Shadows

[Above the clouds as they cast shadows on the earth below. Source: Google search]

Like the wallpaper sticks to the wall

Like the seashore clings to the sea

Like you’ll never get rid of your shadow

You’ll never get rid of me

–Al Jolson & Billy Rose

Fast. Fast I ran, as fast as my little legs could carry me. I glanced over my shoulder. It was still behind me. I slowed and it slowed. It mimicked me when I jumped to the left and then to my right. I thought I would fool it so I turned around and began running. This time it was in front of me. I had discovered my shadow. I was young and there was much more of life to learn about. It was all ahead of me. Now, there’s still more to learn but time is not on my side.

Yes, I found my shadow and it’s still with me. It even got bigger as I grew to be an adult. I only once lost my shadow but a pretty girl sewed it back onto the bottom of my feet (but that episode belongs to another story.)

Like clouds, I’ve never taken shadows for granted. I do believe that most adults have forgotten the significance of this phenomenon. The sun (I’ll call it the shadow-maker) is sometimes annoying. One cups their hand to block out the sun on a beach while trying to have a simple conversation. A guy named Phil folds and repositions his cap while sitting in the afternoon glare in a seat off first or third base at Yankee Stadium. Alternatively, a young man and his girlfriend walking in a park want to speak of important matters. We all know this can only be done in the shade of an old Sycamore tree…or perhaps an apple tree blooming small white flowers.

But I digress.

I’m taking an on-line water color painting course. (Many of my friends are accomplished artists in that medium. They can skip a few paragraphs here. They can find something more important to do, like taking a few minutes to finish their whittling project or check the suet cage). So the subject of shadows came up. Someone wanted to know what color to make a tree on snow. I shot a photograph, shown below on a frozen pond. I looked and noticed the shadows are bluish…grading to gray. Yet that shadow that still follows me is more or less black.

[The Frozen Pond. My photo]

Shadows. I’ve spent over thirty years as a science teacher and never heard about many aspects of shadows. I won’t tell you about the umbra, penumbra and antumbra, fascinating as they are. I was quite surprised to find out that shadows have three dimensions. But wait. I look down at the ground in front of me and I see only length and width. That’s two dimensions. Where is the third dimension in the dark shape in front of me? It turns out that if you see your shadow when its foggy, you’re looking at the third dimension. The whole concept sounds like the basis of a science fiction story.

It’s 23.2 degrees outside right. It’s cold but I think I’ll put on my L.L Bean down jacket (probably on sale now since the new Spring/Summer line is out) and go out to any part of our front deck that doesn’t have a mountain of snow, and study my life-long friend…my shadow.

[Wonderment for the child. Source: Google search]

[Is she walking toward love…or away. Does she know she’s being followed? Source: Google search]

Winter

Old Nan: Oh my sweet summer child, what do you know about fear? Fear is for winter, when the snows fall one hundred feet deep. Fear is for the long night, when the sun hides for years and children are born and live and die, all in darkness. That is the time for fear, my little lord, when the white walkers move through the woods. Thousands of years ago there came a night that lasted a generation. Kings froze to death in their castles, same as the shepherds in their huts. And women smothered their babies rather than see them starve, and wept and felt the tears freeze on their cheeks. So is this the sort of story you like?

—Old Nan referring to the Adirondacks

—Game of Thrones [George R. R. Martin]

Coal For Christmas

[Watercolor sketch by Paul Egan. Date unknown.]

[Note to my readers: If you think you’ve read this blog before, don’t think you’re getting senile. It’s perhaps the fourth or fifth time I’ve posted it.  It’s my version of a pure Christmas Story. I’ve tweaked the story several times to try to make the narrative better, clearer and more truthful.  As the years pass, I hope these newer memories are adding reality and not just wishes. This is not a made-up story by me.  It really happened].  

It’s another year and another chance for me to share this holiday memory. Happy Holidays to you all!

I am a grandfather now, feeling every ache in my joints and every sadness of my seventy-third year.  The stories that my father told me about his father have taken on new meanings.  I’m the old one now.  I am the carrier of the family history.  When a recollection of a family event comes to mind, be it a birthday party, a funeral, a wedding or a birth, I get my journal and I write with haste, in case I might forget something or get a name wrong or a date incorrect. Or, forget the event entirely.

This is especially true when the snow falls deep and the Christmas tree decorations are brought down from wherever they live during the summer to brighten the dark and endless winter evenings. It is a time to recall and celebrate the memory of those who have passed on. It’s time to think again about my family and how they lived their lives so many decades ago.  It’s time for a Christmas story.

I was raised in the post-war years.  My parents were not saying anything original when they would tell me, or my brothers, that we had to be good, very good, or Santa would not leave us any brightly wrapped presents, red-ribboned and as big a box as a little boy could hold.  No, Santa would not leave such a wondrous thing.  But he wasn’t so vengeful to leave nothing in our stocking.  No, if we were bad little boys, as my parents often said, he would leave a lump of coal. You deserved nothing more.

My father, Paul Egan, grew up poor.  Not the kind of poor where he would walk barefoot through ten inches of snow to attend school or go from house to house asking for bread.  It was just the kind of poor that would keep his father only one step ahead of the rent collector.  His parents provided the best they could, but, by his own admission, he was raised in the poverty that was common in rural America in the 1920’s.  My grandfather and my grandmother should be telling this story.  Instead, it came to me from my own dad and it was usually told to his four sons around the time it came to bundle up and go out to find and cut a Christmas tree.  I heard this story more than once when it was cold and snowy in the 1950’s. When we had a house in Owego, N.Y. and we had plenty of space for a large tree in the living room.  And we had plenty of fist-sized chunks of coal in the cellar.  In the years when my father was a child, the winters were probably much colder and the snow so much deeper.  And the coal so much more dear.

It was northeastern Pennsylvania. It was coal country and my grandfather was Irish.  Two generations went down into the mines.  Down they would go, every day before dawn, only to resurface again long after the sun had set.  On his only day off, Sunday, he would sleep the sleep of bones that were weary beyond words.

Because of some misguided decision on his part, my grandfather was demoted from mine foreman to a more obscure job somewhere else at the pit.  Later in life, he fell on even harder times and became depressed about his inability to keep his family, two boys and two girls, comfortable and warm.  It all came crashing down, literally, when their simple farmhouse burned to the foundation.  After seeing his family safely out, the only item my grandfather could salvage was a Hoover.  My father could describe in minute detail how he stood next to his dad and watched him physically shrink, slump and then become quiet.  He never broke the silence after that and family legend has it that he died in a hospital while staring mutely at a wall.

But all this happened years after that special Christmas Eve that took place in my father’s boyhood.

It was cold. Frigid is more apt a term. The chill of the season found a way into a house using the smallest openings. There was never enough flannel.

It was in the early 1920’s.  The four children were asleep in a remote farmhouse my grandparents rented.  Sometime after midnight, my father woke up to a silence that was unusual and worrisome.  It was too quiet. It was too chilly.  There were no thoughts of Santa Claus in my father’s mind that night. The reality of their lives erased those kinds of dreams from his childhood hopes.  There was no fireplace for Santa to slide down.

In the corner of the small living room stood a stunted Christmas tree.  There were a few bulbs on the branches. My father never spoke about whether there was a string of bright lights, but my suspicions were that there were no bright red, green and white bulbs.

He pulled on a heavy shirt and pushed his cold, bare feet into an old pair of his father’s cold boots that were five sizes too large.  He then went down stairs to the kitchen where he knew his parents would be sitting up and keeping warm beside the coal stove.  But the room was empty and the coal fire was now merely embers. Not enough for a house.  The only light was from a single electric bulb, hanging from the ceiling on a thin chain.  My father noticed the steam of his breath each time he exhaled.  He called out.

“Mom? Dad?”

He heard nothing.  Shuffling over to the door, he cracked it open to a numbing flow of frigid air.  In the fresh snow there were two sets of footprints leading down the steps and then behind the house.  He draped a heavier coat over his shoulders and began to follow the prints.  They led across a small pasture and through a gate.  From there the trail went up a low hill and faded from his sight.  He followed the trail.  Looking down at the footprints he noticed that they were slowly being covered by the wind driving the snow into the impressions.  A child’s fear swept over him.  Were the young kids being abandoned?  It was a common occurrence in the pre-Depression years of rural America.

In his young and innocent mind, he prayed that the hard times hadn’t become that hard.  But deep within, he knew of his parents unconditional love and concern.  He knew he and his brother and sisters were cherished.

He caught his fears before they had a chance to surface.  His parents were on a midnight walk, that’s all.

At the top of the hill, he saw a faint light from a lantern coming from a hole near the side of the next slope.  He slowed his pace and went to the edge of the pit not knowing what he would see.

He knew this pit from summertime games, but it was a place to be avoided in the winter.  The walls were steep and it would be easy to slip in the snow and fall the ten or more feet to an icy bottom.  The children never went into the field with the pit after the autumn leaves fell.

He dropped to his knees and peered over the edge.

At the bottom of the hole were his parents, picking fist-sized lumps of coal from a seam that was exposed on the inside of the pit.  At their feet was a tin bucket that was nearly full with chunks of black rock.  They looked up, quite surprised and saw my father standing a few feet above them.  They looked back at each other with a sadness that was heart-breaking.  The embarrassment was evident on their faces. They certainly didn’t want to be caught doing this in front of one of the kids, not on Christmas Eve.  After glancing at each other once, they looked up at my dad.

“Boy,” my grandfather said, “The stove is empty.  Come on down and help us get a few more lumps, will ya?”

My father was helped down the ladder and after only a few minutes his hands were black from the coal.  The bucket was filled.  They helped each other out of the pit and walked back to the house together.  My father and his father carried the load between them. My grandmother carried the third pail.

In a very short time the coal stove was warming up again.  My father sat up with his parents until they finished their coffee and the house had warmed a few degrees.  Dad kissed his mother and father and went upstairs to bed.  He fell asleep (he always would say) with a smile on his face.

The Christmas morning that followed a few hours later was in a warm living room.  My dad never spoke anything to his siblings about the previous night.

Twenty some years after the midnight trip to the coal-pit, my parents and my two older brothers moved to Owego, New York.  I was born two years later, in 1947.

When I was a young boy, my father took me aside one Christmas Eve.  I had not been a very good boy that day, and I was afraid.  Neither of my parents, however, had mentioned the threat that would be used to punish a child if you were naughty and not nice.  That dreaded lump of coal in the stocking that was tacked to the mantle over the little-used fireplace.  My fears left me.  Dad’s voice was warm and full of understanding.

“Pat,” he said, “if anyone tells you that you will get a lump of coal in your stocking if you’re not a good boy. Tell them: “I hope so.”

“Then wish them a very Merry Christmas.”

The Gift Of The Troll

[Source: google search.]

I tried to be as quiet as a cat as I approached the Barnum Brook Bridge. I put my foot on the first plank and sure enough, my stealth was inadequate. Out from under the bridge, so fast I missed it because I had blinked, emerged the Troll, blocking my way.

“Who is crossing my bridge?” He attempted a snarl and a roar. Instead, only a squeak. He rubbed his eyes. Apparently I had interrupted his nap. “Oh, it’s you again,” he said as his large eyes took focus.

“Hey, Troll,” I said, with some sadness.

“Get ready for the Three Riddles.”

“Do we really have to do…?”

“You know the deal. It’s in your book of Norse Mythology.”

I sat down on the leafy trail. “Okay, let me have it.”

First riddle: “What has hands, but can’t clap?”

“You’re kidding…a clock.”

Second riddle: “You see me once in June, twice in November, but not at all in May, What am I?”

“Hmm. I paused for a moment before it hit me. The letter “e”.”

“Not bad,” the troll replied.

“Not hard,” I retorted.

“Okay Einstein, this is hardest one for today.”

Third riddle: “What has a bed but never sleeps, has a mouth but never talks, and can run but never walks?”

My mind went blank. I had no idea. He had me stumped. I’ll never cross this bridge today. I’ll never get to that quiet spot at the end of trail…the place where I think through my problems. Then I looked at the Barnum Brook below me. That’s the answer!

“A river,” I said a bit too loudly.

The Troll bowed his head in defeat.

“That’s okay, Troll, there”ll be other chances.”

I walked past him and sat on the log bench at the far end of the bridge. He remained seated on the bridge keeping his six feet distance.

“Oh, by the way,” I said as I fished through the pocket of my L.L Bean cargo pants. I pulled out a copy of something I saw in The New York Times yesterday.

“Ooo My My, the Times. A bit upscale for an Adirondack guy, wouldn’t you say?”

I ignored the comment and showed him this:

[Source: NY Times.]

He took the photo and studied. “Oh, poor Floogie,” he said. I always knew it would come to this”

“Explain,” I said gently.

“Where was this taken?” he asked.

“Under the Fremont Bridge in Seattle.”

“I coulda guessed. Made it all the way to the West Coast. He was a friend of mine, Floogie was. He was really into the Troll thing. Did everything the Norse Mythology book says that Trolls do. One day he was emerging from his place under the bridge when a truck loaded with cement accedently drop its load and the cement poured through the pot holes on the bridge. Poor Floogie.”

“Sorry about your friend, Troll, but that’s not why I’m here. He looked up at me waiting for further comment.

“The self-isolation thing is…is really getting me down. I feel like I’m in a hole and can’t get out. It wants to be spring, but we’re stuck in January weather. No flowers. Too chilly to even take a walk. I started my needle point project and made two mistakes on my first cross stitch. I feel like I’ll never be good at anything. My appetite barely exists. I have trouble sleeping. What am I going to do, Troll?”

“First of all, think about how lucky you are to be safe and secure up here in the North Country. The Adirondacks are a special place. Every day is a microcosm of every season. Yes, all the seasons are condensed into one day. I don’t do this very often, but let me show you something.” He reached into his satchel and pulled out a Pan flute. “Stand up, and close your eyes.”

He began to play a soft melody. I thought of spring, of the flowers waiting to rise up and I thought of the leaves of the Poplar waiting it’s time to burst forth. Then, the tune changed slightly. Now I felt the warm breezes from a large lake. I felt the hot sand beneath my feet, so hot I had to run into my dad’s arms and he carried me to the shore and gently placed my into the chilly water of Raquette Lake. I smelled Balsam everywhere. Then his melody changed again and I saw the scarlet and yellow of autumn along the trail. The sky was intensely blue. My brother, Chris was waiting for me a short distance away. Mount Marcy was just over his shoulder. It was to be our fifth time we were climb it. Troll played on. The tune now made me think of knee-deep snow. It was six degrees below zero. The crisp air bit at my nostrils. Finally, the tune came back to the beginning. I opened my eyes and it was early spring. Life was waiting beneath every fallen leaf. All I had to do was give it a little more time to absorb the sun’s energy and crocus would energy.

I just had to wait. I’d get through this. I am stronger than I gave myself credit for. My heart was much lighter now.

“Thanks, Troll. Thanks for giving a vision to just wait.” He grinned up at me. I turned to go when I felt the load in my shoulder bag. It was a round loaf of grainy brown bread I was intending to eat when I reached my private spot.

But a favor demands a return.

“Troll, catch!” I tossed him the loaf. He caught it deftly. He looked at the bread and then up at me.

“What I did was for you alone. No reward necessary.”

“Look. I baked it for my marriage anniversary and for Mother’s Day but my wife isn’t keen on bread.”

He looked out over Barnum Pond. “I had a wife once.” I saw he was trying to wipe away a big Troll tear. “And I had a mother once too. A second tear rolled down his furry face. “Trolls aren’t much different than you humans. That’s why I prevented you from crawling under a bridge and going into a hole, like me.

I turned and began to walk on when I heard:

“Happy Birthday, Patrick.”

“Thanks,” I yelled back with a wave of my right hand.

Now I wonder how he knew about that, I thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My 500th Blog !

[The Wanderer Over The Sea of Fog. Casper David Friedrich. One of my favorite paintings. Source : Google search.]

Dear Followers,

Open your oldest and best cognac and celebrate with me.  This is my 500th blog post! Finding topics and putting them into (what I hope were) clever words was not an easy thing to do. And to do it 500 times is, for me, a true milestone.

I would like to use this opportunity to look back at some of the good times we’ve had together…places I’ve shared, people I’ve introduced to you and topics I have chosen to explore. I wrote some as fiction, some in the second-person and I experimented with different styles of writing.

I have a small pebble on my shelf in my office. It looks like a meteorite. Tiny craters and black as though it spent time in a furnace. This is a token I took from the floor of Death Valley. The little pebble had been baked in the 120 F of many Death Valley summers. I can’t let you feel this stone, but I can share with you how I sat on the salt flats of Bad Water, where I found it. I can share it through a blog post.

Some general statistics:

-My posts have been read in 60 countries. That’s 30.8% of the world’s recognized countries according to Google.

-My first blog was “A New Blogger on Board” [Not something written by me but a generic welcome to WordPress.] That was published on July 15, 2012. That’s roughly 7 1/2 years of blogs.

-I posted something every month since the above date. I’ve duplicated a few, i.e Coal for Christmas which I put out every year in December.

-The most number of clicks (likes) were under the category of Home Page/Archives. Apparently this is people just looking my stuff over. I racked up 10,111 ‘clicks’ on that.

-The most clicks, by far, were for A Short History of Chains and Chain Making. 1,551 people read it.

-The least number of clicks were for The Moth. Only 8 people seemed to like it.

My personal favorite is This Old House. In it I spoke of how heartbroken I was  when I handed the keys to 420 Front Street, Owego, NY to the new owner. It was the only home I knew.

[420 Front Street. Photo is mine.]

I have taken you on two cross country road trips in our R-Pod. I’ve followed my grandson, Elias as he grew up. We shared numerous trips to Europe and I’ve shared two trans-Atlantic crossings on the Queen Mary 2. You’ve met our friends, Tim and Jo Ovenden who live in North Dorset, England. They have graciously accommodated us on several trips, providing us with a place to stay.

[Jo, Anna, Thomas and Tim Ovenden. Photo is mine.]

I have shamelessly used Fluffy in several posts in a feeble effort to peddle my books.

[Fluffy. Photo is mind.]

My sincere hope is that you have found my posts thought-provoking, funny, sad, introspective and at the very least, interesting.

I posted my 400th blog from a rented house in Joshua Tree, California almost two years ago.

I hope I get to a 600th with all of you.

Thanks for reading.

Patrick

 

I’m Not Sleepy

[Goya’s The Sleep of Reason. Photo credit: Goodle search.]

[NOTE: The following post is rated for sad.]

When I was a young boy, about a hundred years ago, my mother would sit on the edge of my little bed and stroke my brown hair. It was well after my bedtime. I should have been sleeping the sleep of the innocent.

“What do you think you’re going to miss, honey?” she would ask, her voice soft and concerned. “Try to sleep, please.”

“I can’t,” was all I could say.

“Close your eyes so that the sandman can find you and help you go to dreamland.”

“I can’t,” I said again. I wasn’t been bratty or difficult. I just couldn’t stop staring at the ceiling. Nothing much has changed in all these years. I fear the setting of the sun and oncoming darkness. I plead to my wife to not turn out her reading light until I fall asleep.

Sometimes it works.

And then in the morning, I wake from the usual nightmares with my heart pounding and my breath coming in gasps. (At least I don’t wake her up screaming and flailing about the bed like I did twenty years ago.

My dreams are full of frustration and anxiety. Typically, I’m caught in the school where I used to teach, frantic because I can’t find my classroom or my list of students. Sometimes I’m lost in a horrific version of a Manhattan that doesn’t exist on any map. I’m walking endless streets and wandering through a warren of a broken landscape. I’m trying to find my way home. I’m lost. I’m terrified and lonely…and then the dawn comes and I’m back at Rainbow Lake.

[Photo credit: Google search]

Out of breath and fearing what the next night will be like.

Bob Dylan wrote: “My dreams are made of iron and steel.”

My dreams are exercises in frustration and…loneliness. I feel somehow blessed if I can remember nothing of my nighttime. That is a rare morning.

I read that dreams occur during REM sleep. That’s not a good thing because it robs you of the deep sleep you need for a true rest. I never greet the dawn like they do in TV commercials…stretching and ready to take on the day.

I think my condition is inherited from my father. He struggled with insomnia for as long as I can remember.

My legacy to my children? I hope they have a love of books and reading and traveling…looking forward to drifting off with a good novel on their chest.

I don’t want to meet my daughter or my son on the midnight lanes I frequent.

I’d rather they find time to let the sandman into the bedroom.

[Nightscape. Photo source: Google search.]

 

It’s Not Easy

Elisa Pumpkins[Elias has to choose. It’s very important what to consider.]

[DEDICATED TO ELIAS MUIR GOLDSTEIN, MY GRANDSON]

It’s not an easy life being a child. No, the easy part of life is being a grown-up.  They can go to bed when they want, they can watch any TV show on the cable…like The Bachelor in Paradise or Hoarders, take a bath when they choose and even get to drive a car.

All is not perfect in child land at certain times of the year.

Like October. This is when the difficult choices begin to manifest themselves. The major issue at this time of the year happens to be pumpkins. Every year a child (except those that are home schooled and believe that Halloween is a satanic practice) has to choose the perfect pumpkin to display on the front steps of his or her house. This is not an easy matter. There are endless considerations to be made. To make a very long story somewhat shorter, I will use bullet points to illustrate my…points.

The usual first step for the parents is to take the child to a Pumpkin Farm. At such places, many choices come into play. Shall the child have a cup of cider? A candy apple? Or, perhaps a doughnut?

But then, reality begins. Choosing the absolutely perfect pumpkin. And this is the most difficult process of all. A child has to consider a number of factors in selecting the correct pumpkin. if I remember correctly from my childhood, this is what the youngster needs to consider:

  • How does the pumpkin heft? How do two pumpkins feel when held in each hand?  Is there a proper equilibrium?
  • How does the weight (or mass) compare with others with the same volume? This can be determined, in large part by the heft, but it is not based on solid scientific empirical data.
  • What is the carvability factor? How easy would the knife cut through the orange skin?
  • The size. Will the size support a proper face carving?
  • Is there enough surface area to support a carved face? Should it be scary or funny?
  • The specific gravity. How does the pumpkin relate to it’s volume in a bucket of water?
  • Does it have enough internal space (post-carving) to support a stub of a old dinner candle?
  • What is the Curb Appeal? Can this be seen easily from the street? Will it scare away trick or treaters or will it signal that goodies are to be had in the house that sits behind this special pumpkin?
  • What is the life span? How long can the child keep the pumpkin on the front porch before it becomes a moldy mass of yellow pulp that needs to be shoveled from the steps? Can it last into December?

So many things to consider when you’re a child. But the one thing that will not be a worry is that you will have a loving Mommy and Daddy that will tuck you into bed and tell you that the spooks and goblins are not real and that the candy will have to wait.

Then they can get back to Hoarders.

 

A Cemetery With a View

[The grave of Sa Sa Na Loft. Evergreen Cemetery, Owego, NY.

Photo credit is my own.]

I’m back in my home town of Owego, NY for a reason.  I have no one to visit.  Nothing to purchase (I did buy two books at River Row Book Store), but I was there on an early September afternoon for a sad occasion.  I was there to attend a memorial service for a long time friend of mine, Teri Ware Bramlett.  It was held at the Hickories Park under a glorious sky.  The Susquehanna River flowed slowly behind my chair. It was the color of an olive.

But this post is not about that.  Perhaps I’ll post my memories of Teri at a later date.  I had errands to attend to.  The top of my list was going to TOPS and buying flowers for my family’s grave at St. Patrick’s Cemetery.  Then I had to center myself.  Find the place where I can take in the whole of my early life.  And there is no other place than the “Indian Girl’s Monument” on Cemetery Hill (Evergreen Cemetery).  From there I can scan the valley below.  I can oversee my hometown like a king rules from the highest castle tower.

Certain places are obvious, other less so.  The trees are still full and green block some of what I wanted to see.

I sit on the bench with my wife.  I can see St. Patrick’s Church…where I was baptized and where most of my family’s funerals were held.  I can’t make out my old home, too many trees.  I can barely see the backyard of my childhood girlfriend’s house.  I see the Susquehanna, entering the view from the far left and fading off toward Pennsylvania to the right. I can see the Court House.  There’s Lake Street where I hung out with my friends in the 50’s and 60’s.  All of us overwhelmed by the power of hormones we never knew about until we bacame adults.

It’s all below me, but so far out of reach.  My youth was spent on these streets.  Memories began to flood my mind.

It’s time to go.

I realize I’m no longer a physical presence in this village, but I can never fully find myself free from the chains of the past.

There Must be a Story Here

[From my Instagram post. A Year or two ago.]

For those of my followers who track my movements or care where I am at any given time, here’s some help: I’m not wandering the forests of the North Country at this time.  I’m in New York City for the usual doctors appointments, Mariam’s meetings and visits with friends.  I also get a chance to check in with my son, Brian.  At this very moment I am avoiding the 91 degrees on the street by hiding out in Room 712 of the Marriott Courtyard…just across the street from Macy’s.

I’ve spent the last few hours pondering shoes.

A few years ago, I found myself strolling east on 35th Street in Manhattan, across the street from this hotel.  I noticed two pairs of men’s shoes (rather spiffy, I must say) neatly placed near a subway entrance.  I took a photo and put it out on Instagram. [See the above]

Yesterday Mariam and I were heading to Macy’s for some real shopping.  Most, if not all the shops in the area where we live would fit inside Macy’s city-block sized store.  Something caught my eye.  A flash of pink.  I looked down and there was a single sneaker, pink and small.  The owner must have been a little girl (my assumption) of about four years of age.  I tried to piece together a scenario the would result in how a lone toddler’s sneaker would be by a subway entrance on a very busy corner.  The parent was either carrying the child and the shoe fell off or the sneaker fell off a foot while being pushed in a stroller.

Whatever.  The shoe still went missing.

But, the pink shoe made me sad.  Across the street was the other subway entrance where I photographed the men’s shoes.

The street of lost shoes.

I hoped the parent of the toddler was not a needy person.  A child’s shoe is important.  Missing a shoe can be a financial burden.

What was the story about the man who left two perfectly fine shoes on the street?  Homeless?  Destitute?  Or well-off and was too tired of carrying around four extra shoes.

Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so observant.  I could easily have mistaken the pink sneaker for a candy wrapper.  But I had to stop, think it over and take a picture.

I had to share my feelings of lost & found objects.  There’s a story behind everything that is left behind…on a trail in the woods or on a hot steamy pavement of a ridiculously large city like New York.

Life is hard enough.  It’s unbearable when you don’t have a proper shoe to carry you over the rough patches, the puddles, the snow drifts and the broken glass.

[The Pink Shoe]

 

The Holiday Card

[What follows is pure fiction. It is a short story that I hope you will enjoy. It’s not funny, but it’s what I wanted to write. Please don’t read anything into this post.]

It was during a brief April thaw, when a chance breeze blew the snow and a few minutes of sunlight melted the white crystals.  That was the moment I saw it.  I picked it up and slapped it against my thigh.  I could read my name on the envelope. I could read the return address in the upper left corner.

It was too late.  Things would never be the same now…never.

It’s a fairly well-known fact that men do not bond easily with each other.  We have trouble sharing.  True friends are hard to find and keep when you pass your fifties.  Friendships that last into ones seventies are indeed rare.  The thread that holds these long relationships are usually rooted in childhood.  If you’re lucky, one or two childhood buddies will grow old with you.  Such was the case of the one-time friend whose holiday card I held in my right hand.

We met in elementary school.  Played in each others back yards.  Entered into adolescence together.  In high school we traded secrets about girls…those mysterious beings that we thought constantly about.  We talked about first kisses and puzzled over the best way to find and unlock those strange bra hooks.

We had our first legal beers together.  We played high school sports together.  We went on camping trips together.

We were the best of friends.  As the years passed, other playmates drifted into different social circles.  But we stayed close.  We celebrated our jobs, listened to the same music and showered affection on each others children.

My friend and I went through divorces, sat in empty bars, looked at younger women and talked to each other and into our pints of beer.

When our retirements approached, things began to change.  He called less.  I emailed less.  Our visits to each others homes became more and more infrequent.

We were growing apart, something that seemed to me to be the opposite of what life would be like after retirement.  The phone calls went unanswered and the postcards stopped arriving.

In the late fall, I became quite annoyed by being ignored.  I unfriended him on Facebook.  I deleted his email address.  I stopped making meaningless phone calls.

I decided to put the issue to a test.  I sent him a holiday card.  If he sent one back, then I knew something of our friendship would survive.  If I got nothing, I knew that for some reason, he did not want to be a part of my life.

So, I waited.

A few holiday cards arrived but never did much to fill our mailbox.  Facebook and email greetings were slowly out pacing the USPS.

On Christmas Eve, I picked up the mail.  I placed the few cards on our bed.  There was nothing from him.  I knew then that our life-long friendship had come to a slow and sad end.  It would be a lie to say that I did not weep a little over a friendship that had lasted for over sixty years.  Men do have emotions.

* * *

It was in early March that I found myself browsing the internet.  I came to a Facebook page devoted to people in our class who had passed away.

I felt the blood drain from my face and I went numb when I read that my friend had died of a massive coronary a week earlier.

Then came the April thaw.  I had pulled the envelope from the snow and placed it on the top of our mica lamp to dry out.  When I felt it time, I sliced it open.  It was a holiday card from my friend…apologizing for not returning my calls.  I knew then that the card arrived before Christmas, but as I struggled to get out of my car, trying to avoid the unplowed snow, the card had slipped from the rest of the mail.  That afternoon, the snow-covered card was concealed…until April.

“Let’s meet up in the summer and take a hike,” he had written.

So, now I feel I know the real essence of loneliness.  I have no true male friends up here in the North Country.  My wife has always been and still is my best friend…but I don’t have a buddy.  A guy to shoot a game of pool with at the local Irish Pub, a friend to bounce writing ideas off,  a pal to sit on our deck (or his) and sip a cold beer.  We wouldn’t even have to say anything.  After all, its common knowledge that men don’t bond easily.  We have trouble sharing our personal thoughts orally, but we know each other’s minds.  Or so I thought.

But what men can do is sit, side by side, just sharing a beer and assuming we know what the other is thinking.

There is a large blank space in my life now.  My wife has to be two people.  The woman I married over twenty-five years ago and a mate that I have been close to for six decades.  It’s going to be a big job for her, but she’s more than up to the task.  The presence of my wife makes these things more tolerable but not less painful.

Me?  I can stare at our campfire and remember details of the adventures with my friend.  I can watch the ripples on the lake and remember my friend.  I can look to the far range of the High Peaks and remember the trails, snow-covered, rain-soaked and sweltering in the August heat…that I hiked with my friend.

Or, on a cold night like this, when the temperature outside is in single digits, our fire-place is crackling and warming our house and my wife is reading quietly beside me on her Kindle, I can sit mutely staring at the flames, throw on another log, watch the flames leap even higher.  I am thinking of the holiday card.  As the flames rise to the top of the wood stove, the loneliness for this old guy gets deeper.

[Photo is mine]