When Sand Turns Cold: Between The Seasons

[The Lake Colby Beach in Saranac Lake, NY. Photo is mine.]

This is an odd time of the year. The autumn colors are past peak (yes, there are a few places where the reds are blinding and the yellows can bring tears to your eyes)…but the peak foliage in its intensity is essentially gone until next October, or late September (depending on the summer rains).

It’s a sad time. The public beaches have hauled in the lifeguard chairs and the floating docks. No mothers wander about looking for toddlers, no cheerleader is working on her tan line. No quarterback is working on a Malibu bronze complexion. That’s all okay…it’ll all fade in three weeks time (unless they still use a bottle tan mixture like they did in the ’60’s.)

Still hikers take to the trails since most of the bugs are gone.  The kayaks are being put up in boathouses for the long winter. Year-rounders are stacking wood for the stoves in their cabins.

The skiers are busy waxing and sharping their edges at the local ski shops.

Sam Adams has come out with the Octoberfest brew.

Local micro-breweries are putting up the taps of the newest Pumpkin flavored IPA.

But the beaches are gone.  Sure one can go and wrap up in fleece and try to read a book…but’s its changed.

I have a distinct memory of jumping out of our family car in the parking lot of Golden Beach…sometime in the early 1950’s. We had a campsite, but none of my brothers wanted to put off the swimming. My feet, the tender feet of a child burned as I ran toward the water. I couldn’t make it. I ran back and jumped in the waiting arms of my father. He carried me, tenderly across the burning sands and gently put me down in the cool waters of Raquette Lake.

Summer is gone again. The first snowflakes are a few weeks away.

And, then the WINTER sets in. Sometimes until mid-May. I grew up in downstate NY, near the Finger Lakes. We had four distinct seasons. Up here in the North Country it’s more likely three seasons.

I live on Ibuprofen because of my back pain.

So, we are off to Portugal in mid-December for 2 1/2 months of warmth. It’s not Florida, but it’s cheaper.

I wonder what things will be like in five or seven years.

Will it matter?

Good-bye Rosie

[Rosie. Photo is mine.]

My mother passed away in her sleep on a quiet Easter Sunday morning in 1992. A sad event indeed. Just days before on Holy Thursday, she sat in the living room of our home and told the priest that she was tired and was prepared. She was ready. She also told him she wanted to depart this life on Easter. She got her wish. This event put into motion a series of events, a journey of sorts, in my life, that of my wife, Mariam and Cracklin Rosie.

A day later my wife and I drove to Tioga Gardens Nursery to pick out a spray of flowers for the funeral home viewing. The nursery was owned, I believe, by my high school classmate, Ed Kuhlman. He commiserated his sorrow at my mother’s passing and took an order for a floral display.

“Wait;” he said as we were leaving. “I have a gift for you, Pat.”

He disappeared into the depths of the greenhouse and emerged a few minutes later with a small potted plant.

“Here, this is from me. No charge. It’s a Begonia and I’ve named it Cracklin Rosie. I love Neil Diamond. Take care of her and she will bring back memories of you mom.”

[For all my botanists readers: Begonia x corellina hybrid. The plant scientist who created the hybrid named it after the Neil Diamond song. For years I thought it was Ed Kuhlman’s favorite song.]

We took the plant and departed.  After the funeral and all the necessary things that had to be done, we headed back to New York City. I was a teacher and my wife was a nursing administrator at a major city hospital. We had to go forward to our lives. We put Cracklin Rosie in a nice place in our one bedroom apartment.

The years passed.  We grew older and Rosie (we dropped the Cracklin part) grew up and out. Then up and out some more until she became as prominent a part of our home as a sofa or a library.

In 2000, we bought a lake side house in Rainbow Lake, NY. We rented it out on a weekly basis for several years. It helped to pay the mortgage. Then in 2005, I retired from teaching. Over thirty years of pushing chalk was now to become a memory.

In 2011, we let ourselves be bought out and left the City for our home in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York State.

We brought Rosie with us. By now, she was the size of a china closet. Every time we travelled abroad we had to find someone to watch over her. It was like having a pet; but one that never crawled on to your lap or wagged a tail. In our dining room, she became a presence…a conversation starter…a center of attention. It was like having the skeleton of the Elephant Man watching you eat your pasta primavera.

Sadly, an era is about to close for us. My son, Brian and his fiancee, Kirstin are coming for a visit over Columbus Day weekend. They have agreed to take Rosie back to Queens and become her new owners.

I’m sitting here as I type this and staring at her in her floppy green glory. She has witnessed dinner parties, made way for a Christmas tree or two, watched us having a candle-lit dinner, an argument, a deep philosophical discussion and all the events of life that come with a happily married couple who live in the North Country.

Knowing how this plant/human relationship will eventually end, we gave cuttings to many of our friends. There are baby Rosies in many homes. And, when Mariam and I visit Brian and Kristin, we’ll meet up with Rosie and talk about old times.

She has felt us brush by her as we haul luggage out to the car or back into the living room from our travels. She sensed us. She welcomed us. I think she’ll miss us.

I’ll miss her just like I’d miss an old friend.

Just like I miss my mother.

 

 

Sitting In Another Cemetery

[Me gazing at the soccer game. Photo credit: Mariam Voutsis]

You, my readers, may think I’m a bit morose and morbid.  My last post was about Evergreen Cemetery, in my home town of Owego, NY.  But, if you think that I am very dark, you’re wrong.  Yes, I have a strong nostalgic mind.  But today I had a job to do.  I’m a volunteer photographer for Find-A-Grave.com.

That means that I get requests from people from far off USA, hoping somebody like me would take the time to go out to a country cemetery and photograph the gravestone of ‘Aunt Martha’. Whatever you may think, I consider it a great service to fulfill these requests.  (I get no monetary reward, nor would I accept one.)  I’m satisfied with the thank-you emails.

But, today.  Today I had some severe lower back pain.  It was difficult to walk the small churchyard.

I took a rest and sat on a boulder that was actually a headstone.  I looked over at a nearby athletic  field where Paul Smiths College was playing soccer.

I heard the shouts, the goals, the cheers and the young men yelling and encouraging. This is  something I did in my youth.

I sat feeling very isolated.  I couldn’t play that game ever again.  It’s a strange and powerful thought when you sit in a churchyard.

I kicked back a few soccer balls that had been hit into the cemetery.  I could still do something with my legs!

But my back still hurt and I heard a shout from Mariam.  She had found some memorial we had long searched for.

Now I sit in our screen-in porch and listen the the howling wind.  Our squash is in the oven.  Summer is ended and I must put the plexiglass panels back into place.

Time flies like the wind.

 

 

A Cemetery With a View

[The grave of Sa Sa Na Loft. Evergreen Cemetery, Owego, NY.

Photo credit is my own.]

I’m back in my home town of Owego, NY for a reason.  I have no one to visit.  Nothing to purchase (I did buy two books at River Row Book Store), but I was there on an early September afternoon for a sad occasion.  I was there to attend a memorial service for a long time friend of mine, Teri Ware Bramlett.  It was held at the Hickories Park under a glorious sky.  The Susquehanna River flowed slowly behind my chair. It was the color of an olive.

But this post is not about that.  Perhaps I’ll post my memories of Teri at a later date.  I had errands to attend to.  The top of my list was going to TOPS and buying flowers for my family’s grave at St. Patrick’s Cemetery.  Then I had to center myself.  Find the place where I can take in the whole of my early life.  And there is no other place than the “Indian Girl’s Monument” on Cemetery Hill (Evergreen Cemetery).  From there I can scan the valley below.  I can oversee my hometown like a king rules from the highest castle tower.

Certain places are obvious, other less so.  The trees are still full and green block some of what I wanted to see.

I sit on the bench with my wife.  I can see St. Patrick’s Church…where I was baptized and where most of my family’s funerals were held.  I can’t make out my old home, too many trees.  I can barely see the backyard of my childhood girlfriend’s house.  I see the Susquehanna, entering the view from the far left and fading off toward Pennsylvania to the right. I can see the Court House.  There’s Lake Street where I hung out with my friends in the 50’s and 60’s.  All of us overwhelmed by the power of hormones we never knew about until we bacame adults.

It’s all below me, but so far out of reach.  My youth was spent on these streets.  Memories began to flood my mind.

It’s time to go.

I realize I’m no longer a physical presence in this village, but I can never fully find myself free from the chains of the past.

The No-Name Motel

[The motel with no name]

Most of the time I can erect a fence to contain the images and imaginations from escaping my brain.  Sometimes a little white picket fence with pink daisies in purple pots are enough to hold back the most innocent and decent imagery that my mind can create.  Then, there are times when a more sturdy wooden enclosure is necessary.  My thoughts have gotten a little darker and far-fetched.  At the end of the line, I need to put up a stockade of lichen-covered stone, dusty bricks or cement blocks…topped by razor wire.  These keep in the real demons; the ideas, thoughts, dreams, musings and nightmares that one finds along a dark path in the dark woods, deep ravines and foggy patches in misty churchyards.  These fences hold my odd thoughts where they belong…in my brain.  It works.

Most of the time.

I’m on Route 11, the main highway that crosses the North Country.  I’ve been on this road many times heading either west or east out of Malone.  This isn’t the first time I’ve spotted the old motel.  I pull over.  The weeds in the old lawn are chest high.  The welcome sign is getting loose around the hinges and bolts.  I don’t know how long this place will exist.  Perhaps the next time I drive this way, the whole structure may be replaced by a Tractor Supply, a Bowling Alley or a Car Wash.

To me, that would be a shame.  It’s obvious it will never again function as a motel…and that is why it attracts and charms me.  Here, in what may have been the driveway, I sit in my Honda and survey the old buildings.

The style of the buildings could be 1960’s, but I’m going to place it in the mid-1950’s.  It suits my narrative style better.

Then I close my eyes.  I can see the phantoms that once stayed here.  I can imagine their stories.  I can feel their history.  It’s happy and sad, tragic and fortunate.  The lives that passed through these rooms, pass through me now.

I see the shadows move about.

The traveling salesman, with his valise full of brushes and combs, slips into Room 2.  Once inside, he hangs his seersucker jacket on the door hook, kicks off his worn wing-tipped shoes and stretches out on the lumpy bed.  He unscrews the bottle of bourbon and takes a long pull.  He doesn’t want to go home.

A blushing teenage couple from Watertown just bluffed their way intro Room 9.  He has a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon that is slowly getting warm.  He uses his church key to open two.  They sit awkwardly on the sofa before moving to the bed.  In exactly ten months, she’ll give birth to a baby boy who will grow up to own his own auto repair shop outside of Burlington, VT.  His parents will each die in separate car accidents in 1974.

A cheap thug who just robbed a liquor store in Plattsburgh takes Room 5.  His girl has a bruise on her cheek, her arm and her thigh.  They will stay one night and then drive non-stop to Chicago. There she will leave him for a chiropractor.

A family is on their way into the heart of the Adirondacks.  They have driven south from Quebec City and will spend the next two weeks swimming at Golden Beach on Raquette Lake.  One child  will become an astronomer and the other will become a teacher.  Room 10 is their final night under a roof.  Tomorrow night the tent comes out.

A troubled couple from Binghamton will argue well into the night about in-law problems.  The wife will turn up the radio when Billie Holiday comes on.  Maybe the volume will drown out the threats from Room 14.

An insurance salesman from Buffalo will quickly enter Room 7.  He knows this motel well.  Room 7 is hidden from the office.  Following him through the door is his secretary, Helen.  He promised her many things during the long drive.  Anything, he thinks, as long as she gives me a night of pleasure that he can’t find at home with his lawful wife.

Two young men in their twenties passing themselves off as brothers on their way to visit family in Lake George walk boldly into Room 11.  Here they can be themselves and love each other like they have wished for the past three years.

Yes, the lawn is chest-high with Timothy grass, Ragweed and Queen Anne’s Lace.  Butterflies and black flies flit from flower to flower.  No more cars will be stopping here, ever.  The motel once had a name, but even the sign is gone.  A little VACANCY sign is visible.  Those who passed through this office, slept on creaky mattresses and used the stained toilet are long gone.  Some of the stories had happy endings while others ended with a broken heart or a bleeding nose.  These travelers have moved on.  Many are still alive, most are buried in some local cemetery or a burying ground a thousand miles away.  A few who laughed, drank, sinned and prayed in these rooms are possibly being sedated by an RN in a nursing home…somewhere.

I go back to my car after taking a few photos and I notice something that may seem ironic.

The empty motel with no name is directly across the road from a hospice.

Another flood of imaginings come rushing from my brain.

[All the lonely people.  All the empty rooms.]

 

 

I Too Can Do Physical Labor

[Me on the steps…working hard.]

As a blogger I get tons of mail.  It’s mostly fan letters, notes of congratulations, invitations to weddings, birthday parties, fundraisers, dedications at mall openings and the occasional bris.  But I also get questions.

“Gee, Pat (I’m an informal kind of guy), what do you do when you’re not working on a blog post?”

“Gosh, Pat, you must spend most of your waking hours living inside your head.  That must be awesome and exciting!”  I didn’t have the heart to tell that fan that living inside my head is no picnic.  There are dark corners in my brain that I try avoid.  I know this because my insomnia forces me to confront the demons.  My nightmares are real and full of things that crawl on the ground and hiss and spit.

“Golly, Pat, your life as a blogger must so exciting and so totally awesome.”  I didn’t have the heart to tell the fan that my blogs often go unnoticed.

But I digress.

I am actually a very active guy.  True, I may spend weeks in bed waiting for the mosquitoes to die off.  But, on cool days when the breeze is steady and strong off the lake, I search for something to do around the house…outside that is.  One of the drawbacks to owning a home in the North Country is that there is never anything to do.  I mowed the lawn a few times last summer.  I stacked wood for about thirty-five minutes.  I swept the floor of the garage.  A couple times each summer, I put the ladder up against the house and I climb onto the roof.  I have Mariam pass up my favorite tool, the leaf-blower.  Then I attack the rain gutter to clear out the muck and pine needles.

Such a feeling of power to send clods of gunk sailing off into the trees.  It gives additional meaning to my life.

A few days ago, I decided it was time to apply a coat of Thompson’s WaterSeal to the railings and steps of our rear deck.  I gathered the rags, sander, the can of Thompson’s, the extension cord, my mask, a pair of ear protecters and a bandanna to keep the dust out of my hair.

The bandanna was orange.

To fully understand how intense this project is, I will simply say that I have fairly serious issues with my lower back.  My L3, L4 and L5 are held together with gossamer threads.

“Gosh, Pat, it’s age appropiate arthritis, said my doctor.”

I fully understood that  once the work was done (it took almost six hours) that I would barely be able to walk across the room without looking like Qusimodo or the Elephant Man.  (Full disclosure: it hurt like bloody hell at the end of the day).

As I was working my way down the stairs, step by step, my hand sander suddenly came apart.  Luckily, I had a spare so the work never stopped.  This was a good thing because it was proof to Mariam that for a skilled laborer such as myself (and for all handymen) that when it comes to tools, one should always have two of everything.

Later that night, after a couple of Ibuprofen, I was able to move about without actually crawling on the carpet.  The railings are good for another two years.

So, that’s how a blogger spends time when not sitting at a laptop.  Although, for me, even hunched over a keyboard can cause pain.

If you read this post and click ‘like’, then I will get better.  That’s the way it works.  My health is actually in your hands.

Use the power wisely.

Staring Down at 72

[A post card image from Inkognito.]

As I write this post the weather here at Rainbow Lake is unsettled.  Windy with thunder in the distance.  I fell asleep in the screened-in porch last night listening to heavy rains falling.  I’m staring at a calendar (The kitchen wall calendar…this year: Japanese prints).  I see that I have eleven days until I turn 72.

[My photo.]

72!

When I was a young boy of perhaps nine or ten years of age, I used to play Wiffle Ball with my older brother, Denny.  After many swings and hitting little or nothing, I asked him something that worried me:

“Denny, how many fouls make an out?”

Without hesitating he replied: “72”.

I had no reason to not believe him…I was young.

But that number, 72, kept echoing in my mind over the many years since I sat in our backyard with my older brother. I decided to do a little research.  Google was smoking for me two nights ago as I found many references to that magic number.

The fact is, that number is VERY significant in many ways…mostly to Numerologists.

Here’s a small sample of what I found:

–It is known in esoteric numerology as the Master Number.

–72 x 12=864…the diameter of the sun. (www.netfind.com)

–The average human lifespan is 72 years.

–December 21, 2010 (Winter Solstice) was the date of a total lunar eclipse which lasted exactly 72 minutes.

–The human body is 72% water.

–The Zodiac has 12 constellations and 72 secondary ones.

–72 is the par on an 18-hole golf course.

–There are 72 spaces on a Parcheesi board.

–72 Hz is the frequency commonly used to examine the emotional spectrum.

–In the Old Testament, God destroyed the Tower of Babel and divided the people by 72 languages.

–Jesus died for 72 hours.

–Muslims are awarded 72 virgins in heaven.

–The Pentagon in Washington has 5 angles, all of which are 72 degrees.

–WWII lasted 72 months.

–And, in numerology, 72 = tolerance, philanthropy and intuition.

And there is so much more.

So, what does all this mean for me?  That’s a good question.  All I can say for sure is that I’m not anticipating that day…a week from Friday.  There are so many more years behind me than in front of me.  Have I done right in all those years on this planet?  Have I always made the right choices? (No).  Have I lived a moral life? (Mostly).  There are so many more questions but so few answers.  My only real hope is that I will be here to write about the significance of the number 73.

My dreams at night are those of a young man, not with white hair but merely salt and pepper.  I have no aches in my legs and back…in my dreams.  The young women in my dreams say to me: “Yes, I could love you tonight.”

In the brightness of day, those same young women think: “He looks just like Grandpa.”

“If I’m here in the morning, baby, I’ll know I’ve survived.  I can’t believe it.  I can’t believe I’m alive…but without you it doesn’t seem right.  Oh, where are you tonight?”

–Bob Dylan

“It is hard to do justice to old pleasures that cannot be revived–we seem half to disown our youthful selves, who loved and treasured them.”

–Alan Hollinghurst The Sparsholt Affair.

[Vitruvian Man. A sketch by Leonardo da Vinci. Source: Google search.]

[Full disclosure:  No humans or animals were harmed while writing this post.  The facts listed above have not been verified by me.  They were found during a Google search.  And, most importantly: This post is in no way a shameless and gratuitous plea for LIKES on my Facebook page on May 31. But, don’t let that stop you…]