Extraordinary Stories

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

The "Orange Booklet" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Looking through my little orange writing booklet that has gone with me on story after story over the past year.  My wife bought me the booklet, that measures about 5" by 8", last year while we were visiting Cape May, NJ during our annual family trip to nearby Ocean City, NJ.  At the south corner of Washington Mall in Cape May stands this really neat little store.  Kind of nondescript, but they have a variety of unusual items for purchase.  One of these items, this little orange writing booklet with the statement "Remember, ideas become things", caught my eye and wouldn't you know it, my wife gave it to me as a gift after we returned home from vacation.  No special reason, just gave it to me because she is so nice!  The booklet is filled with ruled pages, good for taking notes and writing stories.  Between every so many pages is a page filled with special tidbits of knowledge.  One page tells about plagiarism and how "Nothing is original."  
And … "Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination."  "Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul."  And, a quote from Jean-Luc Godard which says, "It's not where you take things from - it's where you take them to." And, another page reads, "What is now proved was once only imagined." This was written by William Blake.  After I reach the next orange page in the book that bears a note, I remove it to allow me to once again write on the ruled pages.  The next page that I will reach soon says,  "Things are only impossible until they are not."  I take the booklet when I visit people or locations which I will feature on my blog.  Fill the pages with notes that when I return home, I tear from the booklet to organize my thoughts before I write.  I also have begun a section in the back of the booklet where I decided I would write ideas for my first novel.  Only have one so far.  The note reads …. The silence is deafening.  Then another bullet explodes, sending shock waves through the air.  That's as far as I have gotten on my first novel.  We will travel once again, soon, to Ocean City for another yearly family vacation and during that time will take a day trip to Cape May for a relaxing day of shopping and eating at my favorite, The Lobster House.  Naturally will stop in the same store and point out to my wife the next booklet that interests me.  We'll see what happens next!  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The "Son, Father, Coach" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Kneeling in front of the faucet at the rear corner of the house.  Getting in my catcher's stance so I can spend the next half hour or more catching pitch after pitch from my son, Derek, as he practices his windup and stretch, using a tennis ball.  My guess is that he was probably five or six years old at the time, but had this inherent love of the game of baseball; just as his dad.  From the time he could throw a ball, I had him in the back yard throwing it to me.  
Derek pitching when he was 9 years old
"Lefty" had the desire to practice his pitching as often as he could and as he grew older his desire never diminished.  Games of Wiffle ball in the back yard with his brother, sister and me seemed to be a nightly summer occurrence with him pitching for one team and me pitching for the other.  Can't tell you how many Wiffle balls we lost or destroyed during the summer months for about eight to ten years as my three kids were growing up.  When he turned 9 year's old I signed him up for organized ball and became his coach.  I had been coaching little league baseball for a few years in the city of Lancaster, but when he began to play, I naturally had to coach his team.  I knew he was a special ball player from that first time we threw in the backyard.  
Local newspaper photo taken of Derek
while pitching at Manheim Twp. High School
He excelled in "B" ball for two years and we both moved up to "A" ball when he turned 11 years old.  Then I found that he could play on the "traveling" team and reluctantly gave up my coaching rights to him to allow him to play with more skilled athletes.  His team did well his first year on the team and the two following years as he played on the 13-14 year old team. During a tournament his second year on the 13-14 year old team he and a teammate pitched back-to-back no-hitters in a weekend tournament.  The news made it into the sports pages of USA Today.  That same  year at that level saw him get to play in the Mason-Dixon Tournament which features the best teams from the north-east USA.  He won two games and his team won the championship.  High School followed with year after year of success on the mound until he gained interest from schools such as Clemson, Cornell and Miami.  
Pitching in a Pennsylvania District
High School game in 1989
Then during the State Playoffs his senior year he traveled to Philadelphia where he beat the best team in that area and that evening the coach from Villanova University called to offer him a full ride to pitch for the Wildcats.  That summer he played in the Keystone Games which featured the best players from all over the state of Pennsylvania.  That team won the Keystone Games baseball category.  His first collegiate year was a success with him having the 3rd best ERA (Earned Run Average) in the Big East.  I must tell you that even though he was third, he didn't qualify since he was 3 innings short of qualifying.  
Pitching for Villanova University
He did all this after spending his Christmas break in the hospital with mono and lost not only weight, but suffered a winged-scapula from trying to return to baseball too soon.  Eventually got to pitch against Miami in the prelims to the College World Series, but lost 1-0.  During his college years he played summer ball in the prestigious Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League for the Quakertown Blazers. He garnered professional attention, with a possible draft offer after his junior year, but he chose to return to school for one more year of ball and to get his degree from Villanova.  A serious arm injury toward the end of senior year cut his dream short.  Then marriage and a baby boy came along and eventually he was back into the sport he loved so much.  He served as an assistant for a few years until this year when he became the head coach for his son's, my grandson's, team in the 11-12 year old league.  
Coach Woods for the Mountville Braves
He has taken a team of all 11 year olds but one and taught them the game of baseball like no other coach could do.  What looked like a year of being a cellar-dweller because of their young age, he coached them into a second-place finish.  And, the boys on his team love him.  He works them hard, but they play their hearts out for him.  My grandson, Caden, who happens to be a "righty" has shown great improvement and confidence on the mound due to his dad's coaching.  My wife and I couldn't be more proud of Coach Woods and try to make every game.  Can't imagine what this team, if kept intact next year, could do with another year of Derek's knowledge and coaching.  I see great things in the future once again for my son ... father and baseball coach.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The "Talk About Bad Timing" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Reading in the newspaper about the closing of one of the biggest resorts in Lancaster County, the Lancaster Host Resort and Conference Center.  Seems the 50 year old resort has seen it's better days and is slowly wasting away.  A week or so ago a pipe burst on an upper floor and dumped water onto multiple floors, collapsing ceilings.  And what's worse, the resort had gone to auction the end of last year and wasn't sold, since no one had offered the reserve price.  Then a month or so ago a buyer was found and the resort was finally sold.  Talk about bad timing.  The Host has had problems in the past.  A little over a year ago the resort was unable to serve food for a few weeks after being shut down due to failing a restaurant inspection.  
Was telling my wife about the situation and she said, "Remember when I got really sick from drinking the water at the place years ago?  That was when I worked at the Cytology Laboratory and Dr. Loeb was speaking at the Host and asked everyone at the office to attend.  Don't you remember?  We were living at Manor House Apartments right after we got married.  All the girls went to hear him speak.  I was only 20 years old at the time and everyone else had a drink except me.  I drank a couple of glasses of water and got real sick the next day.  Quite a few people at the Host got sick after the event.  Then, the second day that I was home and you were at school, someone knocked at the door.  I had to drag myself down that flight of steps to open the door.  
Entrance to the Host
It was someone from Jehovah's Witnesses who asked me if I was ready to meet my Lord.  I told the guy that the way I felt,  I was ready right then, and when my Lord didn't immediately show up, I slammed the door and crawled back into bed."  Well, the story in the paper today was saying that it may be best if the new owner just demolished the existing resort and build a new one on the site.  Great location with many tourist attractions nearby.  Only problem is that much of the 160-acre property is zoned rural or agricultural, since the Host is in an area known as "The Garden Spot of America."  Will be interesting to see what the new owners will do with one of the county's premier hospitality properties.  I'll bet the owners who just sold the property are so happy they signed the papers just in time.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

The "Remembering Rebman's" Story

Rebman's old sign still remains on S. Queen.
It was an ordinary day.  Carol and I were on our way home from lunch in Chesapeake City and had just passed the vacant and crumbling Rebman's Store at 800 S. Queen Street in Lancaster when it all began. Remember when we took the kids to see the "Moon Room" at Christmas? ..... or remember when we bought all our Easter candy, for years and years, at Rebman's? ..... or remember the quoit set we bought at Rebman's when we moved into our "Beach House" twenty years ago ..... or remember when Tad bought his pool table at Rebman's after he moved back home and took up residence in the basement?  It was back in 1909 that Mr. Rebman began a candy business at the corner of West King and North Water Streets in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  
Rebman's store on South Queen St. in Lancaster, PA.
Forty years later he moved into a 32,000 square-foot store at 800 S. Queen Street and added a party supply business to his candy business and added pinball machines and pool tables to his paper plates, plastic cups, school supplies, toys, candles, trains as well as wedding and funeral items.  Oh yeah, he also was in the carnival business and sold and rented carnival equipment. 
The "Moon Room" in black and white ....
But, it was his holiday items that brought many people to his store on South Queen.  Our three kids enjoyed his ever popular "Moon Room" which was decorated with a multitude of artificial Christmas trees.  Trees of all colors and sizes and decorated in just about everything from traditional lighting to the old time bubble-candles to more modernized lighting.  
... and in color.
His Halloween costumes, Fourth of July decorations and Easter candy were always a favorite in our family.  In 1984 he he opened yet another store on Columbia Ave. to sell his products.  It was a young Earl F. Rebman Sr. who worked at Central Market in downtown Lancaster  and sold newspapers on street corners who began working in the candy business and renting carnival goods.  
The first store at King and Water Streets in Lancaster.
It was these jobs that formed the foundation of his business in Lancaster.  He was not only a good business- man, but was an active civic-minded community man.  He established Lancaster's Salvage Drive that he coordinated in just three days in 1942.  He collected steel, paper and silk which were needed for the war effort during WWII.  
How the property looks today as a pawn shop.
He was chairman of the Lancaster County Salvage Committee from 1942-1946 and kept records of the committee's activities.  Mr. Rebman's homemade coconut cream eggs were extremely popular, followed by his peanut butter eggs.  American troops received personalized chocolate eggs from Rebman's during WWII.  
The store as it looked on S. Queen St. when it was first built.
When I was a student at Millersville State Teachers College from 1962-1967, I met Bobby Rebman, a member of the family who operated the business on S. Queen St.  He became a good friend and when I got married in 1967, Carol and I would often visit him at the store where he went back to work after college.  
The fleet of Rebman's carnival trucks in front of the store.
He died tragically, shortly after a divorce in the 1990s.   On March 29, 2005, Rebman's closed their store along Columbia Ave. and began a "Liquidation Sale" which would be the end of the business in Lancaster as we knew it.  The big discount stores had driven them out of business.  Earl F. Rebman Jr.'s sons, Patrick and Peter decided to continue in business and formed Rebman Brothers.  
The store on Columbia Ave is now a strip mall.
They would sell gaming and pool tables, flagpoles, carnival supplies and try to continue the candy business.  They had hopes of negotiating a lease on a portion of the Columbia Ave. store to continue their new business.  Well, today as I travel around Lancaster to take a few photos of the old Rebman stores, I found the Columbia Ave. store to be renovated into a series of businesses.  
Interesting BINGO card I found featuring Rebman's
advertisement on the bottom of it.
I have no idea what might have happened to the Rebman business, but Carol and I still have the happy memories from the years we made our visits to the store on S. Queen Street.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The "You Just Drove Away With The Speaker!" Story

Marque for the Columbia Drive-In
It was an ordinary day.  Carol and I were heading home from an oldies concert in Springetts- bury, PA, driving east on US Rt. 30, crossing the bridge that takes you over the Susquehanna River.  About a mile into Lancaster County, we pass a site on the right side of the highway, near the Prospect Road exit, that always brings back fond memories for us.  
Sky-Vue Drive-In in Lancaster County, PA
For years, on a clear night, you could see the movie projected on the big screen from the Columbia Drive-In Theatre.  All along the road were signs stating "No Parking" to prevent viewers from stopping and trying to watch a few minutes of the movie on the screen.  And, if I remember correctly, for some time the sound for the movie was broadcast on a specific radio station so if you did stop, you could tune in the radio and listen to the movie as well as viewing it. 
The first Drive-In movie theater in New Jersey
The Columbia Drive-In was one of three outdoor movie theaters in Lancaster County, the others being the Sky-Vue and Comet.  The drive-in era began in Lancaster County in 1952 when the Sky-Vue opened on Lincoln Highway East (Route 30).  Next came the Comet which opened in 1955 on what at the time was Rt. 230.  The Columbia opened on Columbia Avenue (now Rt. 462) a year later.  Carol and I visited all three theaters at one time or another.  Mostly "B" movies or reruns were shown on the screen.  
Cars lined up waiting for the film to begin
Many came to the drive-in to avoid having to wear good clothes or to load the car and get in for a good price or to be able to make-out all night in the car without anyone complaining about it.  The very first drive-in theater was invented and patented by Richard Hollingshead in 1933 when he opened his theater in Camden, NJ.  People paid 25 cents per car to see the British comedy Wives Beware.  
Ad for the Sky-Vue Drive-In
Eventually the X-rated movie made it's way to the outdoor screen.  I can still remember Russ Meyer's Valley of the Dolls being shown at the Columbia Drive-In and seeing the cars driving very slowly on Rt. 30E past the screen to see if they could get a glimpse of the movie.  In Lancaster County, the drive-in movie wasn't without controversial problems.  in 1962 local police visited all three theaters and fined them for showing movies on Sundays in violation of the 1794 Pennsylvania Blue Laws which prohibited showing movies on Sundays.  Then in 1970 a local state senator proposed higher fencing around the outdoor theaters to prevent non-customers from seeing the X-rated movies.  
Ad for the Columbia Drive-In
Well, the drive-in lasted 53 years in Lancaster County when the Columbia Drive-In closed in 2005.  The Sky-Vue had closed in the early 1980s while the Comet closed in 1979.  I guess Carol and my most memorable drive-in movie was perhaps the last one we went to in the late 1990's when we had both fallen asleep and after waking, decided it's time to head home.  The movie was just about over, one we had seen before, and it was getting rather chilly, so I started the car and off we went ... with the metal speaker still attached to the window.  Ripped it right off the metal post next to our parking space.  Carol said, "You just drove away with the speaker still on the car, you know."  We were both tired so I just pulled onto the highway and headed home.  Told her I would return it the next time we went to the movies.  Never happened!  Don't remember what I ever did with the speaker, but it would make a neat momento for the book shelf.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The "Technology That Fizzled" Story

The parking lot to the right once held the Hager's Pigeon-Hole
Parking Garage in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
It was an ordinary day.  Standing along Market Street in the city of Lancaster, PA trying to remember exactly where the Hager's Department Store Pigeon Hole Parking Garage was located.  If I close my eyes I can still see my dad pulling our car into the parking garage, exiting the car, the door of the garage closing and taking the car to an upper level without anyone in the driver's seat.  Pretty neat for 1956 when the store in downtown Lancaster build their Pigeon Hole garage at the corner of Grant and Market Streets behind their store on West King Street.  
Hager's Pigeon-Hole Parking Garage.  You can see
some of the car fins extending beyond the end.
The garage was ten stories high, higher than the department store, when it was built. Certainly was the talk of the town and everyone wanted to have their car parked in the lot at one time or another.  Pull your car up to the garage, hop out of it, watch your car be pulled into the elevator and begin to rise and then try to stand back and see which floor or location your car might have been taken.  Some cars stuck out of the garage more than others, since back in that era of car manufacturing, cars had big fins and these fins could be seen from the ground, sticking out of the garage.  The garage could hold 240 cars, but some cars were so big that they couldn't be handled by the mechanical transport system.  One such car was the huge Cadillac Fleetwood with large "wings" that were so wide it wouldn't fit into the unit.  
A drawing for the Sanders lift.
I can remember a location in front of the garage where we would stand and watch the entire operation.  But then, after a few years, the APS (automatic parking system) began to malfunction and at times you had a hard time retrieving your car.  The Pigeon-Hole theory of garage parking seemed to be pretty neat, but eventually it began to fade and Hager's Department Store demolished their garage in 1964.  The robotic parking valet, which was first designed by Vaughn and Leo Sanders, after working with a forklift in a lumber mill, was a great technological advancement, but it just didn't work. I can still visualize my dad's car going up the chute, being pulled by a chain onto the main line, and then dropped off in a parking space a few minutes later.  Perhaps, its time to bring back the Pigeon-Hole Parking Garage.  Certainly would solve the parking woes of many of the major cities in the USA.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Another look at a Pigeon-Hole Parking Garage from the 1950s-60s.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The "A List Of Service In Lancaster" Story

Entrance into the Riverview Burial Park
It was an ordinary day.  Driving through Riverview Burial Park in the southern end of Lancaster City.  The verdant landscape is covered with small American Flags that recognize the graves of those who served their country in conflicts from the Revolutionary War through the Vietnam War.  The mid-morning sunlight reflects off the granite headstones and crosses and casts eerie shadows to their sides.  My Grandfather Joseph, Grandmother Grace and Uncle Clair are buried next to each other in this cemetery.  I made my visit today to see the large section in the cemetery where the veterans are buried, since I recently read that Lancaster County has a resource available to all residents who can search for their relatives and friends who served and see exactly where they might be buried in Lancaster County.  
Row after row of stone crosses, and a few stone Star of David
monuments, line the hills of the Riverview Burial Park
The list is known as the Lancaster County Veteran Burial Index and has more than 17,000 Lancaster County veterans along with period of service, year of death and place of burial.  Their burials might be in local cemeteries, churchyards or family plots as long as they died between the late 1700s through the 1980s.  
Rank, name, Company and birth/death years on the stones
I noticed, when I pulled the website up on my computer, that my father wasn't listed, but then realized he was buried in 2008.  Some prominent names on the list are former President of the United States, James Buchanan who served in the War of 1812 and is buried in Woodard Hill Cemetery; Major General John F. Reynolds who was killed at the start of the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War and is buried in Lancaster Cemetery; and Brigadier General Edward Hand who is buried in the St. James Episcopal Churchyard.  
Small plaque listing the war and years of service
As I walked among the graves I noticed that in front of each grave site is a small metal plaque that lists the conflict in which they were involved.  Many died during their service while others died of natural causes.  Many of the names on the list are due to the federal Works Progress Administration effort in the 1930s.  Data gatherers were sent throughout the countryside to gather information from residents as well as from gravestones.  My hope is that sometime there will be another effort to gather information from the years after the 1980s so that my father can have his name placed on the list.  His name is also on a memorial monument in the St. James Episcopal Churchyard in downtown Lancaster.  You can find the Lancaster County list at www.co.lancaster.pa.us/DocumentCenter/Home/View/255.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.  PS - click on photos to enlarge them.

Old Glory towers high above the graves

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Kennedy on the left with her stepsister Mia.
It was an ordinary day.  Reading and looking at short notes and photos posted by Donya on her Facebook Page.  Donya is the mother of Kennedy, the four-year-old who was born with the rare disease known as S-adenosylhomocysteine dydrolase deficiency, or AdoHcy.  She is one of eight people in the world who have ever been diagnosed with this disease.  For most, it was a death sentence, but Donya made it her life's work to find a doctor who could find a cure for it.  Found him right here in Amish Country in Dr. Strauss who found a liver transplant could possibly cure her.  The surgery was performed a little over a year ago using part of the liver of one of Donya's high school classmates who volunteered to donate it for Kennedy.  The operation was a huge success and Kennedy's disease was cured! But, at the time, the muscles around the implant were left un-attached so they wouldn't constrict the new liver.  Well, this past Thursday Kennedy entered Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh to have the final step completed in her surgery. Dr. Kyle would stitch the abdominal wall muscles together to protect the area around her original operation.  An entire team of medical specialists was assembled to help Kennedy with her recovery from the surgery.  The pain from the surgery was expected to very stressful for both Kennedy as well as Donya.  Donya was expecting to be in Pittsburgh for a month while Kennedy healed.  Last Thursday, after the surgery, Donya posted on her Facebook Page: Just saw Dr. Kyle's smiling face. He said that Kennedy did great and the surgery went well. The next few days are going to be very hard on her. While there are less complications than transplant, this will be a much more painful surgery for her. They placed epidural and pic line to keep pain managed as much as possible. We will all get her through this! He also said that he added some extra sass!!!! Like she needs any more of that!!  Then the following day Donya posted: Day 2 post surgery and this little trooper asked to get out of bed and walk! Could not be more proud of this pixie. She included a video showing her superhuman daughter walking and clapping. Two days later, third day after surgery, she posted another video of her husband, Josh, and Kennedy playing street hockey in a commons area in the hospital.  I can't imagine what the hospital staff must have been thinking about this little girl with the sweetest face that could melt your heart in a moment.
Kennedy enjoying pizza five days after major surgery.
Then today Donya posted this amazing message: Out for a pizza dinner date with my favorite girl. She was discharged today!!! Appt. with surgeon on Thur. morning and if all is well...headed home!!! I'm so amazed with this young girl, as I'm sure many, many others are also. All the well-wishes and prayers helped, but the superhuman determination of this little girl is unbelievable.  Our son, Tad, called a few hours ago and asked if we are free next Wednesday to help him babysit Kennedy while her mother takes an hour off for some free time.  We will get to see first-hand this little girl who is making medical history.  Should be fun, but I can't imagine what that extra "sass" might have done to her!  I'm sure I'll need a nap after she leaves Wednesday.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The "Big 33: More Than A Football Game" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Walking around Hershey Park Stadium in Hershey, PA looking for a few photos that will illustrate the big event that Carol and I, along with our daughter Brynn and granddaughters Courtney and Camille are attending tonight.  The Big 33 football game has been played for quite a few years now in Hershey, PA and features the best graduated high school football talent from Pennsylvania and Maryland.  
Just so happens than my son-in-law, Dave Mencarini, is one of the coaches for the big game tonight.  Must tell you though that he and his family live in Maryland, so we are sitting on the opposite side of the stadium from where I usually would sit to watch this game.  
The girls: Courtney, Brynn, Carol and Camille
Each team features 33 of the best seniors from their respective state, thus the name of the game.  Dave arrived in Hershey a week ago to begin practice with the players, some of whom are twice the size of me.  Amazing that kids who are one quarter my age can be so big and fast as well as talented.  Most are on their way to play college football in the near future.  
Assistant Coach Dave Mencarini is highlighted in the program
Dave has been coaching high school football for over twenty years now and has been a head coach for twelve of those years.  He has managed to win 120 games as head coach and coach a state championship team along the way.  He previously coached in the Big 33 game a few years ago and will be the head coach for the Maryland team two years from now.  
Disappointing final score for the Maryland fans as well as Dave
The game was the centerpiece for the evening, but the fans and atmosphere were the highlight of the game for me.  Follow along with my photos and catch the atmosphere, excitement and championship spirit that is the Big 33 Football Game.  Oh yeah, the Pennsylvania fans were much happier than the Maryland fans at the end of the game, if you get what I mean.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.  

Maryland cheerleaders
Interception of a Maryland pass by the Pennsylvania team.
Maryland socks.
Halftime score sees PA in front of MD.
Another use for the smartphone.
Security guards were everywhere and metal detectors were used at the entrance to the park.
Game was broadcast on PA cable network.
This young female professional photographer seemed to be everywhere on the field.
Homemade banners for the Maryland team.
Either a mother or a coach takes a group shot of some of the cheerleaders.
Beautiful evening for a football game.
Traditional handshake at the end of the game.
This was only the second game to be played on this new turf field.
Twilight in Hershey.
Daughter Brynn with husband/coach Dave and granddaughters Courtney and Camille.