Sunday, June 30, 2019

Home improvements

It wasn't that long ago when the twin Parkview Apartments buildings on West Third Avenue looked as if they were primed for the wrecking ball.

The historic structures – now almost 100 years old – were dilapidated. The place had become an eyesore. Glass in many of the windows was broken out; the little plots of grass out front always seemed snakey and in need of cutting; and occasional squatters seemed likely to be seeking shelter there. It all added up to a sense of frustration and insecurity for the neighborhood.

Parkview Apartment No. 1 is showing itself off.
 Almost a decade ago, Core Properties & Development out of Burlington showed interest in renovating the apartments. Then, after a series of fits and starts centering around the availability of tax credits, the project began in earnest a little more than a year ago. Help also arrived from BB&T, LMI Builders, West & Stem Architects and Twain Financial Partners out of St. Louis.

And now, Core Properties is finally renting apartments.

Between the two buildings, there are 30 units available. Correction: make that 20. As of today, six of the 12 apartments in Building No. 1 are rented; four single bedroom apartments in Building No. 2 are already spoken for, and the renovation is still to be completed.

There's a lot to be said for the updated buildings. One of the most attractive features about them is their proximity to the shops and restaurants in Uptown Lexington, just a couple of blocks away. The J. Smith Young YMCA is a block over, Lanier's Hardware is two blocks away, the Breeden Amphitheater is nearby, and four churches dot the immediate neighborhood. Talk about location, location, location.

Granite counter tops are appealing in one of the apartment kitchens.
Just as attractive, there are brand new appliances in each kitchen, including dishwashers, microwaves and stacked washers and dryers. Hardwood floors are everywhere and Building No. 2 features an original marble hallway. Wi-Fi and water are part of the rent, and there is a new parking lot behind the buildings. An extra storage area for each building is located in the basement of Building No. 2. New landscaping gives the place a visual appeal.

Rent? The single bedroom units are in the $600 to $700 range, while the two-bedroom apartments go for $900 to $1,000 per month.

There are two open houses a week, with one every Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the other on Sundays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. If you need help, Jerry Mayes is on site. Not only is he showing the units for Core Properties, he's the first tenant to sign on since the renovation began.

"So far, there's been a good flow of people coming in to look at the buildings," said Mayes. "Interestingly enough, a lot of people were former residents here and they just want to look around. It's kind of neat. I think they're impressed."

The only serious drawback I see is there are no elevators for the three-story buildings. I don't know if that's because the developers wanted to keep the historical integrity of the buildings intact (they are located in the Lexington Residential Historic District) or if there was just no way for some other reason to add elevators. But it might be a game-changer for some folks.

Nevertheless, I am excited about this. I live in the historic district and the renovated Parkview Apartments could become an anchor property for the neighborhood.

At any rate, a former eyesore is no more.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Geezer report: Go see 'Yesterday'

The premise is intriguing: when the entire planet suffers a bout of amnesia during a mysterious 12-second power outage, only struggling down-and-out singer/songwriter Jack Malik is rendered immune – because he happened to get hit by a bus and is rendered unconscious in those very same 12 seconds.

When he regains consciousness, he shortly finds out that he's the only person in the world who remembers The Beatles and their songs. And while he knows it's fraudulent, he turns that knowledge into a superstar-making career move. Every song he "writes" is spectacular, because nobody has ever heard of Lennon-McCartney before.

That's the storyline behind "Yesterday," an appealing little flick that features Himesh Patel in the role of Jack, which requires the obligatory suspension of belief as time-warping movies usually do. But we've done it before, even willingly, with flicks like the "Back to the Future" franchise, "Field of Dreams" or even "It's a Wonderful Life," to name a few favorites in a very large genre of mind-benders.

There are a couple of things going for this movie. One of them is Patel, primarily known for his work in the BBC television series "Eastenders". The surprise here is that Patel, in his first movie role, is a pretty darn good singer. He actually does his own singing and instrument playing in the movie, adding a touch of authenticity to the fantasy.

Another thing going for this movie is the soundtrack. How are you going to top The Beatles? I think I read the producers got the rights/permission to use 20 Beatle tunes (an expensive proposition), of which 17 are used. The songs appear mostly as snippets to move the story along, but for an old geezer like myself, who once wanted to hold your hand and years ago turned 64 on that long and winding road, Beatle snippets are more than enough.

It reminds us of what a joy the Beatles music was in real time, and still is in real life. As if we need to be reminded.

There seems to be a bunch of movies suddenly appearing on screen featuring iconic soundtracks: "Bohemian Rhapsody" gives us Queen; "Rocketman" gives us Elton John; and a new movie slated for release later this year, "Blinded By the Light," gives us Bruce Springsteen. It was only a matter of time before we were given The Beatles. Are the Rolling Stones far behind? It's a good time to be alive.

Ed Sheeran, a real-life top-selling recording artist who is chipmunk cute, plays himself in a nice turn here. He provides some of the comic relief, trying to convince Jack to retitle "Hey Jude" to "Hey Dude." Lily James is engaging as Jack's manager and unrequited love interest until it's almost too late, and Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon is brutally effective as a Los Angeles record producer, if not sometimes over the top.

I'm not going to give away any spoilers, but if you see the flick, make sure to stay for the last half-hour. There's a moment in there that's absolutely breathtaking for Beatles fans. And that's all I'm gonna say about that. Intrigued, aren't you? It's worth it.

 •   •   •

I went to see this movie at Tinseltown in Salisbury. Today is the opening day for the first-run movie, and Tinseltown offered a 10:30 a.m. showing, which is perfect for us geezers. No screaming kids. No pooh-poohing millennials. It virtually guarantees that you'll stay awake for the whole one hour, 56-minute running time, which is nice. And unless you've had a whole pot of coffee for breakfast, you'll likely stay out of the restroom, too, which means you won't miss anything.

I was one of 15 people in the theater. All of us, I think, were of the Silver Sneakers generation, which means we're the only ones who will probably "get" this movie.

I even asked the college-age ticket taker if only "old" people were seeing this flick.

"So far," he chuckled, looking me square in the eye.

Let it be.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

History in our backyard

An hour or so after attending the ribbon cutting on Friday for the newly-established Yadkin River Park, my friend Jay and myself were strolling along the newly-laid gravel trail at York Hill. Jay and I are Civil War buffs and, as a consequence, casual amateur historians.

The newly-graveled trail at Fort York.
 Along the trail, we eventually caught up with Chris Watford, a real historian with a couple of published works about local Civil War history and who has probably forgotten more stuff about Davidson County's contribution to the war than most of us will ever learn (and I mean that as a compliment to Chris).

In the overall realm of things, North Carolina's geographic Civil War history is relatively sparse. There's New Bern, and Kinston. There's Wilmington, Fort Fisher and Bentonville, of course. And late in the war, Stoneman's raiders came down through Blowing Rock on the way to Salisbury, too late to liberate the already freed Union prisoners there.

But not too late for some elements of the raiders to stub their toe on a minor clash at Fort Yadkin (as Fort York was sometimes called), resulting in a Confederate victory about the same time Robert E. Lee was surrendering at Appomattox.

Part of the stairway and deck at Wil-Cox Bridge, overlooking the Yadkin.
 I thought about this for a moment and then asked Chris if there are any other significant Civil War sites between Bentonville and York Hill.

Not really. Maybe a few encampments here and there, but nothing resulting in anything like significant artillery and rifle fire. North Carolina was more of a transportation, recruitment and supply depot than a battleground. If you want battlefields, go to Virginia or Tennessee or Mississippi.

Whoa. In a way, you could argue that the Civil War ends right here at York Hill, less than 10 minutes from our driveways.

But the history percolating there doesn't just include the Civil War. The ribbon cutting officially opens Yadkin River Park, which right now is centered around the Wil-Cox Bridge, an historic seven-arch span that dates back to 1924 – almost 100 years ago – and mirrors the Great Trading Path. George Washington's tour of the south in 1791 came through here. So did Nathaniel Greene while being chased by Lord Cornwallis on the way to Guilford Courthouse. You want history? Spanish explorer Juan Pardo may have taken a break here in the 16th century, possibly looking for barbecue. And Guatari Indians preceded Pardo.

The historic and picturesque Wil-Cox Bridge.
All in all, there's about 12,000 years of history floating through the Yadkin at this spot. I expect to see high school and college-level field trips coming here (well, at least they would in a perfect world) to supplement their studies.

The opening of the park (which is just the first phase of development for the area) is the culmination of a 15-year project to preserve and interpret the area. More is planned for the years ahead. The site of the old York Hill Restaurant may eventually become an outfitter for the river as well as a welcome center and museum for the startling well-preserved lunettes and entrenchments on the heights above.

It's all pretty exciting stuff even though it might take another 10 years to realize (that would make me 78 years old. It's a good thing the new gravel trails at York Hill are already wheelchair accessible. On the other hand, hurry up with those restrooms).

The progress being made here is well documented by other media, and there's a ton of people to thank, but I personally want to thank a couple of friends of mine who are working diligently in the background to make all of this possible. I like to socialize and joke around with Chris Watford, Guy Cornman and Lee Crook when we're at Civil War round tables and field trips together, but I am in complete and total awe of what they've accomplished in this current effort. And Chris Phelps, as director of the Tourism Recreation Investment Partnership, has been instrumental in generating funding and grants. All of them are members of the Yadkin River Park Planning Committee.

Salute, my friends. You guys are amazing.

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


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.


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.