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 Great Suet Cage Conflict of Rainbow Lake

[Source: Johns Hopkins.edu]

After an hour of lying on my sofa I felt it was time to get up and stretch my chronically sore back. I was lost in a copy of The Principles of Leadership and Management. It was a interesting and informative book. I’ll tell you how it ends when I finish it, sometime in the next few months.

As I was deciding which shoulder needed a rubbing of CBD lotion, I glanced out of the picture window to concentrate on our green suet cage. I noticed a small white object at the bottom the feeder. There were two explanations:

Either a small bit of suet remained or it was the body of a dead albino finch. Since the ‘door’ was latched from the outside, I decided it was the remains of some suet. A locked-in albino finch presented a whole new mystery and I failed to find the energy to play Agatha Christie at the moment.

Suet cages and I have a history. I put one up and it was gone the next day! Gone. I know that squirrels love suet, but to figure out how to open one and/or drag the entire object away made me angry. I decided to fight back.

Study the photo below:

Do you notice the small curvy latches that are supposed to ‘lock’ the cage door? A field mouse with a case of bad arthritis could open those latches. I came to the conclusion that some other, stronger and squirrel-proof device was called for.

My wife suggested using a twist-tie. A twist-tie, I thought, could easily be chewed by a large woodpecker. No, I thought, that won’t do.

So I went to the hardware store and bought several ‘S’ hooks. Now these are harder than they look, so I tried to alter the shape with my fingers. I immediately cut a bit of my forefinger and thumb off.

[Source: Google Search]

Mariam helped me with the Band-Aid. I needed something stronger so I used a pair of pliers (actually two). Things slipped and I cut myself again. After several attempts, I had the ‘S‘ holding the door secure.

Some lessons I learned: use a hand tool, use a twist tie if needed, keep your wife and first-aid kit nearby and never try this at home.

Now I have to change the suet again because the Downy Woodpeccker has a large appetite. He or she must have finished off the last bit of suet and let it drop through the cage holds to the pile of rotting leaves below.

But, I’ll be prepared next time.

ITSY BITSY MACHINES

The mega international company, IBM, was born in 1911. It was first called Computing-Tabulation-Record Co. Someone, most likely Thomas Watson, after some corporate maneuvers, changed the name to IBM.

My father was hired at the flagship company in Endicott, NY in 1936. He always told his sons that if he took the offer of employee stock options back in the day, our family would have been worth millions by the 1990’s.

The joke was on us.

His kids used to joke with dad.

“Where do you work, dad?” “IBM”, he’d answer.

“You mean ‘Itsy Bitsy Machines.’

Here is a very brief history of how objects that were so big got to be so small (and then big again).

The first attempt to store information was done on an ‘IBM’ card:

[SOURCE: Google Search.]

Information storage then went to the great invention, the Transistor:

[Typical Transistor. Source: Google Search]

Today, computers are now ‘Main Frame’, like a lot of little units working together.

[Typical Main Frames: Source: Google Search.]

I wouldn’t be typing on my laptop, and in 1969 we never would have landed on the moon if big, bulky electronics hadn’t gotten so small (and this is just the beginning.

Split Personalities

[Source: Instagram Search.]

Don’t worry, this is not going to be a symposium on Multiple Personalities or a detailed peer-reviewed paper on Schizophrenia.

Maybe it will.

Many of you know that after I retired, I chose several ways to keep my sanity and be assured that boredom didn’t become an aspect of my life. I tried Literacy Volunteers and teaching the incarcerated. Both were quite satisfying but getting myself to a library or prison in the middle of a typical North Country winter was a challenge you don’t want to even contemplate.

I tried guitar lessons, watercolor, banjo and recently purchased a fine concert ukulele complete with a one-hundred song book that uses only 3 chords: CF-and G. None of this matters, of course. I comprehend nothing at all about music. So, it’s merely a way to hang up cool looking instruments and talk about them.

My seven-year-old grandson, Elias can even play Wild Horses, in his own sweet way.

I always had a desire to write so I began by blogging. I have no theme or special topic so I write whatever interests me. The topics are serious, funny, satiric but usually profound in some small way.

I tend to be nostalgic in my choice of subjects as I grow older. So many memories to recall. Recently, I posted my five-hundredth blog. It’s hard work to keep coming up with original and thoughtful ideas.

It’s the same with writing (a large leap for a blogger.) I always felt the need to be a writer. (I ended up spending over thirty years as a science teacher.) I’m no Stephen King but I have my own style. Y/A horror and the supernatural seems to be the genre I’ve fallen into, for now.

All this sets up a serious problem. For the better part of a day, I’m a twelve-year-old boy. The rest of the time, I’m Boris Karloff.

So, who am I really? I try to amuse and I try to frighten with only a few hours to be the real me. Sometimes, the wires get switched

Being a clown at times conflicts with creating profound sadness.

I don a mask and moments later I cover my face with tragedy.

My parents would have been better off naming me JANUS.

[Source: Instagram Search]

A Young Boy’s Walk

[Source: Google Search.]

My first eight years of formal education was at St. Patrick’s School in Owego, NY. Many former students of many Catholic schools will complain about horrid nuns with rulers and black straps. I had no such issues with the Sisters of Mercy who ran our school. Most knew our parents personally. I can’t blame the good Sisters for the lapses in my education (I don’t know the difference between a gerund and a participle). And it’s ultimate irony that someone who had virtually no science classes ended up being a teacher…a science teacher!

But I digress.

My forth grade teacher, Sister M., liked to take walks. Owego was ideal for school children to walk. The streets are mostly set on a grid sistem. Out the school, keep making lefts when you come to a corner and before you can say Susquehanna, you’re back at the school.

[Source: Google Search.]

Sister M.loved the autumn and there’s nothing like that season in Owego. The sidewalks fill with leaves and all is right with the world. She had the patience of a saint, so on the most perfect days of fall, we would go, as a class, on our ‘science’ walk. East on Main Street and a right on Ross. We’re at the corner of Ross and Front, ready to make the right back to school. I can glimpse my house. I wondered what my mother was doing. Which room she was cleaning or which fall flower she was picking. Our class did this walk, every year, with the particular nun who taught us. The ‘science’ part took place when we got back to school. In the back of the building was an unused room…our ‘lab’. There, using a hot plate and an old used pan, we would choose our favorite leaf picked up on the walk, and  each pupil would carefully dip their leaf into the melted paraffin. The nun stood close by always thinking about the possible and the much dreaded phone call:

“What?! My daughter got scolded with hot, molten wax? It’s true. It’s true that you nuns torture our kids.”

On our forth grade walk, something odd happened to me. At the end of a two-block leaf walk, I had changed. I always enjoyed finding a colorful maple or oak, but on that ideal day, a day with a deep blue sky, the smell of leaves, the hint of crispness in the air and Halloween a week or two away…I saw the true colors shining through. The sky became a deeper blue and the thousands of leaves took on a brilliance I had never seen before. (This same experience happened years later when I was a freshman in high school. I recall lying on the grass in our backyard and staring at a budding spring flower. I never saw a flower the same since. My senses had made a quantum leap into a higher level of insight).

I looked up at Sister M. She had a slight smile on her nearly hidden face. I looked around at my classmates. Did they experience what had felt that moment? I believe for them each moment came at a different time. I had my moment. On their way to adulthood, they all would have their moment. I glanced again and my friends, this time i noticed a young petit girl with dark hair cut in a pixie style.

I began to notice many different things that day. It was a walk I will never forget.

NOTE: All the leaves are still green here in the North Country. But, seasons change fast and so here is my autumn blog.]

Christopher Robin Held in Custody For Alleged Trophy Kill

SPECIAL NEWS ALERT

[PICTURES AT 11:00.]

[The alleged perp poses with his trophy kill. Robin is on the left.]

The way I see it through my news-weary eyes is that Robin made the mistake of posting his kill on Facebook. A friend recognized him and using GPS coordinates pinpointed the exact location as somewhere in the region of Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia. The glacier in the background has been photoshopped in to make it look like the Himalayas. Another attempt at deception.

So, here I stand somewhere in the Hundred Acre Wood. Robin looking like a desperate man…and a depressed one at that. While the constables milled about, I approached the sad figure.

“You were always so kind and protective, Chris. Why this?”

“It was all for nothing, Mr…”

“You can call me Krebs.”

“Mr. Krebs, it was all a fantasy. How long can a paradise like the Wood last. Listen.”

I heard the roar of a dozen chainsaws in the distance. I knew what he meant. Moments earlier I’d seen a panel truck drive by, nearly getting stuck in the mud. On the side of the truck it read:

YOU PLANT ‘EM–WE CHOP ‘EM

YOU PLANT ‘EM AGAIN–WE CHOP ‘EM AGAIN!

IT’S CALLED RECYCLING!!!

I Lowered my head. Something caught my eye. Then I saw them. They were penned into a small space with little room to turn around. As our eyes met, I could name them all: Roo, Eeyore, Kanga,  Rabitt, Tigger, Piglet, Gopher, Lumpy and of course, Winnie (the Pooh Bear.)

“What’ll happen to them, Mr. Krebs?”

I knew but I held my tongue. One by one they would find a “home’ in a small circus, a fair, a poor farm or a down and out petting zoo that you often see in the parking lot of your local Waitrose Supermarket.

“Whatcha got, Matt?”

I turned to face Libby. We were the only two reporters who thought it was worth the trip.

Me? I’m just a washed-up news hack who gets a story where I can. Right now I have a regular column about Nature that runs in the National Inquirer…when they find the room. The last piece I wrote ran four months ago. Title: A Day in the Life of the Queen’s Corgis.

Libby? Now she get around. A very versatile journalist who snagged a gig when she got on the staff of Girls n’ Guns. Her last piece was Thirty Ways to Beautify Your AG-043.

She smashed out the butt of her cheroot on the fresh flat stump.

“Well, not much to do here. Wanna go anywhere?”

“Sweetheart, you’re in the middle of Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. Ain’t nothing open around yet. But I have a huge hollow log where I’ve been self-isolating. Care to join me?”

“Why not? We’re both in the same business, ain’t we?”

I had a pocket full of baby carrots. I went over to the pen and gave one to each of Robin’s friends. I shook hands with Christopher.

“Good luck, mate. You won’t get much time. Next thing you know, you’ll be back in these parts tending saplings.”

I heard the chainsaws…closer this time.

A tear welled in my eye. “I hope I meet you again…and your friends,”

“Krebs. I’m as near as the nearest shelf of good books.”

[The Hundred Acre Wood.]

[All images are from Google Search]

 

 

The Mermaid

[Source: Google search.]

I shall always remember how the peacocks’ tails shimmered when the moon rose amongst the tall trees, and on the shady bank the emerging mermaids gleamed fresh and silvery amongst the rocks…

–Hermann Hesse The Journey To The East

Once upon a time, I traveled to the Seven Seas…to take a swim in all the waters of the earth. It was in the sixth sea that I chanced to meet a mermaid. Few men get to meet a real mermaid…and few men get to walk away from the mystical, magical and forbidden aura that these fantastical creatures and the spell they can weave.

“Come, swim out to where the sea is truly blue…as blue as blue can be,” I said.

“I can’t swim that well,” She said. “I’m afraid of how deep one can sink.”

“I’ll show you new lands,” I promised.

“I’m in a new land,” She said.

So we lived on an island. I took her to places she only had dreamed of. We had a son who rose from the waves and grew to be a pure and a strong soul.

Then, one day, she swam to where I dangled my feet in the cool water.

“I have to go away,” she said. “I need to see the sunset one more time.”

“Will you ever come back to me?”

“No,” she said. “Did you forget what happens to a mortal man when he falls in love with a mermaid?”

I had forgotten.

She swam away. I never saw her again. She met her last sunset.

[Google Search.]

 

{Nancy Dunn Egan}

{November 22, 1953–May 11, 2020} 

{Good night, Nance}

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Troll Of Barnum Brook Bridge

[The only known photo of the Barnum Brook Bridge Troll. Photo source: Google search.]

I stood in my kitchen staring at my Costco weather monitor. Mariam was busy looking for a container of low-salt broth. For twenty-two minutes I glared at the humidity reading. It was our eighteenth day of self-isolation. Except for a small incident involving two garbage bins, I hadn’t left the house. I was hoping something would happen with the humidity that would excite me, but it stayed on the Very Dry mode. I turned away in anguish and went downstairs to use our stationary bike. I plugged in my iTunes, put on my earphones and listened to Elvis Costello for ten minutes. The left peddle began to wobble. Not wanting to let it loosen too much I decided that ten minutes was more than enough.

Back upstairs in our living room, I stood at the picture window and waited thirty-three minutes for the Blue Jay to land on my suet basket. Nothing.

Mariam came to the door and said:

You need to get out. Go for a walk.”

As I layered up, my thoughts drifted to Coney Island. The sand, the surf, the hot dogs and the bikinis. One can still dream. I’m not dead yet, I thought.

I drove over to the Paul Smiths College’s Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) and went to the start my favorite short walk, the Barnum Brook Trail. I reminded myself to stay at least six feet away from anyone I met, but the parking lot was empty. I was on my own.

Part of the trail is a boardwalk with several bridges. I crossed the first bridge in fine spirits, my head was clearing. I was almost in a good mood, considering. I slowed as I approached the second bridge. This is not going to be pleasant, I thought. Sure enough, as I stepped onto the wooden crossing I heard the voice. It was louder than usual, rougher and more ugly than usual. There was true anger this time. From beneath my feet I heard:

[The Barnum Brook Bridge. Photo is mine.]

“Who’s crossing my bridge?”

It was the Troll of Barnum Brook Bridge. We’ve met before. He pulled himself out from the underside of the crossing and stood, blocking my path.

“Oh, it’s you. Well then you know what the deal is. You must answer my riddle or face a horrible death.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Okay, Troll, ask away.”

“Right then. First question is:

A boat is filled with people yet there was not a single person aboard. How is this possible?”

I pretended to ponder the posed puzzle.

“Because they were all married,” I finally said.

“Humph. Too easy. You must answer another one.

“Whatever.”

“I have branches, but no fruit or leaves. What am I?”

“Are you kidding? That’s easy,” I said.

“Answer!”

“A bank,” I said. “I need to move on.”

“Okay, those were easy, but you must answer one more question.”

“So ask, already,” I said.

“The more of this there is, the less you see. What is it?”

This was a new one so I had to pause. But I paused too long.

“You’ve lost! Now you must suffer a horrible fate.”

Then the answer came to me. “Darkness,” I said.

“Too late,” the Troll growled. “I will now grind your bones and have you for dinner.”

“You’re not grinding anything, except your green teeth. Order take-out tonight.” I squeezed past him, avoiding his fetid breath. “Besides, you’re not real. You’re just a bit of Norse mythology.”

As I walked off the end of the bridge I suddenly felt sorry for my final comment. We’re supposed to be kind to each other in these unreal crazy days. I turned around and said:

“Stay safe, Troll. See you when times get normal again.” He gave a small wave and climbed under the bridge, presumably to self-isolate.

When I walked into our kitchen, Mariam was busy preparing Tortellini and Zucchini Soup. I poured myself a glass of Chardonnay.

“I have a riddle for you, Mariam.”

“Hmmm.”

“What has to be broken before you can use it?”

“Oh, please. An egg of course. Now hand me the rosemary, please.”

I felt grateful that we were in self-isolation together. So many people are alone. Sad. But I felt so lucky to be in lock-down with such a smart woman.

“Baby, you’re the greatest,” I said as I handed her the jar of the herb. Then I went back to look if the humidity level had changed. It hadn’t changed a bit.

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