June 16, 2010


I guess I've always been the kind of person to speak-up and to wear my heart on my sleeve. My father encouraged it. My 9th grade creative writing teacher told me to try to hide my emotions a bit {he was a Bouvier, a cousin of Jackie}, but I've never been good at that. When my father Jerry {I called him Atticus} was clearly suffering from the ravages of years of smoking {those damn cigarettes}, I felt compelled to write about him. He was in the book business, when it belonged to gentlemen. He had a M.A. in English from Columbia. And, he had more emotional intelligence than anyone I've ever known. I wrote the story that follows about my father when I was 25. I read it to him when I was 27, the year before he died. It was one of the many incredible moments I had with my father, because I didn't hide my emotions.


I remember his sturdy, tan suitcase with gold initials - JJM - on fine leather. I would always wonder what was inside of it for us—the five of us—his children, as we eagerly awaited his return.

First he would kiss Mom, then pour his drink. And then we could jump on him, asking what he had brought home.

The drink was the color of gold, and he put water in it. Often, he let me make it for him. His cigarettes were long and white: Kents. He smoked a lot of them. There was a special drawer in the living room where he kept extra packs and our playing cards, some photographs and two leather cigarette cases. The cases had thin gold stripes around the edges. They were made for short cigarettes. Maybe he had once smoked the short kind.

I can hear the tone of his voice. When I heard it from another room, my day was complete. He was home. He seemed always to bring us a lot of books, and he gave us a lot of hugs. We all loved him. He was quiet and gentle and loved our mother. He wore a light blue sport coat in the summer and took us away to the ocean. He read and became bronze on the beach. He always taught us things, and he said things about life, but he rarely told us what to do. He left the orders up to Mom. He wanted to relax.

Tanned, in khakis and V-neck cashmere sweaters, shucking clams, smiling. I wanted those days never to end. The sinking of the orange sun. The dark, cool night air settling in. Our kisses goodnight, the aroma of Sea & Ski, and cool cotton sheets... we were all happy.

Then, one September day... things changed. Mom died. She did not die suddenly, but I was eight years-old, and I had no idea that she was dying. I wish that she had told me. I can not say how it made me feel. I do not remember. I played with my friends, and I tried to be sure that my little brother was happy. At least not sad.

For Dad, life changed the most—though he tried not to show us that it had. He was ours, as always... but even more so now. He had us to love and to care for and to remind him of the beautiful woman whom he loved more than any other in his life - our mother. I don't remember much about her; just specific loving moments. It seems now that those moments revolved around a good report card, or a piece of art accepted in a show. I suppose when you are as busy as she was with five children, it takes an occasion to reward a child individually.

My younger brother and I were extremely sensitive to our father's loss. When we missed Mom, we knew that he must, too. We would make up little secrets together, and at night as we lay in our beds, we would say good night to each other and again to him, after he had left the room.

We loved him so much. If you were sad, he hugged you, or gave you a pat on your shoulder, and you felt better. "I think you should go to bed now," he would say. The response always would be, "in a minuuuuuuute," as whoever had answered darted from the kitchen {where Dad sat and read} and prepared for a jump down the three steps to the studio, after a flip over Dad's favorite living room chair. Funny to think of how my stepmother has newly upholstered the few memories I have left of those days—Dad's chair is just one of them.

I never saw our father's normally expressive eyes show the painful emptiness that he must have felt then. Or I was too young to see it and read it. Children have such misconceptions about their parents rarely crying. But I can remember Dad's tears when Mom died, and also when his best friend Ed, died. And I felt that when you see one of your parents cry, you don't feel as though things are out of control—you feel closer, and you realize that they need you, too... for support. It's not always you needing them.

Maybe Dad cried more than we knew, but it's a hard thing to ask your father about. He probably thought that spending too much time crying was letting out important things, and that instead of spending time crying, you should be listening to feelings—thought provoking insight and strength. That would be Dad.

Many years have passed, and I am that much older now. I miss my father. Boston is my home, but at times, when I think of going home... I am not always sure where it is anymore.

My father raised me and taught me a lot. More than anything else, he taught me how to understand and appreciate all sorts of people. Strength is another thing he taught me. I wonder, sometimes... how he really feels about us, his children, and about his own life. I suppose I'll never really know. I feel, at times, that he is one of the few reminders of those days of solitude. Others are the warmth of the summer sun, the smell of suntan lotion, and the beach.

To know him, you might read the books that he once read—by Dostoevsky, Thomas Wolfe, Sigrid Undset... I hope that I made him happy. To quote Dad and his forever loving inspirations, "Life goes on..."


After reading this to my father that day in 1984... I looked up, and a tear was rolling down his cheek. Thank you, Atticus. Happy Father's Day! ox

photo: my Mom & Dad

June 3, 2010


Lately, I've been hearing the expression "it's the end of an era" a lot. Let's hope it's true indeed, when we talk about corporate greed. It's sad but true when we talk about the health of our oceans. Oceans are extremely important to me because I spent my summers as a child in the ocean, in Amagansett. Two nights ago, the house my grandfather, Alfred A. Scheffer designed and lived in for most of his life, was struck by lightning and burned down. He built another house behind this one through a cool shady path covered in dune shrubs where we stayed as children. But every evening, this was the house where we would all congregate. I am deeply sorry for the current owners of Scheff's house. My brothers and sisters and I know well that special people buy Scheffer houses. I guess it's the end of an era but I will still wake-up each summer morning with this memory:

My hair was platinum and my skin smelled of Sea & Ski. All day in the waves with lunch packed in plaid scotch coolers, that were opened with can-openers attached with string. Knocked out and tossed in the yellow-green whirl of sand twisting in the powerful waves. White foamy ocean with divine briny smells and horseshoe crabs and stingrays. Little translucent orange shells piled on the corners of beach towels. Woven-strapped lounge chairs used as stretchers to transport badly knocked out victims of intense waves to the back of wood-sided station wagons. Bikes and sandy lanes with pools of collected water splashing on sand-covered feet, with splinters from boardwalks. Seeing the first modern house designed by Charles Gwathmey as we chased across miles of dunes to the Good Humor truck. The sound of distant trains on the hill above Montauk Highway that were 100 cars-long and bound for faraway places. Nights at Devon Yacht Club dancing to the Rolling Stones with our friends and cute boys from Greenwich {yes, Davey}. Evening and grown-up cocktail hour with bow-tied grandfather who called me Bobbie as he drank his martini sounding so handsome and tall. Sneaking back to the beach every sunset with cozy, rolled-up wet and sandy corduroys and finally melting into cool, cotton sheets with the sound of crashing waves, and the smell of wooden beams and suntan lotion in our cozy summer rooms.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
~ Kahlil Gibran

On the left is the house our grandfather Scheff originally designed and built for us. Read the story about the remodel in the current issue of The Old House.

House photo left: courtesy, This Old House
Beach photo: courtesy, TimeOut NY