Trains, Flames, and Automobiles

 

The other day Chrissy and I wanted to grab something to eat. We had heard that a new restaurant was opening that was owned by the same person who owned another restaurant that had closed a while back, that we absolutely loved.  The place that closed had great food at a reasonable price. We loved the atmosphere there, as well as the décor. Sometimes there are just those places that immediately whisk you back in time to earlier years when life seemed a little easier. These places flood you with good memories. That is a big reason I liked this place… it had a cozy home feel to it. The place settings were mismatched, but really nice. It was like someone went to your grandparent’s house and bought a few of their place settings, then went to someone else’s grandparents, and did the same thing over and over until they had a huge collection of place settings.

 

The other cool thing was the mismatched cloth napkins at each place setting. Never the same, but always nice and clean. There’s just something about having a cloth napkin at meal time that makes things feel special.

The biggest thing that we loved was the floor. The floor was covered with old vintage magazine pages sealed with a clear coat protectant. It was the coolest thing. It may have been a bit feminine, but I was good with it, because to drew my mind back to my grandmother’s house. Living so far from family, it was a nice place to have a cup of coffee and a homemade sweet treat like my mom would make from one of my grandmother’s recipes. It was quiet most times, so I could think and plan things that I needed to. It was always a great meeting place too, especially for a date with my sweetheart.

So, when this placed closed, it was very sad. It left a big hole for a while in my repertoire of hangout places and in our small community.

When I heard that this new place was opening in the next town over, I was super excited! I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that the food would be great. Recently, we were able to go for a late breakfast.

When we entered the place, which we had been in before when it was another coffee shop, we both were pleasantly surprised.

The old establishment that occupied this building before was nice, but seemed a little dark. It was okay, but definitely not my favorite.

Now seeing what the new owners did, it was great! It took a few months for them to open, but I had heard it was partly because of redoing the floors. It was clean and friendly from the time we entered to the time we checked out.

We were welcomed by amazing magazine-page floors with a food theme, which then transitioned the dining area into railway magazine pages.

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Now, if I’m going to be honest I didn’t notice that they were railway magazines at first. What I did notice was a picture on the wall that was familiar to me. When Chrissy and I went on our first cruise, as a last-minute excursion, we chose to go on an amazing train ride known as the White Passage.

Side Note: This was when I got to see an American Black Bear and her cub in the wild. The Chinese man that spotted her, now that was a hoot for sure! He was pointing and yelling in English with the Chinese accent, “Beer! Beer over dare!” If we were on a boat, we would have tipped over with the sudden shift of weight. He was so very excited.

The Picture in this little restaurant reminded me of the Yukon Railway…the train company that carried us through the passage. After a little digging, I found it was not the same one as in the picture. Great Northern Railway and Yukon had similar logos.

But, as I looked around it all came together– the name of the new establishment “The Coffee Depot,” the train and railway décor, not to mention that the little gem is situated next to busy train tracks, where almost every hour you hear the horn of a locomotive and feel the rumble as it passes through Syracuse.

Looking around the dining area made think of my parents at Christmas time. Chrissy and I got to talking about how every year my dad set up a train track in our house. Some years it was huge, and other years it was small. Ever since I can remember, my parents had a platform set up.

My dad has a love for model trains. And every year, it would take him weeks before Christmas to plan and set up this display.

This was always a big deal, and no matter what, this display had to be done before Christmas.

My parents would decorate the display with a little town that they had created and the focus was the train station in the town.

My dad would construct the base and get the ground laid, some years it was green like grass, while other years it was snow. He would carefully pour this tiny black gravel for roads, and put miniature lights up from underneath the wood to light the shoebox building that my parents had made with great detail. Dad had some scale structures called Plasticville, but they were very expensive, so they only had a few of those to start.  They even had street lights that lit up the roads at night.

Then they would build a paper mache mountain, with a wax waterfall that had variant blue colors of water running down to a pond. The mountain also had a tunnel that the train could pass through.

One year, my parents wanted to get trailing pine and green moss for the platform, so we went for a hike up the mountain we lived on. We found some, brought it back and constructed a green mountain with live moss.

Side Note: It was never a good day if the train jumped the track in the tunnel. Most times this was due to unsupervised little hands as the conductor.

The Lionel train was my dad’s baby. He always took special care of the old engine and caboose. Every year, we would make a trip to one of the most fascinating stores… English’s Train Shoppe. This place had every train you could think of on display.There were so many that they even had them hanging from the ceiling. The best part was that they always had most of them running. I absolutely loved the trip to this place. This is where my dad would get supplies and have the engine serviced. This was also the place where we would get the corrugated red brick paper that would run around the sides of the platform to hide all the wires underneath the town.

He would finish the display off with little people figures and matchbox cars. The cars were special because this was something we both were enthusiastic about. He had ones from when he was a boy, then he would add new ones that were mine.

The older I got the more I enjoyed the platform and looked forward to helping with it. The older I got, the ornerier I got too. One year I un-repentantly started a tradition. I created an incident with some of the matchbox cars.

Side Note: We always had matchbox cars, never hot wheels. It was like a rival team or something I really don’t know why, but dad only liked the matchbox cars. I remember him saying “I don’t want any of that Hot Wheels Sh*t on my platform!” We really didn’t do sports, so I guess we did miniature car companies?

So, this one year, I took some of the cars and created a fender bender scene. I had two cars crashed, and a gas tanker truck flipped on its side. I pulled out the fire trucks from the fire station and the ambulance too, and I placed them at the scene of the accident. I did think about setting the truck on fire but luckily I realized that could be a very bad thing. Besides, I wanted to see how long it would take my dad to notice this little eye sore in his pleasant, peaceful town.

One thing, I haven’t mentioned was that the platform was sacred. No one could touch it after it was finished– it was a piece of fine art. So, when he finally noticed the destruction I created, he became almost unglued! It was so funny that I had to repeat it again and again over the years. Now it’s one of those things that my dad puts on there himself. Perhaps, it’s just a reminder to him of the fun, silly things I did while growing up.

A few years back, I received a very special gift that I treasure. My dad got me a Lionel train set, so I could continue the train tradition in our family. I don’t know that I have done the best job of doing that as a dad, but I want to see if I can do better as a Popz for my grands.

I love thinking about these special moments, they remind me of the love we shared as a family growing up. The platform was a yearly connecting point for the family, but seemed to be even more special to dad and me. I hope to have that same connection with things with my kids and the grands too!

Lastly, The Coffee Depot’s food was great, as well as the trip down memory lane!

Coffee Depot Facebook Page

The Bear In The Little White Trailer

The Bear In The Little White Trailer
Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! Well, not so much the lions and tigers, but definitely bears. Bears are this week’s blog topic.
As I have mentioned in previous stories, I’m from PA. That stands for Pennsylvania, for all those who are not from the Keystone State. Nobody calls it Pennsylvania; it’s always  “P. A.” I grew up just within the city limits of Williamsport.
Side Note: When we moved in to this house when I was a kid, we had no running water or plumbing. In fact, we had the last standing outhouse within the city limits. The local newspaper the Sun Gazette did a feature story on it before it was taken down. Of course, we had indoor plumbing by then.
Our house was built by my Grandpap Hunter. It sat half-way up a mountainside. Directly behind our house, was an overgrown vineyard that had long since been cared for. It had been overtaken with thick brush and trees, just as the mountain started to incline. We has gorgeous evergreen pine trees that ran all the way up to the top of the mountain.
Side note: I’m saying that we lived on a mountain, which to anyone actually from PA would say “Aw, that’s just a big hill. The mountains are on the south side of the Valley.” And that would be true. But those who live in the Midwest, where I now reside… they would say we did live on a small mountain.  
I had the run of all the area growing up. It was great. I spent summer days exploring and playing, just my dog and me. We encountered many things throughout the years, and I heard a ton of stories about what lived in those woods. Some scary things, and some were just ridiculous.
One such story was about the night my mom was walked home by what she claims to have been a bear. She worked 2nd shift, and got a ride home late one night. The driver dropped her off at the bottom of our long driveway. Halfway up our drive, she was greeted by something big and furry. She thought it was our pet St. Bernard, Brandy.
All the way home she talked and walked with it, giving it encouraging pats on the head as they walked. When she reached our house, whatever it was ran off. She went in the house only to find Brandy asleep on the floor. She swears it was a bear. I don’t know.
That was not the only encounter we had with bears. My mother-in-law hit one with her car once. The car was totaled. She was ok, but the bear didn’t survive.
Another time, which I think is the best story, is when Chrissy and I were living in the real mountains. Our small mobile home sat at the bottom of a mountain close to her grandparent’s home. A small brook ran right behind the property.  In this little community called Proctor, there may have been a population of 150, perhaps a bit more. Our little neighborhood had 4 houses within a stone’s throwing distance from ours. We had two of our kids then, Ben and Tori, and stupid dog named Pepper.
Where we lived, trash pick-up only happened every 2 weeks, perhaps 4, depending on the time of year. So, we had 3 cans sitting out by where we parked our cars. We had been told that sometimes bears would wonder down the mountain and get into things. We had never seen this happen since we had lived in the trailer. The only things we had seen were the occasional deer, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, and a flock of turkeys.
One summer night, Chrissy woke me from a dead sleep. This was normal.
She said, “Did you hear that?”
I said, “No, don’t worry, it’s probably a raccoon getting into the garbage.”
She said, “No, it’s not, listen! It’s grunting and snorting whatever it is!
We lay very still in our bed, and I listened. All I could hear was my heart beating and my breathing.
I said, “Nope, nothing.”
Then she said, “There!” as she sat up in bed.
I said,  “Okay, I’ll get up and see.”
So, I got up and got the spotlight. Everyone who lives in PA has a spotlight.
Side note: Spotlighting. It’s a verb. That’s what you did for fun on a warm Saturday night. You drive around shining this huge 100,000,000 candlelight powered spotlight out your car window to see how many deer or other species of wildlife you could see. That, my friends, was a wild night!
I grabbed my spotlight, and I opened the drapes to look out the window. I could see nothing. I shined my light out the window, but all I could see was our cars.  I moved back through the trailer to our bedroom windows. I pulled back the curtains to shine the light out. And there it was as plain as day. The biggest, hairiest, monster I had ever seen with it’s teeth bared looking right back at me through my window. It was a Sasquatch!
No, I’m just kidding. All I could see was the hoods of our cars. Of course, by this time Chrissy is pushing me over grabbing for the light, so naturally I wouldn’t see any thing. Then, all of a sudden, I thought I saw something moving on the far side of the car by our garbage. Then it moved out in to plain sight. It was a big black bear! He was enjoying himself some dinner on us.
I think this is when Chrissy looked at me and said in Scooby Doo fashion “It’s a bear!” I think she may have peed a little too! She jumped from the bed, ran into the kids’ room, and scooped them up. The next thing I knew everyone was in our bed. Chrissy had the covers pulled over her head, asking is it still there?
I said, “Yep, it’s still there.”
This bear was not little– he had to have gone a few hundred pounds. I thought it would be cool if he stood up, but he didn’t. He just kind of meandered around by the garbage cans.
I finally coaxed Chrissy out from under her bear proof covers to watch the bear with me.  We watched him for what seemed like hours, but I’m sure it was nowhere close to that. Then Chrissy said to me, “What if he tries to get in the house?”
Now that thought hadn’t crossed my mind, but she said, “Won’t he smell the food in our house?”
 That’s when I started to be a little concerned, but being the brave man of our small family, I said, “Aw, don’t worry he can’t get in, and besides I have the 12-gauge.
She said, “You should get it.”
So, I grabbed the gun and carefully laid it on the bed.
Side Note: Now, at this time in my life I had only shot this gun maybe once or twice when I went turkey hunting as a teen. Boy, is that a story, but for another time. Honestly, the thing I remembered the most about that gun was that it kicked like a mule. I probably could have better defended our family by beating the bear with the gun.
Then Chrissy said, “You know the front door doesn’t latch very well.”
I knew that front door needed fixed, but I hadn’t had the money or the time to fix it. The more I thought about it, I started to worry. All you really needed to do was push hard on the door, and it would fly open.
As any brave husband would do, I thought fast and said, “We should move all the furniture in front of the door to barricade it. He’s not going to come over here, but, you know, just in case. So we frantically pushed our couch and chair over in front of the door, as well as anything else heavy we could get in front of the door.
When we were done, we scampered back to the bed to see where our furry friend was, and what he was up to.  I shined the spotlight over by the car and nothing. I stared to look around, where did he go? That’s when I heard a snort right in front of the window we were looking out. I quickly pointed the light down to where I heard the snort, and sure enough there he was. He was making his way over to the trailer. We watched as he waddled past us and then over by our front porch. We tiptoed out to the living room, and peeked out the window just in time to see Mr. Cuddles waddling right up our porch steps. Our porch was more of a stoop. It had three steps and then a 4×4 square deck. Not very big at all.
I ran back to the bedroom and grabbed my gun. With trembling fingers I put a slug in and closed the chamber, I was ready. If that bear welcomed himself into our home it was on. As I stood with my heart racing looking out the window. He came up the steps got on the porch. I though this is it, get ready. Then he just turned around and sat down on our porch like he owned the place. I had Chrissy go back to the bedroom with the kids and cover up with her bear protectant sheets as I stood guard.
Again, I watched for what seemed like an eternity. Then all of a sudden he sniffed the breeze and grunted. He flopped forward and jumped off the porch. He waddled across the yard and out of sight to the neighbor’s house.
I thought, I’m leaving the barricade up, just in case he comes back. I walked back to the bedroom with my gun clenched in my hands and pronounced that the bear has left the premises.

The funniest thing was that the kids slept through the entire ordeal. That night we all slept together in our full-size bed with the shotgun within reach. This was a crazy night that will not be forgotten. And that is the story of the bear in the little white trailer.