May of 1982 marks the beginning of a really great time in my life. It was that month, that year when I went to work at the Truckstop in Snow Shoe and thus began my relationships, my friendships, some of which last even today, with many truckers, mostly from Ohio and Pennsylvania.
It was then that I met a particular trucker who drove for Interstate Systems and who lived in a park in western Pennsylvania.
Short, a bit on the rotund side, looking kind of like a beardless Santa Claus and sounding very much like every kid's thoughts about how Santa would or should sound, this man was Regis Ryan and little did I know when I first got to know him just how much I would come to treasure not just Reg but his wife, Mary Ellen, his sons, grandkids and the place where he lived.
And, so did my kids!
Reg and Mary Ellen lived at Conneaut Lake Park, north of Sharon, PA and in addition to the house they lived in, they also owned a cottage, through the gate and across the street -as Reg would tell you, the cottage is 2 blocks down from Kiddy Land!
That summer marked the first time my kids and I went to Conneaut Lake Park -for the Teamsters Picnic in mid-June -and it was the beginning of a time when my family and I fell in love with this place, this park and especially with these two very special people who resided there, who took us in under their wings, and provided my kids and me so much -more than I could ever begin to repay them for that's for certain.
Reg's CB handle was "Old Granddad" but most people who knew him well usually just called him "Granddad" and my kids were no exception to that rule. But aside from that being his CB handle, he was very much like a Grandfather-type to them, which was nice since they barely knew their grandparents who lived in Illinois, rarely came east for a visit and I think 1983 was the one and only time the kids and I managed a trip to Illinois for a visit with them.
I loved Conneaut Lake Park too for the lovely little lake the town is named for -obviously, Conneaut Lake! The amusement park there wasn't all that large but it was big enough for my kids to have a blast using the park tickets 'Pap -as they came to call Reg -and Mary Ellen would put aside for them for use whenever we managed to get away from home and would drive up to the lake for a short stay.
It was there that Pap took my older daughter, Carrie, two other waitresses from "the Shoe" and me out on his boat for the day and made a very strong attempt to teach the three girls how to water ski. I don't think any of them actually managed to get up on the skis in the water but I do know we all had a great time out on the lake.
Most of our visits to the Park we -the kids and I -would stay at the cottage across the street from Pap's house that he and Mary Ellen owned and which was usually rented out all the time from Memorial Day thru Labor Day. Except for one weekend in June -when the Teamsters would come to the Park and hold their picnic there and Mary Ellen and Pap wouldn't rent the cottage that weekend because they kept space available there for friends from out of town to use the cottage.
Now this cottage was far from fancy -no sirree! It was what I would characterize as being the typical getaway place, furnished with very old, antiquated maybe would be a better word, rustic furniture. Staying in the cottage meant fraternizing with people from all over the place who you would meet on Teamster weekend and maybe see there again here and there over the years and maybe never see them again either but you played board gamed, cards, horseshoes and drank beer, ate meals at Reg and Mary Ellen's house and thoroughly enjoyed the R&R that was provided there!
I don't recollect right now what year Pap retired -I'm thinking it was
either 1983 or 1984 -but whichever year it was, the drivers along with
his sons, Reg Jr and John, had a big, big retirement party for him at
the West Middlesex VFW Post and one of the other waitresses at The Shoe
and I were in attendance at that affair.
For the next several years, my two younger kids in particular came to look on the time we would get to go to Conneaut Lake Park as their (and my) true vacation. One year -I think around 1985 or 1986, they invited Clate and Mandy to come to the Park and spend a week -just the two kids -with Pap and Mary Ellen. They had a blast there that week, for sure!
But you know don't you, all good things do tend to change and often to come to an end. I don't recall now exactly what year it was when Mary Ellen passed away but I wasn't at home when Pap called with the news and didn't find out about her funeral until the day of the funeral when I got back home. That hurt very much that I had not been able to be there with my friend Reg at that painful time, that loss for him and my kids were equally upset over that too.
For the next few years though, I always took off a long weekend -usually from Thursday thru to Monday over the Teamster Picnic weekend and would go up to the park, taking Mandy and Clate along, and stay at either the cottage or in Reg's house and I would spend the entire days -Friday and Saturday -cooking all kinds of things so that when Pap's friends from his trucking days would come calling over that weekend, there would be an ample supply of food ready and waiting for any one who wanted a meal or just a bite of something to eat. Pap said it made him feel good that I was able and willing to do that for him as it was what Mary Ellen would have done for him and his friends too.
When I decided I was going to go to college, Pap became one of my strongest supporters -always there to talk to me on the phone when I needed a bit of moral support to keep me on track in my studies. He did the same for my kids and also, allowed my kids -particularly Mandy -to invite either her cousin Angie or a girlfriend of hers (Missy) to go to the park and stay at his place for a few days every summer. The kids loved Pap to pieces even though he tormented them all the time with his teasings. But they knew too, if you were at Pap's house and he DIDN'T pick on you, then you weren't worth his time and he didn't care much for you then.
He sure had a field day picking on my kids every chance he got!
Sadly, Pap died very suddenly in late summer of 1993. Mandy and I were both able to go to his funeral along with several other old friends of his. That was almost 19 years ago this summer and my kids and I -all of us -still miss "Old Granddad" very, very much.
Thanks again Pap for being like a father to me, for you and Mary Ellen treating my children too as if they were you grandkids too. All of us will never forget either of you for your love and friendship, for sure!