The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Cooped Up August 11, 2013

As I suspected, this morning things looked a bit brighter. Nothing like chickens to lift your spirits and make you forget any grudges you might be holding onto. Yup, I love my chickens – and my goose too. I might just become the crazy chicken lady in my aged years – hell, I might already be the crazy chicken lady. Cuz I really do love my flock. They have spunk and charm. And while I would completely understand if you didn’t believe me when I said that they each have individual and distinct personalities, I can assure you  that you’d be wrong if you thought so. They are the best entertainment for a weary heart and the gentlest companions. They’re nutty, they’re pushy, they’re maternal and many are a lot smarter than you’d think. And some are horny all day long (boys, eyeroll). They never cease to distract me from whatever thoughts might be consuming me in the moment. They make me smile, and those silly birds make me grateful.

I spent most of the morning in the garden weeding and cleaning up the property as best I could with a meager pair of hand clippers, and then devoted my afternoon to cleaning and repairing the coop. (That cordless 18 volt drill was the best gift I ever got myself. I shouldn’t have waited til the age of 50. If you don’t have one yet, get one. Biggest quality of life upgrade ever.) To the background of the local reggae radio show I measured, drilled, cut, shoveled, and fussed around in the coop, knocking just about every chicken-related ‘to-do’ item off the list. Between my cleaned up run, the new pond, the garden and front walkway I just finished, I am feeling quite satisfied with myself. Just about ready for the year-as-usual to start back up again. Maybe not quite, but almost. Still got a few child-free days left. Gotta make hay while the sun shines.

Garden August 2013 052The nesting boxes. My goal today is to change the position of the top row to discourage overnight roosting (they poop inside the nesting boxes when they spend the nights perched on the edge. Too much mess in with the eggs.) Gotta configure some sort of cover that makes them unable to rest on the sides.

Garden August 2013 061Here’s Madeline. She’s an old-timer. She looked like a sparrow when she was born. She’s the only gal with a tiny rose comb on her head and ‘makeup’ around her eyes. She’s the first to escape an enclosure, the first to get back in. Clever girl.

Garden August 2013 080Here’s Bald Mountain. Must have been in a fight, as he’s lame in one leg and missing a spur. In spite of his limp, he rules this roost, making the other two roosters run the other way when he approaches. He sits much of the day, likely to rest his bad leg.

Garden August 2013 082Ok, now this can look a little strange when you see it in person. This is a hen taking a dust bath. They do it instinctively to protect their skin from mites, but also it gives them relief from the heat. Notice how her nictitating (lower) eyelid is closed as she fluffs and beats her wings into the dirt.  Sometimes I’ll see a dozen girls all laying on the ground, wings splayed out and eyes closed – and they look positively dead! But no. They’re just having a good dust bath. An essential part of being a healthy, happy chicken. She’s enjoying herself to be sure.

Garden August 2013 085Here she is flinging the dust onto her back.

Garden August 2013 096She’s really getting into it now.This is the good life.

Garden August 2013 136Here’s the new river rock I put down to contain the mud. I had thought this would deter the girls from pecking around on the ground – after all, there’s no dirt anymore. They must have memories of tasty bugs here, cuz they were so persistent in their scratching that they actually pushed the rocks to the side and exposed swatches of ground. !! Wow. Naughty but impressive work, girls. !

Garden August 2013 133Max really likes to chew on things. He has some dog toys he likes, but that doesn’t stop him from finding other goodies. He loves brightly colored Crocs and will head right for your toes if you’re wearing em (he likes bright pink the best).

Garden August 2013 002Maximus has discovered our new pond. I have given up trying to prevent him from getting in. Hey, the pond is no less pretty for the little bit of goose poop he might have left behind. Life is for living, and ponds are for swimming.

Garden August 2013 026He’s getting absolutely worked up. I don’t think he’s ever had this much water to move in before. And he is a water bird, after all. This is in his very DNA.

Garden August 2013 025Around and around he went. Joy, joy, joy.

Garden August 2013 022

It’s even deep enough that he can put his whole head and neck straight down.

Garden August 2013 047Happy goose, happy, crazy chicken lady. What a perfect summer day we all had. Think I’m ready for Monday now…

 

Hi Lo August 10, 2013

It’s been a spectacular summer day. Lovely breezes blew through all day long, keeping the brightest sun from feeling too hot. For me personally it was a day in which I completed a major phase of an outdoor beautification project, is was a day in which I met some wonderful and kind neighbors, plus this evening I got a call from an old friend whose voice I hadn’t heard in nearly a year. All in all, the day was full of good things. Sunshine, walks through gorgeous gardens and promising young vineyards, meeting of friends new and old, and touring of other people’s homes. One very pleasant day.

Yet at the end of it all, not sure whether it’s the $20 someone stole out of my Eggs of Hope bin at the side of the road (I’d finally left generous change for my weekend customers), the first glass of wine I’ve had in a week, or the general sense, once again, of missing what it is to be a part of a larger network of friends here in my town – I dunno. But now, moments before bedtime, I’m feeling a bit deflated in the wake of my day. For no apparent reason, all of a sudden I’m feeling a bit down.

Maybe cuz I’d really like to just go out on a date with someone whose company I enjoy. Maybe because doing the town alone doesn’t appeal anymore, yet I wouldn’t mind going out. But where? With whom? Maybe five years is enough alone time. I know that’s not all of it, but part of it for sure. Tonite, for God’s sake I’m almost feeling weepy. Like something’s just missing. (And I know it’s not my period – cuz I don’t have one anymore!! Gone is the most probable culprit for my inexplicable mood swing!)

I realize that the local drunk who stole my $20 probably needs it more than me. It’s just that I turned in my friggin coin collection to get enough change for customers. It makes me very upset. I’m trying to plan my life and get my bills paid; I’m following all the rules and being a good person. ‘Must you do this to me? Really?’ I ask this lonely bicycle rider in my head. I begin to imagine the conversation I’d have with him if I ever caught him red-handed. I begin to taste the justice… But then I stop. While part of me dearly wants to catch him in the act and to shame him for what he’s done – a part of me also knows that if he’s in such a state that he has to steal from a kid’s side-of-the-road egg business in order to get some relief from this difficult world, then his life has got to be a very sad one indeed, and I must have mercy and compassion for him.

Yeah. I can see both sides. I just wish he’d ridden his bike down my driveway (as he’s done before, reeking of beer) to ask if I had any small jobs for him to do. I’da given him something. Hell, I’da paid him $20 if he cleaned out the coop for me! I just wish he’d asked. I woulda found some something for him to help out with around here… But he took the wimp’s way out. It’s not like I don’t understand, I do. I know what it feels like when you can’t see any other options. I know what it is to want to feel better. Happier, more at peace. Kinda like the peace I feel I’m missing right now, actually. Yeah, I really hope he was able to take the edge off with that $20. And I hope he’s deep in a dream right now, far from the cares of this relentless world… I hope that tonite he has a tiny respite from the uneasy state in which he lives most of his life. And that somehow, tomorrow he awakes with a small germ of hope growing inside…

There’s no doubt that I got it all. Lucky gal am I. Not sayin it sarcastically either. Really. I’m just experiencing another little blip on my emotional EKG tonite – but it’ll right itself soon. And I know that I’ll start over fresh and optimistic tomorrow morning. Plus I look forward to the many dreams I’ll have before that time, cuz they’ll bear me away from here long enough to refresh me and make tonite’s low-grade gloom a mere fuzzy memory.

Many elevations on this roller coaster ride of life; may tomorrow’s ride end on a hi and not a lo…

moi 023

 

The Other Shoe August 8, 2013

Thursday morning

We’re going to take dad to the hospital today as he’s been complaining of stomach pains for a few days now. While mom and I think it might be good old-fashioned constipation, and he’s been drinking more fluids to help things along, the pain hasn’t really gone away. Mom suspects all he needs is some hydration by way of an IV. That, and the overall stimulation that another atmosphere and new people might provide. I’m not so sure this will have a happy ending. Martha, the other matriarchal figure in our lives, is also in the hospital today. She awoke around four this morning because she was having difficulty breathing. Martha knows the drill well. She pushes the button on the pendant around her neck, calls her friends Doreen and Mike, and shortly an ambulance arrives. She’s been in the hospital – admitted through ER – many times over the past couple of years. Sometimes things appear dire, yet she always ends up returning to her large, historic farmhouse in Greenfield. And every time she enters the place, I pray she makes it home again. Above all things, Martha is a woman who must die in her house. And no matter how infirmed her state, it seems she always has the resolve to make sure that one day she will.

My father, on the other hand, might have a different story. If admitted, he might be considerably disoriented by an extended stay in the hospital. Mom’s hope is that he ends up staying for a few days. She’s even posited his going then to a rehab facility in town (Martha’s done that herself several times). But if he can be made well by a simple round of hydration, then why would he need to stay there? My suspicion is that mom isn’t even aware of her own secret wish to be relived of her care-taking duties, if only for a couple of days. I’ve been lobbying hard for a weekly visit from an private nurse, but mom continues to say ‘we’re not there yet’. ! A few days ago she began to acquiesce, and told me her intention was to call the office of the aging and schedule an in-home interview, yet every manner of obstacle has prevented her from doing so. She doesn’t work, dad doesn’t get up til way past noon. What on earth could be preventing her from calling, save her own, deeply-embedded fear of entering this next phase? This is all a sad new territory for sure, and it’s made even harder to navigate by virtue of my parents’ values and upbringing. They are not a generation that discusses their feelings. And my mother is definitely not one to accept help. This creates a challenging environment when it comes time to deal with these issues of aging. Man, if there’s one thing I’ve made good and clear to my own son, it’s that he should do what he needs to do when the time comes. If I don’t know who he is and I can’t wipe my own butt – then  by all means ship me off. And honestly – you may think me morbid, I do not care – I am all in favor of assisted suicide (however loathe that term) if a person should face an irreversible, debilitating disease. It’s even my hope to be able to sock away enough money to have that be a viable option one day (one possible place is in Zurich, Switzerland. It’s legal there). After all, looking to my father and paternal grandmother, the genetic possibility for growing old with dementia is a potential reality for me. I cannot pretend it isn’t.

_______________________________________________________

Thursday, early evening

I’ve been at the hospital for much of the afternoon with mom and dad. The staff at Saratoga Hospital continues to impress me, and I’m so very grateful for their service today. Turns out dad just had a hernia. Not a big surprise, he had one on the other side years ago which he had fixed surgically. The doc massaged it back into place, and dad felt relief right away. He had a CT scan which showed some ‘white matter’ around his brain; the ER doc surmised that it may have been many ‘tiny strokes’, but mom and I wonder if it might not simply be evidence of his memory loss and the related diminishing brain volume. Either way, my feeling is that it doesn’t so much matter. In my eyes, it’s my father’s quality of life and comfort that is most important now. Little prevention can be done to stop the progress of what’s probably inevitable. Guarding against falls is another concern of mine now too (mom and dad have a tile floor, argh. Knock on wood). In the end, dad’s cheerful, as well as he can be, and most importantly, feeling better. And I for one am relieved that he didn’t need an overnight stay in the hospital. (Although mom might feel differently.)

Martha was just down the hall, and on the way out, we wheeled dad into her room for a visit. It only just occurred to me right now – that it might have been the last time that dad and Martha will ever see each other in person. On Martha’s 87th birthday, just a few weeks ago, it took dad nearly fifteen minutes just to get inside her house. It was a huge production. I think we all knew as we watched his incredibly slow progress to the car afterward, that this was probably his final visit to the farm. This whole chapter is bizarre and bittersweet. I realize I’m lucky to have both of my parents alive and doing relatively well. So many of my friends are in that stage of life when they’re losing theirs. I watch, I wait, I worry. Nothing to do but try to savor the time remaining.  It’s tough for me, yes, but I think of my folks. My dad is actually blessed by his dementia; he can’t truly appreciate that his life is reaching its end. And my mother, while she herself is actually doing ok (in spite of bad arthritis and chronic back pain), I can’t help but I wonder if there’s not a low-grade worry present in her thoughts about how her own end will come. An occasional passive-aggressive aside will come out every now and then which betrays a darker side to her concerns. On the face of it however, she jokes, she makes light… There is a mildly haunting sense to this time in all of our lives, although none of us ever says as much. But even if we were to talk, what would we say? I’d like to think that Elihu and I will face these tough conversations with absolute honesty when the time comes, but I can’t know that for certain. I cannot begin to assume that I will behave any differently, or approach the last years of my life with any more candor than my folks. I just don’t know how it will feel to be in that situation. I’d like to think that I’ll be able to face it, but it’s been a bigger challenge than I’d thought just turning fifty!

For now, I cherish the little things that have been so familiar to me all of my life. That certain, charming way my father has of laughing. The way my mother always shows concern, the way she always takes care of things, and makes me feel in the end like everything will always be alright. I can’t grasp in this moment, today, that one day they will be gone. And as frustrated as they can make me, they are my only parents, and I love them so. Every remaining moment is important, because you never truly know when the other shoe will finally fall to the ground.

ER 2013 126I am a fan of Saratoga Hospital. The staff there have all been so kind and gracious.

ER 2013 063Dad was in good spirits all afternoon.

ER 2013 053There’s his gallbladder. All looks just fine.

ER 2013 078Now we’re in Martha’s room for a visit. Note how she raises her hand for emphasis as she speaks. She is still in control! And she remembers the name of every last person who comes into her room – not only that, but she remembers where they live! Martha always inquires where people are from. That’s signature Martha Carver. !

ER 2013 091That profile I know so well.

ER 2013 097You can see what a production it is to move dad.

ER 2013 101Aaron was so kind and patient.

ER 2013 105Mom needs a cane these days – she can’t walk far without it. Even so, she’s the rock in the duo so far.

ER 2013 113So fragile looking.

ER 2013 122What a relief. I asked mom if she needed help on the other end – getting him back inside the house – but she insisted she didn’t; she said it simply took a long time. I can’t help but wonder each time he leaves the house if this will be the last time he does. You just can’t ever know for sure.

 

…And Found August 7, 2013

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 9:44 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Guess I indulged in a bit of old-fashioned self-pity yesterday. Thanks to Jim for so candidly suggesting that perspective. Had me stop and re-assess for a moment. As I said before, I do know things are ok. I’m at a fine place in my life. And I can’t compare my current life to my old one, because it’s an entirely different set of circumstances –  and that’s really as it should be. One’s life at 50 shouldn’t look too much like one’s life at 25 –  at least not if things are moving along as they should be. And hey – if my life was simply puttering along without a whole lot of new experiences or opportunities to learn, I might be whining for different reasons. ! Very likely I woulda been. Cuz while I crave solitude and a somewhat consistent routine in my daily life, I also need new challenges to keep me intrigued and happy about waking up in the morning. Ok, so maybe this last life-changing round of challenges was a wee bit more than I might have bargained for, but I can’t change it. All I can do is keep going. A sense of humor helps, and so does a mind open to the potential lessons disguised as a crappy situation. Personally, I feel that difficult chapters in your life give you the chance to get some new skills under your metaphoric belt. That might mean learning to identify feelings of guilt and letting them go, learning how to forgive someone a painful transgression, or it might even mean learning to make simple fixes around the house without calling a handyman. Unforeseen situations really do open some interesting doors.

Lest I sound like a proselytizing pitch-man for a series of self-help DVDs – I want to make clear that while I do believe it’s usually wisest to roll with the punches of life and get right back in the ring, there are just some times when the room spins and I see stars, and I don’t have the oomph to get back up. You know, like yesterday. It was the second such day of a low and dark mood, and of course it was natural to me that I write about it. Maybe I sounded a bit too pitiful, but the writing here in this forum is by nature exposed – and very much about the experiences I’m living – while I’m living them. I hope you’ll forgive me if from time to time I lose my good cheer. Certainly we all lose it every now and again. In the wake of my post I heard from old friends, received an amazing and unexpected gift, plus of course there were comments left here, and personal emails too. It’s easy to forget anyone’s ‘out there’, so thanks for reminding me once again that I’m not alone. How blessed I am to have the love and support of friends. I send you all my love right back. If ever you should need my help, please seek me out. I would like to return the favor some day.

Ok, I’m gonna quit my bitchin now. Cuz I know that I got it good. Was lost, but now am found.

 

Lost August 6, 2013

Kid’s been gone over two weeks. Maybe it’s three by now. You’d think I’d know, but I don’t. Been busy, busy, busy, trying to get all the things done that I simply can’t during the year. I suppose now that he’s ten it’ll become easier for me to do things. He can get himself something to eat or entertain himself easily enough. It’s just that I always feel badly about digging into solitary projects like filing, organizing teaching materials or other time-consuming stuff when he’s home. Which is why I’m hitting it so hard now. But today I feel stopped. The sun is shining and the day is bright, yet I can’t shake this feeling that the world is passing me by. I’m here in my windowless basement office, going through boxes and files and papers that just never seem to end. And I wonder, as I have so many times before, how on earth do working people deal with all this crap? There’s never an end to things that need tending to, never an end to the drawings and schoolwork that needs to find a home, there’s never an end to the personal correspondence, the filing, the bills, the paper…. And yet, at the end of the day, when someone asks me “what do you do all day?”, I’m hard-pressed to properly explain myself. Which leads me to this very moment. Right now, I’m feeling tetherless and lost.

In going through my music closet, and in finally opening great manila envelopes marked “to look at and file”, my past spills out onto my lap in old set lists, cocktail napkins scrawled over with chords, laminates and other small, useless items that only break my heart today. I remember the feeling of hope that went along with that time in my life. Our lives seemed all yet ahead of us then. Yes, I can say that I knew I was enjoying a good time in my life, and I did enjoy myself. I loved doing what I did, and I never took it for granted. But there was always another show coming up, another project, another seed of hope… I was always swimming with a fast-moving current. There was never anything static about that time in my life. But my life now is very different. Aside from my beloved son, I have to admit to myself, there’s very little of that sort of hope inside me today. There just doesn’t seem to be any forward pull. Yes, I have my writing, I suppose. Dear friends and readers who check in to bear witness to our tiny adventures, but is that in of itself a destination? What, I wonder, as I hold the evidence of a life once fully lived and enjoyed, just what the hell is my ‘thing’ now? Mom? Part-time accompanist at my kids’ school? Goddam recess monitor? Man. So much hope, so much forward-looking energy in these old scraps of paper. Yet where did they land me? I haven’t touched my Wurlitzer in ages. I haven’t played in a band since I left Evanston. It’s been two years since I’ve sung a proper show. And I miss it all like crazy. I fully admit to flat-out jealousy when I see the Facebook updates of my friends who are still making music. How lucky they are to be playing. To be doing what they love. I do know that I’m lucky to be here, and to have this new chapter from which to learn and grow, but still….

I can’t make much progress as I feel right now. I have no food left in the house, and I’m hungry. My hunger is no doubt helping to make my mood even darker, and I’m trying to muster the resolve to do something about it. It takes some gas and time to get into town, and I just can’t find it in me to go. I’m almost out of cash now too, cuz kids don’t take piano lessons in the summer (I sure never did), but that doesn’t stop bills from coming. August is always something of a financial challenge, and especially now in the wake of our July trip and some small home improvements. I know this has been a great summer, and I was so blessed to have visited Chicago (and to have eaten all that gorgeous food!), but it seems the spark has worn off. I know things aren’t bad by any means. I do. And I’m doing better than I was a year ago. I know it. Plus I’m home, surrounded by things I love, by nature, by a beautiful summer day. Even so, in this moment I’m still not quite sure where I am.

 

Wait for It… August 5, 2013

I mighta known that the woman who ‘reminded me of Queen Elizabeth’ in the previous post was not in fact, Marylou Whitney, as I had declared her to be. I chose to ignore the tiny voice that kept nagging this woman just doesn’t seem glamorous enough to be Marylou. And in addition to that hunch, this woman’s silhouette actually looked slightly familiar. The photo I had tried to enlarge showed instead Jane Wait, and son Charlie (president of the Adirondack Trust Company) sitting beside her. Jane was on the board of my father’s Festival of Baroque Music for years. I too was on the board with her. In fact, Jane Wait figured prominently In the summertime world of the Conants for over a decade. She did everything from pen checks to the Festival to help arrange tea and cookies for the intermission refreshments. When I was young, I didn’t see Jane in the larger, social scale of our town. She was just a kind, older woman who showed an interest in dad’s music.

Some memories, unrelated bits of the past come back to me… I remember attending a party at their lake house once, where I met actor John Houseman. I remember he wore a purple jumpsuit and kindly gave me an autograph. I remember learning that Mr. Wait had died in a fire in that house not many years after. I remember that Mrs. Wait also had a daughter my age with whom I got together a few times. I was never able to get into a groove with the girl, in spite of feeling as If I had given it my very best (and the distinct feeling that she had not met me half way). They had a summer house just a couple miles down our road. And I remember I once played piano for Caroline and her mother at their place; it was a blues tune of mine with a little hook in the chorus and a repeating, catchy riff. They insisted I didn’t write it, they both insisted that they’d heard it played before. As an adolescent girl I didn’t have the language to articulate that they were mistaking the form and style for the song itself. That this, being a blues song, shared a common structure and tonality with other blues songs. The moment even got a tiny bit confrontational. My emotional take-away is that Mrs. Wait just knew me to be lying. It changed the feeling in the air between us all. Hey – to be fair, they might not have thought about it another second, but for me, it was insulting, and it showed me I’d been diminished somewhat in their eyes. That afternoon may have been the last time the young Wait and I hung out. We were fundamentally different people.

And today, the Wait’s world and ours intersect in only the very tiniest of ways. Knowing Jane to be ‘getting up there’, I wrote her a Christmas card last year just to reconnect, and to let her know that while dad is losing a bit of his short term memory, he was still very much himself and retained that certain, recognizable twinkle in his eye. And that he sent her his warmest greetings. Jane, as a wealthy pillar of this community is something of a local celebrity, so I didn’t expect to hear back – but at the same time she’s also a real person whose day might be cheered to hear news of an old friend. It made me feel like I’d done something kind; sending the letter warmed my own heart.

Now I can replay the memory of Jane and son Charlie on Friday night, waving from their carriage to the throngs of onlookers, and it makes sense. They are a much more conservative-looking duo. And then when I saw the super-wide brimmed hats trimmed in flowers in that other carriage on the front page of the Saratogian, I got it. Yeah, now that’s Susan Lucci. Now that’s Marylou. And man, they look great. Good Lord, Marylou is 88! (Ms. Lucci, 67). “Hey dad” I said, pointing to the photo of Marylou on the front page, “this woman is your age!” My mother reacted with great agitation. “No she’s not!” she said, almost angrily. Then she began her version of ‘math out loud’… “eight from ten is two….” Sheesh. I looked at her, waiting for the punchline. “Your father is seven years older than me, and I’m 78” she said, her tone still vaguely angry. She clearly thought she was imparting new information. ?? “Yes, I know” I said, still confused. “Marylou was born in 1925!” she emphasized. Still confused. “She’s three years older than your father”. “Yes, I know that too.” I answered, still not seeing her point. “So yeah,” I continued, “she’s about his age. We’re talking three years’ difference.” She went on to demystify her emotional response…”You’ll come to to the point in your life one day when every year counts. You want to be given credit for each year you’ve made it.” She went on to explain with a smile on her face (I just hate it when she smiles when she’s clearly very upset. Ich, it makes me queasy) that when you’re a young child or an older person you cannot make such generalities about age. “When you’re your age, it’s ok. But not when you’re older. Absolutely not.” There was a distinct tone of martyr in her voice, as if she meant to impart that she’d worked and suffered on this planet for seventy-eight years, goddam it and she’d paid her dues… It was rather fascinating to see my mom get so worked up about such a seemingly tiny thing. Hm. Interesting. I’ve been called any number of ages with a good two decade spread, and don’t find it offensive either way. Why mom should find offense at this tiny generality was news to me. “I just mean she looks damn good. That’s all”. (Yeah, and now she looks three years better! I thought to myself.) I shrugged, indicating dad with my eyes. In his pajamas for the umpteenth day in a row, I’d hoped Marylou’s image might serve as motivation for cleaning up a bit. But this is a tired, old and oppressive household. No one’s putting on their Sunday best anytime soon.

I look back at the two beautiful faces on the front page of yesterday’s paper. Honestly, it’s hard to believe their ages. I’ve been told it’s all about the fillers – you know, the tiny injections to keep faces inflated… and man, if the technology exists to create such quality results, sign me up. I admit it, I’m one vain-ass woman, and I don’t wanna be an old lady! After a recent mid-life battle over ‘to color or not to color’ I think I can just end that discussion right here and now. Color. And filler up, too while you’re at it. Do what ya got to do. I realize I may not have the bankroll for the job, and my life isn’t exacatly fodder for the society pages. So I probably shouldn’t hold my breath. But I probably won’t go the conservative, poofy old-lady hair direction of Jane Wait either. I’ll probably end up somewhere in between. But that’s still a ways off. I can wait…

 

Town and Country August 4, 2013

What do Susan Lucci, backyard ponds and karaoke bars have in common? They have each been a significant landmark of my weekend thus far. I feel I must admit that while I did actually see Ms. Lucci, at the time I wasn’t aware of exactly whom it was that I had seen in the carriage sitting across from the Queen of Saratoga, philanthropist, filthy rich and unendingly effervescent Marylou Whitney. I saw these fine ladies pass by from about a hundred feet away as I sat on the outside porch of a downtown restaurant. I had finished a long and arduous day in the garden on Friday, and I thought I’d treat myself to a night out. The town was celebrating the 150th anniversary of the track with a parade down Broadway and ice cream social at the Casino. The theme was a “Floral Fete” and the parade showcased bicycles, horse-drawn carriages and old-timey cars festooned in live flowers (the idea being they were decorated as they had been a century and a half ago when the races first began).

While I’d had in my mind the very intention of sitting outside at one particular restaurant, I had no idea the reality I’d be up against. Even as one lone diner I faced an hour’s wait. No matter, I gave the hostess my cell number and went to a bench out in front to read. Wendy, the gal who does my hair (and whom I give credit for my radical new blonde “I’m 50 and I’m worth it” highlights) was on the very bench, waiting, as I learned, to see her young granddaughter in the parade. We’d hardly chatted more than a few minutes when the hostess called my name. I had my front row seat! Had an good meal, an enjoyable margarita, and before long the parade had begun. The street was absolutely packed, and in just a few minutes the magic carriage was gliding past in front of me. All my life I’d heard of her – but never seen her with my own eyes. (My father loves to recount Marylou’s response to him when in the 1970s he’d asked her if she’d consider donating something to his Baroque Music festival: ‘I’m sorry, that’s not my bag, honey!’) So here she was. Marylou. And her junior husband beside her. And, as I learned later, Susan Lucci, her long-time racing buddy was in the carriage too. I snapped a couple of pictures, hoping to take a closer look later on. Marylou, nice. But Susan Lucci? Wow.

After my dinner I followed the throngs to Congress Park in hopes of hearing the Dixieland band. Met the leader just as they were going on to play. Gave him my cd and card. Told him how I missed the old music, and how I’d love to sing. He then told me they “were looking for a singer”. Really? Might I be so lucky? Indeed, this was the feel of my weekend thus far. I was in the stream of life, and so far things were going along nicely. Ran into Charlie, one of the handful of people I know in town (it was he who’d told me I’d just seen Ms. Lucci) and felt an even keener sense of things all happening with an element of magic. I snapped some pictures of young women strolling the park in 1890s costumes, took another swing around the beautiful park, then headed back to my car. The town was packed, and I’d had enough of humanity for the day.

Early Saturday morning I resumed my work outside and after a culmination of a good thirty hours’ of manual labor I had finally finished the hand-tilling of my side yard, I’d finished installing the edging for the garden beds (cutting, painting and drilling the lumber) and I’d completed the pond. This was a lot of work. A lot. Exhausted at the end of the afternoon, I sat surveying my work and realized that while it might have represented a supreme effort on my part, if I’d been a guy it might not have seemed such a big deal. And it occurred to me that maybe that wasn’t quite fair. It’s a lot of work, man or woman. Or was it? I’m not a very big gal, and these days not exceptionally strong, so to someone else this might have been just another day’s labor in the yard. But to me, my accomplishments took on an extra-triumphant feel. A ‘me against the world’ sort of victory. Maybe if I was a guy I wouldn’t be quite so satisfied – or impressed – with my work.  But regardless of the gender question, a job had been done – and it was one I never could have afforded to pay someone else to do for me. So what if the timbers didn’t end up being quite plumb after the soil went in? And even if the pond didn’t quite fill as I’d hoped, even after checking it over and over again with a level – so what? At least it was done, and finally, after five years here, the entry to my home didn’t look trashy anymore. No longer would I hope the view would excuse the mess outside my door. Finally.

Armed with a little remaining value on a gift card for another downtown restaurant, I was able to justify a second night out. I knew that there was a pianist playing at the joint, and I was vaguely aware of a karaoke night at another place down the street. Might not be the Saturday night of days past, but it was something. Turns out I had the most wonderful dinner I’d had in months, and also enjoyed the company of the gentleman who’d been playing piano – as I was the last guest in the dining room. I invited him to share my table, and he told me stories of when he’d played the swingin old joints in Saratoga Lake back in the late ’40s. Thoroughly enjoyed my meal and the company. Finished up and headed out to the karaoke place down the street. Never having sung karaoke out in public I was hesitant at first to jump in, but forced myself to enter the club and find a place at the bar. I perused the song books and thankfully found my hopeful tune. Surprisingly I didn’t have to wait too long before I was called up. I sang. I so enjoyed singing. Thought I sounded good, too. But I learned three important things about karaoke. One, you gotta sing for the demographic of the room. Otherwise, no one gives a shit. Two, you can’t sing too well. (Same effect as for point number one.) And three, while they ask you “what key” you’d like your song in, that doesn’t seem to count either. You get what you get. Good thing I’ve sung plenty of male charts and have routinely had to break up melody lines, going up or down an octave to make it work. I can deal. But still, why ask if you don’t intend on delivering? All that aside, and in spite of my unfamiliarity with the culture of karaoke, I enjoyed myself immensely. And honestly, I wasn’t singing to connect, or to make anyone feel my message. I was singing for purely selfish reasons. Cuz I love to sing, and I don’t get many opportunities to do so these days… Who cares if no one knew “Fooled Around and Fell In Love”? I’m a singer of classic, American popular songs, not a pop or a blues singer. Just to be able to sing something out of my usual purview was pure joy.

At last it was time for Cinderella to go home. The night before I’d pooped out by 9:30, but now it was approaching 2 am. Too much later and I’d screw up the following day (morning is the high-drive productive time for me). The town was still popping, just not with anything that interested me. It’s a young town, and every bar has a cover band playing in an open window or interior courtyard to smartphone-wielding drunks. Young ladies in obscenely high heels and unfathomably long inseams crowd the narrow streets and make me feel a bit older than I had just a few hours earlier. Time to move. On the way to my car I did manage to catch the very end of the only true jazz set in town. They were good players too. A nice surprise and the perfect way to end my night in town.

Sunday I’ll tweak my home improvements with a renewed vigor. I’ll upload the pics from my nights out. And I’ll see if I can’t find Ms. Lucci in a frame or two. Things were so magical this weekend, that I almost expect I’ll see her waving directly at me. Let’s see…

MaryLou2013 019Elihu’s pal Keithie helps scrape the garage

MaryLou2013 021And his uncle Dennis paints the house while I tear up the walkway

MaryLou2013 032The girls follow my work, picking bugs from the fresh-turned soil

MaryLou2013 024Keithie and pal Schuyler take a break on the trampoline with poor Thumbs Up.

Karaoke 2013 1 009Next phase: digging out the pond area

Karaoke 2013 1 024Madeline watches as I lay down the liner

Karaoke 2013 1 021Framing up the garden. Not straight quite yet

Karaoke 2013 1 073I swear they follow me everywhere. Fresh poops always afoot.

Karaoke 2013 1 064Starting to fill up the pond. Guess who can’t wait to try it out. !

Karaoke 2013 1 060Curiouser and curiouser… they are fascinated and watch as the pond fills up

Karaoke 2013 1 036My handiwork just about done

Karaoke 2013 1 086Oh, but I don’t want poop in the fresh, clean water! Can’t leave til I goose-proof the pond. Must remember to keep Maximus inside the run until I can fashion a pond cover.

walkway 2013 002My stonework. (Smaller, river rock to fill in over the dirt at left.)

walkway 2013 011Ah. So happy it’s done! Looks so simple, yet represents so many hours. !

MaryLou2013 071Ok, let’s take a look at those parade pics, snapped from my cozy table for one on Broadway.  Hm, this is a bit disappointing. Reminds me of the time I saw Queen Elizabeth in Toronto. She appeared as the tiniest speck of white, discernible only from the hat on her head. Dear me. Marylou is in white to the right side of the carriage. Let’s see if we can get a closer look…

MaryLou2013 070Oh dear. In spite of my best efforts to enlarge and crop, there’s not much benefit. Let’s see one more…

Marylou in carriageWhy this isn’t Ms. Lucci at all – it’s Charlie Wait and his mother, Jane (she was on the board of my father’s Festival of Baroque Music for many years). A pillar family of Saratoga.

MaryLou2013 094This was a clever ‘float’. The fellows played tennis as the parade moved.

MaryLou2013 107Captures the feel of old Saratoga.

MaryLou2013 099A street musician plays a lap version of a steel drum. She called it a ‘tongue drum’. Elihu might be interested in one of these…

MaryLou2013 104This gal does the most intricate and amazing black and white mandalas.

MaryLou2013 108Well hello, Mr. Bass!

MaryLou2013 116A magician in the park under the big willow tree…

MaryLou2013 113And the carousel, a favorite of all ages.

MaryLou2013 117Old timey characters strolling around the park give the evening charm.

MaryLou2013 138Pretty.

MaryLou2013 139Outside the music tent – that’s my friend Charlie at the far right.

MaryLou2013 136And inside the music tent. My new pal Skip Parsons on right.

MaryLou2013 146The real party’s inside the Casino. I creep around, peeking in the tall, Victorian windows hoping for a glimpse of the host or her actress guest.

MaryLou2013 143Hmmm….

MaryLou2013 144I see a top-hatted waiter. Ah well. I get the elegance and the look of the era. That’s good enough for me.

MaryLou2013 155The Ice Cream Social begins to wind down as modern costumes mingle with old.

MaryLou2013 157Saratoga’s famous Phila Street. Caffe Lena upstairs at right, Hattie’s Chicken Shack below.

Karaoke 2013 1 096And the famous Caroline Street bar scene. Few cars can navigate through the nighttime crowds.

Karaoke 2013 1 095Every bar has a line to get in.

MaryLou2013 182Heading back to my car I see this fun percussion jam in the acoustically perfect drive-up banking tunnel of the Adirondack Trust Company. When Elihu gets back I’ll make sure he takes a spin with these guys.

MaryLou2013 187The ATC clock. As well-known to Saratogians as is the old Marshall Field’s clock in Chicago’s loop.

MaryLou2013 177The Adirondack Trust Company. A bastion of the old-world wealth upon which Saratoga Springs was built. I can remember my father securing a short-term loan for his music festival each year, a deal closed simply by a handshake with president, Charlie Wait. Another time indeed. I feel lucky I knew a bit of the older way of life as a child in this community. Now I often feel more like a spectator than a resident. But I’m doing my best to get out and keep up. For now, however, between Marylou sightings and karaoke bars I feel I’m sated. Done with town life for now.

Post Script: This weekend marks the thirteenth anniversary of the murder of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop’s ex wife and daughter.  (He wrote ‘Fooled Around and Fell In Love’.) I cannot imagine how one continues to go on living in the wake of such a tragedy. Please send Elvin your positive and loving thoughts today….