Today is my father’s 89th birthday and, while he’s spending it in a skilled nursing facility in Arizona, I expect he’ll see a friendly face or two, at least one of them canine.
Therapy dog Henry Higgins, who belongs to one of the physical therapists at Mission Palms, has formed a pretty close friendship with my dad — to the extent that my dog Ace, were he aware of it, would probably be jealous.
The closest we could come to a real visit from Ace was putting his image on the front of the sweatshirt that my father will be getting — probably a few days late – for his birthday.
But until he has Ace on his chest to wear on his chest it appears — at least from these pictures Henry’s owner sent me — he’ll have Henry to bring a smile to his face.
And, even though I’m thousands of miles away, and it’s not my birthday, mine, too.
(Photos: By Cristina Higgins)
Posted by jwoestendiek March 14th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aging, animals, assisted living, bill woestendiek, birthday, dog, dogs, elderly, happy birthday, henry, henry higgins, mission palms, pets, skilled nursing, therapy dogs, woestendiek
Ace loves the glare of the spotlight. The glare of the sunlight? That’s another matter.
For the five hours we spent Saturday at Bookmarks, Winston-Salem’s literary festival, Ace probably spent about three of them in the shade of a covered table, even though it wasn’t all that hot.
Once he discovered the shady spot in the neighboring booth, Ace decided he was a stalwart fan, if not of “genuine jazz,” at least of WSNC — 90.5 on your FM dial.
He was supposed to be staying with me in the booth of the Winston-Salem Journal, which was kind enough to give me some space to sell and sign my book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”
But after hitting it off with Marguerite Oestreicher, who works for the station, he decided laying at her feet in the shade was better than hawking books in the sun — and she seemed to have no problem with that.
For much of our time there, all that was visible of him was his tail, or a paw, sticking out from under the table’s drape.
When he did venture out, he did his job — drawing a crowd — most of whom, as usual, wanted to know what breeds are in him and how he got so big.
We sold a handful of books, donating 25 percent of proceeds to the Journal’s Newspapers in Education Fund.
Thanks again to the Journal, and to WSNC.
Posted by jwoestendiek September 13th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, author, book, bookmarks, books, dog inc., festival, literary, north carolina, pomegranate books, sales, shade, signing, sun, wilmington, winston-salem, winston-salem journal, woestendiek, wsnc
Everyone knows about the six degrees of separation, or at least knows somebody who knows somebody who does.
To put it in its simplest terms — as opposed to the manner of the bubbly graphic above — it’s the theory that you know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody who is lucky enough to know me.
In this small and growing smaller world, only five people stand between us — usually tall ones who block the view.
While the six degrees of separation may be an accepted algorithm, I have found it holds truer in your big cities — your Tinsel Towns, your Windy Cities, your Big Apples — moreso than in places like the one I’m living now, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
In Winston-Salem, there is only one degree of separation, if even that. More often it seems, there is no degree of separation.
Then again, as you’ll recall, I recently moved into the house where my parents lived when I was born. In doing so — returning to my birthplace after 40-some moves and 57 years of separation — quite possibly I altered the algorithms of my six degrees of separation beyond repair.
In any case, in Winston-Salem, everytime I go out I run into either somebody who knows me (and I only know about three people here, having moved away at age 1), or someone who knows my mother.
That translates into a degree of separation of zero, or one, at the very most two. Take my recently moved-in neighbor here in College Village. Her grandfather lives in the same retirement community as my mother. That same neighbor and the neighbor on my other side went to high school together, then ended up, after attending different colleges, two doors away from each other. The neighbor on my other side has a brother who used to date my neighbor four doors down.
A lot of great brains have wrapped themselves around the six degrees of separation, including actor Kevin Bacon, who some people think invented it. All he did though was come up with a game version, which he has since refocused on philanthropic purposes.
In actuality, the six degrees concept is even older than him.
Mathematicians, sociologists, and physicists alike have long been captivated with the field of “network theory,” which, contrary to what you might think, existed even before Facebook. In 1929, Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy published a volume of short stories titled Everything is Different, which included a story called “Chain-Links.” The story investigated and elaborated on his belief that the modern world was shrinking due to the increasing connectedness of human beings.
Since his time that connectivity has increased exponentially. With the advent of telephones, and advances in transportation, the world got smaller yet. And when the Internet came along, the world shrank, shrunk, shrinked a little more, as did correct use of grammar.
Indeed, thanks to the Internet, Facebook and the like, the world has become so small that I sometimes get claustrophobic. There’s a study that shows the degree of separation between two users of social networks such as Twitter averages 3.43, under an optimal algorithm.
Of course, that is why we are signing on to Facebook, and Twitter, and Linked In, and Genealogy.com and Match.com — to connect.
We humans — like dogs, who do it mostly by peeing — have an insatiable urge to connect. Whether it’s with old friends, dead relatives, new friends, potential business associates or hotties of the opposite sex, we want, and maybe we need, the linkage.
My personal belief is that — with all those websites that link us, at least superficially — we will all become so connected that something is going to short out. Either that, or we will all bore each other to death with details of last night’s dinner and how it was prepared.
What we often fail to realize, amid our quest for connections is that, when it comes to degrees of separation, sometimes more of them is better. Sometimes, having a hermit side to me, I get in a mood where six is not enough, where I would like twelve or fourteen of them instead.
If you’ve been following Travels With Ace, and our dispatches on resettling in North Carolina, you know that, while I’ve somewhat sequestered myself, I’ve also grown interested in reconnecting with my past, and exploring my family tree — both my father’s side and my mother’s.
Zonja Woestendiek is, or was, a German model who was also featured in a series of commercials for Volkswagen called, “Unpimp My Ride.”
Believe it or not, I once owned a Volkswagen — not a beetle, which makes the world seem even smaller, but a van with a pop-up roof, which makes the world seem larger, unless you are driving behind one.
Between exploring family trees and researching degrees of separation, I’ve been marveling at all the small world coincidences I’ve come across, especially in the past week since getting two teeth pulled.
They lived next door to each other, separated only by plaque in what, according to my dentist, was a deteriorating neighborhood.
The pain pills prescribed by the dentist, while blurring some things, have allowed me to focus clearly on others, like the six degrees of separation, and Zonja.
In researching the six degrees of separation, I came across something interesting — something I’m sure I have some connection with as well, given the similarity in names and other eery coincidences.
There is a Flemish television production company named Woestijnvis, that produces a show called “Man Bijt Hon,” or, in English, “Man Bites Dog.”
(My last name is Woestendiek, and, though I’m not biting much of anything these days, I do a dog website.)
The production company gots its name from a wrong answer provided by a contestant on the Flemish version of Wheel of Fortune, called Rad van Fortuin.
(I used to watch Wheel of Fortune all the time, and was very good at it.)
In the game, the following letters were showing: W _ _ S T _ _ N V _ S.
The correct answer would have been “WOESTIJNVOS,” or desert fox. But the contestant answered “WOESTIJNVIS,” or desert fish — humorous, to the Flemish at least, insofar as one rarely finds fish in the desert, or for that matter in dessert.
Anyway — stay with me now — on the show “Man Bijt Hond” there’s a weekly feature called Dossier Costers, in which a recent event of worldwide significance is linked to Gustaaf Costers, an ordinary Flemish citizen, in 6 steps.
I was able to find this episode on YouTube. It’s in a different language but — either because of my European roots or my Vicodin — it made perfect zippety-do-dah sense to me.
Let’s see if it does to you.
Posted by jwoestendiek September 7th, 2011 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: algorithm, associates, chain links, claustrophobia, coincidences, connect, connecting, connections, connectivity, conspiracies, degrees of separation, dossier costers, facebook, family, family trees, flemish, friends, frigyes karinthy, gustaaf costers, internet, kevin bacon, linked, linked in, links, man bijt hon, man bites dog, networks, north carolina, ohmidog!, pain pills, past, peeing, rad van fortuin, relatives, shrinking, six degrees of separation, small world, social, social networks, twitter, unpimp my ride, vicodin, volkswagen, wheel of fortune, winston-salem, woestendiek, woestijnvis, woestijnvos, zonja woestendiek
Here in the waning days of Travels With Ace – it has been just about a year since we pulled out of Baltimore some 27,000 miles ago — our journey is going in a different direction.
We’re heading to the past, for multiple reasons.
One: Oftentimes you can get to the past pretty easily — without burning a lot of gas. Sometimes it can be a matter of letting your fingers do the walking through a dusty box of photographs, digging up that family tree your uncle once assembled, asking questions of your parents you never asked before, or getting in touch with a relative you’ve never met. While visiting the past we will, of course, continue to live in the moment (Ace insists upon it).
Two: We humans, in addition to getting too busy to live in the moment, also get so rushed to get where we’re going that we fail to appreciate where we’ve been. And even though the pace of our travels across America was more full dawdle than full throttle, life before that, jammed as it was with deadlines and pushy editors, is in some ways a blur. Sometimes the only thing that slows us down to a reasonable pace – enough to appreciate life, smell the roses, all that crap – is our dog.
Three: Our travels triggered memories, many grown hazy. That, along with the return to the state of my birth, to the town of my birth, to the exact same house of my birth, has sparked my interest in how I came to be on the planet. Realizing that I probably know more about the heritage of my dog than I do my own, prompts me to put at least a little effort into investigating the latter.
Not long after I got Ace six years ago, I decided – because I was constantly being asked what kind of dog he was, and since almost everything about him was a mystery, from his age to his breed to how he ended up in Baltimore’s animal shelter – to find out what I could about his roots.
The result was a seven-part series in the Baltimore Sun about his heritage. In addition to being lengthy, it had a lot of those hanging thoughts set off between dashes — like in the paragraph above, and, hey, now this one, too — because that’s the way I think and because I like making dashes.
The investigation included searching records, pestering the shelter he came from, consultations with veterinarians, at-home DNA tests to determine his breed, wandering the zip code he came from in hopes he would be recognized, and even turning to an animal communicator — an attempt to get the story from the horse’s mouth, which in this case was a dog.
I learned Ace had been a stray, wandering the streets, spotted by a citizen who called animal control. He was picked up in southwest Baltimore and taken to the city’s animal shelter, where he was labeled a hound mix, and where he’d stay a couple of months.
I met him while visiting the shelter for research on a story about volunteerism. Three days later, I was back to fill out the paperwork and adopt him.
I’ve had three DNA breed tests conducted on Ace — not so much because I was dying to know what he’s made up of, but for the purposes of that story, and subsequent ones that tested the tests that were hitting the market.
All three had slightly different results — but the breeds that showed up were Rottweiler, Akita, chow and pit bull (unless you are a landlord or insurance company or other form of breed nazi, in which case he is a, um … cat.)
Tracking down Ace’s heritage gave me more than just an answer for the dozen people a day who asked what kind of dog he was. By using methods scientific and spiritual — and neither of those is foolproof — the project gave me a better understanding of what made him him, convinced me that environment plays at least as large a role in a creature’s development as genes, and showed me that being pure of breed, unless you’re the AKC or a breeder, isn’t the most important thing in the world, or maybe even desirable.
The four breeds, all of at least some ill repute, joined together, in his case, to produce 130 pounds of gentle, mellow sweetness, enabling him to serve as a therapy dog for others, ward off evil humans by his size alone and keep me sane on the side.
I’m a mutt, too — the product of a mother whose roots are Welsh, a father whose are German and Irish, not to mention I’m a cross between a southerner and a Yankee.
Those are my parents at the top of this entry, youthfully frolicking it appears, in the yard of my father’s father’s house in Saugerties, New York.
Here they are again — not frolicking.
The photo of my father was taken while he was serving in the Army in Korea (and, yes, the typewriter is mightier than the sword, or at least it used to be.)
The photo of my mother — though she appears to be multi-tasking before it was called that — is a staged one, shot to illustrate a 1950s era newspaper story about newfangled kitchen appliances. While homemaking was among her skills, she was not a stay-at-home housewife, but among those groundbreaking women who stepped into newspaper work when journalism was still mainly a boys-only pursuit.
My father’s parents met in Newark — the New Jersey one — when both were working at the laundry that my great grandfather, who immigrated from Germany, owned. They married and later moved to Saugerties, N.Y., where they’d raise three boys in a big white farmhouse.
My mother, meanwhile, grew up in Asheboro, N.C., where her family dates back to Revolutionary War days. Her father owned a furniture company that, seeing how well coffins sold, made the transition to full-fledged funeral home and, later, a chain of them.
So, in one way of looking at it, I owe my existence to dirty laundry and dead bodies — those being the lifeblood of the industries that enabled my parents’ respective families to make enough money to send them off to college.
They both ended up at the University of North Carolina, studying journalism — a pursuit that traditionally draws its practitioners from those with egos too big and egos too small; people with a desire to change the world, or at least see it; the nosey, the gossipy, the terminally curious, the perpetually suspicious, and those who lack any truly marketable skills.
After graduation, getting newspaper jobs, getting married and moving to Winston-Salem — eventually into the apartment I have recently re-occupied — they had their their first child, my sister.
She was about three years old when my father got called upon to serve in Korea.
Upon returning from his stint there, pretty immediately as I understand it, I was conceived, in the room I now sleep in.
Not long after his return he was off again — one of the journalists invited to witness atomic bomb tests in Nevada.
Unlike area residents and, possibly, him, I was not subjected to any fallout from that, for I was already forming in the womb by the time he left. While, in subsequent years, I would have to hide under my elementary school desk during bomb drills, I was otherwise unaffected by the Cold War’s psychological shrapnel, I think.
A few months after my father witnessed that spectacle, there came another one — me. For one year, I slept, peed, cried, spit up and crawled here in the apartment I moved into last month.
Being here hasn’t automatically rekindled memories. There is only the vaguest sense that I’ve been here before. The doorbell, and it’s actually a bell — you turn the crank and it rings — struck me as familiar. The first time it rang, I did a dog-like head tilt (but didn’t start barking). Was it stirring an infant memory, or just my imagination?
At the age of one, I’d be moved — temporarily — to Boston when my father was selected to be a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. Instead of returning to North Carolina after that year, my parents moved to New York, where my father had gotten a job at Newsday.
After 10 years there — we lived in Huntington, where my parents would have another son — we moved to Houston, where my father would work at the Houston Post, and my mother at the Houston Chronicle.
Their marriage would implode about the time I was 12, After their divorce, I lived with my mom in Houston and later Raleigh, spending summers with my father in Connecticutt and Colorado.
I, like them, would end up at the University of North Carolina, and, like them, in journalism — and as a result I would see both dead bodies and dirty laundry, but plenty of joyous and inspiring things as well.
I, like my father, would have the privilege of getting a fellowship (a Knight Fellowship, at Stanford University), be involved in winning my newspaper a Pulitzer Prize (Philadelphia Inquirer, 1987), bounce around to a lot of different newspapers and get divorced twice.
After about 35 years in newspapers, I left to write a book, and produce my own website. And a year ago, in a rare show of spontaneity, I put my belongings in storage, moved out of my house and hit the road with Ace, to see America, and its dogs, and blog about it.
During those travels, we made some stops at places of my past — my grandfather’s house in New York, Houston, where our house in Raleigh used to be, and Tucson, the site of my first real newspaper job — and doing so sparked a desire to remember more and learn more about my past, and about my family roots, whitebread as they may be.
Among the many things I learned, or had reaffirmed, on our trip were not to take my dog for granted, or my friends, or my family.
Since coming to Winston-Salem, I’ve been rummaging through old boxes of family stuff, reconnecting with relatives, and learning more about my family history and working on better remembering my own life as well — all those memories that got shoved aside to make room for new ones. For the next few weeks, we’ll continue doing that, including taking at least two more trips, the kind that do burn gas, before we wrap things up.
A little further down the road, we’ll be visiting a battlefield and a cemetery and seeking to shed some light on this question:
Why, on June 19 (which is also my sister’s birthday), 1771, was my great great great great great great great grandfather hung?
Posted by jwoestendiek May 18th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, atom bomb, atomic bomb, author, background, bill woestendiek, birth, book, breeds, dead bodies, dirty laundry, dna, dog inc., dog's country, dogscountry, family, heritage, history, home, homeplace, houston, jo woestendiek, john woestendiek, journalism, korean war, memories, mix, mixed, new york, ohmidog!, past, pugh, road trip, roots, testing, travels with ace, tree, unearthing, university of north carolina, what kind of dog is that, winston-salem journal, woestendiek, writer
This segment of Travels With Ace contains no Ace. For this jaunt, to Asheboro, N.C., for a family reunion, mom — not dog — was my co-pilot.
It was one of those rare times I made the call to leave Ace at home, for several reasons: We, temporarily, have one — a home, that is. He’s continuing to recuperate from a herniated disc. The reunion was being held inside a church that — while it’s one of those all-are-welcome Quaker ones — I didn’t want to surprise with an uninvited canine. (He’d have assaulted the buffet table, anyway.) On top of that, the back of my Jeep was fairly full, with a wheelchair my mother didn’t need, her walker, Ace’s new ramp, two dozen Krispy Kreme donuts (our donation to the lunch buffet) and a box of my books left over from an appearance last week.
Then too, I was picking up a microwave oven — a really big one — that cousin Laura from Charlotte was loaning me for use during my stay in the basement mansion.
All in all, the outing — and my mother’s outings have grown more rare of late – went quite smoothly. She didn’t offer a single commentary on my wardrobe choices, or my driving. And only a few times, such as when we were passing trucks, did she grab the door handle that way she does. At her insistence, we alloted two hours to make the one-hour trip, thus getting to town, as basic math would suggest, an hour early.
So we stopped by the family business — a funeral home now run by her brother’s sons. As my mother explains it, her father worked for his father-in-law, who owned a furniture business that started selling caskets, seeing them as a more Depression-proof product line. When my mother’s father inherited the business, he opened the first of what’s now several Pugh Funeral Homes.
From there, we drove by her old family home, then headed to the Bethel Friends Meeting, just outside of the town limits, which, on this particular Sunday had more Pughs than pews.
About 80 people were there — all descendants of Doe (short for Theodore) and Mary Pugh. For the first hour, people greeted each other and positioned food they had brought on the tables. For the second hour, we ate it.
My mother only got mad at me once, and it wasn’t my fault. Cousin Tommy Pugh, hearing I was going to be there, brought along his copy of my new book, “Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend” for me to sign. As I was doing so, he and some other cousins said I should set up a little table — one not taken up by food — to sell and sign books.
I’d already pondered and ruled out that possibility, which struck me as a little too self-promotional and tasteless — hammy, you might say — especially considering this was my first time attending the reunion. I knew my mother would feel the same way, only more strongly.
Once I signed his book, Tommy set it in the upright position on table, so it could be better seen. When my mother saw it she objected to it being so blatantly displayed, and sent Lori, the wife of cousin Glenn, over to remove it and bring it to her. She placed it face down on the table.
Tommy continued quietly promoting it though, persuading John Pugh, a second cousin who’d traveled from Indiana for the reunion, that he should buy a copy.
After discussing the transaction in hushed tones, we snuck out to my car. Feeling a bit guilty that I’m not in a financial position to give all cousins free copies, and feeling a bit like a purveyor of street drugs, I quietly sealed the deal. I signed the book and gave him the second cousin discount, which, of course, is less than the first cousin discount.
There was one opportunity during the reunion to tout my book — when they asked anyone in the crowd to talk about anything new — but I was outside when that happened, spending some time with this dog who had wandered over from a nearby home.
He said hello, consented to an ear scratch, then wandered through a small playground, zig-zagged his way, at an adjoining cemetery, through the graves of Pughs past, then went back home.
(Should you be a Pugh family member, or if you want to peruse some Pughs, my photos of the reunion are in an album on my Facebook page.)
Despite any irreverence you might be sensing — (it’s hereditary) — I had an excellent time, even without my dog. It was great to meet relatives previously unknown to me, to reconnect with most of my cousins and to revisit the history of my mother’s side of the family, as we did earlier in New York with my dad’s.
After a few hours, with my loaned microwave and my mom back in car, we made the hour drive back to Winston-Salem. Before dropping her off, I asked her to show me the apartment she and my father lived in when I was born.
Her directions were perfect, and as I slowed down in front of a line of modest, look-alike one-story apartment units, in a little neighborhood known as College Village, she called out the address. It was the one with the “for rent” sign in the window.
How circular would that be — to end up after what will soon be a year on the road, and after 57 years on life’s crazy slide — back in the place I was, presumably, conceived and first lived?
Posted by jwoestendiek March 28th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, asheboro, bethel, book, dad, dog inc., dog's country, dogscountry, family, family reunions, father, friends, home, mom, mother, north carolina, pugh, pugh funeral home, pughs, quakers, reunion, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, woestendiek
My sister (not a big dog person) and her husband (a big dog person) don’t have a dog, but they do have Oscar.
Walk by Oscar, as they’ve named him, and (thanks to motion-detecting technology) he opens wide, accepting whatever you toss in his mouth. A second or two later he closes his lid and sits quietly until feeding time comes again.
Ace, though he bonded quickly with my sister Kathryn and her husband John, was a little wary of Oscar, who he made the mistake of thinking was an inanimate object.
As Ace’s nose, drawn by Oscar’s multitude of odors, would inch closer to Oscar’s electric eye, Oscar’s lid would open wide and Ace would jump back. He’d watch warily until Oscar closed his mouth. Then Ace would slowly approach and sniff again, and Oscar again would snap at him again.
Eventually, they became friends.
Oscar is one of several devices at my sister’s home aimed at making day to day chores easier for her and her husband, both of whom have multiple sclerosis.
The last thing people with MS want in their home is a new obstacle, so it’s understandable that they’d have some conditions when it came to me and my 130-pound dog taking up temporary residence. On top of that, my sister is allergic to some dogs.
So the decision was made that Ace would stay on the porch. I decided I would sleep out there with him, and set up my camping cot.
As it turned out, while we slept on the porch, both Ace and I have spent most of our time inside, where, in addition to treats from my sister, Ace enjoyed much snuggle time with John, cozying up alongside him while we watched a 1960s science fiction movie on TV.
What happened during my days at my sister’s house was that everybody adapted — me, them and, probably better any of us humans, Ace, who, with only minor coaxing, showed a calm and quiet presence when in the house, staying put and, for the most part, out of the way.
It was yet another case of doggie intuition — that ability he has to sense that he’s in a setting with different rules, and then follow them.
Something Oscar — dependable as he is — will never be able to do.
Posted by jwoestendiek October 26th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, deforest, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, inanimate, kathryn, kitchen, madison, motion sensor, multiple sclerosis, object, oscar, pets, trash, trash can, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, wisconsin, woestendiek
You can repaint a house, remodel a house, update a house, but there’s one thing that no amount of changes can erase — the memories.
Some of them came back to me the minute I pulled into the driveway of my grandparent’s old house in Saugerties, N.Y., triggered by the crunch of gravel; more yet when I climbed the wooden stairs where the “Kingston Dairy” milkbox used to be; and even more when I rounded the corner on the vast front porch and was hit with the slight smell of mildew — the same one that was there 50 years ago.
That’s exactly what I came here for — not the mildew odor, but the memories, grown fuzzy over time, covered up by the subsequent layers of paint of my life.
Being there, I found them reinstilled by the sight, smell and sounds of what used to be my grandparent’s house: The hollow thud of my own footsteps on the wooden porch, the giant, climbable sheaths of slate near the back of the property, the sounds of highway traffic darting by — more now than when I fell asleep upstairs, waiting for the next passing car.
Standing outside the home, memories whizzed by as quickly as the cars — of my highly tidy grandmother, of my jokester of a grandfather, of my great grandmother who lived in the backroom, of pinochle and pot roast, of hot tea in the afternoon with tons of cream and sugar, of morning eggs and toast popped from a toaster that, when not in use, was always neatly blanketed with a cover that said “Hot Toast Makes the Butterfly,” of a certain cookie, a raisin-filled wafer whose name eludes me, but that we enjoyed before bed with ginger ale.
My grandparents are long gone, and the last time I saw the house was in 1999, when the Woestendiek family reunion was held in Saugerties and we descended on its current owner, a New York City lawyer, begging for a peek inside.
She kindly obliged back then, so I figured she wouldn’t mind — especially since she no longer lives there full-time — if I dropped by for another look. The house, once white with green trim, is now cream colored with burgundy trim. The old windows have been replaced with modern ones.
I peeked in a window and saw the kitchen, much modernized since the days my apron-clad grandmother would whip up the best dinners I’d ever tasted. And there was one more difference — a “for sale” sign in the front yard.
I called Amy Lonis, the real estate agent listed on the sign, and explained to her I wasn’t a potential buyer — much as I would like to be — but was interested because it had been my grandfather’s house.
She agreed to meet me the next day and let me inside.
Inside, it was a far different place than it used to be — lots of old furniture still, but filled with modern art, painted by the current owner.
The arms of the sofas and chairs were no longer neatly draped with the lace doilies that my grandmother was quick to set back in proper position whenever they got rumpled, as they inevitably did.
Even though it has been majorly revamped, with some new walls put up and some new windows added to let the sun in, with what used to be great grandma’s room turned into the laundry nook, there were still plenty of reminders of the past. While the bathroom has been equipped with a jacuzzi, I’m pretty sure I saw the old claw-footed bathtub — the one I used to watch Ivory soap float in — stored underneath the house.
Seeing the old house rekindled enough sweet memories that I wanted to buy it.
It would be the perfect place to write another book, even with the whizzing traffic, I thought. And how wonderful would it be to hold the family reunion of all family reunions — back at the place where the family got started?
Why didn’t I snap it up? For about 268,000 reasons.
With about 5.7 acres, it’s listed at a pretty reasonable price. Unfortunately, I’ve never been as frugal and money-wise as my grandparents (he was the village tax collector, and grandma did the books at the family laundry in Newark.)
They moved to Saugerties when doctors told him country living would be better for his health.
Apparently, it was. There, they would have three boys, starting with my father.
My father remembers, when he was but a toddler, going into my grandfather’s car, somehow releasing the parking brake and rolling down the driveway, across the highway into the field of apple trees across the street.
If traffic then — on the road from Saugerties to Woodstock — had been what it is now, I probably never would have happened.
After visiting the house, and dropping in on the town of Woodstock, I was headed back to the campground thinking about dinner. I stopped at the only grocery between Woodstock and Saugerties, a place run by an Englishman and featuring mostly goods imported from England.
I did find a can of Spam, though — the last one — and what I thought were those raisin cookies we used to eat at grandma’s. I bought them, too, and opened them up the next day for breakfast.
They weren’t the same thing. These were filled with currants, and had a crunchy wafer instead of a golden soft one. These were called Garibaldis.
When I opened them, even though they were a year from expiring, they crumbled in the package. When I tasted them, I made a face. I threw them away at the next garbage can.
The moral of all this is that — oftentimes at least – you can go home again. You can — at least in your mind — relive your past. You can even find the obscure cookies of your childhood, or at least what you think are the obscure cookies of your childhood.
Just don’t expect them to taste exactly the same.
Posted by jwoestendiek October 17th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, cookies, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, going home again, grandma, grandpa, grandparents, home, house, memories, new york, nostalgia, past, pets, revisiting, road trip, saugerties, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, woestendiek, woodstock
(with apologies to my brother and sister)
Photo: John (with guitar), Kathryn (with Santa), and Ted (with bobblehead dog), circa 1965