I am the holder of something secret, very secret. Something so very secret that even the elite and highly trained police force of Saranac Lake cannot access. It is so secret that sometimes even I can’t remember what it is. The NYPD, FBI and Interpol do not have the ability to know my secret. Hackers from Lithuania and Bulgaria have attempted to get their hands on this secret…to no success,
But the time for this secret to be made public is approaching. October 8, 2021 to be precise. But all awesome happenings involve a time of waiting.
–To view Halley’s Comet, a stargazer must wait seventy-six years. I saw it in 1987. Next appearance will be July 28, 2061.
–The Shroud of Turin is publicly displayed every ten years or so.
–The paintings on the wall of the Lascaux, France caves waited about 17,000 years before the eyes of modern humans saw them. (Some things are worth waiting for, I guess.)
But our modern technology allows many things to be viewed at a moments notice. With the push of a button we can see reruns of Laverne & Shirley or I Love Lucy. One can even find ancient recordings of Bob Dylan actually singing before he “went electric.”
But I digress.
You may be asking yourself: “What is this secret that he’s talking about? That’s a fair question. The answer lies two feet from where I am typing. It’s in a manila folder. It’s something I have written. I’ve spent almost three months working on this project. No eyes but mine have seen it and it will stay semi-hidden until October 8.
I’m talking about the toast that I am to give at the rehearsal dinner. The dinner is the evening before my son gets married.
I’ve spent many brain-hours trying to make it a really good speech. After all, I will give the speech only once in my life, my son will hear it only once…and then it becomes an archive in my private files. I call them the X-Files. I tried to make it special but my son, Brian told me I only had about five minutes.
Seems a pity. All this effort for five minutes? All the important things to say to my son and the assemblage of wedding attendees.
REGULAR GUY GOES MISSING WHILE SHOVELING A PATH TO DRIVEWAY!
[The Egan Cabin at Rainbow Lake at time of search. Aerial photo from Channel 7 News Drone7]
[Photo credit: Google search]
Rainbow Lake, NY (AP)
Only days after a lone ice fisherman had turned, basically into a snowman, another winter-related incident occurred on a lonely loop road in the town of Rainbow Lake. A regular average man (name is being withheld pending further investigation) vanished only yards away from his front deck while shoveling his way from his front door to the safety of his, as yet, unplowed driveway.
This following a major snowstorm that dumped nearly 20″ of snow the previous night.
This photo was taken by his wife shortly before the tragic event.
[Photo credit: Mariam Voutsis]
His wife spoke to state police Search & Rescue: “I don’t know. One minute he was there and the next minute, he wasn’t. I thought he wandered off to take some pictures for Facebook,” she said while taking another sip of her fresh cappuccino mocha.
“Oh, I see you like a sprinkle of cinnamon in your coffee,” said the Trooper. “What else can you tell us?”
“Sometimes I don’t use cinnamon, I just take it neat.”
“No, I meant about your husband, ma’am.”
“Well, he kept complaining about how he had no place to put the new fallen snow.” The Trooper looked out at the piles of newly fallen snow. The tiny crystals twinkled in a sun that was struggling to break through the cloudy sky, as gray as a wet sidewalk in Schenectady. “He spoke to me through a crack in the front door. He told me that every time he would heave a shovel-full of snow onto this giant pile on the deck, much of it would slide back, forcing him to shovel the same place all over again. Poor guy. He has a bad back, you know?”
“It’s unfortunate but most men his age have back problems. Does it affect his golf game at all? I’m looking for suggestions to lower my handicap.”
“Oh, heavens, we gave that up years ago. Those little white balls kept getting lost in the snow.”
“You can paint them red, ma’am. Besides golf is a summer game.”
The wife looked out over the mound in the driveway (which was her Honda CRV, she hoped) and pondered this comment. “Summer? like in the season?”
“Yes, ma’am. The time when people swim, fish, take walks, go camping, sit on the beach…things like that.”
“Well, the search dogs are getting a little tired. They don’t like deep snow. I best be calling off the search for now.”
The Trooper surveyed the yard and the front deck.
“Sorry to have to say this ma’am, but from the looks of this accumulation, we may not have any luck in locating your husband until late-May at the earliest.”
“I’ll probably be in New York City then, so here’s my contact number. Don’t hesitate to call if you find something.”
“Rest assured. And thanks for the cappuccino.”
[Happier days at Rainbow Lake. Photo taken by Pat Willis]
My left hand is ringless. The wedding band lies on a tray on the dresser in our bedroom, along with assorted jewelry. Is this the sign of a marriage gone south? Hardly. The only thing that would be going south right now is my wife and I. Because outside the wind howls and the temperature is dropping like the broken seeds of the sunflower mixture in our bird feeder. Mariam reports from the kitchen that it is currently 14.2℉. By 2:00 am, when I make my first trip to the bathroom (it’s a prostate thing), it’ll be -6℉. It’ll bottom out at -12℉ in the wee hours.
So, what’s the deal with the ring? In truth, I’m losing weight and a few weeks ago I tested the ring by lightly shaking my hand on the bed cover. It slipped off. I had a little clamp thing on it to keep is snug and safe on my ring finger but it broke. For now it will rest, in security, on our dresser.
I have rarely taken it off in our 25+ years of marriage. Why should I? If I were out to ‘get lucky’ at the local pub…and I slid it off my finger, it would leave a white, unweathered ‘ring’ on the finger in question. That would a dead give away for any twenty-something who had mistaken me for George Clooney (refer to my Facebook profile photo).
And I would never do such a thing anyway. I can barely comprehend life without her. She gets frustrated on her computer, but she’ll sit in my office for hours and we will read aloud the drafts of a novel I would be working on. (A novel that will sell approximately 43 copies.) Mariam will drop anything to help me with something that is beyond my ability. She saved my life by locating the best hematologist in New York City, in 2003 when I was diagnosed with a rare leukemia. She slept on a cot while I went through ten days of chemo. She stayed on the phone (while she was working at Mount Sinai) for hours until we secured tickets to see the Rolling Stones. She never denies my need to see Bob Dylan whenever he plays near us. She lets me roam at will in a Barnes & Nobel…and even tells me which credit card to use.
[Mariam in 2017]
Twenty-two years ago, when I turned fifty, she asked me what I wanted. I humbly suggested a 28″ sailboat or a 1952 MG TD (with wire wheels). That’s when I think she started secretly stashing away money for one or the other.
We’ve traveled a great deal, especially since she finally retired after over fifty years in health care. We’ve been to Paris, London, Belgium, Alaska, Istanbul, Ireland, Germany and countless other places. And, we’re about to spend the winter in England and returning home aboard the Queen Mary 2., for the second time.
She is my wife and my best (and sometimes I feel my only) friend.
So, why this post? Why now? It’s not her birthday nor our anniversary. It’s not Mother’s Day. It’s just another day I wake next to my wife and feel that I could write a simple blog to brighten her day. In the middle of a snowy and cold winter, she needs a lift.
After she reads this (which she will proof) I’m counting on her being a tiny bit happier. So, now is the time to quietly mention the sailboat and the MG.
You’re waiting for me in the cafe. The place beside the old church and next to the cemetery. The only place in the city where I can sit next to the fire and feel warm…on a night like this. We have so much to talk about. It’s been so many years since we’ve had a chance to sit and think of the days gone by.
You’re waiting in the cafe–I just can’t remember how to get there.
I was very young and you had an uncanny ability to determine when my diaper would be wet. You would change it for me. I couldn’t talk to you. You just knew when it was time. You held my hand when I could barely walk. I never said a word. You cooked my food for a thousand dinners. You sent me off to First Grade with a clean, freshly ironed hanky in my pocket. No matter what my grades were, you dutifully signed my report card. On those many nights when I couldn’t sleep, too many times for a child to fear closing his eyes, you would allow me to sit with you and we would eat crackers with chives and cheese. The black and white television blinking away in the dark living room.
You were in third grade when I looked over at you–two rows away–and watched while you tried to open an ink bottle. You pressed it hard against your green school shift. You’re bangs fell away from your forehead. Years later, you allowed me my first kiss. Still later you wore my corsage on your taffeta prom dress. Then you would find someone else and you broke my fragile teenage heart.
I was curious about the color of your hair beneath your stiff white habit. Your black rosary hung from your black belt around your black dress–your habit. You taught us to be kind. You taught us to feel guilty. And once, you told me: “Don’t ever be afraid to say no.” It’s taken me many years to really understand what you meant.
I lit your cigarettes. I bought you drinks. I slept in your bed. We made love under three quilts when the winter was cold and dark. We sweated on the sheets in August when it was bright afternoon and hot.
I kissed you only once. I kissed you many times. I kissed you in my daydreams when you were thirty feet away on the Boardwalk. Your hair was blonde, then black and red and brown and straight and wavy. Your eyes were blue, gray, brown, hazel and green. You were older. Then you were younger.
You walked down the aisle of a church to meet me at the altar. We were happy, sad, angry, contented, miserable, joyful and jealous.
We came and went through each others lives. My hair slowly turned from brown to white. Your’s from jet black to salt and pepper. You sang to me. I couldn’t carry a tune. We sipped ale in England and wine in France. We walked on muddy glacier ice in Alaska. You watched me watching the topless twenty-somethings on a beach in Jamaica. You never missed a trick.
You said you loved me when I didn’t think I would ever be loved again. You saved my life, not with a toss of a rope but with a phone call.
You’re waiting in the cafe. I’m trying to hurry. I can hardly walk. When we sit next to each other you will somehow know if I have wet my trousers again.
Is this a hallway or a street in Paris? I can’t remember.
But, all those memories are so sharp and clear, like everything happened yesterday, or this morning.
You will still be waiting for me, won’t you? I remember what I said so many, many years ago:
“Nothing lasts forever.”
I was wrong. Love lasts forever. We love each other, don’t we? Still?
I am holding a very special letter in my hand right now.
Whether we realize it or not, chains play a very important part in our lives. Indeed, chains have, throughout history, helped to hold the very fabric of our changing civilization together. For example, I was astounded to learn that the metal chain was first used as early as 225 BCE. How the archeo-technologists were able to achieve the high temperatures needed for smelting iron and forging the links is a mystery to me. I know that the use of bellows in these primitive blast-furnaces helped to drive up the temperature to extraordinary degrees, but it remains a puzzle as to how it was all accomplished. In my daily reading of the Old and New Testament, I cannot recall a single reference to the use of a metal chain. Ropes, yes, but not a chain as we know it.
The manner in which we use chains is also something that we seem to have completely overlooked. There are chains in parks, gardens, ships, dog leashes and doors, but these are only about 1 percent of the total usage. I have included a special list of various chain uses later in this essay.
The first patent taken out for a chain cable was by Phillip White, a blacksmith from Northumbria, England. The “smithy” was the mainstay of chain making until new technology rendered it obsolete in the 1970’s. So, here we have an unbroken link of this very useful item from 225 BCE until the latter days of the 20th century. Chains of course are still manufactured, but giant amorphous machines and furnaces have left the old blacksmith to hand making decorative chains for sale in gift shops and craft fairs.
Another little known aspect of this very interesting industry is the role that women have played. In the Midlands of England, which was the industrial heart of the country, women were often the forgers of mid-weight chain cables. One such woman, a legend in her time, was Lucy Woodall. She apprenticed for the Samuel Woodhouse & Sons of Cradley Heath. She was 13 years old at the time and would work 12 hour shifts. After her retirement in the 1970’s, she went on to do “podging” on rugs for charity. Lucy died in 1979 after suffering years with arthritis. I will present here a partial list of the uses of chains:
Chainsaws, lifting chain-linked Lewis, chain drives, curb chain, door chain, key chain, lavatory chain, leg-iron chains (fetters), chain link fences anchor chains and even as musical percussion instruments heard in such works as Janacek’s From the House of the Dead.
Chains have made their way into our cultural world in other ways. The First Gulf War had a theme song…it was UnchainedMelody. And, who among us will not feel our heart-break or a tear fall when Janis Joplin sings the blues in Ball and Chain?
Here are a few examples of the intricate and decorative designs found in some chains:
A single jack chain A double jack chain A particularly pretty Singapore chain
One afternoon in 1910, a woman chain maker by the name of Lydia Bare, sat on a bench to take a much-needed break. Her rest was necessary as she was only 15 years old and had not yet gotten used to the long hours of standing and pounding her hammer. She looked at the mound of coiled chains that represented her efforts of three days of labor. Her mind drifted to thoughts of her sister, Molly Reagan, who was living in New York City. She had not seen her beloved sister in several years…since Molly married Michael Reagan and them emigrated to America. Lydia and her sister, Molly were not natives of England. Neither was Michael. They were all Irish. The prospect of steady work forced them to leave Ireland and move to England. She saw the loops of iron, hundreds of them, all linked and seemingly endless and unbroken. She thought of writing a letter to Molly.
Lydia began to feel very sad about her life without her beloved sister. She looked around her and saw the grime and dust that was her workplace for 12 hours everyday. It disgusted her. She looked at her hands remembering how soft and lovely and white they were when she was a little girl. Now she was seeing calloused, scarred, burnt, red and puffed hands of a middle-aged woman. Who will ever marry me?, she wondered. Who will find me attractive? What man would want to kiss the roughness of these hands?
Just then, a group of factory managers began to crowd in the doorway of her shop. They were on their months tour of the various buildings of the vast mill grounds.
Lydia rose and returned to the anvil.
So, what have we here? One of the men pointed at the coil of chains that Lydia had been producing.
She stared at the pile of iron rings. A bad taste was filling her mouth.
These are the chains I forged here during my life, she answered. The men smiled and filed out. The last man glanced back from the doorway at Lydia and thought: so pretty, I wonder what her ankles look like.
The only known photograph of Lydia Bare (ca 1900)
A year later, Lydia mailed her sister a long letter. In it she described her life and her dreams. Would it be possible, she asked at the end of the five-page letter, to come to New York and stay with her and Michael for a short time until she could find a job and a small flat to live? Jokingly, she asked Molly if there were many Yanks who would like a nice a nice and obedient Irish lass for a wife? As she wrote that line, Lydia thought of how much lotion she would have to use to soften her ugly hands. At least I have an acceptable face, she thought.
Molly wrote a letter back to Lydia after holding the letter close to her heart for nearly a year. Yes, there are too many Yank menfolk, she said, and too few women of marrying age. Michael and I will think about this for a bit.
Michael and Molly held onto the letter for another year or so. They held onto it when Molly took ill. The letter went with Molly to the hospital on Blackwell’s Island when she was told by the doctors that she had contracted consumption. Lydia’s letter was kept in a special decorated teak wood box that stayed on a table beside whatever bed she was sleeping in. The box with the letter was in her hands when she died.
Michael took the box and a small trunk of things that were special to the life he had shared with his much-loved Molly. He gave the box to a distant cousin for safekeeping and then walked downtown. Thirty-five minutes later his dead body was found wedged against a pier below the Brooklyn Bridge.
Lydia waited for a reply for years. She never learned of the fate of her sister. She gave up hope of ever emigrating to America and finding a strapping Yank husband. She married an iron worker from the same mill company where she worked. He had a love for the bottle but not for poor Lydia. One evening he beat her to death with an iron rod. The kind of rod that would someday be turned into a chain.
The cousin, Barry, looked through the box and then tied it tightly in leather straps. He never read the letter from Lydia.
In 1930, Barry’s son, Paul takes possession of the box upon his father’s death. Paul loved old things and he began to read the letters that Molly had collected. He came upon Lydia’s letter and thought it was very special in the way it described a long ago life of two girls in Ireland. He put the letter into a new envelope and, with a note, mailed it to his fiancé, Mary, who lived on a farm in Pennsylvania. Mary read the letter and decided to stop delaying her marriage. She and Paul were united in Matrimony in 1936. They had four boys, the youngest being Colin. That’s me.
Upon the passing of my father, it was left to me to go through his papers. In an old teak wood box, still held together with leather straps, I found Lydia’s letter.
I saw it as a kind of chain letter. It had survived many changes of hands. No one broke the chain, not really.
That’s the letter I’m holding in my hand at this moment. Good luck delivered it to me.
The letter reads in part:
Dear Molly, This letter is like a chain, it may have a beginning, that is me, but where it will end is something not known to us. The links in this letter are like those of a chain, intertwined and forged close by my own hand in the furnace of heat mixed with drops of my very own sweat. How unladylike a thing to say. I believe that it would be unlucky if this letter were lost or destroyed. That would be like having a ship’s anchor chain break. The unfettered vessel would then drift away, into a storm, and eventually sink. It is my most dearest wish that anyone who holds or reads this letter to never, never sink…for sinking is death. Save, hide, recopy and cherish this letter and make sure it moves on through our family…so that all who are a part of the chain will live. This letter has the weight of iron but the freedom of winged flight. Hold on to these words of mine and you will fly.
I pondered over who to leave the letter to upon my own death. I have a grandson, so perhaps my daughter is the one to own it. But my son will likely be a father someday.
The choices lay coiled, like a long iron chain in a small shop in the Midlands of England.
Photograph added on September, 2022:
[Sources: Wikipedia and “Chains and Chainmaking” by Charles Fogg. 1981 Shire Publications Ltd.]