Archive for sister

Origin Story, or: Where I Started

Posted in Memoir, Prose, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2016 by sethdellinger

1.

I hunched inside my filthy, smoke-laden 1983 Ford Escort in the parking lot of the corporate office. It had been a three hour drive in the early morning, from my home in Central Pennsylvania to where I was now in Pittsburgh. I had worked for the company for eight years, but this was the first time I was seeing the home office. Although my excitement and nervousness was palpable, I couldn’t deny some disappointment with the plainness of the building. It wasn’t in bustling downtown Pittsburgh like I expected, but in some suburban shopping village, and although it was not a small building, its common brick exterior and clean design was reminiscent more of an upscale middle school than what I had been expecting. But nonetheless, here I was nervous. I was preparing finally for an interview to get into management. I had been a dishwasher and then a cook while I struggled and slouched through my early twenties, and now that I had begun to straighten myself out, my boss was taking notice, and suggested I become an actual manager. It seemed ludicrous to me at first, the idea that people would let me be in charge of something. But more and more, the idea took hold within me. I had, after all, basically been running the kitchen in that restaurant for years. The more that my bosses told me I had a bright future with the company, the more comfortable I became with the idea that I was a leader, that I was already a leader. I didn’t know anything about doing it officially, but it did start to seem like a natural idea. I was nervous as heck though. I had no idea how to answer questions for a job that entailed real-world grownup things. And now that I had been thinking about it so long, it became something I wanted very much, so I did not know what I would do if I just bombed the whole thing. My manager had done the best he could to prepare me, but this was all uncharted territory for me. I was wearing a clip-on tie that I had stolen from my father’s closet. And pants that I had gotten from JCPenney just for the occasion. I swung open the Escort’s door, and, putting on a fake face of bravery and confidence as much as I possibly could muster, I walked toward the bland brick building. Once I swung open the big glass doors and walked inside, I ceased being unimpressed.

2.

I’m in high school.  I think I’m probably 17.  Maybe I’m 16.  Who can remember details like that all these years later?  Details like how old you were.  Those kinds of details or statistics rarely matter.  Anyway I was a kid still, a teenager, you know?  I don’t remember anything about the evening that lead up to this night I’m telling you about.  I know I was with three of my friends–or more accurately, two of my friends and one of their girlfriends.  I began the evening in the backseat of one of the friends’ cars.  We were going somewhere to drink, to get drunk.  But this was a special night, because I had never drank before, or at least, I had never been drunk.  Sure, I’d had a few glasses of watered-down wine at some family wedding when I was a tyke, but I’d never felt any effects.  My friends and I had never snuck or stolen any kind of alcohol yet. Tonight was our first.  One of my friends–the one with the car and the girlfriend–knew a grown man named something like Darius who lived in Carlisle, which was the bigger town closest to our smaller town. I have no idea how he knew this man.  We arrived at his house sometime after sundown.  I didn’t know Carlisle very well then but later I would end up having my first apartment by myself very close to this Darius’ place.  Life is cuckoo like that, no?  So I settle into a deep, plush chair in this guy’s apartment–he has a girlfriend there, too, and they’re so much older than us I assume they’re married.  Darius has procured us all “forties”, or malt liquor that comes in 40 oz bottles.  I crack open the cap with a high level of anticipation.  It tastes horrible.  Wretched.  Very, very hard to drink the whole thing.  But I want it.  I want the buzz, the feeling, whatever it is–I’ve seen other people have it and I want it.  We all sit there nursing our 40s for awhile–I can’t tell you how long, who can remember those details?–and it gets a little easier to get it down as the night goes on.  I feel slightly light-headed but nothing to write home about.  I was disappointed to slowly learn throughout the evening that there was no more alcohol, just one 40 for each of us.  At some point I said to Darius (or whatever his name was), “Hey, I’ll give you a few buck to go get me just one beer.”  Everyone laughed, because you can’t go buy just one beer to-go, but I didn’t know, I didn’t know.  We left then shortly thereafter and by the time I got home, even my light-headedness was gone.  I knew, as I lay there in my bed, that I was gonna chase that feeling, that I was gonna find it.

3.

It’s 5 AM. It is still very dark outside, and it’s cold. I’m taking my very inexpensive bicycle out of the back of my car. I’m in Presque Isle State Park, in Erie, Pennsylvania, way up in the upper left-hand corner of the state. Presque Isle is a forested peninsula that juts out into Lake Erie–Pennsylvania’s northernmost point and only seven miles from (still not-visible) Canada.  It’s about seven years since I started my management career, about 16 years since I took my first drink in that cushy chair with Darius, and about eight years since I had my last drink. I am putting a bicycle on a road that goes the length of Presque Isle, tracing the peninsula’s outer edge. I had set my alarm for 4:30. I wanted to be the very first person out on the peninsula this morning. It was awfully fun loading my car up in what seemed like the middle of the night, driving the 15 minutes through the city out to the lake, but when I got to the entrance to the park, there was a car already there waiting. But shortly after the gates opened, the car went a different direction, so I still felt like I had the entire peninsula all to myself. The crooning of the insects, the chirping of the birds, seems all for me. This solitary performance of nature is just another extension of my current life, the manner in which I am completely alone. Five hours from all my family and friends, when even a trip to the local Walmart poses zero possibility of running into anyone I know, it’s easy to begin to think that the birds and insects sing only for you. As I hoist myself onto my bike, I smile more broadly that I have in years. I recently discovered the joy of bicycling, and having this peninsula cutting into Lake Erie all to myself on this chilly but slowly brightening, slowly warming morning, somehow becomes the most delicious moment I could have possibly imagined for myself. As I pedal faster and faster, following the road that faces the outer limits of the peninsula, that happiness simply grows and grows. How did I come to live this life? How did I come to be so lucky? The birds and insects above increase in volume, as the lake reveals itself on my right, at this time of morning still a black mirror stretching out farther than I ever would’ve imagined, more vast than I want to ponder.

4.

I haven’t experienced as much death in my life as many folks have, but I have seen more than a few people I knew and loved shuffle off.  What a strange thing, too, when people die, right?  Suddenly they’re just not there anymore, like a phantom limb, or a dream you can’t shake.  What always rattles me most is how often the person truly fades from our lives.  Sure, we mourn them, we miss them, we still love them.  But usually we get rid of their stuff right away, clear out everything they spent their whole lives acquiring.  We loved them but not their stuff.  Then shortly after they die we consider it poor form to talk about them too much; why dwell on the past?  It might be considered obsessive to ask too many questions about what their life meant, what it meant to you or the universe, and what they might be experiencing now.  When I used to think about my death a lot–when I was sad, which isn’t now–I would imagine my loved ones saving the books and movies from my shelves, saying Oh Seth loved these, I will read them all as a tribute!  But I know now they won’t, and even that they shouldn’t.  I’ll just be gone, and this mountain I spent my whole journey climbing, crafting myself carefully out of nothing, will just fade, fade, fade.

5.

The boy had me in a headlock.  I’d never been in a headlock before—at least, not one that was meant to hurt—and so I was confused.  There’s not much worse than being confused, hurt, and restrained all at the same time.  Especially when you’re seven years old.

Really, I should have seen it coming.  Even though I was only seven and had never been in a fight in my life, I knew that the boy was bad news, and I had seen him in the church yard before I went in there myself.  And he’d been giving me awful, evil kid-signals for months.  I should have seen it coming.  But what do you want from me?  I was seven.

I walked into the church yard with a tennis ball and a baseball mitt, planning to throw my ball against the big wall on the south end of the church and catch the bounces; to this day, one of my favorite things to do.  But I saw him. The neighborhood’s resident bad kid.  The badass. His family lived in that gross house with all the trash in the back yard, and he never seemed clean; always had a brownish undercurrent to his skin, as if he’d just survived a house fire.  And the neighborhood was filled with the stories of the kids he’d beat up, spit on, ran his bike into.  I’d never been in his class at school but I’d seen him on the playground, and it seemed he lived up to his reputation.  But I must have assumed, for whatever reason, that I would somehow be safe from him.

And there he was, in the church yard on an otherwise abandoned afternoon.  Who knows what he was doing?  Probably breaking branches off of trees, throwing rocks into bushes.  Something pointless that seemed mildly primitive.  I chose to ignore him and walked around the church’s large beige utility shed toward the wall where I’d throw my ball.

(most of my life, this day at the church yard stood as my definition of terror.  Powerlessness.  Rigid cold fear.  What death might be like)

So I threw my ball.  Plunk, plop.  Plunk, plop.  Plunk, plop.  A joy in the mindlessness, in the solid feeling of the ball entering the glove’s sweet spot, in the lively reaction of tennis ball meeting brick wall.  And the emptiness of the church yard, the silence, the perfect echoes.  No cars, no distant sounds of grown-ups on telephone calls, just me, the ball, the mitt, and the echoes.

And then the boy was beside me.  I managed a weak “Hi” but I could see this wasn’t friendly.  The hairs on my neck stood up, my heart dropped to my knees.  He ran at me, but neither a fight nor a flight instinct kicked in.  I did not fully understand this development.  The moment before he struck me (with what the kids back then called a ‘clothesline’) I tried to speak, to say something, to reason him out of this, but it was too late, and I flew to the ground as though I’d been pulled by stage wires.

I stood up, not yet crying.  Bewildered and disoriented, trying to focus my vision,  trying to ask him why he did that.  I mean, I was just playing with my ball.  Had he mistaken me for someone else who had wronged him in the past?  Was he rabid, like the dogs my parents told me about?  Was he—

—and then I was hit again, with another clothesline, and was knocked down even harder than the first time.  I hadn’t even seen him coming, I simply felt the hit and went down without any warning.  But now I had wizened up just a little bit.  Still having no idea why the attack was occurring, I had at least figured out that it was occurring, and I got up immediately and began running.  I did not run toward home, as it was too far away and he would catch me for sure.  Instead I ran toward the swings and the slide.  Kids seem to figure out pretty early that playground slides are an excellent tactical position; once you’ve climbed the stairs of the slide and are safely perched atop it, others trying to get at you will have a tough time; if they try to come up the stairs, you can just slide down, then as they are coming down, you can go back up.  This is not a foolproof system, but it does buy time, and so it was to the slide that I presently ran.  And I made it to the landing at the top, swiveled around, scanning for the boy.  Sure enough, there he was, ten yards away, in front of the slide itself, as though I might be foolish enough of a child to just see a slide and go down it; as though I would have some Pavlovian play response.  He stood there grinning like the Devil himself, like he wanted to kill me.  And at that moment I believed he would.

As far as I knew, I was not just in some childhood tale of woe.  I was in a fight for my life, and I knew nothing about fighting.  I was a tiny kid by any standard.  Short, skinny.  I was also quiet, shy, a little withdrawn.  Nothing had prepared me for a moment like this.  I knew to go to the slide by watching other boys fight during recess.  It’s been largely my experience that contrary to what is portrayed in films and television, boys typically avoid beating up small boys.  It does little to advance their hierarchical positions and may even make them seem weak.  Up until this day in the church yard, I’d been left alone.

I held my ground on the slide fairly well.  He came up a few times, I escaped down the slide, and then I made it back up again after he came down after me.  A few times, as he lurked below, simply watching me atop the slide, I called down to him, asking him why he was doing this.  I imagine it must have sounded pathetic, pleading, like a man begging his executioner for his life when he knows he’s doomed.  I pleaded my innocence and the senselessness of what he was doing.  I did cry.  He was sinister.  Truly sinister.

After an interminable amount of time, he did a perplexing thing.  He sat on one of the swings that was directly beside the slide, and he started swinging.  I was, however, only perplexed for a short time.  I saw the ruse.  I would either think he was done with the attack and try to leave, whenupon he would murder me, or I’d actually go sit on the other swing to swing with him, whenupon he’d murder me.  I decided I could do neither, and so I simply continued to stand atop the slide, watching him swing.  It felt like days passed.  I wasn’t sure if maybe I could actually die atop the slide merely from the passage of time.  It seemed I probably could.  But leaving the safety of the slide also equaled death.  My young mind swam.

I finally made a run for it.  I wooshed down the slide steps, through the lawn of the playground area, onto the newly built, woodsmelling porch of the Newville Area Senior Center (an old house that stood and still stands on the church property), around the side of the Senior Center and into the bush-lined, circular sidewalk toward Big Spring Avenue.  Only about thirty more feet of church yard to go!  I could see Big Spring Avenue, and the houses that lined the street!  Civilization, and grown-ups, and policemen inhabited that street.  Certainly I couldn’t be killed within sight of the street!

But then he hit me from behind.  I catapulted through the bushes, off the Senior Center’s sidewalk, and out of sight of the street.  And then he was upon me.

He had me in a headlock.  I’d never been in a headlock before—at least, not one that was meant to hurt—and so I was confused.  There’s not much worse than being confused, hurt, and restrained all at the same time.  Especially when you’re seven years old.  But he was also seven—a thought that hasn’t occurred to me until just now.  How two boys can have such different breadths of experience with headlocks mystifies me.

I couldn’t breathe.  He had all his weight on me.  I was crying without breathing, the most alarming bout of terror I have ever experienced sweeping over me.  Here was death, here was the end.  I did not think of any of the cliché things dying folks supposedly think about.  I simply thought how horrible dying was going to be.  I was pretty sure nothing happened after you died—nothing at all.  Just an infinite blackness.  Why would he do this to me?  I had just been playing with my ball.

And then it was over.  He was off me.  I still don’t know how or why.  I never saw him get off me, or waited to speak to him.  When I felt him release me, I got up and ran as fast as I possibly could toward home, which was only one block away but to a seven year old it’s a decent little distance.  I was crying so hard I thought I’d throw up.  I was so mad, and sad, and confused.  Then, as now, being made helpless is about as bad as it gets.

I hated him for showing me that for the first time.  As I ran, I thought of the most horrible things a seven year old can conjure and wished they were at my command:  the light that shines on nothing, the mirror that reflects only another mirror, the fruit that ate itself.  These things were worse than helpless, they were hopeless, and I would engulf the world with them.

When I got home, Mom was working in the garden out back.  I hugged her so hard and cried so hard.  So much of my life has been about fear: about how much I had or how much I didn’t have.

6.

I was born on a frigid Friday in January of 1978.  There was a snowstorm, this much I know because the story is often told by my family.  It was snowing and maybe somewhat icy that day and it was a treacherous trip to the hospital.  Many of the finer details have been lost to time.  It seems as though maybe my father stayed home with my older sister–she also famously fell on some ice on the day of my birth, when she was home with Dad–but I have always got conflicting stories about when and how everyone arrived at the hospital.  It was cold.  It was snowy.  All these people that would become my family were probably very nervous and confused.  How challenging to think there was a day when you weren’t here, and the next day, you were.  Or: one hour you aren’t here, and the next hour, you are.  All crying and red and scrunched-up, a big ball of mushed-up senses.  You just…popped into existence.

7.

On this gloriously sunny and hot day just a little under a year ago, I found myself at a park about an hour from where I live, with the woman of my dreams and a delightful young boy. The boy is her son, who I am helping to raise, both of whom I found myself suddenly and joyfully living with. On this day, it’s a weekend that we all have off together, and my love has found this fantastic event for us to attend, a kind of history-themed craft and art fair. I have not been playing the role of family man for very long at this point, but already I know that this is what I want, what I need in order to become me, the real version of me. We walk together as a unit, commenting on the smell of the french fries, or the historical paintings made by local artisans. When our little man wanders away, I chase after him as he giggles, imploring him in a high-pitched comedic tone not to run too fast. My lady love buys me iced coffee, holds my hand tightly. We stop at the little kids’ events, little painting and craft tables, things where you spin wheels and automatically win tchotchkes. I love seeing his face light up, and I revel in taking pictures of her with him, as they are experiencing things together. In previous versions of my life, I would’ve come to this fair by myself, taking it in almost as a cultural anthropologist, loving the fact that I was able to be so alone amongst so many people. But here and now, I don’t miss that. I wonder who I was then, how was I like that? These two people are everything I could ever want. Eventually we make our way to one of the smaller event stages, where representatives from our local zoo will be bringing out animals to show kids. First there is a falcon, and the three of us, in the front row, are rightly impressed.  One after another more animals come out, and he shrieks, sits on her lap and then mine, and she leans into the crook of my neck, I can feel her smile against my skin, and when the zookeeper brings out the snake and walks just a few feet from us with it and the boy surprises us by saying snake, she squeezes my hand even tighter, we are so surprised together, and he squirms on my lap and coos at the animals, and I can feel myself, with such absolute astonishment, being born.

Big Spring

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2015 by sethdellinger

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.

 

 

The Scent of Bitter Almonds, and etc, etc.

Posted in Rant/ Rave, Snippet with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2014 by sethdellinger

1.  Nothing says “I’m a boring person” quite like posting pictures of your alcoholic beverage to Facebook.  Seriously.  You went out to a bar or club and you think the interesting thing that is supposed to happen is the drink itself?  Uninteresting, repetitive pictures of the person you’re with, or even another selfie, are more interesting than a beverage in a glass.  We’ve got the whole internet, and you want us to look at a beverage.

2.  I’ve brought this up before, but I just have to keep digging at this one.  Why are there two kinds of screws and screw drivers, ie flat head and Philips head?  I’m not over here like, meh, there should only be one kind! I am confident there are very good reasons for there being multiple kinds of screws, but I just for the life of me can’t figure out what those reasons are.  Anyone with any insight, please comment!

3.  War is terrible, but man, for a nation so young, we’ve had two very interesting wars!  I’ll be damned if the Revolution and the Civil War aren’t two of the most amazing stories ever told.

4.  With Philip Seymour Hoffman dead, the greatest actor of this generation (ie the generation currently the correct age to play the most interesting parts in the kind of films that get made the majority of the time) is James Franco.  Discuss.

5.  I get pretty tired of taking the trash out.  I mean, we really just have to keep doing this?

6.  Look at this picture of my dad and sister on vacation in Brigantine, NJ in 1980.  What’s not to love about this picture?  I want to sit on a porch listening to that radio, wearing those socks, next to a child dressed like that:

blarg4

7.  I recently asked a few friends of mine which baseball team they would like, if they had only to consider the teams uniforms/ colors and logo.  Where you grew up and your previous loyalty should be not considered.  I got a few interesting answers—Billhanna said the Astros, which was a damned good answer.  My answer?  The Marlins or Blue Jays.

8.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez died this week.  He is one of my (and many others’) favorite novelists.  His most famous book is “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, which I love, but my favorite book of his is “Love in the Time of Cholera”, a book about a man who is obsessed/in love with one woman for his whole life, and dedicates his whole life to being with her.  It sounds creepy, and at times, it is, but what I love so much about it is that it is the only work of art in any medium that I have ever encountered that treats the obsessive side of love with the tender and insightful kind of care that most people reserve for “romantic” love.  It is a game-changer of a book.  Here is the first sentence from that book: “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

9.  I understand you didn’t ask for my postcard or letter in the mail, and I understand, in this day and age, you’re not really sure how to respond to such antiquities.  I really don’t care too much.  Ideally you’d send a letter back, but I’m not expecting that.  You can ignore it.  That’s fine, you didn’t ask for it.  You can text me a response, which is the main thing people do, and that’s fine, if a bit gaudy.  But please, please…don’t post a picture of it on Facebook.

10.  What about this?

 

Let’s laugh at the clock on the wall.

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , , , , on February 12, 2014 by sethdellinger

I grew up in a small, small town in Central Pennsylvania, right on the border of what they call “Pennsyltucky”, the outward lands of the state marked by blighted Appalachia, wide rolling hills, and miles upon miles of pastures, corn fields, and truck stops.

The house I grew up in was on a shaded street with expansive sidewalks, the smell of pine, and painted rain spouts.  In most towns this would be a side street, a forgotten street.  But in my small town, it was one of the main thoroughfares, although almost no cars went down it.  I remember once peering out our glass front door and seeing the town’s sole police officer giving hasty chase—lights and siren blaring–to a speeding motorcycle and thinking maybe the world was ending.

Just a few blocks down the street from the house I grew up in was a corner store.  It was, I would estimate, about three blocks away.  This corner store was, even all those years ago, a throwback to older days.  It was not “intentionally nostalgic”, it was just a little store that hadn’t yet changed.  There was still a soda fountain there, where you could order Chocolate Cokes, or pineapple sundaes.  Things like that.  Folks gathered there in old wooden mint green highbacked booths, smoked cigarettes and spoke animatedly over outspread newspapers, hunting magazines, lottery tickets.  There was penny candy by the counter, a spinning rack of comic books by the door, and ammunition, shoe polish, and straight razors under a glass case near the back.

Frequently, but on no set schedule, my father and I would walk together down to this corner store.  It was something we did together.  Often, my sister came, too, but as a boy, of course, one singles out the times you are alone with your father.

It was three blocks away, but back then, of course, it seemed quite a distance.  Distances are always changing as we grow.  The walk to the store with my dad was half the fun.  I would try to walk on just the painted part of the curb, but I had the darndest time.  I couldn’t balance.  Then Dad would try, and I would try to push him off, but he was too good.  My father had impeccable balance.

We’d get to the store and, typically, the older neighbors who lived near our house were there.  Dad would settle into a booth with them, and so I would I, at first.  They’d start talking grown-up stuff after making obligatory kid talk with me.  They’d light their long cigarettes with colorful disposable plastic lighters, drink pungent coffee from thick-walled mugs, pop open cans of Tab.  I liked the smells, how they intermingled, how they wafted, how they meant Dad and I were together at the corner store.

Before long, I’d slip under the tables, make my way behind the counters, even disappear into the back stock room, which I remember as a long, dark hallway with one or two turns, and boxes up to a ceiling that looked fifty feet high.  I had the run of the place.  The owner and his sole young employee never tried to corral me.  I invented worlds within that store.  Alien lands, faraway cities, subterranean hideouts.  Every so often I’d pop back into a mint green booth and see that maybe Faye had won five dollars on a scratch-off, or Dad had a strong opinion about something that I didn’t understand, but I wanted to understand.  I wanted to.

One year, on the day of my birthday, Dad and I walked down to the store.  I had finished opening my presents and was already feeling very special, near ecstatic.  It was early evening and dusk was setting in.  My birthday is in mid-January, so it was decidedly winter.  Dad and I set out for what seemed to me the long, but pleasant, walk to the corner store.  What a night for me!  My birthday and now the store.

Halfway there, it started snowing.  Just a light, flurry-kind-of snow.  Still, I was sure Dad would suggest we turn back.  How could we keep walking to the store in the snow??? I thought.  But he had no designs to turn back.  We talked, we laughed, it snowed in our faces and stuck in my eyebrows.

Let us not try to make things perfect.  Let’s laugh at the clock on the wall.  Breathe deep the stunning air and wonder, wonder about everything.

Hoffman Film Fest, Day Six

Posted in Hoffman Film Fest with tags , , , on February 8, 2014 by sethdellinger

There aren’t many movies out there about the adult relationship between a brother and a sister.  And while the relationship portrayed in “The Savages” between Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character and Laura Linney’s character is nothing like my relationship with my own sister, it still stands out as a unique film for this reason photoalone.  Plenty of movies dig around in the grown relationships of brothers, or sisters, but any movies I think of where the main siblings are a brother and a sister either glancingly explore the relationship, if at all, or the characters and their motivations are shallow. (if anyone can think of a movie that explores this that I’m missing, let me know in a comment!) I actually just watched “The Savages” less than a month ago when my eyes fell on it on my DVD shelf.  It was the Phil movie I’d seen most recently before he died.

Because “The Savages” is available to rent on YouTube, there are no clips really available anywhere on the internet, but here is a GREAT little tribute/ featurette about the movie that includes some nice little scenes and people talking about Phil:

Philly Journal, 11/14/13

Posted in Philly Journal with tags , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2013 by sethdellinger

This afternoon, after a morning of meetings in the city, I picked up the keys to my apartment.  My move-in day isn’t until tomorrow, but I stopped in just to have a look around at my new place for the first time in over two weeks.  Then I came back to Jersey and loaded all my stuff from Mom’s house into a U-Haul, with the help of the bro-in-law, the nephews, Uncle Dale, and, of course, Mom (and sister in spirit, no doubt).  I parked the U-Haul in a neighboring parking lot; we’ll be moving the stuff into the place early tomorrow morning.  Mind you (and I’m somewhat embarrassed by how much stuff I have) this is only half my stuff; the other stuff is at Dad’s house in Newville, which we’ll be moving on Tuesday, so while I’ll be living in the city tomorrow, I will be missing some key stuff, such as most of my furniture.  Anyway, I took some pics of the place today, here they are:

The living room, looking in from the kitchen, toward the front door.

The living room, looking in from the kitchen, toward the front door.

 

 

The kitchen, looking in from the living room

The kitchen, looking in from the living room

 

The stairs, right inside the front door

The stairs, right inside the front door

 

 

The small bedroom

The small bedroom

 

 

The larger bedroom

The larger bedroom

 

 

 

 

Philly Journal, 11/2/13

Posted in Philly Journal with tags , , , , , on November 2, 2013 by sethdellinger

It’s been quite awhile since I posted a Philly Journal.  Click here if you’d like a refresher course in the older ones.

So, today I finally got word that the row house I’d applied for in the city will be mine for the taking.  I haven’t said much publicly about my quest to move from South Jersey into the city, and that, as you may know, is pretty typical of me.  I don’t really tell people what I’m up to until things are kind of a done deal.  So, here’s what’s going on:

About a year and a half ago I moved from Erie, PA to the development in Jersey where my mother and sister live.  I got a new job, in the city of Philadelphia.  The goal was to stay with my mother for awhile until I figured out where I wanted to live in the city, and then be a big boy alone in the city.

It took a little longer than expected.

Mostly, because it took me almost a year to know for sure where I’d end up working in the city.  I work for the largest chain of coffee shops in the world.  I got hired as a manager but had to undergo some training before I got my own store, and that training does not have a specified length.  Not wanting to move onto the opposite side of the city from where I’d be working, I waited.  Then, once I got promoted, it still proved a daunting task to move into the city.  It’s just so big!  Try as I might, I just could not find a proper way to begin the task.

Also, there was the matter of my car.  I really, really wanted to not have it.  I didn’t like the idea of worrying about parking in the city (it’s a very legit hassle), and ridding myself of the expense would also be a major plus.  But, see, I had bought the car new, and still owed more on it than I would get by selling it, so I was in a precarious situation.  Eventually, over the past year, I paid it down enough to make selling it a viable option, and about three weeks ago, I did sell it.  I currently have no car!  It is a very, very strange feeling, one I have not felt since I was 16.  For those doing the math, that is 19 years ago.  So for the past few weeks, I’ve been driving my mom’s car while I took the final few strides toward finding a place in the city.

Luckily, even though I could certainly be classified as a bit of a loner, I have made a few connections in the city over the past year, one of whom happens to be a real estate agent who specializes in showing people apartments that meet their criteria.  So, I told her what I was looking for and where I was looking for it, and this past Tuesday we walked our rear ends off checking out apartments.  I liked quite a few, and it turns out I can totally afford to live in the hippest and coolest sections of the city, but alas, though affordable, they were all super small.  I fell in love with the last place we went: a townhouse well outside the cool parts of the city, and even a pretty good distance from my work (but really, just a ten minute bike ride, which is how I’ll almost always be getting around).  It’s not incredible, and certainly not much to look at from the outside, but I was just head over heels with the interior, and the idea of having so much space for myself.  Those of you who’ve been reading for a long time may remember how thrilled I was by the space I had in Erie…well, this is considerably more than that.

The house is in the neighborhood of the city known as Pennsport, by all appearances a neighborhood that is not an incredibly good one, and not an incredibly bad one.  I will here copy-and-paste the contents of the very brief Wikipedia entry about Pennsport:

Pennsport is a neighborhood in the South Philadelphia section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Pennsport is home to a large working Irish American population and many Mummer clubs. It was also the site of a controversial push for casinos along the Philadelphia waterfront.[ Foxwoods Casino was proposed for Christopher Columbus Boulevard at Reed Street.

According to the Genealogy of Philadelphia County Subdivisions, Pennsport was originally part of Moyamensing Township. Most of the area north of present-day Mifflin Street was included in the Southwark District from 1794 until the consolidation of Philadelphia in 1854. At that point, it was mostly contained in the First Ward. The First and Second Wards ran east of Passyunk Avenue and were divided by Wharton St. (First to the south, Second to the north). The southern boundary of the First Ward initially spanned south to the river, but it was stopped at Mifflin St. in 1898.

That is the extent of the entry.

Here is a map of South Philly neighborhoods.  Now, if you don’t know the city, this will be rather meaningless, but you can see Pennsport there on the far East of the map; that is the city’s end, so my neighborhood borders the Delaware River, and in fact, my house is in the 100 block of my street, so I’m actually dang close to the edge of the city:

philly map

So that’s pretty much it.  I got word late tonight that my rental application had been accepted; however, my move-in date isn’t until the 15th, so I’ve got a little time to do some South Jersey victory laps.  I’ll be resurrecting the Philly Journal for this process of moving and the new journey I’m on.  There will be pictures soon!

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