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Readers react to previous Ralph Stone columns

| Monday, Sept. 14, 2009

Here are more "bits & pieces" of past stories.

First we'll re-explore our Mid-Mon Valley summers, shrouded in a covering of berries, tomatoes, corn and zucchini.

Our schools have re-opened; our swimming pools have closed shop; we've seen the kickoff of our football season and the autumn solstice will arrive soon.

To put it all in perspective, the Mid-Mon Valley summer of 2009 is history.

Nevertheless, from what readers say, they enjoy their summers, with all its trappings, as much as I do.

In addition to the joys of baseball, swimming, fishing and vacationing as a part of the summer fun, readers also expressed overwhelming pleasures in the fresh fruits and vegetables that our summers provide.

I was astonished over the great number of readers who enjoyed the adventures involved in blackberry picking. It seems there were many more blackberry pickers than we First Street Ramblers!.

I was also surprised to learn that a sizeable number of them were little girls who went into the patches with their fathers and brothers.

One of those little girls was Katherine Kacik, who grew up in the vicinity of Allen's Crossroad and picked her berries in that area.

Mrs. Kacik, now 92 years young and the mother of Paul Kacik, an outstanding all-around athlete from Monessen's graduating class of 1952, no longer picks her own berries but she continues a very active life, maintaining her home, mowing the lawn and growing her own raspberries!

She rewarded me with a special jar of her homemade jam and I can attest to its goodness each time I spread a bit on my morning toast.

Still another picker of old is Joan Tegel a member of Pricedale Union Church. Joan now grows berries in her back yard and she gave me a quart of the biggest, juiciest berries I have seen since the days of my Rambler escapades.

It seems that writing this column has a few hidden perks, like jars of raspberry jam and quarts of delicious blackberries. My thanks to these "young at heart" ladies who help make my day.

Darla Clark, another member of the Pricedale church, continues to pick her own berries in the wild patches that abound on the property shw owns with her husband, Fred. Darla also grows her own raspberries and has on a few occasions invited my wife and me over for a piece of her wonderful homemade pie. The berry patch, sitting upon the Clark Family property, is also one of the spots where I pick my own berries.

As for the story involving our garden-grown tomatoes, corn and zucchini, I couldn't begin to tell you of the many people who enjoy these marvelous southwestern Pennsylvania treats. You will not get an argument with any of them over the supposition that our variety of tomatoes, corn and zucchini is the best in the entire world. Several of them told me that they would sooner do without rather than consume the products from other areas of the country. When the local growing season for these crops ends, for many, the store-bought imports does not take over. These people would rather "wait till next year" for the fine taste of our own garden crops.

The column devoted to fund raiser held July 26 for the Monessen Public Library and District Center had an interest for many because not only did it involve Monessen's outstanding public library but it also brought back fond memories of the old Park Casino as well as the revamped building that now houses the Saint Vincent DePaul organization.

If that was not enough, it also heralded the work of several of our local service groups, including the Monessen Lions, the Monessen-Rostraver Rotary, and the Park's Restoration Committee.

This variety of issues seemed to hit upon one or more interests for many of the readers. Of course. the primary concern was the needed funds for our library. Evidently this was a success because not only did it raise funds that evening but it also aroused greater interest in the 50th birthday celebration and the Schwann's truck sale that were held the following week.

I received notes from Susana Swade, a member of the library board, and Peggy Tseng, the library's director, telling me they felt the story had a strong, positive influence upon the library's future.

According to the news story on the library published Friday, the library is still in need of additional funding. Our hope is that message will get out to all who are able to help the cause in their own special way and that the needs will soon be met to keep the Monessen Library the vibrant force that it has been for several decades. The library is truly a gem we can all be proud of, as are all our Valley's libraries. The very term, public library, in itself, denotes a treasure. One day down the road. this column will be dedicated to all the excellent libraries we have throughout our Valley.

The story on reunions also hit home for many readers, although there were a few who did not share my own enthusiasm. A small minority felt they were for show and that select cliques continue to exist. If thiat's true at some reunions, I say, 'shame!" We can all be proud of what we've accomplished without displaying an arrogant attitude. Most important of all, reunions can help us to better appreciate our Mid-Mon Valley heritage.

In covering a variety of reunions, including family, class reunions and corner clubs, a few readers reminded me that a group of former Monessenites along with a number of "Snow Birds" have met each year at Daytona, Fla.

Sandy Garfola, a resident of the Daytona area, plans these reunions and does an excellent job with the communications and arrangements to make it a festive "Greyhound" affair.

My wife, Marilynne, and I attended the one in 2005 and were not disappointed. We would not fail to attend another if we are in Florida during that time of year.

Not to be outdone, I understand that the Valley's West Coast transplants in California have also held a reunion at least on one occasion.

Last but certainly not least in this review of past columns are the two stories on Allen's Crossroads.

I've had more response from those two stories than anything else I've written. The old crossroads seems to have a special appeal for many of our Valley's "old timers" since so many of us, regardless of what community we called home, traveled out that way at one time or another.

Husher Field, before my time, was of special interest to many readers who remember it well. My friend Ray Popp recalls playing ball, during his own youth, on that same field. Ray also told me that lights were eventually placed at the popular venue.

My recently acquired friend, Mrs. Kacik, tells me that the crossroads was her youthful stomping grounds long before I was even born. In addition to her berry picking adventures, she recalls watching "the boys" play soccer at Husher Field and the early days of the Dog House.

"I can relate to so many things you spoke of at the crossroads," she said.

By the way, Mrs. Kacik's son, Paul, is expected to visit Monessen next month. Paul, a retired engineer is a world traveler and has penned a very interesting autobiographical book relating his varied experiences and travels.

Several readers also told me that they spent many of their idle hours at the pitch and putt golf course that was one of the features at the crossroads. I learned that the name of that course was "The Capri."

Additional stories, too numerous to recount, were told concerning the old 71 Drive In. The most humorous of those came from the lips of my Rambler friend and teammate, Don "Half Pint" Hayes. Don tells me that when the theater charged an admission for each occupant of a car that he and his friends (male & female) would cram themselves into the trunk of the car as the driver paid for himself as a lone viewer. Once the coast was clear, the designated driver would release his friends from their captivity and they would all enjoy the movie features.

Concerning the Dog House and the several moves that the popular diner underwent, I learned from my friend, Emory Anden, that the eatery's final move was out past the Rehobath Church Road where "Em" and his wife, Carol, now reside.

As a guest at the MHS class of '52 reunion, I was told by Em that the Gillock brothers along with a friend, John Costello, hauled a portion of the Dog House out to the Gillock Farm. The boys were regular customers of Crampo's Bar at Arnold City and also enjoyed driving their bikes throughout and beyond the immediate area. The crew decided that the vacated Dog House would make an ideal club house and made arrangements to have its remnants shipped to the farm.

A few years later Emory's father bought the farm and inherited the Dog House with his purchase. He used the building as a tool shed. Today it is still a part of Em's property. He says a few decaying embers of the old crossroad's haunt still stands.

"I have to get rid of the rest," he told me.

In closing, the consensus among the older readers is that the crossroad area should revert to its original name of Allen's Crossroads.

All in favor say, "Aye!"

As sports editor Brian Herman, might say, "I don't hear too many Nays."

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