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Heckwelder Life
Timothy Falconer
Aug 16, 2002
Summer 1992: With a month left at Lehigh and 50 bucks to my name, I was weeks away from having no job, no money, and no place to live.

Uncertain of everything, I walked across the New Street Bridge to meet some friends, but I got the time wrong. I was an hour early. Finding a spot on a bench outside the Old Chapel, I read a book and soaked in the scene. The quietness calmed me. I felt a connection.

"This would be a cool place to live," I thought, immediately dismissing the idea as improbable. "It must be tough to get an apartment around here. I'd probably have to wait for someone to die first."

At this point, I had no idea where I'd end up, whether New Jersey, Florida, or anywhere else. I hadn't even thought of Bethlehem, since like many Lehigh students back then, I considered it a kind dingy backdrop to the campus, good for cheap rent and Godfrey's and the Ho, but not much more.

But that was the Southside. Across the river, it seemed different. It was cleaner. It was quiet. There was something timeless here that attracted me. Putting away my book, I walked slowly up the street and received my first gift from Heckewelder Place: a "For Rent" sign in a second floor window. That sign is the reason I still live here.

Turns out the landlord has just put the sign in the window. Even better, he was willing to let me stay there a month for free if I would clean and paint the place myself. Given my finances at the time, this was the luckiest of breaks. I moved in and started scrubbing. The walls, the ceilings, the oven, the radiators, the windows: the place was a real mess. Once the dust settled, I had a pretty cool apartment. Every night, I'd climb into bed and look out at the beautifully lit Central Moravian clock tower, perfectly framed in my bedroom window.

In the next few months, I went often to the library and read about the early Moravians. John Heckewelder was cool. He believed early on that American Indians were people to respect, that we oughtta learn their language and culture and not consider them savages. He built the house across the street. The Moravians were advanced in other ways as well: their music, their architecture, their industry. The more I learned, the more I liked where I lived.

In those days, my best friend was Cato, my handesome tuxedo cat. Cato followed me like a dog. We'd take long walks along Monocacy Creek or through God's Acre. I can't tell you the number of times I'd come home and whistle for him and he'd come running. Usually we'd play a quick game of tag on the rolly lawn behind the Central Moravian Church. I'd chase him, then he'd chase me. Passerbys were pretty surprised by it.

Over the next few years, I developed a deep affection for my neighborhood. Everyone was friendly. My neighbors smiled and said hello when we met. Although in the middle of a small city, with nearly everything I could want in walking distance, it was quiet enough that I could hear myself think. At night, I'd often walk home through God's Acre, the early Moravian cemetery, usually with my mind racing with the demands of the day. Listening to the wind rustle through tall oaks above me, imagining the lives of those buried below, I'd always leave God's Acre feeling calmer than before.

Christmas would come with an explosion of lights and tourists walking past my front door, whispering "He lives there," as I pulled out my keys. I'd tell friends that someday I'd stand in front of my window, gesturing robotically like a mechanical santa to complete the effect.

In August, Musikfest took over the town and friends would flock to Timmenplatz for my central location and clean bathroom. I could sit on my balcony and listen to the music on Main Street. On errands through the town, I'd stop at a few platzes, listening to free music at a time when I couldn't afford it otherwise.

Sometimes I'd complain about the diesel fumes from Christmas buses, or the way my street became a bobsled ramp after a few snows, or the Musikfest drunks that flowed past in force, but never enough to forget that I absolutely loved living there. It was a magic time in a magic place. Although mostly alone with my cat, each day brought with it the same timeless calm that first attracted me. I felt rooted, safe, and quietly happy.

Then came the next Heckewelder gift, the biggest of my life. One day in the spring of 95, I parked my car down the street behind a woman who was also parking. As I got out of my car, she smiled at me as she walked up to the Bach Choir office. By the time I had returned to my apartment, I had developed a strong intuition that I had missed an important moment: I should have met that woman. The intuition was strong enough that I did something brazen. I wrote my name, phone, and email address on an envelope, along with a note saying that I'd like to meet. I put the envelope on the windshield of her car.

A few weeks went by before I received an email, not from the woman, but from her recently single friend, Paula. She and I traded emails for a few days, asking each other questions like "What do you revere?" and "when were you last in love?" Intrigued enough to meet me, she gave me her number and I called her that day. We made plans to meet.

Just past midnight, I settled myself cross-legged on a wall down my street, waiting with Cato. When headlights appeared, I nervously watched as she drove her white Miata down Heckewelder and parked across from me. As she got out of her car, my first thought was, "She's beautiful!" My next thought was "I look a wreck." Suddenly self-conscious, I shook her hand and introduced her to Cato.

We walked over to the Brethren's House, where she worked as a music professor at Moravian. She took me and Cato on a private tour through the building. As we walked through the darkened rooms and hallways, it was easy to imagine we were in another century. We talked about ghosts, and Lafayette, and the Revolutionary War. She showed me her office, with a view straight up Main Street.

Outside again, we walked with Cato along Monocacy Creek, past the footbridge, the waterworks, the tannery, and Luckenbach Mill. Returning to Heckewelder, walking up Church Street again, I was listening to Paula tell a story when it happened. She was stepping slowly backwards and gesturing with her hands. That's the moment I started loving her, a love that since has only deepened.

A year later, on our wedding day, I woke for the last time in that apartment to the sounds of a brass band playing in the Moravian clock tower. Soon after, I had breakfast with my family across the street at the Hotel Bethlehem. My brothers helped me through the afternoon with last minute details and jitters. Pacing back and forth on my balcony, I practiced my vows.

Just before seven, my brothers and I left my apartment and walked down the street, a short parade of tuxedos, including Cato of course. Paula and I married in the Old Chapel, just a few yards from where we met. Afterwards, everyone walked down to the Brethren's House for a reception in Peter Hall. We danced and talked till midnight, with Cato staying till the end.

After the cleanup, I needed to drop off some things at my apartment before joining Paula at our new home. With everyone gone, it was just me and Cato, walking up Heckewelder for the last time together. We walked past the wall we had sat on, where we'd met Paula. We walked past the rolly lawn where we'd played tag, past the bench where I'd read the book that first day. My last Heckewelder gift was a walk with my cat, a perfect end to a magic time.

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