From time to time, I need to take a break from Social Media. The events of this past year have made those breaks longer in duration and more frequent. After today’s impeachment decision, I decided that I needed to step back again, lest I lose any more friends. But before I go, I wanted to relate a story that I was reminded of by accident a few nights ago.
As Valarie and I were leaving the house of Friday to go Home Depot, (which counts as “date night” in 2021), she pointed to a very large icicle hanging from our front awning. I must have smiled from ear to ear because she recognized that I was having some type of happy memory.
“What?” she asked, with a knowing twinkle in her eye. As we got into her car, I related her the following story.
Back in 1984, I was 18 years old and heading nowhere fast. I was a high school dropout with no job, I had just gotten out of the hospital for something pretty serious, and I was pretty much getting high 24/7. In an act of desperation, I self-deported to the home of my Aunt Mary (aka Googie, my mother’s sister) and Uncle Billy, deep in the heart of the Catskills, to a tiny town called Youngsville N.Y. Bill and Googie had recently (3 weeks earlier) moved there from NYC and I was their first houseguest. Bill and Googie had always been good to my family; providing us with a seat at their table on the all-too-frequent occasions when the cupboard was bare at my home. In Jan of ‘84, they opened their door to a surly teenager who wasn’t wanted anywhere else, and all they asked in return was some wood chopping and various other chores. I gratefully obliged.
Billy was a pretty amazing dude. He was a baker by trade, but he was so many other things at various points in his life. He was a Boy Scout leader, and a pretty good carpenter, and a fisherman, and a painter, and a farmer, and later in life, he was a preacher, but in the winter of 1984, he and I were maple syrup farmers, aka sugarmakers.
The property they lived on was a 39 acre parcel of land, so there was plenty of maples to choose from. What you do is, you tap into the tree with a drill, then you insert a spigot and hang a bucket from it. Like this —
At first, it comes out in drips, but as the weather warms up in early march, it starts to run like a faucet. It’s pretty amazing. When the bucket fills up, you dump the sap into a bigger barrel and re-hang the buckets. You need a tremendous amount of sap to make syrup; I think the ratio is 40–1, and our first go round only produced about 2 quarts. The process entails a LOT of boiling in a large flat pan. Hours and hours of boiling and stirring, and since we were novices, we made a few mistakes along the way, but on that first night, we started the fire and fed the fire for hours and hours, watching over the thermometer to make sure that it didn’t get too hot, even as the March temperatures dropped down into the teens. We finished that night somewhere around 3am.
In the morning, we woke up to go at it again. As we got started, Billy pointed to all of the icicles hanging from the trees and the shed where we were doing our cooking. The rising vapors from the steam had formed dozens of icicles on the branches above. “Taste one,” he said. And to my surprise and pleasure, those icicles were as sweet as the maple syrup on your breakfast table. I treasure that memory and think of them, and that time of my life every time I see an icicle hanging from my porch; hence the smile that my wife got to see. Bill and Googie passed a few years back, with Billy passing six months to the day after his wife.
Recently, two of my mother’s other siblings passed; her younger brother Frank and her older sister Rosie, both succumbed to life after long illnesses. Due to the winds of fate, my mother was the first of her 8 adult siblings to pass away, so I knew their pain and anguish first hand. Unfortunately, due to the covid epidemic, we were not able to be there to comfort them, to share in the sorrow, or to revel in the memories of a happier, simpler time. Hopefully, that will change in the very near future. Until such time, I hope you enjoy this story as a moment of hope and happiness, until we can all laugh together again.
I’ll take my leave now. See you all in about 10 days.