Dear Mom,

In 1992, during an MTV town hall meeting in Washington, a 17-year-old student asked President Bill Clinton the question that stunned everyone: “Do you wear boxers or briefs?”

When we talked about it later, I remember you shaking your head, saying “Somebody’s mother needed to have a long, serious talk with her daughter.” Dad said that somebody needed to have a long, serious talk with Clinton for answering the question.

Occasionally we made a game of “either/or” questions. Not boxers or briefs, of course, but other debatable either/or  questions: Which sport takes more talent, baseball or basketball?  If you could read only one newspaper, would it be Wall Street Journal or Kansas City Star? If you could eat only one meat, would it be grilled steak or fried chicken? Which would be worse to lose, your hearing or your vision? On and on we went, challenging each other to pick or choose.

After Dad died, I was helping you decide what to do with his clothes: should we offer them to an unemployed man  who was about Dad’s size but might be offended, or should we box them up and donate them to Goodwill? It was only one of many decisions to make at a difficult time, and finally we just took a break and decided we didn’t have to do anything right then, at that moment. You sat in your recliner, looking out the big window of your living room.  Finally I asked, “If you could choose only one, would you choose a door or a window?”

Since that day, I’ve noticed what others say about doors and windows.  Horace Mann said: “A house without books is like a room without windows.”  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote: “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

You were a big fan of Erma Bombeck, and you laughed at this quote: “Never have more children than you have car windows.” And you agreed strongly with Victor Hugo’s philosophy: “He who opens a school door, closes a prison,” and Coco Chanel’s  advice: “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.”

On the day I asked you which you would choose, a door or a window, you said, “It depends on the weather, I guess. And if I have some place to go, or if I want to watch the birds in the trees.”  That made sense, and after we talked for a while we got up and went to Dad’s closet to decide what to do with his things.

John Barrymore said, “Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.” Mom, you’ve shown me that happiness sneaks in through windows, too, when you patiently sit and wait, expecting something pleasant to happen…outside your window, or inside, in your memories.

Thank you for being the stained-glass window that sparkles and shines when the sun is out, and when the darkness sets in your true beauty reveals the light from within you.

Love,  Marylin


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference

57 responses to “DOORS or WINDOWS?

  1. Katie

    Lovely post, thanks.

  2. Daniela

    Beautiful, eloquent, moving … I would choose door, always.
    Hugo’s quote reflects his whole being and what he stood for.

  3. Hi Marylin, what a beautiful analogy.
    Very moving post. 🙂

    • Thank you, Tracy. I’m still trying to decide which I would choose, and I seem to be more and more like my mother ~ “It depends” ~ on the weather, I suppose, and what I’m doing or where I need to go, and on my mood.

  4. What a beautiful story and profound quotes regarding door or window. I love your mom’s response (it depends). I have two sliding glass doors in my living room, so I guess I have the best of both.

  5. I’d have to choose doors. They open and close easier than windows. Well, in my house at least. 🙂 I hate climbing as well. Did you ever try climbing out a window? It’s hard! Doors….yes, definitely doors.
    Love these quotes!

    • I’m still smiling at your comment, Irene, and Katie’s, too. At 94, my mom wouldn’t think of crawling in or out of windows, and she wears a bracelet that beeps if she gets confused and tries to walk out the main door. Thanks for the lighter side of all this.

  6. Carrie Rubin

    I don’t really have anything to add; just wanted to tell you this was really beautiful.

  7. I would choose doors too.

    I wish I had thought of this little game of either or years ago.
    It would have been something to do with the kids during a long car trip.

  8. How beautifully you told us the story..thank you.

  9. Jim

    Another wonderful illustration of your deep love and respect for your mom. Here’s another either/or to consider: Would you choose a room with a window or an internet connection?

  10. This is so beautiful, Marylin – I don’t know how you do it, post after post. Always moving.
    We played an either or game as well, but it was – which would you rather be eaten by, a pride of lions or a crocodile? Which would you rather be bitten by, a black widow spider or a rattlesnake? And on and on. That’s my dad.

    • I love it, Julia! Your dad’s approach probably saved your life, having you choose between a black widow spider or a rattlesnake! You should have answered, “Anything but a yellow jacket!”

  11. Molly


    THIS IS my favorite blog so far……I am not sure if it is because of how lovely you wrote it, or if it is because I can totally picture this conversation with Grandma (and Grandpa).

    I would totally have to say I would prefer a door, as long as it is a glass door so that I can still look out of it.

    • Oh, Mookie! You should be glad you didn’t hear what Grandpa said about Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky deal–he was W-A-Y past a long, serious “talk” with Clinton.
      But I like this “windows or doors” question, too. Grandma always loved going outside to work in her garden and chat with neighbors over the fence, AND she loved sitting in front of her big picture window at the house on Horton Street, knitting or mending or writing poems in her notebook. She always loved both, looking out and going out; now she’s content to watch the colors of the sky from her upstairs apartment windows.

  12. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Beautiful, Marylin. Thank you.

  13. Alice

    Wonderful questions. Love the whimsical humor in your parents–now captured in you words. Windows for me–lots–but I need one door.

  14. A great piece. The pictures help get me thinking. I think I need french doors or a sliding door to the patio. They’re windows most of the time, but you can go through when you want to.

  15. Marylin, again, an evocative post showing just how genius your parents were in engaging you all in sensible and learning stuff and getting your minds working ….

    Doors or windows? A toughy though. If the weather is to bad to venture out it’s always nice to look at the passing people or the clouds scudding across the sky, but you need a door to get through to get out and make new discoveries

    • My mother would be pleased to know that you share her answer: “It depends.” For me, Tom, I’m at the age (and energy level) now that I no longer crawl in and out of windows…so I’d choose a door. A big door with lots of “looking glass” panels!

  16. Marylin, thank you for sharing this beautiful love letter.

  17. Beautiful and moving. Made me miss my mom! But flooded my heart with wonderful memories…

  18. What a beautiful letter. I had not noticed there are so many quotes about doors and windows!

    • One of my favorites is a Yiddish saying to sweep the dust from your own doorway and leave others to sweep theirs.
      My mom wasn’t crazy about it–she took it very literally and said sometimes people needed a new broom or help with sweeping–so I left it out.

  19. Great post! I like windows better because they allow you to see the outside from the inside. But I still use the door to actually get out, it’s a lot easier than climbing through a window. 😉

  20. fivereflections

    Very nice!

  21. jakesprinter

    Stunning images and great story you have here my friend ,Thanks for sharing 🙂

  22. What a lovely snapshot of a time. It gives such a “window” into your life with your parents. Since in the wishing world we can have what we really want,.. I would choose a glass door…and have it all.

  23. I like that–a window into my life, especially with my parents–a glass door would have it all! Thanks.

  24. Caddo Veil

    Wow–this is beautifully moving and inspiring. I really enjoyed it, thank you!

  25. Loved your quotes, your beautiful story about your family. I’d take windows. You can always climb out a window if you need to leave a house, but you will miss a great view if you have only doors.

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