Category Archives: Winter memories

Two food memories

Carol and I walked by the fondue restaurant on our way to the supermarket. “I can’t believe people are still into fondue,” said Carol. “I remember when my parents were into fondue.”

“My family was into fondue at one point, too,” I said. “I remember one time — stop me if I’ve told you this a thousand times — when the cheese mixture wasn’t right, or the fondue pot wasn’t hot enough or something, and the cheese got all stringy. Remember my parents’ old house? Well, we stretched this one string of cheese from the dining room all the way to the far kitchen wall.”

“No, you never told me that story,” said Carol

How could I have not told her that story? We talked about it for years afterwards; I still have a vivid memory of that long string of cheese, close to twenty feet long. We got to the supermarket: Carol went off to find yogurt, I went to get paper towels. Another memory came to me unbidden, another one of those little stories that we retold over and over again:

Dad was pouring some coffee for my mother. Mom held her coffee cup over Jean’s bowl of cereal, and Dad started pouring. Why over Jean’s cereal bowl? I guess Mom thought that if a little coffee spilled, at least it wouldn’t drip on the table.

“That’s enough,” said Mom, and quickly pulled her coffee cup away.

Dad didn’t have time to react. He kept pouring. A stream of coffee went into Jean’s cereal bowl.

Jean, needless to say, was surprised, and rightfully indignant. I thought Dad looked sorry for what he had done, though I thought he was not at fault. Mom apologized to Jean, but treated the whole thing lightly. “We’ll get you another bowl of cereal,” she said. It took years before Jean and I got over it; we certainly never let our parents pour coffee, or anything else, over anything we were eating for years thereafter.

Random memory

Somehow I had gotten left off the attendance list for study hall in my freshman year of high school. I took to leaving school during that hour, and slipping off to the public library. But by late winter, a small group of my friends had somehow gotten permission to attend study hall in an unused classroom up on the third floor of our building, with little or no adult supervision. I would slip in and hang out with them. G—— was creating a literary magazine he called “Zeitgeist.” B——, on the other hand, liked making illegal things. He brought in a hash pipe he had made from brass tubing, and from that I learned about taps and dies and how to use them. He brought in a ballpoint pen from which he had removed the spring and the ink reservoir, replacing them with gunpowder; the button at one end was linked to a firing pin inside the pen. B—— clipped the pen bomb to a paper airplane, which he flew out the window. The plane hit the brick wall across the way and the pen bomb exploded, leaving a shower of tiny bits of paper. The janitor walking three stories below looked up in surprise.

Adventures with “Big Bertha”

When I was a year out of college, I bought my parent’s old ’78 Chevy Impala station wagon, a huge green boat of a car with a 305 small block V8 engine. My mother, who liked to name cars, called it “Big Bertha,” or “Bert” for short; when she didn’t like the car she called it “The Big Green Monster.” I think it was the biggest car she ever drove. I don’t think she ever liked it much, but I was happy to buy it, because it was the only car I could afford.

I bought it in the summer of 1984 and drove it down to Philadelphia where I had been living. I loaded everything I owned into the back, and started driving home. I was on the northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike when the tractor-trailer rig in front of me blew a retread off one of its eighteen wheels. All I saw was this huge black writhing piece of rubber flying down the highway directly at me and, Wham! it hit the underside of the car, and suddenly the muffler was dragging on the highway and making a horrible noise. I limped along to the next exit, pulled into a gas station and was told they couldn’t fix the car until the next day. I must have looked pretty sick — I didn’t have the money to stay in a motel — so this friendly guy went out, crawled under the car with me, and showed me how to wire the muffler up so I could drive the rest of the way home.

I had been unable to find a job in Philly, but within a month of moving back to Massachusetts I had several job offers. I went to work full time at the lumberyard where I had worked summers, and pretty soon took a room in a shared house that was close enough to the lumberyard that I could walk to work. The big green station wagon sat in the driveway most of the week; by now it had rust spots showing through the green paint. Once or twice a week, I would drive it in to the Boston Museum School to take art classes. At first I was terrified to drive into Boston in rush hour traffic, but I soon learned that other drivers were wary of a huge green rusty station wagon driven by a long-haired, wild-eyed kid. Then one night after class, I walked out to where I had parked the car along the Fenway, and it was gone — stolen. I went back into the school (this was before cell phones, remember) and called the Boston police, who told me that the Fenway was covered by Metropolitan District Commission Police; I called them and they told me I would have to appear in person at their station up near the Charles River dam. So I walked all the way up there, and the cop on duty, being a Boston cop, was rude and unhelpful and did everything he could to keep from having to write up a report of the theft. At last he wrote it up, and I managed to catch the midnight train from North Station back home. Two days later, the cops called me at work: they had found the car where it had been abandoned by some joyriders. I went in to pick up the car at the tow company lot, paid their criminally high towing and storage fees. The inside of the car was trashed, but all the joyriders (or it could have been the tow company) really stole was an axe I had left in the back of the car. When I got back to the lumberyard, one of the guys I worked with showed me how easy it was to pop the locks in a Chevy Impala of that vintage — all you needed was a teaspoon, and it was actually easier to unlock the car with a teaspoon than with the key.

My buddy Will and I loved that car for driving up to the White Mountains for a backpacking trip. There was lots of room for our packs, it was easy to steer, and that V8 engine went up the steepest grades as if nothing was there. On one trip, the car broke down when we were a hundred and fifty-five miles from home. One hundred and fifty miles was the distance Triple-A would tow my car, so we walked to a phone, got a local tow company to tow us five miles down the road, paid them off, then called Triple-A, and waited a few hours for them to come out to tow us home. The tow truck driver was a friendly guy with a French Canadian accent, and he hooked the rear of my car up, and then we crammed ourselves into the cab of the tow truck, along with him and his girlfriend. He revved up the tow truck’s engine, and drove across the median strip of the highway — I looked out the back window to watch my station wagon bumping and dragging along through the grass behind us. We had a companionable ride home, talking cheerfully with the driver and his girlfriend. So ended that backpacking trip.

The station wagon got rustier and rustier. One spring day, I was driving home from somewhere, and I got to the traffic light that was two tenths of a mile from our house. The light turned green, and as I accelerated the car gave a sort of lurch, the front end dropped down, and the steering wheel pulled madly to the left. I managed to get the car home, driving pretty slowly. Late that night, when there was no traffic on the road, I drove the car over to the garage, with my dad following behind in his car in case anything happened. The next day, the garage called with the bad news — the whole front part of the car was so rusted that they didn’t think they could repair it. I asked around at work, and one of the guys knew someone who owned a garage that did welding work, but when he called them, they told him that if the car had a 305 V8 it wasn’t worth fixing, because those 305 V8 engines gave out at a hundred and five thousand miles. I always wondered if the front end had been weakened by the way that crazy tow truck driver dragged my car across the median strip; but it didn’t really matter, because the engine probably would have gone a few months later.

So after having driven it for about four years, I junked the car. Even though I didn’t know how I was going to afford a new car, I felt a sense of relief — when you get to the point where a car is an adventure rather than a means of transportation, it’s time to let it go.


Still down with the flu. At about three this afternoon, I hauled myself up out of the chair where I’d been dozing, and stumbled down to the kitchen to make some tea. It has been a gray, rainy day, so I turned on the lights in the kitchen.

A memory kicked in: those winter afternoons back when I was in elementary school, my older sister and I would arrive home on a gray day at about three in the afternoon, and walk into the kitchen where mom would have the lights turned on. I’d have an apple for a snack, I don’t remember what my sister would eat. Then I remember watching public television while it got dark outside, kid’s programs like Zoom, and then there was a time when we watched an exercise program called The Beautiful Machine, and then when my younger sister got a little older we’d watch Sesame Street and Electric Company. Then it would be dark.

The memory lasted for just an instant. For a moment I craved an apple, and started walking towards the refrigerator to get one, but my stomach rebelled. Then the memory was gone. I made a pot of tea, drank it, tried to read the newspaper but couldn’t concentrate, ignored the headache, dozed again.

A random memory

This took place back somewhere around 1984, when I was working as a yardman in a lumber yard.

One of the truck drivers — we’ll call him Skipper — was a young guy, maybe twenty or twenty-two, with sandy hair down to his shoulders and a friendly open face. Like all of us, he always wore a baseball cap, and like most of us younger guys he always wore shorts and a T-shirt in the summer; like me, he wore wire-rimmed aviator glasses of the type that were popular back then.

But he was a little louder and more cheerful than the rest of us, and he had a wicked west-of-Boston accent, and above all he partied much harder than anyone else who worked there. He was late for work more than once because he was hung over, or he slept through the alarm clock, or (so it was said) he was still drunk or stoned when he got up in the morning and couldn’t get it together enough even to drive to work.

Skipper managed to make it work for a couple of years; he wasn’t the best driver we had, but he was good enough. Then he started getting worse. One morning, Bob, the senior driver, came back from a delivery just before lunch. “Where’s Skipper?” he said. “I don’t see his truck.”

One of the other drivers said that Skipper wasn’t back yet.

Bob, a master at sounding disgusted, said, “Jesus, he just had to go up to Carlisle, and he left before I did.”

Pretty soon everyone, even the kid who came in to work after school, was aware that Skipper was screwing up. The other drivers were resentful because Skipper wasn’t pulling his weight. Georgia, the yard foreman, would make a point of checking his watch when he saw Skipper driving into the yard. It became obvious that the shipper and the vice-president were also keeping an eye on him. Skipper didn’t seem to care; he was the same happy-go-lucky, half-stoned, cheerful guy as usual. This went on for a few weeks: tension building around Skipper, while he seemed utterly unaware of it.

One day, late in the afternoon, several of us were standing around in the coffee shack, pretending to wait for customers but really waiting for five o’clock to come around. One of the drivers came out of the shipper’s office. “They caught Skipper.” “What? Whaddya mean, they caught him?” He told us what he had heard, a bare-bones account of what had happened: Skipper was driving one of the box trucks; the vice-president shadowed Skipper in a car, followed him to a jobsite, a place where there was no delivery scheduled; Skipper was selling drugs off the back of his truck.

That’s all we ever heard about it. Nobody had to say that they fired Skipper, we all knew that. But was he just selling marijuana, or was it something more serious? Were the cops called? Was he arrested? I never found out, and no one ever talked about it. Skipper never came back, and I never saw him again.


Tucked in a large zippered portfolio that was given to me by a pretty and wealthy girl when I was in college — but that’s a different memory, let’s not get diverted by other memories quite yet….

In that large zippered portfolio, I have a poster that a friend gave me in high school. “BANANA MAN” says the poster in large, cheerful letters. Above that is a cartoon portrait of a caped superhero, arms crossed, big goofy grin over his big goofy chin, a bulbous nose, stern eyes gazing out from behind a bright yellow mask loosely tied behind his head, all under a mop of unruly black hair. The poster is a lithograph drawn and printed by the guy who gave it to me, and there’s his signature in the bottom right corner: Karl E. Friberg.

Karl was a year ahead of me in high school, about the only student from art class I hung out with outside of class. Karl was always drawing Banana Man cartoons, some of which ran in the high school newspaper, and I admired and copied his drawing style to the best of my ability. We had a free period together at some point, and I remember watching him bring out the “Banana Box,” a slim box filled with an unruly collection of drawing implements: pencils, pens, erasers, a ruler, felt-tip markers. As soon as I saw it I started assembling my own portable box of drawing implements.

“I’m going to make a lithograph of Banana Man,” Karl announced one day. He was taking an industrial arts class in printing. “I’m making Banana Man T-shirts.” Wow! What could be better than a Banana Man T-shirt! A few days later, Karl appeared with an armful of T-shirts, shouted, “Laundry!” and tossed me a Banana Man T-shirt. God knows what happened to that T-shirt, but he also gave me the Banana Man poster which is still in my portfolio….

Banana Man by Karl E. Friberg

Karl graduated from high school a few months later, and I completely lost touch with him. Did he go on to a career in commercial art as he dreamed of doing? Does he still draw Banana Man? After he graduated, I inherited his place as the cartoonist in the high school newspaper, and I drew a humorous melodrama called “Rabbit Man,” the main character of which was a shorter, dumpier, stupider version of Banana Man. I never was as good a cartoonist as Karl had been.

It’s worth mentioning that Karl Friberg’s Banana Man predates the British cartoon character Bananaman by four or five years.


Carol remembered that we were going to be able to see a total eclipse of the moon tonight. The almanac said the eclipse would begin at 8:43; at nine o’clock I remembered to look out our front window. It’s a little hazy here, but I could see the moon pretty clearly: already, the circle of the earth’s shadow has covered a significant portion of the bright disc of the moon.

When I was a child, I seem to remember a number of winter nights when my mother would stay up late to watch partial or total lunar eclipses; or would set her alarm clock so she could awaken in the middle of the night to see them. I only remember seeing one or two, if they happened early in the evening; I was never interested enough in astronomical events to miss sleep for one. I don’t remember the other members of our family being all that interested in eclipses, either. But in memory, my mother never missed a lunar eclipse.

Beginning of lunar eclipse

Lunar eclipse as of 9:00 EST, New Bedford, Mass.

Winter memory

This must have happened when I was in fourth or fifth grade; my older sister Jean would have been in sixth or seventh grade, and my younger sister Abby would have been a baby. We had all finished dinner, and we were sitting around the dinner table talking. We must have been talking about school and our teachers, because somehow we asked dad about the teachers he had had when he was a kid. (Mom didn’t get involved in this conversation; perhaps she was dealing with Abby.) Dad said he could only remember a few of his teachers. Jean and I said we could remember all of our teachers, and then we each proceeded to name them all. And I have a vivid memory of sitting there at one end of that dining room table thinking to myself, “How can Dad possibly forget his teachers? I’ll always remember my teachers.”

Here I am, now about the same age as Dad was at the time of that dinner table conversation. Can I remember all my elementary school teachers now? Here are the ones I can remember: Miss Sheehan (whom I didn’t like one bit), Mrs. Blanchard (whom I adored, and who read to us from the “Twilight Animal Series” books every day), Mr. Hoffman (whom I had two years in a row, and whom I liked, but who failed to teach me arithmetic). But who was my first grade teacher? was her name Mrs. Witcher? or was that my kindergarten teacher? — So much for always remembering all my elementary school teachers.

How old was I when I began to forget my teachers?

Housemate memories

A cold dark snowy evening, trapped at home alone. Time dragging. Bored, my mind started drifting and for some reason I started thinking about housemates. My thoughts went something like this: Carol and I met when we were housemates. We met Ms. M. when she moved in as a new housemate. Too bad our current apartment does not permit sublets…. And then some of the more extraordinary memories of housemates started bubbling up, like the Dead Mouse Incident….

One morning, I came downstairs to eat breakfast, half-asleep as usual. J— greeted me by saying, “Did you do that?” Did I do what? “Put the mouse in the dog’s water dish.” I hadn’t done it, and we both went over to the dog’s water dish to look at the poor dead mouse floating there. We both giggled silently.

You have to understand, we had not been getting along with N——, the dog’s owner, in large part because she just wasn’t caring for the dog. Being a black Lab, the dog liked to roll in smelly things, and when we complained about the smell N—– would bathe the dog in the tub, leaving dog hair and other gunk plastered over tub and tiles; so J— and I had to wash the dog ourselves under the outdoor shower. The dog had worms and would leave long streaks of excrement on the carpet; N—– would clean the carpet but wouldn’t take the dog to the vet to get de-wormed. Worst of all, N—– would go for days at a time without walking the dog, which made the poor animal more and more neurotic and less and less likable.

To return to the story: N—– came bounding down the stairs, accompanied by the dog, both of them as cheerful as usual. We did not warn her what was in the dog’s water dish. N—– walked over to put food in the other dog dish and screamed when she saw the mouse. “Did you do that?” she screamed at us. We both denied having drowned the mouse.

Our relationships had deteriorated to the point where I doubt she believed us. And though I’m not proud of it, I went off to work in an unusually good mood that morning. N—– moved out a few months later, and come to think of it that’s when Carol moved in. Ten years later, Carol called me in to see something on television, a story about an animal psychologist, and sure enough there was N—– on television with a new dog, another black Lab, going to visit the animal psychologist. I’ve now forgotten what sort of psychological problem the dog suffered from.

Memories of other housemates come flooding back. There was W—, the woman who refused to turn on the radiators in her room because she didn’t like the hissing sound, and who lit dozens of candles in an effort to keep warm (unfortunately, we had to kick her out because we were afraid she was going to start a fire). And S—, who was in the process of discovering she was gay while she lived with us. And D—, who was dealing (gracefully) with the memories of being raped by her father when she was pubescent. And L—, who had the same name as a prominent Boston gangster, and claimed that he once got a phone call from someone saying, “Is this L—? We took care of it.” And the time when J—‘s father died. And R— of the invisible dirt, and J— and E— the M.I.T. students, and others.

It’s easy to tell the stories of the bizarre and notable events, but it’s harder to explain how enjoyable it has been to have housemates, to just sit around the dinner table or on the front porch talking about everything under the sun. People from whom you can borrow music, people with whom you can throw parties, people who can teach you how to bake bread or cook macrobiotic food. Some of those housemates became good friends, like Ms. M., who became our housemate again for one delightful year when we lived in Oakland.

Someday, Carol will get around to making her idea for an eco-village into reality, and then we’ll have housemates once again….