Iceland spar

Friday, April 13
Allentown, PA

Between me and the homeless guy the table remained open the whole time I sat at the Starbucks. I wrote and watched him from the corner of my eye stirring his coffee. Three regulars at the same spot in the window with chairs in between them talking, taking up the whole section. And all the way down Hamilton boulevard the birch trees all colored in bone, past the blinking lights and cranes silhouetted in the morning sky. Our last day in Allentown, still on west coast time. Dad and I drove the kids down to the rock shop near Boyertown and dad bought me a chunk of pyrite crystal he said I could put on my desk at work. And for Charlotte, the Iceland spar he said the Vikings used for navigating their boats on cloudy days, how you could tilt it at the right angle and read right through it. I ordered eggs with scrapple and it was gray-colored and fried on top. We met at the oyster restaurant later, a party of nine, and Dawn and I went for drinks early and shrimp cocktail. We lowered the shade so the sun wasn’t right in our face. And on our way walking over from Sue and John’s house we saw an old woman on her knees weeding in the yard and Dawn stopped to tell her I used to know the kids who lived in that house, and it turned out they still did, four generations now. I invited one of them to connect with me on LinkedIn while we sat in the restaurant, and told Dawn a story about the time I broke my glasses trying to find our dog who’d gone missing — and he lent me a pair of frames for a job interview, but I didn’t get it.

I sat in the same spot at the Starbucks, then walked with Dawn around the block past my old apartment, that’s now a new building. I watched the people come and go expecting to see someone I remembered, but didn’t. It’s not the same as it used to be and that’s good, it’s better.

On the last day we visited my home town we’d always take the kids to a playground and dad would come meet us, and then we’d stop at my grandmother’s, eat sandwiches on paper plates, then hurry off to the airport. Dad and I would sit on a bench with mixed feelings watching them play, knowing it would be a year or more until we saw each other again.

Now the statues stand posing around the monument in center city looking air-brushed with the patina of old age, green turquoise, holding their rifles and looking down 7th street, looking in at me, at Starbucks. They start checking the meters at 8, and today it’s supposed to hit 80. It’s already 63, and it’s just past 7.


Categories: Memoir, parenting, prose, writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

19 replies

  1. We have been to that rock shop. It’s impressive. Sounds like a good trip back east. Nice that your wife spoke to the old neighbors. Finally getting some late spring/summer weather just in time for you to go home. Safe travels.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know right?! Bey’s rock shop; I think you might have written about that or am I imagining? Thanks Kristen for the safe wishes, has been a good time out here. Bill


  2. I enjoyed reading this, love hometown stories, “the birch trees all colored in bone” is really nice. And “Iceland Spar” is a good title – even if the ancient mariners didn’t have a clear understanding of the science, refraction and polarization, they grasped that they held something that could change the way they saw things, and could guide them. So pretty cool. I don’t understand all that optical science either, and don’t know how to sail, either.
    I couldn’t remember the old soldier statues in Allentown, I’ve only been there once or twice, and looked it up. It seems appropriate they’d be staring at Starbucks, green with envy, the Civil War guys were serious coffee addicts. It’s the only monument in the North, they think, that includes a Confederate.
    Glad you had such a nice visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Robert! Happy Friday to you and thanks for the always-thoughtful remarks. I wanted to do a last little piece before we left here and didn’t know where I was going with this, was a lesson or challenge to go bit by bit, maybe some loose analogy to the Iceland spar. I love that name too 😀 and happy you did. Thanks for reading! Time for maple bacon yum…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve really been enjoying your posts about your trip. I love your writing style and descriptions. It truly helps the reader imagine it as you see it while they read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Manuela! Lovely to hear from you and thanks for reading and letting me know! I just keep practicing whenever I can but it’s so much more fun when others read and enjoy it too. Enjoy the rest of your day! Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You paint a lovely picture, kind of bittersweet. Hope you’ve had a wonderful time, we’ll be glad to have you back home. Happy 13th!


  5. You must have been a kid when Billy Joel sang about Allentown, eh? That must have been strange.

    I liked this one a lot. Brings to the surface many familiar feelings about going home.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Kevin, yes I was maybe 10-12 when that song came out. My mom was such a fan of his: I think we’ll go nostalgic tonight and pull some out. She’s visiting from Germany and we’re going to an Italian restaurant later, so we’ll have to play that ‘scenes from an Italian restaurant’ song, speaking of nostalgia. My sweet, romantic teenaged nights.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. you can’t go home again. or perhaps you can, but is it home anymore? i think not – nice writing

    Liked by 1 person

  7. hope it read – “i think not. nice writing.” a different message )


  8. Home and homelessness. Enjoyed the relaxed observational flavour of this one Bill. Kind of like stirring a coffee gently, reflectively, but getting the stirring done.

    Grew up with Fahrenheit, but don’t speak it any more. Funny, that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I get that Fahrenheit thing, I can appreciate that. Good word, Fahrenheit…thanks be to the Germans for that. Didn’t even think of that home/homelessness thing, thanks for pointing it out…and glad for the stirring image there. That may have been what prompted me to write this, that small, detailed moment he had of stirring.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I grew up in a quite-small town, and when I go back I’m amazed at how few people I know. Or maybe they’re all just too old to recognize.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, same here…maybe bigger than yours though. I mean, we did get a Billy Joel song out of it and that says something, right? “They’re taking all the coal from the ground…and it’s getting very hard to stay hey-hey-hey (and we’re living here in Allentown..:)”

      Liked by 1 person

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