The last several weeks of November 2011, have been unusually special for me. This is the first time since 1962 that I haven’t had Thanksgiving with my immediate family. I have traditionally cooked the bird and all the dishes; generally for about ten to fifteen people. Now they, my family, are grown and have set their sails, boxing the compass in their directions, building their lives.
My good friend Joan asked me to spend Thanksgiving with her, her family, and friends in Cincinnati, Ohio. For a couple of months I labored hard around Windsong to leave her in good shape for winter. The leaves have been raked and piled away from the trees that shed them; mostly elderly oaks, some yellow popular and walnut. Select piles destined to be used as soil enriching mulch and some burned, adding to the earthy aroma of fall. The half a dozen ricks of firewood I split are covered against the elements and neatly stacked for easy access from the house and fireplace. Rye winter grass planted earlier and mowed just a few days ago will hold the ground during winter storms and spring flooding. The gravel road, slopes down to the creek and then across the sturdy railroad beam bridge, rising to the now dormant orchard and winding out onto the county blacktop, about 1500 feet, lays nicely dressed by the tractor rake for all to see.
Assured that the Ranch lay turned-out, well groomed and able to fend for herself, I loaded up my Supra Turbo, her powerful engine faithfully maintained over her twenty-three years. She could growl if called upon, instead we used her understated purr to set the pace on the interstates. I eased out onto the county highway, I was ready for this trip; a journey of about six hours of easy listening, running on cruise control for most of the trip. Being a guy, you all do know that the "man-code" won’t allow us guys to stop until we get there.
Fortunately, my gas tank had enough capacity to get me to Joan’s without needing a refueling; some three-hundred and sixty miles. Oh the joy of a large bladder and a nonstop trip.
Still, all who drive this land speak of its beauty; the quilt of pastures, forests, streams, shimmering city spires; and satellite navigation, a guarantee of never being lost. On second thought, I’m not certain that I really want that assurance. The “less traveled road” forever beckons, thank goodness.
Crossing the Ohio River, I turned off the cruise control and wound through the Cincinnati traffic, not all that heavy though. I called Joan on my cell phone to give an update on my ETA.
On my arrival she, being Joan, had a gaggle of activities for us to engage in. I can’t begin to tell you all the boards that Joan sits on, classes she teaches or takes, and the seemingly innumerable “close” friends and family this talented woman has nurtured and sustained over the years; not to mention her personal life style of physical activities; tai chi, endurance swimming, hiking, kayaking, sailing, and on and on; oh yes, and watching copious hours of funky TV in her entertainment center, on her new sixty (yes I said 60) inch flat screen with a Blu-ray DVD player. Joan a very classy lady, is an occupational therapist, patiently tutored me in the mechanics of the remote controls, the bane of my life.
After the beautiful isolation in the rolling woods of Windsong, being with Joan in Cincinnati seemed similar to a European tour; one where a person does fourteen countries in fourteen days … wearing, but exhilarating and unforgettable.
The first Thursday we attended an afternoon Jungian class on the Blue Ash Campus of the U of Cincinnati. There we listened to a lecture from the “Sandplay Therapy” Psychologist, Kay Bradway; an interesting and novel concept. We went to a bookstore afterwards. There are none where I live and you must travel forty or fifty miles for that pleasure.
The next day Friday, Joan arranged a small dinner party for some of our mutual friends and acquaintances. Bonnie and Peter, psychologists (you will see a pattern) arrived first. When all the remaining guests showed up I presented Peter with the cherished “Eertbarc Calendar” award for his outstanding photography at Windsong. Bonnie, ever more youthful looking, beamed while Peter gave his acceptance speech and told a few stories. Maureen and Sister Marty, always loving and considerate, sat next to me and tried to explain how they inadvertently walked into the house next to Joan’s, almost giving a cardiac experience to the elderly lady who lived there. Martha artfully shared some of her social activities with an attentive audience, what a charmer! And beautiful Nonie, well she engaged us all with lively, humorous conversation. I tried to entice Nonie to buy a place in Tennessee in which to retire ... we will see. Joan’s petite and lovely daughter Chrissy, who “forcefully” monitors the neighborhood parking congestion, helped with the serving. My contribution included a constructed-from- scratch, large batch of Walt’s non-award winning, internationally ignored chili. Joan made her mother’s potato soup … yum yum!
On Sunday we went to a high mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky, (www.covcathedral.com, go here to take the tour of this magnificent edifice!) across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The local Bishop said mass, and twenty-four vocal souls formed the choir, surrounding the huge organ (sixty-five ranks/pipes) in the south transept; this is a must see. It is the equal of European Gothic Cathedrals.
There followed a swirl of planned events, some I embarked on with trepidation, suggestive of as in … not my thing! Nevertheless, I went where Joan went. My foreboding stood misplaced in all cases.
Tuesday, I attended, with Joan, an English literature class at Osher Life Long Learning on the U of C campus – featuring Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” Moderator Paul Hendrick read Chapter 14 to the class; I suggest you, kind reader of this blog, give yourself a treat and at least read that short chapter of this hugely gifted writer; better yet, and preferably, the entire seminal story of the 1939’s Oklahoma dust belt migration to California. I especially appreciated, thanks to attending this class with Joan, being reunited with Steinbeck, recalling my love of his literary homage to Arthur and the Round Table archetypes, and the true definition of paisano in his short story, Tortilla Flat.
Then around eleven, for three hours on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving we, about twenty volunteers, helped feed home cooked turkey to approximately three-hundred folks with mental illness and addictions at a site near downtown Cincinnati; all under the auspices of GCB and IKRON. Once, while I carefully removed the food from a serving tray and set it in front of one of the “clients,” a white haired senior citizen, I inadvertently said bon appetite. She stared up at me with large watery brown eyes and said, “What did you say?!” I quickly corrected myself and wished her a tasty meal. I started away, but she took my hand, patted it saying, “You’ll learn, but it may take you awhile.”Actually, that morning in downtown Cincinnati, I learned a lot more than she could imagine.
Thanksgiving morning, we went to an open AA meeting at six-thirty A.M. I sat, only observing, being deeply stirred by the honest expressions by individuals sharing their love for fellow AA members, who without exception credited them with saving their lives. With my attention riveted for an hour and a half to folks who wrestled and pinned their daily tribulations … that ol’ demon – addiction, and supported by the assistance of others, rose above those challenges … I realized the essential importance that a supportive community plays in so many of our lives.
Later on Thanksgiving Day we drove to Joan’s son, Tom, and his newly built home with its sweeping architecture and view. He cooked two turkeys in a deep fryer, safely outside the house (this will be my mode of preparing birds from now on). Tom is a great host and a kind and generous man. Tom gave a moving invocation as we all bowed our heads. His girlfriend, Maria from Broken Bow, Oklahoma, an executive, and a charming and beautiful person, concocted dish after dish in the spacious modern kitchen.
Chrissy, Joan’s daughter, overhearing that I enjoyed raw oysters went out unannounced and found a dozen fresh oysters in the shell. I had the pleasure of attending to their shucking and fed their contents, on a cracker with lemon juice, to Maria and to myself (nobody else would venture into the succulence of a bivalve … sorry Tom you had to learn this way). Life is good!
Of course we ate and ate, and talked and talked on a variety of subjects, and the common ingredient, warm laughter, floated throughout the comfortable home. The palpable mood of inclusion pulled one into the affection of the families (we speak that way in Tennessee!).
Tom’s oldest daughter, Maggie, a University freshman, and I discussed her literary ambitions. She is exceptionally talented and well spoken. I offered to critique her work and she accepted. Anna, Tom’s other daughter is a charmer with an excellence sense of humor, both are beautiful young ladies. Two of Tom’s acolytes, Kenneth and Bernae were there; Tom mentors young adults. Kenneth, an aspiring chef, helped me shuck the oysters with a rusty screwdriver, although he wouldn’t eat any … so much the better for me! During the dinner serving I fenced with Kenneth’s sister Bernae for the same piece of Turkey … she won.
The next day we went to the Cincinnati Art Museum to see an Art Deco exhibition. After a lengthy and educational passage through every corridor of the place, at Joan’s direction, we headed for the Museum’s restaurant. She suggested a fresh crab salad, one of the culinary highlights of the trip, which made me resolve ... I’ll be back!
Later that week I met more of Joan’s friends; the urbane and world travelers Nancy and Steve Woods, and their friends at a birthday party for their daughter Jenna (Ohio has so many beautiful women – again, what’s in the water?).
One evening we visited with Marie and her brother Tony, his wife and daughter. Marie’s son Tony quietly watched an educational program on TV, and oh yes, their grey parrot Hughina; a coyly verbal bird entertained us with primal shrieks. Marie, a full of life redhead, is restoring her home; high ceiling rooms with loads of hardwood trim and woodwork, old period craftsmanship one no longer sees, and a great glittering crystal chandler from one of the Slavic countries, Slovenia I believe, where she recently traveled to unite with her parent’s family. Oh yes – great key lime pie Marie!
The first week, Aishah, a beautiful black, American, Muslim woman, and her husband Omar, who hailed from Algiers, came over to see their old friend Joan and meet me. Wonderfully outgoing and charming, we spent an hour chatting and drinking coffee. When they left, Aishah offered me her hand; ordinarily a taboo; Muslim custom dictates that only the husband may touch his wife – I felt honored.
We also had lunch with Joan’s long time friend and sailing skipper Ellen Frankenberg at LaRosa’s. Best onion soup I have eaten. We went there three times during my stay. Ellen is a fascinating, warm person, and shared stories about her many travels. She sails a twenty four foot boat and Joan is her first mate. She is also a published writer and family business psychologist. Talent is all over the place, yes, I’ll ask again; what’s in the Cincinnati water?
Sunday, Kathleen, Joan’s youngest offspring, came over to visit and watch the Bengals do whatever it is that they do. She loved on Joan’s three Scottie dogs; Cuppa Joe getting the most attention. I even got several smiles. We owe her and hubby Dan a luncheon.
Well, there were more activities and many more folks, but I try to limit myself to about a couple of thousand or so words on these blogs. I’m happy I live in this wonderful land with its diverse embroidery of interesting, warm, and loving folks; many who live in Cincinnati and who are now my friends and have an open invitation to visit here at Windsong. These are tough times, but the depth of this country and its peoples leaves me never in doubt to the steadfastness of our national ability to persevere. Thanks Joan for a wonderful and unforgettable Thanksgiving. And yes – I now have more than ever for which to be thankful.
Sadly, I left Joan and Cincinnati early Monday morning. The decompressing drive home took seven hours in a downpour of rain, occasional hydroplaning, and a seemingly endless caravan of eighteen wheelers with their roadway obscuring spray of swirling rainwater gave me time to return to reality and quietly come down from the high of my visit.
Around midday, back in middle Tennessee, I turned off Blankenship Road onto the crackling gravel of Crabtree Lane and immediately stopped Supra. I got out and stood still, taking in the raw, rural beauty of my home … Windsong Ranch. We had received about eight inches of precipitation in forty-eight hours. “Windy” seemingly laying in wait, strutted her stuff for her returning caretaker – she looked majestic with wind blown droplets of sparkling rain, the trees waiving in the breeze while I drove down the grand dame’s country path. The fish stocked pond gracefully overflowed and the creek kicked up its white- water heels, while all the falls performed their unique vibratos; surging and pulsing to the conductor’s gravity-baton (again, we talk that way in Tennessee).
So here I am, skating on life’s ever thinning ice, accelerating faster and faster from septuagenarian to octogenarian … I confess, with humbleness, that I truthfully felt the greeting to be composed by “Windy” in celebration of my return. Yes, I probably have become delusional, hubristic, or both.
Later that day, Al my son debriefed me. Then I helped him get out his kayak and watched and filmed while he surfed the creek’s rapids. (See Alfred Crabtree Facebook for the video.) Repeating myself … life is good; really, really good!