Urban Living, Part 2

Deciding to move out of Harrisburg after more than 17 years was difficult, but we believed it was necessary for our family at that time. While it was important for us to move when we did, we were also sad to leave behind the place that held so many wonderful memories of our family and the kids’ growing up years. (Read Part 1 of “Urban Living.”)

Scan_Pic0011The ice cream truck: Dana and Derek loved the ice cream truck that was a regular feature of spring and summer evenings in the city. Often it seemed like the truck came ringing its way up our street right at bedtime. Dana would already be upstairs in bed, hear the familiar sound of the truck, and come rushing down begging for a treat. When it came earlier in the day, she would often run out to the truck with coins in hand. From the time he could get in on the action, Derek wanted a popsicle too and so Dana would share hers with him (not always willingly!).

Scan_Pic0023Scan_Pic0021The sidewalk hill: Our street had a slight incline, just enough to make it slippery in the winter for driving but just perfect for riding Big Wheels, roller skates and other wheeled vehicles down the sidewalk. I’ve always been thankful that no one was ever badly hurt or rode out into the street at the bottom of the hill – they were always able to stop in time. When the kids were little and the weather was nice, the whole neighborhood would be out riding their vehicles down the sidewalk, and the noise of plastic wheels on concrete was almost deafening.

The menagerie: Numerous pets occupied our house over the years: Kitty the cat, Tigger the cat (who met an untimely and very sad end), Sandy the sandy-colored dog, Camilla the chameleon (for whom Dale caught flies in the backyard), Eli the hamster (named for Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin, in honor of his hamster wheel; he also met an untimely and sad end), Dutchy the dutch rabbit, white mice which multiplied exponentially, a turtle, and fish. Only Sandy moved with us when we left the city; she lived another 10+ years.


Scan_Pic0020Scan_Pic0012Birthday parties, costumes and trick-or-treating: While our kids’ birthday parties weren’t nearly as elaborate as some, we usually had a theme. I never would have considered myself a cake decorator, but I managed to create quite a few “masterpieces” to go with the theme of the day (and without benefit of ideas from the internet). I made Ernie, Superman, He-Man, Dukes of Hazzard, Transformer, unicorn and roller skate cakes, and more. I also made Halloween costumes. Scan_Pic0024Derek always had grand ideas for what he wanted, along with the supreme confidence that mom could create whatever he wanted. Probably the most memorable were the clown, Superman, He-Man and Indian costumes. Trick-or-treating was always fun and a real community event – everyone was out on the street on trick-or-treat night. For Derek, as a junk-food junkie extraordinaire, Halloween was one of his favorite holidays!

Roller-skating to school: For weeks (perhaps even months) one year, Dana and her friends roller-skated to their elementary school about 1-2 miles away. Dana would leave our house on skates, stop by several other houses picking up her friends along the way, and they would all skate the rest of the way to school. Eventually, the principal put a stop to the practice, apparently because he didn’t like them wearing their roller skates into the school building (they always took regular shoes with them to change into). I always thought it was a shame he disallowed it because it was wonderful exercise for them!

Scan_Pic0015Small yard beautification: We had the proverbial postage-stamp size backyard, but we used our space to good advantage. Dale and I both came from families used to growing many of their own vegetables, so we always had a small garden. The kids also had their own little garden sometimes. At various times, we had a small strawberry patch, raspberry bushes, a grape vine and four blueberry bushes.

The park and the field: There was a small park and playground about three blocks away where we often took our kids and whatever neighborhood kids wanted to tag along. In later years, the park wasn’t maintained well by the city, but when our kids were young, it was a great little neighborhood treasure. Another treasure was the field behind our house between Mulberry and Holly Streets. The field was owned by the school district but wasn’t being used for anything. So it was a great place to play ball, and for Dale to take the kids for motorcycle rides.

Other miscellaneous memories:

  • Scan_Pic0014Surviving several huge snowstorms: Lots of snow and cities don’t go well together, and when we had a big snow it would usually take days for the snowplow to make it to our street. Besides building snowmen, the kids also used to jump off the back porch into piles of snow and one time Dale helped Derek build a snow fort.
  • Working in the midst of chaos: I worked at home on various writing and editorial projects, and I would often find myself writing some peace-related article in the midst of decidedly unpeaceful interactions between the kids. Sometimes, especially during the summer, I felt like I was running a day care, as half the neighborhood would be running in and out of the house all day while I tried to work and supervise at the same time.
  • Walking to work: When we first moved to Harrisburg, Dale was still working downtown, but within the first year he got a job at Penn National Insurance which was then located just a few short blocks from our house. So he walked to work for many years, and usually came home for lunch. This made it possible for us to manage with one car for a long time – until Dana got her license, in fact!
  • Having a support system close by: Within four blocks of our house, there were several other families we knew from church and/or Messiah College days. The Heises, Zerchers (two families of them), Deyhles and Keefers all had kids the ages of ours, and we helped each other in various ways.
  • Learning just a little of what it feels like to be in the minority: In those days, the percentage of white kids in the Harrisburg City Schools was about 10-15% (I think). Both Dana and Derek always had very good friends of other races and ethnicities, but we all also learned some hard lessons about race and privilege.

I’ve had a wonderful trip down memory lane looking through photo albums from those years (and I’ve discovered that a huge job for another day is redoing albums that are falling apart!). So many great memories!


3 thoughts on “Urban Living, Part 2

  1. Great memories, Harriet. I also identify with the need to redo albums that are falling apart! That can’t be that old, can they?!!!!

  2. Harriet, I can still picture some of those Halloween costumes in process on your sewing machine along the dining room wall in that house. Derek had reason to have confidence in your abilities. I also recall some of the tasty desserts made with those blueberries from your backyard. You are bringing back a lot of good memories.

  3. If you wanted to redress the balance from the first urban living blog, you have more than done so. I do wonder how the principal of the school had any authority between home and school — I can understand prohibiting wearing roller skates in the building, but the space in between? Feels like an overreach of authority to me. Anyway, these are indeed good memories

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