family travel

Sadness and serendiptity – Part 3

by Steve Brock on October 26, 2011

Three stories of books surround a middle stack at the Millicent Library in Fairhaven, MA

On the trip to my nephew’s funeral, I noted the serendipity of rediscovering the joy of spending time with just my parents and my brother in Rhode Island and Massachusetts the day before the funeral.

That was an unexpected benefit, but there were other, smaller ones along the way that I’d like to share with you. By themselves, these probably fall into the “so what?” category. But they illustrate an important aspect of meaningful travel: when we pay attention to the details and small moments on a trip, we uncover insights and connections that we associate with that trip and everything else that is occurring at the time.

Thus, on their own, these may seem insignificant yet they form a pattern of discovery and meaning – even if that meaning is personal and may not fully translate to others. Still, from the following images, I hope you get some sense of why this was both an interesting journey and a meaningful one.

Since we had not planned on doing any sightseeing, our entire source of information was the travel magazine left in our hotel rooms. After glancing through various options within a 45 minute drive, we decided to head out from our hotel in Providence, RI and go to Falls River, New Bedford and Fairhaven, MA. Why? The pictures in the magazine looked nice.

Sometimes that’s reason enough.

My own snapshots below show some of what we encountered, but let me comment on one place in particular, the Fairhaven Public Library.

We had no idea where to go in Fairhaven when we arrived, so we skirted the harbor to the old downtown area where we saw several old churches and other buildings.

The most intriguing turned out to be the public library. Though small, it is probably the most beautiful, functioning public library I’ve seen in this country. What made it even more interesting – even serendipitous if you will – is that while perusing the book shelves, we “just happened” upon a book cart that had two books on the old buildings of Fairhaven. Thus, we not only discovered the library, but within the library we found books detailing its own history and that of nearby buildings.

Again, that may not seem like a big deal, but it was borderline “woo woo” to us in terms of how it all came together this day.

The rest of the sights were more mundane but still interesting. It added up to a surprisingly intriguing day that now is part of our family; an unplanned experience that is, in ways we can’t fully explain, somehow essential to what that entire trip means to us.

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If you missed the first parts of this series, you can read them here: Ugly Beautiful, Sadness and Serendipity - Part 1, Sadness and Serendipity - Part 2

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Sadness and serendipity – Part 2

by Steve Brock on October 21, 2011

The trip to my nephew’s funeral was one of sadness, certainly. But also one of surprise, even serendipity.

One definition of serendipity from Webster’s is “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” That would apply to my brother’s and my experiences covered in Part 1 of meeting the hospice director and the former pastor on our respective ways to the funeral.

But with meaningful travel in general, and this trip in particular, we encountered a slightly different definition of serendipity: going in search of one thing and finding another, one that seems unrelated to the former but in fact, furthers our original journey or intent but not in the way we imagined. 

The view from Fort Phoenix, town of Fairhaven, MA, an unexpected destination...

My parents and I flew from Seattle to Providence, Rhode Island. There, we met my brother who had just arrived from Florida. We had a wonderful dinner together that first night, catching up and discussing the funeral that was to occur the following evening.

The next morning we awoke and had most of a day to do nothing. Rather than hang around the hotel all day, we decided to do something I hadn’t expected on a trip of this kind: we played tourists. In the next entry, I’ll give you a photo essay of the surprising things we encountered in Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts.

What the photos cannot reveal, however, are the moments that transformed this day from one of mourning to one of a different kind of discovery.

First, as we drove through the old sections of towns like New Bedford (former whaling capital of the world, or so they say) and Fairhaven, MA, we saw more funeral homes than I’ve ever seen before. Whether they do indeed have more mortuaries per square mile there or whether we just noticed them more this day, I cannot say. But each was a poignant reminder that even though we were enjoying a beautiful day together, the intended purpose of our trip was never too distant.

Second, we all came to realize that this was the first trip that the four of us had taken, just on our own, since I was in high school. We’ve done other vacations or family gatherings with our spouses and kids, but not just my parents and their two sons for years. My mom especially noted this, appreciated it and marveled at the time we had together, just the four of us. I tend to think of “family” as a multigenerational collection that spans both my side and my wife’s side through grandparents, uncles, nieces, in-laws – everyone who we consider to be a relation. Yet this trip revealed that something special happens when you travel with only the people who formed your tightest, most intimate circle growing up.

Third, as is often the case in times of pain and vulnerability, we appreciated each other and what we saw more. We paid better attention to the small details – meals unique to that region, comments that reveal a shared sense of humor, the cobblestones of the streets or scent of the sea. I am convinced that our joy is more noticeable when contrasted with our sadness and such was our experience this day.

We came on this trip to mourn the loss of a family member. What we ended up experiencing was a trip where we celebrated and valued dearly the family I have known since birth. It wasn’t the trip I expected. It was much better.

But then, our journeys of serendipity usually are.

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Magic, music and Montreal – Part 2

by Steve Brock on September 14, 2011

Last time we saw that I wished I liked jazz more than I do. So then, why would I go out of my way to attend the Montreal Jazz Festival this summer?

The answer lies within another trip taken when I was 14.

At that age, my family took a trip to the East Coast. One of the highlights – at least for me – was our time in New York City.

This photo taken on a trip to NY many years later reflects the vibrancy of the city, but none of the magic that rainy day when I first visited Manhattan.

Back in The Journey to the MagicCastle– Part 1, I explained my passion for magic as a teenager. Hollywood may have had Hollywood Magic and The Magic Castle, but New York had Al Flosso’s and Louis Tannen’s, two of the most famous magic shops in the country. You can read the history of Al Flosso’s (the oldest magic store in the US which was at one time owned by Houdini) here.

So when we found out we were going to New York, I begged my parents to go to these two stores, both of which were in mid-town Manhattan. They agreed.

What, in their minds, should have been a quick in and out of some specialty store for their son became a journey of Odyssean proportions. Even though this was the middle of summer, on this particular day it rained. Not this wimpy spittle we call rain here in Seattle, but a Noah-like deluge. We were soaked within ten seconds of leaving our hotel.

Then there’s the whole issue of using the subway and finding your way around when you’re a first-timer to Manhattan. It seems so easy once you know the layout and systems, but on this day, it took us what seemed like forever just to find Al Flosso’s.

Once we entered the upstairs store, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed at first. Somehow, I expected a labyrinth of stacked books, ancient and mysterious illusions and cabinets filled with gaudily-painted tricks. Instead, the place had a worn, thread-bare feel to it. Al, I learned years after the fact, died later that year, so perhaps we caught him at a bad time. Or maybe this was the way the store always appeared.

Still, I bought a book on card tricks and left pleased with at least having visited this well-known establishment.

From there, it took another seeming forever to go the ten blocks or so to Louis Tannen’s. Here was a more modern, efficient showroom that offered more choices than my budget or my parents’ soggy patience allowed. So I quickly settled on an Okito Coin Box and we departed, my magic shopping spree satisfactorily completed.

We had two days in New York and we’d just spent half of one of them wading our way to places that meant nothing to anyone else in the family. Teenagers don’t show their appreciation all that often – I know I didn’t display as much gratitude for this wet morning as I felt inside.  But something must have shown through…

After a late lunch, the skies remained as porous as ever, so we decided to do something indoors: we were going to see a Broadway matinee. When we checked the theater schedules, my heart practically beat in reverse. One of the shows that had tickets available was The Magic Show starring Doug Henning at the Cort Theater.

Now my parents referred to Doug Henning as “that long-haired hippy-like rainbow guy” due to his hairstyle, mannerisms and attire despite his being one of the most famous magicians at the time (yes, this whole story dates me, I know). So when they agreed to get tickets to see his Broadway play (really, a musical/magic show with a minimal plot), I couldn’t believe it.

Yet an hour later, we sat freezing in our wet clothes in an air-conditioned theatre on Broadway…and I couldn’t have been happier. Even my brother and parents admitted afterwards that they enjoyed that part of the day.

So again, what does this have to do with jazz and Montreal?

You can probably guess. But I’ll fill you in on the details next time…


If you missed it, you can read Part 1 here


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Saving a life in Boston

by Steve Brock July 29, 2011

It took our 13-year-old son to convince us to help an injured man in Cambridge, MA. But it wasn’t the poor man laying in the street who turned out to need the most help…

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Amateur Hour

by Steve Brock December 17, 2010

When you fly a lot it is easy to lose patience with those who don’t, particularly during busy holiday seasons. That is, until you realize that you share much more with these people than just the overhead baggage space…

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