One Photo's Worth a Thousand Memories

(by Bob Urban, The Times News, Lehighton, PA, July 16, 1990)

"One friend in a lifetime is much; two are many; three are hardly possible. Friendship needs a certain parallelism of life, a community of thought, a rivalry of aim." – Henry Brook Adams (1838-1918)

The photograph was a blast from the past – a "Big Oldie," as the disc jockey used to bellow over the car radio.

I could almost hear Wilbert Harrison "Goin" to Kansas City." It was the 1950s all over again.

A friend in California found the picture in his attic. He thought maybe I'd like a copy of it, and sent it along. He thought right.

I'm not in the photograph, but a quick count reveals that at least a half dozen guys who I was closest to in my formative years are captured, eating watermelon at a picnic sponsored by the old Coaldale CHOSE organization.

These were some of the guys I shared my best and worst teenage experiences with. And, they are at least partially responsible for the way I view the world and humanity in general today.

I look back at them and at those times with great affection.

Small Towns:

It's one of life's sweet ironies that the smaller the town you grow up in, the more friends you seem to make. Live in a city and you're lucky to know the name of your next door neighbor. In a small town, everyone's your neighbor. Most are probably relatives.

Some of the guys in this picture were family, long before I found a wife and raised a family of my own. We were brothers, bound not by blood, but by environment and age. We were coal region kids, and damn proud of it.

There are some I still see a lot, others I'm in contact with occasionally, and several I hear only glimpses of how and what they're doing.

I wonder if the memories of the old days are still as vivid to them as they are to me – those tiny vignettes that seem so corny now, but didn't seem that silly then – the afternoons and nights in Henry's Pool Room, the goofy hats we bought in Joe Abraham's store in Lansford; the shower room songfests after football practice; Hauto Dam, Buck Culley's; The My Place, three quarts of Stegmaier for a buck from the Mannechoer Club in Tamaqua; Helen Repko's Bar on Abbott Street in Lansford; phoning Jimmy "Punk" McHugh at the Coaldale Gun Club and asking him, "Who burned the bean soup?"

They were days when we felt the camaraderie, the binding would never break. But, of course, it does. We eventually change addresses, direction and sometimes even lifestyles.

Thank goodness for old pictures to remind us of how it was.

The Guys Today:

Where are we now?

We're scattered around. Some of us bounced around and landed back at the starting line – in Coaldale and Summit Hill. Others are scattered from Colorado to Virginia.

What have we done?

Collectively, pretty much. We've raised families, fought in wars, written a few words, owned bars, drove taxis, taught school, piloted helicopters, went to sea, joined the FBI, played football with Roger Staubach, sold suits and even delivered lots of babies.

We've survived the nostalgic '60s, the rebellious '70s and the yet-to-be defined ‘80s. Most of us are looking forward to being around when the next century is ushered in. By then our children should be making their marks on society.

And while we trudge forward, sometimes it's fun to look back. But while you're doing it guys. Make sure you don't forget to spit out the watermelon seeds.