Category Archives: Reminiscences

Springtime celebrations

Two-day-old Northern Cardinals await parents'return.The eldest granddaughter graduated from college Saturday, first in her familial generation to be so accomplished. Even the gods were joyful, judging from the graduation eve celebration and fireworks. The rain started Friday evening as the celestial band tuned up, beginning with a soft breeze and a few drops, growing rapidly progressively windier and wetter with each hour. Then suddenly, amid the cloud-to-cloud arcing,  the lights went out, as though one of the young gods, overcome with his own revelry, had stumbled into the switch.

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Wendy Sue and Santa

Little siblings at the Christmas treeThe thing I remember most about Christmas was Dad waking us kids up with his shooting at Santa:

“Wait! Stop! DON’T GO! My kids want to meet you.”

We would hear some sleigh bells jingling, but every year was the same thing. By the time we would get down stairs, the Old Guy would be gone, along with the Toll House cookies and milk we had left for him.

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So long, old friend

Grady the Golden RetrieverWe met Grady at a doctor’s office in February 2007. He was homeless, effusively friendly, and eager to see us. We invited him home. It doesn’t seem that long ago.

The day we met, the doctor took the stitches out from having surgically removed the collar that had grown into his neck. It was most of a year before he’d not make a puddle on the floor when someone new came to the door.

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Bats’ and fairies’ return awaited

Snowthrower in action“The sky is falling!” That’s the cry around my home whenever the rain or snow comes down upon us. Tuesday afternoon, the sky was falling in a great white cloud of snow. Fifteen minutes after it began, it was over, leaving white patches on the still-green grass where the ground was a little colder than other places.

The mini-blizzard lasted long enough for a little girl whose home I passed on the way home to put on her coat with the hood and dash outside. She jumped off the porch to the sidewalk and, tilting her head up with her tongue out as far as it would stretch, started catching snowflakes.

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Mincemeat pie and a perfect Christmas tree

Children on Christmas morning.The previous night’s snow had coated the forest with foot-deep powder, silencing the footsteps of the three hunters – my brother and I and our father, in the annual quest for a Christmas tree. It was like being in a sound-proofed studio – that weird, echoless sensation of walking alone in an enchanted world.

“Look at this one, Daddy,” my brother exclaimed.

“Shake the snow off it and let’s see,” the elder replied.

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In which are extinguished smoking pachyderms …

A can of tobacco snuffThe day I quit tobacco was sunny and warm. Beyond that, I remember only that it was the summer that Travel Partner No. 2 and I were still dating.

I tried cigarettes when I was in about seventh or eighth grade. I swiped some from Dad’s supply. A few of us slipped off down a trail behind the two-room school house and tried to impress each other with our hoped-for manhood. If inhaling Dad’s Marlboros was a ticket to manhood, I was doomed to stay with Peter Pan’s Lost Boys.

A few years later, I was in the Navy. Cigars – especially big, fat, Bering Plazas, seemed cool and, along with my mustache, they made me look older. Sandy, a.k.a. Travel Partner No. 1, was two years older than I, and would become visibly unhappy when she got carded in some nice wine-and-dine establishments, while I, at 19, was never questioned.

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First stop light in (that part of) the county

Future intersection to Iron Springs PlazaGettysburg, in west-central Adams County, Pa. takes pride in being “the most famous small town in the world.” It is slightly more than one and-a-half square miles, and has 16 traffic lights within its boundary.

“Then she looked up.
At the green light.”

There are a few more traffic lights in the county, most to the east of the borough, a couple to the north – but none to the west (not counting the light on U.S.30 northwest of the borough. That is about to change. A traffic light is planned for installation in Hamiltonban Township, barely across the town line at the west edge of the tiny borough of Fairfield.

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First driver’s license

1954 Ford Ranch WagonGranddaughter Kass has a school project involving me supplying pictures from experiences of my younger self. One image she chose was my first wife and a 1954 Ford Ranch Wagon.

His test, his rules. My second try was a success.

That station wagon was pretty terrific. It had a three-on-the-tree shifter, and ran fine if one didn’t count that it burned more oil than gasoline. We and that car went places, many of which were night runs to the Ponte Vedra dunes south of Jacksonville Beach – before people with money bought up the land and erected Don’t Even Think About Walking On Our Sand signs.

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A seriously big togue

A seriously large togueFishing season opened this weekend past. I did not go, for several reasons unnecessary to list here, but the day did pull out images of fishing seasons of my youth.

Being a boy with little patience for sitting still for long hours, I spent most of my fishing time alone with a homemade spooning rig or a spinning rod and reel set and store-bought lures. Dad, was more into dragging a two-inch piece of silver metal wrapped partially around a strip of mother-of-pearl.

He would go out for hours, trolling – the 5.5 hp Chris Craft Challenger outboard barely ticking over, keeping the boat moving just fast enough to steer as he navigated the triangular circuit, from our house to a curve in the far southern shore, to the island at the north end of the lake and back nearly home.

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Drive-in movies without the drive in

U.S. Navy P-3A Orion Anti-submarine Patrol Plane

Part of Granddaughter Kass’s assignment for her World War Two class was I had to write a short memoir about an experience from my Navy career. (Remind me sometime to explain how MY assignment for HER class …)

It is sometimes difficult to sort the dissonance of which my Navy career memories are woven – separating the fun I had traveling the world from the events that made such travels possible. Without war, I likely would not have seen Hong Kong or Japan or the beaches of Nice and Torremolinos … or Bangkok or U-Tapao, Thailand.

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The solution to pollution …

Several years ago, a friend with whom I often went wandering called me to meet her behind Lake Auburn. She said she had found something in which she thought I’d be interested.

When that trapper’s nearest neighbor was miles downstream, his sewer arrangement worked.

At the appointed day and time, we met and headed into the woods. About a half-mile, more or less, into the woods, she stopped and pointed. There beside a swiftly running stream was a rock foundation, the remains of the home of some long ago settler. It clearly was a two-room abode, built beside a stream. The log sides and roof were long gone.

We talked some of how many people could have lived in the structure, and why they chose that spot to live. We decided the resident likely was a trapper, who selected the site for its proximity to running water.

“What’s that about,” my friend asked of the smaller room.

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No Training Wheels

I am sitting in the living room, reading a book and watching the news, when the doorbell rings. Almost immediately, the door swings in, followed closely by an excited little girl.

“Papa John! Papa John!”

Right here in the story I could leave the reader with the notion that Papa John’s the most important person, but actually I was just the first person in view. And when you’re excited and have to tell a grownup something important …

“Papa John,” she cried out.. “I can ride my bike-without-training-wheels! Come see me ride my bike-without-training-wheels.” Continue reading

Tastes of Christmas

Candy Cane Peeps! What’s that about?

We found them in the grocery store this week, little white marshmallow chicks, with red flecks of red peppermint. Beside the first box was a slightly more expensive set. I wondered why the extra cost until I saw the bottom of the chicks had been dipped in chocolate.

I have gone through life knowing Peeps are yellow and come for Easter, to be stashed on top of the refrigerator, at the back where they are not easily reached, until they are discovered sometime in late summer, dried to a perfect chewiness. It will not be long, I suppose, until they bear a label proclaiming new Peeps to be “Perfectly Chewy.”

But they did tickle my memories of other Christmas treats.

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Giving thanks

Nephew Greg is downstairs, and his dad and mom and one of his sisters and her two offspring. We were not sure my sister would show up, but her need to aid in the final scenes of another family member has come to its natural conclusion.

My cousin Betty left us Monday morning. She and I were within months of the same age, but from there, we differed some. When we were kids, I lived on the shore of a lake in Maine; she lived in suburban Long Island. I thought skinny-dipping in the lake after a long day’s work was a relaxing experience; Betty could never see the point in living in a place so secluded one could get away with even thinking of skinny-dipping.

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At last, I’ve found my milk

Fresh raw milk awaits in Oyler's Organic Farm's refrigeratorI like raw milk. I will die one day, I am told, but I think I would not blame the milk.

On the other hand, it could be dangerous when carried in the handlebar basket of a teenager’s bicycle. We picked up two gallons of milk every other day from a nearby dairy farm. One day, as I coasted down Norton Hill on the way home, I met a car speeding the other way, enough on my side I was forced off the pavement.

I rode onto the berm, and when I tried to get back on the pavement, it gave way, and down I went. I broke my pointing finger and tore my thumbnail. I’m pretty sure the two gallons of raw milk had little, if anything to do with the fall, though they did make the front of the bike about 16 pounds heavier coming home than going away.

Years later, I became a journalist, and wrote a story about Kenton Bailey, a seventh-generation Mainer and the last fellow in the state to deliver raw milk door-to-door – though he would not allow me to call it “raw.” The word upset some people, he said. I had to call it “unprocessed.”

One of the treats of drinking raw milk is you can taste when the cows are put in the barn for winter, and when they go to the pasture in summer. It is a subtle accent on the flavor.

Milk we buy in a grocery story has been so mixed up it’s lost all its character. A tank truck picks up milk from Farmer Jones, then Farmer Smith and Farmer Brown and the white liquid slosh-mixes on its way to the processing plant, where it is dumped in huge tanks to mix with milk from farmers McBride, McHugh and McGillicutty.

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Carbon-and-valve, hold the camera

Ghost of an early service stationLately, I’ve been contemplating the merits of replacing my Grand Cherokee. She’s 13 years old, which is a long time for dogs and cars. The decision is more complicated than when I bought my first car.

When I was a youth, the maintenance schedule for our family chariot included a “carbon and valve” job. Charlie Bates’ garage did not have a lift to hoist the car up. Instead, a pit was dug into the floor; you drove the car over the pit and climbed down underneath it.

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Stork is a 3-letter word

Stork deliversI liked Joan Rivers. In “Tonight Show” doses, she was hilarious, and made Dad guffaw. Now she’s gone. The world keeps spinning, but there’s a hole where Joan Rivers stood.

She was 81, and it was her turn. One day, it will be mine. A friend’s brother visited two weeks ago and was the picture of health. He went home and had a heart attack. The doctors opened him up like the little guy on the TV series “Extant,” fiddled with some of his plumbing and circuitry, and David is doing just fine. It wasn’t his turn.

Last week I watched the NBC and ABC “documentaries” about Rivers. Continue reading

Beauty leads to love leads to beauty

Dahlias on the stem
Downtown is eerily quiet. The tourists have gone home, and there is plenty of parking. It’s a cliché to say the season is changing, when truth is the seasons never stop changing as the planet on its tilted celestial spindle angles its forehead toward and then away from the warming sun. After a couple weeks of denial, I finally must acknowledge that the seeming storm clouds blanketing me at 4:30 in the afternoon are really sundown moved up from it’s temporary 9 p.m. time slot.

In similar manner, morning comes a few hours later, and though a short time ago I was able to read in bed without the intrusion of artificial light, now there is insufficient illumination on the page and I am faced with the choice of getting up or remaining there in the comfort of my best friend breathing beside me in the unwaning dawn.

A fellow named Socrates noted beauty leads us to love, Continue reading