Ed Ackerman

Ed Ackerman Pittston Progress cv30ackermanp2 Warren Ruda / The Citizens' Voice

My son was 2, maybe 3. He’s now 34. He spent his afternoons at my parents’ home in Pittston, often in the front yard if weather permitted. That’s how he met his “girlfriend,” as he called her. She was a grade-school child in the neighborhood.

She always wore a hat, this little girl. Even in school, I later learned. She had alopecia, the condition that involves hair loss, even in children. She had a handful of hats. She’d switch ‘em up depending on her mood.

Then her house burned down.

The only hat she had left was the one she wore to school that day.

I wrote a newspaper column about her. And hats came pouring in. Dozens of them. Many from across the country, from people who used to live around here but still subscribed to the local paper.

I was not surprised.

Nor was anyone else.

This is typical of the people of Greater Pittston.

And, yet, in a recent Reader’s Digest poll, the town of Yardley, in Bucks County, was named the “nicest place” in Pennsylvania.

Millions were starving to death in Ethiopia. The scenes on the nightly news were difficult to watch, but impossible to turn away from. Famine in Africa would inspire the worldwide concert “Live Aid” in the summer of 1985. But before that, the people of Greater Pittston did their part.

I wrote a column claiming I knew who could be called upon to feed the world. The moms of America, that’s who. Two local moms took up the challenge and rallied dozens of others. On a Sunday afternoon, they went door-to-door wearing symbolic aprons and asking fellow moms for a dollar from their weekly food budgets. The day ended with a prayer service at an outdoor grotto in Hughestown.

Thousands of dollars were raised, one dollar at a time, and donated to famine relief.

I was not surprised.

Nor was anyone else.

Still, Yardley was voted the “nicest place” in Pennsylvania.

A little girl was born with a birth defect that required her to wear a mask covering her face. Her mom sought me out to ask if I’d put something in the paper so that when they were out and about people wouldn’t stare. I did, but went one better.

It was around Valentine’s Day. I titled a column “Everybody’s Valentine,” and asked readers to show their support by sending this little 2-year-old a card.

She received thousands. Many containing money. Along with stuffed animals, handmade afghans and even a humidifier which she needed to keep her skin beneath the mask from drying out.

They sat her in the middle of the floor, and the letter carriers emptied their bags in front of her, reminiscent of the famous scene in the movie “Miracle on 34th Street.”

I was not surprised.

Nor was anyone else.

But Yardley was named “nicest place” in Pennsylvania.

A woman, a mother of two, was dying. The expenses not covered by insurance during her long battle had her family on the brink of bankruptcy. She and her husband were in danger of losing their home.

A few friends got together to conduct a raffle. They’d hoped to chance off a modest compact car and perhaps raise $10,000 to help out. Raffle tickets were 20 bucks apiece, a steep ask even for such a heart-wrenching cause.

They wound up eclipsing their goal nearly tenfold. Many local residents handed them as much as $100 and then said, “Keep the raffle ticket. Sell it to someone else.”

I was not surprised.

Nor was anyone else.

But the “nicest place” in Pennsylvania? Well, that’s Yardley.

Seton Catholic High School, formerly St. John the Evangelist High, closed its doors after a 143-year history in Pittston. It was a punch in the gut. Not only to hundreds of students and thousands of alumni, but also to the city itself. But the parishioners of St. John’s Church, right next door, did not waste time grieving. They swung into action.

First to locate in the former school was a food pantry, stocked with donations and staffed by volunteers. Then came a clothes closet for kids, quickly followed by toy donations. Then a free medical clinic, with a busy physician volunteering his time to lead the way, and volunteers, many of them nurses showing up after a hard day’s work, eager to lend a hand. Typically, the doctor ordered pizza and sandwiches to feed them.

A pediatrician jumped on board, followed by pharmaceutical students from a local college.

Donations of equipment, supplies and cash poured in and the clinic became a beehive of do-gooders doing good.

I was not surprised.

Nor was anyone else.

Now, I’m sure Yardley is, as the Reader’s Digest poll suggests, a nice place. It’s location along the Delaware River sounds lovely. I plan to visit one day.

But if we’re talking nicest place in Pennsylvania?

Well, I believe I’ve made my point.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.

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