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.


Pat Herdeg said...

Oh my goodness--this sounds SO wonderful! Would have loved to be with you all, but honestly, Sue, I felt like I was--what a terrific writer you are!

Julie--you DO always find the obscure roads to places that are so much fun to explore.

Dorothy--your home and store sound like they could be in a television show they are so wonderfully unique

And Jon--our very own Downton Abbey! Can't wait to see it when renovations are complete.

Uncle Harold--even as a small boy you manage to name your doll 'bimbo'. Yup, you have ALWAYS been a card!

Ma--love your energy, telling of stories, and always trying to learn more.

Now--Cannot wait until Next Year's Girls Trip!

Kathyrn said...


What a great road trip! I am so glad you all did this. It turned out - to me - like a mini family reunion. I love so much about all you did.
I think my favorite part is that Harold and CB are cherished by all. Do not take them for granted. They are treasures. They are such wonderful people. Harold and CB, I love both of you so very much.
Sue, when you travel and write about it, like this, I feel like I am enjoying it with you. Thank you so much for sharing with us. I appreciate it more than I can ever express.
Julie, what a great idea you had! I am so glad you came up with this!
Dorothy, I have always been so proud to have you as my cousin. Dang, girl, you cook some cool stuff! Your store sounds wonderful!
Jon and Jill, WOW! Hyde Hall sounds so awesome! What a project! Amazing!
Pat, I always appreciate all the work you do on this blog site. You help me feel connected.
I love you all!

Pat Herdeg said...


You do not know how much I appreciate this comment!! We are currently having a problem with the blog and certain internet explorer computers cannot see more than the name of Sue's article.

So VERY happy that your computer obviously works and see the whole story.

Now, back to getting this blog so EVERY computer can see it!?


Kathryn said...

So glad I could see it all!
To be honest, a part of me kept thinking that I wish I could have been on the trip with them! So instead I enjoy it vicariously through Sue's excellent writing and her pictures.
I have enjoyed a few places that way. I am so lucky to have my cousins!
I love you lots!

Tim Kinsella said...

Sue, Julie, Mom, it sounds like a wonderful trip - too bad I can't tell you all the fun us boys had at Men's Weekend!

Mom/Aunt CB said...

Hah! Tim, your Men's weekend pales by comparison!
And Sue, A grand addition ,the addresses for store and museum!
Wonderful trip! I felt I was "seeing" for all my sisters, Ruth, Esther and Doris and cousins, Leona, Philly, Gladys and Sylva! Had to tell all the old stories I remembered hearing so well, only missed the bed with Ethel and Lil lying together, all of us hanging around so as not to miss a word. Slept in Leona's bed at Dor's and am sure thay ALL helped me remember who was who in the pictures!
As for Hyde, Hall, I can only say, GO THERE! It is a real treat!

Mom/CB said...

OK-- I will spill the beans! For those who may not understand Tim's reluctance to speak of MEN's Weekend, they have a pact, "never tell of deeds"! However, Small boys do tell of "cleaning and praying" when asked "What did you Do"