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 Paradise or Parking Lot?

Donna M. Sterner

I sat here on Thursday, February 11th, and watched giant snowflakes fall softly from the sky. It was like the angels were having a pillow fight in heaven, and we were being hit with the fallout. Oh, I know the East Coast has been clobbered with snow in recent weeks and most of its residents don't want to hear about snow. But I have been in Dallas, TX for nearly 22 years and, in all of that time, I have never been able to have a good snowball fight or build a decent snowman.

When I was growing up I longed for big city lights with taxicabs and subways. I dreamed of fine restaurants were folks sipped champagne and nibbled at toast points dripping with caviar. Emmitsburg was a little one horse town. Its claim fame was the burial place of Mother Seton, the Grotto, Mt. St. Mary's and, later, the National Fire Academy. I was destined for greater things.

I vacuumed the house and dusted and got a whopping $5 a week. I put some in savings at Farmer's and Mechanics Bank on the square. I bought comic books at Carter's Drug Store and Crouse's On the Square. At holiday time I always had a Christmas Club account at the aforementioned bank so I could buy gifts for my family. We had a color TV bought from Matthew Appliance Store on West Main Street. But, like most kids, I whined because there was nothing exciting to do. Oh, sure, there was the Mother Seton School Bazaar and the spring and Christmas Bazaars at Elias Lutheran Church.

Behind my house there were boulders that would become castles or forts, depending on which way the imagination wandered. There were monkey vines that could turn any kid into Tarzan or Sheena. But there was nothing to DO! Patty Lane on "The Patty Duke Show" led such an exciting albeit disaster-fraught life. And I had nothing to do. I bought the latest 45 records and albums from Gene Myers shop on East Main Street, right down the street from my grandmother's house.

We had an annual Halloween Parade, but I outgrew that. Maybe what I needed all along was to listen to Judy Garland in my favorite movie say "there's no place like home," or gain infinite wisdom from Judy Collin's song, "Big Yellow Taxi." I bought the 45, for goodness sake! I sang along to it all the time. "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

So now I was sitting in a big city watching snow fall and realized that I miss that little one horse town where everybody knew everybody and said "hi" when they passed on the street. Skyscrapers and bright lights block the nighttime sky with its soft spray of stars twinkling like diamonds on a deep blue jeweler's cloth made of the softest velvet.

I have my taxicabs and subway and city busses that belch out clouds of black diesel exhaust who cut you off and give you a one fingered salute like it was your fault. I am surrounded by 5 star hotels and restaurants but would be just as happy with a good old cold cut hoagie and onion rings from Corney's Corner. Who needs fish eggs anyway? And champagne is overrated.

There are no fireman's carnivals here with cheap bingo played with corn kernels on wooden benches that surround prizes to make a child gasp with wonder while the air is redolent with the smell of grease and French fries. Here I can go to the State Fair of Texas...that is, if I could afford it. The admission and rides are outrageous; prizes are cheap and the booths are rigged. And when you come out with a stuffed teddy bear that cost you a week's salary to win, you car might not be where you left it because it was towed or stolen.

The words are interchangeable. Yes, there is the heavy smell of grease because every year they have a contest to see who could deep fry the weirdest stuff. Don't get me wrong...I like a good corn dog, and bacon on a stick sounds interesting. Like Emeril says, pork fat rules. But let's be serious...just who wants to eat fried butter?

I got my snowball fight and my 28 year old son had a ball making 2 snowmen. We got nearly 12 inches, a record for Dallas. It took me 51 years to realize I left paradise for a parking lot and simple things are the best of all. So when this snow melts away and my son's snowmen are nothing but puddles, I will revert to my second childhood and whine..."there's nothing to do!"

Read other personal memories of life in Emmitsburg of old

Read other articles by Donna Sterner