It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

~~A.A.Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh

So, what brought you back to me, Moxie? I watched you wandering around the pool, and you looked intent. You found me back here among the palms, in the cool air. The sun was getting too intense for me. And I needed this quiet space…away from the chatter and the waterfall that makes a bit too much water music. Soothing, I know, but I need the quiet. But you know that already, don’t you? This is where you found me on that first day. Now you’re back. Are you here to say goodbye? Did you want a farewell kiss on your forehead? Did you want to brush my grey hair once more with your tanned fingers? A hug? Why did you seek me, Moxie?

You: I want to hear the rest of your story. I want to hear about how it all ends for you and your lovely wife.

Me: Well, come closer. My throat is a little rough today. But the story won’t be really over until we are seated on American Flight #AA4555 tomorrow afternoon. I suppose you could argue that the real end is when we deplane at LaGuardia and wait for the Uber in 41℉ weather. In case you’re curious Moxie, where we sit it’s 76℉. Sorry, my friend, I got sidetracked. I’m an old science teacher remember.

You: The story, Patrick. How does it end beneath these palms? LaGuardia will have to be your problem. I’m only here for you when you are here.

Me: Well, I finally got to sail again. It’s one thing that I can say I truly love. Mariam and I sat at the stern. The winds blew strong. I heard the Captain say that we were doing 8 knots. Then I heard him mumble, ‘that’s fast for this ship.’ We watched a glorious sunset to the west and the Full Moon rising in the east. I was in my element, Moxie. The wind. The sun. The sea.

Let me tell you a story within my story. Do you have to be anywhere? No? Good. Move a little closer. Mariam and I made the required pilgrimage to the Hemingway House. (I stood behind the velvet rope holding the tourists from his writing studio.) There was his typewriter. His desk, books, cot, chairs and open windows. Our guide said that if you stood long enough you might channel Ernest’s spirit. I think he spoke quietly to me. He said something like ‘you’ve got a long way to go, friend, to catch up to me’. I’m sure he meant it with all respect. But, I dunno, Moxie. The man put a shotgun in his mouth when he was sixty-one. Curious. It was in 1961.

You: But that’s not the story is it? It’s kind of depressing.

Me: He was a depressed man, Mox, from a line of depressed family. But you’re right, it’s too sad to dwell on. So the rest of the story…He went abroad to cover the Spanish Civil War. His second wife stayed behind, here at his house in Key West. The guy was quite macho to say the least. Hunting. Fishing. Boxing. Yes, he had a small boxing ring built beside his house. His wife (the 2nd remember) got wind that he was traveling in the company of a certain female correspondent. The man was a lot like me. He fell in love quickly and often. So, his wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, had the boxing ring torn down and put a full size swimming pool in its place. Out of spite.

When he returned from Spain Pauline met him at the front gate. She had a surprise for him. She led him around the corner, through the palms, scattering the polydactyl cats and brought his to the poolside. He took one look.

“Where the hell is my boxing ring? How much did this…this pool cost anyway?

“$20,000, she said.” I’m sure there was not a great deal of love in her eyes.

The famous author reached into his pocket and pulled out a new, shiny penny.

“If you’re going to take $20,000 from me, you might as well take my last red cent. He threw it on the ground and stormed away, most likely to Sloppy Joe’s to drown his sorrows. Pauline had the penny embedded in a patch of cement.

[And here is the penny.]

Me: So that’s my story inside my story. There’s not much else to say. We bar hopped and listened to Wagon Wheel played well by a 3-piece band. We ate great seafood. We swam in our pool. Mariam sipped Chardonnay. We began packing this afternoon. I will pull out my fleece jacket and ready it for New York City.

I guess the time is approaching when we have to say our goodbyes. We may never meet again, Moxie. But we will stay close in each other’s memories. We’ll at least be in the same Time Zone. I will think of you when the summer wind blows. I’ll think of you when I walk barefoot on the beach of Coney Island. I’d send you a message in a bottle, tossing it into the Hudson River when the tide is going out. I would, you know that. But, alas, the ocean currents would take that bottle and deposit it on a lonely stretch of the Irish Coast. Whoever would read it would have no idea of who you are or who I am.

Maybe that’s all for the best.

If I see you standing in the moonlight tonight in the middle of Fleming Street. I may walk out and give your damp curls a brief innocent kiss. Maybe.

But maybe it’s all for the best if I didn’t. I will always remember how you were eager to hear my stories.

It’s about stories…

A few extra photographs for you.

[An olive oil jug. The rectangular tiled piece was once a men’s urinal. Now it’s a drinking trough for Hemingway’s cats.]

[A note to my readers: I used yet another quote of Bob Dylan for the title. All photos are mine.]

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 Brief History of Kimonos

To be fully alive is to have an aesthetic perception of life because a major part of the world’s goodness lies in its often unspeakable beauty.

~~Yukitaka Yamamoto

[An old triptych of three women wearing kimonos. Source: Google Search.]

Recently, my wife and I spent an afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET). She wanted to see the Tudor exhibition. I went through it quickly…I love English period decorative and portraiture art but that interest peaked with the final season of Downton Abbey. The newly restored (and painted!) ancient Greek and Egyptian statuary was where I wanted to spend more time. So we did both. We then visited the Asian art wing and saw the Kimono Style exhibition. From there we retired to the Member’s Lounge for a glass of white wine ($17.00) and a bottle of Pellegrino. While eating our Hummus and Pita plate, we discussed what we had seen and I mentioned that I would like to revisit the Kimonos once more before it closed. We finished our visit to the Hall of Medieval Art to see the Christmas Creche.

The Kimono Style (which closes in February) was more than fascinating. Within three minutes of entering the gallery, I realized that my concept of Kimonos was, to put it mildly, somewhat simplistic. The background, styles and fabrics were intricate and beautiful. So, I did what every good blogger does in such a situation…I ran straight to Google to find out as much background as I could. And, like yours truly, I fell asleep before I could get to the Edo Period. I awoke after a brief nap, shoved my laptop aside and headed for the bed. I slept the sleep of an opium smoker.

My dream came quickly. There were cherry blossoms everywhere. I was standing at the edge of a Dark Forest. “Don’t go in there”, I was told. “Those who do often end up as suicides. It was the Aokigahara, where the ghosts of Japanese mythology are said to dwell. I was not alone. Her name was Akari, which translates to ‘vermillion red’. Her beauty was heavy with gravity. A deep, peaceful and somehow alluring aura made the air around her radiate a golden light. Her face was as while as the first snowfall of winter.

She was a Geisha. But unlike western stereotypes, she was not for sale. A Geisha is not a prostitute but instead is a highly educaated woman trained in the Art of the Tea Ceremony, music, literature and calligraphy. She was one of about 1,000 active Gheishas in Japan today.

In my unenlightened world, I thought she would take care of my every need, even before I knew I had it. She took my hand and led me to a low desk. She mixed the ink and began making brush strokes. She made me try to copy her bamboo leaves. My attempts were embarrassing. She smiled and led me back to edge of the forest. I took a step toward the trees…

I woke up.

I’ve digressed.

Kimonos were first reported in the Kofun Period (300-538 CE). Over the centuries, the style has changed in many ways. The first Kimonos were of Chinese design. The trade between Japan and China brought new styles to Japan. In 718 CE, the Youo Clothing Code was enacted. This determined who was eligable to wear one, the kind of material and even the fact that the robe opening was to be Left to Right. The opposite closure was reserved for the deceased.

During the Edo Period (1603-1867), the obi was added. Length of sleeves and multiple layers were common.

By the early 20th Century, many class distincions were abololished. Western clothing came into style. But the Kimonos remained popular. After an earthquake in Kanto in 1923, a shortage of fabrics became available from unused clothing. In recent years, the Kimono has grown in popularity. Men are wearing western suits to work and changing into a Kimono robe in the evening.

[A present-day mother and child with modern Kimonos. Source: Google Search.]

What follows is a gallery of Kimono photos I took at the MET. I regret that I can not give you the style name, fabric or historical context of each one. Just marvel at the subtle striking beauty of this small sample of Kimonos:


[My personal favorite.]

A few days later we returned to the MET. I headed straight to the Kimono Style exhibit. I took a few more photos and went further into the Asian Art wing. I wanted to sit in my favorite place. It’s a replica of a Chinese (or Japanese) Courtyard. I sat and listened. In years past, there was a small trickle of water from a fountain. I loved the tranquility of the murrmering water.

It was silent in the room. For some reason the fountain had been turned off. I was disappointed. But, if nothing else, I am a resourceful guy. I pulled out my ear buds and plugged into my iPhone. I went to my Calm app and found “babbling brook”.

I think you can work out the rest of the story…

[Sources: the historical material is from Wikipedia. All the MET Kimono photos are mine. The rest are the result of Google Searching. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I did not have the aforementioned dream.]

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]

Dorset of My Dreams

“Oh, to be in England…”

–Robert Browning

[The chalk coast of Dorset. Photo: Google Search]

It all started on a late winter morning of 1984. I was walking to my office at King & Low-Heywood Thomas School (KLHT) in Stamford, Connecticut. Walking with me was a teacher/administrator. She was going through her teacher-mail regarding microscope sales and Petri dish discounts. She held on to an envelope and after a few moments glanced at the contents, she turned to me and said: “Here, maybe you will find this interesting.” She handed me a letter. I took a quick look and put it on my desk. I had a first period class.

Later, after my ninth cup of Faculty Room Coffee I looked over the letter. It was from a business office in New York City. The company arranged Teacher Exchanges. I put it on my desk again and went off to meet with a student. As the Fates would have it, the British teacher who was seeking an exchange was right there in the office. We talked. He took the Amtrak to Stamford where I met him and took him to the school for a tour.

To make a long story short, this guy, Chris, really wanted to do the exchange. The Headmaster was not so enthusiastic. But, it all worked out in the end. Early August of 1984 found me on an late evening flight to Heathrow.

[Corfe Hills School, Corfe Mullen, Dorset. Photo: Source CHS webside]

A year is a long time to distill my experiences into a few paragraphs. Simply put, I had a few rocky days getting to know the ‘system’, meeting my colleagues, learning the names of my students and attempting to find my various classrooms. I was hired as a Geography teacher, a subject I love. I was happy. What was difficult was the number of courses they gave me to teach. I taught fifth and sixth form geography, General Studies and Religious Studies. They gave it all to me.

“Face it. You’re bloody irrelevant being here only a year,” some administrator told me on my second or third day.

[Last day of school. Two of my favorite students who helped me and gave me sage advice. Sally in the white blouse and Yzanne is to my right. Photo: Photo is mine]

I was never bored. When the weekends approached, I was faced with two choices (mostly): Take a hike on a Footpath in Thomas Hardy country or go to BritRail, buy a return and spend the weekend in a Cathedral city like Wells or Salisbury. I couldn’t get enough of the countryside, the dramatic coast of Dorset, the small villages that had little more than a pub. My ‘local’ pub was the Barley Mow. I can’t tell you how many pints and Steak & Kidney Pie I’ve eaten in that very old thatched building.

[A hillside with a copse of trees on the summit. Photo is mine]

I found some walks that went through some of the most picturesque locations. The sunken path below is near Shaftesbury. Madonna had a house nearby.

[One of my favorite footpaths. The trail itself is sunken about ten feet. Photo is mine]

The places I travelled are all marked off in my dozens of hiking guides. My personal best is a nine-mile walk that began in the parking lot of a pub called A Brace of Pheasants. I was exhausted at the end of the day. The Ploughman’s Lunch and two pints of Guinness helped me start out but didn’t help me finish. I had a Steak & Kidney Pie. It was a Sunday so I went home, took a shower and turned on Radio 4 to listen to a drama. Later, when I was a bit too hyped-up to sleep, I would tune to the station that carried “Prime Minister’s Question Time”. You can image how interesting that show was.

[Footpath signage. Photo is mine]

I have been back to Dorset many times since the mid ’80’s. I made every effort to share what my past was like by going on footpaths with Mariam. My favorite hill to climb is the Glastonbury Tor.

[Mariam on top of the Glastonbury Tor. Beneath her feet, King Arthur is said to await a return to save England. Photo is mine]

Mariam and I spent one Christmas (just before Covid) at a ancient northern Dorset pub called the White Lion Inn. A cozy room. A friendly bar downstairs and a garden eating area.

[The White Lion Inn. Photo is mine]
[A typical narrow back lane in Cornwall. Photo is mine]

Each trip Mariam and I make, we try to explore a different region. Above is our trip to Cornwall. We’ve been to The Lake District, Cornwall, Yorkshire, Dartmoor, the east coast and London, of course.

[Our close friends. They live in north Dorset. Anna is destined to be a great ballerina. Photo is mine.]

I’ve only picked out a minute part of the things I did while in Dorset. But, like all good adventures, I got a book out of it.

[So go out and buy yourself this book. It contains all my adventures (mostly). And it has color illustrations. A great holiday gift. Photo is mine]

A Young Man’s Backpack

“To travel, to experience and learn: that is to live.”

–Tenzing Norgay

[The Kelty Pack. Photo is mine.]

Stuff has to go. Lots of stuff has to go. When you relocate from a 3-bedroom lakeside house to a 1-bedroom apartment on Riverside Drive in New York, you soon realize how easy it was to gather stuff. And now, much of the stuff has to go.

Over the last few months, I’ve given away books that are precious to me, books I have had on my shelves for decades. These were important books that I must now live without. A great deal of other stuff has walked out of our door. Lots of furniture, clothes, kayaks, a piano, two telescopes and several posters to mention only a few. I hope the new owners of these objects will treat them with care…and love them as I did.

One item (that I had lost track of) surfaced in the attic. It was a packframe. But it was more than that, really.

When I first began hiking in the Adirondacks, back in the dark ages of the late 1950’s, I used an Army surplus packframe. It was wooden and probably issued during the Korean War. I used it for years. I hated it. I may as well have been carrying my gear in my hands. The frame hurt my back and made enjoyable hiking adventures much less so.

What to do? I was offered a summer job with the U. S. Geological Survey to be a field assistant on the Juneau Icefield in Alaska. The wooden frame was never going to cut the mustard as they say. So, I began saving my nickels and saving my dimes. I was going to have happier times. Soon I was able to purchase a Kelty Pack. I gazed at it. It wasn’t much to look at. It was crumply and stained. I hiked for several days in Alaska carrying at least sixty pounds. It squeaked and creaked every time I hefted it onto my back.

A little backstory:

It was the early days of the hiking craze (that is still with us). Not much really good equipment was available to the average backpacker. These days, one would have to mortgage the farm to afford the best stuff. Walmart sells very serviceable goods for the hiker. However, if you happen to be an Everest or El Capitan Big Wall Climber, then be nice to your wife because you will be needing a lot of $$$ to afford the latest technology.

There were better packs than the Kelty, but not many. It’s not the Ferrari of packs, but it was miles ahead of the rest.

It is my hope that, whomever ends up with my Kelty will treat it with respect and love. I also hope that they have as many adventures that I did with it. I can only hope.

One afternoon in the future:

I happened to feel the need for a beer. I know it was late, nearly time for the “Time Gentleman” bell. As I pushed open the screen door to the Red Dog Saloon I brushed against the person leaving. I stopped to apologize. It was my old friend, Kelty. He looked liked he had seen better times.

“It’s you,” I said.

“Yeah, and it’s you,” said Kelty.

“How have you been? It’s been quite a few years.”

“I’m fine. Not that you really care.”

“Whatever do you mean?” I asked with trepidation.

“You left me for a newer model. How can I ever trust you again?”

“But…”

“No buts here bud. We’re through.”

“Let me buy you a drink, pal,” I said with little hope.

“No thanks. I’ve got places to go. People to meet.”

Kelty moved out into the street.

“Don’t bother looking for me. Don’t ruin my life. I’m being carried around by someone who has a much better back than you, my ex-friend.”

“Is it over between us?” I asked.

“I’m afraid so, buddy. This good-bye is our last good-bye. Don’t shed a tear. We had our day in the sun and the rain. I guess I really don’t blame you. I was getting a bit creaky lately.”

“I guess it’s so-long then.”

“Yeah. Maybe we’ll pass on some trail someday in the future. But, do me a favor. Don’t mention our life together. Let’s keep it our little secret.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m seeing this hot little rucksack I met on the Appalachian Trail. If she knew we had a past, it might ruin everything. I want to take her to a Youth Hostel and, you know…get a little private room and then perhaps, in the future, we can start our own little family of Fanny Packs.”

“Not to worry,” I said. “I won’t give us away.”

“You always said the right things.”

Dan & Daughter At Rest

My father is hidden behind everything I am.

–Adrienne Egan “Danny Boy” (From a high school essay)

[Long Pond with Long Pond Mountain in the distance. Photo Courtesy of Terri Mendelson]

I have long dreaded what was about to take place. As I approached the shore of Long Pond, the memories began to weigh heavy on my heart. How often had I stood in the sand since the early 1980’s when my older brother, Chris, discovered the St. Regis Wilderness Canoe Area? A group of friends followed me to the beach. My son, Brian, carried a backpack that held a black box. I was about to say a final goodbye to my brother, Dan. He was the last of my brothers…the last Egan from Owego…except me. I was alone now. I thought of a phone call in 2019.

Mariam and I were in a pub in Dorset, England. The establishment was closed except for several dozen locals. It was Christmas Day. The dinner was for those who had nowhere else to go for the holiday. Mariam had located the small square in the pub where cell phone reception was weak but present. She punched in the number. It was a phone call I wish didn’t have to happen.

I spoke (or tried to with a broken signal) to my brother, Dan. He was in a hospice bed and he had about forty hours or so to live. I managed to say “I love you” but I don’t think he could make out the words.

Two days later, while we were settling in for dinner at the White Lion Inn, Mariam’s cell rang. The message was simple. The message was clear…and final. Dan had passed away.

I signed a paper to allow for Dan’s cremation.

Years later, in early August, 2022 I sat up in bed and realized that I was the one responsible for the cremains. I chose August 27 for the day to fulfill Dan’s will and have his ashes left in Long Pond.

~ ~ ~

Many years ago, back in 1991, just after I arrived in New York City to take a new teaching job, my phone rang. It was my father. What he told me sent shivers down my spine and tears to my eyes. Dan, who had been badly injured in Viet Nam, was told by the doctors that a) he would never walk again and b) he would never father a child. He proved the good doctors wrong. He walked with a limp…but he walked. And, he had a daughter by a young woman named Diana. The child’s name was Adrienne.

All was well until it wasn’t.

Adrienne and other college mates were having a party event on the roof of Adrienne’s dormitory. The facts are vague in my mind. The others left the roof…left the roof for Adrienne. She fell asleep. She rolled to the roof edge. She fell. She died.

Something died in my brother that day. His personality darkened. But he pushed through much of the grief…as much as one can…and he began to age. We all aged. But Adrienne was destined to be the teenager that lived in Dan’s memory. For the rest of his days.

Dan has been reunited with his daughter in the urn.

They both will enjoy the sunsets and storms that roll over Long Pond. The ice of winter. The buzz of mosquitos and black flies will fill their ears. The wind will howl in the dark nights of winter. The burning sun of summer. The meteor showers and the Aurora. The rainbows and the woodsmoke. These are all the things that Long Pond will offer them as it welcomes the new arrivals.

[For the Memorial Service. Photo courtesy of Bart Durkin]

The Pump: I Can’t Handle It

[The Pump. Located at the village green in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.]

“How does it feel?”

–Bob Dylan Like A Rolling Stone

For many years Bob Dylan has provided a plethora of quotes for me for use in most social situations. Armed with these literary bites, I have made something of a name for myself as a Dylanologist. Yes, I’ve read many books about Bob and I can often be seen leafing through the big volume of Lyrics, looking for just the right wording, the satisfying cadence, the rhyme, the syntax and the deep theology found within his five hundred + songs. If you’re a follower of mine, you know that I often find appropriate places to insert a quote or two into a Blog (like I’m doing here) or a Facebook post.

Dylan was not awarded the Nobel Prize for scratching girl’s phone numbers on phone booths or public bathroom walls.

Just the other day I asked an attractive woman:

“My warehouse has my Arabian drums, should I put them at your gate?”

She stared at me with a blank expression. “Watch it, buster. My husband lifts weights.” I closed my trench coat and retreated back into the alley. I didn’t want to hear that her husband was kicked out of the Soviet Secret Police for being too rough on snitches.

Years ago I walked over to the Typing Teacher at the school where I taught. “Time is an ocean and it ends at the shore. You may not see me tomorrow.”

“What? Are you taking a sick day?”

Another time I was struggling to recall the name of a somewhat obscure song by Dylan. My head was lowered in concentration. A woman standing near me apparently thought I said something. She asked: “What did you say?”

At that very moment I recalled the song.

“Wiggle. Wiggle,” I said. I can still feel the stinging of my cheek. It was a left hand swipe and I can tell you that she was sporting a ring on her finger the size of an oxen yoke.

You can see that I’ve had varying degrees of success with these quotes. And I have the scars to prove it. But there is one line, buried deep inside Subterranean Homesick Blues. In fact, there are several keepers from that song. I once asked a woman who was sitting next to me in a bar: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” She glared at me with big brown cow eyes which quickly narrowed to evil slits. She seemed to breath fire, and not the good kind.

‘Hey grandpa,” she said, “I don’t need a weatherman. I have an App.” She shook her iPhone with a barely hidden malevolence that would frighten any witch in MacBeth.

But I digress.

The real story I intended to tell you about is how a long-time search on my part led me to a quaint upstate college campus on a day just like today. Actually, it was yesterday, in the afternoon. After several Google searches I finally located the famous pump that does not have a handle.

“The pump don’t work ’cause the vandals took the handle.”

You may have seen the music video of the song. Dylan is standing in an alley near the Savoy Hotel in London. He’s holding large cards which has bits of the song written on them. He drops each one as the words are sung.

[The Pump. A Closer Look]

I read somewhere that there is a picture of a street in London supposedly showing the Beatles crossing the intersection. Maybe there’s a song about that. Maybe there are some lyrics that I can adapt for a supply of pick-up lines.

I heard a song from those days once. Now I remember. I was riding an uptown M104 bus in New York. I was sitting next to a ravishing redhead with green eyes and a provocative plaid flannel shirt from L. L. Bean. I turned to her and, pointing to the Chrysler Building, I said in my best Ringo nasal voice: “You know that in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

It took three doctors and four nurses, using industrial strength Saline Solution to wash the Mace from my eyes.

I waited for everyone to leave except the younger blonde RN. I quietly said to her: “Cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it.”

I woke up in the ER twenty minutes later.

My jaw was wired shut. No more quotes from me for a while.

[The video.]

[All photos are mine with the exception of the Dylan picture with the sign Government. Credit: Tony Frank/Sygma/Corbis.]

Paying It Forward: More Late Night Thoughts on Greg

“And when I come to the dim trail-end,

I who have been Life’s rover,

This is all I would ask, my friend,

Over and over and over:

//

Stars that gleam on a moss-grey stone

Graven by those who love me–

There would I lie alone, alone,

With a single pine above me;

Pine that the north wind whinnys through–

Oh, I have been Life’s lover!

But there I’d lie and listen to

Eternity passing over.”

–Robert Service Heart O’ The North

[Greg just outside Owego. February, 1960]

A Labatts Blue in his right hand, a left hand on my shoulder. We were arguing in an Owego tavern that if I would just give him fifteen minutes he would prove to me how cell phones were going to ruin my life. I deftly avoided the conversation. Greg was set in his ways. Not only was he mistaken, but without cell phones, I would never have to take his call and tell him how to get to our Adirondack home so many times in the early days of 2011.

I was privileged to be given the opportunity to delivery his eulogy. I regret nothing of what I said. My major failure was what I had left out.

So, gather the grandchildren, the aunts, sisters, brothers, a wife, and his sons. Gather his friends alongside his family. We are now the Flame Keepers, the storytellers and the sources of one man’s history. It must live on and on. Say it all loud and with conviction. Make no apologizes for a flawed human. Tell his life like it was. Hold nothing back. Don’t leave the painting half-finished. Future generation not yet born will thank you.

[Greg on Avalanche Lake at the base of Mt. Colden]

The day will come when the younger generations will be asking those who lived back in those days: “I wonder what Grandpa would say about that?”

If only he were still by my side. I knew him well but still have as many questions as the stars in the sky.

Yesterday morning I was walking a wooded path. The trail headed east so I had to squint and shade my eyes against the sun. I saw him. I’m sure it was him. He was standing on a mountaintop with the rising sun ahead of him. The morning mist was slowly being burned away by the sun.

[Greg on the summit of Mt. Colden. Temperature was about -10° F. Year was 1960-61]

Was he waiting for me? He beckoned. To me? He pointed to the east. Did he want me? Did he need me?

Then, somehow I was near him. His eyes were filled with tears of contentment. There was a hint of sadness for those he left behind. But he seemed filled with joy that he had at last reached his final destination. His final summit.

I heard his voice clearly in my mind: “There is no end to this, Pat. There are more trailheads and beginnings than I ever thought existed.”

He took a step away…distancing himself. “Don’t be long. I don’t like waiting.” These were his last audible words to me. “Let’s have one more cup of coffee till we go to the valley below.”

Thanks again, Greg. This time for teaching me how to enjoy ‘nuclear’ wings at Rattigan’s and how to savor a Lupo’s Spiedie.

We each learned from the other. But I doubt he ever fully understood what an Emoji was. Then again, maybe he did.

[Me in an alpine valley, Alaska. 1967]