dear thanksgiving night drunk driver,


Dear Drunk Driver,

Thanks for the added tension on the roads this evening.  Like many others we were just driving home from a family Thanksgiving dinner and encountered YOU on 76 West (Schuylkill Expressway).
When you sober up in the morning  and you wonder HOW all that driver’s side damage occurred, I can tell you. You bounced off the center concrete barrier on the westbound side of the Schuylkill. MORE THAN ONCE.  We played dodge ball with what we believe was your driver’s side mirror as it flew by our car, narrowly missing our windshield.
If you look at the above drunk driver, that fuzzy bright ball in the center is YOU.  At different points of time, until we lost track of you, whether you were in front of us or behind us, or next to us (and we had to drive on the shoulder at one point  so you didn’t hit us), you were not just weaving a little, but sailing left and right as well as riding the center line like a slot car.
I did something I have never done before drunk driver because it had been so long since I had seen such a horrific drunk driver – I called the PA State Police. 
It was a busy night for PA State Troopers on the Schuylkill Expressway. Once past City Line Avenue, we passed several accidents east and westbound. So dear drunk driver, I don’t know if they caught you but I sure hope they did.
More than anything else, I hope you did not hurt yourself or anyone else.

on the eve of thanksgiving 

The day before Thanksgiving and I’m starting preparations for dinner tomorrow. I’ve learned little tricks over the years like making the broth for the turkey out of the turkey gizzards and neck is easier done the day before.  Once that broth starts cooking my kitchen is filled with the smells of Thanksgiving for the first time.  

Along with the smells of Thanksgiving come memories.

Memories of Thanksgivings past.

I actually woke up this morning thinking about Thanksgivings of my past.

When I think of the holidays I always think of my late father as well as my late brother in law because they both loved Christmas and Thanksgiving. When they were both alive Thanksgiving could almost be exhausting because they were perfectionists, but the meals were awesome!  

I have some very fond memories of Thanksgivings at my sister’s house in New York before my brother-in-law died. They have a beautiful dining room that is almost a square in shape so my sister uses two small tables that are round versus one large table.  I think after both my father and brother in law being lost within a few short years of each other it has taken us a while to get our Thanksgiving groove back.

When my sister and I were really little I remember going to my Uncle  Jackie’s and Aunt Connie’s house for Thanksgiving.  

All of my cousins, us, aunt and uncle, and Mumma and Poppy. Due to family drama I don’t have very many memories of very many of these Thanksgivings. But those I remember being much more fun than the Thanksgivings we spent at my father’s sister’s house.

My aunt, my father’s only sister, has never been an easy woman to read. I have always felt she didn’t like me very much or my mother and was jealous of my late father. She did seem to like my sister. Her daughters well, they were fine to get along with when we were little, but as we all grew up we did not have much to say to each other and still don’t to this day.

I have a distinct memory again of when we were very little, and my Aunt Theresa and Uncle Serge lived in Paoli.   Paoli was still a bit rural in spots.  I remember they lived down a really long driveway in a white farmhouse. It was a really cool farmhouse and I seem to recall it was Victorian in nature. I don’t know that anybody has photos of it anymore but I have a distinct memory of a Thanksgiving there.

It was a big crowd for dinner and I remember that the kids had their own table set up outside the dining room in the front hall by the staircase. I remember that we ate black eyed peas as one of the dishes.  My uncle is Cuban, and I also remember his mother was still alive.

Many years later we all tried the Thanksgiving together again with them when my grandmother – my father’s mother – was still alive. At this point my aunt and uncle had settled in Chestnut Hill where they still live today. I remember that Thanksgiving is being technically beautiful but emotionally cold. And I remember their dining room in their house in Chestnut Hill was quiet and dark, even in candlelight.

I remember other Thanksgivings we spent with our family friends the Cullens. They had been our neighbors in Society Hill when we were really little and they first moved to Bethesda because Mr. Cullen’s job took him to Washington DC, and then later they moved to Summit, New Jersey because his job eventually took him to New York City.

Growing up the Thanksgiving dinners we had with the Cullens are among my happiest memories of Thanksgiving as a child. Those were the holidays that were alive and boisterous and fun. Mr. Cullen was a tall Irishman with a big chest and a wonderful voice. And he was funny and he would say funny these things and you could just see the twinkle in his eye. Mrs. Cullen is still one of my favorite people on the face of this earth.  She is one of the brightest people I’ve ever had the privilege to know and she is also probably the closest thing to Julia Child I will ever know as a home cook. 

The thing about Thanksgiving dinners with them is it bought out the best in everyone. Although Mr. Cullen like my father, died years ago now, the family remains dear friends.

I especially liked the years they lived in Maryland because we would go down there for the weekend pretty much, and I would be able to wander around Georgetown while we were there and discovered fun things like Kemp Mill Records. That was this awesome record store in Georgetown where I listened to artists like Al Stewart for the first time.

We had other Thanksgiving dinners that were just our family and smaller that were equally memorable. It was always fun getting the table set with my mother and laying out the flatware and the china, making sure the crystal glasses were all sparkle and no smudges. The good smells eminated from the kitchen all day until dinner time.

Other memories of Thanksgiving include when I was in my early to mid 20s and my girlfriends and I would always go to West Chester for years the night before Thanksgiving. We would go to the Gobble Off at the Bar and Restaurant in West Chester.  I have written about this before, it was just that much fun. Now we’re all purported grownups with our own families and that seems so long ago and far away. There were other night before Thanksgiving nights out with my friend Pam in Manayunk. I forget what the name of the restaurant is where we all used to meet in those days but it was a lot of fun as well. Pam would get all sorts of people together from high school and she made the evening fun!

Along with the Thanksgiving memories are the years that were like being banished. It was because of a prior relationship that I used to have to go into Central Pennsylvania basically. It was like being a stranger in a strange land and sadly these were the people that were almost my in-laws. I just never quite fit. That made it hard before any of the other stuff.

They weren’t bad people. One sister-in-law probably because she wasn’t related to the siblings by blood I liked in particular, still do. Before she divorced her husband (my ex’s brother) I honestly did enjoy going to Thanksgiving at her house up around Mechanicsburg. She and her mom were all about tradition and it was festive and warm. But the majority of the years I spent going to another almost sister-in-law’s house outside of Allentown. That was not so much fun.

The entire car ride up my ex would berate me about one thing or the other. Usually he yelled. Why was I wearing what I was wearing? What I could say and what I couldn’t say, and basically the entire duration of our relationship he didn’t want me getting too close to his family and didn’t share the few friends he had.  It was always an unpleasant ride up. By the time I got to his sister’s house I was a bundle of raw nerves.

When we got to his sister’s house, which was a townhouse development on the edge of a golf course, we would circle around for parking and eventually find the spot he deemed suitable. Then we would haul in my contributions to the meal. And we generally speaking, well that was me.  

When you got inside the townhouse you had the welcoming smell of a Thanksgiving dinner.  Unfortunately you were also met with some pretty somewhat bitter and somewhat dissatisfied middle-age women all divorced older than myself. The nieces and nephews were nice when they were in town, but I couldn’t hang out with the kids I was one of the grown-ups.  

One of the most amusing part of those Thanksgiving dinners in exile was the way every year the one sister magically made photos of my ex’s ex-wife fall out of the drawer or a book somewhere.  And I also never understood why they went to the trouble to cook a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner and have people around the table and not put the food out in nice containers. They put the disposable aluminum pans and plastic containers and what not right on the sideboard.

The Thanksgivings I spent in exile so to speak made me appreciate my friends and family all the more.  Not every Thanksgiving is perfect, we’re human they are not supposed to be. And even on the Thanksgivings that don’t quite end up the way you envision there is always good. Or at least humor. 

I think we all have this goal to become like a Norman Rockwell painting for one day. The problem is we can’t help but fall short because we are actual people not subjects of someone’s artistic mind’s eye.

I love hearing about my friends’ traditions.  I woke up this morning thinking of someone I used to know who always spoke about making creamed onions in a sherry cream sauce every Thanksgiving.

Now sprinkled in between all the homemade Thanksgiving dinners were a couple club and restaurant made Thanksgiving dinners.  Those were beautiful dinners and we had a lot of fun, but it was sort of anti-climactic because you didn’t wake up the next day to Thanksgiving leftovers and that is part of the fun of Thanksgiving.

I think Thanksgiving is a holiday is something I enjoy more the older I get. I don’t know if that makes any sense. I think part of it has to do with feeling somewhat like I have come into my own. But I do love Thanksgiving and even more so, Christmas. I am the crazy person that likes to put out the china, iron and do up the old table linens,  and decorate and cook.

We all have a lot to be thankful for, even if it is not always immediately apparent. Hearth and home are powerful motivators. My wish for this Thanksgiving is as a country we start to put aside all the political divisiveness of this recent presidential campaign, and remember what it is to be an American.  

I don’t know about you but I am tired of all the hate and violence. I am tired of the protests. I am tired of the anger. It’s exhausting even to avoid. I hope everyone takes a breath tomorrow and enjoys the company they are with. tomorrow literally is the day to be grateful for what we have and who we have in our lives.

Well I have to get back to my meal preparations, because when you’re a kid you don’t realize the preparing Thanksgiving dinner actually takes a good couple solid days of work!

Wishing all of you my readers, a safe and happy and blessed Thanksgiving.

for the love of god and country: the ceremony at ebenezer

dsc_9202Today’s ceremony at the ruins of Ebenezer A.M.E. on Bacton Hill Road today literally made me cry.  I was so overcome with emotion that the ruin and cemetery are finally getting well-deserved recognition and attention.  #thisplacematters , all 184 years of it.

dsc_9253When I got to the graveyard, people were assembling. Media, neighbors, passers-by who decided to pull over and stop, descendants of those souls buried there, a representative from the East Whiteland Historical Commission, some of my “Ladies of Ebenezer”, the Willistown Troop 78 Scouts, Luke Phayre the Eagle Scout and his family (including his mom Kathy and grandfather) , many local veterans, three member of the East Whiteland Police Department,  WCU Student Veterans Group members, and  Al Terrell.

dsc_9082It was so overwhelming to me, it truly was such a beautiful sight. It was indeed something I was not sure I would ever see and among other things I so wished Ann Christie had lived long enough to see this happen – which is why some of the Ladies of Ebenezer were there today – we had made Ann a promise because she truly loved the site and had tried for years before my interest to get to this point.  We also felt today we were able to honor her, along with the black Civil War soldiers and other souls buried at Ebenezer. After so many decades of truly wanton neglect, these people were honored.

dsc_9300It was long overdue, but our very history is often such a cruel mistress.

dsc_9108Our ceremony was opened by Luke Phayre. He spoke about his project and thanked people who have been helping him.  He spoke very well and is truly a poised and wonderful young man.

dsc_9088Captain Howard A. Crawford, USAF, MSC (Ret) who is the Commander of the West Chester American Legion Post 134 (Bernard Schlegel Post) spoke simply and eloquently

“We’re here today to honor Civil War soldiers…African American soldiers that died…[who] weren’t given the honors of a true [military] burial.”

dsc_9273His son played taps for the soldiers on a bugle.  Veterans gave a military rifle salute, and if memory serves I think it is called a three volley salute.

dsc_9149And East Whiteland Police Department sent three representatives.  These fine gentlemen came in full uniform and participated.  I was so touched that they wanted to do this, especially today when they were on their way to bury a former brother officer who had served with them and passed away.  At a time in this country when people are so darn critical of our men in blue – like those Bryn Mawr College students this week for example – I think these are the quiet moments that most police critics tend to overlook that speak volumes as to the characters of those who serve. Bravo, East Whiteland Police Department. Such a generous gesture on your own day of loss.

dsc_9317In a nation currently torn asunder by varying political factions and beliefs, those of us involved at Ebenezer are humbled by this kind gesture on the part of Chester County veterans and local police and others who believe in our quest to save Ebenezer and honor those buried here.

Today we saw people leave their politics at home and come together. It was such a poignant and beautiful thing to be part of the week before Thanksgiving. This is what it means to come together and be Americans. There was no race, creed, color, or political divide we were all just Americans coming together to honor our dead. It was so inspiring and true and good a thing. Days like this give us all hope.

Thanks for stopping by.  Read the Daily Local tomorrow too.

dsc_9339

sometimes….it takes a really BIG and extended village

Ebenezer AME on Bacton Hill Road has been my passion project the past few years as most of my friends and family  and readers know. 

 If my sweet man hadn’t stopped that winter’s day so I could take photos, I wouldn’t have found my USCT soldier Joshua.
I wrote about this  for three years straight  here until things started to click. I am grateful for the help of so many, especially Al Terrell and those amazing Willistown Troop 78 scouts.


We went from a crazy overgrown site that no one loved to today at Ebenezer in Frazer! 
Look at this and be happy – this is what it means to be an American. This is what it means to honor your history and the dead. This is what it means to honor some of our older veterans – as in from the Civil War.


A shout out to today’s guest star volunteers: WCU Student Veterans Group, WCU Men’s Rugby Club, and two WCU Fraternities, Sigma Epsilon (I don’t know if this should be Sigma Phi Epsilon?)  and FIJI. About 50 students total. Kelby Hershey is apparently the super hero at WCU who brought these folks together today for us—and a new grave was discovered!


It’s a shame that The Daily Local News hasn’t covered this yet. And once again, I have to say thanks to the Philadelphia Inquirer for giving us not one but two articles in 2016.


If any media out there can find it in their hearts to cover Ebenezer, kindly contact me. If there are those out there who want to volunteer, connect with Al Terrell. 

Thank you everyone for your interest. This is 184 years of history, amazing vibrant and important history, and we are all so thankful that so many are starting to realize it. 

Enjoy the photos!

I am closing with a quote that is a favorite of my friend Sara:

”Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Walk humbly with your God .”[Micah 6:8]

the last ring home: the documentary

My friend Minter Dial with my copy of his book which he autographed for me tonight

About a month ago I wrote about my friend’s book, The Last Ring Home.

Since then it has been locally featured in articles in both the Main Line Times and this past weekend in The Philadelphia Inquirer. It also won best foreign film at The Charleston Film Festival over the weekend. It airs this Friday, November 11 on PBS – at 7:30 PM on WHYY.

Tonight Minter Dial joined family, friends, and many others as we saw an advance screening of the companion documentary to his book at The Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Some of us also had the good fortune to spend some additional time with Minter beforehand at Xolo Tacos in Bryn Mawr. The opening photo was after he signed my copy of his beautiful book which I read cover to cover in one sitting.

It is a sad, beautiful, bittersweet tale of his own journey to learn about a grandfather he never knew and his grandfather’s tale.

His grandfather survived over 2 years in a Japanese internment camp in World War II but never made it home.

There are other stories within the stories including of his grandfather’s US Naval Academy ring (Class of 1932). I am not saying any more because I want people to buy the book AND watch the documentary on Friday.

We have had such a brutal campaign season and tonight was a welcome respite  and a tangible reminder of what it is to be an American, and a reminder of what our members of the armed forces have fought and died for since the Revolutionary War. 

At the Q and A after the film, Minter read an excerpt of a speech given by his great grandfather who was a United States Senator from South Carolina 1919 to 1925. Senator Nathaniel Barksdsle Dial’s last speech while a U.S. Senator was eerily timely today, in 2016. He spoke of how he was sick of the then political divisiveness he saw in his day.  It was astounding.

Seeing this film tonight was the perfect reminder of who we should all want to be as Americans.  In that vein, I am going to mention there is a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to get The Last Ring Home on PBS from coast to coast. If you are so inclined, there are a little over 10 days to raise the rest of the funds.

I know I have readers down in Washington DC and you have an opportunity to see The Last Ring Home tomorrow November 9th at noon at the U.S. Navy Memorial. 

Ok off to see if we have a president yet.

Thanks for stopping by!

At The Bryn Mawr Film Institute this evening

election overload


I love the one stop shopping on King Road: Test Prep, homemade political vitriol, and the campaign sign of a Democrat whose financial habits apparently rival Trump’s .

I can’t take it anymore. I don’t want to see one more sign from any candidate!

I don’t want one more Robo call!

Before I went out this morning to a doctor’s appointment there were four in a row both parties. My favorite of that bunch was the heavy breather from the National Rifle Association.  

Then when I came home after my doctor’s appointment I had missed five more Robo calls from imaginary made up numbers. One left a message wanting to speak to the man of the house that was the Republican National Committee. I’m sorry GOP but this little woman erased your message. (I figured since I wasn’t supposed to worry my pretty little head about it it was OK)

I can’t even listen to the radio because today one of Katie McGinty’s big donors must be paying for a lot of airtime. So today I get to hear how she was conceived of immaculate conception and her mother is the Virgin Mary.

 I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version of what the truth is on Katie McGinty: she’s one of Fast Eddie’s girls from way back and she’s a political opportunist. So she might’ve been raised on wholesome family values, but Saint she ain’t. Much like Josh Shapiro, she hopes to ride Hillary Clinton’s pantsuit.

Every time I turn on the TV, Donald Trump has one of his children from one of his wives making a campaign stop somewhere.  Then there was the whole visual of him in a Wawa buying tastykakes. 

Every time I turn on the TV there are any number of attack ads from any number of candidates in three states.

I open my mailbox and it’s full glossy flyers I can’t return to sender. Both parties. Every day.

I am suffering from election sensory overload

At this point for the first time in my life during a presidential election, I feel like crawling into bed and pulling the quilt over my head until election day is over.  

All the freaking money these people are spending attacking each other could be put to better use. They might actually be able to help people in need.

ebenzer a.m.e. on bacton hill road is in the news!

Meet some of my grown-up Ebenezer saviors. The gentleman far left will forgive me as I do not remember his name. Second left is Doug, center is Al Terrell, and far right is my arborist Bob Phipps of Phipps Tree Care.

Meet some of my grown-up Ebenezer saviors. The gentleman far left will forgive me as I do not remember his name. Second from left is Doug, center is Al Terrell, and far right is my arborist Bob Phipps of Phipps Tree Care.

For over three years, I felt like a lone voice in the proverbial wilderness. It also felt crazy to me that no one really cared about the ruins of 184 years of history known as Ebenezer A.M.E. and her old souls buried on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, East Whiteland.

But it ends up, people do care, and day by day she is further released from her green prison of weeds, giant poison ivy vines, overgrowth. Every day we see a little more.

Meet Luke Phayre, our Eagle Scout

Meet Luke Phayre, our Eagle Scout

The tide turned shortly after Kristin Holmes wrote her first article on Ebenezer. This gentleman named Al Terrell told me he was going to get Ebenezer cleaned up.  He will tell you, and I will admit at that point my faith in this happening and being able to keep my promise to Ann Christie that we wouldn’t give up… was waning to say the least.

But Al came along with this remarkable teenager and Eagle Scout from Willistown 78, Luke Phayre.  And little by little, it’s happening.  It is actually happening.

Al is amazing.  He is one of the nicest men I have ever met, and he has this quiet and unassuming determination about him.  He has a deeply rooted faith in God and humankind that has kind of made me have faith again.

And Luke. Luke is an amazing boy, with an equally amazing mom, Kathy.  This boy is hard-working, smart, and articulate.  And yesterday, even as most of his buddies and fellow scouts were off on a camping trip, Luke was at Ebenezer, cleaning up debris.  I can’t tell you how impressed I was with Luke and happy to meet his mother who is also just one of those people you know from the first introduction are “good people”.

Meet Harriet, we discovered her yesterday. ~ Al Terrell photo

Meet Harriet, we discovered her yesterday. ~ Al Terrell photo

Yesterday at Ebenezer, I also met a man named Doug.  He grew up in East Whiteland and told me about how he and his friends played in the graveyard and church.  He said when they were kids (60’s and 70’s) there was still the roof and the floor. And even part of the old altar and a couple of pews.  That now gives us a better timeline as to when the roof caved in taking everything and the floor with it. My guesstimate on that is late 1970s or 1980s.

So today, Kristin Holmes has another article in the Inquirer.  I had contacted her after the clean up began and had sent her photos.  I connected her to Al Terrell for a follow-up article.  One of the most remarkable things in the article is a quote from an A.M.E. Bishop who would not respond to me when I contacted him:

Duffy’s son, Luke Phayre, 15, and Terrell researched the property and talked with township officials. They also sought permission for the cleanup from the First District of the A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia, and got it. Phayre said he talked to Bishop Gregory Ingram, who sent a letter approving the project and commending Phayre for his initiative.

“I think it’s so noble,” Bishop Ingram said in an interview Friday. “. . . I feel somewhat embarrassed that I haven’t been out there. But I will.

“For anyone to make themselves available to champion a cause like this,” he said, “it shows that in the midst of all the negativity in the world, wonderful things are happening.”

 

This also means to me that the A.M.E. Church is acknowledging Ebenezer’s existence and importance in history. It also gives me hope and the ability to start to forgive the A.M.E. Church  for not responding, not acknowledging.  A boy with a scout project helped them see what we see. That is what is important. Will I ever forget that men and women of the cloth like Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler, senior pastor of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia who had an earlier calling in West Chester could never take the time to speak to me when I reached out? Probably not, but that is past and it’s time to look forward.

Bishop Ingram makes a hopeful difference in my mind, so it’s time to forgive them and look forward.

Every time I am at Ebenezer now I get all filled up with tears.  Happy tears that people young and old and in between still care about things like this.  Now I am hopeful she will be preserved and along with her some of the history of the people of Bacton, which was once a very important black community around here.

Meet Luke's mom, Kathy Duffy Phayre. When you meet her you know instantly why she has such amazing children!

Meet Luke’s mom, Kathy Duffy Phayre. When you meet her you know instantly why she has such amazing children!

The people buried in this cemetery bore witness to so much  history.  And they lived it like ordinary people raising their families, working hard towards a better tomorrow.  We owe these people a great debt, I think.

This article which I am about to post is why I do what I do.  And some days it is hard. People love to criticize and castigate from behind their keyboards, semi-anonymous in their vitriol.

This is a strange world we live in where at times you are punished for not essentially being like everyone else, not thinking like everyone else, not being all the exact same homogeneous lump of humanity. And then after a lot of these people criticize they actually go out and mimic what you do, anyway. Imitation is after all, the sincerest form of flattery (or something like that.)

My journey through Chester County thus far has been an amazing one.  And it is home.  So I am happy, so truly happy about Ebenezer.  I have hope for her future and was able to keep my word to a new friend.

Enjoy the article and I will have new photos soon.

Thank you Kristin Holmes for getting it. She is the ONLY reporter from any paper who has taken the time to write about this.

Thank you Al and Luke for your hard work and unwavering faith.

Updated: OCTOBER 16, 2016 — 5:34 AM EDT