The Woman in the Brown Dress

So – it’s Mother’s Day. It’s been a good one as they go – punctuated by some time with my kids, some flowers and a vegetable omelette. In a couple of hours we’ll gather ourselves up to go and watch my son play basketball. And as I was thinking about that, my own mom leapt into my thoughts – a certain moment when she surprised all of us with her – well – acumen, I guess, for mothering an athlete.

I can see it in my mind’s eye. It was a Slidell, Louisiana Youth Football game. My brother Frank – the quarterback – was on the field. We were all in the stands – the whole family. I don’t just see it – actually – I hear it too. The announcer in the white box up above the stands kept repeating it, “Will the woman in the brown dress please get off the field?”  I heard the plea. I frantically looked to where my mom had been sitting. I looked down to the field




My mom was down there. What was she doing? Wait. My mother was the WOMAN IN THE BROWN DRESS?

As my brother Steve tells it – when he heard the plea from the announcer – he saw Frank – who had been repeatedly sacked during the game – on the ground again. But he also saw our mom – the WOMAN IN THE BROWN DRESS – standing in front of the defensive line of the opposing team in the lecture position – finger wagging. All that, just before he felt he was losing consciousness and had to put his head in his knees.


Let’s freeze this frame for a moment.  My mom, may she rest in peace, caught A LOT of flak for that over the years. But really, who can blame her? She came from another country. How was she supposed to know you don’t walk out onto the football field to check on your son who had just taken a few punishing blows? And, of course, how could she know you don’t lecture the opposing team? And actually, now that we’re really looking at this – how come no one told her you don’t wear a dress to a youth football game?

OK. Unfreeze. So the whole thing – my mom on the field – my brother mortified – not to mention us in the stands – HORRIFIED – lasted for about five minutes and then it was over. Right?  It was over.  Well, as I sit here on this Mother’s Day, mulling it over, I realize those five minutes never ended.

In the days and months and years, even, after the INCIDENT everyone around our little town brought it up. The mothers of my friends: “I heard about your mom. I’m so proud of her.” Her fellow teachers at our elementary school: “Way to go, Katie!”  And when asked about it, my mom would say, “I wanted to check on my son. Is that so bad?” The women gravely shook their heads “No, Katie. You did the right thing.”

The INCIDENT also lived forever in our family life. The story – told and retold, again and again – became woven into our family lore. And depending on the teller of the tale, my mom looked bolder or braver or loonier. I can still see her throwing her head back and laughing at a retelling of her moment of daring.

Yep – I now realize those mind altering moments have played on an endless loop – reminding us what we were in for – those of us who were lucky enough to call her mom.

Here’s to you, Mom. We miss you! Happy Mother’s Day.

IMG_4403And we miss you too Dad.



An Eye Catcher

I don’t know why but some things just catch your eye – speak to you – and make you want to look at them.  For instance –  I like the way palm trees look against a blue sky – or even better – a stormy one.  I like the way a Sierra lake mirrors the trees around its rim. I like the way a nicely decorated room draws you in and makes it hard for you to get out.  I like the way one white hydrangea looks in a vase of roses, the way light dances on the bottom of a pool on a sunny day and the way candlelight flickers across a dinner table.  I like the silent look of a city street at dawn. And I really like an old sign – a neon sign that glows against the night – or just a sign that’s been out braving the elements and surviving – like this one I saw in Salt Lake City. IMG_0035 Continue reading

The Final Drive

The End.  That’s how this story begins.  It begins with the end of the line for our beloved Big Black Car. It’s a Suburban. We never really named the car – maybe we should have. Once, on a camping trip, one of our friends called it the Puff Daddy Mobile but that name didn’t stick. Another friend more aptly called it The Battle Cruiser, but we never did. We sometimes called it the ‘Burban but mostly it was The Big Black Car – or Black Car – for short.


There’s a little bit of a pall over our household. And my daughters at college are feeling the loss too.  We drove the car into the car graveyard. It’s gone – the emblem of our family life -the chariot that drove us up, down, around and across California and beyond during fifteen hectic years while we raised our children. The job of raising those kids may never be over but the need for a massive car to get around seems to be. Continue reading

Coming and Going

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I noticed something this summer.  It’s something I kept hearing from the college kids who returned home for break. Well, besides the footfalls on the front porch which came with much greater frequency when my daughter Margaret – my college freshman – was home. From my perch in my bedroom – I noticed there was a lot more traffic out there on the porch.  It started with the footsteps – quick energetic ones – and then the door bell would ring.  Our bell is a bit old and anemic so if you’re not used to it you’d never know it’s the door bell, but we do.  After the bell, I would see the kids.  And from them I heard a chorus – so happy to be back in Oakland and so excited to get to their favorite places and enjoy their favorite foods – food they’re not finding in their college towns.  In fact One of my Favorite Girls of All Time looked at me when I asked her how much she loves Villanova  – she said, “Well, the food isn’t good.” Continue reading

Girls Gone Hollywood

I have always wanted to swim in the pool at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.  It’s the one the artist, David Hockney, was commissioned to paint.  It finally happened for me. I slipped into the water to swim laps and every time I took a breath I looked up to see palm trees or the Hollywood Roosevelt neon on the roof of the hotel.  And when I looked down I would see Hockney’s big long brush strokes on the bottom of the pool.  I might have been in heaven.

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Such A Secret

It’s a story everyone wants to hear. The story about the day they came into the world. Like my mother, I handed those tales down to my children with great regularity.  I brought out the stories on long rides when the road was whizzing by. I molded them into bedtime yarns. I dusted them off and gave them new luster on request. But, I especially brought them out when they had a definite news peg – birthdays – like today.

It was February 28, 1994. It was just before one in the morning. I felt the stirrings and then the pain I easily recognized as labor. We called Jim’s dad who rushed over. We left him with our sleeping two year old, Katie. Jim put on his would-be paramedic look and rushed out to the car. I waddled after him. Once again, he flipped on his imaginary lights and siren and we were off, racing to the hospital, while I writhed in pain. Continue reading

Soup’s On

This is a very aggressive cold and flu season.  It’s taking people OUT.  When you get it, it comes on strong and then comes back – with a crazy boomerang affect.  I know – I had it. But while I was in the fight – trying to beat back the flu – I came up with a culinary weapon that I think helped.

In fact, I’m pretty sure I cracked the code on Sick Soup.  You know… the soup that makes you feel better, like it’s helping you get better, when you are lying in bed.  And I made it up, all by myself.  I was forced to when I was faced with a dearth of options one day – in a sick stupor  – foraging the neighborhood for something to eat. Continue reading

Fan Delirium

It’s quiet around the neighborhood this weekend. Everyone seems to be getting ready for the 49ers game.  The Bay Area is on a sports roll and football is heating up again just when I thought we were finished with it. The only reason I’d know anything about football season is that I’d been noticing that I’m not weaving through Cal football fans lately when I go for swims at Hearst pool on campus.  Since I don’t follow sports, that personal observation is always my first clue that Cal’s season has fizzled out.  I kind of miss those fans.  Their whole schtick reminds me of the scenes in Harry Potter where everyone is going to the World Quidditch Cup.  It almost makes me want to be a fan.

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New York, New York!

I’m mad at everybody, everyone I know.  Every single important person in my life is on notice. You are all IN TROUBLE.  Here’s why.  None of you – not one – told me about how great New York City is.  Why am I just discovering this?  Why am I the last to learn that New York City is fantastic.

I mean, all these people seem to know.  Why else would they be massing on the streets like that?

Fifth Avenue on a Saturday

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A Perfect Night Out

per·fect:   [pur-fikt; per-fekt]

I looked up the word perfect in the dictionary and definition number three went like this: Exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose.  And that is exactly the kind of culinary experience I had the other night in San Francisco.

It all started with a text from my friend Debbie in the late afternoon.  I was at work.  She was barreling up the 101 with her two boys for her annual trip to Northern California.  She visits the Bay Area just about every year between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It’s usually a combo trip – a little Oakland and Berkeley,  a night or two at our house, a dinner, a trip to Cole Coffee, her favorite, a stop at Bake Sale Betty’s, maybe a stroll through Berkeley Bowl– and then we pack them off to the city.  But this trip they lost time on the road, with a blow out.  They were just barely going to make their hotel reservations in San Francisco so we decided to meet them there. Continue reading