Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Independence Week

On Monday, we packed the boys into the car and did the long drive to Pennsylvania to deliver them to their grandparents for the month of July.  I had to sing to myself, because the radio isn't working because of some anti-theft device that was triggered when we got the car repaired.  Apparently the codes to restart a radio on a 1996 Honda Accord are beyond the capabilities of most digital archaeologists.  But we eventually cobbled together a system with Nico's old iPod.

When we arrived at my parents, stiff from the five and a half hour ride, Dad had made us spaghetti.  The sauce is a far cry from the de-jarred red sauces of our childhoods - full of elaborate flavors and chunks of vegetables.  He manages the kitchen despite being wheelchair-bound from a car accident over a year ago.  Finally, this spring, that injury cost him his leg below the knee, but he's taking the loss more or less philosophically and looking forward to a proper prosthetic.  My sister Chris was there up from Baltimore, where she's been settling into a new occupational therapy job after spending much of the past year tooling around the country camping, going to ashrams, and being voluntarily unemployed.  And my cousin Fred was there as well -- staying at the house for a few months until the Sesame Street Live tour picks up again in September and he goes back to his life as a dancer.  We ate out on the back deck under the oak trees that aren't dropping acorns on us this time of year.

My parents live in a low, long, log cabin - the fireplace end of it built out of large fieldstones.  Years ago, soon after they'd bought the 6-acre property they'd put in a two-car garage with an office and an upstairs apartment.  (They call it GASP, which is an acronym for something I can't remember, but is also the sound they made when they finally realized what it was costing them to build.)  But it is where the bodies go when the extended family descends.

photo: Chris Sholly, Lebanon Daily News
On Tuesday morning, Mom, who's active in the county Democratic Party, was going out to support her candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania - a local county commissioner making an (apparently quixotic) run for statewide office.  I tagged along both to spend some time with my mother, but also because she wants to contribute to the campaign by hiring me to do some consulting - and I'm looking to get involved in more direct advocacy.  So I met the candidate and we were both pressed into service as props behind her as she made her announcement upon the steps of the state capital building.  Anyone watching the evening news in Central Pennsylvania that evening saw me standing attentively at her shoulder as she gave her speech to the cameras.

In the evening we all went to see The Lone Ranger at the Allen Theater - a local movie house  in the old style.  The coffee shop half of it bustles and will sell you decent popcorn and soda or expresso.  A vigorous young organist tickles away at the little Wurlitzer like a living calliope while people find their seats.  The owner makes few welcoming announcements, the red velvet curtain opens and the movie shows.  The film itself, by the way, is a chaotic mess with enough going on to mystify and entertain and annoy everyone.  But we were in the mood to be entertained. (excellent review here)

On Wednesday, the others went off to Kutztown, where my sister Cathleen lives, to go to the fair.  I stayed home with Dad to do repair some footpaths.  There's a path down the hillside to a little creek, and a wooden footbridge that crosses it to the boundary of the State Game Lands.  From there  we can walk along the stream and up out of the ravine where the old Lebanon-Cornwall railroad bed has been converted to a rails to trails pathway.  But our own path was overgrown, so I took loppers and an ax to trim the encroaching spice bushes and hickory saplings and to remove a few logs that had fallen across the way.  As the footbridge replaces one that washed away a couple of years ago, it isn't in exactly the same spot, which means someone has to pull up ten feet of ancient, half-buried, rotted steel fencing that was now in the way.  And since my  Dad is one-legged for now, that meant me.  It was pleasant, sweaty, dirty work.

photo: Fred Mursch
I washed up and drove to Lancaster to see old friends to drink imported German beer and have elaborate Mexican-style salsas - which had been my excuse for not going to the Folk Festival all along.

Thursday was the Fourth of July, and with the arrival of the Kutztown contingent we made up an even dozen.  It was a classic, hot, summer day spent mostly in and around the pool.  The water was beautifully cold from the hose that was running into it to make up for a slow leak caused by an ill-advised pole-vaulting effort from a few year's back - (the repair now needs a repair).

My father has become an activist for planting native meadows, and the property around the pool is a-blossom with flowers --  milkweeds, bee balm, queen of the prairie, ox-eye sunflowers, pasture thistle, joe pye weed and more.  Swallowtails and fritillaries flit, and the bluebirds were fussing around their nest-box, complaining loudly.  A small black racer sitting comfortably in the box - head and tail-tip sticking out.  We thought the birds might have laid their eggs already, (the first brood have already fledged), but when the snake slipped back out among the flower stalks it showed no tell-tale bulges.

My home-town was holding its 196th consecutive Independence Day celebration in Lititz Springs Park (though it's true that the 1863 version - with the cannons of nearby Gettysburg almost audible - was a muted affair).  A powerful spring wells up in a round pool and rushes out a stone lined channel to a fountain at the other end of the park.  On the Fourth the stream is roofed by wooden frameworks and trestles, covered with thousands of white candles.  After a senior from the high school is ceremoniously crowned the "Queen of Candles" she lights a torch that passes to boy scouts and other kids who scamper around lighting wicks.  I watched them wade into the frigid pool to ignite floating platforms in the shape of swans.

Photo: Fred Mursch
Later this old-school pyrotechnics gives way to the modern - one of the best fireworks displays you'll find in the US.  Synchronized to music, the show blasts away over the thousands of people crowded onto their blankets on the ball field below.  Leo - nearly three years old now - sat in my lap awed by the display.  But awe for three-year olds is fleeting and soon he was jumping up and down on Fred and head-butting Nico.  And Bridget, who's nearly 5 fell asleep through the deafening grand finale, and had to be gathered up and carried for the long, shuffling departure.

On Friday, Monica, Cathie, Eric and I went to a riverside festival in Harrisburg to see an old friend of mine playing in his band.  He and I used to be best friends and play chess in Kindergarten but by high school he was reading chess books and I couldn't manage more than a win out of three.  He's in a band with another old friend, Trixie, who's a music teacher, and they play their excellent and eclectic music once in a while, where people gather who expect more from a band.  The crowd in the breezy park was small, but it grew as the hour-long set went along.  After the show, the musicians had to leave, since music doesn't pay the bills and the van-owner had to go to work.  So the four of us went to a late lunch - or would have if we hadn't come first to the brewpub with 120 varieties of craft beer.  Much later they went in search of a Peruvian restaurant, while I went off famished to get reacquainted with a friend who'd disappeared off to Indiana thirty years ago.  And I ate stromboli and we talked long of kids and careers, divorces, migrations and the changing of plans.

Saturday morning I helped Dad load up a dump truck that he'd finagled a roofer-friend into leaving for the weekend.  A decade's worth of junk accumulation - at least all of it that couldn't be recycled - went up into it for the trip to the dump.  But by 11:30 I'd discarded my filthy clothes, swum, showered, and cooled down for our long drive back to Rhode Island.

It was a deeply satisfying visit - a week leavened and enlivened by the important things in life.