Judy and I traveled up to visit our kids in eastern PA last week. As we were traveling north on DE-1 through Delaware and crossed the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Bridge, I was hit with a rush of nostalgia as I glanced eastward and glimpsed the lights of the Delaware City Refining Company. It was early evening, and the sun had just set a few minutes before.
One of my favorite aspects of writing this blog is discovering interesting tidbits of information as I conduct research. When I decided to write this post, I found out that there was an actual difference between sunset and dusk. Dusk is the beginning of darkness in the evening, and occurs after twilight, (during which the sky generally remains somewhat bright and blue). Civil dusk is when the earth has rotated enough that the center of the sun is at 6° below the local horizon. This marks the end of the evening civil twilight, the point where artificial illumination is required to read outside. It can be confused with sunset, which is the point at which the earth has rotated enough that the sun is no longer visible from the local horizon.
The refinery lay in the distance from the bridge, but bore a resemblance to the Duquesne mills. There were lights that lined various smoke stacks which like the steel mills, were billowing clouds of white smoke into the semi-darkened sky. The sum-total of all of these images reminded me of living in Duquesne, and the excitement that the arrival of dusk meant warm spring and summer evenings. For example:
- I remember that the arrival of dusk meant the excitement of catching lightening bugs (a.k.a. fire flies, although we never called them that) was about to begin. Warm summer nights were filled with my friends and I running around the yard just after sunset, trying to be the one who caught the most lightening bugs. The warmer the weather, the more the bugs would fill the night area. We had a large empty lot next to our house, so we had a lot of opportunity to snag a bug. We would often glance toward St. Joseph’s Cemetery at the end of our street and see the empty fields draped in a glistening blanket of lights from the multitude of lightening bugs floating in the air. With an old pickle jar that was topped with a cap full of holes, we would head out into the yard or the cemetery and battle to see who could capture the most before we were called in for the evening.
- Whenever we were treated to an evening at Woodland Drive-In, we would always arrive early enough to allow my brother and I play time on the playground that stood at the base of the massive screen. The entire playground was populated by pajama clad kids running from the swings, to the slide and to all of the other playground equipment in the area. The presence of parents meant there was no tolerance for fighting over “taking turns,” so the playtime ran smoothly. By the time dusk had rolled around, moms and dads were gathering the brood in order to hustle them back to the car before the show started. Often, we were still going full steam when the cartoons would start appearing on the screen and suddenly the air was filled with the sound of Looney Tunes echoing from the field of tiny speakers.
- Dusk was always a very special treat whenever you were at Kennywood Park. It was usually the time of the evening when the lights came on throughout the park. Suddenly, every structure and ride came alive with lights in motion throughout the park. It seemed that senses were heightened at dusk and throughout the remainder of the evening. Thrill rides became even more thrilling at dusk. Even though we knew the rise and fall of every roller coaster, experiencing them in the dark of night made them all the more thrilling. Being perched at the top of the Ferris Wheel while riders were exiting and entering the ride was extra exciting when you were able to look out into the park and see a field of whirling and glistening lights covering the world before you. I would always look out into the distance and see the familiar orange glow hovering above the steel mills and be filled with a sense of comfort and of being home. At dusk there seemed to be a noticeable drop in temperatures, and as we traveled throughout the park, ladies would be donning their sweaters as they continued to enjoy the rides until the music of “Nighty Night” by Alvino Rey finally filled the air.
- As I grew older and started high school and driving, dusk usually meant the start of an evening of fun, in the company of friends. Gathering on each other’s porches, going to a dance, meeting at the Dairy Queen near Kennywood, or just strolling, laughing and keeping each other company provided special times to all of us. In the absence of Facebook, iPads, cell phones and other technological gizmos that have become part of our lives, we actually relied on face-to-face interaction to entertain ourselves. The sense of security and comfort that we all felt as we spent evenings outside was wonderful. Danger and fear were not even a consideration. It was the best of times.
Take a few minutes the next time evening falls, and just look toward the west and let your mind wander back to the times when that time of day was often the beginning of yet another joy of our youth.