Bella Fontana

A weekly column about life in Bellefonte, PA, reprinted from the Centre Daily Times

Friday, July 22, 2005

Bikers ride past those silly labels

Spring Street, in front of Wetzler's Funeral Home, was so packed one evening lately that I could hardly work my way through the crowd.

People moved slowly in a line that stretched up the street and around the corner before moving inside the funeral home. Then I saw the motorcycles lined up along the street and filling the parking lot of the Presbyterian Church -- and more were still arriving.

Later, scanning the obituaries, I found one with the line, "He was an avid motorcycle rider."

The crowd that evening had come to pay their respects to one of their own. There would be 75 bikers leading the procession to the burial ground in Benner Township, a testament to the man and to the popularity of the hobby in this area.

Most of the bikers I have known are teachers. None of them fits the scary stereotype of a tattooed menace.

First there was Hal, a soft-spoken guy who was one of the most popular substitutes at the high school when I was working there. He rode a Harley, the love of his life, next to his wife, Natalie.

One day, he asked me to take a look at how he had customized his bike. The tank was a work of airbrushed art, in magenta, purples and gold.

The June issue of Long Rider magazine devotes an entire feature to Hal and his favorite means of transportation.

Anne, a fellow English teacher with the beatific smile of a madonna, loved taking long trips, riding behind her husband to places such as the Great Smokies. Now they travel on a bright-red Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide Fireman's Special. They have been to Sedona, Ariz.; Austin, Texas; Pagosa Springs, Colo.; and Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico.

Anne, as far as I know, does not have any tattoos.

Nor does Cheryl, who teaches kindergarten at Marion-Walker. Her powder-blue-and-cream Yamaha V-Star complements her delicate coloring. She has ridden her bike to church.

Her husband, Paul, rides a Harley-Davidson Road King "chromed to the hilt" with a Lone Ranger custom paint job on the back.

When Cheryl asks, "Do you ride?" I regretfully say no, though once, by mistake, I checked off "motorcycle" on my driver's license application. Paul says he will take me for a ride, but that's another story.

Today's cyclists are involved in more and more community events, most recently the rally at the high school to benefit the bookmobile. Though they may be moving into the mainstream, motorcycles will never lose their aura of risk and romance.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Borough is blooming with colors of summer

The beginning of July looked like the end of August: Lawns were scorched. Ferns were wilting. My marigolds died.

Shakespeare, in "Sonnet 18," said, "And summer's lease hath all too short a date."

This year, it seems to be shorter than ever.

So why, I wonder, as I walk around town, are the wildflowers doing so well?

Bright orange day lilies burst out of the ground along Howard Street, replacing the purple phlox that bloomed last month. The side of Wilson Street near the cemetery is lined with blue-petalled chicory. Honeysuckle covers a bank on the opposite side of the street, and a patch of crown vetch has staked out a claim by the steps to Centre Crest.

Some environmental groups label crown vetch, along with purple loosestrife, invasive species. Imported for the purpose of ground cover, the plants soon ran out of control.

Along the Benner Pike, crown vetch has spread so profusely it threatens to leap the highway, or at least cover the carcass of a deer that has been lying by the side of the road for some weeks now. Acres of Rockview property are covered by the pink-flowered vine.

I asked a friend who is an expert gardener what the difference is between a wildflower and a weed. She said if something grows where you don't want it to, it's a weed.

I look at my front yard carpeted now with white and pink clover and remember spring, when there were violets and forget-me-nots. They remind me of a meadow, so I say they are wildflowers and they can stay.

Also on my guest list, because of their symmetry, are buttercups and daisies. The petals of these flowers represent fibonacci numbers, which are related to the Greek idea of the golden mean.

Pokeweed is another symmetrical plant I see on my walks, but its berries and roots are poisonous. The spikes of plantains are actually a flower, but I call them weeds.

Most people consider dandelions a pest, but we used to play games with them, holding them under our chins to see the reflection that meant we liked butter or splitting the stem with our tongues to make curls. We would open the pods of milkweed to find the silky-haired seeds inside and make bouquets of Queen Anne's lace, savoring their carroty smell.

I may have to replace the dead marigolds in my window boxes with artificial flowers, or if worse comes to worse, transplant some crown vetch. It should do well.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Bellefonte has a way of luring outsiders

My parents' house in Lock Haven, which was also my grandparents' house, was sold in 1994, but I only recently got around to sorting through the boxes of odds and ends from "down home" that I had stored in my basement. Among the old ration books and prayer books, opera scores, letters, and photographs were yellowed newspaper clippings of major events in family members' lives.

The April 11, 1932, edition of the Lock Haven Express carries a front-page story and photograph with the headline "Mr. and Mrs. Rohe celebrate golden wedding at dinner." George W. and Mary Carroll Rohe were my maternal grandparents. Their last name is correctly pronounced as two syllables, but it always came out "Roy" in Lock Haven.

After their marriage in 1882, before they moved to Lock Haven, the article noted the couple "also lived for a time at Bellefonte."

Maybe that explains the almost visceral attraction I have for this town rather than for my actual hometown. Maybe some rogue strand of DNA has drawn me here to Spring Creek instead of the Susquehanna. Maybe, in my interior landscape, the hilly terrain of Bellefonte has replaced the flood plain of my childhood.

I remember, now, my mother telling me that Grandpa and Grandma worked at the Bush House -- he as night clerk, she as a maid -- until one day one of the cooks didn't show up and someone said, "Mary makes good pies." Those were the days when six passenger trains a day pulled into the station. Grandma would have been baking lots of pies.

My move to Bellefonte was preceded by one of those flashes of insight that come out of the blue. On a May evening in 1975, I attended "An Evening of Chamber Music," sponsored by the Talleyrand Park Committee. It was an elegant event, with a string quartet at the Reynolds Mansion and a woodwind quintet at another beautiful home across the street.

I stood on Allegheny Street and thought, "Someday I am going to live here." Five years later, I had an apartment on West Linn Street.

When I was teaching at the high school, we used to say there were two kinds of people in Bellefonte: the ones who were born here and everyone else. In this tightly knit community of families that go back generation after generation, I will always be something of an outsider.

But now I am in good company, as more and more outsiders are discovering the charm that drew me here in the first place.