Friday, December 25, 2009

New Year's Revelations

A few stories ago, I said to myself, "that's it... I'm done with this thing. Little did I realize that IT wasn't done with me. And just like the varieties of Heinz pickles, I have written 57 little stories. On occasion, I have used this medium to spew out my feelings on certain things while taking leave of my memories of that dear old coal town just off of Route 51. But for the most part, those of you who still read this blog have learned that the fictitious Lake Wobegon of Garrison Keillor is not the only place that makes memories.

On my last visit home, I noted that there are very few people who still inhabit "the Hill" that were around when I was a kid. Other than my relatives who don't even know if I exist, there are only a couple of people left who I wish were related to me in some way. They taught me a lot, mostly by example.

This year, I gave up both of the digits in my age and our year is giving up the last two digits as well. So what have I taken away from my upbringing to use as reference for this new decade?

People are intrinsically nice. And those who aren't can go jump in Spillway Lake. I'd like to spend more time with the good people I know and less time trying to talk myself into liking the jerks of the world. I have learned that smart pills are actually rabbit "pellets" and just because someone says that I'll like something may not be telling the truth. I can list the people that I really like on one page of stationery (if I write small) and I don't really care whether they tell me that they like me too. I learned that swimming in Redstone Creek will turn your skin orange. It's not the clothes that make the man. Never go shopping hungry and never eat anything bigger than your head. Open doors for people even if they don't acknowledge what you just did. Be kind to strangers. Listen when someone talks to you and don't interrupt them; they probably have something important to say. Music should be felt while playing and not played with feeling. Degrees are for thermometers. Drop to your knees and thank God that your grandparents may still be alive. Take the "suckers" off the tomato plants daily. And don't hang out the wash on any day but Monday.

To all of those from Smock past or present, I can only say thanks for all of the memories and we'll see you at this coming year's reunion.

I'll bring the kolatch.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Another year blown to hell.

OK, I just said that to get your attention. And I got too, didn't I?

Actually, the year was well worth living. Most of my friends still have jobs and are surviving this huge economic recession. Some have jobs that may call them back in the future. Others have no prospects of work in the foreseeable future. I can tell you personally about that one.

I remember talking about the "end times" as a kid and it quite frankly used to scare the crap out of me. I pictured big fireballs being hurled by avenging angels who wore white robes but wore no smile. I figured that this is the just punishment from dancing too close to those girls from Royal at the Smock Recreation Center. Maybe I'll take a fireball to the head for all of those tomatoes that I stole?

What I dreamed of doing on my last day on Earth is running up to St. Hedwig's Cemetery and saying hello to all of those people that I knew when they pop out of their graves. It's funny but that thought didn't scare me at all. I wondered if Eddie Myers, our whistling bread man would still be whistling or if Frankie Blanda would show up wearing that really bad leisure suit that he's wearing in that picture that's plastered on his tombstone? And what about all of those cats that Mr. Spiskey drowned in the Redstone Creek? There should be tens of thousands of those. And what about old Bill Flanagan, a man that I first met while he was laid out stiffer than a board in his casket?

Sir Isaac Newton said that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Well, we do. My giants happen to be coal miners and steel workers and the occasional man who delivered either bread or beer. And the only place you can see their names today is in a little patch of land on the outskirts of Smock where they're carved in granite.

We owe a lot to these people. Our way of life, the way we view others, and how to treat relatives and friends. And the truth is that Lindsey Lohan or P. Diddy or or Shakira (is that her first name or her last?) haven't really taught me anything useful. Yet for some reason, people line up in front of the box offices to see them. Some camp out overnight just to get a ticket to see them. But how many people do you know have camped out overnight in front of John Hovanic's house or waited to hear a polka band play a wedding in the old St. Hedwig church hall? It would be worth the wait indeed.

Oral Roberts just hit the "general cancel" last week as we say in organist speak. We were told not to watch him on TV when we were kids or we'd surely go straight to hell. And so I watched him, rolling his eyes and speaking in languages that sounded like blabber commanding diseases and afflictions to "come out" of people. I figured that Oral had his own language, just like the priest had Latin. But I so wished that old Oral Roberts lived in Smock. Oh, he'd be different, just like the openly Presbyterian Hart family who must have surely done human sacrifices in their basement. The Catholic church would have been no match for him but oh, he was such a good man. Like Eddie and Frankie and Mike, he was a good man.

And last week, Oral Roberts, just like all of those who are now under that small patch of sod on the outskirts of my town, breathed their last breath on Earth and took their next breath in Heaven. I really do believe that. Mike Senker and Oral Roberts must be talking about their great kids. And Frankie Blanda's beer truck never needs an oil change. Not any more.

Hey, Happy New Year out there. Let's hope that 2010 doesn't get blown to hell, OK?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


No, it's not Holiday Time or the Season or Yuletide. It's Christmas. And I'm trying really hard not to curse, but I am sick of these people who deny what is so very obvious. And so, this Christmas, I am going to give you a gift in the form of a suggestion.

In 1996, Cori Connors who is originally from Penn Hills and spent time working the coke batteries in Clairton (now THERE'S a tough woman) has the most incredibly gentle side you have ever heard. In her CD, Sleepy Little Town, she describes all of the wonderful things that she experienced as a child growing up in Western Pennsylvania a few decades ago. You know, the many things that YOU remember as a kid.

You will positively LOVE this CD and you should go to and get it today, right in time for Christmas. But wait. There's more news. Cori has done the musical unthinkable and just released One Small Boy. This is not meant to be a sequel to Sleepy Little Town, but more of a continuation, sharing personal thoughts and inspiration prompted by Christmas. This CD is, well, incredible. Cori's gentle and assuring voice will take you back to Smock, Penn Hills, or wherever you remember Christmas (and not the "Holiday Season").

Smock went through the changes. First there were beautiful smelling pine trees that were cut usually at night on some person's farm. The trip involved snow and/or ice, or at least rain. Then came the aluminum trees that changed colors thanks to this slowly rotating color wheel that was situated near the "tree". Then followed the green artificial tree that even came with an aerosol "real pine scent" which smelled more like new shoes. And justifying the old song "Everything Old is New Again", we have come full circle to getting a real pine tree, except the cost now is about ten times as much.

Do you remember those beautiful trees that were always put in the living room and always near a window? The ones with those special ornaments that were so personal to the family that lived in the home? And the smells of Christmas. Not just pine, but the baking that started weeks before Christmas. I used to think that Advent was marked by the number of nut rolls my grandmother made. The more she made, the closer it was to Christmas.

And the craziest of all traditions is that we actually went to church. That's right. Most of us went to Midnight Mass or or some late night service.

It was all great. Every bit of it. And it was Christmas. Like what is coming again soon. Like it has for over 2,000 years.

And nobody conjures up those great memories like my good friend Cori Connors. Take a trip to her website, and listen to her music.

I'll show you Christmas, buddy. A Christmas like we had in our sleepy little town of Smock.