Showing posts with label Lake George. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lake George. Show all posts

Monday, April 8, 2013

Anniversary, Time and Again

I started to write this entry, one which was to mark the second anniversary of my open heart surgery. It was to be an upbeat commentary, following upon a wonderful week we had just spent with our very good friends Beny and Maria visiting us from Palermo. But when I sat down to write a draft, heartbreak intruded, perversely imitating the ethos of Exit the King which we saw only a few days earlier.

Last Monday morning we received a call from Suzanne, the daughter of Ann's cousins, Sherman and Mimi, who had suddenly arrived in Florida where her parents now live. We immediately thought of her father, Ann's first cousin, Sherman, who had just been released from a prolonged hospital stay and ninety days of rehab, who can no longer walk without assistance, and has advanced dementia.  His wife of 56 years, Mimi, had been by his side every day and was now caring for him at home with the help of round-the-clock nursing aids.

But exactly on the second anniversary of my being put into a four day induced coma after open heart surgery, Ann and I rushed to the ER of a Broward hospital that Monday night, as it was not Sherman, but his caregiver, his wife Mimi, who had collapsed and was in a coma. Mimi had been like a big sister to Ann, particularly during Ann's first years in New York City when she arrived as an eighteen year old, fresh from high school graduation in her hometown, Atlanta.

They became close companions in spite of the 11 year age difference and loved living in the Big City which was Mimi's adopted town as well. They biked down to hootenannies in Washington Square park in the early 1960s, went to jazz concerts and Operas in the Village, dancing at the Latin Quarter and Roseland, enjoyed folk singing concerts, Shakespearean plays in Central Park, and took trips to Philadelphia and The Cape and Newport, RI together.  Mimi was her mentor to NY life and they became best friends.

Fast forward, closer to the present. Mimi and Sherman had moved to FL part time when Sherman retired from his long tenure (1960 - 1992) as a Physics professor at FDU.  They were happy in the community they chose in Coconut Creek, but rather recently, Sherman was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.  Rather than commit him to a home, Mimi was determined to stay in their complex, selling their upstairs apartment and buying one on the ground floor for easy egress, and hiring competent home healthcare aids for her husband.  In spite of their age (83 and 85 respectively), she was determined to shelter her husband in familiar surroundings rather than consigning themselves to an independent / assisted living facility.  
Mimi was like a force of nature, self actualizing and one always thought indestructible until we got that call last Monday from her daughter, recounting the sketchy facts as she knew them at that point:  her mother had had a very severe headache, and soon thereafter passed out.  It was a severe brain hemorrhage and she was rushed to ER and when we saw her, unconscious, on a ventilator and life support systems, those memories of my own medically induced comma came flooding back.  But this was very different.

We returned to see her on Wednesday. and Friday and during that time, testing for brain activity was negative.  She was moved to ICU and she lay there looking peaceful, even healthy except for the tubing and the wiring that was basically breathing for her and keeping her hydrated.  Their son, Michael and his wife Miriam, had arrived as well and the decision was finally made to transfer Mimi to the Hospice unit of the same hospital and to disconnect her from life support.  Friday was a day of misery for all.  Suzanne and Michael, of course, carrying the brunt of the grief, we and others there trying to support them. but being deeply distraught as well.

Mimi was a special person.  Her home was open to all.  If a foreign exchange student needed room and board for a school semester or even a school year, Mimi would provide it. If there was a foster child that needed looking after, she stepped up.  She sat with friends who needed care, wrote long letters to each and every one of the hundreds of friends she made along the way, her giving knew no bounds; she was larger than life, the last person one would imagine dying so suddenly.  But she lived life with zest and a song, particularly folksongs and Broadway melodies.  Her children set up a CD player at her bedside and we listened to all her favorites while waiting, waiting, for any sign of life.  When I first entered the room, I heard "Don't Fence Me In" being sung.  When she was taken off of life support she died with the refrains of a Pete Seeger folksong in her ear.

Our hearts go out to Suzanne and Michael, such difficult decisions, but the right ones.  We all recognize that Mimi really died the moment of the massive brain hemorrhage and she only medically survived as the 911 EMT was so swift and efficient.

My own memories of Mimi go back now about 44 years, one of my favorite was a vacation the four of us took up to Lake George, enjoying Oktoberfest at a resort and even managing to get them both out on the Lake itself for a boat ride.  And how do we count all the many family gatherings as well, Mimi and Sherman and Suzanne and Michael were always there, at our home in Weston, CT or we at theirs in New City, NY. So many years, so many wonderful memories. 

As King Berenger says in Exit the King, "Why was I born if it was not forever?" Thanks to that play, I've become pretty hung up over how I "spend" my time.  (what an expression -- time as some sort of a currency, only one that you can't make any more of.  We're all born with a certain quantity in the bank, unequal ones thanks to genetics, environment, accidents, and the twists and turns of life, and choices we make.  I guess we "buy time" with medical advances -- I certainly have.)

I suppose that is one of the main reasons I write this blog.It is not only a record of where my time goes, but it also forces me to think about it.  I could more easily just go see a play or read a book, but I would surely forget about much of it and perhaps understand less of it without delving into the details with an essay.  It is of course merely my take on those matters and, to a degree, I probably remember the past here as I want to and record the present as I would like to remember it in the future. It matters little to the world, but as I've said frequently, I write this mostly for myself. 

Others live those moments on line differently.  I don't Twitter, those ephemeral little birds of thought that go out there and then get lost (or is there a database of Tweets?).  Then there is the ubiquitous Facebook which could be easily renamed "Hey, look at me!"  I guess we're all trying to be the stars of our own reality shows.  One could accuse my blog as being just one big self indulgent look-at-me exercise, but I would like to think that the differences (between this, Twitter, and Facebook) are obvious. This endeavor really does involve a lot of thought, albeit perhaps time not wisely spent, so I return basically to the beginning of this entry, anniversaries.

Given my medical history, every day since my heart surgery and comma of four days has been a "bonus" day.  Even before Mimi's ordeal, I was fully aware of the approach of this anniversary during the last few weeks. It hit home as our friends, Maria and Beny arrived for a brief stay with us from Sicily. Only two months after my operation two years ago I had flown to Sicily (where Ann already was visiting her best friend, Maria), to join everyone in the celebration of Maria's son's wedding to Mariana, and meeting Mariana's parents who were so thrilled to have their daughter marry David.  It was undeniable that the two sets of parents had become best friends and loved being together. The year following their wedding was hell as within months, Mariana's mother was diagnosed with cancer and sadly she is also now gone, a relatively young and vibrant woman just turning 60.  All of that just during the last 24 months.  

With Maria and Beny here, we were able to "spend" some quality time with them, including a day on our new boat, the 'Reprise'. Coincidentally, we planned a small trip up the Intracoastal to  Guanabanas Restaurant in Jupiter, one that we had last been to by boat with our friends Cathy and John only a week before I entered the hospital for that surgery which turned out to be much more serious than anyone could have imagined.  (In fact, as we gaily ate lunch with Cathy and John, my "widow maker" artery was already 99% blocked, of course unknown to me, and I was a candidate for a massive heart attack as I munched on my grouper.)

Arriving at Guanabanas with Maria and Beny I could not help think of the irony of being there again, precisely two years later.  How strange it all seemed, but our visit with them was wonderful, the weather finally cooperating for boating, the clear blue water near the Jupiter Lighthouse reminding us of the waters of the Bahamas.

Meanwhile, I conclude this sad anniversary entry with other photographs of Mimi and Sherman, and Ann and I, taken during that Lake George vacation more than thirty years ago.  Although scanned from faded black and white prints (I used to do my own developing in those days), they capture the essence of her personality (she's in the foreground on the right in each).  This is the way I would like to remember her.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Lake Years

This continues a previous blog entry: Once I left for college, my boating days were over for a while. In fact I never even thought about life on the water, or boating, until Ann and I were married in early 1970. This event coincided with my one and only change of jobs during my working career, leaving New York City to run a division of Greenwood Press which had just relocated to Westport, CT. Westport is on the Long Island Sound, probably, along with the Chesapeake, one of the most interesting bodies of water for the pleasure boater on the east coast. The Long Island Sound has been called the inland sea, boarded by the north coast of Long Island and the south coast of Connecticut, a narrowing funnel of water meeting New York’s East River and, through Hell’s Gate, the Hudson River.

Between these points are thousands of ports, marinas, coves, and anchorages, a boater’s dream. Still, that was not on my mind when I experienced these two major events within two months of one another, changing jobs and getting married (for the second time in my case, which made it even more momentous).

I initially did the reverse commute to Westport, keeping Ann’s rent controlled $83.00 per month one bedroom apartment at 33 west 63rd street pictured here, while I moved out of my studio at 66 west 85th street. Her apartment was ideally located between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue and it was hard to contemplate giving it up; therefore, we were determined to stay in NYC. So at about 6.00 am I would set out to my Chevrolet Nova which was parked in a lot a few blocks away and drive over to the West Side Highway to the Cross Westchester, to the Hutchinson Parkway, to the Merritt Parkway, to Exit 41 and onto the Greenwood office which, at the time, was on Riverside Avenue (more water – the office was on the Saugatuck River, directly south of the US 1 Bridge).

With minimal traffic, I would get into the office by 7.30 am and would normally leave around 6.00 pm, getting back to our apartment by 7.30 pm. Ann, meanwhile, was still working where we had met, at Johnson Reprint, 111 5th Avenue. I envied her short subway commute.

After one full winter and spring of this commute, someone in my office mentioned that she knew someone who was trying to rent a “caretaker’s cottage” that was on a 9-1/2 acre estate in northern Westport, near a waterfall and a fresh water swimming area, which eventually emptied into the Saugatuck River. As the renters were expected to do some of the rudimentary maintenance, the rent was only $125 per month. At that rate, we figured that we could maintain our rent controlled apartment and split our living between Westport and NYC.

The cottage was originally the estate’s living quarters for the chauffer and was attached to a three car garage. It had no central heat; just a tiny gas heater in the kitchen, a small dining room into which I was able to squeeze a barroom piano (two less octaves than the normal 88 keys), a little living room with stairs that led to the small bedroom where we slept on a platform bed. It was roughing it, but it was our introduction to our new life in Connecticut.

As it turned out, living out of two places was more difficult than we anticipated, never knowing what clothes were where, and working out schedules, so we finally decided to make our Westport cottage our main residence, and kept the apartment for occasional weekends in the city.

This led to Ann having to commute during the entire week to Manhattan on Metro North, my driving her to a 7.30 am train and then going to my office only five minutes from the train station, usually picking her up around 6.45 pm each evening. By then I was in the habit of taking home work from the office as well, so while she prepared dinner, I did my work or sometimes played the piano, working later. In the interest of full disclosure, while Ann rarely complained about the vicissitudes of commuting, working, and then returning home to play the role of housewife, over the years this has become a bone of contention, she pointing out that I never fully appreciated those sacrifices, which I guess I didn’t at the time. We were younger and had boundless energy. After all, I rationalized, I dropped her off and worked until I picked her up and then worked again once home, but I guess that didn’t quite compare to the Trifecta of working, commuting, and cooking. So, publically, I say I’m sorry that is the way it was, and maybe I could have helped more, but at the time I was obsessed with my career and my work.

I guess the foregoing does not have much to do with our boating lives but our personal history at the time is relevant as more details will reveal.

So aside from our careers and day to day work at living, we tried to fit some leisurely activity into our busy lives. But what to do? First we were convinced that we were campers. I loved the outdoors and although the totality of my camping life was confined to two weeks at a Boy Scout camp in the Poconos when I was about ten, and Ann’s experience was equally barren, we found ourselves examining camping stuff at the local Westport store, Barker’s. So we bought a tent, a Coleman stove, and a couple of sleeping bags and we were set to go. I found a campsite in northwest Connecticut and off we went one weekend in June.

Here I am shaving on the hood of our car and Ann is cooking up a storm for breakfast. Happy, weren’t we? What is not revealed in this the day after the awful night is the state of my allergies. For years I had respiratory problems when exposed to tree pollen. Over the years this condition has completely disappeared. But when we arrived at the campsite late in the afternoon we unknowingly bedded down in the midst of a pollen forest. At first I was fine. When I got up my eyes were tearing and I was wheezing, but managed to get though the morning. By the afternoon we had to pack up and head for the nearest air conditioned motel. By that evening I could hardly breathe and we considered a hospital visit. Needless to say, that was the end of our camping days, at least, camping on land.

Having eliminated camping from our vacation repertoire, we thought about a bucolic weekend at the Roaring Brook Ranch near Lake George, NY. During my high school years I had done some horseback riding in Forest Park, and Ann had a little experience too, so we thought a leisurely ride with a novice group might be fun. So we made a reservation and drove up to Lake George one weekend. Unfortunately, at the appointed time, the novice group was cancelled as there was a light rain and the trails were muddy. Heck, I thought, I know how to ride a horse so I went out with the advanced group. Ann wisely stayed behind.

But my experience with the docile truck horses of Forest Park was not well matched to the conditions. As we broke out into a gallop in single file, I saw one of the lead horses rear up, throwing its rider into the mud and spooking all the other horses, including mine who also decided to rear its clueless rider. I did everything wrong, dropping the reins and hanging for dear life onto the saddle. So, that was the end of my riding days.

But driving by Lake George we were struck by its sylvan beauty and its size and we made a mental note of wanting to visit the lake itself someday. In the meantime, before Jonathan was born, we continued with our professional lives, and bought our first house, right across the street from where we rented, on the road made famous by Robert Lawson’s book, Rabbit Hill. Two years later we moved again to nearby Weston, but more on this part of our lives in a later entry.

We returned to Lake George a number of times in the late 1970’s after Jonathan was born. We first rented a room in a lodge that provided meals family style. The lodge owned an island in the middle of the lake.

Here is Jonathan watching one of the excursion boats on the lake. We took that boat and explored the entirety of Lake George from The Village of Lake George, at the south end to Ticonderoga at the northern end. The Village itself was touristy and honky-tonk, but we loved the lake.

So, when Ann’s cousins, Sherman and Mimi visited the Lake with us one year, I rented a boat, a fast runabout with an outboard engine and even a steering wheel! All those old memories of my little wooden row boat were rekindled. While there was no Shelter Island to venture to in Lake George, there were little islands and that sense of freedom and adventure which defines the boating spirit came to the surface. I was hooked.

After two one-week summer vacations at the lodge we rented a cabin with our friends Robin and Joe who had a little girl, Jonathan’s age, Amy. Sharing a cottage was not the same as our own space and we decided upon a different venue for our next lake visit – one at the Finger Lakes in the Canandaigua region. Again, we found a lodge but one that rented cabins as we brought Ann’s mom, Rose, with us. We climbed to Rocky Point but the best part, again, was the ability to rent a boat and to explore the lake.

The following summer we visited Connecticut’s Lake Candlewood, a lake that was closer to us, although much smaller than Lake George and many of the Finger Lakes. We went out on a ski boat there with our friend, Carole, and her sister and brother-in-law, my one attempt at water skiing. I was an expert at meeting the water face first as soon as I began to get up on water skis.

We seriously looked into buying a cottage there at small community with a dock but the thought of having to clean the gutters of two houses began to overwhelm me, so we reconsidered this plan. While we loved boating on the Lake, it suddenly dawned on us that, in spite of many lovely weekend days at Westport’s Compo Beach, swimming and reading the Sunday Times, we were forgetting one of the greatest resources available to a pleasure boater right in our back yard: The Long Island Sound. That realization changed our boating lives and led to our next chapter, to be continued.