As noted in my last post, I've always loved to travel by rail. As we left Philadelphia, the train passed through industrial areas and junkyards, reminding me of the Arlo Guthrie song City of New Orleans where he sang about "graveyards of the rusted automobiles." Soon we were in New Jersey and then in New York City's Penn Station. My stop was Bridgeport, CT where I was met by my friend Claudia. We were overjoyed to see each other after a three plus year separation.
Unbelievably, Claudia and I have known each other since age 13. Her family lived just around the corner from our home on Orchard Road in Toledo, OH. Because she went to boarding school and then to college, we lost touch, but later I ran into her at a friend's party and discovered we were living a block apart! Claudia was a social worker and I was an elementary school teacher. Soon after, we both moved into another apartment complex, where we met two guys named John and Andy. Long story short, she married John and I married Andy. Although jobs took us to different cities in the decades that followed, we kept in close touch and visited as often as possible. Our combined five offspring became friends, as well. John's death from lung cancer ten years ago was a sad loss.
Over an Italian dinner, we caught up on all the news and went back to her condo to watch News of the World with Tom Hanks, while I made friends with her cat, Miss Lily. After a lazy morning, Claudia took me through the pretty riverside town of Stratford, which has many lovely homes and historic churches. We enjoyed a seafood lunch by the Housatonic River and wandered through the Mellow Monkey, which featured nautical-themed gifts.
On Tuesday, we did a bit of shopping before another reunion took place at Terrain, an upscale garden and gift shop in beautiful Westport. Joining us for lunch in their cafe were her daughter Kate and Nicoll, another old friend we knew from both Philadelphia and Virginia. Nicoll and her husband Charlie, who now live in Old Lyme, CT were great friends, and we had good times together. More hugs, laughs and lots of sparkling conversation around the table. Later that afternoon, we spent some time with Kate at her beautiful home and I got to see her three children and two very large Bernese Mountain Dogs. We picked up lobster rolls for dinner and had a wonderful evening.
The next morning, we were off to the local airport so I could complete the last leg of this sentimental journey by flying to Charlotte, NC and connecting to Dallas. After being gone for six days, I was very happy to see Andy and get home to my dog, Toby. For me, this trip was, as Nicoll put it, "a vacation for the spirit." All of us had experienced a tough year with the pandemic and the complications it brought to everyday life. I was beyond thrilled to connect with so many good friends and remember how lucky I am to have them, even though we are at a distance from each other. When we do see each other, it is like no time at all has passed. It's the best kind of therapy for old friends!
Last year, I was joyfully planning to see a long-time friend in Connecticut. Unfortunately, the visit was cancelled because she had a bad case of the flu. Then the pandemic hit. As life began to return to normal, my trip was back on! Since I was headed for the East Coast, I decided to add Philadelphia as my first stop and first visit another friend, one I had known for nearly 40 years.
Anne and I became acquainted through Junior League of Philadelphia. Our families became close and shared many good times. She was a health care marketing executive and I was in health care fundraising, and our paths often crossed. In fact, Anne recommended me for a job at Nemours Children's Health, where she had worked for many years. Our friendship only deepened during her late husband Rick's long illness. After more than three years apart, we were thrilled to see each other.
First stop was an outdoor reception for a retiring Nemours doc, where I ran into a few folks I knew. Then it was off to dinner at a Wilmington seafood restaurant with my former boss, Lori. The three of us talked for hours, catching up on kids, jobs, retirement and life in general.
The next day, after a wonderful lunch at the Merion Country Club, where we enjoyed watching golfers on the first tee, Anne and I toured the Philadelphia area, driving by our old house on Contention Lane, and many other places that were dear to me when we lived in the Delaware Valley for a total of 24 years. So many changes since then. We stopped at the upscale Di Bruno's Italian deli and gathered goodies for a picnic at Valley Forge Park. Sitting atop a rise, we enjoyed the densely wooded vista and talked to our heart's content.
After breakfast on Anne's patio the next morning, we headed to Center City Philadelphia. She showed me the house that her daughter Abbe has just purchased in the hip neighborhood of Fishtown, as well as the big changes in the University of Pennsylvania's health care campus, Boathouse Row, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Love Park, home of the iconic Love sculpture. I drank it all in. Many thanks to my good friend for making our brief time together so special.
Then it was time to drop me off at historic 30th Street Station, Opened in 1933, the station has a soaring ceiling and boasts an enormous bronze statue that depicts a winged angel lifting a lifeless soldier toward the heavens. It was commissioned as a memorial to the 1,307 railroad employees who perished in World War II and was prominently featured in the movie Witness.
As I boarded the train to Connecticut, I was reminded of the many trips I made from that station back and forth to Williamsburg, VA after I accepted a job with Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. My husband Andy stayed put there with the dog while we sold our home. For ten weeks, I'd leave at noon on Friday and return on Sunday evening, a six-hour journey each way, that was relaxing after a busy week. More in my next post...
This quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson sums up my feelings and desires this spring. In Texas, the wildflowers are in full swing this time of year. Delicate pink and yellow primroses and orange Indian paintbrush line the highways and byways, as well as carpets of bluebonnets, the State Flower.
Last year when the pandemic was just beginning, I was nervous about venturing out to the garden center, so I didn't buy or plant anything. My standing garden, built by my son-in-law Matt and me a couple years ago, stood empty. This year, I made up for lost time. First, I planted some gorgeous annuals in front. These are called dipladenia, which have small trumpet-like blooms in white, pink and red. They will grow into a large dome-like shape. I need to add some new shrubs to replace those that got killed off in the big freeze, but that can wait until next month.
My new walled garden in the back yard features red oleander, Mexican feather grass, dwarf gardenia, a striped yucca and a butterfly bush. In front of those, I put in ten perennials, including Shasta Daisy, pink dianthus, red salvia, purple dianthus, catmint, and Texas primrose. Many have burst into bloom, with an array of colors. I smile every time I look out the window at this glorious display.
The aforementioned son-in-law and I visited the local nursery to purchase herbs for the standing garden, which include parsley, two kinds of basil, two kinds of rosemary, Greek oregano, and thyme. We also planted several kinds of peppers and mulched everything to keep the moisture in. I found that other kinds of vegetables didn't do very well, so we skipped those. However, I did put a patio tomato plant in a container and it's already producing lots of yellow blossoms and little fruits.
Today, I planted five large containers of annuals to add some color to the pool deck. Each one got a bright pink geranium, delicate purple vinca, white zinnias, purple petunias and new to me, a red gazania. As the weather warms up and we get lots of sun, they will quickly fill out the container. I filled some smaller containers with impatiens, which will do well on the shaded patio. Now, my challenge is to keep all of it alive and thriving in the Texas heat, which will be upon us soon!
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.