On the 3rd Day of The Reverse Commute….


sheila & maureen

With my sister Maureen in Warwick, RI

On the Third Day of The Reverse Commute: I Attended My First Author’s Book Club

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My first book club took place at my sister Maureen’s house in Warwick, RI, three blocks from the house we grew up in. It is a working class neighborhood about five miles outside of the city of Providence. My sister works at the elementary school we attended and walks to work every day.

When we were growing up, the neighborhood was mostly made up of large Irish Catholic families with names like McLaughlin, Killoran, Murphy, and Dooley. A family of four children was considered small, most people had six or eight or even thirteen kids, living in tiny three bedroom houses with postage stamp backyards. No McMansions back then. Our parents were teachers, firemen, or print setters at the Providence Journal. Most of our mothers stayed home to raise the kids but weren’t helicopter Moms. They didn’t exist back then. We played outside from dawn ‘til dusk and I knew every backyard within a ten block radius of my house.

I have just returned from a morning walk around my old stomping grounds and so many memories came flooding back. Flashbacks of playing pickle out on the street, hide and seek through the neighborhood, Barbie dolls on the front stoop, or the time we spent two weeks of our summer vacation thinking we could dig a hole to China behind someone’s garage.

We were always fascinated with the bay. This section of Warwick is called Gaspee Plateau and the houses are nestled on a small hill above the Narragansett Bay. Prior to the Revolutionary War a British warship, the Gaspee, came into these waters just outside of Providence and some Rhode Island patriots set it afire one evening in 1772. Every June, the neighborhood commemorates this act of rebellion with a parade, a colonial encampment, and fireworks. It was one of the highlights of the year when I was growing up.

I grew up on lots of rebellion and liberalism. It was the sixties and seventies, a time of massive upheaval and change. I remember staging a protest in junior high to allow girls to wear jeans to school. Yes, until eighth grade girls had to wear skirts or dresses, usually with knee socks and penny loafers.

I loved Robert Kennedy and painted RFK for President all over the walls of our garage. I vividly remember one morning when I was twelve and my sister woke me with the news that Kennedy had been assassinated in Los Angeles. I cried and then started a pillow fight with her, yelling “It’s not true. You’re lying.” I was heartbroken. Little did I realize that was probably the day liberalism began to die a slow but steady death.

My father was an American history teacher at the public high school I attended at a time when students smoked pot outside at the wooden track and opening the doors to the bathrooms exposed you to a toxic cloud of cigarette smoke. We spent our summer vacations visiting places like Jefferson’s Monticello, Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. which we never tired of. One summer we drove all the way to Michigan to visit Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village.

All these things must have influenced my restless, seeking mind. I am never content. I am always searching. There is no black and white in my world, just shades of gray.

This very thing came up in the book club discussion last night. One reader didn’t really understand Sophie’s quest to find passion in her marriage again. Her rage against middle age and mediocrity. She asked “Isn’t that just part of growing up and becoming a mature person? You accept the fact that passion fades?”

I cringed. I tried to explain. I quoted an article I had just read in the New York Times. Its premise was that the first two years of marriage were the most passionate but if a couple could make it through the next twenty years they could rekindle some of that fire when their nest was empty. If they tried new things together, they could see each other with new eyes and fall in love all over again.

I’ve always envied people who are content, who accept things the way they are. The people I worked with who decorated their cubicles like a cozy home and accepted the fact that though their job was boring and unfulfilling, they had a steady paycheck and health insurance. I tried to do this but I ended up decorating my cubicle with pictures of Caribbean beaches from last year’s calendar and dreaming of better views than my cubicle walls.

I have embarked on a new chapter in my life. It is a bit scary and there are a lot of unknowns. But one thing I know, I am happier. I walk with a spring in my step and I smile a lot more. My husband and are arguing less. I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone, quitting your job as the country sits on the fiscal cliff. Chasing a dream of writing for a living.

Last night before the book club, I made my sister and her husband a recipe from The Reverse Commute.

Here it is:

The Best Boy’s Chicken Parmesan

Serves 4

2 pounds of boneless chicken (use breasts or thighs-the Best Boy likes dark meat so he uses thighs)
A bowl of flour
A bowl with 3 eggs, beaten
A bowl of Italian style bread crumbs

Dip the chicken in each of the bowls -1st flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. As the Best Boy points out, you need to do this in the right order.

Heat oil in a frying pan and heat both sides until lightly browned.

24 ounces of spaghetti sauce (If your Aunt Helen lives next door you can run over and get some of her homemade marinara sauce out of the freezer. Otherwise, make your own sauce or use your favorite jar of store bought)

Spread sauce on the bottom of a baking dish, place chicken on top and cover with more sauce then sprinkle grated parmesan cheese on top. Place in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook ziti.

Enjoy and maybe you too will fall in love once again.


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