Monday, December 23, 2013


This past week, Susanne and I drove into town -- Linglestown, that is -- to meet our friends Mike and Judy at the St. Thomas Roasters, a popular coffee shop on the square. Mike and I went to high school together back in the twentieth century, and his family sort of "adopted" me. They are of Hungarian descent, and I was always interested in their language and customs. Mike's grandmother lived with them, and she spoke mostly Hungarian, and I learned a few words of greeting. (I also learned some words I should not have.)

Mrs. S.
Mike and I hung out a lot in the old days, and after he went out to attend Ohio University, I kept on visiting his family in Harrisburg, including his brother Bob, who was too cool for school.

When their dad was transferred to San Antonio, Texas -- he was a civilian working for the military -- I went out there to visit them. Mike was in the Navy then and was home on leave.

We went to see the Alamo and, of course, the famous River Walk, where we "joined" a private club in order to have a martini, since only private clubs were allowed to sell liquor. If you have not been to San Antonio, it's worth considering. It's pretty darned hot there in the summer, but you can just drive from air-conditioned place to air-conditioned place. It's only the time spent walking from the car to your destination that is a drag.

It was a great trip. It cost me two weeks' pay to fly ($156 -- I was a poor starving teacher then) and just to make sure I remembered the trip, I was stopped, while driving Mike's dad's car, in Cotulla,Texas, then known as the watermelon capital of the world.

Cotulla, as everyone knows, is a small town of about 3,700 people. The founder and CEO of has a 25,000-acre ranch in Cotulla. Lyndon Johnson taught school there as a young man. O. Henry, the short story writer, lived there in the 1880s to benefit from its dry climate. If you want to move there, you can get a house for about $29,000. But watch out for cops behind the billboards.

I got off light, I guess, with a trip back to the police station and a $35 fine. Mike laughed the whole way back to San Antonio. I should have dumped him then.

Mike's dad died some years back, but his mother, Esther, died only recently. She was a doozy, that woman. She had big hair, a personality to match, and was quite beloved of her family and community. She and Mike Sr. had operated a bar and grill in Dayton, and when they moved here, she waited tables in several high-class restaurants and was a favorite of the customers. While I did not see her often often after they all became Texans, I thought of her and her family regularly.

So in the coffee shop we found a table and ordered our morning libations. We spent about two hours there, jawing on all sorts of subjects, from the Kennedy assassination to the codification of spelling of Hungarian names and whether or not Mike could be related to one the most famous eastern Europeans of all, Vlad the Impaler.

Finally, when the clientele had turned over three or four times, we decided to call it a day. On the porch we took some photos to remember the occasion.

Mike and Judy live just up the hill from town -- they came back to Harrisburg years ago and Mike worked for the military, like his dad, and Judy was a magazine and book editor) -- but we (shamefully) do not see each other often. Perhaps we will make a more regular habit of it, even branching out to lunch or dinner. Or maybe home visits!

 Mike, Susanne, and Judy

 John, Susanne, and Mike

 Susanne admires their sporty BMW. I doubt that 
I will be riding in there soon. Maybe I can get in
if they put the top down.

 After breakfast, we did a little shopping and
came across this enormous vehicle, apparently
unable to fit completely into one space.

December 22 was the Fourth Sunday of Advent at Market Square Presbyterian Church, and I arrived at church early for two reasons. One was to hand in a hat and scarf that Susanne purchased for one of the ladies who attends our Sunday morning community breakfasts. Many of the men and women who come to eat live on the streets or in homeless shelters. At the very least, they should be able to keep warm in the winter, so our deacons collected a ton of hats and scarves. Wouldn't you know -- the temperature that morning was 60 degrees! There will be plenty of cold weather soon, sorry to say.

The second reason was to prepare for a PowerPoint presentation I had created to accompany a talk on the historic church's archives, given by the archives committee chair for an adult Sunday School class. It was fun creating the presentation, and those in attendance seemed to appreciate it. Without going overboard, I used some of the new "transitions" gadgets available in PowerPoint. For example, a slide can fade out and back in to the next slide; a slide can "drop" backwards as if a piece of poster board is falling to reveal the next slide; and the real-crowd pleaser is when a slide turns into a curtain -- like in a movie theatre -- and opens, swaying all the way -- to reveal the next slide. There were calls to "do that again!" so we all enjoyed a good laugh. By the time I took this picture, the presentation was finished, and I was rushing off to choir.

This evergreen, decorated simply with white lights, greeted visitors and members in the church atrium. Some people wondered where the decorations were, but I really appreciated the tree as is -- natural and glittering against the fabulous 19th-century John A. Weir memorial stained glass window.

On the way home, Mr. Box and I stopped at the ShurFine store on Rts. 11/15 in Enola, opposite the world-famous Enola Rail Yards. I had to buy ingredients for a low-sugar dessert I am taking to my sister Rachel's house for dinner tomorrow. I had the pleasure of buying sugar-free and fat-free puddings and Cool Whip, and graham crackers. I had to make it today so that it can sit overnight and soften the graham crackers. I hope it is good. If not, I will be forced to bring it back home and eat it all myself.

As I was shopping, I was astounded at the number of chips and pretzel makers we have right here in central Pennsylvania. These brands are famous locally and offer many variations on their products. The makers seem to have mostly Pennsylvania German names, too, now that I look more closely. I am making myself hungry now but I'm fasting for a blood test in the morning, so no dice.

I'm hoping these pictures will be enjoyed by old friends who now live outside our area but remember these treats from earlier days.

When I was leaving, I noticed a twin Scion xB in the next row. I wonder if they knew each other in Japan. Do you think they might have blinked their lights in greeting while their owners were in the store?