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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Manuel Ramos

Since moving to rural mid-Michigan, Marc and I had contemplated the practicality of buying a pickup truck for many reasons including hauling dirt, plants, and mulch from our local nursery, taking our monthly recycling to be sorted, and having the benefit of four-wheel drive on slick snow covered backroads.

This past fall, we purchased a Ford F150 and drove it off the lot with the radio station set to 94.5 The Moose – new country music. I’ve never professed to be a big country music fan but the truck and our rural lifestyle seem to go together effortlessly. And over these past few months, song lyrics have secured a place in my brain and slip into my daily parlance.

It has been fun taking the new truck on grocery runs and assorted errands, I am feeling more at ease in our country setting and my trips off property have afforded me the time to reach out and call my sister Irene while I’m on the road.

Our conversations were easy and always wound down a path for us to speak about design, color, styles and themes. We have always shared a love for art, color, texture and fashion. As the house was being built, I included her in the process and progress step by step. Irene was a fount of ideas and she provided me with some invaluable advice and considerations. My sister and I would communicate in some form almost daily. Our conversations were touchstones and a way to connect, laugh, report news, discuss issues, and just feel closer.

When I lived in Boston, Irene would come visit me as often as she could - this photo must have been taken in the mid 1990s. I was a freelance writer and barista at a local neighborhood café.

Prior to uprooting from Brooklyn, Irene and I met for lunch to talk about my big move from the east coast. Our time together to talk was unfiltered and real. We knew each other in a way that only siblings could fathom. She embraced our plans to move and was very excited to hear about our dreams to build a new house. I had always anticipated her to visit us so she could witness the beauty of the lake and tranquility of our quiet woods. I knew she would find such peace and serenity in the natural surroundings of our home but unfortunately she was not afforded that chance.

Three weeks ago, my dear sister Irene passed away from complications of the Covid-19 virus. She entered the hospital earlier in January and her condition worsened so quickly that she went into the ICU and was eventually put on a ventilator. On January 14th she passed away … and my world stopped spinning.

Days have passed and weeks have gone by and I’ve tried to write this post and give my sister Irene the honor she deserves for living her life and giving so much – and the shocking realization is I don’t think anything I write could encapsulate the love, loss, and reality of my sister’s departure from the physical world. I stumbled many times to prepare this post and questioned how I would ever properly convey the beauty and artistry that was my sister.

I so dearly wanted to express how often she put the needs of others in front of her own. I hoped to expound upon how much she loved her nephews and niece and how she was always there for them. I tried to reiterate the stories that would capture her depth of soul and creative talents. I endeavored to communicate how sweet, caring, and thoughtful she was and how she wore her heart on her sleeve – so exposed – that it often got hurt. We supported and leaned on each other until all of a sudden that all vanished. I’ve been told grief is the price we pay for love, and I am grieving deeply.

This past week as I was again running errands, my instinct was to call Irene and then I realized I couldn’t. On the radio a country song started to play – ‘Til You Can’t by Cody Johnson. Listening to the lyrics a wave of emotion washed over me and I was reminded to grasp each day with hope and love and to always be grateful for my family and friends. This refrain rings clear and is a harbinger to live to the fullest, love with all your heart, and hold those dear to you as close as possible.

If you got a chance, take it, take it while you got a chance If you got a dream, chase it, 'cause a dream won't chase you back If you're gonna love somebody Hold 'em as long and as strong and as close as you can…

'Til you can't

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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Manuel Ramos

Last week, Marc and I embarked on a road trip to destinations north and west of Mannsiding Cove. Michigan is a state divided by the Great Lakes - Michigan and Huron - into two peninsulas connected via the Mackinac Bridge – which in itself is a marvel of architecture. Built in 1957, this 26,372’ majestic bridge is the longest suspension bridge between anchorages in the western hemisphere. The Mighty Mac also has a special place in my heart with its ecru towers and “Golden Gate” feel.

The fall foliage on our drive over the bridge and into the Upper Peninsula was as colorful as a crocheted afghan tangled with yellow, green, orange, brown and red yarns. We trotted up to Marquette and checked into a downtown hotel that had just the right amount of historic charm. Driving to Champion, Marc and I enjoyed dinner with some dear friends at their beautiful off-the-grid home nestled among 250+ wooded acres. In the morning, back at the hotel we awoke and had a proper breakfast in quaint Marquette.

Lake Superior is simply superior… a massive body of water with a grandness to match. From the Landmark Inn, our view of the lake included an incredible massive rusted structure that was built to load iron ore on to ships as they anchored in the harbor during their work day. As part of our travels, Marc and I enjoy buying local photography. In that spirit, we purchased a richly colorful photograph of the Northern Lights over Lake Superior and The Lower Harbor Ore Dock. We plan to hang it in our home once we’ve had a chance to get it framed.

As we left charming Marquette, Lambeau Field, where the Green Bay Packers play, was in our sights. As Marc is a Packer fan we wanted to stop and buy some swag. From there we drove to Milwaukee to have dinner and drinks with a longtime colleague of Marc’s, Jan – who is so hospitable and lovely. Craft beers and some of Wisconsin’s famous cheese curds – rounded out our evening with her.

In the morning, we packed up again and left Milwaukee headed to Cedar Falls, Iowa to see our cousins on their specialty horse farm. Having never been to Wisconsin or Iowa, I of course only had preconceived ideas of what the landscape would look like – but Marc had often mentioned how beautiful the rolling farmland is with corn fields and few other crops. We arrived at Little Dickens Farm and we were greeted with the warmest hugs and a wonderfully personalized tour with proper introductions to the horses. It always astounds me to be next to an animal of size. I always need to be reminded how much I love horses – there’s something about their eyes that is so soulful and their stance is so commanding. We had a wonderful visit and could have spent so much more time talking, laughing and reconnecting.

But the road was calling us to get to Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, by dinner time. As we rolled into Iowa City, Marc pointed to the university where he received his Master’s degree, he identified other points of interest and we quickly dropped our things at the hotel and headed to the home of a friend that has been in his life for a long time. Once we arrived, we stepped down into a hidden garden and we were greeted with open arms. After some wine and charcuterie we ventured out to dinner at the Iowa River Power restaurant – a place that held some sentimentality for Marc.

Iowa City is quite a hamlet, it has everything a city dweller might want or need – and all within walking distance. Coffee, groceries, services, boutiques, restaurants and bars – all a few blocks in every direction. The “city” is unabashedly a university town and arriving on a gameday it was active with collegiate pride.

After two glorious days in Iowa City which included a lovely trip to the Amana Colonies and a New York City worthy dinner at the absolutely stunning and amazing Orchard Green it was on to Appleton, WI to see more family. There we stayed at a cute little boutique hotel and had dinner next door at Rye – a fabulous boîte of a restaurant. Here’s the thing about cousins – related or not – when you connect with people that are as fun, interesting and easy-going as many of our cousins are, it is always a guaranteed good time.

In the morning, we awoke early, grabbed some local coffee and headed back to Milwaukee to take the high speed auto ferry Lake Express to Muskegon, MI where we would wind up our five-day road trip. Later that evening we arrived at Mannsiding Cove – our welcoming home always feels like it’s happy to sit there and wait for us to return. As dusk set in we opened the doors climbed into its fictitious arms and relaxed in its embrace.

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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Manuel Ramos

Sometimes it is hard for me to sit down and write a blog post. I do enjoy writing, but I am my own harshest critic (such a Virgo trait). I often say that I need to feel inspired to get the ball rolling - to get the ideas and the theme to match up can be a challenge.

Here we are in the midst of my favorite month, my birthday month on the precipice of the fall season – the best time of year. Year after year growing up, the month of September was an exciting, reflective, and sometimes challenging month. A new semester of school would start bringing with it all of the excitement and anxiety of any new adventure. One particular new semester saw me leave the known environs of New Jersey for the educational opportunity of a lifetime in Boston, Massachusetts. This 17 year-old fresh-faced freshman had longed to leave the doldrums of the suburbs and become entrenched in a city steeped in history.

So I began my pursuit of a college education at Boston University (BU) in the fall of 1987. I instantly fell in love with my new home and became immersed in its history, world-famous attractions and that Puritanical sensibility. It was a beautiful place to live and my love affair with New England started right then and there. If you have ever had a lobster roll, seen a baseball game at Fenway Park, slurped fresh oysters or strolled the quaint streets in Provincetown – then you know what I am talking about here. I spent 18 years of my life in Boston and I essentially “grew up” there to become the person I am today.

P.S., I’ll save this romance story of New England for another blog post.

I’ve learned on this journey we call life, that people often come into our lives for a variety of reasons. Perhaps that reason is to give us a purpose, teach us a life lesson or just provide a really good time. BU attracted a number of students from all over the world bringing with them a myriad of international backgrounds offering a global perspective. During my freshman year I was lucky to make friends that hailed all the way from Japan to Long Island. Over the years I’ve come to understand that it’s what we take away from those interactions that has something to teach us about ourselves and the world around us. I ponder, how lucky we are to cross paths with people that unknowingly and intrinsically change our perceptions, help our minds grow, present us with new possibilities, and enrich us in ways we may never truly understand or grasp. That’s the beauty of meeting new people and developing friendships.

And what a journey my life has become!

Rising Star

During that first year at BU, I met Heather Malia Ho, who hailed from Honolulu, Hawaii. She certainly had a presence and style all her own coupled with a big personality. Heather was fun-loving, excited about life and thrilled to see her first snowfall in Boston since she had never experienced it ever. One night she invited me for dinner at her off-campus apartment – a real treat since dorm food is – well, you know. I’ll never forget she made the most delicious appetizer – a mushroom crostini. She sautéed a mushroom mélange with aromatic spices, added cream and cooked the mushroom sauce until it was nappante. The sauce was then spooned on thinly sliced toasted baguette that were scented with garlic – a perfect one bite – absolutely sublime. I’ve made mushroom crostini hundreds of times and credit Heather for teaching me to make it. It is one dish that people will remind me that they still crave.

During college, Heather jumped from major to major and finally settled into hotel & food management and after college she attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. She moved on to become a rising star pastry chef in San Francisco and New York City. Unfortunately, as life moves us forward, time and distance grew farther and longer apart so we fell out of touch.

Heather’s influence on me was two-fold. First, having heard so many wonderful things about Hawaii, I knew one day I would visit and I ultimately traveled there a number of times with trips to Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island. Second, was her passion for food – desserts in particular. While I am not a pastry chef, I can certainly appreciate cooking from the sweet side of the brain. I studied classic culinary cuisine at The French Culinary Institute (FCI) and savory is my game. When I was deciding to attend FCI at the age of 38 I thought about Heather. I felt encouraged by her hard work and fortitude. From that point, deciding to go to FCI was etched in my life’s journey. I am forever grateful for that inspiration.

Latin from Manhattan

Remembering those first days, weeks and months at BU my brain buzzed with new ideas, new people, a new city to explore and the stress of course work on top of those interactions. Meeting Adriana Legro was an integral part of those new college experiences. Adriana, known as AD to those that were close to her, was focused, determined, and guarded. AD was a New Yorker, through and through. Tough, no nonsense, direct, and sometimes very reserved. She was complex, her family was tight and when I learned that she lost her mother at an early age – it hurt on a level that was unfathomable. Knowing this, I could understand why she was guarded, and there were times I could sense that pain she held inside. It took awhile for us to become close friends, and I appreciated that slow maturing of our friendship. It felt purposeful and honest.

It was an easy decision to make Boston my home – there was no going back to New Jersey. During college, AD actually helped me secure a job at a stunning new café in a venerated haberdashery known as Louis, Boston. She took me under her wing and taught me so much about customer service, food safety, and hard work. It was a great opportunity for me. I needed to prove that I could support myself and AD had encouraged me along the way.

That was a magical summer in many ways, each day I would return to work at the café to set up for that day’s business. AD and I would banter, laugh and get the work done. The Chef and front of house manager (Helen and Michel) became my mentors, friends and surrogate parents in many ways. I could always count on this new little family to feel welcomed, nurtured and loved. It was a time in my life that was celebrated with food and I learned so much from these individuals. AD always had my back and she was fiercely loyal and protective. AD introduced me to her own family back in NY, her sister Maria and loving Grandmother embraced me so warmly.

Me and AD in my South End apartment in Boston.

Post college, AD was driven to succeed, she moved back to NYC and worked her way up the corporate ladder. She rose higher and higher in her career and I’d always take the opportunity to see her when I visited NYC. I was so impressed with her amazing success and knew it all came down to determination, hard work, and gumption. AD was a sounding board and had an innate sensibility to see beyond the proverbial bullshit. As I mentioned, she was the essence of a true New Yorker and after living there for over a decade, I understand where that comes from and I cherish that knowledge and experience.

In Memoriam

As we move past the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 the reminder of those tragic events will always resonate with me. Many of us recall that awful day, where we were, what we were doing, who we were with – it is a day etched in our memories. The two amazing women I just told you about both perished in the collapse of the North Tower that day.

Heather was a pastry chef at Windows on the World in the World Trade Center. She had actually gave her notice in August of 2001 but being the admirable professional she had agreed to stay on until her position was filled. And on that fateful day she was taken from this world.

AD rose to a level in her career where she held a seat on a commodities trading desk working for Carr Futures on the 92nd floor of 1WTC. AD was scheduled to be out of the office that day and decided to go into work instead. After the plane struck the building, AD called her family and pleaded for them to call 911.

In October of 2001, AD’s family held her memorial. I spoke at the memorial, it was one of the hardest moments in my life but I wanted those who loved her to know how she was etched into my brain and the difference she made in my world. It was a somber, gut-wrenching event at a beautiful old church in the city. Her photo propped on an easel, that sparkling smile and glint in her eyes were a reminder of the incredible person, friend, sister, aunt, daughter, and co-worker that was simply – Adriana.

Twenty years later, I still think of those friends, the Rising Star and my Latin from Manhattan and wonder what they would think of how I’ve crafted my life. I yearn for their advice, I wonder how they would have helped guide me during some difficult times or choices I’ve had to make about careers and relationships.

I don’t want to end this post with feelings of sadness or loss. I think it is important to keep those who have passed – present – in our memories and to celebrate who they were during their lives and how they impacted us. If you take anything anyway from these musings it is to appreciate the family you were born into and further be grateful for the family you create. Those new connections have meaning and help us along this winding journey of life. I am so lucky to have people in my life, yesterday and today, that make the simplest moments…the most unforgettable.

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