Recently, my family and I traveled to State College, Pa., to watch my 14-year-old granddaughter Hannah play in a volleyball tournament. An added attraction was the opportunity to visit the nearby town of Lock Haven, where we had lived 37 years ago.
In 1973, I joined a surgery practice in Lock Haven. On a previous visit, the slow pace, beautiful vistas, and friendly people had impressed me. Add to that the abundant opportunities for hunting, and you had a place that only God could have created. They call such places God's country.
We lived in Swissdale, a wide spot in the road as it ascends toward Coudersport. Those three years were, in many ways, the most challenging and enjoyable times of my professional and personal life. It was in Lock Haven that my youngest son, Monie, was born, and it was here that my children Natasha and Qarie started their educational journey in a public school.
Across from our home was Joseph (aka Oscar and Buddy) Hellbly's small sawmill. Buddy worked in the Piper Aircraft factory in town, farmed his land, ran the sawmill, and still found time to hunt and fish. He was like many mountain folk who worked two or three jobs to eke out a living. My first encounter with him was in the surgery waiting room in Lock Haven Hospital.
That day, I was called to the emergency room to see a woman with a ruptured appendix. She was brought to the hospital by a neighbor because her husband had gone fishing that morning. I developed an instant dislike for the man who found fishing more important than tending to his sick wife. While I operated, the man was located on Young Woman Creek a few miles from his parked vehicle.
I was ready to give him a piece of my mind, but he disarmed me with his gentle demeanor, kind face, and homespun humor. That morning, his wife had assured him that she was feeling better. That unusual encounter turned into a close friendship that lasted until their passing.
Over the years, I would learn more about these wonderful people and the culture of hunting that permeates the mountain hollows of Pennsylvania. In many ways, my late wife, Dottie, and I were more at ease with these folks than with my professional colleagues who lived in the posh neighborhood of Sunset Pines.
Through Buddy, I met other hunters. Soon, I was hunting with the Swissdale Hunting Gang that included fathers, sons, and the occasional grandson. There was Sonny Sorgen, his boys Randy, Michael, and Tim, and Sonny's brother Ab, who held some sort of record for a bear kill in Pennsylvania.
LaRue Dunkenberger had moved to New Jersey, but come hunting season, he returned faithfully to "claim his buck." Then there were the Wises and the Shoemakers and many others whose names have faded from my memory. They all added color and texture to the mountain tapestry.
Lock Haven has changed since the mid-1970s. State College is now Lock Haven University. There are new businesses, not all consistent with the landscape, and quite a few eateries, mostly of the fast-food variety. There are the ubiquitous Wal-Mart and Kmart that have, as elsewhere in the country, forced out small, hometown stores.
The two industrial anchors, Piper Aircraft and Hammermill International Paper Co., are long gone. The recent economic downturn has added some blight to the area, but the mountains, forests, and fast-moving creeks keep these people resolute and optimistic.
So it was with these wonderful memories in tow that we spent a few days in Lock Haven meeting old friends and visiting old haunts: the mountaintop store Fin, Fur, and Feather, Uncle Joe's Shed to pick up a few knickknacks, and the famous Woolrich store near Lock Haven.
A dinner with the Sorgens and Buddy's son John and daughter-in-law Tanis was the highlight of our nostalgic visit.
Before I am totally swept away by wonderful memories of Lock Haven, let me also mention that Hannah's volleyball team - Toledo Volleyball Club - competed against 97 teams from all across the Midwest and East Coast and came out on top.
It was a remarkable weekend.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.
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