Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Grand Old Fourth with the Grandkids

This year we were lucky to have daughter Eleni and her two kids, Amalia, 5, and Nicolas, 2, come to stay with us in Grafton, MA from June 27 to July 5.    Although they live on the 14th floor of a New York high-rise and have Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art  a few blocks away, the simple pleasures of life in the country delighted them and Nick and I loved sharing an old-fashioned Fourth of July weekend.  Along with Eleni and kids on this visit came Emilio’s niece from Nicaragua, Maria Agustina, who is staying with them while she looks at colleges in the northeast.  Eleni’s husband, Emilio, couldn’t make it to Grafton because he was so busy launching his new coffee company Eleva, back in New York. 

It was very hot, and as soon as they arrived, everyone headed for the pool while Eleni Nikolaides (“Yiayia Nenny”) and Mommy inflated pool toys like Hank the Octopus. Papou Nick looked after grandson Nico on his kickboard.

 Every morning Amalia and Nico would set out carrots and other treats for the bunnies that seem to be reproducing like, um, rabbits all over our property.  The baby bunnies became so tame that Nico could almost pick them up, which had him screaming with excitement.

 The pair had several tea parties on the porch, and Nico was happy for hours playing with his Nemo water table on the lawn.

Friday night, June 30, the Worcester fireworks display in Christoforo Colombo Park on Shrewsbury Street was threatened by rain, but it stopped just long enough for the pyrotechnic display, which we watched from afar in the Beechwood Hotel’s parking lot.   Amalia counted with glee how many of the explosions included the three colors of our flag.

 The next day, Saturday, we went to a “Crab Festival” in the parking lot of the Sole Proprietor restaurant.  It was celebrating the 25th year that Buster the Crab will be enthroned atop the restaurant throughout the month of July to advertise the special crab menu.  

 The kids got free face-painting, balloon figures, and the chance to enter a Buster coloring contest (which would score them a free meal if they came in July with their parents.)   
From there we went to the nearby Worcester Art Museum, one of the best small museums in the country.  The kids admired the medieval chapel and colored in an exhibit of sacred art. (The museum has become very child-friendly.) 

 They loved lying on pillows to look up at the hanging art, with flashing lights and waving plastic cones that are inflated by fans.  That exhibit is called  “Reusable Universe” by Shih Chieh Huang.
 The little ones were captivated by the pink plastic flamingos gathered in the museum’s courtyard, where we ate lunch from the Museum Café.  (Did you know that the plastic flamingo –1957, as well as Tupperware –1946, both originated in Leominster, MA the “plastics capital of the world”?)
Sunday started with a tour of Westboro and Grafton, including a horse farm.  We stopped for an ice cream at Grafton’s Country Store on the picturesque Grafton Common.

After lunch we went to Worcester’s Ecotarium, a science and nature museum that currently offers an exhibit called “Did Dinosaurs Poop?”, combining two topics of riveting interest to Amalia and Nico.  They even got to dig for fossilized dinosaur poop in this sort of sandbox.  The stegosaurus you see outside is Siegfried, who lives at the Ecotarium but no, he doesn’t poop.

One highlight of the Ecotarium was the 12-minute ride on the miniature Explorer Express train around the park, but the biggest hit of all for Amalia and Nico was standing inside the hurricane simulator to feel the force of the winds.

On Monday, July 3, Amalia worked all afternoon making a patriotic farewell cake for her Papou Nick, who was about to leave for Greece where he will spend the rest of the summer.  When she stuck a candle in it, it  became an early cake for his late July birthday.

As soon as Papou left for the airport, the rest of us headed to the Grafton Common for the annual Fourth of July concert.  All of Grafton, young and old, gathered around the bandstand, most dressed in patriotic colors. 

 Amalia investigated the cannons, which are shot at the beginning and end of the concert, and the men dressed as Civil war soldiers.  Nico checked out the flavors of the Cones on the Common.
On Tuesday, July 4, we all headed to a celebration in Millbury’s Dean Park, where hundreds of people were strolling about in the heat, enjoying the music, barbecue and games.

 There were lots of different kind of inflatable challenges and bouncy houses, and Nico and  Amalia were determined to try every one, despite the long lines.  One inflatable was a long obstacle course, but Nico plunged in fearlessly, moving as fast as the big kids, climbing up walls and eventually coming out the other end at the same time as his sister.
 We were planning to go to another, more distant fireworks display that night, but after the heat and activity of the day, we were all too tired. We elected to stay home and just watch the Macy’s fireworks from New York on TV.

The next day we drove back to Manhattan.  It took five hours instead of the usual three, and Nico threw up in the car just as we reached the New York border, but nevertheless, we all agreed, it had been the best Fourth of July ever.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Changing Role Of Fathers Through The Decades

(I originally posted this on Father's Day four years ago but it's still appropriate today,  as the role of the father is evolving --for the better in my mind--every year.)

In 1911, when my mother was born, the father was a god-like figure who occasionally came down from Mount Olympus to offer criticism, praise and advice.

(My mother is on the far right in the back row. In addition to the seven girls in the family, there were two older boys.   My grandmother, Anna Truan Dobson is holding her ninth and last baby, who was born when Anna was 49 and her hair had turned completely white.  The father, Frederick Fee Dobson, was a Presbyterian minister in Oswego, Kansas.)

In the 1940's, when I was born, the father would come home from work and sit in his favorite chair with his scotch on the rocks and read his newspapers, and he was not to be disturbed until dinner time when he presided over the dinner table.

In the 1970's, when my kids were born, the father was more hands on, but not to the point where he ever changed diapers, took a kid to the park, or knew the names of his children's friends or teachers.

But our granddaughter Amalia, born in 2011, has the benefit of the current breed of father, who is hands-on from the moment of birth.  He changes diapers and makes breakfast and gives baths and Amalia knows a father is also for :
Going down the slide together and

Dancing on the patio together and

Looking for fish and dolphins together and

Feeding giraffes together and

Holding you up in the water and

Playing horsey and

Admiring your artwork and

Walking to the park together and

Singing in the park together.

And grandfathers, whether or not they changed diapers in their younger days, are for telling you a story every day, even if they have to do it by phone or by Skype.

Happy Father's Day to  Emilio and Nick who are now Father and Grandfather (Papou) to both Amalia and Nico!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Local Farm, with Links to the Salem Witch Trials

Today I drove past Nourse Farm on Route 30, as I do nearly every day.  I stopped to take a photo of the decorations out front, a giant cake celebrating the town of Westboro's 300th Birthday and a sign advertising Farm Heritage Day, this coming Saturday.

Nourse Farm is a place where you can pick your own strawberries and raspberries in season (and buy corn and pumpkins in the fall.) When I have a party, I often stop by their farm stand to pick up one of their delicious home-baked pies.
I've also taken my kids, when they were small, to see the sheep being sheared and the wool being spun into yarn by the wife of the owner.

I wish the grandchildren were going to be here next weekend for the fun events they've planned.

A long time ago, I was told that Nourse Farm is one of the oldest continuously operating farms in the country, and that it was established in 1722 by one of the descendants of Rebecca Nurse.  She was the innocent elderly woman who was hanged as a witch in the town of Salem in July of 1692 and her courage in the face of fanatic paranoia was portrayed in Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible".

Years ago, when I once stopped at the farm store, I asked the owner if this was true and he said it was, but that when he was young, his parents didn't like to talk about it, even though Rebecca Nurse has been proved an innocent martyr by everyone, including the church.

It's an honor to have a place like this to show my grandchildren.  Whenever I take them there, they allow us to visit the horses and cows and other animals.  (Long ago I did a large watercolor of the two white horses who board there, standing in the field with the red barn and white house in the background.  Then I gave the painting to the owner and he put it up inside the farm store.)

I think Nourse Farm is one of the treasures of our historic New England neighborhood, and I remember the saga of Rebecca Nurse every time I drive by.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Voice of the Turtle Is Heard in the Land

Four years ago on May 23, 2013, I published the blog post below, which is basically a love song to my New England village of Grafton.  It started with a photo of the mean giant snapping turtle who comes every year across the road from the lakeside to lay her eggs in our front yard.  

I didn't see her last year and yesterday I was saying, "I wonder if that turtle's still alive?" but just now I looked out of the second floor bedroom window and there she was in the driveway.  So I went outside to say hello and she glared back as always.  I know she'll be several hours out there digging a hole and then laying her eggs (very slowly!) and then we'll try to help her get back across the street safely.

Right now, exactly as I wrote four years ago, the irises and the clematis are in flower and the peonies are about to pop open and I've been photographing it all.  And just as I said then, I'm dreaming about being able to afford a tiny apartment in New York, so I can spend my declining years there. But every spring I start watching for this turtle and I realize there's no place I'd rather be than here in our 300-year-old house in Grafton.   

Song of Solomon 2:11-12 (KJV)
11 For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

She came today, just as she does every year, crossing the road from the lake, digging a nest in our front yard and laying her eggs--the biggest,  meanest old snapping turtle you ever saw, but we always watch from a distance and make sure she makes it back across the road without becoming road kill.
And today the clematis started to pop open and so did the best of the irises.

Last week I was back in New York City. We dined at Swifty's and I walked through Central Park every day at the height of its blossoming and I tried to figure out how I could sell our country house in the Massachusetts village of Grafton and buy a tiny apartment in New York to spend our declining years, but then I got back home for last weekend and realized that Manhattan can't hold a candle to our New England village.

At the Common they were celebrating Grafton History Day--the 150th anniversary of a time when both the Town House and the Unitarian Church were burned down on Sept 11, 1862 as the Civil War was raging, and rebuilt in 1863.
Linda Casey, president of the Grafton Historical Society, greeted me in her daytime dress.  She had another gown for the ball that night.

There was a  Civil War muster and the Mass. 13th Volunteer Infantry Regiment was recreating an authentic Civil War encampment.

Ladies were buying plants on the common, no matter what the shape and size of their petticoats.

Next I went to the Plantapalooza at the Community Barn and Harvest Project where kids and adults were planting about a gazillion tomato plants as part of the community's volunteer farming for hunger relief (they give away everything they've grown) .  And everyone who came got free tomato plants. 

You could meet alpacas and go on the cookie walk & buy handmade crafts and local honey and jams.

And of course there were the yards sales on the weekend--I bought somebody's grandmother's collectible dolls for $2.00 each.  And the all the doll clothes for another $2.00.

Manhattan may be my favorite big city, but as Dorothy said, there's no place like home.