Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

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

-- Larry E.
Time II

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bad Times for Dogs and Lovers

Walk lovers, that is; other kinds of lovers may not think it so bad. For dogs and I it isn't all that great. There is no where to walk except down the middle of some roads.

That is pretty limiting, unless you wish to risk being hit from behind by a trash truck.

Anyway you can find some clear roads. The sidewalks, with a few exceptions, are gone. My walk is shoveled. My son did it this time while The little Woman and I were away. My two neighbors to the East have shoveled. We three wise men from the East always do. But we are more the exception than the norm I fear, so as stated, the sidewalks are gone.

So those with dogs, or perhaps small ponies, resort to what they can find. Actually the man isn't walking his pony. It is a Great Dane, a beast with legs so long it just might be able to amble through the snow without getting its belly wet.

At least the dogs have the Bark Park. This is most likely where Mr. Great Dane was heading.

The Bark Park was quite crowded this morning. Where else could they go?

What about the People Parks? Not so inviting and not so crowded.

I drove over to Bellevue, they seemed to be good at clearing off trails. I arrived at 8:40, late for me. The State Parks open at 8:00. I saw a car make a U-turn at the entrance and sure enough when I got there the gates were still closed. The driveway in was plowed. It must be a safety issue.

This is Saturday morning, two days after the storm passed through. It came in on Wednesday and left early Thursday morn. It left a lot of itself behind for us to remember it by.

It was a heavy snow. A needy snow that hugged the bushes and clung to the trees and still hasn't let go. It has dragged everything down with its weight. I was out yesterday trying to rescue our bushes from living burial. Everything is pretty, but precarious and I guess going into the woods has more risks than the State Park was willing to take.

It is odd how these storms seem timed to disrupt trash pickup. That can was put out yesterday morning because that is the schedule. It remained there, still full, all night long. I tried to move it last night, but it has froze into that snow bank and I couldn't break it free. I couldn't even lift off the lid.
The trash man did come today, just as I got home from snapping these pictures and he managed to empty it and free the can. I bet those trashmen just love these snows.

Anyway, back to my plight. Seeing Bellevue closed I figured the other State Parks would not be passable. The paths there had still been somewhat impeded by the last snows. I had walked a couple, but there were definite difficulties involved. I was certain they would be impossible now, except for skiers and some fools on ATVs.

However, I thought of Talley Day County Park. Perhaps their walkways were cleared. Here is where I parked and got out of the car.

The man walking his pony-sized dog was on the entry road to this park. Ah, my hope sprung eternal until my hope sprung its spring.

In fact, my only hope now seems to be spring.

On the right is the opening path back to the playground.

No, I could only walk around the road that encircled the playground and the basketball courts, just a big circle around and back to the parking lot.

Even this was less than great. The road wasn't wide and I had little room to get over anytime a vehicle came by.

It also was slippery. It was below freezing and the surface under foot had a thin film of ice covering. I had to step carefully or I fall down and go boom.

Ah, another marker of a trail head, but no trail. I know it is there somewhere.

I mean everything is very beautiful and all, but it is like the gorgeous Hollywood film queen, we can look but she is unattainable to this mere mortal. I want nothing from this winter ruler except to traipse her lines and admire her, but she has dropped her vail and pushed me away.

"Forget it, silly man," she mocks me.

I pass the Bark Park and there are many wagging tails and happy woofs. They mock me, too. I go a bit and all I can do is gaze across unbroken white at the distant place where my woodland path crossed by the marsh pond.

You see normally one goes up a path by the Bark Park and follows a long and curving trail down a slope along a meadow. You circle around near the next road, then enter a woods. The wood trail winds a bit, then pops open by a soupy pond. There is marsh grass and the croak of bullfrogs to greet you, perhaps a sunbeam breaking between the gap. Then it is back it the woods and more twists and turns until you come back to the playground.

Not today, no soupy pond for you. Come back, two months! Maybe!

Maybe then this trail head will be open.

So now, what else can we not do?

Basketball anyone?

Bring a bright orange round ball so we can find it after each drivel.

Or did you bring your tennis racket for a fast game or two.

First we will need use the rackets to shovel off the court.

Thus I have returned to where I parked my car. See it just ahead? Right there on the corner behind that little pile of snow.

Me thinks it is going to be a long winter. Next Tuesday the groundhog will be called upon to make his proclamation on the remaining days of gloom and bluster. If he sees his shadow and all that, you know? Hey, if this keeps up they won't even find Mr. Groundhog's burrow.

Frankly, my guess is Mr. Groundhog packed up and went to Florida weeks ago.

They only thing they might find is the great shadow of Al Gore going, "Global warming, global warming!" "The cold has driven him mad," they will say," he speaks gibberish."

I drive back to home with not much of a walk under my belt. I fear I will not being getting much of one tomorrow or Monday either. I fear what is under my belt may begin to expand if the show doesn't begin to dissolve.

It isn't dissolving though.

Our main roads are in fair shape, but all the side streets remain a mess. Look down any avenue and it is snow from curb to curb.

Even here in my own neighborhood, despite the plows being through, our main street is treacherous still. I drive down it in second gear, wary of the stop sign half way down the hill.

Right now there is a bright morning sun, but it is just false security. It will fade to gray by lunchtime and the forecast calls for more snow this afternoon and into night.

Hey, Tammy, you say you miss the snow? You are welcome to come take some off our hands.

Below are a few more photos I took this morning.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mystery of the Strange Morning and the Hooded Man: A Frank March Adventure

It was another cold and bitter morning. Frank felt just fine and dandy buried beneath his cover, but he forced himself to fling it aside and step into the chill. He dressed quickly and took care of the morning things, the feeding the cats, getting the paper, etc. It was later than he usually arose. He checked the weather. It was 14 degrees with a wind chill of 5. He was tempted to skip any morning walk.

However they had needs and he had to go out anyway, so he layered up, strapped on his camera and stepped out to move the cars around. He took his son's spare set of keys and backed the boy's car into the street, then moved his own.

In a few minutes he was in the super market. They absolutely needed toilet paper and trash bags, and he wanted to pick up some soda for himself. He bought three six-packs of bottled Coke because they were on sale. So far a not untypical morning about to turn odd. He reached in his pocket for his keys and discovered he still had his son's key. He always took that key back into the house when he moved cars around.

Oh well, he decided, it was his son's spare car key.

Unless his son had misplaced his main key, which was not an impossibility. Frank recalled that his son had knocked on the door when he got home last night. He didn't have his house key, he had said. His house key was on the ring with his car key, so he must have used his spare key.

It probably was all right, because his son had asked Frank to take him to work today at 3:00. He was going to another store to do an inventory and someone was taking him there from his own work place. He wouldn't need his car and probably would still be in bed when Frank got home anyway.

He pushed the cart into a cart station and got back in his car. He suddenly had the feeling he had not pulled his son's car back in the drive. He couldn't remember. Still, if not, it'd be okay on the street for a while. He drove from the market lot toward Bellevue, the nearest state park. He would have his walk cold or not.

But it was deep freezer cold and now he wondered if the soda and stuff might freeze if left for an hour or so while he walked. He decided to go home first and put it away.

As he drove up his street, sure enough, his son's car was still in the street. He pulled along the curb, unhitched his truck and then went and pulled his son's car back up the drive. Now he returned and carried a load of groceries into the house, readying his house key in his hand, which proved a waste of time.

The front door was wide open. What a strange morning this was shaping up to be; what a senior moment. He had not pulled his son's car in, had not returned the key, had not even closed and locked the house door. Where had his mind been? He had come out to move the cars carrying the new insurance proof cards to put in each. Was his mind so intent on that he forgot everything else? He had had some trouble getting his son's glove compartment closed. He hoped this wasn't a start of such forgetfulness as he now headed back to the state park for his walk.

After parking, he decided to keep it short today. He walked down and got on the main path of the Northern Greenway and began. He came along and had to cross the road then go up a slight hill thought a field to the woods.  Where this trail entered the woods it joined with other paths.

Looking ahead he saw a large man in a hood at the juncture of these paths inside the wood. The man appeared to be walking in his direction. The path was splattered with ice patches, and Frank glanced down a moment to watch where he stepped. When he looked up, the man was gone.

Frank hadn't looked down very long, less than a second. The man disappeared very quickly. He probably went up one of the other trails, but Frank was close enough now to see down these trails and there was no sign of the man. Frank paused at the intersection and looked about. The large oval track that circled the center of the park was just a few steps to his right, but looking both ways on the track he saw no one so the man couldn't have gone onto the track. He looked down the path ahead and the one to his left and there was no one in sight. Another path went off the one to the left at an angle, it was the ope where he had once encountered some deer, but he saw nobody on it either and he could see a good deal of it through the bare winter woods.

This was a bit disconcerting. He had been certain he had seen a man, a rather good sized man wearing a hood, but that man had simply seemingly disappeared.

Perhaps he had only imagined a figure. It had been a strange morning with his forgetting things he had done often enough to call them routine. Was there something going haywire in his brain? Had the cold finally gotten to him? Was he losing it?

Frank ambled down the path straight ahead and had gone a little ways when he saw the man. The man was on that wooded path after all. He could see him through the trees and he was just standing there. He was looking off in the other direction, slightly up, but just standing. Why would someone just stand about in the woods on a day like this?

Frank kept an eye on the man while walking. Finally the man began to walk too, going up that wooded path away from Frank. That path would curve away from this one he was on and go out to the garden road. Frank knew these trails well. Soon he could see the man no longer, but at least he was certain there was a hooded man.

Usually Frank would have continued out of Bellevue and into another park, but his hands were freezing. The wind had been blowing across him along this way and the chill went deep into his bones. He decided to go back a slightly different way, but one that would shorten his walk.

The path he was on crossed the garden path and so he turned up it, wondering if he would pass the hooded man coming down it. He called it the garden path because it passed through the center of several gardens on both sides of the path. These are rental garden plots and in the season full of vegetables. This was not the season. This was the heart of winter and the gardens were these scraggly, depressing patches now. Even the snow did little to make them less than forlorn. Yet up at the end garden, there was a car.

It was sitting back from the path near the far corner of that particular garden. Frank could see someone sitting in the front seat, behind the steering wheel. The person didn't move to look his way. Frank wondered why come to your plot this time of year? There was nothing to do. Actually, the person wasn't doing anything. They simply sat very still in that car. Frank could not see any tire tracks through the snow to where the person and car sat.

He walked pass the gardens back into a stretch of woods.

What if the person in the car was dead?

The path that cut through this woods was ahead and he turned off the garden path to it. He would walk back the wooded trail to the Northern Greenway trail, then to his car and leave. But as he turned he saw the hooded man. He was partway down that trail, perhaps thirty yards away and he was just standing there looking into the trees.

Frank decided not to go through the woods. Instead he continued up the garden path, which was at this point really an access road. This took him pass the park office and ranger's cabins out to the entrance, where he cut through a snow covered field to another trail that took him back to his car.

This was one of the very few times Frank ever felt nervous walking through these parks and woods. There was something very strange about the still man in the car by the gardens and something truly spooky about the hooded man hanging about on the wooded path. Why would anyone come into a park in 14 degree weather and stand about on a back trail?

As Frank drove out of the park he passed a man wearing a hood walking toward the exit. He wasn't sure if that was the man in the woods or not, but he wasn't going to roll down his car window and ask.

He just hoped tomorrow's paper didn't report a dead man found in Bellevue Park.

These pictures below were taken up on the Rocky Run Trail at Brandywine Creek State Park early on Saturday morning:

This is far up the trail along the ravine. The footprints are mine from coming up the path. The trail was pretty slippery along here and I had to be careful of not slipping off the edge.

These last two pictures are looking down at the Rocky Run.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Carried Away

Once upon a time about eighteen or nineteen years ago the Old Goat's body began to act strangely. If the body had a separate mind then it had become schizophrenic.

Oh, at first it was little things easily dismissed as fatigue perhaps. For instance, The Old Goat would come out of his office at work, make a little semicircle and walk into a wall.

He felt a bit silly the first time it happened, but when it occurred again he became very cautious of his steps. After all, how many times can one walk into walls before people begin to talk or check your desk drawers for the bottle or worse?

This slight course miscalculation wasn't totally new, although the walking into walls was an added feature. He had been aware of an inability to steer straight when walking down sidewalks. He would sense a drifting to one side or the other and was always making small adjustments not to get too close to the curb. He would kid about it. "I hope a cop never asks me to walk a straight line, 'cause I can't."

Ho, ho, ho, what is it anyway? Are the shoes lopsided? Is it lack of sleep, too much on the mind, aging?

It shouldn't be aging. Eighteen years ago The Old Goat was only in his early fifties and he felt energized most the time, a multi-tasking, go-go-go, always doing something type of guy. He had a good job, a sexy wife and an active social life. And that was probably the whole thing, he was just a bit too active and he was a bit body weary, which sometimes effected his walking, nothing more than that.

Except the little sessions of off kilter were soon joined by more off putting things, like muscle cramps, double vision and attacks by sources of light.

Most people suffer a cramp here and there in life, the usual there being the leg. The Old Goat had those now and again, but this was different. It was becoming a much more than a once a day battle with a stubborn muscle that didn't want to un-tense, plus it was all over his body, his chest, his sides, his neck, even his face.

The double vision wasn't all it was cracked up to be either. It was downright annoying. The Old Goat would come home from a hard day of walking into walls and howling from painful cramps, sit down for a bit of the telly and he would be seeing two televisions, one floating slightly above the other. Or was one floating slightly below the other. It was hard to be sure which was the vision and which was the double vision. It was also very upsetting to not quite be able to focus, especially if a pretty girl in a bikini was on screen.

The eye doctor said there was nothing wrong with his eyes.

Now these things came and went over a period of time you understand. They didn't all slam him at once. The worse was the light attacks. That is, The Old Goat discovered one fine sunny day that he wished for rain, anything but a lot of light. It hurt, really, really, really hurt. He couldn't stand that light. He was driving to work with one eye closed and a hand over his other, peeking through the fingers to see the road. Not only that, his eyes began to feel as if he had half a beach of sand behind his lids.

Naturally he eventually discovered the problem and got treatment. He had Graves Disease and this had led to Hypothyroidism for a while and then flipped to Hyperthyroidism, a fairly rare thing. It had also given him Graves' Ophthalmopathy, a fancy way of saying his bloody eyeballs were popping out of his head. That was what caused the scratching sand feel. His eyeballs were so pushed forward his eyelids couldn't close all the way and his eyes had dried out.

Now we could go in to more of the horrors of this disease and the minutia of the treatments, but not right now. Let's just jump to the chase. He eventually ended up not being able to work and sitting at home under a blanket all day to keep that nasty light away. The Disease had weakened his muscles and he had trouble even walking. It was not fun.

But it did give his best friend some fuel to tease him, the case of the pulled down pants...almost. 

Actually this was not his only embarrassing moment caused by his condition. There was another and here is what they were and how they came about.

After some weeks of being basically a blob of jello kept in the dark, he began to feel somewhat better from the medications they started to give him. One day, he decided to drive somewhere. It has been forgotten what he had set out to get, but that isn't important. What is important is he ventured out of the house for the first time in a long while. He drove his car, which was an old Chevette. The gas gauge did not work in this car. He ran out of gas.

He was several miles from home on a fairly unoccupied part of a particular street. He decided he had to walk the few blocks to a main road where there were some gas stations and get gas. He made it to this road and his first hurtle was he needed something to put the gas in, so he found a store where he could buy a gas can.

Spanking brand new gas can in hand, he went into a gas station where two women were attending the counter where you paid for gas from the self-service pumps. He paid and carried his brand spanking new can to a pump where he pumped, lost his balance and fell on his not so brand spanking new can, that is, his rear end. There he sat, struggling now to get back on his feet. (Remember the disease had weakened his muscles horribly, getting up wasn't easy.)

It ran through his head that the two women were probably already calling the cops about the drunken man buying a can full of gas, obviously a deranged individual on his way to commit arson.

Okay, that was embarrassing moment number one, but no one who knew The Old Goat saw it or knew of it.

However, jump ahead some weeks and The Old Goat was beginning to recover. He was on new medicine and even back to work. It was coming up on Valentine's Day and his wife and he had not been out to anywhere together for a long time. He decided they should go out for the lover's day, and anticipating some after dinner activities along the same line, h put on a very can I put this? Oh, let's just be frank, he put on a very skimpy G-string beneath his pants. No one would know but he and his wife.  I mean, married couples do these things, believe it or not.

So they went to a restaurant they had never eaten at before (it has since closed and I believe been torn down to make way for a mall that is on that spot today). It was called the Longwood Inn or something like that. It was a slightly upscale place. They were seated and ordered drinks. The drinks were brought and they ordered dinner. But The Old Goat had felt odd upon arrival. His head felt strange. He wasn't sure if he was getting ill or not.

He tried to fight it, but it was really bothering him so he told his wife he was going to the rest room and sit there a bit to see if he felt better. He got up and set off, leaving the room they were seated in and entering a second dining room.

The next thing he knew, he was being carried under his arms by the Host and a Waiter. "Did I blackout?" he asked.

They said, "Yes."

They took him to the lobby and sat him on a chair right there in front of lines of people waiting for tables. People were looking at him. At that point, the waiter undid his belt and the top button and began pulling down his zipper.

"Whoa! Wait a minute. What are you doing?" he asked.

"Loosing your pants," the guy said.

"We can call an ambulance," the Host was saying.

"No, I'm fine. I'll be okay. Don't do that."

The Old Goat pushed aside the waiter's hands and then redid his pants. He got to his feet.

"I'll be fine, " he insisted.

He went back to his wife and they asked the waitress to pack the food to go. Once this was done, they beat a hasty retreat and never went back to that place.

His pants got opened and he doesn't know if his little skimpy Valentine surprise was noticed by anyone, but his pants didn't fall down, not that that had never happened to him, just not this time.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mystery of the Tingling Hands: A Frank March Adventure

The mansion lay directly ahead. Frank hadn't wanted to be here. Sometimes circumstances cause a change in destinations.

The wind howled through the portico as he neared.

His hands began to tingle. This was odd.


He was use to these things by now, it wasn't like him to get shaky hands.

Frank walked about the building.

The old William duPont mansion, long abandoned by the family, was supposed to be haunted, ghosts up on the second and third floor who played pranks like flicking off light switches. Maybe it was bad vibrations from the spooks causing his hands to tingle and sending a chill down his back, maybe. That was the mystery.

No one had any idea who the ghosts were when living people. Some thought old servants of the duPonts, but this place had an older history. It was one of irony for Frank.

Not long ago he was trying to solve the Mystery of the Stone Tower and was searching the hill several miles west of here for a castle. Now one lay just steps away, hidden in the facade mimicking something else.

The duPonts had not been the original owners of this land. It had passed through the hands of two others before William duPont Sr. obtained it in 1893. It had first been in the hands of a wool merchant named Hanson Robinson and then by the shipping magnate C. R. Griggs. In 1855, Robinson built a Gothic Revival Castle on the site and called it Woolton Hall. (pictured right) He was a wool merchant, remember.

Gothic must have been having quite a Revival in those years. Where had Frank seen another Gothic Revival structure? Ah, yes, the Rockwood home of Joseph Shipley built in 1854.

William duPont Sr. added many buildings to the estate during his tenure, but apparently liked the castle. At least he left it alone, but his son, William Jr. spend a great deal of time and money revising the castle exterior into something resembling Montpelier in Virginia. Yeah, that Montpelier, the home of President James Madison and his ice cream loving wife, Dolley. (A photo of Montpelier is on the left.)

And if you are wondering why, well, the duPont's once owned Montpelier, too. William Jr.'s sister Marion had inherited it and he evidently spend much of his own childhood there. Perhaps he made the changes to Woolton Hall when the castle came into his hands in 1928 because it gave him nightmares sleeping in a Frankenstine style tower.

Frank pulled his hood up over his head. This was something he just didn't do because he found it restricted his vision. Man, he was really feeling the cold this morning and that surprised him almost as much as the disrepair to the large barn just past the mansion.

The structure looked sad in this winter chill, its paint peeling off the side, its windows shuttered up. When William Jr. owned the place he had added stables, race tracks and a steeple chase. He was very much into horse racing and trained thoroughbreds here at Bellevue.

Although those days are gone, reminders remain. In the center of the park is a mile and quarter oval used now by hikers and joggers, but probably once shook to the clobber of horses' hooves. There were riding stables over to one side.

Frank watched a groom bring out the steeds, all covered in dark green blankets. Some reluctantly pulling back against stepping across the white and frozen tundra.

The place had a past of opulence and splendor.

During the years of World War II, William Jr. opened the tennis courts on his estate to the professional women's tennis circuit for their tournaments. He had quite a complex by then, outdoor and indoor tennis courts and a swimming pool. In the period just after the war he married Margaret Osborne, his second marriage. Ms Osborne trained on his estate.

She was quite the tennis player, winner of 37 various Grand Slam titles and named to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1967. She is still alive, the same age as Frank's father, 92; and presumedly still living with Margaret Varner Bloss, her life partner after divorcing duPont.

Despite all its history and acquisitions, when William Jr. shucked off his human coil in 1965 no one in the family cared a whit for the place. It went dark for almost a decade and then the state bought the property and another state park was born.

Oh there was plenty of past here to leave some ghosts behind.

Still, Frank was a realist. He had had his share of adventures with the supposed supernatural and found there was always some other explanation. He didn't believe in ghosts. It was a cold, winter morning so why wouldn't one have tingling hands and chills down the back?

The only mystery was why was Frank having these things.

He went hiking about in sub-freezing temperatures with little regard for the chill. It wasn't even sub-freezing today. The morning temperature was 33 degrees. When Frank saw this he checked it twice, thrice, but his gauge did say 33 and AccuWeather was showing 34. The sun was even shining bright. It seemed a good morning to walk.

Yet here he was with gloves on, which he seldom ever did, his hood up, which he almost never did, and his coat zipped up to his neck, which he absolutely never did. And he was still cold.

He hadn't set out to be at bellevue. Nice looking morning and he was considering one of the further parks, but a nearly empty gas tank and a nearly empty wallet changed his mind. Stopping for gas first, he was careful to get just enough to keep him running until his next income comes. Even that nearly wiped out his bank account. Given gas had reached just over $3.15 a gallon and Bellevue was just down the road and closest to home, he chose to go there to save fuel.

And here Frank was wondering about the mystery of his tingling hands and chilly spine.

He had a theory, as Frank always has a theory.

There was a stiff wind. This wasn't unusual either. The wind chill was 19. He had been out in lower. However, somethings were different.

The ground had been frozen for a month. The snow had covered it for almost as long. Even the Bellevue Lake had been ice-coated for weeks. But more importantly, Bellevue was different that the other parks he visited. It was fairly flat and less sparsely covered by forest. With all the trees now stripped of their leaves one could look far across the plains of this place.

With the wind in a steady blow, which it was this day, these elements added up to an old fashioned air conditioner, air blown across ice. All this had come together to make it more arctic here than the cozy wood lined paths of the other trails. Those trails may not have been plowed off and walking in the accumulated snow was rough and sometimes tiring, but the trees acted as windbreaks and held the total wrath of the long, frozen winter at bay.

Frank was satisfied he had solved the mystery of the tingling hands.

It didn't make him feel any warmer.

Photo of Woolton Hall Castle from the "History of Bellevue Hall", Delaware State Parks.
Photo of Montpelier from "Don's PhotoJaunt 2003: James Madison's Montpelier"
All other photos by the author, 2011

Saturday, January 15, 2011

How Did We Come to This? Chapter 2: Twenty Years in a Flash as The Kid Becomes The Old Goat

We Are Independent Trust took off under the guidance of Benny Terrific. Business expanded and stock climbed, yet down in the dark, cool heart of the windowless recesses of Info Machine Processing (IMP) it stubbornly clunked along on outdated systems and over-the-hill sorters. But the Climbers and their Sherpas at the higher peaks of WAIT Mountain were proud of their antique equipment, arrogant in fact. They bragged about how they climbed this multibillion-dollar baby on four-point crampons and frayed manila rope (NOTE: That is just climbing equipment from way back when. I just wanted a different kind of trope here than my original “Modal T Ford” as my metaphor. Just trying not to be too cliché here, but then maybe it doesn’t work when you spend more time explaining it than it was to write it because you think most people probably won’t know what crampons and manila rope is. Anyway, I digress.))
The Kid didn’t share IMP’s smugness. The Info Machine Processing Department might be married to its 16-bit world; he was not. The Kid had stepped into a hand-on labor intense world and was set on modernization.
He didn’t know if he knew what he was doing, but he did it anyway.
For his first project he automated the lockbox operation after a lot of working the numbers to sell Senior Management on the value of remittance machines and envelope extractors.
Now for the uninitiated, we will define lockbox. What The Kid knew at the time as a lockbox might be what a lot of people picture, a big contraption that looks much like a giant padlock that Realtors hang on sale property doorknobs. These contraptions open by a key the Realtor has and hold inside keys to the property.
Lockbox in the bank was something else altogether. Let’s say you receive your electric bill with a return envelope. You write a check and mail it in that envelope. The address on the return is a post office box number. You may think you are sending this payment to the utility company, but actually you are sending it to their bank. It goes to a box at the post office and someone from the bank, with a key to that box (see lockbox again) picks it up and all the other returned envelops in the box. [Remember now, we are talking 30 years ago. There was no online banking and very little pay-by-phone. There wasn’t an Internet, no Email. Bills were received in the mail and paid through the mail with paper checks.]
All those bits of paper had to be handled and in the case of WAIT, these handlers were people, many, many people, who sat at desks all night long tearing open envelopes and reconciling checks to accounts.
Now before we cast The Kid in the villainous role of putting people out of work there are two things. In those bygone days of yesterday WAIT was a benevolent dictator with a no fire policy. Yes, you heard me correctly; they did not fire the people when the machines were plugged in. Places were found for them. Secondly, because of the machines WAIT could market their lockbox operation to more clients than ever and in a few years as many people were sitting at machines as once had been sitting at desks, They were just able to open more envelopes and process more checks in the time they sat there.
Over the next few years, The Kid converted check statement storage from account basis to bulk filing over a weekend even though everyone in the industry said it couldn’t be done. He got rid of keypunch and moved up to key-to-disk and then moved further directly to mainframe. But The Kid was looking beyond mainframe.
He was pushing for PC usage. It was a tough fight, for the Masters of IMP were dedicated to the mainframe. PCs might be nice for home users and their little Pac-Man games, but would never be practical for business use. The Mainframe would always rule.
The Kid was also campaigning for image storage, for check safekeeping, for many other projects that others always seemed to find reasons why they wouldn’t work. There are stories to tell of those efforts, but not here, not now. Someday we may.  In any case, Ross Rollins’ Division had gained a reputation for being the innovator and the rule breaker, and The Kid was known far and wide (well far and wide within WAIT anyway).
Meanwhile the Eighties were drawing to a close and Benny Terrific had grown rich and suddenly a trumpet sounded, a scroll was unrolled, and it was declared throughout the kingdom that Benny Terrific was going to retire.
Benny passed the reigns over to Penn Letterer.  Letterer was a long term We Are Independent Truster, an old time lender and Senior Manager of the Business’ Best Friend (as long as they can pay) Department. He took over the crown and WAIT dripped back into a period of steady-as-it-goes.
One thing that went when Letterer assumed the top loft was that Assistant-to-the-Chairman position (originally Assistant-to-the-President position).  Perhaps Letterer just didn’t feel he needed an assistant; perhaps he saw it as an indulgence and added expense. Difficult to say why he axed the position, but it meant Flip Wineberry had no more cozy office next door to the throne.
But don’t concern yourself with the fate of Flip Wineberry; he has a major role at the end of this story. He didn’t go away, he simply slithered from Department to Department as the years slipped by.
Lydia Metermaid remained relatively quiet during the Letterer years.
Meanwhile, The Old Goat was doing fine. He had become well known throughout WAIT as kind of the shadow behind Rollins, which suited him just fine. More important to him was being both liked and respected by people.
The Kid was chosen as one of the bank representatives to ACES (American Commercial Enterprise System). This was a training program for schoolteachers, who earned continuing education credits for taking a semester of ACES. Each week they would visit a different corporation. It might be Delmarva Power & Light (which became Conectiv which became DelMarVa) or Rollins Cablevision (which became so many different cable companies I’ve lost track until it is now Comcast) and so forth.
The teachers liked visiting We Are Independent Trust better than anybody in the whole universe. I’ll get to why in a moment. WAIT’s ACES presentation was a series of short talks given by four or five people describing different areas of the bank, usually one from BBF (Business’ Best Fiend – oops Friend, All Branches and Vaults, Trust Us We’re Trust, Human Resources and IMP.  The Old Goat was the representative from IMP (Why this was so is yet another tale for another time.).  Each would talk for about fifteen minutes, describe what their area did, what kind of attributes were looked for in staff and then answer questions.
Afterward, all went to dinner, which is why the teachers loved WAIT.
In those days on the top floor of the headquarters was an upscale exclusive restaurant. Its exclusiveness was determined, of course, by money. If you could afford to pay a couple thousand dollars a year to buy a membership, you got the privilege of dining there, paying for overpriced expensive meals, and gaining exclusivity from those who were smart enough not to pay two thousand dollars a year just to eat at a stuffy diner.  Since it was in the bank’s building and also served for that right to be there by servicing the Officer’s Dining Room. Officers of the bank could invite business guests to a meal at the Restaurant, all on the bank. The ACES Representatives, officers all, took the teachers.  They were treated to a charming private room, attentive service and delicious food. Why wouldn’t they love WAIT the most.

The early Nineties continued to be bright times for The Kid. But beneath this seemingly solid footing ran a fault line about to be shaken.

By the mid-Nineties, Penn Letterer was thinking of retiring. He decided to remain Chairman and give up being President.  But instead of doing the sensible thing and naming a new President in his place, he created a co-presidency and named two men to fill this two-headed monster: Cuddy Bear and Hobart Wazza Goodguy. A revolution was thus fused.
Flip Wineberry continually moved here and there during these changes, somehow always plopping into a leather chair in a high-minded sounding position, never really doing anything earthshaking, just floating about under the radar. In the near mid-Nineties he found himself in the Sales Uplifting Division, manager over a black woman named Dynamic Jones, who was creating a new staff development program for WAIT, and over a white woman named Tilda Childspeak, who administered a sales tool database called Twinning.
The head of Operations for the Bank, Craig List, Master of the Mainframe now running a fiefdom of desktop PCs, retired even though he was only in his fifties. Although he had not been very visionary about the role of PCs, he was astute enough to see a future coming he wished to escape. He took his marbles, and by now he had many, many marbles and left to enjoy life. He was The Kid’s boss’s boss (that being Ross Rollins).  List’s protégé, Jim Herring became Senior Manager of IMP.
Something happened that should have reminded The Kid of something important to his own future.
Herring split All Things Deposited Division in two.
Ross Rollins remained the Head of All Things Deposited, but lost half his former venue of rule, a section now made its own division called Spittin’ Out Data. The Kid continued as Operations, Methods and Project Manager for both divisions. (He was now also the budget coordinator for both.)
The Spittin’ Out Data area had been under a woman named Teah Plunker since the year The Kid came to WAIT. She was a most wonderful gal who had started at We Are Independent Trust the year The KID turned four years old.  The Kid was playing sandbox at Kindergarten and Teah was already spittin’ out data. Yeah, she spend her whole adult life in that same department, although when she started it was more sort bins, comptrollers and spreadsheets than the electronic and mechanical marvel of the Nineties. By the time The Kid came to The Bank 35 years after her, she was running that area.  But fifteen years later, just after publically trumpeting her 50 years of service, a bonanza of positive imagery for WAIT, Teah was brutally shoved into a corner and given busywork for the remaining decade of her life.
An applications manager from IMP, Romeo Casanova, replaced her as Spittin’ Out Data Manager.  The Kid had worked with Romeo on projects, served with him on the Security Committee and liked the man, but Romeo was in over his head and did not last long heading Spittin’ Out Data. While Romeo’s mind seem unable to twist itself around the business subtly of his division, he had no problem wrapping himself around the available ladies. Within weeks he began an affair with one of the women working for him, which eventually resulted in his own divorce. He did marry this woman and presumably they have lived happily ever after, but neither of them did so in Spittin’ Out Data. She was transferred to some other far corner of the company.
While Romeo was being successful in romance he managed to butcher the golden goose, botching up the profits from Lockbox by over-hiring and under-controlling costs. He went back to IMP and was replaced by Willy Doitagain.
And then The Kid looked in the mirror one morning and saw all these gray hairs. He had turned somehow into The Old Goat. It was then he remembered that important thing about Ross Rollins and himself. Ross Rollins was eleven years his senior.  That was the fault line in his working life.
Ross Rollins announced he was going to retire.
Everything was about to change.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mystery of the Stone Tower: A Frank March Adventure

It was a dark and stormy night...

Actually it was early morning and bright, bitterly cold. There had been a storm, but that was yesterday's news and the main roads had been scraped clean. Country roads were sketchy, yet passable.

Frank was out to old haunts. He had been here only recently solving the "Mystery of Hidden Pond" Even in reveling that elusive body of water he discovered something that drew his curiosity. Yeah, he knew what people said about felines dying to know, "Curiosity killed the cat". For some reason people seldom finish that quote, "But satisfaction brought him back." His curiosity wouldn't be satisfied until he followed an old trail he had spotted that day. It came off of and followed down along side the road before curving into the trees. He promised he would come and explore it sometime and here he was.

He parked in the lot below the creek. It was right off the highway and frankly nearer that discovered path than driving further on back roads and up the hill to the other lot.  From here he would cross the bridge and hike a bit up the road.

Crossing over he could see the creek below was half froze over. A band of geese huddled together up on one clear spot near the shore. They raised a racket as he crossed. It was an oddly eerie sound, like the baying of hounds.

Already he was having second thoughts. The road might have been partially cleared, but only to the width of the traffic lanes. Despite the patches of packed snow and refroze ice, cars and pickup trucks (especially pickup trucks) would suddenly appear over the rise ahead and whiz by him, causing a rush of air that rustled his pant legs. Frank walked through the deep, loose snow on the shoulder for safety sake.  He preferred to give traffic a wide berth.

It wasn't long before he could see his objective, but the path was fully buried in white and not at all promising. There was danger there in that ragged, rugged indentation beneath the snow cover. It hid who knows what. A broken branch stuck up here, a jagged stone there; things to trip you, things to twist your ankle. It contained no footprints of man of beast. Frank decided he would not make the first. He abandoned his initial plan and backtracked across the bridge and up to a wide trail with which he had some familiarity .

This trail was called Piken Creek Road. Why it had that name was beyond him. It ran alongside Brandywine Creek and he had been unable to find any Piken Creek on any map. It ran from dead end to dead end mostly through the woods. It wasn't a modern road. It was packed dirt and gravel. It wasn't built for cars, although there were deeper groves worn on each side about axle widths apart. These days it was closed off by a chain across the entrance. A sign announced it as a bicycle trail.

It had not been plowed, of course, but several human feet had been on it even with the snow and it was not too bad walking if he was careful, if he stepped where these others had stepped.

They were probably afternoon tracks from yesterday. He didn't expect he would meet many people, if any, this cold morning and through most of the initial woods he didn't.

 At a point where a narrow trail joined, one that came up through the thicket near the creek, he saw movement. He paused.

There was a large and lone black dog coming up that path. 

This was not a welcome encounter anywhere, especially so in a woods. You could never be certain of a dog. Why was it here on the loose? Was it friendly or hostile?

Frank stood still and watched. The animal flopped over and began rolling from side to side. Its tail wagged, its tongue flapped and it had merriment in its eyes. It got up, ran a few yards and flopped over again seemingly in glee.

At that moment a man came around the bushes further back that trail and shouted to the dog. The dog continued to roll until the man caught up to it and then both walked up the path to where Frank was standing.

The dog bounded ahead and came to Frank, bouncing about him in greeting.

"Making snow angels," Frank said to the man.

The man chuckled." More likely rolling in something disgusting," he said.

The man and dog crossed Piken Creek Road and went up a groove going up the wooded hillside. Frank watched a moment, then continued on his way.

Here there was a break in the trees. The path had curved down closer to the creek. Across the way was a patch of open field and then a distant hill topped with a patch of trees. But there was something else, some lone structure.

Frank stared across as he walked. It was a tower, a stone tower with what appeared to be large windows near the top. It was hard to be sure because it was far away.

What stone tower would be around here. He knew of the stone tower in Rockford Park, but that couldn't be this one, it was in the wrong direction. 

No denying it was there. It was boldly sitting alone atop that far hill.

As Frank contemplated why this tower was there he saw a man moving very slowly toward him on the trail. Most people came with a certain determined speed even if only walking as was Frank himself. This man walked very slow and with a slightly odd gait, not as if he was halt or lame, just slightly less than normal. The closer he came, the less he seemed physically impaired in any way, yet there was still an unreality to his slowness.

Frank always watched strangers on the trail carefully. The man did not seem threatening. Of course Frank always wondered about how he was perceived, he in his beard and torn coat.

"Good morning," he said to the man.

"Good morning," The man answered as they passed on the path.

Then Frank turned, "Say, do you know anything about that tower over there?"

The man gazed out over the field and said nothing for a moment. "No, I don't know anything about that tower." He continued to look at it. "Maybe it has something to do with the castle."

Frank wasn't certain he heard correctly. "Castle? There's a castle up there?"


"What? Is it part of some duPont place?"

"Yes, the family still lives there. You go up the road and around and its up there."

"Well, thank you," and they went their separate ways.

Frank had no idea there were any castles here about. He also didn't know what road the man was referring to. To get where Frank now walked he had turned off Beaver Valley Road.

That was the infamous Beaver Valley Road. It seemed every Delaware teen had to at least claimed they had been to "The Valley" at night. Frank's own children had talked about it. It was like a rite of passage, even though the actual "horror" of Beaver Valley Road was across the line in Pennsylvania. Some where in the narrows of the forest was "The Devil's Road", "The Cult House" and mysterious black cars that would chase any night visitors from the area. There were tales of the KKK, tales of Devil Worship, tales of some malformed, inbred monsters kept imprisoned by the duPonts. The place was the personification of evil, so horrid that even the trees were malformed and reaching away from where the house stood as if struggling to escape. Legend said a girl was buried beneath a tree and had absorbed into the roots and the tree had grown in the shape of a human skull. (This tree is pictured, you can make out the form of a skull.)

But that would have been in a direction north away from here and no one had ever described the "Cult House" as a castle or said anyone still lived there. So what was this castle?

Not long after speaking with the man, Frank came to the dead end of the trail at a road. Was this the road that circled about past this castle and its tower? 

He didn't know. He didn't even know the name of this road. He was sure it wasn't the one he had driven down earlier in the morning. 

Frank decided he needed to do some research when he got home. 

It was not easy. He Googled, "stone towers" and several came up, but except for the one at Rockford they were all downstate around Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, watch towers built by the military during World War II. There were eleven towers constructed along the coastline to guard against an artillery attack. He found nothing about any tower near the Brandywine.

He tried searching for Castles in Delaware. This was complicated because he was searching for a castle in New Castle County, where there is also a town named New Castle. He would get lots of hits on castle, but none were about an actual castle. He also got many strikes on Mike Castle, who had been a leading politician in the state ever since Frank lived there.  He tried, "duPont Castle" and actually found there was one, but it was in Virginia. 

He was just about to give up when he saw an image of a tower. It looked like the one he had seen and it had several bicyclists in front of it.

Finding the website from the photo he discovered it was for the Granogue Cross Expo, some world-class cross country bike race that begins at that tower, located on the duPont family estate at Granogue. Now the mystery is solved. There is a tower, there is a castle, sort of. Granogue, where some of the duPonts reside in a large 17-bedroom mansion in the hills of Northern Delaware. 

Now the only mystery Frank is left with is why would anyone want a house with 17 bedrooms?