Evora, PortugalIsla Mujeres, Mexico

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

May 06, 2001

A MEMORABLE PLACE

Allentown revisited

By Barbara Beem

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Thomas Wolfe may have written that you can't go home again, but that didn't stop me from trying. Although I was born and raised in Baltimore, my father's family lived in Allentown, Pa. Some of my fondest and most vivid childhood memories are of visits to see his aunts, uncles and cousins. When I needed to do some research there last summer, I was eager to spend the night.

It had been about 30 years since I last visited Allentown. That was when my Great-Aunt Miriam had died and her house was sold. When I was younger and we stayed in Allentown, it was always at her home -- a huge Victorian townhouse. The house was very dark, and the furnishings were almost as imposing as Aunt Miriam's stern countenance.

I remember the oak hall tree in the foyer, the claw-footed bathtub, the carved wooden banister that lined the front staircase. I wanted to have a second look at a place so well etched in my mind. My husband, Ken, and I arranged lodgings at the Coachaus Inn, one street from Aunt Miriam's house, and we embarked on my trip down memory lane.

Of course, things have changed. It wasn't just the fact that there were no relatives in town to greet me, or that my perspective had changed as an adult (the houses seemed smaller). I first noticed differences on the drive from Baltimore. Modern roads have not only cut the driving time by about an hour, but have eliminated the sights of numerous diners, Amish buggies and mountain vistas.

In Allentown, we easily found Aunt Miriam's old house. The adjoining alleyway was full of litter and glass. There were no cats on the side porch. And Cousin Forrest's house, originally a carriage house, had been leveled. Worst of all, Hess' department store, my favorite shopping place, had been demolished. As I stood at the foot of the ruins, I felt despair.

Memories of favorite clothes bought at the Hamilton Street store -- a pair of Bobbie Brooks tangerine-colored culottes, a fuzzy white hat bearing the tag "As Seen in Seventeen" -- flooded my mind. I knew things would be different, but I was not quite prepared for this.

Not all was bad, though. I stocked up on a month's supply of A-Treat Birch Beer. Dinner was wonderful -- the paella I ate that night was far more to my liking than any of Aunt Miriam's horrible sausage dinners.

The inn was marvelous. We were thrilled with the beautiful and spacious accommodations. After dinner, we entered our room through the side porch. I heard the same background city street sounds. And later I slept peacefully -- the same way I had so many times before, so many years ago, snug in the Lehigh Valley.

Barbara Beem lives in Catonsville.

MY BEST SHOT

Lake of clouds

Harry Hoffman, Baltimore

The New York side of Lake Champlain feels like a journey back in time, because the Adirondack Park Authority regulates construction within its 600,000 acres. This picture shows one of the many changing moods of the lake.

READERS RECOMMEND

EVORA, PORTUGAL

John A. Richardson, Edgewood

"We stopped here on our way to Seville, Spain. Arriving in late afternoon, we strolled through the town gate and up narrow cobblestone streets immersed in medieval history. I have never experienced such contentment before and wonder if I ever will again."

ISLA MUJERES, MEXICO

Carol Weaver, Baltimore

"On a vacation to Cancun with my daughter Bobbie Weaver, we took a boat trip to Isla Mujeres. We went snorkeling, had a buffet lunch and did some shopping. It was rejuvenating, and brought back more of the closeness that my daughter and I have always shared."

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