My Hometown – Hopatcong (Ode to Childhood)

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” – Maya Angelou

During our lives there are some things we get comfortable with almost to the point of taking advantage of them. It is this comfort that we benchmark our lives against and always find a sense of ease and safety with each passing day. No matter how far away we go, home is always there for us. It never leaves us, cheats on us or turns its back to us.

It’s allegiance and loyalty is without question and the sense you feel as you close you eyes, feel its touch, breath in its smell and see every memory race through your head is priceless. It is the warmth and coziness of home that continuously reminds me who I am and how I became the person I am today.

hopEvery time I return home, I see something new. Though nothing changes, it is always different yet still the same feeling I had as a child.

The comfort of the hometown deli, the sound of grasshoppers at night, the safety of living in a town where you never lock your doors at night, the sight of a million stars at the top of the golf course, the spirit of the Chiefs, basketball at Modick, soccer all around, the summers at the lake, remembrance of those we lost, patriotism, the comfort of the Old River Styx Bridge, rolling hills and the feeling of home.

This is my ode to Hopatcong, the safe haven that bore me and raised it. It is a town with a quiet rich heritage that continues to shine.

Its the parks, the diners, the locals, the morning dew, the local sports, the children and the air that we breath that makes home the only place you will ever know.

Be free, see the world and experience the magic and wonder of different cultures and different great natural wonders but never forget where you are from. It is and will always remained ingrained inside you.

Home is always safe in your heart!

“When you finally go back to your old hometown, you find it wasn’t the old home you missed but your childhood” – Sam Ewing

“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place picture-048like home.” – L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

“Home is the place, where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” – Robert Frost

“I’m laying out my winter clothes and wishing I was gone,
Going home, where the new york city winters aren’t bleedin’ me.” – Paul Simon, The Boxer

“Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.” – Christian Morganstern

“A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.” – Unknown

“Home should be an oratorio of the memory, singing to all our after life melodies and harmonies of old remembered joy.” – Henry Ward Beecher

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Dissed by your first crush and other dramatic tales of a class reunion…

The scene was set, High School Class Reunion.

Given the timing of the event, I was unfortunately out of town and was not sure I would return in time for the festivities. The build up of pressure would not hit heightened levels until much closer to the end of the evening. In preparation of the possibility of not making the event at all, I took a few preliminary precautions to show my support and mark my place in the folklore of Hopatcong High. First, with the knowledge of a time capsule, I decided to donate a copy of my newest book. Given that I am a writer, I hoped for a little inspiration to write a poem about the reunion with a large matting so it can be signed by all attending and then buried.

The third was a little trickier. Like most high schools, tradition is a big part of its history and one of the traditional acts, that was typically reserved for the crazy zany popular crowd was the spray painting of the infamous road that lay on the side of a grassy hill just behind the high school. In order to accomplish this, I had to sneak onto school property in the middle of the night with several cans of spray paint and a clever story if I were to get caught. My hometown is a bit on the small side so the chance of a cop drive by was pretty high. As I walked the hill, of course a car drives around the back of the school. Like any good adult performing an act of a fifteen year old, I dropped the bag of paint and lay still on the grass. Fortunately, the car would pass and I still do not know if it was a police car.

I moved quickly and started on the coat of white. As I waited for it to dry, I hid behind a bush and waited for what seemed like an hour but only amounted to ten minutes. Then I used the least amount of artistic ability to add the words the would forever make me a legend or at least Saturday night.

Success!!!! The next morning we took a drive over to document my act of vandalism. I waited until the evening before the reunion and then boom right on Facebook for the class to see. Now, whether I made the event of not, my presence was known and I wouldn’t have to worry about seeing my old classmates.

Little set back in my master plan. I made it home in time with about an hour and a half to go in the reunion so I had to attend. Quickly, I called everyone I knew trying to figure out why we go to class reunions. What I learned was this, apparently, it means more to women than men when it comes to appearance, but ultimately, it is just a night to remember old friends and share stories of each other’s lives. Wish I knew that prior to going. After an hour at the reception hall and several hours at the bar until 2:30 AM, I walked away with a really good feeling.

It seemed fitting that the final song of the evening at the hall was “Never Say Goodbye” Being a Jersey boy and a Bon Jovi song about high school and love gained and lost, it was a perfect way to say goodbye and then debate on which hole in the wall bar to go to.

I did go into the evening with a bit of an ulterior motive. I was going to finally confess to my first crush that she, along with “Love Comes Walking In” by Van Halen got me through most of my nine and ten year old years. She did leave after eighth grade so I didn’t expect her to remember too much about me, but I felt it would have been sweet to tell her that she was in fact my first crush. As several of us stood outside the reception hall, she introduced herself to me as if she never knew I existed. Crushed! Devastated! Ego Shot! Ok, I am totally adding dramatic effect for sake of the story, but for a brief moment, almost 4 seconds, I was upset.

The rest of the evening and ensuing evenings through the magic of Facebook was a series of very nice comments, re-connections and new connections.

Overall, the night was not about popularity, social status or even number of kids. It was a night of past, present and future coming together to remember where we all came from.

To Hopatcong High School Class of ’91. Thank you for the new memories. Go Chiefs!!!

Forever Young: What Makes Love Last?

This weekend marked the 50th Wedding Anniversary of Maxine and Frank. Glowing with the same strong sense of love, comfort and romance as the day they met. Over the years, with added wit, sarcasm, nagging, laughter, tears, friendship and tolerance to the mix, Maxine and Frank has developed a left of comfort and caring that we can all take lessons. On Friday night, in front of friends and family, they danced to their first dance in the living room of the townhouse with gleaming smiles, was a testimony to the strength of their love.

As we stayed up, into the late hours of the evening and talked about the “good old days”, we heard four generations blend together as stories of World War II and IPod technology mixed in a medley of dialogue. Over the years our society has dealt with racism, antisemitism, hatred, recession and family struggle. It was refreshing to hear such stories of how individual couples dealt with their surroundings to persevere and thrive based on the strength of their feelings for one another.

All too often we think too much about aging and death and lose focus on the moment. When we grow up and start understanding our surroundings, vanity and youth take over our perceptions and once that is lost, many slip into a pit of despair as they feel they have been cheated away their youth, and there is nothing left but to wait. Life is about understanding your passions and weighing them against your limitations. For Frank and Maxine, their limitations are their strength. To the two of them, life is part of what we all accept. We will slow down and be limited on what we can do but, they harness that and make it work to their advantage. Seeing them with their daughter and grandchildren, you would have thought they just drank seven energy drinks. The days started early and ended late with Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Jamestown, dining and taking in so much of their surroundings.

The week, like many major milestone events was an diverse mix of backgrounds, ages, and cultures coming together with the single goal of celebrating a life of love. Having Maxine and Frank in my life since birth, it was easy to slip back into conversations of reflection on memories that we all shared. I feel we all need that in our lives from time to time. It reveals that we shared the same pains and rejoice in the same celebrations, but it takes a major event to open up our hearts and share.

What is the great love story? Is it meeting by chance in a random setting or making the grand gesture in front of a large crowd or seeing someone for the first time and knowing you want to spend the rest of your life with them. It is all of the above, but the greatest testimony of love is not a single moment, but each and every day you spend together, learning from each other and sharing.

I was invited to spend a week celebrating the matrimony of Maxine and Frank and instead, ended up getting a life lesson from my family and my extended family.

Congratulations Maxine and Frank and thank you for letting us be a part of your life.