Sniffles and congestion had become part of him. There was hardly a time that we found baba free of sniffles. It was infuriating not only for him but also for those who lived with him. He did not feel sick, just sniffly, always. Finally, he saw a physician who diagnosed that he was allergic – to the loves of his life, dogs and cats.
After hearing that, I suggested perhaps he should stop petting the 8 or 9 stray dogs that follow him and jump on him lovingly as soon as he gets out of our apartment complex. My suggestion was ignored and I did not persevere. I knew it was a lost cause.
Since I was very little, this love for animals was ingrained in me by my father. Or perhaps, I inherited his love and understanding for creatures big and small. We did not have a pet in our house while growing up but I was not deprived of puppy or kitty love. Thanks to my father, I had at least 4 or 5 dogs just outside our house, ready to be petted, fed and loved. Thanks to his silent support, I was allowed to not only save, but keep my first kitten, Pushi. She came meowing loudly, floating in waterlogged alley of our neighborhood during monsoon. I jumped in knee high water, grabbed the tiny kitten and brought her to our little verandah. Ma wanted me to give it milk and leave it in a shoe box outside. I, generally a compliant child, rebelled against this cruel decision and my faithful ally in the good fight was my father. We brought the kitten inside, loved her to bits and she returned the favor by not only bringing us dead mice but also gifting us with kittens every birthing season. And we kept them all. Pushi treated us as her personal babysitters, which we were, left her babies with us to do her rounds around her domain and intimidate the neighborhood dogs and cats. She was the indisputable queen of the neighborhood and no one could raise their head in her presence. She kept the stray dogs away from the neighborhood with her vicious hiss. She was indeed a force to be reckoned with. Believe me when I say this, I have seen her in action. At one point in my life, baba and I had seventeen cats coming to eat in our house. Baba made an arrangement with the local fish seller to sell the leftover of fish parts to us to feed our army of cats.
This is a father’s day post to celebrate and appreciate my father which morphed into a blog about his love for animals and this love that he has passed down to me as well as his grandson. There is an aura about both him and Ryan, a certain stillness around animals that exudes calmness. Animals know instinctively that they have found someone who cares. I write this as a tribute to my father because whenever I think of him, I see his faithful posse of four legged creatures following him with their tongue lolling and tail wagging.
On a day that is designated to tell one’s father what they mean to you, I choose to thank mine for giving me the gift of love for animals. Loving animals has taught me kindness and compassion and the love I have received in return has been invaluable.
Lastly, I have a feeling when I wish him Happy Father’s day, the response will be “Hmmm. thank you! Same to you!” Why, you ask? Because he is not used to being wished happy father’s day or happy birthday for that matter. He gets all flustered and does not know how to respond, eliciting a “Arre, thank you bolo! “(say thank you) from my mother!
On Sunday, Sean went to church while I took my time with coffee and shower. After his return we took the street car to the World War II museum. It was a sobering experience to say the least. After seeing photographs of young soldiers, making the ultimate sacrifice to stop evil from destroying our world, after reading narratives, witnessing the devastation that war caused, we wanted to pack up the museum and send it to Washington DC so law makers can do all in their power to prevent another large scale destruction of life and property. As we walked back slowly, both of us were quiet and contemplative. The sights and sounds of war, something that happened years and years ago were still hard to absorb.
Lunch that day was surprisingly easy and delicious. We found Auction House, a conglomeration of restaurants, within a building. I had an amazing Louisiana crab cake and Sean had some concoction that included avocados. We shared a chocolate hazelnut banana empanada from Empa Nola. Instead of getting back to the hotel, we decided to go see the Lafayette cemetery. We waited for eternity, or so it seemed, for a street car to come so I put my time to good use. I watched Ryan’s baseball game on Game changer. You can take a baseball parent out of town for a vacation, you cannot take baseball out of a baseball parent.
But here is the most important information in this blog that you need to know. We broke our promise. We did not take a nap on our final afternoon in New Orleans. We just rested for a while once we got back to our hotel. After church, Sean went scouting for nice restaurants away from the touristy French Quarter, which, in retrospect, we should have done earlier. And he found an Italian restaurant in the downtown area, which, to him, looked promising. Domencina was fancy and delicious. We ended our stay with a truly sumptuous meal and we each ordered a dessert, which we never do. He ordered Cannoli, I ordered Crema cotta that had honey, blueberries and basil. Heavenly.
We walked back to the hotel and rested. No naps. As I said, broken promise and all. In the evening we slowly walked around French quarter absorbing the ambiance and the joie de vivre that we felt on the first day and which, in my mind, is truly the characteristic of this city. After looking around several sauce shops, we bought hot sauce for Ryan, mask magnet for Sahana, chocolate covered pecans for both and headed back.
We packed to go back home and watched Cavaliers beat Celtics. Sean was grumpy and berated King James .
A blog about this trip would be incomplete if I did not mention what we found when we got home. The house was immaculate, my kitchen was organized, counter tops spotless, the lawn was mowed. Ryan did not miss a singe baseball game. Sahana kept everything in order.
The trip was much needed. A little break from routine. But the realization that our daughter was grown up, responsible was priceless.
We got an early start from the hotel. The driving distance from Sacramento to Yosemite National park is close to 3 hours and I slept at least half of that time. I sometimes feel guilty falling asleep on the passenger seat as Sean drives but not guilty enough to keep myself awake. When I woke up and looked around, the scenery around me had changed. All around me were lush green and gentle hills. And in the distance, shimmering in icy blue were peaks of Sierra Nevada. While my family got excited and chirpy that the destination was near, I got silent. My mind was cluttered with concerns over health of my loved ones, deadlines and schedules but I had decided to put all my worries and stress in the farthest corner of my mind as I submerged myself in the joys of being with those I love the most within the splendor of natural beauty. I hoped to soak myself in the beauty around me and hopefully, emerge rejuvenated, restored. As I watched in silence, Merced river flew by one side of the road with first, a gentle murmur and then a roar. As we came close to the park, the water raged next to us while the hills rose on the other side with occasional signs warning travelers of falling rocks. Slowly, everyone in the car fell silent as we took in the verdant countryside and powerful river. What else lay in store for us? Soon enough we spotted our first waterfall and although during the course of 3 days in the park we will see plenty of waterfalls, they never lost their charm for us. Each time we saw one we would stop each other and exclaim, “Look, there is a waterfall!” And we would pause or retrace our steps to catch a glimpse.
The line to enter the National park was long. Ryan got impatient and got out of the car to walk along the parapet next to us. We crawled towards the entryway to get our 7 day pass and enter paradise. Slowly the line of cars moved and we crossed the threshold.
The first stop was Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. On the way to it, we saw several cars parked on the side of the road and its occupants out on the road with their cameras held high, clicking away the magnificent Yosemite falls. We saw it while we drove on and Ryan urged Sean to ‘have fun but not too much fun and keep his eyes on the road ahead.’
We parked and walked to take in the incredibly beautiful and powerful Yosemite Falls before walking over to the Visitor Center.
The sheer force of nature amazed us and also made us aware of our insignificance in the grand scheme of things.
My chat with the ranger at the visitor center was very productive and rewarding. He said all the trails are open, however the folks who try to summit Half Dome come prepared with lots of snow gear and ice picks since the trail up there still has considerable, knee deep snow. I looked at my over achiever husband and said, “So, NO!” The ranger looked at me and said, “We can not say a forceful NO like that to hikers but yes, if I could I would say the same with the same emphasis!”
Now that the prospect of losing my husband to Half Dome was out, we looked at different trails for the following day. But we decided to climb the Yosemite falls to see how far we could go up and discover the view from up top. So we retraced our steps back to the falls and went in search of the trail head. With a deep breath and deeper resolution we started the trail with our young Ryan leading the way. The rangers urge the hikers not to stray from the trail so as not to trample the local flora that grow in abundance in the park. Within a few minutes, I was completely out of breath. I urged the family to move on while I panted. I said I will catch up but Sean just hung out with me, pretending to take in the view. No matter how many times I said I did not want to hold him back, I will be up soon, he stayed, just looking out without saying a word. He was also our mule carrying water, coats and other climbing paraphernalia. Sahana had the camera, Ryan had another water carrier and I carried my own self. Once I got into a rhythm, the steep climb became somewhat easier and I could climb at a steady pace. Fortunately, there were enough instances where we all stopped in wide eyed wonder at the visual feast ahead of us. As we got closer to the top of the falls, the panoramic view of the Yosemite valley and the gushing waterfall provided an incredible view. What an experience!
Midway through the climb, Half Dome exposed itself to us against the back drop of bright azure sky. The vast expanse of nature around us was breathtaking and incredulous.
The Yosemite Falls is North America’s tallest waterfall, which rises 2,425 feet (739 m) above the Valley floor. National Park Services website says:
If you make the one-mile, 1,000 foot climb (via dozens of switchbacks) to Columbia Rock, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock. From there, it is worth the time and energy to hike another 0.5 miles (0.8 km) (some of which is actually downhill!) to get a stunning view of Upper Yosemite Fall. Depending on the season, you may even feel the mist from the fall, which may be welcome respite after the tough climb.
And that is exactly what we did. When we climbed up to view the Upper Yosemite Fall we met with some hikers who were on their way down. We still had some fuel in our tank and the desire to see the view from the absolute top so we asked the hikers how the trail was. They all said there was considerable ice. A couple of young hikers had turned around because they did not want to tackle the ice. That put a damper to our spirits. We were not sure we wanted to navigate steep, icy terrains in the fading light of the evening. So the consensus was to turn around.
We reached our car when the sun was almost down. As we drove back to get to our hotel in Mariposa (a 45 minute drive) from the park we got to glimpse yet another hue of the green mountains in the dying light of the sun. It was truly mesmerizing. Merced river, swollen and raging, guided us back as we drove by it.
By the time we reached Mariposa and decided to stop for dinner, Sahana was feeling unwell. She opted out from eating anything while we stopped at a Subway to pick up sandwiches, checked into our hotel, cleaned up and hit the hay. The next day was going to be a full day of hiking so we needed the rest. My unused muscles were reminding me painfully that I was extremely out of shape but my rejuvenated mind told me I was up for the challenge. The following day we planned to hike up the Vernal Falls and then further up – Nevada Falls. Now for some sleep…..
I woke up the next morning, sat up on my bed and saw the ocean peeking in through my bedroom window. After almost three weeks, I still remember the overwhelming feeling of contentment that I experienced at that moment. I often feel extremely blessed in what I have in my life. That was one such moment. There would be many moments during the course of our stay on that island where I felt an inexplicable gratitude towards the universe for allowing me to witness such beauty. I felt most spiritual, most connected with the universe in my solitary moments while I sat alone on a rocky beach with no human in sight. Just me, the vast body of water in front of me and scraggly yet majestic rocks that rose above the low tide.
We quickly settled into a routine on the island. I generally went for long, solitary walks traversing the entire length of the island after a leisurely cup of coffee in front of the water. On those walks, I saw the island creatures – colorful garter snakes, deer, wild turkeys, a ferret like creature who lived near our house. Those walks were also times when I introspected about this life that I was leading, where I was at present in this journey and where I was headed. I spent time with myself, which is a rare thing to do in my daily life. I am a mother who juggles too many balls to ensure the ones dependent on me have a smooth life. I don’t have much or any time for myself. This island break gave me a week to spend with me, the person, not me the mother, wife, worker.
If asked what was most memorable time in that island I will say it was the thirty minutes that I spent by myself sitting on a secluded rocky beach with the vast expanse of sky over me and inky blue water crashing against the rocks. Little sail boats gliding gently by, the regular swish of water against rocks, perhaps the shrill cry of a gull once in a while and the excitement of an extended cormorant family complete with babies, moms, dads, uncles, aunts, grand moms, granddads cavorting on their rock. Many thoughts crossed my mind, solitary thoughts, personal thoughts, peaceful thoughts, reassuring thoughts that beauty like what I was witnessing abounds our planet, despite man made divisiveness and destruction and the fact I was lucky enough to witness just a tiny part of it.
The second most memorable time I spent on that island was with my girl. We walked over to the secluded rocky beach of the island and then hopped on the scraggly rocks to see where it would take us. Our path was difficult hence the adventure was thrilling. We strategized, mapped out, warned each other of wobbly ones and slippery ones, squealed when the cold water lapped up to our toes and scrambled higher. We hugged the coast and made our way around the island boosted by our strength and ability to haul ourselves up. I apologized to home owners whose private beaches we trespassed, they cheered us on, while Sahana apologized to each and every spider in our path since we were breaking some spider webs. We made it to the tipping cove, scurried through tall grass fearing ticks and eventually took the boring path home. But we were conquerors of the unknown and we bragged about our conquest till nobody cared any more.
Ryan disowned his own family and hung out with his ten other cousins, eating, roaming, diving down the dock at the wake of the ferry and working at the only tiny pizza store of the island for candy as payment. The boys judiciously watched the clock between playing baseball, tennis and hide and go seek. As soon as it was the time for the ferry they left everything they were doing to go to their jobs of unloading supplies for the store from the ferry. The vacation, for an eleven year old was idyllic and most importantly, free – something that children in cities and suburbs have forgotten.
Remember the kayaks, Sasha and Hexel? Well, they were put to good use as my husband took them out with his brother, his son or his daughter to explore the nearby islands. Sometimes they were gone for three hours or more.
This is what we all needed. Time. Time to connect with each other and also time to disconnect and seek solitude. I believe we were immensely successful. We left the island almost two months ago, yet today, on this dreary, rainy, gloomy day, the island’s memories are a beacon to me. I can go back in my mind to this happy place and I am not gloomy anymore.
I have said before that the way to Ryan’s heart is through his stomach. He woke up on Saturday morning at the hotel, completely ravenous. Sahana and I were still in bed and not ready for breakfast so he niggled and whined that he be allowed to go have the free breakfast that the hotel offered by himself. We said yes, he left and we forgot about him while we watched a little tv, packed up to check out and got ready ourselves for breakfast. After quite a while later, we heard frantic knock on our door. We opened it to see a red faced and evidently relieved Ryan standing outside with a silly grin on his face.
“Finally I found you guys. I was lost!!” He exclaimed.
We packed up our bags and checked out of the hotel to head towards Casco Bay Ferry in Portland. Since I am extremely intelligent and planned, I suggested to my partner that we drive to the ferry and figure out first how we transport our junk to the island before we shop for groceries for seven days. That plan seemed acceptable to all so that is what we did. While I guarded the car, Sean went to make the necessary inquiries. It turned out we were unduly worried. The wonderful and efficient staff of the ferry sent all our junk on the freight and other regulars to islands showed us how we can buy groceries, put them in crates provided by the freight workers and leave them with the staff. They did all the heavy lifting while we enjoyed the gorgeous scenery on our way to the island with only our handbags full of tank tops and shorts. After bidding goodbye to Sasha, Hexel (our kayaks, remember?), our unnamed bikes, tennis rackets and some other inconsequential bags, we went to the local Whole Foods to get groceries. Grocery shopping, for me, is never fun and this wasn’t either but it got done with two children running to get things that they wanted and Sean and I either acquiescing or saying sternly, “Put that back right away!” We drove the grocery laden minivan back to the dock, procured a cart, sent the groceries on their way with a prayer that the eggs don’t crack and ventured into the difficult task of finding a parking. The most convenient parking, right next to the dock was full. Sean got off the car to ask the attendant how quick the turnover was. Should we wait or should we seek a different parking garage. He was gone for a while. When I was starting to get slightly frustrated I saw him coming back with a huge grin and a thumbs up sign.
“We got parking here!”
“How? It still says full!”
It turns out the parking ticket machine was not working and Sean tinkered with the parking attendant and helped her fix it. She let us in. Hallelujah!
After parking the car, we got out to finally explore the city of Portland, grab some lunch and get donuts from the famous The Holy Donut. Portland is a lovely town, albeit stinky, at least near the waterfront with fish stink. If one walks away from the waterfront, however, it is a quaint seaside town with artsy boutiques and innovative restaurants. We lunched on shwarma, falafel and hummus in Olive Cafe and went to get dessert. As we were walking around we got phone calls from family that they were arriving at the dock with their families and luggage and since we were pros at figuring out how to transport luggage to Cliff island, we jogged back to give them a hand.
After hugs and confusion and bathroom breaks and innumerable ‘where is this child or that’ (there were 6 children in total ranging from 17 to 3 while four more waited for us at the island), we got on the ferry and our relaxing (maybe) break truly started.
This is a view from the ferry on our way to the island.
It took about 40 minutes with two stops and we were finally there. We were finally away from the mainland, away from schedule, away from political news, away from internet. We were unwired, we were on island time. Sasha, Hexel, unnamed bikes, bags and bags of groceries were all unloaded on the dock. They needed to be carted to the house we rented which was only 4 houses down the dock. It sounded simple but we did not account for the acres of woods and yards between those four houses. While Sean, the kids and other relatives divided up the bags, tennis rackets, bikes, I took it upon myself to push the big crate of groceries up the hill to our house. The only car (a taxi service driven by a very elderly gentleman) stopped by me to ask if I was alright. He may have been concerned by my straining neck muscles and red face. I did it though only to realize I had stolen two banana boxes of groceries that belonged to somebody else. Those boxes hid underneath our scores of grocery bags. My brother-in-law, bless his heart, offered to take the banana boxes full of groceries back to the dock so they could be reunited with their rightful owner. I mumbled a thank you because I was stunned and exhilarated by the scene that greeted me in the living room of our rented house.
This was going to be our view for the next seven days? Did I just arrive in heaven?
Seeing my husband standing next to me enjoying the view and not tackling the two kayaks outside got me into a panic mode.
“Why are you here? Why are you not bringing the kayaks from the dock?” I exclaimed.
“Your children are bringing them!” He gave a complacent smile.
Sure enough, two little figures turned the corner in two kayaks paddling furiously to get them to our private little beach in front of the house. Oh, the joys of having older children!
the first evening was a blur between hugging and kissing family, unpacking and rearranging clothes, eating delicious sausage lasagne prepared by my youngest sister-in-law, laughing at the antics of the children, eleven in total, and then finally retiring to the bedroom and falling into deep slumber. I will post the picture of what I woke up to in the next installment. Stay tuned. 😀
I forgot to pack my notebook as I packed some grubby clothes hurriedly in a newly purchased tote bag to take to Cliff Island off the coast of Maine for seven days. My extremely outdoorsy husband had purchased two kayaks because the kids ‘needed’ it you see and was planning on bringing them. The children declared they absolutely needed their bikes to ride around the three and a half mile long island with their cousins. There was a tennis court on that tiny island, so how could we not bring tennis rackets and balls? There is also a baseball field, we could not simply leave behind baseball glove and bat, could we? I sighed as I looked at the accumulating junk and dictated folks to take bare minimum in clothes so we could each carry a bag pack and keep both hands free so we COULD CARRY JUNK! The island does not have a grocery store for provisions so we needed to plan and buy seven days worth of groceries, and then figure out a way to carry them!! I forgot to pack my notebook though, in the hustle bustle of planning. I planned to write down my stream of consciousness as I sat in front of the ocean. In the absence of tangible medium, I wrote and painted in my mind’s canvas. Before life gets steadily busy, I hope to put down those thoughts on these blogs.
Like many others on this planet with children, our lives are hectic and rigidly scheduled. As August came closer, all four of us counted down days to break free from work travels, deadlines, swim meets, baseball practices to reclaim our time together, doing what we love to do – reading, walking, talking, listening to music, swimming, playing. We planned a retreat from real life with Sean’s siblings and their families in a tiny little island off the coast of Portland. We rented a house for a week starting Saturday, right on the water. However, my family headed north early, on a Thursday morning at 5 am to jump start the vacation. The plan was to meet our one day old niece in Boston and then drive up north, find a place to stay for two nights, Thursday and Friday, and then get on the ferry from Portland to head to the island on Saturday.
We started our long journey before the sun rose. Sean had secured two kayaks on top of our minivan and two bikes behind the car on bike racks. I had a niggling fear that one of those would go free, go flying and hit fellow motorists. That did not happen thankfully. We arrived in Mass General Hospital with all our JUNK intact but went round and round the busy city of Boston to find parking for our heavily loaded car. We held and kissed our baby niece, full of joy at the miracle of life and hit the road again after bidding the proud and tired parents goodbye. We wanted to visit some of the beaches of New Hampshire or maybe Maine, get a couple of days of sandy beach fun before we met others at the ferry and headed over to Cliff Island. First stop was Hampton beach. We tried to get a hotel for two nights but nothing was available. It was coming up on dinner time and the day was slowly losing its luster. We decided to move on, drive up and find accommodation somewhere farther up north. We were not worried. Next stop was Ogunquit, Maine. The beach was gorgeous, the town seemed inviting. Four of us started to feel hopeful about finding lodging and eventually some dinner, but ‘no vacancy’ signs greeted us as we passed cute hotels, motels and bed and breakfast. A resort right on the beach showed vacancy sign. We parked and jogged to the reception desk. The children, cooped up in the car for 10 hours, ran to the beach to touch the water.
The resort offered one night’s accommodation for almost $400. Friday night was full. Crestfallen parents called the kids back to the car to continue the journey, but the lovely restaurants and the handmade ice cream stores were too tempting to pass by. We stopped for dinner at Hamburger Harry’s. The kids got busy ordering while the parents desperately searched for lodging on their smart phones. The children, with their bellies full of sumptuous burger, kept reassuring us they could sleep in the van if needed. I glared at them instead of appreciating their effort to be accommodating 🙂 ! I recognized their effort later, when I relaxed finally in a comfortable bed. After several attempts, we found accommodation for two nights in a hotel in South Portland, only to find out later that the Boston Marathon bombers stayed in the same hotel before their heinous deed (the knowledge would not have made any impact on our decision of staying there at that point anyway). We drove up to our hotel, after ice cream of course, and crashed.
We woke up Friday morning ready for a beach day. We wanted to have the total boardwalk experience with all the glitz since we knew we will be in isolation in an island far away from the madding crowd. We found Old Orchard beach that fit the bill, complete with an amusement park, boardwalk fries, tattooed skin and crashing waves. The kids ran towards the amusement park before they said hello to the ocean.
As Sean and I stood in line to buy a few tickets for a some rides, a man walked up and gave us two passes for unlimited rides, FOR FREE, just like that. He had to leave the beach and had no use for those passes, he gave them to us. Before we could collect our wits to thank him profusely for his generosity, he left! The children rode every single ride till Ryan threw up and decided enough was enough and sometimes too much. After a mediocre lunch in a taqueria, which had an interesting name with a frog in it, we finally headed to the beach. My thin Indian skin can not tolerate the coldness of the Atlantic Ocean in Maine, so I slept on the sandy beach while my family rollicked in the waves. Completely satiated with our day of sand filled and sun filled activities, we headed to our hotel to get ready for our big preparation day on Saturday. The day we had to figure out a way to transfer our kayaks, Sasha and Hexel (yes, they are even named), our two bikes (no names), luggage, books, towels and seven days worth of provision across the ferry from Portland to Cliff Island. But before we did that, Ryan got lost. I will leave you here with a cliff hanger like mystery writers do, so you will wait with baited breath about the fate of my son, till I write the next installment. I am evil like that. 🙂
I was made aware of this celebration of sarees on a social networking site. Women posted saree clad pictures on Facebook and told a little story or memory associated with that particular saree. I believe the notion was to highlight the elegance of this beautiful ethnic wear and boost this industry. One particular friend of mine wrote beautiful memories with each and every saree she wore. Not only did she look beautiful, but her stories made a fascinating read and her sarees, to me, became much more meaningful. Stories and memories inter-weaved within the threads – what a fabulous concept.
My sarees are well-loved but not much worn. They stay well guarded in a closet in my basement as I live my life in jeans, trousers, sweaters and shirts. Sometimes I harangue my husband to take me out on dates so I can drape one of my lovely sarees. Swim meets and baseball games get in the way. So when I open the closet that house my sarees, I stroke them longingly and make plans……one of these days I will wear this one or that. And then the weather turns frigid. However, the hope remains – next spring, next summer, next fall. In the mean time, I acquire more sarees. They come bearing love – love of my mother and father, my sisters and brothers (cousins), my aunts and uncles from home.
Two of my sarees have a story or memory with my mother that I want to share. I had heard the name of a saree store called Byloom in Kolkata. I had seen photos of sarees bought from Byloom. Their texture, design, color combination seemed different, unique, more to my taste. Two days before I was scheduled to return to United States, my mother and I decided to pay a visit to this saree store and see with our own eyes what the hype was all about. The plan was to simply pay a visit, look at their wares and then turn around and come back home. My suitcases were full, and my purse was light. I had a little bit of Indian money left in cash and I decided to take just that with me. I took out my credit cards along with my debit card and left them at home. If I did not have plastic, I would not be tempted to overspend. Wait, why was I thinking of spending? My suitcase was full, right?
My mother and I are both geographically challenged so after asking at least 3 people for directions we arrived at the store. The last direction was asked right in front of the store, so when the gentleman who pointed to the store right across the street and gave us a strange look we felt slightly embarrassed. We walked in and promptly got lost again. This time we lost ourselves in colors, patterns and texture. The salesladies were amazing at their job, the colors were splendid and rich, the textiles smelled of home and comfort. I, not a fashionista or lover of clothes by any means, was hooked. My mother, an impulsive shopper and an ardent admirer of fashion and clothes, was miserable. I had instructed her not to bring money. We were just going to look, remember?
We had never done better math in our lives!! I bought a saree for my mother. That was it, I had money (cash) for that – parting gift to my mother before I left India. And then the salesladies did their magic, “Didi, look at this color on you!” They draped a pink saree on me. Three of them came over to ooh and aah over it. My mom joined in. Then they found a blue one, a little more expensive. They double ooh aahed over it. My ma joined in again. The oohs and aahs went up exponentially with the value of the sarees – just an observation. I was calculating fast in my head. I had two days left before my flight departed, no one would make blouses for those sarees. I had to buy ready made blouses for them. Groan! More calculations. Finally, when I had hardened my heart against amazing sales pitches, when I had closed my eyes against the splendor of colors, when I had shut my ears to my mother’s berating at making her leave her money at home, I headed to the cashier with my grumbling mother in tow. I told the cashier I bought some stuff but I had X amount of rupees. I was not savvy enough to calculate the sales tax in my head so I may not be able to buy all that was being packed for me. He smiled politely and said they accepted credit cards. “Ummm…I am not carrying my credit card!” I mumbled. My mother, I think, growled.
As the cashier tallied up my purchases, I realized I held my breath. Fortunately, I had enough money to pay for it all with about 15 rupees to spare. Feeling buoyant and happy we sailed out of the store swinging our bags. And we laughed joyfully. The memory is not about having enough money to buy those sarees though. The memory is about getting lost with my mother, hearing sales pitches with her, being admired by her, being scolded too and finally laughing giddily over our joint naughtiness. I am not sure I have rightfully penned the day, the story or the feeling. My mother and I were more than simply a mom and child that day. That day we were co conspirators, we were math whizzes (somewhat), we were rule breakers (rules created by us), we were quick planners, we were fast shoppers, we were fellow gigglers, we were happy bag swingers. We were perhaps more friends that day than parent and child. We were also hiding some tears behind our laughter at the upcoming goodbye. It was our last show down before the curtain of years fell till we were together again.
On her birthday, this memory stands out. Happy birthday, Ma! Here is to many more years of rule breaking, bag swinging, saree conspiring, and of course mindless laughing after being naughty. We Bengalis do not say “I love you’ because it does not need to be said, I know. This Bengali has learned to say it anyway. Moreover, she loves to say it.
I love you, Ma!
Here are the sarees, which have this precious memory!
“The Old Rag Mountain hike in the Shenandoah National Park is one of the most popular hikes in the mid-Atlantic region. With many spectacular panoramic views, and one of the most challenging rock scrambles in the park, this circuit hike is a favorite of many hikers. But be prepared for the crowds. This is the only hike we give a star rating for solitude.” So says http://www.hikingupward.com/SNP/OldRag/ and yes, they were right about the solitude. There is no solitude to be had if you plan your climb later than 7:00 am.
Although we had planned to get in the car by 5:00 am and be at Old Rag by 7:30, ready to climb, we over slept. By the time we arrived at the parking lot, there were quite a few hikers spraying sun tan lotion and readying their hiking sticks. Our journey began quietly. Sahana, being almost sixteen requested to hike alone, without us. She took off from us as soon as we reached the base of the mountain, lugging her back pack on her shoulders where she carried her own snack, a liter of water, her own sandwich and a surprise that I will reveal later. Sean, Ryan and I were left to our own devices. Sean, of course, was the mule of the hiking party, he carried 2 liters of water and our food. I carried my camera. Ryan carried himself.
Old Rag is a very popular hiking destination with a summit elevation of 3291 feet located within the gorgeous Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia. From different elevation points one can get breathtakingly beautiful panoramic views of the farming fields of rural Virginia down below and the peaks of the Blue Ridge mountains surrounding Old Rag.
This was my second climb, Sean’s fourth and the children’s third. They were professional climbers of Old Rag and they cheered the newbie (me) on with very encouraging endearments like, “you are doing great mountain goat, mama!” “What a mountain goat wife I have!” so on and so forth. I had half a mind to tell them I don’t appreciate being called a mountain goat but I was panting hard so could not talk. We all knew the trail started innocently enough and then slowly increased in grade. Personally, the walk through the woods does not excite me much unless I spot a gorgeous yellow butterfly, or an interesting worm on the trail, or perhaps a nameless flower growing on the side. The view is hidden by foliage and the only sound you hear are the bird songs, if you pay attention, or the voices of fellow hikers or the soft rustling of the stream at the bottom of the mountain. The gurgling of water fades away as you ascend towards the top. I stay focused on my own breathing and the burning of my leg muscles to truly appreciate the quiet beauty of the woods around me. And I get irrationally competitive. If I see a hiker pass me, I scramble up quicker to pass him or her. It is a silly quirk.
After about nine switchbacks and 2 miles of woods we reached the first vista. And from that point the rocky scramble started. My family goes back to Old Rag again and again and endures the 2 miles of walk in the increasingly steep trail in the woods just for that rocky scramble that leads to the summit. And a scramble it is. Some times one has to pass through a tiny crevice within the boulders, sometimes one has to jump from one boulder to another quite a distance below. We scraped our arms, Sean took a tumble, I was on all fours most of the time, yet we had big smiles on our faces every time we crossed or hopped over a particularly challenging boulder.
Sahana had pushed herself to reach the rocks first and waited for us there to catch up. I apologized to her for keeping her waiting: “I am sorry I took so long! I had to rest in between to catch my breath and drink water!”
The ever polite girl replied, “You did great mama! Just climb at your own pace, I did not mind waiting at all!”
And I could see why one would not mind waiting:
We laughed as we hurt, we teased and we got scared together! We bonded over our jumps and encouraged each other on. “You can do it” “Just Jump, don’t think about it!” “Don’t look at the ledge, your legs can easily jump that distance!” And we did not think, we did not look at the ledge, we sometimes gave each other a little push, an extended hand.
And then, all of a sudden, we had reached the top. There was the cerulean sky above us, the huge boulders holding us up and blue mountains surrounding us.
The hikers who were climbing with us, who gave us words of advice, told us where a better foothold was, took our help too, arrived a little after or before us. People of all ages, shapes, sizes had climbed the mountain. We encountered true solidarity when hikers unknown to each other yet with the same goal gave each other a push, a little help, a hand to overcome a particularly difficult stretch of terrain. Finally we all made it to the top and we all had the euphoric feeling of achievement, we nodded at each other and smiled. Then we competed with each other to find a shady spot beneath the rocks for a picnic lunch. The sun was strong and we all looked for shade. At this point, my daughter brought out a copy of “A Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley to read at the summit of Old Rag Mountain. She had carried the copy in her backpack to read at the mountain top after a hard yet satisfying climb, surrounded by mountains. She thought that was a fitting book to read in that ambiance. I felt a surge of pride at her nerdiness.
We ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, crunched on some trail mix, almost finished the water leaving just a little for the hike back and simply soaked in the purity of our surroundings. I wish there were fewer people but oh, well! Old Rag belonged to them as much as it belonged to us. After climbing even more boulders at the top and seeing the panoramic view from every which angle we decided to make the long trip back down. There are two ways one can come down – one take the fire trail which did not have any rocks but a simple downward trail or the same rocky trail that we came up. Guess which one we chose?
As we started down we realized that was a popular time for people to hike up. There is one passage in the rocky part of the trail where only one person can pass at time and there was actually a back up. Our option was either to go back to the summit and then go down the fire trail or use an alternate route which was by the edge of the cliff and if one did not make the right jump, could roll down the hill to one’s death. Sean went first. There was a young man who was helping his family navigate this particularly rocky terrain. He took Sean’s back pack and pointed to the dead man’s drop. He said, “Sir, you don’t want to get down on your right, you better move towards your left!” Sean crab crawled all the way down the rock and then slid down at least 6 feet since the drop was deep. The children were hesitating so I went next. I did not think and I did not look at the drop. With adrenaline pumping I did not even feel any fear, I was focused on my crab crawl till Sean caught hold of one of my foot. I gave myself up to the slide and slid quite uneventfully to solid ground. Ryan came next and Sean got him down deftly. Sahana, after she slid down made one comment, “That took twenty years of my life away, guys!” She summed it up for all of us.
The rest of the downward rock scramble was uneventful and then the easy part started – walking down the woods. Sean and Ryan left Sahana and I in the dust as they surged forward. We did not mind to be parted except when we realized they had the precious water with them. But the thought of cooler full of ice water in the car kept us going till my left ankle landed on a twig, gave out from underneath me and I fell hard on my left side – on the easiest part of the trail. There was a young dad who came to my rescue asking if I needed help getting up. I was gritting my teeth waiting for the pain to subside, so I nodded my head and said through gritted teeth, “No thank you, I’ll be fine. Just need a moment!” The family stood nearby as I pulled myself up and tried a few steps gingerly. At this point, my valiant daughter dropped her back pack, stretched a bit and offered to carry me on her back for mile and a half till the end of the trail. I laughed out loud through the pain. She was all serious, “I can do it, mama! I can carry you!”
Sahana and I were having a heart to heart chat as we climbed down, before I fell. After my fall our conversation ended, I slowed down considerably so as not to injure my throbbing ankle any further and we both wished the end was near so we could rest our weary and injured muscles. We strained our ears to hear the gurgling stream which would indicate we were nearing the start of the trail. We heard only silence. As we hobbled down, we came across a middle aged couple sitting by the trail, panting heavily, quite red in the face. We said the customary hello and moved on. But then the gentleman asked me a question which I did not hear. I stopped and turned, “I beg your pardon?”
“I asked is it worth it? The climb?” He asked.
Sahana and I looked at each other. I was hurting and she was tired and achy after the long hike. The entire trip is 5.2 miles and takes 5 hours. It took us over 6. Was it worth it? It is a emphatic yes for me. It was worth it. It was worth all of it – getting up early, driving two and a half miles, getting bug bites, the muscle pain, the lungs protesting, the scraped arms and knees, the fear of failure to cross the ledge and then finally standing at the top and looking at the view. The view was breathtaking, to be sure. The grandeur of mountains have lured hikers and mountaineers throughout the ages to scale the heights, not simply for the view although that is a reward indeed, but also for the sense of achievement and for believing in oneself that one can do it. So yes, every climb is worth it. Every time we push ourselves even when we feel we can not go one more step is worth it.
It made me think of life – the journey, is it worth it? With all the obstacles that is placed in our way, is it truly worth it to overcome them. When in moments of weakness we sit by the trail of life exhausted and question if it is worth it, we need to remind ourselves that it is. The view at the end is a gamble, I know. It could be breathtaking, it could be ordinary, it could be downright ugly. But the view that we see up there depends on our expectation, our wants. We can look at it with the lens that we choose and make it worth it.
My dog is an awesome football player and perhaps soccer player too. When we all sleep at night he sneaks out of the house and performs crazy feats with Ryan’s football and his soccer ball. You should see his skills, the FIFA and the NFL should video tape him to show the pros. What? You don’t believe a word I say? You should not. I am making it all up.
Sage tore his cranial cruciate ligament. For the uninitiated in vet talk, that is your ACL which athletes tear playing contact sports. After Sage started limping and we started conjecturing the various reasons for the limp, I read up on several pet sites about CCL – the procedure, the recuperation, the rehabilitation of the injured foot and hoped and prayed that his limp was temporary. Perhaps lyme disease? Perhaps a bruise in the pad? Perhaps something that will simply go away?
Well it did not. The limp started getting worse and I had no choice but to contact a surgeon. A check up confirmed ‘Yup, he has torn his cranial cruciate ligament in his right hind leg!’ The dreaded surgery was inevitable. The surgery itself is not that big of a deal however the recuperation is. The dog, after the surgery, is supposed to be in crate rest for at least two weeks with only bathroom breaks. Movement has to be severely restricted so as not to cause more injury to the afflicted leg and to let it heal. The idea of crating Sage made me very distressed because he had hated the crate as a puppy and so we, being the indulgent parents, never put him in it. Crate rest after surgery would be miserable for him AND for us. Sean and I took our nervous boy to see the surgeon, she evaluated him, set up a surgery date and then I broached the dreaded question. Does he need to be crated to recuperate? The doctor became my favorite person as she shook her head. She did not see the need to crate an animal who has never been crated. They are already traumatized and in pain, there is no reason to add to their trauma. “Just restrict his movements”, she said. The surgery was done. We knew Sage would be in bad shape but when Sean brought him home, I started crying. He was groggy, his leg was all stitched up and as he walked blood dripped on the floor. He had the hated (by him) cone of shame so he did not bite his stitches.
The night, as one can imagine, was miserable for him and for me. He slept on the floor at the foot of our bed and cried all night. I cried with him, stroking him and cooing at him. I decided to sleep on the couch letting my hand rest lightly on his body as he tried to get comfortable. I had done the same thing on the first night that he spent in our house as a little fuzz ball, far away from his mommy and siblings. I had kept my fingers on him so he could rest knowing somebody was right next to him. He cried when I moved my fingers. He slept almost the whole of the next day, exhausted and groggy with pain medication but cried again at night.
Slowly, as days went by, he seemed to emerge from this fog of pain and haze. His eyes cleared, he slept less, he started showing interest in his surroundings, he ate, he went to the bathroom. He had to be leash walked slowly for bathroom breaks and then brought back right away to lie down and rest his leg. His cone came off only when he ate or drank. It was not easy. One day, as I upended his water bowl on our hard wood floor trying to support his leg, untangle his leash and put his cone on at the same time, I cried out in frustration:
“It is only January 8th!!!!!! The stitches don’t come out till January 21st! How am I going to do this????”
My stoic 9 year old consoled me, without missing a beat:
“At least it is not January 1st!”
True. Why can’t I look at things like he does? Why is my glass always half empty and his always half full?
Sage slowly healed. But I watched with love and admiration how the whole family rallied around him and helped him in his healing. The children brought their homework next to his blanket and finished next to him. Sahana read her book with one hand on Sage’s back, Ryan watched his videos and shared the screen with him so Sage could be entertained. Sean lay down with him, after work and gave him innumerable belly rubs. I was the nurse, of course – feeding, watering, comforting, medicating, putting the cone on, taking the cone off. Sage was surrounded by a circle of love. We planned out our family schedule for 2 weeks so one of us was always home to keep him company and see to his needs. Our friends, outside my family, who love our boy sent their best wishes for a speedy recovery. All the wishes contributed to the stitches drying, pain lessening. It had to. And Sage? He taught us acceptance of something that is out of our control by going through this ordeal with his usual patience, kindness, perseverance and love. He just looked at us with his soft, beautiful eyes questioning the pain, his helpless state but never our love. He was always ready to love us with wags of his tail and a quick lick of our hands. When he did not doze his eyes followed us around although he couldn’t for a while. And although we were helpless to take his pain, we all let him know that we are standing by his side, cheering him on to the road of recovery.
After such a surgery, the recuperation is long and painful. But he seems to be doing relatively well. The stitches are gone. He is going for short, leashed walks. He still favors the leg but he is limping less. It has snowed a bit. So he is enjoying pushing his nose down the snowy grounds and coming up with little balls of snow on his reddish nose. His brother takes him out to the fields at the back and they break ice together. He tells me they sit together on a snow covered mound so Sage can rest and they can just look around to take in the quiet surroundings. I ask him to use caution and he tells me he knows he needs to be gentle with Sage since he is still healing. Ryan forgets sometimes and runs around the house. Sage wants to join him and I have to curb both of their enthusiasm. Sahana forgets to do her chores yet she never forgets to give Sage his pain medication. It seems that she has taken over the job of medicating him after his meals. And she is constantly by his side, a calming presence as opposed to her rambunctious little brother. Sage needs them both, one who excites him and the other who calms him down.
We are hopeful he won’t suffer anymore once he heals completely. We dream of taking him on our hikes and letting him do what he loves the most – run free with his human siblings while keeping an eye on his human parents as they bring up the rear. He keeps his pack together and his pack ensures he becomes whole again, with the help of rest, medicine and most importantly, love. And he trusts them and loves them back with all the trust and love that his doggy heart can hold.
I don’t often think of teleportation (word press is giving me red squiggly line underneath it. Is teleportation not a real word?) till I board a 13 hour flight to go to India or get in the car to go on an 8 hour trip up north to visit family during holiday times. I love to go places yet I dislike the modes of transportation. What is the point of having such smart people in the world if they can not figure out a way to get to places in the blink of an eye, I ask? Come on MIT, Harvard, Yale and other esteemed colleges, discover it already!!
Anyway, I got in the car like a grumpy cat, settled my ooh- so- comfortable blanket on my lap, buckled my seat belt and grunted at my chirpy husband “Let’s go.” We were going up to Boston to visit family for Christmas. Sean and the children were annoyingly chirpy and I looked out of the window to keep my annoyance at their chirpiness at bay. It almost did not work.
As we passed New York after 4 hours of driving, Sean pointed out:
“Look at the city. How lit up it is!!”
I have already mentioned I was grumpy at the beginning of the journey. I decided to turn it up a notch, I turned downright whiny (good thing my children take mostly after their dad)!
“I have lived in this country for over 10 years and I have never seen New York lights during holiday times. I have never seen the tree at the Rockefeller Center! Hmmmmph!”
“Alright, let’s do it. Let us drive into the city!” Sean enthusiastically exclaimed.
“No000, let’s just go up to Boston and be done with this ride!” I answered.
Then everything was quiet for a while except Veggie Tales singing about God being greater than the boogeyman in the car music system. I may have dozed off for a while when I fully woke up to honking. I looked out of the car window to find that we are entering the congested New York City!!!
“You are going in the city???? We are going to arrive in Boston so late! Why did you not just drive on!!!!!!!!!!” I said, exasperated.
My husband’s spirit was indomitable.
“Oh, let us just see the lights!” He grinned.
After battling with traffic and being rejected by two garages in the city (they were full), we finally found parking in one garage. My dissatisfaction and grumpiness were giving away to mouth opening awe and excitement at the lights and spirit of the big apple as I tried to take in the crowd, style and of course, the honking and aggressive driving. After Sean parked, he gave a curt command:
“Take your bags out!”
“WHAT??? Why???” Sahana and I, both whipped our heads around. Ryan was oblivious of everything, as usual.
“Hurry up, get your bags out!” The man repeated. And started pulling our bags out himself.
Still stunned and unaware about what exactly was happening, we did as we were asked to do.
We rolled our bags, following Sean who entered a hotel about half a block away. Sahana and I looked at each other as he opened the door for us. Ryan finally asked, “Where are we going? Why aren’t we going to Boston?” I must mention at this point that we discovered as we unloaded our bags and wore our coats that Ryan had forgotten to bring his heavy winter coat on this trip. He had a sweat shirt on and was freezing at this point. Sean had his ratty, old winter coat in addition to his ‘nicer’ newer winter coat, which saved Ryan eventually. Also Boston turned out to be extremely mild this year.
“Reservation for two nights under …..”, he told the staff at front desk.
Sahana looked at me and mouthed, “Did he just say 2 nights???????”
Sean got the key to our room and looked at us triumphantly, grinning from ear to ear like a little boy. His Christmas gift to us. He planned a two night stay in NYC, couple of blocks away from Broadway, a block and a half away from Lincoln Center, en route to Boston. He planned this for a while and I DID NOT HAVE A CLUE.
And then? Then it was magic. Then it was a dream come true. Then it was the best surprise I have ever had in my life.
After cleaning up at the hotel, we went to have dinner at this busy pizza place not too far from Times Square. I had no idea, of course, that we were going to stop at New York. Hence I had no stylish apparel or shoes. I toured NYC in my stylish pink sneakers, ratty jeans and dirty coat. Oh well, little things! 🙂
After a typical NYC pizza and cheese cake dinner, we braved the cold to walk to Times Square and witness the night turned to day. Every one who has been to Times Square will perhaps agree with me when I say it is a sensory overload. It was Ryan’s first time. He had to go in and gawk at the Hershey store, the Toys r US, the M & M store. He had to gawk at the bill boards and the street performers. His mother and sister were not far behind in being mesmerized by all of it. Even Sahana, who reprimands us constantly when we go places as “acting like tourists” forgot to scold us as I clicked pictures.
The following day, we stood in line to get discounted tickets for a Broadway show and ended up with tickets of Mamma Mia. Sean froze in line at the ticket counter while Sahana, Ryan and I stood in line inside a Starbucks to get him (and us) hot chocolate. Then all four of us froze waiting in line for the ticket counter to open. But there was a certain camaraderie with the other excited tourists waiting with us in the serpentine line. We exchanged jokes, we learned how far people have come from, we stated the obvious about how cold it was and once the ticket counters opened the line moved quickly. We did not have much time before the show and we (me) absolutely had to see the New York Public library before the show started. But we also had to have lunch. Due to popular demand (read children’s) we had to find lunch first. After lunch we barely had time to run back to the theater. The library, I consoled myself, will have to wait till the next visit. The show was amazing. We came out singing, “Dancing queen” and “Don’t go wasting your emotion” along with the other theater goers. After meandering around a bit more, the children declared they were tired and can we please go back to the hotel.
Wait, what? Tired? In New York? But…we don’t have much time to take it all in!!! I was shouting in my head as I headed back glumly towards the hotel with the rest of the crew. As we entered our room, Sean whispered to me:
“What do you think of ditching the kids and going for a spin in the city? Just you and I? Are you up for it?”
Am I up for it???Baby, do you even know me? This is New York!! I am in New York. I leave tomorrow morning. I do not want to waste any time sitting in a hotel room watching tv! I want to make every moment count, I want to take it all back in my heart!
So we got McDonald meal for the children who were happy as a clam slurping on shakes and watching Christmas shows on television while their parents waved sayonara and hit the streets.
We walked among the cute shops in Central park, my arm in the crook of Sean’s elbow. We peeked in the luxurious windows of apartments along the park, richly decorated with Christmas extravaganza, we bought warm, roasted chestnuts and walked the crowded streets of the Fifth street, we walked all the way to the New York Public library (which was closed) and got to see the regal lions guarding the gorgeous building. We laughed and pointed at the elegantly decorated windows of the designer stores on Fifth avenue, we saw brilliantly lit tree in the Rockefeller center and happy people skating underneath it, we felt one with the crowd and I reminisced about the Durga Puja in Kolkata, we felt the heady sensation of being in New York during the holidays where everything glittered and everything looked happy. We held hands and I told Sean that this is the best Christmas gift he gave me. He smiled.
I read an article that most Americans, as the recession hit the country, are focusing on collecting experiences over material objects. Experiences do not need maintenance. I have always been that kind of person who preferred experiences over material gifts. While it was wonderful to open gifts of scarves and gloves and other things the family bought for me, the experience of laughing together in New York is something I will often turn to when I need some cheer. The memories of the joy at being together in a city that excites me, the thought of Sean planning the whole thing to surprise us, the touch of his hand as he peeled a chest nut for me, the expression of bewilderment in Ryan’s face as he looked up at the huge bill boards all around Times Square, the excited face of Sahana as we entered the theater to watch Mamma Mia will stay in a special treasure chest in my heart. In difficult times, they keep me sane, they keep me positive and they remind me the truth:
This too shall pass, we are here to see you through.