Pennsylvania Magazine

I grew up in Pennsylvania, and we often took in state sights as part of family vacations. My parents did not believe in restful vacations. They believed in educational ones. Now, education is a great thing, but when you're a kid, "educational" is a euphemism for "no pool." Much like camping, in which "adventure" is a code word for "no toilet paper."

Still, like Henry V, my parents would dive "unto the breach," eagerly pointing out subjects of historic interest, while my brother and I battled for back-seat supremacy. Finally, worn out by the constant yelps, my father would issue a dire threat: "Cut it out, or no Dairy Queen!" In the days before an 8-year-old could click on the computer, order a dessert buffet from Fresh Direct and have it delivered to her tree house, it was effective leverage. And in those sublime moments when warfare subsided, I'd take in the local color.

Now, I realize that if my parents had it to do it over, they'd fly to the Caribbean, sling back mai tais and pretend to be childless. But their instincts were right. Pennsylvania, the Keystone State, is chockfull of history and wonder. From the Steel City to the Susquehanna, picture-perfect Carlisle to the farms of the Lancaster Amish, William Penn's woods are a treat. That's why I enjoy perusing Pennsylvania Magazine, which is not only informative but comforting.

Like many regional pubs, Pennsylvania is anti-hip. The goal isn't to discover the new and the now, but the old and the cherished. While readers write letters about opossums that visited their barns, stories detail sites of historic interest, such as the Eisenhower Farm in Gettysburg, where President Eisenhower received foreign dignitaries.

Today, much as in Ike's time, Angus cattle are raised and crops are grown. There is, however, one interesting dig in the story: "'s hard to imagine Jack and Jackie Kennedy sharing dinner around the 1927 dining-room suite that traveled with the Eisenhowers..." In fairness, it's equally hard to imagine Mamie and Ike welcoming Pablo Casals to the White House. Yet any wartime general who can warn against the "military industrial complex" is a visionary every political party should embrace.

Moving on, as Stephen Colbert says nightly...

We come to the "Round Up" section, which, in this issue, features a look at novelist James A. Michener, he of Hawaii and Sayonara fame. Michener spent a Dickensian childhood in Bucks County, yet returned as an adult. Such are its leafy charms, that Dorothy Parker and Oscar Hammerstein II bought homes here. Michener fans take note: March 3-July 8, the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown will host a centennial exhibition to honor him. Did you know the musical "South Pacific" is based on a Michener book? This is the kind of factoid that will prove useful, should you audition for "Jeopardy"--or find yourself at a Tony party.

Perhaps, however, you'd prefer to just let Pennsylvania wash over you. If so, check out the winners in the annual photo contest. In the Scenics category, there are shots that capture the beauty of everyday life: a red barn that borders a blue pond; a weathervane shot during a dramatic sunset; a rooster against a blazing red sky. In the cosmic landscape of our dreams, far from the bright lights, big cities, such images resonate with that most elusive of modern luxuries: peace.

Of course, Pennsylvania also has its kitschy side: the annual Falmouth Goat Races. Running with the bulls? It's dangerous. You could put your eye out. Here, prizes are awarded for the prettiest and best-dressed goat, which is kind of kinky. And if you've seen Edward Albee's Broadway hit "The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?"--you know what I mean. Or maybe, it's just good, clean fun. Much like the Pumpkin Patch Weekend or the Ma & Pa Railroad Heritage Day, these events remind us to stop and smell the roses. Or in the case of the food festival in Intercourse, Pa., to smell the sweets and sours.

Whether savoring the "Nine Great Diners" story, where I learned Pennsylvania has more diners than any other state (260), or reading the review of "Money Pitcher," the story of Charles Bender, the first American Indian elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, I remembered why I retain a soft spot for Pennsylvania. And why I now wish I had spent more time listening to the guide at Bushkill Falls or the curator in Gettysburg.

It's true; you can't go home again. But you can discover, anew, why it's so important. This time, I'll take the front seat.

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