My Father-in-Law, Joe, The Mayor of Barclay Street

Sunday, June 28, 2020
At his wake he was referred to as the Mayor of Barclay Street and though that was a well-deserved title, he was that and so much more.

Joe Welter was my father-in-law.  He was a no-nonsense kind of guy who preferred to live his life without frills, without fanfare and without fuss.  And he did so because Joe wasn't the kind of guy that lived by the beat of anyone's drum but his own.  I would learn that for the first time when we were planning our wedding and Joe told us he would not be wearing a tux like the other men in the wedding party - he'd be wearing a suit, his suit, and his own shoes.  He didn't care about tradition or tuxes or fancy weddings either for that matter.  Not that it mattered to Joe, but even without a matching tux,  he still looked dapper in the wedding photos and probably no one really noticed he wasn't in wardrobe compliance.

A couple years later when we were about to welcome our first born into the world, Joe once again displayed his non-conformist style when he told us we didn't need a crib and said a dresser drawer would do just fine.  I'm pretty sure he was not kidding but we made sure we had a crib anyway.  I suppose that growing up in a family of 9 children in the early 1900's, it wasn't that unusual for a baby to sleep in a drawer.  Still, Joe learned to overlook what probably felt like frivolity to him, probably thanks to my mother-in-law who was the model non-interfering mother-in-law.

Joe was a WWII veteran having served in the signal corp.  He had a serious interest in ham and citizen band radios and thought nothing of climbing a ladder higher than the second floor to adjust his antennas.  Joe was a member of the Labor Union for 50 years and worked as a labor foreman for Sano-Rubin.  He was skilled in many trades and could fix almost anything - in his house or someone else's.  When I got into tole painting, Joe graciously cut wood in all shapes and sizes for me to paint.  He also made countless lawn ornaments and gave them away to his family members.

Joe was also a passionate and skilled gardener.  He would start his vegetable seeds in the basement under grow lights in February or March and by the time it was warm enough to plant, his 'babies' were large, sturdy plants.  By mid summer, his tomato plants were the size of shrubs, almost as tall as me. Although he lived in the city, he used his over-sized lot to cultivate a large garden that would produce enough vegetables to supply a small army.  He'd share his produce with neighbors and family because, as I realize now, that was always his intention.  He wasn't just getting rid of extras, he was growing that much so he could share with beans, wax beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, rhubarb.  My girls have fond recollections of going out to the garden to pick wax beans, or butter beans as he called them.

In addition to feeding his neighbors from his garden, Joe was always there for them, to listen, to share a joke, to help with a fix-it job.  He was a social butterfly, unlike his quiet, introvert wife.  Joe knew everyone and everyone who knew him loved him, especially the neighborhood dogs.  You see, Joe had a 'uniform'.  In the summer it was a white t-shirt and navy Dickies or jeans and in the winter it was a flannel shirt and jeans.  Sometimes those t-shirts had worn thin and were distressed around the neckline, but he loved them anyway - even though he probably had at least a package or two of new ones in his dresser drawer.  His jeans or navy Dickies had pockets that were never without a dog biscuit or two.  Joe didn't just visit the neighbors on his daily walks, he would visit the neighborhood dogs and every dog waited expectantly for Joe's treats.  As you might imagine, Joe had a special way with the canine club and dogs understood and appreciated his love language.  When we had our Sheltie, Bailey would sit at attention at Joe's feet patiently waiting for Joe to give up the biscuit.  Biscuit or not, Bailey adored Joe just like all of his canine counterparts.

His love of animals didn't end there.  Joe also loved cats and had a number of grey cats over the years, all named Smokey.  At one time he took in a beautiful stray cat who, in short measure, produced a little of kittens.  Joe loved and nurtured those kittens and their mama.  Just before it was time to adopt them out (one of which was reserved for us) he took them to the veterinarian for a wellness check.  It turned out they all tested positive for feline leukemia and had to be euthanized.  That hurt Joe hard.

When Joe wasn't tending to his vegetables or helping others, you might find him repairing an old,  discarded piece of machinery.  It might be a lawnmower, snowblower or other piece of equipment left on the curb in someone's trash.  Joe would bring the piece home and tinker with it, often bringing it back to life.  He'd then pass it on to someone in need.  During his daily walks to get his newspaper, Joe would often spot discarded furniture.  It might be a table or chair, a china cabinet or coffee table.  Returning with his truck, Joe would rescue the orphaned piece and take it home where he'd strip old coats of paint, mend broken parts and refinish the piece before finally re-homing it, usually to some lucky family member.  He even rescued a bicycle from the trash and brought it back to life, complete with a coat of neon orange paint and a banana seat for his granddaughter.

He wasn't big on pomp and circumstance, holidays or fanfare.  Like my own dad, Joe always proclaimed he didn't care for Christmas.  My mother-in-law however loved tradition and at Christmas we'd gather in their tiny living room, elbow to elbow, opening presents.  Her tradition was to have the youngest open a present first, followed by the next oldest, then the next, each taking their respective turn opening, starting over round after round until all the presents were opened.  My father-in-law, who pretended to tolerate this process would comply for the first round, maybe even round 2, but soon we'd find him shaking gifts, or opening one end of a package until eventually he would be opening all his presents, completely out of turn.  He was always delighted when his packages contained a new cap, some type of food item (preferably sweets or nuts) or something practical like gloves or warm socks.  He also loved model cars and had quite a collection that he had built or received as gifts.  And occasionally someone got him something that really tickled his fancy.....

Joe was a family man who made time for visits and help as needed.  Every Saturday morning, Joe would go 'across the river' to visit family....first his mom, then his siblings, nieces and nephews, etc... Normally it is the woman of the house that keeps in touch with family, but in the Welter household it was Joe.  Joe spent hours on the phone calling to check up on and catch up with folks.  He was a talker and Joe wasn't one to worry about political correctness.  You always knew where you stood with Joe, always knew what he thought about things because he wasn't going to mince words or put on airs to impress people.  He said how he felt and if Joe wasn't a fan, you knew it.  Joe knew what he liked and what he didn't.  He liked a cold beer at the end of the day and a small dish of peanuts or Cheez-its to snack on. He loved cookies, a good reuben sandwich or a Fishamajig from Friendly's. Ketchup on the dinner table was a must - even on an Easter ham.  Pickles were also a staple in Joe's diet.  He made a mean bread pudding and amazing potato salad.  Joe was a prankster who always got a big kick out of sitting on a whoopie cushion or kicking out his false teeth....always getting the desired reaction from his grandkids.  Joe had a romantic side and didn't miss an opportunity to remember his wife on special occasions.  My mother-in-law, Ann, could count on him to remember special holidays and he didn't diverge far from his short list of 'go-to' gifts.... her favorite chocolates, a bouquet of flowers and since her birthday was in June, a hanging basket was tradition.  Joe and Ann were married for 59 years.  Here they are on their wedding day and their 50th wedding their dining room with their immediate family, just as they preferred it.

 Although he loved his granddaughters, he wouldn't sit through dance recitals or church services or graduations, but he made an exception for weddings even though we all knew dressing in a monkey suit for such occasions wasn't really his thing.  Joe may have been strong in his convictions but ultimately his heart was always on others.  One of my favorite memories I have of Joe was cutting his hair.  It was during those precious moments....just him and I in the kitchen conversing while I cut....those were the times I'll cherish.

This photo of Joe sitting behind my two nearly 100 year old great aunts at Laura's wedding is such a great example of what an imp he was, always the charmer trying to get a rise out of you.
We always knew how much Joe loved others, but it wasn't until his wake that we realized how much he was loved by so many.  A long line of visitors came to pay their respects to Joe and all those who knew him had a story to share and that story almost always involved a way he'd helped, stories he'd shared or just the joy he brought to those whose lives he touched, some on a daily basis.  It was at his wake that I learned (as I think everyone in the family did) that Joe was referred to by the neighbors as the Mayor of Barclay Street.  Joe lived the kind of life we should all aspire to live - a life that leaves a legacy, a life that brings joy to others, a life that is lived genuinely from the heart, a life that is about having your own convictions while still respecting and loving those whose beliefs may not be exactly like your own.  Joe suffered from Alzheimer's the last few years of his life and ultimately passed away from a sudden, massive stroke in 2008, the same year my dad passed away.  I wish our grandchildren could have known him and I know he would have loved them.  But his legacy will live on in photos and stories and in the values and caring ways that rubbed off on his son, their Grandpa.  He may have been the Mayor of Barclay Street, but to me he'll always be smiling Joe Welter.

Finding Peace and Tranquility Among the Shades of Green

Sunday, June 14, 2020
....One is nearer God's heart in a garden than anyplace else on earth.
You probably recognize this last line of the popular poem and you'll probably recognize the place I'm sharing today because it's the sixth time I've featured it here on the blog.  Shades of Green has easily become an annual tradition for any and all garden lovers who make their pilgrimage not just to find new and unusual additions to their gardens, but for a peaceful retreat to nature.

When Wynne Trowbridge and her husband and family moved to Charlton from Colorado in 1990, they purchased their 25-acre homestead, complete with a pond and a plan to do a little gardening.  Thirty years later, Wynne and her husband have transformed their land into an oasis filled with nature, horticulture and wonder.  Making the most of what God provides, Wynne decided to focus her gardens on shade plants which would thrive among the many tall trees that made their home there already.  Like any gardener knows, it's virtually impossible to have too many gardens, and now what you'll find when you visit Shades of Green is not just a nursery for shade-loving plants, but a botanical garden filled with whimsical ornaments, places to sit and linger a bit while being serenaded by nature, and the warmest hospitality you'll find in Saratoga county.

Shades of Green focuses on hosta - hundreds of varieties, but also offers complimentary plants too such as astilbe, brunera, heuchera, pulmonaria, ferns and many more.  Perhaps the nicest thing about shopping for perennials at Shades of Green is seeing what mature versions of your favorites will look like both among other plants and over time.  I visited Shades this week with my daughter, Laura, who was looking to create a garden at her entryway to replace two overgrown boxwood shrubs.  We showed Wynne a photo of the spot, complete with measurements and lighting conditions and Wynne helped us pick out a collection of hosta, bugbane, heleborous and astilbe to create a beautiful mirror image walkway.  I was so proud to leave with only one plant - a heleborous, Pippa's purple.  Surprisingly, I had forgotten my camera and checkbook (Shades of Green only accepts cash and checks) so I went back the next morning to document my annual visit.  This time I left with two plants (still amazing discipline since normally I have several).  This time I came home with a bugbane and a small hosta named, 'mini skirt'.  Three for the season is an outstanding show of discipline because anyone who has been here knows, it's like being a kid in a candy'll want one of every flavor and color.  See what I mean.....

You don't need a dark, shady yard to accommodate hosta or their shade-loving friends.  Many of the hosta and perennials that Wynne carries are also happy in part-sun which is four hours or less, especially if it's not mid-day sun.  If you haven't already, or haven't yet this season, make a plan to visit Shades of Green soon. Bring your mask and your cash or check and plan on lingering a while in this lush, green paradise.  Shades of Green is located at 2036 Cook Road in Charlton, NY.  and is open Tuesday-friday 10:00-5:00 and Saturday, 10:00-4:00.  I'll post the link to their Facebook page and website at the end of this post. Allow yourself plenty of time because you'll want to wander and pause to savor the many nooks and crannies, the whimsies and view while birds serenade you and chipmunks scurry to and fro.  Tell Wynne I sent you and catch her cover feature in the May/June issue of Simply Saratoga.  You can use this link:  Simply Saratoga May/June
Here's a peek at a sampling of my Shades of Green collection....

Thanks for stopping by and taking a moment to view Life As I See It.   We don't need to travel far to find beauty.  It's all around us.  All we have to do is pause and open our eyes!
To read previous posts featuring Shades of Green and other area gardens, go to my Directory and search the category: Gardens.

Standing Out in Solidarity Among Voices for Change

Monday, June 8, 2020

Today is 100 days.....100 days since our first case of Covid-19 (according to Governor Cuomo during today's daily press briefing).  It's been a challenging and educational 100 days and if I'm going to be honest, some days have been more difficult than others.  If I were to write a post about what Covid-19 taught me, I would need a dedicated blog post, but this isn't it.  Today I'm writing about the newest national crisis - racial injustice - and my experience with our town's Black Lives Matter march today.

I'm going to be totally honest here and admit that when I heard about the march, a march that would be travelling in close proximity to my home, I was a little apprehensive.  I'd seen what happened in big cities across the country and in our own state capital.  I've lived long enough to know that a few bad apples can upset the apple cart and that even if the majority of the crowd is peaceful and standing up for what they believe in, there is often a smaller delegation that needs to make a louder noise to convey their message.  After seeing how peaceful the demonstrations in Troy went yesterday, I felt less afraid and in that absence of fear, I felt the need to at least witness today's march.

John and I parked at our church where I was happy and not surprised to find a group of congregants already gathered with signs and water to hand out, ready to show their support to the group as they passed on Route 146.  As we waited about 30 minutes for the group to make their way from Clifton Commons to where we stood, passing cars honked their horns and shouted, some raising fists from open windows.  Already I felt a sense of unity and peace as I witnessed car after car, mostly filled with white suburbanites pass our group.  Not one car that passed showed anything other than solidarity.  Finally we could hear the voices, and the brake lights of cars heading west signaled that the march was approaching.  The crowd on our corner raised their signs and cheered as the marchers, several wide, made their way down Route 146.
When several had neared, maybe a couple hundred, the leader directed them to take a knee.  And as this group gave time for the rest of the marchers to catch up, these folks took a knee on the hot pavement and chanted, 'Hands up, don't shoot."  As marchers caught up, they too took a knee.

I've never considered myself a racist, or been actively vocal as an anti-racist, and I confess that while I have worked with and been friends with people of color, until recently I've never given a lot of thought to the subject except for when these cases of police brutality make the news.  I pretty much live my life in suburbia where I'm not forced to think about what life is like outside of my community.  I'm ashamed to admit that.  Today I felt drawn to witness today's Black Lives Matter march and I had no fear that there'd be violence - even on a church lawn.  I don't know why I felt compelled to get out of my car and stand at the curb, but that's exactly what I needed to do.  What I felt in those moments was a raw emotion that was unexpected.  I felt proud of my community, not just the onlookers, but of the hundreds that marched in unity - a march organized by a high school student!  I felt moved by the cars passing by, honking in support.  I felt proud that nearly everyone was wearing a mask and I felt proud and impressed that in this mostly white suburbia I live in.....the majority of the marchers were white.  I hope that the people who need to speak out, begging for justice, begging to be heard and treated fairly, noticed that and felt a sense of support and community today.  I was proud to be a spectator in the crowd on the sidelines and I was proud to know I live in a community that accommodated this cause.  Notice there was not one police car leading or following this peaceful group.

You might be wondering why I'm sharing my personal feelings about this event.  After all, in today's world it's always a gamble when we share opinions or views.  All you have to do is follow any form of social media to realize how quickly tempers flare and counter opinions are offered to contradict any and all perspectives.  I am not looking for or welcoming debates or criticism.  I am sharing because I learned something today - about myself and about my community.  I'm pretty confident we'll never live in a world free from controversy or inequality, but I understand better now that as a society we need to do better to listen and hear people who look and live different that we do.  We need to stop turning our head the other way and ignoring things that don't necessarily affect us.  That's what these people and most of the others (who aren't destructive) are trying to convey.  We ALL need to be part of the solution in a way that involves more than our silence and indifference.  As one passing car said today, 'All lives matter' and we all need to do what we can to ensure that our silence isn't conveying indifference.  And isn't it sad that a problem has to become so rampant and so vile that so many feel the need to speak out?   We may all be frustrated and annoyed to be couped up and missing life as we're used to it, but in the grand scheme of things, I think most of us can be thankful (especially in this community) that we don't need to speak so loudly, in such desperate voices, to have our value and our lives matter.  I hope and I pray that 2020 goes down in history as the year we stopped our busy lives to take notice of what is important and to re-evaluate and prioritize and that when the ball drops and we bid 2020 farewell, we'll be a changed and better world.

Post Script:  While I supported and chose to share this march, on Saturday, July 25 another march took place in Clifton Park.  This march, supposedly for high school students who were marching for equality for the PRIDE community, was joined by the All For Us, BLM group.  This event was scheduled to take place on the Clifton Common grounds but proceeded into a march down Vischer Ferry Road to Route 146.  The group took control of the traffic circle and stopped traffic in every direction.  Since this march was not scheduled, local residents tried to make their way through the circle and down 146.  Several drivers had their car surrounded by shouted at by the protesters.  In at least one case, marchers shoved their phones inside open car windows yelling at the driver that he was called 'white trash'.  This behavior is not OK and I do not condone it.  I'm saddened that the majority of the people who are speaking and marching peacefully are entangled with a handful of angry people who are acting out in these inappropriate ways.  Violence is not the answer.
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