Thursday, June 20, 2013

Girls Road Trip, by Susan Kinsella

For 40 years, the men in my family - along with cousins, uncles, and friends - have gone to our cottage in Canada at the start of each summer for Men's Weekend, to put in the docks, set out the raft, and do other heavy lifting jobs. Sometimes the women have talked about spending a weekend together, as well, but that has rarely worked out, and then only haphazardly.

But this year, Julie Lochner Riber was determined and organized. She and Wes were coming to Rochester from Colorado so that Wes and Ricky Lochner could immediately head to Canada. Julie saw that weekend as a golden opportunity to hang out with my mother (Aunt CB). So she planned a Girls Road Trip to visit far-flung relatives and I decided to come from San Francisco to join them.

We started out Friday morning by driving to Waterloo to visit Uncle Harold. It was so great to see him! He's tethered to an oxygen machine but he was still his old hilarious self, making droll observations and coming up with crazy phrases.

Aunt CB and Uncle Harold
He had a new companion. My mother had been sorting through old, partially-finished quilts that had come to her from various family members and found a deflated sock in the mix. She recognized it as the doll that Harold had had as a toddler, so she re-stuffed it and put a new face on it, then sent it down to her little brother on one of my Dad's trips to visit him. When Dad (Uncle Jack) walked into Harold's house and handed him the stuffed sock doll, Harold recognized it immediately and cried out, "Bimbo!" Still, when I asked him questions about Bimbo, Harold told me exasperatedly, "Sue, I don't know, that was more than 80 years ago!"

Uncle Harold and Bimbo
We spent a wonderful hour visiting Harold, then headed towards the Catskills to visit Dorothy Maffei. Julie drove and chose all the most obscure little country roads to get there. At one point, we were just a few miles from Center Lisle, but we were going in the opposite direction. Dorothy was waiting for us when we arrived several hours later and we all headed right away to her kitchen.

She was in the midst of cooking capellini with asparagus, bacon and zucchini spiced with fresh herbs from her garden, along with a salad and the roasted red peppers that I had "hinted" I loved from a previous visit. Julie, also a great cook, joined in immediately. I, not a great cook, was happy being the photographer. And my mother launched into family history stories. Dorothy liberally poured the wine and, as my mother says, "We like to cook with wine, and sometimes we even pour some into the food."

Julie Lochner Riber
Dorothy and Aunt CB
It took probably twice as long to get dinner together as it "should" have because we kept talking non-stop. Dorothy had been especially looking forward to our visit because she had gotten several crates of photographs after Aunt Leona died that didn't have people's names or dates on them. My mother recognized most of those in the pictures and knew not only the dates, but also the "back story" on what had led to many of the events. I took lots of pictures of Mom and Dorothy talking and it was so much fun - lots of blurring as Dor talked effusively with her hands and all of us laughing and talking all evening.

We stayed with Dorothy both Friday and Saturday nights. What a wonderful house she has! Beautiful little Victorian touches and reminiscent in so many ways of what we all love about Center Lisle.

Oh, the flowers! Everywhere we drove over hill and dale in Dor's corner of the country there were masses of pink rhododendrons at just their perfect peak. Even the intermittent rain all weekend only improved them, adding raindrops to the petals that glistened ever brighter. Wild pink, white and purple phlox edged along all the woods and tiny forget-me-nots were strewn like blue dew drops throughout the meadows. I slept in Dorothy's upstairs back bedroom with the windows open so that I could hear the creek all night that runs behind her house.

On Saturday, Dorothy and Julie herbed and seared a pork roast, then set it to slow-cook in the oven while we went into Margaretville to Dorothy's kitchen store. We entered with the intention of just looking around and enjoying the store, and left with big bags of way more kitchen gadgets than we ever knew we needed. I love Dorothy's store. I think she channels Aunt Lil's old general store. Dor's is not quite as crammed with stuff and gizmos as Lil's was, it's true, but it's still best reconnoitered with the owner as the guide.

Welcome to Dorothy's Home Goods of Margaretville!
Aunt CB and Julie Shopping at Dorothy's Store
Then we stopped in at a wonderful country farmers market, housed in a big red round barn and a covered area outside it, that Dorothy had helped to revive years ago. We picked up half-sour pickles, oolong tea cheese, maple sugar candy and popcorn, and lots more. Then we meandered back to Dorothy's by gorgeous backroads.

We got back in time for Dor and Mom to lay out piles of photographs and cards on the dining room table and happily sort through them for hours. Meanwhile, Julie and Dor were adding roasting vegetables to the pork roast and laying out platters of appetizers. It was lush, I tell you. Dorothy's sweetheart, Jim, joined us for dinner and then braved taking pictures of us on her front porch afterwards. To Julie, it was reminiscent of pictures from when we were kids, sitting on the front steps of whatever family house we were at together, making goofy faces. What a great time we had together!

Aunt CB, Dorothy, Sue, Julie
Dorothy, Julie, Susan
Sunday morning, the four of us threaded our way through more Catskills backroads until we got just past Cooperstown, where we drove up to a magnificent 50-room British mansion, Hyde Hall, overlooking Lake Otsego and "looking down on Cooperstown." Jon and Jill Maney greeted us. Well, Jill did. Jon had promised he'd pick us up in a golf cart, but it was only after we heard muffled cries coming from inside the barn by the Visitors Center that Jill realized she needed to flip the latch and open the doors so that Jon could drive out. Then we rode in style to the mansion and Jon grandly welcomed us by swinging open the imposing front doors.

Hyde Hall, near Cooperstown, New York
What a fabulous place! Jill said that all of Mount Vernon could fit within just the two front parlors and Great Hall, and that was only the beginning of Hyde Hall's multitudes of rooms. The house is still in the process of being renovated, but many of the original furnishings have been recovered. Jon, as executive director in charge of restoring and running the house as a museum and cultural center, was a fount of knowledge about the history, art and architecture, while Jill knew fascinating details about the drapes, carpets and textiles. Jon had gotten a grant to refurbish the unusual vapor-light chandeliers and he pulled one down from the ceiling to show us how it works.

Dining Room and Men's Parlor, with Vapor-Light Chandeliers
He also told us he had just finished filming an episode of the TV show, Ghost Hunters. He's under oath not to reveal the results, but the stories that we learned about many of the mansion's rooms and the fact that the episode will be broadcast just before Halloween makes us certain that it is not to be missed.

Jon Maney before Hyde Hall's Side Portico
I had been worried that trekking around such a huge estate might be hard on my mother. After all, she's 86, hard of hearing, and plagued with eyesight problems. Jon had chairs in most rooms where people can rest if needed, but she was adamant she didn't want to miss anything. So she clambered down into the wine cellar and climbed the three stories of spiral staircase, browsed through the to-be-reconstructed brick kitchen and scullery, and kept Jon and Jill on their toes with all her piercing questions.

3-Story Spiral Staircase at Hyde Hall
Jon and Dorothy realized, after a fierce gabbing session, that they had done similar work for years in neighboring counties without being in touch with each other. So now they're looking at future collaborations. We all had a grand time and it was just great to see Jon in what seems to be a perfect fit for all his many avenues of expertise.

Dorothy, Aunt CB, Jon, Julie, Susan
After celebrating with lunch and ice cream, Dorothy went home and Mom, Julie and I went on to Syracuse, where we crowned our trip with meeting Mom's new great-grandson, Aaron, for the first time.

What a blast we all had together! I had picked up a card with a picture of "Ladies On Tour" and we ended up using it for a record of the trip - listing our dinners and adventures, with signatures from everyone along the way. I hadn't gotten it started until after we got to Dorothy's, but after we got home, we went back to Uncle Harold's a few days later just so we could make sure to get his signature on our trip record as well - it was that important. We decided a Girls Road Trip will have to become a new tradition now. There are so many fascinating people in our family to visit!

To visit the website for Dorothy's store, Home Goods of Margaretville, click here.
To visit the Hyde Hall website, click here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Favorite Pets, By Carol Ann Taylor Hart

Growing up in Warners, NY we had a lot of different pets.  We had a pony named Tinker, a rooster named Leonard, parakeets Romeo and Juliet, and several dogs and cats. 
My dad Arnon’s favorite pet was Leonard--we would keep him in the house when he was little and when he got bigger Dad made a pen for him.  My dad had said that when he grew bigger that we would eat him.  I cannot even count on my fingers and toes how many times my dad went out to kill him only to end up playing with Leonard instead, then he would come in the house and my Mom (knowing what the answer would be) asked if he had killed Leonard, and he said 'Nope, just went out to play with him'.  Mom and I laughed.   

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A ‘Saijiki’ of Sounds By Beth Kinsella Sakanishi

My sister Beth wrote this wonderful piece on nature, sounds, different cultures, and how some feelings and memories go deeper than words can articulate--May we all walk in nature and make our own saijiki, our own dinnseanchus.

 Of all the ways one comes to delve ever deeper into a borrowed culture, to make of it a familiar map, sounds are perhaps the least consciously considered. They are just there, happening with a rhythm and regularity whose schedule we do not think about, but feel by their rightness, or are made uneasy by, if absent. 

 They lead us farthest back, though, before we had words. They tell of us of the delicate shadings of season and tether us to longings we had forgotten the strength of. One time when Takeshi and I were in Flagstaff, in a hotel too near the train station, we could hear the sounds of the trains passing through this crossroads city. To him it was noise all night long, that he tried to get away from, and woke from, tired. How different for me: the sound took me back to Perth, Ontario, in a car waiting for the long cross- Canada trains to go by, as we children all counted the many train cars. It lured me further back to the bedroom at Christie lake (meaning I was less than four), hearing the train whistle whose sound should have been lonely and mournful, but was not because it meant summer, with siblings in the room, all of us tired  but happy from our busy days exploring. Unlike Takeshi, I woke up in Flagstaff pleased and nostalgic after having traveled to Canada and back. 

 I think, too, of the one time I went back to Rochester for Christmas, after more than a decade in Japan. Several mornings in, after the disappointment of no snow, I woke up in my childhood bedroom and heard silence. Not just a dumb silence, but that particular one that is as if the whole world had been suddenly, overnight, wrapped in cotton that means a great deal of snow has fallen, and this non-sound spoke to me of a child’s excitement that a ‘snow day’ was likely and that meant a day of choices: sledding, building a snow fort, making ammunition for the snowball fight that went with the fort, or a game of fox and geese in the front yard, in the new snow innocent as yet of any footsteps.

 These are the two sounds that come back to me, first, when I think of childhood sounds. They bring with them the other sounds from those places, in the mornings: the lapping of water, the sound of someone in a canoe, paddles making just that trace of a sound, and in my room at 2846, in any season but winter, the cooing of doves.

 Which is the same sound that came to the surface when I started thinking about what I hear in the morning here. This sound alone, the doves, is shared by both of my homes, the one from the past, and the one now. Everything else as I compile my saijiki of sounds for Masuo, is different for both morning and evening sounds. 

 Saijiki, when I happened upon the definition of it, had almost the feel of deja vu about it: the word has, in many respects, the same instinct behind it as the Irish word dinnseanchus. Saijiki is a poetic term, and is a book of lists of kigo, the words used in haiku that let the reader know which season we are in. Any mention of uguisu, the Japanese nightingale, and we are in spring, for instance. Dinnseanchus is also a recording of the fine, varied details of a place. It is only by how tightly or loosely drawn the circle of ‘place’ is, that the two differ. Saijiki  is a dictionary of the seasonal words for all of Japan. Dinnseanchus are usually for what the Japanese would call furusato, the narrow, beloved, familiar space of one’s hometown. 

 Yet, even as small as Japan is, there is a far greater range of climate and landscape than in Ireland, and so though Basho’s world of haiku did not think to do what the Irish did, they might have: for winter in northern Japan, with its deep and punishingly heavy snowfalls could not be more different than the same season, by the calendar, in the tropical Kyushu. February in both places, or on the plains and marshlands of Kanto, or the ancient street grids of mountain-clasped Kyoto, would have a whole world of differing scents, sounds, tastes, that ushered in or out the next season. 

 This then was the suggestion in a column by a naturalist who encouraged the idea of all of us out walking in nature, paying attention to the smallest changes of our part of Japan, our part of our prefecture, of our city, our walking routes. We could map our place, make our own saijiki, our own dinnseanchus and his and mine would differ even from each other though he lives in northern Chiba, as do I, because he is several hours east. 
 Writing to Aunt CB and Uncle Jack (Mom and Dad to her) Beth writes: ‘We were just talking about the 'uguisu' (the Japanese. nightingale) the other day in my English class. One of my students said she usually has one or two come to her garden and she loved listening to the way they had to 'learn' their song. At first, they do not get the whole complicated trill down pat (there are a couple of parts to it), and sort of stutter and trail off. Just as if they are practicing. I listened hard this year, as we are just beginning to hear a few, but so far have not heard any baby ones, I guess. Makes me giggle to think of it, though. And how interesting that birds do not just know the whole thing off by heart, or instinct.

This is what I love about teaching, these little nuggets.