Carol and I are wending our way down to Ft. Lauderdale. We had started down South on a Sunday and lingered in various spots like St. Augustine. We drove no more than two hours a piece and would switch at a gas station or some diner somewhere. We were in Dobson, North Carolina when my entire life came tumbling down.
We really needed some gas. The prices down south seem a bunch lower than in PA. We actually paid $2.91 a gallon and actually saw $2.86. We stopped at a Marathon station which also had the usual mini-mart (invented buy a friend of mine, now long gone. I really had to go to the bathroom. Carol said that she would take care of gassing up.
It took me a few seconds to make use of the facilities. I left the mini market, expecting that I would see my wife and my car in the same place as when I left. That was not to be. In place of my wife in our car, a large coca cola truck stood there in all its Coke magnificence. A large red headed driver asked me if he could help. I asked him to call our cell phone numbers and see if anyone might answer (including kidnappers).
Red headed driver person looked at the side of the mini-mart and there was no car no wife. I was stunned. He asked if he could do anything else. I told him to stand by in case I called the state police. I barged back into the mini mart. The woman behind the counter looked at me and said, “Where have you been? our wife has been looking for you.” I said,” Where is she?” I looked across the mini mart and saw a different set of gas pumps. I had never seen a gas station where gas pumps were on two sides of a building- back and front.
I walked outside and approached our car. Carol said, “Where have you been?” At that question, it dawned on me that I should never jump to such ludicrous conclusions based on pretty much nothing. I was glad to have my wife back, even if I had been forced to pay a ransom. I cannot fathom what new circumstances may confront us on this trip.



If you have lived in as many places as Carol and I have, you find that different communities have different values. Growing up in New York City, the focus, for us, was Manhattan and Rockefeller Center. The large Christmas tree adorned with wonderful ornaments was something that a Jewish kid could look at and see something of value. In front of the tree the statue of Prometheus and the skaters in the ice rink made for a perfect holiday tableau.
There seemed to be warmth that radiated from that scene that was very much an all-encompassing one. For us, it had nothing to do with religion. I saw no contradiction between what I learned in Yeshiva and the images in Manhattan. It was something like looking at the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. There was also the wonderful Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. The Rockettes were all dressed up in their high stepping outfits and the acts came one after another. I don’t even remember if there was a movie.
The military did not offer much in Christmas Spirit. I remember a Christmas tree in the mess hall and the wonderful food produced by mess sergeant Sladek. Other than the time he threw a kitchen knife at me, we got along famously. I have never had such victuals as he prepared in his kitchen. He had the capacity to create his own Christmas spirit in the mess hall. There was very little else on post.
When Carol and I were married, we lived in suburban Philly. I hardly remember anything Christmassy about our time there. We began our family and neighbors had Christmas ornamentation around their homes and a big tree in Willow Grove. The mad dash for toys and such was not yet upon us. Chanukah was not yet the Jewish version of Christmas. We gave our kids things like pencils, colored paper, special meals, and one medium sized gift, usually a toy. There was no Chanukah music on the Philly stations.
When we moved to Kutztown, it was a different story. The kids at the junior high school, over which I presided, had a long tradition of Christmas trees in the front hallway. Call me a hypocrite, but it continued during my reign there. I even went out with student council to cut down a tree. It kind of changed the mood in the school and made us all somewhat aware of the season. We had a Christmas Concert (that lasted into infinity) with 1,200 parents attending.
The community was adorned with many crèches and ornamentation. Yet, it was not the kind of religious thing that says, “We have the correct faith and you do not.” It was never that way in Kutztown. I was hired by a couple of old Dutchmen and they accepted these Jewish carpetbaggers. Our children had only one incident in ten years that smacked of anti-Semitism and that was taken care of by the elementary school principal, Uncle Bob.
I made some of my lifetime friends in Kutztown and spent lots of time at the Red Velvet Saloon becoming a part of the community. I cannot tell you how these people treated me. I even became the President of Rotary.
Clarion was a whole different story. It taught us a great deal about rural people. There were more fundamental Christians there who had hard feelings toward Catholics. Christmas time was kind of observed in a vacuum. There was very little light in the small communities. Clarion was a college town where the kids all went home for the holidays. There were a number of Christmas parties among the nabobs. The only difference in the parties was the clothes that the people wore and the booze that was served.
I never felt a Christmas spirit in Clarion, either negative or positive. Maybe that’s a sign of poor economic times or a lack of faith in the future. I loved my work there, but the social scene was not at all conducive. Our children had gone to college and were really not there for most of the time. Although they both graduated from the local high school, there really is no connection between them and their Clarion classmates. They have made friends, as we did, later on in life.
When we moved to Harrisburg, we joined a local synagogue and wound up eating Chinese food with our co-religionists on Christmas Eve. The aura of Christmas maybe just a youthful feeling, but I really have not detected it for the past twenty years. There are no caroling, or huge displays of Christmas lights (at least, where we live). The Capitol does put up a menorah and a Christmas tree, but that is just pro forma. The kind of Christmas spirit that I felt when I was younger doesn’t seem to be around anymore. I hope that I am not saying that because I am getting older. I believe that Christmas is something else and that its significance has waned. It is now a time for giving gifts, and many of them, whether a Christian or Jew.