A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Long Time Ago...

 ...there was a bunch of kids who formed a club, called The Adventure Club!  There were seven of them, and they had their own proud flag.  The club was formed for the purpose of having adventures, the which Persistent Reader has already no doubt winkled out on his own.  
The flag of the Adventure Club.  Seven stripes for seven members.

 They hiked all about town, down to the railroad yards on their bikes, and made maps of their travels and named their discoveries as explorers were wont to do.  Woods 1.  Woods 2.  Woods 3.  Hey, no claim was made to originality.  The Sigafoos Jungle, perhaps because it was overgrown with sumac and therefore resembled what they imagined a jungle would look like.  Run-off rivulets from the farms provided a plethora of jungle mud with which to cake the hiking boots and bore the proud name of "river" on their maps.  Expeditions were mounted to discover the headwaters of these streams.  As a bonus, anaerobic mud was found to be both stinky and to possess the power to suck the boots right off your feet.  How cool is that?  Sometimes all seven adventurers went out; sometimes only the local group of three that lived on the same block: Michael and Dennis and Danny.  

The view from Mammy Morgan.  They hiked up here from
the bustling metropolis below.  In the distance is the Blue
Ridge, aka Kittatinny Mtn..
(Photo: Kevin Flynn)
Once, on their greatest expedition, they climbed the flanks of Mammy Morgan's Hill, crawled through barbed wire fences set by farmers guarding against critters less clever and persistent than twelve-year old boys, gathered wood and built a cooking fire over which a holocaust of hot dogs was offered and a cauldron of baked beans.  Perhaps some marshmallows were toasted.  Who can say?  Then, rather than return home they imitated the bear and went over the mountain, and for largely the same reason.  The far side led them to Raubsville and a footbridge that debouched conveniently onto the canal tow path, the which they followed to the headlock and thence to home - where a phalanx of mothers awaited them at the top of the hill. 

The bear went over the mountain to see what he could see.
No bustling metropolis on this side of Mammy Morgan.
(photo: Kevin Flynn)
Wait.  Kids going off unsupervised into the trackless woods?  Building fires there?  Gone who-knew-where from sun-up to sun-down?  With no grown-ups, not structure, no rules?  This was easier for kids to do in the 1950s than in the 2010s, for there were fewer dragons lurking in the blank parts of the maps.

Well, okay.  There were supposed to be dinosaurs still living atop the Hexenkopf, down in Bucks County, and off the edges of their personal map.  Those are dragons, aren't they?  (Later, they did hike down there and learned that in the interim this saurian remnant had died off without a trace.)

The Adventure Club engaged in other ventures.  They had a couple of telescopes: a reflector and a refractor and discovered with them the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, and even Uranus.  And the neighbors.  They designed a rocket, although that was never brought to fruition and they settled for vinegar and baking soda, and with a milk bottle, a balloon, and a straw they could forecast the rain.  They also blew the fuses in Danny's house with an electrical circuit that did not quite circle.  Chemical experiments were done.  Open flames!  Asbestos pads!  Strangely-named chemicals to be played with!  Hey, there weren't any seat belts in the cars, either, and they rode bikes without helmets and pads. 

Basically, their whole life was illegal under present law.  There were bodies everywhere.  

So it seemed only right that they write.  Four of them collaborated on  Ad Astra, what is now called a "shared universe," writing epic stories of the solar system... and beyond!  The reason why writers today are told to avoid using exclamation points is that those kids used them all up fifty years ago.  What were they thinking?

They were thinking the future would be worth an exclamation or two.  There would be satellites -- and shortly, there were!  (There's one of those exclamation points now, left over from that time.)  There would be a race to the moon -- and there was!  There would be a moon base - Luna City!  And a trip to Mars.  And flying cars.  And you can't win them all.  But also computers and robots and all sorts of reminders that we are living in their future. 

Daniel W. Hommer (1948-2013)
He did not have the beard as a kid.
The four aspiring writers were named Michael and Dennis and Red and Danny, and two of them are gone.

Dennis died in high school, and never lived even to see the moon landings.  He was buried in Franciscan robes, and there are entire days when his brother does not think of him, though not many.  He and Danny were in the same grade, a year behind TOF and Red.

And now TOF has learned that Danny too has gone ad astra

Danny Hommer's grandmother and TOF's grandmother were first cousins, and that, in the parlance of what was still then called German Hill, made them "cellar door cousins."  That gave them walk-in-the-kitchen-door rights, easier to exercise in an age when doors were not often locked.  The name is pronounced Hŭmmer and had almost certainly once been Hömmer back in the Germanies.

Of all the Adventure Club, perhaps Danny got closest to the scientific frontier -- not the spatial one, but the inner one.  His c.v. at NIH tells us he received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and his M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine. During his Psychiatry Residency at Yale University he used single unit recording techniques to examine the behavior of dopamine neurons. He continued this work, as well as clinical research in schizophrenia, during a fellowship at NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health). In 1987, he left NIH to join the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 1992, he returned to NIH to lead the Section of Brain Electrophysiology and Imaging within the NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). His laboratory examined functional and structural brain imaging as they relate to alcoholism, with emphasis on brain systems involved in motivation and emotion. He was world-renowned for his discoveries on structural and functional differences in brains of alcoholic and non-alcoholic individuals. 

The c.v. will not tell you of his star-gazing, his electrical experiments, his role in a 16mm B&W World War II film epic, or that he had once gone over a mountain to see what he could see.  Now he has gone over another one.  Ad astra, old friend.

Early in college, perhaps even that first summer before he entered Penn, Danny and TOF set off on what was the last adventure of the Adventure Club.  Most of the members had already scattered and only those two were left in town.  They packed their rucksacks and sleeping bags into Danny's VW Beetle and set off for the Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia, where there wasn't much ground light to blot out the stars. 


  1. Heartbreaking, beautiful, glad, elegiac. I'm in tears. Thanks for this tribute to your friend and to all boys everywhere.

  2. Condolences to you and Danny's family. Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories.

  3. Ditto what Mark said.

    There is a strange, tall silence that wells up from inside when reading stories that begin as this one did. It's a deep respect for memories and history and nostalgia, which we all have, and which leaves an Elven ache for times long, so long gone.

    Perchance in paradise we will glance aside from everlasting glory, to see these memories perfected, and to re-visit their eternal imprint (like in The Last Battle). Until then, remember that beyond these Shadowlands, there is more than memory...

  4. You have my sympathies and you both have my prayers.

  5. Why do you think the last adventure of the Adventure Club has been had? Its just there are too many adventures in this life and in the next for you guys not to split up and explore them...

    I will say a prayer tonight for Danny.

  6. Very beautiful. My condolences & prayers.

  7. Ten years after you, the AC 2.0 exercised the same walk-in-the-kitchen-door rights at Danny's mom's house after you fellas went off to college. Pretty sad that most kids can't have those adventures these days.

    1. Well, it's always good to have the second string. Did you get Karo sandwiches from Mrs. Hommer? What were you doing there? I thought Judy was more Kevin's age.

      Of course, now there's a development and a golf course smack dab across the farmers' fields where Danny and Dennis and I cooked out, and any kid who tried that hike today would be nabbed for trespassing at the very least.

      At least when Danny, Dennis, and I were on the Rice-Ebner LLBB team parents didn't come to the games and make fools of themselves. It was just kids having fun.

    2. Judy and I were in the same grade. Played in the basement a lot, where they had a ping-pong table, and Bernie had a darkroom. They also had a very large comic book collection they kept under the cellar steps. It'd be worth a ton these days.

      Betty made root beer popsicles, which were very good.

      I stopped in with Harriet a few years back to visit Judy when their dad was frail and in a chair in the living room. He had a very interesting dry sense of humor.

      My best memory of Danny was his TR-3, in British racing green. He gave me rides in it a few times and it was so low to the ground I could drag my knuckles on the street.

    3. All I remember getting at Hommers is saltines or, on a good day, Ritz crackers.

    4. Yeah, we actually morphed into the CAG (Catholic Action Group); no flag for that, though. Crackers were all we got. Didn't need to go to school with one of the kids to get them . . . just a neighborly kind of thing.

    5. I remember the green Triumph, but was unsure if it was a -3 or -4. Sitting in the 3rd seat of a 2-seater was tricky. It was actually a storage space behind the seats, and you had to twist in sideways. No seat belts. I had The Beast, a Packard Clipper that Fr. Fries had sold us when he retired, and you could put Danny's TR3 into the trunk and take six kids to Notre Dame HS.

      I wonder if his grandkids know of those winding roads south of Bethlehem and Hellertown.

  8. Msgr., please, a moment's grace: Autocorrect has defaced your elegy. "The far side led them to Raubsville and a footbridge that debauched conveniently onto the canal tow path," clearly, you meant "debouched."

    What a memory. I stand awed, for a moment, and think of my own unauthorized adventures of youth. You were all blessed.

    REQUIEM aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

  9. Wow. I had a childhood similar to this and reading your good words brought back a lot of buried memories. God bless you and I will pray for your friends.

  10. Those were the days, my friend,
    We thought they'd never end,
    We'd sing and dance, forever and a day,
    We'd live the life we choose,
    We'd fight and never lose,
    Those were the days,
    Oh yes, those were the days.

  11. I like to think that Heaven involves having adventures, and that saints still have to *do* things.

  12. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate those memories--and the ones it brings back for the rest of us...

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