Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Old and The New

It's always interesting to go back to my original home town.  I lived in Havre de Grace, Maryland for the majority of my first forty years.  I moved seventeen years ago.  There have been a lot of changes in those seventeen years and each time I return I become more aware of them. When I see my two adult daughters I do not really see two adult young ladies.  I still see the two little girls that changed my life.  It's much the same when I return home to Havre de Grace.  I don't see the condo's on the water front, or the antique shops on the main street.  I still see the old Five and Ten Store and the clothing stores on Washington Street.  And when I drive down to the water front I see the old gravel road and the shade trees behind the Seneca Cannery instead of the three story high condo's cluttering the view.

I am sure the folks who live in the condo's have a wonderful view of the Susquehanna River.  And I am sure they have lovely homes.  But I am also sure they have no idea of the memories and the history that is attached to the area their homes are now built on.

The old Seneca Cannery is now an antiques mall.  It lends its name to the housing development just behind it on the water front - Seneca Pointe Condominiums.  My mother worked at the cannery when she was a teenager during the World War II years.  They canned tomatoes here.  She only worked there a short period of time but she loved to tell stories about it.  In the basement area in the back of the cannery German prisoners of war were held.  I doubt very much the folks at Seneca Point Condo's have any idea of this history.  And in reality the entire story might be an exaggeration.  But my mother talked about it from time to time so it became a reality to me.  My mother wanted to write and probably should have.  This all may have been part of a creative novel in her head that never got written on paper.  Today with the internet and blogs some of her stories can now finally be put into words.  So rest assured residents of Seneca Pointe, there might not have actually been German prisoners of war historically at your door step.  But then again maybe there were.

My father's sister Louise was one of my favorite Aunts.  She was a very excitable woman who tended to talk to fast, stutter a little if she got excited, and was full of live.  I loved her.  She and her daughter Peggy were the only two people I knew who talked as fast as I do.  When I would spend time with the two of them we all talked even faster.  We seemed to bring that out in each other. The only time I ever knew Aunt Louise to be calm was when she was fishing.  She could sit for hours on the bank of the river and calmly wait for the fish to bite.  Right at the point here where the cars are parked by the condo's I remember Aunt Louise sitting one afternoon.  There were a couple of shade trees here and she was relaxing under them with her fishing pole in hand.  In her other hand she had a large stick that she would shake at the ground from time to time.  I asked her what she was doing with the stick. She told me ssshhh!   Then she whispered to me there is a big black snake over in that bush, but there is also a big bass jumping out there just off the point.  I'm not letting that snake run me off until I catch that bass.  Aunt Louise won the battle.  She caught the bass and the snake finally crawled away in fear of the stick.  No one at Seneca Pointe Condominiums will ever know the story. Sadly no one's excitable Aunt will ever be able to relax under the trees and fish here any longer either.  My Aunt was the first of several in my family to be diagnosed with alzheimer's disease.  Her stories were lost forever buried deep in her brain somewhere.  But if the folks in the condo's want to here some of her stories I still have them.

There was an old cement wall along the cove behind the cannery. You could sit on the wall and let your feet cool in the water or you could fish from the wall.  It was almost at water level so it was not very tall.    At one time there was a very old and weather beaten picnic table next to the wall  that my family used for a Saturday afternoon family reunion.  My fathers family were a fun but a wild bunch at times.  They were Irish.  They liked to drink and they liked to fight.  They were a true stereotype.  My father had small runabout boat with an Evinrude motor behind it.  He brought the boat around, from Jeff Baldwin's old docks just around the bend from Seneca Pointe, to take a couple of his sisters out for a ride on the river.  The rest of us waited on the bank by the picnic table waiting to see what would happen.  Something always happened when the family got together.  While they were out on the river another boat came speeding buy and hit them with the wake from his engine causing my Dad's boat to rock very hard.  My one  aunt could not swim and it terrified her.  She raised her fist and shook it at other boat and screamed some words that I need not repeat here.  Not knowing what he was getting himself into the man shook his fist and yelled back and proceeded to follow my fathers boat back to the shore.  My father was a short man being only five foot seven inches.  His two sisters were even shorter.  So I am sure this man was not afraid to argue with this crew.  But they were fighting Irish.  When my Aunt Anna Mary, all five foot three of her, got out of my father's boat and stepped on the shore she was shaking with anger.  The other man still wanted to argue.  Aunt Mary reached down and grabbed him by his hair and tried to drag him out of his boat.  It took three people to restrain her.  She had a hold of his shirt and his arm when they pulled her off.  Two other Aunts came down to join in the "fun" along with my Dad and two of his brothers.  The poor man in the other boat luckily got his engine started and pulled away with his boat with all but his dignity still intact.

My mother also had a sister named Louise.  This Aunt Louise was as different from my father's sister as possible.  She worked very hard all of her life.  For twenty nine years she worked on an assembly line at a shoe factory making combat boots for a government contract.  She had one week of vacation each year.  For many years she never traveled any where and spent most of her vacation at home.  She and her cousin Mary, who also worked at the shoe factory, liked to spend some of the vacation time fishing right here where the Seneca Pointe condominiums are located today.  If a black snake crawled by, she would have left the bass in the river, and fled the area along with Mary.  If some boat would speed by and splash her with it's wake she would either blame herself for setting to close to the river bank, or would have just laughed and waved.  She and Mary would relax by the shore and talk for hours because they knew they had to return to the factory the next week.

Today the condominiums cover the river bank behind the old Seneca Cannery.  There are many families living there now and I am sure each family has it's own share of stories.  They are bringing a new history to the shore line.  I will probably never know their stories nor will they ever know my families stories.  It doesn't really matter.  I really dislike the condominiums.  The block the view of the river and change the appearance of the area.  They will be gone one day also and someone will have stories of grandparents and aunts who lived there to share.  For me, when I return to Havre de Grace and drive down past them my mind flashes back to family and friends who played there and relaxed there.  The condo's may change the view but they can't change the memories.

This is my Aunt Jenny and my Aunt Louise, two of my Dad's sisters at my high school graduation.   Black snakes and boaters beware!  But who could really be afraid of these two beautiful ladies.

This is my other Aunt Louise, my mother's sister.  She would avoid an argument at almost any cost and blame herself for any conflicts that might occur.  She worked hard and had a heart as big as the heavens.

No comments:

Post a Comment