Return to Niagara, Part 2

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The motel did not live down to its reputation, thankfully. It would do.

The first morning, Laura peeked out the window and alerted me that “It’s pouring.” No matter. Today was the day we returned to Niagara Falls.

But first, a visit to 59 Crowley Avenue, where my father and his parents lived when Daddy was in high school. Their second story apartment sat directly across from Riverside Park, a Frederic Olmstead park at that, as are many of the parks in Buffalo, including Niagara Falls State Park. The Lundquist kids remembered it not for its designer, but for its public pools.

Public pools? Where you can swim for free? In 1969, Virginia was still living in the apartheid South. Public swimming pools were few and far between.

We also remembered the Buffalo pools for their freezing water. The little local girls stuck their toes in and said, “It’s warm today,” then dove in and swam off. Emboldened, we dove in, too. And shot up like ice cubes.

“Down by the river where the scum flows by,

You will find Riverside Academic High.”

Daddy remembered this rhyme to the end of his life, even when he remembered little else. Laura and I walked past the fabled Riverside High where he was graduated. It was easy to imagine our father walking the few blocks to this school, sun, rain, or feet upon feet of lake effect snow. Buildings tend to hold their own special fragrance and I badly wanted to step inside to inhale the decades of learning, playing, growing up. But no amount of southern charm could gain us access through the tight security.

No more delays. After forty-five years, it was time to return to Niagara Falls. We drove along the wide river toward our destination. Even before the rapids arose, the water seemed muscular, ordained. As the whitewater began to roil and toss, we balanced the age-old feelings of fear and attraction. 75,000 gallons per second stampeding toward the American Falls, thundering over the cliff to the rocks 170 feet below. Daddy had spent his teenage years in proximity to this power.

Laura and I did it all. The Cave of the Winds, where we donned our souvenir ponchos and walked the platforms at the bottom of the falls. We braced ourselves at the aptly named hurricane deck where the wind hurled gusts of water at us. We watched the film about the early explorers and the daredevils who are still drawn to the falls as though by a magnet. We boarded the Maid of the Mist and chugged upstream to the base of the American and the Horseshoe Falls, where we were baptized in the ancient waters of the Great Lakes. We saw the falls from the top, the middle and the bottom, from land and from river.

Suddenly it hit me for the first time since I was ten years old.  The visit to Niagara in 1969 had been no accident of planning. Daddy and Grandpa had been corresponding for months. Maybe even talked on the phone long distance. “Billy, you have to get up here to see this.” “Pa, when can we walk out on the rocks?” Daddy would have said.   “What do the papers say? When is the best time to see it all?”

Bill Lundquist, with that great big beautiful scientific brain of his, would not have been able to resist the chance to see a feat of modern engineering: the dewatering of the American Falls. The channeling of all this rage toward another shore. The opportunity to walk across an ancient riverbed on the very edge of the precipice of time.

“Just think, kids,” he kept saying that summer day as he dragged us from one dry rocky vista to another, arms spread wide, his voice taut with excitement, “this is the most historic time you could see this!”

At the end of our visit, Laura and I lingered. Who knew when we’d be here again?

The next day we drove across New York and into Massachusetts. In West Boylston, we walked across the quiet cemetery, shady with old sugar maples, to the grave of my father and his parents. We placed the souvenir Niagara Falls coin on the tombstone. Then we laughed, said our goodbyes and headed south for home.

Return to Niagara

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For our sister trip this year, Laura and I decided to drive to Buffalo. “Buffalo?” my neighbor said. “That doesn’t sound like a vacation.”

Our father, originally from Worcester, Massachusetts, attended high school in Buffalo after his father was transferred there just before World War II. In 1969, Daddy drove the four of us kids there for a week to visit his parents. Laura, five years old at the time, has vague memories of it. The one thing we all remember was our visit to Niagara Falls. We remember it for its disappointment. There was no water rushing over the falls. Rocks as far as the eye could see, mere trickles along an otherwise dry riverbed. The Niagara River had been diverted over to the Canadian side so the Americans could examine the cliff to see if anything needed to be done to preserve it.

“Just think, kids,” our engineer father said enthusiastically. “This is the most historic time you could ever see it!” What fascinates an engineer often fails to fascinate young children (or anyone else for that matter).

We’ve seen Niagara Cliffs. Forty-five years later, Laura and I are bound for the Falls.

Reviews of the motel Laura and I Pricelined for our trip to Buffalo:

“Avoid @ all costs”

“Avoid this place if you can.”

“Disgusting.”

“We will never return to this property.”

“In urgent need of a facelift.”   This one could be describing me.

While others refer to it as a crap-ass hotel, I prefer to think of it as faded lady, a bit down at the heels. We are left to wonder, not for the first time, why couldn’t Daddy have had brothers and sisters? Then we might have had some relatives we could mooch off of.

We leave from my house at 8:30 in the morning. First stop, the McDonald’s in Lovingston where I have to upgrade the maps on my Garmin. I tried to do it at her house yesterday, but I’d forgotten to bring the cord that connects the Garmin to my computer. So here we are.

It takes forever, so we check our Facebook pages. “Michael will wonder why we’re not on the road,” Laura says. I’m sure a lot of people will be wondering that. I’m kind of wondering that. But we’re afraid to venture up north without updated maps. Such is the world of today. My father would either be appalled that we’re not bringing maps, or excited about this type of technology. One thing is for sure. He would have updated the Garmin at least a week before departure.

We’re taking Laura’s brand new Subaru Forester on this trip. My father always wanted me to have a Forester, because I am a forester, but I failed to fulfill that dream for him.

We have managed to close the rear gate in such a way that we can’t figure out how to open it again. This will prove inconvenient; all our baggage is back there and currently we have to put the back seats down to access it. Actually, the majority of our baggage is in the front seat, but that is all psychological and we have no problem at all accessing it.

While we’re waiting for the Garmin update, Laura is reading the owner’s manual.

“They give you a good bit of information about how to fix this car yourself,” Laura says. We try not to take this as an omen.

The manual tells us that if we’ve managed to lock the automatic power lift gate, “wait a while.” Laura wishes they’d give us some idea of what “a while” means. As long as it takes the Garmin to download? Surely not that long.

“We have dual climate control,” Laura says. “Obviously, this a car designed for menopausal women.” Perfect for us.

I feel bad about taking up this much time of our journey in a McDonald’s in Lovingston. “Well, we wouldn’t be waiting for this download if I’d sprung for the GPS in the Subaru,” Laura says, charitably. “So it’s my own fault.”

85 of 95 downloads are complete. It’s all I can do to keep from pulling the plug and getting on the road, but we’re so close now and Laura seems content to browse the owner’s manual. Another of Daddy’s legacies. “Read twice, then do,” was his mantra when we were growing up. Many a Christmas morning saw the Lundquist kids sitting under Daddy’s watchful gaze as we dutifully plowed through the directions to a new toy—not once, but twice— before we were allowed to take it out of its box. As adults, we know our appliances, we know our cars, we know our cell phones. It was good advice.

From inside Mickey D’s I see a friend pull up in her Prius. I contemplate hiding because I know she’ll see my husband somewhere and tell him that she saw us still sitting here mid-morning, far from Buffalo and not making much progress. But she appears to be purchasing a copy of the New York Times from the adjacent convenience store and either doesn’t see us, or pretends not to.

The downloads are complete now, but the install is taking it’s own sweet time. “We’re committed, now,” Laura says. I want to rip my hair out by the roots, but tap away on my laptop instead.

It’s 10:00 when we finally hit the road, Garmin updated and our next destination, a really crummy motel. We repeat the mantra: It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. We’re on our way.

 

 

 

 

One Weekend in July

 

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From New York, Delaware, DC, Virginia, and New Mexico, cars pour into the driveway of our house in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Beds full of people, yard full of tents, a rented house and rooms at a B&B.

Grandparents, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, cousins, brothers, sisters, moms, dads, children, toddlers, a babe in arms, another on the way. Girlfriends, boyfriends, in-laws, outlaws, five dogs and a cat.

Teachers, engineers, filmmakers, brewers, potters, nurses, writers, beekeepers, 501-C-3’ers, administrators, builders, artists. Soccer, baseball, Frisbee players. Musicians, eaters and drinkers.

Stacks of bagels, dozens of eggs, pounds of pasta, buckets of salsa, crocks of barbecue, vats of gazpacho, pans of cookie, tubs of watermelon, baskets of peaches, loaves upon loaves of summer zucchini bread. Carafes of coffee, pots of tea, gallons of beer, bottles of wine. Growlers, water bottles, pottery mugs, sippy cups.

Big Frisbees, tiny baseball bats, bike paths, canoes, swimming holes, bon fires. World Cup Soccer games at the local brewery, family music at the coffee house, pottery lessons in the studio. Slow walks to the river.

Birdsong at dawn, cicada by day. Whippoorwill and wood thrush at dusk, katydid and tree frog by night. Buzz of conversation, shrieks of laughter. Talk of courtships, marriages, births, illnesses, deaths. Stories from the past, dreams for the future.

To Rob and Jane Ryan Crowe. For all that you got right in your lives, the wars you fought, the joys you shared, the sorrows you survived. You saw that irresistible something in each other’s eyes and left us with so much more than we can ever thank you for—not the least of which is the Crowe Ryan Family Reunion.

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