I See Dead People

Have you ever been far away from home and could swear you saw someone you knew but think it could not possibly be them because you are far away from home?  That has happened to me numerous times while we have been here in Gettysburg.  People’s faces that I see remind me of friends back home and some even have me doing double takes thinking they may be them. So far I have refrained from calling out a name and saving myself the inevitable embarrassment. Recently I even spotted some rather famous people.  I saw Lee Harvey Oswald walking into Hanover Hospital one day while waiting for Lisa to get off from work and yesterday Ralph Kramden waited on us at Wendy’s.

There has been a good chance we would meet up with someone we know while here in Gettysburg – being that there are so many tourists here during the summer.  But, so far I have only spotted dead people and fictitious television characters.

Maybe we have been listening to too many of those Gettysburg ghost stories.

Take care!

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Life in Pennsyltucky

Lisa met a man at her hospital who is taking his family to Kentucky for their vacation.  You heard that right.  He loves Lincoln and baseball and will be going to Lincoln’s birthplace and the Louisville slugger museum.  He said there are many similarities between Kentucky and Pennsylvania – in fact some here call this place, “Pennsyltucky”.  Nascar, country music, confederate flags, hunting and tatoos are the standard bearers as far as cultural icons here – much to our surprise.  Also, it has been made apparent to us that people do not have an issue maintaining a certain image.  The fact is – most people here seem as if they could not care less what they look like in public.  Boots, cut off jeans, and tank tops seem to be the dress of the day – and you should see what the guys wear up here.  No wonder there is such large Mennonite and Amish communities here – they seem to dress better.

But don’t think for a minute that I am making fun of these good people here.  The fact is I love it!  I am, of course, exaggerating to an extent – but it is true that personal appearance here does not seem to be as important as work ethic and what it means to be a good neighbor.  We have been the benefactor of their kindness and once you meet people here you tend to look past appearances – as it should be.

Having never lived anywhere in my life but Owensboro I have no way of really verifying what I am about to say.  And this will probably invoke some disagreements – but having spent years in social services I have seen things that have led me to the conclusion that image is very important in Owensboro.  I have witnessed students and (and their families) in need of school clothes refuse to wear previously worn clothing because it is not brand name.  Obviously there have been many exceptions to that but I can’t count the number of times I dealt with students who refused our help because of image issues.  I understand that to some degree with middle school aged children, but the issue of what you wear, where you live, what you drive, and who you know and hang out with seem to be very high on the priority list for people in Owensboro – perhaps even higher than other places.  I remember how refreshing it was to work with students from smaller, rural school districts in surrounding Owensboro counties and could immediately notice a difference.  Not to say they were better than our students – they just did not have such a hangup about appearance or image.  I often struggled getting Owensboro students to participate in our Ropes Course program simply because they did not want to be embarrassed.  I am convinced in most cases it had less to do with being afraid and more to do with how they would look to their friends.

We have wonderful students and citizens in Owensboro and Lisa and I will always consider it home.  It is just eye opening to live for a time in another place and observe the differences.

So go ahead Owensboro – put on your boots, crank up the country music and head out for a night on the town.  Your brothers and sisters here in Pennsylvania will be proud.

Milestones and More

This month marks two significant milestones.

This past Monday (7/23) marked the 25th anniversary of the passing of my brother, Gary Lea McFarland.  I was only 27 on that day in 1987 when I received the call that he had passed away suddenly while working in Frankfort Ky.  That was one of the hardest days of my life as I then had to go tell my mom and dad the news.  We survived that tragedy in part because of the wonderful family and friends who supported us.  Gary loved history and was particularly fond of the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln.  As I  tour Gettysburg and Washington DC this summer – I think about Gary and wish he could see what I have seen so far.

On second thought – from where he is at – he is seeing a whole lot more than me.

The other milestone is my retirement from school and I have been thinking about that this week as I know all my former co-workers at Owensboro Middle School and OPS are gearing up for another year.  I miss seeing everyone and would like to offer these words of encouragement – RETIREMENT IS GREAT!!!!!

Lisa and I are planning to attend the Hanover Dutch Festival this weekend.  We have no idea what that is but have heard it is a lot of fun with lots of food (all we can do is quote Austin Powers and those “freaky deaky Dutch”).  Food here is not too different from Owensboro.  However you will find crab cake sandwiches are a popular menu item and this past weekend I tried what is called “scrapple”.  It is similar to sausage and was really no different in taste but is apparently made with certain pork “scraps” with filler added.  I don’t want to know anymore than that.

I noticed all the Penn State t-shirts, hats and other apparel is on sale here if anyone would like me to pick some up for them.  Locals don’t seem to want to talk about the scandal and the resulting fallout.  Football is huge here and it would be likened to UK basketball being put on probation for four years (well – maybe not that bad).  I have looked high and low for Pittsburgh Pirate apparel but it is nowhere to be found.  Most people here are Baltimore Oriole and Ravens fans and don’t want anything to do with Pittsburgh or Philadelphia even though Philly is just 140 miles or so away.  There seem to be more Redskin fans than Eagle fans here.  It is really strange.  I am determined to see my Pirates play before we leave here and am holding out hope they will finally have a winning season after 19 years of losing and maybe make the playoffs.  (“Playoffs? Playoffs?  You’re talking about playoffs?)

Say hey to Goober!

Steve and Lisa

Knots On My Noggin

If you get the chance to visit Lisa and I here at the ‘Round Top Campground’ in Gettysburg be aware of the things that go bump in the night.  No it is not the ghosts of the battlefield or little critters running around.  It will be me cracking my melon on the stupid shelf that hangs over our headboard.  Rest assured that sometime during the night, I will raise to reposition my position and “CRACK” – (usually followed by an extended moan and then an expletive, followed by “God who puts a shelf this close to the bed?”  It is life in an RV.

But let me say that my noggin is bumpin on more than our bedroom shelf.  On a recent return trip from DC I managed to drop my credit card outside my car door while trying to pay for parking – opened my car door – raised up and brained myself on my side mirror – then while still dizzy from that trauma – realized I had slammed my seat belt in the car door and could not get back in.  The belt had somehow gotten so wedged into the door that it locked itself.  Fortunately my nephew, Drew Cunningham, who was visiting for the week, managed to stop laughing long enough to push the door open so I could proceed in whatever direction I was going.  In the meantime my credit card did not seem to work correctly and I had no indication that my card had been read and so I swiped it again and again and again. By now I was completely torqued off but finally looked up to see that the parking lot stop arm had raised and was waiting for me to get the heck out of there.  I was afraid to look at my bank account to see how much that exit would end up costing.  Drew summized the moment pretty well – “Steve, that was about two minutes worth of disaster”.

So if all that is not enough – today my cranium took another beating in our spacious three by three foot bathroom.  I noticed a hose had come loose on the back of our toilet  and tried to position myself to see how to reattach it without completely removing the toilet or knocking a hole in the side of our camper.  I had to lay down on my back and inch my head between the side of the toilet and the wall and at the same time begin crawling my legs up the sides to allow my wide body to get into this skinny space.  As I was attempting to turn my head toward the loose hose, I realized I had forced my skull into a space my skull had no business going and it wanted out of there – unfortunately I could not oblige.  My first thought was that my head was stuck in this bathroom and my only option would be to start yelling for help and live with the embarrassment later or wait until Lisa gets home.  But wait – Lisa can’t get home because I have to pick her up from work since I have the car.  Needless to say I managed to become unstuck and breathed a sigh of relief for my escape.  Me and my big head are just not in sync lately.

So if you happen to be in Gettysburg and see someone that looks kind of  like me but with all these bumps and bruises on head – that is probably not me.  I’ll be the one that is wearing the bicycle helmet.

Nice People

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Life is really about people.  When Lisa and I talk about things we have enjoyed about our traveling here in Pennsylvania it usually centers around people we have met.  Although we live on the back side of ‘little round top’ here in Gettysburg and have been able to visit DC, Baltimore, Amish country of Lancaster, and other places in our vicinity, it is really the people that we have met that make our trips memorable.

Too often I am hesitant to strike up conversations with people – thinking they are probably not interested in talking to me and so I usually leave them alone.  To be honest I am sometimes hesitant because I’m afraid of what I’ll find.  Some of the folks look a little different, talk a little different and I’m still learning what is appropriate in terms of social interaction.  Who knows – I may be breaking some local taboo by talking to strangers.  But of late I have made a point of just saying something – starting some kind of conversation – taking a chance.  To date I have not had one person say “shut up”, “leave me alone”, “the moon is on jupiter,” or just haul off and punch me in the mouth for invading their solitude. Like wise Lisa, who is much more outgoing than I am, has also not met anyone disagreeable.  Everyone has been very nice.   I realize that most people are like me – shy, afraid to intrude, and simply of the opinion no one wants to talk but also like me probably just waiting for an opportunity to talk to someone.  There is a lot of people in our world – some say our population is growing out of control.  And yet with all the people in the world – life can be isolated and lonely for so many.  I miss my friends and family and I miss interaction with them.  So we have decided to talk to people – just start conversations and see what will happen.   Here are some stories.

We met a couple sitting in the row in front of us at Camden Yards in Baltimore during the Orioles and Tigers game.  I had noticed them soon after we were seated and my initial thought was to try and not disturb their space or conversation.  They were black and in my mind (I’m sorry to admit this) thinking they were Baltimore street tough thugs.  Lisa and I could not help but laugh at the way they interracted with each other during the game and finally I broke the ice by offering help to the woman who had been taking quite a bit of teasing from the man she was with – either her boyfriend or husband.  She was yelling at the players things that did not seem to fit proper professional baseball yelling.  For example she was screaming for the hitters to “Keep their eyes on the ball.”  Her husband gave her a funny look and told her that was something you say at little league games.  I took a chance and leaned over into their row and said in my natural Kentuckyese, “Honey you just keep on yelling whatever you want.”  They both laughed and before long we were talking to each other.  We told them we were from Kentucky and learned they were natives of Baltimore.  We talked the rest of the game and Lisa even wanted a picture with them before we left.  All of my preconceived notions of these people melted away.  I felt terrible for my prejudice but so glad I took a chance and talked to them.  They were nice people.

This past weekend I told a man to sit down and “take the load off” while I took a break from shopping in Lancaster.  He, like myself, looked lost while his wife shopped in one of those ladies only stores and so I offered him part of my park bench.  Never got his name but he said he was from Maryland.  He then asked if we had eaten at a place called “‘Good and Plenty”.  Having never heard of it – he explained it was an Amish restaurant with family style seating and all the food you could put away.  I thanked him for the advise.  Our encounter did not last more than two minutes.  But I could tell he was a nice person.

As we were leaving Lancaster I remembered my brief conversation with the man from Maryland and told Lisa about “Good and Plenty”.  We decided to give it a try and what we discovered was some of the best food we have had since we have been here.  But that is not what we will remember.  It was true that the food was outstanding but it also was true about the family style seating.  At first my old instincts kicked in – you know the one that really wanted to ask our waitress, “Can’t we have a private booth away from all these strange people?”  But we were seated and forced to introduce ourselves to a man

Good and Plenty
Where the food is good and friends are plenty!!

and his daughter who, we learned, were from the Bronx and they were in Lancaster for a short vacation together.  She was a graduate of Syracuse University – her father was a preacher and we quickly noticed that he was wearing a hearing aid and struggling to hear things being said.  Lisa, sitting next to him, spoke louder for him so he could join in our conversation.   We asked about New York and the daughter said we really needed to go there and see “The Lion King” on Broadway.  They prayed over their meal and Lisa told the father she appreciated their display of faith.  The father told us he was a lutheran preacher.  We were southern baptist – but we loved the same God.  We connected.  Soon another family was seated on the other end of the table and we learned that the father owned a Corvette and was fascinated to hear we lived near the Corvette plant in Bowling Green.  One of his sons and his fiancee sat next to me and we learned they were to be married on September 22nd – my birthday.  I told him it was also the birthday of Bilbo Baggins and he laughed while his fiancee asked, “Who is Bilbo Baggins?” He would have to explain that to her later.  They also loved Disney.  We had an incredible connection with all of them.  Whoever thought of this style restaurant was a genius.  You cannot sit a table passing food from one to another without talking to them.  It was a great way to meet people and the people we met at “Good and Plenty” were nice people.

We arrived back at our campsite one day to find a huge RV had parked next to ours and I finally initiated a conversation with the owner.  He was from Arizona and he told me he had driven 3,000 miles.  He had a trailer carrying his Harley motorcycle and said he nearly crashed trying to climb a little hill behind his RV.  He asked if he could drive his motorcycle near our trailer to avoid the hill and I said absolutely.  He was obviously by himself.  I did not see him again for a couple of days and noticed one morning he was packing up to leave.  I offered to help him get his motorcycle trailer hooked up and he was extremely grateful for what little assistance I was able to offer.  I felt fortunate that Lisa and I, at least, had each other here – this man was alone but he was a nice person.

The world is full of bad people.  Colorado has discovered that awful truth on more than one occassion.  Penn State is reeling from the conduct of really bad people.  In the local news I have read of crimes being committed by mean, desperate people here in Gettysburg and the surrounding area.  Someday Lisa and I will probably encounter bad people.  But until that happens and, hopefully, even after it does, I’m going to keep talking to them.  Because I really like talking to nice people and I’ll take my chances.

Old Baldy and Me

As mentioned in our previous post our nephew, Drew Cunningham and his friend Taylor Grayson were our guests the early part of the week and we enjoyed their time with us.  It was great seeing people from Owensboro and nice to be able to tour the famous sites of Gettysburg and DC with people from home.

Being that they are young men in their twenties Lisa and I thought they would enjoy a Segway tour of the battlefield.  Since they were here during the week Lisa was unable to take the tour with us but the three of us arrived bright and early on Monday morning for the three hour tour (“a three hour tour” – I know many of you my age are now singing the Gilligan’s Island theme song – “The weather started getting rough the tiny….,”).  Stay focused people!

The Segway Tour office included an open space with cones, ramps, inclines and various other obstacles that we had to master as a prerequisite to taking the tour.  We watched a ten minute video and then boarded our Segways (each named after a famous Gettysburg horse – mine was “Old Baldy” – well of course it is).  The natural tendency is to try and balance yourself which is not good since it is equipped with some type of gyroscope apparatus that was explained to us but a science fact that I never really understood and so I did a little jig trying to get balanced.  I finally got the thing stablilized and actually took to it pretty well as I made my way around the cones and inclines.  Drew and Taylor also got adjusted to theirs without crashing or being “bucked off” and soon we were all out of the building and heading toward the battlefield.  With helmet on head, ear piece in my ear and water bottles in the little carry bag hanging on the handle bar – I don’t know when I looked like a bigger shmuck.

The tour included an audio headset that allowed us to hear a taped voice of a Gettysburg expert guide.  Our leader could cut in at any point to help us navigate the narrow streets of the town and also point out certain things as well but she made it clear that she was not a licensed tour guide.  Interesting fact: It is a felony to do tours of the battlefield unless you are a licensed guide.  Three hundred people take the test annually and only a handful are able to pass what is apparently an incredibly difficult exam.

About thirty minutes into the tour I realized that I could no longer feel my feet.  I had been concentrating so hard on not driving “Old Baldy” into a ditch that I suppose my intensity somehow messed with my circulation.  I tried to adjust my feet but when I lifted up my left leg – the Segway darted to the right and vice versa depending on which way I turned and tried to adjust.  Our guide was motoring along with one hand while looking backwards at us – a skill it will take me years to master.

We finally made a stop on the Confederate side along Seminary Ridge and were told to not step off until the guide took hold of our Segways.  If you step off incorrectly – the Segway will continue moving – not good.  When it was my turn to dismount – I realized that not only my feet were numb – but my entire lower torso was in a spasmed knot and I could hardly walk.  I finally brought blood back into my feet and soon we headed off toward the final two hours.

One of the funniest things I saw on the battlefield (and I say this carefully) is the story told about Union Chaplain William Corby.  There is a statue of Corby standing on a rock in a posture that looks like he is blessing the troops (which is actually what he did on day two of the battle as he gave soldiers ‘General Absolution’).  Corby later became president of Notre Dame and the same statue is on the Notre Dame campus.  Notre Dame is famous for turning famous statues and icons on campus into football symbols.  You may have heard of “Touchdown Jesus” a nickname given to the famous mural overlooking the football field.  There is also a statue of Moses on campus with his hand raised and a finger pointing forward.  They have named that statue “1st and Ten Moses”.  As for Corby – his statue has been deemed, “Fair Catch Corby”.  If you ever get to Gettysburg be looking for a little statue of a man standing on a rock with his hand in the air as if either blessing the troops or waiting to catch a football.

Anyway – our Segway tour made its way to Little Round Top and then to the site of the famous Picket’s Charge.  It was there that one of the people in our group lost their balance and fell from their Segway.  Fortunately she was not hurt but Drew and Taylor had to turn their heads from laughing at the site of the poor woman laying on the ground while her Segway road away without her.

Our guide pointed out a couple of “Witness Trees” – trees still standing that were alive during the battle 149 years ago.  There are said to be only seven on the battlefield still standing.  One near “Devils Den” is said to be recognizable in old photos of the battle.  Amazing.

Our three hours came to an end as we made it back to the Segway tour office.  Drew and Taylor loved the experience of riding the Segway as much as the tour itself.  As for me – I enjoyed that the Segway brought you close to all the markers and statues but it was a little difficult looking around as our guide pointed out things of interest.  I was too concerned about not crashing into the person in front of me or kissing one of the many granite statues along the way to really ever get comfortable enough to look at all the things there was to see.

But at least “Old Baldy” and I got back in one piece.

Thanks for reading!

So This is Washington DC

We have enjoyed having Drew Cunningham and Taylor Grayson here for the past several days.  I believe they have gotten enough American history to last twenty years.  We spent Monday doing a Segway tour of the battlefield and Tuesday in Washington DC.  Gettysburg is gearing up for the 150th anninversary of the battle next year and officials are expecting four million visitors next July.  I can’t imagine how this little town can accomodate that many people.

I have been looking forward to my first visit to DC for many years and was excited to finally get a chance to visit when Lisa accepted the job here in Hanover.  Being just 60 miles away we took the first weekend she was not on call to head to our nations capital and see all we could in one day.   People Lisa works with advised us to take the train from the “Shady Grove” train station outside DC and ride it into the city to avoid traffic and parking problems.  This was great advice and our trip including the drive to Shady Grove took around an hour.  We walked in 103 degree heat and crammed as much into one day as possible.  Next time we go to DC we will bring more water and use the metro train more.   There are things we liked and disliked and for what its worth – here are some of our observations of our nations capital.

Ford’s Theater and the home in which President Lincoln died across the street were our first stops when we arrived.  Our first surprise was to learn the theater, museum and house where he died were all free of charge.  Did not expect that.  We were ushered first into the basement museum and was able to look upon the clothes he was wearing the night he was shot and a glass case displaying the gun John Wilkes Booth used to kill the president among other artifacts.  We were then guided into the theater itself.  I realized quickly that the theater was still in use for productions and the lighting and technical equipment present was certainly not original.  But to see the box where Lincoln and his wife sat on that fateful night was surreal.  Preservationists have done an amazing job keeping everything as it was nearly 150 years ago.  The home where they carried Lincoln and where he died was also well preserved although none of the furniture in the house is original. The bed where Lincoln died is actually in a Chicago museum. Lisa and I would love to see an actual show here and would love to see their production of “A Christmas Carol” here starting in November.  We loved the Ford’s Theater experience and highly recommend it.

We were disappointed (to be honest) in the care and upkeep of the national mall where the famous monuments are located.  There is much construction taking place currently including a reconstruction of the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial.  I am hoping they plan to pave the gravel walking path around the mall.  I could never ascertain if it has always been a gravel walk or just during this construction.  In my mind I imagined pristine lawns and immaculate landscaping in this famous area.  Not!  Of all that I saw and experienced – that was my biggest disappointment.  Perhaps when all the construction is complete it will be much better.  Lisa and I agree (and we’re serious about this) Disney could give our national parks department some good advice about upkeep and landscaping and probably could do it cheaper than our government.  A nice air conditioned train ride around the mall with stereo narration would not be bad either.  As hot as it was – they could put Mickey and Minnie out there and it would not have bothered us.

It is at least a two mile walk from the Washington Monument (which is closed due to the earthquake last year) to the Lincoln Memorial.  Walking up those steps toward that famous landmark – I found myself sweating and crying at the same time.  It had to have been 120 degrees with all the granite around the memorial – but that image of Lincoln sitting there between the engraved words of his famous speech at Gettysburg and his second inaugural address was an unforgettable moment.  I was so moved by the words of Lincoln at his second inaugural in particular and can’t imagine a politician – let alone a president – getting away with saying the things he said.

“Fondly do we hope – fervently do we pray – that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.  Yet if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said ‘The judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.”

I did not realize that the Vietnam Memorial was right next to the Lincoln Memorial.  Lisa has an uncle who is memorialized at the wall, Carey Cunningham.  We found his name and I etched it with pencil on a scrap piece of paper.  I had been told that walking down into that memorial you may notice a strange silence that happens.  It’s absolutely true.  I was so stunned at how the noice disappeared that I wept openly.  Of all the memorials – it was the most moving for me.  Vietnam was a war that I lived through as a child and know personally men who served in that conflict.  I was surprised I reacted to it the way I did – but not ashamed.

At Arlington we saw the Kennedy gravesites and was impressed with Robert and Edward’s simple wooden cross marking their graves.  We watched the famous changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier and was so impressed with the precision and seriousness of the guards watching over these unidentified soldiers.  We visited the Arlington House that sits at the highest point of Arlington and was the home of Robert E. Lee.  The view of Washington from that perch was amazing.  I did not know that President Taft and Kennedy are the only two Presidents buried at Arlington but that actor Lee Marvin is buried there.  Go figure.

We were both a little disappointed at the public view of the White House (really not much to see) and we simply ran out of time before we could really see much of the Smithsonian museums.  The Air and Space Museum was practically grid lock with people trying to walk through and the American History Museum a little disappointing.  (It does house the stove top hat that Lincoln wore the night he was shot).

We saw homeless people, protesters, men in suits and armed guards.  There were people peddling water, bus tours, and bicycle taxis.  I was amazed at the number of enormous buildings and although impressed with the intricate designs and details of these massive structures, could not imagine why we need so many.  I suppose it is our tax money at work – but they may consider selling one of those and giving us a rebate.

Thanks for allowing us to share about our travels.  God Bless America and God Bless You!

Lisa and Steve