Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Food Article

Many of you were wondering when I was going to get around to talking about the food of my ancestors. That time is now.

Because of the tiny towns that dotted Fayette County like a patchwork quilt, Smock was known as a "patch". (Oh, so you live in the patch? Yes.)

And because many people from all over Europe settled in the patches of Western Pennsylvania, you would think that we enjoyed a huge and varied menu of exotic dishes from all over the world. Nope. If you went to a wedding, funeral, first communion, confirmation or anniversary, the dinner fare would most likely be from the middle-European area. Some called it "hunky food".

OK, roll call. Kielbasa, pierogi, chadnina, kapusta, saurkraut, holupki (golabki), borscht, kluski, pagach, cochanina, goulash, treska, rigatoni, pickled eggs, and let's not forget the kolatch or the lime green Jell-O with the carrot shavings on top for dessert.

The people of Smock were talented. In each home, I found that the recipe for ham was different. And the differences don't stop with ham. The cabbage rolls (insert YOUR favorite term for these here) differed. Some people used a lot of cracker meal in the hamburger. Others used none at all. (Those were the rich people.) And there were preferences for butter over sour cream with pierogies, depending on your heritage.

Some foods had names that were just made up. Like city chicken, which was actually breaded veal on skewers. (We didn't see that too often.) And noodles and cottage cheese probably has some Slovak or Polish name, but we just called it that.

Mashed potatoes always had at least one stick of butter (never margarine) thrown in and sometimes, a block of cream cheese. Only the rich Uniontown "cake eaters" would put parsley or some other doo dads on their potatoes.

One of my favorites to this very day was learned from my neighbor, Bob. Just dice up about 3 tomatoes in a bowl and add a dash of olive oil and a splash of Regina wine vinegar. That's it. And in the summertime, add an extra tomato. And you think that California invented a lot of the diet foods?

In Pittsburgh, like everywhere else, coffee was a staple, but the kids usually drank pop, which is "soda" for the rest of the world. We had brands like Vernors and Sun Drop which are still around but rather hard to get. But like Radar O'Reilly from M*A*S*H, we drank our share of grape and orange Nehi.

Today, many ice cream companies try to mimic the taste of a Creamsicle. They fail far too often. Popsicles were 5 cents but to enjoy that wonderful orange and cream taste would cost you a penny more. For the life of me, I wonder why most of the kids from Smock still have the teeth that they were born with?

Most everyone had a garden in Smock and my neighbor and I knew the location of every tomato patch in those gardens. (Please see the "tomato salad" reference above.) Yes, it was theft but we only took a couple. So the garden was a food source and an ammunition source come late October. Tomatoes had a great trajectory and exploded on impact.

So now I'm going to finish this chapter in my blog. I'm hungry.

And you know the one "bad" thing about many of these European dishes? You finish your meal and 72 hours later, you're hungry again.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

All About Me (and Cori Connors)

Yesterday, I was "tagged" by Cori Connors in her blog. Cori writes about her family. And not only writes about them, she writes songs and sings about them. I wish I had the talent (and the family) that I could write and sing about. Of course, if I sung, I would clear the room. But Cori has the sweetest voice in Christendom. And several years ago, she recorded what I think is the best Christmas CD in the entire world. I'm not kidding. The very best. I have to thank my dear friend El McMeen for sending "Sleepy Little Town" to me with a sticky note saying "This is the best Christmas CD ever." He was correct then and still is today.

So Cori wrote all of these things so that people would get to know her better. Things like favorite things of all sorts and some personal things too. At the end, she "tagged" me and said that now, I have to list these things myself. So, if you really want to know more about me, read on. If not, click over to CNN.com or YouTube.

TV shows (and movies) I like
1. NCIS
2. Pushing Daisies
3. Anything that Ken Burns produces
4. The Princess Bride
5. In The Good Old Summertime

Favorite restaurants
1. Adzema's Pharmacy (yes, they STILL have a lunch counter) Pittsburgh
2. Morton's Steakhouse (Anywhere)
3. Le Champignon (Philadelphia)
4. What's Cooking at Casey's (Oakmont, Pittsburgh)
5. Police Station Pizza (Bridgeville, Pittsburgh)
6. The Charcoal Pit (Wilmington, DE)
7. Jessop's (New Castle, DE)

Things I did yesterday
1. Practiced my whistles
2. Scheduled a mass to be said for someone
3. Recorded music for my dear friend Bobby D.
4. Froze my %$!! off
5. Got my oil changed and state inspection done
6. Went to lunch with Charlie Heaton, an organist of international fame and good friend

Things I look forward to
1. Travel to McLean, VA today to play music and to see all of my friends there
2. Seeing my friends Jay Ungar and Molly Mason this weekend
3. Seeing my friend Trish Siefert this weekend
4. Staying with the Marks' family, all who are very cool
5. Seeing my excellent friends Brian and Guy who are Ravens fans
6. Seeing the Pittsburgh Steelers go to the Super Bowl (and beat the Ravens on Sunday)
7. Recording a new CD
8. Spring, and time to ride motorcycles

Things I like about Winter
1. Nothing
2. Did I say "nothing"??
3. Absolutely nothing

Things on my wish list
1. To really "hit it off" with a special person
2. A new motorcycle
3. A constant pile of new tunes to play
4. Good health (that's pretty standard)
5. Having someone leave me a million bucks in their will
6. Make that 2 million
7. To hear God tell someone "Let me tell you about my friend Bob."
8. And to tell God "Let me tell you about all of my friends."

OK, that's it. But really, buy Cori's CDs. ALL of them. She does not know how to record junk. But if you only get one, get Sleepy Little Town along with a box of Kleenex. You'll need it.

So do I get to tag people now?

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Year of Firsts

1958 was a year that I learned a lot of new things. Not necessarily from school either. (Apologies to Eleanor McMaster, my 4th grade teacher.) But from real life experiences. Please let me explain.

As a child, I was inquisitive. And, as they would say in Ireland, I was a "bold young man". So when I walked by the St. Hedwig's Parish Rectory in Smock and saw all of these colored lights flashing through the smoked glass of the living room picture window, I just had to know what was going on. And if you knew Rev. Fabian G. Oris like I did, you realized that I was tempting fate and taking my life in my hands when I approached his front door. Undaunted, I rang the doorbell, a device that NO ONE had in Smock. The button even lit up. Amazing. Then, I began to think about Father Oris and how strict he could be and suddenly wished that the door remained closed despite my joy of pushing the lighted button. But the door opened and there he was, about 6 feet of angry priest, face in a scowl, saying "Well Pegritz, what do YOU want?" I told him that I was curious about the colored lights on his window and he said "You want to know about this? Well, come in and I'll show you."

When I walked in, I thought that I would see some torture apparatus adorned with flashing Christmas lights, but instead, my jaw instantly dropped. A television with colored pictures. And the Pittsburgh Pirates were playing baseball on the greenest grass I have ever seen. I was speechless. Then, as an act of charity, Father Oris offered me a bottle of pop. Then I knew that I must have been beheaded and that this was all a dream. But the bottle of Sun Drop came and I knew that I was in some sort of heaven for headless boys.

While watching this amazing display of electronic genius, I noticed something else. The living room had no floor. What I meant was that the carpet went all the way to the wall. Wall-to-wall carpet, I was told. Who makes such a thing? The angels?

Father Oris drove a 1958 Oldsmobile Dynamic 98. It was light blue and had at least 17 tons of chrome on it. And the engine was huge, and it had an automatic shifter. But that wasn't the amazing part. Instead of window cranks, it had.....buttons. Little buttons that when you pushed them downward, actually opened the windows by some magic force. And they closed automatically too. One day in July, when the temperature was in the 90's, I saw that the '98 was outside with the motor idling. I asked Father Oris if I could put the windows down because he would roast if he got into that car on a day that was so hot. He said, "Do not touch my car and don't touch the windows or you'll let all of the COLD air out." I thought that perhaps Father Oris had just a bit too much altar wine that Sunday.

For some celestial reason, Father Oris performed a sudden act of compassion and asked me to join him near his car. He said "Get in." I thought that he was going to drive me home and tell my mother that I was useless and needed to be destroyed. When I got into the car, it was COLD. And lo and behold, beneath that 20 foot dashboard rested a box with four chrome plated "nozzles" that spewed cold air. On the top of the box read the word "Frigidaire". I instantly realized that Father Oris had a refrigerator in his car. He called it "air conditioning." I called it amazing. He then said he'd drive me up to the top of the street where I lived. I said a silent prayer that SOMEONE would be watching when I stepped out of that Olds 98. The only one to witness this event was Prince, Mr. Florek's dog.

So inside of a two week period, I saw my first doorbell, color TV, automobile air conditioner and wall-to-wall carpet. And they all belonged to the priest.

Now if you feel like most of the people in Smock in 1958, you would say something like "that priest sure spends the parish's money and buys all of those nice things; things that WE sure don't have and probably never will." But even at age 9, I knew that the priest had to get up every day of the week and say mass. I always thought that getting up really early was something that required super-human ability. I still think that way today. But then, there were the weddings and funerals and travel to the hospitals or homes where sick people were. And then making sure that Kuba cleaned the church and that all of the bills were paid. I realized that he DESERVED these things, even if he didn't work in the Robena coal mine.

So today, I have a healthy respect for the clergy. They make all of that hard work that they do seem easy since we only see about 10% of what they do each week. I now also realize the years of sacrifice in divinity school or seminary that must be done before you can buy your first Oldsmobile.

I also learned that Father Fabian Oris wasn't evil. Oh, we all have our weak moments when God is not pleased with our actions, but we are also taught that we have a God who loves us in spite of the goofy things that we do.

And, I thought that I'd never see the day where I would have my own air conditioned car, wall-to-wall carpets or color TV. But today, with the graces from the very God that Father Oris taught me to love and to serve, I have all of these things myself.

Except for the doorbell.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Corporal Punishment

I'd like to get 2009 off to a rousing start by discussing something that everyone who has ever lived in Smock experienced at one time or another.

The device used to exact discipline was called by many names. Paddle, pit belt, korbac (from the Slovak, pronounced kor'-batch), Old Reliable, the "stick" or "lickin' stick". Sometimes the bare hand was used. Sometimes a device. But either way, this was our just reward for going against authority or breaking the rules. Or for uttering curse words in ANY language.

Yep, we were spanked. There is no delicate way to approach this, just as there was no delicate way that our parents approached this disciplinary art form. Usually, the target of opportunity was our behind. Or butt. Or dupetchka. Call it what you like. But when Mom or Dad were finished, we had learned a lesson about outcomes.

In Smock, we got away with a lot. Throwing hard husked corn on the wooden porches of the neighbors during Halloween, "washing" the face of one of the Dubos girls with snow (there were 8 Dubos girls to choose from), taking that secret sip of altar wine, or stealing perfect tomatoes from the neighbor's garden well after dark. None of these things were considered offensive unless we were caught in the act.

But it was the more serious offenses that got us into trouble. "Talking back" to our parents OR our neighbors OR the parish priest was big on the list. However talking back to people that your parents didn't like was forgivable. Stealing was always bad since it was covered under secular law and the Commandments. Getting into fights was marginally bad, depending on who won and for the reason that the fight initially broke out.

We all know the reasons why our parents would occasionally blister our behinds. Incidentally, a very good friend and songwriter wrote "blister your behind" in a song and had to literally soften this since he got so many complaints from his listeners. Were we abused as children? Did our parents raise up a bunch of kids so that we would occasionally appease their sadistic psyches by becoming objects of torture? Were we just destined to go under the lash once in a while?

Those of us who grew up in Smock were familiar with the phrase "If I hear that the teacher paddled you at school, you're going to get twice as much when you get home." Was this a bold threat by our parents? No, it was a promise. An oath.

And then there was confession since practically everyone in Smock was Roman Catholic. Most of you who read this know what confession is. This is not admitting your sins to your parents. Nor is it even admitting your sins to a priest. It was admitting your sins to GOD, while the priest was an intermediary. But in the secret room of the confessional, sometimes the sacred seal of confession was broken when we all heard the priest loudly exclaim things like "YOU DID WHAT?????" or "WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO STOP?????". There was one incident that I recall when one of the Smock Hill boys was in the confessional and the priest came out from the other side, grabbed the poor kid by the scruff of the neck, and escorted him rather roughly to the communion rail only to command him to kneel on the floor and not on the ugly red kneeling pads that were off to the side. All of us in line quietly left the church before our turn in the box thinking that this kid must have killed off a family member or stole from the poor box or something equally as heinous.

So how did we turn out from this life of threats and abuse? Pretty well, and with little or no psychological trauma. Of the kids that I grew up around, I do not recall hearing any stories of repressed rage resulting in bank robberies, murder or car theft. But, all kidding aside, I also know that many of us went on to be good husbands, wives and parents. Shoot, some of us even won national awards for things like bravery, journalism, medicine and flying into space.

I don't think we bear any physical or mental scars for that matter. And you can rest assured that if we got our backside's kicked for doing something bad, we never did it again.

Well, almost never.