“There go the roses”

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‘Life as a series of passionate obsessions’

The Dude and I went out on a “bike ride” yesterday — me on my Vespa, he on his electric motorcycle, which is called a Zero. (He purchased it on a hilarious expedition to the wilds of Williamsburg — the hipster Williamsburg, not the colonial one.) He wanted this Zero because it is virtually silent, as in “Zero noise”, and therefore ideal for Biker Birdwatching.)

Dude, in background, stealthily examining some ruddy turnstones he was able to sneak up on — upon his super-silent Zero

Anyway, as we were dusting off our bikes for this jaunt, I couldn’t help but notice various relics of The Dude’s former obsessions: the ping-pong table, the archery target, and the windsurfing gear — all looking rather sad and neglected in the dim recesses of the basement. 

There was a time when ping-pong (excuse me, “table tennis”) was a passion of The Dude’s. He played all the time; he even had (and still has) this “ball-spitter” gadget that fires balls at you so you can, er, play with yourself. And when he wasn’t g-nipping and g-nopping (what we Henrys called “ping-pong” because that’s what the ball sounds like when you play), he was watching DVDs of competitions, which were usually between the Chinese and the Swedes. (The commentary was sometimes in Swedish, but the scoreboards were always in Chinese. So basically, your viewing enjoyment came from watching gleeful or dejected players scream incomprehensibly and fall to the ground, which they did with alarming frequency.)

I don’t have a photo of Dude Man doing his Archery Thing. But, trust me, there for a while it was tricky venturing outdoors. He would yell “Clear!” at the top of his lungs, and an arrow would zip by to plant itself into this big ole target he’d “backdropped” with an old oriental rug of his mother’s to catch the (somewhat pricey) arrows when they went astray.

I do, on the other hand, have plenty of photos of us windsurfing. Because, yes, I shared this particular obsession

Well. Enough of The Dude and his obsessions. But some people say you marry a man who is like your father, and I guess I did. Because, when it came to obsessions, no one could beat my Dad.

Alas, I don’t have photographic evidence of most of these. But I remember when he was passionate about fly fishing. He tied his own flies, which were very pretty indeed. He even started a sort of “business” where he would make them for other people. (He had some cool business cards made up.)

And there was his Thing with the houseboat. This one went on for years. I can’t recall where he got this boat — which he named the Sir Launch-A-Lot (honest, he had a nameplate made) — but he claimed it as a business expense. (He used it to entertain clients of the still-going-strong HMG engineering firm he founded with a couple of buddies back in the mid-sixties.) But mostly, he just liked to tool around on Lake Carlyle on it.

That’s my Favorite Sister Laura with my Henry Gramma and Mom on the Sir Launch-A-Lot (if you look carefully, you can see the nameplate)

The Sir L-A-L was the scene of many adventures — including The Time Doug Ran Into the Sliding Glass Door, The Time Someone Stepped Into The Sheet Cake, and (my fave) The Time Dad Bonked the Dock and The Grill Fell Overboard.

But the Obsession to Beat All Obsessions was The Roses. Somewhere along the line, after painting with acrylics (pretty awful, but he enjoyed it), and for some reason that escapes me now, Dad became interested in growing roses. And not just any ole roses — championship, rare, roses. He researched roses and got cuttings of roses and planted bushes of roses and entered contests of roses. Our whole yard, which was not small, was filled with specimen rose bushes. He was so obsessed that his license plate — for years — was ROSENUT.

Dad getting ready for one of many Rose Shows

The garage was full of vases, and the house was full of trophies (more vases, plus plaques and trays galore). I remember that my Mom even had a brooch that was actually a teensy little vase that held, you guessed it, actual water and an actual rose or two.

That’s my Favorite Sister-in-Law, Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jenn, sporting her own vase brooch, containing, no doubt, some of Dad’s roses

He even gave rose bushes as gifts. I still have a few blooms from our one surviving bush. (Roses don’t seem to do so well in Amagansett, which is the only place where we have some dirt in which to grow them.)

A rose grows in Amagansett, sort of. Well enough to get one or two roses each year, anyway

Well, rose-growing proceeded apace. And then my Dad retired from HMG. Because he was one of the founders, the company threw him a big party. All of us Henry Kids showed up for this event, which was pretty fancy, being held at the Country Club and all. There was food, there were drinks, there was karaoke. (Which we Henrys hogged all night when we weren’t dancing.)

Oldest Younger Brother Scott and I in a rare moment of not hogging the karaoke machine at Dad’s retirement party

There were speeches, there were stories, there were laughs. And, at the end of the evening, there was a presentation. His soon-to-be-former colleagues and associates got my Dad up in front of the crowd where a big ole box was waiting. Inside the box was a very nice gift — Dad’s very own personal computer.

Well. When my Dad unwrapped that computer — it was a Gateway, the kind that came in those cow-print boxes — well, Dad’s whole face lit up with glee. At which point my brother Scott famously remarked “There go the roses!”

Dad, several years later, not out working in his rose beds

New York City. October 2018