Anne Notations

Sunday, June 26, 2005


Tonight I snipped all but two lingering blossoms from my peony bushes alongside the driveway. Every year these amazing plants burst from the dead winter earth and, in less than two months, become glossy deep-green shrubs loaded with fragrant magenta blooms, so heavy I use peony cages to hold the plants up. They flower for a week or two, then the show is over until next June.

Here's a poem that I saved from The New Yorker of Dec. 16, 2002:


Heart transplants my friend handed me:
four of her own peony bushes
in their fall diguise, the arteries
of truncated, dead wood protruding
from clumps of soil fine-veined with worms.

"Better get them in before the frost."
And so I did, forgetting them
until their June explosion when
it seemed at once they'd fallen in love,
had grown two dozen pink hearts each.

Extravagance, exaggeration,
each one a girl on her first date,
excess perfume, her dress too ruffled,
the words he spoke to her too sweet --
but he was young; he meant it all.

And when they could not bear the pretty
weight of so much heart, I snipped
their dew-sopped blossoms; stuffed them in vases
in every room like tissue boxes
already teary with self-pity.
--Mary Jo Salter

Saturday, June 25, 2005


Tonight we sat on the back deck with our drinks. Glorious night air -- just cool enough; soft breezes that caressed my bare legs. A lone lightning-bug over the driveway. High above us the Norway maple leaves tossed black against a deep-blue sky, with one diamond-chip star exactly overhead. Yes, I said it: "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight ... " Made a wish, too.

Deep in the yard, Mama or Papa Raccoon tiptoed from east to west. That funny hunched back! The twinkle-toes! And, as we stood up to watch: the earnest masked face turned toward us! Black button of a nose. Invisible, but assumed: whiskers.

Quick! Put the dog inside. Poor Daisy: her alert, rejected head silhouetted in the screen door.

Mike next door says there are raccoon babies as well. Earlier this week, he and Heather watched the raccoon family swinging merrily in a rope hammock one yard away.

Yes, we know they can carry rabies. Yes, we know they overturn trash cans and rip open plastic garbage bags, strewing stinky debris around our street. Yes, some consider them vermin.

I like our raccoons. They are funny country cousins come to live among us in the city. I like our mostly-white skunk, too, in spite of the occasional emissions that waft through our windows. I like the possums, even though in my car's headlights they look eerily prehistoric.

Our wild critters almost make city life worthwhile. It's like the country -- without the mosquitos.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Men to beat

Just kiss me darlin'
Baby, make it long and sweet
'Cuz I tell you baby, I am the man to beat.

Since my early teens I have had musical epiphanies. Some of these have been in the classical and early-music genres (I was amazed upon hearing Tomas Luis de Victoria's "O Magnum Mysterium" for the first time), but the really vivid thunderbolts came from the realm of rock and blues.

c. 1962-3: The flip side of a 45 rpm record purchased at a rummage sale yielded an R&B gem: "I'm in Love Again," by Fats Domino. I nearly wore the vinyl out.

1964: The little plastic radio in our living room, tuned to New York's 77-WABC AM, broadcast a stunning new song with a driving rhythm and irresistible harmonies. Why did I assume that those four Brits were black Americans? There was something soulful in their voices. The song: "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Beatlemania ensued.

1966: Two favorites that I played over and over on my turntable: "Don't Bring Me Down" by the Animals -- I couldn't get enough of Eric Burdon's sinuous drawl; and "Dirty Water" by the Standells... growling rock.

1967: The album "Are You Experienced?" was released by Jimi Hendrix. The man was a guitar god who looked and sounded like sex. I think my friends who heard snippets of the rough and raunchy rock and blues I loved in my mid-teens -- me, the gawky blonde honor student and Sunday-school teacher -- must have thought I was nuts.

1968: Sitting in a murky lounge of the local CYO with Frank while the Doors played on the stereo. Devil-boy Jim Morrison talked and crooned and moaned and shouted his way through the epic song "When the Music's Over": "Music is your only friend... Until the end." I was in tears when the song ended. It felt like the most profound make-out session of my life.

1969: From down the hall of my freshman dormitory I heard a thumping bass beat and incredible singing guitar. I ran to Val's room and discovered 1) the power of a real stereo, and 2) B.B. King, singing and playing Lucille on the song "Why I Sing the Blues." I bought the album, "Live and Well," and cemented my love of the blues forever. (The song remains a favorite to this day.) That spring, with Dan and his friend "Crabby" Appleton, I saw B.B. open for the Rolling Stones at the old Boston Garden. Mick Jagger threw himself flat on the stage as he sang "Have you heard about the --" WHOMP --"midnight rambler..." The whole night was one big goose-bump.

1983: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble released their debut album, "Texas Flood." I don't remember when or where I first heard it, but I ran to buy it and I've never stopped playing Stevie's raw and beautiful guitar blues and rock. He came to Providence several times. Now that he's gone, "regret" doesn't begin to describe my sorrow at missing the chance to see him in person. What the hell could I have been doing that was more important?

2004: Melinda hears a song she likes on the radio. It is "Heaven" by a group called Los Lonely Boys. She buys the group's first CD. At home, I listen. I like. I download. I become obsessed with the three Garza brothers from San Angelo, Texas, who play stinging blues a la SRV, romping rock, and infectious pop with three-part vocal harmony. I'm hooked.

June 17, 2005: Kevin and I drive to Mansfield, Mass., where Los Lonely Boys are opening for Carlos Santana at the Tweeter Center, a covered outdoor amphitheater. We are buzzing with excitement. Since last summer Kevin has been taking electric guitar lessons at the Music School, and I've made sure he and our other kids have heard lots of SRV, Cream, Led Zep, BB King, Albert King, and now LLB's Henry Garza.

Kevin on his beginner Fender

Promptly at 7 p.m., the Boys step onto the stage and begin playing "Crazy Dream." The rest of the night is a blur of standing, dancing in the aisles, waving, yelling "We love you!", and listening to the almost unbearably sweet sound of Henry Garza trading guitar licks with Carlos Santana midway through the latter's set.

Henry channeling SRV

So, I've seen the light. So, I just bought tickets to an LLB headliner concert at NYC's Roseland Ballroom in September, and as soon as they go on sale, I'm buying tickets for a Boston concert the following week. Then there's the Big E (Eastern States Exposition) in Springfield, where LLB is appearing in October.

What's going on? Hockey games... Star Wars... now Los Lonely Boys. I'm turning into the world's oldest fan girl. It's Beatlemania all over again! -- but this time with graying hair and bursitis.

Maybe I'm a little nuts. Maybe I don't care, because I'm having too much fun.

Henry and JoJo Garza team up on lead guitar.

*Lyrics from "I Am the Man to Beat," by Los Lonely Boys.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Short walk, long journey

Andrés, June 9, 2005

Fourteen years ago, on March 1, 1991, we brought home our son Andrés from Bogotá, Colombia.

He was just about to turn 5 -- a small boy, brown-skinned with rosy "Bogotáno" cheeks from the high altitude. His eyes were huge and coffee-brown with long lashes. He had bristle-stiff black hair, rounded cheeks, and a killer smile that he flashed to great effect. He also had a temper like the Tazmanian Devil's. He spoke not one word of English.

That fall, I would often pick Andrés up at his half-day kindergarten and bring him for a picnic lunch on the College Green. We'd sit side-by-side on a slatted bench, chewing intently on our tuna sandwiches and soaking up the sun. His English was improving. He'd look up at me sometimes and say, "I love you, Mommy. I love my beautiful Mommy! You are the best Mommy." My heart filled up, as did my eyes.

The road to high school was bumpy. Diagnosed with both Attention Deficit Disorder and severe dyslexia, Andrés often needed extra tutoring and extra time at school -- not to mention lots of help with homework. We were stunned by his brain's inability to retain even simple spelling and alphabetical information, and our patience was tested sorely at times. It occurred to me one day that, if I had a learning disability like my son's, I'd avoid reading at all costs. I was humbled by the thought of the struggles that faced my son every single day.

Somehow, we all soldiered on, often the worse for wear. Switching Andrés from public to Catholic school and having him repeat the fourth grade helped considerably. By the time he entered LaSalle Academy, Andrés had learned to buckle down when he had to. His guidance counselor made sure his disability was accommodated with textbooks on tape, extra time for essay exams, and a pass (if he wanted it) on reading aloud in class. Often he would volunteer to read anyway, just because "I want the practice."

Andrés grew as an athlete and a young man, transitioning to cross-country and track when he was cut from varsity soccer as a junior. He took his fill of art classes as a senior, excelling in photography and video production/editing. He held a year-round job walking a neighbor's pitbull every day and worked summers as a camp counselor in North Hero, Vermont, on Lake Champlain. He became a part-time lifeguard at our local Y. He had girlfriends, heartbreak, good friends, parties, and proms. He made highest honors and was inducted into the National Honor Society. He earned two varsity letters and the school's senior leadership award in the arts.

For an English homework assignment, Andrés wrote an essay that concluded with these thoughts:

"There are some things about being adopted that can be difficult. People often don’t understand adoption. They stare at you and your parents. It’s hard not knowing my birth family and what I inherited from them. I look at my younger brother Kevin, who was not adopted, and I see where he got his looks and his talents. This can be a bit depressing, but it’s something I can’t change.

"On the other hand, being adopted changes your life. It gives you a family that loves you and cares for you. It has taught me responsibility toward others and respect for parents and other relatives. I have gotten an education I never would have gotten in Colombia. I have received good nutrition, medical care, and fitness through sports. I also have learned how to be open to other people. ... Most of all, I have learned how to love."

Last Thursday night we all gathered inside the majestic Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul downtown to watch Andrés and his classmates graduate. More than an hour into the long but very classy ceremony, our son walked down the center aisle to receive his diploma. He was only 10 rows from the front, but I knew just how long a walk it was ... from malnourishment and abuse and orphanage life... to a shocking immersion in a new culture, language, family, and set of expectations... to slips and setbacks and perseverance and achievement.

I watched Andrés get his diploma and then smile that dazzling smile. My heart and my eyes were full.

Kevin, Melinda, and Andrés get silly on our front porch after graduation.