My folks grew up in a section of Wilkes-Barre called “The Heights.” Most of the street names were culled from the ranks of Union Civil War Generals: Grant, Hancock, Sherman, Meade that ran off the main street that ran up the hill from downtown, Northampton. The large high school in the neighborhood also had a nod to the Union; named G.A.R. Memorial it was a tribute to the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union Veterans Association.
At the bottom of the hill was the large Stegmaier Brewing buildings. My dad’s best friend, Joe Schappert, had been the Superintendent of the Bottling Division of Stegmaier, so we had a lot of their big, gold cans around the house when I was a boy. I remember going through the factory on a tour “Uncle Joe” gave us when we were up visiting in the late ‘60’s. Dad grew up on a street called Bethel, but his home was torn down for a parking lot. The Heights was a haven for immigrants and still is, but now the immigrants are mostly Hispanic/Latinx instead of the Welsh, Polish, German, and Irish. The neighborhood looks worn and sad. We visited the old First Welsh Presbyterian Church where my Taid was an elder for 20+ years and where my Pop would sneak Reader’s Digests into the services read, since, until he came home from WWII, they were all in Welsh. I was lucky enough to preach a Father’s Day service here in June 1986 before leaving for Alpharetta, GA to start APC on July 1st. It was the last time Pop heard me preach and it was wonderful that even though he was in a wheelchair and failing, he was able to be there with his old boyhood friends.
Bill drove me out to the Oak Lawn Cemetery where we found my folks’ graves. He’s been on me for years to get a headstone for Pop, which I finally did. It is hard to believe that it is nearly 50 years since mom passed. I had to chuckle looking up from their headstones at the ones behind: Jones and Thomas – good Welsh names.
Leaving the cemetery we drove through downtown Wilkes-Barre, past Wilkes College (now University) where my folks graduated (and where Susan Kelly also graduated!), into the downtown. At the very center of the downtown there is a public park, and it was there in 1941 that my Taid had a heart attack and died. We passed an elaborate Masonic Temple where my Nain competed in Eisteddfod and sang in Gymanfa Ganu back in the day; it is unfortunately closed, but hopefully will be renovated into a concert space.
Touching the bases of what was “home” to my folks was a gift today.