Summer fun

Robert Moses Boat

 

My mother was born August 15 and as a child we’d celebrate the day by going to the ocean.  We lived on the North Shore of Long Island with the Long Island Sound a quick drive from our home.  That was our everyday beach for swimming lessons and sunset walks along the shore.  The Atlantic Ocean was reserved for special occasions with wild waves and riptides threatening to pull you under.  Looking back, I shutter just thinking about how dangerous my childhood was.  We’d all pile into a car like clowns at the circus.  The more the merrier.  I’m not sure when seat belts were invented but they were definitely not part of my childhood.  I had the window seat only once and that time I accidentally opened the door while we sped along.  My brother held my feet as the rest of me exited the car.  He managed to pull me back in and I’m sure my mother had a few firm words to say.   After that, I was doomed to the middle seat for a number of years.

Robert Moses Beach

Once we arrived at the beach and our territory established with umbrellas, cooler and towels, we were set free to go where we pleased.  I was a horrible swimmer but that didn’t stop me from heading into the surf.  More than once, I was pulled from turbulent waters gasping for air by a cousin or a complete stranger.  Defying death was all part of the magic of the day.    At some point, an Entenmanns sheet cake would appear with black and white icing and candles.  For those not from Long Island, Entenmanns cake was a local bakery that expanded into a factory.  The cakes were made of Crisco, flour and sugar.   Not a gourmet delight by any stretch of the imagination.   We’d sing as the melted icing would catch sand particles adding an extra crunch.   Dare I tell you that my mother’s birthday was the highlight of summer fun.

Robert Moses Lighthouse 1

This past week my mother would have turned 80.  My sister Lisa and I took off for Robert Moses State Park yesterday to sit by the edge of the ocean.  It was chilly so we didn’t tempt fate by jumping into the surf.  Instead, we talked and remembered with laughter what once was.  Salt and sand lightly coated the cherries I had brought and all seemed right with the world.

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Keeping it all relative.

The Bay 1
The trunk of my car is packed with a beach towel, suit, sunscreen, large umbrella, flip-flops and a chair. It’s my emergency summer kit for those moments when an escape to the beach is possible and much needed. I was in the midst of such an escape when my cell phone rang. My car has the feature that will send an incoming call immediately to speakerphone when I am driving.  It was J. dialing in from her vacation.  She had planned this trip for months and my cheery, “Hello” was met with painful sobs.

“What happened?”

J. has had her difficulties with a bad marriage ending thus putting her Green Card  progress in jeopardy.  She was waiting for a court date which came but her lawyer hadn’t told her until she had already started her vacation.  An expensive plane ticket needed to be bought so that she could get back to New York in time.  Her sobs echoed in my car as my GPS battled for attention.  Slowly the story became clearer to me and I understood that disappointment and frustration were the source of her anguish.

“I understand why you are so disappointed and I am so sorry.  This is really just a feeling you are experiencing and not actually a problem.  It would be a completely different story if you were being deported”

I stared out over the steering wheel as these words tumbled out of my mouth.  Who is this woman I have become?

My friend S. had endometrial cancer and  a hysterectomy last year.  Everything seemed fine until the beginning of this past July.  A scan reveled the cancer had spread to her abdomen and liver.  Chemo was administered and the only thing I could do was suggest we go out to dinner if she and her husband D. wanted to.  It seemed like a strange thing to offer up but I was clearly out of ideas.  They agreed with a hint of excitement but first they suggested we watch the sailboats in Riverton, New Jersey.  On Wednesday nights, the boats race up and down the river.

We grabbed chairs and set them up by the river’s edge.  It was one of those magical evenings when spirits defy logic and soar.  S. asked me to take pictures of her and D.  With every click of the camera I knew these would be the last photographs taken of the two of them together.  They hugged, held each others hands and had an ephemeral peace about them that I managed to capture.

We’ve become so used to bad marriages ending.  Witnessing the end of a good marriage where vows are kept is heart wrenching.

“Till death do we part.”

Heady words to say and even more devastating to live by.  S. and D. think that they are at a fork in the road in deciding what treatment she should have.   In days to come, more tumors will be discovered and any form of treatment will end.  She begins to let go of this life and slowly puts the house in order for the moment of her departure.  He resigns himself to the idea that he will help her to the end traveling the days beyond that alone.

Those moments still lay in the future.   On the night we watched the boats race,  we still had a faint glimmer of hope that there would be another year.  I can’t explain why we were so happy during those hours by the river’s edge.  By the next morning, a sadness haunted me and the only thing I knew that would cure me was a visit to the sea.  Meetings were pushed around and by afternoon I started my escape to the beach.  That’s when my phone rang and why I couldn’t mince words with my friend J.

“You do not have a problem as this can be resolved.  You are suffering from emotions right now, they will pass.”

I hadn’t understood the difference of emotions verses problems so clearly as I did that afternoon.

When I got to the beach my friend Vita’s father was there.  He lost his wife nearly a year ago and his heart still aches.  I told him the story of J. and his only comment was, “When you pass 70 you no longer feel disappointment.”  I didn’t have the courage to ask what else is lost to completely neutralize disappointment.  I’m not sure I want to know.

Posted in Cancer, Essay, Friendship, Grief, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

The end of the vacation!

Cocktail Hour

All good things must come to an end and that includes vacations.

My sisters, brother, father and I escaped to the Berkshires for a week. We rent a house on a lake with a dock that showcases the most soothing sunsets. Cocktail hour became a mandatory method to wrap up the day and segue us towards the dinner hour. That hour crept later and later into the night as we lingered on the dock admiring sunsets or lost in conversation.  My father, now unedited by my mother, tells us stories we have never heard before.  Sometimes they are the same as what she told only from a different vantage point.  It is fascinating and a bit bittersweet.  No one in his stories is alive anymore and he alone carries the memories of our earlier history.

Cocktail Hour food

Traveling with a 91-year-old has its own set of rules.  Nap time is paramount as is making sure there is time to sit.  Bedtime is also important but that is easier to keep.  Last year we didn’t pay such close attention and his mind started to slip by the end of the week.  It was frightening.  This year he returned from a week away tired and filled with fun memories. There were cameo visits by my nieces and then we met up with other friends with homes nearby.

Cocktail Sunset

I hope you had a great week.  If we were still on vacation, we’d be toasting the night.
Cocktail Cucumber Drink

Or playing Mexican train with a traveling domino set we had.  We became rather obsessed with it.

Mexican Train

I will post more as the week progresses.  For now, I am back and well rested!

 

 

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The Internet

My cousin was married to a computer wiz who we will call CW.  He worked on top-secret defense projects.  This was back in the early 90’s and I’m not sure we should have even known what he did.  One night a number of us were out and we drank a lot.  You know what happens when alcohol flows freely.   The subject of the Internet came up and CW couldn’t stop talking about it.  I had no idea what the Internet was or how it could be used.  CW was passionate about it and decided to sneak us into his office and show us the Internet once and for all.  He brought us through the back door of his office building and we stumbled around in the dimly lit hallways not daring to put any lights on to draw attention to ourselves.  We were beyond tipsy so I’m not really sure how clearly any of us were thinking.  I do remember standing there in the dark peering over his shoulder as I looked at the computer screen.

“I don’t see how I would find any use for this in my life.”

I actually muttered those words out loud with full conviction.

Flash forward twenty years to this past weekend.  I changed Internet providers and things went badly.  I was back in the “non communicative”  early 90’s for two days and was ready to quit the human race by Sunday.  My voice hit a pitch that makes dogs howl and technicians cringe.  As it turns out, my entire life is ruled by the Internet.  I don’t know how that even happened.

The Internet expanded our world so we need not be sitting next to one another to have a conversation.

The Internet expanded our world so we need not be sitting next to one another to have a conversation.

Before disaster struck I finally met up with an old friend last week.  We hadn’t spoken for four years and hadn’t seen one another in 10.  We hit what you might consider “low tide” in our friendship and there was a natural drifting apart.  A Christmas card here or there and then silence.  Back in the 90’s, that silence probably would have stuck but in the age of the Internet silence is a hard thing to keep.  A late night “I wonder what happened to….”  and the next thing you know there that person is on your computer screen.  A friend request came over Facebook and I accepted.   A few months later, an invitation to stop by in my travels.

She lives on a farm with goats.

She lives on a farm with goats.

The funny thing about old friends is the shared interests continue.  We met up for dinner and 7 hours flew by in a blink of an eye.  We were never at a loss for conversation.  The past decade hasn’t been completely kind to either of us.  Yet, there was a lot of laughter in the telling of our tales.  Of course, it was not lost on me that the Internet is what reconnected us.

The pottery studio

The pottery studio

 

Sometimes I want to go back in time and just bop myself on the head.

 

 

Posted in Essay, Friendship, Memories, Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Syracuse

Syracuse 1
I went to Syracuse last week for business. I’ve only been to that city once before and that was 38 years ago. Back then, I was a sixteen year old whose only wish was to see the world. The words swirled and throbbed in my head like a wild drum beat that wouldn’t stop. My friend Michelle had moved to a nearby town and invited me up for a week the summer she had left our neighborhood. I jumped at the chance to travel on my own and begin my tour of the world.

Syracuse 3

My mother, a 1950’s woman, insisted I purchase a “traveling outfit.” It consisted of a pair of beige polyester bell-bottom pants, buffalo sandals with a snappy red paint blob that I added as a decorative element, a black floral polyester top and a polyester scarf around my neck tied in a fashionable knot. I was a country girl trying her best to be chic on a Greyhound bus. There wasn’t a natural fiber on me which is classic for the 1970’s. You can’t imagine the thrill I felt as my bus pulled out the Port Authority Terminal in New York. They might as well have announced on the PA system – “She’s off!”

I should also note that I was the only one dressed for the occasion.

Syracuse 2

Syracuse to me then seemed like such a far off distant place with exotic promise. Seeing it now I could only laugh. The first stop in my “world tour” was a tired city. Salt and the Erie Canal brought wealth years ago and there are buildings with amazing architecture to prove what once was. Still, it remains the first stop in what turned out to be an amazing adventure.

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One more year closer to 100

91

Well, my dad burned through another year.  He celebrated his 91st birthday today.  My brother, sisters and I all took off from work so that we could be with him.  He was pleased.

We took him to a Mexican restaurant where he didn’t recognize the food but enjoyed it just the same.  He’s a meat and potatoes kind of guy but still game for something new even now.  We sang over two bowls of pudding, one for him and the other for the rest of us.  We have to monitor our pudding intake while he just about licked his bowl clean.  Not one of us has his amazing health.  It was then he informed us his goal was to turn 100.  We all laughed and smiled.  I have no doubt he will make it, I just want him to stay as healthy as he is.

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Astoria, Queens

 

Triborough Bridge

My friends Donna and Tom are leaving New York this week. They’re headed to Florida to move permanently into the townhouse they purchased a few years ago. It’s a step towards retirement but no one has actually said that out loud. She’s taking advantage of an opportunity that presented itself and as she mumbled on the phone the other night, “It’s time.”

Donna also said, “I’ve lived in this apartment longer than any other place in my life including my childhood home.” That hit me like a bullet between the eyes. I moved into my apartment a few months after she moved into hers. The year was 1991. Yes, a long time ago and I too have lived the majority of my life at this address. It’s no wonder I’ve grown out of it.

Back in the fall of 2009, I was looking in earnest for a new home.  I explored Brooklyn and in hindsight any purchase there would have been a good one.  I hadn’t yet settled on an apartment when the year 2010 arrived bringing death and destruction to my world. To say my life fell apart, would be an understatement. It imploded on every level and the only thing that kept me grounded was my little apartment here in Chelsea.  Leaving was not only an unthinkable idea but a physically impossible task.

It’s been four years and my health is back. Suddenly, I’m drooling over the real estate web sites again. Only now, what catches my eye I don’t have enough money for.  I want space and charm which demands a hefty sum here in New York.  So, I’m saving.  Dare I mention that New York is a lot less fun on a tight budget?  It is.  The one luxury I’m allowing myself is a game I came up with.  I’m dating neighborhoods.  Dinner, a movie or just a long walk to acquaint myself with places I’ve never been to.  These explorations help me understand the real estate addresses.  I’ve decided to give you a peak into what I’ve seen.

The first is Astoria, Queens.

Ditmas Station

Exactly 55 minutes from Union Square in Manhattan and the very last stop on the N train is Ditmars Blvd. Station.  Down the steps and crossing by the elevated train trestle that rattles with the arrival and departure of every train is Astoria Queens.  The only thing I ever heard about the place was from Christopher Walken’s father.  He owned a bakery in Astoria and one afternoon I sat with him grilling hot dogs as he told me in detail how to bake bread.  We were in Connecticut and he must have been in his 80’s with a soft voice and an accent etched with hints of Queens and Germany.  I was hungry and just sat there nodding.  Later in the day, I learned he wasn’t allowed to eat hot dogs and was horrified as I was the one who brought them.  I didn’t dare mention he had 3 in one sitting and prayed he lived until I was safely on the train back to New York.   It was the early 80’s and Christopher wasn’t the big star he is today and I was his cat sitter in New York when he and his wife were out of town.  His father lived a few more years beyond that afternoon and I had launched into my career by then.

It was my friends Elena and Julia who suggested we explore Astoria and besides bakeries it also boasts of amazing Greek food.  We ate at The Original Stamatis Restaurant which is on 23rd Avenue and a short walk from the subway.  Astoria has a few apartment buildings but it is mostly made up of two story brick houses like the ones pictured below.

23rd Avenue

I’m not sure who named the roads in Queens but it is so confusing that you have to know the neighborhoods by sight.  23rd Avenue is next to 23rd Road which is next to 23rd Terrace with 23rd Street running perpendicular to all of the afore mentioned 23rd’s.  They are all near Astoria Park which boarders the East River with beautiful views of the Tribrough Bridge and Hells Gate Bridge.

Astoria is a sweet area but it just didn’t feel like a place I wanted to call home.  I’ll go back for the food though!

 

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