Saturday, March 28, 2015


Over the last few days, the Box has tooled around Harrisburg and vicinity, hauling its aging owner to places old and new.

On Sunday, March 3, I went down to the National Historic Landmark John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion to attend the Second Sunday program in the mansion's Victorian parlor. Jim Taljan and others from the Fackler Funeral Home in Harrisburg spoke about the history of the business, started in 1865. There were some interesting photos projected, and some artifacts reflecting funeral practices were displayed. This was in some ways a "preparatory" lesson for the upcoming program on Abraham Lincoln's funeral train passing through Harrisburg in 1865.

A few days later, I drove to Camp Hill to meet with a realtor about a property the historical society is offering for sale. I always like to cross over the Susquehanna on I-81 and then turn south on US 11-15 toward Enola, West Fairview, and Wormleysburg. I stopped at my favorite boat landing in West Fairview to take a few pictures of the melting ice flowing down the river toward the Chesapeake Bay. Fortunately, all of the ice melted without causing flooding in our area.


After meeting with the realtor, I went back to I-81 through the city, crossing the river on the Harvey Taylor Bridge, continuing on Forster Street to Seventh Street, rather recently widened to create a nice alternative to Cameron Street's heavy traffic.

All along Seventh Street were empty lots where houses and other buildings had been bulldozed, either because they were in the way of the widening or were dilapidated beyond repair. Occasionally one house in a row was spared, probably because a long-time owner had kept the home in repair, unlike the absentee landlords who were their neighbors. While the houses show evidence of alterations, like windows, siding, or painted brick, they are still reminiscent of what this whole neighborhood once looked like. These houses created an odd sight, too tall and skinny to ever have been designed to stand alone.

After stopping to photograph the houses, I decided to turn up to Sixth Street, past my childhood home, and stopping for a light at Division Street. Ahead and to my right was this house, one of my favorites since childhood, even before I had developed an appreciation for architecture. All I know is that the house looked friendly and welcoming -- and still does.

I used to visit this house as a child when two doctors had their office there -- in the smaller section of the house on the right. I got a lot of vaccinations there!

After all this fun, I drove directly up Sixth Street, turning left somewhere to get over to Front Street, onto the Interstate, and home. Another wonderful day in the Box.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


The Wrightsville-Columbia concrete bridge crosses the foggy Susquehanna.

In March the cold weather began to let up, and ice on the Susquehanna River began to melt, creating fog up and down the valley. We had been invited to meet our son Matt, his wife Marylee, and "the boy," our grandson Ian, at the Turkey Hill Experience, a sort of Chocolate World of the central Pennsylvania ice cream and convenience store business. It's located in Columbia, Lancaster County, about 40 miles south of Harrisburg.

We were excited to spend the day with Ian as he turned seven years old on March 4. It seems like just yesterday that we rushed down to Towson, Md., to see him in the NICU. He's grown up to be a handsome, smart, and active youngster. He's in his first year at St. Joseph School.

We arrived just barely ahead of the Marylanders, and the fun began. Ian is very accustomed to using technology, and many of the exhibits in the ice cream funland included interactive devices. Let's take a look:
Checking out a painted cow, the source of ice cream.

An old dairy truck gleams under the lights.
Oh, look -- there is the driver with his milk bottles.
Exhibits place the dairy business in the context of county heritage.
Farmer Robinson checks on the cattle.
It's milking time, an udderly wonderful experience.
Let's make our own ice cream.
Let's design the packaging.
Ian chooses images for his ice cream carton.
Ian and Marylee create a TV ad for Ian's famous ice cream.
The results are emailed to Ian at home.
Butter Pecan seems to have at least three big nuts in it!
Ian really wants to be a Steeler!
We watched a video in the theatre-in-a-carton (right).
At Red Robin for lunch, Ian liked the Legos set Susanne had chosen.
He also liked the Star Wars blanket that Susanne made just for him.
Finally, a birthday card, just in time for the lunch to arrive.
After we parted company, we headed north on Route 441 toward Middletown and Harrisburg, passing a foggy Three Mile Island, the nuclear reactor where we had taken Matt and some friends on his birthday in 1979. In those days, there was an observation deck and exhibit area opposite the island along Route 441. Ten days after the visit, the plant experienced the worst accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history. I always claimed Matt "broke" the place. If I find anything odd in my Turkey Hill ice cream, I will say the same thing about Ian.

Monday, March 16, 2015


On a frigid weekend in February, we motored out to New Brighton, Beaver County, Pa., about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, to visit with the Darnley clan.

Cole was set to participate in MathCounts, a fun math competition sponsored by schools around the country. Cole is only in sixth grade at a middle school, so some of the higher math still lies ahead for him. Still, he was anxious to spend time with his friends on the campus of PSU Beaver, have lunch there, and be on stage with his team. Susanne and Sarah accompanied him and enjoyed the time with him and his friends.

Meanwhile, that left me and Chloe to our own devices. Chloe spent some time making rubber band "jewelry" on some sort of loom (she watches videos on You Tube and follows instructions on how to make various pieces). She made me a nice bracelet to wear and something for Susanne, too.

Around noon she announced that it "certainly would be nice" to go down the street to the Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe to enjoy some lunch. Of course, I had to be talked into it (not), and we took off flying down the hill to Third Avenue. We could have walked, of course, but we'd (well, I'd) never make it back up that accursèd hill.

At the hot dog shop, Chloe forced me to let her have a regular-size milk shake as opposed to a kid size, as well as some cheese fries (perhaps with chili -- I can't recall). I had the requisite burger and fries, all the while hoping that I did not get wedged into the narrow booth (the only drawback to the place) and have to be rescued by the fire department.

As we were dining, a snow squall was raging outside. It was still coming down when we had finished and were ready to leave. We high-tailed it out of there to make sure we could get back up the hill.

Little did I know that Chloe had something else on her mind. She thought it would be a good idea to stop at the Merrick Art Gallery in the next block. It was founded by the celebrated New Brighton industrialist, Edward Dempster Merrick (1832-1911) and has a stunning collection of French, German, English, and American paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries. Chloe has been there with her school, has taken summer classes there, and one year she had her birthday party there.

It seems she just likes to look at beautiful pictures. And it's free! So we entered, signed in, and set off in search of some beauty. Many of the pictures were stacked on the walls in threes, one above the other, so we looked at every one and voted on the best one of the three. We agreed much of the time!

There is also a historical display featuring American composer Stephen Foster's piano. Elsewhere there were items from New Brighton's past, like pottery from the ES&B Company, which is highly prized these days.
Chloe poses with the Stephen Foster piano.
A pretty girl smiles out of the picture at us.

By now it was time to get on up that hill, so we walked through the snow to the car. Turning the corner to start the ascent, we happened upon the Rosalind Candy Shop. "Oh, Papi, they have the best chocolate-covered strawberries there," she said, with the twist of her head and a Cheshire cat smile. One more stop, then! Of course you could not buy one strawberry, just six, to the tune of $9.95.

But, hey, what's your grandfather for if not to spoil you? Besides, it gave us a chance to take something home for everyone -- it being Valentine's Day and all. Come to think of it, though, I never saw those strawberries again...
Chloe experiences the ecstasy of a candy store smell, er, perfume!
Finally, we arrived back at home, none the worse for wear, answered everyone's question about "where have you been?" and settled down for dinner and dessert.
Sarah made this delightful Valentine's Day trifle.
The next day we headed back to the old Harrisburg homestead with temperatures still down in single digits. The temps had been that way all weekend, going below 0 at night. I spent most of my time under an electric lap blanket, and poor Lily the Dog wore her sweater and sat on the hot air vent! Sarah even jacked up the heat to 65 degrees, I think.
Miss Lily keeping warm.
On Monday, we set out for home in single digit weather. I wonder how people stood traveling in cars before they were closed in or had heaters. Thank heaven the combustion engine creates heat!

Passing through Beaver Falls pretty much requires a stop at Oram's Donut Shop for cinnamon buns and cream-filled donuts.  It's just across the river from New Brighton and on the way to the turnpike.
The goodies are so fresh, they don't even make it into the display cabinets. We buy the two "classic" items. (We first learned of Oram's when my sister Rachel and I once stayed at a Beaver Falls bed and breakfast, and the owners described cinnamon rolls "the size of your head.")

Willpower alone kept the goodies in the bad.

With the baked goods safe in the car, we moved along, returning to find the thermostat in our house had burped and allowed the temp to fall to 40 degrees, possibly lower. The clear dishwashing detergent on the sink had become a grey gel, and as it turns out, a soldered joint in one of the shower faucets broke and allowed water to drip on the ceiling of the dining room when things began to thaw.
Frozen dishwashing detergent.
Set for 72 but registering 40 degrees.
If this looked like something religious, we could sell tickets to see it.