Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mary Ponzurick

To many, the name Mary Ponzurick doesn't ring a bell. Even most people who still live in Smock don't remember Mary. But I do. She was my mother's mother. Grandma.

My first recollections of Mary were when I was just a skinny kid who could almost fit into a water bucket.

Mom & Dad and I lived in the same house as Fred, Mary, Fritzie, Sissy, Junie and Picky. Not to mention Susie, their orange tabby cat. We had all of the luxuries. TWO coal burning furnaces, connected by a common chimney. One was in the kitchen and one was in the living room. But our bathroom was about 40 feet down a narrow footpath behind the back of the house.

Many have used the following phrase as a joke but I actually lived it. I took a bath on Saturday night whether I needed it or not. And since we didn't have such a thing as a bathroom, we went to Grandma's house which was only two rows and two houses away from us. We used to cut through Mr. & Mrs. Olesh's yard on the way to Grandma's and it was always nice to speak to them. Mr. Olesh aways occupied a glider but Mrs. Olesh knitted in a hard backed chair. It seems like she always knitted so I thought that she was knitting a cover for a battleship. What did I know?

We'd get to Grandma's on Saturday where she was usually in the kitchen making the beginnings of Sunday's dinner while listening to "My Larry". To you and I, that was Lawrence Welk but Grandma really made him her own. Between the holoupki rolls, she'd dart out from the kitchen if she heard her Larry introduce Norma Zimmer (The Champagne Lady) or Big Tiny Little on piano (the predecessor of "Choanne" Castle).

She had a true claw foot bathtub with a rubber stopper. She also had ACTUAL hot water that didn't have to be made that way on the stove. When I sat in that thing, the water actually came up to my neck. I NEVER wanted to get out. And I was always amazed that there was this ring around the tub following my bath. I knew I didn't cause it to be there since my bath from last week was still going strong.

I was Grandma's scribe. She used to write letters to her sister, Mary Carnot, but since her hands were a bit shaky, she'd have me write the letters. They always started "Dear Sis, just a few lines to let you know that everyone here is all right". But then she'd launch into Grandpap's drinking and gossip heard in my Aunt Helen's beauty shop. There was always an edible reward for writing these letters for her.

She taught me so much by example. Go to church every day if you could, take a bath now and then, eat pork on New Year's Day, and wear good shoes or your feet will be mangled and eventually fall off.

I only took up the Irish whistles years after she had died but if I had played them in the 1950's, she would have probably willed her entire house to me and everything in it. She was one for the music.

Many people used to say "Mary, if you don't stop eating that jelly bread and butter and all of that kolatch, you're going to have a heart attack". Their warnings came to pass and she died. At an even 100 years old. I could still hear her laughing about all of those admonitions.

Mary Ponzurick was one of the sweetest women I have ever had the pleasure to know. She had these cataract glasses that made her look like an alien, honest to God blue hair, hearing aids in both ears, a wearer of "rouge" and Avon's "Here's My Heart", a polka fancier and a true lover of Larry Welk. She even tolerated her husband Andy's monthly four day binge at Bortz's tavern. (Mary knew that he earned it; he was a retired coal miner).

Today, I have this vision of Mary sitting on the front porch of a red tiled house in Heaven. Grandpap's in the living room watching the Pirates and nursing an Iron City while Bob Prince calls the plays. She's in that old green rocking chair and St. Francis is there by her side with a pen and paper.

"Dear God, just a few lines to let you know that everything here is all right."

Sunday, April 19, 2009


My earliest memories of my childhood were when I was in my crib. There were three tiny plastic figures that were on a bar which coursed through their circumference so that they could spin when they were moved. The crib had wooden slats in the bottom and I used to escape by turning up the end of the mattress and sneaking down through the slats to the floor. This confounded my mother since she could never figure out how I did this.

Once, I heard my mother talking to Helen about this. You see, Helen lived in the same house that I did. She lived on the other side of the walls that divided our house in half. She was there with her husband Ted and her two sons, Thad and Bob. The conversation that took place between Helen and my mom was on the back porch, which also had a railing about 3 feet high through the middle. Autonomy was the watchword of the “company house”. And as they talked, each sitting on their own side of the porch, they looked past the “out” buildings.

Each company house in Smock had a long out building that had four doors. The two doors on the left belonged to the left side of the house and the two doors on the right belonged to...well you know what I mean. The doors were, from left to right, coal shed, outhouse, outhouse, coal shed. They were painted the same green color as our house until it was painted brown with white trim around the windows.

Beyond the outbuildings were the “ball field” behind our big house and then woods that, as a child, I felt went straight up to heaven, but in reality, it just went to Constantine’s farm.

Helen and Margie would sit there for hours in the spring, summer and fall and talk about many things. Most of the time, they would get quiet when I showed up or the question would be raised “Where in the hell have you been?” My customary answer was “out” or "playing with Bob" who is Helen's son.

As a child, there were few things I really knew about Helen. She was a great cook, baker, housekeeper, mother and Christmas tree decorator. And she had a heart of solid gold.

I probably met Helen when I was three or four years old, but my memory is only good for the things IT wants to remember.

I could bore you with the countless Helen stories that I remember, but I am just going to say this; Helen was like a mother to me. And because of some of my life's situations, she proved it in thousands of different ways. And every time I would visit her through all of the decades, she had that smile. And that loving voice, which would become stern if she felt that I needed to be corrected on something.

Helen died early this morning. She was in her 80's. And let me assure you that when I would get in the mood to write one of these 40 something stories about my little town, one of the first faces that my mind's eye would see is Helen and that dear smile of hers.

So Ted, your wife Helen is home tonight. And I don't know what she's made for dinner but I know that it will be wonderful. And YOUR Christmas tree will shine brighter than any other this December, because Helen is home.

Oh "Neighbor", I am going to miss you so much.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Easter Snow

Dan Gallagher is the son of Mike Gallagher, a Pittsburgh Irish singer songwriter and sort of a local legend. Why do I say that? Well, it seems that not everyone KNOWS Mike but everyone's either heard him or heard of him.

Dan is in the St. Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh and is studying to become a priest, which I think is rather unique in this day and age where young men and women would rather marry their future ex-husband or wife and live perfectly dysfunctional lives.

Yesterday, Danno got the news that he is going to be continuing his priestly studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Ehhh, that's Rome, Italy. He and the Pope will be neighbors. And as I thought of Dan and his future, I looked outside and it was snowing like the blazes.

And this spilled out.

The holy men of ages
Are called toward the Light
And chants which promise Heaven
Ring out into the night

In marble churches gathered
All dressed in common thread
A prayer like incense rises
Give us our daily bread

O Mary, our dear Mother
Look down upon our land
And give us peace and gladness
For in your Son, we stand

To save the world from evil
And praise His holy name
To realize Your goodness
Is what we dare to claim

The gifts your Son has given
Adoringly we raise
And in this one communion
Your endless love we praise

Protect your holy servant
And make him Yours for life
Give him songs of blessing
And keep him free of strife

For the love of God is endless
The prophets tell us so
His words like crystal raindrops
Are pure as Easter snow

This one's for you Danno. Enjoy your time and say hello to B-XVI for me.

That HAS to be the Pope's license plate!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, April 3, 2009

It's You I Like

Not many people know this but to the left here is a picture of a friend of mine. Yep, I met him and corresponded with him right up until the time that he died.

I think that this is the first time I have ever written two entries to this blog in two days. But I wanted to say something and this way, I can say it without anyone telling me to shut up.

Yesterday, I traveled down to my home town of Smock. The women of the community bake these incredible long nut rolls (we call them kolatch or kolatchi) twice a year. At Christmas and Easter which means that right now is KOLATCH TIME. My first question is why only then and not all of the time? Labor intensive? Some secret middle-European instruction in The Bible?

Anyway, I visited some friends and made a couple of new ones. One new friend is related to Ed Sparrow, made famous in my "The Town Mechanic" blog entry. I also met the man who currently owns the beer joint where my grandfather used to get sloshed in 3-4 times a month.

But what a difference in people. One was sawing down the stump of an old tree and the other was in a wheelchair. One chain-smoked while the other had a very welcoming demeanor. But walking away from this meeting, I felt that I liked both of them for who they were and not WHAT they were.

Fred Rogers taught me that both from inside a small vacuum tube in my television set and right to my face on several one-on-one meetings I had with him. But if this "I like you just the way you are" stuff is for real, where did Fred get it? He got it from Mrs. McFeeley. Not the make-believe wife of the "Speedy Delivery" mailman. But from his mother. McFeeley was her maiden name.

I can't help but believe that our mothers taught us this when we were children. Oh, she may not have said it in those very words, but she said it. And where did Mom get it? Her Mom? Yep. And where did SHE get it? If you go back far enough, you'll find it came from The Bible.

Now if there are readers here who are atheist or otherwise, let's pretend that we got that phrase from the planet Skyron in the Andromeda galaxy. Either way, it makes sense.

During these days of economic tension and the discord that it brings, why don't we look toward God (or Skyron) or even to Fred Rogers for a little easy advice?

When I visited my friends in Smock yesterday, I found that I loved each of them for who they are. And believe me, it took most of my life to get to this point too.

But the direction that I got as a child and adult may have come from The Bible, Fred Rogers, or Skyron. The real thing here is that you GET IT. Practice a little Smock philosophy and start to like people for who they are and not who you want or expect them to be.

And perhaps while walking down that street toward St. Hedwig's or past Ed Sparrow's garage, you'll come across this guy.....

If you do, please tell him that his old friend Bob said hello.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Song For My Town

Five years ago, I was in this rather melancholy mood after listening to five songs that were submitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as "Pittsburgh songs". I hated every one of them, so with a tiny tear in my eye and some words wanting to be written down, I wrote Fire & Steel, which I feel is a true Pittsburgh song. Now, all I need is for the Pittsburgh City Council to agree with me on this and my legacy as a Western Pennsylvanian will be sealed.

Last night, I was in the same sort of mood when this just exploded on to my computer keyboard:

My Smock Pennsylvania Home

© Words by Bob Pegritz

Not long after Lincoln spoke in Gettysburg town
A young German man and his wife bought some ground
Less than two hundred acres from the Sharpless estate
Would make for a place to call home.

Young Sam sold some land to a mining concern
Then houses sprung up for the men who would earn
A poor worker’s wages way down in the mine
In a pit where the devil calls home

We sang as we shopped in the company store
On Monday the women hung clothes on the line
And waited for Andy and Teddy and Mike
To come home from working the Colonial Mine

The children had games that their grandparents played
Doors had no locks and at dinner we prayed
Thanked God at St. Hedwig for treating us right
And blessing our lives and our home

We sang as we shopped in the company store
On Monday the women hung clothes on the line
And waited for Andy and Teddy and Mike
To come home from working the Colonial Mine

Come back up the hill where Heaven is found
Relive the old glories on that holy ground
And hold on to memories close in our hearts
In Smock, Pennsylvania, our home

We sang as we shopped in the company store
On Monday the women hung clothes on the line
And waited for Andy and Teddy and Mike
To come home from working the Colonial Mine

We sang as we shopped in the company store
On Monday the women hung clothes on the line
And waited for Andy and Teddy and Mike
To come home from working the Colonial Mine

This is for Sam and Andy and Teddy and Mike.

And you.