Northerners Anonymous

“Hello, my name is Ethel.”

Chorus:  “Hi Ethel!”

“Umm, yeah, my name is Ethel, and I’m a recovering Northerner.”

Chorus: “Welcome to Florida, Ethel!”

Look, I was born and raised in New England.  I believed to the bottom of my warm woolen double knitted socks that if you didn’t have the fortitude to stick out eight or nine months of cold and snow, you didn’t deserve to enjoy the short but perfect New England summer.

December in Maine

December in Maine

We used to joke about it:

“Say, Everett, what do you want to do this summer?”

“Gee I’m sorry, Ethel, I’ve got to work that weekend.”

But I was SOOOOOO sick of shoveling snow.  Again, I realize this is sacrilege to a good Northerner.  It’s healthy exercise, warms one up, clears paths and decks for winter use.  But we were tired of it and decided to winter down south after retirement.

So here we are in central Florida.  In December.  In the sunshine.  75° Fahrenheit.  No jacket.  Flip flops on my feet for crying out loud.  And BLOOMING FLOWERS!!!  No one ever told me there would be winter-blooming flowers!  I mean, I’d heard of Christmas Cactus and Poinsettias, but those are indoor plants that sit in your grandmother’s dining room.  Everett and I went to the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville this Monday and there was COLOR!  Outside!  We even saw a blooming BANANA TREE!

It IS winter.  It still gets dark around 4:30, 5pm down here, just like up North.  But the locals call anything below 70° “freezing”.  And I can walk my dog 3 times a day without spending 20 minutes getting bundled up before and unbundled after.  And I can stop to smell the flowers EVERY time.

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11-12-13 One Kibble

Yesterday was Veterans’ Day – a Big Picture Day.  My maternal grandfather and my father were both Marines.  Everett was Air Force.  All three served during wars.  We visited the Florida National Cemetery for Veterans yesterday and paid our respects.  Big Picture.  Private feelings.

Today is 11-12-13.  Now that’s a small detail kind of day that I can write about.  As you may have noticed, our plans to visit Gettysburg on our way south for the winter were altered by the advancing cold front, and our desire to be well below the snow line before having to deal with actual snow.  We still took our time getting to our winter base, stopping to smell the camel, etc.  Dear Auntie says we’re the only folks she knows who take a month to make the 3-day drive from New England to Florida – though she admits we do see a great deal more of interest our way.  We’ve come back to the wonderful little RV park we stayed in last spring and have spent a week renewing acquaintances with year-round residents and placing bets on which of the other snowbirds will be the next to arrive.  Major excitement as I’m sure you’ll agree.

The oddity of today’s date got me thinking about small stuff.  Like Tyler Dog’s One Kibble Mystery.  It’s been going on for quite some time and has become one of those things one notices as being of some mystic importance.  The dog is an American Cocker Spaniel, medium sized, of placid temperament, and regular habits.  His day-to-day schedule runs to: wake up, scratch vigorously, go out to pee, eat breakfast, nap, take a walk, nap, look out the windows to be sure all is right with the world, nap, eat dinner, take another walk, nap, go out for a last pee, go to bed.  Meals consist of 1/3 cup of kibble for breakfast and 1/3 cup of kibble with a spoonful of leftover “people food” for dinner.  Tyler is an eager eater and most meals do not last more than a few seconds from bowl touchdown to completion.  But invariably – and I mean EVERY time – he leaves a single kibble uneaten.  Not that he simply doesn’t eat it.  Nope, every time – every single meal – he manages to leave one lone kibble floating in his water bowl where it swells up and bobs in the current.

What?

What?

In the years we’ve lived with him, we’ve never actually seen how the task is accomplished.  But after every meal, day in and day out, we have to clear his water bowl of one soggy kibble.  Is he making an offering to some doggie God?  Sacrificing a mouthful to atone for best forgotten sins?  Is it a test to be sure that the meal is safe before proceeding?  How does a creature with a brain the size of a lemon manage this ritual every day with just ONE kibble – never more than one, but always one?  What mysteries do YOUR pets promote?

Interstate Two-Step Part 4

What possesses a man to wake up one day and say “I think I’ll buy a camel”?  Matilda’s owner was just a regular joe farmer who drove to Ohio 20 years ago and brought back a camel.  Did he look out over his fields and think, “I’ve got cows and horses and ponies and sheep – I need something new”?  Why a camel and not a goat?  There seems to be something in the American character that makes us dream big dreams – and follow them through.  This farmer wanted something different and enjoyed sharing his dream with random passers-by like us.

Another Pennsylvania native, Laurence Gieringer, also had a dream.  When he was 10-years old, he and his brother Paul hiked up a mountain and looked back down on the town of Reading.  They were impressed with how small the buildings and vehicles and people looked, and it changed their lives.  Paul was called to God and became a Catholic priest.  Laurence started building miniatures and over three decades put together an exhibit called Roadside America.  It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.  Not just a miniature railroad, but a glimpse at our country’s past, with touching bits of mechanized humor (such as the hunter trying to aim at a rabbit who keeps disappearing down a hole).  Mr. Gieringer raised the money and put up an entire building to house his miniature world, plonked on the side of Route 78 to attract as many visitors to Shartlesville as possible.  Unfortunately for them, the highway was upgraded, widened, and bypassed the attraction.  Instead of simply driving in off the road, you now have to go to the next exit and backtrack.  Still, there were several other couples besides us there to see the “Night Pageant” (which I can’t adequately describe, but involved sitting in the dark listening to Kate Smith sing God Bless America as the vast diorama’s many buildings and trains turned on their evening lights and the stars shone down from the ceiling, and an ancient slide show of patriotic drawings was projected on the far wall).  Mr. Gieringer has long since passed away, but his dream lives on, however dog-eared at the corners.

To get just a tad sentimental and creaky here, let me say that these two Pennsylvania men epitomize for me the true American spirit.  It isn’t just New England (biased as I am toward that region).  This whole country is full of dreamers and builders and folks who just DO so much to satisfy their right to the pursuit of happiness.  We will always be a country of bright prospects so long as anyone wakes up and says, “Today I think I’ll…”

Roadside America 2013

Roadside America 2013

1890's Town

1890’s Town

1950's Suburbia

1950’s Suburbia

God Bless America

God Bless America

Interstate Two-Step Part 3

“Everett,” I said.

“Uh huh?”

“I just saw a camel in that field.”

“Uh huh.”

First let me explain that Everett has been de-sensitized to my “sightings” as I’ve been known to mistake a wild turkey for a dinosaur, and many of the bears, moose and gargantuan hawks I’ve “seen” have definitely been products of my imagination.  Brought on by the boredom of perpetually being the passenger in Everett’s domination of the driver’s seat, no doubt.  THIS however, was different.

“Everett, you’ve got to turn around!  I’m SURE I saw a camel!”

We were on a back road – a winding, narrow back road through rolling farm country – taking us from our camp site in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania  to the Cabella’s retail store in Hamburg, Pennsylvania.  Being proud holders of the Cabela’s Club Credit Card we had earned enough points through fuel and grocery purchases that we had several hundred dollars’ worth to spend at this, their largest store in the country.  A mecca of outdoor sports and camping equipment and good country-style clothing, Cabella’s has everything Everett and I could ever need or want.  Plus a museum quality exhibit of taxidermy (stuffed animals from prairie dogs to polar bears), a walk-through fresh water aquarium, a shooting gallery, and a restaurant.  We might stay for days.  With all that to look forward to, Everett nonetheless turned the truck around in somebody’s driveway and headed back to my camel field.  He’s a saint.

He was not surprised when we arrived at the whitewashed paddock to see a couple of ponies and four or five horses – but no camel.  I spotted a man tinkering underneath an old pick-up and hollered, “Excuse me . . . do you have a camel in that field?”

“Matter of fact, I do,” the man said as he rolled out from under the truck and wiped his hands on his jeans.  “Want to see her?”  He walked up to the paddock and shouted, “Hey, Matilda!  You’ve got visitors.”

The man, who never offered his name, said that Matilda likes dog kibble as a treat.  We happened to have some in the truck (what dog owner doesn’t?) and offered her a palm full.  Everett didn’t get a picture of Matilda’s giant flexible lips engulfing my entire hand while gently sucking kibble from it, ’cause he was laughing too hard.

Matilda Coming to Greet Visitors

Matilda Coming to Greet Visitors

Hello!

Hello!

Giant Lips Flying

Giant Lips Flying

Thanx for the kibble.

Thanx for the kibble.

Interstate Two-Step Part 2

After finally leaving NH, we headed south through the diesel desert of Massachusetts. Have you EVER tried to find a diesel fueling station on Route 495?!?!?!  We drove our no-more-than-250-miles-a-day allotment and stopped at the Brook Bend Campground in Thomaston, Connecticut, where only two tenths of a mile away, a gas station sold diesel – yay!  Thomaston does not look like a town that would have a campground.  It’s an old mill town, having been the home of the Seth Thomas Tower Clock Manufacturing Plant and many other large factories during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  It LOOKS like an old mill town.  But tucked away between the sewage treatment plant and a large brook, an old horse farm was converted into RV and tent sites.  No need to enforce the 5 mph rule here – the road in (between an ancient oak tree and the original farmhouse) is so narrow and curves in so many places that cars and campers just naturally go slow.  Once you’re “down in the field”, it’s an amazingly lovely little place filled with friendly seasonal campers, dogs – lots of dogs – and one African Gray Parrot who sits in the front window of his owners’ Class A and curses the dogs.

Passenger train service from Thomaston was shut down in 1963, but the station has been restored and is operated by the Railroad Museum of New England.  Their billboard on the highway drew our attention.  Their website informed us of the Saturday Pumpkin Train.  We HAD to stay.  The depot building is an incredible example of architecture from a time when making public places beautiful was an art and craftsmen took great pride in their work.  Look at these roof joists!

Thomaston Station Supports Thomaston Station

Thomaston Station Pumpkin TrainThe train ride itself was an hour and a half of gorgeous views, happy families, and a well-narrated history of the area.  The only flaw in the entire day was when Everett learned the pumpkin patch stop was for CHILDREN ONLY.  He complained his adult ticket had cost more than a kid’s ticket, so he ought to get a pumpkin too!

Seth Thomas Tower Clock Manufacturing Plant

Seth Thomas Tower Clock Manufacturing Plant

Thomaston Pumpkin Field 6

only the KIDS could take pumpkins!

Thomaston Train Views 2

Thomaston Station Caboose 2

Our 2-day Thomaston adventure was topped off by discovering a great little cigar bar in the next town over (The SmokeEasy, Watertown, CT).  The hosts and some regular customers made us feel right at home by sharing a good smoke, friendly conversation, and some of the owner’s delicious homemade sausage and cheese.

Coming soon:  Part 3 – Shartlesville, PA (Cabela’s, Roadside America, and Matilda)

Saying Goodbye

We’re packing up and leaving NH this week.  Lots of end-of-season chores and time-consuming errands to do.  Parting from a loved one is never easy  and, after living in this beautiful place for five months, we feel that pang.  So this seems like a good time to relate the story of the Old Man of the Mountain.NH’s iconic Old Man was a group of rocks on a cliff edge that, when viewed from a particular angle, appeared as a rugged man’s face gazing over the hills.  The view was so popular it was used as the state emblem on license plates, coins, and millions of tourist gifts.  When I was a child, my family would drive to Franconia Notch Park every summer to view the Old Man and other White Mountain glories.  In 2003 he succumbed to gravity and water damage and fell.  Wikipedia has a lot of info about him if you care to visit.  What that site fails to mention is what we consider to be the “real” story . . .

Native Americans in the White Mountains tell of a chief who met his beloved at an intertribal pow wow far away.  He was able to bring her back to his mountain home only by promising her father that she would be able to visit her family from time to time.  The couple were very happy together for many years and their tribe thrived.  Eventually however, the woman wished to see her family again and a trip was arranged.  She left in the early summer and was expected to return by fall.  As the months went by, the chief deeply missed his wife and started climbing to the top of one mountain to look out over the land, searching for signs of her approach.  He went every day and stayed longer and longer.  The weather was growing colder and winter was approaching.  As the days shortened, his tribe became concerned for him.  They begged him to stop waiting on the mountain top – she’d come in the spring, they said.  The chief however, simply asked for a warm blanket and to be left alone.  He’d maintain his vigil until she appeared.  And maintain it he did.  When the tribe next checked on him they found nothing but his stony face staring from the cliff, awaiting the return of his love.

Many, many years passed.  Eventually, the spirit of the wife who could not return somehow made it back to the mountains.  Her love, still strong, released her chief from his long wait so they could spend the rest of time together.  And the stones fell.

Modern men made efforts to shore up the stone visage which so many people came to see.  The chief may have been forgotten, but his image was much loved.  So well loved, in fact, that a group raised funds and created a monument to him called Profile Park which makes it possible to see again the chief awaiting his love’s return.

The Old Man Reassembled

The Old Man Reassembled

Fryeburg Fair Food

Sausage and Peppers and Fries, oh my . . . One of the best things to do at any country fair is eat.  There are hundreds of choices for every taste (please note Prospector Jack’s Oct. 6th comment about clams and turkey legs!)  Some of our friends plan their visit to the fair to arrive 8am-ish for breakfast, walk around until it’s time for “elevenses”, walk some more to work off those calories, then take in a good dinner around 1:30.  After spending the afternoon in the grandstands for some shows or the horse pulling, they’ll wander back to the midway food vendors for supper.

Now that we’re retired, Everett and I don’t have to get up early anymore, so we arrived about noon and had a great time wandering through the barns and seeing all the livestock while everyone else was standing in line for food.  Once the lines had thinned out some, we were ready to start our shopping.

If I’m going to the fair (any fair!) I want grilled sausages with peppers and onions on a warm, soft roll – preferably hot Italian sausages.  Everett’s must-have is hand-cut french fries.  There’s always more than one vendor of each of these fair favorites, so you’ve got to work the booths and determine which is the “right” one.  It didn’t take us long to find my sausages as we simply chose the vendor with the stool seating around the counter and the grill full of gorgeousness:

Grilled Sausages

It wasn’t until they were about gone that Everett asked why we’d gotten sweet sausage instead of the hot, spicy ones this year.  I’d ordered the hot ones, mine was a hot one, and I’m not sure what he thought I could do about the mix up of his at that point.

Next we debated french fry vendors. One booth was dodgy and appeared to be using frozen, pre-cut, fries.  Another was cutting their own fries, but only had ketchup as a condiment, not good malt vinegar.  After much searching we found a mom & pop booth with fresh hand-cut fries, the correct condiments out front, and that special scent of fair fries that you just can’t get from a fast food joint.  We were excited, so parted with $8 for the jumbo bowl, doused ’em with vinegar, and ate while we walked along.  “So good,” I muttered as I crunched each salty, vinegar enhanced potato bit.  Then stopped dead.  “Oh, Everett!  You don’t LIKE crunchy fries!”  Too late I’d remembered his preference for the firm but tender type – think al dente pasta.  Poor Goldilocks, these fries were not just right.  We left them with his sister and her EMT’s at the first aid station where I’m sure they were thoroughly enjoyed.