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Guest Column

February 8, 2011

A day to myself: an outsider's view of Oneonta

Have you ever wished for some time that was free from work and obligations? How often do you ever get the luxury of a whole day to yourself? You might think it would happen often once you retire, but that's not the case. Most of my retired friends will tell you that life is busier now than it ever was.

We baby-sit our grandchildren and volunteer at nursing homes and hospitals. We help with gardening in area public gardens or do our own gardening. We take friends to doctors' appointments. We may take yoga, go to the gym, or walk our dogs. We even go out for lunch now and then. Our days are filled with activities _ some necessary and some necessarily fun!

One night toward the end of summer, my sister Laurie called. She wondered if I would accompany her on a two-day car trip. She had to attend a workshop for supervising student teachers at the State University College at Oneonta. We would drive there the night before her meeting and drive home the next day after it was over. Since anything I do with my sister usually turns out to be an adventure and my schedule was clear, I said I'd love to go with her!

My sister doesn't like driving on the Thruway so we decided to take U.S. Route 20. It took us over hills and through valleys. We went through many small towns and miles of countryside. We passed farms of all sizes and kept commenting to each other about the beauty of the state in which we live. We were having such a great time that the four hours flew by. We were in Oneonta in no time!

We found our motel, checked in, and went for a ride around town. Oneonta is a pretty city. It is quite hilly. There were small parks and many gardens filled with a variety of colorful flowers. The main street area was welcoming, with turn-of-the-century street lamps, brick sidewalks and interesting-looking shops. We decided that the library would be my main hangout for the day. My sister would take the car, since her workshop was a couple of miles away at the campus camp.

We found a restaurant near our motel called Christopher's and decided to have dinner there. The whole place was decorated in a rustic style and looked like a hunting lodge. Each booth had bright-colored flannel curtains pulled back with ties. Hunting trophies hung on the walls. We both had seafood dishes and a glass of cold white wine. Everything was delicious!

Since the movie theater was closed, we went to our motel, watched TV, and talked some more. We turned in early. For some strange reason we were tired!

The next morning, my sister left early. I ate breakfast at a place near the motel. Then I called a taxi. The driver's name was Wendy. She was a very nice lady who was happy to drive me around town and recommend a couple of shops. She dropped me off at the library. It looked like it had been built long ago. It wasn't quite large enough to say it was a mansion. It was painted white and very pretty. Inside, it had been completely modernized. The central part had comfortable chairs, computers and displays showing recently released books. There were several people there, but still available places to sit.

I walked through the library and out the back door to the park. There was a walkway lined with trees and benches. It ended about a half block from Main Street. I walked back along the pathway and found a bench under a large shade tree. I thought I would read my book, but then things started to happen. A woman was walking her dogs, but when she was almost to the spot where I was, she took both dogs off the leash and let them run. The larger dog took off for a nearby tree stump and started chewing it, actually crunching it up with its teeth! The woman threw a stick and the dog left the tree stump and chased the stick. The smaller dog sat quietly waiting. I asked how she had taught him to be so patient and she said he was blind. Later, when I was walking around I saw both dogs tied near a parking area. The bigger dog watched over the smaller one.

As I sat in the park, I noticed that there was some kind of convention for squirrels. I have never seen so many squirrels in one place! As I tried to count them, a gentleman came by with a walker. He asked if he could share my bench. His name was Ron, and he said he used to teach math at a nearby high school. He recently had bypass surgery and was on disability. He was waiting for his wife and daughter. His wife was at a doctor's appointment. He told me how he'd lost one eye when he was teaching and almost lost the vision in the other eye. It had happened years ago. He had had a rare condition that had developed from a problem with his retina. If it had not been for his doctor taking slides of his eye to a medical convention and finding a doctor who had operated on this type of problem, he would have lost his sight. He had to travel to New Hampshire for the surgery, but the doctor saved his eye.

Soon Ron's wife, Caroline, and daughter, Holly, found him. They were very friendly and had many good things to say about Oneonta. There are about 14,000 people, and there's very little crime. The State University College at Oneonta and Hartwick College are the largest employers in the area. There are no industries to speak of, but Oneonta was once the largest locomotive center in the world. The city is located in the northern foothills of the Catskills. The Susquehanna River flows westward past the southern part of town.

I thanked Ron and his family for all of the great information and walked to Main Street. I found a coffee shop, Capresso, and sat and thought about my day. Drinking a cup of coffee is good for composing thoughts. I decided that I would visit some of the shops. There was a candle shop with all sizes, shapes, colors, and scents of candles. There was a gift shop called Razzle Dazzle. I found a toddler book on cars that had just come out that day! I knew my grandson would love it! There was another interesting place that sold artwork by local artists. There were toys beautifully made of wood. I bought a toy wooden car to go with the book. Then I started looking for a place to have lunch.

Autumn Cafe was a place that had caught my eye when I was with my sister and in the taxi. The walls and floors were made of a dark wood. It was spacious and there was artwork on the walls. I liked the menu and decided to have iced tea and chicken salad. It came with homemade bread. Everything was excellent. It seemed to be a busy place, but I wasn't in a hurry. I enjoyed looking at the paintings on the walls. They were in beautiful colorful tones, but what really made an impression was the consistent subject in each piece of art. Each picture had a man with a black eye. The waitress didn't know who the artist was or why each subject had a black eye. I learned that the artist was Jessie LaBudde. She doesn't discuss her paintings _ she prefers to leave it up to individual interpretation. The restaurant changes its paintings often, which give more area artists a chance to display their work.

After lunch, I walked back to the library and looked through some old books for sale. I didn't find what I was looking for so I made my way to the park in back and found my same bench again. I wanted to spend some time reading "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." It was written by Stieg Larsson, who influenced by Astrid Lindgren, who wrote the Pippi Longstocking books that I had read to my second-graders many years ago. I got involved in the story and before I knew it, my sister was calling on my cell phone to say her workshop was over. She picked me up in front of the librar,y and I learned that her workshop was very worthwhile. We both had had good lunches, so we were ready to start for home. We told each other about our day as we drove. There was one recurring theme on the way home. We both felt we wanted to take time to get away again. We kept saying, "We have to do this more often!"

A day away is something that everyone deserves. It is something very special and wonderful! If you haven't taken a whole day to spend by yourself or with someone lately, I highly recommend it!

VanDeVelde is a resident of Farmington.

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