About Beth

My wife, computer goddess at a union.

My Father’s Office

A guest blog entry by Beth.

My father died unexpectedly earlier this month. There is so much to say about his life and the complex feelings that his death brings that it is impossible to say it. My brother’s eulogy was just about right: He wasn’t the best dad and he wasn’t the worst dad. He was our dad. We will miss him.

My father and his work were somewhat inseparable. He practiced law with the same firm for over 40 years. He would bring home stacks of used paper so we could draw on the blank sides. Sometimes he’d bring home his Dictaphone with its state-of-the-art cassette tape technology and let my brother and me record our voices. It was awesome when he did that.

When I arrived in my home town after learning of dad’s death, I had a strong urge to see his office. He’d sometimes take my brother or me in with him on a Saturday when we were young and I loved going there. I hadn’t been there for ages. I finally had time to go the day after the memorial service.

The law library, with its smell of old books and tobacco, was now a conference room but otherwise not much about the building had changed. Dad’s actual office space had moved a few times over the years, from an upstairs room to the first floor then closer to the front of the building. One of his law partners showed us into his office, which was filled with the things you’d expect to see if someone left work thinking they’d be back the next day – a table piled with files and maps of a local mine he was working with, a jacket draped over a chair, umbrellas in the closet.

There were two things there I was particularly glad to see. The first was a letter opener, shaped like a sword, that rested in a crystalline glass base, Excalibur-like. I was fascinated by it as a child, watching dad as he sliced open the mail we had picked up from the firm’s post office box, thinking it sharp and dangerous and, perhaps, a little magical.

The other item was a clock, an odd clock, really, though it had never seemed odd to me. It was made of a square wooden plaque with coins embedded in it to mark the hours. The coins were from 1964, two years before I was born and the last year that U.S. dimes, quarters and half dollars were made primarily of silver.

My brother and I spent several hours in dad’s office that afternoon as his colleague went through my father’s personal effects so we could decide what to do with them. He’d gone to law school with dad and was instrumental in bringing him to the firm. I think it was hard for him to believe that my father was suddenly no longer there.

Some things we looked at were mundane, like car repair receipts for vehicles dad hadn’t owned for years. Some came with great stories, like the certificate of admission to the bar of the Supreme Court that he had obtained early in his career when he had a conscientious objector case that might have gone that far (though it ultimately didn’t). Some were mysterious, like the dozens of empty cigarette lighters that he kept in drawers at the office and at the house. They were bits and pieces of my dad’s life but, like my words, the picture they create is incomplete.

Dad’s clock is now in my office. My kids will see it there when they come in with me on a snow day or a weekend. It’s not always easy or convenient to bring them to work with me. But when they ask, I often say yes, remembering how special it felt whenever I got a glimpse of my dad’s work world, where he spent so many hours, with his clock of silver and the sword in the stone.

Yes We Can

Guest Blog by Beth

The tickets! I was going through my mental Inauguration Day checklist as Noah and I were waiting for the bus. Noah and I had gotten out of the door by 7, a good start. But I’d left the tickets inside. I made a quick dash into the house to retrieve them. Almost leaving the tickets behind actually came as a relief to me. I have a superstitious belief that if you’re leaving on a journey and have nearly forgotten something major but remember in the nick of time it means you haven’t forgotten anything else.

After a short wait, we caught our bus to the Metro. Takoma Station was busy, but not over-crowded. As we waited on the platform, three trains came and went, all too packed to board. The next train seemed like it might have room for two more to squeeze in, so squeeze we did. The car was filled with teenagers from Arizona, in town with their history teacher for the big event. The whole car was filled with excitement and energy. As we lurched our way down the tracks, one of the passengers who had been on his way to work decided to call in sick so that he could participate in the festivities. The history teacher from Arizona took charge, explaining the situation and asking all of us to be silent while he made his call. Miraculously, everyone did quiet down, then erupted in whoops and cheers after he finished.

We got off the train a stop earlier than planned, at Union Station, because Noah was starting to get antsy from being squeezed in so tight. As we left the station we found several streets blocked off for vendors selling anything and everything, all adorned with the name or face of the new President. I promised Noah we’d return later so that he could shop, and hurried him along. It was about 8 by this time, we were still making good progress, but I didn’t know what lay ahead.

I couldn’t believe the crowds of people on the streets near my office – streets that are usually nearly empty. The crowds began to thicken as we headed toward the 3rd Street tunnel. Normally a high-speed funnel for crazed commuters headed toward I-295/I-395, the tunnel had been closed for the day to provide a route for pedestrians to travel from one side of the mall to the other. It was fun to take over this space usually reserved for cars. We emerged on the other side, and crowded onto 3rd St., SW. Time check: 9:20. Not bad. I could see the gate for Silver Ticket holders about a block away. Surely we’d be through security and onto the mall in an hour or so.

I broke out the hand and toe warmers I had purchased the day before and stuffed them into Noah’s crocs and his gloves. We continued to shuffle slowly forward. Occasionally we’d come to a halt as officers stopped us to clear Independence Avenue for official vehicles. By 10:00 we had made it across Independence. Then…nothing. The crowd just stopped. After about 15 minutes rumors made it to us that people without tickets had “broken through” and taken over the Silver area. But there was no-one official around to confirm this. Some turned to leave, planning to make their way further West to at least have a chance to get into a non-ticketed area of the Mall.

Noah began to complain. He was cold. I was cold. Both of us we getting buffeted by the confused crowd, some still trying to push forward, some trying to leave, some joining hands and slicing horizontally through the throng. I was starting to doubt the wisdom of even attempting this. Maybe we should have stayed home to watch on TV with Steph and June. Thank goodness June wasn’t here – she would have been crushed! Why weren’t there any police around with bullhorns to explain what was going on and what to expect? Time was ticking away. The sea of people was gradually inching toward the mall, filling in the spaces of those who had left. I could glimpse the Capitol thorough the trees.

Suddenly, at 11:20, the crowd rushed forward. (For a view of the crowd just before the breakthrough, see http://specials.washingtonpost.com/inauguration/satellite/.) I could see the nearly empty security gates. Noah and I dashed for a line and after a few short minutes were were there. On the Mall. Our view of the jumbotron was somewhat obscured by the trees and the sound wasn’t the best, but we could see the Capitol in the distance and feel the energy of the crowd.

Noah had forgotten about being cold and tired of being pushed around. He danced. He cheered when the crowed cheered for Carter and Clinton. He chanted Obama’s name. He looked at me when the crowd began to boo Bush. I shook my head no. It just didn’t seem right to boo. Partly it didn’t seem in the spirit of the day. But it also seemed to reduce Bush to a comic-book villain, divorced from the reality of what his decisions have meant for millions of people across the globe. The program began. Some in the crowd around us waved rainbow flags as Rick Warren spoke. We cheered for Aretha and her fabulous hat and for Joe Biden after he took his oath.

Then it was time. I hadn’t been able hold Noah up so he could get a better view for the whole thing; he weighs nearly 60 pounds now. But, as tears ran down my face, I lifted him up to see Barack Obama take the oath of office and become the 44th President of the United States

Want to feel like you were there? Check out this awesome Gigapan photo: http://gigapan.org/viewGigapanFullscreen.php?auth=033ef14483ee899496648c2b4b06233c . The resolution is so amazing that you can zoom in to see Yo-Yo Ma using his iPhone.

Notes on Camp

Guest Blog by Beth

“What should I do?” We usually hear that from Noah a dozen times a day, but I hadn’t heard it all weekend. Until now. At 3 am on Sunday. Could he be talking in his sleep, bored with his dreams? I decided to feign sleep, hoping if he was awake he’d fall back to sleep quickly. It worked.

We were in the middle of our second annual mother-son fall camping trip. Although this is a new tradition, Noah already has two requirements: that we stay in one of the Maryland State Park system’s camper cabins and that we be able to see a waterfall during the trip. This year’s destination: Susquehanna State Park with a side trip to nearby Rocks State Park for waterfall-viewing.

School let out early on Friday, so we hit the road in mid-afternoon, arriving at the park with plenty of time to get settled in then head into town for a pizza dinner. When we returned it had gotten dark, and on the walk to the restrooms for bedtime preparations Noah imagined scary animals lurking in the dark. “I saw an anteater. I definitely saw an anteater.”

Once we were settled into bed, we stayed up late talking through the darkness. Our conversation focused on recurring dreams. Noah’s been having a scary dream lately, which he says he can anticipate because he gets a ticklish feeling on his feet. He had previously been unwilling to divulge the contents of the dream, but after I told him about one of my recurring scary dreams, he spilled the beans on his. It involves him hanging from a tree while a fox leaps at his feet, trying to eat him. “It’s nice when you are in the same room with me so I can tell you everything I think before I fall asleep,” he said.

The next morning it was pancakes cooked over the open fire. “The best pancakes ever,” Noah declared. Perhaps because they were made with Bisquick pancake mix–first ingredient white flour, second ingredient sugar–instead of our usual whole wheat, multi-grain, no sugar recipe from home? Then it was time to drive down to the riverside bike trail for our planned expedition, or so I thought.

“Drive? No, we’re going to ride our bikes from here!”

“But I told you the plan was to drive to the bike trail.”


Uh oh. Clearly he had a picture in his head of us biking away from the cabin, and hadn’t been listening when I described the plan.

“But the trail from here isn’t made for bikes. It is narrow and rocky and steep.”

“Bikes are narrow. And our tires are made for rocks. And if you go fast it doesn’t matter if it is steep.”

This was Noah at his most uncompromising, and he was using the all-knowing tone that gets my blood boiling.

“Noah, we just can’t do that. It is not an option.”

“Show me on the map. See, your way is not an option because the trail goes over a creek and bikes can’t just go over creeks.”

“There is a bridge.”

“No there’s not. There’s no bridge symbol on the map.”

“Noah, that part of the trail is along a road and the road goes over a bridge.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do.”

Finally, somehow, as with all such stalemates, I managed to keep my cool, stand my ground, and get him into the car and headed toward the trail.

The bike ride was great, although I mostly walked, pushing my bike with one hand while steadying Noah’s with the other to prevent his training wheels from sticking on the uneven surface. We spent a long time rock hopping in the river, my calls of “be careful” and “use caution” apparently meaningless as he beamed his loose-limbed energy across the sun-dappled water. By the time we finished the trail — 5.4 miles to the Conowingo Dam and back — it was well past lunchtime and I was very hungry. I laid out our lunch options — leftover pizza or a trip to town to find a lunch spot. Noah reflected on the choices then said, “You know what the perfect fall lunch would be? Leaf-shaped cookies and apple cider!” When I suggested that we might want to add something with some nutritional value to the meal — yogurt perhaps? — he gave me a sincerely puzzled look and said “Why?”

So into town we headed, in search of leaf shaped cookies and cider. We found a fair enough approximation at the local grocery store (round “harvest” cookies with orange, yellow, red and brown sprinkles) and I managed to get him on board with the yogurt plan. We ate at a bench overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, on the grounds of the Concord Point lighthouse. The lighthouse was open, so we were able to climb up for a look. Then we headed back to the campground, for an evening of campfire, s’mores, and more anteaters in the shadows. No chatter after lights out this time. The bike ride had worn him out.

Sunday morning we breakfasted at Waffle House (“Let’s pretend that it’s really made of waffles, OK?”) then drove to Rocks State Park for our hike to Kilgore Falls. More scrambling over rocks, more maternal pleas for carefulness and caution. At one point, struggling to make an impression, I stated firmly, “If you take one more step you will fall off that rock to the bottom of the falls and hit your head and die.” He stepped back, but the look on his face let me know that he thought that was just about as likely as running across an anteater in the woods of central Maryland.