I remember the day that Mike Senker moved to Smock. I must have been in about 4th grade, making me 10 years old or so. You knew someone was moving in because of the amount of people poking their heads from their back doors or blatantly walking up the street to get a glimpse of the new people.
Mike had four children. Marian, Theresa, Monica and Diane. With exception of Monica, Mike's kids had "problems". Marian wore braces on both legs and walked with crutches. Theresa had an exaggerated gait with slurred speech. And Diane was carried everywhere she went. And to top it off, Mike moved into the one non-standard home on Smock Hill. All of the other houses were company homes.
In the late 1800's, the Colonial Mining Company had an architect draw up plans for a duplex home. They were made from wood and were rather autonomous. Each side of the house had it's own sidewalks front and back, and it's own coal shanty and outhouse. Mike's home was a small white square place that was different.
The kids in Smock were very hesitant to socialize with any of the Senker girls. Not because they weren't born in Smock and not because they lived in a different style of home, but because they were "crippled". Yep, that's the word that they used. But when you talked to any of them, you found that the only thing that may have been less than perfect were their legs. But we're not talking about them here; we're talking about Mike.
One thing that made Mike fit in with his neighbors was that he was Roman Catholic and therefore attended St. Hedwig's. He also loved polkas and was a fellow "hunky". But soon, people started to think of Mike as different too. He went to church too often. In fact, daily. And people would see Mike sneaking into church when there wasn't anything going on inside. I feel that this may have created some resentment in some of his neighbors. "How dare him go to church more than ME? Who does that guy think he is?"
Smock will be a bit of a poorer place now that Mike Senker is gone. He was clearly the most religious man I have ever met. I have never heard him raise his voice. He adored his wife. If they had arguments, they never made it outside the walls of their non-standard home.
When his profoundly ill daughter Diane died at about age 12, Mike asked me and a few others who found him and his family to be "different" to be pallbearers for his lovely daughter. I can remember this as if it were yesterday. How could we think of them the way that we did and then have him turn around and give us this honor to carry his daughter to her grave?
Yesterday at Mike's funeral, Father John Sedlak allowed Mike's daughter Monica to speak after the mass. Several years ago, Mike told her that he was ready to go to Heaven. It was a statement of his undying faith in God. Monica told her father that she knew he'd go straight to Heaven when he died. It was his answer to her that I think I shall never forget. He said "I'll be waiting there for you."
This should speak volumes to you and I, those people that called Mike Senker their neighbor. He had raised his children to live without resentment or self-pity. And, he raised his children to love those who may not love them back because they had some physical incapacity.
Those of us from Smock can say that Marian, Theresa, Monica and Diane were raised well because they lived in Smock, a town that was "behind" Uniontown by 20 years and "behind" Pittsburgh by at least three decades. We can say that Mike's children turned out so well by not having those outside influences that I had mentioned to you before. And if you believe this, you are just partially correct.
Mike taught his children right from wrong. He spent time with his daughters and saw beyond the crutches and braces. He saw his children as perfect little girls and took the TIME to raise them up.
In our society today, I see two very important things happening. I can see where parents are too busy to spend time with their children. And children who have so many distractions that they do not have the time or inclination (or love) to spend time with Mom or Dad.
I think that we can take a lesson from Mike Senker, a simple but magnificent man from Smock.
At the luncheon following the services at the cemetery, they played polkas. It was Mike's last request. Mike knew where he was going along with everyone at the Smock Volunteer Fire Department hall. And when you think of it, isn't this a cause for celebration?
The one sad part about yesterday was when looking across the tombstones at St. Hedwig's cemetery, there was just way too much fresh dirt. Eddie Myers (the whistling bread man), John Bozek (Pecker's dad), and Mike Senker's daughter Theresa.
I just hope that they leave some room for me.