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Blog Archives

It came from Pogue’s

Running through my childhood

Real friends eat Real Chili

The tree we got like Camelot

My grandma’s lapel pin

Requiem for a cello

Before he was anything, my dad was a brother

Before he ever picked up a football, went to school, married my mother, or built a business, my dad was a brother.

He shared a large room at the back of my grandparent’s green slate house on 20 Row with his older brother George and his younger sister Martha.

Together, he and George were known as Butch and Sonny, and, under the watchful eye of a street full of relatives, they enjoyed a bucolic childhood with a whole woods full of animals to trap (my dad kept a fox as a pet for as long as that fox would let him), games to play, and mischief to make. Including cousins and friends, there were 22 boys Butch and Sonny’s age on 20 Row back then.

They enjoyed an expansive, natural playground on which a single sled ride from the top of 20 Row down to the mine could take most of the morning.

One day, when my dad was eight-years old, the boys brought him back to the house bleeding and unconscious. Apparently he had run his sled so fast down the hill that he skidded under a car.

Dr. Marten fixed him up that time and many times after.

“Your Grandma often said a summer didn’t go by that Ronnie wasn’t in the hospital,” Aunt Martha said.

A brave and mischievous boy, my dad wasn’t afraid of much. But thunderstorms did scare him.

“Thunder in the mountains can be very scary,” Aunt Martha said. “During one storm they couldn’t find him. The thunder and lightning increased and they became more concerned. All the relatives were out looking for him. Finally they found him sound asleep on the front porch, hiding under the glider cushions.”

The 20 Row kids worked as hard as they played; they picked elder berries and potatoes for spending money, and woke early to deliver newspapers. They all walked a mile back and forth to the grade school every day. When he was 11 and George 13, they helped their Pap hand dig a basement under the house, no small task in that tough, clay soil.

At night, they would tell stories.

“I remember asking, ‘Butchie, would you tell me a story?’ and he would. Usually they were about Tarzan in the jungle,” said Aunt Martha. “He did the best Tarzan call next to Johnny Weismuller.”

Ironically, both Weismuller and my dad wound up in the Central Cambria County Hall of Fame.

Though he was naughty “If there was a scratch on the car, nobody ever asked, ‘Who did it?’ They just asked what Ronnie did this time,” Aunt Martha said, my dad had a soft spot for his family.

Like everyone else, he picked blackberries, strawberries, hickory nuts and sassafras for tea. But, according to Martha, he was the first and possibly only boy on 20 Row to also pick his mother a bouquet of wild flowers every spring.

When his brother George left Colver to join the service after high school, my dad took to his bed and stayed there for a week. Finally, my Grandma got his Uncle Jimmy and some other boys to come to the house and coax him out.

Eventually, my dad’s career took him away from Pennsylvania, and, following his time with the Green Bay Packers, he made his home in Wisconsin.

But, a piece of his heart stayed in Colver, where he was Butch to his big brother’s Sonny, and Marcie’s stubborn guide.

20 Row kids and cousins

There was no shortage of playmates on 20 Row back in the day.

Dad and Aunt Martha

My dad and his sister Martha. He taught her to drive and once dared her, at 15-years old, to drive their dad’s car through 20 Row on a warm summer day. She did it and they both ended up in hot water.

Dad and his first deer 1956. Hunting with Stevie and Jimmy Melnyk

My dad’s first deer. My dad had two nicknames when he lived in Colver. Everyone called him Butch, but, as he got older, they also called him Uncas, after his favorite character in one of his favorite books, the Last of the Mohicans.

George, Martha, Ron Kostelnik

Sonny, Butch and Marcie.

Marce Butch Sonny (34 20 Row)

My dad, his little sister Martha and his brother George.

Pap and Baby Butch

Pap and my dad.

Pap, Ronnie Martha, George

My grandpa and his three kids, my dad, his sister Martha and his brother George.

Ron Kostelnik and Grandma Jay

My dad and his mom.

Ron Kostelnik Jimmy Melnyk in Charlie's sailor hat

My dad and his Uncle Jimmy, my grandma’s youngest brother.

Ronnie, George, Marce at home on 20 Row

Board games at the Kostelnik house.

Golden footballs and priceless memories

A Popcorn Christmas

Twelve days before Christmas I sat on a couch next to Molly cursing a little as I strung stale popcorn on thin thread that kept slipping from the confoundingly small hole of its needle.

She leaned over and calmly said, “You know, I find this very relaxing. I don’t mind finishing myself.”

“Absolutely not,” I said. “I’m going to help…Ouch! Dammit!”

In the end, Molly strung almost all the popcorn, while I peppered her with annoying questions like, “Are you sure you want to do all this work?” and “Isn’t it going to take a lot of popcorn stringing to fill that tree?” and “Can we re-use this next year? Otherwise, it just seems like a lot of bother.”

Ten days before Christmas, we looped the popcorn strands on our tree. I admired it through the open family room doors as I sat at our dining room table; I checked it out from the sidewalk outside our house; I sat on our family room couch all alone in the dark just staring at that beautiful tree.

“This is my favorite tree we’ve ever had,” I said repeatedly through the holidays.

It turned out to be a Popcorn Christmas, which might be the very best kind.

My mother in-law unwittingly set the holiday theme early, when she spoke up at a resident’s association meeting.

“You really should serve popcorn at the Popcorn and Movie nights,” she said. Renown for her pleasant nature, Mary Jane almost never complains. “I just wanted to get my name in the minutes,” she joked.

But, really, the woman loves old movies and fresh theater popcorn, and her family loves her.

So, 2015 became a Popcorn Christmas for Mary Jane as well.

From out west came boxes of Cracker Jack, from down south barrels of Garrett’s Popcorn, and from the New York grandson a subscription to a popcorn of the month club.

Grandma Mary Jane will have her fill of delicious popcorn in 2016.

And, we hope you do too. Throw a few kernels in a kettle, cover them in your choice of delicious oil and pop yourself a batch or two.

Good, old-fashioned popcorn doesn’t cost much; it just takes a little time.

As Molly and our proud tree, still sagging with ornaments that tell the story of our lives because I’m loathe to take them down, knew all along –

It’s worth it.

Christmas 2015 021

A morning view of our popcorn tree, seen from the dining room. I love sitting at my dining room table, with a cup of tea and my lap top, before anyone else wakes up, and admiring my tree.

Christmas 2015 022

Our ornaments tell the story of our lives. We even have a few treasured ornaments from my grandparent’s tree.

Popcorn Christmas cracker jack

I had a little fun making homemade cracker jack for Christmas, but I forgot to take pictures of the finished product. This is the corn and peanuts about midway through the cooking process.

Popcorn Christmas Grandma MJ

General Popcorn and a few of her kernels. It was a crazy Packer Christmas sweater Christmas too.

Star Wars popcorn

Like many of yours, our Popcorn Christmas took us to the movie theater for Star Wars. I am the only member of my family who believes the pivotal moment in this movie might not be binding, and that’s all I’ll say on that subject.

My favorite Christmas tree

A good cross section of the ornaments, framed in popcorn. Molly made the Popsicle stick ornament in nursery school, the spaceship ornament behind it represents the year Charlie traveled to Alabama to attend the Space Academy. My mom made the gold and blue ornament during one, unprecedented year of crafting back in 1970, the crystal mittens are from a collection of ornaments Molly’s godparents give her every year for Christmas and the gorgeous crystal Santa and his globe was a gift as well.

The view from the family room couch

A nighttime view of our tree from my perch on the family room couch. Man, I love this tree.

My favorite Christmas video