Mary To The Contrary



Vegetables, Fruit Trees and Hobos

My parents inherited a parcel of land in the suburb of Lebanon, Pennsylvania.  To a Texan, this ⅓ of an acre was a smidgen of earth, but in this part of the world, a parcel of land this size would house eight double homes with eight backyards and eight outhouses.

In the summer, Dad decided to increase our food income by planting all sorts of vegetables: beans, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn. He did the planting, convincing my mother that he needed a full sized tractor to assist this modern day farmer. My brother said it was more like a planter of yesteryear without the horse.

Of course, there were four of us kids to do the hard work-planting potatoes, sowing seeds, keeping the rows free from weeds, and harvesting the veggies.   

There was always something to harvest throughout the season.   Early on it was stripping the snap bean plants, then after the beans, tomatoes were pulled from their plants to ripen from the vines to line up on our backyard fence.  Later is the summer, our father, after a hard days work, would come home and with a giant metal tub, go out to our ”farm” and snap off dozens of corn cobs, and bring them into the house. Mom would boil them up and with a pound of butter on the table, always a steak or prime rib, several other veggies, and often an apple pie for dessert.  We would sit down to, a royal feast you could say.

Also around our land he planted fruit trees, including apples, pears and peaches.  Each year the fruit trees grew taller and more abundant as my father would nurse them with his green thumb, and each year people in the neighborhood would help themselves to the fruit, which was fine by him.  My father so enjoyed sharing our bounty with the neighborhood that he never minded cleaning up the spoils on the ground.


I also remember that, in summer, hobos would come to the house. The word was out that Mom was a soft touch. My mother always gave them a sandwich and a soda, and in those days the sandwich slides were big, thick slices of freshly baked bread, stuffed with either thick slices of ham, a sirloin steak, or maybe miles of Lebanon bologna and cheese with lots of mustard.  The hobos would sit on our porch and chat with us kids, and in those days no one ever thought of anyone stealing from us – what was there to steal?

These are the things I remember.


Hershey’s Chocolate Town USA

Checking into this spectacular moment in my past is like opening a box of fresh chocolates.

My all time fondest childhood memories were the visits to the Hershey Chocolate Factory.

Living only 10 miles away from chocolate heaven, we local kids from the surrounding townships  would make a yearly pilgrimage to what we thought of as our Disneyworld, Universal Studios, and the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory all rolled into one.

We were bused each Spring in big tin school buses, the smell of plastic leather and dirty floors surrounded us, but as I thought about what was ahead all I could smell was chocolate. The moment we saw the street lights dressed as silver covered chocolate kisses, our hearts thumped with anticipation.

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Before we could go in, however, we would dine al fresco with the teachers on extra long picnic tables in the park adjacent to the candy factory.   Sitting outside with the smell of chocolate in the air, we shoved our little hands into our worn-torn paper lunch bags. We would wolf down thick Lebanon baloney sandwiches, and maybe an apple. The faster we ate, the sooner we were in the chocolate factory.  After lunch, mouths watering for chocolate, we marched two by two alongside other kids from nearby schools to the doors of nirvana. 

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Walking through the main entrance of the Hershey chocolate factory, our eyes were filled with over-sized images of chocolate bars, the sweet smell of chocolate, and the noise from the machines was overwhelming our senses.  There were vats and vats filled with a constant stirring of  melted chocolate, with enormous rollers that rolled the thick gooey chocolate back and forth. We buzzed around those machines, dreaming of dipping fingers and hands into the chocolate, which of course we would never do. But in those days you would walk through the factory and could get close to everything. 

All of the build up was finally paying off.  We could hang around the shiny silver vats, smell the thick chocolate in the air, and all we wanted was for it to last forever. Then, at end of the tour, in a straight, single line, we would get our special gift.  We would extend our hands and the chocolate representative would hand each of us a little plastic cup which contained about 3 tablespoons of cold chocolate milk – one gulp and it was down. This, and a handful (3-5 small pieces) of chocolate candies.  By the time we got to our buses, everything was gone.  It was never enough and we would go home with our tummies grumbling for more.

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Presently, to visit the Hershey factory, you can’t walk through the factory like we did in the early 50’s. The tour now consists of a narrated ride in the form of a continuous chain of theme park-style cars (like at Disney World) with a  manufactured feel; an education on where chocolate comes from, how the cocoa beans are selected and cured, the importance of milk in the process, and how chocolate is transformed from the cocoa beans to the chocolate we buy and enjoy every day. The conveyor belts and whirring machines are fake, and there are no people making or packaging chocolate; it’s organized fun, processed and not personal.  In many ways, I think Mr. Hershey’s people goofed with these changes.  That personal touch, literally, and wholesome family feeling is absent from the sterile upgrade.  Yet, I hold on to my chocolate memories as delightful postcards from my past.

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Hershey’s meant even more than this one day a year to the chocolate factory.  Listening to our elders at the family dinner table, we knew that anyone who could get a job at The Hershey Chocolate Factory was set for life.  Free medical and paid vacations were part of the employee package.  This was before unions made their way to Hershey, Pa. As kids, we would dream about being employed in the Hershey Chocolate Factory, and tell ourselves that we would work for free.

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Since I now live far from the Hershey Chocolate Factory and the great state of Pennsylvania,  I have no idea what is happening in Hershey, a town originated on the heels of chocolate bars, except that the town boasts a top of the trees amusement park, a beautiful and first class medical center, and forever in my heart, a chocolate factory built by a good man named Milton Hershey.   

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Hershey Chocolate World Theme Song circa 1981

Hershey Radio Jingle 2002

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