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Thursday, 09 June 2011

Sacred Places

By Lyn Burnstine

Hyde Park 1

I hold many places sacred both in my memory and in my present existence. One of them called to me today. Yes, I was in the vicinity for a haircut; yes, I had been feeling deprived of my beloved, healing photography since being hospitalized last week and only slowly now regaining my strength.

But there are many beautiful parks and lakes and river views nearby where I could have chosen to spend time. I have thousands of photos of the Vanderbilt Mansion grounds here in Hyde Park, New York. I didn’t need one more. But I did need to revisit my life – my memories.

Last night, I learned of the serious illness of my most elder friend who even under the best of circumstances won’t be around forever. She is 90. I also faced awareness of my own mortality last week when my body once again showed me its vulnerability due to powerful destructive meds that I am forced to take if I want to have any life at all.

This week, I learned that the only solution to a recent heart development is a very dangerous drug and that the solution to not ending my days in a wheelchair may require a scary and dangerous surgery I was determined never to have.

It has not been a good week, folks! Try as I might to come up with positives, it’s harder than usual.

I guess the reason I needed to be at Vanderbilt’s is that it’s always there. It never changes, except seasonally. I have photos from all four seasons and half-way between all of them.

Hyde Park 2

My history with Vanderbilt’s is varied and intense. It was a part of my children’s lives growing up in Hyde Park. They rode their bikes there, hung out with friends, and neighbors. I took my youngest, Alan, and his neighborhood buddies on “Ranger Rick” outings there to read the brass plates on the exotic trees the Vanderbilt’s had imported.

Laurel, my eldest, often rode her bike over and talked the guards into letting her go in and pretend she was the princess-owner of this elegant grand house, gliding up and down the stairs in a revery.

We attended concerts on the grounds, weddings and I may even have sung there. Yes. wait. I did! And of course, every out-of-town visitor we had from 1962 until the 90s had to be taken to see its splendors.

Not all of my memories of here are good ones. It was the site of my biggest heartbreak – I saw the only hard evidence of my husband’s suspected cheating and betrayal when I drove through with my younger daughter, Lisa, and her friend and caught him snuggling with someone who was our “friend” – his more than mine, obviously.

Lisa and I never talked about it – ever - nor did her father and I. The marriage effectively ended the next day.

Years later, I had several wonderfully romantic liaisons, healing in themselves, and especially healing because they happened there. Somehow it meant more to have my desirability confirmed there where I’d seen proof of no longer being desirable to my husband of 20 years.

I spent one idyllic spring day lying in the grass under the pink dogwoods and redbud trees being serenaded with poetry and song by a lovely “black Irish” man, an artist and musician.

I was treated to a champagne, fruit and cheese picnic by another suitor who was romantic beyond anything I’d ever experienced.

I spent other days there soaking up the warm spring sunshine in the gardens and on the riverbanks with male friends who later became lovers for a brief time.

During my short career as an activity director, I took the clients of a group home there to enjoy the view and the outdoors: some of them had been institutionalized their whole lives and two told me they hadn’t been in a car for 30 years.

I picnicked with friends, played Scrabble at the tables down by the river and spent lots of time by myself learning to love my solitude. I talked to rangers sometimes about the wildlife. I met an amazing woman on the path who seemed almost magical to me with eyes like ice-blue marbles. We spoke deeply and personally of common interests in nature and never saw each other again.

I took my grandchildren there and my first great-granddaughter. My grandson, Grahm, scared me by suddenly rolling down a steep hill with no warning. I stood at the top and called down, “I hope you can get yourself back up – there is no way I can come get you!”

A generation later, his oldest child, Maybelle, just starting to walk, hugged a tree for the first time and her mom and I marveled over what that must be like for her. I lay on my back with my knees bent to relieve my back, feet waggling in the air, and she toddled over and bit me on the toe. I felt like I had joined an exclusive club – that I was “in” somehow.

Down by the river, I had learned long ago that my stomach lurched when any child, not just my own, went close to the water so that day we were far away, up on the overlook immortalized by every artist and photographer that ever passed through the grounds and usually named simply “Hyde Park.”

Hyde Park 3

Like most people my age, I am experiencing an avalanche of loss – of friends, abilities, interests. I work very hard at seeing the half-full cup, looking at what I still have and can do, and not obsessing about the losses.

Today was a good reminder of what is unchanged and still there for me – even if someday I have to be driven and have to take my pictures from the seat of the car! Excelsior!

Hyde Park 4

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What memories a long life gives us.

The Vanderbilt grounds are a very special place to all of us who live in this area but now I understand why it is a Sacred Place for you. May you continue to enjoy them and may they continue to give you some security,stability and peace.

Such nostalgia attached to just one place in the world, but it seems to have become your special place, and your beautiful photography and words about it make it seem a special place to all of us. I’ve never been lucky enough to have visited it, yet I can imagine it through your descriptions of your life, at times, lived there. I hope you are feeling better and that your health and life return to normal soon.

Lyn - Wow!

The photos are spectacular. Just looking at them lifts my spirits. I'm sure they lift yours too.

Beautifully written. - Sandy

How sweet of you to share your intimate memories with us. Try not to worry about health problems. I wish you the best results.

Dear Lyn,

I'm sorry these health problems are raining down on you now.

If writing beautiful essays that we all enjoy reading and taking gorgeous photos of places we may never visit
helps you, be assured that we will be here to read what you write and we will enjoy your pictures and will always wish you well.

Thank you all so much.Yes, all of it helps: the scenery, writing, and your wonderful responses.

Beautiful piece Lyn, so nice that we are all not "alone" in our joys or our sorrows..your photos are beautiful; nature trumps all as usual...regrdes..

Some bits that I had not known however I can echo much of your feeling for the favorite spot. One day my grandaughter marie and I stood at the "sunset spot" and watched a young deer running, back and forth, between two groups of it's family under two trees, below us. We were sure that it knew that we were watching and that it didn't mind.

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