September - October 2016 - Rochester and Points South

Ralph's Blog

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After exploring Niagara Falls with the grandkids, we crossed the Peace Bridge to Buffalo. Crossing the Peace Bridge brought back memories. When I was a teenager I worked for one of those places that sells you cheap booze if you're crossing the border. This job could run anywhere from cool to very boring. The cool parts were when we got to work alone in the little hut on Niagara street, where you could crank up the tunes and read a book if there were no customers, which was most of the time. The downside was you had to go over to the bar across the street to use the bathroom - there was none in the building.

The boring times would come when you had to squeeze yourself into the tollbooth on the bridge with several boxes of liquor and wait for the customer to pick up the booze. Since you had to take the liquor across the border to Canada to avoid the taxes they didn't want to take any chances you would just go home and use it there. This was before anti-smoking laws so it could become a breathless experience if you were stuck with a smoker. In the winter it was pretty cold, those booths with the open window weren't too well heated. It paid pretty well for the times, though.

The first order of business was to get the pickup and trailer inspected. Even though we spend most of our time touring the country, you have to have some sort of official address to make the government happy. We share our official residence with Dave & Helga (remember them from the last blog?) and stay there when we are in town. We are still officially New York Residents and have to get the safety inspection done when we get back. We headed for Hamburg, NY and dropped the RV off at Camping World, then went across the street to the oil change place to have the pickup inspected.

This proved entertaining to the grandchildren, but less so to the older generation when they warned us our brakes were about gone. Still legal, but not for much longer. We returned to Camping World to find out they were giving away free hotdogs for lunch, so we contentedly munched until the RV was finished. They discovered one of the RV brakes was not working, but they fixed it and we were on our way.

Next stop was Robert Treman State Park in Ithaca. Treman is one of the little jewels we have come to love, located just outside Ithaca but pleasantly wooded and rural. The walk along Lucifer Falls is one of the most scenic in the world.

There is one problem, though. I much prefer to start at the top of the waterfall and walk down. This is far easier than the reverse, but it leaves you car stranded at the top of the hill. There are two solutions to this conundrum:

1) Somebody can walk back up the hill to retrieve the car, but in the immortal words of Dave Massengill, Somebody... but not me!

2)You can invite your friend Elizabeth over for dinner and con her into driving you back up the hill to retrieve the pickup.

I'm sure you can guess which solution won. Elizabeth even got an unexpected bonus - the grandkids singing several songs from the Arrogant Worms in perfect harmony. Calvin & Dalton just blew us away with their vocal abilities. They sure don't get that from their grandfather, so it has to come from grandma Janine. Their father is no slouch with a guitar, either, but he wasn't there with us.

After enjoying Ithaca for a few days we headed for Middle Grove, NY for the The Pick'n' & Sing'n' Gather'n's Last Gasp. That's a weekend of camping and music and food where everyone just plain has a good time. Calvin & Dalton took off with the gang of kids that roam the place and we didn't see much of them for several days unless they were sleeping. It took some convincing, but the kids did go home with their parents - school started in a couple of days but they thought wandering around the country with us would be more fun. Nice try, boys.

Speaking of nice tries, while we were there we tried to find my cousin Wendy who lives in nearby Hudson Falls. We found her house but no one was home, and she never answered the phone. We'll try again next trip.

My sister Kris lives in Schenectady and kindly watched Shira for us while we were at the Gasp (no dogs allowed). Judy's birthday fell while we were there, so we celebrated with a steak and lobster tail dinner with Kris & her husband Karl and our friend Nancy. Nancy's son was supposed to join us but he got lost and we had to eat his lobster tail for him. The sacrifices parents make for their children.

I have to mention Judy's birthday balloons. The balloons lasted over a month and were still hanging in there when we reached Maryland. They were a bit of a challenge to take with us on our travels and tended to get caught in the ceiling fan, but they were great fun.

Balloons on Judy's birthday

Balloons 1 month later

With Labor Day over we settled into Dave & Helga's yard to enjoy some time in Rochester. We made it to some of Golden Link's singarounds, the Turtle ahill Folk Festival and caught up with old friends. It took a couple of trips to get all the work done, but our old buddies at C&C Auto did the brakes and 60,000 mile service on the White Goddess. If you're in Rochester, these are the guys you want to work on your car.

As a surprise for Judy's birthday, her daughter Raina flew in to Rochester from Austin, Texas. It some logistical finesse to keep it a secret, especially as the Airline Gods acted up and delayed her flight, but we did manage to surprise Judy.

We took Shira for a walk through Corbett's Glen while Raina was there. Corbett's Glenn is a lovely nature park hidden in the town of Brighton and a fine place to take a short hike and enjoy nature. As you can see in the pictures, another cute little kid really enjoyed petting Shira.

Heading South

We only spent a few weeks in Rochester this time, then headed south once more, well in time to miss the start of winter. Again this year our first stop was a visit to Judy's brother Mac and his wife Rachael. This trip we got to explore some of Marietta, Ohio. The town has an interesting history; founded by many of George Washington's officers after the revolutionary war, it was the first permanent settlement tin the Northwest Territories. To our modern ears calling Ohio the "Northwest Territory" sounds strange, but back then that's just what the area was.

We spent a pleasant afternoon riding a paddleboat with Mac, Rachael and our old friends the Bairds. The weather was perfect as we lazily paddled down the river.

We passed through an old, hand driven lock on our journey. That's the guy who ran around in circles pushing on the lever that opened and closed the lock for us. Strictly muscle powered - not a motor in sight.

The picture below has an interesting story attached to it. Many years ago an ocean captain who lived in the area bought a riverboat that had sunk and started restoring it for his home and had completed much of his work when he had to return to the sea to make his living. The winter that year was terrible and the partially restored boat was sunk again. The hulk was sold and again partially restored when it was once again sunk. That's what you can see of the wreck below - anyone want to put in an offer?

One last picture of Marietta - someone planted some lovely flowers on the bridge support outside the ferry terminal.

Historical Tourism

On this trip we decided to visit several historical sites, starting with George Washington's home, Mount Vernon.

As with many historical sites, Mount Vernon has a history of neglect and restoration. We learned a lot from the guides there. For example, the fashion of the times when Washington was there was to build wooden buildings that simulated stonework. They used paint with sand in it to cover the wood so it looked like stone. You can see how it worked in this picture of some of the restoration work on one of the buildings.

In recent years, most of the revolutionary historic sites have finally started to tell their visitors the facts of slavery. To our modern sensibilities it is very strange that the founders of the "land of the free" would be slaveholders, but to a rich white man of the revolutionary era slavery was just how things had always been done. By the end of the war, both Washington and Jefferson had become convinced that slavery was wrong, but neither man felt able to change the system without damaging the fragile democracy they had fought for. Sadly, it would take close to a century and many dead soldiers to finally come to grips with the problem of slavery. Even more sadly, to this day we have still failed to come to grips with the problem of racism.

In the recent past, the people at Mount Vernon have started to research slavery at there. They have done some archeological research to identify graves in the slave cemetery. There is also a monument to the dead slaves, but the people who put up the monument did so before the archeologists had done their work, so no one knows how many slaves are resting there.

Slave Graveyard. Ropes show location of unmarked graves

Since Mount Vernon is on the Potomac, George had a landing to ship out the produce of his farms. When we visited, we found two re-enactors building a boat of the type that would have been used, using period tools and methods.

The Grand Caverns

The area near Jefferson's Monticello has several caves. We visited the Grand Caverns in Grottoes, Virginia near our campsite. As you can see from the pictures, it has some beautiful formations.

We were hungry after our tour, so our GPS took us to the nearest pizza joint. For a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere, we had one of the best pizzas ever at Ciro's Flying Pizza. If you get there, don't miss them.


I have always been a fan of Thomas Jefferson, an amazing and multitalented man. Monticello his home, is a beautiful place. The tour was fascinating - or I should say tours - we took several. Once again, we found the people at Monticello confronted slavery head on, leaving us with a great deal of information and a considerable sense of bafflement that one man could be a slaveholder and a freedom fighter at the same time.

Jefferson came to feel that slavery was wrong, just as Washington had, but felt unable to do anything about it. No, he wasn't too lazy or too unconnected, but when you realize that it literally took an act of the colonial legislature to free a slave it was no mean task to do so.

The gardens at Monticello

The gate to Jefferson's graveyard

Judy and Tom

Colonial Williamsburg

Having spent a couple of days there last year, we realized there was much more to see - so this time we planned five days there. It sill wasn't enough.

This time we caught some great music, a bard in the bar and a wonderful show with a glass harmonica and another glass instrument that I don't remember the name of.

We were lucky to be there on the one day of the year when they open the costume shop to the public. Costuming some 800 people with period garb is a massive job, the tour was fascinating, a word that I seem to be wearing out lately.

We met several interesting people in the restaurants. As they were quite full, we shared a table with Bob Reid and his wife and Anne. (I don't know how much Facebook will let you see of Bob's page, but give it a try.) The conversation was fascinating and we ended up being Facebook friends. Bob is a brilliant artist and photographer and his art makes a very welcome change form the political posts from most of my friends. Not that I mind the political, I am as pissed off by 45 as anyone, but sometimes seeing something beautiful is very refreshing.

I confess I'm somewhat jealous of Bob. We both wandered around Williamsburg with fine cameras hanging around our necks, but he saw pictures that my eye passed by. The man is a genius.

Our other bar friend was Dan, a bear of a man who drives the horse cart through the town. He came up to our table, flagon in hand, and urged us to drink heartily. Poor Dan was shocked - shocked I tell you - that I was a teetotaler and went on at length on the subject to the amusement of all present. The next day we took a ride with Dan, and spent the trip discussing politics, both revolutionary era and current. He is a fascinating guy.

Vicki and Doug

Speaking of politics, our next stop was the Raleigh/Durham area of North Carolina to visit with some of Judy's old friends. Since they are both committed activists (she's been arrested a couple of times protesting the NC legislatures stupidity; he joined the vets who went to Standing Rock) we talked a lot of politics with them.

We did find the time for sightseeing, wandering through a nearby town whose name I've forgotten to find this lovely park.

The real joy was the Duke University Gardens. Spectacular and... just imagine I've inserted a string of superlatives. It's a beautiful place.

If you can't figure out what's happening in this next picture, Vicki and a random stranger are trying to learn to whistle with a plant leaf.

The Old Burying Ground

The last time we saw Joe Crookston he told us the story of the Rum Girl. It turns out the Beaufort Old Burying Ground is close to where daughter Jessica lives in Camp Lejeune NC, so Judy, Jess and grandson Joe hopped in the pickup and made a pilgrimage to the place.

The short story is the girl died on a ship coming back from England. Her father had promised he would return the girl to her mother before leaving, so he bought a keg of rum from the captain of the ship to preserve her body and brought it home. Read the story in the link, it's heartbreaking.

The Rum Girl's Grave

When Joe told us about the Rum Girl, he told us how when an adolescent girl visits the grave the Rum Girl likes to play tricks. When he and daughter Josie visited the pictures came out blurred and a doll's hat fell out of a tree on them. I can't tell you if that's true, since we visited with my 40 year old daughter and our 19 year old grandson. Next time we'll have to recruit a volunteer and see what happens.

There were several interesting graves in Beaufort North Carolina's Old Burying Ground; in fact there is even a printed guide that tells the story of some of the more interesting residents. Here's one story:

Sarah Gibbs (d.1792) & Jacob Shepard (d.1773)

Sarah was married to Jacob Shepard, a seaman. Jacob's ship went to sea, but never returned. He was presumed to be dead. Later, Sarah married Nathanial Gibbs and had a child with him. After an absence of several years, the shipwrecked Jacob Shepard unexpectedly returned to Beaufort to find his wife married to another man. The two men agreed that Sarah would remain with Gibbs as long as she lived, but must spend eternity at the side of Jacob Shepard.

Now, would you believe it if it were the plot of a Romance novel?

On our way back we stopped for ice cream and found this crocheted lamp pole. Someone has way too much time on their hands!

Giant Grandchildren and Tiny Kittens

Nate and Joe, our oldest grandsons, are both a couple of inches taller than me these days. Nate is easy to spot, he has neon colored hair that changes hue with his mood. He's reddish in this picture, but the latest (3/17) shows him with bright green locks.

While we were there, Jessie took us to a pet fair she was involved in. Such things are dangerous territory for animal lovers like Judy and me, especially as we lost our cat Harry last spring. So we played with the puppies and, even though I wasn't really serious about getting a new cat, I visited the room with the kittens for adoption, but no one struck my fancy.

We wandered some more and, just as Jessie was ready to leave, Judy wanted to visit the kittens. What the heck? We went in and - surprise - there wasn't one who spoke to us. Just ass we were heading for the door a guy comes in with a big cardboard box that was emitting a hellacious racket. Curious, we watched him open it and out popped the cutest little kitten in the world, howling like a banshee.

What could I do? I picked her up and she climbed to my shoulders, wrapped herself around my neck and began to purr. Fate had brought us together.

Thus ensued a quick trip to the money machine for the $75 ransom, (remember when they used to give kittens away for free?) signing many papers promising dire consequences if we didn't get her spayed, then ignoring my daughter's laughter at her sucker of a father and Sophia became the newest member of our family.

Well, two out of three current family members were pleased, Curious George, our elder statesman of a cat, was less than thrilled. Georgie growled and hissed at this pint-sized interloper on her territory. Fortunately Jessie had a spare cage for Sophia, so they were separated until they learned to tolerate each other.

Sophia hated that cage, howling at the top of her little lungs when she had to be in it, like the times we were traveling. Out of curiosity, I got out my sound level meter and found out she peaked at 72 decibels. For reference, that's in the range of the engine in an 18 wheeler. We remain sane as she only screams when traveling and we are in the pickup while she is in the RV. When we're cuddling, her purr is very soothing, so she fits right in to the family.


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