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When I was growing-up we moved quite frequently – being the new kid at school was not at all an uncommon experience for me. And, these moves brought more changes than living in a different house and going to a different school. There were times we lived in nice suburban houses with a living room and family room and sliding glass doors to a backyard patio, etc – and there were times we lived with family or in a cheap apartment. But, easily, the biggest move that introduced the most dramatic change in my life was when I was about 10 years old and we moved from the San Francisco area to Harrisburg Pa.
I was slapped in the face with a whole new world, a world that was much older and darker than the world I had known so far. I had lived in places called ‘San Jose’ and ‘Santa Rosa’ that were clear and clean – now I was hearing about places called ‘Wormleysburg’ and Kutztown’ and everything seemed overcast and grimy. I didn’t like our house and I didn’t like Harrisburg Pa at all – except . . .
The very particular place we happened to land at in Harrisburg was a wondrous land called ‘Park Street’ . . . the 1800 block of Park Street to be precise. And I need to be precise about that because in the mid 1960s the 1800 block of Park Street in Harrisburg Pa was a children’s paradise. Let me tell you about this remarkable little block. This was a very narrow one-way street of close together 3 story double homes, with a very narrow alley between each double home. Every house had a small front porch with 3 steps the lead to the sidewalk – no front yards . . . 5 or 6 steps outside your front door and you’re on the public sidewalk. And just about every house had a tree in front of it. These trees were all trunk for about 10 or 12 feet and then full foliage that spread-out across the street meeting the full foliage of the trees reaching over from the other side of the street. Park Street had a green, leafy canopy covering it – from 19th Street at the top of the hill looking down to 18th, Park Street looked like a tree-lined leafy tunnel-like village.
Both the Catholic and the public schools were about 3 blocks away, there was a penny candy shop a couple of blocks in one direction and a soda fountain a couple of blocks in the other direction, a vast public park a block and a half away, and a Saturday matinée at the Penway Theater every (and I mean every) Saturday. But, here’s the most descriptive aspect of Park Street, it’s most defining feature – between 1964 and 1966 just about every-other house on Park Street had a 10 year old boy in it. There were 10 year old girls around as well, and 6 year old boys and 14 year old girls, etc, etc – but the number of 10 year old boys on that one block at that one time was ludicrous.
Park Street was the best place I ever lived. The 3 years I lived there were jam-packed with some of my very favorite memories. Park Street meant a lot to me, it made a drastic move from fresh and new California to dreary and old Pennsylvania more than merely bearable – it made it a delight and one of the greatest adventures of my life. But that was me. . . . the course of my life was such that Park Street was a crucial time and place for me, it shaped me, it helped me define within myself who I was and wanted to be. But, as I say, that was me . . . was Park Street as magical as I remembered it to be, was it so special to all the other little kids who lived there, did I romanticize Park Street into this wondrous children’s paradise because I needed it to be that – or was it genuinely as remarkable a place objectively and to others as it was to me personally?
The title of this little tale is “The Reunion” because, Park Street was in fact and genuinely a remarkable place, I did not reshape my memories into an account that served me best, it really was a special place for all who lived there. Not too long ago the strikingly cute little girl who lived next-door to me on Park Street found me on Facebook. Over several lunches we more and more discovered that Park Street loomed large for both of us, we both cherished that time and those memories. But, this, these lunches with the little girl I ‘married’ in the alley between our houses, is not the reunion. We wondered out loud to each other if we could find any other Park Street kids. And we did. Then we wondered if any of them would like to get together.
The 3H Club - Billy, Mickey, Georgie (Heckman, Haist, & Houser)
Now, there are family reunions, school reunions, military & workplace reunions, etc – but how often do you hear of a reunion of a particular street, of a specific single block of that street? Park Street was so special to so many people that we had a reunion scheduled within days, we had people coming from states away . . . from Colorado to Pa! So, was a Park Street reunion all wishful thinking, were we all overly romanticizing? The unanimous and enthusiastic response of this reunion was to schedule another one for those who couldn’t make this one and for those we couldn't find in time, and actually, just for ourselves, to have a Park Street reunion every year.
Moving so frequently, always being the new kid, this makes owning a sure sense of yourself not a sure and easy thing. My thoughts and feelings about Park Street were very important to me, but I was always unsure if my perception of that time in my life was legitimate, I questioned myself about how I remembered it and what it meant to me – had I manufactured and packaged for myself a neat and handy happy memory that aided me more than the reality? This reunion resolved those lingering questions, my perception and feeling for Park Street were validated by 20 or 30 other grown-up Park Street kids . . . Park Street was a special place to just about all of us, and it’s that ‘us’, being part of an 'us', that means so much to the little boy who was always the new kid.
Now, here's the whole story in just two photos. Below is just a section of a reunion photo . . . I cropped the photo to this particular section because I want you to notice the two men standing in the middle of the back row. That's me (brown shirt & bald) and my buddy from across the street, Michael (blue shirt & ball cap). Remember the classroom photo I included above . . ? . . that was my 6th grade class. Now look below ~
p.s. the pretty lady in front of me, in the sunglasses, is the little girl next door, Barb, whose sister Mary performed the ceremony when we were 'married' in the alley between our houses . . . and the one responsible for this great treat so many years later.
Below is a close-up crop of the reunion photo next to a close-up crop of the 6th grade class photo - that's me and Michael, side-by-side in each nearly 50 years in-between. I never imagined anything like this would happen and I do treasure that it has.
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