A PLACE FOR ALL SEASONS
October arrived this year with a quietness that seemed almost abrupt.
Maybe it’s because, with the store shuttered while Bob Andrews takes the month-long vacation he’s earned after seven straight years, fewer people are milling about. Familiar patterns are disrupted.
Absence, wrote Francis Davidson in 1602, makes the heart grow fonder. Four hundred and one years later, Mount Gretnans are discovering what that really means. Folks now having to get in their cars and drive for their milk, bread, and delightful assortment of out-of-town newspapers have a renewed appreciation for Bob, for the service he delivers to this community, and for just how important a role the store plays in our lives.
About town, the crowds are gone. The leaves are taking on a tinge of color. Here and there, a scattering of joggers and hikers circle the lake and make their way along the trails. Year ‘rounders share a secret: In the fall, Mount Gretna is, well, almost perfect.
It’s easier to find a table for breakfasts and lunches at Le Sorelle Porch & Pantry Café. Theater crowds at The Timbers are gone, so mostly locals now gather for fireside dinners. And those spaghetti and build-your-own-burger nights still abound at The Hideaway, yet even there the tempo is somewhat subdued. Among those who remain, there are knowing nods and familiar greetings as people stroll along even quieter streets, making daily treks to the Center of Our Universe: The United States Post Office, Mount Gretna, PA 17064, U.S.A.
Yet, even amid the quiet, few would fret that there’s nothing to do.
First, there’s that big gala for Gretna Theater coming up Saturday at the Hotel Hershey and a pre-concert reception for Gretna Music volunteers Sunday at Elizabethtown College. The following weekend, block shoot volunteers will hold a drawing in the Fire Company’s Jeep raffle (where tickets are still available, and the chances of winning better than any lottery most of us ever will see). The Winterites are already busy, with a crafts demonstration by folk artist Arline Althouse, whom many regard as Mount Gretna’s Grandma Moses. And of course there’s that widely heralded event, the Oct. 31 Mount Gretna Halloween Parade, the only one in America where parade marchers outnumber parade watchers by a ratio of 20 to one.
And it’s also a busy time for maintenance crews, as they collect leaves and brush, repair streets, and install new water pipes and fire hydrants. They’re also getting their plows ready to swing into action at the first snowflake sighting. And they’re still undoing some of the damage of summer’s torrential downpours.
Among cottage and home owners, it’s also fix-up, spruce-up, store-away time as they cover rockers, wicker tables, and swings, and prepare to settle in for warm, cozy nights by the fire in a town where, every year about this time, roughly half the population disappears.
Like the Oscar-winning movie “A Man For All Seasons,” Mount Gretna is a place for all seasons. And fall, some of us think, is one of the best.
FOR OUR VENERABLE P.O., A TOUCH OF MODERNITY
Two changes are coming to the post office. One eliminates that front door key you’ve been carrying around all these years. The other cancels those last-minute dashes you’ve had to make to pick up packages before 4:30 p.m.
Postmaster Steve Strickler says an electronic lock will soon regulate entry through the front door. Exact opening and closing hours haven't been set, but he thinks they'll still allow plenty of time for people to get inside, both early in the morning and during evening hours.
The after-hours parcel pickup feature uses those four new boxes recently added alongside the indoor letter slots (the ones marked "Mount Gretna Mail Only" and "Out of Town."). Expecting a parcel and can't get in during the day? Call Steve or Kathy at 964-3804. They’ll leave a special parcel box key in your mailbox. Use the key to open one of the special parcel boxes, and remove your package. But don’t worry when the key stays stuck after you’ve opened the parcel storage box: It’s designed to work that way (preventing lost keys, of course.)
“We’re still learning how to use the parcel boxes most efficiently,” Steve says. “But the best way is for people who are expecting a package and know they can’t get in before we close to give us a call. We’ll leave their parcel in a box and a key for them to open it."
As for the front door, the new electronic lock will probably save headaches. "The old lock was constantly broken,” says Steve. “All those keys meant dirt got inside the lock. We'd call the locksmith. He'd fix it. Then it'd break again. Plus, people were always forgetting their front door keys. And leaving the building open with a broken lock wasn't a good idea either. We finally decided to solve the problem by getting rid of it," he says.
A CALL TO ARMS (REDUX)
Nobody, in our book, turns a finer phrase than that old buzzard-buster himself, Max Hunsicker. We asked about this year’s plans for keeping the buzzards at bay. Here’s his reply:
“We will be reviving the Mount Gretna vulture relocation project for the third year, and we are looking for ‘new blood’ to man the ranks of the faithful who go out and spook the little darlings every day.
“I just got our renewed permit from the Interior Department. Bill Care and I will recommend a continuation of last year's plan, with the USDA providing training for new volunteers, ammunition, and other support. We did the bulk of the organization and harassment ourselves. We expect that we will need to continue the effort at a maintenance level for a few years.
“I will be contacting our previous volunteers, although a computer crash last year wiped out my address book, and I may not have all of their e-mail addresses. I'm urging anyone willing to participate to send me a note (firstname.lastname@example.org). We need to accomplish this in a short period of time, because we want to be prepared when the first bird makes a deposit, so to speak.
”Meanwhile, those wishing to arm themselves for combat can purchase a personal 15mm single shot launcher from http://www.reedjoseph.com The cost is $29.50. As in the past, we intend to have the entities buy ammunition in bulk from USDA. I do not recommend that individuals buy ammo from Reed Joseph as there is a significant hazardous materials shipping charge for ammo. Thanks, Max.”
SOUNDS OF SILENCE?
Several readers have begun searching for creative ways to encourage more muted motorcycles hereabouts. The noise, they say, is getting louder, especially on summer Friday and Saturday nights when those adventuresome wayfarers roll into town. One reader, who divides his time between Mount Gretna and Manhattan, says the noise here sometimes is louder than outside his New York City apartment. Wow!
Cornwall Borough police looked into the matter and briefed the town fathers several months ago. Solutions aren’t as simple as you might think. The law governing motorcycle noise is cumbersome. It requires decibel meters and all sorts of variables, everything from whether the noise occurs in open fields or alongside sound-reflecting homes and buildings, whether the noise is held under canopies created by trees, and similar strictures. Under existing laws, unless a cyclist has altered the exhaust system, there’s not much anyone can do.
Why not just change the law? Chief Bruce Harris says that would probably help make enforcement easier, but he doesn’t know just how easy that would be. He and others are always open to creative ideas, however. So if you have some to suggest, send them along. After all, a community that single-handedly rebuilt its collapsed playhouse, supplied more than a million gallons of water to neighbors through a fire hose, and chased 600 turkey vultures out of town rarely seems short of inspired solutions.
TIPS FROM AN INTREPID TRAVELER
Evelyn Duncan, one of Mount Gretna's most energetic volunteers, is also one of its pluckiest. In town briefly last month, she’s now back on the road, motoring her way toward Maine before winter sets in. She’ll then return here for some motor home repairs before continuing a coastline-hugging trip down South.
So what do people ask her most often? Probably it’s, “Aren’t you frightened to travel alone?” Not really, says Evelyn. She recently met a woman in her 90s who's still driving a motor home herself. “So I figure I can keep doing this another 30 years or so.”
Ever cautious, Evelyn uses common sense, follows her instincts, and obeys a few rules: Never drive more than four or five hours a day. Always reserve campground space in advance and, if you don’t like the feel of the place, cancel the reservation and find another. Travel with Mr. Safety, a full-size doll that looks like a companion in the passenger seat. Have directions written out in advance. If you get lost, stop in a busy parking lot and recheck the map.
She also makes friends with fellow travelers in the campgrounds and, as a precaution, keeps a baseball bat just inside her door and a steel pipe beside her bed. “I did have my dog, Johnnie, with me. He died in August, but I kept the sign, ‘Warning: 80-pound Attack Greyhound Inside.’ If they knew Johnnie, they’d know the only thing he ever attacked was food. Common sense is what I use to keep myself out of trouble. So far, it’s worked.”
IN BRIEF (45 words or less)
 They warned her not to feed it. But Linda Bell didn’t listen. So now the cat that showed up looking for a handout is on the borough staff, dwelling inside a brown grocery bag. What to call it? “B.C.” of course, short for “Borough Cat.”
 Bill Care, meanwhile, hopes to buy a multipurpose $29,000 “Toolcat.” It’s a “wonder machine,” says Linda, eager to add it to the fleet of vehicles she can drive. With $15,000 worth of attachments, it picks up snow, hay bales, logs. . .almost everything.
 Heights officials, hoping to sell two building lots to pay for it, say that water interconnection with the borough will take place by next September. Planners would like to someday make a similar hook-up with the Campmeeting, assuring water for all in emergencies.
 Hoagy Hogentogler bounded into town last week, dispensing hugs, good cheer, and fond memories. The former mayor brought along a video camera to record the scenes, sounds, people, and places he loved before moving with wife Doris to Port Canaveral, Fla. a few years ago.
 Edie Miller issued a call for recipes for next summer’s second edition of Mount Gretna’s successful Volunteer Fire Company Cookbook. The first edition, now rarely glimpsed even on eBay, was a sellout. Send recipes to email@example.com, or Box 98, Mount Gretna, PA 17064.
 Gretna Theater producing artistic director Will Stutts signed a three-year contract last month. The Theater closes its 2003 season this Saturday, Oct. 11, with a “Come Home to Gretna” gala at The Hotel Hershey.
 Gretna Music will honor its volunteers this Sunday, Oct. 12, at a reception just before the American String Quartet concert, which opens the winter season of performances at Elizabethtown College. If you volunteered this summer but didn’t receive an invitation, call Carl Kane at 964-3836.
 Markwood Avenue’s Tom Miller shares wisdom of a 30-year AAA career: “Avoid restaurants with ‘Help Wanted – All Shifts’ signs.” “Use grocery store salad bars and bookstore coffee shops as alternatives to Interstate fast-food stops.” “Places called ‘Best Kept Secrets’ ought to stay that way.”
 Cornwall police will offer theft-deterring VIN etchings for autos 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Nov. 1. Etchings don’t harm a car’s appearance, and the cost (normally $75 or more) is free. Insurers sometimes offer discounts for cars with VIN-etched IDs. Call 274-2071 for an appointment.
 Mount Gretna artist Shelby Applegate and photographer Madelaine Gray invite visitors to a reception Wednesday Oct. 15 at Lebanon’s Harrisburg Area Community College, 735 Cumberland St. The college is displaying Shelby’s mixed-media works and Madeline’s photographs from France and Italy through Oct. 24.
 You won’t believe it. So to see for yourself the world’s first stained glass dome light in that bright yellow Dalemobile, now making Mount Gretna area deliveries for Dale Grundon Stained Glass Designs, click on http://www.dalesdelights.com/TownCar.html.
 Organist Walter McAnney plans a special recital for Mount Gretna residents and friends Saturday, Nov. 1 at the Hewitt-McAnney home, 1 Princeton Ave., starting at 2:30 p.m. All are welcome. Reservations requested. Call 964-3856.
 Mount Gretna artists Larry Lombardo and Eva Bender won honors at York Art Association’s 33d annual juried exhibit. Their works --- and others by Shelby Applegate, Glenn Acker, Barb Fishman, and Madeline Gray --- are displayed until Oct. 26 at the association’s 220 S. Marshall St. gallery.
 Mount Gretna’s 11th annual Christmas Tree Lighting, with community singing, anthems by the United Methodist Church choir, hot mulled cider and refreshments, takes place Saturday, Dec. 6 at the Hewitt-McAnney home, 1 Princeton Ave., 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
 Peter Hewitt invites suggestions for next summer’s Cicada Festival. “I want to express heartfelt thanks to committee members and volunteers who worked so conscientiously this year, providing for everyone a superb festival,” he says. Peter welcomes comments and questions. Call 964-3856.
 Ginger Pryor, a county extension bureau horticulturalist (and Mine Road resident since 1984), offers “firewise” programs featuring area forest fire experts for homeowners living in wooded areas. Like to learn more about practical fire safety measures you can take? Call 270-4391.
 Judges Choice winners at this year’s art show appear at http://www.mtgretnaarts.com. With artists from Toms River, N.J., Fredericksburg, Va., Woodbridge, Ct. and Sugar Loaf, Lockport, and Elmhurst, N.Y., local winners included Shillington’s Stephen Nelson, Lancaster’s Peg Richards and Richard Carner, and Elizabethtown’s Jim Bowman.
 Raising their hands to volunteer for free art show ticket distributions to their Timber Hills area neighbors next year: Tom and Gloria Sprecher and Gordie and Joan Lehman. They’ll save steps, stamps and countless hours, says appreciative show coordinator Linda Bell.
 Conewago Hills’ Lori Eckert invites Mount Gretnans to “Artifacts in Bloom,” featuring flower arrangements and speakers from England, next January at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. The Mount Gretna Garden Club’s Sue Loehr, 964-2225, hopes to organize a bus trip.
 Temple University Harrisburg in Strawberry Square invited Mount Gretna artist Barb Fishman to display her works in a show that runs until December. Barb, whose Lakeside Drive “studio in the trees” is now a familiar landmark, has 25 abstract oils on display.
 Barb Fishman’s studio will be one of 25 tour stops on the tricounty Art Studio Tour Nov. 8-9. The studios of Mount Gretna artists Shelby Applegate and Les Miller will also be on this year’s (5th annual) driving tour. See maps, details at www.art-studio-tour.com.
 Mount Gretna United Methodist Church’s musical praise group Wing and A Prayer adds St. James Church in Kimmerlings next month to the growing list of places where they’ve performed. Leaders invite youngsters to join the Rise and Shine Singers, a children’s choir. Call 964-1150.
 Sarah and Jim Ellis, of Village Lane, announce the birth of a grandson in Richmond, Va. Oct. 3. Proud parents are John and Maggie Ellis Bland. She’s a Palmyra grad, former Jigger Shop staffer, and was active in Mount Gretna’s United Methodist Church.
 Mount Gretnans Rev. David and Elaine Pierce will preview plans Oct. 19 for a tour they’ll lead to Ireland next July. Like to know more about Emerald Isle castles, abbeys, cathedrals, and cities they’ll explore? Call 964-2301 or 653-5493.
 Rex Everest offers nightly, weekly, or monthly rentals at 414 Yale Ave. Fully winterized, the three-bedroom cottage with a pullout queen sofa sleeps eight or more, has a fully equipped kitchen, and a wood-burning stove. Call 717-566-4840 or 566-5724.
ELIZABETH FORNEY WEAVER BROWN, 1918 – 2003
A few years ago, Betsy Brown asked about getting those lights repaired atop the stone pillars along Pinch Road, at the entrance to Brown Avenue. As we recall, the notion met with some reluctance. The wiring was old and would be costly to replace, someone said. Besides, vandals had broken the lights years ago. Likely they’d do so again. It didn’t seem a good idea.
But Betsy, a kindergarten teacher, knew instinctively that when you want something done, whether the people you’re dealing with are tall or small, you just have to keep after them. Betsy was nothing if not persistent. As a niece said at her funeral last month, Betsy was like Mount Gretna itself: “Vain, stubborn, kind, gentle, and welcoming. And always to everyone, a friend.”
Betsy got her way with those lights. The Chautauqua board eventually decided to fix them. Betsy also got her way after her husband Bob died a few years ago, when friends urged her to move to a retirement home. But for Betsy Brown, there was only one home. She remained there until nearly the very end. Her nephew, Joe Driscoll, who now owns the family cottage at the corner of Brown and Stevens Avenue, expressed thanks to the many friends and neighbors who helped with chores, allowing Betsy to stay in the cottage she loved.
When she passed away at the age of 85 on Sept. 4, Betsy was clearly one of Mount Gretna’s Grande Dames. Always fastidious in appearance. Always exhibiting the firm but kindly hand of a kindergarten teacher. Always with a deep and abounding love of Mount Gretna. That was Betsy Brown.
And those lights outside the windows of the cottage she loved? Unbroken and undisturbed, they’re still shining. Like the radiant spirit of Betsy Brown herself.
FINALLY, WHAT ISABEL TAUGHT
Mount Gretna’s lasting power outages usually come in winter. And in winter when the power goes out, most of us stay in. Bundling up, adding another sweater, huddling in darkened rooms illuminated and warmed by the flickering flames of our fireplaces.
But Isabel’s outage was different. Sometime during the evening of September 18, most of Mount Gretna went almost totally dark, with only the occasional glow of a gas lantern in the roughly half of those cottages still occupied. By morning, when the sun came up, the lines feeding electrical power into Mount Gretna along Mt. Wilson Rd. were still down. So for everyone in Mount Gretna except those in and around the Heights, there was no electricity. No coffee. No television news. No sounds of refrigerators, nor popup toasters, nor ceiling fans.
And, except for a smattering of generators pressed into service, there was silence. Utter silence.
Outside, temperatures were almost balmy. So rather than cocooning, people came outdoors. They walked around, checked in on neighbors, lingered longer at the post office, exchanged news, and wondered communally about when Met Ed’s crews might restore power. (As it turned out, Met Ed had most lights turned on in less than 24 hours.)
But for about a day, life --- even life in Mount Gretna --- noticeably slowed. True, “fast lane” is a term nobody would ever use in describing our accustomed pace. That’s why most of us moved here. But, absent power, the tempo dropped yet another notch. Conversations lasted longer. Any fleeting sense of urgency dissolved. And we discovered once again what the Amish know intuitively: Lacking external power, we depend more on the power of human connections. Almost as if those links feed souls and drive the generators of our internal engines.
That may not be it exactly. But something was different in Mount Gretna that Friday in September. A day without power. A day when we reawakened to the sustaining power of friends, mutual dependence, and our connectedness.
Roger Groce, 213 Stevens Avenue
P.S. Thanks for continuing to pass along printed copies of this newsletter to friends and neighbors who don’t have e-mail. We also appreciate the many readers who regularly forward copies to others around the world who share an interest in all that occurs in this lively community. And special thanks to Keith Volker, who makes it possible for readers everywhere to view back issues on the web at http://mtgretna.com/news/
A Special Note to Our Website Readers: Before preparing each newsletter, we usually dispatch a special alert to our e-mail address list inviting everyone to send ideas for topics of interest and upcoming events. We attempt to make that alert as informative as the newsletter itself. Here is the “Call for Articles” that preceded this issue:
Sent: Monday, September 22, 2003 11:15 AM
Subject: Coming Up, Another Edition of Mt. Gretna's E-Mail Newsletter
It’s soon time for an update to Mount Gretna’s e-mail newsletter. Please send your ideas, suggestions, questions, and musings to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll happily assemble, sort, and package them --- then send everything in an e-mail bulletin to readers around the world who delight in sharing news about all that’s happening here.
Meanwhile, some news to help bring us all up to date:
Except for once again revealing what a patchwork electrical grid serves Mount Gretna, Hurricane Isabel left us surprisingly unscathed. Only a few trees were down, some branches, and an abundance of leaves and twigs. Borough crews will pick them up as part of the fall cleanup, starting almost immediately. Normally, they wait until later in the fall. This year, Bill Care says “we won’t really be following a schedule. We’ll begin now and continue our pickups as people continue to clean up their properties. We’ll be around at least once a week until the job is done.” The job is nearly done already in the Campmeeting. Merv Lentz says brush pickups began there last Saturday. He expects to finish up in the next couple of days.
Isabel’s biggest impact: Electrical outages, spurring a sudden surge of interest in emergency generators in this, the fourth sustained power failure to darken our community in the past 12 months. Residents in Mount Gretna Heights and some sectors of the Campmeeting never lost power. But elsewhere, in other sections of the Campmeeting, in Timber Hills and along some streets of the Chautauqua, homes and cottages were dark for about 48 hours. Not bad compared with other sections of the country, but for some Mount Gretnans, the final straw. Before winter arrives, they vow that generators will be part of their lives here in the woods. And indeed, despite Met Ed’s best efforts, power failures seem a natural ingredient of life amid the trees --- especially in a community built while Thomas Edison was still tinkering in his laboratory.
But perhaps the biggest news of all: Bob Andrews’ announcement that, after seven long years, he finally will be taking a vacation. And that means the Mount Gretna Deli, one of our community’s treasured links with the outside world (with its daily offerings of out-of-town newspapers, subs, sodas and friendly greetings) will close temporarily. While Bob is enjoying a well-deserved rest in Florida, the store will close Sep. 29 and reopen Nov. 2.
Meanwhile, Gretna Theater is holding a drop-in “Thank You” party tomorrow night for the volunteers who staffed the concession stand and helped fill other duties at the Playhouse this season. Along with hot dogs, chips and soft drinks, they’ll be offering ample servings of sincere appreciation at the Fire Company picnic grounds from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. tomorrow (Sep. 23). “It’s an open invitation,” says general manager Keith Volker, “to all who helped us this summer.”
IF AN ATTCHMENT ARRIVES FROM “RTG,” BE WARY
A quirky e-mail notice showed up over the weekend. It arrived from a “sender” using the name “RTG.” That’s the same identifier that accompanies mailings of Mount Gretna’s e-mail newsletter. It came, however, as an attachment. And curiously, it used some of the exact words that appeared in the opening paragraph of our January 2003 issue.
Because power outages were the subject then, we thought somebody might be reminding us about previous reports of electrical interruptions. No indeed. This one contained a virus that originated last fall in Malaysia.
Although our security screening software blocked it, the attempt was instructive. So we thought it best to issue this reminder:
We make it a practice to avoid either sending or opening e-mail attachments. If you receive something from “RTG” that contains an ATTACHMENT, delete it immediately. Do not open it. Our newsletters go out only as straight text. They’re sometimes long, and maybe just a bit cumbersome. But we find that e-mail messaging is safer that way.
Also, a reminder that you can always check for the latest newsletter updates by logging on to http://mtgretna.com/news/ Our newsletter is nothing more than an enjoyable hobby. We wouldn’t want harm to come to anyone who enjoys it along with us.
Please remember to send your news, notes, and notions for our next regular edition. We’ll have news about the new after-hours parcel pickup system at the post office, this year’s plans for greeting the buzzards’ expected return from the Adirondacks (no, ours are not from Hinkley, Ohio), and more. . . everything that keeps this community among the liveliest, most interesting and --- we modestly suggest --- most delightful places on the planet. The address is email@example.com. Thanks.
Roger Groce, 213 Stevens Avenue