I’ve never read Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”, but first two opening lines taken by themselves seem to aptly describe my experience during these past Summer and Fall seasons. I had anxiously been looking looking forward to this Summer for months anticipating some great times in the warmer weather. Unfortunately, this story begins with the worst of times. As I begin to write this, it is exactly six months since a Friday afternoon when I got the phone call that would change everything. Not an hour before I had been on the phone with my mom making plans for the weekend. You see, my parents, sister, and myself were all getting new bikes and had planned to go biking on the York Heritage Rail Trail that weekend. But sadly our plans changed. The next time I answered the phone it was my dad, and I could tell immediately from his voice that something was very wrong. Tragically, my sister, Alicia, was in a terrible car accident. And instead of enjoying a family outing, we would be planning her memorial service.
One way that my sister has impacted me is in her great sense of having fun. She would always give me a hard time about not having a ‘bag of fun’ with me, and her and her best friend Abby had a very thorough list of fun. Well, in the months to follow, despite the grief and pain, we found ways to have fun. And I’ve acquired memories and stories that I’ll always remember and cherish in that time. It was later in September after being interviewed for a story to air on TV that I began reflecting on Job. In a single day he lost everything, yet his response was “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21 ESV) I am very grateful for my sister, the time we had together, and the impact she has had on me. She was a blessing to all of us, and words cannot express the pain in losing her at least for now. However, I am also grateful for the many fun experiences I’ve had with family and friends since that tragic Friday afternoon.
So here is my “List of Fun” from Summer and Fall 2011 (more or less in chronological order):
Make Time For Fun and Pack Fun Clothes
One thing I have learned from my sister is the importance of having fun. I’ve always filled my life with work and doing, but I have made consistent efforts to make room for fun. A week after her accident, I was scheduled to attend a one-day conference in New York City. I had already booked the latest train out of the city so that I could spend some free time doing something interesting, but after what happened there was an even bigger imperative to have fun. So I packed a change of clothes, and after the conference ended, I changed in the hotel bathroom, dropped off my bag at a storage locker, and headed for Central Park. I walked around as long as I could trying to enjoy this natural escape from the city, before heading home. Later I would have a real bag of fun, but this was a start.
Make a New Friend
In the weeks to follow, my parents and I became close friends with Alicia’s best friend, Abby. The two of them did everything together, and while I had only met her before a couple times, the circumstances brought us all together. We all loved Alicia very much, and so we leaned on each other during difficult times creating many fun memories together whether biking, boating, meeting up at Friendly’s for my sister’s favorite meal (Honey BBQ Chicken Supermelt), pulling pranks, boat building, and more.
About the pranks…my sister and Abby would play pranks back and forth on each other. Often this involved drawing on, throwing cake on, or doing something with the other’s car. So, I became the new prank target. To be honest, I was a little resistant at first, falling back on my old boring ways, but I eventually got into it myself (even though I’m not so good at retaliating). I had to keep paper towels and Windex in the glove compartment just in case, but it was fun.
Alicia was always encouraging me to have more fun. She helped rekindle in me a love for the outdoors and being active. You could say Abby picked up the work where Alicia left off, helping us to simply have fun.
I also reconnected with a friend from my days in York Youth Symphony who I hadn’t seen in 10 years. We have since kept in touch and have a shared interest for biking.
Eat At the Strip House and Order the 24 Layer Cake
My parents and I hastily planned a getaway to New York City just to take our minds off things. We had a great time visiting the Gugenheim, Central Park, and seeing two Broadway shows. Although one of the most memorable experiences was dinner the last night. My mom, my sister, and I had watched a special on the Food Network not long before where food critics listed their favorite guilty pleasures. One of them was a 24-layer cake at The Strip House in New York. We had joked about going there just for the cake or ordering one ($100 plus tax/shipping), but we never seriously entertained the idea.
Well, since I was contributing meals for the trip, I decided on a whim to set up a reservation for the Strip House and treat my parents to a meal and an experience, and an experience it was! Visiting a highly renowned four star restaurant is not something we normally do. We’re more the Red Lobster type, but this was something special. The steak alone may have been $90 and the slice of cake $20 (and both were incredible), but it was more about the experience than the food. We had a great time! It was also fun seeing the reaction of friends when they saw we were at a place called “The Strip House”. Now, full disclosure, while it wasn’t that type of establishment, there were some old risque photos as part of the ambiance…but Alicia wouldn’t have taken it too seriously. I know she would have been laughing and enjoying along with us.
Finish and Sail The Boat
This is a big one. My sister and Abby came up with the idea to build their own boat, and this would become a very special project for all of us. You can read the full story at www.aliciasboat.com. The boat consists of two pontoons constructed out of 2×4’s and chicken wire, filled with plastic bottles to provide buoyancy. Alicia had tested one of the pontoons, but never to got to finish it. So July 23rd, we got her friends together and completed the boat. Two weeks later we tested it, and a week after that we hosted a boat launch picnic where we officially launched the boat at Pinchot Park complete with nautical themed pashmina afghans. We even had a second boat launch get-together, and a third boat launch where Abby and I gave it a real test by floating it from one side of the lake to the other and spending a nice afternoon out on the lake fulfilling the boat’s original purpose. Turns out it’s way better than a normal boat, this one you can lounge out on! And there are more plans, upgrades, and future adventures planned!
The boat project was a very special gift that Alicia gave us. It was something that we could rally behind, and it helped create some very wonderful memories. It even led to some more things on this list of fun.
Eat a Friendly’s Honey BBQ Chicken Supermelt
On our way to the PA Grand Canyon, we stopped at Friendly’s to each have a ceremonial Honey BBQ Chicken Supermelt in honor of Alicia. This was my sister’s absolute favorite thing to eat, although it would be my first time ordering it. Oh, and Abby made sure that it was legit and not without any changes or substitutions. It was yummy.
Bike the Pine Creek Rail Trail
I mentioned before that my parents and I had each bought new bikes a few months before. We started riding the York Heritage Rail Trail the previous summer and had planned to do a lot more biking this year. One of our goals was to bike the 60-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail that goes through the Leonard Harrison and Colton Point state parks (also known as the PA Grand Canyon). So the first week of August my parents, Abby, and I went up together to achieve that goal.
We spread it out over three days so we could enjoy the scenery and pace ourselves, and though we had to bike in a heavy downpour on the last day, we finished it! (You could say we were determined!)
It was a beautiful place. We even saw a bear on the trail. Despite one flat tire and almost losing a pair of glasses, we had a wonderful time. I am hoping to return next Spring to canoe or kayak down the creek.
Be In a Live Album Recording
Since 2008 I have been attending the bi-annual Worship God Conference held by Sovereign Grace Ministries. It’s an amazing conference, and I highly highly recommend it to anyone involved in church musuic. This year, on the final night of the conference they did a live album recording. It was a neat experience (although a bit tiring).
The album, The Gathering is out and available on Amazon, Bandcamp, and iTunes.
Perform As a Featured Soloist in a Concert
I have been a member of the Spring Garden Band of York since high school. The band regularly provides solo opportunities, but at the August 21 concert in Red Lion, I had my first opportunity. As a musician, I love to perform for people (and show off a little), so I definitely enjoyed it. What made it even more special was that the piece was titled “Fantasy on a Sea Chantey” featuring the tune to “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor”. The concert was the evening following our boat launch picnic, so it fit perfectly.
Go On a Fishing Trip
I always enjoyed fishing when we would go to the mountains when I was little, though I don’t get around to fishing much anymore. Still, my parents, aunt, and two uncles decided to take a day off and go on a fishing charter. My parents, Alicia, and I had done it before and it was a good time…mostly because you have a good chance of catching some big fish.
Oh, and I caught the biggest one as you can see in the photo!
Bike 500 Miles
The last time I saw my sister was at the local bike shop where I was making up a friendly bet about who could bike 500 miles first over the summer. The loser would have to buy the winner ice cream. Well, I just had to get 500 miles, I had to. And I did, on August 23rd I biked mile 500. We went out for ice cream together.
As of this writing, I’m now up to 850 miles! Not only that but I feel great, healthier, and even dropped a couple pounds since the beginning of the summer. The rail trail has been both an escape and a destination to spend time with friends and family. I’m so glad Alicia got us interested in getting new bikes. It was without a doubt the best money I’ve spent in a long time.
Bike The York Heritage and Northern Central Rail Trails
Earlier in the summer I had achieved the goal of biking each section of the York Heritage Rail Trail and even did the entire York trail round trip. Although, I learned that the 20-mile Northern Central connected with the York Heritage Rail Trail at the Maryland line. So it seemed a natural goal to do both trails in one day. Round trip: 80+ miles.
My dad and I left early on Saturday, September 17, for Ashland, MD where we would start our attempt at riding both trails. After having a good breakfast at the Ashland Diner we started out heading for York. (We decided to start in Maryland to avoid having to ride the uphill climb from Maryland to York on the way back). We made it up to York and stopped at Central Market House for lunch. Unfortunately it then started to rain, but that hadn’t stopped us before. We were exhausted and starving by the we returned to Ashland, but we made it.
Be On TV
Who knew Alicia’s Boat would become so popular! After the boat launch picnic, my mom posted a photo of the boat on the WGAL uLocal website along with a caption. uLocal is a site where people in the area can upload photos which sometimes get featured on the news. Well, one of the producers saw the photo, read the story, and thought there might be a story here. So Abby gets a mysterious message on Facebook from one Lori Burkholder, a morning reporter at WGAL expressing interest in doing a story. She even left her mobile number to call. At first Abby thought I was pulling a prank on her, but she very conveniently copied the entire message (including phone number) to me. So of course I called. It went to voicemail, but the greeting clearly identified her as Lori Burkholder and a reporter…so I left a message.
At least a week went by with no response, so even I became a little skeptical. Although this was the same time we had hurricanes and flooding which overtook the news. Later during one of our boat planning meetings at Friendly’s, the topic came up. Abby still didn’t think it was real, but I decided to call her bluff and tried the number again. This time I got through and was speaking (much to someone’s chagrin) with Lori Burkholder who was very interested in the story. We spoke again next week and set up a date and time for interviews.
Well, when we saw an SUV with “WGAL 8” on the side arrive at Pinchot Park the morning of September 19, we all knew this was no joke. It was real! We put the boat together, and then Abby and I both were interviewed, and we took the boat out on the lake. We even went out a second time with the videographer on the boat (along with a VERY expensive camera) to get some really good footage. It was an exciting day, very exciting.
The story aired that Friday morning during the 6:30 AM hour. And during the 6:00 newscast. And again during the 11:00 news. And one final time Saturday morning. It was so amazing, and we know many people were touched by the story. In fact, we have had people (friends and strangers) who saw the story remember it even a month after it aired.
Make Front Page News
Within a week of being interviewed for the WGAL story, we had the opportunity of being interviewed for a feature story in the York Daily Record. Bill Landaeur had reported twice before on Alicia, first on the accident, and second including a mention about her boat in an article about the York boat parade. But this time it would be a large feature story with a large photo spread on the front page of the local section. We also had a photo at the top of the front page of Alicia and Abby testing one of the pontoons. We were so appreciative of all the coverage and the opportunity to share this story.
Visit Two Must-See State Parks
With Summer winding down, I decided to take a trip to the Endless Mountains, PA for one last Fall getaway. My plan was to stay the night and spend a full day hiking at World’s End and Ricketts Glen State Parks. These were my sister’s two favorite parks and definite must-see’s. I had been to World’s End many times since I was a kid and revisited last year, although I had never been to Rickett’s Glen though I had heard good things from when my sister and Abby went there the summer before. My parents came along, and we definitely had a full day hiking both parks. Though we were tired and didn’t finish until dark, it was a great trip.
Parade Down the Street in Public Dressed as a Pirate
Yes, there’s more to the boat story. We decided to enter the boat as a float in the Manchester Halloween Parade. Now I had been in parades before with the marching band, but never like this. It was an unusual idea, but it turned out great. My dad built a trailer, and we were all set for the parrrade (pun intended). Alicia’s friends (Abby, Brittni, and Lauren), my cousin, Melissa and her daughter, and I all dressed as pirates and rode the boat down the street. My dad towed the float and donned a pirate hat and sword as well. We threw candy, handed out cards to tell people about our boat, talked like pirates, and even sang a sea chantey at times. It was such a fun day, and it was so great to see people both young and old smile as we would act like pirates. “Arrrrr you enjoying the parrrade?” “Have ye seen me treasure?!” We celebrated afterward with pizza and a bonfire, had a real nice time. If you had told me before all this that I would be doing this in front of hundreds of people I would have said you were crazy….but I have learned to not take myself too seriously, and it was so worth it.
Oh, and we won second place in our division!!
Take and Share Lots of Photos and Videos
If you follow me on Facebook, you will no doubt have noticed all the pictures and videos posted over the last 5 months or so. Prior to that I hardly had any, but now they tell the story of a very full summer and Fall. There are photos of the boat, of me “falling” (read: being pushed into) into a lake. (Ok there is one where I did actually fall in) Some of the photos are scary (staged photos in dangerous looking situations), others silly (seesaw!!).
One thing my family has learned is how important photographs are. Take lots, keep the originals, back them up…you never know how much they might mean down the road.
Stage Scary Photos
One of my sister and Abby’s favorite things to do was to stage scary/dangerous-looking photographs. Whenever they went on a trip they would make sure to take some photo that would make mom panic a little. Well I got into the fun myself and now have a few such photos.
Play In The Snow
I realize this is a Fall & Summer list, but this year we had a freak snowstorm around Halloween, so I get to include that too.
I can’t remember the last time I really played in the snow, let’s just say it had been a long time. As someone with a long driveway, I don’t usually enjoy the snow, but for once I actually enjoyed it! It was the best kind of snow too, perfect for a snowball fight and building a snowman. I had a blast doing both.
Go To a Trans-Siberian Orchestra Concert
I ordered tickets online for something awhile back and ever since I’ve been getting emails telling me about upcoming concerts and other events. So when I saw the TSO was coming to Giant Center for their winter tour, remembering that my dad was a fan, I thought it along with dinner after would make a great early Christmas present. Besides, after everything we’ve been through I had been thinking about how it’s better to spend on experiences rather than things anyway. I ordered three tickets for floor seats two months in advance and held on to the tickets so I could surprise my dad a week or two before the concert. The concert was amazing, and we all had a great time.
Run a 5K
I was never much a fan of running; in High School I dreaded the mile run. Even up until recently it was not one of my favorite activities, although I have recently taken more of an interest in exercising and being active, especially with the biking I’ve been doing. I was told by someone at church about the Turkey Trot which is held every year on Thanksgiving in York to benefit the YMCA of York. It seemed like something fun that I had never done before, so I signed up. The weather was great, I was able to get a respectable time of 33:16, and overall had a great time. There was so much energy with 3500 people running together, and it was so much better than just sitting at home. I plan to run another one soon and will definitely be doing the Turkey Trot again next year.
These things all represent the best of times that I have been blessed with over the past six months amid the worst of times. They by no means remove the pain of losing my sister, but I am nonetheless grateful for all of them. I’ve probably done more fun things in these two seasons than perhaps I ever did before. I’m definitely more active and have learned how important it is to have fun and to not take yourself too seriously. I am thankful for the impact my sister has had on me such as leaving us the boat to inspire us, and for the good times I have had this past Fall and Summer which have brought joy to an otherwise depressing time.
There are still some plans for fun, perhaps another project or a vacation. It’s harder now with colder weather, but we will have to work at it. I have my bag of fun, and now I need to start working on a winter list of fun. If you have any ideas, please submit them in a comment!
Denny . . . thanks for the wonderful reading . . . Alicia was always smiling . . . she always took time to chat with me when I would visit my daughter at college . . . she touched my heart and still does even today . . . I think of her often! Paula still talks about the time she went swing dancing with Alicia. Paula has many fond memories of the one year she shared with Alicia at school . . . she wishes she had more time to get to know her more . .. . but we know we will see her again, one day!