On the Road with Al and Ev – New York

Evelyn Lerman
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Here we are in Saratoga Springs NY, having left Carlisle PA at 7:50 a.m. Not as good as yesterday, but not so bad either. We’d like to arrive early afternoon, so that’s why we wanted an early start.

“Beside the Appalachian Trail”, the sign read at the exit, which accounted for the young men with backpacks we saw on the road. I guess they came down for supplies, before finding their way back up through the woods. We were also fifteen miles from Gettysburg and we all know what happened there. Which brings me to Miss Bliss, my grammar school social studies teacher. She was rough and ready, but a grand teacher of American history, which is why I revere the Gettysburg address. If you weren’t a lover of America before Miss Bliss, you surely were under her tutelage.

We’re heading, as you know, for grandson Jerry’s college graduation.

Oops! Traffic jam starting in Harrisburg PA. Too bad I don’t knit. I’d have a sweater done by now. Turns into just a short delay, and give me time to reminisce about our time together in Philadelphia PA, the year we were married. I had already graduated while Allie was in the service, so after our wedding and honeymoon, we went to the University of Pennsylvania for him to finish his degree interrupted by WWII. We had an apartment, a postwar special, which was half of a bay window in an old building. We had a bathroom with a sink (the only one in the house), and a living room with a bed, a stove and a refrigerator. It wasn’t much, but we were young and happy to be enjoying each other far away from families.

The graduation at Skidmore was a powerful and beautiful day with gorgeous crisp New York weather, but just a bit on the chilly side for this Floridian. We had to arrive early because the crush for good seating for Oprah was on, but our son Bill and daughter-in-law Martha had arranged for tickets, so we sat in the last row in the middle of an outdoor theater with the sun at our backs for part of the four-hour ceremony.

Oprah was terrific. She had the audience in the palm of her lovely hands, easy to see and easy to hear on two huge TV screens in the auditorium. Her message: be true to the essence of you. Hear your passion. Accept your role in this world. Follow your instincts and your intentions. Don’t get caught up in the rules or regulations others would have you follow. Take a chance. Find out who you are and be you. Be the best you can be and give back. Success is sure to follow. She didn’t say, but I think she also meant that happiness in reaching the goals you set for yourself will also follow.

She also urged us to practice gratefulness. She does it in a diary, mentioning a few things each day she is grateful for. But no diary or journal needed, you can just stop a moment, make yourself peaceful, and think gratefully. She was inspirational for old and young and received a real ovation at the end. She also received an honorary Doctorate, looking thrilled in spite of all the many honors she has received in her lifetime.

Saratoga Springs is a lovely college town, filled with lots of stores and boutiques, cantinas and bars, and the younger set here (excluding the great-grandparents) went dancing after dinner last night. There it is, our last graduation, as our great-grandkids are just little ones. But we’ve loved them all, and would just like to tell you that at one point Oprah asked us all to close our eyes, breathe deeply, and mention just one thing we are grateful for. Without question, mine was “family”.

Our grandchildren

It’s over. Funny how the days are long when you’re waiting for an important event, and then when it finally arrives, the days fly by in an instant. It was wonderful, including dinner at a charming restaurant where Beth, our waitress, adopted the whole unruly clan including friends of Jerry’s and our family. Now we’re packed and Allie has already loaded the RV so that on our last trip down to the lobby it will be just us as we go with the family to enjoy a goodbye brunch.

We leave Saratoga with another wonderful family memory, only this time it’s not ours, but Hattie’s. The restaurant, Hattie’s Chicken Shack, is a tribute to its founder, Hattie, with its New Orleans vibe, great Southern food, and waitstaff and cooks, all of whom are related to Hattie. The table was soon filled with samples of Southern Fried chicken, shrimp and grits, bowls of cornbread, biscuits, and beignets, each more scrumptious than the other. People ordered their own meals and then everyone passed everything around, almost as if Hattie herself were there directing traffic. It was great fun and a wonderful goodbye to a weekend of love.

We are approaching our destination,Shokan, New York, and Sally Mae is not giving us enough information to decide which country lane to take to the “farm”, “compound”, “camp” which our friends have bought. Allie gets out to ask directions (a new habit adopted in his old age, since there was a time he’d just keep going and looking”, and we are directed properly. It’s a lovely 17-acre camp (my preferred word) with a wonderful old farmhouse, a soaring art studio for woodworking (Ben) and painting (Carol), and a marvelous, lofty, airy, sun-drenched yurt. What’s a yurt? I asked the question and found out it comes from the Mongolian culture, was originally made of fabrics and other flexible materials, and was carried from place to place by the nomads.

Wrap it up and take it away. This yurt is permanent, and it’s gorgeous. Carol had ideas for painting, fixing, and remodeling, things she is really good at, and this should be spectacular within a year. In the meantime, it’s marvelous as is.

We enjoyed an outdoor fire at the campfire with congratulations to David who built a beautiful tepee-style fire a la Camp Caribou and Bill; we were thrilled with the heat as we enjoyed some nibbles and drinks. Then for dinner, enhanced by greens freshly picked from the garden, and early bed. It’s cold in them thar hills, folks, and bed sounded like the best way to the warmth that I could think of.

I have to tell you about how city mice enjoy life as country mice. While we were cozying around the campfire, David was flying a drone, which was taking pictures of us, the grounds, and the outlying districts where there are Howard’s favorite activities, fishing, hiking, and biking. Once indoors, he protected the pix the drone had taken onto the large TV screen in the living room, while we called on Alexa, the technological lady in a tube on the counter, to play Frank Sinatra for Allie and to tell jokes for the four-year-old nephew. “Alexa, tell me a joke,” said Ollie, and Alexa obeyed. Ollie also entertained us with pictures from his cellphone, which he handled much better than I handle mine. Since we have an Ollie in our family, too, it was double the fun seeing this little one. It was a wonderful day in a wonderful place.

As we were leaving the mountains (the foothills thereof), I took stock of the places a person living in the woods could go for sustenance and discovered there was really nothing missing that anyone could want. I found lumber, a gym, a farm store, slate, auto repair, police, churches, a motel, a bakery a dinner, a library, a gas station, a laundromat, a theater playhouse, and should you be really hungry and nothing is open wild turkeys.

Evelyn Lerman

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