As a graduation present Mary and I decided that it would be a memorable and eye-opening experience for the kids if we took them back to Hungary. Catherine was first. We thought she had a pretty good time, unfortunately she forgot most of the experiences in short order.
This time we flew to Vienna and then took the airfoil boat to Budapest, a long 5-6 hour trip after a pretty long flight. We were tired by the time we arrived. Catherine’s eyes were really opened wide when they made us open every one of our luggage pieces and then they looked inside my wallet. We’re not in Kansas anymore!
She doesn’t remember much of her visit, so here are some pictures to prove she was there:
|The view from Gellért Hill in Buda. That's the King's Palace above Catherine's head.
||They have always had a very close relationship.
Camping with Ty and Rhona
We made plans to go camping with Mary’s brother, Ty and his wife, Rhona over a Labor Day weekend. We wanted to take tour pop-up tent trailer with us but I had nothing to tow it with at the time. I borrowed my brother-in-law, Don Frenzel’s pickup truck for the occasion. We were to leave Friday night. It was dark and raining as though it didn’t intend to stop for weeks as I was hooking up the trailer to the truck. Ty and Rhona were already there and planned to take their car.
Finally we were ready, so we got underway. It was quite late by then and there wasn’t much traffic on the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (the first toll-road in the country, BTW, instituted only until the road was repaired). As we were climbing in elevation I noticed that my lights were getting dimmer and dimmer. It finally got bad enough that I pulled over on an incline and shut off the ignition! Dumb mistake because now the truck wouldn’t start again, as the battery didn’t have enough juice. This was way before cell phones, so Ty and Rhona went ahead to the next exit to seek help. Finally a tow-truck showed up and with a quick jump we were underway. I didn’t know exactly what the problem was, so I didn’t want to continue without assurance, so we spent that night in a motel.
The next day turned out to be a beautiful morning, full of bright sunshine, as though the rain never happened the previous night. I tried starting the truck and it started right up. I suspect that the fan belt was not quite tight enough, allowing water to get in between it and the pulley, making it slip and not charging the battery. I never told Don about this because I know he would have felt terrible. We continue on our journey and enjoyed the familiar scenery. We were driving through the village of Candor, New York, doing the legal speed limit with the windows down when I heard a strange sound. That sound turned out to be emanating from the left wheel baring of the trailer. We pulled over to ascertain and, sure enough, that’s what it was. Now the task was to find a replacement on Labor Day weekend. After a couple of dead-ends we finally came up on a tiny machine shop with a dirt floor whose owner said he had one. He went back to the tiny store room barely big enough to turn around in and picking a little box from one of the top shelves handed it to me. We got a little grease from him and Ty was able to install the new bearing.
Trouble is by the time we accomplished all this and drove the rest of the way to the campground at the top of the mountain in Watkins Glen we were greeted by an inhospitable sign that read “Campground Full”. As they say “Every cloud has a silver lining.” and it was the case for us. We found a combination marina/campground in Montour Falls, a stone throw away from Watkins Glen. I knew about this pace because a number of years before that Steve and I camped there on our first motorcycle campout. The campground turned out to be almost solely occupied by “snowbirds”, who spend their time north in the summer and migrate to Florida in the winters. They were mostly elderly people who by eight o’clock were in their multi-bedroom trailers watching cable programs on their color televisions. There was electric, water and sewer hook-ups and we could watch HBO free. I enjoyed the ambience so much that I inquired about yearly rates. It wasn’t bad, so we decided to leave the trailer there and went home with Ty.
The trailer stayed there for the following 3 years, serving as home base for motorcycle and car trips.
My First Hospital Stay (Since Birth)
My lower backache kept getting worse. One night during bowling with Steve Haynes, Carol Rafferty and Frank Ross, I heard and felt something give as I bent over to let the ball go. A few mornings later I literally could not get out of bed. An appointment was made with a chiropractor but the pain did not diminish after a couple of visits.
By the time we went to an orthopedic surgeon it was in the back of our Plymouth station wagon whose depths I couldn’t leave without Mary’s and a pair of crutches’ help, In great pain I made it to the exam room and sat on the table. When the doctor came in he asked me to stand up. He was preoccupied with something and didn’t notice my wincing as I stood leaning against the table. He asked me to lean over which I couldn’t do more than a couple of inches. When he saw the pain in my face, he picked up the phone and started to make arrangements for a bed for me in Garden State Hospital. Unfortunately they had no bed in a room for me, so my bed was set up in the solarium at the end of the hallway, I was in constant agony and I felt like a caged animal, probably because it was my first hospital stay and lack of privacy.
One night I couldn’t stand the pain any longer and I rang for the nurse. She came back with a needle. I don’t think she was done emptying the whole vial into me and I was already feeling myself sink down into the mattress, followed by deep darkness, but no pain.
Early on I had a talk with myself during which I told myself that since I couldn’t get out of bed, I was not going to the bathroom, period! It was a good plan until a nurse threatened me with a catheter. I asked for a urinal and used it immediately. The bowel movement, of course, was another matter. While Mary was visiting me one time I asked her to help me to the bathroom. I sat down on the toilet but couldn’t go and then I couldn’t get back to the bed. I would’ve brought shame to my father had he been there because I kept moaning and carrying on like a schoolgirl. It took forever before I finally made it back to my bed.
I was finally moved to a room where they put me in traction. I wore a girdle-like belt to which weights were attached via two long strings hanging over the end of the bed on top of wheels, like a backyard clothesline. The pain’s sharpness diminished, so long as I laid in the bed but then the improvements had come to an end. A procedure called myelogram was performed to ascertain the slipped disc condition of my back. It is preceded by a shot to relax the area and prep it for the trauma to follow. After a respectable time passes aneedle the size of a pencil is inserted in between the vertebrae into the spinal canal and dye is inserted to mix with the spinal fluids. It didn't hurt, per se, but I kept picturing that needle, making me very uncomfortable. After this got to watch the monitor and even I was able to see that the majority of the disc was not where it belonged. The decision was made to operate. The night before the operation a very nice man came to shave my back. As I've been laying in bed for several days at that point, not being able to take good enough care of myself I kiddingly asked him to shave my face, too, so long as he was there already. He complied good-naturedly.
The following morning two orderlies came for me with a gurney, left in the hallway. One gave me a shot to "make me relax" and then they both disappeared, saying they'd be back. I laid in bed for a while and noticed that the pain had disappeared. I sat up in bed and put my legs over the side, an act I hadn't been able to do for weeks. I felt no pain. I stood up and walked over to the door and stuck my head out. I looked both ways and saw nobody but the gurney caught my eye. I walked over to it, still feeling no pain, grabbed the end of it and started pushing it down the hallway. Picking up speed heading toward the nurses' station I jumped on the back and sped by the gawking nurses. It wasn't until much later that I realized I wasn't wearing underwear under my hospital gown, to add insult to injury.
The next memory I have is of a nurse inserting a hugely thick needle into the back of my hand and thinking: "Whose hand is that?" Once in the operating room I was asked to count but I was out before I got to 97.
Thank God, the operation was successful and, although not as good as the original, my back has been, for the most part, pain-free and I have not been restricted from any activity. Take a look at the hospital bill for this surgery to see inflation in action.
I Buy a Motorcycle, Then Another
While living on Quincy Drive in Levittown we lived across Steve Danberry and his family. A more in-depth description of this man appears elsewhere in this document and I urge you to read it. This particular story is about the day I saw him arrive home on a motorcycle. Prior to this day we had a casual acquaintance and didn’t really know much about him, other than that he drove a tractor trailer for a living and that he was a practicing alcoholic. The motorcycle was a Suzuki GS450L and it was really physically too small for him. But he had a motorcycle and I didn’t.
It was not until later that he told me of an event that happened a week or so after he bought his motorcycle. He always liked to perch on a chair by his front door and watch traffic go by. He was sitting there one day and heard a loud motorcycle coming toward him. As he was observing the rider he noticed that he wasn’t wearing a helmet. He also saw that the rider didn’t have a confident posture and seemed unsure of his actions. Steve’s house was on the outside of a curve heading up a hill and has had several incident with drunken kids running up on his lawn after a night of heavy drinking. The motorcycle rider appeared to be heading straight for the house and sure enough, he hit the curb, jumped it and hit a large sycamore tree at the edge of his property, going no more than twenty miles an hour. At impact the rider was thrown over the handlebar of the bike, as though in slow motion and hit the tree trunk head-on. When Steve got to him he saw that his skull was split wide open and gray matter was oozing. He ran into the house and got a towel and wrapped the man’s head in it, holding his head in his lap. The unfortunate motorcycle rider died shortly afterwards. Needless to say, he couldn’t ride his own motorcycle for a few days and spent a lot of time in the backyard trying to gather himself.
It’s been several years since we sold the Benelli and I realized I missed it. I looked in the mirror and told myself that maybe it was time for me to buy a motorcycle also. Mary and I talked about it and shortly afterwards I went shopping. I stopped at Riff’s because they were a Yamaha dealer and I really liked the wheels of a motorcycle I had seen in a commercial on television, the 1981 Yamaha Virago. The wheels were of a swirl design. When I looked at and sat on a Virago I thought it was much too big for me. I settled for a 550 Maxim, which had the same wheels as the Virago. It was purple with chromed front fender and its seat was low enough for both my feet to touch the ground. I picked out a Shoei helmet whose color almost matched and after paying $2,800 for it and title, tags, helmet, etc., it was mine.
We had come in the car, so I told Mary to go ahead home and I’d be along shortly. There was a problem: I had very little experience riding on the open roads and in order to go home I would have had to make a left-hand turn and cross three lanes of very busy traffic of Route 1. I was not prepared to do that. So, instead, I made a right turn and headed away from home. I kept making right hand turns, gathering more self-confidence with each turn and alas, I found myself on Route 413 heading toward the home of one of my colleagues and friends, Bob Schreiber. Once there, I showed off my purchase and as usual, they were very happy for me. Then I realized that Mary was waiting for me at home, so I quickly headed for home. Mary was so happy to see me that she didn’t chastise me too much.
The very next day Mary’s brother, Ty and some of his friends were going for the first ride of spring and invited me to go along. Ty was riding a 650 Yamaha vertical twin, modified enough to be illegal, especially in the muffler department. After meeting Ty at his house we headed for Washington’s Crossing to meet up with his friend. This friend’s ride was an old 650 BSA, which was leaking oil from the engine. They were riding next to each other, feeling their oats, trying to bump into each other, kicking at the other’s bike, just generally having a good time on this first ride of the year. I was doing my best to keep up with them. Then we came to a 90-degree right-hander, followed shortly by a 90-degree left-hander. I negotiated the first turn but then panicked and went off the road into the grass. I barely missed a road sign that had been hit by a car, bent at a 45-degree angle, pointing right at me. Before I had time to be scared, I found my way back to the road and was scampering to catch up to the other two. Ty observed most of my antics in his rear-view mirror and was trying to find the right words to tell Mary how I died under his care.
Next was another friend who drove a Harley chopper, looking much like the one Peter Fonda rode in “Easy Rider”. It had a little peanut gas tank, huge raked forks and a king/queen seat that was no more than 25” off the ground. Every time we came to a red light every part of that motorcycle was shaking violently. As for my four-cylinder engine, it gave me absolutely no indication that it was running. It was vibration-free at virtually any RPM. It was fun riding in formation until the chopper ran out of gas. Ty jumped off the Yamaha, unhooked the gas line and took the gas tank off and transferred some of gas to the chopper. We were underway again. We ended up at a motorcycle repair shop whose owner would sell inspection stickers to those who needed them, at a premium price, of course. Once the illegal transactions were completed we were ready to ride again. Then I noticed that the muscles in my hands, especially the left one, were very sore, from pulling the clutch in. I discovered that I could rev up the engine a little more and shift two gears instead of one, thus saving my muscles. Luckily the chopper guy by this time has had enough, saying that his back was killing him, so we headed for home.
I took the bike over to Steve’s house and it wasn’t long after that we started to ride together. For most of the next 18 months the Yamaha was in my possession, I rode it every day. I commuted to work, so long as it wasn’t raining in the morning. I rode it so much that I felt uncomfortably enclosed in a car and had to drive with the window down. On the weekends Steve and I rode to some destination. Of course, some money was spent on accessories, such as saddlebags and a couple of fairings. The first fairing and the saddlebags were made by Shoei and were white, ugly but cheap. The second fairing was made by Yamaha, but for the Virago and was not cheap. It was color-matched to the Maxim and the bike looked great. Riding behind a windshield was difficult to get used to but one was rewarded with being able to ride longer and arrive fresher. At the end of the 18 months of ownership I had put 24,000 miles on that bike.
We used to stop at every motorcycle dealership we chanced upon during our rides. This is how I was introduced to Ducatis and re-introduced to BMWs. We stopped at a Honda dealer on our way to Watkins Glen, New York one day where I saw my first used BMW for sale. It was a brown 650 airhead (air-cooled twin) with a brown seat. It was the first bike I ever saw with a brown seat and that bike was responsible for starting up my interest for BMWs. Remember that all this happened way before the arrival of the Internet, so looking for a particular bike involved going to the selling dealer. It is how I found dealers in Burlington, NJ, one north of Trenton, NJ, one in Phillipsburg, NJ and one in Sellersville, PA. By this time I was looking for a specific motorcycle: a smoke-red R100RS. I didn’t find one anywhere. The dealer in Sellersville did have a leftover 1982 R100RT, a touring model with large fairing with adjustable windshield, saddlebags and it was smoke-red, a color thought to be custom by many an admirer. The 6.3 gallon tank with two petcocks - and therefore two reserves – carried you an easy 250-275 miles. After some feeble haggling I bought the bike and loved riding it for the next several years.
I commuted on it 25 miles one-way for years in all kinds of weather. My rule was that if it wasn’t raining when I left in the morning, I would take the bike. If there was no snow nor ice on the ground, I would take the bike. I rode in temperatures as low as 20 degrees. I wore a snowmobile suit and my “elephant ears” attached to my handlebars. It was great!
Then the sickness started. Someone I worked with told me his brother-in-law had a BMW for sale. We drove to Maryland to see it. It was a 1971 BMW R60/5 with low mileage. There was a bunch of extra parts that came with it. We agreed on an extremely reasonable price of $350 and came back with my son-in-law’s pickup truck to bring it home, marking the official beginning of the sickness called “multiple motorcycle ownership”. The bike needed tires and a battery for sure. After looking at the bike with more scrutinizing eyes, some additional parts were included on a list. I took the list to the local BMW dealer named Stan’s in Doylestown, PA and proceeded to fill it with items residing on the shelf in the parts room. Things like a new gas cap, an adapter to enable H4 bulbs to be used in the headlight. They had everything I needed! I installed the items over a period of time, then took it to get it inspected for the first time. I took it to a Kawasaki dealer on Route 13. The customer before me was looking to replace a broken clutch lever. The man behind the counter laughed out loud, saying that not only didn’t they have one but one couldn’t be ordered, either. The bike in need of the lever was a 1971 model, the same as my BMW.
The first time I let my son-in-law ride the silver R60 was amusing. Well, only to me! I had put it on the centerstand and to prevent the forks from flopping over to one side I tightened the friction steering dampener. I asked him if he wanted to switch. He said yes. Don didn’t know to loosen it before riding off and he couldn’t imagine why it took so much effort to turn the handlebars. It could’ve been worse, he could’ve crashed.
The Great Rafting Trip
My then manager, Bob, organized an outing for a summer weekend. Those of us reporting to him in Cherry Hill and our wives formed a caravan of two vehicles and traversed the state of Pennsylvania to a little place called Ohiopyle. We stayed in little cabins and the next day embarked on a rafting trip down the Youghiogheny River. This was but a few weeks after my disc removal operation (lamenectomy) from my lower back. We divided ourselves into four-person rafts and I ended up with Mary and Frank and Carol. Pat and Charlie went with Bob and his wife. Of all of us, only the Greenbergs and Bill had rafted before. Neither Judy, nor Steve, knew how to swim, so to give them confidence, they were put with the “experienced” Bill Miner and his wife. When Bill fell out of the raft during the very first rapids – the mildest one of the trip – his crew’s confidence went with him. Judy wanted to head for the shore, so she can walk back to the starting point. Steve told her that there were snakes in the woods and that’s the only way she relented to stay in the raft. At one point during the journey Bill’s wife fell out as well but Bill was hell-bent on saving her, so he grabbed her ankle and wouldn’t let go. She was close to drowning, before they realized that her head was underwater.
Before the end I, too fell out of the raft. One second I was in, the next I was out. There was water and foam all around me and I was swallowing quite a bit of water. The force of the water was unbelievably strong. During the orientation we were told to assume the fetal position to minimize the body's surface, to prevent from your extremities to get caught on the rocks, but that was easier said than done. The force of the water was constantly trying to flip me over. Strangely enough I still had my oar in my hand, to which I was hanging on for dear life. I guess that was my "straw". Eventually Frank grabbed my ass and lifted me back into the raft. I am pretty sure he enjoyed that more than I did.
My Stubbornness Backfires
Steve Danberry and I had talked about going away camping over Memorial Day weekend. I was excitedly awaiting that weekend but at the last minute came down with some kind of bug, giving me fevers and chills. I decided I was going to go regardless. Then Steve backed out and I was upset. I packed the BMW with my camping gear and donning my snowmobile riding suit (the warmest clothes I had at the time) I set out for the Big Meadows campground on Skyline Drive in Virginia.
It was cold and I was glad I remembered to install my “elephant ears” over the handlebar. This is a modified muff women my mother’s age used to wear in Hungary or football quarterbacks wear now during those winter outdoor games to keep their hands warm. It slips over the end of the handlebar and is secured with Velcroed straps to keep that end closed. The other end is open and is wide enough to slip your arm into it. It really works well and most times keeps the hands warm enough, even when not wearing gloves.
I was approaching the tool booths at my exit for Route 81 heading south. There was a car in front of me paying his tolls, so I stopped. I took my hands out of the elephant ears to find my wallet and as I was moving around the seat to get to it, I felt the bike lean to the right. I had just enough time to grab the handlebar through the elephant ears and I tried with all my strength to right the bike. I was able to stop it from going over farther but I couldn’t persuade it to come back to the middle. I struggled with it for what seemed like hours but I finally capitulated and gently laid the bike down on its right cylinder. This would have been a fairly easy task for me were it not for the fact I was not feeling well and that the bike was fully loaded. After several unsuccessful attempts I had run out of strength and ideas. I looked behind me at the tractor trailer, which was one of those snub-nosed jobs, and I looked at the driver. I couldn’t be sure but I think he was grimacing while shaking his head from side-to-side in disapproval and disappointment. I think he was saying to himself and me at the same time words I didn’t want to hear at this crucial time. Words like: “If you want to pursue a man’s sport, you gotta be a man!”. Despite my pleading eyes he didn’t budge from his seat.
The Lake Piseco/Lake Placid Trip
Using the trailer in Montour Falls as a base camp, we set out to explore Upstate New York State. We made it as far as Lake Piseco on the first day. Coming from a highly “civilized” and populated area, we took some careless assumptions. The most important of these was that there will be gas stations every few miles, so there’s no need to watch the trip odometer, just enjoy the ride. Although the Maxim got good mileage, it was loaded up pretty good, which always diminishes the distance that can be squeezed out of a tankful of gas. About 20 miles before we got to Lake Piseco the engine sputtered and I had to switch the petcock to reserve. We started to actively look for gas stations. We were on Route 8 coming from Utica heading north. Towns were far and few along the way and I was starting to seriously worry about running out of gas.
When I saw the sign for Lake Piseco I turned and much to my relief we found a gas station connected to a little store and a restaurant. After filling up we found some leftover donuts from the morning and they were excellent. Not too far from the store was a state campground and being a little tired we decided to stay there. There weren’t many people there, so we found a nice site and pitched our two-person Eureka.
After a good night’s rest we set out for Lake Placid. We explored the location of the 1980 Winter Olympics and had a great time. We didn’t keep good track of time and it was late when we started back to camp. We were only halfway there when it got dark. I never realized it could get that cold in the middle of summer. We were both freezing by the time we found our tent, so we crawled inside and quickly fell asleep. Mary woke me up some time later, saying that her sleeping bag was sopping wet. It was so wet that she couldn’t use it. Luckily mine was bone-dry, so we slept cuddled together for the rest of the night.
In the morning we discovered that in my haste I pitched the tent over a rain runoff area and while the rest of the tent stayed dry, the seam of the tent wicked some water inside, right into Mary’s sleeping bag. Three lessons learned here: give some more thought to the location of the tent, pack some warmer clothes and treat the seams of the tent with seam sealer. All in all, it was a great trip.
I Discover Letchworth
It so happened that I ended up with an extra week’s vacation one year. It felt really strange to be by myself but I decided to make the best of it. I started by riding the Maxim up to the trailer in Montour Falls, where I formulated the rest of my trip. There was a time when I entertained thoughts of visiting every state park in Pennsylvania. By then I had been to many of them, so it was doable. After looking at the map of New York looking for green areas, the color of parks, I found one just below Rochester. It had a strange name: Letchworth. I decided to make it my destination.
I entered the park via the Northern entrance and almost immediately came to the visitor center, where I learned a little history of the park. Bisecting the park is the Genesee River, flowing North through Rochester. In the past from time to time the river would flood the city, so a dam was built, which can be seen just a few steps from the visitor center. The dam totally prevented further damage by the river. It is a large dam and is quite a distance below the lookout place. The upstream part of the river is littered with tree trunks, which resemble toothpicks from that distance. I enjoyed the sights and sounds for a few more minutes, then continued to explore the rest of the park. I came to the campground next, so I picked out a site, pitched my tent and unloaded the bike. The site had electric hookup but I had nothing that needed it.
I checked out the camp store and bought a package of hot dogs, buns and a plastic container of milk, all of which I placed on the picnic table. I mounted the bike and continued south. The road loosely follows the river and every so often there are places where you can park and after a short walk to the edge of the cliff, see the river far below you. Each of these stations is different and the vistas seemed to be increasingly more pleasing to the eye. Eventually I arrived at a building, which I learned was an inn and restaurant and once belonged to the man the park was named after.
I also learned that when this man was just a boy, working on the railroad that traversed this area, he noticed the indiscriminate destruction of the surrounding forests by logging companies. Eventually he became a prominent lawyer and accumulated enough wealth to purchase several thousand of the surrounding acreage, vowing to forever protect the land. At his favorite spot, by the largest of three waterfalls, he had a house built, in front of which I was now standing. I walked inside to look at it and a couple of rooms were still furnished with his original furniture. There was a very nice souvenir shop, which is also where reservations could be made for the inn. These were kept in a huge book, in which the entries were hand-written. I noticed that many of the guests were dressed up for the occasion, wearing suits and ties and long gowns by the women. I was wearing my jeans and boots, sporting a three-day beard, with my camping knife attached to my belt. I approached the maitre d’, who was also in a gown and asked if someone looking like me would be allowed inside. She smiled and said yes and showed me to a table inside. I was feeling a little out-of-place but quickly noticed that nobody gave me a second look. I had a great meal and left with nothing but great feelings.
It was getting late, so I headed back to the tent. In my absence critters had visited the campsite and had taken bites out of both the bread and the hot dogs. I threw out what didn’t have bite marks and put them inside one of the plastic saddlebags. They didn’t bother my milk, so I left that out on the table. I concentrated on building a fire and communing with nature. Several times I heard rustling in the area and saw several raccoons, pretty big ones, I might add, who seemed visibly upset that I wasn’t going to bed. I could almost swear that I heard one sigh, when he saw that I was still sitting next to the fire.
The next morning I awoke to a soggy picnic table, as the raccoons had chewed through the hard plastic milk container and the seat and saddlebag of the bike containing the food were filthy with muddy raccoon footprints. They must have been really frustrated not being able to get to the food inside.
The next day I continued the exploration of the park and learned of the story of Mary Jamison, a 15-year-old abducted by Shawnee Indians, who killed her parents and sold her to the Seneca tribe. She stayed with them and became a prominent leader of the tribe preaching peace between Indians and the white man until her death.
Some buildings still remain from that era and can be visited.
The Route 6 Motorcycle Trip
I decided to explore the majority of Route 6 in Pennsylvania on my Yamaha. Along the way I visited the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, climbed down into the
ice mine in Coudersport and walked out on the Kinzua Bridge. The ice mine was an unexplained geological phenomenon inside a rather shallow in the ground. During certain summer weeks ice forms on the walls of the shaft. Whoopie!
Kinzua Bridge was a railroad trestle made of wood, spanning more than a half a mile, traversing a deep valley. Since then I re-visited this site and was sad to learn that a strong gust of wind blew most of the bridge into the valley below and access is now not possible.
I drove through the Allegheny National Forest and almost ran out of gas. On my way to Oil City I observed many oil derricks in operation. This area must be where Quaker State oil comes from.
When I looked at the map of Pennsylvania in my atlas I noticed a ghost town, so I had to investigate. The following is from the website for
Pithole City: “Oil production was centered in the valleys of Oil Creek and the Allegheny River when the 250 barrel-a-day Frazier Well drilled along Pithole Creek came in. Numerous other gusher wells in this isolated part of Venango County attracted thousands of fortune-seekers to the area and a town called Pithole City sprang up on the Thomas Holmden Farm in May of 1865. By September, 15,000 people lived in Pithole which had 57 hotels, a daily newspaper, and the third busiest Post Office in the state, handling more than 5500 pieces a day! But Pithole declined almost as rapidly as it grew. A combination of oil running out, major fires at wells and hastily constructed wooden city buildings, and new wells in nearby places caused the population to shrink to less than 2000 by December 1866. Today, little remains of this boomtown but cellar holes in a hillside meadow.”
I wanted to get away for a weekend of motorcycle camping. The destination I picked was French Creek State Park in Pennsylvania. It was still pretty early in the year, so I wore my snowmobile suit, just to be safe. When I got to the campground the first thing I noticed was that I was alone. Normally I don’t mind being alone, in fact, at times, I prefer it. Plus, in this case, it was easy to pick out a site to pitch my tent. Once I picked a site, the second thing I noticed was that there were several inches of ice on the picnic table. Putting it in the back of my mind I didn’t think much more of it and kept busy setting up the tent and performing other nesting chores.
Once done I was sitting on the bench of the table, communing with nature, when a car came into sight. They made a little circle, looking for a camping place and I was very angry to see them pull into a site that was only two over from mine. I was fuming! Why did they have to be so close to me? I mean, the whole campground was deserted! Then the car doors opened and a bunch of Orientals exited. They started to unpack the car. One of them opened the trunk and took out a couple of large speakers. Oh, my God! That’s it! I was over the boiling point and was seriously thinking of packing up, when soft sounds of classical music wafted over to my ears. Classical music is my favorite! I settled back down onto the bench and my anger dissipated in no time at all, in fact, I was embarrassed for my earlier feelings.
A few minutes later I wanted to build a fire from the few measly branches I had collected earlier. No matter what I did, the fire would not start. Before I knew it one of my neighbors came over to me and handed me a cup of coffee and proceeded to put a can of Sterno into the fire. He covered it with the wood and then lit the Sterno. Before long I had my fire blazing. When I went to bed, I found out that an air mattress is not really a good thing to sleep on when the air and ground are freezing. I was shivering before I realized drastic changes needed to be made and I spread the snowmobile suit on top of the mattress, put the sleeping bag on top and crawling inside I was finally warm enough to go to sleep. When I woke up the next morning and went to the bathroom, one of the Orientals was waiting for me with another cup of coffee.
Things like this have been happening to me all my life. I have truly been blessed to always have “my Orientals” around me when I need them. And I always say “thank you” whenever it happens. The story above is just one of literally hundreds of examples. Most of them are smaller but I always notice and say “thank you”. The list of notable people elsewhere in this document is a list of “my Orientals”. People who are or have been my friends, people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a workplace, have all helped me at one time or another. It is my hope that they can all say the same about me.
My First Visit to West Virginia
Mary had been married before to a man from West Virginia. She married at a very early age and had her children early as well. He was a farmer and a big man, who liked to eat. He fell ill one day and was in the hospital diagnosed with appendicitis when complained to his mother that he was hungry. She brought him some food, which he wasn’t supposed to have and after his appendix burst, the doctors couldn’t save him. Mary’s former-in-laws and other marriage-related relatives reside in Elizabeth, West Virginia. Mary and her kids haven’t seen them in some time, so we decided that it would be nice to let them see the kids. Mary’s sister, Sharon and her two children were to come along, so we took the Rambler station wagon and the Porsche 911T.
I was driving by myself (something I always enjoyed and still do) and in the lead. Flashing headlights was our communication system, along with pointing, waving frantically and other makeshift methods to get the other’s attention.
We started out on the four-lane toll road called the Pennsylvania Turnpike, one of the first in the country and pretty much drove the width of the wide state of Pennsylvania. Then we traveled south on two-lane roads for another long stretch. When we got closer to our destination, I motioned for Mary to take the lead, since she’s been here before and started to follow her. Pretty soon the road narrowed by a lot and traffic became non-existent. When we turned off that road I found myself on a DIRT ROAD! The blue-blooded Teutonic automobile of mine was not used to this cruel treatment. It seemed to have partially applied the brakes, as though it didn’t want to go much farther but maybe that was my imagination and secret wish. We were still going forward. The scenery included a lot of fields, livestock, barbed-wire fences and damned few houses. Those that came into view all had huge barns and there was farm equipment littering the landscape. I thought this is where they were shipped to live out their remaining short lives. Pretty soon the old Rambler slowed down drastically. I wondered why because all I could see was an old house on the right and the foundation of another house across the road. The old house had tin roofs in need of replacement and around the corner, behind a huge garden, I spied an outhouse. An outhouse! It’s been years since the last time I’ve used one and that was fine by me! My immediate reaction was to not even get out of the car but to turn around and go home but cooler heads prevailed…
Before I knew it there was a sea of people surrounding the two cars. Most of them were children, all with smiling faces. After the introductions were over I was able to sort out the details: Mary’s former-mother- and father-in-law, Edna and Merle lived in the old house. There was no indoor plumbing, so the outhouse was used regularly. Mary’s former-sister- and brother-in-laws, Arda and Bob, lived in the foundation across the road. It was these two people to whom the seven bare-footed children belonged. Being here was like taking a giant step back into the FertÅ‘szentmiklós and Dömsöd days of my childhood. The children had boundless energy and had trouble standing in one place for too long. They minded their parents with respect and I formed an instant bond with them. It was a wholesome environment and I found myself wishing our three kids could grow up here as well.
We unloaded our stuff from the cars with the kids’ help and moved into my choice for the week: the foundation. I made this choice as soon as I found out they had an indoor toilet. There were not many walls in the living space, so rope was hung and sheets or blankets were used to define different rooms. They even had a nice big console television. I found out later that it didn’t work and that’s why there was a smaller TV on top of it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work either, hence an even smaller set on top of it. It was with great elation that I learned that it did work!
The next day Mary wanted to go for a ride on a horse. OH, YES, they had horses and cows. I was excited. I always liked horses and thought they were intelligent, clean animals. I used to ride one in FertÅ‘szentmiklós, when I was four or five years old. The horses were brought out from the barn and saddled. Mary and Sharon were quick to mount theirs and galloped away before I knew what was happening. I mounted my horse and tried to follow them but as soon as I got into the saddle, I noticed something was different from my earlier equine experiences: I was sitting a LOT HIGHER this time! I found it to intimidating but tried to push it in the back of my mind. My horse didn’t want to go faster than a parade walk pace and it seemed to know that there wasn’t anything I was able to do to change that. We were barely past the barn when one of my feet came out of the stirrup, followed shortly by the other. This left me holding the reins with one hand, while my other hand had a death-grip on the horn of the saddle. I felt that the reins offered me no solid support I desperately needed, while the saddle was solidly on the back of the horse. In an instant my sharp mind was able to deduce that it was much better and safer to hold on to the saddle, so that’s what I chose to do. Of course I hadn’t counted on the high intelligence of the horse. As soon as it felt the reins flopping in the breeze he knew that I gave him total control, so he immediately turned around and headed for the barn, gathering speed with each stride. By this time I realized my mistake and instinctively knew that my life was in the balance, so I did the only thing I felt might help me: I started to yell at the top of my lungs, all the way to the barn. I am not positive after all these years, but I might have even had my eyes closed during most of this ordeal. It seemed like forever before that damned horse reached the barn. As I jumped from the seat I fully intended to kick the damned horse but as soon as I felt the firm ground under my feet, I was so thankful that my mean thoughts left me immediately. Mary, and all too many other, saw the whole thing, so we all had something to laugh about for several days. Ha, Ha, Ha.
By day two I was feeling really comfortable with everybody and found myself walking around bare-footed and enjoying it again. It really brought back a lot of very pleasant memories of good times and great people. I even sat on the porch of the old house and listened to stories being told and soaked up the southern drawl. Bob was a great story-teller. He had many stories and he always had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes while he was telling them.
A few days later there was another horse-riding outing was suggested. I was very reluctant to go along but they finally talked me into it. Then they told me it was to take place in the dark. Horses can see perfectly well in the dark, they said. It was dusk when we started out and everything went well, until my horse found some trees. I can’t prove it, of course, but I think he was walking under low-hanging branches on purpose. He was trying to swat me off his back. Then it got pitch dark that night. I couldn’t see in front of my nose, but the horses plodded on. Just when I was starting to fee comfortable, my horse stepped into a hole and stumbled. I felt myself going over his head, trying feverishly to picture how deep a gorge I was falling down on before he caught himself and started walking normally again. I wanted so bad to get off that horse and walk back but as I said before, I couldn’t see a thing and had no idea where we were. Looking back on it, now it was a pleasant experience; one that I am telling my grandchildren about.
I didn’t want to go home at the end of the week. It was really hard to say goodbye to everybody and I promised to visit them again.
The Snipe Hunt
We were in West Virginia again. Mary’s sister Sharon and her kids, Donna and Donnie, were there and as a rare treat, their father, Don, came along as well. It was a rare treat because Don doesn’t take traveling vacations. There is only one other occasion when they went to Salem, Massachusetts. They checked into the motel that night and they were home by the next night.
It was evening and we were all in the old house sitting around talking and listening to stories. Somebody mentioned snipe hunting. I had heard of this a long time ago, back in my Brooktondale days, so I just smiled. Then Don piped up and expressed an interest in learning about this snipe hunt. We all looked at each other and couldn’t believe our ears. This was too good to believe! So we all listened to the familiar story of the snipe hunt. I don’t remember who was telling it but he did a really good job because Don took the bait to everyone’s delight.
Here is a synopsis of the story told to Don:
Snipes are very shy, nocturnal animals, so great care must be taken not to make excessive noise. The hunting party consisted of someone holding a paper bag whose contents were to remain unknown to its holder. The person holding the bag was to out to the middle of the field and wait for the snipes, rattling the contents of the bag ever so lightly, as to attract the snipe. Then the bag must be held open on its side, close to the ground, so that an attracted snipe would run inside the bag. The rest of the hunting party would fan out in a circle and drive the snipes toward the person holding the bag.
Don seemed excited at the prospect of catching a snipe and the rest of us were as well but for a different reason. We all left the house, leading Don to the middle of the field and, giving final instructions, we left him there and headed right back to the house, giggling all the way. Once we were inside the giggles turned to side-splitting laughter. We couldn’t believe we successfully pulled off this practical joke. Minutes came and went and there was no sign of Don. After a half-hour or so passed Sharon went to look for him. She was gone for a long time before returning. She found him in a very irritated condition. He was upset that a grown man was naïve enough to be talked into doing such an act. Turns out he eventually suspected that he was left “holding the bag” (pun intended). He even opened it and found the horse-manure inside, confirming his suspicions. By then he was so upset at himself and embarrassed beyond description that he didn’t want to face us. The two of them slept in the barn that night and the next day we all tried to avoid eye contact.
We Buy a Boat
We visited Mary’s older sister, Elsie in Cleveland. Her husband, Don, proudly showed us his new boat. He has always been an avid fisherman, telling us stories about his catching catfish in the Canawba and Ohio Rivers when he lived in that area. I was particularly enthralled by one of his tales of hooking into something that was big enough to take all the line off his fishing reel, probably not even realizing it was hooked.
His boat was a Blue Fin 19’ in length and it was already fitted with outriggers for fishing for walleyes in Lake Erie. Don invited us to go, so even Elsie came along the next day. It was a nice day, sun shining brightly and the waves were mere ripples on the water’s surface. We were having a good time hauling in the catch and even I caught and landed some. I was busy fishing when the weather all of a sudden turned nasty and it was time to get out of the water.
I didn’t realize that Lake Erie is a relatively shallow lake, whose bottom is very flat. These facts become important whenever a storm brews up over the lake because it causes the water and wind to produce some rather large waves in hardly any time at all. It became nasty in short order and we donned our life-vests, just in case. Luckily, Don was a seasoned veteran in these waters and knew how to handle the boat against the waves. I learned some things myself that day. I am a pretty good swimmer, so I wasn’t afraid for myself but Mary could not survive in the water, so I was concerned over our safety.
Don pointed the boat into the waves, taking them at slightly less than head-on, speeding up into and slowing down coming out of the waves. I looked back a couple of times just in time to see the outboard motor almost completely disappear under water, only to emerge, still running, a few seconds later. I wondered to myself what would happen if the motor became water-logged but down deep I knew the answer.
We, after a long struggle, finally reached shore and it wasn’t until we were back in the car that we learned that it was Elsie’s first trip in the boat. I think it was also her last.
I told Don that we really had a good time and that we’ll have to do it again some time and then we left to go home. A few short weeks later Don called to say that he found me a used boat, just like his, and we should come and make the deal at the marina. The son of a gun called my bluff, so off to Cleveland we went. By this time the memory of the storm became distant and in a weak moment I signed the papers.
Since we didn’t own a vehicle then that could pull the boat, Don agreed to tow it all the way to Levittown with his big old Cadillac. After he parked it where I told him to, he and David went back home, leaving me wondering what I was going to do with a boat.
Our son-in-law, Don, came to the rescue with his pickup truck and so we went fishing in a private lake around Levittown. The motor wouldn’t start. Don ascertained that the fuel tank was full of oil at the bottom. After much work it finally roared to life and we had fun fishing from the boat. The next time we took in to the Delaware River and again had motor problems and ended up dead in the water, floating out to the ocean. It was a terribly helpless feeling.
Another time our son, Chris, Mary and I went fishing in the Delaware Bay. We found a school of bluefish and had great fun fighting them. They have tremendous strength. One I hooked into actually straightened the 3” hook and got away.
We were kind of tired after this so we took a little nap, sunbathing. When I woke up and looked around I immediately noticed that we were much farther from the shore than the last time I looked. The second thing I noticed was that nothing I saw on land looked familiar. In near panic we headed for shore and in a long 15 or 20 minutes I noticed something far, far away I thought to be part of the landscape we left behind when we put in, so I headed for it. The amount of gasoline used up at full throttle was alarming but I wanted to get close to shore as quickly as possible. After what seemed like eternity the landmark I noticed from a distance turned out to be what I thought it was and we were able to find our way to the marina we left from. I never fished from that boat in the Delaware Bay again.
We moved the boat with us to Upstate New York and used it a few times in the Great Sacandaga Lake. Once I even let my mother steer the boat, much to her delight. When Don sold his pickup truck we had no tow-vehicle, so it just sat next to the house. When Roger expressed an interest in having the boat, a quick deal was struck and we were both happy.
The next chapter is:
1987 - The Beginning of the End of Cherry Hill