Right under your nose

When I was a kid burying my feet (thankfully, not my head, although I’ve been accused of that on occasion) in the sand in Ocean City NJ, I used to love watching for the banner-towing planes that flew back and forth over the crowded beaches.  The sky banner I remember most vividly advertised a nightclub in “wet” Somer’s Point, just outside “dry” Ocean City:

Your Father’s Mustache… where the time of your life is right under your nose.

I’ve pilfered that versatile slogan time and time again. So many treasures and curiosities lie just beneath the visible surface of our everyday lives—just under your nose, in fact. When you’re #retired, you have time to search them out. And so I did today.

My initial goal was to locate a photo of the restoration of a historic church in Harrisburg, PA, where I was raised but not born (that was Boston, remember?). My uncle, an Old World-worthy stonemason, had rebuilt the brickwork some 50 years ago. While my search for the photo proved fruitless, in the process I stumbled on an interesting website—The Historical Markers Database, “an illustrated searchable online catalog of historical information viewed through the filter of roadside and other permanent outdoor markers, monuments, and plaques” produced and maintained by an “organization of self-directed volunteers” and over 500 “contributing correspondents.”

Within the database listing for “Old Salem Church,” I found nothing about the  church’s restoration, but I did find links to other historic sites in Harrisburg, including “The Peanut House.” My mother had often talked about the little store at 2nd and Chestnut Streets, run by  Italian immigrant Salvatore Magaro, and for years I’d thought the owners were cousins. The digging I did today leads me to believe that they probably were not. What I did discover, however, is that “The Peanut House,” in a prior incarnation, figured in the genesis of our National Anthem. Here are excerpts from the inscription on the marker:

On this site for nearly 180 years stood a two and a-half story brick building with ties to local, state and national history. Initially the home of early settler John Frey, the house was sold in 1817 to a noted clockmaker, Frederick Heisley, whose son George is linked to the National Anthem. George Heisley, during the War of 1812, was a member of Pennsylvania’s First Regiment. At the siege of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, September 1814, he reportedly provided Francis Scott Key with music for the Star Spangled Banner.

The house later was owned by the Boyd Family, then a succession of merchants. At various times it was an oyster house, a dry cleaning business and a restaurant. Its nickname, “The Peanut House,” comes from Salvatore Magaro, an Italian immigrant who came to America as a stowaway at age 17 in 1889. In 1921 he leased the building and turned it into a grocery store and living quarters. His store, “The Buzy Corner,” lasted 70 years and earned a reputation and a name for its fresh vegetables and its nickel-a-bag fresh-roasted peanuts.

Considering that I’ve lived in Central Pennsylvania for so much of my life, it’s pretty sad that I know so little local history, and that local history as a discipline gets so little attention. So—here’s an idea for those summer days when you’re looking for something to do with your partner, your pals, or your grands. Go to the Historical Marker Database, pick a location near you, and head out the door. You may be pleasantly surprised at what’s been right under your nose all along.

A village by the lake

It’s HOT here in Central Pennsylvania, so it seems logical to continue the “going north” theme of my  “I miss the mountains” post a few days ago. Turns out I also miss northern waters.

I am absolutely enthralled by the Great Lakes. So far, I’ve been on the US shores of Erie, Michigan, and Ontario. The others are on my you-know-what list, and I’m really itching to see them from both sides of the border.

Sackets Harbor, NY is on the banks of Lake Ontario, near the point where it meets the St. Lawrence and an easy drive from Watertown NY.  It was an unexpected surprise during a September trip to the 1000 Islands. More about that trip in a future post. Sackets Harbor is historically important—there’s a War of 1812 battlefield there—and absolutely lovely. You can see in the photo above that the blue of the lake and sky just about match! How’s that for soothing?

In defense of letters… in cursive

I’m gonna sit write down and write myself a letter
And make believe it came from you.

There are very bright kids afoot in this techno-paradise of a world who can’t read handwriting. I think it’s best not to get started on what an aberration I believe that to be, or on the fact that one of the most respected teachers I know wonders, with less cynicism than you would imagine, if the company that brought us the iPad is the anti-Christ. All arguments for the valuable boost to brain development, thought processes, and hand-eye coordination that cursive provides aside, you can decide that one on your own. I think it’s fair to say, though, that the techno-genie is out of the bottle for good.

That discussion about cursive coincided with a trip down memory lane. I was looking through a box of photos when I found the last two notes my treasured Auntie Anna wrote me, just months before she passed unexpectedly. She was my father’s baby sister, she lived on the other side of the country, and for years we never saw her at all.

But she wrote letters that my father, who wanted me to know his distant siblings, encouraged me to read. And on those few occasions during my growing up years when I actually got to see her in person, I already knew her, just as I did my other aunties and uncles.

Soon after email began encroaching on every aspect of our lives, “real” letters became the object of derision—”snail mail.” The magic of stuffing correspondence into a mailbox, from whence it could somehow reach any destination near or far and, it should be noted, record the history of humankind, sadly disappeared. Now that we’ve joined the 21st Century, most of us don’t even find bills in our mailboxes. To make matters worse, despite the ubiquitous coverage of our mobile phones and their ability to send and receive email, we’ve truncated communication even more with texting—for which we don’t even write out words. There’s no longer any mystery to receiving a package—it’s what you ordered from Amazon.

R U home?
Is anyone?

For centuries, letter writing was the link that held loved ones together, even after the invention of the telephone. More than that, letters held the key to understanding historic events and human behavior. Letters helped to keep our soldiers’ heads and hearts whole through far too many wars on foreign soil and our own. They built relationships, word by carefully and lovingly chosen word. They congratulated, expressed sorrow, passed the news of the day, kept families together, inspired and revealed, said “thank you” or “with love.” They shared photos. They contained surprises. they instructed and advised.

They told our stories.

Is all of that lost? Have we become so blasé that we no longer think deeply enough about our complicated lives—or, more important, the lives of those we care about—to write down and share our thoughts with them? To want earnestly to hear about their complicated lives?

Although I don’t have any of their letters, I still treasure the few things I have written in my parents’ own hand—birthday cards, recipes, the travel diary my parents kept. I read what they’ve written and they leap off the page at me, as if they were right here in this room. You don’t get that in an email, or even a phone call, folks—much less a text. Your hand-writing is all your own, and a hand-written letter is precious; it is something that stays.

Lately, I’ve started writing an occasional letter. The response to the first I sent to a friend made me feel so good that I’m making a conscious effort to write more.

In cursive.

Want to hear the great Billy Williams sing the tune? Here’s the link

Sweet distractions

I’ve been lean on writing  this last week; sometimes, real life just intervenes. In this case, in a good way. Here is where my time usually devoted to writing has gone…

The kitchen cabinets
I set out determined to clean both pantry cabinets and all the kitchen drawers, and I did. They are beautifully organized, old stuff has been pitched, and some goodies I’d forgotten I had have been used or scheduled for use in dinners or other delights. Some of you will no doubt think I’m sick, but cleaning closets and cabinets is really the only household task, apart from cooking and baking, that I truly enjoy, perhaps because it fairly screams, “Fresh start!”

The garden
We’ve spent considerable time enjoying our backyard garden and the roses and clematis that give our house the look of a little cottage on the Maine coast. Everything we planted, moved, replaced is thriving this year; all we need do is take the time to savor it. We added a climbing rose this week and hope it will be happy in the place we chose.

Long walks with Miss Pup
Our walks have been extra pleasurable on the sunny days that followed what seemed like ages of damp and dreariness. One of the things I love most about our neighborhood is that people are always out and about—kids playing on the green, mamas and papas walking their babies, and lots of other doggies taking their constitutionals. Everyone smiles; everyone waves. The world needs that.

My first Tana French
Faithful Place is a dark crime novel set in Dublin. Oh, my goodness, what skill with voice! This one is really hard to put down.

Strawberries
Our local berries, the real ones, bear no relationship to those big, tasteless California imports in the grocery stores. We’ve been devouring our local berries for over a week, both in biscuit shortcake mounded with real whipped cream and just out of the dish, unfettered.

Every now and then, I catch myself frustrated with how few tasks I’ve completed in the course of a day. Sometimes, I still feel unproductive or even a bit guilty. But really enjoying your #retired life isn’t about changing the sheets, is it?

Photo: In my history with azaleas, which goes back to childhood, this may be the fullest and most beautiful. I take no credit for planting or feeding it—that all goes to our “tree whisperer,” Don. I would have posted a photo of the strawberries, but they disappeared before I could say, “Cheese.” I did include a link to my favorite shortcake recipe, just in case you’re interested.