Life in small town America

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Summer nights

Summer nights are wonderful in a small town. You can walk the dog, chat with a friend on a front lawn, or go to to the beach to watch the incredible sunsets that splash themselves across the shores of Lake Erie.

Summer noise is sweet – crickets sing and kids laugh as they catch bugs in their mouths as they sail by enjoying every moment of freedom from school.

Another thing I have always loved about small town life is the local recreation schools and municipalities provide children. Learning to swim, or play biddy basketball or soccer has to be the highlight of the summer. I mustn’t forget little league baseball and summer fireworks.  MNE used to host wonderful fireworks on July 4, but since the economy took a huge dive, that has disappeared.  I loved those great summers when we would invite family for ice cream or watermelon on the front lawn as the fireworks burst into brilliant, flashes of light to remind us that we do live in a free country.

The Cherry Festival is coming soon and we will have more summer noise.  There will be squeals of fun as teens whirls around in the carnival rides on those sweltering summer evenings. We will also hear long blasts from the many pieces of fire fighting equipment that come from far and near to march in the festival parade to help us raise funds for our local fire fighters and emergency crews.


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Gone, but not forgotten

As I sit here thinking about the vineyard demise across the street, I wonder how many other things change so quickly in a small town.

At the end of last week, the vines were coming down one by one.  This week, the big Earth movers came to pull the stakes out of the grown and level the land. Today, the vineyard is but a memory as the brown soil spreads out where the mustard seed used to grow in the rows.

Sorry, Donn, Willie and AJ here will be no more neighborly golfing-through-the-vineyard tournaments during Cherry Festival.

You can see right from our yard to the Mercyhurst North East baseball diamond.  This land was part vineyard, part orchard when I moved in 31 summers ago. The aroma coming in the windows in the summer was warm and rich.  Now, I will keep the south windows closed all summer, just to keep the DIRT out of my living room and lungs.

Progress is good, but so is harvesting from the Earth. I wonder who will tend to the grapes in 50 years.  Will there be farmers who know how to care for these precious fruits we grow along the shores of Lake Erie?

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Small town parking

Have you ever noticed that parking fees in small towns are a HUGE bargain?  Parking in the mall parking lot can get you a fender bender and you must park on the back side of never during holiday shopping.  Besides, in the city the parking fees are outrageous.  I can get a parking space for two hours in North East for 20 cents.  In Erie 20 minutes costs $25 cents.  If you are looking for a great place to shop, sit in the park and read, listen to open air concerts on Thursdays, or get a great cup of  coffee, I would urge you to come visit our little piece of the American dream and enjoy the parking without breaking the bank. Besides, the parking spaces are big enough to park a school bus, so there is plenty of space for people who have no clue how to parallel park.

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PQ Smith – The Farmer in the Park

North East is is a very unique town in many ways.  People congregate in Gibson Park for many fun activities, celebrations and just to sit and enjoy the summer. These people have taught me so much about life so you will read about them here.  The first one, PQ Smith, was laid to rest today after 86 years, and I know we are all better for having known him.

When I first came to North East, I was introduced to the Farmer in the Park.  His name was PQ Smith.   Being the nosy person that I am (must be the journalist in me), I blurted out ‘What does PQ mean?’  Paul, in his special and humorous way said, ‘Pretty quick I might mind my Ps and Qs.’

His sense of humor was the first thing that made me realize this man, who is part of the Greatest Generation, was someone who lived every day to the fullest.  He made me laugh at myself the first day I met him and that is a rich gift I will always cherish.
PQ initiated me into the Farmer’s Market experience right away by offering a small green pepper to me to eat while I was contemplating other vegetables to buy.  Since I love peppers, I bit this small version of what I thought was a sweet pepper.  Little did I know that it was a Jalapeno pepper that sent me racing to the park water fountain.  I also didn’t know that water made the burn even hotter.  With a blister on my lip and a new love for hot peppers, I knew from that day we would become fast friends.

PQ always entered his great farm fresh vegetables in the North East Community Fair and one day while he was placing his entries, he introduced me to his dear wife Madeline.  She and I were able to teach together for several years at North East High School .  It was fun having someone like Madeline who had read the same books I had to chat about on every occasion we could.  PQ, thanks for sharing your wife because she is a great book buddy.

This Farmer in the Park changed the way we viewed the town park.  Thirty-one years later, there are several farmers who set up tables with delicious summer fare on Thursdays. Come on Thursdays and you will enjoy the fruits of the Earth. PQ, you started something BIG! No, I won’t bite the Jalapenos!

Yes, I will miss this gentleman, who made everyone laugh and spread common sense knowledge though his use of puns and twists of language.

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Welcome to the vineyard

Actually, the vineyard across the street is being ripped out today, so I am beginning my blog by writing about the vineyard across the street. I have had a relationship with that vineyard for 31 years. When I moved into this house and town, the vineyard was live and healthy, providing grapes for the Redemptorist priests who lived in St. Mary’s Seminary, a boarding school for high school boys. Since that time, the seminary has closed and and the building has reopened as Mercyhurst North East. However, the vines always remained.

The first year, I was awakened in the wee hours of a warm August morning right before the first day of school to their thick sweet aroma. I raced to the vineyard in my bare feet to taste the sweet grapes, but, alas, they were very sour. As a newcomer, I did not know that grapes do not ripen until the end of September even though they look thoroughly ripe. I also did not know that one should wear shoes in the vineyard because old vines are chopped in early spring and tilled into the ground. Those small pieces of vine litter the rows and do havoc to the soles of one’s bare feet.

Through the years, I have had a great time taking photos of the various seasons grapes must pass through to flourish. I have inhaled their glorious aroma and have made some delicious jellies from their fruitful vines thanks to the priests who gave me permission to cut a basket of these sweet Concords.

As they fall, vine by vine under the hand of a trimmer, I am sad because these are the symbol of my town, where the Grape Picker is the school mascot and where we supply hundreds of tons of grapes each fall to Welch’s for juice and jams that travel around the World.

These glorious grapes also signaled the coming first day of school each year, because I knew once I smelled that first sweet aroma of the season, I would be packing my teacher satchel and head off to teach those wonderful Grape Pickers how to write.  Although I am retired from the school, I still wait for the aroma to tell me school bells are ready to ring.

As my blog grows, I will share some wonderful things about this town that make it such a great place to live and grow and some of my favorite memories of teaching.