Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A WRITER WALKS AND WRITES OF WALKING


I: A NEW BEGINNING


Stepping Out Again

Always been a walker, always been a writer who found poetry in the pace of a solitary jaunt. Yet it had been awhile since I went a wandering. Many things conspired against me. The harsh winter was one. Having all the streets buried under three feet of snow doesn't encourage a hike.

Snow eventually melts, but sometimes pain is a halter no matter the weather. My feet, my knees, my hips had those pain chains arthritis forged about them and I lacked the courage to challenge those shackles. Something about every step feeling like a knife up your instep and a razor across your toes makes you want to stay still.

Perhaps that assault of pain was related to my thyroid medication not working.  I don't know. It eased up since I changed pills, although some of it is always there to remind me.

Nonetheless, on the heels of my healing heels came blazing summer weather, temperatures in the upper nineties and high humidity to match. Not really the type of air to entice one outside.

The temperature broke this week and a friend has been writing much about his morning walks so this day I stepped out again. I headed down an old route I tramped many time in the pass, especially when walking the dog I once had. I did it with a bit of hesitation wondering could I go the distance or would it become difficult to walk back? When you haven't traipsed a decent distance for a year or more you can no longer be certain of your capacity. We would give it a shot and see what happens.

Some things have changed, some for the better, some for the worse. The photo at the top of the post was taken a couple years ago. I am guessing that may have been one of the last times I actually walked this particular circuit. Anyway, there is a cement path between two houses at the far edge of my community that lead toward I-95. Looking straight down the path you can see the highway. On either side of the path are some hedges and yards.

That was then, this is now. The picture on the right was the first I took this morning, looking down the same path between those two houses, but now the hedges are gone. In their place stand six foot high wooden fences. Behind these fences lurk dogs. On the gate of the right barrier was a sign stating the dog contained within "can cross the yard in 2.6 seconds, can you?" As I walked down this path I heard another dog barking in the yard to the right.

It's sad we have reached this fortress state to keep the darker nature of mankind out.

I walked on beyond the fences to the pathway beyond the development.


Now it is up the footbridge that crosses I-95. First thing I notice here is that the fencing is all new double reinforced and the space between links is much smaller, a protection from people throwing objects onto the highway below. Another sign of the growing darker forces in our society.

If the Little Woman had her way they would tear this footbridge down. I like its convenience, or use to, for crossing to the library, but I haven't gone to the library in ages either. But others still might and a new population is growing over on that side of things.

Upon the pathway are blocks of graffiti. Not the old graffiti I remember. Someone must have come and scrubbed that away. This is newer, bolder, larger.

I pause upon some scribbling at the center of the bridge under the thick canape of silver wire. It is a bit after seven o'clock, just on the outer fringe of rush hour and the highway hasn't thickened with the flood of commuters yet. Most of the traffic is coming from the East, from where Chester and then Philadelphia are just beginning to stir.

I am off today. I have no need to rush anywhere, so amble on.



At the base of the bridge I turn right, down the path of darkness behind the tennis court between the athletic fields.  This way has always been hidden and  sequestered, seemingly unconnected from the world around it, something of the place to dumb the body, but it has become more overgrown along its banks than ever.

There are spots of mud across the pavement from recent rains. I step carefully.




The buildings here were once high schools and the whole grounds behind them are athletic fields. They seem to be going to seed now, where when before I crossed this way they were still well kept, still used for this and that. There was Pee Wee football on that distant field in the fall, the stands ringing with the cheers and encouragements of parents. But as I gaze across this morning I see no stands and the goal posts are gone. It is just a field. The old white snack stand is still there, perhaps it is a storage shed now. To the far side is a new playground for smaller children, which makes sense since the old high school was converted into some kind of elementary school a few years back.  I can see some slides and a wooded climbing apparatus in the center. There are no swings, no merry-go-rounds, no monkey bars, no risks allowed us anymore in this age of pantywaists, worrywarts and fools.

I'm wondering what else is missing and it dawns on me there is no high cage around the tennis court and no net. Even the poles that use to hold the net have been removed. Grass is pushing up through fissures in the court surface. All-in-all it is a forsaken and forlorn scene.

The baseball diamonds to the other side haven't faired much better. The backstops and dugout cages still remain, but weeds and vines are crawling up the links and the place has a look of disuse. These use to be practice fields for Little League, a decade ago my son played on these fields in preparation for the season. They did double duty for the Girls' Club and the after school program  located in the Community Center.

The back wall of the old high school is covered with graffiti. When I come closer there is dinginess and defeat on the faces of the Library, the brick building in the center, and the Community Center off to the right.



I move from the back to the front of the complex. This building has a history. Once it was a high school, the first school integrated in the segregated South.


Constructed 1924-25. Also known as the Green Street School. Prominent in United States history as the first public high school in the 17 segregated states to be legally integrated. (1951-1952)




Plaque commemorating integration at the old high school.


Today the building is part of the Community Center. 





Next door is the newer old high school, the one that replaced the school now the Community Center. But it is no longer such. Now it an elementary school, thus the playground we passed earlier.


My oldest daughter graduated from this school, but she wasn't happy about it. Her own high school was being renovated her senior year and all the students were shuffled off here. Those of her class called it Clay Mount.










I wonder now. The trek so far has been one tinged with depression. Everything I saw appeared frayed at the edges as if unraveling with age. If I continue on along Green Street or down these quiet side streets of town will I find more wear and tear?


Or will there be something pointing to a better tomorrow, signs of new life for the old town?


Will I be able to record it? My batteries are growing weak. I set off with no money or plastic cards in my pockets so even if there might be a store open so early I have nothing to buy replacement batteries with. 


So what lies ahead? Will my batteries fail? Will my hopes for a brighter vision ahead fail?


Is this American Picker's paradise a good or bad sign?


We shall see, we shall see.



Moving On

I've come a mile, I'm not turning back. The morning is comfortable. My pains are not disruptive, although I can feel slight tinges in my feet now.  I continue down Green Street, passing peaceful cross streets at each end of block.

There are no sounds other than an occasional bird tweet. It is still early for a week day. It won't be long before the work day will be calling people out of bed and house.

For now little stirs.

This walk began behind the old high school. There was some solemnity to it, the disappearance of what was the past. It began on a down note, on a minor chord, perhaps it played to the theme of our times, to the economic sourness touching so many. I move on looking for something to rise above all this negativity.

The next marker on my journey isn't it. Does anything point to the depreciation of our society than a church for sale?

I wonder where its congregation went?

But I am a Christian and been a church goer. I've seen the empty pews, the dwindling attendance in long established shrines of worship, watched the attendees grow old and die.

And then there it is, the hope, the up tick for the future.

What, you say? A dead-end beyond which sits mounds of dirt and rubble, can you call this hope?

Yes, I can.

I love this town. Many times in my living here I have heard it slandered. But I have been here nearly three decades and I've seen the community here, the people here and the diversity here. There is a heart to this place as well as a history and as an old song said, "To Know her is To Love Her". I love this town.

There had been a blight here on this spot. The dirt and rubble are what is left of it. I don't know when what was there had been built, but do know they existed in the 1950s and at one time were very nice and considered luxurious. But time has a way at whittling away at things and by the time we arrived on the scene these had become sickly yellow eyesores. Oh, one last gasp was made at resurrecting them, a new paint job that turned them white, but it was too late. The government had done programs, started I'm sure with good intensions, which too often lead to unexpected and unwanted consequences. It brought some sorrows to this place.


Now all that was gone. A new start was beginning on the far horizons. What now was barren fields spotted with mounds of dirt and plowed over rubble had a greater future, hopefully, ahead.

If my batteries hold up enough by the time we arrive at what is coming, I will capture it and show it to you.

For now we will wait.








We turn back toward where we have come to leave the dead end and find a cross street to take us deeper into town.











We pause on a side street to smell the flowers.
















And then we continue on.

















Down the quiet morning streets.













There is a certain loveliness and tranquility here, a charm of old small towns among the homes of the blue collar families of my town.












We reach this dog salon and soon will turn onto a main street of America and I wonder what we will find ahead?

Main Street, USA

It isn't the prettiest main street I've ever been on in my life, but somehow it seems a quintessential one. Maybe it connects time between the station of my old age with that of my youth. The road is called The Philadelphia Pike.

When I was a boy I lived along Route 30. That highway had many names- the Lincoln Highway, Lancaster Pike - and it was also called The Philadelphia Pike.

How the ends of our life so often connect.

This is only one small section as it runs straight through town. The brick building with the awnings was an aquarium when we first came here. I bought the kids two salamanders and a frog here when they were little. The frog was named Nixon, because it looked like Tricky Dick throwing his arms up with the V-signs he would make. Nixon had a habit of hopping out of the tank and the cats got him. His fate was worse than his namesake.

They told me at the fish store that salamanders only lived two years, but one lived more than four. When it did die, it dissolved away to a slimy goo when we removed it for burial much like the girl at the end of "Lost Horizons".

Not far down the road from this photo is the Pennsylvania border and beyond it the storage tanks of the Sunoco oil refinery. Across the street just ahead is a branch of the big bank where once I worked until they tossed me out for the sin of growing old, the _ _ _ _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _! (Game time, have fun, fill in the blanks, use your imagination.)


Next to that bank branch is an institution of this place, the steak shop. They redid the frontage a few years ago. I think it use to be pretty much that white surface all the way down, but could be wrong.

The memory isn't what it use to be.

I learned how to cook steak sandwiches properly watching the cooks in this place many years ago.









This is one of those roads with a number of fast food and comfort food eateries. Lot of good stuff to nosh that the food police would lock us up for or take away along with salt, sugar and spice and everything nice. They tell us its healthy and we'll live long. What fools! No sense in living long if you can't savor the delicious things of life. That's what makes those people so mean and nasty, they think they know what is good for everyone, but they really don't know what is good. They should be boiled in their own unsaturated cooking oil, the _ _ _ _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _!  (Game time again, have fun, fill in the blanks, use your imagination.)

A little further down this very American main street is this small stone building. On first gaze one might guess it is a church or possibly even an old fire house.

Actually it is a school.

It is build of stone.

It is called the Stone School, duh!

It might look new, but it isn't. It was build around 1805. If me math is right that is 205 years ago. And it doesn't look a day over 100.


This wonderful town,  and it is a wonderful, has a lot of history. It used to be a place for millionaires (when a million dollars was real money) and famous writers. There is a lot of community pride and activity and great people.

Just beyond this school you may notice a white house. This building is the Darley House and has its own history. It was the home of Felix Darley.

The home of world-renowned illustrator Felix O. C. Darley (1822-1888). Built in the late 18th century and enlarged several times during the first half of the 19th century, the house was purchased by Darley in 1863 and renamed “The Wren’s Nest.” During his career, Darley illustrated books for Washington Irving, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, and James Fenimore Cooper. Two of his most notable works were Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. Charles Dickens visited here for two weeks during his triumphant tour of America in 1867. The house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

This house reminds me somewhat of a house I lived in as a boy just off that other Philadelphia Pike.



There is much of the past to examine and enjoy in this region, but then there is that old I said was torn down and meant the hope for the future.






Just a bit before we reach the Stone School we can stop and contemplate the future .

What is it we look for on this site?

What indeed.

We'll take a look next time.

Hope

It felt good to be out walking again. I've come a ways now and I'm not tired and I'm not hurting badly.

You want to know where I have wandered?

Look at the photo to the left. I started out somewhere in the middle of all those trees in the upper right hand corner. I crossed over I-95 up in that same corner before that large curve just down from the top of the picture. Can you see that small patch of lighter treeless green that parallels that curve? I wandered through there going toward the top then turned straight toward the river on the far left.

That's the Delaware River, by the way. I've lived near that waterway most my life. It's why I wasn't impressed with the Mississippi (seen in my photo on the right). I know Old Man River is longer and has had the benefit of song and story, but Daddy Delaware is wider and since you can only peer at a piece of any river at a time, plenty inspiring in its own right.

Now back to the walk. Halfway between those trees in the upper right and the river you see most of the town. We walked through the homes to the far edge of the great brown desert that takes up the entire center of the view. We backtracked and went through this area of homes until we reached the main street of town.

You can pick up the main street easily if you go to the lower left where you see a lot of loops of highway. The Philadelphia Pike is the straight road running off the left edge.

I have come along that road past the great brown desert and am now where that large clump of trees begin in the lower left, just turning the corner and heading straight across between the big brown desert and the big green swatch where the letters are giving a website.

I'm starting between the Stone School and the Darley House.





Here is where the great brown desert begins its revival that they call the Renaissance around here. It seemed to have taken years to come about, but now it is happening.

Hopefully it will work out well.







There is a whole village, with stores and homes and parks and ponds planned for this great brown desert. Here is news photo from the ribbon cutting or first shovel dig or some such ceremony.

You can see most of the plan on the easel. Yes, that is one of our senators at the microphone doing what politicians do best, stand in the way of something (the diagram) or if it is going well, stand in front and take credit for it.

Of course if it goes bad they will be standing out front pointing fingers of blame at everyone but themselves, usually a politician of the opposing party.

The short bald-headed guy on the left, whose suit looks like he slept in it, is the current county executive. He's running for the U. S. Senate so he can join the guy on the right. I once had a job interview with the one on the left and breakfast with the one on the right (actually they are both on the left being Democrats). Both came across as pretty nice guys, but in the end one must remember they are politicians for what that is worth.

How many politicians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Are you kidding me, the only things politicians know how to screw are the voters.

In case you haven't noticed, I don't like politicians.



Enough about politicians before it spoils my mood and my walk and what I think is a great thing for the people of my area, Darley Green.



"The first thing you will notice about Darley Green is that we build more than houses. We develop homes and neighborhoods together... to create fuller, richer living environments. Our lifestyle experts, landscape planners and architects have completely re-envisioned the age-old concept of the neighborhood to be more inclusive of everything you want and need. Here, you will find a seamless integration of lifestyle and landscape elements... a home that meets your needs... lush parkland and a community Town Centre... tree-lined streets... conveniences in walking distance... all in a peaceful, close-in location... Parkland, walking trails, jogging paths, open space, a natural stream, Town Centre to feature dining, retail, commercial opportunities, Walking distance of Brandywine schools, train station and DART stop on-site, Located 5 minutes from I-95, 2 minutes from I-495, 15 minutes from Philadelphia International Airport" -- Darley Green - Commonwealth Group

Okay, I don't mean to sound like a shill for this, but I am hoping it will be all it claims to be because I think it will do a lot for this town.

Here are some photos I took of the progress so far and it is my understanding these homes are sold before they are built.





























There is a long way to go, a lot of empty field to fill with village.

I continue on my way with belief they will pull it off.






Heading Home




Here is the object of the walk, not for mere exercise. Certainly it supplies that. Yet, there is no soul in such a thing. Every morning where I see the exercisers, many of whom have reached an age like mine. I arrive in the mall before any store has opened because we have to prep our own establishment for the day. I have no key and sometimes I have to wait until a key-holder arrives to unlock. As I stand there or sit on the leather-like benches they come parading around me.

It is interesting to study these mall-walkers. Some come in clusters, chatting as they chug; others are alone. There are several, almost all men, who use canes. There are those of casual attitude, who take a leisurely pace and even say hello. One elderly man with a cane always greets me with a "how are you?"Then I wonder, though, when I say elderly now, if that old man is older or younger than I? Strange thing this being a seasoned citizen.

Then there are the serious type, all solemn and business. They walk briskly pumping their arms. A few wear pedometers strapped about the biceps. Here comes a person hugging the wall, staying precisely on the border tiles all the way around, forcing upon themselves the longest route possible.

Sadly most of the loners show little gladness in their jaunt. Most are grim faced, many look as if they have been condemned to some circle of Hell where they must trod around some sterile hallway for eternity.

That's not what walking is to me. I want to be in the outdoors where everyday can bring a surprise. I want the choice of which way I go and how far. The world is a marvelously display of myriad scenes that change with seasons. I want to transit pass the babbling brooks like that in the opening photo, or see the varied tastes and models of the houses we build for our homes. I love just the quiet of the back road, the breezes rustling leaves, a distant bird, a far away laugh of an unseen woman, the rooshe of some passing car, the voices of children playing in a field, a church bell on a crisp morning, the buzz of bees in the flower beds, the smell of dampness on the grass, the blue or gray or black of the ever changing sky, the warning thunder afar and the sunbeams breaking through the canopy of forest. What do we see today? What do we feel?



I think, I imagine, I pray and I dream on my walks. I remember the past; I blue sky the future. I am refreshed and renewed and reminded of what could have been and what once was.

That is a park, not very old. It is a nice park, nothing fancy. It is called the Woodhaven-Krouse Park and when you go up that drive there is a pavilion, a children playground and some long looping paths to amble.




It is all open and free.

But it wasn't always so free here.

When we first came down this way a women's prison stood on this sight. There were often escapes and we knew when one occurred because we would hear the helicopters circling around and around our yards. There was always some concern because the prison sat upon a hill and the hill looked down on the Little league fields and an elementary school.  But all these things have changed as has so much over the years.


In the center stands some remains of an old stone building.

The name of this building was Woodhaven.

On the corner stone is this inscription: Delaware Industrial School for Girls 1838.

Long before the Women's prison this was not a place of freedom. It was a reform school for delinquent girls.

The Industrial School gave way to the prison and the prison gave way to time around 1990. The old building stood empty for several years. The stories are it was haunted. Visitors to the empty halls say you would hear whistles and whispers. Finally they tore it down and now it is a lovely little park where the only whistles and whispers you hear are the breezes through the trees...maybe.

Another reason to walk. Walking gives you time to see the history of the paths you journey.

Just up the road from the park is this side drive. If you went up the gravel lane you would find a complex of baseball fields. These are the local Little League Fields of Dreams.

My son played on these fields for nine years and was captain of his championship team.






And overlooking the ball fields from the other side is the elementary school. My children went here once. I helped build the playground here what seems a long time ago now, working with the then principal, Mr. Ellis, who was a man who cared about the children.

Mr. Ellis is dead.

And a couple years back they closed the school.

Now it is being prepared to be the new home of the Boys and Girls Clubs.

I didn't cross and enter the property. Just recently a man entered the old school and raped a woman there.  It didn't seem a time for a strange old guy to wander about snapping pictures.


So I headed home.

I turned into the streets of the development before my own, snapping the still early morning street with amazement that I still was able to.

My batteries had been dying since I started out over an hour ago. It had reached a point where my camera shut down after every photo I snapped. Yet it still allowed that one snap first.





  But never mind. I am moving ever closer to my home community.

I am just going to enjoy this last mile in peace and quiet.












It does look serene, doesn't it?

No one really out and about, except nutty me. The sky a nice puffy cloud white and blue.

The air is cool today. I haven't even worked up a sweat.

Yes, peace and quite.





Except there may be peace here, but it isn't quiet.

Normally all you would here this time of day would be the birds catching their early worms.

But up this side street someone else is up early. I do not know what they are working on, but I hear them for there is a jackhammer chopping away at a hard surface somewhere.

Perhaps a new driveway is being built.


I don't know what is disrupting the tranquillity, but my batteries have just failed and I am almost to my own community, so I head home and leave this morning jaunt feeling good.

Until I actually got home and went to sit down and pain attacked my foolish knees. I don't care, I'm back to walking.