By Harold Herzog
In an earlier time, farm boys learned to drive tractors as soon as their legs were long enough to reach the pedals. For me and my cousin, Al, this was the summer of 1960. Read More
By Gary Sefchik
I was never an enthusiastic runner. Any running on my part usually involves chasing a tennis ball or a racquetball or maybe, running from the sharp horns of a stampeding bull and his buddies in Spain - like that would ever happen... Read More
By DJV Murphy
The old Ambassador Hotel was a grand destination spot for celebrities and families from near and far. Built in 1919, it gained notoriety in 1930 when the nations most feared gangsters gathered for a summit to discuss gangland business... Read More
By Gary Sefchik
We became cat owners, for the first time when we were living in a one bedroom apartment. Fairly, newly married – focusing on our careers. A friend’s wife, an eccentric cat lady had convinced us (me really – as a kid, we always had a cat or a dog, usually both) to test drive an orange and yellow kitten.. Read More
Historic images courtesy of Don Freiberg... View Here
By Carol Cummins & Susan Wingfield
Since the first Spring Basket Day in 1961, thousands of hours have been invested and hundreds of friendships forged, as the women of L.P.C. (and some fearless men) join together to create a community event full of fun, fellowship, and surprises... Read More
In an earlier time, farm boys learned to drive tractors as soon as their legs were long enough to reach the pedals. For me and my cousin, Al, this was the summer of 1960. We had already been steering the tractors for several years - first sitting on the laps of our fathers and uncles, and then sitting on the front of tractor seat with them behind us.
But this summer was different. I was almost 10, and Al almost 9. I had grown sufficiently, and that by sitting on the very front edge of the tractor seat, I could not only steer, but also reach the clutch and dual brake pedals on the Farmall H tractor. The Farmall H was the smallest tractor on the farm, and also coincidentally enough, the one that was used to rake hay. The seat on this tractor at one time had a foam padding and woven cover. That was long gone, and the seat was bare metal. Except for the negative aspects of sitting directly on steel, the lack of padding was actually good as it got us boys closer to the pedals.
One sunny morning in mid June shortly after school was out, Uncle Roy took me out to the hay field. I’m sure my dad, Harley, had talked to my mother, Iva, about getting me started helping out in the hay fields that summer, but no one had said anything to me. I was just looking forward to being out with one of my uncles, expecting that I would get to drive the tractor with Uncle Roy sitting behind me for a little while. Then when I got bored, I would leave and walk back to the farm, and play with my cousins, ride bicycles, ride the hay truck in the afternoon, drag a few hay bales to the truck for loading, and do all the other stuff I had done the previous summers.
As was frequently done, the tractor and hay rake had been left in the hay field from the day before where work had stopped. There was a routine for getting the tractor and rake ready for a day’s work. I had seen my dad and uncles do this many time before, but this time Uncle Roy, seemed to take a much keener interest in showing me how it was done. The tractor was filled with gas from 5-gallon cans hauled out to the field in the back of the truck. Tipping up the gas cans and getting the gas flowing into the tractor tank without spilling a drop was a skill that would take me a couple more years to master. The hay rake was lubricated using a grease gun and oil can. One needed first to know where all the grease fittings were located on the rake and then to pump the grease gun sufficiently at each fitting so that you could see the grease oozing out around the joint. The oil can was used for all the other friction points on the hay rake and the tractor drawbar to keep the steel from wearing away from a day of repetitive motion and vibration.
This routine preparation work seemed to take an eternity although it was only about 15 minutes. All I could think about was ‘when could we get on the tractor and start to drive’ - I at the front of the seat, and Uncle Roy behind me. Much to my surprise this morning, Uncle Roy told me to get seated on the tractor, and instead of him sitting behind me, he stood on the drawbar, behind and to my right side. This is when I knew my day was going to be different.
Very methodically, Uncle Roy took me through the starting procedure for the tractor. I had seen this done many times before, but now I was doing it. Tie the left and right brakes together and set the brakes. Press in the clutch and take the tractor out of gear. Set the throttle to about half way and pull out the choke. Pull out the On/Off switch and press the starter. Excited as I was about starting the tractor all by myself, I forgot to release the starter after the engine was running. After a short lecture about releasing the starter button quickly, pushing back in the choke, and throttling down to a low idle, the Farmall H was running just as smoothly as ever. We hadn’t moved an inch but I had started the tractor, and was ready to go.
The hay field that we were working in that day was relatively flat for New Jersey, and there were not too many ruts in the ground. This meant that we could rake hay in fourth gear at low to mid throttle. In many other fields, I would later learn that third gear was the maximum, unless you wanted to be bounced off the seat, or bruise or break your thumbs when the steering wheel spun around from the front wheels hitting the ruts.
Sliding as far forward on the tractor seat as I could go and still be sitting, I pushed in the clutch and put the tractor in fourth gear. Using my right foot, I released the brakes lock. Stretched out as far as I possibly could with both legs - left on the clutch and right on the brakes, I increased throttle with my right hand and began to let out the clutch. Everyone knows this story. One lurch forward by the tractor and it stalled. Uncle Roy, patient as he was, gave me a couple of pointers after he got back on the drawbar. Slowly release the clutch, don’t forget to ease off on the brakes, and let’s try it again, in third gear!
It may have taken one or two more tries, but soon we were moving along and I was raking hay, or so I thought. Another whole new learning experience that morning was how to make a proper windrow of hay. The two key elements were that the windrow be straight and that it be of a thickness that it could be baled without stalling the hay baler. The hay rake turned the hay from right to left, making a windrow that you could see by looking over your left shoulder. The first thing about raking hay, and pulling any other implement behind the tractor for that matter, was that you had to learn to look back. There were no mirrors on the tractor, so a constant motion of looking forward where you were going and looking back to see what the hay rake was doing and how the windrow was being made was required. Although this looking forward/looking back eventually became rote, for the novice tractor driver it was real concentration.
Most of the time, we raked hay in rectangles of ever-decreasing size. We started a field from the outside edge, and in the perfect field, made one continuous windrow that led to the center of the field. On that first morning, as Uncle Roy and I came around the field the first time and started our second pass, the outer windrow became a teaching experience. Uncle Roy would comment about how I had the tractor too far to the left or right, either not raking up all the hay or making a very thin windrow. Or chuckling about how wavy the windrow was, and encouraging me to look forward/look back more frequently. And even reminding me that later that day, my dad, Harley, would be baling up those windrows and would know how well I had done. Minimizing the amount of travel over the field was important, as it saved time, wear and tear on the farm machinery, and gasoline, even though gasoline was about 25 cents per gallon then.
I don’t remember much more of that first day. I must have come back to the house with considerable sunburn, because the next morning my dad took me to the Ellis Tiger store in Gladstone to buy me a straw hat. I remember walking into the store with Dad, and it seemed to be a place out of time even back then. There was a long narrow aisle from the front door that seemed to go on forever toward the back of the store. On either side were shelves of supplies for farming and farmers. The straw hats were on the left side. There was no discussion about style, color, type of straw, or band. Dad bought me one slightly larger than I needed with a wide brim that turned up slightly at the edges. A few minutes in the pickup truck and we were back at the farm ready for another day of haying.
L-R: Uncle Roy, Uncle Melvin, Emma (grandmother), Harley (dad), and Bloomfield (grandfather) Herzog
I was never an enthusiastic runner. Any running on my part usually involves chasing a tennis ball or a racquetball or maybe, running from the sharp horns of a stampeding bull and his buddies in Spain - like that would ever happen. Running is monotonous. Step after step – until you have reached the time and distance of the intended journey. Besides, most of the runners and particularly, the joggers always seem to have that anguished, exhausted, contorted, pained expression across their faces. I do enjoy cycling, a sport that I continue to pursue after a trip to Block Island with my wife many years ago. Taking in the Island vistas from the seat of the rented bicycle offered an option not on the menu for most runners. On a bike, you can go farther and faster, and then there is of course – the coasting aspect of the ride. There is no coasting on a run. That being said, I was a committed runner for about four years in my twenties. I am not sure why I chose to be a runner – I think, perhaps, it may have been the overall conditioning aspect and its carry over benefits to the playing of other sports to which I was addicted – and for me, that was my motivation.
I ran in all kinds of weather, the heat, the rain and the snow. In the winter, I was bundled up to the size of the tired-tiered Michelin Man – heavy jacket, sweatshirts, scarf, gloves, cap and boots as I made my way across the slick, slippery, recently plowed and shoveled streets and sidewalks. I must confess that I enjoyed these runs the most. The silence, the quieting aspect of the white powder muting the sounds of my thick heavy rubber boots and stilled noise of any traffic. I ran when I was sick. The short term obsession was real. My wife joined me on some runs for a brief period of time. There is no sugar-coating the fact that she ran like a duck – not a graceful swan – a duck. In her defense, she is an excellent ice skater – something that I cannot do at all. I am a pathetic skater. I try, and I have very good balance, but out on the rink I was always in the process of almost always falling. My form consisted of mostly arm flailing and doing whatever it would take, not crashing downward to the Zamboni manicured surface. One time, at the South Mountain Arena, my thrashing right arm swiped an older woman across her face, sending her surprised body and her dislodged eyeglasses across the smooth frozen indoor tundra. Both projectiles sliding for at least one hundred feet. The good news was that I was able to maintain my balance.
So, back to my wife’s brief odyssey as a jogger. We went for a run around the town we were living in – a town of vintage homes and uneven slate sidewalks. I was already in cool-down mode on the front porch of our Victorian home when I began to wonder where she was. She was not the fastest kid on the block, but she should have been back at the finish line by now, I thought to myself. I started to retrace my trip when I spotted her limping towards me. Two skinned knees from a tumble after catching her foot in an elevated chunk of the slate sidewalk – a rogue ledge of stone pushed upward by a massive tree root. From that point on, I became a permanent solo runner.
After my four year stint, I stopped being a regular runner. I was on a business trip with a colleague and friend in New Hampshire. We were there to evaluate a treatment program for physically and emotionally challenged children. After a long day assessing the services at the expansive facility, we headed back to our accommodations deep in the woods. It was a fine hotel that was part of a four star golf resort. It was mid-week in late October. We were the only two guests in the place – think ‘The Shining’ without Jack or the fireman’s axe. My friend was a dedicated runner. I borrowed a flashlight from the spooky hotel clerk, a woman that had a sinister look about her. We took off on our semi-sprint (well-known documented fact – when two or more men run together, the pace is always faster then, when they run alone) down the dark stone-rubble road that led back to the two lane county highway – some three miles roundtrip. Imagine the movie ‘Friday the 13th’ with the hockey-masked killer lurking behind every tree. About ten minutes into our pitch black run, I began to flick the flashlight on and off. I was bored and I was mainly interested in busting my friend’s chops. He somehow managed to snatch the guiding light away from me and we finished the run and headed into the nearby town to grab some questionable vittles.
Sometimes when my wife and I traveled I would go for a quick run. But, only as a last resort when there was no gym or workout space at the lodging. Bike rentals were usually a no go at most of the inns we stayed at – old rusted bicycles with fat balloon tires, wicker baskets strapped over the handlebars and no gears. I am not a barbarian. We were on a brief Spring-break trip to Charleston staying at an historic inn – a former carriage house on the Battery. There was no gym. There were no old corroded bikes to rent – not that I would even consider this to be a viable option. I am a person that requires physical activity. Even though we had spent the day before walking around Fort Sumter, taking in the historic sites of the old town and browsing the many, many antique shops – I still had pent-up energy that I needed to burn off.
I laced up my sneakers while my wife was still asleep and headed down the stairs and out to the street. It was a very early mid-April morning. There were no cars out on the streets and there was no one that I could see. It was early – the roosters were still in shuteye mode. I had the old cobbled road all to myself. The low sea wall was to my right. I watched the ocean shimmer as I began my run. The flags that graced the Battery were stilled. About a minute into the run, I snagged my left foot into the uneven pavement and started to go down. For six or seven seconds (although, time seemed to have stopped dead in its tracks), my body lunged forward in slow motion, my face approaching the hard ground at warp speed, I knew that I was a goner. My brain immediately wondered if there were dentists in South Carolina that could repair my damaged and missing teeth. Surely, there would be a lecture of some kind from my wife about my irresponsibility. It would be my fault. The trip would be ruined.
Somehow, perhaps from all of my miserable ice skating experiences and my innate ability (fear) not to crash down to the ice – I pulled myself out of the ten ‘G’ Force
death spiral descent an eighth of an inch before my chin was about to meet the cobblestones and deposit a bloody mess. I was finally able to right myself and proudly stood six feet three inches tall in the middle of the street. All alone. I had survived certain death or at the very least, physical disfigurement. From behind and to the right, I heard the sound of applause. An elderly gentleman had been sitting on a bench reading the morning paper when (I guess) my impending train wreck caught his attention. He had raised his thin frame off the wooden and iron riveted seat to his feet. His thick newspaper tucked under one arm – clapping madly. His raspy voice yelled over in my direction, telling me that he thought he was going to have to call for an ambulance – and that he had never seen anything like this before in his entire life. I gave him a sheepish wave and headed back to the inn.
Gary Sefchik is a member of Starlight Creek Writers Workshop. He lives in the Village of Readington in a c.1856 farmhouse with his wife Diana. In addition to his writing, Gary enjoys antiquing, racquet sports, cycle and weight training - and he is a “pretty good cook." You can find out more about Starlight Creek Writer's Workshop in our February 4, 2020 Blog on our Home Page.
The author's wife out for a Winter's jog.
“May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house.”
George Carlin, Comedian
One of the scariest movies produced in 1980 was The Shining a fable about a family drawn to take care of an out of the way and empty hotel for the winter. Unbeknownst to the family, an evil spirit resides in the hotel and it seduces the father into committing violence and the young son to witness bone chilling episodes from the past and in the future. Jack Nicholson played the father, Shelley Duvall the mother and Danny Lloyd the psychic son.
Another hotel that is considered haunted was the setting of different psychic story and its location is the seaside resort of Atlantic City. The old Ambassador Hotel was a grand destination spot for celebrities and families from near and far. Built in 1919, it gained notoriety in 1930 when the nations most feared gangsters gathered for a summit to discuss gangland business.
It was reported that the big names of the day were present: Luciano, Lansky, Siegel, Costello, Anastasia and Capone. Mickey Duffy, was a notorious bootlegger, was shot dead at the hotel.
Through the years the hotel fell on hard times and in 1978 was purchased to become a first class casino.
Today it is the site of the Tropicana Casino & Resort and it has the highest payoff record for slot machines of all the Atlantic City hotels. Some think the reason may be related to one Gino Casserity, a now long-deceased maintenance worker at the Ambassador Hotel. Gino was accused of tipping the scales of propriety during the sale of the hotel to Ramada and was fired by the manager.
Supposedly Gino was having an affair with one of the secretaries and in an unfortunate and embarrassing situation was caught au natural in one of the guest rooms with the lady.
Upon his firing, Gino lashed out at the manager and, in a fit of rage, had a coronary and died right on the spot on a hot day in August 1968.
During and after the construction of the new casino and resort, workers would find tools missing or moved from one spot to the next. Unusual paranormal occurrences took place, but they all overlooked the events since they were under pressure to meet the deadline of completing the new construction project.
Later and after the casino opened, slot machine players noticed that at certain times of the evening, the machine would payoff unexpectedly.
On one occasion more than $700,000 was won in a slot machine, which was one the biggest payouts.
Was Gino getting his revenge for being fired and dying on the same spot where the slot machine area is now located? People rating their experience on the hotel’s website have reported ghost sightings in their rooms, but to date no one has seen the ghost of a man helping to skew slot machine payouts. Those who have won the big payouts certainly have no explanation as to why or how they came to be lucky winners. Some $5.7 million was paid out in August, 2016, the anniversary of Gino’s demise.
DJV Murphy is an award-winning screenplay writer and published author honing his writing craft on a Lebanon Township farm, where he notes that the yearly crop is 'debts.'
Actress Betty White said she loved the storyline in one of his screenplays "Jeezsus Call Me Jay" about a delusional Jesus Character who only speaks in biblical terms on a week-long road trip with his two millennial traveling companions in California.
Murphy's books can be found on his website djvmurphy.com and on Amazon.com under his author's name djv murphy. His latest book is Revenge What Goes Around Comes Around, a group of short stories.
"A Ghost Story from New Jersey" is from DJV Murphy's book, Ghost From All 50 States.
My wife and I live in an old farmhouse – circa 1856 in a semi-rural part of Hunterdon County, New Jersey. The inside of our home is filled with antiques, paintings and sculptures. The outside of the house is surrounded by mature tall maple trees that provide shade and comfort during the summer and provide certain hazards of falling tree limbs whenever a roaring storm races through. The house is picturesque from the road, at least until about three years ago. A stray cat. Our first outdoor cat. A gray, white and flecked light-brown cat – sex unknown (I respect its privacy) – but no signs of kittens, so I figure it’s a male or a neutered female – I refer to it as him.
The cat has no name. We fear, I think, that if we name this creature it somehow will then be ours. One of our friends who feeds the cat when we travel has named the cat Palomino because of its multi-colored fur coat. We have not adopted that name. The cat is not one-hundred percent feral, he will let you approach him until you get within five feet or so and he will sometimes wait patiently at the side door for his grub. He gives me a pretend hiss almost every day when I feed him. I return the hiss and he slinks back a bit in retreat. I believe the hissing may stem from the time I snuck up on him as he slept and did not awake until I had pet the top of his head a few times – then the scurry and the hiss. I think that he is pissed that I was able to penetrate his cat radar defense system.
So, the front – side portion of the house used to contain some antique wicker furniture purchased, donated and salvaged over the years. Now the side bricked porch is a shanty town. A shanty town for the unnamed, uninvited guest. The wicker chair seat is no longer a seat. A top-of-the line cat bed (one of many) now resides there. The side wicker end table with a middle shelf – now has two cat beds. One inserted inside the middle shelf – one rooftop edition for the top of the small table. The middle shelf has served as a maternity ward for a mother raccoon on two occasions. The side porch once had a large round white wicker table. Oh, it still there – somewhere, I have not seen it since the shanty town was constructed. (Disclaimer: I had no role in the building of the cat ghetto). Beneath the layers of blankets, bedspreads and other warming fabric coverings is the unseen former white wicker table. The uninvited guest’s winter home. Inside, on the middle tier – hidden away from human sight is (you guessed it) another cat bed. A cat tower. A cat fortress. There is a thick mat and a cat bed that tops the ledge of the old Bilco wooden door that leads down to the ancient basement. Recently, a new cat bed was added to the front porch. Someone, not me, felt the cat needed a better view of the old silo across the road.
We became cat owners, for the first time when we were living in a one bedroom apartment. Fairly, newly married – focusing on our careers. A friend’s wife, an eccentric cat lady had convinced us (me really – as a kid, we always had a cat or a dog, usually both) to test drive an orange and yellow kitten – about five or six weeks old during a dinner at their home. My wife knew nothing about cats. She had only ever had one family pet. An Irish Setter her father had brought home - rescued really from an owner that could no longer handle the dog. The Irish Setter was sweet, but somewhat addled and became an important member of the family.
Well, my wife’s cat uncertainty lasted less than a New York minute. We (I) named the kitten Pyewacket. As a kid, we had two orange and yellow cats. One named Pyewacket, the other Bonnie. My older sister had named the cat Pyewacket after the spell-casting feline used by Kim Novak in the film ‘Bell, Book and Candle’. The cat in the movie was Siamese. I surmise (I really do not recall as a five year old) that there was no meaningful discussion regarding copyright infringements or cat character assassination. The new kitten slept in a Kleenex box until a cat bed was purchased – a waste of money, since Pyewacket almost always slept in our bed. He walked on a leash on the small patch of lawn outside the apartment building. He later strolled the beaches at Long Beach Island – a week’s summer rental vacation with some friends. A litter box in the only bathroom – a new experience and sometimes the pressure was on when he pawed the bathroom door to get in while one was trying to do their business. The puff of orange and yellow fur grew into a slender – maybe seven pounds, graceful and acrobatic cat. I taught him to leap up from one of the cannonballs of our four poster bed up to the top of a tall armoire – some four feet across and three feet up in the air. Prior to his launch, he would let out a low scream, pop his hind quarters and fly to the top of the armoire. I thought about (but did not) tying a handkerchief around his neck in order to get the full Superman flying effect.
Pyewacket moved with us to our first home in Somerset County. A plain 1896 Victorian with a wrap-around porch. A cat door from the kitchen to the enclosed mudroom now hosted the litter box. Three floors to explore. Two bathrooms that provided us uninterrupted porcelain solitude, unless one counts the endless surprise visits between the shower curtains. He loved the sound of water. I surprised my wife with a second kitten shortly after our move into our first home. A completely black semi-wild fur ball harvested from the woods by my father’s girlfriend who was living with him at the time. The black kitten was muscular and strong with lethal front talons that gripped your forearms leaving trickles of red plasma dripping down your skin. We decided to have him free range in a spare bedroom that had been converted into my weight room. I set out a bowl of water and a bowl of food. Upon my return to check on him, I found that he had wedged himself in the open window – firmly stuck between the screen and the partially opened window itself. His four-pronged claws anchored into the screen. He appeared to be frighten and in discomfort. I delicately tried to remove each set of his claws from the screen. All of a sudden, he retracted all his claws and fell from the window onto the floor, directly into the water bowl. SPLASH. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. The bowl was empty. We named him Splash.
For the first couple of months we rarely saw Splash. He had a million places to hide and hide he did. We knew he was eating the food – no dead cat carcass or odor of death. No kitty poop, so he was using the cat door and the litter box. Then, he began to have increasing interactions with Pyewacket – bonding, if you will – an indoor feline friend. He stopped hiding and would approach us for a quick pat on the head and then bolt. There was an undocumented moment when he let us pick him up and hold him without incurring the wounds. He was never a lap cat – though he would sometimes do a drive-by kneading frenzy while one sat on the couch and then jump off before any real intimacy could be achieved. (Note: I am intentionally minimizing my role in the runaway episode. OK, here it is. I brought Splash outside to the front wrap-around porch so he could be in the fresh air. I held on to him with a tight grip. I slipped on the steps as I tried to take a seat on the top of the gray stairs. He was gone. My wife was mad. We left the back door open to the mud room. He came back three days later. My wife continued to be angry. I was on probation for quite a while).
We moved to the 1856 farmhouse a few years later – our home for the past thirty years. Someone had dumped a gray and white kitten on our property. We asked all of our friends if they wanted him. My wife named him Virgil. He was named after the lead chimp in the movie (a real tearjerker) ‘Project X’. He lived with us for the next eleven or twelve years. He was the newest member to the cat trio. (Note: Prior to his adoption, I was on record – adamantly, that anyone owning more than two cats was insane.) While Virgil was the baby, he functioned more like the middle child – living below the radar, a good kid – but went mostly unnoticed. Virgil was a great mouser. I was in the upstairs bathroom, shaving or trying to shave. A mouse was scurrying back and forth over the white tiles. I tried (unsuccessfully) to humanly corral the invading rodent by placing the plastic top of the shaving cream can over the intruder. I could hear Virgil outside the bathroom door. I cracked open the door. Within one second, he had pinned the mouse under his right paw. I took the plastic top and placed it over the mouse and slid a contraband band (reading material left unattended) magazine under its frantic body. I walked the captive rodent to the back part of the property and released it – giving a verbal warning to the tiny beast never to return, and if he did – I would let Virgil finish what he started.
You are never prepared for the death of a pet. Splash, the strong muscular kitten had morphed into a sleek version of an Arnold Swarzenegger cat. Perhaps twelve pounds. No PEDs, no fat – all muscle. Splash began to lose weight. The vet said he had some kind of condition or disease – seizures – you block out all the medical jargon and nuances when the bad news is being delivered. Maybe, medication could control the seizures. But, he would always be in pain – and would not live very much longer. I consulted with my wife and we agreed to put him down. I held Splash against my chest to say good-bye. He instinctively wrapped both his paws around my neck – something he had never done before. He was seven.
Maybe a year or two later – I broke my two cat limit rule. I had stopped by Herman’s Sporting Goods on my way home from the gym. Probably to buy new cans of tennis balls. In front of the store was an event to adopt cats and dogs – sponsored by a group called PAWS. I rushed into the store – passing all the cages without even a glance. As I exited the store, I kept saying to myself – don’t look, don’t look. I looked. A tiny black kitten with a small patch of white fur under its neck. Forty dollars (a donation – really) for the cardboard carrier and twenty minutes later I drove down our long stone driveway. Her car is there. I needed a story. It is her birthday in about one week. That’s it, a birthday present. I walk in the house sans kitten and tell her that I have something to show her in the back of the station wagon. She named him Norman, after the lead calf in the movie ‘City Slickers’.
Pyewacket was a great cat. A great cat. In addition to his circus prowess – he was whacky beyond belief. If you were reading in bed – he was there – on top of the book, looking directly in your eyes and saying I need your attention. Whenever my wife was correcting papers at the dining room table, he would leap up on to the table and skid across her students’ handy work, tests and compositions and such. Look at me – it’s my time. He would wriggle his body between the sheets and bedspread of the made bed and stay there for hours. I discovered, that if I fanned my hand into the shape of a claw and held it out a few inches from his face, he would let out a sham screech and then grab me by the arm with both of his paws and bite my wrist. Four, five times in a row until my unfettered laughter finally insulted his cat dignity. But, he always would return for a rematch. He lived to be almost nineteen. His final two years were tough. Virgil and Norman kept tabs on him, often licking his fur clean and nestling with him to keep him company. We turned our blind eyes to his withering body, failures at the litter box and sporadic eating. The vet put him down over a Memorial Day weekend. He had stopped eating and moving. His once noble frame was now loose skin and bones. He was buried in a box filled with his mementos under a maple tree.
If you are following the story, you know that Pyewacket was an orange and yellow cat. The following is true. In September or October of the same year we lost our first cat, his spirit returned. A reincarnation perhaps. My wife was correcting papers at the dining room table – a nearly nightly occurrence. Through the hand blown window glass she saw an orange and yellow cat staring at her. The cat had positioned himself on the ledge of the Bilco door that led down to the primitive basement. She called me over to see. She was not hallucinating. Puff became our indoor/outdoor cat. He was named after the family cat in the ‘Dick and Jane’ books. The two cat rule was broken – yet again. We were fairly certain that Puff had some sort of a home up the road a bit. He was clearly domesticated – and as much to thought he was a spirit – or that we were just the best cat owners on the planet – we were another source of food for him (I looked and did not respect his privacy). Norman and Virgil accepted Puff. They would greet him through the screen door and check him out each time he made his brief appearances inside. He would announce each departure by sitting himself by the door to await his release. A few months later as I drove home from work, I spied a lump of orange and yellow fur on the road in front of our house. Puff was dead. He had been hit by a car. The next morning, I brought him to the vet for cremation. There were no missing signs put up or inquiries from the suspected negligent owners, if there were any. One of my friends had a wife from England with a very stiff British upper lip. She shared that whenever they lost a pet, they would place its ashes in the ground and plant some type of bush or roses over the deceased. A living reminder of a cherished pet. The next spring I placed his ashes beneath six new forsythia bushes.
I would say that I am in perfect health. But, I have administered insulin to myself on several occasions. By accident. In his later years, Virgil was a diabetic. Did you ever try giving a cat a pill? Or scrunch his resisting torso into a cat carrier when he knew you were taking him to the vet? Well, giving a twisting cat a needle is one-hundred times more difficult. If, it were an Olympic event – the degree of difficulty would be through the roof. It went something like this. Steady the cat with basically one hand since your right hand was cocked with the syringe. Somehow pinch the right amount (lump) of fur and skin in your left hand (thumb and index finger). Insert the needle. Slowly squeeze down on the flimsy plunger with your thumb getting most of the insulin into the cat (I think) and the rest into your left index finger. As the years passed, Virgil began having frequent seizures. His entire body would go flaccid, prone, face-down on the floor. Two weeks at the vet for stabilization and recovery. I picked up him from the vet and brought him back home. Norman was happy to see his AWOL buddy. Ten minutes later, he was in full seizure mode. Flat on the ground – completely voided of all his fluids. I called my wife from the vet’s office. We agreed to put him down. He was cremated and his tin still rests upon the mantle of our fireplace.
While Pyewacket was the most beloved cat. And, Virgil, the middle child. And, Splash was the sensitive, strong and silent pet. Puff, the temporary guest. Norman (although my wife will always say that they were all the best) was the best cat. A lap cat. He liked to nuzzle. Playful. And obedient – for a cat anyway. I would stalk him around the house. He would run and hide and come back for more. He was sweet. He developed a behavior that pleased me to no end. It made laugh out loud. I am smiling to myself as I write this. From left field, from right field – out-of-nowhere, Norman would attack the ankles of my wife. Unprovoked, he would bite her ankles. She would scream and try to run away. But, his attacks were relentless. Despite her admonishments of ‘bad cat’, ‘bad cat’, he would return to her ankles until he decided it was over. Norman grew old and developed renal disease. He was not doing well and had stopped eating. I placed him on top of some towels in a large cardboard box. I had planned to take him to the vet the next morning. He died in his sleep.
Before the current stray showed up, we had been cat less for five years or so. Just not ready yet. We enjoy the outdoor cat. But it is not our cat. I leave the window wells filled with dry leaves because I was told cats like piles of leaves. Which, I already knew was true. A leashed Pyewacket would run and jump into my carefully raked pile of leaves – and we have the pictures to prove it. Anyway, the other day, the stray cat was sitting in the window well staring at his reflection in the basement window. It made me laugh.
Gary Sefchik is a member of Starlight Creek Writers Workshop. He lives in the Village of Readington in a c.1856 farmhouse with his wife Diana. In addition to his writing, Gary enjoys antiquing, racquet sports, cycle and weight training - and he is a “pretty good cook." You can find out more about Starlight Creek Writer's Workshop in our February 4, 2020 Blog on our Home Page.
Cat Rescue and Adoption
St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center has two adoption centers located at:
3201 Route 22 East
North Branch, NJ
575 Woodland Ave.
Madison, NJ 07940
Visit sthuberts.org for more information.
Califon historian Don Freiberg is the proprietor of Rambo's Country Store, in Califon, NJ.
Since the first Spring Basket Day in 1961, thousands of hours have been invested and hundreds of friendships forged, as the women of L.P.C. (and some fearless men) join together to create a community event full of fun, fellowship, and surprises.
Spring Basket Day traditionally takes place on the first Wednesday in May, on the grounds of the historic church in the idyllic hamlet of Lamington. In a picture book setting amid rolling hills, the church reminds us of an earlier, quieter era in rural New Jersey. Some may also be reminded that Lamington is the birthplace of Zebulon Montgomery Pike of Pike’s Peak fame. Lamington was also the destination of a documented visit by George Washington, who came to see John Honeyman shortly after the war. Honeyman, who aided in the American victory at Trenton and was known as “Washington’s Spy,” is buried in the Lamington Cemetery.
On Basket Day, the church doors are opened wide, the tents are pitched, and the luncheon tables set. The kitchen starts humming, the plants arrive, and the “Promise Tree” is filled. Useful and curious donations are gathered and displayed, while the aroma of fresh coffee and home baked goods beckon from the front porch. The freezers are stocked with delicious entrees and soups, and the “Theme Baskets” are filled and wrapped. Some workers arrange and re-arrange the lovely silent auction items while others help the vendors get situated - and everyone prays for beautiful weather!
We have been a part of this celebration for 30 and 33 years, respectively, and to mark this year, we decided to look into how and why it all got started. Along with interviewing long- time church members, digging through piles of photos, memos and articles, we turned to the book, Pioneers, Pastors and Patriots, The 250-Year History of Lamington Presbyterian Church, by R. Gloria Landers and published in 1990:
“Spring Basket Day started out in February, 1961 as a quilting project for “any and all ladies of the church and/or community.” They met every Tuesday from 10 to 2 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Russell Hollingsworth...The quilt top was donated by Mabel Eick Stryker. Quilting was supervised by Mrs. Stryker and Maggie Nevious. The needleworkers were striving for 12 stitches to the inch... Many fingers worked on the quilt, including Mrs. Seward Johnson who went on to purchase the quilt for $250.
Eventually the women received permission from the Session to have an “open house” afternoon tea at the church, where the quilt could be displayed. With help from some of the men of the church, the ladies were able to overcome the “enormous logistical problems connected with serving tea in a building that had neither plumbing nor kitchen facilities.” The “kitchen” was set up in the choir quarters, with dairy-sized milk cans to hold the water for making tea and washing dishes. Hoses from the manse kept the water flowing.
Sixty cups and saucers were purchased by the Women’s Association at four dollars a dozen. Mrs. David Jacobus Sr. won praise as “the most faithful supplier of clean dishes.
Sometime during the six weeks of frantic preparation, the “tea” had been named “May Basket Day”. The day arrived with a beautiful display of quilts, antiques, and crafts for sale.
Mrs. Craig Skillman and Mrs. Rudolph Kamphausen supervised a well-appointed tea table. The overflow crowd was invited to take their cups into the Sanctuary, and organ music provided a pleasant background to clinking cups and quiet conversation.
Although the primary purpose of Basket Day was to show the quilts and welcome the community to the church, the women were pleased to note the sale of various items had netted $300. At the end of the day, the feeling was: “It was a warm, loving reception - well worth making an annual event.”
The following year the ladies featured baskets decorated with flowers, hand-painted trays and gift items, candles, cradles, decoupage, antiques, and fancy needlework, which netted $600. Then in 1964, a plant sale was added, and despite a snowstorm (!), $1,031.23 was raised.
Over the years, the event has continued to grow and evolve. In 1968 an art show was added and was very popular through the early 2000s. Children’s activities, including pony rides, were featured in the ‘70s - ‘90s, and church members’ handiwork has given way to a carefully selected group of vendors.
When the steeple was re-shingled in the early 1980s, bundles of the discarded 100 year old shingles were sold as “Holy Smoke.” And in 1984 Basket Day made the papers when the Courier News ran an article about two Rhode Island Red roosters that showed up for the event.
A sign of spring for 60 years, Basket Day has fostered friendship and community goodwill. It has surprised us with “Holy Smoke,” red roosters, and the generosity of all who put it together every year and all those who attend, rain or shine. The proceeds have been used to keep the wonderful old church in good shape and to support local and national charities.
This year, let’s all pray for another sunny day!
Update: Due to the ongoing health crisis, Spring Basket Day has been put on hold but the folks at LPC have some creative solutions in the works that will be announced soon.
355 Lamington Rd, Bedminster, NJ
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