A middle grade novel by Mary C. Ryan

Seventh grader Ray Brennan has a lot on his plate. A major trumpet solo in the school stage band’s spring concert is in serious jeopardy, things aren’t going well at home, and to top if off, there’s the question of who’s been watching him. Add a mysterious girl who nobody seems to know and a best friend who’s no help at all, and Ray is wondering if things can get any worse. As it turns out, they can. His trumpet goes missing. Ray eventually learns that help can come from very unexpected sources, but that it’s not always easy accepting it.



I’m gonna sit right down and write myself an e-mail,
And make believe it came from you.

I’m not so sure this is what Fats Waller and a myriad of other recording artists would ever have envisioned when they covered this charming, but somewhat snarky song way back when, but it sure seems to be where the world is heading, isn’t it? It came to me a few weeks ago when, putting the Christmas decorations away, I noticed on a nearby shelf, an old plastic tub simply overflowing with “stuff.” So much so that the lid wouldn’t stay on any more. I worried that some little mousies might be looking for material for a nest and by some miracle, I had a few free minutes. So I got it lugged upstairs and started to go through it. It turned out to be somewhat of an archaeological dig.

One of the first things I uncovered was a blue plastic bag filled with newspapers and magazines from the Kennedy Assassination, nearly fifty years ago. At the time, and maybe even still, I figured they’d be worth something to somebody, so into the family archives they’d gone. Along with, I might add, newspapers and magazines from the first landing on the moon, and a special edition of Life on the elevation of John Paul II to the papacy. Interesting, but do I want to keep those things? I do. For now.

The next layer held a bunch of photographs, invitations to our 15th wedding anniversary party that the kids threw for us, old concert programs, and well, you know. I’m sure you have a box or two of such things in your house. I sorted it all out, tossing several items that I had no idea why they were there in the first place. I had a fair pile to go into the recycle bin.
But then towards the bottom came the motherlode. The sarcophagus loaded with golden artifacts. The Holy Grail.

A bunch of letters. Letters the kids had written from camp, from college, from after they were married. Letters from other family members. Letters from my mom. Letters from Pat’s mom and dad. Letters from me to Pat and he to me. Precious. Endearing. Funny. Jubilant. Thankful. Loving. Begging for an extra bit of cash, for a prayer. The whole spectrum of life to read again and again, not click on Delete and forget.
How long had it been since I’d added to that stash? I wondered. What with emails and text messages, we hardly ever have to pick up a pen and actually compose our thoughts to put on paper in a permanent way. Even I, the resident technophile, began to feel a sense of loss because I knew those opportunities for a personal connection with others was going to keep fading.

I suddenly remembered a picture of my oldest sister that I’d recently found. So, I sat down, grabbed a pen and caught her up on a few things that have been going on in my life, enclosing the photo. I wrote another to a second cousin whose mom had recently passed away—and got a handwritten note back. Each time I stuck a stamp on an envelope and popped it in the mailbox, I felt as if I had accomplished something. I think I’m going to do a lot more of it, even though my handwriting has deteriorated somewhat over the years.

Will letter writing ever completely disappear? Obviously not. But the opportunities for doing it are slowly disappearing. Do kids at summer camp write to their parents anymore? (Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah. . . Hint: You can find it on iTunes.) What a loss if they don’t. Do you even get baby announcements, or just a link to a Facebook page or web site where you can see pictures of the new arrival just moments after birth and Mom looking like she just stepped off the cover of Glamour magazine due to having a makeup artist in the delivery room? You know, I even gave some thought to handwriting this column, but figured I’d hear about it and it wouldn’t be pleasant.

Don’t expect a letter from me anytime soon. But hey, you don’t have to wait. Take a few minutes and write—actually write—a note to someone. It doesn’t have to be Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope, although in a pinch, the back of an envelope is as good as anything, as Abe discovered. You might get a text back. Or an e-mail. Or a phone call. But you’ve done your part in preserving a little bit of your personal history. Give yourself a pat on the back.


I think it may have started with a particularly good homily that evidently started a chain of thoughts until one night, my husband looked at me and asked, “What can I do to make your life easier?”

Now, I’m not sure if there’s anything a wife would rather hear. “Can I change that diaper?” Maybe at one time. But that was long gone. “How about dashing off to Paris for a few weeks?” Better. Probably too much to wish for. Personally, I’ll take making my life easier. I had an answer all ready for that one. It came out without missing a beat. “Cook on Sundays.”

Like many a wife who has been married—oh, probably anywhere over 30 years, I had come to the conclusion that figuring out what to eat every night was among the all time most mind-numbing jobs ever invented. Even Mike Rowe hasn’t dared touch it. I welcomed any opportunity to get out of it. I’d already parlayed a deal where we’d go out for pizza every Friday. Here was my chance to ditch yet another day.

We were not “chicken every Sunday” people. We didn’t eat big dinners at 1 pm as was the case with many families when we were kids. We tended more towards brunch—eggs, bacon, hash browns after Mass. Then a light supper. Over the years, the brunch mitigated into more of a fix it yourself event. But there still was supper. And frankly, I was tired of it.

“Deal,” said my husband.

“Deal,” I said.

What followed was interesting, to say the least. The next Sunday, I waited. And I waited and waited and waited. Finally, the question popped out. “What’s for supper?” Only it didn’t come from me.

“Uh,” I said, trying to be tactful. “I thought we’d agreed you were going to do that.”

“Oh.” There was a long silence. Over the rumblings in my stomach, I could hear the wheels turning in his brain. “Well, how about soup and sandwiches?” Followed closely by “Where do you keep the soup?” and “Do we have anything for sandwiches?” I pointed out the cupboard where the soup had been residing for the nearly 20 years we’d lived in the house, and the refrigerator where, on any given day during the same time span, he could find lunch meat and cheese. And the basket where we/I store the bread. And so we ate. And it was good. Enough.

There were a few (actually, a lot) more Sunday of “Ooops. Forgot.” Then, he started to get creative. He went to Giant Eagle and picked up a box of something that when you threw it into the microwave for a while, turned into something vaguely resembling Italian food. One portion. We split it. I kept my mouth shut—after eating my half. My stomach wasn’t quite so forgiving, but maybe the ballgame was on and he didn’t hear it.

Eventually, we had a little chat. I won’t go into the details. You can probably figure it out. And so we stumbled along, week after week. Lots of soup and sandwiches, and some meals that had you fed it to POWs, you would have been cited for violation of the Geneva Convention. I bit my tongue a lot, both literally and figuratively. The best thing you could say about it was that with all of our travels, we weren’t often home on Sunday night.

Just a few weeks ago, however, we had a major breakthrough. He arrived home from work and said, “We were talking about Beef Stroganoff today. We haven’t had that in a while. I think I’ll make it on Sunday.”

Oh, lord, I breathed, I can see it now. I’m going to have to stand by his elbow every step of the way like a pitching coach. The last time I did that was years ago when he wanted to make my signature German coffee braid for Christmas. It’s a yeast bread. Does that give you some idea of the amount of time I was “on call?” The result was spectacular, I must say, with frosting and holly decorating the top. The dog ate it, except for the holly. The saving grace of that episode was that over the years, it has made an excellent family holiday story.

On Sunday, he got ready for the Big Meal. The day before, we’d bought all the necessary ingredients. Now, I got out the ancient Betty Crocker cookbook, opened to the appropriate page and suggested he read it carefully before starting. I answered a few questions, such as “Where’s the cutting board?” and “What knife should I use?” His engineering brain obsessed a bit over the exact width and length the beef strips should be until I was afraid he’d get out a ruler, but eventually, he let me go back to sitting by the fire with my book. Suddenly, there was a loud crash from the kitchen, followed by a few un-Sundayish words and he appeared in the living room. “You have to be careful taking the flour bin out of the cupboard,” he announced. “Mmmm,” I muttered. He went off to fetch the broom and dust pan.

There were no further mishaps, no further questions to speak of, and then he called me to the table. There was wine and napkins and plates and all the right silverware and a steaming plate of Beef Stroganoff. Gratefully, I took my place. We said grace and ate. And it was good, too. A bit on the salty side, but definitely edible. (The next day, I noticed that in the drawer, the plastic measuring spoon labeled TBSP was on top and asked him about it. He said that was what the recipe called for. I checked. Of course, you have to know it was TSP.)

In terms of going above and beyond, I consider this right up there with the Duke of Windsor giving up his throne for his lady. Overall, I think I’m as lucky as Wallis Simpson. Happy Valentine’s Day to my King of the Kitchen! Oh, and Happy 50th Anniversary, as well! It’s been quite a ride.