Its Beginning To Look A Lot Like Easter

With Ash Wednesday just a day away, I thought it would be interesting to revisit some memories of the Easter Season that I recall.

As a Catholic child, a student of Holy Name Grade School, and an altar boy, the three days prior to Easter marked the most  pious and important days of the liturgical year. Although Holy Week officially began on Palm Sunday, the solemnness of the week really was felt and exhibited on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

I remember the seriousness and significance of the meaning of each day. The good sisters at Holy Name drilled the importance into our impressionable minds throughout our eight years of attendance. My mother and father reinforced those beliefs and certainly, as an altar server, I was fortunate to be part of the observances during Holy Week.

Good Friday stands out as the day that I truly felt the most stirred, and to a degree, frightened by the history of events that occurred that day in the life of Jesus Christ. I remember watching how everything would stop in our home, and an eerie silence would occur in our neighborhood and in the City of Duquesne from noon until 3 p.m. that day. Parents, priests, neighbors, friends all focused on the fact that the crucifixion had taken place at this point in time.

I remember how I would watch the skies at this time. I recall how very often, it seemed toEaster at St. Joseph be either a rainy or cloudy day. The coincidence of the weather with day’s history always made an impression on me. In fact, the photograph below was taken on Good Friday in 1970 during the 12 to 3 p.m. time frame. I had walked up to the statue of the Passion in St. Joseph’s Cemetery and snapped this photo of an approaching store. I found the original copy of this photo recently and noticed that it was dated 3/27/70 on the back. When I check out the date, besides being my brother’s birthday, it was also Good Friday that year.

If you are like me, so much has changed in our lives since the days of our youth. It is so helpful to me to recall all of those things that made this time of year so important in our lives. It restores and  my faith to even greater degree. To me, it is comforting that those doctrines of our faith were embraced and observed throughout our hometown.

After our steadfast observances of the Rites of Easter during Holy Week, like any child, my brother and I looked forward to waking Easter morning to all of the expected and traditional delights of the day. Carefully wrapped cellophane covered Easter baskets were always perched on the dining room table each year. Steve and I would peer through the colorful cellophane wrapping to try to see what was waiting for us inside the basket. We were never allowed to unwrap the basket before we went to Mass, however, before we were old enough to receive Holy Communion, Mom would always have some “spare” chocolate Easter eggs to tide us over.

Walking into Holy Name on Easter Sunday was sensory delight. The fragrances of Spring flowers filled the air. Hyacinths, Easter lilies and tulips graced every altar in the church. Combined with the sometimes “over-the-top” hats that the ladies would wear, the church was alive with color. The pews were packed and the celebration of Easter Mass was truly inspiring. I can still picture it all to this day. Once we returned home from Mass, the events of Volk Family traditions took effect and our day continued to hold one adventure after another that was shared with our entire extended family of Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Cousins. These are memories I will never forget!

The following are random images that might conjure up some Easter time memories for you, followed by a synopsis of the history and the rites of Holy Week.

To all of my Duquesne and Hunky friends, Have a Wonderful Easter Holiday!!

HOLY NAME’S FORMER INTERIOR

Holy Name Altar

HOLY TRINITY’S FORMER INTERIOR

HT Church 60s

EASTERTIME WITH THE VOLK BOYS CIRCA 1954 and 1955

Scan_Pic0003 Scan_Pic0001 Scan_Pic0002 Scan_Pic0075

 The Rites of Holy Week – Wikipedia

Holy Week in Latin Rite Catholicism 

Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday)

Holy Week begins with what in the Roman Rite is now called Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. Before 1955 it was known simply as Palm Sunday, and the preceding Sunday as Passion Sunday. From 1955 to 1971 it was called Second Sunday in Passiontide or Palm Sunday.

 To commemorate the entrance of the Messiah into Jerusalem, to accomplish his paschal mystery, it is customary to have before Mass a blessing of palm leaves (or other branches, for example olive branches). The blessing ceremony, preferably held outside the church includes the reading of a Gospel account of how Jesus rode into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey, reminiscent of a Davidic victory procession, and how people placed palms on the ground in front of him. Immediately following this great time of celebration in the entering of Jesus into Jerusalemé, he begins his journey to the cross. This is followed by a procession or solemn entrance into the church, with the participants holding the blessed branches in their hands.

 The Mass itself includes a reading of the Passion, the narrative of Jesus’ capture, sufferings and death, as recounted in one of the Synoptic Gospels.

 Before the reform of the rite by Pope Pius XI, the blessing of the palms occurred inside the church within a service that followed the general outline of a Mass, with Collect, Epistle and Gospel, as far as the Sanctus. The palms were then blessed with five prayers, and a procession went out of the church and on its return included a ceremony for the reopening of the doors, which had meantime been shut. After this the normal Mass was celebrated. 

Monday to Wednesday

The days between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday are known as Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday. The Gospels of these days recount events not all of which occurred on the corresponding days between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his Last Supper. For instance, the Monday Gospel tells of the Anointing at Bethany (John 12:1-9), which occurred before the Palm Sunday event described in John 12:12-19.

 The Chrism Mass, whose texts the Roman Missal now gives under Holy Thursday, may be brought forward to one of these days, to facilitate participation by as many as possible of the clergy of the diocese together with the bishop. This Mass was not included in editions of the Roman Missal before the time of Pope Pius XII. In this Mass the bishop blesses separate oils for the sick (used in Anointing of the Sick), for catechumens (used in Baptism) and chrism (used in Baptism, but especially in Confirmation and Holy Orders, as well as in rites such as the blessing of an altar and a church).

 Tenebrae

When the principal services of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil were celebrated in the morning, the office of Matins and Lauds of each day was celebrated on the evening of the preceding day in the service known as Tenebrae (Latin, “Darkness”).

Maundy (Holy) Thursday 

Mass of the Lord’s Supper 

On this day the private celebration of Mass is forbidden. Thus, apart from the Chrism Mass for the blessing of the Holy Oils that the diocesan bishop may celebrate on the morning of Holy Thursday, but also on some other day close to Easter, the only Mass on this day is the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which inaugurates the period of three days, known as the Easter Triduum, that includes Good Friday (seen as beginning with the service of the preceding evening), Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday up to evening prayer on that day. 

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his Twelve Apostles, “the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and the commandment of brotherly love that Jesus gave after washing the feet of his disciples.”

 All the bells of the church, including altar bells, may be rung during the Gloria in Excelsis Deo of the Mass (the Gloria is not traditionally sung during the entire Lenten season). The bells and the organ then fall silent until the Gloria at the Easter Vigil. In some countries, children are sometimes told: “The bells have flown to Rome.”

The Roman Missal recommends that, if considered pastorally appropriate, the priest should, immediately after the homily, celebrate the rite of washing the feet of an unspecified number of men, customarily twelve, recalling the number of the Apostles.

A sufficient number of hosts are consecrated for use also in the Good Friday service, and at the conclusion the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession to a place of reposition away from the main body of the church, which, if it involves an altar, is often called an “altar of repose”.

The altars of the church (except the one used for altar of repose) are later stripped quite bare and, to the extent possible, crosses are removed from the church or veiled. (In the pre-Vatican II rite, crucifixes and statues are covered with violet covers during Passion time, but the crucifix covers can be white instead of violet on Holy Thursday.)

Good Friday 

Roman Catholic Christians treat Good Friday as a fast day, which is defined as only having one full meal with, if needed, two small snacks that together do not make a full meal. 

The Catholic Good Friday in the Roman Rite afternoon service involves a series of readings and meditations, as well as the (sung) reading of the Passion account from the Gospel of John which is often read dramatically, with the priest, one or more readers, and the congregation all taking part. In the traditional Latin liturgy, the Passion is read by the priest facing the altar, with three deacons chanting in the sanctuary facing the people. Unlike Roman Catholic services on other days, the Good Friday service is not a Mass, and in fact, celebration of Catholic Mass on Good Friday is forbidden. Eucharist consecrated the night before (Holy Thursday) may be distributed. The cross is presented, with the people given an opportunity to venerate it. The services also include a long series of formal intercessions. The solemnity and somberness of the occasion has led to a phenomenon whereby in the course of history the liturgical provisions have a tendency to persist without substantial modification, even over the centuries. Some churches hold a three-hour mediation from midday, the Three Hours’ Agony. In some countries, such as Malta, Philippines, Italy and Spain, processions with statues representing the Passion of Christ are held.

The only sacraments celebrated are Penance and Anointing of the Sick. While there is no celebration of the Eucharist, Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful only in the Service of the Passion of the Lord, but can be taken at any hour to the sick who are unable to attend this service.

The altar remains completely bare, without texts, candlesticks, or altar cloths.

It is customary to empty the holy water fonts in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil.

The Stations of the Cross are often prayed either in the church or outside.

The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord takes place in the afternoon, ideally at three o’clock, but for pastoral reasons a later hour may be chosen.

Since 1970, the color of the vestments is red. Previously it was black. If a bishop celebrates, he wears a plain miter.

‘The liturgy consists of three parts in the Roman Rite: the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion.

The readings from Isaiah 53 (about the Suffering Servant) and the Epistle to the Hebrews are read. The Passion narrative of the Gospel of John is sung or read, often divided between more than one singer or reader. General Intercessions: The congregation prays for the Church, the Pope, the Jews, non-Christians, unbelievers and others. Veneration of the Cross: A crucifix is solemnly unveiled before the congregation. The people venerate it on their knees. During this part, the “Reproaches” are often sung. Communion service: Hosts consecrated at the Mass of the previous day are distributed to the people. (Before the reform of Pope Pius XII, only the priest received Communion in the framework of what was called the “Mass of the Presanctified”, which included the usual Offertory prayers, with the placing of wine in the chalice, but which omitted the Canon of the Mass.)Even if music is used in the Liturgy, it is not used to open and close the Liturgy, nor is there a formal recessional (closing procession).

It was once customary in some countries, especially England, to place a veiled monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament or a cross in a Holy Sepulchre”.

If crucifixes were covered starting with the next to last Sunday in Lent, they are unveiled without ceremony after the Good Friday service.

Holy Saturday 

Mass is not celebrated on what is liturgically Holy Saturday. The celebration of Easter begins after sundown on what, though still Saturday in the civil calendar, is liturgically Easter Sunday. 

On Holy Saturday the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb in prayer and fasting, meditating on his Passion and Death and on his Descent into Hell, and awaiting his Resurrection.

The Church abstains from the Sacrifice of the Mass, with the sacred table left bare, until after the solemn Vigil, that is, the anticipation by night of the Resurrection, when the time comes for paschal joys, the abundance of which overflows to occupy fifty days.

 In some Anglican churches, including the Episcopal Church in the United States, there is provision for a simple liturgy of the word with readings commemorating the burial of Christ.

The tabernacle is left empty and open. The lamp or candle usually situated next to the tabernacle denoting the Presence of Christ is put out, and the remaining Eucharistic Hosts consecrated on Holy Thursday are kept elsewhere, usually the sacristy, with a lamp or candle burning before it, so that, in cases of the danger of death, they may be given as viaticum.

Easter Vigil 

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the Easter Vigil, the longest and most solemn of the Catholic Church’s liturgical services, lasting up to three or four hours, consists of four parts:

1. The Service of Light

2. The Liturgy of the Word

3. The Liturgy of Baptism: The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation for new members of the Church and the Renewal of Baptismal Promises by the entire congregation.

4. Holy Eucharist

 

The Liturgy begins after sundown on Holy Saturday as the crowd gathers inside the unlit church. In the darkness (often in a side chapel of the church building or, preferably, outside the church), a new fire is kindled and blessed by the priest. This new fire symbolizes the light of salvation and hope that God brought into the world through Christ’s Resurrection, dispelling the darkness of sin and death. From this fire is lit the Paschal candle, symbolizing the Light of Christ. This Paschal candle will be used throughout the season of Easter, remaining in the sanctuary of the Church or near the lectern, and throughout the coming year at baptisms and funerals, reminding all that that Christ is “light and life.”

 

 

 

 

 

All baptized Catholics present (i.e. those who have received the “Light of Christ”) receive candles which are lit from the Paschal candle. As this symbolic “Light of Christ” spreads throughout those gathered, the darkness is decreased. A deacon, or the priest if there is no deacon, carries the Paschal Candle at the head of the entrance procession and, at three points, stops and chants the proclamation “Light of Christ” or “Christ our Light”, to which the people respond “Thanks be to God.” Once the procession concludes, the deacon or a cantor chants the Exultet (also called the “Easter Proclamation”), and, the church remaining lit only by the people’s candles and the Paschal candle, the people take their seats for the Liturgy of the Word.

 

The Liturgy of the Word consists of between two and seven readings from the Old Testament. The account of the Exodus is given particular attention in the readings since it is considered to be the Old Testament antetype of Christian salvation. Each reading is followed by a psalm and a prayer relating what has been read in the Old Testament to the Mystery of Christ. After these readings conclude, a fanfare may sound on the organ and additional musical instruments and the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is sung. During this outburst of musical jubilation the congregation’s candles are extinguished, the church lights are turned on, and bells rung while the church’s decorative funnings — altar frontals, the reredos, lectern hangings, processional banners, statues and paintings — which had been stripped or covered during Holy Week, are ceremonially replaced and unveiled and flowers are placed on altars and elsewhere. (In the pre-Vatican II rite, the statues, which have been covered during Passion Time, are unveiled at this time. In some places, the church removes the covering of statues and puts Easter flowers and decorations on the day of Holy Saturday before the Easter Vigil celebration. Also, in the current ritual the lights are turned on after the last proclamation of ‘Christ our Light’.) Members of the congregation may have been encouraged to bring flowers which are also brought forward and placed about the sanctuary and side altars. A reading from the Epistle to the Romans is proclaimed. The Alleluia is sung for the first time since the beginning of Lent (or, in the pre-Vatican II rite, since Septuagesima). The Gospel of the Resurrection then follows, along with a homily.

 

After the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word, the water of the baptismal font is consecrated and any catechumens or candidates for full communion are initiated into the church, by baptism and/or confirmation, respectively. After the celebration of these sacraments of initiation, the congregation renews their baptismal vows and receives the sprinkling of baptismal water. The general intercessions follow.

 

After the Liturgy of Baptism, the Liturgy of the Eucharist continues as usual. This is the first Mass of Easter Day. During the Eucharist, the newly baptized receive Holy Communion for the first time. According to the rubrics of the Missal, the Eucharist should finish before dawn.

 

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A Journey to Christmases Past

Well, Christmas 2018 in the Jim Volk Household came to a halt about an hour ago. My grandsons pooped out about 30 minutes before they left, and their mom and dad ended up carrying them to the car. My youngest daughter and her husband busily helped to unearth our home from the mountain of  giftwrap that cluttered the family room, while my wife feverishly began splitting up the remaining ham and sides for each family to take home to enjoy the next day. Without a doubt, it was a wonderful, beautiful Christmas Day.

Christmas-EveningSo, as I was finally able to relax after a delightful day, I began to think about Christmases past, and how they differed from today’s event. I listened to my daughters talk about how they had such an easy time this year shopping for the perfect gift. Both talked about the simple process of online shopping and how less stressful it was compared to battling crowds of shoppers at the malls, or at big box stores like Target or Walmart. They marveled at how they were able to review a store’s entire assortment of merchandise from the comfort of their living room sofa. Ahh…. Technology has made life so easy for them. Since I too did much of my shopping online or via QVC’s TV broadcast, I couldn’t disagree. It was easy. However, as they talked about the merits of online shopping, I thought about similar conveniences that were available to everyone when we were young.

robesI don’t think anything could ever replace the joy and excitement I felt when shopping with my mother or father at Christmastime. The stores in Duquesne and McKeesport were brimming with a bounty of Christmas gifts and trimmed in their Christmas finery. Nothing could ever compare to the feeling of the cold wintry air and the warmth that you felt when entering the stores. I don’t recall anyone being grumpy. Salespeople would be smiling and helpful , the need for fighting the crowds was never an issue and people always seemed to have a happy look on their face. It was a magical experience.

After my mother died when I was 12, my dad put me in chargedoll of shopping for the aunts, uncles and cousins that we exchanged gifts with each Christmas. Since I was too young to drive, and school work didn’t allow me a great deal of extra time, I took advantage of the precursor of today’s online shopping, CATALOGUES! Since my dad worked for JCPenney, he received a discount for items purchased in stores, but also for items purchased through the Penney Catalogues. I was able to achieve the same level of shopping simplicity as today’s online shopper, all from the comfort of our living room sofa.

Each year, JCPenney, Sears, Montgomery Ward, Aldens, Spiegel, and Key Distributing produced a Christmas Catalogue. Sears called theirs “Sears Wishbook” while Penney’s was simply “JCPenney Christmas Catalogue. Our local department stores, Gimbels, Joseph Hornes, and Kaufmanns also produced a Christmas catalogue, however I rarely purchased items from them due to their prices and the fact that we didn’t receive a discount! I was a glutton for collecting these catalogues and would have a full collection each year.

searsI remember taking hours and meticulously combing through each and every page. I took the job of shopping for the perfect gift very seriously. Each year, after deciding on what I thought was the ideal gift for my aunts, uncles or cousins, I would sit with my dad at the kitchen table and present my ideas to him. I don’t recall a single time when he objected to any selection I had made. Once past that part of the process, I would then be charged with the responsibility of calling in our orders to the Catalogue Desk at JCPenneys in the Eastland Shopping Center in East McKeesport. I would anxiously wait for receive a confirmation that the merchandise was available, and ultimately, when it would be shipped to the Eastland store to be picked-up. This annual process took place for 9 years until I turned 21 and decided to move to California…oh the joys of youth.

I was curious about the availability of these old catalogues. Most of the major companies ceased catalog operations by the end of the 1990’s. Some attempted to test online shopping, but the successes initially were few. I decided to check out eBay to see ifmens anyone was selling the old Christmas catalogues. I was thrilled to see that there were many vintage catalogs were available, but the ones that interested me were too pricey in my opinion. Some were selling for up to $100! Then, like a beacon in the night, I came across a website that featured full color Christmas catalogues from Sears, Penneys, and others. Catalogues from 1937’s 102-page Sears Christmas Catalogue through JCPenney’s 632 page Christmas Catalogue are able to be viewed in their entirety.

So, here’s your chance to recover from the Christmas craziness by checking out some of these catalogues from Christmases past. See what toys were popular in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and so on. Listen to some classic Christmas songs like White Christmas or Silent Night, make yourself a cup of hot chocolate while you look through the catalogues, and just enjoy the journey back in time. Let’s keep the spirit of Christmas alive like the traditions of old until January 6th.

Many thanks to Jason from WishbookWeb.com who gave me permission to use images from his site, as well as direct access to the catalogues. To reach the site and begin exploring the spirits of Christmas past, click the link below and ENJOY!!

WISHBOOKWEB.COM

Merry Christmas My Friends

Jim Volk – The Duquesne Hunky

 

 

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Christmas Music To Me Revisited

Up until roughly 1960, we had an old Crosley floor radio and phonograph that sat in our dining room. The turntable only had the capacity to play 78 rpm records, and our selections were limited to say the least. I remember Mom would occasionally play some of the Big Band records that she had purchased years earlier. The records were full of crackles and pops, but we were still able to hear the sounds of Glenn Miller or Les Brown fill the air.

In 1960, Dad decided to purchase Mom a modern piece of equipment that excited her beyond belief. The occasion was their wedding anniversary which was in October. I distinctly remember the day when he decided to give her the present. He wasn’t much into wrapping presents, and so he simply carried a huge cardboard box into the dining room. When Mom opened the box, she was speechless. There before her was a sparkling new Hi-Fi Stereo portable record player! The speakers folded together on the front and were black with a glittery finish. When the speaker were opened, they revealed a silver glittery fabric. The rest of the casing was pink and as “mid-century modern” as you could get. I don’t remember the brand for certain, but it may have been Phillips, Motorola or Zenith. I have not yet been able to locate a photograph of the machine, but I found one that resembled it closely, shown on the left.

Mom loved her new stereo. Imagine, being able to still play her old 78 rpms PLUS being able to buy and play new 45’s and LP albums! Dad had purchased the stereo from his friend Dom Torretti at Dom’s TV, so he knew he got the best. As an added bonus, Dad had received a box of 50 albums when he purchased the stereo. Granted, they were not the most sought after artists, but my parents enjoyed them. There were albums with the Ink Spots, Connie Boswell, Hawaiian music, Big Band Music, Tangos, Beer Drinking Songs (as if Duquesne men needed that type of encouragement!) and dozens of other genres.

Surprisingly, among all of the albums, there were only two Christmas Albums. The first was an album featuring Jack Benny and Dennis Day. It featured a photograph of Jack Benny dressed as Santa Claus and standing in front of what appeared to be Dennis Day’s family who were dressed in their pajamas. Jack was playing his violin and the family appeared to be singing along. It was as hokey of a photo as you could come by, and the album was just as corny. There were songs performed by Dennis Day, some by Jack Benny and even some tracks containing dialog of Jack Benny and Rochester. Believe it or not, I still have the album and I still play it every Christmas since it immediately brings back the memories.

Another of the freebies that Mom received was an album by Fred (?) that featured a pipe organ and bells. It was about as traditional of a Christmas album as you could find. Somewhere along the way, that album was either lost, borrowed or thrown away and I no longer have it. However, thanks to the amazing reach of technology and the internet, I was able to locate a copy of the records on eBay and now have it back in my collection. It too is dragged out every year and played, especially when I’m trimming the tree.

Beyond all other Christmas music, the one album that immediately “brings it home” for me isn’t one that you would expect. In the early 60’s, as a student attending Holy Name Grade School, we were charged with the job of selling a Christmas album that was recorded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, Pa. The album was titled “In A Manger Lowly” and contained primarily just the voices of the sisters at the Motherhouse in Baden and occasionally some pipe organ accompaniment.

On the back of the album, aside from the lyrics to the songs that were included, there was narrative about the origin of the title song, “In a Manger Lowly.” It reads –

The feature carol of this record, “In a Manger Lowly,” was written in 1916 by Sister M. Victoria, S.S.J., who at present is completely blind, and a patient in the Sister’s Infirmary at Baden, Pennsylvania. Although handicapped, Sister still assists in the work of the community through her apostolate of prayer and suffering. It is the wish of Sister Victoria that all who hear this carol may have a special share in her daily prayers for the needs of all Christians.

I spoke to Sister Sally, the archivist for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, and she gave me some interesting information regarding Sister Victoria.  The Sister was born on 8-6-1869 and died on 10-27-1963, a short time after the album was released. Sister Sally indicated that Sister Victoria was born the very year that the Sisters of St. Joseph expanded into Western PA. – Thanks for the information Sister Sally! 

On a whim, I visited the Sisters of St. Joseph – Baden website and discovered that their album was available on CD through their Gift Shop! I immediately ordered a couple and they are a direct recording from the album master still as magical as when my mom would play her album repeatedly through Christmas. If you would like to get a copy for yourself, here’s how:

Click HERE for CD order form.

Click HERE to visit The Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse Website

Click Here to Listen to In A Manger Lowly

Or you can call the main number, (724) 869-2151, and order by phone. Just ask to be connected to The Book Nook Gift Shop and they will take care of you. You can pay by credit card and have it mailed out immediately. As a final alternative, you can print out the order form and mail it to the Motherhouse at the following address:

The Sisters of St. Joseph

The Book Nook Gift Shop

1020 State Street

Baden, PA 15005-1338

And so my friends, I hopefully sign off leaving music in your heart. I am heading up to Duquesne this weekend and will be staying for 5 days. I can’t wait to get home and I’m hoping I encounter some snow along the way as I did at this time last year. I will hopefully return with lots of stories and pictures to share with you.

If there is anything you’d like me to check out, please leave a comment and let me know!

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My 12 Days of Hunky Christmas Revisited

After spending over 35 years as a retail manager, I have formed some rather strong opinions about the celebration of Christmas in the United States. Granted, I realize that I was party to the commercialization and the ensuing chaos that occurred with the change in everyone’s focus from “for-Christ and Family” to a “for-profit” mentality.

As I accumulated years of service in the retail industry, I began to become more and more cynical about Christmas. My chosen career path placed me in the heart of the action during the holiday season. It thrust me into a routine that was the complete opposite of what I grew up with. I think it would be considered a rare occurrence to actually experience a major cultural shift in values in a person’s lifetime. However, I believe that is what has actually occurred.

My Cousins during a visit at Christmas in 1960. L to R – Tim (T.J.) Stepetic, Joanne Carr and Lou Goldman – all Duquesne HS Grads

Whenever Mom prepared the Christmas menu, she would always prepare enough to feed an army. The large amount of food was necessary since every relative made their “rounds” during the days that followed Christmas day. When I was young, the spirit and celebration of Christmas extended well beyond December 25th. Families visited one another throughout the weeks that followed. Tradition steered the visits. The day after Christmas meant a visit to Aunt Rose and Uncle Sam, 2 days after meant Aunt Babs and Uncle Clell….and so on, up until the Epiphany on January 6th. During those evening soirees, every home set-up a beautiful holiday buffet for their guests to enjoy. Since the menu was virtually the same at every home, it came down to the either the buffet decorations or the subtle nuances of seasonings and ingredients that identified who had prepared the food. Aunt Mary’s stuffed cabbages were always larger than most and very hearty, Aunt Helen’s were perfectly formed little chunks of delight, while Aunt Jane would serve porcupine balls (the meat filling without a cabbage leaf wrapping) and kielbasa with the cabbage rolls.

This year, my wife and spent Christmas in the Philadelphia area with our two daughters, my son-in-law and my very first grandchild, Jackson! Seeing Jackson, at 5 months of age, delight with just crinkling up wrapping paper and exploring the many toys Santa brought him was worth the trip. It was a very special treat to be able to share his first Christmas with him.

Unfortunately, our trip only lasted a few days, and we made our return trip on the day after Christmas. I began thinking about one of the largest changes in the way we celebrate Christmas today versus our youth, specifically the length of the celebration. As I indicated above, when I was a boy our families continued to visit and celebrate for 12 days after Christmas. Trees kept their Christmas vigil in living rooms throughout Duquesne for the same time period. Outdoor decorations remained brightly lit as well. The spirit of giving also continued, and often the kids received presents at each and every relative they visited during the holidays. What an incredibly joyous time of year!

As we drove home yesterday after our two day visit to our daughters, it seemed that the plug was pulled on Christmas immediately. Radio stations that featured Christmas carols WAY too early reverted back to non-seasonal songs at the crack of dawn on the 26th. Christmas displays and the Holiday environment that had been created in every store, vanished overnight. Christmas merchandise was clumped together haphazardly with a 50% off sign slapped on it and bargain hungry shoppers ravaged the shelves. Store employees were dealing with people trying to return items and were demanding their money back. Arguments teemed and store managers tried their best to contain the anger and hysteria. To me, Christmas felt like one of those huge inflatable Christmas lawn ornaments that had the plug pulled. The sum total of most people’s Christmas spirit lay heaped in an unidentifiable pile of nylon in the middle of someone’s front yard.

Prior to the holidays, I did a great deal of research in the Duquesne Times. The emphasis on gift giving during the holidays was evident in issues surrounding Christmas, but for the most part it began with the issue published during the second week of December. The Duquesne City Bank’s ad announcing their Christmas Club Savings Plan for the upcoming year was usually the first evidence of the approaching holidays. From the turn of the century until the 1950’s, the Bank’s ad was always a presence in the paper.

When I think about how much has changed from my early days in retailing, I shake my head in disbelief. During the late 60’s, I worked at Gimbels in Eastland Mall. Although I worked in several departments initially, I eventually landed in the Camera Department. I recall that the Christmas shopping season and the Holiday advertising season was contained within the month of December. However, somewhere between then and now, the Christmas season was turned upside down. Stores began opening earlier and earlier each year. Opening an hour before regular store hours in December was about the extent of the “extra hours” at Eastland back in the 60’s, and that only happened one or two weeks prior to the 25th.

After the appearance of “Big Box” stores such as Walmart as part of the retail landscape, things dramatically changed…. probably forever. The length of time that stores were open got longer and longer. Advertising that dealt with Christmas began appearing weeks before Halloween. Stores were trimmed for Christmas as early as November 1st. As a General Manager or District Manager in retailing, I often had to deal with the complaints of people that dealt with the early set-ups of holiday. In my heart of hearts, I had to agree with them. As if the longer store hours wasn’t bad enough, now we are invited to begin our shopping at Midnight after Thanksgiving and continue all night. Is it me, or has this become completely maddening????

By the week after Christmas, stores will be complete stripped of any reference to Christmas. Any remaining items will be segregated to some obscure corner of the store and priced at 75% to 90% off. Valentine’s Day will hit us at every turn and the stores will be screaming “Summer’s Coming!” Of course, the fact that we are still facing the entire winter season doesn’t register anywhere. Oh, for those good ol’ Duquesne days!

With all of that said, I am committed to enjoying the holidays until January 6th , even if it is just Judy and I. I intend to continue to consume mass quantities of Christmas cookies, cheese balls and kielbasa. My Christmas tree will remain standing, my outside decorations will remain lit and I vow to continue to wish people “Happy Holidays” until the 6th of January. To me it isn’t a chore to do so….. it’s a pleasure!! So, to all my friends who are reading this…. HAPPY HOLIDAYS! And in true hunky spirit… play it forward!

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Homage to a Duquesne Icon

Today, I learned of the passing of Mrs. Rosemary Denne (nee’ Curran). Mrs. Denne  was the city Treasurer and Tax Collector for the City of Duquesne, retiring  in November 2014 after 12 years of service for the city.

MrsDenne

 

I met Mrs. Denne when on a visit to Duquesne after I had begun writing this blog. She was still at City Hall, working diligently as City Treasurer. She was kind enough to meet with me and talk about her myriad of memories of Duquesne and the people. She wasn’t familiar with my blog at that time, so I gave her the necessary information to access the posts, and she seemed very excited about reading it.

Months later, I heard from Mrs. Denne about the difficulty she was having in being able to find the time and resources to read the blog. As a favor to her, on my next visit to Duquesne, I had printed a large collection of my posts and the subsequent comments from those who had been reading the blog. I gave her a rather weighty binder, full of  posts for her to read and hopefully, enjoy.

I am reposting an excerpt from a post on this blog from 2011 that speaks to the spirit and love Mrs. Denne possessed for her community. She had written a comment about Duquesne High School sports and her enthusiasm for the teams.

Mrs. Denne…… you will be missed.

Homage to Duquesne High School Sports!

A devoted fan of the Duquesne High School sports teams, Ms. Rosemary Denne, has followed and cheered for Duquesne High School for over 70 years! A few months ago, Ms. Denne sent in some information about herself:

Rosemary Denne

Maiden Name = Curran, my dad was a Dentist here

Years in Duquesne = I have lived here since 1936 and still do

Comments = I am so excited about this [blog].  I am the city Treasurer and Tax Collector for the City of Duquesne and use my computer here at city hall.  I am very busy now, since the Real Estate taxes have just gone out, but I want to keep getting these pictures and comments.  I don’t know whether anybody still remembers me, as I am 83 years old.

Ms. Denne has graciously allowed me to post the article that she wrote that was published in the local newspapers:

FAREWELL TO DUQUESNE HIGH SPORTS

Farewell faithful followers of the red and white! From John Donelli to Pat Monroe, from Bill Lemmer to Montel Staples, from Alex Medich and the hundreds in between, to Elijah Fields, the Dunn brothers and all of the Washingtons, I have been here cheering you on and I have loved every minute of it.

Because you did your best for Duquesne High, I have stood a little bit taller all of my life as I have stood right there beside you.

My dad played football and baseball in 1916 and 1917. Among our most treasured family heirlooms are team photos of my father and his teammates on the front steps of our alma mater. The 1917 team finished their season without a coach since Vance Allshouse (a Duquesne dentist) was called away to World War I in midseason.

From 1936 to the present, I have been there. When I was a child, we didn’t have an automobile, but my father, my brothers and I walked to every home game. We took the streetcar and walked up Cardiac Hill in Oakland for playoff basketball games. Powerful, positive memories of those bygone days and those of the ’90s and 2005 don’t fade with the passage of the decades. I am grateful!’ Following Duquesne athletic teams was our main form of entertainment.

After I got married, I turned my husband into a Duquesne fan and he was one of the most faithful and loyal of them all. Our marriage was strengthened through our mutual devotion to “our Dukes.” Our oldest child played football under the firm direction of Mike Kopolovich, who was instrumental in securing a. fine football scholarship for him. One of our daughters played basketball and two others were cheerleaders. Our grandson scored the first three points in our beautiful new gym and another grandson received the John Phillip Sousa Award for his talents in the band. We worked in the refreshment stand, arranged fan buses and helped organize banquets.

During the past 20 years, if anything, our support for Duquesne athletes only became more important to us. The dedicated coaches, as well, as the cheerleaders and athletes, treated us like family When my husband’s health started to fail, Montel Staples made sure that we could ride on the cheerleader or team bus to playoff games. I am convinced that my husband lived longer because of his anticipation of the 2002 playoff run. On some of those days, when his heart was so weak that he slept for 16 hours a day, his first waking words were, invariably, “What about the Dukes? Call Montel.”

Since my husband died five years ago, Duquesne coaches and fans have made sure that my life’s best form of entertainment has continued. I am so grateful! My grandson holds the record for the most three-pointers scored in any game by a DHS player.

As of the last home basketball game, I was still selling 50/50 tickets and I really enjoyed it. I will miss all of the good friends I have made and love. I will miss the thrill of winning and the painful important lessons of losing. We won so many more times than we lost. Between 1941 and 2005, I attended seven state championship games with my Dukes.

During the last 40 years and particularly during the last 20 (since our steel mill closed), we reveled in the role of underdogs, consistently finding ways to demonstrate excellence while competing against bigger, stronger, and much larger (in population) opponents. We were survivors! We were champions! We consistently overcame the odds. With the deck stacked against us, we. never blinked. What a glorious ride!

I went from a little girl fan to a surrogate grandmother. I worked hard to support the athletes through the years. But they gave me so much more than I gave them. We are told to “Bloom where you are planted.” I was planted in Duquesne arid I thank God for the opportunities provided to me as a DHS fan over the past decades.

I will remain a high school sports fan, but the thrill will be gone forever. I’ll never again holler “Let’s go Dukes.” Thanks for the memories and may the Lord go with all of you.

Rosemary Denne is the current City
Treasurer of Duquesne and longtime
Duquesne High School fan.

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The love inside – you take it with you.

There’s a final line in the movie “Ghost” when the recently departed Sam (played by Patrick Swayze) tells his very much alive girlfriend (played by Demi Moore) “The love inside – you take it with you.” The purpose of this post is to just confirm that for the vast majority of us who grew up in the Duquesne – West Mifflin area, we carry a love for our childhood home. See if you agree.

I received the awesome photograph and email below from a former West Mifflin- Duquesne resident, Tony Pinkovsky. The photo was taken at the previously named Duquesne Country Club located off of Commonwealth Avenue in West Mifflin. The County Club is under new ownership and is now named WestWood.

Here’s a tidbit of information that I just came to realize. Most of the main roads in Duquesne that would crossover into West Mifflin Borough would change names at the point of intersection. For example; Crawford Ave. would become Pennsylvania Ave., Kennedy Ave. would become Texas Ave., Grant Ave. becomes Homestead Duquesne Rd., Duquesne Blvd. turns into Kennywood Blvd, etc. However the only road that continues with the same name from Duquesne into West Mifflin is Commonwealth Ave. Interestingly enough, When Commonwealth Ave. intesects with Homestead Duquesne Rd. in West Mifflin, it suddenly changes to Briery Lane. I wonder why? Any clues?

Duquesne Golf Course 12-25-2017

Photograph by Tony Pinkovsky

Well another great Christmas visit at home in West Mifflin.  I no longer live there but I was born and raised there.  Dad worked at Duquesne Works, and I can still remember like it was yesterday.  

Back in the 70’s we would get hammered with snow, the streets would be covered and us kids would go out to shovle snow to earn a buck or two.  Then when night came we would go sled ridding at the Duquesne Golf Course, not sure if it was legal, but we never got kicked off.  Then back home to enjoy some hot cocoa and tell Mom what we did all day.  

Dad would come home, read the Daily News paper, eat dinner and turn in after a hard days work at the mill.  On Christmas day we would go Saint Peters and Paul Church then visit relatives and sit around and talk.  

We had a tradition where we would wash our hands in a bowl filled with coins and water; the prayer was that we would have money throughout the year.  But times have changed, Mom’s still alive but Dad is no longer with us.  My sister and her family came over for Christmas and we washed our hands once again, but I still long for the yesteryears of the past, but am grateful I got to grow up in West Mifflin and Duquesne, what a great place to experience life.

Tony Pinkovsky

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Back to Duquesne Christmases

Retrospective time! In celebration of the Holiday Season, I thought it would be interesting to look back in time to past Christmases in Duquesne. 

Note: The images below are from newspapers that have been scanned at the loving hands of Mifflin Township Historical Society volunteers. As such, the clarity may be muttled or blurred, but I hope you are able to read most of the content.

1917 Top

The year, 1917. World War I (WWI or WW1), also known as the First World War, the Great War, or the War to End All Wars, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918.

On April 6, 1917, the U.S. joined its allies–Britain, France, and Russia–to fight in World War I. Under the command of Major General John J. Pershing, more than 2 million U.S. soldiers fought on battlefields in France. Many Americans were not in favor of the U.S. entering the war and wanted to remain neutral.

100 years ago, it was Christmas, 1917. American had been at war a little over eight months. For the first time, Duquesne was dealing with their sons away fighting a war at Christmastime. The following are two articles from the December 21, 1917 issue of The Duquesne News.

Christmas 1917 - 1

As not to disappoint the children of Duquesne, an effort was made to keep the spirit of Christmas alive. The not so subtle warning for the kids to behave themselves made me smile.

1917 Treat

Merchants in Duquesne were still trying to capture their share of gift giving revenue as well.

Ad 1917

Cars

1917 bottom

Let’s jump ahead 20 years to The Duquesne News published on December 23, 1937. The country, as well as Duquesne, had been in the Great Depression for over eight years yet spirits of the season remained high.

Ad 1937

Xmas 1957

In closing, let’s fast forward another 20 years to Christmas, 1957. This time, I thought it would refreshing to view that Christmas from the eyes of the boys and girls who shared the joy of growing up during Duquesne’s heyday. I dare you not to smile as you read through these Letters to Santa. I’m sure you’ll even recognize either your own or a friend’s letter!

Santa Letter

In closing to my family, friends, and fellow hunkys

223436-Wishing-You-A-Blessed-Peaceful-Christmas

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