This was a day that I wasn’t exactly positive on my holiday sources. I found it on a website I use from time to time to find the days I am going to celebrate. It clearly said it was Cupcake Day there, but I didn’t find the day listed on any other website. I like to confirm these days whenever I can but I wasn’t having any luck today. However, it would have to do because we were still in Lenox, MA and we were a long way from home and I couldn’t really dig in to research another holiday. Cupcake Day it would have to be.
We had stayed over in Lenox after the David Sedaris show. It would have been a long trip to try and make it home after the show so staying over made the most sense. I had finagled a way to take the day off at work and we had a whole Monday to ourselves in the Berkshires. We stayed at a B&B that we had found online. We don’t normally stay at B&B’s especially since we once had a real awkward situation when we stayed at one in Maine that involved a lot of one-on-one convos with the owners and the worst breakfast I have ever eaten in my entire breakfast eating life. We prefer the hotel life where people leave you alone, but B&Bs are kind of the thing to do in Lenox, so we went along with it. We slept in a little later than usual which was nice, got ourselves cleaned up and then went inside the main house for breakfast. It was slightly awkward as we made small talk with the other guest who were sitting at their tables in the breakfast nook, although everyone was pleasant enough. The breakfast however was fantastic. Nice hot scrambled eggs, grilled ham, homemade grits and even some fantastic mini cinnamon rolls. It really surprised us, but it was a good start to the day. Afterwards, we packed up the car and headed out in to town to explore.
We parked in the downtown area which was only a few blocks away. It’s not a very expansive area and it is essentially made up of two streets that crisscross. There were stores up and down both sides of the streets so we meandered about sticking our heads in to whatever stores tickled our fancy. It had the lazy, vacation town feeling although much of their offerings in town was reflective of the local area. We spent a lot of time in a bookstore (as we are apt to do) and afterwards we meandered in a local artsy-type store where the owner was surprisingly a tad racist. We left there and tried to shake that energy off us. We thought that maybe some coffee would help (and help our energy level in general), so we walked into a little bakery/cafe on the corner of the crossroads. The place was called Shots. I ordered our coffees and then Lola walked around to find a bathroom. Then I looked down and noticed they had some cupcakes in the display case. I wasn’t sure what kind of cupcakes they were, but they had all the earmarks of being a cupcake – the frosting, the mini-sized cake, the wrapper around the cake. I ordered one to go along with our coffee. We ate it outside at the tables that they had on the sidewalk in front of the store. Actually, I ate it. Lola just had a bite
It was a good cupcake. I think it was blueberry flavored. Inside was filled with a blueberry-type jelly and it was melded within a nice, moist, chocolate cake. The frosting was excellent. Nice and sweet and sugary. It wasn’t the best cupcake I’ve ever had, but it was still tasty and it was a delicious discovery in the middle of downtown Lenox. After we finished, we continued our meandering about town and then decided to move on. We didn’t know exactly where to go, but we hopped in the car and started out on the open road. We saw a sign for Pittsfield, MA and we thought that would be an excellent place to go.
Pittsfield, MA is the birthplace of Richard Lederer, my Dad. It was always a special place for him and when we were young, we would take yearly pilgrimages to the area. His sister still lived there with her family and we would always come for a visit and stay at their house. But we really didn’t get there that often and once we got into high school and college, our visits started becoming even less frequent. I hadn’t been there in years. It was still worth driving through however because we were right there and we were looking for things to do. I was surprised that I still recognized some areas of town and when I saw the high school, I immediately started singing the Pittsfield High School fight song which my Dad used to sing whenever you mentioned his old alma mater. If you asked them, my brother and sister could sing the song too. We drove for a bit and then I remembered the street name of where my Aunt had lived, so we put it into the GPS and headed in that direction. After a very slow drive up and down the street, I found the house. It was always a unique house – custom built by my uncle. It had a wrap around porch on the second level and the front door had a intercom system. At least those are the details I remembered from my youth. When I saw the house, I was sure I had found it. I even sent my sister a picture to confirm. It was funny to be back. We didn’t stay too long as we didn’t want the people who lived there now to get worried about this odd car lingering outside their home taking pictures, but it was a fun trip down memory lane.
When we left Pittsfield, we decided to check out one more town in the local area before heading back: Stockbridge. I’ve heard good things about this quaint little town and I was also familiar with what it looked like because my Mom has a scenic painting of it in our living room. It’s a reproduction of the famous Norman Rockwell painting which he painted to show his community. At the height of his fame, Rockwell had made his home here. As we made our way to Stockbridge, we started seeing signs for the Norman Rockwell Museum. With no real agenda for the day, we decided to check it out. (Tanglewood, book readings and art museums? You can’t say we aren’t cultured.) The museum is on a gorgeous, lush property in the heart of Stockbridge. You drive up a windy road surrounded by trees and grass and you come upon a big white building up on a little hill. The museum sees over 200,000 guests per year and the facilities are set up to handle big crowds and buses. It wasn’t too crowded today although there was still a steady flow of people coming in and out. We were decidedly younger than the general population here with the exception of a few families taking their kids. Most of the visitors probably remembered reading the Saturday Evening Post. You walk in to a giant foyer where there is an information desk in the center. The ticket counter is to the right, the gift shop to the left and the museum was in front behind the desk. The tall ceilings echoed the hushed tones of everyone’s conversations giving it that typical museum or library feeling. We bought our tickets and then proceeded on in to learn more about Mr. Rockwell.
On the bottom floor, the museum plays a video on a loop that gives you the biography of the artist. The room with the video also has all the covers he painted for the Saturday Evening Post on display. These were the images you think of when you think of Rockwell. The little glimpses of Americana. The sweetness, the whimsy, the pride and the sadness. To look at all his work like this at once was overwhelming. They were arranged from his first in 1916 all the way up to the issue when John F. Kennedy died (Rockwell’s last issue). We walked slowly through them all. Lola and I are always in different spots when it comes to touring museums. I zip right through trying to keep my ADD at bay. Lola will drift into the artwork and get lost in the image before her. I made it through the whole display within minutes and Lola was still lost in the 1930s. I’m sure that gets annoying to her. I did my best to wait patiently and wandered around some of the other rooms to bide my time. When Lola was ready, we went back upstairs to see some of his actual paintings. This was where we started to get an appreciation of the social commentary that Rockwell was making with his work. Sure, his images for the Post were on the cheerful side, full of hope and nostalgia. That’s what the magazine required. But much of his later artwork contained themes about social justice and equality. This was the more fascinating stuff to us and as we walked around the gallery, we each got lost in certain pieces. There was a painting called “Lincoln for the Defense” that particularly caught my fancy as it portrayed a young Abraham Lincoln in a courtroom fighting for the defense of a shackled man. There was just something about it between the imposing figure that Lincoln made and how he stood tall in this desperate situation. Lola got lost in a painting about the United Nations with the Golden Rule transcribed across the front.
In the center of the building, there were a series of four paintings featured in their own space called the Four Freedoms and they were paintings commissioned to reflect the famous State of the Union Address in which FDR outlined the four basic essential freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Rockwell made each of these in his usual tone by taking a scene from everyday life of everyday people and showing us what those freedoms mean to us and our neighbors. It was striking and while it made you sympathize for all those struggling in that awful time of war fighting for freedom, the messages still had relevance in the current culture. The struggle continues but somehow, looking into the soft and troubled eyes of each of the characters in his paintings, you realized that the fight is always there and that there are always those standing up for what is right. It was a call to action told with every subtle brushstroke. We were both mesmerized. The other exhibition of note was of Andy Warhol. I’m still not exactly sure of the connection but it had to do with Andy’s nephew James Warhola who is an artist and an illustrator in his own right (he has drawn for comics and Mad Magazine). He also published a children’s book about visiting his uncle. I assume the exhibition was on loan to the museum but it featured some of James work and then some of Andy’s work as well. The museum did a nice job trying to show the contrast between the works of Normal Rockwell and Andy Warhol. They’d show you Norman’s take on something, and then Andy’s on the same thing. It was cool especially to have come upon an exhibit of Andy Warhol in the middle of a Norman Rockwell museum. They also displayed one of Andy’s typical outfits complete with his white fluffy wig. He was an odd cat for sure, but we started seeing his inspirations and how he would interpret things in contrast to Rockwell. But then we had to get out of there – the sun was about to go black.
It was Eclipse Day which seems silly to retell now as we have all just survived this celestial event together, but it’s a good thing to put down on record here so I can know where I was when I look back. The peek eclipse was supposed to happen at 2:45, so I was keeping an eye on the clock while we were walking around the museum. I went outside to see if anything was changing. It was a bit cloudy but you could still see the sun high in the sky. The lawn that surrounds the property is pretty expansive and there were buckets of people in different areas scattered about getting ready. Some had special glasses, some had jerry-rigged cereal boxes and others had their phones or tablets positioned so they could watch from their screens. It was coming, so I went back inside to get Lola. We walked out and to get outside, we went through the cafeteria area. When we did that, we realized we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so we made a quick dash to the counter and picked up some prewrapped sandwiches to go along with some chips and drinks. It was the only thing we had time for and thankfully there were no delays. We took or picnic lunch out to the lawn and sat down in the grass to enjoy. That’s when we were hit by a bunch of irritants. First, it was buggy and it felt like little gnats were nipping at our skin. Then the ants came. We saw one on one of our shoes first, then another on our napkins. Then around our food. The ant threat was increasing exponentially. I still think the eclipse had something to do with the odd bug behavior. Then the annoying people were out too. Everyone was there in the tranquility of this universal experience and it was interrupted by shouts of moms yelling at their kids. Someone even had a paddleball and that annoying sound of whack, whack, whack echoed throughout the grounds. Plus, the sun seemed super bright. Even with all our precautions and protective eyewear, it still seemed like the sun was warming my eyeballs and making them itchy. It was sensory overload. We stayed out there until about 3 pm but we never really saw anything. I’m not sure what it was supposed to look like but I think we missed it all together. Maybe it was too cloudy. Still, we were there, outside on the lawn at the Norman Rockwell Museum to see this special event. I guess that’s special.
We stayed around for a bit longer and walked to his studio which was at another spot on the property. But soon we had soaked it all in and it was time to go. We made our way into the center of town, however on our way there, I remembered another spot in town that had some significance to me. This was the town they talk about in Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” I remembered hearing that they had taken the church where Alice lived (in the bell tower with her husband Ray and Facha the dog) and they had turned it into a performance hall and museum. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but I knew it was close by. Lola, being the patient navigator she is, found it on her phone and put in the coordinates. We were there in about ten minutes. It was a church for sure – not a very big one but pretty – and it was on a picturesque corner with green grass and shady trees. It was called the Guthrie Center and it was founded by Arlo Guthrie as a place to honor the legacy of his parents, Woody Guthrie and Marjorie Mazia-Guthrie, and to bring individuals together for cultural, educational, and spiritual exchanges. There was also a VW Microbus parked outside which seemed fitting. The church was closed, but we still poked around. The front window of the church had an image of Woody Guthrie with the words to a poem of his that I have always been drawn to. In fact, I have it on my wall in my office. There were two little benches in the front (Group W benches, I assumed) under the shade of a a few trees. It was really a quiet, peaceful little place. We could see that they have local performances at night keeping the church full of song and happiness. It was serene and I had a spiritual connection to all the church stood for and represented. This land was our land, made for you and me. I’m glad we made the trip there.
Afterwards, we went back to main street in Stockbridge to check it out. Maybe we were tired and just wanted to go home, but it wasn’t all that special here. We found one store that had some neat stuff, but the rest of the town was a bit sleepy with nothing special. We stopped at the Inn in the middle of Main Street to have a drink on their wraparound porch, but that too seemed a little stale. In fact, it was eerily quiet on the deck even though all the tables were full. It suddenly felt like we were in a horror movie that was about to take a turn for the worse, so we decided to leave. We went back to our car and then headed East on the Turnpike back to the comforts of home.
It had really been a while since we had taken a trip, so it was nice to go exploring on a lazy Monday especially to a land that I had some familiarity with but had never surveyed up close. It made me miss that vacation feeling where you have whole days in front of you to do what you want and just chill. It was a bit of a day for us. While it wasn’t a very long trip, we packed in the sites and the special celestial events. We made pilgrimages to places that hold memories for us and inspires us. We were lost in a whole new world and still made it home by the end of the day to be able to watch Game of Thrones. Plus the day came with a cupcake. That’s always a bonus and that’s why Cupcake Day will always be special for us. The day we got a cupcake and they took away the sun for a brief moment at Norma Rockwell’s pad.
Next up: National Bao Day