We pretty much power-walked our way to St. Ann’s one year, which is not what the annual pilgrimage from Pittston to St. Ann’s Monastery in West Scranton is supposed to be. It should be more of a stroll, filled with prayer and meditation. But we got on a roll, my friends and I, and couldn’t help ourselves.
This was the year Joe and Diane Majeski walked with me. And at the last minute, two of their four daughters (Stephanie and Lauren, I believe) decided to join us and walked the whole 8.5 miles in flip flops, arm-in-arm, sharing an iPod. We made it in a little more than two hours.
This was when several dozen people would gather in Pittston around midnight each July 25 and walk to St. Ann’s, arriving in time for the 4:30 a.m. Mass celebrating St. Ann’s Feast Day, July 26, and concluding the 9-day Novena to St. Ann. In previous years — 50 years ago or more — that number would be several hundred. Some would walk in bare feet. Last year, the number of pilgrims had dwindled to fewer than 20.
These “Pittston Pilgrims” were legendary at the annual Novena, and because we arrived so early on the day mentioned above, we had a perfect vantage point when, sometime around 3:30 a.m., one of the St. Ann’s priests boomed, “The Pittston contingent is arriving!” and onto the grounds walked a large group of people I knew, all led by Sam Falcone and his daughter, Tina. Sam was in his 80s. And this was not his last walk to St. Ann’s.
I was visiting my daughter in Texas when I read of Sam’s death on The Citizens Voice website. He was 97. Because of my traveling, I had submitted a few columns in advance. If I were home, I thought, I would write about Sam. And I’d start with the story I just told.
Or maybe not.
I write often about legendary local people at the time of their deaths. Perhaps too often. I once wrote, hoping it did not sound flippant, that the little kid in the movie “The Sixth Sense” may see dead people, but I write about them. I never write, however, without a degree of trepidation. Trepidation born of advice from an old editor and of admonition from an old friend.
Early in my journalism career, editor William “Pidge” Watson cautioned me to never, ever write a eulogy.
“Everyone who dies is the most important person in the world to someone,” he said. “And you can’t write about all of them.”
The admonition came in the form of an email. I used to write a year-end article about how many people had died in Greater Pittston during the previous year.
It took a few hours of research, but I thought it was worth it. At the end, I would list some names under the subhead “notables.” My friend, who had lost her husband during the year, wrote that while the most important person in her life was never elected to public office or ever had a Little League field named after him, his life, to her, was definitely notable.
She was right. And she proved Pidge right.
But when Pidge, himself, passed away, I went ahead and eulogized him. I had to.
Saying those few words about Sam Falcone today, while frightening, feels good. I suppose I made up my mind to go ahead and do it when I attended the viewing of his brother, Charles, last week. Only Carmen Falcone is left of the brothers who ran Falcone Beverage Company, a business started in Sam’s garage in 1946, eventually employing scores of local people.
And since I am sticking my neck out, I’d like to add a few words about Joe Fahey, who died last Tuesday. My memories of Joe take me back to my sports writing days in the ’70s, when it seemed I spoke to Joe every day of the week. I know I spoke to him every Saturday during the summer. Joe devoted his life to youth sports, as an umpire, referee and coach, and as president of the Greater Pittston Teeners Baseball League.
A story I remember most about Joe is of the year the guest speaker, Mickey Rivers of the Yankees, failed to show up for the annual Teeners League banquet. The affair was scheduled for a Sunday evening and, after learning of the situation, someone somehow got word to Brooks Robinson in Baltimore and the Hall of Fame third baseman for the Orioles got in his car and drove to Duryea, where he gave a moving, memorable speech. The kids were awestruck.
Afterwards, when Robinson refused to accept any money, not even for gas, Joe Fahey got the Komensky family to open their market on Main Street and gave Robinson two rings of kielbasi. “He was thrilled,” Joe said. “It might as well have been a thousand dollars.”
As I mentioned, I compose columns such as these with dread. I shudder to think of all the notables I have not and will not be able to write about. Time and space does not permit. My apologies to their loved ones. I intend no disrespect. And especially, my apologies to Pidge Watson. This was his only advice I’ve failed to heed.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.