Monday, February 12, 2007


Choir rehearsal: we're taping the Welsh lullaby that most of
us know as All Through the Night, the arrangement that I got from
the Welsh choir that performed at the church earlier in the year.
The soprano part is just the melody, and I'm singing from memory.
I love this lullaby but have come to associate it with a particularly
dreadful moment in a custody war that ended about four years
before. If I'd lost I couldn't have listened to that song ever again;
but I won, if anyone can be said to win such a thing, so the
dreadful incident is almost a bittersweet memory, as I follow the
director, sing the tune, and get the words in the right places.

And there's the very child himself, walking around the periphery
of the room: I don't want to pay a sitter for a nine-year-old, or quite
want to leave him at home by himself. He's so cute, and a joy
generally. I watch him affectionately against the background of the
incident and the custody war, while continuing to follow the director,
sing the tune, and get the words in the right places.

Then the child's meanderings turn toward the front of the
room, where the long table with the tape recorder is. Some dippy
soprano has already spoiled one take by coming in late and
ruckling through the folders on the table. From the back of the
soprano section -- on risers, I think -- I watch with the helpless
horror known only to parents and pet owners as the boy,
whose approach to life has been characterized as "head first at a
hundred miles an hour," works his way toward the table -- watch,
and continue to follow the director, sing the tune, and get the
words in the right places.

The child is quick and observant, and knows about tape
recording. He notices the machine turning -- why do I picture
open reels? circa 1989, that's unlikely -- and pulls himself up
short in Michael Jackson's Moonwalk position, "Oops" in every
line of his expressive body (he has since become a dancer). To my
vast relief, he moonwalks himself backwards down the side of the
room and out the door. The side door leads to the sanctuary and
the parish hall downstairs. God knows what he'll find to do
there, but I can't help it. Probably nothing worse than
frightening someone by climbing pillars. I gratefully clear my
mind of everything but following the director, singing the tune,
and putting the words in the right places.

Monday, February 5, 2007


At the astronomy club on a back road in Groton,
members set up their telescopes on the lawn at the side of the
building, in full view of any headlights coming up or down the road.
Accordingly, use of headlights is forbidden between the building
and the main road. Anyone who comes by with headlights blazing
into the astronomers' carefully cultivated night vision is persona
very non grata indeed.

Due to a flaw in the design of the universe, the most
exciting viewing of the heavens is to be had in January and
surrounding months. The astronomers come into the clubhouse and
thaw a bit now and then. For the benefit of non-astronomers and
of club members who have other things to do, the clubhouse has
light as well as heat, kept inside by heavy shades on the

My son and I usually arrived early enough in the day that
driving to the clubhouse wasn't an issue. He was the club
member. My interest in looking through lenses has always been
minimal. I relate to James Thurber's piece about trying to make
sense of what he was seeing in the microscope in biology class:
He diligently copies what he sees, only to be told by the
instructor that he had copied the reflection of his own eyeball.
The main difference is that I usually couldn't see even that
clearly. So I stayed inside in the light and warmth while Justin
looked through the telescopes.

Optimal viewing requires minimal or no moonlight. It could
be very dark when we left the clubhouse. Justin would literally
have to lead me from the edge of the porch to the car and hope I
didn't fall into any holes on the way. When it came to backing
the car out of its place in a couple of lines of vehicles, most
of which had come in after we did, it was obvious that at twelve
or so Justin was far more qualified to get us out of there than I

He would back out of the area where people parked (I
wouldn't quite dignify it with the term "parking lot") and drive
us out to the main road. As time went on, he would turn onto the
main road, and just keep going. Routes 119 and 2A through Groton
and points east, at the unheard-of hours when an astronomy club
is in full swing, are pretty deserted. By the time we got back
to our urban base it almost no cars were in sight.

No one drives more carefully and inconspicuously than an
otherwise conscientious under-age kid with a deep desire not to
get himself and his mother in trouble. The only time we got
stopped on that route, I was at the wheel. By the time Justin
was fourteen, he was a better driver than I am.