Friday, June 29, 2012

Spanning generations

Every year that I go to Gettysburg to attend the Civil War Institute, I almost always seem to come away with something of worth.

It could be something educational, or something totally unforeseen, or something emotional. Sometimes, it's even something physical.

This year, it seemed to be a little of all of the above.

If you recall, I recently blogged that there was a possibility that I could come into possession of some Civil War artifacts belonging to a possible distant relative of mine, Albert Clewell (see here and here).

I say "possible" because I cannot draw a direct link to Albert's lineage. However, I do have two great uncles on my mother's side — William Clewell and his brother, Sylvester — who did fight for the 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteers of the 11th Corps. They, like Albert, enlisted out of Northampton County. They, like Albert, were born in Nazareth, PA, which gives me reasonable assurance that Albert is somehow related to William and Sylvester, and thus, to me.

In my blogs I wrote about a pawn broker in northeastern Pennsylvania, Paul Mastronardi, who had come into possession of some of Albert's things, including a Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) kepi, a GAR ribbon, his discharge papers, and a couple of Clewell family reunion buttons from 1904 and 1907.

Mastronardi felt compelled to to find a living relative of Albert. Apparently, that's me.

So on a sunny Sunday afternoon, while I was attending this year's Civil War Institute, we met in the parking lot of a Gettysburg restaurant. Paul, his wife, Joann, and their 15-year-old son, Paul Jr., without fanfare but with plenty of anticipation, presented me with Albert's memorabilia.

Paul Mastronardi (left) and his son, Paul Jr., with Albert Clewell's artifacts.

To be truthful, not many of Albert's artifacts are of the Civil War, nor would they hold much value to anyone outside of the Clewell family. The GAR kepi is postwar and probably worn by Albert in parades or other GAR functions; an inscribed medal we originally thought celebrated Albert's 50 years in the GAR turned out to be an International Order of Odd Fellows presentation — Albert had joined the Odd Fellows, a charitable organization, in 1868 and he was recognized for his 50 years of service in 1918; his GAR ribbon announced that Albert had been on an excursion to Gettysburg in 1888 to revisit the battlefield for the 25th anniversary of the fight.

I am eternally grateful to the Mastronardi's for presenting me with these items. I learned a little bit more about the Clewell's, and it was clearly an emotional moment — something I didn't expect — for me to hold these artifacts in my hands.

And my plan for these items still stands. After showing them to my buddies in the Davidson County Civil War Round Table, I'll offer them to the Davidson County Historical Museum on loan for display for about a year or so. Then I'll donate them to the Northampton County (PA) Historical Society for perpetual care.

It's the least I can do for Albert.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Oh, what a week

Sometimes it's probably best just to stay in bed.

Less than two weeks after we bought ourselves a brand new MacBook Pro laptop, we fried it. A beverage containing fruity acids and sugars was accidentally knocked onto the machine, and the computer that once reached nearly lightning speed in almost all of its functions began traveling at the speed of terminal impatience.

Then, as the screen flickered and pouted in anguish, it stopped traveling altogether.

We opted not to get the extended warranty at the time of purchase because we don't have children and, well, we're adults here and we know how to take care of our things.

I tried other options to replace the computer. I called AppleCare and they said if there's spillage involved, forget it. I called my credit card to see if they have a program in place to repair major purchases, but they don't. And my homeowner's policy has a $1,000 deductible, which is about the price of a new MacBook Pro anyway.

I took the damaged instrument to a local repair shop in town where the owner, Conrad Mcknight, did his absolute best to clean things up. But it was to no avail. When he turned it on —"The moment of truth," he said when I arrived just in time for the big event — it powered up and then promptly froze.

Conrad told us he could get a refurbished motherboard for $500, or one straight from the Apple factory for $800. We elected to bite the bullet and just get a new computer — along with a two-year warranty that was good for spillage, droppage and most other mistakage.


From here on out we might drink our wine out of sippy cups.

Anyway, while all of this was going on, our proposed historic district commode backed up. This has been an occasional recurring problem for us and during one of our plumber's visits, it was indicated to us that we might eventually need a new sewer line to the city system.

Now, it appeared, was the time. Pipes all over the house were gurgling every time we flushed the john. It was nerve wracking, wondering if the commode was going to overflow. So, for a couple of days, we simply went to The Dispatch (where I once worked for 30 years and still have a key) and went, if you know what I mean.

There is a 72-hour period when there is no digging allowed in order for the city to tag the other lines that run to the property. It's probably a good idea to know where the gas, water and communication lines go before bringing in backhoes and such. So the city came out and started spray painting colorful dashes all around our house.  There's blue for the water line, yellow for the gas line and, out in the street in front of us, orange for the communication line. It looks like we're getting ready to be cut up by a pair of giant scissors.

The sewer line (which, curiously, was not marked but was snaked) runs uncomfortably close to the gas line. When they do start digging, I might try to make sure I'm away that day. Maybe I'll be at my insurance company to review my homeowner's policy.

I'm taking my laptop with me.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Lexington Historic District, Part II

The second public hearing in regards to a proposed Local Historic District (LHD) for Lexington was held Thursday and there seemed to be something of a positive paradigm shift in the momentum favoring an LHD. At least, for now.

For one thing, members of the Historic Preservation Commission — Steve Hodges, Emma Apple, Catherine Hoffmann, Mickey Sharpe and Melinda Smith — all gave brief summaries of why they'd like to see an LHD approved. It was good to hear their voices and feel their passion for the project.

Secondly, the commission forthrightly addressed several questions raised by a number of concerned residents in May's initial public meeting. The net result of those concerns appears to be that the proposed guidelines are under constant review and revision. For example, energy efficient replacement windows may be acceptable if they conform to the historic nature of the building; vinyl paint may be acceptable, etc, etc.

This by itself seemed to allay some fears exhibited by several members of the community that their options were limited by "another layer of government." Options now appear to be broader than one might think. The guidelines are under constant revision thanks to community feedback. Maybe it turns out the government is really of, by, and for the people after all.

Thirdly, two residents of Thomasville were on hand to discuss how that city has moved forward with its historic district (actually, Thomasville has three historic districts). It was interesting to learn that Thomasville's first historic district received its initial impetus from a petition of 22 residents who wanted a district in place. By contrast, there is a petition in Lexington to reject an LHD. Thomasville's second district, of more than 150 properties, received 75 percent approval from its district residents.

LHDs must be doing just fine. There are 91 of them in North Carolina.

If there was a disappointing aspect to Thursday's meeting, it was that only 14 residents were on hand. Maybe the smaller turnout was one reason why the meeting seemed less confrontational than in May, but I don't think so. The commission disseminated a lot of material the other night, hopefully correcting some of the misinformation that seems to be floating around out there. More residents should attend these meetings for their educational value, if nothing else. We learned, for example, that more than 60 percent of the proposed district is rental property, some of which is maintained by absentee landlords who don't even live in Davidson County, much less Lexington. I didn't know that. And that knowledge could have an impact on how an LHD is implemented, if approved.

That's the whole point of these public hearings. As Hodges, the commission chairman, noted, if the LHD fails, he can live with it as long as the decision to reject it is based on correct information, and not misinformation. Amen to that.

But the correct information, as I see it, is compelling for an LHD: stable property values, protection from commercial development, an appealing and enhanced quality of life for its residents.

An LHD would be one of the rare times when I would want local government to step in. Instead of an added layer of bureaucracy, it seems more like an added layer of protection.

And amen to that, too.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The life of a dinosaur

I often describe myself as a technological dinosaur mostly because I have not entered into the furious and pricey rush to upgrade and refresh, every six months or so, the few technological items that I do own.

This is actually a source of pride for me. Call me Wehrlesaurus T-wrecks. Muwaaahhhhh. (The "T" stands for technology; the "wrecks" speaks for itself; the "muwaaahhhh" is the T-wrecks mating call).

I do not have an iPad; I do not iPhone. Basically, I do not eCare. I have no Blackberries, Blueberries or Cranberries. More basically, perhaps, is simply that iDecline. Thank you.

But this e-Attitude finally caught up with me this past week.

My printer, after five years of apparently prolonged and faithful service beyond the call of duty, stopped printing. Small pools of ink started jetting themselves on the bottom of the printer instead of where they belonged in nice little microdots vectored and lasered onto the paper.

It was time to upgrade. Friends advised me not to repair the printer, it's cheaper to just go buy a new one.

So my wife and I ran to Walmart and promptly bought a nice HP something or other that has wireless connection, and can scan, copy and print. It was also lightweight and compact; at least, compared to what I had, which was a bigger HP something or other. I was excited.

I called a friend who is Mac-proficient and he said he would help install the printer for me. He came over, and within minutes discovered that the new printer is compatible only with my MacBook's 10.7 operating system. Unfortunately for me, my MacBook is still thriving on its nearly six-year-old 10.4 OS X. But it's outdated. It has not been upgraded over the years and apparently can't communicate with the newer generation of anything.

I'm in complete denial. 10.7? When did that happen? T-wrecks strikes again.

My friend, Chad, said he would try to find an old 10.6 disc somewhere in the hopes of upgrading my trusty laptop, which I use primarily for writing stuff anyway. Even a 10.6 upgrade should get the computer talking to the printer, but we'll see.

If that fails, it looks like we might have to get a brand new laptop. "You should think about getting a new computer anyhow," Chad said. "Five years is a long time." This bugs me because if I spend $1000 on something, and it still works fine, then I'm going to use it until the day it dies. And if upgrades come every six months or so, which is what my colleagues in IT tell me, then my factory-new $1000 computer is nearly obsolete before I can get it home. Sheesh.

For now, we'll play it by ear. After all, I've already purchased the printer.