The first decade of our marriage, my husband Glenn and I had one niece and one nephew. It made it very easy to begin a tradition that would eventually become unsustainable. Our siblings started to procreate willy nilly starting in the mid 1990's, and we now have a total of 13 wonderful nieces and nephews. But for a while there, in the late 80's and early 90's, Rachel and her brother Dave were the only show in town.
We began to host them for a week each, in the summer. We began calling it Camp Thomas, and we'd schedule vacation days to devote our full attention to our charges. We would try and tailor the week around them, and what they liked to do. We did lots of field trips to zoos, museums, the State Capitol, and Fort Snelling. We'd go roller-skating around the lakes or take in a Twins game at the old Metrodome. It was kind of like entertaining an out of town client, who happens to be in grade school.
Since they lived in Fargo-Moorhead, and we live in the Twin Cities, we made sure to take advantage of what this larger metro area can offer. Occasionally we'd choose something that might edify or educate. It's important to balance the learning with lots of fun, and we learned the hard way that we had to back off and pick more kid friendly options when our nephew Dave wouldn't try a hot fudge malt we were offering him, because he thought we were trying to trick him into eating something healthy.
As the years passed our income grew a bit and expenses were manageable, so we thought we'd plan for a really memorable Camp Thomas. By this time, Rachel was 14 and Dave was 12, so we allowed them to each make a list of a few places they'd like to travel to in the continental United States, and together we'd help them each make their final choice. David planned to go to the Los Angeles area and out into the desert and 29 Palms. Rachel's top pick was New York City, because she wanted to see Late Night With David Letterman.
I'm glad we were able to steer Rachel to NYC, since her second choice was going to Kentucky to look for professional wrestler Miss Elizabeth. A fan magazine had written a story about her living in Kentucky, with her horse. Rachel assumed if we flew to Kentucky, we'd be able to find her.
Memories are such fallible things. I remembered few details of our New York City trip, but thanks to my niece Rachel, I am now able to describe a trip that had in many ways faded from my memory. Not because of anything bad, but perhaps because the trip was fun and not threatening. Or maybe I had forgotten so much because it was a long time ago, and I didn't write down the details. Or maybe it was because I put most of the photos we took during that trip, into a scrapbook for Rachel. Then I put what photos I kept into a massive plastic bin in my basement. That bin lurks in my laundry room, waiting for me to sort through and organize the last few decades of my life. Not today. Maybe tomorrow.
After a talk with my niece, I remembered so many details. We spent our first night in NYC at the Barbizon Hotel, in a room the size of a postage stamp. The next few nights we stayed at the Hotel Edison with a larger room and a view out of our window. Getting up early on our first day, we had Rachel put a 20 dollar bill in her shoe, in case we got separated, so she could take a taxi to the hotel and wait for us there. That day, we all waited in line for several hours, in front of the Ed Sullivan theatre, hoping to get a few last minute tickets to be in the audience for Late Night With David Letterman. A couple of people way up in front were able to get tickets, but they probably woke up before the crack of dawn to stand in that line.
When we didn't get tickets for Late Night With David Letterman, we decided to wait a few more minutes to see that days guests arrive. We waited with a small crowd until a limo pulled up and Keanu Reeves walked past. Then Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter-Cash arrived, and walked the line. They all seemed nice, but they didn't linger.
After we watched celebrities walk into the Ed Sullivan Theatre, we decided to go see the new movie Speed, starring Keanu Reeves which had just opened. According to Wikipedia, Speed premiered June 10th, 1994. The movie theatre was right near Times Square. We got to watch Speed on a huge screen, in a big city, with the star of the movie himself walking on a sidewalk nearby, and it was thrilling.
The following day Rachel and I went to lunch at the Russian Tea Room. It was a somber atmosphere, dimly lit, with male waiters who wore formal attire and held samovars. I ordered some caviar for us, thinking that would be a sophisticated choice, but Rachel didn't want to try it. I tried it and it was not tasty, it was salty. I carefully and discretely spit it into my napkin and then went into the bathroom to wipe my tongue off with a paper towel.
We went to see STOMP in the East Village, and afterwards we spotted Melanie Hutsell of Saturday Night Live fame, on the street right in front of the theatre! We walked up and said hi, and even chatted with her a little bit. She was so nice to us, and let us take a photo with her. There were no digital cameras for us back in 1994, so each photo taken was considered carefully, and then you'd bring the film to the drug store, wait a few days for it to be processed, and then when you picked up your developed photos you were finally able to see pictures of your trip. Luckily the celebrity shot of Melanie Hutsell turned out! The following day we went to the Statue of Liberty and when it started raining, umbrella salesmen sprouted everywhere.
Our last day we took the elevator to the top of the Empire State building, and when we looked down we saw lots of moths flying around, near the top. But then we realized they weren't moths, they were cigarette butts that people had flicked off the building and because of the wind gusts, they didn't fall, they just floated and flocked in the air. I wonder if there's fewer cigarette butts floating there these days.
Before leaving the city, there was one final thing we needed to do. Much like Dubliners kissing a Blarney Stone, we were in New York, so we stepped into the gift shop run by Sirajul and Mujibur. At that time, the duo were a regular feature on Late Night With David Letterman, and quite famous. They also let us take a photo with them, and then we bought green foam Statue of Liberty crowns that we all wore proudly on the bus to the airport.