Day 6 – I Still Love NY

We hate the country and were happy to be on the road to NYC lol

When last we were convened, I wrote all about traveling to Maryland to meet my new sister IRL. Day Six of my big road trip saw us headed north to NYC, the whole reason young D had any interest in coming along with me. I lived and worked in and around New York City from 1987 to 2002 and it felt great to go back.

Some swanky shop on Bleecker

We got an earlyish start and made our way north through Delaware and New Jersey. I headed straight into the city and will say that the advent of EZ Pass has made bridge-and-tunnel crossings way easier. I spent my time thinking about where to park and where to go since he was so pumped about being in New York — and I came up with a perfect plan!

I booked a space in a lot on University Place, just north of Washington Square Park. Once we were parked, we took off walking down 5th Avenue and Danny said, “do you know where you are right now?” and I said, “I know *exactly* where I am” and it felt GREAT.

(My first sublet in NY was in Soho, and later had an apartment on Thompson Street with my then-boyfriend/future ex-husband Bob. He worked at NYU as a carpenter and we spent a lot of time running around downtown.)

John’s Pizza

My lunch destination was John’s Pizza on Bleecker Street, a place that had changed gratifyingly little since I was there last.

We walked over to visit the Stonewall Inn which is all touristy.

And it was hot and I was getting tired so we stopped at an air-conditioned bar with a friendly businessman who got me up to date on how to get around town (best tip was an app that called a cab to you), a quirky Village bartender, and a wee bathroom.

Scotch & Soda

D found himself drawn into nice men’s clothing boutiques, where handsome young sales clerks would urge him to try on different clothes. He came home with this jacket (spoiled).

Then I drove to an Air BnB in Montclair that was not creepy at all.

Nighty-night!

That was Day 6.

So, Why Church? Why Now?

I’ve taken a new part-time position as Communications Administrator at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church!

Why on earth?

For one, unlike many of my friends, my experiences with organized religion have been largely benign to good. I’m lucky to associate church with well-meaning do-gooders who enjoy eating big simple meals together (like pancakes and spaghetti).

I thought you were a doula….?

I’ve been a doula for 12 years (and a Lamaze educator for almost as long) and am still passionate about the work and pretty angry about how poorly the US treats our mothers and families in general.

But I worked in marketing for 15 years before that. Now that I’ve lived with the trade-offs of working with one’s passion (in this case, intense physical and emotional labor and sleepless nights) I feel ready to return to a relatively cushy office job. But former doula clients should definitely contact me if they’re having a new baby!

I thought you were starting a new business?

Thoughts are still percolating. It’s a good idea!

Nothing but options

Since I’m lucky enough to have decent healthcare insurance through my husband’s employer, I can easily participate in the gig economy which suits me fine. This position is part-time and once I get in the swing I’m going to see how it makes sense to use the “extra” time in my week.

My new boss, Rev. George D Smith

But mostly! St. Mark’s is a cool place. I really like that there is a Spanish-only service every Sunday (and that I need to brush up on my Spanish in order to do a good job).

Episcopalians tend to be bookish, intelligent, and committed to progressive ideals and social justice. And St. Mark’s was named one of 100 “most awesome” churches in the US last year according to blogger Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons. The criteria included a spiritually enriching community with vibrant worship and a focus on social justice, and is fully LGBTQ-inclusive.

And, it’s ten minutes away and everyone is super nice.

And, given the current climate in the US it feels right to be working for the good guys.

And, I have a lovely (shared) office with two windows 🙂

More fun facts about my new sis

I realized sometime during my visit with Cyndi that I was no longer technically the oldest child. I am now a middle child. I can tell you I don’t like that one bit.

Here are some random and hopefully interesting points of commonality:

  • We love books. We are avid readers and writers.
  • We are tall — 5’10” and 5’11”.
  • We both homeschooled our kids, at least for a spell.
  • Liberals
  • Music lovers
  • Interested in and competent at things like cooking and sewing and knitting
  • Married to big friendly bearded guys (although in truth a lot of my friends are lol)
  • Had kids in our mid-to-late thirties with the last one born at home
  • Lived in NYC at the same time
  • We are both hilarious
The area she lives is way too rural for my taste, but is legit beautiful.

On Friday we went to the little downtown to see fireworks but they were cancelled because they got wet. We just walked around and hung out instead which was better anyway. Danny ate his first crab in a dive bar. It’s a really pretty harbor town. There was live music in the gazebo.

This was Day 5.

Independence Day: When I Met the Sister I Never Knew I Had

This was our first Airbnb. It doesn’t look like much (these three views are basically it) but was comfortable enough — but also really bad-to-no Wifi which is never fun and especially not when traveling with a teenager.

But …. what was I doing there, in this place I never knew? Only, um…

MEETING MY HALF-SISTER I NEVER KNEW EXISTED

But first, her tiny dog was really cute:

[There were a lot of dogs on this trip and I’ve forgotten this one’s name, but it was my second favorite dog. ]

Back to the story. The bare bones of it is that in March I got an email from someone named Cyndi who had recently discovered via genetic testing that her birth father was not the man she thought he was….

… and in fact seemed to be the same father as mine. Thank you, 23andMe (and it turns out, Cyndi’s own mad sleuthing skills).

So let that all sink in. I know!

Certainly there is a lot more to say on the subject. Stuff that will be said!

But now just know that we talked about whether people would think we were sisters if they saw us together. My boy said: “Oh totally. Your height and your hair. You talk like you’ve known each other all your lives.”

So, that was Fourth of July. And really the reason for this whole wonderful trip.

Sharing a love for books, beer and beaches (for real!). It makes me super happy.

Also, Danny and I really felt like city mice in rural MD, freaked out by all the flora and fauna. There was a peacock (!) on the property that we never saw but heard. And we came home to 4th of July fireworks and this strange dog running at us. Thankfully he was, as Danny put it, “just a big dumb Lab lumbering over.” Someone else’s teenage son had left it out by mistake.

A friendly dog, thank goodness

And then we had a bitter battle over Wifi. Words were had. This is me trying to cope without Wifi.

The Struggle! I’ll say right here that I spent almost all of my leisure/quiet time staring at my phone like a teenager. I did manage to finish one of those books, A Gentleman Never Keeps Score, and it was excellent.

It all worked out and we went to bed friends. That was Day 4.

A visit to Gettysburg and too many Confederate flags

I do enjoy a Civil War re-enactment. I dragged the whole family to one at the Lake County History Center when we still lived in Ohio and I can still get at least some of them to go again, even though it seems always to be miserably hot. I am super interested in the clothes and uniforms, and also by the odd and all-consuming hobby re-enacting seems to be.

But, before we leave Martinsburg a few more pictures and one more story.

As I mentioned, Aunt Lillian is super independent, having lived as a single lady all these years, and has long prided herself on healthy living since way before it was cool.

She is kind of bent over now but that is because just a couple years ago she fell through her garage ceiling pictured above. It was horrible and shocking news at the time and I think we all assumed that it would be the sad end of Lil. Amazingly she not only survived — but still lives much as she always has, getting help as needed and using her penchant for nifty tools to create hacks (like the voice-responsive remote control for her kitchen TV).

Also, she told me that the feeling of free-fall between the ceiling and the floor was incredible and she now understood why people enjoy skydiving.

Then we went to Gettysburg!

I had no idea the battlefield is so huge that you have to drive around to see all the sights. First we had lunch and cooled off at the Visitor Center.

Cyclorama

As the presentation began, we realized that we were there on July 3, the anniversary of the third and last day of battle and it was 1:00 pm, the exact time when Pickett’s Charge began. Wow!

So, we drove around for a while, admiring the town and the truly beautiful countryside.

By about the fourth stop though, we discovered a few Civil War re-enactors milling around, all of whom seemed deeply interested in the Confederate flag. I told Danny that if I were a person of color I wouldn’t even get out of my car. And at the next stop there were a bunch more and it creeped us out so much we just called it a day and split.

I get the fun of re-enacting for sure. But I wonder what type of person chooses to go all in on Confederate military history, along with many different iterations of their flag. Tensions were high in that part of the US anyway, the day before July 4th and the Military Parade and I’m sure there were lots of firearms around. It just didn’t feel safe — even for a nice white matron and her clean-cut (looking) son.

But! The good news is that the next stop was the eastern shore of Maryland and this mysterious lady.

This was Day 3.

I assure you that my stand-offish body language here as everything to do with the dreadful heat and humidity and my own grossness after a day in the sun.

Family History

Aunt Lillian is the family archivist and has tons of old photos and documents stored away. She is losing her sight and being practical-minded wanted my help in going through it to make sure the cousins can get the stuff that belongs to their own families. One of my projects this year is doing a family tree so we happily spent the day together and I scanned in a bunch of old stuff.

Aunt Lillian in a redwood

Meanwhile, Danny did this, just like his Grandpa Sam before him:

Aunt Lil said he did an excellent job 🙂

My dad lived the last few years of his life in an apartment in Aunt Lil’s house in Martinsburg. After retirement he lived in India for a few years, and when he came back to the States we were all glad he had a nice place to stay. In both of my parent’s families, sibling support and love have been very strong — it’s wonderful to see and also makes things easier on the younger generation.

Speaking of Dad, here is his high school portrait:

Sam

Now that I’m older, this picture breaks my heart in many ways. I miss my dear dad, who was tender-hearted and emotionally available in a way unusual to men of his generation. He looks so very handsome here — excellent hair, glasses and tie. Sensitive eyes and sensitive mouth. The family resemblance is strong. I wonder what he was planning at this time?

Uncle George

Then there is this photo of his brother George, my uncle — so charming and always popular with women.

Aunt Lil told a story that George had taken typewriting in high school because the class was practically all girls. Flash forward to his time serving in the Navy during the Korean War: “Can anyone in here type?” was the question from the commanding officer. George’s hand went up and he spent the rest of the war typing in an office.

Family traits

My mother would say that the Sablacks are “always arguing” and she’s not wrong. In my opinion many of us also share:

  • A fondness for story telling
  • A great sense of humor
  • A deep curiosity about the world and people around them
  • Immense pride in coming from humble roots and making their own way
  • Experiencing joy in things they find beautiful.

Less happily, some key traits also include:

  • A proclivity for mental illness and/or substance abuse (not all but a significant some)
  • Heart disease
  • And, at least for my dad and Danny and me, a nervous stomach and a tendency to stub ones toes painfully.
My grandma, Catherine Colundjia

I’ll wrap up with a story about my grandfather, who I never knew. He was a foreman at the coke plant, an immigrant from Yugoslavia, and died young (age 59) from a heart attack. He fathered nine children and I never heard a good word about him from my dad (who adored his mother, pictured above).

I asked Aunt Lillian about him and she said they had always gotten along fine — she felt like Daddy’s girl. She told me that he used the very little extra money he had to educate the older girls of the family. Her older sister Helen went to secretarial school, while Lil got a year of college. She suspects he figured that the boys could always find good paying work, and he didn’t want his daughters on their feet all day, “working for pennies at the five-and-dime.” We agreed that this was awfully thoughtful and forward-thinking for a man of his time, especially one from the Old Country.

I don’t see much of a resemblance in most of the pictures I’ve seen of him, but this one feels right — he looks like one of my uncles, happy and comfortable in the presence of small children. This is Anthony Sablack, along with (we think) Helen and George.

Where to begin

Thanks to all who encouraged me to write about my long drive and stroll down memory lane! So many towns visited, stories told, and time spent — plus as a solo driver I had many hours spent thinking and daydreaming out the window.

July 1, 5:44 am

I left town at what I consider an ungodly hour and only about 30 minutes later than I had hoped.

A key component of this trip was “embracing chaos” and there was a fair amount of that along the way. The first real surprise was when I bothered to map the trip from Lombard to Aunt Lil’s place in Martinsburg WV and saw that it was 10 hours — and 11 hours if I wanted to avoid the drive to Cleveland, which I did (only because I do it SO MUCH). I was also interested in making frequent and regular stops to make the travel healthier and more sustainable (ideally). All in all I was looking at a really long day [and it turned out to be the longest one-day drive so in retrospect, excellent planning].

We avoided rush hour traffic and made our way east (my tall 14-year-old came along for the first leg of the trip and stretched out in the backseat).

This is what we call the “sleigh bed” and is my preferred mode of travel.

Having just seen a revival of The Music Man at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, I was feeling the musical love. Also, my late father, whose absence loomed large over much of the trip, was a fan of the old Broadway shows. And, I discovered, musicals are perfect for road trips because they are long, because they contain a narrative, and because you can sing along.

I dug up the original cast recording of The Most Happy Fella on Spotify and listened to it for hours. We were in the car for so long that Danny finally stopped looking at his phone and just stared out the window at the countryside and listened to the music. It’s a great musical if you like that sort of thing (I’m partial to the 1992 production which I saw in NYC for $10 and turned me from a musical-hater to convert).

I’m really glad he convinced me to try the massage chairs. They are super intense and cracked us up. And, I used one for medicinal purposes later in the trip!

We finally arrived in Martinsburg at around 7:00 or so I guess — we had to go back out again to get some toiletry for the young traveler and enjoyed a lovely drive in the Eastern Panhandle and watched the sunset. For anyone who hasn’t been, West Virginia truly is beautiful country.

Also, Danny told me that you can look up cities in Urban Dictionary so this is the story on Martinsburg, home to my dear Aunt Lillian whose criteria for a retirement city was that it had at least two NPR stations and was in a two-hour driving radius from DC. She said she told my dad that, and he got out a compass and drew a circle on the map and said, look there.

So, that was our first night. Aunt Lillian, who never married, is an excellent and seasoned host. She has a taste for nice fixtures and helpful gadgets. She is also old-fashioned and has little patience for bad table manners which I appreciate. I told my son that all of us Sablacks have to go through it and get the Aunt Lil treatment to civilize us.

Dan retired with his phone and I hung out with Aunt Lillian for a while. She told a funny story of how when she was young she once came to work so hung over that she fell asleep on the phone while a customer was yelling at her. This was back in the early 60s. She had escaped their little Ohio mill town (as did all of her many brothers and sisters) and moved to the big city of DC and worked and was broke and ran around and had fun. I really admire her lifelong dedication to the pursuit of good times!