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If You Ever Go to Pennsylvania

     It did it again! You would have thought it was some sort of horror show but it was only the summer mud in a small town in northwestern Pennsylvania. More specifically, Punxsutawney.

     Punxsutawney is well-known for its weather-forecasting groundhog, Phil. It isn’t so well-known for is its sandal-devouring mud. It should be.

     Every year in July I go to Punxsutawney for the Annual Groundhog Festival. Four years ago I arrived with my grandson Blake and two pairs of sandals. And a few other things, but they’re not part of the story.

     On the second day, between rains Blake and I went to Barclay Square to join the townspeople at the festival. Sometime during the day the mud beneath the damp grass chomped its way through my sandal soles.

     I had no idea what had happened until suddenly the heel of my sandal split in half. One half stuck to my sandal. The other half dangled momentarily, and then dropped off onto the pavement, where it lay in shreds, surrounded by clods of mud.

     That first year, I was totally unprepared. The sandal-devouring mud of Punxsutawney ate its way through three pairs of sandals – one of which I had to buy at the local Wal-Mart.

     The second year it didn’t rain and I came home from Punxsutawney with my sandals in one piece – okay, two pieces.

     Last year it rained a lot. I was pretty sure my sandals were one hundred percent mud-resistant, but I was real careful and stayed off the wet grass as much as I could.

     Didn’t do any good. As I walked toward the parking lot one morning, I felt a vaguely familiar sensation beneath my sandaled feet. With ears cocked, I slowly took another step. I peered down at my sandals. The heel of one sandal was caked in mud. I shook my foot. The heel fell off in a shower of mud splats.

     Last year I only lost two pairs to the sandal-devouring mud. But they were really nice pairs. So this year I came prepared. This year I brought my brown leather sandals with the wide straps and thick, thick soles - about as appetizing as one of those brown rubber doorstops.

     On the first day of the festival it sprinkled just enough to resurrect the sandal-devouring mud. You’d never suspect that beneath the slightly damp grass there’s a layer of mud, salivating over your sandals. But there is and it is.

     Fortunately I knew that, so my plan was simple: stay off the grass. I would stay on the concrete walks that criss-cross the square. I would never, never step on the grass.

     And I wouldn’t have - except for the food booths lined up across the end of Barclay Square. Breezes from those booths send aromas of funnel cakes and barbecued ribs and onion blossoms and hot apple turnovers directly to your nostrils. And so you have to get there. Across the grass.

     I stepped as lightly as I could and I tried to hit the high spots and I didn’t go to the food booths nearly as often as I wanted to and I was super careful and I was wearing those ugly sandals with the thick, thick soles and so surely the mud wouldn’t eat them.

     It did.

     We were strolling past the crafts booths when I felt the concrete go mushy beneath my feet and heard that familiar squishy sound of separating soles. I’ve never heard that sound anywhere except in Punxs’y and if you’ve never been to Punxsutawney, I’ll bet you’ve never heard it at all.

     I stopped, bent over and slipped off my sandal. Deep ravines filled with gloppy Punxsutawney mud cut through the sole. The heel showed definite signs of serious soil erosion. I headed straight for the nearest shoe store.

     If you’re into adventure and have a pair of really ugly sandals, I highly recommend you book a flight to northwestern Pennsylvania. More specifically, Punxsutawney. In July.

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