Family Affair

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By Ed Staskus

The first thing Jody Candow does after getting up at 6 AM is quietly slip out of her home and drive herself to Boot Camp.

“It’s where you work with a trainer every morning,” said Mrs. Candow.

Boot Camp fitness mixes calisthenics like pushups, crunches, and other body weight exercises with interval training. The difference lies in the intensity.

“It gets my workout in, which is partly to keep me sane.”

Back from the gym, her house has come to life; her husband, Rich, a Lakewood, Ohio, mail carrier, is preparing for work, and her four children, teenager Riley, twelve-year-old Kameryn Rose, and five-year-old twins Carter and Ethan, are on the lookout for their mother.

“We tag team, make breakfast, get them ready for school,“ she said.

“My husband drives our son, goes to work, I drive my daughter, the twins come along for the ride, then they stay with my mom, and I go to work.”

The work Jody Candow does is her own, which is the management of her new full-service Kameryn Rose Salon on Linda Street in Rocky River.

She got started when being a stay-at-home mother got to be less of a necessity.

“My kids were getting older, so I started working as a receptionist at a salon six years ago.”

In less than a year she was pregnant again.

“That was a surprise.”

In her second trimester she scheduled a follow-up ultrasound because she was measuring large and because of the baby’s liveliness.

“I always said to my husband, this baby is crazy, it was so active.”

Midway through the test the technician turned off the prenatal ultrasound and suggested her husband join them.

“I asked what was the matter and they said there were two heads. I asked if there were two bodies and they said yes.”

After returning to work part-time, she moved up the ladder to manager, finally striking out on her own. Supported by her family and husband, she reached an agreement with the Sean Luis Salon to lease their vacant second floor. After renovations her salon now features three stylists and two nail stations in a space lit by natural light beneath an open beam ceiling.

“It’s a really nice salon,” said Laurie Fox of Cleveland, her head festooned with silver highlighting foils.

“When I go to get my hair done here I can relax, kind of be pampered.”

One of twelve children, Mrs. Candow lives on the same street she has lived on most of her life, which is the same street her parents, Vicky and Paul, have lived on during all of their 42-year marriage. Many of her brothers and sisters continue to live in Ohio, while one sibling serves in the military.

Once at work, Mrs. Candow’s work is seemingly never done. She leaves the salon to take her twins to pre-school in the early afternoon, and leaves again in the late afternoon to retrieve them and her daughter.

“My son is 16, so he does his own thing with his friends.”

After school her husband rides herd on the family while she makes dinner, and afterwards returns to work, massaging the details.

Mrs. Candow’s long-time stylist and friend Julie Jurek describes her detail-oriented boss as ‘a little OCD’.

“Jody runs the business the way I would want to,” she said. “She’s fair and honest, but, she’s a tweak, everything’s got a place, and everything’s got to be in that place.”

It is her attention to detail that makes the salon a preferred destination.

“It is a place you can walk into and not be intimidated,” said Mary Caruso of Rocky River.

“They are down-to-earth girls, but they are smart businesswomen, too.”

New businesses fail at a high rate, more than 50%, according to the Small Business Administration. Poor management and neglect are often cited as the number one reasons. Given Mrs. Candow’s drive, experience, and commitment to customer service, it is success that seems to be her better option.

No matter the care and effort she puts into her work, Jody Candow always reserves some special consideration for her daughter, disabled from birth.

Born with low muscle tone, Kameryn Rose suffered infantile spasms as a baby, and although appears an average 12-year-old, has never spoken a word, read a book, or ridden a bike. She has receptive language skills, but at a 2 or 3-year-old level.

“She looks totally normal,” said Mrs. Candow.

“You would never know. We’ve had a million tests done and all of them have come back normal.”

After multiple tests by doctors at the Cleveland Clinic and elsewhere, she has never been diagnosed with any specific malady.

“We’ve had geneticists tell us she’s a medical mystery.”

One of the biggest challenges Jody Candow faces managing her new business is the time it consumes, taking her away from her family. When it came time to find a name for the salon, she found the decision an easy one.

“I named the salon after her, because her name is totally beautiful, just like she is, and she’s my only daughter, perfect.”

But, like any girl in an otherwise all-boy family, she knows how to bother her brothers and hold her own.

“There’s no resting in Kameryn’s wake,” said Mrs. Candow.

Whenever the weather cooperates the family spends their time outdoors, the back yard, at parks on the lakeshore, and visiting the Cleveland Zoo.

“We always take Kameryn,” she said

“She’s a little slower, she doesn’t keep up, but we hold hands and just take our time with her.”

It is the ability to care that matters, not disability.

Every day clients come to the Kameryn Rose Salon from as far away as Sandusky.

“When people come here they feel welcome, like they are part of our family,” said Mrs. Candow. “We look forward to seeing them.”

Once her children have gone to bed, Jody Candow finishes her day at the salon.

“Then I chill out a little, go to bed about midnight, and start it all again the next day.”

Postscript:

After two years the Kameryn Rose Salon moved into its own dedicated, modernist space on Lake Road on the edge of the Rocky River valley. “A five star rating,” said Wendy Jackson Richardson after having her hair and nails done, looking like a star stepping out on to the street.

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

 

Surprise House

 

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By Ed Staskus

Everything happened when I was 12-years-old, although most of it happened before that. Afterwards, we had ice cream and I made sure I ate all of mine while it was still cold on my plate.

Two years later on Christmas Eve, while Matty and I stood on the lip of the front walk, below the light in the window of pop’s upstairs bedroom, I remembered the night the Surprise House burned down, and how Matty and mom and I stood at the back window of the bedroom, looking over the tops of the trees sloping away to Euclid Avenue, watching the fire on the far lakeshore.

We didn’t know what was burning down, going up in oily clouds of orange-gray smoke, finding out only the next morning when mom showed us a front-page photograph about it in the Plain Dealer.

I snuck a peek at mom getting out of her car across the street where she had parked, walking flatfooted on the icy driveway, and knocking on Mrs. MacAulay’s side door. She glanced back over her shoulder, waving us towards the house with black shutters and red front door where I grew up. Mom wanted us to talk pop into giving her a divorce, even after he had said no more than a hundred times. She wanted to marry another man, the ex-army policeman from Rochester who was now our father, more-or-less.

“Come on, bub,” I said.

“Don’t call me bub,” he said, slouching behind me

“I told you I don’t like that,” I said, tugging him up hard by the back of the collar.

“You’re a stick,” he grunted, pulling away.

“What does that mean?”

I felt bad when I thought of the Surprise House burning down, the signal flags on top of the roof on fire, and sick to my stomach when I remembered not knowing Euclid Beach Park hadn’t closed for the season when I was ten-years-old, but closed for good. I found out the next summer, the summer before the fire, when school let out and mom told us, and later said we would all go to Williamsburg for a family vacation, instead.

But, we didn’t go to Williamsburg, so we never saw all the reenactments I heard about from Sandy next door, who had gone three times, just like we never went back to Euclid Beach. We went to Fredericksburg, instead, where pop played golf at the country club and Matty and I dragged after mom sightseeing sunburned Civil War battlefields and staring up at the fancy plaster ceilings of the Kenmore Plantation.

When Matty complained for the last time that long four-day weekend that his head was hot and his neck hurt, mom pointed to the plank wood floor in a dusty corner of the plantation house beneath a high, narrow window.

“Lay down here for a few minutes,” she said.

When we got back from the foursquare garden behind the house he was curled up on his side asleep.

“Did you know this was George Washington’s older sister’s house?” I said as we walked to the car.

“She wasn’t older,” he said.

Matty ran after mom, reaching for her hand.

The winter before Matty was born my mom told me she was making a little friend for me to play with. By the time summer came I told her he wasn’t really what I wanted.

“I can’t play with him. Can you take him back?”

But, she never did.

“I’m hungry. Can’t we go to Williamsburg? I don’t like it here, eating dried strawberries all the time,” he said.

“Your father already told you it’s too far,” mom said.

I remember thinking then, why are we in Fredericksburg? Everybody goes to Williamsburg, not Fredericksburg. Why didn’t we go there?

Before we ever went to Euclid Beach and the Surprise House we went to Holiday Sands. It was the most fun I ever had in my life.

We went from the time I was small, right after Matty was potty-trained, and I was five-years-old. We car-pooled with the MacAulay’s, since they had a summer pass and a Vista Cruiser that fit all of us. Mrs. MacAulay and mom made most of the food for the day the night before and the rest of it in the morning. Mom baked Texas sheet cake with extra buttermilk in the chocolate batter and cream cheese frosting. Mrs. MacAulay brought puffed Cheez Doodles. Sometimes we’d have barbecue chicken and other times hamburgers on the grill, and grapes, watermelon, lemonade, and mom’s new drink, Diet Pepsi.

She kept cases of it in the pantry, even though it made pop mad.

“You’re flushing all my money down the toilet,” he said.

Mrs. MacAulay was mom’s best friend on the hill. They saw each other every day and talked on the telephone the rest of the time. We lived across the street from the MacAulay’s on Hillcrest Drive in the Euclid Villas.

Pop called our telephone the blower.

“All that talk is just blowing hot air through the wires,” he said.

In the morning when the coolers and picnic baskets were full and we were ready to go we raced to the car, begging Mrs. MacAulay and mom to hurry up. Holiday Sands was in Ravenna, a place mom called the armpit of Cleveland, even though it was where she got her blue and white china with snow scenes on it. It was a long drive and Marcia and I sometimes lost track of where we were because we sat in the rear-facing third seat playing category abc’s.

Mrs. MacAulay and mom sat in the front talking non-stop, mom’s arm stuck out the window, Mrs. MacAulay steering with one hand and smoking Pall Malls. Matty wriggled to get next to one of the windows in the back so he wouldn’t have to sit between Diane and Michelle, Marcia’s sisters, while Marcia and I watched everything going backwards. When we heard the gravel road crunching under the slowing-down car we knew we were finally there and twisted around in anticipation towards the wormy green wood walls, the signs saying, ‘Stop, Pay Ahead’ and ‘Positively No Cameras’, and the guardhouse leaning sideways.

Once we were there none of us could remember getting out of the car or into our bathing suits, only that the next thing we knew we were in front of the mirrors outside the bathhouse. We drank water at the frog fountain and ran down to the cement edge of the lake, walking around to the beach side and the sand playground, while Mrs. MacAulay and mom spread out blankets and folding chairs and a plastic tablecloth on a picnic table.

Our day camp was in a grove of sweet gum trees where we were always cleaning up the space bug seedpods that killed when you stepped on them barefoot. Black squirrels rummaged in the high grass, eating handouts and hiding out, jumpy and curious at the same time.

We ate lunch and dinner like whales at Holiday Sands and lay down afterwards in the shade, looking up at the sky or the giant slide. We were never allowed back in the lake for exactly sixty minutes; otherwise we might get cramps and drown. Sometimes we would take a nap on the shady side of a hill, but most of the time we never slept until the end of the day riding home on the dark road.

My best friend Marcia was the official barrel champion of Holiday Sands, mean as an old man on the rings, and daring and brave on the slide that scared the crap out of me.

She was a swashbuckler in a swimsuit on the barrels, taking on all comers until her feet blistered. The two barrels were striped red, white, and blue, and swiveled on rods attached to a laddered platform in the middle of the lake. They were even dangerous to try get on top of from the platform, wet and slimy, rotating in the water.

“Somebody’s going to get knocked out someday,” Mrs. MacAulay snarked.

“Then those lazy lifeguards are going to have to do some hard work.”

Nobody could logroll Marcia off the barrels once it was her turn, not the local runty boys with their fast feet nor the east side girls from the gymnastic classes. She was like a monkey.

Almost a year older than me, she was strong and fast, too, on the big rings that crossed the lake. She was famous for fights with anyone who tried crossing at the same time from the other side, kicking at them and wrapping her legs around them and shaking them off into the water.

“When am I going to catch up to Marcia, so we are the same?” I asked mom.

“You never will,” she said. “You’ll always be a year apart.”

“How can that be?”

The giant slide was on the grassy side of the lake. It was a hundred feet up a corkscrew staircase to a deck that swayed and creaked. Whenever I climbed up the twisting steps I grimly held on to the handrail, never looking down, and when it was my turn Marcia had to give me a shove, even though I knew I could never walk back down, anyway, because with every step I would have to stare through the slats to the deadly cement slab below. I always slipped down the ramp slower than anybody ever, chafing and burning my legs as I pressed them against the gunwales all the way to the pitch at the bottom, finally heaving myself into the flat water with a plop.

“If I wasn’t so scared on that slide I’d be scared to death,” Marcia told me secretly when everybody laughed about my lowdown ride.

Most kids started by sitting at the top and tilting over the brink, but Marcia liked to get air, shooting out over the slide at the top and landing on the drop side of the lip with momentum. Sometimes she landed with her legs splayed halfway off the slide, but throwing her head up and back she would straighten out and chute down like a snake.

Whenever she felt more excited than scared she would start on her stomach, belly-slam over the hump halfway down the slide, and flip in mid-air at the bottom finishing feet first. One windy day a boy drift-paddled to the base of the slide, and looking up saw Marcia suddenly double-flipping over his gaping face. Lots of kids got wedgies coming down on the hot slide, but not Marcia, who came down like a sunbeam.

Every hour a recording played on the staticky loudspeakers and everyone had to get out of the water for fifteen minutes.

“Water safety check, water safety check – please return to the shore.”

After the safety check the loudspeakers crackled again.

“Remember the buddy system, remember the buddy system – never swim alone.”

Only after the safety check were we allowed back on the barrels and slides and diving boards, except once when a boy wasn’t counted and everyone thought he had drowned. The lifeguards swam back and forth and we circled the lake, craning to see underwater, our mothers hovering over us. Finally the boy came walking down from the concession stand with a can of Welch’s Grape Juice. He had ridden to the park like the local boys from Kent did on the back of his older brother’s banana bike, so no one slapped him about causing so much commotion, but one of the lifeguards was peeved, and told them they both had to sit the next hour out.

“Let’s go stand in back of a window, “ the bigger boy said, smirking.

I played by the water’s bank and even took a dog paddle sometimes, but I liked the rides in the playground best, the springy mushrooms, lopsided pirate ship, and alligator swing. The round-headed mushrooms were on coiled springs, spotted with colored dots, greasy from baby oil and shed skid. They were like stinkhorns, they smelled horrible, and crossing them without falling on the twisting trail was almost impossible. A ramp led to the deck of the pirate ship where tree trunk cannons stuck out the side toward the lake. We flew down pipe slides jutting off the poop deck and rode the rope swings hanging from the spars. Red and purple Jolly Roger flags flew from the mast, gap-toothed skulls grinning in the bright light.

“Look at that one, see the white skeleton, and see that dart in his hand, blow the man down, he’s poking the bloody heart with it.”

“There’s an hour-glass in his other hand.”

“Ha, ha, ha, time’s running out, let’s go play.”

A yellow submarine made of drainage tiles lay in the ditch alongside the pirate ship, and the alligator swing was behind both of them, separated by low cypress hedges. We rode the swing at dusk in the lowering light. It had five toboggan style seats, and when whoever was pushing got it going, all scrunched together my friends and I arced it up, leaning into the forward and backward swings, taking it to the moon. Once a boy climbed out onto the nose of the gator and when it reached its highest point he jumped twenty feet up into the air and flew out over the sand like an upside-down crab. He broke his arm when he landed with a hard thud on the lawn.

“Oh, my God, damn, damn, damn, that really, really hurts,” he cried and cried, rolling off his broken arm and cradling it.

My favorite was the peanut butter maker. Some kids called it the mean green machine and other kids called it the wheel of death. My friends and I always called it the peanut butter maker, although I couldn’t say why. It was a carousel with horizontal rings made into a circular wheel attached to a maypole by chains stretching from the middle spokes to the top of the pole. The smallest kids would get on first and the rest of us turned the wheel, walking alongside it, the chains shortening and wrapping themselves up the pole, until we jumped on, and then the bigger kids kept winding the wheel as far as they could until only the tallest kid was left stretching up on his toes, finally jumping on and grabbing hold.

The wheel would start spinning back in the direction it had come, slowly then faster and faster, the chains grinding and clanging on the maypole. Some kids crouched inside the frame, while the rest dangled from the outside rails like octopi. Hanging onto the rattling peanut butter maker we were pulled parallel to the ground as it spun downwards, and then one by one lost our grips and were sprayed out in all directions onto the white sand, crying and screaming. We were small and the sand was soft and warm to fall on top of, but grown-ups walking by had to watch out for us hurling at them like rockets.

“Somebody ought to shut that thing down,” a man lying in the shade said, his lips like pink goo, watching us, smoking a dirty, dark cigar, his shirt open, ash floating like charred mercury on his belly.

At the end of the day we trudged up to the concession stand on the hill, worn-out and exhausted. We had ice cream cones and played our favorite songs on the Rock-Ola jukebox in the back, drowning out the bug zapper with the pile of dead bugs beneath it, dance shuffling together on the damp concrete.

“When I first met you girl you didn’t have no shoes, now you’re walking ‘round like you’re front page news, not your stepping stone, not your stepping stone…”

We bought rolls of pink wintergreen disc candy for the ride home and at sunset ran to the guardhouse to watch a lifeguard play taps on his bugle into a microphone that piped out to all the loudspeakers. As the park lights blinked on we cozyed down into the warm vinyl seats of Mrs. MacAulay’s station wagon, wrapped up in beach towels, sad that our day was over, but glad since we had been in the sunshine. Sometimes we were quiet or slept on the ride home, but other times we stayed up and sang songs.

Our songs were tunes from TV and the movies.

“Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can,” Matty shouted, thinking he could sing, and pretended to squirt webbing at us from his wrists through the haze of Mrs. MacAulay’s cigarette smoke.

We loved movies like Ghost in the Invisible Bikini and Dr. Doolittle. We sang Kissin’ Cousins and Talk to the Animals and all the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang songs since we had seen it a thousand times.

“You’re the answer to my wishes, Truly Scrumptious,” Michelle and Diane sang in the dark, drowning out Matty while Marcia and I finished the stanzas from the back.

“And I shan’t forget this lovely day, my heart beats so unruly, I also love you Truly, honest truly, I do.”

“Can’t you girls keep it down for even one single minute,” Mrs. MacAulay blared back at us.

Pop never went to Holiday Sands, except for the time mom got sun poisoning. The MacAulay’s Vista Cruiser had broken down so pop took us in his Buick Riviera, piling us in on top of one another, and leaving a beach carryall and food cooler behind because his golf bag needed room in the trunk. He dropped us off at the guardhouse with half rations and missing mom’s Coppertone, and drove away to the Sunny Hill Golf Course.

He was crazy about golf. He had heard all about the South 9 at Sunny Hill, that it was sparkling new and pockmarked with sand traps, and he just had to play it.

“It’s not fair,” I complained when pop picked us up after his golf game and we had to leave early, before sunset.

“I always ride the alligator, it’s my ride.”

“Pop had a bad game and he wants to go home and have dinner,” mom said in the car, her arms wrapped around me sitting on her lap.

She felt cold, even though she had been out in the sun all day. Pop drove fast that night and we got home in record time.

Mom had pale skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair she kept in a loose flip. At the park she always wore a wide brim hat in the sunshine and blobs of suntan lotion, but that day she only had her hat, shading her face. She got sun poisoning and had to lie in bed for two days. Her legs were swollen like sausages. We sliced up cucumbers and spread them out on her thighs, but she was nauseous and couldn’t lie still, and they just ended up littering the bed. We soaked towels in water and apple cider vinegar, chilled them in the fridge, and wrapped them around her legs until she got better.

Pop worked for Palmer Bearings, downtown on Prospect Avenue, on the backside of the angle where it met Prospect Street before E. 46th St. He was the vice-president of sales, meaning he went to all the steel factories in the Flats and went to lunch on Short Vincent. When he wasn’t working he was on golf courses on all the three sides of town. He played afternoons with clients and weekends with clubhouse men and his private friends, but not with our neighbors.

He said they were different, our neighbors. I didn’t understand what he meant.

When he wasn’t working or at home eating, or reading or sleeping, he was playing golf. He loved it more than I loved Holiday Sands. Sometimes mom said he loved golf more than us.

“Golf is a thinking man’s game. It’s all up here,” he would say, tapping the space between his eyebrows.

“It’s simple, just a ball and a club, but it’s complicated, remember that. No two lies are ever the same, that’s when the ball is on the grass, but when it’s pitch and putt it’s the best thing in the world.”

Mom liked to tell everybody pop had great legs, and he did, too, because of all the links he walked up and down on.

“I don’t play cart golf,” he said.

He always had a tan, except in the dead of winter, and except for his left hand, which was his glove hand when he played. Pop wasn’t a big man, but he wasn’t small, either, standing trim and compact like a boxer. He still fit into the Korean War uniform he kept in the attic. He had fought in the Golden Gloves when he was young and even made it as far as the main event one time at the Cleveland Arena. There wasn’t anything mashed up or broken down left over from then, either. He had Chiclets teeth, green eyes, and brown wavy hair. When he finger-rolled Royal Crown into it and combed it back his hair got flat, slicker and darker, like a street man’s.

“How do you like your old man now?” he asked me, watching him in the bathroom mirror, his suspenders floppy and collar open.

Mom hardly ever called pop by his given name, which was Hal. She always called him pop, or sometimes Harold, when she was madder than mad. To us she always said he was our pop, and that was what I called him. When Matty was a baby he called him poppy, but after he started walking he called him pop just like we did. He nicknamed Matty, mom, and me the Three Musketeers because we did everything together, which we did since he worked all day and played golf the rest of the time, and he never was and never became the fourth Musketeer.

Mom and pop got married when mom was eighteen-years-old, the year after she was Miss Boat Show of 1955, and pop was twenty-nine. They met on the main stage of the Karamu House, auditioning for an amateur production of a play called The Glass Menagerie. They didn’t get the parts in the show, but got each other, instead. They had to elope and got married by a justice of the peace in Athens, Indiana. Mom didn’t see her parents for a long time afterwards because they disowned her about it.

They didn’t approve of pop because he was an older man and his family was from Romania. Mom said she had to get married to get away from everything. She meant her mom and dad and the old neighborhood, the gloomy church, and the community hall where she wasn’t welcome anymore. I hardly knew my grandparents, although I knew a little, about how grandma’s sense of humor was a secret, and grandpa was friendly because he worked nights for the New York Central. Pop’s parents weren’t alive anymore. They were buried in Woodland Cemetery where we left plastic flowers every spring.

We lived on the bluff above the factories on Euclid Avenue, on the western edge of the North Chagrin parkland. In the summer Matty, mom, and I went picnicking in the reservation at Squires Castle and in the fall we hiked through the forest to Strawberry Lane. The park butted up to our backyard so that it was almost a part of it. Ours was the end road in the neighborhood and there were deer, raccoons that snuck into our attic, and possums in the woods where we played the knocking game at night.

When I was a girl everyone said mom was the best-looking woman on the hill. Her hair was soft, not stiff, and she colored it champagne blond instead of the brassy yellow and bleached white that was popular. She was shapely with long legs, not skinny or fleshy, or too tall, but taller than pop. When she walked, even when she was doing her housework, she moved like a ballerina with hips.

Mom always had to be doing something. Whether she was dancing or not she moved like she had never heard there isn’t anything that isn’t music. At house parties all the husbands except pop wanted to be her partner.

“There’s no beginning or end to it,” he said.

Mom knew all the moves, like the rumba, her favorite, and even honky-tonk twisting. She was tireless and never had to catch her breath, although she wouldn’t dance with just everyone, only with some of the men.

“Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance,” she would say, winking and gliding away with whoever knew how to lead.

When they went to weddings she was on the ballroom floor all night, waltzing and fox trotting, but Mrs. MacAulay said she never got in the middle of anyone being married like other women because that’s not what she wanted. She wanted to talk and dance the room down and have a good time. Mom knew how to forget everything, even herself, too.

Mom did all the shopping and housework. Before she had a car she took buses to the grocery store. She made breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the three of us, and sometimes for pop, too. Pop didn’t work around the house or even go outside and do yard work. He hired kids to mow the lawn in the summer, rake leaves in the fall, and shovel snow in the winter. They were the only neighbors he knew or liked on our street, and they liked him because he always paid them on the spot with Lincolns.

Whenever anything had to be repaired he called Sears, and the next day a van would pull up in our driveway and the Sears man would ring the doorbell. Even though he had a Craftsman toolbox in the basement, the only thing I ever saw pop do tool-wise was change a light switch pull chain once, although he didn’t need a Craftsman to do it.

After Matty got the first of his two-wheelers and they started breaking apart because of all his Evel Knievel smash-ups he always lugged them to Mr. Newman for repairs. He had a big radish-looking nose and worked in a factory. He knew how to fix everything.

“What did you kids do today? And you better have done something,” Mr. Newman would say, waving and rubbing his hairy hands together, pulling open his garage door, flipping the bike upside down on a workbench and taking care of whatever was wrong with it. Pop couldn’t pump our tires when they were low because he didn’t know where the inflator was in the mystery that the garage was to him.

Pop wasn’t usually home for dinner, even on Sunday afternoons. But, he was always in his sofa for the Ed Sullivan Show at eight o’clock Sunday night, right after we finished watching the Wonderful World of Disney. He looked forward to the comedians like Charlie Callas, Senor Wences, and Jackie Mason, but not the singers, especially not the Supremes, or any of the other Negro groups. He would go to the kitchen or the bathroom whenever they were announced and only come back when he heard Ed Sullivan’s slow voice again.

Ed Sullivan was the unfunniest man I ever saw on television. He stood in the middle of the TV like a cigar-store Indian, arms folded across his gray suit lapels, and his no personality eyes sunk into their late night bags.

“And now introducing on the shoe…” he would say after the commercials were over, shifting his weight from one leg to the other, while pop relaxed back into the sofa.

Mom made dinner for us at 5:30 sharp every day, just as though pop was at the head of the table like the other fathers on the street. From the steps of our front porch I could see, if I wanted to, Mr. MacAulay, Mr. Holloway, and Mr. Newman coming home from work. Sometimes my friends would run gurgling out of their houses as their dads came up the walk from their garages. That almost never happened at our house.

Whenever we knew Pop was on his way home after working late or hitting a bucket of balls we would walk to the far end of Hillcrest and up to Grand Boulevard to the blue collection mailbox on the corner. We would lie out on the sloping lawn of the Robinson house and look for his car to come up the hill. Mom always said good things come to those who wait, but I always wanted him to come home so bad I couldn’t sit still, running back-and-forth to the road.

“Waiting wears out my patience,” I said when mom called me back to her, telling me to be patient.

“I just don’t have a lot of it and it runs out faster the more I have to wait.”

The special nights pop was at dinner, instead of spaghetti and meatballs or the Dutch Oven chicken we liked best, mom made beef brisket. She would bust the family food budget and take a taxi to Fazio’s, the big grocery store. Pop munched on crudités and dip before dinner and afterwards his favorite dessert was apple pie with cheddar cheese on it. Matty and I weren’t big fans, but we nibbled on hard-boiled eggs floating in mayonnaise, and mom made sure there was Neapolitan ice cream for us after dinner.

Celery was close to pop’s favorite food, which caused a commotion one summer. Mom wanted a new dress fabric she had seen in a McCall’s sewing pattern and started skimming from the grocery money pop gave her on paydays. He didn’t notice until the week she didn’t buy celery. Pop’s brother, by his second father, was living with us that summer, painting our house for more than two months, and sleeping on a foam mattress in the laundry room.

Uncle Willie and pop both made lists of what they liked to eat and gave the lists to mom so she would know what they wanted. Before Willie came mom had always made barbecue chicken for us on Friday nights in Kraft’s Original Sauce, but didn’t that summer after Willie told pop BBQ was out. Mom knew celery was pop’s special treat, but she thought he wouldn’t miss it for a week. What she didn’t know was that celery was Willie’s favorite, too, because she always threw his list away without looking at it.

“How could you forget the celery? What were you thinking?” was all she heard from pop day after day until Willie moved out on the Labor Day weekend before school started.

“I didn’t stop to think,” she told him, smiling and pretending, “and then I forgot.”

She didn’t tell pop about the dress fabric even after she sewed the dress and he never noticed how she looked in it.

Pop ate part of an ice cold Hershey bar every day. He kept it in our freezer box and he always knew how much was left. If he suspected any was missing his eyes misted up and he would complain to mom about it. We hardly ever ate any of it, anyway, because we knew he would be grumpy, and besides, we knew what it was like to come home looking forward to something that wasn’t there.

He loved coffee, too, but not the drinking kind. He kept gobs of coffee ice cream in the freezer, coffee yogurt in the fridge, and coffee nibs in the kitchen cupboard, and we weren’t supposed to touch any of those, either.

We usually had breakfast all together, not like our pop-less dinners. But, before we were allowed to eat pop passed out our piles of vitamins. We would push the pills into order and then sit looking at them while he drank apple cider vinegar from one glass and black strap molasses from another. The first down the gullet was vitamin A, then vitamin E, while the worst ones we saved for last.

I hated lecithin because it was a big horse pill. The yeast, kelp, and liver I swallowed fast, the narky flavors sliding over my tongue. Zinc and garlic were bad later in the day because I couldn’t help burping them up. The kelp, lecithin, brewers yeast, and desiccated liver were not the worst. The worst thing before pop let mom bring food to the table was the huge tablespoon of pale-yellow cod liver oil we had to swallow. Mom slipped drops of lemon into it so we wouldn’t throw up.

Mom had to get on pop’s bandwagon, too, but first she got a Wheateena Juicer. She told pop she couldn’t get the pills down, and made smoothies and vegetable potions, instead. She told us the machine digested everything ahead of time and all we had to do was drink it. She squeezed oranges, and added apples, beets, wheatgrass, and even ice cubes in the summer. Sometimes she would halve carrots on the long side and slide them down the chute into the auger, but then I drank the juice holding my nose because I hated carrots.

One of the last times I ever ate cooked carrots I had a mess of them in my mouth at dinner, but I wouldn’t swallow them. I had had enough. I felt like I was going to gag and choke. Mom got mad when she saw my mouth at a standstill and made me stand in the corner. I still wouldn’t swallow, until she finally let me spit the watery orange paste into my hands, and then clean up at the kitchen sink

“You should eat your vegetables,” she said. “They’re good for you, for your eyes.”

My eyes were going bad. They were going out of focus, like a bat in the blaze of day.

“They’re not vegetables, it’s a stupid root,” I said. “I don’t care about seeing in the dark, why should I care, it’s still dark, there’s nothing to see, and I just really, really hate them.”

Mom gave me the belt after that. Pop never hit us. It was always mom. She never said wait until your father gets home because we would have said, “Who?”

Pop was always selling so many ball bearings and hitting so many golf balls we only ever went on two family vacations. Before we went to Fredericksburg we went to Niagara Falls with Mr. Bliss, pop’s golf buddy whom we had never seen before, and his wife and their little girl. Mom asked pop to put us up on the Canadian side so we could walk in Queen Victoria Park and onto Table Rock Point on top of the waterfall. But, he wanted to play golf on the American side, so we stayed in New York at a roadside motel with a pool out front.

I had gotten a new bathing suit for the vacation, a blue cotton gingham pinafore with elasticized puffy bottoms. Friday morning after breakfast Mr. Bliss and pop went golfing and we went to the pool. When mom thought it was okay to go in without getting cramps she sat on the lip of the pool with her legs scissoring the water while I paddled back and forth.

The bottom of the pool was mercury blue and the sun felt like a fuzzy electric blanket. By the time I saw the shiny black bug floating on the water in front of me it was too late. I skimmed over it and felt it get under my bib and bite me on the stomach. It stung like crushed red peppers. Mom helped me out of the water and laid me down on the scratchy concrete and we watched a big red welt rise up on my stomach.

“I don’t like saying anything about sores,” the little Bliss girl said looking down at me.

Matty and I were dying to go to the arcades and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not across the bridge. We begged pop to take us to the odditorium. In the travel brochure it looked like a fallen over Empire State Building with King Kong on the side of it. But, Mr. Bliss and pop went golfing again the next day and we went bowling. I was only seven, but mom found little black bowling shoes for me, and a blue marbleized ball I could push at the pins. After a half hour I felt like my hand was going to fall off.

“One thing about bowling that’s better than golf is you never lose a bowling ball,” pop guffawed when he and Mr. Bliss picked us up. We had dinner that night at Michael’s Italian Restaurant.

Mom and pop had liver and onions and we ate all the American cheese and salami from the antipasto plate, and the chicken fingers, hot dogs, and French fries, except for the slices of them Matty tested for floatability in his glass of Sprite. I didn’t drink soda, but mom let him have his because he liked the lime flavor.

“Taste its tingling tartness,“ he said, slurping it up his straw.

“The bub is starting to tingle. Is there really no pick-me-up in that?” I asked mom.

The next morning mom put out a bread pan of congealed scrapple she had brought with her and sliced it into squares, frying it on the hot plate in our room. She made it from pork scraps, everything but the oink, she said, with cornmeal, and mixed in spices like thyme and black pepper.

Pop called mom’s scrapple pon haus.

It was like a salty meat cracker.

“Shoofly pie and apple pandowdy,” pop sang, standing beside mom as she mixed in scrambled eggs and ketchup.

“Makes your eyes light up, your tummy say howdy, makes the sun come out, when heavens are cloudy.”

Perched on the top deck of the Maid of the Mist later that afternoon we set sail for the Horseshoe Falls. We hung on the rail at the front of the boat, our faces wet in the swell and noise. I thought about Moe miming the Niagara Falls song in the Three Stooges movies Matty and I watched on Saturday mornings.

“Slowly I turn, step by step, inch by inch,” Moe purred, leaning away from Larry, looking sideways at Curly, his eyes slits of mischief and mayhem.

Everybody on the boat was wearing a blue rain poncho just like everybody else. Even though it was a sunny day we were being rained on. When the boat ricocheted turning in the turmoil at the edge of the falls I mixed up Mrs. Bliss and mom, grabbing the wrong hand, mom snatching at my other hand. I was pulled up on my toes between them.

Mom said she learned to swim when grandma took her out on Lake Erie and threw her off their rowboat. We didn’t have a boat so I didn’t know how to swim, only paddle like a dog. Mom never taught me how and pop was too busy to take me to the city pool.

Afterwards, pop picked us up at the dock, we stopped at HoJo’s for a dinner of beans and sweet brown bread, and later drove straight home, the sun sinking into the night straight ahead of us.

While Matty napped with his head rolling in my lap I looked at my leather moccasin change purse. The Shoshone Indians had sewed it. It was studded with green, red, and pink glass seed beads. Marcia always brought back souvenirs from her family vacations, the change purse from Yellowstone, a gold-trimmed Ghost Town cowboy hat from Lake George, and a Don’t Mess With Texas t-shirt from the Alamo.

Five years later coming home from Fredericksburg from our second family vacation I kept my eyes down while Matty blinked at his reflection in the back door window. Mom and pop cut and slashed each other up all the way home while Matty and I fidgeted in the back seat, for once in our lives both of us unwittingly quiet at the same time.

“I give you cash, so when I say don’t use the credit card, I mean don’t use the credit card,” pop insisted over and over again.

“But, you don’t give me enough cash,” mom told him.

“That’s what I give you the credit card for,” he told her.

“But, you’re telling me not to use the credit card, to wait until you give me cash, which you never do,” she said.

They argued and fought about money from Hagerstown to Youngstown, loud and mean, until they finally ran out of steam. Later, after nightfall and a gas station stop, pop started up again. He laid down his law and bossed her to never use the credit card. He said she was ruining us by spending all our family money, and our nest egg, too

“I’ll just charge it,” was one of mom’s favorite things to say as she slid her Diner’s Club card out of her purse.

“Doesn’t that sound weird to you?” Mom asked, twisting across the car seat towards me.

“He wants me to put food on the table, clothes on your back, and fill up the rainy day piggy with the money he never gives us. What do you think about that?”

Pop said people were putting things into mom’s head, and mom said her head would be an empty attic if it wasn’t for her friends and professors at school.

I didn’t understand everything they were talking about and looked down at the change purse I had filled with pebbles from the Fredericksburg battlefields. The closer we got to home the more they argued. He said he brought home the bacon. She said he had bacon for brains. Every once-in-a-while pop yelled that he was going to throw her out of the car.

“Get out of the car or I’ll throw you out” he shouted, mashing down on the gas pedal, even though we were already going faster than all the other cars.

But, he didn’t throw her out. When we got home he slept on the sofa downstairs for a week until he made up with mom, but they were never the same again

Mom started taking classes at the new college downtown when I was 8-years-old. It was the same September our rabbits were killed by somebody’s dog. They were named Eastee, because we got him on Easter, and First of July, because we got him later in the summer, but we called him Firstee.

Pop didn’t want mom going to Cleveland State University, and he didn’t want her going downtown, where the school was, even though he worked downtown.

“I don’t like you going downtown,” he said.

I don’t know why he said that, because we went downtown anyway every Tuesday and Thursday for my ballet lessons, and Wednesdays for white gloves and party manners classes at Higbee’s, the big department store. Sometimes we stopped at the Hippodrome, where there was a movie house, and said hello to Vince. He had an office next to the poolroom in the basement. Mom said he was the man in charge. He always wore a brown suit and always gave us something to drink, a Coca-Cola for me, and something like the same in a glass with ice cubes for mom.

Somehow my mom knew him. Afterwards we would stay and see a movie.

Mom started taking us to Euclid Beach Park only two summers before we found out it wasn’t going to open for the season anymore. It was the same summer the two neighborhood hippie boys parked their VW bus in our backyard the whole summer before leaving for California. By then she was working at the Firehouse, a new restaurant in the Park Center downtown, and she was taking more classes at her college when she wasn’t working.

“What are they putting into your head,” pop asked her, adding he didn’t like her working, either

“We don’t need the money,” he said.

Mom would drive us to Euclid Beach Park, drop us off, and tell us exactly when she was going to be back. We were supposed to wait for her just outside the main entrance gate arch, which looked like a gigantic letter H, so she could pick us up without having to drive in, and then u-turn back home.

The arch was underneath a wide, old pin oak tree. We knew it was an oak because there were bumpy acorns littering the grass, and we knew it was a pin oak because it had pointy leaves.

Then she would drive away in the Mercedes convertible pop had bought for her.

Admission into the park was free. We just walked in, like magic. Mom always gave us enough money for fizzy drinks, popcorn balls, and two-dozen rides. She gave us bananas, too.

“A banana is the best snack,” she said, pushing them down into our pockets.

The first thing we did was walk to the Rocket Ships. From the parking lot we could see the tops of the cranes above the shade trees and hear the band organ that was beneath the second-floor platform.

“Just in case we lose all our money, or something bad happens, this way at least I’ll know I was on my favorite ride,” Matty explained.

The Rocket Ships were three shiny aluminum spaceships that flew fifty feet up in the air over Lake Erie as they whirled around a one hundred foot tower. Matty said it was a great view and cooled you off on hot days, but I wouldn’t ride them because I had heard one of them had broken its support chains once and been hurled out into the lake. None of the Rocket Ship riders was ever seen again.

After Matty was done space manning we rode the coasters together, starting with the Thriller. At first I was afraid of the coasters, of the sickening hills and valleys, until the VW boys went to Euclid Beach Park with us one afternoon.

“It’s not like the giant slide. On the slide you can see everything ahead, everything that might happen. On a roller coaster you never know what’s going to happen next. You can’t see that far ahead. It’s the best ride because it’s always right now.”

The Thriller was an out-and-back coaster with part of it running along Lake Shore Boulevard. We could see the little roofs of the cars on the road from the top of the first rise, just before we tipped plunging and screaming downwards. The last hill of the Thriller was so steep you couldn’t help standing up as you careened down, pressing against the lap bar.

It was hair-raising because it might crash anytime. Coming into the station once the train behind came in too soon and rear-ended the other, and bunches of people got banged up. But, the next day the platform was fixed and it looked like nothing had happened. I found out later they stored different shades of secret paint so that when they repaired the coasters and tracks they could paint them so they all looked worn the same way, and no one could tell that anything new was there.

The more I rode the coasters the more I liked riding them. They were like the peanut butter maker, but twisting in the sky longer and bigger. I loved the sound of the wheels on the track and the wood trestles groaning and heaving on the turns. Even though I thought the riding might take me somewhere, it never did.

The Racing Coasters were next to the Thriller. They were a double out-and-back, running beside the first leg of the Thriller, and it was two separate continuous tracks, the blue cars racing against the red cars. The ride always ended on the other side of the station, everybody screaming out their last go-go-go’s as we slowed down.

The Flying Turns were the highest of the rides. The trains were freewheeling.

“It’s a coaster without tracks!” Matty liked to tell anyone who would listen, even though he was trying to sneak on, since he was smaller than the yardstick beside the gate.

The cars weren’t attached to the track. The train careened in a bobsled trough, threatening to overturn at any second. There were only three toboggan-like cars for every train and only two of us rode in a car, one directly in front of the other, white-knuckling the snap-of-the-whip turns.

On Nickel Days we rode the Tea Cups between turns on the coasters, which were a four-table cup ride, like a Crazy Daisy. They spun in circles and looked like they would slam into each other at any moment, but they always missed by a sliver. Getting into a teacup one day we found a plastic baggie tucked into the curved bench seat. A man with a ponytail came back to the Tea Cups just before the ride started and asked if we had found it.

“It’s my happy weed,” he said when we handed it to him.

Walking around the park we munched on Humphrey’s Candy Kiss salt-water taffy and bought pictures of our favorite stars at the movie star photo booth. We yukked it up riding the black-lighted Laff-in-the-Dark and got soaked to the bone on Over the Falls.

We always avoided the Surprise House until the very end of the day, not because it was scary, which it was, but because of Laughing Sal, right outside the entrance, cackling her face off inside a glass case. Her head and hips gyrated like the Tea Cups and she never stopped her crazy talk laugh.

Laughing Sal had freaky red hair and shiny dead eyes in a head that jerked back-and-forth. We tried to never look at her bloated, painted face.

The front of the Surprise House was painted lime green and purple; it blazed in the sun. The sign above the arch framing the doors was yellow with black letters. We had to give seven tickets to the bow-tied chopper operator at the booth. He put the tickets on a conveyor belt that carried them to a chopper that shredded them

It was like he knew you weren’t ever getting out of the Surprise House.

Once we walked inside, through a fog cloud, right away around the corner was a screen door puzzle. Only one of all the doors was really a door and while we looked for it doors banged so loud all around us it hurt to think.

When we found the right one to go forward we walked into a narrow room full of rock formations and wild animals running up-and-down the rocks. The floor suddenly became a moving floor, zooming up and down and sliding side to side. The wall beside the moving floor was glass and people outside the Surprise House watched and laughed as you struggled to not fall down, much less walk.

At the far end of the floor was a giant Grandfather Clock. When you got to it a spotted snake snatched at you from cuckoo doors beneath the clock face. Jumping sideways from the ugly thing we had to run through a rolling barrel to get away.

Most of the Surprise House was a maze of moving floors and stairways leading to elevated platforms, creaking doors, and dead-ends. One room was so slanted that just standing was like defying gravity.

Pitch-black hallways led from one room to the next. Excruciating screams filled the air and loud knocking on the floors and ceiling overhead exploded in the darkness. There were siren whoops and unexpected clangs far and near. Blasts of air from secret holes hit you in the face coming around corners, and you never knew when a wind gust would blow up your shorts from the floor.

At the end of one passageway were three porky sailor boys with tin whistles in their mouths. When you stepped up to them they blew their whistles in your face. When we stopped at a big window to see a fireman with a hose, he whirled around and sprayed, except the spray hit the window first. At a wishing well when you looked down into the water you could see yourself as though you were looking at yourself from behind.

At the far end of the Surprise House was a distortion mirror maze we had to find our way through to get out. The curved mirrors stretched and squeezed us like taffy.

After all the weird moving floors and dark and noise it was always a shock to step through the exit on the quiet side of Laughing Sal and suddenly stand blinking in the sunlight with people strolling past not knowing anything about what we had just been through.

We were sad and excited at the same time, not sure what to do next.

When the park announced closing time and everyone was on their way out the Army of Skunks came waddling up from the back beach palisades, hard on our heels, eating the litter and leftover discarded goodies. We threw banana peels at them and watched them drag the peels away. They meowed like cats with sore throats.

We didn’t know the last time we stumbled out of the Surprise House and tossed banana peels at the skunks as we walked to the arch and mom’s waiting Mercedes that it was the last closing time at Euclid Beach Park. And, we didn’t know that mom was going to leave soon and not come back.

Mom and pop started arguing when she started going to college. When she got a job it got even worse. After that it never got better.

“Why do you need to work?” he would ask her. “We have enough money. You don’t need to work.”

But, she was sick of asking him for money all the time, not just for groceries, but also for everything, for her clothes, for us, and just everything. I think she got sick of him, too, of him always telling her what and what never to do.

They argued more and more that winter, even in the morning at breakfast and late at night when we were supposed to be asleep. One evening they had an argument at the dining room table because mom had stayed out the night before until four in the morning.

“We were at Reuben’s house,” she explained. “Nothing happened. I just lost track of time.”

She meant Reuben Silver, who was the showman at Karamu House, where mom and pop had first met. He was a friendly man with a black beard and slicked-back, shiny black hair. His wife wore purple turtlenecks and always took my hand when I saw her backstage.

“Nothing went on,” mom said. “We went to the Playhouse and saw Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, that’s all, and then we were at his house afterwards, talking.”

“Gamma Rays? What are you talking about?”

Pop went to the movies sometimes, but he didn’t go to theaters anymore. That was all over.

He thought something had happened. He didn’t say what, although we could tell from his face it must have been bad.

When mom went into the kitchen pop followed her. She stepped into the hall and then went up the stairs. We could hear them in their bedroom, screaming at each other. Suddenly there was a loud crash. Mom came running down the stairs and ran to Mrs. MacAulay’s house. Pop came downstairs after she was gone and told us everything was all right. He sat by the back window the rest of the night and stared down into the ravine. He looked unhappy, like someone had stolen his Hershey’s chocolate.

When we went upstairs to bed we looked into their bedroom and saw a big hole in the wall. A potato masher was lying on the floor. We found out later he had thrown it at her, but missed. It lay on the floor until the next day when mom came home. She cleaned up the dinner table, did the dishes, and put the potato masher away.

Mom kept the cleanest house anyone ever saw. She vacuumed twice a day and you could eat off the floor.

Pop said he was going to call Sears about fixing their bedroom wall, but he never did. Maybe it was like their marriage by then, not worth fixing.

Mrs. MacAulay came over the next day when pop was at work. She always walked into our house without knocking, which made pop mad. She was loud, but she was mom’s best friend, and that made pop mad, too. Mom packed a suitcase and told us she would be gone for a few days. She took us into the kitchen and showed us all the food she had prepared in casserole dishes, and explained how to heat it up. I had a hollow leg in those days and could eat as much food as I wanted and never gain weight.

“I’ll be back Monday,” she said.

But, she didn’t come back Monday, or the rest of the next week.

She came back two weeks later, on a Tuesday, just after I had gotten home from school.

“Mom, we’re almost out of food,” I said.

We found out mom wasn’t coming back when she took us to Helen Hutchleys for ice cream. We sat in a booth in the back. I had strawberry cheesecake on a plate, Matt had tin roof in a cone, and mom had two scoops of butterscotch in a cup. She told us things weren’t going well at home, which we knew, and then she said she was leaving pop and moving downtown.

“How can you do that to pop?” I said, even though I didn’t know pop as much as I did my mom, who I loved more than anything. Matty put his cone of tin roof carefully down on a napkin and wrapped his short arms around her as much as he could.

“Whatever you want to do, mom, whatever you think is best,” he said.

But, I was mad, and started to cry.

“Finish your ice cream, pumpkin,” mom said, so I did, before it melted.

We lived with pop for a year-and-a-half after mom left, but afterwards we moved downtown with her. I never had to do anything at home when I was a kid. Mom did everything, so for me it was burden to even do something. I couldn’t keep up at school. Sometimes I would sit inside my closet in the middle of the day. Pop never helped me, either.

Looking up the sidewalk at pop’s house on Christmas Eve, I thought I had probably known all along that mom was going to leave pop, but back then surprises still upset me. Mom was going to marry the man from Rochester. There was no surprise about that anymore

“Come on, bub,” I said, taking Matty’s hand when he reached for mine, and carefully started up the icy walk. 

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

 

Minister of Music

Lavert-Stuart-organist

By Ed Staskus

On any Wednesday evening for the past two decades-and-more whenever anyone looked toward the musician’s pit to the right of the reader’s platform at the Christian Science Church in Rocky River they would have seen, as they still see today, the back of the pony-tailed head of Lavert Stuart.

What they wouldn’t have seen is that serendipity always rewards the prepared. Mr. Stuart has had his fingers on a keyboard from the time he could stand up in a crib. He was ready for the Schantz organ at the Rocky River church

“The substitute for Berdie d’Aliberti, the regular organist at the church, couldn’t make it one night, so I filled in,” said Lavert Stuart. “Then when Berdie’s teaching duties at Baldwin Wallace University got so she could only play on Sundays I became the Wednesday organist, and now we’re looking at more than 25 years.”

What Mr. Stuart didn’t say was that he has been a church musician for almost 50 years, since he started at Cleveland’s Mount Zion Congregational Church in 1965. In the years since he has performed as a pianist and organist at many Protestant churches, from the Historic First Parish in Lexington, Massachusetts, to the Cathedral de St. Trinity in Port au Prince, Haiti.

Although not a member of the Rocky River church he says he is a Christian Scientist “by osmosis”.

The son of a Cleveland policeman, who was cousin to Carl and Louis Stokes, noted Ohio politicians, and a librarian who went on to become the first black insurance saleswoman in Ohio, Mr. Stuart started small.

“When I was a baby my mother kept my playpen next to the upright piano in the front room. It was so she would know where I was. As long as she heard me picking out notes she knew I wasn’t getting into anything else.”

Mr. Stuart grew up in the Glenville neighborhood at a time when it was known as the Gold Coast, crowded with immigrants, delis, clubs, department stores, and churches. He attended Empire Junior High and John Adams High School.

The first in his family to pursue a higher education, he won a scholarship to Ohio University, where he majored in organ. After graduation he moved to Chicago, working for the Board of Education, and playing at several churches, including Salem Lutheran, founded in 1868 by Swedish immigrants. While there he studied with Edward Mondello, the University Organist at the University of Chicago.

“He was a wonderful teacher. I got a lot of the romantic 19th century style from him, playing in the Rockefeller Chapel.”

After being recommended for the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, he studied there for two years. He was the musical director at the First Congregational Church in Weston and later played his graduation recital at the historic Old West Church, where the phrase “no taxation without representation” was first coined.

While living in Boston he helped coordinate the creation of the 1.6 mile Black Heritage Trail, which winds through the Beacon Hill neighborhood and ends at the African Meeting House, the oldest surviving black church in America.

“The first person to die in the American Revolution was a black man,” Mr. Stuart points out. “It was a terrible time.”

Even in 1976, during the Bicentennial celebrations in Boston, when a man at an anti-busing rally tried to kill an African-American bystander with the pointed pole end of an American flag, captured in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph.

“I was only a few steps away from that incident when it happened.”

Thirty-five years later Boston City Council cited Lavert Stuart with a proclamation honoring his “spiritual leadership through music ministry and commitment to developing interest and knowledge in Black heritage and culture.”

Having finished his studies he returned to live in Cleveland.

“It was my experience with institutions, and the sense of history in Boston, which made me interested in the organizations and history that brought me to where I was, and who I was.”

He returned to Mt. Zion Church, serving as their organist and choirmaster for the next ten years, as well as serving as supply organist for several other churches and chapels. He began a 25-year relationship with the Stuphen School of Music, serving as their musical director. The school experienced a renaissance under his leadership.

In 1996 he began his long association with Antioch Baptist Church as their organist for the Sanctuary and Gospel Choirs.

“His ministry of music has been a blessing to me,” said the Reverend Marvin McMickle of the Antioch Church. ”Lavert Stuart has been our local version of the Music Man.”

Mr. Stuart is a long-time supporter of the Antioch Development Corporation, whose mission it is to develop personal and collective self-sufficiency within individuals, families, and organizations throughout impoverished neighborhoods of Greater Cleveland.

“Sometimes you don’t realize the things people have to go through.”

As well as a career in classical, sacred music, Mr. Stuart has had a secular career in jazz and popular music. He got his start at the New England Conservatory under the aegis of Gunther Schuller, a composer, conductor, and performer who was then the president of the music school.

“He really put jazz on the map there,” said Lavert Stuart.

In 1973 Gunther Schuller won a Grammy Award with his Ragtime Ensemble.

In the late 1980s Mr. Stuart was the pianist at the Sweet Water Café in downtown Cleveland, and for more than ten years played three nights a week at Mantell’s in the Radisson in Willoughby.

“They had a grand piano on a platform in the shape of a grand piano.”

As well as playing jazz standards at clubs and restaurants, he has worked as a conductor-pianist for theater productions at both Karamu and the Ensemble Theater. He toured with Karamu when its production of ‘Langston’ performed at Lincoln Center in New York City.

He was the featured pianist in Philip Hayes Dean’s biographical play ‘Paul Robeson’.

“I always wanted to do something on a cruise ship, too,” he said, laughing. “Maybe in a next life I’ll be able to do that.”

As if his plate weren’t full enough, Mr. Stuart volunteers at the McGregor Home, a senior living facility near University Circle, playing the piano in their dining hall.

“One of my last adopted mothers is there,” he said. “She was my car mom when I was a boy, driving me home from church. I sit at the piano, start picking up the vibe, and play for her and her friends. It adds some quality to their lives, which is important, because it’s the little things that count.”

The Reverend Marvin McMickle remembers Mr. Stuart doing the same for his mother. “He would take a keyboard into my mother’s room and play the hymns of the church as she lay in her bed in a nursing home. I believe she is looking on from glory today and sharing in his musical celebration.”

Every Wednesday Lavert Stuart plays a prelude, accompanies three hymns, and finishes with a postlude at the Testimony Meeting at the Christian Science Church in Rocky River. Those who stay for the postlude are sometimes treated to his signature piece, the Carillon de Westminster, written for the organ by the French composer Louis Vierne as an embellishment on the chimes played from the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster.

After nearly two-and-a-half score years the minister of music continues to play organs with consummate skill and enthusiasm.

“It all started when I was a teenager and heard it at Mt. Zion. I would go to the library and get records. I loved to hear that sound,” he said.

For many centuries the organ has been known as ‘the king of instruments’.

“There’s something about the sound of the organ. It’s a light unto itself.” 

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Cracking Wise

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By Ed Staskus

I was busy on our front porch one rainy afternoon, sticking my thumb into our cat’s mouth and springing his fangs with my fingernail, something he never tires of, when my wife interrupted us.

“I’ve asked you to not do that,” she said impatiently. “You’re going to break his teeth and then we’ll have a toothless cat.”

“He likes it,” I said. “Besides, I think it strengthens his teeth.”

“Oh, never mind.” she said. “Look what came in the mail. It’s the yoga magazine and your friend Barron’s in it.”

She has called him my friend instead of our friend ever since he dug up his mother’s flower garden and replaced it with a root vegetable garden.

“Barron? What did he ever do to become newsworthy besides spend half the day on his mat exercising and meditating?”

“He hasn’t done anything, but he’s writing an advice column for them.”

I was so surprised I jumped out of my seat and the cat scattered pell-mell. I had been sending stories to the magazine for more than three years and been ignored, never even receiving a rejection letter.

“An advice column? What does Barron know about advice?”

“Honey, Barron is the kind of man who, when he asks if you want a piece of advice, it doesn’t matter what you say, because you’re going to get it anyway.”

I snatched the magazine from her hands. It was folded to the full-page column, and staring me in the face was a picture of Barron Cannon, standing on one leg in the middle of his parent’s backyard, where he lives in a yurt.

I fell back into my chair and began reading ‘Ask the Yogi’.

Dear Yogi Barron:

I enlisted in the army last month to defend our country and fight terrorists. I expected basic training to be hard, but I was ready for the challenge. Now I find out that yoga is going to be part of our fitness training. Our drill sergeant says it will keep us flexible instead of bulked up and meditation will keep us calm when things get nerve wracking. How can that be? Yoga is for chicks, isn’t it? I need to know the right way to hold my rifle, not the right way to touch my toes, and I need to shoot when I see the whites of their eyes, not get in touch with my third eye.

Signed, Dismayed in Fort Hood

Dear Dismayed:

Not to worry.

After Osama bin Laden was killed and thrown into the ocean, Gaiam Life, the leading yoga accessory manufacturer, issued a “special edition” yoga mat thanking Seal Team 6 for taking care of business. There are lots of yogis going heavy. Even the Dalai Lama says that if someone is going to shoot you, shoot back first. Many people are skeptical about the power of yoga, but not the Navy Seals. When interviewed they often mention how closely yoga training resembles their own. Some Seals have even set up fitness schools, blending yoga exercise with combat techniques. Since you’re just a grunt in boot camp, you’re not going to argue with the Seals about the power of yoga, are you, grasshopper?

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

It sounded just like Barron Cannon; in other words, snippy and deific. It didn’t sound like a mass-market magazine that knows how to trim its sails.

And, what did he mean by ‘Your Dutch Uncle’?

I had to get to the bottom of how Barron Cannon, who lives off the grid, had gotten his scribbling onto the pages of a magazine with millions of subscribers as well as more advertising pages than pages of anything else.

I couldn’t understand how anyone like him, who, if he had stooped to be on Facebook would never get a like in his life, could possibly have gotten a corporation to pay him for his opinions. To say he was not only curmudgeonly and out of the touch with the yoga generation was understating the obvious.

It had stopped raining, so I rolled up the magazine, stuck it into my back pocket, and took a walk the two-or-so miles up Riverside Drive to Barron’s yurt on the heights of Hogsback Lane overlooking the Rocky River.

Barron and I were soon sitting on the edge of his parent’s backyard, on a pair of plastic Adirondack chairs he had scavenged somewhere, while he unrolled the magazine and admired his handiwork.

Dear Yogi Barron:

I have been married for 12 years and have three children. I love yoga, but my husband has never had any interest in it, so I have always gone to the studio without him. He enjoys sleeping, eating, and watching sports on TV. In the past year I have fallen for a man with two boys who also passionately practices yoga at my studio. He is very fond of me, too. His wife is ignorant and irresponsible. I think he would be a wonderful husband and a great father for my children. Should I take the plunge, leave my husband, and start a new life?

Signed, Troubled in Minneapolis

Dear Troubled:

Have you lost your mind?

First of all, do you realize there are five children involved in your so-called yoga romance? How do you think they are going to feel when not one but two families are broken up? Second, what does yoga have to do with cheating on your husband, besides breaking most of the principles by which it is practiced? There is more to yoga than standing on your head, which you seem to be doing quite well. There is no reason to be unhappy in love, certainly, but dump the yogi lothario and try helping your husband off the La-Z-Boy. Maybe there is a reason he is such a slug. Living to eat and watching sports 24/7 is living the zombie life. Get him off his butt, on his feet, and off to the studio with you. It might be the way to bring him back to life, and your marriage, too. When you help him you help yourself, as well; it might also bring you back to your senses.

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

After Barron’s long-suffering mother had brought us coffee and scones, I came right to the point.

“How on earth did your words of wisdom make it into print?” I asked, incredulous.

“A word to the wise isn’t what I’m doing, since it’s usually people on the stupid side that need me the most,” he said.

“I would have thought offering advice about the day-to-day was beneath you.”

Barron Cannon has a PhD in philosophy. He lived off the grid because no sooner had he won his diploma than he realized politics had replaced philosophy in the modern world.

“It’s not really advice,” he said. “Advice is free, but since it’s in a magazine that people have to pay for, it’s more like counseling.”

“You don’t sound like the friendliest counselor in the world,” I pointed out.

“I’m not trying to be their friend, because no friendship could stand the strain of good advice for too long,” he said.

“Which is it, council or advice?”

“It’s both,” he said. “But don’t worry, I never give them my best council, or advice, or whatever you want to call it, because they wouldn’t follow it, anyway.”

Dear Yogi Barron:

I practice at a large yoga studio and often hear our various yoga teachers say things like “Live in the now” and “It’s all good, it’s all yoga”. But, what about learning from the past and planning for the future? And, it can’t all be good, can it? Some things have to be right and wrong. Don’t they?

Signed, Baffled in Boston

Dear Baffled:

It is obvious you don’t understand yoga, which is our most beloved Eastern philosophy because it is so accepting of SUV’s and Ayn Rand. It is also obvious you have not read the Bhagavad-Gita, one of yoga’s most important guidebooks.

In the book, which is a long poem from a long time ago, a warrior named Arjuna doesn’t want to go into battle, telling his chariot driver, who happens to be the god Krishna, that he doesn’t see the sense of it. He decries all the slaughter leading to nothing but disaster and ruin. Krishna has his own agenda, which is revealed later in the story, so I won’t ruin the surprise. Needless to say, he musters many top-down arguments to convince Arjuna he must go to war, among them the “be here now” argument and the “there is no evil” argument. It turns out it really is all in as Arjuna goes to war, after all.
The newest translation by Stephen Mitchell is the best and most accessible and I recommend you get and read it as soon as possible. All will be revealed.

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

“If you’re sensible enough to give good advice you should be sensible enough to give no advice,” I said. “ So, what is it you’re trying to accomplish?”

“I say a good scare is better than good advice, so maybe I’m trying to throw a little scare into them,” he said.

“But, it benefits me, too. Living in mom’s backyard suits me, such as it is, but I’ve been thinking of a girlfriend, which means I need some ready cash. I’m getting paid for telling people the best thing they could do when falling is not land, and that’s a gift horse I’m willing to look in the mouth.”

When I heard the words girlfriend and money come out of Barron Cannon’s mouth I almost fell out of my chair for the second time that day.

Barron had been living a no expenses life since graduation. He had sold or given away almost everything he owned he didn’t consider essential. He lived off his root vegetable plot, some fruit trees, and a solar array. He practiced yoga and meditation, read only e-books on the Lakewood Library site, and went for long hikes in the Metro Park.

“Don’t look so shocked,” he said.

“Having a girlfriend doesn’t necessarily invalidate my criticism of the capitalist mode of production. I just need a few dollars to take her out to lunch.”

“Who is she?”

“I don’t know, yet. She brings a group of schoolchildren to the Nature Center every Friday.”

Dear Yogi Barron:

After I moved across town and changed yoga studios I noticed that more and more of my friends from my old studio fell to the wayside. I had two long-time friends who disappeared from my radar screen completely. My question is, do I just let these good friends slip away? Or do I try to save our friendships?

Signed, Confused in San Francisco

Dear Confused:

I don’t blame you for being confused. It is one of life’s most common problems, when all of a sudden you are not so close to friends anymore. Friendships enhance the quality of our lives. What to do? Give those old friends a call. Invite them over for dinner or go out on the town. Catch up with what they have been doing. When you visit with your friends you do something good for them and yourself.

Here is what the Buddha said about friends: “He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you. When you are down and out he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.”

I wish you the best of luck reconnecting with your friends. If it doesn’t work out, remember you can always make new friends at your new studio. The Buddha’s not around anymore, anyway. That’s what former friends are for in our modern age, aren’t they, fodder? It’s like seeing one of them in a crowd; you just want to look away.

I’ve heard it said, if you really want a best friend, buy a dog.

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

“How is your column going?” I asked. “Is it doing some good?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m dealing with people for who the worst advice you could give them is be yourself.”

He leaned back in his chair, studying the sky.

“Good advice is always going to be ignored, but I just ignore that, so it doesn’t bother me. After all, I’m getting paid so there’s no reason to not pontificate. I try to stay aloof to whether or not anyone pays any attention to it, and I don’t persist in trying to set anyone right. After all, like Sophocles said, bad advice is hateful.”

Barron could never resist being pedantic.

“What is that business of signing yourself as someone’s Dutch uncle?”

“Firm, but benevolent, my boy, firm but benevolent,” he chuckled.

On my way home I reflected on the irony of my many hours researching articles that never got accepted, while Barron Cannon, an Occupy Marxist, simply spouted off, got into print, and got paid, as well. Once at home I searched out my wife, who was doing yesterday’s dishes, and asked her how I should resolve what I saw as an unfair state of things.

“Honey, if you’re asking for my advice that means you probably already know the answer, but wish you didn’t. Why don’t you go play with the cat? I’m sure it’ll come to you,” she said.

“Just don’t do that thing to his teeth.”

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Doing a Body Good

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By Ed Staskus

Chavutti-Thai might sound like Pacific Rim culinary fare, but as served up by Jennifer Beam at Holistic Massotherapy and Apothecary, it is a blend of two separate bodywork modalities that may provide one of the deepest and yet most relaxing massages to be found anywhere.

“I would say most of the work I do is Chavutti-Thai,” said Mrs. Beam, a Massage Therapist licensed by the State Medical Board of Ohio, which was the first state to license the practice of massage. The first applicant was licensed in 1916.

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said, “The physician must be experienced in many things, but most assuredly in rubbing.” Although an ancient practice, massage was banned in Europe by the Church from the 500s to the 1700s. Dr. Cornelius De Puy introduced it to the United States in the early nineteenth century.

Chavutti massage, pronounced ‘shah-voo-tee’, is a technique that has been practiced in southern India for centuries, in which therapists, while standing above their clients lying on a mat, use a rope for balance while they massage with their feet. Chavutti literally translates as ‘massage by foot pressure’.

“It is an anatomical treatment as well as energy work,” said Mrs. Beam. “It focuses on the deep tissue and energy lines of the body. The broad surface of the foot delivers pressure more evenly.”

Practitioners use their feet in order to cover the entire body with a continuous gliding stroke and press deeper into muscles. The long strokes increase blood circulation and iron out tensions in the muscles and connective tissue.

“Chavutti is the ultimate deep tissue massage, the best I have ever had,” says Anna Magee, author of The De-Stress Diet.

Thai massage, sometimes called ‘Lazy Man’s Yoga’, is a form of bodywork based on yoga and Ayurveda. It is one of the world’s oldest healing modalities, originating in India more than 2500 years ago.

The massage recipient wears loose clothes and lies on a mat on the floor. The receiver is then put into a series of yoga-like positions during the course of the massage, involving rhythmic motion, palming, and thumbing along energy lines in the body. The result of the practice is greater flexibility, an increase in range of motion, and decreased strain on the joints.

At Holistic Massotherapy Jennifer Beam has synthesized Chavutti and Thai massage to make a new form of bodywork greater than the sum of it parts.

“Chavutti helps to stretch out, to warm up, and loosen up the muscles and fascia,“ said Mrs. Beam. “Then the Thai massage brings it together by further stretching, folding in the compression aspects, and the energy work that is part of the process.”

A graduate of the Ohio College of Massotherapy in Akron, Mrs. Beam honed her craft at Lakewood Massotherapy, specializing in therapeutic deep tissue work. In 2002 she traveled to Thailand where she studied Thai massage.

Thailand is the home of Thai massage, which has been strongly influenced by the traditional medicine systems of India and China, as well as yoga.

“I felt like I had hit a ceiling,” she said. “I knew there had to be more to massage than just the traditional western style that most of us knew.”

After returning to Thailand in 2004 for advanced training she studied with Pichest Boonthumme, an acknowledged master of the practice. Mrs. Beam opened Holistic Massotherapy in Fairview Park shortly afterwards.

Finding the way is the first step to better health.

“I started out with one room and put dividers up. It was my humble beginning.”

Patiently building her practice, she offered traditional table work while at the same time emphasizing the benefits of Thai massage.

In 2007 Mrs. Beam and her husband, planning a family, moved from Lakewood to Bay Village, a bedroom community on Cleveland’s western North Shore. They bought a ranch-style home and proceeded to renovate it.

“The yard was a veritable forest. We basically tore everything out and started from scratch,” said Mrs. Beam. “We gutted and renovated everything short of replacing the furnace, and ripped wallpaper out of every room in the house. I don’t think I will ever buy a house with wallpaper again.”

The following year she relocated Holistic Massotherapy to Bay Village in the Dover Commons Plaza, expanding its space and offerings, as well as bringing it closer to home, where the first of her two sons was now crawling around.

Jennifer Beam’s impetus for her career sprang from an interest in physical therapy and the desire to make a difference in people’s lives on a one-to-one basis

“That is why I started massage school in the first place,” she said.

A kind heart is often the beginning of knowledge.

Massage therapy has been found to be better than medication or exercise for easing lower back pain, according to a 2011 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Many people look to massage for pain relief, sports injuries, chronic pain due to poor posture, or just bad habits. Musculoskeletal problems are really where skilled massage therapists can help,” said Mrs. Beam.

Massage is sometimes more than that for some.

“When I start thinking about death, I order a massage and it goes away,” Hedy Lamarr, the Hollywood actress many critics regard as the most beautiful to ever appear in the movies, famously said.

For the treatment of pain, Americans rate massage as highly as medications, according to recent surveys by the American Massage Therapy Association. 9 of 10 Americans agree that massage is a practical remedy for pain relief.

“We have found massage to be effective for chronic pain syndromes,” confirmed Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

“Chavutti-Thai helps to break up the adhesions in the muscles and connective tissues,” said Mrs. Beam. “Many people say they have gotten longer-lasting results from the treatment, more profound results, and more range of motion in their hips and shoulder girdles.”

As much as addressing muscle and skeletal pain is a primary focus of massage therapy, Jennifer Beam also brings the awareness to her practice that stress may just as likely be the reason for physical distress.

“Chronic pain might not only be caused by physical injury, but also by stress and emotional issues,” writes Susanne Babbel, Ph.D., in Psychology Today.

“Many people hold tension in their bodies, not knowing what the cause of it is,” said Mrs. Beam. “They don’t know how to let go of that.”

It isn’t stress itself that hurts us, but our reaction to it.

“It has been clinically proven that the thoughts we have don’t just stay in the brain,” she added, “but travel in the form of neuropeptides throughout the body. That’s why stress-reducing therapies like massage are so important.”

Whether the goal is to reduce muscular tension, or pain management, or simply to lower stress levels, the new practice of Chavutti-Thai may just be the gateway to them all.

“I strive to be the best at what I do for those people who desire to live a healthy, holistic lifestyle,” she said

Treating the whole person, both spirit and body, is Jennifer Beam’s mantra as well as business of compassion at Holistic Massotherapy.

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Hunting Blind

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By Ed Staskus

My father, Abe, first spied my mother, Olive, through his first floor window at the Majestic Hotel. She was waiting on the corner of East 55th Street and Central Avenue for the CTS streetcar. It was a sunny summer day. My mother did pantry work and was on her way home.

My father spotted her from behind his venetian blind.

“I had just gotten back from Woodland Cemetery, where I did walking tours whenever my sergeant thought there was something I had done he didn’t care for. She was a sight for sore eyes and sore feet. I put my Colt Positive away in the dresser drawer and stepped outside.”

During the winter the Majestic allowed my father, who was a policeman, to have a small room on the East 55th Street side of the hotel. His room door let out onto a secret door beside the drug store, in case he saw anything happening. After a few years he kept the room in the summer, too.

The Majestic was called the apartments, but it was always a hotel. My father started going there when he was in his early 20s and the jazz club off the lobby was called the Furnace Room.

“Meeting your mother was a lot like jazz, it was improvised. That was it, to go ahead and see what happened.”

The club had dancers and crooners, too, and bands that came through on tour. The restaurant that served food was Mammy Louise’s Barbeque Café. Their house specialty was braised beef short ribs in gravy. Their ribs were like soul music.

My father was from a small town in the Florida Panhandle and never thought twice about eating chicken fried steak, candied sweet potatoes, and cheesy grits.

“We went to Mammy Louise’s for dinner and then next door to the club. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm were there the night we stepped out. They were an all-girl all-color orchestra. ‘Slick Chicks and Hot Licks’ was what it said on the billboard outside the doors. They raised the roof and we danced up a storm.”

The Furnace Room later became Elmer Waxman’s Ubangi Club, but when my father first took me there in the 1950s, when I was twelve-years-old, it was the Rose Room Cocktail Lounge. Before the Hough race riots and Glenville shoot-outs in the 1960s, even though it was already a colored neighborhood, the audiences were all races. Judges and politicians from downtown brought their wives to the Rose Room. It was the black and tan saloon scene.

But, by then no one danced to jazz anymore. That had already changed.

When my father applied to the Cleveland Police Department in the 1930s the merit system broke down, like it always did, because he was a man of color. They said he had poor eyesight, even though he didn’t start wearing glasses until he was in his 70s, almost fifty years after joining the force. He had to ask for help from his ward leader to have the rejection overruled.

He hunted moonshiners in the 1930s, which was dangerous work, before they gave him his own beat. He said you could always tell whether the moonshine was good if you set it on fire and blue flames came up.

“That’s when you knew it wouldn’t make you go blind.”

There weren’t many men of color on the police force, and most of those who were had to get certification from outside doctors to overrule the official exam of the police doctor. Jim Crow was subtler in the North than it was in the South. They kept separate eligibility lists, so that when one died, resigned, or retired, his replacement was always a Negro patrolman.

Duke Jenkins and his group was the house band at the Majestic. They were the first jazz band I ever heard. On Tuesday nights they had Cha Cha Night and on Thursdays they had Mambo Night. But, the big attraction was the early morning Blue Monday Parties.

“People lined up to get into those jam sessions. Sometimes you couldn’t even get a seat. All the players, the girl singers, the quartets, entertainers like Erroll Garner and Arthur Prysock and Nancy Wilson, they’d be there performing. People went crazy when Nancy Wilson was there because she was so good.”

I stayed overnight with my father in his hotel room on Sundays, and went to the Blue Monday parties with him when they started, which was at five in the morning. Afterwards he drove me to school. If we stayed too late at the jam session he would sometimes call and ask for a squad car to take me, with its lights flashing and siren whooping.

There were only a handful of Cleveland hotels listed in the Negro Travelers’ Green Book. The Majestic was one of them. All the rooms had two beds and a radio in every room, although my father’s had only one bed. He had the other one removed so we would have a table to eat at on Sunday nights. I slept on a folding rollaway he kept in the closet.

When I was a baby my mother kept my playpen next to the upright piano in the front room. It was so she would know where I was. As long as she heard me picking out notes she knew I wasn’t getting into anything else. When I was in third grade I found out they had music classes at my school. I was already eight-years-old.

“I’d like to do that,” I told my mother. I lived with her and my grandmother, and it was a surprise to both of them, although it shouldn’t have been. That’s just how things were.

There were class piano lessons at the Miles Standish School. I learned to play a Chopin waltz beneath a painting of Miles Standish, after who the school was named. He was a soldier for the Pilgrims when they came to the New World. In the painting he wore an ascot and armor and carried a matchlock rifle.

I played the piano and organ because my grandmother wanted me to. She was the matriarch of our family and was conservative about most things. She didn’t believe in bell house music. She was strict about church music, too, so she had a man, who was the organist at the New Liberty Hill Baptist Church, come to our house and give me lessons. When I got a little older I played there myself.

Mr. Paul John was the man who came to our house. He worked in the steel mills, where he knew my grandfather, who sang in the male chorus in the mill that Mr. John led on a cheap five rank pipe organ.

“Mr. John could play Rachmaninoff, and all, but he was ahead of his time, so he gave lessons. That was the incentive for him when he came to your mother’s house and got you started.”

I played sacred music for the rest my life and jazz music for the rest of the other part of my life. The sacred music came from my mother and grandmother, and the jazz music came from my father, who took me to the Majestic and later to clubs uptown like the Tijuana Café Society.

“When the Four Sounds came to audition at the Tijuana, they were just re-opening, and they didn’t even have a piano on the stage. It was in the corner. I helped them lift it up on the stage to do the audition. They had been the Four Sounds until they asked me to talk to the saxophone player one night. He had a habit of carrying a gun in his horn case. When he said he didn’t want to leave it behind, they left out the saxophone and became the Three Sounds.”

Some days you could hear a single trumpet through an open window down the street from Doan Square, where all the action was, a jazz musician reading their lines in the afternoon. Hotels weren’t open to musicians of color, so they stayed in rooming houses.

You couldn’t even go to the Five and Dime store and have a quiet lunch. My grandmother went to buy a hat one Saturday and when she tried it on she had to buy it. She had put it on her head to see if it fit and when a sales clerk saw her she had to pay for it. My grandfather was a mulatto from Cuba. Whenever a white man approached our house, selling something, or on some errand, my grandfather was polite, but as soon as the white man left the porch and was out of earshot he would spit and call him a cracker.

We lived on Pierpont Avenue in Glenville, what we called the Gold Coast, before Glenville fell apart and the Gold Coast moved to Lakewood in the 1960s. My grandmother died in 1968 and my mother sold the house, moving to Lost Nation Road in the suburbs. But, by then I had finished my studies at the Boston Conservatory and was playing the big organ at the Christian Science Mother Church. In the summer I played at jazz clubs on Martha’s Vineyard and Provincetown.

When I was a boy Glenville was crowded with immigrants, people of color, and Jews. There were orthodox Jews everywhere. I thought they were Santa Claus’s in black suits. There were clubs, movie houses, and department stores. There were churches, too, like the Cory United Methodist Church, which had been the Park Synagogue, and the Abyssinia Baptist Church, which had also been a synagogue.

There were little restaurants run by the Jews. There were no bad sandwich shops in Glenville, but my father always ate at Pirkle’s Deli. He said if he ever spied a Jewish woman from his room at the Majestic he was going to go after her so he could get up Sunday mornings and stroll out to the deli with her.

“Those folks never invented anything so fine as deli food. The corned beef at Pirkle’s is as tender as a young lady’s heart.”

My father and mother were never together. There were two different families, his and ours. They had their room at the Majestic, but in later years she felt he betrayed her. My father wanted to marry my mother, and she thought he was going to divorce his wife, but he didn’t do that. Afterwards she had difficulty in seeing my father in the light of a soul mate, or the light of any kind of mate.

“Your mother shot a hole in my soul, ” he said.

I lived with my mother and after she married another man she bore two more boys who were my brothers because we shared her. My father came to our house many a time, often in his police car, which was exciting. It wasn’t as if we were separated from him.

He was one of the first black farmers in Twinsburg, where he kept turkeys and pigs. Every Monday in November we got a turkey. He had a smokehouse, too, and when it came time to slaughter some of the fattening pigs he would do that himself. He castrated the male pigs a month beforehand. We would have bacon and ham all winter and into the spring.

My father often picked me up Friday and Saturday nights to help him forage for feed. We drove up and down Euclid Avenue, on the south side of Glenville, from E. 110th to E. 95th St, picking up refuse from the barrels and dumpsters behind the many clubs and restaurants on the strip. He would stick his hands into the slop and feel around the mash before filling up our barrels.

“Pigs will eat anything you give them. They can be stinky and filthy, even though their sausages smell great. I would rather cut myself than injure my animals.”

When our barrels were full we drove the pick-up to his farm. The pigs would hear the truck coming and know it was time to eat. They would start doing what pigs do, getting greedy and feisty. He would dump their food in the trough and they would go at it. That was why, knowing how they behaved, he picked through the slop, because they would have cut themselves, biting into anything.

I stopped gleaning slop when my mother told me I had to start being careful about hurting my hands.

I learned more sacred music and fewer blue notes after my mother put me in Empire High. Miss Bishop, my music teacher, had been there since the school opened. She had a nice hourglass figure and the only thing that gave her away was that she wore old lady comforters. But, she was spry and walked fast.

She was an old maid because she had become a teacher and couldn’t marry, and by the time that idea changed it was too late for her. One afternoon I found a dedicatory book for Empire, which was built in 1915. I took it to Miss Bishop’s office

“I see your name in this book, and your picture.”

She looked at me.

“Is this you?”

“Yes.”

“But, you’re old.”

I’m sure she wanted to pinch me.

But, Miss Bishop made sure I practiced my piano and later helped me get a scholarship to Ohio University, where I studied the organ. After that I never lived in Glenville again.

I lived in Chicago, New York, and Boston. I learned to live alone, like Duke Ellington, who said music was a mistress. I lived in my own world, detached, so I could practice. I had friends who kept me in tune, but on Saturday nights I didn’t go anywhere. I had to be ready for Sunday services. That kept me out of mischief. I tried it a few times, but it’s bad when you’re not feeling well in a church setting. I decided I had to do it alone.

I saw little of my mother, who had moved to California to live with my brother, a minister, and my father only when I was passing through the Midwest on my way to Chicago or St. Louis. We visited and had lunch at one or another deli in Cleveland Heights, where all the Jews had moved. Pirkle’s Deli had burned down.

My father was an industrious man his whole life. When he retired and his wife passed on he bought the last commercial building, next to Whitmore’s Bar-B-Q, on Kinsman Road before it snakes up into Shaker Heights. It was a barbershop and beauty salon and he lived upstairs in a one-bedroom apartment. He could have lived in a house, since he owned five of them, but he didn’t want to.

“I don’t want to get too comfortable because I may not be here long.”

His apartment had one bedroom, one bathroom, and one closet. It looked like no one lived in it.

He was industrious, but he became a less tidy custodian of his properties over the years. He would patchwork instead of getting things done the best way, so they deteriorated. He wasn’t willing to pay the price to get things done the right way. When you have that mindset you end up losing more money than you spend.

He lost his eyesight while he was visiting my brother in Texas. He stepped on a splinter and after a few days his big toe got infected. He had surgery for it, but in the end they had to amputate the toe. Afterwards he lost feeling in his leg. While he was still in the hospital convalescing he woke up one morning and had gone blind. He stayed in Texas for a month, and when he came back he moved in with my sister on his side, who took care of him.

He never recovered his eyesight, which was hard for him because he had always lived by his senses. The biggest problem, though, were the hallucinations he suffered, which were part of the side effects from medication he was taking. He would have them at night. He heard things and saw craziness and wasn’t able to sleep.

I never got my father and mother together, even at the end, when I was staying with him, playing old jazz records together. He listened to music all day towards the end. He stopped eating, drinking cold lemonade, instead. The last time my mother visited us my father was near death. I took her around to many of the places in Glenville that weren’t there anymore and tried to get her to go to the facility on Rockside Road where my father was. She fought me all the way and in the end wouldn’t go.

She just didn’t want anything to do with him.

My mother, Olive, and father, Abe, did what they had to do. I was just a cameo on that team of theirs. When my father died there was nothing left to do in Glenville and I moved back to Boston for good. In the summer I play jazz and popular tunes in clubs on Cape Cod. On Sunday mornings when the weather is good I brew a pot of strong coffee and toast a plate of spiced hot cross buns.

On my balcony sitting in the warmth and light of the rising sun I look for what is behind the brightness, on the other side of it, the blue note side of the Majestic my father peeked out of to spy on my mother. 

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

 

On the Road

Road-Trip-4

By Ed Staskus

We went on a 16-day car trip at the end of summer, first south to West Virginia, then North Carolina, then back north to Philadelphia, and finally Vermont, afterwards circling southwest to home by way of Iris and Wolfgang’s Bavarian-style inn on Lake Placid.

Before leaving home I called an exterminator about yellow jackets nesting in our eaves. Every morning it sounded like the Bee Gees, as they came and went, always humming, as though they had forgotten the words.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll put a spell on them. Those bees will be bewitched by the time I’m done with them.”

Unlike earlier in the summer, when we ran into bad weather the week we spent in the Adirondacks, rain was as scarce as hen’s teeth on our late season trip. We spent considerable time outdoors, hiking in parks, sprawling on beaches, and getting lost on sidewalks. We had different kinds of good weather, from the Cheat River to the Au Sable Chasm, which was white on rice.

The wettest we got was when Vanessa slipped on a patch of slime and fell on her butt crossing a rocky stream in Vermont. There’s no wading a river with dry breeches. And I went swimming in the Atlantic off Nag’s Head. The Spanish movie director Pedro Almodovar splashed us in Lake Placid, but that was different.

We left on a Friday afternoon for a bluegrass and gospel music festival in Elkins, West Virginia, 325 miles from home. Our weekend reservation was at the Cheat River Lodge. We had a hard time finding it, relying on a Rand McNally road atlas, in the solitary countryside, in the middle of nowhere, on the edge of the Monongahela National Forest. It was out of town on a dark road, up a big hill, then down a steep, even darker road, until Vanessa suddenly spotted it as easily as sliding off a greasy log backwards.

It wasn’t a lodge, but it was on the Cheat River.

On Saturday morning we drove down the mountain into Elkins to a crafts, arts, and music fair at the Elkins City Park, on 9 acres dotted with 300-year-old oaks. As I searched for parking Vanessa’s stomach began to grumble, and she quickly spied a run-down-looking diner called Scotty’s.

“There’s a parking spot,” she said, pointing.

Scotty’s was full of people eating breakfast. We got the last Formica-topped table in a back corner. Across from us a Metallica tee-shirted teenager wearing a backpack was explaining to his girlfriend and her mother how nice his new apartment was. I overheard the mother say, “What do you mean ‘we’? You got a mouse in your pocket?”

Three large and sweaty women were doing the cooking in an open kitchen and one woman was doing all the waiting. She was quicker than grease off a b-b-q biscuit. “Ya’ll ain’t from around here, are ya?” she asked, tossing menus down on the table and pouring us coffee without breaking stride.

Vanessa ordered a plate of grits, a plate of gravy biscuits, and a plate of chicken-fried steak, which came with a plate of mashed potatoes. Nevertheless, I was able to get my plate of eggs and home fries safely on the table, too. By the time she was done she was fuller than a tick on a 10-year-old dog.

Afterwards at the craft fair, while talking to a fiddle-maker at one of the booths, we mentioned eating at Scotty’s and how good it was. “If that ain’t true,” he said, “grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry, and Mona Lisa was a man.”

We saw two bands at a show later that night at the Harmanson Center on the hillside campus of the Davis and Elkins College. The opening act was the Sweetback Sisters and the main show was Blue Highway. Both were good bands, but what we really liked was the young lady who came on stage before Blue Highway and whistled five songs. She didn’t sing or play a musical instrument. She just whistled. Introducing her last tune she invited everyone to whistle along with her.

I didn’t even try. It would have been like trying to nail jelly to a wall.

On Sunday morning we stopped at a small chapel in town that was hosting a workshop of Appalachian gospel songs. There were 60 or 70 people in attendance, guided by a conductor of sorts, a man who introduced the songs and led us by hand. We had been provided with a printout of the songs, and so prompted sang 18th and 19th century gospel truths for an hour-and-a half.

When we left West Virginia it was on a twisting, mountainous state road that crossed the Appalachian Plateau and wound up and over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Later in the day we drove onto the coastal plain and made our way through the Outer Banks, passing Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and finally arriving at Nag’s Head.

There are only two up-and-down roads on the Outer Banks, which are the beach road and Route 12, which is also the ‘Hurricane Evacuation Route’. We drove in on Route 12. It was new to us, it was dark, our Rand McNally was already looking dog-eared, and I was sure we were going to have a hard time finding our inn. But, again, Vanessa saw it in a flash. I don’t know how in the Sam Hill she did it.

We stayed four days at the First Colony Inn, a 28-room, 2-story roadhouse built in 1930, and re-built several times after hurricane disasters. It was a 2-minute walk from the ocean. We started every morning in the John White Breakfast Room and then retired to hammock chairs on the upper floor breezeway to read. Vanessa read books about Mesopotamia and I read books.

The weather at Nag’s Head was in the high 90s every day beneath a clear blue sky. It was hotter than a goat’s butt in a pepper patch and as humid as a prostitute in church. The constant ocean breeze tempered the heat and humidity a little, as did the shade of the veranda at mid-day. We went to the beach across the street and then down a narrow sand trail every afternoon, laying on our blankets in the sun and walking along the surf line.

We found a small yoga studio in Kitty Hawk and took classes, and at night went out to eat seafood. One night we stopped at a fish camp down the beach road called Owens, a family place that’s been there for more than 60 years and is still owned by the same founding family.

There was a crowd and we had to wait, but once seated and served I exclaimed, “Well, I swaney!” We had a basket of hush puppies, Carolina Jambalaya, Yellowfin Tuna, grits, and pecan pie. The portions were so enormous and so good it’d make you slap your mama. While walking back to our inn we agreed it was a great day in the morning.

Another night we drove to Roanoke Island, had catfish and wild rice on the outdoors patio of the Blue Moon, and were as happy as clams at high tide. Afterwards we saw ‘The Lost Colony’ at the Waterside Theater in the Fort Raleigh National Historical Park. It was a musical, of all things, about the first English settlement in the Americas.

The show has been at the Waterside every summer since 1937. A man and wife well into their 50s who were sitting behind us talked about how the show hadn’t changed much since they had seen it as teenagers. The theater was under the stars. It had been rebuilt twice, once after it burned down in 1947, and again after a hurricane demolished it in the 60s. The only things saved in the 1947 fire were the costumes, which the actors threw into the water of the sound behind the main stage.

The story of ‘The Lost Colony’ concerned Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth, the motley colonists, and the still mysterious fate that befell them. To this day no one knows what happened. They all simply disappeared. The show itself was a bag of nails. The uncertainty and danger of the American wilderness in the 1580s was delivered in Disneyesque song-and-dance. On top of that, even though the expedition was English, a land that had broken with Rome, the narrative was by a Franciscan friar, of all people. I didn’t know whether to scratch my watch or wind my butt.

On the Friday afternoon we left Nag’s Head thunderstorms loomed in an uncertain sky. One of the ladies on the cleaning staff of the First Colony Inn, standing on the veranda with her hands on her hips, said, “ That sure nuff looks like a frog strangler comin’ in.”

Instead of taking I-95 to Philadelphia we decided to go around our elbows to get to our thumbs by taking Route 13, a state road that traces its way north to Norfolk, Virginia, up through the tidal flats of Delaware, and finally into Pennsylvania. It was the long way round, but worth the drive. There’s scenery everywhere, but it’s hard to see from the interstate. “Bless your pea picking heart,” I said to Vanessa for suggesting the local roads.

We traversed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel, which are three bridges and two tunnels, linked together by four man-made islands and spanning more than 17 miles. We lost sight of land for a few miles driving over the middle of the complex. It was like a drive over the open ocean.

The bridges and tunnels have to be inspected, according to federal law, every five years. It takes inspectors five years to do the job. The job never ends. Ain’t that the berries!

We cruised up the eastern shore of Virginia and along the tidal flats of Delaware and Maryland. The small towns looked like the 1940s rather than nowadays. Farms and marshes were spread out in all directions. Everyone, black and white alike, looked more ethnic than back home.

Gassing up at a filling station, I overheard two black men talking at the next pump. There was pepper in the gumbo of their talk. One of them said, “If a bullfrog had wings he wouldn’t bump his ass when he jumped.” When I asked they said they were arguing about the mayor.

We got to Philadelphia, although we later learned from a cabbie it’s really pronounced Fulladulfya, just past ten at night, and from the minute we got there it was yo, supp. When I got off the highway a couple of exits north of the senner siddy and turned left, faster than a knife fight in a phone booth I was stuck on railroad tracks facing the wrong end of a one-way sign.

“What the heck!” Vanessa squealed.

I thrust the CRV, Vanessa’s new Honda, into reverse and backed up, hoping and praying I wouldn’t hit anyone. Sometimes I can throw myself on the ground and miss, but this time I got the car going forward on the right road. After several more wrong turns on Philadelphia’s many one-way streets we finally found our bed-and-breakfast. We stayed at the Shippen Way Inn in the Society Hill neighborhood, the oldest residential area in the city. The inn was built in 1750, expanded in 1810, and again in 1900. After that they decided they had made all the improvements that needed to be made.

We had one of the upstairs 1750s rooms, tiny as a jail cell, under a low raftered ceiling, and slept on a lumpy twin bed. The inn itself was be yoo dee full, with a big communal breakfast room and a tree-shaded brick patio.

“Jeet yet?” our hostess asked us the next morning, pouring coffee.

One day we had breakfast with a couple from the state of Washington and their four children. Another day we ate with a young man and his girlfriend, both from Ireland, who were law students and had spent the summer interning in Chicago. Everyone was in town to see the historic sights, just like us.

We walked around the sites on Saturday afternoon: Independence Hall, Carpenter’s Hall, and Congress Hall. We strolled brick-lined arcades that used to be slave markets, historic churches from back when churches were a vital business, and then spent the rest of the day with Kathy Curnow, one of Vanessa’s idiosyncratic CSU teachers, who was working at the University of Pennsylvania for the summer. She is short and stout, 51-years-old, with a head of crazy thick long black hair, paints her nails purple, and walks really, really slow on very small feet. She doesn’t own or drive a car. She has a boyfriend, a police detective in Philadelphia, with whom she talks by phone every day but hasn’t actually seen in more than nine months.

She leads an imaginary existence on the web site Second Life. Her avatar, which is what she called her alter ego, is a lissome cocktail waitress in a nightclub in Thailand. In real life she is a middle-aged authority on West African art; she had recently returned from London, delivering a lecture there about it. When in Philadelphia she lives with her old parents in the suburbs. She is bothered by loneliness, or at least she said so half-a-dozen times over lunch and a walk afterwards.

On Saturday night Vanessa and I decided to have dinner at Morimoto’s, a swank Japanese fusion restaurant owned by one of the Iron Chefs on the Food Network. Even though it was a mild night, it was slightly too far to walk from our inn, so we took a cab.

“Niceta meechas,“ our driver said.

The streets, some of them cobblestone, were crowded with people and cars. We made our way past blocks of 18th and 19th century homes. While stuck in traffic and idling for a moment at the curb of a narrow one-way street two young women approached our cab.

“Hal ya doin’ ladies,” the cabbie said, leaning over his elbow out the open window. “What youse lookin’ for?”

They were looking for directions to paint the town.

“Deflee,” the cabbie said, and rattled off the names and streets of taverns and clubs.

Morimoto’s was a narrow and deep space with a curving, undulating wood ceiling that sloped down to an open kitchen. There were odd phallic-shaped lamps on the forty-or-so booths and tables. The seats were chic and illuminated and tube lights were embedded in the tables. The lights glowed and ever so slowly continually changed colors. We shared a fish appetizer. After a delicious chicken broth soup, Vanessa had Kobe beef and I had seafood, each of us sampling the other’s plate, and we split a bottle of red wine.

After dessert and coffee we rolled out of the restaurant jolly as bessy bugs and thought we would try walking back to the inn, finally finding it a few hours later and falling exhausted into our little bed.

The next morning following a light breakfast we headed for Stowe, driving as fast as possible through the horrible state of New Jersey, where God made the food but the devil made the cook. We stopped in Albany at an Einstein’s for coffee and bagels, and then crossed into Vermont, which we knew when we started seeing guyascutas, or cows whose legs are shorter on one side than they are on the other so they can walk comfortably along the steep hillsides.

Stowe is a small one-main-road town. We hung a Ralph at the mountain road that dead-ends at the base of Mt. Mansfield, where the skiing is. Every few miles a swamp donkey sign warned us to watch out for the beasts. We stayed at the Grey Fox Inn, in a sizable room with a balcony. It was very nice because of the Range Rover set, but affordable because it wasn’t winter, yet, although the Dairy Queens were closing in a few weeks.

The weather was refreshing, mild and sunny during the day, crisp and dry at dusk. The forecast for the nights was for darkness. We camped out at the pool every day after breakfast. We went on hikes on successive afternoons partway up Mt. Mansfield, one on the Long Trail, and the other on an unnamed branch trail. The trails were both steep and rocky. After a few hours on them we were both like toads in a tar bucket, wondering why we ever thought hiking in the woods would be fun.

In the evening my prayer handles were wicked achy.

One night we saw ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ at the local movie house, which was action-packed, derivative, and dim-witted, and another night we saw ‘Urinetown’ at the Stowe Community Center, which was funny, original, and loaded with engaging tunes. A 2001 Broadway musical, half the cast was high school students and the other half were adults who had once acted in high school, which goes to show it don’t make knee-odds the talent.

On our last night in Stowe we made a pizza and packie run and watched ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ on TMC.

The next day we drove to Burlington and took the car ferry across Lake Champlain to Port Kent, and from the landing through the Keene Valley made it to Lake Placid. We stayed at the Town House Motor Lodge, which is on Lake Placid, while the town of Lake Placid is actually on Mirror Lake. We read and sun-tanned at the 1960’s-style pool surrounded by cypress hedges and 100-foot-high white pines. Even the four bottom burping Quebecois men didn’t bother Vanessa overly much the one afternoon they were taking a break at the pool from their daily golf outings.

We went on two long hikes in the ADK wilderness area, more rolling than up-and-down paths, and had dinner one night at the Caribbean Cowboy, where there was a Caribbean waitress, but no cowboys. Another night we wandered into Nicola’s on Main, where we ate gobs of pasta and split a jug of Chianti. The best policy on pasta and wine is pro-eating it and pro-drinking it.

Friday evening we had Portuguese bread from the Price Chopper supermarket at a table beside the pool and then walked to the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, seeing an affecting but disturbing Spanish movie called ‘Volver’. It was like a fountain of magical tragicomedy, including a mother who comes back from the dead to tie up loose ends. We got wet.

They say the weather in New England is nine months of winter and three months of poor sledding. It was already into September, so when Saturday rolled around, even though we weren’t really ready to go home, we went home. We took the old road, through Tupper Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, and Racquette Lake, stopped in Old Forge at the Pied Piper ice cream stand, by-passed Utica, and made the rest of the long drive back to Lakewood on I-90.

It was late when we got home and after rubbing up our cat Snapper we threw ourselves into bed. We were tuckered out. The next morning we unpacked the car, I mowed the lawn, and we went through the mail. I found the bug man’s bill tucked into our front door. It said, “I have made the yellow jackets bee-gone.”

When I checked they were, indeed, gone.

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.