Bella Fontana

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

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.