The Queen’s Handbag

The Queen’s Handbag

While watching the Netflix series The Crown I’ve been struck by the notion that Queen Elizabeth carries a handbag around Buckingham Palace. What is in it?

The Divine Bette Midler asked that question during her show of pure entertainment at the Copa many years ago. Bette mused that the Queen did not need a token for the subway, so what was in there?


I saw the Divine Miss M with three co-workers: Mary, Susan and Gene. Susan and Gene were a couple. Our ages spanned a decade or so, but we were all young. After the show two young men in suits swept Mary and me up. The four of us left together to walk down Fifth Avenue to the Brasserie to have something to eat. There had been a very heavy snowstorm and there was no traffic on Fifth Avenue. Talk about divine. Somewhere between the Copa and the Brasserie the four of us got into a fight—the two women against the two men. Invectives were hurled—possibly even snowballs.


Mary is still in my life, and I could ask her if she remembers, but it was one of many events remembered only in a partial sense (and not just because of alcohol taken). I have no idea who all of the participants were, why we were going out with them, or why we fell out with them.

There are many other distinct but partial memories rattling around in my head. For instance, I met my wife’s brother before I met her. That brief but apparently unforgettable introduction occurred in an apartment in Boston, but I didn’t know the apartment dwellers. Why was I there?

Into the Wayback Machine

Going even farther back, I can recall thousands of visits, drives, boat rides and events with stunning clarity. I even can remember the feeling that each event lent, what someone wore, but who were the others in the car or the boat? Sometimes their names can be retrieved, sometimes not.

Time Marched On

Susan and Gene married and had children. Mary married—I went to the wedding—had children and now has grandchildren. I married, making the man I met in the Boston apartment my brother-in-law.

At the same time, Queen Elizabeth was living her life. Her children married and had children; most of them divorced and remarried. Her grandchildren are marrying. The marriages were televised; the other events were splashed across the tabloids. She is very old now and still carrying her handbag. Her memory is reported to be very good.

I’ve learned from The Crown that the Queen’s private quarters are a long distance from where she must travel to the public rooms. I imagine that the handbag holds a comb, a lipstick, a handkerchief, various eyeglasses. A lozenge.

Should the Queen ever use the London Underground, I very much doubt she’ll need to buy an Oyster card. So whatever is in the royal handbag, there are no coins, no pound notes and probably no stamps. No iterations of her own head. If I wrote and asked what was in her handbag, do you think she’d tell me?

Agony Aunt

I’ve become an agony aunt of sorts. The agony aunt in newspapers receives letters of complaints—usually of a romantic nature. The agony aunt delivers sage advice so that the sufferer may be rid of his or her agony. It is an old profession, though not the oldest, and continues to earn crusts of bread in today’s newspapers.

It is not my chosen profession, but every day my email junk box, my agony aunt address, is inundated with emails begging for my help. The emails begin with “Hi Dear,” or “Hello My Dear,” “Dear Friend,” “Beloved,” and once, “Please can you help me rescue my daughter?”

Moving stories of widowhood and cancer, abuse of orphans, and abandoned bank accounts weighing heavily on the bank managers’ hands besiege me. The writers only have weeks to live and are hiding from murderous brothers-in-law. One offered romantic entanglement and delight.

Before the Internet, I infrequently received paper letters—blue aerograms— of this nature. The postage was expensive, the gamble that it would pay off great. The agony aunt emails emerged with the dawn of emailing, but their frequency was lower and they seemed to originate in Nigeria. Now they arrive in the tens and daily, and Burkina Faso is the hot spot. The writers sometimes have Anglo-Saxon names, more often African. The banks involved are always in Africa, although the writers rarely confess to African origins. Instead they are Swiss, American, or from the UK. The English in the emails is often fine, but understandably overwrought and with a hint of the exotic.

Their offers are various. Sometimes the writer is cagey and wants an answer from the agony aunt before details are made explicit. More often I am offered millions just to help hide a vast fortune from thieving brothers-in-law: $5.5M outright, 40% of $8.7M, 35% of $12.5M (plus 10% for my expenses). The writers want me to know that they are not appealing to a possible greedy side to my nature. Instead, the instructions are to donate a large portion of my cut to various charities for the orphans, the elderly. Clearly I am not the dupe and they are not crooks.

The writer, the hunted one (by cancer, authorities, brothers-in-law), sometimes simply wants me to answer the email. Mostly the writer asks for my bank account number, my photograph, or my passport. I am tempted to answer, to offer my passport, to request a physical address, and see what happens next.

As her agony aunt, I would ask my dear friend what hope she has for success in these jabs at fortunes through the Ethernet? What led her to writing these emails? Does the hope, springing eternal, help her after a long day in the employ of her brother-in-law? Would she answer as herself? No, and it seems a dangerous tease, so I will continue to mark her imaginative efforts “junk,” and delete them.

Pink Hats

January 20, 2018

There were lots of pink hats at the women’s rally I attended on Saturday. The rally was the second annual, the first having been called in national protest to Trump’s inauguration. The speeches and rally signs were part get-out-the-vote, part women’s rights (reproductive and equality), #MeToo, #TimesUp, anti-racist and inclusive. Anti-Trump.

Into the way back machine

As I stood amongst the mostly elderly female crowd in pink hats, an ugly and ancient memory stirred. When I was six and seven, we lived in the Bayview Canarsie housing projects in Brooklyn, New York, where legions of kids played King of the Hill and Ring-a-levio together.

Nearly all of my friends in our building were Jewish. One day I asked my mother if we were Jewish, too. This was right about the time that her mother took me to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to be baptized in secret—a secret I kept. Still, since my bewildered gentile parents practiced no religion, I evidently made no connection. Possibly a stab in the right direction, for my nascent ecumenism persisted, but there were unfortunate limits to my cluelessness.

There also was a Japanese family in the building and the little girl and I were friends. I can’t remember her name, although I still have photos of us together. Both she and her family were very nice to me. Her father took us fishing, probably to the pier on Jamaica Bay.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

As little girls are wont to do, as this little girl was wont to start, we had a spat. I wanted to wound her and I called her a Jap. Before the word left my mouth I knew it would be the end of us, and it was. She never spoke to me again.

That word was used in the numerous World War II movies we watched on The Million Dollar Movie. It was part of the language and attitude of my World War II era family. It was a comfortable part of my life, but I knew very well what it meant to say it to her.

Bad Characters

As she walked or ran away from me, possibly crying, I felt nothing but a hollow bravado. Like the protagonist in the brilliant Jean Stafford story, “Bad Characters,” speaking about her friendships: “When they ended and I was sent packing in unforgetting indignation, it was always my fault;” I felt sorry for myself! I did not feel remorse or regret for what I’d said—that came later and stayed forever.

Back to Our Brave New World

With that memory I was reminded that the things Trump says about groups of people, the names he calls them, were there in me, once upon a time. It would be a far, far better thing for all of us if he too had stopped believing and using them long before now. His words have given permission to some Americans to express all of the poison stored in their heads, all of that poison from my childhood.

Not to me. Not to the women in the pink hats. As one of their signs exclaimed, “I can’t believe we have to protest this shit AGAIN!”

Amen, sister.

Note: A post about the wonderful and largely forgotten writer Jean Stafford appeared here in July, 2017 

“Bad Characters” may be found within the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford, 2005, FSG (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Classics, with an introduction by Joyce Carol Oates. Ask your local librarian to order it.

Wolff’s Whistle

Ahead of the publication of Wolff’s Fire and Fury, many pieces were published on the black despair that was 2017 (and you won’t find a funnier one than Dave Barry’s roundup in the December 31st Boston Globe). I am considering 2017 an annus horribilis, as Queen Elizabeth considered 1992. The reasons were clear and public for the Queen: her son and heir Charles and his Lady Diana split; her daughter-in-law Fergie splashed the front pages of the British tabloids, bare-bosomed and having her toes sucked.

The reasons for my 2017 despair are not clear to me. It can’t be the daily barrage of stupidity, insanity and destruction by Donald Trump and his so-called government, can it? OK, OK, the threat of nuclear war, the drilling and fracking in sacred lands and the oceans. Deportations, sexual harassment and suspension of decent services for our citizens, especially in Puerto Rico, climate change denying—I’ll stop, but there’s much more.

Personally, the year wasn’t too bad. We lost nobody close to us and suffered no serious setbacks of any sort. Years have been worse. Years will be worse. The countryside is still beautiful. Why the despair then? Why do people slow to stare at a car crash?

The car is still crashing in the new year. We’d barely put away the party hats when Kim Jung Un and Donald Trump aired their opinions on the size of their “buttons.” Fellas, if you’re going to compare size, “button” doesn’t seem the way to go. Woven into this puerile imbecility was the word “nuclear,” however. Bingo. 2018 despair, already.

An excerpt of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury was available yesterday (New York Magazine online). The book will fly off of the shelves today. A real page-turner, it contained (unverified so far) unsurprising yet horrifying details about life in the White House. Is it all worse than I thought? Not at all. I was not surprised by anything I’ve read in the book, except for scalp reduction surgery, about which I’d been happily innocent. It’s a fun read, but despair is lurking for the reader. And aside from the entertainment, will Michael Wolff’s whistle-blowing do anything? Will somebody make this stop? Stop Trump? Please?

Yes, I could turn off the internet, stop reading newspapers, stop watching and listening to news programs and discussions. There was a time when our house had no TV and no Internet service (and radio signals still fail to reach us with any clarity). We didn’t live here full-time as we do now. We didn’t have such a threat to our democracy, to our lives, just about one year ago, either. It doesn’t seem wise to stick our heads in the sand, although it isn’t sensible to merely endure the torture.

We live in a state with politicians who agree with our views and serve the integrity of their offices. We have zero clout with Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell, but the regular citizens of Wisconsin and Kentucky probably don’t either. Doing what we can, we support candidates, non-profits, and sign petitions for sanity, decency. We hope that there will be a groundswell around the country, just as there was in the recent elections in Virginia and Alabama.

The nature of our winter after the nice December 25th snowfall has added to the feeling of despair. The violence of the winter storms—the seawater in downtown Boston yesterday and many other places on the east coast—adds to the toll of the incredible violence of the summer and fall storms around the country. The level of destruction of the hurricanes and wild fires seems of a piece with the frigid temperatures and high winds we have now. That one piece is climate change, but with the coal and oil industries leading the charge in our government, the baby steps taken to reducing and preparing for climate change are being undone. Not to mention support for green energy sources—barely underway and now gone.

Dinosaurs are in power, but we can’t let them push the meteor button. Throw the bums out.

Lie Doggo

Two weeks into winter our dog Arthur discovered a new hobby. We have four-footed tenants under the house. Arthur smells them through one heating duct vent in the living room. He alternately stalks actively—scrapes, barks, demands—and then creeps back. His strategy is clear: move away; go quiet. Lie doggo. I’d never seen a dog lie doggo before, but it’s clear that he has hunting instincts.

I’m grateful for his entertainment because otherwise, he’s having a hard winter. We had snow and ice before mid-December this year. With the elements came the plow trucks and their combination road spread of dirt and salt. All of these conditions have increased each week. Our temperatures plunged and remained in single digits or below zero with little respite. The ice and the salt hurt Arthur’s feet very much. We try to avoid his feet meeting the treated roads through various strategies. We find the few places that have not been plowed but are accessible. We put special dog Vaseline on his pads. We put regular Vaseline on his pads. We bought rubber booties that we could not get over his paws. We bought sock-like booties that he flung off (he tries to fling off his coat, too, but it is secure). All work to greater or lesser degrees. Result: he hates to go out now.

Always a late sleeper, we now have to bribe him to leave the crate in the morning. Even after removing the blankets that swathe the crate and cajoling, he remains. He lies doggo. Presentation of his treats help. Cheese helps more. Stern admonition worked once. Often he runs back from the front door, and if one of us has forgotten to close the crate door, he runs back into it, to lie doggo.

We took advantage of a dry, almost warm day this week, and enjoyed a two-mile walk together. The road was dry, so the salt did not react with his pads. The sun was warming although it was cold, and there was no wind to rip the heat off of us. Arthur trotted along beside me, happy to be out.

This afternoon, I will prepare to do battle to get him out to a walk. The temperature is in the single digits again and the wind gusts are bringing a brutal chill. A heavy snowfall yesterday means a new load of fresh salt and ice today. Once out in the cold, neither of us will want to linger. Arthur will be efficient.

This evening when we gather in the living room, Arthur’s canine instincts will come to the fore—the wolf in him. He’ll sniff and bark and scratch at the vent. He’ll retreat and go quiet, watching, waiting. Eyes glittering, he’ll lie doggo.

Borders: Ireland’s Brexit Killer


The phony populism that strengthens the hatred of immigrants in 2017 America—in a land where all but Native and African Americans are immigrants—also promotes hysteria about borders. Inside the rallying cry “Make America Great Again” is a cry for hard borders. A call to keep immigrants out.

Across the Pond

Phony populism led Britain to Brexit. There too, it nurtures a fear of immigrants, hatred of regulations, and the centuries-long hatred of the Continent in the sceptered isle. As well as a yearning for the return of borders. No Euros for Britain even before Brexit, creating the perfect stew for Britains to vote to leave the European Union. “Britain First” has rung through the shouts of mobs and the hard Brexiteers in Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet. But Ireland’s position on borders may be a Brexit killer.

First, A Little History

After more than two centuries of struggle and rebellion for independence, Ireland became a Free State in 1921. Free of Britain, almost…but there was a catch. The negotiations between Ireland and Britain resulted in the partition of six of the nine counties of the ancient northern province of Ulster. Northern Ireland was thus created, to remain part of Great Britain, satisfying the powerful of the Protestant-majority north. The partition created two Irelands with a border to cross. Pro-British Union and pro-Free State Ireland Protestants and Catholics were trapped in each.

Years of tumult followed in the 1920s, including the Irish Civil War and the Troubles. Finally, in the 1930s, the constitution was passed into law and the Republic of Ireland was born.

Today Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom, while the Republic of Ireland remains a sovereign country.

Although the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, the rest of the United Kingdom voted to leave, taking Northern Ireland with it. The only political party in Northern Ireland that voted to leave was the Democratic Unionist Party, which has a Protestant, pro-British, anti-Belfast Agreement, and anti-progressive agenda. The DUP became very useful to Theresa May when she nearly lost her government in a snap election this summer. The DUP seats propped her party up to a Parliamentary majority in a cash-for-votes deal. As a result, the most highly subsidized part of the UK—Northern Ireland—now has another 1 billion pounds sterling in the treasury.

Ireland the Brexit Killer

The small island that holds Northern Ireland and Ireland is separated from Britain by the Irish Sea. The Irish Sea is currently fished and traversed by all bordering countries. There even was talk of creating a border down the middle of the sea after Brexit. Borders are important to the Brexit transition for the UK/Northern Ireland because the Republic of Ireland will remain in the EU. Going from an EU country to a non-EU country requires customs. Borders are needed for customs checks. The Republic of Ireland and many in Northern Ireland do not want a hard border. The decision made about an Irish border therefore threatens to alter or derail the Brexit transition.

The Border Between Ireland and Northern Ireland

Gone is the highly fraught border of the violent 1970s. No one is nostalgic for it. When you cross from the Republic to Northern Ireland now, there’s no cue. Eventually, you’ll notice the British-hued red mailboxes replacing the green ones of the Republic, and the Union Jack replacing the Tricolor. The border is invisible in other ways too: people commute regularly from one country to the other for jobs and for medical appointments; trade crosses unimpeded by customs, including and most especially EU goods.

And there’s the problem: now that Northern Ireland will follow Britain in leaving the EU, but the Republic of Ireland will not, what to do about customs? It’s difficult to imagine customs without a border, regardless of modern technology. The parties involved in steering Brexit have had a difficult time imagining how it would really work, and the schedule for the required conclusion of Brexit is moving very fast.

Meanwhile, the Irish government has remained steadfast in saying absolutely not to a border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Do they really want to leave?

The twisting and turning over customs and borders by the British and Irish governments has revealed other problems in British planning at this stage: there hasn’t been any. Now that that’s out in the open, it seems as though the British government is rethinking the hard leave.

The UK voted to leave the EU in a referendum. The EU accepted the request to leave, but with strictures. Now the British government wants the deals Norway and Canada have—sort of an EU light—with regard to British regulations, borders, and markets. But the agreement signed did not contain such options, and the EU remains serious that Britain can not go back from the agreed Brexit. The EU also remains serious about its demands for compensation (every divorce is costly), citizen’s rights (all residents of the EU to this point travel, study, work and live freely in all EU countries)—and Ireland.

What About Ireland?

The EU is standing behind the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement of 1998, which brought about the fragile peace enjoyed today on the island. The signed agreement defined the special relationships between Northern Ireland and Ireland, Britain and Ireland, and Northern Ireland and Britain. All EU countries at the time, as they are at this moment.

As part of the special relationship, the Belfast Agreement gave everyone in Northern Ireland the absolute right to citizenship in the Republic of Ireland, and therefore the EU.

The EU is therefore offering Northern Ireland a refundable Brexit. Should Northern Ireland choose to join the Republic of Ireland—which it has the right to do—it can rejoin the EU.

EU will never allow Britain to rejoin. The British are stuck with their morning-after remorse. After a very public affair, this ugly divorce is proceeding.


Two posts appeared here in June about the impact of Ireland on Brexit and vice versa:

“Will Brexit Reunite Ireland?” June 6th, 2017,

“Will Ireland Redefine Brexit?” June 14th, 2017

Sponge Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants

My sister the sponge. Your sister the sponge, too. Modern genetic analysis has concluded that the extant evolutionary sister to all animals is the sponge. The former contender for the title of sister to us all is the comb jelly. Comb jellies look like jellyfish, and are far more sophisticated than sponges. Sponges sit on an ocean or freshwater body floor and filter-feed. Comb jellies propel themselves through water, have a rudimentary nervous system and gut, and create patterns of light—they’re pretty. Comb jellies are active predators. Evolutionary scientists argue that going from the comb jelly to the sponge is going backward in terms of features, and therefore backward in evolution (a rudimentary explanation if ever there was one, and all mine).

Sponge Sisterhood

What is an evolutionary sister to all animals? She is the first one to branch out from THE common ancestor to us all. The common tree started with the common ancestor, and branched from there, throwing out the sponges as the maiden sisters to us all.

Sponges don’t travel and they don’t wear pants, square or otherwise

Why sister and not brother? Sister-brother would be more correct. Most sponges are male and female, and have the ability to play either role in their sexual reproduction. Sponges also are able to reproduce asexually by breaking off a piece of themselves. The bud falls and clings to a solid and grows into another sponge. Although sponges don’t travel, there’s a lot going on —some are even carnivorous, capable of eating the hapless small crustaceans that blunder inside.

My sister, the sponge

A sponge is an amazing animal in a stolid sort of way, but she is not the sister I’d hoped for as a child. I didn’t prefer a sister over a brother when I was a child, but I wanted someone to help me with my parents, to help me with the world. Would she have? Probably, but it’s a moot point. The older I get, the more I think that children without siblings miss insight into others. It has taken me a long time to understand that I don’t know how someone else feels or thinks about a situation, and that I should not assume that they feel as I do. Of course, I do make assumptions, still.

The simple “walk a mile in my shoes” type of thing is so important in life. It’s not to say that all people with siblings understand others, can walk in their shoes—Donald Trump comes to mind—nor is it correct to think that all only children can’t understand others. It is true that it might have helped me as a child and as a young person to know another child so well that I could understand the inner workings of a human a bit better. Other children were basically strangers to me, no matter how many hours I spent in their houses, embedded in their families temporarily.

My sister sits a lot

If the sponge branched out from the bottom of our ancestral tree, she just sat there, at the bottom. She sat while fish walked out of water, dinosaurs came and went—except the feathered ones—and we humans lost our fur, except in the odd, silly tufts retained. Six hundred million years later, she’s sitting there still.

The oceans are changing in composition, rapidly now—will she survive the acidification of the waters by increased carbon dioxide worldwide? Boring sponges (as in drilling, not yawning) take advantage of the disastrous effects of acid on corals. These sponges break down the calcium carbonate from diseased corals and recycle it. Sponges are tough cookies. Their relative simplicity may help their survival, but vast climate change will wreak vast change in animal populations.

Now that I know that the sponge is my evolutionary sister, she seems much closer to home. I’ll worry about her.

My Hospital Roommate

My hospital roommate and I shared a room roughly the size of a laundry hamper, one with the same rumpled aspect. Separated by a thin curtain, we learned of one another’s conditions and bodily functions, although not as willing participants. My hospital roommate was an eighty-six year old woman named Valerie. Physically, much was crashing and burning for Valerie. She had a wracking, volcanic cough, day and night. She was immobile. I suspect that she had been in that state for a while, before arriving at the ER by ambulance. She’d been living alone in her home, relying on the Visiting Nurses and some local charities for much-needed assistance. Judging from my experience with my own mother—who was physically fit, but mentally not while living alone—Valerie’s middle-aged children must have been driven mad by the situation.


My hospital roommate was in pain and tormented by her ailments. The hospital staff recognized her discomfort and strove to help her, but she refused most suggestions. Valerie was only a little confused about things, but one thing was crystal clear: she wanted to die. Stuck in the back of our laundry hamper, I could not help eavesdropping as she told the compassionate doctor that she did not want to live as she was. Loud and clear. Valerie did not want the suggested heart valve replacement or anything else extraordinary. She did want to be comfortable. She wanted to go home. She wanted to die.


Valerie achieved some comfort only when asleep, a blessed event for both of us. If she woke at three in the morning, the lights and the TV would go on—she didn’t know what time it was. I tried to cope using earplugs and an eye mask, but if it wasn’t Valerie waking me, it was the staff. The staff station outside our door was noisy, bordering on the raucous. I’ve never experienced co-workers who enjoyed each other so much, especially over the second shift. Invariably, when Valerie and I both fell asleep, we were woken by vital sign checks.


My hospital roommate’s family called a meeting with the compassionate doctor and a hospice nurse. Rolling my IV pole out of the hamper, I walked the boring corridors. Up and down I walked, in a fetching costume of two johnnies, a down vest and hospital socks, trying not to stare at my fellow patients. Eventually, the family meeting ended. Immediately, Valerie was given morphine and some relief. She didn’t stop coughing altogether, but she slept more peacefully.

Going Home

Feeling better and desperate to escape the hamper, I campaigned to go home, too. On my way out the door, I talked to Valerie. She did not recognize me in my street clothes, and thought I was a staff member. My hospital roommate recognized my name, though. I said, “I’m going home.” She said, “I’m going home.” I wished her great comfort and offered congratulations on her return to her own home. We both knew what it meant for her. While something wavered in her eyes, she was stoic and brave about that meaning. On my way out, I heard a nurse say to Valerie, “You have a nice roommate.” Feeling like a wretch for the times I’d wished absolutely anything would stop her coughing, I broke for the fresh air.

Post laundry hamper

Hospital roommates no longer, I still think of Valerie. I hope that she is comfortable at home. I know she’ll receive good care from the hospice people, but I find myself worrying about her. I also find myself treasuring my own vitality. I can only hope that I have the clarity and bravery my hospital roommate had, when my turn comes.

Mother and baby homes in mid-20th century Ireland

The New York Times ran a special report last Sunday titled The Lost Children of Tuam by Dan Barry. At once shocking and moving, this excellent piece focuses on one of the mother and baby homes in mid-20th century Ireland. Three conspirators—the Irish government, the Catholic Church, and Irish families—created the mother and baby homes.

A Nation’s Secrets

St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home in Tuam (pronounced Chewm), Galway operated from the mid-1920’s to the early 1960’s in the charge of the Bon Secours nuns. The building opened in 1846 as a workhouse during the Great Hunger. It became a repository for women disgraced in the eyes of society by pregnancy out of wedlock and their children. It ended as a disgrace, an insult to the humanity abandoned by the Irish government, the Irish Catholic Church and the Irish families who abandoned their daughters and grandchildren to such a place.

“To bury our humanity itself”

In an odd and vicious twist on a view of sin, the home forced the mothers  to leave without their children after one year. The children were baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church. If they survived infancy, they survived on a poor diet, with no affection and little education. Many did not survive. The discovery of the system of Victorian empty septic chambers running under the home in 2015 provided the evidence. The chambers contained hundreds if not thousands of tiny human remains, wrapped and stacked upon one another. The role of the nuns and other involved adults is under investigation now.

The Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, addressed the Irish legislature, saying, “We dug deep and we dug deeper still. To bury our compassion, to bury our mercy, to bury our humanity itself.”


Dan Barry’s The Lost Children of Tuam ( is a tough read, but it is a very worthwhile one, for all of the questions it asks, and the ones it answers. Neither the people interviewed nor the author have the answer to why these women and children were treated so badly by their families, their government, and their church. All genocides in all countries beg the same question; essential to ask, difficult to answer.

Family Secrets

The horrors at St. Mary’s and in the other mother and baby homes were well known by many in the towns, cities and farms of Ireland, but secret to others. In shame, the victims who survived tended to keep their secrets. Secrets are powerful and often destructive, but all families have them.

After reading about St. Mary’s, I thought about my own Irish family, and what I know about them, which I think is a lot—but do I? I know of only one rather benign secret, but I know of no such mother and baby home secrets in my family.

I was told many stories about my maternal great-grandmother, Mary Jane Wright. A mother of five and a young widow, she had nobody to turn to, her father having turned his back on her due to her choice of husband (while the father did buy a house for her, he never helped her again, and indeed, left nothing in his will to her). Mary Jane Wright was unusually capable, and not a young girl on her own, one ostracized by society. She also was a homeowner—a powerful position for a woman of her time.

After the loss of her husband, she took in used clothing and after cleaning and mending it, sold it. So successful was she that she bought houses and became something of a minor real estate mogul. She used her success to support her two sons in their business enterprises, and her two daughters, who neither married nor worked.

Aside from the above, I know nothing about Mary’s extended family and their descendants, the ones who stayed in Ireland. Might they have fallen on hard times, hard enough to end up in a mother and baby home?

The pot of gold

There exists a susceptibility—especially in Irish Americans— to apply the intelligence, and kindness of many Irish to all. The same application of traits, good or bad, exists for all groups, including all Americans. In the case of the Irish, it’s the rainbow effect. I fall under its thrall myself, even though I have supported the Irish Donkey Sanctuary for years and know that thousands of abused donkeys are rescued each year. Thousands of cases of abuse of the innocent. Once rescued though, the donkeys receive good care forever by their kind and able providers.

It’s a pity—a sin—that the mothers and babies found no such sanctuary at the mother and baby homes.

Sunday Lunch—Poised for a U.S. Revival?

Sunday Lunch

The Sunday Lunch Tradition Is Strong in the UK and Ireland

Sunday lunch remains a tradition around the UK and in Ireland. In homes, restaurants and pubs, it means one thing: roasted meat and roasted potatoes. Vegetarians replace the roasted meat with vegetables baked or roasted, but they hold to the essential tradition. A pub lunch on Sunday means a roast beef or pork dinner with all the fixings. We enjoyed such a meal outside of Oxford, England, sitting riverside on a glorious day to enjoy it.

My grandparents arrived here from Northern Ireland with Sunday lunch well engrained. My mother did not keep the tradition, finding a heavy and lengthy meal after a morning in church deadening when a girl. However her mother loved the freedom it gave her on Sunday afternoons. She could sit down and relax for the rest of the day after the meal. Sandwiches of the roasted meat were served in the evening, but that was that. My grandmother never changed the schedule, and I enjoyed her Sunday lunches as a child visiting my grandparents and uncles.

The Yorky Pud Wrap

The York Roast Co. ( in York, England began making a sort of roll-up of a Sunday lunch. It’s a Yorkshire pudding wrap with roasted meat and veg, smothered in gravy. A “Yorky Pud Wrap.” They can’t keep up with the demand of the lines—queues— of customers. University students can tell their mothers they’ve had Sunday lunch when queried. Everyone can satisfy their Sunday lunch craving without actually cooking anything, or footing the expense of a pub or restaurant. Jumping the English generation gaps, the Sunday lunch tradition remains strong.

How many have held onto the tradition here in the U.S.? The tradition will be revived in our home in order to see friends over a nice meal when we’re not exhausted from a busy day, which even Sunday can be.

Now that October is quickly melting into November thanks to a rainy spell, it seems just right, especially since our friends won’t have to drive home along wet (and soon, icy) and pitch dark country roads after the meal. It just may be the best way to gather before the work and school week schedules resume.

Sunday Lunch Redux

We’ll revive the old tradition this Sunday, the last one in October, with two dear friends as the first guests. It’s apple pie season, and that very American dessert will cap the roasted meat, veg and potato main course. We’ll have to save some room, but if it’s a nice day, we can take a walk with the dog—after all, the afternoon will be before us.