The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Three Days Gone February 19, 2016

Dropped Elihu off at the airport just before sunrise on Thursday morning. By the time I got home, I was full-on sick. Whole body hurt, skin was hot, nose wouldn’t stop dripping and my head pounded. Really? I get a couple of days to myself and this happens? Elihu had been really walloped by something last week, and I’d been marvelling over the fact that I managed to escape the same fate. I was even bragging a bit to my young son about my robust and seasoned immune system, and how at least my advanced age had some benefits… Ha!

That’s ok. While I had originally thought I’d at the very least get an errand or two done, I have done not one thing but sleep – or sit in this chair, blow my nose and follow tangents across the virtual world. But honestly, it’s been interesting, and I’ve learned a few new things. And it’s not just sour grapes talking; the past two days have been a rare treat in some way. Last year when I got my annual cold, I’d read several books cover to cover, again not something I seem to find time for in my life as usual. So I suppose it’s all for the better. Everything in its time and place, I guess. This pounding headache is getting old, but the vast encyclopedic universe at my fingertips has helped to distract me (so too has assembling this post).

And so now let me offer a little photographic retrospective of our past week….

IMG_2500When the sun rises behind the branches of the apple tree I know we’re nearing the end of winter. In December the sun rises further to the right – almost at that clump of pine trees. The sun will end up rising at the far left side of this frame by June. Amazing. Never knew how much the sun’s rising and setting points moved throughout the year until I lived here in the country.

IMG_2556One night when Elihu was plumb sick and out cold, mom and I went to the nearby Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College to hear the Ensemble ACJW (a group from Julliard) perform some Mozart and Beethoven. I was feeling a bit guilty to be out, so we left at intermission. I feel so lucky that we have this gorgeous hall only five miles from our door. Mom had a good chuckle – and I had a revelation – when I was charged a senior admission price. !! Hey – close to home and reduced admission? I’ll take it.

IMG_2612Each year at this time some friends come to stay with us so that they can play music and dance at the Flurry – an enormous festival and gathering here in Saratoga Springs that’s now it’s 29th year. It’s a nice feeling to have guests in the house. I rarely see anyone else at my kitchen sink. And look – Sherry’s even washing the dishes!

IMG_2616Elihu and Evaline are just a few months apart in age, and have known each other since they were small. She’s as tall as me now.

IMG_2622Our friends also brought along pal Sele, who was born in Bhutan, and who now lives in Albany. Her family had to flee their country, and lived for several years in a refugee camp in Thailand. I can’t begin to imagine what she’s been through. She is a good example of why we as Americans must always accept fellow human beings of any nationality with open arms.

IMG_2640Evaline waves goodbye with her clarinet.

IMG_2560They left us with an amusing to-do list.

IMG_2565Ah, but this is what we two do best. Cozy life at home. Doesn’t happen often, but it’s heaven on earth when it does.

IMG_2587Elihu and I have been listening to A Prairie Home Companion together since he was little. Since Garrison will be retiring (who thought such news could break the heart of a twelve year-old boy?) we decided to watch the live video streaming. We both agreed. Not the same. Kinda took away from the experience. It was fun to see two old friends from Chicago who played in the band, but for the few remaining shows we’ll stick to the radio broadcast.

IMG_2579My favorite couch material – vintage, mid-century floor plans. Cannot get enough.

IMG_2691Building blocks – or more accurately, Keva planks – make for other cozy living room activities.

IMG_2801Elihu sits back and enjoys his work.

IMG_2817This structure used all 400 pieces.

IMG_2703The branches of this huge beech tree spread some 30′ out from the trunk. It’s slowly dying, and has lost most of the top branches. It so defines the space here; we’ll miss it one day. But we’re enjoying it now.

IMG_2719We got off easy this year – can you believe this is our first plow? Curious to see how March pans out…

IMG_2852Elihu continues to love his tuba lessons, although he doesn’t practice nearly as much as he should. I find that naturally talented kids often don’t work as hard as kids for whom things don’t come as easily. This is a point Mike and I both made loud and clear. It’s time for me to step up too and apply a little discipline.

IMG_2861Our friend Betty was kind to allow Elihu to sit in with her Wednesday afternoon chamber group. They’re playing much older music – from the 13th through the 17th century. (The string instruments they play here are in the viol family; similar to – but not the same as – modern violins and cellos.)

IMG_2890Betty plays tenor viol here, and Elihu plays his bass recorder. He took a spin on the soprano and turns out – he doesn’t know his treble clef! Who knew? Usually kids have a hard time with the bass clef – and this kid is so adept at playing that I had no idea. Ok. “Learn notes on treble clef” on next week’s to-do list.

IMG_2931Betty gave Elihu a little help on bow technique. The bow is held and used in a different way than on the string bass or violin. Whew. So much to learn…. (Btw – can you believe this woman is going to be 91 in less than a month? I saw her last week at an evening event. She dealt with biting cold, blowing wind and two flight of stairs without missing a beat. !!)

IMG_2934He’s getting it. Betty kindly offered to loan us her other tenor viol – but I told her we’d take a raincheck. We have more than enough on our plate!

IMG_2952Elihu had an early morning flight – and the wheel on his suitcase was busted. We made a quick stop at neighbor Zac’s miracle shop where he cobbled a new one in front of our eyes. Elihu and I absolutely cracked up at Zac’s nonchalance and impeccable skills. He has no idea how simply brilliant he is.

IMG_2956Spotted this on the belt right behind us at the airport. Having recently connected with John Kay of Steppenwolf (he has Achromatopsia, went to the Waldorf School and is a musician and nature lover. See any similarities?) I shared this pic with his wife, a nature photographer and fan of things wolf-related.

IMG_2979…and then, he’s gone. I suppose if I were to get sick, now would be a good time. No one needs me right now (except the chickens). What’s a couple of days out of the game? We’ve done a lot recently, I’m making some progress with the Studio, and things are pretty much chugging along as they should. Another day’s rest and I’ll be renewed and ready to jump back in. Not sure anyone will even know I’ve been gone.

 

Remembering Martha June 20, 2015

It’s been one week since Martha died, and I’m still in a sort of stunned place. I think all of us are. I don’t fully get it yet; as with the passing of anyone close, you find yourself thinking about the person as if you’re going to see them again – and then you remember all over again. Having seen her coast gradually down to a stop – and then seeing the rapid decline in her final few days – that helps to acclimate me to this new reality of a post-Martha world, and it helps me to know unquestionably that Martha’s death was not only inevitable, but in the end, welcomed. And in her last few days, even Martha – who always spoke as if decades of life still lay before her – finally let on that she knew what was coming, and that she was at last ready.

She died in the wee hours of Saturday morning, on the 13th of June. The day before had been rainy, and the house had been once again full of friends and visitors. But on her last day she didn’t do or say much. She was merely hanging in there, breathing and sleeping, and no doubt still listening to us all as we visited, shared stories and laughed. I was surprised to see how much she’d changed in the past twenty-four hours; her eyes had become sunken, pink orbits and her skin waxen and cool. But mom, Elihu and I had been lucky to have been with her one day earlier when she could still communicate. I hadn’t realized on a conscious level that this would be my last true visit with her, but that’s how it turned out. More importantly, she was able to let me know something that concerned me more than anything else. She had been crabby with me – actually, she’d been a downright bitch – in the last few weeks, but that was ok; somehow she was blaming me (and mom, too) for her situation, and I recognized it for the impaired thinking it was (I know this well from experience with my brother). I knew that she loved me, and in spite of the things she was saying to me at the time, I loved her too. I knew she was comfortable and pain-free for the most part. And she was home; that was key. But what of her true, innermost feelings about what was taking place? I was worried that she was full of fear – and too proud to let on. She had hardly the energy to speak, but when I went to her side and placed my hand on her head, she simply said to me “I am not afraid.” I told her that I was so very glad to hear this, but I didn’t want her saying this for my sake – or for appearances. I didn’t want her doing the stiff upper lip thing to the very end! Of course she didn’t have the energy to explain her thoughts, but she made herself perfectly clear by repeating, as loudly as she could, one more time: I am not afraid.

In that same visit Martha had revealed herself to be living one foot in our world, one foot in another. Once, a week before, when I was passing the morning with her, I asked her where her thoughts were. “All across the spectrum”, she’d answered. In the final few days, it seemed the spectrum had become even wider. (I remember this same near-the-end phase of dear friend Jim Lewis. He was an actor, a gentle man and a thoughtful one. He seemed lost and agitated in his last days. When I asked what this was like, he too, answered me simply with all of his focused effort: “I can’t place my place.” This seems to be the brief state of confusion through which many pass just before death.) Martha opened her eyes and looked at mom and said weakly…. “I’m just remembering that I’m in my beautiful home, with all of my friends, and my puppy…” Truly, these were the most important things. My most urgent hope through these past few months was that she die at home. And now finally here she was, with her beloved black hound dog by her side and all her dearest friends nearby. And all in that amazing farmhouse. The same house in which her own mother had died, the house in which no doubt others had also died – and been born, too. In and out of reality though she may have been, she knew where she was, and she was not afraid. We’d almost made it.

I kinda wished I’d been more aware of my last kiss and goodbye, but as it was there was some general laughter and conversation going on, plus the concern of a rapidly approaching summer storm, so Elihu and I left Martha’s bedroom much as we would any other visit. Which was probably best, anyhow. That’s how Martha would’ve liked it. No fanfare or drama. Just everyday life. Mary, the overnight nurse, was surprised shortly after three a.m. by what she said sounded like “a man’s voice talking”. She got up and went in to check on Martha in time to see her exhale one final time. There has been some speculation on who exactly it might have been who ‘came to get her’, and most agree it was her dad – and likely not her sometimes-philandering husband. After telling me the story, mom quickly added her take – a staunch, no-frills opinion that Martha would have no doubt shared – and said that we could forget the idea of anything paranormal having occurred here; that it was just Martha’s deep, robust voice, uttering one last vocalization. Ok. She can believe that. And maybe that’s the truth. But Mary does this kind of thing for a living, and she’s got a career that depends a lot on observation. Like my friend the retired state trooper who saw an image of Ruthie in the porch of her house (and knowing nothing about her), I’m going to go with the nurse’s take on the event. Me, I believe that someone who loved her very much came back to help her across the threshold. My humanist friends can think me delusional or at best, self-comforting – but I don’t care. Whether her concsiouness has gone on to a new experience or has been extinguished forever, it doesn’t really matter. Martha lived a very full life and had a positive influence over countless people, and she concluded that fruitful life as peacefully as ever one might hope.

Game over. Game won.


Martha Ward Carver
was born on July 17th, 1926 in Binghamton, New York
to F. Erwin Ward and Isabella Post Ward of Deposit New York,
and died at her home in Greenfield Center, New York on June 13th, 2015.

Martha Ward Carver, 88, grew up in Deposit, New York and graduated from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY in 1947 with a degree in public school music, as it was then called. She served as Supervisor of Music in the elementary and junior high schools of Greenfield, Mass from September of 1947 to June of 1955.

She returned to Skidmore College in the fall of 1955 to join the Music Department faculty, implementing the music education program. After fifteen years at Skidmore she chose to leave the campus in favor of domestic life on the farm.

Martha was a long-time friend of the Festival of Baroque Music and attended performances every year from its beginning in 1959 to its final season in July of 2011. She was a member of the Saratoga County NAACP, and SEAD (Saratogians for the Equality and Acceptance of Diversity). Ms. Carver left over one hundred acres of farmland to Saratoga PLAN.

Ms. Carver is predeceased by her husband, Frank Carver, originally of Milo, Maine, and her brother Charles (Chuck) E. Ward of Ballston Spa, NY, and is survived by her stepson, Robert J. Carver of Nokomis, Florida; her foster son, Michael Spiak and his wife Kelly of Greenfield Center, NY; nieces and nephews Susan Ward of Catskill, NY; Braden Ward of Oneonta, NY; Mary Jane Benenati of Norwich, NY; Mark Ward of Walton, NY and cousin M. Edward Hartz of Wilmington, NC in addition to a loyal support group of friends and neighbors as well as her faithful and beloved dog Macy.

At Martha’s request there will be no funeral service. She has donated her body to the Anatomical Gift Program at Albany Medical Center.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Deposit Educational Endowment Program (DEEP), Deposit, NY, 13754 or the Yellow Rose Fund, Skidmore College, 815 North Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY, 12866.

Remembrances may be made on the Hans Funeral Home website at www.hansfuneralhome.com.


IMG_0030Martha, at two.

IMG_0043A regal portrait of her father, F. Erwin Ward (I only remember him smiling.) I recently learned that the “F” was for Francis – which would also turn out to be his son-in-law’s name!

IMG_0041Martha, right, with her brother and only sibling, Chuck. Decades later the two ended up living just miles apart on the same road in tiny Greenfield, hundreds of miles from Deposit, where they grew up – purely by chance. I still can’t wrap my brain around that kind of coincidence.

IMG_0034Martha, on the right, an unidentified young boy in the middle, and brother Chuck on father’s knee. Circa 1928.

IMG_0028I like this shot of the family – and Ma Ward (Isabella) almost seems to be smiling! Martha’s signature haircut identifies her. Circa mid ’40s.

IMG_0048It probably isn’t fair to use this pic of her mother, but she really did always have a scowl on her face. This is rather harsh, but comic, too. Man, she scared me as a kid.

IMG_0049Same tailgate picnic as above, Martha doesn’t look much happier, nor does dad. Think it’s just an ill-timed shot.

IMG_9706Ma Ward may have been the stern one – but her brother’s certainly got a twinkle in his eye.

IMG_0048The young high school graduate.

IMG_0014The Skidmore College Graduate, nicknamed ‘Marty’.

IMG_0016Martha is accompanying a local choral group. I have this dress – and it came with a story: Just as Martha was ascending the final stair to the stage – audience and chorus awaiting her – she heard a loud rip, and then heard the room gasp slightly. She looked down to see she’d stepped on her organza skirt and it had ripped all the way up the front. With many layers beneath it, she paid it no mind and continued on her way. Later, she simply took some scissors and cut a triangle out of the front to make it look ‘right’. When I pass on this dress one day, the story and pic go with it.

IMG_0021Martha Ward Carver and Francis Speed Carver on their wedding day in Chicago, May 12th, 1956. He was teaching in South Dakota, she in Greenfield, Mass, so they met in the middle. After the wedding they both flew back to their respective jobs ’til they were concluded. It would be Frank’s teaching job at Skidmore College which would soon bring them to Greenfield Center, New York.

IMG_0023This is a cute shot.

IMG_0060A studious group of Skidmore Music faculty listening to a hi-fi; her husband Frank, standing far left, Martha center, and friend and soprano Ruth Lakeway standing behind in black. (All three very important to dad and mom’s Festival of Baroque Music).

IMG_0038Martha, busy – as always – with a project.

IMG_9698Martha with some of the first musicians from the first Festival of Baroque Music, held at the Seagle Colony in Schroon Lake, New York, 1959.

IMG_9700Martha, violinist Renato Bonacini and his wife, and conductor, Fritz Rikko.

IMG_0057A graduation ceremony at Skidmore, likely for of one her students.

IMG_0265Martha loved kids, and they flocked to the farm to be with her. Martha used everyday activities to teach. (That’s my brother Andrew – so cute!)

IMG_0288Martha and me.

IMG_0285This pic makes me contemplate the way in which our roles shifted during our lives.

IMG_0259Her famous “Texas Cake”, a chocolate cake recipe she learned from an organist in Texas whose name is lost to us, but this cake became a staple at the farm. I’m not a fan of cake – and chocolate’s not my go-to flavor, but this cake I always love. There is nothing like Martha’s Texas Cake.

IMG_0287My mom and baby Andy on Sylvia, in front of the old barn, which burned to the ground in the early seventies – and on Martha’s birthday! Frank had made the mistake of packing wet, green hay, which created fumes that combusted. Sadly, this is how many barns go. It took the giant, gorgeous maple tree in front of the house too. Totally transformed the feel of the place and was a devastating loss for us all.

IMG_0283Little me on a big horse. Also, in front of the grand, original barn. Martha and Frank’s farm made these kinds of experiences possible for so many kids. Life at the farm added tremendously to the quality of my childhood.

IMG_0044Martha, my dad (always picking a piece of lint off the floor!), Frank and mom. Mid ’70s.

IMG_0032This photo really captures the feeling of Martha at home.

IMG_0027Martha, her folks, her sister-in-law Claire (also a talented musician) and brother Chuck, circa early ’80s.

IMG_0281Me and my little brother Andrew, playing in the driveway in front of that gorgeous farmhouse.

IMG_1049Life in the kitchen just a few weeks ago – much as it had been for the past five decades.

IMG_0027Ever a busy place – Martha presided over the kitchen from her chair as nurses, friends and family came and went.

IMG_0134Elihu is about to play “Simple Gifts” for Martha on his mandolin. We all know we’re getting close, and on this last night there’s a different feeling in the air.

IMG_0054Her dearest friend in the whole world, Michael, holds her hand as she gets ready to leave us.

IMG_0162This was my last look back at the farm on the night she was to pass. I kinda knew she was close. The sky musta known too; it was already crying.


We all kinda thought Martha’d make it til her 89th birthday on July 17th. Trying to assign some meaning to the 13th – or at least perhaps discover a clever way in which to remember it – Mom learned that Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday fell on June 13th this year. ! Martha and Queen Elizabeth were neck and neck til now… But that’s ok, Martha will always reign supreme in our world.