Typically the holiday of Easter and mother nature’s notion of Spring can be at odds with each other in this part of the country. Weather on Easter Sunday can range from dreary, rainy, and cold, and look like late February. Or it can range towards warm and humid, resembling late May. Or it can be anything in between. Its a total crapshoot. But this year the holiday and mother nature had their calendars in sync. Southeastern Pennsylvania really felt in alignment with the present season and position of the sun. The mud following the snow melt is mostly dried up. Sure, the rivers are still swollen, but the first blooms and buds are making themselves known, and will continue to do so and peak over the next few weeks.
This weekend was really the start of Spring. No doubt about it. It was certainly the right day to take a leisurly ride out to Lancaster County, PA, and search out the original place of settlement by my
German Swiss ancestors. I have found they were most likely part of a very large migration of ethnic Germans from central Europe who were most likely in some way associated with a religious movement that sought to abolish baptism at birth and substitute it with baptism in adulthood, amongst other things. This was viewed by the local authorities in the same way that the advocacy of voluntary taxes would be today. They were either coerced into leaving, or did so under duress, along with tens of thousands of other people over a course spanning nearly 200 years. This mass migration to the United States, and specifically Pennsylvania, was sidetracked in Alsace,Â France, for a few generations, and in the Palatinate in Germany for other families. From my research, the holders of the Hertzog name would have probably self-identfied as Swiss during the 17th and 18th centuries, then Pennsylvania Dutch in the 19th century, and German in the 20th.
I wasn’t expecting too much out of the experience, but held out for the hope of finding a graveyard that was mentioned on a web site containing a history of the township. I hoped to find tombstones with the names of the first American Hertzogs. My gut feeling was that it would be covered in McMansions, but I thought there was at least a slight chance I’d find something photo-worthy. And if I got lucky, I’d come across a local and strike up a conversation and just see where it went.
We initially missed our turn onto the road and passed over a hill to find a picturesque stream flowing under a bridge flanked by trees in blossoms of white, and pink, and fuscia. On the edge of the stream, and a few steps into it, stood nearly a dozen Mennonite women, wearing vibrant striped ankle length dresses, with colors of white and approximate matches of the day or two old buds filling the trees that surrounded a small pond the stream flowed into. They smiled and held their skirts up, exposing their ankles and lower calves. About four or five of the women were ankle deep in the water and the remainder where either contemplating it or preparing to join them. It was a perfect moment, in perfect light, with perfect color, at just the perfect time, from just the perfect distance and perspective. For one brief moment, the photo framed in my mind, may have been The Greatest Picture Ever Taken. I fumbled and rushed to find my camera and was suddenly hit with the rather unfortunate idea that scoring this pic would be some sort of violation of their privacy and would somehow come into conflict with their current wonderment. I just couldn’t do it. In my mind, I hemmed and hawed, and neither Kate nor I could justify a reason as to why it would be ok for me to take the picture. I’m not sure I was yet able to articulate why I couldn’t do it, I just knew I couldn’t. It was all just too precious. Their bliss would not be ruined. And that, my friends, family, and strangers, is the greatest photograph never taken. Like big fish, you’ll just have to take my word on this one.
After turning around, as a consequence of losing our link to the GPS, we went back over the hill we first scaled and came back over the other side looking at a street sign that said: Hertzog Valley Road.
I imagined the valley’s length correctly from the satellite pictures, but imagined it much wider, with rolling hills typical of Lancaster farm country. It seemed a bit rocky, and filled with plenty of trees. It didn’t strike me as being potentially particularly productive in the field of agriculture. The properties were filled with trailer homes on tiny lots, collapsing, rusted metal shacks, modern middle-class homes made of brick and stone, and McMansions made of Chinese drywall and pinewood on multiple acre plots. There seemed to be a fair amount of usage of the land that involved the support of some horses and goats. I didn’t see any sort of crops planted, nor evidence that they soon would be.
It was neither particularly beautiful, nor ugly. It was simply a valley in Lancaster that had a stream running through it next to a road that halved approximately 200 acres of land of purchased or leased land by Johann Nicholas Hertzog from a Mr. Wurtz, before marrying his daughter, sometime in the mid-18th century.
We agreed to drive from one end to the other, while keeping an eye out for the supposed graveyard, before turning around at the opposite end for a return drive to take pictures as we saw fit. Looking around at the land, and seeing how it was utilized now, I’m going to speculate that my relatives were most likely involved in the livestock business.
Although the last of three Johann Nicholas Hertzogs operated a whiskey still that utilized apples as its primary stock, which indicates apple trees and a surplus of them, I couldn’t see much going on in this valley involving wheat, or corn, or any other crop. I’m not expert on agriculture, but I just couldn’t really imagine this area ever having been an orchard either. Given my father’s faded memory of visting a farm that contained horses with his father, before he died in 1948, there might be something to my speculation with regards to this having been an area that best supported some sort of livestock.
While driving in I noticed a sign that said “Brown Eggs”.
When I was a kid we’d get duck and goose eggs around Easter, and I sorta remember possibly brown eggs, from a farm somewhere in Montgomery County. I remember the smell of burning wood, and cotton sweaters in spring, early morning sunlight. I might be making up the part about the brown egs. Any of it can be a dream. But there were definitely eggs. There’s even a funny story about my sister sneaking a look at massive goose egg in the refrigerator, breaking it, then trying to put it back together without anyone knowing it. I thought it would be a kick to bring some fresh eggs from a farm on Hertzog Valley Road back home to my father, as we were all set to share Easter dinner when we returned to the Philly area. On the way back along Hertzog Valley Road, after snapping some pics I’ll post later in the week, we saw the “Brown Eggs” sign again. This time a man was weeding a garden that abutted the road, while some children were off in a side yard playing. I told Kate to stop the car. This was my big opportunity. I was going to talk to a local.
“Good afternoon, sir!”
The man straightened his back and took off his gloves. I approached him and first noticed his hat, containing a Confederate flag, with the phrase “Git-R-Done” written across it.
He had a far away look in his eyes that matched well the gunfire we first started hearing off in the distance when I stopped to take some pictures of a horse farm at the far end of the valley.
Pop went the rifles on the hill.
“Are you the gentleman selling the brown eggs?”