Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I Spent Two Days In Lancaster, PA

This past week, I spent two days in Lancaster, PA. I went there for several reasons. One, I wanted to help my friend Heidi Beth with eight computers that I had donated to her community service for children. Heidi Beth and her husband Will, were the Managers at Menno House when I lived there. Menno House is a brownstone in Manhattan owned by the Mennonite Church and used as living quarters to anyone affiliated with the Mennonite church doing missionary work, or attending college in New York City.

Most anyone who knows me, reaches-out to me when they have computers to recycle or upgrade. They know I will take the old ones off their hands and rebuild them, then place them in the hands of those who need them most. It is one small way in which I can use my skills to help those less fortunate. My friend Bill, an Engineer from M.I.T. had about 6 PC's and 3 MAC's to get rid of. His company was upgrading, and Heidi Beth had recently called me to ask if I knew of any equipment she could acquire as a donation to her community project. Shortly after leaving New York City, Heidi Beth and her husband Will bought a house in a very poor section of Lancaster. They quickly became a fixture in the community, and have revitalized their neighborhood with their kindness and compassion. Heidi Beth opens up her home to kids after school, as a means to keep them off the street. They know they can come to her for food, shelter, and help with their homework. She wanted to turn the front room of their home into a “cyber cafĂ©” experience, where kids could add a digital element to their learning experience. She is also very active in the martial arts community there, and has inducted several of the kids into her Capoiera classes. She told me accounts of seeing a complete turn-around in children’s demeanor, grades in school, and overall health since becoming involved in Capoiera. After working from noon to midnight, and up again at 5 a.m., I ended up with a small LAN both wireless and wired, and about 4 decent workstations.

I also wanted to visit with my cousin Julia who has been battling cancer for the past two years. My cousin Mel, who lives here in New York City and makes frequent humanitarian trips to Iraq to take medical supplies to children dying due to sanctions, also really wanted to visit Julia, but because of his career-choice, has very little money. I told him I would rent a car, and he could travel with me.

Another reason I wanted to visit Lancaster is that my cousin Stanley (who lives in Delaware) was going to be in Lancaster with his mother. Our mothers are related and hadn’t seen each other in quite some time, so I wanted to plan a dinner where we could all catch up.

One more reason to visit home was to see my Aunt Mary Louise who I had not seen in several years. We thought it was high time that we got together. We had a nice breakfast with my mother.

Lastly, and always a reason to get back home, is to visit my brother Harold and his family. Harold was in a horrific automobile accident several years ago, and unfortunately has never recovered mentally and physically. Since Harold’s accident, I have maintained an informational Web site on head injury, coma and traumatic brain injury, and I keep it going because I get occasional letters from families in similar situations, thanking me for its helpful information. September 18, 2007 will mark the eighth year since Harold’s accident in 1999.

I find it worth mentioning that as we were driving on familiar back-roads in Lancaster, en-route to dinner, I saw a bicyclist approaching and noticed he looked unusually decorated with a lot of colorful riding gear. It wasn’t until he passed, that I realized it was Floyd Landis! And by the way, NO, I don’t think he “did it.” I believe he was either “slipped a Mickey” or showing higher levels due to his medical condition. Mennonites are poor liars, as it goes against their grain. There’s no way he was secretly sipping any juiced-up Kool-AID.

Something else I came across on my travels was a sign that my mother and I saw on the side of a Dentist office in Lancaster next to a huge picture of a tooth: “We cater to cowards!” I saw that and I immediately had to phone my friend Jane who works at the NYU Dental School.

My trip wouldn’t have been complete if I did not pay a visit to my 86-year old cousin Martha whom I’ve referenced before on this blog. Martha was recently the subject of New York based artist, Jayne Holsinger, whose gallery opening happened last week. Cousin Martha came up to the city for it, and I spent the entire evening with her at the gallery. Both Martha and the paintings were very well received. The artist is a member of the Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship, and wanted to create art that portrayed her Anabaptist roots with dignity and integrity.

Finally, I always try to stop by to visit our Amish friends when I’m home. We have many Amish friends, and I don’t always have time to visit each of them every trip, but this time I stopped to briefly visit with the Amish family who bought my father’s homestead. This particular home has great meaning to our family, as it was where my father grew up, and I believe his parents as well. My Aunt Ruth likes to tell the story of “The day I was born was the day we got electricity.” Of course we laugh sometimes about how the Amish bought the farm and then ripped out all the electric.

A few years ago when my sister was home, she told me about how she drove by the ol’ homestead very slowly. It just so happened that the Amish owner was outside working, and asked if she needed some help. She explained that her father's family grew up there and it came up in that conversation that my sister had acquired a very old aerial photograph of the farm. He said he'd very much like to see it, so I figured I'd make a few copies and drop it by the next time I was in the area since I tend to take more trips there than my sister. Well, that sat on my “To-Do” list for some time, but after about a year, I got it done. I snail-mailed it to the Amish man, and the next time I was in town I drove by and he again was outside. He didn’t know me at first (because he’d only met my sister), but as soon as I told him I was a sister to the other gal he’d met and had mailed him the photos, his face lit up. He was very pleased to see me. He then asked me if I knew what year the photo had been taken, but I wasn’t sure. After I got back to NYC, I dug it out of storage again, and tried to make out what was written. It was hard to read, but appeared to be from 1919. This past week when I was in town, I stopped by to deliver this date to him, but he was not home so I left a note on the door.

People often ask me if I knew any of the Amish families affected by the tragic story earlier this year. I did, and in fact spent the latter part of that week sitting with them as they recounted their nightmare, supporting them in any way that I could. That schoolhouse was a few miles from where I grew up. When I asked my Amish friends if there was anything I could do to help, they said my visit was enough.

My bird list for the day is short. I was in the car for a few hours, then inside the rest of the day, but I had barely left the Holland Tunnel when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pair of pantaloons wafting in the breeze. This was no whirligig folks! This was a big ol’ Red-Tailed Hawk, sitting atop a building, peering down at me! I saw many other hawks along the way, some perched on lampposts, while others chose the tops of telephone poles or trees. There were some Seagulls and Mourning Doves also on the wires to greet me.

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