NYC and Points North, Day 5: Stopping to See a 300 Year Old Farm Called Stillmeadow

Two years ago, my friend Edith gave me a book. Published by Lippincott, it was bound in the sand-colored fiber-over-cardboard of old library books and had a fraying dust jacket. Something about  ‘Stillmeadow,’ written by a woman named Gladys.

I opened that book on a Sunday afternoon, and . . . fell in.

You can Google Gladys Taber on your own for a biographical sketch. I have other ways to describe her. She looked and listened and noticed and was humble. She had opinions and loves and worries and wrote about them poignantly. My favorites of her books go month by month, and pierce each month to its essence. She got April, and October, and even August and February which don’t have a lot going for them.
She spoke my language.

Stillmeadow is a place, a real place, in Connecticut. It is a farmhouse first built in 1690 that Gladys and her family bought in the mid-1900s and still belong to. It is 40 acres, more or less, surrounding the house that whisper of the pleasures and the aches of all who have called it home over 300 years. I had the blessing of meeting Gladys’s granddaughter Anne Colby and seeing with my own eyes this place that Gladys considered entrusted to her for a season of its life. I understand the term ‘living history’ a little better now. And I thank Anne for sharing this treasure with me.
Stillmeadow is more than a house and acreage though. According to Anne, what Gladys was offering her readers was the chance to find Stillmeadow in their own home.

She was saying, ‘This is my Stillmeadow, and you have yours! And isn’t it rich?’

Here is a little tour around Stillmeadow:


Anne and I sit on the step outside the back kitchen. I picture Gladys peeling her potatoes here and pondering life and dogs and such, while Jill, of course, bent over her garden.


Welcome! The wrought iron Cocker Spaniel that often appears in illustrations here at the gate once topped a tall post, but Anne says ‘Gram’ did not replace it after it was stolen a second time. There is a wrought iron cocker bootscrape inside the house to keep a cocker presence in the house currently ruled by cats. The gate and fence, facing Sanford Rd, off the Jeremy Swamp Road, were damaged by a tornado back in May.

        
This is Gladys’s front door, though in earlier days the front door would have been on the right side of the house, just behind that tall bush. She watched the changing world from here.


The well house and another door to the back kitchen. You can also see the flat door to the cellar through which Gladys first entered Stillmeadow on an icy day. See the two rectangular windows under the eaves? Those are called ‘eyebrows.’ Anne said Stillmeadow has far more windows than most houses of this era had. And the storm windows, Gladys’s nemesis, were made to match the many-paned windows. Andrew and I agreed that without all the windows, it would have been a dark interior indeed. The Dutch door between the back kitchen and the main kitchen still has the vinyl on the bottom half to keep the dogs from scratching it up. Though had they scratched it up, Gladys would have defended them, wouldn’t she? ‘Well,’ she would have said, ‘they found it necessary.’


Yes. You are right. This is the Quiet Garden. It also suffered in the May tornado. It is behind the house and to the left if you walk out the back door. Tucked back to the right of this picture, in the woods, is the last of the kennels used for the cockers, used by an earlier owner for pheasants.


Even though the Quiet Garden is grown up and leaf strewn, you can still see the outline of the flower beds. I picture Gladys there on a chilly March day, insisting it is warm enough to eat outside. Jill would have been skeptical, but let Gladys follow her impulse. In Spring, does lavender still come up between the flagstones?


Let’s walk down to the pond. Just behind the Quiet Garden, Anne Colby and my husband Andrew stand where Jill’s garden was. Anne remembers it as very open and sunny then in that patch. Behind them is George’s barn and house. George’s house was originally built for the daughter of an earlier family at Stillmeadow when she married. Anne recalled George’s cows getting out of his barn one time and trapping her in the little house by the pond.

      
The little house by the pond. Smiley Burnette built the ‘barbecue’ close by.


We did not see Gladys’s unicorn. But surely he comes, as Gladys imagined, and crops the small greenery on the pond’s far side. Incidentally, we went to The Cloisters in NYC and saw the unicorn tapestries that Gladys found mesmerizing. I understand why. This one is framed on the wall upstairs in one of the children’s bedrooms.


Anne explains her work in applying for and receiving ‘protected land’ status for Stillmeadow and a corridor of several surrounding farms. It is a huge undertaking, but she sees progress!

But you want to go inside, don’t you?


Here is her fireplace that was wretched and sagging when she first saw it on that cold day. Anne showed us how the dogs left footprints in the concrete between the hearth stones during those early repairs. One footprint was big enough to be Holly’s. Of course, I pictured the cat and dogs that slept practically in the fire, like salamanders, as Gladys said. And yes, the ceilings are that low, lower than I had imagined.


Jill’s trestle table and the milk glass! That chair to the left was refurbished by Gladys’s husband Frank who turned to woodwork and other pursuits with his hands after his music and teaching career ended early due to illness. Anne said that Frank did wonderful furniture restoration work.

          
The swan compote and the lady’s hand dish, Gladys’s favorites. Remember how she loved the stone in the lady’s ring and marveled that it was still there? That is a bird’s head resting on the lady’s forefinger. Anne shows the irregularities in the swan compote that are the hallmark of hand-made things.

       
Ladies Home Journal redid Gladys’s kitchen at one point when vinyl on the walls was all the rage. Now, Anne has been told that if she updates anything she cannot take the blue vinyl off the wall above the stove and behind the blue plates because it is so of-an-era. This stove saw many a soup for guests and dogs, stirred with the old wooden spoon she loved.
This kitchen saw Connie, Don, and Barbara grow up; it saw the mid-winter picnic; the visiting tenor; Gladys’s overzealous pepper purchase that had them chopping and canning pepper jellies for days. And I can’t help thinking of Gladys standing here for the first time after Jill passed away so suddenly. That shocking road we all eventually walk, Gladys dealt with here in this kitchen where for so long she and Jill had agreed on grilled-cheese and a linen-closet clean out.

        

Gladys’s bedroom. Her desk was where the blue bed stands now and most of her writing was done right there, looking out that window at her bird feeders. Remember the brave chickadee with the bent wing? The love seat was right beside the desk, Holly’s perch and Honey’s. Anne said that Gladys worked diligently, writing every day at her desk.
The blue bed has its own special meaning. It has been Connie’s bed for a while. Connie, the Columbia doctoral candidate who typed at least part of her thesis here at Stillmeadow, is 91 now, and spent much time in this bedroom. And Gladys’s desk is now in Jill’s small bedroom. Gladys’s bedroom was so much larger. But Jill was a no-nonsense New England woman, and after all, her ‘office’ was outside in her garden. At that desk, Gladys wrote, Connie wrote, and now Anne has written. It is an old green metal desk that has seen much fruit.


Gladys’s stove. The door leads to what used to be the foyer and front door of the house. Remember how Gladys said she loved that her bedroom was, for a time, where worship services were held.


Finally, this is me sitting in Gladys’s favorite chair. Anne said that though Gladys did not put it in her books, she was in lots of pain in her later years. I sat in this chair and reflected that Gladys was an amazing woman. You can see just the head of the wrought iron Cocker Spaniel bootscrape in the windowsill behind me.

There is so much more that could be said about Gladys Taber. I write all this to give God the glory for a talented woman who saw beauty and worth in this world and shared it openly with us. And I thank Edith Whitehead who gave me my first Gladys Taber book.

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New York, Day Four: Bigger Things

Ichabod’s woods are indeed
Haunted.
He was right, though ridiculous,
To jump at every eddy.
Haints and witches abandon a
Gorse-grown stoney field
And melt back in to old, old
Woods,
To titter at our cluelessness.
On a wet stone we stand,
Once a top step.
Who stood on that stone,
Home and
Relieved at road’s end?
The almost-home stone.
The Woman’s respite stone,
Work half done, her eyes
Drank in the pond downhill,
Thistles and thorns and damp.
She saw the bigger things.

Layers of Admiration – NYC: Days Two and Three

Two Days in Pictures

Fort Tryon Park, north Manhattan. Stair climb to The Cloisters

Fort? Museum? Castle? Monastery?

Hudson River backdrop.

Should I admire the marble or wood or stained glass or architecture art?

Or the cloister garden palette in delicate flowers?

Or the museum’s gem: the Netherlandish Unicorn tapestry series? I returned to the Unicorn tapestries over and over. They are captivating and tell of the unicorn’s sacrifice, betrayal, slaughter.

And possibly of his resurrection. Echoes of The Story are everywhere!

Or the current exhibition called “The Catholic Imagination” displaying pieces of Roman Catholicism’s influence on top fashion designers and houses like Dior. Odd how well this exhibit fit into The Cloisters and how drawn we were to it.

The Sacred Heart dress. The drape of fabric was exquisite, the red fabric flowing like blood.

                      

Interesting note: this 1960s wedding dress has only three seams. Deliberately reminiscent of the seamless garment Jesus wore.

Or street art on the side of a Queens auto body shop.

Or on the side of a Union Square office building. We agreed we needed an interpretation of this. I also shopped at Nordstrom Rack. Felt savvy.

Or humanity! This little guy slept as his mom and Grandma discovered they were on a northbound train instead of a Canal Street one.

This retired banker read about how to fix the Deutschbank. Andrew and I discussed how we would fix the Deutschbank. It involved asking what the problem was with the Deutschbank and the brainstorming some simple solutions.

Or the food. This doesn’t look appetizing to you, but it is Kimchee fried rice with an egg. Korean perfection. We also hit a Dominican Mofongo restaurant yesterday that put us in a food coma. No pics because we were pigs. And Shawarma this evening. BTW if you do not recognize us when we get home, it’s because we have eaten our way north, south, east, and west on this little island.

Or should I admire reading a favorite author’s first new book in 10 years while sitting in Union Square and imagining our son in law as a city teen loping back-packed through this park?

Here is Eliot’s high school, St. Francis Xavier. We passed the open windows of the gym and heard the sounds of kids playing basketball and pondered high school in the city.        

Or our digs here in Queens. See our parking space included? Gold, Jerry, gold!

Or the shady places we rested our aching feet. “We put some miles on the dogs today” is our catchphrase – six yesterday and nine today. It offsets the eating, so there’s that.

The Lord is good to us!

NYC Day One: QueensWalk

11 miles today on the hoof according to our Google Health App. 

A three mile round-trip run for Gian Piero’s breakfast. You hear someone go on and on about the cream in Italian pastries and think to yourself, “Yeah, yeah.” And then one day, you actually taste it and repent of your lack of respect. This particular pastry is called a Lobster Tail because look at it. And beside it rests almond biscotti that, if that was all I had for the day, would be entirely sufficient. To get biscotti like that requires the right ingredients and the right recipe and the right chef with the right bloodline. None of those four things converge in our little hometown, love it as I do.

Thence to a walk around Astoria. 5-ish miles in, we entered Astoria Park which begins at its south end under the huge concrete pilings of the Triboro Bridge and faces the East River. That bridge has been renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, but I like Triboro better. Way more geographically evocative. We watched a woman, or a man in a skirt, shadow box vigorously, and we idly speculated on how much actual ground would be covered if all the office and living space in the tall towers over on Manhattan were spread out side by side. We also wondered how far the average New Yorker walks in a day because it seems like that’s all everyone does here is walk.

It’s all interesting because of the people!

The subway is not actually ‘sub’ here in Astoria. It is overhead and, though it’s loud, it gives a homey feel, like a front porch. Like, I’m outside, but I’m close to home and have a roof over my head. 

‘Home’ is the second floor of Oscar and Alona’s home on 30th Ave. As we drank our afternoon cup of restorative, we watched Oscar bathe their dog in the back courtyard. The terrier enjoyed his bath in a big tupperware bin as much as any child in the tub, maybe more. He practically bathed himself in his frolics. 

A Waze-assisted trip over bridge and dale to Flushing took us to the real Chinatown and the Golden Shopping Mall. This is a food mall, the best of which is in the basement. Steamed lamb and green squash dumplings seemed the summit of taste and texture until we turned to the booth cramped right behind the lamb dumpling booth and ordered cumin lamb pulled noodles. We watched the cook pull the noodles in front of us and pop them into the boiling water. And then we shared a plate of what he ladled up, our heads bumping in leaned-over gluttony. And we were unashamed.

       

Thank you, P.S. 20 for letting us park in front you, unticketed and untowed, because parking signs and laws are an enigma to us.

Finish off this perfect day with a visit to a Bohemian Beer Garden established in 1902 by Czechs. On vacation I struggle with the dilemma of whether to ponder and read and talk about deep things because I have the time and no excuse, or to relax, whatever that means.

         

So in conclusion, we hit Italian, Chinese, and Czech/German food today, and Greek last night. Our feet hurt and I am ashamed to say we are in by 8:30 snacking on Utz cheese balls. Each to their own, right? And we learned by listening that this place is not pronounced Astoria, but UhSTORia.
Get it right.

30 Years Together, Part Two: NYC and Points North

Today we hit the road to celebrate “30 Years Together – Part Two.”

Part One was the body-punishing first attempt at cross-country skiing back in February – a satisfying trip in terms of character and accomplishment. Pain is good, we assured each other. And the woodland trails were lovely.
30 Years – Part Two will be different in that our destination is not the working man’s Midwest, but the working man’s East – NYC and Queens! And while we will hike our feet to nubs and our joints to arthroscopic anguish on the concrete trails, it still won’t hurt like falling on cross-country skis. I know this.
So here’s the plan:
We will leave Dixieland on Sunday, September 30, after church. Andrew will preach and I’ll teach and then we’ll load the CRV with probably the most wrong-headed clothing for October in the the upper East, and we’ll drive as far as we can along the spine of Virginia. Our camp stove will supply the coffee that beggars all others including that Seattle liquid. Behind a Circle K or at a rest stop picnic table, a cup of our coffee is like a drill instructor setting the cadence. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b65RQtL4H3Q
And then, Monday, October 1, my happy birthday, we’ll make that giddy trip over the Hudson River into Manhattan right at Midtown and over the East River to Queens and check in to our Airbnb in Long Island City that has parking included!! Perks, and whatnot.
We look forward to Asian, Italian, Jewish, and Middle Eastern food in Queens.
A visit to our son-in-law’s high school, St. Francis Xavier, near Union Square.
Time with Ben and Kim Kaufmann, kin and friends.
A visit to the Cloisters up Riverside.
Another walk along the High Line because it’s really awesome.
And then!
We’ll leave the teeming city and visit the campus of the United States Military Academy at West Point, for Andrew. Once we get there, I’ll buy the T-shirt and really be enthusiastic about it, because I’ve always wanted to be a hero on the battlefield, ‘stomach of a lion’ and all that. But my heart will be feeling the call of the next stop which is for me.
Stillmeadow in Southbury, Connecticut. Home of Gladys Taber, a soulmate author and homemaker who lived, wrote, and homesteaded in the early years of the 1900s. Her books are little oases of pleasure in undistracted things.
And then!
We will continue north to Pine Plains, NY, and Fat Apple Farm. A Farm to Table Dinner in October replete with butchered meat demonstrations and yoga classes and art opportunities. Since I read Washington Irving”s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in American Literature I’ve dreamed of visiting the Hudson River Valley in October. Irving’s lush descriptions draw me: apple-mouthed swine on platters surrounded by every root vegetable known to New World pioneers, pies, gravies, and all the denizens of the barnyard converted to plump Sunday dinner. Add Sunday morning worship in Kingston, NY, at a reformed church plant, and what more could you ask from a 30 year anniversary trip??
We will keep you posted of highlights along the road. And we declare ourselves to be unworthy of all the blessings which our Lord showers on our heads.

~30 Years In: A Tableau~
I’ve been sewing in the dark for the last few days because the switch for the lights over the big table shorted out and died its death. We’ve discussed it a few times and so today I casually said, “I put in a call to So and So Electrical to get on their schedule.”
Understand, I had no manipulative motives here.
Him: “Oh, no. I can do this.”
Me: “Ok, but I thought when you went up into the attic you discovered that the wire has no play on it and without electrician’s tools (whatever those are) you can’t replace the fixture.”
Him: “Well, I’ve thought about it and I think I can do it.”
Me: “How?”
Him: “I don’t know yet, but I know I can.”
Me: “Okaaaay.”
Him after work last night and three trips to Marvin’s: “Ok, come stand over here one more time and holler when this wire wiggles.”
And wouldn’t you know, he did it.

Back Porch Devotions in September

Wing-whir and squeak
Of the resident hummingbird.
Mr. with a band of white at neck and tail –
A collar and tennies. His four-spouted feeder,
He says,
Is three spouts too many.
Scritter and crunch of two squirrels.
Brothers. Frenemies.
Chasing each other for
Possession of one pecan among ten
Thousand, in figure eights around trunk
And limb-split. Siblings obviously.
Dove whoo. Shell pieces dead-fall
Onto the tin porch roof
As the siblings truce to tap open and eat
Pecan meat.
Silent things add their inhalations and
Exhalations to the glory chorus;
Butterflies catch the early sun-slant on orange
Wing and light on a taller zinnia.
Chipmunks hug the ground, never looking up,
Intent on the earth.
Silent, too, are birds in flight, a feather ruffle on landing.
But from their tree-y houses, though lip-less,
They opine with
Consonants and vowels:
Chee-chee
Screet-screet-screet
Kack-kack
Kitter-kitter-kitter
Caaaaw,
Answering one another
Impatiently, mothers with a work day ahead.
Cicadas trill on a sleepier key than they will
This evening. It’s early yet.
~