The right thing to do.

I’m sitting at my desk at the university, organizing the names of undergraduate students that are coming in to volunteer for a lecture I am putting on tomorrow.  I’ve sent out emails to them telling them times and places to be.  In a few of their reply’s some have inquired as to how much credit they will receive for their services, and some have inquired as to any other compensation they may receive for the one hour of work they will do.

One hour of volunteer work.  That is all they are allowed to volunteer for at one time.  I am told those are the university’s rules regarding undergraduates.  One hour of volunteer work.  My mom’s voice keeps popping into my head, “One hour?!  You work ‘till the work is finished! “

When I was in junior high through high school we never had a snow day.   School would be closed due to snow, but Kathy DeMarco had made me get up at 6:30 or 7am regardless.  If school was closed due to snow that meant the one, or both, of the DeMarco boys were shoveling the driveways and walkways of the neighbors.  It wasn’t a kid-drive business.  It wasn’t a way to make some extra money.  It was because my Mom always “reminded” us it was the right thing to do.

“You take that money back across the street and give it right back!” She would be surprisingly awake for that early in the morning.  “You’re not doing this for money!  You’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do!  I’m watching you.”  And she would stand in the doorway and watch the money change hands.  Just to drive the point home she would occasionally open the door and tell the neighbor, “If it snows again he’ll come back and clean it again!” It would snow again later.  I would clean it again.

There was Joann, Mrs. Howell, Hiram and Dorothy, the Kelly’s house (if General hadn’t beaten me to it), Dan and Judy, Stacey, Mrs. Edworthy, Ad and Mary Jo, General and Kathleen (when General got a bit older and his son would be snowed in), and especially the Kaiser’s house.  You had to start with the Kaiser’s house.  Mr. Kaiser would drive out three times a day to eat all meals with Mrs. Kaiser in the nursing home, no matter how bad it was snowing.  I kept the Kaiser’s driveway spotless, all day long.

I can remember a couple instances my senior year of high school, and through college on winter break, waking up on snowy mornings (without my mother’s “prompting”), quietly going downstairs to not wake everyone else, putting on my boots, getting my gloves, my hat, heavy jacket, and my snow shovel.   It had become routine.   It was part of winter.

I cleaned our driveway last, after all the other driveways were clean.  It was just what you did.  It was the right thing to do.

Thank you, Mom.



I have my mom’s smile. It’s one of the best gifts she ever gave me. It’s this big toothy smile that makes two big parenthesis framing it on either side of our mouth. It’s a smile that makes our high cheeks push up, our eyes get squinty, and smile wrinkles fan out around our bottom eye lids. It’s a smile that says everything you need to know about how we are feeling.

My mom got her perfect smile naturally. Straight teeth, upper and lower. I got thousands of dollars sunk into my grille to straighten and even it out. My mom was always big on teeth. She supervised many of my teeth brushing sessions growing up. And if you tried to cheat on brushing your teeth you got a standard lecture from my mom about how you only get one set of teeth and you have to make them last a lifetime. And I guess it worked. I’m pretty obsessive about my teeth.

And now smiling is one of those things we struggle with, because my mom is starting to loose it. That is, when we tell her to smile in pictures, sometimes it happens sometimes it doesn’t. She says, “I am smiling,” even though what you get is a neutral expression. I guess it makes sense knowing what she’s going through. Smiling is probably a very complicated action, requiring lots of muscles to do what they need to do all at the same time. So when that action is voluntary, it’s hard.

And yet, the involuntary smiles still happen. When a song she likes comes on the radio, you’re likely to get a big grin. Sometimes when she looks across the room and sees my brother or me sitting in a chair she smiles a big smile. She doesn’t will it. It’s that involuntary smile that she passed on to me that just happens because you can’t keep all that happiness inside. It’s my mom’s smile that happens because it can’t do anything but burst out all over her face. And she gave that smile to me. And after she can’t do it any more, I’ll still smile her smile, and see her happiness in mine.


Travel kit

I’m currently traveling on a long trip and as I was frantically trying to figure out what I needed to pack and making sure I didn’t forget anything, I remembered mom. When we were growing up there were four things my mom always packed. She swore by them: Tylenol, Benadryl, Immodium and Gas-X. With that toolkit she could fix 99.9% of whatever body ache or pain that came up on the trip. I remember when my brother and I would go off to camp in the summer, these four things were always in our toiletry bags. And I have to admit, to this day, a rumble in the tummy, a itchy eye bout, a head ache, just as mom predicted, 99.9% of my grown up travel dilemmas can at least be eased by mom’s go-to kit.


I remember when I was boxing up and cleaning out mom’s house a couple of years ago there were two stacks of records. One stack of records I’d collected at garage sales and old music stores. They were mostly popular titles I also had on cassette or CD that i thought also having the album would make a cool novelty.

The other stack was the collection of my mom and dad’s records. Over a couple of decades it had become one tangled and inseparable expression of the young people they used to be when they had no idea how hard life would become.

I loved my parents record collection because as a kid I’d look through it every few years, and I’d see it with a slightly older, slightly more experienced eyes. I’d know more of the artists. I’d be more interested about what records were in there and why.

And on that particular day, when I was sorting both the stacks of records for the last time, I noticed that there were three Carole King Tapestry albums. One the purchase of my 20 something single father. One the purchase of my 20 something single mother. One the purchase of their 20 something son.

And when I hear that album, I think of those three people and how happy they were being young and with their whole complicated lives ahead of them.