Of Time and Distance: A Departing

[Corfe Castle]

Yesterday, in the late afternoon, I sat on unmowed grass leaning against a stone wall. I was on the grounds of Corfe Castle in south Dorset. The mason who built my backrest had fitted the stones into their places over 1,000 years ago. There was still a strong sun in the west and the sky was about as blue as any sky can get. The cool breeze, however, forced me to zip up my fleece vest.

I was thinking of our journey that is nearly over.

Tonight, I’m sitting in front of a MacBook laptop in room 412 of the Doubletree Hotel in Southampton struggling to find the words to describe our travels.

I am thinking about our journey that is nearly over.

Tomorrow, at this time, I’ll be standing on the deck of the Queen Mary 2 as it plows its way through the waters of the Atlantic ocean heading for New York City.

I’m pretty sure I will be thinking of our journey that will soon be over…July 1 to be precise…barring any major nautical distractions.

Five weeks ago, I sat at Gate 42 of the American Airlines terminal waiting to board our flight to Paris.

Where did the time go?

Paris~~We stayed in a tiny room of the Hotel Atlantis a few steps from the Church of St. Suplice. Days seemed to fly by as we walked through Pere Lachaise cemetery, saw a performance at the Paris Lido, visited the Louvre and stood in the sun at the front door of Notre Dame. We found a shady bench in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I felt like an artist as I opened my watercolor pencil set and made two drawings. I looked at my work…I’m no artist…just a traveler.

[Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris]

Onto…

Brussels~~Only a brief stop to catch a train to Bruges, which is to me, one of the most sublimely beautiful and melancholy cities I’ve ever visited. After a touristy canal boat ride, we sat in a small waterside bar. We conversed with the waitress. I asked her if she was married.

“No,” she said looking at the water. “No one wants to marry me.”

[Bruges, Belgium]

Back to…

Brussels~~This time we stayed for four days. We befriended a bartender named Aurora. She was from France and was completing an internship at the Marriott. We became Facebook friends. After one failed attempt to locate the Market Place, we found it down one cobblestone lane. Once in the Square, you can turn 360 degrees and see nothing but ornate buildings highlighted in gold gilt. Outside the City Hall, I watched a middle-aged man get out of a car and straighten his tie. He was on his way to be married. I caught and held his gaze as he walked to the large oak doors. I gave him a two finger salute from my right eyebrow. He smiled, nodded and went inside…proud, happy, in love and full of hope.

Onto…

London~~A few hours after boarding the Eurostar, we got off the train at St. Pancras Station. Our hotel was the best one yet in our travels. It was just steps from the frenzy of Trafalgar Square. We visited the National Gallery and had dinner at the Sherlock Holmes pub near our hotel. Next evening, we got tickets to The Play That Went Wrong. Madcap misadventures and very funny.

[The Sherlock Holmes]

Onto…

Edinburgh~~Here we climbed the hill to see part of the Castle. In the evening we saw Wicked at a theater two doors away. Trust me, it was a great show for a far less ticket cost than New York City. At night, we took in a sort of haunted Edinburgh walking tour.

It was time to begin our driving part of the trip. Got a rental at the Hertz less than 100 yards from our hotel. It was a perky KIA with a GPS. After a short drive to Durham to visit the Cathedral (massive, awesome but NO PHOTOS ALLOWED) we spent the night in a small hotel.

Onto…

Litchfield~~Again another Cathedral city. This prize was one of the best of all the cathedrals I’ve visited in the UK.

 

[Lichfield Cathedral]

Onto…

Grassington~~We’re in the “Switzerland of England”, but the time had come to test my back and right foot on a footpath. Things didn’t feel right. Lower back pain and pain in my foot despite doses of Alleve. Our main goal for us was to explore the Yorkshire Dales, but all we managed was a few miles one day, a few the next and 3.5 miles on the third day. We never unpacked our hiking boots!

[Part of the Grassington walk]

Onto…

Gillingham, in North Dorset~~I felt like I had arrived home. Most of you know that I lived and taught in Dorset in the mid-1980’s. I walked the footpaths every weekend that I wasn’t visiting a cathedral. My housemate was a young teacher named Tim. Now, Tim is semi-retired and does some consulting work with schools. He, and his wife Jo have put us up several times in their spare apartment. They have three children. George is working in London. Thomas is going to university and 11 year-old Anna, who is being looked at by the Royal Ballet. She’s very good.

[Tim, Anna & Jo.]

We spent six nights at Tim’s house, helping him one evening to celebrate England’s win over Tunisia in the World Cup. We spent our days driving around Dorset and revisiting places I knew and loved. Of all the Counties in England, I feel that Dorset is the most beautiful. The land of Thomas Hardy.

After a lovely farewell dinner, it was

Onto…

Corfe Castle~~We stayed at an old manor house. The first night we drove a few miles to Wareham and had a dinner with another friend from the 1980’s. Marion was the art teacher when I first met her. A most remarkable woman.

Onto…

Southampton~~And this is where I now sit, writing, thinking and remembering. Where did those 33 years go when I was so young and healthy that 9 mile walks were mere afternoon strolls.

At the front end of a six-week holiday, it seemed like such a very long time. But it passed like two blinks of my itchy right eye.

I wonder. I wonder about the stone mason who built the wall I sat against yesterday? If he walked out of the past and sat beside me to watch the afternoon sun descend on south Dorset, would he have the same questions I’ve been asking?

Would he ask what happened to that 1,000 years? Where did it all go?

[All photos belong to me and are copyrighted]

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Farewells and Departures

It takes a lot to laugh.

It takes a train to cry.

                                                                                                         –Bob Dylan

I’m writing this from a New York City hotel room on W. 35th St.  Last night we stayed over in Saratoga to lessen the drudgery of driving into Albany and catching the train into Penn Station.  We had dinner in The Olde Bryan Inn.

It’s supposed to be haunted.  Two employees told me so.  I guess it must be true.

The morning before we drove to Saratoga, we said farewell to our good friends and neighbors, D’Arcy and Judy Havill.  You’ve read about them in my past blog posts.  They will leave Rainbow Lake in a few days and go home to their real home in Camp Dennison, just outside of Cincinnati.  They’re summer people on our road.

I was a bit misty eyed when we shook hands and said farewell.  It’s hard to find better neighbors in such an isolated area where we live…who have talents, skills and are like-minded.

We’ve hiked more than one trail with them and climbed more than one peak in and around Lake Placid.  D’Arcy is an avid bicyclist, and even though I’ve tried, I can’t keep up with him.  Judy is a genius at finding artwork and antiques for their home.

Their home just about a five minutes walk from our house.

Mariam and I will miss their company, movie night and the fine conversation after a grilled dinner.

Good-bye, you two…won’t see you until July.

Missing you already.

 

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.

Remorse And A Frozen Bottle Of Poland Springs: My Dinner With Chuck

Perhaps some of you remember a rather obscure film from several decades ago called My Dinner with Andre.  It was a really intense movie about two guys who have a conversation over dinner on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

A two-hour movie about two guys talking over dinner…’nap time’, you may think…but the film was brilliant (and nobody gets blown up or vaporized and there are no zombies).

What follows are a few recollections of My Dinner with Chuck:

~~~

beaconbeerchuck

I was sipping a Greenpoint IPA at the Beacon Bar on Broadway and 74th St.  I looked at my iPhone…twenty minutes to the end of happy hour.  I was waiting for my old friend, Chuck, from my home town, Owego, NY.  I saw him last at our 50th class reunion in September of 2015.  Before that, perhaps we crossed paths at a less significant reunion (although I believe all class reunions are significant life events)…I couldn’t remember.  The bottom line is that I haven’t really had time to speak with my friend in fifty years!

He lives in one of the Carolinas now…as do many of my class mates who moved to the south and mid-south to escape the rigors of New York State winters. His son (who lives in New Jersey) had scored tickets to the biggest hit on Broadway right now...Hamilton.

It was a matinée and Chuck said he’d love to meet up with me while I was in the City.  He had lived in the “hood” back in the 1970’s, so he knew the Beacon Theater and the adjacent bar.

I took another sip on the IPA.  I looked into a mirror on the column in front of me.  I see two guys walk in.  Heavy set…like Mafia hit men.  It was Chuck and his son.

We moved to a small table and chatted until my wife joined us a few minutes later.  Chuck looked great for his age and his son looked a Hollywood actor…like a young Jude Law.  Funny, but his son is a lawyer (Jude Law?? get it?).

Chuck’s son made a call and soon a female friend of his appeared.  She was a dentist.  I tried to show her my infected back molar but my wife stopped me from peeling my lip back too far.

The lawyer and the dentist went off and the three of us went to pick up a half-dozen slices of pizzas from a nearby joint.  We went back to our apartment and had a dinner of pizza and beer.  It wasn’t My Dinner with Andre, but we talked about so many things from so many years ago.  We discussed one important detail: who was the prettiest girl in the class of “65…we decided it was…(do you think I’m an idiot to tell you?…that’s our secret).  We never sang the Alma Mater but we recalled and exchanged memories that we had both forgotten…each in our own way.  We laughed and had several hours and several really good slices of pizza.

Chuck kept saying how great it was to get together…I agreed.

His son called and said he was busy for the night. Luckily for Chuck, we had an extra bed in the downstairs room.

We stuffed two pillows and found a duvet.  We sat at the top of a very scary spiral staircase and talked before I sent him down stairs for a good nights sleep.

chuckandme

I went into the fridge and found a bottle of frozen Poland Springs in the freezer.  I figured it would thaw in about twenty minutes and Chuck would have nice sips of ice water before he fell asleep.

Later, I sat up in bed…I had given my fine old friend a block of ice…it wasn’t going to thaw for an hour.  I felt guilty. I felt I let my friend down on one basic of hospitality…a drink of cool water.  A few minutes later I put my head back on my pillow and hoped he get up on time and connect with his son and get back to New Jersey.

He did.  He emailed a thank you note but didn’t mention the frozen bottle of water.

Will I ever do anything really right?  I fell asleep think of the way he described how delicious the cantaloupes were back when we were in high school.

Memories…old friends…these are the things that drive me to sit and write this at 1:30 in the morning.

A Farewell Letter To Jimmy

merrillandmeburlington

Hey, Jimmy…I can’t bring myself to call you James.  For most of my life you’ve been Jimmy, so there it is.  Mariam and I were in Burlington just this past weekend.  As I wandered up and down Church Street I kept wondering where the restaurant was that we met for the first time in over 50 years.  Mariam said she remembered which block it was on.  I wondered how you were doing…

I was remembering the old days in Owego.  Craig Phelps was probably the nearest neighbor (he lived across the street from me, remember?). But you were the next closest.  Your house was just across the RR tracks and hard by the Brick Pond.  Boy, did we have fun exploring the Pond in those days when only  a handful of kids knew about it?  You and I spent endless hours in our backyards playing “cowboys & indians” and army games with my brother and ‘Doc’ Phelps.  That was quite a time.  It was the time of our lives when few troubling things touched us.

Innocent children.  Innocent young boys playing in fields near the Susquehanna.  Fields of fair games and fair play.  Fields of Youth.

We were rarely ever apart in our years at St. Patrick’s School.  It was in OFA…high school…that we drifted apart.  We hung in different circles of friends.

Then one day (was it 1964? 1963?) you brought over an album for me to listen to.  We sat on our sofa at 420 Front Street and I heard the voice of Bob Dylan for the first time.  I was a Dion fan.  I didn’t get Bob at all.  I said: “This guy can’t sing”.  It was about a year later when I heard “Like a Rolling Stone” on a radio station when I was driving back from working at Carroll’s Hamburgers in Vestal.

I got it.  You gave it to me.

Later, we sat on the steps of my house and you talked about this thing happening in Viet Nam.  I was too wrapped up in my girlfriend and plans for college to fully understand…in 1965…what was happening.

You enlisted and you served with honor and I heard you got a medal of some kind for bravery.

Jimmy, you fell below the radar after high school and I did not hear anything about you until I was asked to try to locate you for the 50th Reunion in September of 2015.  Things happened and I was able to find your phone number.  I called and we met for lunch in Burlington.  Such a great time we had…remember?  We recalled the old days and caught up on how “not well” you were.

I wrote a blog about our lunch.  It was quite popular among our Owego friends.

Then, this morning, I get some news on Facebook about you.  News that made me weep for a time as I reflected on our history.

We’ll never explore the Brick Pond again, Jimmy.  We’ll never play war games in our backyards.  Ever again.

Wait, that’s not true…I’ll always remember the times we had and the growing up we did together.  I’ll recall those childhood games again and again to keep your memory alive.  I’ll walk around the Brick Pond again…in your honor.

RIP, my good, gentle and great old buddy.  I’m gonna miss you…….You are the friend I’ve known the longest…in my life.

pat-and-jimmie

 

Dear Moxie…

Moxie

So long, honey baby

Where I’m bound, I cannot tell

But goodbye’s too good a word

So I’ll just say “Fare thee well…”

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

Dear Moxie,

We’ve been through a lot in our short life together, Moxie.  But there comes a time when the best thing to do is to face the reality and know when a relationship has run its course.  I can’t say that our life together has been without discord, without anger, without frustration and without mistakes.  I can honestly say that I made most of the effort to make things workout…it was you, in the end, that failed me one too many times.  It was you who left me sitting in my car, in the rain, in the snow, at a strange crossroads in the middle of a strange and lonely landscape or left me in my car, angled halfway into a “one-way” street…and I was going the wrong way.  It was you, Moxie.  It was you.  I coudda been a contender, but you left me with no direction home, even when home was a cheap motel in Rutland, Vermont, or an RV park in Austin, Texas.

I know you tried your best…with what you had to work with.  I fully understand that you always thought you were following directions from the Heavens, and in your own way, you were.

It was a strange threesome, me, my wife and you.  When we first started bringing you into our lives, I, as a male, thought I heard a certain hint of seduction in your voice when you told us what to do.  But, over the years, that sultry quality has given way to a more mechanical, robotic voice…Moxie, you lost your passion.

Maybe it was the name you resented?

When we first had you in the seat between us…when we would leave our home for a long strange trip, we didn’t know what to call you.  You didn’t come with a name.  You were a voice without a soul behind it.  I wanted to give you a little bit of a tawdry history, make you a scarlet woman, a gypsy wanderer…so we came up with Moxie.

All Moxies are a little sassy.  No one names their librarian-to-be daughter, Moxie.  They named her Grace or Rose or Helen.  But, you were always a Moxie to us.

But, as I said, all things must pass.  Please don’t take this as an insult, but there are newer models available.  Sleeker and more savvy.  More feminine with a sexy voice to match.  More power.  Faster (although, in your day, you were plenty fast), but we need our new model with more memory and more color…more glamor, more bang for the buck and more bells and whistles for a man-of-the-road like me, who can fall into white-line fever at the drop of a toll token.

We don’t even have a name for our new model, yet.  But, it won’t be Moxie, so don’t worry.  You’ll always be Moxie to us…the only Moxie to have shared our lives.

I know someday, if things go south for us and time get tough, I’ll go back to looking for company in the honky-tonk  saloons, dive bars and all the gin joints in the world.  I may find myself on a ripped plastic covered bar stool next to you.  We may pass each other as I leave a juke joint and you’re just going in.  We’ll bump shoulders.  I’ll look down.  Will you speak to me?  Will the day ever come when you forget our relationship?  Will you be telling someone else where to go?  where to turn?  where to park?

I know this will sound harsh and cold and heartless, but your replacement has already made it to our RV bed.  It’s ready to go and seems eager to talk to us and lead us on new adventures along the highways and byways of our aging life.

Thanks for the miles you traveled with us, Moxie.  There’ll always be a place in our cigarette lighter to get a charge if you ever need it.

All you ever have to do is be a good gps to one man, one time, and you’ll make to the end of the road, babe.  I’d like to be able to exist without your services,  travelers relied on maps for centuries before satellites…but’s it’s a new complicated world out there.  It’s freedom I’d like to have.  After all, they say that ‘freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose’, but we all know that it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Don’t think of this as the end.  Think of it as a well deserved rest.

Good bye and good luck, Moxie.  Sorry it had to end this way.

All our love and memories,

Pat and Mariam.

GarminUnitNew

 

A Silent Eulogy: Late But Heartfelt

B:WFlowerSteve

Is it possible that a eulogy can take forty-one years to deliver?

The dreaded answer is yes.  I know because I spoke that eulogy…silently, silently so that only I heard the words.  It was a rambling prayer over a heart-breaking death.  I knew the young man who had died.  In truth, I was with him when he passed away, away into the unknown world that we all dread…whether we admit it or not.

He is interred in the soil of his hometown in sunny and warm Louisiana.  His soul departed on a snowy trail, on a cold night in the mountains of the Adirondacks.

I’ve talked to him, about him and prayed for him for four decades.  Our conversations weren’t all one-sided.  I felt his presence.  I felt his answers.  I’ve felt his forgiving words when I find those occasional moments, when the moon is rising and the air is crisp and the snow is five inches deep…just like it was that night in November of 1974.

Once before, many years ago, I stood over his grave.  I remember that day.  It was unbearably hot in the southern sun.  I thought then of how I was so near him in such an opposition of environments…from when we last walked side by side.  Now, I’ve returned with time heavy in my arms and dried wildflowers of the North Country in my hands.  Now, the temperature is at a mid-point…from that night to this day.  It’s 55 degrees.  There are pine cones on the ground…not a flake of snow within five hundred miles.

Yes, I’ve talked to him and relived our friendship when I stop to recall memories, those sweet and terrible memories.  I’ve spoken to a few people about him, but I have never, until now, written a word about my friend.

I’ve waited too long and kept too many recollections lock away in my heart and brain.  I need to share these with you.

We met in a hallway at the college I attended in Louisiana, or perhaps we met at the Pizza Inn where we worked evenings to earn a few extra dollars.  I have never encountered a more curious individual.  He picked my brain for hours about what life in the North was like.  At the Pizza Inn, we were often left with the task of closing for the night.  But, we wouldn’t simply clean-up and lock-up.  No, after the lights were turned off, and before the ovens were shut down for the night, we would make a pizza, the likes of which was never seen on the menu.  We’d lock the front door and find a booth in the back dining area.  And there, by the light of a single candle (we didn’t want to attract the police who would be checking the locks on the doors of the businesses along the avenue), we would drink beer, eat pizza and talk for hours.  We’d argue.  We’d laugh. We discussed the philosophy of life.  We talked about women.  We talked about racism. (He was the farthest thing from a ‘redneck’ I ever encountered in my years in the 1960’s South.)  More than once, when we left for our cars, the eastern skies were getting light.

Time flew for us when we had important matters to ruminate about.

A few years later, after I graduated and moved back to New York State, we kept up our friendship through letters.  We had a chess game in progress for months, sending moves to each other on post cards.  I don’t remember whose turn it was when our game ended so abruptly.

He was curious about life outside of the South so he moved to Binghamton, where I was living.  He got a job.  I moved to Pennsylvania to begin a career of teaching.  He wanted to join me on a hiking trip to the Adirondacks over the Thanksgiving break of 1974.  I said yes.  I wish I hadn’t.

I will place this humble bouquet against the headstone.  My wife will stand at my side.

I will say a prayer for him to a God who I feel has been too quiet for too long.

My private prayer for the dead will start with his name.

I will say: “Hey, Steve.  It’s been a long time.  Sorry I’m so late.”

O, Southern sun, shine warmly here,

O, Southern winds, blow gently here,

Green sod above, lie light, lie light,

Good night , dear heart, good night, good night.

[This is not Steve’s epitaph, but it could and should be.  I found in on a gravestone of a nine-year old boy named Addison Foster, Jr. in the City Cemetery of Natchez, Mississippi]

HandAt Steve's grave