The Summer We Never Had Is Gone

“I see your true colors shining through…”

-Cyndi Lauper

Green is still the dominant color in the foliage around Rainbow Lake.  Each day, however, brings out a few hundred more leaves that have lost their Chlorophyll and are showing their true colors.

We’ve had our first frost warning on my weather app…and that was in late August!  Since we arrived home in late June from our six months in NYC, there really hasn’t been a true summer, a season like I remember from the 1950’s family camping we did at Raquette Lake.

It rained a lot.  The lows dipped into the upper 40’s F on many nights.

Our burning bush seems to provide the only imaginary warmth…it’s turning red.

I find a beautiful red leaf in the driveway.  I mark the days off on our kitchen calendar.  It’s only two weeks until the Autumnal Equinox…the official end of summer.

I stack our firewood and wait for a guy named Forest (really) to deliver another face cord.

I love the fall foliage, the scarlets, reds, yellows and the deep dark browns of the trees that have leaves that just simply die. Die without giving us a palate of hues that we will remember and take Instagrams of and email to our loved ones who live in just two seasons…summer and winter, like Alabama or Mississippi.

But, I’m sensing a growing melancholy this year, unlike the years past.  I just turned seventy.  There’s far more of my life behind me than before me.

I lay awake at night and think of things that might have been…and now feel that now they’ll never be.

There’s a flash of color this time of year and then the wait, sometimes long, sometimes short, until the first snow falls.

That brings on a whole new catalogue of memories and sadness.

Am I alone?

[All photos are my own.]

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The Toboggan

When I enter our garage from the door that faces our house, I don’t often look up.  What could be up there that I’m avoiding?  Well, there is an old oak bed head-board and foot board that was mine when I grew up at 420 Front Street, Owego, NY.  There are stickers of cowboys and indians on the head-board.  There are numerous tiny indentations of BB hits when I was young and used the head-board as a backdrop for my Daisy rifle.  The only other item of mine, settled and resting on the 2 x 4 inch cross pieces of the garage, is The Toboggan.

I stood and stared at the old sled for half an hour.  I brought it up here, to our place in the Adirondacks, intending it to be my first “project”.

My hands last handled this antique when we had to empty my father’s house after he passed in 2004.  Before that, I had placed it in the garage in Owego. Sometime in the early 1990’s, I stored it in the barn that was part of the house that my wife had owned in the years before we met.  The house was in Milford, PA.

I stood and stared and the memories came slowly at first and then I couldn’t stop them from filling my head with the past.

Was this the sled that my brothers tried to push me down the small hill behind our house in Owego?  There wasn’t much of a slope so I went nowhere until Chris or Denny ran behind me and pushed me onward.

That’s what brothers do.

Was this the sled that I took to a snowy hillside near Owego and jumped on behind Mary, my girlfriend, as we sailed through drifts of snow and patches of weeds and scrubs?  I don’t remember.

Was this the sled that came with me when I moved to a farm-house in the early 1970’s and I began my teaching career?  And also began a new role as a father to my 1 1/2-year-old girl, Erin?  I would take her on tours of the harvested cornfields that surrounded our lonely house on a snow-covered and wind-swept hill–pulling her behind me?

When I went ice skating with my brother Dan on a nearby frozen pond (before “they” broke the dam and drained the pond) and he was interested in film and I would pull them both while he filmed?  After Dan finished his project, I would skate backwards (I could, you know), pulling Erin on the toboggan and giving her a wicked swirl that would almost throw her sliding across the ice on her own.

The toboggan disappeared into the rafters of the slanted old garage behind our house in Owego–to be forgotten for years–with one exception.

I was informed of a great place to go tobogganing, the IBM Country Club in Endicott (or was it Endwell, NY)?  The golf course had a hill that was very popular.

So, one day in the mid-1970’s, we took the old sled down from my dad’s garage and headed for the slopes.  It proved to be a great place indeed.  Then I noticed that someone had built up a small snow bump.  I told Erin that before I would take her over it, I would have to first try it myself.

Off I went, toward the little bump.  The closer I glided toward the bump, the bigger it became.  When I hit it, I rose into the sky and felt I was going to land in someones backyard, across the river in Vestal.  I was airborne for what seemed like forty-five minutes, before I hit the ground.  The toboggan went one direction and my eye-glasses went another.  I simply came straight down onto the slope sliding in a third direction and feeling for broken bones before I came to an abrupt halt against a small tree.

“Mommy? Can Daddy do that again?” was all I could hear Erin cry out.

Was she kidding? My head buzzed for two days.

Back to my garage.  So there is the toboggan.  I had a fleeting thought about restoring it (once again) and mounting it on the wall in our screened-in porch.  It would require the removal of two antique snowshoes, but there are plenty of places on our walls to mount them in a new location. Ironically, the brand name stenciled in orange paint, on the curved bow reads: ADIRONDACK.

There’s a fair amount of dust on the old sled.  My best guess as to its age would be 90+ years.  But there’s one thing I am certain of; toboggans aren’t meant to gather dust.  Their made for the young and the old to ride on and scream from as it flashes past an old barn, an old tree or a fresh snowdrift.  They’re made to carry at least four adults, six kids and a metric ton of memories.

And, once it’s on the wall, I would never be asked to “do it again” on any slope, on any mountain or hill in the Adirondacks.

[The intended site of the restored toboggan]

 

 

Kissing Manhattan Goodbye

So, it’s time to say farewell to the city I love.  A week from today, if you have a drone, you will find us driving north on the I-87…through Albany…onto Exit 30…and then fifty more miles, through Lake Placid, to our home at Rainbow Lake.

I’ve heard it said so many times: “New York City is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

Fine, I understand everyone has different tastes.  Besides, it’s all true what people say about New York.  It’s so big, crowded, diverse and varied, that whatever anyone says about the city… is true.  It’s safe, dangerous, cheap and way too expensive.  It’s all true…but I love the vibrant life, liberalism, culture and gravity.  Yes, there is an intense gravity to this place…someone once said that everyone should live in New York City at least once in their life…and I agree.

I lived on the Upper West Side for over twenty-five years.  With some exceptions, I loved every minute of my time.  Then, I retired and in 2011, Mariam and I decided to get bought out (our building was going condo) and we decided to head north to our place on Rainbow Lake.  We needed the quiet.  Mariam went part-time, working from home on the computer.

We got our quiet…sometimes, it seemed to me, a little too much.  I was lonely.  Only a few of our friends made the six-hour trip to visit us.

Then, we were offered the opportunity to come back for six months, on a full salary, to put things in order at Mariam’s place of business.  We got a sub-let on W. 74th Street and became New Yorkers once again.  I saw my son more often and reunited with old friends.

But, not all went as expected.  For reasons I won’t discuss here, I found myself falling into a mild depression.  I brought many of my “works-in-progress” for my writing  projects.  I lost the creative energy to plug-in my memory stick and write a few chapters.

The winter was wet and chilly.  The spring was little better.  Then it got really bloody hot.  But, we saw a number of Broadway and Off Broadway shows that were fantastic.  We made friends at our local pub, the Beacon Bar.  We had a good time.

And, now, we’re packing things up…unread novels, unread magazines and putting away unfulfilled trips.

This was kind of an experiment ….to see if we could ever move back here.

I’m conflicted.

The “Dream House in the Woods” can sometimes  be something you’re not expecting.  Where are your friends and local pubs “where everybody knows your name?”

It’s just another move in our lives.  Mariam will be retired and I need a hobby.  I was thinking about carving duck decoys….I’m serious.   Maybe I’ll write the Great American Novel. Maybe I won’t.

Maybe I won’t and just drift on my kayak.

Stay tuned.

Six Days Can Be A Long Time

[Photo credit: Mel Brown]

The moment happened a few hours ago.  I was probably sitting in Starbucks on Broadway and 75th Street when the time came and went.  I was aware of the time, but I was likely checking my email.  Our apartment wifi was dead for the time being.

It was an arbitrary time, marked only by a sweeping second hand on an office wall clock.  It turned over at 5:00 pm on June 12, 2017.  One moment it was 5:00 pm, and then it was another time altogether.

So, what’s so important about this?  That changing moment marked the end of a work day for my wife, Mariam…an ordinary work day.  But, now, she now has only six days left to the end of her working career, her fifty-one years in health care is coming to a close.  That’s a long time of working and an inspiring event to celebrate.  Ever since she graduated from the Bellevue School of Nursing, she has changed bed pans, helped AIDS patients, started up a cardiology unit in a hospital, and rose to being the head of the hemophilia treatment center at Mount Sinai Hospital.  She also is the president of two boards, both in the bleeding disorders world, in the intensive and competitive world of New York City.

I have expressed my concerns about the vacuum that will enter her life from a powerful position…into retirement.  She says she is not concerned.  I trust her instincts…but I still worry.

Her boss, Dr. Chris Walsh, is now reviewing aspects of her job.

“I’m going to miss you,” he understated.

I am proud of Mariam’s accomplishments.  I am looking forward to when she will be by my side, each day…for years to come…to travel and to sit at home…reading, playing chess, discussing politics and learning new things. We’ll be having a quiet dinner at a small Italian restaurant on 73rd St. on June 21.  Yes, June 21, her final day…and the traditional Summer Solstice.  How appropriate is that?  The longest day of the year.  The days will be getting shorter, but I will be there with you, Mariam, to help you through the long winter nights to come. And, I will be there on December 21, the traditional Winter Solstice, when the days begin to grow longer.  I know that’s the date you look forward to the most.

I will be there when the black flies come and go and the mesquitos arrive.  I’ll be there when the hail hits the roof and the leaves begin to fall.  I’ll light the campfire and I’ll play some Leonard Cohen for you on Spotify.  I’ll be there to ease you into your years of retirement.

Good luck to you, Mariam.  God speed!

Six days can be a long time…after all, that’s how long The Creation took.  Let’s hope there’s rest on the seventh day.

Two Candles

I’m sitting outside in our small garden. I’m trying to read a novel written by Hakan Nesser.  He writes great nordic noir mysteries.

It’s a warm night.  I bought two new candles to illuminate the dusk in the garden.  We had a friend over and ordered Chinese. I had my fried rice and dumplings. My little radio, in the living room was tuned to WQXR and I was listening, faintly heard,  from the garden, a Gregorian Chant.

We talked. I read a few poems from a new book from Barnes & Noble.  I had my friend listen to Bob Dylan’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize on my iPhone.

By the time we finished, the candles were melted into the holders. I paid $2.47 (+tax) for each candle….at the end of  the evening’s dinner and conversation, both candles were gone.

What does that say about candles? Friendship? Dinner conversation?

Candles, some of them, burn quickly….like life.

I Am…

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It was the day before the inauguration.

I found a local gym that offered a month to month membership.  No long-term contract.  And, it was only$49 per month.  Ok, there is no pool (I don’t like to swim anyway and ALL pools have water that, to me, is just above freezing.  “Heated pools” …just a myth.  And, I tend to get water in my ear which keeps me from hearing clearly and forces me to keep poking my forefinger in my ear to clear it out (it never works). And, there is no sauna in this gym, which is fine with me.  My apartment is warm enough and I don’t really want to sit in a tiny room with a few older naked men.

I’m Irish, not Swedish.

So I worked out on a bike for about an hour.  Got my heart rate to about 107 and I left sweat on the arm rests.  I had Spotify on my iPhone and was listening to some modern “Americana” music.

Then I punched the “cool down” button.  I had burned off several hundred calories which I was about to replace a block away at the Amsterdam Ale House.

I went upstairs, without  a shower (remember the above reference to naked men) and pushed the door to Broadway.  I was met by an enthusiastic woman and a guy with a camera. [To get to my gym, you have to enter the lobby of a small off-off Broadway theater.  The gym is down stairs.]

The woman had a sheet of paper.  She asked if I would just say ‘who I was’ and what I was ‘fighting for’.  I misunderstood what she said and thought that I would have my picture taken.  I felt that I looked like Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future.  I needed a haircut and felt tired and miserable.

A day later I walked into the theater lobby to go down to the gym.  It was then that I saw the papers lining the walls.  The papers I turned my back on.  The sheets of paper that I had declined to write a phrase and a comment.

As I read the sheets, I felt ashamed I didn’t have my own on the lobby wall.

I left the gym that afternoon…not with sweat on my forehead …but with a tear on my cheek.

Read some of these!

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The Man in the Crowd

crowd2

[My photo: Not on the night of the party]

I was surprised that the Beacon Bar didn’t just close for night to provide the space for the private function.  Only the bar itself was open to regular customers.  The rest of the space was ‘reserved’ for a party…or whatever it was.  And a party it surely was…except for one man.

No sign was needed to tell me that the such and such bank was opening an office in Mexico City or that Doris, in Accounts Receivable, was retiring.  So, how did I know it was a large group of bankers?  It was simple.  They dressed like bankers.  All the men were in dark suits and the women (alas, only a few) wore dark power suits. A generalization, I realize.  But I have only a limited time to tell this story.

I arrived in time to secure two seats at the bar.  I ordered a Chardonnay for my wife (who was still forty minutes from arriving) and a Greenpoint Pale Ale for myself.  Then the rush of the crowd began.  The front door opened so many times the wind blew my napkin down into the dark recesses of the floor among the purses, shopping bags and boots and umbrellas.

I looked around and the sea of black outerwear made me think I had crashed a convention of funeral directors.  I kept my iPhone in front of me and checked it often…just to look like I had something to do.  Finally, Mariam arrived and began telling me of her day at the office.  Then we both fell quiet, trying to decide if we should order a second round before Happy Hour ended at six or go home and try to stream something on TV…it rarely works and most of the time we’re left to listen to WQXR and Mozart and Vivaldi and Beethoven.  A better way to spend time as far as I’m concerned.

But we lingered.

It was when Mariam leaned down to get her handbag that I looked over her lowered shoulders and scanned the room.  That was when I saw him.  I stared at him for a few more seconds than necessary.  I looked around the room and noticed that everyone was engaged in a conversation of some type…some in groups and more than a few couples.  (Office flirting?  Most likely).

I looked back at the man.  He was alone, sipping a white wine.  His eyes kept darting around the room, looking for a friend or anyone to talk to.  No one was paying him any attention.  At first I thought that he was not part of the party…but somehow, he fit in…with his black trench coat and graying mustache and conservative neck-tie.

Then, like an unexpected wave from the sea of memories, I thought of how I often found myself in similar situations.  At school dances, faculty parties, childhood gatherings and adult reunions.  I’ve never been very good at making small talk.  I often just stood against the wall or at the end of a sofa and pretended I had something very important on my mind.  The only important thing on my mind in those situations, was how lonely I felt.

I looked back at the man.  Still he stood by himself.  Still he kept looking around.  Still he sipped his white wine.  I felt an intense sorrow for the guy.  Then I thought that perhaps he had just fired someone or that he was the office snitch and was distrusted and disliked by everyone else.  But, I dismissed that negativity.

He was simply invisible to the others.

crowd1

[My photo: not on the night of the party]

I mentioned the guy to Mariam who turned for a quick glance.  She understood my thinking.

She turned to me: “Why don’t you make your way to the men’s room and stop and ask him what the party was all about?”

I made up my mind to do just that.  I took a sip of my half-empty glass of Greenpoint Pale Ale and turned on my chair to begin my push through the crowds to get to the rest room and to take the opportunity to be the only person to speak to the lone man in such a crowded space.  When I slid off my seat, I noticed he was gone.

My hesitation had made me miss out on making a complete stranger feel that someone noticed him.  Something I wished had happened to me…all those years ago.