Was super crushed yesterday when my parents didn’t even remember I was supposed to visit them this weekend. So I kinda spazzed and drove to Bethlehem for the day. I was surprised to find that it was much closer than I thought… only an hour away and straight up the northeast extension.
My grandparents had taken me to Bethlehem when I was VERY young. It was so long ago that I had begun to wonder whether or not it even happened. My memories of that trip are so old they sometimes seem like dreams. As I began my journey there (complete with a million layers and a big tub of chocolate covered pretzels), I began to wonder how similar this trip would be to one I had as a child. I wondered if it would confirm or dispel my supposed memories. I decided that whatever the outcome, I would try to hold on to my older memories as best I could–Moravian stars hanging over the doors of row homes, the giant star upon the hill, our charter bus breaking down. These things seem quite random, but they make up what is by far one of my favorite outings with my grandparents, and I wanted to hold on to that.
To be honest, I didn’t really do my homework. I spent a couple hours in a part of Bethlehem that bordered on the Lehigh campus, and nothing really seemed all that familiar. Which is also pretty surprising because my memories of Lehigh are much newer–from when I was looking at colleges during my senior year of high school. I at some lunch at a pizzeria where two old guys had a hostile-but-not really argument, walked through the campus, did some Christmas shopping, and packed up the car. It was cold. But I will say that the people in this old mill town were super friendly. While the chorus of “Allentown” ran through my head, I felt as if I was trapped in a different decade. People were very real. And I was suddenly hyper-aware of my Coach purse and scarf.
I decided to venture across the river into the Historic district. Again because I didn’t do my homework, I wasn’t quite sure where I was going. I wasn’t quite sure of anything at the time…I hadn’t seen too many Moravian stars, hadn’t been able to find the star on the hill, hadn’t even seen that many Christmas decorations. This I found exceptionally odd because Bethlehem’s website boasts that it is “Christmas City, USA,” founded on Christmas Eve in 1741. I hadn’t been able to find that much information online about Moravian stars or the star on the hill, so I was beginning to wonder if they even existed.
I decided to follow a chain of cars. Which led me to the part of Bethlehem that was clearly the tourist trap I had been looking for. The downtown was complete with brick sidewalks, old fashioned street lamps, horse drawn carriages, and warm shops glowing with light. It was near dusk now, and as the tree-lined street became illuminated with Christmas lights, there was a faint cheer among the crowd. I saw charter buses lined up. I saw Moravian stars hung above the entryways of Victorian houses. I saw the cute cafes I wish I had eaten lunch in. And I saw Christmas villages set up with tiny outdoor stands selling mittens and hot chocolate and nicknacks for gifts. I found stellar street parking and walked up and down Main Street. The people (who had undoubtedly been shipped in by the busload) were markedly less friendly. But nonetheless, I merrily went on my way. As I came to the end of Main Street, I finally saw what I thought might be the star on the hill. But it was not yet lit up and I turned back for my car, feeling satisfied enough.
When I realized I still had ten minutes left on the meter, I decided to grab a hot chocolate from one of the Christmas village stands I had passed. This required me to turn around again, and as I did, there it was. Brilliant. White. Simple. Everything seemed quiet when I looked at it. The star was lit. And the world was peaceful.
On the drive home I saw a charter bus with it’s hazard lights on. Just like we were about twenty years ago. And although I was keeping up with traffic at 70 mph, I snuck glimpses of the star on the hill. Wikipedia states that the star’s frame is made of Bethlehem steel and 250 50-watt bulbs… It can be seen from up to 20 miles away. As the sky got darker, the silhouette of the mountain faded away, making it look like the star was really suspended in the night sky. I watched it with the same excitement and reverence I had as a child. It was probably the greatest tribute I could have given to Grandma and Pop Pop.