Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Archive for the ‘Family History’ Category

Photo Challenge: Unusual Outcome not Expected

When I saw the wonder in Alex’s eyes as she gazed at the floating jellyfish, I missed something, that only revealed itself on looking at the photograph: the luminescence in the jellyfish and also captured in the hair ribbon.

Life is a beautiful, magnificent thing, even to a jellyfish.  Charlie Chaplin

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unusual

Photo Challenge: Opposites

Christmas Day: we all have very different ways in which we enjoy the holiday, whether serving a family dinner or happily receiving a present that we always wanted.

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Weekly Photo Challenge:  Opposites

Weekly Photo Challenge: Time, Traveling into the Past

Recording family history has expanded my perceptions of time, how families lived out their days in cycles of births, marriages, and passings. Sometimes I cannot tell whether I am in their time or my own as these dimensions seem to meld together.

Video shows the passage of time for a little farm-house that belonged to my great-grandparents.  First photograph was taken a hundred years ago and the second when I returned to find the house along a back road on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

WordPress Photo Challenge: Time

 

Photo Challenge: From Every Angle, Above and Below on the Chesapeake Bay

For the past few years, I’ve been flying over the Chesapeake Bay. This was a route that I frequently drove, so I have photographs of many of these places along the route. I’m always amazed about the flying experience, that I have this incredible opportunity to see the earth from the vantage point of thousands of feet in the air. Sitting in a window seat, I grab my camera to capture the views. I unfold maps, following the coastlines of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia as I attempt to identify the locations below that are familiar to me. Rivers and streams snake across the landscape as the sun reflects the light from the water. The land is divided in a patchwork of shades of green and brown. It’s a perspective that stays with me as the plane returns to the planet

Tangier Island

Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Ocean City, Maryland

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Cape Henlopen, Delaware

Cape Henlopen, Delaware

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Every Angle

Poetic Reflection at Two

Alexandra, Sky

“The sky sees your face.”
–Alexandra Kerr S.
2/7/15

Yes, 
the sky sees your face
the wind whispers in your ear
the rain hears your splashes
the snow kisses your hand
the grass tickles your toes
the moon sparkles in your eyes
the sun warms your skin.
Yes,
the sky sees your face.

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Alexandra has continued with her memorable quotes, collected by Daddy:

“I call the picture Turtle de Shelly”
–Alex

“can you tell me my grandpa’s name? I can’t find it in my memory.”–Alex

“what does orbit mean daddy?”–Alex

“Making messes isn’t my thing right now.”–Alex

Alex: can you get me some more water daddy?
Me: why don’t you do it?
Alex: because it is soooo boring.

January 11 at 7:56am · Newport News, VA ·

 When my heart beats that means I’m OK annnd you love me.
–Alex

“My aunty Kae is a nice aunty, I flew on a plane to see her and she took me to art class aaaannnddd gave me food to survive. I threw up in her car because my Nanna drove to much.”–Alex

Comments

Dear Alex, we are saving the date for you and Valeta to return to Pennsylvania in June. Can’t wait to see you both! There will be art classes again and dancing wearing our tutus. I promise we will drive slowly so no more worries about car sickness! How about another ride on the merry-go-round? Love, Auntie K

“our TV has blu-ray. I know about Blu-ray on TV’s you know.”–Alex

Yesterday at 12:57pm · Newport News, VA ·

You are a really smart guy, you knew which on was the blueberry waffles. –Alex

Me: Alex, would you like me to read some more John Keats?
Alex: yea.
“I knew that conflict was a bad idea, I knew it!”  –Alex
Alex: can I have some crackers?
Me: I’m folding laundry right now.
Alex (pouting): please
Me: not right now
Alex: why isn’t my pouting working.

Alex: What happens if this chip breaks?
Me: I don’t know, you will have a broken chip.
Alex: Will the whole world break?
Me: I don’t…
Alex breaks the chip
Me: think so.

She took out another and said “does this chip hold reality together?” before breaking it.
I look on the bright side when I give you hugs.
–Alex

A letter for Auntie Kae and Nanna Jean.

It reads: “I love Auntie Kae. I love Nanna Jean”

Image may contain: one or more people and indoor

“I miss Auntie Kae, because she is really nice.”
–Alex

Comments:  I miss you and Valeta, too! Here’s a video of feeding the manta rays at the Camden Aquarium.


Portrait by Jean Kerr Strosahl, August 2017

“when I go to Kindergarten I’m going to miss being normal.”

Alex started school today, and that is a big change for her… but it is also a big change for me, a milestone in her life and a threshold over which once crossed there is no going returning. She went out that door, got on that bus, and entered into a whole new world of experiences. It will change her, and in that change she will grow into someone new, someone wonderful. Of no less, and no greater beauty than the amazing person she is today. Yet the person she is today will be lost to me. The girl who holds my hand tomorrow isn’t the same person who held my hand as she toddles across the floor, isn’t the same person as the one who looked up at me with those eyes so blue on her very first day. She is the sum of those people, just as the young lady she will become is going to be the sum of the person she is today (and every person she is between now and then). But then am I not a different man than I was when I first held her hand (an eternity ago to her, an instant to me). That man is still here, part of the sum of experiences that makes up my life… just as the little boy who once held a hand (an eternity ago for me, perhaps a moment ago for others).

Time changes us, it brings us new experiences that shape who we are like the waves on a beach shape the sand. Even if we go back to the same place, be it days or even years later, we can never return to that same beach we once walked on. Nor are we the same people as the ones who once walked on that beach.

Tonight, after the excitement had calmed down she laid her head down on my shoulder and said “I can hear you breathing daddy” then drifted off to sleep. Tonight I laid there for a bit longer than I otherwise would… there being laundry to do and a dishwasher to run, lines on the endless list of things that need to be done. I laid there with the window open and lightning flickering in the distance.

Just for a moment, just one moment more.

Celebrating Symmetry in Needlework

My grandmother probably never thought of herself as mathematician, yet she had an understanding of rotational, translational and reflective symmetry. Fiber arts, especially as practiced by women, was seriously neglected in the cannons of artistic works until the 1970s. The feminist movement brought attention to the culture of women’s lives and their contributions as craftspersons and artists. Many women created quilts and other fabric art in hardship by gathering and sewing together little pieces of cloth, sometimes transforming even rags into art for their home.

I have no familiarity with mathematical subjects of plane and spacial symmetries, but I do know that nothing makes a room look more cozy than a quilt on a bed.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Symmetry

Summer Camp, Fifty Years Ago, and Almost Not Making it Back Home

Rite of Passage: the Summer Camp Experience 1957

For many children in the U.S., the summer camp experience has become a right of passage: separating from parents, friends and a familiar neighborhood to live in “the great outdoors” and learn life strategies of how to get along with adults and other children. According to the American Camp Association, nearly 11 million kids attend one of the 7,000 overnight camps each summer, with stays ranging from a week to two months. I had classmates whose parents sent them to camp for the entire summer. Research suggests that camp can build confidence, social skills, and independence. Probably for most kids, the experience is a mixed bag, like life.

Girl Scout camp Hidden Falls provided that experience for my sister, Jean, and her two friends. Jean wrote my parents the quintessential camp letter, “Please, please come get me! I hate it! . . . almost mimicking to a tea Allan Sherman’s hit single record years later, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” a comic song in which a camper bemoans his experiences to the tune of Ponchielli‘s Dance of the Hours.

Take me home, oh Mudda Fadda
Take me home, I hate Granada
Don’t leave me out in the forest where
I might get eaten by a bear

Camp Nik-o-Mahs, in the Mountains of Central Pennsylvania 

I remember being intrigued by the Camp Nik-o-Mahs brochure. The camp was once a scout camp founded in the 1920 and named for the nearby town of Shamokin, spelled backwards, that is. The Hall family, who lived in my hometown of Springfield, operated the camp. The list of activities sounded exciting: archery, swimming in a creek, campfires, canoeing, all in a woodsy atmosphere. The cabins resembled little clapboard houses with porches. The camp sponsored overnight hikes and a trip through a water cave. In 1958 the brochure read that campers can “frolic to their heart’s content” in the creek. [1] An adventurous 11-year old, I loved all of that so I begged my parents to let me go. They were not so enthusiastic. My folks were protective and not convinced that the experience would be as joyful as I was imaging. The begging paid off, however, and they submitted the application what I think was about $35 for a week. What could happen in a week, after all?

First Day of Camp (me in the back)

First Day of Camp (me in the back)

Introduction to Latrine Duty

After a four-hour drive, but which seemed endless–due to my excitement, we arrived at the camp. Each cabin had three sets of bunk beds, with four to six sharing girls the quarters. About nineteen cabins lined along a dirt path, the girls’ cabins grouped together, then the boys’ cabins further down. I think there was a rule about not being allowed on the boys’ side.

After saying good-bye to parents, counselors explained the rules and regulations and gave us a tour of the camp. They pointed out the shower room. You could take a bath, but you had to do something with water, like build a fire, to make it hot. I didn’t take any baths.

I was nervous about getting along with the counselor and other girls in the cabin. I recall that I thought the counselor was a bit bossy, but I soon became friends with the other campers and enjoyed their company.

The next morning we dutifully cleaned our cabin, as instructed, and awaited inspection. Beds had to be neat, clothes put away, and the floor clean. Counselors marched in with clipboards and pencils and snooped around the corners of the cabin and found two “dust bunnies” under my bed. For the offense, they assigned our cabin the dreaded latrine duty. Later I would tell my mom about what happened, and she was quite indignant that she was paying good money only to have her daughter clean toilets. The job wasn’t that bad, actually, it was more the idea of cleaning toilets. Our cabin passed all subsequent inspections.

Campfire Philosophy

At the first evening campfire, the camp director introduced us to the hierarchy of swimming privileges. The top place was reserved for the members of the Walrus Club, who carried a card with their special designation and were permitted to swim in the deep water. I made up my mind that night that I would take the swimming test the next day, as I wanted to enhance my status with a Walrus Club membership.

Campfires were held almost every evening, and we would sing the typical camp songs.  Looking back on these songs, I’ve realized that the theme of mortality ran through the lyrics of many of these songs.

Titanic
There was a ship Titanic that sailed the ocean blue,
And they thought they had a ship that the water wouldn’t go through,
It was sad when the great ship went down.
Husbands and wives, little children lost their lives (in a high voice)
It was sad when the great ship went down.

Can’t Get to Heaven
Can’t get to heaven on roller skates, you’ll roll right past those pearly gates.
I ain’t going to grieve my lord no more, no more.

Found a Peanut
Found a peanut, ate a peanut, got a stomach ache, called the doctor, died anyway, went to heaven, said go the other way.

Maybe these songs were trying to tell us we wouldn’t always be carefree kids and that we’d better wise up to the ways of the world.

Not sure if singing these other lines from the Titanic song also put a psychological bent into my head for class consciousness, which I’ve been confronting of late?

They were nearing to the shore, when the water began to pour.
And the rich refused to associate with the poor,
So they sent them down below
Where they’d be the first to go.
It was sad when the great ship went down.

Food, Glorious Food

Reveille played over the intercom to wake us in the morning, and we lined up at the mess hall for breakfast. We sat on benches in front of long tables, food served in large bowls. At home, we didn’t usually have bread with our dinner, but here everyone scoffed up the bread. Mom told me that after I returned from camp, I ate everything. The camp experience had expanded my palate!

The camp operated a little store, and parents left an allowance for incidentals. I became totally addicted to string, red liquorice, which I considered the yummiest of candies and spent just about all my allowance on the red stuff.

Jumping into Penn's Creek

Jumping into Penn’s Creek

Notoriety on My Second Day: “Can’t get to Heaven”

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At the bottom of the slide

Standing on the pier over Penn’s Creek, I asked the adult counselor if I could take the swimming test for the Walrus Club. She said ok, and pointed to a wooden raft in the creek. Part of the problem may have been that I am nearsighted, and I wasn’t wearing my glasses and couldn’t see where she was pointing. Two rafts floated on the creek, one just beyond the sliding board and another way down the creek in the deep water. “Well,” I thought, “that raft beyond the slide couldn’t be the destination, it was far too close for any test for the Walrus Club.” I jumped into the water and swam toward the far raft. I was a good swimmer, I knew I could do the swim. On my return trip, I passed by the sliding board, and at that very moment, an inexperienced camper took off down the slide and panicked, grabbing me for support, pulling me under the water. I was tired by that point and could not cast him off. I told myself, “If I could just get one breath . . ..” Then realizing that was hopeless, I thought, “This is it.”

I blacked out. I came to as the lifeguard carried me to the shore. I was crying, but not sure why as I couldn’t remember deciding to start to cry. The waterfront came to a standstill as I sat sobbing on the sand. From that moment on, I was known as “the girl who almost drowned.”

By the next day, I had completely recovered from the ordeal. I wasn’t fussed over, not even sent to the infirmary. What occupied my thoughts now: did I pass the Walrus Club test? I was ready to retake the test. When I asked the swim counselor, she told me, yes, I had passed, and remarked, “It was a good thing I had been watching you.”

Summer Romance 

One serendipitous happening from the almost drowning incident: I met my first love. A seasoned camper at Nik-o-Mahs, “Plottsie,” as everyone called him, approached me on the path to the waterfront, “Are you the girl who almost drowned?,” he asked. Thus, began the romance. Plottise was a thin boy with glasses and usually wore a plaid shirt. We hung out and sat together, and of course, we were teased by the other campers for our attachment.

A special event on the night before we left marked the end of our stay. The counselors handed us candles on little cardboard floats, and we gently placed them on the creek, watching them glide downstream until they fell over the waterfall. The flickering lights in the dark forest reflected on the water, and Plottsie and I held hands as we walked along the path that followed the creek. All was perfect.

Then Plottsie popped a question, “Can I kiss you?” Thrown into confusion, I asked myself, “Was I old enough to kiss?” “Was I allowed to kiss?” “What did this mean?” I replied, “I don’t think right now,” and with that remark, coolness came over the night. The next day, I went looking for Plottsie as I wanted to take his photograph before I returned home. He stood at a distance as I snapped the photo and hurried off. When I returned home, I mistakenly opened the camera, exposing the picture to light. Plottsie had disappeared in a cloud of whiteness.

The Following Year

The next summer I returned to Camp Nik-o-Mahs. The red liquorice had lost its appeal, and the trips and hikes were no longer new experiences. The candle ritual on the last evening was still beautiful, but I stood alone looking through the silhouettes of the trees thinking I probably wouldn’t be back.

De Ja Vou, Returning to the Camp, 50 Years Gone By

For whatever reason, I decided that I wanted to return to Camp Nik-0-Mahs, which had been closed for years. I wasn’t sure what I’d find there, but a road had been named for the camp. I thought that I might be able to recognize the place along the creek, even if the buildings were no longer standing.

Returning to the camp meant a road trip through the Allegheny Mountains, part of the Appalachian Range that runs through the eastern United States. Traveling in mid-October the leaves were at their colorful best with reds, yellows and oranges between dark green trees not yet turned. The sun would occasionally peek out from behind heavy cloud cover, casting a glow on the landscape, highlighting nature’s pallet of colors. The road twisted around the mountains as we drove upward, only to come back down on the other side. Farmlands spread out in the valleys with fields of dried cornstalks and sunflowers against meadows of green clover. Barns, some unpainted and rustic, others vivid red, dotted the landscape. Little villages of clapboard houses clustered along crossroads.

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Penn’s Cave

An outing to Penn’s Cave was one of the trips we made during our stay at camp, so on this trip, I planned a stop there. Penn’s Cave had been a popular tourist stop back when I was at camp and is still is today, as it is one of the few caves accessible only by boat. Since my camp days, the cave had been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Entrance Penn's Cave

The area looked much the same, with the Penn’s Cave House, the three-story frame house built in 1885, standing near the entrance. Steep stairs still led down to the cave and the familiar flat-bottomed boats that took us through the watery cavern were the method of transport. After gliding through the cave, we came out on the other side to a large pond and then returned through the cave again. The tour was almost exactly as I had remembered it.

Finding The Camp

We followed Route 235 through the towns of Laurelton and Glen Iron, making a turn at Creek Road, near the end of which we found Nikomahs Drive paralleling Penn’s Creek. We drove until the road disappeared into the forest, so we got out of the car to look around for any sign of the camp. The house at the end of the road looked very much the era that I had remembered, painted cream with green trim. A sign confirmed the name of the house, Windy Inn, which the Mifflin Times reported was built sometime before 1920. [2] We found several stone structures, now abandoned and left to the elements. One lone building stood intact with a slab inscribed with the date, 1926. A stone sign above the door read: “Erected in Honor of our Mothers.” I guessed that the building may have been the old mess hall. I couldn’t find any trace of the cabins.

I walked to the edge of Penn’s Creek, which looked quite impressive as the current moved swiftly from the heavy rains on the previous day. I guess those many years ago I could have been lost in those waters, but the fates prescribed that my destiny would be to stand here on the bank of the creek decades later.

[1] “Camp . .  Nik-o-Mahs, In the Mountains of Central Pennsylvania,” Millmont Times, Vol 14, Issue 2, June 1, 2013, p. 1-12.

[2] Ibid.

<a href=”http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/finite-creatures/”>Finite Creatures</a>

Epilogue

Since writing this post, I’ve learned more about the history of the camp, from the comments here and on About Me.  Many thanks to everyone who shared their histories. Tom Hall, whose parents ran the camp, wrote me about some of the other camp traditions. The citing of the ghost of Penn’s Creek was always a favorite. Can never go wrong with ghost story. Besides the Walrus Club, campers could join the Old Timers Club. Another camp event was the funeral service for Jake Hopper (the outhouse that got too full). Tom relates about the “big time campfires where the fire would come out of the sky to light the main fire.”  I recall that we hiked somewhere out of the camp, maybe in was to to Tall Timbers. One of counselors took a wrong turn, and we wandered around a backroad until we were rescued.  Campers visited Rolling Green Amusement Park, which went out of operation in 1971. The camp closed its doors in 1966.

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