My 600th Blog: Lat. 24 N./Long. 81 W.

[Ernest Hemingway’s typewriter. Located at the Hemingway House Museum, Key West, Florida. Photo is mine.]

Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be.

~~Ernest Hemingway

I am sitting in the air-conditioned Monroe Country Public Library (Key West Branch). It’s quiet, cool and has a WiFi that takes no prisoners. I chose this place to celebrate the posting of my 600th blog. (Confused? See Title.)

So I posted my first real blog on July 18, 2012. It was an excerpt from my first published novel Standing Stone (2012). I was totally unsure as to whether I had the energy and ability to write real content. In truth, only a year before I had very little idea what a “blog” was. I’m still learning. If my math is correct, that’s close to eleven years ago. I was sixty-four years old. When I’m sixty-four, I probably thought at the time, where will I be in eleven years from now? It wouldn’t be telling lies if I said that in my most dazzling dreams, I’d still be pounding on the keys of my laptop (actually, today I’m using my iPad) and trying hard to amuse and inform and entertain. Time will tell if I’ve succeeded.

What follows is a short list of the various places and topics I’ve written about in the years after 2012. They are scatter-shot…in no particular order. Just a quick look back:

I’ve told you stories of Adirondack Trolls, my frustration with snow, ice and sub-zero weather, thermometers that never run a battery down. You’ve heard of the joys and hardships of living in Big Bad New York City. I’ve reposted a true story of my father’s youth, “Coal for Christmas” every December (does that throw my count of posts off??).

I shared my joys of visiting my daughter, Erin and her husband and my only grandchild, Elias from Orting, WA. You’ve read numerous complaints about my bad back and the health issues I’ve had (including my diagnosis of leukemia).

I wrote of my love for the desert and our wandering in Death Valley and the Mojave. Numerous tales were written from England, Ireland, Portugal and Paris. I told you how I celebrated several birthdays in recent year (i.e., when I turned sixty-eight, Mariam and I walked sixty-eight steps along the nave of Wells Cathedral and paused to kiss).

Sadly, I wrote too many posts of sad farewells of my family…and my very best friend of over sixty years, Greg Stella who passed in July, 2022. Rereading those posts still make me cry.

I’ve concocted outrageously silly stories of the demise of or moral failure of our favorite cartoon characters like Popeye, Dennis the Menace and Mr. Peanut.

I’ve shared ghost stories and posted ghost photographs (leaving you to be the judge of the real and the fanciful).

I wrote numerous recollections of my childhood sweetheart, my family home in Owego and my time-warping walks down Front Street in my aforementioned home town.

I described how, on a beautiful autumn afternoon (or was it in the spring?) of helping a cemetery caretaker dig a grave for a woman I never met.

There are many posts that told you of my love of the poetry of Bob Dylan. I even wrote a pre-death eulogy for him.

I’ve tried to celebrate my love for my wife, my children and my grandson. I told you how sad I got in Bruges, Belgium, Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and along a footpath in England.

I have played with different writing styles like noir and meta fiction. I’ve written short short stories.

And I did it all for you, my readers. I never wrote anything cruel, hateful or boastful. I was honest with you. I respect those of you who took a few moments out of your busy lives to read my efforts. Scrolling this page, I see that there are too many “I’s” and not enough “you”. I apologize.

I will close this rambling post with a photo and a microscopic story:

[The famous Key West Kapok Tree. Photo is mine. Taken by Mariam Voutsis.]

Legends about about the Kapok (native to Indonesia) Tree. One belief: The Devil entrapped a unwary carpenter inside the tree because he had the temerity to carve out rooms in the ginormous trunk. Another: The Tree is said to grow into the heavens (it is known to grow up to ten feet a year).

The Tree has many uses. It is soft so artists use the wood for carvings. It is used for dugout canoes and…caskets.

Good-bye for now. The beach beckons.

Be kind and never let anyone to be lonely or forgotten or be invisible.

To Elias on His 10th Birthday

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung

And may you stay Forever Young

~~Bob Dylan Forever Young

Dear Elias,

You have been the very best grandson anyone could ask for. I remember when your mother called me with the news that she was expecting a child. It seems like yesterday. In the years that have passed we all are ten years older. Emmy and I were in our 60’s. Oh, where do the years go?

I came to Orting to visit you when you were an infant. Many people were in your mom and dad’s house to watch the Super Bowl. You fell asleep on my tummy…you slept until half-time. Then someone else took you so I could go to the bathroom! I would kiss your tiny head and I nearly cried when my lips touched your warm head. You were always warm.

[Elias has a treat.]

You grew up so fast, Elias, so fast I could hardly keep up with you when I visited you a few years later. I remember how you would always wait by the big window and wave at the man who drove the garbage truck down your street. He always waved back. Someday you may forget doing that, but the driver, I suspect, will never forget the little boy in the window.

Oh, where did the years go?

After you took your first steps, I was able to take walks with you, mommy and Emmy. My legs hurt so I had to try very hard to keep up. Little boys can walk fast.

[Three generations walking in the rain.]

Your father always seem to be taking pictures of you. I’ll bet you a nickel that his Elias Photo File is very full. Every year, in late October, your mom and dad would take you to pick out some pumpkins at a nearby farm. Every year your mom would put you up against a very big ruler. It was a perfect way to watch you grow.

I remember watching you take a very sudsy bath. Your mom would sit on the floor, put her feet up on the tub and play the ukulele and sing Wild Horses to you. When I think of you, sometimes it makes me sad to think how far away we live from each other.

[Elias at a playground in Orting, WA.]

You hiked in the mountains of the Cascades. Much of the time you rode in a backpack baby carrier on the shoulders of your mom or dad. You played in the sand at Cannon Beach, Oregon every holiday trip in many Decembers.

Oh, where do the years go.

[Elias at work on a toy truck.]

Your grandma and grandpa shared many special moments with you. And it makes us sad that we haven’t shared ALL of them. When you came to our house last summer you really enjoyed the Wild Center in Tupper Lake. You even crawled on the big spider web of ropes. I just sent you a microscope late last year. I hope you will get to know the tiny things we often don’t see with our own eyes.

[A new stereo microscope.]

So, I need to close this blog now. At the beginning I used a quote from my favorite poet and singer, Bob Dylan. Your mom and dad will tell you how powerful his words are.

Your are going to be a teenager in a few years. As you move up the grades in school you will learn many things. But remember this: You can grow up to be anything you want. A poet. A painter. A writer. A scientist. A doctor. A lawyer. An explorer. Maybe even a President. But whatever you do in life…make sure it’s your true passion.

But don’t grow up too fast. You are a superhero to your grandparents. Treat others with love and kindness and patience.

Stay true to yourself and please stay forever young.

To Chris: A Long Overdue Eulogy

[Taku Towers. Juneau Icefield, Alaska. Unknown Photographer.]

My older brother, Chris, would make slight cuts in an apple from our backyard in Owego, NY. This would allow the apple to shatter into bits of apple-shrapnel. No Surface-to-Surface missile would hit with such velocity, because he would mount the apple on the sharpened end of a sturdy stick. I would know. I was often the target during one of the Egan boys infamous “Apple Fights”.

But that’s another story for another time.

I can’t begin to enumerate the ways that Chris has influenced me. The photo above was one that either Chris or I could have taken. He was responsible for getting me a position on the Juneau Icefield Research Program in 1964. During those summer months on the glaciers Chris and I (and a few others) would camp in a remote region of the Gilkey Glacier, where we were confronted by an Alaskan Brown Bear. It was not a comfortable feeling to see a bear with a chain-link fence between us.

At the end of the season, several of us made a two-day hike off the Taku (or was it the adjacent Norris Glacier?). After a night bivouacing on a rocky ridge, I woke up inside a water-soaked sleeping bag. We had yet another to camp on the outwash plain at the terminus of the glacier. My bag was useless. So I slept with Chris inside his mummy bag. That’s what brothers do. I feel he saved my life that night.

I returned the favor when he and I got ‘turned around’ in the Adirondack forest. I found a way to locate our camp.

We spent our younger years family camping in the Adirondacks. Most often it was Golden Beach or Eighth Lake. Later, Chris found a booklet with the title: Trails to Marcy. The late ’60’s and into the early ’70’s were spent hiking in the High Peaks near Lake Placid. His back began to go bad. We took a few years off. Then, in 1980 or thereabouts, he discovered the St. Regis Wilderness Canoe Area. I joined him on many trips to Long Pond. He in the stern of his Guide Boat and I at the other end would silently row our way along the shoreline, exploring the bays and adjacent ponds.

1994 was our last trip to Long Pond. I would watch him sitting on his foam pad and staring into the campfire. He would live another year. Chris passed away on May 31, 1995 (…my birthday).

By my calculations, today would have been his 84th birthday. So, here’s to you, brother…

[L-R Chris, Denny, Danial and myself. Photo is mine. Date is unclear.]

[The first of four photos of me and my brothers. We recreated the poses three more times. Photo is mine]

[Lean-to camping in the early 1960’s. L-R My father, Greg Stella, Peter Gillette, Chris. Photo is mine.]

[Plaque at Heart Lake, Adirondac Loj. Photo is mine.]

I could write 500 pages and more about the adventures we had, but this one page will have to do for now.

This the best place to end this post. The Plaque inscription says it all.

I miss all my family. But Chris shared a dry sleeping bag with his little brother once. Happy Birthday, Chris.

My 75th New Year

[Source: Google search]

Some of you will be reading this post late on Sunday afternoon…after several Alka-Seltzer tablets. Some will be reading this tonight, before the Ball Drops in Times Square. Some of you will see who the blog is from and move on without a glance. “Oh, him again.” Some will see my name and say: “Patrick Egan, oooh he’s good. Another gem of unparalleled literary brillance.”

I’m thinking back on many December 31 nights. My brothers and I would have Dick Clark’s New Years Rocking Eve. My father, perhaps in his fifties or sixties would go to bed around 9:30 pm. Now, here I am at 75 and waiting for 11:30 or so to watch Anderson Cooper in the fog and rain. Hopefully Lady Ga Ga will perform. Maybe Bob Dylan will pop a few confetti-filled balloons after getting the thousands of people in Times Square all excited and elated by singing Desolation Row.

Yes. It’s finally over. 2022 was a, let’s say, interesting year. My best friend passed away and we moved to Manhattan. That’s a lot to deal with.

[Photo is mine.]

I love metaphors (and similes), even when I sometimes can’t tell the difference. I know the rule: Like vs Is, but I’m easily confused about a lot of things. So, I offer this simple metaphor to you, my wonderful readers:

This is a once-a-year event and a chance to reinvent yourself. But you have a rare gift in your lap right now. You have been given a crisp new map, neatly folded and sharply creased. When you open the map and spread it out on a table you will be alarmed for a second. This map has so many trails, paths and byways you’re confused. That’s the point. You can choose any path now. It’s all going to be new. It’s your choice how 2023 will go. But it takes a first step. There may be sadness in the months to come. Perhaps unlimited joy. You may cry but when the tears ebb, laugh your beautiful heart out.

[Photo is mine. Taken somewhere in England.]

Remember to close the gate behind you and keep your eye on the distant and beautiful hills.

The best of luck and Happy New Year!

Coal For Christmas

[My regular readers will recognize this story. I republish it every holiday season with a tweak here and there. This story is true and I am passing it down to new readers and my two children and my grandson. I hope you enjoy it. Have a great and meaningful holiday.]

[Winter scene by Paul Egan. Watercolor]

I am a grandfather now, feeling every ache and sadness of my seventy-fifth year.  The stories that my father told me about his father have taken on new meanings.  I’m the old one now, the last of the Owego Egan family.  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, get a name wrong or a date incorrect.  Or, forget the event entirely. This is especially true when the snow falls and the Christmas tree decorations are brought down from wherever my parents lived  during any particular winter.  There is a certain melancholy mood that comes with the wintertime holidays.  The sentiment of A Christmas Carol comes to mind.  It is a time to listen to the winter wind blow, put a log on the fire, pour a little more wine and to recall and celebrate the memory of those who have passed on.

It’s time for a Christmas story.  It’s time to think again about your family (and mine) and how they lived their lives so many decades ago. 

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 present, red-ribboned and as big a box as a 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, he would leave a lump of coal…if you deserved nothing more.

My father 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.  Dad would often make a joke about poor he was as a child.

“I was so poor that I would get roller skates for Christmas but I would have to wait until the next year to get the key,” he would say with a sly smile.  It was a joke of course…wasn’t it?

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, find and cut a Christmas tree.  I heard this story more than once when it was cold and snowy in the 1950’s.  In the years when my father was a child, the winters were probably much colder and the snow ever deeper.

It was northeastern Pennsylvania. It was coal country and my grandfather was Irish.  Two generations went down into the mines.  Down into the shaft 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, Paul and Jack and two girls, Jane and Nelda 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 rarely broke the silence after that and 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 in the early 1920’s.  The four children were asleep in a remote farmhouse my grandparents rented.  Sometime after mid-night, my father woke up to a silence that was unusual and worrisome.  It was too quiet.  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.

He pulled on a heavy shirt and pushed his cold feet into cold shoes that were five sizes too large, and 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 nearly out. My father managed to find three lumps of fist size coal hidden or forgotten behind the bin. 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 outside air.  In the 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 tracks.  A pale moon helped light the way.  The tracks 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 not an uncommon 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 and loved.

He caught his fears before they had a chance to surface.  His parents were on a midnight walk, that’s all. A nearly full moon shining off the snow gave the landscape a light that helped him keep on the trail of the four footprints.

In his anxiety my father had forgotten it was Christmas Eve.

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 looked down.

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 eight feet to an icy bottom.  The children never went into that field after the hay was cut and the autumn leaves had fallen.

He dropped to his knees and peered over the edge.

At the bottom of the small hole were his parents, picking various-sized lumps of coal from a seam that was exposed on the hillside.  They had nearly filled a bucket with the 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.  They certainly didn’t want to be caught doing this in front of one of the kids, not on Christmas Eve.  They stared at each other and then 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 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 bucket between them.

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 was 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.

Twenty some years after that midnight trip to the coal pit, my family 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.

My fear left me.  Father’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.”

[Winter scene by Paul Egan. Watercolor.]

A Song. An Image. A Tear

“Sometimes,” said Pooh, “the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

~~ Winnie the Pooh

I am a fan of talent shows. I don’t mean the kind we used to see on the Miss America Contest from Atlantic City. Bert Parks standing off to the side and singing “There She Is, Miss America” would make the whole event worthwhile to me. No, I’m talking about the County Fairs, School Events…perhaps even an open-mike night at a small Irish Pub. The talent is usually young people…a new dance routine learned at Maggie’s Dancing Studio down on Main Street. I’m envious of those who can stand up before a bleacher full of strangers (and some family). The thirteen year old girl on the school stage singing “Am I Blue?” or a nine year old singing “Both Sides Now“. Whatever is lacking in true talent is made up for in pure guts. I could never do it.

But I digress.

Every so often I spend a few minutes surfing Facebook for clips of Steve Martin’s first time on The Tonight Show, or an ‘official’ music video of Bob Dylan’s latest release. This is my time to catch up and upgrade my cultural literacy.

Several weeks ago I happened upon a collection of postings from America’s Got Talent. It was here that I first heard a pre-pubescent yodeler from Iowa or a darkly frightful young woman illusionist from Indonesia. But I paused on a segment featuring a ten year old autistic boy (who is also blind!). His foster father held his hand and did the introduction while the boy rocked back and forth, holding his cane. His name is Christopher Duffley. The clip is eight years old but I had never seen it before. The dad said the boy would be singing “I Want To See You“. I googled the song and found a tune by that name written and preformed by Boz Scaggs. I’m not totally certain it’s the same song…but it’s a moot point. The point is that I was very moved by what I was watching. The boy’s first faltering notes. His unease apparent.

(I have a vested interested in this topic. My daughter, Erin, teaches a couple of autistic boys in Orting, WA. And my grandson is approximately the same age as the boy on stage.)

But he gave up the cane, grabbed the mike and sang. The live music behind him on stage adjusted the pace and tempo to fit the child’s tiny voice.

But such bravery.

I felt a warm tear rolling down my cheek.

And, as fathers sometimes do, I saw my own son (now thirty-five years old) as that boy. I tried to climb into the father’s head. I couldn’t.

I could not do much of anything but watch, watch until the next tear fell.

[Note: For further information on autism, go to the link below:]

https://nationalautismassociation.org/

Local Boy Does Good

“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”

–Anon. [Source: Pintrest]

[View of River Row from the Court Street Bridge. Owego, NY.]

It was mid-October. The forecast called for clouds and drizzle. The chilly air and the leaves along the sidewalks brought back memories of Halloweens past. I never saw so many pumpkins. I usually had to travel to Iron Kettle Farm to see that many. Some trees foliage was past peak. A good many still clung to their brilliant reds and yellows and scarlets, holding on to them like a protective mother with children. In the distance, up, up among the trees of West Beecher Hill, the monument to Sa Sa Na Loft was visible as a white column. It acted like a sentinel, keeping watch over the Village below.

But I digress.

I came back to Owego feeling like a conquering hero. I’ve had some modest success as a blogger. My fan base is predominantly Owegoans (I suspect). My reason for coming home was to gather some photographs for a future writing project and tend to my family’s gravesite. At St. Patrick’s Cemetery, I wiped the red granite clean and left three roses. I also left three roses at the grave of my life-long friend, Greg Stella, who passed away in early June.

I also was hoping to connect with some high school friends. Unfortunately, that failed to happen. Perhaps I didn’t get my publicity team in place early enough. It all turned out for the best, in a way. I got more than enough photos and I got a chance to smell the same scent in the chilled air that I recall as a youth.

Memories began to well up in my mind. I stood on the Court Street Bridge to take the picture shown above. Just behind me and to my left, down near the river where Route 17 (I-86) now exists, there was the old Lackawanna train station. I had my first kiss there (and it wasn’t from my mother). I paddled canoes in the waters below me. I lived Owego. I loved Owego.

The house on Front Street where I grew up still stands. I noticed as I stood on what was once my sidewalk, that the old place could use a coat of stain on the shingles.

[420 Front Street. Once the Egan Home.

+ + +

I have a fair number of pastimes to keep me occupied in my advancing years.

~~I’m making efforts to teach myself how to watercolor.

~~I’m trying to learn two chords on my Ukulele.

~~I write blogs. I write books.

~~I am a volunteer photographer for Find-A-Grave.com so I am drawn to cemeteries.

So, off I went to take care of business. I needed to place an ad in the Courier, but the office was closed. I left a message on their machine. I tried the same with The Pennysaver. I’m waiting for a call back. I couldn’t wait to sit down to a sumptuous dinner at The Cellar Restaurant but after Yelping it, found it was closed that night. I decided to go “graving”, i.e. photograph requested memorials. There were dozens of requests at Evergreen Cemetery. I couldn’t locate a single grave. The same thing happened at St. Patrick’s and the Steele Cemetery on the Montrose Turnpike. No success.

[View of Village of Owego from the Sa Sa Na Loft Monument in Evergreen Cemetery.]

In the end, I wasn’t much of a conquering hero. I was able to accomplish a few of the tasks I had intended for my visit. But it wasn’t a failed trip at all. I saw an important map at the Museum and I now have a bundle of photographs on file for future use. Maybe a blog? Maybe a book?

I got a chance to stand where I once stood those many years ago. I saw the same late 19th Century buildings that line the streets downtown. I stood on a grassy patch of lawn along Front Street near St. Patrick’s School (not a school anymore) and gazed out at the Susquehanna River. A memory: One winter day in the 1950’s, a build-up of ice had been broken apart upriver in Binghamton. The result was like something seen in the Arctic Ocean. A nun took us out of class and carefully crossed Front St. Our class stood and watched and listened to the churning ice floes. It was an awesome sight for a young boy.

It’s possible to go home again if you keep your special memories close to your heart.

[Susquehanna River from Front St.]
[Sunset. Owego, NY]

[Note: All photos are mine.]

The Lost Mausoleum

“Reader beware as you pass by.

As you are now so once was I.

As I am now so you will be.

Therefore, prepare to follow me.”

–Tombstone Inscription [Source: Pintrest]

[Antique map of Owego, NY. [Source: Exhibit at the Tioga County Historical Society]

This is a true story. It does not involve ghosts but it has potential. It takes place in Owego, NY, my hometown. Yes, it has the elements of a tale that would chill your bones on these chilly nights when the pumpkins line the window sills and the porch steps creak with the frost. The fake spider webs hang from second floor windows and tree branches. The cold wind stirs the red, brown and yellow leaves into dark corners. Candles burn in some windows. Lights are on in the basements of a few dark mansions that line Front Street. The time of year has come to turn up one’s collar, wrap the scarf once more around your neck and pull your hat over your ears.

It’s Halloween and I am trying to find a mausoleum.

When I was a young teenager I often visited the Owego Museum, aka The Tioga County Historical Society. On the wall a large very old map (1853) of Owego hung for years. I used to stand and gaze at the beautiful map, memorizing the names on the plots all over the Village. In the margins are architectural sketches of notable buildings. And here is the problem:

I distinctly remember focusing on the corner of Main and McMaster Streets. There was a rectangle drawn there with the word MAUSOLEUM written in the small box.

On October 20, I was in Owego tending to some business (we were staying at the Parkview Hotel, notably haunted). I dropped in at the Museum to photo the map. I was in for a shock. It wasn’t where I remember it. It wasn’t there. I asked the Director and he led me to an office on the lower floor. There was the map. I slipped out my iPhone and began photographing details of the map. Something was wrong. The mausoleum wasn’t shown. What could have happened? I’m 99.99% sure it was the same map I saw as a boy.

[A detail of the 1853 Owego map]

All that is labelled on the corner of Main and McMaster is: Methodist Ch. There is no church on that corner. Here is a photo of the corner:

[The corner of Main and McMaster Streets]

The mystery is now in place. Was there ever a tomb at this corner? Did I recall the map correctly? If the structure did indeed exist, who was interred there? Where are the hallowed remains now?

I can say this with the utmost confidence, I did see the word MAUSOLEUM on a map at the Owego Museum. I also find it very unlikely that there are two very similar maps. Since so many plots of land has the name Pumpelly on them, it’s likely that the tomb held the remains of a member of that family.

So there it is. Not a very complicated story but certainly a puzzling one.

Putting any potential ghosts aside, I will share something personal with you. It involves the map in question. At the other end of Front Street is the house where I grew up. The address is 420 Front Street.

Interestingly, the map was printed before our house was built.

[The Hollenback Estate]

The view before you is Front Street and part of John Street. This section of Front was long known as “Broken Arm Curve”. It may still have that moniker even though the sharp angle has been modified. As a child, hardly a Saturday night would pass without an accident. (Now there are traffic lights and plenty of warnings of the curve.) Notice the tree icons that appear on several properties. See the large house close to the center of the photo? That was the Hollenback House. Apparently, Hollenback, a successful businessman, had something of a Gentleman’s Farm. Look closely at the angle of Front where it makes a right turn a heads towards the Hickories Park. There is a single tree icon. That is where my house is located. I believe it was built by Hollenback as a wedding present to his daughter. My father bought the house in 1945. After he passed in 2004 we sold 420 Front Street to a young family. That was the Egan house for sixty years.

Now there are only memories of my time playing in the fields that filled the grounds from #420 to the river. There are still live apple trees from Hollenback’s orchards in those yards.

So, while not really a ghost story, this narrative elicits my love of local history…and the very interesting fact concerning a missing crypt.

[All photos are mine. I am grateful for the assistance given to me by Scott MacDonald, Executive Director of the museum and for allowing me to photograph parts of the old Owego map.]

ADDENDUM

Several hours ago (it’s Sunday night) I received a Facebook message from John P. Ricklefs. Attached to his comment was a photo of THE MAP. I am very grateful and glad that the map I saw as a child did indeed exist. Look at the upper left corner of the rectangle. You will see the word Vault. I was not mistaken. But the existence of the vault itself remains a mystery of sorts.

[The map showing the vault. Photo: Courtesy of John P. Ricklefs. Used with permission]

Farewell Marcel

[Volumn #1]

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.

–Marcel Proust

As I strolled through the Parisian gardens of Luxembourg I paused and watched the people absorbing the sun’s warmth which was peeking, like a cat burglar, through the sweet gate in the sky made possible by the slowly drifting clouds that often looked dark and menacing at times and light, dazzling and adamantine at others. I opened a package of Madelines I was never without and dipped one in a small cup of tea I had purchased from a portly gentleman with a bushy mustache and a pocket that sagged with the spare francs he had earned that day. The scent of the tea on the little cookie entered into my every senses. I began to think of my youth, the girls I loved who had by now become stately women. I touched my beard, newly trimmed, and could feel the grayness of my hair. I was old. What happened to all those Lost Years, the years of my older youth, my early middle age and now my late middle age? I had yet to taste of the fruits of old age with its wrinkles, gray hair and painful legs. I had yet failed in my attempts to rediscover the Lost Time of my life. My memories were fading and I must learn ways to regain the imagery and sensations of the questionable choices I had made in the heat of my youth when my blood ran hot in my veins and laughter came easy. But along with the cheers and smiles I am beginning to recall how hard and fast my heart breaks. I have loved but my love was too dear for the women I most desired.

I brought the Madeline to my nose again. I drew in an olfactory sensation that brought back my most elusive memories. I closed my eyes and somewhere, behind my eyes and between my ears were the smells of burning leaves along Front Street of Owego in the state of New York, the town where my childhood was played out like a Shakespearian play, sometimes a tragedy sometimes a comedy. The leaves gave way to the sweet fragrance of a newly mown lawn along Main Street. The old river town has changed over the years, I am told, into a boutique village of cafes and antique shops selling the latest of the old town’s ephemera. One can sit in the sun and watch the slowly drifting Susquehanna River as it winds its way to the Chesapeake Bay. Up on Cemetery Hill, the moss grows over the lettering of the graves of young men and women I played with in sandy baseball fields and snowy hills that seem to exist only to provide gravity to an eight-year-old boy on a sled. How many languid afternoons has seen me at The Fair Grounds, eating sloppy cheesesteak sandwiches and watching the horses race the oval track. On the back row of seats in the grandstand is where I may have tasted my first Madeline.

I shall set a goal for myself. Some people are driven by their need for achieving certain goals. Driven to do such picaresque actions these goals are sometimes achievable and sometimes not. Some people have the ability to set recording devices in order to never miss an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians or the Hoarders. Some set themselves on arduous journeys to summit Everest or Denali or the Matterhorn. Others will bike their way across Iowa. Many jump out of airplanes (on purpose) to feel the rush of the wind as they free fall a thousand feet. I set my goal several years ago (I’m not saying when) to read what is arguably the longest novel ever written (not counting the Game of Thrones books). I was going to read Proust’s magnum opus: A La Recherche du Temps Perdu or otherwise referred to in English as In Search of Lost Time. It will be a daunting task. The book (depending on the edition) runs from 3,000 to 4,000 pages. My eyes must look at and understand 1,267,069 words. The books are six in number. I must search for and find the longest sentence ever written. That sentence clocks in at 847 words.

I am proud and somewhat amazed that I have only fifty pages left to complete this gargantuan task. At times the book can be like sucking fudge through a straw. The exquisite power of the language, the depth of the writing, the scope of the descriptions, the insights into love, death, grief, loneliness, lust, desire and dreams of men and women. I truly believe that if one calls him or herself a lover of books, then reading Proust is a must do action.

I have read many books in my life (so far) but none of them can stand up under the blazing light of Proust. If you like challenges…read these books. You’ll never see another book, your life and your dreams and memories the same way again…ever.

[Proust had little need for paragraph breaks, commas and pictures.]

[All photos are mine.]

Out Of The Woods

Goodbye’s too good a word, babe

So I’ll just say “Fare thee well”

–Bob Dylan “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”

[Our front yard on July 10, 2022. Photo is mine.]

Look close. It’s hard to see. If you’re reading this post on a laptop, you’re out of luck. On a mobile device you can use your fingers to enlarge the photo. See the sign in the background? The one that reads: Tir Na Nog. It refers to a very old Irish legend. Tir Na Nog is (was) the Land of Eternal Youth. If you lived there, you would never grow old. If you left that place, and touched the ground in the ‘outside’ world…you could never return. And you would grow old and eventually die. This was the name of our camp in the Adirondacks. The whole spell worked for a time, and then it didn’t. I grew old.

The sign in the foreground speaks for itself.

A small bit of backstory here.

I have been coming to these mountains since I was five years old. Seventy years of family camping, canoeing, hiking, climbing and building sand castles became part of my DNA. As a teenager I first had the feeling that living in these glorious hills was a dream to be wished. Time passes. Hiking partners, several dear friends and a brother or two…fellows who shared a cramped lean-to, built campfires, swam and sweated together began to move on (a sweet euphemism for death), leaving me alone without the motivation to climb just one more summit or paddle to just one more lake.

Did I mention that I have a deep fear of being alone? Loneliness most often brings me to tears.

A hiatus set in for several years. Then I met the woman who would be my wife. Even though she was born and raised in Queens, she took to camping like a bird takes to the clouds. She loved it. She often said that the Adirondacks were “soul satisfying”. So we bought a house in the woods where deer and bears roam, by a lake with a dozen loons, under skies that rang out with thunder and the rain fell by the pailful. We moved from our apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Rainbow Lake in November, 2011. We decorated with gusto, bought a wood stove, hung Adirondack posters, bought several kayaks and a new pair of hiking boots. We were happy…until we weren’t.

[Our house is nearly hidden by the trees. Photo is mine.]

Those of you who have followed me on WordPress have read my many posts highlighting my many complaints about the harsh weather, the length of winter and the incessant presence of mosquitoes, gnats and black flies. A winter or two ago we had a week of frigid arctic air. The high temperature for that week never rose above -9° F. But make no mistake. I have also celebrated the quiet snowfalls, the early summer wildflowers and the jaw-dropping autumn colors.

So, I’m turning another page in the book of my life. Pending any financial issues, we have found a buyer. Boxes are already filled and labelled: BOOKS FROM PAT’S OFFICE. TO NYC. Eleven years of memories are going with us…but just as many are staying…for the new owners and for a few friends.

Not an hour ago I said a tearful farewell to my daughter, Erin, her husband, Bob and to my precious grandson. Elias got to see where grandpa has spent the last decade. I’m so thankful for that. The next time he visits, I’ll be taking him to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.

I will be trading the tall pines that surround our house with skyscrapers of glass and steel. Some of my friends don’t care for urban life but I thrive on the buzz, the convenience and the lack of isolation. As I wrote a few lines ago, the wilderness (the Adirondacks have lost the real sense of wilderness experience to the masses of hikers seeking this very isolation…ironic, but true), breeds loneliness in my soul. Where I once found solace and quiet, I now find sadness. The ghosts of my brothers and close friends lurk around alder thickets and shadowy forests. I can not escape them.

[Manhattan skyline. Photo is mine.]
[Our front yard. Photo is mine.]

But the Adirondacks haven’t seen the last of me. I will surely be back to take care of the items still resting at the bottom of my bucket list. I’ll return on a glacially cold day in a future January and ski the slope on Whiteface Mountain where the Men’s Downhill was held in 1932 and again in 1980. Then I intend to learn the intricate moves of curling and join a pick-up team.

Or maybe I won’t.

I already have a plan. Once we’re settled in an apartment, I’m going to order Chinese take-out. Or perhaps I’ll take a walk in Central Park to experience nature.

I will have the freedom to choose.