CHASAN FAMILY REUNION—AND MORE
May 25–June 21, 2009
We had several reasons that led us to complete our longest cross-country road trip in years. We planned to attend a reunion of Judy’s family in Gaithersburg, Maryland. On the way, we stopped to visit old friends, neighbors, and colleagues in the Toledo area where we lived from 1969–1992. We also wanted to spend time with our daughter’s family in Milton, Massachusetts. On the way to the Boston area we visited a good friend of many years who is now living in Long Branch, New Jersey. Our grandson, Griffin, made the beeline return trip home with us across I-80. In our 28 days away from home we traveled nearly 4500 miles through 15 states; we camped in nine campgrounds, twice stayed in the homes of family and friends, slept at one pet-friendly Holiday Inn, and lived in the parking lot of Beth El Synagogue in Long Branch, New Jersey.
The trip did not have what could be called an auspicious beginning. Even before we got out of the driveway, the notorious “Engine Control/Check Engine” light lit up on our instrument panel warning of some malfunction somewhere under the hood. Of course it happened on a holiday (Memorial Day) when mechanics have a day off. Our owner’s manual spoke about problems with running out of fuel (we never let the tank get below a quarter full) or a problem with the light itself. We decided we had little choice but to push on and deal with any consequences that might arise. The light stayed on for the first three hours of the trip and then it inexplicably went out. (As you will read later, owner’s manuals are sometimes neither thorough and/or accurate.)
The day we left was to be Judy’s 16th Bolder Boulder 10K race, a premier event that she often trains for and always wins her age group. This year, however, she was on the DL for the race due to an injury that occurred while training. As we drove down the canyon and into Boulder, we caught a glimpse of some of the 50,000 runners racing on the streets of Boulder as we headed east toward Nebraska. Judy should have been there.
To top everything, the skies to the east were gray and overcast, threatening rain at any moment. A few drops hit the windshield in our first hour and the heavens really opened up by the time we got to Sterling (Colorado) and abruptly stopped when we reached the Nebraska line. It was the kind of weather that followed us for the next week and a half: drizzle, followed by torrential rains, then gray skies. We learned later that while we were gone, Colorado’s annual monsoon rains came earlier than usual to our area and the rains that fell here for the next month followed us east.
We kept to our 55 mph speed limit, enjoying great mileage and the wide open spaces of the Midwest. Our first night’s camping was at Johnson Lake State Park, seven miles off I-80 at Lexington. What a great find! We had a spacious shady level campsite surrounded by lilacs, cottonwoods, and recently planted fruit and evergreen trees. There was lush grass for the dogs’ pleasure, and a view of a good sized lake with active fish and a fish cleaning station just up from the shore. We relaxed, enjoyed the quiet, rode our bikes, and walked the dogs. Staying only one night hardly does justice to this terrific park. It was a shame to leave so soon.
As peaceful and scenic as Johnson Lake was, the camping in Kellogg, Iowa, was quite the opposite: a drab, featureless wedge of cornfield behind a gas station at an Interstate exit ramp: a Good Sam campground for $17—no extra charge for highway traffic noise.
We drove to Elkhart, Indiana, for our third night on the road after driving across Illinois’ thump-thump-thump roads with potholes and the ubiquitous construction zones. The Elkhart Campground is huge, green, partially treed, with generous sites. We would return there on our way back to Colorado.
[Note: On our way out of Elkhart we stopped at Charger Enterprises, a local RV repair business, who immediately dealt with three nagging issues: our digital TV reception (“This wire goes here and the other end goes here.”), a blown fuse on a dashboard 12V outlet (easily fixed if you know where to find the fuses), and a kitchen faucet handle with stripped threads (They suggested a good plumbing supply store.). Thirty minutes and $8 later we were happily on our way to Toledo. Fast, friendly, and very reasonable.]
We arrived in the Toledo suburb of Perrysburg where Jack and Anne Ahern greeted us warmly, apologized for the wet weather, showed off their beautiful garden, and made us feel comfortably at home in their guest suite overlooking the Maumee River. The four of us had come to Toledo the same year (1969), Jack and Hughes to begin their academic careers, Judy to finish her degree and medical technology internship, and Anne to teach and later become a school administrator—all positions from which the four of us retired, though we made the move about ten years earlier.
We stayed with them for five nights, at least two days longer than the rule of thumb for fish and friends. Their generosity extended to the use of a car plus tours to parts of the Toledo area they thought we ought to, or might want to revisit: the new Glass Pavilion at the Art Museum, downtown Toledo, the University campus, dinner at the The Beirut, one of Toledo’s great restaurants, an outstanding community garage sale in Perrysburg, and more. We walked and or biked in local parks nearly every day while we were there, as long as the weather permitted. But mostly we reminisced about university life and friends, Toledo politics, our health issues and other things old folks tend to talk about. In all, it was a whirlwind visit with periods of relaxing on the deck of their gracious riverfront home.
We also visited with other longtime friends:
Bob and Pat Tjan, with whom Judy trained and worked as a med tech at Riverside Hospital, met us for dinner and showed off their beautiful new home in Maumee. They talked of life as empty nesters now that their daughter, Michelle, is recently married, and we met their adorable new Westie puppy.
The following day Dick Sanders caught enough blue gills (15 in an hour as promised) which Trish breaded and fried perfectly for dinner. We followed with an intense evening of high stakes Shanghai Rummy, our favorite game that they taught us years ago and have set the standard for how to play. Nobody does it better. We returned to the Aherns absolutely exhausted!
We also had dinner with the Sylvania neighborhood bridge club with whom we played duplicate bridge for nearly a quarter of a century. Many thanks to Chuck and Ann Hodge, Dave and Cathy Hunter, Roger and Nancy Ritzert, and John and Juley Novak for making room in their schedules on the same night to welcome us back and remind us of the many good times and good friends we enjoyed in Sylvania (and to John and Juley who drove down from their home in Michigan to complete the group). Chuck and Anne not only hosted the evening at the Hodge Podge Lodge in our old neighborhood, but Chuck showed off his Divco Milk Truck which houses his antique milk bottle collection. He also packs it with food, a grill and an ice chest to cater barbecues and picnics in the area. It is hands down the classiest milk truck we have ever seen.
As we left Toledo, we stopped for brunch with Cal and Jill Calcamuggio; Judy also worked alongside Jill at Riverside and she was the inspiration for getting Judy started as a runner. They have visited us in Colorado a few times, but this is the first time we’ve had a chance to get together with them in Toledo.
Revisiting Toledo was like a step back in time for us. Being with old friends was easy, as though no time had passed at all. The skies were mostly sunny, the humidity was high, everything was green and, like Jack and Anne’s garden, blooming brilliantly. Our old house on Bonniebrook still looks lovely and the trees and bushes are bigger and greener. Like anywhere, if you have friends and your health, it is a good place to live.
CHASAN FAMILY REUNION
Gaithersburg, Maryland, was where members of Judy’s family gathered for the most recent family reunion since a reunion in Colorado about ten years ago. The occasion was the 80th birthday of Judy’s oldest cousin, Selma, who lives in Gaithersburg. Though most of the 35 or so cousins, spouses, and their children attending were from the east, others came from as far away as Arizona, California, New Mexico, Illinois, and Florida, in addition to those of us from Colorado.
Getting to suburban Washington, DC, gave us a chance to drive from Toledo through central Ohio’s Amish settlements in Holmes County. We drove through Fostoria (once famous for glass making, now sadly dying), by-passed Tiffin and Willard, revisited Ashland (still a gorgeous hilly area) and Loudenburg (a happening place for outdoor recreation), and finally to Mohican State Park, one of Ohio’s finest: shaded sites, a swimming pool, hoops, laundry, fast food, hook-ups, grassy, quiet, and only half full the day we were there. We walked with the dogs, rode our bikes, read a little, had dinner and continued our on-going gin rummy game (Judy leads 509–439). Then read ourselves to sleep.
We continued through the heart of Amish and Mennonite farm country and the surrounding towns: Nashville (don’t blink), Millersburg (many business closed today—a Wednesday—finally to Berlin filled with what we came for: antiques, crafts, bakeries, Amish cheese, and restaurants, especially Cindy’s Diner, a 1950’s theme eatery that was featuring something called “Fried Cheese Cake.” Lots of buggies parked alongside cars in business parking lots. In short, Berlin offers many reasons for a tourist to contribute to the local economy. In spite of the constant drizzle, which would later grow into a persistent rain, we enjoyed everything Berlin had to offer. We later drove to Mount Hope for the Wednesday livestock auction and flea market (see buggies in Amish parking lot), and then to Sugarcreek, a Swiss-American town that promised much but turned out a major bust for visitors. We continued on to Wheeling (WV) and Washington (PA) and south to Mount Morris on the West Virginia border just north of Morgantown. The rain continued.
In nicer weather, we would have enjoyed staying in Cumberland the next day and biking on at least a portion of the C&O Canal National Historic Park, a greenbelt that follows the Potomac south to Washington 100+ miles away. Instead, we drove on through the rain to a dry, warm antique mall in Hancock for a leisurely look around. We camped that night on the Conococheague River, taking a hot shower, relaxing before hitting the Washington metropolitan area the next day.
Without a good camping area close to the reunion site, we had made reservations at the Holiday Inn in Gaithersburg. Their modest price, pet-friendly accommodations, as well as proximity to the reunion events made it a perfect spot for us in this very urban area. That Friday evening we met with the early arrivals at a Marriot Hotel a few miles from where we stayed.
The dogs were terrifically long-suffering and accepting of changes and new places throughout the trip. The Saturday morning of the “official” reunion gathering was dry and sunny for a change and we thought Sophie and Bella deserved a romp through a large park that we saw was nearby. However, on the way we passed a large, once-a-year community flea market in nearby Germantown and simply couldn’t resist. We spent a couple of hours before lunch checking bargains; we bought books and music CDs, some gifts, a space heater (too cheap to pass up), a kitchen gadget, and a too-small hat for Hughes. When we got to the reunion lunch, we gloated about the flea market bargains to cousin Bob Chasan (aka Trader Bob) who would have loved to have been with us.
At the reunion, we talked and talked, ate from the Italian buffet and drank Birra Moretti; we looked over the family tree that arranged us all into a coherent whole family (Oscar and Ida Chasan emigrated in stages prior to WW I from Poland: eight children in all, including Judy’s dad. Cousins and second and third cousins abound and are dispersed all across the country.) We looked through several scrapbooks of family photos. By the end of the weekend, we learned everyone’s name and face and family connection. Best of all, it turns out that Judy has really nice and interesting relatives, the kind of folks you would enjoy spending time with.
Of course everyone took lots of pictures taken. If the lighting in the restaurant was not perfect and if the poses were a bit too candid, it didn’t matter. Everyone can be identified and the event recorded for family albums. The group photo shows all the cousins and their spouses who attended. Each family member was asked to stand and tell about themselves as a way of getting to know each better. Selma (standing third from the left in the green blouse), the oldest cousin whose 80th birthday was the catalyst for the event and the location, regaled the gathering with an emotional remembrance of her grandmother, Ida, or Baba as she was known to the family. She came to this country first and worked hard and scrimped to bring over her children during the very hard times just prior to the first world war. Selma's mother was the oldest girl who remained in Poland looking after the remaining family members until they immigrated. We left impressed with the story of Ida’s courage and tenacity to have her children safe in this country and ultimately with her and together. It was late in the afternoon when we adjourned across the street to the meeting/party room at Selma’s condo for desserts and many good-byes.
NEW JERSEY SOJOURN
We stopped for two nights in Long Branch, New Jersey, to visit Marcia Lane whom we met years ago when she was on a cross-country storytelling tour (billed as “The Amtrak Storyteller”) and dropped in on us (invited) when she passed through Toledo. She and Hughes worked professionally together for several years before she returned to school to further her rabbinical studies. She currently is cantor at Temple Beth El in nearby Oakhurst.
Marcia arranged for us to park the RV in the synagogue parking lot which is vacant during the week. But we spent our time with her in Long Branch and toured the Jersey shore villages from Mount Mitchell on the north (across Sandy Hook Bay from Manhattan and where Monmouth County established a memorial to the 147 county residents of who died in the 9/11 attack); to Ocean Grove, a once-famous Methodist camp-meeting town of Victorian homes and tent-houses (see photo) for summer residents who would come for fiery sermons and uplifting cultural events sponsored by the still-active Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.
The history of this town, now a National Historic District (“the largest aggregate of Victorian and early 20th century structures in the country,”) provides a fascinating glimpse of a slice of Americana that exists to this day. The Great Auditorium, last rebuilt in 1894, holds as many as 10,000 people, and the 114 tent-houses that make up the Tent City have been passed from one generation to another since the 19th century. We were told it is impossible to buy one today! In addition, the walked through the Victorian homes and along the boardwalk that slows the pace of life.
The trendy shops and quaint restaurants at the Pier Village section of Long Branch where Marcia lives stands in stark, but pleasant contrast to the staid village life of Ocean Grove. Dinner at Sirena Ristorante featured an ocean view and one of the best salmon dinners we’ve eaten. The boardwalk stroll afterwards was the perfect ending to a fine evening.
The drive to Milton to visit Debra and Dan and the grandchildren was a sometimes gripping six-hour adventure up the Garden State Expressway, across the George Washington Bridge and the Cross Bronx Expressway—all choked with traffic in the middle of a weekday—and up I-95 through New Haven to Providence and into the Boston metro area.
[Note: We were helped through the complex of exit ramps, the crush of fast-moving traffic, and toll booths by a “Fast Lane” transponder by which we could avoid waiting in lines to pay by cash. We had opened an account with the Massachusetts Turnpike by phone, put some money in our account with them, and received a free transponder which we stuck on our front windshield. Throughout our trip we could pass through all road and bridge tolls without stopping except for the Ohio Turnpike, which still requires waiting in lines to make a cash payment. This is a great service for both residents of the east coast and tourists to the area. When we got home we canceled our account, returned the transponder, and received the money left in our account. It was easy to get and to use, and it saved us lots of time.]
Griffin greeted us and helped us move in to Julia’s bedroom (Thank you, Julia, for your bed while we were there.) Hughes immediately called the nearest Dodge dealer to have them fix the “check engine” light which had mysteriously come back on during the trip from New Jersey. Worthington Dodge in nearby Dorchester diagnosed the problem as a bum “mass aiflow sensor” which needed to be replaced. However, just the day before Worthington Dodge had lost their designation as a Dodge dealer under the Chrysler reorganization bailout and, therefore, could not repair it under warranty. We called two other Dodge dealers in the south shore area, both owned by Central Dodge, who couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t want to work on the RV. These are the kind of dealerships that should have lost their Dodge dealership franchise, not the folks at Worthington Dodge, who were willing and able to do the work. Judy called Dodge customer service headquarters and gave them a generous piece of her mind. Meanwhile, Hughes talked with Michelle Kenyon, Service Director at Herb Chambers Dodge in Danvers, some 35 miles away, cheerfully agreed to take the RV in despite their busy work schedule and did the repair promptly and without fuss. And under warranty. Many thanks, Michelle, for your professional and personal attention.
Looking back, our days with the Buddes were a mixture of quiet routine and a variety activities. Hughes and Dan walked the dogs (Sophie and Bella and Maizey) in the early morning hours (5:30-6:00) before Dan went off to work. Griffin and Julia had not started their summer jobs, so they had a lot of free time to spend on Facebook and, in Griffin’s case, writing almost daily sports blogs and other computer stuff. Julia picked up some good money babysitting, Griff kept up with his running, shot hoops on the street, and successfully finished his drivers education program. Debra did not have a list of chores or projects for us, so we relaxed, did some bike riding, and read some. However, in our relatively short visit we:
•Toured the special exhibit at the Boston MFA entitled “Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice” It was an excellent exhibition putting works by the three Italians in an historical context showing their different techniques in working with similar themes and subjects and explaining the reasons for their rivalries during their lifetimes. There were enough paintings by each artist to point out the differences and similarities, yet not so many as to overwhelm the viewer;
•Ate burgers, potato salad, and the usual drinks at a neighborhood block party. Dan and Debra live at one end of Norwood Road, which is only a block long and was informally closed down for the early evening potluck with lots of kids, quite a few dogs, and Dan and Debra’s very pleasant neighbors. The afternoon rain was enough to wash the streets but did not washout the gathering;
•Drove Griffin to Bridgewater State College, about 40 minutes south of Milton, where he spent the morning taking the ACT exam. Hughes returned to bike with Judy to a trail head in the Blue Hills where we met Debra, Julia, and the dogs for a 2–3 mile hike (Dan had a golfing date that morning). We all met up mid-afternoon and decided to wander through the crowds at Quincy Market in Boston, watching the buskers, checking out new sunglasses, and people watching, ending with a noodle dinner at an outdoor restaurant. Hughes, who years ago had his picture taken with the famous Celtic team of the 1980s (Bird, DJ, Danny Ainge, the Chief, and Kevin McHale) completed the team portrait by having his picture taken next to a sculpture of Red Auerbach (Larry Bird’s bronze shoes are on the right);
•Completed a group bike trip along the Neponset River Greeenway to the marshes in the river. We did not bike all the way to Boston (Hughes later tried but couldn’t find the official off-highway route), but we had a safe, gentle 3–4 mile trip each way. That afternoon we were treated to a lobster dinner at the Hingham home of Dan’s dad and step-mother, Norm and Townley (in their backyard with Maizey hogging the front of the photo). What a delicious treat! Afterwards, we walked with the dogs along the tree-lined streets of Hingham’s historic district and returned for a quick dessert and browsed through their photo album;
•Lunched with Herb and Joan, who came by to visit with Debra and the kids for a short while before the four of us went to lunch at Common Ground in Dorchester. We talked about all the things we didn’t finish talking about at the reunion last week; and
•Took the T to Harvard Square on one of the sunny days for lunch (listening to a pair of pretty good street singers), window shopping, and wandering through the rather small Harvard Yard. Debra parked the car in the parking lot at Epiphany School at the Ashmont Station in Dorchester where she has been volunteering for several years (tutoring, organizing the library, etc.). We finished off a successful shopping effort with some fine ice cream cones somewhere within a block or two of Harvard Square. Dan returned from a “business golf outing” in Rhode Island after shooting an 83—a PR he says.
Many evenings we played Shanghai Rummy, though we never completed an all-family game. One or another of the players either didn’t want to play or would fold after three or four hands—once when she was well ahead of the rest of us. No energy, no staying power.
GIDDY UP HOME: THE MAD DASH TO COLORADO
We cut short our planned visit because we had made a date for Sophie to have knees surgery at the CSU veterinary hospital in Fort Collins on June 23. Sadly, we missed Julia’s vocal recital and a Red Sox game which were just a few days ahead. Our revised plan was to stay as long as we could and then make a mad dash cross country to get back by June 22: interstates all the way, long days, no stops for photo ops, and forget about fuel economy. We gave ourselves four days to drive the 2,000 miles. It would be a challenge. The weather forecasts all called for very wet weather for the the entire trip between Massachusetts and Colorado.
Griffin, who was coming back with us for a 10-day visit, was packed and ready to go on Thursday (June 18) afternoon, so we said our good-byes and headed west, trying to make New York, perhaps even eastern Pennsylvania, for the first night. Between rainy weather and road construction, we didn’t make Pennsylvania, but we did waste some valuable time because of an unfortunate “decision” made by Nancy, our Garmin GPS Navigator. In an effort to get us to what looked like a very nice New York state park, Nancy selected a “scenic” route through the back roads of Putnam County, just south of I-84. After nearly 45 minutes of twisting, roller coaster rural roads, we came within a couple of miles of our destination when we were stopped short at an entrance to the Taconic Parkway—which is for passenger cars only! We recalled the problem other vehicles face: low overpasses. Nancy didn’t know.
[Note: We love our Garmin GPS (“Nancy the Nuvi Navigator” with her Aussie accent) which was invaluable helping us navigate unfamiliar roads all along the trip. However, as you can see, Nancy is not infallible and we should always take good detailed maps with us as backups.]
We returned to the interstate and decided we’d simply go as long and far as it took to get us to a campground near the interstate. Even a Wal-Mart parking lot would do. Near Montgomery, New York, we found Winding Hills Campground, a quiet, wooded facility on a lake operated by Orange County, complete with electricity, showers, and plenty of spaces available. We parked in a soggy but level site, grateful for a hot shower and a chance to rest.
As we did each day, we got up early, walked the dogs, ate breakfast, made coffee, unplugged and pulled out by 7:00 am. Griffin is a very sound sleeper and would get up about an hour later. No problem with us. We made good time the next day—our first full day—pulling into Elkhart Campground about 700 miles later. We didn’t have much rain, except passing by Toledo. But before we finished dinner in Elkhart, we were entertained by one of the loudest, brightest lightning storms ever. For a couple of hours we hung on tight as the storm hovered directly above us.
We got away early again (the clock said 7:30, but we forgot to turn the clocks back an hour) and drove across the rest of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and into Nebraska. Griffin wanted to try his hand at driving the RV at least a little. He took the wheel for about an hour before he said that’s enough. The rain let up today and we made good time, though our mileage dropped from near 20 mpg to about 16 mpg. No matter. We pulled in to a so-so KOA in Grand Island, Nebraska. Another 700 mile day. We would be home the following day after just three and a half days of driving.
In spite of the long stretches of driving, Griff was a great passenger each day. He brought his iPhone along to look up things on the internet, listen to music, and play computer games. He played gin rummy with whoever was not driving, and snoozed a bit. Sophie and Bella snoozed a lot and showed why they are the greatest traveling dogs in the world.
We arrived home before dinner, earlier than we had planned. Barney was still there, waiting patiently for a bus. Trees and grass were very green from all the rain we got while we were gone. Many garden flowers were in bloom. It was good to be home, as it always is when we’ve been gone on a trip.
Judy and Sophie left the next morning for CSU for a pre-op evaluation while Griffin and Hughes got ready to work on the garage roof. Judy and Sophie returned to our surprise in the afternoon with a new evaluation by a different resident vet: before surgery, which can be an option at any time in the future, the new vet suggested weight loss, glucosomine, an anti-inflammatory, and controlled exercise for two months. After a re-evalutation in August, perhaps knee surgery might be avoided.
A happy, hopeful ending to a whirlwind month on the road.
Someone said life is worth living if you have your health, your friends and family, and hope for the future. We’re both healthy and hopeful. And we’re glad to say we have friends and family we value.
To Dick and Trish, to Bob and Pat, to Jill and Cal, to the remaining members of the Sylvania Duplicate Bridge Club, and to Marcia Lane on the Jersey shore, we thank you for continuing to include us in your circle of friends despite the distances between us. To Jack and Anne, who housed us and hosted our Toledo visit longer than the rules allow, a special thank you for your long friendship (we can say that now, can’t we, after 40 years?) and the warmth of your hospitality. And to Debra, Dan, Griffin, and Julia, whose lives are busy and sometimes complicated, you made our visit such a pleasure as always. Thank you all so much. We only can hope that you each let us return the favor of your visit to us soon. We’ll do all we can to make your stay here as pleasant as you made our visit.