Nellie

It’s important to pay attention to the people you encounter, because sometimes, a messenger will find you in the most unlikely places. This is the story of one such chance meeting that occurred today in Central PA. 

I had just listened to a new podcast called Grapple, which “gives voice to people living and working in distressed communities.” Today, on a road trip, we found ourselves in Mahanoy City, the first town profiled in the podcast. 

Mahanoy City, PA

Mahanoy City. Photo credit Steven D. Martin.

We went into Rite-Aid to buy some allergy medicine and a soda. As we approached the check-out, a diminutive older woman was chatting with the clerk. She noticed we were waiting behind her and apologized. “No problem,” I replied.

She finished her transaction, turned around and looked up at us and said, “You’re not from Mahanoy City, are you?” We replied no, that we were passing through. “Oh,” she said, “How nice that you stopped here!” Then, as if she knew we’d heard the podcast, she added, “This used to be such a beautiful town!” We assured her we thought it was still lovely.

I asked our new friend what her name was. “I’m Nellie,” she said, and her smile lit up her whole face. 

“I’m Meg, and this is Steve,” I replied. “Steve!” she repeated. And then, as if his name jogged a memory, she told us that her parents were immigrants from Czechoslovakia. Steve said he had learned a few phrases in Croatian, which is similar to Czech. “Dobro vece!” he said, and Nellie’s eyes twinkled even more as she translated and then returned his greetings. She said she remembered some of the language from when she was a child.

Nellie was engaging. As she talked, she would reach for our hands, touching them as if we were old friends, to emphasize her points. She told us that she was the last living of ten siblings. Her mother had had a stroke when she (her mother) was young, and Nellie had to care for some of her younger siblings. She talked about how young people have to leave the area to find work.

Nellie continued, “I’m 94 years old, and I just moved into the high-rise.” I asked if she liked living there. She said that she did, but that she had lived in her house for 67 years, so it was very different. “I’m a widow,” she added, answering a question neither of us had asked, and she remarked that she’d never had children, almost as an afterthought (though I’d have loved to hear her story).

Then, Nellie said that all she has left is her memories. “It’s important to make memories while you’re younger because eventually that’s all you’re left with.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do this weekend,” I said, and Nellie smiled at us some more.

We finally said we had to be on our way and bid Nellie farewell, thanking her for talking with us.

After we got into the car, Steve said, “She was an angel.” It felt as if she had come from another time and place to tell us what we needed to hear, at that exact moment. I had been thinking the same thing:  Our encounter with Nellie was meant to happen. And in addition to her message, she gave us one more memory to treasure.

 

Hide and Seek

LAST WEEKEND, I dragged took my neighbor Stephanie up to my old stompin' grounds. My aunt and uncle built a sweet cabin on the ridge above what used to be my grandmother's (her mother's) farm, and they kindly allowed us to invade for a girls' weekend. Steph's sister Dory and Dory's friend Diane met us there. Our mission: A whole bunch of geocaching, a ride on the Millersburg Ferry and a visit to the Ned Smith Nature and Art festival.

I provided nonstop running commentary and shared interesting facts spouted minutiae about my hometown. I pointed out where my relatives live. (Which was, like, every third house.) I told stories from back in the day.  I wouldn't shut up was probably pretty unbearable, but I was their chauffer, so they were my captive audience.

For the uninitiated, geocaching is a worldwide game of hide and seek. You can find lists of "caches" on the website, enter the coordinates into your handheld GPS, then use that to guide you to the exact location of the cache. Along the way you can get sunburned hike, learn local history, and you get to see things that are miles from all civilization off the beaten path. My companions are all quite experienced geocachers, but they were patient and willing to train their chauffer.

But enough of my prattling on and on and on. I'll let the photos do (most of) the talking.

Dory fishes a microcache out of its hiding place while Steph logs our find.

Caching

One of the caches we found was hidden in state gamelands, high above the Susquehanna River… 

Susquehanna river valley, looking north 
…and Routes 11/15. This was just north of Liverpool, PA. 
High above 11-15 along the Susquehanna 
We found caches at two covered bridges - 
Aline covered bridge sign 
 
…the Aline Bridge, just up Route 104 on the way to Middleburg, and…

Red Bridge Liverpool PA
 
…Red Bridge, outside of Liverpool. Please don't tell anyone that I grew up maybe 4 miles from this bridge but never knew it was there.  Adjacent to this site were an old outhouse–

Outhouse next to Red Bridge Liverpool
 
—and a long-abandoned house:

House next to Red Bridge Liverpool PA
 

There were also cemeteries (which, I just learned, is from the Greek word that means "sleeping place"). There was the one out by Barners Church –

Barners Church
 
…where there are, in fact, many tombstones bearing the name "Barner."

Barners Cemetery 
(…even though this photo features a "Meiser" grave marker. You'll have to take my word for it.) 

Then there was the cemetery at the site of the former St. Michael's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pfoutz Valley. It's an equally peaceful "sleeping place":

JewishCatching July 2011 118
 

 This cemetery used to be adjacent to a church, which has long since been razed:

St Michaels Church monument 
St. Michael's is next to the farm that was my aunt & uncle's, and the next farm after that one was was my grandmother's – where my dad grew up. So you see, I can't even count how many times I've driven by this place. And yet, I can remember only stopping and visiting it a few times. It's so peaceful and quiet there, and as I surveyed the plot's location amid corn and soybean fields, I got to thinking how this would be such a nice place to spend my eternal rest, because the chances are next to zero that they would pave over this particular slice of paradise… but then I remembered the other cemetery we visited earlier in the day –

Sarah Catharine Shuman's gravestone
 
The cache was nestled next to Sarah Catharine Shuman's grave. She died when she was only ten. And that was next to these —

Grave stones at Tombstone cache
 
–which were sequestered way up on top of a slab of earth that was flanked by a highway on-ramp and an off-ramp – the Millerstown exit of Routes 22/322. The highway was built in the '60s, and my cousin Julie tells me that her dad protested the original plan to relocate those graves. The highway was redesigned to leave this small family plot intact. And I am sure that when Catharine's grieving parents buried their precious daughter there, they couldn't have imagined that her resting place would end up overgrown and inaccessible to all but the hardiest, most adventurous hikers. I mean, you really have to wanna get up there.

Now, this cache –

Nekoda Cache
 
…was called Nekoda. The cache was hidden in an overgrown area across the road from an old structure that once housed a general store and a post office. Until recently, it still showed up on maps of Pennsylvania, even though the post office has been defunct for decades. The building sat abandoned for many years. I could see it from my bedroom window. I spent 16 years looking across the corn fields at it, wondering if it really was haunted, as was the rumor.  A family has since bought it and fixed it up and I'd love to see what it looks like inside – I bet it's great fun to ramble around in there. We, however, were focused on navigating 'round needle-sharp bramble bushes to locate the cache that was tucked into the overgrowth near an old stone wall that may have once been the foundation for a barn or other outbuilding.

Geocachers at St Michaels
 
My fellow seekers – Steph, Dory and Diane. And yes, that's a Busch Pounder in Dory's hand. This was our 15th and final cache of the day, and we decided to linger 'neath the evergreens and enjoy a refreshing cold beverage to celebrate our finds. What a fun day – I enjoyed showing my friends around my hometown and surrounding area, and really liked learning some new things, too.

I have more to share, including the Millersburg Ferry photos – but those will have to wait for another day. Until next time –

Escape

THINGS ARE PROCEEDING APACE here at Casa de Soup. Yesterday, the insurance adjuster came to see things. It sounds like he's willing to coordinate with the estimates provided by the restoration / repair company. Meanwhile, I have to prepare a list of contents we lost and the replacement value of each. So, I've been Googling bikes and lawn mowers and string trimmers and basketball backboards and Little Tykes sliding board and hammocks and all kinds of stuff I'd forgotten we had stored in our shed.

Today's circus includes the "duct suckers" (air duct cleaners, who just arrived), and carpet cleaners, scheduled to be here soon. Meanwhile, I have a guy from DirecTV outside who seems to be very busy reinstalling our satellite dish. Things didn't start out so well this morning between me and Parfait (that's his first name and I'm not even making this up):

HIM: I can't bury your cable.

ME: Of course you can. The last guy did it.

HIM: But I will have to charge you.

ME: Yes, that's fine, whatever it takes.

HIM: But the ground is probably frozen.

ME: Well, we can try it first and see, can't we?

HIM: I don't have a shovel.

ME: You can use ours!

HIM: OK, I'll have to charge you $100. How do you want to pay me?

ME: Can I write you a check?

HIM: I would prefer cash.

ME:

HIM: I'll give you a receipt.

ME: I don't have cash on me.

HIM: Well, when you take your son to school [which he knew was about to happen], you can stop and get some cash.

ME: Um, no, I have a lot of stuff going on today, due to the fact that my house almost burned to the ground, and I don't have time to stop. It will be easier for me to write you a check. Can you cash a check?

HIM: Oh. It's okay.

Every time I call them, DirecTV thanks me for being a loyal customer since 2004. Let me assure you, it isn't because of their stellar installation contractors, because the last time we had a guy come out we had much the same go-round. No, we have them mostly because they are the lesser of two evils, because Comcast/XFinity is operated by Satan himself. We can't get Verizon Fios where we live, otherwise we'd switch in a heartbeat.

So I have Parfait digging in the back yard and Ozzie sucking gunk out of my ducts, and who knocks on my front door but two Jehovah's Witnesses, offering me copies of the Watchtower! Fortunately they saw the work trucks in the driveway and didn't ask for time to talk. I thanked them for the copies and away they went.

Fortunately, Calgon is going to take me away from the madness, albeit briefly. In 25 hours I will board a plane, destination Ft. Myers, Florida –

Fort_meyers_fl 

where the forecast includes sunshine, temperatures in the '80s, plenty of wine, a float on a boat, and probably no one under the age of 70. I'm going – solo! – to visit my mom and her husband at their new home.

For the record, this little jaunt was planned before my home almost burned down, but I need it a hundred times more now than I did when I booked it earlier this month.  Big thanks to Curt for making it possible for me to clear my head of smoke and soot and replacement value and contractors and snow and all the what-ifs circulating in my brain.

Now if you'll excuse me, it looks like Parfait is done and our TV is working again. Hallelujah! He has asked me to make the check payable to a company name, not him personally, so nice try on the "pay me in cash", friend, but let's keep this one above-board.