Thanksgiving Memory

Many years ago, I became acquainted with an old Irish fellow named Tommy. We were among the crazy young people (at least that’s what most of the locals thought we were) who were “going back to the land.” We were figuring out how to be carpenters, stone masons, gardeners, and so forth, espousing the old ways and doing it all ourselves. [But that’s another whole story…].

Anyway, Tommy smoked a pipe that fitted in between whatever remaining teeth he had and was ever-present. It was challenging to make out whatever he said, and so it was one morning when my phone rang and the unmistakable voice of Tommy asked (dispensing with the introductions), “Do ya want some tarrupps?”

“Some WHAT??” I replied. He repeated, “Tarrupps. Do ya want some?” I’m thinking – but not venturing – building material? Food? Tools?

Not having the foggiest idea of what tarrupps were and whether, indeed, I did want some, I opted to accept his offer. He told me to come on over and get ’em. I did, never letting on that I was completely ignorant of what I was being gifted. And that was the day I first cooked turnips. And why, today, as I cut up some turnips to roast for Thanksgiving, I remember old Tommy.

Grape Leaf Pickles

My grandmother, Sarah Maud Pomeroy, was born in rural Canada back in 1884. When her mother died in 1898,  fourteen year-old Maud became the woman of the house.  She shouldered the cooking, housework, and the raising of younger siblings, and by the time of her marriage to John Wesley Andrus four years later, she was well-versed in domestic skills.  

Around 1905, Wes and Maud moved to an acre of land in Chili, NY, just west of the city of Rochester.  Wes found employment, but he also put considerable effort into growing fruit and vegetables and in raising chickens and selling eggs.  In those days, every home had a larder, and theirs was filled with the food he grew and Maud canned or root cellared.  Along the eastern edge of the acre he planted a long row of grapes.

Some years later, Maud’s sister, Elizabeth, had a recipe for 7 Day Chunk Pickles, and Maud decided to make them.  She copied the recipe.  It was one of those old methods in which you put a whole bunch of cucumbers in a large crock in the basement, fill it with a salt/water brine, and let it sit.  In this case, you were to add something to the mix each day for a week before putting it in individual canning jars.  On Day 6, the recipe said to add 203 grape leaves, so Maud went out to the grape fence and began to pick.  By the time she finished, the vines were nearly bare.  She put the resultant pile of grape leaves in the crock, but things just didn’t look right to her.  She called Elizabeth.

“Elizabeth, I’m making those 7-day pickles, and today I was supposed to put in 203 grape leaves.  It seemed like a lot, and when I got to 200, I said, ‘Good enough, but it doesn’t look right to me.”

Elizabeth told her to hold on while she checked her recipe.

Moments later, Elizabeth returned to the phone, howling with laughter.  “You were supposed to put in 2 or 3 leaves, not 203!!!

When I inherited my gramma’s recipe box many years later, there was the pickle recipe, with the directions to add “2 oOR 3 grape leaves” firmly corrected in ink.

And that’s the story of Gramma’s famous Grape Leaf Pickles.

Northern Angels

These days I am acquainted with many wonderful and amazing people because of my art. In these artists there exists the possible, the unusual, the unique, the weird and the beautiful, expressed in form, movement, sound, image, rhyme and probably a dozen other sorts of vents for the fire within. One such person is named Hope, and besides being a wonderful digital and photo artist, she is also a healer. I learned this because I mentioned having to fit a volunteering commitment in around a health issue.

Holding a small mixed media sculpture in front of me, Hope asked me to place my hands on two blue stones which were intregal to the piece. She held stones on the opposite side and closed her eyes. As perhaps a minute passed, I could feel a slight tingling in my arms, and then she opened her eyes and smiled, saying it had worked and that she could also feel my energy coming back to her.

Twenty-two hours later I was standing in line to pay for a delicious plate of organic, vegetarian food at The Table restaurant in Ottawa’s west end. A young woman in front of me struck up conversation, as women will often do when sharing such a wait. Her wavy, shoulder-length hair simply parted, she radiated a glow that didn’t come from make-up, and she brought to mind a painting from a long-ago art history class. Yes, the food is wonderful, no it isn’t the first time I’ve eaten here. “I’m excited because I think there are things here my grandson could eat! He’s allergic to lots of things; soy, dairy,” I said.

“Do you mind if I pray for him?” she asked.

That statement somewhat startled me, but I don’t think I let it show.  Good grief, I thought, another wack-o Christian, but I replied sure, if she’d like to.  I imagined she meant later, so it was quite surprising to hear her – still glowing and radiating that beautiful, peaceful smile – speaking words of blessing softly beside me.  Even more surprising was that no particular god or son thereof was being mentioned.

“What is your name?” she asked, “Judy,” I answered, and she ended her words of blessing with “and his grandmother, Judy, to whom he brings so much joy.”

And then she turned and walked away.

I joined my husband at a small table near the window and told him that I thought I had just met an angel.

Were the encounters with these two women coincidence? I’ll never know, but they profoundly impressed me and gave me a great deal of food for thought.

The painting posted here is Botticelli’s Madonna. I have not been able to find the image that came to my mind at The Table, but this one is similar to it and would be perfect if Madonna were radiantly smiling.

My life is indeed blessed. May prayers and healing be affirmed.

There are Places I Remember

Written October 22, 2007

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jill forgot her birth control
And now they have a daughter

I came from the Adirondacks. My parents had decided against having children because – in 1942 – they were convinced that there was not a bright enough future for children on this planet. That plan was undone when the two of them took a vacation in the late summer of 1944 at a rustic resort called “The Mohawk” on Fourth Lake, and my mother forgot to pack her birth control. Maybe my humble beginnings in that place of wildness and natural beauty explain in part why I ended up living where I do.

The Adirondack “Park,” as it is rightly or wrongly named, remained a special place for this family my parents created (which later included the addition of three foster daughters). Our summer vacations were spent there in tents, around campfires and in canoes or on trails; our winters always included ski trips to Old Forge or Whiteface Mountain.

To me, the Adirondacks represented heaven, and so when all that eventually remained of my parents was a pair of ash-filled plastic bags, our favorite camping place was the natural choice for freeing those remains. In August of 1999, close family and two dear life-long friends gathered at Brown’s Tract Ponds.

The chosen morning dawned wet. My father always claimed there were only two kinds of Adirondack weather, “dazzling uncertainty, and drizzling certainty,” and his description held true as the gray downpour abruptly gave way to beautiful sunshine in mid-afternoon. The canoe served as a water taxi for our small band of eight, our elderly friends making the trip with both arthritic difficulty and characteristic grace. Once assembled, in a very unplanned sort of ceremony, we scattered those gray remains from the rocks on the small island’s south shore where we had picnicked and swam so many times over the years. It all seemed very right.

Our mission accomplished, the first of the return trips was begun. Bekir and Sallie were helped into the canoe and Husband and I started paddling toward the mainland. Spontaneously, Bekir began yodeling my father’s favorite, the pure beauty of his alpine tribute soaring across the still lake and echoing back to us. It was the perfect salute, and I am certain that every person within earshot stood still to listen.

Eight years have passed, and I haven’t been back there. I always thought I’d return, but lack of time and too many responsibilities – or maybe just a failure to properly prioritize my life – had combined to stall my return until two weeks ago when a week-long photography workshop at Big Moose Lake just a few miles from Brown’s Tract put the opportunity squarely in my sights. On October 6th, the 17th anniversary of the date of my father’s death, I returned to the shore of Brown’s Tract.

It was fall and the campers were gone. I expected to be completely alone, but to my surprise, there was a lone photographer beside the lake’s outlet where I planned to launch. I’m pretty uninhibited and friendly with strangers, and those you meet in the solitude of the woods are usually kindred spirits, so we struck up a conversation. The emotions of that day probably greased my tongue even more than usual as I explained my reasons for being there. “I’m going to mess up your lake,” I told him. It was still and all-reflecting, and I knew my paddling would disturb any reflection shots he was attempting to take. His reply was an enthusiastic, “Oh, no, your blue kayak will be great on the water!” We exchanged blog addresses, wished each other well, I put the kayak into the lake and began the final leg of my trip to pay respects to Bill Toporcer and Evelyn Andrus, my parents.

Photograph by Russ Devan 

My parents gave me the gift of life and the self-assurance that has helped me to make the best of my time here, and it seems that even years after their deaths they continue to give to me, for on that Saturday two weeks ago they introduced me to a new friend and a very talented photographer.

Thank you, Russ, for this photograph that I will always cherish. And thank you, dear readers, for taking the time to travel back with me to this special place.

That’s Odd

And so the New Year, an odd-numbered one, approaches.

Many years ago, my husband and I came to superstitiously believe that there was goodness in the odd-numbered years (and toil and trouble in the evens). After all, we were married on 11/03/1973, as odd a date as one could find. I had a stress-induced miscarriage in 1974, two days after my ex- sued for custody of our daughter. Our move to the North Country was in 1/1975, marking a new age of freedom from the constant threats and harassment that had been visited upon us by my ex-husband. I was diagnosed sterile in 1976; our son was born in 5/1977. The many other “proofs” of our theory slip my memory, but it did seem to be a definite pattern in those days. 

As calendars are a human construct, I suppose the whole “good year / bad year” idea lacks any rational basis. Indeed, recent years have blended ups and downs – until 2016. (And if I’m honest, I had a couple of things to be very thankful for in the past twelve months: the “salvation” of my grandson from meds that were poisoning him, and the birth of sweet Ada come immediately to mind.)

2017 is almost upon us. May it bring us reasons to have hope, reasons to rejoice, and may it bring us – collectively – reason.

Killeen 1945 – 2016

Note:  It has been more than a month since I wrote this piece, and during that time, Killeen entered Hospice.  She died on June 27, 2016. 

My adult life has been accompanied by a sound track, a clear, exact, personal audio that plays privately in my head.

I met Killeen online.  You might say  it was on a dating site, because after all, isn’t “dating” what a lot of genealogical research is about?  Short, ancestry-related emails led to us meeting at the site of some mutually interesting historical data and to the start of a fond friendship.  Over the past decade, the two of us have covered a lot of historical ground.  

Killeen has a word for our travels together:  poots.  I don’t remember exactly how or when she coined that, but a poot is understood to mean a genealogical adventure of undefined duration involving travel in a car.  Our poots have taken us up and down both sides of the St. Lawrence River between Brockville, Ontario, and Cornwall, stomping through cemeteries, courthouses, libraries, historical societies, and any place we knew our ancestors had been, trying them on:  seeing what they saw, walking the ground they walked.  

Saratoga County trip with Killeen 2006 054

Our most memorable poot was a four-day stomp around the Upper Hudson valley from Halfmoon, Saratoga, to Lake George and even over into Vermont, because as Killeen said, “I like to feel where they were.”  She came from her home in Toronto, picked me up, and we headed across the Adirondacks.  It was late afternoon by the time we reached Halfmoon, our first task was to find a place to stay, and it being our first overnight poot, I was wondering just how this was going to go:  she is a lesbian, I am not.

We found the perfect place.  It was a small gaggle of mom-and-pop-run cottages on the south shore of Round Lake (which, being round, probably couldn’t actually have had a north, south, east, or west side of it.)

Cozy Cottage where Killeen and Pood stayed  006 with sign

The man and woman who owned and cared for it were quite close to being somebody’s ancestors, but they kept it with great care and were thrilled to have us.  Our cottage had two bedrooms and a large sitting, dining, cooking room with cable TV.  It was there that Killeen introduced me to Law and Order:  Criminal Intent, both of us agreeing that one of its stars was a pretty sexy hunk!  Apparently one can admire a cheesecake without desiring a taste.   I can’t remember his name.  Killeen would know.

A few months ago we talked about taking another poot this spring.

She called last night to tell me that she has a brain tumor.  Her chemo, targeted at the metastatic bladder cancer she’s dealing with, will be put on hold while her doctors take on the new site in her amazing brain.

Killeen.  One of the brightest, sharpest minds I’ve ever known.   “Like a trap,” was the way I’d describe it, for she’d remember my gazillion ancestors better than I could, remember any detail of my personal and family life that I shared with her, and would – and did – hold me to task for my role in any personal problems I faced.  We have had many laughs and chuckles together, sometimes she’d stop the car to yell at me because she’d lost patience with my inability to coordinate driving directions and map, and once on a balcony overlooking Ottawa’s Byward Market I got drunk with her (Killeen could drink anyone under the table) while she listened to the story of the most heart-breaking situation of my life.

“My doc said it’s probably metastatic, but she doesn’t know yet.  She noticed I was walking funny, and my mind… I don’t know if I’m still able to email.”  Without saying so, my dear friend Killeen was saying goodbye.

This morning’s thoughts come to me through tears and accompanied by the voice of Tom Waits.

Now it’s closing time, the music’s fading out,
Last call for drinks, I’ll have another stout.
Well I turn around to look at you, you’re nowhere to be found,
I search the place for your lost face, guess I’ll have another round
And I think that I just fell in love with you.

Killeen 2005