and sisters, and cousins, will, because that is how she taught us. But I think it is important for our mental well being that as we do what we must do, we admit to ourselves and all of you, that we will miss her, we will pray for her, we will always love her. Our mother is special.

Caption for featured image: My father with his mother, circa 1978.

Remembering My Irish Grandmother

My grandmother Katherine Patton (nee Connolly, or Conneelly, depending which family member of mine you ask) came to America in either the late 1920s or the early 1930s. She married my grandfather Timothy Michael (aka Pap-Pap) in 1933; they had met at the Irish Centre in Swissvale. From 1933 until my father was born in 1945, she had nine pregnancies, and seven live children, of whom my father was the youngest.


Here are a few things I remember about Grandma Patton, in no particular order.

1. Her brogue. Although my grandmother had lived in America for more than 50 years, she never lost the soft, lilting brogue in her speech from Ireland. It’s a sound I always love to hear, a good Irish brogue. It makes me think of her.

2. Her house. Now, my father and his six siblings lived in East Liberty (S’liberty if you’re from here) until that house burned down. Then they moved to Hastings Street in Point Breeze, and when we visited from Erie, that’s where we went. I recall walking into the house, the way the staircase was immediately in front of you, steeply dark, slightly foreboding. Off to the right was the hallway that lead back to the kitchen, and turning to the right, was the wide open front sitting room, where Pap-Pap reigned in silence (and butterscotch candies).

3. Her mashed potatoes. We would arrive on Friday, just in time for dinner. In my childhood memory, the dining room table filled the entire room, and was laden with food. We had the same dinner every time: pork chops, corn, and mashed potatoes. (There may have been a green vegetable; I don’t recall.) I loved my grandmother’s mashed potatoes. They were smooth and buttery, the perfect texture and taste. Whenever my mother was going to make mashed potatoes, I asked her to make them just like grandma’s. Who was her mother-in-law, mind you.

4. Her blueberry muffins. I also loved my grandma’s blueberry muffins. Whenever we visited, she always made sure she had some to hand for us. It was years later that I learned they were Jiffy brand blueberry muffins, and thus came out of a box, but it didn’t diminish my love for them.

5. The pictures over the bed. When we visited, my siblings and I slept on a mattress on the floor at the foot of the grown-up bed, which is where my parents slept. Over this bed hung two paintings that to this day strike fear into me. In one, Jesus regards us mournfully, his eyes on our faces, his head lowered. Thorns from his crown of thorns bite into his flesh. In the accompanying piece, Mary looks at us, also mournful. Her heart floats outside of her chest.

And there are swords piercing it.

Every Catholic child in the world has seen this image. It was terrifying to me then, and I’m not sure that it’s not terrifying to me now. Dan inherited a set just like it when we were married. “We’ll put this above our bed,” he enthused. “Not if your parents want grandchildren,” I replied. They hang in our dining room, instead.

6. Her stature. My grandmother was tall and graceful with piercing blue eyes and black hair. When people meet the rest of my immediate family, they often ask, in so many words, “Why are you so tall?” My Irish grandmother stood five-foot-ten-inches in her heyday. She is why I am so tall.

I often refer to my grandmother Patton as the matriarch, and I don’t think I’m too far off. My grandfather died when I was just 6, but the clan continued to grow and flourish the whole of my life – it continues to this day. My grandmother had six children who survived to adulthood: my father, his brother, and their four sisters, who are known collectively as The Aunts. They each married and had children. I have 17 first cousins, referred to as the second generation, most of whom married and had children, who are the third generation.

Grandma Patton and the beginnings of the clan.
Clockwise from center: Pap-pap, Tommy, Kathleen (Kay), Mary, Noreen, Judy, Grandma Patton, Timmy (my father), and Jimmy. If I have misidentified someone in this caption, rest assured I will catch hell. And I will correct it.

Why am I telling you this? A couple of reasons.

Reason the first is because I am on vacation this week with my family, on what is basically the annual family reunion. The Patton clan convenes on a little resort in Pennsylvania, where we eat and drink and swim and play, and reminisce.

Grandma Patton with my generation of Pattons. This was one of our first years at Seven Springs. Bonus points if you can identify me (non-relatives only).
Grandma Patton with my generation of Pattons. This was one of our first years at Seven Springs. Bonus points if you can identify me (non-relatives only).
Reason the second is my parents gave Dan and me some furniture, and as I was cleaning it, I found the eulogy my father gave at my grandmother’s funeral. She died when I was 13. She was 84 years old.

That’s my next blog post.

I feel blessed to have known my Grandma Patton. She taught me about quiet dignity and strong faith. She taught me that family is everything, and love is stronger than death.

What lessons did your grandparents teach you?


I got Chinese food for lunch on Friday.

My fortune
My fortune

And on Sunday, that came true.

Friendships that last for more than and nearly 40 years are truly something special. I feel like they ground a person, because they remind us of where we come from. And, frankly, how far we have come.

Friendships that last so long are devoid of judgement. We just support and sound off with one another. We laugh — boy, how we laugh; we offer advice (or as I call it, assvice — advice that may not be wanted).

I have been through some things with these women. We cried over boys (which is so, so dumb, and so, so necessary). We got caught and disciplined for being mean girls (totally deserved that verbal spanking). Michele lost her father our senior year in high school; I can never hear “Wind Beneath My Wings” without thinking of that. We have been there for each other in times of loss and in times of joy. We have all been in each other’s weddings. I am the godmother to one of Michele’s sons (and a crappy one at that — I really should put a reminder in my phone for his birthday, and to buy him a Christmas present).

We grew up together, and discovered who we were. We kept each other in check when we were in danger of being lost — that is no exaggeration. These friendships (and my parents) brought me back from some dark places.

I am so lucky to have them. I am so lucky that after not seeing them for two years, Michele will text me to say, “Get your butt to Erie. Nikki will be here these dates.” And then we sit at a table of 18 people (Michele’s mom and step father; my parents; two spouses; and all our children, plus a boyfriend — a boyfriend of my friend’s daughter! What’s up with that?) And we will catch each other up: Nikki bought a house in Chautauqua; Michele and Donnie are making business decisions; they offer condolences to Dan and ask about my new (awesome) job. We marvel at our children; we tease our spouses and tease each other about them.

My Little Ponies has it right: Friendship is magic. And the longer it lasts, the more magic it is. There are miles to traverse and logistics to deal with. And friends like Michele and Nikki make it worth it.

Thank you, my oldest bestest of friends.

I love you.

How long is your longest friendship?

Tree blossom in front of cabin

As The World Turns

Seasons aren’t always calculated by dates on a calendar.

Summer starts when school ends — and ends when school starts. Winter isn’t happening until snow falls.

And spring starts when we go to Cook Forest.

We don’t make it every year. We didn’t go when Kate and Michael were under a year old; we did go when Flora was 9 months old, so maybe we had learned our lesson. We also had to miss the years that Flora and Kate made their First Holy Communions, and we will miss when Michael makes his as well.

But in general, I have been going to Cook Forest for nearly 20 years now, and my friend Jen has been going with her family for 46 years! They are the longest running family that’s rented the set of cabins where we always stay.

This year was almost decadent. We stayed in a “cabin” that was more like a house. Sure, it had the some log cabin aesthetic, but the furniture was a step above that in the other cabins, and the kitchen was well stocked with dishware, and the full bath had towels in it. Towels!

Yeah, we’re renting that one again.

We got there late Friday night since we didn’t get on the road until 7. And the plan to canoe Sunday was a bust because of the weather. Next year, I think we’re going to try to make it a four-day weekend.

But Saturday was nearly perfect. Dan and I had a room to ourselves; the children slept upstairs in loft bedrooms. Brian cooked breakfast; pancakes, bacon, veggie sausage, and a potato cheese casserole that I could’ve eaten for days. I made coffee. We went on a hike. We sat around the fire. Lunch was catch-as-catch can; then Dan and I were on dinner duty. Dan and Brian made steaks; I make veggie dogs. We reheated the potato cheesy goodness from breakfast as well as crock pot mac ’n’ cheese. I made green beans. The children roasted marshmallows. S’mores were built and consumed. And when it started to rain, we moved inside around the indoor fireplace, and drank Scotch.

It was lovely.

Sunday, Brian made breakfast AGAIN — eggs, bacon, and cinnamon rolls this time. We cleaned up, packed up, and took a few last pictures. Kate cried when she learned we couldn’t go canoeing. We drove up the road for fried food and milkshakes instead.

Cook Forest Crew, 2016
Grandma’s Cabin representin’! (Not pictured: Andy, Courtney, and Olive.)

We were missing people due to other family obligations and the Pittsburgh marathon, but no doubt we will all be together again.

Hope, like Cook Forest, springs eternal.

Is there a trip in your life that signals the beginning of a season?

The Death of Romance

Until this weekend, I was sure that I was the only person who hadn’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Turns out that is not quite the case. Lots of people still have not seen it, and some of them are not going to see it.

If you haven’t seen it, but still want to, I have a spoiler alert a little ways down.

But first: A few facts about me and my Star Wars history:

A grew up with the original trilogy. Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope was the first movie I saw in a movie theater. My dad took my brother and me; I was 6. I think my dad may have been more excited than I was.

Until the movie started.

I won’t claim any kind of Star Wars nerd-dom. But I saw all three of the original trilogy films in the theater. I remember not liking The Empire Strikes Back; it was too dark, I thought. (The irony is not lost on me.) I enjoyed Return of the Jedi, Ewoks and all.

And Princess Leia, guys. She was the princess of my childhood, not those Disney floozies.

When the prequels rolled around, I was excited. I was curious about the origins of Darth Vader, and what had happened to the Jedi.

Needless to say, I was, along with the rest of the Star Wars fans in the world, disappointed, to put it mildly. The CGI was over the top and distracting, the acting was wooden (Ewon McGregor being the exception), and, frankly, the whole reason for Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vadar was unbelievable to me. I just didn’t buy that a broken heart could cause such evil.

So when the franchise was making a comeback last year, I was very MEH. Fool me once, and all that.


J.J. Abrams was at the helm.
Reviews were positive.
People were excited again.
My husband went to see it on opening weekend, and was excited. He wanted us to see it together.

Here’s that ** SPOILER ALERT**.

We went to see it yesterday, a 3D matinee, as part of my birthday weekend. Six weeks after opening weekend, and the theater was still crowded.

Those opening words scrolled up the screen, and I was transported to my 6-year-old self, and the magic of movies again. Albeit with 3D glasses.

Guys, I gasped when the Millennium Falcon was shown on the screen. GASPED. And cheered.

I pretty much went along in that vein for the entire movie. I was completely engaged, cheering, laughing, even tearing up on occasion.

When Leia and Han — she, now a general; he, still a scoundrel — faced each other for the first time in the film, I cried.

And when Han Solo died, I sobbed. SOBBED, people. I think I alarmed the guy next to me — and my husband. (I’m a little emotional writing about this, to be honest.) I knew something bad was going to happen; I was actually expecting Chewbacca to die in some heroic sacrifice when they were placing explosives.

Nice head fake, Abrams.

Han Solo was my first movie crush. The chemistry between Leia and Han was my first romance! (Which probably explains a few of my later relationships.) And here he was, back in the movie, same old cynical Han, swindling his way across the known galaxy, returning reluctantly to service of the rebels/republic.

So when Han tried to talk his son away from the Dark Side, when he tried to do what his son’s mother and his former lover asked — “Bring him home” — and that same son put a light saber through his heart, I lost it.



It was rough. A day later, I am still feeling the effects. I guess I was more invested in those Star Wars films and characters than I thought.

I’m probably not alone.

I’m probably not alone.

Anyhoo, I have to hand it to J. J. Abrams. He truly made a movie that not only reinvigorated my faith in the franchise, but he made me curious as to what came next.

He also made me want to indoctrinate my children. I may have lost Flora — she’s already quite a critic — and Kate may be on the fence. But I can get the 5-year-old, I bet. He’s got some buddies into it (yay for positive peer pressure), and he’s enjoyed the original movies with his daddy and me.

What movie franchise are you overly emotionally invested in?

The Best Career Advice I Ever Got: Don't Be Your Job

I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was in 4th grade. When I told my mother this, she said, “Well, maybe you can go to school for pharmacy, and you can write in your spare time!”

I realized that we were not speaking the same language.

Also: My mother is a pharmacist. So is my father.

At any rate, I did not take my mother’s sage advice. Although I did attend my parents’ alma mater, Duquesne University, I did not go into the pharmacy program. I got a liberal arts education. I majored in print journalism — yeah, that’s right PRINT journalism — with a minor in American literature. I also took several women’s studies classes, which probably explains a lot.

My last semester of college was 1992. I had two classes on campus, and I had a full-time internship at an alternative newspaper as the editorial assistant. As editorial assistant, I pretty much was a girl Friday — typing other writers’ copy; I took dictation over the phone on occasion — writing headlines and photo captions, helping with print production, and also writing articles.

I was in heaven. It was what I wanted to do.

I was who I wanted to be.

I graduated from my program in December of 1992 — and got laid off in January 1993. My position was eliminated. I managed to wrangle another three months out of the job because the listings and events editor went on maternity leave.

My last day at In Pittsburgh was March 19, 1993.

I went home and sobbed. And called my mother.

Now, let me explain something about my mom. She entered a male-dominated science field in 1963. She started college at Villa Maria College in Erie, PA, taking mostly science classes. She transferred into the Duquesne University pharmacy program in 1965. (This is where she and my father met, which is a whole nother story.)

She graduated in 1968, one of three women who graduated from the program that year. She and my father married in 1970, and I was born in 1971.

When I and my siblings were little, my mom stayed home. (They did not call them stay-at-home mothers in the ’70s. They were just moms.) She had a part-time job, about one day a week. My father worked full-time, and more than full-time, opening and managing pharmacies in the area.

My mother eventually did go to work full-time, I believe when my little sister was in 1st grade. She and my father became business partners, and worked together. In pharmacies. My mom continued her education, taking classes in geriatric medicine and nutrition (I think). She and my dad eventually sold the business they had built together, and my mother became a pharmacy consultant to nursing homes in the area.

My mom was a freelance pharmacist.

In any case, when I called her on March 19, 1993, sobbing into the phone, she did all the motherly things. And then she said something I’ve never forgotten.

“Dawn, remember: You are more than your job.”

She went on (and I’m paraphrasing here, I’m sure), “Don’t identify too strongly with the job you have. It’s important to have a career, but it’s also important to realize you are bigger than any job you have at anytime.”

In other words, a job is a means to an end — money, healthcare, building a career.

But it’s not the be-all, end-all of WHO YOU ARE AS A PERSON.

I am a writer. I said so right here. It’s very much part of my identity, and has been since 4th grade. But I am not my job as a writer. I have held several writing positions; I have freelanced; I have written just about everything from poetry to feature articles to marketing copy for KVM switches.

And I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend. These roles, too, are very much part of my identity.

Jobs come and go. They change. My job is not who I am, it’s just what I’m doing right now in service of my career as a writer — and in service to my partner (Dan) and family.

I think my mom’s advice goes hand-in-hand with Kim’s advice. Work is an important part of who we are as people — but don’t be so essential to your job, or identify so strongly with it, that it’s hard to leave.

Like my daddy says, the graveyard is full of irreplaceable people.

What’s the best career advice you ever received?

My mom on her 70th birthday.
(h/t to Kim Z. Dale for the subject matter.)