North Dorset Once Again-The Excurinist III

[A London Pub. Nothing to do with this post.]

We’re with our friends in North Dorset…once again.  I met Tim when he was a rookie teacher when I was an exchange teacher in the mid-1980’s.  Now he’s nearing retiring.  His wife, Jo, is a major player in the local school, psychologist, and tutor.

We love these folks.  They have provided us with a free loft bedroom for two months!  That will allow us to travel to Spain or perhaps Norway.  We have two months.  We’re free and unencourmbed.

Mariam drove on the left for the second time today…to the local grocery market.  I was a nervous passenger, but she did so well.  It’s not easy when all we could book was a standard shift. So many things to thing about whether as a driver or a passenger.  Full disclosure : I have driven on the left since the 1980’s.

Anyway, we are fine and the lack of blogs has to do with the difficulty of getting photos from my camera.

WiFi is difficult in England and in Europe in general.  Most hotels say “free wifi” but the reality is quite different.

Hopefully, I can get inside the wi-fi issue and post more amazing and incredulous posts.

One note: We saw a magic show in London. In the hotel pub.  The woman was a world-class card trick player. I am humbled by what she did since I have two card tricks I can do.

Cheers!

 

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A Fair Swap: The Excursionist I

On Friday, February 1, Mariam and I will be exchanging this:

[The Hudson River on January 26, 2018]

for this:

[The Yorkshire Dales, England]

It’s a pretty fine change of scenery if I do say so myself.

Once upon a time, back in the day, I loved winter.  How could one not love winter…when you’re twelve years old and you’re skating on the Brick Pond in Owego, NY?  I had a toboggan, a sled and the ability to make a superb snow person.  I owned a pair of old snowshoes with leather hide webbing.  An Eddie Bauer Arctic Parka hung in my closet…and still does.  I camped out in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks when it was -28℉.  My ice skates, black and weathered, hung on the wall leading to our attic.  Every time I would pass them, on a stifling day in August, I would think of the coming winter and the frozen pond only a few hundred feet from my front door.

I couldn’t wait.

Then in 1974, a personal tragedy visited me while hiking in the Adirondacks and winter became a little darker in my heart.  I no longer saw the snow as pristine and pure and calming as I had for almost two decades of my life.

The years went by.  I woke up one morning and looking into the mirror, I saw a middle-aged man looking back at me.  The salt & pepper hair had gone mostly gray.  My back hurts after shoveling.  My skates no longer fit.  my bones ache and my muscles get sore when I am forced out of our house to deal with a two-foot snowfall.  Winter no longer holds a spell over me.  I layer up with wool and fleece because I always feel chilled.  I love to watch the snow fall slowly onto the lake near our house.  I love to walk in the moonlight, feeling the peculiar crunch of the ground on cold nights.  But where I’d really rather be is sitting near our wood stove and reading a Nordic Noir novel.

In the mid-1980’s, I spent a year in Dorset, England.  It changed my life.  Footpaths and pubs abound in the chalky hills of Thomas Hardy country.  The mossy gravestones surround the mossy churches.  And, the green is breathtaking.  England may not have the twenty-eight shades of green that cover my beloved Ireland, but it’s a close second.  Sometimes, at our home in the Adirondacks, I will gaze out of the large window that faces Rainbow Lake and see a monochromatic world.  My eyes strain for some color.  A last brown leaf on a dormant maple or even a patch of blue sky beyond the leaden skies.  But no, it’s a world of white and gray.  I yearn for a dandelion or a trillium…anything with color.

So, we’re off to spend the remainder of the winter in Dorset, hosted by friends I met in the 1980’s.  We plan on doing a lot of walking, and I will carry an L.L Bean pole to lean on if my back begins to trouble me.

I guarantee that there will be a stone wall to sit on and rest.  There will be a quiet pew in a forgotten little church in a out-of-the-way village where I can write in my journal.

Yes, I will sit in that quiet pew and think about trading white for green, mild days for thumb-numbing cold mornings and ice for muddy footpaths.

And, I shall have some peace there…without fleece, without down and without cares.

 

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-first 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 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 present, 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 (as my parents said) we were bad little boys, he would leave a lump of coal. 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.  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, NY 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 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 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. I hope I’m wrong about that part of the story.

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 burning low.  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.  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 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 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.”

 

 

For Me? It Was a Hard Days Night

Lennon

[Source: Google search.]

There were no classes scheduled for that Monday. It was parent/teacher conference day at Ridgefield High School in Connecticut. I was assigned to meet the parents of my students in an office close to the front entrance. I sat at the head of a large conference table made of a dark wood. Mahogany? Perhaps.

The parents were on a set schedule. I had a list of those in line waiting to discuss their sons/daughters academic performance. I didn’t have a lot to say to many of the fathers, mothers and couples that sat down, each at their appropriate time, since 99.9% of my students (grade range was from 9th to 12th) were serious about their work, were not discipline problems and were polite to me as their teacher. The most critical remark I made most of the afternoon was: “Your child needs to raise their hand more often”.

Sometime in mid-afternoon something in the air changed.

[Meanwhile, in New York City, a young man was hanging out near the entrance of the Dakota Building on Central Park West and 72nd Street.]

The door opened and a man and woman walked in and took a seat. The man’s head was covered by a fair-sized bandage. The couple held hands. The husband spoke first.

“I hate to waste your time, Mr. Egan, but I’m not really concerned very much right now about my daughter’s behavior in your class.”

I stared at him and waited.

“Four days ago I was caught in a fire at the Stouffer’s Inn where a conference for the Stouffer Company was being held. I’m sure you read about it. Twenty-six of my fellow employees were killed. I ran out of the building and into the arms of firemen. The guy behind me didn’t make it.”

I noticed the couple’s hands tightened their grip.

“I am more thankful for being alive and ready to celebrate the holidays as a family than I am about my wonderful daughter. No offense, Mr. Egan, but I have more important issues to deal with right now.”

I was speechless. “Your daughter is a great student. I’m so very sorry about…”, I couldn’t finish my sentence. The couple rose from their seats. We shook hands and they were gone. I sat in silence hoping the next set of parents would be late.

After the conferences were over, a small group of teachers gathered at the front door. Someone suggested we go to a restaurant/bar to have a drink. I followed.

We sat with our beers watching some kind of comedy show. I wasn’t laughing. Suddenly, the TV was switched off and the lights came on. The manager came out and said that the bar just received a bomb threat and that we would all have to leave.

[The guy was still standing near the main entrance of the Dakota on 72nd Street.]

Most of the teachers drove away leaving three of the science teachers in the parking lot. Two of the teachers shared a small house beside a lake just north of Ridgefield. One of them suggested that we drive to their house and have one more beer.

I remember sitting on the sofa. One of teachers was stretched out on a Lazy-Boy chair. My other friend, Jeff, was in the kitchen rummaging the fridge for two beers. The TV was on.

Whatever show was being aired, it was interrupted by a “news bulletin”. The man was standing in a Manhattan street with his hand-held microphone. What he said next made me stand up.

“Jeff,” I said, “come here quick!”

Jeff came in the room. The other teacher sat up in the Lazy-Boy.

The reporter said: “It’s official. It’s now been confirmed that John Lennon is dead. According to NYPD, he was shot by a young man who had been waiting for John and his wife Yoko Ono to arrive in their limo. All this happened just a short time ago here.” He pointed to the archway of the Dakota entrance. The camera followed his arm.

My friend Jeff visibly paled. I felt nauseous. We watched for a few minutes and I left.

Never have I felt the sorrow that hung in my heart as I slowly drove home that wretched night.

newspaper

[Source: Google search.]

 

My Halloween Guest Blogger

[Source: Google search.]

Pleased to meet you, I’m a man of wealth and taste.

–Mick Jagger, Sympathy for the Devil.

It’s my favorite time of year. It’s Halloween. And to help me celebrate, I have invited a “guest blogger” to take this space and make it her own.

Erin Egan lives with her husband, son, and cat in Washington State, in a small town with an awesome view of Mt. Rainier (that is when the sun is out). She cooks, reads and tries to get the cat to pay attention to her.

So as to not make her father sound old, she will only say she’s in her mid-40’s.

The graphic above was added by me. All else, below, is from the creative mind of Erin.

Enjoy!

SEEKING

An Original Ghost Story

By Erin Egan

TO:           Zoe Crosby

FROM:   Dennis Winchester, HR Director, Beyond the Summit Technology

CC:           Internship Dept., Amherst College

RE:           2018 Fall Marketing Interns

DATE:     May 25, 2018

Dear Zoe,

I am excited to announce your selection as one of three students selected to be an intern in our rapidly growing marketing department. As you know, Beyond the Summit Technology has been named one of the “Top 5 Companies to Work For” in Seattle Magazine, and we look forward to you–with your ideas and energy– joining our team.

As discussed, we will be providing a modest stipend to help cover living expenses. Our office will contact you shortly regarding relocation assistance.

I look forward to greeting you in person.

Sincerely,

S: //Dennis Winchester

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           I’M IN!!

DATE:     5/25/18

I GOT THE INTERNSHIP!! Can you believe it? After three years of living in the shadow of Emily Dickinson, I can finally show the rest of the world that we New England chicks aren’t just uptight spinsters who walk around talking to ducks.

Now that I’ve told you, I’ll email Aunt Clara with the news. I didn’t want to tell anyone else in case this fell through and I ended up working at Starbucks this summer (Note to me: Ahh! Do not disparage the patron saint of your new adopted home city. Bad karma.) She mentioned driving out West with me if this job came through. She said something about wanting to go to the annual “Dames of the Dunes” gathering near Reno…she is looking for an excuse to take a road trip and hit some of the “retail shops” out here before going to Utah.

Could be fun!

Love you and thank you!

Zoe

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Checking in from the road

DATE:     8/17/18

Wow. We are in Iowa and my mind is reeling with questions. Who lives by choice in a town of 524 people? How do people sleep during tornado season? Where is the water? Why, in a land of acres/miles/counties, of nothing but corn, do people look at Aunt Clara and squint their eyes and chuckle when she asks for a vegetarian menu? I mean, we are surrounded by grains.

And why didn’t you ever tell me about Aunt Clara and the man from Minneapolis?

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Arrived!

DATE:     8/26/18

I’m settled into a temporary apartment. I’m not sure if I want to stay here. I’ll tell you right now, even with the cost of living allowance I get from BTS, I can’t afford much (read: anything unsubsidized) in Seattle. If I do well in this internship and could get an interview to start permanently I would be thrilled, but I plan to seriously look into opportunities in less spendy locations.

The apartment is in a cool old building in the International District. It’s kind of like Chinatown, but broader geographically. Like I said, it’s an old area. It’s a little shabby, in a good way

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Lonely

DATE:     9/18/18

I know I haven’t written in a while but everything is fine. Just busy, and…you know. Busy.

A strange thing happened yesterday. I was buying wine at Trader Joe’s, and when I gave the guy at the checkout my ID, he stared at it for about five minutes. I was just about to say, “Dude, it isn’t fake” when he started talking about prospectors. (Yes, this is a topic of conversation in Seattle.) Apparently, I have the same last name as a guy who came here in the 1890’s from Minnesota, loaded up on supplies, took off for Skagway and was never seen again. Not uncommon, except he haunts the old boarding house he lived in while he was here getting ready. The guy then said that the rooming house is still around, one of the places along Denny Avenue that was turned into apartments after the Depression. It’s probably my building. It does have that 19thcentury YMCA-type vibe.

Speaking of prospectors, I might get to take a business trip to Alaska in a few weeks!

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Itinerary

DATE:     10/21/18

Here you go–As you can see, I’ll be gone for twelve days, starting and ending the trip in Anchorage. I’m excited, and it’s a great opportunity to show off my design for the BTS booth at this year’s Sourdough Days.

Since I’ll be in Skagway for three nights, I asked my friend at Trader Joe’s more about the ghost. The prospector’s name is Karl, he said, and people who have seen him say he’s a thin, blond man dressed in dark green flannel and dungarees, and he opens drawers and cupboards and whispering “Tomas…help me, Tomas! Where is it?” When he heard I was on my way to Alaska, including the Skagway area, he told me to ask someone named Reid at the post office in Tagish to tell me the story about Tomas’s ghost.

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Northern Lights!

DATE:     11/4/18

I just can’t do this place justice in words, so your postcard is on its way. When I stopped in the post office to buy stamps, Reid was at the counter, and when I asked him about the ghost of Tomas he just said, “Ah, Karl’s friend.”  I asked what was so unusual about two prospectors who froze to death, and he shook his head and sighed. “Not everyone who didn’t make it froze. Or starved. Or fell. Or died of infections. Some had the nerve to be murdered.”

I asked who murdered whom and he shrugged, then went back to tearing rows of stamps.

“Karl and Tomas were two Swedes who knew each other back in Minneapolis. Their fathers were business rivals. Karl and Tomas both claimed to have had the idea to scout locations for mines, and I think the fathers both encouraged their sons to do whatever it took to beat the other one to mining rights.”  According to supply receipts and banking records, they both hit the Chilkoot the same week, but there is no official record of Tomas crossing into Canada. Other men said Tomas was on the Canadian side but he was alone.

I asked Reid how people know someone was murdered if they both just disappeared. I don’t think he gets to talk about this with a lot of people. “Because each one haunts the other. Both of them thought the other one was cheating. The legends that made their way to the cities in the following years suggest that they were both betrayed by the same person.”

So, that was my visit to the post office. Lots to ponder. It’s my last night in Skagway.

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Aunt Clara

DATE:     11/6/18

I woke up last night and heard her voice whispering “No. No. No.”

Seriously, I heard someone hissing. I thought it was the heater but I heard words. “Clara…did you tell him? You told him. You ruined us Clara.”

It gets dark here so early, and the light comes so late, so I don’t know what time it was. I couldn’t sleep after that so I sat up and watched TV until my meeting. I am eager to get back to Seattle, where I can sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Son’s Beard

 

I saw him being born. Later on, I saw peach fuzz on his adolescent chin.

A few years later, when he moved in with us, in New York City, I think he borrowed my razor.

Yesterday, I stood next to him at The Beacon Bar. I sipped a beer, he had something I never heard of.

I was close to him, as I always like to be. He’s a big guy and he’s 31 years old ( Oh, God, how time flies !)

I studied his face, thinking how much I love him. Then I saw them!

I  Counted three. My boy had three gray whiskers on his cheek !

I don’t know what his thoughts were, but I felt ten years older.  Some would say “that’s life”. That’s not what my words would be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next Stop: Poughkeepsie

[Mariam awaits our train at Grand Central Station

My weariness amazes.

Bob Dylan

As Train #283 chugs northward, the Hudson River, on my left…its water the color of tan mud, is flowing south to enter New York harbor.

It’s going home in a way. So are we.

Almost one month ago we were aboard the Queen Mary 2 and docking in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Fifteen days after arriving home we were packing for ten days back in NYC.

I’m glad I’m not an ambassador to England or France. I’m way to tired to travel right now. How does Bob Dylan go on stage 310 days a year (my estimate)? I mean the man is five years older than me.

I am sore everywhere. My lower back feels like they held the annual Yuma Rodeo on my L4 & L5 vertebrae.

[A mystery trailer in the bush. A rail side photo]

So it’s time for me to go home, right? And sleep and rest from so much traveling?

Is it time to regroup, write, paint , read, think…

And recall Paris, Bruges, Brussels, London, Edinburgh, Dorset and the Atlantic crossing?

Yes it is! But the guide books, the google searches? They will start again soon. And then I will have more blogs to share with all my friends.