JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

Walk This Way

I spent an enjoyable afternoon with my friend Paula at the Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Young Frankenstein.

It was fun and I enjoyed it, but I mostly smiled my way through the first act, as almost all the jokes and business were the same as in the movie, which I must have seen I-don’t-know-how-many times.

The songs were mostly ok with a couple outstanding meetings of material and performer, such as Mary Martello’s rendition of “He Vas My Boyfriend” (from which you can probably tell that she played Frau Blücher).

In the second act my smiles finally turned to laughter during the hermit scene. I mean, how can one not?

And there were a few more chuckles along the way.

All the big scenes and jokes that I remembered from the movie were there with the exception of the creature’s interaction with the little girl, which makes sense, as the payoff of that scene would have been very difficult to stage.

Curtain calls

It was telling that the best musical number was written by Irving Berlin, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, which was elaborated into a full scale production number with the whole company tap dancing their hearts out. It got the biggest ovation too.

The cast was uniformly excellent, no nits to pick there in either the major or minor roles. Ben Dibble couldn’t have been better in the title role, and Luke Bradt was perfect as his assistant Igor. Alanna J. Smith was his other assistant Inga, and Casey Elizabeth Gill made the most of the smaller but meaty part of his fiancé. Dan Olmstead was suitably clumsy at first as The Monster and smoothly made the transition to refined intellectual when the time came. Fran Prisco was fine in the thankless role of the Inspector and hilarious in the all too brief part of The Hermit.

As I said, I enjoyed myself, and from the sound of their reactions the rest of the audience did as well.

Addendum: Oops! Forgot to mention that the sets and costumes were brilliant. In fact in one scene for a moment I thought there were real horses on the stage!

The Other Farm

John Jacob Troutman (1895 - 1965) and his wife Edna M Moyer (1894 - 1966) actually owned two farms. Unlike Twin Meadows Farm, the second one didn’t have a name, or if it did, I never knew it. We always called it The Other Farm.

Satellite image of The Other Farm as it looks today. It appears to have sprouted a couple of extra buildings since my grandparents’ days.

The Other Farm wasn’t as large as Twin Meadows Farm; it only had one barn and one chicken coop, for example, and I’m sure there wasn’t as much land associated with it. You can find it by taking Route 422 and turning north onto 419, also known as Mill Road; go about two or three miles and The Other Farm is the first farm on the right after Charming Forge Road. Though we usually went the back way. Remember that dirt road that is no longer there? We’d take that dirt road to get to the paved road, or Tulpehocken Forge Road, and hang a left. Then take another left onto Charming Forge Road, and finally a right onto 419, and The Other Farm is just over the hill on the right.

I’m not sure just who worked on The Other Farm. There was a family that lived in the house, “Hops” Behney and his wife Esther, but Hops had a full time job at the Sheridan furnace, so I’m not sure if he helped out on the farm or not. They had two school age sons, who were too young to do anything but light chores around the farm. I have a vague recollection of Hops as being something of a character, but I recall nothing more about him. My recent research, however, reveals that his given name was Horace, and he died in 2000.

Anyway the younger son, George, was about three years older than I was, and I think he would sometimes come to visit at Twin Meadows Farm where he and I would try not to get into too much trouble.

On at least one occasion I went to visit him at The Other Farm. I’m not sure just when it was, but I’m guessing I may have been about five, making George about eight years old. That’s the only time I remember being in the house at The Other Farm, and I guess I must have met his mother, but I have no recollection of her, or of the house. I have a vague recollection of there being a much younger sibling, and I see from my research that he does have a younger sister, Donna (same name as my sister), but I can’t find her age or birth year.

Well, on this occasion George and I left the house, and I guess we were on our way to the barn to see what kind of trouble we could get into there, but as we made our way through the yard, we were blocked by a big, nasty old turkey. This turkey, which was huge (recall that we were five and eight years old), kept attacking us whenever we tried to pass it. To escape from it, we took refuge in the dog house. Yes, it was a really big dog house.

This looks like the turkey that savagely attacked us

But the dog house didn’t protect us for long, as shortly we heard a loud rapping sound on the roof. What animal was attacking us now?

Happily, it turned out to be Galen, George’s twelve-year-old brother. He had chased away the turkey and decided to give us another scare before releasing us.

The funny thing is, as I recall this event now, I regarded Galen as being much older, practically an adult, so I was surprised when I did my research and found out he was only four years older than George.

I only recall seeing George Behney one time in later years when he stopped in the Richland Hardware shortly after my parents bought it.

I see from my research that he is now George Behney Sr., and he’s living (or recently lived) in Richland. I wonder if he remembers the time we were attacked by the turkey?

I Couldn't Go Home Again

The Great Stone House on my grandfather’s Twin Meadows Farm was my favorite of all the places I’ve lived. It had large rooms, and once the Gerharts moved out, I had my own bedroom and a year-round playroom. Add in a finished basement and a real spooky attic (I loved to go there during the day but never at night) and it had plenty of places for a three-year-old growing into an eight-year-old to play.

But that’s not all. As realtors are wont to say: “Location! Location! Location!”

It was on a farm. I had a huge yard to play in (I still fondly recall playing croquet when relatives came over), as well as fields to explore and barns to get into trouble in, not to mention all the animals. My grandmother tried to teach me how to milk a cow by hand (a talent that eluded me; I thought the milk machines were the way to go), and she’d take me with her as she collected the eggs from the hen houses. Yes, we had two of those.

This is me and Reed sitting on the back porch of the Great Stone House in an undated photo that I’m guessing might be from 1955 when I was six. I don’t recognize the dog.

And when harvest time came around, I really enjoyed going along on the baling rounds. I wasn’t any help, of course, but I assume I knew enough not to get in the way as the bales came out of the baler and the men (usually including Miles Troutman, who was my great uncle, though I didn’t realize it at the time) stacked them on the flat bed wagon.

So there were lots of reasons to love farm living in general and the Great Stone House in particular. It did have its down sides, as I learned when I started school. It wasn’t very convenient to have schoolmates stop over after school. Oh, well.

Anyway, we moved away when I was eight, first to a rented house in Womelsdorf for a few months so I could finish second grade with my classmates, and then to Richland in June of 1957.

Sometime when I was about ten, I guess, I went to spend a few days and nights with my grandparents. They lived in the brick house on the farm, which had its own charms. But something was definitely amiss, as I was no longer allowed free rein on the farm. My movements were severely constricted as to where I could go and what I could do. Worst of all, I wasn’t allowed to go baling anymore. I’m pretty sure it was my mother who had laid down the conditions for my visit.

Needless to say, those conditions severely dampened my enthusiasm for the farm. I don’t think I ever stayed overnight with my grandparents again. But their health was no longer the best and a few years later they sold the farm and moved to Womelsdorf, where they died in 1965 and 66.

But sometime in the 70s, when I was living in Richland again, I thought it would be fun to pay a visit to the farm and see if the current inhabitants would let me take a peek inside the Great Stone House to see if and how it had changed since my childhood.

The Twin Meadows Farm was only accessible via dirt roads, and was well off the beaten path, so strangers dropping by were not a regular occurrence. But I recalled from my time there that we did occasionally get strangers dropping by, a traveling salesman, for example. I figured I could just drive in, park next to the barn, where there was ample parking space, and then knock on the door of the Great Stone House, and introduce myself. Easy peasy. At least I think that was the plan. Maybe I didn’t even have a plan.

In any event I found myself turning left off Route 422 next to a miniature golf course (it’s no longer there), then immediately making a right onto the dirt road, which, after about a quarter mile forked into two, a paved road to the right (it’s named Bunker Hill Road) and a continuation of the dirt road to the left. I went left.

I drove past the meadow where I had had the mishap with the sled all those years ago as the dirt road swerved sharply to the left, and now I was driving past one of the meadows that gave the farm its name. As I approached the barns, I swung right toward the Great Stone House, and there, sitting on the large back porch was a group of adults and children.

For some reason I was not expecting that and it unnerved me. I’m not sure why.

But instead of stopping and introducing myself, I gunned the accelerator and kept going on the dirt road to take me to out the back way.

There was only one problem: there was no dirt road there anymore! I was now driving over the plain dirt of a field. Luckily, it was dry ground, so I didn’t get stuck in the mud, so I managed to drive off the property until I reached the road.

I wonder what those people thought I was doing?

The Case of the Unfinished Whodunits

I have written previously that early on I discovered that I had very little talent for plotting or developing characters, but that didn’t stop me from getting ideas for novels or plays or screenplays; it just meant that I never actually got around to fleshing them out and committing them to paper or word processor. Most of the time these were ideas for whodunits, where the characters were very loosely based on the people I knew and inspired by the situations I found myself in.

For example, in the late 70s when I had a weekly show on a classical music radio station in Harrisburg, PA, I actually plotted out a whodunit in pretty great detail where the amateur detective was, ahem, a fellow who had a classical music program on a Harrisburg radio station.

I no longer remember most of the details about that particular plot except that early on there was supposed to be a comic scene where the protagonist accidentally presses the wrong switch while doing his show, and instead of sending the music over the airwaves he ends up broadcasting a very embarrassing personal conversation from his broadcast booth. That, of course, was foreshadowing for the denouement where he confronts the killer during another broadcast of his show, and he’s able to get the killer to confess unknowingly over the airwaves, which confession summons the police to the station just in time to prevent yet another killing. (And yes, I know that radio stations, including the one where I had my show, are designed so that accidentally broadcasting audio from the booth instead of the music could not happen; this hinged on there being a glitch in the electronics that was not repaired in time.)

Then there’s my idea for a screenplay. You’ve all seen the classic car chase scene a hundred times, often as the climax of a movie or TV show, where either the chaser or the chasee narrowly misses hitting a woman pushing her baby carriage, or they run through a fruit vendor’s stand, sending his fruits flying hither and yon, or they cause another group of cars to collide when they run a red light. Well, my idea is to start the movie with the car chase and have the camera linger on these seemingly incidental people just a little longer than usual, and then the car chase disappears from view, and the action flips back, say, to a few days earlier and we follow the stories of those seemingly incidental characters, and the movie is really about them, and the car chase becomes a climactic moment or turning point in their stories.

Back in the mid 90s I was a regular patron of the late, lamented Café Einstein, and I got to know the staff pretty well. One evening a couple came in, and one of the servers filled me in on their backstory. They had had their first date at Café Einstein the previous year, and tonight the guy was planning to pop the question. In anticipation of her replying in the affirmative, his best friend had ordered and paid for a bottle of the finest champagne to be served to their table at that most romantic moment.

Well, the atmosphere was full of anticipation, but as the evening wore on, nothing seemed to be happening until finally the guy signaled for the check, which he quickly paid, and the couple left. I never did find out what happened.

But it did give me an idea for a one act play. A comedy.

The scene would be a restaurant, and it would begin with the staff discussing the exact setup that I just described. Then the couple would arrive, and every time he was about to propose, something would interfere to stop him. A loud arguing couple at the table next to theirs. A server spilling wine on his not-yet-fiancé’s dress. You get the idea. This goes on for about 45 minutes until pandemonium breaks out in the restaurant, and the couple just slink out to escape the madness.

The problem with those last two ideas is that they are just gimmicks. No characters involved to flesh them out.

Anyway around that same time in the mid 90s, I read an article in one of the local free weekly papers by a woman who claimed quite proudly that she was a neighborhood watchdog, and whenever she saw something the least bit suspicious, she called the police. As a result, she was allegedly responsible for quite a few arrests for crimes great and small.

Hmmm, I thought. Suppose that woman went to a restaurant and loudly proclaimed that she was the writer of the article. And suppose that before she finished her meal, she collapsed and her face fell into her plate of linguini. Wouldn’t that be a nifty setup for a whodunit with lots of suspects and potential motives for murder? I’ve actually developed that idea a bit further, and who knows? Maybe I’ll even try to write it one of these days.

The Dogs of Twin Meadows Farm

We lived in the Great Stone House, as I’m now dubbing it, on my grandfather’s Twin Meadows Farm from early in 1952 when I turned three to early in 1957 when I turned eight. Probably the best years of my life. It’s certainly my favorite house of any place I’ve ever lived.

And the dogs!

That’s my father and I with King, I think, behind me in a photo dated November 1953 so I would have been four. The black dog looks like it might be Shep, and the little dog is probably Debbie, my aunt and uncle Jane and Allen’s dog. You can see the Great Stone House in the background.

There were always dogs around, and where they came from I never knew. Mostly mutts of some sort, I guess, probably the offspring of mutts from neighboring farms. There are three in particular that I recall from those years, King, Queenie, and Shep.

King was the earliest dog that I recall being around, and I don’t so much remember him as remember being told about how well he and I used to get along. Apparently, he was big enough and kid friendly enough and I was small enough that he pretty much let me do anything, even trying to climb on his back.

Then there was Queenie, who was also pretty kid friendly. My grandmother allowed King and Queenie to enter her house, but my mother forbade them from entering ours. That was all right because I think I spent most of my daytime hours during my pre-school years at my grandparents’ house.

I do have one very specific memory of Queenie. At one point she had a nasty gash on the top of her head; I don’t know if I ever knew what had caused it.

What became of King and Queenie? I don’t know. But most likely they probably ran off the property at some point and were either claimed by a neighboring farm or run over by a passing motorist.

There I am with my arm hiding King’s head. This photo was probably taken by my uncle Allen who made up in quantity what he lacked in quality of his photos. Once again notice the Great Stone House behind me.

And then there was Shep.

Unlike King and Queenie, Shep was more of a work dog. I don’t think he was ever allowed inside the house. He was some sort of herding dog, I think, as he helped bring the cows in from the pastures. As far as I can recall, I don’t think he and I ever played together, although if that’s him in the top photo, my memory might be wrong. My recollection of him is he always kept his distance from me.

I do know what happened to Shep, however. Victor Gerhart, whose family shared the Great Stone House with us, hit him with his car. Almost certainly Shep’s fault.

There were also cats on the farm, but my only memory is being bitten on the back of the hand by an orange tabby. Probably explains why I’ve never seen Cats.

The Moyer Connection

One of the minor lingering mysteries that I wanted to solve about my relatives was how I was related to high school classmate Suzanne Berger. When she and I first met back in eighth grade, she told me we were related, but other than we were cousins of some sort, I never knew just how.

Suzanne Berger in 1967

I decided to try to contact her, so I obtained her current address, but although she still lives in Lebanon County, I found out that she hasn’t participated in any class reunions, so perhaps she doesn’t want to be bothered.

(And before anyone points out that I haven’t participated in any class reunions either, the difference is that I live thousands of miles away. Okay, well, maybe not thousands of miles, but far enough. I no longer like to drive, so that rules out automobiles. And a bus ride longer than, say, 15 minutes is torture for me. I love to visit New York City and catch a show or two, but you can count on the fingers of one hand (and have three fingers left over) how many times I’ve been there in the past ten years.)

It also occurred to me that she probably doesn’t know our precise connection anyway or she would have let me know way back when.

So I went back to the genealogical site to see if I could find a Berger branch in our family tree. I had explored the Troutman side pretty thoroughly previously without finding anything, and I remembered that Suzanne had known the name of my paternal grandmother, Edna (Moyer) Troutman, so perhaps it would be more fruitful to explore the Moyer side of the family.

The site that I was using didn’t have any Bergers connected to the Moyers, so I had to start digging into other documents that it made available, like census and marriage records. It took awhile, but after much searching and adding the new discoveries to the family tree, I hit pay dirt. There was a Berger connected to the Moyers, and not only that but his name was Charles Berger Sr and he hailed from Schaefferstown. Well, Suzanne’s brother was named Charlie, and of course the family lived in Schaefferstown.

I was pretty sure this was the link I was looking for, I just wanted something a bit more concrete. And then I found it in the obituary for Suzanne’s mother. It’s sad how many times I’ve found a connection to a former classmate in the obituary for a parent. But there it was in black and white: Suzanne was listed as a surviving daughter under her married name.

So our common ancestors are Peter Moyer (1838 - 1918) and Sarah Susanna Haas (1843 - 1922) who gave birth to George Moyer (1872 - 1953) and Alice Moyer (1864 - 1932). George was my grandmother Edna’s father, and Alice was Suzanne’s grandmother Cora’s mother. So we’re fourth generation descendants of Peter and Sarah, which makes Suzanne and me third cousins.

Patricia is the third from the left in the front row

While I was searching through family histories, I was curious if I could find anything on Patsy Gerhart. Pattie (Patsy or Pattie, I’m not sure what her nickname was, but it was one or the other) and her parents lived in the other side of the great stone house where we lived on my grandfather’s farm, the so-called Twin Meadows Farm.

Patsy was two years older than I was and I recall that we both had tricycles (mine was red and hers was blue) that we rode around on the huge concrete porch of that stone house. Pattie and I came down with a case of tonsillitis at the same time, so we were admitted to the children’s ward of the Reading Hospital simultaneously. Around the time that I finished first grade, I think, Patsy’s family moved away, leaving the great stone house to us alone. That meant I could have my own bedroom, and what had been their living room became my playroom, so my model train could remain set up all year round.

But I no longer recalled Pattie’s parents names. Would I be able to find her? As it turned out, it wasn’t difficult, and as soon as I saw a Patricia Gerhart with parents named Arlene and Victor, I knew that was her. Yes, of course, now I remembered that her mother’s name was the same as my mother.

And not only that, but her mother’s maiden name was Moyer!

Was it possible that she was related to us via my grandmother? It would certainly explain why my grandparents had rented half the stone house to them, not that that necessarily needed any explaining, of course.

So I set to work to see if I could find a connection. This time it was easy because the site already had all the ancestors filled in. All I had to do was run the How Are We Connected tool. And did I get a shock!

Yes, we’re related, but not via my paternal grandmother Edna (Moyer) Troutman. The connection is through my maternal grandmother Tillie (Reed) Zellers!

I did not see that coming.

The common ancestors are Johnann George Haag (1712 - 1786) and Maria Apolonia Dieter (1709 - 1800). My mother and Patricia Gerhart are eighth generation descendants of those estimable gentlepeople, making them seventh cousins. And that makes Patsy and me seventh cousins once removed.

I doubt very much that anyone in either family had any idea that we were distant cousins.

When I started searching for Pattie, I had no intention of trying to contact her, as it’s quite possible she has little to no recollection of me, but after finding this, I think I will drop her a note.

Mary and Paul Addendum

Just wanted to add a correction and a few additional thoughts to my previous post.

Aaron and Mary Haak’s gravestone

First of all, Aaron’s last name was not misspelled on his and Mary’s marriage application. His last name really was originally spelled Haag, as his parents were Moses and Catharine (Knoll) Haag, and all of his siblings (six, apparently) retained that spelling. Only Aaron revised it to Haak.

Why? I can only speculate, but possibly to bring the spelling more in line with the way the name was actually pronounced. It was a fairly common practice in times past to revise the spelling of names especially for new immigrants to match the spelling with the newfound land’s language.

Actually my grandfather Harry Zellers added the “S” to his last name, which in previous generations had been essless. Why? I don’t know, but perhaps because others were incorrectly adding the “S” and he wanted to avoid confusion.

So why did only Aaron among all his siblings revise the spelling of his name? Again, I don’t know, but I can say with some assurance that only he was married to Mary Elizabeth Troutman, who apparently adopted the Haak spelling exclusively. Aaron, on the other hand, vacillated a bit. His funeral notice in the newspaper uses the Haag spelling, but his gravestone uses Haak. Then again, it was presumably Mary who ordered the gravestone.

Notice in the January 16, 1942, edition of the Lebanon Daily News

As I was getting ready to write this I wondered how I knew to spell Mary Haak’s name with two A’s rather than like the bird that makes lazy circles in the sky. As far as I knew, before I started researching her the other day, I had never seen her name in print. Then I realized it was probably an unconscious analogy with the Haak Brothers department store in Lebanon, PA. I wonder if Aaron was related to those brothers? I wonder if they really were brothers?

Also, while researching Aaron and Mary, I came across an interesting little tidbit. In the January 16, 1942, edition of the Lebanon Daily News a notice was published regarding the estate of one Isaac Killmer. It’s difficult to read and I don’t understand all the legalese, but the upshot is that Aaron and Mary Haak, along with Lee Eck and five others became the owners of two tracts of land of two acres each between the railroad tracks and our old house on West Main Street. That area had always been fenced off to allow Lee Eck’s sheep to safely graze. I had thought it was solely the property of Lee Eck, but apparently not, but perhaps he eventually bought out the others.

Anyway Lee Eck was the principal at the Richland school and later at the combined Elco district. He and his wife lived just a few doors up the street from us on West Main, and I honestly can’t recall ever seeing him anywhere but at school. On second thought, I think I did see him out back wrangling his sheep a couple times. Does one wrangle sheep?

He always seemed to me to be one of those people who got into education without having any affection whatsoever for children, regarding them as merely a necessary evil part of the process. But perhaps I’m doing him an injustice.

Mary and Paul

When we moved into the house on West Main Street in Richland, PA, in November, 1957, we were warned by the previous owners that the next door neighbors didn’t get along well with children and could get downright nasty.

This is a photo from 2013 of the duplex house where we lived in 1957 with Mary and Paul on the other side

Things actually got off to a pleasant start when we had an early snow, and during the process of cleaning off our porch and steps, I ventured to clean off theirs as well. For this I was rewarded by the woman of the house, a matronly woman in her early 60s, with a slice of cake. Her name was Mary Haak, and she shared her house with a fellow of about the same age named Paul Troutman. They were related in some way, but I wasn’t sure how, and as far as I knew, they weren’t related to us.

Battle lines were soon drawn, however, as they (and I believe it was Mary who set the rules) did not countenance children setting foot on their lawn for any reason. We had a tall maple tree in our yard, and when it shed its leaves, it paid no heed to lawn boundaries, and Mary was quite adamant that they were not responsible for the cleanup. So the upshot was that Mary was frequently yelling at us kids (and not just my sister and me but all the kids in the neighborhood who came near) and complaining about us to our parents.

But we didn’t take this lying down. We realized soon enough that Mary’s complaints were falling on deaf ears, so we pretty much declared war on Mary. In short, we behaved like brats. And pretty soon it was we, along with some other kids like the Gass boys, who were terrorizing Mary. As tensions mounted, eventually Mary cracked.

One day we found her sitting behind her house weeping. This led to a partial de-escalation of hostilities as we realized that she was, after all, a human being. Peace was never actually declared, but things did cool off a bit after that.

Finally, after about two or three years, Mary and Paul bought a little house in Myerstown and moved away.

By the way, although I don’t recall it myself, my sister remembers that Paul used to sit outside so quietly that the squirrels would come up to him and eat out of his hand.

I was reminded of Mary and Paul yesterday when I was researching something else and I came across an old article that referred to a Paul Troutman as a “popular street and water works superintendent of the borough.” Initially I couldn’t think who that might be, and then it hit me. Our old neighbor. He was popular?

So that got me on a search for more information about Paul. Using the date of the article and its reference to his birthday coming up on Thursday, I had his birthday. That gave me enough information to search for his genealogical records, which weren’t hard to find. But still I didn’t have his relationship to Mary.

A detail from the census page of 1920 showing the misspelling of Haak as Hask

A little more searching and I found the census records for 1920 where Paul Troutman was listed as a boarder of Aaron and Mary Hask! In those days of handwritten census records, misspellings such as that were quite common.

Mary’s marriage application showing the misspelling of Haak as Haag

So now I had a lead on Mary. Mary Elizabeth Troutman was her birth name. I even found her and her husband’s marriage application, where another spelling error lists Aaron’s last name as Haag. It turns out that Mary married the 23 year old Aaron when she was 16.

Now that I had records for both Mary and Paul, it was possible (but a lot of tedious work) to trace back their common ancestors to Phillip Trautman (1787 - 1859) and Sara Salome Schrack (1786 - 1836). Ah, yes, Phillip with two L’s. Mary and Paul were both third generation descendants of Phillip and Sara, so that makes them second cousins according to the cousin table.

Mary’s husband died in 1954, and that’s presumably when Paul moved in with her. Mary Haak and Paul Troutman each died in 1974 within a month of each other, and they are both buried in the Richland Cemetery. Here’s Mary’s grave and here’s Paul’s grave.

So were they related to us? After some more tedious searching I came upon Johannes Trautmann (1713 - 1764) and Eva Elizabeth Bauer (1716 - 1794) of Germany. Old Johannes, I could tell you stories about him (if I knew any). And Eva Bauer. What can I say?

But they are our common ancestors with Paul and Mary. And it turns out that we are fourth cousins twice removed.

There are a lot of Troutmans in and around Lebanon, Berks, and Lancaster counties, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that most, if not all, of them can trace their ancestry back to Johannes Trautmann (1713 - 1764) and Eva Elizabeth Bauer (1716 - 1794) of Germany.

A Bike Ride to Coleman Park

I have no memory of whose idea it was or how I got involved, but it was when we still lived on the hill on West Main Street, so it was probably during the summer of 1962 or 63. Most likely it had something to do with the Boy Scouts, as I was still active in them in those days.

Anyway, Buddy Pennypacker, Jay Kegerreis, and Larry Fetter (I think it was him, though perhaps it was Jay’s brother Robert), and I planned a bicycle trip to Coleman Park in Lebanon, PA, where we would spend the night in our sleeping bags, and then return to Richland the following morning. How I got included with those older kids, I have no idea.

We took the back roads, of course, and I recall that I tended to lag behind the others because while they all had three-speed bikes (ten-speeds not having been invented yet), my bike didn’t have a gear shift at all, so I was really puffing whenever we had to climb a hill. This made me the slowest member of the group, something that Buddy (the de facto leader) kept reminding me of.

When we reached the Dairy Queen just outside Lebanon on 422, we stopped for refreshments, just as a flash thunderstorm swept through the area. We stayed dry by eating our ice cream at the rear of the building where there was a convenient roof overhang. Then an employee came out the back door and said she was worried that she had left her car windows open. She pointed out her car, and I leaped into action. I ran through the driving rain, got into her car and closed the window, which had only been open a tiny crack. In the process of opening her car door, I probably let more rain in than would have gotten in through the tiny opening. I also got myself soaked.

The storm didn’t last very long, and soon we were on our way again.

That evening as we were eating whatever it was we had brought along for our supper in one of the park’s pavilions, we received a surprise visitor. Two, actually. Boom Karsnitz and someone else (I no longer recall whom) stopped by to bring us a watermelon for dessert.

Boom Karsnitz (the vowel sound of his nickname was pronounced like the short oo sound in good) was one of those characters in Richland who seemed to be everywhere, although this is my clearest memory of him. I think his actual first name was Harvey [but see the update at the end of this post]. He was 40-ish with a round face and a bit of a beer belly. How he got his nickname was something I never knew, but it did seem to fit him. I’ve never actually seen his nickname written or printed out, so I don’t know if that’s how he spelled it, but that’s my best guess. It might also be “Bum”, but that just doesn’t look right. But I digress—

Now if truth be told, I was never fond of watermelons. They were always a chore to eat with all those seeds, and the ones I had tasted up to that point had never seemed worth the effort. They had very little flavor and weren’t sweet enough to compensate for their gustatory blandness. But the watermelon that Boom Karsnitz brought us that evening—that was something else. It was flavorful and sweet. It was the absolute best watermelon I had ever tasted and definitely worth a little effort to eat.

When I said as much, Boom replied with a laconic, “I’ve had better.”

I can’t imagine where. That watermelon still remains as the best I’ve ever had.

I don’t recall much more about our Coleman Park adventure, and nothing at all about our return trip the following morning. Since we obviously did make it back, it was presumably uneventful.

Lee Boom Karsnitz

Update One Hour Later: A little searching on the web, which I don’t know why I didn’t do before writing this post, and I find that a) Boom’s nickname was indeed spelled “Boom”, b) his first name apparently was Lee, and c) he would have been in his mid-30’s when he delivered that watermelon.

He died at the age of 87 in 2015 and his obituary is still on the web. He was living in Manheim, PA, at the time of his death.

El Español Tossed Me a Cudve

If I could change just one thing about the way my parents raised my sister and me, it would be their attitude toward Pennsylvania Dutch. Both of our parents and their families were fluent speakers of Dutch as well as English, but they gave both sets of grandparents strict instructions not to speak Dutch to us, so we never learned it as we grew up.

[Yes, I know that technically it should be called Pennsylvania “German”, not “Dutch”, but everyone around us always referred to it as “Dutch”, so that’s the term I’m going to use in this blog post.]

I don’t know why they issued the No Dutch edict, and I regret that I never asked them about it. I suspect that they thought of Dutch as a non-standard language and feared it might cause us problems if we learned it, but I really don’t know. They used to speak Dutch to each other when they wanted to say something that they didn’t want us to hear, but I doubt very much that that was their motivation for the edict. Anyway, one result of the edict is that I grew up only speaking English, and I never became multi-lingual like my parents were.

Along the way, however, I have studied other languages, just never well enough to gain any kind of fluency in them. I’ve written before about my teenage efforts with a “Learn Russian in Record Time” recording. I even followed up on that with a term or two of Russian when I was at Penn State, but other than a few basic words here and there, my Russian is still pretty much limited to “Я не понимаю по-русски.”

In high school I took two years of Latin, which is all that Elco offered at that time, followed by two years of Spanish. I did pretty well with Latin, and I have fond memories of our teacher, Mrs. Spitler. In fact, when I went to Penn State, two years after completing the second year of Latin, I took a Latin aptitude test during orientation week and did so well that they stuck me in the Latin IV class, Latin III not being offered during that term.

When I protested, I was told that I shouldn’t worry because I had really done very well on the test. It was a multiple choice test, and as I’ve written before, taking multiple choice tests is my superpower. In the event I should have protested harder, or at least waited until a term when Latin III was being offered, as I didn’t have the vocabulary and could barely comprehend the advanced grammar required. I was lucky to finish that course with a D.

Several years later I developed a fondness for German opera, and through a process of osmosis, I did learn eine kleine Deutsche. So I have a repertory of very useful phrases such as “Ein schwert verhieß mir der vater.”

Then while living in Harrisburg in the late 70s, I was treated to a Polish course by a friend who didn’t want to take it by himself. This was a short course intended primarily for folks who might be traveling to Poland and who wanted just basic familiarity with the language. I turned out to be the star pupil because my pronunciation was nearly spot on right from the start, thanks to my earlier study of Russian.

I’ve always regretted not being fluent in more than one language, and on the theory that it’s never too late, I recently bought a Spanish course from the The Great Courses company. I don’t seriously expect to become fluent in it at my age, and I’m well aware that my ability to learn and retain new memories isn’t nearly what it used to be, but I thought I’d be happy if I could develop a basic comprehension of the language. After all, I hear it spoken around me every day that I venture out on the streets.

I recall only un poco of the Spanish that I learned in Señor Slyke’s class in high school, a word or phrase here and there. We were taught the Castilian pronunciation, the one spoken in Spain as opposed to Latin America, so we learned to pronounce the s sounds as th as though we were lisping. The Spanish spoken in this hemisphere pronounces the s’s pretty much the way you would expect them to sound. I remember that I could never really get the hang of rolling my r’s like native Spanish speakers do.

But now I’ve discovered that Spanish actually has two different r sounds, and I’m pretty sure Mr. Slyke didn’t teach us that. The one the I’m familiar with is the double r sound, which is the rolled r that I recall. But the single r sound is quite different. It’s actually close to the English d sound, or the t’s in the word little. If Mr. Slyke taught us that, I’ve long since forgotten it.

So para is pronounced as pada, tres as tdes, and señor as señod.

Check out this page on pronouncing the Spanish d.

I know. I felt like I was entering The Twilight Zone when I found out.