SORRY. IT’S MISSING – Marilyn Armstrong

In an endless attempt to clean up and store all the extra stuff in life, the final polish is to put it away permanently by finding a place for it which will be forever safe.


In the course of organizing my pictures, I lost this one. I have no idea how. I must have deleted it, but I didn’t do it on purpose.

Maybe while I was setting up a new computer and transferring files, this one fell between the chairs? Or got lost in some device, like maybe an ancient hard drive that no longer works. Or on an old DVD or floppy disk. Regardless, it is gone. I really liked it.

Path in the woods – A picture of a picture because I can’t find the original!

I have this picture because once upon a time, I printed this on canvas. I gave the picture away, but before I gave it away, I took a picture of the picture.

I lose things.

It’s not new. I have always had a habit of putting important items – papers, jewelry, lenses, cameras — in a safe place. Because, for some inexplicable reason, I have decided wherever it was, wasn’t safe enough. The problem is, wherever it previously was will be the place I remember it being. I will not remember the new, safer place I put it. If, indeed I put it anywhere and didn’t just put it down, go do something else, and forget about it completely.

The new, improved place to which I moved it is guaranteed to be a place I will never remember. It’s also possible I move things in my sleep. Yes, I sleepwalk. I know this because other people have seen me sleepwalking. Also, there are other things that only make sense if I did them in my sleep. No rational (or waking) explanation is possible.

The jewelry I found in the bottom of Garry’s underwear drawer? I’m pretty sure he didn’t put my necklace there. In any conscious state of mind, I would never put anything there, other than his underwear. Or, for that matter, the bundle of jewelry I discovered in the piano bench. Why would anyone put their jewelry in the piano bench? Even me?

The worst losses are accidental. I have something important in my hand. I need to do something else, so I put down. Temporarily. Life moves on. I meant to go back and deal with it, but I have a 15-second short-term memory, so if I put it down and don’t deal with it immediately, it could be in another universe.

The ONLY way I find this stuff is by retracing my steps. What rooms was I in? Could I have left it in Garry’s bathroom? My bathroom? Did I shove it in my camera bag? Which pants or jacket was I wearing? Have I washed it yet?

Occasionally, this results in finding the missing item. Mostly, it doesn’t, probably because the retracing was imperfect. And I forget about pockets. How many were there are and how much stuff you can shove into them.

Lost stuff can appear years later while I am hunting down something else that has gone missing. It can be a thrilling discovery … or it’s a duplicate of important papers I’ve already replaced.

A couple of friends of mine recently became widows. One of them strongly recommended I put our papers in order. Things like the deed to the house which I actually found by accident, so I know where it is. Garry doesn’t know where it is, but if I told him, he’d forget anyhow. Fifteen seconds isn’t nearly enough time. We have our birth certificates and our passports which will do in a pinch. I don’t have to worry about dealing with our fortune since there is none. In fact, it turns out all we will need — either of us — will be our birth certificates, social security cards, and a few passwords.

One sheet of paper in a manila envelope. I don’t even have to worry about the money needed to bury one or both of us because there is no burial money. Presumably, we WILL get buried, one way or the other. I think they have to do something with our corpses. Garry and I discussed this, then realized, “Why worry?” Garry is too old to buy life insurance (I think 75 is the cutoff) and I’m too sickly. For any price.

So we agreed to stop worrying about it. I figure the state has to do something with our bodies. I don’t think it’s legal to just leave us lying around and rotting. It might make an interesting TV show, though. Just a season or two. We could call it “What Should We Do With Mom?”

Too bad we aren’t allowed to be buried on our own property. We’ve more than enough room and our earth would be happy to have us. Meanwhile, I’m searching for that missing picture. Not all the time, but every time I’m in one of my storage drives. It may turn up, someday. Or not.

I’m pretty sure Garry has our birth certificates and passports. So we’re good to go, so to speak.

WHERE IS STEVE McQUEEN WHEN I REALLY NEED HIM? – Garry Armstrong

It must be payback. Karma, hubris – or both.

For more than 30 years, I drove a succession of fully loaded convertibles with Steve McQueen in my brain. Once, I was racing to a story in the dead of night when a State Trooper pulled me over. He asked the traditional question. He smiled when I told him I was heading to a fire. After being cautioned to drive responsibly, I sped on to the scene. Steve McQueen was with me.

Nothing fazed me. Not Boston crazies or New York cabbies. Oh, hubris!

My convertible days are behind me. Thanks to retirement, an income adjusted to social security, “wonderful” pensions and too many tickets from my Steve McQueen days, I drive like a normal guy, more or less. You’d think I’d paid my dues, atoned for my sins.

Not hardly, Pilgrim.

I’ll admit I still drive too fast, even if I’m doing the speed limit. That’s because I wasn’t born in the Valley and I don’t have Valley in my blood, so to speak. You see, in the Valley, driving is a leisurely business. Very leisurely. Twenty miles an hour is fast for a lot of our local people and not only in school areas. We are talking normal stretches of road with no special considerations or construction.

Not a racing car exactly!

I’m convinced there’s a legion of slow drivers waiting for me to pull out onto the street. I’ve been targeted. Wherever I go, they are waiting. It’s particularly frustrating when I’m heading to an appointment. These days, it’s usually a doctor appointment for my wife or me. We usually allow extra time for possible traffic jams, construction, weather delays, and accidents.

The X-Factor is the slow driver. (Drum-roll.)

They usually appear just as we are pushing up to the speed limit and think we’ll be able to make good time. We’ll get to our destination and have time to relax. I’m beginning to think about playing some music for the drive.

That’s when they show up. In the blink of an eye, they appear. The dreaded slow drivers. A whole conga line of slow drivers. No way to maneuver around them because our local roads are two lanes. One in each direction and narrow to boot. I can feel the anger and frustration beginning to boil up inside me.

If I’m driving alone, I allow the profanities full volume. If my wife is with me, I mumble, tighten my wrists and think evil, vile things. The slow drivers sense this and slow down even more. It is torture. What would Steve McQueen do?

Photo credit: RolexMagazine.com
Photo credit: RolexMagazine.com

Sanity and common sense kick in only because I know we can’t afford accidents with me as the culprit. That makes it more infuriating. They slow down, even more, sensing my plight. Could it be worse? Never ask that question because the answer is always yes!

It gets personal when I realize nature is calling. Home isn’t that far away but it could be an embarrassment if I don’t get there in time. The drivers drive even slower.

I whisper a prayer, forgiveness for my wild days on the road. I turn onto the road home. I can do this. I can make it. Traffic slows to a halt. What would Steve McQueen do?

Gritting my teeth, I see two cars ahead of me. They are staring at the road. They are texting. They are not old but rather part of the legion of slow drivers targeting me. All seems lost as I swing and sway to delay disaster, traffic begins to move again.

Slowly.

Minutes that seem like hours go by until I reach home. I pull down our long driveway. I race into the house with personal shame just narrowly averted. I calm down before returning to the car to collect my things.

I look up at the street. There’s no traffic. The slow drivers have disappeared. Is it a conspiracy?

What would Steve McQueen do?

ONCE UPON A TIME, WE WROTE LETTERS – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry was saying he was taping an old movie, “A Letter to Three Wives.” He thought the whole concept of writing letters was kaput. No one writes letters anymore. We may dash off a note on a card, but a whole letter?

“When,” I asked Garry, “Was the last time you wrote a real letter.”

“When I wrote to you, in Israel?”

“Yup,” I said. “And the letters I wrote to you from Israel were the last personal letters I ever wrote.”

“Funny about that,” he said.

“Sure is,” I answered.

That was 1987.

WE KNEW WHO WE’D BE – Marilyn Armstrong

It has been pointed out to me that there’s a lot we don’t know about the people who came before us.

How — why — they dressed and spoke and related to each other as people in their society. We are fuzzy about a lot of cultural material and mostly, we take our best guess as to what they were thinking as they lived from one day to the next in whatever capacity they lived it.

We have no clue about how our great-grandfather confessed his love for great-grandma. We don’t know what words he used, or his tone of voice. We don’t know if they had a moment of passion because they left no evidence for us. They spoke differently, yet surely they held the same emotions we do.  We base our fiction on that assumption.

We could be entirely wrong. It’s guesswork based on some facts.

The United States Slave Trade

On the other hand, we know precisely — anyone could know this because it’s easy information to find. The people who drew up our Constitution understood how deeply wrong slavery was. They knew failing to remove this horror would cause a war. A big war.

Many expressed gratitude they would not live to see it.


They knew right from wrong.

They spent agonizing hours, weeks, months and years writing about it. Discussing it. Keeping notes about what they said and what others said. They didn’t for a minute think building a nation on slavery was “okay.” Abigail Adams, for one, didn’t want to live in the White House — not merely because it wasn’t finished, but because slaves built it. Yet without the compromise of making slaves three-fifths of a person – a person who would never vote or have anything to say about his or her own life – there would not have been a Constitution or a country.

I used to think it was the right decision, but I’ve changed my mind. We should have fought to do the right thing.


When you start doing what you know is evil, righteousness
does not follow.

Getting the country to be a country was, ultimately, what mattered. Under this devil’s decision lay the future in which we are now living.


We didn’t get here by accident. It wasn’t a bad election or even a few. It was not a couple of unfortunate choices. The path on which we are walking was being laid out for us before our nation existed. The issues we now face have always been there. Waiting. 

The northerner’s objections to slavery didn’t mean there were no slaves in New England or New York. Southern plantations bought slaves, but New England sea captains brought them here.

The first port of call for southern slave owners were the slave markets of New York and New England. Until the Constitution when northern slavery was formally abolished, there were plenty of slaves up north, too.

About those Native Americans from whom we grabbed this land and who we slaughtered to keep it? We knew it was wrong.

Maybe not every unread slob understood it, but anyone with a trace of education got it. We still know it, even if we have tried our best to tuck the information as far from “common knowledge” as we can. We don’t want to think about what we did to get this place — and what we are still doing.

Did our ancestors understand this? Yes.

But they wanted this country. They wanted it beyond any moral compunctions. If that meant slaughtering entire tribes — see Andrew Jackson for more on that — so be it. Why should “those savages” get this rich and beautiful country?

They didn’t deserve it. It should be ours. To make this officially righteous, we made up a bunch of crap about white being better than not white, but we didn’t get that from anyone’s religion. We quite simply made it up because we needed to believe it.

So, as has happened throughout history, we did what we wanted. We took everything, killed anyone who got in our way.

We have pretty much continued to do that ever since. Was it the first or last time an invading group of foreigners stole a nation from its native inhabitants? Obviously not.


I do not buy any concept which says “we didn’t understand what we were doing.” We knew. Our ancestors might not have talked the way we do, but they were better at acknowledging good and evil. 

Again: How do we know this? Let me reiterate.

They wrote about it. At great length. In documents, diaries, letters, newspapers, and books. We don’t have to guess: they told us.

What a great job we’ve done with the place!

The reason the Trump White House can do what it is doing is that there’s so much hatred in this country. All he needed to do was play to the haters and leave the windows open.

We don’t know what our so-called “leaders” believe, but we know who and what they hate. I don’t care how many other countries are pursuing the same ugly scene. That doesn’t justify it happening here. If the whole world needs to clean up its act? So be it.


The majority is not necessarily right.

For my entire life, I believed my country was improving and becoming more of what it said it wanted to be. We were struggling but trying to become a moral light in the world.

I’m not seeing that today.

Are there many individuals still fighting the good fight? Yes. But as a nation, that isn’t what I see. I cannot begin to tell you how deeply disturbing I find this. How is your conscience doing these days? Having a bit of a rough patch?

THERE’S NO CRYING IN THIS NEST – Marilyn Armstrong

A woman, younger than me, has no children and asks: “What is ’empty nest syndrome?’ What does it mean?”

I gave it a bit of thought. After all, my nest is empty except for two terriers and the handsome husband.

The empty nest is one in which the children have grown up and moved out. They have independent lives. These newly made adults have left the family nest and assumed the mantle of adult responsibility.  Isn’t that what we wanted all along?

Swan family all lined up

My mother’s life did not revolve around me, though I kept her pretty busy for a long time. She was a dutiful mother insofar as she did the right stuff. She fed us, though this was her least shining achievement. She clothed us … and to this day I wish I’d better appreciated the clothing she made for me. I was just too young, awkward, and afraid someone might notice I was dressed “differently” from the other kids. Big mistake.

The whole family!

She talked to me about adult things in an adult way. She gave me tons of books and if I look around, I probably still own more than half of them. These weren’t the books my friends and schoolmates read. They were grown-up literature. Sometimes, I had to ask her what it meant because if anything, she overestimated my understanding of the larger world. When I was ready to go, she was proud of me for taking the leap.

It freed her to paint and sculpt and travel. To read, go to the theater, spend time with her sisters. Not cook and clean all the time. Make her own clothing instead of mine. She was glad my brother and I were independent and built lives.

I doubt she suffered from any kind of empty nest issues.

Nor did I. Of course, my son and his family kept coming back. For years, I yearned for an empty nest. Having finally achieved it, do I miss the patter of little feet? Or, for that matter, the thunder of big ones?

Flocks of Goldfinch

I miss the thunder more. Is there something wrong with enjoying the company of adult children more than little kids? I really enjoy having real conversations with grownups who look like me. Even if we disagree, I’m delighted they have opinions. That they are part of a bigger world and standing on their own feet.

Maybe the difference is that so many women seem to prefer babies to adults. They don’t want independent children who don’t need them. Some parents urgently need to be needed.

Children need nurturing, but they don’t need it all the time and they definitely don’t need it for their entire lives. After some point, their drive for separateness should overwhelm the need for nurturing. The drive to be independent should become dominant. I have always thought it’s our obligation as parents to help our kids achieve adulthood because we won’t be here forever. They will need to go on without us.

An empty nest is when you don’t need to do a load of laundry every day. Where the sink isn’t always full. You can park your car where you want it.

Photo: Ben Taylor

Extra rooms revert to your use, even if you use them as closets for all the stuff you collected. If you have a life of your own, interests of your own. There’s no such thing as an empty nest. It’s a time when your kids have achieved maturity. It’s when the work you did to raise them right pays off.

Adult children are great. If you still need to nurture, get pets. Adopt dogs and cats and ferrets and parrots. They will always need you.

If you do it right, your kids will always love you, but not always need you.

THE COMPASS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS – Marilyn Armstrong

I always refer to my concept of right and wrong as a “moral compass.” It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the Christian Golden Rule — or its Jewish predecessor: “Do not do to others what you would not want done to you.”

In Hebrew, the language is built on “roots” which are rearranged to mean words with a similar intent. So the word for “north” is “tzfohn.” The word for “morality” is “tzfohna” and “compass” is “tzfohneet.” Thus as a compass points north, your moral compass keeps you pointed in the right direction.

Hebrew doesn’t even have a word that means “good.” There’s a word for correct (as in correcting a test paper), but the closest you can get to good is “righteous.” The word for “wrong” is “unrighteous.”

I’ve concluded that “religiosity” and “morality” have little to do with each other because you either have a moral compass — or you don’t. Anyone can claim “God told me to do this (awful) thing” and no one can disprove it since God has been silent, but that moral compass is something most of us are born with.

Yet these purported “believers” can be bought for cash or equivalently purchased with promises to support his or her ‘bid” for election or re-election. What kind of moral compass changes direction for cash or power?

I find it almost impossible to accept anyone who considers themselves righteous — Jewish, Hindu, Christian, Atheist, or undecided — who would will his soul for cash or power. I don’t think I will ever understand.

Possibly, that’s just as well.

TOO LATE LEGAL – Marilyn Armstrong

“Have you considered marijuana?” floated past me on the conversational breeze. It was my previous cardiologist speaking. Was I in the Twilight Zone? No, he was merely suggesting pot might be a good drug. For me. It would deal with a variety of issues. He wasn’t suggesting “medical marijuana” because though theoretically we have it, insurance won’t pay for it and almost no doctors are certified to prescribe it. But don’t worry, now we can buy it recreationally — and legally — at a local shop.

“Uh, yes,” I said. “The downside, other than the price tag, is coughing. Coughing hurts.”

“Take in more air when you inhale,” he said. “You’ll cough less.”

Right. Like I didn’t know that already. He forgets that mine is the generation that made it popular. The biggest users of legalized pot are —  you guessed it — senior citizens.

I grew up in a world where getting busted for having a couple of joints in your pocket could land you in jail for a long time. A world in which marijuana supposedly was the gateway drug to a life of dissipation and degradation which would end with you lying face down in a gutter in a part of town where the cops won’t go.

Now I live in a world where the cardiologist recommends smoking pot.

My mother was born in 1910 and passed in 1982. Growing up, horse-drawn carts were far more common than automobiles. She was a child during World War I, a married woman and a mother in World War II. She survived — somehow — the Great Depression and marched with friends and family in a spontaneous parade of celebration when the New Deal passed. Even though the Depression didn’t really end until World War 2 and brought employment to everyone who wasn’t fighting.

By the time she passed, there was cable television, home computers, and two cars in every driveway. One day (I was a kid) I shouted: “Oh look, a horse and cart!”

She looked bemused. “When I was your age,” she said, “We used to shout “Look, a motor car!”

And today, my cardiologist suggested pot. Okay. I think I see a motor car.

Our local cannabis shop is at the edge of town, close to the main road that goes to Rhode Island. Convenient. It also has a parking lot.

I was afraid they’d put the shop in the middle of town and we’d have a permanent traffic jam.

Massachusetts, in its infinite wisdom, has so heavily taxed cannabis that it’s more expensive to buy it legally than to get it from ye olde dealer. In fact, it’s a lot cheaper to buy it from the same guy you bought it from before they made it legal. Competition lowered his prices while the state upped theirs. Figures, doesn’t it?

As it turns out, pot has no particular medical advantages for me.  The cannabutter I made was so strong, I didn’t feel better. Mostly, I just passed out.

I wish it did work medicinally. I wish something would work. The company that made the medication that always worked for me stopped making it a few months ago. It was cheap to buy and it helped. But it wasn’t profitable. Now we are searching for something else that won’t make me sick, make my heart stop, or give me ulcers while reducing the pain enough to allow me to function.

Pity the pot didn’t do it.