Posts Tagged ‘childhood memories’

Tra-la, tra-la ….. a spectacular day with Dad!

View from our picnic table

Dad was awake and perky when I arrived this morning.  Within ten minutes we were on our way to Natirar in Far Hills.  The day was sunny with a cool breeze that freshened the air and chased away the humidity.  A quick stop at Country Picnic Deli provided us with a delicious picnic of paninis (Southwest Melt for Dad and Fire Roasted Vegetables for me), a small container of curried chicken because we couldn’t resist, coleslaw and a brownie for dessert.  We forgot to eat the brownie.  I’m eating it now as I write.  Yummm!

On the drive to Natirar I played the Dust Off The Cobwebs game with Dad.  I bombarded him with questions about people, places and things. Had it been a television quiz show he would have been eliminated in the first round.  The poor score did nothing to dampen his spirits or diminish his sense of humor.

“Why do you have a pencil in your pocket, Dad?”

“I guess I’m going to write.  I don’t think I’m going to pick my teeth with it.”

Dad’s hands as he writes his first poem of the day

A Pause in the Woods

A deep blue sky

And a cool, gentle breeze

Are very much enjoyed

While sitting in the shade

At a picnic table, —

With Chris.

She is sketching

As I write.

The sky, deep blue,

Holds a single white cloud

And a noisy single-engine plane, –

As it goes passing by.

The noiseless leaves falling

From the trees overhead

Are ignored as we write, —

This almost totally silent

Wonderful, warm

Fine summer day.

Natirar 5/31/12

Dad as he writes at the picnic table after lunch

We headed up the hill to the path along the river.  I pointed out the strange lighting on the trees. Dad explained the reason for the odd illumination of the trees.

“That’s because the sun’s sending a ray through that hole in the cloud.” He pointed to the cloud directly above us.

The hole in the cloud

We didn’t get very far along the path before we came upon a bench.  Naturally, Dad wanted to stop for a rest.  I handed him his green sketchbook.

“What do we do when we sit on benches, Dad?”

What do we do?

“What do we do

Each time we sit on the bench?”

Was the question put to me

By daughter Chris.

“Write? I asked.

“Right,” she answered.

So here I sit, —


the wind futily tries

To turn the page

But I cannot let that happen

I have more to say.

Opportunity abounds

And good health allows

Time to write a word or two

About the things we do.

Like taking walks

On a gorgeous summer day

And parking on a bench

To write what we may.

If only the words could begin to relay

The joys brought to us

This most wonderful day.

Wow…. Dad was on a roll.  While he wrote his poem, I sketched the odd lighting from the hole in the cloud.

Trees and grass lit by rays of sun through the hole in the cloud

We moved on ….. a little way ….. and came upon another bench.

Bench by the side of the stream

In the shade, by the stream

Is a good place to write

Or so it would seem.

Especially, with a silent breeze

And a silent stream passing by

A noiseless, beautiful scene.

And the event is well worth remembering, —

A walk in the woods with daughter Chris

And a pause to sit, and to write a bit.

View from the bench by the stream

Onward ….. past the stream, stopping along the river to pose, repeating the photo on the cover of Walks With Dad.

Reliving a forgotten moment

Dad showed no signs of fatigue.  Perhaps because we stopped every five minutes to sit on a bench.  Rather than circle back to the car, we took a left at the fork and climbed the hill to the upper meadow.  Half-way up the hill we rested on another bench.  No poetry writing this time around.  Dad was trying to figure out the brother, sister, husband, wife connection of Grandmother Carter, Grandfather Carter, Uncle Lafe (Lafayette) and Aunt Tiny.

Carter Wilson Connections

The Carter brother and sister each married a Wilson brother and sister.  I haven’t checked the family tree to see if that’s right.  The topic came up when Dad told the story of the uncles coming to the farm from the city (West Lafayette) to visit.  Dad and the two uncles would go fishing at the gravel pit.  The uncles didn’t know where to drop their lines because they didn’t know where the fish were … but Dad did.  The fish hung out on the far end where they dumped the old wire fencing.  “The fish must have fooled around in the fencing.”

The story became more complicated when I asked Dad which uncles they were.

“Well, Uncle Lafe always came to visit.”

“Who was the other uncle?”

Dad couldn’t think of who it was or who it could be……  “Uncle Lafe was married to Aunt Tiny.  They lived right next to us.”

“Next to the farm?”


“I thought you said Uncle Lafe came from the city to visit.”

“He did.”

“But I thought he lived right next to you.”


One confusion led to another.  We were glad to find the bench to rest on to sort through the story.

Dad looking at the barn in the meadow

Dad looking at the barn in the meadow

The barn in the meadow usually brings back memories of moving hay on the farm.

The barn in the meadow

You had to have three people to get the hay into the hay mow.  One to work the fork that grabbed the hay, one to drive the horse on the other side of the barn to lift the hay bale up into the hay mow and one to release the hay bale once it was in place.

“Usually the kid in the family was the one with the horse. I was always the one with the horse on our farm.”

Dad rests as I chase butterflies

At the far end of the meadow we saw little white butterflies flitting about.  They were the same type of butterfly we had seen last week at Lord Stirling Park.

“Dad, do you think those are butterflies or moths?”

“If you ask me, they’re moths.  Butterflies have color on them.”

I had a feeling his answer would be the same as last week.

“But Dad, moths fly around at night, butterflies fly around during the day.”  I don’t know if this is really true or not.

I couldn’t get a photo of the little white winged creatures, so we moved on.

Dad stopped, startled by the sight of a train going by in front of us.

“I didn’t think we would have a train cross our path!”

Wires for the train

Train tracks run along the far side of the meadow.  It looks as if the train is running along a path in the woods.

With our backs to the train tracks we took another rest on a bench.  Dad wrote, I drew, and we both re-hydrated.

An isolated tree on a hillside

Reaching for the great blue sky

Catches sunlight and breezes

And certainly enriches the scene.

the isolated tree in the meadow

Dad re-hydrating

Still Dad was showing no fatigue.

Climbing the last hill of the day

Nearing the top of the hill

Unbelievable.  Dad hasn’t had this much energy in months!

Our favorite bench is at the top of this hill.  We didn’t write, we didn’t sketch.  We sat and smiled at the expanse of meadow that lay before us.  After a bit, reluctantly, we moved on, leaving the meadow behind and entering the woods between the high meadow and the Raritan River.  We crossed back over the cement bridge and out into the sunshine of the open grass below the mansion.  There we found another bench.  It was getting late.  We didn’t write, we didn’t sketch…. even though that is what we do when we sit on benches.

Another bench

What do we do?

We always have a marvelous day together.  Today was exceptional.


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“Look, Chris, the clouds are making a cross in the sky!”

The Cloud Cross in the Sky

Puffs of cumulus clouds

Fill the deep – blue sky, —

They are moving rapidly —

Pushed by the winter breezes.

Dad had written ‘Pushed by fall breezes”. I reminded him that it was winter.

I parked the car in the lot next to the playing fields behind the Municipal Complex in Warren.  While Dad wrote a few words about birthdays in Indiana I sketched a young tree.

A few clinging leaves

Birthdays in Indiana

Were often big events

Mothers baked big cakes

They were festooned with icing —

And glowing with candles.

The birthday song was sung

Candles were blown out

Cake was cut.

It was a glorious time

Smiles all around the table

The candles we see dimly in the past

The memories glow brightly.

Dad's drawing of his birthday cake

We had talked about birthdays while driving from Chelsea to the Hofheimer Woods.  Dad’s cousin, Dick Davison was born on January 24th.  Dad was born on February 24th.  The Carter family loved the coincidence and celebrated both with big family gatherings.  I reminded Dad that he was about to have a birthday.  He wasn’t sure if he was turning 88 or 89.

“You’ll be eighty-nine, Dad.  What was your favorite birthday cake?”


“You answered that mighty fast.”

“I noticed that.” ….. ” Chris, do you remember the name of the doctor who delivered me?”

“Wasn’t it Doctor Allhands?  Is is name spelled with one ‘L’ or two?”

“Two ‘L’s'”

“You answered that question pretty fast, too.”

“I noticed that.”

The day was off to a great start.  Dad had made his bed and was clean shaven when I arrived.  I made a note to myself to look up the definition of festooned. (Festoon – Adorn (a place) with chains, garlands, or other decorations: “the room was festooned with balloons”.)

“I also remember the name of one of your elementary school classmates, Dad.  Her name was Cleonice Decay, the most dreadful name I’ve ever heard. ”

I had packed extra plastic bags and a spare pair of shoes for both of us.  I didn’t want Dad to have to walk sock-footed into Chelsea again this week.  What I hadn’t realized is that there was a loop of trail on high ground behind the Municipal Complex.  Perhaps we could have an afternoon without life threatening adventure and mud packed shoes.  A bit dull, perhaps, but a nice change of pace.

We closed our sketchbooks and got out of the car.  My less than detailed description of the trail indicated that it started behind the playing fields, looped around the Hofheimer Mausoleum and led back to the parking lot.  As we turned toward the fields, a young woman walking a German Shepherd stopped dead in her tracks about twenty yards from us. I thought her dog might not like strangers, but the dog looked rather friendly to me.

While spending time with Dad I find I am more open to conversations with strangers.  I assumed that the woman had just returned from walking the trail with her dog.

“Could you tell me where the trail loop is?”

She remained quite still.  “I’m not sure.  I might have seen it.  I would be careful though if you plan on entering the woods.  Limbs might fall on you!”

I thanked her for the heartfelt warning.  Dad and I passed, keeping what we felt was a safe distance from the woman, hoping she wouldn’t feel threatened.  Her dog looked as if he might like to join us, but stayed by her side.

A scary place

I saw Dad glance up at the branches.  Not the slightest rustle could be heard from the few leaves still clinging to the branches.  There was not a whisper of a breeze nor gust of wind to shake a limb loose to fall upon our heads.

“Do we dare enter the woods, Dad?”

“Well sure.”  We started down the trail.  Dad paused to check out the limbs.

Practicing Caution

We both broke out laughing.   “I’m sure I couldn’t have convinced that woman to cross a river on a fallen tree like we did on our last walk.”  I reminded Dad of our earlier adventure.  For the next two hours we explored the woods, joking about the danger of treacherous rocks, leaves and fallen branches from the early October snow storm.

Dangerous limbs

One tree after another beckoned us to leave the trail.  First it was a giant oak (I think).  Its trunk had split into multiple trunks quite early in its youth.

King of the Forest

I snapped a photo of its upper limbs to help identify it later… I still haven’t checked it out.

Branch patterns

The leaves on the ground beneath it appear to me to be oak leaves mixed with beech leaves.

Dad contemplating the identity of the tree

Dad was not convinced the other trees were beech trees.  They were so straight and tall, unlike the gorgeous beech tree at 1813 Middle Road.

The Mastodon Tree

Heading up the hill, away from the oak and beech trees, we found a tree with giant tusks. At the top of the hill the trail curved to the right to avoid a golf course.

Golf Course Dangers

I left the trail, cut through the woods and stepped out onto the golf course to snap a photo of what I felt to be a greater danger than falling limbs, the possibility of being hit in the head with a flying golf ball.  After snapping a few shots I turned to see a lone golfer swing his club in my direction.

As we walked, I asked Dad if he knew when he became aware of the high degree of competition in the world.  Every week he talks about the trees growing straight and tall, competing for sunlight.  He talks about gas stations competing for business and coffee shops competing by offering better food and pleasant service.

“Grandmommy always talked about her flowers having to compete with the weeds for sunlight, water and nourishment from the soil.”

Grandmother Carter loved flowers.  She grew some in pots and some in gardens.  She often had fresh flowers in a vase in the center of the dining room table.  Occasionally there was a vase of flowers in the living room and even in the kitchen.

Our shadows with the fungi tree

As the trail circled back we came upon a tree covered in fungi.

“Do you know what side of the tree fungus grows on?” Dad asked.

“Moss is said to grow on the north side of trees, so I suppose fungus might, too.”

“You’re right, Chris.”

I glanced around at the other side of the tree and saw even more fungi.

“Take a look at this side, Dad.”

“Hmmmmm.” He pulled out his cell phone to check the time.

I pulled out my cell phone to check my compass app.

We both came to the same conclusion.  The north side of the tree was the only side that didn’t have any fungus on it at all.

“Dad, do you realize that most kids don’t use clocks with hour hands any more?  I don’t think they’d be able to tell north from south with their digital watches.  You can use your digital cell phone time because you translate it into the position of hands on a clock.”

“Of course.  You point the hour hand to the sun, bisect the angle between the hour hand and the twelve.  That’s South.  directly behind you is North.”

We got to talking about the wonders of a cell phone.  In my back pocket I was able to carry a phone, clock, compass, maps, dictionary, encyclopedia, flashlight, stereo and a camera.

“Can it make a milkshake?” Dad asked.

Sketching while Dad writes

We took a short break on a log to make a few notes.

Vases – pronounced

Vases (rhymes with faces) by some, (my family)

vases (rhymes with causes) by others, (“city folks”).

Bitter-sweet plants grew on

fence rows on the farm in Indiana.

Mother loved to cut off branches, bring

them in from the fields and place them

in vases on the dining room table.

As I recall, they would stay

beautiful for weeks


We were coming to the end of the trail loop.  Just ahead on the left I saw what looked to be a stone wall of sorts.  Upon rounding the bend I gasped at the incredible stone structure on the other side of the wall.  Whoever built it had to have visited Gaudi’s Park Guell.

Hofheimer Grotto

Another view of the grotto

I looked back at the map and trail description.  It mentioned the Hofheimer Mausoleum, but nothing about this incredible construction of rocks.  It didn’t appear to be a mausoleum to me.  Fortunately, part of the Municipal Complex is a library with a delightful research librarian who googled it for us.  We had missed seeing the Mausoleum.  We will have to hunt for that on another day.  The rock structure is called the Hofheimer Grotto. For the past several years the township has been trying to restore power to the grotto to keep the pond aerated to minimize the growth of algae.  The grotto was built  over an old copper mine more than eighty years ago by Nathan Hofheimer, one of the founders of General Motors.

In addition to surviving flying golf balls and limbs that didn’t fall, we felt as if we had discovered a hidden wonder of the world.  The research librarian is going to skip lunch to walk the trail on the next nice day.  She had no idea it existed and that it was only a short walk from the library.

Hungry from our exploring, we grabbed lunch at our favorite spot, The Muscle Maker Grill.

Dasani Water Bottle

No coffee is served.  Dad ordered grilled chicken sandwich and water.  As we were finishing our meal I looked up to see Jane heading across the parking lot toward the Muscle Maker.  She had seen the K-car in the parking lot and joined us.  That was the icing on the cake for the day.

I’m glad to be part of a fearless family.  Life is too short to worry about falling limbs on a beautiful, windless afternoon.  We would never have discovered the grotto if we hadn’t taken our walk in the woods.

When we returned to Chelsea, there was a birthday package from Louise and Dave outside Dad’s door.  Inside, wrapped in bright colored tissue paper was an Atlas of Aviation.  Dad poured over the pages of the book for a good half hour, stopping to tell me stories.

“Our hired hand (Owen Conner) had the headphones on in the kitchen listening to the radio.  I remember him getting all excited and saying ‘He made it! He made it!”  Lindbergh had landed in Paris, completing the first solo flight across the Atlantic.  It was May 20th 1927 and Lindbergh had flown from New York to Paris in thirty three and a half hours.

Lindbergh’s plane, Spirit of St. Louis, was a Ryan Monoplane.  The windows had been removed with the hopes that the wind blowing on Lindbergh’s face would keep him awake.  He flew without radio or parachute, using the space for extra fuel.  Dad was three years old.

When Dad was six years old, Glen Goddard landed in the bean field.  He flew Dad to Valporaiso where his Uncle Mac Davison’s family lived.  He thought he returned home by train.  I think he was a bit young to travel alone by train.  Most likely his parents picked him up in Valporaiso and drove him home.  He did ride the train with his Grandmother Carter (at the age of six…… I think Dad’s memory got stuck at the age of six).  She took Dad on a trip top Detroit.  I asked Dad if that might have been after his sister Dorothy died.  Maybe Grandmother Carter took Dad on a trip to give his mother some time to recover from the tragedy.

“In Wheeler Cemetery I think there’s a gravestone for Dorothy.  The cemetery is between Odell and Wingate.”

“Are any other family members buried in that cemetery?”

“Oh yeah….. my father’s father and mother, Charles and Etta Carter.  I think my father and mother are buried there, too.”

“Dad…… Let’s call Lou and Dave and thank them for this wonderful book.”

Dad dialed the number.  The phone was ringing.  Dad covered the phone, leaned over the open Atlas, reached to look at the cover of my sketchbook and, seeing it blank, asked in a whisper …. “Chris, what am I thanking her for?”

Dad and I will spend many hours turning the pages of that beautiful book.  Many stories will be told.  It was another good Thursday with Dad.

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A few things remained to be dealt with in the tool shed.  I drove over to pick them up and to check the house one last time.

Empty swing and toolshed / workshop


A few boxes of paint, antifreeze and other hazardous materials as well as a box of garbage, two brooms, and a pile of paper plates, bowls and napkins needed to be packed into my car.  The task took too little time leaving me feeling awkward and lost as I stared at the empty hammock, the empty swing and the empty tool shed.  On the other side of the brick wall all the rooms in the house stood empty, screaming to me through the emptiness.

Welcome mat at the French Doors

During our childhood years we were never permitted to use the French Doors, one of our family oddities.  In recent years we have used it more than either the front door or the back door.  We have left a welcome mat for the new owners.

Fireplace and built-in Mahogany Shelves.

I unlocked the door, perhaps for the last time.  I walked through each room, slowly, listening to the sound of my footsteps, listening to the whispers of the past bouncing from wall to wall.  Nothing more to do but to leave and close the door behind me.  One last trip to check the furnace room and the back bathroom provided a relief from the emptiness.  I found a note still tacked to the wall beside the back door, a reminder list Dad made either for himself or for anyone who was caring for the house in his absence.

A useful ladder left in the tool shed

Croquet set for the new family

We left behind a croquet set for the new family. This set belongs with the house.

Having finished my job of checking the house and clearing out the tool shed, I could return home.  My shoes turned to lead and refused to move until I decided I should take one last round of photographs. Click, click …. click, click, click.  I clicked my way through one entire battery and felt grateful that I brought a spare.  Click, click….  I had to stop and couldn’t.

Ancient Nanny Bush

The Nanny Bush.  In spring it delighted us with a dress of green leaves and white flowers.  In the summer it wore only green.  In the autumn the leaves turned to purple to show off the beautiful red berries that clustered on the branches.  When the bushes grew tall enough to be trees, Dad pruned the bottom branches and created a covered terrace to dine beneath.

Hole for the clothesline pole

Path ending at the clothesline

One of my favorite memories is lying on the grass watching my mother hang the wash.  When she was done, I ran between the damp sheets and watched the shapes change through the translucent fabrics as they dried.  My mother always smiled and often whistled as she hung the wash.  Those happy moments at the clothesline inspired the first and only adult novel I have written.

Rocks for baking mud pies

I never tired of baking mud pies.  These rocks, heated by the sun, were my ovens.  The pies were turned out and decorated with violets and buttercups. I began eating flowers, even poisonous flowers, at an early age.  I don’t remember getting sick.

Toolshed / Workshop

Hours upon hours were spent in Dad’s workshop.  Louise  set up an experiment to see how different colored lights effected the growth of plants.  I smashed tiles late into the night to make mosaic maps for history class.  We learned how to use tools.  I made dollhouses for dolls I didn’t have nor want.  It was making the house that was important.  After building small houses I built an elevator that worked, though not very well, using a  small motor from a model car I made.  One summer I rebuilt an engine for a lawn mower a neighbor had given me to earn a bit of money. Dad was always within earshot to help.

Each tool had a home

The tools hung neatly arranged on hinged plywood; tracings marked where each tool belonged.  My favorite tool was the wood plane, not because of what it did, but because of its shape and the way that the metal and wood worked together as a unit.  Of course, I loved the wood shavings as they curled and fell onto the carport floor.  The fragrance of the freshly planed wood was perfume to me.

Carport Fireplace

The carport was our playground.  When we were very young we roller skated round and round for what seemed like hours.  That was before the concrete cracked.  As we grew older we had a ping pong table set up.  I learned to play well enough to beat the high school students I taught in Brookline, Massachusetts many years later.  It was a special high school for delinquent teens.  I made a deal with them to stay after school and play ping pong with every student who behaved himself.  Through my expertise at ping pong (thanks to my dad) I didn’t end up in the hospital like the art teacher who preceded me.

We toasted marshmallows and cooked burgers in the fireplace.  We also burned paper.  When I returned from Germany in 1970 I was in a mood to purge my past and tossed my high school yearbook into the flames.  A decade later I found it in the attic.  Dad had saved it from the flames when I left to find more material for purging.

Treasures under the Forsythia Bush

These treasures might have been placed under the bush by my siblings or perhaps by the grandchildren.  Carters love to collect stones, shells, nuts and interesting rocks.

The Bench Dad built for Mom

Mom’s ashes are spread beneath this bench, built with love by Dad.

Annette Craven Carter and David Charles Carter

Buddha beneath the bench

Either Anna or Dave placed Buddha with the bench during our last weekend together in Martinsville.

The Beech Tree

Another shot of the Beech Tree.

Roots of the Beech Tree

The roots have spread in a giant circle, perhaps thirty feet in diameter showing above the surface of the lawn.  Like the roots of the tree, each child ventures away from its childhood home yet still is connected, sometimes a bit too tightly.

witness of my grief

From afar, a deer watches as I cry beneath the Beech Tree.

the front window

Whenever anyone left the house, Mom stood in the picture window and waved.  I still see her there, wearing her white, terrycloth robe, waving as I left to walk to the school bus stop.

Dad's note pinned beside the back door

Dad is an eternal optimist.  The first six reminders don’t matter to him anymore.  He lives only by the last … 7.  Enjoy the Day!

Time to go.  Time to let go.  I backed out of the driveway and headed down the hill only to make a right turn and circle around to the house once more.  I justified my return by not remembering if I had shut the tool shed door.  Without getting out of the car I backed out of the driveway.  On my way down the hill I passed a young man, hair hanging loose half-way to his waist.  He appeared lost in serious thought.  I waved.  He smiled.  He is part of a new generation enjoying my childhood stomping ground.  I wish I knew his name.  He set me free.  Somehow, he helped to lift the weight off my heart and break the chains that bound me to my early programming.

The Carter Home in Martinsville

In 1952 the roof was higher than all the surrounding trees.  Goodbye house, you have served our family well.

I’m ready to spread my wings and fly to heights I’ve never dared fly to before.  Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Louise, Anna and Howard.

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