Wednesday, January 2, 2019

26/ Places: Lake Wallenpaupack

I never watched "The Office" on TV, mostly because the jumpy camerawork was uncomfortable for me, But one of the B-level stations offered an Office marathon yesterday, and I turned it on in the middle of an episode. The staff was on a boat, and I'm sure I must have blinked several times when I saw the name of it: The Lake Wallenpaupack Princess. I don't know if there really is a boat by that name, but I know Lake Wallenpaupack very well. It's what brought us to this part of the country 50 years ago. (I just realized it's been 50 years . . . wow!)

Joe and I were living in Midtown, and after visiting friends at their weekend house in CT we decided it would be nice to have a weekend house in the country ourselves. I grew up summering on the saltwaters of Long Island, and wanted to head in that direction. Joe grew up on Lake George, and had a strong preference for fresh water. I said, "Well, at least we can have a boat then." So we got out a map to see what was in a manageable radius of Manhattan, and there was this lovely 14-mile long lake. Lake Wallenpaupack. Without any idea of how to pronounce it, off we went to look at real estate.

I wish I could say we bought lakefront property and now it's worth millions--because it would be. But property taxes surely increased proportionally to the value of the property, and I'm certain I wouldn't own that property anymore. Instead, we bought a little house on two acres a few miles from the lake, and then we bought a boat. A few years later we bought a bigger boat: my dad's, which he towed up from Florida.

We had so many good times on that lake. When my three stepdaughters started spending every other weekend with us we did a lot of water skiing. The boat could pull several skiers, and we had a blast. I haven't water skied in many years, but I'll never forget the feeling of rising out of the water, crossing wake, etc. And intentionally dropping a ski, because I never mastered the technique of a deep-water start on one ski.

I'm laughing about one memory that just surfaced. The girls (all gorgeous teenagers) and I were lying down in the boat, invisible thanks to the high transoms, when some nuisance boater came by and said something nasty to Joe for whatever reason. Immediately the four of us stood up, middle fingers extended. LOL The guy took off like a shot.

Here's Lake Wallenpaupack just a few years ago, in March. I still stop by occasionally.




Tuesday, January 1, 2019

21 - 25 / Childhood Places

My parents lived in Greenwich Village when I was born, but moved to Queens when I was still very young. They chose an apartment in Woodside because it came with tennis courts. My parents met playing tennis, and loved the game. We lived on the third floor, and our apartment's windows faced the front and side of the 6-story building. It's possible the building was fairly new when we moved in. The lobby was rather grand, and the staircases and hallways were marble. I still remember the woodwork in the elevator, which my friends and I used most of the time.

The sidewalk in front of the building was our playground--the perfect surface to accommodate hopscotch or jump rope. Oh, those jump rope games! Running in . . . running out. Double Dutch. No phones in front of our faces. And we never sat.

For a long time the building had a vacant lot in back of it. We played games sometimes there too, and on occasion the adults would build a bonfire. The lot sat between our apartment building and the movie theater. That's where my friends and I could be found most Saturday afternoons. Back then we were offered double features, usually with a newsreel in between. Of course we ignored the newsreels. And of course we ate popcorn--probably made with real butter.

If you walked out the front entrance to our building, turned right at the corner, and walked past the building and then the vacant lot and the side of the movie theater, you'd come to another corner. If you turned right again, you'd be "down front." That's what we called the strip of store fronts that made up the block. The front of the movie theater was there, as well as a jewelry story, produce market, a bar, and our favorite teenage hangout, the Greeks. The Greeks was named something else entirely, but I can't remember what. We always called it the Greeks.  It was a soda fountain/luncheonette. When we weren't inside drinking Cokes or eating hamburgers, we congregated outside. You know those videos you've seen of teenagers from the 1950s, harmonizing on a street corner? That was us, except we weren't singing.

I went to five schools: PS 151 for Kindergarten through 4th grade, St. Joseph's Academy (a Catholic convent boarding school) for 5th and 6th grades, PS 10 for half of 7th grade, Lutheran school for the rest of 7th and 8th grades, and Bryant High school for the next four years. It was difficult to transition from the sheltered environment of the convent to rude and crude (or so it seemed to me) PS 10.  I did better at Lutheran school, although the thing I remember best about it was the disappointment of the teacher, who had counted on me to be the star of the big, multi-school spelling bee. I was disqualified early on for failing to spell ocean.


In the photo above, the vacant lot has been turned into a parking lot. And there's the back of the movie theater. It all looks so drab and rather barren, but of course that's not how it seemed at the time.


17 - 20/ Places I Could Have Gone

A recent widower whom I've known for years invited me to go to Mexico with him. He's a lovely man, but it wouldn't have worked. So I said no.

A recent widower whom I've known for decades invited me to go to Tuscany with him. He's a great guy, but it wouldn't have worked. So I said no.

A friend-who-was-more-than-a-friend wanted very much to take me to Germany and Scandinavia. He was attentive and generous (plus I have a thing for Norway), but it wasn't working. So I said no.

One of my best friends owns a house in England, and I have an open invitation. But at this point I don't have the energy and stamina to consider it. We continue our friendship on American soil, and the same is true for all the above.


Monday, December 31, 2018

3 - 16/ Places: Under the Christmas Tree

1952, age 9: Newly motherless and too young to fully appreciate the effort it must have taken my dad to have a tree and gifts that year, I sat around the tree with him and several neighbors and exclaimed, "Just what I always wanted" with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, which wasn't much.

1959, age 16:  It was Christmas Eve, and I was dressed up to go out. I turned out the living room lights and sat looking at the lighted tree with its shimmering tinsel and glass ornaments. It seemed so magical, so holy. I was filled with wonder and the delicious anticipation of the fun I was going to have with my friends.

1965, age 22: That September I'd gotten married, and the next day my parents moved to Florida. Joe and I drove down there to spend our first married Christmas with them. I was shocked to find they'd put up a table-top tree. It was hard to imagine Christmas without a full-size, live (but not for long) tree.

1966:  The next year we flew to Bermuda to spend Christmas with his mother. Her cook made a traditional English cake with a silver charm inside. It was supposed to bring good luck, but someone nearly choked on it. I don't remember a tree, but I think there must have been one.

1968:  We still lived in Manhattan, but this was our first Christmas in our little weekend house in the country. The house may have been small, but our tree was BIG. We drank Bloody Marys as we opened our presents Christmas morning, and then we went back to bed.

1977: We'd been in our old farmhouse two years, and our daughters were 4 and 2. Instead of putting up the tree a week or more in advance, we thought it would be fun to bring it into the house Christmas Eve after the girls were asleep and surprise them with it in the morning. I was used to being productive in the evening, but not at that level. Decorating the tree took forever, it seemed, and then all the presents had to be retrieved from their hiding places and arranged under the tree. The temperature outside went down to minus 28 F.; I don't think it's gotten that low since. Christmas morning, the girls looked mildly startled. With an emphasis on mild.

1978:  The most treasured present under the tree was our 2-month-old baby boy. His two "little mothers," ages 3 and 5, thought so too.

1986 (maybe):  At some point when the kids were all school-age, I started having Christmas parties for people who liked to sing. Of course we sang Christmas songs. We never tired of them. It was such a nice tradition. There was plenty for the non-singing spouses to eat, and the singers gathered round the piano. I even met one of my best friends that way, when she heard about the parties and asked a mutual friend to get her invited. Good times.

2000: My daughter Gillian was my partner in Christmas. She took such joy in it. We decorated the tree together, and she examined the presents underneath, trying to figure out what was in them. Every morning she or I put butter on the kitchen counter for that day's batch of cookies. My husband's dementia had made a lot of progress in five years, but "we are all together," Gillian said with love and gratitude.

And then we weren't.

2002: Christmas at Suzanne's house. Feeling so grateful for her and her brother, and for my granddaughter. It snowed hard that day, a blizzard.

2003:  Christmas Eve at the nursing home. Suzanne and Liz and I wore red, and I photographed a spectacular sunset on the way home. Everything else was different.

2005: Life goes on, and things change. My nuclear family wasn't nuclear anymore as my kids acquired significant others and their families. They were growing, and I was shrinking. I had a hard time with this at first.

2017: I was recovering from late November surgery but I had no shortage of Christmas spirit. I bought another Nordic looking pencil tree to add to the one I had, and I displayed my small collection of crystal stemware with electronic tea lights flickering inside. My grandsons and their mom and I painted a wooden tree and hot-glued antique buttons on it for ornaments. And I made two big lighted stars out of yardsticks--one for each of my kids.

2018: I haven't had a live tree since Jill was with us. Over the years since then I've put up fake trees of modest size--including a table-top tree on the piano. Because my little grandsons live nearby, I've made an effort to do at least some decorating for Christmas. But while I put lights on the porch as usual this year, and hung a wreath, somehow the trees never left the attic.

Friday, December 21, 2018

2/ Places: Hospitals.

I can't talk about hospitals without bitching: 

Sleep is when we heal, and yet the ICU lights (fluorescents yet, which I think are unhealthy anyway) are kept on all night and the patients are awakened often.

We need nutritious food to heal, but many (most?) hospitals haven't gotten that message yet. Starch and grease, the institutional standard, seems to be the rule.

Physicians' Assistants have invaded the E.R. and probably the rest of hospitals as well. A PA's education consists of a bachelor's degree in anything, followed by two years of PA training. I haven't been impressed with those I've had dealings with. I suspect they were hired for decorative purposes.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

1/ Places: My New Writing Spot

Here it is December 18, and I'm just starting November's posts. I'm writing on the Chromebook I bought for myself (yay, Cyber Monday!) to see if its little screen might be easier on my eyes than the two huge monitors I use with my desktop computer. I think it is--but the keyboard isn't easier to type on, that's for sure! I haven't made this many typing errors since I was in high school.

I'm sitting in in a comfortable chair in my living room, next to the fireplace I never use anymore. It still looks functional though, because of the stained glass fireplace screen my son and DIL gave me some years ago. It's illuminated by a light bulb behind it, and this gives the illusion of warmth. Christmas gifts cover half of the sofa under two of the windows. Underneath the coffee table (actually a fairly primitive antique bench) Pogo the cat sleeps curled up in a bed--the same bed he ignored when it was located in another part of the room. He's cozy, and so am I. I'll learn to type on this thing eventually.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

24-31/ Eight Scary Things


I was 14, and my friends and I were hanging out below street level in an apartment building (where none of us lived) when the cops showed up. “Cry!” Duke demanded of me in a whisper. It was good advice. Unrelated to this incident, he and several others in our group grew up to join the NYPD.
My two years with the nuns (see My Year With the Nuns) at ages 10 and 11 qualifies as a scary thing, at least for the first few weeks after I arrived. So unfamiliar. So lonely. And the presence of the nuns, even the kind ones, didn’t help. Those long black habits. The head coverings. Hands covered much of the time as well. The way they drifted silently around the convent, like wraiths.

A brand new driver, I was pretty careful except for one piece of colossally stupid arrogance. Most of our intersections in Queens had stop signs on two of the corners, but one close to where I lived did not. Duke (there he is again) was in the passenger seat one day when I went sailing through the intersection without even slowing down. At his alarmed objection, I explained, “If they’re not going to bother to put up a stop sign, I’m not going to bother to stop.”

At one time my husband owned a small chemical company in NJ. I helped out in the office a couple of days a week, leaving the girls (my son wasn’t born yet) with a woman who lived nearby. At the end of one day, on my way to pick up my daughters, I stopped at the supermarket. I was almost ready to leave when an explosion shook the entire store. The glass windows in front rippled in slow, giant waves. Beyond, a mushroom-shaped cloud marked a spot I knew well. “The chemical company finally blew up,” a customer said. Yes, it did.

I've lost my singing voice. This might not be a scary thing to most people, but I find it scary. And sad. Even in childhood, singing was something I loved and did well enough to be noticed for it. Well into adulthood, I was known for my singing voice more than anything else. I sang in public, and singing at the piano at home was my meditation, my cardio, my sanity saver. Just ask my three kids. But now, rather suddenly, my voice has become unreliable. I can't count on hitting a note perfectly like I used to, and there's a whole middle range where I can't guarantee anything sounding like a note will emerge at all. I don't know what happened. 

Just inside the door to the apartment where I grew up, we had a coat closet. When I was an adolescent, I hid inside the closet and jumped out at my stepmother when she came home. She was both frightened and furious, shaking and demanding that I never do that again because she could have a heart attack. Many years passed before I fully understood, but now I do.

When a pet disappears, it’s scary. Even if they’re gone for only a short time, it’s easy to “awfulize”—imagining them stolen, or shot, or hit by a car. I’ve had many pets, and I’ve experienced this fear many times. One was found with her leg caught in a steel trap. The person who found her was the man who set the trap, and we were fortunate that he returned her to us. We had other fortunate returns as well. And then there were two we never saw again. Not knowing is the worst.

“I keep thinking Gillian’s going to die,” I told my husband. Gillian was just days old at the time, a healthy newborn. He reassured me, but the fear persisted. Months later, driving home in one of our big Cadillacs, Jill in her infant car seat, the thought came into my head that a high-speed crash would save us both from the pain that would come later. I pushed it away, and told myself my crazy thoughts must be a postpartum depression thing. Twenty-five years later, the pain came.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

23/ Cat Attack

Helen’s comment reminded me of something scary from about 30 years ago. We had multiple pets at the time, including indoor cats and cats that lived in a large heated room in the barn. Houdini was a one-person cat, and that person was my daughter Gillian. They were devoted. He usually lived in the house (in her room), but for some reason he was with the barn cats while Jill was out of town performing with Regional Band. She asked me to bring him back to the house, and “Be sure to use a cat carrier.”

Well, smart Mommy didn’t think she needed a carrier. She knew how to handle cats; after all, she’d handled enough of them. I picked up Houdini, a very large B&W male, and carried him across the road. This went well until he spotted one of our dogs trotting toward us. Panicked, he tried desperately to jump out of my arms. I knew if I let go he’d take off like a shot, very possibly never to be seen again. I couldn’t give Jill that news, so I hung on. 

In desperation, Houdini ripped into my hands with his claws and teeth. The pain. The blood. My screams. But I hung on, running to the house. Suzanne had the door open for me, and I dropped Houdini and ran to the kitchen sink. My hands were swelling already, and the two of us tried hard to get my wedding ring off. I finally succeeded. Yes, cats’ mouths are as full of bacteria as they say. A couple of rounds of antibiotics saved my right index finger from bone infection. Someone said my hands looked like I’d caught them in a lawnmower. They felt that way too. But when Jill got home, her cat was waiting for her. And most of her mother.


Jill and Houdini

Friday, November 23, 2018

22/ The Phone Booth


Back when we lived in Manhattan and had a weekend house in Pennsylvania, I had not yet made friends with insects and spiders, and cell phones were no more than a gleam in some inventor’s eye. Because of the latter, when we were a couple of miles into our trip back to the city one Sunday evening and I needed to make a phone call, we pulled over by a phone booth.

Remember phone booths? The ones I’m familiar with had a folding door and glass (plastic?) walls. And an interior light. I entered the booth, closed the door, and the light came on automatically. I made my call, and something—I don’t know what—made me look up. Daddy Long Legs spiders (“Harvestmen,” technically not spiders—but I wasn’t thinking technically), covered the ceiling in a mass many spiders deep.


Thursday, November 8, 2018

21/ The Brainwashing of My Country

The scariest thing I can think of these days—and I think of it every day—is the loathsome individual who somehow got himself elected to the presidency of the United States. Equally frightening is the resulting state of this country. The midterm elections were held two days ago, and while I’m pleased at some of the outcome, he’s still there, doing and saying his horrible things. And his “base” (I’ve come to despise that word) is still cheering him on. 

When he first took office it was shocking. How could a president—the leader of the free world—be so infantile, so mean-spirited, so inarticulate? I’m afraid now it’s not shocking anymore. I fear this is what much of the population wants: daily entertainment from the White House. I wish everyone would watch this documentary. America is becoming brainwashed.

The Brainwashing of My Dad


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

20/ Insects and Me


I grew up in an apartment in Queens. The only insects I saw—and rarely—were big black beetles we called “clocks.” They appeared in the basement laundry area occasionally. We were all terrified of them. Oh, wait—I forgot about the multitude of mosquitoes that feasted on me every summer on Long Island.

When I was 15 or so I saw a giant moth in the hallway of our building. I now know it was a Cecropia. It frightened me, and I was so relieved when it flew out the window I opened. A little later my grandmother entered our apartment holding her hands together as though they held a treasure. She opened them to reveal the moth! I ran and hid behind a chair.

Moving to the country was an education for me, with a long transition to first acceptance and then appreciation of insects. This is why I say Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a book that changed my life.


26/ Places: Lake Wallenpaupack

I never watched "The Office" on TV, mostly because the jumpy camerawork was uncomfortable for me, But one of the B-level stations ...