The Shirt off His Back

 When my daughter was almost a year old and we lived in San Jose, I had the crazy idea to sew wool shirts for the men in my family: My dad, my father-in-law, my husband, and two brothers-in-law. Five wool shirts, with flat-fell seams, buttonholes, plaids to match, etc. Not sure what I was thinking, but between naps and setting up the playpen next to my sewing table, I was able to finish all five shirts in time for Christmas. The two dads got navy blue wool, my husband got a warm brown plaid, and I have forgotten what the other two were made from. This was almost 40 years ago, so some of the details have faded.



When my dad passed away in 2001, I found the shirt I’d made for him still in his closet, twenty-some years later. I took it home with me and it’s been in my hall closet ever since. When my father-in-law passed away in 2007, we found his shirt tucked away in the basement. I couldn’t believe that both of these guys had kept those shirts all that time! I guess it was a hallmark of that generation to hang on to a garment forever if it was still wearable.

I’m getting ready to go on a trip where I will need to layer up with warm clothing. On the recommended list is a wool shirt. Now, my dad was on the short side–probably no more than 5′ 6″–so it shouldn’t have been a huge surprise that the shirt fits me just fine. The sleeves are about half an inch too long, but otherwise, it’s a great fit. I took a close look at it tonight, and was amazed at what a good job I did on this shirt! The inside looks as nice as the outside. The leather buttons match perfectly, and the buttonholes turned out just right too. It’s a reminder of those bygone days when I had a lot of patience and determination when it came to sewing challenges. I’m grateful now that he kept the shirt and I found it when I did.

I think Dad  would be pleased to know that I’m taking him with me to a place he never got to see. I’ll take good care of our shirt.


The Case of the Reclaimed Redhead

If you were a fan of the old Perry Mason show, you might remember that the episodes usually had titles like this, with a clever (or not so clever) alliteration that let you know what was about to happen. This story doesn’t have anything to do with Perry Mason, and it’s not really a “case”Continue Reading

A Book Review

With thanks to Wendy Martin, editor of Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, and Elizabeth Fishel, writer and mentor, for honoring my book with these very kind words. There Was a Fire Here: A Memoir “Have you ever asked yourself: if my house were on fire, what would I grab?” So begins Risa Nye’s elegant, hauntingContinue Reading

In Memoriam

When I entered the MFA program at Saint Mary’s College in 2009, I had some serious doubts and fears: would I be able to produce any work worth reading? Would I fit in with the other students who were decades younger? Would I  be able to form relationships with faculty, something that eluded me inContinue Reading

The Fire Next Time?

On this rainy weekend, we accompanied our youngest grandson to the Oakland Museum of California. It’s a great place to take a two year-old–lots of room to run around and look at stuff. I lost track of how many times I’d visited the museum with my own kids: years of school field trips, rainy dayContinue Reading


What with the election and the death of Leonard Cohen, I can’t get this tune out of my head. Other people will respond to it differently, but to me this hallelujah is a plaintive wail, a cry for guidance. That’s how I hear it, anyway–especially the way kd lang performs it, as she did inContinue Reading

The annual semi-scientific trending Halloween costume report

One of the things I miss the most about the days when my kids were little is the planning and execution of Halloween costumes. We had a lot of fun, for the most part, coming up with unique costumes that we could make. I would frequently sew or construct the key elements, but as theContinue Reading

From Manager to #1 Fan

  Here’s something you probably never imagined when your kids were little: There will come a time when you, the parent, are no longer the most important person in your child’s life. Over the years, so slowly you may not even notice, you will transition to a position of diminishing influence, and will lose theContinue Reading

London: 9/11/2001

My husband and I were in London that day in 2001, when everything changed back home. We were visiting our daughter and son-in-law, leaving our older son to look after his brother here in the Bay Area. The newlywed couple were traveling the world for a year, and my husband and I decided to joinContinue Reading

September 2, 1973: one’s not half two. It’s two are halves of one

Today is our anniversary. I’m posting this again, as I have before, because I want to remember. We are different today, but also the same. This reminds me…of that long-ago day, when we were impossibly young. Our wedding wasn’t perfect, wasn’t grand–just simple and as much “us” as we could make it. I wonder ifContinue Reading