Hummelstown Revisited

June 1, 2000
Thursday 

Memories are our lives, for we possess nothing certainly except the past. . . . They are the memorials and the pledges of the vital hours of a lifetime.
                                                     —
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

I registered Lynn for hockey camp today. That might not seem like much of an event, certainly not something worth writing a journal piece about. In truth, it’s not so much the registering that is noteworthy. It’s the process I went through to accomplish it.The camp is a week-long half-day affair headed by the varsity field hockey coach of the school where I used to teach. For her staff, she engages a number of top-notch collegiate and national club players, many of whom she coached as schoolgirls. She’s been coaching at my old school since 1974, and it would be easier to count the years when her team has not won at least a regional title than it would be to list the years when they have. They’ve won the state title twice.

Beyond her talents as a coach, however, Linda is everything a parent would want for a daughter’s role model. To be in the same room with her is to feel encouraged, and if Lynn went to that school I would pull strings and call in favors to see that she was in this woman’s science class as well as on her team roster. This summer camp is my chance to have a little of Coach Linda’s character influence Lynn.

But even for something that is obviously of great importance to me, my characteristic procrastination took over. There was also the matter of a conflict with Lynn that occurred only a few days after she brought home the brochure for this camp. Our congregation’s Vacation Bible School (another of those activities I always held up as non-negotiable) is scheduled for the same week, and I had already decided that Lynn could skip it this year in favor of the camp, a move I did not make lightly.

Then another event presented itself — a week-long trip with another family to visit friends who have moved away. For a variety of reasons, I was not in favor of this trip even if it did not conflict with hockey camp. Lynn made the mistake of announcing she couldn’t go to hockey camp because she was going to Florida, a huge fight ensued, with tears, shouting, and ultimatums, and I put the hockey brochure away along with the recently-arrived package of a dozen “free” CDs that Lynn had ordered, and the accompanying bill for $30 shipping and handling.

The CD place sent me another bill. Yesterday I couldn’t find the hockey brochure.

So I called the coach at home last evening. Of course there was room for Lynn, she said. Bonnie in the senior high athletic office has the brochures. They are also available at the middle school, where Linda teaches.

I could probably have persuaded her to take the information over the phone and then mailed her a check. All the registration form asks for is name, address, age, and level of experience. But I didn’t want to ask for too many extraordinary accommodations.

This morning I attended a grants writing workshop at a downtown arts center. This means that I was dressed and groomed for a day at work. When the meeting ended at 10:30 I decided to get the hockey thing taken care of. I needed to go out there anyway, to the Hummelstown branch of the county library for a particular Pennsylvania German resource, faster than waiting for it to come to my branch. Both schools are within five blocks of the library. Just do it.

To get to Hummelstown you take Route 322 toward Hershey and get off at Middletown Road. The ramp takes you up a long slope to a left turn (there’s a light there now) onto an overpass that becomes South Hanover Street, the entrance to the tiny borough that Newt Gingrich called home until he was twelve years old. At the top of the ramp you can see the high school crowning a crest that sweeps down into the athletic fields.

I drove this route every working day of my life from June of 1970 when I signed on to write the new curriculum until June of 1998 when circumstances told me it was time to move on with my life. Sometimes, on misty moisty mornings, the school is shrouded in a fog that rolls up off the playing fields, and you can wonder for a moment if the ground has opened and the place has fallen into one of the subterranean limestone caverns upon which the whole town is built.

Today, however, was a “Susquehanna Sparkler,” the air just beginning to take on a haze that would envelope us by late afternoon. I stopped at the light and planned the next half hour — first down Hanover Street and left on Railroad to the library, then out to Main and east to the new middle school on Quarry Road. I’m not well known to the office staff at the middle school. Chances are I could ask for the form, fill it out, and be gone, giving the impression I was just an ordinary parent.

But at some moment before the light changed, I came to understand that entering my old building for the first time in two years was something I had to do.

I turned in at the west gate and then took the driveway up to the front of the building. I almost NEVER drove this way. It’s the bus lane in the mornings, and anyway, the staff parking is all behind the building. We always used the back door, the servants’ entrance, I guess.

This time I pulled into a visitor’s space beside the flag pole. As I approached the front door I could see that the cafeteria was swirling with activity. I glanced at my watch. Ah yes. 11:05, first lunch.

The area between the showcase and the office door seemed smaller than before. To my surprise, someone called out “Hi Mrs. D!” — one of my ninth graders from 1998, now completing her junior year. She’s part of the last class that will remember me. I stopped to talk to her briefly. She gave me a copy of the school newspaper, which she was distributing.

At the office door I ran right into the principal. “Hello Margaret!” he said, as if our last conversation had been cordial and taken place two hours rather than two years ago.

I was greeted warmly in the office. I always had a good relationship with the secretaries. They knew about my grant (I sent a press release to the Hummelstown weekly before I sent one to the Harrisburg or the Reading city dailies) and they congratulated me on that achievementI went around the counter to get the hockey papers from Bonnie, sat myself down at a work table to fill it out (as I might have had it been a field trip request or a supply order), took a paper clip and an old envelope from the tray on Bonnie’s desk, addressed it to Linda at the middle school, and dropped it in the interoffice mail myself. I used the staff bathroom, chatted with old friends who happened to come by, and then took my leave.

I’d been there ten minutes. My heart was not pounding, I was not feeling threatened.

Some feelings, I know, I “stuffed,” psychobabble for an unwillingness to face painful issues. But I also noted that I calmly drove home and chatted to Ron about mutual acquaintances I’d seen at the grants meeting while I fixed myself a nutritious lunch of cottage cheese, peanut butter, raisins, and bean sprouts wrapped in a heated tortilla instead of stopping at Reed’s Bakery on Main for a dozen sticky buns to be consumed on the way home.

If you know anything about using food as a drug, you’ll know that this first visit back was a great success.

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