Road Trip–Fallingwater Edition (concluded, finally)

          We headed off to our final stop on this trip—Bird-in-Hand, the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, where we stayed in a modern hotel overlooking beautiful, cultivated fields. This is Amish country, and yes, we saw the horse and buggies, and yes, perhaps they weren’t Amish, but Old World Mennonites. I have been told that you can tell them apart because of a difference in bonnet styles, but I don’t know what that difference is. I was pleased to note that women did drive carriages.

          This was the most touristy place we visited, and we went into a place that called itself an Amish market. It had “cute” clothing often featuring logos of Blue Balls, Pennsylvania, or Intercourse, Pennsylvania, on them, and many items that could be found in similar shops around the country—refrigerator magnets, coasters, coffee mugs, framed pictures. An adjoining building had foods: pickles, jams, candies, cookies, breads. What drew my eye were the meat counters and the arrays of sausages. I have seldom spotted a sausage that I did not want to buy, but we were without refrigeration, and I resisted. But I did succumb enough to buy a not-yet-read history of the Amish.

          The area is a quilting center, but a quilting museum that we had hoped to see was not open. However, quilting stores were in business. The spouse quilts, usually baby quilts for friends’ children, and we went to one of the stores. (See the spouse’s post of June 17, 2020, with pictures. Search Results for “”piecing it together”” – AJ’s Dad ( Fabrics, threads, quilts, quilt kits, and more. The spouse said it was too much to take in in one outing, but she was not so overwhelmed that she did not buy some fabric, a kit or two and like that. Pennsylvania Dutch country is also known for hand-crafted wood furniture, and the next day we bought a set of dining room chairs, which the spouse insisted we “needed” even though we do not sit on the floor now around the dining room table. They cost more than a few yards of fabric and a quilting kit. The chairs are custom made and won’t be delivered until next spring. I must agree that they will look good in the country house.

          In between the two buying sprees, we went to dinner at the kind of restaurant that dots Amish country—a buffet for a modest set price. A half dozen or more serving stations with hot and cold food and a carving station of ham, roast beef, and turkey. All you can eat. Clean your plate and go get another one. And try to save room for one of the dozen pies, cakes, and puddings. The list price was $24.95, but we had a coupon for five dollars off. Is the food good? Not really, but it’s not bad, and it is all amazing, and the place was jammed. And looking around at the patrons, many of whom were on bus tours, I felt, in spite of my dad bod, almost thin.

          The restaurant we chose traced its origins to the 1920s, but it was not Amish. It served alcohol. We thought that we might try one of their specialty cocktails. However, our server told us that they were short on staff, and the restaurant did not have a bartender that night to mix drinks. We settled for a beer and a glass of wine. After we got our bill, I held it and waved over the server. She looked concerned, but I said that she had forgotten to charge us for the beer. She laughed and said that seldom had she been told something like that. When she came back with our amended bill, she told us that because we had been so honest, she took something off the beer price. We paid one dollar for the drink.

          And then the next morning we headed to our Pennsylvania cottage a three-hour drive away ending this journey. All in all, it was good trip.

          Any suggestions for the next one?

Road Trip–Fallingwater Edition (continued)

          After our day in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, we lodged at a bed and breakfast a few miles away in the unromantically named Mechanicsburg and went to a restaurant that proclaimed it served an unknown cuisine to me, Ukrainian/Mediterranean food. We arrived at seven and were the only diners; when we left, there were two others. Our attractive young server, Mina, who had a slight accent I could not place, told us about appetizer specials, making quite a push for some special meatballs, which I ordered. She told us that the chef would tell us about the main course specials.

          Soon he appeared. He (I have forgotten his name) was a talker. He asked where we were from, and after hearing Brooklyn, he told us that he loved New York, visited frequently, and rambled on about how sad NYC was these days in the aftermath of Covid. Hardly pausing to take a breath, he told us that he was from Egypt, had been in the United States for thirty-nine years, and had met his wife, the namesake of the restaurant, in this country. She was from Ukraine, and then the origin of the unusual fusion cuisine became clear.

          He asked what we might be interested in eating. I said that I had seen a pork shank and a lamb shank on the menu. He interrupted and said that he had a special lamb shank that night. This was lucky because supply problems were making it hard to obtain this cut. “Even New York restaurants can’t get them.” Because of the present rarity, it was expensive–$49. When I said nothing in response, he started to write this down as my order, and I spoke up saying that was not going to be my choice.

          Unprompted the chef told us, “I did not vote for Biden. The government gives away money, and people won’t work.” He went on to complain that he could not hire staff. I bit my tongue. I did not point out that the restaurant was almost empty and did not look as though it needed more workers, and I did not say that the data do not indicate the extended unemployment benefits have been a significant cause of labor shortages. But I could not restrain myself entirely and did say, “This is a great country . . . if you are rich.” I could see Mina watching me with wide eyes, and I wondered what she was thinking.

          Mina later told us that she was from Uzbekistan and that she and her family had been in the United States for only a few years. I commented that her English was very good, and she looked a bit surprised. I asked how they had come to settle in this area. She replied, “We had no choice. We are refugees, and we were put here.” I did not find out what agency had settled them in the greater Mechanicsburg area, but when I asked why they had to leave her native country, she simply said, “A dictator.” I thought back to a Jewish Uzbek barber who had told me eighteen months ago that when he was growing up, thirty percent of Uzbekistan had been Christians and Jews but that now it was 95% Muslim. (See post of April 1, 2020. Search Results for “uzbek” – AJ’s Dad ( I wondered if this explained Mina’s refugee status.

I don’t remember what main course I did get at this restaurant, but it was a lot of food—the meatballs I had ordered would have sufficed. The spouse and I both had food left, and we quietly agreed that we did not want to look as if we had not enjoyed the cooking, so we had the leftovers packed up to take with us, even though we knew that we would not be eating them. We threw away the containers the next day.

          The next morning we went to an antique store in the modest downtown. I bought a Christmas coffee mug I did not need but will use in the festive season. Then, in a who knew? moment, we went to a Rolls Royce museum. A woman on the phone told us that it was not officially open and we could not get the usual guided tour, but we could stop by and look around. She was not there when we arrived, and a man told us that the museum was closed. We explained our phone conversation, and after a few moments while he fruitlessly looked for the visitors’ book to sign, he waved us in and retired to an adjoining shop area where a Rolls Royce was being restored. On display were a dozen or more vintage Rolls Royces and Bentleys. I don’t care much about luxury cars, but they were beautiful. As we slowly walked around each car peering in to see details, but never touching as we were cautioned, the man came out periodically from the workshop, told us some things about the car, explained the Rolls Royce drivers club was headquartered here, and said that the museum was part of the Rolls Royce Foundation. Who knew? A Rolls Royce Foundation. He indicated with no irony that this was a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization for automobiles for the ultra-rich.

          As we were nearing the end of our stay, the woman who had answered the phone returned from lunch. I have seen many women these days with purple hair, but this was the first time I had seen someone whose blouse perfectly matched her hair color. Did she change the color each day depending on what she was going to wear? Another question I will never have answered.

She brought us over to her favorite car—a relatively modern Rolls with a sparkly, blue finish. She explained that a cult leader in Oregon had his followers give him the expensive cars instead of money. When the guru was found committing crimes, he was deported back to India and the government seized his assets. The sparkly Rolls (frankly ugly), one of the dozens he had owned, ended up in the museum.

          Before leaving, we stepped into a separate room—an art gallery—containing hyper-realistic oil paintings of vintage Rolls Royces, including one adapted for desert use by Lawrence of Arabia, who in real life was not nearly as handsome as Peter O’Toole.

          I won’t say that that this is a destination museum, but if you are in the area, it’s worth a detour.

Road Trip–Fallingwater Edition (continued)

As a sports-besotted boy, I knew that Jim Thorpe had a good claim to be the world’s greatest athlete: All-American and professional football player, a major league baseball player, a professional basketball player, an Olympic gold-medal winner of the pentathlon and the decathlon. I also knew that he was an Indian, had attended and played football for the Carlisle Indian School, and had to return the gold medals because he had played a few weeks of semi-professional baseball destroying his amateur status, which was then required for the Olympics. I knew little more about Thorpe and the school and was eager to go to the Cumberland County Historical Society in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on our return trip from Fallingwater to learn more.

          And, of course, the CCHS had a room on the Carlisle Indian School that had a picture of Thorpe, but, disappointingly, little more on him. (I was not the only one with the feeling. A chalkboard allowed visitors to comment on the museum. One person, who gave his address as a Minnesota Indian Reservation, wrote, “More on Thorpe.”) The display covered other aspects of the school. A pair of photographs indicated that the school did not just try to educate, but it also sought to strip its students of their heritage—their Indianness. A photograph showed three children, perhaps siblings, when they arrived. All of them had long hair and dressed in what looked like some sort of informal, relaxed attire. A picture of them a few years into their schooling showed them with short hair, standing stiffly in “civilized” clothing, and looking stern. They seemed almost as if they were in the American military; they did not look Indian. And none looked happy.

          Another haunting photograph was a picture taken in March 1892 showing one hundred, maybe two hundred, or more students, presumably the entire student body at the time. It is meticulously composed. With one or two exceptions, every face is visible. All are dressed in monotones. No decoration—necklace, bracelet, ribbon, scarf, tie, bead, or feather—is worn. No smiling face or any attempts at hijinks for a class picture can be spotted. This is a somber picture; there is no joy, and I could not imagine from this picture that there was any joy in any of their lives. Only the hands of those in the front row are visible, and two girls, perhaps sisters, are holding hands as if they have made a vow to protect each other. This picture made me pause: Who attended the school? What were the goals of the school? What were the long-term effects of the school? How many other schools were there like this? I learned that the school, which started in the 1879, closed in 1918, but I wanted to know more, and in the museum gift shop I bought two books: Jacqueline Fear-Segal’s White Man’s Club: Schools, Race, and the Struggle of Indian Acculturation. (2007) and Sally Jenkins, The Real All Americans: The Team that Changed a Game, a People, a Nation (2007). Both have taught me more about the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

          Richard Henry Pratt, a soldier who fought in the Civil War and then served in the West pursuing, fighting, and negotiating with Indians, was the primary force behind the school. Pratt believed that Indians were deserving of a place in American society and that racial differences were not innate but the product of environmental factors. He believed that Indians could–and should– integrate into mainstream white society, but this was possible only if they abandoned their tribal communities. The school’s goals were not only to accomplish that but also to show whites that the Indian transformation was both desirable and possible.

          Pratt’s theories required a school away from the native lands. The Carlisle Barracks were an old twenty-seven acre army installation, but they had been damaged in the Civil War and then abandoned. Pratt talked the Army into allowing him to set up the school in the sixteen barracks buildings that needed renovations. Almost immediately, Pratt constructed a seven-foot fence around the property as both a screen against sightseers—the townsfolk were curious about the young Indians—and to control the students.

          The school separated both boy and girl students from their language. They were only to speak English, uttering a native language was punished, and students from the same tribes were scattered among separate dormitories.

          They were also separated from their names, partly because the white teachers could not pronounce Indian names, but also to remove another aspect of their Indianness. As Sally Jenkins put it, when they had new, Americanized names, another “piece of their Indian selves had been taken away.”

          The males were separated from their hair and that, too, separated them from their heritage. Jenkins reports that braids were a symbol of maturity for Lakotas, who only cut their hair when in deep mourning.

          And they were separated from their traditional clothing, often colorful and distinctive. Instead, as the school picture showed, they all had to dress in gray, and became “an indistinguishable gray mass with no discernible outward differences.”

          The photograph like the ones I saw in the museum of arriving students paired with one of them a few years later was part of a routine practice at the school. The before and after pictures were taken by a local photographer, J.N. Choate, and were widely disseminated to whites to show how Indians were being transformed. Fear-Segal says that Choate even used skillful lighting to make subjects in after pictures appear to have lighter skin.

          The very nature of the school itself, however, separated the students from a fundamental aspect of their heritage. Indian tribes had varied cultural difference, Fear-Segal reports, but in no Indian community was education a discrete endeavor conducted in a separate institution or by “teachers.” Education was woven into everyday patterns of living and took place informally in daily interactions.

          The school taught subjects whose successful completion was supposed to be equal to an eighth-grade education, but the students were also taught trades and agriculture. To further this training, the Carlisle school had an “outing” program where students were sent to work and board with local families. Students were thus to be introduced to American society and taught to be wage earners. As with much at the Carlisle Indian school, the outing program had mixed consequences. Many of the white families treated the students well and lifelong bonds were often formed. Other families, however, merely saw a source of low-wage labor.

          Although the students were separated from the reservations where their families lived, whites had a similar goal in both places. Out west, the shared lands were broken up into parcels of private ownership, and at Carlisle the Indians were pushed to enter a wage economy. Jenkins notes that the U.S. government did not believe in sharing or communalism; it believed in private property. An Indian needed to be taught out West and at Carlisle “so that he will say ‘I’ instead of ‘We’ and ‘This is mine’ instead of ‘This is ours.’”

          The influence of the Carlisle school began to wane in the early twentieth century for two reasons. First, sentiment against off-reservation schools began to build. Moreover, Richard Henry Pratt, who apparently found it difficult to act diplomatically with his superiors in Washington, was removed as head of the school in 1904. He was followed by administrators with little ability. The school was finally shuttered in August 1918 and converted to a hospital for wounded soldiers returning from World War I.

          The school’s legacy is mixed. Many who passed through its gates praised it; many condemned it. Although the students were encouraged to remain in the East after leaving the school, the vast majority returned to the reservations, many of whom went back “to the blanket.” Jenkins suggests that as an educational school, Carlisle was not a success. Of the 8500 students who passed through Carlisle, only 741 received degrees. However, many others also went on to graduate from public school, which Pratt counted as successes. From its inception, Pratt thought that the school should only be temporary and wanted Indians integrated into white society and enrolled in public schools. Jenkins, however, also concludes that the Carlisle Indian Industrial School was successful as a training institution: “the federal Indian agencies were full of Carlisle graduates working as teachers, clerks, interpreters, police, lawyers, blacksmiths, farmers, bakers, and tailors.”

          Overall, however, the school has increasingly been seen as a well-meant mistake. “Like so many other federal experiments regarding the Indians, what in 1879 was seen as a creative solution had come to seem wrongheaded. Humanitarians argued that removing children from their homes was cruel and counterproductive. Still others believed that Carlisle created false expectations and that it ill-equipped students for the grim realities of life back home. The school took an undeniable personal toll on students: it razed their personal histories, sundered families, and obliterated their languages, faiths, and traditions.”

A few days before his death in 1924, Richard Henry Pratt told of his despair because Indians still had not obtained American citizenship. His pallbearers were all Indians.

          Later in 1924, the Indian Citizenship Act, which for the first time allowed Native Americans to become American, became law.

(to be continued)

Road Trip–Fallingwater Edition (continued)

From Fallingwater, we drove to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a town of about 20,000, to see the Cumberland County Historical Society. Before heading to the Historical Society, we had lunch in the nicely preserved downtown of Carlisle, whose streets were mapped out in 1751. Unlike many small American towns whose fortunes have faded, Carlisle, while not exuding luxuriant prosperity, appeared to be holding its own. It seems to have a secure economic base because the United States Army War College is located at the Carlisle Barracks, one of the country’s oldest active military installations. In addition, Dickinson College, chartered in 1785, with about 2,500 undergraduates is there, three blocks from downtown. (But nothing in Carlisle is far from downtown.)

 Perhaps on another trip to Carlisle (not likely, but, hey, who knows?), I will visit the museum at the War College or Trout Gallery at Dickinson, which seems to put on some interesting art exhibits, but on this trip we just went to the Cumberland County Historical Society. It was already mid-afternoon when we got there.

 On the one hand, the museum is generic encapsulating the history of many similar towns of the Northeast: There was a section on the pioneers who settled the area in the eighteenth and nineteenth century (most towns in this region emerged then). There were other displays on the industry or crafts that emerged in the 1800s. After all, there had to be some reason why a settlement grew. In Williamsport, for example, it was lumber. In Cumberland County, it was partly farming (it is in a rich agricultural area), but Carlisle also had diverse industries not just one dominant one.

A small-town museum must have a section on the prominent citizens who most benefited from the early wealth of the place. This, however, is invariably followed by a section on the town’s decline in the twentieth century. If there had been no decline, then the place would have continued to grow so that it would not just be a small town today. Then the museum almost always has a careful attempt at boosterism. First, something on how the town coped after that decline and a little bit about the success of the place today. In addition, perhaps something on churches and religious movements and definitely displays on local participation in our various wars. And something on the lighter side—sports or music.

The Cumberland County Historical Society had all this with some distinctive local touches. Carlisle, for example, was twice invaded by Confederates during the Civil War, and the town housed prisoners of war from both Germany and Japan during World War II. But I wanted to see the museum because a show about it on the Pennsylvania Cable Network indicated that it had several other unique displays that intrigued me.

I had never heard of Wilhelm Schimmel until I saw the TV presentation. He was a nineteenth century folk artist, born in Germany in 1817, who emigrated to Cumberland County during the Civil War. Using salvaged wood, he carved animals, frequently eagles, and human figures in a primitive style. He colorfully painted the pieces. They are striking. Schimmel was an “itinerant,” which in his case meant that he could not hold a steady job and sold his carvings for a few pennies or bartered them for food and lodging. And drink. Schimmel appears to have been an alcoholic with an ugly disposition who landed in jail more than once. On one of those occasions in 1869, he broke up an office and got in a brawl. It took three men to subdue him, and then, according to a contemporary news report, he “became perfectly docile.” He was charged with assault with intent to kill and pleaded guilty to simple assault. “He was sentenced to one year in jail, a fine of six cents plus costs.” I have no explanation for a six-cent fine. When he died in 1890, a local newspaper’s obituary said Schimmel had made “his headquarters in jails and almshouses and died at the almshouse. . . . He was apparently a man of very surly disposition.”

Today, however, his creations are collectors’ items. They routinely sell for thousands of dollars all the way up to $50,000. His work can be found in several museums including the Art Institute of Chicago. The Carlisle museum has perhaps the largest collection of Schimmel pieces. I was happy to see them, but I was a bit disappointed that there were not even more.

The Cumberland County Historical Society is also different from other small-town museums, not only in being free, but by having a display about the inventor of the telephone. You may be surprised that Alexander Graham Bell lived in Pennsylvania, but the exhibit is not about AGB. It highlights instead one Daniel Drawbaugh who was born near Carlisle in 1827. By the time of his death in 1911, he had invented many things, some of which were on display in the museum, including an ingenious coin sorter. Yes, but did Drawbaugh invent the telephone?

Alexander Graham Bell received patents for the telephone in the 1870s. Others, however, claimed that they had preceded Bell in the invention and companies competing with the American Bell Telephone Company sought to invalidate the patents. The Peoples Telephone Company heard stories that Drawbaugh had produced a telephone a decade before Bell’s but that he had not had the money to patent his invention. Peoples funded a lawsuit for Drawbaugh, who apparently made a lousy witness. Nevertheless, his case and a collection of others challenging Bell’s patent, mostly funded by Western Union, made their way to the United States Supreme Court, where, in 1888, the Court upheld Bell by a four to three vote. Two justices did not sit. I don’t know why. I also cannot summarize for you the issues and the justices’ opinions, which I am told take up an entire volume of the Supreme Court reports. My curiosity does not run to four or five hundred pages; it caps at five to ten.

This story does intrigue me, however. If one vote had shifted, the history of American business would be significantly different, and we might all know the name Daniel Drawbaugh. I believe that histories are waiting to be written about the many consequential patent fights in this country, of which this was one.

The Carlisle museum is also different from other small-town museums because of its unique display concerning the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the prime reason I wanted to visit the historical society.

(to be continued)

Road Trip–Fallingwater Edition (continued)

          Except for the lack of choices of nearby restaurants, the Hartzell House was a model bed and breakfast. Our spectacular room and bath had been designed with a wheelchair in mind, so the spouse in particular loved the easy walk-in shower. The rest of the house had a comfortable dining room, great food, welcoming public rooms for reading or chatting with other guests. The guests we met were pleasant. One couple from Rochester were going on to Louisville to see friends and then return to Pittsburgh for a few days. Their trip was a short one for them—ten days. They told us they took frequent six-week trips to Europe.

          Another couple, Dick and Barbara, were from Vermont. Both were retired—he as an engineer in a small aeronautics firm and she as a middle school math teacher. They were now snowbirds wending their way south to their home on Florida’s west coast. They had been to a wedding in Philadelphia, and after our B and B, they were off to see relatives (and racetracks) in Lexington, Kentucky. Dick, however, was most looking forward to three days in Memphis where they planned to visit Graceland. The seventy-seven-year-old said that he listened regularly to Elvis while driving. We all exchanged stories about when we had first seen or heard Presley, and I pulled up on my iPad Elvis’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, which Dick, the spouse, and I watched together.

          All of us were at the inn to see Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed house, famous for its horizontal, cantilevered construction situated over a small waterfall. The house, built in the late 1930s, was commissioned by Liliane and Edgar Kaufmann, the owner of Pittsburgh’s Kaufmann’s Department Store. They used it for weekends until their deaths. Ownership then passed to their son who, in 1963, donated it to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which opened it and its grounds to the public the next year.

          A reservation for a tour is required to see the house, and this is one time when Covid worked to our advantage. Before the pandemic, tours of fourteen were scheduled every six minutes. Now the departures are every twelve minutes with no more than eight in a group. The house did not feel crowded, and the viewing was leisurely, which must not have been true previously.

          The house, of course, is a marvel, but while I liked aspects of it, overall it did not appeal. The main house has low ceilings, which, I guess, are meant to force attention to the outdoors, but it did the opposite for me, giving a cramped feeling. I felt separated from nature in the house, not a part of it. The house has built-in furniture with lines that mimic the exterior but rarely seem inviting. A good house for me has to have good places to read, and this house failed that basic need. However, I did like the beautifully crafted built-in desks, and I would have moved into the separate guest wing–complete with creek-fed plunge pool–in an instant.

Taken by the Spouse
By the Spouse, again

          I have toured other Wright-designed buildings. Fallingwater brought back memories of the Robie House in Chicago, which was built much earlier. The Robie House also has horizontal lines that tend to make me feel squinched (a technical word) and has built-in furniture that echo the lines of the house, furniture that is stylish but not welcoming. The spouse articulated part of what I was feeling when she said, “Wright houses are creepy.” But I am glad that I saw it. It was worth the effort.

          Fallingwater also made me think of Ayn Rand and The Fountainhead. In it she created Howard Roark, an architect, who embodies a version of Rand’s ideal–a man of independence and integrity. The novel’s plot is bad soap opera; the writing is often embarrassing; but I found it to be a page-turner. The book was published only a few years after Fallingwater was built, and Frank Lloyd Wright has been seen as an inspiration for Howard Roark. However, Wright indicates why Rand’s “philosophy” is on the same level of philosophic insights found in a D.C. Comic. (In a New Yorker cartoon, a farmer and son stand in a cornfield with the stalks holding The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. The father says, “If they are reading Ayn Rand, they aren’t mature.”) Wright might have been a creative genius and strong-willed, but as Fallingwater indicates, he was not a truly independent man, and his artistic integrity had to be adaptable.

          An architect needs money to build the envisioned masterpiece, and that requires a patron. Wright needed Edgar Kaufmann, and as our guide made clear, Kaufmann vetoed some of Wright’s ideas and insisted that other details be included. Wright fought for what he wanted, but some of the time he had to yield unless he simply wanted to walk away from the project, which, obviously, he did not do. Apparently, the real-life architect was not an island unto himself.

          An exhibition in the Speyer Gallery, part of Fallingwater’s Visitors’ Center, also brought the “independent” man to mind. It displayed marvelous drawings by Joseph Urban, the Viennese-born architect, illustrator, and scenic designer. In 1928, Edgar Kaufmann asked Urban for Urban’s vision of how to redesign the main floor of Kaufmann’s Department store. The drawings, beautiful and meticulous, showed a dramatic Art Deco space, and I thought of going to Pittsburgh to see what Urban created. But at the end of the exhibit, I learned that Urban did not get the commission; Kaufmann picked someone else for the redesign. A patron may give the “independent” man leeway, but if you need a patron, you are not truly independent.

          Even so, some people read Ayn Rand as if she held a key to the universe. And there are other reasons to feel a sense of despair.

(To be continued.)

Road Trip–Fallingwater Edition (continued)

          Kitty, who owned the bed and breakfast near Fallingwater, came from a military family. This may have led to assumptions about her, but mine were immediately tempered when she showed us a refrigerator for our use. It held two carafes of reverse osmosis water. I have no idea what reverse osmosis water is (the scientist spouse tells me it’s free of impurities), but it sounded rather New-Agey and not something I expected in a military household. A few minutes later she pointed out the smart television in a common area but confessed that she did know how to operate it. David, her husband, would demonstrate it for us when he got home. She continued that she only knew how to get NPR on her radio. NPR. This is a military family?

          In a later conversation, she talked more about her kids. Both had been in the military. After her military stint, her daughter had been working for a federal agency. The Washington offices had been closed for Covid, and she had moved into a cottage in the back of the property. Kitty said that it had been her painting studio. I asked if the accomplished landscapes in the dining room were hers. “Yes,” she replied, “but they aren’t finished.” She looked at me quizzically when I chuckled, and I explained. “We visited an architect’s friend’s home that he had recently expanded. I asked if he was finished with the renovation, and he replied, ‘An architect never says that it is done because then it can be judged.’” Kitty smiled and said, “I like that.”

          Kitty indicated that her daughter had joined the military primarily to get training for a career, but her son, she said with a tiny tinge of disgust, “He wanted to be a warrior.” He, too, had left the military, but he had left because of “TBIs.” I did not immediately know what Kitty meant by that, but later she said he got his second traumatic brain injury stateside. Kitty said that he now had “impulse control” issues and no longer felt that he could effectively lead soldiers. After leaving the Army, he had run a food truck successfully in North Carolina, but recently a developer had taken him under his wing and was training him in the developer’s business. As Kitty mused about the possibility of a good future for her son, I could almost feel her fingers crossing.

          In another conversation, Kitty said that she and her husband had been in construction before they became innkeepers. Primarily they built for the military in southern California, but when a base shut down, they had to find other clients and did a lot of prison construction. Whatever conclusions I might have drawn about a prison contractor were tossed away when she said, “We forget that they are people, too.”

          I can definitely say one thing about Kitty and David: they are great cooks–and not just breakfast cooks. The first night we had a chef’s-choice, prix fixe dinner prepared by them in their open kitchen and dining room. Salad and green beans just picked from their garden, parmesan potatoes, and David’s smoked chicken, followed by a chocolate lava cake. Excellent. I had smoked a chicken a month before, and it had been quite a hit, but David’s was better, and I asked him about it. He had brined it for twenty-four hours, and in good pit master style, told me most, but not all the ingredients for the brine, just as he held back some information about the dry rub applied after the brining. However, he revealed perhaps the most important part of his technique. He carefully monitored the temperature of the smoking chicken, and when it reached 150 to 155 degrees, he took it out of the smoker. Normal advice, given for health reasons, is to cook a chicken until the breast meat is ten degrees warmer. David said that when he removes the chicken, he wraps it in heavy aluminum foil, and the covered bird continues to steam with its own moisture. This made for as juicy and tasty a chicken as I have ever had.

          The meal was so good that we immediately asked if we could eat there again the next night. Alas, Kitty and David require a 48-hour booking. The inn is in a sparsely populated area, and the occasional settlements—they could hardly be described as towns or villages—have few amenities. Any restaurant was hard to find, and many, perhaps because of Covid, were only open on weekends. Another guest said that the previous night they had managed to get sandwiches from a small grocery store miles away and had eaten them in their room. That did not seem appealing. A tavern or two with food were nearby, but Kitty recommended against them, although I am not entirely sure why since we had indicated that bar food was fine with us. Instead, she recommended a steak house that had a wide selection of food. A steak house in a rural area may be fine, but it did not seem especially appealing. After many internet searches, we found a restaurant a few minutes closer than the steak restaurant on the same road. It claimed, of course, wonderful food, but more important, its menu indicated that some of its choices might be slightly out of the ordinary.

          It was a straightforward drive of twenty-five minutes to Moon Shadow near Deep Creek Lake in Maryland. It had a twenty-eight-foot bar at which locals sipped beers, and an outdoor area with a lot of room for kids, not then in attendance, to play. We ate inside a cavernous room with mismatched tables and chairs, only a few of which were occupied. The makeshift stage for a band was empty.

One goal on our road trips is to find a restaurant where, as we put it, someone is cooking, not just reading the microwave directions on institutionally prepared food. And someone at Moon Shadow was, indeed, trying. The spouse had a sous vide pork loin with rosemary (a bit too much rosemary, the spouse reported), not something on the menu of most bars. I had a beefalo meatloaf with a homemade barbecue sauce. Both were quite good. The spouse’s came with tasty baby carrots that were perfectly cooked; mine with garlic peas that were good, but had a bit too much garlic. The over seasoning indicated someone was trying to turn out good, distinctive food, but also revealed inexperience or food insecurity. As an amateur cook, I identified. When ginger or thyme is a highlight in a dish, I tend to add a little more of it than necessary to make it even more outstanding. Perhaps it is only the exceptional chef who has the confidence to season subtly. Nevertheless, when someone tries to present distinctive food–excellent or not–I appreciate the effort as I did at Moon Shadow.

We had come to the restaurant at twilight, but it was dark when we left. We had been using one of those GPS apps that directs you to your destination. I am somewhat nostalgic for the AAA triptiks that always produced a bit of excited anticipation when they arrived before a vacation, but if you don’t know what I am talking about, you’re probably too young to be reading this, and I am not going to explain. The modern technology is much better, and I now sometimes wonder how anyone made it efficiently to an unfamiliar destination in olden (fifteen years ago?) days. However, the Waze lady directing us back to our bed and breakfast decided to toy with us. The trip to the restaurant had been entirely straightforward: turn right at the major intersection and follow that major road for 17 minutes until the restaurant appeared on the right. For our return, however, Ms. Waze put us on unknown local roads—turn right, turn left, go straight, take the left fork—all of which might have made for a scenic drive in daylight, but was somewhat anxiety-producing at night. We were looking for a turn she promised was ahead when the road appeared to run out at some sort of machine shop operating at nine at night. A friendly-looking man came over and apologized for blocking the road. He was amused that the internet device had sent us his way. I then asked a question that I could never before have dreamt of asking: “Do you know where Pig’s Ear Road is?” He told us it was just on the other side of his machinery. We thanked him, swerved around his work, and turned left at the road that had not been visible before. In a few miles, we made it to familiar territory and were soon getting ready for bed. Somehow, it all felt like that impersonal voice had been playing a practical joke.

Road Trip–Fallingwater Edition

We spent our one night in Williamsport at the historic Genetti Hotel, built in 1922 as the Lycoming Hotel when lumbering was still booming in the area. The tallest building downtown (ten stories) with 200 rooms, the Genetti proudly proclaims that it was a speakeasy and bootlegging center during prohibition, has ghosts, and in its heyday hosted many famous people whose pictures line a hall off the lobby. The Lycoming Hotel, as did Williamsport, declined after World War II. The hotel was sold to Gus Genetti and renamed in the late twentieth century. Upgrades have been made to the place, but it retains a certain shabby aura that somehow befits the place. The staff was friendly and helpful, however, and our modest suite, at a modest price, was perfectly fine.

Our difficulty, however, was in finding a place for dinner. We had identified what we thought was a good Williamsport restaurant, but it was not open Sunday night when we were there. We soon found out that most other restaurants in Williamsport were also closed Sunday evenings. That friendly Genetti staff identified the one or two nearby places that were serving, and we were grateful to walk to a quiet pub populated with locals (Williamsport outside of the Little League World Series is not a tourist mecca) that a had a good hamburger and a good pork chop with a good selection of beer. It satisfied.

          The next morning we headed to Fallingwater driving interstates, state highways, and local roads. On the major arteries, signs primarily state the towns and the institutions at the exits. Again, I was struck by the number of educational institutions. Who knew there was an Altoona Bible Institute? On the local roads, however, we spotted a variety of yard signs. Pennsylvania seems to have a plethora of frequently held local elections producing yard signs that usually contain just the candidate’s name and the office sought. (Who runs for tax collector? What are the campaign promises? How do voters make their decisions?) A few yard signs said, “God Bless Our Troops.” (I wondered if this was meant that God should not bless the rest of humanity.) More proclaimed, “We Support the Police.” (And I wondered what that support consisted of and whether my assumption was correct that the signs indicated how the owners felt about Black Lives Matter and the conservative notions of critical race theory.) And what I don’t think I would have seen a decade ago a year after a presidential election and three years before the next one, signs about our national leader. I did not notice any signs supporting Biden, but I did see “Fuck Biden.” (I felt like leaving an ugly graffito that said, “Well, your mother did.”) Some signs seemed left over from last year, saying “Trump 2020.” Others were forward looking with “Trump 2024,” with a more expansive one: “Trump 2024. No More Bullshit.” This I thought was inconsistent unless the owner adopted my position that, in spite of his many falsehoods, Trump is not a bullshitter because a bullshitter has to care about facts and the truth. (See post of December 11 and 14, 2017, “The Bullshitter in Chief: The Bullshitter-in-Chief – AJ’s Dad ( and The Bull-Shitter-in-Chief (Concluded) – AJ’s Dad (

          We did not drive straight through on the longish drive from Williamsport to Addison, Pennsylvania, where our bed and breakfast lodging was located. Instead we detoured to see Lincoln Caverns and Whispering Rock, discovered in 1930 during road construction and owned by the same family since shortly after their discovery. Our descent was led by an affable guide who had spent most of her life in the area. We got an early dose of Halloween because one of the caves was outfitted with “gruesome” dummies and props for spooky tours that were to begin in a few days. This, however, did not interfere with viewing the awesomeness of the caves and its calcite flows including “bacon” formations that looked startingly like the real thing. Limestone underlies much of Pennsylvania, and this apparently results in the creation of many caves. We had seen several signs for other caves open to the public. I asked about the “competitors,” and the guide said that they did not view other caves open to the public as competitors but as colleagues in a joint enterprise. Moreover, the gift shop tried to have brochures from every public cave in the country. I enjoyed our descent, learned much, and now hope to visit other caverns. 

Lincoln Cavern by the Spouse

          After a pleasant outdoor lunch (it was unseasonably warm October weather for all of our trip) in the small town of Huntingdon (home to Juniata College founded by members of the Church of the Brethren in 1876), we drove to our lodgings for the next two nights, Hartzell House, the B and B about ten miles from Fallingwater. The original part of the house was built in 1870 by a returning civil war veteran, but it has been expertly expanded by its present owners and our hosts, Kitty and David.

          Kitty again showed me to be wary of the facile, cliched assumptions that I can make. She led us to our room and opened the closet pointing to robes for our use. We commented on the two military uniforms also hanging there. Kitty said they had belonged to her father who had been in the Army Air Corps in World War II, and that is why this was called the Patriot Suite. (The room also had a dozen books on military history.) She went on to say that both her son and daughter had been in the military, and, reflexively, because of all these connections to the armed services, I drew conclusions about Kitty and her values and politics. But these became almost immediately upended.

Road Trip–Fallingwater Edition

          Compared to those of some of my friends, my travels have been limited. I have not been to Tanzania, South Africa, or Ethiopia. I have not gone to Kazakhstan or Mongolia. I have been to neither Argentina, Brazil, nor Chile. I have not been to Japan, China, or Singapore, or New Zealand or Australia, or even Scotland or Ireland, much less the Faroe or Shetland Islands. But, in pre-Covid times when the spouse and I talked about trips to some of these places, we also realized that we had not traveled to many potentially interesting parts of the United States, some not far from us. We started planning driving trips to places we had not been before with stops along the way to see some local attractions.

          And so, recently we drove from our northeast Pennsylvania house with the goal of visiting Fallingwater, the house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright over a small waterfall. The trip had been planned months before with hopes of seeing some fall foliage along the way. While occasionally we had stretches of a mile or two with yellows and reds, the deciduous trees remained largely green, perhaps, we speculated, because the autumn had been warm. We realized, though, that we did not know why leaves turned colors—was it colder weather or shortening days or both? Although we have many, many years of education between us, we had to concede ignorance of these matters.

          The first leg of our trip was a two-hour drive from our Pocono Mountains home to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a town of about 30,000, perhaps best known today as the home of the Little League World Series and a museum for the same. That held little interest for me, but it did not matter because the museum was not open, presumably because of Covid.

          We arrived for lunch at the Sawhorse Café, a tiny, crowded restaurant on the edge of a college campus with good food that came after an inordinately long wait. I was struck yet again by the fact that this country has a vast number of colleges and universities many of which, even though I was an academic for decades, I have never heard of or know little about, including Lycoming College which was a few blocks from the café. To my surprise I found that Lycoming, a private coeducational institution of about 1,200 undergraduates and affiliated with the United Methodist Church, was one of the oldest colleges in the country with roots going back to the early nineteenth century. I had at least heard of Lycoming before going to Williamsport, but I had no previous knowledge of the public Pennsylvania College of Technology, with 5,400 undergrads, which is also located in Williamsport.

          After lunch we went to the Thomas T. Taber Museum of the Lycoming County Historical Society. (Mr. Taber is a local historian and philanthropist.) The spouse and I have now learned to seek out small-town museums. Many of them are surprisingly good, exposing us to history and artists we do not know. The Taber Museum is an outstanding example with geology, Native American, lumbering, weaving, and blacksmithing exhibits. The spouse was most impressed with a demonstration of a complicated, ingenious, nineteenth-century rickrack weaving machine. (She had to educate me about rickrack.) We were both amazed that someone had invented such a thing that was simultaneously useful and beautiful.

          I was drawn to the extensive displays about the development of Williamsport’s lumbering industry, the source of the region’s late nineteenth century wealth. It was clear that the work was hard and dangerous, not just the felling of the timber but also the floating of a huge number of logs down a branch of the Susquehanna River where Williamsport is located. The industry was essential in the development of the town, but, of course, a ready supply of lumber fueled the development of many parts of America.

          In the blacksmith section, I learned that oxen have small hooves split into two sections. Each foot requires two small shoes, but oxen cannot support their massive weight on only three legs. The smithy could not shoe an ox the way I had seen horses shoed many times in old western movies where the leather-aproned blacksmith picks up a leg and nails on a horseshoe. Instead, a sling was invented to bear part the ox’s weight so that a leg could be raised and the two ox shoes could be hammered onto each foot.

          Other exhibits documented Williamsport’s famous Repasz Brass Band, which was founded in 1831 and claims to be the country’s longest continuously operated band. However, the Taber Museum is especially known for its model trains, a collection of one person, Larue Shempp. It contains over 2,000 pieces and 347 complete train sets, some of which run in large, interactive displays. Awesome.

          The visit-worthy Taber Museum is housed in a modern building, but it is situated on Millionaires’ Row, a national historic district. The street is lined with fantastic, extravagant homes built in the Victorian era. The town proclaims, “Once the Lumber Capital of the World, Williamsport had more millionaires per person than any other city in the USA.” I remembered a similar boast when we were in Merida, Yucatan, which proclaims that, at the turn of the 20th century, Merida had more millionaires than any other city in the world. I wonder how many other towns or cities make similar claims.

Most of the homes on Williamsport’s Millionaires’ Row have now been broken up into apartments and offices, but the Rowley House, finished in 1888, is open to the public—unfortunately not on the day we were there. The helpful, friendly staff member at the Taber Museum made a call to a gregarious, eighty-nine-year-old volunteer at the Rowley House. He agreed to meet us there and show us around, but then he remembered that an alarm was set. He had not written down the code and could not recall it, and, thus, we could not visit the nineteenth century house.


A reason I know that I am an optimist: When I look in the mirror, I only see the hairs that remain, not the areas they have vacated.

“A pessimist is a man who has been compelled to live with an optimist.” Elbert G. Hubbard.

Below “Exit 18,” the roadside sign said, “Attractions.” Sadly, nothing was listed.

Baseball playoffs are taking place and again I wonder how it originated that baseball players throw the ball around the infield after the first and second outs with no runner on base? Why is the first baseman often excluded from the ritual? Why does the third baseman always throw the baseball to the pitcher?

Remember “crack babies”? Thirty years ago, the press was filled with stories about children being born to mothers addicted to crack cocaine, often somewhat politely called “crack mothers,” but often labeled “crack whores.” The kids were supposedly permanently damaged and would harm society for generations to come. So, they should be harming us inordinately right now. Why don’t we hear about that? Is it because those scare stories weren’t true? And a quick experiment: Imagine a “crack baby” or a “crack mother.” Did any of you see a white woman or white child?

“Racism is pervasive. The pretense that it belongs solely to poor people who talk slow lets the rest of us off the hook.” Rebecca Solnit, The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness.

I believe that I am planning for the future when I buy two cases of beer instead of one.

Sign on the back of a “waste management” truck: “Satisfaction guaranteed, or your garbage refunded.”

I learned that Norman Rockwell, the famous illustrator of American home life, and his first wife practiced free love. Perhaps you already knew that. If not, would you now look at his illustrations differently?

I have a book in my hand. It seems permanent, not so much the physical object, but the content. And, of course, to some extent that is true. I have read books that were published centuries ago, but most books, even well-received ones, are quickly forgotten. Whenever I get a book out of the library, I look at the return dates stamped in the book. Most of the older ones have not been checked out in years. A physical book may still be on somebody’s shelves, but does it really exist if it is not read?

Why is it when you sleep fitfully all night that you are sound asleep when it is time to get up?

First Sentences

“In the corner of the small living room of the small country house at the end of the dirt road beneath the blue Carolina sky, the dark-skinned five-year old boy sat with his knees pulled to his chest and his small, dark arms wrapped around his legs and it took all that he had to contain the laughter inside the thrumming cage of his chest.” Jason Mott, Hell of a Book.

“We all want to know how it was in the beginning.”Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea.

“Well, the sun was shining.” Rumaan Alam, Leave the World Behind.

“The silence was excruciating, the minutes ticking by thick and heavy, time itself gorging on the tension in the humid air.” Ben Mezrich, Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs—A True Story of Ambition, Wealth, Betrayal, and Murder.

“Mayya, forever immersed in her Singer sewing machine, seemed lost to the outside world.” Jokha Alharthi, Celestial Bodies.

“English rule of Ireland was achieved by force, maintained by force.” Wayne G. Broehl, Jr., The Molly Maguires.

“I was born to be a wanderer.” Maggie Shipstead, Great Circle.

“On the third day of October 1901, Abram S. Hewitt was a happy man.” Clifton Hood, 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York.

“Still hours of dark to go when I left home that morning.” Emma Donoghue, The Pull of the Stars.

“Senior Lieutenant Alexander Logachev loved radiation the way other men loved their wives.” Adam Higginbothan, Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster.

“Simon the Fiddler had managed to evade the Confederate conscription men because he looked much younger than he was and he did everything he could to further that impression.” Paulette Jiles, Simon the Fiddler.

“Texas, perhaps more than any other state in the Union, lives in the public imagination as a place of extremes.” Annette Gordon-Reed, On Juneteenth.

“On Saint Patrick’s Day, Daniel Coleman, an agent in the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation handling foreign intelligence cases, drove down to Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, to report for a new posting.” Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.

“The day was flat.” Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain.

“On October 5, 1936, thousands of people packed the unpaved roads of Van Meter, Iowa.” Luke Epplin, Our Team: The Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series that Changed Baseball.