prickly pecore’s pumpkin patch

Growing up in a tiny Northern New York town, kids get creative. Scratch that. Innovative. My friends and I – we took the cake.

Or so we thought.

It was late October, senior year, and we were feeling innovative. The air was unseasonably warm that night: perfect to venture out and go on one of our famous-to-us missions. My friend Kim had a beat up old, thrice-passed-down, blue station wagon that had served us well since sophomore year. As we drove through town that night in The Beast, selectively shopping for pumpkins from the home porches of neighbors, teachers, fellow students’ families and random townspeople, we hadn’t yet decided the fate of our backseat garden. So, we waited; we decided to venture out the next evening to expand our collection.

Little did we know, we hadn’t been as sly as we’d previously thought in our egotistical, overconfident minds. We’d been caught… orange-handed. Mrs. Pecore, a friend of a friend’s mother, called us out on our pre-Halloween thievery. That darn Darcy was recognized! And ohhh, that curmudgeon Mrs. Pecore was bitter. She gave Darcy’s parents an earful, who in turn, grounded Darcy, who by the way, did not rat us out.

Of course, we had to retaliate. Mrs. Pecore couldn’t get away with her attempt at nailing us mid-mission. In the words of The Outsiders, we had to do it for Darcy.

We parked The Beast around the corner. We waited. And waited. It was the night before Halloween, not to mention a school night; surely it was time for porch lights to turn off. Forty-five minutes in, her house went dark. Game on. One by one, we delivered each pumpkin to Mrs. Pecore’s front lawn. Crouched down, each of us perfecting our tiptoe run—like the characters in a 1980s cartoon—we ran from tree to tree to car in the street, ensuring no one saw us.

There were five of us and it took almost 30 minutes; we had no idea how many pumpkins had been collected. In the end, we capped it off with a homemade sign in her yard that stated, “Prickly Pecore’s Pumpkin Patch. $1 Each.”

Game over. We won.

The next afternoon, on our way home from school, in full arrogance, we drove past our masterpiece. And wouldn’t you know, Prickly Pecore was out front selling those pumpkins.


conversations with kate

conversations with kate

I so badly wanna take that midnight train goin’ anywhere. I think I’d go alone. Yes, alone.

For the ride, I’d bring a Walkman. Not an iPod – a Walkman. When I want to hear that certain song, I must work for it and be patient through the fast forward. Be happily forced to revel in my solitude and take that moment to appreciate the abyss of black trees blurring by as I wait to hear that chosen tune—my night’s anthem.

My backpack would be one of those army green—not camouflage—canvas rucksack types. Torn in all the obvious places. Yes. Let my fellow travelers know I’m a wanderer. A weekend hobo.

I’d bring one book. That book. The one I’ve been trying to read but it’s complicated, arduous, and because I’m me, always loses to the latest about-to-be-made-into-a-movie, chick-lit novel. You know the chick-lit type: you don’t have to think when you’re reading it. You don’t even have to create the characters in your mind because Sandy B and Ryan G have taken care of it for you.

I don’t care where the train takes me; in fact, I don’t want to know my journey’s end. It’s not about the destination. It’s about the ride, the people along the way—molding me, affecting me—forever changing my life through their very presence.

My drink for the ride? Coffee. Black. Strong. Enveloping. I love to wrap both hands tightly around a cup of coffee, even on the hottest of days. I want to feel and breathe in that cozy, steamy cup of life—like the cup itself is hugging me. In that one breath, I’m taken to a secluded spot in my imagination. I’m in the Adirondacks, just before sunrise and in the distance, pink sky.

At that moment, nothing matters – nothing, but the cricket chirps peppering my ear.

I’d bring a notebook – paper – no keyboards on this trip. I’d write down everything—what I heard, what I saw, what I thought—but just my sane thoughts. I’d have conversations with myself. We’d laugh. We’d bicker. We’d cry. We’d get to know each other. I’d write my first novel about it. I’d call it Conversations with Kate.

I’d meet people… happy, sad, crazy, scared. Loners, lovers, thieves, characters. I’d imagine us, friends. I’d share my sacred cup of coffee with them. I’d watch them – see if they close their eyes too and breathe it in. I’d look for that same emotion that passes through me each time I take that adulated sip.

I’d wonder if I made the right decision in sharing myself with them. I’d wonder if we’d ever see each other after this trip. I’d wonder if anyone would notice that I was gone. I’d wonder why I didn’t bring that chick-lit novel. If I took that midnight train goin’ anywhere, I wouldn’t do anything else… but wonder.

and then i woke up

I’d been here several times… 57, if you count the walk-bys with friends who had no idea why I’d diverted them from the usual route. New York City, 1970. October, early. There are still warm days. A gentle breeze disrupts my ponytail and instinctively I tuck the loose strands behind my ear.

Burned remnants of leaves dust my shoes – the sun bashfully flirts with me through the arms of their former owner.

I’m standing in front of it—the East Village walk-up studio I’ve been eyeing—dreaming, hoping, prophesying; picturing the soirées I’ll have with my new-found literati friends… rolling our stoned eyes in amusement at the lone drunk girl swaying on the makeshift living room/kitchen/bedroom dance floor. Nobody claiming responsibility for her. She’s seen her last Pink Squirrel for the night. The only music – a faint purr three floors below at Dempsey’s.

I’d seen Barefoot in the Park too many times. I wanted to be Elizabeth Ashley; I wanted to be Corie.

This has to happen. This needs to happen. This will happen, I whisper to myself and secretly hope He hears me… believing in Him this one time if he’ll answer my prayers. To my free-thinking, bohemian friends I don’t believe in Him. To my God-fearing grandmother…I don’t need any more Irish Catholic guilt on my shoulders. As for me… I haven’t yet decided.

I grew up in a small, remote town six hours north; four-and-a-half if my dad was driving. New York City was another world, a world away. A dream. The not-gonna-happen-by-a-long-shot of dreams. I’ve only seen my family a few times since I left, four years ago. I had to move on; on to bigger and better. If bigger and better is a closet-sized basement tenement where five strangers share a toilet, I’ve hit the big time. I miss home. I miss them. I miss clean.

This has to happen. This needs to happen. This will happen, I repeat…in case He was busy a minute ago.

Two blocks over is Tompkins Square Park. I have the perfect spot picked out where Nick Piombino will read his poetry to me—his biggest fan. His only audience. He’ll ask me to read him one of mine. He’ll pretend it’s good. We’ll talk about Burroughs and Ginsberg as if we had drinks with them the night before. We’ll remember something provocative in the conversation.

I’ll wonder if my next-door neighbors are married. They’ll mostly keep to themselves, but we’ll make shallow attempts at pleasantries when we pass in the hallway. She’s an actress… a fan of the Pink Squirrel. He’s a director. That’s how they met. They know people. The right people. Those people.

It’s starting to get chilly. As I reach for the sweater in my bag, I stare at my reflection; partially hidden by the first ‘e’ in Dempsey’s. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at myself – the only mirror in my apartment, cracked and peeling. My ponytail is a mess. My clothes look big. Frumpy. I look frumpy. My mom hates frumpy.

I look three floors up.

This has to happen. This needs to happen. This will happen… third time’s a charm.

coffee. soda. worms.

Every inhale sends my heart into pitter-patter mode. Every breath, involuntarily, my eyes close as the scent of Adirondack rain courses through me and I can’t help but smile. My lids linger, closed but soft, until I get to breathe it in, again.

This… is home.

Rain is different in the Adirondacks. It smells different, feels different, looms overhead different.

When she finally makes an appearance, the only words spoken are the raindrops conversing as they hit the ground.

I want to hike the mountains just before a storm hits when the air is starting to get damp and heavy, and every breath is leafy. Essence of Eastern White Pine, Paper Birch, Sugar Maple, American Beech – too many to name – nature’s remedy. Every step, every crushed leaf, therapy. I want to sit on my front porch in anticipation of an Adirondack rain shower, feeling the mist envelop me even before the rain.

I love the Adirondacks. It’s that kind of one-sided love affair you have when you’re 11 and can’t stop thinking about that cute 4-H camp counselor, four years your senior… your first real crush. Heart-sick, unattainable love – always there in your view, having no idea you exist, but every which way you turn, encompassing you. There to be worshiped, belonging to no one.

Northern New York. The North Country. The Adirondacks.

My Walden.

For locals, there is an unspoken bond; no matter what area of the Adirondacks you are in during that moment in time—you could live in Indian Lake and be 80 miles away from home in Keene Valley, eating the best quiche known to man, at the Noon Mark Diner—you are a local… an Adirondacker. You are home, welcome anytime.

There are mountain ranges everywhere. Maybe as beautiful. Maybe as therapeutic. Maybe. But there is something special about the Adirondacks; something… only we get. Wild. Secluded. Remote. Revered. Discovered, but so far beyond off the beaten path… ours.

One-day road trips are meant for the Adirondacks.

Take a map. Don’t take a map. Either way, you’ll find yourself.

Every town… charming. Every view… picturesque. Every person… neighborly. Corner ice cream shops in the middle of nowhere—no, really—in the middle of nowhere. Spring water—from actual springs—spouting out of mountainside rocks, waiting for you to take a sip. Help yourself corn, firewood and apple stands—leave your money in the coffee can and make your own change—corn, firewood and apple stands. Watering holes—the no beer served here, bring your bathing suit because I’m actually talking about a waterhole, waterhole—tucked away here and there.

Loons as far as the eye can see. The sweet echo of their call, the only sound for miles. In some ways comforting, in others, an almost nostalgically happy melancholy. Either way, it penetrates your soul.

The Adirondacks have hundreds of summits, countless lakes and more activities to do than time to do them. Life is meant for the Adirondacks. Seasons are meant for the Adirondacks. Planting gardens in the spring – life blooms as far as the eyes can see in the spring. Swimming, kayaking, boating, golfing, fishing and camping in the summer. World-renowned—reserve your room at the inn three years in advance—fall foliage (the best time of year to take a hike if you ask me). Skiing, ice skating, sledding, ice fishing and snowmobiling in the winter. Capping off a day on the slopes with mulled wine at The Cottage in Lake Placid. Walden.

The Adirondack Life. Something to be treasured. Tonight, I’m going to sip my wine in an Adirondack Chair, breathe that Adirondack air and dream about the Adirondack Great Camp I’ll someday own.

selfies, shaving and soul-sucking grays…

I shaved my legs yesterday… above the knees.

You know what that means. Yep, clean sheets. I was counting down the seconds until my husband made the bed.

Life. After 40.

Immediately… immediately following the fresh shave of the first leg, I couldn’t remember which leg I had done. Basically, what that means is…

I lifted a leg, shaved it, lowered it and couldn’t remember which leg to do next.

Life. After 40. You should know I didn’t want to shower yesterday. The only reason I did was for the clean sheets. On those special laundry days I live in complete anticipation of crawling into bed and feeling that 90-second rush of freshly-shaved legs on freshly-laundered sheets; rolling around in them, stretching out, quietly sneaking over to his side and doing the same—doubling my pleasure—then straightening them out, so he thinks he’s crawling into a clean bed. I’ll do whatever it takes to have those precious 90 seconds, even if it means showering when I just don’t want to be clean.

Life. After 40.

Life. After 40? I’m there. I’m officially middle-aged, right?

Yes, OK. Truth is, I don’t feel 41. Mentally, I feel the same age as that drunk girl who found herself topless on a Greenwich Village street one boozed-up St. Patrick’s Day. Nice girl. Should thank the kind couple who put her in a taxi back to her hotel. For the record, she was 28. And she had a thing for randomly taking off her top.

Physically, most of the time, I feel like that 28-year-old girl. I can still bend myself into a human pretzel, and when I get skinny—it’s going to happen—yoga class is going to be that much better.

I look at people half my age and I think we’re the same. I don’t think it; I know it. I could throw on a college t-shirt, walk into a college bar, sit next to a group of Pabst-drinking pseudo-hipsters and completely believe with every ounce of my deluded 41-year-old mind they think I sit next to them in English Lit.

But then there is this:

I keep a pair of tweezers in my car…for that rogue strand in one of my eyebrows that stands taller than a Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace. The strand of hair that thinks it has to test me every time I look in the rearview mirror, giving me brows that rival those of Andy Rooney.  Life. After 40.

I can’t update my social media profile pictures. In the past two years, I’ve taken 31,397 selfies and every single one of them hasn’t looked like me; I do not have those wrinkles and age spots. Either every camera I’ve used must have been broken or it’s just life…after 40.

My eyes. I may have pulled a teeny tiny fast one on the Florida DMV last month. You know, my eyes have always been perfect – better than 20/20 vision. In the last couple of years, I’ve noticed changes… changes I don’t like or approve. If I close my left eye, everything is a little blurry. Crazy, I never thought that would happen to me. When I took the eye exam for my driver’s license, I couldn’t see the last line of letters but remembered what my left eye had seen. Yeah, I should probably check into that one. Life. After 40.

Every morning when I get out of bed, my poor little tootsies. The walk from my bed to the bathroom is ridiculously painful. COME ON! Life. After 40.

Recently, I went blond for a few weeks. I can’t even believe I just wrote those words. I am not a blond. I don’t have the skin tone for it. I’ve never wanted to be blond. I love my natural black hair. I went blond to try and hide the gray–the mother f*@#ing wiry gray hairs that are sucking the soul out of me. Blond didn’t work – 11 days in, there they were: gray, wiry, triumphant. This is the bane of my existence. The one. If there were only one thing in my life that I could change, it would be that my hair wasn’t going gray. Life. After 40.

I found a nose hair this morning… dangling. Wait, let me start over. I found a grey—or was it white—nose hair this morning, visibly hanging out of my nose for the world to see. So, not only do I have nose hair—visible nose hair—but it’s old nose hair. Well, I yanked it and it made me cry. Real tears. Then I got depressed. Life. After 40.

I’m an extremely healthy eater. No, really, I am…for almost three weeks now. I can eat fruits and veggies all day, every day, and lose three pounds in a week, then have a couple micro-brews on Saturday night and gain back five. Life. After 40.

Life. After 40.

You know those over-40, “I’m in the best shape of my life” liars who say they’ve never felt better? You know who I’m talking about, those “life is just beginning, I’m having more fun than I did at 25” bitches? Their noses grow with each syllable.

This morning, as I was drinking my first cup of coffee, I realized those were clean sheets last night. Clean sheets. My reason for showering. My reason for shaving. My muse (just go with it) for today’s much-anticipated, slightly overdue and a tad bit wordy, blog. I had completely forgotten. Never basked in their glory…crawled into bed and zonked out. Life. After 40.

i love you

November 1st 2007, I said goodbye to my grandmother. Actually, I said goodbye to her the night before at the nursing home—knowing she may not make it through the night. I woke up to the phone ringing early the next morning.

My mom and I had made the trip to Cape Cod to see her. The next morning when my grandfather came out of his room after answering the phone, of course, we all knew. I watched as he and my mom hugged and just like that, my life as I knew it was no more; the woman I’d heard tell me to shut up your face for 34 years was gone. And you know what — having a grandma in your life for 34 years just isn’t long enough.

Man, I loved her. She was a feisty, classy lady and to this day I miss her terribly, every day. We had nicknames for each other; I called her Bitch and she called me Slut. Even in the nursing home, the year before at Christmas, when she could barely speak; let’s just say she had no problem calling me a slut, loud enough for the world to hear. It was our thing and it was beautiful.

All her children made it in time to see her the night before; she held on until the last one could be there, that feisty bitch.

The morning she died, we all went to the nursing home to say our final goodbyes and I must have lost five pounds in tears. As we were leaving, my mom asked me to drive her around the cape and take her to the beach where she had so many fond memories with her mother. I did and it may actually be one of my favorite days ever – spending that time with my mom. The only thing I wanted was to take away her sadness, but as I took a step back, I realized she just needed to take that day to remember, mourn and honor her mom. I was lucky enough to be there and share that day with her, and in my heart of hearts, I know grandma was with us. That is a priceless moment in my life that I’ll hold onto forever. Yep, now I’m crying. Well, good. I need to lose five pounds; Grandma would agree and be the first to tell me.

I couldn’t go to her funeral, so I wrote her a letter that my sister read:

Dear Grandma,
                I miss you like crazy and I really want you to know that. But I want you to know I feel you with me all the time, watching over me. I have never been so well behaved; if I keep it up, I may not need those extra prayers to get into heaven. I think about you all the time: the chocolate shakes you used to make me; the insanely long phone calls we had when I was a little girl; those disgusting roast beef on wek sandwiches you’d make (the kids would pretend to eat them but mom would let us throw them out when you weren’t looking); how, during my entire life when I was acting like a brat, you would threaten to leave your pearls to someone else if I didn’t behave; and Vince Gill. When I hear his music, I’m reminded of you. These may seem like trivial memories, but they’re mine; only mine and they make me laugh, smile, cry… and I’ll hold onto them tightly until I see you again. For now, I’ll think of you when I look in the mirror and know I got my blue eyes from you. Grandma, I’ll always love you. I’ll always miss you. I’ll always be thankful I got you for a grandmother. And I’d trade those pearls in a heartbeat for a chocolate shake with you right now.   –November 15, 2007

Right after she died, I put a second set of pierced holes in my ears just so I could wear a pair of her earrings and have her always with me. I’ve worn them for seven years – they never come out; I find myself twisting them when I think of her. Today, on the seventh anniversary of her death, I’ll wear her pearl earrings and necklace, remembering those beautiful 34 years, and I’ll twist those earrings a thousand times. I think of you often. I miss and love you so very much, Grandma.

Now, shut up your face.

Originally posted November 1, 2014.