The Great Misadventure of Summer 1985

The following is a relaying of events, which took place when I was 15. It is a completely one-sided tale and it is altogether possible that some details have become “stretched” with time; except for what happened in Plymouth, the day the photo was taken—

bradford family

It was 1985 the year Coke changed their formula and released new Coke, Microsoft released the first version of windows, windows 1.0, the single “We Are the World” was recorded by a charity in Hollywood, California for Africa, and “The Power of Love” hit the radio waves. But if you asked me what happened in 1985 I would tell you about our family vacation that summer. Years later that vacation would become the most talked about vacation at family gatherings and campfires.

The second week of July my brother, sister, and I sat in the back seat of a silver ’77 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme headed toward Massachusetts. Air conditioning wasn’t a thing when the Oldsmobile was built so we rode with the windows down. We siblings slouched on the black vinyl seats sometimes leaning against the little triangle side window or turning around to watch the road out the back window. The long forgotten lap belts were buried in the crevice of the back seat. Dad who wasn’t fond of pop music usually found Garrison Keillor on the radio or some old time country music. It was difficult to hear the music above the sound of the wind from the open windows. The radio would often lose reception and many miles would pass before dad realized we were listening to “fuzz”.

I would stare out the window at the clouds overhead or the changing scenery. Sometimes I put my hand into the wind and would dip my arm in swooping motions against the pressure of the wind or I would stick my face out, close my eyes and let my imagination take me on adventures.

Our first stop was somewhere on Cape Cod and dad found a cute motel that looked like a long cottage with many doors. Once we were settled into our room we siblings ran outside to look at the stream behind the hotel or to see what was in the vending machines near the front office. I was mortified when after clogging the toilet in our room, dad sent me to the front office, all by myself, to retrieve a plunger. The walk of shame across that parking lot with a plunger in hand felt like a mile. Maybe that was the first hint of trouble on this ideal vacation.

We spent the next day at a beach on the bay side of the Cape. My homemade red swimsuit sagged slightly when the cold waters of the bay soaked it. My head, neck, and mid arm to finger tips were tanned and the rest of me was white. The white parts of my skin would be red by the end of the day.

Near the end of the week my dad pointed the car toward Plymouth and things began to fall apart. Every hotel in the Plymouth area was full. The “no vacancy” signs glared red into the dark night as we drove along. Finally dad headed north toward Boston. The worry lines on my mother’s forehead were increasingly visible. It was hours past dark when we dragged ourselves toward an elevator at the end of a hotel building. I remember standing under a parking lot light and staring up at the multi story building in front of me. This was no cottage. It was beautiful and grand looking. Our room was on the 9th floor. As soon as we were in the room I walked to the window to see the view but not for long because we were all very tired. The next day was the one I had been looking forward to, our visit to Plymouth. I planned on waking up early so I could curl my hair.

The next morning we woke up late, or at least I did. I had to look perfect. My favorite outfit had been saved for this day. I had a grey pair of pants with white and pink pin strips and a pink blouse with white pinstripes that fluffed out from the waist in a peplum. Dad was already packing the car with our things and I had barely started curling my hair. I could hear him expressing his impatience to mother and I could hear her reminding him that we still had a ½ hour.

It was common knowledge in our family that when dad set a time to leave he would always want to leave ½ hour before the time that had been set. It was a point of constant contention with his teenage girls who needed every available minute to perfect their hair or press their clothes. Finally I was ready quite a few minutes after everyone else was ready.

Once we were all in the car, Mother gave us some canned tomato juice and a snack for breakfast. The rest of the day was spent touring. I had little camera bag strapped across my chest with a 110-film camera I had received for Christmas last year. I had dreamt about seeing Plymouth Rock and getting a picture of the rock on an isolated beach with the sun outlining the top corner. Plymouth rock was my biggest disappointment. We walk up a paved ramp to a covered patio and looked over a railing at a rock sitting on sand at the bottom of the cage. On the top of the rock was stamped 1620, the year the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth. I couldn’t touch the rock, there was no isolated beach, and it turns out the whole think about the pilgrims stepping on the rock was a legend not based on facts. I snapped an obligatory picture and walked away with my family.

plymouth-rock

It was warming up outside, the sun bearing over us as we took a break on a bench facing the bay. My stomach growled and I realized it had been awhile since we had our tomato juice and snack for breakfast. We had walked past several restaurants. I noticed my parents looking at posted menus but we never stopped. The store windows were full of beautiful clothes and items from brands I had never heard of with price tags beyond my imagination. We didn’t know it at the time, but our fancy hotel had soaked up food money for the day, and Plymouth was very expensive for a family of 5. So we walked, and walked and walked. Tourist shops beckoned the few last dollars my sister and I carried with us. I was feeling hungry and cranky and so was the rest of the family. We were literally dragging our feet. Then it happened.

taffycu300

In the store window of a candy shop we saw a large box of salt-water taffy. It looked so good and my parents had enough cash for taffy. We sat on the bench near the bay again and shared the box of taffy. We devoured the entire box. With renewed energy we ventured into a free museum with air conditioning. By the time the tour was finished our energy from the candy had worn off and we were all slumping down into a sugar low. But dad had one more thing on his list. We had to see the statue of William Bradford and have our family picture taken next to it. By this time we were complaining quite a bit. We were past done for the day. When we reached the statue we propped ourselves up on the cement edges of the base of the statue and looked toward dad’s camera. He told us to smile. I thought we did but there wasn’t anything left in us. We were about to collapse. Dad put his camera away and we silently walked back to our car.

bradford family

The drive home to Pennsylvania was difficult. My brother threw up while we were stuck in traffic on a highway. We hit mile after mile of construction where the slow pace gave us no relief from the hot summer air. Then dad began driving fast in order to hurry home. Mom grabbed her seatbelt to buckle up and did it so quickly she pulled a muscle; she exhaled the name “James” with an air of aggravation. By the time we pulled into the driveway at home we practically fell out of the car onto the green grass of home. Mom and dad didn’t say a word to us. We all knew to take our own bags and go inside to bed.

Years passed without a mention of that vacation. Then one night after my sister and I were out of the house and married we were at home for a visit with the family. I think it was Christmas time. It was either my sister or I who said, “Do you remember the vacation where all we had to eat was salt water taffy?” After that, it became the most talked about vacation in the years to follow. We look at the picture and laugh at the predicament we were in. One glance of salt water taffy and we laugh or roll our eyes.

With a family of my own I can now relate to the difficulties of carting a household on the road and providing for them. Often vacations don’t turn out how we planned and we often come home exhausted and angry at each other. But sometimes the adventure comes when you look back on the memories. Events ripened over time either become comical or endearing. Life really is an adventure. Live. Laugh. And eat Salt Water Taffy along the way.

Tina Stephens

author of The Common Hours

www.tinastephens.com

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I recently returned from a book tour in northeastern Pennsylvania where my novel, The Common Hours, takes place. My arrival in Pennsylvania was timed with peak fall foliage, something which I had not seen since leaving the state in 2001. It was not only a visit to my past, it was a revisiting of the sights, sounds, and smells of a place far removed from my home in Phoenix Arizona.

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Pennsylvania fall foliage-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
Pennsylvania fall foliage-photographed by Tina D. Stephens

The day after my arrival I headed to 4th street in Williamsport where Otto’s Bookstore was hosting me for a book signing during Williamsport’s monthly first friday event. A misting rain and temperatures in the 40’s gave a classic feeling of fall. Throughout the evening people ducked inside the bookstore to take respite from the temperatures and to treat themselves to the hot cocoa, apple cider, and donuts provided by the bookstore owners. Sometimes customers would make their way over to my table to look at my books or to tell me local folklore and other tales of history. Otto’s Bookstore itself has a long history which began in 1841 as a store selling wallpaper and books. Phoenix is populated by newcomers, whereas the residents of rural Pennsylvania have generally lived in the same place one generation after another. Life and stories are passed down through the years and storytelling is a rich tradition in the Pennsylvania culture. Although my book is fiction, it dates to 1888-1889 in the Williamsport and the Pine Creek areas. During the event, I felt a strong connection to the history of Millionaire’s Row just up the street from the bookstore, and all the places and events around me which dated back to that time.

Tina Stephens with Betsy Rider at the Otto Bookstore in Williamsport, PA.
Tina Stephens with Betsy Rider at the Otto Bookstore in Williamsport, PA.

The next morning was a rainy Saturday. I had forgotten how the damp air formed a foggy ring on the windows and how eventually the rain would drip down the surface of the glass pane creating an abstract view of the world outside. It was a day to snuggle on the couch with one of my mothers home-made quilts and to sip coffee and read.

Rainy day.
Rainy day.

On Monday I hiked into the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon with my parents, who were providing my housing during the tour. It was a dark foggy morning when we left the house. I couldn’t tell if were under a heavy fog or under the potential threat of another rainy day. When I tried checking my phone for a weather update I couldn’t receive enough reception to load the information. By the time we reached the edge of the canyon the sun was burning through the fog. Dense strips of puffy white clouds were rising from the Pine Creek far below.

Pennsylvania Grand Canyon photographed by Tina D. Stephens
Pennsylvania Grand Canyon photographed by Tina D. Stephens

After a few pictures we hiked downhill into the dark forest. We were the first visitors of the day. The only sound was the occasional scurry of a squirrel in the leaves. Our footsteps were quieted on the blanket of pine needles, and damp leaves which coated the ground. Then we neared a stream where the water plunged off rock ledges on its way to the Pine Creek at the bottom of the canyon (or gorge, as the locals call it). The sound of the falls dominated our senses. When we reached the Pine Creek my father saw a bald eagle fly over. I put my camera down to follow my fathers direction to see the eagle, but it was already gone. Fortunately I would see a bald eagle later in the week. After a rest we hiked back out of the canyon. We drove home on dirt roads, passing a sugar shack where maple lines tapped into a tree ran to a large tank near a small wooden shack. We saw cornfields, barns, wild turkey and deer, under a clear blue sky.

Fall scenery near Wellsboro PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
Fall scenery near Wellsboro PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
On the green in Wellsboro, PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
On the green in Wellsboro, PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens

My mother and me left early Tuesday to head toward Clarks Summit for an event I had at Summit University on Wednesday. We routed our trip to take us by Rickett’s Glen State Park where we planned to spend the majority of the day. The fog remained thick all morning as we hiked the trails in the glen. It was perfect conditions for photographing the many waterfalls in the park. At one point I mentioned maybe one of my characters would honeymoon here. My mother wanted to know if it would be Mat and Sarah. I smiled. I wouldn’t reveal any secrets about the novel today.

Ricketts Glen State Park
Ricketts Glen State Park

ricketts 2

After four and 1/2 hours of hiking and photographing, we had seen 11 of the 20+ waterfalls in the park. I showed my exhaustion more than my mother; she was quiet, but I groaned out load every time we climbed a hill. Following our hike we stopped at a general store where we treated ourselves to ice cream which we ate while sitting on a wooden swing on the store’s front patio. Our scenery was farmland in the glow of late afternoon light.

Farmland near Ricketts Glen State Park
Farmland near Ricketts Glen State Park

Wednesday was my event at Summit University. This was the place I met friends I still keep in touch with; this was the place I met my husband (of 24 years now). I sat in the coffee shop at the university, with my books on a table, greeting many new faces and seeing a couple of old ones too. My favorite, and unexpected, part of this event were the literature students who came in asking if they could talk to me about writing. In depth questions and conversations continued throughout the event. I was exhausted but it had been a rich experience.

Jackson Hall at Summit University
Jackson Hall at Summit University

Early Thursday I left pre-dawn to drive through dense fog to my former high school, Walnut Street Christian School. I drove over hills and around many curves, stopping once for wild turkey crossing the road. The sun rose over the mountains, slowly lighting the west hills and creeping down into the valleys. I arrived at my school. It had been 27 years since being here. Mr. Longnecker, my high school English teacher, now the principal, recognized me as soon as I walked in. A table had been put in the lobby, decorated with pumpkins and a lace doily. The school had sold 49 books ahead of my visit. Someone brought me coffee. I got comfortable and started signing books.school signing copy Then I taught the high school English class. I shared some of the humorous things I learned while writing a historical fiction and the students asked questions they had prepared ahead of time. In 1988 I graduated from here in a class of 4. One of the three boys I graduated with came from his work to visit me, and we reminisced. It was the closest thing to a class reunion I would ever experience and I suspect more meaningful. I spent the afternoon with my high school best friend who remained my best friend in college. Twenty some years had passed and we found our journeys in life had taken eerily similar paths in life. A renewed friendship had just begun.

wolfe's gen storeOn the last day of my trip I visited the Pine Creek gorge area where I grew up, and the area where John Richardson and his daughter Sarah (in my novel) moved. My parents came with me. The colors had been changing throughout my visit and the leaves were now at peak. A narrow single lane road hugged a cliff wall on one side and dove down to the Pine Creek far below us on the other side. We drove down into the town of Slate Run where we stopped at Wolfe’s General Store. They were excited to hear I had written a book which took place in their small town. Three books sold before the manager had time to write a check for the books. The manager wanted to know if I could come back the next day, but my flight was leaving early the next morning. They put extra copies on their bookshelves to sell.

We left to explore the rest of the town. I wanted to see the hotel across the creek which had been the inspiration behind Aunt Virginia and Uncle Harold’s hotel and restaurant in the novel.

Hotel Manor in Slate Run which was the inspiration behind the hotel/restaurant in The Common Hours
Hotel Manor in Slate Run which was the inspiration behind the hotel/restaurant in The Common Hours

We drove to the graveyard behind the hotel, walked along a stream which Uncle Harold and John had hunted. My mother looked at the mountains at one point and asked me where Matthew Stephens home was (except she referred to him as Mat). We talked and speculated for awhile about my fictional characters.

Fall in Slate Run, PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
Fall in Slate Run, PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens

We left town heading further south on the Pine Creek. We stopped at the church in Jersey Mills where my father had pastored in my teen years, visited the parsonage, and walked the path along the creek where The Common Hours had begun to form in my teen mind many years ago. I found it overgrown and darker than my memories. Some acquaintances sent us to the Waterville Fire House where we would find friends I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. Preparations were underway for the Apple Butter Festival taking place the following day. Apples were piled on tables, and everyone was peeling and cutting apples, and telling stories to each other.

Preparing for The Apple Butter Festival
Preparing for The Apple Butter Festival

Word got around quickly that I had written a novel which took place along the Pine Creek. Everyone purchased a book and wanted to know if I could come back with books for the festival. I couldn’t, but my parents agreed to return with books. I was intrigued with the process of preparing apple butter and the experience of the atmosphere in that fire hall.

The rest of the day was spent enjoying the scenery in the valley. I was saying goodbye once again.

Waterville, PA along the Pine Creek River. Photographed by Tina D. Stephens
Waterville, PA along the Pine Creek River. Photographed by Tina D. Stephens
The Pine Creek-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
The Pine Creek-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
A stream near Wellsboro, PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
A stream near Wellsboro, PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens

It was time to return to my family in Arizona and to write book two, The Waking Hours.

Tina Stephens

Author of The Common Hours

available on Amazon.com

 

“Broken Shoes”-a lesson in gratefulness

In 1980 I thought my blue Traxx shoes from Kmart were the coolest shoes I had ever worn. They looked somewhat similar to the popular Nike shoe with the big check mark on the side.

traxx

Every year my parents bought me two pair of shoes for school; one pair of dress shoes for the classroom and one pair of sneakers for gym class. My parents always hoped my shoes would last at least 6 months. The blue Traxx didn’t last a month. A small crack quickly began to form across the tread under the ball of my foot. It wasn’t long before the crack was a chasm reaching across the entire sole. Without the budget to purchase new shoes my parents tried gluing them, but that didn’t even hold them together through a single gym class.

I remember the night my dad brought the silver duct tape in from the garage and wrapped my beautiful blue traxx in a very noticeable swath of silver tape. The next day I changed slowly for gym class and walked the dirt road to the baseball field behind our school. It was a hot spring day, the air was dry and still. I was looking down at my shoes as I walked on the road, kicking up a cloud of dust, that settled onto my shoes. The dust covered tape was still clearly visible. My classmates had run up ahead of me to the field. I wondered if they had noticed my shoes. Did they feel sorry for me? Would they make fun of me?

My beautiful shoes were broken.

I looked through the harsh sunlight at the field ahead of me. I had to go to class. I looked down at those ridiculous duct taped shoes and thought, “If I can be happy and proud to wear these shoes, I will be happy no matter what happens in my life.” It was an oath I would never forget.

At 10, I didn’t realize how many “broken shoes” in life I would wear or that I would need more than sheer determination. I thought the lesson on that hot spring day had been about holding my head high and bolstering through. But that isn’t what I had learned.

We all have “broken shoes”—things in life that have scared us or broken our hearts. Finding contentment or gratefulness with what we have gives us the power to thrive on the path of life. I had a choice that day to be defeated and bitter or to appreciate the things I had and to enjoy gym class. Every time I wear “broken shoes” and I choose to thank God for what I have, I gain empathy for others with “broken shoes”, and JOY on the path of life.

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Let us choose to walk or run the path of life today with gratefulness to God. Reach out a hand to someone who has fainted along the way; encourage the ones who have slowed down, and run alongside others with a smile. Because really, we all have “broken shoes” in this one wild beautiful road of life.

1 Timothy 6:6-10New International Version (NIV)

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Tina Stephens

Author of The Common Hours, available on Amazon.com

The Path

pathway

Walking together

—you hold my hand.

Dreams broken

—you hold my hand.

Pace falls into rythm

—you hold my hand.

One dream remains

—you hold my hand.

Our eyes meet

—you hold my heart.

—Tina Stephens

Author of The Common Hours.

www.tinastephens.com

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