Sunday, August 28, 2011

Distraction

The plan was to continue this blog with my childhood nostalgia series, but I'm taking a little break from that for the time being. We'll return there presently.

You see, I've been distracted.

That happened Thursday when my wife came home from work a little earlier than usual and bravely announced through quivering lips, "My job has been displaced."

She was brave. I was transformed into a whimpering fool.

Kim has held this job for 31 years. She was 20 years old when she started, and over those years her job has helped see us through two houses, seven or eight cars, four cats, any number of wonderful vacations and, so far, one husband.

We learned that when you get news that your job has been eliminated, especially in this recessive economy, you automatically go into panic mode. Where do you find the next job? What about insurance? Can you afford to put gas in the car? Will that candy bar put you over budget?

Because I am retired, and have been for nearly five years, Kim's salary is my salary. By that, I mean she is the bread winner and it's her money that pays the bills. I do get a husband allowance, but that's mostly money to put gas in the car.

That's not to say I'm a slacker (at least I hope not). At most any time I'm usually working one of three part-time jobs to help keep our heads above water, and then I also have the time to do some of the housework, like cut grass or vacuum, or take care of her 81-year-old father's acre of lawn or run some of his errands.

Anyway, within hours of her coming home that day, we started networking. I talked or emailed with several friends, and within 48 hours we've come up with several strong leads. Kim's also created an impressive résumé despite the fact that she's never needed one in 31 years, so we're hopeful.

We're also thankful and grateful for the friends who have helped, without question, get us pointed in the right direction. Sometimes it's easy to take our friends for granted, because you see them every day or you know they're always there. But at times like this, that friendship becomes special. So thank you Jo, Vickie, Lindsey, Karen, Sharon, Jo Ellen and Chad. In fact, I can't thank you enough.

Neither Kim nor I have ever gone through something like this before in our professional lives. I suppose we've been lucky. Right now, we're taking baby steps in getting ourselves righted. Hopefully, we'll be up and running before too long.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Time traveling, part 1

I was clicking through some of my friends' Facebook pages last night, as I am sometimes wont to do, when I came across a photograph from nearly 30 years ago of a mother holding her pre-school daughter on a set of metal playground monkey bars that are so OSHA illegal now that they have become museum pieces.

The monkey bars, that is. Not the mother and daughter.

But the picture got me to thinking of my own childhood from more than 50 years ago.

We lived in a working-class row home in a village called Fountain Hill, Pa., that was snuggled into a ridge on the windward side of South Mountain. The mountain cast its own impressive shadow over the sprawling industrial yards of nearby Bethlehem Steel, then the largest employer in Northampton County.

Fountain Hill's most famous son is author Stephen Vincent Benet. I'd like to think that I'm somewhere in the top 10, but Fountain Hill is so small that the list of its famous folks probably stops with 10,000 people tied at No. 2, sooo...

The really neat thing about where we lived, though, is that we were directly across the street from the borough playground.

Our house in Fountain Hill was the second duplex on the right, the sec-
tion with the light gray roof. When you are 6 years old, it was undeniably
Kid Heaven to live across the street from the borough playground.
This was a special place that included swings, sliding boards, monkey bars and jungle gyms. There was also a huge asphalt basketball surface that featured eight backboards, meaning that you could have four fullcourt games going on at the same time.

In the winter, the city brought out a fire truck to flood the court with water, which then froze over for a season of ice skating. The fire truck was a big event in itself and flooding the court signaled the advent of winter.

The playground rests on the side of a fairly steep hill, so the street that borders it was also excellent for winter sledding. The borough actually closed off the road to auto traffic so it was a safe venue for kids — and adults — to play.

A little league baseball field lay adjacent to the playground, and next to the ball field was the community swimming pool.

So you can see, for a 6-year-old, living here was Kid Heaven. All of this was in easy walking distance from my front porch.

One of my fondest memories, though, is the box hockey tournaments that we had during those lazy summers at the playground.

What, you might ask, is box hockey?  It's a form of hockey, contained in a rectangular wooden box (logical so far) that features two courts, where two people compete against each other to knock a field hockey ball through one of two openings in the center divider, then try to knock the ball through a single opening in the opponent's court to score a point. The players used real wooden field hockey sticks back then. It's a wonder we didn't pummel each other to death after surviving all those forbidding metal swings, sliding boards and monkey bars.

(Notes: A friend of mine actually got hit by a car crossing the street to get to the playground. He survived that, too).



(The video above gives an approximation of the game I used to play.)

The playground had four or five of these box hockey games going on at once. Play was so popular that kids would wait great lengths of time — maybe even up to 15 minutes — for their turn to play. It was awesome.

I don't know what's happened to the kind of box hockey I remember. I haven't seen that version of the game played since we moved to New Hampshire in 1959. In fact, I never saw a box hockey game again. But I did google it and discovered there are several corrupted (in my opinion) versions of the game that I once played. The boxes are usually made of plastic now, and features several dividers instead of just one. The players apparently use paddles instead of hockey sticks, and there's a puck instead of a ball. It's probably safer.

But I suppose you can still pummel your opponent if you have half a mind to.

Look what they've done with smudge pots now.
Side note: All this occurred back in the mid-1950s. I remember one summer there was some road construction in front of our house. Back then, road construction sites were marked with kerosene lanterns that burned an actual flame to warn drivers to be wary. They were often hard to extinguish, so it was great sport in those days to try and blow out the flame. Sometimes we did.

I suppose it's not only a wonder we managed to survive the playground, but didn't serve a jail term as well.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Uneventful events

Sorry, gentle reader, that it's been more than a week since my last post.

I've been busy. Sort of.

For one thing, The Dispatch — the newspaper from which I retired five years ago and for whom I still cover sports events on a contract basis — is getting ready to put out its annual area prep football section, and I wrote four stories in a two-day span to meet the deadline.

Then I had to take care of some house issues. We recently learned that we might be prime candidates for replacing our sewer line from the house to the street. Oh boy. Ka-ching.

Then our clothes dryer — which we've owned for about 25 years, nearly spanning the length of my marriage to my wife — conked out, and our elderly washer is being infuriatingly selective in which cycles it wants to employ. Ka-ching.

We also priced new mattresses. I think you're supposed to replace an old mattress something like every eight years or so, and ours is now almost a teenager. Ka-ching.

The week was wrapped up by the funeral of one of my wife's aunts. The service and burial were held in Roaring River, a tiny hamlet near North Wilkesboro, in an area that is criss-crossed by the back country roads that stock car legend Junior Johnson made famous running moonshine nearly 60 years ago.

Plus, I just didn't feel like posting anything. I think I was distracted by all these non-event events.

Interestingly enough, however, I think it was the funeral that kicked me back into observation mode.

My wife (right) helps uncover the foot stone of a relative.
Funerals tend to put me in an introspective mood anyway, possibly because they remind me that the time remaining for my own earthly presence is diminishing. This particular ceremony leaned a bit on the fundamentalist side for me, which tends to make me a little uncomfortable, peppered as the service was with interjections of "Amen, brother," or "Glory be," or "Praise the Lord." There's nothing wrong with that, it's just not how I was raised in the church. It's all personal interpretation anyway, but I still squirmed in the pew.

But then, twice, this pastor broke out into song. He sang an incredible a cappella version of "Beulah Land," somehow losing his syrupy-thick North Carolina foothills accent along the way, replaced by a rich, soothing baritone. It was simply sensational. I perked up. I listened to the lyrics. I paid attention. I surprised myself.

The service then reverted back to the spoken word for a while. To me, a good funeral recalls the deceased with bits of humor and fond memories, but this time, the pastor had the family weeping — at times sobbing — and I squirmed again.

Then he picked up his acoustic guitar and sang "In the Sweet Bye and Bye." Outside of "Amazing Grace" (which can bring me to tears in a heartbeat), I'm usually not one for traditional gospel music. But this was something else. His voice was enchanting. His fingers caressed the guitar. I was refreshed. How, at my advanced age, can I keep having these unexpected revelations in unexpected places at unguarded moments?

The funeral was followed by a meal in the fellowship hall, where my wife got to socialize with some of her relatives, including a few of the epicureans that showed up at the family reunion a month ago.

Then, the best part of the day was my wife and a few of her relatives taking off to a nearby cemetery to find where her grandparents were buried. They found the site and dug out — with their hands — the identifying foot stones that had settled into the ground and under the grass. They also found the old family homestead, so the afternoon proved to be satisfyingly fruitful.

I don't know. Somehow, the week ended better than it began.