Thursday, August 25, 2016

House hunting

An experience I haven't had in several years is rearing its ugly head again.

When Jen and I were searching for a home in the Scranton area, circa 2011-12, we looked at 50 houses, at least.

Before each visit to domiciles in Scranton and Old Forge and Taylor and Throop and Dunmore and Jessup and Clarks Summit, there was a feeling of excitement. Anticipation. It's the same kind of feeling I get before a Ravens-Steelers game.

Could this be it? Could this be the big win for us?

After each visit to those domiciles in Scranton and Old Forge and Taylor and Throop and Dunmore and Jessup and Clarks Summit, there was a feeling of letdown. Depression. It's the same kind of feeling I got after an Orioles' season between 1998 and 2012.

This wasn't it. This was a disappointment.

As we search for a new home in south-central Pennsylvania, this cycle has come roaring back. Only this time, we've got two small children in tow.

The most recent, and perhaps the most depressing, was a house for sale in the village of Pen Mar, situated just on the Pennsylvania side of the Mason-Dixon Line. The hamlet is at the top of a mountain, across the state line from Pen Mar Park in Washington County, Md. It also is a few dozen feet from the Appalachian Trail.

The house, built in 1900, looks onto the Cumberland Valley from its front and second-floor porches. It has five bedrooms, two bathrooms and was completely renovated over the past six years. It also fit into our price range, which admittedly, is modest.

Jen and I knew it was too good to be true. We knew there had to be a catch. But that excitement was there as we slowly drove up Pen Mar Road.

Could this be it? Could this be our new home?

We crossed a bridge over a set of railroad tracks that once carried pleasure seekers to the area, back when the park was in its hey days as a private commercial venture, and the village was reaping the benefits of serving the visitors.

There was the house, up on the left. The side facing us made it look less attractive than the photo. Of course.

But it was when we rounded the bend — crossing the state line — to go into the alley that my hope fell. The houses next door were what seemed like inches away from the one for sale. Both were old homes broken up into apartments.

A living room couch sat on one porch.

Across the alley, in the woods, a fire pit was smoldering, surrounded by a rusting barbecue grill, dirty and broken plastic children's toys and piles of other junk that would have disgusted Fred Sanford and his son.

As we slowly started back down the mountain, I gave a gusty sigh.

Jen concurred.

We knew it was going to let us down, but the feeling still stings.

All the same, the experience gave us a chance to drive through Waynesboro, Pa., where I noticed gas was cheaper than elsewhere off Interstate 81.

So, taking advantage of another day off that I had, we drove back down the next day to get gas, then took the girls to Pen Mar Park.

We caught part of the Andy Angel Quartet, performing at the pavilion as part of Pen Mar's Jim and Fay Powers Music Series. It was warm, but there was a breeze, and the girls got the chance to play on the playground equipment.

And we spent some time at the scenic overlook and hiking a small portion of the Appalachian Trail to the Mason-Dixon Line.

And thus, another experience I haven't had in a while lifted its beautiful face: Getting outdoors and spending time with my family.

There's always hope.

Sophie and Annabelle swing at Pen Mar Park, Md.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Not afraid of the wolves

I can't really recall all the details of the dream that I had a few weeks ago, but I do know that I was inside of a cave-type structure.

Walking out of the cave, it was not dark, but not light. I wouldn't call it dusk, though. It appeared sort of like the darkness you see in cartoons, where the sky is a midnight blue, but you can easily make out trees and fences and rocks.

I looked across a sort of gully into a wood line and saw a set of glowing yellow eyes. It was like seeing animals in the farm fields as you drive past at night, your headlights offering just enough juice to bring those eyes to life.

I'm not sure who was with me, but that person said, "Oh, those are the wolves."

I remember feeling a little nervous, but not like I wanted to run. I felt like I had to stand up to these wolves.

Then, I looked over my left shoulder. On a hillside behind the cave's entrance, there was a large pack of wolves (though they looked a little more like Siberian huskies that just received a haircut).

The animals were barking and pacing. Separating us was a shrub line and a broken-down wooden fence.

Again, there was nervousness, but this sense of knowing I had to stay and fight them off.

As the pack leader began to bark and jump over the shrubs, I kicked at it.

That's when I woke up. My big toe was throbbing as I moved my foot away from the wall I had just kicked.

Though the pain and memories from the dream were intense, I calmed myself down, rubbed my foot and fell back to sleep.

The next day, I discovered I'd cracked the toenail on my big toe.

That aside, I wondered what the bigger meaning was behind this dream? Who were these wolves? Why were they snarling at me, ready to pounce?

More importantly, why wasn't I afraid?

In past dreams where someone or something was attacking me, I was scared. Alligators, snakes, demons, ghosts, I've woken up scared. Sometimes, I was screaming, or swinging an arm (my wife will attest to this).

I have a theory.

In March, I reached the median age of the population of United States. I also have a wife and two daughters. 

Have I hit that age where the fears no longer matter? The age where you just get up, do what needs to be done, go to sleep, then repeat?

I don't know for sure. But I think that's what I'm going to take from this dream. 

It feels like there are lots of things out there trying to attack me. The stresses and strife have formed a pack to bag their prey.

But I'm not scared to take them on.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Main Street dies a little more

I stopped for coffee at a relatively new place on Lincoln Way East in Chambersburg, Pa. It's called The Daily Grind, and it fills the location once held by a Starbucks.

Said conglomerate closed its Lincoln Way location to open a new shop on the edge of town, where the big box stores and generic chain restaurants have set up shop.

A man — he looked like a dad his mid-40s — stopped into the Daily Grind and started placing a Starbucks-esque order while holding out his cellphone, apparently looking at the Starbucks app. I didn't catch all of it, but the word "venti" was used.

(Side note: I always bristle at that and never call the sizes by whatever term Starbucks uses. Stop being cute and give me the stupid coffee.)

Anyway, the woman behind the counter said, "No, you want Starbucks."

"Whoa, this used to be Starbucks," the guy said. "What happened? Where'd they move to?"

As he backed his way out of the door, the woman behind the counter told him where the conglomerate was now located.

I hollered, "Or, you could support local business!"

The woman behind the counter smiled at me.

The man didn't care. He probably didn't even hear me. He'd already gone out the door to get his mocha chocha latta whatever.

If he'd looked at the menu, he might have noticed that not only did the local joint carry products similar to Starbucks, but the prices were comparable (if not cheaper) than Starbucks.

And thus, Main Street died a little more.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The old brown coat

It was 7:30 a.m. on a Friday morning when the woman walked into my in-laws' garage.

The bonnet on her head and her long, plain-looking dress let observers know she was a member of the plain folk. She might have been Mennonite, or a sub-sect of the Brethren In Christ or another religious order with roots in the Anabaptists.

But she arrived in a car she drove, so she was not Amish.

Regardless, she wandered the tables set up with our family's brick-a-brack and clothing and toys. We decided to put most of the yard sale items inside the three-car garage because rain was predicted.

She made it to the last table, then stopped.

She picked up my old brown coat.

I bought it at Wal-Mart or Meijer or some similar store while I was living in Michigan, circa 2004. I needed a warm coat to withstand the frozen tundra, and this coat — a Carhartt knockoff — fit the bill.

It was warm and rugged. It looked more like the kind of coat you'd see a farmer wear. The brown was the color of milk chocolate, and the fabric was like canvas, but softer.

As time wore on, that coat and I went on many an assignment together. Fires. Car crashes. Standoffs. It did the job as I hustled to and from my car in the biting bluster blowing off Lake Huron.

I continued to wear it when I moved back to Pennsylvania in 2005, but stopped around 2008 because I was gifted a new winter coat that did a better job of protecting my neck (I had to wear a scarf with that old brown coat).

The coat then hung in a closet. Or in the basement. Or in the laundry room. It depended on where I was living.

I wanted to give it away to Coats for Kids, but for one reason or another, I always missed the collection.

Finally, as we prepared for the yard sale, I said that now was the time to get rid of the coat. I put a tag that read "$5" on it, but I would have taken less. I just wanted it to go to someone who could use it.

So I felt happy that the plain-dressed woman was eyeing it. She seemed like the type who would be the wife of one of Franklin County's many hardworking farmers. Maybe she thought that coat would work well for her husband, or son, who had to get up on very chilly mornings to tend to the dairy cows or make sure the tractor was running.

I had walked out of the garage for a minute, but walked back in just in time to see the woman handing a $5 bill to my father-in-law.

She handed over the coat hanger and said, "Thank you." Then she walked off quickly.

I wanted to tell her that I was glad it was going to a good home, or to wish the new wearer well for me.

Instead, I just smiled, then turned back to arranging items for sale on the table.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

'Prepare yourself'

Bernard and Marie Deinlein's children: David, Helen, Bernie and Joan in 2014.
It had been almost two years since I had seen my cousin, Sue.

As I walked onto the deck of my aunt and uncle's cabin in the mountains outside Berkeley Springs, W.Va., I gave her a hug.

"Prepare yourself," she whispered in my ear. "Prepare yourself."

I knew going to see Aunt Joan would be hard.

Two weeks earlier, I'd learned that my father's oldest sister was in the intensive care unit with pneumonia. After being on a ventilator and a cocktail of drugs, one bodily system after another was failing her.

"When they'd correct one problem, it would cause another," said my cousin, Kathy, Sue's sister. "The doctor said that every day, there was a new life-threatening problem they'd have to correct."

Aunt Joan was independent. She didn't like the fact that my Uncle Carle had to help her move about their home after she suffered a stroke a few years ago. There also were several falls and broken bones, limiting her mobility further.

But that independence is what made Joan one of my favorite relatives. I always looked forward to seeing her. She was full of stories and jokes and laughter. And she loved to hear good stories and jokes and laughter, too.

Much of her time was spent in the garden, finding different ways to grow vegetables and to keep the critters out. At Christmas each year, once you turned 21, you no longer received a card with money. You earned one of her black walnut cakes, made with nuts grown at the cabin.

Even she referred to them as "door stops," but we discovered their slices made good French toast.

She'd share deep conversations on philosophical topics, including but not limited to spirituality and what happens to the soul when it leaves the body.

She found peace in nature and joy in the garden.

It wasn't a surprise to me when Kathy said Aunt Joan didn't want to be kept alive by machinery. It would be OK for a little while, but if it became obvious that things weren't improving, she wanted to be taken off.

Meanwhile, Aunt Joan continued to tell anyone who would listen: "I want to go home. I want to go home."

Kathy told me how she explained to her mother that she couldn't go home because she was sick. Finally, at one point, Joan appeared to understand.

"I told her, 'You can't go home because Dad can't take care of you there,'" Kathy said.

She went from feisty to being calm and resigned.

"The fight just went out of her," my cousin said.

When it became clear there was nothing more medical science could do for her — not without a tracheotomy, feeding tube and dialysis — Kathy, Sue and Uncle Carle made arrangements to bring Aunt Joan home. Her bed faced the sliding glass doors, looking out onto 17 acres of West Virginia wilderness.

As I walked through the screen door into what had been her home office, there was my aunt, her eyes half open, her mouth agape as she struggled to breathe, an oxygen tube in her nose.

Kathy, Sue and Uncle Carle said that, sometimes, Aunt Joan's eyes would flicker when you'd speak to her. There'd be a brief moment of what seemed like recognition.

But then it was gone.

I leaned in close to her.

"Hi, Aunt Joan," I said. "How are you doing?"

As soon as I said that, I realized how dumb it was to say.

I sat in the rocker next to her bed, patted her hand and talked with the family. They said how it seemed to them to have taken a long time for things to come to this, but really, it had only been two weeks.

Too many long days.

Shortly before I had to leave for work, my mom, dad and youngest brother, Stephen, arrived.

I knew this was a hard time for Dad, who was the baby of the family. He was more than a decade younger than Aunt Joan. Her son, my cousin, Carle, who died of cancer more than 20 years ago, was not much younger than Dad.

Joan was closest to Dad emotionally out of all the siblings. Put the two of them together, it was a party.

So when he walked in and sat down next to his dying sister, he looked ashen.

Despite Sue's advice, that was the part for which I was not prepared.

I had only ever seen my father cry twice in my life: When his dog died and when the Colts left Baltimore. Both happened when I was 5.

On that Saturday before Mother's Day 2016, I saw the third time.

And so I had to leave for work. I shook hands and gave hugs to the family.

Then I leaned in to Aunt Joan.

"Hey Aunt Joan," I said, touching her shoulder. "I have to leave.

"I will see you later."

Her eyes flickered.

"I love you," I said, then kissed her forehead.

It was in that moment that I realized it was the first — and last — time I had ever told her that I loved her.

We German English Bohunks aren't known for our warmth, Dad once told me.

I've discovered we're also not always the brightest, particularly when it comes to family relationships.

I said goodbye to everyone again and left.

Aunt Joan died the next morning. Dad called to tell me.

"She didn't exactly have a strong faith in God," he said, his voice low and gravelly, "but she was a good lady. And that's really what matters most in this world."

Rest easy, Aunt Joan. I think you prepared yourself well for whatever comes when the soul leaves the body.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

When you're smilin'

Right now, for the most part, Annabelle sleeps, eats and soils her diaper.

She's only about a month and a half old, so this is in line with what you'd expect.

Except over the last couple days, Jen and I have noticed something.

Annabelle has smiled.

She has looked up at us and grinned a toothless grin. I managed to catch one of them on camera.

I caught our older daughter, Sophie, smiling at about the same age.

As with Soph, Annabelle's grin melted my heart.

Sure, it was probably gas. (I said the same thing about Sophie's smile.)

But it is another sign of our daughter's growing humanity.

And this little person, barely 10 pounds, is someone I helped create.

It still leaves me feeling both awesome and humble at the same time.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Love and...

I found out Wayne had died while on deadline.

I had just finished proofing my last page and was waiting for the copy editor to make the corrections and drop it into the system for final approval when I pulled up Facebook.

An old friend and former boss, Carl Whitehill, had posted a link to Wayne Kindness's obituary with the words, "Sad news ... good memories at The Evening Sun."

I felt my stomach drop.

"OH NO," I typed before clicking on the link.

The 69-year-old had been battling health problems since I met him in May 2001. He'd been in and out of the hospital several times over the past year, as he noted in his Facebook postings. So I guess it shouldn't have been a surprise.

Still, I couldn't help but feel shocked.

He was the assistant city editor at The Evening Sun in Hanover, Pa., for many years. Before that, he'd been a reporter, photographer and copy editor, and even run his own dirt-track racing publication.

He was a good guy and a good journalist.

He had a police scanner by his side at the desk — bringing in his own, not relying on the two already squawking in the newsroom.

After our 9 a.m. deadline (before his hip surgery) he'd bring a honeybun or bear claw or other sweet pastry back from the break room vending machine before setting to work on the next day's ROP pages.

But perhaps the thing I'll remember most about him was the way he told people how to spell his last name.

"Wayne Kindness. Just like 'love and....'"

Rest easy, big guy.