November 24.


Today is Johnny Rocket’s birthday. It’s also Thanksgiving Day. Go figure. I’ve been thinking about dads a lot lately, in general, and my dad, specifically. I’ve also been thinking about how much I love to write and how far away from the practice of it I’ve gotten of late. What follows is something I wrote last year. It feels appropriate today for lots of reasons I won’t go into here. This is for my dad, it’s for my beautiful friend who is missing her dad today, and it’s for all of you turkeys out there. I’m back. More soon.

Dear X, I’m so sorry to hear about your dad.  It’s a sad sad loss and, while I can only speak to my own experience, I’m guessing it’s one that will be with you and present in your life for the rest of it.  I wish I could say it gets easier, and maybe it does, but I can be struck by a singular and overwhelming feeling of grief just as strongly today as 4 years ago.  I think the only real difference is there are more moments of the day when I don’t think about my father’s absence, the loss of him, then when I do… which isn’t a great feeling either.  If that makes any sense.  But, really, none of it makes sense.  It’s sad and it sucks.  I hope you have some people gathered around you these days who can help you through it and that your support system is a strong and good one.

I know there’s not much I can say here that is adequate.  It’s funny how many times I’ve written that sentence over the years, “I know there’s not much I can say here that is adequate,” a line used again and again in condolence cards since reaching an age when the people around me started losing the people around them.  But it’s not until after you suffer one of those losses, the death of someone so essential that you truly can’t imagine a life without them any more than you are able to recall a time when they weren’t there, that you realize how true it is: there’s not much I can say here that is adequate.

So I’ll say this.  Everything now is divided.  Before and after.  In my before, I am twelve years old and standing next to my astronomer father on a hilltop near the building that housed a telescope he assembled with his own hands, gazing upwards to watch Halley’s Comet, a ball of rocks and dust and frozen gas hurtling through space at 157,000 mph, visible from Earth for a short time in 1986 before disappearing again for 75 years.  When my father’s scientist friend told me that night that one day the Earth would be swallowed by the Sun, death by Supernova, I was inconsolable until my dad explained to me it would happen many lifetimes after my own. He told me not to worry, that in the scheme of things, in the lifetime of the Universe, this event would be so small.

In my before, I am nine years old and my father is bundling my sister and brother and me in blankets in the back of our VW van.  It’s the middle of the night and we’re making the long slow trip to Cape Canaveral to see one of the first shuttle launches.  At dawn’s early light, we sit on top of that van in the middle of a sea of humanity (and rows and rows of port a johns) and feel the earth move, hear the deafening roar as that burst of light shoots into space.

Perhaps sweetest of all, in my before,  I’m any age and the five of us carry blankets into our front yard and lie down in the warm evening air to watch shooting stars dash through the sky above.  We chew on long stalks of onion grass and, eventually, fall asleep with the deep lull of our father’s voice telling us story after story about the Milky Way and the Big Bang and the celestial bodies just outside our reach.

Now, in my after, I seek out celestial occurrences, look for phenomena in the great expanse above. I read books about astronomy and binge watch Cosmos. They make me think of my dad and the time he spent with his family giving us things to wonder at – the way he lassoed the night sky and pulled it low and showed us what it was made of. I honor him in the best way I know how. And that would be my one piece of advice to you, to find the best way you can honor your dad.

And when I look up at that same sky I shared with him for all of the before, even as I stand firmly planted in the after, I see a dark expanse of nothing-ness and everything-ness stretched over my head.  I hear my father’s voice in my ear.  He tells me not to worry, that in the scheme of things, in the lifetime of the Universe, this event is so small.

Mrs. Johnny Rocket Day. No.5.

MJR: You know you were terrible at keeping secrets when you were a kid.

Me: Yes, I know.

MJR: No, really. Everyone knew if they told you something you’d tell the world, so we lied to you on purpose.

Me: Yes, I’ve heard the story about the time you bought Dad a computer and I told him it was a refrigerator.

MJR: There were many instances. You weren’t to be trusted.

And that’s a wrap.

Until next year, Happy Mrs. Johnny Rocket Day!

Mrs. Johnny Rocket Day. No.4.

MJR: Even though I wasn’t supposed to get pregnant, I didn’t have any real problems with you until you decided to be born.

Me: Oh?

MJR: You were trying to stand up and you were moving north. You were basically trying to climb out of my throat.

Me: Makes sense to me.

MJR: I told your dad, “This one is going to be different. And not necessarily in a good way.”

Mrs. Johnny Rocket Day. No.3.

MJR: You know what your father said when I told him I was pregnant with you.

Me: Remind me.

MJR: He said, “Sorry about that.”

Me: What’s the next thing he said?

MJR: “I’m gonna be in trouble now, aren’t I?”

Me: What did you say?

MJR: I told him I wasn’t going on vacation with him again.  We went on four vacations and we had four children.* No way.

*1.Disneyland, California (Michael), 2.Honolulu, Hawaii (Jenny), 3.Key West, Florida (Keith), 4.Cross Country Road Trip, with a fated stopover in Tucumcari, New Mexico (Yours Truly).

Mrs. Johnny Rocket Day. No.2.

MJR: (Reading the newspaper) Oh, this weekend was the Windsor Zucchini Festival. We should have gone.

Me: I don’t know what that is.

MJR: Sure you do. It’s been around for thirty years. We probably took you when you were little and you just don’t remember.

Me: If it’s been around for thirty years then I was already 12 when it started. I would remember.

MJR: (Audible sigh) I keep forgetting you’re so old.

Mrs. Johnny Rocket Day.

Me: (Looking at grocery list) Why does it say “roasting hen?”

MJR: Because that’s what we need, a hen for roasting.

Me: But I told you I wanted to learn how to roast a chicken.

MJR: (Uncomfortable silence) A hen is a chicken.

Me: (Uncomfortable-er silence) It’s not a duck?

MJR: Whose child are you?

Happy Mother’s Day, Mrs. Johnny Rocket! Babs. Mom. Still teaching me things after all of these years.


Boo Boo.

When I was little and I fell, which was often, my mom or dad would patch me up. There was a ritual to their ministrations. First, tears (and there were always tears) were wiped. Then the wound (and there was pretty much always a wound) would be gently cleaned with a wet washcloth (with the requisite kiss to make it better as a topper). Bactine was applied (oh, the gloriously medicinal smell of Bactine, sprayed straight from its green-capped bottle), followed by a Band-aid.

I can remember being very size-conscious where Band-aids were concerned, favoring a big one because it seemed to suggest a more serious injury which required more strenuous love and attention. But I also enjoyed the smaller Band-aids, the teeny tiny ones with their teeny tiny gauze, for messy splinters, small blisters, and the like. Pretty much any situation that called for a Band-aid, requiring my mom or my dad to bend over my hurt and focus all of their healing powers on me, was a situation I could get behind (as long as it didn’t hurt too much, of course). If the wound resulted in a scar that called for the repeating of a story (which grew in size and significance with each telling), all the better.

(Our across-the-street neighbor once hit me in the head with a crowbar when we were playing in my sister’s room and opened the skin above my right eye in a shocking and messy way. I can remember rushing down the hall to try to get a good look in the bathroom mirror and being intercepted by my dad who detoured me to my parents’ room for the ritual (tears, wound, Band-aids and all). I still regret not making it to the bathroom mirror and I love to tell the story when someone notices the scar. I honestly don’t know if there really was a crowbar, seems unlikely these many years later.)

This is all to say that while I was taking a morning jog in Alpine, Texas today, I got a boo boo. I’m calling it a boo boo because it really is one – a giant round bloody scrape of a boo boo on my right knee. I tripped and flew across the pavement and landed on my knee, with a skid across my right elbow along the way. This hasn’t happened to me in a long time, a scrape like this. In fact, I think the last time was when I was a kid. And as I picked myself up and headed back to my hotel, I thought about those childhood scrapes and scratches and of the smell of Bactine and the peeling and applying of Band-aids. And of my mom and dad kissing it (whatever hurt “it” might be) and making it better.

Which made me think of my dad specifically. There are three people in the world, myself included, who know better than anyone how good Johnny Rocket was at the fatherly job of healing hurts, big and small. Applying medicinals. He was really really good at it.

You never stop missing people. Some wounds just refuse to heal.

But I did buy myself some Bactine. And pretty much the biggest Band-aid you’ve ever seen. That helped.

Ride, Sally Ride. (Again.)

Some might call it lazy, but I call recycling this July 2012 post (first shared here on the day after Sally Ride’s death), on the eve of the anniversary of her historical trip into space, a fitting tribute.  If Sally “Breaking Barriers” Ride doesn’t deserve a second post, who does, people?  Who does?  As NPR said this morning, “She was a physicist who took a detour through space.”  And changed everything.

When I was very little, before I really understood what my dad did for a living, I used to tell people who’d ask that he was an astronaut.  Even after I realized that wasn’t true, that there were no manned space missions in my father’s past, present, or future, I still said it on occasion to my elementary school classmates who couldn’t possibly know better.

When your dad spends his days and nights stargazing, you come to feel a certain ownership over the Universe.  Not a God-like ownership, more of a time-share condominium type of arrangement:  It’s not yours and yours alone, but you do have a connection and a stake that not everyone can claim; you have a special relationship, the Universe and you.  You feel the way the citizens of Green Bay feel about the Packers, I suspect.  And the other people who share this unique ownership, well, they’re family.

And while I never personally aspired to be an active family member — to don a spacesuit and follow that uncharted course, exploring solar systems near and far or walking on the moon — when I was ten years old, my cosmic sister Sally Ride showed me and a host of other girls that we could if we wanted to.  We could dream big.

Sally Ride died yesterday.  She was only sixty one years old, which means she was barely thirty when she changed the world.  Just before her 1983 mission, the first for an American woman, she was quoted as saying, “It’s too bad this is such a big deal.  It’s too bad our society isn’t further along.”  I’m going to spend some time thinking about her today.  Thought you guys might want to, too.

June 1. Again.

Guys, I did a really jerky jerk thing.  I forgot my big sis’s birthday.  Totally, completely forgot. Which, in the grand scheme, isn’t the worst thing a gal could do, I know.  And my big sis is the forgiving sort, luckily. But forgetting her birthday on May 21 – and not remembering that I forgot until two days later – was a wake-up call of sorts for me.  That forgetfulness, compounded with other little slips, recent small steps backward – well, let’s just say that I didn’t uproot and change my entire life just to find myself right back where I started.  No sir, I did not.

I know it’s been a million years since I last updated you and I’m sure you have lots of questions about what I’ve been up to.  Don’t worry, dear readers, all will be revealed in due time. But that’s for tomorrow or the next day.  Today, I’m feeling inspired to make some resolutions – to do some course correcting.  It’s June 1, guys!  And you remember how important June 1 is to me, right? (If not, check out this blog’s entry from June 4, 2012).

Best of all, it’s beginning to feel a lot like summer around here in lovely Austin, TX.  The students are heading out of town, the temperature’s heating up, and I’m longing for those idyllic days I enjoyed when I first arrived in 2012.  Days when I really didn’t know many people here, but I never felt lonely or bored.  I’m longing for dips in cool water, walks around Town Lake, icy and dark movie theaters, afternoon naps, lap swimming at Deep Eddy, yoga at Dharma, mailing postcards and birthday cards (on time!) at the Hyde Park post office, memorizing poetry on evening strolls, getting lost in a good book on a blanket in the shade of a tree; all of it, guys, I’m longing for all of it.  Better still, it all feels possible — feels within reach.  So here I am on June 1 – poking my head up to say “hello” after a long absence and resolved to getting back to the business of being blissfully blissful, all while staying in touch with each of you.  And I’m resolved to send my sister a birthday card.  Definitely that, too.

In short (because I’m a bit rusty): It’s June 1.  I’m back.  Did you miss me?