04 August 2012

Lovely, lovely Lancaster

A double rainbow as seen from my brother Steve's back yard.
I'm back in Florida after my month-long sojourn in the land of my birth, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I needed to prove once and for all that I can be anywhere and still put in a solid, productive workday. I passed that test with flying colors. I wanted too, to spend non-rushed time with my siblings and their families and I did plenty of that. It was an ideal month and just how beautiful that part of the US is left me dumb struck.

Alfalfa fields

Daylilies and alfalfa

My brother Steve's back yard on my first morning in Pennsylvania, 30 June 2012.

An actual covered bridge. Lancaster County, PA is lousy with them.

What a covered bridge looks like inside. Most of them were built in the 19th Century and they are an exercise in wood framing as art.

Dusk from my brother Matt's deck.

Thunderstorms gathering as seen from my brother Matt's front yard.

When I moved away from there a long time ago, I could never see the place as anything but a small town surrounded by farmland. The combination of those two things 20+ years ago was all I needed to know in order for me to seek greener pastures. I wanted to live in a bigger city and I wanted to escape winter.

As I barrel toward 50 I can see the place through a different set of eyes and the things I once fled are the same things I now ache for. The very idea of winter weather still fills me with the same loathing it always has, but there's a lot to be said for market shopping with my sister-in-law, going to the movies with an army of my nieces and nephews, and just sitting and talking with my brothers. Seeing family friends and treading on familiar ground capped off a truly great month. Feeling wanted and loved involved nothing more than showing up, and that was nothing short of bliss. That those many, many people have known me my whole life, that they've stood by as I've worked through my conflicts and trials, and can still find love for me makes my head spin.

A covered hitching post at the Green Dragon market in  Ephrata.

Produce stand at the Green Dragon

This is a butcher's stall at the Green Dragon. The objects in the center of this photo are pig stomachs - pre-filled with fresh sausage, onion and potato. I think this qualifies as a convenience food.

A produce stand at the Green Dragon

Beets, broccoli and potatoes at Lancaster's Central Market

A shot of the stalls in Lancaster's Central Market.

Lancaster's Central Market as seen from Penn Square, the center of Lancaster City.
Lancaster's Central Market was established by King George III in the 1720s. It's the oldest open market in the United States.
A tobacco field in blossom. The flowers have to be removed by hand so the plant can make the leaves more robust.

Real tomatoes, fresh from the fields
My family's enormous and Sunday dinners usually involved at least 25 people. Baking bread and deserts for an appreciative audience of that size was far more enjoyable than I ever thought it would be. Whether it was a dinner built around a bushel of Chesapeake blue crabs or fresh pork loins, I ate better last month than I have in ages. Life in farm country brings with it the smell of manure that's true. But it also brings with it fresh produce that made me rethink my whole definition of that term. Buying sweet corn at $2 a dozen or tomatoes at 6 for a buck, corn and tomatoes that had been picked that morning, has me looking at the produce aisles at Publix with nothing short of disdain.

As much as I wanted it not to be true when I was younger, the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania are part of me. They're in my DNA, figuratively and literally. Driving a truck down dirt roads and barking at my nephews about gun safety seemed natural - I was just flexing old muscles. Visiting the churchyards and settlements established by my ancestors nearly 300 years ago brought into sharp focus that I'm part of a continuum, a line of people who lived and died before me, just as there are many who'll live and die after my time on earth's done. My struggles and conflicts really don't mean a whole lot when they're splayed against a  history I can see and touch.

This is the grave marker of my first ancestors in the new world. Husband and wife Sampson and Agnes Smith are both commemorated  by this slab of marble. Though you can't read it from this photo, the whole surface of it is engraved with a testament to their lives. Sampson arrived in Philadelphia in 1740 and died in 1781 in Chestnut Level, PA in 1781. Agnes died in 1790. One of their daughters is buried next to them.

This is the Chestnut Level Presbyterian Church. My first ancestor on this side of the Atlantic, Sampson Smith, was this church's third pastor, from 1760 to 1781. He supervised the construction of this building. The home he built still stands nearby.

This is a shallow creek crossing near Chestnut Level. My brother's driving over it and our ancestors would have been intimately familiar with this creek in the 18th Century.

The part of Pennsylvania I once called home predates the United States and the fingerprints of the time when it was a British Colony are all over the place. That countryside and the buildings that still stand from that era lived through a war for independence, they witnessed the birth of a new republic, they stood by as that new republic wrestled with slavery and a civil war. That place and those buildings aren't just a testament to my ancestors, they're a testament to this country's ability to work its way through conflict and all of it's a celebration of the glory of human potential. If you get lulled into the belief that life's difficult now, imagine what it must have been like in the 18th Century.

This is St. James Episcopal Church in downtown Lancaster, it's been there for a very long time. It's where George Washington and his peers would have attended services when they were in town.

Like I said, St. James has been around for quite a while.

These are very typical, 19th Century row houses that make up the bulk of the housing in Lancaster City.

More row houses, probably built during the War of 1812.

I love the wording on this sign.

An 18th Century row house that's still a single-family home, downtown Lancaster.

So now that I'm back I'll make the best of it. I landed another big marketing client and've been cast on a nationally syndicated TV show in the last two weeks. Add that to my current work load and I have a lot going on and even more to be grateful for. I don't think I'll be moving back to Pennsylvania any time soon but I will be spending more time there as the next few years unfold. For now though, I'm back on my living room sofa and wishing I had a group of people to cook dinner for. Thanks to all of you I spent time with last month and to everybody I missed, I'll catch you during my next visit.


  1. From what I see America can be quiet a lonely place due to its size. In Ireland you are only an hour or two away from family and friends in any direction (if you get along with them).
    Good luck with your new client and everything you are working on Paul. Nice honest post as usual:)

  2. Thanks Keith. The US can be a lonely place because it's so big and most of us move around so much. It's hard to find a connection to history here. Being 1200 miles north last month and being back in a place where my ancestors and current relatives still call home was a refreshing change of pace for me. It's no wonder I love Europe and the UK so much. It's difficult to put things in context here but you guys can't escape it. I can't tell if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

  3. The only thing better than a thunderstorm brewing on the prairie is a farmer's market blessed by that very rain!

  4. All will be revealed in the next month or so, stay tuned!

  5. Great post Paul and really can't wait to hear all the details to come.

  6. SoCal Homeowner06 August, 2012 11:11

    I've never been to that part of the country, but it is just beautiful. Thanks for the great post!

    Looking forward to hearing your TV news. Tivo at the ready.

  7. Love this! I love walking the streets of Lancaster and just taking in the magnificent architecture that makes up that town!

  8. ...and, of course, each of the covered bridges have a special place. :)

  9. SoCal: Thanks for the comment and believe me, as soon as I can start promoting the show, I'm not wasting any time!

    Amy: I apologize for not connecting with you while I was up there. The month absolutely flew by. It'll happen though. I agree with you about the architecture but what amazes me every time I go back is the obvious history that's just everywhere.

  10. Paul, there seem to be a whole group of us in the industry with deep roots in that area of PA. Those farms, rolling hills, farmer's markets, baked goods, horse and buggies, all make me nostalgic. Like you said, PA will always be part of my DNA no matter where I am actually living. Glad you had a great time, I know I always enjoy my visits "back home."

  11. Where in PA do you hail from?

  12. Such a thoughtful post, Paul. The love that you have for both your family and your hometown really shines through. I have to admit that while reading this, I had tears in my eyes. Great post!!!

  13. Wonderful post, Paul. I understand those longings. I no longer have family there, but I was raised in Helena, Montana. My wife and I visited a few years ago for a family reunion, the first time I'd been there in something like 30 years or more. I had forgotten how incredibly beautiful it is. But I still remember those harsh winters and could never return to that. I may make it to Helena from time to time, but I mean to keep on living in San Diego! But gees, what a place to grow up that was! We actually lived six blocks from the edge of town! We used to go hiking in those hills all the time when I was a kid.

  14. Thank you Joe. It's easy for me to forget my rural roots and my head spins with the speed with which I returned to my pick-up-driving, gun-toting origins.

  15. What gorgeous pictures, thanks for sharing those. I've had my own little taste of family history lately. With my grandmother passing away last week, my dad has had piles of old photographs and letters out at their house. It's so neat reading the old hand-written letters from as far back as 1920 or so.. and looking at the pictures of my great-grandparents as young people.

  16. Great post! Can't wait to hear more about this TV gig!!!!!

  17. Beautifully written and photographed Paul, I felt like I could just grab a bunch or two of those beautiful beets! MY youngest son Joshua went to Westtown School his last couple of years of high school. The Quaker values and point of view were life changing in the very best of ways! A beautiful part of the country and my favorite botanical garden anywhere...Longwood. Congrats on the new job.....Lynne

  18. This places look similar to Kansas in the summertime. Nice photos! Very cool and congrats on your new job!

  19. what a lovely post about revisiting your roots, paul.

    and let's here more about that TV gig!



  20. What a touching piece. I love all of the photo's!


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