Although Nancy has wondered about the accuracy of some of the weird stories I've occasionally recycled from my hometown days, her suspicions were erased as my classmates assured her that the stories were true. There was clear memory of the medicine show that came to town in which I had been hired as a pianist. Vince Balcerek, who hung out with me on the cold vacant sidewalk in front of my uncle's restaurant on Main St. at night because there was nothing else to do, remembered more about my relatives than I did. And Dr. Ed Levin, an amiable straight-A student with no airs about his talents, easily recalled the classmate, a coal miner's son, who had trouble pronouncing Hamlet and MacBeth in Mrs. Haberlin's English class. (It was Hamleth, and MacBett., for heaven's sake.) And all agreed that it was not wise to anger any of our stern high school teachers.
But beyond the camaraderie of a single Saturday evening dinner among friends, the gathering had a sense of balance, good humor and quiet respect that one doesn't often find in a crazy world. Joined by a 60-year bond, I was able to feel temporarily unchallenged by our routine encounters with the ugliness of the daily news.
Mt. Pleasant is the other side of a modern mobile world. There are still a number of classmates who remained in the little town and made a decent life for themselves, some calling it a night after another Steelers football game. (I snuck out from the dinner table for another update of the exhibition game between Pittsburgh and Buffalo that was on the TV above the bar in the next room.) These folks are just as aware of the swirl of happenings beyond their hometown as the rest of us, I'm sure. But on this welcoming night in Nino's restaurant, with dinner plates brimming with roast beef, chicken and pasta, we all preferred to live in the personal encampment of our shared past.
No one tried to exalt the town for anything more than it is: A slowly shrinking population with a stagnation that is worrisome without a remedy. All of the town's nearby coal mines and the five nationality schools have closed. Some of the family restaurants have vanished. The high school has moved to another site. On the upside, a Holiday Inn Express has opened near town. As Al Maida sighed, it's still a town worth everyone's good intentions and feeling. It is what it is. Home.
So yes, I escaped into the past and it was good to see that remaining gang again, talk about things that are now anecdotal keepers and let the rest of an often deranged world slip by unnoticed.
This was our third reunion over the past 10 years. Some of us suggested to Maida that we ought get smart and start holding them every year rather than wait another five years. He thought it would be good idea, too. Besides, everyone should be blessed with a small town to think about from time to time.