A Very Little Christmas

By this time last year, Lifelongnewyorker was deep into the blog … much more than lately.  Looking back, I see much discussion of the tree cutting, the decor, the food associated with the holiday, along with some idle thought about what this year would bring.

The answer is “Not much.” 

To say that our holiday decoration is sparse would be over the top.  After Thanksgiving, we pretty quickly decided that we would travel north to see family for Christmas.

And, no, our Thanksgiving experience didn’t drive that decision, but it sure has affirmed it.  Long story short: The Abandoned One came home to his parents for the holiday.  We cheerfully suggested that he fly into Atlanta, a much cheaper flight, and a mere two-hour drive from Montgomery. 

Of course, that’s two hours times two, since it’s round trip.  And it’s only two hours if you round down generously.  It was fine on the Tuesday night when we picked him up, not so fine on the Sunday when we took him back.  Inexplicably heavy traffic (NO ONE expects a traffic jam on I-85 between Montgomery and Atlanta, especially outside of Auburn) meant it took over well over three-and-one hours to deposit him at the terminal, about 10 minutes past the absolute last minute he could successfully check in. 

Luckily, he was able to get on another flight that night.  The next day I messaged him: “You’ll visit us again someday, won’t you?”  His reply: “Of course I will.  Oh, wait … you mean in Montgomery?”

My middle sister suggested that we spend Christmas Eve with them and enjoy the traditional fish dinner.  We have yet to see dried baccala here, and although I’ve been told that it’s possible to buy frozen squid, I have yet to find it anywhere.  And then there’s the matter of rounding up a dozen people to share the feast …

So we decided to “go home” for the holidays.  Which meant there was absolutely no reason to get a fresh tree, and we don’t have the other kind.  And if we didn’t have a tree, there was no need to pull out the decorations.  Lest we begin to mutter “Bah! Humbug!” to each other, we did decide to get a wreath.

It hangs on the front door, Mr. NYer having secured one of those removable hooks advertised on TV after we realized that the door is too thick for our old over-the-door hanger.  It’s a simple wreath, without even a bow.  I think the idea was that you’d decorate it yourself. 

I remembered that I’d seen tabletop live trees at Fresh Market and convinced Mr. NYer to pick one up.  It sat, in a miniature red bowl of a tree stand, on top of an end table in the living room for several days, absorbing all the light in the room.  No balls, garland, tinsel, or lights on this little Charlie Brown specimen.

Will it surprise you to hear that our shopping hardly happened?  We’re donating to Heifer International with my sisters, decided that a trip to New York was pretty much enough of a gift to ourselves, and expect to write a check for the Abandoned One.  Finally, late last week we went online and got gifts for the nieces, nephews and their kids.

I had to stop at CVS on Monday.  Feeling guilty, I found the shortest string of lights I could, along with a box of tiny ornaments.  I smuggled them into the house, planning to surprise Mr. NYer by furtively lighting and decorating the tree after dinner. 

Walking into the house, I set the bag down inconspicuously in the dining room and glanced into the living room.  There was the tree, now trimmed in red beads and a set of cardboard angels.  Mr. NYer had succumbed, too.

It was so O. Henry.

There are no lights on our tree, and none on our house, but it all seems to fit with Montgomery.  As you pass houses a quick glance through the windows (Montgomery homes feature large windows or french doors) will reveal a lavishly lighted large tree.  But the exterior decor is rather subdued, especially by Staten Island standards.  Perhaps one or two houses on a street will have some tasteful arrangement of lights around the door or the two bushes on either side of the porch. 

The rest rely on wreaths, fresh garland and large red bows.  Many homes have every window festooned with its own wreath, and feature a very welcoming front door.  It’s all rather … tasteful.

I can’t wait to bring photos of holiday lighting excess from back home.


Lifelongnewyorker Catches Up

Consider this a round-up of odds and ends from the uncharacteristically silent (of late) Lifelongnewyorker.

Weather.  Is delightful, thank you.  Today, October 24, it’s 81 degrees and dry.  I’m still hanging around in shorts and t-shirts, the windows are open and a delightful breeze stirs the white linen curtains.  I will enjoy what my mother called “good sleeping weather” later at the nighttime temps drop into the 50s.  Despite the evening chill, though, we’ve decided it’s still too soon to switch to our winter bedding.  Turns out we’re in a drought, which partially explains the unending series of bright summer days.  But the reality is hard to hate: since March, it’s been warm and pleasant.  Gorgeous spring, hot summer, and lovely fall.  Expecting a few days of winter at some point.

Diet.  We’ve already discussed the fact that fears of food deprivation in the South were wildly overstated.   The fine array of foods, coupled with car reliance, led Lifelongnewyorker to gain a few (more than five) pounds since arriving in Montgomery.  With the arrival of September, Lifelongnewyorker is proud to say, she started a diet and has now lost all of the weight that was added.  Mr. NYer has been most helpful, preparing diet-friendly lunches and dinners, and sacrificing his own nightly glasses of wine in solidarity, even though he doesn’t have to.  (Actually, the diet has been even more effective for him, which was not exactly a desired outcome).  The diet led to something that I haven’t experienced since 6th grade:

Going home for lunch.  One day last week, I realized I’d left my lunch in the refrigerator at home, so I got into my car, drove home, ate lunch at my kitchen table, visited for a while with the cats, read the mail, got back into the car, and arrived back at the office 45 minutes after I’d left.  Try that in NYC.

Cat intelligence.  Harpo, our older and friendly cat, had long been in the habit of taking “constitutionals” in our Staten Island backyard.  Mr. NYer would let him out and instruct him to stay in the yard.  After a certain period of time — usually 20 minutes or so — Harpo would wander away.  Mr. NYer would fetch him and bring him inside.  More than once, though, the cat slithered under the deck or wandered farther afield and couldn’t be found, and then I’d be enlisted in the effort to get him.  Simon, the younger cat, is skittish and fast.  We have never let him out.  When we moved into the Alabama house, Harpo had spent about a month in a second-floor apartment where going out was not a possibility.  Warned about the ferocity of the local flea population, we decided that Harpo was now going to be an exclusively indoor cat.  

Now, what you need to know is that the Island excursions turned him into a howling pest.  He would stand at the sliding screen door and cry to go out.  Frequently the cry worked, and Mr. NYer would let him go.  Here in Alabama, Harpo’s voice has been raised only in anticipation of food, or when he hauls one of his toys around.  He has never asked to go outside, and has never made any kind of dash when the French door to the patio is opened. 

Until Saturday, when somehow he dislodged the window screen while sunning himself on the sill.  I was roused from bed by Mr. NYer calling me urgently; by the time I emerged from the bedroom, he already had Harpo in arms, in the living room.  But Harpo had discovered that Alabama had an outside, too, just like Staten Island.  And he’s been standing at the French doors, howling, since then.

It’s safe to go out again.  Sort of weather-related, but we’ve been striking off exploring a bit again.  Last weekend, we went to the Kentuck Folk Art festival in Northport, just across a river from Tuscaloosa, home to the University of Alabama.  We decided to avoid Saturday, the day of the Alabama game (Roll Tide!), because filling a stadium with 102,000 people leads to a certain amount of traffic.  The festival was great, with a combination of artisans (pottery, textile, jewelry, etc) and real, honest-to-goodness folk artists who often worked with found and discarded objects.  Music played from one of two stages, and it was good.  Every aging hippie, young hipster, and countercultural person in Alabama was there.  It was  a great vibe, and we bought a nice pottery vase, a pottery earring bowl, and some jewelry. 

Inspired, we took at chance at a closer-in craft fair in Prattville, the next town.  This time the entertainment was provided by a succession of dancing school troupes — one set of little girls in costume after another.  There were hula skirts, bumble bees, lady bugs, princesses.  We were astonished that Prattville had such a concentration of children to maintain this unending supply of dancers.  No boys.  They were all at peewee football practice. 

We didn’t stay too long.  Although there were a few wonderful quilters and one potter, most of the crafts were homemade and followed one of two themes: religion or football.  Seriously, I had no idea the Christian cross could be affixed to so many objects, including folk-art rustic birdhouses.  Nor that there were so many ways to wear or display your allegiance to Auburn football (Go Tigers!).

We stopped in the center of Prattville, a tidy and well maintained downtown.  The Autauga Creek runs next to Main Street, and nineteenth century mills sit just north of the downtown area.  Strolling along the beflowered Creekside walk, we saw a father and son fly-fishing in a rocky part.  Upstream just a bit was a dam with water pouring over.  Very picturesque. 

Meanwhile, an antique store/cafe beckoned on Main St, and we wandered  its aisles for a while.  Leaving, we peeked into the windows of the Red Arrow hardware store, a going concern that outdid the antique store for old-timey curiosities.  This hardware store looks like it hasn’t been in any way since perhaps 1945.  Wood floors, deep and dark, and inventory that, well, it’s hard to believe they’ll be able to restock it anytime soon.

Yes, there were modern things for sale, including an open rack with guns (“Do not handle guns”), garden hoses, screws and nails and paints.  But there was also a huge selection of cast iron cookware, galvanized steel tubs, porcelain-on-metal basins (my mother’s favorite for all sorts of chores, including washing of babies), and crockery.  Crockery like you’d put moonshine in.  There were butter  churns.  Farther along, there were replacement glass tops for coffee pots, as in stove top percolators.  Remember those?  Then there were flyswatters with whippable metal handles, not plastic.  You could buy a brand new Radio Flyer wagon, or a brand new metal Radio Flyer tricycle, just like the kind I had as a kid.  I wanted a jug, a wagon, a stove top percolator … but we left just happy to have stumbled into this place out of time.

A Little Bit of Osage Knowledge

Where to start this tale?     

Photos courtesy of Mr. NYer

In a car.  Driving down Narrow Lane Road next to the Montgomery Country Club and seeing what seem to be … tennis balls? … moss-covered softballs? … hybrid softballs with neon green tennis ball covers?    

No! By Jove, they’re osage oranges, and they are all over the place. So that’s what those hedges are!   

My first encounter with an osage orange was in Staten Island.  Although I biked throughout the South Shore as a teenager, I must have skipped the osage season, because the first time I saw one it was sitting atop one of the lunch tables in the faculty room of  the high school in which I taught.    

A student had brought it in and stumped the science teacher, who brought it to the rest of us as a challenge.  Never one to resist, I examined the item carefully, noting its brilliant green color, convoluted  surface, and slightly citric smell.  Slicing it open revealed yellow pulp with tons of seeds inside.  It appeared to be a fruit. I was stumped.      

Next I called the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences and talked with Ed Johnson.  “I’m trying to identify what looks like a fruit,” I explained. It took Ed no time at all to tell me it was an osage orange and to advise against eating it.     

Ed explained a few more things about the osage orange.  It isn’t native  to the Island, nor is it usually found this far north. (It originates in Texas.) The reason it’s on Staten Island at all, he said, was that it was introduced by Frederick Law Olmsted.  And it could only be found in a few spots on the Island — most likely from a row of hedges on Seguine Avenue. I have a feeling Ed knew the specific trees.     

Mention of Olmsted’s name piqued my interest.  I knew he’d lived on Staten Island and that his farmhouse still stood–albeit enlarged and somewhat transformed–not far from where I lived.  Long interested in Island history, I had been encouraged by a college professor to apply for a grant to document the history that was still standing in photographs (and oh, I wish I’d followed through on that).      

Olmsted's Staten Island farmhouse as it appeared in 1924

My research included an interview with Staten Island historian and preservationist Loring McMillen in his office in the old court house in Richmondtown.  I asked about the Olmsted house and can still see him sigh, shake his head and advise me not to bother. “Yes it’s there,” he said, “but its in terrible shape … ” In residence then, according to McMillen, were Carleton Beil–a naturalist and cicada expert who learned at the feet of William T. Davis–and his wife.  McMillen shuddered when he leaned forward and told me they had refrigerators and old appliances on the porch.     

Having identified the osage orange, I was bitterly disappointed to find that, although she had framed the challenge as a contest,  my science colleague did not in fact offer a prize.  What kind of a contest doesn’t offer a prize?!     

Didn’t know about the Olmsted-Staten Island connection?  Olmsted was Yale-bound when he contracted an intense case of poison sumac that affected his vision (and you though poison ivy was bad). So, he knocked around for a few years, went to sea, that kind of stuff, and then he decided he wanted to pursue “scientific farming.” After not doing well in Connecticut, he bought a large farm on Staten Island in 1848, when he was 26 years old.  He called it the Tosomock Farm; later Erastus Wiman bought the land for development and named it Woods of Arden. As far as I know, the house still stands. For the next seven years, Olmsted practiced scientific management of crops, developed a tree nursery, and planted non-native species, including the osage orange.  He also managed to travel extensively through the South for the New York Daily Times and his writings on the conditions under  which both slaves and poor whites lived helped solidify northern anti-slavery opinion.  He left the farm upon his marriage to his sister-in-law (his brother had died), but they returned to it later in life and his son, Frederick Jr, was born there in 1870.   

Anyway, I hadn’t really thought much about osage oranges again until we began seeing them everywhere.  I asked Mr.  NYer to take some photos. He took a few  environmental shots (above) and then brought some specimens home for a still life.  I think they look like something offered for sale at Pottery Barn.    

As it turns out, a fair number of people do indeed bring these colorful fruit into their homes at this time of year, though not for decoration.  A folk belief holds that they repel spiders and insects.  I’ve even found a place online where you can buy them if you don’t happen to live in a place where they fall by the roadside.    

They are known by an array of names: hedgeapples, bois d’arc (the wood supposedly makes dandy bows), bodarks (an Americanization of the French one imagines), or horse-apple.     

Although not technically poisonous for humans, I have read that they are not really that tasty, except for the seeds. These are as easy to extract as cotton seeds from the boll, so don’t look for little snack packs any time soon.  Squirrels don’t seem to mind the effort though.  Horses and cattle sometimes munch on them, but unwisely.  They are a choking hazard.    

The trees from which they droop rather pendulously make fine hedgerows.  If you come on down to visit us in Montgomery, I can show you some.

Too Much Drama

Over dinner and a bottle of wine at the lovely restaurant attached to the Staten Island Hilton Garden Inn, Mr. NYer and I reminisced about the last 26 years and 11 months we spent in one house.  We smiled, laughed and got teary remembering the ghastly decor when we moved in, the collection of neighbors, the contractors, the happy occasions and, mostly, the memories of raising our son in this house.

It was a good ending to an exhausting and unnecessarily dramatic week.

Let’s go back to late last Friday afternoon, around 4 pm, when Mr. NYer hears from our old friend and attorney, Mr. J, that the buyer wants to close on February 25 — six days hence.  The alternative is to wait until Mr. J gets back from his St. Croix vacation, and close on March 9.  Oh, and by the way, the buyer wants a credit for “thousands of dollars” for the attic, which they fear is not legal.

A side note on our attic:  It’s about 300 square feet of floor space, has full-size windows on three sides, and a conventional stairway leading to it.  It’s got high ceilings with some dormers.  We refinished the attic over ten years ago, replacing hideous cheap paneling with sheet rock.  When we pulled the paneling down, we could see the lath marks on the studs for the plaster walls that had preceded the paneling.  In other words, this attic had been a finished living space since dinosaurs walked the earth.

A Staten Island attorney would not have given the finished attic a second thought, but our buyers turned to an attorney who practices in Nassau County and is young enough to be Lifelongnewyorker’s daughter.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  This attorney, a sorority sister of the female half of the buyers, is used to dealing with tiny Long Island towns, and couldn’t understand why there was no C of O (our house was built in 1919, and houses in NYC  built back then don’t have them); she worried that the attic was “illegal.”

On Friday, Mr. J told us that the buyers wanted a substantial credit to make the attic legal, and also wanted to close as early as possible, so they could move in this weekend.  Figuring that the demand for a credit was leverage for the early closing date, and tired of being apart, Mr. NYer and I decided to try to accommodate the date.

What this entailed:  moving heaven and earth to get the mover lined up to pack on Tuesday and load on Wednesday; finding and arranging for storage of all our earthly goods in Montgomery; booking air travel from Atlanta, where Lifelongnewyork was on business, home to NY within 24 hours; hustling from a session that ended at 5 pm in Atlanta to get to the airport in time for a 6:40 flight.  And instructing Mr. J to accept the early closing date but refuse to negotiate the contracted price.

Two hours after getting the call, all that had been arranged.

Home on Staten Island, Mr. NYer and I worked for two days to empty the house, sort the belongings, and get ready for the movers.  Lifelongnewyorker kept the computer connected and the Blackberry attached so she could also attend to business.  At the end of each night, we fell into bed exhausted.  Exhausted in a way that people in their 50s should just not have to feel.

Tuesday the packers show up and the house is tossed into orderly chaos.  Lifelongnewyorker is the ultimate authority on what stays, what goes, and is consulted at every turn–for some reason, Mr. NYer seems to dread making a decision without her.  Meanwhile, she has at least one conference call scheduled, which she takes in the empty attic, accompanied only by the cats who have been sent there in exile.  Only one item is broken during the packing.

Towards the end of the day Tuesday our attorney calls with the news that the buyers’ attorney wants to postpone the closing, pending inspection of the space by an architect.  We will not dwell here on the theories put forth by the various parties, but we briefly despaired.  Our attorney suggested they bring the architect along for the walk-through, scheduled for Wednesday evening.  We breathed a tentative sigh of relief.

Wednesday the movers come again, this time to load the truck.  Oh, did I mention the truck and the parking dilemma.  Few homes on our block have off-street parking. Many residents take their cars to work, but the spaces are filled almost immediately by the teachers who work at the middle school down the block.  So, on Monday, Lifelongnewyorker printed neighborly notes on neon-colored paper asking folks to refrain from parking on about 110 feet of prime street real estate on both Tuesday and Wednesday.  She carefully tucked these under wipers and into mailboxes.  Mr. NYer, believing more direct means were necessary, conspired with our neighbors to park three cars in such a way as to use up five spaces,  placed garbage cans strategically, and stood watch during the half hour before school started.

The movers load the truck.  Lifelongnewyorker takes another conference call while huddled in the attic.  By 3 pm, when the movers leave, we are again exhausted, but we have more work to do.  Sweep and vacuum.  Because we are who we are, we also clean the bathroom and the kitchen.  Lifelongnewyorker gets on her hands and knees and cleans the hardwood floors in the living and dining rooms because the movers have been tracking wet feet in and out for two days.  We fill up move garbage bags.  And then we have to sedate the cats, capture them, and put them into their accommodations for the next four days, a lovely cage.  Eventually we do get the cats.  We carry them, cage and all, down to the car.

Barely able to focus, we drive to the aforementioned lovely Hilton Garden Inn and check in.  Lifelongnewyorker takes a much-needed hot shower.  While Mr. NYer is in the shower, the phone rings.  It’s Mr. J with the news that the buyer’s attorney has cancelled the next day’s closing.  Yes, cancelled.  Told the bank’s attorneys to forget about it.  After all, she tells Mr. J, it will take several days for the architect to file his report.

Frankly it feels like extortion to us, and Mr. NYer and I are competing to see who is angrier.  It’s 5 pm, and we have the walk-through in about an hour.  Our legal counsel advises us to be nice, which is going to be really hard.

But then we remember that we are actors.  We rehearse our lines and come up with our strategy.

We arrive early at the house and rush in to grab the 20 pounds of cat food we left, and remove the bottle of prosecco we left in the refrigerator.  We deliberately leave the bottle of champagne.  We turn on all the lights and make sure the house is cozy.  We run our lines.

First onstage is our realtor, who is also fit to be tied and enters under a dark cloud, convinced the closing will never happen.  Next are the buyers with a young man who alleges to be an architect.  I ask for his card and, well, he has one.  Before going upstairs we set the scene:  “We’re confused,” I explain.  “We moved heaven and earth to make this closing happen and you cancel it–we just don’t understand.”

These guys are first-time homebuyers and they’re terrified by the word “illegal,” which has been thrown around in reference to the attic a lot, first by their attorney and secondly by — get this — the house inspector.  This is the personage, loyal readers might remember, who brazenly poked at my sills, extolled the house, and never bothered to measure a single thing.  Turns out when questioned, he reported that the attic did not have the height or space to “ever be made legal.”  Even though it was large enough to hold his hot air for a good half hour one evening.

The heart-to-heart out of the way, we head upstairs to the attic, so the architect can have a look-see.  He looks.  He sees that this is a very large and airy attic.  He explains that the minimum floor space for a bedroom is 85 square feet — the attic has nearly three times that.  He observes that the ceiling is over 8 feet tall, and that two of the windows alone meet the air and light requirement.  He ends by saying, “This attic is fine — there’s no problem with it.”

At which point, Mr. NYer and I act out our the dual strategy.  I proceed to show the buyers all the wonderful things they’ve bought, talking about their new closets, their air conditioning and, in the kitchen, the bottle of champagne we hope they will be enjoying as new homeowners tomorrow night.  Mr. NYer tells them, “Our lawyer is ready to close tomorrow.  So are we.  If yours is willing, let’s do it.”  It’s late, but phone calls are made.  We’re all willing, but the big question remains:  Is the bank?  They’ve been told to cancel — can that be undone?

We return to the hotel feeling that, at least, the deal will close sometime, if not tomorrow.  It hasn’t fallen through.  The cats — remember them? — are freaked out, but haven’t clawed their way out of the cage or chewed off their own feet.  We go to bed, awakening every 15 minutes or so wondering what the next day will bring.

More drama.  It’s snowing.  Hard.  And the forecast is for anywhere from 8 to 16 inches.  And remember, the sorority sister attorney has to drive in from Nassau County.

We eat breakfast and return to the room just in time to hear from Mr. J — the closing is on at high noon.  Mr. NYer, who has a soft side for the cats and a charming belief in illusions, erects a barricade of pillows around the bottom of the bed and allows the cats out of their cage.  The Lunatic takes about 5 minutes to dash beneath the king bed and park himself in the middle of the floor under the mattress.

We spend the next 40 minutes or so enticing him with yarn, with catnip, with toys and with food.  None of this works.  We move the bed; he moves with it.  We plead.  I find birdsong on the Web and play cardinals, bluejays and finches.  None of these entice him.  Finally, I flop on top of the bed, he rushes out, and we capture him.

We are the first to arrive at the office, but eventually the other parties arrive.  And, lo and behold, after Way Too Much Drama, we close the deal.

We’ve  been far too busy the last four days to dwell on sentiment, but while the buyers were signing their documents (many more than ours) images of my son growing up in the house played in my mind: playing ball in the backyard, climbing the stairs before he could walk, blowing out birthday candles at the kitchen table.  I teared up, briefly.

Tonight at dinner, I asked Mr. NYer: “Shall we talk about our memories in the house, or about the future?”

“The house,” he said.

And we did, laughing mostly.  It was good.


Where is my tether?

I’m referring, of course, to the cord that attaches my Blackberry to my computer and allows me to have Internet access anywhere.  Once we turn in the cable boxes, we’ll need it.  I can’t find it.

This is probably the 10th or 15th item I couldn’t find today.  On the phone, our lawyer asks for the account number of our mortgage and a copy of our latest water bill.  No problem — I put both of these in a package of materials not to be packed.  All of the things not to be packed are on the bed.  Alas, the legal-size manilla envelopes with these papers never made it to the bed.  Mr. NYer remembered that they’d been left on the shelves in the computer room, which were … already packed.

But the moving guys obliged.  One remembered the envelope and gamely proved the rule that it’s always in the last box.

Slowly but surely, other needed items have disappeared. The sugar bowl, the boxes of tea, the lamps.  The movers believe in minimalism, and we will live that way tonight.  They plan to leave us with one lamp, a floor lamp that we can carry around like a candlestick on steroids.

How did I get here?

On a plane, on Saturday night, of course.  The cab driver, in a first for New York City’s fleetest, carried my bag up the twenty-three steps to my front door.  It almost made me sad to be leaving.  I rang the bell to let Mr. NYer know I was home, then opened the door only to have him grab me and, basically, not let go.  “Thank God you’re home,” he said aloud.

To himself, I think he added, “There’s a lot of work to do.”

And work we did.  Sunday and Monday we made arrangements, wrote lists, and cleared out the rest of the stuff that wasn’t coming with us.  You know how the things you least want to do are the ones you put off until the end?  Well, the end has arrived.

Case in point:  Thirty five years ago, I did a college art history project on the architectural history of Staten Island.  My professor encouraged me to try to get a grant to continue the work, and recommended I work with another student who was a photographer.  That student, who subsequently became a boyfriend, borrowed a valuable book on the small houses of Ernest Flagg, a Staten Island architect, from the secretary of the Art Department.  Fast forward a couple of years, and ex-boyfriend, following the lead of his hero John Denver, decides he needs to live in the Rocky Mountains, buys a used VW bus, puts a camera mount on the roof (I hate to think about what that did to his camera lens), and dropped the book off with me to return to its rightful owner.  I think I made one attempt, but she wasn’t at the college when I stopped by.  And then, life happened.  The book has traveled with me out of my parents house and into two apartments and a house.  I had a child.  The woman died and I read her obit in the Advance.

You might think I should just add the book to my own collection, but I couldn’t.  I stored it in the basement (I know), rather than risk thinking of it as mine.  As many of you know, Staten Island is a small world, so I was not entirely surprised when one of the elementary school classmates of the Abandoned One turned out to be the grandson of the woman who owned the book.  I intended to return the book to them, but it was hardly top of mind, nor was it within handy reach.

Until Sunday, when the Men with Truck came to clean out the basement, and I wound up with the book in my hands.  Did I have the heirs’ phone number?  Of course not; nor were they listed.  But Mr. NYer remembered that Mrs. Heir was on Facebook, and I sent a message.  Monday night she called and, like a repentant sinner, I told her the story of the book that had once belonged to her mother-in-law.  This morning I wrapped it in shrink wrap and Mr. NYer left it at their house.

One item off the list.

Originally, we hoped to have another two or three weeks before the closing, and had carefully gauged our consumption of cleaning liquids, wine and other spirits accordingly.  By Monday, though, we needed to deal with the bottles of ammonia, nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, soy sauce, white, cider and rice vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and enough seltzer to start a soda shop.  We counted up nine bottles of champagne or prosecco.  And not bad stuff.  Then there were the odd bottles of hard liquor that we rarely drank but that had somehow accumulated over the years:  vermouth, flavored vodka, rum, Harvey’s Bristol Cream …

None of this can go in the car.  We need room for the cat cage, Mr. NYer’s clothes, and other necessities. These are all contraband items for interstate moves.  We’d already filled dozens of contractors or recycling bags, and were trying hard to lighten the load.  The trusty plumbing system beckoned.  And so I began pouring.   Shortly after the first elixirs from the medicine cabinet went down the tube, I looked out the window to see a large DEP truck stopping on the street.  Seems the sewer was backing up into the houses across the street.  Great.  Imagine not only finding that you’re getting a sewer backing up, but wondering why it smells like ammonia.

In about an hour the DEP let us know that the system was running fine, and we could resume use.  Little did they know …

Two days of final cleaning down.  Day One of the move itself down: the house is 90% packed.  Only one item — a globe from a small Ikea lamp–broken.  Tomorrow is Move Day Two: the Loading of the Truck, then the furious cleaning, and tomorrow night the walk-through.  Thursday the closing.  Friday Mr. NYers retirement party.  And then Saturday, we’re on the road.  Just us and the two cats.

Did we remember to keep the cat sedative unpacked?

You Can Go Home Again

In a few short hours, Lifelongnewyorker leaves for the airport to go … home?   Well, back to Alabama.

During the visit to the real home — defined as any place where Mr. NYer, the two cats, and the Abandoned One live — she has had to hold her tongue a few times and refrain from referring to the apartment in Alabama as “home.”  It’s a bit disorienting.

Thankfully, Staten Island missed the “Snowmageddon 2010” storm that hit Washington, Baltimore and up into New Jersey.  Perhaps two or three inches fell here, while just to the south friends in New Jersey got a good deal more.  It still felt like winter, though, with the temperature a lively 18 degrees this morning.  A peek at Montgomery showed 52.  Ahh.

Being home, even for just two nights, had its rewards.  Cats.  Cats in lap, cats padding chest, cats nosing the hand, wanting to be petted, 16-pound cat sound asleep on back during the night.  Food.  Mr. NYer prepared one of my favorite meals on Friday and whipped up two of his signature eggplant omelets this weekend.  Sleep.  In my own bed, with my husband. 

Lifelongnewyorker felt a rush of pleasure walking through the door to a clean and more spare house than she’d left.  The moving sale didn’t move many of the big items, but it helped the guys to pare down the possessions.  Mr. NYer packed up pictures and small items; the Abandoned One has made significant headway, too. 

We descended to the basement to confirm what was to happen to the stuff hunkered down there.  Much to my relief, much of it was easily decided:  some would go with the Abandoned One to his new apartment, some to the Salvation Army, some to the trash, and precious little with us.  Only two boxes, with old files, had eluded judgement:  we lugged them upstairs for review.

And that’s how I came to spend much of Saturday afternoon reading through every paper I ever wrote, beginning in 7th grade.   Some, from Mr. Roach’s classes in high school, revealed that my worldview and politics haven’t changed much:  in 1971  I wrote about the need to replace fossil fuels and cut down on energy consumption.  In another paper, I examined mass transit policies that would replace cars in cities.  There were two major papers on John Vliet Lindsay, one looking at his candidacy for the Presidency.  (After all, he’d  already been mayor of NY, which as his campaign button proclaimed, was “The 2nd hardest job in America.”)

Then I came upon the college papers and realized just how much I’ve  forgotten.  I came upon a blue book from a philosophy course — I was a philosophy major — and read, with some astonishment, an essay distinguishing synthethic from analytic statements, replete with the phrases “a priori” and “a posteriori” scattered throughout.  I’d once known this stuff?   Other papers discussed Kant, Descartes, Leibnitz, Wittenstein and Vonnegut.  Apparently I once had thoughts on phenomenology.  Not only did I not remember most of this — although I like to believe that I’ve integrated it into my thinking on a very deep level — I couldn’t even remember some of the courses.  Dr. Reuben Abel?  The name sounded familiar, but the face could not be summoned.  Nor could any details of the classroom or any of my fellow students. 

The grad papers, mainly in history but some in education, occupied more familiar ground.  Yes, I did know a lot about 19th century reform movements, the Burned Over District, and the growth of cities.  Most of that stuck, and I still find it fascinating.  Just ask me. 

Fascinating or not, the piles of onion-skin erasable paper went into the trash bin of history.  If I have contributed to human knowledge, it’s been through my teaching more than my scholarship.  Except for Prohibition Park and NDA itself, but those are each another story …

The Abandoned One looked through a trove of art and writings from his prehistory.  On special occasions he would record his thoughts by dictating them to me.  I wrote these down in large printed script.  Thus we read his reports on the  Pink Badge and Green Badge parties from the Great Kills Swim Club, the trip to Sesame Place, and summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.  Mostly he wrote about food.  The art ranged from crayon scribbles to gilded macaroni.  He chose the best and will send it to Alabama with us. 

The Abandoned One found an apartment this weekend, and is happily planning his move.  Together with two Oberlin friends, he’s moving to a parlor floor in a Crown Heights brownstone.  It has a new bathroom, a full-size refrigerator in an actual kitchen, and is, he reports, full of light.  Even his bedroom, which has no windows.  It’s right on Eastern Parkway, a few blocks from where my sisters went to high school 45 years ago.  He’ll have window seats at the Caribbean Day Parade. 

Eager to have somewhere to put our stuff when it gets to Alabama, Mr. NYer and I tried to decide on which house to buy.   We’ve got three strong choices, each with some wonderful features, and all of which we think we’d be comfortable in.  Of course, each also has a major trade-off. 

Should we buy the updated 1925 house with lots of character, a huge veranda, a screened-in room and lots of light?  It’s also the one where the 2nd bedroom’s wall are  upholstered–literally–in French silk,  putting the room off-limits to the cats, and where the 3rd bedroom with bath is outside in a separate building. 

Or  perhaps we’ll take the 1952-era home with the wonderful addition on the back that features an open-plan kitchen/great room, a master suite with its  own study, and a guest wing that can be closed off from the rest of the house when not in use?  The downside here?  The house next door should be condemned and looks  like a meth house.  Oh, and there’s no covered parking, something that you want to have in the South.

Finally, there’s the new construction, a single-family cottage in a new development that’s in the older part of town.  It’s got quality finishes, a separate bath for each bedroom, a two-car garage, and a park-like community with pool, tennis courts and fitness room.  Oh, it also has an elevator.  Down side?  Not much private outdoor space, no separate study/den, and top of our budget. 

We alternate on which we like the best, then we rule one out only to rule it back in again the next time we consider the possibilities.  Right now, we’re back down to two, but it wasn’t the same two we were down to two hours ago.

Stay tuned. 

 PS — Dear Reader, if you like to read this blog but depend on new posts via FB, Lifelongnewyorker would appreciate it if you’d subscribe to the blog.  This means you’ll get an email with new posts, and I won’t have to post them on FB.  Thanks!

Week One

It’s good to start a new job on a four-day week.  Although I’m enjoying playing the rookie role at the office, I think I’ve had enough crammed into my brain for now.

The stuff pouring out of my ears takes several forms.  Each day, I’ve engaged in a sort of one-on-one seminar in the history of my program, along with deep background/mistakes made/lessons learned for my main areas of responsibility, and what the goals are this time around.  Each day I’ve lunched with a different department head, a good way to establish a rapport (or fail miserably at it) and learn who does what.  It doesn’t mean I know how things are done, but knowing who is responsible is a very good thing.  And then there’s the practical — today, for instance, I learned why I have three waste baskets under my desk.  One is for trash, one for recycling, and one for shredding.  I am responsible for emptying the shredded basket into the secure shredder on each floor.

I had a bit of a scare on Wednesday when the gates refused to respond to my security tag.  Had it been revoked already?  A guard came, checked who I was, and directed me to another gate.  It did open, and all was well.

A graduate course’s worth of reading has been recommended to me, and each time I return to my office another book or report or appellate case appears on my chair, with a note that someone (usually my boss) thought it would be good to read.  And it will be.  But I know that all too soon, the tension between learning/preparing and wanting to bust out and actually accomplish something will be hard to bear.

People are friendly here.  Hmmm, that’s reminds me of a line from The Laramie Project.  But it’s true.  The people I’ve met, mostly colleagues, are interesting, smart, intellectually curious people.  And they have opinions about life in Montgomery, mainly where to live.

In Staten Island, the first question is often, “So, are you a native?”  Here, it’s “Have you decided where you want to live?’  And then the lobbying begins.

There are several historic areas, with three very close to downtown and too mixed with restored and run-down homes for me.  I don’t want to live next door to a bail bondsman.  A few minutes away are the late 19th and early 20th century neighborhoods, also historic, of the Garden District and Old Cloverdale.  These are not all that historic in the sense that  I’m used to — most housing is 20th century, in fact I’ve not seen much in the city so far that pre-dates the Civil War — but they are distinctive.  The Garden District has wide avenues with imposing homes; perpendicular to these are smaller streets lined with cottages.  It’s laid out in a grid.  Next to it, Old Cloverdale has curving streets that maddeningly turn sharply left or right while going straight puts you on a completely different road.  The  homes here are cottage-y, in a dizzying variety of styles, from craftsman to Spanish, but they all work well together.  Within walking distance are two small town centers with a few shops.

The Garden District and Old Cloverdale have fierce advocates, people who suggest — strongly — that there’s no where else you will feel comfortable.  It’s a compelling and familiar argument, similar to one I’ve deployed on Staten Islanders, where I can’t imagine why anyone would live on the South Shore.  Basically, these places are the equivalent to West Brighton, Stapleton and St. George.  Only with more greenery.

Some folks lobby for specific homes.  I’m planning to look at a house in the Garden District right across from Ms. Atlantic City.  It looks perfect, but perhaps a bit specific — more on that tomorrow — and a bit more than I’d like to spend.  But Ms. Atlantic City has decided that it is the perfect house for me. 

Another colleague has chosen new cottages on Agnew Street.  The street is lovely, as are the brand, spanking new brick cottages with 10-foot ceilings, granite countertops, and plantation shutters, but they have almost no yards, and Mr. NYer’s sole non-negotiable item was that he wants to garden.

A few people argue for East Montgomery.  This would is like moving to New Jersey.  There’s a “long” commute of about 15-20 minutes, and easy access to golf courses, upscale shopping and large, new and relatively inexpensive homes.  I’m tempted by the latter, having struggled to keep our 90-year old Staten Island house warm, dry and intact.  But neither of us plays golf, and the environment, with its scrubby new trees and vast expanses of lawn, looks too bare.  We fear being isolated from the welcoming ferment of a closer community.

Against that, however, a colleague mentioned Hampstead, one of those Truman Show communities that are carefully planned.  This one, modeled on an English village, features a High Street, a community garden, and some buildings that combine commercial and residential use.   “And,” she said, “a lot of people from Old Cloverdale are moving there.”

Tomorrow I have an appointment with a realtor at 9 am.  I’ve sent her a list of about a dozen homes, in Old Cloverdale and the Garden District, that I want to see.  For due diligence alone, I’ll also make sure I see some in the other areas, too.  I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say tomorrow.  

As I write this, I have opened the French door to my porch.  Some nocturnal creature is singing, and a light fills the room.  Once the heat descends, I’ll have this place hermetically sealed, but right now it’s lovely.