I’m super proud of how much progress she’s made in the past year or more. Not everyone who’s going through cancer treatments decides it’s time to start running (and for those who do, good for you!). Not only did she get through that first 5K last year, but she ran the Freihofer’s again this year and has slowly been building back her base, able to do things she couldn’t just a year ago. We cycle together too, and she’s making strides there. When this picture was taken, we had just climbed up Flight Lock Road in Waterford, an easy climb for anyone with hundreds of miles in the legs, but a challenge for someone who has lost some of her wind. When we’ve gone out riding I’ve mostly kept her to the flats so she can go a little farther, enjoy the distance and not worry about having enough juice to get back. But this time we were only on a short jaunt, and I underestimated how much of a challenge the hill, which runs alongside a series of canal locks, would be to her. But she just kept cranking away at it until we got to the crest. Then we coasted down one lock, took a rest, coasted the rest of the way into town and stopped to admire the river at the Waterford Visitors Center.
Then, of course, she hurled. (In the rest room, happily.) We’re blaming virus rather than exertion. And after the hurling, she said:
“I want to do that hill again.”
Which is why she’s cool.
It is that time, time for the annual “Holy #@&! Where did July go?!” post. The one where I realize that in the month of July I have posted not once, and then try to explain how it came to be that the only thing on my front page for a month has been a celebration of free wheat germ. It’s a million things, really:
- It’s summer, hot and oppressive until just this week when it became so sweet and perfect. Summer, when one daughter complains that we never run the air conditioning, which has been working non-stop to keep the house at a suitable temperature.
- It’s the outdoor stuff, biking and running and not nearly enough canoeing/kayaking because of this year’s constantly swollen rivers. But still: some.
- It’s the summer activities: summer camp in a semi-distant place, special events, outdoor farmer’s markets, arts nights, and many excuses for ice cream.
- It’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” Joss Whedon’s brilliant take on my very favorite Shakespeare play, which requires repeated watching.
- It’s events and reunions, including my 35th high school reunion, which was really an unexpected delight as we celebrated the bond of a common point of origin and a brief but very important educational experience.
- And of course, it’s the Tour de France, which took on a new twist as I figured out a way to get coverage from Eurosportplayer and watch the English (and sometimes French, and sometimes Danish) feeds. Although Froome won early and with way too much power to not raise questions, the individual stages were all exciting this year. Corsica was beautiful, climbing Alpe d’Huez twice was murderous, and as usual, watching the whole thing took up most of the month of July.
This was, unfortunately, not The Summer of Fun. It started
with such promise – my wife was through her cancer treatments, we were getting
out on the bikes together, the weather was dry and warm. But then began the
home improvement project, the crazy idea to replace a 72-year-old porch, which
started simply and grew and grew, and started taking up every free moment. I’m
currently working on sanding and staining the 76 pieces of tongue and groove
that made up the ceiling. It’s that kind of project. Biking got reduced to what
I do to commute every day, which ain’t much. The longer days in the saddle just
had to take a back seat to getting this project done.
There was also the matter of coordinating an office move at
work, dealing with vendors, getting quotes and approvals and so on, in addition
to the normal travel schedule. We didn’t get to the ballet, or a single concert; there was no Park Playhouse or fireworks.
On the theory that if I wasn’t having a summer of fun, no
one would, younger daughter was packed off to a series of “camps” – if you can
call intensive educational experiences full of kids way brighter than I am “camps”
– which took up travel days and left us with an empty nest for a chunk of the
summer. Older daughter lived away for the summer, having a job and being all
responsible and grown up, and probably doing things that I don’t even want to
know about while living in squalor. And
then there was a family tragedy that just hurts too much to think about and has
definitely cast a pall over the remaining days of August.
On the other hand, we did have a wonderful family vacation
all together in Burlington. We found a favorite new place for ice cream, Mac’s
in Watervliet. The canoes and kayak were fairly well used. There was Frisbee.
There was lots of ukulele. Wife and I snuck off to DC together and had dinner
with old friends, and later hosted other old friends who were traveling
through Albany. I had lunch in the park with my insanely grown-up daughter. I
have repeatedly caught the other one practicing piano without provocation. I bought a wicked sexy new circular saw. And I think I even started to get used to the
So while it wasn’t The Summer of Fun, it wasn’t The Summer
of No Fun.
For the first time in the just shy of 16 years that there
have been four of us, tonight all four of us will be sleeping under different
roofs, in different cities. It’s a very strange feeling. Elder daughter is
having what I hope is that magical summer after freshman year. It seems to
involve plastic flamingos and complaining about housemates who don’t clean, so
it sounds perfect. She’s not far away, but she’s not at home. Younger daughter
is off at smartycamp, though it turns out to be supersmartycamp, where young
men and women who are super-serious about becoming doctors are doing things
like watching knee replacement surgeries, touring hospitals, and discussing
medical ethics. This may put ideas in her head. I’ll be laying my idea-free head
down in the rough vicinity of Valley Forge, which suddenly is becoming another
of my haunts, though the actual name of the town I’m staying in is never
abundantly clear. And lovely wife will be holding down the fort, which these days
means reattaching the plastic wrap to the porch reconstruction project after
every windstorm. So this is how we end up scattered to the winds.
Remember that first summer away? I had a summer job on the
college paper that paid $75 a week for 10 or 12 weeks, and that was plenty to
live on. A small crew of us put it out every week, doing absolutely everything:
writing, photographing, editing, laying out, pasting up, and delivering. It
took about 3-1/2 days out of the week. The other 3-1/2 days were spent in a
lazy summer haze. I rode my bike and wore out a pair of flip-flops. I
discovered the city pools and parks. After an awful week rooming in the
basement of a frat house, I found a beautiful sublet well away from campus with
a lovely porch, one roommate who was indifferent to me, and one who couldn’t
stand me. I scoured garage sales for old vinyl, spent hours and hours writing
letters and ridiculous short stories, picked away at a guitar. We “borrowed”
the paper’s van and went out every weekend to see Next of Kin, playing, most
often, at the local Ground Round. I hid from the summer heat in cool darkrooms
and pretended I was a photographer. I discovered Jefferson Airplane and the
Animals. I drank too much sometimes but it wasn’t yet the problem it would
become, and that summer everything seemed to be in perfect balance. On top of
it all was the easy atmosphere of a college campus in summer, where no one’s in
too much of a hurry, things are relaxed, and you feel that by being there you
own the place more than the kids who come and go with every semester. So I’m
hoping the elder one is having that kind of summer.
For that matter, remember that first time going away without your parents? I had several opportunities like that, but the biggest one was essentially a journalism camp held at what would become my college, the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. Two weeks away with other kids from all over the state and the country, all in some way into the same interests. It was so exciting . . . in the same day I heard my first authentic Long Island and Texas accents. We worked like dogs putting together a newspaper and a yearbook for the program. We learned writing, composing, and photography. We pulled all-nighters. We listened to “Hotel California” a lot. The thrill of finding others who were in some way like me, of opening up, discovering. It’s all so new and wonderful at that age, and I’m so glad the younger one gets to experience it this summer.
Other than that, for the parents, it’s a routine week. I try to understand electricity, and Lee comes home from work to put the saran wrap back up on the porch project I left behind.
I don’t seem to be able to think of my father at the
socially prescribed times, like his birthday or the anniversary of his death,
but Father’s Day is coming up and that has me thinking about my own legacy as a
father, and that makes me think of his as well. As the kids say, it’s
He was a good man, and not a terribly good one. He was
generous to a fault, and wasted much of his life in bars. He knew how to build
things but lacked patience. He was inarticulate, uneducated, and embarrassed
about it, and he was massively proud that I turned out differently. He’s been
gone longer than I knew him, but even at the time he died I felt like I had an
incomplete picture of him, and not nearly enough memories.
What was expected of fathers started to change in the ’60s
and ’70s, when I was growing up, and so it’s fair to say that the transition
was confusing for many men. For a long time I just accepted that that was how
it was, and he definitely did come from a different time. He was one of ten
kids in a family where the father, 50 years old when my dad was born, was often
working in a distant city. There wasn’t a lot of father-son bonding. Or any, as
far as I know. So to my father, the amount of time we spent together probably
felt extravagant. But for the most part, it wasn’t time together; it was time
when he needed to go somewhere, and I’d come along. Mostly where he needed to
go was bars, the old dank neighborhood bars that barely exist anymore.
Sometimes there were other places: auto repair shops, the lumber yard, the
barber shop. We fished together a couple of times, and two or three times he drove
us on my scout troop’s annual trip to Lake Placid, but otherwise he wasn’t
there. It was up to someone else’s father to perfect my Frisbee throw or to
give me my first good fishing reel.
It seemed perfectly normal to me then, something any kid
might do, to accompany my father into bars and wait while he drank. These were
all places that knew him, where he knew everyone, and he was welcomed and
greeted. I learned later that a barfly’s welcome isn’t worth much: when he
died, people I thought were his friends couldn’t rouse themselves to come to
the funeral, but instead waved at the procession as we drove past the tavern.
But to him, these were his favorite places, and he probably felt sharing it
with me was a good thing. I’d get dimes or quarters to play the jukebox and the
bowling machine, I’d get the tiny glass of soda mixed with grenadine
embarrassingly and unfailingly called a Shirley Temple, and a bag of Wise potato
chips or Slim Jims. And then I’d just sit and wait and watch him leaning
against the bar, chatting with the other drunk men about nothing whatsoever.
And somehow I believed it was perfectly normal, despite the fact that I rarely,
if ever, saw another boy in those places.
My strongest memories of him are the smells: the powerful
mix of diesel and cigarettes that clung to his work clothes, the whiskey and
beer on his breath at the end of absolutely every single day, the pungent cool
smell of stale beer soaked into the floorboards of ancient taverns. Images of
him are harder to find (and actual photographs, in a family that viewed film as
an exotic and unjustifiable expense, harder still), but to this day if I smell
rotting lettuce, which he often reeked of after a day of hauling produce for
Central Markets, I instantly think of my father.
He was sweet in many ways. He tried to be interested in the
things that interested me, and was always polite and kind to my friends. He
adored my wife and insisted she would have a wedding ring even though we were
too progressive to believe in such things. He was supremely willing to help
when help was needed.
He was stupidly young when he died, 48, and he died because
he drank and smoked, especially smoked, despite very bad asthma and a lot of
signs from his body that maybe it was time to straighten up. He didn’t. A few
years ago I found myself at his grave in rageful tears, so angry that he wasn’t
here to see his grand-daughters, and it was entirely his doing.
And so I think about the legacy, the memories my girls will
have of me. I lived nearly 18 years with my father, he died when I was almost
25, and as I said, even then my memories were scant. I have tried, not always
with success, to be present, to be there when I’m there, and not to be
distracted by the electronics and things that make it easy to divert our
attention. We have done a tremendous amount of things together, close to home,
around the state and even a bit beyond, and each one seems to elicit a very
specific memory for them, and I just hope those memories remain. I was blessed
with a period of time when I was home nearly every day, and we learned to cook
and bake together, to dance around the kitchen, and to just enjoy each other.
I’m touched beyond belief when my older daughter texts me with a question she
could easily have Googled, and when she thanks me for teaching her to solder
and how to wash dishes. I’m touched beyond belief when my younger daughter
squees with excitement that we’ll be returning to a campground we visited many
times when she was young and fell out of using, because I know her experience
of that place, and our being there together will always be with her.
For some reason I have tripped upon a lot of wedding-related writing in the past few days, and it just amazes me how insane people let it make them. I’ve long said that if people put anywhere near the amount of effort into the marriage that they put into the wedding, there’d be far fewer divorces.
I was looking for something else and ran across this photo from our wedding. It was 1983. We were married in our apartment on a cold November afternoon by a judge we didn’t know. A few friends and family came. She made that dress. We’re so young, and she’s so beautiful, that it breaks my heart. Of course, we had no idea what we were getting into. No one does. It’s been as easy as breathing, except for the parts that were awful and hard and painful. But I liked the hard parts, too, because we shared them, came through them, and now there’s just nothing we can’t get through.
A short ceremony in our apartment followed by a nice dinner in a restaurant we liked, a delightful evening out with friends and family. Was it a dream wedding? It’s the marriage that counts.
The real impetus was the Van Gogh show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Go there now. It was simply amazing . . . I was unprepared for the emotional impact of seeing those paintings up close.
What else was there? Surprisingly good pub food, the most amazing waffles ever, and a great trip through the Mütter Museum. We learned that threatening to touch a teenager with a dessicated arm is a VERY effective parenting tool. Wish we’d known that years ago. And that there are diseases I didn’t yet know to be afraid of.
Walked for miles along city streets and the river trail, took subways, took the train. And listened to an organ concert in a department store. Can you have a better weekend? I don’t think so.