A day trip from home.

Beautiful mountain views edged the hourlong drive from our home to Bedford, Virginia. It was June 6, and husband Peter and I were heading to the annual Commemoration of the Invasion of Normandy at the National D-Day Memorial. It was our fifth visit there since the opening ceremony in 2001.

Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains

Neither of us would have been aware of the magnitude of what happened that day in 1944 on Normandy’s beaches. Operation Overlord.

Peter was six, in London again after having been evacuated to the north with his mum when he was an infant. All he knew of the war were the bombed out buildings in his neighborhood, the thrill of finding scraps of wood to sell for fires, the hope of finding mortar shells or worse in the rubble in Hammersmith. A man he didn’t know he knew had moved in — his Royal Marine father, home from his post at St. Margaret’s Bay above the English Channel.

I was five, and all I knew of World War II in my Ohio home were blackout blinds on our windows, sirens sounding the all clear, rationing and victory gardens. I had carrots and radishes in my little plot, while my father grew other vegetables the rabbits wouldn’t eat.

Peter and I visit the Bedford D-Day Memorial because we are of that time, those days. His memories now are rooted in the old war movies he watches, but he was interested in the day’s goings-on. He tapped his foot to the music and smiled with amazement at the few WWII veterans present, fewer than a dozen this year. Later, when I asked if he’d enjoyed the day, he said, “Yes, it’s good to see the people and hear the words and the music.”

Captain (Ret.) Jerry Yellin, U.S. Army Air Force WWII Veteran was the keynote speaker. At 95 he’s still spry and active in his personal campaign to talk to veterans about post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), something he suffered from, without diagnosis, thirty years post-war. PTSD hadn’t been identified. Yellin has the unique distinction of having flown the final mission of the war on August 14, 1945. His wing-man, Phillip Schlamberg, was the last man killed. Today, Yellin travels the world sharing his story, bringing healing and hope to the new generation of veterans who battle PTSD.

A refurbished P-51 fighter, flown by Andrew McKenna, thrilled the crowd with a swooping three-pass flyover. As it streaked against the vivid blue sky of a perfect summer day, the horrors that happened on June 6, 1944 seemed more distant than seventy-three years. To those veterans who survived the day and were present to tell their stories, it was still fresh in their minds.

After enduring all the ordeals and training in England, we felt like we were completely ready for anything, and we were very ready to fight the Germans, and we looked forward to the day that we could actually get into the real fight.”
— Sgt. Bob Slaughter, 116th Infantry Regiment, US 29th Division. Slaughter led the effort to establish the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, home of the nineteen young men who were lost that day in Normandy.

Right in my own backyard.

The adventures husband Peter and I used to have are part of my memories and photo albums. His increasingly confused state — dementia has gained on him — keeps us home now. He has no memories of our trips, nor do my pictures help him remember. Last fall, for the first three days of an eight day visit to daughter Carolynn and husband Bill, Peter didn’t know where he was. We’d lived in that same little village for seventeen years.
* * *

Daffodil in snow.

The first week of this month, Carolynn and her friend Robin traveled to us with inflexible determination to give me a special week “in my own backyard.” The bumper sticker on Carolynn’s new car said “Rescue Mom.”

Before the two left upstate New York early on a snowy Saturday morning, they’d issued orders for me to list anything they could do to help with during their week. Not wanting to look a gift-horse in the mouth, I did start a list, but lost it amongst the clutter in my office. I really wanted to just enjoy them, not put them to work on the pesky tasks that had piled up. That idea didn’t fly.

They arrived  Saturday evening. Sunday was family brunch, cards, and dinner out, but Monday they were all about the chores. Granddaughter Samantha was in town, so they appointed her secretary to their two-woman crew. And then they set to work.

Coincidentally, Leslie provided work shirts for the family crew. From left, Carolynn, Sam, me, Leslie.

They fixed nearly all the meals, grocery shopped, baked bread, cookies, muffins; organized files, cookbooks, kitchen cupboards, and my office; surprised me with muffins at breakfast on my birthday, and planned a birthday feast. (Leslie, around as much as she was able during her busiest time of the year, reminded them about my requirement for tin roof sundaes instead of cake.) Since Sam likes a clean car, I suggested she clean mine. She did,

Twice they shoved me out of the house, once to get a pedicure, once, a massage. I didn’t protest too much.

They gardened and washed windows, we shopped and played cards, watched movies and read, they made multiples of sock bunnies and we fit in “Beauty and the Beast” their final evening.

All in all, that week was a “trip” anyway I look at it. And I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

Over the week the list expanded to two pages. By the end, everything was crossed off, even ‘bake chocolate chip cookies’ that Sam added for herself.

Fluffle of sock bunnies.

 

‘Sweep of easy wind and downy flake.’

To awaken yesterday to snow, HOORAY, was as much a thrill as if I’d fulfilled the last item on my bucket list: go to Antarctica.

As soon as I caffeinated myself I headed out  along a pretty trail through a strip of piney woods. As I crunched along, I recited phrases from Robert Frost’s “Whose woods these are I think I know,” one of my favorites. I didn’t have a little horse to stop, it wasn’t dark and deep, I had no promises to keep, and I do know who owns the woods: the town does.

Overall, a mere inch of snow fell, but vigorous squalls added to it throughout the day. I was glued to the windows pretending I was encased in a snow globe. Snow and cold make me absolutely giddy, the way sunshine and blistering heat please others.

My collection of snow globes increased by four this year. Daughter Leslie gave me a set of miniatures that depict the four seasons. Winter pictured at the top. The second and fourth photos, moose and bunny, show gifts from daughter Carolynn more than twenty years ago. Our grandson Miah, now 23, made the woodsman globe when he was in elementary school. And the bottom one, a deer enduring an Ivory blizzard, was a Leslie creation when she was a little tot.

Good memories all, these still, silent little worlds where my dreams of winter live. Give me snow any day and lots of it. Please.

 

After the turkey is soup.

As always, for me, Thanksgiving was too soon over, the excellent meal a memory, with leftovers the stuff of Friday’s dreams. I’m not one to rush to Christmas before the November holiday, nor even after the turkey is soup, but this year, the little tree beside the door of Leslie and Martin’s woodsy retreat changed my mind.

Trekking to the river was a bit of a last minute rush. We’d made plans that, in the end, we couldn’t work out and alternate plans changed almost hourly as November 24 approached. I was in a muddle, but not Leslie. The previous weekend she’d planned ahead and, just for fun, added a touch of Christmas beside the front door, in case we ended up there for Thanksgiving.

And, in the end, we did.

It was a lovely holiday, even though we missed family who’d been there the two previous Thanksgivings — Carolynn and Bill, Jayne and Marc.

Wednesday was cold. Would it snow? No-o! Thanksgiving day dawned cool, but bright, and heated up along with the oven. The chef, Leslie, can’t stand the heat but she didn’t have the luxury of getting out of the kitchen. Once again, she engineered a turkey feast masterpiece. For the second time this year I failed pie-making. The from-scratch pumpkin was very good, the mixture of three kinds of apples, yummy, but the crusts could have been Play-Doh and were just as inedible.

Friday was warmer still. Samantha and Martin dug up potential Christmas trees, one for Sam to take home, one for me, and another for Leslie. I didn’t fuss about Christmas-rushing as I usually do, because it just seemed right. Sam left early to visit a friend in town. She drove her dad’s convertible, top down, with the tree riding shotgun. Wish I’d thought to take a picture.

bombeck-writers-workshop

 

Road trip.

The furthest we go from home these days is 596 miles to visit daughter Carolynn and son-in-law Bill in upstate New York. September is the perfect time . Warm days, crispy mornings, leaves getting their reds and oranges on, pumpkins beaming sunny smiles along the roads.

Before we left home mid-month, Carolynn wanted to know what I’d like to do while there. Easy answer:
1. Sit on the porch and do nothing.
2. Sit on the porch and read.
3. Sit on the porch and play canasta.
4. Eat at Symeon’s, our favorite restaurant.
5. Spend a day in the Adirondack Mountains.
6. Get together with a young old friend, Lisa

 

Lisa, #6, drove two hours to meet me in the little village where Peter and I lived for seventeen years. We reckoned it had been twenty years since we’d seen each other. That time, we met at the Utica Zoo, me with grandchildren Samantha and Jeremiah, screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-4-42-25-pmthen two and seven, and her with daughter Kristin, five. Her son Eric wasn’t on the horizon then. Twenty years! We’d worked at General Electric at the same time, she a recent college grad about Carolynn’s age, me, old enough to mother her, though she said I mentored. We talked Wednesday afternoon away. That evening sheimg_4140 texted to say she’d forgotten to give me the small gift she’d brought along. I’d already pulled away when she remembered, so she gave the package to the bartender at Nola’s to keep for me. When I went to pick it up there was an boisterous crowd at the bar. A couple of young women had heard the story of our meeting after so many years and begged me to open the gift right then so they could see it! The little box contained earrings made from old typewriter keys. Perfect.

That day was a bright note that week, along with a glissando of other bright notes. Carolynn, friend Robin and I went to lunch, to shop, and to watch Bridget Jones deliver her baby. We did everything on my list, and more. Our day in the Adirondacks, #5 on my list, was picture perfect. What more could anyone ask of a road trip?

 

 

Kathie goes west.

In 2011, Peter and I did two back-to-back tours out west to see the Western canyons and Yellowstone. After that, his worsening dementia ended our far-flung trips. And that was the last time I was on an airplane.

But Los Angeles and the 2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists Conference was reason to fly away for a long weekend. I’d won a place in the blogs under 10o,0oo category contest.

Kathie sees the Pacific.

Kathie sees the ocean.

When I received the news, I was thrilled, but I didn’t see how I could go. I thought of dozens of reasons why not: air travel hassles, no fun without someone to go with, could I leave Peter…blah, blah, blah. My daughters, who have never taken my no’s for an answer, said one of them would stay with Peter while the other went with me. Then Leslie suggested I ask Kathie, a fellow writer, who she knew would be a perfect traveling companion. Kathie was delighted to be asked — she’d never been further west than Michigan! — and after some hiccups in her life, she was on board. And so was I.

The laughs began in Charlotte with time to kill between flights. While Kathie bought a Rolling Stone magazine with Prince on the cover, I bought Vanity Fair featuring The Queen. I told her my reading material trumped hers, even though I hated to use that T-word.

Elevator's 'earthquake' button.

Elevator earthquake’ button.

What a fantastic time. We laughed all the way to California, throughout the sessions, and home again. Two full days of the best conference either of us ever attended, two full days of travel. We laughed at the “earthquake button” in the elevator; a menu offering local protein Atlantic salmon; my security scan that made the TSA officer think I’d had a hip replaced in addition to my right knee…or did I, perhaps, have a bomb in my left pocket?

It was thrilling to rub elbows with so many Pulitzer prize winners, hear so many excellent speakers, including Leonard Pitts, and meet so many welcoming people. We felt right at home. Our kind of people.

We each had our share of personal excitement too. I already knew I’d placed as one of three finalists in the columnists “Blog under 100,000” category — I got second — but Kathie won a raffle that enabled her to pitch her screenplay to a Hollywood writer. He was interested in her project, and they’ve been in touch since. Not even a “my people will contact your people” hedging tactic — hooray for Kathie!

And, hoo-ray for Hol-ly-wood!

 

National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2016 contest winner,
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category —
“Dementia isn’t funny…caregiver Judith Clarke looks for laughs every day.”

 

A rose by any other name.

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There! Down an alley where I’ve walked for years, peeking into back gardens as I go.

There! A white picket fence, leaning with their weight.

There! Fulsome, cascading, blushing, palest pink roses. Their delicate scent wafts bringing childhood memories.

Likely, the rose has been there a very long time, but if so, I never noticed. Did the springtime’s flooding rains cause extra bounteous blooms?

VanDyke is the name of this beauty. When I was a little girl, the same rose climbed a trellis on the back of our house, then lolloped over the gate and along our picket fence. I’d never seen anything so beautiful in my whole life, I once announced solemnly. I would stand beneath its fragrant shade for hours, strange child that I was.

Of course, I’m not really sure if this one is a VanDyke rose, nor am I sure I even remember the name correctly. I could knock on the front door. Ask. But I want to believe I remember the strange-sounding name my daddy told me more than seventy years ago.

If it isn’t the same rose, it’s as pretty as the one from my childhood and it smells as sweet.

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Gentle gray wisps.

 

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When I began my walk today, the morning was bright,
the sun so brilliant my eyes ached.
No more than a few hundred yards along, fog wafted in like
a worn gray picnic blanket settling on the emerald grass.
The fading dogwood blossoms glowed

It lasted only a few minutes, but long enough to gentle my roiling mind.
I continued walking, lightened,
as the fog lifted and sunlight returned.

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Zip-a-dee-doo-dah…

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Photo, Missouri Department of Conservation.

Bluebirds, maybe a dozen in all, zipped around our feeders and vacated birdhouses one very cold morning. There were no mealworms for them, but a few snacked on seeds. Several went into the houses for a few minutes shelter. If they’d had silk ribbons in their beaks they might have been drawing a Disney scene in blue.

I didn’t have to go further than my kitchen window to see them. I stood there drinking coffee, while waiting for my toast to pop. I didn’t think to grab my phone or camera, didn’t think to grab a bird book from the shelf right behind me.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 9.12.52 AMBluebirds are year-round residents in our area, and including most of Pennsylvania south and diagonally westward to the middle of Texas. Even so, we seldom see them here in winter. That energetic blue flock was a wonderful beginning to a winter day.

I have a feeling they were being chased by the howling wind and bitter cold being shoved south and east by an Arctic clipper. The bluebirds certainly weren’t looking for available real estate to raise their young at this time of year. When the season is right, this custom bluebird condo, built by  son-in-law Bill, is ready for them.

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"Zip-a-dee-ay…wonderful feeling, wonderful day."

Encore! Encore!

Snowflakes pirouetted like ballerinas in crystalline tutus.  Scrims of white came in flurries, gusts, and wind-pushed whooshes. Allegro!

Snow, billowing, beautiful snow.

At last. Nearly two weeks past the white Christmas I dreamed of. Bundled up in layers for the first time this so-called winter, off I went walking…and singing…

For the past several weeks, and months too early, quince blossoms glowed dusky pink, golden jasmine wafted forsythia-like, and daffodils pushed one, two, six inches out of the ground. The Lenten roses opened too, and a cherry tree budded out at the edge of an apple orchard. I opened windows and doors to the spring-like air. We sat outside to have our tea, played cards in the sun.

Too early, too soon.

Retailers complained that winter apparel isn’t selling. People dashed about in shorts and flip-flops.

Today, the wind is cold, the thermometer is stuck below freezing, and the heat creaks on and off frequently. More, more. Encore!

P-o-z-y-n-y-i spells Xmas.

As the years go by I get more and more Scrooged-up about the holidays. This season my mood has been especially glum. The weather is just too darned warm for December. If I wanted warm I’d head to Florida.

But I’m not a warm lover. I need snow and cold and fireplace aglow. If I were to light my fire now, I’d have to sit outside and enjoy it through the window.

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S-n-o-w spells happy on our tree, ’cause when mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.

Yesterday though, the tiniest scintilla of spirit crept in when I tackled the traditional Hungarian pastry I learned to make when I was pregnant with my youngest, Leslie. Fifty-two years — with three lapses — I’ve been doing this.

As I shoveled the four cups of flour onto my big board, I thought how much it looked like snow, softly drifting. And as I proofed the yeast that had passed its sell-by date seven years ago, I marveled at the miracle that it was still active. In fact, that dough didn’t double in size, it tripled.

The smell of the yeast, the whiff of vanilla, the mysterious face that loomed out of my yet-to-be-mixed raisin filling, evoked the scent of happy holidays remembered…happily.

 

 

596 miles before we sleep.

From Tennessee to the Canadian border, Interstate 81 lays down most of its 854.9 miles in Virginia, 324.9 to be precise. Paralleling the Appalachian Mountains, I-81 follows along Indian and early settler trails. A pretty ride if you’re in the passenger seat, but if you’re the driver zooming along at five or ten or fifteen miles over the limit, you can’t take your eyes off the road .

In Pennsylvania, heavy truck traffic labors up the hills while cars play hopscotch at terrifying speeds. Accidents that tie up traffic for hours are a given, and the drive is bum-numbing for passenger and driver. Until last week, I was always the passenger; now I’m the driver. Peter helped me brake, gasped occasionally, and pointed out interesting sights that I didn’t dare glance at.

Frackville, in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, was our destination, 379 miles from home, an overnight on the way to daughter Carolynn and husband Bill. It’s 596 miles door-to-door. Our stop was planned, but the relentless rain that jammed traffic into bumper-hugs wasn’t on our itinerary. What should have taken five hours, took more than six.

Driving is the best way to get there. Air travel doesn’t take long if you pay for a direct flight, but add in the drive to an airport, hours-early check-in, another hour to their home, and car travel proves quicker and cheaper. Then, when we return in a car stuffed with a huge pumpkin, three mums, gallons of fresh cider, jars of home-canned delights, boxes of cookies, as well as shopping finds and our bags, there are no added fees to pay.

When we neared Frackville, the GPS insisted on “hard right turns.” Wrong. After two loops on and off I-81, I turned hard left and there we were. Cold rain and wind hurried us inside. The motel was terrific — Holiday Inn Express — and there was a super breakfast bar the next morning.

Three more hours on the road and Carolynn, Bill and the dogs were waiting with big smiles, enveloping hugs, and doggy kisses.

The week was packed tighter than our car on the return — gourmet meals, cards, dominoes, dog walks, laughter, talking…lots of talking…especially when Carolynn’s friend Robin was around.

Maple walnut.

My maple walnut yum!

I’d already decided to drive home with no overnight. It is all downhill. We did stop for lunch at Frackville’s Dutch Pantry, noteworthy for its diner history, and treated ourselves to homemade ice cream.

No more non-stop drives in my future, though. Unh uh. I was reeling when we arrived. After 596 miles, my pillow called and visions of the week danced through my dreams.