Guest Blog: Ed Cook, Breakfast in Vermont


Last week I drove 126 miles to Vermont for…breakfast.  Yes, just for breakfast.  My wife and kids thought I was a quite daft for driving all that way for only 2 ½ hours.  Well there was another motive.  More on that later.

The drive was beautiful as it was at or near peak foliage color in middle New England that week.  It really was a beautiful red, yellow, and orange splashed trip.  I left home at about 5:30 so about the first hour was in the dark.  After that it was just what the picture post cards of New England in October are supposed to look like.  I passed through the North-Central part of Massachusetts, part of the Mohawk Trail.  Through this area the hillsides and small valleys were draped in their Fall Finery and was very bright when the sun hit it.

Later there were some clouds and sprinkles as I entered southwestern New Hampshire.  The scenery was colorful but not as bright.  Through this very rural part of NH and into southern Vermont I was able to see roadside items I never see near my home in the Metrowest area of Boston.  There were many barns, cows, horses, other farm animals along with farm houses and farm equipment.  My dad grew up on a farm in Southern NH for the first part of his boyhood so these things reminded me of him.  To offset the country character of the area I listened to my iPod for the entire trip.  Around this time the Beatles Long and Winding Road appropriately played.

Some of the fun (odd?) things I saw along this Long and Winding Road were a billboard for an attorney who claimed to have “Knuckles of Brass, Heart of Gold”.  Another landmark was a sign in front of a Diner that read “Famous since 1988, before that, not open”.  A store called Sam’s that claimed to be the “Biggest little store in the world”. And finally an Inn that advertised on the sign out front “PLAN YOUR SPECTACULAR EVENT HERE”.  Too bad the place was boarded up with a Closed sign on the door.

So, why did I go to Vermont in the first place? Lyn Gaas and I first met when we were 12 or so.  (Her name was Lyn Beard then.)  She was the grand-daughter of my Aunt Lillian from Lillian’s first marriage.  Lillian had married my Uncle Max and they moved to Nashua, NH.  Lyn’s family was up visiting her grandmother and we had a big family party.  The next time I saw Lyn was just after Max died in 1974, when Lyn and I were 16.  Now by this time I was past the “girls have cooties” stage and in the two days we spent together I developed a crush on Lyn.  While my mother and Lillian packed for Lil to go back home to Texas, Lyn and I just hung out.  We walked to Dairy Queen, watched TV, just hung out.  It stunk that she lived 2,000 miles away and I figured when she left, that would be it.  Lillian had other ideas.

Lillian and I continued to communicate, mostly by letter, (you remember those, with an envelope and a stamp) and a couple of letters went to Lyn too.  Lillian thought it would be great for me to come down to Texas to go to college at Rice University.  She also thought it would be great if Lyn and I got together as a couple and told me so many times.  That would not have hurt my feelings either.  In a 17 or 18 year-old’s head that sounded damn good.  Aunt Lil was sure Lyn was going to go to Rice too, so she convinced me to apply, and visit the campus.  So I applied and made arrangements to go down, but a few days before I was to leave she broke her wrist and we postponed the trip.  I ended up going to Northeastern Univ. in Boston.  If I had gone to Rice, it would have been some joke, since Lyn went to school in Missouri. That was 1976.

Fast forward 34 years…2010.  Lyn finds me on Facebook.  We converse on FB and then on the phone.  We have both married and had 3 kids.  When we talked it was very comfortable.  She remembered an amazing amount about my family which she met only twice.  I found that Lillian had passed away a year or two before my mother.  We kept in touch a number of times after this and saw and wrote to each other on FB.  She called 10/2 to say she was coming to New England the next day and for 4 days, was there any way we could meet up.  She had some stuff of my uncle’s she wanted to give me too.  She and her husband were staying Friday night in southern Vermont and that was the closest point she would be standing still for any time at all.  And that is why I drove to Vermont for breakfast.

So, the reason I went to Vermont, was to meet up with someone I had not seen in 39 years.  I got to my destination in Vermont about 8:10 and she was on the porch of this quaint little New England Inn with her husband.  She came out to the parking lot to greet me and told me she recognized me right away as I drove by.  We went in for breakfast. Lyn and I talked for 2 ½ hours and could have talked for 2 ½ more.  It was great.  Rich, who seems like a good guy, joined us for much of the time and went to do stuff at other times.  It was a thoroughly great time with thoroughly great people.  I am so glad I drove up.  Lyn promised the next time they come up they will come closer to my home area.  No need Lyn.  It was a beautiful drive and time.  Next time though let’s plan to have more time to chat.

Here are the Texans in New England.  She wanted it to be colder…just wait a while Lyn, just wait a while.

 

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Guest Blog: Ed Cook: Losing a Friend


We have all had it happen, or will. I know I am not the first or only one, but a week ago one of my best friends died suddenly in his sleep of a heart attack, at age 57.  I found out by his daughter texting me the night it happened.  She had found his body.  I spoke to her later that evening to express my disbelief and deep sympathy.  Her mother, My friend’s wife was in shock and did not want to talk to anyone.

Richie and I had known each other since 1978.  He became one of my best friends over the years and was an usher in my wedding in 1990.  We got to know each other when we worked together at a bank in Boston in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. He said he wanted to learn how to play golf, so we, and another friend, went out a bunch of times in the 1980’s.  Rich enjoyed it quite a bit.  I sold him my old set of clubs when I got new ones and they helped him.  Through golf I got to know him more on a personal level than from work.

In the early 1980’s I was able to hold his first daughter Lauren when she was only a few months old.  I was scared.  In the mid 1980’s he and his wife Betty had another little girl named Katie.  While not as scared this time, I held Katie as a baby when she was home from the hospital only a couple of weeks.  In 1986 Rich set me up with his sister for a date.  I don’t remember why it never worked out, it just didn’t.  But all through this time Rich and I got to know each other better.  And he was a really good guy.  Loved his wife, LOVED his girls.  I had left the bank in 1982 and he left the next year.

In 1989 when I was planning my wedding Rich was a lock to be an usher.  He had a real good time with all the wedding festivities.  My wife got to meet Rich and enjoyed him best of all my friends.

In the fall of 1992 Rich and I were invited to the Eagle Scout ceremony for the son of Don, our other golf buddy.  Toward the end of the reception the son came over to Don Richie and I and said why don’t we all go golfing next weekend.  It was Labor Day weekend so that would be perfect.  It never happened.  The night before the golf date I got a call from Betty, who is one of the quietest people I have ever known, and she said Rich had had a heart attack that morning.  At age 37!  He was at Boston Medical Center.  I went to see him a couple of days later and he looked like nothing happened.  Turned out it was a very bad heart attack.  He had been clinically dead and the EMT’s had revived him on the way to the hospital.  Lucky.  OK, so Rich needs to stop smoking, and eat healthy.  He had never been a drinker so that was not a vice he needed to cut out.  He smoked, a lot, and never saw a piece of fried food he did not want.

I spoke to him or saw him pretty regularly over the next year or so and he cut way down on unhealthy food and cut back to about 2 cigarettes a day then quit altogether a year or so later.  He said later that my quitting a few years earlier had been something he thought of when he was quitting.

Don stopped playing golf over the next few years as his marriage went south during the mid/late 1990s.  Rich and I played golf a few times a year.  One time we went with one of my neighbors and were behind a really slow group.  It took us something like 5 ½ hours.  We all got in trouble with our wives for taking so long.  Well that’s the way it goes sometimes.

By 2000, Rich had been at a bank for a few years and had been supervisor of Mortgage Service and originator.  A little of everything you might say, but he was working a lot but not getting paid a lot.  He had never gone to college so he was in some ways stuck with his career. He regretted that and hoped his girls would go when they had a chance.  He encouraged both to continue school and both girls got their Associate Degrees.

A few times in the 2000’s we got to play golf with Don but not as often as before.  In 2006 I called about golf and Rich was all cocky.  His oldest daughter was now married and Rich and his son-in-law had been playing golf every weekend for the first couple of months of the year.  He said he had brought is score down about 10 shots to the low 90’s.  We could not arrive at a date for several weeks but we talked a few times in the meantime.  He was really “talking trash”, something he had never done before.  I had told him I had not been golfing or even to the driving range that year so I was not expecting much from my game.  He was saying how he was playing every week, and that he was going to finally beat me. (In 25 or so years of playing he had never come close to beating me. We just played for fun and winner buys the drinks.)

So the day arrived, and he and his son-in-law arrived while I was hitting my first few shots on the practice range.  Some small talk and an early call to the tee meant I only hit about a dozen practice shots.  I was expecting that he would either beat me or it would be close as his new average score was about where mine had been the previous year.  Result, I shot an 80 to beat him by 12.  It was his best round of golf against me ever, I was just in a zone shot a real good round.  When we finished he shook my hand, gave me a hug which was not characteristic of Rich, congratulated me and we headed for the clubhouse so I could buy the drinks – Cokes.  He also told me he would never talk trash to me again.  I am sad to say that was the last time we played golf.  The following year he was laid off in a bank merger and was unemployed for a year or so, then underemployed for another couple.  By the time he got a good job again I was unemployed and we never made it to play in 2012.

We spoke often over the last year, once a month or more.  We talked about getting together for lunch since I was off many Fridays.  Something always came up.  Rich got 20 extra years of life after his first heart attack.  He got to see his grandchildren, whom he adored, and love his family.  He really loved his wife and girls.

For 30+ years he had the same greeting on the phone when he called me.  “Hey Ed, this is Richie.” It is painful to me that I will never hear that again.

 

Guest Blog: Ed Cook: Wakes and Funerals


I was born into a relatively older family, so by the time I was a teenager I was used to going to wakes and funerals for my elderly Aunts and Uncles.  I was quite young (7) when my Grandparents died, so in the moment, I did not “get it”. It was not until I was 18 that a death really struck me.  My Uncle Jim, who I was very close with, died while playing golf only 2 days after he and I had played on the same course.  It stunned me.

The ritual of burying the dead is as old as civilization itself.  The various religions do it their own way.  But all the wakes and funerals I had attended were all the same.  Old-line funeral home wake followed by a Catholic Funeral Mass or other Christian Service.

I had never been to a non-Christian wake or funeral until about 5 years ago.  A friend I worked with, Herb, who is Jewish, lost his mother, who had survived the Holocaust.  I took some vacation time to go to the service which was in the middle of the day.  (I had to take vacation time because my boss, who also knew my friend, did not like Herb. –Evil bastard boss) I did not know Herb’s mother, I was there for Herb.  On an incredibly cold New England day, with wind chills below zero, my friend proved to others what I already knew, that he is one of the best people I know.  He gave away his gloves, then his coat and finally his suit coat to people who had come to his mother’s gravesite less than prepared.  A wonderful show of caring, from a wonderful man who had suffered a great loss.  The talk afterward was about Herb’s generosity, not the weather, or the deceased.

This past October I attended the wake and funeral of a wonderful man who had married my cousin in 1961, Jack Beckwith.  This is my Father’s side of the family.  The event changed my mind as to what a Wake and Funeral could be or should be.  Jack’s children called it a Celebration of Life and it was.  The Beckwith family consisted of my cousin Carol who died in 2002, her husband Jack, who passed in October 2012 (10 years and 1 day after his wife.), twin boys, Derek and Geoff, from Carol’s first marriage, and their little sister Jennifer.  Carol and I grew very close during the last 10 years of her life, and Jennifer is my favorite relative and as close to a being my sister as anyone I have.  After Carol died I called Jack, just for a quick hello, every couple of months, because I liked him a lot and knew he was lonely.  I only found out about Jack’s death via Facebook when Jennifer’s daughter posted a wonderful remembrance of her grandfather.  I felt terrible that I was not even aware Jack was ill.  (Jennifer had been keeping the family updated via e-mail, but I had changed our family e-mail last year and she was sending to our old address.)

As soon as I could I made hotel arrangements and to go up for the weekend for the wake and funeral.  I arrived to find family member I have not seen in years all with wonderful memories of Jack.  I had sent up some pictures of the family and there were hundreds of pictures on bulletin boards and on a Video presentation.

The next day, Saturday, was the Funeral Service. As Jack and his family are Protestant there was no Mass, nor was there a religious ceremony.  Instead, Derek, Geoff and Jenn had arranged a wonderful heartfelt tribute to their father.  Each of them presented a unique part of their father’s life, from his growing up to his early adulthood up to the time of his death.  If you had a pulse, your eyes were not dry.  Then 4 of the 6 grandchildren got up and presented their look at their grandfather.  They did a masterful job. (Jenn’s 2 kids did not because they knew they would break down before getting started.)  More eye wetness.  This was better than any religious service could ever be.

It was a tribute, from those closest to him.  It was great.  So different than any memorial service I had ever been to.  Usually it is a clergy speaking dryly of someone they barely know.  This was the Jack’s family.  Those that knew him best telling what they knew best.  It was moving, from the heart and everyone there loved it and felt the love.  Derek, Geoff and Jenn gave each other strength, — Jenn needed every bit.  The grandchildren gave each other strength.  We all learned things about Jack we never knew, even those of us who had known him all our lives.  I did not know that Jack and I shared being an only child.  It was the best memorial service I had ever been to.  I was sad, very sad, that Jack was gone, but I was very happy about the life he had led.  He really was a terrific guy.

After that we all regained our composure and made our way to our cars for the trip to the Cemetery, for more words of love, and taps played by a U.S. Navy bugler.  After the cemetery, there was a gathering back at a restaurant, and the main topic of conversation was the Memorial Service, the presentations, ‘Jack would be so proud of his grandkids’, etc.  He would have.  We all were, and of his children.  It reminded me of one time when my mother and father and I were coming home from a family get-together at the Beckwith house.  My father said to us, “we are so lucky Jack married into this family”.  Yeah Dad, we were very lucky.

Guest Blog: Ed Cook: Changes


So I’m in the car with my daughter Sunday and the subject of music comes up.  More specifically, how we listen to and buy music.  She is a History major and occasionally picks my brain about how things were in the “Old Days”, like 1970.  I told her that in her lifetime the number and degree of changes in music listening have accelerated rapidly.  Now she’s 19, and to her it just the way it is, she does not have the historical perspective.  I tell her that when she was little cassettes and cassette players were the state-of-the-art way to listen to music, then came CD’s and now it is MP3’s with digital music.  I told her when I was 19, (1977) the vinyl LP album was still the way to go with cassette tapes just coming into the market in quantity.  I had won a cassette player in 1971 or so.  You could not buy music on cassette.  The thing was to record your own conversations etc. but there were not many things on cassette until the late 1970s. The thing was about a foot square and weighed about 10 pounds.

In the 1970’s you might have had an 8-track player but they were for cars.  I don’t know that I ever saw a portable 8-track player.  And the AM radio on the kitchen counter was a fixture for music & news.  When the FM transistor radio arrived, I thought it was pretty spiffy and bought one in the late 1960’s with my Paper-route money.

So while it was slowly changing back then, the preferred music medium when I was 19 was the same one as when my father was 19 in the 1930’s.  Now, in her 19 years there have been 3 “preferred” music mediums.  And who knew that there would be ways to copy my vinyl LPs to digital when I threw them away–with a big sigh–16 years ago when I moved to my current home.  I mentioned that when I graduated from college there was no MTV.  She was not surprised. OK it started a few weeks later, but I did not have cable for another 9 years to watch it and by then I did not care.

I took her out to dinner and we expanded the conversation to what else has changed a lot since she was young.  The menu said on the front that you could order on-line for take-out or make reservations on-line.  Ok, that is a much larger subject of change but it certainly is a change that caused a sociological revolution.  But I mentioned the first computer her mother and I bought as a couple had a hard drive of 300 MEGA bytes not GIGA bytes.  She was shocked and had to wrap her head around that in this day of cheap and ever growing storage capacity.

Since we were at dinner Cooking Shows came up.  Now there are dozens of people cooking on TV at all hours.  When I was her age there were none.  When I was in grade school, The Galloping Gourmet was on but people watched it as much because of his comedy as the cooking.  These chefs take themselves so seriously you’d think they were practicing for brain surgery.

Ways to pay was something that came up and we talked about Debit cards.  Used to be though you Never left home on vacation without your Travelers Checks.  We were on vacation in a less-than urban area of Ohio in 2007 and we were hard pressed to find anywhere that would take them.  Of course I had taken the Travelers Check money out of my checking account which had the debit card attached to it so that was empty. It took me several conversations at the local supermarket to convince them that Travelers checks were a genuine form of payment.  For goodness sake, the store manager had to be called on his cell phone to approve it since he was out and the Asst. manager did not have authority.    Even banks would not cash more than one at a time ($50) if I did not have an account…I didn’t.  It taught me a lesson. Don’t waste your time or money on Travelers Checks.

I used to do car maintenance with my father in the driveway.  I used to change my own oil and filter and other stuff after I was out on my own.  Today the engine on any car has become so complex, that it is a challenge to find the oil dip-stick.  Forget diagnosing an engine problem.  You need much high-tech equipment.  I told her this and she said she does not even know how to open the hood.  Yes, we had a class on that when we got home.

Whatever happened to tires that cost $30 each? Even $100?  Now they take a week’s pay for 2.  If you have all-wheel-drive (AWD) you are told you have to get 4 at a time.  This is because the on-board computer that calibrates the AWD measures the circumference of the tire and if the tread is more worn on some tires than others it messes up the AWD function.  Who knew?  So when I had a tire blow out from road debris I had to spend $1,000 on four tires instead of just replace the one, because my tread was too worn on the other 3.  That hurt.

She commented on how much faster things change now than when she was younger.  I’m thinking to myself…faster than when she was younger…it is like light speed compared to when I was her age.  I can only cringe at how fast things will change when my grandchildren are 19!

Guest Blog: Ed Cook: EVERYBODY RIGHTS!


In the 1960’s I went to a Parochial Elementary school and every student was middle-class suburban and white.  No Blacks, no Native Americans, no Hispanics, or no member of any other group that can be defined as non-white.  The biggest “difference” was that two of the girls had Red Hair, which I had never seen in my neighborhood. My mother grew up in Boston and used to bring me in to the city to do Christmas shopping and to visit relatives from time to time, so I had seen black people, ridden the train with them shopped next to them in Boston but knew no one who was not middle-class suburban and white. My mother made no big deal about the black people when we went into Boston.

Back in the 1960’s I watched the CBS Evening News nearly every night with my parents and for the first time saw Civil Rights demonstrations from the South. It was a recognition that there were a bunch of people who were different than me. I mean, people who were not middle-class suburban and white. So I wondered, what was the big deal about Civil Rights and the demonstrations of the Blacks down South? The nuns and other teachers at the school did not make much, if any, mention of it. I was so damn naïve that I just figured everybody is OK with everybody else. There is a line to a song that children have to be taught how to hate, well I guess I had been absent from that lesson and all of my friends had too.

One time we went into Boston, I guess I was 11 or 12, around 1970, and there was a Women’s Rights demonstration on City Hall plaza.  My mother walked over to listen.  I followed.  However, for the sheer embarrassment of being the ONLY boy in the entire crowd, I retreated to where we had been and left my mother to listen to the speeches.  Women’s rights? What in the world is that all about my 12-year-old-head wondered?

When I was 11, on my Little League team, one of my teammates was an African American kid. He was still middle-class and suburban but he was Black, in the term of the day. He grew, over the next couple of seasons, to be one of my best friends on the team. He was real good catcher. There was another Black kid on another team too. I met him when I got to High School. As it happens I am still in touch with both of these guys and my initial judgment was correct that they are both good people. But in a small way they were different but not much. I liked them they liked me–no fuss.  Sounds easy.

Where am I going with this? Fast forward to 2012.  I am sick of everybody needing their own “rights” or people being denied rights. How about EVERYBODY RIGHTS!

  • Why shouldn’t gays and lesbians have same-sex marriage?  It not a choice I’d make but as long as they don’t bother me, fine, go ahead.
  • Why should women have to worry about reproductive rights?  If a woman wants to choose not to have a child, and it doesn’t bother me fine, go ahead.  I only know a couple of women who have chosen to not have a baby when they are pregnant, and it was an agonizing choice I am sure.  But I also know many women, mostly very young women, who probably should have made the choice to abort a pregnancy.  But at least they should have the choice.
  • Why should a person who has years of great experience be discriminated against because of age and not be hired for a job they are perfectly qualified for? People under 40 on average, only stay at a job 3 to 5 years. People over 50 are generally more loyal and tend to stay over 9 years.  Hey hiring manager, statistically you’ll be gone before the over 50 worker if you hire the older worker. Lots of experience means less training means more productivity. Use some logic.  Has this affected me?  I’m very sure it has.
  • Why should women make less money in the same job?  Equal work should mean equal pay.  That should be a no brainer.  This one has bugged me since I was a kid.  My mother quit a job she had for about 10 years selling shoes.  Reason, even though she sold more shoes than Mike, the other sales person, she made less money than he did because “he had to support his family.”  This was the reason she was given when she pressed her boss for a raise. She was steamed when she got home.  I had never seen her that mad…except maybe at me.  I found the reason because she told my father and I overheard. It has stuck with me all these years.  When I was hiring people for jobs even in the 1990’s I had to fight with Human Resources to get the women, in the same job, with the same experience and skill, the same money as men.
  • Why should someone be prevented from living in an apartment because of skin color, or religion, or whatever.  If they can pay the rent and keep to the terms of the lease, they should be allowed to live anywhere they want. Bill Russell, in my mind, the greatest basketball player ever, bought a house in a northern suburb of Boston when he arrived with the Celtics in the mid 1950’s.  The house was vandalized one night and racial slurs written on the walls.  He was a black man, a star on the best basketball team ever assembled, and some dopes decide to do this.  Recently I read that a landlady had refused to rent to a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan because she is a pacifist and did not like that he had been in the Army.  You just can’t make this stuff up.
  • Why should someone with a handicap be excluded from a job that they can do because of access.

I could go on and on….so could you. And that is just in the USA. There are people on the far right who want to limit rights. Why?? If a person can perform well, they should not be prevented because of race, gender, sexual orientation or handicap. I am not a fan of Oprah Winfrey but she was quoted as saying Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism. VERY, VERY true!  We were made by whatever power to be different in certain ways. Deal with it people.Give everyone the same treatment you would want to be given.  EVERYBODY RIGHTS!

 

 

Guest Blog: Ed Cook: Blissful Solitude


Mel’s retreat to the Porches set my mind to thinking of the peace one gets all too infrequently.  I love alone time.  I really do, and I miss it. At this point in my life it gives me the rare opportunity to think and write, but I stay very mentally active when alone. I am an only child so I had plenty of opportunity for solitude growing up.  However, at that time I hated solitude.  I wanted a brother to play ball with or at worst a sister, somebody, but I had to settle for the dozens of kids on my street to play with.  The same theme ran through High School and my first job.  I enjoyed being with people maybe too much.

When working at a local restaurant in my teens I would drive or ride my bike across town and just hang out with my work friends.  It got me some extra money because if there was a rush of customers they would draft me for an hour or two.  It also got me closer to the manager, George, who kept giving me more duties outside cooking and waiting on tables.  He had me do inventory, meals tax calculations and forms, and his bookkeeping.  After another year or two he made me his Assistant Manager.  But that started because I wanted to be with people.

In my last two years of college, while living in the Washington, DC area with a roommate for the first time I realized that all that solitude I grew up with was something I craved, I just did not realize it at the time.  I found that I enjoyed when my roommate, Tom, was gone.  He was my best friend so it was not that I did not want him there at all, it was just that I enjoyed my alone time.

It was while living in DC that I made my first trip to the Shenandoah National Park.  I was instantly in love with the area.  The scenery was beautiful, the people around were mellow as if intoxicated by the beauty of the area.  I was in this same tipsy state as I went on hikes on or near the Appalachian Trail.  When I got home from DC and back to classes I found that I studied better when I cloistered myself in my room at home.  It sounds funny now, but I lived at home during college because I could not afford the $600 room and board.  I achieved all A’s from the middle of my Junior year to graduation.  Ahhh….I had discovered a formula for success…Solitude.

The following year, after graduating, Tom and I went to the Shenandoah for vacation for 10 days.  We had several adventures while hiking but I fell more deeply for the beauty of the panorama I looked out on all day.  (Some adventures I cannot remember, after discovering the moonshine they served at the restaurant.) Over the next several years in the 1980’s I went to the Shenandoah every year for my own solitary vacation.  In the days prior to laptop PC’s I did practically nothing while I was there, but I loved it.  It was Blissful Solitude.  I remember writing letters to people and stories describing the beauty of the place, heartfelt letters to my parents but mostly it was a week of hiking and soaking in the beauty.

When I got married I was getting my MBA. We bought a house and I set aside a spare bedroom for study and study only so I could re-do the cloister concept, for and came out with much better grades than during my undergraduate days.   Solitude did the trick again.  Then the 3 children came in rapid succession, my solitude days were gone.  I visited the Shenandoah with my children in 2006, but it was instructional not relaxing.    We even saw wildlife I had never seen when I was there including a bear cub up close and personal.  My wife does not like nature and stayed home.  Her idea of “roughing it” is a mall without a roof.

 

My children are all 16 or older now and are out of the house frequently doing teen-age stuff, whatever that includes these days, so by default I have less to deal with and more time to do it.

My teaching gives me more time that a full-time job affords me too.  I am able to whip off ramblings like this, which make me day-dream of times when I was much younger and had big dreams of material acquisition and great accomplishments. Among those day-dreams is a return to the Shenandoah on a regular basis so I can leave civilization in my rear-view mirror for a week or two to recharge, to the Blissful Solitude.

Guest Blog: Ed Cook: Commuting on the Train


For the last several months I have been commuting into Boston on the train three days a week.  I drive the days I teach but the train has become a standard part of my life.   It could be more convenient and it could be more comfortable but it is the train, not a limo.  But that allows me to observe the myriad of characters on the way into or out of Boston.

The first one that made an impression was the conductor.  He is a loud funny guy probably in his early 60’s.  He’ll throw barbs at you if you a first time rider or a 20 year regular.  Since I get on at the first stop, the train is pretty empty so I got my share of his humor.  He is an acquired taste but means no harm. He told me one time it is his way of waking up.  One day as I got off the train I noticed him holding hands with an attractive blonde who is at most in her mid-40’s.  Same thing the next day.  Then I noticed the blonde is a passenger on our train.  She must work in Boston I reasoned.

A couple of months of this go by and all of a sudden he disappears.  She is on the train but not him.  A week or so later, I see them canoodling in the station in Boston.  He was in civilian clothes, not his conductor uniform.  A week or so later, I noticed him getting on the train at a station mid-way on the trip in, and there they were in the station when I walked in.  Turns out he retired, but gets up and takes the train in so he can see his sweetie for a while every morning.  “It makes my day”, he told me with a big grin.

The conductors come and go both morning and evening.  I think the management wants to keep them from getting too friendly with the passengers, else they might not punch a ticket of a friend.  One thing that is the same nearly every day is a group of three women that everyone refers to simply as “the girls”.  They get on at the third stop and sit in the same seats…every day.  They are all late 40’s or early 50’s.  Sometimes they talk all the way into Boston, other times they hardly say a word.  Two of them are very pleasant and I have become friendly with them.  The other one is kind of scary looking and never speaks outside the little group.  The other ultra-regulars I notice are twin girls who are about 8 or 9 and their mother.  They get on mid-way in the trip and get off a few stops later.  The girls are in school uniforms so they must go to some private school in Boston. The youngsters are very well behaved and you’d hardly know they were there if you were not paying attention.

Once I get to Boston, I walk from the South Station to my office building which is about ¾ mile.  There is a Starbucks on nearly every corner.  Luckily there is a Dunkin Donuts on the “other” corner where you can get a good cup of coffee.  Further, I am amazed how many of the same people I see every day.  People walking in the opposite direction, the same people opening stores or push-cart peddlers, the street people and more.  One of the last things I get to on my walk is the Day-care center right near my office.  Seeing the little ones with big smiles going in with mum or dad puts a smile on my face too as I think back to when my children were in day-care.

On the way home there have been other sights.  I have run into a number of people I know at the station waiting for the afternoon train.  It really is a small world.  On the other side though, one day I noticed a guy in his 50’s running through the station.  I noticed first because he was running then because he had a scary look on his face then because he looked like the Penn State coach accused of child molestation.  Back and forth he went, looking for someone or something.  Then he ran smack into a guy in his 20’s just innocently walking through the station.  The older runner-guy yelled at the young guy for getting in his was and he was very mad and animated about this, even though anyone else could see that runner-guy had caused it. They moved apart and the younger guy started on his way and runner-guy started running again.  Then all of a sudden runner-guy turned and headed for the younger guy.  He went right up to him face to face and yelled something at him and shoved him. Younger-guy is trying to retreat but the older guy persists.  A number of us move towards them to break things up.  Just then security started toward them and runner-guy took off running right out of the station.  Strange!

There have been a couple of days when some ladies-of-the-evening were just getting started on their shift and would stop by the station to see if there were any takers.

On the trip home there are fewer regulars and fewer regular sights.  But almost every day there is something pretty neat that is best appreciated by a parent.  At one station part way home I see two little girls maybe 2 and 4.  They have bright red hair and wait with their mommy for their daddy to get home.  When he gets off the train they run to him and give him a big hug.  Sometimes they dance around so excited you’d think they’d burst. He then takes their hand and walks over and gives his wife a kiss.  It is very 1950’s-sit-com.  But it is a nice moment to end my work-day.