A Note To My Readers: I suppose my upcoming research trip to the Finger Lakes area of New York State…specifically Cayuga Lake has been on my mind…more than I realized. It was where I was born and raised and where my roots run deep.
It has been a raggedy week and I have been definitely “off”. Sleeping badly. Eating junk. Picking up the same thing and putting it down again without conscious purpose. Fussing about money and semi-retirement. Feeling blue and in a funk. Missing one of our family dogs that left us this week to walk the earth without his good nature and sweet company. I was most definitely in need to find a place of comfort and childlike pleasure. At some point everyone’s body takes over and you sleep. Like the dead. Last night I had barely laid down my head before sleep washed over me.
Senses Wide Open
The week’s angst was left behind and I became aware of walking down the streets of the Village of Cayuga with a couple of old friends that I hadn’t seen in forty years. The dream walk carried me along to a disjointed visit of some of the grand old ladies that sit above Cayuga Lake. The Hutchinson Homestead…the McIntosh home…Mrs. Lalliette’s…and the first home I ever owned…Tumble Inn on Center Street.
It was one of those dreams where all senses were fully engaged. I smelled the lake! And the sweet scent of the lilacs that snuggle against the old estate of Charles and Mary Frances Victoria Lalliette. I heard the buzz of the cicadas and the sassing call of blue jays that roost in the towering pine trees. I felt the ever present breezes that sweep off the lake to catch a loose lock of hair, to rustle the leaves, to disturb the flight of mosquitoes.
I tasted the drooling, sticky, creamy sweetness of my favorite summer treat…a Creamsicle®.
Country Roads and Ali Baba
On Sundays we would jump in our family car and Dad would drive us through the Aurelius countryside…down Bluefield Road over Dougall Road…past the big silos of the Pinckney Farm where my 12 year old father had tended cows… south and westward toward the Cayuga Lake from Auburn. Past weathered and leaning corn cribs, lone abandoned farmhouses and gap toothed barns surrounded by fields of corn and wheat. Past the occasional fat woodchuck munching on the juicy grasses that grow along country roads.
At the end of the ride to Cayuga Lake just between the villages of Union Springs and Cayuga sat…no squatted…an inelegant roadside store that hadn’t seen paint in decades. The building was a hoarder’s riot of porcelain advertising signs, hub caps and license plates. Planted on the gravel and tucked in the shadow of the stingy overhang sat a gleaming white freezer. As always, Dad had removed his Sunday suit jacket and rolled up his starched and snow white shirt sleeves. One hop out of the cavernous car’s interior and a crunching step or two across the gravel to my father’s side and my sister and I would be standing in front of the humming, alien looking chest.
It was the theater of it all. It was my father that was Ali Baba…opening the great white treasure cave. Our greedy little hands were fiddling at our sides waiting for the moment when the lid would be opened and the chill would escape and fog my father’s spectacles. Ritually he would remove them…one ear at a time. Hold them up, reach for his linen handkerchief, wipe away the moisture…lift them for a final inspection and secure them back…one ear at a time. With one fingertip push to the nose piece…he would settle them back neatly in place. “Just so,” as he would say. By then the anticipation had us dancing in our Mary Janes.
Finally the orangey, creamy delight was unwrapped and the paper tucked under the treat in a futile attempt to dam up the meltdown that was inevitable. “Eat. Quickly. Don’t drip. Watch your dress…the car seat…your hair!” In the central New York Finger Lakes summer air of the 1950’s…where air conditioning was only in the movie theater….no child (or adult I suspect) could eat a Creamsicle©, Fudgesicle©, Popsicle© or ice cream cone fast enough to avoid becoming one with their treat.
One very vivid memory I have is the slow motion horror image of my Creamsicle© tumbling off the stick and into my father’s Sunday suit pocket. I liked to stand in the back seat of the car behind my father…one arm around his neck. “Hold me tight, Debbie, so I don’t fall out of the window!” my father teased. Mom would “tsk tsk” us both…and fuss to make sure my father didn’t speed over a hump in the road and cause us all to pop in the air. “Precious cargo, Al!” Mom didn’t drive and speed was anything over 15 MPH.
Normally we would have found a shady spot to eat our ice cream, but the heat had crept into even the deepest shade. My parents decided to drive along some of the more out of the way old roads that meandered through the wooded glades…and to catch a breeze through the windows of our moving car.
My left arm was wrapped around my father’s neck and my right hand was full of dripping Creamsicle©. One lick…and my father’s devilish scoot over a hump in the road…and the rest is history.
Eventually…after we had licked our fingers clean, our mother would fish her embroidered hankie…it usually had lavender flowers…out of her ‘church purse’ and put it to her lips, gently spit and tidied up our sticky faces. Today’s mothers whip out the antibacterial wipes and take care of business. Sissies.
So my dream took me home for a stroll along the little Village of Cayuga and my Friday morning cup of coffee carried me through a memory of the summer Sundays of my childhood. I am refreshed and re-energized to haunt Cornell’s Archival Library and Campus and the Tompkins County History Center and to walk up the trail to the base of Taughannock Falls. I am anticipating the long days of archiving a pioneer cemetery or two followed by a glass of wine from one of the Cayuga wineries at sunset on the deck of rental my cottage on Cayuga Lake. And shopping at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market to stock up the little cottage’s kitchen. Ah…and a feasting brunch at Simeon’s in Ithaca…with one of their signature Bloody Mary’s. Talking with the folks who sound like me. Researching, Writing and Reminiscing. Home.
I feel better…and I didn’t need William Shatner’s Priceline©…or some little garden gnome from Travelocity©. But I do think I need to run out today and buy a Creamsicle©.
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
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