Thanksgiving Kindnesses…

I have a lot of memories of Thanksgiving dinners in a lot of different places, with families that were not my own.

One of the strangest, and perhaps the sweetest, was when I was in military school in Virginia. The school did not completely shut down over the holiday. Most people went home, but you could stay if you wanted, and a few of us did. They would feed us, but other than that we were generally on our own.

I never would go home to New York, it was a long set of bus or train rides for just a few days, especially with Christmas so close at hand. Not to mention the cost. We didn’t have a lot of money and so I stayed. One year I went with some people from a little town in the valley. I had met them at church and they’d befriended me. Kind souls,  they lived in a house built in the late 18th century in the middle of nowhere. But that’s another story, warm and sweet in its own right.

The teacher’s name was Captain Mason, but upon meeting him I immediately nicknamed him “Dancing Bear”. The name stuck, but it was not a mean name. He was much loved among the cadets that took his classes. I had him for French and English and he ignited my love for theater by encouraging me to appear in two plays he and another teacher produced. I owe much to this man, as he challenged us with literature and writing , and spent his own time and money exposing us to the arts in various places around Virginia. Romeo and Juliet at the University of Richmond, “The Miser” by Molière at the University of Virginia, in a beautiful theatre that looked like Jefferson himself had designed it…because he had.  And the play was completely in French.

But this was not about learning. This was about kindness and two cadets who didn’t have family to go to and would have had something not very special in the mess hall on that particular Thursday.  Instead he took us with him to his mother’s home on the family farm.  She lived in a mobile home in the snow covered beauty of the Shenandoah Valley.

The other cadet and I wandered around the farm in the deep snow, talking to animals, and exploring a huge stone and wood barn, before returning for dinner with our two hosts in the tiny trailer. We were treated like kings, and the trailer was warm and cozy.  It might as well have been a mansion.

Wistful

Image by Barbara Bonanno from Pixabay

It is the home you made but can no longer enter

It is the lover that you can no longer kiss

It is the pain that you cannot undo

It is the scar that you cannot erase

It is the rapture you cannot reclaim

It is the mundane

It is the painful

It is the joyful

It is the life that you have expended

Never to recover

You are alone in your backward dreams

They are already dust

Don’t Take Their Stuff

Ernie scanned the room for what seemed like the millionth time. He was struggling to remember…anything. Lucidity came and went and he was looking for clues to fill in the ever growing gaps in his memory. But he didn’t see anything besides little gifts and trinkets that visitors left. His children and younger brother mostly. When they came he recognized them but sometimes got them mixed up with each other. To be honest though, just recognizing them was good enough. There was a picture of his wife…sometimes, like today he recognized her too. He always knew she was someone important to him, but there were times he didn’t know why.

On better days, he could remember the home they shared, he and his wife, for nearly forty years. But as it came into focus he tried to grab it like a drowning man grabbing a raft, but he couldn’t fill in the details and it slipped away. His world had been reduced to a small room with a window that looked out into a courtyard, he could see some trees over the top of the far side of the courtyard but he wished they were closer. When they came in and took him down to the dining room to eat, there was a big window facing the outside and the woods beyond the building. But they never let him sit there and just look.

And so it was back to his room with the TV on the old movie channel. He remembered some of the old movies but mostly it was like he was seeing them all over again. Anyway, these were strangers play acting in a fake world that had nothing to do with him. They passed the time for awhile, but he couldn’t watch too long. He needed to remember…and the TV just got in his way. Once he recalled the day they brought him here, telling him it was for his own good. He asked where his things were, things that were important to him. His daughter hugged him and said “daddy, you don’t need all those things. We picked a few things out for you.” But none of them were of any use to him. They provided weak clues, there had been things with deep, rich memories attached; but they were long gone.

And so he sat there day after day, fighting to remember, looking for clues that weren’t there, listening to people talk about him…”he doesn’t remember much does he?”.

And he felt more and more frustrated. But mostly what he felt was fear; unrelenting fear, fear that he was lost forever.

Running In Geneva

It’s pitch black out and the steady rain insures that it’s not going to get light anytime soon. It’s 5am on a winter morning in Geneva and I’m going out for a run in the rain without really knowing where I’m going.

I can remember small things…running by the florescent lit parking garages of a residential block. Towards the end of the run going down an airport road…working vehicles rumbling by me in the predawn rainy gloom. I don’t have a lot of specific memory points from that run but I wonder now if I ran by some places that my mind has confused with Richmond or Indy or something other place I’ve lived.

I’d never been there before and having arrived the previous evening, I’d never even seen the area around the hotel in daylight. But out I went, soaking wet the whole time. No distance in mind, just time. Was it an hour? Maybe.

The rain, the dark, the lack of orientation all magnified the experience. It’s why I still remember the feeling so vividly even if I can’t remember all the details. It’s a feeling filed where I can easily recall it. I’m feeling it now.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Jamaica Avenue is a long stretch of two and three story buildings,  many with commercial enterprises on the first floor and living quarters on the second and sometimes third floors.  It cuts clear across Queens from  West to East,  continues onto Long Island as Jericho Turnpike,  and on the West end gets lost in a maze of streets as it enters Brooklyn.

There were many neighborhoods: Jamaica, Hollis, Bellaire but we lived in Queens Village.  Across the street from us was a Flying A service station and beyond that the Long Island Railroad tracks where speeding trains whisked “rich” commuters between Manhattan and the suburbs further out on Long Island.  The blocks adjacent to our own held bowling Alleys (yes there were two),  a small grocery store,  some non-retail type businesses and our dentists office.   Our block,  was a mom and pop shopping block.   From West to East there was; Berringer the realtor,  an empty store,  a Scotsman with a collection of hundreds of toy metal soldiers in his shop window (we called him Scotty), the butcher shop,  a Chinese laundry where I played with a girl named Lin,  County Lighting where my uncle Bobby worked, and a barber shop.  Beyond that you could walk 2 blocks and find about anything you needed.  Should it become necessary,  the bus stop for Jamaica Bus lines was on the next block and that was our connection to the rest of the world.

Of all the stores, the butcher shop was the most important because my Uncle Chris was the butcher and he owned the shop.  He, my aunt and my cousin Chris Lee lived in a small apartment behind the shop…this is how it was done back then,  and how it is still done today.  My uncle owned both floors of the building; we lived in the front apartment upstairs,  and behind us lived a young couple.   We moved there from a tidy,  well kept brick house when my father abandoned us.  It must have been heartbreaking for my mother as even at that age I can remember her beautiful flower gardens and spotless interior.  But at that age I didn’t really understand and the apartment was just fine for me.  It was big by New York standards with 2 good size bedrooms,  and a large kitchen and living room.  Furthermore,  I had a good view of the railroad embankment over the top of the Flying A and the intersection of Jamaica Ave. and Francis Lewis Blvd. was busy with a steady stream of buses, trucks and other interesting things to entertain a young boy.

No matter how big the city,  everything is local and this little part of central Queens was our world.  Brooklyn,  where my mother grew up and the Bronx where my great aunts and uncles lived were like other countries.  Manhattan was like another planet, and at any rate it was for fancy people who occasionally let us in to visit Radio City Music Hall or to check out the museums.  In Queens Village my family was a presence.  Uncles worked there, cousins hung out in the bowling alleys, my mother and her sister were active at every meal and special occasion at Good Shepard Lutheran Church.  When someone got divorced or widowed,  there was usually a long lost love waiting in the wings a few blocks away.  It was, in many ways,  just like a small town.  Just like every other neighborhood in New York.

At Christmas, every store was decked out and the streets were decorated with lit up hanging decorations.  One of my most intense memories is standing in the darkened butcher shop listening to Christmas hymns playing on a record player and looking at the tree and the intricate decorations that my uncle had laid out.

I went to a nice public school, my best friend Tommy and I were in Cub Scouts and he lived around the corner,  we were part of a large protective extended family and it felt like home.  A kid in a big city with no father could do a lot worse.  It wouldn’t last.

NIGHT ON THE CARDINAL

Creeping through darkened towns

Trying to picture people, traffic, bustle

Its 2am but you’re not sleepy

The porter wants to make up the bed but you’d rather sit up

He mumbles something and returns to his own compartment to sleep

You leave a town and you’re back in the country

Dark other than mercury lights on barns, headlights in the distance

You’re sliding across America

Alone with your thoughts

Far from home

Far from her