Archives For Family

From B to D to C to B.

April 28, 2018 — 4 Comments

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After surgery they make you walk. So we walk. 

We’ve been here since Monday, walking and resting and healing in room 11 of Pavilion 4B.

There are three other pavilions on this floor joined by four long corridors. When we walk, we pass all the rooms on 4B and then 4D and 4C before heading back to her room. There is a heavy fire door leading to 4A so we never go that way.

The pavilions are organized by cancer type. 4B is for woman being treated for gynecological cancers. I can’t figure out what is treated on 4C but 4D hits me hard every time we walk there. It is the pavilion for pancreatic cancer, the cancer that killed my father. There are mostly men there, about as old as my father was when he was hospitalized. They walk and rest and heal, just like us.

We walk slow, holding hands, and I remember that when my father was diagnosed I feared that there was nothing that could be done. But his surgery went well and soon he was back home making the best of the extra time he was given.

When Kathy was diagnosed I had the same fear, but again things have gone well.

So today I do not worry about tomorrow. I just walk these halls holding her hand, remembering my father and hoping for the best.

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Thursdays with Kathy

April 1, 2018 — 4 Comments

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I awake at five minutes after five, walk downstairs and turn up the thermostat. The kettle slowly heats and a few minutes later the coffee is ready.

This is my quiet time when I read digital newspapers and catch up on the Twitter feed as a new day dawns in Baltimore.

This is my alone time, but not today.

Yesterday was Kathy’s eighth chemotherapy session and the steroids they gave her make her feel great. I have just poured my first cup of coffee when I hear her slippers on the staircase.

I pour her a cup and we sit together for a while. It is like it was before and we talk about unimportant things as daylight replaces darkness over the back patio.

At times like these I wish her chemotherapy could last forever. It seems to be working wonders and, at least on Thursday mornings, she looks like she is cured. But it kills the good with the bad and she is steadily losing healthy blood cells. This makes her weaker as each day passes and we are not sure she will be able to complete the last treatment before her surgery.

But for now she is vibrant and healthy and full of hope about getting back to work and back to the way it was before.

We have breakfast and I help her with an injection before leaving for work.

When I return she has changed. The steroids have worn off and she is fatigued from the anemia. She goes to bed early and is asleep before I have finished tucking the blankets around her.

I awake at five minutes after five on Friday, walk downstairs and turn up the thermostat. The kettle slowly heats and a few minutes later the coffee is ready.

This is my quiet time, but I wish it was a Thursday.

 

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When I was a freshman I lived in a dormitory with cinderblock walls, two dressers, two desks and two extra long single beds. My roommate was in Navy ROTC. I was in Army. He quit ROTC at the end of his freshman year. I left Cornell as a Second Lieutenant.

Some college roommates become best friends for life. We did not and I never saw him again after we moved out of that dorm room at the end of spring semester.

My friend for life lived next door and over the next four years we would spend time togehter watching local bands, hiking and swimming in the nearby gorges and sometimes watching the hockey team. He had season tickets and rarely missed a game. I was not a big fan but was always grateful to come along when he had an extra ticket.

We stayed close after graduation. We got married at about the same time. He came to my wedding. I was at his. We raised our families on about the same schedule. We read Harry Potter books to our children when they were young and later bought extra copies of the new releases so that we could keep up as our kids devoured the books within hours after they were publised. We talked about high school issues and college choices and their plans once college was behind them.

He always wrote me a nice letter at Christmas full of news. My card was usually late and didn’t say much.

He was diagnosed with cancer 15 months ago and is now well along the way on his journey with the disease. In December, before we knew that Kathy was also sick, we made plans for a visit during this year’s ECAC hockey tournament that was being held in Lake Placid. We put those plans on hold until last week when Kathy started feeling better.

Kathy and I left Baltimore right after chemotherapy and they arrived the next morning. We spent our time togehter talking about our kids, our memories and our plans for the future. We shared some nice meals and a little wine. We walked around the lake a bit and contiuned our conversations in front of the fireplace each night until the last log disappeared into ashes.

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He and I went to the game on Friday.

Cornell scored first, but Princeton scored twice in the second and twice more in the third to end Cornell’s tournament run and send hundreds of disappointed “Lynah Faithful” fans back to Ithaca.

We sat next to the band and reminisced about the hockey games we had seen togehter when we were at Cornell. We stood when the band played the Alma Mater and laughed at the new cheers they had invented since the last time we had heard them play.

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Being with my friend and seeing how well he has handled his cancer renewed my faith that Kathy’s journey with this terrible disease will also go well.

I’m not sure when the tournament or the Cornell hockey team will return to Lake Placid. But when it does my friend and I will be back again, sitting next to the band and talking about the four wonderful years we spent together “far above Cayuga’s waters.”

The halls at Hopkins

March 14, 2018 — 2 Comments

When we first arrived at Johns Hopkins Hospital we expected a short consultation and then a return home to await the start of a treatment plan. We left three days later. We started in the outpatient center, spent time in the Weinberg building and were assigned a hospital room in Zayed.

These buildings and many others are connected by a maze of bridges, tunnels, escalators and walkways and I spent much of the first visit wandering around looking for flowers and places to eat .

Since that visit I have walked past the Administration Building dozens of times and today I decided to stop by to visit a statue I knew was there.

It is called Christus Consolator and was donated in 1896 by William Wallace Spence. Since then countless patients and family members have visited this place for solace and inspiration.

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Some leave flowers and messages. Others pause to say a prayer or rub the exposed foot for luck. I have nothing to place here today, but hope that those who were here before me did not leave in sorrow.

There are many other placards and markers installed on the walls of the hallways here. One pays tribute to the persons who served in “The Hopkins Units” during the first and second world wars.

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Another is much more worn and hard to read. It tells of two sons who died within months of each other, on opposite sides of the world. One was a Marine who died during the battle to take Okinawa. His younger brother served on a bomber and was lost over the English Channel two weeks after D-Day.

Thousands of people walk by this plaque everyday and I hope that at least a few stop to read the story of sacrifice that it tells.

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Legend claims that the when Christus Consolator was delivered, the doorman remarked that “Jesus came in through the front door.” Today, I came in from the back door and spent a few minutes thinking about the journey that lies ahead and the people who have been down this path before us.

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What started as shortness of breath and weariness, grew worse. Hopes that it was the flu or perhaps pneumonia turned out to be overly optimistic. A visit to the doctor blurred into two hospitalizations, four x-rays, three CAT scans and the diagnosis we feared all along.

Kathy has cancer and we have now begun a journey together that I never imagined we would be taking.

The first chemotherapy session did not go well. The process began with drugs designed to help with nausea. Kathy had an alergic reatction to one of these drugs and the infusion was stopped while she received high doses of antihistamine. Kathy then had a severe reaction to the preservatives in one of the chemotherapy drugs. There were consultations and a suggestion that Kathy go home and start over the next day. Kathy decided to stay and the medicine was titrated so that she could get used to it. We left the hospital nearly twelve hours from when we had walked in earlier in the day.

The next three sessions have gone much better. She is tolerating the medicines well and they are working. The infusions now take only a few hours and Kathy passes the time listening to music and napping on and off. I work on my laptop and watch as others come and go in the treatment room. Some are just starting their battles with cancer, some are very far along. Some come with three or four family members to help them pass the time. Others come alone.

We’ve had to make some changes at home, but they are not drastic. I give her two injections of blood thinner each day and have become pretty good at delivering the medicine with as little pain as possible. Instead of drinking wine and nibbling on cheese, we now share bottles of Vitamin Water and packages of BelVita cookies. Visits to movie theaters and restaurants have given way to watching Netflix together and taking short walks around the neighborhood when the weather is nice.

This week has been filled with only good news. Her blood tests show that the cancer marker has been decreasing steadily and that she is tolerating the chemotherapy well. There are five more to go, followed by a day-long surgery and then another nine weeks of chemotherapy.

Kathy is fighting hard and each day has been better than the day before.

On this journey, that is all that matters.

The dismal wilderness.

October 16, 2017 — Leave a comment

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I decided last year that I would climb the three peaks that make up the Santanoni  range as part of a short backpacking trip. That trip fell through and I asked my nephew Alex if he would join me this weekend on the makeup trip.

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He came directly from taking his second mid-term exam and we met at a rest stop on I-87 and drove from there to the trailhead. We distributed the camping gear between our backpacks and started our hike to the campsite just beyond Bradley Pond. We arrived with about 30 minutes of daylight remaining and were able to set up camp and have a quick dinner before dark.

It rained overnight and the air was chilly and damp during our entire day in the mountains. We carried a lot of extra gear with us because of the remoteness of the peaks we were climbing and the chance that the weather might turn for the worse. The weight of the packs slowed us down during our ascent up the trail from Bradley Pond to the clearing located in the saddle between Santanoni and Panther.

From there we first hiked to Couchsachraga Peak. Couchsachraga is ancient Algonquin and is translated as “the dismal wilderness.” It is the word that the Algonquins used for the Adirondack Mountains.

The hike to Couchsachraga is deceptively difficult. At 1164 meters it is the shortest of the peaks making up the 46er list. The saddle between Panther and Santanoni is at roughly 1300 meters and the trail to Couchsachraga descends to 1000 meters before a last steep climb to the summit. The hike back to the saddle was the hardest part of the day as we struggled to regain the 300 meters we had lost hiking to Couchsachraga.

The rest of the hike was much easier. We made good time to Santanoni and Panther and headed back to the campsite at 4:00 PM.

As we walked down from Panther we debated whether we should hike out that night or stay until morning. Neither of us had slept well the night before and the freeze-dried meals I had prepared were barely edible. We reached the campsite just before dark, had a some hot chocolate and Cream of Wheat, and decided to head for home. We changed into dry clothes. packed, turned on our headlamps and started for the trailhead.

 

The trail was quiet and easy to follow because of the reflective trail markers. Although the head lamps limited our vision to just a few feet in front of us, we were able to track our progress by the sounds of the nearby streams that started softly and then grew louder and louder as we reached the valley and the mountain road leading to the parking lot.

It was probably the hardest day I have spent hiking in the Adirondacks thus far. Alex and I spent 14 hours walking 14 miles on wet rocks and slippery roots. We crossed two streams where the bridges had washed away. We were damp and sore and the boots we wore were covered with mud.

We reached three peaks, but saw nothing more than the signs and markers at the summits.

Couchsachraga.

River in the rain.

May 30, 2017 — 3 Comments

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I learned to canoe in 1972 at Crumhorn Mountain Boy Scout Camp.

Jim Davidson was in charge of the waterfront and taught me the importance of the buddy system and other lifesaving skills. He also taught the canoeing merit badge class. He showed us how to use the paddles in a way that two people pulling on opposite sides of the boat could work together and travel in a straight line. Most importantly he taught us the importance of life jackets and how to help other boaters in trouble.

I loved that camp and spent my high school summers working as a member of the Crumhorn staff, first teaching basic camping skills, then in my last years before college working for Jim at the waterfront.

Two years ago, my nephew Alex asked me to partner with him for the 70 mile endurance race from Cooperstown to Bainbridge. Last year I raced a second time with his brother Tom and this year it was Matt’s turn. Three brothers, three regattas. That was the promise I made in 2015.

Every year at the canoe regatta has been different. With Alex the water was extremely low but the weather was beautiful. Tom‘s year, the water was higher, but so were the temperature and the humidity. This year it rained almost the entire time Matt and I were on the river and the water was high and fast moving. The starting point was moved a few miles up Otsego Lake and by the time we reached the river inlet our boat was already filled with a few inches of water. We would have to empty the rain water from it several times during the race.

Matt and I paddled well together with little wasted effort and were on schedule to meet the cut off times: Milford’s bridge by 9:30, the Oneonta south side dam portage by 1:00; Wells Bridge by 4:30 and reach the finish line before 8:00.

We capsized once at a tricky turn under a railroad trestle. The water was deep and cold but our life jackets kept us afloat as we struggled in our rain jackets and long pants to swim the canoe to shore. We lost some time getting around that turn and made the first checkpoint with only 15 minutes to spare.

We lost a little more time getting to the second checkpoint and probably were a bit late, but we made up the time and reached Wells Bridge ahead of schedule.

The rain stopped but the river was moving very fast in parts. As we rounded a bend just upstream from Unadilla, Matt and I saw a paddler clinging to a limb from a tree that had fallen in the middle of some rapids. We canoed by him and stopped at the shore where the water slowed. His kayak was wrapped around a submerged log and destroyed. His life jacket, tied to the seat of his boat, was underwater and unreachable. His name was John and he was a bit shaken as he stood on his mangled kayak holding on to the tree branch that had destroyed it.

I took my paddle and waded as close as possible to John and the tree branch. We spoke a bit and he agreed to let go and let the river carry him. He slumped into the water and started to rush by me. I reached my paddle to him, just as Jim Davidson taught me years before. John grabbed it and I pulled him out of the current and we walked to the shore together. He thanked us and called his wife for a lift back to Bainbridge.

Matt and I headed back downstream, found John’s paddle a few hundred yards away and crossed the finish line with about ten minutes to spare.

As we loaded the canoe on the car top, I remembered that when I started this blog I first wrote about another lesson I learned at Crumhorn. As I get older I realize more and more just how much I learned during the summers I worked there. Scouting taught me to respect both the beauty and the dangers of nature and not to be afraid to take action to help others. I put those lessons to good use late yesterday afternoon standing in the middle of the Susquehanna with a canoe paddle in my hand.

It was another rewarding day on the river and I extend my sincerest thanks to Matt, Tommy and Alex for spending three long Memorial Days canoeing with me from Cooperstown to Bainbridge, and to their parents and their friends who cheered us at every boat launch and bridge along the way.

I had a blast with you guys and will never forget our adventures together.

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On February 7, 1964, The Beatles landed at JFK Airport, bringing “Beatlemania” to America.

Five hundred and seventy-seven miles away, a recently retired Professor of Rural Education wrote the following letter to his three grown children, who were each married and raising young families of their own:

Dear Children:

Sometimes we wonder about the “Best Years of Our Lives.”

Nearly forty years have passed since your mother and I (long engaged) decided that we had waited “long enough” and it was time to establish a home and a family (God willing). Money was borrowed for a wedding trip and we started for Fourth Lake, August 1924. One of the excursions, while there, by boat and single-gauge R.R., was an all-day trip to Blue Mountain which we reached mid-day. We climbed to the very top of the tower to view that wonderful vista of the North.

No doubt our thoughts turned to wondering about the years that we might have together; the home we might establish; the children we might bring forth into this world; and their future success, as well as our own. World War I had been fought and the world was safe for Democracy. I had been forewarned at Cornell by Old Jimmie Rice of the three great decisions, namely: What to do? Where to Locate? Who to Marry? All three were quite well determined by 1924; the last one was right at hand.

Perhaps, it was well that we did not know, in advance, which years might be the “Golden Years,” or the “Best Years of Our Lives.” In time we needed to look back to realize that they were the years when we were struggling to furnish homes (rented 10 years); to pay for a home; to keep our little family well, happy and comfortable; to give them educational advantages, social advantages, travel and other basic values in life that were so abundant in an educational center like Ithaca.

Still later, the scenes changed and we realized that childhood days had passed or were passing rapidly and that our little “family circle” was not the same.

When did we cease tucking them into beds and announcing “bed time” for all?

When did we read the last bed-time stories from Book House?

When did we have the last Sunday morning romp on the big bed? When did we cease going to church together?

When were the Thanksgiving and Christmas trips to Grandmother’s house over?

When did we cease going to Aunt Irene’s and Aunt Hattie’s house together?

When did we cease our Canadian trips, crossing at Clayton on the ferry?

When was our last family picnic at Flat Rocks or Taughannock Falls?

When did the family cease to enjoy long trips together?

When did the approval of companions become more important than the approval of parents?

Perhaps this is enough to cause you and your life companion to consider the values in life that you are being awarded now in 1964. Please do not think it may be easier in a few years when there are fewer debts, problems and worries, or less work.

Enjoy the “Best Years” of your lives while your little group is a unit and your children think of you as the greatest of all Moms and Dads; whose joint decisions are all important to them.

No doubt, you have heard the story of “Acres of Diamonds,” and how the Pilgrim searched the world over to find them. He finally found them in his own back yard.

Love to all,

Dad

The author was my grandfather, Edwin Ray Hoskins. He sent this letter to his three children: Earl, Angie and Paul. Paul was my father. My uncle Earl died last year and his daughter found this letter among his papers.

I never asked my grandfather what he thought of the Beatles or the Civil Rights movement or the protests of the Vietnam War. He had retired in 1962 and did not experience how these events changed the students that followed behind him at Cornell. Perhaps unfairly, I always thought he was a bit too old fashioned, too conservative and way behind the times.

But, in truth, the advice he shared in 1964 is as valid and important today as it was on that day in 1964 when Pan Am Clipper flight 101 from London Heathrow touched down at JFK.

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My nephew Alex is in his senior year and he and his best friends are in the middle of a football playoff run. Nate and Alex both play receiver on offense and corner back on defense. Alex also serves as the punter and Nate returns kicks for the team. Colin is a lineman and Kyle, a star on the basketball team, serves as the unofficial mascot so that he can  watch the games from the sidelines. They visited me in Lake Placid last summer and we climbed Seymour mountain and kayaked through the upper lock to visit Middle Saranac Lake. I asked about the upcoming football season during their visit and sensed that they did not expect the team to do well this year.

Football is big in the small village where I grew up and on game days there is no one more proud, or nervous, than the mother  of a varsity team player. They belong to the “Grid Iron Mom” club and wear t-shirts with their son’s numbers embroidered on the shoulders. They make pictures of their sons wearing football uniforms into small lawn signs and serve spaghetti at team dinners on the night before every game. Today they left town before the team did so they could hang good luck signs on an overpass and wave to the team bus as it passed below them on the interstate.

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The team struggled early in the season and made the playoffs as the bottom seed after a four win and three loss regular season. They were expected to lose badly last week against the top seed but they played their best game of the year and won convincingly on a cold and rainy night in Greene.

I had business in New York this week and decided to delay my trip back to Baltimore so I could watch today’s game. I arrived in Sidney late yesterday only to learn that the game might not be played. The other team, Harpursville-Afton, had played all season with an ineligible player and been disqualified after admitting the infraction. An appeal was pending and late yesterday the disqualification was overturned to the dismay of many of the football mothers, my sister-in-law included.

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The game started at 3 this afternoon and was played at a neutral field in Endicott, about an hour’s drive from Sidney. After the coin toss, Sidney received the opening kickoff. Alex caught the first pass of the day and Nate caught the second for a large gain. Quarterback Darren Smith’s third pass was thrown under pressure, intercepted and returned 80 yards for a touchdown. He kept his cool, though, and would end the game with 28 completions for 445 passing yards, probably a school record.

On their next possession Sidney moved 63 yards down the field on long pass plays but was stopped on the 2 yard line. Harpursville-Afton’s next drive started well, but Colin made a key stop and Sidney was back on offense. Harpursville-Afton had no answer for the Sidney passing game and Alex, Nate and the other receivers made long gains before Sidney’s second drive was stopped at the 12 yard line. The first quarter ended with Sidney trailing 6 to zero.

Sidney finally scored on its second possession of the second quarter after a 59 yard screen pass play to Alex brought Sidney to the one yard line. Sidney scored on the next play and with 6:19 left in the first half the score was tied, 6 to 6.

Sidney almost always attempts an onside kick. It usually doesn’t work and today’s first attempt also failed but the Sidney defense made up for it. The opposing quarterback was pressured on third and long and intercepted. Sidney scored three plays later on a 46 yard touchdown pass. The two point conversion attempt failed but, with 5:09 left in the first half, Sidney took its first lead, 12 to 6.

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Sidney’s second onside kick worked but the drive ended with another interception on a long 4th down pass. Harpursville-Afton scored three plays later to take a 13 to 12 lead at the end of the first half.

Harpursville-Afton started the second half with a dominating run game, driving 75 years to score again and extend the lead to 8 points. Harpursville-Afton’s attempt at an onside kick failed and Sidney answered by driving down the field with pass plays before scoring on a trick play with five minutes and forty-six seconds left in the third quarter.

Another Sidney attempt at an onside kick failed, but two plays later Alex intercepted a pass to end the Harpursville-Afton threat. Sidney’s first play from scrimmage was a twenty-five yard pass to the 19 yard line. Another pass brought Sidney to the one yard line. Sidney took the lead on the next play, having scored 16 unanswered points in just over three minutes. Harpursville-Afton did not give up and tied the game again on its next possession. But Sidney returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown as time expired ending the third quarter.

The fourth quarter started with Sidney leading 34 to 28 but unable to recover an onside kick attempt. Harpursville-Afton fumbled again and Sidney failed to score on a fourth down play. There were seven minutes and twelve seconds remaining when Harpursville-Afton took over but another fumble put Sidney back on offense with less than five minutes remaining.

A 30 yard pass to Alex brought Sidney to the 20 yard line. Three minutes remained in the game. A play later Sidney was at the 2 yard line with a first down, goal to go. Harpursville-Afton refused to let Sidney score and seal the game and took over after four failed attempts by Sidney to advance the ball beyond the goal line. Harpursville-Afton had no time-outs remaining, and 95 yards to go with 65 seconds left in the game. After a long run by their quarterback they were at the Sidney 32 yard line. There were 22 seconds left. Another long run brought them to the 5 yard line with 8.2 seconds remaining. Though it seemed certain they would score, somehow they were stopped short on the next play and the clock counted down to zero with Sidney still ahead, 34 to 28. The moms in the Sidney stands went wild.

Alex finished the game with twelve catches for 179 yards, a pretty long punt and an interception and a fumble recovery. Nate had four long catches for 47 yards and some nice kickoff returns. Colin and the other lineman protected their quarterback well throughout the game and on defense stopped the run when it mattered most. It was a great game and I am glad I was able to be here to watch Alex and his friends play so well together.

I will leave it to others to debate whether or not Harpursville-Afton should have been allowed to play today. “Rules are rules,” after all, and in fairness normally should be enforced. I suspect however that when they look back on this game many years from now, those who played in it will be glad that the team from Harpursville-Afton was allowed to compete and that Sidney made it to the finals by winning the game and not by way of a forfeit. They settled it on the field today and the better team won.

Best of luck next week Alex, Nate, Colin and Kyle and remember, above all else, to have fun and enjoy the game.

Finishing the Dix

July 15, 2016 — Leave a comment

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I have hiked in the Dix Mountain Wilderness twice before but managed to climb only three of the five high peaks located there.

On the first trip the plan had been to climb all five, starting at Grace and ending at Dix. Our group was overconfident and underprepared and we turned back after reaching Grace too late in the day to try for the others.

Last fall, I backpacked over Dix Mountain but could not find the herd path leading from the Beck-horn to Hough Peak and South Dix. The next day we climbed Macomb but decided not to push on to South Dix and Hough.

Today, my nephew Josh and I reached the two peaks I had left behind twice before.

We began our hike from the Elk Lake trail head at 7:00 AM. We reached the herd path that follows the Lillian Brook at 8:21 and found the trail to the summit to be in very good condition making for an easy climb. We reached Hough Peak at 10:30, backtracked to South Dix and finished the hike at 2:30 PM.

These two bring my total to 28.

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Several months ago my nephew Josh texted me to ask whether he could spend his vacation hiking in the Adirondacks. We agreed on a date and convinced my nephew Alex to bring some friends and join us.

Josh and I arrived on Saturday and our plan was to wake early Sunday and climb the three peaks that make up the Seward Mountain Range. The weather report indicated that there was a small chance of rain and we thought that at worst it would rain in the morning before clearing later in the day.

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We left Lake Placid at 6:00 AM and started the hike at 7:00, but at the wrong trail head. We recognized the mistake after about a mile and turned back, found the right parking lot and started for Mount Donaldson at 8:00 AM.

There are three mountains in the range. The northern most is named for William Henry Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State. The middle mountain is named for Alfred Lee Donaldson who wrote a history of the Adirondacks and the southern peak is named for Ebenezer Emmons who, while serving as the state geologist, was part of the expedition that made the first ascent of Mt Marcy in 1837.

We reached the herd path to Donaldson at about 10 and reached the top of Donaldson at 12:30. We spent the next two hours hiking to the summits of Mt. Emmons and Seward Mountain before returning Donaldson and backtracking to the trailhead.

Our hopes for clearing weather never came to pass and we spent the day hiking in a constant drizzle and had to pour water from our boots after the last stream crossing. We finished the hike just before 6.

Alex and his friends Nate, Kyle and Collin were waiting for us at the house when we returned to Lake Placid.

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The next morning we kayaked and canoed to Middle Saranac Lake repeating a trip I had taken two years ago with friends and a trip my mother took regularly when she attended Saranac High School.


On Tuesday, the six of us returned to climb Seymour Mountain, named for yet another former New York governor. We left the trailhead at 8:00 and reached the herd path to Seymour Mountain at 10:30.

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The weather was sunny and not too humid but the trail was still muddy from the rain earlier in the week. The climb was challenging with lots of steep rock scampers along the way. We reached to summit at about 1:00 PM and ate a quick lunch before heading down.

During the hike I taught them some of the lessons I learned from Oscar and Hannah last fall, like how to orient a map and use a compass and how to make water from the streams safe to drink.

My companions are strong athletes and team players. They offer a hand to help with steep climbs and they guard each other against falls during the descent through steep and wet terrain. They share their water and food and work together to find the solution when I stop along the route to challenge them to “Tell me precisely where we are on this map.”

The climb down from the summit took nearly as long as the climb up and we were already very tired when we rejoined the Ward Brook trail to start the four mile hike back to the trailhead. I kept to my regular pace but they were anxious to be off the trail and away from the mosquitos that joined us as we passed by Blueberry Pond. I am not concerned. They have proven that they can find themselves in these woods and work together to solve problems and take care of each other.

I let them go and finish this journey in solitude.

 

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We bought the station wagon in 2003 and gave it to Abby last week. Today she loaded it with a bicycle, her guitar and some clothes, waved goodbye and started a cross-country road trip to Berkeley for graduate school.

Over the last thirteen years I have driven that car to hundreds of swim practices and meets and to camping trips and birthday parties with her friends. Every summer we drove it to the Adirondacks, often listening to Jim Dale read aloud the seven book story of Harry and Ron and Hermione.

When Abby went away to high school I drove it to visit her, sometimes twice a week during swimming and water polo seasons. One Christmas her present to me was five hours of music on CDs to keep me company during those long drives. When she graduated we drove it to a music festival in Tennessee and camped behind it for three very hot days and muggy nights.

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After Abby moved to Chicago for college most of my trips in the station wagon involved swimming events with new friends. I drove it to open water swims in Ocean City and New York and to Lake Placid to hike and ski with friends. It carried my bike to the Iron Man and my canoe to Cooperstown.

But of all these travels, I cherish most the memories of the times when Abby was younger and we would stop at the Knoebels amusement park on our way home from visiting my mother as her health deteriorated.

It was about halfway and Abby loved riding the two wooden roller coasters there. On nice summer days we would spend a few hours riding the Phoenix and the Twister and maybe take a swim in the large swimming pool before grabbing a quick meal and finishing the rest of the drive. It was the perfect remedy to help us feel better no matter how sad our visit had left us.

Abby is now on her way to Berkeley driving the station wagon we bought in 2003. I love the memories made in that car and I’m not sure when I’ll replace it. But when I do I’ll be sure to find my way back to Knoebels Grove to ride the roller coasters and maybe swim a while in the large pool there.

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River Redux

May 31, 2016 — 3 Comments

Three nephews, three races. That is the deal I struck with Tommy, Alex and Matt in 2014. Alex was my partner last year. This Memorial Day it’s Tommy’s turn.

Memorial Day has always been a special holiday in Sidney. My sisters, brother and I grew up marching in the annual parade in our Boy Scout and Girl Scout uniforms. We would start at the Prospect Hill Cemetery. From there we marched down the hill, across the railroad tracks, past a sandwich shop and along Main Street to a flagpole in front of the village Post Office for a wreath laying ceremony. After the parade we’d visit the Regatta grounds for one last day of carnival rides and food before heading back to school on Tuesday.

This Memorial Day weekend Sidney dedicated its newly finished memorial park to veterans. I didn’t make it in time for the opening ceremony but visited it with Tommy and Matt before heading to Cooperstown for the start of this year’s 70 mile endurance race.

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I spend most of my visit studying the memorial to the veterans from my high school  and learn that the American Legion Post my father belonged to was named for Charles Jacobi who was killed during the First World War and that two brothers, Kenneth and Douglas Keller, lost their lives during the Second. I cannot imagine how devastating that must have been to their parents and classmates.

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Then I read the nine names on the Vietnam plaque. Seven of these veterans grew up in a small nearby town called Sidney Center. At the time it had a population of about 500 and in a period of less than 90 days seven families received visits notifying them that their sons had been killed. I did not know them or their families but you can read about them here, and you should.

While studying the plaque I remember what it was like to grow up during that conflict. I was not yet 4 years old when Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that authorized the use of conventional military force in Southeast Asia. I was 7 when 70,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops began the Tet Offensive, the battle that would take the lives of the seven young men from Sidney Center.

Woodstock would take place 70 miles from the house where I grew up, during the summer before I turned 9. My friend Sandy, who lived in Sidney Center, would later wear a POW Bracelet. The war would end and Saigon would fall before I graduated and that is why, thankfully, none of my classmates’ names are on that wall.

I spend the rest of the day preparing for Monday’s race and watching Alex and his friend compete in the 15 mile sprint race. On race day we are a little behind schedule getting to the start line and in the rush I drop my sunglasses into Otsego Lake. I try to scoop them with my paddle but it doesn’t work and I watch the glasses that I was wearing when I crashed badly on my bike and when I crossed the finish line of the Lake Placid Iron Man sink slowly away.

The race was grueling, as I suppose it always is. It was hot and humid in the morning and then it rained when we had about 12 miles to go. Tommy worked hard all day and our paddling was evenly balanced and efficient. We made it through the most challenging sections of the river without any problem but flipped later after misjudging any easy rapid just south of Wells Bridge. The heat took its toll and the first half of the race went much slower than last year. We were faster below Oneonta and finished just a few minutes behind last year’s time.

I leave Sidney early Tuesday and pass through downtown. It looks much different than it did in the 1970s. I drive down the hill and across the railroad tracks and remember that when the ceasefire was declared in 1972 the sandwich shop located there changed the letters on its outdoor sign to read “Peace – Thank God” and how relieved everyone in Sidney was that the Vietnam war was coming to an end.

I stop at the newly repaired traffic light and then cross over the river on my way out of town. I am a bit sore and glad to leave the river behind me. But more than anything, I am proud that the tiny village where I grew up has built such a fitting memorial to the nine Sidney graduates who did not live to see the message on the sandwich shop sign at the bottom of the hill across the railroad tracks.

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A soldier writes home

June 5, 2014 — 1 Comment

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On Wednesday, March 28, 1951, my father wrote the following letter from Yeongdeungpo, Korea:

Dear Folks:

I write to say hello and to tell all of you that I am fine, hope that you are too.

Today I received letters from all of you plus one from Albert Haigh – am planning to reply to him tonight.

I guess that mother’s chaperoning at Aθπ is probably over now since vacation time must be over by now. I got a big kick out of Angie telling me that a certain individual was caught speeding in that big Town of Moravia and if that’s not bad enough this “20 year driver” did not even have his license. Even I did not forget my license when I got caught in Moravia. You must be careful you know.

I wrote my first PIO story for the 51 as you know and it has been sent out. If it gets in Stars and Stripes I will send you the clippings since you will probably enjoy the big snow job.

I guess that Earl’s chickens are coming along real fine by now and that the 1500 new ones should be arriving about the time this letter does. With that he will have 2500, 4% loss should give him about 2400 good ones. What types of poultry is he raising, layers or broilers? The way I understand it upstate New York is not too advantageous for the broiler type and that layers are the thing so I suppose you will be getting some of Earl’s fresh eggs before long. The way to plan it is to have your big laying season in the spring (April) when the price is high. Or is it late fall? I’m not so sharp on my principles of poultry marketing anymore but there should be a book on it someplace in my room.

I have not received any of those bulletins — the ones for me and the ones for Shanks — I guess that they will probably come through sometime soon though.

My latest accomplishment was the “mastering” of the game of chess — very interesting — much more so than checkers. If I have to stay over here another 5 or 6 months I should be an expert by the time I hit 212.

Give my best to Angie, Earl, Grace, Gil, Angie Rae, Rex and Two-bits.

Love to all.

x x Paulie x x

Letters like these were very important in my family and I have a small collection of the ones my father wrote while serving in Korea. They kept my grandparents from worrying too much about the battles that were raging on the other side of the world and perhaps allowed them to sleep a little more peacefully while they waited for him to return safely home.

Earlier today our President defended his decision to exchange five Taliban fighters in order to obtain the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Speaking in Brussels, the President explained “I think it was important for people to understand that this is not some abstraction. This is not some political football. You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in a distant land, who they hadn’t seen in five years, and weren’t sure whether they’d ever see again. And as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces, I am responsible for those kids.”

Re-reading my father’s letter, I am proud that all our Presidents, from Washington to Lincoln to Bush and to Obama, have held steadfast to the bedrock principle that our Country does not leave its soldiers behind on the battlefield.

My grandparents surely felt the same way too.

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Remember David Kelley

May 21, 2014 — 4 Comments

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David Kelley was born on March 5, 1962 and died in 1973 from Cystic Fibrosis. I married his older sister thirteen years after that. David loved the Peanuts characters and after watching one of the many cartoon specials he would write in his own words the story as he remembered it. Here is my favorite:

Your In Love Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown is in love with a little red-headed girl on a day before the last day of school. When Charlie Brown got to school he decided to write a note to the little red-headed girl and give it to her sometime in the day.

Just then his teacher called on him to recite. He had to take a stack of paper to the front of the class and in his nervousness dropped them all. After considerable fumbling he began to read his report. “Dear little red-haired girl. How I have longed to meet you.” The class roared with laughter. Poor Charlie Brown, he had read the wrong things.

During the lunch hour Charlie felt worse. He just sat alone on the bench. He longed to go over and ask the little red-haired girl to eat lunch with him but that’s kind of a difficult thing to do when you’re afraid of being laughed at like Charlie Brown here.

When Charlie Brown realized the spot he was in he had to do something fast or wait for three months til school started again. At one time in the afternoon Charlie went over to the pencil sharpener where he thought he might talk to her but he got nervous and ended up sharpening his ballpoint pen by mistake.

That night Charlie knew what he had to do. Tomorrow was the last day of school and there would be only one half session. Therefore he would have to meet the little red-haired girl at the bus stop, so just to make sure he got there on time he set the alarm for four o’clock. When the alarm went off at four Charlie Brown woke up. His eyes were barely open when he went outside. When Charlie got to the bus stop it wasn’t long before he was asleep. When the bus finally came Charlie Brown was still asleep. The roar of the bus pulling away awoke Charlie.

He ran after it but it was no use. This meant Charlie wasn’t going to be early he was going to be late. Charlie climbed over the fence and opened the door. He crawled along the floor and was just beside his desk when the teacher saw him. Now he had to explain why he was late and do a math problem on the board besides. It looked like Charlie Brown was trying to solve all the math problems in the world at one time. Then his teacher asked him if he knew what he was doing. “No Ma’am, I don’t have the slightest idea.” For the second time in two days everyone in the class laughed at Charlie Brown.

Soon the morning would be over and school would be out and the little red-haired girl would be gone. Then Charlie thought why couldn’t I meet her at the bus stop. The bell rang and Charlie led all the children out of school. Charlie stopped and looked for his girl. Kids swarmed by. Some more kids ran by. Charlie looked in all directions but the kids were too much for him. Before he knew what had happened the bus pulled away. Charlie said why couldn’t something go right? Why does everything have to go wrong? Wait! What’s this? Somebody tucked a piece of paper into Charlie’s hand. It read:

I like you Charlie Brown
Signed
Little Red-Haired Girl

The End.

I don’t know if David knew he was going to die when he wrote this. He did know he was very sick but still tried to live his life to the fullest. He learned everything he would ever learn about love from Charles Schulz and I don’t believe he could have had a finer teacher. And while he never got to meet his little red-haired girl, he died knowing what love is and perhaps that was enough.

Rest in peace brother.

David John Kelley
March 5, 1962 to April 12, 1973

The trip

August 6, 2013 — Leave a comment

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On August 28, 2013, Abby and I depart for London for our train trip to the Black Sea. You can follow our travels on the above map. Our rough itinerary is listed in Upcoming Events, to the left. We depart from London and will change trains in Paris, Munich, Budapest, Bucharest and Sofia.

We welcome any suggestions of things to see and do in Bucharest, Sofia and Bourgas, where we have scheduled stop-overs.