babble.jennasdad

– memories of a man getting older –

Liberty 9-1327 and TV

November 13th, 2011 · No Comments

Li9-1327. That was our phone number in New Jersey. World War II had recently ended and words like Liberty were left over from the war effort. We had a party line when we first got the phone. When you picked up the phone to make a call you had to first listen to make sure the phone line wasn’t being used by the other party. We used to share the line with one other person but I think some party lines were shared by more than two.

Now get this, I don’t recall ever making a call or getting a call. Fact is, the phone would hardly ever ring. That changed over the years.

My sister, Vicki, 3 years my elder, had her room upstairs across from me. Her room was about triple the size of mine. She also had wall-to-wall carpet. And a television. And, her own phone. So, I recall my sister during her high school life being on the phone quite a bit. Also, she played Johnny Mathis albums which I could hear in my room. I really liked Johnny Mathis.

I’m told we were one of the first families in the neighborhood to get a TV (this was in the living room, not my sister’s room). People on our block would come over, pull up a chair, and stare at this new form of media. Television shows were only on for a limited number of hours a day. I recall watching “Million Dollar Movie.” It was broadcast by WOR-TV and played the same movie for the entire week. The theme music was from “Gone With the Wind.” The one movie I remember vividly was King Kong. I would come home from playing, lay on the floor in front of the TV and watch King Kong every day of the week. Also, Gunga Din was a favorite.

Of course, no one had any idea how TV would change the landscape of the American family. It became so popular that the TV Dinner was introduced. A forerunner to today’s microwave meals, these early models came in aluminum trays. They seemed to always include mashed potatoes and a vegetable mix of peas and carrots. Some had a dessert of some kind. The dinner would be placed upon a “TV Tray.” Take a TV, a TV dinner, and a TV tray and you’ve destroyed one of the key soul-centers of a family: the dinner table get together. What was once a normal family event has become an effort for families today.

It’s still worth trying to re-establish the family meal time. The gathering in a circle to share the meal dates back to time before recorded history. It’s in our DNA to socialize around meals. Now, you’ll have to ask everyone to turn off their cell phones, put down their electronic gizmo. And there will probably be some awkward moments as everyone tries to awaken the lost art of conversation. But ultimately you’ll get there and you’ll find that there is nothing more interesting than in the moment with others. Then, the nourishment you receive won’t just be from the food on the table.

→ No CommentsTags: Early Years · Family · Metuchen N.J.

Bar Memories

November 13th, 2011 · 5 Comments


Yulan Hotel Bar

Memories can have a subtle, soft joy that is paradoxically accompanied with a touch of salty bitterness.

I’m looking at a newly acquired postcard that shows the inside of the bar at the Yulan Hotel. The image recovers decorating details I had forgotten.

The bar is long, made of wood, and carries the shine and amber color of aged shellac. The bar stools have round seat cushions, about 5 inches thick, covered in red vinyl with white pipping. The stools have four chromium legs that, rather than going straight from cushion to floor, flair out in an “s” curve near the bottom to create a wider, more stable platform. There is an upper chromium ring connecting the four legs on the inside for strength and a lower chromium ring connecting the four legs on the outside creating a foot rest. They are lined up in front of the bar like customers waiting to be served. They stand in military formation, in silence.

I had forgotten about the mounted deer head just inside the entrance way, hanging from the wall of beautiful golden colored wainscoting. Next to the deer head are the classic wood block type posters. I remember the one that would shout out about roller skating. Past the deer head are two doors to the bathrooms. Between them stands an unfamiliar object. It’s too tall to be a jukebox and besides, I know the jukebox resided at the opposite end of the room. I can’t recall what this is or make out what it is from the postcard.

There are plain wooden tables draped with white tablecloths. The tables are partnered with chairs that match the style of the bar stools. Looking closely though, one sees that the tables carry a variety of chairs, including different wooden styles. Uniform decor was not a concern.

On the wall hang some signs. I know these! They spoke to the food available from the kitchen: wonderfully thick, hand-formed burgers, homemade meatball subs, and sausage sandwiches. Anne Boza sure knew how to cook! Burgers and sandwiches would come out of the kitchen until closing. Boots (Anne’s son) and I would often charge into the bar late in the evening to devour one of Anne’s servings.

The ceiling was low and this created a confined if not intimate feeling to the area. It was the old pin cushioned noise absorbing tiles that also absorbed all the smoke from the cigarettes that were so popular at the time. If the place wasn’t glamorous it made up for it by being comfortable, unpretentious and friendly.

The last time I was at Washington Lake this bar was the only building that remained of the group of buildings that made up the Yulan Hotel. At one time there was the main house (the building the Boza’s used as their home), the main hotel for guests; two buildings where the help stayed; and a small cottage on the lake’s edge. The bar had been turned into a private residence and looked run down and unloved. Being brick it withstood this neglect and the passing of time. The other structures had been constructed of wood and could not endure neglect. I think I heard that the main hotel burned down, or was purposely set afire for practice by the local fire department. Either way it was a cremation.

I wonder how the current dwellers manage, moving about amongst all the ghosts, surrounded by decades of past laughter and joys. I wonder if they ever see a shadow, feel a presence, hear soft laughter or smell hamburgers cooking. Do they wake to the new day and pause over a cup of coffee, attention focused, wondering what this odd, bittersweet feeling that lightly touches their being could possibly be?

I find it difficult (or is it uncomfortable?), to believe the joys of others now past are simply gone, no longer of consequence. Can places that are so special to so many simply fall into disrepair and slip unnoticed into annihilation? Isn’t it possible that as surely as a place is hallowed by bravery and bloodshed it can be hallowed by joy and laughter?

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Bambi

February 25th, 2011 · 1 Comment

There can be a fog that blurs the distinctions between reality, memories and dreams. Here’s one:

The Forum Theatre was where we went to “go to the movies.” It was the only place to go. It was a movie house with one screen and it’s currently the scene of a foggy memory.

I was outside, standing in a long line to see Bambi. You entered the Forum through wide front doors and walked up an inclining floor to the ticket window. This lobby area was rather dark and the color maroon comes to mind. The line moved slowly, inching forward, shuffling steps, closer and closer to the ticket window. The person in front of me got a ticket and then it was my turn.

I stood before the glass that held a round, metal, microphone-looking thing that would allow words to be exchanged. It was through this device that the ticket seller’s words arrived like a sledge hammer, “Sold out.”

And the memory ends, curtain down, lights up.

I don’t recall sharing the anguish with any friends yet it would be odd if I had gone to the movies by myself. Certainly Stevie would have been with me. Maybe Eddie, Ricky, Kenny, Bobby or Billie. But, no, there is no memory of any of them on this occasion. Me alone – sold out.

Yet, looking around through other memories I find some of the strongest are of events when I have been by myself. Most of these I do not share, with reason. For there are true things that happen and these truths sound ridiculous and unbelievable to others. When trying to narrate these types of events it becomes apparent there is absolutely nothing to be gained by another person having some minimal understanding of them, and a minimal understanding is all that seems possible. So, I reason, there is no point in the telling. It appears things that are extraordinary – out of this word – do not translate well into words or thoughts to be understood. It appears these gems reside not in the grey matter of understanding but elsewhere.

Well, I hope my daughter experiences the opportunities that being alone can bring. I hope she has a multitude of experiences she sees the futility of sharing. And, I hope there is a ticket left when she gets to the window.

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Joy Ride

February 2nd, 2011 · No Comments

My dad worked for Rutger’s Chevrolet in New Brunswick, N.J., about 10 miles from our home in Metuchen. A number years I held a summer job at the dealership as the parts delivery driver. It was an awesome deal: arrive in the morning and clean up a bit around the parts area while orders were being created, then load up the trunk with parts and hit the road. For the next few hours I was driving a pickup, listening to music, stopping by different shops, dropping off parts and talking to mechanics. When the morning deliveries were done I’d head back to the shop, eat some lunch, pick up the afternoon deliveries and do it again. Some fun. I also got to know the mechanics and the service manager and would often help out “in the back” by filing work orders.

One day the service manager asked me if I would take a car out for a test drive. He had never asked this before and knew I didn’t have the mechanical aptitude to diagnose any problems, but I said sure and he handed me the keys. “It’s the blue Vette convertible,” he said in a matter-of-fact way (grinning large inside I am sure).

1965 Corvette

There it was – AWESOME! A new 1965 Vette, Marina blue with blue interior, top down screaming “drive me!” It was equipped with a 4-speed and the 327 cubic inch motor (“mouse motor”) with 365 horse power (highest rated small block). Optioned with the knock off wheels and the side pipes (chambered exhaust that ran below the doors) the owner obviously knew how to dress a Vette.

My first memory of the drive was going through Highland Park on the way to Metuchen. I had stopped for a light and noticed my left foot shaking on the clutch pedal. My entire body was shaking! I tried to compose myself and motored on to the music of the exhaust. Arriving in Metuchen I went and picked up my girl friend. We went for a ride through Roosevelt Park and rumbled around Metuchen. A bit of heaven.

I don’t recall but I must have been gone for at least an hour yet no one said a word on my return. It was a magical hour. It was a “joy ride.” The term was common back in the 60s. With less traffic and hostility on the road, people actually found driving a car joy filling. I certainly found driving that Vette joy filling, and unforgettable.

I can see the service manager’s face but cannot recall his name. I can almost read his name in my memory, embroidered above the pocket of his starched, white work shirt. I’m thankful to him for such a gift. He knew what it would mean to me and trusted me to see the event through to a good end.

I hope I do the same for my daughter. Allow her to have life-memory events, beyond my sight, beyond my control, trusting she will see them through to a good end. I hope her life has its share of joy rides.

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Kitchen Work

August 4th, 2010 · 1 Comment

I was getting older and distancing myself from Boots, the Boza’s son. I became buddies with the two dish washers who worked in the main kitchen. Not that we hung out together after meals were served as I too was subject to the same sort of age difference that kept Boots and I apart. They were a handful of years older and although they enjoyed my help and company in the kitchen it did not extend beyond that time. Nevertheless, I could be found in the kitchen at every meal, helping with the dishes.

We worked with a commercial dishwasher. You load a tray with dishes, spray them down, push it into a receiving area, lower the stainless steel enclosure, hit the power buttons, and hot water would blast the dishes. When the cycle was over you lifted the enclosure, clouds of hot steam rising out, and push out the tray with the clean dishes with a new tray of dirty dishes. The three of us became a well-oiled machine, singing as we worked. With my help the guys were getting their work done in a significantly quicker fashion. It felt great being part of the team.

Mr. Boza was aware of our team and offered up that I should stay at the hotel another two or three weeks after my parents vacation ended. My parents would return on the weekends and I would return home with them at a later date! I couldn’t be happier.

We played a game with the potato peeler. You dumped the potatoes into the tub that was lined with a sandpaper like surface. Put on the lid and hit the timer. The potatoes danced around, rubbing their skins off on the coarse surface. The game was to throw the largest potato one could find and time how long it would take for it to disappear.

A routine of the team was our meal break. Each of us would grab a big plate of food (I remember the fried chicken and home made french fries) and a quart of milk each and go sit on the back porch of the kitchen at a little table. The porch was shady and overlooked the lake, a beautiful spot. This was the same spot I sat and saw a vision of Carol through my tear-filled eyes. She had left me for Ronnie the bar tender due to an indiscretion on my part. I sat in pain and saw this vision of Carol descend down into the lake and disappear.

The kitchen times were wonderful. The chef with his scarf and white hat; the waitresses moving quickly between kitchen and dining room in their starched white uniforms; the smells and sounds. Even in work their was a shared joy at the Yulan Hotel. A joy not unknown to people who stayed at other places on the devine little mountain lake.

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Yulan NY, Times Square

July 12th, 2010 · 47 Comments

OK, here is a bit of a pictorial history of the town of Yulan, commonly called Times Square.

Times Square 1923

1923

This image is from a postcard dated 1923. It’s a bit difficult to understand how the building relates to later images as it is the only image I’ve seen that shows a porch. You can clearly see the sign to Barryville and Shohola. The car would be heading down Airport Road towards Washington Lake.

Times Square 1939

This is a view from pretty much the same direction as the 1923 image. The post office has changed dramatically, resembling it current state. The car in the foreground is heading towards Barryville while the background cars are on Airport Road. Note this image shows the large tree in front of the post office. That’s Bradley’s Bar on the left, a place I never set foot in and can’t really say what it was during my times at the lake.

1949

Note the Esson (now Exxon) sign by the tree. Also, you can make out the characters that spell out Times Square on the roof of the building to the left of the post office. An interesting detail: On the tree next to the Esso sign, coming off the left of the tree above the car, is a small sign that says “BUS.” Times Square was a bus stop and when the area was in its hay day there were any number of buses from New York City that stopped here. The note on the back of this postcard reads: “Dear Friends, Come and see us & have a look at Yulan.” Indeed!

Early 1960

The car in this image is a 1963 Chevy, so this image is 1963 or newer. I think the Esso sign is hidden by the Fountain/Lunch sign, but the bus sign is gone.

1960s

My guess is that this shot is from the mid-late 60s. The car looks like a GM product and that blue was popular in 1965. Big change – phone booth in front of post office! Also, notice how the mail box in front of post office has changed compared to shot above this one. The building to the left of Times Square was an auto repair shop during my times in the area.

2007

I went back to Washington Lake in 2007 and this shot is from that journey. The tree and assorted signage (Esso, Luncheonette, etc) were gone! Other changes are obvious but the same building still stands.

I like to stare at these images and think of all the history. For myself, it’s all the joy and laughter of children as we played in Times Square. And the memory of the drive up from New Jersey when we would arrive at this intersection.

I find it is one of the more curious and bittersweet things in life. How things and places can mean so much to some and yet, to later generations there is no acknowledgement or awareness of any significance. But, perhaps the fact this intersection still exists – this building still stands – is in itself a tribute. A tribute to the flow of time and those of us who were carried upon it through Yulan, NY.

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Meatballs & Burgers

July 8th, 2010 · 1 Comment

The Boza’s were Italians. They owned the Yulan Hotel. Both Pete and Anne were short, heavy set people, and their children, Carol and Boots, were of the same build. This may have been partly due to Anne’s cooking skills. From my experience she was a marvelous cook. Anne didn’t cook in the main kitchen, although she could often be found there overseeing the operations. It was in the small kitchen that was in the building that served as the bar that she could be found using her skills. Boots and I would head to this kitchen in the evening hours to refuel. This was the first time I had ever seen a hamburger form. This was a round, thin, metal ring, about 1 inch tall. About 2/3rds up this ring was a ridge. This ridge would hold a flat, metal disc that you dropped into the ring. You stuffed the hamburger into the ring against the disc. It could make hamburgers of two thickness, depending on the side of the ridge you placed the disc (surprisingly, a Google search found no images of one of these burger forms). Anne Boza make thick burgers, the meat laced with spices and magic. Placed on a bun with lettuce, tomato and an onion slice, throw in the mountain air and starry night … a memory creating burger.

Yulan Hotel Bar

The only thing that could compare of those evening burgers were Anne’s home made meat ball sandwiches. These were placed on Italian bread and covered with home made sauce. It was no easy choice – burger or meatballs.

There were always people at the bar when we would enter and head to the kitchen. You could hear the chatter, clinking of glass and lots of laughter. Good times were being had by all. And that’s the word for those childhood days at the lake – good times – times filled with goodness – for all.

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Kennedy

January 26th, 2009 · No Comments

jfk_eternalflameNovember 22, 1963. I was in algebra class. The windows in the room overlooked the front of the school, the drive up to the school, the grass circle where the flag pole was planted, flying the flag of the United States.

It was around 1:30 when the announcement came over the school PA system – the president had been shot. The shock – mumbling, questioning voices stirred through the class. Ken Leslie sat in front of me. He was my neighbor, although we didn’t really hang out much together. I recall saying to Kenny that maybe the president was only wounded. Moments later we watched as a couple of school custodians walked across the grassy circle to the flag pole and lowered the flag to half mast. Kenny turned and called me an idiot.

The manner in which the investigation of that event was handled, and the delivered results, was reason for me, along with millions of others, to lose faith in our government. And, not just lose faith but take on a new perspective – they were not to be trusted. And, in my heart, and I dare say the heart of many who lived through those times (for Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy also fell), there has not been a glimpse of hope until this election of 2009 and our new president, Barack Obama. Yet, sadly, the hope is tempered with some skepticism.

You, my daughter, will grow up with a slight remembrance of a tragedy of your youth – September 11. Who knows what new tragedies you will witness as you grow through your years. Perhaps the only sure thing is that they will occur.

I’ve spent a number of hours these last few nights looking at youtube videos of the Kennedy assassination and various images and theories. It’s odd, but there is a certain sweetness in the sadness. The event still rips the heart, still fills me with a sense of grief and despair, and yet … there is something soft, slightly delicious, in the remembrance.

And so it seems with life. The greatest sadness, the painful heartbreaks, these events somehow get us in touch with one of the greatest qualities of our humanity. It is difficult to explain, yet there is no need for explanations, for you will live through your own experiences that will put you in touch with what we all ultimately share within – some mysterious, soulful, understanding arrived at through our pain and grief.

→ No CommentsTags: High School · Metuchen N.J.

Mr. Toth’s

January 24th, 2009 · 3 Comments

About 5 blocks or so down Amboy Avenue was Mr. Toth’s. I guess you it call it the equivalent of today’s convenience store. It was our destination for candy, penny candy, and soda. The building itself was rough red brick, two stories, with the store on the first level and I assume Mr. Toth’s lodging on the upper level. Actually, there was a basement too, but it was above ground, so the store itself, what I call the first level, was entered by climbing a flight of stairs. These stairs were concrete and ran the full width of the building. We would often leave the store and sit on these steps eating our candy.

wax-tubesThere was a specific type of candy we used to buy, a wax tube filled with a sugary syrup. We would sit on the steps, drink the liquid and throw the wax tubes into the street and watch the cars run over them. One day we were sitting on the steps and a police car pulled up. The policeman approached and asked us if we were throwing wax into the street. We conceded the fact and the policeman informed us this would have to stop. Seems we had thrown so much wax onto the road that when it rained cars were losing traction and skidding on the wax!

Mr. Toth’s son, who we never met, made wooden model airplanes. They hung from the ceiling of the store on string or wire. They were large, my childhood memory thinking they had wingspans of 3 feet or more. I recall a few were sea planes with pontoons. Speaking of sea planes triggered a Washington Lake memory. There used to be a sea plane that landed on the lake. I never heard who was using this form of transportation to get to the lake, but one stormy day the plane came in, hit the surface of the water, and flipped over. No one was hurt. The planes hanging from Mr. Toth’s ceiling could only dream of doing a water landing.

Mr. Toth sold cream soda, my favorite. But, unlike most cream sodas which had a light caramel color, the brand Mr. Toth sold was clear. He used to call it “city water.” Yeah, don’t know why, but he thought he was making some sort of joke, saying this was what water was like in the New York City.

rocketThe day came when a grocery store opened in the large, block size, empty field across the street from Mr. Toth. I think it was an A&P but don’t bet the ranch on that. Anyway, people who used to drop in to Mr. Toth’s to get some cereal or milk, now went to the A&P. Mr. Toth was an old man when we were kids. I can only imagine what it must have felt like as he watched his business fall off, kids buying penny candy becoming his biggest customers. And that is what happened.

It was typical for cereals to offer premiums, usually plastic toys, in the box. One premium that was a big hit was a toy, spring-launhed rocket. Every few months the premiums would change and the toy rocket premium hadn’t been available for many, many months, maybe over a year. I remember walking into Mr. Toth’s and there on the shelf were cereal boxes with the toy rocket premium. Thanks A&P.

It was during my college years that I paid my last visit to Mr. Toth’s store. I was surprised it was still there. I opened the old, wooden frame screen door (the large, solid wood and glass main door already  open). Opening the screen door tripped a small bell alerting Mr. Toth that a customer had entered. And there he stood, old, white hair, and wearing a very familiar smile, although a bit distorted now. The planes still hung from the ceiling. The contents of the store looked like I had entered an antique mart. There were the thin wooden framed glass cabinets that held the penny candy. There was the old red Coke cooler. There were the wooden shelves with Comet and other brand names in packaging that hadn’t been available for years.

We talked of old times and current times but I don’t recall his words. Practicing photography at the time I was lucky enough to get a wonderful photo. It was of the store front windows, filled with ads and posters that were from another time. If you looked carefully you could see Mr. Toth looking out through the window. He wasn’t clear, more of a mirage, like a whisper of a ghost. Indeed, he knew his time as a successful store keeper had long passed and his time here was almost gone. I can’t help but think he had a life he was at peace and content with. That his memories of serving all those kids candy was a joy. I believe this.

There aren’t many things in life I wish I had. Being one who tends not to hold on to much as I travel through life I got rid of all my negatives at some point. So, gone is the photo of Mr. Toth and his store. Yet, here he is, being fondly remembered and talked about many, many decades later. Thanks Mr. Toth. The fact you led a life that gave others happy memories is a worthy accomplishment. Hope I’ve done you justice and some of your spirit has been passed along. That’s an awful lot for a penny.

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The One That Got Away

January 3rd, 2009 · No Comments

FISH STORIES

shiner1

I walked onto the dock, fishing rod in hand. The morning mist was upon the lake, no one around, no boats, no voices echoing over the water, peace. This dock provided a good place from which to fish as it nestled up to a large lily pad area, a favorite place of fish. I created a small, firm ball made from soft, white bread and pushed it on the tip of the hook. I was fishing for “shiners.” They looked like large minnows, running anywhere from 2-10 inches or so. Smaller ones could be used for bass bait. Larger ones too, it turns out.

Dock with lily pad field to left

Dock with lily pad field to left

I was placing my casts along the edge of the lily pads, catching a shiner every now and again. I had hooked one and was reeling it in when suddenly the surface of the water erupted! Shiners jumping, skipping over the water surface, leaping into the air! The entire school of fish was in commotion, trying to swim into the sky. I realized they were being hunted, being hunted by a larger fish and were running for their lives. I slowed down the retrieval of my hooked shiner.

largemouth[Memory time lapse here.]

I stood on the dock staring down into the clear water. I held my fishing rod in both hands. The line left my reel, traveled the length of the rod, turned and headed towards the lake surface. It entered the water and traveled down into the mouth of a large shiner whose lip was pierced by my hook. I could clearly see the shiner’s head. Its head was sticking out of the mouth of an enormous large mouth bass.

I stood on the dock shaking. This was the largest fish I had ever seen and there it was, just a few feet below the water’s surface, just a few feet below my feet. The shiner on my line was a large one and over half of it disappeared into the mouth of this monster bass. My God!

Now, a fishing reel has a thing called “drag.”

Defined: “drag allows larger and more powerful fish to be safely brought to boat and landed, as the drag will “slip” below the breaking point of the line, but in combination with the angle of the rod, it puts relentless pressure on the fish, quickly tiring it. It can be adjusted up or down as needed by the fisherman while playing a fish, though it takes practice to do this without adding too much drag which frequently results in a broken line and a lost fish.”

So, the idea is that you want your fish to be able to pull some line out as you try to reel line in. This constant give and take will tire the fish. If the drag is too loose you will be reeling in but line will be going out. My fear was this large bass would take all my line out in about two heart beats. So, as I stood staring down at the bass holding my shiner like a mother cat might hold a kitten. I reached to the front of my reel and turned up the drag.

OK, it was now time to land my fish! I hadn’t given any thought to the fact my hook was in the shiner’s mouth, not the mouth of the bass. I hadn’t given any thought that I might just pull the shiner right out of the bass and end up catching a half eaten shiner. I hadn’t considered going to get breakfast while the bass swallowed the rest of the shiner so my hook would be in the bass. No, I braced myself and gave a firm yank on the rod.

Ping!

The line instantly snapped against the too firm drag and weight of the fish. The bass didn’t budge! Didn’t move an inch! Had no idea we were once connected. Still floated motionless beneath my feet with the shiner in its mouth – the mouth that had my hook – the hook that had a short piece of filament line connected to – nothing.

I ran. Ran to the small cottage where my parents slept. Ran into the room and proceeded to fervently babble out a story about a huge bass, shiner, drag, line breaking … to my half asleep father. He mumbled out something resembling a word and fell back into sleep.

As I left the cottage, to my wonder, people were coming out of the main building. As it turned out, it really wasn’t that early in the morning, wasn’t the break of dawn as I had thought. The quiet was due to everyone being at breakfast. I don’t know why, but this fact somehow added to the folly of the event. But, fishing too has its metaphors and in this case the monster bass showed: The tighter we try to hold on to things the more they seem to get away. “Ping!”

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