The Performance of Grief

Sitting in the chapel with the coffin in front of us, I suddenly realised the wedding suit I’d given the funeral directors for Frank to wear would be too small. He’d filled out a bit since we were married fourteen years before. I wondered if this was a regular thing at the funeral parlour, trying to squeeze corpses into too tight outfits provided by their loved ones. It made me smile. One last joke with Frank before the flames took him.

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Peppercorns – The Tiny Fruit

What could I do but remove the strips from the package and, one-by-one rinse them under the faucet, dry them on paper towels and finally carve off the top part where the pepper was concentrated? That worked well enough, but I must remember to lay in a supply of non-pepper bacon—probably the maple kind—for the next toddler visit. Or maybe I can begin tempting her over to the dark side. Never too early.

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Peach Season

My story begins, as many stories do, with an invitation.

It was summer in Lesotho, and I was in my second year of Peace Corps service as a rural high school teacher. My student Nomonde invited me to see her ancestral village and meet her father. Nomonde is Xhosa, a minority ethnic group in Lesotho, where 99 percent of people identify as Basotho and speak the Sesotho language. I said yes immediately. Nomonde was a shy student, and I was honored that she would ask. We made plans to meet under the weeping willow, a rare spot of shade and grass near school grounds.

Our school was next to a dirt road, ten miles of progress connecting a swath of mountain villages to a paved highway. Walk an hour east from the school, and the road ends at Ha Moseneke, a smattering of round mud huts and stone sheep enclosures. Beyond that, the villages are scattered across the mountains, accessible only on foot or horseback. “My ancestral village is just past Ha Moseneke,” Nomonde had said, “We will go there and back in one day.”

“It will be a lovely walk,” I thought, “I’ll wear my summer skirt.”

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We couldn’t afford both a mortgage and a new septic system for the two small houses by the stream in the town where we intended to live, so we rented, instead, a big, cold house, its hundred-year-old boards creaking at every sweep of wind.

The two houses had been, together, an affordable deal; in reasonably good shape, and if we’d bought them, we would have had one to rent out and one to live in. All the would-be advisors of my life were saying it was a practical move, as if they didn’t know me at all. Me, a city person who loves the countryside, not an actual country person – that was my husband.

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Cutting for Scent

As I coasted down the hill in my diesel pickup, I counted the tall poplars that lined the driveway. I loved the poplars’ height, gray bark and manta ray shaped leaves. A spring breeze made the new leaves shimmer silver. I counted one, two, three, noting the height, leaf profusion and density of each poplar. At poplar number fifteen, nearly to the front gate, I looked right, into the west grazing field.

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Home Invasion

Just like a prologue to a novel or the calm before the crisis in a movie, my disaster began. A kind, able, purposeful man, Darren turned eighty-two this year. All the concerns voiced about aging political candidates applied, mental acuity, balance issues, fitness.

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Standing at the Edge

My heart feels too large inside me. It is burning. Constricted. I want to rip it out, exorcise the pain. Slam it down on the ground. Kick it away from me. Run from it. Leave it behind to disappear into the detritus beneath my feet and be covered by threads of mycorrhizal fungi and tree roots below the soil of these wise and ancient monarchs.

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Jackie Robinson, My Father, and Me

On Sunday, May 18, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in a Major League baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. He was the starting first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers. My father took me to that game. We had been to three other Chicago Cubs games, so I had a sense of how many people typically attended a game at Wrigley Field. When we entered the park I was amazed at how many people were already there, far more than I had ever seen at a Cubs game.

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The Lost Brother

Nearly eight years after my father’s death, I received a phone call from the nurse I had hired at the end of his life. Jen was a kind and compassionate person, and she had been at his side when he passed away. Because of her other commitments, she was unable to attend his funeral, but she had posted a condolence note to his obituary notice on

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