It was June and I was celebrating being a 10-year Breast Cancer Survivor, a decade since I’d heard the words, “You have cancer.” I wanted to take my summer journey to a special place, the seventh solo trip that had turned into yearly pilgrimages. Thumbing through a resource book for hostels in the U.S., I found the perfect place, described as a location with the most beautiful sunsets: Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse Hostel. Located in Cape Vincent, New York, where the St. Lawrence River flowed into Lake Ontario, the hostel was in the former lighthouse keeper’s house.
Looking at the map, when I drove from the Buffalo airport to Cape Vincent, I’d travel through the Genesee Valley, an area I’d first learned of through the writings of Henry Nouwen. He was a Catholic theologian and I liked his down-to-earth-way of writing about faith. He’d stayed at the Abbey at Genesee, living and learning with the monks and wrote about it in the book, The Diary of Genesee. I decided to take a side-trip off the NY Thruway and go to that same abbey– pick up a copy of the book and loaves of Monk’s Bread to take as a ‘pilgrim’s gift’ to the hostel.
The evening I arrived, I was amazed at my first glimpse of the sun setting over the St. Lawrence River, an orange orb sliding down the back side of the dark blue sky. People were sitting in Adirondack chairs near the lighthouse, facing west and witnessing together the closing of another day. I knocked on the office door and was greeted by Bea, the 83-year-old woman who was filling in for the current manager.
After she showed me around, Bea invited me to join her and two other women along with two college-age guests at the kitchen table. The conversation flowed easily, with folks telling about experiences in different hostels– all solo travelers.
“This is what I love about hostels,” Bea said. “Everyone sitting around the table like this, sharing all their adventures.”
Later, the two college-age guests left and Bea, Ruth– who was also in her eighties, and Coleen, sixty-three, who was Bea’s friend from down the road, continued talking, including me in their familiar conversation. I unpacked my food, including the two loaves of Monk’s Bread.
“Here’s something I brought to share with everyone,” I said, and placed the loaves on the table.
Coleen pulled one over and read the ingredients.
“I love cinnamon bread. I don’t often buy it because it’s expensive and I live on a retiree’s income,” she said. “Think I’ll try some now.” She took a slice, bit into it, and smiled.
For the next five days, I made my home at the hostel. At breakfast and dinner, I enjoyed getting to know Bea, Ruth, and Coleen. I came to think of them as the ‘Golden Girls of Tibbett’s Point’ as their personalities reminded me of the other Golden Girls on the old t.v. sitcom.
During the day, I explored the area– writing in a Cape Vincent coffee shop, trekking over to Kingston, Canada, and taking a boat tour of the Thousand Islands. One evening when I returned from observing the sunset, Coleen and Ruth were sitting at the table. Bea was measuring flour into a bowl.
“Come join us, Connie,” Ruth said. “We’re watching Bea work.”
“I’m making cookies with my Grandmother’s recipe,” Bea explained. “She never wasted anything.”
“You won’t believe how good they are,” Coleen said, “even with chicken fat.”
“Chicken fat?” I asked, thinking I must have misheard.
Coleen smiled, “They really are good.”
We waited around the table, while Bea added sugar and a lot of pumpkin pie spice. After a thorough mixing, she spooned the dough onto the cookie sheet. Waiting for them to bake, we talked about all we’d done that day and their company felt so familiar to me, like being at my aunt’s table. Ruth put the kettle on for tea.
While the cookies were still warm, Bea placed them on a plate and passed them to me. The three women waited for my response.
The sweet, cinnamon-based, fall-flavored taste had no hint of chicken fat, that had been completely covered by the spice.
“You’re right. They are good,” I responded, feeling that sweet satisfaction of the warm carbohydrate treats, like what Bea had known from her Grandmother’s cookie jar.
Bea and the other Golden Girls of Tibbett’s Point smiled and reached for their cookies.
Of all the places I’d stayed over the decade, I’d had more satisfying meals at that hostel table. Whether it was eating breakfast with toast made from the Monk’s bread or evening cookies made with chicken fat, sharing food and friendship had been the heart of that kitchen.
Tibbett’s Point had been a great place to celebrate my 10th anniversary as a survivor. How sweet it was to think of all the memories of special times I’d experienced since that day when my world was turned upside down by a cancer diagnosis.
How about you?
What milestone in your life deserves a special celebration?
How would you like to celebrate?