Sunday, June 16, 2019

50th class reunion (Part 2)

Fifty years later, I was somewhat surprised by how many of the faces I still recognized right off the bat.

Sure, we'd all gotten older. Some of us were bald, some of us were about 20 pounds heavier, most of us were graying.

But the facial features, well, they almost never change.

Mmmmm. Cake.
 So when Larry walked past me, I couldn't contain myself. "Larry," I said, trying to catch his attention in the fruit farm barn that served as the unlikely venue for the 50th class reunion for the Southern Lehigh Class of 1969.

But Larry kept walking. I guess he didn't hear me.

"Larry!" I said, following behind and trying to keep up. "LARRY!"

Larry turned and looked at my name tag.

"Bruce," he smiled. "How are you doing?"

"I'm doing well," I replied. "How about you?"

"I'm doing pretty good," said Larry. "Except that my name's not Larry. It's Duane."

Oh, jeez. I suddenly wanted a concrete wall to bang my head on. I looked at the sticker on his shirt, and sure enough, in the smallest typeface imaginable for all of us aging, glasses-wearing, astigmatized and Lasik-repaired codgers, and under the senior class picture that cleverly served as his name tag sticker, was the name Duane.

"Of course," I thought to myself, the memories now flooding back. "His name has always been Duane."

Ed Alosi, myself, and Tom Schaeffer catch up. I was always the shortest.*
Well, I'm here to say that everything went flawlessly after that little faux pas. Duane and I had a quick chuckle over my memory lapse and we caught up. Then we caught up with Tom Schaeffer. And Kenny Miller. And Ed Alosi. And David Eisenhauer. And Diane Eckley. And Jim Scott. And Linda Yost. And Hannah Pennewell.

Our class had 184 kids in it (Minus me. Our family moved away before my senior year, so I never graduated with these people. But Southern Lehigh is where my friends were), and I guess about 40 or so showed up for the reunion. There were maybe 60 of us in all, including spouses and significant others. Not bad.

There was also an In Memorium table where 24 names were posted with their senior picture and a short obituary. They represented about nine percent of our class, which I guess falls into the normal actuarial table for our age bracket. But that's still 24 people who weren't granted their biblical three score and ten. It gives you pause.

Two women also attended with the aid of walkers. One of them came up to me and spoke in a whisper. I looked at her name tag. It was Helen. Oh, my. Clearly, she had suffered a stroke somewhere along the way. And I wondered: There but for the grace of God...

Kim and I stayed for about three hours or so. Reunions are almost always hardest on spouses, and I could see Kim was getting a little antsy. She was 500 miles from home and nine years younger than everybody else, so socializing with this crowd was problematical for her. But she endured and I am forever grateful for that.

We were actually getting ready to leave when Jim came up from behind and started a conversation with me. Then Tom joined in. David came over and Larry/Duane completed the circle. We reminisced about our years at Solehi (a corruption of Southern Lehigh) for about a half hour, laughing, smiling, nodding at shared memories. Kim patiently paced in the background, looking at apple orchards and cherry trees.

The gist of the conversation finally surfaced. We all agreed we were lucky to have lived in the era and area that we did, sheltered as we were by the Southern Lehigh community and thus allowed to develop into the people we became.

Yes, we were. Lucky, indeed.

The Southern Lehigh Class of 1969.

 *Photos by Kim Wehrle.






Saturday, June 15, 2019

50th class reunion (Part 1)

The last thing I wanted to do was to impose myself on one of my dearest friends, but she often told us that whenever we were in Pennsylvania, Kim and I were more than welcome to stay with her for however long we were going to be in town.

That's a bold offer to make. As Ben Franklin once said, guests and fish tend to stink after three days.

And, yet, this was one of those times. My 50th high school class reunion was fast approaching and it sure would be nice to have a centrally located place to crash. And, sure enough, it would require a three-day stay. What's that I smell?

It didn't matter to her. When I called to tell her of my plans, she quickly agreed to put us up for the weekend. She's done this before.

Morag and I share an enduring friendship.*
Morag and I met 52 years ago. We both had summer jobs at the community swimming pool. She was the cashier in the ticket booth, and I was the pool maintenance man (or pool boy, as they say). She was 17 years old and driving a car; I was 16 years old and riding a 10-speed bicycle. The maturity gap was striking.

There was no way we could guess, back in 1967, that this summer working at the pool would turn into an enduring friendship. We never made formal plans to stay in touch, it's just something that we did over time with Christmas cards and occasional phone calls. We celebrated each other's weddings, cheered the birth of her son, and mourned the death of her husband.

After college, she became a special education teacher, eventually becoming a department head and now, even in retirement, she works as a part-time consultant in a nearby school system.

During some downtime the other evening, we sat on her back porch, sipping a little pinot and watching the crimson-and-orange evening sun settle behind South Mountain. I knew her family had immigrated from Scotland when she was a young girl, but I wasn't sure about the particulars.

So we talked. Morag (which is Gaelic for Sarah) was 7 years old when her family came stateside in 1957 – without much more than the shirts on their backs – and settled in Cleveland. I didn't know that.

A few years later, her family moved to Missouri. I didn't know that. And when I first met her, she'd been in Pennsylvania for less than five years. I didn't know that.

She became a naturalized citizen after college, prior to her certification as a teacher. Part of the process was that she had to painfully renounce her beloved Scotland. I didn't know that.

The things you learn about your friends 50 years later.

•   •   •

I had it in my head for years that the friendship I had with Morag was my longest – until I remembered Bernie.

Bernie was my first best friend in life. He was 5 years old and I was 6, and we lived a block away from each other in tiny Fountain Hill, which is nestled comfortably in a crook of South Mountain between Allentown and Bethlehem.

Bernie and I reconnect for the second time in 63 years.
 So Bernie and I go back 63 years. Oh, my. That takes my breath away when I think about it. I've been told a friendship this long is a rare thing to happen. I guess so, but we're still living it. There might be a few more years in there somewhere.

The joy of Fountain Hill was that both of us lived just across the street from the borough playground, which was the beating heart of that working class community. Bernie and I spent long, lazy summer days playing on the swings, see-saws, sliding boards and jungle gyms, forging a daily friendship that we thought would never end.

Until our family moved to New Hampshire. We lost touch. A couple of decades danced by. I ended up in North Carolina. He remained in the Lehigh Valley to become a school librarian.

Then I went to my 25th class reunion. A fellow walked up to me and asked, "Do you remember me?" He wasn't wearing a name tag. "I'm Bernie."

I about lost it right there. Oddly enough, Bernie did not go to my high school. But he was at the reunion because he'd married a girl in my class. How amazing is that for a happenstance reconnection?

This time, we stayed in touch, even though we didn't see each other as another couple of decades drifted by.

But I was determined not to let this new opportunity get away from us. I called Bernie a few days before leaving for Pennsylvania – and my 50th class reunion – and asked if we could get together.

Then I suggested, how about if we meet at the playground? (That was my wife's idea. I'm not that clever).

So we did. We talked. We reminisced. He took us out to lunch for a Philly cheese steak. Then we returned to the playground, where we opened a bottle of champagne (no alcoholic beverages allowed) and toasted our friendship.

Wow. We made it this far. Cheers.


Bernie and I toast our 63-year-old friendship at the playground.


*Photos by Kim Wehrle.






 




Thursday, June 13, 2019

Downsizing

It was time.

About seven years ago, through a generous and well-meaning Pennsylvania pawnbroker, I came into possession of some Civil War artifacts belonging to Pvt. Albert A. Clewell, a (very) distant cousin of mine.

You might even remember the story; I wrote a blog about it: (see here).

But the time had finally come to do something significant with the artifacts. Sure, they were fun to own. Occasionally, I'd take them out of storage and look at them. I'd hold them in my hands and feel the connection, if not the actual presence, of somebody who'd seen the elephant at both Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. I once had an opportunity to show these artifacts – particularly Albert's postwar Grand Army of the Republic kepi and discharge paper – to my youngest brother, Scott, who was visiting from Oklahoma and had done some genealogical research into Albert Clewell. I think Scott relished the moment; he certainly deserved it.

Sigal Museum docent Ken Wildrick (left) receives Albert's artifacts.
For the most part, however, the artifacts were put away in something like a plastic storage container, unseen by anyone.

I wanted to change that. I wanted to keep a promise I once made to myself.

A week ago, Kim and I made the 500-mile trek to Center Valley, PA, to attend my 50th high school class reunion. It was the perfect opportunity to visit the Sigal Museum in nearby Easton, PA, which pretty much serves as the repository for anything to do with the 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteers, who were recruited out of Northampton County (of which Easton is the county seat).

So on Saturday morning, we went to the museum, where I finally donated Albert's memorabilia for perpetual safekeeping.

It was a good feeling.

Ken Wildrick, the museum docent, gave us a brief tour of the place. I asked to see whatever items they had on display regarding the 153rd, and was escorted to a smallish glass case. Inside were two other GAR kepis as well as a 25th Anniversary Gettysburg Excursion ribbon, identical to the ones that Albert had once worn.

But I think Albert's discharge document was the first of its kind that the museum had ever seen, and that made me feel really good about my donation.

I've reached a stage in my life where it's time to downsize. Some Civil War artifacts that I've purchased in the past for my personal enjoyment have served their purpose, so I'm unloading them. Donating Albert's artifacts to a museum after I was done with them was the promise I made to myself years ago.

Now it's time for others to enjoy them.







Thursday, June 6, 2019

Day of days


Please pay attention to the footage above. It's an iconic, heroic and stirring piece of photo journalism, because it occurred on June 6, 1944, at Omaha Beach.

Seventy-five years ago. Today.

It's the first wave of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France, at the height of World War II.

Somewhere around the 14-20 second mark of this brief clip, a soldier, seen on the left side of the grainy clip, tries to make his way forward. Then he falls heavily on the beach, presumably hit by fire from Germans in the bunkers behind the seawall.

I don't know if the soldier was wounded, or killed. He doesn't move after he falls to the sand, so I can only assume the worst. If what I think happened, we see the very moment his life expired. It's chilling.

As a history buff, I've seen this clip hundreds of times, if not thousands. It never occurred to me until recent years that the soldier falling to the ground was probably killed. We don't often see the moment of death on film. Omaha Beach was particularly deadly for the American V Corps landing there that day, incurring somewhere between 2,000 to 5,000 in killed, missing and wounded.

And now, when I see the clip, I make a silent plea that that soldier somehow hears me, and dodges to his left or right at just the precise moment. I shout to him in my mind to hit the dirt, to save himself, but he never hears me.

I try to absorb what that means. He was probably in his 20s, if not in his teens, with his whole life ahead of him until he was cut down by hot German metal. His death not only brought grief to his family and friends, but instantly ended his gene pool. Think about that for a moment. Could he have fathered an artist to give us insight? A musician to give us joy? A scientist or a doctor who could cure disease? A politician who could bring us world peace? A lineage of even more potential?

Then think about all the deaths that war brings. What do we lose? What do we gain?

There's a sense that D-Day opened the door for the United States to win World War II, but it's a little more complicated than that. The Russian juggernaut on the Eastern front was relentlessly pressing its way toward Berlin. Even without the Allied landings in Normandy, the Russians probably would have rolled into Berlin by late 1945, if not sooner.

Think about what that would have meant to world order. A communist Europe? Perhaps. D-Day, however, brought the western Allies to the heart of the European continent and culture. It not only helped to defeat Nazi Germany, it brought the Marshall Plan. It brought the United Nations. It brought NATO. It brought 75 years of peace to a geo-political landscape that saw war nearly every other generation for centuries.

And so that soldier falls on the beach, his lonely, solitary death on Bloody Omaha still momentous to us all, on this day of days.


Sunday, June 2, 2019

The baseball game that wasn't

The plan was for the four of us to meet outside of BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem on Friday to take in a Dash baseball game.

I was excited. I'd never been to the stadium, which opened nine years ago. I'd seen plenty of minor league baseball games at old Ernie Shore Field, but never at BB&T Ballpark. It was just one of those things I'd always figured I'd get to, but never did. So I was finally getting my opportunity.

Oh, yeah. I was also excited about the four of us getting together, too: Larry Lyon, Jim Buice, Kevin Brafford and myself. Three of us were former sports editors at The Dispatch while Kevin had his byline on plenty of sporting events that he covered for the paper over the years.

The only trouble was, the weather didn't cooperate. About an hour before game time, a deep, dark thunderstorm brewed up, fulfilling its forecasted 40 percent chance of rain for the day. The bottom fell out for about 10 minutes or so, and then slowly dissipated in the guise of a friendly rainbow.

Game on. Or not.

The four of us met at the entrance, then walked to the concourse to get some food. On the way, we marveled at the construction on I-40, which borders the ballpark on the southeast side. The highway is totally torn up and unpaved. It looks like a stagecoach trail. We then found some seats where we could eat, catch up, and watch baseball.

Or not.

Game time arrived. The tarp, which had been rolled up when we arrived, was now back on the field. Uh-oh.

But something else was off kilter and it took a moment to sink in. The stadium lights, which are usually turned on hours before game time, were still unlit. And the scoreboard was inactive. Nothing. Blank.

A power outage.

Uh-oh.

In the meantime, we talked. We talked about sports. We talked about getting older (two of us are looking eyeball to eyeball at 70). We talked about our families. We talked about sports. We talked about vacations. We talked about journalism and the state of the newspaper business. Then we talked about sports again.

The sun came out. The sky turned blue. The temperature stabilized in the high 70s. It was a perfect night for baseball.

Except there was no game. The stadium eventually had its power restored around 8 p.m. or so, but the decision to call the game had already been made. We lingered for a while, still talking about sports, but then an usher came by and told us they were kicking us out of the ballpark by 8:15.

We hadn't seen a single ball player in uniform the whole time we were there. Oh, my.

We resolved to try this again in August, using our tickets as rain checks. Or power checks. None of us could ever remember going to a baseball game that had been postponed because of a power outage. I guess there's a first time for everything.

I hope I don't forget where I put my ticket.






Sunday, May 26, 2019

Groundhog Day

Kim and I are both a little hesitant to bed out a few more Mortgage Lifter tomato plants. We're just not quite sure that we're free of our rodent problem.

Or, more precisely, our groundhog problem.

It wasn't that long ago – maybe a few months – when I just happened to look out my kitchen window and saw a 10- or 12-pound groundhog traipsing through our backyard.

I didn't think much of it at the time, other than how peculiar I thought it was for a groundhog to be inside the city limits. I mean, we've lived in our present location for more than 15 years now and had never seen anything more destructive than a couple of platoons from the army of squirrels that overrun our neighborhood.

Then, a few weeks ago, Kim sowed 11 Mortgage Lifters plants in a patch of earth we'd carefully nourished and cultivated with compost since the beginning of last winter. We were ready.

The abundant rain we had this Spring was wonderful. The plants were growing and producing blossoms. I even had them in cages. Mmmmm. Tomato sandwiches by July.

A Mortgage Lifter tomato plant under assault...
 Then, one day, the groundhog was back after a brief absence. I saw her. What I didn't see at first was the damage she was doing to our tomato plants. Apparently, groundhogs are connoisseurs of fine tomato plants. She'd eaten the leaves off three of our plantings, leaving only sorry looking stalks.

I went into action. I called Animal Control. But unless this was about cats or dogs, all they could do was give advice. Groundhogs are considered "wildlife" and as such, it is up to us to determine how to rid ourselves of the pest. We can do just about anything except shoot them because it's unlawful to discharge a weapon within the city limits.

The next day, Kim happened to look out the kitchen window, trying to spot the culprit groundhog.

"Bruce, come here," she hollered to me while I was watching TV in the next room. I'm always watching TV in the next room. "You've got to see this."

What I saw was four – count 'em, folks, four – groundhog young'uns in my next door neighbor's yard, grazing on the clover, I suspect.

What we decided to do was set up a humane trap, especially since I'm not partial to using poison in a vegetable garden. I ran to Wikipedia to find out how to bait groundhogs and learned they like cantaloupe, among other things. So we borrowed a trap from one of our friends, baited it and set it in our neighbor's yard, because that's apparently where the burrow is.

We once used a humane trap to catch opossums ('Possums' if you're Southern) when we lived in a different neighborhood, but all we ended up catching was our neighbor's cat. Twice. She looked confused.

Anyway, getting back to our current dilemma, I set the trap and patiently waited until morning. No groundhog, but the cantaloupe was gone, once again proving how much smarter nature is than we are. Unless a cat is involved, I guess.

A groundhog young'un (dead center, maybe even dead) plans his assault.
 In the meantime, something traumatic happened. One of the groundhog young'uns met its demise, apparently trying to cross the street without looking both ways first. Even today, four days later, his carcass is in the middle of the road, flatter than a postage stamp. The coroner's report said it was death by motor vehicle.

Groundhogs have few natural predators to begin with: foxes, coyotes. Maybe Chevrolets. One of my neighbors is a biology teacher and she noted this was simply an example of natural selection.

Oddly enough, we haven't seen any evidence since then of the surviving groundhogs. I don't know if they've gone into mourning, or what. But it's why we're reluctant to try more plants. We just don't know whether it's safe to replant or not.

Nevertheless, we're still leaving the remaining stalks in the ground. Some still have leaves, and we've been trying to rejuvenate them with Miracle Gro, knowing full well that a miracle is what is required. It could happen. You never know.

Meanwhile, word has spread through the neighborhood about the groundhogs. Other neighbors have reported destruction in their gardens. One local business said, forget it, there are groundhogs all over the place. We might be overwhelmed and just don't know it yet.

I'm constantly amazed by how much wildlife is inside the city limits. In the past decade, we've seen possoms (Okay, so this Yankee has been assimilated), raccoons and now groundhogs. My wife works near the old hospital and the employees there have recently seen a doe and her fawn.

Nature. Who knew?




Monday, May 20, 2019

Game of Groans

Any Game of Thrones fans out there? (Dumb question)

Disappointed with the series finale Sunday night? (Ummm, maybe)

Feel like you wasted eight years of your life? (Lucky me. I only wasted the last four. Or five)

Actually, I wasn't too put off by the ending. I mean, surely there's got to be some kind of Freudian thinking (relatively speaking, I mean) behind Jon Snow assassinating his lover/aunt Daenerys Targaryen (isn't Targaryen an herb I put on my swordfish filet?). I guess I just don't know what it is yet.

Dany and Jon were caught in that endless 30-second clinch and I breathlessly waited to see, between spoonfuls of ice cream, which one would fall to the floor first because I just knew one of them got the point. It was Dany. OK. But I knew Drogon, the last remaining flamethrowing dragon, wasn't going to be happy about it. What really surprised me was that Drogon didn't fry the guy.

Drogon, in his wisdom (the dragons always were smarter than anyone else, it seemed) melted the Iron Throne into a core element. That moment rendered absurdity to the entire raison d'etre of the last eight seasons. Snow stood face-to-face with a fired up Drogon and Snow never melted.

Which led to an interesting council between the surviving kingdoms. Samwell Tarley somehow became James Madison as he proposed one man, one vote democracy (a concept which was laughed off by the others). Bran Stark, bound to a wheelchair, more than resembled FDR as he was chosen king for life. Tyrian Lannister assumed the Winston Churchill role, trying to hold the coalition together. Arya was either Lewis or Clark as she sailed off to explore the world beyond Westeros.

What all this really means is that spinoffs are assured. Arya, a fiercely independent woman, could have her own show. Dany, stabbed in the heart, was carried off by Drogon, which probably means she could return in a different life. And Jon Snow, who did return from the dead, is seen marching from the ice wall (and from his exile) into a probable spinoff future.

So help us George R.R. Martin.

•   •   •

Another series that ended last week was The Big Bang Theory, wrapping things up after 12 seasons.

I really thought the show was very well written and very smart for a comedy. It had to be with all that dialogue about science and theory and astronomy and elemental tables and Bunsen burners and such. One of the actresses, Mayim Bialik (who played Amy Farrah Fowler) actually has a Ph.D in neuroscience in real life. Yikes. The show had no choice except to get it right.

But I always like the show's theme song, performed by the Barenaked Ladies. With lyrics that contain words like autotrophs and "Australopithecus would really have been sick of us," well, that's pretty darn good stuff.

So long, friends. See you on Me TV.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMSYv_Z4SI8