October 31, 2009

Streaks of silver

My daughter’s train arrived yesterday morning. A few minutes later, a car pulled into the driveway, and her friend Free Spirit stepped out. She was dressed in an earthy green outfit that looked like something a female Peter Pan would wear to a Renaissance Fair. That’s when I remembered that it was Halloween weekend.

“I’m an elf,” Free Spirit explained. I guess the pointy ears should have tipped me off.

She’d brought an extra pair of elf ears for my daughter, who was pulling on a long garment she’d bought from some online costume store. “The advantage of being small is that I can wear a costume meant for a twelve-year-old,” said my daughter as she pulled it over her head.

The two friends, reunited for the weekend, took over the kitchen. Well, mostly Free Spirit baked while Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter hung out and talked to her. You can see that my daughter takes after me.

I put on the tea kettle, and the three of us ate the vegan chocolate cake while it was still warm.

“I should have baked something today,” I said. “I’m going to a potluck tonight.”

“Here, bring some grapes,” said my daughter. I grabbed the bag of grapes she was offering. That seemed as good a plan as any.

Free Spirit was rummaging through the costume stuff they’d bought put on their faces and hair.

“We can put silver in your hair for the potluck,” my daughter offered.

“I already have silver in my hair.”

“That’s not silver, that’s grey.”

At least I raised her to be honest.

I declined their offer to dress me up and went to my potluck wearing normal clothes. After all, it wasn’t Halloween yet.

October 29, 2009


For the last couple of months, I’ve been on a pie-making kick. I’ve been experimenting to see if I can perfect the apple pie: I’ve tried putting the water in the freezer to make it colder, I’ve tried using the pastry cutting tool that my mother swears by, and I’ve asked my mother a million questions about how she makes pie, trying to get every detail right.

I always ask the gang who eats the pies, “Is this one better than the last? Do you think the crust is more tender?” It’s not exactly the right conditions for a controlled experiment, and every pie disappears while it’s still warm, so it’s been hard to tell if my pie-making skills are improving or not.

Yesterday was the real test. My mother left me a phone message that she’d made an apple pie. Long-time readers might remember that my mother makes the best apple pie in the world. Seriously. Everyone says so.

I went to an evening event on campus – a poetry reading with my students – but I stopped at my parents’ house on my way home. My mother put on the tea kettle, and she and my father joined me at the kitchen table. Then she cut me a piece of apple pie. I took sips of the hot tea as we talked and ate apple pie.

And damn. Her pie is still better than mine.

October 28, 2009


It rained all day, the kind of driving rain that forms puddles quickly and makes my front yard look like a cool place to fish. The sky was grey, as the skies here generally are in the late fall, and dark. I had errands to run. I drove Shaggy Hair Boy into the city to take his road test; I stood in the pouring rain for fifteen minutes while he took the test. I drove to the post office to pick up a package that had come for With-a-Why, only to find our little post office had closed for lunch. I went into campus to copy materials I needed for class.

Despite the grey skies and rain, the landscape I drove through was glowing yellow. Golden leaves hung from trees, blew across the road, spread wetly across lawns. I stopped on my second trip to the post office to snap a photo of one house that was completely surrounded by yellow leaves.

I had to wait at the post office — the postmaster had left a sign in the lobby that read “Back in a few minutes.” Another customer was already waiting, an older man. We chatted and looked at the back of my camera to see the photo. “Yeah, I drove by that house too,” he said. “Some years, I notice the red and orange maples, but this year, it’s the yellow that’s fantastic. It’s been a golden fall.”


October 27, 2009

Reason #58 Why the human body is superior to the computer.

I’ve been feeling pretty awful lately — a bad headache, a low-grade fever, nausea. Yesterday, since it wasn’t a teaching day, I took the day off. I stayed home in bed and slept. Between naps, I ate pasta, drank ginger ale, and watched youtube clips from the Big Bang Theory. (My celebrity crush used to be Dana Carvey, but now it’s Jim Parsons.)

This morning, I woke up feeling better, able to tackle a long day of classes and meetings. Before I left the house, I switched off my laptop, figuring I’d let it rest for the day.

When I came home, I switched on my computer, went to check a document, and realized that once again, ALMOST ALL MY FOLDERS WERE EMPTY. Unlike the human body, the computer does not heal itself.

Once again, I pulled all the data from the back-up on my external hard drive — and then called technical support. The first two people I talked to didn’t know what was going on, but then I talked to someone who seemed to have a good guess. I told him that the only folders that weren’t deleted were folders I’d created recently, and he said it was most likely a permissions problem. So we tried changing the permissions on all the newly restored folders.

And now I’m typing with my fingers crossed.

Lake edge

Lake edge

October 26, 2009

Fevered ramblings

All semester we’ve been getting emails about the status of the H1N1 flu. Students and faculty are told to stay home if they have the flu and isolate themselves from the rest of the population. This marks a big change in the campus culture. We’ve mostly always just gone to class no matter what.

But of course, now we’re hitting the season where everyone’s getting colds, sore throats, coughs, stomach viruses, sinus headaches — and all the normal stuff we get this time of year. All this newfound sensitivity to sickness raises a dilemma. Do we heed the warnings and stay home when we’re sick, even if it’s not something exotic like the swine flu?

I had a dreadful headache today, with nausea and a fever. But it’s probably not H1N1. Shaggy Hair Boy arrived home announcing that his roommate has the flu. Or at least, he’s pretty sure he does. Students are being told not to go to the health center, so he’s just making his best eighteen-year-old guess. Boy in Black says he doesn’t know if what he had a few weeks ago was the flu or something else: “I always have aches and pains from playing Ultimate hard.” He definitely had a high fever that made him kind of delirious.

I keep getting emails from students, who are sick, but aren’t sure if they are “that sick.” A colleague tells me he thinks he had the H1N1 flu, but it wasn’t that bad, and now he hopes he’s immune. In the meantime, it’s the busiest time of the semester: end of the month deadlines are looming, advising for next semester begins soon, and I’ve got stacks of papers to grade. I’ve got a long to-do list of stuff that needs to be done before I head south next week for a conference in Southern City at the Beginning of the Alphabet. My plan is to wake up in the morning feeling all better. Like my students, I just don’t have time right now to get sick.

October 25, 2009


The room was filled with music and chatter and food.

Quick played the piano – like only he can — while he was waiting for With-a-Why to take a turn in the chess game they were playing, With-a-Why’s new birthday chess board set up on the living room floor. Skater Boy and his girlfriend, whom I was meeting for the first time, talked quietly on the couch. FirstExtra, whom we’ve barely seen this semester because he’s having a busy senior year, joined Boy in Black in mocking me for owning a MacIntosh computer. (“You’ve never had a virus? Apparently, you don’t need one. The Mac deleted all your files without a virus.”)

Blue-eyed Ultimate Player ate a piece of my homemade pie and talked about the party he’d been to. Philosophical Boy and my husband watched the chess game unfolding on the living floor. Shaggy Hair Boy snagged a second piece of pie while Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter, home from grad school for a weekend with her family, poured a mug of tea.

It was my favourite kind of Saturday night — all my kids home, and a bunch of extras too.

October 23, 2009

Just before dusk

Just before dusk

Little Biker Boy, the eight-year-old neighbor boy, can be a difficult child. He’s got deep pockets of rage – and he’s had some terrible role models. Because he comes from a very different household, it’s hard for him to learn the rules of my household, rules that I haven’t often articulated because they seem like common sense to me. “No, you can’t bang on the piano with your elbows.”

But outside, on a walk at Pretty Colour Lakes, he is easier to handle. He can run and yell and kick logs — and his behavior won’t bother anyone. He can throw rocks into the lake, and no one gets hurt. He can be as loud as he want because the trees and sky will just swallow the noise.

Always, he tires himself out fairly quickly, and then he settles down and walks around the lake with my husband and me. He’ll point to rocks and squirrels, pick up acorns, and scream with delight when he sees something cool. As we circle the lake, tramping along the mulch paths lined by cedar trees, I can feel the stress seeping from his body. At the lake he can be – simply – an eight-year-old boy enjoying a fall afternoon. By the time we get back to the beach, to the parking lot and the car, he’s so relaxed that he’s ready to take a nap way home, even though it’s just a few minutes.

October 22, 2009


“I’ve never seen this happen before.”

That’s a sentence I never like to hear from my doctor, my dentist, or the tech guy who fixes my computer. But sadly, I heard it once again yesterday morning.

Luckily, it was my computer and not my body that was malfunctioning.

In the “documents” section of my computer, I’ve got 16 folders of data. One folder, for instance, contains the manuscript of the book I’ve been writing. Another folder contains all of my poetry. Another has all of my teaching stuff: syllabi, assignments, etc. You get the idea. Each folder contains realms of stuff I’ve written over the last 20 years.

On Tuesday night, I noticed that 12 of the 16 folders were empty. Everything in them had simply vanished. It was that moment just before drowning, when your life flashes before your eyes: all my writing, my correspondence, my teaching, all of it gone.

My sons were sympathetic, but unhelpful. “If you had a real computer, I could help you,” said Boy in Black. “But you’ve got a MacIntosh.”

The Tech Guy at the computer place, who supposedly specializes in Apple computers, had nothing helpful to say either. “Wow,” he said. “I’ve never seen that before.”

“On any other computer, I’d think it was a virus,” I said. “Have you seen any viruses written for the Mac?”

“Nope,” he said. “You’d be on the front page of the news.”

“Maybe this will be my fifteen minutes of fame.”

“Eh, better that than pretending to send your kid off in a balloon.”

I do have a hard drive that backs up my data so I was able to go the back-up from Sunday morning and find – to my great relief — all my data still intact. But now I’m going to have to plan a little vacation for my computer, a few days when I can leave it with Tech Guy so he can run some tests.

I wish it was me taking a little vacation instead. I could use it right about now.

October 20, 2009

Tree huggers

All semester, my first year students been joking about how people call them tree huggers and hippies – and how they're claiming those stereotypes in positive way. Little Green is, after all, a college dedicated to environmental science and forestry.

Last week, I brought the newest issue of National Geographic to class because I knew that my students would love to see the amazing fold-out photo in the magazine: it’s a composite photo, made from 84 photos stitched together, that shows an entire redwood tree. The tree is more than 300 feet tall, with a 100-foot wide crown. It’s more than 1500 years old.

Little Green students love stuff like this. During the ten minutes before class began, we passed the magazine around and talked about what the photo said about our relationship to the earth.

Three students were holding the poster up, talking about it, when another walked in the door. “What are you guys looking at?”

“A redwood,” said Outgoing Guy. He flipped the poster around and grinned, “Yeah, here at Little Green, our pin-ups are of trees.”

October 19, 2009

Family and firelight

When I had lunch with FireAnt the other day, she said, “Your nest doesn’t seem empty in the slightest.”

And so far, she’s right. Yesterday, for example, I spent the afternoon stacking firewood with Little Biker Boy. He’s a rambunctious kid who likes to help with outdoor chores, and he loves the fact that snakes hide in the woodpile. He lugged logs for me, chattering non-stop. About every three minutes, he’d throw his log down and yell, “I see a snake!”

I ate dinner with my husband and all three sons. Since they’re only at Snowstorm University, Shaggy Hair Boy and Boy in Black are home pretty often, at least on the weekends when there isn’t an Ultimate tournament. This weekend, my daughter and Quick will be home as well.

We were all lounging around the fire when Blue-eyed Ultimate Player and his girlfriend arrived, bearing an apple pie and a half-gallon of vanilla ice cream. Shaggy Hair Boy was quick to reassure me that the pie (which was obviously store-bought) was not nearly as good as mine. He knows that flattery is the way to keep those pies coming. But we all devoured the pie anyhow.

When my husband and I finally convinced With-a-Why that he needed to go to bed and started upstairs ourselves, Boy in Black was just settling down on the couch with his laptop to do some research and Shaggy Hair Boy was at the piano, playing a jazz tune that followed me all the way up the stairs. So far, the semester has not seemed lonely at all.



October 17, 2009

When home is not safe

“You haven’t written much on your blog this week,” a friend said to me. “What is it you aren’t saying?”

The weather here has turned dark and cold: the sunny days of summer are gone. We’ve had our first snow, although it melted quickly. Students are tired and stressed. Most of my fun trips – retreats and get-togethers with friends – are over for the season. Red-haired Sister canceled her visit because of bad driving weather. Boy in Black and Shaggy Hair Boy’s Ultimate tournament was canceled because the fields were too wet.

But that’s all a normal part of seasonal change.

The bleak news this week has to do with the little neighbor kids, the ones who visit every day and spent hours this summer playing on my front porch. Little Biker Boy is the eight-year-old who knocked on my door on a cold night last April, in bare feet and boxer shorts, asking me to call the police because his mother’s boyfriend was in a drunken rage.

In the intervening months, I’ve talked to social workers at Child Protective and at the local women’s shelter about the family. Their power was shut off for several weeks this summer because the bill had not been paid. Even worse, another man moved in. The kids kept saying they liked Man With Green Pick-up, but then they told me about an incident in which he was abusive to their pet cat. I know from the many stories I’ve heard that a man who abuses a cat will abuse a woman or child. I talked to the social worker at Child Protective to alert the agency that another abusive man was living in their home, but of course, they can’t do much without proof.

We’ve given the kids a safe place to come to here at my house, but there has been little else we could do. It’s frustrating as a neighbor to feel so powerless. The two kids can be difficult to deal with, but these last few months, Little Biker Boy has really been acting out his anger. He’s a child with deep pockets of rage. And Ponytail will dart into our house like a scared animal, refusing to leave. “I wish I could live here,” Little Biker Boy always says. It’s heart-wrenching.

This week, the police have been back to their trailer again, this time to arrest Man With Green Pick-up. He had been sexually abusing five-year-old Ponytail Girl. I first heard the story from Little Biker Boy, who told me it all in a numb, matter-of-fact way. The elementary school has been alerted, and they’ve set up counseling for the kids.

I’m not sure what will happen next. Child Protective may well step in and put the kids in foster care. Their mother loves the kids, but her own childhood – in which she was abused and she watched her mother being abused – affects how she views the world. It’s as if the red flags that are so obvious to me are invisible to her. Totally invisible. And like most victims of abuse, she is vigilant about keeping secrets, about keeping out the community that could help her. She would punish Little Biker Boy if she knew that he was always telling me everything, and she would forbid the kids to come over here if she knew I was talking to social workers at Child Protective. She loves her children, I have no doubt about that, but she seems incapable of protecting them. She eventually did make the call to the police about Man With Green Pick-up, but so much damage had been done first.

I’ve watched this cycle of abuse in my own community. I’ve watched it in my online community. I’ve read narratives in books and listened to poems at readings sponsored by the local women’s shelter. I’ve watched the pattern repeat itself: the child who is abused grows up to think abusive relationships are normal and learns denial as a survivor skill. Survivors of abuse are masters at pretending that everything is okay. I do have friends who have broken the cycle, usually with a network of support that includes professional therapists, a twelve-step program, a strong community, and healthy friends. But they seem to be exceptions to the rule.

I continue to write about abuse on my blog because I know that silence is not the answer. Silence does not protect the victims: it helps perpetrate the cycle. I don’t know what the answer is — I feel helpless and powerless this week — but I do know that we have to keep talking about abuse, keep analyzing it, keep at it until we do come up with solutions. I do know this: a five-year-old girl should be safe in her own home.

October 15, 2009

Target practice

Target practice

Even though I visit Signing Woman’s camp in the mountains every fall, I still keep discovering new things. On one of my walks, I took a shortcut through a property owned by the YMCA and came across a row of targets. It’s good, I suppose, that I was headed in the right direction when I stumbled on the archery range: the disadvantage of trespassing is that you lose your right to be indignant when you get hit by an errant arrow.

A couple of kids had bows and arrows and were practicing. An old man stood nearby, keeping a watchful eye. I smiled at him and started asking questions.

He worked for the YMCA, it turned out. “I started coming here when I was a baby,” he said. His parents met at the camp back in the 1930s.

“My parents met in the mountains, too,” I told him. “At a resort in the late 1950s. My mother was a guest, and my father was a musician.”

We chatted and compared notes, and he told me more about the camp, whose grounds cover more than 600 acres. I’d seen some of the more public parts of the camp, actually. The labyrinth down by the lake is one of my favorite places: walking the labyrinth is a form of spirituality that suits me well. When the kids ran out of arrows, our conversation came to an end, and I kept on walking, taking photos as I wandered past cottages, tennis courts, and a lovely stone wall.

Just before the killing frost

Just before the hard frost

October 13, 2009

Grandmothers get naked too

Meditation Woman

Some of my close friends are grandmothers already. That means that every time they take out a digital camera to capture fall foliage, they stop and say, “Hey! Want to see a cute photo?” Then they go scrolling through all these tiny photos in the back of their camera to find the latest pictures of their grandchildren. Half the time, they are so distracted by the cuteness of their grandchild that they never do take the photo of that maple tree.

“I need some naked photos of grandmothers,” I told my friends this weekend. “For my blog.”

“It’s too cold,” said Meditation Woman. She’s got a bunch of grandchildren already, and she’s the oldest in this group of friends. She’s fine with getting naked but she hates being chilled. Even inside the lodge, she was wearing thick socks, several shirts, and a fleece that was probably meant for the Arctic Circle.

“I’ll put more wood on the fire,” I said.

I grabbed my laptop computer and showed her the naked photos I’d already put on my blog. Age, I explained, is an important factor. “I’m trying to shatter stereotypes about women and their bodies.”

Once the fire was blazing, Meditation Woman stripped off her clothes and sat near the hearth, the firelight dancing across her skin. “This warmth feels great!” I snapped the photo while the rest of our friends lounged and talked. They’re used to the naked photo shoots by now, and the conversations that inevitably result. We talked about body image and how most women feel more comfortable with our bodies as we age, in contrast to the messages of the dominant culture, which values youthful bodies.

The next morning, Quilt Artist -- another grandmother in the group -- chose her own pose. “I’ll go out on the deck with a mug of tea.” Since she’s an artist, she was a stickler for getting all the details right. “Let me get naked first, then pour the tea. So it’s just boiling. You can capture the steam coming out of the mug.”

She was clearly overestimating my skill as a photographer. I had no idea how to make the steam rising from the cup visible in the morning light. Besides, my experience with photos of naked women suggests that no one will be looking at the tea mug.

She relaxed in her chair, sipping the tea, while I backed up against the glass window to take the picture. Our other friends, gathered at the breakfast table, started pounding on the window. I turned to see what the problem was.

“Kayakers!” They were waving and pointing to a bunch of kayakers paddling toward us across the lake. I tried to shush them and turned back to Quilt Artist.

She dismissed their concerns with a shrug. “Eh. I’m getting cold. Let’s just take the photo.” We took a bunch of shots, and then I tossed her a blanket just as the kayak family paddled into view, coming out from under the trees near the edge of the lake.

Morning tea

(Readers who want to know the history of the naked photo tradition can check it out here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.)

October 12, 2009

Along the lake


One morning in the mountains, I decided to wander along the shore of the lake, weaving in and out of the trees that grow right up to the edge. Many of the lake-front camps were closed for the season; it’s already pretty cold in the mountains. I didn’t hesitate to walk out on docks or follow paths that led onto private property. I have a back-up plan that I follow whenever I’m caught trespassing: I just introduce myself and ask a million questions, and the next thing you know, I’m deep into a great conversation. I’ve met lots of cool people while I’m out with my camera.

I wandered along little beaches, and across some docks, and around boat houses and cottages, and through little sections of pine woods. Eventually I came to the cluster of buildings run by the YMCA. The main building has a long porch filled with rocking chairs, where local people and visitors can sit in the sun while they look out at the lake. The grounds of the place were quiet – I think some of the cottages were locked up for the season – but there were still hanging baskets of flower on the porch, where an old man in a rocking chair was telling a friend about a fish he’d caught many years ago in this very lake.

Fall colours

Fall colours

October 10, 2009

Back in the mountains

It’s the weekend – and I’m back in the mountains again, this time with the group of friends I call the Wild Women. It’s our annual fall retreat at the summer home owned by Signing Woman’s family. Four of us drove up last night though dark green pine trees and hardwoods that have turned red-gold-yellow. We arrived just as the day was turning dark and cold, and soon we were gathered by a crackling fire with bowls of squash soup. Another four friends will join us sometime today.

We woke up this morning to a light rain and fog moving across the water. I built a fire in the big stone fireplace and put on the tea kettle. We’ve had a lazy morning, lounging by the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the lake. Sun is just coming out now to burn off the morning mist, and we’re talking about which hike to take.

October 09, 2009

Always, a lake

We jump from that rock on hot summer days

When I'm with my parents in the mountains, we spend lots of time just taking old roads and seeing where they lead. My father will say something like, "I think there used to be a Girl Scout Camp here somewhere" or "Yeah, there was a resort over there, but I think it's closed now." He usually has at least a vague sense of where we are. The narrow roads wind through woods filled with pine trees and hardwoods, and the ride itself is always beautiful, no matter where we end up.

My theory, based on a lifetime of traveling twisty mountain roads, is that every road in the mountains leads to a lake. It doesn't matter whether you take a right or a left, whether you go up hill or down. Every road eventually will take you to the edge of a lovely mountain lake.

Here's a spot where my husband and I used to come in the summer when our kids were young. We'd camp on the edge of the lake and canoe out to that island you see in the distance. The kids would scramble up that big rock and jump gleefully into the water.

On a cold day in the fall, the campsites on the edge of the lake were empty, and we were the only people for miles.

October 07, 2009

Why Ultimate Frisbee is more exciting than football

Recently, I went to a college football game, the first in decades, and it was hard not to compare it to the many Ultimate games I’ve been to in the last couple of years.

1. A disc is superior to a ball. In every way. In Ultimate, the players will go leaping into the air to make a one-handed grab. Because they can. It's exciting to see a player go suddenly flying into the air, his arms reaching way above other players, to snatch the disc out of the sky.

Football players make two-handed catches, and the damn ball keeps popping out of their hands like a wet bar of soap. People shout, “Fumble!” Because apparently football fans think it’s exciting to watch someone fumble the ball. Yes, that’s truly pathetic.

2. Parking. At Ultimate games, it’s free. And you can park about ten feet from the game. At the football game, we had to park miles from the stadium, and were saved only by Blond Brother-in-law who gave us a ride in the back of a police car, which unfortunately left some of my students with the impression that I’d been arrested.

3. An Ultimate player will come off the field when he’s tired, and stand on the sidelines until he’s rested and ready to go in again, at which point another player gets to take a break. Ultimate players actually play most of the game. At the football game, there seem to be thirty or forty guys on each team – seriously, a whole crowd of them – standing around doing nothing for the whole game. I mean, they got to wear uniforms and be on television and all that, but when it comes right down to it, they weren’t actually getting to play the game.

Everyone around me kept talking about this great “kicker” the team had. At a dramatic moment, this kid came out on the field and everyone watched while he kicked the ball. That was his big moment. He kicked the ball once. Then he went off to stand around for another whole hour until they brought him out to kick the ball a second time. Really. They should have let him bring his textbooks onto the field: he could have gotten some studying down in the downtime.

4. In Ultimate, an hour of playing time takes … about sixty minutes. At the football game, an hour of gametime took MORE THAN THREE HOURS. Seriously. I’m all for bathroom breaks and all that, but two hours worth of bathroom breaks? No one’s bladder is that sensitive.

5. Football uniforms are ugly. I bet the men we were watching had toned, muscular bodies, but with all that stupid padding on, there was no way to tell. And the helmets hid their faces. You could have replaced a couple of the players with androids and really, I wouldn’t have noticed. From where I was sitting, they looked more like wind-up toys than human beings. Ultimate players, on the other hand, wear shorts and t-shirts. When an Ultimate player leaps into the air to make a grab, you see bare legs stretching to their utmost, long arms curving towards sky, the grace and agility of the human body. It’s like watching dance.

6. Football games are really loud. Especially when they pump in loud 70s music for the cheerleaders and give microphones to obnoxious old men. At an Ultimate game, it’s so quiet that I can listen to the chatter as the players talk to each other.

7. Ultimate fans are not expected to dress like idiots. At the game I was at last weekend, there were something like 46,000 fans in attendance. About 35,000 of these people were wearing ugly orange t-shirts. Seriously. When someone like me notices how ugly the clothes are, that’s really bad.

8. Ultimate players never just pile on top of each other and lie on the field.

9. No annoying men in black-and-white shirts, stopping the game. Ultimate is self-officiated. Calls are decided with a few brief words. “Contest?” “No contest.”

10. No offensive mascots.

11. You don’t have to worry that some cheerleader is going to die every time she gets tossed ten feet into the air.

12. Ultimate players never run time off the clock.

13. Women play Ultimate.

14. No television timeouts.

15. Ultimate players don’t pat each other on the butt.

Summer's over

Summer's over

October 06, 2009

Days gone by

Days gone by

Back in the early 1950s, the mountain inn where my father worked summers as a musician was called simply, “The Wood.” Yes, this was before “That’s what she said” jokes. The old barn that still stands on the edge of the property still carries the name.

In those days, the inn had a very short season – two months, really. Summer in the mountains goes from the Fourth of July until Labor Day. At the end of the season after the guests had gone home, the owner would open up the bar and kitchen to the staff. They would have a party that lasted until the last booze was drunk and the last food eaten. My father said that once he stayed for four days and then went home. Then he got a postcard from a friend saying, “The party is still going.”

Sometimes the owner would get the musicians involved in publicity stunts. My father can remember traveling around the lake as part of a flotilla. He brought his trumpet on the boat and Piano Man brought his trombone. They played loud, lively music – marches, mostly. When the boat went by the inn, they switched spontaneously to “Home Sweet Home.”

Most of my father’s memories involve music. In the sitting room of the inn, my father said, “This is where I was standing the first time I heard Stan Kenton’s Pennies From Heaven." He was with his friend Piano Man when the song came on. “Two trumpets take off and they come down in seconds. An intentional discord! We heard it at the same time.” He can still remember that moment.

Another time, a cop arrived in the evening, when the musicians were on the stand playing, and he demanded to question them immediately. They had to stop mid-song. They were asked where they’d been that day, and the cop searched the trunks of the cars. Finally, my father said to the cop, “What are you looking for?”

“An outboard motor,” the cop said.

That answer struck my father so funny that he started laughing. The cop glared at him, “It ain’t funny, Johnny.”

The cop left eventually, but the next night, he walked in again, this time for something else. When the band saw him, they stopped mid-song and began playing, “Oh, Johnny.”

The old building where my father played each night is locked up and no longer in use, but the owner gave my father a key so that we could go out and look around. The building was filled with old furniture and chairs, lots of old stuff piled high, but I could still see the bandstand where my father played, and the bar on the other end where the bartender served drinks. “It was a cracked-ice crowd,” my father said. “That’s how the owner wanted it.”

October 05, 2009

Tin ceiling

Tin ceiling

This summer, I stayed with my husband at the old mountain inn where my father worked as a musician in the 1950s. When I wrote a blog post about the place, readers wrote to ask me, "What do you mean the ceilings were made of tin? How could a ceiling be made of tin?"

So on this visit with my parents, I took a photo of the painted tin ceiling in the dining room. The inn was built in 1894 so that ceiling is over 100 years old. I'm guessing it's been painted a few times. Downstairs in the bar, which has a similar ceiling, I stood up on a bar stool and knocked on the ceiling to see if it sounded like tin. It did.

October 04, 2009

Eternal rest

Eternal rest

On our way to the mountains, I traveled with my parents through some lovely countryside, with the seasons changing as we drove into the higher elevations. When we passed a little white country church, I impulsively pulled into the gravel parking spot. “Let’s take a walk through the cemetery.”

My mother’s father used to love walking through cemeteries, and I think I’ve inherited this trait, despite the fact that he died just after I was born. This little country cemetery was filled with old trees, tilted tombstones, and flowering bushes. We spent thirty minutes or so just wandering around, reading dates and names, and calling to each other whenever we discovered something cool. In some places, trees had grown up right through the tombstones, splitting them. I find it comforting, somehow, to look at the graves of people who died more than a hundred years ago.

I wandered through with my parents, talking about our own preferences. “I wouldn’t mind being buried in a lovely spot like this.” As we turned to get back into the car and continue our journey, the sun came out from behind the clouds and lit up the grey tombstones, the marble statues, the old trees.

October 02, 2009

Walk down memory lane

Walk down memory lane

I'm blogging from a old mountain inn, where I'm staying with my parents. It's the inn where my father worked as a musician back in the early 1950s. The mountains are incredibly beautiful in the fall: the conifers are a dark green backdrop to the bright orange, yellow, and red foliage of the hardwoods. Today we walked through the campgrounds where we camped almost every weekend back in the 1960s, when I was a kid. My father has been telling stories about his life here as young man, working at the summer resort in the days when the mountains were a playground for wealthy visitors from the city. My mother and I have been talking about camping here with Picnic Family over forty years ago. Today our stroll down memory lane was interrupted by a sudden downpour of cold rain, but we retreated to the inn where we were served hot food in a cozy dining room.

The two figures in the photo are my parents, of course.