The LuLac Edition #233, May 23rd, 2007
PHOTO INDEX: FORMER SOVIET PRESIDENT BORIS YELTSIN, THE REVENDER ANDREW STRISH, MERCURY, GEMINI AND APOLLO ASTRONAUT WALTER "WALLY" SCHIRRA, AUTHOR OF "1964" DAVID HALBERSTAM, NEW YORK CULTURAL ICON KITTY CARLISLE AND PETER "IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN PENNSYLVANIA" WAMBACH.
While we were covering the elections, some of our favorite people who touched our lives passed away. Here are their stories in my words:
Pete Wambach was known to a few generations of Pennsylvanians for his radio program called "It's A Beautiful Day In Pennslyvania". Heard in every market of the state, the commentary touted the strengths of the Commonwealth, its natural beauty, the historical landmarks and the significant role Pennsylvania played in the development of the nation. Wambach made an unsuccessful run for Congress in the 70s but his true home was behind the mike highlighting Pennsyvania's virtues. As a young boy, I heard the gravel voiced commentator and thought, "his voice is not as velvet as others". But the content of what he was offering was remarkable and informative. Wambach was 90 when he passed away.
Boris Yeltsin has been out of sight for so many years that no one can be blamed if they thought he had already died. He had a tumultous run as the first duly elected President of the Soviet Union. Sometimes his behavior was disappointing and open to criticism. But his actions proved that democracy sometimes is not pretty. Yeltsin's term as President was more of a historical footnote, his true courage and greatness came when the Soviet Union's system of communism was falling. Charting unknown territory (there were after all still a few Soviet hardliners pushing for the status quo) Yeltzin stood tall, kept his beliefs intact and led a country into the world of a free democracy with all of the pitfalls that would entail. Yeltsin was immortalized locally by TV weatherman Joe Snedecker's segment every Friday morning featuring the "Boris dance". Perhaps that was his legacy as a Russian "everyman", "What you saw, was what you got". And in a free democracy, that's not such a bad thing. Yeltsin was 76 when he died.
She epitomized New York glamour. In glorious black and white, the creamy skinned brunette traded quips with all the guests on those late 1950s, early 60s game quiz shows on CBS. She had class, sttyle and dignity. Something, we as children of working class parents were told to aspuire to. Upon later investigation, we found that Kitty Carlisle Hart was married to the brilliant playright Moss Hart, we found her romping with the Marx Brothers on film in the 30s and later on we saw her as a cultural icon and mainstay in New York City. Carlisle reminded all of us of that relative that moved out of town, made it big and then led by example on how to live a long, prosperous and engaging
life. Kitty Carlisle was 90 when she left the confines of her beloved city.
The Best and the Brightest. We knew him by that book. It was the coda for young college students who wanted to learn how the Vietnam War came about. He told us how all the smartest men in the universe led us down the path to a war in Southeast Asia that had the most incredible mistakes any team can make. They were mistakes of arrogance made by men of entitlement and purpose. And Halberstam chronicled all of them as a catalogue to history. Unfortantely, history repeats itself, despite his book. In authoring sports books, Halberstam excelled. My favorite book on sports was written by him. It was the journey of the 1964 baseball season and world series. How the Phillies collapsed, the Cardinals beat the Yankees and how America dealt with race issues in this country in what I regard as one of my favorite years (I was just 10)on this earth. When he died in a car crash at the age of 77, Halberstam was working on a book about the 1958 Championship game between the Colts and the Giants. That would've been something!
This week, I realized that the last vestiges of my boyhood church and school are now gone. Two years ago, the Bishop closed down St. John the Baptist grade school in Pittston. In July 2006, an ailing Father Strish, the pastor retired and the church was merged with St. John's across the street. Up until last year, on the church grounds, the old familar fire escape the nuns used to force us to walk up in summer and winter was still there, as was Father Strish. Father Strish was the Assistant Pastor when I was in the eigth grade in that crazy school year of '67-68, full of myself and thinking I knew just about everything. He was a reserved
man with a deep voice. In the playground, he attempted to engage us in stimulating, elevating conversation. Sometimes he succeeded. I found out that Andrew Strish went to school on Larksville, worked as a baker, his favorite song at that time was Hensen Cargell's "Skip A Rope" went to the Priesthood later in life and at the age of 28 was assigned to his first parish. He strolled the grounds at lunch time, sometimes appearing aloof but very approachable. When we had our first seventh and eighth grade co-ed dance, he made sure the music was "correct". There was a question about Mitch Ryder's "Sock It To Me Baby" and that immeditaly went off the playlist. With the jet black hair and booming voice, you sometimes got the feeling that he might have had a leather jacket in his closet. The man was full of surprises. In the school yard on the walls where we used to bounce off rubber balls in a makeshift game of baseball, Father Strish drew cartoon characters for the younger children. He wanted them to regard that asphalt parking lot as a kid's playground. I later learned he painted a mural at St. Pius Xth Seminary. He never bragged about his talents. You had to get to know him for any information about himself. After high school and college, I lost touch with him. Mrs. LuLac and I once went to a church picnic in Larksville because I knew it was his parish. Thought we'd have a reunion. We didn't. He was on Army Reserves. Still another surprise. The years went by and I caught rare glimpses of him until my work schedule changed in 2006. No longer able to attend my home church, I went to the 530PM Mass at St. John the Baptist. It was a depressing experience. All of my hopes and dreams, the people near and dear to me as a youth from that church were now gone. It wasn't a bad experience mind you, just something different. A change, a realization that as an adult, the memories of your youth are just frozen in time but reality and life as we know it, is not. Father Strish had changed too. Illnesses had invaded his body. But Christmas time at the church was festive. The alters were festooned with numerous decorations. Critics in the church called it "Father's Strish's Christmasland".Colors and decorations of all shapes and sizes. It gave you the idea that despite the illness, he was still pluugging along, caring about his art and his church. When I heard he had died, I hesitated to go to the wake, remembering how I felt when I attended Mass there. But I went anyway and I found the church was not the place of my broken dreams and lost family members. At least not on this day. Father Strish was there in repose, the church was filled, his comrads in arms from the Army paid him the last respects as well as family members and parishoners. As I walked out, someone said that he looked finally at peace from his illnesses. I realized then, the church of my youth stood at peace too. There were no thoughts of lost memories, friends or opportunities. Just peaceful remenbrances of a good man placed in my life at a crucial time. I can't point to anything to say that he was a huge influence on my life, but then I can't point to anyting to say that he wasn't either. He was just a constant of my youth, now gone, as well as the parish he served. Time marches on. And all we have are the precious minutes of its memories. On the day they buried Father Strish, I thought about that and it eased the pain.
When I was growing up, we all had favorite astronauts.
Mine was Gus Grissom and secondly Gordon Cooper. My friend David Dellarte's was Wally Schrrra. Schirra spanned the entire NASA program flying in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs distinguishing himself in every aspect. Later on, after he left NASA, he sold a cold remedy on TV further giving him more national acclaim. In the rear view mirror of history, it is easy to take for granted the courage of a Wally Schirra.
These guys were flying without a net and as Gus Grissom used to say, "we are flying these things from people who were the lowest bidder". Schirra was one of those courageous pioneers of my youth who seemed to pull it off with aplomb and ease. No wonder why he was David D's favorite.