Roadside Grief

You see them along the Interstate highways in Kansas, Arizona and nearly everywhere else in the country.  Those haunting small white crosses and bouquets of flowers that are mostly plastic.  That way, they survive the weather.

These are the roadside memorials for those who lost their lives, while driving along major highways and lonely roads.  I don’t remember seeing them when I was growing up, but they seem to be so common these days.

The memorial (photo above) is the closest one to where I live.  A young man couldn’t manage the turn on our road and skidded into a utility pole.  I knew the moment this young man passed away because I was reading, late at night, about 1 am when my reading light went off.  All the lights went off in our house.  A power outage.

Little did I know at the time that when the room went dark, so did the lives of this young mans family and friends.  It’s been several years now, and the ribbons, the messages and the notes are all faded.

Faded by the harsh Adirondack weather.  But, I’m sure the memory of this boy has not faded one tiny bit in the hearts of his loved ones.

Every time I see one of those white crosses along I-81 or I-75 or a county road to a desolate town in northern New York State, I try to enter the minds of those left behind.  Could they afford a proper headstone? Mostly likely they could, but some need within the family wanted drivers, strangers, to pause for a moment to reflect on the loss of a life that meant the world to them.

But, for the rest of us, it’s only a glimpse of a place where some live human being, for whatever reason, left this life abruptly and without preparation.

When you pass one of these memorials, pause your thinking and mutter a farewell prayer for the forlorn soul.

 

 

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A Mistake Of Heartbreaking Proportions/A Blog About A Blog

[Source: Google search.]

Most people who choose to write and post blogs do so to make a point of some kind.  That is not something I always try to do.  Make a point, that is, or push a position, or share a recipe for s’mores.  Many of my subjects are valid and intense..full of honesty and conviction.  Some are light and whimsical.  Some are full of nostalgia, fear and regret.  I write and post because I enjoy touching on subjects that interest me, amuse me, and by extension, hope they will entertain and be enjoyed by you, my followers and friends.

But, I never have been good at math.

A few postings ago, I slipped in a teaser about an upcoming blog that would blow the roof off the cyber-joint that we share.  I said that I was only four posts away from my 400th blog.  I was elated.  I was preparing something special that would help many of my readers believe that they’ve really not wasted that much of their precious life in taking time to read my stuff and even click ‘like’.

But, then…cold reality and facts slapped me upside the head.  I took the time to look more closely at my stats on WordPress and found myself in a cold shower.  The number of 396 was what I was focused on.  But in reality, that number included the total number of blogs written not published.  I failed to recall that I had 14 posts that were started and never finished…for various reasons.  I didn’t think they were good enough, I forget about starting them and I, most importantly, neglected to delete them.  So they fell into a category called ‘drafts’.

This is where I am found wanting.  I promised a 400th blog that would deliver the emotional impact that would be the equal to Cher performing at half-time at the Super Bowl,  to Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize,  to finding a lost episode of Gilligan’s Island, to proving the climate really does change because of human activity (something that seems to be beyond the grasp of anyone who slept through 7th grade science), to proving that Yoko Ono really did break up the Beatles and that bringing back Dynasty to TV is somehow a rational idea.

So, in reality my last post about Halloween was my 383rd.

This is a set-back worse that Trump ‘winning’ the 2016 election (not really).

The question is: where do I go from here?  At the rate I’ve been posting, it may be well into 2018 before I can deliver the ‘keeper’…the 400th blog post.

Not to worry.  I will always find something worthwhile to post and, hopefully, worth your time to read.

And click “like”.

Please!

 

On Front Street At The End Of October

Different times…different places…different memories…

[Photo source: Google search.]

I should mention that, as a child, one of my favorite things to do this time of year was to kick a pile of leaves along a stone sidewalk.

It’s gloomy, rainy and windy here in the North Country.  It rained hard before dawn this morning so nearly all the foliage is now on the ground.  If the wind continues, the little color that is left will leave the deciduous trees naked in a few days.  But, surprisingly, the outside temperature is in the mid-sixties, so it’s hard to think of this being October 8, only a few weeks before my favorite time of year, Halloween! But, we live in a rather isolated location, so there will be no trick-or-treat for us.  There never has been any since we moved here in 2011.

This is not like the place where I grew up, Owego, NY.  It’s about six hours downstate and it probably rained there as well last night.  But, in the vast store of my childhood memories, I’m sure there were wet and dark days in my home town when I was young.  However, once the weather front went through, the air would turn crisp and sometimes there would be frost on grassy lawns, and on the pumpkins, carved and candle-lit, that sat on the porches and front steps like sentinels…or warnings.  The strange truck with the giant vacuum hose had already made its slow way along the curbside to suck up the leaves that were raked in piles.  We were still allowed to burn leaves in those days so the air was rich with the scent of smoldering oak and maple and elm leaves from someones back yard fire pile. Trick-or-treating down Front and Main Streets, as well as John, Ross and Paige Streets was a joyful time of year for me.

My happiest Halloween’s were when I would take my daughter, Erin (in the mid to late 1970’s) and later, my son, Brian (in the early 1990’s) down those fearful streets. Those were when the sidewalks would be crowded with families and the houses would be lit up with orange light and strange candles and we could see our breath in the chilly air.

[My daughter, Erin.  Getting ready for a trip to Owego.]

[My son, Brian…as Fu Manchu.]

After a lifetime of growing up on Front Street, this was my chance to peek inside the older and larger houses…all the way to the business district.

Our first stop was the Sparks’ house next to ours.  Then it was across the street to the old Loring house and then back across the street to walk past the only ‘haunted’ house in my neighborhood, the very old Taylor mansion with the floor to ceiling windows and mansard roof.  We’d be sure to stop at Dr. Amouk’s house (pardon the spelling).  He usually had the best candy which was ironic because he was a dentist.

My children usually made a ‘pretty good haul’ on those nights.  And, it was a joy to view their excitement from an adults perspective.

I remember one Halloween in particular.  My wife and I were taking my son Brian on the rounds.  We got to a house that was almost directly across the street from my old elementary school, St. Patrick’s.  There were corn shocks and fake cobwebs all over the large porch.  Then my son spotted a pair of feet sticking out of a box next to the front door.  He hesitated.  We pushed the door bell.  A woman dressed like a vampire came to answer.  She was holding a box of candy.  But Brian had already made a retreat to the sidewalk.  He was having no part of this woman’s fun that night.

Remembering how my kids enjoyed those walks forces me to remember the times when my friends and I owned those after dark hours while we hid behind the Frankenstein masks or space-suits; the hours when you never knew who would open a door or what monster might cross you path.  So many leaves were scattered on the slate sidewalks that one simply had to kick at them.  As children, we knew the magic of that season would last only a few days.

Now, we can still kick leaves along our road…but it’s not the same as it was.  Nothing will ever be the same as those charmed nights of a spooky holiday when you’re seven or eight…or even fifteen, when your goal is not an apple or twenty M & M’s, but to steal a kiss behind the large elms that once lined Front Street.

To steal that kiss was a treat that couldn’t be bought in any candy store.

 

 

Confessions Of A Gravestone Photographer

[At work in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Chateaugay, NY]

I would strongly object to anyone who would dare call me morbid.  It is not morbid, in any sense, to appreciate and love old (and new) cemeteries.  It is not morbid to stand over a grave of a total stranger and contemplate his or her life.

I grew up in a small town in upstate New York.  Overlooking the village below was Evergreen Cemetery.  I could never tell you the number of times I’ve wandered among the monuments of those who walked the very streets I walked.  Every time I go back to my hometown, Owego, I spend at least an hour strolling the beautiful landscaped, 19th century burial ground.

When I moved to the North Country in 2011, to the Adirondack Mountains where I am closer to Montreal than to any other major urban area, I began to discover the charm of the small graveyards of this part of the state.  Some are hidden and silent among the pine trees, some are six feet from a corn field and some are on breezy hilltops, with faded red barns in the background.

Then, sometime in 2012, I believe, I came across a website called Find-A-Grave.com.  I checked it out and found out that they were seeking volunteers to photograph headstones for people, upon request.  These were folks that lived in Montana or Texas who were doing genealogical research or simply wanted to see the grave of uncle Robert or aunt Hazel.  These people would place a request to Find-A-Grave and I, as a volunteer photographer, would get the message via email.  I then would find the cemetery, locate the grave…take a photo…upload it to the website and move on.  My reward?  Hundreds of thank you emails from the people who made the requests.

“Thank you for taking the time to photograph the headstone of my aunt Martha.  I knew I would never see her final resting place because I live so far away and I’m getting too old to travel”.  This was typical of the emails I would receive.

Doing this, I have learned a great deal about local history and the stories of the families who were so much a part of this area.

  • I’ve stood over the grave of a young girl who was murdered in the 1920’s.
  • I’ve stood over the graves of suicides.
  • I’ve stood over the graves of old farmers who had four wives…all buried nearby.
  • I’ve stood over the graves of two young girls who froze to death in a blizzard.
  • I’ve stood over the grave of a thirty-something woman who came home from jogging along a road several hundred yards away from where I’m writing this, stepped into the shower, and dropped to her knees and died of a massive heart attack.

I did this alone for a few years.  My wife probably thought I was just trying to get out of the house, until I invited her along on one of my “graving” afternoons.  She became my best partner in this ‘hobby’.  She had the sense to look for women’s graves through the name of the husband.  My number of photos taken began to soar.  At this writing, on a mild Indian Summer afternoon in September of 2017, I have contributed over 1,000 photo requests.

It’s been said by some philosopher that one never dies as long as someone speaks your name, remembers you or thinks about you and your life.

I hope some volunteer photographer will stand over my grave and speak my name…then I know I never truly died.

                                                 [Log book and print-out of requests]         [My ‘graving’ kit]

[An extra note: Below is a link to Find-a-Grave.  It’s all free.  You can open an account and make requests for photographs. And remember, it doesn’t cost anything.]

https://www.findagrave.com/

Dead Man’s Bone

[Source: Google search]

This is not about a toothache as the photo suggests.  It’s about me walking around with 0.5 cc of granules of a dead persons bone in my gums (ignore the gender reference in the title.  It’s purely for dramatic effect.  I thought it sounded spooky).  For the next several months, my body is being tricked into recognizing these grains as being foreign to my body…and then, theoretically, form my own bone material in preparation for an implant.

Got that?  Hope so, because I barely get it.

When I turned seventy at the end of last May, no one took me aside and informed me that now I was going to have a new and more involved relationship with the dental profession.  No one spoke to me of crowns, broken fillings or implants.

All that’s changed now.  I just got home yesterday afternoon after having my third extraction since January.  Looking at me trying to force a smile, you wouldn’t take me for a neo-Nazi, a National Hockey League goalie or some survivalist named Skeeter living in an RV forty-five miles from downtown Las Vegas.  No, I’ve been pretty lucky with my teeth.  Up until January, I had all my real teeth (I still have my real teeth…most of them) despite the fact that I spent more than a few nickels at Harvey’s grocery store when I was a child.  The small change didn’t go into raisins or apples.  I was more interested in Mars bars, Milky Way bars and Tootsie Rolls.  Yes, I paid for it all with trips to the dentist (a guy who didn’t believe in Novocaine) and got my fair share of fillings.  At the time, it was a small price to pay for a candy bar.

A month or so ago, my regular dentist in Saranac Lake was in the process of replacing a cracked filling when he stopped and said: “This is worse than the x-ray showed.  You’re root is very deep.  This tooth needs to come out.”

So a month later I was sitting in an exam room of an oral surgeon in Lake Placid.  It was a sparsely appointed room.  There was the usual sink, etc, behind me and the light above my head.  On a shelf in the corner was a computer monitor with an x-ray of my mouth on the screen.  Somewhere amid the white dots (fillings) and a lot of gray stuff were the images of about five of my teeth.  One of those was coming out.

[My photo]

The walls of the room were green, but my wife is convinced I’m color blind, so they may have been brown.  I’ll never know.

After a check of my BP I was led into another room.  This one had a similar x-ray of my mouth, but there was more stuff around.  Soon I was nearly flat on my back with a light in my face that was so bright it made my eyes water.  Maybe the doctor thought I was crying.  More than likely I was.  My fear of dentists goes back to childhood.  In fact it probably pre-dates my birth.

[My photo]

“Any questions?” asked the surgeon.

I had opted for an implant at a later date so that meant I needed something to put into the empty hole in my gum.  Leaving a vacancy in my gums was not something wanted.  I’m certain it would affect my whistling of “Old Man River”.

I said: “You said earlier that the temporary ‘tooth’ was from a donor.  Would you walk me through the donor thing?”

In the back of my mind, I knew that people didn’t ‘donate’ teeth…while they were alive.

“Well,” the doctor said, “it’s really not a donated tooth.  It’s donated bone.”

“Like from a cadaver?” I tentatively inquired.

“Yes,” she said, keeping a straight face.

The top of the chair held my head in a tight position.  I tried to turn and look at the tray of instruments, but I was afraid I’d catch a glimpse of a pair of pliers from Home Depot.  Instead, I stared at the x-ray and silently bid farewell to my doomed tooth.  After all, we’ve been through a lot together.  The pain injections made my mouth feel like I looked like Quasimodo.  I touched my left lower lip expecting a flow of saliva like the dogs in Stephen King novels.

[For those of you who are still with me, the stuff she was going to pack the empty hole with is called “Mineralized Ground Cancellous.  250-1,000 microns].

“Can we start?”

[Source: Google search]

“I’m ready,” I said. For the dead person’s bone matter, I thought.

After the pain of the injections that was giving me the drug that was to stop the pain, it was all over in about twenty minutes.

It was rather a simple procedure…not like in the movies.

Now I’m on a liquid diet for a week or so.  The implant will come later.  I’m over the worst of it.

But I can’t stop thinking of who the donor was.  Was it someone I once knew?  Perhaps someone I dated?

It’ll keep me awake for a few nights.

Most things do.

 

Donkey Oatie, The Atlantic Ocean and More: A True Story

[Pam.  Photo: Patrick Egan]

Every so often I run across someone with a story to tell.  Often, the encounter is in a pub in New York City, Yuma, Arizona, Juneau, Alaska or someplace in between.  For example:
  • About twenty-five years ago I met a guy who claimed he had parachuted off one of the Twin Towers of the WTC.  He said he was promptly arrested.  I didn’t buy into the story at the time.  Maybe he did…maybe not…guys say a lot of stuff in bars.
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  • A few weeks ago I met a musician in an Irish pub on Amsterdam Avenue.  He said he knew Bob Dylan quite well.  He said that Dylan called him one day about ten years ago and complained to my new friend about his (my friend’s) recording of One More Cup of Coffee.  The phone call ended with Dylan hanging up on my friend.  I don’t doubt the truth of this story.  They guy seemed genuine and quite sincere.
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Then, a few nights ago, at our home on Rainbow Lake, NY, we had our friends Pam and Hans over for some wine and cheese.  (This was the couple who sold us the R-Pod that I blogged so much about during two cross-country trips). We sat in our screened in porch and talked.  I told them of my long time dream to hike the Northville-Lake Placid Trail, or the Pacific Crest Trail (I’ve never really had much interest in the Appalachian Trail).  Then Pam began a story that made me pull my chair closer to her.  I grabbed a notebook and a pen.  I took notes about her adventure.  I paid attention this time.  It was a story worth hearing–and it was a story I had to write…
Pam was twenty-something in the early 1970’s when her father passed away.  Her dad was the rock, the foundation of her family.  Her parents had met and married during WWII.  He was apparently a man of big dreams and those dreams brimmed with adventure and travel.  He dreamt of hiking the Appalachian Trail–he considered walking across America, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  When he died, his dreams died with him.

The bond between Pam’s mother and father was sublime and solid.  So it was no great surprise that his death created a void in the world of Pam’s mom.  She went into a deep depression and this darkness alarmed the family.

. . .

One New Year’s Eve, Pam and her two brothers sat at the dining room table pouring over their father’s maps and articles, thinking of his unfulfilled travel dreams.  The siblings sat and pondered about what they could do to honor their dad’s memory and perhaps to bring their mother back into the light.  That night a plan was made.  Why not take their mom on a journey–something that would approximate the cross-country hike?

But, could their mother, now in her 60’s carry a full backpack on a lengthy hike?  It seemed unlikely, so another decision was made.  They would use a donkey to carry some of the load!  The Sicilian donkey was purchased from a farm in Massachusetts.  One of the siblings came up with the name Donkey Oatie.  It seemed to fit.

“Let’s start at Harriman State Park in New York State and head west.” I could hear the brother say.  “We’ll see how far we get and when feel we’ve had enough, we’ll end our trip”.
The family looked at each other and must have been thinking the same thought: “An impossible journey…it’s 840 miles of walking!”  But the planning went forward, nonetheless.
They mapped out a trip through New Jersey and Pennsylvania using State Parks as campgrounds.  When they reached the Keystone State, they ran into a problem.  NO PETS ALLOWED in many of the parks and a donkey was classified as a pet (?).  So they took to the back roads and soon found that this “very private trip became a very public one”.  A family friend was an AP photographer and he began phoning newspapers and Fire Departments along the route.  It wasn’t long before the travelers were being greeted by small crowds in small towns and villages.
But, it was on a lawn in a small Pennsylvania town where the story takes a special turn.
They were invited by a woman to have lunch on a lawn.  This stranger, this woman brought her mother out of the house to join everyone for lunch.  The mother had her own story to tell.  Sadly, the mother had terminal cancer.  She had also lost her husband.  Pam’s mother and this woman spoke about dreaming of destinations.  It was a widow to widow conversation.  The ill woman said that her life-long dream was to see the ocean..but something always came up and the trip never took place.  The daughter sat nearby and listened to the talk of the unfulfilled dreams of two women–who had both lost their husbands.  The ill woman told Pam’s mother how much she admired her efforts to fulfill her dreams and that of her late husband.  Pam’s mother told the woman that the sea wasn’t so far away.

The daughter sat and listened.  Several weeks later she did indeed make the trip with her mother, who finally got to look out over the sea.

The woman died two weeks after the trip.
Her daughter wrote later and told the family that she would always be grateful for the advice of Pam’s mother.  She said in the letter that those two weeks gave her that precious time to bond in that final way and to say good-bye to her mother.
Since that evening on our porch, I’ve thought about my own dreams of making a journey..but my plans seemed lame and insignificant when compared to the story I had been told.
And, besides, how could I ever make such a difference in the lives of two strangers from a simple lunch on a lawn in Pennsylvania?
The answer came to me during a sleepless night.  You really can’t plan for such outcomes–they somehow seek you out and fall into your lap.  The important thing is that you take that first step on the journey that only you can begin.

And, why are all such journeys of such importance?  Why was the terminally ill mother and her daughter’s trip to the Atlantic of such importance?  Why did Pam’s trip with her mother..attempting to honor the father’s fascination with journeys..make such an impression with a stranger on a lawn in a small Pennsylvania town?  And why did the story touch me so much?

It’s all been said so well in a cliché, an old saying, a common remark made in many situations..You just don’t know how long you have on this earth..every moment is precious..and can never be regained. 

Kissing Manhattan Goodbye

So, it’s time to say farewell to the city I love.  A week from today, if you have a drone, you will find us driving north on the I-87…through Albany…onto Exit 30…and then fifty more miles, through Lake Placid, to our home at Rainbow Lake.

I’ve heard it said so many times: “New York City is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

Fine, I understand everyone has different tastes.  Besides, it’s all true what people say about New York.  It’s so big, crowded, diverse and varied, that whatever anyone says about the city… is true.  It’s safe, dangerous, cheap and way too expensive.  It’s all true…but I love the vibrant life, liberalism, culture and gravity.  Yes, there is an intense gravity to this place…someone once said that everyone should live in New York City at least once in their life…and I agree.

I lived on the Upper West Side for over twenty-five years.  With some exceptions, I loved every minute of my time.  Then, I retired and in 2011, Mariam and I decided to get bought out (our building was going condo) and we decided to head north to our place on Rainbow Lake.  We needed the quiet.  Mariam went part-time, working from home on the computer.

We got our quiet…sometimes, it seemed to me, a little too much.  I was lonely.  Only a few of our friends made the six-hour trip to visit us.

Then, we were offered the opportunity to come back for six months, on a full salary, to put things in order at Mariam’s place of business.  We got a sub-let on W. 74th Street and became New Yorkers once again.  I saw my son more often and reunited with old friends.

But, not all went as expected.  For reasons I won’t discuss here, I found myself falling into a mild depression.  I brought many of my “works-in-progress” for my writing  projects.  I lost the creative energy to plug-in my memory stick and write a few chapters.

The winter was wet and chilly.  The spring was little better.  Then it got really bloody hot.  But, we saw a number of Broadway and Off Broadway shows that were fantastic.  We made friends at our local pub, the Beacon Bar.  We had a good time.

And, now, we’re packing things up…unread novels, unread magazines and putting away unfulfilled trips.

This was kind of an experiment ….to see if we could ever move back here.

I’m conflicted.

The “Dream House in the Woods” can sometimes  be something you’re not expecting.  Where are your friends and local pubs “where everybody knows your name?”

It’s just another move in our lives.  Mariam will be retired and I need a hobby.  I was thinking about carving duck decoys….I’m serious.   Maybe I’ll write the Great American Novel. Maybe I won’t.

Maybe I won’t and just drift on my kayak.

Stay tuned.