CARTER’S PERFECT DAY
Helen Gibbs Pohlot
It was a bright and crisp autumn morning when Carter’s mom, Lauren, asked him an interesting question.
“Carter, how would you describe your perfect day?
Much like his uncles Bruce and Stephen, Carter was a man of few words, but he gave the question serious thought.
“Hmm,” he said aloud while looking at his mom as she waited patiently for an answer.
“I like to run, play and meet other kids. Oh, and I like snacks too,” Carter said thoughtfully.
Lauren just smiled at her two-and-a-half-year-old son who melted her heart every time she looked at him.
“Well, I have something in mind for us to do today that I think you are going to love,” she said.
“Do you know what a Trampoline Park is?”
“No,” Carter replied. “Is it anything like the little trampoline I have downstairs?”
“Yes, it is very similar except that there is a whole room of trampolines where kids can jump, play and have a fantastic time,” Lauren said.
“How about if we go right after breakfast?”
“Yeah, I can’t wait!” Carter said as he quickly ate his cereal and then jumped down from his chair.
“Can Daddy come too, Mommy?” he asked while grabbing a sweatshirt.
“Maybe he can join us for a few minutes in between clients. I know he has an appointment in the area sometime this morning. We’ll see. I’ll send him a text,” Lauren said.
After a quick goodbye and treat for Roxie, the family dog, Carter and his mom went out the door.
On the short drive over, Carter asked his mom lots of question. He was very excited, thinking that this could turn out to be a great day.
It was toddler morning at the trampoline park. When Carter saw all the children laughing and talking it reminded him of the time he went to the indoor playground with his cousins Mikey and Natalie. He remembered the first time he went down the slide. Sure, it wasn’t his finest moment as he landed flat on his back, but he jumped right up and did it again and again. It was lots of fun.
Carter smiled when he thought of another exciting time with his cousins from Arizona. They all went down a great big slide. Aunt Kathryn held him while his mom held Natalie. Mikey was the oldest so he went down by himself. Carter loved sharing new adventures with his cousins and wished they could go with him to the trampoline park.
The trampoline park was a little different; neither Carter nor his mom knew anyone. Sometimes it is hard when you go in someplace new all by yourself, but Carter never worried, as he made friends easily.
Standing at check-in with their moms, Carter and another boy who introduced himself as Eddie eagerly waited for their chance to join the other jumpers. Each child had their own square. At first Carter was cautious, taking it easy, just getting a feel for it.
“I am going pretty slow,” Carter called to his mom who knew it was only a matter of time before he picked up speed.
Seconds later Carter was in high gear, jumping with all his might.
“I’ve got it now!” Carter yelled as he increased his speed.
“Here I go!”
Carter jumped happily for well over 10 minutes, all the while laughing with the other children jumping in their squares.
Suddenly, the unthinkable happened. Carter jumped so high that he landed in the sponge pit, totally out of his square. It was a good three to four feet away, which was remarkable for a two-and-a-half-year-old. The whole room that was edged with parents erupted in applause.
“Wow! Did everyone see how high that little boy can jump?” one of the mother’s exclaimed.
“Oh well, went a little too high on that one,” Carter said humbly as he crawled out of the pit to resume jumping and wave to his supporters.
After a series of successful jumps Carter heard a familiar voice. Carter’s dad Chris stopped by to see him.
“Dad! Watch me, I can jump really high!” Carter yelled to his dad.
“Way to go Carter,” Chris shouted from the parents’ section.
Carter’s parents loved seeing their child having a wonderful time.
“Just watch! He is going to try something special to show off his jumping skills,” Lauren told Chris.
Lauren was right as she beamed with pride.
Shortly afterwards Carter jumped, each time going a little higher. It was about the fifth jump when he decided to show off his newly acquired talent. He positioned himself to jump up and over two squares. Fortunately, there were no kids in the area.
“Up, up and away!” Carter said as he launched upward and landed almost three squares over. While his landing wasn’t as smooth as planned because the blue foam divider got in his way coming down, he was proud that he’d exceeded his expectations. Again, everyone clapped as they watched Carter’s exceptional ability.
“Unbelievable! Lauren, did see that?” Chris exclaimed.
“Great job, Carter,” both Chris and Lauren shouted to their son, who was very proud of his feat.
A short time later Carter’s dad had to go back to work. Carter and his mom enjoyed
a snack, then headed for home and a much-needed nap.
Later that evening, the family went outside for a barbecue and games in the backyard. Everyone enjoyed a good dinner plus family time, which Carter loved.
“Okay little man, it is time to call it a day,” Chris said to his little boy.
“Do I have to go to bed, dad?” Carter asked.
“It’s that time Carter; you need your rest. We have another big day ahead of us tomorrow,” Lauren said.
“OK, if I have to,” Carter replied.
Carter kissed everyone good night. Before closing his eyes, he looked up at his mom and dad. Carter held out his arms for hugs and whispered, “Mommy, you asked me this morning about my perfect day. With you and Daddy every day is a perfect day.”
Good night Carter. We love you!”
STATUE OF LIBERTY VISIT
by Helen Gibbs Pohlot
Imagine this! With a heavy heart you wave goodbye to your mother from the ship’s deck, maybe for the last time. You are nineteen years old, alone on a journey to a new world. Your sea voyage is fret with seasickness and over- crowded quarters. You cannot wait to set foot on dry land. The year is 1910.
Word spreads amongst the weary travelers who flock to the deck. “Look up ahead,” they cry with delight. Over the forward bow, rising out of the mist, is a beautiful lady holding a torch that lights the way with worldwide welcome.
For my grandfather in 1910, and most of our ancestors who immigrated to the United States from October 1886 until the 1920s, the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor was their first sight of America, their new world.
Two weeks ago, inspired by my cousin Ray Gibbs of Calgary, Canada’s recent trip to New York City, where he and his wife Maria visited most of New York City’s historical and well-known attractions, I decided it was time to experience the history that some of us New Yorkers take for granted.
In the early morning, I boarded the Long Island Railroad at Long Beach. I changed trains in Jamaica, Queens, which took me to the subway in Brooklyn. I got off the subway at the South Ferry station in Manhattan and walked over to the boarding location for Statue Cruises.
I purchased my ticket online the day before, which saved waiting in line, although you still wait in line to go through security, which is not bad.
The ferry ride over to the Statue of Liberty is quite impressive as I thought back to the people who came there so many years ago. The colossal statue faces southeast and seems to be looking right at you.
I thought of my husband’s grandmother, Mary Ryznyk, who at fourteen came from Poland and sailed into New York Harbor only to wait three days at Ellis Island for relatives she never met to pick her up.
One can only imagine the excitement she felt seeing the colossal lady, a symbol of liberty for the first time.
When you arrive at Liberty Island, Statue Cruises provide a hand-held audio tour that is informative and thought-provoking.
Prior to entering the lobby for my trip up to the pedestal, I learned a series of facts about the Statue of Liberty that I had never known.
I knew that the statue was a gift from the people of France, but I did not know that Edouard Rene de Laboulaye proposed the idea of a monument to the United States in 1865, after the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. De Laboulaye, an abolitionist and prominent French political thinker, believed that by honoring the United States’ ideals of freedom and democracy, it would inspire a return to democracy in France.
In the early 1870s, de Laboulaye’s friend Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, a French sculptor, began the design of the statue named, “Liberty Enlightening the World”.
Bartholdi, on a trip to the United States, instantly found the perfect location for the colossal statue as he entered New York Harbor by ship. For him, New York was the gateway to America. He spotted Bedloe’s Island, and immediately envisioned the statue ascending from Fort Wood, an eleven-point-star-shaped fort constructed in 1807 of massive stone that protected New York from the British during the War of 1812.
With the perfect site, Bartholdi proceeded to gain American support for the statue. This proved helpful to de Laboulaye in creating the Franco-American Union in Paris. They determined that the people of France would pay for the statue while the people of the U.S. would finance the pedestal.
Construction began. After the death of the statue’s initial interior designer, Bartholdi brought in Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (who later designed the Eiffel Tower). A noted French structural engineer and architect, Eiffel designed a flexible, skeletal system consisting of a ninety-eight-foot-tall central pylon. It serves as the primary support structure of the statue’s interior.
Some problems arose, mainly in the area of finances. The colossal copper statue in 350 pieces, packed in over 214 crates, arrived in New York Harbor in June 1885, but there was no pedestal. Fundraising fell short. The statue sat in crates on Bedloe’s Island for over a year.
Joseph Pulitzer, a self-made man, stepped in. He owned “The New York World”, later renamed “The World”, a newspaper he considered the people’s paper. He viewed the Statue of Liberty as a gift not from the elite of France to the elite of America, but a gift from all the people of France to all the people of the U.S.
Pulitzer wrote an article urging people to donate to the pedestal construction. He promised to print the name of every person who made a contribution no matter how small. Within six months, donations topped $100,000. About 125,000 people contributed. As thanks, Pulitzer published every name in the World newspaper.
Thanks to Pulitzer’s effort, work on the fifty-six-million-pound concrete and granite pedestal commenced.
By April 1886, pedestal construction was complete. President Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty on October 28, 1886 before thousands of people.
Despite being unfamiliar with some of the statue’s history, I learned four other important facts. First, at the statue’s feet lie broken shackles of oppression and tyranny. Secondly, in her left arm she holds a tablet inscribed with the date of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, in Roman numerals. Third, the robed female figure represents Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. The fourth fact is that the seven rays in the statue’s crown represent the seven continents and seven seas.
With my audio device guiding the way, I proceeded to the lobby of the Statue of Liberty pedestal. Faced with a decision of taking the elevator or stairs up to the pedestal, I opted for the stairs. Big mistake! Still recovering from a nasty stair fall that resulted in two sprained ankles, I must have been crazy. But then again, I didn’t know the number of steps I would have to climb. I noticed several people much older than me in line for the stairs, while the people waiting for the elevator were either handicapped, noticeably injured or visibly frail.
I can make it, I said to myself. A nice gentleman around 75 was in front of me with about 35 people behind us. We eagerly approached the stairs engaged in pleasant conversation as we took flight after flight. By the third or fourth flight, all talking ceased. It was all a few of us could do to breathe, plus my ankles killed. There was a small landing where I stopped and rested to catch my breath. My new friend followed suit as did several other people all claiming to be out of shape. We resumed out trek upward after a few minutes. I stopped on another landing, but my friend proceeded upward without me. It didn’t matter because I couldn’t talk to him anyway. I was gasping for breath holding onto the side rail with both hands.
Finally, after 215 steps, I reached the top of the pedestal. There were a few benches where a limited number of people could sit. My friend was there. He signaled, “I saved a place for you.” To say I was grateful is an understatement. My legs and ankles felt like rubber, shaky and weak. After about five minutes, I could finally breathe normally but doubted I could continue. Let me just wait here and hope to feel better, I said to myself.
The area was crowded with several onlookers staring at me as if to say, “Get up and let someone else sit down.” I got the hint. I ventured outside to the pedestal lookout which surrounds the statue.
A breathtaking view of New York, New Jersey, and the incredible harbor greeted me. I was awestruck by the beauty. The sheer magnificence of looking straight up at the Statue of Liberty and out over the water induced a euphoric state. All pain and discomfort ended.
Maybe this is how the weary people on the ships felt when they first saw the statue welcoming them to their new land. For them it must have been a bright light offering a glimmer of hope.
Walking around the crowded pedestal, people of all ages and nationalities marveled at the statue and her history. No one could believe that the copper skin of the stature, once reddish brown now green with oxidation, is less than 3/32 inches thick and can move three inches in the wind.
After leaving the pedestal lookout area, I decided to take the elevator down for obvious reasons. However, I glanced upward at the spiral staircase leading to the crown. A visit to the crown requires an advanced reservation. A word to the wise, do plenty of cardio before attempting this feat. There are 154 narrow steps and if you are anyway claustrophobic, think twice.
The ride down from the pedestal lookout was a lot easier than going up. I got off at the Pedestal Museum where the entire history of the statue is on display.
On the lower level, you will find engraved on a bronze plaque the famed poem “The New Colossus” written by Emma Lazarus in 1883. Lazarus wrote the poem for an auction to raise money for the pedestal construction.
I was not the only person reading the poem in tears. The last five lines of Lazarus’s poem, touch the heart. It gives significance and comfort to the millions of immigrants whom the statue welcomed with her silent lips and guided light
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Before boarding the ferry back, I sat looking at the grand lady for over an hour. I imagined my great grandfather Patrick Gibbs and his sister Catherine from Tipperary, Ireland aboard the ship City of Chicago entering New York Harbor in February 1889. Many others from the Gibbs’ family followed, all filled with promise and hope.
I also thought of my grandfather, William O’Callaghan who came from County Cork, Ireland to Ellis Island in 1910 on the SS Adriatic. For many like my grandfather, they never went back. Their goodbyes were forever.
The journey across the sea in those days was extremely dangerous. Roughly 10% died on the voyage, which usually lasted between eight and fifteen days. Most passengers were in steerage immersed in deplorable conditions. It is understandable that when the Statue of Liberty came into view, they celebrated, they cried, they rejoiced. No matter the struggle, they made it!
Imagine putting yourself in the positon of these and all the people who came to America seeking a better life. Each possessed a brave spirit of adventure. They took a chance. Sure they were scared. They suffered. Life was hard and riddled with danger. They didn’t know what to expect, but they had the courage to do it anyway. And, at their journeys near end, Lady Liberty waited with a silent but prevailing welcome.
*Special thanks to Annette Gibbs and Ray Gibbs for their genealogy research that contributed to this story!
AUTO TRAIN SUPERSTAR
Helen Gibbs Pohlot
Driving from Philadelphia to the Auto Train in Lorton, Virginia usually takes four hours. Last week, in the absence of Interstate 95 traffic, I made it in just over three.
It was a little before noon when I arrived at the station. No cars were in line, so I pulled into the side parking lot. I went into the station and got my ticket from a representative who informed me that my vehicle needed to be checked in by 2:30 PM.
With over two and a half hours to wait, I decided to pay a visit to one of my favorite outlet malls called Potomac Mills, a few miles from the station. The stores are great; some of my favorites with quality things at half the price.
After an enjoyable shopping excursion, I headed back to the Auto Train Station. Several cars were waiting. I took my place in line. The person at the gate placed a number on my car and I drove ahead, stopped and got out with my overnight bag. A few minutes later an attendant drove my car onto the two story Auto Train.
I entered the station and joined the group of passengers headed to Sanford, Florida. At about 2:45 PM, an announcer told us we could board the train; first the sleeping car passengers, then coach.
We all went to our designated seats or rooms. The train left shortly before four o’clock passing Quantico and several other interesting sites.
By 5 PM, some people were getting hungry and anxious for dinner. At check in, all Auto Train passengers receive a meal ticket based on their desired time to eat dinner, either 5, 7 or 9pm. The train attendant announced that it was now time for the five o’clock dinner.
People riding in coach, eat in the coach dining car while the sleeper car passengers have their own dining car. Each person is seated in a group of four. If you are traveling alone or in pairs, you will be seated with strangers which can be very enjoyable and interesting.
At 7 PM, I heard the announcement for the second dinner seating in the coach dining car. I proceeded with countless other passengers to the dining car.
Standing in the middle of the car directing people to their seats was a very tall man who introduced himself as “Big Chris”.
Big Chris had an infectious smile, booming voice, commanding presence and a comedic flair very similar to Steve Harvey, host of the TV show, The Family Feud.
He greeted every guest with a huge smile and funny remark, making them feel special, much like a frequent customer would experience in an upscale restaurant. No one was left out.
Big Chris engaged the children with high fives and questions that drew howls of laughter. All eyes and ears were on Big Chris. Suddenly you looked around and a whole dining car was smiling spurred on by the humor and personality of this man.
I thought to myself how lucky this company is to have an employee with such talent, skill and personality, plus the ability to do stand-up comedy.
As he worked his way up the aisle taking orders and making conversation, people watched and listened.
Four of the most somber people I’ve ever seen where sitting at the table next to me. They had never taken a train before, but were on their way to some type of function in Florida. Getting them to talk was like pulling teeth.
The foursome seemed very awkward. They didn’t know what to do. Big Chris recognized this and greeted them with his winning smile and jovial personality. Within seconds he had them right at ease. He asked questions and answered anything they wanted to know about the menu and train. Soon they were laughing and enjoying themselves.
After turning the somber guests into happy diners, Big Chris focused on our table. I was sitting with a woman and her incredibly shy 18-year-old daughter, Emily. We only had three people at our table because we were the last to be seated.
The mother was not in the best frame of mind. She just moved from the Bronx. She was on her way to Orlando where Emily would soon start Nursing school.
Leaving family and friends in New York was very hard for Emily’s mom. These two women were experiencing a major change. Emily seemed scared and shy while her mom looked exhausted and weary.
Emily’s dad and uncle were driving the moving van to Orlando. They suggested that Emily and her mom take the train to get some much needed rest and maybe have a little fun.
Enter Big Chris! With a huge smile, he said, “Good evening ladies. How are you? Do you know what you would like to order?”
He looked over at me. I started to say, “I’ll have the…….”
“What makes you think I was asking you first?” he said.
“Oh My God! I’m sorry. You just looked over at me and I thought you were asking me what I wanted to order,” I replied.
“I was looking at you because you look good,” he said with that infectious smile.
I instantly burst out laughing, so did Emily and her mother. I guess I should have been insulted by my dinner companion’s laughter, but it was obvious. No way did I look good. With about two hours sleep the night before, rumpled clothes, no make-up, and ragged hair, I looked anything but good. However, I was never more grateful for an undeserved compliment.
We all had a good laugh. Then Emily, who by this time is looking down, praying to God she doesn’t have to talk, knows it’s her turn to order.
You better not be laughing over there, baby girl?” Big Chris said to her which instantly brought a smile to Emily’s face.
“There you go,” he said. “I knew I could make you laugh.”
Emily ordered with her head held high and even inquired about the dessert choices.
Big Chris then turned and looked at Emily’s mom. “Now Mama, what would you like to have for dinner?” he asked.
I don’t remember what she ordered, but by the time she was finished talking to Big Chris her weariness disappeared. She seemed relaxed and somewhat happy about her new adventure.
The transformation I saw amongst the diners aboard the train was remarkable. This gifted man knew just what to say in a congenial and amusing way. Big Chris brought something out in each of us. We all talked, joked and had a wonderful night.
I asked Big Chris if I could take his picture. He happily replied, “I exfoliated for this today.”
Once again Big Chris had the entire dining car passengers laughing.
Big Chris taught us all a valuable lesson that night. When you treat everyone equally with respect, courtesy and a touch of humor, the world is a better place. People feel happier and more connected to each other.
While most of us will never recall what we had for dinner aboard the Auto Train, we will all remember its’ superstar, “Big Chris.”
TERROR IN THE KEYS
by Helen Gibbs Pohlot
Eerie silence rattled thirteen-year-old Jimmy to the core. It was only disrupted by the occasional sound of thunder in the distance.
Jimmy, a city kid, looked out the window into the pitch darkness. Nothing was visible, not even a star in the sky.
“How can people live here?” he said to himself. “It’s too darn quiet and there is nothing around.”
Jimmy lived in South Philadelphia. His mother suggested that he spend some time at his Aunt Susan and Uncle Mike’s house located in a remote area of Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys.
There was no way he was going to sleep this night. Unlike his seventeen-year-old cousin Tony, who was fast asleep in the room next to him, Jimmy was scared.
Suddenly, thunder roared with such intensity, Jimmy sprang from his bed and ran for cover. Lightning followed, which lit up the sky, sending bolts in every direction.
From the eerie quiet to the deafening sounds of the approaching storm, Jimmy tried to calm himself.
The back yard was now aglow, besieged with lightning. It struck one tree after another. Sparks flew when it hit a tall buttonwood tree outside Jimmy’s room. The earsplitting crash shook the entire house.
Within seconds Jimmy smelled smoke. He shouted for Tony and ran to wake him. Tony’s parents were not home. They had gone to Key West for the night, leaving the two teenagers in charge of the house.
“Tony, something hit the house. I think it is on fire,” Jimmy roared.
Jimmy shook Tony to wake him. “Wake up, wake up, Tony.”
“What’s up?” a groggy Tony asked.
“I smell smoke. Do you?” Jimmy yelled.
“Yeah,” Tony screamed as he jumped up. He quickly put on his shoes, and with a sudden burst, the power went out.
“Grab some flashlights, Tony,” Jimmy shouted.
Tony hastily found a flashlight. He rushed outside with Jimmy behind him.
“OH NO!” Tony shrieked, “the back of the house is on fire.”
The two boys ran back inside to call the fire department. Tony had forgotten to charge his cell phone. He slammed it to the ground. “Useless,” he cried. The boys tried the landline, but it was already dead.
“We’re in trouble. What can we do?” Tony cried out.
“Do you have a hose?” asked Jimmy.
“Yes, it’s around the back.”
Tony found the hose. With Jimmy’s help, it took about fifteen minutes to douse the flames. Water was everywhere. The interior of the house reeked with the smell of burning wood and materials. A horrible stench permeated the interior, making it impossible for the boys to stay inside.
Without a cell phone and electricity, Tony and Jimmy were stranded until morning.
“When Mom and Dad call me tonight, they will realize the phones are out and come home,” Tony said hopefully.
Left to their own resources, the boys decided to build a shelter for protection outside. They had no choice; the smell inside the house was unbearable. They hurriedly ran into the house and got bedding from the hall closet.
In addition to all the bedding they could carry, they grabbed a few towels. They wrapped the towels around their head to block the overpowering smoke.
Jimmy asked Tony if he had any matches or lanterns. “No, we have to make do with this flashlight,” snapped Tony.
Outside, the thunder and lightning subsided, returning the eerie quiet Jimmy hated. However, anything was better than the crashing sound of that thunderbolt.
Water pooled everywhere around the small house. The fresh water proved a magnet for mosquitos and all type of bugs. Jimmy and Tony immediately went to work constructing a shelter using the side of the fallen tree.
“We can’t stay out here in the open without cover,” Tony told Jimmy as they worked.
The two boys secured the sides of the makeshift shelter to the ground with rocks.
Tony was exhausted and fell asleep immediately. Jimmy was tired as well. However, he wasn’t about to sleep, knowing the amount of fresh water out there was attracting predators.
Just yesterday, his aunt and uncle had taken him on a hike at Blue Hole, about a mile and a half from their house. It is the only freshwater lake in the Florida Keys and an attraction for all types of animals. He saw everything from huge iguanas and nasty snakes to the adorable Key deer.
Just before leaving Blue Hole, Jimmy’s Uncle Mike told him to look out over the lake. “Over there by the weeds,” he said. Jimmy saw something move. Suddenly, the head of an alligator emerged from the lake. Jimmy panicked and took off running back to the car.
“What if that alligator comes around here tonight?” Jimmy said out loud. “There is plenty of fresh water right outside. I better keep watch.”
In total darkness, Jimmy waited and listened. His nerves were on edge in anticipation. Everything was dead quiet.
After about ninety minutes, Jimmy started to relax. Maybe he was wrong and this wasn’t such a dangerous place after all.
Jimmy briefly closed his eyes only to feel a nudge on the side of his leg. Thinking it was a dream, he once again closed his eyes.
Suddenly, something heavy pounced on Jimmy’s chest, sending the makeshift shelter into total chaos. Bedding went everywhere. Tony jumped up screaming. Jimmy yelled back that something was crushing his chest, He was trapped, shrieking for help.
‘It’s so heavy, I can’t move,” Jimmy shouted at the top of his lungs.
Tony managed to get outside and turned on his flashlight.
“Jimmy, don’t move,” Tony commanded.
With only the shelter material between them, a six-foot, grossly fat iguana rested on Jimmy’s chest.
“Whatever you do, try not to move a muscle,” Tony told Jimmy.
The horror was almost more than Jimmy could bear. This is it. I am going to be eaten alive, he thought to himself, still not sure what type of animal had him trapped. He did not move a muscle. He was afraid to breathe. His chest hurt so badly, he thought he would faint.
Tony shimmied up the tree next to where Jimmy was trapped. He grabbed a long branch and poked the iguana in the head while shining the flashlight right in its eyes.
“When he gets off you, just stay there until I tell you to get up and run,” Tony said.
Once again Tony shined the light in the creature’s eyes, which it did not like. He gave it another poke, which aggravated it into moving. It slowly went over to the newly created pond about twenty feet from Jimmy and settled into the water.
Jimmy stayed still, thankful the tremendous pressure was off his chest.
Meanwhile, Tony, still perched in the tree, tried to figure out the best way for Jimmy to get away without attracting the iguana. All of a sudden it came to him. Tony could blind the iguana with his light while Jimmy sprinted to the house.
“Here’s the plan, Jimmy. When I say run, go as fast as you can into the house,” Tony said quietly.
He aimed his flashlight directly at the fierce-looking creature’s eyes.
At the top of his lungs, Tony screamed, “RUN.”
Jimmy sprang up and ran with everything he had. He made it to the house, but couldn’t get in due to a collapsed wall by the entry door.
“I’m safe,” Jimmy shouted to Tony. “But I can’t get into the house. The fire crushed the wall.”
“Okay! I’ll wait up here until this iguana takes off. I hope I don’t have to spend the night in this tree,” Tony said jokingly.
Jimmy slumped over in screaming pain. “I am going for help. Just stay in the tree until I get back. You’ll be safe up there,” said Jimmy, who at the time had no idea that iguanas can climb trees.
Despite terrible pain, Jimmy fearlessly sprinted down the mile-long gravel driveway. He turned onto the main road, where headlights blinded him.
Aunt Susan and Uncle Mike immediately stopped the car and jumped out. Jimmy collapsed.
“Jimmy, did we hit you?” Aunt Susan screamed.
“No, No! We have to hurry. Tony’s trapped up a tree by a huge lizard who tried to kill me. The house caught on fire….,” he went on rapidly.
“Jimmy, calm down, it will be okay,” his aunt said.
After a quick check of Jimmy’s chest, they drove to the house in record time while Jimmy gave them the lowdown on Tony, the storm, and fire.
By this time Tony was partly out of the tree. His parents shooed away the prehistoric-looking iguana, helped Tony down, and then took Jimmy to the hospital.
Fortunately, Jimmy’s injuries were not serious. He was grateful to be alive.
When the family returned home, the power was back on. A quick survey of the house revealed limited damage. The boys’ quick thinking saved most of it. Despite rebuilding a wall near the back entrance and minor water damage, little else needed fixing. After a good cleaning and airing out, the house would be as good as new.
Despite good news all around, Jimmy felt uneasy. He remembered the terror he felt that night. He didn’t like being so afraid, first of the dark and what he considered unbearable silence, then of the fire and iguana attack.
Sure, anyone would go ballistic with a six-foot, fat iguana dancing on your chest. That was understandable, but the other fears made Jimmy feel like a coward.
“Jimmy,” shouted Uncle Mike, who had been watching Jimmy for a few minutes. “You are in another world. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Jimmy replied quietly.
“I know something is wrong, I can tell by looking at you. Are you in pain?” his uncle asked.
‘No, I just feel that I was a bit of a coward today being so scared during the storm and out here in the woods.”
Uncle Mike started to laugh. “You are a city kid visiting out here where there is nothing but nature and water. It’s scary at first. It took me a year to get used to the quiet when I moved here from New York.
“You are no coward. When you ran down that mile-long deserted drive to get help, were you afraid or just intent on helping your cousin?”
Jimmy forgot that he was in terrible pain when he ran for help, never considering any potential danger. He instantly felt better, more brave.
“You just have to get used to things around here and they become less frightening,” his uncle said. “Stay a few more weeks and I’ll have you fearless.”
Jimmy laughed. “Thanks, Uncle Mike, sounds like a plan, but are you sure you wouldn’t rather come home with me to Philly? After a night like this, I could sure use a Cheesesteak.”
CONVERSATIONS WITH NATALIE
HELEN GIBBS POHLOT
With the oppressive humidity finally gone and a nice breeze blowing off the ocean, it was a perfect beach day.
Standing by the water’s edge waiting for the surf to engulf my aching feet, a little girl and her mother came over and stood next to me.
“Do you see those ships out there?” the little girl asked me. “Mommy says they came from the other side of the world.”
“I think your Mom is right. I always wonder where they came from,” I replied a bit startled by the child’s directness.
The little girl whom her mother called Natalie looked to be around three or four years old. She counted 11 big ships anchored about a half mile off the shore at Long Beach, New York.
“Natalie, there are also a couple big fishing boats out there as well,” added Natalie’s mother who introduced herself as Ann.
Are these boats here all the time or is this a special day?” Natalie asked me.
“I am pretty sure boats anchor here all the time prior to going into the port of New York,” I said. “The ships come from all over the world and have to wait in line to dock. I also think that they have to go through some type of security check before entering the port.”
Natalie was very pleased with her newfound knowledge of the ships. I was happy to share it with her. When I first came to Long Beach I noticed the ships anchored off the coast. My curiosity got the best of me. I researched why they were there and where they came from.
Suddenly our conversation came to an abrupt halt as a frisbee whisked past our heads. Water splashed everywhere as a young man about 16 made a mad dive for the frisbee directly in front of us.
He hit the water hard. We were not sure if he was hurt so we rushed over to help.
Probably more embarrassed than hurt, the teenager yelled, “I got it.” He stood up with wobbly knees holding the Frisbee.
Natalie just shook her head. “That boy is silly. He almost ran into us and didn’t even say he was sorry,” she said with dismay.
Ann and I burst out laughing because we thought the same thing, but only Natalie had the courage to speak her mind.
After the teenagers dive in the water, we all were soaked. So much for gradually getting use to the water temperature.
“We might as well jump the waves since we are already wet,” Natalie suggested.
With two sprained ankles, I wasn’t exactly in wave jumping shape however, I couldn’t resist Natalie’s request.
Here comes a big one,” Natalie cried out excitedly as we positioned ourselves to jump over it.
Success, with no further injury. I was very happy.
Natalie, Ann and I spent the next hour talking, jumping the waves and swimming. We had so much fun, I forgot my ankles hurt.
As we resumed our original position at the water’s edge. Natalie made some interesting observations. She pointed to a young girl and her dad collecting armfuls of seaweed to adorn a sand castle they were building.
“Look at all the stuff that girl is carrying from the ocean. She is making some kind of a wall around her sand castle,” Natalie said.
Suddenly the life guard blew her whistle and signaled for them to come within the flags designated for swimming. When they didn’t respond, the lifeguard ran over and told them to get out of the water. It put an end to the seaweed gathering, but the girl and her dad continued the sand castle with a smaller seaweed wall.
Watching the things children do at the beach never ceases to amaze me, Natalie felt the same way. About 10 feet to our right, two girls about 11-years-old were doing cartwheels and backflips on the sand. It was remarkable as they did one after another.
“I really want to learn how to do that when I grow up,” Natalie said.
“Believe it or not, when I was young I was able to do at least 10 cartwheels in a row,” I said proudly. “Now, I’d probably break a hip and end up in traction, but I do remember that the key to doing a good cartwheel is to keep your body in line.”
We watched the girls do all kinds of gymnastics. Several other friends joined them and before we knew it a small crowd gathered to watch the impressive display of athleticism.
Natalie joined in and tried do a few flips with the help of the older girls. Ann and I cheered her on.
Around four o’clock, it was time for all of us to head home. Sharing conversation and observations with the delightful Natalie and her Mom made for a truly enjoyable day. It reminded me of spending time with my beautiful niece Kathryn and her little girl. I couldn’t help but think how nice it would be if they were standing on a beach with me. Someday?
BACK TO SCHOOL
HELEN GIBBS POHLOT
Do you remember your first teacher? Chances are you do if that teacher was a warm and giving person who gently introduced you to education.
After many years, I still remember my first teacher, Mother Yvonne, a tall, stern but pleasant-looking nun who made you feel smarter than you actually were. It was a nice feeling for a five-year-old entering school for the first time.
Not all teachers are as gifted and patient as Mother Yvonne. When my husband and I moved from California to Bellingham, Massachusetts, our son Bruce, “BR” for short was just 26 months old. We didn’t know anyone in the area, therefore socialization with children BR’s age proved difficult.
“When in doubt, consult the experts” became my motto! I researched, read all the child-care books, and concluded that BR needed to be around other children for at least a couple hours during the week.
The search for a preschool began. Located about two miles from our house, I found what was considered the best preschool in the area. With a heavy heart and tremendous guilt for not moving into a neighborhood loaded with kids, preschool seemed the best option.
Turning the care of my only child over to someone else, even for two hours, was almost more than I could handle. But, my husband and I wanted what was best for our son. Plus, the experts in the books said he needed to be around other children.
In preparation, we talked with BR about school. He seemed quite happy and excited that he was going somewhere special. My two-year-old was going to school! My only mistake was not telling him I wasn’t allowed to go with him.
It was a bright, sunny Monday morning on BR’s first day of school. He was dressed in his new Guess jeans and red shirt. He could not have looked cuter. We packed up snacks and talked about what to expect.
We got to the school, and there were more kids that I expected. I started to think it looked more like a day care than preschool, but what did I know? There were no kids there the day I went to check it out.
BR seemed happy but reserved, maybe a bit overwhelmed by the number of children.
The children took their place in line to meet the school owner, BR’s teacher, and her aides. I accompanied BR as we made our introductions and were told where to sit.
I walked with BR over to the small chairs and told him that I had to wait on the other side of the room with the other parents.
“Mommy, don’t leave me,” BR said as tears dropped from his eyes.
“I am just going to be right over there,” I assured him.
By this time, panic was written all over my little boy’s face.
My instinct went on high alert. Should I grab him and sprint out of there or give him a chance to get used to it? On the verge of an emotional outburst myself, I decided to stick it out.
Some of the other children started to cry when the teacher said it was time for the moms to go home. I walked over to BR and said, “I am just going to wait outside for you. It will be okay.”
“No, Mommy, you can’t go,” he cried.
One of the aides got annoyed and mouthed two words I will never forget. “Shut up!” she said. Thankfully, BR was too distraught at my impending departure to hear her, but I did.
The amount of physical and emotional restraint I exercised that day qualified me for sainthood.
To say I was appalled, upset, and furious is an understatement. Without further upset to BR, I quietly went over and interrupted the owner of the school, who was engaged in conversation with another parent. I told her what happened in no uncertain terms.
Saying “shut up” to a two-year-old child on their first day of school was unacceptable, unthinkable. The owner tried to calm me down with assurances the aide would be nowhere near my son. She instructed the teacher to go over and spend time with BR.
BR was not interested. My poor little child was sitting there crying, looking lost and abandoned. I hated this school and everyone in it.
The owner came over to me and said that it may be best if I left. “Most children calm down after their parents leave,” she said.
Once again, I took the advice of a so-called expert. However, I was not about to go home as she suggested.
As the teacher, whose name I never knew comforted BR, I quietly left the room and walked down the hall to the pay phone. I really needed expert advice and fast. I called my mother. As the mother of five children, she was an expert with experience. She would know what to do.
Fortunately, she was home. I told her what happened.
“Do not leave that school,” she commanded. “Maybe BR is just not ready for school yet. He is only two and never been away from you. What did you expect?” she asked.
“Can you see into the classroom?”
“Yes, there is a window, and I can see him clearly,” I replied.
“Let him stay another hour and take him home,” Mom said. “If he is still crying at the end of the hour, it confirms that he is not ready. He is only two. What is the big rush? Wait a year and he will love school.”
I was very grateful for my mom’s words of wisdom. I went back and stood looking in the classroom window. BR was sitting with another aide who was stroking his arm in an attempt to make him feel better. My heart sank.
Just as I was about to go into the room to get him, I heard the teacher tell the children they were going outside to the playground. I thought this might make BR happy. I waited and watched.
No amount of comfort or playing would change BR’s mind. He did not want to be there.
I could not stand it. Seeing my child suffer was too much to bear. I went into the playground, picked him up, and took him home.
The next day I called the school owner and demanded my money back, noting I would never allow my child to attend a school where an aide says shut up to a two-year-old.
Shortly afterwards, I responded to an ad for a playgroup organized by a woman named Bev, the mother of two boys who lived less than a mile from our house. BR met Bev’s boys Michael and Joe along with several other kids his age. The playgroup provided many enjoyable hours of fun for both the boys and their mothers. Bev and I remain friends to this day.
BR and Michael during playgroup
In September of the following year, BR was three. I took the advice of the expert with experience. I found a lovely country day school about eight miles from our house. School ran from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., five days a week.
First day of school!
On the first day, BR and the other children were met by Ms. Cuddy, his first real teacher. She was a wonderful woman whose warm and gentle way introduced my child to education. There were no tears from BR, only smiles. He was ready.
Ingenuity And The Red Boat
Helen Gibbs Pohlot
Bruce couldn’t get out of the classroom fast enough. Third grade was finally over. With the exception of the required summer reading, he vowed not to think about school until Labor Day.
Along with several other kids, Bruce raced for the bus, thrilled with the start of summer vacation. He knew that the summer of 1961 was going to be his best yet.
The summer before, Bruce’s family had moved from the city to Sparkle Lake in Yorktown Heights, New York. It took him a year to get the lay of the land, which to Bruce meant finding good fishing spots. This summer he planned to go fishing every day.
Everyone in Bruce’s family loved living on the lake. In the winter, the mile-and-a-half-long lake provided the perfect ice skating area, while in the summer, people enjoyed swimming in the beautiful, sparkling water.
With the addition of a little eight-foot dinghy that Bruce’s dad bought for the children, summer fun went to a new level. Fishing, Bruce’s favorite sport, now offered bigger opportunities and more excitement.
On the first morning of summer vacation, Bruce was up early and on the beach. As he was untying the dinghy, a boy about his age came over and asked, “How is the fishing in this lake?”
“It’s pretty good. I found all the best spots for catfish,” Bruce replied.
“Want to go fishing?” Bruce asked.
“Sure! By the way, my name is Gene. I just moved in down the street.”
“Great, I’m Bruce. I live in that house right over there,” Bruce said while pointing to a lake bungalow. “Let’s go, but you better ask your parents.”
Bruce and Gene agreed to meet back at the boat once Gene got permission. Within five minutes, Gene was back with a fishing pole in hand.
“What are we going to do for bait?” Gene asked. Bruce held up a coffee can filled with worms, which he claimed were the “best worms around.”
Each took an oar as they rowed out to deeper water. The boys were ecstatic when they caught their first catfish. Several more followed until they had a total of eight fish.
Just as Gene was winding in his fourth fish, a noise from shore caught his attention.
“It’s Bingo! He’s coming out,” Gene yelled to Bruce. “It’s pretty far for him to swim. I don’t know if he can do it.”
Bingo was Gene’s beagle. The two boys would soon find out that the adventurist dog loved boats.
Bruce and Gene, in an effort to save Bingo if he was unable to swim all the way, grabbed the oars and started rowing towards the enthusiastically swimming dog.
Bingo made it to the boat with no problem. The boys hoisted him in, and he assumed his new position, looking much like a car hood ornament at the bow of the boat.
With eight fish, the boys decided it was time to go home for lunch. Bruce gave his mom the four fish which she said were for Grandpa.
“Grandma and Grandpa are coming up tonight from Mt. Vernon. After lunch do you think you can try and get some more fish so the whole family can have catfish?” Bruce’s mom asked.
“I’ll try, Mom, but next time you have to give me a little more time,” he said jokingly.
From that day on, whenever Grandpa was coming for a visit, Bruce’s mom instructed him to go fishing for catfish, which Grandpa loved.
Despite Bruce’s request for at least two days’ notice, his mom rarely gave him more than twenty-four hours.
Bruce and Gene became best friends. They were the same age; both enjoyed fishing, swimming, and spending every minute outdoors.
During the previous summer, Bruce noticed a twelve-foot boat partially submerged in about three feet of water. He wondered why people would abandon it. He mentioned the boat to Gene on the way back in from an emergency catfish run for Grandpa’s dinner.
The two boys agreed to go see if the boat was still there the next day.
Bright and early the next morning, the two eight-year-olds met by the dinghy. They walked over to the spot where Bruce last saw the half-sunken boat.
“It’s still here,” Bruce said happily.
“I think we can fix it if we can get it out of the water and see why it sunk. The first thing we need to do is get the water out of it and see if we can make it float a little.”
Bruce and Gene went to work. They emptied the boat of water with coffee cans and an old bucket, but it was so waterlogged, moving it seemed impossible. A bunch of older kids saw the two boys trying to pull the boat to shore and decided to help. With considerable help, the boys finally got the boat to shore. It took over a week, but they did it.
Bruce made a preliminary assessment of the boat damage. It had a hole in the side about a foot long. Other than the hole, the structure seemed sound. They would need some wood and nails to seal up the hole.
With no money, the boys searched both their garages and sheds to find material. As an added plus, Bruce found a can of red house paint and some brushes to paint the boat once it was fixed.
Work began in earnest. The boys found several pieces of wood and a bucket of nails. After careful examination of the job at hand, Bruce noticed a serious dilemma.
“How are we going to bend the wood into the curved shape of the boat?” Bruce said to Gene.
“Maybe if we wet the wood it will be easier to bend.”
Bruce placed a couple boards in the lake. He left them there for two days.
The moment of truth came when the two boys used all their might to bend the wood into the shape of the boat. Bruce pushed the wood while Gene nailed it.
Success, or so they thought! The wet wood allowed the wood to bend with great difficulty. However, when the boys went back the next day the nails had popped out.
Bruce realized that nails would not hold it. They needed screws, which they found in the shed behind Bruce’s house. Bruce used hand tools that did not come with instructions to drill pilot holes and then screw in the wood. It took the entire day to manually secure all the screws.
When they went back the next day, the board was just as they left it, perfectly attached to the side of the boat. The boys celebrated their success and went to work finishing the project. The final job was painting the boat with the red house paint.
It took most of the summer, but by Bruce’ ninth birthday on August 1, the boys finished the boat.
People marveled at the ingenuity and hard work of the young boys.
After a test to see if the boat leaked, the boys decided on a maiden voyage with a purpose. The two nine-year-olds decided they needed a tree fort.
Bruce noticed that about a quarter mile up the lake there was an area where people dumped wood and leftover construction material. He and Gene with Bingo perched on the bow set out in the newly painted red boat and rowed up the lake to find materials for the tree fort.
The maiden voyage proved successful. The wood boat had minimum water seepage, which the boys carefully bailed with coffee cans.
When they arrived at the site, Bruce and Gene found many useful items for the future tree fort.
The boys loaded wood on the red boat until Bruce told Gene that it was enough. Bruce didn’t want to overload the boat.
“We have the boat now. We can come back as much as we want,” said Bruce.
As they pushed the boat out for the return trip, the weight of the wood caused the boat to go down, leaving just two inches above the water line.
The boat was underway and too late for the boys to turn back. They rowed as fast they could with Bingo standing proudly on top of the wood at the boat’s bow.
Bruce”s father had just gotten home from work. He looked out across the lake and went wild, waving his hand and yelling.
“Get that boat to shore,” he screamed.
While the boys could see him, they couldn’t hear what he was saying. They proceeded to row.
All of a sudden, they saw Bruce’s dad plunge into the water fully clothed and start coming towards them.
Bruce was very confident the boat would not sink with all the extra weight because it had not sunk any further.
The boys called out to Bruce’s dad, who stopped swimming and stood up when he realized the boys would make it.
“Never load a boat with that much wood,” he yelled.
Bruce knew he was right and assured him they would not do it again.
The maiden voyage of the red boat proved very successful.
When Bruce moved from Sparkle Lake in 1967, the red boat was still in use and left for the next generation of kids fishing on the lake.
Construction of the tree fort is a future story from the young boy who grew up to be an engineer.
*Watch what your kids are good at. It may tell you about their life’s journey!