The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Summerella July 1, 2017

There is a tree frog peeping loudly outside my kitchen door. Likely she is close by, and if I were so gifted, I might see her for myself. Surely, if my son were here, low vision child though he may be, he would locate the tiny amphibian in an instant. She is surprisingly loud and I consider looking for her, but I know that it would be in vain. For a moment, I am reminded of my child, and I miss him. I realize that I’ve spoken to him only once in the nearly two weeks he’s been away. It’s summer, and as always, he is with his father. Although at present I feel his absence very sharply, for the most part his time away is part of a schedule that works very well for me. When he is here during the academic year and life is fully underway I cannot stay on top of the maintenance required by a home with chickens, frogs, fish, basement and garage (never mind the arts venue), so this is the season when I turn my full attention to matters domestic. What is different this summer is that I am also making an effort to get out a little. To visit the world beyond my driveway, to hear some music, to meet some people, play a couple of new gigs, and shake off the antisocial mode which I find more comfortable and natural at this time in my life. There’s much to do, much to do. And thankfully, finally there’s some time in which to get it all done.

A jazz guitarist I’d known two decades ago through my ex husband was kind to reach out and invite me to the Jazz Festival here in Saratoga. (He may not have known that I wouldn’t have been able to afford a ticket on my own, so this was a doubly special surprise.) Having spent the last couple of months dieting and living a fairly boring, house-bound life, this was a perfect chance to welcome summer, enjoy some music and have a little interaction with people other than piano students. Truly, standing backstage and hearing such great music once again, feeling the kindness of my host and taking in all the wonder of such a perfect summer afternoon, I felt like a real-life Cinderella. I’d be back to feeding chickens and scrubbing baseboards soon enough, and so I allowed myself to fully sink into one absolutely glorious afternoon. We all wait a long, long time for summer, don’t we? Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend that it’s really here again. We must savor every moment, because the magic sure doesn’t last long…

Backstage at SPAC at the jazz festival. A Cinderella moment.

Resetting the stage.

This is a familiar sight for any Saratogian.

My friend, Dave Stryker’s quartet opened the fest. That opening spot can be a little less glamorous than it sounds. But they was swingin right out the gate. Mm-hm.

Mid-day it was Jean-Luc Ponty! Furreal, I wasn’t even sure the cat was still alive. ! Sorry, JL. They relived the Mahavishnu years. Nice.

Fish tacos. The best I have ever, ever had. Will be trying to duplicate this recipe for a long time. Lunch and a cold beer in the hot sun with Mr. Ponty’s band playing. A moment of summer perfection.

Next I followed the guys to the gazebo for a much more intimate show. (I am bummed to see myself looking so ‘thick’ in this shot. Ah well.)

The band. I almost forgot how good it feels to hear music that swings this hard.

Mr. Stryker. He’s got a new release out soon. Waste no time, get it for yourself. You will be happy. I promise. I’d asked Dave if he still enjoyed what he did, and immediately realized the ridiculousness of my inquiry. That was not really what I’d meant to ask. Instead, I’d wondered to myself how on earth he had the energy to continue to do what he did. But I guess if you’re really good at something that you love doing, you find the energy. I feel overwhelmed and just plain pooped so much of my life these days, that it’s kinda hard to imagine what that might feel like. But I do remember what it was like in my 20s and even my 30s; playing, recording and touring in bands wasn’t overwhelming, it was just what we did. Yeeks. These days I’m exhausted just thinking about it. !

Soon after the set I followed Dave to the shed and got a chance to hear a set from the wings.

I heard Danilo Perez (piano), who I had also known a few decades before, early in my ex’s career. Crazy, but Danilo didn’t look any older – and his smile, his energy and spark – all there. Wonderful to witness. That’s Joe Lovano in the hat to the right of the trumpet player – hadn’t seen him in years either. A nostalgic feeling to hear these sounds and see these people.

The end of the set.

I took a little tour of the grounds…

…and ended up sitting with Diz, (in the blue shirt at right) the local banjo/guitar/mando teacher at Saratoga Guitar. Diz and Liz. Cute, yes?

Ever heard or heard of the Suffers? If not, you’d like em. They’re from Houston – and that singer made sure we all knew it. Good on these guys – a couple of years ago they all had legit day jobs. Now look! Sweet.

This is Jacob Collier. WOW. Since he’s still only a babe in his early 20s, his vids from just a couple of years ago look like those of such a young boy… Hard to comprehend that he’s got honest-to-goodness jazz chops, can play so many instruments, that he sings so well and has such a positive personality and is so good with an audience. Mind blown. (Guess that was his melodica waiting on the stand in that first pic I took backstage…)

Closing out the night…. Miss Chaka Kahn. !!!

Sistah! Damn can she sing. And she is friggin gorgeous. What a glorious way to close out my Cinderella night.

…Cuz before I know it, it’s back on the farm. Dear Bald Mountain is aging rapidly now and gets a lot of tlc.

I stay inside, cleaning and culling our crap while the fish enjoy a rainy afternoon in the pond. I swear, they are joyful when it rains. They frolic. Furreal. I am not kidding. They love the rain.

The grosbeak visits again. (So does the dove – look to the far left!)

Up close.

And now the mourning dove. My mother hates them, swears at them when they linger in the road and calls them stupid birds (but notice, they never get hit. I think they know exactly what they’re doing.) How can you hate something with ‘love me’ eyes like this??

A few years ago I dropped a beautiful antique bottle which made me very sad, until I bent down to pick up the pieces and found this little bit… Magical.

Now shit’s gettin real. I have decided that rather than continue to put the crap (scuze me, the hand-me-downs) that friends have kindly given us into more and more and more bins, I will finally make a careful assessment of said bins and cull all that does not serve us. This is NO small feat.

Like with like. That’s how the sorting process starts for me. It can take 10 hours easy to get through this much stuff.

Refining the ‘like with like’ method. Hours and hours have transpired since the last pic.

And now items have been photographed, inventoried and put in bins to go out. All of it will be listed on Craigslist and if no takers, it’s off to the local church depository box. (Notice it is dark out now. This job started at 7 am. !!)

Elihu also wishes to lighten his load. He’s given me these items to sell. If he doesn’t get the $30 he wants for it, I believe I will finally have to put it in a box and give it to the Salvation Army.

Elihu and I are big fans of the crazy, bad English on ‘Chinesey’ things. Just look at this gem: Hot/Power/Invincibility/Thunder Burst/Speedy

Delight/Blazing/Top

Powerful/Deluxe…. and our very favorite: Make haste    !!!

I can’t touch his bird collection. In fact, I’m not sure this thing will move until the kid’s graduated from college. Taking this down would be the end of an era. Certainly it would signal the end of Elihu’s childhood.

His collection even includes a dead stuffed parakeet of ours named Seamus. Famous Seamus, that is.

Outside, the wild turkeys pass by our homestead without a chicken or a duck so much as flapping a wing.

The pantry is next. How does this get so out of order when I start out so clean and tidy?? Dang.

Ahh. I will sleep so much more peacefully tonite.

Using a flash, you can spot many a wing-ed thing in E’s densely packed room.

Before the planes, it was all about the birds. Naturally.

But this is how E’s room really looks. Dark and chill.

Finally, a moment to enjoy my favorite room in the house.

How sweet is this? A clean, quiet house and a freshly tuned piano. Girl’s gonna be sheddin a little before bedtime I think. It feels so good to have an organized house and a to-do list full of check marks. Now for a little Phoebe Snow, some Joni too, and maybe a couple of prog rock faves and hair band ballads to round it all out. My summer day comes to a perfect close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August Ends August 26, 2016

Elihu returned home from his father’s a couple of days ago – and with great fanfare, as he came bearing guests. I’d thought lice were for other people’s kids, but apparently not. I knew that in greeting a 13-year-old boy at the airport there’d be no huge embrace, that it would be mellow, but our new predicament absolutely assured him no such embarrassment would take place. Instead, we smiled, kinda high-fived and giggled our way to the escalators with our little secret. When we arrived home he paused in the doorway. “I guess I have been gone a long time, cuz I can smell the house now. And you’re right. It smells old.” I don’t mind – heck, living in it I hardly notice it anymore, but I do remember a time back in our first days here when I thought the joint smelled like a cross between your ancient aunt’s split level and a summer camp. A little paint and tlc has redeemed us just a little, but in the end, it is what it is. Like its owner, it is decidedly middle-aged and beginning to feel it.

So much has happened since Elihu has been gone. It’s hard to know where to start, but the essence of my summer experience can be distilled by saying that milestones have finally been reached. It kinda breaks my heart that I let my weight creep up as I busied myself ticking crap off the eternal to-do list, however I take some solace in knowing that so much is behind me, and so much has been accomplished. My son’s pants are now short and his hair is long. All is as it should be.

At the moment Elihu and I are suffering through summer colds and a few final lice treatments. We’re hunkered down in the cool of the cellar after a nice afternoon in the sun, he at the downstairs tv playing Mario, me at the computer sorting through hundreds of photos and wondering if I should post any – or all of em. Ultimately there are so many sweet moments lost to the camera, and often the images I do have aren’t of the greatest quality. No matter, they convey the essence of our summer and help us to remember how August came to a close in the year 2016.

the whole gangThe Studio has come back to life this summer, and that, of course, is huge.

IMG_4937For just a week or two each year, the heat and humidity threaten my sanity.

IMG_4933Finally dealing with some foot issues. Lots of issues in fact seem to coming to the fore at this time in my life. !

IMG_4446My old friend Dina – whom I’ve known since I was very young – has been proactive about staying in touch and visiting. She, her boys and furry dog flew in from Seattle and we met at a local art museum.

IMG_4487Mom came too – she and dad used to enjoy coming to the Clark.

IMG_4468Fancy shmancy.

IMG_4598On the way home we stop at a Stewarts – the local version of a 7-11. We ponder the after-market stickers on our drinks which read “produced with genetic engineering.’ ! ?

IMG_4614Serendipity arranged for my favorite chicken art gallery to be right next door.

IMG_1993Dan and I are now enjoying a fairly regular rehearsal schedule. Man, it sure is nice to have my own space in which to keep gear set up and ready to go.

IMG_1996Dan just had this guitar made for him. His thing is playing a 7 string, which gives him some great opportunities to play nice bass lines underneath. This solid body Tele style is new to him and so far, so good.

IMG_2029This doe stuck around for a long time, munching away as we played.

IMG_2054Glamorous it aint, but hey, it’s a gig. Can’t say a sister aint tryin.

farmers marketThis may not be so glamorous either, but it’s my first piano single job since before my son was born. That sure took a minute now, didn’t it? It was hot, sweaty, rainy – and my tent leaked – but it was a success in my book.

IMG_5033…and that gig lead to this one. Vacation Bible School. Say what? A unique job to be sure.

IMG_5017The tiny, one-room church. No frills here!

IMG_4921Miss Shirley tells the gang about miracles – the theme for the week’s camp. She blew a referee whistle to get the kids’ attention before marching them into the church as I played “Onward Christian Soldiers”. Shirley don’t mess around.

IMG_5020If you’re on your way to Heaven, clap your hands…

IMG_5279The schoolhouse on top of the hill, just above the old church.

IMG_5231Lovely tall windows…IMG_5235…looking out onto ancient playground equipment. Seriously, this looks like fun to me!

IMG_5241I visited the church cemetery – this is the famous Allen family here. There’s a road up the mountainside – a dead end – on which every single family is an Allen. You do the math.!

IMG_5243Infant grave.

IMG_5272And many more of the same. These were kinda creepy, handmade and rather crude. But well-tended and well-remembered.

IMG_5308Much of the congregation was made of Allens, but not this little spitfire – this guy is Shirley’s great-grandson.

IMG_5294They were all very nice and welcoming, but a little too mainstream Christian for me.

lakeThe church owns this beach on the great Sacandaga Lake.

IMG_5310And on the way home I saw lovely views of this man-made lake.

IMG_2091Back at the Hillhouse I enjoy my own watery retreat.

IMG_5423One day I hopped in the car and headed out to Saratoga Lake cuz I so missed water. I noticed a happy group at the far table, and it turned out I knew a couple of the folks there – they were Waldorf peeps!

IMG_5431Who could believe that I’d meet a woman who grew up in Islamabad, Pakistan here in Saratoga? Crazy world.

IMG_5418It’s racing season.

IMG_5421The cars, if nothing else, tell us so.

IMG_5171Back at home, I enjoy a majestic summer sky. The greens of the trees are starting to look tired, and although the sun is still hot in the middle of day, the nights are cool and there’s a subtle feeling of change blowing in around us. But what a good summer it’s been. Lots of new experiences, visits with friends and nature all around.


 

Charley My Boy July 25, 2016

Although I got off to a late start last night, I did finally go out. There was a fundraiser for the New York City Ballet at which the bassist for the orchestra was leading a small band, and a local fellow was to be playing with him too – enough of a reason to find a dress that I could still fit into and put something other than work boots on my feet. My evening started off quite Cinderella-like, as I had to scoop the last errant members of the flock into the coop before I could be on my way, and by then the event itself was half over and the sun was already down. Half was better than none, I told myself as I waffled once more on whether or not to even go. My windshield was sticky with sap from the trees (the windshield spritzer motor long gone) and my skin was beginning to dampen in the warm, humid air (the AC was on its way out, too). My glasses were smudged, and I’d forgotten to don any jewelry of merit.  I hesitated another moment in the dark car, pondering. “Fuck it” I finally said out loud, turned on the ancient Marshall Crenshaw CD I had in the player, and started down the long, potholed driveway.

I had indeed missed the height of the evening, which was just as well. Before entering, I hung back and assessed the crowd from behind the glass doors. The fundraisers I see in the locally-published glossy magazines wouldn’t be affairs at which I’d be very comfortable. High fashion, low body fat with a smattering of trout pouts, those scenes were simply not me. But if that population had indeed attended tonight’s fundraiser, they had by this time satisfied their social duties, and had returned home on a Sunday night, retiring to bed at a healthy hour. No, this crowd did not look intimidating. I entered the party and filtered through the thinning – and aging – ranks of the guests, and shortly after I arrived found the leader of the band, whom I’d known pretty much only through Facebook. He was kind to introduce me to someone, and I was off.

My father’s 52-year long early music festival still lives in the memory of many here in town, and although that population is aging, there are still many of them about. I’m always grateful to hear my name received with such warmth and recognition; the Festival of Baroque Music was an important part of the arts scene in Saratoga for half a century, and its leader was not only one of the world’s foremost harpsichordists, but he was a gentleman of great heart and good humor – and it seems everyone who’d ever attended the Festival knew it well. Even shopkeepers to whom my father sold ads for the concert programs (yes he did the work himself!) remember dad with a great fondness. My father was an ambassador for goodness and integrity, and I’m always filled with gratitude when I see the impression he made on people has been so memorable and lasting. Last night his good reputation preceded me on several occasions. I met a handful of folks who’d known about the Studio through dad’s music, so I handed out cards and expressed my hopes that we’d stay in touch.

The charts were fun; the band was doing old-timey jazz, the likes of which I’d performed for years with my much-missed Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago (my God you never know what you got til it’s gone!) and in fact, I almost teared up when I heard Black and Tan Fantasy – and it’s not a tune to make one cry, but it immediately brought back vivid memories of a cherished time in my life that was now long over. My nostalgic jag didn’t last though, I was smiling by the time I heard that familiar final minor cadence. The sax player had a delightfully old-timey sound which was a relief to hear. So often when you bands play old-style charts, the players execute them with a modern sound, which to me, kinda spoils the whole thing. If you’re going for the historic tunes – and historically accurate arrangements – play em the way they did back in the day. Just sayin.

I walked the room, looking at programs, posters and articles from the NYCB of my youth. I recognized images of Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins, Gelsey Kirkland and Jacques D’Amboise – rockstars of my early teen years whom I’d sometimes followed through town when they made extremely rare appearances at the pedestrian joints on Broadway alongside the commoners. Peter Martins even put a cigarette out on my foot at the Adelphi Hotel once. Or almost.

We were standing in the lobby, enjoying a solo harpsichord performance when Peter took a final drag off his butt, then flicked it to the ground. It landed on my foot, which I retracted at the unexpected sensation of heat, and when I leaned in to assess the damage, I watched as the dancer’s foot slid towards mine in a motion meant to squash the ember on the floor. I withdrew my own foot and watched as Peter Martins finished the task, his eyes never once leaving the musician. He didn’t realize he’d hit my foot with a hot cigarette, and furthermore he had no idea he’d meant to step on my foot, too. Instantly I felt a mixture of horror, indignation – and awe. Because I was, after all, a thirteen year old girl standing two feet from one of the most exquisitely formed men on the planet. I wanted to be miffed, I’d wanted at the very least an apology. But knowing none was coming, the moment had passed and the point was moot, I decided instead to take the little event simply for what it was: a brush with ballet greatness, and an interesting little anecdote for the archives.

After the band finished, I greeted them and proceeded to pester them with a few questions, which I likely posed with too much enthusiasm. It was easy to get excited – this used to be my world after all, and I still miss it dearly, even a decade hence. The poor fellow who played clarinet, I caught him with cases under his arm and eyes on the door when I stopped to grill him a bit longer than I probably should have for some insight into the working music scene. We’ve met before, so thankfully he was patient with my inquiry. I appreciated what he had to tell me, which, as I might’ve guessed, wasn’t too terribly inspiring. There’s work to be had, but getting in seems the trick. And the money that these dates pay really isn’t much better than it was twenty years ago. Nothing terribly new or insightful, but I came away with some sense of possibility, and my mood was good enough to propel me to downtown Saratoga, where I thought I’d see for myself what a Sunday night looked like during racing season.

It was fairly quiet on the street, but to my surprise there was live music in three separate bars. I saw a fellow a little older than me sitting in the window at one place, playing guitar and singing. Good start. I found a place at the bar and began to jot down the tunes he was playing in my tiny notebook. I always do this when I hear musicians doing the cover thing, because I haven’t still quite gotten a handle on the repertoire. I’m convinced that the soft-rock hits of the 70s and 80s should do just fine in a town that caters mostly to a demographic my age or older – but I’ve come to see that there is a wide mix of ages partying side-by-side, and that a working musician pretty much needs a U2 tune or two in her bag of tricks, and much as it might make me want to weep, it seems that “Moondance” cannot be omitted from a night’s entertainment, no matter how many thousands of times it’s been played.

Soon after I sat down, I was joined by a large, well-toned man. He had a trim, slightly red beard, and wore a cap, which I suspected was used to cover a balding pate. He wasn’t a bad looking fellow, and in fact, had he not been so many drinks in, I might’ve given him a bit more consideration. What I did like about this chap was that he possessed a sense of humor. A construction worker and hunter, he had practical life skills. But surpassing any of his merits on paper, he had a certain twinkle in his eye – that lively, animated sort of presence that I don’t come across all that often. I could tell he was clearly a decade younger than me, but owing to his mild inebriation and my low-cut decolletage, this wouldn’t have mattered at all to him, even if he’d known the truth. I stuck around for a few minutes because I found myself getting a kick out of him.

I’ve had a handful of men show interest in me since I’ve lived here, but I simply haven’t felt a similar interest in them. I wouldn’t say that this chap was all that different – only that his humor and that certain spunk he showed held my interest even after my beer was almost gone. In spite of the beers he’d himself already put away, I could still sense the goodness in him – regardless of his ultimate agenda. (With men – and especially the drunk ones – I assume that’s always where they’re hoping it goes…) Before I realized what was happening, he wrapped his enormous arm around my waist and said “Kiss me”. I suppose I coulda ended it right there with a slap or a shove, but he seemed like a big kitten, really, and there was no time to think before Charlie had pulled me in for a smooch. It wasn’t a lingering kiss, nor a romantic one. It was, in fact, more like the generic kiss I offer all those in my life for whom our parting warrants a quick peck. But the point remains, it was a kiss. By a man. And truth be told, dear readers, this is the first man from whom I’ve received a kiss since my husband kissed me goodbye nearly nine years ago. I paused for a moment to drink in the irony: Charlie was the baby that my husband conceived with his then-girlfriend which propelled us into our life here in New York. Charlie is the person responsible for our life in Greenfield. If my ex had asked for a divorce before Charlie’d come around, things might have gone very differently. Many times through the years I’ve whispered to myself “Thank you, Charlie” in a quiet acknowledgement of the critical role he’s played in our new life. And now look, here was a Charlie of my own to keep things moving along! “Charley, my boy” I said under my breath after the kiss, referencing a song I’d sung in that old timey jazz orchestra so long ago. My drunk friend, oblivious to the quote, just winked and smiled.

My relationship with Charlie did in fact end when the drink was over, because as that same time the guitar player was packing up, and I was on a mission. I gave Charlie another quick kiss of my own, before saying goodbye and leaving him no choice but to return to his drink alone. I introduced myself to the musician, and when I gave him my card, he stopped. “Is Robert your father?” he asked, with a tone of great surprise. I told him that he was, and before I could add anything, Jeff went on to tell me how much he’d thought of my father, how he’d sold him a couple of minivans (the Conants always needed extra long vehicles to schlep around harpsichords) and furthermore he went on to say that my dad was the only customer he ever hugged – and more than once! My father, my father. I know what a loving and kind man he was, I do, but I certainly never realized just how much he’d shone that love and kindness into the world. The night had been such a revelation to me, and a comfort, too. My beloved father was still preparing my path, even now.

My new friend and I enjoyed a chat as he wrapped cables and tucked things away, but the information I ultimately sought couldn’t be proffered in the minutes we had left; it was late, after all, and he wanted to get home. Thankfully he offered to get together sometime by the light of day, so we could compare set lists and talk gear (I’m an unintentional Luddite who, over these past 13 years of child-rearing, has become ultimately lost to the culture of Ipads and modern PA systems). My heart was happy and hopeful as I hugged Jeff goodbye. Finally it felt as if there might be a new chapter ahead. Getting up and running as a musician had proved to be a much bigger undertaking than I’d first thought it would be, but at least now I might have a little help.

I moved across the street to a joint that’s known for its live music all year ’round. I saw an act I’d seen before, but this time I stopped to check them out more carefully. They are a duo; the woman plays drums, standing up, and sings too, and the man in his shabby, indie-hip garb and road-worn guitar provides the harmonic component. I couldn’t see bass pedals, and it didn’t seem they were playing with a track, so the source of the bass was a mystery until afterward when I went up to say hi, I learned that the drummer was hitting a pad that triggered the notes. They had a sweet and tidy setup. The merch table was filled with stuff, and to my surprise (for they are primarily a cover band as are all the bands in this town) there was a small line of folks wanting to buy stuff after the show. I watched the woman as she graciously allowed pudgy, drunk tourists to take selfies with her, and I noted how ‘on’ she was; that professional thing that my ex turns on whenever in the presence of another person, that thing that I personally find a major pain in the ass to cultivate. I was never good at schmoozing. Me, I play – and I want to leave. Go have a burrito. Hang with friends, musicians. Not hang with drunk, idiotic bar patrons who wouldn’t turn down a Jimmy Buffet cover. But I watched as this woman did just that. And I thought to myself, ‘man, you are so good at what you do, sister’. It’s one thing to hold together – and front – a two hour show. But it’s entirely another thing to have the post-show hang down. Good for them. I learned a lot, but mostly I learned that this really was not my world.

Drunk Charlie had also made his way across the street to hear the power duo, and I’d seen him in the audience singing along and offering his thumbs up of approval. Now he was by the door, and he had spotted me. He grabbed my hands and started to dance, and damn if this drunk behemoth wasn’t light of foot! He lead me around – the hand on the small of the back, the whole shebang – he turned me, dipped me, pulled me in, rolled me away – he had it. One of the things I’d so enjoyed about my ex husband was that he could dance. I’d made my seventh grade son take social and Latin dancing this past year because I insisted it was one of the reasons I had married his father. That got his attention. “Really?” he had asked me, with an open-jawed look on his face. “Really.” I’d answered. Yeah, I’ll go to weddings just to dance with a guy who knows how – or isn’t afraid to try to appear that he does. If the situation had been a little different, the drinks fewer and the night younger, dancing with Charlie might have held more appeal. I thanked him for the dance, made a slight bow, then dashed for the door before he could insist on anything more….

I grabbed two slices of pepperoni pizza and drove home to enjoy them with my last bottle of Fat Tire. Afterward, I tried a couple of songs on the piano, but it was beginning to sour in the midsummer humidity, and my results were less and less pleasant as a result. My night had come to an end, but what a sweet, enjoyable evening out it had been. And I laughed to myself to think that after all these years, I’d finally been kissed. Ha! Thanks, Charley, my boy.

 

Party Time May 4, 2015

It’s the season for birthday parties again here at the Hillhouse. Elihu turned twelve on the 28th of April, and I will be turning 52 on the seventh of May. For all intents and purposes, he and I are forty years apart. This is the one week we like to joke that ‘we’re not the same age’. (I had him nine days shy of my fortieth birthday. That was not a great birthday – I was fat, unkempt and exhausted. I remember bursting into tears that day, and my mother, whom I was so lucky to have there for that first, whirlwind week, responded by laughing. She assured me it wasn’t so bad. Turned out, it wasn’t.)

And here we are, more than a decade later, Elihu embarking on his thirteenth year. He’s lived here now for more than half his life, and we’ve established a nice groove of traditions too. He simply can’t wait for his birthday party each year; days before the event I’ll find him staring off into space and when I ask him what he’s thinking of, he tells me it’s his party. Each year he hopes it’ll be the biggest, funnest party yet, and each year he his seems to get his wish. Just one week ago, while we didn’t have the sun and warmth of today, we had a house filled to the rafters with folks of all ages, coming and going, music and laughter upstairs, downstairs, inside, outside…. And, of course, we had a most delicious cake, which sported a menacing Pokemon character that greatly impressed all the sixth grade boys present.

The night before his party I myself had a night of partying which is quite uncharacteristic of my current life. The credit union where I bank was throwing a party for its members – and having never been to the local casino and track before (crazy, right?) I decided I’d go. They even gave us some cash for gaming, so I tried my luck. Result? I lost all that I bet, then won it all back. I cashed out where I started! Ha! In my world I’d call that winning.

For many folks the holidays – from November to early January – are their busiest months. But not so for us – in addition to birthdays and mother’s day (not such a biggie here) come end-of-year plays, recitals and projects, and all of that makes Spring the most heavily-committed time of year. For me personally, Halloween and Birthday party season are the big landmarks on our calendar. Each year after I successfully navigate the logistics of a busy Spring, I experience a great flush of relief, because for us, life is truly at its best when it’s at its simplest. While I love a good party, enjoy the company of my friends, and of course I cherish the memories we make – the two of us just being at home after it’s all over and done – that’s my favorite party time of all.

IMG_8064At the Harness Track. Not to be confused with the historic flat track that Saratoga Springs is famous for.

IMG_8065These guys race with carts and drivers – and these horses run with a different gate than the horses at the flat track. The course is also a lot shorter (I like that you can see the whole thing without needing binoculars). That’s about all I know. The place is about eight miles as the crow flies from my house, and we can see the incredibly bright lights from our perch on the hill. It used to annoy me, but I’m used to it now.

IMG_8058This is the room where it’s all about the runners. Monitors line the walls, keeping patrons up on all the many other races taking place in different parts of the country. No slot machines here. Folks I saw were mostly bleary-eyed and drinking coffee as they studied pages of sheets filled with data and stats and start times. This part didn’t really scream ‘fun’ to me. (But for some, this is the culture. This is why they’re in Saratoga.) Immediately after taking this shot I was approached by a security guy who asked me please not to film or record the patrons. He leaned in close to me, lowered his voice and took a certain pleasure in explaining why; “You see, some of the men might not be here with their wives. And some of these women might be out with someone other than their husband. Ya get what I mean?” he nodded, conspiratorially, as I slowly began to nod my head with the revelation. Gotcha. So this is how the other half lives. And so close to home. Who knew?

IMG_8072I’m about to eat at the huge restaurant that overlooks the track.

IMG_8076The view from my table. This is pretty exciting. I can see how people can get caught up in it.

IMG_8078There they go…

IMG_8118…and here I go, off for my first-ever night of gambling. (If ten dollars in counts as gambling, that is.)

IMG_8097Slot machine stupor fills the hall – as does a harmonically resonant Bb above middle C, the result of a constant dinging and humming from thousands of machines. Talk about the stuff of panic! Shoulda brought ear plugs.

IMG_8124I have ‘Zero valuable points’. Love it.

IMG_8111But things are about to change…

IMG_8140Ta-da! Back where I started. Fine by me!

IMG_8141The gals from the credit union and me. Haven’t done this full-on party with the posse stuff in years…

IMG_8145A little dancing, and now what, ladies? Shots? Ok. Ya talked me into it… cheers!

IMG_8174And now for a completely different kind of party… This little fella comes out each year to mark the easy-to-miss driveway.

IMG_8178Things start out so peaceful and tidy…

IMG_8235The sixth grade boys. Elihu is so happy!

IMG_8326The cake arrives!

IMG_8334For those not in the know, that’s the Pokemon character Mega Rayquaza on the cake. (??) To use the vernacular of the sixth grade boys there present: “Sweet!”

IMG_8319A little jamming in the basement. Emma plays drums in the high school bands. She knows what she’s doing!

IMG_8298The downstairs rig.

IMG_8341The upstairs rig. ! This is a kid who has it all.

IMG_8379How lucky were we that Elihu’s class teacher, Mr. Esty came? And he brought both of his sons too!

IMG_8377Miss Jessica chills in our favorite Eames knockoff chair. Vinyl, not leather. Still gorgeous. You too, sister!

IMG_8271Outside the chickens provide entertainment.

IMG_8276Thumbs Up enjoys a smooch from classmate Norah, who is a talented skier, pianist, and bee-keeper.

IMG_8250Inside, it’s all about the newly hatched chicks.

IMG_8347Alex gets a turn.

IMG_8258For me the highlight of the day was seeing my eighty-year-old mother ride off on Chad’s four-wheeler. !!! He was incredibly generous and helped many of the kids to ride on their own too.

IMG_8228That’s neighbor Ryan on the left and my mom on the right. Can you believe he’s in kindergarten?? He’s very talented and naturally skilled at riding.

IMG_8439Cally entertains us by blowing bubbles – with her lips! You can always count on this girl to add interest to any occasion.

IMG_8358Ok, so somewhere in the world someone’s probably made a beer float, ya think? What the hell, just to be sure, let’s try one ourselves. Genesee Cream Ale and birthday cake-flavored ice cream… here goes nothing…

IMG_8361Ok mom, waddya think? That bad? Here, let me try…

IMG_8360That bad.

IMG_8433Elihu got some flying in, too (that light blue thing is his quadcopter). No day is complete without this activity in some form on another.

IMG_8380Vivianna and Norah chill on the couch. Elihu gave out little fans as party favors – a nod to his love of aviation.

IMG_8402The party’s not complete until the Carrico clan arrives!

IMG_8472All three Carrico girls made some noise at the piano while grownups chatted and Elihu got lost in his 3DS.

IMG_8496These girls know all about chickens. We got some of our current flock from them as chicks last year.

IMG_8416There was a seventy-eight year spread in ages at the party! Mom and baby Rachel.

IMG_8423Makers and fixers of anything under the sun, the Carrico men take an interest in the design of the antique rocking chair.

IMG_8500The party is officially over when this bunch goes. Goodbye, thanks for coming! We had so much fun visiting!

IMG_8161Too bad a school day followed; lil man was still wiped the next morning. Well worth it though.

A weekend of party times we won’t soon forget.

 

Hallow’s Eve October 31, 2014

What a night. It’s close to midnight and Elihu and I are just getting to bed after a very full and happy Halloween. Our day included a play by the ninth graders, a school costume parade, and a fine night of trick-or-treating topped with a moment of magic and mystery as Elihu won a $100 bill from Mrs. Riggi (the unofficial ‘queen’ of Saratoga).

IMG_0767A room full of joy as the ninth graders get ready to perform Brer Rabbit for the Lower School, an annual tradition.

IMG_0770The girls.

IMG_0804The play…

IMG_0811…and the audience.

IMG_0786With a nod of his head, Mr. Fron leads the students in a four-part round of ‘The Ghost of John’ as he plays along on the recorder. Elihu can be seen on the right behind his Roman shield.

IMG_0855The pumpkin relay – you can only use your arms to hold it as you run.

IMG_0876Ethan shows some seriously clever costume-making, bringing the sub-culture of ‘steam punk’ alive.

IMG_0943Now we’re out, doing famous Caroline Street. Every kid in town is here!

IMG_1005This was the spookiest house on the block. Over the top and perfect in every way.

IMG_0957Look! It’s our friends from Greenfield – and they’re piano students of mine, too!

IMG_0960Waldorf kids.

IMG_0966A gorgeously spooky house.

IMG_0979Abe Lincoln sits down to have some spaghetti and meatballs.

IMG_0989Elihu ran into some old classmates he’d known from back in Kindergarten – some had even left Greenfield. That we saw all four of these guys was a fun and completely unexpected surprise.

IMG_0994I must taste this before I can serve it…

IMG_0995Oh dear, is that a head in my linguini?

Everywhere we went people were crazy for Elihu’s getup. At first it kinda suprised us, because in years past his costume has been far more elaborate and structurally sophisticated, but at the end of the day, an obscure comic book character just doesn’t have the same kind of crowd appeal as a good old-fashioned plate of spaghetti.

Elihu was really getting into his character, and if you listen carefully you might be able to hear him saying ‘that’s-a one-a spicy meat-a ball’ as well as other little improvised ditties about spaghetti…

IMG_1014Now we’ve moved across town to North Broadway; the Riggi Mansion

IMG_1023In spite of an hours-long line, we somehow found ourselves quite close to the front – and no one objected, so off we went… Before ten minutes had passed we were presented to the King and Queen… Kinda looks like they might even take a break for some pasta!

IMG_1026Whew! Thank goodness this selfie worked! Ya got one chance, then the line just keeps movin on… But hey, this shot will be nice for the memoir, huh?

IMG_1027This too.

IMG_1043Cinderella Riggi and the golden ticket. Wow. A magical ending to a magical day.

And now – to bed!

 

Cecil Departs October 7, 2014

Saratoga Springs’ beloved banjo man, Cecil Myrie, died this morning. While I haven’t heard directly from his family yet, what I gather is that he was likely asleep when he passed, as for the past few days he’d been heavily medicated to relieve the terrible pain he was experiencing. Earlier this past summer, Cecil was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a type of bone cancer, and the pain he felt at times was excruciating, as his very ribs themselves were fracturing from the cancer. He was one tough cookie though, because even while uncomfortable he still wanted to play music – still had it in him to pull out not one but two banjos at our last visit – plus the bass box too. I’m not a string player by any means, but he coached me as I stumbled my way through the three all-important chords. Bless him for giving us that last precious hang. I wish we’d heard him one last time on the street, but I’m grateful we were able to hear him one last time at all.

Over the past week we visited him a handful of times; sometimes he could barely open his eyes, other times his face would light up and he would try to talk to us. But recently, with the morphine, plus the dryness of mouth that the drugs were giving him, it was even more difficult to understand him. And hey – it was hard enough to understand him to begin with on account of that thick Jamaican accent of his! On one visit I had a moment alone with him, and I leaned in and stroked his head. I told him he was loved by so many, and that all of his friends and family were thinking of him. I told him that I was sure he would soon be in a much better place, that soon he would enjoy that perfect freedom… I’m not as scared as I once was about talking about death with the dying, so I pressed on, hoping for some insight into the thoughts of one who is so very close… “Cecil, are you afraid of dying?” I asked him. “No, no, not really” he said, in a thoughtful way. Then he went on to say more, but try as I did, I couldn’t make it out. He was obviously elaborating on his answer, but I would have to be satisfied with what I got. No, he wasn’t afraid. Good. Cuz I can imagine a lot of people are. I wondered what he was lingering for then, were there any family members yet to see again? I heard he was caught up with everyone. Maybe it’s just hard to let go of your loved ones, maybe one lingers so as not to break the hearts of those left behind. Who knows. As wonderful as the next world may be, there are still a lot of wonderful things about this world that might be hard to break away from.

Yesterday I’d had a flash of inspiration. I looked into my music closet and found my grandmother’s ukelele, now almost a hundred years old. I figured out three chords and quickly jotted down the lyrics to a couple songs, played through them through a couple of times, then with Elihu and his djembe, headed to the hospital to play for Cecil. How happy he would be to hear someone sing for him, I thought. When we arrived, he was in a peaceful sleep, with a CD of his from the old days in Jamaica playing softly, and the article from the weekend’s paper had been taped up on the wall for him to see. We lingered a moment, and looked at him. What to do? We both knew it made no sense to wake him. Elihu cautioned me not to kiss him lest I wake him from his rest. So we just stood for a moment, and watched him sleep, the soft calypso music gently filling the room. The song playing was the last on the CD; fittingly, it was Jamaica Farewell.

Today we returned to the hospital, again ready to play for Cecil, but my heart sank to my knees when I saw the cleaning cart in front of his room. I knew what that meant. We entered the room and were surprised to find our own next door neighbor there. She worked in the housekeeping staff, and was just finishing up with his room. She’d known Cecil too; she always knew the patients. A week or so ago we’d told her about having a friend in the hospital – and she now learned who it was we’d meant. Wherever Cecil went, he was known and loved. He possessed an understated congeniality; pleasant, low-key and friendly to all.

I want to thank you Cecil, because you’ve got me excited to learn a stringed instrument now! More than that, you’ve hipped me to a whole new world of songs, and you’ve opened up a new way in which my son and I can play music together. I’d never thought that I could learn anything new at my age, and with my arthritis, no less. But you’ve got Elihu and me looking eagerly to a new musical future. There’s not a soul who can take your place, but we hope it makes you happy to know that a piece of you will continue to live on in us and all the music we’ve yet to play.

My love and wishes for peace and healing go out to all of Cecil’s family and friends in this deeply sad time.

IMG_4951My last picture with Cecil, just day before yesterday. I hope it didn’t hurt when I made him laugh.

IMG_5048A beautiful fall day on which to leave us.

IMG_5437We thought of you as we dusted off our old, almost-forgotten banjo.

IMG_5486Elihu can even make some good sounds on it already.

IMG_5482It’s a sad day, yes, but we think Cecil would want us to enjoy ourselves…

IMG_5530Lying on our backs in the leaf pile, we look up to the heavens and think of our friend.

This is the song Elihu sang for Cecil on one of our visits.

 

One Gone October 1, 2014

IMG_4914

Yesterday I lost an earring. It was one of the pair that I’ve worn nearly every single day since I left Illinois, now just over six years ago. They were a lovely pair of ‘little nothings’ the shopkeeper and I had agreed when I bought them as a memento to mark the beginning of my new life. Tasteful, elegant, simple and understated. A pretty pale blue, a color that might match the water or the sky on any given day. Perfect little accessories; always there, always giving me the confidence to feel put together and tidy, even when I mostly wasn’t. You’d hardly even notice them on me, yet still, they did their job, and when I went without them, I always felt unfinished. Those sparkly little nothings did their thing just as they were meant to. Except when all of a sudden one was gone.

Somehow, either while planting the new trees at the end of the driveway, or more likely, while getting a quick shower in before running out to teach, one had silently freed itself from my ear. Instantly, the one remaining earring had become completely useless. Instantly alone. All of a sudden this thing that had always been there, was not. These earrings weren’t given to me by a friend, they hadn’t been in my family for generations. They shouldn’t have meant so much – and truly, after all the loss I’ve learned to accept over the years it really is nothing – and yet, still, they meant a lot to me. As a pair. But that one, lonely remaining earring had no purpose anymore. All it did was make me sad. It reminded me of what was gone, of things that can never be retrieved. How perfect things had been, and how perfect they no longer were. How things change in an instant. How one thing can make all the difference. This musing launched me into a new line of thinking and I began to miss other things too; landscapes, homes, bands, people – things that were once here but are now gone. Things I miss still. I’ve been missing my dad a lot this past week, and this one remaining earring makes me think of him again. One thing without the other. Ich.

We’re about to lose another precious thing right now, as Saratoga’s beloved banjo man, Cecil Myrie is in his final hours. His bone cancer has accelerated rapidly over the past few weeks – just since Elihu and I popped over for an impromptu visit and short jam last month. We both feel very lucky that we were able to sit and make some music with him one last time, because it would be our last opportunity. Our jam was cut short by acute pain in Cecil’s chest, and we left him in hopes of taking him out to play on the street one more time. When we called next, he was feeling much worse and declined to go. I was relieved to hear that some of his friends had been able to catch him on a good day and did in fact get him out on Broadway for one final performance. I just can’t get it through my head that we will never again hear strains from Cecil’s banjo floating over the Saratoga streets again, the backdrop of that town for the past three decades. For as long as I can remember – either while living here or visiting – Cecil was always present. He was as dependable and permanent it seemed as the buildings themselves. Slowing to a stoplight on the main drag of town, windows open, there he was. Singing out “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and accompanying his song with that signature, folksy style that shouted Cecil’s name alone. My son had grown up knowing him, and in fact, as I think back on our relationship with the man, I recall something special… The first two dollars that Elihu ever made busking were given to him by Cecil, from his own banjo case. And we have them still. Above Elihu’s bird collection, tucked away in his closet, are those two dollar bills, kept as a reminder of this very generous gift, one which essentially started my son’s career as a paid musician. It was certainly an inspirational moment for Elihu. For us it really was the beginning of an era.

A now here we are at the ending of an era. It’s so sad, and it makes us feel that we feel we need to do something. But what? Hoping to create some way of honoring our friend, Elihu and I come upon an idea. When one thing ends, another thing begins, right? It seems a good idea, so we make some plans… After Elihu’s bass lesson today, we’re going to head over to the hospital to say our goodbyes to Cecil. Elihu is going to ask Cecil for his blessing to play banjo and sing on Broadway. Elihu and I have been wondering lately how he might increase his musical offerings, and this seems a natural fit. Elihu sings loud and well, he’s gifted with stringed instruments, and Cecil had been his first mentor on the street. Certainly Elihu can do this with love in Cecil’s memory with or without his blessing… But just maybe it might mean something to our friend. It’s one gift we can give to Cecil before he leaves us. He’s given us so much; it lifts our hearts to think we might be able to give something back to him.

Who knows, maybe one day we’ll hear those familiar songs brought to life again in a new way over the streets of Saratoga; a living remembrance of that one, cherished voice that we’ll always miss so dearly… the one that’s gone.

IMG_0889Bringing flowers from our garden to Cecil, not too long ago.

IMG_0903Cecil shows Elihu the bass box.

IMG_0934Cecil gives me a little lesson.

IMG_4850The last time I saw Cecil out on the street, he was in a wheelchair being pushed by his wife – they were passing this vacant lot in their neighborhood when I waved and shouted hello to them. A perfect place to pick some flowers for him.

IMG_4848Sunflowers for Cecil.

IMG_4856A very sad time.

IMG_4866Marianne and her son-in-law Prince, both from Cecil’s church, come to pray for him and say goodbye.

IMG_4867Nurses do God’s work on the planet. Dan’s own young sons have grown up knowing Cecil and his music.

IMG_4855A view to the south from his windows.

IMG_4928Cecil’s youngest son Josh.

IMG_4930Elihu sang a beautiful song for Cecil and told him that he loved him. Hard to believe that Elihu’s known Cecil for more than half his life. Cecil even tried to speak and opened his eyes while we were there. We know he was with us, even if he couldn’t communicate well.

IMG_4852Some of Cecil’s discography on display.

IMG_4853Now this is how we all remember him. Our banjo man on Broadway.

Goodbye and thank you, Cecil Myrie, we love you so, and we’ll miss you dearly.

And to use Elihu’s parting words to his own dying grandfather, we’ll ‘see you shortly’.

A video of Cecil playing Don’t Worry, Be Happy (a little too dark to see him well).

A much shorter video of Cecil at his post on Broadway by the now-gone parking lot (here you’ll see him fine).

_____________________________________________

Here’s a link to a post from two years ago in which Cecil played a part…