Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Visit to New England

I hardly took any pictures on this trip, sorry!

In the spring my cousin Sheila’s oldest son died of a brain tumor. He was only 37 years old. He had been diagnosed in 2014, went through treatment, and did well for a time, but eventually it came back, as these sorts of tumors so often do. 

There was no funeral, but a couple “celebrations” one on the west coast where he and his wife Miriam lived, and one on the east coast, in Watertown, a suburb of Boston. I really wanted to go to the east coast one, not only to support my cousin, but also as an excuse to visit my Westie friends. So that’s what I did.

I flew into Boston on a Friday. I landed around 11:00, plenty of time to grab my rental car and head to the North End for a lobster roll. There was one catch. I had mistakenly rented a car in downtown Boston, not at the airport as I thought. So that’s why it was such a great rate! Oh well! I grabbed a taxi and he took me to Atlantic Ave without too much fuss.

Then I ran into another problem. I had applied for a Minnesota drivers license on July 26th. At the time they said to expect it to take 6-8 weeks to receive my new license and in the meantime I’m driving around with a slip of yellow paper indicating that I have applied for a Minnesota driver's license, plus my voided New Hampshire license. Of course in order to fly I brought my passport, but National didn’t want to rent me a car without a valid driver's license! The Minnesota Driver's License website was indecipherable, and they weren’t answering their phone. He finally figured out a way to rent me a car but it wasn’t pretty.

By this time it was after noon and I was getting pretty hungry. I drove over to Lewis wharf, parked the car and headed to Neptune Oyster. As usual there was at least an hour wait, except for the fact that I was a single person. There was a  stool available at the oyster bar and they let me take it. Yay!

I told the waitress I didn’t need a menu. Lobstah roll with butter, fries, and a Diet Coke. So good! They are huge and I ate it with a fork, but I managed to eat most of it. The marathon runner’s hunger is real!

I staggered back to the car. Next stop, Finesse Pastry in Somerville. I had an old gift card I had never been able to use from when they were still in Manchester. I got a dozen French macarons, and a chocolate torte. Delicious!

A quick stop at the New Hampshire Liquor store and then I drove the rest of the way to Amy Dion’s house. I got there before her, but let myself in and said hello to the dogs. Before very long she was home, and soon after that Carol arrived too. Bill was out of town and it was time for a girls night. It was like I never left. Diane, Paula, AmyC, only Stephanie was missing because she had to work. We talked and laughed and it was great. I even stayed up all the way to 11 pm!

Next day I had a 14 mile run to do, 10 of it at marathon pace. I drove over to the rail trail in Salem, New Hampshire, and parked in the Tuscan Kitchen parking lot. As I got out of the car I realized that I had forgotten my Garmin! Damn! Well no help for it. I used my Fitbit to figure out the distance, and I counted my steps, to do some sort of run/walk ratio for 3 freaking hours! I have no idea what my pace really was but I’m sure I got the distance in, or something close to it. 

Then it was back to Amy’s, a quick shower and into the car and over to Diane’s, to meet the new puppies and Mr Whiskers, her new kitty. It’s been a long time since I’ve been around Westie puppies. They are so much fun, so energetic, curious and affectionate. Mr Whiskers was inside away from all the crazy dogs, but I went inside to pet him. He’s very sweet and he has weird double paws too, with an extra toe on each.

I drove back to Amy and Bill’s and then we turned around and hopped back into the car. We all met at The Common Man in Merrimack for dinner. We sat upstairs in the bar while our table was getting ready. I ordered an Uncommon Manhattan which was delicious and very strong! I got drunk on my ass! I had a great time, but wow. Good thing I wasn’t driving.

I had their meatloaf for dinner. I’d been craving it and it did not disappoint. And we split the ding ding dong cake and the ice cream tollhouse cookie sundae for dessert. It was all so yummy! 

An Inebriated Me and the Ding Ding Dong Dessert

Strangely I didn’t have a hangover the next day, and I’m glad. It was the day of the celebration for my cousin’s son Sam. I drove to my cousin Mark’s house in Newton first. Mark is a child of my father’s sister, Aunt Ray, and Sheila is the child of my mother’s sister Ruth, but when we were all kids in St. Louis we all played together, a lot. I was the oldest cousin on both sides of the family, and when I was little I felt a lot older, often too old to play with all those babies, but when we grew up the difference in age didn’t matter as much, and many of us have stayed close.

I didn’t know Sam well at all. I met him a couple of times when our kids were little, at a wedding, and later at a bat mitzvah for one of our kids. But the only time I met him as an adult was when Sheila had a little family reunion in Ogunquit, Maine a couple of years ago. I managed to show up for that and it was nice to hang out with Sheila’s kids. Her brother David and my Uncle Hank were at the reunion too. By that time Sam had received his diagnosis but he was in remission and doing great it seemed. We had a nice afternoon in the sun along the beautiful Maine coast.

Last spring however Sam’s illness came back, with a vengeance. This time the treatment didn’t work, and it wasn’t long before he was gone. 

The celebration was held at the Hibernian Hall in Watertown, MA. There had to be at least 150 people there, friends and relatives of Sam. There were friends from childhood, high school and college, friends from Massachusetts and San Francisco, relatives from all over the country. We talked and hugged, and ate and drank. The food was plentiful and there was an open bar, but I stuck to water and coffee.

At around 1 pm people started to tell stories and remembrances of Sam. They talked about his story-telling abilities a lot. Apparently Sam was a writer even before he could actually write. They talked about his value to them as a friend, cousin, brother. At the end my cousin took the mike and spoke. I don’t know how she did it, but what she had to say was so powerful, it has stuck with me, and likely always will. She talked about how privileged she felt to have been Sam’s mother, and how grateful she was. She said it was such a gift to have been allowed to see him take his first breath, and his last. 

After that Mark and I said our goodbyes and headed over to his house. His wife Amy was home and we decided to go for a walk around their neighborhood in Newton. We walked through the woods near Boston College, past a pond that used to be used as a skating rink in the wintertime. We even walked up Heartbreak Hill, since their house is so close the the Boston Marathon Route. Heartbreak still doesn’t seem like that much of a hill to me.

It was getting close to dinner and we decided to find something close to their house. We found a place called the Shaking Crab in Newton that they had never tried, but that got good reviews on Yelp. Its was good, messy and different! You order your seafood, adding things like corn or potatoes or mini shrimp, a sauce, and indicate how spicy you want it. Your dinner comes in a big plastic bag with plastic gloves and a bib for you to wear. Amy got crab legs, I got a lobster tail, Mark got mussels. It was all very good but you definitely  needed the bib and gloves!  After that I said goodbye and headed back to Amy and Bills for the night. It was a long day, fun, emotional and sad all at the same time.

On Monday Paula drove with me up to Madison, NH to visit Carol. First I had a track workout to do so I headed over to the Pelham High School track right by Amy and Bill’s house. I thought this would work out great but unfortunately their track was closed for repairs. Luckily the school had a huge parking lot that was pretty flat so I made the best of it and ran around the parking lot for almost 7 miles, doing a warm up, a cool down, and 1K repeats at 10k pace in-between. 

After my workout I cleaned up and then drove up to Paula’s in Manchester, with a stop at Dunkin for an egg sandwich. Then we headed to Madison. Its too bad it was a little early for the leaves to be changing, but its still a beautiful drive, just kind of long. It was great to see Carol and hang out with her and her doggies for a couple hours. Ruby and Pia are both 14 years old now. Pia is really showing her age, but she actually didn’t seem as bad as I had braced myself for. She has a lot of arthritis in her legs and walks unsteadily. They really do have a little red carpet for her from her bed into the kitchen where her water bowl is situated. She doesn’t like to walk on the bare floor anymore! Ruby seemed really good, a little slower than before but still pretty spunky.

Carol made us delicious (and HUGE) sub sandwiches for lunch. They had everything on them and they were great! After lunch we went outside and sat in the sunshine. Pia could walk better outside, and Ruby was wandering all over, sniffing and generally enjoying herself.

Too soon it was time to say goodbye and head back to southern NH. We decided we needed one more dinner out, this time at Tbones. Paula and Rich and Amy and Bill came and it was really nice. 

On Tuesday it was time to head back home. I had hoped to be able to drop the car off at the airport but no, they would have charged me $200 to make that change! So it was back downtown and back in one more Uber to get back to the airport. I made it back to Minneapolis without any problems.

I’m so glad I did this trip. It was great to see my friends, great to spend time with my cousin Mark and Amy. And I’m really really glad I was able to go to Sam’s Celebration. Its not much but I hope my presence there cheered my cousin, at least a little bit. 

I don’t know when I will get back to New England again, but I’m sure I will, and if nothing else I’ll see everyone on our Alaskan Cruise next summer!


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