Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mixing Business with Pleasure (and chocolate!)

"There's no keynote speaker this year??" cried Mrs. Hall, as she perused the convention booklet. "How on earth do they expect to get anyone from the eastern side of the state all the way out here?" The New York State Funeral Directors Association (acronymically referred to as "NYSFDA") had, in the past, scheduled some pretty high powered talent to speak at their conventions; but times being what they were, the powers that be had apparently scaled back the budget. Not only was there no featured celebrity in the field, but, as some were mumbling, it was on the 'shabby' side of the falls. "So much for home town boosterism," remarked Mr. Hall. Patriotism aside, however, the Canadians did seem to have the whole tourist thing down so much better in Niagara. Their gardens were lovely and pristine, and their boulevard overlooking the falls boasted some of the nicest hotels around. But the American side was where the convention was being held, so that was where the Halls were heading.
"The brochure says they have a block of rooms over at that Sheridan across the street from the Convention Center- are we staying there?" asked Mrs. H. tentatively. Mr. Hall assured her no; he had already made reservations at her favorite Hamptons, and Mrs. H. sighed a sigh of relief. (He made a great show of making it seem as though no sacrifice was too great for Mrs. H. but the reality was, the rooms were considerably less expensive and they accrued points for the stay as well. This was not, as they say, the first time to the rodeo for Mr. Hall.)
Without the usual two hour block of time allotted to their celebrity showstopper, the convention got down to brass tacks fairly quickly. To make the most of the seminars, the Halls usually split up and after taking notes, regrouped during the exhibition hours. The lessons seemed like slim pickings this year, but the organization had gone all out for the trade show end of it, and the strolling lunch stations were wonderful. "Is that a chocolate 'martini' station over there?" asked Mrs. Hall incredulously. Sure enough, mountains of candy sprinkles and bonbons were artfully arranged, between the casket salesmen and the mortuary shipping supplies. The hostess was scooping the sugary options over a thick chocolaty mixture poured into cocktail glasses. "I think I'll stick to the more traditional ones," said Mr. Hall, and suppressed a gag. His opinion notwithstanding, there were long lines of ladies queuing up for seconds.
A couple of days of mortuary accounting, cremation liability and funeral law sessions can wear on a person after a while, so it was with great relief the Halls faced the last day of seminars. "Take a look at all the serious swag I managed to snag in the exhibition room this week. " said Mrs. Hall, as she struggled to cram them into her bags. Mr. Hall chuckled and donned a baseball cap. "After this morning, I've got all the credits I need for this trip; how about we head on over the bridge and walk around the Canadian side?" Mrs. Hall was only too happy to agree.
Passing the souvenir stands and tourist traps along the way, they headed for the border post. Happy couples posed for pictures along the bridge and the Halls accommodated a number of them by taking pictures of them with their cameras. No matter what the season or the state of the markets, Niagara Falls continues to draw romantics from all over the world. They walked along the manicured gardens and marvelled at the mist rising from the gorge. After grabbing a snack in town, they crossed back into the US. "Do you feel up to getting a little wet?" asked Mr. Hall. "I've always wanted to take that path that runs right up to the American Falls. Are you game?" Mr. Hall, being the gentleman that he was, felt compelled to ask first, even though he already knew the answer would be yes; there is rarely an adventure Mrs. Hall declines. Taking the elevator right down to the rocks below, they trod the slippery gravel path that wound around the edge of the falls. A gentle breeze blew the cooling mist over them as their fellow tourists giggled and snapped pictures. Though a variety of languages could be heard in the group, it hardly required a linguist to translate the delight and awe in their voices.
On the way back to their hotel, they passed the Seneca Indian casino. "Just a little stop, just for a short while?" pleaded Mr. Hall. Mrs. Hall agreed, on one condition; earlier in the day she had talked some of the salesmen at the US Air booth into placing their large size table model of a Boeing 767 into the silent auction. They had to stop back and see if they had won.
Mr. Hall emerged, an hour or so later, somewhat wealthier for the experience, but it was short-lived. Mrs. Hall was seen jumping about, looking for him. "We won- we won the model in the auction!" she said. "Now all we have to do is write these nice folks a check!" Mr. Hall sighed and took out his checkbook.
It wasn't long afterwards the Halls could be seen, winging their way back to Syracuse. Winston groaned under the weight of all that swag, and Mrs. Hall was visible, but only barely- hiding behind a huge white box bearing their prize plane.

The Best and the Bright(on)est

Winston shone in the sunlight like a shiny green beetle. Mr. Hall drove him around and picked up Mrs. Hall in front of the lobby of the hotel. "Just for old times' sake," he began- "I just want to take a swing by the old homestead." Mrs. Hall nodded and Winston took off as if he knew the way all by himself.
Where once an orchard and a largely uninhabited stand of woods stood long ago, a small sub-division had grown up. Winston turned off of Woodland Park onto Hallridge Road; so named for the man who had once owned the entire hillside area, and who also happened to be Mr. Hall's father. A few short years ago, they had visited this spot and although the waterfront was showing signs of a revival, Mr. Hall's childhood house was up for sale. A quick inquiry proved why; in the face of the housing bubble, the realtors were asking an exorbitant price. A year later, upon revisiting it, the home was still on the market, but now for a more reasonable and realistic price. This year proved the most satisfying of the lot, however. Not only had the property sold, but the new owners had improved upon the lot in a most agreeable fashion. It was a pleasure to see it used and enjoyed. As they drove past town, they passed the old Hall's Market, where Mr. Hall, his father and grandfather had once worked so many years ago. It was a comfort to see it was still a neighborhood fixture in the area.
"Looks like there's a little weather coming in," remarked Mr. Hall, surveying the horizon, and truer words could not be spoken, for as soon as they cleared the outer markers beyond Big Pine Island Lake, the rains started to come down.
Winston splashed down the highway at a rate somewhat higher than the posted speed limit, but still couldn't manage to outrun the storm. By late evening, the little green car finally crawled up the driveway of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Pranitis' home in Brighton MI and the Halls ran through the raindrops to get in. Rick and Gail had invited them for a stay and their always gracious (and tasty!) welcome was just what the doctor ordered.
After burning the midnight oil a bit, trading stories and generally getting caught up, Mrs. Hall was somewhat sluggish about rising, but when Gail told her they were going to check out a local art festival in town, her interest perked considerably. Nothing beats finding new talent on the ascent, thought Mrs. Hall, and certainly an educated and intelligent community like Brighton would likely have some of the best and the brightest.
That the town embraced la vie artistique, was clearly apparent. Everywhere they walked were touches of adornment and sculpture. "Though I'm sure I'm supposed to be full of refinement now, I'd have to say my stomach is registering on empty. How about we break for some lunch?" said Mr. Hall. Rick and Gail were right on the money with the perfect spot. Bagger Dave's was right down the street, and after admiring the train pictures and the model train running around the ceiling of the bar, Mr. Hall finally settled down and ordered.
His inner man having been quieted at least for the moment, the little group returned to the fair. They wandered around for a while and after a few hours more of the quietly inspired lunacy, decided it was time to call it a day. Picking up their stuff from the house, the Halls thanked Rick and Gail for a lovely time, hugs went all around at least twice along with promises to get together again soon, and they were off.
As they waited in line at the Canadian border, Mrs. Hall wondered aloud if the adjacent car's owner had left his miniature dog in charge of the wheel while he made a pit stop, but Mr. Hall ignored her. "Next stop- Niagara Falls!" he announced, but she was already dropping off to sleep. Next episode: Taking sides (of the Falls)- stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Over the river and through the woods

While the cockpit in a Miata is fairly roomy, and certainly comfortable for longer rides, the hold is another story. The square footage of the aft cargo bay is hardly what one would call capacious; Mr. Hall twice had to arrange and rearrange the valises to fit. But Mrs. Hall is used to traveling light, and after waving goodbye to Colleen and leaving her with specific instructions regarding the care of their aged and ailing cat, Pepper, the Halls once again took to the road.
With passports in hand, they plotted a trip through Canada, and into The Great Lakes State. First stop: Owosso, Michigan. Owosso has no real claim to celebrity; while possessing more than its share of intriguing sites for a small community, the primary reason the Halls overnight there is because its location is central to most of their Michigan shenanigans. After a quick breather at the Korner Pub and a night at the Comstock Inn, they awoke fresh and ready to take on a stroll back in time.
Rolling into Rockford MI, Mr. Hall's old stomping grounds, they paused for the obligatory hotdog at the Corner Bar. Nothing takes away the cares of the day for Mr. H. like a double dose of their world famous chili-dogs and a chance to watch his beloved Tigers on the tube. A walk around the town was enough to satisfy them that the old haunts were thriving, even in this ragged economy. Since the reunion was still a day away, they pointed Winston in the direction of Sand Lake and the Paradise Cove resort. Childhood friend and campground host extraordinaire, Paul Arntz and his lovely wife Jan, welcomed them with open arms. The Arntz's were harboring some charming youngsters for the weekend as well as a small dog, so the party moved outdoors to enjoy the seasonably cool weather. The sunset glinted across the lake and with the addition of their neighbors Del and Ruth, it felt like time for a little something. Rumblings of a pizza were starting to stir when word came down that the kids had requested a local specialty known as "Hobo pies." The Halls watched in fascination as the irons needed for this comestible were produced; the picnic table was covered in an instant with all manner of fillings and the next thing they knew, Mr. and Mrs. Hall were being coached in the proper form. The spirit of American ingenuity has never been in short supply in this region; over a firepit formed from a reclaimed truck wheel and the liner of an old washing machine, a dozen or so of the tastiest, meltiest cheese and meat pockets toasted to dinnertime perfection, and so completely was their hunger sated, no dessert (though readily offered!) was required.
Barely able to slide into the cockpit, they hugged their hosts and made their way to the hotel room for the night. The next morning, it was back to Rockford's Community Cabin for the reunion. "The Rockford Rams Class of '66 gets together more than any class I know", remarked Mrs. H. and Mr. Hall had to admit, it was true. Blessed with a core group of individuals dedicated to maintaining close ties (via the internet, gossip, the pony express or whatever means possible) with everyone from their little band still sitting up and taking nourishment, they managed to round up quite a few of the old graduates for the bash. The weather gods weren't quite as congenial as the warmth inside the cabin; almost as soon as the barbecue pig came off the grill, it began to rain cats and dogs outside. But to the fifty or so alumni gathered, it was a wonderful day. Every one present got a chance to get up and speak; and in doing so, it became apparent that the passing of time seemed not to have diminished the memories of old flames and childhood rivalries. Even their old principal, Mr. Cornelius Huizenga, showed up and addressed the crowd. Jay Grams and Neil Blakeslee, co-chairs of the production, took a well-deserved bow for their tireless efforts, and with all the hugging and backslapping going on, no one really noticed the rain at all. As endearing a town as Rockford is, however, the Halls knew they had miles to go. Pulling themselves together, they waved goodbye to the shrubbery and headed on east. Next episode; Brighton or bust! Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hall's not well

The atmosphere about the Hall has been rather gloomy this week. Fluffy companion and resident rescue, Wookitter T. Pooch, affectionately known as "Wookie", passed away on Thursday. Listless and quiet, she had been spending more time than usual sleeping in Colleen's room. The Halls had noticed she was a bit off her feed earlier in the week, but things began to take a turn for the worse Wednesday evening. She was rushed in to the vet's office Thursday morning, but unfortunately, nothing could be done to save her.
Wookie came to Penguin Hall unexpectedly the summer of 2000, when Colleen and a friend of hers, Amy Foster, came running up to Mrs. Hall during a local festival, carrying what looked like a small brown ball made of fur. Weeping and crying, they had just come from a fellow in a pickup with a boxload of similar furry lumps which he intended to put down if homes could not be found for them that day. The lump's little head flopped over in a very unhealthy fashion; it was clear that the furball was really too young to be taken from its mother's side. "Well, let's see if we can nurse it back to health- then we can find it a good home," consoled Mrs. H. The good home it found, of course, turned out to be their own.
Through many a good day and even more bad ones, Wookie was faithful sidekick and silent confidant to all the kids at the Hall. Fluffy enough to be a pillow as well as a pet, she always listened patiently to whatever their fears or concerns might be, and her only advice was always the same; that of unconditional love.
Goodbye to you dear Wookie. The Hall won't be the same without you.

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