Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I'm going to step out of my old rubber boots and Woolrich coat that almost everyone wore in Smock to get a bit serious. Besides, it's my blog and I'll write what I want to. And, I can even end sentences poorly too and that there.

Some friends of mine are going through some tough times right now. At first I felt helpless because I cannot snap my fingers and make things better, as much as I'd love to. But the more I thought of this, the more I remembered a poem I once wrote that someday someone will turn into a song and I'll make millions of dollars and have a huge party with all of my friends.

I wrote "God's Almighty Hand" or "In His Grip" several years ago during a very dark time. A dear friend recently said that she has been feeling a lot of pity for herself and despair since pity sort of breeds that stuff. And, another friend's Mom is having some big time surgery soon, which I sort of talked her into and even gave her the hospital and doctor to go to.

God’s Almighty Hand (In His grip) by Bob Pegritz

Wind and rain, freezing cold
Your face too numb to feel
Pain transports senses, heart and soul
To places man can’t heal

The desperate thoughts that tear at you
The season of the storm
You search in vain to find a place
With breezes calm and warm

Tears falling down in swollen streams
Create this bitter psalm
The heart that beats within your chest
Lacks any form of calm
Then cries to God in darkened halls
Transport on angels’ wings
You hear your cries of anguish still
In Heaven’s canyons ring

When hope seems fleeting, Jesus hears
With tender love, He stands
The grip you feel when pain abounds
Is God’s almighty hand

We mumble thanks with half-true hearts
And think that it was fate
When down another path we take
Of jealousy and hate
The distance comes when one by one
Your good friends fade away
There isn’t scarce but One to hear
The slander that you say

And then again, our Jesus views
Our souls in weakness stand
That warming touch when hearts grow cold
Is God’s almighty hand

When life is dark and cold and bleak
And pain seems not to end
Remember God is watching you
Our Healer and our Friend

Give up your pain into His hands
And faithfully endure
In spite of bitter paths we walk
God’s promised help is sure

And bitter tears will drift away
Like tides on Heaven’s strand
Raise up your arms and hold fast to
Our Savior’s mighty hand

Raise up your soul with outstretched arms
Upon His love, we stand
Know that you’re always in the grip
Of God’s almighty hand

Forever sing while in the grip
Of God’s almighty hand

So there. It is my prayer that my friends who are going through this pain right now feel God's hand and take strength from Him to help them through these tough times.

You can pray for them too if you want. Don't worry about their names. I told God who they are.

And if you hear a splash in the not too distant future, you'll know that a large pile of fear, doubt, pain, and uncertainty has been thrown into the Chesapeake Bay and the Susquehanna River.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Smells and Bells

In Ireland, many of the towns that you approach from a neighboring hill would have a few obvious features. One of them you would notice would be that the mostly square Church of Ireland (Anglican) buildings were located in the center of town while the Roman Catholic church was usually on the outskirts and could easily be identified by the tall steeple with the cross on top.

In Smock, St. Hedwig's Roman Catholic church was smack in the middle of that part of town where I lived called Smock Hill. If you drove through Smock Hill and didn't see it, you lied about coming to visit.

The Presbyterians had to seek refuge at the Pleasant View UPC church which was located between Smock and our neighboring town, Royal. That's where Linda Hart and her heathen family went on Sundays to practice who knows what kind of sorcery.

And who would guess that those cherubic young lads who robbed tomatoes from your garden under cover of night, threw hard corn and snowballs at your porches (it was a seasonal activity), and asked your grandfathers for a taste of his elderberry blossom wine were the same angels who donned black cassocks and snow white surplices to assist the priest at Holy Mass?

The "sacramentary" was a book that seemed to weigh about 174 pounds that for some unknown reason, had to be transported from one side of the altar to the other a couple of times during mass. And that's not to mention the wrought iron stand that it sat on which dug into your hands like barbed wire. Lucky that the bigger guys got to do that, which left the task of the bell ringer to me.

Recently, a dear friend named Mike Gallagher, a great singer and player of Irish songs, sent me an online petition which pleaded to "bring back the bells at mass". I never knew someone took them. But it was my job to grab on to that brass handle from which hung FOUR various sized bells with multiple tiny clappers inside of them which harmonized when they were rung. So, I was one of the only people besides the priest that got to make noise during the service.

Back in ancient Rome when Christians were essentially lion food, the rite of the mass was held in secret, usually behind shrouds or curtains and usually in courtrooms. The priest did all of that priest stuff behind the curtain but before and during the elevation of the consecrated elements, some guy rang a bell as if to say "HEY, look over here!" The host and chalice were raised above the curtain so that all could see. That is the true origin of the "elevation". And that railing that divides the spectators from the counselors in court looks an awful lot like the communion rail in many churches in the "olden" days.

The bells were rung seven times at mass. First, when the priest holds his hands over the gifts and says "bless these gifts that will become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ". Then at the genuflection PRIOR to the elevation of the host or chalice, the elevation itself, and the genuflection after the elevation. BUT, there was one day in the year, Easter Sunday, when the lucky bell ringer got to ring his head off during the "Gloria in excelcis deo" which was sung. The bells were rung from the first note of this 3 minute chant right to the last note. Man, that was heaven.

Before Easter, during Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, we weren't allowed to ring bells. So we had to use the knocker. This was a device with a flat surface to which was attached a wooden hammer whose handle was on a hinge. You would flail this thing instead of ringing the bells which then made this hideous "CLACK CLACK" sound. I used to think that we did this to remind us of the nails being hammered into Christ's hands and feet. It literally used to scare the crap out of me.

When I got a little older, I graduated to censership. Yes, I got to light the tiny round charcoal that fit into the center of the thing we used to burn incense. There was a particular way that you passed this thing to the priest. If you did it wrong, you could end up with "celebrant flambe". During those special times when we had processions, we'd all slowly march around St. Hedwig's to the strains of Pange Lingua Gloriosi. What a cool song. Since the priest was last in the procession, the head guy carrying the processional cross better know when to zig and when to zag and how fast (or slow) to walk. You never gave this job to anyone who played football or ran track. But for me, I tried to see how much of a fog I could raise before the song was over.

One of the more coveted roles of the Smock altar boy was to serve at funerals. First, you got to miss some time from school since most of these were held during the week. Second, you would pray that the cemetery was at least 400 miles away since it would take longer to get home. And thirdly, we got PAID. Usually a quarter, but that helped all of us put the "fun" back into funeral since that could buy you a grape Nehi and FOUR popsicles from Florek's store. And you never told your parents that you were paid, lest you were forced to put some of it away in the family sock. I once served at the funeral of William Flanagan. I never knew him before he died, but I have literally prayed for that guy and his family for the last 47 years. I made a dollar that day.

Church traditions were big in Smock, and they should be big today. Some of the traditions were easy to understand and some of them scared the pants off of us like kissing that dead Jesus statue on Good Friday. But they gave us and hopefully continue to give us a healthy respect for what is to be held sacred.

Recently, I stopped down at the old company store in Smock which is now partly a museum, and went in the back where there was a lot of old church memorabilia. Something was on the floor covered with a sheet. I uncovered it and there it was, the dead Jesus statue. And for just a moment, my blood ran cold.

We should hang on to our old traditions. Well, most of them anyway. And God bless you, Bill Flanagan, wherever you are.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Company Store

When the Colonial Mine was established in Smock, the miners had to have a place to shop unless of course, they either take the train or later, the Uniontown-Royal cab to do their shopping. H.C. Frick had a novel idea which was to build "company" stores in these towns and mark up the prices about 10-20% higher than Uniontown prices so that the profits came right back to the owners of the mines. You could buy anything from chipped ham to a new shirt to tires for your car (if you had one) from the company store. And, the money you made from shoveling that 16 ton "Frick load" was credited right to an account at the company store. You were never paid in cash or by check. Some company stores actually gave the miners "script" which could be redeemed for goods ONLY at that specific store. A couple of the requirements that a coal miner needed besides having a strong back were to have oil for his "sunshine lamp" and a sharp pick to mine the coal. The company store was all too glad to SELL the miner's their needed oil or sharpen their picks for a small price. And when it was time to take some money out to visit Uncle Mike in Cleveland, the company store would try to talk you out of spending your hard earned cash by saying that Cleveland was "bad" or you could take the same vacation money and build an indoor toilet (all parts for sale at the company store). Some enterprising miners would buy a major appliance a good deal cheaper in Uniontown but the delivery of the refrigerator or stove would take place at around 3:00 AM. If a miner was caught buying something away from the company store, you sometimes would get a notice that the particular shaft you worked in was suddenly flooded. The note would go on to say that the shaft would not be dry for a week and during that time, you can "enjoy your new refrigerator." How quaint.
And every summer, H.C. Frick, the owner of most of these mines and company stores would throw a party for his employees called the "Frick Picnic", usually held in Fiedor's Grove in Mount Pleasant, PA. There, you could drink a couple of free Rolling Rocks or eat a hot dog so that you could feel better about the arthritis, black lung and peripheral vascular disease that was creeping into your body thanks to your work environment. So the miners in these small towns were really getting "Fricked".
If you live or travel near Pittsburgh, you can visit one of Frick's homes in the Point Breeze section of town where you can see Henry Clay Frick's pristine 1914 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost along with literally millions of dollars of art.
Or, on some Saturday, you can turn off Route 51 at the "Smock 1" sign and head down the hill until you come to the Redstone creek. Just on the banks to the right, you'll see a very long building, which used to be the Union Supply Company Store. Go to the rear of the building and follow the steps for the "museum". The ladies and gentlemen there will show you how life used to be when we had operating mines and a very thriving company store.
No one had a Rolls Royce in Smock. And no coal miner was ever caught dead in what we think of as a "luxury car" unless it was that last ride in Steve Haky's Cadillac hearse. The cars we had were used to get back and forth to church on Sunday and to go to neighboring Uniontown to shop for food, etc.
And the only Silver Ghost that was ever in Smock was a sled that lived in Fritzy's coal shed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Yes or no

When I think back on the days of my youth in my little town, I remember that most people, especially those OLD ones in their 60's and 70's, were people of few words.

When you sat down at dinner, chances are pretty good that you'd get a plate shoved in front of you with one word; "eat".

Or if Nick the Barber said "Do you want your hair cut the same way as last time?", he expected a yes or no.

Nowadays, we need to have things explained. So Bob, here's your dinner, nice and hot with a hamburg that I just bought from the Giant Eagle in Uniontown with that gravy that you like so well on it. "But Mom, where's the mashed potatoes and "MY" glass of diet whatever?" First off, as a kid, your Mom would never give you a running play by play of your dinner. And, if for any psycho (not psychological) reason that you had where you'd say "I'm not hungry", then that dish would be taken out from under your upturned nose and you simply didn't eat.

In the 1950's, try and tell your parents that the dress they bought you was not "in" or was too loose or was the wrong color. Suffice to say, they did not return it for something else. Or if that baseball glove had the wrong signature of a player on it, you can bet that Dad didn't say "No problem, we'll take it back and look for the Roberto Clemente model."

And what is really crazy these days are those parents who actually fret about what their children may think of THEM. Oh, if I tell Billy that he's grounded for getting a D in English, he may really hit the roof. WHAT???? If I tell Mary that we're going to Ocean City for vacation, she might get mad and not go? HUH?????

Sometimes we may benefit from talking with our parents on the matter of how we were raised. Sure, it may not be politically correct, but it was correct. Why do we need "life coaches" and parenting books to teach us what to do with our kids? We have the Bible and we have our own life lessons as reference.

This morning, I had to go to the doctor. And in my usual elegant style, I turned on the wrong road and got on Pittsburgh's Liberty bridge. I knew that if I didn't bail out and turn right onto the road that goes to Mount Washington, I'd be in for a really severe detour. Just before getting to the top of the road to finally turn around and get back on the right track, there was a late model gold Pontiac in the middle of my lane with the four-way flashers on. Since this road has one lane going up and one going down, I made sure that the way was clear for me to go around the car, go to the top of the hill, and turn around.

Coming down the other side, I put on my own four-way flashers and stopped and asked the driver (who had a wife in the front seat and two young children in the back), "are you OK?" He said that he was out of gas. I spared him my 20 minute lecture on how he should NEVER run out of gas and asked him "Would you like me to call for help"? He said "I don't know...we don't have a cell phone." I said "I do have a cell phone...would you like ME to call someone for you to help you?" He said "Who are you going to call?" At this point, cars were backing up behind this guy as well as behind me since we now blocked the entire road. "I'm going to call someone with GAS." "Who?" Finally, my Smock upbringing rose up and said "Listen, I need ONE WORD from you...yes or no." He looked sort of perplexed and said "Yes or no? I need to know who you're going to call." Finally, my grandparent's upbringing came out and said "Listen, this is your last chance...if you want me to get someone up here with gas, you need to say ONE WORD, yes or no.!!!" At this point, it reminded me of the judge in My Cousin Vinny who asked "How do you plead?" and Vinny kept wanting to give explanations. "YES" came the response and I assured him that I would call. Further down the hill, as the people behind me no doubt continued to make threats on my life, I called 911 and asked if they can send help to this motorist who was out of gas. The answer? "YES"

I almost asked him what house he lived in back in Smock.

Friday, August 8, 2008

What's in a name?

In our little community of Smock, we had a lot of Christian names. Names like John, Thomas, Eugene, Robert, Daniel and Francis. However, most of the kids in Smock could not tolerate having to use such Biblical references and so we were all thankful for nicknames.

The house where I grew up was a standard Smock duplex. Two families separated by what seemed to be about 1/4 inch of wall. But the founding fathers of Smock knew something about autonomy. Each side had it's own porch, front and back, it's own lawn, it's own sidewalks, front and back, and most importantly, it's own coal "shanty" and outhouse. If you went back to Smock today, you'd still see a few of coal shanty/outhouse combos and some still "work". From the back porch, you would see that the coal sheds were on the outside of the small group of buildings and the outhouses were next to each other. Why? Conversation. Privacy was maintained by another one of those ultra thin walls, but if you heard the other side's door open and close, you knew that at least you could have a chat while you shat. And you knew the outhouse doors by one very important feature which was a "V" shaped cut in the top to let in sunlight. But I digress.

Fred and Mae lived on the other side of my house. They didn't have nicknames. But they also had four children; Fritzy, Sissy, Junie and Picky. They were really Francis, Mary, Eugene and Dennis. But the only time those names were used was when your parents were mad at you. There was Kikle, Weezie, Moe, Zimmy, Kubba, Pecker and Youk. Even the grown ups had nicknames. Pickhandle, Tutto, Oogie, Pea Head, Nutzie, Kuba, Pecker (there was Big Pecker and Little Pecker), Frankie Bo, Figgy and Shanny. We even had names for inanimate objects such as the thing you got your behind whacked with when you were bad (corbutch) or the thing where you stored the corbutch (butka).

Then there were the derivations on your real name like Bobby D. and Jimmy C. And then there was the worst. I used to hang out a lot with Fritzy and Junie and Picky but I also hung out with Bob. After I turned 9, we moved up the street to a house that had indoor plumbing and an inside coal bin. Man, we were in high cotton. Bob lived on the other side of my wall with his brother Thad. And, Bob was older than me, so he got to be called "Bob". I on the other hand could not be "Bob" since that was already taken. And so someone with an absolute evil mind decided that since my middle name was Joseph, I became Bobby Joe. And, to this day, this soon to be 60 author, musician and medical/legal consultant is still known by that "name". For years I hated it but after a while, when I'd hear it, it was a kind of stamp of approval or a way of knowing that I truly belonged to something. Or someone.

My heart REALLY goes out to Tommy Bozek. Smock always had a bar. And our bar was Bortz's. Then it became Petrock's. Now, I'm not sure what it's called because there's no sign out front any more. But a few months ago, I was thirsty and stopped in for a 55 cent Budweiser and looked at the guy sitting next to me. When we started to talk, he even sounded familiar. It was Tommy Bozek.


Bobby Joe???

Some things never change.