Mt. Pleasant Public Library showcases Christmas tales, poems
It was the last lucid thing the late Sybil Beck ever said.
With her mind irreparably ravaged by Alzheimer's disease, Beck uttered one final statement of love about her husband, the late Carl Beck, before her death in 2005, according to the couple's son, Saltlick's Tom Beck:
“She said ‘Where's Carl? I love him so,'” Beck said. “We had her in a nursing home ... and she really truly did say that.”
The poignant family moment served as the inspiration for a story titled “The Voice of an Angel,” one of eight, Christmas-themed tales and poems produced by members of the Mt. Pleasant Public Library Writer's Circle.
“It's basically a true story about my late mom and dad,” said Beck, a nursing supervisor for Excela Health Frick for 28 years before retiring in 2012. “That line is the last one in the story.”
Beck's work and the work of seven others are framed and on prominent display for passersby to read at the library located at 120 S. Church St.
“They have done a lovely job of presentation and the public is invited to come and enjoy this taste of the season,” said Mary Lou Shick, the library's director.
The writer's circle was established in September by facilitator Fred Adams, a borough resident and retired college professor, with Shick.
The group, which has attracted more than a dozen steady members, devised the gesture of supplying the library with framed, Christmas-themed stories as a gesture of gratitude, Adams said.
“We certainly appreciate the library's cooperation with us by providing us space and helping us to promote the writer's group, and we wanted to do something to return the favor,” said Adams, who authored “Paper Angels,” one of the stories on display.
His tale involves the plight of a single mother named Sarah who struggles with a way to please both of her young daughters, Mariah and Judy.
Each of the girls made paper angels for school, and both want them to crown the family's Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.
The main character devises a way to include both of her daughters' creations, along with one of her own, atop the holiday decoration.
“Since we're all writers in various ways, we thought about writing seasonal Christmas stories and putting them out there to read. We hope people come to the library to see them,” Adams said.
The other works range from additional touching topics to a hair-raising, holiday ghost yarn titled “Rebekah & the DAR Christmas” penned by Lawrence O'Toole.
The scene for O'Toole's story is the 127-year-old Samuel Warden Mansion in Mt. Pleasant, the meeting place of the Braddock Trail Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.
On the eve of the chapter's Festival of Lights celebration, when members of the community fill the house with Christmas trees and decorations, two purported ghosts combine efforts to help tidy up the 12-room structure for the event.
One of the apparitions is named Rebekah, an adolescent girl who once worked as the mansion's maid. The other, named Seamus, was a casualty of British General Edward Braddock's forces at “Braddock's Defeat,” which took place close by in 1755.
The two spirits spend Christmas Eve listening to the sounds of the Visitation Church Choir nearby.
“We used to live up on College Avenue, and I could see the DAR House from my kitchen. Sometimes you could see a light on up on the third floor late at night,” O'Toole said. “My daughter, Rosemary, used to walk home from midnight Mass at Visitation and see it, too.”
Another of the stories, titled “A Single Strand of Lights” by Renny Kalp of Mt. Pleasant Township, is housed in a handsome, layered wooden frame and the work is encircled by none other than one strand of multi-colored Christmas lights.
“I found it in the basement of my own home,” Kalp said. “It used to have my grandmother's picture in it, but it was broken. So I had it repaired and had glass put in it.”
Kalp's fictional tale, based in part on real-life accounts, follows a character named Amy Mills, an adolescent girl charged with running the lonely household she occupied with her father and younger brother.
In the story, the narrator author recalls Amy's victory in a local poetry contest for an entry aptly titled “By Myself.”
Kalp then writes of a night soon after when, while traveling with her family around the area to view the elaborate Christmas decorations on homes, they happen on Amy's house, where a single strand of lights ornaments the basement window of her room.
“I actually did see a single strand of lights one Christmas that touched me on one of our rides through a neighborhood,” Kalp said.
Animal lovers will be drawn to another of the entries, a poem titled “Christmas Time News” by Jan McLaughlin.
The offering takes readers through the reasons for her Christmas blues, which are transformed to Yuletide cheer by the arrival of Santa's reindeer on her porch.
She writes of capturing in a photograph as they “talk to her cat” by the window.
The highlight of the offering is an accompanying photo the author took at one time of deer on her porch at her former home in Bear Rocks. In the delightful image, the animals are peering down at her cat through the window.
“When I was writing it, I said ‘Wait, I have this great picture,' so I dug it out,” she said.
“The Christmas Poem” by Loxie Simms begins in traditional Yuletide format by highlighting the secular sights and sounds of the Christmas season, from snowflakes filling the air, church bells ringing and storefront gazing on busy streets to carolers singing and trees a'twinkle.
The poem then transitions to several verses illustrating the birth of Christ and the true meaning of the holiday.
“Fred thought it would be a good idea for the group to do this,” Simms said. “I'm not a story writer, so I wrote a poem. I'm getting a lot out of the group.”
“Mysterious Ways” by Normalville resident Don Liddick follows the difficult life of main character Steve Selkirk, who was raised a Christian but eventually loses his sense of purpose, commits adultery and eventually divorces his wife, Stacey, and loses custody of the couple's daughter, Krista.
When his ex-wife dies two years later, Selkirk gains back custody of Krista, only to see her rebel and run away from home at age 15.
Three years after that, on Christmas Eve, Krista returns to her father's home with a newborn baby named Will.
After Krista dies of a drug overdose, Selkirk is left to raise Will.
He does so based on Christian principles, and the boy grows up to become a best-selling author after Selkirk's death.
When asked what inspired him to write the story, Liddick, an associate professor of criminal justice at Penn State Fayette, said one word:
“Jesus,” he said.
On being a member of the writer's circle, Liddick said, the talent surrounding him is healthy for his own evolution as a writer.
“Being a part of the group is very interesting and exciting, and it's very interesting to hear about what all the talented people in the group are up to with their writing,” he said. “And any exposure we could bring to the library would be great.”
“Yuletide Magic” is written by IE “Reenie” Castellano, a borough resident and member of the Mt. Pleasant Glass & Ethnic Festival committee.
In it, Castellano employs characters and settings from two of her books, “The World In Between” and “Bow of the Moon,” which will be available at month's end through Laurel Highlands Publishing.
“I released it as a free short story, as well. People can download it for free eBook on Google Play or for your NOOK (tablet),” she said.
Castellano encouraged the public to visit the library this holiday season to give the stories a closer look.
“There are a lot of good stories, and they're all different,” she said. “I hope people visit the library to see them. Why we write is for people to read what we write.”
To sign up to take part in the Mt. Pleasant Public Library Writer's Circle, call the library at 724-547-3850. Admission is free and open to the public.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.