Aug 24, 2020

The Long Walk Out Of Nuremberg

Source: Kris T. Jones (Flickr) - 09/26/2006

Mahanoy Street
Nuremberg, PA
This photo was taken by Kris T. Jones on September 21st, 2006.  I know this because the photographer included this information when they uploaded it to Flickr.  If they had said it was taken in 1996 or 1986, I wouldn't have doubted it for a second.  You see, time sort of has a way of standing still in Nuremberg, Pennsylvania.  At least that was my experience of the place.  In fairness to the town and its residents, what I have to say should be taken with a grain of salt.  My memories of Nuremberg are from 30 years ago, when I was a 10 year old boy with undiagnosed autism.  It was a very challenging and painful time in my life, and over the years, I've come to unfairly associate a lot of painful memories with the town itself, though it wasn't the cause of any of it.  Still, I hold to the opinion that time has a way of standing still in this place, and if you've been there, I think you might agree.

Source: Jake C (Wikipedia) - 10/18/2014

I was living with my mother in a half-double apartment on the corner of First and Seybert Street in Hazleton at the start of 1988.  That was the year that she met Walt, the man who would become (and is still today) my stepfather.  He moved in with us by the end of the year.

Although Walt worked in Hazleton before he ever met my mother, his dislike of the city was so strong that it became his defining characteristic in my eyes.  He frequently ranted to my mother and I about how terrible the city and its people were in comparison to his native Quakertown.  He even came up with his own slur for the people of Hazleton.  He called them "Heynas".  This was inspired in part by the local slang used by older residents of the city who would use the word "heyna" to ask someone for confirmation.  The word is kind of a bastardized version of "ain't it", as in "it's pretty cold out today, heyna?".  I remember on a car trip that he heard Natasha England's cover of the song Iko Iko on the radio and he mistook the lyrics of "hey now" as "heyna", after which point his slur for Hazletonians took on a musical tone.  I'll circle back to Walt in a bit, but for now, the thing to know about him is that, to the 8 year old me, he was the living embodiment of Foghorn Leghorn, and he was very keen to moving out of Hazleton.

Throughout late 1988 and 1989, the three of us visited the Singley family on a regular basis.  Walt worked with Bill Singley, who lived with his wife Pat and five children in Nuremberg.  The parents were nice folks who always treated me well.  At the time, their youngest child was a baby and their oldest was a teenager.  The middle children were closest in age to me.  Ryan Singley was about three or four years younger, Billy Singley was a year younger, and Mary Beth was a year older.  I got along with them well enough.  I remember that they cried a lot more than I was accustomed to, especially Ryan and Billy.  If their dad so much as raised his voice at Ryan, he would break into loud, ear piercing wails of tears.  Seriously, to see this kid's reaction to his father saying "go to your room", you would have thought his dog was hit by a car.  Anyway, this was my first introduction to Nuremberg, and it wasn't too bad.  I wasn't an easy kid to get along with by any means, but they'd play Nintendo with me and we had fun.  I remember that they had three cartridges: Mickey Mousecapade, Donkey Kong Classics, and the Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt combo.  As I'm writing this, I remembered one time, we were playing Super Mario Bros when Bill came in to yell at Ryan or Billy for something or other.  He ended up grounding one of them, which he followed up by doing a little dance to the tune of Super Mario Bros, which I found to be hysterically funny.  I'm pretty sure that even at 8 or 9 years old, I knew enough to not laugh at a kid who just got grounded, but it was hard.  Man, the Singley kids are going to have a fit if they ever discover this blog.  Oh well.  If any of you are seeing this, take a chill pill.  Your part in my reminiscence of Nuremberg is over now.

Source: John Lockwood (Flickr) - May 26, 2008

My mother and Walt bought a house on School Street in Nuremberg in the Fall of 1989.  I was in fourth grade and about a month into the school year when we moved.  Although I lived at State College when I was a baby, the Hazleton Area was the only home that I ever knew.  I went to the same school and knew the same kids since the first day of Kindergarten.  I had an eco-system that I was somewhat comfortable in.  I didn't realize what a difficult transition it would be for me until it was too late.

Before I get into the negatives, allow me to paint the picture of the town as I remember it.  Looking back on the place with adult eyes, it was a charming little town.  It was very small, very quiet, and out in the middle of nowhere.  It had its own elementary school, a little pizza parlor, a post office, a bank, a hardware store with a painting gallery on the second floor, and a small grocery store called Bott's Market at the end of the town.  There's not a lot to do, but it's only about a 15 - 20 minute drive through the woods to get to the Interstate, so if you're an adult with a car who can leave whenever you please, it's damn near ideal.  When you're nine years old and isolated from your friends, the rest of your family, and the world as you knew it, it's closer to a dystopian episode of the Twilight Zone.

Bott's Market closed in 1996.  The guy I remember the most from this store is standing on the far left.  His name is Dave Bott.  He put up with me coming into his place, even though I was a pain in the ass of a kid.  Looking at him sort of reminds me of a hybrid of John Oates and Art Garfunkel.
Source: Standard Speaker - September 19, 1996

I was pretty unhappy living in Nuremberg from day one.  Throughout my childhood up to that point, I was always allowed to make my bedroom into my own.  Obviously, they weren't letting a child pick out the furniture or make any major decisions, but if I wanted to hang a poster or put a toy on a shelf that made me happy to look at, it was no big deal.  This wasn't the case when we moved to Nuremberg.  My mother decided that I was going to become interested in classic cars.  I couldn't care less about them and she knew it, but it fit with her idea of what a home in the country should look like.  So, out went the Garbage Pail Kids poster, and in it's place was a framed print of a painting of an old Ford that looked like it was stolen from a cheap motel.  Instead of my stuffed Luigi that Dad won for me at Wildwood, I had a cast iron statue of a Model T.  When I look back on this experience from a psychological perspective, I have to wonder if it's the root of my adult obsession with nostalgia.  Am I trying to recapture the world as I knew and hold on tight so that no one can take it away from me?  Maybe si, maybe no.  That what Wireman says.

Ellen Casey (wife of Governor Bob Casey) visited Nuremberg Elementary School in 1990
Source: Standard Speaker - June 2, 1990

Shortly after we settled in, my mom enrolled me in Nuremberg Elementary School.  To say that I had nothing in common with the other kids would be an understatement.  Although it's only about 12 miles from Hazleton, it might as well have been a foreign country.  Hazleton may not be a big city, but it is a city, and I was a nerdy kid who felt at home there.  I liked to read, play video games and watch cartoons, and horror movies, and Phillies games, and Nick At Nite.  I liked to listen to my records and draw pictures and color.  I liked to walk down to Pantry Quik to get a Slim Jim and a pack of baseball cards, and maybe to sneak a peak at the Playboy on the magazine rack if the clerk wasn't paying attention.  I liked being able to visit my grandparents and ask them to watch Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom with me for the 100th time.  I liked going to the mall with Grandpa and playing arcade games at Aladdin's Castle.  I was not a country kid, and I didn't want to be a country kid.  Suddenly, I was the new kid in a tiny school, and I was surrounded by kids who spent their free time hunting, fishing and firing air rifles.  On top of everything else, there was something that wasn't quite right about me that no one seemed to be able to figure out.  I had a hard time communicating with most people without it turning into a conflict.  I've spent my entire life, including four years of college and a Bachelors degree in psychology to try to figure out what's wrong in my head.  When you're the new kid in a small town, there's not much of an attempt to figure you out, especially with the lack of mental health awareness in the 1980's.  You're different.  You're weird.  You're a problem.  My experience at Nuremberg Elementary were the first domino to fall in a chain of events that forever changed who I am, but that's a story for another time.

Finally, there was Walt, who seemed to have this idea that if he moved us out to the country, I'd suddenly turn into Huck Finn, running around in the corn fields and finding other kids so that we could spend the day chucking rocks at a tin can.  As you can probably imagine, I wasn't too successful when it came to making friends in Nuremberg, and even if I had been, I would have wanted them to come over and play Nintendo.  That wasn't going to work for Walt.  He made the decision to buy a two bedroom house in which the bedrooms were right next to each other, so having a nine year old reading quietly or playing video games in his room presented a bit of a problem for the old man when he wanted to spend some alone-time with my mother.  His solution to this problem was to lock me out of the house, where I suppose he imagined I'd be running and playing with the other kids.  I guess it was for some of the time, but more often than not, I'd just go for a walk by myself.

This is Mahanoy Street, the main road that goes through Nuremberg.  The red building with the red awning on the left is Marchetti's Hardware Store, which has been in business since 1884
Photo Source: Jake C (Wikipedia) - 10/18/2014

Over time, I grew familiar with the roads that led in and out of Nuremberg, and my walks would stretch out farther.  On one particular Sunday when I was 10 or 11 years old, I thought I'd take a very long walk and go to visit my grandparents in West Hazleton.

There were two roads out of Nuremberg that led to Hazleton.  If you left the town headed North on Mahoney Street (at the top of the hill near Bott's Market) it took you through Fern Glen and eventually led to Route 93 near Penn State Hazleton and the Laurel Mall.  If you went South on Mahoney Street (at the bottom of the hill near Nuremberg Elementary School) it took you through Oneida and up Route 924 and past the Humbolt Industrial Park.

I think that I took the North route.  I have a vague memory of stopping at the Laurel Mall to find that it was closed for the day because it was Sunday and I had gotten there after 5 pm.  Additionally, although I frequently took walks down the South road, there are a lot more intersections and twists and turns to get lost.  For the most part, the North route was a straight shot, and fairly easy to navigate and avoid making a wrong turn.  Keep in mind, I was doing this by myself, without any maps or cell phones or GPS, and going solely off of my memory of sitting in the back seat of the car when we'd go to and from Hazleton.  I was also 10 or 11 years old (I know I couldn't have been older than that, because I moved to Florida before I turned 12).  It was also over 11 miles and over four hours of walking on back roads and highways (there was no sidewalk after Nuremberg until I was well into Hazleton).

As luck would have it, the day I picked to walk to my grandparents house was the one day of the month when Grandma, Grandpa and Nana went to Atlantic City, so there was no one to answer the door when I got there.  I suppose I could have gone to my uncle Georgie's or my cousin Tommy's house, but I walked a few extra blocks to go see Granny and Aunt Margie.  Granny was my grandfather's mother, and Aunt Margie was my grandfather's sister.  They lived on Broad Street in West Hazleton.  Granny was born in 1902, so I was reasonably sure that she would be home, and she was.  They gave me something to eat, and after a few phone calls, my mother and Walt drove down to pick me up.

In retrospect, this seems pretty crazy, but it didn't feel weird to me at the time.  I was locked out of the house, which was typical, so I wanted to see my grandparents.  My mother was very bitter towards my father's side of the family after the divorce, and she had a bug up her ass about letting me spend the weekend at my grandparents house, so I figured to hell with it; I could find my way there, and I did.  I didn't make a single wrong turn, and I didn't even really get upset when my grandparents weren't home.  I was more confused than anything because I couldn't imagine where they would have gone.

Later that week, my grandparents made me promise not to do this again, and I never did.  They didn't seem mad at me, but they were very flustered.  I know I didn't get locked out of my house in Nuremberg after that, and I was suddenly allowed to go visit my grandparents on the weekend.  I can only imagine the conversation that took place between my grandparents and my mother after this incident.

Nuremberg Post Office - Source: PMCC Post Office Photos (Flickr)

I have a few other scattered memories of this town that I might write about later.  I moved to Florida to live with my Dad and his wife and step-daughter on New Years Day 1992, and life in general improved a great deal.  I came back to Pennsylvania off and on in the years that followed, and eventually moved back to PA for good in late 1995.  By this time, my mother and Walt had moved away from Nuremberg.  I had no reason to go back until late 2002 when I started dating a girl named Sheena who lived there.  I'd pick her up, drop her off, and sometimes stay at her place for a little while to watch a movie, but I didn't spend a whole lot of time walking or driving through town.  What little I saw looked exactly the same as I had remembered, except for the fact that the school was torn down and Bott's Market was closed.  The hardware store was still there, and it's still open to this day, even though the Covid-19 pandemic.  Good for them.  I hope the town is doing well.  Maybe I'll get back there to take some pictures and check it out someday.