I did something today I haven't done in well over thirty years! It wasn't anything really drastic, or earth-shattering, but today, Mandy, the kids and I went to the Cooper Picnic!
For those of you reading my blog who know nothing about the area where I live, the Cooper Picnic is an event that takes place every Labor Day weekend and is sponsored by St. Severin's Catholic Church in Drifting, PA - a little village about 2 miles from where I live. This picnic has been going on now for 132 years! Kind of hard to imagine a tradition dating back that far around this community.
When I was a kid, my Mom's older sister and her husband ALWAYS came home over Labor Day weekend and for sure, on Monday -Labor Day - my uncle, without fail, always had to go out to Cooper Grove to see who of his old friends, acquaintances etc., from when he was a kid or young man growing up here might also be attending and I loved going out there with him.
It's really like a great big reunion with a little flavor of a tiny fair - games of chance, bingo, music and food! They generally draw quite a large crowd for as small as this part of the county is -with respect to population - usually around 2,000 or so folks milling around.
I wasn't even thinking about the "Picnic" till the latter part of last week when a friend of mine from high school (Sharon Rolley) e-mailed me to tell me she was coming over the mountain from State College and planning to go to the Picnic along with a friend of hers from Frenchville. She was wondering if I was going to go out there today too and if so, we could make arrangements to meet up out there.
Why haven't I attended the Cooper Picnic in over three decades when I live so close to it and also, considering it so much a big part of my younger years, growing up here?
I guess the main reason was that for most of those years, while I was working, it was generally my luck that I almost always had to work on Labor Day and couldn't manage to do that and go to the picnic too.
But anyway, I suggested to Mandy that maybe it would be fun for us to take Maya and Kurtis and go out there, see who the heck we might see that we know - all that good stuff that comes with the turf.
So, today that's exactly what we did! Loaded up the van with a stroller for the baby and Mandy hunted down this harness contraption to use with Maya in order to give us a little better control over her movements and be able to keep track of her. I felt rather guilty having this harness on her - it is a little stuffed monkey that sits on her back and fastens in the front and the "lease" is attached of course, to the monkey. Felt like I was leading a dog around as people kind of looked askance at us walking around there. However, those same people have no clue as to how difficult it is to deal with Maya, especially around so many people and lots of children, etc - all things that she loves and the really excite her greatly. But I can not chase after her - my legs would never hold up to trying to do that and for Mandy, as young as she is, with Kurtis even being in the stroller, it would have been next to impossible for both of us to control him in the stroller and still be able to keep hold of her, pull her up from the ground when she would be tending to go into a meltdown and such. But we used it all the same and if others didn't think it was right and proper, then let them deal with it the way they think is best!
But anyway - aside from that - I actually had a very nice time and saw some folks I hadn't seen for a long, long time too.
Walking around there, one of the first things we noticed was a little band playing polka music. I kept glancing over at the drummer - an older gentleman and thinking there was something really familiar about this guy but just couldn't put a finger on it -who is was, ya know. A little later while standing talking to Eddie Nadzom - a guy who grew up two doors up the street from me and who is married to a girl I graduated high school with - he saw the drummer walking nearby and he called out his name - "Dick Coudriet!" How're ya doin'?" That's when it hit me why this guy looked so familiar to me! Not that I knew Dick Coudriet personally but I knew who he was because when I was a teenager, he generally was the drummer for various little musical groups that played for many of our high school dances and such so I had seen him on many, many occasions but also those were events that had taken place at least 40 plus years ago too. Still, I thought it was pretty neat that I had that "he's familiar" feeling when I saw him.
The first people I saw that I knew were Carol Folmar Nadzom and Ed -her husband and my former neighbor. They had brought an elderly neighbor of theirs from State College with them and introduced me to her. Carol told her that she and I had attended and graduated school together and I added on that Ed and I had grown up together. I was teasing Ed about how in years past I would often comment to people that Eddie and I used to play "house" together -mainly because I loved to watch the reaction on people's faces when you say something like that. Then I would explain this was when we were maybe 6 and 8 years old (Ed is 2 years my senior) and I would then tell them the main reason Eddie would come to my house and play with me was so that he could ride my bicycle! And, it's true too - even Eddie will confess to that to this day! I think back on those days and the scenes that come up in my mind's eye are just as clear as a bell - all in beautiful technicolor too of us out in the back lawn of my home here, having a good time playing with my dolls as Eddie would hop on my bike and tell me "I'm going to work now. Take care of the children." And, away he would go, riding my bike down the street and back. He never went all that far on my bike, never really abandoned me to playing alone, but that was our idea of a fun time back then.
I was walking around, pushing Kurtis in his little stroller and came upon three people - two women and a man - and the one lady, I recognized immediately and she saw me, waved and motioned for me to come over to them. As I got closer, I had no clue at first who the other lady was but I then realized who the man they were chatting with was. The woman who recognized me was Gracie Coble - an old friend from school days who graduated a year ahead of me and whose first husband had been a guy I grew up with whose family lived about four doors down from my home - Billy Gurbal! Bill and Gracie were only married a little over a year - had a baby boy - Brock - who was three months old when in November of 1964, Bill was driving from his parents home here to the house in Winburne where he and Gracie were living when he ran off the highway, struck a telephone pole and was killed instantly of a broken neck. I remember this incident like it was yesterday although at the time, I was living in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. One of the guys from back home here who lived then in Virginia called to tell me about the accident and he, his roommate and I took off early from work the day of the visitation for Bill and came home for that as well as his funeral. That was, I must confess, one of the saddest, most difficult times of my life to come home to watch a childhood friend laid to rest, so young, with so much to live for too. A few years later, Gracie met and married the brother of a girl from my class in high school from town here and she moved to the Cleveland area where she resides now. But the great thing is that Gracie looks the same as ever and is still just as friendly and outgoing too as she was years ago in school.
The other lady I eventually realized was none other than Patti Beightol - also from Gracie's class and a year ahead of me. Patti grew up out in Lanse - another tiny town about 3 miles from my hometown. I hadn't seen Patti since she graduated - 46 years ago and if it hadn't been for some friends of mine from their class who sent me photos from their class reunion a year ago, I would NEVER have recognized Patti - would have walked past her on the street and never had a clue that she was someone I'd once gone to school with!
The guy -well I recognized him but only too because of the photos from their class reunion last year too! Barry "Bud" Lutz! Now there's another person I hadn't seen since he left high school too! Bud was then, still is the same in his manner too, the polite, quiet but good-humored guy he was back then. He was also one of the best athletes ever to graduate from our high school over all these years as well and that fact, of his athletic prowess, was still evident as while we stood together talking, several men came up to him, slapping him on the back and they immediately all seemed to begin talking to him about this football game or that baseball game or some other sporting event that Bud had been a star attraction in back then. Judging by the look on Bud's face, I don't think he realized how much of an impact his running abilities had on so many folks years ago!
Then, another couple appeared but these two I had no difficulty recognizing as they live near here and I have seen them on several occasions too over the years - Byron "Bunny" Little and his wife, Kay. Bunny and Kay also know my younger daughter, Mandy and her husband too so Mandy appreciated having a chance to see them, to talk with them and to show off her two little ones to them too while Kay was showing us photos of their only granddaughter - a beautiful little two-year-old.
Finally, I spotted my friend Sharon and her friend and we ended up sitting down then at a table near by. Sharon is my friend who walked with me back in April during the Cure Autism Now walk over in State College and I have two photos of her on my computer that my screen saver pulls up randomly and "flashes" on the screen of my monitor. My granddaughter has only ever met Sharon one time and that was in May when Sharon came over here and brought some old photos up for me to scan to use in the photo display I did for our reunion but Mandy remembers her name and if she is nearby when one of those two pictures pops up on the monitor, she will point at Sharon and says her name. Pretty amazing to me that she remembers that, ya know!
While talking with Gracie, Patti and Bud, I made a comment to Bud that this was the first time in over thirty years that I had come out to the Grove for the Cooper Picnic. He was pretty surprised, considering that I lived so close by and yet had never attended in all that time till I explained that I generally had to work on Labor Day most of those years. But, in retrospect, I think one reason - aside from the work thing - that kept me from going out to the picnic was that I had no close friend to go walk around with there and I felt kind of funny just walking around something like that alone. We all decided we'll definitely make a point of coming back there again next year - we can all keep track of how much each of us has aged that way then, can't we?
While Sharon, her friend and I were sitting at the picnic table talking, we saw another guy from our class in high school this time who we hadn't seen in at least 10 years and Sharon called out to him and he stopped and we chatted a while - John Krasinski! He introduced us to his wife and we had a nice friendly little visit with him then too!
A few others I saw that I wouldn't have recognized those - Marty Rusnak, Kenny Fenush, Ron Mollura - along with two good friends from town here as well - Sue Little and Nila Force. Sue grew up next door to me, her niece was married to my ex-brother-in-law and she's more like a member of the family to my kids and me than just a neighbor or former neighbor, I should say. Nila, I see from time to time either at church or when I decide I really need to get my hair cut and permed and call her for an emergency appointment!
I saw many others who looked familiar to me but wasn't sure if I actually knew them or not and didn't have someone else there to ask if they knew who this or that person was but all in all, for me anyway, it was a fun day.
It's always something enjoyable for me to see people from way back in my past and have a chance to spend time, remembering all the "Good old days!"