Wintergreen Revisited x2

Wilson Junior High

July 12 – When I was 13, and in John Hickey’s eighth grade home room at Wilson Junior High, the class decided to have an all-day picnic at Wintergreen. After meeting at the school, the group walked over East 28th to Elm Street, and along Zimmerman Road. I joined them as they walked past my house. After spending the morning playing softball and hiking down to the creek and back, we enjoyed our picnic lunch and started back home.

About a mile along the way we were treated to a real thunderstorm. Girls were complaining about stringy hair, boys were stamping puddles, splashing each other and any girls who might be nearby. We sloshed our way to our house where everyone crowded into our small living room.

Off came shoes and socks—the flowered linoleum was muddy and wet but my mother didn’t care. She loved kids more than furniture and floors! Sprawled on the floor or lounging on the couches, we sang songs, told stories and forged deeper friendships. Finally everyone was dry the rain had stopped and Mr. Hickey started off down the road towards Wilson.

Later, as a young mother, I introduced our two children to Wintergreen so they could learn to love it too. But there were many changes in the place since I was their age. Instead of sliding down the steep path on the cemetery side, we had to park just off Cooper Road and walk the trail that winds its way behind the campus of Penn State Behrend.

About a block along the path there’s a steep dirt slope that just dares brave kids and their foolish parents to try their luck at climbing.

“Beat ya to the top!”

My son was challenged and off he scooted, walking upright at first, and then dropping to hands and knees. Not far behind him, I gasped for roots or saplings to hang on to on the way up. Puffing and panting more than I did 30 years before, I reached the top.

“Pretty good, Mom,” my son admitted, while his dad nodded his agreement. Now if the trip to the top of the hill was hard on the muscles, the return to the bottom was hard on the mind and seat of the pants. It was somewhat scary to be flying from one tree to another trying to keep my footing. And if I missed the tree I was aiming for, down I would go sliding the rest of the way on my pants.

Not bad for somebody your age,” Son said laconically, but I could sense a little bit of pride in his voice.

Later way at the top of the cliff at the end of the trail, we looked down into the gorge where I had skipped rocks across the waters many years before.

I showed my small daughter how to play house under some of the trees whose roots were partly above ground. Smooth flat spaces between the roots made perfect rooms. Furniture and people were fashioned from twigs, leaves, acorns, spruce cones, and bits of moss. Indian tepees were made from broad leaves and twigs.

The pond near the entrance was an interesting place where we could find frogs and salamanders as well as many kinds of fish hovering over their nests near the banks.

As the four of us tramped along the water’s edge we disturbed an underground yellow jacket’s, nest. Before we knew what had happened, those insects had declared war and began buzzing around us with no good purpose in mind.

Amid a chorus of “Mom, they got me! Dad, help! Ouch! Ouch!” I ran to our car parked along the roadway. They had stung me too, and I wanted to get into that supposedly safe haven! But, as I opened the door, several flew right into the car with me and stung me three more times before I could shoo them out! – CHRIS

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