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Overheard During Graduation Weekend

“It’s been getting some pretty bad reviews.”


Christopher’s description of his new, very short haircut.  Evidently his roommates Evan and Francis didn’t entirely approve.

“Just walk away.”

Richmde better

Richmade in Lodi, California dates from 1938 and appears frozen in time. Our waitress’s name tag said “Renee.” She looked to be in her mid-40s, meaning she wasn’t born when the Left Banke—don’t forget the “e”—had its one hit, “Just Walk Away Renee.”  We couldn’t resist asking her if she’d heard that song, and she gave us an aggrieved eye roll. That, of course, prompted us to break out into the chorus.

“Did we bring my purse?”

Strawberry shake BJJ

We were traveling with David’s mother, Bonnie, in tow. At 87, she’s still an absolute trooper, sitting patiently through the long card ride and lengthy graduation ceremony, and making her way up multiple flights of stairs. Her short-term memory has gotten porous, so we needed to assure her many times that yes, we’d brought her purse.

“I can’t believe it.”

016 (2)

David’s uncle Bud Jardine kept repeating this as he clasped hands with Bonnie, who he hadn’t seen in more than 40 years, and they both choked up.  We stopped to see him and his wife, Elsie, on their ranch in Galt on our way to Davis.

“Toro, toro, toro.”


My sister-in-law Connie thought it would be amusing to try to summon Uncle Bud’s bull, Edy, with this classic phrase.  David shushed her, afraid the beast would begin pawing the ground and charge through the fence.  We didn’t want to mess with Edy.

“Help me with the beer.”


This was the command from the waitress at Plainfield Station, which is on a country road in Woodland, just outside Davis. If you go with a crowd, plan on pitching in with the serving.

“Chris is so tall.”

The family with the graduate

He does grow weary of hearing this.  I’ve advised him to carry a photo of a Munchkinlike couple, and show it while saying offhandedly that he doesn’t know where his height comes from, because his parents are very successful “little people” actors. But he isn’t cynical and flippant like me, so he doesn’t.




With Coffee Spoons



That’s not how I’ve measured out my life, but rather with brown lunch bags. I figure that in 20 years of marriage and Christopher’s 13 years of school, I’ve slapped together nearly 8,000 sandwiches. Usually I go down to one lunch bag a day in summer but Christopher has worked full time this year, so the two-lunch routine will continue right up until he leaves for college, which will be soon.

The benefits of taking your lunch to work or school rather than buying it include eating healthier food and saving buckets of money by avoiding the cafeteria, fast-food joint, or roach coach. I’ve joked that I’ll accept an easy payment plan if Christopher and David would care to start paying me the roughly $45,000—calculated according to the money gurus—that I’ve saved them over the years.

I can’t get too corny about a fledgling leaving the nest since Christopher is 6’4”—that’s more on the order of a pterodactyl flying out. But as he prepares to leave home I’ve done what every parent probably does, which is to sift through the parental accounting sheet I keep in my head. I hope that the “good” column outweighs the “bad,” and that he’s equipped and ready to face the world.

Christopher is an only child, or “single child” as these children are somewhat coyly referred to. David and I have tried not to spoil him, and made conscious, repeated efforts to help him understand that his words and actions affect others, and to be mindful of this in all he does. When I worriedly filter through the last 17 years of being his mother, an incident of clearly spoiling him stands out, and it relates to his lunch.

“Hi Mom,” his clear, bell-like second-grade voice came over the phone. As I did every day, I had sent him off to school that morning with his lunch bag marked “Dingman, Grade 2.” He had gone to the office at St. Barnabas to ring me up with important and grave news.

“I think you gave me Dad’s lunch by mistake. It has tomato on it.”

In Christopher’s second-grade world, this egregious error rendered the sandwich inedible. In hindsight, of course I should have said, “Just take the tomato off.” Or done as my mother would have and said crisply, “If you don’t like it, throw it on the floor and step on it.” But since St. Barnabas is only a six-minute walk from our house, I threw together a tomato-free sandwich and took it over there. Maria, the school secretary, chuckled when I walked in.  I retrieved the offending sandwich and walked back home where I ate it myself.

You can’t protect your kids from everything of course. Mistakes, failures, and heartache ambush us regularly, along with life’s joys. It’s unrealistic, but I’m secretly hoping that Christopher doesn’t face anything out there much worse than a sandwich with tomato on it.