$5 in a wallet, or a forgotten notebook. . . .either way a find

As so often happens, I was looking for something and found, instead, something else. In this case a spiral-bound notebook from ten or twelve years ago. I am a notebook hound. They’re everywhere – piled up on shelves, crammed between stacks of books, on the floor beside my bed.  Technology will never completely replace my love of a notebook and the perfect pen.

This particular notebook was at the bottom of a stack of books I read years ago which have languished, untouched, on a shelf in my studio. I wish I could say I had at least dusted the pile occasionally, but that would be a lie.  Finding a notebook you haven’t seen in a decade is like finding an old wallet and discovering a five-dollar bill inside. It’s not something that’s going to change your life, but it is kind of fun. I found poetry in this notebook. In particular, this one:

There is no comfort in the country
when a farm fails.
My father wanted to move us to Florida.
My mother cried.
“The kids won’t need shoes there,” my father said.
So we packed the car
with clothes, a hamper of food, and ourselves.
Roads unraveled before us, ribbons of dirt and tar,
rolling past fields whose owners we didn’t know,
every mile pulling us farther away from the hope
we gave up too soon.
My father hummed while he drove.
My mother set her face in stone and would not be moved.

I hadn’t finished the poem, but I remembered right away why I wrote it. During the last years of her life, my grandmother lived in a nursing home. Her short-term memory was shot, but she could remember everything from her childhood. Asking her questions about those years was a great way to have a conversation with her. I’d sign her out for the day and we’d traverse the area where she grew up. On one of those outings I learned how her father had tried, and failed at farming, and then decided to move his family from upstate New York to Florida, where he thought life would be easier. It wasn’t. They ended up back where they started.

I guess the poem was my attempt to imagine what it must have felt like all those years ago for my grandmother. I’d forgotten that I wrote it. And I’d forgotten my grandmother’s story until now.

Which means, that sometimes, finding a forgotten notebook is way better than finding a wallet with money in it.

My grandmother, Pearl Crawford, age 5, with her brother Ken, age 10

How my mind works – in case anyone besides my husband cares

My brother took his girlfriend to the area in the Adirondack mountains where we grew up. She in turn posted photographs on Facebook. I looked at these two and thought – blog post.

Photo by Peggy Houlihan Bielecki

Photo by Peggy Houlihan Bielecki

This is the footbridge in Wanakena, NY.  Population: So low I can’t find it listed.  (Maybe 100 or so, if you don’t count students of the New York State Ranger School.) I remember calling it the swinging bridge because that’s what it did; kids walked out to the middle of it and rocked it back and forth.

The bridge photos reminded me of this photo which was taken by Mr. Vickers who lived in a house at one end of the footbridge.

Me with my two sisters, and our brother. I’m the tallest one.

Remembering this photo made me think that I should blog about the houses on each end of the bridge.  How different they and the people who lived in them were.  The one we were standing next to in our bathing suits, with the nice older couple, and the house at the other end of the bridge with the boy who liked to dunk smaller kids under the water when we were swimming.  He terrified me until one winter when I discovered that he, too, liked to pretend to be an Olympic figure skater gliding gracefully around the frozen river.

Then I looked again at the first picture and remembered the summer my grandfather was hired to paint that footbridge.  The best summer of my life.  I should blog about that.

Every afternoon that summer, he would drop by our house when he had finished for the day.  He sat at our kitchen table and drank a beer before heading home.  Besides being a painter of footbridges, he was also a magician.  He could pull coins from our ears.  Then he’d make them disappear on the top of his beer bottle.  When he picked the bottle up, there was the coin on the table where the bottle had sat.  He was quiet, this magic painter man.  And he was well-loved.  He had blue eyes and a bemused smile, but he didn’t talk much about himself.  What I knew about him, about his life, I learned from my mother and others who had known him for a long time.  Which led me to these photos:

My grandfather in his Army uniform taken just before World War I when he was sent with his company to fight in France.

This was how I remember him.

One of the things I’d heard about my grandfather, was that he had an operatic voice and had trained in New York City after the war.  Thinking about that made me remember sitting beneath the window of a particular house in Wanakena listening to a woman we all called Madame Tweedy do her vocal warm-ups.  She was an opera singer, a summer resident, and the closest thing Wanakena had to a celebrity.  I don’t know if she was really famous anywhere outside of Wanakena.  I wish I would have asked more questions then.

My husband doesn’t always follow my train of thought, which is usually because he hasn’t been privy to the circuitous route said train has taken inside my head.  But now that I’ve explained it, it all makes perfect sense.

Doesn’t it?

Finding a Vantage Point

My husband and I were on a mission yesterday. I love watching fireworks, but this year I wasn’t up to dealing with the massive crowd during the show. The crush of people leaving afterwards. The long hike back to the car, the traffic jam. The noise. Our task was to find a spot that afforded a decent view of the fireworks but far from the madding crowd, and where we could make a speedy get-away.

And we wanted ice cream.

We had a few places in mind. At the second spot on our list we were greeted by a line of orange security cones and a traffic cop. The field we hoped to watch the sky from was on the top of a hill behind a new development of houses. We assumed the guy was there to keep non-residents from doing that. Still my husband asked: “Is this a good spot to see the fireworks?”

“Perfect”, the cop said, surprising us. “As long as you park your car on the side away from the orange cones.”

I leaned across my husband and told the cop, “Okay. We’ll be back. We’re going for ice cream. Would you like some?” He smiled and said sure, that would be nice. Surprise him on the flavor.

Being kind costs so little. In this case, $4 for a double scoop of ice cream which was well worth the price of the smile on the guy’s face when we really did return with it.

We were back within fifteen minutes. A few other cars had arrived by then. A few more came after that. The evening was humid, but a steady breeze across the top of the hill cooled our skin and kept the bugs away. We chatted with the other people. I met a girl whose name was also Mary. She was nine. She was with her mother and their new dog Bella, a year-old yellow lab rescue dog who was timid with people.  Unless they were eating ice cream. Then she had no fear at all. Three other people came from a party they’d been to. An older couple brought their daughter and her two little boys who were three and six. A family with two teen-agers and a long-haired dachshund name Luigi came last. Bella and Luigi made eyes and barked at one another. I’m pretty sure it was love.

And then, the fireworks began. The cop was right. The view was perfect.

(I forgot to bring my camera, but my iPhone is pretty good in a pinch.)

Unlike the snafu in San Diego, we had a twenty-two minute show.  It was sublime.  It’s amazing how a common cause — the search for a spot with an un-trammeled view — brings out camaraderie in human beings.  As we walked the few steps to our cars, we congratulated one another on our mutual find.

And then we booked it out of there to beat the crowd.

Few tail lights in front of us (as opposed to the usual bumper-to-bumper) = a quick ride home. Score!