Umbrellas Over Manhattan by Dave Magee

Memory is a funny thing. It leaves room for emotional translation. Space for the undercurrent of what was and what might have been.

My first memory of meeting Dave was while standing at a community bulletin board in a favorite local coffee shop—a recently opened out-of-the way establishment that made this young (ish) mom feel more me. Even though it was a stone’s throw from my boys’ preschool, somehow I felt happily lost and tucked away the moment I stepped in. 


On this particular day, I’d consumed my coffee and packed up my computer when I noticed an intricate postcard, smaller than the other posters that read (something like): Writers in the Barn. Meet and share your stories. All are welcome.


I recall thinking two things: 




That probably would have been it for me on that topic. I was—had always been—a writer and had plenty of stories to share. But, now I was a mother too who was learning the serious business of shaping fledgling lives and was finding the endeavor all-consuming.


Mothers didn’t go to barns in towns where they were still new to “share their stories.” 


Or did they?


“Know anyone?” he asked. 


Again, if I am being honest, I don’t remember what Dave was wearing that day. But since that moment was the beginning of a fifteen year friendship—one where my mind can compilate the mix of outdoor ordinary and touch of whack that was Dave—I’m going to say he was wearing khakis, a blue fleece, and a wool cap with long pompoms and a feather protruding from it.


“Um, no well, I am a writer but…” I verbally stumbled.


“Look, a writer!” he’d said, reporting back to the gaggle of folks that always surrounded, Dave. 


I probably smiled awkwardly and started to leave.


“Did you write down the address?” Dave asked.


I nodded. And, this part I remember verbatim. I went back to the bulletin board the next day and wrote down the address, just in case on Monday evening at 6 pm I found myself able and wanting to go to a stranger’s barn to “share my stories.”


Which I did—that next Monday and a lot of Mondays for many years.  


Those evenings in the barn were creative nirvana. An eclectic mix of people, most of whom are now friends, some of whom have passed on and others that vanished into thin air. That’s what happened in the barn. You arrived, you shared, and you went back to the real world until another Monday rolled around.


People who lasted more than one meeting in the barn knew the only rule: Be exactly who you are and give the other people around the circle the same opportunity.

Sunflower by Dave Magee

That was it and it was magical.  

The routine of that time in the barn slowly (I am talking snail meets turtle meets sloth kind of pace) started to transform the rest of my week. As soon as Monday was over, I began tackling whatever muse was rattling around in my head. No subject was too small or too large. I had stacks of stories already but why not create new ones?


Dave was a lot of things to a lot of people, a soul too grand to boil down succinctly. But since his recent passing, my brain keeps trying to pinpoint: what was it about Dave?


In those early days, he was my creative whisperer. You’ve got one life; how will you use it? Though he never uttered those words directly, they were baked into every conversation with Dave.


After he got to know my family (my oldest was a frequenter of his 5 cent art lessons) he became “let’s call Dave” when there was an off-the-beaten-path project like affixing a house number to a lamppost. Dave spent a whole day helping us do just that.


When Dave and his wife moved not too long ago, my boys (all three) lugged boxes and did odd projects “in the barn.” I didn’t go. I wasn’t emotionally ready to pack-up the barn. 


Maybe that’s the thing that I will most remember about Dave.


“Being ready” never held Dave back. He just did.


Share a story. 

Make a piece of wood or metal or stone into a unique creation. 

Paint life as it appeared to him.

Encourage others to do the same.


Move on when it was his time to go.


I will miss our conversations, Dave. But thanks to you, I will always know where to find you. Your address is forever written in my heart.

A sketch of me, by Dave, writing in my favorite spot 
at So G Coffee Roasters.



Normally, fall is my favorite time of the year. I welcome the gentler, cozier season after the frenzy of summer slows and the world moves inside by the fire. 

Problem is, this summer, while the weather was surely hot the calendar was not. Most plans were postponed and the small group gatherings that we said “yes” to came with a hovering cloud of guilt and apprehension. 


Five years ago, if you’d told me a global pandemic was on the way, that would side-line six months and counting, I’d have said: “Is that even possible?” And, then I’d have silently looked forward to being stuck in my house, with the people I love.


I did that. (Please refer to early pandemic blogs.) 

And, now I am officially here to say: I’m done. Time to move the hell on. Which, of course, hardly matters because COVID is not done with all of us. 


I am resigned to the severity and ugliness of what we are living through and am determined to do my part to keep this horrible virus away. But accepting what that means, with winter closing in…well, that’s left this comfy-sock-wearing gal stymied.  


I’ve read the blogs and well-written articles. I’ve meditated and eaten better (some days) and made exercise routine (thank you, neighbor Vicki.) I’ve had the supposed-to-be calming mug of tea and kept a gratitude journal (turns out those don’t work for me).


I’ve watched comedians on social media that made me laugh out loud, then consumed Facebook posts that had me spiraling down the rabbit hole of shame and regret. How can they be doing just fine? I’ve wasted the last twenty minutes!


So, what do we nesters do when we’re all nested out and there’s no end in sight until potentially next pumpkin carving season? Buy more Halloween candy?


The Halloween candy is indeed lining the shelves—like it’s a normal year. In fact, the candy at my local Stop & Shop is already half gone. Does anyone think the usual princesses and Jack-the-Rippers are going door to door this year? 


Will those of us living in heavily populated neighborhoods leave our lights off? Or, replenish big bowl of candy on our stoops, with a nifty legal disclosure making it clear that we cannot be held liable for viruses caught while consuming snack-sized Snickers.


Maybe the people buying that candy are giving in to what anyone over the age of eleven already knows. Halloween is an excuse to buy a big bag of your favorite candy and chow down. And, this year, of all years, we deserve it.  


Problem is, if I were to eat a mass quantity of Milk Duds (gosh they are just the best), in my caramel haze, I’d still have to reckon with the fact that this is one of the most difficult, depressing years on record. And, I’d have gained back the two pounds it’s taken me four weeks to lose.


So, to re-count, I’ve tried:


Eating better


Herbal Tea

Gratitude Journal

Watching funny videos 

A chocolate coma


And, it’s still 2020. 


Perhaps it’s time to do the most difficult thing of all: stop trying. 


Nothing is going to turn this year around. In fact, we don’t want to—ever—turn this year around. I want to go forward. And, so far (knock, knock, knock) the earth is still rotating around the sun. So, that’s something.


In different places and shapes and states of gratitude and chocolate euphoria—we are all collectively moving forward.


And for now (maybe?) that has to be enough.

Furry Soul Sister

We’ve had a reliable pandemic routine, Daisy and me. 

Early morning snuggles,
Mid-morning walks,
Afternoon Zoom interruptions.
(She climbs right on my lap, to say, “Enough!”)

This routine has served us—me—well. There have been many days when daydreaming almost got the best of me.

“When are we getting out of here?”
“When will life be normal again?”
“What is normal, anyway?”

Then along comes Daisy to move the day along. She doesn’t prescribe to wallowing. We make a good team.

Which is why the other day when I reached the bottom of our driveway, turned to my left to hook my girl in for our morning walk and she wasn’t there, momentary confusion enveloped me.

Maybe she needed a pit stop in the backyard?
Nope, not there.

Did she bolt?
She does that from time to time to visit a neighbor dog.

As I made my way back up the driveway, I saw that Daisy was sitting in our garage, by the passenger side of my car dutifully wagging her tail, encouraging me to see today’s walk her way.

“You want to go in the car?” I asked, with special emphasis on the word car.

(My family often reminds me that dogs do not understand sentences. I’m not sure they fully grasp Daisy’s unique intellect, but whatever, I play along.)

Her tail thumped faster. 

A walk by the Connecticut River, that is what getting into the car means to Daisy. Sure, it’d been a while since we walked by the river, but I only had forty-five minutes to walk Daisy, hop in the shower and…

For god sakes, it’s a pandemic. What am I doing with my day besides staring at a computer, watering vegetables and flowers and making dinner? 

I pondered the question for a beat before deciding there was no time for her shenanigans. 

“Come, on, Daisy,” I said, again.

She followed me back down the driveway, this time ready as I fastened the leash until I attempted two steps forward. She sat firm, bolted to the ground.

“Come on,” I said, again.

Her nose shot up in protest, the canine version of a look-away.

“Fine!” I acquiesced. I too was now craving time away from our usual stroll around the block.

Into the car she and I went, off for the five-mile drive to the Connecticut River. Daisy right beside me, with the AC blowing her hair, we were Thelma and furry Louise.

Soon, the “Oldest Running Ferry in the Country” sign greeted us, along with vaguely familiar scenes.

The Hortons tilling their spectacular sunflower patch. 
A fellow parent that I hadn’t seen since preschools days.
Astute political pleas.
Lots and lots of creative hearts.

By the time we made it back to our car, over an hour later, I was sweaty and overwhelmed with a realization that somehow I’d previously overlooked: it’s summer.

This summer would surely be different, not usual or carefree. But, only the seasons cemented in far-removed nostalgic memory ever truly fit that description. The real ones are a salty mix of chaos and fun obligation.

And, while “normal” sounded appealing, what I was really craving was the mental freedom to just be…

Starting with a Wednesday morning river walk, just my furry soul sister and me.


If all of the things you were looking forward to, had planned for, and rehearsed in your head like a favorite movie ending,

Proms, and trips, 
Concerts, and work milestones,
Tournaments, and

Those events: cancelled.

Then, the things you'd started to let go of, like;

Dinner together, at home,
Impromptu back rubs and “meet you on the deck” happy hours,
Neighbors who formerly tossed a wave, having actual social-distanced conversations,
Teenagers sharing their unhurried views,
You doing more listening than talking (now there was plenty of time for both).

Those pieces: found.

And through it all, the waiting.
Some days anxious,
Other days content,
Most days caught in between.

The whole time knowing  
going back
to the unknown, altered, strange
Waiting World
would be an honor
because not everyone would.

All of that?

What is there to say?

I am…

I wish…
I could find my focus
That I knew when this would end so I could “enjoy” it more
I had more comfy sweatpants
I’d bought more toilet paper before the world went crazy
I trusted our leaders
My teenagers were at school with their friends
I didn’t panic whenever I hear someone sneeze
For exactly the family I have.

I am thankful for…
Time, at home, with my kids (even when they bicker)
The sun
For the healthcare workers and truck drivers and grocery store clerks and teachers and…
Smiling faces of colleagues on Zoom
Snuggles with Daisy
Books to write and read 
New recipes and people at home to eat 
Texting with friends 
Exercise and meditation and

The Why

“What’s your why?” the trainer asks. We are halfway through a complimentary fitness consultation.
Hmmm…Overall Health? Disease prevention? Not having a tourniquet around my stomach when I sit in pants?
Any of those reasons could have done as my why. Come to think of it, all of them should have been the why. And yet, they didn’t seem to answer the question. 
“Working on that,” was my reply.
“The why is important,” he says, before ushering me to the weight station.
I was a journalism major in college. I am well versed in who, what, when, where and why. In school, the why was the nucleus to which facts radiated. The why was all that mattered back then. If facts were the cardinal directions, the why served as the compass. I was a pioneer discovering truth. 
Now as the world picks teams based on versions of facts, the whys rendering us all for or against; clarity has left me. 
Where did my conviction go? Not to mention my waistline.
A few minutes later I am standing in the full length mirror learning correct free weight form. It’s just me and him. The Why Guy. 
He is fixated on showing me the proper way to lift weights. All I can see is the figure in the mirror and she’s most definitely not Jane Fonda—now or back in 80s exercise prime.
“Firm core, hips square, butt back,” he says, crossing the room to adjust the music.
What is the proper musical backdrop for a middle-aged weight-form challenged me? He picks Lizzo. I fight back a giggle and recommit to concentration.
Firm core, hips square, wait no…hips back, butt square…that can’t be right. I think it was hips square, butt back, firm core...yeah, that’s it. The words at least. I look absolutely ridiculous. 
And that’s when: my why hits me. 
“I’d like to take her seriously,” I say, to the me in the mirror. “But not too seriously.” 
“Pardon?” the Why Guy asks, now back from the musical sojourn. 
Having rejiggered my compass, it's time to clarify the facts. “I don’t get the butt back part.” 
Don’t giggle. Don’t giggle.

This isn’t going to be easy.