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Monday, November 20, 2023

Gather ‘Round the Table


For some strange reason, the year my younger brother Tim made his First Holy Communion in 1970, our parish thought it would be a great idea for that to occur on Thanksgiving Day instead of the customary springtime like I had two years prior. Aside from making it difficult to find Communion attire, greeting cards and decorations at that time of the year, it posed a great quandary for my parents: Do we hold a Communion party and skip the traditional Thanksgiving dinner or host a crowd for turkey and all the fixings?

Of course, a hue and cry rose from those attached to a turkey dinner when my mom tossed out the idea to toss the turkey that year. So, my mom, to appease the family, opted for a sit-down, turkey dinner for 28 people. At that time, my dad had not yet put in our game room, and we had a small kitchen, and a dining room that only accommodated our family of six comfortably, and a living room.

To help my mother, both of my grandmothers offered to cook a turkey.

On the big day, my family set up folding tables and card tables everywhere and both sides of my family came for the happy occasion. My paternal and maternal grandparents were very different in temperament. My widowed Grandma Aggie Lane went to Mass most every day and never swore except for one time when my youngest brother, David, squirted her in the butt with a hose, and she exclaimed, “Damn you, David.” It was shocking and still lives in family lore.

My maternal Grandma, Gert Hughes, and her mother, my Great-Grandmother Cornelia Ledergerber, swore like crazy (not F bombs, but vulgarities.) Grandma Gert smoked, read novels, and loved soap operas. She believed in God but was not nearly as devout at Grandma Aggie.

If you want to create tension, throw four cooks into a tiny kitchen to prepare a massive Thanksgiving dinner. The Hughes side of the family made their stuffing with an egg in it, and the Lane side of the family liked their stuffing dry. One side liked the jellied canned cranberries and the others liked whole cranberries. My Grandma Leder was old school and wanted to sew her turkey shut with twine after stuffing it, while Grandma Aggie thought the new metal wires that closed the cavity and came on the turkey was a great innovation much to the disgust of Grandma Leder.

Each of these women had their own method for making gravy, and as they stood in the kitchen with their turkey drippings in cups trying to concoct their “best” gravy, my Uncle Bill on his way to get a drink, called out, “I’m next in line to make gravy!”

To which my Grandma Leder replied, “Oh, Billy you’re full of sh*t.”

I neglected to share that among the guests that day was my dad’s Aunt Gert, Grandma Aggie’s older sister, who was officially known as Sr. Euphemia, a Mercy nun.

When Grandma swore, my mom shushed her, “Grandma, the nun.”

And Grandma replied, “Ah, the hell with the nun.”

When dinner was ready, we all sat down for a memorable Thanksgiving dinner. Although my grandparents’ personalities were very different, they always respected one another and, in fact, liked and got along well, even under stressful circumstances like competing to make the best gravy.

And why? Because they shared something. They loved us.

There’s a home movie of that Communion Party/Thanksgiving Dinner, and on it are all my grandmas, clad in their aprons, crammed in the kitchen. In the next segment, Grandma Leder is standing with several of her great-grandchildren, including my brother, Tim, the Communion boy, and she’s hugging us and giving Tim a kiss.

It doesn’t matter who makes the best gravy, how you stuff your turkey, or if you’re stuck sitting on a telephone book at a card table. What matters is if there is love around your table, and this Thanksgiving, I hope you have an abundance of it.

Monday, May 8, 2023


Are you generous? I hope I am, but sometimes I wonder.

Recently, we celebrated the 90th birthday of one of my good friend’s mother, Millie. From the time I was 14 years old, her house was open to me and my gang of high school friends. We had slumber parties there, and when her daughter won a turkey at our school’s annual Turkey Bingo, she cooked it for a dozen girls. When we went to the prom, she opened her home for us bleary-eyed prom goers, getting up at 4 a.m. to cook us homemade waffles after we departed the Gateway Clipper after-prom cruise. Neither I nor my friends were wealthy. We all grew up in three-bedroom, one-bath homes, sharing rooms with siblings, and no one at that time had a “family room.” But we were welcomed into all of their homes, and drinks and snacks were generously provided.

Contrast that to something that I also experienced when I was in high school. In my senior year, I was a contestant in the North Hills Junior Miss Pageant. Upon making the cut as one of 16 finalists, (I didn’t win), all the contestants were welcomed at a party in a rather hoity-toity neighborhood, in what I would have called back then a mansion. Our refreshments? They hostess passed around one small bowl of nuts and served us lemon water. They didn’t even crack open a bottle of Pepsi or pop the top on some Pringles.



It often seems that those who have a lot are the cheapest. When I was in 6th grade, my group of friends decided to go Christmas caroling and donate any money we earned to Children’s Hospital. We went door-to-door in my girlfriends’ neighborhood, and almost every house we stopped at gave us a dollar or two and some even gave us a five-dollar bill! Adjacent to her neighborhood was a plan of newly built homes that looked to me back in 1972 to be homes like the Brady Bunch lived in. When we caroled at these new homes, person after person who opened their door to us gave us a measly quarter.

When I worked at Westinghouse back in the early 80s, someone in our department suffered a tragedy, and one of the secretaries decided to take up a collection for our co-worker. Everyone threw some money into her bag until she got to the “big boss,” who said, “Sure, I’ll contribute. Write a check from petty cash and sign my name.” The secretary replied, “No, we’re not soliciting money from the company; we want cash from just the co-workers.” Sadly, this person could not grasp that giving money from the company funds was not the same as giving a personal gift from the heart.

Stinginess is not an attractive quality, and I hope my meter falls on the side of generosity. Not all of us are St. Francis, renouncing material goods, or have a lot of extra cash to give, but like my friend’s mom, you don’t always have to give cash, you can be generous with your time, your hospitality, your talent and even with your smiles and complements.

This article originally appeared in the May issue of Northern Connection magazine. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Like a Good Neighbor

 Fred Rogers would have celebrated his 95th birthday on March 20. I wasn’t a “Mr. Rogers kid”; I grew up watching Romper Room. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was for my younger siblings, but it was hard to escape his influence and his theme song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” 


My mother-in-law, Stella, also turned 95 on December 28, and then sadly, died two days later. During her funeral home visitation hours, coincidentally in Latrobe, also the birthplace of Mr. Rogers, many of her neighbors came to pay their respects. My mother-in-law lived in her home on two acres in Derry, outside of Latrobe. until last May when she fell. Although she was wearing one of those medical alert bracelets when she fell, she landed on her arm, and it took her several hours before she either regained consciousness or could summon the strength to push the alert button and call my sister-in-law.

As my mother-in-law lived over an hour away from my sister-in-law or us, my sister-in-law called the next-door neighbor and an ambulance. At the funeral home, we found out from the neighbor that it was she who arrived on the scene first, cleaned up my mother-in-law, changed her clothes, stayed with her, and let in the paramedics. Her neighborliness was touching, and we thanked her profusely for her kindness.

A few weeks later, I went to a relative’s bridal shower. As the bride began to open a gift, she stopped to acknowledge the gift-giver. “This is from Mrs. Perkins, our neighbor,” she said, singling out a small white-haired woman. “How old are you?” The bride asked. “Ninety-four,” the elderly woman replied. The bride, who is 35, turned and said to everyone. “Mrs. Perkins is my buddy. Poor thing, she’s heard about every boyfriend I’ve ever had from second grade on.” 


In her novel To Kill a Mockingbird, writer Harper Lee wrote, “You can choose your friends but you sho' can't choose your family.” For the most part, you can’t choose your neighbors either. In most instances, like a mortgage, they come with your home. 


                                                                               Hey, Boo!


We’ve all heard horror stories about the “neighbors from hell,” but neighbors often can be just as important as family. They can be first responders, confidants, babysitters, and best of all, friends. I’ve been blessed to know many wonderful neighbors and consider them not only people who live nearby but my friends.

Good neighbors are the unsung heroes of society. As I was thinking about this, I wondered if there is a day to celebrate neighbors and there is. National Neighbor Day is celebrated on September 28. I also learned that there is a National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day.

As spring arrives and you’re out and about in your neighborhood, take time to appreciate the good people who live around you. But a word of caution. You may want to skip that zucchini day if you want to remain friends with your neighbors.


This article originally appeared in the March issue of Northern Connection magazine.