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Family

Words are the symphony that warms the skin and colors the silence.

Words can be like the sound of reinforcements coming over the horizon when we feel penned down by an adversary. They rescue us just as we use them to swaddle others in their warmth.

As we make the transition from Halloween to Thanksgiving, Black Friday and, eventually, the December holidays and the new year, we can take solace in the anticipation of words that provide warmth through the darker days of winter.

We might take a trip to Central Park, where the sound of sleigh bells from carriages around a corner alerts us to the appearance of an approaching horse, even as the animal might remind us of a city that predated internal combustion engines.

Just the words “sleigh ride” might inspire our minds to play a song we performed in high school.

Words can also convey the remarkable scents of the coming seasons, with the air carrying the mouthwatering Pavlovian cue from gingerbread houses or holiday cookies.

I recently attended a wedding where a few well-chosen words triggered an almost immediate and reflexive “awww” from an audience delighted to hear how much a younger brother was inspired by his older brother, the groom.

Reading about how important our coat donations are can inspire us to rummage through our closets to help a child or an adult become more comfortable in the frigid air.

Well-chosen words can provide the kind of environment that empowers people to see and appreciate everything from the inspirational image of a person overcoming physical limitations to the intricate beauty of a well-woven spiderweb shimmering in the low light of winter.

Sometimes, as when a friend or family member is going through a significant medical procedure or crisis, words or prayer or encouragement are all we have to offer, giving us something to do or say as we hope the words provide even a scintilla of comfort.

Words can feel insufficient to express how we feel or what we hope happens when someone who has been in the foreground of our lives for years seems suddenly vulnerable.

Simple tools which we all take for granted, words can take us to a peaceful beach with the sound of water lapping on the coarse sand under our feet, transporting our minds and bodies away from the cacophony of busy lives.

In big moments, athletes often suggest that they are at a loss for words. In reality, their words and emotions are undergoing so much competition that their brain experiences a word bottleneck, with a flow of ideas and words awaiting the chance to dive from the tip of their tongues to the eager ears of their friends, family and fans.

The coming holiday season is filled with diametrically opposed experiences, as the joy of opening presents and reconnecting with friends and family for the first time in months or even a year is counterbalanced by the stress and strain of those people who feel overwhelmed or alone.

People who work at suicide hotlines or as 911 operators can and do use critical words to save people’s lives, bringing their minds back from the brink, restoring hope and offering a comforting verbal lifeline.

We take words for granted because we see and hear them so often, but the right word at the right time can transcend the routine.

Finding words that resonate is akin to strolling into a restaurant and discovering a combination of familiar and exotic flavors, all mixed together with a palate-pleasing texture that energizes us.

Participants in MLB’s Home Run Derby listen to the national anthem. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

It’s all about family.

Sure, there was plenty of high-powered baseball last week when I had the privilege of attending my first Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., July 17, with my son, but, ultimately, it’s clear between and outside the lines that the players fill their energy reserves with the support of their families.

Los Angeles Dodger Manny Machado signs autographs. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

After our first trip to FanFest — a gathering of dedicated baseball aficionados — we wandered over to a nearby burger joint where a man named Frank suggested we go to the Marriott across the street because that was where all the players were staying. We wolfed down the last of our burgers and found a lobby filled with kids of all ages — including adults who enjoy sharing the excitement of the game with their own children — waiting for a glimpse of their favorite stars.

Within a half-hour of our arrival, superstars wandered in the front lobby, where they had about a 50-foot walk between a huge revolving door and a private, security-protected hallway opposite a sign forbidding pictures or autographs.

Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, whose muscular 6-foot, 5-inch frame made him appear to be the picture of a professional athlete, carried his young daughter in one arm and luggage in another, making it impossible for autograph seekers to ask him to sign their baseballs, programs or notebooks.

Other athletes followed the same pattern, carrying their young children or holding their hands, making it impossible for fans to demand a signature or even to interrupt their family moments.

On the other side of the spotlight, many of the eager fans weren’t too far from their parents, who urged them on and wished them well.

“Who’d you get?” one fan asked her son as he raced back to her, holding a ball carefully by the seams to avoid smudging the valuable ink. “Manny Machado!” he beamed, referring to the former Orioles superstar who the Los Angeles Dodgers would soon trade five players to acquire a day later.

“Good for you,” she clapped and cheered, pleased with her son’s success.

Cameras follow Yankee star Aaron Judge’s every move. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

On another trip to FanFest, I watched parents clad entirely in the ubiquitous red uniform of the Washington Nationals. A father with an open jersey flapping at his sides led his two small children, whose jerseys were buttoned up to their clavicles, across the enormous space toward the Major League Baseball store.

At the Home Run Derby July 16, the event that precedes the game in which a few sluggers essentially see how far they can hit baseballs, Washington fan favorite Bryce Harper didn’t disappoint the rabid Nationals fans, beating a determined and electrifying Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs. After his victory, Harper thanked the fans and his pitcher who, as it turned out, was his father Ron.

At the game itself, we were fortunate to sit fairly near the families of the American League all-stars. Patty and Wayne Judge, parents of burgeoning Yankee-great Aaron Judge, watched their 26-year-old son’s every move, filming him during his introduction and cheering as he circled the bases after his home run against starting pitcher Max Scherzer of the Nationals. Many in the Judge entourage, like those from other families, proudly wore jerseys with the names and number of their all-star on their backs.

Rays’ pitcher Blake Snell’s family filled up almost an entire row of seats, with his name and his number “4” draped across their backs.

When Detroit Tigers pitcher Joe Jiménez entered the game from the bullpen, his family stood proudly, with each of them filming the jog from the left field fence.

Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor electrified his family with a hit that almost made it out of the stadium on a record-setting night for home runs. As he jogged back to the dugout to get his glove, his family stood and applauded his effort, as his broad, patented smile crossed his face.

Yankee pitchers Aroldis Chapman and Luis Severino play catch. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

In the top of the eighth, Lindor’s replacement at shortstop, the Mariners’ Jean Segura crushed a three-run homer, triggering a big celebration from his extended family, who high-fived each other and who received congratulations from the nearby Lindor family.

Segura was an unexpected hero, who was the last player named to join the American League team, beating out Yankee Giancarlo Stanton, among others.

Yes, we witnessed all-stars with the ability to hit balls over 400 feet. Ultimately, though, we had the chance to see families share a weekend that mirrored similar scenes around the world, albeit on a smaller scale. Watching all these families come together to celebrate their baseball achievements made me feel like I was at a high-profile Little League game. Parents, siblings and friends stand on the sidelines, supporting their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters as they revel in the opportunity of the next at-bat.

The result? The American League triumphed over the National League, 8-6, in the 10th inning of an unforgettable all-star game.

My earliest memory of my sister is of a very young child, sitting in a stroller, reaching out her arms to hug me. She wasn’t able to talk yet, but I was two years older and interpreted her coos and cries for the rest of the world. Most often what she wanted was to be loved, and I would run over and wrap my arms around her.

We were a loving family. The world was a happy, secure place; this despite the fact that the time was World War II.

We lived in an apartment house in Manhattan. When my mother went shopping, she would push the stroller along the sidewalk, and I would hold on to the metal sidepiece and skip alongside. It was at those times that I sensed something was wrong. People would smile down at me but then stare at my sister.

Then I heard the word and asked my mother about it. It was the first time I ever saw my mother flinch. I was immediately hushed and told not to use that word again. I didn’t until I was in my teens.

The word my mother, a courageous woman of tremendous fortitude and intelligence, recoiled from was RETARDED. My sister Maxine was, and is, retarded.

My sister was not accepted among “normal” people and never would be. She was a social disgrace. And all the while, she laughed and played. She was able to talk now and would often say, “I love you.”

Reality forced itself on my mother when she went to register my sister for public school in first grade. The principal, a blunt, middle‐aged woman, took my mother aside and stated simply, “Maxine cannot go to a normal school. She’s retarded. Just keep her home. Retarded children don’t live very long, anyway.”

My sister was lucky. She had a family that would always look after her. But what is to happen to those others? Retarded children become retarded adults. And then what? What happens to them when their parents die and there is no one to pick up the burden? What happens to those who have the advantage of the latest programs and training but now need a place to live?

Only those very few retarded at the lowest end of the intelligence spectrum cannot function, at least to some minimal degree, within a home. The state has attempted to set up hostels for these retarded adults within a home like setting, assigning five or six to each house under the care of a supervisory couple. Communities, by and large, have reacted to these hostels with hostility, fearing for their property values and uncomfortable with the ever‐present social stigma.

I find that few know anything about retardation, and I suspect that this lack of contact is responsible for the hostility the retarded face. Many think retarded people are deranged or emotionally unstable. Those are fears, not facts. Retarded people are inherently gentle and unaggressive, which makes them defenseless. The retarded are simple human beings with the same basic needs of all of us: food, clothing, shelter — and especially love.

It might seem, from my account, that it took great sacrifice to live with my sister, and in some ways, it did, particularly from my mother. But in other ways, it taught us so much. Maxine taught us compassion for the disadvantaged. She also served, curiously, to test the mettle of all we met. Those who were reluctant to accept her proved not to be worth our company. Her life showed us, by example, what the most important values should be. Maxine did not understand affect, materialism or hypocrisy. She did not understand social embarrassment. She has the same basic concern for the dog that lives in the next apartment as she does for its owners. It is a respect for all life, and for her, life is music, and laughter and love.

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The recently aired story of Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle forcefully reminded me of my mother. I was probably thinking of my mother, since it would have been her birthday this past Monday. She was born in 1906, one year after Prince John. The sixth and last child of the then-Prince of Wales and Mary — by 1910, King George V and Queen Mary — young John was a handsome but unusually rambunctious member of the House of Windsor. That may have had something to due with his diagnosis of epilepsy at age 4.

From that time, Prince John lived increasingly out of public view, looked after by a governess, and there are no official portraits of him after age 8. He died from a severe seizure when he was just 13 years old. Only then was his illness disclosed to the general public along with his learning disability, and on some official family trees of the royals his name was erased altogether.

It was not at all unusual at that time and through much of the ensuing 20th century for families to hide their imperfect children. Often those were separated from their families and sent to institutions, where they died, perhaps from inattention or wanton neglect. Another such prominent family with a less-than-perfect child was that of Arthur Miller, the acclaimed writer of morality plays. He and his third wife had a mentally retarded son who was separated from his parents and sister, given over to the care of an older, childless couple and barely acknowledged, an apparent embarrassment to his cerebral father.

Into this world my younger sister, Maxine, was born in 1942. She was diagnosed with Down syndrome almost immediately, and my mother’s highly regarded New York City obstetrician advised my parents to “do yourselves a favor and throw her into the nearest garbage can.” We live in an entirely different world today, made so by much of the investigative reporting of journalists like Geraldo Rivera and his expose of terrible and unconscionable conditions at the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island in the 1970s. The courageous outing of their disabled sister by the Kennedys in the 1960s was also a transformative moment in this change from hiding away children with handicaps to helping them develop as humans entitled to their lives.

Fully supported in her decision by my father, my mother fiercely insisted that my sister had every right to be loved and brought up alongside her other two children. She then devoted the rest of her life to caring for and teaching Maxine to the extent possible.

There were no public schools to help the mentally challenged at the time any more than there were facilities to aid those with physical disabilities. But my mother, with infinite patience, taught my “profoundly retarded” (that was her diagnosis) sister to read and do simple arithmetic on perhaps a second-grade level. In addition, Maxine was accepted into a private school for those with disabilities run by the Catholic Church in Brooklyn, which further helped her development.

My sister was a delightful member of our family with a wickedly good sense of humor and a heart full of kindness and love. She enriched all our lives and lived until 2008, something of a record for those with Down syndrome.

Maxine was unlucky to be born with a severe disability and in the first half of the 20th century. But she was incredibly lucky to have my father and mother as her parents. My mother completely ignored the stares of passersby on the streets and on the buses of New York who had never before seen a person with Down syndrome. She valiantly withstood the ire of her sisters, who emotionally urged her to “put Maxine away,” the euphemistic phrase for institutionalizing, because she would ruin the good marriage prospects of the next generation if she were seen. And she integrated Maxine into her daily life to the edification of the neighborhood, whose residents came to greatly respect my parents and enjoy Maxine.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

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Alyssa Paprocky, 22, is one of only two female racers at Riverhead Raceway competing in the Blunderbust class of cars. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Alyssa Paprocky parked her car, her acrylic nails still wrapped around the steering wheel. She got out and took off her helmet, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She just finished 9th out of 14 in an Aug. 5 race and she was happy enough with the placement. She’s only been racing for a few years, and is still considered a rookie. She looked to the front of her car where there was a mark of pink along her front driver’s side wheel well — driving that close that fast on such a speedway is bound to rub a few the wrong way. She shrugged.

“Rubbing is racing,” Paprocky said.

Coram race car driver Alyssa Paprocky jumps into the seat of her car. Photo by Kyle Barr

The 22-year-old Coram resident is one of only two female racers at Riverhead Raceway competing in the Blunderbust class of cars. She started racing three years ago, and said even with a number of female outliers — like Janet Guthrie and more recently Danica Patrick — being a female in what has traditionally been considered a man’s sport has had its challenges.

“People think that there’s this stereotype that women don’t know how to drive,” Paprocky said. “People assume that you’re not going to do well. Us girls want to go out there to prove them wrong.”

Racing is in Paprocky’s blood, but she is the first female driver in her family. Her grandfather, and father Joe Paprocky both raced in their day, with her father working on fixing cars and even sponsored some in the 1990s and early 2000s. Being an only child, Paprocky grew up constantly surrounded by cars..

“Once I get in and strap into the race car — the car doesn’t know if I’m a guy or a girl,” she said. “It doesn’t know the difference.“

When Paprocky was young, she would watch NASCAR events and knew the names of all the drivers, their numbers and even their sponsors. She would help her dad work on cars — holding the flashlight so he could see while he was deep in the car’s “guts.” She spent so much time by his side she knew what size socket wrench he needed based on the part he was working on before he even asked for it. Now, she gets in there, puts the wrench in and gets her own hands covered in grease and oil.

“People think that there’s this stereotype that women don’t know how to drive. People assume that you’re not going to do well. Us girls want to go out there to prove them wrong.”

—Alyssa Paprocky

“She wanted to drive for years — you know, being a daddy’s girl,” Joe Paprocky said. “I was like ‘no, no, no, no.’ Then one night, I just thought what was I doing holding her back. It’s been a work in progress, but each week we get something out of it.”

Natalie Fitterman, an English teacher at Centereach High School and friend of the Paprocky’s, said she enjoyed watching the pair work together.

“I saw a man taking the time to teach his daughter about something he is very passionate about, and it is something most fathers would never want their daughters to know about, let alone actually do,” she said. “I have a hard time finding models for my students, but she’s one of them.”

Lenore Paprocky, the young driver’s mother, has also worked on cars. She marveled at the fact that her daughter has taken it one step further than she did — not only working on cars, but driving them. To her, it’s the family and community developed in racing that sets it apart from other sports.

“Camaraderie is a big part of why people stay with this sport,” she said. “It’s competition, yeah, but you could call it a friendly competition.”

Cassandra Denis, the other female racer at the speedway who also races in the Blunderbust class, came up as a rookie around the same time Alyssa Paprocky did. She said she respects her competitor, and admires the courage it takes to be a female in the sport.

“It’s about earning respect on the track, and that means you do the work turn laps and get a victory,” Denis said. “I respect [Alyssa] going through the same struggles. We have to work harder to get here and prove ourselves.”

Alyssa Paprocky (No. 5) follows the pack in an Aug. 5 race at Riverhead Raceway. Photo by Kyle Barr

Paprocky has been in 16 races since she started at Riverhead Raceway. Last year’s season was cut short because her car kept breaking down, and at first, she felt defeated.

“My first engine blew and it was the most depressing thing — it was as if someone had come and shot my dog,” Paprocky said. “Then, it was rebuilding … a smaller engine. That meant everything had to change. Even my driving style.”

Paprocky tries to remain realistic, and though she might place well in some races, what she really looks for is consistency in her improvement.

“I set realistic goals for myself, and every week I would put the hours in and I feel like I met those goals for the most part,” she said. “I take a positive out of every week.”

She said the spirited young fans that approach her after her races keep her going.

“I’ve had little kids come up to me in the pits to sign autographs and they ask ‘whose the driver?’ and I say ‘That’s me,’” Paprocky said. “I still sometimes feel like a rockstar. A couple weeks ago two little girls came up to me, and I went to get a marker to sign their flag and I heard them go ‘Oh, she is the driver? Oh my God.’”

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If you were to ask those of us of a certain age, we would insist that we want to age in place. That is, we want to continue to live in our houses, cook in our kitchens and sleep in our bedrooms. This is a worthy goal for it saves family and the government a lot of money. Statistics have shown that hospitalization and nursing homes are far more costly than living at home. Still, we also know that more accidents happen in the home, and that means continuing to live at home presents certain challenges.

The greatest hazard, it would seem, is for older adults to fall. Now, and for the last score of years, there are programs with certifications that train people how to make homes safer, especially for preventing falls. For example, the National Association of Home Builders offers a course that trains CAPS: certified aging in place specialists. These may be builders, remodelers, occupational therapists or interior designers who can come into a home and make suggestions for retrofitting.

There are 3,500 such specialists but Dan Bawden, from Houston, who helped develop the program in 2001, told The New York Times there are 10 times as many needed to upgrade such homes. The highest rate of home ownership in the country, some 80 percent, is by older people, and the great majority of us are in single-family homes.

The three most important features allowing residents to move around safely are: to have an entrance without steps; to live on a single floor; and to have hallways and doorways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, less than 4 percent meet that description. And if further features are thrown in, like doors with lever handles — rather than knobs — plus light switches and electric outlets that can be reached from a wheelchair, that rate falls to 1 percent, according to the recent article in the Times: “Planning to Age in Place? Find a Contractor Now” by Paula Span.

At this point, with about 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, it would make the most sense for every new house to be constructed according to what is termed “universal design.” Such homes would have bathroom grab bars, higher toilets, curbless showers, widened doorways and added lighting. Such features would promote independence for the disabled and older people.

There are other associations that offer similar certification programs. Certified Living in Place Professional program is one such. Local agencies on aging and senior centers may also give this kind of information. What seems to work best is if an occupational therapist and a CAPS, or equivalently trained graduate, team up to interview each homeowner and determine what is most needed.

Costs for these modifications can be a problem. There is little government help for such remodeling, with the exception of the Department of Veterans Affairs and perhaps Medicaid. Some states do offer tax credits but not many. Mostly such alterations are privately financed, despite the potential savings from staying at home. A bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress last year for a $30,000 federal tax credit, but to date it has gone nowhere.

Approximate costs could run as follows, according to Bawden: two grab bars installed for $200-$300; replace doorknobs with lever handles $60-$90; for every relocated electrical outlet or switch, $175-$250. Those are the smaller costs. Then there is replacing a tub with a roll-in shower at $8,000-$10,000, and an entirely new bathroom with universal design elements for more than $25,000.

The biggest hurdle of all may be to get older residents to feel that they need such modifications. At the least, kitchen floors might be textured rather than covered with tiles that are slippery when wet; the color of the kitchen counters might contrast with the color of the floor as the more elderly lose depth perception; front edges of stairs could be outlined with colored tape; freezers are safer in a pullout drawer at the bottom of a refrigerator — and, for Pete’s sake, get rid of those much-beloved throw rugs.

We all have our routines. We go to certain restaurants, drive certain routes to work and support certain gas stations, where we know we’ll get a competitive price, a friendly response from the attendant and rapid service.

When we travel, everything changes. We sleep in unfamiliar beds, flick the channels on television stations where the stations aren’t the same numbers as they are on Long Island, and navigate along routes that aren’t our familiar pattern.

Breaking the routine offers us a chance to step away from our lives and to experience something new. Maybe we’ll go to a museum in a new city or visit a place we’ve seen in a movie, which blends both the familiar and the unknown.

Our level of adventure and appetite for risk — as in, what happens if I don’t like the experience — can rise or fall depending on our travel companions.

Recently, I visited another city for a weekend with my daughter, who was traveling with a group of her teenage contemporaries and their parents. We all managed to get to our designated stops in our cars and to return to a hotel chain so ubiquitous that, with the blinds closed and without access to the local weather on TV, we could have been in Anywhere, USA.

We each had a GPS and an address for our activities which reduced both the stress and the adventure that came from the unknown.

While we could have gotten lost, the probability of that seemed slim. Getting lost, nerve-racking as it might have been 20 years ago, is almost an impossibility with navigation systems built into cars, phones and watches.

Following an afternoon activity, several of the girls decided they were hungry. One of the members of the group suggested a national pizza chain, to which the others readily agreed.

I wrinkled my brow at the suggestion and wondered, as a cellphone order was quickly placed, whether we might want to try a local pizza restaurant instead.

“No, that’s OK,” I was assured. “This will be better.”

I waited in a packed car until the order was placed, at which point the girl in the back transferred the address to her mother, who was riding shotgun during my weekend away with my daughter.

“Honey,” the mom said, “are you sure you dialed the closest restaurant?”

“Yes,” the daughter grumbled, shaking her head at her mother.

“I just checked the address for this restaurant and it’s two hours from here. You sure you want a pizza that far away?”

“Wait, what?” the daughter said, double-checking the address and the phone. Sure enough, the restaurant was on the other side of the state.

“Wait, before you order from a closer one,” I said, as she was already searching her phone for a nearby restaurant, “we’re sitting right outside a pizza restaurant. Don’t you want to try this one?”

“No, thanks,” she said, trying to be polite to someone else’s parent. “We want this one.”

When we got to the closer restaurant, we ran into another parent who was picking up pizza for his family. With so many other local choices, how did both families make the identical choice?

I suppose they might have discussed their food preference during the day. That was unlikely, given the social split in the group.

Alternatively, they have become so accustomed to the familiar that they prefer it, even when traveling.

I suppose when the opportunity for something new and different knocks, people don’t always feel the urge to answer the door.

Dear Teddy,

First I want to tell you how heartsick I am to have put you down. I know that is the final act of love for a responsible pet owner when a beloved animal is suffering and no longer functioning. Nonetheless I ask your forgiveness for this ultimate act that ended our 12-year relationship. Little consolation but just know that I miss you every day.

As I think back on your life with us, there are so many vignettes that come to mind. We selected you from a litter of 11 fuzzy golden puppies because you suddenly stretched your neck and quickly licked the tip of my son’s chin with your tiny tongue. It was the winning gesture.

You started life in our home in the kitchen, where we had a tile floor and a crate for you. In what seemed like record time, you were housebroken and we decided that you were smart. On the advice of a neighboring dog owner, we hired a dog trainer for a short while, and he confirmed our judgment. “This is one of the smartest dogs I have ever trained,” he said to our delight, although it did cross my mind that he was probably telling us what we wanted to hear. As time went by, however, you showed yourself quick at understanding what was expected of you. Or was it you who trained us to do what you needed when you needed it done?

Anyway, we have a lot to thank you for. Thank you for teething on the windowsills, the moldings, the bottoms of the kitchen cabinets and anything else you could fit your little mouth around. Thank you for grabbing the hem of a favorite cashmere sweater in your tiny teeth and giving it a good rip. Thank you for finding a sheepskin glove carelessly left on the chair and digesting the index finger. And throughout that first year and the years thereafter, you always delighted us with your puppy-like curiosity.

You were growing at a prodigious rate, and by the following year, you made clear your preference for the beach. Because you were a retriever, we would throw a tennis ball along the sand and wait expectantly for you to fetch and bring it back. Proving that you were not simply one of the pack but to be appreciated for your individuality, you looked after the ball with a bored expression. “Give me a real challenge,” we read in your eyes. So we picked up a stone about the size of a squash ball and threw it half a block. You were after it like a shot, went directly to it among the thousands of rocks on the beach and carried it back to us. But you didn’t give it up. Instead you preferred to chew it, which eventually ground down your front teeth. That was not so smart, I will concede, but it seemed never to hamper you in any way. You also loved to chew sticks and went clamming for rocks with attached seaweed. These you pulled out and brought to the high-water line then tore off the seaweed.

You had a mind of your own, we realized early on, as you ran into the water and would not come out when we wanted to return home. You would turn to face us, water up to your knees, and dare us to come in after you. That was acceptable in summer, but not so much in the midst of winter. And you certainly had a mischievous streak, being selectively deaf when you disagreed with a command. So much for the trainer.

You were interested in people, even more than you were in other dogs. And you were absolutely democratic, going up to each person in a room or on the road, skipping no one, and greeting him or her. Some were uncertain, since you were rather a large dog. “He just wants to say, ‘Hello!’” I would try to be reassuring, and you would wait patiently until each gave you at least a perfunctory pat. Satisfied, you would move on. You were like the neighborhood mayor.

Our family members, friends and neighbors miss you. At least some of our neighbors do. The rest can probably manage just as well without your tearing across their lawns, looking for a “sweet” spot. Most especially, we miss you in the evenings, when you would wiggle and wag with pleasure at our homecoming. And you would flatten yourself across our knees seeking and giving affection, as we relaxed in the living room after dinner.

Goodbye, my sweet dog. Thank you for filling our home and our lives with your love. The memory will not die.

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On the eve of this year’s Mother’s Day, I have a question to ask you. Do you ever think of your parents as people? Sounds like an odd question, but I mean thinking about them in terms of the times they live through, their private satisfactions, their fears and phobias, the experiences that mold them and so forth. We know the facts they choose to tell us about their lives but not their deepest thoughts and feelings.

We can’t ever really know them, even though we grow up in their home. Most of us consider them as loving to us, making our lives comfortable, caring for us when we are sick, instructing us how to behave, making our favorite birthday dinners. But there is more to their existence than their interactions with us.

I sat down to try and picture myself in their shoes.

I know that my father met my mother when he accompanied his older brother to the home of his brother’s fiancée for the first time. There, coming down the stairs in a red dress, was the sister of the fiancée, my mother. To hear my father tell it, he was struck instantly and forever by Cupid’s arrow. Although he was only 15, the sight of her took his breath away. So we know what my father was feeling, but how about her? Did she catch sight of him and feel the same overpowering love at first sight? Was she coming downstairs merely out of curiosity to meet her older sister’s intended, then to slip away for the afternoon with her friends? Did she have nervous or polite conversation with my father? What did they talk about? By the time she was 15 and he was 17, he had persuaded her to get married during her lunch hour in Manhattan’s City Hall. They prevailed upon two men in a nearby barbershop to be their witnesses and to swear that they were both of age. They then returned to work and to their separate homes that night.

My father was triumphant, I know, because he told us so, for now he had the love of his life as his own. Did he have any idea what that meant? You know, the stuff about making a home, supporting and caring for a wife? And my mother, my always and eminently practical mother? How had he convinced her to do this without telling her parents, her brothers and sisters, especially her older sister with whom she was dearly close? Hard as it is for me to picture, she must have been wildly in love.

Theirs was a youthful marriage that worked. They were seldom apart, only during the workday, and they eagerly reunited in the evenings. I could sense the quickening of her breath as we heard his key in the front door. And they began their nightly nonstop conversations as he entered the apartment. My sister and I fell asleep each night to the hum of their voices coming from the kitchen.

My dad was born in 1904, my mother in 1906, so they had both lived through World War I. My dad was lucky to be too young for the draft, but how did he feel seeing his older brothers marching off to war? And my mother? Was she worried about the fate of her older brother? I never asked them.

My parents decided everything together. My mother was more assertive about her opinions, but if my father didn’t agree she would back off. And while he seldom disagreed with her, when he did he was not reticent to let her know. They lived through the Great Depression, but I don’t know if they worried about money or job security. Were they afraid? There was no unemployment or health insurance then. Did they have nightmares about standing on breadlines? I never asked.

I do know that by 1939 they started their first business with all the life savings they had managed to scrape together. Then came Pearl Harbor and World War II. Once again my father was saved, being just beyond draft age. Did they feel threatened by the attack and the war? What were their thoughts and feelings? How did they cope with the stress? I came along then, but at no time in their lives did I think to ask.

Now, of course, it is too late.

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Extended family has that wonderful yet terrible ring to it. When we gather with family we may not have seen in years, we get the chance to reminisce, to share details about our lives, and to face the horror of seeing someone who insists on reminding us of something we said or did that we’ve spent years working to forget.

Recently, we gathered with a large group of family and got to watch our children, who are now in middle and high schools, face the same treatment I recall all too well from my youth.

“He’s so grown up and handsome,” is one of the more innocuous statements about my son.

“He has your dimples,” another offered, which would be flattering except that I don’t have dimples. That lady insisted, however, that the laugh lines on the sides of my face were like dimples, to which my son and I blinked our long eyelashes, which he did get from me, and moved on.

“The last time I saw you,” one friend started, “you must have been no more than this high,” she suggested, holding her hand around mid-knee level. “Do you remember?”

No, how could he remember? When you’re that small, you barely remember your own name.

Back when I was a kid, older relatives used to approach my cheeks as if they were fruit they had to squeeze to make themselves prune juice. Between thumb and index finger, they’d grip tightly while spitting into my face something about how cute I’d become. I’d focus on not letting the tears spill down my sore cheeks as these distant relatives couldn’t keep their distance.

Other people’s kids grow up incredibly quickly because we don’t have to take care of them when they get sick at night, drive them to sports or music practices, or push them to do their homework. We don’t have to battle with them when they decide that everything anyone who is more than 20 years old says is absolute nonsense and that they don’t want to live by anyone else’s rules.

We can look at other people’s children as if they are a part of some longitudinal study or as if we are flipping through the pages of a picture book that spans several years.

When I see some of these children who drift in and out of my life every few years, I’m tempted to tell them stories that wouldn’t interest them, about how incredibly shy they were 10 years earlier, or how their laugh used to be like a bubble machine, filling the room with happy suds. For the giggling girl who became the taciturn teenager, those stories are as welcome as persistent questions about the boys in her grade or events that occurred during the day in school.

I can’t stop myself from commenting on how much taller the kids are getting, in large part because many of these teenagers, who I used to get on one knee to see eye to eye, are now towering over me. I even made one of them smile when I asked if he wouldn’t mind bending down to hug me.

At this recent gathering, I asked my son to go around the table and name as many of the relatives as he could. The relatives were aghast at my putting him on the spot but, thoroughly enjoying the day, he recognized the request was a playful prank.

No matter what I say to other people’s kids, I make sure I don’t pinch anyone’s cheeks. Even all these years later, I can still see those feral fingers and thumbs coming at me like talons.

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