Category Archives: Summer
“How can it be thirty years?” I said as I was cleaning out the basement.
Looking into the gray, Stocker Brothers dairy milk crate, its frame still sturdy even after decades of sitting in dark silence, is actually what made me pose the question.
I had just spent the better part of the morning organizing the crawl space of my two-story colonial, a home I’ve been making mortgage payments on for as long as I can remember. During my tenure at this location, the basement had become a breeding ground for large, cardboard boxes of clothes, holiday items and various knick knacks, as well as six large boxes of comic books I’d collected as a kid along with my feeble attempts at Bob Ross paintings. The latter two categories being things I can’t seem to let go of — even after all of this time.
The thing inside the milk crate behind the wall of canvases is where I found it. There, along with the curious smell of old books and dust was a folded, paper program; kind of like something you’d get handed to you from an usher at a Sunday church service or a Broadway show as you entered the theater. It had obtained a dull, off-white color over the years but its red lettered appearance was still clearly visible:
Easton Area High School’s 131st Commencement: June 11, 1987 6:00 o’clock.
It can’t be, can it? Thirty years already? I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was roaming the halls of high school? Dreaming about being the next Bon Jovi? Longing for Friday night visits to the mall so that I could get the new Def Leppard album, read the latest Gross Jokes book in Waldenbooks, drink gallons of Orange Julius and then try to impress the girls by beating the high score on Pac Man and Galaga?
I slowly ran my fingers through the pages of the slightly weathered program and saw all of the people who stood by me that day. “Did they know where they would wind up?” I thought. “Would they remember and realize it’s been thirty years?”
I remember that commencement. I remember wearing my class ring on my right ring finger and sitting in my cap and gown on an uncomfortable metal chair waiting for my name to be called, peeved once again at the alphabetical order of things and the fact that my last name started with a “W”. I still remember congratulating and hugging every classmate I met, whether I knew them on a “friend” basis or not. I can still feel the leafy stem of the flower against my bare hand after I accepted my diploma, and the sense of urgency I had for the final notes of the Alma Mater to ring so that I could toss my tasseled, red cap high into the air. It was the end game. The “so long”. The final, “see-ya-later” salute to thirteen years of education.
Who am I kidding? When I look back now it didn’t really seem like goodbye. Instead, walking out of Kirby Field House that night was just like any other night. It would soon be the start of summer, camping at the lake, amusement park visits and graduation/backyard parties. Heck, I even had one at my house where me and my buddy (and fellow graduate), Nathan Brown, played our guitars and drums as entertainment. Before long, September would roll around again and we’d all be right back together again in class, right? Just like it had always been for thirteen years in a row.
Several friends went off to college to follow their dream. Others enlisted in the military, started families or immediately entered the work force. As for me, my own dream of becoming a rock star officially began June 11, 1987.
But that’s a story for another time.
As I continued to page through the program, I tried to see how many classmates I could remember and was thankful to discover I could still put faces to the names of most. Then I thought of Nathan, who’s own name I didn’t see listed in the graduating class and yet had attended graduation and received his diploma along with the rest of us. Had it have been another time, I probably would have called him up to ask him why he wasn’t mentioned in the list of graduates, but he died in 2014.
A lot can happen in thirty years.
A re-post from last Summer. Sort of fits my mood today…
I have to admit I’ve never thought of myself as that word. THAT word is reserved for people much more advanced in age then I am. People who grew up listening to Peter, Paul and Mary. Ones whose parents used to give them enemas at the slightest fever or notion that the child’s bowel habits weren’t normal. Not for someone as cool, and young, as me.
I still do most of the same stuff I did as a child. I play guitar, love to read the box while eating bowls of Count Chocula and Cap’n Crunch, watch Ultraman and Godzilla movies, mow the grass and take out the garbage. Heck, I’m still fourteen years old if you really want to know. All that’s missing is some more hair on my head and the loss of the forty pounds or so I’ve gained. Ok, so I have to do my own laundry now, go to work every day, make my bed without being told and fix things around the house when they break but that shouldn’t put me in the elderly category should it?
And I confess, when I look in the mirror there’s now some gray in the beard but that’s been there for years and no one has ever said a word about it. Plus I’ve done a pretty good job at covering it up. Just for Men is working just fine thank you very much.
Anyway where was I? Oh yes, the cross over to becoming so-called “old”. I was at my daughter’s softball league end of year celebration yesterday. The girls all enjoyed a final round of ten-year old camaraderie, along with a side of pizza and then walked with their parents over to the local ice cream stand for a sugar rush farewell.
I’ve been good with watching what I eat so I declined the ice cream and just sat down at one of the tables while the other girls and their parents stood in line. For some reason, eating a lot of that stuff now makes me gain weight and I can’t figure out why. It never used to do that. Regardless, I did enjoy watching the girls giggling with each other and discussing the season while vanilla ice cream ran down their arms. Early summer fun at it’s finest.
At one point, I noticed a familiar woman standing in line with her daughter as well. Someone I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was a girl I went to school with so I went over to say hello.
It was fun catching up with her in the short time we were there. We laughed discussing what all of our classmates were doing now and the lives they were leading. “Wasn’t it just yesterday we were all in science class together?” I thought. “Yes, it must have been”. But then I did the unthinkable. I asked her if she could believe that next year was going to be our 25th class reunion and in retrospect, I think that’s what was the precursor to what happened next.
After sitting back down with my daughter at the table she quickly made a public service announcement. “All team members sit at this table!” she proclaimed. At which point, a gaggle of girls started sitting down at the table with us. It sure felt great to be enjoying a moment with my baby girl and her teammates. Apparently though, one of the girls thought something was out-of-place at the table.
The little whipper snapper pointed to another table where parents were sitting, looked at me and snidley said: “This table is for the girls, THAT table over there is for the OLD people”. I quickly tried to think of something to say, a witty comeback perhaps. Sadly, all I could muster was “Hey, I’m not old YOU’RE old!!” But all that did was cause the rest of the girls to jump to her defense. You’ve got to love the way teammates stick up for each other.
Eventually, and after much resistance, I slowly got up and walked over to the other men and women who were more close to my height ( I refuse to say “age”). And do not for a minute think that me leaving the table is an admission that I am actually “old” because I’m not. The fact is, I could have battled those girls all night. I just didn’t want to make them look bad in front of their parents. No, in my mind, I’m still as young as I want to be. No matter what any ten-year old thinks.
On the drive home, and while she was looking out the window, I got even with my daughter for the comment about team members sitting at the table. I stuck my index finger in my mouth, moistened it and then reached over and gave her the wet willy. “DAD!! KNOCK IT OFF!”, she screamed as I laughed out loud.
There I go again, being childish.
A lot of people have come up to me and asked me how I used to spend my summers growing up. Well, actually no one really has but I feel like telling you about it anyway.
While most youthful teenagers of the 1980’s were spending warm sun filled days going to camp, listening to some guy named Michael Jackson or going to Dip-N-Dances at the Palmer Community Pool I was hard at work with my friends creating characters on sheets of paper, rolling dice and saving the world from utter annihilation playing Dungeons & Dragons.
For those of you who’ve never donned the helmet of a Paladin or put on a Cloak of Invisibility let me explain. Dungeons and Dragons (or D&D) is a role-playing game where players enter realms where monsters and magic are real. Without boring you with too much detail and taking away the heart of this blog post think of it this way: You get to pretend to be a character from Lord of The Rings.
My friends and I used to play D&D for hours. Starting usually around mid-afternoon and going deep into the night gorging ourselves on greasy pizza and Coke. We were so into it.
My brother and all of his friends all thought I was a dork for playing but that didn’t bother me. They didn’t understand that I didn’t need my Atari 2600, M-TV or Madonna. All I needed were my “boys”, some stale pepperoni pizza and my 20-sided dice.
I still remember the frustration we would feel when nature called and we had to take a leak during an important encounter. No one wanted to leave the table and I think if there were Depends lying around, we might actually have considered using them on more than one occasion.
But the one thing I always remember the most from those gaming sessions wasn’t the food or the battles we had against Goblins, Trolls and Giants. Although those things were very important, the thing that always sticks out for me were the conflicts we used to have with each other.
For without fail, in almost EVERY game session two or more players would start arguing with each other over the course of play and sometimes almost coming to blows. We should have called it D&D Fight Club. And woe to any one when the argument included the Dungeon Master.
The Dungeon Master (DM), is the one chosen to control the world the players adventure into and was a job each of us alternated doing. The DM’s world is based upon a module, a book that has the entire adventure outlined including every creature encountered.
It’s the DM’s job to keep the game flowing based on what the module dictates and controls everything from describing the surroundings to random monster encounters. Essentially, the DM is God. And this appointment to deity status usually posed a problem if the DM held a grudge against fellow players.
Maybe his Mom didn’t give him his allowance that week. Or maybe it was because he had his Underoos on too tight that day. In any event, whatever it was that caused someone to pi$$ on his cornflakes that particular day, it wasn’t going to be good.
The start of the arguments always began the same way: accusations of cheating on dice rolls. A quick hand to cover the results before the DM could verify was always seen as the primary cause. “You didn’t roll that!”….”Yes I did”….”You LIAR”….(do you see where I’m going with this?).
Most of our DM’s could keep it together. Kind of a hard thing to do considering it was always the players against YOU. The players all had characters and were on the same team. The DM pretty much role-played every thing else in the world from the monsters to the townsfolk.
It was easy to see how battles could ensue. A DM who came into the game session with a chip on his shoulder and having already made accusations of cheating would inevitably lose his cool when his Frost Giant got walloped by a bunch of rogues on the first roll of the dice. Something that was very hard to do.
You could see his blood pressure rise as the players each gave each other high fives. It was kind of like a slap in the face. For most it was just a game but our DMs always seemed to take it personally and use his God-like ability to make things difficult for everyone. What would start out as a quest for treasure and glory quickly turned into the DM’s desire to wipe out the players as quickly as possible.
So before too long that single Frost Giant was somehow able to “magically” summon a half-dozen of his brothers and sisters to join the fray before dying. Ones that I highly doubt were part of the module. That’s when the gloves came off and the dice rolls became more intense.
In the end, the players were victorious most of the time. Tears were shed and on more than one occasion friendships were lost as disgruntled warriors gathered up their Coca-Cola stained sheets of paper and stormed out.
But youth was a wonderful thing and even Dungeons and Dragons couldn’t ruin friendships for long. Usually by the next day all was forgiven and not another word was spoken. Not to siblings or parents. Because when you role-played with us there was only one thing you needed to know: The first rule of D&D Fight Club was, you do not talk about D&D Fight Club.
As seasons change so did my affection for D&D. And it wasn’t long before girls and guitars took the place of giants and dice and D&D became a thing of the past.
Today the game is still as popular as ever. You can even play online with people from across the street or around the world. For a die hard D&Der like I was, you’d think I’d be all over that right? But truth be told, I haven’t so much as rolled the dice in almost 25 years and have no plans to.
I treasure my friendships too much.
I was sitting outside alone on my patio enjoying another beautiful Saturday morning in late July drinking my coffee. My wife, daughter and two crazy dogs still soundly sleeping on the second floor. It wouldn’t be long now before they were all up and the day would “officially” begin.
The freshly cut grass was still damp from the last night’s thunderstorms but its smell still reminded me of summer. I heard the familiar call of the locusts making their presence known. The sound of which announcing that August was but a few days away.
Before too long, the season of leaves changing colors and colder temperatures will be upon me again but that only made me appreciate this day even more.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and inhaled life. All the while thinking, “I’m forty something years old and it’s great to be alive.” I tend to think that from time to time. More often now that I’m older. There’s a sort of oneness I have with God, Nature, whatever you want to call it, when I have this quiet time.
I’ve been doing a lot of social network stuff lately. Whether it’s posting funny status updates on Facebook, announcing my affinity for television shows and sports on Twitter or reading critical comments on my music articles (c’mon dude – you’re nit picking a typo – sheesh!).
I’ve also been doing a lot of catching up with old high school classmates. Something I really enjoy doing. In fact, I’ll be attending another semi-reunion in a few weeks at Musikfest where I’ll reunite with some people I haven’t seen in years. Who knows, we might even do some walking through the park and reminiscing.
Just the other day I friended a girl–well, now “woman”, who was in my homeroom for most of my time in school. I haven’t seen her since graduation but the two of us had coincidentally shared the exact same birthday. I remember always making mention of that “bond” with her every year as our big day approached.
Now, almost 25 of those birthdays have passed and I had not even thought about that birthday bond until I saw her picture. I love being reminded of things like that.
When ever I reconnect with someone from the past it’s surreal. I know we are all now forty-somethings and have all experienced adult life. We’ve gone to college, gotten married, had children, bought a home. Everything expected of us as members of society. The thing is, when I see these wonderful people none of that matters to me. I still see us as we “were” not as we “are” (having a career, paying bills, taking vacations).
I realize that we all have lives now and some of our children are even at the age we were when I last saw them but I like to remember the innocence we had. Not some forty-something with a bunch of adult responsibility, but a time when the future and possibility was wide open.
Well, my coffee cup is empty and the dogs are at the door wanting to join me on the patio. Looks like the day is ready to officially begin.
It’s been years since I’ve been down to Ocean City, Maryland for vacation but on the drive down I quickly remembered how thankful I was that they opened that new stretch of Route 1 that runs adjacent to Route 13 past Philadelphia. It literally saves you an hour in drive time through Delaware by not having to stop at all those pesky traffic lights every damn block.
This time around for vacation my wife and I allowed our daughter Jillian to take a friend along which was another thing to be thankful for. She’s at that age now where she needs to be moving or doing something constantly and only another human being of her age, sex and stature will keep her parents from going insane.
We made exceptional time for a Sunday. In fact, I think we hit Route 50 (the main hub into Ocean City) in a little over three hours and coming from Easton that’s quite an achievement. However; my driving, and parenting skills would be put to the test just three miles from our resort. Traffic came to a crawl as we approached and at some points even a complete stop for several minutes. As the heat of the early July summer pounded the car the air conditioning did little to bring down the rising temperature of my rage as I was forced to listen to Jillian and her friend make up all kinds of scenarios on how they could get to the resort faster if I would only just let them out and walk. After sixty minutes of bumper to bumper traffic and listening to how they could jog, ride a scooter or hitchhike there quicker, we finally arrived at our destination.
Spending the Fourth of July holiday in Ocean City, or any vacation destination for that matter, can definitely wear you down. Sometimes it doesn’t even seem like a vacation. Aside from the traffic and lack of parking there’s the hustle and bustle of the crowd and the long lines at nearly everything you want to do or see but we made the best of it.
I have to say that the fireworks display on the Fourth of July in Ocean City rival those in Philadelphia and other big cities. They definitely did it right. There’s nothing quite like celebrating America under a brilliant display of color coming off the boardwalk while simultaneously keeping vanilla soft serve from running down your arm. A hot summer challenge I think every one should take at some point in their lives.
The next day was “Beach Day” and was spent with Jillian and her friend braving the waves of the Eastern shore as we watched the wild ponies mingle with guests. It’s certainly one of the strangest sites you’ll ever see. Big, brown horses that just roam wild along the beaches of Assateague Island.
The way they majestically stand on the beach always reminds me of the covers of those Harlequin romance novels my Mom used to read. All that was missing was Fabio and some beautiful blond female in need of rescuing. I was more than happy to just sit there and read my own novel near them, provided of course, that they had the courtesy to not relieve themselves in my vicinity.
Perhaps the best day of the entire trip was the following one: “Boardwalk Day”. This is the day most parents dread because it depletes the bank account quicker then a stock market plunge. Jillian was quite adamant about playing those so-called games of skill. You know the ones, where you spend a million dollars to win a paper airplane.
As I gazed high above the booth at the humongous stuffed creatures you would “win” if you could only sink just one over-sized basketball into a tiny basket I wondered how many people have actually accomplished this feat. My guess was zero and it dawned on me that the way children mindlessly spend money playing these near impossible to win games on boardwalk piers and carnivals only preps them for the years they will mindlessly spend money in casino slot machines during their adult lives.
Turns out though, Jillian was actually quite good at a few of the games. Not enough to sink a basket or popping a balloon with a dull dart (games we thankfully avoided) but enough to win a few stuffed animals that will no doubt collect dust back at home with no recollection of where she got them from.
After spending her college tuition the day finally came to close and we walked passed the dreaded water gun game. This is the game where you shoot a continuous (monotonous) stream of water at a target and see whose LED light status board gets to the top the quickest.
As we approached the booth I noticed a little girl, who could be no more than 4, getting ready to play the game with her Mom and Dad standing by. No one else was around as Dad helped prop her up onto a seat and tried to show her how to operate the water pistol.
It was at that moment, over the smell of funnel cake and french fries, that I heard the catcalls from the vendor: “One more person to win any prize…I need one more person to win ANY prize”.
Well that was all that Jillian needed to hear. As she quickly sat down and assumed the shooting position I noticed Dad suddenly taking a reluctant interest in the game himself. I noted that his motive was now to help ensure victory for his little girl. He ponied up additional funds and took his place next to his daughter.
Ready. Set. GO!
The streams of water hit their intended targets and I watched the LED lights go up neck and neck between my daughter and Dad. Obviously, there would be no challenge coming from his little girl. This was a “two-man” contest. I could feel my heart race watching my little girl take on a challenger at least three times her age. It was a battle of David and Goliath proportions. Ok, maybe not that extreme but it was exciting none-the-less.
The alarm sounded ending the game and the flashing light above Jillian’s head indicated she had vanquished her foe. As Jillian chose a big stuffed purple dog as her prize I noticed that Dad, now a bit dejected, was packing up his little girl and with Mom in tow began the slow walk of shame. Jillian noticed too. She looked at me and with a quick smile turned and walked towards the little girl.
I watched her ask the little girls’ Mom and Dad if she could give her the prize she had just won. “Hailey, look what this little girl wants to give you”, her Mom said. Hailey took the purple dog from Jillian and gave it the biggest hug I’ve ever seen. Had Hailey “won” the water pistol game, her prize would not be anywhere near as huge as the one she had just been given. As the family walked away I knew that Jillian had just made that little girl’s day just from that one little act of kindness.
It was then that I recalled a memory of my own from our last trip to Ocean City. Ironically enough, just a few blocks down the boardwalk from where we were standing the exact same situation happened with a then four year old Jillian.
As I tried to win a prize for her with our last bit of money we were both bested by another water gun expert. The winner then offered up her prize to Jillian, a stuffed Elmo doll that she still has to this day.
Strangely enough, with all the time we spent that year at the beach, walking the boardwalk and seeing the wild ponies, that stuffed Elmo was the most memorable thing about our trip to Ocean City. So I’m pretty sure that what Jillian did today for Hailey will also be a memory that family will treasure for years to come.
Here are ten things (actually places) I think you should know about. Places that I think show you why it was so cool to grow up on South Side Easton.
These are in order of my favorites but please feel free to comment below and add your own or indicate any of your own favorites that I may have missed. (I know one of them being the pretzel factory that for the life of me I regrettably do not remember having patronized).
Sadly, if you were one of the unfortunate souls who didn’t grow up on South Side, please tell me about your favorite places growing up.
10. Lackenor Heights. I know I probably spelled it wrong but that shouldn’t diminish how cool this park was. Huge swing sets, lots of basketball courts and a large field I’d spend many days at playing softball or tackle football.
09. Laundromat. Long before we could afford a thing called a dryer my Mom and Grandmother used to drag the kids here. This was the place to go to dry the wash if inclement weather prohibited the use of hanging it on the clothes line in the yard.
I loved putting dimes in the machine and twisting the knobs or playing video games while the clothes dried. Also a good time to head over to Food Lane and peruse the toy aisle knowing full well that whatever toy I wanted Mom would never buy.
08. St Mary’s Carnival. Held religiously (of course) every summer. The fair consisted of the usual spinning wheel games and bingo. To me, the games of skill paled in comparison to the way the little old ladies made fried dough. The ultimate comfort food for a pre pubescent boy on a hot summer night.
07. Porter Elementary School. I spent the first five years of my schooling here. Still recall the big 1876 numbers that adorned one of the eaves indicating the year it first opened it’s doors. The school was closed in 1979 and torn down shortly there after.
06. Food Lane. Can’t say enough about this place. This was where my first bowl of Count Chocula came from and will always hold a special place in my heart. Aside from actual food there was a toy aisle as well that I always made a bee line to on every visit.
05. Huck’s: Located right across the street from the Delaware Terrace, a housing development for low income families. Huck not only made a decent cheese steak but he was rumored to have Mob connections. He had a big black German Shepard dog that used to sit outside and watch patrons come and go. I loved his home made fries. Of course, I now wish he would have used a proper fry scoop instead of a make shift one he made out of a liquid bleach bottle.
04. Pino’s Pizza. Located in the same shopping center right next to Food Lane, this is actually the only food establishment still open to this day. So many wonderful memories of slices and companionship here. I don’t care if it is under new ownership. The name remains and the pizza is still killer.
03. Brother Bright’s Soul Food Store. Located two blocks from my house, this was the place to go in the early 80’s as I was bussed to Palmer and the Easton Middle Schools. Brother Bright and his wife were two of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.
02. Lucy’s Store. A staple of Easton. THE place to visit before and after Porter school days. I used to love going there and getting penny candy. Mr. Lucy always knew to fill my little brown paper bag with more red fish and purple raspberries than Tootsie rolls. My man knew how to hook a brother up.
Although I’m sure he served his candy to many a generation in his time, I’d give anything to have had the chance to have him fill a bag for my daughter too before he passed.
01. Barney’s Lunch. The sign as you approached said it all. It read “We Serve The Best Steak Sandwiches in Town” and was dead on. Barney’s was the ultimate destination. At night, the red neon light was lit up and you knew if you were a hungry traveler the welcome mat was always opened.
Where else could you get the ultimate cheese steak, a bottle of Pepsi and the chance to rap with Barney himself? Or, if he was busy filling orders, you could always sit at a table or play Space Invaders or Vanguard.
And when Barney was blaring Foreigner Four on the jukebox, man you knew you were in the right place. Nothing compared to tearing into a Barney’s cheese steak while jamming to “Waiting for A Girl Like You” with your buddies.
It was the 80’s and it was wonderful.