Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tribute to Lois Wilson, Whom my Wife was Named For

This is a little oddity, I guess. My wife was named after her father's favorite actress, one Lois Wilson. Now, it is interesting the coincidences here. Wilson was my grandmother's maiden name.

The face on the right is my mother, just because.

Even more of a coincidence is when my wife married me she got the name of another movie actress contemporary with Lois Wilson. This one's name is Lois Meredith.

Small world.

Here is Lois Meredith, the actress's photo:

And, of course, Lois Meredith, the wife.

Monday, August 14, 2017


The Little Woman said, "Let's take a little trip. I'm tired of sitting around the house. It doesn't have to be far. Maybe somewhere we could take a walk."

So I thought about where we could go. "How about up to Hopewell Lake?" I said.

This seemed a reasonable place to go. It was up in Pennsylvania not far from where I had lived as a lad. My family used to go swimming in the lake. The Little Woman and I had gone there a couple years back and walked all about the park. It had been a beautiful fall day and the trees were changing to autumn colors.

Let's see, that was...2004?  (Hopewell Lake in the fall of 2004 is on the right.)

Really? That long ago and back when we both could walk well. Neither of us d so well on our legs this 13 years later. I got to thinking about it. Maybe it wasn't such a great destination after all.

Ah, what we could do was drive up to Route 23, go by the entry road to Hopewell and continue west toward Lancaster County. Yes, yes, yes, a nice leisurely drive with a stop at the Old Village Store in Bird-in-Hand or maybe Kitchen Kettle Village, which lies abut halfway between Bird-in-Hand and Blue Ball at Intercourse. Let's pause to get all the sniggering over with here.

I figured these were better choices than Hopewell Lake because they would be both easier walking having flat paved pathways. The car would be parked nearby in case we had worn out our legs enough and had to escape.

We'd been to both before more than once. On the left is The Little Woman walking through Kitchen Kettle Village in 1995. She is in the center walking away from the camera and wearing blue shorts and a light red top. On the right is her walking out of the Old Village Store, toward the camera,  in  1975.

Yeah, these places, like us, have been around for a long time.

We had our plan of action. I'd go up the Pottstown Pike (Route 100) to where Route 23 crosses, just down Bucktown hill from my parent's former house. Then we would take a leisurely ride west on 23, just like the old days.

My family made many a trek up to Dutch Country.  Back in the '40s and '50s when I was a boy it was a common pastime, usually on a Sunday afternoon. "Wanna take a ride," my grandfather would ask and we were off. It really was peace and quite. Wasn't much there except Amish farms, many growing tobacco. Tobacco barns dotted the landscape beside the roads, little barns with slats running down the sides that opened out to the air for curing the leaves hanging inside.
Back then a lot of the barns were painted red with Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco ads covering a side. My grandfather chawed tobacco and carried a bag in the glove compartment, but it was Red Man, not Mail Pouch.

The only possible traffic slow ups on those country road happened if you caught up to an Amish buggy clopping along. There were quite a number of these at that time, little black boxes on wheels pulled along with one horse. That is if it were driven by a married fellow or a family. If the obstacle ahead was o[en then the driver was a single guy driving his courting buggy. Anyway, you took the drive to relax and gaze at the unique lifestyle around you.

Even as we continued such trips with our own children, right back to the days they called the Silos "Cow Feeders" and hubcap "wheel hats". With the exception of the Lincoln Highway, Route 30, which was beginning to get a bit crowded, the other roads were pretty open except for the occasional buggy; but the bugged were growing less prevalent.

Yeah, some where between the years I was a boy and those when my son was a boy the investors moved in. I don't know the exact moment these Amish were discovered and became a tourist trap to make someone else money. Perhaps it began when the musical "Plain & Fancy" appeared on Broadway in 1955 and 1956. At any rate, more and more attractions popped up with a Amish theme and then a few theaters and in 1963 came Dutch Wonderland. The simple life of the Amish faded further into the background as Lancaster County became more a national vacation spot.

Don't get held up as much now by those slow moving buggies with the red triangles on the back. There aren't as many of them since a lot of Amish moved away, tired of the tourist gawking at them and the clutter and exploitation. But that is what we do as people. We look for paradise and then we destroy it.

Even so, Route 23 had remained a nice country scenic road until a few years ago. I hadn't realized the clopping along. There were quite a number of these at that time, little black boxes on wheels pulled along with one horse. That is if it were driven by a married fellow or a family. If the obstacle ahead was o[en then the driver was a single guy driving his courting buggy.

Anyway, you took the drive to relax and gaze at the unique lifestyle around you. change when I took us up that way. Of course, one big mistake on my part was I forgot Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse were not on Route 23. They were on Route 340. Our little dream jaunt turned to nightmare. Traffic on 23 was heavier than I had ever seen in the past and the further we went the heavier it got. It was stop and go in places, slower than molasses in a shoo fly pie (Oh, yum, love that stuff!).

And the day was hot, pushing 90. We gotten several miles up and my air conditioning fell down on the job. The Little Woman is very sensitive to heat and she was growing more miserable by the mile. Meanwhile I am taking note of the distance we had come, especially after we passed through Leola and a signpost read Lancaster 2 miles.  Hey, man, I didn't want to drive in Lancaster direct. We should have hit Bird-in-Hand long ago. Now we were around Leacock and Bareville (yeah, here we go with those suggestive names again).

I pulled into a parking lot and we fished out an old Pennsylvania Road Map. When  say old, come on, it
was a paper, folding map, making it practically an antique. The Little Woman didn't have her reading glasses with her, so it was up to my less than perfect bifocals to find the way. I figured by now it was go south, young man, go south and we should somewhere cross 340. I ran along the map line. Ah ha, there Route 896 was headed the right way. It came down on an angle from the North and bisected 23 in or about Leola. I remembered seeing a big old sign coming up saying 896, but we didn't want it then.

We wanted it now, but it obviously didn't want us. I drove through Leola and no 896. I was through Bareville and Groffdale and New Holland, but n 896. "Where are you hiding, my elusive friend or fiend?"

"That's it," I told the Little Woman, " we hit Blue Ball and I'm heading south on 322. At least that will take us to Downingtown."

Still heavy traffic, in case you forgot that annoyance and still no A/C.

Route 322 did indeed take us to Downingtown and all the way through West Chester. We never did cross 340, but we did cross good old 896 now that we needed it no more. Out of West Chester and onto Rote 202, heading home, but first...heavy traffic.

Route 202 is almost always congested in this area, but this was ridiculous. It was almost a stand still.
We just weren't moving. Naturally, road work ahead, one lane was closed and everybody had to squeeze over.  We're poking along like a snail with a sore foot. I click on the A/C just for the heck of it. It actually is putting out cool breezes again. We survive to relaxing pleasure trip...HA!

And s we roll into our drive at home I think, What will it be lie in ten years? No one will be able to get anywhere. The roads will be in permeant standstill. It'll be the end of the road. Te world will end in gridlock.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Mark 2002-2017

A little over 15 years ago, my daughter, Noelle, walked in the front door carrying a small bundle. It was this tiny orange & white cat. It had been found walking along the road in front of St. Mark's High School. Noelle named the little guy, Mark.

As she entered she said, "Don't worry. He is only an overnight guest. I will take him to the shelter tomorrow. (At that time Noelle worked for the Delaware Humane Association.)

I was lying on the floor, my head and shoulders propped up against the sofa while I watched TV. Noelle set the kinnen down and it immediately waddled across the living room, climbed up upon my chest and snuggled it's head beneath my chin.

"I think somebody is staying," Noelle said.

Indeed he was. From that day forward he was my cat. We had several cats, but he was mine. He would
often be in that position, lying on my chestwith his head tucked beneath my chin, and he would rub it back and forth, which meant I belonged to him.

I loved that cat.

Tonight a little past 8:00 he died.

He had begun the passage earlier this week, until he was very thin and very week. I though yesterday would be the day because he just lay about. I took him to his food dish, but he crawled away.

Then halfway through the day he was up. He trotted about, he ate and he drank. It is the final rally, really. Today he couldn't get up. He tried, but would just fall down again. He wouldn't eat or drink anything. It was a long day...waiting for that last breath that will take away his suffering and leave me feeling so empty.

It has been a tough week. Last week Laurel's cat Romeo died. She was working that night, cat sitting, and not home when Romeo passed. He had lay on a trunk all day, but that night he got down and halfway into the hall, collapsed and was gone. I think he was trying to get to Laurel, heading for her room.

I was here next to Mark when he went. I believe he was in a coma by then. I am so sad right now. I will
miss this guy so much. He had allergies and this last week was hard, so I am glad his sufferings have ended.

They say all dogs go to Heaven. I think cats do, too. I loved you Mark, may you rest in peace.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Romeo, Romeo and Return of the Mosquitoes

This is a sad way to begin a post. My daughter's cat Romeo died last night around 11:00. My wife was with him so he didn't pass alone. My daughter was cat sitting last night. It is a pity she couldn't have been with him at the end. Romeo loved her so.

Romeo came into the SPCA shelter two years ago. At the time my daughter worked there and she took a special interest in this cat. He was very different looking than most other cats. He had large, long paws and a regal head. His head reminded me of those you see on Acient Egyptian pyramids. He seemed a royal feline.

Bt he came to the shelter with a problem. He couldn't eat. He needed an operation on his mouth and
teeth, a costly one for which there were no funds. There wasn't much choice. He was scheduled to be euthanized. But some, including my daughter didn't want to see that happen. They set up a FundMe account and they did raise the money and get Romeo his operation. After saving him from the executioner, my daughter adopted him.

He was a sweet cat and very loyal to her. I never saw a cat act so dog like. He looked for her to come home and then he followed her everywhere, walking s few feet behind. He loved her and she loved him. He was an old cat and I guess his nine lives had all been used up. This is always the hardest part of beinga pet owner.

Rest in cat heaven, Romeo

Romeo's passing is part of the mosquitoes' return. What are these? Several years back I wrote of a number of bunched together problems I had. I called them 'Mosquitoes' for those bugs that come in swarms, small, tiny things, but very irritating and annoying.

Within just this week we have been bitten by a swarm of such mosquitoes. The vacuum sweeper appears to have died. It makes a clicking sound. I'd say this sucks, except there is the problem, it doesn't. The left rear brake light on our car apparently has burnt out. See small matter, not too costing for a bulb. I know how to change it, not real difficult on a Honda, except now I have this ALS and my hands don't work so well. As another heat wave begins, the window air conditioner in our bedroom began spewing water. Maybe an easy fix, maybe not, but I can no longer lift these little units. A friend is coming tonight to look at it. As I checked the side of the house and reentered yesterday, my left glasses lens fell out of the frame. The little screw that holds it in place is missing. And then Romeo dies.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Trapped by Technology

The last year and a half has not dealt kindly with the Little Woman and me. (if she's the Little woman, then I must be the Big Oaf.)  We's kind of broke. We could do a sad wail and moan called, "Medical Bill Blues", but maybe another time. This time we're going to play a weeping harmonica number about how technology has got us, and probably you too.

Since our finances have moved else where, mostly South,  we had to do the empty wallet shuffle, meaning we had to look for ways to downsize our life, make some small sacrices and maybe eventually stop robbing Peter to pay Paul, if you know what I mean. I'm sure a lot of you have been there.

So where is a good place to start with as little pain as possible. How about that thing called Cable? Well, we have Fios, so that little thing called Fiber Optics. I don't really know what the difference is between the two, but Fios says, " Fios isn't cable. We're wired differently." What does that mean? Maybe they twist the wires left instead of right or something.

Doesn't matter, when it comes to the old bait and switch they and Comcast are the same. They lure the unsuspecting mouse or should I say mouse-pushers in with a nice little pitch. Bundle up with us with your TV, Internet and Phone and get this cozy little price a month for the next two years. Of course, it requires a contract and if you don't like it after a few months just try to get out of it. Hefty little divorse settlemet comes with that contract. An after two years that cozy little bundle begins nibbling away at your wallet.

I don't know what Dish and Direct TV do; Probably much the same.

Now service-wise and all, I have no complaints with Fios. Over the six years I have been the fish at the end of their fibre-optic line things have been fine. The've been all around better than Comcast was. Yes, I had Comcast for about a decade before Fios, and I switch because there were problem and poor customer service. But leaving Comcast gave me the same run around I just went through with Fios, except I have stayed with Verizon's money-maker.

When we signed up original with Fios we were flush. I ws still working somewhere, still bringing in the dough, and more importantly still healthy. Doctors were yet holding me up by my heels and shaking out my wallet and loose change. We had some bundle called, "Extreme". Not sure what was so extreme except the price. It had an awful lot we didn't use, at least on the TV.

Golly, a million channels and hardly anything we wanted to watch. Didn't need all those sports channels. Didn't need the 30,000 music channels, especially all the Latin rthymns. Most of the other stuff has become dreck. When cable...oops, fibre optic, TV began with it's five hundred channels to choose, the claim was all the choices you would have and all the variety and creativity that would now be available.  And this was true once upon a time. Bravo use to put on shows and concerns, MTV played music videos, and dozen of other things. But all those new independent specially channels as they got successful also got bought out by a few and now it seems a mere handful control everything and everything is starting to look the same and the variety and creativity have taken a bus into obscurity.

So I says to myself, "Myself, if you can cut out some of the things you don't watch, maybe you can get it cheaper?"


First I tried dropping the land line, no phone in the bundle. One less thing to provide should be cheaper to them, thus cheaper to me. Except when I said I wanted to drop the phone they said, "No, you don't want to do that. It'll cost you more if you do."  Say what?

I asked them how getting less service from them would cost more. I still don't understand the explanation, something about it allows them to provide me more services then I save because I don't have to have a bunch of third partoes supplying me with services. I ain't lookin' for a bunch of services from any thrid parties.  I already have a third party supplying me with phone service on my mobile phone which doesn't cost me much of anything cause I'm not a big phone user. I got the mobile phone for emergency use. I couldn't seem to be able yo fit my land lline in my pocket nor find a long enough cord to go everywhere I go.

So okay, keep the bloody phone. Can I cut back on my TV. What choice have I here. Well, thre is the Ultimate package. You mean Ultimate in beyond extreme. Frankly, I though I had the Ultimate, but no, they informed me I had the Extreme. Extreme wasn't even on they choice list. How'd I get it?

They next one down from Ultimate was called Preferred. It was slightly cheaper than the Ultimate, but said I would be paying $10 more a month than the Extreme. Why?  It had less channels, both regular and High Definition, than I get now. Why should it cost me more. I asked their guy. He said he would have to find out why that was so. I never found out because they hung up on me. I think I asked to many questions.

The next plateau was called, "Starter". You can see the implications right there. Starter, you got far lass channels and as it were a lot we actually watch. Didn't really want to lose those, and the cast differential really was very significant.

Now they have some copy, "Have TV your way" and something called Custom TV. It isn't custom at all. You get to select from about a half-dozen categories like New and Sports, Entertainment, Family and Kids, things like that. You get a grouping of shows they think fits the category, far less selections than other packages. That isn't custom. Custom is let me select the channels I wanna watch like buying a song off of iTunes.

But they got you, unless you are ready to give up TV, Internet et al.

I reup'd with Fios for another two years. Man, you'd think the locked in contracts would end after six years.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Doing What I Shouldn't

I found a third tick of the season walking steadily up the back of my hand onto my wrist this morning. That makes this something of a record season already and we have the whole summer ahead. I don't know where this guy hitched his ride. I hadn't gotten out in to the bushes yet. I had done my morning walk at Rockwood, but where I walk is not usually conducive of ticks. Anyway, I plucked him off and flushed him out of my life.

You know my walks are limited these days. The only good thing about that is I don't wear out my sneakers as quickly. Given the circumstances, maybe this pair will last me a lifetime. This morning I did go a bit further, I think. Doing more than I should.

The doctors want me to keep walking, but not to push myself. Walking is good, they say, but not much else. I am not to exert myself because of the fatigue factor. As your muscles deteriorate, you get fatigued easier and longer.

I was about to go out and do something else I shouldn't, trim off some bushes and trees in the back yard.  
I've actually been doing this over the last two weeks a little bit each day. I mowed the front yard, which is difficult for me because of its slopes and embankments, on Thursday and I mowed the backyard yesterday. If the back yard had been two feet wider I wouldn't have made it. Backyard is bigger, but easier that the front; at least for me, but I do run out of whatever doing it and then I can barely make it inside. Trimming all our surrounding jungle is a bit of a challenge, but as they say, it has to be done, even if the doctors say I shouldn't do it.

Some of me trimming I filmed. This was near the end. You can see some rubble of branches off on the left. I did along the fence row first.  Then I trimmed about the corner and started lopping off branches of this tree. That was nearly the end, too, as a branch came down upon me, knocked me off balance (and it doesn't take much to do that) and sent me stumbling backward, out of control, toward the bird bath. I tossed the limb loper off into the air as I went. Fortunately, I did not fall.

I'm really not good for long at the chores. The video is about 8 minutes long. With what I did before and the cleanup after I probably did a half hour. It was starting to get hot by then. To tell you how bad the fatigue factor gets, in that short of time, I could hardly keep to my feet and I was staggering about like a drunken sailor on shore leave.

What I don't know is whether these short bursts of energy are good for me or if they hasten the progression on the disease. But as I said, it has to be done.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tripping Over Myself: Self-sufficiency verses Asking for Help

When I went to the Clinics at Jefferson Hospital I was told again and again I must ask for help. The Social Worker called and admonished me for not asking others for help. At the ALS Support Group we were told we must ask for help. Over and over again at church people ask me if I need anything, do I need any help, what can they do for me.

Generally I answer, "No, I'm fine. Thanks for asking, but I really don't need any help."

It was the way I was brought up, how I grew up and how I lived as an adult. You took care of yourself. You didn't ask for charity. You didn't beg, surely. If something needed done, you took care of it yourself. I always did. Sure, if the complexity was beyond my knowledge and skill somebody else would have to do it, but that meant you hired some specialist to come do it for a price. I paid their fee, so I still could say I took care of it myself.

But you know what sins those two things are?

First, that, "I'm okay", is often a lie. It is another thing we were brought up to do. Someone asks, "How are you?" "I'm fine," is the excepted answer. Anything else is whining. People don't want to know your problems.

Second, I was brought up to take care of myself and that was called self-sufficiency. This is honorable up to a point, but you can step across a line where it becomes self-pride.

Makes me think of the Black Knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". In a sword fight with King Arthur the Black Knight has both arms cut off, to which he replies, "'Tis but a flesh wound!" The result of this insistence on self-sufficiency is he has both legs chopped off as well.

There is a point you have to concede to the reality of your situation. Metaphorically, I am as limbless as the Black Knight. I have to swallow my pride and admit I need help.

I have had some help. People have brought me things at times and cut my grass occasionally. Right now my next door neighbor cuts my front lawn whenever he mows his own. I am happy, because the front yard is the hardest for me. It has embankments and I have bad balance.  I still cut my back yard. It is larger, but flat, and I can do it, even though it wears me out by the time I finish. I am not sure, though, how well I will do once the hot weather settles in. My wife has been doing lot of trimming back the jungle of bushes that surround us. I've been out doing some, but I last about 15-20 minutes and lose my legs, and feel sick.

I can take care of myself still. I can dress myself, but it is a comedy routine. So is getting out of the bathtub. Jean, a friend, gave me a shower bench, but I enjoy a long bath and will do so as long as I can. The problem is getting out of the tub afterward, we have no hand grips or anything like that. I actually videoed myself getting out after a bath. It's is rather hilarious, but I deleted the film. I mean, funny as it is I could hardly put it on YouTube.

I don't have trouble going to the store for groceries and other stuff. After all, at worse, the cart holds me up. I am losing so much strength now I can't lift anything heavy, and by heavy I mean anything much bigger than a jug of milk. If I get the cat supplies I have a clerk bring the littler and food to my car and ask my daughter to unload it when she is around. I have to ask others to open juice and water bottles. I don't have the strength in my hands to break the seals and turn the caps. I lifted a bottle of V-8 from the bottom of my little refrigerator the other day and could barely get it up to waist high. My hands are so bad I drop a lot of things. It is embarrassing. I still take a morning walk in the park every day, but I have to use a walking stick.

We still cook, but I don't as much. I cook anything and it really fatigues me. Lois gets pretty worn out cooking, too. We can't afford to eat out every night, though, so cook we must. To tell the truth, writing is an effort. I use to sit and type for hours, not I am drowsy in no time and pressing the keys doesn't alway work because of my weak fingers.

One thing is I look pretty normal still, old, but normal. I look capable. I can see the changes in my body, but am not certain other people can pick up on them. I also know I will deteriorate more with each passing month. Therefore, I look at tasks that once I would have done probably with some ease and feel daunted by my uselessness. Lois says she'll do them, but I know some she can't and some I would rather she didn't. She sits and worries, or rather, stays awake all night and worries, because she doesn't think we'll be able to sell the house if the day comes when we must. Here are most of our tasks:

Probably the biggest is the bathroom floor. It looks awful these days. That white tile was supposed to be strong, but in reality it didn't lay well and it chips and breaks easily. There is a layer of tile beneath it I had put down several years ago. Once I was good at doing that. Lois is concerned about the floor beneath. It is a very small bathroom, but may as well be the Taj Mahal to me.

The driveway needs the cracks patched. I did it last year, but I know I can't now. Lois says she'll do it. She has in the past, but things are getting very difficult for her even if she doesn't want to admit. She has already bought the gunk for filling in the cracks.

A number of years ago, Lois tiled the backsplash area, but she never finished this one line down this wall. It is the same with the floor, she didn't run the ceramic tiles beneath the refrigerator. She keeps talking about riping up the current tile and resurfacing the floor. I really am hoping she doesn't she start doing that.
She speaks of taking up the carpet we laid the other year and refinishing the hardwood floors, and they do need such work, but I can't imagine us accomplishing that anymore.

The kitchen faucet drips, has for years now. I asked a plumber who was here one day about fixing it. He said it would cost $600. I can't afford that, so I have let it drip. There was a time when you would unscrew the end and replace the washer and drip stopped. These are waterless spigots. Isn't modern technology wonderful? $600 to fix a small drip.

Anyway, enough moaning about my little annoyances.I don't want to be a whiner, but I do have to admit I need help.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Mystery of the Suspicious Packets: A Frank March Adventure

It's been a while since I reported on any of my cases, quite a while; years I think. Here is a recent mystery. I was hiking about in Rockford Museum Park, a regular morning routine, when I noticed beneath a stone bench some kind of packet tucked back in the showdown of the support stone. He, I though, someone forgot their lunch. But on reflection I figured someone sat there, ate their meal and hid the refuge beneath the bench.

A litterbug!

I continued on. This was the Northern Delaware Freeway Trail that ran from the Brandywine Creek State Park through Alapocas, Rockford, Rockwood, Bringhurst Woods, Bellevue and Fox Point State Park. Where I saw the packet was the beginning of the long and winding hill, up into the woods and to the highest point within these grounds.

At the top I turned right onto a dirt trail up to that very highest point where a gazebo sat overlooking the
Southern vista. There, to the rear near the gazebo seating, was another packet. These consisted of a plastic storage box, one of those you might stick a sandwich in. The top sealed down very tightly. This, in turn, was inside a clear ZipLoc bag.

Since this was not so tucked away I could take a closer look. You could see through the baggie right on through the lid of the box. Inside were two vials, similar to those you are given with your prescription pills. There were no pills here. The contents inside the vials appeared to be a white powder. Ut oh!

What in the world was the purpose of these packets and was there something nefarious in the works.

I went down the steep side of the hill and eventually wound my way around into the Kitchen Garden behind the Carriage House. This area is surrounded by a stone wall. To one side are trees with thick drooping branches, evergreens of some sort, that form a canopy. They sometimes hold weddings in this courtyard and the bride will enter from beneath this canopy, so obviously you can walk beneath the branches. It is much like walking through a cave. In the center inside there is another bench. I walked through the tunnel of nettled branches and stopped to stare at two more of these mysterious packets under that bench, one to each side.

I went to the Mansion and saw the lights were on in the upstairs office. I rang the doorbell. Shorty a man came down and opened the door. His name was Phillip. He was the Park Director. I inquired if he knew anything about these packets. He did not.

I wrote about these discoveries later on Facebook.

I received several comments all advising me to contact the police.

I emailed the New Castle County Police, enclosing the photos I had taken of the various packets. Next morning I received an email in return. It informed me my original notice and pictures was being given to an officer. It then spend some time telling me I should have phoned the police rather than send an email.  I though an email was more effective since I could include photos. Oh, well.

I then got a phone call from this same police contact, who spent more time telling me I should have called rather than emailed. I'm sorry. She said I would hear from an officer. I heard from a Police Sargent about two hours later. He asked several questions.

"Are you at the park now?"
"No, I'm home. But the packets are still there. They have been there two days. I actually found another one this morning. It is down on the porch of what is called the Porter Lodge."

"Did you collect the packets?" he asked.
"No," I said, "I wasn't touching those things."

He paused as if forming his next question, which was, "Is the Park Direct there?"
"No," I said. "I'm home. He is probably in the park. But I spoke with him and he knew nothing about them."
"Okay, I'm going to drive over to the park and talk to the Director."
"Fine, but he doesn't know anything. The easiest one to find is at the Porter Lodge." I figured the cop could stop on his way in, he would have to drive past where the Porter Lodge was in order to get up the hill to the office.

The next morning all the packets were still in place, except the one on the stone bench was pulled out from underneath partway. As I went on the route about the paths and drives I saw the Manager of the Carriage House arrived just as I was about to leave. I hurried across the lot to speak to her, leaving my walking stick behind in the car, which meant I really didn't hurry very fast. Still I caught her.

Her name is Barbara, but it turned out she knew nothing of the packets either. She said she would call the police, but I told her I had already done so and also reported them to the Park director. Barbara said she would follow up with the police. My goodness, we are getting quite involved here and still don't know what these mysterious packets are. Or what was in the vials each packet contained.

The next day, no change, except the Stone Bench packet was now on top of the bench. Another day passed and the packed was again tucked in the showdown beneath the bench.

On the next day, this packet and the one in the Gazebo were gone, but the two under the tree canopy remained, only one was outside the bench and both had been flipped over.

Now on what, the seventh or eighth day, all the packets had disappeared as strangely as they had appeared. I still had no clue to what they were for. This was driving me crazy. I hate not knowing. Especially, since on the next day after they all went away, they came back.

However, the content was different. There were no vials. Instead they contained a rock and paper. I looked closely at the one on the stone bench. Yes, this packet was atop the bench, not under it. The paper inside looked very much like folded up money. The ploy thickens or the mystery deepens or some such saying.

Okay, so this morning, after over a week of mysterious packets, all were gone, except one. That's right, there was a packet sitting atop that blasted stone bench where all this first began for me. I sat down next to it and opened it up. I had a great deal of difficulty opening the lid of the box inside the ZipLoc bag, but persisted. Inside beneath a rock were the cut up pieces of a photograph, but no money. There was also a piece of paper. Typed upon this strip was, "Mr. Salisbury once lived here."

Mr. Salisbury had been Joseph Shipley's gardener and when the wealthy merchant banker retired and built Rockwood, he brought Salisbury with him as his landscaper. But the cut up photograph was of the Porter Lodge, not the Gardener's Cottage. At any rate, I tucked everything back away and left it where it was.

The mystery was about to unfold.

Up at the high point, within the Gazebo was no packet found this morning; however, the rock that had been in the second set of boxes was there as was a long strip of paper it had contained.

Those were direction that took one from this gazebo down to that infamous stone bench.

I ran into the Park Director as he arrived this morning and asked him if they had found out what the packets were. He told me, "Yes. The police were out to investigate. They checked out each site."

So what were they?

There had been some organization that held a scavenger hunt for children this past weekend. They had planted the original packets as a test run. Nobody informed any authority at the park. It was just a harmless game. Still, I was thanked. I did the right thing on seeing suspicious packets laying about. It could have been something no good. Never be afraid to report strange packages or odd behavior, especially in our current age. Risk the embarrassment of looking a fool, better that that a tragedy or crime because you ignored such things.

Case closed on the Mystery of the Suspicious Packets.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

From Garden to the Cliffs: Changes Part II

If you read Part I, then you know we left off at the Gardener's Cottage. Obviously, if you have a gardener's cottage, then there must have been a gardener, and if there be a gardener, there must be a garden in the story somewhere.

The gardener was one Robert Salisbury and Joseph Shipley had brought him from England to design his gardens and tend them on his new American retirement estate of Rockwood.

Salisbury is something of a mystery man in the Rockwood history, but we can surmise he must have
been a very good gardener given that Joseph moved him and his family to the estate and even had the cottage designed and built for him. Beyond the fact that Salisbury was a gardener, we know little. We don't even know if Salisbury gardened at Joseph's rented estate in England; although it would not be a bad assumption that he did. He may have influenced the overall Rockwood landscaping, but we don't know if that is a fact. Much evidence shows that Joseph himself did much of the design. Joseph Shipley tended to bring a lot of his favorite things to America. He even had trees uprooted and transported for replanting here. He collected exotic trees from all about, which makes Rockwood very interesting indeed. Whether Salisbury had any influence over the landscaping we don't know. We do know Salisbury continued working at Rockwood even after Joseph Shipley went under the dirt.

I couldn't replicate the photo of the Formal Garden because it was an arial shot taken in 1950.
The Kitchen Garden at the top next to the Carriage House is today the Rose Garden. The larger patch shown to the left of the Carriage House has changed a lot since 1950. Much is taken up by a little cluster of trees that appear as if one giant tree. These form a canap├ęs over much of the plot and you can walk under the branches like going through a cave. Weddings are often performed on this plot and the bride come to the ceremony from out of these trees.

To the back of the Kitchen Garden and facing the Carriage House are the Potting Sheds and Boiler
Room. The picture of the sheds on the right was taken about 1900. There are two sheds with an entry into the garden between them.  Back in Shipley's time the one was a cold house for vegetables and the other contained a boiler and piping to make it a hothouse for the exotic plants that Shipley grew. In Joseph's time the garden was for growing vegetables, but starting in 1910, the Bringhurst Family converted it to a formal flower garden.

The current county gardeners still use the sheds for potting and for storing their equipment. The boiler is gone.

There are paths looping the gardens and the formal garden is surrounded by rose bushes. The garden is quite beautiful when in full bloom.

There is a stone wall blocking it off from the main grounds. Back in Shipley's day British custom dictate that garden's be hidden from view to the general public. Only invited guests of the family were invited to enjoy them.

On one end of the Mansion is a Conservatory, shown jutting out from the right side of the mansion. This is the rear of the mansion, by the way, taken from the rear lawn, which is protected by the ha-ha. Again, Shipley modeled the Conservatory on the one on the home he rented in England.

Both home were designed by the English architect, George Williams. The estate in England, near Liverpool, I believe, was named Wnycote.

The Conservatory if more promenade in this 1851 photograph of the rear of Wyncote on the left.

You can see how strikingly similar the two Neo Gothic Houses were to each other. They were so much alike I mistook the old photo of Wyncote for Rockwood when I posted the pictures on Facebook, where I pointed out that the tower behind the Mansion no longer existed at Rockwood. Of course not, there was never a tower at Rockwood.

Posing in the Conservatory around 1895 are George Kennedy Smith and Edward Bringhurst III, dressed as sailors. I could not go inside to snap pictures, so the photo on the left was taken through the window that the two boys had their backs toward.

There are shelves full of plants today just as there was in the 1895 photo, which blocked my getting the same view through the windows by the side of the mansion.

As mentioned earlier, Joseph Shipley liked his exotic plants and he had a hot-water heating system piped through the Conservatory to store these plants over the cold Delaware winters. In the summer the plants were carried out and planted in the garden. Seems like a lot of work to me.

Shipley didn't do the heavy lifting himself. He may have liked gardens, but he suffered from gout. As a well-to-do merchant banker in England he indulged in a lot of rich foods and thus he developed the "rich man's disease."

He still liked to indulge himself in some pleasures the common man couldn't, such as eating free fruit for Christmas when the snow was atop the grounds.

Just behind the Carriage House is a Fruit Cellar. Extending eight to ten feet below ground, it acted as a natural refrigerator for storing fruits and vegetables beyond their growing season. Remember winter temperatures in Northern Delaware will go as low as a Frigidaire or even a freezer.

This is another old photo that distorted distant, like the one of the Scenic Vista in Part I. The Fruit Cellar looks longer than my photo. I also could not get the same angle.

I didn't have snow on the roof either, this not being the season for snow and the temperature that morning was around 60 degrees. I don't know what the white stuff is in my photo, but it isn't snow.

The old photo of the Fruit cellar was taken about 1920.

There is a sign showing three kind of random scenes about the landscape. One is a man using two horses to mow what they refer to as the North Lawn. This is a large patch of ground to the front of the mansion. The photo is from about 1895 and the man is unidentified. I would imagine he was a workman for the Bringhurst Family.

I tried to take this shot from approximately where the man was mowing. There are more trees and bushes now. It is on this lawn that the Holiday Open House festivities official open during the first weekend of December. Choir stand here to sing Christmas songs and the County Executive reads the "Night Before Christmas" beneath that tall evergreen.

They light the giant Christmas Tree on Friday evening and this is the tree that's used. The strings of lights are still hanging down it. The use to light another tree next to this one, but during one of our summer storms about two years ago it fell over.

There is also a random picture of Anna Webb Bringhurst standing between a rock formation on the
North Lawn. This was taken about 1884. At this point Joseph was dead and the property was owned by his sisters, Sarah and Hannah. In 1891 they put it up to auction and Joseph's niece, Sarah Shipley Bringhurst purchased it. She had been the one urging him to buy the place way back in 1851. She turned the property over to her son, Edward Bringhurst, Jr., somewhere at this time.

It is interesting because Joseph Shipley and Sarah Bringhurst would argue about the many rocks on the property. She felt they should be gotten rid of, but he loved their look and insisted they remain.

It took me a bit of searching, but I did finally find the rocks that Anna Webb Bringhurst posed between. There is a small garden to their front and some different bushes and trees backing up the scene, but I'm certain I was posing where she had stood 122 years earlier. I did not have a parasol to twirl; however.

I did have my walking stick.

My legs weren't covered by a long gown, either.

This brings us to the cliffs and the conclusion of this journey to the past. The cliffs are to the right as you drive or walk up the driveway from the park entrances up the hill toward the mansion.

This photo is of Mary Bringhurst standing at the top of these cliffs in 1900.

She must have come up a path behind the rocks on which she poses because I doubt she scaled the cliffs in that outfit for this purpose. Now I realize she was a healthy and hardy person, who loved to be 100, but I wouldn't have attempted the climb when I was younger without ALS.

There is a windy trail up behind those cliffs. Today it is paved over, but my guess is it follows some trail that existed back in the estates history so the owners could go to the highest point and look at the view. The cliff is steeper than the picture would indicate. Today there is a gazebo at the highest point where one can sit and look out over the grounds.

But with all the underbrush it is difficult to look at the 1900 photo and determine the exact location.

I went up the trail, then off on a dirt path that runs directly behind the cliffs, which may be the remainsof the original means of going up there. My guess is these may be the rock outcropping where Mary stood so long ago.

These rocks are relatively flat. Even I managed to walk onto them despite my imperfect balance and unsteady gait these days.

I bet Miss Bringhurst was not one bit hesitant to such rock standing.

A couple notes on the last post:

I did not get a photo outside the original entrance to the estate last week, but I did yesterday. This site hasn't changed greatly, except I think it had tall, wooden gates then. All Joseph Shipley's visitors would have come in here and checked in at the Lodge with the Gatekeeper. Pulling past this checkpoint they would see the mansion sitting up upon the hill.

The information sign here called this little building, "The Lodge", but I noticed this morning that the identifying marker to the front of its door calls it "The Porter's Lodge".

This is certainly more correct. Calling it The Lodge sounds like guest may have stayed there, but it was really the home of Shipley's Gatekeeper or Porter.