When I was younger, much younger, the high point of my social calendar was a birthday party—preferably my own. These events always included a chocolate layer cake made from scratch by my mother. I enjoyed licking the beaters almost as much as I enjoyed the finished product. A family friend once requisitioned one of mom’s legendary creations, and, with the help of Tupperware, flew across the country with carry on cake to celebrate her daughter’s birthday. Talk about two wings and prayer. Fortunately, the cake and its escort both arrived in one piece.
You ever notice how Susan Stamberg often does stories about arts-related topics on NPR? Well, today, I’m exhibiting my Stamberg-wanna-be side and have chosen to talk about the Wyeths. This is occasioned by what turned out to be a Wyeth binge that was a recent detour in my life.
My mother’s mother was named Ellen Morden Long. She was born in New York City in 1884, but lived her married life in Syracuse, New York. Ellen Long had a grandfather, my three times great grandfather, named Ralph Morden Long. He was born in 1788 in eastern Pennsylvania, but died on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, not too far from Brantford, where he was taken during the Revolutionary War by his grandmother Ann Durham Morden, who must have been a “loyalist”—on the British side, to flee to Canada.
If you groove on the idea that “it’s the journey, not the destination,” long-distance train travel is calling your name. There are more efficient ways to cross the Rockies and Sierras, sure, but it’s hard to beat the enchantment of Amtrak’s California Zephyr if you want to get from Denver to San Francisco. Our family boarded the Zephyr last week, and we still feel bewitched.
The obesity epidemic became more real to me during my travels last weekend. My return flight was fully booked, and I boarded late only to discover that my seat was already partly occupied by the bulging left side of an especially large man. Although he sat with his arms tightly crossed, his side and shoulders swelled well beyond the invisible frame marked by the armrest. His leg extended at a sharp angle onto my seat. I’m not a big man, but airplane seats are narrow enough these days that I wasn’t able to place my back squarely against the seat back.
For a couple of weeks we had a fool-proof conversation starter around the neighborhood: “How’d you do in the storm?” The storm being the July 1st just after midnight blast of wind and rain that knocked stout branches out of grand old trees and brought them down on parked cars and utility lines and garages and the roofs of houses. So, how’d you do in the storm? We were pretty lucky.
Have you ever seen a movie, like a thriller or a horror film where you KNOW that person shouldn't go in the basement? They kind of write the scene that way to get your adrenaline pumping. Going into that basement just means they will never come back out of it. I have one of these basements. In my dark, damp, ugly basement Things Get Lost. We call it Storing Stuff, but really, if we are honest, we just Loose Stuff in our basement. Down the rickety Needs Paint stairs are mildewed walls and a cold bare floor. Is it just cold, or is it wet too? I often idly wonder, but not for long.
It's 8 am on a Monday. I'm standing in the lobby with three other guys, looking at a piano. I check my watch. We're under a time crunch. In three hours' time, there will be a jazz concert in the ballroom upstairs, and they need this very piano. Did I mention it was a grand?
Another school year has ended. For teachers, that means hearing the familiar question again, “So, what are you doing with all that summer vacation?”
I understand the assumption. Many of us remember June, July, and August days filled with biking, swimming lessons, pick up games of baseball and football, or curling up to read books of our own choosing--with no one demanding book reports.