Girl Scout Confessions

My niece is selling Girl Scout cookies right now. I ate an entire box of thin mints by myself this past week. That’s not my real confession today, though.

I was a Girl Scout for years. My school district didn’t have a Girl Scout troop for high school kids, which is pretty much why I stopped being a Girl Scout. (That’s okay, though, because I was busy with marching band by then.)

Anyway, I attended two different Girl Scout camps: Maple Valley Girl Scout Day Camp in Meyersdale, and Camp Conshatawba in Summerhill. I also went cabin camping with my Girl Scout troop at a state park. I was kind of a brat at all three of these places.

(See my post on my other blog about the Girl Scout Mother’s Day cabin cooking adventure. Apparently, I had a real problem with learning to not talk about other people behind their backs.)

The Maple Valley camp was actually held at a public park (Maple Valley Park) in a wooded area outside of Meyersdale. The park had a swimming pool open to the public back then. The Girl Scouts only occupied one section of the park for one week each year. The Boy Scouts had their own week and their own camp at this same section of this park.

The Maple Valley Girl Scout Day Camp was held one week in August from Monday – Friday. A school bus picked us up in Berlin each day, and took us the ten miles to Meyersdale. Other Girl Scouts from all over Somerset County also attended this camp with us.

Once we arrived at camp, we were assigned to a temporary Girl Scout “troop” and we did most of our activities with that troop all week. The troop usually included other girls around our same age who attended our same school, if possible. (So, our “troops” often included the same girls who belonged to our “school year” Girl Scout troop.)

We went swimming each day if the teenaged lifeguards who supervised Maple Valley’s public pool didn’t hear thunder.

We sang songs when the camp leaders wanted to keep us busy and tire us out.

We learned how to prepare food in the woods so that we could camp by ourselves and still be able to eat. One time, we mixed up instant pudding in plastic resealable bags just in case we needed to make pudding and didn’t have any spoons or bowls or something. One of the plastic bags burst all over one girl’s jeans. In my adult life, I have never mixed up food in a plastic resealable bag, even when I was in the woods. I think that my Girl Scout camp experience turned me off from ever preparing food in plastic bags.

We played in the small creek that ran through Maple Valley Park. Then, one day, a camp leader approached our “troop” and told us that we couldn’t play in the creek any more because one of the other “troops” just saw a snake in the creek. Looking back, I think that it’s just a pretty good decision to not let large groups of pre-teen kids play in creeks that aren’t pre-inspected for broken beer bottles and discarded fishing hooks. (That’s actually how my sister K. later cut her foot one time when she was on a trip with just me and our dad.) Also, I have feared snakes my entire life. (In fact, my dad kept me out of his woodshed and also the upper loft of our garage for DECADES by telling me that snakes lived there.) However, on this particular stint at Girl Scout camp, I was PISSED that an adult told me that I couldn’t play in a creek “merely” because somebody saw a snake. I was convinced (with absolutely no basis for my reasoning) that the Boy Scouts were totally allowed to play in the creek, and that I was only told to not play in the creek because I was a Girl Scout.

The “snake incident” is not my real confession, either.

Despite its name, the oldest kids at Maple Valley Girl Scout Day Camp actually camped at the park on Thursday night into Friday morning.

We had to “put up our own tents,” even though I am pretty sure that the adults did most of the real work.

Looking back, I wonder how much “fun” the adults had with this.

Anyway, one year, I was in the same “troop” as a girl that I shall call Padmé.

Now, Padmé and I were both from Berlin. We went to the same school and she and I had been in the same “school year” Girl Scout troop. However, Padmé was actually a grade level above me in our school. Our “school year” Girl Scout troop had thirty other girls in it. Padmé and I were not really friends during the school year.

However, during that week at Girl Scout camp, Padmé and I became best buddies.

On Thursday night, Padmé told me that I could “sleep on one of her pillows.”

Guys, this was all pre-Covid.

Also, just for the record, I did bring my own pillow.

However, I accepted Padmé’s offer. I slept on one of her pillows that night.

However, I also fell asleep that night with chewing gum in my mouth.

I woke up the next morning to discover that my chewing gum now covered one side of Padmé’s pillow.

I picked some of the gum off of Padmé’s pillow. The rest of the gum stayed on Padmé’s pillow.

I chose not to cop to Padmé about getting gum on her pillow. When I returned her pillow, I turned the “gum side” so that it faced away from her.

We said our good-byes. I stared at the gum side of her pillow.

I don’t think that Padmé and I ever had another conversation . As I said above, she was a grade ahead of me in school. I don’t think that we were together in Girl Scouts again. Years later, I saw her often in the hallway of our high school. I don’t think that we were in any of the same high school activities.

I wondered now long it took Padmé to see the gum.

I wondered now much trouble she got into with her mom.

I don’t think that I ever again fell asleep with gum in my mouth.

We Met Tonto, the Ohiopyle Cat

Ohiopyle State Park, Pennsylvania. February 6, 2021. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

We drove to Pennsylvania’s Ohiopyle State Park today for a short walk.

Ohiopyle State Park sits on the Youghiogheny River. There is a story of some historical significance from the 1750’s involving George Washington as a young British officer. This blog post is supposed to be about a cat, though, so I won’t bother telling the George Washington story. You can Google it.

Ohiopyle features several rapids and waterfalls. I myself have gone whitewater rafting on the Youghigheny River (“the Yough”) at Ohiopyle. I shared a raft with a girl who wore her contact lens on the trip. After each time that we fell out of our raft into the water, she panicked that she had lost her contacts. She kept asking her boyfriend to check to see if her contacts were still in her eyes.

(I don’t have room to make fun of this girl. I once went white water rafting on the Cheat River in West Virginia in April. I wore my glasses instead of my contacts. I fell out of the raft several times, and on the rapids known as the Big Nasty (or maybe it was the rapids known as the Coliseum), my glasses swam off of my face. I grabbed them, but I lost one of the lenses out of them.)

The bicycle and walking trail known as the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) runs through Ohiopyle State Park. The Ohiopyle trailhead and restroom is actually right across the road from the main falls and almost right next to the Falls Market. (More on the Falls Market in a little bit.) I have personally biked to the Ohiopyle trailhead from the trailheads in both directions. However, this blog post is about a cat, so I will write about the GAP some other time.

We did not visit Cucumber Falls because the Cucumber Falls parking lot was completely packed when we drove past it. Not only that, but there was a truck sitting in the parking lot entrance with its engine running, waiting for a parking spot to open up. There was no place to (safely) park alongside the road. Finally, we realized that even if we were to snag a parking spot, we would have a very difficult time trying to social distance on the narrow trail that leads from the parking lot down to the bottom of Cucumber Falls.

So, no Cucumber Falls for us today.

We did visit the main waterfalls, though. I took the above photo with my new camera.

The Cat

Tonto, the Ohiopyle cat. Ohiopyle State Park. February 6, 2021. Photo: Jonathan Woytek

When we were at the main falls, an orange cat came over and sat down on a retaining wall in front of us. Next to the snow.

Jonathan petted the cat and read the tag on the cat’s collar.

The tag said:

I am Tonto. I live here.

We said hello to Tonto.

Then, after we both backed away from Tonto, some other people came over and said hello to Tonto.

Tonto stretched.

Tonto sat in the sun for a few more minutes.

Then, Tonto ran off.

So, I Googled “ohiopyle” and “cat.”

Almost everything that I found on my Google search was hidden by some media website’s paywall. Some of these paywalls had “free trials” if I gave them my email address and agreed to let them spam me until the end of my days. Still, I didn’t feel like putting forth any extra effort to get behind any of these paywalls.

So, I learned from the non-paywall content that Tonto was one of several cat siblings that a heartless person dumped on the grounds of Ohiopyle State Park.

The owners of Falls Market Restaurant & Inn adopted Tonto.

Falls Market sits directly across the road from the main falls at Ohiopyle. Tonto likes to cross the road and visit the falls. Tonto is quite social and he poses for photos.

Falls Market, Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. Home of Tonto the cat. February 6, 2021. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

The Facebook page for Falls Market Restaurant & Inn asks viewers to post photos if they have the opportunity to meet Tonto.

So, I posted this above photo that Jonathan took of Tonto.

Nice to meet you, Tonto.

Redux: Punxsutawny Phil Tribute

Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Circa early 1990’s. (Photo: Shirley Gaffron)

Groundhog Day is February 2.

My sister blogged about our family’s trips to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (Punxsy) and about her own meeting with Punxsutawny Phil.

Here you go: Happy Groundhog Day! My Brush With The Prognosticator of Prognosticators (Updated)

“Hamilton” -Adjacent: Friendship Hill

Friendship Hill, Point Marion, Pennsylvania. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

I found an article titled “Who Was Alexander Hamilton’s Real Nemesis: Aaron Burr or Albert Gallatin and the Jeffersonians?” by Christopher N. Malagisi, dated August 30, 2018, on the Townhall website. This article referenced the book “Jefferson’s Treasure: How Albert Gallatin Saved the New Nation from Debt,” by Gregory May.

The idolized and fabled Alexander Hamilton served as our first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton rival Albert Gallatin served as our fourth Secretary of the Treasury.

Thomas Jefferson was the President of the United States who appointed Gallatin as Secretary of the Treasury. Aaron Burr was elected as Jefferson’s Vice President in the election of 1800. So, these guys all knew each other.

Now, my brain totally shut off about one paragraph into reading about the subject matter. Just as it did when I had to learn about the Federalists and the Whigs and the Jeffersonians in high school. So, I don’t have my own fully-formed opinion about whether Albert Gallatin was Hamilton’s real nemesis. I do think that if Lin-Manuel Miranda had rewritten the Hamilton musical so that it was just a bunch of guys arguing about whether Hamilton or Gallatin made a better Secretary of the Treasury, it would not still be on Broadway.

Albert Gallatin owned an estate in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Gallatin’s first wife, Sophia, is buried on the estate. The National Park Service now runs the estate as Friendship Hill National Historic Site. There is no admission fee to visit.

Part of me wishes that Miranda had at least written Gallatin into his “Hamilton” musical – even in a tiny role – so that Point Marion could use it to lure tourists there.

If you want to sight-see while also social distancing, you may want to check out Friendship Hill. Here is my prior blog post about Friendship Hill.

Nor’easter in New Ken?

Beer Garden at Voodoo Brewery, downtown New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. December 16, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I joked in a prior post that Krampus brought me a new camera for Krampusnacht.

In reality, I received a new camera for Christmas. The camera arrived on Krampusnacht. I tested it today during our first snowstorm of the winter.

I actually took these photos several hours ago. We have even more snow right now. The snow is still falling.

Alcoa Aluminum Smelter in Voodoo Brewery’s Beer Garden. December 16, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

You should see above a photo of the Alcoa aluminum smelter that now sits in Voodoo Brewery’s beer garden in New Kensington.

This relic sat for decades at Station Square in Pittsburgh. (Station Square is a dining and shopping district along the Monongahela River, directly across said river from downtown Pittsburgh.)

The property owner at Station Square no longer wanted it.

Now, Alcoa actually plays a role in New Kensington’s history. HUGE role.

So, a month ago, crews moved this smelter 20 miles to the beer garden on Fifth Avenue, New Kensington.

Pittsburgh’s loss. Our gain.

Here’s an article from the Trib about the Alcoa smelter if you want to read more about it.

To be honest, I have eaten out at Station Square many times. I went there for boat trips on the river when I was in high school. This smelter actually stood next to the dock that we used for these trips. I don’t remember EVER seeing the smelter during my trips to Station Square. I’m sure that this was because Station Square just had so much other things to see. Also, because back in the olden days, I wouldn’t have actually cared about an Alcoa smelter. I never had any interest in industrial history when when I was high school. (The only reason that I remembered Henry Clay Frick was because Emma Goldman’s boyfriend shot him during the Homestead riots.) I never cared about Alcoa until I met Jonathan Woytek and he brought me to New Kensington.

Now that this smelter sits down the street from my house, I am sure that I will have plenty of opportunities to check out the smelter as I sip on my Voodoo beer. Maybe take a few selfies in front of it.

Not now, of course. We are living through a snowstorm and also a global pandemic. But soon.

Catoris Candies, Fifth Avenue, New Kensington. December 16, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
This block is caddy-corner from the Beer Garden at Voodoo Brewery, downtown New Kensington. December 16, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

This is How Ghost Stories Get Started

For this tale, I changed almost all of the specific details, including names and places, in order preserve the magic of a small town’s ghost story.

Dad taught high school for about four decades before he retired. During this time he also worked a second and sometimes third job on evenings, weekends, and summers.  Spread over four decades, the jobs included: ambulance driver, chimney sweep, youth counselor, and seasonal law enforcement for the Pennsylvania Game Commission and for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). 

For this story, my family lived near a Central Pennsylvania farming town I shall call “Random Woods.”

Dad taught at Random Woods High School. He also held a part-time law enforcement job patrolling for illegal spot-lighters (poachers – you know, illegal hunters) in the woods outside the town. Now, dad worked many nighttime shifts. For these shifts, he often parked his patrol car in this little gap between the edge of the woods and Random Woods’ Civil War-era cemetery.

Then he shut off the car lights and sat for hours in the dark.

Whenever the topic of ghosts comes up, Dad says that he doesn’t see things that he can’t explain. One time he saw a glowing red disk in his mother’s backyard – which turned out to be a glow in the dark frisbee.

His countless nights spent next to a cemetery didn’t scare him. Ghosts did not matter. Physical, living humans mattered. In his job enforcing hunting regulations, just about every person that Dad approached also carried a gun.

So, on the night of this “ghost story,” Dad worked his law enforcement shift. He parked in his usual spot between the woods and the cemetery.

He sat for hours in the dark.

Crack!

He heard a noise.

He jumped in his seat and as a reflex he hit the patrol car’s headlights switch.

He saw a figure in the cemetery.

The figure crossed the cemetery, and then disappeared.

Dad thought all weekend about the “apparition” in the Random Woods cemetery.

Why did he see a figure appear and vanish in the cemetery late at night? A figure that did not present itself as being an illegal hunter?

Dad walked into Random Woods’ only grocery store a few days later.

He ran into his former student, Kurt.

My dad and Kurt chit-chatted.

Then Kurt said, “Mr. G, the graveyard is haunted!”

Dad said, “Really, Kurt? Haunted?”

Kurt said, “Yeah! I spent Friday night at my girlfriend’s house. On the way home, I cut through the graveyard. All of a sudden a huge glowing light shined on me. Oh my god, Mr. G., I hauled ass out of there!”

And that’s how my dad became a ghost story.