Judy Greenwald asked if I’d pick up the pizza and she didn’t have to ask twice. I’d been on the job since 10 a.m. Sunday and while it was getting close to 1 p.m. there was still a ton of work to be done. A run for the pizza was a welcomed respite.

I don’t know what I expected to encounter when I got back a half-hour later, but what I did nearly made me drop the six boxes I was juggling, and thank the Lord I’d left the other six in the car. When I left, the hall at the former St. John’s High School was empty. When I walked in with the pizza, there were women (and a few men) as far as the eye could see, some 300 of them.

“So, this is what a purse bingo looks like,” I thought.

Judy, president of the Pittston Arts Council, which sponsored the event and of which I am a member, assigned me to kitchen detail, an almost laughable spot for a guy who never cooked a thing in his life. But even I can slide a slice of pizza onto a plate or a hot dog into a bun, and if that’s where I was needed, that’s where I went.

Being in the kitchen and away from the action was like standing outside of a baseball stadium and hearing cheers when something exciting happened. Only it wasn’t homeruns that brought squeals of delight. It was winning a purse.

I had been told these things were raucous, but I had to experience it to believe it. I’d always thought a purse was a purse. Not anymore.

There were lulls in the action, for the kitchen crew anyway, and that afforded me the opportunity to look around and imagine the time when Chef Bill McCabe whipped up homemade meals for St. John’s students. Bill once told me his days always began with making desserts, fresh-baked blueberry or apple pies, or cakes made from scratch.

I shared this with Erin Ostroski, the former Erin Booth, running the show in the kitchen, and she talked about Bill’s cinnamon buns, served on First Fridays when students had to fast to receive communion at 8 a.m. Mass and needed nourishment before the school day began.

When I woke up Sunday morning, I’d promised myself I’d write my column when I got home from the purse bingo. Who was I kidding? I was totally spent by the time I walked into my house about 6:30 p.m., barely making it to the recliner. I had no idea when I’d finally sit down to write, but one thing I knew for sure, I was not about to type a single word about purses.

Besides, I woke up Monday morning to discover something that made my heart sink and conjured up thoughts I wanted to share: the obituary of Dr. Harold Cox, who died Sept. 8 at 90 years old.

I immediately recalled a blog I wrote about Dr. Cox six years ago when a building on the campus of Wilkes University was named in his honor. A newspaper article about the dedication described Dr. Cox as “a slip of a man, even if you could straighten the curve of aging in his spine.”

“He disappeared behind the podium,” the writer added.

That’s not the Dr. Cox I remember. That Dr. Cox owned the podium in front of the tiered auditorium in Stark Hall when I began college at Wilkes in 1967. That Dr. Cox looked 7 feet tall.

He was lean and wiry and gave the impression he could kick your butt and those of a few of your friends at the same time. He had the haircut of Steve McQueen and the presence of Clint Eastwood. We heard he was a major in the Army Reserves and he looked every bit the part.

Dr. Cox would glide up to that podium with long, demonstrative strides, place a black binder of notes on it, throw the foot of his left leg onto a table and begin to read. I remember him talking about Visigoths tearing through what is now Italy and thinking as I scribbled feverishly, “These notes are coming at us like Visigoths.”

Dr. Cox was tough as nails, but also witty and even, dare I say, playful.

One day, a student in the front row fell asleep. Dr. Cox, without interrupting his incessant flow of words, picked up a long pointer, casually walked to the student, wound up like Warren Spahn and brought the pointer down on the desktop with the sound of a tree snapping in a thunderstorm.

You should have seen the student’s reaction.

But Dr. Cox just kept on lecturing, returning to the podium and placing that left foot right where it belonged.

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

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