Twenty years ago, when my wife, Deb, and I had a fence put up around the perimeter of our backyard in East Greenwich, a line from Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” came to me:
“Good fences make good neighbors.”
But our fence was less about neighbors than about children. We had two boys, ages 4 and 2, and a new baby was on the way. With our house smack-dab in the middle of town, half a block from busy Main Street, we needed to make sure our kids didn’t wander off.
Good fences make good barricades.
Our lot sits on a hill, and the backyard slopes precipitously. That didn’t seem to concern the burly, good-natured guys who did the installation. They navigated the tricky terrain masterfully and, after two days, the cedar fence gathered our boys in a fragrant embrace.
Over the ensuing years, within the fence’s confines, our children ran through sprinklers and built snow forts; chased our dog and tried to dig to China; tossed Wiffle balls and played manhunt.
At the same time, northeasters slammed the fence’s flat boards and squirrels gnawed on the arbor above the gate. When frost heaves left four or five sections askew, I had to call the installers back to re-set the posts.
As our kids grew older, the backyard gave way to the front door in their daily comings and goings. Out they bounded to music lessons, basketball games, drama rehearsals, or to just hang with friends. Somehow, seemingly overnight, the fence’s containment services were no longer needed.
The first break came when Hurricane Irene whipped through Rhode Island in 2011. I watched from my kitchen window as one of the fence’s back sections listed awkwardly, a wooden sail in the storm.
I rushed down with clothesline rope to tether the flailing section back to its post. Irene scoffed at me with a whoosh of wind and rain. Afraid the next gust would hurtle the rack of wood onto a neighbor’s car, I laid the section flat on the ground, hefted six cobblestones onto it, and prayed.
The cobblestones (or my prayers) did the job. But after the storm, the fence wobbled badly on either side of the missing section. The entire back run needed to be replaced, the fence guys told me; most of the posts and crosspieces were rotted. When I heard the price — and thought of pending college tuition payments — I asked the guys to simply take the battered back run away.
Miraculously, the fence’s side runs held on — until Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Two sections on the northern edge of the yard fell, and those that remained upright were now more vulnerable than ever. Storms no longer needed a name to pose a threat. The mere mention of heavy winds had me peering outside with trepidation.
One blustery Saturday morning, I looked out my kitchen window and, again, noticed a gap in the fence — this time, a section was breaking ranks on the southern property line. I grabbed my drill and headed out to the yard. I pulled the straying section back in line with its post-mate; a fifty-cent brace from Benny’s would reunite them.
But when I leaned into my churning drill, it pushed right through the mushy wood. The brace and the screw fell to the ground, and the fence resumed its tilting.
As I searched for the screw in the leaves below, I thought of my children. My older son was in Los Angeles, chasing pop music dreams. His brother was on a train to New York, trying to kick-start his own path in the recording industry. And my daughter was asleep upstairs, perhaps dreaming of a college campus far away from the backyard of her childhood. In less than a year, she would leave, too.
A different line from Frost’s poem spoke to me now:
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.”
I abandoned my mending and went back inside.
I live within earshot of a Little League field, and the sound of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball – plink! – brings me back to the days when I was the one swinging the bat, in Providence. Here are the highlights:
I’m at my Little League manager’s front door, having missed the practice when he gave out uniforms. To my disappointment, the white flannel jersey he hands me unfolds to reveal a red number 13 – far from my lucky number. That’s what I get for missing practice.
I put the uniform on at home and stand in front of my mother’s full-length mirror. The short sleeves reach my elbows, the ample waistband of the pants is scrunched under my belt, and the crotch falls to an inch above my knees. I could be running away to pedal a unicycle for Ringling Brothers. Superstition and supersizing notwithstanding, I am thrilled. I have my first official, head-to-toe sports uniform. Play ball!
Later that season, I’m standing in the on-deck circle at Nelson Street playground and notice my girlfriend watching from behind my team’s bench. She has brown eyes, short brown hair, and a self-assurance that sets her apart from the other girls in fifth grade. I shoot her a knowing look, which she acknowledges with a smile.
Earlier that day, we had walked home together down Jastram Street and ended up in her garage. The air smelled of gasoline and newly mown grass until she pulled me close. Her breath was bubblegum sweet, her lips soft. It was my first kiss, and almost certainly not hers. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
With her looking on, I step up to the plate. The pitch sails in and, for once, the ball looks as big as a honeydew melon. I drive it between center and right, and slide into second with a double. It’s my first extra-base hit … My girlfriend’s cheering … All on the heels of our moment in her garage. Standing at second and surveying the scene, I’m positive life will never be better.
Two years later, my CYO team gathers in right field at Davis Park to go over signals before a game. “Pay attention!” our manager barks. He motions us closer and lowers his voice: “When I say ‘Father Murray is here,’ I want you to bunt.”
Father Murray is a kindly, diminutive priest from our parish. He wears horn-rimmed glasses and speaks softly from the pulpit. Kids love him because he keeps his sermons short and his theology simple.
Walking back to our dugout, my friend Johnny is incredulous: “Father Murray is here?” he says, eyebrows arched. “What kind of sign is that?”
Sometime in the early innings, our team has a man on first with no outs. “Father Murray is here!” our manager shouts. Kevin, our batter, looks at him as if he’s speaking Swahili. The pitch comes in and Kevin swings away. Strike one!
Our manager repeats the signal: “Father – Murray – is – here!” But Kevin is too busy adjusting his batting helmet. A mom behind our bench says, “Father Murray is here?” Another adds, “Where is he? I need to talk to him about my niece’s baptism.” The pitcher winds up and throws. Again, Kevin swings away. Strike two!
Our manager stands apart from us, just inside the dugout’s chain-link fence, as rigid as a foul pole. Parents, the umpire, and players on the other team are all searching for Father Murray.
“Oh, right!” Kevin says at the plate, sheepishly. “Father Murray!” But his revelation comes too late. With two strikes, he has to hit away. He whiffs on the next pitch and slinks back to the bench, avoiding our manager’s gaze.
“Where the hell is Father Murray?” a dad asks no one in particular.
“Told you that signal was lame,” Johnny says to me.
These memories and so many others come back in a rush whenever I hear the plink, as I do on most evenings this time of year. The batter connects and so do I – to a world that is forever springtime new and bubblegum fragrant.
My best friend, Chris, was calling from the driveway outside my house, in Providence. I went to the bedroom window, knocked on the pane, and held up an index finger to let him know I’d be right out. I wished we were heading off to shoot hoops at Nelson Street playground or to buy candy at Wolcott’s five-and-dime on Chalkstone Avenue. But it was Sunday morning. We were going to church.
Pulling a sweater on, I tiptoed past my mother’s bedroom. Attending Mass at St. Pius wasn’t a family affair in my house or in Chris’s, either. Our moms told us we had to go, and Chris and I, ages 9 and 10 respectively, obliged.
Bunking church, however tempting, was not an option. Informants loomed everywhere: grandparents up the street, family friends around the corner, aunts and uncles waving from cars. This was Elmhurst at its close-knit best, and worst. If we strayed on our five-block pilgrimage and played hooky, word would get back to our mothers fast. Penance would be severe.
Chris and I had walked two blocks when Georgie, my dog, whisked by us, nails scratching the sidewalk, tail wagging like crazy.
“I have to take her home,” I said. “Be right back.”
I grabbed Georgie’s collar and scooted her back to my house. She was a 35-pound mutt with a shaggy black coat and watchful eyes. I pushed on the back door to put her inside, but it was locked – and I didn’t have my key. I knew our front door was locked, too. It always was.
The thought of ringing the doorbell and waking my mother was as appealing to me as Brussels sprouts. She’d see I was running late.
Our small back yard was bounded by a chain link fence. I left Georgie there, latching the gate behind me. I hoped she wouldn’t escape.
I caught up with Chris and we resumed our trek. We kicked a soda can up the street and relived our epic day at Rocky Point amusement park the previous summer – until a bark cut us short. I spun around and there was Georgie, half a block away.
“Oh God,” I said. “She got out.”
I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled, “Go home!” I don’t know what I was thinking. Georgie wasn’t Lassie; we were still working on the commands “Sit!” and “Stay!”
“Let’s just get to church,” I said to Chris. “It’s too late to take her back again.”
We picked up our pace. Georgie continued to follow us, keeping her strategic half-block distance. When we reached St. Pius, I convinced myself she’d just wait at the door outside. What could happen?
As Chris and I entered church, our footsteps on the marble floor announced our tardy arrival. We sheepishly made our way to one of the rear pews.
The second reading was just beginning. I caught the attention of a child two rows in front of me. As I twisted my face and crossed my eyes to his smiles, I heard a faint, familiar sound – like scratching on a door. I turned to Chris. He was already whispering: “Is that Georgie?”
I smiled nervously. Chris laughed. More scratching. I pictured Georgie pawing at the church door, just as she scraped the back door at home when she wanted to come in.
We stood for the Gospel – Luke’s account of the loaves and fishes miracle. But as I listened, something distracted my ear … the click-click-click of nails on marble. Somehow Georgie had gotten in! Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her pass our pew and head for the altar, tail wagging.
The woman next to us murmured, “Good Lord!” The priest continued with the miracle story from the pulpit, unaware of his newest potential convert. I instinctively stepped toward the aisle, but Chris grabbed my arm.
“You can’t go get her!” he whispered. “You’ll look like an idiot!”
Neither of us moved. Georgie was almost at the Communion rail when an usher, in his Sunday best, scooped her up and carried her out of the church. She was good about it – didn’t even squirm.
We waited for the Gospel to end, then hurried out to look for Georgie. She greeted us with leaps and licks of joy. Chris and I took quick turns hugging her and, thankful for our deliverance, started for home. At last, we had a legitimate reason for missing Mass – even our moms would agree.
In our book, that truly was a miracle.
Pictured above: not Georgie (I didn’t have a photo handy from years ago), but kindred spirit Buddy, former fabulous woofie of the Fuller family in San Francisco.
Do you check spell check, your computer’s application for flagging words in your documents that may be spelled incorrectly? I do. While spell check is an effective way to give your writing a first scrub, it will never replace proofreading. That’s because there are mistakes spell check will never catch. Often, they involve homophones – words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings. (Homophone derives from the Greek homos “same” + phone “sound.”) The word sounds right and is spelled right; it’s simply not the correct word.
Here are several homophones that lead to common spell check-proof mistakes:
Affect and effect. As verbs, these words have distinct meanings: affect means to influence (The weather affected the outcome of the game) or to feign (He affected an air of confidence despite the fact that the ripcord wasn’t working), while effect means to bring about (The politicians promised to effect change). Effect is more common as a noun, where it means an outward sign or result (The politicians’ promises had little effect on their constituents).
Complement and compliment. As a copywriter, I use the word complement often, as in The new entrees complement our existing menu. Here, complement means to complete or make perfect. It is distinct from compliment, which refers to the expression of admiration or praise, i.e., Customers complimented us on our new entrees.
It’s and its. One is a contraction (It’s raining) and one is a possessive (The band saved its biggest hit for the encore). Here’s an easy way to avoid confusing the two: read the sentence using it is instead of either it’s or its and you’ll know immediately if your usage is correct, e.g., The band saved it is biggest hit– oops!
Lose and loose. I see writers everywhere using loose when they mean lose – and the words aren’t even true homophones! Lose the extra “o”.
Premier and premiere. Premier is another common word in a copywriter’s arsenal, since we are always looking for ways to say a product or service is the best in its category. But that has nothing to do with a premiere, which is the first performance of a play or musical, or the first showing of a movie.
Principal and principle. The former is a person, the latter a fundamental truth or belief. In an earlier blog post, I shared a simple trick that my fourth grade teacher, Miss McAndrew, taught our class for remembering the difference between the two.
Who’s and whose. Who’s is a contraction of who is, as in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Whose indicates possession, as in Virginia Woolf is a novelist whose books are read in college literature classes. To avoid confusion, use the same trick suggested above for it’s and its: read the sentence using who is for either who’s or whose and any mistake will jump out at you.
Your and you’re. Your is a possessive pronoun – your blog, your writing – while you’re is a contraction of you and are: I’m happy you’re coming to the game with us. Again, to avoid mistakes, read the sentence with the contraction spelled out (“I’m happy you are coming to the game…). If it sounds right, you’re right.
OK, time to spell check this post – and then proofread.
A radio spot running in the Greater Providence market broke through to my consciousness, but for the wrong reason. At the close of the spot, when the voice talent stated the advertiser’s Route 2 address, he said “rout”, as if Kentucky had just played Brown in college hoops. Now here in Rhode Island, we have our share of pronunciation peculiarities (grist for another post or five), but our treatment of “route” is not among them. We say “root”, as in “I root for the Patriots.” Calling Route 2 “Rout” 2 catches our ear. It says the person speaking isn’t from here.
The country is filled with dialects, of course, a source of linguistic richness and endless entertainment. Neither “root” nor “rout” is right or wrong; each just reflects a regional pronunciation. But in a radio spot for the Providence market, “rout” instantly distracts the listener from the message and short-circuits the connection that the advertiser is trying to make with prospective customers. I once produced a local radio spot on home improvement loans with a voice talent from Buffalo who pronounced “roof” as if she were imitating her dog: “ruff”. Take two!
Lesson to radio advertisers: get to the recording session and make sure the voice talent delivers every word in the vernacular of your listeners – especially if you want them to become customers.
“I’ll Be Home For Christmas (If Only In My Dreams)” was a Top Ten hit for Bing Crosby after its release in the midst of World War II. Written by lyricist Kim Gannon and composer Walter Kent, the song resonated with soldiers and their families, though Gannon reportedly once said he was thinking of anyone who is separated from loved ones at Christmas.
That was me back in 1980. I had spent the fall at school in Ireland and, thanks to my grandfather’s generosity, traveled to the continent after finishing the semester. On Christmas night, I stood in a Florence phone booth waiting for an operator to connect me to my mother’s apartment on Federal Hill.
I heard my mom’s faraway voice — “John?” — and then the hurrahs of my family and relatives. Closing my eyes, I could see the dining room and the Christmas lights and everyone gathered around the table. The mix of happiness and sadness I felt made my heart clench.
I couldn’t wait to speak to my younger brother, James. When he got on the phone — “Hey Johnny, what’s happening?” — it wasn’t the same voice I had left behind. Puberty had intervened and my little brother — born five years after I was — suddenly didn’t sound so little any more.
The last time I had seen him, in early September, he was speechless. We were standing with my mother by the railroad tracks at Union Station in downtown Providence. After two years at Brown, I was heading to the School of Irish Studies in Dublin, leaving my hometown — and family — for the first time. As the train approached, I kissed my mother goodbye and turned to James. His eyes were flooded with tears, and when I hugged him, his arms hung limp at his sides.
I, too, ached at the parting; James and I were tight.
When our parents had separated, my father left me a letter that said, in part, “Continue to be good to James. He’s the nicest little boy in the world and relies on you very much.” At the time, James was 3-1/2 years old. My mother, who would go back to work at my grandfather’s baby clothes store, was more succinct: “Look after your brother,” she said, staring me in the eyes.
So I did, and it seemed as if James and I were always together. We shared a bedroom; his space was mine and mine was his.
When we played basketball in the basement — shooting mini-balls at a bucket on a barstool — James was Walt Frazier to my Willis Reed. When we huddled up for football in the back yard — drawing plays in the dirt — James was Fran Tarkenton to my Ron Johnson.
And when my younger brother once asked why our father’s Saturday visits ended before our mother got home from work, I did my best to explain.
The last of 13 cousins, James always made a grand entrance at our extended family’s boisterous Christmas Eve gatherings. Amid the smoke and cocktails and holiday din, someone would yell out, “Hey, Santa’s here!” and down the stairs my brother would come, pillows bulging under his red robe, fake white beard masking his smiling face. Everyone cheered as our diminutive Santa handed out gifts — wine for the aunts, scotch for the uncles, pajamas for the girls, colored underwear for the boys.
As he grew up, James acquired a worldliness that came with being the “baby.” A cousin let him drive her car before he was a teen. And once, while visiting me at Brown, he disappeared into the night and discovered zombies at a fraternity bar.
My return from Europe confirmed what the sound of James’s voice had announced over the phone: he was taller, stronger, a boy no more. Two years later, after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Coast Guard. I admired his guts; boot camp made my English degree seem like a trifle. On December 19, 1983, James boarded a bus for the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, N.J.
At Christmas dinner six days later, my grandfather rose at the head of the table, held up his glass, and said, “Here’s to our youngest family member, away serving our country.”
Glasses clinked, and my mother and aunt dabbed their eyes.
The Coast Guard launched my brother on a maritime career far from the life we navigated growing up.
That “home” of our childhood, both beloved and bittersweet, still exists — but only in our dreams.
I’m at a payphone trying to call home, all of my change I spent on you. –“Payphone” by Maroon 5
When technology changes everyday life, language responds with new words to help us navigate new experiences. Thus, the history of the telephone and the greeting “hello” are intertwined.
Telephone derives from the Greek tele- “afar” + phone “voice, sound.” Imagine how much brainpower it took to make the transmission of voices over wire possible. Still, when the first telephone was unveiled in 1876, one question remained: what should people say when answering?
There were two schools of thought, led by two technology titans. Alexander Graham Bell advocated “ahoy,” while Thomas Edison thought “hello” was the answer.
“Ahoy” is a nautical term derived from the Dutch hoi, which means “hi”. “Hello” is a modern word, dating back only to the early 1800s when people shouted it to get attention. Etymological cousins include hallo, holla, hala, and hola.
The lines are scrambled on why “hello” won out over “ahoy.” According to one source, the first phone book ever published told people to answer with a “firm and cheery hulloa.” Subsequent phone books echoed this instruction, and early adopters complied. Soon, telephone operators were called “hello girls.”
We find references to the telephone, in the service of lovers and lonely hearts, in legions of Top 40 tunes:
“Telephone” (Lady Gaga): Stop callin’, stop callin’, I don’t wanna talk any more…
“Sylvia’s Mother” (Doctor Hook): Sylvia’s mother said Sylvia’s busy, too busy to come to the phone…
“867-5309/Jenny” (Tommy Tutone): Jenny, don’t change your number…
“Telephone Line” (Electric Light Orchestra): I’d tell you everything, if you’d pick up that telephone…
“Hanging On The Telephone” (Blondie): If you don’t answer, I’ll just ring it off the wall…
And then there’s “Hello It’s Me,” Todd Rundgren’s early ’70s smash. Edison would have loved the title, of course. And it’s a good thing his phone greeting prevailed. Somehow “Ahoy It’s Me” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
The house next door was empty and for sale, but two ghosts still lived there: my father and my good friend, Dick. Each had once owned the historic colonial, which stands near the corner of Peirce and Dedford Streets in East Greenwich.
My father bought the house in the early 1970s after he and my mother separated. One Saturday, he picked me up in Providence to go stay with him overnight. I was 12 years old.
My dad could be distant, and not just because he no longer lived with us. As we drove south on Route 95 that day, Elton John played on the radio. My father sang along and drifted away — “Rocket man burnin’ out his fuse up here alone … ” But then he came back to me. Did I like the song? Who was I listening to these days? I loved talking with my dad about music or books or sports.
I also loved the notes he wrote to me. In letters and birthday wishes, my father’s remoteness vanished. His words were affectionate and knowing. And his penmanship was perfect.
His house on Peirce Street didn’t feel like home — it was dark and smelled old — but I was glad to be there. My dad and I went over to the basketball court at Academy Field to shoot some hoops. And when we returned to the house, he put George Carlin’s “Class Clown” on the record player.
I choked back my laughter when “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” came on. Those were words I couldn’t say anywhere. But my dad balanced a keen wit with a deep appreciation of the well-timed profanity. As he made sandwiches for us in the kitchen, he howled at Carlin’s famous bit — and, liberated by his laughter, so did I.
My father didn’t live in the Peirce Street house for long. It was just one of his many dwellings after he and my mother split, an odyssey that took him to Warwick, Providence and, finally, Centredale. But I never forgot that East Greenwich neighborhood. In 1994, when my wife and I decided to search for a bigger house for our growing family, we found one on Peirce Street — right next to my dad’s old place.
My father had died the previous year. I wondered who owned the colonial now. And then I met Dick. He had been living there for almost two decades.
Dick had a strong voice and quick smile. Like my dad, he lived alone, smoked cigarettes, loved sports, and could elevate cursing to performance poetry. When Dick launched into a diatribe about overpaid pro athletes or brazen politicians — “Can you believe these [bleeping] guys!” — I heard my father. For me, still feeling the loss, Dick was a [bleeping] godsend.
Everyone knew Dick as the Mayor of Peirce Street, yelling at cars that ran the stop sign, and chiding the town’s work crews.
But our family also knew him as the kind neighbor who placed the newspaper at our doorstep before we woke up; the belated Santa who arrived on Christmas morning with presents for our kids; the die-hard Patriots fan who took our young sons, along with his grandson, to a preseason practice at Bryant College. (“The boys watched Bledsoe,” Dick told us later. “I watched the cheerleaders.”)
As my younger son grew up, he was filled with questions. One night before bed, he asked me if I missed my dad. I told him yes, but that I felt my father was alive every time I spoke about him.
“Maybe that’s what heaven is,” I added.
With a 5-year-old’s matter-of-factness, my son set me straight: “You don’t really go to heaven,” he said. “You’re buried. Heaven’s where you go in your head.”
So much for sweet dreams.
One day, Dick knocked on our door. He was bouncing on the balls of his feet. “C’mon,” he said, “I’m stripping wallpaper and need to show you something.” I followed him next door, and we made our way to a downstairs bedroom.
Wet, torn wallpaper littered the floor. “Look what I found,” Dick said, pointing at one of the newly revealed walls. On gray horsehair plaster, I saw the familiar, soothing curves of my father’s handwriting. Years ago, when he owned the house, he had tagged the wall with his signature — Donald E. Walsh.
Later, I told my son the signature was a little piece of heaven, brought to me by an angel. He may not have believed me that time either.
But if there is such a place as heaven, and I am lucky enough to go there, I won’t be surprised if my dad and Dick are on the same bench, sharing a smoke and a laugh, and waiting for me.
I have written seven Op-Ed pieces for the Providence Journal since December. Topics have included Wiffle ball, the return of “Mad Men,” and Christmas Eve at my grandfather’s baby clothes store on Federal Hill.
Of all the pieces, one stands alone in its popularity: “Please pass the bread – and the gravy,” which ran this past Wednesday. It garnered, by far, the most Facebook shares of any of my columns to date.
I’m not surprised. Having grown up in Providence, I know first-hand how passionate people can be about bread and gravy.
When the number of Facebook shares topped 100 on Wednesday afternoon, I offered an incentive in hopes of generating more: if the shares reached 200, I’d publish my gravy recipe. It worked. Shortly before noon on Thursday, we hit the magic number. By the end of the day, the shares exceeded 300. First thing Friday morning, they were at 401 (appropriate number) and still climbing.
My gravy recipe is simple, but figuring it out was anything but that. Years ago, when I asked my mother about the ingredients, she said “depends on what you have.” (For meat, she would use sausage or pork or steak or braciole – whatever was on hand.) When I asked her about proportions, she used phrases like “just a bit” and “a good amount” and “you know, until it tastes good.” That’s when I learned these truths: making gravy is more art than science. And each batch is as unique and personal as a signature.
My mother’s gravy was delicious, the ultimate comfort food for me. I watched and experimented and fine-tuned. And then one day, many years later, my mom said, “Your gravy is good.”
If I had been elected President of the United States, she would have been proud. But it would have been a silver-medal accomplishment next to my gravy gold. I had arrived.
Opinions abound about what makes a good gravy, so feel free to weigh in. Just don’t get me started on the meatballs.
Here’s the recipe:
> 1/4 cup vegetable oil
> 1 small onion, finely chopped
> 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
> ½ pound sweet Italian sausage, about 3 links, cut into pieces (OR pork or steak or braciole, “depending on what you have”)
> 1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
> 1 15 oz. can of tomato sauce
> Fresh basil and thyme, finely chopped, OR Italian seasoning
> 1 small carrot OR a pinch of sugar
> 1 bay leaf
> ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
> ¼ teaspoon salt
In a large pot, heat the oil over a medium flame. Add the garlic and onions, and sauté until onions are tender and translucent. Add the sweet Italian sausage (or other meat) and brown. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, fresh basil and thyme (or Italian seasoning), carrot (or pinch of sugar), bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Simmer partially covered over low heat for at least two hours; if the Patriots are playing, for the entire game. If gravy gets too thick, add “just a bit” of water.