We got an earlyish start and made our way north through Delaware and New Jersey. I headed straight into the city and will say that the advent of EZ Pass has made bridge-and-tunnel crossings way easier. I spent my time thinking about where to park and where to go since he was so pumped about being in New York — and I came up with a perfect plan!
I booked a space in a lot on University Place, just north of Washington Square Park. Once we were parked, we took off walking down 5th Avenue and Danny said, “do you know where you are right now?” and I said, “I know *exactly* where I am” and it felt GREAT.
(My first sublet in NY was in Soho, and later had an apartment on Thompson Street with my then-boyfriend/future ex-husband Bob. He worked at NYU as a carpenter and we spent a lot of time running around downtown.)
My lunch destination was John’s Pizza on Bleecker Street, a place that had changed gratifyingly little since I was there last.
And it was hot and I was getting tired so we stopped at an air-conditioned bar with a friendly businessman who got me up to date on how to get around town (best tip was an app that called a cab to you), a quirky Village bartender, and a wee bathroom.
D found himself drawn into nice men’s clothing boutiques, where handsome young sales clerks would urge him to try on different clothes. He came home with this jacket (spoiled).
Then I drove to an Air BnB in Montclair that was not creepy at all.
For one, unlike many of my friends, my experiences with organized religion have been largely benign to good. I’m lucky to associate church with well-meaning do-gooders who enjoy eating big simple meals together (like pancakes and spaghetti).
Since I’m lucky enough to have decent healthcare insurance through my husband’s employer, I can easily participate in the gig economy which suits me fine. This position is part-time and once I get in the swing I’m going to see how it makes sense to use the “extra” time in my week.
But mostly! St. Mark’s is a cool place. I really like that there is a Spanish-only service every Sunday (and that I need to brush up on my Spanish in order to do a good job).
I realized sometime during my visit with Cyndi that I was no longer technically the oldest child. I am now a middle child. I can tell you I don’t like that one bit.
Here are some random and hopefully interesting points of commonality:
We love books. We are avid readers and writers.
We are tall — 5’10” and 5’11”.
We both homeschooled our kids, at least for a spell.
Interested in and competent at things like cooking and sewing and knitting
Married to big friendly bearded guys (although in truth a lot of my friends are lol)
Had kids in our mid-to-late thirties with the last one born at home
Lived in NYC at the same time
We are both hilarious
On Friday we went to the little downtown to see fireworks but they were cancelled because they got wet. We just walked around and hung out instead which was better anyway. Danny ate his first crab in a dive bar. It’s a really pretty harbor town. There was live music in the gazebo.
This was our first Airbnb. It doesn’t look like much (these three views are basically it) but was comfortable enough — but also really bad-to-no Wifi which is never fun and especially not when traveling with a teenager.
But …. what was I doing there, in this place I never knew? Only, um…
MEETING MY HALF-SISTER I NEVER KNEW EXISTED
But first, her tiny dog was really cute:
[There were a lot of dogs on this trip and I’ve forgotten this one’s name, but it was my second favorite dog. ]
Back to the story. The bare bones of it is that in March I got an email from someone named Cyndi who had recently discovered via genetic testing that her birth father was not the man she thought he was….
… and in fact seemed to be the same father as mine. Thank you, 23andMe (and it turns out, Cyndi’s own mad sleuthing skills).
So let that all sink in. I know!
Certainly there is a lot more to say on the subject. Stuff that will be said!
But now just know that we talked about whether people would think we were sisters if they saw us together. My boy said: “Oh totally. Your height and your hair. You talk like you’ve known each other all your lives.”
So, that was Fourth of July. And really the reason for this whole wonderful trip.
Also, Danny and I really felt like city mice in rural MD, freaked out by all the flora and fauna. There was a peacock (!) on the property that we never saw but heard. And we came home to 4th of July fireworks and this strange dog running at us. Thankfully he was, as Danny put it, “just a big dumb Lab lumbering over.” Someone else’s teenage son had left it out by mistake.
And then we had a bitter battle over Wifi. Words were had. This is me trying to cope without Wifi.
It all worked out and we went to bed friends. That was Day 4.
But, before we leave Martinsburg a few more pictures and one more story.
As I mentioned, Aunt Lillian is super independent, having lived as a single lady all these years, and has long prided herself on healthy living since way before it was cool.
She is kind of bent over now but that is because just a couple years ago she fell through her garage ceiling pictured above. It was horrible and shocking news at the time and I think we all assumed that it would be the sad end of Lil. Amazingly she not only survived — but still lives much as she always has, getting help as needed and using her penchant for nifty tools to create hacks (like the voice-responsive remote control for her kitchen TV).
Also, she told me that the feeling of free-fall between the ceiling and the floor was incredible and she now understood why people enjoy skydiving.
I had no idea the battlefield is so huge that you have to drive around to see all the sights. First we had lunch and cooled off at the Visitor Center.
As the presentation began, we realized that we were there on July 3, the anniversary of the third and last day of battle and it was 1:00 pm, the exact time when Pickett’s Charge began. Wow!
So, we drove around for a while, admiring the town and the truly beautiful countryside.
By about the fourth stop though, we discovered a few Civil War re-enactors milling around, all of whom seemed deeply interested in the Confederate flag. I told Danny that if I were a person of color I wouldn’t even get out of my car. And at the next stop there were a bunch more and it creeped us out so much we just called it a day and split.
I get the fun of re-enacting for sure. But I wonder what type of person chooses to go all in on Confederate military history, along with many different iterations of their flag. Tensions were high in that part of the US anyway, the day before July 4th and the Military Parade and I’m sure there were lots of firearms around. It just didn’t feel safe — even for a nice white matron and her clean-cut (looking) son.
But! The good news is that the next stop was the eastern shore of Maryland and this mysterious lady.
Aunt Lillian is the family archivist and has tons of old photos and documents stored away. She is losing her sight and being practical-minded wanted my help in going through it to make sure the cousins can get the stuff that belongs to their own families. One of my projects this year is doing a family tree so we happily spent the day together and I scanned in a bunch of old stuff.
Meanwhile, Danny did this, just like his Grandpa Sam before him:
My dad lived the last few years of his life in an apartment in Aunt Lil’s house in Martinsburg. After retirement he lived in India for a few years, and when he came back to the States we were all glad he had a nice place to stay. In both of my parent’s families, sibling support and love have been very strong — it’s wonderful to see and also makes things easier on the younger generation.
Speaking of Dad, here is his high school portrait:
Now that I’m older, this picture breaks my heart in many ways. I miss my dear dad, who was tender-hearted and emotionally available in a way unusual to men of his generation. He looks so very handsome here — excellent hair, glasses and tie. Sensitive eyes and sensitive mouth. The family resemblance is strong. I wonder what he was planning at this time?
Then there is this photo of his brother George, my uncle — so charming and always popular with women.
Aunt Lil told a story that George had taken typewriting in high school because the class was practically all girls. Flash forward to his time serving in the Navy during the Korean War: “Can anyone in here type?” was the question from the commanding officer. George’s hand went up and he spent the rest of the war typing in an office.
My mother would say that the Sablacks are “always arguing” and she’s not wrong. In my opinion many of us also share:
A fondness for story telling
A great sense of humor
A deep curiosity about the world and people around them
Immense pride in coming from humble roots and making their own way
Experiencing joy in things they find beautiful.
Less happily, some key traits also include:
A proclivity for mental illness and/or substance abuse (not all but a significant some)
And, at least for my dad and Danny and me, a nervous stomach and a tendency to stub ones toes painfully.
I’ll wrap up with a story about my grandfather, who I never knew. He was a foreman at the coke plant, an immigrant from Yugoslavia, and died young (age 59) from a heart attack. He fathered nine children and I never heard a good word about him from my dad (who adored his mother, pictured above).
I asked Aunt Lillian about him and she said they had always gotten along fine — she felt like Daddy’s girl. She told me that he used the very little extra money he had to educate the older girls of the family. Her older sister Helen went to secretarial school, while Lil got a year of college. She suspects he figured that the boys could always find good paying work, and he didn’t want his daughters on their feet all day, “working for pennies at the five-and-dime.” We agreed that this was awfully thoughtful and forward-thinking for a man of his time, especially one from the Old Country.
Thanks to all who encouraged me to write about my long drive and stroll down memory lane! So many towns visited, stories told, and time spent — plus as a solo driver I had many hours spent thinking and daydreaming out the window.
I left town at what I consider an ungodly hour and only about 30 minutes later than I had hoped.
A key component of this trip was “embracing chaos” and there was a fair amount of that along the way. The first real surprise was when I bothered to map the trip from Lombard to Aunt Lil’s place in Martinsburg WV and saw that it was 10 hours — and 11 hours if I wanted to avoid the drive to Cleveland, which I did (only because I do it SO MUCH). I was also interested in making frequent and regular stops to make the travel healthier and more sustainable (ideally). All in all I was looking at a really long day [and it turned out to be the longest one-day drive so in retrospect, excellent planning].
We avoided rush hour traffic and made our way east (my tall 14-year-old came along for the first leg of the trip and stretched out in the backseat).
Having just seen a revival of The Music Man at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, I was feeling the musical love. Also, my late father, whose absence loomed large over much of the trip, was a fan of the old Broadway shows. And, I discovered, musicals are perfect for road trips because they are long, because they contain a narrative, and because you can sing along.
I dug up the original cast recording of The Most Happy Fella on Spotify and listened to it for hours. We were in the car for so long that Danny finally stopped looking at his phone and just stared out the window at the countryside and listened to the music. It’s a great musical if you like that sort of thing (I’m partial to the 1992 production which I saw in NYC for $10 and turned me from a musical-hater to convert).
We finally arrived in Martinsburg at around 7:00 or so I guess — we had to go back out again to get some toiletry for the young traveler and enjoyed a lovely drive in the Eastern Panhandle and watched the sunset. For anyone who hasn’t been, West Virginia truly is beautiful country.
Also, Danny told me that you can look up cities in Urban Dictionary so this is the story on Martinsburg, home to my dear Aunt Lillian whose criteria for a retirement city was that it had at least two NPR stations and was in a two-hour driving radius from DC. She said she told my dad that, and he got out a compass and drew a circle on the map and said, look there.
So, that was our first night. Aunt Lillian, who never married, is an excellent and seasoned host. She has a taste for nice fixtures and helpful gadgets. She is also old-fashioned and has little patience for bad table manners which I appreciate. I told my son that all of us Sablacks have to go through it and get the Aunt Lil treatment to civilize us.
Dan retired with his phone and I hung out with Aunt Lillian for a while. She told a funny story of how when she was young she once came to work so hung over that she fell asleep on the phone while a customer was yelling at her. This was back in the early 60s. She had escaped their little Ohio mill town (as did all of her many brothers and sisters) and moved to the big city of DC and worked and was broke and ran around and had fun. I really admire her lifelong dedication to the pursuit of good times!
It all started when a dog bit me on the street in Chicago’s fancy Lincoln Park neighborhood a little over a year ago. I was minding my own business, walking to my postpartum doula job when a dog walker came toward me with three dogs on leashes, and as they passed me a big one suddenly grabbed my wrist in its jaws! It was pretty terrible. I had the presence of mind to get all of the owner’s information before I went to my client’s house, crying, and then to an urgent care. I was so afraid of getting a infection but thanks to excellent wound care from my dear husband I came out of it healthy and with minimal scarring. I ritualistically burned my favorite sweatshirt that was ruined, and (the good news) recently collected a settlement from the dog owner’s insurance company.
Then last week someone on a local Facebook mom group asked about Lasik, and someone I know (a former doula client!) said she’d had hers done several years ago by a guy in Oakbrook and had been happy with it. A little more Facebook research yielded several friends who’d also had the procedure done, and yielded not one bad report.
So, money in the bank, summer vacation …. And then I realized I had been wearing contacts for forty years! Forty years of taking them in and out and cleaning them and sleeping in them when I forgot and constantly buying all the stuff and having to bring my glasses everywhere and thought ….
I booked an appointment online, went in on Thursday morning and got an exam and the go-ahead for the procedure. Everything was efficient and reassuring.
Although it did feel an awful lot like an eyeball factory. It reminded me of movies like Logan’s Run and The Hunger Games — what healthcare and/or cosmetic surgery looks like in the dystopian future when it is made into a true consumer product. You are smoothly moved from one area to another, from waiting room to office, to another waiting room and a video on the iPad explaining the procedure. Then another doctor and then the credit guy. Twelve months same as cash! Also a discount from our health insurance, which is really the first time that insurance has saved us money, a nice surprise.
I was sick to my stomach Friday morning. My appointment was at 8:00 am and it didn’t matter if I ate or not but I really couldn’t bear to. My husband laughed and said he was jealous! I took a Lyft there and back which they had assured me was common — but I didn’t see anyone else doing it, either.
The doctor does surgeries on Fridays so at 8:00 am the waiting room was filled with people looking both nervous and sick.
I was feeling so freaked out by this time that I maybe dissociated a little bit? I definitely became a docile and compliant patient. After two Tylenol PM pills (…dang it, why didn’t I ask for the Xanax?…), I went into a small pre-op/recovery room with a comfy chair and desk and hung out with a really sweet young woman who put numbing drops in my eyes. We chatted about how I’d had kefir for breakfast and how she had really pretty hair. I got a mesh surgical cap and wads of Kleenex over my ears and my glasses were put away (FOREVER). Then I was led into the big room (which was presumably sterile even though the office is in a big mall-looking place) and there were two giant machines that did I know not what. I met the doctor for the first time and he struck me very much like the kooky therapist in Twin Peaks — not something that instilled confidence. I couldn’t see at all with no glasses and numbing drops so they led me gently by the hands to the first table where I laid down. I closed my eyes and it seemed like the doctor slipped some kind of rubber thing between the lids of one eye to hold it open. I focused on a green light that turned into red — doc was talking me through it (I’ll bet he’s tempted to make a recording) — one eye, then another. Then they got me up and took me to the other machine where my head lay in like a little pit? And they did something else to my eyes — something that involved a BURNING SMELL. He says, “now you’re going to smell burning but you don’t need to worry because nothing is burning” and I thought, “….what does that mean exactly….?” And then I smelled burning! And was so freaked out it took everything I had to just be chill and get it over with.
They led me out of the room, put my sunglasses on me, and that was it. I was like, “am I done?” And they said yep. And then I had to call my Lyft driver but I couldn’t see a blessed thing — my eyes were super blurry like I was under water. I had the front desk person call me a car and then wandered downstairs and stood on the corner in sunglasses like a literal blind person until my Lyft came to pick me up. I wonder what the guy thought (I used to drive for Lyft and I’m sure I would have been freaked out and nosy).
Got myself home and I crashed, on my back and in sunglasses, as instructed. One of my eyes kind of hurt and just the thought of it was freaking me out so I dug up some old pain pills and took one and ate a cracker and put it out of my mind and passed out for a while longer. Had peppermint tea when I got up. I need to wear sunglasses for sleeping and showers for the next week!
I will mention here that I’m a very holistic-type person and I try to be careful about what I eat and what I put into my body. It certainly occurred to me last night while I was still all revved up with adrenaline that it’s probably disruptive to blast lasers into your eyes, no matter how good the final result. And honestly I wouldn’t be in a hurry to do it again.
I’m more than okay with it though.
Went back today with the hubs and got the all-clear. I’m sold, so glad I did it!
So, flash forward — we went to London for Spring Break this year, and I got to take my old-enough-to-appreciate-it kids and hubs to my favorite city!
I went to London for the first time in 1985 for a term abroad when I was 20 years old. I shared a room in a Golders Green B&B with my beautiful friend Jen Bruer — who with her height and masses of red hair and freckles and Nashville accent was the toast of young man London! There were 21 of us there from Earlham College and it truly was once in a lifetime.
I love London so very much. I went back with a boyfriend at least a couple of times and we had a blast and he said it suited me very well —the good manners and the lovely summertime and that tea came just when I started getting crabby.
I had the genius idea to go back with my mom and my aunt and her daughter, my cousin Marie who came in from Australia for just a week. It was memorable! And timely, because Miles was born a year or so later. That was the last time I’d been, in 1999.
And now I have gone again with my own family and walked the wrong way and got on busses and had snacks from newsstands and Tesco and brunch at the pub across the street which is now my very favorite place ever and….
You go at dusk or later as it is all lit by candles. It is in the Spitalfields section of London, not a wealthy part, a place where silk weavers lived and worked.
A man with a very quiet calming voice explains to us the rules. No touching. No talking (!). Take as long as you want. Start in the cellar. (My husband asked if this man could lead us all around London in his calming way.)
The room that struck me the most was up in the garret, showing a time when the silk industry had collapsed and people were very poor. We agreed later it looked like a creepy version of Scrooge’s bedroom and had a desk that looked like Bob Cratchit’s in the corner. What I noticed is that there was a little stool and a crutch (like Tiny Tim would use!) next to the fireplace, with a picture tacked up at kid’s eye view. And I thought, “here, you sit by the fire and look at your picture” and wanted to cry.
At this point I realize I’ve gone far afield! Will end here and dream of the big city in days gone by …
So I’ve been spending more than my fair share of time on social media lately….
…..and really how did we eat before Instagram?
The last few days for me have felt like a real need for rest — plus intense feelings of guilt about others who don’t get a chance to kick back — and the intense enjoyment I feel lounging, enjoying the quiet and the sunshine and the snoring dog.
“Getting things done at my own pace,” as my husband likes to say.
I have Christmas preparations to carry out of course. The tree is up but not decorated. Tonight is the middle school holiday concert. I picked up my holiday cards from Staples yesterday and they came out kind of shitty.
So, I am making good food for hungry people, two of whom are growing and too skinny. I am making sure the kitchen and laundry and household machines keep moving. I am available for company and emotional support. In short, I am doula-ing my family. It is very much women’s work, as it’s been done for centuries.
Another thing women have done for centuries is apologize and self-deprecate. I really want to say here: Its important to me right now to publish regularly and I can’t do that
if I let perfect be the enemy of good
(as a smart friend taught me). I’m not sure any of this is “good enough.”
Some excellent advice comes to mind from my mother who says —
Justmake a decision and be done with it. Right or wrong, it’s done.