Big Spring

The Big Spring Creek (as it is technically named) rises from inside the Earth somewhere about two miles from my dad’s house, which is the house that I mainly grew up in, along with my sister and mother, until we all moved away except my dad.  He’s still there, tending the hyacinths.

The Big Spring (us locals never say the ‘Creek’ part) bubbles up out of nowhere under a hillside, about twenty feet from a bend in a very pretty road.  From there it meanders about six miles—never really more than a few feet deep—until it empties into a larger creek, the Conodoguinet Creek (us locals do say that creek, although more often than not, it’s just The Conodoguinet.  We’ve all heard the story that it was named when a cowboy asked a Native American, “Can I go in it?”, which is, of course, about the stupidest story ever told).  The Big Spring hops up out of the ground (it is what is called a Karst Spring, meaning the soft limestone ground has allowed water from surrounding runoff to create underground tunnels, from which it then shoots forth), makes a very scenic area even more scenic for a few miles, and then becomes something else entirely.  Its life, from an individual molecule’s point of view, is pretty brief.

Growing up, we moved from an old house into a new house when I was about eleven years old, but both houses were very close to the Big Spring.  It’s a small creek, but nonetheless, growing up near water has its perks.  I never learned (or wanted) to fish, but I spent lots of time on the Route 233 bridge—that one right there by John Graham Medical Center—peering down into the pristine flow, tracking the movement of the brook trout as they navigated their daily lives.  I also liked how swarms of anonymous insects gathered near the surface, buzzing about in a loose ball.  I imagined they drank the water, and maybe liked the sunshine.  I think maybe I wanted to be one of those anonymous insects.

My father now lives closer to the Big Spring than any of us from my family, but he didn’t grow up near it.  He grew up in a different small town about 25 miles away.  Nowadays, that doesn’t seem far, and I grant you it wasn’t a massive distance then, either, but it was farther.  The interstates weren’t as perfectly engineered as they are today, and cars weren’t so finely manufactured.  You drove 45 miles-per-hour on the network of roads that had sprung up organically over time, as people figured out where they wanted to go.  And each town still had their own Main Street, their economic centered downtown, so there was much less reason to go from Mechanicsburg (where Dad grew up) to Newville (where I grew up).  I’m sure the chances of Dad even hearing of the Big Spring Creek in those days was pretty slim; Mechanicsburg had plenty of its own attractions.  He once told me a sad tale about his days in Little League baseball all those 25 miles away.  In those days, they made you try out for the teams.  He wasn’t good enough to play with the kids his own age and they relegated him

Dad, very young, in Mechanicsburg

Dad, very young, probably even before moving to Mechanicsburg

to “pony ball”, where he played with boys much younger than himself.  Regardless, one year, his pony league team was a very good team.  Their star player was a young pitcher by the name of Bill Shortridge who was just pitching lights-out ball.  Near the end of the season, one of the teams of older boys came and took Bill Shortridge off Dad’s team and promoted him to the older league.  Even so, Dad’s team finished undefeated, even without the star pitcher.  Later, at an awards ceremony, they were handing out a trophy for Most Valuable Player, and it was still given to Bill Shortridge!  He must have been very good.  But an adult pulled Dad aside and said to him, You know, if it wasn’t for Bill Shortridge, we were going to give that award to you.  Dad told me not long ago, “I wish they just hadn’t said anything to me at all.”

I had a very similar (although admittedly less heartbreaking) experience with little league baseball in Newville.  My dad and I are both short men, which means we were also “little” boys.  In most athletics, being a small boy is a one-way ticket to obscurity.  In addition, I was not very good at baseball.  Before I ever swung a bat it was decided I would play one age group below where I should be.  So when I arrived at the ballfield each Saturday, I would see my friends and classmates over at the bigger field, playing a version of the game that looked to me like it was on steroids.  Then I would go play a game of baseball with kids two or three years younger than me, and they were still better than I was.  I was (and always will be) afraid of the baseball.  They’re just so hard.  I’d usually get stuck in right field, and even then I’d often botch a play; when a fly ball was hit to me I would make sure I took the least-effective route to it so that it would land before I had to try and catch it.  Once, I didn’t get a single at-bat in a game and my parents stayed after to complain to the coach and he bawled them out for standing up for me.  Later on, on the car ride home, they just laughed about it because the guy had been such a maniac.  They’re good parents.  But I’m also not any good at baseball.

 

In my teen years, my family had moved out of the small town of Newville to a house in a more rural area.  Walking down to the Spring was no longer quite as easy; it was now a little over a mile away.  It was still easily reachable by bike and of course by car.  There was a large

Me in the gravel parking lot, age 35.

Me in the gravel parking lot, age 35.

gravel parking lot along the Spring out here in the country.  That parking lot was the site of many “firsts” in my life—most of them illicit in some way.  This creek which had been a source of innocent musings to me as a child now bore witness to very much of my growing up.  I still visit that parking lot almost every time I visit Dad, but there’s nothing really there for me anymore.  Some places don’t ever own any real magic.

 

My mother grew up in yet another small town—not Newville and not Mechanicsburg, but Oakville.  Now this is a tiny town, but not too far from Newville and the Big Spring.  She was probably aware of it was a child.  She grew up on a real life, honest-to-goodness farm.  She often had to gather eggs as a child.  Her sister (my aunt) tells a story of moving freshly born piglets out from under their mothers so they wouldn’t be crushed.  They had many outbuildings, as farms tend to have, including a pump house, where you would heave and ho on a big metal pump and call water up from deep underground.

As her parents got older they sold the farm and moved into a house in Newville, on Big Spring Avenue.  My parents, after meeting in college and getting married, would later buy a house just two doors down from Mom’s parent’s house.  I would spend my first days as a human being (notwithstanding a few days in Carlisle Hospital) in the big

Mom on the farm in Oakville as a young teenager

Mom on the farm in Oakville as a young teenager

yellow house at 66 Big Spring Avenue.  Both of my parents, despite being from “the next town over” came to adopt Newville as their homeland.  Mom would eventually be on the committee of the Newville Area Community Center, and Dad would be the announcer and finally the coach of the town’s ill-fated Twilight League baseball team, the Cardinals.

In those halcyon days, Newville had an annual carnival-type event down at the town playground (this was different from the current annual Fountain Festival).  As a child, the carnival seemed like the biggest event in the world.  It felt like the whole town was there.  There were dunk tanks and food stands and those things where you throw darts at balloons and face painting.  The whole shebang.  I also was made to feel special at these events, because my mom was something there, and the importance of this is not to be diminished: she was the long-standing champion of the Dual Sack Race.  This is a race where you and a partner each put just one leg in a large burlap sack, and then through teamwork you race other teams in a kind of start-and-stop hopping motion.  Mom’s partner each year was family friend Wayne Witmer, and boy-howdy, they were good.  They just simply won every year, but nobody knows for quite how many years.  One year they even made the local paper, the Valley Times-Star, with a picture and everything.  Mom recently said to me, “I can still see that picture in my mind, exactly.  I was so cute and little and lithe!”  Lithe.  There’s something time seems to take from all of us, no?  Know what Mom and Wayne won every year for their heroic efforts?  An ice cream cone.  Despite the meager winnings, when the event organizers stopped offering the event, it made Mom feel sick.  She looked forward to it so much.

When I was pretty young, but I don’t know how young, I was out at the Spring with a couple of my other pretty young friends. I’m not even sure which house we lived in at this time. I know that we were out in the country, although we might’ve lived in town. But my friends and I were out in the country, and we were taking big rocks, as big as we could actually carry, and moving them across the Spring, trying to make a dam. I don’t know why we were doing it, it’s just the sort of thing that you do when you’re a kid growing up near a body of water.  You want to manipulate it, plus, you’re also bored. We got about halfway across the spring, it was actually a pretty good dam we were building – and we can actually see the waterflow changing a little bit, when down out of one of the grand houses that stands up in the lush vegetation beside the pretty road (which is, for the record, called Spring Road) strode toward us our elementary school principal. I didn’t know it at the time, but Art MacArthur, the principal of Newville Elementary School, lived in that grand house, and he had been watching us.  But the thing was, he didn’t come to yell at us.  We were scared when we saw him, but he was very nice.  Most of us, he knew our names just by looking at us.  He talked to us for a few minutes, complimented how well we had made our dam.  Right before he left he told us that if a police officer or Game Commission official happened by, we could get in a lot of trouble, so we should put the stones back where they had been.  So that is what we did.

My sister Adrienne has always been about three years older than me, and presumably, she always will be. I say that she’s about three years older than me, because sometimes it’s only two years. It depends on what month it is. So of course, we had slightly different experiences

Adrienne in the backyard of the Newville house with grandma Dellinger

Adrienne in the backyard of the Newville house with grandma Dellinger

growing up. But we did spend an awful lot of time together by the spring. When we were very young, and still living in town, we would often walk down to the spring, where there is a large and a very old stone arch through which a bend in the stream  meanders. We could walk up a very steep embankment and get above the stone arch (which wasn’t a bridge so much as a tunnel through the embankment), and simply be there, being in our own little world. It really is a very secluded area, the town itself is almost devoid of activity during the day, even now when I visit. Back then, stifling hot summer days would send everybody who was actually home during the day inside, and we could be out and about. There was silence, and insects, and cars in the distance. We would be above this stone arch, which was probably over a hundred years old even then, and we would look for big thick branches that we could lay down on. We would pretend it was our own sort of hideout or fort. Our age difference was enough that we weren’t often playmates, we didn’t share fantasies or other worlds, but this little secret place, we could share. Later, without me, she would bring her first boyfriend Mike down to the same spot, find little coves in the trees, and make out with him. She was growing up, which I suppose is something everyone has to do. It was, I suppose, her version of the gravel parking lot that I would later find as a teenager, once we moved out to the country. Either way, that spring was just trickling past us, whether we noticed it or not.

Everything just keeps trickles right past.

 

 

5 Responses to “Big Spring”

  1. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    Sorry it took me so long! Things happened and then, well I forgot.

    I imagine it’s pretty flattering a makes you full of pride to read what your own kin wrote and discovered about you. You honored a time in their life when you were just…nothing. Not even a possibility. The sperm and egg that made you hadn’t even been made. I don’t think so at least. Eggs are weird. I’d love to read something like this written about me. That’s not me dropping a hint to you. I’d like my child to write it. If my child can be bothered to stop laser chatting to write something about his papa.

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