Far from just a simple village Mt. Gretna is a quilt of fragments of several municipalities that gives new meaning to the word "balkan." Our Balkan Mountains are a few square miles of gentle forested Appalachian foothills and their highest peak "Governor Dick" hill, elevation, 666 ft. Water runs down it's slopes into all parts of Mt. Gretna, eventually ending in the majestic 10-acre Lake Conewago.
The only residents who can legally claim to live in "Mt. Gretna" are the approximately 200 households in the "Borough of Mt Gretna" that also calls itself the "Pennsylvania Chautauqua," and thus has two governing bodies and budgets. Others live in sections called Campmeeting, Mt. Gretna Heights, Conewago Hill, Timber Hills and Stoberdale, actually residing in the corners of townships: South Annville, South Londonderry, West Cornwall, all meeting the Borough near the post office.
The only remotely common features of the community are the Fire Company, the Sewer Authority and the Post Office. Most walks to the post office (or flow through the drains) cut through several school districts and gerrymandered electoral districts. Even the county court house can be confused about the latter. My district extends all the way to the Philadelphia 'Main Line,' its shape often likened to an pouncing dragon with part of Gretna in its teeth. Among the main unifying Gretna ideas is the prevailing conviction that attempts to consolidate services among these quilt patches are actually schemes to increase taxes, though most Gretnans, like Californians, live unaware of the fault lines they cross every day.
As a results of these peculiarities, the actual population of Mt. Gretna is indeterminate. Typical guesses range from 1,600 to 2,200 people, the higher figure for summer. Many residents join one or more organizations like The Outdoor Art Show, Gretna Theater, Gretna Music, Cicada, Heritage and Bible Festivals, Historical Society, Chautauqua Summer Programs and Foundation, Organ Concerts, Arts Council, Socrates Cafe, book and film clubs, and others. Some members of each view 'the others' with suspicion or jealousy as competitors. They actually do compete -- for contributions, audiences and venues. A list of Gretna 501c organizations would fill a page! And, I should add: there are five restaurants, several small businesses and, get this, a Roller Rink and Psychiatric Hospital!
Alas, our narrow gauge railway, three hotels and an amusement park vanished during the last century.
And though our forested hills are now surrounded by a sea of recently-harvested cornfields where Trump signs sprout like weeds, political inclinations of Metropolitan Gretna remain largely unpolled and uncertain, though it is fair to guess that, owing to a concentration of artists, writers, gay couples, professors and professionals, the place is an oasis of liberalism in our conservative "Alabama" middle of Pennsylvania.
My post-office walk takes me through two townships into a borough, two electoral districts and three ecclesiastical domains. Yesterday while crossing the Campmeeting, founded in 1892 and home of the Annual Bible Festival, I came upon two golden-agers engaged in a violent shouting match -- I dare not repeat most of it -- and on the verge of a fistfight. My approach enabled one to scamper away to safety, shouting back over his shoulder.
"I only asked why he had a Hillary sign in his front yard," said the remaining octogenarian. "Why should he take offense? I only asked him to tell me what Hillary has ever done to qualify herself for President. Why can't we have a reasonable discussion? I read everything, learn from the internet and TV and stay well-informed. I'm a good citizen and welcome other opinions. I just wanted to know."
"You certainly must be a good and well-informed citizen," I affirmed, trying to avoid replacing the escapee as a target. "I too enjoy rational discussions as opposed to trading insults."
But he continued, "I just learned why the Ambassador was killed in Benghazi!" "Why," I cautiously asked. "He had discovered that Hillary and Obama were running a drug cartel and so they didn't rescue him when the terrorists attacked." It seems Trumpism has even infected us here.
Finally, I should mention the most important unifying feature of Mt. Gretna: people choose to live and come here because they love it, albeit for varied reasons, and want to participate. Perhaps that also explains a strong resistance to change. We are a community to which almost everyone volunteers time and effort, and thus each of us has an identification beyond just 'resident.' We know most of our neighbors and take care of one another, meet often, serve common though diverse, goals. We don't always agree and discussions sometimes become heated, but when you need help, there is always someone to call.
So now you know why there is chamber music here.