Day 46: Christmas Tree

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 8.10.16 AM.png

This is my sister-in-law’s tree, the most perfect Christmas tree in the history of the world.

Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Forty-Six.

The other night as Jon and I walked into a store, I mused aloud if it was too soon to start thinking about our Christmas tree. “You can NOT get another fake tree!” he half shouted from the garden center, pushing his cart along the aisle of new inflatable holiday offerings he admires. He loves those damn blow-ups. If he can get another trashy lawn ballon, I can continue to search for the perfect tree.

I mean, of course it’s too early to think about Christmas trees, and I wouldn’t actually dream of getting out anything Christmasy until after Thanksgiving. My porch is decorated in autumn leaves and pumpkins and I love how Currier & Ives-welcoming it looks. There’s something magical about the short, dying burst of the year. But the orange and brown holidays are all that stand between me and my very favorite thing.

I like a live tree. This will be my 6th Christmas on the east coast, and they simply do not have my kind of life tree here. All the trees are fluffy and full and…wrong. I’m a fan of the Noble Fir, with its at-attention branches and the spaces between its limbs. I love a sparse tree where the ornaments can hang gracefully and not lay limply against the overfull boughs. I have attempted a live tree several times— even going so far as to take the pruning loppers to the tree and cut off every other branch to create space and air amid a tree that wasn’t meant to be that way. It didn’t work. Lesson learned.

So I have resorted to fake trees. There’s something to be said for the convenience and cleanup factor, and after the initial expense, they are free. I even found one that was sort of sparse that I was able to bend and groom into something resembling the spacious trees of my younger years. It’s not the same.

So in order to have a proper Christmas tree, it’s going to be necessary to move back west. I mean, I can’t think of another solution.

There might not be room in the truck for trashy lawn balloons though.

Day 45: Something Scary

Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Forty-Five.

There is much in the world lately to be scared of…and then I stop and I wonder if that’s just where the lens is focused. Sure, US politics are a mess and the tide of nationalism is not a good worldwide trend. I also know that we care more and have more awareness of things that at any time in history. We work to help others, we work for hurricane relief, clean drinking water, vaccinations of preventable diseases (hell yes, I mean that). The world isn’t an awful place. But it can be. There is suffering and sorrow, and if I think about it too much I become paralyzed in my inability to do anything about it.

So I try and think about what I can do. Besides give money (which I try and do but which ends up being woefully small drops in a very big ocean) what can I do in my sphere to contribute in a way that helps somehow, somewhere? That’s a scary, existential question. For me, it means I am moving the pieces around in my head and in my life to go back to school and finally finish my graduate degree. I’m not sure exactly what that will look like, or where it will be, or even exactly in what, but it will be service oriented. I have a lose idea of what I want to do, but for now, that’s just for me to be mulling over.

Day 44: Leaving

Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Forty-Four.


This is an expert from my memoir, The Burning Point, where I wrote more about leaving than I ever wished to have known. It is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and local booksellers in the west.

There are two images of David seared into my mind. Both are looking back through a departing window.

The first is from the evening we left Little House. He had accompanied me that day to pick up the twelve-foot rental truck; I was nervous about driving such a large vehicle, and grateful for his willingness to help and again be present.

That evening, after the belongings of a household of four had miraculously been fitted neatly inside what seemed a ridiculously small truck by a crew of friends, it was finally just David and me standing in the warm twilight.

“You’re going to visit us, right?” It was hard to talk over the lump in my throat. He pushed some gravel around with his shoe, his hands shoved deep in his jean pockets. He nodded and looked toward the kids running and laughing on the now-empty Little House lawn. The next day my neighbor was dismantling Bean’s wooden fort and moving it to her backyard for her grandkids. It was the last vestige of us.

My car was loaded and secured on a trailer behind the box truck, and we were waiting on a friend to pick me and the kids up to spend our last night in the Northwest.

“I’m scared,” I whispered.

He looked across the impossible space between us, his own eyes swimming. “I know. You’ve been scared all along, and yet you’ve still managed to do the right thing. You’re the star, Tracy Leigh.” There was an entire sky of love and tenderness in his ragged voice.

He tried to smile but turned and called for the kids. He sat down on the front steps of Little House, and took each child in his lap, holding them close and spoke quiet words of his love meant only for each of their ears. I stood apart, tears streaming down my face, giving them the room for their own memories.

Car wheels crushed over the gravel behind me, and it was time. David helped me buckle the teary kids in the backseat of my friend’s car, leaning in to kiss their salty, rosy cheeks and feel their arms around his neck one more time. He stepped toward the back of the car, his hands shoved deep in his pockets again and his eyes red.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

My chest felt like an anvil was lodged over my heart, where there were worlds built and destroyed between us. There was everything to say, and nothing left to say. “I know…me too.”

“Go.” He laid his open hand gently on the top of the car and tapped three times.

I clicked my seatbelt and turned around to check the kids. Over their three small faces, he stood alone in the driveway of Little House, slowly disappearing from sight as we headed east.

Day 43: Thank You

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 7.25.03 AM.png

Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Forty-Three.

Dear Uncle Gary,

My early childhood memories are almost entirely peopled by colorful, influential and present women—I have almost no strong memories of the men who were supposed to fill those spaces—except for you. And the space you fill is overflowing with tender kindness.

I was four the day you married Annie in Yosemite, and I wore a pink gingham dress while you let me write on the windows of the car in red lipstick. You treated my designs on the glass as the most worthy, most cherished art, and kept them there for months beyond the day.

You would stop what you were doing to really see me, to explain something, to speak directly to me as though I were a person worthy of respect and attention. You patiently showed me how prisms refracted light to make rainbows, why wild oregano smelled so delicious when we walked on it, and how important it was to be able to dig a volleyball and chill listening to live music. You helped me understand that men could be different from each other, and that I could trust you.

And there was the swing. That belongs to you and me.

Even when life changed and moved on and I grew up, you always found ways to show me that you remembered me and that you cared. You called, you reached out, you offered your help and support beyond my childhood and into my adult life. You have exemplified for me the value of small things, of taking that moment to really connect with another human being, no matter how small. I doubt you know how special and important you are to me.

So I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for being different. Thank you for being present and sensitive. Thank you for showing me in action and word the value of daughters and nieces. Thank you for being kind. Your influence on who I am is far bigger than you could have known.

I love you,
Tracy Leigh

Day 42: When I Grow Up

05Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Forty-Two.

It’s funny how the idea of what being a grown-up means changes as you actually grow up. When I was younger, I imagined a transformation of myself, like a caterpillar into a butterfly, where I was substantially changed, morphed into something else.

I used to think I would somehow mellow, transform into a mild-mannered, more genteel soul. I imagined myself as a patient sage, who did more watching the world go by with patience and wisdom. I imagined myself has having sufficiently banked my fiery passions that they no longer fueled my life, and that calm dignity would cloak me.

Yeah. That hasn’t happened. Surprise.

Just like I knew exactly what kind of mother I would be before I had kids, I knew exactly what kind of adult I would be before I became one. Life has a way of laughing at us, undoing us, doesn’t it?

It amuses me how sweetly unformed the ideas I had about life and my own abilities were. I am actually many of the things I imagined, but they don’t look anything like I imagined they would. A real, lived life, with rough edges and refining sandblasting in places I never expected it is so much deeper, so much richer, so much better, than the simplistic fantasies I once entertained.

I’m wiser. But I’ll be damned before I am ever genteel. My wisdom has come to me not a silver plate with white gloves, but rather through fighting through some of the hardest years of loss and struggle. My heart is carved deep with the lessons I have learned, because of those carved out spaces, I can also encompass levels of compassion and love I never dreamed possible. I know in my bones that we cannot ever unravel or separate loss, sorrow, joy, love, risk, fear, bravery… they are woven together and do not exist without each other. I know that my fire was a gift from God that allowed me to survive things that might have otherwise crushed me. I know that the passions and fire still fuel my direction and shed light on not just my own path, but have also helped other people find their own footing at times. I know that my gifts are my own, and I no longer wish or worry about turning into something that I am not.

It’s simply not possible to be someone else. I love growing up.

Day 41: Favorite Recipes

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 9.08.12 AM.png

Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Forty-One.

In my mother’s kitchen cupboard is a small, tattered, batter-stained, oil-splotched green-covered cookbook that says What’s Cooking in Chokio, Minnesota on the cover. It’s the kind of paper-covered cookbook communities and churches made seven or eight decades ago—you probably have one in your kitchen, or your mother’s kitchen, or your grandmother’s kitchen. This one belonged to my great-grandmother, and someday it will belong to me; my mother knows I want it, and it’s been earmarked mine.

One of the things I treasure is hand-written material culture from women in our lives. Recipes are sometimes the only record we have of our foremothers writing. My own grandmother wasn’t much of a writer, and I don’t have any recipes written on small cards from her—if you have such things from your grandmother, I suggest scanning them in and framing them in your kitchen. I wish I could.

What I do have is the green cookbook. It has notes and marginalia from my great-great-aunt Evelyn my, whom everyone loved. It has directions like “use a medium hot oven” and “adjust racks away from coals.” It’s beautiful, and tattered, and it is absolutely a family heirloom. My own aunt has taken to copying some of the recipes in the book, and this last Christmas, she sent Abby a recipe box with handwritten recipes from the book, along with notes about who is now Abby’s GGG-aunt-Evelyn. It’s a treasure, and Abby now has recipes written in her great-aunt’s hand. I hope she treasures them as much as they deserve. I suspect she will. This last weekend, she got the box out and made Great Great Aunt Evelyn’s Almond Spritz Cookies. All by herself.

Someday, the green cookbook will be hers.

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 9.11.39 AM.png

Day 40: Family Pictures

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 8.40.12 AM

Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Forty.

When I first had Jeffrey, I had it in my head that it was suddenly time to take family pictures. It was just what you did as a new parent, right? For my mom, it meant taking us to Sears, and sitting stiffly on the furry, scratchy platform, and needing to keep our clothes perfect. For me, it meant JC Penny, and arriving a stressed-out, sweaty mess from trying to control everyone and everything to get that perfect shot of a family that didn’t really exist.

By the time Bean came along, I gave up.

We never took another studio portrait. I got a camera, and I learned how to take pictures of my kids. I draped sheets for a backdrop, I took them outside, and I utterly gave up on presenting a perfect (whatever that means) image of anything regarding my children and family. It’s kind of the trend now to take darling photos in orchards or putting the baby in an apple barrel or whatever—but I skipped that, too.

I just started taking candid shots of my kids. I’d throw them together and talk to them, ask them to tell me about their day, and I would click away. Even for Christmas cards, I just gave up on getting a nice shot. If that meant Bean was screaming in the Christmas card, that was at least an accurate shot of what life was like for us.

Now, looking back, I have a pretty cool anthropological study of the state of my family. In nearly every picture Bean is being uncooperative. Jeffrey is goofing off. Abby is reading or refusing to smile. I couldn’t have created a better documentary of who we are, from the beginning, if I had tried.

And I never get sweaty and angry at anyone. It just is what it is. I’m really grateful for younger me grasping this truth and letting go of any need to enforce perfection. I think we’re all happier in the end.

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 8.44.42 AM.png

Day 39: Pomegranates

Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Thirty-Nine.

I dont remember when I had my first pomegranate. They grew wildly on trees in yards all California where I grew up. We’d pluck them from overhanging craggy boughs while walking home from school. Our fingertips would be stained crimson and deep sepia with the juice, while the leathery peels trailed behind us, more substantial than Hansel & Gretel’s breadcrumbs.

The smooth crimson seeds would roll around on your tongue, until it was impossible to resist biting gently, and the bittery-sour sweet juice would make your tongue curl and your eyes water. I didn’t know they were a delicacy. In my world they were a beautifully odd and free fruit there for the taking—like the apricots and artichokes that also grew unrestrained and everywhere.

When I grew up and moved from the verdant bread-basket of California, I wept the first time I saw pomegranates in the store; they were waxed and manicured and shiny and were $3 each. Same with artichokes. It was odd to me that these were delicacies and considered gourmet items and that I met people who had never tasted them. Earlier this summer, now 15 years removed from California, I found a basket of apricots grown in my hometown. I picked them up and inhaled their intoxicating scent, and then burst into tears. You may grow up and leave home, but home never leaves you.

I wish I could give these lush memories to my children. I know they will have their own, but the further I get from home, the more I realize what I assumed was normal was actually quite extraordinary.

Remembering James V. DeBlase: The 2996 Project

This is a repost of a tribute I wrote for Jimmy DeBlase, who was killed sixteen years ago today. Say his name. Remember.

deblase.jamesHis friends called him Jimmy D, and he was probably the only Dallas Cowboy football fan in all of New Jersey; he was certainly their most fervent!

Jimmy was born in lower Manhattan, and grew up playing football in the streets of Little Italy. He grew up with two brothers, Anthony and Ritchie. His wife, Marion, remembers meeting Jimmy in 1978, when his team, “Carmine’s Animals” had just won a neighborhood championship. Jimmy’s (perplexing to local New Yorkers) love of the Dallas Cowboys is something he passed onto his three sons, Nicholas, Joseph and James, even going to far as taking them to Dallas to see the team play. The neighborhood kids called him Coach Jimmy- he was very involved in his sons lives, coaching them not only in football, but baseball and basketball as well.

In Lower Manhattan, Jimmy attended St. Joseph’s Elementary School, and went on to Bishop DuBois high school, where he excelled at athletics. After high school, Jimmy decided football would not be his career path, and enrolled in Baruch College, known for it’s business courses as opposed to athletics.

After college, Jimmy and Marion made their home in Manalapan, New Jersey, and Jimmy worked on Wall Street for 14 years as a dealer at Oppenheimer. He joined Cantor Fitzgerald in October 1999 as a USA Bond-broker.

Jimmy was at work in the North Tower on the 106th floor on the morning of September 11, 2001. His brother Anthony was in Tower 2, and was fortunate enough to make it out. Anthony spent days after the attack looking for his brother. Jimmy’s body has never been recovered.

His godson, Robet Netzel, has this to say about his godfather:

Uncle Jim, you are a hero to Aunt Marion and the boys. We miss you so much. We are all in this together to help your family from here on in. I will take your boys under my wing as best as possible. You have been a great inspiration for your boys to be the best that they can be in life and as their coach, you helped make them some of the best players out there. Keep a safe watch over all of your family and shine down on them. Jimmy D, your are the best.

Please take a moment and pause to remember the innocent people, such as Jimmy D, who were taken from us sixteen years ago today.

This tribute has been written about James V DeBlase as part of the 2,996 Project, a grassroots movement among bloggers to commemorate all of the lives lost in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. For more information on the project, or to take part and be assigned a person to commemorate, please visit The 2,996 Project.

Day 37: Sunrise


Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Thirty-Seven.

I’m nocturnal. Sunrises, for all their poetry and grandeur, have never been my friend. The idea of a sunrise is poignant and representative of all the things Pinterest and aspirational . There is a reason they use photos of sunrises on which to plaster quotes written in pseudo flex-nib calligraphy. I mean, it’s nice and all. But if I’m seeing sunrise, there are only two reasons, and both of them mean that something is generally wrong.

If I am watching the sun rise from the wrong side—meaning not as the dawn of a new day, but rather as the cruel punctuation point on the end of a long battle with insomnia. I don’t welcome the sun when my old friend visits me, when I have been counting down how many hours of sleep I *could* get if I fell asleep NOW… No, the sunrise seems like a mean “haha!” in the face of my bleary, bloodshot eyes, and what will be my inevitable snarling demeanor for the coming sleepless day.

The other reason I would see the sunrise is not as churlish. I might have gotten some sleep, but if I did sleep, and am awake to see the sunrise, it means something went wrong, and I am functioning on very little sleep. Someone or something woke me up, and see above for the demeanor of the day.

Try as I might through all the incarnations of my life, but I have never been able to reset my longterm circadian rhythms. My mother is a natural morning person, and views this (like so many do, oddly) as a morally superior disposition. Even as a child, my creativity and mind would turn on after dark. That’s when I think best, write best, paint best, plan best, figure life out best… see a best pattern? I can impose an outside structure—and have for long stints of time out of adult necessity, but as soon as I again give myself free rein, I revert to staying up until 2 am, and sleeping until 9 am. I don’t need a ton of sleep; sleeping the day away also sits wrong with me. But seven solid hours, just clicked over three or four variations from standard, and I am happy as a pig in mud.

With very few exceptions, I’m perfectly happy to leave the worms to the ridiculously cheerful and morally superior early birds. I’ll be over here with the curtains pulled.