Tag Archives: humor

An Open Letter to The Window Seat

(Originally posted in the Stratford Star and Fairfield Sun newspapers on June 21, 2012, in my  “Walsh’s Wonderings” column.)

Farewell, my lightly scratched and slightly fogged friend. Parting is such sweet sorrow. We’ll always have Paris. And Heathrow. And Chicago O’Hare.

It’s not you—it’s me. Like cigarettes and unlimited data plans, I can no longer afford you. Still, we had our moments, didn’t we? Remember when I could stuff my laptop under you? (That was when I could afford the extra bag.) Remember when I’d fall asleep on your plexi-glass shoulder? (That was before they charged fees for extra legroom.)

Remember when there was only one set of footprints? That was when I carried you—actually, your entire airline—out of bankruptcy in 2001.

Three weeks after the attacks of 9/11, Congress passed the Air Transportation Safety and Stabilization Act. It provided grants, loan guarantees and tax waivers valued at $15 billion to save the airlines’ bacon. Your parent airline never liked me, though, and now they’ve figured out yet another way to keep us apart: extra fees for window seats. Parents can be cruel like that.

In retrospect, ours was a relationship doomed from the start. It started as a fling, a one-flight stand on the red-eye from Orlando. I was just coming off a long-term relationship with the aisle seat, where my legs dangled carelessly in the delicious open spaces only flight attendants dared to tread. After an ugly breakup caused by overbooking, we were thrown together amid the chaos of coach. Accustomed to being shoehorned like crayons in a box on every flight, the comfort of your concave embrace was a revelation.

How could I resist you? From the protection of the window seat, there were no more glares as passengers tripped over my feet in the aisle. I no longer worried about falling asleep on a stranger’s arm on long flights; instead, I rested my pillow against your vibrating hull. There were no more bruised knees from the beverage cart; no bonks on the head each time someone opened the overhead bin; no getting up every time passengers with teacup bladders needed to use the bathroom.

Alas, your parents (like the Capulets and Montagues before them) conspired to keep us apart. They started by charging for my second bag, then charging for the first. Soon they were weighing my bags and measuring my carry-ons. Upset we were still seeing each other, they took away my in-flight meal and hid the blankets and pillows. I had to pay extra for using my frequent flier points, then had to pay fees for using my phone to book those frequent flier points. I had pay for the lousy movies after purchasing the lousy headphones. On top of all this, I had to pay extra for the fuel. The fuel! That’s like renting a tuxedo and being charged a fee for using the fabric.

Let’s face it: your parents were always looking for a better match and a larger dowry. It’s become common practice to overbook flights and leave the poor souls at the reservations desk to explain that a “reservation” is a tenuous promise at best (just ask the Native Americans). Quite frankly, at this point you’re too high-maintenance. The reality is I settled for you because I couldn’t afford dating your sisters in business or first class. Besides, I can’t handle the pressure of whether to leave the window shade up or down, and other passengers hate me for my indecision. My wife is jealous of our relationship and resents being relegated to the pinched purgatory that is the middle seat.

If anything, it should be less expensive to sit at the window. We’re the ones who alert the rest of the plane to the weird creature out on the wing in mid-flight. (Or do you have to pay extra for the wing seat?) My biggest fear is that you’ll get over our breakup too quickly. According to a recent forecast from trade group Airlines for America, flights will be packed this summer. Your parents should be very happy—they’ll probably add a fee on oxygen by then.

Jesus vs. Santa (A Young Catholic’s Struggle)

(Originally posted in the Stratford Star and Fairfield Sun newspapers on December 15, 2011, in my  “Walsh’s Wonderings” column.)

As the Salvation Army Santa rang his bell for donations in front of the Stop ‘n’ Shop last week, I couldn’t help but think that this really improves his image. Like many kids, I had thought of Santa as my “go-to guy” for years, writing more letters to him than to all my relatives combined. Unfortunately, he’s only human. Or mostly human. Either way, he can only be trusted up to a point.

My Sunday School teachers always tried to put the holiday season in perspective: “Christmas is more about the birth of Jesus than the appearance of Santa Claus,” they’d say. That was always a tough sell. The end of the calendar year was like a holiday clearinghouse: Halloween, All Saints Day, Thanksgiving, the Immaculate Conception, Christmas, and the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary (New Year’s Day) all fell within two months of each other. In this crucible of holiday craziness, young Catholics like me were told we should turn to Jesus, not Santa Claus, for all we needed. However, material concerns often outweigh their spiritual counterparts when you’re eight and you’d trade your immortal soul for a new GI Joe with the Kung-Fu grip.

It was a delicate dance. How could we manage to keep both of them happy so as to maximize our Christmas haul while still keeping a door open for future salvation? After all, this wasn’t Jesus vs. the Easter Bunny. All the Easter Bunny did was hop around and hide eggs—he didn’t even have an opposable thumb. Santa, on the other hand, was famous for making a list and checking it twice. Whereas Jesus did not appear to retain a written record of my past transgressions, Santa seemed to hold a grudge.

Santa also provided children with a clear list of what not to do, and everyone knows it’s easier to be told what not to do than to be told what you should do. Don’t pout… check. Don’t cry… check. Jesus, on the other hand, was fond of saying things like, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” I mean, how do you know when you’re doing that right? It was easier to follow the things like the Ten Commandments, which seemed to have been written by Santa. He also made it clear that there would be immediate consequences if we didn’t do what he told us to do. He saw me when I was sleeping, and he saw me when I was awake. If I screwed up, he’d keep my presents and put a lump of coal in my stocking. Coal. I might as well have woken up to the bloody, severed head of a horse in the bed next to me. Santa dealt in black and white. With Jesus, I figured I’d always get a second chance.

Santa had immediacy: we could sit on his lap in the shopping mall and put the screws to him about that new bicycle we wanted. One time when I was eight years old, I jumped on his lap and begged for a new Lionel engine train.  Santa leaned into my ear where my mom couldn’t see and whispered, “You’ll have your train.” I was elated. I had backed a winner! I was still very fond of Jesus, but he had never looked me in the eye and promised to deliver like Santa. Jesus was fond of cryptic messages and fuzzy promises of rewards later on, but Santa was as subtle as an oncoming bullet. “You’ll have your train.”

On Christmas Eve, I went to midnight Mass with my family and tried to smooth things over with Jesus. I wished Him a happy birthday and hoped He understood. The next morning I ran downstairs to clear a spot in the basement for the train tracks. Santa was known to have somewhat questionable taste at times, and my impatience grew with every unwrapped pair of socks or knitted sweater. It wasn’t until the last present was opened that I began to doubt Santa. Surely he was on his way back, I thought, secretly putting out the fire in the fireplace so he wouldn’t hurt himself. The train set must have gotten stuck in his bag.

And that’s the rub with Santa. I learned that sometimes he couldn’t help himself, making promises he couldn’t keep. After all, if he’d had any restraint, he probably wouldn’t be so morbidly obese. We forget that he moved off the grid, setting up shop in the middle of nowhere like the Unabomber or Abe Vigoda. How could I expect him to remember the important things like my train set when he didn’t even have the foresight to install fog lights on his sleigh?

So ended my crisis of faith. It was fine to believe in Santa up to a point—as my mom would say, he was only doing the best he could. However, much like the Easter Bunny, I couldn’t put all my eggs in that basket.

Bathed in Controversy

(Originally posted in the Stratford Star newspaper on December 1, 2011, and in the Fairfield Sun on December 8, 2011, both in my  “Walsh’s Wonderings” column.)

Some say bath towels, like milk, have an expiration date. Regardless of race, creed, or nationality, there are really only two kinds of people in this world: Those who change bath towels after every shower, and those who don’t.

Towels matter. Because we use them while we are most exposed, this decision speaks to who we really are. If you don’t believe me, ask around. I had a friend in high school that recoiled in horror when I shared that my family only switched towels once a week. “That’s disgusting—how can you dry yourself with a dirty towel?” In his eyes, it was as if I was drying myself with a used diaper, but my mother was washing laundry for nine people each week. Unless a root system was actively growing on the towel, we used it.

The Turks, who first popularized today’s bath towel in the 18th century, never had to deal with this: They bathed weekly at best.  I was once a Turk myself, spending most of my pre-teenage years trying to convince my mom of the wisdom of minimal bathing. Alas, she clung stubbornly to the Western tradition of bathing several times a week. Each of her kids was assigned a worn bath towel, large enough to do the job but small enough to be useless as a cape. We would toss them in the hamper each weekend and grab another, usually while soaking wet.

There were inherent flaws in this system, of course. As anyone with brothers can attest, teenage boys are required to wipe any number of unspeakable things on their younger brother’s bath towel. Whether you need to stem the blood from a shaving cut, cover a sneeze, or wipe the excess oil off your bike chain, a little brother’s towel does it all. It only gets worse at summer camp or college—without a blood bond, things are wiped on towels that would curl the toes of even the most experienced portable toilet cleaner. Small wonder that some won’t trust a towel that doesn’t come right out of the wash. Believers in the “All Need Antiseptic Linen” school of thought (I wish I could think of a good acronym for this) therefore insist that towels are automatically “unclean” after one use.

However, the “Did I Replace Towels Yesterday?” school of thought (I know—I need an acronym, but what?) seems to be gaining momentum. Even hotels, once a playground stocked with innumerable clean towels, are beginning to embrace my mom’s philosophy. Bathroom cards read, “Save our planet: Every day, countless gallons of water are used to wash towels that have only been used once. A towel on the rack means, ‘I will use again.’ A towel on the floor means, ‘Please replace.’ Thank your for helping us conserve the Earth’s vital resources.” While trying to guilt us into helping them save on their laundry bill (and who knew Tide was a vital resource), they manage to paint the “All Need Antiseptic Linen” folks as wasteful rather than “clean.” Hoisted by their own petard!

A simpler way to end the controversy is to ask the obvious question to those still clinging to the “All Need Antiseptic Linen” group (I know, I know—they need a shorter name). In short, what the heck are you doing to that poor towel? It’s meant to dry the water off freshly showered skin; if we’re not clean after a shower, when are we? True, there are areas of the body that might require stringent sanitary attention—places my mom, a former nurse, used to put thermometers to see if her kids were really sick. But this problem is remedied in the shower, not with a towel. Each of us made a fateful choice the first time we bathed alone: When we came to that fork in the road, we became either top-to-bottom towelers, or bottom-to-top towelers, and that has made all the difference.

A unique logic is employed in this crucial decision. I won’t use the towel after I finish drying my feet, for example. However, I’ll put it on the shower rack and use it the next day as if the Towel Fairies had been hard at work all night, dry cleaning. When I take two showers in a day, I won’t dry myself with the towel if it’s still damp; that’s what my wife’s towel is for. Only if hers is damp will I make that long walk to the linen closet for another towel. It’s almost as if I can hear my mom saying, “Starving kids in China would kill for a moist towel, and here you are asking for a new one!” as I reach around the guest towels for a spare. Guest towels are always off-limits, like foldable fine china. Our guest towels can spend entire presidential administrations in the closet until a guest appears, but we’ll dry ourselves with the bath mat or hand towels before we touch them.

Like most of the truly important questions in the universe, there is no simple answer as to how often to change a bath towel. If you change every day, you’ll either destroy the planet or run out and have to use the hand towel. If you keep your towel a few days, expect someone else’s toothpaste in your hair. On the other hand, if we’re honest, we can come to an agreement on one thing: there really isn’t a choice at that “fork in the road.” To be anything other than a top-to-bottom toweler is barbaric and wrong, and if you come to any other conclusion, you’re all wet.

An Open Letter to My Neighbors

(Originally posted in the Stratford Star newspaper on June 2, 2011, in “Walsh’s Wonderings”)

I love my neighbors, at least the ones who live close enough to walk over and egg my house if they don’t like this piece. It’s the rest of you I need to speak with, so I’ll address you individually. After all, one of the advantages of having one’s own column is the ability to save on stamps.

To the guy who keeps revving his motorcycle engine at 2:30 in the morning: You’re aware of the function of a muffler, right? More than mere decoration, it’s designed to significantly reduce the sound of your exhaust. I’m not supposed to feel in my chest how well you’ve cleaned your carburetor each time you pass my window. More importantly, you were supposed to get over needless revving when you outgrew your Big Wheel. If you still feel the need to announce your presence to those of us silly enough to sleep at these hours, try putting baseball cards in the spokes of your wheels. Or cure cancer. Either way.

To the idiot who cuts through parking lots rather than waiting for the light to change: I secretly hope someone backs into you as you race through those parked cars to save that extra 60 seconds. I don’t want anyone injured, I just want your car badly dented. I know that’s horrible. I’m sorry.

To the people who still throw trash out their car windows: Is your life so tightly scheduled that you can’t hold on to that bag of Fritos long enough to find a trash can? This isn’t the Space Station—we have regular trash pickup each week, and it’s already paid for in our taxes. Did you never see the crying Native American commercials?

To the woman who jumps in front of me on the platform just before the train comes to a full stop in order to be the first one inside: Look, it’s a guessing game to stand in exactly the right spot on the platform so that the doors are directly in front of you when the train comes to a halt. We all know the rules. You guessed wrong. You can’t cheat and walk in front of the winners, the ones who spend months estimating the diminishing velocity and distance of a moving target. If you want to be first, earn it—like we did. I’m not afraid to step on your open-toed shoe.

To the guy who drives around in the Ford Crown Victoria with the standard-issue search light still bolted to the driver’s side door: Do you notice how traffic slows to a crawl wherever you go? Are you trying to give us a heart attack every time we notice you in our rear view mirrors, or is driving around in an unmarked police car just your way of fulfilling a fantasy? Unless you’re leading a search party for a missing child, you can lose the search light. And the Ford Crown Victoria. Heck, maybe you should just take the bus.

To the idiot who cuts through parking lots rather than waiting for the light to change: I know I said I was sorry earlier, but I lied. Sorry.

To the teenagers who walk across busy traffic lanes as if life was a game of “Frogger”: You should know I was always terrible at “Frogger.” That poor thing never made it past the second lane before painting the road green under the tire of an oncoming car. I wouldn’t place so much blind faith in my evasive driving skills if I were you—maybe the crosswalk isn’t such a bad idea

To the whacko who keeps ruining the barbecue by foaming at the mouth about how one party in town is determined to ruin us all: You, my friend, are part of the problem. Have a seat. Eat some cheese. Read some poetry. As my mom would say, “Have a nice bm.” Let the rest of your neighbors try to talk things out like adults.

To the woman who texts while driving, constantly slamming on the brakes just before rear-ending the car in front of her: I acknowledge how important you are—I can tell by that 1987 Dodge Caravan you’re driving. However, the rest of us have something to live for—please put off that last “OMG LOL” until you pull out in front of the idiot who cuts through parking lots rather than waiting for the light to change. You two deserve each other.

The Winter Sword of Damocles

(Originally posted in the Stratford Star newspaper on February 2, 2011, in “Walsh’s Wonderings”)

The news that the first day of April vacation has already been lost due to the recent snow cancellations reminded me of a story my brother once told me after several consecutive snow days when we were kids. As I celebrated the latest cancellation, he told me we have to be careful what we wish for because sometimes it comes back to haunt us. “You think you want it now,” he said, “until you realize you have the Sword of Damocles over your head.” I’m pretty sure that’s when I threw the pillow at him that scratched his cornea, but I could be wrong. Regardless, I listened without enthusiasm while he exacted his revenge by ruining snow days for me forever.

Damocles was a courtier in the court of King Dionysius II of ancient Italy and one of history’s original suck-ups. He flattered the king constantly, raving about his good fortune, his power, and his greatness. Eventually, the king grew tired of this and asked Damocles if he’d like to switch places to sample that good fortune for himself. Damocles quickly agreed and was soon seated on the throne, surrounded by every luxury that the king enjoyed. However, King Dionysius had arranged for a large sword to be hung directly over the throne, held aloft by nothing but a single hair of a horse’s tail. Daunted by the prospect of the blade looming so precariously over his head, Damocles begged the king to release him from this “good fortune.” 

As a kid, I never made the connection that my brother had hoped. I looked forward to a snow day like some look forward to Christmas morning or a parole date. There was no greater joy than hearing my mom trek down the hallway to sigh, “There’s no school today because of the snow.” I’d switch on the radio to WICC and listen to the parade of school districts cancelling classes, imagining what wondrous things I could do for the rest of the day. If it were only a delayed opening, I would listen to the roll call coming from my radio speakers and pray that nearby districts had changed from a delay to a closing. I learned more about Connecticut geography by calculating the distance between the surrounding towns and my house than I ever learned in school. “If Bridgeport is closing, and Trumbull is closing, and Westport is closing, then surely it’s only a matter of time…”

It was even worse if a storm was predicted the night before. I would scour the local stations for weather reports, hoping each snowfall would not start too late (after five in the morning) nor end too soon (after one or two in the afternoon) to merit a snow day. My dad always scoffed at how I crouched before the small TV set, waiting for the weatherman to appear. “They make more money in advertising money when they threaten hurricanes or blizzards,” he’d say. “There’s no money to be made in a brief shower or snow flurry, so don’t get your hopes up.”

But I did. I always did. So when I scrambled to the window in the morning and saw the cruel black of the roads laughing back at me, it was as if someone had kicked my puppy. I’d turn on the radio only to hear that John LaBarca was playing music rather than rifling through the laundry list of closings. Faced with the mountains of homework I’d decided against the night before, I’d keep hope alive in front of my radio until my mom screamed that if I didn’t get ready soon I’d miss the bus.

Still, it was all worth it on those glorious days that we got our surprise days off. The first thing I’d do was turn off the alarm and crawl back under the covers, listening gleefully as suckers from other districts only got delayed openings. That’s when, as my brother would put it, my dad would come in and remind me about the sword above my head.

“I have to get to work,” he’d yell to my closed bedroom door. “Get up and shovel the driveway.”

And that’s what I’ve seen all around Stratford in the last few weeks. With invisible swords hanging above their heads, school-age children bundle up and attack the mountains of snow armed only with snow shovels and a lingering resentment that they didn’t get a chance to sleep in. When the driveways and sidewalks are clear, tiny paths must be carved out of the snow for the dogs or mailman to cross. For the older kids, even the roof has to be cleared off, layer by layer, before the sheer weight of the thaw threatens collapse. For the truly unfortunate like me, imaginative moms use this time to assign household chores or take us on impromptu trips to the barber or dentist.

In short, the kids of Stratford are quickly finding out what it took me so long to learn from my brother: be careful what you wish for! We still have more than a month of winter left and we’ve already lost our first day of April vacation. You don’t have to look up to realize the tiny thread of horse’s hair holding the sword is fraying.

“Twitter Disappointment”

(Originally published on August 9, 2010, on RobertFWalsh.net)

What started as a whim has turned into a crusade: I’ve spent the last six days mud wrestling with Twitter as I tried to change my background image on the home page. I never imagined I would use this social networking service, consisting as it does of “updates” from friends in less than 140 characters per post. While not quite a technologic knuckle-dragger, I didn’t see the use of a medium that puts a premium on tedium.

To my utter surprise, I’ve grown to love it. I’ve assembled an eclectic group of talented people whom I can scroll through on my cell phone and entertain me while I wait in line at the theatre to be… well, entertained. The difference is that each person has mere seconds to keep my attention before a flick of my thumb brings up someone else; if Joel Stein doesn’t make me laugh then I’m thumbing over to CNN or the Stratford Star for news.

The downside is that it’s one more thing for me to get worked up about; when I discovered I could customize the background image on my page, I went right to work. Unfortunately, every time I hit that little Save Changes button I am faced with the ubiquitous “Fail Whale,” the cutesy-pie graphic that greets users whenever Twitter is over capacity and unable to work properly. The cute birds that are gleefully pulling the whale out of the waters below are meant to cushion the blow that my latest nugget of wisdom will go unposted. However, for the amount of time that Twitter has been over capacity in recent weeks, that whale died long ago of dehydration.

I’ve tried every conceivable time slot to update my page. I snuck out from the dinner table to try at six, then again right after the evening SportsCenter. Other unsuccessful attempts followed after the Mets game and the evening news. I felt lucky after I took the dogs for their last walk before bed, but it wasn’t to be. I got out of bed on the third night at 2:30 AM to tip toe to my computer and hope the West Coast had gone to bed early.  Even at 6:30 AM, the time my mom always called the safest time of day because it was either too early or too late for criminals, that stupid whale hovered on my monitor like a raised middle finger.

After trying almost all of the 24 available hours over the course of the past week, I resorted to the Twitter support page. Sure enough, there was a page dedicated to this very problem. For those of us having trouble posting our shiny new graphics, they asked that we leave a comment letting them know who we were—they would be monitoring the page. It was heartening to see that they were working on the problem and would have it fixed… “soon.” It was less heartening to see that there were 77 pages full of people who’d already left comments, and that most were months old. The last “update” from the Twitter techies was posted a month ago.

Still, when you’ve spent six days going Ahab on Twitter’s Great White Whale, you take your shot when it presents itself. I crafted a thoughtful yet pointed note that took pains to point out it was probably nobody’s fault, that these things happen and all, but that this issue had affected enough people to merit a speedier response (and thank you for any help you can give in rectifying this situation, blah blah blah).

When my little message didn’t appear in the comments section after the first attempt, I just assumed I had done something wrong. I wrote it all out again and… poof! Gone again. After the fourth try I realized that they must have stopped letting people post and switched to moderating the comments to weed out the angry folks. A quick look at the previous comments indicated there were a lot of angry folks!

That’s when I realized that the comments section, much like the floating whale, only gives the illusion of support. It’s as if Twitter is saying, “Silly boy. Whales don’t fly, and we don’t have the infrastructure to meet the demands of our users. We also quit caring what you thought after we realized we didn’t like what you thought. Still, it’s a nice idea, isn’t it?”

Although it’s a clear sign that I have completely taken for granted this incredible, free technology that allows strangers from across the globe to interact in real time, I’m still angry. For the first time since I read the Book of Jonah, I hate whales.

“The Retail Queen of Fairfield, Connecticut”

(Originally posted in the Stratford Star newspaper on July 22, 2010, in “Walsh’s Wonderings”)

It is the day after Thanksgiving, and the masses descend upon the local retail outlets like water from a burst dam, flowing like lemmings through the aisles in a pre-Christmas frenzy. However, one woman in a lonely corner of the grocery store is not there to shop. She waits patiently at the Returns counter with a turkey, or at least what’s left of it after her husband and seven kids had attacked it twelve hours earlier. The skeletal remains were easy to slip into the small plastic bag—even the wishbone had long since been taken out and snapped.

“It went bad,” this woman says to the lady behind the counter, sliding the carcass across the counter. Only a pro walks into a store and demands her money back on a turkey without any meat left on it. Janet Walsh is a pro.

My mom understood the craftiness one must adopt when trying to feed a family of nine each day. The family checkbook was packed like a musket with coupons skinned from local newspapers. Trips to the grocery store were military operations as seven kids invaded the unsuspecting stores offering samples on Saturday afternoons—who needs lunch when you can wolf down eight tiny slices of pepperoni pizza and wash it down with a thimbleful of the newest Coke? Our family did not merely buy in bulk; we stocked up as if winter was coming to Valley Forge. Each grocery trip ended with a game of culinary Tetris, where we’d stuff three separate freezers and two refrigerators with surgical precision. There was no rummaging through the fridge in my family; asked what was for dinner that night, my mom’s answer was, “Whatever’s up front.”

It was not uncommon for a loaf of bread to lie frozen in state like Vladimir Lenin for up to a year before it was discovered in the back of the freezer. She’d thaw it like the wooly mammoth on those National Geographic specials, using a hair dryer to separate a few pieces for school lunches. These clay pigeons with peanut butter and jelly slathered all over them sat in our lunch pails like a muttered apology, still frozen by the time our class had lunch.

“It keeps the sandwich fresh,” she’d say as we showed her our chipped teeth.

What the poor lady working at the Returns counter that day couldn’t know was that my family lived on food that had long since passed its expiration date. She viewed the freezer as a time machine, cryogenically preserving batteries, cheeses, cold medicines, and milk that would make the folks at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not take notice. In fact, there were three types of milk in or refrigerator: the “good” milk (within a week of its expiration date), “mixing” milk (older, used on cereal or in recipes), and “sour” milk, which would only be so designated when something inside it tried to bite you.

“The date is only a suggestion,” my mom would say whenever we brought it up. “They just want you to buy more.”

Local shopkeepers were talked into 10% discounts for the privilege of clothing her family.

“I have a carload full of customers in this family: growing children who like to buy new clothes!”

They agreed to the discounts, never realizing that this woman put clothes into a rotation that would be the envy of the New York Yankees. Each outfit bought for my oldest brother and sister filtered its way down to the youngest in a kind of corduroy waterfall, and all our class pictures looked as if we’d just pasted a new head on last year’s set. Being the youngest boy, I was always ten years behind the fashion, a Fonzie t-shirt in a sea of Gap mock turtlenecks. You could pick a Walsh kid out of a crowd because of our awkward Frankenstein gait, a result of my mom’s decision to sew massive patches on the insides of our pants and shirts to make sure they’d last to the next sibling. Where most kids wore clothes, we wore armor of reinforced nylon and denim that restricted our range of motion to that of the Tin Man.

“You just have to work them in a bit, like your baseball mitt,” she’d say.

As we grew older and more conscious of our fashion maladies, she picked up toddler Izod shirts or tattered Garanimals attire at consignment shops and sewed the telltale lizard onto the discount shirts she’d bought at K-Mart. “That’s strange,” my friends would say, “I always thought the alligator was on the other side!”

Growing up with my mom, one learned that opened bags of candy on store shelves were considered “samples,” and that any expensive item mistakenly placed in a discount section must now be sold at the discounted price. Four-dollar wine became vintage when poured into a different bottle. There was so much bread in the meatloaf that we didn’t know whether it should serve as the inside or the outside of the leftover meatloaf sandwiches.  Clothes could be “rented” from local stores for special occasions and returned the very next day as long as you pinned the tags to the inside sleeve and kept the crease. Armed with a receipt and the original bag, there was nothing you couldn’t return.

Her ability to make the most out of little is surpassed only by her incredible ability to make her family feel loved. She never missed an opportunity to tell us how much she loved us, even during times we’d given her little reason to. She made prom dresses and dozens of Halloween costumes from scratch even as we complained that everyone else’s mom bought them new ones. In an age before carpooling, she drove seven kids to tennis matches, swim practice, track meets, ping-pong clubs, soccer practice and extra help after school. She made midnight calls with a cold washcloth and Vicks Vap-O-Rub when we were sick and showed up to every banquet even if you only got the “Participant” ribbon.

How do you follow an act like this? I’ll thank her the only way I know how: I’ll allow my kids to use up all my gas when they borrow the car. I’ll remind them of the high holy days and forgive them when they forget the holiest day of all: my birthday. Most importantly, I’ll teach them about the way life should be lived. They’ll learn about laughter because they’ll grow up listening to a lifetime of stories around the kitchen table. They’ll learn about the importance of family because they will know that your family is the one place in your heart that is always open. They will learn about love because their grandparents gave it unconditionally.

And I’ll wait in line at the grocery store Returns counter with a half-eaten holiday turkey in the original bag, receipt in hand, and wonder how the heck she ever managed to pull this off.