Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Christmas Memory and My Auntie Druck

I was heartbroken to hear of the passing of my 87 year old Auntie Druck in New Jersey. She was always very sweet and very nice! I'm sad to say that it had been over 30 years since I saw her last. We usually communicated at Christmas, and in the last five years or so I usually called her in the middle of the year. I had hoped to make it up to Jersey for a visit one day soon but I never did. I am pleased and grateful, however, that I have some very fond memories of her from when I was a child in Jersey.

Auntie Druck, Uncle Jim (my Mom's brother)
and my cousin Jimmy.

I remember Auntie Druck taking me to see Pinocchio, always being very sweet, and serving delicious meals at her house. In addition, she was a nurse, and present when each of us kids were born (except for Jeanne). We were all born in the hospital where she worked. She was also present when my son Michael was born.

I think this might have been my 
Mom and Dad's wedding. Mom and Dad 
are in the middle, 
Auntie Druck and Uncle Jim 
are on the ends.

In 1995, I wrote an article about a childhood memory of Christmas at Uncle Norman's house in a newsletter that I created for family and friends entitled, Smiles For Miles. Every Christmas season, I reminisce about the Christmases we enjoyed at Uncle Norman’s when we were children for they are fabulous memories!

I wanted to share that story again during this wonderful Christmas season, and especially because one of the best memories I have is of Auntie Druck and her infectious laugh which I mention near the end of the story.


A Heartfelt Memory Through 
the Eyes of a Child

Turning into the long, blacktop driveway of Uncle Norman’s farm in the country means the end of our long drive. Traveling from Deptford, New Jersey to Glen Moore, Pennsylvania seemed to take ten years but it sure was worth it. Uncle Norman’s house was always an exciting destination!

The driveway ahead extends up the right side of the well-groomed front lawn with a few slight curves along the way, and snow flurries begin to fall in our plentiful view. The size of two football fields, the front yard to our left gradually inclines until it ends at a retaining wall about four-or-five feet tall, and built out of boulder-size rocks. When it's snow covered, this extensive front yard looks like a giant cotton-ball blanket, and the wall is used as a launching pad for sleds!

Perched above the wall is Uncle Norman’s white ranch-style house with cool French doors and yellow shutters beside the windows. On the right end of the house are three full-length picture windows. They take up the front, side, and back of one end of the house. Uncle Norman's is always an exciting destination!

A thicket of active winter woodlands swishes and whirls with the wind along the opposite side of the front yard from the driveway. Alive with the warm shades of winter, these woods extend from the street to far beyond the back of the house.

It seems that our overloaded station wagon barely fits through the narrow driveway as we continue to climb to its end. After passing several gas lamps and nearing the driveway’s end, we slow down on the side of the house to observe the package-lined Christmas tree flashing brightly in the middle of the gigantic window. This is the last splendid attraction before finally coming to a halt next to the made-for-kids jalopy on the gray, gravel parking area in the back of the house.

We’re greeted by Aunt Edie and Uncle Norman while Honey, the Great Dane, is in the house barking her head off. Her husky roar competes with the whistling winds as it ricochets off the hardwood floors and all around the countryside. Auntie Druck, Uncle Jim and Cousin Jimmy are already here and standing in the window watching Mom, Dad, four kids (or maybe five by then), Christmas packages, and a hoard of other terrorizing items slowly disembark. And Uncle Jiggs--well, he is somewhere, probably hiding from us!

In the field to the right is a large area where Aunt Edie grows a well-balanced garden in the summertime. Just past that, lies a pink and white stable encased in a corral. Trigger, Belair, Missy, and Scooter--the four horses--hang their heads over the edge of the corral as if to say, “Hello!” For a moment, I wonder if Uncle Norman will take us for a ride around the farm in the made-for-kids jalopy but the thought is quickly dismissed in favor of Christmas presents and snow.

The Richter kids with Dad driving at
Uncle Norman's house in the summer of 1966.
It's not the made-for kids jalopy but it
was a fun trailer to get pulled around in.
(Chuck standing, Donna holding Jeanne,
 Sue next to Donna, and Linda on the end.)

Upon entering the house, a variety of heavenly aromas greet the nose. It is evident that Christmas dinner will undoubtedly be yummy. In the small, quaint, galley-style kitchen, the counters are lined with an assortment of foods undergoing different stages of preparation. It smells as if each dish is fighting to win the Blue Ribbon at a state fair by producing the strongest and most delectable scent.

Strang sits whenever she is awake.  The three oversized picture windows on each wall keep everyone well acquainted with the events outside, particularly today's snowy weather.

The remainder of the house consists of ordinary rooms with old-people furniture, except for an architect room where Uncle Norman draws using special pencils and giant pieces of multi-colored chalk. Of course, in an effort to torture us kids, this room is forbidden!

After a whole two seconds in the house, it is our job as children to explore the packages under the tree and see who they are for. Each one of us is secretly hoping that every package is for us, and of course, that is not the case. Rats!

Staring at the tree and the packages, the day drags on... and on, and on, and on, and on. We worry that we will never get to open any packages. What if the grown ups have forgotten? We ask them often if it is almost time but they don’t seem to care. Frolicking in the conversation and laughter of their boring adult world, it is clear that they haven’t a clue about what is important in life!

At last, Christmas dinner is served and finished, and gifts are finally passed out. Once they are all opened, Uncle Norman emerges from the back of the house with one last package. It’s from Uncle Norman to the Richter kids (oh boy, that’s us)! The box is alive, and in moments... surprise! The cutest little beagle puppy emerges. Only a short time ago, our other beagle, Buster, died. In fact, we returned home from a trip to Uncle Norman’s to find him lying on the floor in the kitchen—dead! (He had been sick.) We decided to name our new puppy “Joy,” but Mom said her registered name would be “Richter’s Pride and Joy.”

By now, it’s dark and the world outside is blanketed with several inches of thick fresh snow, a signal that it’s time for a sled or toboggan ride. In moments, everyone is nestled atop the snow-covered rocks anxiously pleading for their turn to glide down the massive front yard. Two on a sled and three on a toboggan, we take turns. One forceful push down the wall from Dad, Uncle Jim or Uncle Norman enables our vehicle to rapidly zip into the darkness and carry us non-stop all the way to the quiet country road.

Auntie Druck’s contagious laughter is particularly joyful and memorable as it bounces up and down in the night, slowly fading as she zooms farther and farther into the dark. Aaaha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Aaaha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! We could hear Auntie Druck having a good time for sure!

At the end of this special Christmas day, one thing is for certain--wonderful lifelong memories have been created, and for me, they are memories that will always be treasured, and never EVER forgotten!

Uncle Norman died in Huntsville, Alabama on March 27, 2003 at 92 years old. Sadly, I hadn’t seen Uncle Norman since I was a child, probably 1963 or '64. After moving from Pennsylvania, he lived in Key West, Florida for many years before settling in Huntsville. (Uncle Norman, Aunt Edie and Uncle Jiggs were all siblings for those of you who don't know.)

When I wrote this article, Auntie Druck called and asked me how I remembered such detail. I really didn't know. I guess it was etched in my brain. Good times just seem to stick! Auntie Druck decided to track down Uncle Norman in Huntsville because she wanted to send him the newsletter and she did.

It warmed my heart for Auntie Druck to do that and it put me back in touch with Uncle Norman! He and I had communication once a year after that and I sent him my newsletters on a regular basis.

As Auntie Druck is being laid to rest today, I want to say again that I am grateful for the many wonderful memories that I have of her, as well as Uncle Norman, and the rest of the DuPell and Strang families. I will cherish the memories forevermore, and I know that my sisters and brother cherish them as well. In the words of the legendary Bob Hope, thanks for the memories!

On the left end of the back row is Uncle Norman. Aunt Edie is next to him and my Mom Mom (Mom's Mom) is next to Aunt Edie. On the opposite end is Uncle Jim with Auntie Druck next to him. Mom Mom Strang is in the front row between the children and Uncle Jiggs is sitting down next to the child on the right.  Not in the story, I recognize my Uncle Harold on the left end of the center row and I believe my Aunt Rita is next to him.  I'm not sure who anyone else is but maybe someone who reads this will know.

Smiling with Some Sadness and Lots of Joy,

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Blue Ridge Parkway~Day 2

Day two of our Blue Ridge Parkway drive was the best! We found the countryside to be quite different than day one. Even though there continued to be a multitude of overlooks on which to stop and soak up the view, there were no tunnels and the pretty trees did not always come up to the edge of the road.

Instead, we discovered gently sloping hillsides, multi-colored green valleys, freshly-mowed meadows, and quaint historical cabins. We even started seeing comfy homes nestled into the landscape here and there the farther north we drove, many of which included barns and gardens of various styles and sizes.

We also saw families enjoying the perfect weather, and the pristine scenery while sitting beneath tablecloth-draped picnic tables sharing a meal. Folks were often sitting in lawn chairs--sometimes on the side of road and sometimes at an overlook--inhaling the breathtaking views. Motorcycles were abundant the entire trip and rightfully so. The Parkway is a dream ride for bikers!

Both days of our Blue Ridge Parkway drive were enhanced by perfect weather! The evenings were a little cool but sunny skies with temps in the mid to upper 70's or low 80's warmed us during the day.

On this second day, we hadn't been on the Parkway for very long before we discovered the two little cabins below.

The second cabin was a church back in the day.


The Cool Spring Baptist Church.

And a view from the inside.

Do you see the path at the edge of the treeline? I wondered where it led, and if it was a route that the church goers traveled to and from church long ago.

Like yesterday, we blissfully absorbed many breathtaking views like the one below.


I love this fence!

Most of the overlooks had unique names.

We stopped at the little Northwest Trading post below, and did some shopping. While inside, they were playing a blue grass instrumental version of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." It might sound corny but thankfulness welled up in my heart just hearing that song. I truly felt appreciative to be traveling this beautiful countryside with my hubby on this lovely September day.

I conveyed my feelings to George, and the next thing I knew, he had the CD in his hand! We popped it in the CD player as soon as we got back into the car and listened to the twenty, blue grass, instrumental hymns over and over and over for the rest of the day. In fact, we listed to it for most of the remainder of our trip! We both love the CD, and the music seemed especially appropriate for this heavenly drive!

After the Trading Post, we stumbled across more cabins. They're off to the right but I loved this view from the parking lot of the stone wall and winding road in the distance so I had to share it. Behind that weather-beaten wooden fence is a veggie garden.

I hope you can read through the shadows!

I told George to have a seat but he opted to stand.

Can you imagine living in these small quarters?  The loom might be fun!

We'd been following a Blue Ridge Parkway map throughout the drive, and it was advising us of sites along the way. I was highly curious and anticipating the next stop--the Blue Ridge Music Center. As we walked up to the Music Center we could hear live music playing in the distance. Once there, we found a little blue grass group strumming tunes and singing under a nice little breezeway with tourists and locals gathered 'round to enjoy. After listening for a bit, we decided to explore the grounds.

This bridge is leading George to an amphitheater. 

I'm walking toward the amphitheater. The breezeway where the blue grass band is playing is on the far side of the building that is partially showing on the right (behind me). It's the Music Center building.

The amphitheater seating reminds me of an ancient coliseum but we didn't see any lions, so of course, we didn't see anyone being thrown to them either!

Obviously, this is the amphitheater stage.

Inside the Music center, the Park Rangers told us that they just had a music festival here last weekend to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Parkway! Oh, how I wished it was this weekend because I would have loved to hang out and partake! The Music center building itself was fairly small inside but construction is currently underway to add a music museum.

I'm anxious to go back and check it out but hopefully, when we make this drive again, it'll be during autumn. We were only a few weeks short of getting to see the fall color, which word has it, is quite spectacular! I couldn't imagine anything that would make this trip any better but I guess leaves falling and changing color would do it!

To see pictures and get information about The Blue Ridge Music Center click

After the Music Center, we headed on down the road to Mabry Mill where we ate lunch in their restaurant.

George had BBQ pork served between corn cakes which were about 8" in diameter. I ate rather unconventional for me and ordered the dish our friendly and attentive server suggested--fried pork chops between biscuits served with a side of thick white gravy. It was quite good but I didn't dare eat it all because, 1) I don't eat a lot of fried foods, and 2) I wanted to save room for dessert.

George had an oversized slice of chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream for dessert, and had to try their peach cobbler (with ice cream of course)! It was quite yummy, and we were way too full when we were through eating!

After lunch, we waddled down to the Mabry Mill, and as you can see, it's quite beautiful!

George shooting video inside the Mill. He never even saw me takinghis pic through this opening.

The water wheel from inside the Mill.

This was taken from the side of the Mill looking back over the pond!

Another cool fence on the Mabry Mills grounds.

This log cart was the way they moved wood.

This is the trough they built to provide water to the Mill from a couple of different streams.

For more info on Mabry Mill, click

As the end of the day approached, we knew we needed to get off the Parkway in order to make up some time so we could get to our destination in Maryland on time tomorrow. Before we exited, we decided to make a pit stop at the Peaks of Otter Visitor's Center. While there, we noticed a lot of folks arriving with blankets and chairs. They headed out to the back of the building so we followed to see what was going on. We found concrete benches similar to the amphitheater and an area up front where three ladies were set up to play blue grass music!

We hoped to catch a few minutes of their performance so we hung around waiting for them to start. In the meantime, a lady park ranger droned on and on about park safety and various other things. She would have been a lot more interesting if we weren't in a hurry to get off the Parkway and go, go, go!

I was, however, very interested in one thing that she had to say--after the band was finished performing, she would be leading a night time hike to look for critters for anyone that wanted to go along. OH MAN!!! I wanted to go BIG TIME but there was no way! Finally, she advised everyone that the band would play at 8:00. It was now 7:50 and we didn't have time to wait, so much to our dismay, we moved on! Sniff! Sniff!

For more information about the Blue Ridge Parkway, click

Below is the Blue Ridge Parkway map we followed. It shows places mentioned in this post. If you're interested, I think you can click to enlarge it but don't hold me to that because I'm not sure. As an alternative, there's always a magnifying glass! Tee-hee-hee!

We missed about 60 miles of the north end of the Parkway by getting off. We did, however, make some of it up on the way back which will be part of the next post.

Wishing You Many Smiles and a
Beautiful Day in Your Neighborhood!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Blue Ridge Parkway~Day 1

As you know from the previous post, we went through Pigeon Forge and spent the night in Gatlinburg on our way to Maryland.  After leaving Gatlinburg, we drove through the scenic Great Smoky Mountain National Park to get to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  

We spent the entire day meandering the majestic parkway but only ended up going about 150 miles.  It was definitely something to savor so stopping a lot and driving slowly were important!  In fact, this part of the Parkway was abuzz with cars and motorcycles so it wasn't likely one would do much more than 45 mph even if they wanted to.

We saw a path, parked, 
and followed it to 
this peaceful stream.


We can see why they're called 
the Great Smoky Mountains.

I used my camera phone for 
nearly all the pics and videos 
on the trip. It's a handy gadget!

I want to go down that 
road again and right now!

These views were plentiful!

We can see why they're called 
the Blue Ridge Mountains.

More beauty!
This was fairly early in the day.

This is in the Folk Art 
Visitor's Center north of 
Asheville, NC on the Parkway.

The Folk Art Center. 
When I got just past the desk 
on the right, I noticed a sign 
that said, "No Pictures" so I quit.

Price Lake on the Parkway.

Really and truly, these photos don't do it justice because it's fabulous!  Absolutely gorgeous!  Can ya tell I loved it?

Again, I wasn't able to upload a video! In addition, the video works just fine in iMovie but some of the sound is off when I view it in iTunes.  :(  Oh well, I decided to give it up for now and just go ahead and publish this post.

Smiling but Disappointed,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Maryland via Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg

In September, George needed to attend a class in Maryland for work. We left five days before we had to be there so that we could take our time and drive up the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway through the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Virginia.

The first day we drove to Centerville, Tennessee and stayed the night with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Jack and Middy. It's always a fun time and a great visit!

The next day, we headed east on I-40 and by late afternoon we arrived in Pigeon Forge which is where we got married 10 years ago. The Incredible Christmas Place was our first stop. It turned out to be our only stop too. 

The Incredible Christmas Place below
(I have to laugh at the middle pic of Geo! He looks a little distorted. It must be my excellent picture editing skills!)

As soon as we left the Christmas Place, we discovered a car show up and down both sides of the road. I was stunned by the size of the show! It was unbelievable!

After taking some photos of the car show with my iPhone camera, George reminded me that the iPhone is also a video camera so I decided to try my hand at the video feature. I should have shot it in landscape orientation rather than portrait but it's a lesson learned. 

This is my first attempt at making a video, and adding music to it (parts of nine songs), and it's only the second time I've used the iMovie video software. I hope you enjoy it!

I have not been able to upload the video to my blog after days and days of trying so I decided to put it on YouTube. I couldn't upload it from there either so I'm providing a link to it below. I am disappointed and fed up with Blogger and their so-called improvements!  I'm seriously thinking about moving on to another blog provider but that's another story, and I'll spare you the details.

Click HERE to watch the video.

I found out the show is called the Fall Grand Rod Run Car Show and to find out more about it click

With the car show in town, we didn't think we'd be able to get a room in Pigeon Forge so we moved on to nearby Gatlinburg where we did some shopping and spent the night.

Lots of cool shops in Gatlinburg!

It's a really neat, quaint little town. I've never been to a Swiss village but it's my idea of what one would be like, and I love both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Up next, the Blue Ridge Parkway and what a glorious drive! I hope to post it soon!

With Warm Smiles,

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Days 5 & 6~Durango~A Wild Hair

The first thing that George wanted to do today was shoot video of something.

Can you guess what George would want to videotape?

Three guesses:

1) The picturesque Durango countryside?


2) His very lovely wife?


3) The local Wifi McDonald's?

No, again!

Of course, it's none other than the D&S train!
He wanted to capture the sound (and video) of the train departing the depot on its way to the Tall Timbers Depot and Silverton.

He shot video and I took some pictures.

This is the train switching tracks so it can
back up and hook to the rest of the cars.

A much different D&S train!

After our D&S photo shoot, we wandered through some of the downtown shops again. We thought about doing some more hiking but we weren't sure if there were any decent trails in Durango, and it was already much hotter than the day of our Piedra Falls hike.

We finally decided to go to Mesa Verde National Park and tour the ancestral Puebloans cliff dwellings. If it's too hot to hike, why not wander around in a desert atmosphere instead! When we approached the park, we were told that there was a bad accident on the road leading up to the cliff dwellings. The clean up would leave us sitting for at least an hour so we opted to forego that adventure. Not a problem!

Driving back to Durango, I got a wild hair, and suggested we pack up and drive to Colorado Springs. George was on board so we went back to our room, gathered our stuff, and headed east.

It was approximately 300 miles
and took us four hours or so.

I posted on Facebook that our wild hair was taking us to Colorado Springs. In response, my friend, Crystl V., left a comment suggesting that we check out Manitou Springs, and the nearby train that could take us up to Pike's Peak! A train? That's right up our track!

We had to head back to Texas the next day, but before we did, we explored Crystl's suggestion. It was a great one too, especially the Manitou Springs part! It's a very hip, artsy, funky town, and I loved it!

The streets were filled with many very cool shops!

A pottery contest of some sort
was taking place under a pavilion.

Check out the bike this guy is riding!
Now that's what I call front wheel drive!

We bought tickets for a 1:20 ride on the Cog train to Pike's Peak, so after a very yummy lunch at the Townhouse Lounge, we headed to the nearby train station. The train climbed the mountain very slowly!

The critters were close to the
top of Pike's Peak, and the snow
and scenery were at the top.

It was cold & windy up there too!

We saw cars arriving at Pike's Peak, and decided that if we ever had to do it again, we'd drive because we would probably see more that way!

When we got off the train,
we headed back to Texas!

It was a fabulous trip!

We both loved it, and can't wait to go back!

My favorite parts of the trip: Zip lining, hiking, and Manitou Springs.

George's favorites: Zip lining and hiking!

With Durango Smiles,