Readers and Tea

Admittedly, not much of a reader here. A few enjoyable books sprinkle my past. “Tristan and Iseult” lovingly spread itself across a high school desk many years ago, some motivational books during a decade of selling to the masses, and Genesis to Revelation once. There were a few more opened along the lawn beside my educational path, probably. Had to be, for sure, but I don’t remember 99% of them. Math and music were my loves. Books with words? Not so much.

I’m fascinated by folks who read. As I sit behind a lunchtime warm bowl of ham pot pie soup, there are some folks across this coffee shop at their own table. Reading. Laptops, tablets, and – for hardcore traditionalists – paperbacks. One hand holds a mug of their warm brew of choice, another patiently taps or turns a mysterious, romantic, or comedic story into the next minute future of their lives.

There are non-readers here, too. Conversationalists living in the moment, they are. It’s a normal, sunny November day outside. I can’t imagine talk-across words include how cold, or warm, the outside temperature is, or what the rest of the week has in store. The food here is always as good as the service, so nothing new to talk about there. Without an abrupt walk-up and accompanying, irritating “Hey, watcha talkin’ about?”, I can’t know … and this is o.k.. Everyone is smiling. That’s good enough.

They don’t need a book at this moment. Others do. Those “others” fascinate me more when I see them mixed in with tables in cafés where conversations are happening. I find the gift of reading fascinating because I don’t have it. How can one concentrate on a story in the middle of a café when others are chatting away over tea? As an aside, how do readers not fall asleep in one of those plush, large chairs inside Barnes & Noble? I get woozy just wandering around inside there looking for the bathroom.

Readers are, simply, a breed apart.

Those who read inside cafés seem to be extra special. I’m drawn to their apparent higher level. Higher level of “what” I will leave up to your imagination. As others talk over bowls of soup, chicken taco salads, and aloha turkey & mango salsa wraps, textually-engaged individuals quietly enjoy their novels. With mugs of tea and coffee enhancing the aroma of each story, time moves forward in their lives through words only they can see.

I look at them with awe. My fascinations lie elsewhere – in notes on a staff and numbers stacked as equations. Placing words on a page are, as well, highly enjoyable, too. However, reading, as an activity in my life, can be tolerated in short, abbreviated segments.

For the “now”, my soup appears to not have survived this writing episode as it was super-good as always. My extra hand didn’t need the mug of tea – a soup spoon was sufficient. With a few breaks to chat with a friend or two and five minutes for a delicious chocolate-chip cookie, the hour quickly passed.

This café is almost empty now. Readers are back to their day-to-day. Whatever imaginary world in which they found themselves, it is at rest until those great grammarian gates open again.

Tomorrow may be that time.

I am glad you are readers. Without your eyes, I have no audience. I am so fortunate to be that non-reader who enjoys sitting in a café while silent words rise from laptops, novels, and tablets of others.

If we’re ever lunching within proximity of each other and you see me hovering over a delicious bowl of soup, stop over. I’d love to discuss my dalliances with daily fascinations. Chief among them, your love of books … If, indeed, you are one of those.

I would be glad to buy that hot mug of tea by your side.

It’s Crystal Clear

Crystal Clear Wellness, 517 Allegheny Street, Hollidaysburg Pa.

Someone very special in my life walked a few steps ahead of me the first time I stepped into this store. On that day, leaves didn’t sweep across a cold concrete sidewalk and a fall nip wasn’t in the air. It was a truly beautiful day. It was a day when excitement swirling about her matched the sun shining through a few mid-afternoon trees outside – welcoming our visit.

She was so glad to be there. A store so close to her heart.

“Oh, look at that … I need to have it!”, proclaimed the one to whom the crystals, wiccan wares, books, and various fascinations spoke. I saw a light shine from her soul that filled every little nook; without exception, all darkness hidden became available for all to see. She filled the small, quaint store with her sincerity and love for all things energetic and mysterious.

This was crystal clear. This was Greta.

I couldn’t help but think of her when walking by on a seasonally cold day. Honestly, I can’t recall a day since her passing when I don’t think of her. This Sunday past was no exception. Maybe it was the crunching of the leaves? Possibly a small puff of breeze at my feet that snagged my interest? I don’t know. Whatever the reason, stopping to take a picture and remember that wonderful day – while standing in the energy that was Greta – held another grateful memory moment in my heart.

This is Crystal Clear Wellness, too. Energetic and mysteriously wonderful. It is a place where I’ve been since … to check in – to see my friend Tony and all the other wonderful personnel so graciously willing to help out where – and when – they can. I have my special items from the store that mean so much now … more than ever. Understanding, in a very limited scope, the different edges of life previously undiscovered, I can start to appreciate the crystal that is my life. I am starting to appreciate the connection Greta had with vibrancy and vitality in the universe.

Was it perfect? Certainly not. Her body failed her at the end. We lost a beautiful person to a disease that ravaged and taunted her. All the healing vibes and energy didn’t save her. That same vibrancy and vitality wasn’t enough. The universe had other plans.

Those other plans are unfolding and I have a suspicion she set them in motion.

She was a friend of Tony’s and, by extension, the Crystal Clear Wellness family. Because of this, it’s a challenge for me to be in there and not think of her attachment to all of our collective lives. After thinking it over a bit, this is how it should be after all.

Places exist as memorials to those we loved. Everywhere we go – where they were – is a reminder, in some small or large way, of their passions and energies. We need to hug those places and embrace the folks who connect with us while we’re there. A small emporium universe or marketplace in which they visited is still part of ours. Experiencing them, without being able to hold a warm hand or touch a soft face, is still o.k.. We can be there alone. We can stand outside on a seasonally cold Sunday and still feel them beside us.

This is a special place. I will always know Greta is there. The last time in, I bought a small, decorative purple cloth with a pentagram design. It sits on my dresser underneath a few items. Representing the elements of Spirit, Air, Earth, Water and Fire, it is there as a reminder for me to ground myself in what will last beyond my years.

My life does goes on, of course. All of us have this path forward and we do what we can to heal after losing someone special.

It may seems like the energy goes away, but it doesn’t. A few moments outside a special store – remembering a time when I was inside with someone I saw “Oh, looking…” at everything – helped me realize this place is special. It was crystal clear to me when we were there together … and it’s very apparent, now, special wonderful widget stores can hold our broken hearts together as well.

If you’ve lost someone, find a place. They will be glad you came by. Even if it’s a bit cooler than the last time you were there with them, remembering your time together will warm up the rest of your journey forward.

Waiting Windows

With frost on my windshield for the second time this season, I headed out. It was a few minutes after 7 a.m. – a bit earlier than normal for this guy, but not for the early, double-caramel person I was meeting. We agreed upon the “Black Dog” for a pre-dawn sip and possible bagel consuming chit-chat. This eatery has been a local favorite for friendly, delicious smooshes … so, my beat-up Honda crunched its way from a wet driveway, over a mile of cold leafy sideroads, to a parking spot three spaces away from this latte-lighthouse.

I’m not one for the fancy drinks. To that end, not even a basic cup of hot coffee warms my soul. Chill it, or steam it … no latte or frappe will ever drape over the sill known as my lower lip. A simple mug of hot chocolate topped with a small dollop of whipped cream (or, perhaps a few small marshmallows) always, and forever, is my huggable winter-season drink of choice.

I’ve known Andy, the owner of the “Black Dog”, a long time. He works hard. Along the path of our friendship however, his hard work would never recognize my finicky taste in hot beverages. It’s not his job to pay attention to my weird ways. After all, a high percentage of his pre-dawn sippage sales IS most likely all the fancy, dancy grande cups and mugs ordered every day – not the marginal hot chocolate orders.

So, when I walked through the doors yesterday morning, a hot chocolate order was out of his norm, but graciously prepared. I sat alone for a few minutes at a table for four … recognizing how wonderful it was to wait for Andy to steam up a warm cup of hot chocolate. Wait for my company to arrive. Wait for the sun to come up through the windows of a very familiar cafe. Just sit, and wait.

After only a few ticks on the clock, two ladies arrived to order breakfast and then Andy’s “front of the house” day began. Although from what I gather, the soups for lunch were already started hours before and happily stewing away on the stove in the back. My company arrived shortly thereafter and we had a charmingly small visit.

During any normal day, I wouldn’t arrive until after 8:00, possibly 9:15, to meet friends for breakfast depending upon the day’s schedule. This was rare. The “Black Dog” is a common stop for lunches and late breakfasts in daily drive-abouts if I am floating around. Andy and his staff are wonderfully packed full of energy and engaged in everyone’s life which is why I try to get there when I can.

Yes, my friends are there, too. This is important. There’s a round table – not as significant as King Arthur’s – but one where compression of souls happens on a regular basis. Short folks, tall frames, skinny sorts, and sometimes well-suited suitors sit comfortably at this table enjoying the day’s news and, of course, one of five selected lunch choices. Andy prepares five diverse lunch choices, a variety of soups, and dessert items. Each day is different, … but only five per day. Simple. Most patrons, if not all over the years, prefer it this way. No surprises. Always delicious. Always fun and affordable, too.

It’s just a local cafe if you look at the “Black Dog” as a building. As a place to wait for a few minutes and think about what life is … it’s more than half-fogged up windows resting above a leaf-blown sidewalk. It’s about those very windows waiting for the sun to rise.

I walked through the doors thinking about those windows. The time was too early for me. I knew there was hot chocolate waiting inside, however. The few minutes once inside – waiting for Andy to brew up the mug’s warm interior liquidy goodness – gave me pause to consider the hour ahead. A sun would rise to evaporate the moisture off those windows. Pretty basic stuff. A day would start for so many, including me.

With all that’s been going on with my life, I forgot that days do have a beginning. The sun comes up. Good, predictable things happen every day. Waiting for them to happen – being patient – was a nice reminder yesterday.

If it’s good enough for the windows at the “Black Dog”, I can be patient, too.

Bump and Stop

Yeah, I felt like looking away, too. At the very bottom edge, Murphy had enough of the bumps and stops in life as well. Experiences – especially those four letter words ahead – have been too prevalent in both our lives lately.

I had to stop my normal, everyday maneuvers a while ago and do tiring, but satisfying activities for multiple weeks on end. I also rode over legions of unexpected bumps until my human, emotional underside wore through a pretty thick pair of wrangled genes. Murphy? Well, he did have some feeding times that were off a bit.

A medical crisis set life aside as care for a loved one took precedence over all other labors, hobbies, and toils.

Thing is, there were no warning signs for months during that difficult drive … on challenging roads. Every experience was an unexpected turn of events.

During our pleasant walk this evening, however, Murphy and I had at least two signs. We knew to sidestep the slight tar implosion to our left and walk cautiously on the sidewalk to the right. Watching for traffic at the four-way ahead was easy-peasy – even without that red octagonal, familiar sign – because this is what responsible dog walkers do who don’t want to bring harm to themselves or their leash-alongs.

I can do without unexpected bumps and stops for now. My limit has been reached and, possibly, breached.

The everyday expected is ok. Any obvious, conventional, everyday sign alerting my living, vehicular being to an anticipated knot in a string of roads ahead is fine. Similarly, if I must put the brakes on to avoid risk, so be it.

We can go for so long before there’s a break down along the side of the road, right? The stops and starts after each bump in the road – while caring for someone – is really difficult. It is what’s done, though, because love is involved … and we’ll do whatever, whenever, for as long as necessary. I am not the first, certainly not the last, and claim no expertise in the matter of care-taking of a loved one.

I also know it takes a partnership with family members and professionals to make it work, too. With all the struggle along the road that was, a specific, dedicated, small group of us never gave up.

With all that was, the end came and I am tired.

Bump and stop signs – better yet, the actual unexpected pesky projections and nettlesome negations that could veer this body off-road -should park themselves in a garage for a few months. I’d appreciate it until life returns back to more normal road conditions … If that’s even possible.

As for Murphy, he just needs to take a walk with his fuzzy brother-buddy and not think too much, anyway.

You … take a walk. Watch out for signs that should keep you safe. They may not be bumps or stops, but at least you’re headed in the right direction. Deep breaths, friendly hellos or waves from a neighbor, crackling, crisp water over rocks in a stream, or breezes through bendy tree limbs … to name a few.

Or, helping a loved one through the most challenging times of her life. This can be the most unexpectedly challenging, tiring, incredibly difficult things to do … and also something that resets life, overall, in the right direction.

I’d do what I did all over again, but wouldn’t wish the pain to return to a body whose fight couldn’t overcome cancer’s eventual outcome. You bet I am tired and don’t need any more surprises right now.

… Now, unless that surprise is a Powerball win of a few million. That’s an unexpected bump in the road I could tolerate and drive a long distance without stopping.

Guess Murphy would need a ride, though.

2O Seconds at Halfway

Canal Basin Park in Hollidaysburg, Pa. Push, “play”, to experience the halfway around ripples two dogs and I experience while fluffing our way through that park.

To them, Rex and Murphy, it’s another opportunity to sniff out new smells along a stone-ground walkway beside a brown, churned up waterway. For me, the halfway point river is simply that … a 50%, “been there, need to do more” point while walking said puppies. I look forward to the sound. Simple stones underfoot duetting with water nuzzling over rocks in the Beaverdam Branch of the Juniata River.

Halfway is halfway no matter how the walk is sliced up. Pretty sure Rex and Murphy’s math skills aren’t up to par, and time has little meaning, so their time/distance matrix has no relevance to four-pawed progression. Onward is all they care about. Walks are very important as a stress release inside their furry go-about bodies.

I like walking them. It has been a while since canine connections fabulously exited stress from my body as well. Years, actually. Shopan was the last to give me a refreshingly new leash on life. He lived a homophonically great life as a shepherd-collie-rottie mix at my piano feet – representing the masterful Frederic of Poland well.

These two? Kinda musical. Rhythmic paces under one’s white and black woolly paws, and the other’s velvety brown sweepers? Yeah, for sure. Before halfway finds its way into our path, Canal Basin offers us sights to spur our intrigue. Living a few miles away from this park, I never took the time to walk around and read plaques so well placed among the sound filled breezes now appreciated during a pleasant walk with Doug in tow.

These are just two of the markers discovered. A Musical Garden? Holy Orchestral Chimes, Batman! How did I not know of this? The Amphitheatre has been around a while. Thankfully, I’ve attended concerts there. The stage, however, hasn’t experienced notes from my trombone slide, or imperfect piano fingers.

With my human body sleigh being towed , other sites nearly halfway include an original 4-wheeled Cradle and Track set and really big, orange, metally, complicated train pieces put together in such a way I will never understand.

An open soon-to-be loch of imaginary possibilities to our right – with its reservoir of tonal reach-outs past the halfway point – the three of us continued on our way. Two fur pullers and an adaptable tag-along headed toward the Reiser House – the home of a prominent butcher whose house was built at the Canal Basin site decades ago.

We exited across a plank foot bridge, clicking nails did the two scurry as this one silently Skechered. Three-quarters the way, by my estimation. Dogs, still no clue. Their smellers always on alert and pee markers finding every possible target, though.

The halfway sliver of time spent recording pleasing ripples of time meant nothing to them. Just a “paws” during another outing with Doug, the dog walker.

Ok, so I accept that role. I’ll also welcome the opportunity to walk them again, and again. No sense committing to anything halfway.

Unless, of course, halfway means standing beside waters rhythmically dancing over partner rocks. In that case, maybe next time two dogs and a guy will sit down for more than 20 seconds.

Find a halfway in your life. I doubt Rex and Murphy are available, but someone could meet you by the river sometime. Perhaps for more than 20 seconds, if you’d like. Wherever your halfway is, a river of calm is waiting. Don’t push to be 100% all the time. Enjoy the sites along the way.

Halfway is halfway no matter how your life is sliced up. There’s always more path ahead to explore. Go, now.

Muted Footsteps Exiting the Capitol Hotel

I swiped this menu a while ago. Don’t remember when it happened, or why I felt the urge to break the law. Did I really, though? All that happened, in my humble opinion, was the conversion from an in-house menu to a take-out one by walking out the very familiar glass doors with it in my hand. Strange, in a way, because I never ordered unless I sat at the counter, a back room table, or in one of four red vinyl booths.

“I’m glad I have it, officer.”

Today, I heard they are closing … for good. May I offer up another not so humble opinion? This information really sucks their really awesome steak salads!!

I don’t know why the owner decided to close. Could be a (late) pandemic response or he is, simply, tired of running a hotel restaurant. Whatever the cause, respect is due because so many memories from there are sheltered away in my treasure box of friendly conversational souvenirs. It’s been one of the few places in my life where words meant something when shared among close friends.

It was the first place I stopped on my way back from the hospital moments after mom died. My friend, Kevin, was sitting in the back middle booth to share in my grief. Although I haven’t seen him in years, that moment is as clear as this moment now.

During lighter times, my lame jokes – or, perhaps a few awesome ones – danced around one of two front booths where a bevy of bloviating bosomers sat. Chief among them, no one. All of us remained equal. Friends. Not one greater or lesser than the other.

Big heavy mirrors, old rotating chairs sitting partially occupied in front of the counter, stainless steel clanging about as breakfasts were served with a tinge of attitude … All of this, and then some, make the Capitol Hotel Restaraunt what it is – for one more day.

Thursday, September 23rd, 2021. This will be the day memories come to an end. Those warm, red vinyl booths will start to get an early fall non-conversational chill and remain so. Short, worn wooden bar chairs will be bound to their silent still posts as of 2:00 p.m. that day. A clean-up crew – and no others – will then pass through one of two entryways into the back dining room. The large grandfather clock there, sitting many decades removed from a big screen t.v., will no longer tick away pleasant fish Friday lunches for business companions, or retirees enjoying their sunset years.

The whole restaurant will be silent – as hushed as the last time a puff of air closed an off-white, laminated, “Since 1905” menu for the last time; Or, perhaps as one of a few times I sat extended, alone, in one of those very confidential front booths and wrote a blog entry. Possibly, muted tones from friends’ last footsteps leaving tomorrow will remain behind as reminders how special this place is to everyone.

Most likely, I will not be one of them.

This does not mean my heart will not exit through those double glass doors one final time with them, however. Hopefully, at least one of my brothers or sisters in crime will find their way into 300 Allegheny Street, Hollidaysburg, to swipe a menu for themselves.

I should remind them take-out could be tricky. Especially from the clink.

Uptown and All That Jazz

Kander & Ebb. Roxie & Velma. CHICAGO, June 3rd, 1975.

“Come on babe, why don’t we paint the town?
And all that jazz
I’m gonna rouge my knees and roll my stockings down
And all that jazz
Start the car, I know a whoopee spot
Where the gin is cold but the piano’s hot
It’s just a noisy hall, where there’s a nightly brawl
And all that jazz”

I remember the stage. No, it wasn’t Broadway or 1975. In 2011, a piano and I wonderfully joined a talented cast and pit orchestra on June 22nd in front of a packed house for the first of four shows. The Mishler Theater stage in Altoona, Pa, was underfoot at precisely 7:30 … and magic began when the ages old red and gold curtain rose. We were together. An entire cast – with a supporting pit on stage right and an excited pianist behind a concert grand stage left – ready to paint the town.

All that jazz – witnessing the rehearsal stresses, music changes, conflicts between people who do show-things differently in their brains – didn’t matter to me once I looked over to my pit director. Downbeats of an Overture on opening night melted away misfit memories from two previous months of stops and starts.

Left-right-left-right/Bass-treble-tonic-dominant alternating action between two very experienced hands ushered in “All that Jazz” as the Overture danced marvelously into an opening act. I loved every note of every song and the hotness of the piano under sensational spots. Four nights. Hours of absolute treasureness behind the keys.

There’s never been a final curtain from that show for me. After the Sunday matinee, my mom approached the stage as I stepped off the front riser. She, surprisingly, bought a ticket to attend the show a second time after seeing it on opening night. Exhausively and four-show drained, I gave her a big hug to accept a congratulations realizing this was to be the last time a son’s show performance would be in front of a mom’s tired eyes. A final curtain came the following March. Cancer, at that point, had been her noisy hall and brawl. Her first and second acts were produced & directed the best they could. It was time to enjoy what time could offer … and enjoy she did – watching the Cell Block tango girls, Roxie, Velma, and the entire cast of “Chicago” jazz up the stage. I won’t forget. No final curtain on the memories a decade ago.

All that Jazz then, and “Uptown Jazz” last night. A connection, of sorts, to the past. Kinda.

Below is a musically talented friend and all-around good guy, Dave, at the keyboard, on a smaller stage in a cast of four. He’s sitting on a stage where there were no big production dances, stockings down, sexy outfits, murder, or plot twists. Just a pianist, vocalist, set player, and bassist/guitar player. Oh, a dinner buffet, alcohol, and a relaxed piano player in the audience not concerned about vocal cues or four-show happy stresses.

He’s 25% of “Uptown Jazz” and a very versitile keyboard player. To type his contribution as “one-quarter” is understating his talent. Singer, songwriter, “jazzer”, educater, recording engineer, sound technician, … our community is blessed to have a musician of his skill perform within many combinations of pluckers, strummers, paradiddlers, and vocaleers.

I sat in a dimly lit room, back from some semi-alcohol saturated beings, as one of three sitting close together at a round table normally set for ten. The people situation was more crowded up front. To be expected, since acoustically, “microphone speak” was less like Charlie Brown’s teacher closer to the stage than where we where. “Mmpf … Err , ddrph la ruch” is pretty close to all we could understand between set songs – which makes the notes Dave was stroking on the keys extra special.

Notes from his piano floated uninterrupted as he played a few instrumental pieces in a trio/combo. Jazz. Granted, “Uptown Jazz” performed most numbers as an impressive four, but I enjoyed the deep jazz trio work the best. New York, small, smokey, underground jazz club tug-and-pull, complex chord structure … All that Jazz work impressed my classical piano soul a lot.

It was a nice evening. Even though driving, from my direction, was kinda downtown to the UVA Club … heading “uptown” to hear Dave play again was worth the small cover charge and four-times that for the land-and-sea buffet. Now, to be honest, there was no Roxie to crawl across the table in sexy lingerie last night like she did on my piano ten years ago. Dave’s best playing wouldn’t erase that moment in my memory, but his musical dexterity and kindness certainly made the evening more enjoyable than most.

Hours earlier, I started the car to head into a spot – not a whoopee spot, though. I drove into an Altoona location where jazz would, once again – at least in part – be heard … a few blocks away from where my mom last sat listening to hear a son perform, “Nowadays”, the closing number from “Chicago”.

Nowadays, we can relive some memories. Some magical remembrances while sitting in large, dimly lit halls listening to good friends do what we do … in part, of course. I’m a classical guy, Dave’s a jazz player. A piano is a piano, I guess, and music in all its forms is a transporter back to mom and son special moments.

Thanks to Dave, “Uptown Jazz”, and all the local musicians who build the bridges back to kind, wholesome times. Mom can’t thank you enough.

She’s waiting at the edge of the stage to give all of you a great big hug.

A Rail, Rocks, and Rurality

I didn’t know it was a word. “Rurality”, (defined by Wikipedia/Chigbu 2013, p. 815), is “a condition of place-based homeliness shared by people with common ancestry or heritage and who inhabit traditional, culturally defined areas or places statutorily recognized to be rural”. There it is! An eight-letter, beautiful timely term describing a hometown circumstance I found myself surrounded by the other day.

A rail and rocks? Well, kinda self-explanatory.

This is the overlook at Chimney Rocks park near the southern edge of Hollidaysburg, Pa. These bison boulders seen aren’t the actual chimney rocks formed centuries ago. To gaze upon those huge stonal spectaculars, you will need to travel roughly one-hour and fourty-five minutes east from Pittsburgh. Rocks, in this place … during this time … are there as a replacement for rails once there. From the information I was able to obtain, rails were being vandalized, abused, and constantly replaced. Not knowing the exact extent of damage, I assumed it must have been steadily bad enough to warrant bull-lifting in four walloping wall crater-makers.

I sat comfortably on a bench a few feet back from the rail and rocks … also among cicada screams and an occasional, hopeful, few seconds respite from their male mating hollers. The quiet never came. Tinnitus – that ever faithful inner-ear companion of mine – took a deafening back seat. Oh, to have heard only that minor second interval ring true at any moment! Yet, there I sat – still convinced it was to be a perfect time for reflection about a rail, rocks, and rurality … a word I was convinced didn’t exist.

Rurality does exist, apparently. So do the rocks – and not just the four keeping young ones from unsafely toddlering their way past the rail. Chimney Rocks is part of “place-based homeliness” all of us around here know as Hollidaysburg.

I grew up only a block or so away from the base of the hill where the overlook and park are beautifully carved as a small plateau into the hill. We climbed the face many times, escaping perils of broken bones and snake bites. Foliage was thick and steep which didn’t seem to bother our brave, young levi-laden bodies. Finally reaching the “chief’s chair” was a two-hour effort provided we didn’t stop to argue over the best way up through thick brush and fallen, rotted timber.

Where the park is now was then a sanctuary for small critters we heard, but never saw. Many a teen trod over soil and stones since removed from the very area I sat the other day. Looking back – off to my right – large, deep drill marks could be seen against the hill face exposed by deep cuts in the earth. Cut away like a slice of the moon were centuries of hidden rocks, memories, and footprints of young teenagers brave enough to scale a Hollidaysburg hill.

The four rocks came from the hill. They were allowed to have their common ancestry remain in place. A place of familiarity – if only a few yards away and for a purpose. They can now oversee a hometown while protecting the most innocent among us.

I see these four rocks as just that: the new protectors of rurality that will oversee Hollidaysburg’s heritage for centuries.

We are passers-by, for sure. The original Chimney Rocks either pushed through the earth, or were benefactors of propitious pounding of eroding soil around them. In either case, they were here before humans and will, most assuredly, rock-on well beyond our breathable years. The four overlookers? The same. They’ll outlast the usefulness of that park, rusty rails, and young teens who, now, only have to take a casual walk up one of a few well-maintained paths from an overlook to the “chief’s chair”.

With all the recreational options available, I doubt many will know the joys of climbing that hill, however. What a shame.

I had a small urge to jump the rail and experience a little nostalgic rurality once again. That hill on the other side was tempting this 50’s body of mine. Unfortunately, I knew inevitable screams for help would go unheard as cicada mania still pierced the air. I would’ve been stuck in misery for a bit. Good news? The view north into my hometown would have been fantazmical on my back dangling from a fragile branch off the side of a bluff.

The view those rocks have all day, every day, is spectacular. Rurality is kinda breathtaking, too, when considered as an actual word … and condition of being for people who love their hometown.

I loved my sit-time there – cicadas aside, of course. I promised you a show-and-tell IF you drove a bit eastward, but have since decided to post up a few links if you’re interested in reading more about the park. Maybe if we’re ever there together, the cicadas will be gone, we can talk about your remarkable rurality memoir, and if I happen to go over the rail, please rescue me.

A Small Lake’s Water Wonderment

Didn’t take much effort climbing on top of the table to take this picture. However, with extended hands above my head and eyes not able to see through a shakey phone, it took a few attempts before success was in my grasp. There is no easy access to the lake at Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pa at this time. Correction. Two peepers looking through a high chain fence? Yes. A nice, clear-view picture without a fly-over drone? Uhm, no.

This is a “had-to” picture. Thus, my risking a well-lived life so far. Stepping off the wonky table for you, my dear readers, was worth each thud and creak emanating from knee joints barely supporting a once athletic, racquetball winning frame. Alas, life reminds us table standing – even for a noble cause – may not be for the bold among us because eventually one must come down. Even with the risk, I faced the challenge. Up I went – descend I did … safely so in both directions, this time.

Why this time? Why the lake?

Simple answer? It’s back. The lake, a few minutes drive from my house, is back to being a wet expanse instead of a muddy pit-iful playground for large, yellow drudgers. Big scoopers and plenty-full dumpers dirtied the roadways around this beautiful area for months as dirt shufflers removed layers upon layers of silt. Up the accompanying “Lakemont hill”, many of us travelled this past winter and spring looking out our windows … down into the mucky cavity carved into the earth.

Experts claimed this was necessary. Fish and wildlife activists were outraged at the apparent lack of concern for the aquatic life left to die on the banks. Notably, carp and turtle families were unable to be relocated due to possible disease transfer and logistic problems, as is my understanding. Excavating decades of silt build-up, evidently, trumped any apprehension about what swam in a few feet of water. My experience in the matter is limited to a couple teenage years of paddle-boating and feeding the ugly fish off a small bridge inside the park, so contemplate carp connundrums accordingly.

This day is reserved for a joyous return to normalcy. Well, a small lake’s water wonderment, anyway.. No more dirty views or mud-tracked highways for our displeasure. The metal monsters of the heavy machinery society exited after overstaying their uninvited, neighborhood welcome. Loud noises are no more. All of our emotional sediments are now soot-ably deposited elsewhere … dumped into a future we will not have to contend with any time soon.

Have the fish been restocked? This I don’t know. Tappers of the air who swoop down onto the lake have. Bugs happily feast on the drops of dew popping up from the small crests and ducks swim for afternoon respites. People persons I have not seen yet, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t renting paddle boats from the amusement park of the same name. There’s a small island water park as well within the lake which I don’t believe is operational yet, either.

Regardless, standing on top of a semi-sturdy table was heartwarming and fulfilling. This simple act of wobbly bravery gave me a sense of purpose – a “speak for the lake” declaration as if to say, “I’ve been renewed, refreshed, cleansed, and beautified!”.

The long, hard, ugly, muddy winter we saw day-after-day was temporary. Change was necessary … and the process was difficult to watch. Professional folks who identified the problem came forward with a solution not everyone saw as positive. Strife, conflict, and stress was expected … and achieved.

In the end, however, beauty and wonder came back into our world. A small lake’s water wonderment was re-born.

Locally, we have a lot of road construction happening. Boy, it is frustrating. Detours, delays, and dumptrucks are bumping into folk’s schedules – including mine – at the most inappropriate times. At some point, these roads will be a pleasant ride. At least Lakemont hill isn’t among the annoyances anymore. It’s a joyous view now – north or south.

I won’t risk life and limb too much to capture pictures. Bodily appendages are more important than a blog most times. However, when a thought or declaration needs proclaiming, I will click away. If you drove past a mud hole for months then saw a lake’s grace return, I’m confident you’d step up on any table as well.

Just be careful coming down. That last step can be a creaky one.

Ghee What a Ghal!

Ghosts and ghouls are past us by about two months during which gharries possibly arrived carrying ghastful gharials.

Admittedly, I knew three words starting with “gh” used in the above paragraph. The other two? Yep. Google. By the third grade – or sooner, if the chalk dust and marvelous marker smell has cleared my mind – I also knew these are the consecutive 7th and 8th letters of our 26 developed from the Etruscan alphabet sometime before 600 BCE (also Google 😄). It takes a bit of brain power to engineer opening paragraphs around the letters G and H and I’m not sure this little engine in my skull is puffing up hill effectively. Most likely won’t know until I’m looking down over my connected paragraph cars to the conclusion caboose. If everything is intact and there’s been no derailment, the G&H Line has been a success!

All I’m sure of is those two letters meant something to me today – and that’s all that really counts. So, hop aboard and let me tell you about my nice conversation today.

There’s a station in life where we stand. These weirdly words slapped on us are defined by society and there’s not much that can be done about it. We’re either married, or not. A pastor, or not. Have 12 children, one, or none. Maybe you’re one who employees hundreds, an employee, or not an employee at all. Ok, so we can do something about them, right? Get married, employed, or pregnant if so desired … but all these do is change the station. You’re still assigned a station in life, regardless. The life train comes and goes – in and out of your station … day after blessed day. We have to find a way to enjoy that station upon which we stand. Somehow enjoy the freakin’ show we see as people walk up and down, across and between our paths every. Single. Day.

I had that experience today. The happy human I conversed with is enjoying her station in life. Circumstances being what they are, I’m sure she would hope for better days ahead. Being careful on details for obvious reasons, I will bind this together like a coal car and engine gracefully tying their couplers for a wonderful journey ahead.

We met for less than an hour this morning. She, a purveyor of a service I needed to tie up a loose end for a holiday present, and I talked over health, religion, family relations, politics, music, and oddly enough, a little witchcraft. There is a small, friendly, historical connection between us as our pasts intertwine ever so gently. I do believe our chit-chat session could have extended beyond the time we spent before I had to leave for other engagements. This was, simply, a nice conversation with a nice, sincere person. Someone who is face-to-face with some real things as she stands on, and in, her station.

I drove away thinking about that. Moments later wrapping some presents … thinking about … that. Boy, what a waste of time arguing with a “friend” on Facebook when that time could be better spent talking to someone about their life’s struggles in person. Laughing (six feet away) from a relative stranger who needs a good joke rather than sharing a goofy meme seems to be far greater. In-person vs. Out-impersonal?

I know it’s tough, probably. My business affords me the chance to interact daily with folks. Without it, especially during this pandemic when we’re forced into distancing and lock-down situations, I’d be lost. Today’s wonderful conversation may have been a one-off’er because of the holiday need. Regardless, she certainly stepped up and lifted my spirits this morning while giving me a little hope in the midst of this rather bleak 2020.

She’s definitely on the right track for what she believes in and who she trusts. Her station in life is on pretty solid ground from the little I know, anyway. She believes in herself and trusts in herself to make the best decisions for herself. I’d say that’s a pretty good place to be. From where I stood, “Ghee What A Ghal” is pretty darn accurate…

…and her initials – engineered to be identical to the company name emblazoned on the side of her engine that CAN – is all the information you’re going to get as you watch her get up that hill. The “G & H” Line proudly steaming ahead as an example to all of us of what humanity, grace, and honesty looks like in the midst of life not being particularly kind.

Yes, two letters and not much of a start to any words, really. Didn’t expect them to be. Then again, I didn’t expect to be talking about broomsticks and Wiccans this morning, either.