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Stop Being OCD
Image Source: The Bad Chemicals

We moved to Florida a few months before I turned ten in 1982. Before that I was enrolled at Jordan Acres Elementary, Brunswick, ME, and inundated with tiny niggling fears.

Just across from the school playground was a street with a few low-slung brick buildings and an overpass. We walked under the overpass to get to the corner variety store for Slush Puppies, Reggie Bars and candy cigarettes. The buildings were nondescript, and could have been either residential or commercial at one point. Now they were abandoned, with the windows on the upper floors boarded up. I was convinced that this was a hideout for robbers, and I was sure that there was a hostage inside trussed up on a meat hook. And I was convinced that if the robbers ever walked out of one of the buildings while I was passing, I would be grabbed and trussed up, never to see my mom and dad again. It was certainly a frightening way to get a Slush Puppy.

On my road I had to watch out for the hippies. I have no idea who called them the hippies or why, nor how many there were. But I knew they had to be dangerous. I only ran afoul of them once, but it was terrifying. I remember there were two of them on one motorcycle, and they rode after me for a little bit. Probably just revved their engine, really, but that was enough. I remember hearing the engine gunning, seeing red and black plaid flannel and long hair and hearing a laugh which, over the years, has turned into a maniacal cackle. I remember screaming and running like hell for the house, and the sickening feeling that I might…not…make…it… My mom was probably home, and she probably hugged it all better. And I don’t remember ever seeing the hippies again. But they have remained in my brain ever since.

One time we returned from a vacation at Disney World to discover that our lock had been picked. Nothing was missing from the house, and no arrests were ever made. Who knows what that was about? But I remember the sense of violation from a robber (one from the building with the meat hooks?) being in the house, and the fear that they could come back. That they would come back, while we were home, and my dad would have to fight them all off…

On the bus to Jordan Acers we drove by the end of the runway of the Brunswick Naval Air Station. At the time BNAS was home to several squadrons of sub hunters, who flew P3 Orions over the North Atlantic searching for enemy submarines. We lived about two miles away from the base, and the sound of the propellers and the sight of the planes flying low and turning in graceful arcs toward or away from the runway was a perpetual background loop. On the bus, as we passed the runway, or parked at the Dairy Joy or Fat Boy Drive-in, I often had an image in my head of a P3 careening nose-first into the ground and exploding into a fireball. I could see the pilot frantically pulling the stick back through the cockpit window as the plane plummeted, to no avail. It never happened, but the image was frequent and extremely vivid.

Fire was a constant fear. I saw the episode of Little House on the Prairie where Albert accidentally burns down the church by leaving a lit pipe in the basement at too young an age, and the trauma settled in. Every clap of thunder, I was sure, brought with it the bolt of lightning that would hit the house and destroy my teddy bear and burn our cats alive. I remember my dad counting the seconds between thunderclaps to prove that a storm was moving away, and just reassuring me in general when a storm approached.

But the fear was real, and it came from experience.

I remember walking through the woods one winter afternoon and seeing The Thompsons house burn to the ground. I don’t remember The Thompsons, but I’ll never forget the sight and sounds, and especially the feel, of seeing their house burning down, and the charred smoldering wreckage after the fact. I remember this was the first time I ever heard of anyone having a “Saltbox House”: we had a Ranch, and most of my friends had Ranches or Split-Levels or Trailers. To this day, whenever I drive by or see or hear mentioned a Saltbox, I immediately see The Thompsons Saltbox house fully engulfed in the cold woods of my youth.

It happened to The Thompsons, I remember thinking. It’s going to happen to us too!

Retrospect, I can see that this is where the narrative thread of my life started to emerge. This was not just the slightly overactive imagination of a kid who may have watched a bit too much TV. This is where my OCD really started to present itself. The obsession, the rumination and the spirals…it all makes total sense to me now.

I don’t recall any rituals or number obsessions or any other coping mechanisims I may have used back then, but I find it very comforting somehow to see that my OCD clearly goes back this far. It explains a lot. And it makes me feel a lot (okay, a bit) more normal. One of the most dominant traits of my internal wiring was right there all along, screaming for attention and being unintentionally ignored.

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You try to recreate the memory
sitting in the same place, the same way
playing the same song at the same time
thinking the same thoughts
trying

so desperately
to hold on
to the feeling

But you can’t

You know too much
You’ve lived too much
The song is different
The sunset is different
The world is different

The memory
Is left
Behind

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Nightfall

The shortening days of autumn lead to a galaxy of happy and warm associations in my mind.

Let me take you to the family farm in Whitefield, ME. I was afraid to leave my mom for overnight visits for a long time, but by the time I was six, I couldn’t get enough of the Homestead. We visited in all seasons, of course, but the fall and winter especially stand out in my mind.

Sometimes my grandparents would arrive at our house in Brunswick to pick us up. As the baby-blue Oldsmobile pulled into the driveway, my mom always said, “Look who’s here!” and my brother Eric and I would go nuts. Grandpa was always clad in forest green Dickies, and Grandma always had a mod ‘70s sleeveless polyester shirt and, in the coldest weather, a knit sweater. We would load into the Olds, bathe in the magnificent cigar smoke wafting through the interior, and we were off.

I always loved the sound of the turn signal, but it seemed sharper when it was cold out. The sound was a comforting “click-clock”, from C to F, like a large interior clock. But the rhythm was eighth notes, so the C had a bit more urgency: “CLICK-clock-CLICK-clock” rather than “CLICK-rest-clock-rest-CLICK-rest-clock-rest.” My sense of rhythm and tone may well have developed here.

My grandfather’s wood pile towered in the yard by the hen house, always big enough to climb our way to the top and observe our kingdom. We would play Nerf football on the leaf-strewn great lawn, with puffs of wood smoke from the stove hanging low, or play on the tractor in the tool shed, with the smell of sawdust, kerosene and WD40 melding in the crisp air.

The main event came when the light left the sky in the afternoon. The sunsets at the Homestead during the cold months, to this day, grip my heartstrings and leave me speechless.

There is something about a person coming inside during the cold months. The door opens and a blast of fresh chill follows, infused with the smell of cold, leaves, earth and the mission of the arriving person. My grandfather, after feeding the sheep, always carried the scent of the barn, hay, his work clothes, kitchen matches, wood smoke and cigar smoke. This remains a magical concoction in my mind.

After dark, with a fire roaring in the wood stove, we would gather in the living room. My grandfather would smoke his cigars, my grandmother would make Jiffy-pop, and we would watch the classics of the ‘70s and ‘80s: Vegas, Quincy, Dallas, Hill Street Blues, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, The Rockford Files, Alice, One Day at a Time. So we weren’t studying for the bar. But we were together and warm and happy.

As the days got colder, the pile of blankets on the beds upstairs got thicker. My grandmother would kiss us to sleep, and we were off to dream of breaking through coverage for touchdowns, playing a Les Paul through a wall of Marshall stacks at a sold-out Madison Square Garden and skiing or tobogganing from the edge of the woods to the house.

I was never warmer in my life than I was during those short cold days, but it all comes back to me every time I return to visit my parents in the old house on the farm.

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Image Source: Collectors Weekly

I never got bored during summer vacation, and I never wanted to go back to school. Those brilliant clear days at the end of August meant a return to regime and order and new teachers and hall passes, and I still feel that tug of apprehension this time of year. But there were perks, mainly of the material variety.

As the days of summer dwindled, we always got new clothes for school. I now realize that not all kids in my school had this luxury, and that it was probably a bit of a sacrifice for my parents. But we never went without.

We always got new pencils, erasers, paper, notebooks and the rest, of course. And my grandmother frequently got us new backpacks from L.L. Bean.

Best of all, though, was lunch-box shopping. These were the days when the lunch-box and thermos set was be-all end-all, and the options were seemingly limitless: metal or plastic; sports or TV; rock n’ roll or cartoon. My favorites from my collection over the years, in no particular order:

1. The Six Million Dollar Man (metal)
2. Snoopy as Joe Cool (plastic – I often had mac & cheese in this thermos, and I would pour it out whole so it looked like a nuclear yellow cylinder of brain
3. Emergency! (metal)
4. NFL (plastic with hologram sticker: lean it left for all AFC team helmets; lean it right for all NFC team helmets)

I always wanted a KISS lunch-box, but never got one. I guess my parents had their fill with all our KISS records and had to draw a line somewhere. (Or maybe they realized what a suck band KISS was and tried to subliminally push my ear in better directions. Fortunately, this worked.) Regardless, I always had a great lunch-box, and wish I still had them all, seeing how dramatically their value has risen over the years.

Once the bell rang for the year at Jordan Acers Elementary, in Brunswick, ME, my creative cup ran over.

I used to draw all the time, often just the shapes of my every-day life, like an Amoco sign. My mom told me a teacher said that one of my drawings was so good she “couldn’t get over it”, and I remember picturing my teacher trying to jump over the drawing and not being able to clear it.

During recess I would stick my ear to the support pipes on the swing-set to hear the squeak and echo of the chains. In my head this cacophony sounded like a party, and I evidently mentioned these swing-set-people soirees to a teacher, because I remember my parents being called in about it. Were they marveling at my creativity or questioning my mental state? Who the hell knows? But the party continued every recess, and to this day I still hear music in sources as mundane as an air-conditioner unit.

Jordan Acers was my educational and social world through third grade, when we moved to Florida. My friends included Anthony Favreau, Kris Kirker, Katie Goodwin and Ellen Domingos, all of whom I’m blessed to have reconnected with via the almighty Facebook. We played kick-ball at recess, went roller-skating at the Brunswick rec center after school and had Star Wars and Batman theme parties. And we all probably swapped around the contents of our lunch-boxes.

I never wanted to return to school when the summer ended. But when I did, I always had new threads, creative opportunities, great friends and awesome lunch-boxes. And that was more than I needed.

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Hennepin Avenue Bridge
Image Source: Notsuoh Photography

Rick Nillsen walked half-way across the Hennepin Avenue Bridge clutching a business-size envelope against the chill October breeze. He walked the bridge all the time, often stopping in the middle to take in the sweep of the Mississippi toward St. Anthony Falls. Even with the traffic hurtling by it was a peaceful spot, a place to gather his thoughts and find his balance. But today it was all different. Rick’s entire life was different thanks to the arrival of the envelope.

The hand-writing on the envelope was achingly familiar

Nillsen
2541 Nicollet Ave
MPLS
55404

Nothing more than that. Nothing more was needed. Rick opened the envelope and pulled out five Polaroids and a piece of lined notebook paper. In the same script was written

funny how every photograph is a LIE
Goodbye

Nothing more than that. Nothing more was needed. Rick looked at the photos: he and Dana leaning against the hood of the Dodge, he and Dana by the Spoonbridge and Cherry statue in the Sculpture Garden, he and Dana in front of the Christmas tree, Dana smiling on the stoop, Dana as Mary Tyler Moore tossing her beret on the Nicollet Avenue mall. He fingered the pictures, and read the note again. And again. And again.

And it was all so true.

They were so damn happy in those pictures. And it was a lie, like all photographs. Nothing but a snippet of life, with no context at all. Not that we intentionally lie when posing for the snap of the shutter, but the moment captured is nothing more than the surface view. There’s always much more going on below the surface.

He thought of his favorite picture of himself with his dad, taken just after tossing a football around in the snow, both of them beaming smiles and happiness. But dad probably already had the Hodgkin’s that would take his life when that photo was taken. And maybe he knew it as they were tossing the ball around.

He thought of the one with dad and mom, taken on New Year’s Eve, mom rosy and glowing and tipping her Martini glass. There was one drink in the picture, but Christ only knows how many she had that night.

He thought of those moments captured in the Polaroids in his hand. Dana was apparently never happy with him, so it was all a lie.

Nothing more than that.

And nothing left…

When a relationship ends, a life ends. Everything ends. Routine, pattern and repetition, comfort and security. Everything familiar and needed comes to a sudden, sickening end. And nothing will ever bring it back.

Dana is gone. My life is gone.

The wind howled on the bridge as the sun left the sky and the Grain Belt Beer sign lit up for the evening. Another Minneapolis winter was coming, one he could not stand to take alone. Nothing left…

Rick slowly, methodically ripped up the envelope and the note. He then ripped up all the Polaroids and, one by one, dropped the torn-apart pieces over the side, into the river. He leaned over the rail, watching the pieces scatter into oblivion, leaning over a little further, trying to find peace with what was to come…

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Image Source: Maine Project

It was a mundane life, but I was happy. Solidly middle-class, no entitlements or luxuries, but we never went without either. Growing up on such an even keel made me appreciate what I have and not lust after what I don’t. This balance has served me well.

I was born in Brunswick Maine, September 12, 1972, in Parkview Memorial Hospital. It’s a big Jesus hospital now, but I don’t think it was then. My mom said I was a good baby, but it took me forever to grow hair. And now, after my hirsute high school days, I’ve come full-circle.

My dad was a travel agent for Stowe (yes, named after Harriet Beecher, who also hailed from Brunswick) Travel, and my mom occasionally sold Avon. Her parents lived on the family farm in Whitefield, ME, and my dad’s mom kept her apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, until I was eight and she moved in with us. I went to the elementary school across from First Parish Church, next to the Bowdoin College campus, and I had a black, white and purple blanket for naptime.

We lived in a red ranch house on Thomas Point Road (there was an apartment first on Pleasant Street, but I don’t remember my time there). It was my older brother Eric, my parents, assorted cats and our beagle Ginger. Ginger was a fat little thing, and I loved her. There was a little stream in the woods behind the house, and I remember my mom flinging Ginger’s messes into the stream. Don’t tell the EPA.

First through third grades I went to Jordan Acers Elementary. The principal was Ms. Kurz, and the music teacher was Ms. Elser. I didn’t know it at the time, but Ms. Kurz and Ms. Elser were a couple. My teacher was Mr. Barrett, and he could be a mean bastard. But I suffered no trauma back then. I had friends, my bus ride was long and scenic (from the trailer park to the tidal basins of the Sheepscott River) and we spent the ride rocking out to Huey Louis, Greg Khin and Christopher Cross (sic) on the radio and dreaming of playing at Fenway for the Sox.

Eric and I played Nerf football in the yard and basketball in the paneled hall leading to the bedrooms. We played KISS, Bee Gees and the Star Wars and Saturday Night Fever soundtrack records on our turntable. I once backed into a wall-mount space heater in the bathroom, and I had griddle marks on my butt for a long time afterwards. We went to Thomas Point Beach, and we viewed all the artifacts from Admiral Peary’s exhibition to the North Pole at the Bowdoin College Museum.

We visited my grandparents at the farm, and we visited my grandmother in Brooklyn. We saw Star Wars and Poltergeist and Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theater and we played Atari at home. We played on the rocks at Bailey Island and we bought Smurf figures and other toys at the Maine Mall. We went roller skating at the rec center and we watched the Blue Angels from our driveway when the air show came to the Brunswick Naval Air Station. We ate out at Pizza Hut and we ate home cooking at home.

We were a happy American family unit in 1970s America. It was middle of the road America, and it was all I knew and all I knew I wanted.

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Jack and Pal guard the woodshed, February 1969. I would join them in September 1972.

The screen door from the kitchen to the woodshed always slams four times behind me: once with authority, then a pause followed by three quieter slaps in rapid-fire succession. SLAP – slap-slap-slap. Closed. This is the sound of running outside into summer at the farm.

There are two steps, covered in green carpet, in the woodshed. The first step is slightly below the height of the kitchen door, and a jar of kerosene always sits on it. Just left of the steps is the wood box. We fill the wood box in the shed, and pull the morning kindling and logs out of the box in the kitchen. A rolled up copy of the Kennebec Journal, a little kerosene, a flick of a kitchen match and the woodstove roars to life, taking off the dawn chill.

On top of the wood box are my grandfather’s work gloves and a can of OFF! Hanging to the right of the door are threadbare leather leashes for their dogs Jack and Sally. Both Jack and Sally are now deceased, but Max, the giant retriever owned by Dennis, who lives in the log cabin up the road, will be lying in the grass outside the shed, panting and alone.

The woodshed is dark, and always smells of fresh sawdust from the endless stacks of firewood. I love this part of the shed. Directly across from the kitchen door is the door that leads to the attic above the woodshed and also the door to the henhouse. I am terrified of this part of the shed.

The attic is filled with bric-a-brac that feels old and creepy. Rattan baby carriages with iron wheels, porcelain dolls with noses or eyes missing, broken wood and wicker chairs, plastic deer lawn ornaments. It is blazing hot and stuffy up there, and I always feel like I’m about to fall through the floorboards.

The henhouse entrance is worse, though. There is a dust-covered grain barrel, then a slatted wooden door, and then the coop itself, dirt-floored and rickety, with hens charging me as I open the door with a scoop of grain in a trembling hand. The sound of the hens squawking as I approach fills me with the kind of fear that makes my ears pop and my heart race.

But, at twelve years old, I am running away from the attic and henhouse and toward the lawn. The barn doors of the woodshed are always latched open, thus I have no time to adjust to the blip of dark in the shed between the kitchen and the outdoors. The door slams (SLAP – slap-slap-slap): I am down the green-carpeted steps, and I take one step on the plank floorboards of the woodshed, and then I’m outside.

Immediately I have to jump over an oblong semi-circle of mud. Then, like a wide receiver, I do a cut move around Max on the lawn by the cellar bulkhead, and I’m across the dirt driveway to the big lawn. Here are the lawn chairs, picnic table, kettle grill, games of Wiffle ball, Nerf football and the general joy of summer in Maine, thousands of miles from our new Florida home.

To this day my ears pop and my heart races whenever I get near the door to the attic and henhouse. So I don’t. I stay close to the wood box, bounding out to the lawn in three steps and keeping the slap of the old screen door in my head, keeping all the summers of my youth close at hand.

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Image Sources: Minor League Ballparks and Ballpark Review

This week I will be returning to northern Florida for the first time since September 12, 1986, my 14th birthday and the day we moved back home to Maine. What do I remember over the last quarter century? What is going through my mind? Let’s find out…

It was truly a dump even then, seventeen years before it would finally be put out of its dated misery. But in 1983, to a ten-year-old kid from Maine who had never even seen a minor league game, Sam. W. Wolfson Park, home of the Jacksonville Suns, was magic.

My dad took my brother and me to a few games over the 1982 season, and our connection to the game, the park and each other solidified every time. I inherited my love of baseball from my dad, naturally. He is pure Brooklyn. Dad was crushed when the Dodgers left in 1958, and fell in love again when the Mets were born in 1962. I grew up loving the Red Sox, Mets and Brooklyn Dodgers, in that order.

In a time when Astroturf and heinous multipurpose stadiums ruled the game, Wolfson Park was a last-gasp of old-school glory, with real grass (!), brick and beam, portal windows and a wheezy organ. I can still taste the hot dogs and smell the fresh breeze, which was tinted with the St. John’s River and the stink of burnt coffee from the nearby Maxwell House roasting plant.

And the park carried shared history. Mets greats Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver pitched here!

In 1982/1983, Jacksonville was a AA affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, so we saw plenty of current and soon-to-be major leaguers, including pitchers Danny Jackson, Mark Gubicza and Brett Saberhagen. TV had not fully saturated the game at this level, so it was still magical to sit close enough to actually see major league ballplayers, to see their expressions and mannerisms, to hear them talk, to BE there.

Nothing, however, was ever as magical than the night of March 9th, 1983, when the Yankees came to town.

My grandmother lived in Brooklyn until 1981, and when we went down to visit during the Saturday Night Fever ‘70s, the Mets were nowhere. The Yankees were burning up The Bronx (which was literally burning!), and my brother and I were enraptured, though we were both die-hard New England Red Sox fans. (My brother Eric was born while my parents lived in Carteret, New Jersey, but I don’t hold that against him.) In the ’70s and early ‘80s, we fell under the spell of the Billy Martin/Dave Winfield/Graig Nettles Yankees.

And those Yankees were playing an exhibition game against Jacksonville University at Wolfson Park, and we were going.

I don’t remember much of the game, other than we were somehow allowed to sit ON THE FIELD, and that my bro and I sat, in our Rawlings baseball pants, on the chalk of the third base line, a few hundred feet from our idol Nettles at third. Billy Martin probably got ejected, and he probably kicked some dirt on the way for show. Dave Winfield (George Steinbrenner sarcastically called him “Mr. May” in comparison to “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson. Steinbrenner – the Man Who Wrecked The Yankees – is dead, and I still have my Winfield model glove. It’s a minor last laugh, but nevertheless.) probably went on a tear. And that rookie at first, kid named Mattingly, probably looked pretty good. But I remember we sat ON THE FIELD behind Nettles, gloves in hand, and worshiped the ground the New York Yankees walked on, even as we sat on the same ground.

My bro and I made it on to the cover of the 1983 Suns yearbook, pictured from behind sitting on the third base line. And somewhere I probably still have the t-shirt: grey with a black ringer and silk-screened with the ticket from that game and the caption, “The Night The Lights Went On: In Jacksonville” (the game was a benefit to raise funds for lights for the JU field).

I despise the New York Yankees organization, and the greed and arrogance that allowed them to tear down the magnificent Yankee Stadium, co-opt a public park on which to build a new faux-Yankee Stadium with $1,250 (PER GAME) seats, a concrete moat surrounding those seats and $35 parking with no refunds for rain-outs. I am a die-hard Red Sox fan, and thanks to my dad I still love the Mets. And I am a practical nostalgist: I love old-fashioned and retro, but not at the expense of comfort and practicality. Wolfson Park Jacksonville was dated twenty years before it finally fell, and good riddance.

But damn, I wish I could revisit that night at that great old ballpark with those damn Yankees all over again.

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Image Source: NCRTV

It actually was a lot like The Oneders.

And like all life-altering moments, it’s now a blur. We were in the car heading for…the practice space? Or a live interview on WBCN? Or maybe it was WFNX…no, it was a gig at the Linwood and Juanita played it on WBCN. That’s it, yeah. I’m pretty sure.

I became obsessed with rock ‘n roll and music in general early, and from the moment I picked up my first acoustic guitar ($35 new, tobacco sunburst with lousy intonation) I was dedicated to making it. Played it ‘till my fingers bled, if you will. I dreamed of touring with Van Halen (Diamond Dave forever!), selling out Madison Square Garden and, of course, enjoying all the spoils of decadence in the bus after the show. And I dreamed of hearing myself on the radio.

I dreamed of Berklee College of Music in Boston. At the recommendation of my band teacher in high school, I started with a year in the jazz program at the University of Maine at Augusta first. That turned into four years in a brilliant, enriching program, and by the time I got to Berklee I was young and disillusioned. I stayed in Boston and schlepped through my 20s, working data entry, call center jobs and feeling very much like a Langston Hughes Dream Deferred.

And then I started playing again. My band, The High Ceilings, went into the studio with Sir David Minehan, figurehead of the legendary Boston band The Neighborhoods, and we emerged with a sparkling EP, “Wavelength.” Sparkling enough to get airplay and a spot in the 2001 WBCN Rock ‘n Roll Rumble. Past winners included Till Tuesday and …The Neighborhoods. Nice!

And it was in the lead-up to the Rumble that we heard our single, “Look My Way,” on the radio. We were in the car heading to our space/interview/gig (or maybe it was our ritual de-briefing beers), and there we were, beaming out to Boston and beyond at 104.1 MHz. The moment of a lifetime had arrived.

We all played it fairly cool, keeping the moment close to the vest. No “I AM SPARTICUS!!!” and kissing cutouts in the appliance store for us (this would’ve been difficult to pull off while driving), but ultimately we couldn’t help it, and a four-way shit-eating grin spread across the car. We had goddamn made it! There was some back-slapping, but mostly we kept calm and carried on, since this would, of course, be only the first of many such times.

It happened a few more times after that, but that was the beginning of the end. We lost the Rumble in the first round, artistic and personal differences, day jobs, wives and kids…typical story. But I have that moment: the moment when dreams solidified and the grand payoff was mine.

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On Thanksgiving Day 1988, unbeknownst to all of us, one of the cats pissed on the stove. Sometimes a smell indelibly sears itself onto your memory bank, and that incident, fairly and unfairly, confirmed the fact that my grandmother was a disaster in the kitchen. It’s not like she put the cat on the burner herself. But her cooking was atrocious, and the cat burner fiasco definitively created a Pavlovian connection between grandmother and food.

Her specialty, as it were, was pork chops and biscuits. Specifically, Shake ‘n Bake pork chops. She always managed to find these tough little chops that were mostly bone, and the Shake ‘n Bake coating would slide off in a greasy sheet. The biscuits were made from scratch, possibly out of rocks. Nary a hint of flake in these things.

Many nights my brother and friends and I would make a show of eating, and then bring dinner outside for games of Pork Chop Toss and Biscuit Shooting. The house down the hill was maybe 300 yards away, and with a good flick of the wrist and a good crust on the snow, a pork chop could make it a long way toward the property line. And a biscuit could take two BBs at close range and barely even flinch.

All was almost lost, but not all: gram made the most amazing donuts from scratch.

On frigid winter mornings, we would come downstairs and find her covered in flour and stirring a fresh batch in boiling Crisco. They were spectacular! Unless, and until, you bit into a “prize” donut and found yourself choking on a nice big clump of gray hair. Those mornings we quickly turned to heaping bowls of Boo-Berries or Fruity Pebbles, saving the remaining donuts for bird feed and target practice.

She tried, and I loved her for the effort. And we certainly didn’t go without. But the woman was an absolute nightmare around the stove, with or without the noxious fumes of burning cat urine.

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