Sunday, July 14, 2013
Down the Taconic Parkway ...
Until I met Joyce in mid-July 1969, I had never heard of the Taconic Parkway--nor could I have told you where it was (New York State, for those as ignorant as I!). Most of our family travel (because my grandparents were in Oklahoma, my dad's family in Oregon) pointed into the West, and I knew very little about the Fabled East, although I had been to NYC a couple of times by 1969.
The Taconic runs from the greater NYC area to the greater Albany area, just east of the Hudson River (I-87 in parallel, on the other side of the river) and is closed to truck traffic. Speed limit: 55 mph. (Which few but us obey--okay, we go 60.) Right through the Catskills it flows like an asphalt stream, divided by a grassy median and woods and other vegetation that in some case venture right down to the edges of the road.
It teems--often dangerously--with wildlife. In my trips along the road I have seen many deer (alive and not), wild turkeys, a coyote or two, all sorts of other common critters (raccoons, hawks, and the like). In the late 1960s and 1970s we also saw picnickers pulled off along on a grassy side hill, munching away and having a good old time.
Did I tell you it's once of the most beautiful roads I've ever driven? In all seasons. The summer lushness, the fall foliage (indescribably beautiful), the dramatic winter vistas. Once, around Thanksgiving, we were on the road, heading north, after an ice-storm. The trees were aglitter with it, and I recited "Birches" for Joyce--the Robert Frost poem that mentions the ice glistening in eastern trees. (Link to entire poem.)
In 1969, the summer we met (and decided to marry--pretty quickly: the decision came on our second date), we were both attending grad school at KSU. After our course ended (American Transcendentalism), we drove around visiting family members to let them see what we'd gotten ourselves in for. May I say that my family members were more thrilled than Joyce's? (Do you blame them?)
So we drove to Indianapolis to visit my uncle and aunt (Uncle Ronald would deliver the remarks at our wedding on 20 December 1969), to Des Moines, Iowa (where my parents were living; brother Richard, teaching at the University of Iowa at the time, also got to meet her--and share his bewilderment at her decision), and to Stanfordville, NY, just off the Taconic State Parkway, where Joyce's aunt and uncle lived. He was a country lawyer there and (not counting Joyce's father) was perhaps the most surprised (alarmed?) of all when he saw ... me.
Joyce had spent many vacations up in Stanfordville (and one entire summer) with her relatives, and they adored her. On our first visit that summer of 1969, though--the summer I would drive the Taconic for the first time--she evinced a little ... uncertainty ... about the location of Bull's Head Road, the little crossroads (at the time--now, a big exit with an overpass). Her father did all the driving on family trips (oh, men!), and she'd never really paid too much attention to where things were. She sat in the back seat and read novels until they arrived; then she placed her bookmark in the volume and climbed out of the car. So on our first trip down the road, she kept saying, as we neared every exit, "I think this is the road ..." About sixty miles down the Taconic, she was finally correct!
Anyway, over the years we returned to Stanfordville quite a few times for visits; it was one of the first places we took our son when he was born in 1972. I grew to love it there, too, and the aunt and uncle gradually warmed to me--especially when they saw that Joyce and I had so much in common. I sat around reading, too, and her relatives there had the biggest private library I'd ever seen. (Near his death, he sent it all to some islanders in the South Pacific: good for him).
Our route in those days: I-90 to Albany, then down the Taconic. We always stopped at a little diner just about ten miles down the road. Coffee, restrooms, gas (across the street). Then zoomed (at 55--okay, 60) down the parkway to Bull's Head Rd.
Later on, my two brothers (one younger, one older) bought a house together in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, a summer place (an old farmhouse), so Joyce and I and Steve were soon heading there on vacations, in the summers. Cheap-o that I am, we soon abandoned I-90 and took the (mostly free) I-80 from Ohio, across Pennsylvania to I-81, then north I-84 near Scranton, I-84 to the Taconic, up to 90, then about thirty-five miles to Becket, Mass., where my brothers were (and still are at times).
And then my parents left Oregon (ill health for my dad) and moved to Pittsfield, Mass., to be near my brothers, so we were going up and down that road even more often.
We just got back a couple of hours ago from another trip, visiting my widowed mom (she will turn 94 this fall) and my two brothers. It was an emotional time (it almost always is), on this occasion because it is the last time I will see them before I commence my hormone therapy (prostate cancer) on Tuesday--yes, this Tuesday. I had tears in my eyes, off an on, all weekend. So did they--bless them.
Over the years I've driven the Taconic by myself--especially during the time of my dad's failing health. Other times, I've used the road when I've gone east for research (Washington Irving's house is near the bottom of the road; John Cheever lived in Ossining--home to Sing Sing Prison). And whenever--and I mean whenever--I passed Bull's Head Road, I called Joyce to let her know where I was. More tears.
Today we were together, but the tears returned nonetheless--and not just at Bull's Head. All along the route. I'm not sure, you see, when--if?--I'll be on that road again, and it was a glorious day today--the Catskills aglow in the early morning sun; fog gathered in valleys. Very little traffic. And a conversation with Joyce that flowed along with the parkway, a conversation washed with tears, marinated in memory.