” And They’re Off!”

Churchill Downs Up and Running Again

I was watching the Derby this weekend and it brought me back to my youth at the track. You see, I never owned a horse, never rode a horse, and the closest I ever got to a horse was at the paddocks at Waterford Park over in West Virginia now known as Mountaineer Raceway. My grandparents were horse racing fans and every Friday night during the summers, they took me to the track. We would have a nice early dinner, drive down to Waterford, and take in a few races. My grandmother always placed ” show” bets because she always said she had a better chance at getting something than using my grandfather’s tactics of only betting on the win. She would get her money back with a third place, for instance, a “show” and laugh at my grandfather for not getting anything for his ” win ” bet. Always a competition between those two. I learned to read a handicap sheet and when I took them both in later years to a horserace handicap class at the University of Pittsburgh, my grandmother would tell me at the end of every outing that she could teach that class. The professor didn’t know anything in her book. But she enjoyed the night out.

My grandparents took me to all the good tracks as a kid. All over Florida and the south, and also we went to see the Preakness one year in Baltimore. But there is nothing like the Derby at Churchill Downs and in later years, I had the opportunity to see it from two vantage points- the infield- and the more genteel grandstands at the Kentucky Oaks and the Derby the following day.

The Infield at the Derby

My first experience was watching the races from the infield. A pretty crazy scene which was, shall we say, a little less “refined ” than watching in the grandstands with all the suits and beautiful hats. The infield was a conglomeration of big time party people who rarely took time to watch the races. The general admission crowd. I was along the rail with some veterans who had a mild interest in what was happening on the track. But for the most part, the Derby from the vantage point of the infield was pretty nuts. I was amazed at the guys who walked around with bushel baskets full of donated cash. They had a sign imploring any female to disrobe for cash and when they did( basically from the waist up) the guys dumped the money on their heads and started the process all over again. People are amazing when you infuse a huge crowd, heat, booze, all together in one place. You see some things you never see and you are happy that you made it out of the joint in one piece and with your wallet and watch in tact.

Pretty crazy scene – cheap mint juleps abounding.

Fast forward, I had the opportunity to see the Kentucky Oaks and the Derby from the grandstands. Wearing a sport coat and tie with my wife Janet in tow – wearing a beautiful dress and hat, we enjoyed the races from another point of view. Janet wondered where I got my acumen for placing bets and I explained my youth and what my grandparents taught me about para mutual betting. I explained the trifecta and when we placed a bet for Jan, it turned out that she won $350.00 on the Derby and was thrilled. She thought I was a genius when only dumb luck prevailed and the knowledge of getting to the window right before the closing bell. Sure I looked at the odds but really it was more luck than anything. But the smile on my bride’s face when she won was – priceless.

I remember asking Janet if she wanted to take a walk down to see the crazies in the infield. She reluctantly said yes and we took a stroll all dressed in our finest. When we got close the infield, all we heard was a chorus of ” DWEEBS”. I laughed because it was true. In the world of the infield, we were dweebs in spite of the fact that we had a really nice time in the more genteel atmosphere of the grandstands. I was happy my wife did not see the usual suspects with their bushel baskets.

It has been years since I have been to the track but I keep threatening to go. Maybe this summer Janet and I will venture over to Mountaineer Raceway? In the meantime, we will wait for the Preakness and the Belmont and see if the elusive triple crown winner will emerge in 2021? Thanks for reading and go to the track. You will enjoy your outing. Think of Mary Reynolds- place a show bet.

The Soul of Soles

“Pat- listen to this.” Gretl Dupre said to me as we walked into the kitchen of Camp Soles in Rockwood, Pa. It was the screen door slamming behind us. She said” isn’t that cool? Isn’t that just the sound of summer?” I thought about that and agreed that slamming screen doors reminded me of a time which was long ago in my life. I remember hearing that all the time in my kitchen at home on my way into and out of the house. It was like the sound of entry into the great outdoors of my neighborhood and at Camp Soles- it was the sound of kids heading out to play on the 263 acre facility which includes the beautiful Lake Triss.

Lake Triss

Camp Soles has been a mainstay of the Western Pa community since 1957 and traditionally run by the YMCA. This season it was supposed to close but at the 11th hour, Gretl Dupre came to the rescue and bought the facility. She had skin in the game. She and her 8 sisters had been campers there when they were young girls and there was no way Gretl was going to let the facility sink into oblivion. Gretl is a ” go getter” and even though she now lives in Seattle, she felt an attachment to the place and will make every effort to revive the spirit of summer camp in Western Pennsylvania. She intends to spend more time here and is on the path to revitalizing not only the facilities but revitalizing the spirit of the camp. She is literally the ” soul of Soles.”

The ever energetic Gretl Dupre.

Gretl and I are old friends as her family were the original owners of Seven Springs Mountain Resort where I spent a lot of time as a kid. As we walked the grounds, Gretl explained her reasons for investing and also her vision for the place. As she first showed me the kitchen which she is refurbishing to meet all the CDC Guidelines for the pandemic, she pointed out the speaker system where she says she will make announcements and raise and lower the flag each day. Traditional camp things but she has so much more planned. She will have campfires and roasted marshmallows and all the fun things that a summer camp will have, but she is more about teaching the kids responsibility with work around the camp which will teach them valuable lessons going forward. Things like sustainability – recycling, planting your own garden and growing your own food. Gretl has a vision of more than “kumbaya” around the campfire. She wants to make leaders of the kids and teach them valuable skills and responsibility that they can use for the rest of their lives. She wants them to have an understanding of the importance of the great outdoors and to respect the environment. In this age of entitlement, it is a noble task to which she is fully committed.

The Camp Motto

We walked around the lake and saw the kayaks and SUP equipment being readied for the season. She showed me the ” ski lodge” and a small hill facing the spacious windows and remarked that she ultimately wants to make Camp Soles a year round facility for families as well as kids. Downhill skiing and cross country skiing with plenty of snowmaking capacity is on the docket. The dormitory lodges which will house the campers are being refurbished and there are many of them around the perimeter of the lake and nestled in the wooded areas around the camp. There is lots of work to be one but the employees of the camp are as committed as Gretl and they all have a ” can do” attitude with their daily chores to get the place up and running for the summer camping season.

Lots of people my age have great memories of spending a week or weeks at summer camp. Those days of hiking, fishing, wearing headbands and beaded bracelets which were made at camp, all are fond images in the minds of a lot of parents today who may wish to rekindle those memories in the lives of their kids. Fresh air and activities outdoors instead of days in the basement playing video games. You can learn so much as a kid when you spend time working and playing in the great outdoors and no place is better than summer camp.

Camp Soles is currently a beehive of activity with planting gardens, refurbishing facilities, upgrading equipment, and a general positive buzzing vibe to the place. It seemed to me that the spirit of anticipation was all around with the ” angel investor” Gretl at the helm. I was totally impressed with what has been done so far to resurrect a beautiful facility that was on the brink of extinction.

As I closed my time with Gretl at Camp Soles I couldn’t help to think how proud her father Herman would have been of her. I am sure he is smiling down on her activities and is somehow prodding her to make things at Camp Soles bigger and better with a new mission.

Old Pals.

There are opportunities to sponsor a camper at Camp Soles this summer. Perhaps your own or maybe a camper who would not have the financial means or the immediate opportunity to partake in this fabulous experience. You can visit http://www.CampSoles.com or go to Friends of Camp Soles a non-profit entity EIN# 85-3514602 to donate or sign up. The address for donation or sign up is 1009 Tall Trees Drive Pittsburgh, Pa. 15241. The phone number for further information is 412-213-5321. The anticipated cost for a week camping is $520.00. Gretl anticipates that there will be a lot of ” heads in beds” up there this summer so don’t hesitate if you want to sponsor a child or get your own child or grandchild involved. Lots to do, lots to learn in the wonderful world of Camp Soles in the Laurel Highlands of Pa. Thanks for reading and thanks to Gretl for making it happen.

The Brendan Boat

From the Best of http://www.chroniclesofmccloskey.com

Just trying to take a break from all the Covid-19 stuff and give you all a little enjoyment for St. Patrick’s Day. Back a number of years when I was in Ireland riding my bike, I peddled my arse to the west coast and ended up on the Dingle Peninsula. That is where I purchased the item above that depicts St. Brendan and his monks rowing their dory boat. You see St. Brendan and the monks were from a place very close to Dingle and they are famous for their explorations of the Aran Islands and westward spreading the gospel. Read Tim Severin’s book ” The Brendan Voyage” for a fascinating account of their voyages. It is said that they made it all the way to Newfoundland 500 years before Leif Erikson and close to 1000 years before Columbus made his way to the Caribbean. National Geographic also did a piece in August of 1977 reporting on Severin’s re-creation of the voyage outlined in the book. My point today is that St. Brendan and the boys were not much into social distancing. In fact they went way out of their way to spread the gospel and also meet new people and visit new lands on the way. The Irish are like that.

St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of what the saint did in Ireland as a Christian missionary and bishop. It also celebrates Irish culture with parades, Guiness, Irish Car Bombs, and similar merriment but also recognizes the social character of the Irish and their descendants like me. My mother was a huge fan of the day and also a huge fan of all things Irish. Her humor was represented in sayings like the above and also in her love for things like Belleek china, Waterford crystal and making Irish soda bread. But again- it involved people, and our house growing up had that classic Irish tradition of gathering friends and family and enjoying the humor and the company. I spent many times on the piano in my folk’s house playing Irish songs and to this day do the same at home. My mom’s favorite saying was that “happiness is like a perfume, you can’t spread it on others without getting a little on yourself.” And she did in many ways- cooking, singing, entertaining her friends and relatives, and well…….being Irish. I believe I received her sense of humor as a gift because I always try to look at life from the bright side. If I can offer some humor to my friends and family along the way, I feel good and I hope they do as well. I tell my inane stories of my experiences on the chairlift and on mountain bike rides, much to the amusement of my friends who have graciously heard the stories over and over again. But I believe that a little self deprecation, which is the root of many of my stories, leads to belly laughs and people shaking their heads and saying………..McCloskey???????”

 

So this Tuesday is St. Patrick’s Day. Yes- we are in the middle of a national crisis. The parades have all been cancelled, restaurants are closing, bars are closing, we are encouraged to be diligent and wash our hands and keep our distance. Not in the Irish tradition at all. But we need to do it. But when the day comes, and you have “The Quiet Man” on television or maybe “Waking Ned Devine” , think of the folks that you would like to be with and give them a call or a text. Have a laugh and try to keep some humor during some trying times. I will probably do that and bore people with more stories and corny Irish jokes, but they will laugh and say- ” thanks for the call man”.        Slainte’ .

Respect

Good kids doing good work

Things are changing rapidly in this world. Some for the good and some no so good. One of them is respect. Respect for people, respect for property and respect for the environment in which we live and play. Take our local ski area for instance. Most of us love to be in the mountains and love it when the slopes are blanketed in snow and the sun is shining brightly. We understand what it takes to maintain that opportunity both with the management of the ski area and what they do for us, and also with all of us who ski there. We all have a responsibility to respect the area and keep it clean so that we all can enjoy the pristine, cold crisp winter days of skiing.

That is why when I boarded the chair lift this weekend, I was disheartened and downright infuriated to see beer cans and beverage cans carelessly strewn below the lift and lying on the ground. I thought to myself, ” What kind of person drinks a beer in the chair lift and then just carelessly, and with no respect, tosses it to the ground?” People with no respect who are ignorant of all that we love about the outdoors. Enter Rocco Lorence, Ali Bruno, Elise Wadas, Juliana and Mariella Contini to the rescue- pictured in the photo above. These kids were raised right and appreciate the opportunities given to them every weekend at Seven Springs Mountain Resort.

It touched a nerve with Juliana, Mariella and Ali when they saw the garbage lying under the North Face lift and they decided to do something about it. Along with the other kids in their WPRC posse, they got garbage bags from the Contini household and began to ski down under the lift and pick up all the eyesore beer cans and eventually place them in the resort garbage collection bins. Not only were they an example to all the other kids in the local ski programs, but people in the lifts saw them and marveled at the consideration of these young kids who no doubt were taught to respect all that has been given to them. The conversation spurred comments on social media and also started a movement among the ski school. Lou Marshall and Eric Tolbert and their ski instructor groups picked other lifts and began the same process of cleanup. The kids started a movement and the resort also noticed with a nice reward for the kids and the ski school members who participated.

I don’t know about you, but I thought it was pretty cool that these good kids started to make people think about litter. About how it scars the places that we love. Sure, the area will no doubt put up receptacles and maybe signs to try to encourage people to discard their garbage in the proper container. But the tougher job is to change the mindset of people who just don’t give a damn. Maybe if we see that behavior taking place, we all can join together to make a comment to that person or persons and ask why they don’t use the proper disposal containers? Trying to change behavior doesn’t need to be confrontational but maybe positioned as a question to make the person think about what they are doing. It might change the behavior- one person at a time. There will be some people who just don’t care, but like the movement that we saw this weekend, maybe some kids and their respect for the mountain will change behavior- one violator at a time.

If nothing else, I tip my helmet to Lou and Eric and their teams. And I also tip my helmet to Rocco, Ali, Elise, Juliana and Mariella and their parents who raised them right and gave us all something to think about. Thanks for reading and thank the kids if you see them.

Scenic photos courtesy of Rhonda West.

” Oh Thanksgiving- Oh!”

” Oh Thanksgiving , Oh Thanksgiving. How we greet you as in days of yore. Coming as you do in autumn when the summer ain’t no more. Oh Thanksgiving, Oh Thanksgiving, Oh!”

At the beginning of most Thanksgiving dinners in my house growing up, my Grandmother Reynolds would always recite this crazy little poem. We all would laugh and any new people or strays as they were called, would look at each other in bewilderment and wonder – ” what was that?” But Thanksgiving in our house was always a big deal. My mom was a heck of a good cook and she would make several turkeys, mounds of stuffing and potatoes, gravy and all the fixings for all of the relatives and those friends whom she felt needed a helping hand or lift at the holidays. She and my dad always worked so hard to make it nice and the meal was off the charts delicious. My favorite meal of the year. Plus, with my mom being the consummate entertainer, the house always looked festive and the fireplace was roaring because my mom thought of it all as entertainment and our house as a stage.

Fast forward and my dad bought a green Buick station wagon to pick up all the relatives. At 16, that was my job, and we laughingly called the station wagon the “ambulance” with the advancing age of my relatives. In fact, when they had too many Manhattans at my house, which I always made to help my dad, the term ambulance took on a serious meaning because I literally had to pour them into the station wagon in various stages of inebriation- they were Irish you know. My mother’s Aunt Lee would always be looking for her glasses after too many highballs which were invariably perched on the top of her head. My mother’s cousin would be putting the ignition key into his side window of his car. I told him to sit tight and I would take him back home later. The Manhattans were lethal and my dad’s eggnog was even more so. Octogenarians tended to be fragile anyhow and after several bombs served at my folks house, they only had one recourse- home in the ambulance.

It got to the point eventually when the ” ambulance” became only the delivery vehicle as we got older and my sister and I were in charge of delivering the Thanksgiving meal to all the elderly relatives who really could not make the trek to my folks house any more. I can remember many a Thanksgiving spending the whole afternoon delivering 5 complete turkeys and the accompanying dinner to each of the relatives, helping them get it ready, saying grace with them, and then headed on to the next stop. My mom and dad were amazing in their zeal for Thanksgiving and to make sure that all of our family in some way was together with at least a good homecooked Thanksgiving dinner.

Oftentimes I was beat up before I started the deliveries with the neighborhood Turkey Bowls. The Slippery Rock kids and the Clarion kids who played football, took great delight knocking all of us younger neighborhood kids into the middle of next week at the annual football fest. I was careful not to get hurt before ski season, but can remember catching many passes and then getting absolutely creamed by a kid who played college football. My dad would come over to the field and tell me to start getting ready for the deliveries in the green station wagon and believe me, I was happy to leave.

When I think back on those days, I marvel at my folks who made entertaining an art form. They were very generous to my relatives and also our neighbors and the time spent on making 5 turkey dinners amazed me. They did it as a team and even to a young kid, it was impressive. Even more so as I look back today. I am grateful for my parents and the generous spirit in which we were raised.

I remember asking them why they went through all the effort and my mom’s famous line was always” Patrick- happiness is like a perfume that you can’t sprinkle on others without getting a little on yourself.” I really think that they got more happiness out of doing those nice things than the people that they served.

I think there is a lesson to be learned here in that in this day and age of isolation due to Covid, a polarized political climate, and general uncertainty. The need for reaching out is even more paramount than in my parent’s day. There will be a lot of people this year spending Thanksgiving without their family. It will be a strange year and yet, if we all pitch in and sprinkle a little bit of that perfume, we all will be better off until things return to normal someday. Even in these hard times, we all have a lot to be grateful for. I am thankful every day for many things and even though this year will not be shared with relatives and friends, I will be happy to look at my wife and say , ” things will get better real soon.” Thanks for reading and reach out to someone who might want to hear from you. Sprinkle some of that perfume.

Another Lap Around the Sun

I always liked that expression, ” just another lap around the sun.” A funny way to describe birthdays of which I had one this weekend. Everybody has birthdays. No big deal except as I get older, they take on a little more significance to me because I am starting to see them as time slipping away. I have a friend who thinks of it as quality days left and to make the most of them. Now I am not ready for the glue factory by any stretch of the imagination, but you do start to think of these things as yet another year or lap around the sun goes by.

Mom and me at Lake Erie

Thinking about laps, I think about all the time I spent running laps around North Park Lake , or lapping my favorite mountain bike loops, or lapping my favorite ski runs. Up the chair and back down again trying to make the best turns I could. Running around the lake to see how fast I could go and to get in shape for something. Riding the bike and only seeing the guy’s rear end in front of me struggling to keep up or going fast enough to keep from getting run over.

These days, the laps are more about taking in the scenery and enjoying the ride more than anything. Looking at the changing leaves in the fall, or taking in the mountains from the seat of the chairlift or at the beginning of a run. Sure I try to make good turns but it is not about the most vertical feet attained anymore. Trying to enjoy the laps and make them count a little more from the experience side of things. Slowing down to take in the peaks and valleys below on a mountain bike ride. Enjoying the laps instead of always killing myself to attain some goal.

Sitting on a rock in Bend, Oregon – taking it in.
Enjoying some laps with my wife.

As I thought back this weekend on laps around the sun, I thought about what the next laps should include. I think we all have to think about that as we work through the Covid situation and the state of the country. There are people out there who are struggling and part of our mission on this next lap should be to help them . We all should focus on being kind and considerate in this age of social media nastiness. The political stress is waning now and I think we all could make great use of our lap around the sun helping people in need and being kind to others including those who don’t necessarily agree with us. These quality days left can include just being aware of your family, friends and neighbors and going the extra mile for them. An old pastor friend of mine once said that you don’t need to go out of the country on a mission trip if you don’t want to go. There are plenty of opportunities to help people right in your own hometown or neighborhood. All you need to do is look, listen and be aware. Just a little daily consideration for your friends and family is great too. We all need to look for those chances each day. Not preaching here, just sayin. We all are in the same boat together. Maybe opening a door for an elderly person with a smile could make their day? A kind word of encouragement for a friend. Helping someone out whose vehicle is stuck in the snow. Letting someone with a handful of groceries go in front of you. (People do that for me because I am too lazy to get a cart and end up with too much. LOL) Little things sometimes go a long way to helping someone just make it through the day. A phone call?

Time flies folks and as I look at the difference between these two guys, I realize that the laps around the sun are going faster and faster. I feel sometimes like I am driving a Ferrari, way too fast, standing on the brakes and not slowing down at all. Lets all slow down and enjoy the laps. Lets all make good use of them. We need to look for opportunities to be kind. Thanks for reading.

The Beer in the Parking Lot

Mihalsky- Our favorite splitboarder and his Belgium White

The snap of the pop top, the removal of the bottle cap with the Dirt Rag 25th Anniversary bottle opener. ( My job) That familiar fizz of released Co2 and beer foam opens smiles just like the bottles or cans in the parking lot after a great day. One of the wonderful traditions of a day on the trails on a mountain bike or a day on the slopes, is that end of the day beer in the parking lot. Kind of a thing we look forward to as a tribe with almost ritualistic fervor. The clinking of bottles or cans is an unspoken toast between friends knowing that what is shared with that beer celebrates a great day.

The Notorious MTB Group

When you sit down in your camp chair after a great ride, not only is that first sip refreshing, but it is the celebratory gateway to some great conversations among friends about how the day went. Tough climbs, rough trails, scenic beauty from the seat of a bike, are all topics of conversation in the parking lot with a cold one in hand.

Hutch and the late, great , Proctor Reid

After a great day on the slopes, there is nothing like that beer that is waiting for you from the cooler. Cold, refreshing, and we are not even out of the ski boots yet. ” What a day!” ” That snow was superb!” ” How about that last run?” ” We will remember that one forever.” And on and on with the one-upsmanship continuing in the parking lot over who brought the most tasty IPA. ” Oh wait to you taste this one!”

Apres’ in the back of the Jeep.

It is hard to accurately describe these moments in time when a great day is celebrated with beers in the lot. We all need those moments to celebrate what we love and do best in our recreational lives. And we need each other more than we know. All the angst, issues, worries and concerns of everyday life seem to be put on hold in the parking lot. These days we really can’t go to the apres’ ski spots but really, who cares? I would much rather have that cold one in the lot with my buddies than drinking an overpriced draft in some watering hole where people have no idea what we all just did. Cleaning that trail section, dropping that cornice, and celebrating those efforts of the day, seem all too important to release them to the general public in a bar.

Things are a little different now anyways. There are more of us celebrating in parking lots and tailgates, socially distanced of course, and most likely, it will continue like that this coming ski season. And that’s ok with me. I can eat a sandwich on an outside bench, stay outside to ski or ride, and look forward to that ritual of friendship in the parking lot. Remember, it is not about getting blasted, or pounding beers, but rather about a gathering of friends with a toast outside. Enjoy a cold one with your friends. Thanks for reading.

” We had ’em allllllllll the way”

You know – there is a joke about Pittsburgh, my home town, that goes like this – ” How many Pittsburghers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? ” ” Three- one to screw in the bulb and two to remember how great the old bulb was.” Kind of funny but if you know Pittsburghers, you know it is true. Especially in sports. We love our teams and can remember the good old days of the Steelers( the Immaculate Reception by Franco) and the glory days of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

My pal J.B. Loughney posted a video the other day on the 60th anniversary of the 1960 World Championship Pittsburgh Pirate’s victory over the New York Yankees. The famous home run by Bill Mazeroski is still revered around here to this day. When I saw that video, it brought tears to my eyes seeing all those great players who I so admired in my younger years attending the games with my dad at Forbes Field. And to hear that voice again of Bob Prince, pictured above, the voice of the Pirates on KDKA Radio, really choked me up.. Bob’s famous line after we won a game was……” and we had am allllllllllllthe way”. I can still hear that in my mind and to hear it on this video was so gratifying. I remember how great the old bulb was. J.B remembers too. His grandfather was Joe Barr- the Mayor of Pittsburgh back in the heyday of the Pirates.

From the University Club News

I can remember seeing all those players in the video many times during my youth and marveling at the talent of a guy like Dick Groat, who played basketball for Duke and then spent his career with the Pirates playing professional baseball. I was a catcher in minor league, little league, and pony league. The only position I ever played and Smokey Burgess, the catcher for the Bucs, was a hero to me.

One of the cool things that my dad did for me was to take me to the University Club for the Father and Son Baseball Nights. We would meet many of the Pirates and listen to Bob Prince, who usually was the speaker. Then eat dinner and go to the game. The Pirates like Bill Virdon, Donn Clendenon, Dick Groat, Harvey Haddix, Vernon Law, and many others would take the time to come to the event before the game to meet all the fathers and sons and sign autographs. For free!! No paying a fee for an autograph in those days and the players were happy to do it. We were all enthralled at the stories that Bob ” the Gunner” Prince would tell us about the ins and outs of Pirate baseball.

Following dinner, we all would line up in the driveway of the U Club and begin a march to Forbes Field behind one of the great jazz trumpeters of our time- Benny Benack. He would play with his quartet and we would march in a row behind him singing songs like ” Oh the Bucs are going all the way, all the way, all the way this year” Kind of cornball but whatever. I can still see it in my mind 50 some years later. Time flies but boy do I remember that old bulb.

Yes- those were the good old days of my youth and those players were true heroes to me. In those days, they played for the love of the game. There was no greed, holdouts for better contracts, or any of the other issues that plague professional sports today. Those guys loved baseball and were honored to play for the Pirates and sign autographs for a fat little catcher like me from the North Hills of Pittsburgh. That video really got to me folks and I watched it over and over as those days with my dad came alive for me again. So yes, I am the typical Pittsburgher remembering, and once again- thinking how great the old bulb was. Thanks for reading.

Change

So my wife and I were hiking the other day up in the Laurel Highlands and she said to me,” It took 32 years ,but I finally am hiking with you up in the mountains in the woods.” We both chuckled as I recounted all the times I told her how peaceful hiking is and how beautiful it is especially at this time of the year. The colors are vibrant as the changing of the leaves ushers in the fall season here in Western Pa. As empty nesters now, we are taking advantage of a lot of opportunities even in this restricted time.

As a byline, she also told me not to take her to any trails that might have rattlesnakes and I agreed seeing that I know ground zero up there for those sightings. But we did see bear scat and she was amazingly calm when we discussed black bear in the area. All in all, Janet is becoming an avid day hiker and when I approached the subject of possibly camping out and sleeping under the stars, she was not ready for that………..yet. But day hiking is relaxing and in this day of rapid fire change, it is nice to see a calm, peaceful changing of the leaves with a relaxing activity like hiking.

Interestingly, the outdoors has become a refuge for a lot of people in this Covid age. Many of my friends across the country are also making use of the time hiking, camping, and enjoying their native surroundings near their homes. From camping near the coastal mountains in California, to camping and riding mountain bikes up in the Bend, Oregon area, to hiking the Green Mountains of Vermont, my friends for the most part are staying close to home and enjoying nature at its finest. Recreation is becoming regional until things become a little more certain.

No matter where you live, there are opportunities to get outside and enjoy the change of seasons right in your own backyard. The fall is one of my favorite seasons and as I think about what has happened to all of us over the last several months, it is encouraging for me to see that active people are out and about. Even a lot of people who were not necessarily outdoors people, have taken the opportunity to buy a bike, a kayak, hiking boots, camping gear if they can get it. It’s nice to be in a remote place without a mask, right?

With change comes the knowledge that the winter season is approaching and people like me are looking forward to that change as well. Not sure exactly how the ski season will be in 2020-2021, but we are prepared with ski passes, trips planned, and a general positive feeling that being outdoors in the winter will be good for all of us. Keeping positive and hoping for the best. But at the very least, there are outdoor activities that can make winter fun and a lot of people might be trying snowshoeing, winter hiking and camping, and cross country skiing for the first time. We can all encourage them and join them to get through all of this together.

In this changing world, we have to stay positive and know that the only thing that is constant these days is change. When we see the colors fade and the leaves falling from the trees, we know that soon enough they will be green again and another season will be upon us. But in the meantime, enjoy each season near to your home and take advantage of spending time with friends and family in the outdoors. It does wonders for your physical and mental health. Thanks for reading.

” To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven”

– Ecclesiastes 3

How would you like to be buried with my people?

I came across an old deed to our family burial plots the other day. I have not seen this document since my folks passed away back in the early 2000s. The deed is for Calvary Cemetery in Hazelwood and it says things like, ” no carriages allowed in the cemetery after dark.” Seeing that Calvary was founded in 1886, and my maternal great grandfather bought the original plots, it is a historic document that is still legal today. Turns out we have several plots still available in this historic cemetery . Reminds me of the old joke that says ” How does an Irishman propose marriage?” ” He says, How would you like to be buried with my people?” LOL!!

Famous individuals are buried in Calvary. People like former mayors of Pittsburgh, Dick Caligiuri, Bob O’Connor, and David L Lawrence. Billy Conn, the former light heavyweight champion of the world, is interred here. Harry Stuhldreher, one of the famous Four Horsemen of Notre Dame football, and Frank Gorshin- the Riddler from the Batman TV show, are buried in Calvary as well.

Apparently my grandfather and grandmother went on dates to Calvary to decorate the graves and it turned out that their respective families were buried right across the street from each other. What a romantic guy my grandfather was. ” Hey Mary- would you like to go to the cemetery?” They took picnic lunches and continued that tradition with me as a young lad. Ham sandwiches sitting on some guy’s headstone. My grandparents, between bites, explained who all was buried there. We planted geraniums on both sides of the street and made it equal. Couldn’t have the Carroll’s have more flowers than the Reynolds. The flats of flowers were provided by my dad seeing that my grandpap was a little tight. No bee like a freebie.

Fast forward and I was driving. My first destination was to O’Brien’s Funeral Home on the Northside of Pittsburgh. All of “my people” had their arrangements with O’Brien’s and if you went anywhere else, you were thought to be “high hat” and were scorned by the relatives and friends. I was so proud of myself for making it to O’Brien’s and not wrecking the car. Turns out that I made many trips there over the years because of the eventual passing of my elderly relatives. I was so happy to be able to drive to O’Brien’s and so was my mother who was usually my passenger. Ever since she rear ended a garbage truck, she was happy when I got my license.

My most recent memories of Calvary were when my folks died and I took their cremated remains to be buried in the Reynold’s plot. I can remember how strange it was to have my mother and father sitting beside me with a seat belt on the urn. I remarked that I thought that they have looked better and had a laugh to myself in a very odd trip to Hazelwood. Sometimes humor can make the solemn palatable.

Oftentimes today, I look at gravestones in cemeteries like the ones shown here in a local Lutheran Church. As a history buff, it is intriguing to me to see stones with born and died dates in the 1800’s and in some, as old as the 1700’s. I ride my mountain bike by a site in the mountains that memorializes a lightning strike that took the life of a young person. National Cemeteries like Arlington and Gettysburg memorialize great struggle and the lives that were lost in those wars

So, looking at that deed this week brought back many memories of my folks, my long gone relatives, and a final resting place for our family out in Hazelwood, Pa. I am not sure I want to be put to rest there because I have these grandiose ideas of being blown to the wind in the mountains. But my wife, who is 8 years younger, says, ” You will probably go before me and if so, you won’t have much say in the matter.” We both have a good chuckle about that one. When I remember my last time out in Calvary and observing all of my relative’s memorials, I know one thing. I won’t be having any picnics out there any time soon. Thanks for reading.