My father has always been fashion classic as opposed to fashion forward. His running shoes were comfortable, sensible without being showy. The running route he chose was repetitive, looping around roads without sidewalks, keeping track of the mileage in his head. He wore neither Walkman nor Fitbit, never carried an ipod or an iphone. I think he preferred the quiet, running that way for decades, and much like the postal service, impervious to the weather. He recorded his mileage on a floppy calendar thumbtacked inside the door of the kitchen cabinet. The pages bumped into the Tupperware lazy susan spinning with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and vanilla.
I ran half-heartedly in college. Freshman theatre majors were required to run one mile before our daily 8 am Voice and Movement class. Cayuga Lake provided the most spectacular backdrop, but I was more fixated on trying to wake up at that ungodly hour to notice. My appreciation for running came a few years later, more as a reaction to late night pizza consumption and a penchant for sweets. When not covered in snow, the hills of Ithaca beckoned and I answered.
My father and I never really talked about running strategies but would talk about footwear in terms of what was available in narrow widths. He ran, I ran, independently save for now and again when I was home and awake before he headed out the door. On those rare occasions, we would run the flatter part of the route first to warm up, back and forth along Woodland Terrace, dodging low-lying tree branches and runaway acorns. Inching down the hill, there was a long stretch along Middlebrook Road before it turned upwards at Woodland again, higher still as we climbed Washington Avenue. We huffed and puffed the steep incline together, gravel crunching beneath two pairs of narrow feet. My father would always comment how he loved running the hills and I would nod, gulping in great big gasps of breath. There was little conversation during these runs, but in my mind, sharing the road with my father elevated me in just the slightest way from little girl to grown-up.
On a recent Saturday beneath early morning skies, runners assembled in Ithaca for a race that stretched alongside farms, waterfalls and a Finger Lake. My father would have loved the route, but not the crowds. In the distance, the freshman towers of Ithaca College perch on a hill, looking eerily the same as they did more than four decades ago. Etched into my brain with amazing clarity is a day in late August of 1975. My parents unloaded the overfilled station wagon, moving me into the 11th floor of the West tower, home to hundreds of freshmen. Weighted down beneath a record player, three pieces of matching Samsonite luggage and an avocado green typewriter, my father was anxious to get back on the road. My mother carried shopping bags filled with clogs, sneakers and extra hangers, simultaneously balancing a spindly spider plant in one hand, a plucky jade plant in the other. Neither plant would survive the semester, succumbing to my black thumb talents; a mix of overwatering and neglect. My mother lingered, unpacking sheets and towels, making the bed. My father was impatient. He looked out the window of the 11th floor and remarked, “Ithaca’s the perfect place to run. You have the hills, and the lake- right there!” I shrugged. Even in late August, it looked more cold than beautiful. My parents hugged me good-bye and we walked to the elevator, passing a party already underway in the room a few doors down. The pay phone stood silently in the hall. “Call us on Sundays,” my father reminded me. Before stepping into the elevator, he added, "Remember- life is a series of adjustments." Was he ever right.
In Ithaca on Father’s Day, my dad’s words seem to resonate more clearly than ever. Some adjustments we embrace, others less so. From a pie baker’s perspective, this is one of the most glorious seasons of the year, happily adjusting to the bounty of summer available. Inspired by my father’s love of biscuits and fruit, I find myself filling a cast iron skillet with nectarines and cherries, covering it with a blanket of biscuit and almonds. My father would advise a pitcher of pouring cream on the side. Good advice. I am also reminded that he is the man who taught me pie really knows no hour. That adage and a sensible pair of running shoes can take a girl quite far.