I was living somewhere called Hazerswoude-Rijndijk. No, I'm not making that up. It's a small, extremely quaint village in The Netherlands about five miles from Leiden, where my oldest daughter, Natasha, was born 23 years ago. In fact, her birthday was just two days ago, which made me reminisce about so many things, including how my sister scared the living daylights out of her when she was only three weeks old.
Now, you need to know that my sister doesn't "do" travel unless it's relatively short flights (six hours or less), so traveling from Houston to Amsterdam was a big deal for her. Of course, staying at The Amstel Hotel, one of the world's greatest hotels, made the "sacrifice" a bit more bearable. At the time, we weren't close, although we were always there for each other if needed. And I never had a single doubt, ever, that she'd be the most amazing aunt when the day came.
So, only weeks after Natasha was born, there she was at the door of our idyllic farmhouse along the Rijndijk River about 40 minutes, and countless miles of tulips fields, outside of Amsterdam. And how did she get acquainted with her niece? By gently tossing her up in the air, almost non-stop, for over six hours. Natasha was my first child, and as any first-time mom will tell you, we're overly cautious with the first one. So, how did I handle this? First, with horror, then when I saw she was being extremely careful and really not "tossing" her very much at all, although it just seemed like it, with some trepidation. (The fact she told me Natasha weighed far less than the weights she lifted daily might've helped.) But mostly, with appreciation as Natasha literally wouldn't stop crying, except for when her aunt gently "threw" her up in the air.
The following day Black invited Natasha and me to spend the day with her at the Amstel. She had arranged for what turned out to be one of the best days I'd ever have with her and Natasha – a private cruise along the Amstel River in a classic wooden Dutch boat, in and out of seemingly all of Amsterdam's beautiful canals, with a gourmet lunch prepared onboard. It was magical, memorable, and something only my sister would do. And Natasha, showing her first indication that she very much liked her aunt's "lifestyle", was a picture-perfect infant for the entire day. Well, almost, as the day didn't start well,
Black had left her room unlocked, and I walked into the most beautiful hotel suite I've ever seen, something out of a 1950s Fred Astaire movie. Natasha's blissful in her carry seat having slept quietly in the car, while I'm admiring the panoramic views of the Amstel River, lost in thought of how this is a perfect moment in time. Until my sister walks in from the bathroom, having just got out of a hot bath, and picks up Natasha. Who instantly starts to scream! But a scream I had never heard before – or since. A scream you'd expect if you saw an ax murderer coming toward you. And then I … laughed, uncontrollably. Because my sister had the biggest mascara "raccoon eyes" that I've ever seen in my life and was probably the scariest thing Natasha had ever seen in her (three weeks old) life.
It was one of those mindless questions, “What was your favorite childhood book?” And although I couldn’t answer the question, it brought back wonderful memories of my favorite book while I was still living at home. Which recently turned into a new tradition … and maybe the highlight of my summer …
I can remember it as if it was yesterday – I’d be sitting up in bed late at night, reading (well, more like devouring) a biography of Winston Churchill by William Manchester. At almost 1,000 pages (and weighing in at over three pounds), you’d have thought it a college reading assignment, not something for pleasure.
Although more of a Tudor history fan, I found the biography of Churchill (a larger-than-life, literally and figuratively, character, but I won’t bore you with the details) difficult to put down. And it had my complete attention right up to the last word. But then, I felt disappointed. And a little cheated.Because not only was I going to miss my nightly “date” with Winston, but the book left off in 1932. Now, anyone who knows Winston Churchill knows he’s most famous for his extraordinary role in World War II (1939-1945). But then I was relieved to learn,
I had read the first book in what was a planned trilogy. I couldn’t wait for the second one to be released, and five years later, I devoured that book, too (it was a mere 750 pages), and couldn’t wait for the third and final book. But then the author died. And I thought, well, that’s it.
Fast forward decades later. When Black asked her question, I couldn’t remember the book title, which drove me crazy. Rather than go upstairs and find the books, I got online and discovered the most unexpected, but great, news …
William Manchester had started the third book and, knowing he was going to die before being able to complete it, asked author Paul Reid to finish it. Apparently, it was released in 2012, when I was in the midst of being a single mom with two young children and working on Red & Black, so no time for reading. I immediately ordered it, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened,
Even before “Defender of the Realm” arrived (this one’s over 1,000 pages), I decided this would be my summer project. I’d start over Memorial Day weekend with the goal of finishing by Labor Day. But once I curled up on the couch, after office hours and on weekends, often with a Dunkin’ iced coffee beside me, I was transported back almost forty years. Once again, I couldn’t put it down. But this time, I had a companion. As Moo, my beloved labradoodle, decided that she loved having this “quiet time” with me.
I finished the book shortly after July 4 and realized it would be far more than a wonderful summer memory. It was the beginning of a new “tradition” … making time to get back to being a bookworm. It reminded me of the importance of escaping and recharging my batteries. And spending time with Moo. And based on Moo’s excitement the minute I’d pick up the book, including immediately jumping on the couch to join me, I think it might have been the highlight of Moo’s summer too.
It’s hot and humid, and Red and her daughter are thinking about the lonely turtle crossing the road (no, this isn’t the start of a joke – see story below) seeking water and shelter from the sun. It’s something we can all relate to as millions are dealing with brutal heat waves.
|I'm still smiling at you letting Sawyer drive your Mercedes G-wagen. Although I know that her dream car's a Ford F-150, I think yours is her "fantasy car".|
|I knew the "long way" to drive back to your house, but after asking her if she knew the best way, it seemed easier to have her drive.|
|Well, you might have thought of it as efficient, but she thought it was exciting. And she told me that she was honored you trusted her to drive.|
|Did she mention that once we got back to your neighborhood, we saw a huge turtle on the road? Moving very slowly, of course, so I was not concerned it would become an unexpected road obstacle.|
|Of all the things she might encounter in our neighborhood – cyclists, Amazon delivery trucks, dog walkers – to find a turtle in the street was probably the last thing she was expecting.|
|Or, me. I know we laugh about me needing Benadryl to visit you in the suburbs, but it is due to all the pets and children – not wildlife.|
|That turtle made me think of Daddy. I'm not sure you were still living at home at the time, but do you remember when he "saved" the turtle on the road?|
|I have no idea what you are talking about.|
|Daddy was driving on Wantagh Avenue, near Kwong Ming (our favorite Chinese restaurant growing up in Massapequa), when, all of a sudden, he pulled off the road and hopped out of the car.|
|If I remember correctly, that road did not get much traffic.|
|True, but there were still cars on the road, and it was still a very unusual thing for him to do. I was probably around ten or so and sitting in the back seat, so was a little surprised when the car stopped, and he quickly got out. But when he said, "I'll be right back," I could tell by his voice that everything was ok.|
|Considering that Daddy was very mild-mannered and not the sort of person to panic or to overreact, I am not sure the tone of his voice would have been a good indicator.|
|Regardless, I wasn't the most observant of kids, so unless the car were on fire, I probably wouldn't have thought much of any of it. So, while he walked across the road, I didn't think twice about getting out of the car to watch what he was doing. Not because I was worried, but out of curiosity.|
|It is hard to imagine that same scenario today, for an assortment of reasons. Unless, of course, it was staged for YouTube or Instagram.|
|I know, but it was a different time. Decades ago.|
|I can picture Daddy waving the cars to slow down while scooping up the turtle and depositing it well away from the side of the road.|
|Close. He disappeared on the other side of the road for a few minutes, and when he returned to the car, he told me that there was a stream, so he had carried the turtle down the bank and placed it by the water. It was a hot summer day, and he figured that the poor turtle had somehow wandered far from home and was now trying to find water. Not to mention grass and shade.|
|That sounds like Daddy. Well, the conditions were similar when Sawyer and I saw the turtle in your neighborhood, but I have no idea where the local stream is located.|
|I wish I had been around, as I'd have paid homage to Daddy by scooping up the turtle and at least try to find it a safe place. And based on what Sawyer told me, if she sees him (or her) again, that's exactly what she plans to do.|
|Like father, like daughter … like granddaughter.|
Some things never change. Like my wanting to carve out more time for personal reading (which is what originally prompted the memory below). But now, as I sort through everything that accumulated in my house after our mom passed, I can’t help but reminisce. And also think (and smile) about what my dad taught me about “draining the swamp” …
This past weekend, although not on my "To Do" list (although maybe I should start including it), I decided to take a little time to catch up on reading. So, I grabbed the pile of newspaper articles that I've been saving to read when I have extra time (which doesn't happen often). The good news (pun intended) is that many of these articles are so old by the time I get to them, that they go straight into the recycle bin. Such as the one when Trump was still President and covered not only the pardons he had announced but also the ones that were still expected.
Anyway, I wasn't sure the subject still interested me, as obviously it was no longer relevant, but decided to give it a quick glance, which is when I saw that it mentioned how Trump had promised to "drain the swamp" when he was running for President in 2016. Before you stop reading – this post has nothing to do with politics. It's about how that phrase brought back one of my fondest memories of my Dad and a piece of paper now yellowed with age …
My dad was a consulting engineer and worked from home (which was very unusual in those days but I thought wonderful) in a room in our basement that he had converted into an office. Every day after school I'd go directly downstairs, even before running to the kitchen for a snack. I'd dump my bags, plop down (sorry, no other way of describing it) into the wooden chair in the corner, and tell him about my day. He'd turn around from his drafting table, so I could see him, and give me his undivided attention. Behind him and the drafting table was a large corkboard with assorted notes and drawings, but pinned in the far corner was a piece of paper that he'd probably put up there even before I was born.
What was on that paper always made me laugh, even though at the time I'm not sure I really understood how true it was. It was so like my dad, who had a dry but wonderful, sense of humor, sometimes silly (think Monty Python), sometimes a little sarcastic. A lot of it, though, was in his delivery – whether a story or a joke – how he'd calmly lead you into something that ended with the unexpected. Somehow, all of that came together, in what was written on that piece of paper. And although a small thing, he must have known how I'd always look at it because when it came time for me to get married and move out of the house, he gave it to me.
It has always stayed close to me, literally, in the decades since and today it's in my Red & Black binder that I use every day, especially since it's where I have my monthly calendar. And every time I look at it, I smile …
The objective of all dedicated employees should be to thoroughly analyze all situations, anticipate all problems prior to their occurrence, have answers for these problems, and move swiftly to solve these problems when called upon …. However .… when you are up to your ass in alligators it is difficult to remind yourself that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.