Wildwood Daze – Gone Fishing

Wildwood, New Jersey – The early 70s

Once my parents had acquired the house at the shore, they quickly fell into the lifestyle. Days at the beach for mom and the girls, and dad taking up surf fishing. I don’t know exactly when he started getting into fishing, but I remember what he normally did when approaching something new. He read several books on the subject and got to know people in the fishing community on the island.

I remember us going up to a tackle store on the corner of New Jersey Avenue and Juniper. We would hang out in the store and he’d chat with the owner, Charlie Glenn. Mr. Glenn was a master angler. Well known on the island as a guy who could”high hook” every other fisherman around. High hook meant if they were ever out fishing Mr. Glenn would usually catch something and everyone else would go home empty-handed.

His store was a classic seashore town bait and tackle shop. All sorts of rods, reels, lures and stuff to send you on your fishing adventures. I remember a sign he had hanging on the wall among the photos of fish he had caught. It read: “Early to bed. Early to rise. Fish like hell, and make up lies.” I always liked it for its clever play on words and the idea that men probably lied all of the time about what they caught and how big the fish was. (Or the big one that got away!)

My father invested in some good surf fishing gear. He purchased a big ten-foot rod with a Garcia reel. Unlike fishing in streams and off boats, you need a long rod to throw the bait beyond the waves to where the fish were. My dad’s goal was to hook and catch a big bluefish. Weakfish and Striped Bass were also popular types that the fisherman sought after.

Bluefish – These suckers get huge and fight like a fish twice their size.

Bluefish - Wikipedia

Weakfish – This guy is actually a sea trout, but his nickname comes from his tender mouth. It’s ‘weak’ so it’s hard to get a hook in him.

Maryland Fish Facts

Striped Bass – The name is pretty obvious.

Atlantic Striped Bass | NOAA Fisheries

My dad wanted to catch one of those big blues because they put up a hell of a fight if you got one on your hook. We started out using bait, like bits of squid, but quickly abandoned that. It was slimy, smelly, gross to handle, and just seemed boring. You’d see guys at the beach sitting in their chairs with their rods standing in spikes that were driven into the sand. They’d be puffing cigars and drinking beer and just waiting and hoping something would come along and hit their bait. Boring!

My dad got into lure fishing. Using steel lures like Hopkins and Castmasters that had reflective surfaces that resembled little fish that the bigger fished liked to dine upon. Those were my favorite!

But to catch the bigger fish, you needed to use a lure called a plug.

12 Great Lures for Chinook Salmon Fishing in Puget Sound - Riptidefish

They resembled the type of fish called mullet that the bigger fish went crazy over. My father gave me books to read on the subject of fishing in general. I could still tie the proper knots to secure the lure to the line if you asked me today.

The key to catching fish in my opinion was pretty simple.

Fish the areas where you think the fish may be feeding. That meant looking to see where the seabirds like gulls were feeding. If you saw the gulls diving down to the water and snatching up little fish, that usually meant there was something bigger beneath the surface driving the little fish to the surface. If you can cast your lure out there, you may get a hit.

It seemed the best fishing was in the fall. My dad would head down to the beach in his waders and cast his heart out trying to catch a big blue. I don’t think most people realize how strong these fish are. The line these fishermen are using is heavy monofilament. A steel leader is tied to it, and then that’s attached to the lure. You have to cast it out as far as you can, and then work that lure through the water so it looks like a little fish doing its thing to fool the bigger fish. It’s truly a skill to be learned.

My dad got me a seven-and-a-half-foot Fenwick glass on glass rod, that had incredible action. On it was a Penn reel. I loved that fishing pole. I had thrown the big ten-footers in the surf without much success, and to a skinny kid like me, they were just too heavy. My older sister had a beautiful blue fishing rod, and she was an avid fisherwoman along with my dad. She put the time and practice in on the beach with dad more than I did. With that dedication came a pretty good-sized weakfish she caught on her own. I was impressed and we have the pictures to prove it. I hadn’t caught anything during any of my fishing endeavors.

As time and practice went by my dad started catching a few bluefish. Which was cool, because he would bring them home, and we’d all dine on them. I think up till then the only fish I had eaten was in the form of fried fish sticks and crab cakes. They were all bought at the supermarket from the frozen food section!

But freshly prepared seafood was delicious! My dad showed me every aspect of the fishing experience. How to hold the fish if you caught one, and how to carefully and mercifully remove the hook from the fish’s mouth.

The fish would be brought home and washed, scaled, and cut into filets. If he had a successful day and had caught more than his share, he’d share his bounty with the neighborhood. Everybody loves free food, especially when it’s absolutely fresh. Another cool thing my dad showed me, was to take the carcasses of the fish and bury them in the garden. So nothing was ever wasted from the catch. As the fish decomposed underground, they served as fertilizer. This yielded terrific, robust Jersey tomatoes. My father seemed to be very pleased with this whole cycle of life program he developed. I imagined him as the Indian warrior and me his little brave.

The filets were cooked in a pan or broiled with a bit of lemon, butter, and pepper. You can really taste the difference when you devour something that was alive and well a few hours ago. Sea to the table! (Just watch out for the bones!)

Dad finally caught a monster bluefish. He was so proud. It was three feet long and probably weighed over 20 lbs. A beast! He showed me photos he had taken.  He also showed me how during that battle to bring the fish to shore, it had beat up his tackle pretty bad. Steel leaders all chewed up and bent, and hooks nearly straightened. I was shocked at the raw power of these sea denizens as they fought their final battle on earth.

My dad became a hardcore fisherman. He and his buddies would get in his VW minibus and drive down the beach in the off-season. You needed a permit to do that, but it was awesome to take the van on the beach. He would drop the bed in the back and you could lay the fishing rods right in there. I remember going with my dad a few times, but I remember not catching anything and freezing my butt off in the van. But I was happy to spend time with my father, just the two of us.

One of the things you had to always watch when you were casting out your lure was to check that the line wasn’t tangled around the end of the pole. If it was and you didn’t notice the twist when you cast out, the line would snap and you basically threw away an eight-dollar steel lure. You’d watch your lure sail through the air and think for a second, “That was an amazing cast!” Then you’d see it disappear beneath the waves and watch as all you had left was a broken line twirling in the wind on the end of your rod. Fun!

I kept plugging away at the fishing without much luck. But one day I was down on the beach casting away with my dad and pro angler sister, and something happened.

“I got one!” I yelled as I felt the sudden tug on my line and the drag on the reel whir in my hand as the line went out of the reel. I had to think quickly and remember what my dad told me. Pull back on the rod, to seat the hook, and as I lower it, reel in like hell. I did this automatically as I did it over and over. I instinctively started to back away from the water hoping to haul out my catch. I saw him break the beach and I had him! I ran over and put my hand down on the small bluefish. I had finally caught one!

This was a father-son moment. An ancient art passed down through the generations. The father teaches his children how to catch and prepare their own food from the wild. It just felt like we were aligned with our ancestors that day on the beach.

Once I got it, I was back to casting away again. I think we caught 14 blues that afternoon. I went from zero to hero in one day! But that can happen in life. You feel like a failure, but if you keep at it, you’ll eventually find some success. This has followed me throughout my entire life.

Here are a few final words about fishing and fish in general.

I once found a three-foot sand shark on the beach one night. It was dead and some fisherman had cut a chunk out of it to use as bait. I found this cruel and unusual. Why not simply throw the elegant animal back in the sea if you didn’t want him? I had never seen a shark close up or ever touched one. Their hide is like sandpaper. Really cool. I decided to keep him. I dragged him home and hid him under the bush out front of our house. Of course, after a few days in the heat of summer, that boy was ripe! My mom was wondering what that horrible smell was coming from the front bush. I told her my shark story and she told me to drag that sucker back to the beach and dispose of it. So, I dragged “stinky” back to the dunes and left his carcass for the seagulls.

Once my dad, sister, and I were out on a little boat doing some fishing. I’ll tell the whole story about my experience in a future post, but this one is worth mentioning here. We’re fishing and dad drives the boat over to where he sees some birds working. I cast out a few times without luck. But at one point I accidentally hooked a seagull. I felt terrible. That’s not what I was out there to catch. My dad told me to gently reel him in and we’d figure something out. The eerie thing was, all of the birds stopped feeding. They all just started hovering and some floating in the water around the boat in some sort of Hitchcockian moment. My dad put on a pair of gloves and when the snagged bird was close, he gently removed the hook from the bird’s wing. He seemed unhurt and flew away to my relief.

But during this whole melee, my sister’s line got tangled and the bucktail lure she had been working sank to the bottom of the bay. While my father worked to untangle her line, I just tried to stay out of the way. Once the line was untangled and my sister could reel in her line from the murky depths, she pulls up the lure, and to our amazement, she’d hooked is a big Flounder!

Fishing Forecast: Flounder season is off to its best start in years - Daily Press

Yea, I try to catch fish and instead hook a bird. My sister is so awesome, she catches fish without even trying! High hooked us all that day!

These stories are just about us being a family and doing things together. Learning new skills and sharing fun-filled days.

In the end… what else is there in life?

 

If you like fishing and fishing stories, check out my buddy George’s site! He even has a show on YouTube!

His link is right here:

Home

I also wrote a piece about George in the Fall of 2020. You can check that out here:

George – The Rugged Outdoorsman – Part 1

George – The Rugged Outdoorsman – Part 2

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Snow Day

Philadelphia, PA – Mid to Late 70s.

When you’re in school and there’s a threat of a snowstorm, it’s a joyous occasion. Nowadays, they’ll close the school for some flurries and a little bit of ice. But back in the 60s and 70s, you needed at least 6 inches for them to close the schools.

I’d be home watching TV the night before and I would head downstairs every hour or so to look out the front porch windows. I’d look up at the street lights to see if any flurries were starting to fall. If they had begun then there was a good chance the snow was on, but more times than not, it didn’t. We’d go to bed and hope for the best.

The next morning I’d wake up and look out my bedroom window. I couldn’t see much because I slept in the middle room of our house. All I could see was the house next door. So, I’d flip on the radio just like I did every morning to listen to music to start my day.

Listening to music on the radio is where we got most of our music back then. Two stations. WMMR and WYSP. It was all rock and it’s where I found about whatever was popular at the time. I remember hearing the song, Roxanne by a new band called The Police back in 1978. We Will Rock You, and We Are The Champions by Queen were also a pair of firsts on the radio one morning.

But today I would flip the switch on my clock radio to AM from FM to get the local news. KYW News Radio 1060 was the go-to station for all local and national news. Normally on a snow day, they would list all of the schools and state-run buildings that were closed that day. The announcer would read through a list of dozens and dozens of school numbers to say which ones would be closing due to the inclement weather.

But the one thing we wanted to hear was this statement: “All public and parochial schools are closed.”

When you heard those words, you went from a sleepyhead kid who didn’t want to go to school, to a completely energized youngster with sudden boundless energy and excitement.

We all usually played outside as kids, but when it snowed, it was as if our neighborhood was briefly transformed into a day with endless possibilities and fun.

I’d call my friends and we’d make our plans for the day. The schools were closed to keep children safe and off the streets during inclement weather. But we did the exact opposite.

I’d get dressed and come downstairs to have breakfast with my sisters. Captain Crunch cereal, bacon, toast, and a small glass of orange juice to start the day, all courtesy of mom.

After breakfast, it was time to suit up for the day ahead. Heavy coat, hat, boots, and gloves.

Within an hour I’d meet up with my friend Michael and we’d head down to Rising Sun Avenue. Trudging through the snow with our snow shovels. We’d inquire inside a couple of small businesses and ask to shovel their sidewalks. It was an easy gig because there were no steps or driveways to shovel. Quick and efficient, we’d make between $5 and $10 each. Then we’d stop at the little corner store on the corner of Rising Sun and Gilliam Streets, called Kushners. We’d buy some cigarettes and candy. Cigs back then were $0.60 a pack. $0.51 at Rite Aid! Super cheap!

Once we were finished shoveling a couple of walks we’d head back home and drop off the shovels with no thought of doing our own steps or driveways. I’d go into the garage and grab my sled.

I had recently gotten it for Christmas and it was a beautiful Flexible Flyer. An elegant vehicle you could steer that was sturdy and swift. To add to its ability to dash down a snow-covered hill, I’d take an old candle and rub it along the blades of the sled. This made it even slicker and faster.

My little sisters would be out in the driveway, completely bundled up and they would ride their little sleds up and down the driveway. But the older kids knew of a place where the real fun lived on a snowy day.

That place was the Melrose Golf Country Club. https://www.melrosecountryclub.com/

My friends and I would walk south on Hasbrook Avenue to Levick Street. We’d walk west until we reached the crest of the hill that bordered Cheltenham. Across the bridge, over the railroad tracks, and around the cyclone fence that led into the Melrose golf course. It was obviously closed this time of year because the whole place was buried under a blanket of snow. I’d only seen it once before not covered in snow.

Toy Boat

When we got there it was already full of kids and families from all over who also knew about our secret. The whole course was somehow built on an enormous series of hills. Easily a quarter mile to the bottom down to Tookany Creek. I don’t know about other parts of the country, but I’ve never seen a better place to go sledding in my life. The hills were enormous and steep!

The cool thing was, you saw everybody who knew about this place from around your neighborhood. There were no bullies, no victims, no school rivalries. Just kids all playing together with one goal in mind. Have the best day ever in this winter wonderland made just for us.

Folks were sledding down the slopes on everything imaginable. Mostly standard sleds, but there were some people going down the hills six-strong, on toboggans. The crazy brave on their plastic or metal disks, flying over the moguls sometimes backward!

I even saw some kids all piling onto an old car hood flying down the hill to certain disaster. It was insane!

Think of the exercise we were getting back then as kids. Sledding down huge hills and then dragging our sleds back up the steep hills to do it again and again. All-day long!

Top 12 Epic Sledding Hills

We’d immediately get down to the business of having a great snow day. There were several different hills of varying sizes, so there was something for everyone there. Technically it was private property but in all the years we went there, we never had any problems. We’d start off with some of the smaller, less busy hills and then move over to the one main area where most kids were playing. It was an amazing hill. It began with a steep decline so you’d build up speed rather quickly. Midway through the folks who had to build the course had cut a road horizontally through it for the golf carts to navigate along. So this road created the first jump, so to speak.

So when you hit it at high speed, you’d literally become airborne for a few seconds. You had to hold on tight.

Then the descent became even steeper and you flew down the final few lengths. Near the bottom was a couple of inverted moguls in your path. So, basically, you could go around them or be bold and run right through them. The spot was so famous it became known as The Nutcracker. Because if you hit those dips at high speed you dipped into the first one and then became airborne only to land in the second one with a bang. Hence the name coined by the boys in the area.

It was a large course so we were always looking for new hills to sled down. On one trip we happened upon a spot south where you could sled along the golf cart road they had cut through the hill. It zig-zagged down the hill diagonally and then continued on a sharp curve just as it came to a flat wooden bridge for the golf carts to cross over a small brook. The brook led down into Tookany Creek that ran north and south a quarter of a mile west of where we were.

The hill hadn’t been done before because there weren’t any footprints or sled tracks in the area. So we would be first that day. Me being the cautious one was apprehensive about traversing unknown and potentially dangerous obstacles. But fortune favors the bold and my fearless friend Michael on his tiny, lightning-fast sled said he’d go first. God bless him!

It was a small sled, and he had to lie on his belly, bending his knees, curl his legs back towards him. Not only did he have the guts to go first, but he also got a running start. Holding his tiny sled in his hands he dashed towards the edge of the slope. He threw it down, leaped upon it, and began his rapid descent down this uncharted hill.

We all cheered him on as he flew down the hill, zigging and zagging along in perfect formation. We watched in amazement as he perfectly navigated what seemed like a very tricky hill. He got smaller and smaller as his distance increased from the hopeful onlookers.

His ride was brilliant and we all couldn’t wait to take our turn.

That is until Michael reached the flat wooden bridge. You see, the thing about bridges is they are free-standing structures. The rain, snow, and wind whistle around them and they are not only colder in temperature than the surface of the land, they usually freeze.

So, Mike hits the bridge, and instead of going across it, the moment he exits the curve and his tiny sled hits the frozen surface, he flew right off the side of the bridge and disappeared.

It was a terrifying moment as we all ran down the hill to see what had happened to our brave companion. When we finally reached the bridge, there was Michael climbing up the other side of the embankment. He was a little banged up but no worse for wear. He had flown off the side of the icy bridge, didn’t hit the water, but was going so fast, crashed into the opposite side of the embankment. A brilliant “Evel Knievel” moment. We all helped pull him back up to safety.

The world needs kids like Michael. Those in the tribe who are willing to risk life and limb and leap forward to explore new ground. But the world also needs people like me, to stay behind in case something happens to him. I can live another day, to spin the tale of the great Michael around the fire to the surviving tribal members.

https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/name/michael-mitchell-obituary?pid=195833715

We’d stay on those hills and sled most of the day. Sometimes staying out in the cold for more than six hours. You started to know when it was time to go home. Your whole body hurt from being battered on the slopes, and your speech became slurred because your face was so cold. (Either that or we were in the early stages of hyperthermia!)

Sledding hill at Cascades packed as kids enjoy off day from school - mlive.com

We’d all trudge home and go to our respective houses to dry out and rest. I’d lie on the floor and put my stocking feet against the radiator in the living room. My feet actually started to itch from the blood and nerves returning to my frigid limbs.

But it was all worth it. A day off from school to spend with my friends going on a snowy adventure. Satisfied, I’d quietly reflect on the day and sip a mug of hot cocoa provided by my mom.

I miss Michael. He was a good friend.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

7 Grounding Techniques To Calm Anxiety When You’re This Close To Losing It

Because it happens to all of us. I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression most of my life. But as I’ve gotten older I learned to rewire my brain and spank those demons and make them pay.

And you can too.

No one is immune to feeling anxious at least on occasion. And no matter who or what it is that sparks your pending eruption, knowing how to calm down the anxiety and anger you feeling when you’re seriously this close to losing it can save you and those around you a lot of collateral damage.

Life happens, and a simple chain of events can slowly stoke a fire within you. Then all it takes is one “he said/she said” or “they did/they didn’t” to push you across the threshold into this close-to-losing-it territory.

Once you’ve learned some effective grounding techniques and coping skills for calming anxiety, calling upon them can be far more empowering than impulsively unleashing your fury ever will be.

Here are seven tips on how to calm down when you’re feeling anxious using simple grounding techniques and positive coping skills.

1. Excuse yourself, gracefully

Leave the room, the situation, the area, or park the car, but get yourself to a safe place. That can even mean staying right where you are until the heat of it subsides.

It may be a big test of your inner strength not to storm out of a situation while huffing, puffing, slamming chairs and doors, but do it with grace anyway.

Depending on the circumstance, leaving may not be possible or ideal. Take a deep breath before asking for a time out (or simply informing them that you are taking one), and be sure to do so in a calm and controlled way — even if you have to fake it.

Graceful exits may also mean hitting pause by drinking a glass of water and feeling it dampen your fire. If no water is handy, you can imagine it.

Leaving in a civilized way, either literally or virtually through a pause, versus going into full throttle bulldozer mode can be the step that helps quell your eruption from spewing.

2. Put pen to paper

Intense anxiety or anger can be vanquished by saying what you feel you have to say on paper rather than directly to the object of your frustration.

Kick it old school by handwriting everything that is on your mind so you can vent about this current situation.

The benefits of handwriting as opposed to typing it into a text message or email are twofold:

  • You can’t accidentally click send and unleash your unfiltered thoughts, feeling, and words into someone’s inbox
  • When you finish venting, you can shred the pages with your bare hands (another bonus), leaving no digital trace that may inadvertently be found later

Handwriting has been proven more cathartic than typing, and as well as to help improve critical thinking and problem-solving skills. And being this close to losing it needs solving.

And as explained by Eric Grunwald of MIT’s Global Studies and Languages Department, “Freewriting, a writing strategy developed by Peter Elbow in 1973, is similar to brainstorming but is written in sentence and paragraph form without stopping. Thus, it [increases[ the flow of ideas and reduces the chance that you’ll accidentally censor a good idea,” which can add another level of efficacy in reducing your angst.

3. Visualize the old heave-ho

Fantasizing about flipping the desk over, clearing the table in one swipe, or playing Frisbee with your laptop. It feels good and satisfying, doesn’t it?!

Visualization, also known as imagery, has been a tool employed by Olympians and other elite athletes for decades, and there is much evidence backing its efficacy for putting desired outcomes into motion without ever leaving the room.

How far can you imagine your laptop will actually fly? How well does it bounce?

Keeping your action-packed fantasy in your head allows you to see the action, feel your muscles contracting, hear the thud of your desk, taste and smell the scene in excruciating detail, without leaving an unpleasant mess to clean up afterward.

When you are this close to losing it, you are so wrapped up in the instant gratification of the moment that you don’t see the final scene — the one where you have to pick up the pieces and clean up the debris, all while shrouded in regret, remorse, guilt, and shame for literally following through with your actions.

4. Get tactile

When you are in overdrive and your foot is fully depressed on the accelerator on the thisclose freeway, take the off-ramp by redirecting some resources from that feeling and shifting them to a tactile action like counting your toes.

With the bulk of your attention invested in your current state, very little of you is connected to the physical.

Whether you are standing or sitting, wiggle your toes and notice how many you can feel. Press each individual toe into your shoe and count them, one toe and one foot at a time. Repeat and repeat again.

By counting your toes, you begin to re-ground yourself. You can go further by scanning your body and noticing how your shoe feels or how the fabrics you are wearing feel against your body or what the chair you are sitting in feels like.

This is especially effective when you are in a situation you cannot dismiss yourself from. Tuning into your body helps to calm the mind, and therefore, your emotions.

5. Catch your breath

When in a high emotional state, your breathing becomes rapid and shallow, which in turn moves you closer to losing it because it’s like fanning the flames of a fire to burn bigger.

Box breathing or four-square breathing is a grounding technique used by Navy SEALs you can put into action no matter where you are and is a highly effective way to get back into control of yourself when things are reeling out of control.

  • Inhale slowly to the count of five
  • Hold for a count of five
  • Exhale slowly to the count of five
  • Hold for a count of five
  • Repeat

As Healthline reports: “According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s sufficient evidence that intentional deep breathing can actually calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This system regulates involuntary body functions such as temperature. It can lower blood pressure and provide an almost immediate sense of calm.”

Deep breathing also delivers more oxygen to the muscles you are clenching as they begin to release with each cycle you repeat, essentially disarming the cortisol accumulation simultaneously.

6. Get physical

Dropping down and doing ten push-ups to burn off your anxious or angry energy may not be appropriate at the time, but taking yourself out for a brisk walk can help.

Being in nature helps calm the sympathetic nervous system (your “fight, flight or freeze” response), and putting your pent-up energy into your pace can help to return you to calm.

Even when you can’t get outside to commune with nature, you can use the power of your mind to take you wherever you decompress best.

Maybe your happy place is a white sandy beach where the ocean waves wash all your stresses away. Or perhaps it’s riding down the open highway on your motorcycle, sitting under a tree, or climbing a mountain.

Creating or recalling an image that brings life back into perspective is only a thought away.

7. Grab onto gratitude

Chances are, in a moment when you are trying to figure out how to calm down, you are as far away from feeling grateful as you can get.

However, you always have the power of choice, and flexing your gratitude muscle may effectively diffuse the situation.

Bring to mind someone who you are wholly grateful for, or think of ten things you are grateful for in your life. Feel that gratitude infuse your body and mind.

We cannot feel fully grateful or fully enraged at the same time, so go with the positive feelings gratitude evokes.

Most importantly, you can think about how grateful you will feel for not losing it when you don’t, as well as how proud you are of yourself for keeping it together in this volatile moment in time. Remind yourself that feeling this close to losing it is temporary, and gratitude is the long game.

Keeping a gratitude journal and choosing to be intentionally grateful for the people and things that add value to your life helps sustain you in times like this.

Gratitude acts as an antidote to stress. The benefits of giving thanks in our life are endless, especially helping us to build our resilience overall.

Be aware that not any one of these tips is guaranteed to work for you every single time you need to calm yourself down.

You need to find your combination of tools to get you on the other side of losing it, and all are most effective when sampled and practiced before you need them.

Regardless of how few or how many you need to use these techniques and skills, it’s worth the effort, in the end, to find what works best for you.

The Absolute Dater – Making Online Dating Easy Again

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

The Trellis – Part 1

Philadelphia, PA – Late 60s, Early 70s

When we were kids we had this little pool in our backyard. It was actually set up in our carport, not our yard. My mom would put down a big blanket on the ground, and then haul the pool out of our garage. It wasn’t very big, but we had a good time playing in it. It was probably only 6 feet square and less than a foot deep. But it was a fun thing that we could play in to cool off and frolic about.

My mother would fill it up with water from the hose. She’d do this before lunchtime around 11am. By the time we were finished eating, the sun would have warmed the water and we could all go in.

Some of our friends would come over and we’d all have a grand old time on a warm spring day.

The Mitchell family down the street had acquired a large above-ground pool and that became the popular spot in the summer for the neighborhood. I didn’t ever go over there for that because to me it was too crowded and too deep. Not for me.

Besides, once school let out we’d be down the shore for the summer. Which was 1000 times better than any pool in our neighborhood.

Anyway, when we were done playing in our little pool, we’d obviously have to come in and get into some dry clothes. But for some reason, my sister and I would leave our wet bathing suits on our beds. I have no idea why we did this. We could have turned them into mom, or hung them on a doorknob or something. Who wants a wet bed?

But we did that a number of times and my mother was not pleased. She finally told us that if we did it again, we’d have to write: “I will not leave my wet bathing suit on the bed.” 50 times. Which when you’re a kid is a tedious and time-consuming process. I suppose because we didn’t listen to her initial request, this punishment would drill the idea into our thick heads.

So, it happened again and my older sister and I had to write. She was a good student and had mad school skills, so she blew out the punishment in an hour or so. But it took me forever. I finally got it done, and never left a wet bathing suit on my bed again. Effective punishment. It got the result my mom desired. She also figured a little exercise in penmanship never hurt anyone.

My mom had a wooden trellis bolted to the sidewall of the garage in our yard. That’s where all of her rose bushes were located. I remember we always had nice roses growing out there. My mother always liked nature and animals, so she was a natural green thumb out there in the garden.

You had to be careful out there by the rose bushes because as lovely and fragrant roses are, they all have thorns. Much like the women I would meet later in my life.

But when boys see a trellis bolted to a wall, they don’t see a structure to support the flora and fauna of mom’s garden. They see a ladder. What do you do with a ladder? Yep. You have to climb it.

The only reason we climbed the trellis was to get up on the garage roof. Kids love climbing and exploring new spaces. It’s fun to get up on top of things when you’re small. There’s a feeling of power and safety at that height. The garage rood instantly became a cool hiding spot and hang-out spot.

When I think back on the construction of that trellis I’m amazed it never broke under our weight. It was just thin slats of wood nailed together. It was meant to support the vines of plants, not the bodies of young boys. But we climbed up there all of the time.

My mother caught sight of this, and told me if I didn’t stop climbing her trellis, I’d have to write as I did after the wet bathing suit incident.

I may have stayed off it for a week, but in no time we were back up there. Sure enough, I was caught, prosecuted, and sentenced to writing the same sentence over and over. “I will not climb the trellis.” I had to write it 100 times. Not just once… but this time, for a week straight.

That seemed a cruel and unusual punishment for such a simple infraction, but it wasn’t about climbing the trellis, it was the fact that she’d told me not to and I willfully disobeyed her and did it anyway. That sort of repugnant behavior was always met with swift justice in our house. That, or a good smack!

So, each day I would write the same sentence over and over after lunch. It was horrible. After a while, the words you write mean nothing to you. It’s just the same thing over and over. Sometimes I would write the same letter or word over and over down the page and then go on to the next one. Anything to change up the sheer monotony of the task.

I think by the fourth or fifth day, she lightened my sentence and I only had to crack off 50 sentences. Did my handwriting improve? Not in the slightest bit, but it kept me off my mom’s trellis for good!

But I missed going up on the garage roof and hanging with my friend Mike. That was our little throne up there. But what to do?

A year or so passes.

One day Mike comes over and tells me he found an old wooden ladder in the trash somewhere. Back then we were always picking things out of people’s trash and making stuff out of it. But this was a big ladder. Sturdy too!

So Micheal brings it over and we carefully place it in the garden and lean it up against the edge of the garage. It fits perfectly! It was just the right height to get us safely back up on the garage roof. We left it there and it became the way up and down to our little clubhouse. We’d sit up there and chat, and eat peanuts, tossing the shells everywhere. We didn’t care about the mess. The shells were organic material and anything we left up there couldn’t be seen from the ground so who cares?

The most important person who didn’t care was my mother. She never said anything about the old wooden ladder leaning against our garage. I suppose as long as we weren’t on her trellis, we were fine.

To be continued tomorrow!

 

 

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Toy Boat

Philadelphia, PA – Early 1970s

Toy boat.

Say it out loud three times fast.

Not that easy right?

When we were kids, we had toys. We all had plenty of toys. But we also liked to build things. We had access to our father’s toolboxes. If you could get your hands on a hammer and some nails, you could build something.

We’d find bits of wood in the trash and back the lot at the end of our street. We’d cut them with saws and nail them together to make little boats. They were only about a foot long in length.

Mine was made out of bits of old paneling that I cut and stacked to make the hull, and some smaller pieces to make a little cabin on top. I even nailed a little plastic army man to the deck. Every boat needs a captain!

My friend Michael made something similar but he attached a piece of styrofoam to the bottom of the hull of his boat. This made his ship what he described as “unsinkable.” Genius!

Designing and building boats in my basement was only the beginning of the fun. You came up with your own ideas and made it up as you went along. Gluing or nailing whatever you could find to make a little boat that you hoped would float. The cool thing was, we had these two big old washtubs in the front of our basement next to the washer. I’m assuming they were there to clean clothes maybe before people had washing machines?

We would fill them with water and place our finished works into the water to see if they’d float. If things looked weird or didn’t seem buoyant enough, we’d make the necessary modifications to our ships until they did.

We weren’t sitting in front of a television set. There was no such thing as video games. They weren’t invented yet. We built things with our hands. Created our own little toys and then engineered them to float. We had both read that it didn’t matter what the boat weighed, as long as it weighed less than the space it filled in any given body of water. Then it would float. It’s just science. Yea, we were a sharp couple of little boys!

We’d take our boats back the lot and across the railroad tracks into Cheltenham. We’d cross the ball fields and head off into the woods.

That led us down to Tookany Creek. We walked north along the footpath. We wanted to get as far upstream as we could so that once we launched our boats we could follow them all the way down the creek. We decided that we’d see how far and how long they would last on the journey down the “river.”

There was a footbridge that went across the creek, and we figured we’d release them just above there. It was probably the best place to start because the water was calm and we could see how they did before the creek really got going.

Tookany Creek Park, Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania

We’d place our boats in the water and off they’d go. We walked along the path and watch them float downstream. Normally, that would be the experience. Build the boats, launch them into a body of water, and watch them do what boats do.

But we were young boys. We crave action and adventure. To let these boats just float along was boring. How do we remedy this situation? We could just continue talking, laughing, and walking along the path to see where they went. Or, we could throw rocks at them to make it like a sea battle.

The latter seemed like such a better idea.

We didn’t go crazy and try to destroy them, but we simply pelted them so it appeared that our ships were under siege. Now we had a show!

The idea to throw rocks at the boats didn’t come from enjoying the notion of destroying things. Sometimes the boats would get stuck on big stones or broken branches in the water. So we sort of had to free our boats with what limited tools we had on hand.

But after a while, it was just fun to bomb the hell out of them. They were pretty sturdy and we knew they could withstand a beating. It’s not like these were expensive, elegant ships gifted to us by our parents. They were manufactured out of bits of trash. If they got destroyed, we’d have the opportunity to make more.

We were always taught to take care of our toys and put them away when we were finished playing with them. But we made these toys out of junk. If we chose to massacre our boats, by god we were going to do it.

But all the while we’re laughing and talking. Sometimes singing songs we knew from the radio. Light my Fire, Hotel California, or American Pie. I think the favorite song I would always hear Michael sing was Michael Row Your Boat. I wasn’t familiar with the song, but he would sometimes just hum it. Or sing it to himself when he was working on something.

Just simple things.

A pair of lone warriors separated briefly from our tribe, out on an explore. Walking along the path by the creek under the canopy of trees in the forest. The golden rays of sunshine shone down through the foliage. Breathing in the fresh air. Hearing the birds chirp and woodland creatures scurry about as the creek bubbled and sang along with our joy.

By tossing rocks at our boats we were improving our hand and eye coordination. This was a solid activity for a couple of boys on a warm afternoon. You don’t realize it at the time, but you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be in the world.

We’d follow them along the creek and toss rocks at them occasionally for thrills or to free them from a snag. It was a fun way to spend the day. Life was slower back then. There’s something to be said about time running slowly when you’re a kid. Everything takes forever when you’re young. You’re always so impatient and waiting for things to happen. Waiting for Halloween, Christmas, or the last day of school to come.

Don’t you wish you appreciated how slowly time moved when you were a child now? Wouldn’t you like those sort of pleasurable moments in your adult life now to move at a slower pace? I think we all would as we watch the years roll by with great rapidity as we age. These simple childhood memories are to be cherished. To be wrapped up in our memories forever. Because that’s all we have. You could lose everything you own, and any memories you have from your youth still belong to you forever. You can’t say that about many things in our lives now. Even we are on a finite run on this planet. But I hope that by writing these stories they can live beyond my existence on the internet and in my books forever. Because tomorrow belongs to our sons and daughters, and their kids. Tomorrow’s a place for them. Sadly, it’s a place we can never go.

The best part of watching your boats float down the creek was knowing what was coming a bit farther “downriver.” After the rapids and much air fire from us, the creek would become calm. There was a section about 50 feet long that was like green glass. Just the occasional splash from a minnow or an insect.

Beyond the calm was the waterfall. It was the only place where you could see a waterfall. But it wasn’t like the traditional kind where it’s massive and dangerous. It was only about three feet high. But, it would still be a formidable opponent to a couple of little wooden boats.

We’d wait in anticipation to see what was going to happen next. We’d stake out the best spot to watch our boats go over the falls. Would they be destroyed in the pounding brine? Would they vanish forever beneath the waves into the abyss? These were all pressing questions running through our young minds.

There would be that moment just before they went over and we’d yell and shout with delight. “Here we go!”

The boats would tumble over the falls and what would happen was anybody’s guess. The boats would roll around at the bottom where the falling water struck the creek. We would be sure at this point we’d never see our little ships again. But somehow they would suddenly pop back up and right themselves. We would cheer as if we somehow had a part in their survival!

We followed them further down the creek. Under the Levick Street bridge and beyond.

We had gone so far that we didn’t realize that we had somehow stumbled upon the base of the Melrose Country Club. We were all the way down by the creek bank, but we could see the giant hills covered with the fine green grass of the golf course. We had only seen it in the winter when it was covered in snow, but we knew where we were.

TTF welcomes the Bike Coalition to the Tacony Creek Park Trail! - TTF Watershed

We could see our boats had come to rest on the bank. We were about to climb down retrieve them when a security guard rolled up on a golf cart. He asked us what we were doing there, and we told him our toy boats had drifted all the way down there. He told us we were trespassing on private property and that we had to leave.

“Can we just get our boats?”

“No. This is private property and you’re both trespassing and you’re going to get in a lot of trouble if you don’t get out of here now.”

“But…”

“Git!”

So we turned and walked away, north of the golf course. When we got to Levick Street we trudged up the steep hill and made it to the top. We weren’t happy about what had happened and didn’t think we’d done anything wrong. We didn’t go to Melrose with the intention of trespassing or destroying property or anything. We just stumbled upon it. It just didn’t seem fair. This was a sad ending to what began as a fun-filled day of adventure.

Our boats weren’t lost to the creek. We had been banished!

We followed Hasbrook Avenue back to our neighborhood.

As we approached Michael’s house, we saw his father was outside mowing the lawn. Mike immediately told him what had happened. Jim Mitchell Sr. listened intently as Mike and I explained our plight. He nodded as he put on his mirrored aviator sunglasses.

“Let’s take a little ride in the car, boys.”

Within minutes, we pulled up to the edge of the country club. Mr. Mitchell stepped from the car with us following him not far behind.

The same guard rolled up on his golf cart and stopped us.

“Hey… you can’t…”

I watched as his face suddenly changed from authority to apprehension as Micheal’s father approached him.

Mr. Mitchell was a Police Officer with the Philadelphia Highway Patrol. He was not a man to be trifled with.

“Let them get their boats.”

“Yea, but…”

“What did I just say?”

The guard looked down at the ground and back again. He then sheepishly waved us on never taking his eyes from the officer in his presence.

Even I felt the man’s fear.

We scampered down the hill and retrieved our little boats from the creek bank. We didn’t even see the security guard on the way back to the car.

It had been quite a day.

When all else fails. Go get your father. He’ll know what to do. He’s a grown-up.

But it helps if your dad’s a cop.

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1