Thursday, November 24, 2011

The LuLac Edition #1846, November 24th, 2011

We can all agree that the only blizzard that should be served with turkey on Thanksgiving Day would come from Dairy Queen.

My father's intrepid track crew from the Lehigh Valley Railroad. This picture was takenm in the summer and my dad is in the white railroad hat.

WPTS staff at the time, Paul Grimes, "the fatcat of recordland", General Manager Al asteli and Program Director Rick Shannon.


It was November 25th, 1971. I was a senior at St. John’s High School in Pittston. The Wednesday night before the big turkey day, the weather people were calling for some snow. That was not going to deter our plans to share the day with my mother’s sister, Sue, her husband Andy Dziak (one of my favorite people in the whole world) and their daughter Barbara and Rosemary. I stayed up late watching the late night talk shows and then a movie on the old WDAU Channel 22. I dragged my teenage self off to bed confident that I could sleep off the electronic hangover I inflicted on myself.
I was awakened by a 5:45AM phone call. My father got on the line and tersely answered into the phone. “Yeah, uh huh, okay, what ‘ya gonna do?” was all I heard. Then came the rummaging up the attic for his winter work boots. Snow boots. I got up and saw him putting on this big yellow gold insulated jump suit that was only worn for God awful cold days in winter. I asked him what was going on and he said, “Look out the window”. I did and saw 5 inches of snow on the ground with a howling wind, snow careering sideways and DeWitt Street looking like a huge white sheet. I looked in the direction of my grandfather’s house on Cliff Street and saw nothing but white. My father trudged down the steps, my mother armed him with a huge thermos of coffee and off he went to Coxton Yards to get his railroad assignment. That day he and a crew took the train to White Haven and began the long trek back of cleaning the tracks. He left at 7AM on Thursday Thanksgiving morning and returned home on Friday afternoon at 2PM.
Obviously our plans with my uncle Andy and his family in West Pittston were off. He never made it to his home on Warren Street that morning from his perch on Market Street in Wilkes Barre. My uncle was the guy who manned the booth where the historic Station Hotel was rebuilt as a tourist attraction. (Now the County, with you and me being the taxpayers is laying out a million bucks to restore the thing again after paying who I refer to laughingly as a local developer Thom Greco, a couple of million bucks for the property). Andy Dziak sat in that tower every night making sure those trains crossed the tracks and that local vagrants kept off of them. He was told to stay put because of the impending storm.
My mom and sister decided to have a Thanksgiving Day dinner anyway and began to scramble to make it happen. Thinking that my father would be home by 5pm, we decided to have a late dinner. I spent my time in my room going through my books and music. I had attempted to go out and shovel but the snow came down faster than my shoveling would allow. I thought of my father on those railroad tracks and I thought, “Damn he has a hard job”.
About noon the phone rang and it was Paul Grimes from WPTS Radio. I had hung around WPTS Radio doing errands and learning the broadcast trade. Earlier in the summer of 1971, me and a kid named Tim Kidwell from Scranton entered into a contest called “Disc Jockey For A Day”. He later became the Tim Karlson who became the Sports Director at WNEP TV. Paul told me he was at the station since 6AM and was destined to stay there until the sign off at 4:45PM. (Those were the days when WPTS went on the air at 6:15AM and left it at sunset). Paul wanted to know if I’d co host his show with him. By phone. I readily accepted because I was in love with radio and according to the nuns at St. John’s in love with my own voice. I asked my mom if we could clear the phone line for a few hours and she agreed. I sat in my sister’s bedroom and did the show with Paul. We’d banter back and forth, talk about the snow storm, the inches that accumulated and even introduced a few songs. One of the songs I mispronounced was Little Anthony and the Imperials “Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop”.

Paul signed off at 4:45PM as did I. His dad came and got him (Paul drove a classic early 60s Thunder bird convertible that was hopelessly mired in a snow bank on Foote Avenue in Duryea). We had our makeshift dinner at 6Pm without my father who informed us he’s be coming home the next day. After 7PM, the phone started ringing with my classmates from St. John’s calling to say they heard me on the radio. I was quite surprised at the number of people who had the radio on during that snowy Thanksgiving Day. On TV that night, the weather forecasters, Joe Scott from WBRE, Anne Wideman from WNEP TV and Tom Reilly from WDAU (Bill White never made it in that day) said it was a historic snow storm of the century. All three showed the path of the storm on the map, cold coming from Canada and moisture from the south. It moved northeast they said but never once called it a “nor-easter”.
That night I went to bed worried about my father and my uncle. At 9AM the next morning the snow had stopped but there was at least a foot and a half on the ground. My sister and I began the long effort of shoveling. At noon the Pittston City Street Department came by. Our neighbor William “Tricky" Kridlo who was the head street guy was on a truck directing the Pittston snow plow. At 2PM my father arrived home bone tired, nodded wearily to me and my sister, kissed my mom and slept until 3PM on Saturday afternoon.
On Sunday we traveled over to Warren Avenue in West Pittston and had that huge turkey dinner my Aunt Sue and her daughter Barbara had planned. My father and my uncle said nothing about the long hours they put in, instead talking about Penn State and the NFL.
There aren’t many survivors of that Thanksgiving Day from 40 years ago. All the people of my father’s generation are gone and I find myself at the same age my father was in 1971. To this day I marvel at the hard work and their fight against the elements. I think of the late Paul Grimes who gave me the chance to shine on the radio on that miserable Thanksgiving forty years ago. As I sit down to my Thanksgiving Day dinner this afternoon, I’m grateful for the lack of snow and better temperatures. (I thank Joe Snedecker for that!) But I’m also grateful for what radio broadcasting was 40 years ago. WPTS was owned by an Italian couple, Angelo and Rose Fioranni. In today’s broadcast world they would not exist. Every radio station you listen to on Thanksgiving today will be run by a computer. And if a blizzard hits, there won’t be any live bodies on the radio to tell you about it. Or for that matter, some high school senior partnering on a land line with a broadcast veteran to entertain and also mispronounce “Shimy Ko Ko Bop”. I called it “Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Be Bop” which I thought sounded better. But then again, everything and everybody seemed to sound better on the radio back then. Even during a snow blizzard on Turkey Day.


At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Marion Weiscarger Roughsedge said...

David, I absolutely enjoyed every single bit of this piece. You and I were the same age, living in the same town, going to the same school, listening to the same radio stations and experiencing the same sort of working-class life. ("My father and uncle said nothing about the long hours they put in, instead talking about Penn State and the NFL." That line said everything about how hard our parents worked with nary a complaint.)

Yes... you've recreated the time and place with absolute perfection. Thank you for mentioning the names of streets (DeWitt, Cliff, Warren in WP), radio stations (WPTS) and people: Tom Reilly & Anne Hayse (Wideman) - wow. My mom and I loved watching her model the latest fashions. And in my mind I pictured all the rest - including Bill White in his Atlantic weatherman costume. How comforting. I hope you and Mary Ann and your families have a wonderful and warm Thanksgiving with your families.

At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice job David. I remember that day very well. Hope you have a good turkey day.


At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave: Nov. 25,1971 brings back memories for me also.
At that time I lived in West Pittston at Mrs. Bixlels boarding home behind the Grablexs? dairy(Now a bank?) I think her house was torn down for a parking lot for the bank. My future wife Barbara Argenio lived at Park St. in West Pittston. I had to walk to her house that day. Couldn't move my car. Didn't that day end up with about 15"/17" of snow? You talk to people in the Lehigh Valley and it just rained in the valley!
Did you ever go to Ristagnos bakery. Barbara dad was a baker there. They had a cop there every Sunday to direct trafic. My neighbors in Palmerton still remember the bread Barbar's dad brought. Didn't have enough room to freeze it all.
Take Care, Joe B.

At 9:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a day that was- I was working 3rd shift at Met Life on the Morgan Highway. Even though Penndot had snowplows up the street, they got caught with their pants down. We were stuck at work until about noon, when Penndot finally got the Morgan Highway plowed.

At 11:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marion Weiscarger ......... realted to the nurse with the same name? A very good friend to my late Mother.


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