The tug of history

This past Thursday, I drove 2 1/2 hours north into Central PA, to an old, small, red brick church in the country.  The occasion was the funeral service and burial of my Great Aunt May, and the venue was the church where I was raised, located within view of the farm where I grew up.

The minister was new to the church and didn’t know Aunt May well, but he said he learned much during his meeting with her five children. In particular, he said he found great comfort in knowing that May would take her eternal rest in a place where many generations before her also chose to be buried. It warmed his heart, he said, to think that she would be surrounded by her ancestors.

It’s true, she’s buried next to her first husband, my Uncle Gilbert, but technically, the little cemetery in the valley holds many generations of his family, not hers.  Nevertheless, she proudly took the Beaver name when she married.  She even researched and wrote a geneaology book, outlining the descendants of George Beaver of Pfoutz Valley, PA. It was this George who, in 1878, would be the first of many to be buried in that quiet plot of land that is surrounded yet today by fields of grain.

As I exited the highway and drove through Millerstown, turned right to go up the hill, past my high school, then out into the valley, I felt as if I was being transported back in time. (The Simple Minds song on the radio helped.) I used to drive from home to school a couple of times a day and joked then that I could probably drive it with my eyes closed.  I used to know who lived in every house along the five-mile route. Now, I know many have been sold to new occupants. Things are “turning over” in the valley.

The inside of Pfoutz Valley United Methodist Church hasn’t changed much since I left home for college in 1985. The same portrait of Jesus hangs on the wall over the same gold cross on the same altar furniture.  Ginny played hymns on the same organ I used to practice on during that one year I took lessons in high school.  Food for the post-funeral luncheon was arranged on the table in the kitchen where my Sunday School class met when I was a teen.  Several of the men and women who watched me grow up were there, attending to the food so that the mourners could eat and visit with each other.

I understand what the minister was trying to say, about finding comfort in being surrounded by so much history. He remarked that many people don’t have that. I moved to the DC area almost 20 years ago and figure we’ll stay here at least until the kids are grown, if not longer. But when I think about where I would want to be buried, my mind always wanders back to the little cemetery in the valley. My dad’s there, my grandma and grandpa are there, and all those generations of ancestors, a little piece from whom I carry within my own genes.  Also, I like how the cemetery is next to the church. Around here, there are huge “memorial parks” that have no church association. Our own church doesn’t have its own cemetery.   It just makes sense to me for one to be buried next to the place where one worshipped.

But would it make sense for my survivors to cart me the whole way up there?  Not really. It’s not practical. I mean, I spent only 16 years of my life there. But they were the formative years. The ones that really leave a big impression on my soul.  And even though I’ve been gone now for more years than I lived there, I still feel the tug of history, the pull of that connection to those who went before.

We’ve got spirit, yes we do

How did “cheerleading” evolve from this


or this


or this

Penn State Cheer Squad 2007

to… this??


Because at last night’s Redskins/Steelers preseason game, those ladies on the sidelines? Were not doing so much of this:

Cheerleading is a sport[1] that uses organized routines that range from 1 minute to 3 minutes made from elements of tumbling, dance, jumps, cheers, and stunting to direct spectators of events to cheer on sports teams at games and matches and/or compete at cheerleading competitions. Cheerleaders draw attention to the event and encourage audience participation. The athlete involved is called a cheerleader.

…as they were doing THIS:

A striptease is an erotic or exotic dance in which the performer gradually undresses, either partly or completely, in a seductive and sexually suggestive manner.[1] The person who performs a striptease is commonly known as a “stripper” or exotic dancer.

Except that their costumes were so small, there really wouldn’t have been much to remove.

Now, I’m no prude, but if the point of cheerleading is to lead cheers, then why are these hotties bumping and grinding suggestively on the sidelines of an NFL game? I mean, aren’t we there to support our team? Don’t we need encouragement to stay involved in the actual game so the players get fired up? Or are we there to watch a bunch of long-haired exotic dancers shakin’ their tight little booties and big firm boobies? Because the crowd seemed to respond more to the likes of this


… than to anything the “cheerleaders” were doing.

I acknowledge that high school cheerleading is, in fact, a sport. The acrobatic stunts and tricks require lots of practice. The participants have to be fit and agile.  And I suppose one could make a case that in that way, what’s called cheerleading in high school is loosely linked, like a shirttail cousin, with what’s called “cheerleading” in the NFL:

DCC squad2008

I mean, if you’re there to watch a football game, that’s great. But if you’re there to watch the “cheerleaders” then say so.  But let’s not kid ourselves here: There’s really no leading of cheers happening.

Now, I know what you’re thinking:  When these “cheerleaders” begin suffering the symptoms of aging – the sagging, the wrinkling, the drooping – who will carry on this fine tradition, this rich legacy, this value-added component of the Total NFL Experience?

Well, the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders are working on that! They have a junior “cheerleading” program called the FIRST LITTLE LADIES OF FOOTBALL (yes, way), and these pre-pubescent girls took the field at halftime last night and demonstrated that, with practice, they’ll soon master the suggestive grinding and shaking of their adult “mentors” so that they can one day work the pole carry on this important part of the Washington Redskins NFL Product:

first little ladies of football

When grown women do it, it’s distracting at best. But when preteens do it? It’s appalling, for any number of reasons.

What was happening on the sidelines at the Redskins game last night was not cheerleading.  What it was was titillating, suggestive dancing, and I found it distracting.  Most of the girls seemed to be more concerned with achieving just the right posture than with anything that was happening on the field. Their canned routines didn’t even match up to the music – I mean, pelvic thrusts and booty-grind to “Smoke on the Water” or Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time”? Please.

I’m not necessarily opposed to this kind of dancing. However, I suggest that it has its place, but that the place for it is not the sidelines of an NFL game.  So go ahead, serve up the striptease if you think that’s important, but don’t insult the fans by calling it cheerleading.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna watch some football.

Hey, kid: Wanna win a knife?

When we were in Pennsylvania week before last, we spent an evening trying to find enjoying the Schuylkill County Fair.  It was everything we expected: Carnie rides, awesome food, first-class entertainment (an Elvis impersonator was the featured act the night we were there), barns full of 4-H exhibits (baked goods, home-grown produce, and farm animals galore) – the works.

For some reason, Bubta decided he was enchanted by the goats, and begged us to take one home:

And Peezer? He rode this ride eleventy-frillion times in a row:

As much as I loved the fresh-cut fries, served up by the local Grange (or was it the Lions Club?), and the funnel cake that was so hot I burned my fingers, I have to say that this was, by far, my favorite attraction:

It’s not a great photo, but if you read the bottom, you’ll see it says RING ‘N’ KNIFE, and if you look at the two turntables above, you will see that they are studded with real, live KNIVES! That can cut things! You buy rings (20 for $4 or a whole bucket o’ rings for $5), then you try to toss the rings onto the knife you wish to have. It sounds easy, but the turntables do turn, so you really have to know what you’re doing. (But NO LEANING, please!)

Now, I know what you’re thinking, Mom and Dad. You’re thinking, that’s not such a great idea – what if my teenager wins a knife? How will I know about it? And aren’t knives kind of… dangerous?

Rest assured, the good folks who run the RING ‘N’ KNIFE booth have already thought of that.  They’ve addressed your concerns with a couple of helpful signs, suspended from the roof of the booth:

The sign says:


Anyone can play, You must be

18 to receive knife.

Under 18, You will receive a coupon for

your parents to redeem for your knife.

Another sign helpfully adds:


Well, that settles it then! Have at it, kids!

MINOR: Hey, Dad! Can I have five bucks?

DAD: Now junior, haven’t you had enough French Fries yet?

MINOR: Naw, I wanna throw rings at the Ring ‘n’ Knife.

DAD: You know you can’t take the knife home, right?

MINOR: Right. Got it. I definitely won’t lie about my age or anything.

DAD: All right, then. Be careful. And no leaning!

MINOR: Thanks, Dad!

DAD: Good luck! Try for the scrimshaw!

I dunno. It just struck me as funny. I’ve seen the nickel pitch, where you could throw coins into glassware and win anything you manage to land your change in. I’ve seen where you buy ping pong balls and toss them into small fishbowls in hopes of taking home a disposable goldfish.

But knives?

Huh. I guess that’s how they roll in Schuylkill County.