Welcome to The Squeaky Pen

...where life is slow, and ripe with rural treasures

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Cardboard Fireplace

The temperature has dropped tonight, and it feels like fire season.

My mom, bless her heart, didn't have a fireplace. But she always understood that a fireplace was something warm and homey, so she did her best...with a cardboard fireplace. I guess they were popular in the 1960s, cardboard cut-outs that looked (sort of) like the real thing. The one we had was a corner model, white cardboard brick with a white cardboard chimney. It sat at the base of the stairs, so on Christmas morning the little rotating orange light that was supposed to look like a sparking fire invited us downstairs. I remember my dad waving hands and warning mom that putting real candles on the cardboard mantle was dangerous, but she didn't care. She wanted my sister and me to get it, how wonderful it might be to have a fire, or a pretend one, glowing on Christmas morning. I don't recall that she ever lit the cardboard fireplace at any other time.

When I bought my house it seemed necessary to install a fireplace...actually, two. I didn't grow up with a such luxuries. Yet when I was remodeling, it seemed important to include bluestone and chimneys, things my mom never had but understood.

Tonight a friend from Arkansas arrived. We sat by the real fire, blazing there at the end of the room, using real wood recently delivered. I couldn't help but think of my mom and her cardboard re-enactment. Thanks, mom. Even though you didn't give me an actual fireplace back then, I got the idea. Near October is time for sweatshirts and banana bread, turning up the thermostat, cuddling under quilts. It's time for stray sparks, and a cozy spot by the hearth. Your cardboard fireplace seemed tacky then, but now, so many years later, I'm glad I walked down those stairs and saw its silly fake light. Even now I think I might be able to rub my hands together over the orange light bulb and feel the love and warmth of family, which is really what you were trying to tell me all along.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bad Luck or Bad Karma?

You know how sometimes you're cruising along in life and don't notice little snags that are actually, slowly, driving you crazy?

I realized over the weekend that I have a problem with remote controls.

First let me admit that I have an overabundance of televisions. Big ones, small ones, flat ones, fat ones. Many are old. In fact, most are. The newest TV I have I bought five years ago, a little flat screen with a shiny new remote. The oldest is a console model that once belonged to my parents, both of whom have been dead for over twenty years. At the moment the console is in the hall, covered up with a tablecloth since its picture tube blew about two years ago.

I mention the console because my earliest recollection of remote trouble started there. When he was ten, my youngest nephew thought it would be interesting to cover the remote with Silly Putty; and when I say cover, I mean jamming Silly Putty into every one of the buttons. From that day forward the remote never worked again.

Of course, as time marched on it was not only the televisions that arrived with remotes. There are cable boxes and VCR players, DVD machines and stereos. If I took an afternoon and gathered up all the remotes in the house I'm guessing there would be about thirty. And at the moment, exactly one works. How is that possible? Well, take for example the remote that goes to the TV in my office. One night I was drinking a beverage (apple juice) while at the computer. I knocked the glass over and splashed juice all over the desk, the mail, the floor, and the remote, the latter of which was transformed into a syrupy mess that I ended up throwing away. Another, the one that goes to the TV in the kitchen, has unexplained issues: only the buttons on the right side work, meaning I can only change to channels containing the numbers 3, 6, and 9. The remote in the library is missing its back. Half the time when I try to turn up the volume I have to crawl under the sofa to retrieve a missing battery. I tried to solve that problem with duct tape, which worked for awhile until I needed to change the batteries. Now I have a remote that sticks to my hand from the duct tape glue that coats both sides. And the batteries still fall out. What about the shiny remote that goes with new flat screen you ask? That one went into the washing machine with a pile of sheets last month.

So I went to the store a few weeks back and bought two universal remotes, which promised easy set-up with the click of a few buttons. I worked on this project an entire evening, mystified by the instructions to first set the TV on channel one. Of course, there is no channel one. So I tried it on channels two, three, and four. And on different televisions. No go. My sister tried to figure it out and failed. Two friends who stopped by on Friday, fine fellows who are handy with most things, insisted their efforts would result in success. After an hour or so, they gave up too. The new remotes now sit on my family room coffee table next to the not-so-easy instruction booklet and a package of new and at the moment useless batteries.

Today I was thinking I'd go back to the store and buy another universal remote because, you know, maybe the ones I bought were defective (not to mention that channel-one business). Then I remembered a universal remote I had back in 2007, which did in fact have easy set-up instructions and that worked just fine for several months. It was on the kitchen counter back then when, while not at home, I had a pipe break in an upstairs bathroom. My entire kitchen flooded, the ceiling caved in, and the large light fixture that once hung over the counter crashed down and smashed the remote into a sort of rectangular pancake. 

All this to say I have finally accepted that I'm a person who isn't supposed to have a remote. I don't know why. Maybe some cosmic master has decided I'll be better off moving my body instead of my thumb to change the channel. Or maybe this master feels I should quit watching so much TV in the first place. In either case, I concede defeat. From the console and its Silly Putty situation, the crushed and unrecognizable pile of plastic on my kitchen counter, and the defective (and foreign-made I might add) universal remotes of last weekend, I get the message. From now until forever, I -- like my television-watching forebears prior to the invention of the remote control -- will pick my lazy butt up off the chair and change the channel by hand. Are you listening Cosmic Master? You win.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Guest Post: Thank You Charlie Palmer!

The following is a post from local friends John and Theresa Guter, who had the pleasure of visiting with Chef Charlie Palmer in California recently. Charlie is "homegrown," one of the great success stories of our area. Scroll down for photos.

My own delightful experience with Charlie at his restaurant in New York City demonstrates how down-to-earth he remains: I was enjoying a night out with a friend at the wonderful Aureole and Charlie came out of the kitchen to say hello. My friend asked how a guy from such a small town could have achieved so much. Charlie laughed and said "Good question. There was only one red light in Smyrna, and when it broke they didn't bother to fix it because nobody ever stopped anyway." I'm not sure if that's true, but it's a good tale.  kmy

On our recent trip to California, John and I, along with our son Eric and his girlfriend Melissa Fontes, had the opportunity to attend a cooking show instructed by celebrity chef (and hometown boy) Charlie Palmer. Charlie was  pleased that we were at the show, and of course we were excited to be there. Charlie talked about food and wine pairings, and the four-course menu he prepared was served to attendees at the end of the show. Charlie stopped by our table several times to find out how we liked the food, and encouraged us to "just ask"  if we needed anything.
After dinner, Charlie -- with his busy schedule -- sat with us for almost an hour. We laughed and reminisced about his life in Smyrna and Sherburne, and he seemed as honored to be in our presence as we were to be in his. It was a great evening. Thank you, Charlie!

John and Theresa Guter

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

High Hopes: This Ant is Working on That Rubber Tree Plant

I love my country. But these days I'm feeling a bit embarrassed by it. When I watch the political news I get the feeling I'm watching a bunch of brats fighting out back, causing a desire in me to blow a loud whistle or knock some schoolyard heads together. It seems to me our politicians' carping about each other's faults and throwing roadblocks in front of any idea to lift us out of our financial mess has smothered the point: to come up with a solution. In any business -- big or small -- solving a financial crisis isn't brain surgery: if your company's in trouble, cut spending and increase revenue, and do so as a team. Of course America is a very big business with layers and layers of complicated issues, and I'm just an ant on a donkey's butt in upstate New York furrowing my brow. Still, can't we all set aside our own ridiculous self-involved needs for a little while, put our heads down, and together push this rock up the hill? Simplistic nonsense I suppose. What we need must be fantastic Washington DC minds working day and night as us common folk sit around drumming our fingers and mewling about our jobs dilemma and waiting for problems to be solved by others.

I was in a local store today, and every item I picked up had a stamp on the bottom. Not one said "Made in the USA." Not one. As I write this I'm in my office. A tag on my computer speaker says "Made in China." So does a tag on my calculator. There's a coaster on my desk: "Made in Italy." The little wooden holder where my business cards rest was made in Taiwan, as was my stapler and my mouse pad. My camera...made in Japan. I have a Zenith television...made in Thailand. A decorative mirror...India. My glasses case...China. The HP scanner and another set of speakers...China. My Samsonite passport holder...China. I drifted to other parts of the house. Dog toys...China. Dog dish...China. Hammer...China. Picture frame...China. Shoes...China. Finally, desperate, I went into the bathroom and looked at a roll of toilet paper. Made in the USA. How appropriate.

American manufacturing once dominated the globe, turning the tide in World War II, allowing us to help rebuild Europe and Japan, and providing all material needs for a robust middle class. In 1965 American manufacturing was responsible for 53 percent of the economy. By 1988, that percentage was 39 percent. Just seven years ago, U.S. manufacturing accounted for 9 percent. It's estimated that fewer than 10 percent of American workers are employed in manufacturing. Our industrial giants are failing.

We Americans don't make stuff anymore.

There is something about the trend of American companies outsourcing to countries like China, Taiwan, Thailand, Korea, and others that is heartbreaking. What with globalization (the increased mobility of goods, services, labor, technology, and capital throughout the world) and outsourcing (the performance of a production activity outside the U.S. that was once done by a domestic firm or plant), the outlook for American manufacturing -- and therefore jobs creation -- is grim. For this reason, and of course for countless others, our economy is in shambles.

So what can Americans in the new millennium do about this? The problems seem so daunting it isn't surprising that many of us are immobilized. We stare at news programs where Republicans and Democrats and Tea People and so-called journalists throw darts at each other and point fingers. We watch our friends and family lose jobs and homes. We wonder if our children will be able to go to college. Food prices rise, gas prices rise, and paychecks dwindle. Is it any wonder we live vicariously through reality shows where ghastly-faced women spend money on plastic surgery and dress tiny dogs in diamond outfits? We sit numb, wondering what will become of us as our beautiful country founders.

Personally, I don't have a great invention to offer up as a solution. I don't own a big manufacturing company, I can't rally the employee troops to work harder to turn out quality and innovative American products, and I can't stop outsourcing to foreign countries because I don't outsource in the first place. I am not a politician and can't step forward with a brilliant plan for change. All I can do is stop the bleeding in my own tiny world. I may only be an ant, but this ant will no longer support foreign-made products. I have a Japanese car: it will be my last. The next television I buy will be made in the United States, as will my clothes, my shoes, my dog's dish, and my mouse pad. This will not be easy. Shopping will be longer and more difficult and, probably, more expensive. I will have to study merchandise tags to see where my purchase was manufactured, and will need to search bins and racks before finding needed items made by American hands. This will be inconvenient and I don't care. I'm going to do what I can do to fill my life with products made in my own country because, indeed, there are still a few out there. My efforts may not make a bit of difference, but at least the numbness will be gone. I'll be doing something, which is more than I can say for the bulk of our current politicians who rant and accuse and hunt for fame instead of buckling down and figuring out what to do about the problems in my country. In our country. We want -- and deserve -- our country back.

As for China...well, that's a lovely place. She will not, however, get another penny of my hard-earned cash.

When you go shopping tomorrow, take a minute and look at a tag. Think before you buy, and imagine your ten dollar bill floating across the ocean to pockets of people who will not help to rebuild America. Do this, because it's just possible that if we can get enough ants working together, we can push that rock back up to the top where it belongs. Political rhetoric is not the answer. We the people are.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Why Can't We Teach Dogs to Talk?

My dog seems to have a project going, the goal of which I have not yet sorted out.

To the best of my recollection, the project kicked off a week or so ago. Harry started collecting all of his toys and putting them in one location: Mr. Pig, Mr. Moose, Squirrelly, Chippy, Mr. Dog, Rocky, and Mr. Bug. Normally the toys are scattered all over the house, squeaking surprises that I step on in dark hallways. Lately, though, any room in which I happen to be is soon filled with every creature from Harry's toy basket. There's something a little eerie about it: I'll be working at my computer and hear the tick-tick of his footsteps. I'll turn around and there's Mr. Bug. More ticking and soon there's Chippy, and finally, after much ticking, there are the rest of them, gathering one by one like the crows on the jungle gym that caused villagers to freak out in The Birds. After awhile, when they're all gathered there on the rug behind me. I'll sneak another peek and Harry will be among them, staring at me from the midst of his one-eyed raccoon and earless pig. "What?" I'm finally forced to say, but of course he doesn't respond; only sits there wearing an urgent expression that I'm unable to decipher. 

Then on Wednesday I realized there was more to the project. The back door was open and Harry was outside, uncharacteristically out of earshot for a long stretch of time. I glanced through the door on my way through the family room and saw him going past at a purposeful clip, Squirrelly stuffed in his mouth. He disappeared, then reappeared, Squirrelly deposited somewhere. A minute or so later he returned, again with purpose, and this time there was Mr. Bug, its many stuffed legs dangling from Harry's maw. In both instances he seemed to be bringing the toys onto the porch from the yard. As he was passing back by, again toyless, I stepped outside to see what was up.

By the time I got down the steps he'd vanished. When I heard scratching, I looked around the corner of the house and there he was, digging for all he was worth at the side of the porch. He'd managed to get a decent sized hole dug and had already wiggled himself halfway under the latticework, on the brink of vanishing into parts unknown beneath the house. I hauled him out and realized there was a second hole, this one at the base of the steps. There were no toys around (as I mentioned, he'd been carrying those onto the porch), so I didn't get the feeling he was burying anything. But clearly he was heading somewhere, maybe stalking a real chipmunk, or perhaps fashioning a jailbreak tunnel under the property to escape his fenced-in world. 

I shooed him into the house and filled the holes in with the impressive pile of dirt my 15-pound dog had succeeded in accumulating. Of course this didn't work. The minute I let him out again he was back at it, soil flying, legs kicking, and face blackened like football players on a muddy day. I then put him inside behind closed doors and blocked the holes with big pieces of firewood. After a few hours I let him out again and spied on him from behind a curtain; he seemed to have forgotten about the earlier excavation, but the toy transference has continued. What can he be up to? This isn't typical dog goofing around. Harry has something in mind, exhibiting behavior that's deliberate and unwavering, like sparrows flying out of a nest and returning over and over to feed their young. But my Harry has no young, only raggedy chew toys purchased at the dollar store. Is he trying to tell me something? His earnest looks are unnerving, and along with them are now verbal clues: whining, groaning, and...just today...some low howling. Does Harry know something we humans don't?

As I've been writing this near midnight there's been ticking in other parts of the house, up the stairs and down the hall and now, here in my office where only my computer screen glows. I hesitate to turn around for fear I'll see forty crows perched in the shadows at the far end of the room, blinking at me. I'm sure it's only Mr. Moose. And Chippy. And the rest of them, along with a small dog with a dirt-streaked face trying to communicate some message to a tall creature who doesn't speak his language. I'll turn around in a minute, because of course it's just Harry and his toys behind me, right? Just Harry working on his strange project making that funny sound, like feathers fluttering.

It's just Harry and his toys back there.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Where Art Thou Woolly Bear Caterpillar?

I've noticed since moving to central New York that weather is a major topic of conversation. Like riding a horse, I've learned to gallop along with the pace. Now I'm also watching the skies. Especially in September.

Stephen King wrote a wonderful book many years ago, 'Salem's Lot. In it he describes autumn in Maine, with warm days and cool nights, and with a brilliant blue sky full of white clouds with gray keels. Fall in upstate New York isn't much different from that far-north state and, like in Maine, comes early. Although the calendar doesn't say so, summer is gone. And all the signs of winter are brewing.

I walked Harry today and saw a few scattered red maple leaves. Not many, but enough to get me thinking. The other morning I saw a fat (really fat) blue jay. Squirrels around my house are busy, as are chipmunks, who for years haven't been frequent visitors, but now suddenly are everywhere (no, I don't know what this means). My cousin Russ mentioned Saturday that the squirrels on his property are in a frenzy of butternut collecting, this as a preamble to a friend remarking today something about caterpillars, and how an acquaintance said the Woolly Bear caterpillar and some white version around here are suggesting a harsh winter.

Egads. I know what that means...snow. And more snow.

There's something quite remarkable about looking to nature for signs of what winter might bring. My "city-fied" life has caused me to defer to the weather channel rather than paying attention to my own surroundings, but that's changing. These days I sit on the porch with a cup of coffee and study wildlife behavior. I notice trees and other vegetation, insects, the weight-gain of birds and rodents, then flip through the Pennysaver searching for phone numbers of men who sell firewood. I'm thankful that I work from home because I remember well the winter just past and how my car was buried under snow from December to March.

From that tried and true resource, The Farmer's Almanac, here are some nature tips on predicting a rough winter to come (my commentary in green):

-Thicker than normal corn husks (if only I knew what a "normal" corn husk looked like)
-Woodpeckers sharing a tree (haven't seen a woodpecker all year)
-Early arrival of the Snowy owl (ditto on the Snowy owl)
-Early departure of geese and ducks (not yet)
-Early migration of the Monarch butterfly (I saw three on the golf course last weekend, that's good news!)
-Thick hair on the nape of the cow’s neck (I have not yet had the opportunity to inspect the cow)
-Heavy and numerous fogs during August (I don't get up early enough to observe fog)
-Raccoons with thick tails and bright bands (I'm afraid of raccoons)
-Mice eating ravenously into the home (oh please God, no...)
-Early arrival of crickets on the hearth (I wonder what "early" means?)
-Spiders spinning larger than usual webs and entering the house in great numbers (yes, this I have; found one in the shower the other day)
-Pigs gathering sticks (memo to me: visit local pig farm and monitor pig stick gathering)
-Insects marching a bee line rather than meandering (I saw this once with ants in Mexico, but never in my hometown)
-Early seclusion of bees within the hive (I'm also afraid of bees)
-Unusual abundance of acorns (nope)
-Muskrats burrowing holes high on the river bank (I don't even know what a muskrat looks like)
-“See how high the hornets' nest, ‘twill tell how high the snow will rest” (I had a hornet's nest on my second floor sleeping porch last fall and we got many feet of snow. So far so good)
-The squirrel gathers nuts early to fortify against a hard winter (bad news, per Cousin Russ)
-Frequent halos or rings around sun or moon forecast numerous snow falls (*looks out window at full moon...oh no, is that a ring??)
-Narrow orange band in the middle of the Woolly Bear caterpillar warns of heavy snow; fat and fuzzy caterpillars presage bitter cold

Tomorrow I'm hunting down a Woolly Bear caterpillar. If I find a fat one with a narrow orange band, I'm buying sweaters and taking cover. Or maybe I'll just skip the caterpillar...not to mention the pig farm...and check weather.com for January predictions in Florida.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where Were You on September 11, 2001

On September 11, 2001, I was driving to my office on Long Island. I'd heard on the radio that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, with speculation that the pilot had suffered a heart attack. When the female DJ screamed as the second plane hit the South Tower, I knew that life in America had changed forever. I got to my office and watched the towers burn across the bay, and heard fighter jets going by overhead. Later, co-workers and I went to a pub and watched the scene over and over on television. There was a man at the bar sobbing and muttering to himself. Turns out he was a fireman who had retired the week before. His entire fire company was dead. Ten years have passed and I lost no one I loved on September 11. Still, memories of that day burn hard in mind.

Where were you and what were you doing on 9-11? Please comment below. I'd really like to hear.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sherburne Makes the News

Dogs and Bullies

Picture it: big dog picks on small dog. Big dog barks and snaps, little dog runs off. Or, big dog barks and snaps, little dog snaps back and big dog runs off. Or maybe dogs have a bit of a scuffle, some fur flies, some teeth flash, and both dogs back off. With this last scenario at least comes the understanding that sometimes, no matter how big you are, if you get in another dog’s face you’re gonna get bitten.

For me, that’s been life. I’ve been barked at by teachers and professors, bosses, clients, friends, family, and of course, bullies. Sometimes I tucked tail and ran. Sometimes I barked back. And sometimes I bit back. I didn’t need counseling to negotiate through these situations, I didn’t need school systems to set up special committees, I didn’t need my parents to run screeching to protect me, and I didn’t need to watch films and attend lectures and have non-profit “experts” tell me and others to play nice. Kids don’t play nice, and those who play nice the least are the ones who are also the least likely to listen raptly to a film about being a bully and say “Oh, I get it! I should be good to others! I won’t be a bully anymore!” People, like dogs, are animals. The difference, of course, is that people are smarter than dogs. We have the ability to learn the complexities of interaction, and we have the ability to deal with adversity by using our brains. If someone along the way hasn’t taught us the very basic human lesson of coping we have no chance to survive friendships, love, business, insults, death, taxes, or any of the other rocks that get tossed at us over the course of eighty or so years on the planet. 

Bullying has become a hot topic on talk shows, in schools, and now by lawmakers in New Jersey (http//www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2091994,00.html). No question about it, sometimes bullies go too far. But bullies in the form of kids, thugs, kings, and nations have been around forever. Why now do we suddenly feel as a culture that it’s necessary to intervene between bully and victim? Is the answer really to write laws that require school staff to step in when one student creates for another “a hostile environment by interfering with a student’s education or by severely or pervasively causing physical or emotional harm” as per the newly enacted New Jersey law? Let’s see if I have this straight: if a kid in a New Jersey school calls another kid a fatso, somebody’s going to court. No? Then what does lead to court, because for sure something will now that there’s an anti-bullying law. What are the words that will send parents and teachers and principals and bullies and most definitely lawyers to stand before a judge? Shorty? Skinny? Stupid? Flatchested? Ugly? Homo? Slut? Or any of the dozen of other jibes that fall from schoolyard mouths? The New Jersey law has been met with resounding support. But maybe we need to look little deeper: are we teaching our children to deal with life’s hardships or, by enacting such laws, are we teaching them that the slightest emotional (or physical) jab from another gives them the right to fall to pieces and initiate a lawsuit? In the real world, when they go out there and compete for jobs and pay bills and hear ugly remarks and get fired and endure illness and death and poverty, they need to learn that life isn’t always fair, and it’s rarely easy. The quicker our children learn these hard cold facts, the better.

In watching life unfold before me, I’ve noticed a fundamental shift in how people deal with children. When I was a kid, things were pretty simple: At home, my parents were boss. They said jump, I said how high. At school, teachers were boss. They said jump, I said how high. There were no boardrooms of people wringing their hands about my sensitivity or about kids pushing each other around. I got pushed around plenty in school, which quite frankly was a great educational institution and was also a zoo full of snarling weasels. The zookeepers were our teachers. If I got in trouble in school my parents didn’t come rushing in waving hands and demanding action. The teachers punished me and my parents either didn’t know about it, or if they did, they probably said I had it coming. Either way, I was fenced in by parents and by teachers, disciplined by whoever happened to be in the vicinity, and forced to figure out how to cope with the situations of my or some bully’s doing. Bully and victim both figured out how to manage their own lives thanks to rigorous boundaries supplied by adults who were paying attention and who were given the right to discipline us when parents weren’t around. The sad bottom line is that teachers have been stripped of their ability to discipline kids. In my opinion, that’s the problem, and it’s one that won’t be solved until teachers are again empowered by parents to tell children to straighten up and fly right. I grew up lucky. The adults in my life gave me a long leash. When I (or anybody else) barked too loudly, we got our asses jerked back. We were taught to behave like civilized human beings, not like dogs in the yard.

Many times teachers and parents weren’t around at all when somebody said something nasty to me. I didn’t drape myself over the furniture over it, I didn’t have government agencies stepping in to supposedly teach bullies how to behave, and I definitely didn’t run snitching to an adult that somebody wasn’t nice to me. I dealt with it. Little dog either ran off or snapped back.

Parents out there who are worried about bullying…listen up. Tell your schools to empower teachers again. Tell your schools misbehavior should not be rewarded with a week’s suspension so bullies can stay home and play video games; punishment should be on school grounds shoveling snow, painting walls, cleaning classrooms, and scrubbing toilets. Enable schools to show children there are consequences for misdeeds (polishing a urinal in seventh grade beats jail time later), and unite with teachers. Tell lawmakers you don't need them because you're going to teach some fundamentals at home: ethics, kindness, understanding, honesty, respect, hard work. Teach your children to cope with life’s ups and downs, and to grasp the concept that beating somebody up, or torturing them with emotional abuse, or dealing drugs, or breaking into houses is wrong and has consequences. If they don’t get the message, jerk the leash. Hard. Let them smell the fear, from you and from those who stand in for you in the schoolroom. And if your child is being bullied? Teach them how to deal with it, and, when necessary, to bite back.

Please don't misunderstand: I am not advocating child abuse or violence of any kind. But it might be time to employ some tried-and-true childrearing standards. My parents and my teachers taught me well: how to navigate through life, and how to stand up for myself. And yeah, sometimes they scared the crap out of me. Thank God. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Hometown Flood...September 2011

The sun's finally out after two days of rain. The river is wide...a little too wide. See photos below.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Those Glasses Are Rose for a Reason

It's that time of year again here in the middle of New York State (now that uncharacteristic earthquakes and hurricanes are behind us): goldenrod is turning fields to mustard, lawn mowing has become less urgent, nights are chilly with a promise of fall around the corner...and the state fair has arrived.

I toyed with the idea of going this year. Our state fair is in Syracuse, and as a kid traveling an hour north to the rides and the band competitions was the climax of the summer. The county fairs speckled throughout the valley were fun, but were pale sisters to The Big One, where throngs of people pushed through the midway; where barkers at the games of chance lured fair-goers to spend a quarter and win the giant panda; where there were horse shows and exhibits featuring art and enormous vegetables and prize roosters. For a country kid like me, the state fair was magic, a fantastic culmination of sensory input signaling the end of August and the beginning of school with its promise of all things future.

As I toyed with the idea of getting in the car and melting into the late-summer, fried-dough-eating crowds, I recalled a few of my state fair experiences. These recollections gave me pause:

There was the time my boyfriend and I forgot where we parked and spent two hours arguing and slogging through the muddy lot looking for the car;

And there was the time my friend Amy and I, in college then but with dreamy memories of childhood fun, arrived at the fair, went on the Paratrouper, were both stricken with motion sickness, and left immediately after, nauseated;

And more recently, when I went with my cousin. The temperature was just around a million degrees as we drifted from building to building to take advantage of the air conditioning. We never darkened the midway, didn't ride a ride, didn't play a game, and capped the afternoon with a viewing of the butter sculpture, a dubious highlight at best.

I suppose it's a good thing, the way the mind's eye remembers events. As early trees start to color my instincts are triggered -- like homeward-swimming salmon -- to return to school, even though actual school is a long-faded memory. In business, September is the time to tidy the office and dust away the cobwebs, to sharpen up the work muscles for another season. Coasting in between, for me, is the state fair. In some distant place I can hear bands playing and crowds cheering, can see myself as a teenager skirting through haunted houses and boarding buses for home, always too soon. I can still see the lights on the dive bomber and the Ferris wheel twinkling in the distance as we pulled away. In those days, air conditioning and nausea and butter sculptures were for the old folks, not for me. But time does indeed march on.

So I passed on the state fair this year. Maybe it's better this way (even though I'm not an old folk quite yet), to think back on the fair as it was when I was a 17-year-old girl in bell bottoms. Maybe rose-colored glasses are rose for a reason...to filter out the intolerances of aging, and to keep pretty those bright images of youth. No offense intended to the Land O'Lakes sculptor, but I'd just as soon remember the state fair another way: atop the roller coaster, shouting with elation and casting my eyes across the brilliant midway, no cell phones chirping, no tax payments due, no creaking knees. Only high laughter and long hair blowing in an end-of-summer wind...and spectacular life ahead.

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum