Frank and I have moved on from Lake Gaston. We’re actually in our second campground since leaving. We spent a very nice weekend at First Landing State Park, in Virginia Beach, VA. We went there to take part in another Tearjerker gathering. This one was sponsored by the Virginia chapter and there were about two dozen teardrops present.
The campground itself was really nice! One of the nicer state parks we’ve been to. Like Myrtle Beach State Park in South Carolina and Goose Island State Park in Texas, it’s located right on the coastline. We weren’t able to spend a lot of time over by the water because of the weather. And we didn’t hear the surf from where we were, either.
Instead, we heard Reveille and the Star Spangled Banner every morning from NAS Oceana, the military base just south of the park. And while we missed the Blackhawks flying over the park at near tree level as they had done during a training mission earlier in the week, we were treated to multiple tests of the emergency broadcast system every afternoon. Frank was pretty funny – the first time we heard it, he came darting out of the Nutshell like it was on fire! He started looking all around trying to figure out where it was coming from. And when it was over, he came back to sit in front of me, with a look on his face that said, “What the hell was that!?!?”
That Friday was Heaven! After spending months freezing our asses off, the 90° temperatures felt fantastic! Unfortunately, the weather didn’t hold up for the entire weekend and it started to pour by late afternoon on Saturday. And since Frank was freaking out about it, we weren’t able to join the others at Pizza night.
Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time! We made a lot of new friends; met a couple of teardrop camper owners that we had been corresponding with online like Bob, who ran the event, and Doris, who has been following our travels through the blog and through the Teardrop Camper Group on Facebook; we even had time on Saturday afternoon to enjoy burgers and brew with Ella and Matt. They live in Virginia Beach and came out to the campground to meet us.
Ella and I have been friends for a few months now, both being members of another Facebook group. Its funny how when Frank and I first started out, I was not all that interested in dealing with people. Decompression was first and foremost on my mind back then. But that changed pretty quickly. I’ve mentioned before how campers are a family. I don’t need to go into that much more. Suffice it to say that perhaps the biggest blessing out of this journey … aside from reaching a point where I feel at peace with the world … has been getting back to a point where I can deal with people and not experience anxiety as a result. And it’s not just dealing with people now … it’s looking forward to who we get to see at our next stop, without worrying that it will cause any anxiety or hesitation! That’s a huge change for me, and one for which I am incredibly grateful!
But it’s Tuesday now and like I said, we’ve moved on. This afternoon, Frank and I find ourselves sitting next to Currituck Bay, at the Bells Island Campground, on the way to the outer banks in North Carolina. We arrived on Sunday after a very short drive from First Landing. There was purpose to this stop – it was to spend a little time with another good friend from my youth. Bear with me a bit, please as I digress …
Pompton Lakes was a pretty cool place to grow up. I don’t know if you could call it a typical small-town, because I don’t know what typical was back then. The population was less than 10,000. And while the homes were typical of Suburbia, it didn’t really have the same feel to it that the towns on TV had. To me, it was less like Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best and more like The Andy Griffith Show (which had nothing to do with the fact that my father looked enough like Andy Griffith when he was younger to have been his clone.)
Whenever you saw them, the homes on those first two shows were pretty big, with big front yards. That wasn’t really the case in Pompton. It had a mixture of styles. First, there were homes that had been there for forty, fifty years and longer. I remember some with big porches on them, that were close to the downtown area and the high school.
Then there were homes like the first one we lived in when we move there in the middle of my second grade. These were bedroom community, “set-em-up-quick” homes, built after the war, that were less than 1,000 square feet, with tiny living rooms and even smaller bedrooms.
Lastly, there were the newer homes that were being built. A big section of Pompton was undeveloped when we arrived and builders were at work tearing down the woods on our side of town to put up the next phase of larger, multi-level houses. We moved into one of those when I was in 7th grade. My sister had been born about six months earlier and my grandmother moved in with us two months after, when my grandfather died suddenly of a massive heart attack. There was no way we could all manage to live in that first house.
The Ramapo River ran through the backyard of that second house. It was pretty cool having a river in our backyard. When it was a vacant lot, some of the neighborhood kids had built a swing on one of the big trees that hung out over the water. And when we moved in, my father had me shimmy up the tree and replace the rope with a newer one while he replaced some of the wooden platforms the kids had built to jump from.
As an aside, imagine my shock and surprise when Robert, one of those neighborhood kids, posted a photo of their swing on Facebook about two years ago. I go online, visit Facebook to see what was going on, and the second image I see is … my … back … yard??? That was incredibly cool, especially given the fact that I have virtually no photos from my past!
I think it was the river that gave the town a bit of a rural feel, at least to me. I can’t tell you how much time I spent swimming in, boating on, and fishing in that river growing up. As soon as school let out for the summer, it would be pretty much from the moment I got up until it was time to come home. Even during school, my buddy Leo and I would get up to go fishing early in the morning before school started.
The other thing that gave Pompton its “Andy Griffith feel” was Wanaque Avenue, our “downtown”. It branched off the Hamburg Turnpike, the main road that ran north out of Paterson, the county seat. Downtown began about where the library sat, a couple of blocks past the Turnpike. It ended less than a half-mile away, at the train station. And in between, you could imagine that you were in Mayberry. Except for the accents of course! Just take a look at this photo shown up the post a bit.
It’s funny, but I can remember so much about what downtown looked like, and yet I can’t remember what I had for dinner three nights ago! A block down from the library and across the street was the Superette, with the lunch counter where I had my first ever Cherry Coke, and where I got caught trying to lift a Playboy magazine. (It was six months before I showed my face in there again and I’m grateful the guy behind the counter forgot what I looked like … or remembered, but was willing to give me a second chance.)
Just past and across from the Superette was a side street where Saint Mary’s Catholic Church was, next to Lenox Elementary School. I went to Lincoln, the other elementary school that served the south end of town. I can’t tell you how many CYO dances I attended in the basement of that church. But I can tell you how many of them I danced at. None! I was way too self-conscious to even give it an attempt. That followed me all the way through High School, where I didn’t even attend my prom. But that’s a story for another blog post.
I could keep going up the street and describe every business. The pet store that had a monkey for a short while; Tony’s Pizza, to this day the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life; the Colonial Theatre, where I got scared shitless and ran out of the first movie I ever attended on my own – 13 Ghosts. But I’ll leave it at that … I’m sure the “not interested” sign is already going off in most of your heads! LOL
A huge number of businesses had “Colonial” in their names, by the way. Colonial Cleaners. Colonial Bakery. The Colonial newstand, etc. I never did find out what that came from. I assumed it had something to do with the fact that George Washington headquartered there briefly and iron ore used to manufacture cannonballs during the Revolutionary War made its way via a then-top secret trail (on present-day Cannonball Road) through Pompton down to Paterson.
Like I said, I went to Lincoln School, and it was at Lincoln School that I met Val and Dave. I’m pretty sure both of them arrived in town after my family. I remember Val in 3rd grade and Dave in 5th.
Dave lived right around the corner from our first house. As an aside, he was across the street and down a few houses from Jeanie, who I spent an afternoon visiting with when we stayed in Flagler Beach, FL, a few weeks back. He and I spent a lot of 5th and 6th grade walking either to or from school together.
I think we were joined together by our mutual love of baseball. He and I played on the same Little League team for a while and we would spend most of our time going to and from school in deep discussion over batting averages, home runs, ERA’s, and other important facts (thank God that statistics like FIP and fWAR hadn’t been invented yet – I still don’t understand some of them). This was all despite Dave’s favorite team being the New York Yankees, of course. By that time, I had sworn allegiance to the Boston Red Sox.
We also had a mutual love of astronomy and I can remember meeting up with him on a couple of occasions to watch meteor showers.
Val was tall! That’s the first thing I remember about her growing up. I’m not sure why, but I took special pride in being one of the taller guys in class. So it was a little unnerving that she and I were about the same height. I don’t know that we hung out all that much together, but she was part of the same group of kids that we all ran with. But then, you could say that about almost all the kids in our class. Being a small town, that’s the way it was! For perspective, I think there were slightly more than a hundred students in that graduating class.
Val and I were both part of the four “couples” that were chosen to entertain the parents on a PTA night in 4th grade, with a demonstration of the square dancing we were learning in P.E. during one of the grading periods. And I also remember having a summer party in 8th grade, when Val was one of the friends I invited over to the house to swim.
Other than that, we all just hung out. We were all members of various sports teams (Dave was in baseball – I was in football after discovering around 8th grade that I couldn’t hit a curveball to save my soul) or were cheerleaders or band members. We all went to the dances; or to the bonfire before the big rivalry football game against Butler; or to one of the various parks in town where we took lifeguarding classes or played in Shuffleboard tournaments. And we all grew up together.
I have to admit, I hated moving to Dallas at the beginning of my sophomore year. I felt like I was leaving my entire world! And I don’t mean that as an affront to any of the Dallas classmatrs that I’ve maintained such good friendships with over the years. You all mean the world to me – but Pompton was my home. The friendships I formed back then are some of my most cherished as well.
So it was with great joy that I was able to arrange to see both Val and Dave as we headed north out of Florida.
Val and her husband Bill now live in Wilmington, NC, while Dave’s now living a few hours north, in Currituck.
Val and Bill purchased an RV last year and agreed to meet Frank and me at Myrtle Beach State Park for a few days of camping. It was great to see them! We had dinner together the first night we both arrived and spent some time together the next afternoon. Unfortunately, Val got sick and had to leave early. But we spent a marvelous time reminiscing. Bill is a writer, and I also learned all about a book he has in process. Along with that though, I learned that Val and I had something in common – she had also grown up in a home with a horribly abusive parent.
“If only you and I had known about what was going on with each other back then!”, Val said at one point. “We might have each been able to support the other one more. Who knows if it might have made a difference or not?”
Who knows, indeed.
I don’t think the conversation got much deeper than that. We caught up on what each of us had been doing since we last visited together at one of the reunions. Val’s son and his family had recently made the newspaper in their small town relative to some doings at their farm and I enjoyed reading the article she shared. We talked about our dogs – I forgot to mention that Val and Bill brought their three standard poodles with them. And I filled them in on our upcoming travels.
“Give Dave a big hug for me!”, was one of the last things Val said on Monday afternoon before she left.
We arrived in Dave’s neighborhood in the middle of a lull between raindrops. It lasted long enough for him to come over after finishing up some chores.
Dave and I mostly caught up that afternoon. We talked about everything from school to jobs to movies to you name it. I think one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about seeing old friends is how you can just start up a conversation as if you saw each other last week. That’s the way it felt talking to Dave.
We were able to get together again yesterday afternoon for a short while. Dave teaches now, a career change born out of the economic downturn in 2008. I have to say I think he’s one of the most interesting and thoughtful guys I know. Thoughtful, as in considerate, yes. But also thoughtful in terms of how he considers his views on a subject. I guess that’s what comes from being a philosophy major in college.
Dave also brought by the 1971 Pompton Lakes High School yearbook and we had a great time going through and looking at everyone in the class and talking about where everyone is now. We’ve lost a lot of folks from that graduating class, unfortunately … including Dave’s twin sister a couple of years ago. A lot of others from the classes before and after ours, too. Dupont chemical had a plant on the north edge of town and it was discovered that they were responsible for toxic chemicals leaching into the water supply. It’s been in litigation for decades. They’re doing some remedial cleanup, but continue to fight any and all medical claims arising from their irresponsibility. Regardless,you’ll never convince me that the number of deaths of classmates from unusual cancers isn’t tied to them somehow. And it makes me question how I’m still here today, given how much of my life involved that river, where all those chemicals eventually wound up and passed right through my backyard.
Tomorrow, we move on to our next stop in Williamsburg, VA. After hopscotching around with short stays here and there, it’ll be nice to be in one place for a full three weeks.
Before I finish this post, I thought I’d share one other funny story with you. When we were at Myrtle Beach State Park, there was a family with two young boys in the campsite next to us. They took a real liking to Frank and spent a lot of time over by us so they could pet him. Frank certainly enjoyed the attention!
Anyhow, their mother came over to me on Wednesday morning before they left to say that all they were talking about at bedtime was Frank. She asked them, “ what about the man that’s camping there? You know Frank’s name, but who is the man with him?”
The reply? “Oh, he’s just the man that takes care of Frank!”
Yep. That’s me. Couldn’t have said it better myself. LOL