Why Are All the Characters Named Jack or Emma?

Years ago—decades, really—I bought a book called “The Baby Name Personality Survey,” published in 1991. I bought it not to name a child, but to name the characters in a story I was writing. I was in middle school in the early ’90s; yes, I’ve been writing forever.

I discovered “The Baby Name Personality Survey” at my then-beloved local bookstore, the Tudor Bookshop. In 2008, the Tudor closed it doors for the last time, citing “rent issues and the economics of independent bookselling.”

The Tudor sat at the corner of Wyoming Avenue, a main road in my Pennsylvania hometown, and East Union Street. Today on East Union Street, there’s a new-ish Italian bakery called AmberDonia, and whenever I’m “back home,” Stanton and I usually stop by here for a lunch of their Romeo and Juliet wood-fired pizza. To get to AmberDonia, we pass the old site of the Tudor.

Growing up, I loved the Tudor. I spent hours of my childhood browsing the titles on the bookshelves and poking through the display of charm bracelets, and corresponding charms, up front near the cash register. Back at my parents’ house, in my childhood bedroom, one of the dresser drawers (top left) still holds a charm bracelet from the Tudor.

If you’re a fan of “The Office,” there’s an episode (not sure which season, unfortunately) in which a coffee mug featuring the Tudor’s logo is on one of the characters’ desks. When I first saw that episode, I nearly burst with pride for my little bookstore, which was located about 20 miles from Scranton, the location of the fictional, Michael Scott-managed “Office.”

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Bookstores still stock baby-name books, but not “The Baby Name Personality Survey,” from what I can tell. It’s been years since I turned to “The Baby Name Personality Survey” myself. I did think of it the other day, though, as I worked on a story I’m writing.

I needed to name some new characters. They’re secondary characters, and I tend to give my secondary characters more original names than my primary ones. They’re not quite as essential, so more wiggle room exists for creativity (kind of like middle names).

I think this is true for a lot of authors. For example, the name Jack. How many main characters have you read whose name is Jack? “Jack” is relatable, an everyday guy, a “good guy.” Thus, Jack is everywhere, including headlining numerous TV shows (many of which are based on books): Jack Ryan, Jack Taylor, Jack Irish.

Historically female names have a little flair, are a little more fun, are a little varied. While we won’t find a Mary or Emma, say, leading the action in 9 out of 10 plots (not like Jack), we probably will find a female protagonist with a similarly short-and-sweet, not-too-unique moniker: Olive (Kitteridge), Lisbeth (Salander), Eliza (Sommers). To be fair to all the Marys and Emmas out there, though, yours was the name of choice for the heroines in classics like “Mary Poppins” and “The Secret Garden,” as well as “Madame Bovary” and Jane Austen’s aptly titled “Emma.”

In my last published piece of fiction, my main character was Heidi.

Thus, Jack is everywhere, including headlining numerous TV shows (many of which are based on books)…

So I was working on this new story, and I needed to name some secondary characters. As I have for many years now, I turned to Nameberry, which bills itself as “the world’s biggest baby name database” (online, of course). Maybe you yourself used Nameberry as you prepared to welcome a child into your family (or, like me, tried your hand at fiction).

Nameberry is a fun website, and it easily can become a time suck and rabbit hole. Out of curiosity, you might click on the link “Vintage Baby Names.” Thirty minutes later, you find you’ve “Joined the Conversation” on “Unfortunate initials?” or “Katherine, Katharine, or Kathryn?”

OK, admit it: You have an opinion on “Katherine, Katharine, or Kathryn,” don’t you? 😉 No worries, friends; I do too. (Katharine.)

Thanks to Nameberry (with an assist from the Social Security Administration’s “Top names of the 1980s” list), I found what I needed for my story.

The majority of the characters in my story were born in the 1980s. I also was born in the 1980s. (Side note: Melissa comes in at No. 7 on that Social Security Administration list, after Jessica, Jennifer, Amanda, Ashley, Sarah and Stephanie. I’m a product of my time, friends. A product of my time.)

Now, a problem an author has with creating a character who shares similarities to him- or herself (for example, born in the same decade, generation cohort, etc.) is that readers sometimes think the character is the author. This is especially problematic if the author is the same sex as the character, or grew up in a similar setting as the character, or has the same job as the character.

I’ve never been the character in any of my stories, friends. I wasn’t Heidi, for example. I made up Heidi; Heidi is fictional. Experiences from my real life informed my development of the character Heidi, but Heidi does not equal Melissa Leddy, the author.

Still, there are folks who don’t believe authors when they try to explain this. That’s OK; that’s just how it goes.

Because of this issue, though, I try to make all my characters different enough from myself so that people don’t say, “You were Heidi, right?” when they read my work. I also would never name any of my characters Melissa, even if it would fit the story. For an ’80s-bred female character, it’s easy enough to simply go with Jessica or Nicole (No. 8 of the ’80s, according to the Social Security Administration).

Now, a problem an author has with creating a character who shares similarities to him- or herself … is that readers sometimes think the character is the author.

My children are going back to school, very soon. We’re all excited about this…and we also know it’s possible (probable?) that school will need to close again and go remote again, at some point. And at this point, the girls will be back home with me.

My goal, then, is to finish this story before that happens. Finish it, and then get it accepted for publication somewhere. If I’m being completely honest with myself, I would love to get it published somewhere big.

For the moment, however, it’s a work in progress—all of it, from my story to back-to-school plans.

I’m sure there will be a plot twist or two. Conflict, of course. Always some conflict. And somehow, in some way, things will wrap up; “The End.”

Every good storyteller knows the ending doesn’t have to be happy, but it has to be satisfying. Maybe Jack or Emma didn’t get what they wanted—or what they thought they wanted—but there was a journey, there was growth, there was change.

Change for the better we always hope, in both stories and real life.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

What’s Still Here

I have two good friends whom I’ve known since elementary school. That would be more than 30 years now—a long time.

Both these women are on the “Favorites” list of my phone, along with my husband, parents and siblings. They grew up with me; joined in many a Minetola family game night at my parents’ house; not only came to my wedding, but were in it.

This past weekend, one of my buddies had a shower to celebrate her own upcoming wedding. It was in Pennsylvania, in our hometown. Beforehand, I worried that Pennsylvania might be added to New York’s COVID-19 list of restricted states. Thankfully, the Keystone State remained safe for travel; I was able to be there for my friend on her special day.

Sitting at a table at the outdoor gathering, catching up with my friend, seeing how happy she was—I was so happy to be there, friends. I was so happy to be there.

For many of us, this year of the pandemic has been one of loss. Loss of a routine, a job, health, safety and security, our sense of the world. We’ve lost time with people we love. We’ve lost track of time itself.

So much has been lost…and so much is still here too.

I saw that on Saturday. My good friend. Our thirty years of friendship: still here.

Memories we’ve shared—true, time has blurred the details some, but the things happened. We were there, together, for the things that happened. Thus, memories we’ve shared: also still here.

Still here, too, is another chance. If you’re reading this, that means you woke up. You have a new day, right in front of you. You get to choose how to approach it, what kind of energy to put into it. Choose Your Own Adventure, just like we did with those books back in the ’80s (there I go, showing my age again).

…so much is still here

On Sunday morning, Stanton, the girls and I sat with my mom, dad, brothers and sister around my parents’ breakfast table. My brother Jared made his delicious French toast. The last time he made it for all of us was Christmastime, the last time we were all together. Then, he crushed candy canes on top as the finishing touch—mmmm.

Grace and Anna asked if there would be candy canes. Not this time, Jared replied. But at Christmas—always at Christmas.

Earlier that morning, I had gone for a walk with my dad and sister. Coincidentally, Jared drove by the three of us on his way back to my parents’ house from the grocery store (where he’d gone for the French toast ingredients).

I know it’s a really little thing, but I loved seeing Jared driving back. I hadn’t seen him in a while, and it was awesome to spontaneously see him on a Sunday morning. Of course, he made fun of the T-shirt I was wearing for my daybreak exercise (it said “Life Is Good” and had a pink heart—it’s OK, you can make fun of me too), but that’s what brothers (or at least, Jareds) do.

My dad, meanwhile, was wearing a T-shirt he’s had since he coached middle school basketball…which he hasn’t in decades. It’s a white T-shirt that has a picture of a basketball on the left pocket, along with—my favorite part—”Coach Minetola.”

I couldn’t believe he still had this T-shirt, but it made me smile. It was familiar, it was comforting, it was my Dad.

And it was my family, gathered around my parents’ table on Sunday morning. I so appreciated the ability to have a casual, natural, non-Zoom conversation with all of them, for a change.

I’m not knocking Zoom, at all. I appreciate what Zoom does to enable human connection. The person I am, though—maybe the person you are, too—if given the choice, I love the energy of being together: same room, same table, same platter of French toast.

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The girls go back to school soon. The COVID-19 infection rate here is below 1 percent, which is wonderful, especially compared to the spring. Our school district is offering elementary school students the choice between in-person or remote learning.

I struggled with this decision, friends. It would have been an easier decision if the infection rate was more than the state guideline of 5 percent, or if those in leadership roles here weren’t acting conscientiously. I easily could have leaned toward remote learning.

But it seems that New York has the virus spread under control, currently. And based on my understanding, our school district has developed a detailed, thoughtful reopening plan. Last but not least…the girls really want to go back to school, as in a school building. They want that energy of being together.

So that’s the plan. It’s not a perfect plan. The girls will need to wear face masks almost the entire time they’re at school. They’ll need to stay at their own desks, spaced six feet apart from those around them, for much of the day. I understand why all these safety measures need to happen, I completely understand, and at the same time, I hope everyone will be OK, students and teachers alike, in these different (difficult) circumstances.

What families figure out to do this school year is a deeply personal and often unsettling choice. I’m very conscious that everyone is making the decision that feels best for them and their child(ren). I also know that if one or both of my daughters happens to get sick at school, I’m going to feel terrible, and terribly guilty. There are no easy answers here, and certainly no best one.

They want that energy of being together.

To get ready for the school year, I’ve been going through the girls’ clothes. Figuring out what still fits (and gets worn), what of Grace’s to save for Anna, what to donate.

I’ve also been going through the girls’ closets. They each have a big, wide walk-in closet, and each closet is…a…disaster zone. I ran over to Walmart one morning and bought a bunch of see-through storage containers.

Stealthily, I’ve been filling the containers with the majority of the mess of stuff from the closets—various stuffed animals, games we don’t play much, hundreds and hundreds of random, mismatched pieces of Calico Critters, Shopkins, Magna-Tiles, Mr. Potato Head, LEGO’s… I’ve just been stuffing it all in, friends, and then lugging these containers down to the basement to…well, hide indefinitely. Out of sight, out of mind, and I’m hopeful this will help keep the girls’ closets and rooms less disaster-zone-like.

Something the girls don’t need is new clothes. They have plenty of those. Still, the three of us sat down together and picked out new first-day-of-school outfits (online).

The girls’ first few days of school will be virtual, actually. Still, the first day of school is something special. A new milestone, cause to take note of and celebrate. In Anna’s case, it’s her first day of kindergarten. (My baby!) Thus, we picked out official first-day-of-school outfits.

Things may be different this school year, but they still can be wonderful. They still can be celebrated.

Things may be different … but they still can be wonderful.

One of my favorite books is “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum. I have it here next to me as I’m typing now, sitting at the kitchen countertop with my second (reheated) cup of coffee of the morning. I imagine this isn’t an especially prestigious title to put on a pedestal, and if any of my former English professors or fellow magazine editors read this, then I imagine, too, they might shake their head.

What about Jane Austen, Homer, Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hemingway? Yes, I’ve read the “great” literature, and yes, it’s great. But this little book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”—it moves me. It moves me, friends.

Anna’s starting kindergarten, as you know, and I think about what she’ll learn this year, what will stick with her as she moves through her school years, through her life. I wonder if she’ll have memories of face masks, and desks six feet apart, and social distancing. I hope she’ll learn, as Robert Fulghum writes in his book, some of the “[w]isdom … there in the sandpile”: ” … Play fair … Live a balanced life … LOOK.”

As he wraps up his book, Fulghum notes, “Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives … Good people who are always ‘there,’ who can be relied upon … You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think.”

I’ve been lucky to have good people in my life. Friends I’ve known since I was 6 years old; friends since then who are also dear to me; family who have been beside me the whole time. Every one of them has uplifted me in some way, has meant something, and I hope I’ve returned the favor a time or two myself.

You are more important than you think.

LOOK at what’s still here.

Take care and be well. ❤

“Something that is loved is never lost.” —Toni Morrison, “Beloved”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

First It Was Toilet Paper, Now It’s Trampolines

Sunshine, bug spray, a socially distant picnic at a local creek. Memorial Day came and went, the unofficial start to summer.

I remember how, earlier this year, I began looking into assorted summer camps, trying to plot out a fun June, July and August for my two daughters. I had already registered them for a performing arts camp, and had made “notes to self” to sign them up for basketball camp and Vacation Bible School, too, once those registrations opened.

And what summer vacation would be complete without a beach trip? Stanton had prepaid for a beach house rental in a postcard-perfect oceanfront New England town, to coincide with Grace’s birthday in August.

“I can’t wait to turn nine at the beach,” Grace had said.

The ongoing pandemic, as you can imagine, has turned our summer plans upside down, and probably yours as well, friends.

The most disheartening update, for Stanton and me, was learning that our beach house reservation needed to be canceled. We’re grownups, so we can roll with the punches, but we hated disappointing the girls.

Grace amazed me by taking the news of the called-off birthday beach trip in stride. When I told her, Grace opened her eyes wide, in disbelief, then paused—considered—and said, “It’s OK. I’ll still have a good birthday.”

I almost cried as I bear-hugged Grace. I was so happy and thankful to hear her say this. Because life usually doesn’t unfold as we perfectly planned it to, does it? It takes a measure of maturity and perspective to power through the rainy days (and weeks, and months…), and it’s never too early to begin building up this inner strength.

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Just as Grace was determined to still have a good birthday, I was determined we’d still have a good summer. I kicked my currently-on-hold research skills into high gear and began Googling at-home summer-fun ideas. Gardening, sidewalk chalk, mud-pie-making…

“Can we get a trampoline, Mom?” the girls asked.

I hesitated to say yes. I worried about the girls’ getting hurt while bouncing around. Still, I looked into different trampolines, read other parents’ reviews as well as Consumer Reports. Finally, my eyes bleary one evening, I felt I had a good option for a trampoline. I’d sleep on it and make a final decision in the morning.

Rise and shine. I poured myself some coffee, clicked on the link to my trampoline, and…a new message appeared on my computer screen: “Product Not Available.”

What?

I refreshed the page, as if that would make a difference. It didn’t. Product still not available, two seconds later.

I clicked through trampoline links on other websites, and variations of the same message appeared everywhere. Currently unavailable. Temporarily out of stock. Arrives sometime between July 15 and October 31. 

Now, a few trampolines were available to sell and ship immediately, but these usually featured one-star ratings, price tags north of $1,000 and/or customer reviews that warned, “This is a scam website, DO NOT BUY.”

Grace’s jaw dropped. “First it was toilet paper, now it’s trampolines.”

I had to admit, that seemed to be true.

Anna crossed her arms. “When will this stinky coronavirus be over?” A million-dollar question.

I breathed in. Breathed out. “Girls, I promise, everything’s going to be OK.”

This time, Grace and Anna didn’t look so sure.

But if you say something enough times, maybe it will come true, right? 😉

…variations of the same message appeared everywhere. Currently unavailable. Temporarily out of stock…

Trampolines were out, at least for the time being. I began noodling over other ideas for backyard summer fun. Sandbox? Camping tent? Inflatable pool?

Why, yes…an inflatable pool sounded like a good idea. The word on the street was that local pools wouldn’t be opening this summer, or would be opening at reduced capacities on a first-come, first-served basis. I don’t have a talent for arriving first, or early, so having our own pool of sorts made sense.

Click, click, click. I did quick online searches at all the usual suspects: Amazon, Walmart, Target, Dick’s, Lowe’s.

“Mel…what are you doing?” Stanton wondered. I must have had an intent (or, crazed…) look about me.

“Finding a pool,” I said. “We have to get one right now, before they sell out. Summer fun is selling out, Stan.”

Stanton didn’t share my sense of urgency, but signaled his support.

About a week later, our pool arrived.

The girls cheered as the delivery man walked toward our front porch, a cardboard box under his arm. “That’s our pool!” they said.

He was an older gentleman, and he laughed. “That’s great,” he replied. “No more running through the sprinkler, right?”

The girls actually had been running through the sprinkler just a few days before, and I told him so. “You made our day, really,” I said.

“Good. Have fun, girls,” he said before he drove away.

Summer fun is selling out…

Now, setting up the pool…it was a process, friends. Of course it was a process.

First, Stanton had to level the backyard where we were putting the pool. We had decided on this particular spot because it gets direct sunlight from late morning until early evening, which would keep the water a comfortable temperature.

Then we had to lay out the new heavy-duty tarp I had also ordered online. Next step: Inflate the pool with the pump from the air mattress currently collecting dust in the basement.

Yours truly dug through the dust to find the pump. Check.

The girls clapped. “Woo-hoo, let’s fill it up!”

I dragged the hose across the driveway to the backyard, to the pool. At this point, Stanton’s and my T-shirts were drenched in sweat.

Then…a glitch.

In my haste in ordering the pool, I hadn’t read the entire product description. If I had, then I would have known the pool had a “max fill” line. The max fill line, friends, is about the midpoint of the pool.

I gazed at our new, half-full but max-filled inflatable pool. Was this even going to be fun?

“Mom!” The girls had thrown on their swimsuits hours earlier, and were now splashing around in the water. “This is the best, Mom!”

I collapsed in a chair. Thank God.

Of course it was a process.

Every afternoon this week, Grace and Anna have spent hours in the backyard, in the pool. It has been even nicer than what I imagined, back when I was furiously researching summer-fun ideas.

The girls keep calling for me to come in too. I keep calling back that I’m totally fine sitting nearby in the shade, doing what writing I can while reapplying sunscreen and dashing back into the house to fulfill snack requests. (“Do we have any more of that unicorn confetti ice cream, Mom?”)

The truth is, kids don’t really need that much in order to have a good time. We don’t need that much, in general. Having a good time isn’t always the point, anyway. Sometimes we simply have to do things, or get through things, out of responsibility, morality, humanity.

The other day, I noticed a batch of yellow flowers near the pool. Buttercups. I squatted down to get a better look, and smiled. I remembered, so clearly, seeing this same kind of flower (weed, technically) in backyards when I was growing up: my parents’, and my grandparents’.

I also remembered, as a child, rubbing the silky petals of those long-ago buttercups against my skin, watching to see if real butter would spread off. I believe I was standing beside my Grandma then, but I don’t know for sure.

I remember my grandparents’ backyard: the buttercups, the freestanding wooden swing they had in the shade, Poppy’s tomato plants on stakes alongside the garage.

What I would give for one more walk with my Poppy from the back porch steps to his tomato plants, or to sit beside my Grandma in her nursing home today.

And of all the things in the world we could talk about—from the stories that make global headlines to the big questions philosophers have been considering for generations—I know all we would talk about would be our family, probably Grace and Anna most of all. That would be all, and that would be everything.

Currently, we do not have a trampoline. We do, however, have toilet paper. We also have a half-full, though max-filled, inflatable pool. We have good days, and bad days too.

We have one another, and we’re going to have a good summer no matter what.

I hope you do too, friends. ❤

(P.S. Thank you, Grace, for the blog post title, and for being the inspiration for the whole post. I love you.)

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

If You Could Jump Into a Picture

To preserve our family’s memories, I order hard-copy prints of the pictures I take on my phone camera and then put them into photo albums. Pretty old school, I admit.

But I’m a writer. I like holding paper (glossy, matte, etc.) in my hands. I like feeling texture. Most of all, I like sitting alongside those I love—my husband, our two daughters—and flipping through the pages, together.

Previously, I made photo books through a popular online photo-printing company. Then a few years back, I felt the company’s quality had decreased. Thus, I eschewed photo books, apps and whatever other tech-savvy tools I don’t quite fully understand in favor of the kinds of photo albums your grandparents probably still use.

That’s just me for you, friends: practically a dinosaur.

I had some free time last week (!). I decided to scroll through the remainder of last year’s pictures and get these moments printed for posterity’s sake.

The last print in my 2019 photo album was of Grace from our August beach trip. After scrolling through my phone, placing my CVS Photo order and picking it up, I had about 70 new prints to add to this album. When I finished, the girls were excited to check it out.

“Ooh, I remember that,” Grace said, pointing to the first picture that followed the summer-beach-trip one. This picture showed the girls at Stride Rite with a multicolored row of footwear before them. That day, we had gone to pick out shoes for the upcoming school year.

“And I remember that!” Now Anna pointed—this time, a memory of her first movie-theater movie. (It had been “Toy Story 4”.)

I loved listening to my daughters reminiscing about the pictures, watching them point and remember: Grace’s first day of school, then Anna’s, page after page of soccer practices and games.

Biking on the Rail Trail, pumpkin picking, milestone memories like Grace’s first Broadway show as well as everyday moments like Anna’s peeking out from her hiding spot in the refrigerator.

“I can’t believe you fit in there!” Grace laughed.

Anna laughed along with her big sister. “I did!”

“Please don’t do that again,” I reminded my younger daughter.

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There really were a lot of pictures of the girls’ fall soccer season. This is what happens when you marry a man who, in response to the “All About Dad” fill-in-the-blank question “What he wanted to be when he grew up” from your younger daughter’s still-unfinished-five-years-later baby book, writes, “A dad or a professional soccer player.” 😉

Anna pointed to one soccer picture in particular. “That was the best Popsicle,” she said. In this picture, she was clutching a chocolate Popsicle (a Fudgsicle, technically) and holding up two fingers. She had scored two goals that day. The picture also memorialized Anna’s Fudgsicle mustache.

Almost all the soccer pictures had Popsicles in them. Because that’s what youth soccer is about, really. Getting outside; running around with your friends; Popsicles at the end. Scoring goals when you can (ideally in your team’s goal), but having a good time, mainly.

“That was the best Popsicle,” she said.

Grace smiled at the picture I had taken when we had seen “Beetlejuice” in November. “I loved going to New York City.”

“I loved that day too,” I agreed.

Anna flipped back and forth, back and forth, through the pages of pictures. “I wish I could jump into a picture.”

I blinked. What a cool, beautiful thought. To pop back in time, revisit a favorite moment, kind of like Mary Poppins and company with Bert’s sidewalk chalk drawing.

“What picture would you jump into?” I asked Anna.

Anna paused, but just for a second. “The ones with the Popsicles,” she said.

The ones with the Popsicles. Of course.

To pop back in time, revisit a favorite moment…

I was wondering, then…if you could, friends, what picture might you jump into? Or would you forgo this magical thinking to remain solidly in the present?

Now, I’m all about living in the present. I make my photo albums, but I love the here and now. If I could jump into a picture, though…I’d pick one that had my Poppy in it.

Any one would do (and I do have a lot). I’d go back for just a minute, give Poppy a big hug and head back home, back here.

One of the last times I saw my Poppy, I said, “I love you.” I said it several times, and then he waved his hand at me.

“All this, ‘I love you,'” he said. He told me I didn’t need to say it because he knew.

I still told him anyway.

Coincidentally (or not), Anna also told me I don’t need to tell her I love her from here on out. “You’ve told me, ‘I love you,’ one million times,” she said recently. “You never have to tell me again; I know, Mom.”

Even when someone knows something, someone else may want to express it.

Anna will have to hear my “I love you’s” millions more times, as Poppy did.

Any one would do (and I do have a lot).

Billions of people worldwide. Millions of moments. Despite these dizzying sums of people and flashes of time, all of our photo albums, from the hold-in-your-hand ones to the electronic versions, likely share more common ground than difference.

The things we all do throughout the seasons each year. The people we do them with. First days of school, vacations, holiday celebrations. Pictures we’d jump back into, if only to give one more hug to someone we once loved.

The pictures of our lives are everywhere. In photo albums. In picture frames on fireplace mantels, or hanging above them. On magnets that you buy at the end of soccer season, and then stick on the fridge. As backgrounds for our phones, and in camera rolls on them.

How lucky we are to have our pictures, especially the ones with Popsicles in them.

“That it will never come again / Is what makes life so sweet.” (Emily Dickinson)

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

Fast Food, Slow Walks and the Kindness of Strangers

On New Year’s Day, the girls wanted to go for a walk. What they really wanted, actually, was to walk to the nearby Stewart’s for ice cream. Ice cream on January 1—sure, sounds good.

Stanton decided to stay home, so Grace, Anna and I bundled up and headed out. It was about 40 degrees and sunny, a beautiful day for winter. The girls ended up riding their bikes, myself walking a bit behind.

Quite a few people were out on the Rail Trail too, and we all exchanged “Happy New Year’s.” Where I was in the world felt fresh, and crisp, and kind.

Stewart’s is locals’ go-to convenience store in upstate New York, similar to Wawa in the Philadelphia region. The girls left their bikes and helmets in the park next door; we walked inside.

We bumped into some people we knew. Everyone’s wardrobe of choice on New Year’s afternoon seemed to fall into the ever-popular “athleisure” category, and I fit right in with my fleece sweatpants and oversized tunic. #winning 😉

The girls ordered kiddie cones of chocolate-chip cookie dough (Grace) and rainbow sherbet (Anna), and I got coffee, of course.

The three of us sat at a table alongside a window. Not long after, an elderly woman sat nearby. We smiled at each other, chitchatted a bit. “Nice the coffee’s free today, for New Year’s,” she said.

I smiled again and nodded.

Grace tugged at my arm. “Was your coffee free, Mom?”

“I’ll tell you later, honey.”

When we were back outside, my older daughter reminded me that it was “later.” I explained to her that no, the coffee wasn’t free, but I thought the folks working at Stewart’s hadn’t charged the white-haired woman for it.

“Why?” Grace wondered.

“I think they could tell she was older and probably didn’t have as much money as she used to.”

Grace smiled. “That was kind.”

I agreed. Stewart’s had been kind. It hadn’t cost them much at all, but it had made a difference to someone.

Where I was in the world felt fresh, and crisp, and kind.

Bearing witness to acts of kindness, no matter how small, is always encouraging—to me, at least. In this week alone, I’ve seen so many acts of kindness. For example, the girls and I were at Hannaford on Monday before dinnertime, and it started to sleet just as we walked back outside to the parking lot with our groceries.

A manager whom I know appeared out of nowhere and asked, “Do you need help getting to your car?” He was very kind, and I thanked him. Although I didn’t take him up on his offer because I knew we’d be OK.

After loading up the car, I maneuvered to exit the parking lot. I was waiting to make a left-hand turn to get in one of the lanes to turn onto the street, when the car opposite me gestured for me to go ahead. Now, I know this is a little thing, but I so appreciate when other drivers do this because making a left can be tricky.

Within five minutes, two acts of kindness. Kindness is there in the world, if we open ourselves to see it. This is my perspective, anyway.

My whole life, I’ve experienced beautiful acts of kindness. I’ve also experienced ugly acts of unkindness. I try to pay forward the kindnesses and focus on the good things, with the belief (however naive it may be) that everything happens for a reason, and comes full circle in the end.

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One of my favorite parts of my Christmas vacation was sitting with my grandmother the Saturday after Christmas. My Grandma resides in a nursing home. She has a cozy room that my mom has decorated with pictures of our family—mostly my girls.

Half a wall is covered in full-color printouts of Grace and Anna, with a sprinkling of my brothers, sister, our cousins and me thrown in.

To the right of all these pictures, a TV is mounted on the wall. That Saturday, Grandma had the Penn State/Memphis football game turned on when my mom and I arrived. I would never choose to watch sports on TV, but if Stanton or, in this case, Grandma has a game on, I don’t mind sitting there and watching it too. I enjoy simply being there.

I totally enjoyed doing just that, being there, with my Grandma that day. She reclined on her bed; I sat in an armchair to her right. To my right was a table displaying the Christmas cards she had received, as well as a box of chocolates—yum.

“Could I have one of these, Grandma?”

“Oh, sure, have as many as you want. Your mother’s been eating them.”

I laughed and looked at my mom, who may or may not have rolled her eyes. “Thanks, Grandma.”

My grandmother was delighted to share her candy with me, and I loved her for it because she doesn’t have very much at this time in her life. What she has, pretty much, fits in her comfy yet small nursing-home room.

After I hugged Grandma good-bye, I reached over to give her another hug. These days, I’m very conscious that I never know when a good-bye might be the last one.  

My grandmother was delighted to share her candy with me, and I loved her for it…

Stanton, the girls and I cherish the time we spend with both our families during the holidays—Thanksgiving with his, Christmas with mine. The past couple of years, we’ve made New Year’s ours—just him, me and the girls—and we’ve especially appreciated this time together too, just the four of us.

On New Year’s Eve, the girls and I stopped by the library to pick out a DVD to watch later that evening. While we were there, we also got some books.

“This is the nonfiction section,” Grace told Anna, pointing to a stack of shelves. “These are the true stories.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to true stories. Listening to them, reading them and—later—writing them. Discovering meaning in things that really happened.

In telling any true story, though, we need to start somewhere. So we pick a beginning, whether in relaying an anecdote to a friend or drafting an article for a magazine. Beginnings can be arbitrary.

Memory isn’t an exact science either. But we do the best we can with our true stories, in the remembering and the telling.

When I write for my website here, I have two main goals. First, I want to tell a good true story. I want to represent life, combining equal parts honesty, humor and inspiration. If my story makes someone reading it smile or laugh out loud or simply feel, then that’s my biggest joy.

Second…I want to remember. I want to remember that we watched “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” on New Year’s Eve 2019, after eating homemade French-bread pizza on our good china, which we don’t use enough. Not every detail, and not a vanity project of blog posts…but some of the true stories that meant something to me, that I found meaning in and thought others might enjoy too.

“These are the true stories.”

The girls and I took our time heading back home from Stewart’s. I had some coffee left in my cup; it kept my hands warm as I walked.

The girls would ride their bikes a bit, then stop to examine something on the ground, or chase each other around a bench.

“We’re taking forever,” I finally noted.

“Yep,” Grace and Anna agreed. They were in no rush.

A joy everyone experiences when they’re young—the feeling of having all the time in the world.

No matter how young or old we are, we can appreciate the good things that abound, from hot cups of coffee to slow winter walks and unexpected kindnesses. And our stories—the ones we tell at Christmas dinner tables year after year, where everyone gathered knows the punch lines…the ones we write down, in diaries or online posts…the ones yet to come.

May the best be yet to come.

Happy New Year, friends. ❤

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

On Reaching the End of the Road

Almost every Thanksgiving since we’ve been married, Stanton and I have spent the holiday with his family, and then Christmas with mine. The same was true for this Thanksgiving. A sad difference this time, though, was that his paternal grandmother, his Mimi, passed away about a week before Thanksgiving.

Mimi was a lovely lady, both inside and out. I first met her the summer between Stanton’s and my sophomore and junior years of college at the University of Richmond. Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

Mimi’s hometown was San Angelo, Texas, which is about 200 miles northwest from where Stanton grew up in San Antonio (where he and I also lived for several years post-marriage before moving back to the East Coast). Her visitation and funeral were set for the weekend before Thanksgiving, in her hometown, two days before Stanton, the girls and I had planned to arrive in Texas this year.

Fortunately, the four of us were able to change our plane tickets so that we could be there earlier for these final remembrances. We flew into San Antonio and then drove the three hours to San Angelo.

The road from San Antonio to San Angelo is mostly flat, with the “wide open spaces” you might hear about in a country song, as well as endless sky that turns a pink-orange hue at sunset.

Along the way, you also see signs noting the speed limit: 80 miles per hour.

That’s right, friends: 80.

“That’s illegal in New York, you know,” I said, on Sunday afternoon. “And in most parts of the country.”

Behind the wheel, Stanton smiled. “I know.”

I patted his leg. “Welcome back, honey.”

Every place is special in its own way, with pros and cons alike. This is my perspective anyway, shaped after living in three different regions of the U.S. and visiting a variety of other cities, states and countries. I love our hometown in New York’s Capital Region, and know Stanton does too, and at the same time I can appreciate the wide-open, high-speed beauty of West Texas.

Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

On Monday morning, Mimi’s funeral service was held at her church. Before the service, I brought Anna to the restroom. As I walked through the hallway, holding my younger daughter, a long-ago memory jolted me. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I began crying.

The first time Stanton and I had been at that church together was seven years ago, for Grace’s first Easter. We had spent that holiday in San Angelo with Stanton’s grandparents (Grandaddy, his grandfather, passed away in 2015). We traveled to be there the following Easter too, and walking through that hallway, I remembered those past times so clearly. I had nursed baby Grace in that room, right over there, during part of that first Easter service.

I felt, deeply, what I imagine many people feel at funerals: the impermanence of time, the mortality we all share. Gratitude for the times that were good. Humility in the knowledge that so much of it was luck of the draw.

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From the moment I met them, both Mimi and Grandaddy had been incredibly kind and loving to me. During the next 15 years, I got to know them, and grew to love them. I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family, even when I was missing my own parents, grandparents and siblings in the Northeast.

Grace’s first Easter, our new family of three accompanied Mimi and Grandaddy to their church. We sat together in a pew near the front. Afterward, the five of us had brunch at Mimi and Grandaddy’s senior-living community, and then Mimi let baby Grace borrow her bed for a nap, before our drive back to San Antonio.

Grace wore a white and purple dress that day. I took a picture of her sleeping on Mimi’s bed, and I know I have that picture somewhere still.

A gracious and generous lady, to be sure.

When Stanton and I learned we were expecting a second daughter, we talked about possible names, as all expectant parents do. It didn’t take us long to settle on “Anna,” which we read was a form of both Nancy (Mimi’s given name) and Angelina (my maternal grandmother’s name).

Much later, we also learned that the name “Anna” means “grace,” prompting both our daughters to ask, “Of all the girls’ names in the world, why did you name us the same name?”

Ah…life.

So many of Mimi’s family and friends, including all her grandchildren (six) and great-grandchildren (13!), attended her funeral, a beautiful tribute to her, I thought.

I’m incredibly thankful Stanton, the girls and I were there.

I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family…

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs. It’s a fast-food restaurant that specializes in, yes, burgers.

After Mimi’s visitation on Sunday, our family of four enjoyed an impromptu dinner at the nearest Whataburger with Stanton’s sister and her family. They asked Stanton what his go-to order was. “I’m a No. 1 guy,” my husband replied.

Whataburger’s No. 1 is its classic large beef patty topped with tomato, lettuce, pickles, diced onions and mustard on a bun.  For the first time since the last time he was in Texas, Stanton bit into his beloved No. 1.

“How is it?” we asked.

But we didn’t need to. Stanton’s face, radiating pure joy, revealed the answer.

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs.

Not long after, many of us met up again at a ranch resort near Austin, a four-hour drive southeast from San Angelo, to celebrate Thanksgiving as planned. I so enjoyed watching Grace and Anna play with all their cousins, and was happy for Stanton that he got to catch up with everyone too. I appreciated catching up with everyone as well, especially making s’mores and chitchatting around an outdoor fire in the evenings.

By the end of the week, though, I was looking forward to being home again. We had left somewhat in a rush.

I hadn’t had time to place a hold on our mail, and our next-door neighbors were kindly collecting letters and packages after receiving a frantic last-minute text from me. Other friends were kindly pet-sitting our fish, Ping, who had a bladder disease (according to Google, anyway…). And I had still been working remotely, wrapping up the winter issue of the magazine I help edit.

On Saturday, we flew from Austin to Charlotte, N.C., where we had a quick layover before boarding our last flight back to Albany, N.Y. During the layover, Grace and I noticed an Auntie Anne’s, which is one of our favorite fast-food stops. “But I need to use the bathroom,” Grace said.

“Me too,” I said. “Let’s run to the bathroom, then pick up pretzels on the way back.” I held out my hand, and Grace slipped hers into mine.

At that moment, I noticed how big Grace’s hand was—how much she’d grown. How much she’d grown from the baby she’d been, celebrating her first Easter in San Angelo with Mimi and Grandaddy. Again, I felt choked with emotion; I squeezed my daughter’s hand.

One of my favorite memories of our entire trip was running hand-in-hand with Grace through the Charlotte airport.

Soon we were standing in line at Auntie Anne’s. Grace looked around the bustling airport food court. “Where are we again?”

“Right now we’re in Charlotte, North Carolina,” I said.

“This is a nice airport.” Grace is somewhat of a frequent flyer, and has become an airport connoisseur of sorts.

I agreed.

On our journeys, we each become experts in some ways, about some things. Airports. AP style for magazine editing. Fast-food hamburger (or pretzel) chains.

How to win at dominoes.

At the end of the road, though, it doesn’t much matter what you know, or how fast you got there. In my experience, anyway, people don’t tend to remember you for those kinds of things. Instead, they remember you loved them, held their hand, opened your heart.

I squeezed Grace’s hand again. If I had the time, I would have cried.

“What should we order, Mom?”

“Um…” I said I thought we should get a few different things, and share. And of course, lemonade.

“I was hoping you’d say lemonade too!”

That’s one other thing I’ve learned, friends. If you’re standing in line at Auntie Anne’s during your last layover, you should definitely get lemonade too.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

All the Beautiful Pictures

Tubes of sunscreen on the back porch, flip-flops piled up nearby, the freezer stocked with ice cream and the lazy Susan cabinet with sugar cones—summer has settled in at our house, and yours too, I’m sure.

Summertime presents a picturesque backdrop. The other evening I was taking a walk alongside rows of century-old evergreens, and the pink-tinted clouds outlining the setting sun took my breath away. It was an Instagram-worthy moment, to be sure, and I almost did take a picture. But then I thought, no…be present, enjoy the moment.

Probably about half the time I’m present, enjoying the moment…and the other half I’m taking pictures, documenting life.

(Partially, I consider my picture-taking habit part of my “mom” job description. If I left the photographic record-keeping to my husband, we’d probably have only a dozen or so images of the past ten years…the majority of them shot tilted upward, which women everywhere know shows our thighs from the most unflattering angle. P.S. Love you, honey! 😉 )

During a different walk, with the girls, Grace asked for my phone. She wanted to take a picture of a butterfly. I told her I had left my phone at home.

“So we can be present,” Grace grumbled.

“Agh,” Anna added.

Huh. “Right,” I said. “Be present together.”

The girls groaned.

Everything in moderation, I’ve tried to explain to my daughters, from screen time to swimming to ice cream. We don’t want to zone out, wear out, sugar-rush out. And I try to practice what I preach.

If I left the photographic record-keeping to my husband, we’d probably have only a dozen or so pictures of the past ten years…

I’m a people person, though, and I do love keeping in touch with family and friends, sharing pictures through text, email and social media. I try to strike a balance between good days and not as good, moments that are both “proud mom” ones as well as “I can’t believe this happened.”

I try not to be annoying, or brag, although I’m sure I’ve done both at some point(s).

A while back, the girls gave me a sticker from a weather-themed sticker sheet. The sticker depicted a sun with “No Bad Days” scrolled underneath. We were driving in the car, on our way to somewhere, and I stuck the sticker under the car radio.

“Do you like it, Mom?” the girls asked.

Of course, I told them. I loved the cheerful-looking sun, and I appreciated the positive-thinking sentiment: “No Bad Days.” There are bad days, though, I told the girls, and that’s OK. We just make the effort to move forward from them.

Recently, I shared a picture, and a friend replied, “Beautiful!” It was a beautiful picture: summer, sunlight, glorious colors and smiles galore. And I thought…all the beautiful pictures.

Each of us may be, consciously or not, on a journey to collect beautiful pictures.

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We want to remember our good times, and our iconic moments. The first day of kindergarten, the time we arrived at the crown of the Statue of Liberty.

All the times we arrived.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though, and beauty can be found, too, in the moments we wouldn’t adorn with a “No Bad Days” sticker—in the times people showed up for us, were there for us in our darkest hours.

Still, our for-posterity’s-sake photo albums trend toward years of memories cast in perma-sunlight. Mine do, anyway. Why memorialize dusk?

A weather forecast of “Mostly Sunny Forever” sounds enticing. And if a fortune teller looked into their crystal ball and divined for us a lifetime of “No Bad Days”…who wouldn’t want that, at first glance?

My lifetime of 36 years thus far has run the gamut of “Clear/Sunny” to “Cloudy,” with wind speeds ranging from light to strong. There have been some scattered showers, and even a natural disaster or two. It has not been a lifetime of “No Bad Days.”

But if I had the chance to do it all over…I really think I would do it all over, even the truly dark hours. Because I’m not sure I could have ever known what happiness meant, until I felt sorrow too. “Inside Out” told this story too, several summers ago—and it wasn’t the first time a children’s story had a powerful truth to share.

A weather forecast of “Mostly Sunny Forever” sounds enticing.

Movies, we know, are pictures in motion. In high school, I loved the movie “Meet Joe Black.” It was long, clocking in at three hours, and a “box office bomb,” according to IndieWire. But I loved it then, and love it now. “Meet Joe Black” asks questions about life and death, love and family, and includes an awesome coffee-shop scene.

One of my favorite scenes is between Brad Pitt’s Joe Black character and an elderly Jamaican woman who is ailing. Her time on earth is winding down. She tells Joe, “So take that nice picture you got in your head home with you…If we lucky, maybe, we got some nice pictures to take with us.” Joe asks her if she has some nice pictures; she says yes.

This summer, every season, let’s celebrate our beautiful pictures. Every gathering with loved ones, each beach trip, all the ice-cream cones too. Every pink-tinted sunset we pause to photograph, or simply savor as a memory in our head.

All the beautiful pictures represent our Mostly Sunny moments, and every one of us deserves some of those.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

That Didn’t Actually Happen

My sister called me one evening, later than she usually does. I felt a mild sense of concern. Answering the phone, I said, “Is everything OK?”

“Ugh, yes, calm down.”

“Ugh”—the universal beginning of yet another wonderful conversation between loved ones.

Jenna was walking home, and I said I’d stay on the line with her until she got there. “You don’t need to do that,” she replied. But I’m an excellent long-distance bodyguard, so I insisted.

She asked me what I was doing. Because Stanton was out of town for work, I was doing what I always do when I’m home alone at night, with the girls sleeping upstairs: watching one of my TV shows. I told Jenna I was loving the first season of “Jack Irish,” an Australian TV noir series starring my favorite actor ever.

“Oh, God, Guy Pearce,” Jenna said.

(Love Guy Pearce.)

“What’s going on with you?” I asked. “Have you found a new urologist yet?”

“Endocrinologist! Endocrinologist.”

Right.

…I’m an excellent long-distance bodyguard…

Jenna is taking a course for a certificate, and we talked about that. In the background, I could hear people talking, cars cruising by. Her background, I mean: Center City, Philadelphia.

My background, about 200 miles north near Albany, N.Y., consisted of lamplight, a throw pillow with “Lean On Me” imprinted on the front and my show paused on the TV screen.

“That’s awesome you’re doing this program,” I said.

Jenna mentioned something about the online certificate program I did.

“What are you talking about?”

“Didn’t you do something through the University of California?”

“Oh, right…no, that didn’t actually happen.” I broke off another piece of dark chocolate. “I thought about it, though.”

“Ah, got it.”

Obviously, I was the sibling who grew up to become the big success. 😉 I tapped the remote control against my leg. “Are you almost home?”

“Ugh.”

phone-499991_1920I didn’t mind, at all, that my sister thought I completed a certificate program I never did. And I don’t think she minds (too much) that I’m never 100 percent clear on her health and wellness. But the thought did cross my mind: There are people we love very much whose details we don’t know very well.

Over the weekend, Stanton, the girls and I were getting ready for our friends’ party. The girls ran outside. I stuffed tissues, my phone and bug spray into my bag. Then I called to Stanton, “Do you have…”

“The keys? Yes.”

“No, do you have…”

“Yes, I have everyone’s water bottles.”

“Honey.” I looked at him. “I was going to ask if you had the corn and black bean salad. Why,” I added, “do you still try to finish my sentences?”

“Because I never can, right?”

“You never can,” I agreed. After all this time together, we are not one of those magical couples that can finish each other’s sentences.

Stanton nodded and then noted, “I do have the corn and black bean salad, and the Tostitos too.”

He had the Tostitos too. We were good to go, friends.

On the drive to the party, the four of us called my grandmother. It was her 91st birthday, and we sang “Happy Birthday” to her over the phone. Yelled “Happy Birthday” to Grandma is more like it, because she has trouble hearing on speaker phone.

“We love you, Grandma!” Stanton, Grace, Anna and I shouted one last time, before hanging up.

I wasn’t sure if Grandma heard us or not…but she knew it was us.

There are people we love very much whose details we don’t know very well.

My birthday is in early April, and I was born in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Every now and then, it snows in early April in Northeastern Pennsylvania. For years, I thought it had snowed the day I was born. I thought this is what my parents had said. This year, on this birthday, I discovered this wasn’t true.

“The day you were born was sunny and beautiful,” my mom mentioned, when she wished me a happy birthday.

“I thought it was snowing,” I said.

“The day we brought you home, it snowed,” my mom replied. “But not the day you were born.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. All this time, I had the story wrong. The story of my birthday, of all things.

My mom repeated that yes, I was born on a beautiful sunny day. And I admit, I like that story better. “Beautiful sunny day” sets a more picturesque scene than “freak April snowstorm.”

But how could that have happened? How did the details of something so important, so personal, get mixed up and stay mixed up for decades?

All this time, I had the story wrong.

When I write or edit nonfiction work, I strive mightily to make sure the information is correct. I fact-check names, dates, places. I proofread according to style guides, spelling out an acronym here and inserting a serial comma there. I consider questions of ethics, especially concerning people’s privacy.

I am the stereotypically Type A, minutiae-obsessed, red-pen-wielding editor.

In my personal life, though…not so much. For whatever reason, or excuse—I have two young children, so much is going on—the details sometimes fall through the cracks.

On some level, this matters. There are times when I could be a better listener. There are times when others could listen a little better to me.

And on another level…whether it was sunny or snowing, it was a beautiful day to be born.

Ninety-one years later, whether you heard the words or not, you know your grandchildren called to sing “Happy Birthday” on speaker phone.

Maybe things didn’t happen how we thought they did, or would. But there were people there for us—with us.

The knack for finishing each other’s sentences may be overrated.

It is a good idea, though, to have a long-distance bodyguard on speed dial.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

But We Had a Great Time

Last night, I read two bedtime stories to my daughters. The second one was “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge” by Mem Fox, a wonderful Australian author. Midway through reading this story, I had to catch my breath—the words, and the moral, physically moved me.

The story is about memory. The title character, a little boy, lives next door “to an old people’s home.” He learns that Miss Nancy, his favorite person there, has lost her memory. Then Wilfrid Gordon asks the grownups he knows what memory is, and each replies with their own understanding of the word, and the idea: something warm, something from long ago, something that makes you cry, something that makes you laugh…something as precious as gold.

Encouraged by this new information, Wilfrid Gordon sets out to help his old friend remember. And he does.

After I finished the story, I asked my older daughter if she could think of an especially happy memory. (My younger daughter had already run off somewhere.) Grace paused. Then she smiled and said, “When we first moved here, and we were driving around and didn’t know where we were going…but we had a great time.”

I caught my breath again. (Yes, friends, I am that sentimental.) “Honey, that touches my heart.”

“Mom.” Anna had returned, and had crossed her little arms across her chest. “I touch your heart too, right, Mom?”

This is exactly what happened last night. A bedtime story, what felt like “a moment,” and then a reality check.

“I love you both so much,” I said, kissing the girls good night.

Throughout my parenting, I’ve tried to teach my children to make the best and most of everything. When things aren’t going perfectly, or as planned…when their mom gets lost, despite Google Maps’ best intentions and directions…roll with it. Be open to silver linings.

I so appreciated, then, that my older daughter had a happy memory of having a great time despite the imperfections.

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Earlier this year, Stanton needed to travel to Philadelphia for work. I went along, and we were able to spend part of that time together in Center City. That day happened to be windy and rainy. We were walking along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, en route to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the wind did not let up, not once.

But…we had a wonderful time. We stopped by LOVE Park, and a very friendly and gracious fellow tourist took our picture in front of Robert Indiana’s iconic sculpture. I still remember how she balanced a pastry atop her Styrofoam coffee cup while adjusting my camera phone in her other hand. I thanked her several times, wholeheartedly, and now that memory I love sits framed on our mantel at home.

We didn’t reenact the famous Rocky run up the museum steps once we arrived, but we did hustle inside. Stanton isn’t quite the arts-and-culture person that I am, but much to my surprise (and his), he loved wandering through the museum with me. Afterward, we power-walked over to the Reading Terminal Market, where Stanton treated himself to the legendary roast pork sandwich at DiNic’s, and I warmed up with Old City Coffee.

Despite the wind and rain…”I had the best time,” I told Stanton. He agreed it had been a lot of fun. Later, I joked that that’s what I’d like on my gravestone, years from now—Melissa Leddy: She Had the Best Time.

…the wind did not let up, not once. But…we had a wonderful time.

Over the years, several of my female friends and family members have joked with me that what they’d like on their gravestone is, “She Tried.” I’m realizing now that only women have shared this sentiment with me, “She Tried.” I realize, too, that my sample size is small, and possibly the lighthearted conversation topic of gravestones doesn’t come up as organically with, say, my uncle as it does my aunt. 😉

Yet I can’t help thinking that (many) women tend to be harder on themselves than (many) men, in both life and work. For example, several years ago I read this Harvard Business Review article on gender differences in applying for jobs. It explored a statistic that found that women apply for jobs if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications; men, 60 percent. Fewer reservations about fewer qualifications, and perhaps less inner conflict about making everything work…reminiscent of “Just Do It.”

Now there’s a gravestone inscription for you: “Just Did It.”

Currently, Stanton is in Las Vegas for a conference. Last week he was in New York City for a few days. Before we started a family, I traveled here and there for work, too, and I know business travel can be tiring. I know it’s work, not a vacation. And…it can be fun to experience new places.

I shared this thought with my husband, as he was packing yet another suitcase. “I wouldn’t want to travel all the time, but sometimes would be fun,” I said. “But…I could only do what you do if I had a me here.” This is (unfortunately, for a few reasons) a direct quote.

Stanton looked at me, smiled; he understood. “And you can’t be in two places at once.”

“Impossible,” I confirmed.

I do feel very grateful for what I do have, though, which is writing work I genuinely enjoy, that I can do somewhat flexibly from home.

“…I could only do what you do if I had a me here.”

Earlier in the evening, before I read “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge,” the girls and I were having dinner and chatting. At one point, Grace mentioned she wanted to be a teacher, writer or scientist when she grew up—maybe all three. Anna said she wanted to be those three things too, and a mom.

Of course, I told them they could be anything they wanted to be, adding that I knew they’d be wonderful at whatever they worked hard at doing.

“Do you know what would make me happy?” I said. “Really, truly happy?”

“What?” my daughters asked.

Anna was sitting on my lap, and Grace was across from us. I gave Anna a squeeze, and squeezed Grace’s hand across the table. “I would be really happy,” I said, “if you both grow up, and you’re two little old ladies—like, sixty or seventy years from now—and you still meet up for coffee together, and you talk together, and you’re really good friends still.”

“Little-old-lady friends?” Anna repeated, laughing.

I nodded.

Grace smiled one of her beautiful smiles. She told me she and her sister would definitely be really good little-old-lady friends someday.

Anna chimed in that that was true.

Hearing that made me happy. Really, truly happy.

Along the way, every one of us experiences loss…compromise…lists of pros and cons, with silver linings for each. We also experience moments of being really, truly happy, moments that may astound us in their seeming simplicity. We each have our own something warm, something that makes us cry, something as precious as gold.

If we talk to one another, we’ll probably find our stories are more similar than we ever imagined.

It was a great time.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

Remember the Time? On Family, Memory and Where You Keep Your Shoes

My sister mailed me a card for my birthday, a couple of weeks ago. The front said, “‘Remember the time…?'” followed by, “There are about a thousand different ways to end that story!” in multicolored font. I loved everything about it, from the sentiment to, especially, Jenna’s heartwarming note inside.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, so I took one (excuse my amateur photography skills!) to illustrate my message here. I put my sister’s card in the last remaining spot, on the bottom, of the hanging card holder in the kitchen. See it there? You can also see our family’s kaleidoscopic collection of other well wishes for assorted birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, special occasions… Yeah, Marie Kondo probably wouldn’t approve. 😉

So—”‘Remember the time…?'”

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Inside the card, Jenna wrote about how she always enjoys our adventures and conversations. Over the course of our life together, there have been a lot of them—not “about a thousand,” but thousands upon thousands. Jenna, along with both my brothers, were there, and continue to be there, for…well, my life.

Last night, I was lying beside Anna as she drifted off to sleep, and all of a sudden, a long-ago memory came to mind. I don’t know why, but I thought about the refrigerator in my grandparents’ old house. Before I left for college, I put pictures all over it. I joked that I didn’t want Grandma and Poppy to forget me, so I transformed their fridge into a collage of photos and magnets.

After Anna fell asleep, I called Jenna to share this memory with her. Because your sister will always answer the phone, even if you’re calling about your grandparents’ not-sure-if-it-even-exists-anymore refrigerator. “Awww,” Jenna said when I told her.

“I also remember—I mean, I can almost see this—Poppy sitting in the sunroom, just smiling, his arms crossed, watching TV. And,” I added, “he’s wearing that blue polo shirt he always wore. You know the one…?”

“Yeah, with the pink on the collar.” I knew Jenna was smiling on the other end of the line.

“Yeah, so, I just wanted to tell you about that…”

“Do you remember,” Jenna said—she really did send me the perfect birthday card—”every New Year’s, we would all go outside and bang on pots and pans? And set off Mom’s car alarm?” We laughed.

Maybe a little corny at times, and certainly loud a lot of the time, but this was/is our family…and I love them.

I knew Jenna was smiling on the other end of the line.

I have been truly lucky with my husband’s family too. After I talked with Jenna, I called Stanton’s mom to say hello. Charlotte was exercising, and I apologized for interrupting her. She asked me how I was doing.

“Honestly,” I replied, “I just poured myself a glass of milk and am about to eat a cookie. I’m doing the exact opposite of what you’re doing.” (You simply can’t make this stuff up, friends.) Like with my sister, my mother-in-law and I shared a good laugh.

Stanton had just been in San Antonio for a conference, and I was glad he got to spend some time with his family while he was there too. It’s a busy season of business travel for him, and he told the girls about a few other upcoming trips.

I made the joke (in retrospect, not a funny one) to the girls, “What’s Dad doing home now, girls? Does he live here too?”

Anna gave Stanton one of her wonderful bear hugs. “Of course he lives here,” she said. “This is where his shoes are.”

Sometimes life lends itself to quotable moments.

Home is where you keep your shoes. It’s where you hang up your cards, and pictures. It’s where, at the end of the day, you call the people you love. You call them to share a memory, or just to say hello.

Home is where you get the best bear hugs too.

Remember the time?

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.