“Hands We See, Not Hear,” April 28, 2020

The first time I set foot in her classroom, I spotted it right away: She was born to teach.

I remember that day clearly. The school year had just begun, but her kindergarteners had already learned the routine. They sat quietly, no fidgeting, in a circle on the floor, waiting for their teacher to begin.

“May I join you?” I asked.

“Of course!” she said. “Class, let’s welcome Mrs. Randall!”

She led them in a round of applause for me as I sat cross-legged in the circle.

“Before we begin,” she said, “I want to remind you all. How do we ask questions? That’s right! We raise our hand. I only call on hands I see, not hands I hear!”

It was a small class, but I knew most of the students well. On my left, J.J. stared up at me without blinking. On my right, Tuffy kept licking my hand.

Along with a Cabbage Patch Kid and a Shetland sheep dog, the circle included a stuffed rabbit named Rabbioli, a scantily clad Barbie doll named Barbie, and a few heavily-armed G.I. Joe action figures on loan from the teacher’s big brother.

The teacher, my daughter, was a few weeks shy of turning 5, but had taken to kindergarten, as my mother would say, like a smart little piglet to slop.

Every day after school, Joanna would come home and run straight to her room to set up her circle of “students.” Anyone was welcome to join the circle, as long as they could behave.

That, of course, ruled out her big brother and all his buddies, but not his G.I. Joes. She tried to include her younger brother, who was 2, but he could never seem to resist wrestling with the dog and would always end up getting sent to the office.

Her dad, a high school teacher, liked to join the circle when he was home, but was forbidden to ask “annoying” questions, even if he raised his hand.

I so loved watching her teach. Both then and now. To see her focus on a single student, or an entire classroom. To hear her speak in that tone that seems to say, “I know you can do this. If you need help, I’m here.”

She learned those skills in part by watching a pro, her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Novelli. But like her teacher, Joanna was born with an ability and a desire to bring out the best in everyone — dolls, dogs, boys, girls — even in her mother.

So she grew up to be a “real” teacher, both in the classroom and as a reading specialist, always with the same ability and desire to bring out the best, and to be the best, for every child entrusted to her care.

Do I sound like I’m bragging? My granddad used to say that bragging’s not bragging if you’ve got the truth to back it up. I’ve known a lot of “real” teachers. So have you. We need to brag more often about how much they mean to us and our children and grandchildren.

The most important part of every child’s education — after the support and encouragement they receive at home — is not the content of their curriculum, but the character of their teachers. We can’t “hear” a teacher’s hands, but we “see” their touch in the lives of their students.

Recently, when schools closed for the coronavirus quarantine, districts scrambled to find ways to provide “distance-learning.” Many teachers, like my daughter, are now teaching from home, meeting with students and parents online to explain assignments and answer questions as best they can.

Last week, when her wireless connection failed, Joanna came to our house (keeping socially distant) to meet with her third-graders online from our garage.

I wish you could’ve heard her.

I eavesdropped through a wall, didn’t get all the words, but the tone was crystal clear. Maybe I was dreaming, but I could almost hear her say, “Hands I see, not hands I hear.”

“Real” teachers find ways to connect with their students — even from their mother’s garage.

“Nana’s Top Ten Tips on Life,” April 21, 2020

It was the first birthday of my first child’s first child. That’s a lot of firsts. I wanted to spend it with my grandson and his mom and dad. But the coronavirus quarantine kept us miles apart.

A few days before Jonah’s big day, I realized I didn’t have a birthday card to send him and I couldn’t go out to buy one.

Jonah wouldn’t care. But his parents might. And I’d probably forfeit any chance of being named Nana of the Year.

So I decided to make a card for him. I started with a photo that was taken a few months ago. Jonah is wearing a t-shirt that says “I’ll eat you up!” (from Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are”) and grinning his gorgeous wild thing grin.

I wish you could see it.

If the boy could be any cuter, he’d be illegal. Yes, I’m his nana, but if you saw him, you’d agree.

Anyhow, along with the photo I added “Happy birthday!” and “So glad you were born!” and “Nana loves you ALL!” (All is as much as anyone can possibly love.) Plus a few other things I thought he ought to know. Then I emailed it to his mom and dad to read to him for me.

I think he really liked it. When we FaceTimed on his birthday, he gave me kisses on the phone.

My husband and I share eight grandchildren. Our oldest is 9. Jonah is our youngest, so far. After I made that card for him, I realized that the things I wrote in it were things I want all my granchildren to know and to remember in years to come. So I decided to put those things, and more, in a column. Some people write books for their grandkids. Mine are lucky I don’t have that much to say.

“Nana’s Top Ten Tips on Life:”

  1. Decide what kind of person you want to be — not your career, but your character — and then, every day, be that person.
  2. Respect your parents and teachers and elders. Learn all you can from them. Welcome their advice. But in the end, make your own choices. You have your mother’s laugh and your father’s eyes, but your life is entirely your own.
  3. Try to like the people in the family you grow up in. Chances are, for better or worse, you’ll spend holidays together forever.
  4. Be kind — as kind as you can possibly be — to everyone, and most of all, to yourself.
  5. Be thankful. Nothing in life will make you happier, or more fun to be with, than keeping your heart filled with gratitude.
  6. Be wise. Use the brains God gave you and remember all the dumb sayings (“Pretty is as pretty does, money doesn’t grow on trees, and don’t count your chickens before they hatch!”) that I tried to drill into your parents, and your parents try to drill into you. Someday you’ll try to drill them into your kids.
  7. Forgive everyone, including yourself. If you hurt someone, apologize and try not to hurt them again. If someone hurts you, forgive them and move on. Holding a grudge will hold you back. Grace will set you free.
  8. Give more thought to your hopes and dreams than to your worries and fears. And spend more time looking at birds and clouds than at TVs and computer screens. Technology is important, but Nature is life.
  9. Listen closely to the stories people are longing to tell. And tell your own stories to anyone who will listen. Stories are how we get to know ourselves and each other and the world.
  10. Love with all your heart and soul and strength and time and money. Love your God and yourself, family and friends, neighbors and strangers and people you’ll never meet. Love the person you share your life with, the children you call your own and the grandchildren you’ll be given, if you’re lucky. Love the least lovable souls on Earth, but most of all, love life.
    Finally, know this: You are loved and will be loved every moment of every day by many wonderful people. But your nana will always love you ALL.

“Joe’s Birthday Alone,” April 14, 2020

My brother has seen a lot of birthdays in his sixty-plus years, but nothing quite like this one.

Actually, Joe has never “seen” a birthday. Soon after he was born — two months early and tinier than the Tiny Tears doll I got that Christmas — he was blinded by too much oxygen in an incubator that kept him alive.

Since then, he has spent every day in total darkness. And he has learned (the hard way, as he tends to be even more stubborn than blind) all sorts of lessons, such as how to blow out the candles on a birthday cake without singeing his nose hairs.

Joe also has cerebral palsy and needs leg braces and a walker to get around. Those needs slow him, but don’t stop him from living life as he chooses. He takes cabs to buy groceries or eat out on occasion. He uses Dial-a-Ride for appointments. And he counts on a Life Alert button to get help if he needs it, like when he broke his ankle.

But birthdays are meant to be celebrated and shared. Due to the coronavirus quarantine, Joe’s latest birthday was the first he has ever spent alone. He is not, of course, the only one. Countless individuals — whether single, elderly, disabled, homeless or, worse, infected with the virus — are in quarantine alone, with no one to comfort or care for them.

Joe would tell you he is blessed and thankful to have family and church friends and neighbors who check on him often to be sure he’s all right and that he has all he needs. I, too, am thankful he has all of that. I just wish he didn’t spend his birthday alone.

Joe lives in South Carolina, where we grew up, 3,000 miles from California, where I’ve spent most of my adult life. We keep in touch by phone. Our older sister lives 30 miles from him. She doesn’t like to drive anymore, but she offered to bring him to her house to celebrate his birthday.

“I appreciated her offer,” Joe said, “but I didn’t feel up to it. It’s just easier to be at home.”

Home, for most of us, is often the easiest and best place to be.

I wanted to send him a gift for his birthday — a new Clemson hat (his favorite team) or a birthday cake. But packages tend to get stolen off his porch. And his apartment complex’s office, where I can usually send him things safely, apparently was closed for the quarantine.

So when I phoned on his birthday, instead of a gift, Joe and I opened memories.

He recalled cakes our mother baked for him. I recalled candles that singed his nose hairs.

He remembered getting in fights at the school for the blind. I remembered picking him up to go home on weekends, how he’d come hurrying out, swinging his cane almost as wide as his grin.

His happiest memories were the 10 years he spent with his wife, the love of his life, Tommie Jean. She, too, was blind. They went everywhere together, Joe leading with his cane, while she followed holding his hand. He lost her 15 years ago to cancer.

In that loss, Joe learned — as we often do in losing someone we thought we could never live without — that being alone is not the same as being lonely.

We can’t always be with those we love. We are often kept apart by death or distance or disease. But we don’t have to be in the same room together to know we love them and they love us.

When Joe was 7, he spent weeks in a hospital recovering from surgery that was supposed to help him walk. A nurse told my mother he fell asleep every night singing “Love Lifted Me.”

Love still lifts my brother. It lifts us, one and all, alone and together, in the brightest of moments and darkest of days.

It’s the only thing that can.

“A Different Kind of Easter,” April 7, 2020

This is an Easter story. I first told it 20 years ago, but it’s still true. And truth bears repeating, now and always. Here it is.

I don’t need new shoes for Easter. But there was a time when I thought I did. Maybe I just wanted them. Is “want” so different from “need”?

The best thing about the small Southern town where I grew up — aside from its peaches, its views of the mountains and its interesting assortment of characters — was that it seldom let any of us feel truly poor.

A lot of us were, in fact, poorer than the red dirt beneath our feet. We lived, as my mother said, hand to mouth, from one mill paycheck to the next. But the families that were well off never flaunted their wealth nor allowed their children to do so.

We all went to the same school, played the same games and ate the same fried chicken in the cafeteria. We had most of what we needed, some of what we wanted and little awareness of anything we lacked.

On Easter Sunday, most folks went to church, rich and poor, saints and sinners alike. The difference, as I saw it, when I was 8 years old, was simple: Some wore new shoes, and some wore old, and we all tried to pretend we didn’t notice.

I sat in church that Easter Sunday dangling my legs from the pew, staring at my old shoes that my mother had tried to clean up with a coat of polish. They weren’t just old. They were ugly. I promised myself, next Easter, I would be wearing brand new, good-looking shoes.

Want to know how I kept that promise? I lied. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. I told my daddy my mama said I needed new shoes for Easter. She didn’t say it, but probably thought it. Ever since their divorce, if she said I needed something, he’d try his best to get it. The look on his face when he paid for those shoes told me they cost a fortune. But they were worth it –white patent leather with silver buckles. And the clerk threw in a pair of frilly socks. I wore them to church that Easter Sunday feeling fancy and free, saved by the blood of Jesus and a brand new pair of shoes.

Then my feet started to hurt. A little. Then a lot. I had blisters on both heels and all ten toes. After church, we went to my grandparents’ house for Easter dinner. My mother wouldn’t let me hunt eggs with my cousins because she said I’d ruin my new shoes. I didn’t argue. My feet were already ruined.

But the next day I smuggled the new shoes to school (I hid them in my sweater to get past my mother) and put them on before class. We played tag at recess and I was “it” the whole time because I couldn’t limp fast enough to tag anybody.

Then at lunch, I sat next to a friend who was wearing, I swear, a pair of old sneakers with holes in the toes. They were three sizes too big and smelled like her older brother. She kept staring at my new shoes and the longer she stared, the more my feet hurt.

By the time I got home, I never wanted to see those shoes again, let alone, wear them. I finally gave them to my cousin Bad Linda, who wore them unbuckled because they were too small, and nagged me until I gave her the frilly socks.

I learned several lessons that Easter. First, salvation is like true wealth. It’s not about what folks see when they look at you; it’s about what’s in your heart.

Second, if you’re going to lie to your daddy about something your mama said, you’d best be sure he never talks to her.

Finally, no matter how good you look or how fancy you feel, if the shoe doesn’t fit — if it hurts your feet or your friend –you’ll be happier without it.

I don’t need new shoes for Easter. But soon? I hope we’ll all get new shoes that won’t hurt our feet and we’ll go out dancing together, hallelujah, like we have never danced before.

“Keeping Whole in Hard Times,” March 31, 2020

Before it rained, I stepped out on the patio for a breath of fresh air and to see how many plants had been eaten overnight.

Our patio has a fence that’s four feet high. But apparently four feet isn’t enough to stop deer or rabbits or anything, really, least of all, a virus.

We do what we can. To avoid the coronavirus, we shelter in place, practice social distancing and wash our hands more often than we blink.

And the patio? Maybe next spring we’ll build a bigger fence. But on this day, all was well. No plants had been eaten. Birds sang in the trees, looking for a mate and a safe place to nest. Flowers bloomed in profusion, pink and white and purple. Mountains were cloaked in clouds promising more rain.

I wish you could’ve seen it.

I’ve always loved the feel of rain on my face. When I felt the first drops, I smiled, took a long breath and went inside. That’s when I smelled it. Bacon.

My husband and I are in a higher risk age group, not just for coronavirus, but for lots of things. So we usually try to watch what we eat.

Years ago, we stopped eating meat. No special reason, we just thought it might be “better” for us. We eat fish and seafood, but no red meat or chicken. Lately, however, for some reason, I started missing bacon.

While sheltering in place, we’ve been fortunate to get groceries delivered to our door. Imagine my surprise when the last order I placed showed up with a whole pound of bacon.

This morning, I fried four slices, two for each of us, with hash browned potatoes and eggs. I don’t know if it was good for our health. But I assure you it was good for our spirits.

We all need to take care of ourselves and each other in any ways we can. I’m thankful that, as of this moment, all of my loved ones’ needs are met. But my heart aches for so many people who are struggling to feed their families, or grieving the loss of a loved one or simply trying to stay alive.

Along with all the frightening concerns for physical health, we also need to consider emotional, mental and spiritual well being.

In hard times, it’s easy to feel like we’re falling apart. Here are things that help me feel whole.

_ Kindness: I look for stories about acts of kindness, rather than ones that cause me to fear. My favorite lately is about a landlord who lowered the rent for a family that lost half their income. There are countless such stories. We need to hear them and share them with each other. Kindness heals.

_ Beauty: I spend time in Nature — with mountains and birds and half-eaten plants on my patio — and online with people I love. I talk to family and friends and read to my grandkids on FaceTime. I even got to see a video of Jonah, my youngest grandchild, taking his first steps. Beauty calms.

_ Faith: I pray for strength in weakness, for courage in fear, for hope in hopelessness and for joy in despair. Sunday morning, at home in California, in my pajamas, I visited Cleveland Drive Presbyterian Church in Cheektowaga, N.Y. I’ve known the pastor and his wife almost 50 years. When I heard their church hosts a “sheltering in place” service on Facebook, I tuned in to worship with them and was reminded we are all in the same boat, all God’s children weathering the same storm. Faith lifts us up, quiets our fears and gives us hope and joy.

Those are gifts we can claim for ourselves and each other. And years from now, when our grandchildren tell their grandchildren about this time in our history, they’ll recall not only hardship and despair, but a glorious litany of kindness and beauty, faith and strength, courage and hope and joy.

They’ll remember the stories we shared with them and marvel at how those stories never seemed to end, but were always … just beginning.

“Keeping Close from Afar,” March 24, 2020

Hardship comes in different shapes and sizes. Losing a job. Bills overdue. Illness or injuries or the death of a loved one.

Every kind of difficulty takes its toll. But few things in life are as heartbreaking as feeling cut off from the people we love.

As a mother, I didn’t do everything right. Far from it. But when my three children were small, most nights before bed, I would read to them.

Sometimes on rainy days after school, we’d build a fire in the fireplace, curl up together like foxes in a den, and I’d read to them until it was time to start dinner and do homework.

There’s something important — something comforting and healing — about the age-old ritual of reading to each other. Sometimes the words we read are so powerful they will never be forgotten. But hearing them read is a different experience.

My stepfather quit school as a boy after his father died, to go to work to help his mother feed their family. He never learned to read. But whenever I read aloud to my brothers, he would sit nearby hanging on every word.

When we read to ourselves, we see the words with our eyes. (Or if we’re blind, like my brother, we use our fingers to read Braille.) But when someone reads to us, we just need to be still and listen. Sometimes, the voice and the love it conveys mean far more than the words.

Babies might not understand every word of Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon.” But they will follow the cadence in the sound of their parents’ or grandparents’ voices in much the same way a falling leaf will follow currents on the wind.

Recently, while “sheltering in place” against the coronavirus, I’ve started reading to my grandkids via FaceTime.

(Note: You don’t need to use FaceTime to read to someone from afar. A phone works, too.)

Mostly I read to them because I love doing it. But I also do it for their parents’ sanity. Besides having to shelter in place, they are homeschooling the kids, who can’t go to school or to the park or play with their friends. So I try to read them something that’s fun. My husband does the same with his granddaughter.

Today I read from “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” by Judy Blume, a book my kids loved long ago. Randy, 9, and Wiley, 7, think it’s hilarious. Elle, who’s 5, usually prefers to read to me. This time she just wanted to talk. Then Randy played a song for us on his guitar, the very first song he has written.

I wish you could’ve heard it.

Next, I FaceTimed with Jonah, who is almost a year old. I read “MOO, BAA, LA LA LA!” by Sandra Boynton. He liked it so much he gave me kisses over the phone. Then he bumped his head, so we said goodbye.

Finally, I FaceTimed with Henry, who’s 8. He wanted to read for me “Life,” by Cynthia Rylant, a book I’d given him as a gift. It opens with these words: “Life begins small. Even for the elephants. Then it grows.”

Henry loves that book. But he asked to read it to me because he knows I love it, too. Maybe we both needed to hear it.

Isn’t it funny how so often, when we try to do something helpful for someone, it ends up being helpful for us, too?

In these days of “social distancing,” a lot of us are homesick for family and friends. Reading helps me stay connected to things I believe and to people I hold dear. To words that remind me we’re all in this together and that we are stronger than we know. To readers who make me want to keep writing. And to loved ones I long to see in the flesh but feel blessed to see their faces online.

I’ll hold them in my heart and with the sound of my voice until I can hold them in my arms.

Now, more than ever, while keeping a safe distance, we all need to hold on to each other.

“Spring’s Song,” March 17, 2020

Twenty seconds is a long time. Especially when washing your hands. I’ve noticed that lately. Maybe you’ve noticed it, too.

It might seem even longer if you were, say, in an earthquake. Or shorter, if you were running late for your own wedding. I’ve done both, and survived. It’s hard to compare them.

But time always seems to fly when we want it to slow down and crawl when we want it to hurry. Yet the clock keeps on ticking at the same speed.

Recently I flew to Wichita Falls, Texas, to speak at a fundraiser for “Hands to Hands,” an organization that funds programs in its area to help their neighbors in need.

Thankfully, there are similar programs all around the country in places where good people do their best to be good neighbors. Kindness is a mark of a caring, thriving community, a blessing to all involved, both those who give and those who receive.

It was a joy taking part in that fundraiser and meeting so many fine people. Lord, I love Texans. But with the growing concern over the coronavirus (a concern that soon spiraled) I tried to practice “social distancing” and washed my hands as often as I could for 20 seconds, or while singing “Happy Birthday” twice. (My grandson Wiley prefers to wash his hands while humming Darth Vader’s Theme.)

I flew from Monterey, Calif., to Wichita Falls, spoke the following evening and flew back the next day. It was only sixty hours, give or take, but I could almost bet I washed my hands several thousand times.

Once home, I checked my temp, showered, slept like a baby and woke the next day feeling fine, no symptoms. But I’d heard that it’s possible to become contagious with the virus before symptoms appear. Rather than take the slightest risk of passing that virus to anyone — maybe even to my grandchildren — I decided to “self-quarantine” for two weeks. Or longer, if need be.

That’s easier for me than for many of us. I work at home. My husband is retired. We’re fairly well stocked with food. And we’re fortunate to have family nearby who, if need be, could leave necessities at our door.

It’s been four days so far. No symptoms. I woke this morning to much needed rain, and sat for a while in a lovely stillness, drinking coffee and watching clouds drape like quilts over the Santa Lucia Mountains.

Every year, California’s hills transform like magic from summer’s tarnished gold to spring’s emerald green.

I wish you could see it.

Spring brings its splendor to other places, too, of course, in all sorts of spectacular ways. I’ll always remember the bloom of dogwoods and wild azaleas in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Carolinas, where I grew up.

But I feel at home now in these hills. In springtime, when they turn green, I like to imagine they’re singing a song I call, “Halleluia! Life Persists!”

Who knows? Maybe I’m not imagining it. Maybe, wherever you are, spring sings to you, too.

My self-imposed exile is allowing me to slow down and enjoy things I usually tend to do in a rush: Phoning friends and loved ones. FaceTiming with my grandkids. And reading poetry and Psalms that feed my soul.

I’ve also been making cookies that we shouldn’t eat. They taste even better than they usually do.

Mostly, I’m content to sit and listen to the hills sing their song. Every year, just when I think spring will never come again, those hills start to hum.

Sometimes they seem to be shouting at me, as if they know I need to hear it more than ever.

Never in my life have I heard them sing as loud, and as clear, as they are singing now.

Listen. Do you hear them?

Halleluia. Life persists.

Twenty seconds is a long time. And every second is a gift.

“Absolutely!” March 10, 2020

(NOTE to readers: I’m taking off this week to speak at a fundraiser in Wichita Falls, Texas. The following column originally ran in April, 2009.)
Two stories, two different people, same advice.

I was at a big event where I knew nearly no one. I’m usually fine socializing with strangers, but I’d had enough for one night and was headed for the door when I bumped into a young man in his late 20s, younger than my youngest child.

Clearly he’d had too much of something, if only of himself.

“Look at you,” he said, grinning, “you’re gorgeous.”

I laughed.

“Thanks, sonny,” I said. “Don’t try to drive tonight, OK?”

“Wait,” he said, taking my arm, “you’re also really smart, and you know a lot of stuff and I really need your help.”

“Excuse me?”

He leaned close.

“See that girl over there?” he said. “She’s after me. But I don’t know. I think she’s a little wacko or something. What do you think I should do?”

I glanced at the young woman in question — beautiful, poised, clearly a match. Then I smiled at my new best friend.

“Run,” I said.


“Run for your life.”

His eyes spun like hubcaps.

“I knew it!” he said. “You can tell she’s crazy?”

“No,” I said. “I can’t tell. But you can. Trust your gut.”

Usually, I’d say, “trust your heart,” but “gut” seemed a better fit for him. He hugged me, promised not to drive and hurried off, with her in pursuit.

It was the same advice I might have given to anyone, and have, more or less, countless times.

Years ago, a young friend I’ll call “Abby” asked, “How do you know when someone is the right person to marry?”

She was in love with a guy I’ll call “Steve.” I knew they were “meant” for each other. I think she knew it, too. But somehow she needed to ponder the question a little longer, a little deeper, until she found an answer that felt all her own.

Some answers, even if we’re sure they’re right, need time to ripen, like fruit, to perfection.

“You’ll know,” I promised her. “You’ll just know.”

Six months later, they were engaged. I couldn’t wait to ask: “So how do you know someone is the right person to marry?”

“You can’t know for sure,” she said, laughing. “You just have to jump into the abyss!”

On a hill green with spring, surrounded by family, friends, God and all his angels, Abby and Steve jumped into that abyss, pledged their love and set out on a journey Tennyson called “that new world which is the old.”

My favorite moment in the ceremony was when the rabbi asked, “Will you?” and Abby said, “Absolutely!”

I elbowed my husband, and he gave me a knowing smile.

Life might be easier without its great mysteries, without all the doubts and nagging questions that keep us awake late at night raiding the freezer for ice-cream and wracking our brains for answers. But it wouldn’t taste nearly so sweet.

Some answers — the truly important ones — can’t be found in the brain. We have to search for them in our heart, and pray that we will find them there.

Friends and loved ones can offer advice, and if we’re wise, we’ll weigh their counsel. But in the end, we have to answer hard questions on our own. Though a pint of ice-cream can’t hurt.

The heart is a dark and scary place. We need courage to search it, and faith to live by what it tells us. But no answer will ever be as clear or resolute as one that’s deeply rooted in the convictions of the heart.

It’s the stuff that moves mountains. It’s the faith that walks on water. It’s the difference between “wacko, run for your life” and “absolutely, happily ever after.”

How do you know?

Ask your heart.

“A Not So Smooth Smoothie,” March 3, 2020

Some days I do my best. Other days, I do the best I can. Last week I was in Los Angeles visiting my son and his lovely wife and their 10-month-old Jonah. They treated me like royalty, wouldn’t let me lift a hand, except to pick up Jonah. And they fed me incredibly well.

My son is a firm believer in the value of good nutrition. He likes for me to eat a variety of healthy foods that, when he was growing up, I couldn’t have forced down his throat with a jack hammer.

Every morning while I was there, he made smoothies that were not only nutritious, but delicious. They were so good I vowed to start making them for my husband and me as soon as I got back home. It would be easy because I still had most of the ingredients and supplements from the last time I’d vowed to make them, and never did.

My only regret about the trip was it ended too soon. Our last visit was at Thanksgiving, four months ago. We keep in touch with phone calls and messages, but four months is a long time for a baby. And his nana.

I loved talking with my son and his wife and watching them be such wonderful parents to their little guy. But I needed more time with Jonah.

At first, he just stared at me, as if maybe he knew me, but wasn’t sure. Then he lit up the sky over the City of Angels with a smile that seemed to say, “I know you! You’re my daddy’s mama!”

There’s nothing quite like a baby’s smile to make us a little more thankful to be alive. For four days, we were buddies, Jonah and I. We danced. Read books. Pointed at birds out the window. He’d reach for me and I’d melt. I’d make faces at him and he’d laugh. He’d kiss my cheek and I’d promise to buy him a car.

Finally, I bit my lip and said goodbye to him and his mama and daddy. Then I flew to San Jose to meet my husband and drive home to Carmel Valley.

That was yesterday. This morning I woke early, thinking I heard Jonah laugh. It was my husband snoring. So I went out to the kitchen to keep my vow to start making smoothies.

When we’re both home, my husband and I like to cook. But if one of us is away, the other will often eat out or make do with whatever. There wasn’t much in the fridge. A few eggs. Some wilted greens. And a piece of leftover pecan pie.

I know what you’re thinking. Who has leftover pie? We had eaten most of it the night before I went to LA, and apparently my husband forgot it was there. But I found berries and greens in the freezer, plus the protein powder and other supplements I’d bought weeks ago. So I filled the blender and fired it up.

Few sounds on earth — except for leaf blowers or car alarms or obnoxious fans at games — are more annoying than a blender.

My husband stumbled out of the bedroom, poured a cup of coffee and mumbled, “Make a list and I’ll go get groceries.”

“Wanna smoothie?”

“I’ll get dressed first,” he said, wandering back to the bedroom.

I popped open the blender and spooned out a taste. Not bad.

So I poured a glass for him, set it down and poured one for me. Then somehow, I set my glass down just a little too hard. And it exploded in a thousand little pieces of smoothie shrapnel that peppered the counter, the floor, the cabinets, the stove, my husband’s smoothie and me.

When my husband offered to help clean up, I said, “Just go get groceries.” And he left. An hour later, after I’d cleaned up all the glass and most of the smoothie, he still wasn’t back.

I was hungry. My choices were few. I could wait for him. I could scramble eggs with the greens for a fairly healthy meal. Or I could indulge my inner child with a stale piece of pecan pie.

Some days I do my best. Other days, I do the best I can.

That pie was good.

“Questions for Here and Now,” Feb. 25, 2020

Their photos sit side by side on my desk. I greet them every day. “Hey, Mama,” I say, smiling, “hey, Daddy.” My parents weren’t always happy. But they were in these photos and I’m glad to have fading images to remind me.

My dad is wearing overalls, grinning a lopsided grin, with his chin propped on his right fist and his left arm — paralyzed by a stroke — pressed to his chest.

My mother is dressed in shorts and a shirt, sitting on a blanket by a glittering lake, beaming at her grandkids playing nearby.

I love those photos. It’s odd to see them next to each other. My parents divorced when I was 2, and I have no memories of ever seeing them together. They came to my wedding, but my mother kept her distance from my dad and refused to be in the photos with him.

I was never sure why. Did she still harbor resentment after so many years? Or could she just not bring herself to face him? Was he still in love with her? Is that why he never remarried?

I wanted to ask them those questions and countless others. But I never dared, never did.

After college, I left my family in the Carolinas, to marry and raise a family in California. We kept in touch by phone and mail and occasional visits. But there was never time — or never the right time — to ask them things I longed to know.

And then, they were gone.

My dad had spent seven years in a VA hospital learning to walk again after his stroke. He swore he’d never go back. Years later, facing more treatment, he chose instead to end his life.

Suicide is hard to fathom. But every death is a mystery. And like other great mysteries — birth and love and joy and laughter — we can’t explain it. We can only live it.

In the two years my mother battled lung cancer, we shared some good visits and I spent three days by her side in the hospital before she died. But when I tried to ask questions, she would say, “I don’t want to talk about that. Just tell me stories about my grandkids.”

So I told her stories and she kept her answers to herself.

It’s been years since my parents left this world. But this morning, for some reason, I took a long look at their photos and began making a list of questions I wanted to ask them.

It’s too late for them to answer. But I plan to ask those questions of myself, from my own life, and give the answers to my children, while there’s still time for us to talk about them.

I call the list “Questions for Here and Now:”

1. If you could write your own obituary (as we all should do) what would it say?
2. Tell me about the time, place and family you grew up in.
3. What are your best and worst and funniest memories?
4. When you were young, what were your dreams? What did you want to do with your life?
5. When did you first (or last) fall in love? How did it feel?
6. What were the happiest and the hardest times of your life?
7. Tell me what it was like for you to go off to war, or to watch someone you loved go, knowing they might never come back.
8. What are you most proud of, and what do you regret?
9. Describe a decision that you made that changed, for better or worse, the direction of your life?
10. If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?
11. Tell me a story about me, and what I mean to you.
12. Tell me a secret, something you’ve never told anyone.
13. Tell me things about you that you want me to remember.
14. What have you learned that you want your children, and all children, to know?
15. If I can tell only one story about you, what should it be?
Those are some of my “Here and Now” questions. What are yours? I hope we’ll all ask and answer them, while there’s time.