It wasn’t all roses

Today is Fathers Day and I had a show-stopping conversation with Morgan.  His dad, my husband, passed away in 2006, when Morgan was 22.  We were talking about choosing a partner for marriage.

Mom & Dad at JFK 1990

Morgan said a thoughtful, tender thing to me, at least that’s what I heard.   He said that he and his younger brother Alex have an idea of what a good marriage can be because of the way their parents, Clark and me, stayed together and remained committed to each other for over 25 years.  That’s the model they have in mind, and they are looking for partners with which to do the same.  But oh, my words are so clinical and cliché.  His words were so very much more human, more Morgan.

Clark and I were truly each other’s best friend, there for each other, no question.

Morgan and I spoke about other things too – work, the addition, his cats, air conditioning, July 4th weekend, the cicadas.  And then we hung up.

And then I began to worry.  

In my efforts to make sure my sons are certain that Lee does not mean more to me than their father, have I led them to believe that Clark and I had a fairy-tale marriage?  Will they be endlessly looking for fairy-tale relationships?  As a young girl I believed in fairy-tale romances and marriages.  As an older woman I believe in fairy-tale romances and marriages.  But in-between I learned that it isn’t all lovey-dovey and happy til death do we part. 

There were days during my marriage, and sometimes there were weeks or months when I wondered why or how or when.  Do I really love him?  Would I be happier with someone else?  Am I trapped?

We never fought and I can’t remember ever raising our voices at each other.  I’m pretty sure that is true.  Two of the men I dated after his death, and the one that I am living with now get to that frenetic, shouting state so quickly. 

Arguing with men, with anyone actually except my mother and a few employees (I loathe being in a supervisory position) was new to me, and very uncomfortable, and so I talked about it, trying to understand this hurtful dynamic in a relationship.  One of my “dates” thought that Clark must have been hen-pecked.  How else could he not have gotten angry with me since I was such a controlling, demanding woman?  I don’t see that. 

Clark was level-headed, calm, comforting.  When I totally crashed the computer in our bookstore, leaving us without any inventory or purchase and sales records, he treated me gently and with concern as I walked around constantly crying, mute, and in a shadow for three weeks.  Even when he was hurting with cancer, he found the way to help me through my anxiety and craziness over my mother’s violent and ugly onset of Alzheimer’s and the difficulty of getting her, her friends, and her independent living facility to accept the fact that she needed help.

Another one of my “dates” thought that Clark must have been a saint.  I don’t see that either.

Lee doesn’t analyze.  He just knows that we are both a little bit (hah) high strung, and get frustrated easily.  Of course, I think he is the provocateur, but we won’t go there.  If we’re not laughing at ourselves in an hour, we kiss and make up in the morning.   We know we’ve got a good thing going and we aren’t going to let our big fat egos and our insecurities mess it up.

Clark and I may have talked and discussed, compromised, but I don’t even remember doing that.  We just thought the same way.   We successfully owned and operated two small businesses together.  We built one house and did major improvements on two others.  I guess we were a good match.  

He wasn’t very exciting though. 

When we were courting he had a dream of sailing around the world.  This sounded like heaven to me.  After several years I realized this was definitely just a dream.  He was much too cautious, too responsible, and he had a nightmare of an experience sailing the Marion Bermuda Race in 1979.

Only once did I see him lose it.

That was right after Morgan was born.  He had recently changed jobs, and had given up smoking.  Who knows exactly what brought on the anxiety attack that sent him to the hospital and then to bed for months.  If ever I would have left him, it would have been then.  But somehow both he and I got through it.   Yes, he did get stuck when he was diagnosed, but who wouldn’t, and he soon started looking for answers.

Later on, as he got sicker and weaker with his non-Hodgkins, our life got smaller and smaller, but it was actually a dream.  We were living in a 200 year old home that smiled on us.  We hardly ever left it.  Our children were off on their own. 

It felt to me as if I was getting to know a new Clark.  We spoke of what was happening to him and what would become of me.  We were delving into places that we never had entered before. We were falling in love again. 

Perhaps I have rewritten history for myself and for my boys.  It is hard when you are juggling jobs and children to take the time to love each other.  As I look back now, which I am so lucky to be able to do, I wish we had taken more time for ourselves and were more expressive of our feelings.  At the time I was proud of our stoicism.  It seemed to me that we just understood we were with each other and we didn’t have to prove it to each other over and over.  And I think he felt the same.  We never doubted. 

We were fortunate we had a quiet, close time at the end of Clark’s life.  He made it possible.  He is the one who wanted us to buy that big, rambling house – a bear to maintain – on nine acres which needed constant mowing and care.  I wanted to say “No.  We don’t need an apple orchard.  What are you crazy?   All that spraying, all that work?”

But because I knew I had another life on the way, I would have done anything with him.  

And we did good

You can’t have too many extra virgins

Lee moved into his new man cave in January.  His old cave, which was his studio/office/storage facility/private space while we planned and built the addition on my, now our home, was in our friends’ house around the corner. He moved there in October 2011 so that we didn’t have to go across the river and through the woods to be with each other anymore.

One of Lee's cabinets filled with spices and sauces

One of Lee’s cabinets filled with spices and sauces

When I met Lee three years ago he was in the middle of moving  from his home for over twenty years.  His wife Caroline had died and his son had established his own life.   He no longer wanted to be in a rambling empty house and he had recently  renovated a two-bedroom apartment in a Victorian on a quiet but main street, in walking distance to all one could need — almost.    One gathers lots of stuff in 60 plus years, and a lot of memories.  He had filled his apartment with pottery and art and cool hand made things that he and his wife and son had created or bartered for.  It was a very personal and comfortable space.  We became the old couple who walked their big dogs through town.

Soon he made his second move, to his man cave around the corner.  He minimized again, tossing some more, and moving large items into the barn he had built as the pottery studio at his old home.

*

Like Lee I’ve minimized several times. Even so, my home is still filled with furniture, dinnerware, blankets, and more that belonged to my parents and grandparents.  I lived on the same street as my mother’s family, with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins my own age who were playmates always near. We all spent summers together in a big house at the shore. Last year I broke the flowered pitcher that used to sit on my grandmother’s coffee table and I cried.  I know the story behind every item that came from my family, or at least I once did.

Since my husband Clark was an only child, when his mother died, a moving van brought all of the contents of his parents’ house to our door.  I still have much of it, and value it as a tangible connection for my sons to their father.

My sons Morgan and Alex saw my family and Clark’s family most likely two or three times a year, and once Clark’s folks moved to Florida, and the boys got involved in school and their own friends, perhaps once a year.   We got together with grandparents for holidays and birthdays when they boys were young and the adults were healthy, and gatherings were always warm and fun.  It was a different kind of family experience than mine.

I wear a wedding band from Clark’s family.  I think it belonged to his grandmother – but which one?  Morgan and Alex  don’t know that my mom’s mother embroidered the raggy pillowcases in my linen closet when she was sick with cancer.  They don’t know which dinner set belonged to my mom and which to Clark’s, or that the little scissors in the cup on my desk was the one my father kept in the middle drawer of his dresser, the only scissors in our house we could always find.  They will recognize none of the people in the old photographs in the boxes of albums I have in the closet.   I know so few in the boxes from Clark’s family.  Sometimes my boys tell me stories that I passed on to them about people and things, and I look at them in wonderment.  Did I tell them that?   Is the story true?

*

Now that Lee has moved for a third time, into his new space on the first floor of the tower addition, he has picked through all he owns in the world after 66 years one more time.  I IMG_0721don’t think he is as sentimental as I.  Perhaps he is, but when thinking about it he is definitely more practical and efficient.  He gets through it.  I move on, but am never done.

His new space is a bit crowded and disorganized, and there are lots of unopened boxes and stuff piled under the staircase, but it looks great, is comfortable and cozy, and he’s enjoying it a lot.  It will most likely stay that way until we’ve moved into the upper floors and all of our possessions mingle and spread evenly through the entire house.  Then we’ll put pictures on the walls and sculpture on the shelves.

We did however integrate most of our kitchens. We’ve gone through the pots and pans and the dishes and glasses and mugs and mostly decided what to keep in the kitchen, what to store, and what to toss, although I haven’t yet made the plunge and tossed it.

The other evening we went through the spices and sauces.  After combining jars and containers and throwing away items that had date stamps all the way back to 1998, we found we had:

IMG_0724Four

  • bottles of apple cider vinegar, as well as rice and balsamic
  • canisters of sea salt, but no kosher or iodized
  • jars of molasses

Three

  • extra virgin olive oils
  • black bean sauces
  • vanilla extracts
  • baking powders

Two

  • crushed red peppers
  • Lea and Perrins
  • IMG_0719oyster sauces
  • Hoisin sauces
  • oreganos
  • whole cloves
  • herbs de province
  • basils
  • sesame seeds
  • mustards
  • cumin
  • black pepper
  • black beans
  • sesame oils

We had singles of lots of common and uncommon treats, the most interesting of which are:

  • Big O’s $787,000,000,000 Stimulus Sauce (contains no pork)
  • Kotterin Mirin – did you know you only have to walk 11 minutes to burn off the 40 calories per serving of this sweet cooking seasoning?  It is for glazes and sukiyaki.  It has only 15 mg of sodium per tablespoon serving, but corn syrup is the first ingredient on the list.    Funny thing – I just tried opening it see what it smelled like.  It is still sealed.  I didn’t open it.  Maybe it’s a toss.

IMG_0716

  • Tiger Lily Buds – which he never has used, but how can one throw out something with such a sweet name.  It may have to go though because I’ve looked at them on line and they are a different color than ours.  Ours may be from Caroline’s mother’s kitchen which would make them at least twenty years old.  Would Lee’s son want shriveled up flower buds from his grandmother’s kitchen, when he can just walk into a shop in Chinatown and buy them fresh?
  • My favorite of all – Red Boat Fish Sauce.  It is 100% First Press Extra Virgin ca cam (black anchovy) and sea salt.

Not wanting to take any responsibility or show any interest in what he considered a no-brainer project, Lee left the decisions of what to keep and what to throw away to me.  We now have three cabinets full of sauces and spices as well as those in the refrigerator.

The only thing he did say as he flew out of the kitchen to hide in his man cave was “You can’t have two many extra virgins.”

Sandy at Cheviot

Something woke me from my sleep at 2:30 last night and I went to my window. I could see the glimmer of water where it shouldn’t be, but where I expected it to be. Tuck and I went down to the porch to look.  The Hudson had risen to the tracks but did not go over them, and the puddle in my lower yard was even higher than during Irene.   The electricity was still out.

The basement was dry.  Water in the basement has been an obsession with me since the year waterfalls of the Las Vegas ilk poured through the bulkhead at the street and down the front yard, and again formed waterfalls through the stone foundation into the basement.  I lost so much of my life and family history in that four-foot flood.   But having my sons at the house to go through their damp possessions filled me with bittersweet pride and joy.

Relieved about the basement I dressed and walked down to the crossing to see if I could get a few photos.  I’d never seen the river this high and hope never to again.  Sorry.  I don’t use the settings that often on my camera, and in the dark getting a picture was impossible — even tho the flash kept going off.  I should go back to my rangefinder.

I went online for any other information I could find, but finally went back to sleep.

In the morning, the Hudson had receded, but the backyard duck pond was still at high tide.  When it went down I checked the shed.  It had flooded during Irene and so we had raised it by two cinder blocks, and the day before Sandy I put boards under the snowblower.  Still when I looked inside, water was sitting in the open ash catcher on my charcoal Weber grill.  The water was at least a foot deep in the shed.  I wonder if it will come back up during this afternoon’s high tide.  It’s like living on the Nile.

The electricity is back on and the generator has been tucked away. I heard from my boys that the streets they live in on Brooklyn didn’t flood, no trees hit the car, one spent yesterday making pickles and today has been commandeered by the city to help with the relief effort, the other is on tour with his band JP & the Gilberts and missed the storm completely.  My mom’s assisted living in Jersey has water and gas and is getting a temporary generator for power.  My sister in Jersey has a tree in her driveway but is happy that that is her only worry.  Lee received no calls from tenants.

The sun came out and my dentist called to make sure I went to my appointment this afternoon.

Sunset after the Storm

We in Cheviot did pretty well.  We missed the big winds and heavy rains.  My heart goes out to NYC and the Jersey Shore and to all who suffered losses.

 

 

Title Track

Spoon Cottage is my home – named by the previous owners, who discovered spoons when they tore down the walls to the posts and beams.  They left me one of the spoons tucked in a mortise.  The earlier owners repointed the bricks that made up the interior walls of the first floor.  The house was built in 1860 or thereabouts and was one of four fishing cottages in Cheviot.    Mine may be the only one still standing.  Two that were further down the lane from mine have been torn down, and the woman who lives on the other side of me is researching the history of her cottage – which does not reflect the style that was common to the time mine was constructed.

I was sitting on the back deck one afternoon looking across the tracks and the river and the sun came up over the roof of the cottage and shone down on me.  That’s when I discovered the spoonbeams.

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For more on spoonbeams, please see my Poetry page –

Process 2: The Five Sighted Men and the River that Runs Through Hills Like White Elephants

The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.

Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

My temptation is always to write too much.

Hemingway to Maxwell Perkins, 1940

Writing about the view of the Hudson River and the Catskills from my window has been a struggle.  There is so much to say, so many stories attached to the view and so much history to my feelings about it.

I remember a story telling workshop led by Jay O’Callahan.  He had each of us talk about some object in our childhood home.  He wanted us to describe it using details.  We could talk about how it looked, or what we used it for, or if we liked it, or what it meant to one family member, anything – but fill it with details.  And that’s how I started writing about the view.  My mind was exploding with ideas, the content grew but I needed to keep from trying to squeeze a book into a brief essay.

Finally I remembered Hemingway and his iceberg theory.  I didn’t have to tell it all.  I could just know it and it would be there.

*

Since I have a view of the Hudson River and the Catskills from my home, when I think of the Hudson River I see my view.   I’m very close to the water.  I went out and counted 70 paces from the back of my house to the river, if I could walk it like the crow flies.  It’s down 14 steps, across a narrow piece of CSX land, thru the lilacs, across a trench where some have said CSX has an overflow pipe to keep the river off the tracks during storms and high tides (I haven’t found any such evidence), over a northbound and a southbound set of rails, through a mess of sumac to the river.

It’s not an idyllic view and conversation ceases as the train goes by.  Although only one unhappy person, who never seemed to want to see anyone else be happy, has actually told me that my house was a very, very bad purchase, mostly because of its location, I am sure there are many others who probably would feel the same way.  I think the realtor who showed me the house was very surprised that I brushed off the train with a wave of the hand.

There are ten windows across the river side of the second floor of my house and they offer ten different pictures.  I delight in each one. Starting from the north, I look up the river and never really see anything, but I keep hoping something will come into view.  From the second window I see the cement plant, which could be worse, and which I think of as a castle lit up at night.

The next picture is of the hamlet directly across from mine.  I have driven over several times, and I sit on a bench put up by someone and peer back at my house, which looks a bit industrial itself.  At night I can see the lights of cars coming down the hill and imagine mothers and fathers coming home for dinner with their children.

When I hear the whistle of the freight train across the river, I look out the fourth window to the one spot where I can actually see the cars going by.

The next window gives a straight on view of the little island with two trees – the old Cheviot dock and an in-your-face telephone pole. I forgot to mention the telephone wires that I usually photoshop out of the view on the computer, and when I’m not focusing on the birds on the wire – out of my mind also.

In the winter there’s a blinking green buoy seen from the next window, and it is joined by a red one in the warm weather.

I’ve got tracks, telephone poles, and a cement factory, and a public launch parking area.  But it’s a wonderful view – not a complete 180 degrees, but close.  In addition to the island, there’s Round Top and Kaaterskill Pass.  Actually it is Kaaterskill Clove Pass.   There are beautiful sunsets and even more beautiful, the reflection of the sunrise in the morning.

I can watch the ripples, sometimes waves of the water and wonder about the currents.  Much has been written about the Muhhekunnetuk – the river that flows both ways, and has two spellings and has two pronunciations.

The pictures change by the minute.  I sometimes see geese with their heads under their wings taking a rest as they hitch a ride on a chunk of ice. I first hear the throbbing and then see the lego barges of red, white, blue and yellow floating by.  I see glorious cloud formations and mist and sometimes the fog comes in so thick I see nothing.  Every now and then the rays coming from the clouds are so outstanding and brilliant that I really believe there must be a God.

*

I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I’ve got to constantly remind myself about that, rather than create posts with titles like the above.

The only time I had even a little bit of hesitancy about my view was when I first visited Olana, Frederick Church’s home.    That story is still in my well.

Morning Report from Cheviot

This should have been an evening report from Sunday (today is Tuesday) but I had a lot going on this weekend.  I also wanted to spend some time trying to find out what was really going on with the tides in the Hudson River.  Sunday the tide went out further than the newbies in Cheviot, a river hamlet in Germantown, NY, have ever noticed before.

There is an island off Cheviot Landing, where back in the day, barges used to stop to load up with produce to feed New York City.  Portions of a strip of land that used to be the causeway to the island pop out of the river when the tide goes down.  The causeway creates an ice dam in the winter, and a field of green that stretches north beyond where I can see in the summer.  I used to think the green was algae, but this year I could see it was plants – perhaps the invasive water chestnut?  The water is shallow on the north side of the causeway and I’ve watched many a canoe become grounded.  Just as I was surprised when I watched my dog walk out into the Hudson, I’ve watch many a surprised canoeist realize he can get out of the canoe, walk in the river, and drag his boat to higher water. Sunday the tide was very low.  The water dropped even more than is shown in the picture below, until I could see exactly where the chanels were to guide my canoe to get through or around the causeway.

The river was so low that one could walk along a muddy edge of the east shore – and one of my neighbors did.  She and I have been looking on-line for some mention of this unusual tide, but even this morning I have found nothing.

We’ve read about supertides, king’s tides, and proxigean spring (not necessarily in the spring) tides.  A proxigean spring tide is defined by Deal Beach Sea Fishing as

        . . . a rare, extreme form of spring tide which occurs once every 1½ years or so when the moon is new (between the earth and sun) and at its proxigee, being the point of the moon’s elliptical orbit that is closest to the earth and 92.7% of its average distance. This produces a 25% increase in the tide

Could our phenomenon have been the down side of proxigean springtide?  The site lists the proxigean springtides up until 2023, but February 26, 2012 wasn’t there.  Poking around more I discovered why.  This Deal Beach isn’t in New Jersey – the hip beach for college students where my sister hung out in the sixties — but is in Kent on the English Channel. It looks like a delightful town to visit.

Poking further on the web I found SeaAndSkyNY, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in weather and waters of NYC. There is a post about a king tide in October 2011. It advises beachcombers of a great chance to go foraging on the mudflats during the extremely low tides during a king tide.

Looking to discover if our phenomenon could have been a “king tide” I found in several places that the term, used especially in Australia, doesn’t have any scientific meaning, but is used to refer to an extremely high tide.

It seems strange to me that this very low tide, has not been reported on the web.  Those of us in Cheviot, who were fortunate enough to have witnessed it, are still talking about it.

As I look out my window right now – just about noon – the causeway is partially exposed, perhaps a little more than usual.  There are white sea birds sitting on it.  I hesitate to identify them as gulls or terns.

Could someone please let us know a little bit more about our Sunday at the Landing?

Living on the Tracks

If you’ve ever taken the train from New York City to Montreal you’ve passed a small cluster of houses midway between Rhinecliff and Hudson stations.  No one living there actually likes being on the tracks, yet no one would leave because of them.  Of course, having the Hudson River on the other side of the tracks does help.

Twice an hour most of the day, a train will go by, heralded by two long, one short, one long blasts of an air horn operated by a pushbutton or floor pedal.  The horn is hard to handle if you aren’t feeling well or have a headache, but otherwise, just a small interruption in a conversation.   Most residents report that they really don’t hear it most of the time.

Legislation passed in 1994 mandating soundings at public grade crossings.  There is a crossing to a small boat landing and picnic area across the tracks from this hamlet and hence the horn.  There is a crossing gate, the view both north and south is clear so that you can see the headlight of the train approaching, and there are only a handful of people who cross those tracks by car or foot every day, and most of them are regulars very aware of the danger.  It seems to me highly probable that the tracks are more dangerous up or down the track where people fish, walk their dogs, swim, or just seek privacy, and there is no gate for warning.  But there are no horns up and down the tracks.

Several years ago a group of residents of the hamlet initiated a movement to have the horn silenced — which has been done in numerous communities following a process initiated by the Federal Railroad Administration in 2005.  This FRA regulation states that certain intersections do not necessitate the sounding of horns.  Residents who lived inland from the trains did not agree – the sound of train whistles in the distance has a charm not appreciated by those who live less than 500 feet from the train.  The town voted to keep the whistle.

Nighttime brings a few freight trains, and they rumble along with no lights.  They do shake the house a little, but that can be comforting and after a bit of time they don’t interrupt sleep.  A newcomer to the area or an overnight guest might be rudely jolted from a dream.  It is important not to curse, and not to worry about falling back to sleep, and not to wait for the next one to come by.

The train has become a big part of both my real and fantasy life.  I imagine living in a model train landscape, in one of the little houses perched on a hill. At one end of the table are farms, at the other a few factories, in the middle a small town with a post office, school, and houses of all sizes and shapes. A little child comes and turns on the train and makes sure everything is in place and working. The trains go round and round.  I imagine walking down the steps of my house to the tracks and flagging down the train to go to go for a coffee up in Hudson. I think about the lonely late night passenger train and how it passes by at 12:37 even if there are no passengers on board.  I guess what is in those freight cars. It’s a great escape during those moments when the real world gets too scary, or it’s a picture book in process.

I fantasize about the engineer, pulling that cord, with his head looking out the window, and the steam pouring out of the whistle.  I make up a story — perhaps the short happy toot is a signal to a friend who lives in town, or a thank you to the couple that used to moon the trains from their hot tub.  Perhaps the longer shrill blasts of reality are a retaliatory response to a hamlet that sought to silence it.

Hurricane Irene and the rising of the river silenced the trains for a few days last year.  It re-confirmed the serenity of living close to and in touch with the Hudson.  Horn be damned.  I will enjoy what I have without complaining about the noise or worrying about what a high speed train corridor might mean.

Thank you to all who have posted information on trains and whistles on-line.  I hope I have used your sites in a way that pleases you.