Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Memory Lane

Rebecca and I took a road trip for Thanksgiving this year. We drove to Schenectady, NY, to visit my childhood friend and explore the area that I spent years 6-9. Rebecca is a terrific travel companion, and was very tolerant (even supportive) of my need to visit the old neighborhood, elementary school, motel we lived in for a short time, and the park where my family used to picnic.

We arrived on Wednesday after a ten hour drive. Exhausted but happy to arrive, we enjoyed a pot roast dinner with Rani, her youngest daughter, and her boyfriend and son. Then Rani and I sat up and talked for a while, comparing memories and trying to figure out how it is we have remained friends all these years, when we knew each other such a short time (neighbors for two years, no classes together, don't even remember riding the bus together!) and looking at photos of the other people we both knew in the neighborhood and in school.

The next day, Rani cooked a turkey breast and I went out for wine (since I left the three bottles I'd purchased for the dinner at home). Then, we loaded up the turkey, pumpkin pie, and ourselves and drove to Rani's cousin's for the family dinner. This included her cousin and her husband and two grown sons and three Labradors, Rani's three daughters, and two grandsons. It was a full house! I had the dubious honor of carving the 20+ pound turkey and the turkey breast, and we commenced to eating...a delicious meal punctuated by the juggling of babies, shooing the dogs out of the kitchen, and random conversations.

The next day Rani had to work, so Rebecca and I set out exploring. First we stopped by the country store that has been in business since 1908, and where my family used to get pumpkins, apples, and who knows what else. We picked up several gifts and souvenirs and had fun looking at the nostalgic merchandise. Next, we set out to find the house where we lived on S. Country Club Drive. A cute middle class neighborhood that has changed very little in 40 plus years, it is situated next to the Mohawk Golf Club, where in the winter we kids would ice skate and where my brother and his friends would collect golf balls. I took photos of the house at 1186, as well as Rani's next door (now a beautiful red!)

I trespassed long enough to see the back yard, noting the door where our dog Nemui used to go under the house, the garage where my mom used to grow flowers (and a garden of some sort still exists),
the remnants of the willow tree I loved, and the absence of the brick outdoor grill that my father had built. The feeling of nostalgia that I felt is almost beyond description. Rebecca patiently walked around with me, and seemed fairly amused at my constant exclamations of how little things had changed.

Upon leaving the neighborhood, I pointed out where I would catch the school bus, and then drove almost automatically to the elementary school I had attended, looking the same but refreshed.

Next we drove into 'old town' Schenectady, actually called Upper Union Street. We walked the streets, had lunch at Gershon's, a Schenectady landmark (delicious Reuben!), and visited several shops, including Divinitea and Musler's. Then we got in the car and explored further into town, driving by Union College, The Stockade, train station, and more. Finally we headed back to the house, where we rested up before heading out to an amazing Italian meal at Augie's with Rani and her boyfriend. The portions at this place are unbelievable! We ordered two entrees and still came back with enough food for another meal for four.

On Saturday my goal was to find the motel where we had lived for a short time (it stands out in my mind, partly because it was right near a cemetery and we were there during Halloween, and partly because I was sick for part of the time, and have distinct memories of watching Mayberry RFD while my mom 'kept house' in our little room.)

Then it was off to John Boyd Thacher Park, or just Thacher Park, as I remember it. What a beautiful drive through rural upstate New York! My memory of the park, however, wasn't very accurate. I pictured a picnic area and a stream. What we found were incredible overlooks of the Hudson-Mohawk Valleys and the Adirondack and Green Mountains, innumerable picnic areas, and several hiking trails. We had heard about the Indian Ladder Trail, but it is normally closed by Thanksgiving. We were thrilled to find the trail open and, once we got past Rebecca's initial nervousness on the wrought iron stairs, "the trail follows the base of the escarpment passing under the Minelot Falls and by the stream exiting from a small cave in the base of the rocks. This water is actually from Thompson Lake, some two miles away, which makes its way through the porous limestone until it exits here. At the end of the trail, a second set of metal staircases take the visitor back to the top of the escarpment. The trail then continues back to the parking lot, offering excellent panoramas."

Finally we made our way back to the car and began the drive back to Rani's. As we drove along a country road, I saw a sign that read "Pottery For Sale". Since local art is one of the things I love to pick up on any visit to a new place, I decided to turn back. What I found was this:

After looking at the pottery and a few small paintings, I chose a small oil of some trees as my take-away local art, put my $5 in the jar, and we headed out.

We finished out our visit that evening with a family gathering for Rani's youngest daughter's 20th birthday, during which I was able to get some quality baby time in.

The next day we drove the ten hours home. I was feeling drained...exhausted and fulfilled, overwhelmed with memories and the poignancy of time marching on and those memories revisited. There was a sense of loss...but at the same time a sense of continuity. So many feelings that I'm still processing. What a wonderful trip. What a great experience for Rebecca and me.

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