Kenneth asks a question
You’ll think I’m making this up, but it’s the God’s honest truth. It really did happen, just the way I’m describing it. It was Sun. morning, about 9AM. We had arrived safe and sound at the Port Authority bus terminal in NYC, in plenty of time to catch the 9:30 Peter Pan bus (which runs only once a week) to the Berkshires. We always plan to have time to use the facilities before starting any such journey, because… you never know. There I was, standing outside the restrooms, the ones between the two buildings on the second floor, guarding our luggage while Barbara took her turn. There stood Kenneth. I know that was his name because it was written on his Port Authority Uniform. His official job description must have been custodian, maintenance, or some such, but he seemed to be occupied as an official greeter to any folks passing through the terminal on their way to somewhere.
Where are you folks heading? (I’m sure he asked this of lots of folks.) When I mentioned the Berkshires, I could see the wheels turning very slowly. I kindly explained that our destination was in western Massachusetts – as opposed to the area near Boston – and that we were going to visit my brother and his wife.
Next question: Where are you folks from? I could have said ‘Ma’ale Adumim,’ but, for someone who wasn’t sure where the Berkshires are, I figured that ‘Israel’ was sufficient. I’m glad to report that my interlocutor had heard of our fair country. However, he was still stumped. Clearly, I was, or had been, a ‘local,’ (The accent is a dead giveaway) visiting a family member a bus ride away. Something didn’t compute. I had to explain that we used to live in these parts, but that we now live in The Land.
The next question came as no surprise; he wanted to know why we had moved there. There were, of course many ways I could have spun an answer, but, I figured, let’s say it straight out and get it over with. We’re Jewish, and Israel is our home. (There, I said it!) What took me by surprise was his response. Are you ready? Are you’re sure you’re ready? You don’t look Jewish.
I DON’T LOOK JEWISH!!! Now you might wonder if I asked Kenneth to explain himself. Of course not! Why would I do that? An African-American attendant at Port Authority just told me that I don’t look Jewish. What answer, what explanation, what exegesis, could he have given me that would improve the story? Leave well enough alone and revel in the deliciousness of the conversation. Let me take my turn using the facilities and start heading to the bus. Kenneth was already looking for his next ‘victim.’
All the time I spent over the years walking through the Port Authority bus terminal, it never occurred to me that there are buses that leave from under street level. But there it is, a mini-terminal down below, where the once-a-week bus to western Massachusetts would soon be boarding. (There are rest rooms down there as well, as we discovered, but then I wouldn’t have my story.) The driver took our tickets, loaded our luggage in the underneath compartment along with everyone else’s, and soon we were off, heading into NJ, up the Hudson River, and then east into Massachusetts. There was a slight mix-up. Our original information was that we should get off in Pittsfield, but we discovered at the last minute that Frank wanted to pick us up in a town called Lee. But I don’t have any tickets for Lee, said the driver when I asked him if we could get off there. I explained that there had been a last-minute change of plans. But I don’t have any tickets for Lee. I persisted. My brother was on his way to Lee, and we really needed to get off there. OK, but I’ll have to let you off in the town center by the police station. It soon became clear what the matter was. The powers-that-be had moved the stop to a new shopping mall on the outskirts of town. If the driver were to go there, it would mess up his schedule big time. Wherever you can let us off is fine with us. And where he did let us off, fishing out our luggage from the storage area so we didn’t have to, was exactly where Frank and Abby were waiting.
It’s been six years since I set eyes on my only living sibling, along with Abby, who is a few years older than Frank and me. Through the ‘magic’ of WhatsApp, we’ve been able to get glimpses of Tina and David and their two sons. But with Frank and Abby, we do it the old-fashioned way, talking on the telephone. The four of us have aged some since we last met, and one has to be prepared for that change. Plus – and this is the first thing Abby said to us – Frank had a sinus infection and was less than 100%. If it weren’t for the fact that it was us, and we had come thousands of miles to meet up with them, Frank would probably have canceled. But there were the two of them, ready to take us back to Hinsdale.
Lee, the town where we disembarked, has a population of about 6,000 souls, with an actual town center: a park, a police station, and a bunch of stores. Hinsdale, where we were heading, has a population of about 2,000. If it has any kind of town center, we’ve never been there. It just seems to be a lot of widely separated houses on a number of winding, unmarked streets. Until a few years ago, Frank and Abby’s address was simply Journey’s End, Hinsdale, MA. That was sufficient for the mail deliverer, who knew exactly where they were. But now, there are packages coming from all over, using all manner of delivery companies, and these picturesque addresses simply would not do. Journey’s End now has an official address, a house number on E. Washington Road, even though Frank and Abby haven’t moved an inch.
Actually, they have. Abby’s original old, very drafty house on the property was at the bottom of the hill, near the road. And then one day when only a guy who was their tenant was on the premises, the old, very drafty house burned down, destroying pretty much everything – including years and years of Abby’s paintings and drawings. I have this mental picture of my brother holding a pad and a pencil, walking around the ruins trying to remember and record whatever had been there.
And then, something good happened. They were contacted by a firm that made all the difference. It was a bunch of people who had extensive experience in the insurance industry. They knew all the ins and outs, how to (legitimately) maximize one’s claim, how to get the best possible settlement. Frank thought about it and decided: these folks know what they are doing; we don’t. Even with their fee, they’ll do a lot better for us than we could – with less stress.
With the insurance money in hand, Frank, who had no experience building anything more elaborate than the frames for Abby’s paintings, set about creating the plans for their new home, this time on the top of the hill. Once the house was built, the two of them scoured the area for gently used furnishings. And there you have it. Their new home is again filled with many more books than my spouse would allow me to keep, enough art to fill a mid-sized museum, and a garden that justifies their collective hard work.
Pre-COVID, they stayed in Manhattan during the winter months and the late spring summer and fall in Massachusetts. These days, they are ‘up north’ most of the year.I enjoy staying with them in their apartment in Manhattan, surrounded by Abby’s artwork, a short distance from museums and Lincoln Center. But there is something special about their bucolic country retreat. There are not the sounds of the city, the honking and the hubbub that one sort of gets used to. Every morning, Frank refills the bird feeders and hangs them behind the house, where they belong, and all the finches, woodpecker, and the rest of the avian crew take turns filling up on bird seed. (The feeders can’t be left overnight – bears, you know.)
If you’re living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and you want to go to a concert, just get on the subway and head down to Lincoln Center. If you want to go to a museum, easy-peasy, you can walk across Central Park to the Met. Things are, by design, a little more spread out in rural Massachusetts. I know there are galleries in the area; every year I get an email notice of some local exhibition in which Abby is participating. As for music? Well folks, we’re in Tanglewood Country, which means that Barbara and I, who have never been, now get to join Frank and Abby, who go every year, because they can. Not quite. This year, Frank needed to stay home. Better safe than sorry.
The original plan was nigh on perfect. My brother needed to be back in the City Wed. morning for his periodic medical treatment. We were all going to go back sometime on Tues, perfect timing as far as I was concerned, as my flight back to The Land was mid-day Wed. But, if he still had a fever, his treatment would have to be postponed – not a good idea. Frank was trying mightily to reach his ‘Ent’ (a/k/a, his ear, nose, and throat doctor) to schedule an appointment with him first. In any event, prudence dictated that he stay home and rest. (Who is this Prudence person anyway? She seems to do a lot of ordering people about.) There would be the three of us going to the concert, but you are also welcome to come along, at least in spirit. That’s the best I can do.