The Truth, and Nothing But


So, what do you want to know?  My friends, undoubtedly, would say that I’ll tell anybody almost anything. If you’ve got a question, post it; I’ll give you an answer.  Meanwhile, I offer the following tales:  pieces of my life that are important to me—and that, in some cases, might give you a good chuckle.  I’ll change them from time to time.  Don’t want to drop it on you all at once.

Facts, Basic & Otherwise

I was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, the only daughter in a German-Irish, Catholic, blue-collar family. My mother wanted to name me Catherine, but my father (unbeknownst to Mom) told the nurse to put “Mary Isabelle” on the birth certificate. So I’m a “IV,” after my mom, grandmom, and great-great-grandmom. That’s three of us there, on the left (I’m the little one in my grandmom’s lap).

In the “otherwise” department, I’ve been 5’9” since age thirteen, and I’ve got the big Germanic bone structure of my forbearers. Blue eyes, red hair, and (a lot of) freckles. I was born in the Year of the Dragon (I love dragon stories). Astrologically, I’m a double Sagittarius (sun and moon) with (thank heaven) a nice watery Pisces ascendant (helps keep the Sag fire under control).


Defining Moments, Events, & Influences . . .

The Circumstances of My Birth

When I was born, my mom was forty-three and my dad fifty-two, and they’d already raised three boys. My brothers were eighteen, twenty-three, and twenty-five. The oldest and his wife made me an aunt at the age of three weeks. All told, my sibs and their wives gave me twelve nieces and nephews by the time I was twelve. And, yes, it was fairly strange, growing up in such circumstances. I sort of hung out,
literally and emotionally, between generations.

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Strange that among the gazillion pics of me as a kid, there isn’t a single one of me at my piano—especially strange since I studied from the time I was five through my early twenties. Music was a huge part of my family’s life; my parents sang in their church choir, as did my brothers, and we all sang (brothers playing guitars) at family gatherings. Pianos not being portable, I couldn’t play along, but that problem got fixed when my middle brother Dave gave me one of his beautiful handmade classic guitars for high school graduation. I taught myself to play it (badly, but well enough to join the crowd), and it remains one of my most treasured possessions. Arthritis has stopped me from playing either piano or guitar, but I still sing whenever I get the chance.

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Big surprise—as a kid, I read a lot. My favorite books had magic or horses in them. My all-time favorite from those years was Carbonel, the King of the Cats by Barbara Sleigh. Then I hit junior high and discovered adventure novels, like Swiss Family Robinson. But when I found Mary Stewart, the die was cast, sealing my literary-taste fate forever (not that I knew it then). The Moon-Spinners was the first book I ever bought out of my allowance, and I read it so many times that I can still recite the first four or five pages verbatim (all that piano study, not to mention learning several decades’ worth of song lyrics, gave me an excellent memory). I have a lot of favorite books (see Passions), but of all the books I’ve ever read, I believe Mary Stewart’s probably affected me most—or, maybe, had the biggest effect on my own writing. Something about the rhythm and lyricism of her style speaks to me in a way that no other writer’s style ever has (with the possible exception of William Faulkner and Dick Francis. A rather strange triumverate, I know, but there is it).

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High school = broken ankles

That’s how I think of those years. Broke the right one in my sophomore year, jumping out of my bedroom window at 1:00 a.m., to go toilet-paper–wrap my friend Dusti’s boyfriend’s house with a very cool purple toilet paper we’d found at Woolworth’s (Dusti, naturally, jumped the same lousy 10’ from my window to the ground without a scratch).  Problem (besides the broken ankle):  It was 1968, and Baltimore, like many other cities in the U.S., had seen its share of race riots, so we were under a 9:00 p.m. curfew.  Not that Dusti or I cared about things like rules—except to see how many we could break without getting caught.

And we didn’t get caught that time, either.  I crawled around to the front of my apartment building, in through the front door, up the stairs, into my parents’ and my apartment, through the living room, and into my bedroom—holding my ankle off the ground the whole time.  Dusti and I put on our pajamas, we tilted the stepladder that was in my room (serendipitously, I was poster-painting psychedelic flowers on my ceiling), I sat on the floor—and I screamed.  My parents came running, and we told them I’d fallen off the ladder.  Due to the curfew, the ambulance arrived with a police escort. And off I went to the ER.

Dusti rode with me in the ambulance, and I’m sure those paramedics thought we were high (which we weren’t), because we laughed ourselves sick the whole way to the ER.  Wasn’t until I was by myself, waiting for the orthopedist—a very long five-hour wait—that I started to really hurt.  Enough so that, when the priest came by to see if I wanted to go to confession before being anesthetized (yeah, the break was that bad—three fractures and a dislocation), I decided maybe I’d better confess what had really happened, lest I die with a lie on my soul.

For a very long time, that priest and Dusti were the only two people who knew the truth.  Eventually—decades later—the story got passed around my immediate family (who weren’t the least surprised).  But my parents both went to their graves believing that I’d fallen off that ladder.

Eighteen months later, in my senior year, I broke my left ankle, falling on an ice-covered parking lot. My first thought upon falling: “Oh, sh**!  Not again!” That one required surgery, screws, pins, a week in the hospital, and a lot of morphine. Very boring.

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How I Met My Husband

I love telling this story. After college, I moved to west Philadelphia (to live where exactly and to do what is another story). Keith, who’d also recently moved to Philly from his native Michigan, was introduced to me by a mutual friend in the middle of a crowded restaurant. I promptly forgot about him—mostly.

Several months later, on a cold day in January, I was thinking about my fairly large circle of friends and feeling the need for at least one person to hang out with who wasn’t 1) a driven socio-political activist, 2) unrelentingly intellectual, 3) deadly serious about every little thing that came along, and 4) determined to save the world in his or her lifetime. And I remembered Keith. He’d seemed about as grounded and “normal” as it could get (which turned out to be true). I also recalled that he played guitar and sang. Seemed like a good candidate for injecting a little balance into my social life.

Well, so I called him that night—it was Monday—and invited him to go dancing with me on Friday. He said yes. But when Thursday came, it started to snow, and by Friday night, we had 26” on the ground. Even the trolleys had stopped running. Happily, Keith lived only three blocks away from my one-room apartment—formerly, the huge second-floor, front bedroom of a Victorian-era duplex. So he walked over to my place, carrying his guitar. And he never went home.

Monday, after work, he moved in with eight paper bags of dirty laundry, five bags of groceries (including lots of meat, marking the end of my two years of being vegetarian), and his (very large) Irish setter named Red Dog.

That was thirty-plus years and two sons ago. And what do you think the chances were that we wouldn’t have redheaded kids?









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Okay, what else would you like to know? Got a question? Send a message using the form on my contact page, and I’ll do my best to give you an answer—probably way more than you ever wanted to hear. In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t do short.