Week 34-  May 1 - 7 Week: New York New York!

Our “Country Acres” campground outside of Allentown was nestled in the beautiful rolling hills of Eastern Pennsylvania.  The campground hosted its own church service as we have seen a few different places, so we decided to try it as yet another type of worship experience this week.  Even though most of the folks were retirees, we felt very welcomed by that unique Christian brother/sisterhood that we have felt wherever we go.  At the end of the service, Brenda and I were both touched as the group stood, hands clasped, in a large circle, folks from all over, many of them veterans, enthusiastically singing “Proud to be an American.”  I definitely am. 

In the afternoon we drove south to the Dupont family’s Longwood Gardens- acres and acres of formal gardens and indoor greenhouses.    The tulips were at their peak.  I never knew there could be so many kinds!  Since Brenda and I both love gardening, we were busily taking notes for new ideas to put into practice after our return home. 

The gardens were in the same general area as Valley Forge so we also did a quick, late afternoon drive around the famous winter encampment.  I was surprised to learn that the men of the army weren’t the pitiful lot that we have often been taught.  A lot of their challenges were just normal hardships that all armies endured at those times.  I have always held this picture of thousands dieing in their tents, in the frigid, whistling wind.  In fact, two thirds of the deaths were in the warmer  spring months from a variety of ailments from the flu to dysentery.  As for the ragged tents, the soldiers had actually industriously built thousands of log huts for protection from the elements as part of their conditioning. 

As the National Park brochure eloquently put it, “Valley Forge was not the darkest hour of the Revolutionary War; it is a place where an already accomplished group of professionals stood their ground, honed their craft, and thwarted one of the major British offensives of the war.”  It was again inspiring to hear more of how loved George Washington was, and how his humble and moral leadership held together the army during that trying winter. 

After a home day at the RV on Monday, Tuesday was our travel day to New York City.  It is a part of the trip to which I have been looking forward and dreading at the same time… as any big city is especially exhausting, let alone the Big Apple.  (By the way, we read one theory that the term Big Apple comes from the fact that the state of New York is second only to Washington in apple growing, home of the Empire apple.) 

RV parks are scarce in the area, and Brenda was having trouble deciding upon the best place for us to stay.  God again showed his wonderful provision through Mike and Alisa Wahl.  The Wahl’s are another missionary family whom our church helps support.  They live in the middle of Queens working with Campus Crusade’s inner city ministry called “Here’s Life”.  Our timing “just happened” to work out that some neighbor friends of theirs were on vacation, and the Wahl’s generously worked out the details that we would have an apartment to stay in!  We found a KOA campground an hour north of Manhattan to park and plug in Harvey for a nominal fee while we ventured into the city late Tuesday afternoon.  The apartment in Queens was blocks away from the train line so we were set up in a perfect home base from where we could experience this great city. 

I got up early and took my first walk as a city dweller Wednesday morning.  One goal of mine during this visit was to see what it is about this place that folks put up with so much expense and hassle to live here.  As I walked down the main street of the Woodside community, the city was springing to life.  The elevated trains clattered above.  Trucks were making their morning deliveries to the markets that line the street.  One by one, the merchants opened their rolling metal security blinds, like huge eyelids sleepily opening to a new day.   

In the community park across the street, scores of folks huffed through their morning exercise routines.  What a precarious balance seems to be kept to support so much humanity, living so close together.  So many people appeared to be in their own little world as they scurried around the streets, brows furrowed, eyes downward.  It is a bit ironic that in the city of Lady Liberty, with its liberal, anything goes mindset, the people almost seem like prisoners as they fearfully lock themselves into their homes at all hours.  We Americans so value our personal freedom of expression and freedom from moral law and responsibility, but it seems to have resulted in a society of fear.

Mike joined us on our first day of touring the city.  It was very helpful to have a seasoned resident show us the ropes in using the subway and to join us on our first foray into Manhattan.  The boat tour to the Statue of Liberty culminated at the Ellis Island processing center where so many millions of immigrants passed.  This whole area was especially meaningful to me since my paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather both came through here as young children.  From the Ellis Island website, I had downloaded images of the original manifests penned as both families stood in those registration lines, along with photos of, and statistics about, the steamers on which they arrived! 

We were glad to be able to share a visit to the World Trade Center site as a family.  There is so much to talk about.  The St. Paul chapel across the street from the site helped to make the event more personal.  This is where the firemen and rescue workers slept during the recovery operation.  They have purposely left up signs, letters and displays of what it was like as everyone pulled together after the tragedy.  The pews are all scuffed up from rescue equipment, and the congregation intends to leave it that way as a reminder.  

There is so much to take in here that it is almost overwhelming.  We enjoyed a quick run through the Metropolitan Museum of Art before heading to Brooklyn Thursday afternoon.  At the museum, I especially enjoyed the musical instrument and the Middle Ages armor exhibits.  The huge painting of Washington crossing the Delaware was also fitting after our recent Revolutionary War education.  We did learn that the painting is riddled with historical inaccuracies.  The party is headed the wrong direction, the boats depicted couldn’t carry horses or artillery, the ice chunks in the river would have made it impassable, they’re not carrying the right flag, etc. 

The Wahls arranged for us to spend the afternoon with one of the inner city Brooklyn “Say Yes” tutoring ministries that Here’s Life helps equip.  The program is similar to the Urban Ventures inner city ministry and tutoring where I volunteered in Minneapolis for a couple of years.  Our kids did really well going into a less desirable neighborhood and stepped right in with the kindergarten to junior high aged kids.  It was especially good to see them laughing and interacting with kids from an area that was scary to them as we approached.  As we drove out of the area we passed through one of the most Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn.  The sidewalks flowed with streams of black jackets, hats, and long forelocks.   

During our days in Manhattan, it was fun to see the different landmarks that one always hears about, be it Wall Street, the garment district, Macy’s, Sony Technology museum, Grand Central station, etc.  We had perfect timing hitting Grand Central at the evening rush hour.  It was a beehive, with people rushing every way, everywhere.  It must have been a combination of the walking, the people, and the wildness, but each day after our subway ride home, we landed in Queens utterly exhausted… 

After saying our goodbyes to the Wahl’s (the kids especially loved their infant son, Cooper) on Saturday morning, we drove the van into Manhattan, just to be daring.  A stroll through Central park topped off our New York people watching.  The flowering trees were in full bloom and the spring green made such a refreshing oasis in the city. 

Early in the afternoon, we also made a quick run through the Intrepid museum, based in the WWII aircraft carrier of that name.  With my love of flying as a private pilot, I have always wanted to see what it is like on a carrier.  This one was especially famous as it weathered multiple kamikaze hits.  There are all sorts of historic aircraft on the flight deck and we all especially enjoyed touring a Concorde! 

A fitting last experience in New York City, was a good old fashioned traffic jam as we waited for our turn to drive through the Holland tunnel out of Manhattan to New Jersey.  We had hoped to catch the Thomas Edison museum in the Newark area on the way out of the city.  With more than an hour of driving to get back to Harvey we had to move on without finding it.  Sorry New Jersey, that was your one planned activity… 

As we resettled in the RV that night, we all took a deep breath.  The campground where we had stored it was out in the quiet and dark New York countryside.  Sitting around the campfire Jenna and Nate had built under a starry sky, we were glad we had experienced the Big Apple, but we definitely aren’t a big city family.