Stories

purse.jpgAmong the many beloved rituals associated with this time of year, one that is often overlooked is the Ritual Cleaning of the Purse. Possibly this is due to the fact that I am the sole observer of this particular practice, but I find that it dovetails beautifully with the necessity of carrying wads of both used and unused Kleenex, and the fear of dropping a Victoria’s Secret coupon in the aisle before Christmas Eve services.

In order to prevent embarrassment, and to feel that I have control over at least one of the bloody messes in my life, I set aside a calm twenty minutes around the Winter Solstice to remove everything from the currently favored bag, evaluate the contents, and put back an optimistic selection of goods and chattels to accompany me on my seasonal rounds.

Onto the dining room table goes everything, in this instance a wallet, cell phone, reading glasses, an iPod, car keys on a ring the size of a dessert plate, a quilted pink makeup bag, a pad of Post-Its, a wad of receipts and coupons, an empty Kleenex package, three used Kleenex, a wad of unused Kleenex, several ticket stubs, a rubber ball, a single earring, a flier for Life Seekers Church, a furry breath mint, an empty Trident package, a piece of newspaper with an address written on it, a tiny first aid kit with nothing but alcohol wipes left, three paperclips and empty but pungent vial of something that smells like a waitress in a health food restaurant.

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penn stateOn the surface, the Penn State scandal would seem to be another example of an institution of trust failing in its moral obligation to protect children. In fact, what the tragic web of human actions and inactions behind this outrage really shows us is that child sexual abuse is close to the perfect crime.

As the choruses of bloggers and essayists who have rushed to print in the last week have reminded us, perpetrators can rely on the majority of children to tell no one about their sexual abuse; most will carry the secret to their graves. Child molesters, especially trusted and respected adult authority figures like priests, coaches and teachers, gain control of their prey gradually rather than  resorting to violent assault. They know how to target children with low self-esteem or poor parental support, and then spend weeks or months working their way into the child’s life with gifts, praise, and outings.  First physical touching, the stroke of a knee or a hug, becomes a normal part of the ‘relationship’, and when the more invasive forms of abuse begin, the child’s fate is sealed.

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girlscoutcard"I'm alive, awake, alert, enthusiastic...I'm alive, awake, alert, enthusiastic--I'm alive, awake, alert--I'm alert, awake, alive--I'm alive, awake, alert, enthusiastic!" (Insert dance moves through entire song).

Since I went to girl scout camp in middle school (yes I'll admit that), this has been my morning mantra. I was recently reminded how important the days of sleep-a-way camp were for me, how they affected me, and how they shaped me. 

I spent several summers at Camp Mosey Wood in northern Pennsylvania forging friendships with people from all over the world. I remember meeting new friends from Maine, new friends from Virginia, new friends from Florida, and new friends from New York City. I remember meeting counselors from Ireland, England, and Australia. I remember asking the New Yorkers to teach me how to say Florida with a real New York accent. I remember staying up all night sharing ghost stories, and I remember sitting by the sides of home-sick campers and telling them jokes until they felt better.  Home-sickness seemed to be a violently contagious disease that laughter could cure. I should have known my life would revolve around laughter then.

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grapefruit_white.jpgMany, many years ago there was an older man who came to our store pretty much weekly for about nine or ten years. He wasn't all that talkative, he came with a plan and left with all the things on his list and always 12 small white grapefruit. Not much conversation, not even any dialoge about the weather, even if it had rained every day in June. Things never changed. He always smelled of mothballs and pipe tobacco. Monk wore old Hathaway wool shirts, real cotton khaki trousers, leather and rubber L.L. Bean boots half laced up and we never saw him without a pipe in his mouth filled with unburned tobacco.  He drove a large old pale yellow Ford Squire station wagon that looked retired from his other home in Connecticut. He came on the same day every week at roughly the same time.

We never saw him with anyone, but some weeks his grocery basket was heavier than other weeks and he would be downright grouchy, usually around the beginning of August. We could tell by his cantankerous attitude that he had family coming to visit.  There is no stopping anyone from visiting friends or family in Maine the first couple weeks of August even if they aren't that fond of each other. My sister and I were sure to have the freshest grapefruit awaiting him because he wasn't shy about telling you the following week that "they were getting a little dry" and his tone could be quite unpleasant.

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luxembourg_gardens_paris.jpgA good friend of mine from London moved back to Paris a few years ago and met her now-husband on her first weekend back in the City of Lights.  He is now a Senator, and this lovely couple invited us to join a private tour and dinner at the Sénat last night.

I hadn’t entirely understood what we were getting ourselves into.  I’ve strolled around the Jardins Luxembourg almost every day since we arrived in Paris seven weeks ago, and though I knew that the gardens technically belong to the Sénat, I hadn’t stopped to consider the actual building and what went on inside.  We were late (of course), and the tour was in rapid fire French, so I can’t be too precise about the politics, the electoral system, how a bill becomes a law, or even if Senators are the people who are responsible for making laws in France.

I can, however, speak to the few gems that I was able to glean on our whiz through the second half of the tour, including some obvious contrasts between the Sénat here and the United States Senate and its Capitol Building in Washington, DC:

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