Missing Grandma at Muir Woods

Funny what you think about when you’re wandering among the giant trees.

I went to Muir Woods on Saturday, on my way home from whale watching. It was my third or fourth visit ever.

Muir Woods National Monument is a valley just north of San Francisco that’s filled with groves of giant redwood trees along a small creek. It features a boardwalk and paved pathway, several other trails, and signage to help you understand the ecology and history of the woods.

All the other times I’ve been there have been late in the day when the place was mostly deserted. On Saturday, I arrived at 5 PM and although the place was definitely emptying out, it was pretty obvious that it had been packed earlier in the day; there were cars parked along the road for at least two miles leading up to the park entrance with so many people walking back to them that I thought the cars were for some big party at Muir Beach.

In Muir Woods
It was dark down at the base of the tall trees.

Along the creek
There wasn’t much water in Redwood Creek, but it was picturesque, anyway.

Because of the time of day and the angle of the sun and the park geography, the pathways were in dark shadows. But if you looked up toward the tops of the giant trees, you’d see the sun still shining on them. Still, I didn’t take many pictures. Instead, I just walked along the pathways along the creek at my own pace, thinking about what I was seeing and trying to tune out the noise of the tourists all around me.

I remembered my first visit to Muir Woods, years before in January. Back in the 1990s, I was a regular speaker at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. I’d fly out for a few days — usually with my future wasband — see the show, do my speaking thing, and then spend some time in the area. Airfare and hotel costs in the city were a write-off as a business expense. The vacation tacked on afterward was just fun. One year we visited Napa Valley, another year we visited Sonoma Valley, another year we went south to Monterrey and St. Louis Obispo, and another year we headed to Hawaii. Those were great trips in days long gone.

I don’t remember which year we first went to Muir Woods. But I do remember the quiet of the woods and seeing two salmon heading up stream to spawn in water that was barely deep enough to cover them. One male, one female, several hundred feet apart, struggling to move upstream. I wanted so badly to just grab one of them and put it with the other one in the same pool of water so they could go about their business and die.

I don’t remember the park being very crowded or noisy. I just remembered it being dark and kind of hushed.

It was dark on Saturday, but definitely not hushed.

Even when signs asked visitors to “Enter Quietly” — as they do upon entry to the Cathedral Grove — people called back and forth to each other and kids screamed and cried. I could have been at the mall.

I tried hard to tune it all out, focusing on the tall, straight trees. And when I made a turn down a pathway and found myself in a little cul-de-sac with a bench before a huge tree, I found myself thinking about my grandmother.

Born in 1912 as one of eight children, my grandmother was a hardworking woman who never experienced much outside the world of her home in the New York Metro area. In the 1980s, when I had a job that required a lot of business travel, and then later, when I traveled with my future wasband, I’d send her a postcard from everyplace I went. That and television were he exposures to the rest of the country. When she died in 2002, we found a shoebox with all those postcards inside it. She’d kept every single one.

I found myself thinking about the last time I’d gone hiking with her. She was in her late 70s at the time and still very active, working part-time as a hostess in a family restaurant. I’d taken her to the State Line Lookout in Palisades Interstate Parkway and we’d walked one of the trails through the woods. I’d been worried about her when I realized how steep the trail was in parts, but I didn’t need to. At one point, I saw her stabbing a branch she’d picked up as a walking stick into a hole alongside the trail. When I asked her what she was doing, she told he she’d seen a snake go in the hole. Someone else’s grandmother (or mother or girlfriend, for that matter) might have screamed and run the other way. But not my grandmother. She was tough.

As I stood in the clearing at the base of the tree, I realized that the path through the woods was made so that everyone could enjoy the wonder of the trees, no matter how old or young they were. I found myself wishing that I could have brought my grandmother there. I could imagine her awe as she looked up and realized just how tall that tree was. Or when she looked at the base of the tree and realized just how big the trunk was.

“For crimsey’s sake!” she’d say. None of us knew where that came from but we knew that when she said it, it meant she was impressed. It was like me saying “Holy cow!” (or “Holy shit!”)

I wished I could shown her the big trees. Or the Grand Canyon. Or the view from my helicopter on a flight along the Pacific Coast. Or even the giant cactus that grew in my yard in Arizona or the amazing view from my homesite in Washington. The incredible but normal things beyond her limited range of travel and experience.

The things we take for granted as we make our way through life. The things we don’t miss if we never see them at all.

I miss you, Grandma.

Julia’s Thanksgiving Cranberry Recipe

The real recipe; not the lazy-cook knockoff circulating among her family and friends.

My mother-in-law Julia may not have been the best all-around cook, but there were a few things that she made extraordinarily well. One of them was her Thanksgiving cranberries. For a kid who grew up with cranberries served out of a can — still shaped like the can, mind you — this was an amazing revelation that cured me of canned cranberries for good.

Thanksgiving 1996I first made Julia’s cranberry recipe for Thanksgiving dinner in 1996. This was an amazing meal served in my New Jersey home. Our Salvation Army-acquired dining table, expanded to its full length with the help of a homemade leaf fully five feet wide, made it possible for all 15 of us to sit together. Amazing timing with the help of a standard sized oven and the microwave I still own made it possible to serve the entire meal at the same time, fresh and hot. If there is such a thing as miracles, this was one of them. I’ll never be able to top that feat again.

Anyway, Julia gave me her cranberry recipe for that meal and I prepared the cranberries a day or two in advance to her specifications. It came out perfectly.

Recently, I obtained a copy of the recipe that was distributed to family and friends on the back of a card handed out at her funeral. I was shocked to see that it included canned cranberries. The recipe Julia shared with me didn’t have cranberries out of a can. It had fresh cranberries prepared on the stove — the way a real cook would prepare them.

Here, then, is the recipe Julia shared with me back in 1996. I’ll be making this for my friends to enjoy at Thanksgiving this year.


  • Cranberries
    Julia’s real cranberry recipe started with fresh whole cranberries.

    2 12-oz bags fresh, whole cranberries

  • 2 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 12-oz can crushed pineapple (packed in natural juice; do not drain)
  • 1 10-oz can Mandarin orange pieces (drained), crushed or chopped
  • 3 or 4 figs, fresh or dried, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, diced (optional for crunchiness; I usually omit it)
  • 1 small apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or orange juice


  1. Rinse the cranberries and place them in a pot.
  2. Add the water and one cup of the sugar and stir.
  3. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer, stirring occasionally.
  4. Listen for the cranberries to “pop.” When about two thirds of them have popped, remove them from the heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Drain away the cooking water and place the cranberries in a large bowl.
  6. Add the remaining half cup of sugar and still well. Sugar should dissolve.
  7. Cool thoroughly.
  8. Add remaining ingredients and stir well.
  9. Cover and store in the refrigerator at least overnight so the flavors will meld.

Finished Cranberries
Here’s what my cranberries look like this year.

Serve with turkey (for Thanksgiving!) or pork (any time of the year).

If you’re looking for something different with your turkey this year, try homemade mango chutney. That’s also good with pork.

By the way, the other thing Julia made so perfectly was a New York style cheesecake. I dreaded when she made it in my kitchen because she made an enormous mess. But it was worth it: creamy, delicious, and just sweet enough — if you could convince her not to top it off with something silly like cherry pie filling.

I miss you more than I thought I would, Julia. Rest in peace.

My New Old Tools

They just don’t make them like this anymore.

I finally get it. I understand why tools are a big seller at estate sales.

As I wrote earlier this month, my godfather, Jackie, passed away in late October. Although personal business in Washington made it impossible for me to see him before he died, I was able to join my mother and cousin a few days afterward, to help them go through the things he left behind in his house. I came home with the monkey lamp I’d always admired and a never-used Proctor-Silex toaster dating from about 1965 that I now use regularly.

I also came away with some tools. I didn’t expect to, but when I first laid eye on the marvelously shiny, new-looking nail clipper made in Italy, I just couldn’t let it go to Goodwill. You simply can’t buy something like that anymore — hell, everything in this country seems to be cheap crap made in China.

A while later, we stumbled into a drawer filled with more tools. Woodworking tools, garden tools, pipe wrenches, awls, and a manual drill. Every one of these tools were well used but still in great shape. Best of all, they were heavy duty, made in USA, proudly stamped with patent numbers or manufacture locations or both. The kinds of tools you simply can’t find anymore.

Although I was flying home on an airliner and didn’t know quite how I’d get the tools home, I chose a few I knew I’d be able to use — tools that would complement those I already had in my toolbox. (Even though I’m a girl, I have a remarkably complete toolbox that can help me get most jobs done.) I bundled them up in bubble wrap and eventually loaded them into my checked luggage (with the toaster and lamp base). I admit I was amazed when that bag weighed in at 48.5 pounds. (Another pound and a half and I would have paid a premium to get it on the plane.)

My New Old Tools
The tools I brought back from Jackie’s house.

I’ve already used some of the tools to get work done around my place. I like the way they feel in my hands — sturdy and stronger than me. I don’t think any of them will break — unlike numerous made-in-China tools I’ve destroyed in the past. In a way, I wish I’d dug deeper into his collection — perhaps in the garage — to find more old tools I could use. It would have been worth the extra baggage handling fee to get them home.

Now all I need is one of those big red toolboxes…

Return to New York

I take a trip back to my old stomping grounds.

Folks who know me well know that I’m not really from Arizona. I’m a New Yorker, born and raised in the New York City metro area. I lived half of my life in Bergen County, NJ: 15 years of childhood + 11 years as an adult. I also lived in Long Island and Queens, NY. I went to college at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY and my first job out of school, which I held for five years, was for the New York City Comptroller’s Office which was based in lower Manhattan.

A New Yorker.

I moved to Arizona in 1997. I used to go back to the New York area once in a while. My brother and sister lived in northern New Jersey and my wasband’s entire family was in Queens. In all honesty, I didn’t enjoy those visits very much. We’d spend most of the time in Queens, with my wasband’s family, and I really hated the place — it was crowded and dirty and not a very pleasant place to be. (My apologies to friends and others who still live there.) When my sister moved to Florida, it was one less reason to go back.

In fact, the last time I was in the New York area was in 2009 (I think) when my sister moved to Florida. I was the surprise companion for her trip; I flew out on a whim and drove down with her in the convoy that included my dad and his wife with another car and moving van. I’ll never forget my dad’s face when I showed up in the restaurant for that last dinner in New Jersey.

Bad News

In mid-October, I got the phone call most people dread: a family member was very ill and likely to die soon. In this case, it was my godfather — the Catholic kind, not the mafia kind — who was also my mother’s first cousin, Jackie. Jackie was in his 80s and had been suffering from a series of health problems for the past few years. Things took a serious turn for the worst when he began chemotherapy for some cancer. He was bouncing from rehab to the hospital regularly and things looked grim.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t come as quickly as I wanted to. I had a meeting in Goldendale, WA that I couldn’t miss. It was on Monday, October 21, and since I didn’t know how long it would go, I booked my flight for the following day. I’d go for a week. My mom was driving up from Florida and we’d visit Jackie together. Although my cousin Rosemary, who lived near Jackie, warned me that he was nothing like the man I knew, I was prepared. I wanted to say goodbye. I wanted to help give him some comfort with family members around him in his final days.

I lucked out with the plane tickets. Even though I booked them only 5 days in advance, I was able to use Alaska Air miles to buy them. Alaska Air has the best frequent flyer program — a round trip ticket from Wenatchee, WA to Newark, NJ with only one stop (in Seattle) each way cost me only 25,000 miles and $10. That’s it.

I went to my meeting in Goldendale on Monday morning. I had to leave Malaga at 4:30 AM to get there on time. The meeting went until 10:30 AM. I was on the way home, only 30 minutes out of Goldendale, when my phone rang. It was my brother. Jackie had died that morning.

The Flight Out

I went anyway, of course. I already had my plane tickets and I’d have to pay to have them changed for a future trip — if I needed a future trip. I had nothing else on my calendar. Besides, my mother was still on her way — no one wanted to tell her while she was driving alone — and she’d be there that night. I’d be able to help her and Rosemary with Jackie’s house. And frankly, I needed a change of scenery. A week of autumn in New York with my family would be nice.

Penny and I were on the 6 AM flight from Wenatchee to Seattle on Tuesday morning. I saw the dimly glowing yellow “porch light” on my RV as the plane climbed out of Wenatchee’s Pangborn Airport.

Although it was clear on the east side of the mountains, Seattle was socked in with fog. I could see it down below us in the pre-dawn light; the lights of homes and businesses glowed right through the white cloud blanket.

SeaTac Fog
The fog was very thick on arrival at SeaTac.

Casablanca -- NOT
I snapped this photo as I left the plane at SeaTac. Reminds me of the last scene in Casablanca.

The pilots came in from the north and descended into the top of the fog bank. There was nothing but white out the window. The descent seemed to last forever with no sign of the ground. I have to admit I felt a bit reassured when the pilot applied power and we started to climb out on a go-around. He came on the intercom and said that they were having trouble with some “low visibility equipment” and that they were working to “sort it out.” We did a high, wide traffic pattern above the clouds before descending back into the fog. Remembering a flight to Santa Barbara that had been diverted to Fresno years before, I wondered where they’d divert us to if we couldn’t land in Seattle. Wenatchee? That would not be a good thing. But we touched down with only one small bounce. The pilot braked hard and turned off the runway. The fog was so thick I could barely see the terminal.

Penny and I had about two hours to make our connection. I’d purposely skipped breakfast so I could have it at SeaTac’s excellent food court. I bought a breakfast pizza at Pallino Pastaria and went to one of the rocking chairs by the big window to eat it. Outside, the plane I’d just gotten off of — and others just like it — came and went. Because of the fog, I couldn’t see much past that. On the way to the gate, I stopped at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese where I spent too much money on cheese and bread for my on-board meal. Then Penny and I boarded the plane for our 5-hour flight to Newark.

I had a middle seat. I really couldn’t complain when it cost me less than $5.

The flight was smooth. I read and ate cheese. Penny behaved — not a peep out of her on the whole flight. She really is good on the plane.

In Newark, Penny and I made a pitstop outside before heading back in to claim my baggage. One of the drawbacks of traveling with a dog is that I always have to check luggage. But that isn’t always a hardship since I can take as big a bag as I want. I took my big wheeled duffle bag on this trip — the lightweight one — and had packed it with gifts for family members: local wine and some honey from my bees. There was room to spare, but I suspected I might be taking a few things home with me.

Seeing the Family

My brother met me outside baggage claim. I hadn’t seen him since that dinner in New Jersey years before, when I drove with my sister down to Florida. He looked good. I think he might have lost some weight.

This plate of paella could easily have fed six people.

Head-On Shrimp
Heads on or off — these shrimp weren’t shrimpy.

At his house, I saw his wife and their two dogs. My mom, who’d spent the day with Rosemary, showed up a while later. We all drove into Newark, to one of the Portuguese restaurants, Vila Nova do Sol Mar. My brother goes there for lunch — in fact, he’d been there earlier in the day. Since he raved about the “gigantic shrimp,” we got an order as an appetizer. They were whole shrimp and very big. He and I shared a paella — although it was for two, it could have easily fed six people.

Afterwards, we headed back to my brother’s house. My mom took the guest room while Penny and I curled up on the living room sofa for the night.

At Jackie’s House

The next day, my mom and I headed up to Jackie’s house. He’d lived in Yorktown Heights in Westchester County. For some reason, my mom’s TomTom routed us over the George Washington Bridge and through the Bronx. I would have preferred the Tappan Zee Bridge to avoid New York traffic. Still, the later part of the drive was very pleasant, with lots of fall color and beautiful reservoirs along the way.

Jackie had lived in a rambling ranch house for at least 40 years. The house had fallen into disrepair — it’s funny how some old people just let their homes go — and it was stuffed to the gills with a mix of trash and treasure. (I blogged a bit about that here.) It fell to my mom and Rosemary to go through everything, discard the garbage, and sort out the rest.

I arrived on the second day of their task and it didn’t seem as if anything had been done. The next day, Thursday, when I returned after the three of us working all day Wednesday, it still didn’t look like anything had been done. There was just so much stuff.

One Lamp of Many
Here’s one of the many lamps in Jackie’s house. Although most of the lamps are table lamps, this is a standing lamp that’s part of a bronze sculpture.

Jackie had been an antique dealer. He dealt with real antiques, not the collectibles and retro crap you’d find in an “antique mall” today. Years and years ago, he and his partner had three shops at the house. The ones in the basement and the small building out back had lamps and china and bronzes and paintings and all kinds of really nice — and very expensive — things. The big building out back was full of antique furniture. Later, after Jackie’s partner left, he did most of his business at antique shows in Manhattan. He also dealt directly with a number of regular customers who often referred others. He was always very proud when one of his pieces were bought by a celebrity — or even when one stopped by his booth at a show.

Over the years, as he aged and tried to simplify his business, he began specializing in lamps. I’m talking about lamps made by Tiffany Studios, Handel, Jefferson, and Pairpoint. Lamps like these and these. I loved the lamps, but I especially loved the reverse painted lamps. Those are lamps with glass shades painted on the inside. When you turn on the light, the scene in the lamp comes to life. (I own two of these lamps: my grandmother gave me one before she died and I bought another from Jackie about a year later.)

Time went on and he auctioned off many of his best things. But he still had a bunch when I showed up with my mom on that Wednesday morning. I greeted my cousin Rosemary with a big hug and we got right to work.

At the Pizzeria
I think the thing I miss most about New York is the food.

The only place I can get decent Italian pastry is in the New York metro area. Needless to say, I was starved for it. My favorite: custard pasticciotti.

By 2:00 PM, we were exhausted and hungry. We dropped off a dozen big bags of Jackie’s clothes and miscellaneous items at Goodwill and stopped at a real New York pizzeria for lunch: Peppino’s. Afterward, my mom and I went to Cafe Piccolo, an Italian bakery in Mahopac. We bought real Italian pastries and rainbow layer cookies.

We went back to work at Jackie’s house, but only stayed for another two or three hours. The whole time we were there, Penny went exploring around the house, never straying too far from me. I took her out a few times to do her business in the tall weeds and fallen leaves in the front yard. I remembered how the place had looked years ago with a neat trim yard out front and flowers in the planters. The road out front hadn’t been so busy then — but Jackie had lost at least one dog under the wheels of a passing car. I wasn’t going to let that happen to Penny.

It was getting dark when my mom and I headed to a hotel she’d booked in Armonk, about 30 minutes away. We weren’t hungry — lunch had been big. I dealt with email on my iPad and made some phone calls. By 9, my mom was asleep. I turned off the TV and nodded out, exhausted.

The next day, we returned for more of the same. I put myself in charge of the 1,500 VHS tapes he’d collected over the years, packing them up and placing an ad on Craig’s List to give them away to the first person who would come. (A woman came that evening and took them all.) Many of them were up in the attic and I burned plenty of calories walking up and down the stairs with Penny at my heels.

My mom and Rosemary went through the kitchen, sorting out garbage and Goodwill items. After another trip to Goodwill and lunch at the pizzeria, we went back for more. By that time, we’d made some real headway. We began sorting through items, gathering like items together. The dining room table became the candlestick holder depository. One of the bookshelves I’d cleared of VHS tapes was the place for crystal. Another bookshelf was for carnival glass. Lamps covered every horizontal surface in the living room; we’d even found power strips so we could turn them all on. Paintings were stacked against one wall. There was even a small table for soapstone.

Little by little, we were organizing whatever wasn’t garbage or for Goodwill. An auctioneer was coming on Saturday and he’d take away whatever he thought he could auction off — in other words, all the good stuff. What was left would be sold in an estate sale in the spring — although why they were waiting was beyond me.

Meanwhile, I’d packed up the lamp I’d always wanted and a bunch of American-made tools. (Jackie didn’t have any of that cheap Chinese crap; his tools predated what we can buy today.) I also chose a second lamp, although I didn’t get a chance to pack it. I helped my sister choose a lamp for herself based on photos I put on Facebook — she was in Florida and couldn’t come north to help out.

We headed out before five, exhausted again.

My Old Stomping Grounds

I rented a car and headed back to New Jersey. Although I didn’t think it was possible, I got lost along the way. It had been too long since I’d driven the route and it was so different. (Where did that mall on 287 near Nyack come from?) Darkness didn’t help. These days, I’m a nervous wreck driving at night.

Back at my brother’s house, they installed me in the guest bedroom. Although I got a decent night’s sleep, I was still up very early. I read with Penny curled up against me.

I spent most of the day working on a tribute to Jackie for my blog: “Dear Jackie.” (That’s where you can find more pictures of the lamps and information about the other things we found.) My brother had headed up to Jackie’s house to help out; his wife was working at home. She worked until afternoon, when we took a break to run some errands. I got a chance to shop at my favorite supermarket in the area, Wegman’s, where I bought more cheese — they have a huge cheese counter — and other goodies. Then we went to Dick’s Sporting Goods to buy some ammo. (My brother and his wife are active target shooters.) They were having a sale on the ammo my sister-in-law needed but they were limiting cases to one per person. So I bought one, too. (For her, of course; I have no use for ammo.) I also bought a nice set of Nikon binoculars so I could scan the cliffs behind my home for the mountain goats I sometimes hear knocking around up there. Coffee at Panera before heading home. Then a nice walk with the dogs.

The next morning, we had breakfast at a local diner — what a treat! (Did I mention that what I miss most about New York is the food?) My brother headed out for work while his wife and I packed up cheese and crackers and headed out with the rental car and dogs. I wanted to return the car in Westchester to avoid the $150 drop off fee. Dropping it off three days earlier would also save me more than $100 in daily rental fees. I’m saving up to build my home so every penny counts.

We stopped off for coffee and donuts at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Mount Kisco before heading back toward New Jersey. My sister-in-law was driving her Acura. I guided her to the one place I wanted to visit one last time: Peanut Falls.

Trail Marker
I’m pretty sure this fancy sign wasn’t here 20 years ago.

Danger Sign
Oooh! Scary! Sheesh. I wonder if the liability lawyers cooked this one up.

Penny in the Woods
The trail was rough in places. Can you see Penny?

Peanut Leap Falls
Here’s what the area at the base of the falls looked like in October 2013. The falls are on the left; only a trickle of water was falling this late in the season.

Benches at Peanut Falls
Twenty years ago, one or two of the pergola’s original columns were still standing.

Maria and Penny at Hudson River
Penny and I posed on the bank of the Hudson River for this shot.

Let me tell you a little about Peanut Falls. Twenty or so years ago, my former life partner and I somehow found out about a trail that went from route 9W near Nyack to the Hudson River. I clearly remember parking along the side of the road and walking through a break in a fence to get on a trail that wound through the forest along a creek. The creek came over a waterfall before forming a pool and joining the river. At this spot were also ruins. There were columns and benches and walls. I did some research years ago and found a book with information about the spot. Built by Mary Lawrence-Tonetti back in the early 1900s, it had once included beautiful sculptures. I left the book behind in my Arizona home so I can’t share any other information about it. In all honesty, I never though I’d get the opportunity to see the place again.

The area was different from what I remembered. There was now an official trailhead and even trail markers. We parked the car, got our dogs and picnic lunch together, and headed out.

It wasn’t long before Penny was off her leash, running through the woods while leaves fell all around her. It was a tiny big longer before my sister-in-law let her two Portuguese water dogs off their leashes. Soon all three dogs were bounding through the woods, meeting fellow hikers on the trail and having a great time.

It was only a little over a half mile to the river. The falls weren’t running with more than a trickle and the spot had changed quite a bit since the last time I was there. Some research told me that Hurricane Sandy had done the final bit of vandalism that destroyed the ruins. Some of the benches were sill there and many of the walls closest to the falls were still in good shape. But that was it.

Another thing that was different: there were lots of other hiker coming in. Most of them were Asian — this part of New Jersey has a huge Asian population — and few of them stayed more than 10 or 15 minutes. Twenty years ago, the place was almost completely private — like a secret we shared with just a few others. Now it was public knowledge.

As we sat along the river having some cheese and crackers while the dogs wandered, I felt sad about the changes. But, in a way, I was also sort of relieved about them. It wasn’t the place I remembered from those hikes with the man I’d later marry. The differences I saw gave me closure — at least on this one place. It was as dead to me as my marriage — indeed, as dead as the man I’d loved and visited the place with all those years ago.

We posed for photos. I got a nice shot of my sister-in-law and her dogs along the river and she got a picture of me and Penny.

Old 9w
Part of the trail was on old Route 9W, an autumn wonderland.

State Line Lookout
The snack bar at the State Line Lookout. How many hot cocoas did I drink there on early Sunday mornings in the 1990s? I’ll never know.

Palisades View
The Palisades and Hudson River. My trip was timed perfectly for peak color here. (I couldn’t do that again if I tried.)

On the way back, I suggested hiking south along the trail and old road to the State Line Lookout. This was a parking area with snack bar and view point on the Palisades just south of the New York/New Jersey border. Years ago, it had been the Sunday morning meeting place for the Sport Touring Motorcycle Club. We were members and we made almost every ride with them for at least five years in the 1990s. I can still remember those rides, most of which went north and wound along the Seven Lakes Drive area near Bear Mountain. I learned how to ride a motorcycle back in those days — and my fellow club members taught me how to ride fast on the twisty roads I grew to love.

We hiked back to the car along old route 9W. The dogs had one last chance to run loose. Then we were back in the car and heading to my brother’s house.

The Shoot

The next day we were up early for a trip to Old Bridge. My brother and his wife were participating in a shooting event at the Old Bridge Rifle and Pistol Club. I was coming along as a spectator. Penny would stay behind with the other dogs.

Let me take a moment to explain my views on guns. Yes, I’m pretty liberal. But no, I don’t really believe in gun control. Like the conservatives, I truly believe that if we limit access to guns, the only people who will have guns will be the criminals. I also don’t think that controlling guns will prevent lunatics from shooting up our schools. The crazies will always be able to get the guns, magazines, and ammo they need. Really. Unlike the conservatives, however, I don’t believe that we should all own guns because it’s our Second Amendment right. Or because we should take the law into our own hands (like certain Floridian neighborhood watchers). Or because the government is evil and we need to defend ourselves from “them.” I own a gun — a little Baretta 22 caliber semiautomatic which I keep in my home for personal security. Although I wouldn’t mind learning to shoot better, it’s not high on my list of priorities. All that said, I went to the shooting match because I was genuinely interested in how shooting matches worked.

Bagel with Cream Cheese
This is how you make a bagel with cream cheese. (Have I mentioned how much I miss the food in New York?)

On the way we stopped for breakfast at a bagel place. At first, I was disappointed: I’d really wanted a hot breakfast. But then my brain kicked in. New York bagel. What the hell was I thinking? Of course I wanted a New York bagel. I ordered it just the way I wanted it: sesame seed bagel, toasted (both sides), cream cheese, lox, a bit of red onion. You know how they made it? Exactly the way I ordered it. Imagine that!

Shooter Norb
My brother, in action at the shoot.

Pumpkin Stage
The left side of the pumpkin stage. Most of the targets were out of sight behind the fences. One of the rules of this stage: you had to start with your magazines in one or more pumpkins.

We were the first to arrive at the shoot. While my brother and sister in law helped set up the “stages” for shooting, I helped out with the registration. Soon, there was a constant flow of shooters coming in with forms and fees. Total count at the end was about 70. (Ladies, if you’re interested in meeting a man, this is the place to come. There were only 4 women at the whole event. Get a decent gun, learn how to shoot, and bag yourself a man.)

There were seven stages. Our squad of 10 people rotated through them like the six other squads of 10 or 11. It took most of the day. Some stages were pretty simple; others — like the pumpkin stage — were quite challenging. In each stage, shooters had to follow specific rules and stay within specific zones to shoot paper and steel targets. In some cases, shooting a target would cause another target to move, making it more challenging.

I helped out by taping up holes on the targets after scoring each shooter and resetting dynamic targets. I also picked up lots of brass. My brother loads his own rounds, so he was interested in recovering as much 40 caliber brass as he could. I left whatever other brass I picked up on the tables at each stage; someone took them because they always disappeared.

I had a good time and learned a lot about shooting matches. The people there were great — really nice. And safety was of utmost importance. The rules were followed and enforced by range observers. At the end of the day, we helped tear down the stage we finished up on. We hung around to talk with other shooters on other squads. But rather than go out to a diner with a group of people, we just went home.

A Day in New York, the Trip Home

The next day, Monday, was my last day in the area. I’d already decided to spend it in New York City. I had some personal business to take care of. But I also wanted to revisit the places that had been part of my life many years ago. Like the trip to Peanut Falls, I suspected that seeing them again, alone, would somehow give me some closure and help me move on.

My account of that day is rather long so I spun it off to a separate blog post.

My brother picked me up at the train station at around 6 PM and we went back to his house. After some discussion, the three of us decided to order out Italian food. A while later, the delivery guy showed up with eggplant rollatini for me, chicken parmesan for my brother, and a personal size pizza for my sister in law. The food was hot and good. (Ah, food in New York. Not only is it good, but it can be delivered.)

In the morning, my brother took me and Penny to the airport. Our flight was at 7:20 AM. I grabbed a breakfast sandwich at a coffee shop near the gate as boarding began. By some miracle, I’d been able to move my seat up to the window at Row 8. I settled in with Penny under the seat in front of me. A woman sat in the aisle seat. When the plane door closed, I realized there had been another miracle: the seat beside me remained empty.

The sun rose as the plane taxied out to the runway.

The flight was five hours and relatively smooth. I rented an entertainment device and used it to watch the Lone Ranger. It wasn’t very good, but it was better than I expected after reading so many reviews. It certainly kept me entertained.

As we approached central Washington, I looked down and realized that we would be passing just north of Wenatchee. I took a picture of the area from about 25,000 feet. My friend Jim, who is an airline pilot, sends me photos like this all the time, but I think this one is much clearer than any of his, especially after a trip through Photoshop to reduce the haze.

The Wenatchee Area from 25,000 Feet
My new stomping grounds from 25,000 feet. You can clearly see Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams in the distance, Mission Ridge (with snow), the Wenatchee area and Columbia River, Moses Coulee, Badger Mountain, and the Waterville Plateau.

Mt Rainier
As you might imagine from this clear shot of Mt. Rainier from an airliner window, the weather was amazing in Seattle the day I returned.

A little further along the way, I got a very good shot of Mt. Rainier. It’s rare that an airline window shot comes out anywhere near good enough to show.

We got into Seattle 30 minutes early. (Another miracle?) I hurried Penny outside for a pee, surprised that she’d managed to hold it for a total of about 6 hours (from the time I’d put her in her bag). I texted a friend who lived in the area. There was one thing I’d overlooked when I booked my flight: I had a 6 hour layover in Seattle. Yes, it’s true: I could have driven home. Twice. But the airline had my bag and I doubted that they’d put it on the connecting flight if I wasn’t on it.

My friend came to pick me up and we went out to an Indian restaurant not far away for lunch. Then we took a walk along a lake nearby, giving Penny a chance to run. We also hit a bookstore, where I wandered around with Penny in my arms resisting the urge to rebuild my library.

My friend dropped me off at 3. We went through security again and grabbed dessert at the food court. A while later, we were on the plane, heading toward Wenatchee. We were on the ground at 5 PM. I was home an hour later.

Some Final Thoughts

I didn’t realize how much I needed this trip until I took it.

Although I missed my chance to say goodbye to Jackie, I was strangely at peace about his death. All too often we try to prolong life far past the point where the quality of life makes it worth living. I’ve seen too many older people hanging on physically or mentally (or both), kept alive with constant pain and suffering through the use of medicines or machinery — simply for the sake of staying alive. Why do we do it?

Jackie had been ill for some time and his quality of life had definitely deteriorated beyond the point he’d find reasonable. Rosemary mentioned that he knew his time had come. He accepted that. He didn’t need to wait for me to come sit at his bedside and hold his hand one last time. He was finished with his life and he let it go. He was free from further pain and suffering. And I was happy for him.

He didn’t want a funeral service. He wanted to be cremated with his remains buried beside his grandmother’s in the family plot. Although I wanted to be present for that, his remains were not available until after I had to leave. I don’t think he would have minded. I don’t think he wanted a fuss.

I got some personal healing in my trips to Jackie’s house, Peanut Falls, and New York City. Everything was just different enough to be new to me — there weren’t any painful reminders of my life with the man I loved. It was good seeing family and friends, even if things didn’t work out the way we’d hoped. I left feeling tired but energized, refreshed for the work that lay ahead of me at home.

When will I go back? Who knows? Maybe never. And I think that’s why it was so important for me to do as many things as I did in that week. Just in case.

Dear Jackie

Thanks for the monkey lamp. I’ll miss you.

lamp1lamp2lamp3lamp4lamp5lamp6lamp7lamp8Just a few of your antique lamps. We lit them up and I photographed them to remember them forever.

Dear Jackie,

I’d hoped to see you one last time, to say goodbye and give you some comfort in your final days — the kind of comfort you can only get when people who love you are near. But it was not meant to be. I got the phone call about your death on Monday morning, while driving back from the appointment that prevented me from coming sooner. Although I was sad that I missed you, I knew that you likely welcomed that final sleep. You were finally out of pain after years of deteriorating health and illness, able to rest easy.

Still, the plane tickets were bought and paid for and the time was scheduled on my calendar. My mom was already on her way, driving up from Florida. (She missed her chance to say goodbye by less than 24 hours.) Although you’d made it clear that you didn’t want a service, I knew we’d gather to lay your ashes to rest per your instructions. And then there was your house and all the things inside it — my mom and cousin Rosemary would have quite a chore ahead of them. So I came, of course, and even though I wasn’t able to say goodbye in person, I was able to say goodbye by revisiting my memories of you though the wonderful things you left behind in your home.

And what things! Yes, your house was a mess — but among the clutter were the amazing things you collected over your long career as an antique dealer. No one could imagine the treasures stuck in every corner of your house. I hope you don’t mind that I shared photos of your lamps and candlestick holders and all those VHS tapes with my friends on Facebook. I wanted to give them a glimpse of what we were experiencing as we went through the crazy, wonderful, chaotic clutter you left behind.

First were the lamps. You know how I loved your lamps! After Grandma left me her Jefferson lamp — which she’d bought from you years before — I came to your home to buy a similar lamp to go with it. You sold me another reverse-painted lamp, a Handel. I got so much pleasure out of them in the living room of my home, making sure to light them when company came. They were the first things I packed when I prepared to move out at the end of my marriage; it was vital to protect them from the desperate old woman who’d already begun cataloging my things, so eager to take my place in my home. Everyone in the family had a good laugh at her ignorance when she listed them as “Pairpoint Puffs” on an inventory my wasband submitted to his lawyer.

But although you’d shown me many reverse-painted lamps that day back in 1999, you didn’t show me all of them. Or any of the other styles that really didn’t interest me. One by one, my mom, Rosemary, and I lit them up to admire them. I took photos. I knew that they’d go to auction and I wanted to remember them all. So beautiful! Handel, Pairpoints, Tiffanys, and names I’ll never know. I was tickled when one of my Facebook friends suggested putting them for sale on Etsy, a craft web site. She had no idea that these were the real deal, worth thousands at auction. I’m sure they’ll make many collectors and art lovers happy — at least as happy as I am to have mine.

The Monkey LampThe monkey lamp. Yes, its eyes really do light up.

And yes, I finally got the monkey lamp. You know how much I admired it — how many times did I try to get you to sell it to me? Such an unusual piece in such an unusual house. It reminds me of you and of all the times my family visited you there.

Visiting you at that house when I was a kid was like a trip to a museum. Even though I didn’t really understand what I was seeing, it was all magical to me. So many wonderful things — most of which I wasn’t allowed to touch! Back in the early days, when Victor still lived there with you, you still had the shops in the basement and backyard. I remember walking through that basement shop with my arms obediently at my sides, just looking. Once, you let me pick something from a cabinet — it was a small portrait of Abe Lincoln decoupaged to a piece of wood. Do you know I found that little picture when I was packing last year? I still had it nearly 45 years after you gave it to me!

I remember those days well, especially the Christmas visits. You and Victor always did an amazing job decorating the house with a real Christmas tree that climbed up to the ceiling, covered with antique (of course!) ornaments. A fire was always going in the fireplace — a real treat for us because we didn’t have a fireplace at home — and you’d always make it extra special by tossing in some sort of crystals that turned the flames all different colors.

Backyard The backyard is nothing like I remember it.

And the backyard — in those days it had a rough but well-trimmed lawn with concrete paths that sloped down to the shops in the backyard. But today the yard is a tangle of young trees, weeds, and brambles. The paths are hidden beneath the brush. The small shop is a pile of wood and the large shop is a mostly collapsed mess.

vhsWe found about 1,500 VHS tapes among your things. Why did you have so many? We’ll never know.

But this week, the house was dark with drawn curtains and shades. Even all those lamps couldn’t brighten it up. The air was musty — the same antique smell I remember from childhood, but intensified. We went through your things, organizing, gathering, and discarding while reminiscing about you. The candlestick holders filled your dining room table. The soapstone carvings filled another table in the living room. As I cleared shelves full of VHS tapes that you’d collected for reasons only you know — more than 1500 of them! — we filled those shelves with crystal and silver and carnival glass.We cleared your closets, giving your clothes — including so many pants and shirts that still had store tags on them — and linens to Goodwill. Why did you have so many ties? We’ll never know. And eyeglasses — I’d never seen you wear them, but they were all over the house. Now they’re in a bag, ready to donate to the Lions.

recordsEvery room of the house had boxes of record albums, but the attic crawlspaces were absolutely crammed with them.

The record albums, stored in liquor boxes in every room of the house, were beyond my capabilities. We sent my brother in to handle those. Even he gave up after a while. I don’t know how many there are, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were 5,000 of them. The boxes stretched into the darkness of the crawlspaces in your attic. We found a Craig’s List browser to take the VHS tapes for free; she came with her husband and a trailer. Those LPs, however, deserve better attention; a record dealer will be coming from New York to look at them on Monday and I hope he comes with a truck and helpers.

There were light bulbs in almost every drawer we opened — too many for even a lamp dealer to have on hand. And plastic bags — what was up with that? It looked to me as if you’d saved every plastic grocery bag you’d ever brought home and talked them into giving you bunches and bunches of brand new ones, too. Lots of paper towels and laundry soap — you must have gotten quite a deal on that stuff in the store to have been stocking up so much. More than once, the word “hoarder” came to mind, but although you saved a lot of things many people would have thrown away, I could never call you a hoarder.

I thought often during the week about our last few conversations on the phone. You’d heard from my mother all about my divorce ordeal, about the man I’d loved and trusted for more than half my life betraying me with lies and infidelity and trying to steal everything I’d worked so hard for my whole life. That’s when you confided in me about your own pain all those years ago, about Victor’s departure and some of the vindictive things he did to you. We had that in common: heartbreak. You understood my tears and tried to comfort me with words over the phone. I appreciated that.

Jack DeGaetano circa 1975.
Jack DeGaetano circa 1975.

I wanted so badly to see you before you slipped into the final sleep. I wanted you to feel the love of family members at your life’s end. I wanted to comfort you, if I could. I’m sorry I was unable to do that. I hope you’ll forgive me.

The monkey lamp is your parting gift to me and I will treasure it always. I promise that it will occupy a place of honor in my new home, never sold or given away. And when guests come by and comment about its oddness and glowing eyes, I’ll tell them stories about you and your home and your wonderful things. It’ll help keep you alive in my memory forever.

Your loving goddaughter,