“God always answers our prayers, but sometimes he says … no.” — Sister Mary Ignatius.

Imagine that Noah had said no to the rats and roaches. New York City, Chicago and New Orleans would be happier, healthier, cleaner places to live. If he had said no to the moose, an ugly, ungainly, totally useless creature, our back roads in Maine would be safer. I know the deer run out into our headlights from time to time, but deer have cuter outfits, and then there’s the Bambi thing.

No is the key word. It can solve problems or cause them. It is probably the very first word we hear after leaving the womb:

“No, bad boy, don’t put that in your mouth.”

“No, you can’t have any more candy.”

“No, you can’t have the car.”

“No, your little girlfriend can’t sleep in your room.”

No keeps popping up throughout our lives. When I Googled it, thousands of essays about the word pop up. I ignored them. I wanted to explore the myriad ways no ran through my life, and how I dealt with it.

No, you can’t put the paper down and go play golf or turn the page and read about the World Cup. No! This is my morning and you’re stuck with it. Yeah, tell me you’re fascinated by the World Cup scores. Really?

As we all know, it was our mother’s favorite word du jour. Fathers, being smart, cleverly avoided it. “Go ask your mother.”

For the first l8 years of our lives, it seemed to have been no to everything: skates, trendy clothing, coffee, beer at the family picnic, sharing a hammock with Arlene Eichelberger at the same picnic, sleepovers with Arlene Eichelberger and her friends on her birthday.

It was endless and it wasn’t just my mom. Other moms would lay it on you, as when Mary Lister’s mother said I couldn’t come play house with Mary and her friends anymore because of something I had said, or suggested, I forgot what it was. I know the girls didn’t object. I don’t remember. I’m old; things fade. If you’re reading this online, Mary, it was all about you, I was never into Delores Hagany.

Mary’s mother said I should go play boy things with the boys. I was so not a jock. I tried that, and once again the painful “no” word bit deeply. “No,” the gang said. They didn’t want me on the church sandlot team. In retrospect, I can understand. I never met a ball that didn’t hurt me. A baseball broke my finger; a softball and a basketball, at different times, hit me in the nose and made it bleed, and then I would cry.

The team already had a catcher, and they said I pitched like a girl; so they put me in the outfield, where I kept dropping the ball. I explained that the sun was in my eyes. It was.

I was always too little for football, and I never even mastered marbles.

“Can you play hockey?”


“Can you play poker?”


You heard “no” a lot if grew up Catholic in an earlier time — not like now, when the rules are getting more flexible, as in you can eat meat on Friday or chew the host on the way back from the altar.

“Can I be an altar girl?” Joan Delaney sobbed. No. Growing up Catholic in those decades, “no” was practically tattooed on your forehead, and the nuns were the masters of it. “No, you can’t sit on the girls’ side pews.” “No, you can’t use Paddy Carr’s confession suggestions. You have to use your own sins.”

Then the teen years: “No, you cannot kiss me on the neck,” or “No, you can’t put your hand there.”

But somehow, as time put creases on my face and spots on my hands, the word became a useful charm. It eliminates meetings, dinner invitations with people I don’t like, foods offered to me that I detest.

She, who for years always favored me with the wonderful phrase “We’ll see,” gradually hardened. She said I used it too often to “get away with too much.” Now it’s “no” to almost everything. We’ll see.

In conclusion, I would like to pay tribute to my best high school sweetheart, Rosemary DeBranco, she of the 1,001 pastel-colored Angora sweaters and simple strand of pearls. Rosemary, God bless her, never said no to anything. Love ya, Rosie. See you on the other side.

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