Monday, August 15, 2011

Bauneg Beggars

Summertime and childhood are wonderful words and when I add Maine to the mix, it becomes magical. Immediately after the last day of school, Mom and Dad packed up the station wagon, lining the back with sleeping bags and pillows for me and my sister.  Briefly woken from our slumber at three in the morning, we climbed into the back and continued to sleep while Dad drove the five hours to the cottage in Maine.  At times I resented leaving my school friends behind.  They excitedly talked about their plans of swimming and riding bikes and going off to summer camp for a week and I was jealous for a few fleeting moments.  Miles before the car would turn down the gravel lane, our family dog, Gandalf would huff and puff and bark and wail, clearly recognizing the scenery or the distinct smell of pine in the air.  As the car slowed and made the sharp right turn on the former East 2 Road, the brilliant sparkle of dark blue water could be glimpsed between cottages, the bright morning sunlight dancing on the surface.  Suddenly I felt like I was home:  no rules, fresh air and memories to last a lifetime.

We were the Summer People and our numbers were strong.  No one stayed there year-round.  The winters were too harsh.  Friends that we played with once a year would soon arrive.  Cousins weren't very far behind.  I spent time with Lucy, who was several years older than me, listening to ABBA on her cassette player and visiting other Summer People.  It was in one of these cottages that a gathering of adults posed the question of what to call the Summer People.  It was reasoned that if you lived in New York, you would be called a New Yorker.  If you were from Italy you were Italian.  If you were from the South, you were a Southerner.  Lucy  thought it was simple.  The pond was called Bauneg Beg so we should be called Bauneg Beggars.  The adults laughed and agreed that it was most fitting.  To this day, when I pass that cottage where the discussion took place so many years ago, I smile when I see the plaque hanging outside with the words "Bauneg Beggars" burned into the surface and I wonder how many of us still remember.

Friday, May 6, 2011


When my grandfather died unexpectedly in 1995, I didn’t realize the void that was left in my life. My grandfather was known to be a difficult and stubborn man: a strict disciplinarian, at times, and a patient teacher during other times. I cannot recall anyone who enjoyed riding in a car with him as he was the perfect example of road rage. I recall cringing in the restaurants when he ordered his coffee black yet the server brought him cream on the side. When I moved to Georgia a few years ago, I discovered two old boxes filled with newspaper wrapped glassware in my parent’s garage that once belonged to him. I assumed the boxes ended up there after his death but the newspaper was dated in 1992 – the year he moved to South Carolina from Pennsylvania. Over the weekend I spent a couple of hours carefully unwrapping the glass to reveal the familiar etching of the family crest centered in each piece. I braved the dust and insect parts, all the while the memories came flooding back and I realized just how much I miss him.

He was the only grandfather I ever knew as my maternal grandfather died when I was very young. He followed my family from New Jersey to Pennsylvania and finally South Carolina.

When we lived in New Jersey, I remember a time he took my sister and me out of school so we could see the circus in New York City. Afterwards, he brought us to a restaurant for lunch and let us order pancakes covered in fresh blueberries.

In Pennsylvania, I had a standing dinner date with him every Tuesday night and I never broke it. I flew out to Pennsylvania in 1992 to help him move to South Carolina. He drove the U-Haul and I drove his Hyundai (Hi-Yoon- Dye) Excel. I didn’t realize that U-Hauls could go that fast and his little car couldn’t keep up with the pace he had set. He also had exactly two cassette tapes in the car: German Polka Dances and Beginning Spanish Tape 4. After several hours of practicing Spanish, I finally caught up to him just in time for a coffee (black) break.

He was a lifelong Rotarian and usually my sister and I were invited to his awards dinner each year. All of that changed the year Liz and I lit the centerpiece on fire at the Wilcox Inn. What can I say – we were old enough to know better but bored enough to not care.

He would take me to the opera in Augusta several times a year and I have not been to one since his death. I simply haven’t found someone who appreciates it as much as he did.

He would cuss at the dog in German, drive like a maniac, slip a few naughty slides in the carousal of the endless family slide shows, catalog all of his Playboy and Penthouse videos in a little notebook with a wish list to the side of the ones he was missing, swear that leaving a layer of dirt and grime on his car prevented the police from getting an accurate reading off the radar gun, force the family to eat goose each Christmas, claim to hate cats but be caught playing with our family cat and a ball of string, work on his never-ending novel, drink massive amounts of coffee each day, insist that burning his toast got all of the sugar out of it so he could eat it (he was diabetic), sneak off to another town to eat a cookie but still get caught, cook the best pork and sauerkraut I ever had, and insist that steak be eaten rare – bloody rare (don’t even ask for the A-1 sauce if you valued your life).

It’s been over 16 years – I can’t believe that so much time has passed. So many Christmases without him acting as Santa Claus. So many Tuesdays without my dinner companion. So many things I’d like to share with him. So many reasons to miss my Grandpa.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Running with Shovel, Dancing with Plunger

When I was seventeen, I was cruising down the main street of New Cumberland, Pennsylvania in my super cool station wagon at a top speed of ten miles per hour. It was a warm spring day and all of my friends were packed into the car hanging out the open windows. Suddenly, I heard a knock on my window and was ordered to pull over by a police officer on foot. My front-seat passenger was issued a citation for not wearing his seatbelt and I was given a stern lecture about how it was the driver’s responsibility to control the passenger’s actions. All of this occurred in front of a school and I was more embarrassed by the fact that I was chased down by the foot patrol.

Now that I have officially morphed from an irresponsible youth into an adult with responsibilities, I often look back with thoughts of “what was I thinking?” and “why was that even fun?” At my 21st birthday party, I recall seeing a friend on the dance floor thrusting a plunger into the air like a king of the porcelain throne commanding his subjects to perform. The 21-year old me, despite knowing that the plunger had been used, thought it was funny and even wished I had grabbed it first. The responsible adult me cringes at the thought of all the germs and pulls out her bottle of hand sanitizer.

A few days ago, a friend reminded me that things are different now. “It’s not like it was back when we were underage” she texted. Abruptly I felt as old as my parents and recalled the “back when I was your age we walked eight miles to school each way uphill in the snow” statements and my grandmother’s laments of how “you people just don’t know how easy you have it” and how she had to prove she knew English when she applied for her US citizenship. Not that this was a huge effort as she had moved from her French Canadian town before she could even crawl!

Everyone remembers the lies their parents told them and the vows we made to never turn into them. Oh the vicious circle and history repeating itself! Sometimes, just for a fleeting moment, perhaps in an effort to hold on to those days gone by, I would just like to grab a hold of something stupid, even a shovel, and run through the streets of my small Southern town shouting at the top of my lungs. No worries, no concerns, no purpose. Wouldn’t that be something to behold?