A Labor Day that would not be made into a play by William Inge

For one thing, we didn’t have a picnic.

Come to think of it, we did have a picnic. It just wasn’t much of a picnic. We went to the beach and got foot long hot dogs for $1.50 and fries for $1.00 (what year is it?), except for the Boy who got a cheeseburger he didn’t really eat. All of us were sitting there, having wolfed down our dogs, waiting for the Boy to finish his burger and fries so we could get our stuff and go sit on the beach; the two other teenaged boys eyeballing his food like the hungry seagulls flying around.

Mine! Mine! Mine!

You going to eat that?

Finally, he declared himself full, and there was a free-for-all; his remaining food disappeared before he could say “Mine.”

That was the picnic. No spinsters. No gossip. No scandal.

And school started last Thursday.

First day of school. He can barely contain his excitement.

First day of school. He can barely contain his excitement.

The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to get sand out of places it wasn’t invited.

And eating ice cream.

Not much conflict there. Except that, since it’s the last official day of the season, some of the ice cream choices were sold out.

Boys and rocks

Boys and rocks

We had a nice day. It seemed like a Sunday, instead of the last hurrah of summer vacation. Which it wasn’t. The last hurrah of summer vacation was last week, because, y’know, it was very important to the district that school start two days before Labor Day, so way to rain on our last hurrahs, school district.

Don’t worry, I’m not going there. I’m worn out with that argument.

What is it with boys and rocks?

What is it with boys and rocks?

Emma and I had a lovely day chatting at the beach and spending some time with our boys. Even though, technically, our boys didn’t really spend any time with us. At all.

Teenagers.

Hurrah.

Happy Labor Day.

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The confusing world of Minecraft and cake

I don’t get it. In Minecraft, with milk and sugar, you can make cake but not ice cream. Cake without ice cream is just cake. Who wants that?

Not me. NosirreeBob.

I’m just clarifying here. I know there are people out there who actually like cake. I did recently have a piece of cake that was soaked in rum. That was a really good piece of cake. It was even good without ice cream. But in general, in my world of dessert, cake is a waste of dessert calories.

I have Minecraft on the brain because the Boy and his friend, the mighty Robert, are in the other room playing a two player version. In it, they find ways to blow up each other’s buildings or ships or something. Explosives increase the fun quotient. Minecraft has a weird, spooky, Halloweenie soundtrack. It makes me thinks of Plants vs. Zombies. It’s good though. I can always tell when the Boy is playing. And it’s not offensive. It’s almost new-agey – like someone should be giving me a massage while he plays the game.

I could use a massage.

And some rum-soaked cake.

The items they collect in Minecraft make things that don’t make sense. But my favorite things are the Glittering Squids of Durpey. I don’t know what they do. I do know that I have the name wrong.  My ignorance of Minecraft puts me firmly in the “Moooooooommmmm” category (think of Cartman whining “Mooommm”). That’s okay. I’m starting to accept that I’m no longer in my 20′s. I’m firmly in my 30′s now – about 33. (I changed it from 34. I just didn’t feel comfortable with 34.) I don’t have to be current when it comes to video games.

As long as there’s dessert.

And rum.

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Loss: personal and public

Yeah, I’m going there.

On Monday morning my uncle died. On Sunday much of the family gathered to visit with him. I was unaware of the turn for the worse he’d taken, and no one thought to call me until later that evening. When I arrived in his room on the hospice floor of the hospital on Monday I was about 45 minutes too late. He was gone.

My cousin had been there with him at the last, and for that I’m grateful and happy for both of them.

There was nothing preventing me from being there Sunday, had I known. On Monday I could have gotten there earlier, but his condition had been downplayed and I went about my morning chores. If I’m being honest, I don’t know if I would have gone earlier in spite of the chores. But the fact remains, I wasn’t there.

Monday was a tough day.

Monday evening, when I finally got home and logged in to Facebook, I read about Robin Williams.

My uncle touched my life in ways known only to me. He was a singular person, a man of few words. He was always there for us though, in spite of the lack of conversation. And we didn’t always see it, but he had a wicked sense of humor. In that dry, understated way of his. There are a lot of cousins because he was one of six siblings who survived to adulthood. He was different with all of us, primarily due to the 15 year spread in our ages as well as proximity and ability to get together when we were younger.

Robin Williams touched lives as well. The world mourns him because his influence went beyond family. Like many people I have a Robin Williams story. Unlike most people, I have a lot of “Unc” stories.

Two deaths in one day took the wind out of my sails. Then, Tuesday night, I heard about Lauren Bacall. I have a Lauren Bacall story too. My celebrity stories aren’t really that interesting, so I’m not going into detail here. The point is, I’m sure there are many people out there with celebrity stories. It comes with the territory. It’s the personal family stories which we share with our small circle that really matter.

Suffice to say, three deaths in two days is enough for now. Even though I didn’t know two of those people personally, I can’t help but take it personally.

For now, I am channeling some of that energy. I’m collecting and printing and mounting photos of Unc for his memorial service on Friday. It’s fun to look at all of the pictures, see his wry smile when he did deign to smile for the camera. It’s satisfying to put my creative energy into something everyone can enjoy. It’s a small thing but it’s helping me feel less left out.

Here’s my take-away from all of this:
Don’t let laundry get in the way of what matters.
Don’t take my mother’s word that someone is just “not great” – get a second opinion.
Celebrate the people in your life who matter to you.
What you might consider a very small gesture can be a big deal to another person.
Don’t wait for a significant event to keep in touch with people.
Be thankful that you can grieve in relative anonymity, unlike the families of celebrities.

I’m sure I could come up with more, but you get my drift.

So get off the damn computer and call someone or send them a postcard.

That’s it.

Rest in peace.

Unc in sweatshirt w coffee

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We drove to West Virginia to ride a train

Scenic overlook somewhere in the never ending mountains - the wooden sign suggests you spend your vacation in some cabins somewhere down that hillside.

Scenic overlook somewhere in the never ending mountains – the wooden sign suggests you spend your vacation in some cabins somewhere down that hillside.

Between being away and having little to no reliable internet access, and then getting home and giving in to post-vacation ennui, I have had no motivation to do much of anything. The blog has suffered and I feel guilty for being so unmotivated.

Besides, it’s hot. Have you noticed? It’s fucking hot out today. Blech.

Be that as it may, I had a good night’s sleep last night, got my errands done today, and  here I am with so much to say that I don’t know where to start.

A rustic welcome to Whittaker Station

A rustic welcome to Whittaker Station

So I’ll start with the weekend. It was an interesting weekend. A long Friday to Monday weekend. Also long was the driving. We went to West Virginia. It took double-digit hours each way. Two entire days in the car. You know you’re getting old when you try to get out of a car after sitting in it for several hours, everything hurts and nothing will unbend.

It’s not pretty. It is pathetic. I needed a walker.

The rusting, burned out hulk of the old saw mill

The rusting, burned out hulk of the old saw mill

Here’s something I learned about West Virginia.  Y’know how in Maine they say “You can’t get there from here?” In West Virginia, you really kinda can’t.

I talk about living in the middle of nowhere, but I’m in the Northeast where living in the country just means that the homes are a little more spread out, there are no sidewalks or street lights, and you can occasionally hear an owl. The middle of nowhere really isn’t that far from anywhere you need to go.

On our way to the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, we passed through several national forests and their scenic overlooks, through small towns that suddenly segued into farmland or mountains, and up and down a lot of steep hills while going around very sharp turns. The further in we got, the more I wondered “where do these people shop?” Their farms didn’t seem comprehensive enough to feed a family. Where the hell are the groceries? Where the hell do they fill their gas tanks? Where’s the hospital/school/dentist? Some of the homes were truly in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere being along a state road with very little traffic, fewer services, and hours from civilization.

Do-si-do-ing with the Shay at one of the switchbacks.

Do-si-do-ing with the Shay at one of the switchbacks.

I have no business complaining about the nine mile drive to the nearest big grocery store, never mind that there is small one only about three and a half miles away. And I don’thave to go over a mountain to get there. Oh, and I have phone service.

The park is within range of the Green Bank National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which is a quiet zone. Translation: no phone service. At all. Whatsoever. And thankfully, no encounters of the extra-terrestrial kind. Even ET could not have called home.

Poor photo taken from a moving car of one of the dishes for the radio telescope looking for intelligent life out in space, which makes sense because they're unlikely to find any here.

Poor photo taken from a moving car of one of the dishes for the radio telescope looking for intelligent life out in space, which makes sense because they’re unlikely to find any here.

There is a visitor information building at the railroad. All of the employees at the park were knowledgeable about the area, and were very helpful advising us of a route home that would not take us across the three mountains that we crossed on our way there thanks to our GPS. In fact they stressed “Do not use your navigation system. Use the map.” I’ve never been prone to carsickness, but holy mother-of-mountain-gods, that was a ride I do not want to repeat in the near future. There was more than one way out, but no matter which way we went, there were still mountains between us and I-81.

In addition to a better route out of the mountains, we learned about the Book of Stupid Questions that the staff had begun to keep for their own enjoyment. It seems some stupid questions are universal and regularly asked by curious visitors. Some of my favorites:

- What time does the 12:00 train leave?
- What time does the fog lift?
- What do you do with the snow?
- Are the roads heated?

View of snow-free mountains on the way up to Whittaker Station. I think Virginia is off to the left.

View of snow-free mountains on the way up to Whittaker Station. I think Virginia is off to the left.

The park was mostly about the train ride. Cass Scenic represents the logging railroads of the area. There was a small museum, as well as a movie and diorama/model train layout, but not much else. Cass was built as a company town, which is still intact. The railroad brought the logs down to the sawmill near the train sheds. It was a huge operation. Once the logs had been sawn into boards, they were hauled away to market by trains of the Chesapeake & Ohio.

Close-up of the Shay's pistons

Close-up of the Shay’s pistons and gears.

Getting up the mountain required special geared locomotives which could handle the grades and still pull a consist. They have five working Shays, as well as a Heisler which they were running as a special this past weekend. There is also a Climax being rebuilt which our guide suggested might be ready in the next two or three years.

The Heisler waiting for picnickers at Whittaker Station

The Heisler waiting for picnickers at Whittaker Station

And that’s your history lesson for today. There will be a test.

Another shot of the Heisler

Another shot of the Heisler

The train rides were really nice. We lucked out with the weather. It was humid but it never did rain during either day, which was good because all of the passenger cars were open cars. Which means when it rains, you get wet; when it doesn’t rain you get a nice breeze.

Hanging out in the Shay

Hanging out in the Shay

Two of the other Shays simmering away on a siding. All five of the working Shays are kept going 24/7 and they seem to rotate through the engines day by day.

Two of the other Shays simmering away on a siding. All five of the working Shays are kept going 24/7 and they seem to rotate through the engines day by day.

The allure of Cass is their working Shay locomotives. We never did take the long ride behind the Shay to Bald Knob near the top of the mountain (people were actually able to say Bald Knob with a straight face). We rode the Heisler both days. The Boy says he prefers the Shay, but I guess they’re more fun to look at than to ride behind.

Regardless, it’s a long way to go for a train ride. A really. Long. Way. To go. Plus, we never did stop at a Waffle House.

It was a wasted opportunity.

Riding down the mountain in the cab of the Heisler. Not a Waffle House in sight.

Riding down the mountain in the cab of the Heisler. Not a Waffle House in sight.

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Closed for the holiday

July 4th spirit

July 4th spirit

Yesterday, I took the Boy to yet another train museum – the Sandy River & Rangely Lakes Railroad in Phillips, ME. This one is several hours from here, and far enough off the beaten path that they are only open the first and third weekend of the month. From June to August. More or less.

No one was there, but we didn’t expect there to be.  I had emailed the museum a few weeks ago and the secretary very kindly sent a list of all of the sites to see along that railroad as well as within the museum grounds. The Boy and I walked the track and explored as much as we could, and just soaked in the history of the place. It was hot and humid and buggy, but we’d driven over two and a half hours to get there and we weren’t about to turn back because of a few of Maine’s notorious winged inhabitants, or the lack of breeze. So we sweated it out.

To be fair, he sweated it out and I retreated to the car so I could blast the a/c.

P1040324

Driving through all of the other small towns along the way, I began to notice a recurring trend. Virtually every business we passed had a sign declaring “Closed July 4 – 6″ or a variation of the dates surrounding the Independence Day holiday. Away from tourists, businesses were closing so they could spend the holiday with their families instead of trying to lure people in with holiday sales.

What a concept! In the middle of Maine where big box and chain stores are non-existent, retail is run by Mom & Pop shops who still close for the holidays, and even close early the day before.

Y’know, like in the old days of my childhood. When I was a kid, the holiday was all about hanging out with extended family, eating charred meat and corn-on-the-cob, and joining the masses at the beach for fireworks.

People in the middle of the state have their priorities straight. This really was a case of:
Maine, the way life used to be.”

Ay-yuh.

P1040455

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