Saturday, February 28, 2009

Four Long Days

It was a day in November.
A warm day in November.
They let us out early from school.
The teachers were somber.
Some teachers were crying.
I walked home thinking,
“How could this be?”
“How could this be?”
It’s on the TV.
It’s all that is on TV.

Did he do it on his own, or were others involved?
A policeman named Tibbet is dead.
The president is dead.

Lyndon Johnson, right hand raised,

Taking the oath of office on the plane.
A book depository in Dallas.
Three shots fired.
From the sixth floor.
A place called Dealey Plaza.
A grassy knoll, people pointing, people crying.
Lee Harvey Oswald with a swollen eye.
“I’m just a patsy,” he says.
Fair play for Cuba, and living in Russia,
And a sharpshooter in the marines.
It’s on the TV.
It’s all that is on TV.
Was it Castro getting even?
Lee Harvey Oswald over and over again.
The Dallas schoolbook depository.
Three shots fired.
From the sixth floor.
Our president is dead.
His life played over and over on TV.
It’s all that is on TV.
The days move in slow motion.
Is it OK to go out and play?
It’s on TV.
It’s all that is on TV.
Lee Harvey Oswald moved to Russia.
He came back with a Russian wife.
“I didn’t shoot anybody,” he says.
Over and over the newsmen ask the same questions.
Did Oswald act on his own?
Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of the Dallas jail.
A man leaps forward and a shot is fired.
The policeman in the cowboy hat grimacing.
People shuffling.
People struggling.
Lee Harvey Oswald falling to the ground.
Jack Ruby.
Lee Harvey Oswald is dead.
Jack Ruby’s life played over and over on TV.
It’s all that is on TV.
The newsmen ask the questions over and over again.
Jack Ruby?

No school on Monday.
A funeral on Monday.
President Kennedy’s funeral.
Black and white images on the TV.
The drums beating.
The horses’ hooves on the pavement.
A caisson.

A flag-draped coffin.
The drums beating.
The horses’ hooves on the pavement.
A rider-less horse,
Boots in the stirrups facing the wrong way.
The drums beating.
The horses’ hooves on the pavement.
A little boy saluting.

The drums beating.
A plaza in Dallas.
Three shots fired.
On a warm day in November.

Autumn Bliss

The warmth of summer continued into the school year. I was able to ride my bike over to Saint Margaret’s almost every day. Beautiful warm late summer days. Lots of Team Tag in the parking lot. I had been with most of my classmates for a long time now and the bonds of friendship were growing stronger. Saint Margaret’s was our own little world, and we were Sixth Graders now, practically kings of the roost. Mrs. Carey had a strong influence on us, and under her guidance we were trying to become more mature little ladies and gentlemen.
Maybe in the classroom we were trying to be mature, but outside it was Team Tag and bike riding and baseball. For Steve Kay and me it was World War II in his basement and whatever war we wished outside in his yard. Our battles would swirl around the Episcopal Church and on into the woods along Academy Avenue, and the sounds of the war in the deserts of North Africa rose up from the cellar. Steve had a big black Newfoundland dog named Thor who welcomed me as one of the family, helping to ease the sting of losing my beloved boxer, Whee-Zee.
October developed into a grand Indian Summer, with warm and sunny days, followed by cool, crisp evenings. The perfect time of year. Even raking leaves isn’t so bad in this kind of weather.
It’s getting close to Halloween, so I’m wondering if the Communists have something up their sleeve again this year. Will they set up missiles somewhere else close to us, or will they start some new trouble over in Berlin again?
This year I’m starting to feel like I’m getting too old for Halloween. I’m having trouble getting too excited about it all. I actually get invited to a Halloween party by one of the girls in my class. A party with boys and girls together. Not cousins or neighbors, but girls.
I decide to go to the party in that Raggedy Ann costume my mother made because no one in my class ever saw me wear it. It covers your whole body, and no one will suspect a boy coming dressed as a girl’s doll. It works, nobody guesses it’s me, and when I take the mask off I get a good laugh from everyone. They play music at the party and we’re encouraged to dance. I’m reluctant to, and I kind of hang back at the wall. One of the girls convinces me to try, and I do, but I’m awkward at it. I love music, but I’ve got no rhythm. Needless to say, I do not sweep the girls off their feet. I’m embarrassed by my clumsiness, so I retreat further away from my true feelings about girls my age.
The Russians and the Cubans don’t make any trouble this October, and I decide I’ll make one last Halloween effort. I decide to wear my Dad’s army shirt and the helmet Uncle Pat got me. I’m going to be Sgt. Fury from the Marvel comic book that came out this year. It’s an easy costume to throw together, and I like all things military, so I have some fun running around the neighborhood one last time.
The problems in our country and around the world seem to melt away this fall. There are no worries for us here in Woodbury Heights. Vietnam, Cuba, Berlin and Birmingham don’t seem to matter right now. Warm weather and strong friendships. We’re safe and happy in our town and our country.
The days of October and Indian Summer fade. Let’s hope this warm feeling lasts on into November.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

On A Sunday Morning

I don’t go to Sunday school at the Presbyterian church anymore. I’d rather not if you please. I’m an American so I have the right to believe what I want to believe.
I say that pledge in school and I believe in it. I think every kid in America believes it. Adults must believe it too, don’t you think? Didn’t they recite the pledge when they went to school?
“ nation, under God, indivisible.....”
It’s Sunday, September 15, 1963, and in the basement of the Presbyterian Church another Sunday school is in session. My friend Billy Reim is probably there earning yet another perfect attendance badge. He believes. He has a right to believe.
Thousands, maybe millions of kids all over America are sitting in Sunday school this day in September.
They all have a right to believe.
Four young girls in Birmingham Alabama went to Sunday school today. They went to Sunday school at the Baptist Church on 16th Street. They were going for their lesson called, “The Love That Forgives”.
Carol Denise McNair, Cynthia Diane Wesley, Carole Rosamond Robertson and Addie Mae Collins were entering the Baptist Church at 10:22 in the morning. They believed.
As they entered the church 122 sticks of dynamite exploded, killing them and injuring several others.
The dynamite was planted by four men.
The men were white.
Carol Denise, Cynthia Diane, Carole Rosamond and Addie Mae were black.
They were killed because a lot of black Americans were standing up for what we all pledged allegiance to, for what all Americans have a right to.
122 sticks of dynamite.
Planted by four white men.
Men who believed that freedom was meant for some but not for others.
Four young girls killed.
On their way to Sunday school.
Because someone didn’t like the color of their skin.
Because everyone does not believe.
“with liberty and justice for all.”

Monday, February 23, 2009

September 1963 - The "Other" Sixth Grade

Front Row L to R: Laura Alloway, Kurt Bronum, Carol Nelson, Fran Hoffman, Patti Burgess, John Schmidt, Carla Frey. Middle Row L to R: Patty Sullivan, Mark Lightcap, Stanley Alloway, Steve Erich, Vince Fitzgerald, Patti McShane, Mr. Smith. Back Row L to R: Billy Reim, John Steinle, Joanie Brucker, Randy Voldish, Dave Hampel. Missing: Rochelle Gramenzi, Sheron Wakely, Bill Hill.

There was always the "other" grade. Kids you knew and were your own age, but you didn't share the same teacher or the same classroom experiences. Some of them you knew from church or Cub Scouts or Brownies, and some of them were your neighbors. You just didn't get to know them as well as the kids you shared each and every day with.
I knew Mark Lightcap and Sheron Wakely from Kindergarden. We shared the very first days of school together. I'm not sure if they were moved into the "other" grades right after Kindergarden or not. I would get to know Billy Reim from Sunday School. Billy went every Sunday year after year. I was a sometimes Sunday School student. Billy had rows of yearly attendance pins on his suitcoat, I had two.
Rochelle Gramenzi was new in town. A pretty girl like Joyce and Sheila with the added allure of an exotic name. Too intimidating for a shy goofball like me.
Patty Burgess lived a few houses down from me on Walnut Avenue, right next door to the Lucas house. I never really knew her even though we lived close to each other.
I would pass Randy Voldish's house on Glassboro Road on my way to school. We talked to each other and would be friends for a while in high school. We shared the same passion for military history, especially World War II.
Kurt Bronum's mom was my Den Mother in Cub Scouts, so I had been to his house many times.
Patty Sullivan lived next door to my friends the Maddens on Glenwood Avenue, so I knew her pretty well. She was the first girl my own age that I kissed. It was up on Freund's Cliff. How I convinced her to let me to I can't remember, but it was quick and on the lips.
I never got to know the Alloways. They were quiet, and so was Fran Hoffman. Carol Nelson had been in my Fifth Grade class with Mrs. Nolte and now she had been moved into the "other" grade. Why? Who knows.
Vince Fitzgerald and I would pal around in Junior High school, Vince being a friend of my best pal, Steve Kay.
I never really knew Joanie Brucker at all, and Carla Frey and Patti McShane were cute girls I wish I had known.
John Steinle and I would end up in the National Honor Society in high school.
I'd sing in a rock band very briefly in high school and Steve Erich would play the sax in our group.
John Schmidt and I played sandlot baseball together, and Dave Hampel, well he was one-of-a-kind.
Their teacher Mr. Smith, did not have a very good reputation around the school. He was kind of creepy-looking. A bit sinister in appearance, he was dark and always looked like he needed a shave. I always felt like he'd fit right in living with my spooky neighbor Mrs. Price. What he was really like I have no idea, but I'm glad I'm in Mrs. Carey's class.
The "other" Sixth Grade. Some I knew well, others I knew not. All of them trying to get through another year of school in Woodbury Heights, New Jersey.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

September 1963 - The Sixth Grade

I don’t know what to expect this year in school. Mrs. Carey is unknown to us, but most of us are relieved that we don’t have Mr. Smith. When I walk into class and see Mrs. Carey for the first time I get kinda nervous, because she looks pretty stern. Mrs. Carey looks like she’s all business, and she resembles that designer in Hollywood, you know, Edith Head.
Mrs. Carey is all business at first. She treats us more like adults than any of our previous teachers, and she expects us to behave accordingly. We work hard in class, and we have more homework than ever before too. My first marking period isn’t quite the cake-walk Fifth Grade was, and I end up with more B’s than A’s.
After a while Mrs. Carey begins to lighten up, and we see that she’s really a nice lady behind all that seriousness, and she has a genuine desire to see us all do well. I begin to relax and my grades get better.

Front Row L to R: Sue Burns, Bob Erich, Diana Gabel, Janice Martin, Mary Lou Louis, Paul LaPann, Christine Lawrence. Center Row L to R: Debbie Pryzwara, Me, Nancy Fleisch, Don Vanneman, Lora Carter, Greg Jones, Patsy Mullin, Steve Kay, Ann Trocolli, Mrs. Carey. Back Row L to R: Max Reihmann, Judy Hampton, Billy Hills, Joyce Hoefers, Tommy Moore, Richie Hearn, Sheila McLaughlin, Jimmy Matsuk, Linda Hankin, Bradley Lloyd

The Saint Margaret’s Catholic School is a lot newer than our old public school building. It’s got modern desks and it’s ground level. It doesn’t have the same character as the old elementary school, but we’re kind of in our own world here, so it’s kinda cool. Cool? Yeah, we’re using new words now to describe things that are really neat. Cool, groovy and hip are the words being used now, and we embrace them.
There’s not much of a playground here at Saint Margaret’s. Mostly a big paved parking lot. We play huge games of Team Tag every morning, boys against the girls, and even the kids from the “other” Sixth Grade join in. I still try to catch Sue Burns, but if somebody else gets her I go after Sheila or Ann or even Patty McShane from the “other” class.
It’s a longer walk or bike ride to school this year, but I hook up with Steve Kay along the way, so the trip goes by quickly. I can walk home with a lot of the guys from class part of the way, so I’m no longer alone on the trail.
The trek to school is the same but different, and next year it will be shorter, since Gateway Regional High School will be right behind my house. I still like to stand on the banks of the lake and ponder and skip stones. How much things have changed from the time one of the Goss brothers tried to steal my bike by throwing me in the lake, and I can still feel the sting of embarrassment from Joyce ducking me under the water. I stare out at the raft, and I can’t wait for summer because next year I’ll be swimming out to it and I’ll be able to come to the lake on my own. Yeah, lots of changes this year, things are gonna be different.
I’m wishing one thing hadn’t changed though. It’s when I look up Walnut Ave and all I see is an empty driveway instead of that ugly brown boxer waiting for me to come home....

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Summer's End,1963

Summer is winding down, and I must face the inevitable. I and everyone else must endure the torture of shopping for school clothes on a hot day in August. The annual trip to Ernie’s Shoe Post, and I hope I can get a pair of Hush Puppies in addition to the usual black dress shoes I always get.
What a summer. The Gettysburg battlefield still fresh in my memory, and Saturday afternoons at the Wood Theatre, sitting in the dark staring up at the big screen.
Carl and I rode in another Fourth of July parade with Uncle Marshal. This year he drove an old station wagon type of car. It had wooden bench seats, and we sat in the back dressed in our red, white and blue and our plastic straw hats, waving at the crowds. Uncle Marsh let me ride with him again in the big Wooodbury Parade too.
I’m watching the construction going on behind our house. It began with trees in the woods being cut down to make way for the chain-link fence going up. I can’t go into the woods anymore, I’m blocked out-Mr. Rizzuto has sold the land and now the new high school is going up. The land has been cleared and the fields torn up by heavy bulldozers, and now I’m watching the foundations being poured. I won’t go to Woodbury High School. The Seventh and Eighth Grades won’t be part of elementary school. They call it Junior High School now, and I’ll be able to walk there in a few minutes. I’m thinking, “finally I can come home for lunch.”
I walk over to the school to see who my Sixth Grade teacher will be. Someone named Mrs. Carey. I don’t know anything about her, but I’m glad I won’t have Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith is a creepy-looking guy who looks like he’d fit right in living with Mrs. Price. I’ll be with most of all my old classmates, and Max Reimann will be back with us from the “other” grade. It will be good to have him back.
It’s funny, but this year I’m thinking more about seeing the girls again. Sue Burns and Joyce Hoefers and Sheila McLaughlin are on my mind. Girls? I’m thinking about girls? I’m not even twelve years old yet and I’m thinking about girls. I didn’t think that happened until you turned thirteen. I can’t wait for Team Tag in the playground, and a chance to capture and guard Sue Burns again.
We won’t be in the old school this year. The Sixth Grade will have classes in the Saint Margaret’s Catholic School building on the other side of town while they build a new addition onto the old school. A longer walk for me. I’ll go down Glassboro Road to Elm Avenue and cross at the traffic light. Up Elm past the fire house and the 7-11 and across the railroad track. Past Sheron Wakley’s house and the Tierney house. Past the Presbyterian Church and on by Paul LaPann’s house and up to Saint Margaret’s. When the weather is warm I’ll ride my black Rixe bicycle. On days when Paul asks me to come over, we can head right to his house directly from school. I can go right to Steve Kay’s house on the way home too. Mom has learned to drive, so in bad weather I’ve got a ride. No more wondering which neighbor can give me a lift to school.
What a year for comic books. This summer I spent a lot of time reading the Fantastic Four, and they gave that Spider Man character his own comic too. I save up my chore money and soda bottle deposit money and get a subscription. I love the way Steve Ditko draws. Dark and moody, and the people aren’t as pretty as in all the other comics. It’s a raw style that fascinates me. There’s another new Marvel character called Iron Man, and he’s fighting the Communists in Vietnam, the only comic book that even acknowledges that that war is going on. Just before school starts Marvel comes out with another exciting title, the X-Men, a comic about teen-aged mutants led by a bald older mutant. It’s wild and out there and drawn by the great Jack Kirby, and I subscribe to that one too. Uncle Pat continues to provide me with more and more comic books he finds at the dump, and my pile grows and grows.
Steve Kay and I will still play war. It’s getting harder to convince Paul LaPann and Billy Hills and Tommy Moore to join in. They’re more interested in sports now, so Steve and I recruit younger boys and girls into our “armies”. Steve and I build a desert in his basement and buy Airfix HO gauge soldiers and re-create the battles in North Africa during World War II. Steve is Montgomery and I’m Rommel, the Desert Fox.
This year will be totally different, yet still the same. I’ll be getting a new bedroom upstairs soon. I’ll be going to school in a strange building, but with old friends in a different part of town.
Comic books and toy soldiers and soon I’ll be twelve years old and I’ll have to start thinking about being a teenager.
There’s a chain-link fence at the end of my yard and a new school going up right behind me and I’ll be going there next year with kids I’ve never even seen.
Things are moving, things are spinning around.
Did I mention I’m thinking about girls?
Where’d that come from?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

August 28, 1963

People have gathered on this day in August. They’ve come to Washington in the hundreds of thousands. Black Americans mostly, but white faces too. There they gather at the Lincoln Memorial, stretching out to the Washington Monument and beyond. I’m watching it on TV, this March For Jobs and Freedom they call it.
Celebrities are there, black and white. Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and Mahalia Jackson sing songs.
Speeches and prayers.
They are asking for freedom and equality, something I thought all Americans already had, at least that’s what they tell us in school.
The people are tired of the beatings and the hatred. They ask for the right to fair play and the right to earn a living wage. They ask for hope.
Speeches and prayers.
Thousands and thousands I see on the television, an ocean of people, black and white.
One speech is remembered more than all the others.
One man whose voice rises above all the others.
He calls out to America to live up to its promise.
He dreams a dream and asks us all to share in it.
He hopes for a world where there will be hope.
He cries out to put an end to hatred and suffering.
He asks us all to love one another and put aside our differences.
He dreams a dream.
I listen to Dr. King’s eloquent speech.
It will take a few more years before I hear it.
Before America hears it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Reel Adventure

Sitting in the Wood Theatre on a hot summer afternoon. The musty air conditioning smell mixed with popcorn and candy. Your feet sticking to the floor. Cartoons and coming attractions and finally the main feature, and it's a day of bliss. Bathed in the glow from the movie, clutching boxes of Dots,Black Crows and Root Beer Barrels. I like to sit towards the back of the theatre, under the balcony just in case there's too many kids who "accidentally" spill something.
There always seems to be a Jerry Lewis movie, even though he's beginning to look too old to keep playing the same old part. This year it's "The Nutty Professor", his version of the Jekyll and Hyde story. He's his old nerdy self as the professor who is trying to get the attention of the girl he loves and he does that by concocting a potion that turns him into a greasy-haired smarmy ladies man named Buddy Love. Buddy Love is a thinly-veiled version of Jerry's heroes Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and he just looks even sillier. I go to see it, but I'm not impressed.
Hardly a summer goes by when there's not some sword and sandal epic. Steve Reeves as Hercules or the Son of Spartacus. "Ben-Hur" and Spartacus himself played to frantic perfection by Kirk Douglas.
This summer we get "Jason and the Argonauts", and stop motion special effects by Ray Harryhausen. It's not a great movie, but it's fun and there's a lot of adventure. My favorite part is when the teeth of the Hydra are sown by the bad guy and the skeleton warriors pop up out of the ground and attack Jason and his men. Scary and exciting all at the same time.
My favorite family night movie is "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World". A wild and wacky tale with almost every comedian and comic actor known at that time, all searching for a suitcase full of money buried under a big W in California. It's a laugh-a-minute riot with Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett trying to fly a plane when the pilot gets knocked out, and Sid Caesar and Edie Adams trying to get out of the basement of a hardware store they're locked in. Dick Shawn trying to come to the aid of his blustery mother Ethel Merman, and Jonathan Winters destroying a gas station with his bare hands. We'll talk about this movie all summer.
My favorite movie of the summer of 1963 is of course, a war movie. Dad takes us to the drive-in to see "The Great Escape", the ultimate prisoner of war film of all time. Just like a "Mad,Mad,Mad,Mad World" it has a star-studded cast and that exciting motorcycle chase featuring tough-guy Steve McQueen. It's a movie I never forget and one I will watch over and over and over again.
And I can't forget the Late Show on TV. I don't know who's programming the movies in Philly, but I'm grateful for the showing of "Tarzan and His Mate" and putting on the one with the nudity left in it, sitting in the dark with my mouth wide open in disbelief. They also show the animated version of "Animal Farm" and Marx Brothers movies and W.C. Fields and another summer they show "Lord of the Flies" and a German war movie called "The Bridge" about hastily recruited young boys who end up defending their town against the Americans. Thanks, Late Show guys.
My love of movies will continue to grow this summer of 1963.
Sitting in the dark looking up at the silver screen, or staying up late at night in the glow of the tube.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Down The Shore

Beach Bums: Mrs. Avis and Cheryl,Me,Susie,Carl,Paul and Dad. Mom is taking the picture.

Everybody in South Jersey goes "down the shore" in the summer. Going "down the shore" means going to the beach. When you're "down the shore" you go to the beach, but you're always "down the shore".
We weren't regular shore-goers, at least not yet. Dad had taken me to Atlantic City when I was young. I remember going into big locker rooms where you left your clothes, and walking what seemed like miles to get to the beach. Dad covered me up in sand, and I didn't like that very much.
Dad had friends that lived in Brigantine and we visited them once and a while. They had a Basset hound named Junior, and it was always fun to go visit him. Brigantine was a surprise to me. I never expected towns down the shore to look like Woodbury Heights with lawns and sidewalks. I figured seashore towns would just be surrounded by sand dunes and marshes and the bay and all, so Brigantine really amazed me.
We stayed at a cottage in Avalon once too. A cedar shingled affair surrounded by reeds outside of town. Lots of bugs.
I never saw the point of going down the shore. We had the lake, and no bugs and it was just down the street, so what was the point of driving somewhere for over an hour when I could just hop on my bike and take a swim in only a few minutes?
This summer we would trek "down the shore" like everybody else.
Aunt Sis and Uncle Dan bought a house on the border between Strathmere and Sea Isle City.
Aunt Sis and Uncle Dan's house at Whale Beach

After all the storms and hurricanes between 1960 and '62 a lot of people were anxious to sell, so homes on or near the beach were pretty reasonable. Sea Isle city wasn't too well known, so property was even cheaper.
There were inexpensive places to rent right down the street from Aunt Sis and Uncle Dan, so Mom and Dad decided to rent one for a week. Mrs. Avis and Susie and Paul were coming with us as well.
So in August of 1963 we were heading down the shore for a week to stay on the second floor of a duplex just across the street from the ocean. Whale Beach it's called, and it's not a very developed place like Atlantic City or Wildwood or Cape May. There aren't any lifeguards or boardwalk, just a lot of sand and the ocean. Behind the place we're staying in is some kind of marshy area, and it's pretty rough. Aunt Sis and Uncle Dan's place has well water and boy does that water smell bad. The place smells like a swamp from the horrible well water they have to use. At first I try and make the best of it, and I figure going swimming every day won't be so bad. Well, I'm wrong. The ocean is cold most of the time, and you have to go out a ways to get beyond the shallows to be able to swim. I'm not too fond of salt water, and what's that going around my legs? There aren't even any decent sea shells to find.
Sand and sun and the ocean and that's it. Nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. The sand seems to get into everything, and I can't get used to that smell of brine and marshland and fish. After two days of this I can't wait to leave. There isn't much to do in Sea Isle City either. It's a small shore town, a low key place, and most people head for Wildwood for excitement. Dad's going to take us there towards the end of the week, a big blast before heading home. I could use that big blast after the third day.
I go crabbing with Dad and Carl and Paul. Big mistake. Throwing crab traps into the water and waiting in the sun is about as exciting as watching grass grow. It's hot and smelly from the bait, and there is absolutely nothing else to do. What's more, I hate the way crabs smell and I can't stand the way they taste. Every summer Mrs. Avis cooks crabs and spaghetti, and a more vile thing to do to perfectly good pasta I'll never understand. To me crabs taste the way they smell, and they smell like garbage. So here I am standing out in the hot sun watching crab traps. Not the way I want to spend the last month of summer I tell you. Dad makes a big mistake and doesn't put sun lotion on. The reflection from the water burns his legs and feet, and he's in a lot of pain at the end of the day. The adults pig out on crabs that evening, and I have to go and walk on the beach in order to breathe. How can anybody eat that stuff?
Another thing I don't like about this place is it's damp at night. I have trouble sleeping because everything feels wet. The sheets and pillowcases, the mattresses and I feel wet. There isn't any air-conditioning. We don't have it at home either, but we only have regular humidity, nothing like this. I listen to the ocean to try and lull myself to sleep. I sleep but not comfortably, and I wake up feeling wet.
Day after day of sand and sun and ocean smells. I miss the lake and my friend Steve Kay and the woods and the grass. Four days of this madness and I'm ready to go home.
Friday night and our trip to the Wildwood boardwalk can't come soon enough for me.
I like the boardwalk in Wildwood. I'm not too good on most of the rides though, because my fear of heights prevent me from enjoying what most people consider the really "good" ones. I try to ride a roller coaster type thing, but my stomach can't take it, so I don't try any more. The Fun House and the Horror House are really good, and we go into a joke and magic shop to buy fake vomit and melted popsicles and fake ice cubes with flies in them. This makes up for all the boredom during the week. If we're gonna go down the shore, why can't we stay here where there's stuff to do?
We have a blast in Wildwood, and our night on the boardwalk is the highlight of the week.
Saturday we start packing up and get ready to leave in the afternoon. I can't wait to get home and away from the smell and the sand and the monotony. Woodbury Heights, here I come. Back to the lake tomorrow and swimming in fresh warm water.
Well, that's over with. A week down the shore. My parents have gotten that out of their system, once is enough for me.
But on the drive home I hear them talking about doing it again next year...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The last day of June and Dad has packed us all up in our ’63 Fairlane. This isn’t one of his “let’s get in the car and see where it takes us” days. No, this day will be special, especially for me. We’re heading for a small town in Pennsylvania where one hundred years ago the armies of the North and South ran into each other and fought for three days in the heat of the summer. Yep, we’re going to Gettysburg and I’m just about to burst with excitement.
All five of us heading deep into Pennsylvania down Route 30, the highway we all know as the White Horse Pike in South Jersey. We’re traveling towards that crossroads village just like the Northern Army did, and my mind is spinning in anticipation.
I’m going to stand on the ground where Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet and George Meade stood so long ago. I know every minute of the battle, and I can’t wait to see it all. It’s the centennial celebration so there’s going to be special presentations and speeches and re-enactors dressed in uniforms and everything.
The trip takes about three hours, an eternity for me, but then-there it is, Little Round Top and Big Round Top, and the cemetery and Devil’s Den and all the other spots on the battlefield I’ve read about. It’s a beautiful place, this little town surrounded by hills covered in rocks and boulders, and broad fields that stretch for miles. This peaceful place once shattered by war.
I’m standing on Little Round Top and I can feel the intensity of the fighting. The big rocks and boulders of Devil’s Den just like in my Civil War books at home. Lots and lots of cannons in long rows, and I make my Dad stop the car at every monument so I can get out and read them.
We go in to see the Electric Map of the battle. It’s a three-dimensional map that you sit around on bleachers, and the three days’ battle is explained to you. The troop positions and landmarks are highlighted by colored lights following the flow of the battle. Some people are probably bored out of their minds, but I’m loving every minute of it.
There’s so much to see and do that Dad and Mom decide that we’ll stay overnight. I’m going to sleep in Gettysburg. Yes!! This will be the highlight of my summer.
Thing is, my parents haven’t made any reservations, and this is the centennial celebration and all, and it looks like a major part of the population is here. We drive all over town and there doesn’t seem to be a vacancy anywhere, so it looks like we’re going to be heading out of town for the night. My Dad is determined. Somehow we find THE ONLY motel room left in Gettysburg. The five of us will have to squeeze in somehow, and the cots will pretty much fill up the room, but we’ve got a place to stay for the night.
That evening we attend a campfire presentation on the battlefield. We listen to re-enactors tell stories about the battle, and we watch demonstrations of loading muskets and cannons. This is better than I’d ever imagined.
I sleep well that night, knowing that in the morning, I can explore the battlefield even more.
It’s hot that first day of July, just like in 1863. We stand on Cemetery Ridge, at the point where Pickett’s Charge is finally stopped, and it’s a shame that such beautiful country witnessed so much pain and destruction. We travel over to where the Confederate lines were on Seminary Ridge, and I try to imagine what it was like getting ready to march across those fields in the face of all that gunfire.
Carl and I buy Civil War hats and flags, some replica Confederate money and a copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Dad makes a second tour for me. Another look at Little Round Top and Devil’s Den, a pass at Culp’s Hill and a last look at the rows of cannons, and we’re heading for home. We’ve got to get back to New Jersey to get ready for Carl’s birthday on the Fourth of July.
We’ll be home by early evening. As always the cool air of the woods behind our house greets us, a refreshing welcome home.
It was an exciting two days and I’ll sleep that night and dream of men in blue and gray and boulders and hills and a charge across the beautiful fields of Pennsylvania.