What a month. The longest time Susan and I have spent together so far, and we are now wearing engagement rings and have the wedding rings tucked away ready.
One of the first things that happened during the trip was, sadly, that Susan's mother died. It happened during the night just before we went out there to meet the relatives; it wasn't unexpected as she had been very ill for a very long time, but a shock for Susan anyway of course, and I was just glad I was able to be there for her. The upshot was that I met every relative this side of Alaska. I have never felt so warmly welcomed or accepted, and within a few days of arriving in the US I was suddenly a family member at a family funeral. It was quite an experience, for all of us, and quite a burst of humanity. I never met Nancy physically, although we had spoken on the phone and by Skype and were friends, but I felt so much love for her from relatives and from everyone else we met, and it was obvious that she was a very special woman.
We were in New Jersey for over a week, taking in Christmas, which was very beautiful. Again I was surrounded with family love, and I owe a great debt of thanks not only to Susan but to her sister Donna and all her family; I hope they know the thanks are given and the love returned. Christmas dinner was cooked by Susan's nephew John, who is a qualified professional chef, and it was truly magnificent. Rather than turkey we had an amazing roast beef joint and a ham, of which I felt compelled to take photographs. We had started with Italian hors d'oeuvres of cheese and cooked meats and sundried tomatoes. It was incredibly difficult not to eat far too much, but I just about managed it although I had to sit very still for quite a while afterwards. On Boxing Day (or December 26th as it's called over there) we went to some other relatives in Connecticut for White Elephant Day. This is a family tradition in which everyone sits around and regifts something. Everyone takes a number and the somethings are distributed on a more or less random basis, although there is also the possibility to "steal" something that someone else has already taken rather than pick one of the still wrapped objects. It was a lot of fun and another state to add to my collection.
After we got back to the City, there was still my entire list of desired destinations and experiences to go through. And we got through almost all of them, at the same time meeting friends of both Susan and myself (I have friends from Munich who are born New Yorkers and now live there again). We had cheesecake at Junior's, as well as at the River Edge Diner in NJ, and I have to tell you that, good as the famous Junior's version was, the one at the River Edge Diner is the greatest cheesecake on the planet, my niece's vote for a bakery called New York New York notwithstanding. We also ate at the Edison Hotel, where I had an absolutely reubenrific sandwich experience as well as my first ever matzo ball soup; and had a New York diner breakfast experience at the Westway Diner on 8th Avenue by 43rd Street, eggs sunny side up, hash browns, ham, bacon and sausage, pancakes, bottomless coffee and all.
I had my photo taken at the Dakota Building, right by the spot where John Lennon was killed, just before we visited Strawberry Fields and the Imagine memorial circle. The Chrysler Building and Empire State Building were visited on one morning, and the view of Lady Chrysler from a telescope on the observatory on the 86th floor of the ESB was worth the price of the trip all on its own. To see that wondrous art deco architecture so apparently close up was breathtaking to me, AND I got a fine beer at the Heartland Brewery back down on the ground afterwards.
On New Year's Eve, we went up to the roof of Susan's building, but thanks to a new building we couldn't actually see the ball from there and there was no one else up there, so we eventually went back down and watched it on TV like everyone else, despite being in Times Square and able to hear the crowds from her apartment. Still managed to get one of those daft blue Nivea hats you saw everyone wearing on TV though, so I can prove I was there...
All in all, it was a fantastic trip, most memorable, especially for all the time I was able to spend with my Susan, holding hands, watching TV and movies, playing with the cat, seeing and sharing her city, her family and her friends-- now MY family and friends, too. It was magical, and there were many tears from both of us at JFK as I was leaving. A wedding is expected later this year, and you're all invited to Paisley for the festivities. Just tell them Cameron sent you.