Traveling to the Northeast not only meant catching up with many old friends, but also seeing the family, in New York and Pennsylvania. We didn’t get to see everyone, and we couldn’t stay as long as we wanted (as we could sense the change in weather closing in on us), but we shall return soon.
We stayed with my brother Jerry in Westchester, to which he has returned after a long hiatus in New Jersey. Jerry is eight years older than me, but from the earliest age, we’ve always been pretty close.
And as is probably typical with most siblings, there are ways we are polar opposites (politics, musical taste), and ways in which we are pretty similar (sailing, traveling, dark sense of humor). As we’ve been traveling down to the south in recent weeks, I realized we were going places that I first visited when Jerry was a teenager and took his little brother along on a road trip – the Shenandoah Valley, Charleston, etc. Those were the first trips I made without a parent, and I think they planted the idea that one could just get in a car and go see the world. In the past decade we’ve gotten together every summer, as jerry flies out to Whidbey Island, and we sail and hang out.
After a career in insurance and banking, Jerry retired two years ago, about 15 seconds after he was eligible, and retirement seems to suit him very well. (For the last three years of his working life, his screensaver was a photo of his sailboat with a count-down calendar on it.) His good friends Pam and Steve sold their house and bought a two-family house in Mamaroneck, and after a year of renovation, they live in the downstairs unit and Jerry lives upstairs. They are three miles away from the boat club where they all spend much of their time, and one mile from the train station into the City. It seems like a very good model for retirement.
After a day in New York, Greta and I both caught a cold, and spent two days hunkered down at Jerry’s, where we caught up on all the 1960s sitcoms that I hadn’t watched since the 1960s. (My brother has an encyclopedic knowledge of the classic shows of the past 60 years, but it was good to see that he has expanded his repertoire to include more recent television.)
While we were killing time, my nephew Sean (upper left in the top photo taken last Christmas) showed up with pizza and soup, and to entertain us for the day. Sean grew up nearby in Larchmont, and now lives in Connecticut. He is Greta’s first cousin – although 34 years older than her – so she really thinks of his three fantastic kids (Connor, Eleanor and and Alexandra) as being more her cousins. Sean was always athletic, and in college he started the crew team at SUNY Oswego; in recent years he has kept up this rowing, while also adding marathon running to his portfolio. (He has also generously shared his rowing insights with Greta, suggesting “more forward body angle at the catch” when she was eight.)
Sean has one of those jobs that I don’t really understand what it is he does (it is interesting how many more of those jobs I run into every year as I get older and more clueless). I at least can tell that it involves advertising and the internet. Somehow between the job in the City and athletic endeavors he still manages to be a great dad, and arguably the funniest person in the family.
My sister Pat is the oldest of us five, seen here in the first known picture of us together. I was clearly the practice child for her raising four kids, including Sean.
Once her kids reached a certain age, Pat went to work as a pre-school teacher, for a couple of good reasons: she enjoyed the company of little kids, and she really enjoyed having summers off to sit in the back yard and read non-stop; over her lifetime, Pat has probably been one of the steadiest supporters of the Strand bookstore, frequently hauling shopping bags full back to Larchmont on the train. I sometimes have students ask me how I acquired the wide range of random facts that I seem to know, but I am nothing compared to my sister. (She also talks faster than I do.) She not only retains facts, but she somehow always stays abreast of what everyone is doing, and what they are interested in. Over the years, I’ve often been surprised by some gift from Pat that tied in perfectly with an interest of mine that I didn’t know she was aware of. This year’s Christmas present was no exception. Pat retired a few years ago, and so she too was able to come by Jerry’s and spend the afternoon entertaining us when we were sick. This trip has been rather intense for me and Greta – it seems that every day is dense with new experiences, usually of new places and things that are not that familiar to us. But this one afternoon spent with Jerry, Pat and Sean was definitely the most dense with talking, joking and reminiscing, and we were really grateful to them all for dropping everything to do it.
Leaving New York, we headed to the Philadelphia Main Line to stay with my nephew Justin and his family. Justin was a remarkably cute kid, but also a scarily smart one, memorably besting me in an argument when he was three. He was always precocious, seeming much more mature than his age.
With that background, and his current career managing a mutual fund company, it is hard to believe that in an intermediate incarnation he spent some time following the Grateful Dead and supporting the trip by selling peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
In recent years, Justin has also turned into a serious weekend warrior athlete – marathons, triathlons, mountain biking, etc. But like Sean and all his other cousins, Justin has become this super family guy. His wife Joanie is perhaps the most energetic person I’ve ever known – raising two kids while working as a kindergarten teacher with an expertise in special education – and somehow fitting me and Greta into her agenda, making us feel right at home and then sending us on our way with enough food to snack on for a week. Their daughter Abby is a charming high school senior, but being a high school senior she’s completely over-committed, charging around with her friends, but managing to join us for dinner one night.
Although Tyler is a only year older than Greta, living on opposite coasts they’ve only met each other a few times in their lives. But getting together over the past couple of years, they’ve realized they have a lot in common – they’re both kind of quirky, willing to follow their own inclinations rather than the crowd, and they share a wide range of nerdy, fan-boy interests. Tyler immediately roped Greta into multiple rounds of backgammon, and we spent a really fun day with him, at the Mercer Museum and then the new James Bond movie, as he guided us through the intricacies of Main Line geography.
We’ve gotten a little homesick from time to time on this extended trip, and it was really good to stop in places where we were at home, with family who love us and welcomed us in.