Sunday, January 2, 2022

A Wet and Chili Soup Run

For more than a dozen years, regular readers of this blog have been privy to an annual New Year's Day tradition for the extended Band of Brothers and Sisters known collectively as the E Streeters - the Soup Run.  The E Streeters moniker, with a nod Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band, dates back to the name of the 1980s recreational basketball and volleyball teams that brought us together in our high school and college years.  We adopted the E Streeters group name for wedding (and bachelor party) gatherings, and in the ensuing years, brought our spouses, children, co-workers, and newfound friends into the fold, so that we now number in the thousands.  Maybe millions, who knows anymore?

There's several events that bring us together, but on the calendar, the first one up is always the New Year's Day Soup Run.  It's an annual gathering that lends itself to several traditions - logging the first few miles of running in a New Year, breaking bread around some killer bowls of soup, but most importantly, a gathering of friends and family to close out one year and mark the voyage into a New Year together, as friends who are still healthy and able to gather and enjoy good memories together.

These are folks who've been together and shared experiences, in some cases, for nearly half a century.

Alas, the last two years have dealt all of us a hand none of us expected to experience in our lifetimes - a global pandemic that has changed the way we gather, change how we can interact, and in the cases of this tradition, how we can enjoy a bowl of soup together.

On top of that, this year saw several members of our Merry Band of Brothers unable to join us for the annual outing - traveling abroad, locked into family events in other regions, or sidelined with injuries.

Most significantly, the usual Founders of the Feast - John and Karen - were sunning themselves in warmer climes, so it was time for Plan B.

Enter Scott, the usual provider of Top 10 Chili at the Run the Rivah race.

We parked at one of our frequent haunts, East Boston Campus in Westford.  Yes, we know it's know the Stony Brook Conservation Land, but for those of us who've been running there for 30 years, it will always be EBC.
(BTW, the trails there have been under construction recently, thanks to some eager beavers)
Back to the Star of the Day - the chili
This year, for the first time in decades, Scott veered off the recipe for his usual Top 10 Chili and reworked a recipe to include ground chili peppers in place of chili powder, plus a few other secret ingredients.
While we've done previous Soup Runs in bitter cold, icy or snow conditions, this MAY have been the first time we've had rain conditions on New Year's Day.
Luckily, Scott had a hatchback.
Carlos, who normally prefers donuts at the end of our runs, made an exception for an exceptional chili this time around.
Andrew, undaunted by the rain, was ready for the undertaking.
Another staple of the annual Soup Run is the to-go container.  Normally, Karen and John send us on our way with leftover chicken soup, Italian soup, or vegetable soup offerings
Barry has been known to bring a few gallon containers to assist with his doggie-bag efforts.
Andrew, victorious with his double barrel take-home containers.
So there you go.
Hoping to get back on the blogging trail with some more regularity in 2022.  It's always been a successful way to chronicle our life experiences together and celebrate the shared fun, friendship and family that help keep us all sane.
Feels like now, more than ever, it's the kind of grounding we can all use.
Happy New Year, all!

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Happy 70th Mom and Dad

Theirs was not a conventional love story, at least not by today's standards, but for a young couple who grew up in the Flats neighborhood of the city of Lowell, it certainly worked and yielded generations of a family to follow, including the author of this blog.
70 years ago today - February 3, 1951, my mother, Marie Payette, married Jimmy Cook.
Sadly, neither of them are alive today to experience their platinum anniversary together with us, but it's a nice thought to imagine them still enjoying their best ballroom dances together.  Sadly, I wish all of the pics to follow that depict their first months together had captions and dates to accompany them and provide perspective, but alas, I have to make do with what I've got.
Found this arcade photo booth gem of the pair from Memorial Day, May 29, 1950.  That would have put my dad two weeks shy of 21, my mother eight days into her 23rd year.
My sister Kathleen laughs when she hears a recounting of how my parents started dating.
For anyone familiar with Lowell's neighborhood history, the pair was well known in their Flats neighborhood, which is located, in today's Mill City geography, at the terminus of the Lowell Connector, along Gorham Street, towards the area known as Back Central Street.  My mother lived on Gorham Street, my father, off and on on nearby Auburn or Richmond Streets.
My mother was a clerk in the Registry of Deeds at Lowell Superior Court, located just a few blocks from her home.  My father was a lineman for the Lowell Electric Light Corporation (later Massachusetts Electric, today, National Grid) on Perry Street.
My mother, as chronicled elsewhere on this blog, was also a chorister singing in a choir that performed regularly at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.  My father was a street tough neighborhood kid, who lost his mother at the age of 10 then enjoyed a fairly successful professional boxing career, cut short when he was jumped by some thugs on Market Street and nearly beaten to death because he refused to throw a fight at the request of a local bookie.  My dad opted to go the professional route, at first, using his deceased brother Gerald's name on the boxing card, before finally taking his own name in the ring.  He told my brother he chose to go the professional route in order to get paid money, the only way he could survive as a teenager in the 1940s.
Both of them were attendees of St. Peter's Church, now lost to the wrecking ball.
My parents would occasionally recount what counted as courting for them in those days.
My father would stand, leaning against the wall outside the law offices located on the corner of Gorham and Highland Street.  The building's still there today.
He would watch every day as my mother walked back and forth from her home to her office in the courthouse.  Occasionally, he would walk her to her home.  Eventually, he asked her out.
Today, that type of activity might be considered stalking.
Then, it was courting Lowell style, and so it was he summoned up the courage to ask out the girl he admired from afar - or at least from across the street.
She consented, much to the consternation of some who couldn't understand why this singing maiden would pair up with a rough and tumble boxer.
To quote a St. Peter's School nun who saw the two of them pushing my brother in a baby carriage years later - "you didn't marry him, did you?"
Yes, Sister, she did.
Believe it or not, I actually discovered both a napkin and a matchbook from my parent's special wedding day.  Preserved, albeit in a fragile state, 70 years later. 
As legend has it, my father proposed to my mother while the pair sat on a park bench in the South Common, which in its heydey, was quite the social gathering spot in Lowell - easily accessible by foot, centrally located, and sprawling enough to accommodate large crowds (see: V-Day celebration)
The couple got married, of course, in nearby St. Peter's Church at 2 in the afternoon on Saturday, February 3, 1951, under the sign of Aquarius. (Might be why my mother wanted so badly to see the historic church spared from demolition.
According to the Lowell Sun newspaper's account of the wedding:
Rev. William Mullen officiated at an altar adorned with mixed gladioli.  Escorted by her father (my grandfather Phillip Payette), my mother wore a dress trimmed with rhinestones.
After the church ceremony, my parents and their invited guests headed to a location, whose name currently escapes me, lost to the history books.  It resembled an airplane hanger with a curved roof and was in nearby Dracut.  The name will come to me and I'll come back here to update the post once I find it.  Happy to hear from anyone who might know its proper name.
My mother's maid of honor was her sister Helen.  My aunt, god bless her, is still rocking it out!
My father's best man was his younger brother, Eddie.
The couple went off to honeymoon at a recreation club in New York - picture the setting in the Dirty Dancing movie, and I always envision it was something along those lines, absent Baby and Johnny.  According to the Sun newspaper, when they left for their honeymoon, my mother wore a maroon outfit with black and white accessories and a corsage of white orchids. 
But here's where the story takes a turn, one that thousands of other young couples similarly experienced at the time.
No sooner did my father return from their honeymoon than he shipped off to serve in the Army, fighting in the Korean Conflict. (This comes six years after he had faked his age at 15 to join the Merchant Marines.  They sent him back home once his true age was discovered.  But he wanted to serve in part because he lost his older brother Gerald to the war.)
Just barely months into their marriage and my father was off to fight in a war, uncertain if he would even return safely. (Spoiler alert: he did, thank God.)
Needless to say, I have access to thousands of photos in the ensuing 51 years that they would continue through their lives together, until my father's passing in 2002.  My mother followed him nine years later.  Some of those photos depict other wedding anniversary celebrations, including their 40th and 50th.
But I thought for the purposes of commemorating their wedding day, it would be fitting to spotlight the pics that capture when it was just the two of them in the infancy of the Cook family, circa 1951.
My brother Jimmy would come along two years later, my brother Gerald, two years after that.  Kathleen made her debut three years later, and then six years later, they stopped when they got it right, bringing me into the world to complete our clan.
I've often said my biggest regret in life was not documenting in writing more of the history of my family when they were around to talk about it.
The stories behind the pics (including the one above at the Pawtucket Falls) are lost to time.  I literally have dozens upon dozens of pictures featuring folks whose identities are unknown to me.
One of the primary reasons I still maintain this blog is to help chronicle some of the comings and goings of me, my family and friends during these 21st century years.
Sadly, no such blog existed back in the 1950s, so I'm not able to properly chronicle Jim and Marie's story, providing it the proper historical perspective.
But I'm thrilled that I'm able to share some pics of a young couple who didn't know what the next half century was going to yield for them, just that they were going to tackle it together.
So Happy 70th Anniversary Mom and Dad!
You certainly earned a Platinum rating in our books!

Sunday, September 27, 2020

A Gunstock Gun Show

Have you wondered what a bachelor party might look like during a coronavirus quarantine?
Well, wonder no more, on this blog we aims to inform.
A couple of months back, the E Streeters conspired to pull together a safe, socially distanced bachelor party for Andrew in advance of his pending nuptials to Katie
As with everything during a time of COVID, the event took some considerable planning by Best Man Ben, with some local geography assists from Scott, whose lakefront home is only a couple of miles down the road from the two mountains we decided to scale - Belknap and Gunstock.
Once it was decided that the soiree would need to take place outside from start to finish, we narrowed it down to a manageable climb for those in the group who haven't scaled a mountain in the past.
As it turns out, we had the parking lot, and just about the entire mountain all to ourselves.
But before we began our upward trek, like any member of the Appalachian Mountain Club will tell you, it's time for donuts from the Donut Shack.
And with a moderate amount of marshmallow donuts consumed, it was time to begin our climb.
And almost immediately, stop it, so Mike, Scott and Sean can make sure we're on the right trail.
Our orienteering under control, we chose the path less travelled.  At least on this particular Saturday.
Ain't nothing like the Great Outdoors
This first day of August proved to be an especially warm one, with temperatures close to 90 for most of the hike.  Hydration a must for all!
Bridges early on in the lower terrain, but none to be seen in the higher elevations
Here, we see the silverback gorilla at home in his native habitat.  One can only surmise what he is doing in this deep copse.
Group shot at Round Pond
And then the actual climbing portion of the program commenced in earnest.
Followers of this blog have read past posts about mountaintop cairns.
Cairns are manmade piles of rocks, derived from the Gaelic word "carn" which translates to a "heap of stones."
For decades, mountain climbers have been building cairns atop mountains to serve as survey markers, and directional structures.
The top of Belknap boasted a couple of dozen small, directional cairns.
Finally, getting above the treeline, we start to catch our first glimpses of the surrounding lakes and mountains in the Belknap region
The Two Towers
The Two Wowers
Ready for their tuxedos
Brothers Grim
These two put the guns in gunstock
Heading to the summit, we can see Lake Winnipesaukee, and to its inner waters, Rattlesnake Island and the Spence Estate
Scenes from high up on the active fire tower atop Belknap
In case you're wondering, Scott is on the phone with Carlos, who, while late to the climb because of a work commitment, was at this point of the day running up the southern slope to rendezvous with the rest of us.
Down below the fire tower, Benjamin broke out exactly the kind of hydration everyone is looking for after scaling a mountain in 90 degree weather
Tito's vodka, to commemorate the climb
Belknap Mountain was named after Jeremy Belknap, a preacher, historian and author of the History of New Hampshire
The peak of Belknap is the highest point in all of Belknap Country, at 2,382 feet
From Belknap, it was on to our second mountain of the day, its next-door neighbor, to the northwest, Gunstock.
Gunstock is the second highest peak in the Belknap Mountains, with an elevation of 2,240 feet.
Not much happening at the top of the ski lift.  Just us and the birds.
These ski slopes have never seen this style of groom-ing
Back down at the base, it was time to connect with a handful of fellow celebrators, who, while they couldn't make it up for the climb, were there for the lakeside feedbag
Ben and Scott were only to happy to share the cooking duties
I'm proud to be able to share these pics with you because the event took place nearly two months ago - and everyone walked away healthy and COVID-free.
That's because we rolled with the punches that 2020 has thrown at us, and incorporated safety measures into every conversation we had about putting together a bachelor party that Andrew would truly appreciate.  We kept the entire event outdoors, from start to finish, and made sure to have one another's backs on the safety front.
Post climbs, Andrew said the day went pretty much how he might have scripted it even if we weren't in a pandemic, so kudos all around to those who helped contribute to make it a memorable double mountain day, and a healthy bachelor party for the Belknap Bachelor Bros.