Thursday, July 26, 2012

Macabre? Yes, but it got a laugh

It’s been three years since my sister Nan passed away. At her daughter’s wedding this past weekend, she was in all of our thoughts. I especially remember her great sense of humor. Here’s an example.

Nan was very ill. Yet she always managed to retain her sense of humor, despite her kidney and heart problems and the bottles of medication on the table and what seemed like almost daily visits to the internist, cardiologist, nephrologist, pulmonary doctors, and CVS to pick up prescriptions. And of course, what seemed like regular visits to the emergency room of Albany Medical Center. She had a walker and a wheelchair that folded up in the trunk, and many oxygen tanks stored in her apartment. Whenever we went to the movies at the Spectrum, she also insisted on having an extra tank with her. Just in case.

Nan had a good friend who was on the board of the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy. At the friend’s invitation, Nan and I attended a concert held in Oakwood’s beautiful and historic chapel. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the cemetery is situated on a long bluff with a panoramic view of the Hudson Valley. Knowing how ill she was, Nan decided that she would like her final resting place to be here.

One day she decided she’d like another look and wanted to show me a site she liked. So we drove over the bridge to Troy but then couldn’t remember the exact directions to Oakwood. We stopped at a garage but the young mechanic didn’t know. We drove around for a while and noticed a police station. As we parked, a detective came over to the car and asked, “Can I help you, ladies?” He laughed when Nan said, “Yes. Can you direct us to Oakwood? We’re shopping for a cemetery.”

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Cousins McGowan

Peter McGowan’s daughter, Kathy, and Tom McGowan’s daughter, Betty, arrived in New York in June, flying from Sligo and Michigan, respectively, while I, Anne McGowan’s daughter, took the bus from New Jersey to Port Authority.  

We met at the Hotel Belvedere on West 48th Street.  This was to be the first time the three of us were all to be together, unless of course we had been at a family party when the three of us were little girls back in the 1940s. Actually, the last time Betty saw Kathy was thirty-five years ago during her family’s vacation in Ireland. 

For Kathy, this trip was one she’d done many times before. Every couple of years, she travels to New York to meet with some of the friends she knew when she lived in Brooklyn, in the years before her father retired and decided to return to County Mayo.

So this reunion of three cousins was a once-in-a-lifetime event that the three of us embraced.
Before Betty arrived Kathy invited me to join her and some of her friends for brunch at Flanagan’s Pub on 1st Avenue. The next day, a friend of hers had to cancel lunch so Kathy and I headed over to the Museum of Modern Art.  Crowded, of course, but that’s to be expected, especially during the summer tourist season.

When Betty arrived later that afternoon, the hugs were heart-felt.  When the question of dinner came up, Kathy noted that there was restaurant in the Broadway area called Rosie O’Grady’s Saloon.  Since her future daughter-in-law actually will be Rosie O’Grady, if she decides to Anglicize the beautiful Irish name Roisin, we agreed to have dinner there.  I was very surprised, pleasantly so, that it wasn’t a TGIF Friday’s place but on the elegant side. We had a wonderful dinner during which we planned the next few days.

On the second day we headed to the Lower East Side for a tour of the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street. It is a “must-see” for everyone to understand the daily lives of our immigrant ancestors. Guides explain how various immigrant groups – Jews, Italians, Irish, Germans, and others - lived and worked in tiny, dark apartments without electricity or indoor bathrooms.

The three of us walked through Chinatown and Little Italy where we had a late lunch. In trying to find a certain area of Canal Street where the bargains might be found, I inadvertently directed us to the “J” train heading east instead of west. The subway was elevated as it came out into the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and I was delighted to see, for the first time, a section of the borough with which I had not been familiar. Williamsburg is undergoing gentrification because of its closeness to Manhattan.

We had tickets for the Tony-award winning musical “Once”  that evening and although the three of us enjoyed it, we felt it did not live up to all the raves.  Perhaps it’s a generational thing, we said.

On Wednesday we headed down to the High Line, the elevated park created from an old freight line. It’s the latest attraction for those who haven’t visited New York in a while. At the southern end is the Chelsea area, famous once as a meat-packing district. One of the original brick warehouses has been converted to little shops and restaurants.

For dinner that night, we walked over to Restaurant Row, 46th Street between 8th and 9th avenues, where we chose Joe Allen’s for a leisurely dinner. I used to read about this place as a hang-out for theatre types.  I didn’t recognize any famous faces there but we did see several celebrities when we attended the theatre. 

We visited the World Trade Center Memorial  on Thursday. Reservations are needed to see this national tribute of remembrance and honor to the men, women, and children killed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993.     The North Pool and the South Pool mark the two “footprints” of the towers and provide a time for contemplation.

After taking the subway to Columbus Circle, we walked along Central Park South where we saw paparazzi waiting outside the Ritz Carlton.  Their target turned out to be Denise Richards, the ex-wife of Martin Sheen’s son. (I cannot bring myself to even mention his name.) 

We had tickets that night for “Clybourne Park,”  winner of both the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony award.  We enjoyed it. During the intermission we spotted some famous faces – Tony Roberts, local NBC newswoman Sue Simmons and Eric Stonestreet who plays Cameron on “Modern Family.”  Kathy was on line for a bottle of water and was disappointed to find out it was all gone when “Cam” turned and offered her his bottle.

We said good-bye to Betty that night as her plane was heading back to Michigan very early the next morning.  I left, too, on Friday.  Kathy had plans that weekend to meet another group of friends.

On Sunday night I returned to the Hotel Belvedere.  A basic hotel, its strong point is its convenience to midtown. However, it is just off 8th Avenue which can be quite crowded and dirty during the hot and sticky days of June.

The next morning Kathy and I took the subway to West 4th Street where we met her Bronx friend Marie at Washington Square.  We had printed a recommended tour of the area so we learned some history while we strolled and Kathy and Marie caught up on their lives.  Our tour ended at the Brown Building, sight of the horrendous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.   We had lunch at M&G (Murphy and Gonzalez) which was both delicious and very inexpensive. 

Because the 4th of July fell on a Wednesday this year, many Broadway shows cancelled Wednesday performances.  So we had gotten tickets for “One Man, Two Guvnors for Monday night.  Hilarious and definitely worth its standing ovation!  In the audience – Kathleen Turner, Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory” and “Harvey”), Jessica Hecht (“Harvey”) and Rich Sommer (“Mad Men”).

I had a wonderful time re-connecting with Betty and Kathy.  We laughed a lot; spoke about our ancestry and brought each other up to date on our lives and our children’s lives. We continue to keep up with each other via Facebook but it is not equivalent to relaxing over dinner.  Kathy hopes she’ll be back again in a year or two.  Betty and I will clear our calendars for a repeat of the wonderful days we shared.