I'll be honest—2014 was not my favorite year but it ended well and is now over and we are on to 2015 which I have every hope will be excellent. This year, for the first time in over a decade, I drove to my home town of St. Marys, Pennsylvania, for the holidays and everything about the trip was perfect.
Traditionally, my family holds a Christmas party every year between Christmas and New Years. In the past this has always been at someone's house but this year my brother Wayne decided to host it at the function hall of the PFL (Protective Fraternal League) where he is the president. Our Grandfather Valentine was the president there in the late 1940s so he is carrying on the family tradition. The party was scheduled for Saturday the 27th so on Christmas Day I packed my car and the morning of the 26th I drove 556 miles—most of it across I-80 through Pennsylvania.
It was a beautiful, clear, sunny day in the 40s and a good day for getting to see a lot of geology in the deep cuts in the Applachian Mountains that line I-80. Because I have been writing more Marienstadt stories this was an added opportunity to feed the Muse. Though I have driven I-80 many times—both coming an going from Maine and then Massachusetts nd when I was in college at Penn State—I tend to forget how beautiful and multi-layered the mountains are.
As I was climbing Red Hill Summit, just outside of St. Marys it was a little after 4:00 pm. The sky was bright with lots of moisture in the atmosphere and at the top of the summit I saw the most brilliant and enormous sundogs I have ever seen. We get to see sundogs here in Gloucester a lot but I don't recall ever seeing them in Pennsylvania before. They were huge and brilliant. It felt like a welcome home.
Saturday morning, before the party, I drove down to the Elk Park in Benezette which I've written about in a couple of Marienstadt stories. The Elk Park itself was pretty much deserted—no elk to be seen but as I was coming down through Medix Run I saw these two fellows and that made the trip worthwhile. They were just grazing by the road looking handsome.
The party started at 2:00 pm and in no time the whole hall was filled. There were over 30 of us and it was so good to see all the beautiful nieces and nephews again. Wayne had knocked himself out with food—spaghetti and meatballs, ham and scalloped potatoes, home-made bread. Anne and Any brought Andy's home-made venison sausage and there were tons of cookies and snacks plus two kegs of beer on tap and lots of wine. The PFL has the advantage of having a game room so we could play pool or darts and, because it is right downtown, the teens could go out and walk around town when they were restless. I left at 10:45, absolutely exhausted, and the party was still going strong.
The next morning we all met again at the West Wind Grill and, although most of us were a little hung-over, we all showed up and had a fine breakfast together. After much hugging and well-wishes, most headed back to wherever they came from. I was meeting my long-time friend Ray for a late lunch so I went to the cemetery for a little while just to pay respect and do a little research.
Lunch with Ray was fine as it always is and I could have stayed all day if I were not so tired. I had one more mission and that was to go in search of a Mail Pouch Tobacco Barn. Years ago there had been many of them in Elk County but the first two I hoped to see while driving in were gone. So I headed out the Bucktail Trail and, sure enough, I found this one.
My next collection of Marienstadt stories has a story in it called Candy Dippold and the Mail Pouch Barn, about the efforts of townspeople to save the county's last one. So it pleased me to discover there was still one around.
And that is the highlights of my first holiday trip to Marienstadt in many years. More to tell later but thanks for reading and wishing everyone a peaceful and prosperous 2015.