Tuesday, November 29, 2016

À la retraite

  Many people told Teresa that adjustment to retirement would take six months, maybe longer. When she retired on September first, I took her on the road for two months. We explored the nooks and crannies of the United States.  It was wonderfully diverting, but on November 1 she had to face reality.
  She says that on some days the hours between breakfast and supper yawn like an abyss. Which to me is odd. When I sense a yawn I take a nap. My days are filled with lots of little jobs, sweeping the front steps, checking the mouse traps, keeping up with the mags, lathering butter and honey on English muffins, boiling tea. The days are chockablock full.
  I know Teresa will develop a routine, but right now she's in the twilight zone. Just yesterday she accompanied me to the barbershop. Unheard of! Not that I 'm embarrassed to have my wife telling my barber what to do. One of the joys of getting old is that you give less of a rip what people think with every passing year. It's just that going to the barber has always been a very masculine thing for me. My father took me to my early visits to Tony the barber. Tony had a wedge shaped shop on a busy avenue a five minute walk from our house. There were two barber chairs but only one Tony. Perhaps his partner had retired, maybe his father. Tony was from Italy. A mandolin hung on the wall. Maybe Tony plucked it when business was slow. Tony was a quiet man. He always looked like he was on the verge of a burp. "You wanta the bangs?" as I settled in his chair and "Thank you," when I handed him my dime were all I ever heard from him.
  Teresa has always been more concerned about my appearance than I am. She's generally dissatisfied with the jobs my various barbers have done. I have tried beauty shops but that always felt so inappropriate. She herself is constantly switching operators because they never listen to her.
  I think Teresa enjoyed her visit to my male precinct yesterday. I have this phobia about sitting in a barbershop waiting for others to have their hair cut. I think it goes back to Tony's shop where ladies of the night leered at me from the cover of The Police Gazette. So I always get to the shop at 7:50 a.m., ten minutes before my barber, Brot by name, arrives. If I arrive at 7:55 there will already be some other joker sitting there in his pickup. Teresa pinged me about having to sit in front of Brot's darkened shop. "What if he doesn't show up?" she wondered. I kept my mouth shut. At 8:03 the OPEN sign flickered to life and I dashed to my swivel chair, making some lame joke about my companion.
  Sure enough two more heads arrived and a five way banter ensued. Teresa said my main problem at the moment was my unruly cowlick. Brot said the problem was that my head was like a weather map full of lows and highs all swirling together over Saskatchewan. But he was sweet about it. He said he'd trade my four cowlicks for his bald pate in a heartbeat. Then he burped.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Paper's in the Snow

  I'm going to ramble here because I'm a bit disoriented after the recent election. I'm trying not to get overwrought. Once, when my father was on his way to vote, I asked him if his candidate ever lost. "Sometimes," he said, which surprised me because I thought he was always right. Wisdom says you can't win 'em all. When you're down you make the best of it and look to the next race. You don't want to behave like Mrs. Parkman.
  Mrs. Parkman was a rich old lady my grandmother worked for in Brookline. Brookline is a town almost surrounded by Boston, It resisted absorption by Boston because it wanted to maintain an enclave where rich people could avoid the rough and tumble of the big city. Ennaways, my grandmother Alice, who came to Boston from Ireland in her twenties, worked as a housekeeper for Mrs. Parkman. Mrs. Parkman had married a descendant of Francis Parkman, the famous historian of the early United States. When Mrs. Parkman eventually died, we went to the estate sale. We got some nice china, a pair of long wooden skis, and other things. I liked to imagine Francis Parkman exploring the Oregon Trail on these skis, but that was a delusion probably.
  But back to the election. At the grocery store yesterday a pre-election tabloid screamed "Hillary Crazy!" The photo was not flattering. My one consolation, and it's an unworthy one I admit, was that soon Trump will be looking nuts by the checkout counter. And the white trash will lick it up and call for more. [Stop it Joe!]
 To tie all this in with Mrs. Parkman (and by the way, my grandmother was in her seventies at this time), my grandmother's first task at seven a.m. was to make Mrs. Parkman's breakfast and carry it upstairs to her bedroom with her copy of the Boston Herald. After finishing her chores on this particular day, Alice headed for home. But there in the bushes by the front door lay Mrs. Parkman's Herald, pitched out the bedroom window. Also, it had snowed the night before. The headline read "JFK DEFEATS NIXON!" Alice let the paper lay since it was the Republican paper.
After all these years, I know myself now how poor Mrs. Parkman felt.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Drumlins I Have Known

  A friend gave me a book called "What Should a Clever Moose Eat?" by an ecologist at U of M Duluth. It's a collection of essays about the North Woods. He starts off talking about how the landforms of this immense area were created by glaciers thousands of years ago. He presumes a basic knowledge of science so I keep a web browser open.
  Glaciation is complicated. They're still trying to figure it out. I like drumlins because they're easy to grasp. They're elongated hills in the shape of a half buried egg. They average a mile in length, a quarter mile across, and up to 150' at their high point. Now my childhood home of Boston is not quite the North Woods, but it was under a mile of ice at a time when my ancestors were steaming mussels in their stone huts back in the old country. In fact the word drumlin is Gaelic for littlest ridge.
  There are several drumlins in Boston Harbor, my favorite being Bumpkin Island off of Sunset Point in Hull. The current Google Maps satellite view shows the sandbar connecting the island and the point. When the sun and the moon are working together, the bar is exposed. It's a ten minute hike to the island and you've got close to two hours before you have to get back. When the sun and moon are in opposition, the bar is awash at low tide and you must not dally on the island. Of course with cell phones, you can always dial 911 if you get trapped.
  The aboriginal Bay Staters used to hunt on the island and harvest shellfish until the white man drove them away. The new Bay Staters farmed the island. Later a philanthropist built a hospital for crippled children so they could exercise in the fresh air. The military took Bumpkin over during WWI as a training base. The hospital burned in 1945 and eventually the island became part of the Harbor Recreation Area.  There are several campsites and a ferry runs over from the mainland in the summer.
  But ferries are for sissies.  It's low tide twice a day. We visitors to Hull check our tide calendar and bide our time. The tides walk their way around the clock following the trek of the moon.  If it's low tide at noon today, in a few days it will be low at six p.m. (and six a.m.).
  This past September we were in Hull and decided to hike out to Bumpkin.  It was the time of the month when the sandbar was awash. The tide was still falling when we headed out from Sunset Point, some of us in boots, others in sandals. It's a weird feeling to confront that expanse of water.  The bar is wide enough that you're not going to fall in, but it's still weird. The gulls took off in front of us and settled down behind. It's always lunchtime for them.
  On the island we swapped our boots for sneakers and headed up the "road," once a strip of smooth concrete for the wheelchair kids. The ruins of the old hospital are at the top of the island, just a heap of red and yellow bricks. A side path leads to the ruins of the powerhouse. The best preserved building is a stone barn from way back in the farming days. It would take some smart digging to find signs of the original folks. 
  As you're enjoying all these sites and panoramic views of the harbor there's that nagging thought of the rising flood. I check my watch. "We're fine," I reassure the group, but even I pick up the pace back to my trusty but not especially tall boots.  Walking back is slightly weirder. The day is windless and we can see the remorseless waves of the tide rippling across the bay.  And the water is slightly higher now than when we walked out. But we make it just fine and, like the gulls, start looking for lunch.

Bumpkin Island, we'll be back!