Charles and Sally

Charles and Sally
en route to Le Diner en Blanc

Le Diner en Blanc New York

Le Diner en Blanc New York
Lincoln Center 2012

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A NEW CHAPTER IN THE STORY OF MY DREAM HOUSE


It was May of 1968 when I first set foot in Port Washington, New York, a Long Island town known for its good schools, its diverse population, and its convenient commuting. I had flown to New York for the weekend from St. Louis where I had left my three young daughters with a babysitter. David was already here working at his new job, and the two of us had spent two long, tiring days with real estate agents. We hadn’t seen any houses we could afford and would consider, I had to go back Sunday evening, and I was resigned to making another trip in.
            Sunday morning we picked up The New York Times and saw a small ad for a four-bedroom house within walking distance from the Long Island Rail Road station. The owner had placed the ad just that morning and we were the first to respond. Both David and I fell in love with this old colonial nestled in a cul-de-sac before we even set foot inside. When we went in we were even more entranced as we saw that the house was enveloped by the woods behind it, so that every window but one looked out upon greenery. In the back a pulley had been set up between a couple of trees so that the 11-year-old boy living there could swing from one great old oak to another. In the finished basement that had once been living quarters for the father-in-law of a previous owner we saw more evidence of the 11-year-old – a turtle in the claw-footed bathtub.
            The house didn’t have any of the three “musts” on my list: a kitchen large enough to eat in, a lavatory on the first floor, or a playroom for the children. No matter. Love overcomes “musts.” We made an offer on the house immediately. That evening the owner phoned us to say he had received a higher offer and if we wanted the house we would have to meet that. We did, and we moved in before the new school year.

My family lived in this dream house for more than forty years. We took all our meals in the dining room where we looked north at the riot of trees and never missed an eat-in kitchen. We fixed up a playroom down below the first floor (next to the bathroom with the turtle) which the girls hardly spent any time in. And we eventually put in a powder room off the kitchen. We filled the house with our colors and our art and each of us carved out our own special corners. Our extended family members and many dear friends came to visit and enjoy our home with us. These walls were witness to the happiest of times in our family -- and yes, the saddest of times. And always we knew we were living in a very special place.
            Our girls grew up and moved away, and David and I occasionally talked about moving to an apartment in Manhattan now that it was just the two of us, but somehow we still managed to fill our space. He set up an at-home office in one daughter’s former bedroom, we put up guests and exercised on machines in another, and I took over the closet in a third. Years earlier I had set up my office in the playroom space, where I could look out at the trees when I needed to take a daydreaming break. We had paid off the mortgage and saw no reason to leave. And neither of us wanted to clear out the attic or David’s workshop. When people asked whether we thought of moving, David said, “They’ll carry me out of here.” As it turned out, he walked out of the house for the last time himself, suffered a stroke, and died four days later without regaining  consciousness. And now that I was alone after almost 54 years of marriage, the house really was too big.
            And now I feel good knowing that the new family who bought the house has also fallen in love and will be raising their children here and loving the woods and the sunsets and the special sense of being in nature.  They have had their first guest, a gifted poet and photographer who wrote her own paean to this magical place, accessible at
http://carolsteel5050.blogspot.com/2012/06/visiting-your-new-home.html.



Monday, June 18, 2012

APPRECIATING TWO DADS

Around Father’s Day this year I read so many sad stories about unhappy – or absent – relationships with fathers that I appreciate my own father and the father of my children even more. Both of them are gone now, but I’m enjoying the memories that have bubbled up in my mind. By today’s fathering standards, neither of them was as present in his children’s lives as much as we would think enough – but when they were there, their presence was great. My father, Samuel Wendkos, was a traveling salesman when I was a little girl and would be gone all week long. I remember his coming home on Friday evenings and before he would have dinner and I was ready to go to sleep, he would sit on my bed and tell me a story from one of the movies he would have seen during the week. Then on Saturday afternoons he would take me to the movie theater about half a mile from our house. For years he would laugh about the time I wanted to talk to one of the actors and ran up to the stage to try to reach the screen. He showed his love for me and for both my older brothers as long as he lived. He never asked to borrow money for himself, but when one of my brothers needed it, he went to a wealthy friend and incurred a debt that he had to work hard to repay. When my other brother was disabled and alone during his fifties, my father became his best friend, and he and my mother took my brother into their home. My daddy (and I called him that my whole life) died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 76, and my mother said, “He died the way he lived – he never caused a bit of trouble to anyone.” My husband, David Mark Olds, told me the first day we met that the reason his brief first marriage ended was that his first wife didn’t want children. We went on to have three daughters and when people would ask whether he was disappointed not to have sons, he looked at them as if they were crazy. Our weekends when the girls were young took us to parks, museums, zoos, kids’ plays, whatever he and I thought the girls would like, and he never said he didn't want to do anything that the girls might enjoy. He was the parent who drove our oldest daughter around to look at prospective colleges, who drove our second daughter to her weekly piano lessons throughout her junior high and high school years, and who went to innumerable interminable gymnastics meets to see our youngest daughter go through her paces. He also died suddenly, of a stroke at the age of 88, and as much as we all miss him, we know how lucky we are to have had him for as long as we did.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

NEWLY DISCOVERED REVIEW OF "BALCONY"

While I was looking for something else I came upon a 2005 review of my book A BALCONY IN NEPAL: GLIMPSES OF A HIMALAYAN VILLAGE. My favorite line is "Written by an unlikely trekker -- a 70 year old grandmother..." Eli Bendersky, the reviewer, has given me permission to post the review, so here it is: http://eli.thegreenplace.net/2005/11/13/book-review-a-balcony-in-nepal-by-sally-olds/ "November 13th, 2005 at 11:31 pm When I strolled through a small bookshop in Pokhara (Nepal’s 2nd largest city) most of the books I ran into were (unsurprisingly) about mountaneering and treeking. But this was not what I was looking for. I was rather hoping to find a book that tells about the lives of Nepalis – especially the “real”, rural inhabitants of this beautiful country, and not the shop-keepers tourists usually run into. “A balcony in Nepal” is such a book. Written by an unlikely trekker – a 70 year old grandmother, it tells about the few months the author has spent in Badel – a small village in the east of Nepal, not far away from Mt. Everest. Mrs. Olds trekked a couple of times in Nepal with her husband and fell in love with the country, to which she came back several times, on a quest of “looking for herself”. The narrative is autobiographical, feeling like a journal carefully collected and edited. It is very readable and can be finished quickly. The author tells about the lives of people in a typical Nepali village, their day-to-day hardships, peculiar rituals and, most of all, their apparently illogical happiness and peace of mind. The book keeps coming back to the inevitable comparison of the rich life in the west versus the poor conditions people live in Nepal, and yet somehow they don’t look less happy for it. They look more happy, if a comparison must be made. Some point about appreciating what we have… All in all, a charming book. Not only does it tell a lot about the life of Nepalis, it also raises quite a few interesting philosophical points, so it’s an interesting read even for people not really interested in Nepal itself."

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"A BALCONY IN NEPAL" NOW AN E-BOOK

This is exciting to me -- the book I wrote about an ancient way of life is now very much a 21st-century e-book, as well as a paperback edition. The e-book is much less expensive and can be ordered from www.BarnesandNoble.com, www.amazon.com, and www.iUniverse.com. The life in Badel that we experienced and wrote about has already changed greatly. Buddi, our guide, now lives in Ohio with his wife and three children. His parents and uncle (our librarian) have moved to Kathmandu. Many of the young people we met have left the village to work in other countries. For a while some of the Maoist guerrillas were occupying the library building and extorting food from the villagers, but I think they have all gone now. Our last contribution to the village was money to build toilets, which I have heard are indeed being used and taken care of. Kumari, the young girl whose surgery my fellow trekker and I paid for to correct her cleft lip, has married. So has Laxmi, the young untouchable girl we coaxed into our library to hold a book for the first time in her life. And so life goes on.