I arrived in Albany around midday on Wednesday, exhausted from not having slept much (due to excitement and pure brimming joy) and having gotten up at 4:45 a.m. My dad picked me up, and we headed home (via mom’s office, for a surprise visit), where I had my mom’s delicious homemade minestrone for lunch, with her delicious homemade bread alongside. And butter. Always butter.
I felt better after the food, but I was still completely exhausted, and after starting a crocheting project in the den while my dad worked on the Christmas cards, I realized I was probably going to fall asleep in my chair if I didn’t crawl into bed immediately. So I went upstairs and collapsed for a little while, until my mom came home, and I was too excited to sleep any longer. I went downstairs, we all sat around and talked while we prepared dinner, a loaf of bread, and rum sticky buns (for the Ericksons), and we ended up hitting the hay rather early, since I had a morning train to catch down to the city.
We breakfasted on eggs and homemade venison sausage before my dad drove me to the Rensselaer train station for the 8:10 to New York. I boarded, sticky buns and fudge in tins in hand (or, rather, in tins in bag in hand), and spent the next two hours crocheting, listening to music, and gazing out the window at the river. The route hugs the Hudson the entire way, and I’d not taken it since I was a kid, so it was absolutely fascinating. Half the time I was torn between my crocheting and the window. Having beein in Wisconsin since August, I had forgotten how much I missed scenery with extremes: ridges, mountains, rocky outcroppings, and a closeness of vegetation and landscape that just doesn’t exist as you move west. The river is beautiful, and the old abandoned factories (and the operational ones, their smokestacks puffing slow, crystalline smoke into the air), the old houses on the ridgetops, and the boats plowing through the half-iced water made me glad to be reading Helprin.
I got off in Yonkers, and Paul met me on the platform. The Yonkers train station ended up being beautiful inside; we took a quick detour through the waiting room, with its central circular radiators and smooth wooden benches. Then it was on to the Erickson domicile, where I delivered my foodstuffs to Mrs. Erickson and dropped off my stuff before we headed back out. We drove into Scarsdale and hit up the Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee (oh, Dunkie’s, I’d missed you!) and a walk around the village. We drove into the city talking about Robert Moses, the Croton aqueduct, and Westchester topography, and parked up at the Cloisters. We spent maybe an hour or so wandering around the museum, before spending another hour or so wandering around Fort Tryon Park. We had a lovely lunch at a place inside the park, and then we hopped back in the car and Paul took me on a little tour of Westchester, heading up Route 9 to Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow, and his old school, with a quick stop in to the local gyro place for Greek coffee and a restroom. We then headed back to his house, where dinner preparations were underway.
We had some cider and cookies with the ‘rents and sat around chatting for a while. My answers to the “So why MIT?” question seemed to elicit approving nods at a table full of people who went to school up the river. There was some Johnny Damon talk (at least I had some Boston support, despite Mr. Erickson’s unfortunate allegiance), some stories of the Midwest and of Boston; and then I was introduced to one of the Erickson family’s holiday traditions: the assembly of a jigsaw puzzle, obtained for two dollars at some sort of discount store akin to the Ocean State Job Lot and depicting a folksy bucolic scene of a watermelon harvest, entitled “Melon Time.” I was being included: how could I not join in?
And so we set up a table, Paul brought a lamp down from his room, and we set to work, as Mr. Erickson finished preparing dinner. After we’d eaten, and I’d handled an Upstate New York / Vermont comparison with more tact than I thought I had in me, Paul’s brother David came by, and the Melon Time trash-talking began. There was much unification — or Anschluss, if you prefer. By the time we all collapsed around 11, we were at least half done.
In the morning, I arose early, read a bit, and when Paul came downstairs, we did some work on Melon Time before having the sticky buns for breakfast. Paul took care of some paperwork, we finished the puzzle save for the uniformly blue sky (which we were generously leaving for David), and got on the road to Albany.
We took the Taconic up, snacking on cheese and apples and talking and telling stories, and there was only a small bit of traffic around a broken-down car around Dutchess County. We sped on toward Albany, and took a quick detour for a bathroom break just shy of Nassau. We drove about a mile off the hightway to get to the nearest village, where we found — of course! we thought, and much to our delight — the local Stewart’s. I got a small ice ream cone and two cups of coffee for us, and we hit the road again. On the way back to the Taconic, we came across a huge bird gliding along the center line of the road, just a bit higher than the car. At first it looked like some enormous gull, but it turned out to be a great blue heron, and we coasted along just behind it as it followed the road, until it took a ninety-degree left turn down some gulch toward a pond. We looked at one another in amazement and got back on the highway, feeling a little charmed.
We got to my house around 2:30 or so, and a late lunch of minestrone and bread was waiting. Wanting to take advantage of the last of the daylight, Paul and I headed back out as soon as we’d eaten. I took him up to the overlook at Thatcher Park on the Helderberg Escarpment, and we learned a bit about the local geology and who John Boyd Thatcher was from the new informational placards they have up there. It was a cloudy day, so we couldn’t really even see the city, but we soon plunged back down into the valley and headed downtown.
I drove Paul by my old school, and down New Scotland to Madison and Lark. We parked on a cobblestone street off of Lark, and walked down to State Street, gazing up at the brownstones as we went. We strolled up to the capitol, and then along the Plaza to Madison Ave. Then we headed back up to the car, and drove uptown and around my old neighborhood before going home for dinner.
We had wine and cheese, and helped with the food prearation. Steph called, and I invited her to dinner; she accepted. We all sat down around 7:30, and she told us about her work on the movie, which my parents and I had been eager to hear about. We ate stuffed flank steak, potatoes, and asparagus; there was apple crisp and vanilla ice cream for dinner, of which Paul and I likely ate a bit too much. Steph headed off shortly thereafter to a party; we settled down in front of the fire in the living room with coffee. Pretty soon, Bobbi, Audrey, and Kelly rang the doorbell, and we received them in the living room and chatted until we could no longer keep our eyes open. It ended up being a pretty early night in the Williams household.
On Saturday morning, we had scrapple and eggs, and I helped out with the makings for Christmas pastries. Paul learned that he had to help his mother run an errand for his brother down in Peekskill at 2, so he had to get on the road by noontime. I gave him his birthday and Christmas presents; we talked in the living room for a while, had a quick lunch, and he got on the road.
The rest of Christmas Eve was spent in pierogi-pinching mode, and Bobbi stopped by to help out. Dad fell asleep in front of the fire before we’d even sat down to dinner; we had to wake him up a couple of times before we could begin our meal. The food was delicious, as is the trend when I’m at home, and we had a relaxing evening eating, going for a walk, singing carols, and lounging around by the fire before heading to bed.
It’s been a wonderful trip home so far, and I’m incredibly happy. Merry Christmas, everyone!
[UPDATE, 26 December 2005: Photos are up from my general holiday adventures.]