Nessie is Alive and Well in Downingtown, PA.

I have so many stories to tell from my whirlwind 36 hr. trip up to my old home town.

But it's almost 2 a.m and while I am wired and think I'm not sleepy, I know I am tired and could never do these tales justice.

However, I must give you this one snippet before I call it a day-

My brother and I are on our way to a funeral.

We both have attention deficit disorder, but that's not why we leave an hour and 45 minutes early to travel 15 minutes to the church.

I tell him we need to go take pictures of "the old house" before we go to the church because after the service it will be too late. I have to drive back to Greensboro and it's a 9 hr. trip.

So...we head out to kick over the traces- including a brief stop at First Lake where John says I just have to see "the Alligators."

I do not believe Downingtown, Pa. will ever be known for its creative spirit. I believe this, in part, because they named the series of small lakes behind the old house, "First Lake, Second Lake, Third Lake, Fourth Lake and yes, Fifth Lake."

We kids were always afraid of the area over by the pump house because there the water was so deep, it never froze.

But the murky, deep water of the pump house was far more dangerous than even the grown-ups knew. We children believed, no, we knew, an evil monster, the twin of the Loch Ness monster, lived in the bottomless water beside the pump house.

It lurked beneath the dark, lake, just waiting for the grown-ups to tire of their children and wander off. Then, we children were quite sure, the monster would emerge to "get" us.

The adults laughed this idea off, but today, I finally found all the proof I need. Nessie's twin lives...In fact, Nessie's twin lives and breeds!

In their infinite wisdom, the city fathers, faced with too many marauding Canadian Geese and a law prohibiting them from shooting the birds, decided to invest in floating alligator heads with glow in the dark eyes.

After my brother points this out and I am done falling on the ground laughing, I ask "Did it work, John?"

He shakes his head, looking disgusted. "What do you think? Of course not."

After all, these are the same city fathers who have renamed the lakes. They're now called "The Ponds."

I wander over to snap a picture of First Lake because this is where I learned to ice skate.

I can still see my father skating backward figure-eights and beckoning me to follow him out on to the bumpy, frozen surface of the small pond.

It is a very cold Christmas night. Along the bank, someone has built a fire and we all gather around it, our cheeks bright pink from the icy wind and excitement.

I have brand new skates and my dad is going to teach me to skate.

He is grinning, completely happy, a boy again himself as he teases me out farther and farther away from the safety of the shore. I am his awkward, uncoordinated eldest daughter- a gosling among swans.

I am his Doubting Thomas, frail and afraid, but when I see him so happy, his eyes lit with the exuberance of this magical night, I forget I can't dance, can't run, can't even sway to the beat of his funny jitterbug swing...I push off after him, delighting in this sudden freedom from my normal, clumsy movements.

Dad skates backward, in graceful figure-eights. I follow along, imprinting on his crisp tracks and sure flourishes. I stare into his eyes and forget to look down at my feet.

There are no demanding parishoners to distract him tonight. There are no cracks in the ice, no danger because my dad is with me.

It is a rare, special night that I will remember always- a treasure that makes First Lake worth photographing even now, forty years later...

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