One summer’s reading group

 

This is the second part of a three part post.
Click for the first — One summer’s reading group:  Preface
Click for the third — One summer’s reading group: Postscript

CCI15022016

Every summer a group of about twenty high school students, mostly Jewish, from Bayonne, Jersey City and Hoboken met every day on the beach at Tenth Avenue in Belmar. One year, 1966?, someone started reading holocaust stories out loud.  I took the photo above.  That’s not me front and center.

Dad (Grandpa), Uncles Eddie & Elliot 2I knew about the Holocaust. I had read Anne Frank and had seen the movie. My father, he’s on the left, and uncles had fought in the war, although none in Europe. Family of friends had numbers on their arms.

Tamara & Shulamith Minz, Tel Aviv 1954Distant cousins would write to us periodically telling us about their lives and asking us for financial support. They had escaped from Hitler — I do not know if they were in the camps or not — but they had made their way to Israel. There were two girls, Tamara and Shulamith, about my sister’s and my age. That is them to the right in Tel Aviv 1954.  My mother always got upset when these letters came, and there would be whispered conversations between my mom and dad.

My mother always made me feel as though it could happen again — Jews being rounded up and imprisoned or killed, anytime, anywhere. It is true that one morning we woke up to a swastika drawn with snow on the gate to our backyard. We believed but never were certain that the children who lived on the corner and who attended St. Andrew’s did it. After all, the nuns at St. Andrew’s used to walk their students to the corner after school to make sure they didn’t stop at “the Jew” Lennie’s candy store.

CCI15022016_2Mom distrusted anyone who was not a member of the tribe. She spoke of Jews not being served in restaurants, not getting jobs. We knew of families who had changed their names. I’d come home from school during the McCarthy era to find her glued to the television set, and many evenings I would hear her talking to my father, who was the token Jew in his department in the Civil Service Commission. She feared he and some of their friends would be called up before the committee. Who knew what to think? I was young.

I was sucked into the Holocaust readings with fascination and horror, and felt we were doing something that our parents — at least mine — would not approve. Even many years after that summer, my imagination was filled with images of blond, blue-eyed men and women with thick accents opening up my stomach to see if the monkey sperm with which they had tried to impregnate me had created a monster. Or they would take away my glasses and since I was minus 16 in one eye and minus 18 in the other I would be useless and they would send me to the showers.

CCI15022016As my life became more my own these nightmares disappeared. My mom relaxed too. She welcomed into the family a “very nice” Protestant son-in-law with parents who, she was surprised but relieved to discover, had similar values and life-style to hers. There she is with my husband’s mom at the our wedding.  She lived in senior communities with few Jewish neighbors and fewer if any Jewish staff on which she grew to depend. She sang the Jewish holiday songs and relished the holiday meals and lit the Sabbath candles. She sang Christmas carols and enjoyed the lights on the Christmas trees. I hope her heart softened and she was less afraid.

But now I think mother might have been right, and I was naive.

It would do us all good to spend a summer reading about the Holocaust and the millions killed in genocidal wars in Korea, Rwanda, India, the Ukraine, Algeria, the Congo, and, and, and. We might read about how self-righteous white men in our own country treated the Native Americans, and how they pulled Africans from their homes and made them slaves, and how they now, every day during this tedious primary season, spew hate and bigotry as a mainstay of America’s exceptionalism.

Oh dear, I’m ranting.  Forgive me.

Our world is diverse. Let us one day rejoice in these differences and recognize the infinite possibilities they offer. Let us one day work together for the benefit of all mankind and this remarkable, beautiful, rich world we live in.

One summer’s reading group: Preface

My mother’s parents, Fanny and Harry, also known as Little and Big GG, bought a house in Belmar, New Jersey when I was three? five?  Perhaps I could ask my aunt — just one aunt alive now and living in Wisconsin. It had four bedrooms on the second floor.  Grandma & Grandpa’s had a private porch which I loved to sit on.

CCI13022016_2I remember the day we accompanied them to look at the house — climbing up the porch stairs and walking into the living room with its robust wood pillars and dark brick fireplace.  (The photo is from 1983).  My parents wouldn’t let me play on the stairs to the second floor during that visit.  You could start climbing a few steps either from the entry or from the kitchen.  These two small staircases joined at a landing and then turned to go up to the second floor.  They were a favorite place for me to play when nobody was paying attention once it became our summer home.  A grate in the floor at the top of the staircase so that the heat from the fireplace could hopefully warm the second floor was another object of childhood fantasy.

CCI13022016My mother had two sisters and I was one of eight cousins. We all lived on the same street in Bayonne, and every summer we would go down to the Belmar house. The men — my father and two uncles — divided the attic into three bedrooms and a full bath to accommodate us all as the family grew. I have only a vague remembrance of my grandfather joining in on the work but perhaps I could ask my uncle — just one uncle alive now and living in Wisconsin.

CCI13022016_3Every June after school let out we would drive through Staten Island to the shore. I remember going in our 1937 Pontiac. Even after the Turnpike and Parkway were built we would often go through Staten Island since we lived at the southern end of Bayonne very close to the bridge. We would travel old Route 440 and pass Dinger Farm. I watched for it every trip and would giggle to myself because that was the word one of my aunts used for that strange thing that my boy cousins had but girls do not.

The picture of the car is from 1949 when the car still belonged to my grandfather.  He had a vanity plate.  HR were his initials and he lived at 80 West 5th Street.

The moms and the cousins would spend the summer in Belmar.  We had two refrigerators in the kitchen — two families would share each and each family had its own kitchen cabinet and pantry shelf. As the families grew we would switch bedrooms. It finally wound up that Aerial Belmar copythe older boys and Janet and her parents were on the third floor and my sister and I were on the second. Going up to the third floor to use my favorite shower after a day on the beach was like entering uncharted almost hostile territory. The boys always seemed to be up to some sort of boything. The second floor shower was small and creepy and I never felt comfortable in the outside shower.  It’s amazing that it still exists, while the two porches are now gone.  It’s the little bump out at the lower left corner of the house to the left.  Showers were tough.

The uncles and Grandpa worked in the city and would come down by train on Friday nights. As I got older I was allowed to stay up for their arrival. There would be Entenmann’s crumb coffee cake and coffee. Do you remember the Entenmann’s man coming to your back door to sell cakes and things?  In later years Uncle Eddie would make pizza — which was quite foreign to me. It was much later when Vic’s in Bradley Beach became a regular for us for a fun night of pizza out. My father would take a two week vacation to be with us every summer. We’d go fishing at the inlet which is now apartments, play miniature golf, and go to Asbury Park for the rides and salt water taffy.

CCI13022016_4 (1)I’m second from the right — 1953

As we grandchildren grew into our “tween” and teen years, my aunts and their families stopped coming and the summers consisted of just my parents and older sister and my grandparents. I loved these years at the shore. It was the only time I really felt free — no school, a gang of friends who spent every afternoon on the beach and every evening at the 10th Street arcade. My parents let me roam.

CCI13022016 (1)One year I had a blue polka dot bikini with a wired top which caused me a lot of ridicule from the boys who knew that it wasn’t me. I would get burnt to a bright red color at the beginning of every year. I had a crush on a Lawrenceville boy who sometime would give me a ride home on his bike. That’s him to the right.  At night we played pinball and listened to rock and roll.

My parents eventually bought the house, winterized it, and moved in. I was already away at college and home only for the summers. and moved out on my own immediately after graduation. By that time too many bad feelings kept me from visiting much.

About ten years after my dad died my mom finally sold the house. This was much later than my sister and I knew she couldn’t live there by herself, and she resisted. We moved her to a senior residence in New Hampshire, just a few minutes drive from me.

59070_998689121839_819097_54198838_4550174_nMy boys have few memories of the house, which is my fault for not visiting with them, but we all went down to look and walk the boards a few years before Sandy. I am sure the inside has been modernized — at least I hope so.

Every year as Thanksgiving nears I look for a place to bring the family to celebrate. Nothing is as good as Grandma’s house.

But the house in Belmar and the memories it stirs are an aside to my story.

Click for part two:  One Summer’s Reading Group
Click for part three: One Summer’s Reading Group: Afterward

If I believed spirits walked the land

samandalex_200Morgan and I are planning a camping trip on our fragment of abandoned orchard in Moultonborough.

Both my sons are exceptional and they fill my heart with happiness.  I emphasize my love for them both so Alex doesn’t read anything into our not inviting him to join us.

We three have good, hard, simple, strong memories of this tiny spot in New Hampshire.  A lot of memories for the little amount of time we spent there.

People who have orchards write about them — indexJane Brox for one.  It would be hard to capture the struggle and resolve of working an orchard and the struggle and release of letting it go better than she has, and I’m not going to try. Rereading her books now, after putting our remaining 2.65 acres with apple trees up for sale, has rekindled memories and given words to many feelings never expressed.

Buying this orchard was really a crazy thing for us to do.  My husband Clark had non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  He was feeling good after his bone marrow transplant and wanted to spend his last years working for himself, with me, at home.  He wanted a bed and breakfast.  We looked at other b&b’s but kept coming back to the first one we visited — Olde Orchard Inn.

I’m not sure what he hoped for at this point in his life, but I like to think he found it.

On move-in day we stepped into the kitchen and the house gave me a warm, firm hug as if it were waiting for us for a long time. That feeling never wavered, even when I was alone in it day after night after day in the coldest of winters, with the snow piled high over my head, and the wind wailing outside the bedrooms windows.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHThe land took a little longer to get to know, but after our first harvest we knew we had chosen wisely.  It was hard work, but there was constant reward.  I still wonder about the people who lived and worked there before us and what they left behind.  If I believed in spirits or fairy godmothers or guardian angels I might be able to explain it better.

There were two or three innkeeper/owners before us.  But before them there were only the Young’s, the Larson’s, the Brown’s, and the Abenaki’s.

White settlers drove the Abenakis from their land around Lake Winnipesaukee in the second half of the 17th Century.

Larson era brick house (1)We know that Batchelder Brown bought 50 acres from the colorful General Jonathan Moulton in 1783 for 5 pounds.  General Moulton received a large tract of land as a reward for his successes in the American Revolution and sold parcels to Brown and others who served under him.  The Browns bought abutting property in 1791 and 1803 and members of their large family lived there for over 150 years.   One of the Brown men made bricks from clay by the stream, and built the brick addition when the family outgrew the original center chimney wood structure.  Mildred Carter (a Brown through a second marriage) married Peter O. Larson.  They bought the home and land from the Browns, planted the orchard, and gave it the name Homestead Farm. They shipped apples all over the country and sold them at a farm stand on Route 25.

The Youngs, who bought the farm from the Larsons in 1968, perhaps like my family, loved the land too much. Kate Young Caley writes beautifully of her love for the farm in her memoir.  Unfortunately as I read reviews of her book, this part of her story seems overlooked and unappreciated.

At some point lands were sold off, and houses were built on Orchard Drive.  Homestead Farm became Olde Orchard Inn in 1987.  I’m not sure of all the owners but one of them, was the town building inspector, and that may account for why the tiny bathrooms in some of the guest rooms and a good deal of the wiring look like they couldn’t have passed code!

We bought the land from the Senners who ran the inn for several years.  Grandma Mary, who would ride in the bucket of the large tractor and pick the apples high on the trees, was sad to go.

admin-ajax.phpPeople with connections to the land would visit. A Brown descendent sat down in the old kitchen and and spent some moments in the past.  Two Larson women visited and told me that as children on very cold nights they would sleep on blankets on top of brick ovens behind the central fireplace. These pilgrims would walk the orchard and visit the family cemetery.  We all agreed that there was something special about the house and land.  Guests would ask me about ghosts and tell me they felt a presence. One couple came back to renew their wedding vows because they felt the orchard a spiritual place.

100_0674The 1790 house came with a barn built even earlier, and over 500 trees on twelve acres. We spent our first months there fixing pipes and moving snow and figuring out how to keep warm. But once spring arrived the apple trees exploded with a flowery welcome.

We learned how to care for the orchard by trial and error. We joined Beginner Farmers and went to workshops at the Carroll County Extension.  We tried our best to figure out which apple was which, when to prune, how to keep the apples crisp for as long into the winter as we could.

hat rack treesThe orchard was rather comical. The trees had buzz cuts. Old huge trees were mixed in with newer, younger, smaller  hybrids. Some were espaliered but neglected. Others had grown so many suckers and water sprouts they reminded me of banyan trees.  We found cherries (the birds always got them before us), pears, and a few peaches scattered throughout. The pears did very well, perhaps because there weren’t enough of them to attract their own pests and diseases. The peaches withered away.

You cannot imagine my delight when I discovered the gorgeous raspberries galore —enough to make the richest raspberry ice cream and still have plenty for muffins and kuchens. I liked them because they practically took care of themselves.

There were special moments. We were picking up drops one autumn afternoon.  The sun hit the maples just right, and we sat down and took in the colors, said how lucky we were, and stopped work for the day.

100_0770We saw bear curled up under bushes; a baby cub up in the crab apple tree outside our window.  Sleeping deer left matted ovals in the grass.  Wild turkeys strutted across the field picking up whatever goodies they could find.  Fox would jump up and dive into the snow coming up with a snack every time.

wild turkeysPepper, our dog, would walk along with us plucking dandelions off their stems without missing a beat. He would pick the apples off low hanging branches.

Our second year’s harvest was our best.  I doubt we had one apple that didn’t have a blemish or a hole, but that didn’t matter to us.

Apple Tree, written & illustrated by Peter Parnall

From Apple Tree, by Peter Parnall

The following winter Clark started to fail quickly. He continued to plow but I did the shoveling.  We drove into Boston in early spring to meet Morgan for a Red Sox game, but Clark wound up in Dana Farber.  He went home to hospice. The apple blossoms came and went and the grass grew up to my hips. One of my first mornings alone a mourning dove called to me from the top of the barn.  A weight lifted off my shoulders and Clark was now free.

Mowing took 18 man hours.  When Alex was up, they shared the work, one on the tractor, the other taking the lawnmower up close under the trees.  It was my job now and it was when I really started to love the land.  I understood why Clark gave up when he no longer could manage the mowing.

The new Woodshed -- April 2015

The new Woodshed — April 2015

It was too easy to stay put, protected and comfortable on this magical land, to be the widow at the old orchard who only went into town to buy cheese at The Olld Country Store, or walked across the street for takeout at the Woodshed.  Too easy to create my fantasy of being the crazy lady standing at the door with rifle in hand, dressed in calico and little brown boots, telling the tax collector to get off my property.  Too easy to imagine a slim handsome stranger with a cigarette in a pickup driving up and staying on as the live-in handy man.

I put the inn on the market, split off a small piece in the back orchard for myself, and sold the house to a a woman who had spent some time at the house before it was an inn and had felt the pull of the place.  She and her husband moved over from England and  immediately hung a Union Jack from the flagpole.  Batchelder might have shuddered in his grave.

winter apple treesNow these 2.65 acres are on the market. My sons and I are ambivalent. We want to enjoy the land but we live too far away.  My neighbor who lives in the former apple storage building is under the spell also.  He mows the orchard while he can.

Perhaps someone will buy the property, put up a sweet little home, care for the pears, choose a few apple trees to pamper back to health, steal a few of the raspberry plants from the inn’s property, spend a few years carving out a tree from a behemoth gone wild, and find peace.

But if it doesn’t sell, that’s okay.

And what are you doing May 31st?

Rokeby and wildflowers cropped even more

Why not dress up and party with the Hudson River Historic Boat and Sailing Society at Rokeby in Barrytown, NY?

Eleanor

Eleanor

As a member of this lively band of sailors, woodworkers, city of Hudson and Hudson River history buffs, and crazy romantics, I invite you to an Edwardian Great Porch and Lawn Party at Rokeby, a  privately-owned Hudson River Livingston/Astor estate with a twist. The event is a benefit to fund the purchase of the spars for the restoration of the 1903 Clinton Crane sloop Eleanor.

According to the Historic American Buildings Survey prepared by the National Park Service, Rokeby, originally known as La Bergerie, is 200 years old this year. Ricky Aldrich, Vice President of HRHBrass is our host for the day and Wint Aldrich will be giving tours of the first floor of the mansion. Speaking unofficially for the volunteers and supporters of the Eleanor Project, I will say that we are extremely thankful to them and to Ania Adrich for opening their home for this occasion.

First Floor PlanGuests will be able to stroll the grounds which offer beautiful views of the Hudson River and the Catskills. If the sun is out, the afternoon will be magnificent If not, it will just be outstanding! It will be hard not to have a good time.

Reliance, 1903

Reliance, 1903

At 4 o’clock Halsey Herreshoff will speak about his racing experiences, the America’s Cup and things dear to sailors. Since 1878, the Herreshoff family has been designing and building select high quality yachts, including the famed Reliance and Westward, the most technologically advanced racing yachts of their time. Halsey is a prolific designer of production and custom yachts. As a sailor, he has been bowman, tactician and navigator, with four successful America’s Cup defenses, and he will have just returned from this year’s race. He is  responsible for the development of the Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame in Bristol, R.I.

000_0005-860x547Hudson River Historic Boat was organized in 2011 to save a very distressed Eleanor. A hard working group of volunteers meet weekly in a warehouse in Hudson, New York to bring her back to her glory so that she can once again sail the Hudson River for the public’s pleasure and education. This event will raise money for Eleanor’s mast, boom and gaff that will be built by the Beetle Boat Shop in Wareham, Mass.

There will be food by Bruno’s, there will be music by the Blackiston Brothers, and we hope you will step back in time and dress Edwardian and join us.  Or dress for 2015 and join us.

For more information on the Party and to purchase tickets, as well as to learn more about the work on the Eleanor please see our website.  If you can’t make be with us on the 31st, but would like to join our group and volunteer your time and/or expertise, please give us a call.

We do have fun.

Eight in the morning

Houseboat Closeup by LeeTwo men, one in a salt and pepper beard, both in tan caps, hooded sweatshirts and faded jeans, standing and talking and drinking coffee at the park. One smokes a cigarette. I can’t get a good look at them since my eyes are so bad even with my binoculars, but they could be Louie. They look out at the river, at the house boat, at the island and the causeway and the barge that just passed by going south. They meander about but don’t cover too much ground — down to the water’s edge and back to the fence. Two cars. Did they plan to meet or just bump into each other on the way to work. They spend some time looking up at the sky. I want to make up a story. Oops. One just walked back from the waters edge. I started typing so I missed seeing what he did down there on the rocks. Perhaps he peed. I’d love to catch one of them peeing. But now they’ve taken out fishing gear. They must be the two that were there late afternoon yesterday.  Is it striper season already?

They don’t look up at the house. Do they feel as the twenty-something year old me did when I went with a neighbor to visit friends in Brooklyn Heights?  We walked along the Promenade and saw people on their decks having drinks and barbecuing and children doing children things. I wondered how it must have felt to live there, in such a singular place, and yet have a parade walking by every day looking up at you living your life. I guess I know now. Sometimes you watch them and sometimes you don’t. And you wonder about them as they do you — or not at all.

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Republished with Poetry — because I think that’s what it is.

Ice Sailing on the Hudson, 2015

ice boats 1 3:2015There wasn’t the excitement and activity that surrounded last year’s ice boat rally at Rokeby in Barrytown, but it was a real treat to look out the window and see four boats scooting around at Cheviot Landing several days this week.

At the opening of the Ice Boat Expo at FDR Library and Museum in January, Wint Aldrich, historian and member of the Aldrich family that hosted last year’s event summed up 2014’s rare ice-boating conditions:

This past February brought the most “exceptional conditions of ice-boating on the     Hudson in living memory … 15 miles of practically skate-able ice, 15 inches thick,” Aldrich said. “We have all our fingers crossed that this is going to happen again and again. What a treat it would be.”

John Vargo, former commodore of the Hudson River Yacht Club agreed. “It’s once in a lifetime . . . I”ve never seen this many iceboats together on the Hudson, and I’ve been coming here 70 years.”

Over thirty boats and thousands of spectators gathered on the ice.  Some of the ice yachts were over one hundred years old, and two, the Jack Frost and the Rocket, both restored and both about 50 feet tall, sailed with each other for the first time after about a century.  Spectators dragged coal stoves down onto the ice and danced around the boats to music from a brass band from Bard College.

ice boats 2 3:2015But no, it didn’t happen again this year.  Our little ice boat rally was much smaller and quieter.

The 2015 season started when Lee was walking the dogs down by the river.  He met some of the hopeful boaters who had driven up from Newburgh looking for suitable conditions.  They came back with friends and boats the next day and we watched them set up and take off. They’ve been back several times.  Lee spent time down by the landing filming, and one of the boaters asked him if he wanted to go for a ride.

I would have said yes —