Breakfast at the Grange

“The Grange is a fraternal organization in the United States that encourages families to band together to promote the economic and political well being of the community and agriculture”

It is amazing how a little Vermont maple syrup can make even the most stoic farmer smile. I have this habit of taking my own Vermont maple syrup with me whenever I know I am going to have pancakes for breakfast. My wife and son just shake their head but not long ago, I used to take my son to the buckwheat pancake breakfasts at the Mt. Nebo Grange and always brought my maple syrup. This time of year when the sap starts running(not me running- the sap out of the maple trees), and the northeast starts the process of manufacturing syrup, I take advantage of the buckwheat pancake breakfasts that spring up locally on my way to the ski slopes. It is a rite of passage with spring skiing and in his formative years, I would take my son Jack to the Mt. Nebo Grange before we would head to the mountains. He didn’t quite know what to make of it but when we entered the building, the elder ladies and gentlemen of the Grange would seat us and serve the most delicious buckwheat pancakes. Interesting thing about buckwheat pancakes is that there is quite a bit of preparation which includes making the batches of batter ahead of time and allowing the yeast to do its thing. When you slather butter on them and pour the maple syrup and take your first delectable bite, there is a hint of a brewed substance almost like the taste of beer. Jack was not a fan but satisfied himself with the regular pancake offerings and bacon which brought a smile to his syrup smeared face.

It is curious that when you enter a place like the Grange, all of the members seem to know each other and even though the breakfasts are open to the public, there is this sense of belonging and if you are a stranger, you are given a seat with a wary eye. That all starts to melt when they see a young guy like Jack as they try to make him feel welcome even though we are not “Grangers”. The old farmers would check us out and when I brought out the Vermont syrup, their Log Cabin generic swill started to look pretty average at best. I would see the curiosity in their faces and offer to share my treasured gold with them. They willingly took up my offer and looked over at Jack and me and a crack of a smile came to their rather serious faces. The next thing you know, the table was swarming with curiosity seekers and my syrup suddenly vanished. I learned my lesson on subsequent visits by bringing more syrup and suddenly Jack and I became known as the “syrup guys” and like “Cheers” we all were greeted with a robust “hello” when we entered the building. It was only for a couple of weekends but somehow, Jack and I felt like we fit in to this fraternal organization of farmers or would be farmers which is slowly fading with urban sprawl.

I always made it my business to expose Jack to a lot of events and experiences when he was growing up. I explained the mission of the Grange and although we were not of an agricultural bent, he understood what the organization meant and why it was slowly losing membership as the farms were being sold to developers and the membership of the Mt. Nebo Grange was aging. But to share that experience of home made food, and seeing the culture of the farm life, was a good experience for father and son.

So, if you happen to be looking for some entertainment and good food during “cabin fever” time, look for buckwheat pancake breakfasts near you. They tend to pop up at this time of the year and if you need some syrup, contact http://www.maplesyrupvermont.com and tell Pauline I sent you. We have good syrup here in Pa. but I must admit that I am partial to Vermont Grade A Golden Color with Delicate Taste. That is what you want to order. Thanks for reading.

The Arctic Plunge

The picture you see above is Gus Brickner aka the Human Polar Bear. My dad was fascinated with the exploits of this long distance swimmer who distinguished himself by his winter swims in the Monongahela River in the winters around Pittsburgh. His famous New Years Day plunge in 1962 was witnessed here by yours truly and my dad. He said,” Patrick, lets go down and see Gus Brickner jump in the Mon.” As an 8 year old kid, I was thrilled that my dad wanted to take me and off we went to see the guy who eventually logged 38,500 miles swimming, two English Channel attempts, and swimming behind the ice breaker boats in the Mon during the most brutal winters near Charleroi, Pa.

My dad was an engineer and he always wanted to show me things that meant something to him as a technical person. I remember going to Geneva on the Lake when I was a kid and my dad taking me to Sandusky, Ohio to see the big ore freighters that traveled the Great Lakes bringing iron ore to the steel mills. He would explain the process of making steel and eventually built a continuous caster scale model for me to enter into the Buhl Planetarium Science Fair. Now, I knew nothing about continuous casting in the steel industry as a young kid and when asked about the project, I fumbled my way with the nuns trying to explain what my dad had told me. To my surprise, I was not a technical person, but my explanation along with my contrite personality with the nuns, got me a good grade and also an entry into the Science Fair. I( we- my dad) eventually ended up in the finals and once again, I had beads of sweat coming out of the arm pits trying to explain the virtues of the continuous caster. My dad was so proud of his- er a – my project.

Not long after the visit to the Mon to see Gus the Polar Bear, it seemed like spring came early and off we were to the ball games at Forbes Field. My dad, being a fan of baseball, explained the technical aspects of fielding a baseball to me and under no circumstances was I ever to do a “basket catch” like my idol Roberto Clemente. My dad dissed him as a “hot dog” but I was impressed that he could throw out guys at the plate all the way from right field. To me – the “Great One” was something but to my dad, if you did not have the glove over your head and trap the ball with the other hand so as not to drop it, you were not technically a good ball player. My dad- seen here in the middle with the great Honus Wagner back in the day in Bellevue.

It really did not matter to me that we went down in the middle of winter to see a guy jump in the icy river, or make the trek to see the giant ore boats, or go to the ball park, or launch Estes rockets across the street that my dad had built for me. It was the chance to spend time with my hero, my dad. He took the time for me and showed me things as a young kid that I remember to this day- a man in my 60s. I remember the kite flying when my dad would use three balls of string and stretch the kite out into the stratosphere- or so it seemed to me. The cleaning bag flying balloons powered by a little can of sterno glued to a cross bar of balsa wood – floating away into the clear night air. So many fun projects and excursions. The first time my sister and I went skiing, we were stuck in a raging snowstorm on the Pa turnpike – on my dad’s birthday, because he wanted to get us started on what he termed the sport of a lifetime. He and my mom did not ski but they made sure we did. The father and son swim competitions where I would see that big smiling face swim to the wall watching me take off in relay fashion.

Gus Brickner, the great Roberto were all heroes to me. But the main hero was the guy who took the time to take me to see them. For you young fathers out there, take a page out of R.J McCloskey’s book. Spend time with your son and daughter. You will never get that time back and they will remember it forever. I did. I saw Gus jump in the river when it was snowing in 1962. Thanks for reading.