Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Blog 8

June 8
We left the Christine & Paul Lurk after an all-too-short visit. Many thanks and best wishes to them. Pennsylvania has a reputation for bad roads, and I must say, this leg of the journey lived up to that reputation: pot holes, crumbling pavement, and repairs that are possibly worse than the problem they were supposed to have fixed. We bounced and rattled along at our usual 55 mph wondering if our rig could hold together for the rest of the trip.
We pulled off the road in Bethlehem, PA, to visitnot another cousin—but my high school music teacher, Jerry Bidlack and his lovely wife, Nancy. He is perhaps a few years older; he may have two new hips; his hair may be a little thinner and whiter, his back may be bent from the constant work of many years, but his voice—still punctuated with frequent laughter—has every bit the same pied-piper quality it had some 50 years ago. His teaching saved me a year's worth of music theory at Oberlin Conservatory, and his recommendation, I sure, had much to do with the fine scholarship I received there. We will try to see him again in Kinhaven, a music camp in Vermont, where he still conducts the orchestra.
After visiting with Jerry all too briefly, we bounced and rattled our way to East Sturbridge where we spent the night.

Robert, David & Ann Cavanaugh
Thursday, 9 June
In the morning, we bounced our way on SR 209 to I-84 through New York to Middleborough, Massachusetts where we had and wonderful dinner with Ann Cavanaugh and her husband, David. Ann is the most distant cousin (4th cousin once removed) we are meeting on this trip; our first common ancestors are Andrew McIntosh (1783-1836) and Sophia Symers (ca. 1780 - 1829), my great-great-great-grandparent and her great-great-great-great-grandparents. But distance has nothing to do with it; we are cousins! We had a wonderful meal, and the conversations—punctuated by a thunder storm and laughter—rolled on and on over many topics from Boy Scouts (David is a scout master) to music (Ann performs many instruments) from family (they have two sons: Robert John and Andrew David and we have a daughter, a son and three grandchildren) to history (they live in a turn of the century house—the 18th to the 19th century). Ann will be perform on Saturday, and we would have loved hearing her, but we hope to be in Vermont by Saturday.

Friday, 10 June
The Jenney Mill
This could have been the most exciting “sight-seeing day” of the trip. 1st, you have to understand that Valerie is descended from a long line of folks (12 generations to be precise) from John Jenney in Plymouth, MA. In her genealogical research. Valerie had found that John Jenney built and operated a grist mill in Plymouth, which was basically the first commercial enterprise in America, so we set aside the day for pursuing more information on the mill and struck pay dirt! The mill is now in the hands of an amazing couple who are working to preserve the mill and house for prosperity. The wife runs the concessions and large tours (often school children); the husband runs the more intimate and detailed tours of the mill explaining its history, its significance, its working which is all mixed with the explanation of many terms from the “rule of thumb” to “ear marks.” It was a mind blowing presentation.

Saturday, 11 June
Definitely cooler than the past week or two—a welcome relief. We took I-495 around Boston and headed toward Concord to meet with George Neikrug, my cello teacher at Oberlin and U Texas. I have been blessed with many wonderful influences in my life; George gave me what was necessary to have a career in music. We had a delightful time with George and his wife Virginia remembering common acquaintances—or trying to. We did OK, and blamed the rest on old age. But George, at 92, has 24 more years of excuses than I, and I think he fared better than I.
We then headed toward Townshend where I grew up, and mile-by-mile the scenery became more and more familiar. There were many changes, of course, but Townshend is like an old friend, and there was no need for the GPS. Valerie kept the map out, but there was no need; I was on auto pilot.
We set up the rig in Ball Mountain RV Park on the west back of the West River. The river was full following several days of rain. I tried calling folks to work out a schedule for the week we will be in Vermont. I was unable to get on line but the phone worked well. Then, because the holding tanks needed emptying I decided to change location. At the new location I was able to get on line but unable to call out. You seldom get more that you pay for, and as we had not yet payed for camping here—that will happen in the morning—I could not complain—but it did complicate things.

Sunday, 12 June
What a fun day, and one which was totally in the hands of the gods. No amount of planning could have made the day any better.
1st, we again had trouble getting a signal for the cellphone, and getting on line was still tricky. We would have to do it the old fashion way: go see the folks face-to-face. We started the day by driving out to see if Carol Melis was home (she lives in the house that we first lived in when the family arrived in Vermont in 1946 and across the street where lived starting in 1948). I wanted to leave my book, A Brief History of the Vermont Copper Crafters, with Carol to give to the house—the house, not the people in the house. It's complicated, I know, but not worth telling in more detail here. But Carol was on vacation. Hopefully, she will return before we head west again.Strike one.
I then went across the street and knocked, but, alas, no answer. Strike two.
We then went to find Ned Phoenix a long time friend to whom I had promised my book. We couldn't find his home. A neighbor suggested that the Phoenixes were probably all in church. Strike three.
I guess that normally would mean I was out, but no. This was not a game of baseball; this was the game of life, rural life: “If at first you do not succeed, try, try--” etc. After lunch we went to the Windham County Historical Museum in the Newfane (the town just south of Townshend) where among other thing, my father's hand-painted Vermont Copper Crafters sign is held in perpetuity. I had already given the museum my book and they had a couple of pieces of my father's copper ware, including one which I don't have. I was excited.
Rose Marie Short
We then met up with Rose Marie Short, a long-time friend and neighbor whose parents had helped my parents financially when they were setting up the copper business. She was in marvelous spirits in spite of living with life-threatening medical problems that will probably end her life. She was living with her daughter, Helen Grace, in an assisted care facility. We had a long chat about old times and new and then moved on.
We next visited with Carl Steiner whom I had known years ago. I had known his parents, too, and is father was an itinerant electrician in Townshend for many years and something of a town character. His son, Carl, seems to have taken up his father roles of town historian and character. These are not official positions, of course, but he is well qualified as he blessed with the gift of gab and the ability make interesting he daily lives of the local folk. He also raises bison and sell the meat. We bought some.
We then whipped some lunch and headed off to Ed & Lois Phoenix's place (parents of Ned and also of Whitney in Las Vegas whom we had considered visiting way back on the third travel-day of the trip). They were in a great mood and we talked and talked and met their son Seth. Ed does many things from tuning pianos to building houses, including the home they now live in.
Valerie with Ed & Lois Phoenix and their home.
The final event of the day was the arrival of Ned and a lady friend at our campsite. Ned would require an additional blog to describe, and perhaps a third as he is a moving target. He is a musician, a reed organ repairman, and brilliant intellectual who brings new meaning to the gift of gab. Anyway, we decided to meet with him at his house the following morning to complete some of the topics left open.

Monday, 13 June
One of the things I wanted to accomplish in Townshend on this trip was to get a photograph of a bas-relief my father had created for the wedding of a Townshend couple (this would have been in the 50s). Well, to make a long story short, I have not yet succeeded. However, it was not without spending the better part of the morning looking.
So we gave up on that and set out to Ned's place and finish what we had begun last night. Ned lives up a steep gravel road, deep into the forest, in a house he started building 20 years ago and which is still largely unfinished. It is wonderfully conceived and will(?) one day make a wonderful home for him and his many reed organs. His ideas on violin playing are very interesting, too, and, for the most part soundly based, even though they are quite unorthodox.

We then departed for Saxtons River a few miles northeast of Townshend. The goal was to meet up with my nephew, and his family: Bruce, Ella, Samantha and Riley. But, because of the near total lack of a cellphone signal and an on-again-off-again wifi we set out without knowing if we would find them or not. But we all managed to get together and had a lovely meal at the Saxtons River Inn. I thank them for letting us so rudely interrupt their lives. And I especially apologize to Riley for having interrupted her time with her friends, and for not remembering to take her picture before she left to rejoin her friends.



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