I’m a city girl (OK, an old city girl) from my taste buds that crave Chinatown Ice Cream Factory Pandam to the designer sandals wrapped around my size 8 1/2 feet. I like looking out my kitchen window and seeing my neighbor’s blinds winking back. I enjoy the sounds of traffic even if the fumes will eventually kill me. I haven’t enjoyed a starlit sky in a long time but, hey, I can always hop a train to the diamond district to get a bling fix. Yet, in the stillness of night, (we have night time stillness in Queens. It no longer exists in Manhattan.) I miss the country. Specifically, I yearn for New England.
‘The Country’ as it was called in my childhood, was anyplace requiring a highway drive out of New York City and had no apartment buildings with makeshift clotheslines draping their fire escapes, no oily water basins clogging the sewer drains abutting the sidewalk gutters, no factory smells and no TV. My grownups longed for clean living, even though it only meant two weeks north of Brooklyn. We usually rented poky bungalows in Ulster county NY. My father and grandfathers would make a pre-emptive trip on Memorial Day, loaded with pots, pans, dishes and flatware. As if ‘The Country’ hadn’t evolved enough to offer kitchen supplies. We would re-unite with our necessities on July 4th weekend with a feast of silky creamy potato salad, golden-glazed chicken and chocolate ice box cake. (I came from great cooks, but not bakers. Ice box cake was made with store bought chocolate cookies and ice cream—you can Google it later)
One summer changed our routine. My great Aunt Edna (there’ll be more about Edna in my next blog) and her second husband; Uncle Ben, (the rest of the family never mentioned Uncle Ben without pointing out that he was Edna’s second husband. Her first husband was Uncle Harold; brilliant, witty, (editor at the Philadelphia Enquirer) but unfortunately deceased. Benjamin Franklin Shockley was an unworthy replacement for our family’s only intellectual. He convinced Aunt Edna to invest Uncle Harold’s bequeath in a country inn in Littleton New Hampshire.
Like lemmings to the sea, my whole clan formed a caravan along the bi-ways northward that July. What an adventure to go to the country without kettles and skillets!
The clapboard inn looked older than the dried weeds that had long since settled around it. Inside was a great room with wooden floors begging for polish and tall windows in need of a vinegar bath. The guestrooms were tiny and musty. The inn had met its saviors: My family of third generation German-Americans liked nothing better than cleaning as long as it was followed by eating. The scrubbing went on for days. A French Canadian chef was hired. He arrived with his family; a rotund or pregnant wife (I was never sure which), a teenaged son and Marie; a tow-haired girl two years my junior. While we may not have been friends in more populated places, we were BFF’s in Littleton. Every morning, Maria would arrive with her family and two baby dolls in carriages. At nine, I no longer played with dolls but the reprieve of my little girl-hood was welcomed as we pretended to be mommies and forged new paths in the tall grasses. Ahead were the pine trees, lush and aromatic, like foot soldiers prepared to keep us from entering their forest. As we walked and talked in pretend grown-up mannerisms, goldenrod; downy, dusty and grey, tickled our knees. Queen Anne’s lace bowed in curtsies while crickets heralded our entrance. Two little girls; one scrawny, one chubby, a blonde and a redhead trampling a carpet so magnificent, it still can’t be replicated outside of nature.
We were welcomed back with a breakfast fit for royalty; buttered blueberry pancakes anointed in maple syrup, omelets bursting with Canadian bacon and farm fresh cheeses. Later, we’d play other pretend games before saying goodbye till tomorrow. One day, Marie came with me as my family toured the Flumes. Together we ran through a covered bridge and tried to spit far into the rushing rapids of the Pemigewasset. Another day, we stood in awe below the Old Man of the Mountains; his chin jutting out in true New England grit. Years later when the morning news announced he had crumbled, a little piece of my heart shattered too.
Our fortnight in Littleton ended. Aunt Edna’s second husband Uncle Ben failed to become an innkeeper. The following summer found us back in Ulster County with our pots, pans and relatives. Yet every summer’s end, I long for another vacation among the quietus of New England. I bow my head and say a prayer for Marie, who shared her dolls and called me her friend.
The wonderful women of Jane’s Friends (a book club) have purchased 8 copies of Alice Again to gift to any book group who would like a free book talk with me. I’ll be happy to travel anywhere, but if you live in New England—I’d be honored to send you the books, come for a talk and breathe in your fresh air--ADL