|Photo by Scott Meltzer|
I woke up feeling something I haven't felt in quite awhile on a Monday morning. Contentment. This past weekend, my husband and I traveled across the state again to my hometown of Manheim, PA. Manheim is a small town of about 5,000 residents in Lancaster County. In many ways, it was a wonderful place to grow up.
Of course, things were different in the 60s and 70s when I lived there. It was a time when kids could get up in the morning, grab some breakfast and then head out for the day, essentially on their own. My dad had two major heart attacks when I was seven. The doctors predicted he had five years to live, at the most, so my stay-at-home mom was suddenly faced with the dilemma of raising three daughters as a single parent. Rather than wallowing in depression, she went out and got a job, determined to make things work for our family.
As it turned out, my dad survived eleven more heart attacks until succumbing to the 14th eighteen years later.
|Dawn and I in 2011|
With Mom as a newly focused career woman, I was left to fend for myself a lot of the time. I was a latch key kid long before it was the norm. Even though I had older sisters, by the time I was nine or so, I don't remember much supervision from them. Instead, I had my best friend, Dawn, who lived right around the corner. We would go home from school, change our clothes (girls had to wear dresses to school back then), grab our bikes and meet at the corner. What fun we had! Sometimes, we'd ride out into the country to play in the cow fields. Other times, we'd take our fishing rods down to the creek, dissect some crayfish for bait, and happily spend our afternoons catching sunfish. Some days, we'd take our allowances and go "downtown" to Rettew's Department Store to buy candy. It was a magical time.
My mom's cousin, Kelly, lived a few blocks away. Kelly was only a year-and-a-half older than me and she was, and is, one of my closest friends. Many days, especially on the weekends, I could be found at Kelly's house where we would set off on adventures of our own. Our bikes became horses, with ropes tied on the handlebars for reins and we would race around parking lots. Eventually, the bikes were replaced with real horses whenever possible. Kelly and I were obsessed. We read every Walter Farley (The Black Stallion) book that came out, and I dreamt of being the first female jockey someday.
|Photo by Marina Shemesh|
My house was on Oak Street where there was not one, but three, stables; with one right next door to my house. Down the street a few blocks was a fenced in field open to the community for riding. Everyday, the clopping of horses and ponies pulling carts passed my house.
In the summertime, most of my days were spent at the Manheim Community Swimming Pool, where we had yearly memberships. I'd ride my bike to the pool, arriving at noon when it opened. Back then, kids were allowed at the pool without adults accompanying them (lawsuits were uncommon). Sometimes, Mom would join me there after work and we'd dine on the goodies offered in the concession stand (usually frozen pizza).
I could go on and on with the wonders of growing up in small town America five decades ago. It's that magic that still has a hold on me.
By the time I was eighteen, however, I was more than ready to flee from "Manhole," as I called it. "Take me to the city," I cried. And I went, never to return for more than a visit. My parents remained in the town, with my father dying in 1982. Mom stayed in the same house on Oak Street. And now that's she's gone, the house has never meant more to me.
You see, we all scattered when we grew up. Carolyn went to NYC to dance with Joffrey Ballet. After that, she was in State College for awhile, then Atlanta, Jackson, Mississippi, Tucson, and finally, she settled in Binghamton, New York several years ago. Tina moved west and has been in Los Angeles for nearly 40 years.
My parents' grandchildren live in Las Vegas, NYC, Washington, PA and Pittsburgh. Yet, that hasn't stopped them from spending a whole lot of time in Manheim. Every one of them loves their grandma's house probably more than any home they ever lived in. They love the house. They love visiting the town. They adored their grandma. And now she's gone. And soon, the house will be, too.
My oldest sister, her daughter and granddaughter, my kids and their families and Bill and I spent a few days in Manheim this past weekend. The house was filled with warmth, love and laughter once again. Since there aren't enough beds for all of us, Bill and I stayed with Dawn and her husband. Not only is she still my best friend, but she is a hostess extraordinaire, and she and her husband go out of their way to make us feel comfortable, welcomed and loved.
|Cousins filling great-grandma Gene's house with laughter!|
Kelly spent a lot of time with us at the house while we were there. In some ways, nothing had changed. Of course, my mom's presence was missed terribly, but the house came to life with the feel of children's footsteps and the squeals of their laughter. This home is our gathering place.
Instead of being sad when we left, however, I felt lighter than I have since Mom died in January... healed somehow. It was a wonderful weekend (much needed) and I feel like I can breathe again.
Right now, I'm not focusing on the inevitable loss of this magical home. I'm just enjoying a Monday morning on my porch in Pittsburgh, where the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and the birds are singing.