I have heard it said that, “time heals all wounds,” crosses all streams and hopefully gives us wisdom. I like to think that I am not the exception to this idea. I have many faults which I partly attribute to my less than stellar childhood and the rest to genetics. Now that I am older, healed to some degree, a little wiser and having crossed many streams, I find myself wanting to make contact with many of the people I have known in the past, especially family members.
One of these people is my dad’s brother, Uncle Bill. Since I had very little interaction with my own dad, I see my uncle as a surrogate father. Since he has many of the mannerisms of my father and even looks similar, it is an easy transition for me to make. I can also talk with him, which is something I never did with my own dad.
So…I called my uncle and told him that my wife and I were coming to visit. After all, he did invite us. He lives in the Pocono’s, a mountainous region of northeast Pennsylvania. It was a long drive up route 81 for more than 4 hours. We arrived with the help of my GPS, hugged, said our hellos and walked to the lake which is 30 feet from Uncle Billy’s front door. Lake Henry and is a beautiful man-made lake with crystal clear water. Uncle Bill said that in the “old days” they carved large chunks of ice from the lake and shipped them to the town for refrigeration. Now, it is just a sleepy lake with summer homes lining the shores and covered wave-runners adorning the yards. Uncle Bill headed for the dock and motioned for us to follow…for a tour of the lake on his pontoon boat.
We returned to the house, had dinner, chatted for several hours and then went to bed. It was a cold night in the Pennsylvania mountains so we used every available blanket to stay warm. The next day we left for Scranton to see the town. Scranton is an old, hard-coal (also called anthracite) town that sits in a valley on top a partially abandoned coal mine. Like many towns in Pennsylvania it has large areas of scarred land, it’s fair share of fast food places and small, coal-related industry. Uncle Bill mentioned that there was a guided tour down into the coal mine. I immediately said, “Let’s go,” so we took of to the coal mine. We found the entrance to the attraction, bought our tickets and waited for the tour. This was not a Disney attraction!
We went down a slanted shaft on a real coal car, with hard metal seats and very little to hold on to. We were supported by a single metal cable which lowered us down the 250 feet below the surface into the bowels of the earth. It quickly became dark and the air heavy as we descended deeper and deeper. When we reached the bottom, we left the train and began a walking tour through the mine. There is only one way to experience this, and that is to be there. I know no words to describe the eerie feelings that attack the senses so deep in the ground. One of the greatest things about this particular tour was the guide. He was an ex-coalminer who used his experience to help us experience what it was like to be a coal miner decades ago. After the tour we boarded our rickety coal train and sat quietly as the cable groaned and creaked pulling us out of the mine. The sunlight was a welcome sight, if only a small dot in the distance. Slowly we reached the top and climbed from the tiny cars. If you are ever in Scranton, DO THE COAL MINE TOUR!
We returned to Uncle Bill’s where we had a great dinner of his stuffed peppers and afterwards sat outside until the air became cold when we all called it a night. Next day we said our good-bye, packed up and returned home.
It is important, I believe, to reach out to touch the important people in your lives. With the frenetic state of everyday life and a constant hum in the back of our minds it is easy to forget what is important. As I have said before, life is about the people in our lives, not buildings, jobs or fast cars. As AT&T once said, “Reach out and touch someone.” That might not be appropriate in today’s world, but you know what I mean.