If someone offered me a free trip including a car with unlimited driving and asked me where I would want to go, I am pretty sure I would start in this beautiful area of the world. Known as the Finger Lakes, in beautiful upstate New York, the memories are many, even in this one little snapshot. And the driving is spectacular.
When I lived south of New York and Pennsylvania, in the Washington, D.C., area while in my 20’s and early 30’s, I would make trips to Geneva in the summer. Geneva is at the top of Seneca Lake. There was nothing like driving up Route 14 along the lake for 25 miles (if I remember correctly). With lush vegetation all around, it was like driving into a fantasy land with the lake always visible. Periodically, you drive by wineries, and farmlands like patchwork quilts are a part of the makeup as well. I would arrive in Geneva and make my way to Genesee Street to visit my Aunt Carol and Uncle Frannie. Frannie was Italian and had a spectacular garden in the back yard. He would always send me away with lots of veggies (how I miss those) and herbs. He would give some of his garlic (and he grew lots of it) to local restaurants, and so was well received in that community! For his garlic and his personality.
Though Geneva is not tiny, you experience small town America in my relatives’s home. Visitors were frequent. Neighbours stopped by. Other relatives dropped in. My Aunt Carol cooks a mean lasagna and just about anything else as well. One of my favourite memories was of making gnocchi from scratch with her. Now THAT is a lot of work. But well worth the effort. The kitchen was always in use to produce mouth watering meals.
Their home was a beautiful 3 story old-fashioned New England home. In the summer, the windows were always open and I remember the nights that trees would rustle, crickets would chirp, frogs would croak, and the curtains would billow as the breeze blew in…often before a thunderstorm. Hummingbirds were seen outside the kitchen window. Sometimes, my bedroom was in the sunroom on the main floor. That was a special treat because then the fireflies in the dusk provided further enchantment in this seemingly perfect haven of nature.
Drive Route 20 going east, through lush and hilly terrain, and you come to Auburn, where my father spent much of his youth. My grandparents had a duplex, and no word of a lie, their eight (or maybe only 7 at a time + spouses) children and many grandchildren would stay at that house for a holiday now and then. That house would not pass any kind of fire code these days – if I remember right, my cousins and I would go to the fourth floor to play and sleep. I remember looking out the windows and noticing how far away the ground seemed. With the number of smokers in our family, I feel it fairly miraculous that there were never any incidents and we are still alive.
Grandma (Betty) Brown was an amazing cook – her cream puffs were widely acclaimed, as were her meals in general. If you know me, know that I carry the genes of the Brown family, so you know we did not go hungry. I remember how much fun it was to hang out with all the women in the kitchen as dinner was being prepared, and to hear everyone’s news. And then after dinner, a huge card shuffler was pulled out of a cupboard, and a game of pinochle would ensue. And discussion and argument surrounding the current events in the news as well as religion and anything else controversial. In a recent class I took in Seminary, we learned how there is a belief that Jesus may have been in the Pharisee sect. Part of the basis of that belief is the language that he used while in discussion with Pharisees – it was as if he was talking to family. The picture in my head when learning about that was our family sitting around the table and discussing various things.
South and slightly east of Auburn lies Moravia. My Uncle Larry and Aunt Judy live there (I believe they are still there anyways). I remember going there as I visited Geneva around Christmas time on one particular visit, and being so enthralled with the house that again to me typifies the neighbourhood homes you find throughout New England – homey, lots of wood, creaky, beautiful staircases. Willie Nelson’s Christmas CD was lightly playing in this acoustically lovely home and we chatted in the living room or sitting room in something like wingback chairs and long sofas while sipping coffee, tea, or perhaps a wine of some sort. The experience in Moravia was a homey, twinkling, peaceful experience of Christmas dinner. A beautiful little town.
North of Auburn you come to Weedsport. And right out there on Route 5 (if I remember right) is a little green farmhouse. We kids loved to visit the farm and stay with Uncle Ben and Aunt Ellie and their kids – Eric, Dawn, Mary & Melissa. It truly was a sort of Anne of Green Gables visual and experience there. Aunt Ellie was the best pie maker ever born. Seriously. She was also the gentlest soul I’ve ever known. My father used to say she would give you the shirt off her back. That was her way. To be in her kitchen was fantastic. Canning, baking, prepping, all while setting you up with a cup of coffee and asking about what was going on with you was her way. A follower of Jesus, she certainly modelled his graciousness.
I remember a weeping willow in the front yard and playing various games – was one called “Flag”? And getting up in the middle of the night to watch a birth. And walking through fields and feeling so remote but so in tune with the land and nature. I felt like I could have stayed there all my days and not been at all unhappy.
The closest neighbour was a hefty walk away. Maybe half an hour or so. And I believe they were relatives on my Uncle Ben’s side. Uncle Ben was the pig latin expert in the amily-fay. In the evenings, gospel music was cranked out on the record player. There wasn’t much TV until Uncle Ben entered his later years.
We slept upstairs where the ceilings were shaped by the roof. It was a beautiful house to me and despite no nearby neighbours, I felt entirely safe there. It was clean and safe and beautiful.
East of Auburn is Skaneateles, which is at the top of Lake Skaneateles. I believe that lake is one of the most pristine of the Finger Lakes. There are a number of beaches that swimmers frequent. My Uncle Jim and Aunt Ellen have lived there as long as I can remember. Skaneateles is a quaint town that may possibly be a bit like Sylvan Lake here in Alberta. It has that sort of vibe.
The thing I remember the most about the home of Uncle Jim and Aunt Ellen was the pool in the backyard. Not an in-ground one, but an above ground pool. Not an overly big one, but big enough to float around in. There were many family barbecues in the backyard by the pool. While my dad was not the steady Eddy type – constantly moving, seeking, striving – his brother Jim definitely was. Uncle Jim is a very good example of living with contentment and reaping the benefits of that.
Their home is comfortable and inviting, and again if I remember right, there is lots of fauna around the house. You will be welcomed and ministered to on entering their home, just like the others.
All in all, this little slice of the world brings back the best memories of family in my childhood. Life in the Finger Lakes is a different existence altogether than life in the City. The pace is slower. Neighbours come visiting regularly. Shared meals are the norm. Driving is a joy to those of us who’s eyes are parched for lush vegetation and get a little bit of a thrill racing through the hills to achieve that roller coaster feeling.
Yup – my roadtrip of choice would begin in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.