I’ve Been To The Mountain Top And I’ve Seen The Promised Land.
I just got back from a trip to Johnstown, PA for my Aunt Jane’s 85th birthday. Brother X rented a car for the long drive, and I went with him and his wife, Mrs. X. For those of you who are new to Earl’s Wearld, Brother X is not a term of disrespect for one of my two brothers. It is, instead, a way to respect his desire for privacy. My brother Kevin does not share the same desire to remain anonymous, so he is always mentioned by name whenever he appears in Earl’s Wearld.
Anyway, it’s about an 8-hour trip to Johnstown, a long car ride, up, over, through, and around mountains, and I started off the car chat by talking about religion.
“I read this blog that Atheists and Agnostics like myself don’t have the same sense of community that religious people like you have. So, because we don’t believe in any religion, we’re actually missing out on a sense of community, which is a necessary nutrient, kind of like a vitamin. What do you think?”
He pulled over. “I think you should sit in the back seat.”
So, I switched seats with Mrs. X, and she got back into the shotgun position. I did a little reading while I chuckled to myself in the back seat. We were off to a good start. Brother X and I have been busting each other’s horns on Johnstown trips for about 60 years now. I scored first this time.
“How many ties do you think we’ll see at the party?” I inquired to re-engage the conversation.
“None,” he quickly replied.
“Eighty guests, half of them men, so that’s 40 men,” I mused. “If one out of ten wears a tie that’s four.”
“I’ll take the under,” he stated quickly and emphatically before I could move the line.
“Okay, you’ve got the under,” I said, glad that I had brought a tie, and hoping there would be a bartender or two wearing a tie. Now, I wish I had brought more than one tie. I would resort to wearing a couple at the same time to beat Brother X.
Brother X and I are very competitive. He doesn’t like to lose to anybody. His motto is, “Show me a man who is willing to lose, and I’ll show you a loser.”
My motto normally is: “You win some. You lose some, and some get rained out.” But when competing against Brother X, it changes to “You win some, you lose some, but not to him, not today.” It’s called sibling rivalry.
When we made this trip with our parents, they tried a million things to keep us from saying a million times, “Are we there, yet?” We looked for license plates from all the states. We played guessing games like 20 questions and we had visual scavenger hunts where we had to find something that began with an “A” then something that began with a “B” all the way to “Z” I often tried to count a black and white cow as a zebra. Brother X would already have used them under “D” for Dalmations and “G”, for Giant Dalmations.
We went past Hershey, PA, and remembered when we stayed there during the Regan administration. We went to Hershey Park, where I got a picture of myself face-painted like a bumblebee next to a more-lifelike-than-the-original cardboard cutout of Ronald Regan. I also remember that the motel where we stayed had a pool and busloads of born again Christians. That’s where Brother X’s daughter got a Baptism of a different kind. She learned how to swim. She and her brother went on to win many medals in swimming while they were in school, and that was where it all started. Kumbaya.
We had other roadside attractions along the way, too. Guess how many cops would be in each tunnel we went through. This was a very popular game in the Hudson Tunnel until the opening of the Verrazano Bridge altered our route years ago. In Pennsylvania we still had a few tunnels that went right through mountains. There aren’t as many nowadays, so I guess the road moved. I doubt that the mountains did.
There was a house near the highway in Carlisle, PA that had a big bear sculpture on the lawn. My mother loved that bear, so the first one to spot it would yell, “Mommy’s Bear.” We saw it and it actually looked bigger than we remembered it. Not many things from your childhood look bigger when you are an adult, so I think they replaced the original bear with a bigger better one.
Then there was Davy Crockett’s house. It wasn’t really, but we always believed it was, because it was a log cabin and my father told us that it was Davy Crockett’s house. The next log cabin we saw was Daniel Boone’s house. We always expected to see Fess Parker sitting on the porch of one of those cabins.
There’s a spot at the top of one of the mountains where you can see three states, and a whole bunch of cities, counties, and towns. The number get magnified every trip. This year when we got to lookout point, I said I could see “5 states, 40 counties, 23 cities, 52 towns, 3 planets and the sun.”
The first traffic sign that says Johnstown is another landmark. When we see that sign we always make the same bad joke, “Windber 24, Johnstown 32. Johnstown beat Windber again by the same score.” Twenty something miles later we would see the actual sports stadium where Johnstown played Windber every other Thanksgiving, in the historic years when my mother was growing up in Western Pennsylvania.
This year we had something new on the trip – GPS. Isn’t that technology just amazing? And the girl never once lost her temper no matter how many times we made her recalculate.
We arrived in Johnstown early Friday evening and met up with Uncle George and the Ohio relatives who pulled in the same time we did. Then we did the same thing we do on every trip to Johnstown. Eat, Drink, Laugh. I also learned from my Ohio relatives that some people text CTM for Chuckling to Myself when something is funny but not LOL funny. If I had known that earlier I could have used it.
I only did one thing that I never did before in Johnstown. Since everyone else had a part to play in the ruse to keep Aunt Jane from finding out about the party, on Saturday afternoon, I wound up babysitting Debbie’s son Matt’s 4-year old daughter, Mackenzie.
Many years ago, I dogsat for a motorcycle cop in Port Washington, who took his wife to a week-long motorcycle cop convention. Back in 1990, I did some dogsitting for my ex-wife in Florida, when she planned to return to college. I dogsat Dog X whenever Brother X and his wife were out of town and couldn’t get somebody more reliable. And in the past year I spent some time Daddysitting my father before his passing, but this was the first time in I don’t know how long that I was babysitting for a baby. I turned on the TV hoping that Barney or something like that was on. Head-to-Head Texas Hold-em Poker was on. I was fine with that, but even though it was the semi-finals, Mackenzie wasn’t interested. So we played with the toys in her doll house at Grandma’s house.
To save myself the trouble of repeatedly running to fetch things for her, I quickly taught her to pretend the couch was magical, and I could do anything if I was sitting on it.
“If we’re going to feed the baby, we need milk. Go get some milk,” she said.
“Okay, let’s pretend that I’m pouring milk.” With great flourish, I faked pouring milk from an imaginary pitcher into the tiny plastic baby bottle. She loved it, so anything she wanted me to do after that, I just sat on the magic couch and pretended to do it, and she was happy. Too bad I didn’t know this trick when I was married.
A short while later, her Daddy showed up. I had successfully babysat for almost an hour. That’s going on my updated resume!
It was a surprise party for my Aunt Jane and her daughter Debbie was charged with getting her there. Debbie usually does all the photography, while her husband Barry does the DJ thing, complete with laser lights, mirror balls, fog machines, and speakers that require a small crane to be lifted into place.
So, since Debbie wouldn’t be able to film the grand entrance, that job was left to me. Actually the video camera was on a tripod and already pointed at the door. All I had to do was hit the record button. My biggest problem was deciding which title I should use. Was I a Video-ographer. Or should that be videographer with just one “o”? I told everyone that I was the official video-ographer, because it sounds funnier.
I’ll make the next story about the great party and my Pennsylvanian relatives, but this story is more about the journey, so let’s get back on the road. Suffice it to say that I was the only one wearing a tie. Brother X won that round.
We had taken the southern route to get there. We took the northern route home, since we had a stop in Beacon, NY, to see X’s son, who teaches there. After we were on the road for a short time, we saw a sign Jersey Shore, 22 miles. We wondered about that. I just looked at a map and saw that the name of the town was named Jersey Shore. We weren’t anywhere near the ocean.
We also went by another town called The Promised Land. I guess they were being very optimistic when they named that place.
On one stretch of road there were a lot of white-barked birch trees, and I remember that my brother had gone to a place as a young child that was called the Camp of the Birches. I remembered that there had been a problem and he had to leave early, but I forgot what the problem was. He told me that it was a camp for Jehovah’s Witnesses and my parents who were both strict Catholics pulled him out as soon as they found out. They weren’t fast enough for my little brother though. He already learned all the words to “Jesus loves the little children of the world.” CTM
When we crossed the border from Pennsylvania to upstate New York, we remembered that our family used to vacation there at a place called the Hillside Inn. If you saw Dirty Dancing, you can think of The Hillside Inn as Kellerman’s for goys.
We dropped off the stuff they wanted to drop off at their son’s place, took a few moments to unwind, and were back on the road. A couple miles before we got to my house I reprogrammed the GPS for their address, so every turn towards my house caused the GPS to recalculate. I thought that was funny. CTM funny, not LOL funny, but funny. Brother X and Mrs. X didn’t. Give that round to me.
Now that the trip is over, I’m recalculating something myself. I realized the answer to the question I asked my brother at the beginning of the trip. We Atheists and Agnostics may not have religious ceremonies and traditions to enjoy, but we can have our own ceremonies and traditions to give us some warm-fuzzies, too. All we need to do is pay closer attention to our family and friends.
Going to Johnstown is one of the nicest traditions my family has. I can’t wait until the next trip. Only, next time I’m bringing more ties. CTM
Peace and Love, and all of the above,