Tuesday, May 11, 2010


When your grand-daughter turns five, you just have to be there to help her celebrate. Susanne had a commitment over the weekend and opted to come out later, but I saddle up the Box and mosied on out to New Brighton on Friday, April 30, in anticipation of a grand party the next day. The trip was uneventful, and I soon found myself winding my way from the turnpike down through Beaver Falls to New Brighton, arriving around 5:30 p.m.

Many of the river towns in western Pennsylvania have fallen on hard times. Beaver Falls has a number of vacant storefronts, and, unfortunately, some fine old buildings on the main street have been replaced by chain stores and fast food restaurants. Some of the neighborhoods are less than attractive, shall we say?

Geneva College is located there, but up on a hill where a neighborhood has grown up around it. "College Hill" seems barely to be part of Beaver Falls. There is a grand Carnegie Library there, but it needs work. We sometimes visit a large antiques shop at Beaver Falls, and, of course, I stop too often at Oram's, the legendary donut shop. (In my own defense, I had but on this trip, leaving the rest for Sarah and the kids.)

New Brighton has a neighborly feeling about it. The tree-lined streets are, for the most part, pleasant. There is a lot of older housing there, a mix of mansions on the main street and small frame houses on the side streets. Sarah and the kids live in a rather attractive traditional style house perched on a little hill at the top of a big hill that starts at the edge of the Beaver River. Believe me, you may enjoy walking down the hill, but walking back up is murder!

On Saturday morning, last minute preparations for the party were done. The kids had a bite to eat and I drove down the hill to the Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe, famous in the area for its chili cheese dogs. Sarah had a hankering for one, but I thought the burgers on the grill looked tasty. I really don't like taking fast food home to eat -- it's best eaten on the spot. So I sat down and ate that burger -- no fries! -- while watching and listening to the New Brightonians coming in and out.

The shop is located on Third Avenue, the main street, where rather recently the sidewalks have been replaced and trees added. It looks a whole lot better than it used to. When those trees mature, it will be a beautiful broad avenue through the major retail area.

Well, soon it was back up the hill with Sarah's chili dog. Almost immediately, her friend arrived with her three kids. It was only 1:00 p.m., and the party was to start at 2:00 p.m. Hmmm, what to do? Snacks were served as the kids kept busy playing (two of the kids were Eddie, Cole's best friend from school, and his brother Andy). No cousins in sight this year!

Cathy and Ab Darnley, the birthday girl's other grandparents, arrived and had some snacks. The kids gathered around Chloe on the living room sofa for the annual orgy of gift opening. Chloe is way into clothing these days, so some very cool togs came out of bags and boxes. I think there was jewelry, too, and a little bikini with peace symbols on it. Let's hope that former hippie Sarah doesn't try to squeeze into it this summer! There was also an angel from Aunt Rachel for Chloe's collection.

Soon it was time to bring out the cake and sing the song! Everyone gathered around the table, and out came a Hannah Montana cake with a big number 5 candle on it. The candle was lighted, the song was sung, and the "happy birthdays" were shouted. We all enjoyed the cake. Thanks, Hannah!

Sarah distributed the "favors," some neat little gifts for the kids, including lightweight airplanes, magnifying glasses, baseball bats, and purses for the girls. When I was a kid, you got a lollipop!

Soon everyone had gone, and the place settled down. Baths were given and pajamas donned. Bedtime. Silence.

On Sunday morning, we all went to Grace Lutheran Church in Rochester, not far at all from New Brighton. The kids were well-behaved and went forward for the children's sermon. It is amazing what children soak up in church. A week or so before, Chloe sang over the phone to me the recurring antiphon for the canticle "Worthy is Christ," which is "This is the feast of victory for our God, alleluia!" She sings it with almost as much gusto as "The Sun'll Come Out Tomorrow" from "Annie." (You gotta hear her sing this!)

After the children's sermon, the kids all went downstairs to hear some stories and make some crafts.

We gathered them up after church, and Sarah drove us to a buffet at Chippewa, armed with "kids eat free" coupons. Sarah, Chloe, and I took advantage of the vast array of food, while Cole, claiming he had "probably" eaten too many goldfish crackers back the church, nibbled on some cheese and pineapple. We all had some dessert, too, with the birthday girl liberally sprinkling her ice cream with M and Ms and other dentist's nightmares.

The day ended quietly back in New Brighton.

On Monday, Sarah went off to work while I delivered Cole to school and took Chloe to preschool for the morning. The Box and I then made a beeline to Oram's Donut Shop in Beaver Falls, where I bought a couple of donuts. I ate one -- honest, only one -- and then stopped at the KIA dealer to look at the KIA Soul, a Box-like car, all shiny and new. Around noon, I picked up Chloe and the Box headed across the Beaver River to the town of Beaver.

Unlike many of the other river towns, Beaver is more prosperous looking. It is the country seat, so there is a large modern court house located there. The main street is in excellent shape, and there are many small shops and eateries. I like the CafĂ© Kolache, where they serve an eastern European baked goody and delicious coffee.  Susanne says that Chloe loves to look in the store windows and see all of the sparkly things in the jewelry stores in Beaver.

She also likes a good cheeseburger from McDonald's, so we drove through town to the far end for lunch. Afterwards, Chloe wanted to go into the cemetery next door and look at the statues on the graves. She wasn't spooked at all and asked about whose names were on the stones. She even climbed up an unusual mounded grave for a picture. At the mausoleum made to look like Christ's tomb, with a huge stone rolled against the opening, I explained the idea behind it, and Chloe asked if Jesus was still in there!

Later in the day we picked up Cole from the Y, where he goes after school, and waited for Sarah to come home. I didn't feel very well and went to bed early.

I was still sleepy in the morning, so Sarah took the kids to their schools, and at 11:30 a.m. Mr. Box and I went to the Pittsburgh International Airport to pick up Susanne. She took over, and I went back to sleep. She picked up the kids and took care of them overnight as Sarah was stuck in Pittsburgh for a business meeting.

On Wednesday, Susanne took the kids to school again while I drowsed, and then we headed home. I was feeling better and was able to drive for a while, but Susanne did most of the driving, and we arrived home just in time for the evening rush hour.

 Guess who!
 A little bowling before the guests arrive at the party
BFF Eddie
A hug for Cole from Grandma Darnley
The old folks wear the same uniform.
 (l to r: John, Betty, Cathy, Ab)
Chloe and Sarah enjoy a quiet moment.
Uh-oh, trouble ahead!
A game of Connect Four after dinner
The kids go up for the children's sermon.
Cole plays his game while ignoring the
food at the buffet. Oh well, more for me!
The server comes around with "sticky buns." 
What I want to know is, where is the sticky?!
Phoebe greets us when we arrive home.
A little too much cake? Nah, Chloe is
looking through the magnifying glass.
A lovely older home along the river in Beaver.
Chloe's friend Barbie plays on the porch.
In the last picture of the trip, Chloe is admiring her 
Mom in her wedding gown.

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