Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Rebels and Ice Cream

In 1910, the writer Upton Sinclair moved to Arden, DE, after the experimental Helicon Home Colony he started near Englewood, NJ, was destroyed by fire. His bungalow in Arden, referred to as the “Jungalow” after Sinclair’s muckraking book The Jungle, sits within a half mile of my present home. I pass it when I take a walk. It is perhaps because of Sinclair’s celebrity that an incident in Arden received national attention in 1911.

 On July 30th of that year,  vengeful anarchist George Brown had eleven fellow Ardenites, including  Sinclair, arrested for playing baseball and tennis on a Sunday which violated the Blue Laws, which outlawed shopping and other leisure activities on the Christian sabbath. Those arrested that July day did not pay their fine on principle and instead went to the work pile for their sentence of eighteen hours. Upon their release, they celebrated with ice cream and even treated their jailers and the police who arrested them. (There had been ice cream at the baseball game. The ice cream man himself had been arrested.) The group went on to protest the Blue Laws and were instrumental in getting them repealed. The 1911 event was written up in a full page spread in the New York Times, the editor of which sent a reporter down to Delaware to cover the story.

This past Sunday, Arden celebrated this famous event with a reenactment of the baseball game which included homemade lemon ice cream so delicious that it should have been a crime. It is this kind of hell-raising and outside-the-box action that is celebrated in the Ardens by those of all ages. I noted residents from 3 to 91 years of age at Sunday’s game. My 17-year-old daughter watched the game from a precarious seated position on a blanket with a foam donut at the ready. The day before, she broke her tailbone when she fell off the roof of our screen porch trying to sneak out after her curfew. Apparently, teens sneaking around to hang out in groups is another hell-raising tradition in Arden. As coincidence would have it, I recently opened up a historical book about Arden to see a photo of a group of kids camping out by the old pool (a dammed up section of Naamans Creek). Midnight swims were a big attraction to the youth of 100 years ago.

Today, the kids have a few whistleblowers out to get them. There are those, just like George Brown, who take upon themselves to police the activities of others. They call the police at the sound of a firecracker or to report the noise when gatherings of kids playing KanJam at the Gild Hall parking lot gets too loud. It is a right of passage for Arden youth to gather in places and at times that are prohibited, such as Indian Circle after dark. This is the story of youth everywhere, but perhaps more-so in Arden. Since its inception, Arden has attracted a population of rebel thinkers and doers. As one longtime resident put it, Arden was “a community that most nice post-war families would never have considered visiting, much less buying into.” How can we expect the children descended of a population of rebels to…well…not rebel? My daughter just happened to get caught, and in a humiliating way. The doctors and nurses at the emergency room did little to disguise their amusement when she relayed what had happened. And then there was the fact that she had to wake us, her parents, at 2 AM to drive her to the ER.

Mark and I are still getting used to the culture here.  Our former home was in such a remote location that if our kids did sneak out, they really wouldn’t have anywhere to go or anyone to do it with. We are learning what it means to be in community of free-thinkers at all stages of life.  We are contemplating the rules, the price of freedom and of creativity. We observe the sometimes heated banter that happens on open Arden internet forums and at town meetings. That, too, is part of the energy of intelligent free-thinkers.  The outcome of this particular incident is that our very lucky daughter will live to tell her story. She has made good friends here who brought her…what else?…ice cream to help her heal. We, as parents and citizens, don’t have the ins-and-outs of Arden delinquency  figured out yet, but ice cream seems to be an essential part of it.

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