Postcards to Lillian

My mother-in-law and I would play a game. We’d see who would remember to call the other one first on the first day of the month.  When she answered the phone I would say, “Rabbit, rabbit!” before I would even say hello. Or she would do the same to me. She was the one who taught me this funny habit.  It’s funny that such a little thing makes my heart ache on this first day of February. My mother-in-law Lillian Glickman died in her sleep on November 6, 2016.  She was 95 years old and active and sharp right up to the end.

When she was 93 she fell and broke her nose and gave herself a black eye. She told me she was going to forego her twice a week coffee out with her brother. I asked her, “Why?” She said, “I don’t look good. I’m going to wait till I look presentable.” I laughed. “Lillian, you’re 93! You expecting to meet a new boyfriend? You can of course do what ever you want. I think Allie (her brother) will miss coffee with you if you don’t go.”  Allie ended up bringing the coffee over to Lillian. They sipped it at her pink kitchen table talking about nothing. Which is really every thing, you know.

When Lillian told me she was going to stay in for a month I took to calling her every day just to be sure she had some contact with the outside world. I also started sending her a postcard every day.  At the end of the month she told me, “Tony, you can stop sending me those cards.” I told her, “I am just getting started. If you tell me you really don’t want to get them I will stop.”  She admitted, “They are kind of fun to get.” I ended up sending her a postcard every day for two years. On each one of them I gave her a different middle name.

Lillian loved horses. I had sent her 30 horse postcards. She had all 30 of them taped up on her kitchen cabinets. Last winter I sent her 100 bird postcards. She loved seeing the birds at her feeder.  On the pelican postcard I wrote a limerick:

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican,
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week
But I’m damned if I see how the Helican!

Lillian put that one on her fridge.

When Lillian died I was in the middle of sending her 30 more horse postcards. On the morning she died  when we went into her house we found she had lined up on her kitchen table the three most recent horse postcards.

Those postcards made me weep. Everything in her house reminded me of Lillian. Every thing made me weep. Just like when my wife told me, “Rabbit, Rabbit”  this morning. The tears this morning are happier ones though, ones of remembering, if that makes any sense.

Rabbit, Rabbit.


Reluctantly Helping Dad by Tony Toledo

I believe this is called growing up, isn’t it?

As a teenager I thought my father knew nothing. He often needed my help putting brakes on the family car, or fixing a leaking roof, or clearing a clogged pipe. I fought him ever inch of the way. I was the worst, most unhelpful, grumpiest helper in the world.

Well, I fast forward to my own home ownership. I call Dad. “Hey, Pop, I got a leak in our kitchen ceiling. How do I find out where it’s coming from? To which Dad said, “Don’t you remember I showed you how to do that when you helped me at home?” And he laughed. And I admitted I should have been paying some attention instead of none.

For four years I was calling Dad every time I needed help with the house. And every time I told him I was sorry for being a jerk at 17. He laughed and always gave me his solid home repair advice for free.

Dad was not one to talk about mushy touchy feely things. He could talk about work related things all day long. Here in our little house in Beverly the attic steps have roughed out plaster on the walls. We use that rough plaster as our guest book. Dad and Mom visited us in 1999, a year after we bought our massive one tenth of an acre estate. I cherish Dad’s signed message on our wall to KR and me.  I wish I could still call him today to ask him the best way to reglaze our windows. 

Dad’s Perfect Christmas Present

Crown Royal is a pricey drink. I learned to appreciate it in the Army in Augsburg, Germany. One December I thought I would be a good son and spring for a bottle for Pop for Christmas. He and I shared a drink. He thanked me.
I thought to myself, perfect, I can get this for Pop every year. So I did. For many, many years.
After a decade into giving of Crown Royal to Pop I was back in Ohio one Christmas looking for aluminum foil in kitchen. I was a tad surprised to find six bottles of Crown Royal in the cabinet above the sink.
It slowly dawned on me that Pop did not like Crown Royal as much as I did. When I asked him why he didn’t tell me he said, ” You looked so happy giving it to me I didn’t want tell you I don’t like it.” That’s what parents do.
Dad’s drink of choice was Blatz beer. I don’t know how they get the cat to pee in the can but they do. I thought I would broaden Pop’s beer palate by giving him a 12 pack of a bunch of different New England craft brews. Pop and I would have a beer and he’d thank me for them.
My brother Bob Boff always made a point of telling me how much Dad loved that beer. I thought to myself, great, now I know what to give Pop for Christmas. After a decade of giving Pop IPAs and Stouts for Christmas Bob let it slip- by accident- that as soon as I left for Massachusetts Dad would say, “Bobby, you want these beers? They’re awful.” Bobby got a free 12 pack each Boxing Day. Ah, know I see why Bobby always reminded me how much Pop loved those beers. They wet his whistle for free.
Well, one thing that I did know was that Pop loved playing pinochle. So I took the professionally shot family photograph from 1994 and shrunk it down to fit inside the lid of a wooden box that held two decks of pinochle cards. Dad actually smiled when he opened it. He smiled every time he glanced at his tribe there guarding his Aces. We played a hundred games of pinochle using those cards from that box.  Every time Pop grinned whether he won or lost.
I am a little slow on the up take sometimes. Just because I love something doesn’t mean Pop will love it. With a bit more thought I was able to come up with something to surprise Pop that he really enjoyed- and didn’t give to Bobby. Dad’s been gone since 2002. I think of him every Christmas, and raise a toast to him first with Crown Royal, then with Harpoon IPA then with the Ace of Hearts. This Christmas I really should give Bobby a 12 pack. I’ll write “Dad” on the tag then cross it out on and put “Bobby” there. Just for old times sake.

Soybeans and Footprints

I grew up around
soy beans, soy beans
and more soy beans.
My Daddy fixed windows
during the day.
My Daddy planted
his soy beans
after dinner.

After the rain
I grew up walking
barefoot in the wet clay
careful not to step
on soy beans.

I left foot prints
like a baby dinosaur
in the mud
in the mud
in my blood.

Tony Toledo, November 1, 2016.

719 years old. A book. That I Saw With My Own Two Eyes. Wow.

Last night I drove to Boston College. It was worth the Boston traffic to arrive at BEYOND WORDS: ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPTS IN BOSTON COLLECTIONS.  Books hand printed on parchment from 1515. I saw a prayer book made in 1297.  719 years old. I saw it with my own two eyes. Amazing. Books with illustrations that shine as bright as the day they were made. Books hand made before Gutenberg invented his printing press. Books about medicine (not sure I’d be keen to the recipient of blood letting). Books that will be on display only through Dec 10, 2016. See then now or forever regret you missed them.   At the beginning of November there will be a FREE conference discussing these great books. Sign up is at their web site:

I met with my fellow Ticknor Society members at 6 o’clock. I  joined The Ticknor Book Society this year. Best $25 I’ve spent in a long, long, time. From the Ticknor Society web site:  The Ticknor Society is an organization of book collectors, booksellers, librarians, historians, archivists, conservators, printers, publishers, writers, and all lovers and readers of books. We are dedicated to the enjoyment, promotion, and support of books and book culture.

The Society is named for George Ticknor (1791-1871) and his daughter, Anna Eliot Ticknor (1823-1896). George Ticknor was a prominent Boston collector, scholar, and library supporter. His great collection of Spanish literature is at the Boston Public Library. Anna Eliot Ticknor was an early member of the Massachusetts Library Commission (founded in 1890, the first state library commission in the United States) and an active promoter of literacy for all. Both father and daughter were instrumental in making books widely accessible in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

This Boston area is rich with books, rich with history, rich with libraries public and private.  When you visit Boston be sure to give me a call me. I’ll to give you a Boston Book Tour. It’ll be expensive. You’ll have to buy me a coffee. And maybe a book.


Petting Horses

My mother in law Lillian Glickman is 95 years old. In her younger days she owned horses. When her family started she replaced her beloved horse with three equally beloved kids. But the kids just did not take to being saddled up very well.
Last Saturday I took it upon myself to call DeMayo’s Bonnie Lea Farm in Williamstown, MA.  I asked if it would be OK to bring Lillian over so she could pet a horse. “Come on over!” Lisa DeMayo said. When we arrived at the farm there were two women on their horses inside the jump area (I have no idea what the official names are for the places on your farm) who could not have been kinder. They welcomed Lillian to pet their horses as long as she liked. I have never seen my mother in law smile so big and so long. Nor have I ever met two kinder, more friendly women. I wish I could remember those kind ladies names. One woman’s horse was named Cinnamon.
Twenty years ago we were able to go on a trail ride on Columbus Day weekend with horses from the Bonnie Lea farm. It was Lilliian, KR and myself. Lillian and KR were quite at home in a saddle. Me, I looked like a tomato duct taped to the back of a dog. We had a woman leading us on the trails, and a woman in the rear making sure all was good with us.
When we crossed over a stream the lead woman’s horse was picking up it’s foot and banging it on the rocks in the water. I asked the woman what it was doing. She replied, “He’s bored going so slow on the trails. He’s trying to get his friends wet.” I never knew horses had a sense of humor.
So we came back to visit after twenty years away. I don’t think Lillian wanted to wash her hands. She wanted to keep that horse smell on her forever.  Our next visit will be much sooner than that. Many, many thanks again to all the horses, riders, and workers at Bonnie Lea Farm. Long may you run.
Ciao, Tony Toledo, Beverly, MA
Sin in Law of the horse loving Lillian Glickman

Well, Hello Rachel Ray!

This happened a long time ago before she had her own dynasty, before she had her own magazine, before she was even married. This happened when the only thing Rachel Ray had was her half hour cooking show on the Food Network.

My wife KR loved to watch Rachel Ray chop veggies and talk about feeding her mistakes to her dog Boo. KR also loved watching Rachel Ray’s cooking show because it was Closed Captioned.  KR is Deaf so for her to understand what’s going on she reads what people say.  Rachel’s words show up at the bottom of the screen. Every time Rachel explained some new dish KR got so excited. KR downloaded recipes, learned cooking tips from Rachel and was inspired to try new dishes. We both liked Rachel Ray’s way of cooking with ordinary stuff you already have in your kitchen.

I had gotten KR three Rachel Ray cook books. One day an idea popped into my head.  I thought it would be so cool if I could get Rachel Ray to sign them for KR.  Rachel’s bio on one of her cookbooks said she lived in upstate New York. Well, with that as my starting point sooner than later I had Rachel Ray’s home address and her home phone number. Now, I didn’t want to call her at home. That just seems a tad invasive. So I wrote her a letter explaining, “My wife KR loves your show. Thank you for having it Closed Captioned. KR is Deaf. KR Loves cooking with Captions.  Would it be alright for me to send you three cookbooks for you to sign for KR?”  I figured if the letter went to the wrong Rachel Ray she would just toss it in the trash and shake her head about those crazy cooking fans.

The next week I come home and there’s a message on my phone answering machine (remember those?). It was a woman’s voice saying, “Oh, Tony, This is Rachel Ray. I would be so happy to sign those cook books for KR. Just send them to my home- you already have the address. I am so glad KR likes the show.”   Click. Now it was my turn to be so happy. I immediately boxed up the cookbooks, put in return postage, wrote a thank you note, and sent them traveling to New York.

The cookbooks arrived back in Beverly two weeks later. KR was so surprised. Not only did Rachel Ray sign them but she wrote a bit in each book.  “Hey, KR, keep on cooking! What was I thinking to have my hair like this? Live and learn! Yumo! Rachel!”  “KR, I hope you feed you mistakes to your dog too! Keep on Cooking! Yumo! Rachel”  “Dear KR, I am so glad you like the show. I’m glad my recipes work so well for you. Yumo! Rachel”.  Rachel also included a note saying, “I’ll be at the Boston Wine and Food Expo the next month. I hope I see you there.”  I took that to be an almost invitation.

I thought it would be great to take KR to see Rachel Ray. I knew KR would get a kick out of meeting her. I got a kick in the wallet when I found out the ticket price was $75 a person. I pondered things a bit, then figured since Rachel Ray left a message on my machine we were buds now so I called her and left a message on her machine asking, “Would be possible for for you to comp us in at the Boston Wine Expo so we could met you?”  I got no reply. I still had hope though.

KR and I showed up at the on the Wine Expo on the appointed Saturday. I told the young man at the ticket counter, “We have a comp tickets. KR Glickman Tony Toledo.”  “Sorry, sir, nothing under either one of those names.”  I told him how much we wanted to meet Rachel Ray. I told him about her signing the cookbooks for us. I told him about the note sort of inviting us to the Wine Expo. As people were leaving the Expo I asked them, “Excuse me, if you’re going could I have your ticket?” They replied they were vendors on a smoke break. They needed their name tag to get back in.

After a half an hour of watching me beg every person walking out, the ticket guy motioned us over to him.  He asked, “You really only want to meet Rachel Ray?” I told them that was indeed the truth. He said, “We’re already an hour into the 4 hour event. I don’t think these people are coming. Here, take their name tags. Use them to get in.  Then put them in your pocket so you don’t get busted.”  I couldn’t believe our luck. We clipped on our new names and waltzed right in. As soon as we got through the doorway our new names went into the witness protection program in our pockets.

We got in in plenty of time to see Rachel Ray’s cooking demonstration.  We got to spend half an hour walking around the Wine Expo. I did not sample any of the wine. I told that dude who gave us our into Get In Free Wine Expo Passes that all we wanted to do was meet Rachel Ray.  I was gonna keep my word no matter how tempted I was. When I went to the restroom though I was surprised. I never saw so many guys so drunk on a table spoon of wine at a time.  How I yearned to sip along with them.

When Rachel started her demonstration she cooked rice and veggies that went so well…with wine. She did the whole cooking demonstration in front of a couple hundred people. When she was done, KR and I waited our turn to talk with her. We introduced ourselves. Rachel remembered signing the books for KR. KR also had her Hearing Dog Delta with her. Rachel chatted with KR (I interpreted the conversation both ways) and she asked KR if she could pat Delta- of course KR said yes- and basically made KR the happiest woman in Boston when Rachel Ray hugged her goodbye.

After we were done talking with Rachel, a woman walked up to us a few minutes later. She said, “I am Rachel Ray’s planner.  Rachel wants you to have FREE tickets to come see her tomorrow.”  Now I was happy too!  Because now I could get my wine glass and sip my samples and have my wine drinking be all on the up and up.  And that’s just what I did. I drove us sober down to Boston the next day. KR drove us home that evening with me being more than a little tipsy.

That Sunday KR got to hug Rachel Ray again, and I got half lit a tablespoon of wine at at time, and we still have the wine glasses from the day Rachel Ray got us into the Boston Wind Expo- legally- for FREE.

A Week In My Storytelling Bunker by Tony Toledo

A Week In My Storytelling Bunker by Tony Toledo

I’ve been holed up all week in my secret underground storytelling bunker. There’s no cell reception, electricity or donuts.

I am teaching myself how to hum in Russian, how to yawn in Armenian and how to wink in German. The last one is the hardest because in all of recorded history only three Germans have ever been known to wink. There is so little known about German winking that I fear I may fail in my goal to wink as a Deutschlander.

I may be forced to fall back on winking in Scottish which I learned in third grade from my Spanish teacher. I was never as good at winking in Scottish as Nina Schmidt. She actually makes her living now as a Scottish winking model. Her last ad for Depends adult diapers was terrific, some of the best winking I have ever seen. When I see her on TV I wink back in American (with an Ohio accent of course).

I sleep on a bed of nails which causes me to dream in technicolor on Tuesdays and Thursdays and in black and white on Wednesdays. I read standing on my head which allows the information I have gained to settle in my brain. I do jumping jacks in the dark wearing 7 pairs of socks. My third eye has 20/20 vision. My memory is rusty like an old bumper from a 1964 Nova. I can recall every banana I have ever eaten (even the one so very mushy it should have become banana bread). I drew a floor plan of my childhood home revealing all the places I won playing hide and seek. My eternal quest for the perfect pie is ongoing.

And yet I am constantly plagued by writer’s block… I just can’t come up with any good ideas.

Tony Toledo. Feb 28, 2016

Thursday Letter 39 to Garlic George

Today I mailed Thursday 39 to Garlic George.

Garlic George is my buddy from my long ago University of Toledo days. Turns out we both like to write letters. We lived four miles apart. I mailed George a Curious George book with custom captions. He mailed me shoe. No box, just my address on the sole. He also wrote, “Get a kick out of life.”

Garlic George is much better at letter writing than me. Since 1982 he has written me 20 letters for every one that I’ve sent his way.

This hardly seems fair. He once told me that I was still the person who wrote him the most. And I feel like I hardly get around to writing him much at all.

That got me to thinking. So last June I wrote Garlic George that I was going to be writing him a letter every Thursday for a year. I told him I had made a rule for myself that a letter is at least a full handwritten 8 x 11 sheet filled with hand written words/art/ rantings. Post cards, as nice as they are, are not letters.

I thought I would run out of things to write about. Turns out the more I write, the more I have to write about. I’ve even taken to drawing on the envelope stuff like the “Boston Sunday Globe has inducted George into the Garlic Hall of Fame” (drawing the Globe masthead font).

He is Garlic George because he grows a whole garden of garlic and gives much of it away to his friends. It’s delicious.

I pick up any flyer I find that is blank on the back. I write my Thursday letters on the back of that flyer from Market Basket, or Carpet Sales, or The Pie Potluck at the library. I figure if the letters no good at least the flyer provides something positive to read.

A first class letter is 49 cents. That is the most fun you can have legally for half a buck. Grab a pen, think about your friend, start out just describing what you see out the window. Pop it in an envelope, stick that stamp in the corner and know you’ve make your friend smile. Write on.

Tony Toledo, March 3, 2016

$800 Earrings for my Wife

I know I am not supposed to brag but 10 years ago I got my wife an $800 pair of earrings. She only wears them once a year. Half her friends think they are so cool, the other half can’t look at them.

You see, ten years ago my dentist recommended I have all four of my wisdom teeth removed. So I did. At $200 a tooth. I convinced the dentist doing the pulling to let me keep me my teeth. He did.

So I took those molars to a Beverly bead shop, sadly now closed. A woman there was quite happy to help me wrap wire around each tooth and make them into a pair of earrings. $800 earrings.

My wife wears them once a year- on Halloween. Half of her friends think it’s so cool she has her husband’s body parts on her ears. The other half take one look and say, “Your husband’s teeth are so honking huge! I can’t bare to look at them!”

Love means my wife smiles happy that I got her earrings of any kind. She knew when she meet me that I am the kind of guy who makes art with teeth. We’ve been rolling along strong, smiling our big toothy grins to each other, for 27 years and counting.

Tony Toledo, March 8, 2016