It was the time of day when no one thought to turn on the lights. A plate of clams was downstairs, and the sun had fallen below the tall hedges.

Dusk was making its way into the big house and up the stairs, where we cousins were told to read a book, play a game, get ready for dinner. We clung by age, draping off the top bunk, playing Uno, polishing toenails with a foot on the sink. I laid on the floor by the stairs with my chin on a fist, looking at an old nail bent wrong and thinking about the tasty cocktail sauce downstairs. Sand was in my sunburnt ears.

Dinner was slow to the table that night and the cousins shared a potato chip bag upstairs. When the dusk broke down into dark, we reached for the lights and started talking about the house’s ghost.

Our families called the ghost Grace. We knew about her history from the house’s owner, and even other renters. It made us laugh if we were outside in the sun at the beach, and our families bonded over this experience. Our own ghost! But if we were inside the house, when the sun was depleted, the cousins would stay downstairs in a large group until it was time for bed and go up together. No one spent time alone upstairs, even during the day, and especially not at night.

“Don’t leave me,” we’d say. Or a simple, “wait!”

The ghost never made an appearance, but she did make her feelings known. Some of us had come across a strong sense of anger while opening this one old door upstairs, and to me as an 11-year-old, this was evidence of somebody invisible. Was it left behind emotion? Or was she standing right there? It was anybody’s guess.

Finally, we heard pots in the kitchen. Laughter. They were having fun, telling their own stories. I could smell barbecue sauce and was relieved. My cousin and I left the younger cousins to play Rummy 500 on our bed. By this time, the dark had grown heavier. We turned our table lamp on, needing it to see the cards on the bed.

We were deep into the game when the lamp began to dim. Slowly. As if electricity was being pinched away. My cousin and I looked at each other, and turned our heads back to the lamp, watching it grow dimmer.

When the lamp light was gone, the screaming started. Cousins ran from the bedrooms hysterical, bare feet pounding down the thin hallway and stairs to the first floor, where we found more dark.

But the fireplace already had a fire so we held onto each other in front of it, shouting story upon story of what just happened, recounting the event already, while flashlights were found. “It’s Grace!” we said. “She’s here!” Adults talked about the island’s unreliable electric plant, how the wiring in the house was ancient, but we cousins knew it was the ghost. Dinner was by flashlights that night.

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I stood at the end of the dock, holding my string. My father bent down next to me, tying a lump of chicken we didn’t eat onto the end.

“What do I do?” I asked.

He pointed to the ocean below us.

“Let it down gently,” he said.

I peered over the dock into the water. The ocean was a soft green, and the soft green hid the sea life. I wanted so badly to catch a crab. I loved melted butter and I wanted the melted butter.

“Do I drop it?” I asked.

My father had his hands on his knees.

“You can toss it in,” he said, thinking I would like that better. 

I tossed it, and the chicken went into the soft green.

“Let down more string,” he said.

I gave the ocean more string.

I want to say it was instantaneous. I want to say I waited not three seconds. But three seconds later, the string was bouncing in my hand, and the ocean was pulling it.

I looked up at my father and he lifted the string out of the green.

My father’s face had the look of a miracle.

“You got a double-header!” he said.

His hands lifted the two crabs out of the ocean, and I knew I was special.

dad you rock lobster

The Hill

We lived near the bottom of a long hill, a hill that kept going forever.

From the top of the hill came stories, evasions, mysteries that were never solved. I would sometimes look up the hill and wonder.

Our own house was embedded into the hill. We sledded down our side yard in winter, mowed sideways in summer. We were the blue house with the many front steps, a big old house where kids could roam but today it was summer. Day camp was over. I could hear the kids up on Prospect.

“Can we go up the hill?”

We heard the sigh so we ran.

We flew out the double Dutch door, my younger sister and I, sprinting down the flagstone path and up to Prospect St. We joined the argument. A Prospect boy had a kickball under his arm.

It’s hard to say who saw it first, but the road dust got quiet. I turned, and I took in a breath. We watched it park, its nose pointing down the hill.

I had heard it was up there.

Continue reading

Second Snow

My mother said we had to get watched by Great Aunt Mary for a few hours. I had a sore throat and I didn’t want to bring a book. So I layed across Great Aunt Mary’s big green TV chair like a blanket, my arms draping over the side.

“Great Aunt Mary,” said my sister, “can I cut your hair?”

“Sure, honey,” she said.  “Go get the scissors.”

I looked up from the rug.

My sister crawled across the top of the couch and slid down the side. She ran into the kitchen and we heard spatulas moving around in the sink drawer.

“I think she’s really gonna cut your hair,” I said.

“It’ll save me a trip,” said Great Aunt Mary.

My sister walked back with big strides holding the scissors high in the air, her fist around the sharp blades. She crawled back up the couch and perched on the arm, cozy next to Great Aunt Mary. My sister started touching Great Aunt Mary’s hair, examining it, seeing where she should cut first.

Our grandmother came out of the bathroom.

“I’m getting a haircut, Gert,” said Great Aunt Mary.

Our grandmother looked at Great Aunt Mary and Great Aunt Mary looked at our grandmother, and they had a shiny laughing look in their eyes, like they were telling a funny story without words.

Hair started to fall onto Great Aunt Mary’s shoulders and on the front of her white sweater.

Our grandmother sat down to watch.

“How does it look, sweetheart?” asked Great Aunt Mary to my sister but looking at our grandmother with laughing eyes.

“It looks beautiful,” said my sister.

More hair dropped from the scissors.

“Are you about finished?” asked our grandmother.

“No,” said my sister. “There’s more.”

“Hey, look!” I said, pointing to the front windows. “It’s snowing again!”

Snow meant the dirt patches on our side hill would be covered when we got home. The sled would be faster. Maybe my sore throat would be gone by then.

“That’s second snow, honey,” said Great Aunt Mary.

I got up from the green chair and went to the front window. I looked up .

“What does second snow do?” I asked.

“It falls from the branches when there’s wind,” she said.

I watched it. She was right. It fell in clumps, the size of white meatballs.

I turned around.

“Can I go outside and look?” I asked Great Aunt Mary.

More hair was falling on her shoulders.

“Sure, honey,” she said. “Just don’t tell your mother.”




Marathon Day

“Here come the runners!”

The bleacher crowd leaned forward, craning their necks. The road was empty

I leaned over the curb, my fingertips touching.

My heart gave a pop when I saw his legs in the distance. I knew his stride.

The weather was just right. My uncle loved running his races in a light, misty rain and the day had given him that. But sometimes the days were sunny and he still won his races. He won so much we expected it. We’d wait for him, wondering where he was, and when we finally saw him come up over the hill, through the trees, around the corner, we’d shout, “Here comes Uncle San-dy!”

But this race was bigger. There were more people. Food carts with hot dogs and hot pretzels with big salt. My Great Aunt Mary sat on the bleachers with a blanket over her knees that shook up and down. She held a cup of cold hot cocoa and told my grandmother she needed a wine.

“Can you see him, Gert?” she kept asking.

Soon I could hear a swell of noise from the crowds down the road. I ran to find the yellow finish line.

So many adults were swarming in winter jackets and I squeezed through them and stood alone, waiting for my uncle.

Suddenly everything happened. Cameras and clapping as my uncle crossed the yellow line first and my Great Aunt Mary burst out of the jackets. She grabbed the laurel wreath from the official man and ran to my uncle with the wreath high in the air and planted it on his wet head with her two hands, crying.


In memory of my Uncle, Dr. Norbert Sander, M.D., who won the 1974 New York Marathon. To this day, he is the only New Yorker to have done so.


Uncle Sandy Marathon Day post


hey…psst…STAY TUNED FOR: SECOND SNOW (next up)