Category Archives: travel

My Worst Birthday Ever

Over the years I’ve had some pretty terrible birthdays. Ones with surprise parties that flopped. Ones with unwanted presents. One when I woke up in excruciating pain from a back injury.

Usually, however, I have small, quiet birthdays, with my husband giving me thoughtful gifts that he has sometimes hidden away for almost a year. (If he can remember where he hid them, of course.)

But the absolute worst birthday I ever had was one when my husband wasn’t even there. He had gone to Pennsylvania to visit his mother. He had also sworn that he would be home by my birthday. One would think he meant that he would leave the day before and would be home for my whole birthday. One would be mistaken.

My husband likes to drive at night when the highways are less crowded. By this theory, he should have been home early on my birthday and been able to spend virtually the whole day with me (after, perhaps, a nap). That theory, also, would be incorrect.

Instead, what he proposed to do was leave Pennsylvania early on my birthday morning and be home in time for a nice birthday dinner. This theory was incorrect as well.

By this time, I was getting agitated. My birthday rendezvous with Hubby seemed to be slipping away.

It slipped even more when on the morning of my birthday, it turned out that he had to stay longer and do a few more handyman chores for his mother (in my opinion, the main reason he goes to visit her). That would have him leaving Pennsylvania at lunchtime (or after) and arriving before I went to bed. Technically still my birthday, but I tend not to do much celebrating after I’m in bed.

Eventually, he got on the road. The snowy, slippery road. (It was December.) He called me from along the way – though he knows I hate when he talks while driving – to report his progress. Passed through the tunnel. Over the mountain. How many miles closer to me.

Then I got the phone call that meant he wouldn’t be home on my birthday at all – and that immediately became the least of my worries. He had crashed his car on a bridge covered with black ice, going through a guardrail somewhere near a tiny town in PA, and was at the hospital.

In other words, I had to bundle up on my snowy birthday night and drive to Pennsylvania to meet him at the hospital. He couldn’t remember the name of the town, but he was able to tell me what exit it was just after.

Now, I’m not the best at driving in a raging snowstorm at night in the first place. Add the stress of knowing that my husband was in a hospital – somewhere – made me forget all about my birthday. Instead, I had to drive about 300 miles just to find out what had happened.

Once I found the town and once I found the hospital, I found Dan sitting up in an office, chatting pleasantly with a social worker. Not that he needed a social worker’s services, he was just wandering around the hospital, bored. There was not a scratch on him and his nerves were much steadier than mine.

We found a local hotel, since there was no way I was driving all that way back to Ohio in the snowstorm. We were hoping it would clear by the next day. And the hotel gave out chocolate chip cookies, so there’s a plus. Not a birthday cake, but at that point, I was satisfied.

When I finally did get a chance to see the car, I was amazed that the front of it was so smashed in, yet Dan was unharmed. I’ll say this for Jeep, they really know how to build in crumple zones and passenger capsules.

So, in a way, I can thank Jeep for the best birthday present I ever got, even if it was the worst birthday of my life.

Weird Travels: Jamaica

I’ve traveled to a lot of places in my life, some usual and some at least a little weird. For example, while in London I went to 221B Baker Street to take a tour of the Sherlock Holmes museum. (The top floor had an ornate porcelain toilet that looked like Wedgewood.) And I took Donald Rumbelow’s Jack the Ripper evening walk.

But that’s far from the weirdest, which was probably Jamaica. Actually, it was supposed to be Haiti. My boss was sending me there to report on the work of a charitable organization called “Food for the Poor” that, well, gave food to the poor in the Caribbean.

There was political unrest in Haiti at the time (as there frequently is). Someone (or ones) were shooting presidential candidates. I wasn’t too worried, as I can by no means be mistaken for a presidential candidate. Then they started shooting journalists. Yikes! It was time for me to bail.

Bailing became unnecessary when the destination was changed to Jamaica. This was not to be a tour of the beaches and villas, however. No, this was the poverty tour. (There’s plenty of hungry poor in Jamaica as much as in Haiti.)

When I (and the other journalists) arrived, we were treated to a swank dinner at the hotel we would all be staying at, and told when our wake-up call would be. (Too damn early. It was too damn early every morning.)

We toured a school. It was a little unnerving, but dozens of second-graders swarmed out to greet us with cheerful greetings and insistent hugs around our legs and waists. We went to a church mission, where we learned statistics on poverty in Jamaica. We went to projects where Jamaicans were making handicrafts to sell. I bought a handwoven set of placemats, though they didn’t match my kitchen’s color scheme.

In the evenings, we retired to our hotel, too tired to do anything but sit at the bar by the pool and have a Red Stripe beer. In fact, sometimes I got so tired from the day’s work that I couldn’t even write. I’d try to write an “f” and it would come out “t.” I got leg cramps from all the walking we did.

Still, there was no opportunity to feel sorry for myself. We went to a huge garbage dump, where many people lived. There were only a couple of pipes where you could get water amid the acres of trash. People lived on the things that were thrown away from swank dinners like we had been served – leftovers, cloth napkins, a fork. A knife was a particularly prized find. There was a small stand amid the garbage where local inhabitants sold a few scavenged goods to their fellows. I asked for a soft drink, which they did have a bottle of. The proprietors huddled for a minute, wondering what price they should put on it. They eventually settled on $2 American, which I paid gladly but sadly.

Another day, we went to a project where people went to develop marketable skills, such as sewing. There was a singing and dancing group. Then they served us lunch, which was, of course, impossible to refuse. It was a stew of curried goat. I can report that the taste and texture were like a heavily curried pot roast. Actually, not bad.

The most unusual place that we visited, however, was a leper colony. Yes, with actual lepers. We were reassured that they did not have active infections, though it was apparent that many of them had lost limbs to the affliction (now called Hansen’s Disease). There was singing of hymns, accompanied by a guitar played by a man with three fingers. I lingered a moment and asked if they could play a local tune. Suddenly, the people’s voices lifted in a rollicking song with more decibels and life than the hymns had. I asked if there was anything they wanted, what would it be. The workers wanted a new washing machine. The guitarist wanted new strings.

On our last night there, we journalists all drank our Red Stripes and discussed what we would take away from the experience, which was largely more awareness on how the desperately poor lived. A couple of the journalists stayed on for a few days to explore the beaches.

When I got home, I wrote my article, which was a major flop. Despite the fact that it appeared in a religious magazine, it solicited few funds for the charity, which had been the point of the tour in the first place. But I still have hope that the article opened a few eyes, as it had opened mine.

Planning the Normandy Invasion

Hubby and I are going to take a little three-day getaway this month to celebrate our anniversary. No problem, right? You forget that I have my obsessive moments, and when I don’t, Dan takes over.

Packing for a three-day trip to a b&b/working farm should be no problem, right?

Guess again.

Clothing is not a problem. T-shirts and jeans (or shorts). Undergarments. Shoes. There, the list is done.

Not hardly.

We only signed up for one huge country breakfast, so the rest of the food planning is on us (unless we want to leave our cozy cabin and go searching for a restaurant or pay big bucks for elaborate but homey farmhouse fare – and we don’t have big bucks just now).

We decided on a picnic like the kind we used to have. Cheese. French bread. Summer sausage. Apples. Carrot sticks/celery/radishes/whatever. Crackers. Wine.

Thus began the debates. Do we really need a styrofoam cooler to transport these delicacies, or will a paper bag do for a three-hour drive? Should we bring dip for the vegetables, which would require a cooler, or just some peanut butter, which wouldn’t? Should we take the tabletop ice maker, even though the cabin has a complete refrigerator/freezer – indeed, a complete, if small, kitchen plus bowls, plates, utensils, and the like? (The ice maker was Dan’s idea.) Should we toss in a couple of cans of soup just in case we eat our way through the picnic and still have the munchies?

Now consider us planning for a trip abroad which we hope to take in the spring. Dan is much more casual about long-distance trips where any eating difficulties can be solved with money. But then there’s the rest of our kit, and my anxiety kicks into overdrive. I have already begun planning, purchasing, and, if not actually packing, deciding which things need to go in the carry-on and which in the regular suitcases. (And OMG, the weight limits! And we have two CPAP machines!)

First, there’s the issue of money. Will we change some US currency at the airport? At a bank for a better rate? Will anyone there accept US dollars? How much cash should we get for a ten-day trip? Will our credit and debit cards work overseas? Will they charge exorbitant fees, plus a rate for foreign exchange? (Our bank does. See, I’ve already begun checking these things out.)

What else will we need? Rain slickers? Check, and ordered. Power converters? Check, and ordered (the kind with USB ports so we can recharge our electronics, including my absolutely necessary e-reader so I can read myself to sleep). Road map of the entire country. Check, and ordered. Extra underwear. Check. (I have a dread of running out without a laundry handy.) Multi-compartment pill case that holds day/night and day-of-the-week drugs. Still looking for just the right-sized one. (I know that should be easy, but somehow it isn’t.)

And what other problems might we encounter? Need to make a phone call, either locally or to home? Should we buy a sim card? A burner phone? A phone card (once we get there)? Pay for an overseas plan with our regular carrier? Would it be cheaper to get the pay-as-you-go plan or sign up for unlimited service? (All that hinges on how many calls we’re likely to make, which I just don’t know. This requires much perusing of our carrier’s website, calls to them, and some tricky math on my part.) And dear God, we can’t forget to make reservations for boarding the cats! Plus, who knows what COVID restrictions will be in place then?

My hope is that I can get all these questions answered, purchases made, and Absolutely Everything Prepared For, so that, finally, we can just jump on a plane and be whisked off to the vacation of a lifetime.

I’m sure as soon as we do, I’ll realize that I’ve forgotten something. My friend Robbin always used to tell me that as long as I had underwear and my meds, I’d be okay.

Good thing we never traveled together.

The Fisher in Go-Go Boots

This is my maternal grandmother, Winnie Rose.

We visited her less often than my Kentucky relatives because she lived in Florida. In fact, my first airplane flight was a trip to see her. To give you an idea how long ago that was, DisneyWorld was not yet built, though there was a Visitor Center with a 3D model of how it might look someday. (I didn’t make it to DisneyWorld until I was an adult, when I went with some friends. But I digress.)

Grandma Rose loved fishing and handed down her love of it to my mother. In her old age, my mother took to fishing at local ponds with her church friends or at the city’s recreational center’s pond. She brought home her catch and fried it, unless the pond was labeled “catch and release.” These fresh fish meals disturbed my husband who, despite his occasional desire to be a mountain man, hated to eat any animal that he saw caught or killed.

Once when we visited Grandma, we all went deep-sea fishing. I don’t remember catching anything, but Grandma caught a red snapper, which of course we ate, my husband not being on the scene yet. I wasn’t seasick while I was on the boat, but after I got back to land I was definitely woozy and wobbly.

Grandma also fished from a rowboat, and this solved a family argument. When we kids were teens, we desperately wanted go-go boots. (Remember those?) Our parents wouldn’t get them for us, claiming that they didn’t give enough ankle support, which we thought was just a pretext. Then we learned that Grandma had go-go boots for fishing, as they were exactly the right height to keep water from sloshing inside. Needless to say, we got our go-go boots after all.

Once while we were visiting Grandma Rose, I dipped into her library. There I found mystery books – I particularly remember Nero Wolfe and Agatha Christie. My fascination with these books turned into a lifelong love of mysteries, from Robert Parker to Aaron Elkins to Sue Grafton to Sara Paretsky and many, many others. If there’s a mystery gene, I got it, though it skipped a generation. I also got the crossword and Scrabble genes from Grandma.

One of Grandma’s other hobbies was knitting. She knit fabulous sweaters for the family, all with a little tag inside that said “Made especially for you by Grandma Rose.” There the gene bred true. My mother took up crochet and I did needlepoint and Bargello, plus those awful hooked rug kits.

And lest you think that she was sedentary, in her youth she rode horses. Her other love was bowling. On bowling days, she ate a hearty breakfast of Rice Krispies over vanilla ice cream. It must have worked, because she had dozens of bowling trophies, patches, and other memorabilia. In fact, she went bowling in her 90s, the week before she died.

As you can see from the picture, Grandma Rose had gorgeous, snow-white hair, which used to be naturally red, until her husband died, killed by a drunk driver. After he died, she no longer kept up the red color that he had loved. If I had been born with red hair, instead of acquiring it later, I would have been named Winnie.

Occasionally, Grandma would visit us in Ohio. There was a spare bedroom that we always referred to as Grandma’s room (though it would have made more sense to use it so my sister and I could sleep in separate rooms, at least when we got old enough to fight).

I wish we had lived closer together so that I could have spent more time with her, sharing our mutual hobbies. But I’m glad this picture survived so that I can remember her as I knew her – an active, creative woman who raised lovely flowers, plus three boys and one girl, my mother.

A Window, Biscuits, a Butter Churn, and a Mule

It was an ordinary farmhouse, located outside Beattyville, Kentucky. But there was a secret inside that we kids loved. The kitchen, of course, was the best room to be in. But getting there was even more fun. The kitchen was obviously an add-on to the house, and the entry points to it included not just a door but a window, leading from one of the bedrooms to the kitchen. Of course, we never used the door like the grownups did.

The house belonged to our Cousins Addie and Jim Mainous. They were old even when we used to visit them during the summers. But every day, Cousin Addie hand-made biscuits and sawmill gravy. (Sawmill gravy is different from redeye gravy. Sawmill gravy uses milk. Redeye gravy uses coffee. But I digress.) The kitchen was painted black, but there was lots of sunshine coming in the windows and the back door. It wasn’t at all gloomy. It was warm and cozy and smelled like the biscuits that were rolled out with a drinking glass and cut to size using the mouth of the same glass.

Addie was a thin woman with a big laugh, who almost never wore her dentures. All I remember ever seeing her wear were dark cotton dresses and white aprons. Cousin Jim always seemed to be sitting at the kitchen table, not talking but drinking coffee and eating biscuits and gravy. We kids used to make butter in the authentic churn, which would now be an expensive antique.

In the living room, we found old paper or cardboard fans that were printed with the names of churches and funeral homes. The beds we slept in were much taller than those we were used to, which made climbing into them a workout. Just beside the house was a kitchen garden, which was endlessly diverting. We pulled up carrots and potatoes (which were usually not full-grown yet).

A little ways from the house was a barn, and it was the site of many adventures. There was a hayloft that contained bales of straw (not hay), but we were too young and timid to jump from it, as kids always do in the movies. There was also a fascinating old iron machine that took the kernels off the cobs of dried corn. We loved using it, though it turned out later that the corn cobs were meant to be left whole. There was also a mule, which I once got to ride bareback. Here’s some advice: Never ride a mule bareback. Their spines are very bony.

Across the road from the farmhouse was a hill that led to an ancient family cemetery. It made a nice walk to swing on the gate across the path and trek up there. I don’t know for sure, but I like to think of Addie and Jim being buried there and not in some huge cemetery far from their home.

Just a ways down the road, there was a drive-in theater, which we could see from the screened-in back porch. It was fun to watch the movies, especially the cartoons, even with no sound. Another nearby attraction was Natural Bridge State Park. There was an impressive lodge that we never stayed in, but where we could buy that sugary white candy that seems mostly made of air and dissolves in your mouth. We took pictures of each other standing under the bridge, though I don’t have them anymore.

If Beattyville had a town center, we never saw it. Down the road from the farm was a small gas station owned by Ollie Dooley, a more distant relative, but you couldn’t really say it was in a populated area. The areas we got to see were in the hill country of Kentucky, which we called “the mountains,” though they were nothing like the mountains they have out west. These were sometimes steep, rolling mountains, grassy and rocky, full of minerals.

Fracking didn’t exist back then, and I am glad. I’m sure the old farmhouse and barn are gone now. They were old when we visited them, and they can’t have survived or been rebuilt. And no one today would want a house with a black kitchen that you could enter through a window from the bedroom.

More Kentucky Folks

Last week I wrote about Kentucky relatives on my father’s side of the family. This week’s reminiscences are of Kentucky folks on my mother’s side.

Our Uncle Sam (yes, I had an actual Uncle Sam, and an Aunt Jemima whom I never met) and Aunt June lived on a farm outside of Campton, Kentucky. We took the Bluegrass Parkway, which was then a toll road, to get there. Every summer, we vacationed there for a week or two, along with visiting other relatives in the area.

We often stayed a night in Campton, where my Aunt Thelma ran a small hotel (Roses’ Hotel) and general store right across from the town diner, which had much to recommend it, including jukebox access at every table, and a pinball machine. (Note: I have no idea whether Uncle Sam, Aunt June, and Aunt Thelma were actually my aunts and uncles. They could well have been second grand-uncles and great-grand-aunts twice removed, for all I know. The only titles we used for any relatives other than Granny (Coburn) and Grandma (Rose) were aunt, uncle, and cousin. But I digress.)

The general store was notable to us kids for having a wide assortment of penny candy where we could get root beer barrels, red hots, and Sugar Daddy pops. There were clothing and tools in the back, but we never made it farther than the candy counter.

Uncle Sam, down the road a ways, was a sharecropper. He owned the land where the house was, on one side of the road, and farmed the other side of the road for some other owner. He had cows and chickens and a horse. When I brought my then-fiance Dan to visit, he and Uncle Sam went off to bring in the cows. Dan, having no experience with cows, wandered along behind them with a stick, while Uncle Sam made polite conversation by pointing at various plants and asking, “Do they have those where you come from, Mr. Reily?”

Sam’s wife, Aunt June, was a round, comfy woman with bright, black eyes, who was at least part Native American. She was famous for her biscuits. Dan won her heart when, just before we left, he stuffed his pockets full of them.

We had, I would say, a strained relationship with the chickens. We would try to gather eggs for breakfast, but were never assertive enough to reach under the squawking and pecking fowl and collect the eggs. An adult had to be summoned for that. I was also mildly traumatized when I saw Aunt June wring a chicken’s neck for that night’s dinner, and I learned what the saying “like a chicken with its head cut off” really meant. I still ate the fried chicken, though.

The horse was another matter. We loved to ride it, but once when I was on its back, one of the farm dogs came yipping at its heels and the horse took off at what seemed to me great speed toward the barn door. The closed barn door. I bailed off sideways into the cornfield and the horse sensibly stopped when it got to the barn door. But for a moment, it was terrifying.

There was lots to do at Uncle Sam and Aunt June’s. There was a fishing pond. The path to the pond was lined with blackberry bushes and if we visited at the right time of year, we picked the berries on our way to the pond. I don’t remember catching any bluegills longer than about three inches, of which we enormously proud, but which were fed to the barn cats.

Another notable feature of the house was the plumbing, or the lack thereof. There was running water in the house for washing or cooking, but there was no inside toilet. Instead, we had to make do with the outhouse or, at night, with the “slop jar” under the bed. The bed was cozy with handmade quilts and it seemed a shame to leave their warmth to grab a flashlight to trudge to the outhouse.

Living along with Sam and June were our cousins, C.B. (Benny) and Betty Sue. C.B. was kind of a hellraiser and too old to be interested in young cousins, but Betty Sue, although among the shyest persons I’ve ever met, liked to hang around with us. Later in life, she became an attendant in a senior care facility.

The farm was a special place, with a traditional porch and rocking chairs. If it wasn’t too hot – and it often wasn’t, this being in the Kentucky hill country – we would sit and rock and drink lemonade from Mason jars.

Perhaps my memories of these idylls are why Dan and I choose to spend weekend getaways at a bed and breakfast called The Farm, where we get a small cabin with a porch and rocking chairs, beds with patchwork quilts, chickens and goats and rabbits that have the run of the barn and the yard, and huge country breakfasts. We’re going again this August, and I can’t wait.

Kentucky Folks

Not a lot of people know it, but I was born in Kentucky and lived there for the first four years of my life. My father, who was very attached to his mother, took us to visit on school or government long weekends, and sometimes even regular weekends. Summer vacation invariably involved a trip to see Granny, Pete, and Willie; Uncle Sam and Aunt June and their kids, C.B. and Betty Sue; and Cousin Addie.

One object of all this travel and family bonding was to make sure we kids didn’t pick up “Northern” accents, which I did anyway through speech and debate classes and watching Walter Cronkite on the evening news. I could still pull out a Kentucky accent when needed, such as when trying to appall my sorority sisters in college.

I suppose I should start with Granny, Pete, and Willie, who lived in a small house in Lexington. Granny was my father’s mother, and Pete and Willie were dad’s siblings. Pete was actually named Edna Mae. As far as I know, the origins of the name Pete are lost in the mists of time, and no one ever called her Edna Mae unless they were mad at her.

She was, frankly, a homely woman with thick ankles, but we loved her dearly. She had a good heart and a sly sense of humor that seldom showed itself, except when we kids did something goofy, like when I go-go danced for Granny to “Winchester Cathedral.” Every year for Christmas she gave me and my sister identical presents, differing only in color. The gifts always included an Avon roll-on perfume and a box of stationery.

Granny’s house was wonderful. There was a magnolia tree and a peach tree in front, and a black walnut in back. There were touch-me-nots growing all along the front porch and we loved to pop the fuzzy little pods and scatter the seeds everywhere.

We kids had the run of the house and Granny would frequently open her coin purse and give us spare change so we could go down the street to the store to buy penny candy. Next door was a parking lot that connected to the back door of a laundromat. We would often take the shortcut to get to the Woolworth quicker for comic books and sundaes.

Granny had long, white hair – I doubt if she had ever cut it. I still remember her sitting in a chair, with her hair flowing down the back, and Pete brushing and braiding it for her, then wrapping it in a neat coil at the nape of her neck.

We kids loved the coal fire grates that heated the house for the longest time – they were replaced later with gas heaters, which weren’t nearly as much fun. Pete had one of those old popcorn poppers that was a rectangular basket with a sliding lid. We held it over the coal fire and shook it until it was full of popped corn, then emptied it into a bowl and start over.

Names are different in Kentucky. My dad, James Robert, was invariably known as Jim Bob. All names ending in A were pronounced “ie. I was surprised when I went on an ancestry site and found my grandmother listed there as Calla. We all knew her as Callie. There was also a Callie Jo in the family, who smoked cigarettes and had a questionable reputation. Naturally, I found her fascinating, as she was the only “bad girl” I had ever met up until that time.

When Pete died, I was chosen to represent the Ohio branch of the family as my father was bed-ridden with cancer at the time. When I returned, I described the funeral to him, including the car that followed the hearse and was filled with flowers. “A truck,” he insisted. I knew he was talking about what she deserved rather than my account of what actually happened. Apart from relatives, most of the people there were from the Greyhound Bus company, where she had worked all her life.

There’s lots more to tell about my other Kentucky relatives, but I think I’ll save that for another time.

That Fateful Day

When people ask how my husband and I met, I tell them the Reader’s Digest Condensed (clean) version: At the Philadelphia Folk Festival, introduced by mutual friends. Which is true, as far as it goes. But it fails to capture the essence of the experience.

I’ll never forget my first sight of Dan. He was wearing a t-shirt that said Dr. Demento (which his coworkers at the psychiatric hospital had given him) and a patch over one eye. The patch was to cover a missing glasses lens, but it gave him a certain piratical air, and I’m known to have a weakness for pirates.

We were introduced by mutual friends, who had come with Dan to the Festival. We were all in front of the Alferd G. Packer Memorial Food Tent. (If that reference isn’t familiar to you, Packer was the leader of the Donner Party of explorers, who got lost and made a meal of one another. But I digress.)

Dan and I were on committees to help us pay our way, but we were on different ones. He was on the grounds committee, which had access to any part of the festival area and helped construct stages, booths, and the like. By the time the festival started, they had done their work and were free to enjoy themselves.

I was on the camping committee, which patrolled the tented area and its borders, making sure that no one set their tents on fire by letting their campfires burn out of control. (There was also a security committee, a tickets committee, a medical committee, and there must have been a food committee who set up the food tent, but I don’t want to think about that too much.)

I was also at the Festival with a group of friends, including Uncle Phil, my soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Rex, and a good friend from college. Uncle Phil was the catalyst for all that ensued, as he was the person that nearly everyone in both groups knew. We and several other friends and acquaintances had tents around a shared, large campfire, where at night we talked, drank, made music, and sang.

That night at the campfire, Dan purposely sat next to me, though I didn’t think anything of it at the time. Later, when he had to excuse himself for a moment, he leaned over and kissed me. I clearly remember thinking, “Why is this man kissing me?” (I was a little slow, or maybe both fast and slow.)

That evening Dan invited me to take a walk with him, and his all-access Grounds pass got us into Dulcimer Grove, a small, isolated venue where small, intimate concerts and workshops were given. This time when Dan kissed me I had some idea of why. We were there a long time before we rejoined the campfire.

After that, Dan and I were inseparable (which mightily pissed off a number of the friends that we were there with). Dan even got me into the Grounds Committee compound, which had the marvelous amenity of a shower. An outdoor shower, but still. It was a luxury that existed nowhere else on the Festival site, to my knowledge. Of course, since he was so nice as to offer, I availed myself of it.

By the time the Festival was over, Dan and I were a couple. My by-then-ex boyfriend left for New Jersey with my college friend. I borrowed money from everyone I knew to get busfare back to Ithaca. Dan drove me to the bus station and gave me two gifts: an enameled necklace and a bag of banana chips. I don’t know what happened to the two people Dan had been there with, except that one of them eventually forgave us.

Dan and I saw each other again the next weekend. I had invited him to a large house party. Neither one of us attended it, which, believe me, was the better choice. Most of the same people from Philly were there, and it seemed best not to stir the pot. We had to make ourselves a little party of two, occupying a friend’s attic while the friend went to the house party.

Then we went our separate ways, he to Philly and me, soon after, back to Ohio to live. We maintained our long-distance relationship with letters, phone calls, and the occasional visit. (This was in the days before cellphones and texting.) Eventually, Dan moved out to Ohio (as I knew he would) and after a spell of actual dating, we married.

We have since been back to the Philly Folk Festival a few times, most notably on our honeymoon, but we have never made it back on any of our anniversaries, as jobs and such made it impossible to get away at the right time. Maybe for our 40th anniversary, next August.

What Do You Do With Your Winnings?

You suddenly receive a chunk of money. What will you do with it? That’s a question that I have heard often. Not directed to me. I have no prospects of landing more than pocket change, unless my mystery gets published, hits the bestseller lists, and gets picked up for a television series.

But I watch a fair number of competition shows on TV, primarily on Food Network or The History Channel. I enter giveaways occasionally, when HGTV is offering a fabulous house in Rhode Island as a prize. But I never even buy lottery tickets, to which I have a philosophical objection. (I believe that they are a tool used by the upper classes to make money by fooling people into believing that they can magically join the upper classes. But I digress.)

The prizes offered in the shows I watch are seldom life-changing, usually starting at $10,000, which seems nice, but I have seen them go up to $100,000, which actually could be life-changing, if not a key into the leisure class.

What the contestant would spend the money on if he or she won is a question that invariably gets asked. I have noticed a pattern in the responses. There are a few major categories.

Travel. Contestants’ dreams of travel seem pretty realistic to me. It’s what I would spend my winnings on.

The usual fantasy trips are to take the family on a great vacation, to have a honeymoon that somehow never happened, or to visit a part of the world from which ancestors came. In the food competitions, there is also a tendency to wish for funds to travel the world (or at least part of it) sampling and learning how to cook different kinds of cuisine.

(Since we were on the subject of honeymoons (or at least I was), I also hear contestants who want to spend their prize on an engagement ring or a wedding. I know the price of diamonds and of weddings have not gone down in recent years, but $10,000 or $25,000 seems a bit high for regular folks, the ones who never appear on “Say Yes to the Dress.” An engagement ring for $25,000? I mean, come on!)

Home. I’ve heard a number of contestants say they would like to put a down payment on a new home. This time the figure seems a bit too low. But what do I know? Maybe the couple has already saved toward a house and this would put them over the roof, so to speak.

Other winners say they would renovate their kitchen (on the food shows) or their workshop (on craft- or building-type shows). This I can understand. Remodeling a kitchen or a workshop could easily eat up that kind of money, especially if new appliances or tools are required.

Business. Again, as with houses, the prizes offered don’t really seem magnanimous enough to start a business, but again, most of these lucky winners may have a fair amount put aside already. Or their dreams are more modest – to get a storefront instead of an internet bakery (a concept I’m not altogether clear on), or a food truck (I’m assuming this would also be a down payment, given that a food truck would have to cost more than a car, which you can hardly get for $10,000 anymore anyway) or the ability to turn a part-time hobby into a full-time business, which seems to me like a pipe dream, but I suppose there are people who could make it work.

Charity. Some of the potential winners have loftier goals. I’ve heard chefs say that they would start a variety of cooking programs for troubled youth. I’ve heard winners say that they would give part, or even all, their winnings, to a charity that provides funds for researching a disease or condition that a family member suffers from. Others want to donate to a church or other religious cause. Once I even saw a kid (on “Kids’ Baking Championship”) who wanted to help out a teacher who had fallen on hard times.

Me, I’d be off like a flash to Ireland with my husband. (I’ve been twice, but he’s never been). If there’s some left over, we’ll just have to arm wrestle for it. Maybe Benson, Arizona, where we once enjoyed one of our best vacations ever. Or, more likely, only as far as the IRS office.

 

 

Eating Around the World

My mother, my husband, and I (in different combinations) have had some amazing travel experiences. England. Brazil. Croatia. And, like good tourists, we largely ate and drank our way through the various countries. 

There was the trip that my mother and I took to Brazil. When we arrived at our Rio hotel, we were greeted by our guide, who offered us a complimentary local drink – a caipirinha. This is the national cocktail of Brazil, made from lime, sugar, and cachaca (a local spirit reminiscent of, but different from, rum). It’s a pretty potent combination. My mother, who would have the occasional Tom Collins or glass of Mogen David, did not care for it, so she gave it to me. I downed both hers and mine.

Then the other little old ladies who were on the tour (there were a fair number of them) had the same idea and all gave me their caipirinhas rather than let them go to waste. It’s a good thing we had arrived in the evening and had no other events planned for that night, as I sat in the hotel lobby and got thoroughly sozzled.

Mom was not with us when my husband and I went to England (though Dan’s mother was). We lunched at pubs and tried authentic fish and chips, but passed up an Australian restaurant because I insisted we weren’t in Australia. 

But the most interesting culinary attraction there was when I noticed “spotted dick” on the menu at the restaurant we had chosen. (Insert your favorite “spotted dick” joke here.) I had heard of spotted dick before, but never knew what it was, really. Apparently, it’s a dessert, because it was listed under “Puddings” on the menu. (As those of you who’ve seen Harry Potter know, “pudding” is generic British for “dessert.” It doesn’t mean actual pudding.)

Naturally, I couldn’t resist ordering it. I tried to muffle my chuckles, but no doubt the waiter was used to this sort of behavior from tourists. When he brought out the dessert, it was rather disappointingly a sort of spice cake with raisins in it, topped with a thin custard. (I think it might have been crême anglaise, but I didn’t know enough at the time to call it that.) Evidently, the raisins were the spots, though I don’t like to think what parted represented the dick. Especially with that custard sauce.

The best treat of all, though, was one my husband and I had when we were on a tour that featured Venice, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. There was interesting food and drink everywhere. In Slovenia, I ate Brussels sprouts just because they were served with the main dish, and discovered they were wonderful. (Unfortunately, I have not had them prepared the same way since. And I didn’t know how to ask for the recipe in Slovenian. I speak a little Russian, enough to order cabbage or buy books, but I didn’t think that would go over so well.  But I digress.)

In Istria (a peninsula that’s part of Croatia), a few of us from the tour stopped at a local tavern to get a hot buttered rum to ward off the chilly rain that was plaguing us that day. Dan and I, feeling a mite peckish, ordered a fish plate. We thought it might be something like a cheese plate, a small assortment of different kinds of samples.

But no. We were presented with an enormous platter featuring every kind of seafood you can imagine in vast quantities, including a huge, whole fish. Again, this was before Food Network, so I had to try to disassemble the fish without completely shredding it or leaving any treacherous bones. (I remember that I did it rather successfully, though that may just have been the rum punch talking.) Our tour-mates had to dig in to help us make a sizeable dent in all the fish, shellfish, and other marine life (think octopus), so as not to seem ungrateful.

But our best food encounter was on that same trip. In Croatia, there is a city named Split. (I was once trounced by a crossword puzzle that had the clue “Split country.” I thought of Korea or Vietnam, but neither one fit.) Near the end of the tour, Dan and I stopped in at a small restaurant to have a little something-something – not a full meal, just a nibble or a nosh.

There on the menu we saw it – a prosaic, all-American banana split! How could we possibly resist? We had to order one just so we could say, “We split a banana split in Split before we split Split. But we didn’t do the splits. We might have split our pants.” Opportunities like that don’t come along just every day.