It's kind of crazy trying to fit everything in, there's so much I want to do and so many people I want to see. Last Thursday I made an impromptu trip to NYC to do some sight-seeing. For as many times as I'd been to the city, there was still so much I hadn't seen. So, I went to the MET, got charged 5 dollars for a hot dog, promptly gave that hot dog back after arguing with the vendor for a while, ate several 2 dollar hot dogs (which seemed compartively reasonable), walked through Central Park and over the Brooklyn Bridge, saw Ground Zero, experienced the subways, heard a cow 'moo-ing' in the men's bathroom at Grand Central, etc, etc, etc.
There was also a last-minute trip to Boston on Monday afternoon. My old friend and UConn Writing Center chum, Mackenzie, is now a grad student at Simmons, so my friend Rachel and I went up to visit. We hit up the usual historical sites, including Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, and Boston Harbor (something happened there that involved tea, I think). We also stopped in at The Green Dragon Tavern (a frequent hang-out of America's first gang--the Sons of Liberty--who apparently bore a considerable distaste for the British and their tea). Our final activity was to eat dinner at the Bell in Hand Tavern, which has the somewhat dubious (perhaps self-bestowed) distinction of being the oldest, continuously operating tavern in America.
Friday of last week I also said my good-byes to one of my best friends, Parker. We spent the afternoon together in Salisbury, CT where we got extremely dirty exploring a limestone cave (in fact, I still need to wash those pants). It was dark, wet, and very muddy. About halfway in, the flashlight I was using started to flicker on and off, which I can assure you, was a great comfort. And yes, I know what you're asking, the bats may be somewhat shocking at first, but you get used to them hanging inches away from your face. The cave was actually quite big, surprisingly so. There were 2 "rooms" tall enough for standing, and the final "room," although somewhat narrow, reached probably 10-15 feet high.
On Wednesday of this week I went to have dinner with my dear old friends, the Devlin family. Everyone was there, including Mr. and Mrs. Devlin, Phil, Kelley, Katie and Matt. It was good to see them all before I leave. After a lovely dinner, and some awesome brownies that Phil made, Mr. Devlin used us to practice the questions he would be asking as moderator for an upcoming Haddam-Killingworth High School Academic Tournament. I can't say it made me feel any smarter, but I did learn there's a Millard Filmore fan club. Their motto is "we revel in his obscurity." I bet they don't advertise their meetings.
Today I went to see Uncle Jake with my mother (Uncle Jake is actually her uncle, and my great uncle). He's 95 and doing amazingly well. When we drove up his driveway, both mom and I were surprised to see him standing out in the yard, waiting to greet us. Since his eye sight is extremely bad, it was good to see that he's able get out and walk around (in fact we were later informed that his latest project has been to fill his wheel-barrow with dirt and cart it across the yard to fill ditches and low spots). He keeps himself busy; one of his favorite pastimes is to make wine from welch's grape juice (I tried it for the first time today, somewhat apprehensively, but it actually wasn't half bad. Very fruity). He's really a very interesting guy, and quite a character. I'll always remember the story my dad tells about him: At one time Uncle Jake had a dog, who's name happened to be "dog." While at a picnic at the family cottage, dog happened to catch a squirrel, which he brought to Uncle Jake's feet. Without hesitation, Uncle Jake, who was grilling hamburgers at the time, took the dead animal from dog and tossed it on the grill next to the burgers. He figured dog wanted to eat like everyone else, although I'm sure it was the cause of more than one lost appetite. In any case, I think that anecdote demonstrates what kind of a person Uncle Jake is. He's a very simple, down to earth sort of guy. He's been wearing the same clothes for who knows how long. When a button falls off, its no matter, he just uses a clothespin. If he doesn't have a belt, he'll just tie a piece of rope around his waist. He's so optimistic too, which is great to see. I always love hearing his stories. Today he told us about how his dad used to make beer in their cellar during Prohibition. One particular day he came home from school during his lunch recess and was asked to bottle some beer for his father. One of his classmates dropped by and started helping. One thing led to another and they started drinking a few. Suddenly, his classmate remembered that his dad also made beer at their house. So, he ran off to get some of his dad's beer so they could do a comparison. But, when the boy returned with the beer, they tasted it and discovered that it wasn't beer at all, it was moonshine! Needless to say, those two returned to class a bit wobbly (they were probably in the 3rd or 4th grade at the time). The great thing when Uncle Jake tells a story is his delivery. He's so dry and matter-of-fact, even when telling stories about his mischievous youth. He also told us how he decided to drop out of junior high, and started hitchhiking everywhere. He would hitch rides with complete strangers, and would even spend nights at police stations (voluntarily, of course) beacuse it was free, or cheaper than a hotel. He would hop freight or passenger trains when the conductor wasn't looking and travel to New York or Boston to visit friends and family. It's almost like he lived the life of a hobo. He also told us about hitchiking across death valley before there was even a road there. Apparently people just drove on the sand, and the way was marked by stone cairns. I always find it fascinting to hear the stories that older folks have to tell; they have so many experiences. Since all my grandparents are dead, it was good to get a perspective from a bygone era once more.
Tomorrow I'll be going out for sushi with Laurie and Anita, the former co-directors of the UConn Writing Center. I first met them as a student in a poetry course that they team-taught. After that class, they offered me a job as a tutor at the Writing Center. At the time I was a freshman working at the dining hall, so being a tutor seemed like a great opportunity; it certainly seemed like it would be a cleaner job. I'm glad I took it, because the Writing Center quickly became my 'home base' at UConn. I had the opportunity to work with some really great people, and make some lasting friendships. On top of that, it allowed me some degree of professional development. I think my tutoring experience had a lot to do with my acceptance into the Peace Corps. And, for that I will always be grateful to Laurie and Anita.
My neighbors (Doug, my former boss, and his girlfriend Mary) are throwing me a going-away party this Saturday. I didn't originally want a party, but I suppose its a good way to see many of my friends for "one last time."
I'm still trying to get the whole packing thing down. I suppose its not complicated, but to be quite honest, I haven't done any organizing or packing since April, the time I did the practice-run. I have, however, revised my original packing list quite a bit; I've removed some items and added others. I realize now, as many have advised me, the goal is not to pack absolutely everything I'll need for the entire two years. That was my original intention, and soon discovered just how idiotic it was. Several friends, and other Peace Corps volunteers have reassured me that majority of what I may need or want is available for purchase in Romania.
In saying "see you in two years" to so many old friends, the magnitude of this undertaking has really set in. I remember graduating from middle school and going on to high school. High school seemed so strange and scary. But, it turned out all right and I did just fine. Then I gradutaed high school and it was time for college. Just as I had with high school, I certainly had apprehensions about college. Again it seemed so strange and unfamiliar. But I took the plunge and it soon became "home." So here I am once again, on the brink. Romania seems so foreign, so different. There's so much I don't know, and that is somewhat scary. But also very exciting. This is just like any other challenge I've faced in my life. Challenges always seem scary at the outset, but once you tackle them, you often find out that you can, indeed, manage them. In fact the experience itself is often worth the initial emotional anxiety.
I also wonder how the experience will change me. Are these the last few days of my life as I know it? Who will I be when I come home? I suppose these are questions anyone might ask, because life is a journey where the path winds out before us. As we walk that path, it's inevitable that we should grow and learn, whatever our undertakings may be.