This past weekend, we took a little trip to the land of grape jelly creeks. It’s the magical place where my darling husband was born and spent his childhood; a little town called North East, Pennsylvania that sits on the banks of Lake Erie. I haven’t personally seen the grape jelly that flows through the creek which ran behind John’s house at 11 North Mill Street, but he’s not one to exaggerate, and he comes from a family who take things very literally, so I hesitate to disbelieve.
Truthfully, it’s quite a little Norman Rockwell town. Everything is so clean there; so manicured. There may even be an elf that comes around each night and mows everyone’s lawns and prunes the roses. I’m not saying there is, but it’s possible. The town is home to a Welch’s factory, and the surrounding land is covered in rows and rows of grape vines, making you wonder for just a moment if you aren’t possibly in Italy.
And then there’s great big Lake Erie, with a thousand different types of rocks lining the beach, begging you to pick them up and skip them across the water. If you’re like my husband, or any of his family members, your genetic code is superior and enables you to skip the rocks 5 or even 7 times before they splash into the water. If you are me, the rocks just go ‘kerplunk’ nearby. Still, I can’t help but keep searching for the perfect “skipping” rocks–round and flat, like a pancake.
There are other charms to this little town. Take the perfect weather: “It’s a North East kind of day!” I’ve heard John exclaim many times over the last 20 years, which just means it’s cool and crisp, but sunny, with no humidity. There’s a cute little train depot, and an ice cream shop called ‘The Straw Hat’ where you can stuff your three kids full of treats for a mere $3.25. Add to that the nicest people in the universe–no lie–and a few bonfires, an endless supply of S’mores, and some of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen….I think you get the picture. Grape Jelly Creek aside, this place is truly magical.
But even paradise has its troubles. I couldn’t have been the only one who noticed the broken plastic and other assorted “trash” that washed up on shore from the great lake, along with the occasional dead fish. I was also bothered (let’s say attacked) by the biting flies. And then there was the incident of Henry versus rusty metal broken sign post. That started with an adventure into 20 mile creek–Creekin’ they call it–where I pretended we were in the Hunger Games and joked with John that he should paint himself into the rocks. I may have also threatened to take out my brother-in-law, Mark, with my pretend bow and arrow as he went running by on the bank above me.
The fun ended with the worst scream I’ve ever heard, made worse by the fact that it came from my child. My heart may have stopped when I saw the puncture wounds to my baby’s chest, and I almost threw up watching John, with his shirt pressed to Henry’s chest, carrying him back toward the lake cottage, which seemed at the time a million miles away. Thanks to a friend of the family’s (nod to Doc O’Leary, the most amazing man in the world), and an afternoon in the ER, the only lasting damage will be some pretty terrific scars. (Mark actually hiked back up to see the post and was able to retrieve the chunk of Henry’s skin left behind. Gruesome.)
Despite all that drama, and the fact that Cate held a temperature the entire time and threw up every morning (once on the beach), we had a very nice trip and decided we would certainly go back soon. We just might avoid running full force into rusty sign posts next time. Before we left, John loaded down the car with lake rocks, which added about 1000 pounds and may have caused damage to the car, but make a nice addition to our garden.
And the grape jelly creek? I’ve still never seen it. But legend has it (that is, the legend according to John) that the Welch’s factory sends the extra juice from the grapes it uses flowing into the creek, and it actually stains it purple sometimes. I can see how that might happen….or how it might seem that way, in a place that is already pretty special.