Return of the Native
Jun 5, 2008
|Back where I started - Wednesday, June 5
Today's destination is only an hour away. We have reservations for the next five nights at the Philadelphia/West Chester KOA campground near Embreeville, Pennsylvania, and we’re looking forward to the change.
First we had to get out of Lum Pond State Park and the rest of Delaware, and Lucy plotted a course that took us through the town of Newark. It’s a nice college town, home to the University of Delaware - but it’s main attraction to me is that it’s near the state line, and that means we’re almost to Pennsylvania.
I was born in Pennsylvania - and while my birthplace is at the other end of the state, my roots are here and I feel like I belong. I’ve been away for a very long time, but as we neared the border I felt like I was coming home.
The hills got steeper, and the valleys deeper. The roads, winding through the woods, felt familiar - as though I’d seen them before. Railroad crossings with their rusty trestles, old stone mills still sitting on the creeks that drove them - around every curve, and over every hill there were scenes that resonate with my earliest memories. This is a poor description, but it was a powerful feeling.
I was born in McKeesport and we lived in Clairton - a mill town on the Allegheny River near Pittsburgh. My father was an immigrant who worked at the Carnegie Illinois Steel Mill, and we lived in a house he built himself on the outskirts of town. He died when I was three and we moved to Wisconsin where my mother grew up, but my memories of Pennsylvania were so strong that 45 years later I was able to drive right to the house he built.
The mills closed when Japanese steel ran them out of business, and while the towns didn’t die they stagnated. Little changed after that, and in 1984 I found Clairton looking a lot like it did when we left it. Stores I remembered were still there - abandoned now, but standing as they were when we left in 1942. The slag heaps still sat where they did then, and while they may be eyesores to anyone else, to me they spoke of ‘home’.
That was over twenty years ago and they may still be there - or maybe not. It doesn’t matter now. I got to see them again as an adult, and it grounded me in a way I can’t explain.
Seeing these wooded hills and mist shrouded valleys is good therapy. If they’re not the same ones I saw as a kid, they look just like them. And they’re only separated by a couple of hours. For me that is close enough to make me feel at home here.
There was no roadside sign to tell us we were leaving Delaware and entering Pennsylvania, but I felt it - and the next highway sign we saw bore the distinctive Pennsylvania ‘keystone’ emblem. From there it was another half hour to the KOA 'Kampground'. It’s typical KOA - expensive but nice. The staff is friendly and the sites are level and inviting. Ours is tucked into a slot under some trees, and it comes with electricity, water, WiFi and cable TV. What more could you ask of a campsite?
We took a walk after we got settled, and we booked a tour of Philadelphia for tomorrow. Neither of us has ever been to Philadelphia before, and we’re both looking forward to it. If you’re interested in our experiences you'll find them on the next few pages.
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