The Return of the Whiteway Girls

Long ago when I was a child I used to play with the other girls on Whiteway Drive, where I lived.  When we got together, big plans ensued, because someone would  always  have an inspiration. Why don’t we all get our Barbie stuff and play on Jane’s patio? Why don’t we get umbrellas and pretend we’re on The Avengers? Why don’t we play Miss America, or gin rummy? Why don’t we play hide and seek after dark? Often my younger sister Ellen hoped  to be included in our pursuits but as I recall, in my rarified spot as the oldest sister, I forbade her from coming any closer than three sidewalk squares of any spot occupied by my friends or myself.  In time we all grew up. Some of us lost touch. Three of us moved away.

In all, five of us stayed in touch in various combinations, but we were never together at the same time. We were adults now and life was happening to us: careers, relationships, children. Also children, children, and children. In the last few years I found myself saying what fun it would be to rent a house somewhere and have us all come. No kids. No spouses, no responsibilities.

I don’t want to admit  that it took one of us becoming  gravely  ill to force us out of just SAYING  we should get together to YES. WE WILL GET TOGETHER. But it’s true. This spring, after our friend Jane  was well on the way to recovery, we began to plan in earnest. Texts and emails flew back and forth. Our eyes burned from scrolling through VRBO listings. But we did choose a place: Asheville, North Carolina, and booked the dates.

Five of us were to attend: Mary, Jane, Mary Beth – that’s me, Gayle, and Ellen. Mary and Jane are sisters. Ellen and I are sisters. On the appointed day I flew into Greensboro and was met by my trusty companion, Ellen. Luckily for me, Ellen nursed no grudge about having NEVER been included in our games as a child- oh, come on, she had kids her own age to play with- but she shared a little trepidation about this inaugural trip. Her concern was that she had never spent much time with Mary while growing up, because Mary is  like, even two more years older than I am. She hoped they would hit it off. I too had a valid concern. What if these girls were  drinkers of CHEAP WINE??? That would be INTOLERABLE!girls trip 2015-59

Despite these small worries, we made it to Asheville in good spirits, and as it happened, with several bottles of wine, chosen by moi, to share. Jane and Mary had  arrived first, and no doubt emboldened by imbibing some of their own wine, had boldly chosen the main bedroom for themselves. Was that OK with us, they asked. Certainly, the other three of us replied. We had carefully chosen a house with three private bedrooms and three private baths. There would be no turf wars here!girls trip 2015-2

girls trip 2015-3After deciding upon our sleeping arrangements we ventured down our mountain into downtown Asheville. Parking took awhile because each one of us had her own ideas about how and where to park, but eventually we were prowling the downtown streets with the efficiency of five disinterested cats. We approached restaurant after restaurant, read their menus and at least one of us would say, “Let’s keep walking.” “Let’s go here,” I suggested finally, winning the prize for having the first inspiration of the evening. We ducked into Zambra, which was reputed to have good tapas and drinks.

While waiting for a table, we gathered at the “confessional”. Enough said.girls trip 2015-82We each picked something to drink, I don’t recall what, and had a merry time until we were escorted to our lovely romantic table in the courtyard. girls trip 2015-87Dinner was a series of small plates. Everyone seemed satisfied  with their choices. We were a perfectly happy group of old ladies. Our trip was off to a capital start.

The next day we attended the The Big Crafty Fair, followed by dinner at the Tupelo Honey Cafe.

girls trip 2015-83

They had me at AC!

girls trip 2015-85Or maybe not, because at some point we stopped in at the Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. Surveying the many nooks and crannies of the store I  could not help but wish my companions would indulge me in just one more game of hide and seek.

You know you could hide behind those chairs. And beyond them, a bookcase to the second floor!

You know you could hide behind those chairs. And beyond them, a bookcase to the second floor!

Oh well. I amused myself by taking pictures of my companions for a fictional dossier. I had to make use of all the scoop I’d had on these girls all these years!

Fact: They had more Barbie stuff than I did.

Fact: They had more Barbie stuff than I did. And they still wear matching outfits.

Fact: Her Mother used to buy Coke AND Koolaid! Lucky duck!

Fact: Her Mother used to buy Coke AND Koolaid! Lucky duck!

And our bill came in a Dr. Seuss book!

And our bill came in a Dr. Seuss book!

Monday we hit the River Arts District, where a couple of us found things we just had to have.

These ladies wanted to go home with Ellen.

These ladies wanted to go home with Ellen.

girls trip 2015-11

Should we tell this man to use the inside facilities?

Should we tell this man to use the inside facilities?

We agreed.

We agreed.

This I found beautiful, but it was not for sale.

This I found beautiful, but it was not for sale.

The dossier continues. Fact: This little lady and her friend Sandra ate All the candy I had planned to serve at my slumber party, and had NO REMORSE!

The dossier continues. Fact: This little lady and her friend Sandra ate All the candy I had planned to serve at my slumber party, and had NO REMORSE!

Fact: I never even TOLD the other ladies that Ellen hung her footies to dry on the light fixture. That's loyalty.

Fact: I never even TOLD the other ladies that Ellen hung her footies to dry on the light fixture. That’s loyalty.

I’m thinking we stayed home that night and enjoyed some delicious vegetables from Ellen’s garden. girls trip 2015-51What was our dinner conversation? It was about how powerful we all are! We added up the combined years of our marriages, and of our motherhood. I can’t remember the numbers, but they were large! We marveled at how once upon a time we made pretend Barbie families, but now our lives were  completely real. Each one of us had buried a parent, tended sick family members, and faced personal disappointments. But dang it, here we were watching the sun set over the mountains, happy to be supporting one another.girls trip 2015-92girls trip 2015-57

Our feelings of power led to a rollicking game of “Catch Phrase” and I confess I have no pictures of that. Early Tuesday Gayle had to leave us because her mom was being released from the hospital. We were sad to see her go, but glad that she, as  the main caretaker of her elderly mother, had been able to join us at all. We knew how lucky we were.

After she left, Ellen tried to cheer us all up by suggesting we work a  “very easy” 250 piece  puzzle. Like the Little Red Hen, she started on it by herself and soon had it worked mostly all wrong. She thought maybe some puzzle pieces were missing, or that two puzzles were mixed up in the same box, but no..she had just done it wrong. It seemed that all the puzzle pieces were the same size and the same shape. Each piece held a word or a definition, and the two had to match correctly. Let me tell you, even the librarian among us did not know most of these vocabulary words. Eventually we all joined in the puzzle, each in our own way denouncing the mean spirited folks who could have invented such a deceptive device.

After a time we left the puzzle and went into town for some shopping and a Mediterranean lunch.girls trip 2015-89

But when we returned, there was the puzzle, mocking us silently. Thankfully Mary took the lead, gently insisting that Ellen move connected sections one piece at a time instead of brazenly shoving them across the table. I think the two of them made a good connection indeed.

Fact: I wouldn't have had the patience for this in 1968.

Fact: I wouldn’t have had the patience for this in 1968.

Finally, the thing was complete, and we could hit our normal old lady bedtimes with a sense of accomplishment. But first, a little more relaxing on the porch.girls trip 2015-96 The next morning we parted ways: Mary and Jane to Charlotte, Ellen and I to Winston Salem, where I would spend the night before returning  to Memphis.girls trip 2015-67Ellen’s husband had a lovely al fresco dinner waiting for us, and as we ate we reviewed the success of the first getaway of the Whiteway girls. We dreamed it, and we did it. All the coming year no matter what happens, we will savor our new memories. Any thoughts on where we should go next year?

A sad goodbye at the airport.

A sad goodbye at the airport.

The Way It Is In The Big Apple

About a year ago our oldest son and his lovely bride moved to New York City. His move made the distance between my oldest two children into a sort of extended yoga pose with one long arm stretched from the Southeast United States to Pasadena, California, and the other lengthening just as hard to New York, New York. The third child lives about twenty minutes away from me , so I can just bend my knee behind me  as I balance  on one leg  to symbolize his distance. Try that pose for a minute. Don’t forget to breathe!

It may sound silly to think of contorting one’s body to demonstrate the whereabouts of one’s children, but being a parent  is nothing if not a contorting experience. As time goes by I adjust more to the idea that my children’s adult statuses are permanent, and no clever bargaining I  do will  ever change that. In the transition I have hopefully  been able to  form close adult relationships with them, and share in the joys and travails of their lives. I am enormously proud of all three of them, and of the new son and daughter I have acquired through marriage. And I’ve taken quite well to the empty nester experience.  So all is well except that I can’t see them whenever I want to. And I do want to.

Therefore when my husband  recently announced that he had a business trip to the Newark, New Jersey area, I immediately made plans to meet him  there at the end of his business  so that we could spend the weekend with our son and daughter in law in The Big Apple. We arranged to stay through the weekend so we could have all day Saturday and Sunday with the busy couple, and fly back Monday. I was thrilled to get to see my darlings, but also to see the city without having to make any of the plans. Past history has shown that when we visit our children they do all the leg work. It’s nice having them do some of the contorting. By the way, you can come out of that pose now.

We arrived Friday afternoon and checked into The MAve Hotel.  We couldn’t both fit into our children’s postage stamp sized  Manhattan digs,  so I  chose this hotel because of its   proximity to my son’s home. In case anyone cares, I expect to  stay there again. It is in a narrow building on Madison Avenue. The room size is reasonable by New York standards, the beds comfy, and the furnishings new and clean.  Another plus was the  good overhead  light and bed side reading light, which one does not often find in hotels. The employees were polite and attentive. There is a free grab and go breakfast, but we didn’t need it.

The MAve Hotel.

I liked the staircase in the building. I think we were on the eleventh floor.

After checking into the hotel  we went to a neighborhood craft beer establishment , The Rattle and Hum to wait for our companions to arrive after  work. We were happy to relax at the bar and sample new brews while reflecting that yes, once again we were the oldest people in the building. Then of course once our son arrived with his wife I had the chance to  embarrass them both with my effusive welcome.Once we greeted one another we capped off the evening with dinner at  Southern Spice  Chettinad  Indian restaurant.  I was tired by then and didn’t get pictures but just trust me; it was all delicious.

In the morning  our son took us to their new apartment, a four story walkup. While small in size it is large in character with  an exposed brick wall, a fireplace and lovely wooden ceiling beams. So what if there is not much closet space? They always have the roof of the building to stretch out in. It didn’t seem too much smaller than their previous apartment in Brooklyn, plus it is much closer to all the things they want to do.

At the doorway.

On the rooftop.

Our next stop was  to Kalustayan’s, an enormous Indian and ethnic grocery store on Lexington,  where I nosed around for as long a time as I thought my companions could wait for me.  This store really requires its own separate blog post.  Pictures and words simply cannot do it justice.   There  are rows and rows of spices, salts, teas, flours, cooking utensils and so many other goodies. Could I have stayed longer? Yes, but I also wanted to go to the The Tenement Museum.

I love all this stuff.

Fresh tumeric.

The deli on the top floor.

Newly made halvah.

We arrived at the Museum to learn that we would need to sign up for a tour which would not begin  for over an hour. So we amused ourselves watching the neighborhood sights, sometimes from inside this establishment, Top Hops. From a sweet window seat we munched on a cheese plate and tasted beers.

The Tenement Museum.

Refreshments before the Museum tour.

Top Hops.

Photography inside the Museum is prohibited, and they mean that. So I will just tell you that we took a tour called “Irish Outsiders”, which talked about the crowded and sordid living conditions of the area in the 1800s and the many trials the immigrants faced trying to succeed in their new land. We were able to see an unrestored and a restored tenement apartment, each containing 325 square feet.  Walking through the apartments, viewing the stripped back layers of paint, it was evident that many many stories remain to be told of those who once lived there.

Our tour guide seemed to want us to discuss tolerance and bigotry in today’s world, but our group was not forthcoming. Speaking ,though, of how public perceptions have changed  I did share that my grandmother used to sing, with no sense she was degrading anyone,  a song with the following lyrics: “I come from Hong Hong China, Me workie  for the Mellican (American) man, catch rats all day in the laundry, Me catch ’em just the best  me can.” So I feel I added to the canon of information on the subject.

Following our leaders from the Museum, we hopped in a cab and headed for the open rooftop bar atop The Pod  39 Hotel. I had read about this ultramodern hotel/hostel and here I was,  right on the cutting edge! Oh, if I could have stayed all night I would have! The patio bar gave no hint of the hipster haven below. Rather, the arched bricks, plantings and fountains evoked a scene from days gone by. I bobbed from one side of the patio to the other, madly taking pictures as the sun sunk lower in the sky. My companions eventually but  gently nudged me toward the elevator after several hours. Really. I would have stayed there all night!

The Pod 39 Hotel.

A lovely setting.

The view from the patio.

Empire State Building.

Night was falling but I still wanted to take more pictures.

It was getting cold up there so we had to leave.

Our young guides had decided upon a sushi place for dinner, for the wait was too long at their first choice, so we went to another spot across the street. Like the night before, I was tired. I don’t remember what all this was, but it was the chef’s specialty that night. And it was absolutely fabulous.

A lovely dinner.

Too soon it was Sunday. We met for brunch at Resto, a Belgian Restaurant. The place was hopping, with some soulful Al Green in the background. I had a frittata with ham, gruyere and avocado that filled me up for the REST of the day. So it was good that we did a lot of walking.

Our first stop after brunch was the Marianne Boesky Gallery  where there was an ongoing exhibit by Lucie Fontaine and her employees. But if I have my facts straight, Lucie Fontaine herself is a creation of  the three artists who work for her. During the exhibit, work by the “four” of them, plus other artists is on display in the space they have designed to be Lucie Fontaine’s home. The “employees” live there and play the parts of servants in the home.

When we arrived, no one answered the door for a long time. Just as we were about to leave, a young woman came to the door and said that the gallery was not really open, but that we could come in. Was this part of the original conceit?   We didn’t know. She allowed us to see the first floor, Lucie’s living room, and the second floor with her office, bedroom and bath. We looked and puzzled around until we had seen it all. On our way out, we thanked the young lady for letting us in. I asked her to please tell Lucie Fontaine we were sorry to have missed her. On the stoop we asked ourselves again if the place had really  been closed.  Had we participated  in a play within a play?  We didn’t know. And in my opinion, leaving an art exhibit in a state of not knowing fulfills the purpose of an exhibit.

Ms. Fontaine’s dining table.

The living room.

Fruit Pits.

In Ms. Fontaine’s bedroom.

In Ms. Fontaine’s office.

From there as it was a lovely day we went on to Central Park. My husband and I had only been to Central Park before in cold weather, so it was quite a treat to roam through parts of the park we hadn’t seen, with no particular destination in mind. There were lots of people in the park, but not so many that we felt crowded. It was after 5:00 by the time we emerged from the park. A confab on a concrete bench at the park’s gate resulted in the decision to eat that evening at Otto Enoteca Pizzeria,  one of Mario Batali’s restaurants.

A wedding in Central Park.

The whole park seemed romantic.

Once again we hopped a cab to whatever the right neighborhood was. On our way to the restaurant I saw what looked like a tiny little lady pushing a shopping cart. But a closer inspection revealed her to be a sculpture. And beside her, in the stoop of a building. was a grouping a magazines and other items which apparently was part of the exhibit. After I started taking pictures the artist, a homeless woman, came out from somewhere demanding that I give a donation. I gave her one, but she discombobulated me so much that I didn’t stick around for more photos. At dinner we had an interesting conversation about the ways of big city life, and whether I should have donated. But as my son said, her work was intriguing. . So I didn’t mind the donation.

And what to say about Otto? Homey and welcoming, it is  modeled after an Italian train station.  I can guarantee that once you eat there you will beg to return. The wine list is three pages long. My husband had to seek the services of the sommolier who kindly helped him choose an appropriate wine for the evening. Why can’t I eat there for every meal?  Do you see how I am already begging? I had a cucumber and watermelon salad with mint and shaved cheese that was so good it brought tears to me eyes.  And I think I did cry when I tried my arugula and prosciutto pizza. I don’t have any Mario Batali cookbooks but it is clear that I need one. I love the simple dishes with big big flavors. May I please go back?

In the “waiting room” of Otto.


Clam Pizza

Arugula and prosciutto pizza.

After dinner we took what was for me a sad taxi ride back to the hotel, where we would go our separate ways. My son and his wife were no doubt eager to return to their own apartment and prepare for their respective weeks ahead. After they left and while I packed my suitcase. I reflected on how not once did this young couple  seem resentful to be giving up their whole weekend for us. Never once did they show impatience at my endless picture taking and dropping of my lens cap on the busy sidewalks. Never once did they show embarrassment at our touristy ways. In my youth, would I have behaved with such grace and maturity? I can’t say.

In stages I realize that my children are adults. In stages I realize I am no longer in charge of things. That’s just how life is right now. I can remember back to days when I never could have dreamed that my grown children would delight me so,  or that they would be the most interesting people I know.  Well, I’ve earned it, and so have they. And I’m going to enjoy things just the way they are.