Mary Beth Writes

On Facebook today someone posted a photo of this old column! A person couldn't read it from the pix, so here it is.  The first two paragraphs refer to a newspaper decision to move the column from Friday to Saturday. 


            I'm in the wrong place.  For eight years I've been your Gal Friday, and suddenly, I'm competing with the Saturday morning cartoons.  (They say everything seeks its own level.)

            This isn't my home yet.  Moving from one day to another is been a bit like walking in the front door of your house to discover someone moved all the furniture.  It isn't a bad thing, it's just that it doesn't feel like home. 

            What makes a place feel like home is interesting.  Never have people had bigger houses, more stuff, and less sense of what home is about than North Americans in these times. 

            Most magazines devoted to remodeling, decorating, and showing off our houses claim that house-obsession is about creativity.  I'm skeptical.  I like a lovely, light-filled home as much as the next person, but I think a home is not a stage where you show off who you are. 

            Home is where you feel safe from your worst monsters.

            I fell in love with the "Little House in the Big Woods" series of books when I was a kid.  I lived vicariously with Laura and Mary in their log cabin, little houses, the covered wagon, their sod hut built on a prairie.

            Years ago I spent an afternoon touring a Dakota sod house that had been preserved as a living museum.  It was an eye-opener. Settlers pasted sheets of newspapers to the interior walls to try to keep dirt from falling on them every minute of the day.  You could hear mice scrabbling in the ceiling.  Imagine living in a place where a damp day will turn your kitchen to mud.

            What awfulness were people leaving that made a sod house acceptable?  Well, specifically, they were fleeing hunger and starvation, rapacious exploitation, abusive parents, slavery, cruel masters, and a patronizing, stratified society. 

            A sod hut was not a home because it was cozy and cute.  It became a home because it enabled people to flee monsters.

            Have you ever visited a too-clean house of a person raised in chaos?  What was Elvis' Graceland about other than a poor boy proving to himself and his mother that they weren't trash anymore? 

            And not to put too fine a point on it, but my sister and brother made awfully clear, when I was a kid, that I was cute but dumb.  You think this has anything to do with why I have a couple thousand books in my living room?

            Home is where you feel free from your monsters.

            I take a long walk while my CD player blasts old rock music in my ears.  The beat is so steady I find myself walking like a metronome.  I begin to wonder if, for musical people, home is wherever the beat is so perfect a heart can keep time.  The craziness around them fades as the music kicks in and becomes a kind of portable home.

            Home is the crossroads of the people of your life.

            In Guatemala I visited homes that were not much more than flimsy shacks built against the worst ravages of weather.  Those leaky roofs would never keep out a rainstorm, though they'd be dryer than standing in a field.  There was no heat source beside the cooking woodstove, but that would be warmer than no heat at all. 

            Could one even say they were homes?  I watched.  The women choreographed their work, conversation, and hospitality as smoothly and beautifully as they wove threads into weavings.  They talked to friends, nursed a child, hand-patted tortillas, sent the children to school, attached backstrap looms for an afternoon of weaving.  Friends, children, the occasional brother or husband wove in and out of their tiny homes.  I realized that for the poorest of the poor, home is not the walls, but the intersection where people gather to work, chat, weave, and tend.  

            Almost once every weekend of this past school year my daughter's friends have gathered at our house to talk, to sometimes take a walk, to watch a movie.  They are so used to this that they don't ring the doorbell anymore, they just walk in, wave, head down the hall to my daughter's room to hang out.  My son and younger daughter pile in for the company.  I've seen her small room packed with ten kids.  By then our dog and four cats join the party. 

            One kid is allergic to animal dander.  His girlfriend gets up, finds our antihistamines, brings him one. Later on they'll osmose out to the family room to watch a movie.  I know what chair the other boy will choose.  Cat Violet will position herself right where he can scratch her head.  Our fattest and most dandruffy cat will settle on the allergic kid.  The girlfriend will fall asleep in the middle of the movie.  I will make a pan of brownies and the next morning, when I get up, there will be three left at the one end of the pan.

            It doesn't make any difference what the room looks like, it's the kids who have turned it into home.  Next year, when these kids are away at college, our home will have changed in an essential way. 

            If we don't like the way our homes look, maybe the problem isn't cramped closets or old furniture.  Maybe we need less monsters.  Maybe we need more music and more people.




Amen to that...

MB: I am so glad I inspired you to find this column! Delightful to reread after all these years and just what I need this very day. My home is my sanctuary from all the losses, the sadness, the threats of the world at large. THANK YOU!

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A-Z M is for Aunts


Reprint of old column from 5/22/2004 

Happy Mother's Day to all the women who raised us! 

This was my all-time favorite moment from the "Friends" TV show. It's a few hours after the birth of Ross's son (not with Rachel) and all the friends are meeting the baby for the first time. Monica, Ross's sister, holds her newborn nephew tenderly, tears in her eyes with awe for this new life in her family.


This was first published May 10, 2002

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were talking with our kids about the best and worst jobs we have had. I said picking asparagus was pretty boring. My husband didn't like the day he was a taxi driver. We both love writing when it goes well, we get a lot done, people tell us what clever people we are, and we earn lots of money from it. These aspects of writing come together about once a, well … I'm sure it's right around the corner.

My daughter prodded, "Come on, Mom. What's the best job of your life?"

Dark River

The photo is the Platte River in Nebraska. This post was a newspaper column for the Racine Journal Times in 2003.


Dark River

"I think us here to wonder."  (From "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker.)

The day was one of those glorious October days when the sun blazed through gold and crimson trees; the incense of burning leaves perfumed the air. It seemed a shame to go inside simply because night was coming on.

"Let's take the canoe out on the river tonight."

Where Heritage is Found

Last week I spoke with a woman who  is working to support MayaWorks.

I sent her this writing I did back in 2006.


I stayed several days with the Sepet family, a very cash-poor Maya family that lives in the altiplano, the mountains of Guatemala.  These people were so intelligent, gracious, strong, and hospitable.  

This adventure happened during my second day with them.

Quarantine Dairy #669 A Rerun


I have a lot of projects to get through today. I wrote this in 2006 when I worked at Target for six months. I still like it.


This week I saw an inspiring sight.  I saw a little kid completely lost in his imagination. 

Car Accident & Not Buying the Farm Today

My friend Karen texted last night that she is okay but she had been in a car accident in the afternoon. A driver had not stopped at a stop sign, thus plowing into Karen’s rear driver-side door.

Her accident reminded me of one I was in with my son years ago. This is the newspaper column I wrote about the event.

Hold a good thought for Karen today, okay?  She texted this morning, rather poetically, “I feel like I’ve been dragged through a knothole.”


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