Archive | Age Matters

Matt Harrington: A Friend of Everyone’s Heart

My classmate Matthew Harrington died last week, and I keep thinking about him.

What I didn’t anticipate about aging was the pain of losing your peers—-the people with whom you move through this life without the complicated bonds of biology or romance. The co-witnesses whose casual presence you take for granted, at least until you get older.

I knew Matty best in elementary school–in sixth grade, really. Most kids are little punks at that age, and our class was an exceptionally unruly bunch–mean, to be honest. In the 1980s, Nonantum (our Newton, Massachusetts neighborhood, also known as the Lake) was still in the Middle Ages when it came to racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, you name it. But though Matt threw around as many jokes as the rest of the boys (RIP, Terry Notartomaso), he stood out to me because he was never unkind.

I remember him singing Beatles songs on every bus ride with a heartbreaking earnestness, craning around with a look of concern well beyond his years when I got teased for being Jewish or just plain weird. I don’t recall him well in high school—it was huge and we all splintered off–but I’ve been thinking about him ever since I heard the news of his passing. Because in my memory he stands out as someone committed to humor and fun that didn’t come at the expense of others–a boisterous guy who somehow was also very gently compassionate. You can’t say that about many people, especially tweens. He was like a character in the best Beatles song never written.

Decades later, when I’d see him at reunions–when it was absolutely apparent we had so little in common that even small talk might be difficult–he was still generous and curious. So I’ve been flashing on his sweet affability over the last few days; his matter-of-fact, un-mercenary kindness. Such qualities can make living in this world hard even if you never let on. I hope that wasn’t true for him.

May we tell everyone who shines light on us that we love them. And may Matt find joy wherever he is now. Sixth grade Lisa will always be grateful to him.

Donations can be made here to defray the costs of Matt’s funeral.

Share Your Love With Me (Aretha, Forever)

Did you know that Aretha’s version of “Share Your Love With Me”–first recorded by Bobby Band, but no one covered a track like the Queen–has made me cry ever since I was a kid? The loneliness and longing of the lyrics are perfectly matched by Aretha’s musicalit; she always produced her albums when the studios boys didn’t credit her. Just listen to the first chords of her piano; that Atlantic Records horn section; her glorious, churchified sisters thrilling and trilling; and then Lady A swooping us all up–generously, joyfully–in her big beautiful voice, making all of the human condition OK. Yes, even our pain. Especially our pain.

This song. I can’t tell you how many times my heart has been so broken that I’ve barely been able to feed myself, let alone feel myself, but could still listen to this song. Over and over, numbly at first, then with big tears streaming, until I was shored enough to face the world with spine and lipstick straight. This song is my church, and Aretha is forever my minister.

I’d say I miss her and of course that’s true. But it’s also true that she lives on in every one of my scratchy vinyls. The ones I’ve been listening to since I was that kid in dirty braids who saved up to buy them at Skippy White’s in Cambridge’s Central Square. I’m so grateful Aretha Franklin helped raise me even if she didn’t know she was doing it. Raising people up is what she did and she always will. She shares her love with all of us.

Some Splinters Can Be Healed

I woke today thinking of Griswold Salve. I have no idea if anyone else knows this remedy, but when I was a kid my father always kept some around for splinters, which I then and now often got because of my unwillingness to wear shoes and generally take heed.

In my family, my father was the nurturer, which might’ve seemed improbable if you met my parents–my mom, with her soft tones and sympathetic expression, my dad with his booming voice and imperviousness to external stimuli (aka poor listening skills). But when I got hurt, I cried for my daddy, not my mother. He was soothing and methodical. Loving in the most patient of ways.

I almost liked slivers because of Griswold Salve and how my father applied it. Fetched at Nonantum’s Fox Drugstore (is that still there?), the salve resembled a tiny Tootsie Roll, almost obdurate in its lack of apparent purpose. Googling it now I see its ingredients were beeswax, mutton tallow, cedar oil, and something called oil shale (ammonium bituminosulfonate) but I regarded it as tantalizingly alchemical, like pliable petrified wood. Nothing you buy in drugstores now, that’s for sure.

While I was still yelping over the shock of a foreign object jammed in my body, (it’s a wonder I later consented to contacts, let alone tampons, let alone phalluses), my father would disinfect tweezers and a needle and ceremoniously strap on a headlamp to extract whatever part of the splinter he immediately could. To remove the rest, he would light a match to the end of what I thought was called Grisley Sal (lots of mafia in our neighborhood). It smelled like nothing else–pencils and trees and honeycomb, what I associate even now with trustworthy men and benevolent mystery. Smearing a melted bit on a Bandaid, he’d bandage my wound while murmuring sjoosjoosjoosjoo, a sound he said could heal anything. I believed him, because within a few days, the rest of the splinter always emerged. Sometimes I’d even save it–a talisman of my father’s powers.

I don’t know why I woke thinking of Griswold Salve, my unlikely madeleine. It’s hard to believe such an old-timey remedy was regularly used in my childhood; long ago it was taken off the market for high lead content. Also hard to believe I ever so wholly trusted anyone with my ailments–with my body, in general. But on some level, isn’t that what we all crave? The practical magic of simple effective care.

My daddy’s care.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy