Spinning tales on Thanksgiving — psychics, turkey-stealing labs and shotguns — just your average Rider family holiday

The sweet smells wafting from the kitchen, the turkey cooking, my wife and daughter present, stern-faced and frazzled in last minute time-juggling between kitchen duty and getting dressed for the soon arriving family and friends.

It’s no place for man, or beast. I’ve done my duty. Ice in the ice bucket, fire set and ready for the match, shaved and dressed, but the Lions and Packers game is still an hour away. Staying under foot is out of the question. The sun is not yet over the yardarm, and the bar is by the kitchen in direct view of wife Dorothy and Jenny. “Don’t even think about it, George!”

Tossing the football around used to be a way to pass the time. This year the grandchildren are in Long Island with their parents, and other grandparents. And besides, I’d have to throw an underhand lateral; among other things, my shoulder is also shot, and running out for a pass is out of the question!

I’m content to reread, “Thanksgiving Day Turkey Shoot 1944,” hunkered down in my office with the door closed, and wait for the 12 o’clock whistle, reveling in the memories of happy times gone by.

This year, 2018, will be on the quiet side. Son Graham, Paulette, and our 4 weasels: Graham Jr., Bradley, Tory and Duncan will be traveling to Long Island for Thanksgiving.

In preparing to blog this year’s reflections, Jenny reminded me of another “off- site” family gathering, this one including my cousin Michael, his wife Sherley, and their three boys, Mike, Jr., Tim and Scotty plus their Portuguese water dog, Seaweed.

Mike and I have neighboring cottages in Lonelyville, Fire Island, near where we were both raised on Long Island. We decided to celebrate “Thanksgiving at the beach!” with our respective kids in varying stages of prep school, college and grad school. It was the early 1990s, as I recall. Many of the details have gone fuzzy in time, but here are the highlights, at least how I remember them…

Fall on Fire Island circa early 90s

Autumn at my favorite place on earth – Lonelyville, Fire Island

 

Fall on Fire Island

Empty autumn beaches on Fire Island… sunsets are never more glorious

The Tuesday afternoon before Turkey Day, Dorothy and I loaded our 26-foot skiff, CUTTY SARK with provisions for the Thanksgiving holiday; Rosie, our Heinz 52 rescue (mostly poodle); and a 25-pound turkey and headed for open water and the 25-minute trip to Lonelyville. The sea state was calm, the temperature around 50 degrees. We docked, unloaded and a made a fire to warm the house. We settled in for the night. On Wednesday, Mike and Sherley arrived by Jeep. Later in the day the kids came in by ferry. Our two got a ride to the Coast Guard Station, and rode their bikes more than a mile into a stiff, chilly east wind, arriving with reddened cheeks.

Thanksgiving Day arrived, the temperature dropped as preparations for the feast began in earnest. We cooked the turkey; the dinner was held at the Furguesons. The trimmings were prepared in both houses.

Around noon, there was a knock on the door. In came a middle-aged pair who were “on assignment,” journalists for a Long Island daily paper. They had spotted smoke coming from our chimney and asked if they could write about our Thanksgiving festivities. I greeted them and asked if they would like a drink as we talked in front of the fire. Several drinks later, it was time to gather at the Furguesons. We invited the reporter and photographer to join us.

No surprise to anyone who knows me, I was game to tell my story. We moved to the bay house. Cousin Mike offered drinks on our arrival. The reporters were taking notes. Visions of a feature article with photos above-the-fold and accolades from readers all over the island danced in my head. Out came the football. Teams were divided. The game was on. We gave our best “perfect family playing touch football” Kennedy-esque poses – Hyannis Port had nothing on us. All the while Dorothy and Sherley were putting the finishing touches on dinner and Mike Senior was the perfect host, talking with the reporter and photographer between the football and Scotch. The players would be immortalized. The celebration would become legend. I would frame the newspaper spread and hang it on the wall – I knew just the spot.

After a wonderful meal, the journalist duo departed and headed east to Ocean Beach, and then back home to the mainland. They left thankful for the story, the Turkey and trimmings and took one final Rusty Nail for the trip home.

The remainder of the weekend was great family time. We left early Sunday. The next generation said their goodbyes and were back off to school. What memories! The anticipation of reading about our exploits as we got back to civilization was icing on the cake.

After securing the CUTTY SARK and unpacking the car, I went in search of the paper. Several stops later, I was in luck, one copy left of Saturday’s edition. I started to search for the article. There it was, the article by the two reporters by name. But there was no picture, no story about Thanksgiving in Lonelyville, and not one mention of the Furguesons, the Riders or the five second cousins!

My red hair took over. By the time I got to our house, I was boiling. What about our hospitality and that of my cousin, to say nothing of the bottle of good Scotch they drained and the turkey dinner fit for a king? I burst through the door, grabbed the phone and started calling, bouncing from one recorded instruction to the next. Not one human to yell at! This made me madder. I finally settled on leaving a blistering message with my return number.

Monday and back to work in New York! Dorothy called me at noon. “Dear, the lead reporter just called with apologies and an explanation. He asked you to read the story their editor had gone with instead. He said when you read it, you’ll understand why you got cut.”

Here’s the tale that won the big spread about the wonders of spending Thanksgiving on Fire Island – kicking the Rider-Furgueson family extravaganza off the front page…

(Paraphrased in my words from my meandering and prone-to-Irish-exaggeration 86-year-old memory…)

Drained by the hectic pace of living and working in New York City, a professional psychic and her friend decided on a quiet Fire Island Thanksgiving celebration. The day was chilly, breezy and clear. In spite of the cold, they decided to leave their bags in the heated downstairs compartment of the ferry for the exhilarating fresh air of the open top deck.

As the ferry neared Ocean Beach they returned to their seats on the lower deck only to find a happy yellow lab munching on what was left of their turkey. The psychic hit high “C,” awakening the dog’s owner – a laid-back Fire Island local – who had dozed off reading his book. She called him, the dog, and the ferry company enough four-letter expletives to evoke memories of a Fort Sill drill instructor, hammering on about how hard she worked every day as a psychic, how this was her first vacation in ages and how – sans turkey – her holiday was ruined.

The dog’s owner, now wide awake, let her fire off the salvos, and then calmly looked at her, and said, “Lady, I gotta ask you something. If you’re such a great psychic, then why didn’t you know my dog was going to eat your turkey?”

Needless to say she was still screaming when they got off the ferry!!

I continue to this day my disappointment about not having my Camelot-style family photo-op shared with the world, but I do think the editor may have had a point!

Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving one and all! Here are some other of my Thanksgiving tales of past to savor while you plunder your leftovers. Til next time!! George

https://redriderfi.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/thanksgiving-day-turkey-shoot-%E2%80%93-1944/

https://redriderfi.wordpress.com/2017/11/21/thanksgiving-family-holiday-scandal-2011-coming-of-age/

Fall on Fire Island

A more recent fall day on Fire Island… sunbeam straight from the heavens

 

Dad writing in Fire Island in the fall 2015

Another fall day on Fire Island with Ladybug the lab — not the plunderous pooch featured in this post

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Veterans Day 2018

Me, Dad and brother Ken… British Navy flanked by U.S.

We had moved from Brightwaters, Long Island, to Essex, CT, in 2007. Veterans Day took on added significance for me after Dad died in 1986. He was born on November 11th, 1899, in Gorton, England. During WWI, Dad’s ship was torpedoed. The U-boat surfaced and machine-gunned the survivors in the water. He was creased in the scalp and hit in his right knee. Only a handful of the crew survived. During WWII, he worked with British Naval Intelligence and later with the British Ministry of War Transport. Dad took great pride in being a Brit, in his adopted country, and instilled that pride in my brother Ken and me.

Every Armistice Day (now Veterans Day) after 1986, at 10:30 AM, I would drive alone to the neatly tailored Memorial Park adjoining the Islip, Long Island Town Hall, set on a large corner lot facing Main Street, to observe the ceremony honoring the men and women who gave their lives in defense of our country.

Each year the crowd dwindled. The ceremony is simple. The weather alternated between blustery gusts with leaves blowing, to overcast with scudding gray clouds or occasionally rain and temperatures that chilled and hinted at the winter to come. Memorial statues and plaques with names and wars etched in stone are ever present throughout the park. Each year a speakers rostrum is setup at the back of the park. Members of the VFW and the Islip Town Supervisor deliver short speeches. A band accompanies the singing of our National Anthem. Hats and caps are doffed. A member of the clergy leads us in prayer. A lone bugler sounds taps. The honor guard fires a rifle volley. The flag on the Memorial Flag Pole is lowered to half-mast. At exactly 11:11AM a bell chimes at intervals as the flag is slowly raised to its original position.

The service is solemn. Those present, some in uniforms that no longer fit. Old proud veterans, some in wheelchairs, some on crutches, none too proud to shed a tear.

I stand each year by myself, on the edge of the sparse crowd alone with my thoughts and memories of Dad, and my brother Ken with whom I served aboard the USS Abbot (DD-629). He died in 1995. It’s a time to reflect and a time to take stock as the years pass by.

To me, this has always been a very special occasion, an hour to be especially proud of my family and proud and humble to be an American.

No matter where I am this year, I will pause at 11:11 on 11/11 and remember!

George S.K. Rider

Never Forget: Tragedy in Newport and 4 Brave Navy Heroes

Dad lifeboar

Whaleboat where tragedy in Newport later unfolded. Yours truly is on board in this shot.

Today marks the anniversary of a true tragedy in Naval history. As you ready yourself for St. Patrick’s Day, take a moment to read about four heroes and toast their bravery and service to our country. Best, George

https://redriderfi.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/st-patricks-eve-tragedy-blizzard-four-dead-31656/

 

 

Ghosts of Blizzards Past

blizzard the week

From The Week   For more on the storm:  http://theweek.com/captured/670693/storm-that-swallowed-gotham

130 years ago on this day, the historic blizzard of 1888 pounded the northeast… dumping up to 50 inches of snow in New England and 40 inches around New York. As a boy, I remember my grandfather telling me how he survived the storm with his mom (a widow) and two sisters battened down in their small farmhouse in Patchogue, Long Island. A few years ago on this same week, I had an eerie experience while stranded by myself on Fire Island during another brutal Nor’easter. There’s something timeless about great storms – the way they make you think back to your youth and to generations long departed; the way voices from the past are conjured in the silence of dark, snowy nights. Below is the link to one of my favorites pieces from my book The Rogue’s Road to Retirement… read it before the next storm darkens the skies tomorrow and the lights start to flicker and dim. Stay safe, George

“Once Upon a Blizzard: My grandfather, my great-grandmother and me” (originally posted 3/13/10)

On March 11, 1888, the snow began to fall.  The wind picked up.  The blizzard lasted four days.  My grandfather was 10 years old at the time, trapped in his farmhouse with his mother and sister.  I read his account of the harrowing storm, as I was experiencing my own wild winter storm more than a century later in March of 2005…

Once Upon a Blizzard

As usual they were right, my wife, Dorothy, and my grown kids, Graham and Jenny.  I’m stubborn, and I admit it!

“Be careful, Dad, you’re not 25 anymore.”  Closer to 73 more like it.  “George, if you fall… the new hip… this time of year there’s no one around to help you.”  “The weather can be awful in March!  Totally unpredictable.”

“I’m going anyway,” I barked back at them.

I had put this trip off twice to accommodate my platoon of MD’s.  Now it was my time!  Nothing comes between me and my beach.

Plus, I’d recently uncovered a latent interest.  I’d discovered I loved to write, and I had ideas for two essays, what better place than our little cottage on Fire Island to develop them?

“Fine, have it your way,” my wife relented.  “But take your cell phone at least, and make sure to keep it charged!”

Little did I know, that in a few days, I’d be caught in a major ice storm, out of food, cold and alone, wishing for once I’d listened.

Five generations in our family have enjoyed the rustic beauty, the serenity, the rejuvenating powers and quality of life that Fire Island affords.

My grandfather’s first house there was built in the town of Lonelyville in 1910.  He was a very successful doctor and writer, who had published two books, including one that had been made into a movie written by William Faulkner and starring a young Mickey Rooney.   Gramp and his wife had two daughters.  Each married and had two sons.  The 1938 hurricane carried the original house to sea, only the fireplace bricks and stones remaining.  They rebuilt near the site in 1939 and named the house “La Casa del Perro.”  (House of the dog, after their perennial pack of Labrador retrievers.)  I was seven years old, my brother Ken was five.  Our cousin, Tony Furgueson, was three; his brother, Mike, was still an infant.  The third generation produced 12 great-grandchildren, and, so far, they’ve added 18 great-great-grandchildren.  (With 2 more added since I originally wrote this piece!)

One house became four.  “La Casa del Perro” is now nestled inland behind three bay front cottages, all owned by various family members.  Lonelyville and the Great South Bay have always held me in a vise-like grip that tightens as the years go by.  When I’m on the island, a calm comes over me that’s difficult to explain.

Saturday, March 5, 2005, 10:10a.m.: Rosie, our Heinz 57 dog, and I were sitting alone on the top deck of the Fire Island ferry to Fair Harbor, facing aft watching the sun reflecting off the shimmering ripples and dancing across the water.  The gentle breeze made my skin tingle.  The temperature was in the mid-40’s, as the mainland fell away in our wake.

Like settling into your favorite chair after a great meal, all tensions fading, warm thoughts of our late winter writing expedition became the focus.  We landed and walked the third of a mile east to Lonelyville.  Rosie on her leash, the supplies packed in two L.L. bean canvas bags secured to the two-wheel cart trundled behind me.

I had shopped for my own supplies (my wife, Dorothy, was busy and still more than a little miffed at me for insisting on going to the beach alone so early in the season).  Un-chaperoned, I had skipped all dietary restraints, heading straight for the frozen pizza, frozen lasagna, cheese crackers, English muffins, Entemann’s hot cross buns and some canine treats for Rosie.  Just the way I liked it, not a fresh fruit or vegetable in sight.

Patches of unmelted snow, graying and dirty, were still evident in shady spots left over from an earlier storm.

I opened the back door of the house, last closed in late December after a three-day visit.  The air inside was dank and heavy, the shades drawn.  The round, red and white thermometer in the living room registered 29 degrees.  My new hip ached from the long walk and the biting cold.

The wake-up routine: Flip on the master switch in the electric panel box and engage the circuit breakers; turn on the wall heaters and chemical radiators; turn the stove on, the four top burners and the oven and open the oven door; hang blankets to block the front hall and stair well.  The house was slowly waking from its hibernation!

Rosie and I walked down to the ocean.  I sat on a bench overlooking the beach, as she moved in and out of clumps of beach grass, only her tail showing.  The sun was warm. Could spring be coming early?  I looked west to the lighthouse, then east to the jetties of Ocean Beach and beyond.  There were no other people or dogs as far as I could see.  For a moment, the feeling of invincibility the beach always gave me wavered.  I pulled out the cell phone and decided to give home a call.  No luck.  Despite Dorothy’s reminder, I’d accidentally let the battery run dead.

It was a livable, 55 degrees inside, when we got back to the house.  A quick check with the high command (I used the house phone.)  “Are you having fun?  Is Rosie eating?  They say it may snow later in the week.  Be careful!  Call me later!”  The earlier admonitions repeated.

I set up shop in the living room overlooking the bay and began to write.

Sunday and Monday, March 6, 7 and 8, the pattern was the same: up early, writing until lunch, then a walk to the beach and more writing.

That night, I checked the weather on Channel 5.  The forecast had changed; snow was now predicted to start tomorrow.  The weatherman also warned ominously of high winds.  I’ll shoot for the 1:55pm boat back home the next day, I told myself.  We should be on our way in plenty of time to avoid the storm.

The next morning, I packed my bags, checked the house for the last time and started for Fair Harbor, where we would board the ferry back to the mainland.  Rosie and I got 200 yards or so from the house when the gray sky suddenly turned Wizard of Oz black.  The wind changed direction on a dime – S.S.W. to N.N.E.  For a few moments, a large calm area appeared between the bay in front of our house and West Island, about a half mile north.

The water was flat as a mill pond, eerily reflecting a single shaft of light that fought its way through the low clouds.

The wind picked up from the North.  Sporadic gusts soon became a steady blast.  The mill pond disappeared, replaced swiftly by rolling white-capped waves that began to pummel the shore line.  The drizzle that had started earlier turned to rain.  Rosie was shaking, never more than a few feet from me.  We had gone only a short distance.  I stopped.  The rain changed to sleet and stung my face.  The sleet quickly became hail.  I tried to take a few steps forward, but slipped and nearly lost my footing.  My hip throbbed.  I edged over to the side of the boardwalk and held on to the base of a telephone pole to steady myself and rest.

Decision time: Maybe I should have paid more attention.  Dorothy’s warnings rang in my ears.  I realized then, Rosie and I couldn’t make it to the ferry dock.  The walk was too icy, the distance to the boat too far.  We retreated back to the house we had vacated moments before and threw the switches back on.  I began to have second thoughts.  Why didn’t I go home yesterday as planned?  Why did I even come on this trip?  And, then, other, more troubling concerns came to mind.  What if the electricity goes out?  What if I fall?  Who’ll come and get me?  Who’ll even know?

I called home again.  Dorothy was relieved with my decision not to try and make it out.  Rosie and I had enough food for one more day.

The snow and ice were now blowing parallel to the ground, rushing inland past the windows on the east and west sides of the house.  The picture window was icing as the snow hit the warm pane, melted and immediately froze.  The temperature outside dropped forty degrees in three hours.  The temperature inside was holding at a comfortable 68 degrees.  I crossed my fingers and hoped the electricity would stay on and the temperature would stay that way.

The wind was howling, blowing so hard that last year’s bull-rushes were blown flat, their puffy maroon-brown tasseled tops bobbing up and down repeatedly touching the ground, now rapidly turning white.  The house shook so hard that the blankets I had hung to cover the hall entrance and stairwell flapped back and forth.

TV programming was interrupted with storm updates.  I looked at the window.  No lights on the bay or in any of the houses around me for miles.

A few hours later, early evening, Rosie was asleep on the well-cushioned wicker chair beside me, a warm throw around her, the edges tucked in loosely, with just her nose showing.  My writing was complete.  Dinner was over.  One hot cross bun left for breakfast and a tin of dog food for Rosie, then our supplies would run out.

The book Gramp wrote about his colorful life, “Doctor On a Bicycle,” was on a side table.  I hadn’t read it cover to cover since my Navy days, back in the late 50’s.  I picked it up.  The first chapter, The Keel is Laid, had always been my favorite.  It recounts surviving the blizzard of 1888 as a 10-year old, stranded with his sister and widowed mother on their remote farm in Patchogue, a few miles from where I grew up and now live, on the mainland:

Chapter 1, The Keel is Laid from “Doctor On a Bicycle” by Dr. George S. King

“…It began softly on a Sunday in March – toward noon with little more than a thin gray drizzle.  Three of us were at home, my widowed mother, my younger sister, Lotta, and I.  My older sister, Alda, then 16, had gone to spend the night with a girlfriend.

“The morning had been clear, but when the rain began to fall, I heaped up some cordwood at the wood pile.  Late afternoon in the waning light, I could see that the drizzle had become mixed with large, wet flakes of snow.  For a time, I watched idly through the window pane, conscious of the comfort and warmth within.  After a bit, I went outside and did my chores – fed the chickens, shut the chicken house and brought in a supply of coal and wood.  Then we had supper.

“During the evening, the mercury plummeted as the wind howled out of the North.  Lotta and I went to bed, but mother stayed awake listening to the blasts of wind that leaned hard against the house.”

I thought about their lives, no TV, no storm updates, no electricity, no telephone, and no one to check in with, just the three of them.

“During the night, the driven snow penetrated and drifted through cracks in the window frame.  It covered my bed and spilled over onto the floor.  In the morning, we wasted no time getting downstairs to the warm living room.  I quickly made the kitchen fire.  Then we found that a mounting snow drift had walled shut the west door of the kitchen, cutting our way off to the well. Undaunted, we turned to the east kitchen window, scooped up a wash boiler full of snow and set it on the stove to melt.  After breakfast, we caulked the windows in my room to prevent snow from drifting in.”

Our modern double pane windows and insulation would have come in handy.

“Under Mother’s calm guidance, we worked smoothly and without panic, although we knew this was certainly a storm the like of which we had never seen before.  During the day, the wind increased in volume.  To keep the house warm, we shut off all the rooms except the kitchen and living room in which we had a large self-feeding coal stove with a heater pipe through the ceiling into Mother’s bedroom, the only heated room on the second floor.  So fierce did the wind become that the carpet in the living room rose in billows.

“We moved the living room furniture to the most protected corner, behind the stove.  Then with clothes horses and clotheslines, we draped off the corner and covered the carpet with rugs from other rooms to conserve heat.”

My reading was interrupted by flapping, banging sounds outside. I turned on the outside flood light.  At first, I couldn’t figure it out.  Pieces of wood were flying by the kitchen mixed with the snow and crashing into the boardwalk 15 feet away from the house.  I finally realized what was happening.  The lattice-work panels I had painstakingly nailed to the pilings that support the house were being torn apart, strip by strip, by the savage wind, propelling the slats like projectiles.  There was nothing I could do about it.  I went back and continued to read.  I became a little edgy.  The lights blinked off and on.

“One perilous trip to feed the chickens a pan of hot corn, the coop almost buried beneath a large drift.  They huddled together and appeared quite happy.  Indeed, when I next saw them three days later, the little flock were none the worse the wear for their confinement.

But as I turned from the coop for the trip back to the house, the going was all but impossible.  I was walking straight into the teeth of the storm.  I made the woodshed and rested.  The space between the shed and the summer kitchen formed a veritable wind tunnel, and the ground was a glaze of ice, swept clean of snow.

“The wire clothesline connecting the wood shed to the kitchen provided enough guidance to allow me to inch my way to the safety of the kitchen.  Mother reached out and clutched my hand and together we entered the house, securing the door.  Three days passed before it was opened again.

“We inventoried the food…”

Hard to imagine!  There were no “Big Ben’s” or “A&P’s,” not even a “Stop ‘n Shop” back then.

A barrel of flour, half a barrel of sugar, a firkin of butter, a big wedge of cheese and a barrel of newly salted pork.  From the beams of the back kitchen hung sacks of homemade sausage, fresh hams well salted, a couple of smoked hams and several strips of bacon.

“On the floor stood crocks of pickles, chow chow laid the preceding fall, bags of home-cured dried apples, blackberries and dried corn – all the output of one woman’s hands.  Buried in a pile of clean sand lay carrots, parsnips, cabbage and beets – all grown in our garden by me with the aid of the man who plowed the ground.  A barrel of apples stood near the cellar door and on the floor was a firkin of salt fish – snappers and porgies – I had caught in the bay and cleaned.  A layer of fish, a layer of salt – until the firkin was filled.  Food was no problem.”

Their cupboard was a lot better stocked than mine. Their menu was a lot healthier.  Cholesterol hadn’t even been invented yet.

All we could do with the preparations complete was pass the time as pleasantly as possible.  We read, we played Parcheesi, we listened as Mother read aloud from the Bible.  We planned meals that would be unusual and we kept warm.

“In the afternoon, Mother made crullers, letting Lotta and me cut little figures from the dough to fry in the hot fat; men, dogs and horses.  We made molasses taffy and pulled the dough into tasty sticks.  Cut off from the world, we had a happy day.  Just ourselves and Mother, so calm and unperturbed.

“The third day passed as had the first and second, the howling wind devils shrieking to each other from house corner and eaves.  Occasionally with a rumbling roar, the snow would crash from the rook like an avalanche, covering a window.

“Going to bed became a ritual.  I undressed in Mother’s room; that is, I took off my outer garments down to my woolen underwear and socks but no more.  Then I put on my flannel night shirts.  To help shut out the cold in my room where the temperature was below zero, we placed an extra feather bed as a coverlet upon my bed, although I already had one under my sheets.

“The one last thing before retiring, Mother asked us to kneel in prayer in her room.  When bedtime came, it was fun to share my cozy featherbed with my lively fox terrier who nosed his way into the depths beside me.

“Abruptly the morning of the fourth day broke clear and cold, with only a gently breeze.  The sun was unexpectedly warm.  The melting snow froze hard at night.  The next morning after seeing to my chickens, I put on my skates and sailed over fences, rode high on drifts and slid down valleys until at last the warming sun melted the crusted surface.

“Throughout those four days and nights, we went about our small tasks with a pleasurable sense of excitement.  We moved through the wild, white days and icy nights warmed by our Mother’s calm and absolute assurance.”

I thought about the calls from Dorothy and the kids, nice to know that they were there.

“God was with us within the snowbound walls of our farmhouse.  No harm could befall us.  The winsomeness and courage flowed from Mother and have ever remained in my heart and mind!”

I looked over at Rosie sound asleep, her nose still showing through the throw around her.

Time for bed.  I couldn’t stop thinking about the story I had just read.  Some things never change.  I let Rosie out the back door, now the lee side of the house.  The wind, if anything, had strengthened.  The house continued to shake.  The drifts were piling up.  Only two of the five steps leading down to the garden were still visible.  Rosie all but disappeared as she went about her business.  I toweled her off when she bounded back through the door and then put an extra duvet on the bed.

I sat and watched the storm out the window.  The water roiled, erupting in angry white caps matching the gusting wind and snow in intensity.  It was pitch black outside now, but from time to time, I could still see bits of wood and flotsam fly past the house.  Thankfully, nothing had broken a window.  Yet.

The lights flicked on and off again and then in an instant, the house went dark.  I felt around for the flashlight I had left on the kitchen counter and the matches.  I lit two candles and sat back to ponder my next step.

I could move from the bay cottage where I was now ensconced to the back house, “La Casa del Perro,” which had a working fireplace.  But it was a 400 foot walk down an icy boardwalk in blizzard conditions and, with my bad hip, I couldn’t take the chance.

Another option: I could call Dorothy on my cell phone and see if someone with a 4-wheel drive could try and make it down the beach to get me.  Candle in hand, I searched around for my coat and found my phone.  You idiot, I told myself.  I’d forgotten to recharge it.

Hip throbbing, I pulled myself upstairs and fumbled in the dark, retrieving three extra blankets from the blanket chest.  I limped back and spread them over the bed, then settled in for a very long night.

The house was insulated, but without working heaters, the temperature began to fall.  The portable, battery-operated radio gave periodic weather updates.  The forecast called for snow throughout the night, the outlook for tomorrow was now, at best, uncertain.

I tried to sleep, but couldn’t.  My hip ached, and I knew Dorothy and the kids would be beside themselves, since they couldn’t reach me on the landline or cell.  I thought of all the storms I’d weathered as a kid, here at the beach and on the mainland, including the hurricanes of 1936 and 1938.  I thought of all the rough nights at sea I’d experienced in the Navy.  But despite all that, I admit I was more than a little scared.

It’s one thing to be caught in a storm while at sea with your shipmates or at home with your family.  It’s another to be alone, over seventy, with a bum hip and no means of communication or provisions.

I decided to sit up for awhile.  The news updates signaled no change.  The temperature had dropped to the mid-teens, the wind gusting to 50 mph causing the snow to pile in huge drifts.  Power outages were reported throughout Nassau and Suffolk.

Despite the extra blankets, I began to shiver.  The house was bitterly cold now.  Don’t panic, I told myself.  The words from Gramp’s story came back to me…

We moved through the wild, white days and icy nights warmed by our Mother’s calm and absolute assurance…

“The winsomeness and courage flowed from Mother and have ever remained in my heart and mind!”

Calm, absolute assurance and courage.  If my widowed great-grandmother and her two small children could find the strength to weather a storm of such ferocity, surely so could I.

I thought of the three of them, alone and vulnerable, in their primitive farmhouse as I finally dozed off.

I woke up abruptly at 3:30am.  The TV was blaring. Lights blazed throughout the house.  The power had come back on.

I could see my breath in the house.  Rosie refused to get out of bed. For some inexplicable reason, she had nuzzled under the blankets and was by my feet.  She’d never done that before.  Maybe there was some fox terrier in her, after all!

The floor was ice cold, I could feel it through my socks.  I turned off the lights, adjusted the heater and radiator and jumped back into bed.  I decided not to wake Dorothy, I’d ring her in the morning. Rosie and I slept through uninterrupted until 7:30.

When we woke, the wind had dropped.  Snow covered everything.  The beautiful white blanket was interrupted only by two sets of deer tracks.  It was still – you could hear the quiet.

I called home.  Dorothy picked up the phone on the first ring. “Why didn’t you call?”  I explained.  Just as I’d imagined, she and the kids had been extremely worried.

I duplicated the exiting routine of the day before.  Rosie and I headed for the 1:55 boat.  This time, we made it. Walking on the slick patches of snow and ice turned the trip into an adventure of its own.  Normally a 20 minute walk, it took us well over an hour.  All I could think of was falling on the new hip.

If I had not left the copy of Gramp’s book, “Doctor On a Bicycle” in plain sight on the living room table during my previous trip, I might never have gotten to know my Great-Grandmother, Grandfather and Aunt Lotta as well as I did that day.  And, although I’m reluctant to admit it, I might not have gotten through that long, stormy night unscathed.

Sharing our adventures was an unexpected dividend.  I never met my Great-Grandmother; she died two years before I was born. Reading about her made me realize that Rosie and I would have fit right in. She would have clucked over us just as she did with Gramp and Aunt Lotta.

Though one hundred and seventeen years separated our two storms, for several hours during that long night, I felt as though we were all in the same room, as though time had collapsed and different generations had touched one another.

Maybe somehow they had. My one-day blizzard, March 8, 2005 had occurred almost exactly to the date of their blizzard, March 11-14, 1888. Eerily ironic, Gramp was born March 8, 1878.

George S.K. Rider

9/10/07

https://redriderfi.wordpress.com/2010/03/13/once-upon-a-blizzard-my-great-grandmother-my-grandfather-and-me/

Thanksgiving Family Holiday Scandal 2011: Coming of Age

For most all of us, Thanksgiving Day has its own rhythm, a family gathering replete with a sumptuous turkey dinner, football on TV and maybe dozing off stuffed, in an overstuffed chair after desert.

My grandfather always hosted New Year’s Day Lunch. Mother and my aunt took turns preparing Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. Of the four grandsons, stepped down in two-year increments, I was the oldest followed by my brother Ken, and cousins Tony and Mike Furgueson. New Year’s Day lunch featured the first rite of passage to adulthood, a moving up ritual. Originally we four were seated at a card table in Gramp’s parlor. As the years went by, one at a time we were promoted to the dining room table, our first real taste of adulthood.

Rarely in my 85 years do I remember the Thanksgiving Day celebration occurring in a place other than a home setting!

Thanksgiving Day 1956, I was serving aboard the Destroyer USS Abbot (DD- 629) with my brother, Ken, patrolling in the Eastern Mediterranean with another US Destroyer and two British Destroyers. Nasser had blocked the Suez Canal and things were tense in the area. Two days before Thanksgiving we fueled from the aircraft carrier Coral Sea. We took on mail, supplies and fresh movies by high line. We had sailed from Newport, RI, November 6th. The turkeys and the makings of Thanksgiving dinner, the movies and ice cream came aboard compliments of the carrier.

We were on station Thanksgiving Day. Without missing a beat, the ship’s cooks and wardroom stewards put on one of the best turkey dinners I can ever remember, complete with all the vegetables, stuffing, pies and ice cream 300 hungry sailors, chiefs and officers could devour.

I was the luckiest guy aboard. I got to eat my dinner with my brother and several other officers off watch, and had a chance to view most of “Casablanca” before heading to the bridge to relieve the OOD.

Four times at Andover, my parents came up to celebrate Thanksgiving and once several years ago we celebrated at our golf club on Long Island.

The year, 2011, would be different. The older I get, the more I dread occasions that interrupt a comfortable routine. With our son Graham and his family living right next door, I assumed that the special day would be like last year and the year before, four grandchildren buzzing in and out of our house, a fire going and a late afternoon dinner next door with Dorothy and daughter-in-law Paulette sharing the preparations.

Graham announced the week before Thanksgiving that he had made reservations at a farm an hour’s drive north in Connecticut. Why? I thought, but didn’t ask. I didn’t want to be branded old “fuddy-duddy,” a euphemism for “stick in the mud or worse!”

I quietly Googled the Golden Lamb Buttery, Bush Hill Road, Brooklyn, CT. My curiosity got the better of me. I learned that Bob and Virginia “Jimmie” Booth opened the Buttery in 1963. Jimmie was a civil engineer and worked at Pratt and Whitney during WWII. She later became a buyer for Lord and Taylor in NYC and Europe before becoming the Buttery’s chef. Bob, the owner, was a Navy fighter pilot in WWII and owner of Hillandale Handweavers. In 2008 their granddaughter Katie Bogert became the proprietor.

Quoting from the brochure, “In the quiet corner of Connecticut lies the quaint New England town of Brooklyn. High on a hill, a secret hideaway called “The Golden Lamb” is nestled among thousands of acres of pristine fields and stone walls – for those who have a flair for the finest.”

Rarely does similar prose prove to be accurate. In this case, if anything the description proved to be understated. I found myself warming to the prospect of Thanksgiving off site!

We drove about an hour from our home in Essex arriving an hour early for our 4:30pm dinner reservation (2nd sitting). Graham and Paulette and the four grandchildren had gone ahead. As we turned off the main road and headed up the long approach to the large red barn at the top of the hill we passed through acres of fields dotted with cows, sheep and horses grazing.

The barn’s deck commands a scenic view of the pond and acre upon acre of neatly trimmed fields sloping in every direction.

The barn is filled with antiques, memorabilia and family treasures. Cocktails were served as guests arrived and congregated in various seating areas in the spacious barn. A piano player added to the festive atmosphere. Just prior to being seated for dinner the guests were treated to an old-fashioned hayride complete with a female guitarist.

Dinnertime! We were led through a tiny 1950’s kitchen, where our dinner was being prepared, to our table in the largest of three dining rooms. A roaring fire and coveys of attentive waitresses set about serving an incredible dinner with special soups and an array of homegrown vegetable treats to go with a choice of turkey or lamb and a fine selection of wines and deserts that made calorie counters jettison their regimens.

The charming, talented lady guitarist went from table to table playing requests from Kern to present day songwriters.

Just as I recalled earlier, the rite of passage I experienced, when I was very young and was promoted to the grownup’s table, so too did the three grandsons also experience their own rite of passage that night.

Bradley, age ten excused himself to go to the bathroom shortly after finishing his dinner. Everyone else at the table was either talking or downing the last delicious bites of dinner.

There was a lull in the conversation. I asked the guitarist to play, “Till There Was You.” I noticed that Bradley had returned and was whispering something in older brother Graham’s (age 12) ear. They excused themselves and motioned to Duncan age 7 to follow them. We paid little attention, as the guitarist was still entertaining.

Son Graham after an interval excused himself and went to see what the three boys were up to. On his way through the kitchen, Katie the proprietor stopped him and apologized. Before she could stop them, the three boys had slipped into the small men’s room just off the kitchen usually reserved for the kitchen workers. She said that they were still in there, and that they should have been directed to the men’s room in the waiting area.   The kitchen was so busy that no one had time to stop them!

I arrived as Katie was explaining to Graham what had occurred. The boys emerged snickering and giggling. Graham summoned the three. I faded into the background and witnessed as an animated discussion took place with Graham leading in the huddle.

I suddenly remembered my earlier trip to the same bathroom, and the picture directly over the toilet. Of course, I had “hardly” noticed the portrait of the naked lady looking away with her back facing me directly, as I went about my business. She was leaning on her left elbow, half-turned and looking away, allowing an unobstructed view of her perfectly formed, ample left breast tantalizingly suspended, capped by a moist, rosy-red nipple.

I was not privy to what was said in the huddle! Whatever it was happened after the fact. No penalties were assessed. A rite of passage had occurred. The story will be told and told again and again as they grow older. Thanksgiving Day 2011 was a wonderful happening, one none of us will forget! Thank you, Katie!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! George S.K. Rider

P.S. Dorothy purchased a book authored by Katie, The GOLDEN LAMB Buttery, A 50th Anniversary Collection of Memories, History, Photos & Recipes, published after our wonderful Thanksgiving Day 2011.

Katie’s grandmother, Jimmie Booth, was also an artist. Her sketches are evident throughout the restaurant. Katie writes, “One of them she painted, ‘The Nude in the Men’s Room’ has a long list of customers who would like the painting if we ever decide to part with it. (Which will never happen!) The comments of men and boys alike as they exit the bathroom always make us laugh! We suspect that the nude may have unintentionally started conversation about “the birds and the bees” between some of the younger boys and their parents on their ride home. Katie quotes in her book, “One Thanksgiving we had a lovely family, with three young boys, join us for dinner. One of the boys used the bathroom and rushed back to report his amazing finding to his brothers. Suddenly they all needed to use the bathroom!”

The Buttery should be a must stop for anyone living in or passing through the area. On your visit, stay for lunch or dinner, and make sure to ask for Katie and pick up a copy of her book!

P.S.S. And, what Thanksgiving could be complete without an annual reading of my daughter Jenny’s favorite piece of mine… Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot 1944, a holiday full of Scotch, guns and slashed throats, and ultimately turkey salvation. We Riders put the fun in dysfunctional. Read and write on! 🙂

Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot 1944

https://redriderfi.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/thanksgiving-day-turkey-shoot-%E2%80%93-1944/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lest We Forget: Veterans Day 2017

GSK&KGS-DAD AND HIS BOYS- GO NAVY

Me, Dad and brother Ken… British Navy flanked by U.S.

Veterans Day 2017

My father, a Brit and proud officer in the British Navy, would have turned 100 today. Marking 11/11 every year is a double-dose of memory and melancholy, infused with the great joy and gratitude of having had the honor to be his son and share the experience of serving. Happy Birthday, Dad. Thank you for your service… and thanks to all those who put their lives on the line to protect their country.

I’m reposting two of my pieces from Veterans Days past.

If you see someone who served today, take a moment to shake their hand and thank them. Best, George

Lest We Forget

November 11, 2007 – Veterans Day took on added significance for me after Dad died in 1986. He was born on November 11th, 1899 in Gorton, England. During WWI, Dad’s ship was torpedoed off the Irish coast. The U-boat surfaced and machine-gunned survivors in the water. He was grazed in the scalp and hit in his right knee. Only a handful of the crew survived. During WWII, he worked with British Naval Intelligence and later with the British Ministry of War Transport. He took great pride in being a Brit, and in his adopted country. He instilled that pride in my brother Ken and me.

For years, every Armistice Day (now Veterans Day) after he passed in 1986, at 10:30 AM, I would drive alone to the neatly tailored Memorial Park adjoining the Islip, Long Island, town hall, set on a large corner lot facing Main Street, to observe the ceremony honoring the men and women who gave their lives in defense of our country.

The ceremony is always simple and fast, yet each year the crowd dwindles. The weather alternates between blustery gusts with leaves blowing, to overcast with scudding gray clouds or occasionally rain and temperatures that chills and hints at the winter to come. Memorial statues and plaques with names and wars etched in stone are ever present throughout the park. Each year a speakers rostrum is set up at the back of the park. Members of the VFW and the Islip Town Supervisor deliver brief remarks. A band accompanies the singing of our National Anthem. Hats and caps are doffed. A member of the clergy leads us in prayer. A lone bugler sounds taps. The honor guard fires a rifle- volley. The flag on the Memorial Flag Pole is lowered to half-mast. At exactly 11:11AM a bell chimes at intervals as the flag is slowly raised to its original position.

The service is solemn. Those present include some in uniforms that no longer fit. Old proud veterans, some in wheel chairs, some on crutches, none to proud to shed a tear.

I’d stand each year by myself, on the edge of the sparse crowd alone with my thoughts and memories of Dad, and my brother Ken with whom I served aboard the USS Abbot (DD-629). He died in 1995. It’s a time to reflect and a time to take stock as the years pass by. To me, this has always been a very special occasion, an hour to be especially proud of my family and proud and humble to be an American.

This will be the first year I will not be there. We moved to Essex, Connecticut, last December. No matter where I am this year, I will pause at 11:11 on 11/11 and remember!

George. S.K. Rider

Brother Ken and I, Idkenderun, Turkey

A Time Worth Remembering

At 17, my father, a Brit, joined the Merchant Marine and became a radio officer on a converted mine-sweeper. In November 1917, his ship was torpedoed off the Irish coast. The sub surfaced and machine-gunned the few crew members left alive. He was creased in the scalp by a bullet and bloodied in the right knee. Somehow my father survived.

He and my mother married years later; younger brother Ken and I came along. We moved back from England to the U.S. in 1937. The house they purchased in Brightwaters, Long Island, that we grew up in was plunk in the middle of a generous lot with adequate room on either side, front and back, for a small garden, lawn and trees. To the right as you faced the house, between the house and the edge of the lot, Dad insisted on having a flagpole with a yardarm.

As long ago as I can remember, Ken and I were steeped in the lore and ceremonial pomp of the flag. It became a rite of passage for my younger brother and me to raise the flag at dawn, lower the flag at sunset, and lower it halfway to honor the departed, never letting the flag touch the ground, all under Dad’s watchful eye. Dad’s respect for God, Country, the Navy and the flags was etched in us at an early age.

During WWII, Dad left Otis Elevator to join British Naval Intelligence and in 1940 transferred to the British Ministry of War Transport. He participated in the swap of 50 WWI U.S. destroyers for British territories in the Caribbean. Another story we heard as kids was the shipment of 100 mules to India with their tongues cut out so that they couldn’t be heard traveling through the brush.

On Sundays after church and lunch, Dad always tuned into CBS’s World News Round Up on the den radio. At 2:30pm on December 7, 1941, John Daly broke in with the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Dad was very calm, sorry for the devastation and loss of life, but overjoyed that we would be in it finally – that his beloved England would soon get the help it needed. He immediately left the den and went outside to lower the flags half way, the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack from the yardarm.

Dad worried constantly about his parents, two sisters and brother Ken, an officer in the Commandos fighting with the Gurkhas in India. We also heard of cousin Joe Wolfenden, then Lt. who received the Distinguished Service Cross for sinking German Submarine 401. To prove the kill they retrieved body parts and iced them for the trip home. Joe later captained the Cunard liner Coronia.

Dad diagrammed and showed us on a map where epic sea engagements took place; the sinking of HMS Hood; engagements between British and German cruisers and battleships; Scharnhorst and Gneisenau; the sinking of the German battleship Bismark; the cornering and eventual scuttling of another battleship, the Graff Spee, in Montevideo; and the sinking of the super battleship Tirpitz on April 9, 1941.

The Queen Elizabeth’s Captain Ernest Fall, Dad’s friend, visited us during layovers before returning to England with a fresh shipload of GI’s. She sailed without escort. Her speed enabled her to outrun the German subs. His house present was a rasher of Canadian bacon, in scarce supply here.

The war was our constant companion growing up. Pearl Harbor was indelibly imprinted on us all. Later, after the war was over, and we graduated from college, my brother Ken and I would serve together aboard the Destroyer, USS ABBOT (DD- 629), as officers in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, Ken from Brown, NROTC, and me from Yale, NROTC.

Mother received a letter from Mamie Eisenhower in 1956. She had written to the First Lady about Ike’s reelection.

Dear Mrs. Rider,

You were truly kind to write such a warm, friendly letter expressing your faith and confidence in the leadership of the President. Your devotion and loyal support mean a great deal, and I can’t tell you how comforting and encouraging it is to hear from the many who constantly keep us in their prayers, asking divine guidance for the President in all acts and decisions.

You certainly must be proud of your two sons on the U.S.S. Abbot for they are patriotically doing their part in serving their country.

With gratitude for your good will and my very best wishes always. Mamie Dowd Eisenhower

The world was a different place back then than it is today. People believed in and had respect for higher office, for the institutions that make our country great, and, above all, for the men and women who fight and put their lives on the line for their fellow citizens. It’s a time, indeed, worth remembering.

George S.K. Rider

Andover & the Military! Me (PA ’51), Shelby Coates & Harry Flynn (both PA ’48)

 

 

 

 

 

Seventy-Two Years Ago and Now

The sweet smells wafting from the kitchen, the turkey cooking, the women of the clan present, stern-faced and frazzled in last minute time-juggling between kitchen duty and getting dressed for the soon arriving family and friends.

It’s no place for man nor beast. I’ve done my duty. Ice in the ice bucket, fire set and ready for the match, shaved and dressed, but the Lions and Packers’ game is still an hour away. Staying underfoot is out of the question. The sun is not yet over the yardarm, and the bar is by the kitchen in direct view of wife Dorothy and daughter Jenny. “Don’t even think about it, George.”

Tossing the football around used to be a way to pass the time. The grandchildren are in Long Island with their parents and other grandparents. And besides, I’d have to throw an underhand lateral; among other things, my shoulder is shot, and running out for a pass is out of the question!

I’m content to reread, “Thanksgiving Day Turkey Shoot – 1944,” a chapter from The Rogue’s Road to Retirement, hunkered down in my office with the door closed, and wait for the 12 o’clock whistle (when adult beverages are finally allowed!) reveling in the memories of happy times gone by. Happy Thanksgiving one and all! Enjoy this reverie of family holidays gone amok. You’ll feel much better about your own clan! 🙂

https://redriderfi.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/thanksgiving-day-turkey-shoot-%E2%80%93-1944/

https://www.amazon.com/Rogues-Road-Retirement-Groove-Sixty-Five/dp/1629147664