You can, and I did, this past week.
As most of you know, I was looking forward to this trip. It would be the first time back to North Bay for any length of time since about 1992 for me, and, the very first time my wife would meet these folks that I’d written and talked about.
What I didn’t anticipate was how emotional the reunion would be for me. On Saturday, we got to the “fireman’s field” about 9:30 or 10:00AM in anticipation that Whit and some of the guys would be already there cooking for the party. (They were)
What struck me, as soon as I arrived, was that it was almost as though I’d never left. There was Whit, with a smile every bit as big as I remembered, Tom Metcalf, Dick Slade and friends cooking chickens and banking off the fires. It was very reminiscent of the days when we’d held chicken BBQ’s and “Fireman’s Field Days” in years past.
Britney has grown into a beautiful young woman now, looking forward to her upcoming college experience, yet every bit the happy youngster I'd remembered as well!
Jolie, Britney's mom, brought her new Sportster down to the field to show it to me, and managed to "talk me into" taking it for a spin (those of you who know me, know it didn't take much talking!). As I was cruising "around the block", which is, in reality about a four mile ride, I spotted Mitch and Debbie Fox (my old neighbors) in their front yard. I hauled the bike to a stop, spun around and stopped to talk with them for a minute. We talked and made plans for later in the week. Reluctantly, I brought Jolie back her bike, I could have spent the entire day just cruising the back roads... but I'd come here for the party!!
The party was a great affair; I saw and talked to dozens of folks I hadn't seen in years, the amazing thing to me, they were exactly as I remembered them. Open, outgoing, family oriented, "salt of the earth" folks who showed up to congratulate Britney, and her parents, and to share in their proud moment.
There was a ton of food, cold beer, great weather, wonderful conversations... it doesn't get much better! I swapped old firefighting stories, re-told many of the tales I've written about here, explained 'blogging' to those folks who'd never heard of it, and in general just got 'caught up' with these old friends.
We left the party around 8:30 or 9:00 and headed back to the little cottage we'd rented. I think we were asleep 20 minutes later.
Sunday morning, I woke up to footsteps outside on the deck (we'd slept with all the windows open, it was just that nice with the breeze blowing in off the lake). It was Whit, his wife Leslie and their son Jake. They'd stopped by to take us to breakfast! Maryan was still a bit 'stiff', as all of the activity the day before had taxed her back to the limit, so the four of us headed off to the "Vienna Hotel" for breakfast while she stayed home and rested up a bit more.
That breakfast was like a trip back in time for me, the home cooked food, the conversation, all so familiar, and another of the regular activities here that I'd missed. During the course of breakfast, I also had the chance to see, and talk to, Gary Skinner, my old Chief at the Fire Department. He's still in the upholstery business, and still active in the FD and EMT departments. I would have liked to have had the chance to spend some more time with Gary, but, that was not to be on this trip.
After breakfast, and yes, I did bring breakfast home to Maryan, They brought me back to the cottage and we made plans to get together later Sunday afternoon.
Maryan and I used the next couple of hours to lie out on the decks, sip a couple of cups of coffee, and in general just relax.
We headed up to Whit and Leslie's place around 2:00pm, I think we were all in the pool within about 10 minutes and spent most of the afternoon there. Leslie's sister Cathy and her husband Joel (who we'd met at the party on Saturday) were also there, as was Whit's sister Janis. We spent the majority of the afternoon talking, laughing and playing a game of 'keep-away', or 'monkey in the middle' in the pool.
Later, Whit fired up the grill and began dinner, teriyaki steaks, grilled squash and zucchini (fresh from the garden) as well as a Whitney family treat, fried squash blossoms. A wonderful relaxed dinner, filled with conversation and laughter.
After dinner Whit and I slipped out to his shop and we looked over a couple projects he was working on. I actually had a chance to show him a trick to restore some badly oxidized aluminum wheels, and we talked about old friends, now gone, and the good 'garage times' gone by. We also talked about how much we’d missed each other and how it would be great if we lived closer so we could get together like we used to.
Around 8:00pm Maryan and I headed back to the cottage, to allow Whit some free time before getting ready to rest up for work the next day, and to get Maryan home to rest her back as well.
Once again she and I were asleep shortly after sunset.
On Monday, because she liked the breakfast I'd brought her back, I took her to the 'Hotel' for breakfast, once again the food and service was great. As we were eating, I noticed a woman sitting at a table near us, and I was sure I knew her, so I asked the waitress if it was who I thought it was. She confirmed my suspicions, so I went over and introduced myself to Ruth Medinski. Ruth, and her husband Rudy, had run a small country store when I'd first moved to North Bay. She remembered me as well and we spent a couple of minutes talking, as we were finishing up, our waitress introduced herself, as Ellen Turk, Ron Turk's wife, and that while we'd never actually met, she'd heard her husband mention my name several times over the years. Ron was a 1st assistant chief at the FD back in my firefighting days.
Monday afternoon we headed up to Mitch and Debbie's place. I was excited about seeing these two, and their sons Robbie and 'little Mitch', neither of which is little any more. Robbie is married to Tammy, a great young woman, and they have a young son Cameron. Mitch and Debbie are grandparents now! Cameron was a wonderful source of entertainment as we talked.
Talk we did! I don't think there was a pause in the conversation for the entire time we were there! Mitch and I have a hundred stories, and had Maryan, Debbie and Tammy laughing all afternoon. It was almost as though I'd never left.
It turns out that Debbie is involved in the FD now, helping with fund raisers and such, and her best friend is married to "Skip" the current chief. At one point during the day, she mentioned that Skip wanted to meet me, if there was time this week. It seems every time the "Old Guys" are sitting around and swapping stories, my name seems to come up!
I was a wonderful afternoon. I found myself slipping back into that warm comfortable feeling I always had when spending time with them. Here I was visiting with another old friend, feeling almost like we'd sat and talked yesterday instead of over 10 years ago.
We called it a day around 5:00pm as Maryan's back was acting up and I needed to get her home so she could get it back 'under control'. I should mention here that she's been amazing throughout this trip. First, she's in a lot of pain, and yet has let me haul her all over creation to visit with old friends of mine that she'd never met, and Second, that she's tried so very hard not to let her discomfort put any kind of damper on the trip!
I think it's been made easier by the folks we've been spending time with. They've treated her like an old friend, not like someone they've just met. But, with that said, that's how these folks are. Friendly, accepting and more likely to accept someone than not, I think one of the most gratifying things to me, has been all the comments they've made to me about how much they like her!
This trip has also brought home how much I'd missed these folks, this area, and this town. I've found myself fighting back tears and unexpected emotions many times a day since we arrived on Saturday. It wasn't until later, Monday evening, that it dawned on me why I'd felt so much emotion.
This town, and with these people, is the only place I've ever felt like I really belonged, actually made a difference. Over the years I think I'd downplayed that possibility in my mind. Maybe to lessen the fact of how much I missed the lifestyle here, or the sense of loss I'd felt ever since leaving. Hearing the old stories, feeling the 'love' at the homes of my friends, just brought it all rushing back.
It was really, amazing to me, that all of these folks remembered me. I'd known that there would be a few who would, most likely those folks I'd been close to. I had no idea that my life had touched so many others here...
Tuesday morning, we just lay around and relaxed, I got cleaned up and headed to Canastota to have lunch with Whit, and get a tour of the "Diemolding Corporation" plant where he works.
I got a grand tour, he showed me the process, the specialty machines he'd built and the amazing quality control procedures they had in place to assure the customer gets 'exactly' the products they ordered, with a near zero defect rate!! I was impressed to say the least.
After lunch, I took a little side trip to Oneida to snap a couple of pics. One of my old shop, now a 'Kwik-Fill" gas station/convenience store. One of Dave Farah's old body shop, and another of "Ryan Dodge" both now closed up and abandoned. It was sad to see these places, which once bustled with activity, boarded up and empty.
Once I got back to the cottage, Maryan and I headed up to Mitch and Debbie's place again. Once more we sat around chatting and catching up on the events in each other's lives over the past decade. Around 4:30 we headed out to the "Mason Jar" for dinner. We all ordered the 'All you can eat" sirloin steak dinner. The steak was cooked to perfection, and certainly more than I could eat! In fact Maryan, Debbie and I all got a "to-go" box to take home the leftovers.
While dinner was great, the conversation was even better, once again we spent several hours together without the smallest gap in the conversation. I kept thinking that vacations simply don't get much better than this!
We (Maryan and I) had been talking about the area, the people, and how much she was enjoying the trip, the people, in short everything. She kept asking me, "Why was it you moved from here?"
There was one reason I moved from North Bay, and that was my ex-wife, she didn't want to live there any more. So we moved to Liverpool, NY, with an initial plan to keep the house in North Bay. That didn't happen, for many reasons, the biggest of which was a change in our 'employment' status that made it impossible for us to maintain both properties.
I can’t say the move was all bad though, as eventually, I followed the 'work' to North Carolina, and have been there and doing well work-wise, since 1993.
We'd been tossing around, pretty light-heartedly, the possibility of moving back, but, every conversation ended with, but, there would have to be a J-O-B... and they’re pretty rare for my skill set in this particular area.
Well... what happens on Tuesday night? Whit calls my cell phone on his way home from work to tell me his boss wants to see my resume, as they're planning on making a change in their IS/IT department.
So, all of a sudden, this has switched from a 'wistful' conversation to one that's looking very possible! Obviously, my background might be different than what they're looking for, or the 'match' might not be right, but it's sure been fun so far to think it might be possible.
Fun and more than a little bit scary as well. We'd have to get the house in Burlington ready for sale, hope we can get enough for it to cover our investment, as we've only been in it 4 years, and then find some affordable place up here. Not to mention the truck in pieces in the garage, or the 100 other 'almost finished' projects around the house. Time will tell I think... in the meantime, I'm just going to enjoy the rest of the week!
On Wednesday night I went up to Whit’s place as he had a little work to do on Britney’s car. We hung out in the shop; I was more an ‘observer’ than a ‘helper’ as he was changing the starter out and there’s just not room for 4 hands on that job! It was great though, pretty much we fell right back into that easy conversation we’ve always shared, especially about cars. Later we did a little diagnostic work on a young fellow’s off-road truck, giving him the bad news that he had a camshaft problem.
As they discussed the costs associated with changing the cam, I found myself wishing I could be there next week to twist some wrenches and get that truck breathing right again.
About dark I headed back to the cottage to see Maryan and see how she was feeling. She was better, but still not 100%. Greg Campbell had stopped by while I was out, it seems Phyllis (the manager) had told him where we were staying, and left his number asking I call when I got back.
I gave him a call and he was about a block away at the ‘Crazy Clam’. He said he’d be over shortly. When Greg got there, he’d brought is father in law, Mike Dunn, with him, explaining his wife would also be joining us. Mike, and Greg, had known Larry Flint and we spent some time discussing Larry and how we all missed him.
Maureen arrived; we opened another round of beers, and started talking Fire Departments, rural living, and the changes in the ‘Beach’ since I’d last been there. They left all too early, I could have sat talking until dawn, but they were not on vacation!! Before they left though, they graciously made a point of opening their home to us should we ever be back. The wonderful thing about all of these folks is knowing that this offer wasn’t anything but heartfelt!
On Thursday, we slept in until about 7:30, did a little ‘pre-flight’ packing and then went looking for property for sale in the area. We called a couple of realtors; Kelly Ryan called as back quickly and pointed us to several homes she thought we should ‘drive-by’.
We saw several we thought we’d like to look at more closely, but felt we should save that for when there’s a real possibility we’d be moving. It sure was fun though, looking and dreaming… That one’s too close to the neighbors, the garage is too small, great garage – lousy house, and so on… The fact my wife got excited about the thought of moving, liked the area well enough to leave North Carolina for… well, I simply don’t have the words to express the emotions I was feeling!
As the day got late far too fast it was close to five when we stopped by Mitch and Debbie’s to say our “see you later’s”, as with everything on this trip, my only regret was that we hadn’t planned two weeks or more! Parting was emotional, as expected, but we’ve all agreed that if the job possibility doesn’t work out (and I don’t give it much more than a 50/50 shot at this point) they’ll be stopping by on their way to Florida in February!
Next we headed over to Whit’s Mom’s house for dinner. Despite several attempts to convince her she didn’t need to make us dinner, there was no changing her mind! She’d prepared a small feast for us. Homemade spaghetti sauce, sausage, meatballs, roasted peppers, eggplant parmesan, salad, garlic bread…. It was amazing. Once again, great food, great friends, wonderful conversation… it just doesn’t get any better!
Before dinner I’d started a ‘tune up’ on her PC, and after dinner between conversations I’d slip back and check on it. I can tell you this, that dinner, was the best payment I’ve ever received for PC work, and I would have gladly done it for her anyway, I just think that much of her and their family.
As we said our goodbyes later that evening, I was truly sorry to have to be leaving. But, Friday we were headed down to see my Mom, and would be heading home from there. I couldn’t help thinking one more time, as we walked down the driveway, how great it would be if this job possibility worked out.
Friday morning we woke up to very strong winds blowing in off the lake, and some strong storms passing to the North of us. Eventually we got the Tahoe loaded (next time we’re pushing for a ground floor unit!), and head off to Ilion to see Mom.
My Mom is a tough old woman, 78 this year, and still, despite how she’s really feeling, when you ask, she always says “Oh, I feel great!”… Her husband Andy though, set us straight. It seems she’s got some ‘leaky valves’ in her heart, if you listen to one Doc, or nothing wrong with her valves if you listen to another… I could hear the frustration in Andy’s voice as he told me what they’ve been though, once again causing me to feel like it’s time I move back. I simply need to be closer, should he need help with her, or, they need someone to straighten out the various Doc’s and their stories!!
We had a great lunch, and talked all afternoon. Around 3:00pm we went over to the hospital to pick up my Aunt Ann, Mom’s sister, who’d been there for several days undergoing some tests and such. It’s been a very long time since I’d seen Ann, but, despite the time and her hospital stay, I’d have known her anywhere! Mom was funny at the hospital, she an I went up to get Ann, Andy and Maryan waited downstairs, as we stood inside the doorway of the room, she kept mentioning I was blocking the way for the attendants… I just kept telling her I’d move her just as soon as they arrived.
When they did arrive, she asked me if I knew the way out of the hospital, I simply told her I’d follow the nurse who was wheeling Ann out… she seemed to think that was a good idea! I mention this only because I think it’s interesting how folks think when they’re worried about someone else, and Mom was definitely worried about her sister, despite her assurances to the contrary!!
Downstairs we managed to get Ann in the mini-van, and I walked her up to her apartment once we’d gotten her home. I spent a couple of minutes talking, hugging and promising to return as soon as we could, before heading back downstairs to Mom, Andy and Maryan in the mini-van.
As always, when you go ‘home’ it’s tough to have to get up and leave, even after 6 hours or so, I hated to have to get on the road, but it was time. Fortunately, about an hour before we had to leave, my sister Kathy, and husband Joe came by and we had a few minutes to catch up with them as well. I know we need to make another trip up, and fairly soon, there just wasn’t enough time for everything on this trip!
If this piece seems a bit ‘rushed’, it’s because the week was a blur of activity, far busier than I ever expected, or hoped. I wouldn’t trade off a minute of it all though, as I really believe it’s the best vacation trip we’ve ever had!