We had two questions on our minds as we waited in the drizzle in the parking lot of Kiesinger Funeral Home for the start of Avoca’s Sesquicentennial Parade last Sunday afternoon.
Would the rain ever stop?
And if it did, would there be any kids lining the parade route?
If not, what were we going to do with the $70 worth of plush animals I had bought at the Dollar Tree the day before, let alone all the candy we, the Pittston Progress team, had amassed?
Oh, we of little faith. After all, this was Avoca.
All my cute little teddy bears and puppies and monkeys were gone before we turned from McAlpine Street onto Main. In essence, the parade had barely begun.
Fortunately, I still had my candy stash, about 15 pounds worth, which included my signature parade item: individually wrapped Swedish Fish.
“I got them in,” Dick Yaniello had called to me at Pittston Candy, when I popped in Saturday after my dollar store trip. I knew exactly what he meant.
When I tried to pick up Swedish Fish for the Tomato Festival Parade, Dick informed me he didn’t have any, and hadn’t for six months. Despite their name, Swedish Fish apparently come from China, the individually wrapped ones at least, just one more victim of COVID.
I promptly bought two 240-piece boxes. Actually three. One for my students at the college. I threw in a bunch of other stuff too. Something called Nerds, Dick assured me, are a big hit.
I didn’t toss any of that candy on the street. Instead, I filled little hands with as much as they could hold, including some Swedish fish, but mostly I handed those treasures to the big people, saying, “This is adult parade candy.” They knew what I meant.
I spent so much time with the crowds on the sidewalks and even on some porches that I fell far behind my Progress cohorts, but they had plenty of candy of their own, provided by editor Patti Houston, herself an Avoca native.
I didn’t see Patti and her family again for the rest of the day, but I did catch up with state Rep. Mike Carroll and we walked together back to the grounds of the former St. Mary’s school for a party that brought together the entire town. I kept thinking, “Walking through Avoca with Mike Carroll is tantamount to walking through South Bend, Indiana, with Knute Rockne.”
Avocans are one big family, as close-knit a group as you could find, and I was grateful to observe the love they have for one another as I caught up with old friends and new, frequently fanning the embers of the legendary West Avoca-Over Town rivalry. Billy Joyce wouldn’t let me pay for my beer — “Your money’s no good in Avoca” — and when I told Red O’Brien I planned to walk back to my car at Kiesinger’s, he insisted he summon a police cruiser to drive me. More on that in a minute.
One of the many things I like about Avoca is that every third person is a Green Bay Packers fan. Heck, they even have a Packer Street. Sam Piemontese, wearing the coolest Packers cap, and I talked not about Aaron Rogers, but former Packer Clay Matthews. His wife, Geri, joined us and said she’s obsessed with Swedish Fish, pulling out of her purse the ones I’d given her earlier. She planned to savor them later.
I cannot mention everyone I ran into, but the list includes Alan Kiesinger, who’s brother Mark’s Tom Petty tribute band was about to go on stage, and Jack McCarthy, who said he’d be playing harmonica on the Petty song “Last Dance with Maryjane.” I grabbed Mike Lavelle by the arm and coaxed him into singing a little of Johnny Mathis’ “Chances Are.” It didn’t take much coaxing. And I was delighted to catch up with my old newspaper colleague Kathleen Berlew and her husband Robbie. Which brings me to the police cruiser.
I told Robbie that what I really wanted to do was to walk back to Kiesinger’s and he said, “C’mon, I’ll show you a short cut.” He and Kathleen walked me all the way down Spring Street and showed me how I could follow the railroad tracks to the Little League and eventually McAlpine Street.
I paused at the Little League park and wondered how many young Avoca kids, how many Mike Carrolls and Robbie Berlews and Alan Kiesingers, had spent their summer days playing ball there. And how many of their kids or even grandkids I may have given candy or a stuffed animal during the parade. All the while hoping the poor fella driving the Avoca cruiser didn’t waste too much time looking for me.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.