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Jim Bishop: It still looks pretty good from the road

Column by Jim Bishop
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I hardly recognized the place. But then, it was Laurelville Camp with a Rt. 2, Mt. Pleasant, Pa., address when I had my main associations as acamper, staff member for two summers and a counselor. Today, it’s Laurelville Mennonite Church Center to reflect the broader range of programs and services offered.

But the pastoral setting in the Laurel Highlands is the same. So is the good feeling that the facilities and people exude, as well as the pleasant memories triggered by a stroll around the grounds.

Laurelville was an overnight stop on the Bishop Brothers – Bob, Eric, Mike and me – long-anticipated road trip over an extended weekend, May 20-24. We had talked about doing this for too long and finally decided to turn idle talk into action, clear our overcrowded schedules, plan the itinerary and let the rubber hit the road.

My brothers arrived from eastern Pennsylvania the evening of May 20, and once settled in, we headed for local landmarks from our college days – Jess’ for chili dogs and Klines’ for frozen custard. Our arteries would take major abuse over the next several days.

We loaded brother Michael’s spacious Sierra truck and left Friday morning, May 21, for Mineral County, W.Va., to visit members of my late mother’s extended Dayton family.

I stroll the Dayton Fairview Valley homestead where Mom was born and raised. It’s the same sprawling acreage and farm buildings, but the main ones aren’t seeing major use these days. The grounds are still well-maintained, and that’s consoling. I conjure image of the days when the place was Dayton’s Dairy, with my uncles washing and sterilizing quart glass bottles that would be filled with raw milk, with the cream rising to the top, and capped with the logo – “Nature’s Natural Nourishment” – for distribution on a route that stretched to Cumberland, Md. Stiffer government regulations eventually forced the family to send its milk to another dairy operation near Keyser.

Leaving the farm, we gather on the porch of Aunt Virginia Moreland’s (Mom’s sister) cozy abode in the verdant village of Pinto, Md., sipping iced tea on a pleasant Friday afternoon. It felt like a step back in time, the cares of daily life dissipating.

We had an evening meal of homestyle cooking at Penn Alps Restaurant and crafts village at Grantsville, Md. Brother Bob told the waitress that she’d get a generous tip if she correctly guessed our chronological birth order, and she picked the next-to-oldest, Bob, as the oldest. That made my day – the whole week, in fact – on the eve of my 65th birthday.

We arrived at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center in Westmoreland County, Pa., as heavenly shades of night were falling . . . it’s twilight time. Next morning, staff member Brian Paff gives us the 50-cent tour of the place.

Laurelville was a pretty rustic place when I and next-in-line brother Bob first came here to attend Boys Camp in the mid-1950s. My parents were directors on two occasions, but I don’t think I received special treatment. I experienced the Spartan cabins, the camaraderie of new fast friends, dining hall meals with someone appointed at each table to work the spatula, fashioning lanyards from strands of colorful plastic, playing baseball with cabins pitted against each other, a sweaty hike up to “the rock” overlooking the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the constant “noise” of rushing water from Jacob’s Creek (that fed the camp swimming pool with water that never warmed up all summer).

The same bell is still there that summoned us to come and dine, supplemented by junk food (it wasn’t called that back then) at the camp snack shop that was never open long enough – Keck’s “Big Stick” carbonated beverages in heavy glass bottles for a dime, candy bars for a nickel and even certain items for a penny, the tabernacle for with its literal sawdust floor and nightly campfire rings where stories were told, marshmallows were roasted and simple melodies, i.e., “Kum Ba Ya,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and “Sarasponda,” were sung repeatedly.

What memories, moving west to east on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Saturday, watching for landmarks that were so important to our family road trips. Only then, we would take turns stuffing ourselves onto the back window ledge of the ’57 Chevy or stand up in the middle of the front bench seat between Dad, who always drove, and Mom, who would try to get us to sing choruses to help pass the time and forestall the inevitable “are we there yet?” question. And, amazingly, they let us keep the radio tuned to “Wibbage,” radio 99, Philadelphia, until we lost the signal.

We played and sang along , harmonizing when we could, to a special CD of “Songs for the Road” that I put together of “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “The Long and Winding Road” and other nostalgic favorites.

Cousin Bill Bishop joined us Saturday evening for a stroll down the main streets of our hometown of Doylestown, a happening place – sidewalks clogged with pedestrians moving all directions, shops and restaurants and sidewalk cafes full of people. What’s missing are the places where I spent many idyllic hours of childhood-adolescence – Pearlman’s Record Shop, Kenny’s News, the Doylestown Hobby Shop, Foster’s Toy Store, Woolworths and the Rexall Drug Store with its 25 cent chocolate milk shakes. But two downtown establishments are still going strong – the County Theater and Rutherford’s Camera Shop.

Sunday, it’s déjà vu all over again . . . a similar feeling to five years ago when my dear wife and our daughters pulled a surprise 60th birthday party with nearly the entire family, co-workers, church friends and others showing up. This time around, we left Blooming Glen (PA) Mennonite Church after the morning service – my high school alma mater, the Christopher Dock Mennonite School touring choir led the worship service with excellent musical selections – and pulled into the parking lot of the Water Wheel Inn. What are we doing here?

I soon found out – my brothers, their spouses, several of their children, cousin Don Smith and wife Jody, and childhood friend Jim Helmbold and a friend Mary Lou were assembled in a room there. We enjoyed fantastic fare, rich fellowship and I was showered with birthday gifts. Jim Helmbold gave me two rare 45 rpm discs from 1958 – “Bye, Bye Love” by Ed Sullivan impersonator Will Jordan, and a novelty “break-in” record, “The Trial,” by Herb B. Lou and the Legal Eagles.

We put more miles on Mike’s Sierra truck, returning to Harrisonburg Sunday evening. Monday morning, we hosted EMU President Loren Swartzendruber and wife Pat for breakfast in the antique room (we felt at home there) of the Thomas House in Dayton and presented them with a copy of the just-published Bishop Family Cookbook. It wasn’t a bribe. Loren had earlier consented to be guest speaker for the Bishop Cousins’ ScrappleFest VI the first Saturday of March, 2011.

The final fling of our four-day affair was a personal highlight. We went to Eastern Mennonite High School, gathered around an omni-directional microphone and recorded about 10 songs, a capella quartet style. Several were choruses that were family favorites years ago (“Babes in the Woods,” “All Night, the Angels Are Watching On Me,” “In My Heart There Rings a Melody”), several gospel numbers and even a Rick Nelson tune. Engineer Brian Buchanan is doing the final mix to CD as a sound keepsake of our trip, which ended all too quickly.

In retrospect, I’m so thankful we finally committed to doing the trip and took the necessary steps to ensure that it happened. I doubt if we’ll ever do anything like this again, and I thank God for the opportunity and for the experiences that certainly surpassed all expectations.

The thing that impressed me repeatedly is, everyone we met along the way is getting older, ourselves included. The trip also reinforced for me the importance of family, of placing relationships above material things and all that would try to keep us from pursuing what is most important in life. We don’t know how much time we have, so how important it is to live each day as if it were our last.

What a family I’m privileged to be part of. What a memorable weekend with my three brothers (hey, we got along amazingly well!).  I’m re-energized for whatever lies further on down the road.

I put together a special CD collection from requests submitted by the brothers four. It got played repeatedly during the trip while steel belts slapped the asphalt:


1.  On the Road Again, Willie Nelson

2.  Travelin’ Man, Rick Nelson

3.  Further On Up the Road, Johnny Cash

4.  Turn Your Radio On, Ray Stevens

5.  I Want to Stroll Over Heaven With You, Alan Jackson

6.  Michael, Row the Boat Ashore, The Highwaymen

7.  Time Won’t Let Me, The Outsiders

8. When I Grow Up (To Be a Man), Beach Boys

9.  Wake Up, Little Susie, Everly Brothers

10. Meet Mr. Callaghan, Carmen Cavallaro

11. Heart of Gold, Neil Young

12. Wasted on the Way, Crosby, Stills & Nash

13. Statesboro Blues (live), Allman Brothers

14. Killing the Blues, Alison Krauss/Robert Plant

15. The Sound of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel

16. Mr. Tambourine Man, The Byrds

17. Dance With My Father, Luther Vandross

18. This Little Light of Mine, Oak Ridge Boys

19. Move Up, Patty Griffin

20. If I Had a Hammer, Peter, Paul & Mary

21. Greenfields, Brothers Four

22. Take Me Home, Country Roads, John Denver

23. Looking for an Echo, Kenny Vance & the Planotones

24. In Your Time, Bob Seger

25. The Long and Winding Road, The Beatles

26. Precious Lord, Take My Hand, Elvis Presley

– Compiled expressly for the Bishop Brothers Road Trip, May 21-24, 2010