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.)
My lunch destination was John’s Pizza on Bleecker Street, a place that had changed gratifyingly little since I was there last.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, Danny did this, just like his Grandpa Sam before him:
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:
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?
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.
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)
And, at least for my dad and Danny and me, a nervous stomach and a tendency to stub ones toes painfully.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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!
It all started when a dog bit me on the street in Chicago’s fancy Lincoln Park neighborhood a little over a year ago. I was minding my own business, walking to my postpartum doula job when a dog walker came toward me with three dogs on leashes, and as they passed me a big one suddenly grabbed my wrist in its jaws! It was pretty terrible. I had the presence of mind to get all of the owner’s information before I went to my client’s house, crying, and then to an urgent care. I was so afraid of getting a infection but thanks to excellent wound care from my dear husband I came out of it healthy and with minimal scarring. I ritualistically burned my favorite sweatshirt that was ruined, and (the good news) recently collected a settlement from the dog owner’s insurance company.
Then last week someone on a local Facebook mom group asked about Lasik, and someone I know (a former doula client!) said she’d had hers done several years ago by a guy in Oakbrook and had been happy with it. A little more Facebook research yielded several friends who’d also had the procedure done, and yielded not one bad report.
So, money in the bank, summer vacation …. And then I realized I had been wearing contacts for forty years! Forty years of taking them in and out and cleaning them and sleeping in them when I forgot and constantly buying all the stuff and having to bring my glasses everywhere and thought ….
I booked an appointment online, went in on Thursday morning and got an exam and the go-ahead for the procedure. Everything was efficient and reassuring.
Although it did feel an awful lot like an eyeball factory. It reminded me of movies like Logan’s Run and The Hunger Games — what healthcare and/or cosmetic surgery looks like in the dystopian future when it is made into a true consumer product. You are smoothly moved from one area to another, from waiting room to office, to another waiting room and a video on the iPad explaining the procedure. Then another doctor and then the credit guy. Twelve months same as cash! Also a discount from our health insurance, which is really the first time that insurance has saved us money, a nice surprise.
I was sick to my stomach Friday morning. My appointment was at 8:00 am and it didn’t matter if I ate or not but I really couldn’t bear to. My husband laughed and said he was jealous! I took a Lyft there and back which they had assured me was common — but I didn’t see anyone else doing it, either.
The doctor does surgeries on Fridays so at 8:00 am the waiting room was filled with people looking both nervous and sick.
I was feeling so freaked out by this time that I maybe dissociated a little bit? I definitely became a docile and compliant patient. After two Tylenol PM pills (…dang it, why didn’t I ask for the Xanax?…), I went into a small pre-op/recovery room with a comfy chair and desk and hung out with a really sweet young woman who put numbing drops in my eyes. We chatted about how I’d had kefir for breakfast and how she had really pretty hair. I got a mesh surgical cap and wads of Kleenex over my ears and my glasses were put away (FOREVER). Then I was led into the big room (which was presumably sterile even though the office is in a big mall-looking place) and there were two giant machines that did I know not what. I met the doctor for the first time and he struck me very much like the kooky therapist in Twin Peaks — not something that instilled confidence. I couldn’t see at all with no glasses and numbing drops so they led me gently by the hands to the first table where I laid down. I closed my eyes and it seemed like the doctor slipped some kind of rubber thing between the lids of one eye to hold it open. I focused on a green light that turned into red — doc was talking me through it (I’ll bet he’s tempted to make a recording) — one eye, then another. Then they got me up and took me to the other machine where my head lay in like a little pit? And they did something else to my eyes — something that involved a BURNING SMELL. He says, “now you’re going to smell burning but you don’t need to worry because nothing is burning” and I thought, “….what does that mean exactly….?” And then I smelled burning! And was so freaked out it took everything I had to just be chill and get it over with.
They led me out of the room, put my sunglasses on me, and that was it. I was like, “am I done?” And they said yep. And then I had to call my Lyft driver but I couldn’t see a blessed thing — my eyes were super blurry like I was under water. I had the front desk person call me a car and then wandered downstairs and stood on the corner in sunglasses like a literal blind person until my Lyft came to pick me up. I wonder what the guy thought (I used to drive for Lyft and I’m sure I would have been freaked out and nosy).
Got myself home and I crashed, on my back and in sunglasses, as instructed. One of my eyes kind of hurt and just the thought of it was freaking me out so I dug up some old pain pills and took one and ate a cracker and put it out of my mind and passed out for a while longer. Had peppermint tea when I got up. I need to wear sunglasses for sleeping and showers for the next week!
I will mention here that I’m a very holistic-type person and I try to be careful about what I eat and what I put into my body. It certainly occurred to me last night while I was still all revved up with adrenaline that it’s probably disruptive to blast lasers into your eyes, no matter how good the final result. And honestly I wouldn’t be in a hurry to do it again.
I’m more than okay with it though.
Went back today with the hubs and got the all-clear. I’m sold, so glad I did it!
This picture came up on my FB page today and honestly there is a lot to unpack — so, some thoughts of Sam as we approach what would have been his 84th birthday. I, his birthday present, will turn 53 a few days later.
First of all, our tiny little Cape Cod in Willoughby, Ohio. Danny was born here. There was literally no room for a dishwasher in the tiny kitchen and I did that for ten years.
Then, wee Dan. So little and blonde! So helpful. He has a remarkable sense of Grandpa Sam, although he was only eight when he died. I’m grateful for that, and now he can still do funny stories about and impressions of Sam. He is also naturally Sam-esque, or rather has what I consider to be a strong Sablack gene that creates talkative, charming, darkly handsome men. I would point you to my brother Michael, my cousins Ray and Colin, my nephew Tyler (a superstar in kindergarten and from birth), my Uncle George, and my Uncle David — who died young and was as I recall very funny and glamorous but maybe on the crazier side of crazy.
So, Sam looks particularly badass here but his looks and attire are actually utilitarian and not something he usually went around in. He was really too old to be riding his motorcycle that far (back home to Martinsburg, WV, where he rented an apartment in my aunt’s home) but he didn’t like to give anything up that wasn’t absolutely necessary. He did however take good care of his clothes and his appearance in general and put time and effort into how he looked.
Fun fact: he met my beautiful mother while selling shoes at Woodward & Lothrop (“Woody’s”) in Washington DC in the early 60s.
I love how gracefully he is reaching down to take whatever Danny is handing him.
It also reminds me of how he liked to proclaim that he didn’t care for children or babies or puppies or kittens and although he really did hate cats all of these creatures would naturally crawl all over him if he sat still long enough.