In the April 17 LVN, this column was about my home in Ambler, Pa., which I left in July 1964 heading “west” with my five sons when my husband Don and I were divorcing. His family, as well as my mother, was furious with me and astonished that I would take the children far away. But I knew that their future and mine would be better out West, so I had my son Doug close his eyes and point on a map of California. That was as far west as we could go in a car. So in early July 1964 off we headed to Santa Barbara on a two-week journey across America, the five boys and me, in an old Volkswagen bus with only $1,000 in cash from the sale of the house in Ambler.
Believe it or not, on the same day my article about 127 N. Spring Garden St., was published, I decided to go through some old paperwork and pictures. To my amazement, I found Doug’s high school graduation program from June 1964. Just below it was a picture published in the Ambler Gazette sent to me by my ex-husband, Don, of the house on Spring Garden Street being torn down. I’d forgotten this occurred just after Doug’s graduation and our leaving for California. However, finding these items brought back memories of a letter I received from one of Doug’s schoolmates. She wrote about being surprised when our house had been torn down so quickly to expand the elementary schoolyard next-door, how very much she missed all of us, and that the neighborhood would never be the same.
Doug and I began to talk. Rather than dwelling on the negative times, we found many very positive ones. Back then my husband Don had a low paying factory job, so Don Jr., Doug and I worked for years at the Blue Bell Inn, which helped. In winter the boys shoveled snow, and in spring and summer cleaned out neighbors rain gutters, cut grass, and trimmed hedges. In fall, they raked leaves and helped others put up storm windows. For those unfamiliar with this, these are a second set of windows placed over the first and in the fall it was a ritual done about Halloween time, a real “Trick or Treat” effort.
We discussed that our Friday night dinner was almost always hamburgers and canned corn, bought at the Mazzola’s Market, just around the corner. Doug even found they have a Facebook page on the Internet. Some Friday nights, Doug and I still repeat this ritual. We remember how frugal people were, and how we handed things down and took care of what we had.
The Blue Bell Inn jobs afforded the older boys, Don and Doug, with the money to pay for their own clothes, rebuilding our 1950 Mercury, car insurance, dating and aiding the family budget. Doug brought up the Bucks County Drive-In and the Hwy 309 Drive-In and how in winter, they had in-car heaters to get people to come to the movies with guys dressed in white going around with flash lights checking into the cars. Doug said he preferred the wintertime dates, since the interior car windows steamed up, and the attendants didn’t like being out in the cold. His high school yearbook photo is captioned, “not everyone has a reserved seat at the 309 drive-in.” We quickly dropped that discussion.
Across from our house, down a winding lane, was the Mary Ambler house. Built in the early 1700s, it was home now to two Mennonite teachers. Doug helped maintain their yard, and he learned much about Ambler and Pennsylvania from them. Before 1856 Ambler was called Wissahickon for a tribe of the Delaware Indians. After a deadly train accident that year, Mary Ambler, a nurse, was credited with saving many lives. The town was renamed for her. Ironically, when a new high school was built in 1963, Ambler high where Don Jr. graduated in 1962, was renamed Wissahickon, where Doug graduated in 1964.
Just before we left Ambler, a local policeman came up to me and asked how I kept the boys out of trouble? I replied they were always kept busy. Finally, we got a call from Doug’s best friend in Ambler, who’d just returned from vacation in Peru. It’s strange how one day of record keeping can bring up so many thoughts about our past, and how finding these little things was such “An incredible coincidence.”
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.