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.

 

 

Advertisements

The True Cost of a 5 cent Root Beer Barrel

This post has nothing at all to do with Pop Tarts.  I just put the photo out on Instagram and Facebook so it was handy to use.  Pardon the deceptive lead-in but I had no photos of Root Beer Barrels to use.  I could have Googled for one, but it’s nearly dinner time…and my time is valuable.

In the distant years of my past life, back in 1956 for instance, I would pay 25 cents for a ticket to the matinée at the Tioga Theater in Owego, NY.  This stopped a year or two later when my mother (bless her heart) enrolled me in piano lessons that began at 2:00 pm…just down Main Street from the theater…where all my friends were about to enjoy a Hopalong Cassidy triple feature and at least a dozen Disney cartoons.

But, when I went to the matinée, my favorite treat was a 5 cent box of Root Beer Barrels.  You can still buy these…I think.

Those little brown nuggets of sugar and flavor were pure ambrosia to me.

Until I started to go to the dentist, Dr. Lee, whose office was about halfway from St. Patrick’s School (where I was in elementary school) to what was then Harvey’s Grocery Store (later to become Craig Phelps’ super popular “Everybody’s Country Store”).

Well, to make a very long story a little shorter, I started getting childhood cavities (I’m not sure they flouridated the water then.)

Dr. Lee didn’t believe in Novocaine.  I suffered the typical pains of a child of the 50’s in the dentist chair.

So, recently, I had two extractions at Mount Sinai Hospital here in NYC.  I began to reflect how many times I had those original cavities filled and refilled.  It must have been quite a few because I’m still getting cavities redone…and I haven’t had a Root Beer Barrel in decades.

I would estimate that my dental care has cost me or my insurance company several thousand dollars to repair the damages caused by a 5 cent box of little hard candies.

I no longer eat hard candy…it might chip a tooth.  I’m going over to Godiva’s.

Can’t hurt at this point in my life.  But I miss those little chunks of cheap candy and the flavor bursts of Root Beer.

I might even try a Pop Tart.

A Farewell Letter To Jimmy

merrillandmeburlington

Hey, Jimmy…I can’t bring myself to call you James.  For most of my life you’ve been Jimmy, so there it is.  Mariam and I were in Burlington just this past weekend.  As I wandered up and down Church Street I kept wondering where the restaurant was that we met for the first time in over 50 years.  Mariam said she remembered which block it was on.  I wondered how you were doing…

I was remembering the old days in Owego.  Craig Phelps was probably the nearest neighbor (he lived across the street from me, remember?). But you were the next closest.  Your house was just across the RR tracks and hard by the Brick Pond.  Boy, did we have fun exploring the Pond in those days when only  a handful of kids knew about it?  You and I spent endless hours in our backyards playing “cowboys & indians” and army games with my brother and ‘Doc’ Phelps.  That was quite a time.  It was the time of our lives when few troubling things touched us.

Innocent children.  Innocent young boys playing in fields near the Susquehanna.  Fields of fair games and fair play.  Fields of Youth.

We were rarely ever apart in our years at St. Patrick’s School.  It was in OFA…high school…that we drifted apart.  We hung in different circles of friends.

Then one day (was it 1964? 1963?) you brought over an album for me to listen to.  We sat on our sofa at 420 Front Street and I heard the voice of Bob Dylan for the first time.  I was a Dion fan.  I didn’t get Bob at all.  I said: “This guy can’t sing”.  It was about a year later when I heard “Like a Rolling Stone” on a radio station when I was driving back from working at Carroll’s Hamburgers in Vestal.

I got it.  You gave it to me.

Later, we sat on the steps of my house and you talked about this thing happening in Viet Nam.  I was too wrapped up in my girlfriend and plans for college to fully understand…in 1965…what was happening.

You enlisted and you served with honor and I heard you got a medal of some kind for bravery.

Jimmy, you fell below the radar after high school and I did not hear anything about you until I was asked to try to locate you for the 50th Reunion in September of 2015.  Things happened and I was able to find your phone number.  I called and we met for lunch in Burlington.  Such a great time we had…remember?  We recalled the old days and caught up on how “not well” you were.

I wrote a blog about our lunch.  It was quite popular among our Owego friends.

Then, this morning, I get some news on Facebook about you.  News that made me weep for a time as I reflected on our history.

We’ll never explore the Brick Pond again, Jimmy.  We’ll never play war games in our backyards.  Ever again.

Wait, that’s not true…I’ll always remember the times we had and the growing up we did together.  I’ll recall those childhood games again and again to keep your memory alive.  I’ll walk around the Brick Pond again…in your honor.

RIP, my good, gentle and great old buddy.  I’m gonna miss you…….You are the friend I’ve known the longest…in my life.

pat-and-jimmie

 

Dark Roads And Distant Lights

NoirFloridaRoad

So much of Florida is simply and without question, beautiful.  The beaches come to mind.  The wetlands of the Everglades are near the top of the list.  The seemingly endless forests of the Ocala National Forest are a reminder of what Florida once looked like before Disney, Developers and Big Sugar got their hands on so much of the natural and unique beauty.

But, there’s a dark side as well.  This witching hour come at dusk, when the shadows lengthen and the details of the roadside becomes dim and indistinct.

I drove north, through The Villages, where we visited a friend, Nancy, who grew up a few blocks from where I did in Owego, NY.  I drove north, on roads that paralleled I-75.  We grazed Ocala.  We drove toward an RV park in Fort McCoy, near the middle of the state.

This was not Sanibel or Captiva Island.  This was a strange and unfamiliar country that got slightly more menacing as we sought our campground.

The roadsides lost a familiar clarity.  The houses looked a bit more run-down, some had sad Christmas lights still blinking in their yards.  Every mile or two, a gate at the head of a driveway, or a house, flew the Confederate flag.

I wanted to get settled in our site.  I wanted to collapse on the bed and play a few Scrabble games.  I wanted to nibble on a few vegetables and a cracker or two with a slice or two of Irish Cheddar.

Instead we drove along what seemed to be an endless road.  Our GPS was giving us contradictory commands.  My own confidence at map-reading began to falter.  Were we lost?  Did we miss a turn?

What about gas?  I hadn’t seen a station in what seemed like hours.  When you’re in an unfamiliar landscape, time can stretch and become distorted.

We finally located our RV park.  I don’t like to hear Interstate traffic when we camp…that would most definitely NOT be the case here.  There was no traffic noise at all.

A security guard was supposed to meet us at the gate-house and check us in.  There was no one there.  We followed the directions to check ourselves in.

We were listed for Site #50.  I was distracted by another RV in the exit lane.  The guy seemed upset:

“They knew we had to leave early.  I’m locked in!”

Indeed, there was a cable across the exit drive.  I went out to help him.  His RV was larger than mine.  He was traveling with a blonde that I could barely see through the smoked glass of the passenger side.  I helped him unhook the cable and I pulled the orange traffic cone to one side.  He drove off.

Now, when I hear someone express interest in leaving “early” I think that they mean 6:30 am.  But, it was 7:45 pm!

Why was this guy leaving at this hour?  Where was he going?  Where was he going to spend the night, which had already started?

“Is there something going on here?” I asked myself.

The security guard drove up.  I told him we were heading to Site #50, but I couldn’t make out anything more than a small dirt road.

“I need some direction to #50,” I said.

“Oh, you won’t like #50,” he said.  “There a ditch in the middle of it.  Take #22.  You’ll like it better.”

We took Site #22 and we did like it.

A few campers had fires.  People laughed in the darkness.  I settled in and felt hungry only for a few veggies and a piece of cheese.  I made a few plays on Scrabble but found the WiFi signal weak and uneven.  I gave up.  Mariam wanted a bottle of cold water, so I slipped on my shoes and went to the ice cooler in the car.  The moon, full only a few days ago (on Christmas Night), was Waning Gibbous.  Orion was bright and directly over my head.  It was a cool and pleasant night

I stood in the large mown yard and looked at the moon.  In a few hours it would be December 31.  I thought of my days in Florida, my sailing, my new friends and my new experiences.

I thought about my family.  Brian in New York City, Erin, in Washington State.  My grandson on Erin’s knee reaching for his dad, Bob.  I thought of my faithful readers of this blog.

And, as lonely as I feel at this moment, here in the middle of somewhere in Central Florida, that I wanted to wish everyone a Happy New Year.

So, Happy New Year.  I love y’all.

SpanishMossTree

Holiday Time In Fort Myers/Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?*

“I don’t know Doc, I just seem a little disoriented lately.  Maybe it’s the time of year?  Maybe I should stay away from the egg nog…”

–Notation in the files of Dr. Hugh Roebottom, Psychiatrist, on the recent session with Patrick Egan.

wreath

It’s a pretty Christmas wreath.  I’m looking a one of the prettiest plastic Christmas wreaths I’ve ever seen.  I snap a photo of it to include in my “How I Spent The Winter” slideshow on my website.  There is an iced coffee in my free hand.  The condensation from the plastic cup of iced coffee has covered my iPhone with drops of water.  It’s not easy taking pictures with an iPhone and a dripping plastic cup at the same time.

I turn around and snap another photo.

mall lot

The PA system at the Outlet Mall is playing “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”.  I’m supposed to be seeing snow on the ground and happy shoppers with bundled children walking through the falling flakes.  Where are bundled children, the red scarves, the woolen caps and the bright blue mittens?  Where do the children make “snow angels”?

kidatoutletmall

It’s not happening.

Then I remember.  I’m not in my hometown of Owego, NY, or shopping in Binghamton in a snow storm.  I even remember that I’m not a child anymore.  I’m a senior citizen.  Here, I’m surrounded by senior citizens, and golf carts and adult tricycles.  No, I’m in Fort Myers, FL trying to escape the cold and snow.  Thanksgiving is next week.  Soon it will be December.  Soon, it will be Christmastime.

I go up the steps to the boardwalk at the Outlet Mall to think things over.  This is a little surreal to me–being here this time of year.  Even just being in Florida, for me, is a bit out-of-character.  I have Celtic blood in my veins.  It’s thick and doesn’t do well in sub-tropical climates.

Sipping on my iced coffee gives me a chance to digest the last seventeen days since we parked and unhooked our r-Pod. In the shopping centers I’ve seen Salvation Army Santas in teal colored shorts and Hawaiian shirts ringing the little hand-bell.  At least they have a red fleece Santa cap on their heads.  (They must be sweating under that cap.)

This place called Florida, this place where the Bush/Gore drama played out years ago, this place where Disney and Spanish culture collide like a bad I-95 accident, is a study in contrasts.  There is profound beauty in the Mangrove swamps and mind-bending varieties of shells on Sanibel Island.  The mosquitoes bite and the sunsets amaze.  The ants crawl on the cement and the storks take wing alongside the herons and egrets.

shorebirds

At the same time, the RV resorts and hotels and private marinas have taken the rawness out of the landscape.  I did a Google search on local beaches–I found a list under the link of au natural.  Thinking this was a place where I could walk naked, without shame, along the shore, communing with nature like Adam.  I checked one particular beach on Sanibel.

“Are you joking?” said the guy who was tying up the trash from a can in the parking lot.

I found that au natural basically meant that attendants didn’t pick up the litter and the driftwood stayed where the falling tide left it.

Yes, it’s a different world here for a small town Yank like me.  I’m going to miss the bleak grey skies of Thanksgiving and the snow of Christmas.  Most of my friends from high school are retired now and many have moved to the Carolina’s or here, to Florida.  I can’t speak for them, but I suspect that leaving behind the snows of yesterday with all the attendant activities, was a little hard.  Maybe not.

I remember being in New York City years ago.  They had just finished filming a scene from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York on 5th Ave. and 59th street.  The set was made to look like Christmas in New York, and the Hollywood magic worked.  When I saw the film later, I was totally convinced Macaulay Culkin was indeed in the city in the heart of winter.  In truth, the scene was filmed in July or August.  An entire corner of Central Park and the plaza in front of the Plaza Hotel was covered in fake snow.

On my drive back from the Outlet Mall to our RV resort, I turn on the clearest FM station I can find.  I expect something, some song, that speaks to me in mid-November.  Instead, I hear the song: “Have You Left The One You Left Me For?”, it was quickly followed by “I’m Old Enough To Know Better But Young Enough Not To Care.”

They were kind of catchy.

There will be no family gathering for dinner next Thursday.  There will be no Christmas parties for us.  We are going to exchange presents, but there will be no tree to decorate.  It’s hard to hang lights on a palm tree.

New Year’s Eve?  No noise makers or funny hats or those things you blow into and they unravel.  (I never knew what they were called).  We’ll be going to bed early with everything packed and road-ready for our departure from Siesta Bay Resort on New Year’s Day.

On Christmas Eve, when I wrap the gift I already bought for Mariam, I will be singing a song inside my head–to myself–to the memories of my childhood.  I’ll probably have a CD in our player of Bing Crosby holiday music, but it’s the music in my head that I’ll be listening to.

I don’t know about the PA system at the Outlet Mall, but I’ll be quietly singing: I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

palm sunset

Happy Thanksgiving!

[* “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trying To Stay Forever Young

AngieMaryMe

I’m sitting on the deck of our home at Rainbow Lake.  A lone chickadee hops from branch to branch and then vanishes into the thicket of trees.  I can see the shimmer of the setting sun reflecting from the water below us.  Only patches of the lake can be seen, we need to trim a few trees so I can watch the kayakers splash by on warm afternoons.

I hear the distinct honking of the Canadian Geese as they fly overhead and set their internal compass on south.  Their skein is visible for a brief moment above my head through the only patch of open sky on our property.

Just a week ago, I too, headed south.  Back to my hometown.  Back to a monumental reunion of my classmates, fifty long years after we graduated from Owego Free Academy.  At this very hour, one week ago, I was mingling with men and women that were once the boys and girls of my class.  Grey hair was dominant.  A cane here.  A limp there.  But, considering the changes that took place in the past half-century, my classmates fared well.  Extraordinarily well.  Last Friday night was the mixer.  I had to read names tags carefully, since I hadn’t seen these people in decades.  I did not watch them age because I did not stay in my hometown.  I saw them on a day in June 1965, and now I was seeing many of them for the first time since.

The next night was the Big Event.  It was the dinner and dance.  I found out that I was one of the few speakers on the program to make remarks.  I was to follow shortly after the poem that remembered those of us who had passed away.  Tough act to follow.

I was very nervous.  Many in the ballroom had read my blogs, many had followed my Facebook posts.  Many had little idea of who I had become.

My talk seemed a blur to me as I tried to bring humor and nostalgia together.  Was I funny?  Was I confusing?  Was I making a fool of myself?  I’ll never know.

I watched, with a wet eye, as Judy walked across the dance floor and became our “Senior Prom Queen”.  I learned that she had to move half-way through our senior year to join her mother–she missed the prom.  Now, this was her moment.  Her gown was that of a princess.  Her husband wore a tux.  I looked at my wool blazer and felt underdressed.

Across the dinner table were dear old friends, including my childhood sweetheart.  She and I and her BFF from elementary school went to the photo booth.

I’ve been dreading this reunion in a way.  I knew it was going to be a splash of cold water–something to force me to face the fearful fact of how fast time goes by and how we succumb to the years and how we face mortality.  I had to face the fact that, unpleasant as it is, I may never see some of these people again.

But, that dinner-dance was a moment in the present.  Some danced at the oldies like any of the sock hops back in the day.

One can try to “stay forever young”, but everyone in that room was aware of the force that was beyond our control.  The ticking of the clock–the pages of the calendar–the rising and setting of the sun.

But, for the moment, everyone was in the present.  The only place to be, really.

Someday, a group of people will look back on the weekend of September 11 & 12, 2015 and say: “Those were the days.”

Me at OFA

[Photo of a man with a microphone trying to make some sense]

The Migratory Habits of the Boomers

OwegoStuff

In this lecture we will explore the migratory habits of certain unusual groups of animals.  Let us begin by taking a glance at the Puffins of the North Atlantic.  They migrate to a big rugged and very isolated rock somewhere in the waters of the Atlantic.  There they breed.  Then they migrate somewhere.  It’s totally fascinating.

Now, let us consider the famous Swallows of Capistrano, California.  According to legend, they arrive at the mission on October 23, almost always on that date.  Pretty interesting, huh?  Then, on or about March 19, they circle the mission at San Juan and then depart.  Some say its a miracle.  Some say they just like the warm weather.  But you can bet that they will do a lot of breeding while they’re in California.  Isn’t that what California is for?

However, recent studies have uncovered a rather new group of migrating animals.  These would be the Owegoian alumni, which are rather new to the list of migrating groups.

It seems that each year that ends in a “0” or a “5”, this small population will make their way from far-a-way places, such as North Carolina, Georgia and the Adirondacks of New York State to gather in a ritual that has been termed a “reunion”.

The next such gathering is expected to occur very soon in the Southern Tier town of Owego, New York.

Experts who study such phenomena are wondering whether breeding is to be a part of this gathering that is soon to happen.  Some investigators say that the population is getting too elderly to partake in such risky behavior as breeding at this stage in their lives.

But, who knows?