Monday, May 31, 2010
This past weekend, Alex and I took a trip down to visit his grandparents. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it previously, but Grandma Grace and Pop are pulling up roots and moving back to Pop’s birthplace in Freemont, Nebraska. So of course we had to come down to the house on the mountain one last time to visit and see the old stomping grounds before they move to their cozy apartment amidst the cornfields.
We started out our drive on Thursday after work and decided to stop for the night about halfway to Roanoke in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. I didn’t really know much about the area except that it is my favorite part of the drive down to western VA, so when Alex suggested it as a stopping point, I was all for it. The first B&B we tried to book was already full, but with some internet search I found The Ledgehouse. It wasn’t until we’d taken a turn off 340 and followed the directions to the bottom of the biggest, steepest hill I’ve ever seen that we really got the meaning of the name. The house was quite literally set into the cliff right over the water.
If you’ve never been to Harpers Ferry, you should know that it’s essentially the spot where West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland come together at the Shenandoah River. It’s also one of the only towns on the Appalachian Trail, a major railroad hub, and famous for many historical folks stopping by. Our room on the second floor of the house had a deck that overlooked the water. You can see Maryland on the left and Virginia on the right.
The room itself was lovely and even had a huge bathtub that was easily two and a half feet deep. There were also other fun knickknacks including a porcelain cowboy riding a chicken.
That evening, we went out to The Anvil and had some specialty crab cake sandwiches and a local West Virginia brew called Mountaineer. I had the nut brown ale and Alex had the blonde. On the way back down over the giant hill, a possum ran across the road. I had never seen one before, so I got really excited, which Alex thinks is hysterical. I ended up using my phone to look up videos of possums playing dead later that night, also much to his amusement.
The next morning, breakfast was on the table at nine sharp. It was completely delicious and consisted of a sort of quiche with tomatoes, zucchini, and cheese, a really delicious fruit salad, perfectly done bacon, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and coffee with real cream. I was literally full from this until about 7pm that night. It was so good.
After breakfast, we signed the guestbook, gathered the last of our stuff from the room, and headed on down the road. Alex’s parents started out from home that morning, so they weren’t far behind us. Here's a little something that marks the halfway point between home and Roanoke.
Once in Roanoke (seeing the telltale Mill Mountain Star long before we entered the city proper), we headed to Star City Games. Alex discovered a while back that Roanoke has a relatively famous store dedicated to gaming. It’s sort of like Days of Knights on Main Street in Newark, except bigger. So we drove by there to find it on the way in because Alex planned to return that night to see what Roanoke had to offer as far as Friday Night Magic is concerned.
After the gaming store, we took the infamous trip over the mountain to get to Alex’s grandparents house in the valley. If you’ve never heard me talk about this before, just know that the road up the mountain is a little scary for a city girl. It’s only about a car and half wide despite being two way, windy, hilly, and sparsely covered in gravel. What do you do if another car comes on your trek up the mountain? Why, you back down the hairpin turns and let them pass.
During the day the drive is beautiful, but the very first time I came down the mountain with Alex after having been at his grandparents all day, it was a little terrifying. It was December and it was dark. The fog had set in and lights actually made visibility worse. You couldn’t see more than two feet in front of the car (which is important when it’s possible you could easily drive over the side of the cliff). I also distinctly remember Alex saying, “Whelp, I know the road’s over there somewhere,” on a particularly menacing turn. Luckily we made it out alive although I’m pretty sure there were some tears and that my life is slightly shorter now.
This time around, all of our drives up and down the mountain were beautiful, green, and in the light of day. We actually videoed our last trek up the mountain for posterity. It’s long, but it’s very pretty.
Once at Grandma Grace and Pop’s, we took a look around at all of the work they had done to pack the house and more importantly, all that was left to do. There was a lot lot lot of stuff in that house. We explored the newly expanded deck, saw the second bedroom full of boxes that were ready to go, and even heard the story of Pop wanting to bring all 600 of his VHS tapes to the apartment, at which point Grace began insisting on bringing all of her fabric along too. Most interesting in our adventures for that particular day included going into the old house. In the photo below, the house on the right is the house Pop and Grace built. The old house is beyond it.
Back in 1980 when Grandma Grace and Pop bought the land that their house is on now, the house they are currently living in was not built yet. According to Alex’s mom, they lived in a trailer on the property and used the bathroom in an old house that was there from a previous owner. Apparently the house wasn’t in great shape even back then, so now, thirty years later, it’s basically a big mass of leaking roof and soft floors. The staircase is rotted out so Alex’s mom, Alex, and I wandered over to see what was upstairs using the ladder that Pop had left out there.
Upstairs we found (along with more rat poop than I have ever seen) an old portable hair dryer, a briefcase full of Pop’s documents from the water treatment plant in North Carolina, old pictures, a couch, a train set, a variety of mismatched shoes, more glassware than I can even describe, an exercise machine from the 1960s, a novelty Zippo lighter the size of a VHS tape that still worked, and a vintage slinky with the box still intact. We also found a hornets’ nest and some of the inhabitants which was our cue to leave and go back up to the main house. Here's a shot of the inside of the old house.
That night Alex and I checked into the hotel, grabbed a quick bite at Wendy’s, and then headed back to Star City Games. He played Magic with a bunch of folks for 5 hours. I finished an entire book. I think hanging out there totally made his night even though he left with a 2-2 record. Here’s the view from the couch that I hung out on all night.
The next morning, we started off with breakfast at IHOP where the coffee was so bad that we opted to go to Starbucks afterward. Then it was back up the mountain for day two of helping get Grace and Pop ready to move. We started by going through Pop’s old military trunks that had been in the old house. We de-militarized his uniforms according to protocol by snipping the buttons and patches off. In the trunks we also found a lot of Alex’s Mom’s baby stuff including baby blankets, tiny crocheted clothes, and even her baby book where under “Response to Punishment,” her mother wrote something along the lines of “doesn’t listen and does what she wants anyway.” Everyone got a kick out of that.
After going through the trunks, we helped Pop go through his desk. Some of the stuff we found there included a solar cigarette lighter, slide rules, onionskin paper, old IDs from the 1950s, about a million neat photos including a baby photo of Alex I got to keep, an old typewriter, stamps that predated me, matchbooks, and a bunch of other interesting stuff. We even found the receipt from Mr. and Mrs. Urbanik’s wedding reception from 1976. That one’s going on the fridge at home. I think my favorite thing we found was a calendar from 1980, where on November 11th, Pop wrote “Stan called to say that Mary had the baby” referring to the day Alex was born.
Later that day after picking up lunch for everyone, Alex and I saw a giant turtle outside by the creek at the foot of the driveway. When I went back out with Alex’s mom to show her, the neighbor’s dozen dogs or so came bounding down the hill. This is a pretty common occurrence, but this time around they all circled around this turtle. We tried to shoo them away, but they didn’t decide to leave until it tried to bite one of them before tumbling head over heels back into the creek. Poor turtle.
After most of the dogs left, we couldn’t seem to get the smallest puppy to go back over to his side of the road. He kept following me around and eventually we let him stay. Shortly after, while cleaning out the old house of the last of the glassware, the puppy came in with us and decided to hide out from the rain. We really considered absconding with this little guy because he was super cute and well-behaved. Plus the neighbors don’t take care of their animals either.
Later that night, we met Alex’s parents, Grace, and Pop at the Chinese Buffet and had a nice meal. We all had a good time figuring out our Chinese sign (I’m a Ox) from the menu and seeing who was compatible with who. The fortune cookies were also pretty funny. After our dinner, Alex and I had a date to Barnes and Noble (apparently the happenin’ hot spot in Roanoke on a Saturday night – aka the only place that’s open). He got a comic book, I got a bridal magazine. After that was a quick trip to Kroger for wine and chocolate, and then back to the hotel for an early evening of reading since literally everything closes by 9pm.
The next morning, we took our last trip up the mountain to say goodbye to Grace and Pop. Alex and I got there before they returned from breakfast, so we wandered through the wet grass to take some pictures of the property. I know that I was feeling emotional because that was the last time we would be there, so I know that Alex was reliving all the childhood memories he’d made in his times there. He told me about the baby goats playing king of the mountain, and the dogs that used to live there as pets. He told me about losing his hunting knife on a hike and shooting out in the field. I stayed back a bit and took some really gorgeous photos as he reminisced.
Once everyone returned home, we loaded up the car with all of the stuff we were taking home. Then, we took some photos on the brand new porch.
Then of course, it was time to hit the road. Grace and Pop saw us to the front door and everyone said goodbye one more time. Here's hoping for a safe move to Freemont, a successful auction, a quick sale of the house and property, and a visit soon...
Thursday, May 13, 2010
So Pop-Pop's tomatoes are planted for the season. Although it's hard to see the garden, this is actually how I remember seeing it for the first time every year for as long as I can remember. Standing on my tiptoes. Nose pressed against the glass. Looking through the screen to see the little mounds of dirt that would miraculously become tiny plants, and then huge plants, and then eventually the juicy, red tomatoes. I also remember playing baseball in the backyard and knowing that if you hit a ball into Pop-Pop's garden, you'd better get it out quick before he sees. And there'd be hell to pay if you accidentally squashed a plant. We usually sent Nick in after them.
I never really thought much about the garden when I was little, but now that I'm older and starting my own family and my own traditions, I'm seeing the garden in a different light. It's definitely more than just a bunch of plants, because by the end of the summer, when the tomatoes are picked, the magic happens. The sauce-making begins. I've been there to help cut up tomatoes, or jar the sauce, but I've never made it through the whole process. The homemade pasta and the making of the sauce are a ritual that's been going on in this household since long before I was around.
I've just recently realized that I really want to know everything that goes into it. How is the pasta made? How many eggs? How much flour? How long do you simmer the sauce? And how much garlic? If there's on thing I've learned from my Italian family, it's that there's no such thing as too much garlic.
So my mission for this summer is to be around. To see how it's done. Lend a hand. Learn a thing or two. And maybe, someday, I'll do the same thing with my kids. Tell them all about Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop and all the good things and good food and good friends that came from that house.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
So we've been in the house for just about three weeks now, and it's been really great. We've already had some friends over for dinner, held a game night, and had our first few rounds of family members who wanted to come see the new digs.
But my absolute favorite part of the new house with the huge, gorgeous kitchen is that apparently Alex has been withholding the fact that he's a pretty fantastic chef...
I mean, I knew he watched a lot of Food Network, but I thought it was just for the Giada factor. (Who by the way I have to admit, despite her huge head and her overpronunciation of all the Italian ingredients, is a rather cute lady with some really kickass recipes).
Well, I've sampled more than one of Giada's Everyday Italian recipes as prepared by Chef Alex, along with a few of his own creations — and there's promise of carne asada tacos for dinner on Saturday.
Oh, and in all those special grocery trips to get the last minute ingredients, I even got a surprise this week!