Nurturing the Next Great Generation

Category: STORIES

A Walk in the Snowy Woods After the Brain Scan

The eye doctor looked at me clinically, calmly and said, “There does not appear to be any obvious reason why your 6th optic nerve stopped working. Could be just a…

The eye doctor looked at me clinically, calmly and said, “There does not appear to be any obvious reason why your 6th optic nerve stopped working. Could be just a virus and your vision will clear up on its own. But we’ll have to have an MRI done to rule out a brain tumor or stroke.”

This is the kind of thing one hears at the age of 59, a sort of welcome basket to 60 packed with nasty shit I don’t want to think about.

A week before the appointment, my vision had gone double. While driving, the right side of the road looked as if it were in the middle of the road at an angle. A person six feet away looked like twins.

I’ll admit that I’m a worrier.

As soon as the doctor said the word ‘tumor’ I was sure that was exactly what had caused the problem. A friend of mine had told me only recently that if I died today, I’d have lived an amazing life and should have no regrets—especially since I have three grandchildren. How prescient of my friend to predict my impending demise so accurately!

But kicking the bucket now was not, I told myself firmly, going to happen because I’d promised I would be there for my grandchildren for a long, long time.

You have to wonder how many people have similar objections to death, as if the Grim Reaper actually listens.

One minute we’re raising perfectly reasonable objections, and the next we find ourselves suspended in the air looking down at our bodies on the operating table, in the car wreck, or slumped at a restaurant table by the hidden bits of almond garnish we had told the waiter we were allergic to.

The MRI brain scan came out negative. Miraculously, my baseball-sized (it had actually grown to be larger than my whole head) tumor did not exist. Within two weeks my vision started to clear up.

When you hear the word ‘tumor’ from a doctor, though, you can’t ever fully forget it.

The word sticks to your consciousness as vigorously as any stage 4 glioblastoma grips your brain. Trying to force the fear out doesn’t work. What author Siddhartha Mukherjee called “The Emperor of All Maladies” rules the fretful underworld of our everyday existence, and the only way to deal with this reality is to accept it and let the fear flow out as quietly as it flowed in.

With this in my mind, I went snowshoeing in the Vermont woods today after a heavy snowfall.

Even with the snowshoes on, each step took me two feet down, and I began to sweat in the chill air as I churned deeper into the woods. Fresh deer tracks in the path showed they’d been there just before me.

I paused when I reached the Falls. In other seasons, this part of the brook is where water cascades over wide, flat rocks coated in thick green moss. Today, a gap in the snow showed only a peek of the rushing water beneath, and the sound of the water was muffled by the heavy snow that clung to tree branches like a thick white parka. I stood there, listening and looking at nothing, for a long while, until I saw with a start three deer leaping to the left and away up the hill, the sides of their faces and big bright eyes and their broad tan flanks one after the other visible only briefly between the trunks of cedar trees.

The cedar trees….the bark of cedar trees…I stared at the bark of the nearest tree and saw its dark brown color in stark contrast to the white snow all around, and noticed the texture of the bark, the pattern of narrow lines of vertical growth separated by troughs, and the way branches grew out of the bark as if they had muscled their way through a curtain, leaving semicircles of growth around them.

And then like a camera that zooms away from its subject, I took in the whole scene of cedar trees, dozens of them along both banks of the Falls, and the flowing mounds of snow around the base of their trunks, white snow that in the shade of the cedars became light and even dark blue, with the brown corduroy of the cedar trunks rising out of the blue and blending with the snow-covered boughs towards the thick canopy of branches above.

After a time—I can’t measure it in minutes—I trudged back out of the forest and came into the field by my house.

The sun was just starting to come out after the last remnants of storm clouds melted away, so here the snow was blindingly white.

I went inside and ate hot chicken soup by the fire.

#grandfathers #grandparents #NEK

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A letter hidden in a book for fifty years. An enduring sexual mystery.

In the post-World War II economic boom, America mass-produced many things, from cars to TVs and washing machines, but making babies was our most prodigious accomplishment. My parents gleefully did…

In the post-World War II economic boom, America mass-produced many things, from cars to TVs and washing machines, but making babies was our most prodigious accomplishment. My parents gleefully did their part in the baby boom production effort, with five of us boys born over an eleven-year period.

I use a euphemism like ‘production’ in relation to baby making because, like everyone else, I can’t bear to think of my parents having sex. But for the purpose of this story there’s simply no avoiding the word. My parents must have had plenty of sex, and my dad in particular found great joy in it for as long as he possibly could—certainly extending into his later life as a grandfather.

My mom, at that point, was not so interested; I know this because she would proclaim her disdain for sex publicly at the dinner table.

“I did my duty plenty,” she said, eyeing dad with unbridled disgust.

Just how interested was my dad in sex? After he passed away at the age of 92, I found out.

I was going through his extensive library one day and came upon a copy of Masters & Johnson’s book, Human Sexual Response, and as I leafed through the pages I was surprised when a letter popped out, and even more surprised when I discovered it was written to my dad from William H. Masters himself. The masthead shows that it was sent from the REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY RESEARCH FOUNDATION in St. Louis, Missouri.

The letter reads as follows.

“Dear Mr. Page:

We are writing in response to your letter of inquiry dated January 19, 1975.

Regretfully, the monograph discussed in the text HUMAN SEXUAL INADEQUACY has not been published to date.

Sorry we can’t be of help at this time.

Most sincerely,

W. H. Masters, M.D.”

I stood in dad’s library holding the letter, stunned and curious.

My parents were 53 years old in 1975, probably at an age when dad was still raring to go in the bedroom. So, did he reach out to William Masters—in 1975 already considered a pioneering legend in the field of human sexuality—in a desperate attempt to fathom why my mom didn’t want to ‘do it’ any more? Or did he secretly have doubts about his own sexual abilities?

And perhaps the biggest question: What exactly did William Masters not know about sexual inadequacy, or what did he choose not to share with my dad?

The book that held the letter so tight for fifty years did not include any overt references to sexual inadequacy.

Although there were intriguing chapters such as (and I’m not making this up) “The Artificial Vagina—ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY.”

I can only imagine what my mom’s response would have been if she had learned that dad was reading the chapter titled THE REPRODUCTIVE VISCERA—THE VAGINA (page 233). Surely any desire she might have felt to ‘do her duty’ would have jumped out the window and kept on running.

Some mysteries are better off not solved.

ADDENDUM: My wife, who is my toughest and wisest critic, said of this story, “I like it, but what does it have to do with being a good grandpa?” The answer is that I think that we as grandparents are often in long-term relationships, and we can learn a few things about how our parents worked through their marital issues—or didn’t. Instead of having a typical blog that offers advice (“Five tips being a good grandpa!”), I’d much rather tell stories that are rich with the ambiguities of life and let readers draw their own conclusions.

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Grandfather Bill Hears the Call of Nature

To fully appreciate this true tale, it’s helpful to understand my late father’s love of nature. William Page, “Bill” to his friends, experienced the deep woods as a kind of…

To fully appreciate this true tale, it’s helpful to understand my late father’s love of nature.

William Page, “Bill” to his friends, experienced the deep woods as a kind of church. The soaring birch and maple trees arcing over his path in the forests of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom formed the spires of a cathedral, the deep green moss and ferns beneath were holy velvet, the gurgle of water sprouting down the brooks were hushed conversations on weighty matters, the hoof prints of deer a sure sign that he was on the right track. The woods were wonderfully spiritual, without a trace of dogma. When I went on hikes with him, he’d often pause to examine a leaf or a curious formation of rocks.

Dad encouraged his many grandchildren, including my Abigail and Nicholas, to stop and listen to nature, because only nature could tell you everything you needed to know.

This was the man, who, at the age of 75, decided one crisp fall day to hike Mount Wheeler (solo) in the town of Westmore, Vermont, overlooking Lake Willoughby. In a land of craggy mountains, Wheeler is especially rocky and definitely not a place for anyone afraid of heights. At its base, the trail flows like a stream up through a stand of sapling maples, but soon a hiker is confronted by cliffs. The white trail markers on trees are replaced by faint and infrequent smudges of white on boulders. Wet moss often spans across a stretch of rock, making the “trail” a challenge for 25-year-olds and grandfathers alike.

After an hour or so of near vertical ascent, the intrepid hiker is rewarded with a long expanse of open rock above the tree line, with only short evergreens here and there clinging to small pockets of earth.

And it was here along this ridge that my dad hiked, filling his lungs with fresh smelling Vermont air, seeing below the broad undulating valley in peak foliage, and a few miles to the West the five-mile stretch of Lake Willoughby bracketed at its Southern edge by Mounts Pisgah and Hor. No doubt he was wearing his customary khaki shorts and red-checkered flannel shirt. His face was long and thoughtful, broad grey eyebrows like the wings of a seagull above brown eyes that sparkled as he hummed a folksong.

Dad paused atop an outcropping of rock along a cliff near the summit, a kind of pulpit, and suddenly, as he put it, “felt the call of nature.”

He unzipped his pants and unleashed a high yellow arc of pee that projected out and down. He followed the arc as it splashed against a rock twenty feet below that was of such a dark green hue it almost looked black in the shade of a pine.

The rock began to move.

Always attuned, as I’ve said, to the wonders of nature, my dad was quite surprised and not a little baffled that a mere stream of piss would make a boulder move, but when the rock stood up the realization that it was a black bear—a really angry black bear—gave him a tremendous jolt.

A casual observer, perhaps an owl perched in a nearby tree, would have been hard-pressed to determine who was more surprised, the bear being splashed by this red-checkered demon above, or my dad, who’s hair stood up and turned a whiter shade of grey.

The growling bear started up the cliff towards my dad.

You don’t have to be an MIT-trained engineer like my dad to know this bear was “pissed.”

Dad ran.

In fact, I think he set a land speed record for his age group as he raced down Mt. Wheeler, stopping only briefly to glance back in terror to see if the bear was on his trail, and not thinking to zip his pants until he arrived, safely, back home.

My dad told this story often, making his grandchildren peel with laughter until their sides hurt.

There is no moral to it, no scripture carved in stone. But I suppose we can draw our own conclusions about the wonder of nature, the importance of knowing the difference between rocks and bears, and why staying in shape in your 70’s is a very good idea.

#northeastkingdom #grandparents Proud #dontpissonabear

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It’s Time for the “Green New Deal”

When I saw this picture of me an my granddaughter, Roen, before a lush living wall of ferns I couldn’t help but think of climate change and the world she…

When I saw this picture of me an my granddaughter, Roen, before a lush living wall of ferns I couldn’t help but think of climate change and the world she will live in. I was born in 1959 and Roen was born in 2018. This span of time has not been good for the environment. Scientists have been warming us about climate change for decades, yet no significant progress has been made to stop it. In the same year of Roe’s birth, 13 US Federal agencies issued a report with stark warnings on the environmental and economic impact of climate change.

What are we grandparents going to do about it?

Some leaders are pushing for a “Green New Deal” that will rapidly shift our economy away from the use of fossil fuels, with a corresponding increase in our use of clean energy.

Let’s do this!

I don’t care what political party anybody belongs to. This should not be about politics. The question before us is as simple as this. Do we want our grandchildren to live in a world of increasingly extreme weather? A world where it will become so incredibly hot or cold that survival is at best a challenge, and at worst impossible?

I was just a boy when John F. Kennedy challenged America to go to the moon. To my parent’s generation, it seemed impossible. But the very audacity of the challenge inspired them to go for it.

We must once again do the impossible. Our grandchildren’s lives depend on it.

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In Praise of Grandmothers

Since I relaunched this blog in December 2017 a number of grandmothers have asked, “Is this also for grandmas?” Yes it is! Here’s a post I first published in 2015…

Since I relaunched this blog in December 2017 a number of grandmothers have asked, “Is this also for grandmas?” Yes it is! Here’s a post I first published in 2015 about grandmothers. Enjoy.

My grandmother, Harriet Fish—always just “Gram” to me—was an extraordinary woman.

My Gramp, Frederick Fish, was a successful salesman, and Gram didn’t have to work, but she chose to work hard anyway as a national leader of the Girl Scouts. She met Gramp when they were students at Middlebury College, and married just before he shipped off to France as a pilot in the Great War. She was smart and sophisticated, a lover of poetry and hymns, strong-willed and intense as the gusts that blew in off Lake Willoughby to the porch of her homestead in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

Gram’s hair was red, though grey by the time I knew her.

I picture her now at a family barbecue, 1966. Her cream colored dress tightly fitted to her five foot four, wiry frame; her nose angular, hair pulled back, chin up, one arm planted on a hip, a cocktail in the other hand, grinning at the excellence of the day.

She adored her two children—my mom, Janet, and my aunt Lois. She especially loved her grandchildren, the five big Page boys and my three cousins. She adored us all with an unabashed pride. She’d stand amidst my six-foot-six tall brothers and look up at us as if she’d come across a forest of redwoods, and proclaim, “Isn’t this marvelous to have all you boys here today? It truly is marvelous!”

Gram was rooted firmly in her conservative outlook and Church of Christ faith. She believed in God devoutly, while my own mom (perhaps reacting to her strict upbringing, thought all religion “a bunch of hooey”). Gram’s maiden name was Myers. She’d come from a family that had immigrated from Germany in the 1850s, and there had been some conjecture that perhaps the family had been Jewish and converted to Christianity upon arrival in America, something Gram denied.
Gram was a member of the John Birch society until she had an encounter with a member who asked, “Are you Jewish?”

“No,” Gram replied.

“Well,” the man said haughtily, “You have all the attributes.”

Gram resigned her membership on the spot, disgusted by their bigotry.

When my mom had her first baby, my brother Calvin, Gram showed her the ropes with an efficiency and thoroughness worthy of a Girl Scout merit badge. Baby bathing, feeding, dressing, holding, check-check-check-check. It was the kind of crash course required for any young mother at the start of the baby boom. Good thing, because mom gave birth to five boys in a row, like a string of firecrackers, between 1948 and 1959.

Mom was thrilled when Nancy and I had our first child in 1986, a girl! It had taken a generation, but the genetic roulette wheel was finally spinning mom’s way.

We lived in a third-floor walk-up in Brooklyn, way before this part of the city was cool, and certainly before we were ready to be parents.

We’d read all the parenting books, of course, and Nancy had done her share of babysitting, all of which amounted to roughly nothing as this little baby girl, this totally new thing—our beautiful Abigail—squirmed and screamed in her crib. Was she ok? Why was she making that noise? Was the baby getting the right nourishment from breastfeeding? I remember that feeling of absolute terror of not knowing, the fear that I wasn’t holding her right, that something might break.

It was horrifying to give Abigail a bath.

What if Abigail slipped from our soapy hands and went under and got water in her lungs and drowned? At night, as Abigail lay in her bassinet, I’d lay awake straining to hear her breathe, deeply worried she’d stop.

During this time our telephone became so important to us, because in the dark heart of a Brooklyn night, it was our only link to my mom in New England. The phone was our hotline for all things motherly. Nancy’s mom, Dorothy, was a help as well. But there was something about my mom’s knowledge, warmth and firmness that were especially reassuring.

Abigail, we learned, would not break so easily.

Babies had somehow survived bathing and diaper changing and all manner of sickness for millennia, and Abigail would pull through as well.

When we did manage to span the distance between Brooklyn and Northern Vermont where my mom and dad lived, Abigail was soon in my mother’s total embrace, riding mom’s hip as she stirred dinner on the stove, being tucked in and read to at night. It was as if Abigail was mom’s baby number six, the one right after me, and no time had passed at all.

Last but far from least in my grandmother chronicle is Nancy, my wife of nearly thirty years.

Nancy exemplifies a new breed of grandmother for our time. She is five foot seven, with long wavy brown hair, lively and funny and curvaceous and fit and active. She works out a lot and looks ten years younger than her age. Nancy has an extraordinary strength, and above all a belief that “everything is going to be ok.”

While others are holding their cheeks in tragic parodies of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” over the latest insurmountable worry (honestly, that’s me, I own it), Nancy just marches through it all and comes out the other side. It’s like she has her own force field. An avalanche of boulders would just bounce off her.

Nancy beams when she holds our grandkids—a wide, joyous smile, eyes lit up. “Hi,” she says, “Hiiiii.” And our grandkids beam right back. Who would not?

This past week Abigail had a meltdown.

She’d been working three days a week as a speech therapist at a school for special needs children. Henry had not been sleeping well, often waking up at two in the morning and staying awake for long stretches. In addition, his daytime naps had become a struggle because he refused to sleep on his back and would scream bloody murder for hours in protest. If he was placed on his stomach, he’d fall asleep instantly, but the pediatrician was adamant against stomach sleeping because of the danger of SIDS.

The numbing fog of sleep deprivation, coupled with the drive to excel at work and prepare for the parent teacher conferences, plus the tiny New York apartment; plus the demanding dog; and the cat that didn’t like the dog and resented the baby (to the point where it took a dump on their bed in feline protest); plus [insert worry x, y,z here] all came to a head suddenly like wires overloading a circuit and Abigail broke down in choking sobs. She felt she was doing it all wrong. She was so busy at work and so incredibly tired she was doing a billion things but none of them well. She didn’t even have time to call back her friends who left messages of support. It was all too hard, too much.

Nancy got on the phone with her and helped her through.

Everything Abigail was feeling was normal. Henry’s screaming fits were normal. Abigail herself went through a period where she refused to sleep. Abigail was actually doing a really good job. She was, in fact, a good mom. The grandmother hotline worked again, a line from one state to the next, a voice of experience to guide a daughter through the rough waters. But in a larger sense, a line that extended back to my mom, and Gram, and back through time hundreds and thousands of years, maybe to Eve herself.

Grandmothers, you see, are the glue of the world.

They are the ones who have been there, through all the pain and heartbreak and happiness. They raised their children well, and now it’s all coming back to them; the wisdom they gathered as young parents is blooming again. To love and comfort, to be strong, to gently touch a baby’s head to share a peaceful calm. Grandmas know what temperature to keep the bottle. They know the meaning of each type of crying; they can read baby poop like mystics analyzing tealeaves to foretell the onslaught or retreat of sickness; they can tell us what Google could never answer or dream or imagine.

They know, I think—all of them, every last one—from Boston to Bombay and all the lands between, that everything, every little damn thing, will be. All. Right.

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The Trial

Simply saying the words “my father” in the opening sentence of this story gives away the happy ending,… …but this is the risk I have to take when telling you…

Simply saying the words “my father” in the opening sentence of this story gives away the happy ending,…

…but this is the risk I have to take when telling you of the courtship of my mother by the WWII Navy Lieutenant who would form half of me, and my mother’s father—the Air force Colonel who believed (unreasonably) that no man was good enough for his daughter, Janet. That Janet had some say in who she married was true, but when facing my grandfather, Fred Fish, even my strong-willed mother was surely put to the test.

Gramp, as I called him, was a Vermonter who had flown a biplane in the First World War. Six foot three, a giant by the standards of the day, he had sandy brown hair, a long soulful face, and eyes and wit that sealed the deal for the young ladies of France (and later, occupied Germany). Gramp was known as a ladies man. As such, he knew all about men and what they were capable of, and by the time he’d matured in life and rejoined the air force to fight the Nazis, his faith in MANkind was at a low point when he learned that Janet and the Lieutenant were serious.

A deep, mysterious lake would decide my father and mother’s fate.


Both Bill and Fred were on leave at Fred’s farm in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, staying at the family farmhouse on the shores of Lake Willoughby—a place of such rugged beauty it deserves description as a central character in this tale.

Five miles long and one mile wide, Lake Willoughby was formed when a glacier crawled down from Canada and gouged out a hole five miles long and one mile wide, forcing a large mountain to give way in its center, tossing massive boulders aside in slow motion, and leaving behind a deep blue green lake with sheer rock cliffs on either side. Eagles and hawks and ravens and seagulls and all manner of birds swoop and circle around the cliffs and lake. When storms come in, the cliffs funnel the dark clouds and push them like more boulders towards the line of red and white cabins that dot the shore. The surface of the lake is sometimes flat as glass, but more often it is a tumult of tall waves and white caps, like something you’d see and hear at the ocean.

The lake is deep. Very deep. For the glacier was intent on plowing up all in its path, its roots burrowing down to yank every possible scrap of soil and rock up and out, up and out of the way. And when the thaw came, the water—bone cold to this day—filled the void.

A depth that conceals many secrets.

On a sunny day, you can look down into the depths and follow the light rays for a few feet, knowing that beyond your sight is a blackness that chooses not to give up its secrets. Hundreds of feet down it goes, to a place where trout the size of small horses lumber about in peace. Once in a while an ice fisherman in February hauls up some monster. You can see the Polaroids at the local store. The fish are so big it’s like they’ve been photoshopped. The fishermen clutch their fish’s mammoth body and smile at the camera, part happy and part wondering in the back of their minds if they are holding something prehistoric; not really a trout at all; something that would eat them if they hadn’t stuck their hook in first.

Travel across the lake down between the mountains and no matter what kind of boat you’re in, you can feel the deepness of the lake. It’s like gravity. A force that is always there. We are guests on this part of the lake, skimming across its surface only by invitation of the deep, a temporary and frivolous guest.

And it was here, down between the mountains, that Bill took Janet one day in August of 1943. He’ borrowed the forty horsepower outboard motor from my grandfather and attached it to the small wooden rowboat.

In my grandfather’s eyes, no man was good enough for Janet.

Fred Fish had been cool to him all weekend, this young fellow who thought he was going to marry Janet. Yes, it’s true my father was also tall – six foot three. Yes, he was a fine looking young fellow who served with the Navy. Yes, the young man had seen combat at the battle of Okinawa.

None of that meant he deserved Janet. Not by a long shot. Bill had graduated from Tufts, a good school, yes, but Bill had quit the football team in his freshman year. What kind of man EVER quits a football team? Not a good sign. No, not good at all.

Janet was surely a fine catch.

Five foot ten, with long brown hair and brown eyes and an oval face that lit up when she smiled. She was smart. She had a wit that could chisel granite. “Fun” didn’t even begin to capture the sheer delight she showered all around her like rain glowing white in the sun. No wonder Bill fell for her. No wonder Fred was not ready to give her up.

Bill and Janet puttered out from the beach and set a course for the southern end of the lake, the part faced by the twin rock cliffs.

The deep part.

It was a lovely summer day, but the waves were picking up with the increasing wind as they hummed closer to the mountains. Going against the waves and wind, it took a good forty-five minutes to get close to the cliffs. Nobody else was there, so who knows what they did when they arrived there; maybe a kiss, far from Fred Fish’s disapproving eye. For Bill, this was not only a time to be with his true love, it was time away from the war. A little bit of peace out there on Lake Willoughby, far from the kamikaze horror.

He kissed her, she kissed him.

They gazed into each other’s eyes. And maybe at that moment Bill was reaching into his jacket pocket to take out the box with the ring; he was just about to shape his mouth into the words, “Will you…”

…when suddenly, for no reason aside from maybe the tossing of the boat in the rising waves, the outboard motor fell off the back of the boat and disappeared beneath the waves.

Bill stared in shock at the place where the motor used to be. Janet covered her mouth with her hand, “Oh no!”

“Damn,” Bill said.

The entire time I ever knew him, this was the toughest swear in his vocabulary. But whenever he said it, he poured so much anguish, anger and disgust into the word it became condensed in the extreme.

Hope. Sunk.

Fred Fish’s prized forty horsepower outboard was gone. And with it, Bill knew, any chance of Fred allowing his lovely daughter Janet to have anything to do with him. His marriage plans, you could say, were sunk. And not in just any piece of water. That motor had gone down in the deep part of Lake Willoughby, a place that laughs at you for trying to understand it.

Second Lieutenant Bill Page grabbed the oars. But before the first pull, he took note of the spot they were bobbing in, and jotted in his memory the longitude and latitude of where the motor had dragged his hopes to the bottom of Lake Willoughby.

Bill rowed for an hour to get back.

He said not a word, his jaw set, his eyes fiercely intent. Janet cried.

Fred Fish was waiting on the shore. The fact that Bill was rowing, and the motor was no longer on the back of the boat, was all Fred needed to know. He stood there, glowering, as my tearful mother went to him with no words to say.

Bill was gone for ten minutes. He returned with a large bundle of rope and a grappling hook. And with only a dark look at my silently judging grandfather, pushed off from shore.

What happened next would decide Janet and Bill’s fate. And I would not be a grandfather today if the outcome had been any different.

You know, of course, because I gave it all away in the first sentence, that Bill Page rowed through high waves down between the mountains, and under the stare of the rocky cliffs he took note of his position, and lowered that grappling hook down, down, down, hundreds of feet of rope down, his entire future life dangling there, the whole life ahead where he’d have five sons and many grandchildren, all of it so tenuous as to be completely hopeless to anyone but a man who loved Janet Fish so much he could not give up, and he got that grappling hook around that motor and hauled it up, the sun starting to lower and the wind rising higher and higher, and he hauled the motor like a giant fish into the bottom of the boat, and he rowed the four miles back with clenched teeth, and just as the dusk came to the sky with red and yellow streaks across the clouds he pulled the boat up onto the shore, exhausted, and went and found Janet and her father at the farmhouse.

When my father, grinning now, explained what he had done, Fred Fish slapped his knee and laughed uproariously.

And then Gramp did something he’d never done before to any man who’d ever come near his daughter, the women who would soon become Janet Fish Page. He smiled, and patted dad warmly on the back. “Well done,” he said, “Well done.”

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Band of Brothers

My mother really wanted to have a girl, but… After giving birth to my four brothers she tried one last time, and had me. Then she gave up and got…

My mother really wanted to have a girl, but…

After giving birth to my four brothers she tried one last time, and had me. Then she gave up and got a girl dog (Holly), as if this was her way of telling Mother Nature that here, at least, she had some control over things. But Holly was just one small female addition to a situation that was never in control. Today as a grandfather of two grandsons, I understand the special chaos of boyhood, and see it through the lens of my own experience as a brother.

Brothers in an explosive childhood.

Growing up in a house with five brothers, all gigantic and constantly ravenous, was like being in some kind of nature preserve, only the walls could not keep us from spreading our particular brand of mayhem throughout the town of Lexington. My eldest brother, Calvin, made a habit of hacksawing the tops off of the parking meters and using the timing device on his homemade pipe bombs. It didn’t help matters that my father, a chemical engineer, built a full chemistry lab in our basement. Explosions were so frequent that we barely flinched when a bomb went off that shook the whole house.

There was chemistry in our birth order as well.

Calvin was the eldest troublemaker, so much so that we later in life suspected he was the Unabomber. Next was Charles, an Eagle Scout who was always trying to stand up to Calvin, as if saving us from Calvin’s bombs would earn him another merit badge. Then came Nick, the middle brother, who saw himself as the diplomat between his two older brothers, and the two youngest—my brother John and lastly yours truly, sometimes not-very-affectionately referred to as Baby Teddy. John spent much of his childhood looking torn between abject terror and complete indifference. And I, running along behind them all as the firecrackers stuffed into the walls of the makeshift dam in the backyard exploded, was the spectator to the greatest show on earth.

A trial by fire.

We brothers finished each others’ sentences. We tried and failed to avoid each others’ farts. We knew where the older brothers’ Playboy magazines where hidden. We climbed mountains together, and ran down. As the youngest, I wore their hand-me-down shoes, and I cried when they left for college.

In Shakespeare’s Henry V, the King rouses his troops to carry on the battle—

“This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

I don’t think it a coincidence that the greatest writer the world has ever known used brotherhood as the ultimate clarion call of unity and love. We five—Calvin, Charles, Nick, John and me—were our own band of brothers, we happy few who thought nothing of devouring an entire pot of macaroni at one sitting, or shot cannons (no, really) packed with gunpowder and nails, or combined the gasses from an industrial blow torch to fill balloons that made terrific explosions when ignited; a trial by fire it was, with mom and Holly, the family’s sole representatives of humanity’s better half, seeking cover.

When I see my grandsons, Henry and Charles, playing and laughing, all of my memories of the times I played with my brothers are right there in the room. The toys my grandsons play with (Paw Patrol!) may be new, yet the dynamic of play is the same. There are times when they will fight over a toy, but I know that behind every shout of “Hey, that’s mine!” is a deep appreciation of what is theirs together, a common adventure into adulthood they will never forget.

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Boxes Really Are the Best Toys

Every year we search out the toys our grandkids will love, and every year we re-learn something we knew when our kids were little—there’s nothing quite as fun as playing…

Every year we search out the toys our grandkids will love, and every year we re-learn something we knew when our kids were little—there’s nothing quite as fun as playing with the cardboard box toys came in. Boxes have a way of firing up the imagination. In the mind of a four year old, a box is a castle, a secret room, or a submarine. Maybe we should skip the toys altogether and just give boxes on birthdays and holidays. Or, maybe not.

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Transformation

My daughter, Abigail, called it first. “Shira’s pregnant!” she exclaimed just after my son, Nicholas, and my daughter in law, Shira, left the house that Christmas day. “Why do you…

My daughter, Abigail, called it first. “Shira’s pregnant!” she exclaimed just after my son, Nicholas, and my daughter in law, Shira, left the house that Christmas day.

“Why do you think that?” Nancy asked.

“Because she wasn’t drinking!”

“I agree,” I said, “But it wasn’t just because she wasn’t drinking.”

At one point in the day, Abigail and Henry (my oldest grandson, 3 at the time) pushed a toy stroller with two doll babies into the room by the Christmas tree and I saw Nicholas glance at Shira knowingly and reach out to touch her hand. He could have used a megaphone and it wouldn’t have been clearer.
To think of Nicholas with a baby was in a way even more mind blowing than the thought of Abigail, our oldest, with babies. Nicholas was always someone who took his time in life. When he was in grade school I got frustrated with him for refusing to learn how to tie his sho

My son, Nicholas, with his newborn daughter, Roen Lilah Page.

es.

“Don’t you want to be a big boy and learn how?” I asked plaintively.

Nicholas replied, “It’s easier when you do it.”

In school, Nicholas followed my not very scholarly footsteps. He’d get good grades in things he was interested in (writing), and bad grades in things he hated (math, Spanish), averaging out to a solid C that never reflected his smarts and extraordinary talent. After graduating from High School he went on to major in illustration at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. His work was amazing, selected by the faculty to represent the whole class. But in his fourth year, he decided that attending class was somehow optional. To urge him on, I appealed to his visual sensibilities.

“Nicholas,” I said, “stop for a moment and picture yourself in your graduation gown walking across the stage to get your diploma. Once you see it, you’ll create a path to make it happen.”

And he did. A year later, he walked, beaming, across the stage of New York’s Radio City Music Hall to receive his diploma.

His transformation from someone who had to be urged to do something into someone who took it upon himself to make things happen was gradual. I could see it when he decided to woo Shira; at first she resisted, but after years of Nicholas’ dogged pursuit, she relented.

Their wedding on an estate in Waltham was marked by an epic torrential rainstorm with high winds. Everyone watched their phones for the minute-to-minute radar weather reports, which showed a break in the rain that would match the moment of their vows under a giant birch tree. Sure enough the rain paused just long enough for our families to walk across the soggy grass, under the dripping canopy of leaves, to see their luminous ceremony bracketed by the red, purple, pink, white and yellow flowers of the chuppah. Just after their vows were said and we started back towards the party tent, the storm of Shakespearian proportions erupted. It made me wonder if their marriage would be a calm counterpart to the rainy wind-tossed drama of their wedding day, or a storm itself.

Baby Roen (Roe) arrived in September. She is a beautiful, beautiful girl with her father’s big brown eyes and Shira’s lovely expressive face. When Roe wails, nearby glassware trembles as if buffeted by gusts of hard sideways rain. When she babbles, I can sense that it makes perfect sense to her, and it is I who must learn her language. When she whacks the little rabbit dangling from the mobile above her and it spins, she smiles at the revelation that things can be moved.

A photo of Nicholas holding his sleeping newborn girl, she snuggled to his shoulder, him looking at the camera with peaceful content, reminds me of all the pictures I’ve had of Nicholas in my mind over the years, the hopes I had for him, the dreams of what he could do if he put his mind to it, the paths towards success I urged him to envision to make real. The boy who didn’t want to tie his shoes had learned the art of loving determination, and because of that his world and mine have changed—the whole world has changed because Roe is now in it with us.

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Hello Charlie

It took me a while to get used to the idea of being a grandfather. When my children were born I somehow was able to plan ahead emotionally. When grandson…


It took me a while to get used to the idea of being a grandfather. When my children were born I somehow was able to plan ahead emotionally. When grandson Henry was born, it was still a shock even though Abigail and Ryan had given us six months heads up. I think this is because you can’t really be ready for something so completely new; the knowledge that this little baby, your grandson, is part of you, is a continuation of the love you have for your daughter, does not come with an instruction manual—and if it did, it would simply say, “Your life is going to change.”

Seeing Henry grow over the past two years has been fascinating and wonderful. Baby Henry morphed with remarkable speed into the young boy who leaned against the glass at the Natural History museum in New York City, consumed with amazement. And that boy started to talk. Brief words at first, “Up” and “Yes.” Then the statement I heard about two months ago when I walked from the kitchen at my daughter’s house to the living room. Henry, in his high chair, pointed at me with his spoon and exclaimed, “Bipa go poop.”

Within a few months of that profound statement, I saw a photo of Henry on his first day of pre-school. He stood on his front steps, smiling broadly, eyes gleaming, brown hair trimmed, backpack at the ready. I thought, oh, my God — that was so fast! Still a boy, but soon to be a young man.

While the speed of this transition set me back on my heels, I was starting to get used to the idea of being a grandfather. I was content with my self-image as an “older man” but not yet “old” by any definition. I have proudly shared baby pictures in meetings and with people who are practically strangers.

We were with our in-laws, Jack and Kally, one sunny day with Abigail and Ryan, when Abigail said, mischievously, “Henry wants to show you something!” She pulled off his sweatshirt to reveal Henry’s t-shirt that read BIG BROTHER. It was like I’d been in a boxing match, laying on the floor recovering from a right hook, and just starting to rise again when struck with this new revelation. My memories of my four older brothers rose up in my consciousness as if John, Nick, Charley and Calvin at that moment joined me there with Abigail. The memories of us being brothers at my dad’s strangely corporate family meetings every Sunday. Watching the original Star Trek on Calvin’s homemade pay-per-view TV. Hanging out with John, closest to me in age, on a summer afternoon at Lake Willoughby, or digging our real-life Hobbit Hole (that’s another story).

Brothers, from my experience, have a unique life-long bond. It starts when you’re very young, when your eldest bother is making pipe bombs to blow up the family playhouse, and continues into adulthood when you suspect he may be the Unabomber. Or stealing a brother’s Playboy magazine when you’re 13, and calling the same brother 40 years later for marital advice.

And here was Henry, just 2, with a brother on the way. I was so happy for him that he’d have a brother to play with. And equally happy for Abigail and Ryan that their house would become even more lively and chaotic.

Six months later, in early September 2016, Charles Patrick Moore was born. Baby Charlie. I entered their hospital room in Connecticut with a sense of déjà vu. I had just done this two years previous. Except not, because the second grandchild is actually a new experience. There is no description for being a grandfather with two grandkids versus one. You don’t become Grandpa squared. To the rest of the world, you are simply the grandfather of two. The thrill of meeting the second grandchild is not as huge as meeting the first. The threshold is smaller. The child, though, is no less profound.

I held Charlie in my arms and sang “Oh Shenandoah”, gently rocking him. He was a long nine pounds, definitely Page-like in stature. He had been eating like a champ and had already started gaining weight. After I’d held him for a bit, it was time for Henry to have his turn.

Having been through the birth of my son, Nicholas, three years after Abigail was born, I know how the new entrant can cause resentment in the oldest. After Abigail had experienced his little brother for a few days, and seen how much she was no longer the center of attention (and how much Nicholas cried) Abigail implored us to “Put him back!” So I was a little worried about how Henry would react to his little brother.

Henry climbed up in his chair and Ryan gently laid Charlie in his lap. Henry looked a little stunned at the sight of baby Charlie—“what is this?” he seemed to be thinking. But he did know, instinctively, that this baby was a precious thing, a strange thing, a new thing, even a delicate thing (he gripped Charlie’s back leg to keep him steady in his lap). Abigail and Ryan pointed their phones and cameras and said, “Say cheese, Henry!” and Henry obliged, looking up and smiling.

He was used to picture taking. But it was when the cameras were put down, and Henry really stopped to look at Charlie, that a stillness came over him. All the other sounds of the hospital, the beeping monitors, the cries of babies down the hall, the chatter of parents and grandparents, faded away, and in this silence there was only Henry looking—really looking—at his brother for the first time. Henry gently touched Charlie on the head. There was no artifice to this gesture. At two, Henry could not have known what to do in this situation. Like me, he didn’t get an instruction book. There was simply something inside him that made him reach out, brother to brother, for that first touch.

I think of all the times in an imagined future where Henry is pushing Charlie on a swing, or taking him for walks in his red wagon. Or running down the stairs together on a Christmas morning to find presents under the tree. They will, with luck, have many such moments together, and over time their bond will increase, but here at this first moment it was the purity and simplicity of the gesture that made me stop and take note. There are the cameras we hold in our hands. And there is a camera in our minds. This first connection, brother to brother, will always be in the photo album of my mind.

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