Why some people wear hats indoors

Recently I was involved in a brief dispute between a juvenile and another adult.

I am going to write about it.

The adult came up to me and told me that I needed to make sure that the juvenile pulled his hood down off of his head. If he did not, I was to report back to the other grownup and the kid would be in big trouble, the other grownup said.

I went up to the juvenile in question and asked him to lower his hood. He complied and it was business as usual.

If I were in the mood to write a fiction story, I would name that kid Puck or Finn (short for Finnigan) and he would not have done as I asked, but instead he would have pushed me aside, yelled “Get out of my face!” and proceeded to run out of the building, leading several adults and, ultimately, the police on a high-speed chase. The story would end in tragedy, and the theme might be something along the lines of: When a grown-up tells you to do something, it’s a lot easier to just do it.

Probably, though, I’d want a more sweeping and meaningful message to my story. Finn or Puck might be sort of a tragic hero. You know the type: smart, rugged good looks, dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father. The theme of this story would be more along the lines of: Society has a lot of rules, and sometimes it isn’t worth losing your mind or risking your life to break them.

Or to enforce them.

But I am not in the mood to write fiction. Instead, I would like to write a listicle speculating on the reasons why people might wear hats and hoods indoors even though it is generally considered a breach of etiquette. According to The Emily Post Institute, men have traditionally removed their hats and hoods indoors as a gesture of respect. Women, on the other hand, have been exempt from hat rules and may wear their hats indoors. Cancer patients are always exempt from hat rules.

I can tell you that girls are not exempt from certain school dress code rules regarding hats and headgear. I have seen people cry over such rules, but so far I have not been one of them.

At any rate, here are some reasons why I think people might want to wear their hats and hoods inside:

They are having a bad hair day. I really think this is the No. 1 reason people want to keep their hoods on. For me, pretty much every day is a bad hair day, but I usually solve the problem as best I can with a ponytail. On the rare occasion that I wear a hat to keep warm, my hair never really recovers. Maybe we should amend the no-hat rules on days when the temperature is below freezing? You have to understand that the most important thing to many of us is being cool. We don’t want to admit it, but it’s true. How are we supposed to feel cool when our hair looks terrible? You say we should have gotten up earlier to fix our hair, but the truth is, we did get up early and we had to work pretty hard to look this bad. We do not want to be ridiculed and so we wish to cover ourselves. It is a sad thing to feel this way, but many of us do.

They just forgot. Have you ever had a lot on your mind? Personally, I am always thinking about what I should do next. As a result, sometimes I forget about what I should be doing RIGHT NOW. Because I don’t wear hats or hoods often, I rarely forget to remove mine indoors. And I have a feeling no one would feel threatened if I forgot to remove my favorite black fur-lined hat inside a building. Very few people feel truly fearful when they see me coming, even when I wear my hat. But anyway, when I am lost in thought, I sometimes forget to put my keys in the right pocket or turn the ringer on my phone on. Sometimes I forget where I parked or I forget someone’s name. I would imagine something similar happens to a lot of people who wear hats when they walk inside a building.

They want to be cool. By wearing a hat indoors, some people, especially juveniles, might feel they are subtly showing their disregard for authority. They are above authority. They do what they want! Anyone who challenges them will rue the day. And besides, they do not care about the impression they are making on others. That is why they want an additional barrier in the form of a hood between them and their fellow man. They don’t need anyone’s approval or some deep social connection. Come to think of it, compromised peripheral vision is a good thing. Less stimulation equals better focus. I can actually imagine a juvenile explaining this to me. It’s along the same lines as the argument that having earbuds in with country music or gangsta rap blasting into the old eardrums helps a person focus.

Their parents wear hats indoors. And said parents have possibly told them that anyone who questions their practice of wearing a hat indoors is probably a supreme dork who has to kiss up to the man just to keep earning his meager paycheck. Not only could such a cog be easily destroyed by a brief physical confrontation, but a phone call to the cog’s boss might just get the cog fired.

They are thinking of robbing a bank. Or writing a story about robbing a bank. Or maybe they have just seen a lot of movies about bank robbers and some of those bank robbers were tragic heroes, played by really good-looking guys, who broke some rules sometimes. Personally, I think you’d probably need a bit more than a hat or hood to really pull off an epic heist. But as I have said, I don’t know much about all of this. I am just a little old lady, and I rarely wear hats or hoods.


When the lights go out

The problem with New Year’s Eve and day is that there’s too much pressure to do something both meaningful and hedonistic. It’s an oxymoronic holiday the way we celebrate it in the U.S. Why would you want to set the tone for a fresh start with a hangover, either literal or figurative, from too much of everything? Too much rich food, too many trinkets that you gave and received and there’s nowhere to put everything. And would someone please take this treadmill I have no intention of using ever again?

Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe Jan. 1 should be a celebration of closeness, rest, and relaxation, since winter forces us to slow down. You can’t get any traction when there’s ice on ground. Winter is here, but what does that mean now that every room is filled with screens generating artificial light?

Maybe it means we should light a candle and read a paper book like Abraham Lincoln did, just as a symbolic gesture. I say that, but am I just hypocritically dwelling on the past like aging people always do? Should I just shut up and download an app that counts my footsteps so I can lose these holiday pounds instead of pointing out to everyone who suggests it that people lost weight BEFORE they had apps?

The thing about Americans is that we are not very good at slowing down because, frankly, it’s not good for the economy. You keep cranking it out and I’ll keep consuming it, then we can both be proud of our contributions and no one can call us lazy.

I’m not trying to be preachy. I’m trying to figure out a way to enjoy the end of this holiday break. Everyone I know is saying it’s been a hard year for them, personally and politically. A lot of people are asking themselves: Why is my family so pathetic/dysfunctional? Why am I not where I had hoped to be at this point in life?

The challenge of New Year’s is finding something to look forward to when it is cold outside, we’ve got months of winter ahead, and we know this year will be full of personal and political challenges just like the last one. We are inclined to hibernate, but there’s work to be done.

Probably no one over 30 really looks forward to getting another year older. I, for one, was hoping this year would go by really slowly, because it’s my last year in my 30s. I’ll turn 40 in May, and I don’t care what anyone says, 40 isn’t young.

But dreading my next birthday isn’t slowing down time. The fall semester flew by and spring will do the same. At the school where I work, we start new classes each semester, so I only have the same students for about five months at a time, like at a college. There are good and bad things about that schedule. I suppose in many ways it’s good that we have a lot to do in a short amount of time. Theoretically, there’s little opportunity for boredom.


Even though most adults don’t look forward to getting older or the challenges it brings, there are people on the planet who do look forward to their next birthday because of all the opportunities that will come with it. Those people are called children. In this country, a child is anyone under the age of 30 with no children of their own.

I can’t remember how I felt the first time I saw snow, but I do remember what it was like when I got my driver’s license, and when I got an acceptance letter from the first college I applied to.

Now I have people asking me for letters of recommendation and help getting internships and even though I have to caution them not to make the same mistakes I did, I also owe it to them not to be too cynical to imagine that there is a big world out there that needs and wants them, and a small one at home that will welcome them back if the big one turns out to be too much or too little.

The small world at home is where it begins, where you can keep it simple with real candles, handwritten letters and paper books, favorite stories, and songs passed from one generation to the next. Simple rituals to hold onto when the lights go out are not just symbolic gestures, but part of surviving the dark winters in every life.

The names that got away

It dawned on me recently that soon I will be an old woman named Star Friend.

An old woman, with a tattoo, named Star Friend.

Of course, there will be plenty of other old ladies with tattoos, but they’ll have names like Melissa and Jennifer. What kind of name is Star Friend for an old lady?

For years I wished my name were Shirley, maybe because of the writer Shirley Jackson. I figured someone named Shirley would be interesting, but not odd, and definitely wouldn’t have to go around apologizing for her weird name. If my name were Shirley, I would have red hair, tortoiseshell glasses, and a better sense of humor.

When I was about 17, I once delivered a pizza to two people in a Victorian house. The man was in his 20s and had a thick ponytail. The woman was in her 50s.

I didn’t get a good look inside the house as I collected the money for their pizza, but I imagined it was furnished with a lot of funky original modern artwork, Oriental rugs, and grandfather clocks. They listened to jazz music. The woman was not his mother. Nor was she his lover, because the age difference between them was too great and that would have been gross. No, that guy in his 20s was hanging out with that woman in her 50s because they were both artists of some kind or another. He liked her because she knew more about their particular art than he did. I figured her name was probably Shirley.

Today I decided that it would be great if my name were Nora.

I came to this conclusion while emailing a woman named Nora. If I were a Nora, I would be taken seriously at all times. I imagine that Noras can quiet a room of noisy kids just by raising an eyebrow. They are feminine, but also intellectual. They have dark brown hair. Noras can be hot at 45 or 50, not Baywatch bimbo hot, but the understated, mysterious kind.

What can we do with these names we wanted, but will never have? What about the other names that got away – the ones we wanted for our sons and daughters, if only our husbands, friends, and family members hadn’t vetoed them?

I have a whole list of those names, mostly for girls.

When I was 21 I told my then-boyfriend that I wanted to have three daughters named Bianca, Rosaline, and Sophia. He said that under no circumstances would he approve of any of those names.

That was OK because we never got married.

My husband didn’t like the name Bianca, either, and neither did any of my friends. One friend said “Bianca” sounded like a promiscuous snob.

Regardless, our first child was a boy. Everyone approved of the name Oliver for him. We got a bit of grief from our parents over our proposal to make his middle name Trout, so we decided not to use it. In hindsight, I’m glad we caved, but I was furious at the time that my mother had given me all the weirdest names she could gather up, but was opposed to me naming her grandson after a fish. Nonetheless, Oliver grew into a boy who feeds more fish every day than the owner of a small pet store.

The scary thing about names is that they really are so full of meaning and predestination. It’s one reason people play it safe with classic names. Your kid probably won’t hate you for naming him John or Elizabeth.

These days, I’m surrounded in the high school where I work by Kaylees, Madisons, Mikaylas, Mackenzies, Logans (for boys and girls), Bradens, Jaydens, Caydens, Sydneys, Alexises, and so on. I have yet to encounter a teen in this generation named Stacey or Donna.

It’s hard to escape the generational appeal of names. Just when you think you have chosen one that is unique but appealing, you hear of someone else who is thinking of giving their child the same name. This is going to happen, so don’t bother getting defensive.

The last name that got away from me was India Eleanor. I loved it for a daughter, but my husband thought it was too melodramatic, too faux exotic when we’re not exotic. We’re not even Eastern European.

All you can do with these names that you wanted for yourself and your children is give them to pets and fictional characters. Some would say writing fiction is a waste of time when you’ll never be the next Shirley Jackson, but if that’s the case, then there’s a lot less risk in naming a fictional character than having another baby.

B average

This might be a story about mediocrity. Or maybe it’s about working hard to compensate for not being a genius. Then again, maybe it’s just about being middle-aged and feeling alienated by the expectations of a new world order.

This is just to say that I think a B is a good grade.

My 9th-grade English teacher was a short, plump woman with cropped black hair who wore orthopedic shoes. I couldn’t tell you how old she was because as far as I was concerned at the time, age became irrelevant after 30.

As soon as we met her, she told us we should consider dropping her class if we weren’t up for a challenge. There were easier English classes at the school, she said. My dark secret was that I wanted to be a writer, a real one, someday, so I told myself that I could handle anything an English class would throw my way.

Well, I did handle it, and I’m not too ashamed about the fact that I got Bs on some of those essays.

One time that teacher let us pick our seats based on our grades. The kids with the best grades got to choose first. I can’t remember if I had an A or B at the time, but I was the third person to choose a seat. The first was an uppity girl named Anne who I remember stated that she didn’t believe in grading on a curve.

“You should get the grade that you earn!” Anne told us.

I also got a B in my high school Creative Writing class.

On my report card, the teacher wrote: “Star, I would like to give you an A, but I don’t think I can. Good luck in journalism next year.”

I tried to figure out why that teacher wanted to give me an A, but could not. Maybe it was because I had carried on an on-again, off-again “relationship” (high schoolers love that word) with a boy in the class and we spent a fair amount of time tormenting each other in-person and through mutual friends. When we were “just friends,” I can recall him regaling us with stories of his sexual escapades with other girlfriends. On the days he was absent, his friends speculated that some of his stories were actually fictional.

Years after I graduated from high school, I was working at a local newspaper and the editors wanted us to write stories about people who had inspired us. One of the people I wrote about was that strict 9th-grade English teacher who had given me some Bs. I didn’t mention the Bs of course, because at the time, I thought Bs were normal and acceptable grades for all humans. This was before I became a teacher.

Not long after I wrote the story about being inspired by my former teacher, I did another story in which I referred to “gorilla warfare” – a mistake that slipped past my editors. Not knowing that the reporter who wrote it was a) one of his wife’s former students and b) one who had written a rather flattering article about her for the same paper, my former teacher’s husband called the newspaper’s editor and told him what a bunch of idiots we all were and that his wife would be appalled if she saw such a mistake in the newspaper. The editor didn’t know enough of the backstory to tell the guy that his wife had seen some of my mistakes before and it actually didn’t upset her too much.

What I know for sure is that you can be a person who sometimes earns Bs on writing assignments and still grow up to pay your bills by writing. I don’t recommend it, but it can be done. Also, you can be a person who earns Bs on writing assignments even if your teacher does not hate you. Even if you are one of her favorites and she is one of yours.

I know that much is true.

Dramatic irony

Nothing makes you appreciate the hard work of professional actors and directors like getting through the drama unit in your high school English class, or running through a play written and performed by students, for that matter. All along, we thought those famous people got their roles mainly because they were good-looking and charismatic, not because they were particularly intelligent or hard-working. Then, somewhere around the time you finish Act III of Romeo & Juliet, after you’ve delegated and negotiated endlessly over roles and props, you’re looking at quiz scores and you realize what the drama unit does to people. It takes a toll on us all, and we’re not even putting on a real production.

You’ve heard of actors getting too caught up in their roles, to the point of losing it. You’ve heard of the curse of MacBeth, which is probably a related phenomenon. What’s amazing is how quickly this type of thing takes hold.

I have seen it both ways. I’ve had classes in which NO ONE wants to volunteer for a part in the play and just reading the lines out loud together is torture for everyone. “Can’t we just watch the movie?” they beg. But I have also had classes where there are five girls whose dream is to play Juliet. And don’t think for a second that it doesn’t matter who plays Romeo. It matters immensely.

So what do you do?

Switch roles every two acts, so everyone who wants a chance gets one.

Last week, right before we started reading Romeo & Juliet, I was standing in the kitchen at 5:30 a.m. drinking coffee with my husband. He has been a high school English teacher longer than me, so he’s been through R&J a few more times and has a lot of the lines memorized. Friar Laurence’s famous line, “Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast” is posted in his classroom.

Thinking about what it takes to get through a drama unit, even when it isn’t Shakespeare, I said to my husband:

“I know what I have to do, but can I do it?”

That very quote “wisely, and slow” was on an open-book quiz I gave today. You would think open-book would make things easier, but it doesn’t necessarily. Students with high As in the class came to me and said breathlessly, “I’ve been through Acts II and III and can’t find these quotes anywhere.”

That quote is, in fact, in Act II, Scene III, but this is what I mean about the toll – the price of a drama unit, especially a Shakespearean tragedy. Less serious students would have considered these quotes and their value on the quiz fairly inconsequential.

What I’m saying is that there is a little too much drama that comes with the drama unit.

Maybe if my background were in theater instead of nonfiction writing I would find the plays less taxing. Another teacher who works with me is also a director at a local theater. She seems to keep a sense of humor about it all because, of course, they’re kids, and not professionals.

I know, but.

It’s the same in my creative writing class. Writing plays and acting them out seems infinitely more challenging than, say, poetry or, my favorite, literary nonfiction, because there are no rules in poetry and you can be so figurative that it really doesn’t even have to make total sense. With literary nonfiction, people write their memoirs. I love it if they share with the class, but they don’t have to, so the writing itself is the culminating activity. That’s swell for the introverts, and I get it.

Yesterday, we were acting out a play that a kid wrote which was set in a haunted insane asylum. The stand where I kept my bathroom passes got knocked over and broken. I said, “Guys, we are pretending to be in an insane asylum, but this can not become real,” and they knew exactly what I meant. It’s amazing how thin the line can be between losing yourself in a role and just losing yourself.

My 8-year-old daughter loves scary stories, except when she wakes up in the middle of the night after a bad dream. When she woke up at 3 a.m. this morning, I asked her what her bad dream was about. She said, “Sometimes after a bad dream, I just feel scared, but not scared of the thing in the dream.”

OK, well, I have had dreams where something that happened was terrifying, but if I tried to explain it to someone, they wouldn’t understand why. Still, when you’re reading creepy stories and acting them out, you are setting the mood of your mind, which maybe you can turn on and off like a switch, but maybe not.

That tenuous division between fantasy and reality is one that you have to push for creativity, but you can’t go too far or the next thing you know you’re swilling absinthe and talking to a bird.

At the end of Act III, Juliet says, “If all else fail, myself have the power to die.”

When you say those lines, either something happens or it doesn’t. You either feel it or you don’t.

And ultimately, you want to feel it, which is why it sucks the breath right out of you.

The weekend shift

Mothers love Mondays. While everyone else is walking around Monday morning bemoaning the start of another five-day workweek, I am usually thinking about how exhausting the weekend was and how it will be nice to have a break from scrubbing scum from the shower floor, doing laundry, paying bills, and grading papers while hosting a playdate.

Weekend mornings usually begin with me making a long list of things I have to do and my kids asking me questions like, “When are we going to Jaylin’s party?”

Oh crap, I think, I still need to buy a gift for Jaylin’s party.

So then I take my kids and we go to Target, where I watch other women struggle to purchase items such as coffee and birthday gifts while their kids ask for Pokemon cards, Hello Kitty nail polish, the latest overrated blockbuster movie, etc.

Occasionally, I see a man attempting this same struggle, but not very often.

On Saturday I read this article in Harper’s Bazaar by a woman who had asked her husband to hire a housecleaning service for Mother’s Day. To summarize: he didn’t do it.

Like me, my husband has a full-time job. Because it is fall and because he has an unnatural obsession with firewood, he spends a large amount of his weekend cutting wood, some of which he keeps for our family to burn this winter, and some of which he sells.

Let me just make it clear that before he heads out to the wood pile on a weeknight or  weekend, he will interact with our children, he will vacuum the rug, and he will even go to the grocery store if I ask him. So what I am about to tell you is not about him. It is about a small meltdown I had in Old Navy recently and how I hope you can prevent something similar from happening to you.

I was already tired when we walked into the store. My kids and I had already survived the trip to Target where we acquired the week’s groceries, as well as a gift to take to the birthday party, as well as many unnecessary and unwholesome items I agreed to purchase in order to make progress and eventually exit the store.

When we get home from a trip like that, I get the kids something to eat so that I can unload the groceries. Then I throw in another load of laundry and launch a session of bill paying and paper grading before we need to leave for our next adventure.

Here is what happened at Old Navy later that day: Within 15 minutes of shopping, I had gathered up an armload of clothing that included at least one item for each member of my family. It felt like a rather heavy burden as I stood under the fluorescent lights with pop music blaring in my ears, my kids taking turns smacking each other beside a rack of bubble gum and trinkets.

Can someone tell me why retailers insist on playing obnoxious music? Or why they sell bubble gum at Old Navy? Can someone tell me why that store decides to cancel your credit card if you don’t use it on a regular basis, requiring you to reapply for the card so you can save $60 on your purchase, when you are already late for your next appointment?

The young man who was working at the store couldn’t tell me.

He could tell me that he was “sorry, ma’am,” and that I needed to give the store my address, income, and all of my personal information AGAIN, if I wanted to save $60 and leave the store, with its bad lighting, blaring dance music, and shredded chewing gum packaged to appeal to fans of baseball or chewing tobacco or something.

As far as I know, I am not autistic, but I have these moments …

I did comply with the clerk’s suggestion to apply for a new credit card, but I rolled my eyes and spoke in a hostile tone. I told him I knew this was not his fault, but that his company’s policy was stupid.

He was sorry.

I was sorry, too, for being that woman. I think a few other customers watched our awkward transaction before another employee called them to a different register. I’m not sure whether these spectators felt sorrier for me or the Old Navy clerk. Probably the Old Navy clerk.

As we went to leave, the store’s alarm went off. The young man who rang me up had forgotten to remove one of the sensors containing ink that the store puts on clothing to keep customers from stealing it.

Maybe my story should end here, but remember, I said I would tell you how to keep from having your own embarrassing miniature breakdown under the fluorescent lights of some retail establishment.

I’m not prepared to do that yet.

When we got home, I put our new clothing away in the kids’ rooms while they turned on the TV. I transferred some laundry from the washer to the dryer. I put a frozen pizza in the oven and opened up a salad kit purchased at Target earlier in the day.

My husband arrived home from his wood cutting expedition and ate dinner with us, and then I settled down to grade a few more papers until bedtime. My daughter soon became bored and informed me that she would need to invite a friend over.

I graded, and I graded, and I graded. When it was time for my daughter’s friend to go home, my husband agreed to walk her back to her house across the street. They remained gone for what seemed like an excessive period of time. My son had started asking where they were when we heard the sound of a motor racing up the cul-de-sac in front of our house.

It turned out that my husband had decided to take a spin in our neighbor’s go-kart before bed, so the sound of the motor was created by my 42-year-old husband racing through the suburban night.

That was how his Saturday ended. Meanwhile, I could have graded more papers, but I was too tired. So I went to bed.

I used to be a journalist, but I never wrote for a publication with a circulation larger than about 20,000. I suppose I should feel comforted by the fact that a woman who writes for Harper’s Bazaar struggles in a somewhat similar way as I do. I thought everyone who wrote for Harper’s Bazaar already had a regular housekeeper.

On an unrelated note, all of my family members will be wearing shirts from Old Navy today, thanks to my cardholder’s discount.

Where the heart is

It’s a beautiful season to be born, and a beautiful time to die. The sun is strong and warm. Leaves are starting to turn and fall. Shadows are growing longer. Crickets chorus in the golden twilight and break the solitude of a lonely dawn.

My grandmother was born and died in September. Sometimes on her birthday, we take flowers or some other token to the cemetery. My grandmother was fond of white roses, white doves, and the color green.

I live in her house. It is my house now, but it will always be hers, too. The thick carpets and wallpaper are gone and now the hallways are lined with backpacks and book totes. Tables are covered in permission slips and order forms.

Growing up, this house, in the suburbs, was the constant in my life. The others were variables. There was the log cabin where I was born and lived until my family moved to the old farmhouse.

When my parents divorced, my father had an apartment at the back of an alley on a city street. We’d pack our bags to visit while listening to our parents debate over the phone whose “turn” it was that weekend. I decided then that when I grew up, I didn’t want to live out of a suitcase. I wanted a place where a thin layer of dust would collect on my little bottles of perfume as they caught the afternoon light. My grandmother’s house was that place.

I moved in with her when I was 18, leaving half my belongings here and taking the essentials with me to a dorm room an hour away. I’d return on breaks from school and Grandmom and me would be kindred insomniacs. We’d hold communion at the kitchen table at 3 a.m. She was partial to Otis Spunkmeyer muffins with milk and berries, but she said eggs were really the best food to cure insomnia.

My grandmother didn’t like alcohol. She told me that in her younger years, when she went to a cocktail party, she would ask for rum punch and hold the same drink all night. Once, when I was nursing a bad case of insomnia with a glass of red wine, she started in on me about temperance. Exasperated, I poured the remainder of the bottle down the sink and told her she ought to know I was too much of a control freak to become an alcoholic like the boy I was in love with at the time. She liked him because his family went to the same church as her, but I was lucky, because he didn’t love me back.

When you lose your grandmother, you essentially lose your fairy godmother. You lose the person who clipped all the stories you wrote for the newspaper and kept them in a scrapbook.

For 50 years, my family ran a nursing home that my grandmother owned. I grew up there, talking to the Alzheimer’s patients and working in the office on the weekends. I wasn’t always the best employee because I was a teenager whose family owned the place, but some of the old folks who lived there liked talking to me and appreciated when I made them coffee or lit their cigarettes. This was back when smoking was socially acceptable.

My family sold the nursing home after my grandmother died in 2005. By then, I was three months away from having my first child, working full-time, and tragically unprepared for the changes that were coming.

Profits from the sale left each of Grandmom’s descendants with a small nest egg, but the money went quickly for those in my family. We had grown accustomed to always having something to fall back on in the form of a job or a dividend and now we would have to make our own way in the unforgiving world where you really do have to know somebody. In fact, you have to know a lot of people, and you’d better hope you treated them at least as well as they treated you.

These days, I tell my 8-year-old she can’t take my grandmother’s green satin clutch purse outside to play. It’s one of a few handbags my grandmother left that I hold dear, but rarely use. I still have some of her china in the cabinets and most of her wooden dining room set. I’ve been meaning to have the chairs reupholstered for about a decade.

One of my students recently told me that he doesn’t want to get stuck in Winchester. It’s a tragedy, he said, when people get stuck here.

When my grandmother died, I was living in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, about 45 minutes away from her house. I’d return to Winchester to visit friends or family with my colicky baby in tow. I brought the Dustbuster with me because the sound comforted him when he was hysterical, and sometimes he became hysterical in the back of my car by himself on the long ride.

When I came back to Winchester, we’d check in on her house, the one I live in now, which had a For Sale sign out front. I’d nurse the baby in an empty room that had been cleared of the carpet and wallpaper and most all of the furniture. It seemed to me that Winchester had changed so much in the few short years since we’d moved away, and I was homesick.

My family did receive an offer to buy the house, but the offer was low, and they declined. I ended up moving back to Winchester, to my grandmother’s house, not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

Teenagers, especially those who have never had to pack a suitcase every other weekend, think it would be tragic to “get stuck” in their hometown. One thing I’ve learned from reading their essays is that many of them are very angry with their fathers. Some of their mothers have done their best to make up for the fact that their fathers were gone, but of those who are disappointed with their parents, many love their grandparents because their grandparents were there for them when no one else was.

Grandparents tend to behave better than parents. They don’t yell as much and they’re less likely to desert their families or use some addictive poison to cope with the drudgery of adulthood.

My own daughter holds her grandmother in the highest regard. Grandmothers are all adulation. Someday I want to be a good grandmother, someone who doesn’t whine about the laundry the way I do now. Someone who hardly thinks about laundry.

I am sure that there are places other than Winchester where September is lovely, even if there are no walnut trees dropping green fragrant ornaments into piles on the ground, and I admit that I have visited too few of these other places.

But I can go with my mother to visit my grandparents on their birthdays, or their death days. I can put white roses in a vase in my grandmother’s kitchen and light a candle and be grateful to remember. I’ve seen enough to know it’s better than the alternative.