Love is Real


                    Dani and me, 16 and 12

I am the oldest of two, and my younger sister, who died at 66 in March, had many health problems. My sister, whose name was Danielen was what used to be called “severely and profoundly retarded,” had epilepsy and other medical ills. Throughout her life, she fell many many times, breaking arms, legs and once her neck. Her doctor, beloved by my parents, also told me that probably she did not feel pain in the same way we did. (This was after I accompanied her and almost fainted when he drew blood and she had a seizure.) To my discredit, I believed him, since he also was the parent of such a child—but in my defense, I was young and would never have questioned a doctor.

I am 71 now, and I know that all humans, in fact all mammals, feel pain. What hurts, hurts. More importantly, I have learned some things in life are not fixable. We all keep trying, but there it is.

I know that not all living is grim and painful. My sister was at home until she was 13, and she visited my parents’ home occasionally thereafter. There was laughter, love, and a succession of beagle dogs all named Tippy. Sunday night supper was always buttered popcorn and Bonanza.

                        Dani and the last Tippy

Dani, as she grew to be called, spent most of her life, over 53 years of it, in New York state institutions and community homes. When our parents passed away, I became her guardian, mostly by phone, since I moved to Washington, DC after college. She, with mom and dad, visited us one Christmas, and I saw her other times in New York, but not nearly as much as I would have liked.

                                         Dressed for Halloween

I heard about her visits to parties, and church and the New York State Fair. And I knew what music she liked, and about her love of cheese puffs and jewelry and dressing up. Obviously, she had a life—her own life, and she enjoyed living.

Dani adored animals and also the many people who loved and cared for her. As a child in Jordan, N.Y. , Danielen had two beloved older women caregivers named “Hinman” and “Hattie.” She called our dad “Lyman Wilcox” and our mom “Sally Wilcox.” I was ‘Laine.

             Sally, Dani and Lyman. She was 16

About 15 years ago, she moved to a specialized medical group home in Chittenango New York, and I moved to Florida, 1,400 miles away. She had two fabulous caregivers and advocates there, Paula and Nessa, whose love, kindness and patience know no bounds.

                                Paula, Dani and Nessa

She was also fond of others in the group home, especially the director, Patrick, who made her favorite breakfast, pancakes, Kim and Melissa from Day Hab, and all the staff at the Jay Street.

Over the years, other caregivers also touched her life. She was a resident at Craig Colony in Western New York, Syracuse Developmental Center and a group home in Weedsport as well as Rosewood Heights in Syracuse. That is what institutionalization meant. I went the day we first took her to Craig Colony in 1965, and I do not know to this day how my parents left her, but in those days somebody must have told them it was “for the best.”

Many former caregivers visited Dani at home before she died, but I was not among them, for a number of reasons. I face-timed her and had frequent telephone conversations with everyone involved, including the Hospice workers we called in to make sure her last journey was pain-free.

                                  Dani, Paula and Baby Wilcox

She died with her beloved doll “Baby Wilcox” by her side. I owe thanks beyond counting to all the people over the years, who took her into their hearts. Strangers, who loved and cared for her because it was their job and because it mattered.

At my home in Florida, I stayed in the kitchen and baked bread. A lot of sourdough bread. I wish I could have given it away to those at her bedside in New York, but it was not to be.

This month, I plan to place her ashes in the grave with mom and dad, in a quiet rural cemetery, with a headstone whose engraving bears three names. May she, after all these years — may all three of them, rest in peace.

Love is real, real is love
Love is feeling, feeling love
Love is wanting to be loved

Love is touch, touch is love
Love is reaching, reaching love
Love is asking to be loved

Love is you
You and me
Love is knowing
we can be

Love is free, free is love
Love is living, living love
Love is needing to be loved

John Lennon


Dear Lauren, again

I know it’s been awhile, three years since you died to be exact, but I’m back, writing, because I’ve things to tell.

First, I hope wherever you are there are some good birds.  I mean really good ones. Like your caracara. Lots of caracaras, all for you.

Caracaras all for you

I just got a female white-winged scoter, which was no. 368 on my bird life list. She was in the middle of about 60 lesser scaup on Ft. Myers Beach, floating and diving offshore. I love her because finding her was such an adventure.

White-winged scoter

I searched by myself last Sunday. The tide was low, and I got waylaid by a wonderful Indian wedding.  Are there any that are not joyful? I hope not, because they are so much fun, I’d hate anyone to miss out.  The groom arrived by boat–you could hear the drumming as they approached the island– and then he put on his fancy hat and mounted his bedecked white horse.

The groom

His family and attendants marched up the street to Bollywood music and drumming.  The bride’s family met them at the resort, and then all 250 of the guests headed to the beach, stopping for drinks served in real coconuts. (I wanted one, but we, the onlookers, were told politely to step back.)

Wedding flowers

When the bride, magnificent in red and gold, arrived  on the beach on her palanquin, carried by about six guys, she flashed her own cellphone, much to the crowd’s amusement, since they were doing the same. I smiled all day, especially when I realized how many hours I spent happily not doing what I set out to do.  Thanks to you, I knew all about Indian weddings and could provide commentary for the clueless public on the beach. I did not stay for the stealing of the shoes, however. (I took these photographs with my cell phone. I know you hated yours, but the camera is terrific.)

Back to the duck…Monday, I returned and spotted the scoter in among the lesser scaup offshore. I really did have to scope every duck carefully to find her. Makes it all worth it.

The second time, John went with me and was first in-line for coffee at the Dairy Queen while I was occupied. I can’t remember, but I think you liked their coffee…but all coffee was as vital as blood to you, wasn’t it?  Just think of all the types of pots we’ve all tried and loved–perk, drip, Mr. Coffee, Chemex, god forbid, INSTANT, electraperk, and my favorite–the orange enamel one you just dumped the grounds in and boiled.  That was good coffee.

This coffee pot is apparently now “retro”

Do you get a chance to read wherever you are?  I hope so. My favorite new book is The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott. I love stuff about Irish Catholic families for some reason. My friend Kathy heard the author speak, and said she mentioned the ideas of substitution and sacrifice as topics she wanted to explore in her latest novel.  In it, the substitute is a man who fought in the Civil War for another man who paid $300.  My own great great-grandfather did the same and I tried to find out who fought for him, but the records are gone.

Nuns have to turn their heads to look out.

The book has nuns in it, but they are interesting nuns. Did you know those big black and white head coverings were to keep them looking straight ahead not at the world around them? I found that interesting, especially after I purchased a new winter jacket for our trip to DC over New Year’s. It had a hood, and I couldn’t see anything to the left or the right.  I wonder if nuns were ever struck while crossing city streets– faith, I guess.

My favorite in the Vermeer Show at the National Gallery by a fellow artist, Gabriel Metsu–so much going on in one painting…Woman Reading a Letter

I wish you had been in my pocket when we visited DC for New Years. The Vermeer Show was fantastic. I love Vermeer because of the camera obscura stuff, but this show was of him and other Dutch artists painting around the same time (mid 1600s). Whole galleries of women opening and sending letters and making lace and even scraping turnips. And then men, and drunks and rich folks just hanging out.

Vermeer does light, women and pearls so well

Love letters and satin, and little dogs, and whoever heard of brothel paintings? We had lunch with Henriette Rahusen , who is assistant to the curator, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. ,whom we met. What a treat. I am so proud of what she has done with her life. Many years a World Bank wife and mom, and now a historian with a PhD. Oh, and she says the artists painted everyone with light on the left because right-handed artists would position their easel near the window in a way that their dominant hand, or painting hand, would not cast a shadow over the area of the canvas or panel they were working on.  GOOD TO KNOW.

Henriette treated John and I to lunch in the staff dinning room in the East Building.

Renoir’s The Luncheon of the Boating Party is back at the Phillips and its surrounding exhibit had a slightly similar theme.  It featured all the people at the party, and what their relationship to Renoir was–fellow artists, benefactors, his wife, other friends, and one fellow they couldn’t find much out about, poor guy.  The exhibit included several paintings by the party goers, which gave you an idea of what their lives were like, about 200+ years after Vermeer and his cohorts.

The Luncheon of the Boating Party

Of course, The Boating Party itself is fantastic.  It draws you in and you wish like sin you could have been there too. Young, beautiful and happy. Drinking eating and laughing on a beautiful day on the water under that fantastic awning. Which he painted in later. There are such geniuses in the world.

We had a great time in DC with our friends, eating and drinking and talking and laughing.   It has been three years since we last were together. It was sort of like the Boating Party but it was cold and there was no awning. But there was love. And loss. And an appetizer called a Grand Plateau.

Capitol Grill’s Grand Plateau.

Oh god or whatever,  I hope you know how much I miss you. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve thought, “Oh, Laurie would just love this.” I just hope you get this, somehow, someway, and till the next time, love from your friend,


PS I also want  to talk about grandmotherhood, but another time. And plants, and the oculus at the African American Museum on The Mall. And joining Zonta, and even Trump. And how he drives me to drink, which I have given up for the month of January.  More later.







Irma Cleans Up

I have too much outdoor stuff. In twelve years I have accumulated Florida stuff. Huge plates and bowls full of shells.

Shells seem to multiply

Plants, orchids, and more than one garden gee-gaw on a stick. Hanging bells, pelicans and sea urchins. One ceramic head. About eight bird houses and the hooks and poles to hang them. Aqua Adirondack chairs. Iron plant stands I intend to paint. Growboxes for peppers and tomatoes.

My plants huddle together

Succulents in tera cotta planters. A staghorn fern. A table and six chairs. Ceramic lanterns and decorative driftwood. And gnomes. Lanai gnomes, not garden gnomes. My husband is opposed to public (yard) gnome display.

Brought inside, gnomes enjoy reading

I know that I have too much stuff because we recently had to prepare for an oncoming hurricane named Irma. Since we have no automatic shutters, everything had to be carted inside before we affixed our aluminum accordion shutters (which are a total and complete pain in the butt), necessary for protection from all flying objects. Coconuts are a big worry, for instance. Roof tiles are another hazard. And there are multitudinous trees and other debris the wind can carry.

The dreaded shutters

Once you get the shutters on the windows and doors (with nuts, bolts and sweat), the house is dark. You have no way to see what’s going on outside. The living space is filled with outside stuff, accompanied by the little lizards and things that came in on the plants. Also, you are exhausted from moving and worrying.The power is still on, and the broadcast weather people are earning their keep and then some. We know by heart when the next update from NOAA is due.

And then the power goes out and you rely on battery operated devices, like radios and flashlights. It’s really dark now. Irma’s getting closer and now everyone from the governor on down tells you to get the hell out. It’s a mandatory evacuation. We are in Zone A, come to find out, and that means a possible storm surge of ocean water way over our heads, which means trouble. A surge, as I understand it, is when the hurricane is positioned in such a way that it sucks the water out of rivers and the Gulf and then throws it back, and anything in the way in inundated. Big time. It should also be noted that most Floridians live in one-story homes.

I try to think of what to take. Not much, some sentimental jewelry, papers, our cell phones and the new puppy. We had to hurry.

We evacuated to a friends’ home (fellow birders are REALLY nice people) in Zone C. There was power. We glued ourselves to the TV news. Irma was a very big girl, and we were scared. Then they called for evacuation of Zone B, again because of potential storm surge. Another birding family moved in. We were 11 humans—with 4 dogs and 2 cats.

The gang of 11

As the storm approached. the dogs were in crates, the cats in separate rooms, and the humans ranged in age from 4 to 70. We retreated to interior spaces—the hall and utility room. A prayer was said.

Lo and Behold, Irma hit land and moved east, consequently, for us, she spent her fury on wind rather than hurling sea water around.  Lucky, we all agreed, scarcely believing it could be true.

Meanwhile, Our evac home had no shutters, but it was built tough, with a deep overhang and an industrial grade roof. Slowly, we crept out of the hall (our safe spot) and watched as rain and wind pummeled the forest and backyard pond. Palm trees bent to the ground. Cypress rocked back and forth. Pet ducks took cover and seemed oblivious to the storm.

We all survived, and thanks to the storm surge fizzle, there was lots of rain water but no salt water. What can you say? Surviving is the important part. Clean-up and water and power loss and the hot humid hell that follows are bad, but you are alive. You stand in a cold shower and appreciate life.

And I really, really, really am getting rid of stuff. Just as soon as I can find it.

Twenty Things I Saw at the Beach This Morning, Illustrated


Lots of sea weed and grass
Six empty beer cans.
Colored sea pork

Sea pork


Ant highways

Ant Highway

Mangrove propagules waving in the surf like eels
Metal finder man
Coyote tracks
Crab holes

Fiddler crab hole

Bleached shells
Poop-like sponge


Fly fishing man
Fruit, especially apples
Plastic water bottles
Horseshoe crab shells
Upside down sea stars

Sea star



Two dead fish, including one head


The Secret Revs and a Surprise


                                         Radiator Art

Our former neighbor, Joerg came for a visit last week. He is German, works for Mercedes, and is incredibly friendly. He loves Americans and Florida. As a birthday treat, we took him to the Revs Institute in Naples. To be honest, we had never heard of the Revs Institute, but another friend, who couldn’t get in during high season, said it was an exclusive car museum known only to car lovers. (It’s been open to the public since 2014.)
“Interesting,” I said to myself, “a museum that actually turns people away.” The Revs is only open three days a week and you need a pre-arranged ticket based on time of entrance. Walk-ins are out of luck.  I immediately wanted to go, because nothing means more to Americans than rare and exclusive places or things.

                      The Revs Institute of Naples, Florida

The Institute itself is a big gray building in a quasi-industrial area of Naples. It looks as if there are no windows until you enter and see that the windows are in the back. Gray, black and silver predominate inside and out, and the staff, many of whom are volunteers, are very friendly and helpful. There are three floors of cars, and big, wonderful black, white and sepia photographs everywhere.

              Geronimo’s Cadillac, one of the pictures featured at the Revs

We took a two-hour guided tour, and our guide, Carl, hardly stopped for breath. There are about 100 cars in the museum, and each one has been carefully curated because it tells a story or is famous in some way. There are cars demonstrating how the auto changed the world, many racing cars, a lot of Porsches and some just plain neat looking cars.

When race cars were like bullets




...and car grilles were grand









The collector/owners, are the Collier family and many were collected by Briggs Cunningham. Amazingly, all the cars, except one, which is fiberglass, are used on the road and sometimes for racing. I have no idea who drives them, but many have a historic plate that says “horseless carriage.”

Jeorg took a lot of pictures. So did everyone else. The museum was cool and soothing, and if you really know and love cars, you could spend a day or more there. Many of the older cars and even the race cars are beautiful. Many exposed motors also were displayed, although I failed to appreciate them. Much of what Carl said was over my head. For instance, a very famous car, the 1939 Mercedes W154–the Silver Arrow, had twelve cylinders in vee formation, double overhead camshafts, two Roots-type superchargers 2962cc, with 483 hp at 7800 rpm.

I just like the way old cars look., but it reportedly could go 190 miles per hour.

                                     The famous Mercedes-Benz W154/39 142


                                                  Sometimes it’s even raced

After hours of ooing and ahhing over cars, We ate lunch at a nearby restaurant called Spanky’s Speakeasy, after one of the characters in the 1955 TV show The Little Rascals. Unlike the sleek, crisp Revs Institute, Spanky’s is chock full of all kinds of old-time memorabilia, and it has been in the same location for over 30 years.

        Spanky’s ladies room decor

When it was time to pay the bill, the waitress provided a pen, which was the biggest surprise of the day.
It was blue and silver at proclaimed “SUNY Canton Alumni.” (This pen was a long way from its upstate New York location.) My Mom, who died several years ago at age 93 in Florida, was a 1940 Canton alumna.

     A long way from Canton, N.Y.

The waitress had no idea where or when she got it. Two days earlier, I had received some photographs and documents from my cousin—including my mom’s diploma and yearbook. And now I have a pen.

Life throws you memories when you least expect them.

Car in the wall at Spanky’s


Nxon's second

When Nixon took the second oath as president, I attended his outdoor inauguration.  We lived just a few blocks away from the Capitol.  There were shiny new ‘No Parking  Inaugural’ signs on our street and we took them as souvenirs. For some reason, we thought we could become rich on political memorabilia. We were young.

Walking home after Nixon’s ceremony, I tripped and fell.  As blood spurted from my knee, I thought to myself, “This is an omen.”

Thirty-three years later, on Inauguration Day 2017, I backed my car out of the garage and hit my husband’s car, which is always parked in the driveway. As soon as we heard the metallic thump, I knew it was omen time.

(I’d like to say right up front that my mishaps MIGHT have something to do with impeachment, but these are different times, and we no longer call Washington home. I suspect the political climate where I live in Florida could still be pro-Nixon.)

Of course, Nixon’s lies did him in.  Truth won. Those were exciting times to live in Washington.  During Watergate, we got up at the crack of dawn to read The Washington Post. I repeat, we got up BEFORE DAWN to read a newspaper!

Make no mistake about it, other presidents have failed to tell the truth. Eisenhower about the U2s, Johnson, when it really made a difference in Vietnam. Clinton, about sex, George W about Iraq , and Obama about health care/keeping your own doctor. Reagan just seemed to be an actor reciting a script, waiting for applause. (At least he had a script, the present president seems lacking in either Reagan’s charm or scripting).  Oh, and on Reagan’s watch, we sold weapons to Iran to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. To Iran.

In my vision, Ike wore his General’s attire

Is it any wonder boomers like myself are cynical? I mean, Eisenhower lied?  When I was little I thought the general himself sat on a flag pole and looked out over the country to see how things were going. My mom said I was convinced of this, although I wondered where god sat.

Now,  many year later, I am depressed and fretting. Nobody’s on the flag pole and there is no waiting for the friendly ‘thunk’ of the morning newspaper.  I can get all the news I want whenever I want it.  I don’t even have to get up in the morning, I can get it while I am in bed. Perhaps that’s the problem.  We have our choice — rumor, hearsay, solid reporting, so-so reporting, biased reporting, and even lousy reporting. And someone in the White House, once again, with no firm grasp of the truth. Long ago, I was a reporter too. I get it. But the First Amendment rocks, and now I read what I want, starting with The New York Times and The Post.

Some of the new lingo leaves me puzzled, however.  New words like pivot, double down, surreal, equivalency, normalize and my favorite phrase, dog whistle, must be decoded.

Divot caused by pivot

Pivot, for instance, rhymes with divot. I bet when you pivot hard you could cause a divot. It makes a mess.

Double down has to do with Blackjack. Same thing as never apologize, just make a bigger bet and keep on talkin.


Lobster Telephone 1936 Salvador Dal? 1904-1989 Purchased 1981
Lobster Telephone 1936 Salvador Dali

Surreal drives me crazy.  If you fail to understand or are surprised by anything at all, it’s surreal.  Salvador Dali is absolutely whirling in his grave, and probably loving it.

Normalize speaks for itself. Someone in the White House needs it, apparently.

Equivalency implies that all things can be equal.

And false equivalency means comparing things that are not alike. That came up in the campaign. As in, mention one’s sins, mention the other’s, and OMG they are both equal, and we are all doomed. Really?


Which brings us back to dog whistle. I looked this one up, and I still am not sure, other than dogs, who can hear one. Is it a secret threat, or a secret message?

When our son first learned to read, tabloids attracted him. Waiting in the checkout line, I had to explain. “Why,” he asked. Why indeed?

Fake news seems to be whatever you don’t agree with. That’s a simple definition, but I’m not into it.

Alternative facts are the ones you agree with if you don’t agree with the true facts. And, as my journalism prof told us, there are no true facts. Just facts.



I tell you, it’s surreal. Really.