Sitting behind Larry…

In every class at Peckham Junior High School on the North Side of Milwaukee, I sat behind Larry Axxxx. It followed that I’d sit behind Larry, as our classes were arranged alphabetically. I liked sitting behind Larry, and I think he liked having me behind him. We weren’t exactly friends, but he was a presence in my life.

Larry could get me to laugh. And he knew that. In fact, I think that’s why he liked having me as the person at his back. And Larry could not only get me to laugh – his antics could bring on a fit of giggles. Since I wasn’t a kid to get into trouble at school, I expect I didn’t get caught giggling when I should have been listening intently to the teacher. So I giggled and giggled, while Larry grinned at having brought me to this place again. And I kept up with my classes.

Larry was a fixture in my life in Junior High, a part of my surroundings, one of the kids I felt comfortable with. I was shy and mostly quiet in classes, a girl who could go unnoticed, since she didn’t cause any trouble. And through Junior High, Larry got me laughing. We were in a program of classes with the “smart kids,” which isolated us in a way from the other young people, since our curriculum was laid out for us, our classes, a year ahead than others our age, from the time we entered Junior High. I’d be in classes with the same group of kids in high school, too, although our group got bigger in number.

I said I kept up with my classes. I got good grades. I’m not sure Larry did, because he disappeared from the seat in front of me in high school. Word around the class had it that Larry’s father had placed Larry in a boarding school for boys, not far from Milwaukee. He’d been worried that Larry’s inability to stay focused on his classes would shape his future, and his father wanted another future for him.

I few years ago, I was thinking about Larry, and in these days of “googling,” I googled Larry’s name. I found his name on a business in northern Wisconsin, and I went to the website. There, I found a personal note from his family. Larry had passed, just a few months before I’d been looking for him. I sent an email to his family, who still owned the business, telling them about how Larry had made me laugh. The kind email I received in return came from his wife, who said that Larry had loved to make people laugh as an adult, too.

I think often of those people in my past who were present for part of my life, then moved on into their own lives, forgetting, I expect, that nice, quiet, smart girl who loved to giggle. My husband still likes to make me giggle, and his face lights up when he gets me to do that. He especially likes it if we’re in a public place and I can’t stop giggling.

And it’s fun for me to know I can still go to that silly place in me.


I wish it would snow once…

Mom was diagnosed with cancer early in December of 2000. We took her home from the doctor’s office, Jeff and Mom and I silent as we made our way from his office to the elevator. We had all agreed to hospice care. When we took her back home to Mathilda Brown Home, the staff went into full gear as we all received an explanation about what hospice would entail. Jeff and I were grateful that Mom could stay in her little room, in the place she loved.

I visited daily then, and most days, I’d find Mom in her room, sitting in her chair, crowded next to her bed, or lying on the bed, resting. One day when I arrived, I found her on a wooden chair in the hallway, her bathrobe over a nightgown. She’d forgotten to change that day, so we went into her room and chose clothes more suitable for the day. “ I must be losing it!” she said.
Another day, Mom was sitting on the edge of her bed, facing the window that overlooked an alley and the playground of Oakland Tech. When I came into the room, Mom said, without turning her head: “ I wish it would snow once, just for me.”

I wished it would snow, then, too. As tough as winter can be in the Midwest, we Midwesterners love its beauty, those days when the snow falls silently and without a wind to rustle it, to the earth. That winter, in the days before Mom died in mid February, weather reports on local radio announced that there had been a sprinkling of snow high on the hills over Oakland. I wished I’d been able to take Mom to see it, but by then, she was confined to bed.


Every day, a melody

I’m grateful that I love all kinds of music. And I love to sing – to myself, when I’m in worship, when I listen to the radio in the car. I love the melodies. I love the words. I love to pretend that I’m onstage, singing to an audience. When I’m in the house, I love to move my body to the rhythm of the song that I’m singing to myself. A little joy, a little gift that is part of my life.

My husband still teases me when he sees “Mar” coming out – the me in my imagination who stood in front of the bedroom mirror as a teenager and belted out the latest Beatles’ song.

youtube is a gift to someone like me. I can spend hours scrolling through youtube, watching videos of rock and roll stars, of country western concerts, of duets and bands from the 60’s, when I was in high school, until now. I’ve watched the Vienna Orchestra and the Rolling Stones in the same day – maybe even the same sitting.

Dancing is good, too. I’ve always loved to dance. I dance through the house to the tunes in my head, moving from one room to the next. “The body likes to move,” a wise person once told me. (Dancing is good exercise, too!)

A melody a day counts as a good day, to me. Hum it to yourself…

The trees love to dance, too… photo my Mary Elyn Bahlert, 10/2014



After I moved to the Bay Area of California from Milwaukee in the 1980’s, I was struck by the diversity of people in the Bay Area. I love the diversity, which I have always known to be a strength, and I love it here. I observed that in Wisconsin, the weather was more interesting, and in the Bay Area, the people are more interesting.

And there is nothing like the storms in the Midwest, that place where winter settles in early, and leaves late – often into early May.

Yesterday morning, as I was talking to a friend via ZOOM, a flash of lightening lit the sky outside the window, and a moment later, a boom of thunder. Just like that!

Later, I remembered a time, lying in my bed in my parent’s flat, when I would listen to the storms coming – the thunder, quiet in the West, and slowly, with each boom, the thunder, louder, until it was overhead. And then it passed to the East, out over Lake Michigan. Only after the storm passed did I settle down to sleep.

On one visit to Wisconsin, my husband and I sat with friends and family in his mother’s living room in a suburb of Milwaukee. It was summer, and the heavy, humid air was bright with sunlight as we talked. We were more interested in each other until the air changed, the sky clouded over with a storm, and we heard thunder in the distance. I rushed to open the front door, so that I could smell the storm through the screen. We sat silent then, listening to storm, as we heard the thunder clap in the distant West, move overhead, and then grow quieter as it moved to the East. For a few moments, the storm was more interesting than our visitors. Having relished the change in the air, we continued to visit.

I love living in the Bay Area, this place where a rainy winter is worshipped, heartily, this place where we suffer from years of draught. I love to see the shadow of San Francisco from my windows. I love the early spring and the daffodils that begin to bloom in February.

But I’ll always miss the storms in the Midwest, booming overhead, then passing to another place.


Forever 17

When I was a child and I thought about growing up and going out into the world on my own, I was often confused and even frightened by the possibility that I would be leaving the family I knew (well, leaving it physically – I have since learned that we never really leave our family of birth). But somewhere, “deep inside” of me, I had an idea that has never left me. I would grow up to be 17.

Why 17? I don’t have a clue!!! Didn’t then, and don’t now!

But the strangest thing, and something completely clear to me, is that I have always been 17. Take a look at me – I’m still 17!

I love to lead small groups – I volunteer to lead two small groups in the community in Oakland even now – and one time, I was leading a group of women. I asked them the question: “How old are you – inside?” As each women thought about it and then spoke aloud her inner age, heads around the room nodded. We could see it! One woman – a woman to me at the time, very old, although I am older now than she was then, told us that she was 18. She was right!

And so, this 17 year old old has entered her elder years, a retired person now. As my father told me, many years ago when I looked at him in disbelief, a child with her whole life ahead of her, “life sure goes fast.”

It sure does.

Even autumn is beautiful… photo by Mary Elyn Bahlert, 12/3/2014, Oakland