My Way Home

This morning, about an hour after dawn (6:45 am locally), I was lying in bed, propped up by my three pillows, checking on the responses from my last blog. Beside me, Mariam dozed, probably dreaming of new mask designs. More than likely, she was exhausted from walking me around the living room to help alleviate cramps and the horrid agony of restless leg syndrome, both of which I suffer from. We stopped when the cramps began to ease. I took advantage to rest and get several small carrots. An hour ago the snowplow came by, making noise that reminded me of a Delta airliner landing without the wheels down. Beyond that, all was quiet like the deep woods after a snowfall, which would be just about every night for the last month and a half.

Falling to sleep last night was problematic. I had written an outline for my next novel a week ago. The outline took me hours to get my thoughts and plans into the computer. We printed it out so I could use it as a guide to continue working. I needed to flesh out the story line, enhance the drama and tension and make the narrative clearer. The print out came to 23 pages. Fair enough I thought, that’s a great start. So I took the pages back to the computer and began to add, subtract and fill in gaps. I wrote for about a week. With satisfaction we printed it out. The number of pages came to 23!

What happened? Where was all that writing?

I guess that anger and agitation led to the cramps.

But, I digress.

There I was, thinking odd thoughts when a movement caught my eye. I put down my iPhone and listened. Again there a movement. This time I noted that it was coming from outside…

I quietly slipped off my side of the bed and crept to the window which was only a foot or two from Mariam’s soft breathing. I edged myself close enough to the glass I could almost see my own breath’s fog. I saw nothing at first except a small mountain of snow. But, there, right before my eyes was where the sound came from. It was a drop. A drop of water from one of hundreds of icicles. It was a small sign of melting. Soon there would be more I hoped.

As soon as Mariam was awake and sipping her coffee, I excitedly told her about the drop of water and what it could mean for us. She looked at me like I was speaking about something crazy, like a cloned black-footed ferret.

“Have some camomile,” she said. “You’ve had a hard night.”

I told her I was going to drive to the post office and get our catalogues.

“Take the recycles out to the bins,” she said as she made a successful move on Words with Friends. As I walked across the front deck I took care to not cause a mini avalanche. I walked with pride to the garage, nudged the door open and reached in to push the button to open the large front door. I closed it immediately and covered my ears. The noise from the automatic door opener is loud and screechy enough to make ones ears bleed. I emptied a can of WD-40 on the track, but it only made the door louder. Perhaps I had picked up a can of WD-39 instead.

As I walked back from the garage, with the door noise still vibrating in my middle ear, I paused and looked at the canyon-like path the led to our front door. I looked down at where the ‘salt’ had melted some ice. That was enough to settle a long-standing disagreement between Mariam and myself as to what our deck was made of. As usual, she won. It was wood.

I noted the deck shovel, the plastic sled that we move our groceries from the car.

I also noted the metal sunburst house decoration. That, in a way, helped me find my way home.

[Note from author: All photos are mine, but more importantly, if anyone out there has a method to relieve restless leg syndrome, please email me at: pegan7@roadrunner.com]

Dealing With It?

I’ve been through a lot of situations in my life thus far. I fell into a glacial crevasse, got lost in Alaska, got lost in the Adirondacks, capsized a canoe in the Susquehanna River and visited a grave on Cemetery Hill at midnight.

But I could deal with it.

I spent nearly a week in a hotel room in New York City (see previous blog), pacing the well-worn rug, waiting for results of an MRI. The results were good. Barring accidents, I’d live. But boredom set in and I lost the desire to read. I play Words With Friends until well past my usual bed time while trying to think of what names to give my two hernias. On or about midnight I would take my sleep medications but the strong diuretic from the afternoon was still on board. This meant hourly trips to the bathroom.

But I could deal with it.

Back home we spent money on a suet feeder that was double caged “to deter squirrels”. Within a day, one red squirrel figured out a way to enter the feeder…this animal is eating well and doing a great job at keeping out the wrens, chickadees and finches. There was a moment when I thought of finding something in my shop and attacking the feeder like a piñata.

[The squirrel-proof suet feeder.]

My shop door is next to a certain red snowblower. It’s been used twice. I never knew how difficult those blowers can be until I tried to use it. My back pain told me that this is something for younger men or women to do. I was disappointed but I listened to my back. I’ll find some neighbor kid to handle all that. The only problem is that there are no kids, teenagers or otherwise on our block.

But I can deal with it.

For the three hour trip from Albany (we break the trip in half) I sat or rather squirmed in our Honda Fit. Took my pills after Albany and went to bed around midnight. Then came the urge to urinate. I made several unsuccessful attempts. Nothing. Something was wrong. On each attempt, the pain increased. I cried out in pain. Mariam came to help. Suddenly, at 4:15 am, I passed a bladder stone the size of a Buick. Then came the peaceful sleep.

But I can deal with it.

What I can’t deal with is another curse thrown my way. Insomnia. Couple that with restless leg syndrome and you have a combination of pure pain. Insomnia. What should I think about to bring on sleep. Everywhere in my mind was a place I didn’t want to go. My boyhood? My schooldays? My so-called fond memories of my so-called adventures just reminded me of how terrified I was at the time. I have to face the fact that I’m afraid of the dark.

I can’t deal with that.

While fighting off insomnia, I close my eyes and try to envision this:

But this is what I see:

When all is said and done, I want spring to come early and surprise me. This I can deal with.

[All photos are mine with the exception of the green mossy one. Source: Pinterest]

Living The High Life In Manhattan

Buildings

[I’ll take Manhattan. Source: Google search.]

There was a time, back in the day, when most people would cherish, desire and even pay a small fortune to have even a few hours of free time to roam and marvel the world of Manhattan. Well, we are nearing the end of our stay. Tomorrow morning we head north to Albany, with a full tank of gas and a brand new tire on our Honda Fit. We’re leaving our nest at the Marriott Residence on E. 48th St. Living high? We’re in Room 1017 and that’s high enough for me, thank you.

Doctor visits and MRI’s completed, I got the word yesterday that I have no life threatening disorders. For this, I am forever thankful. I’m stressed about traveling anywhere in the middle of winter, but the stress of my medical state is gone for the time being. Mariam was emotionally stressed but she can breathe now. At ease knowing I’m more or less okay. There is the matter of my two hernias which have not been attended to. But that’s alright. I’ve grown to like my little abdominal friends. I’m thinking of naming them.

So you must be wondering what it’s like living for a modest cost in the Greatest City in the World. I have not left the room since the snow storm this past monday. Mariam has ventured out to the drug store and small market. Me, I listen to WQKR (classical music), read (just finished Woman in the Window…can’t say I loved it), think about my novel, and mull over my next blog. What you’re reading is the result of a great deal of mulling. I have no breathtaking view to show you.

[Stunning view of the Chrysler Building from our window.]

Here is my little world:

Mariam prepares dinner in our spacious kitchen.

My own personal workspace.

So as you can plainly see, we have it all. Who needs a spa? An in-house restaurant? And, an added bonus, we can get two free plastic bottles of water just for the asking.

What more can one ask for? Now all we have to do is keep an eye on our weather apps for our long drive back to the Cabin in the Woods where one can find real quiet and maybe a little exercise with the snow shovel.

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.”

Till Their Hearts Content

My normal blogs are usually free of self pity. I don’t complain very much about my state of life. What follows is an exception.

Sometime early this afternoon, at a major New York City hospital, (when the moon is 22.8% waning crescent) I will lie face down, half naked, hands gripping the mattress by my forehead, to have two needles inserted in my lower back.

I won’t be alone. Countless others have the same condition. We endure Epidural Steroid Injections (ESI). The procedure is part of a “non-surgical management” of sciatica and lower back pain. It sounds as though it were developed in some forgotten gulag during the Stalin era. It was just his kind of thing.

My procedural relief normally lasts about four months, then it is back to New York City again. I have a great pain management doctor. But this past winter we were stuck in Portugal, then COVID, then travel restrictions. On the way home we were ahead of the virus by only a few days. As a consequence, I was months behind in my injections. My pain level rose like an escalator to Macy’s Santa Land.

So we made appointments to get THE SHOT that would make the lumbar discomfort vanish like the snows of winter. The procedure isn’t without flaws however. There is an occasional error. The MIRACLE INJECTION failed to take. Within a few weeks I was suffering as before.

Well here I am again waiting for my turn devouring the latest issue of Arthritis Today. I’m ready this time. No trembling with fear, no nervousness, no worries and no projectile vomiting. Now I’ll be able to return to my normal quality of life like tying my shoes, picking up a stray raisin or hopefully handling my brand new red snow blower that has yet to see a single flake. They can inject till their hearts content.

[Source: Google search and Dr. Richard Staehler, MD]

Waiting For Some Friends

Yes, I know. We went to Lowes in Plattsburg and purchased a fire-engine red snowblower. It has all the ‘stuff’ a person would want in one of these babies. It drives itself and controls the direction the snow is blown (away from your face for example).

We waited for the Big One. After all it was getting toward mid-November and by now we would have been slammed by at least three Arctic blasts.

Instead, we got about 4″ to 5″ inches. Hardly a Canadian blitz.

So, except for some hidden bits along the plowed road, there is small patch of snow in our yard about the size of a medium waffle that would come with eggs and coffee at Friendly’s on a day that advertised BREAKFAST SPECIAL!

Knowledge is information, they say. I needed knowledge about the expected and upcoming Big One. I bought a copy of Harris Farmer’s Almanac for 2121. I have nothing against the Old Farmer’s Almanac except I couldn’t locate one and the impulse buying rack carried only copies of rip-off headlines of British scandals and the latest break-up between the Kardashians.

I dove into Harris’ Almanac looking for the Next Big Prediction of Severe Weather. Instead I got caught up in an article about President Taft who became chief justice, Miss America turning 100, President Harding’s First Dog, Laddle Boy and a History of the first drive-in pig stand. What caught most of my interest was a piece on the vanishing song birds.

Finally I found the page about January 2121. Reading this, I now know all the moon’s phases when to plant a root crop and the major holiday’s (National Maritime Day is May 22.)

But, I failed to track down the major snow events for January. It may just as well have stated: The Big One Is Coming. Well, we all know that, (those of us who live in Zone 8), The North Country. Does our little patch of snow in our front yard know that? Can it be assured that it won’t spend the winter alone? You know that loneliness makes me sad.

I must say that I rely on forecasts as we’ve seen and patience. No matter how insignificant one thinks one is, you’re partly right. A tiny bit of snow, when The Big One comes, won’t be alone.

Sometime the wait is worth it. There will be plenty of friends.

[Source: Both photos are mine.]

10,000 Eyes

Most seasoned travelers to Paris would not be surprised that many of them are walking on countless remains of past Parisians. It is estimated that there are over 6,000,000 bodies, skulls mostly, that are buried in ancient rock mine shafts.

It all began with a gruesome and tragic collapse of a catacombs from the church St. Innocents. This prompted the city engineers to use the remaining mine shafts to bury the dead. Only a portion of these unfortunates are on view and open to the public. Touring the tunnels will cost 5€ and I estimated that only about 10,000 skulls and bones are on display.

Who were these people? What were their lives like? Did they often meet, fall in and out of love? Cry? Laugh? Grieve? Were they happy or were their lives spent living in squalid misery? We only have the blank eyes staring back at us to even give a hint.

But we are confident that as Parisians, they approached life with a certain savoir faire.

Think of it. The sightless eye sockets of 10,000 watch your every move. Try to steal a kiss from a sweetheart or a nip from a flask, you certainly won’t be alone.

Oddly enough, it not a dismal environment.

On the streets above, you’re mostly alone. But in the catacombs you have thousands of friends, although mute, at least they are watching you in their own way.

The Bearded Man Beholds The Autumn

 

[Photo is mine.]

He sits on the front deck of his home. Despite recent chilly weather, this particular Wednesday proved to be mild…even warm. He has spent the last half-hour watching a red squirrel scurry about a pile of chipped wood. Doubtless, this is to be his winter den.

The bearded man is sitting like countless other men and women like him. He spends his idle hours either writing or thinking of odd topics to comment on. At the moment, he is musing on the science that explains the breakdown of the Chlorophyll that is necessary for the tree to reveal the true color of it’s leaves.

[Photo is mine.]

He scratches the whiskers on his cheek. He is fully aware that before he can say Blitzen all this foliage will be composting beneath two feet of powder-white snow,

The relentless challenges of winter will keep the old man close by the fireplace. He will likely be typing about the awesome beauty of the North Country winter.

Some Sunday afternoon in mid-January he will find himself in the icy garage staring at ski poles and snowshoes. He’ll recall times when pain didn’t accompany a simple walk in the woods.

Soon, he will be sitting in his favorite leather wingback chair. His fingers will linger with the buttons of his treasured L.L Bean plaid flannel shirt

Like many old men who sit and think, he’ll ponder his youth, wonder what happened to his middle years and doubtless dread the future left to him.

Then, without a doubt, he’ll reach for a good book.

[Photo credit: Google 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.]

A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood

[Our beautiful neighborhood]

Did I ever tell you that I have a sore back? Surely, I did.

The other day I was sitting on the edge of the bed pondering how long a nap I should take when I chanced to hear the sound of big truck-like things and chainsaws. I decided to investigate. I struggled to my feet and walked to the end of the driveway. The distance felt like I had hiked the Silk Road. At the top of the drive, I felt like I’d summited K2. Just to put things in perspective, it takes Mariam about five minutes to walk the loop.

I was curious about the noise, but the back pain won the battle. It was a forty-five minute nap.

But I digress.

Once, many years ago, I bought a book on building a house. I could see it all…a pile of planks four stories high and six tons of pipes and girders. What could possibly be so hard about that? I’ve watched houses being erected…Plumbing? There’s a book on how to do it.

Finally, my wife got curious and took a drive over to the building site. The house is being built by our friends, Linda and Brad Brett who live and work in and around Jupiter, Florida. They summer here but in a different house. The story of the construction that Mariam related while I nursed my back amazed me. Linda posted a great many pictures.

They are building a custom-made structure. It’s life began in Watertown, NY. By watching the pictures come in I was able to follow the building vicariously. Here’s how a house goes together in a small patch of woods in the North Country:

[Foundation & Lower Level]

[House being lifted into place]

So, what’s going to happen to our quiet little neighborhood…where it’s always a beautiful day? A small green space going…but great neighbors moving in. We can now expect a welcome meal made by the gourmet/owner. There will be cocktail parties and good times. Plenty of Chardonnay, Prosecco, and local craft beer. Discussions of future climbs and hikes, kayak cocktail parties on the lake…and a great deal of laughter.

Maybe I’ll take that walk today.

Welcome , Mr. & Mrs Brad Brett to Garondah Road and Rainbow Lake!

[Home Sweet Home]

{All photographs courtesy of Linda & Mariam}