I just finished a yoga class in Brookville, Pennsylvania, “the town that time forgot and age can not improve.”
Thank you, Garrison Keillor for the tag line.
Brookville was my Lake Wobegon when growing up.
It was a small town, isolated from the outside world by millions of acres of forest and farmland and the limits of communications technology. I never even heard of marijuana or recreational drugs, and I graduated from high school in 1968. The Summer of Love came and went and I was still loading lumber on to freight cars and swimming at The Dam to wash off the sweat and grit.
The town has changed, of course. Who and what hasn’t since 1968?
There are now TWO yoga studios. A short walk away, there is a gorgeous coffee shop, Coffee Cakes, with an 18-foot high , decorous tin ceiling.
My yoga class was taught by Teresa Stout, the owner of Yoga Brookville, a studio in the old McCabe Building, which also houses a large theatre on the second floor that I had no idea existed when growing up.
I’d met Teresa and one of her best friends, my childhood neighbor Tommy Ferraro, on Wednesday night at Dirty Ehrma’s, a tavern at the bottom of the hill on which we lived — the one topped by the Catholic Church, which may be why there were so many families with large broods living in its shadow. We had nine kids, so did the Cooks and the folks across the street had 12 or 14 (a number that probably doesn’t matter after 10).
Wednesday night at Dirty Erma’s is Chicken Wings Night, a night some of my friends, like Dick and Susie McLaughlin and Bobby Algar have been attending faithfully for more than a decade. The waitresses and barmaids wear T-shirts with “I’m just a Dirty girl” in big letters — but the effect is not contrived, like Hooters or Tilted Kilt. They are probably the kids of somebody I went to high school with.
Speaking of which, Teresa’s dad was my history teacher, assistant football coach and the wrestling coach. When I showed up for class this morning Teresa handed me the 1968 Brookville Area High School yearbook, from the year I graduated.
“I thought you might enjoy looking through this. I couldn’t remember who you were so I looked you up in the book,” said Teresa. “You can return it to Coffee Cakes when you’re finished.”
Yes, Brookville is still that kind of town.
So, yoga has taken off. Teresa even has a class just for men, which, if you grew up and left Brookville with a truncated memory, as I did, is just amazing.
I’m actually here for a family reunion and celebration of Pine Run, the 22-acre “camp” my folks bought on the Clarion River exactly 50 years ago this month. It is about 15 miles north of Brookville. Pine Run is our home away from home, the place my seven brothers and sister and our children and children’s children flock to when they can. It is the glue that keeps this far-flung family together.
The place where “the women are strong, the men are good looking and the children/grandchildren are all above average.
At least while we’re at “camp” — officially called Pine Run.
It fronts on the Clarion River which was a biologically dead, flowing cesspool of coal mine sulfur and wood pulp mill acids when we first bought it. Today, it is a pristine and hardly developed waterway that is filled with fish and surrounded by wildlife — including American eagles, ducks and other migrating waterfowl, bears, deer, turkeys and more.
God bless the EPA, the federal agency which forced the cleanup of this river among many others.
When I saw the miracle that had been wrought upon this river, I sat on a rock and cried tears of joy.
Pine Run now has three full-size houses and two cottages. It also has mail delivery, satellite TV and WiFi and a paved road — none of which existed in 1965.
This weekend some 150 family members and friends of Pine Run will be joining us 15 miles north of Brookville to celebrate the brilliance of my parents in spending $9,500 hard earned dollars to buy Pine Run back in the day.
Brookville used to be the kind of place young adults moved away from to make a living. They still do, but every time I return I see more and more examples of people who have put their faith in small town community and put down stakes with a commitment to making “their town” a better place to live.
When I grew up there, a high school boy could get arrested for drinking on a Saturday night and it would be all over the school by Monday morning. Teachers would lecture the kid in front of classmates and athletic coaches would take him for counseling walks around the track or smack him on the side of the head. Even the cops would take him and his buddies to the pizza shop for sobering cups of coffee before sending them home.
I think that may be where I developed my taste for black coffee.
We knew that it takes a village long before politicians were saying so.
But Brookville is no longer my town. I’m just an occasional visitor with memories mostly frozen around 1968. But I cherish the memories that I have. My classmates friends and neighbors were good, hard working, God fearing people who preferred to raise families surrounded by families, in a place where you can still probably leave your front door unlocked when you go away on vacation.
And now there are two yoga studios.
The other day, two of my brothers and I went to the general store closest to Pine Run for supplies. It is called Truman’s. While Tim Truman, whom we have known since we were kids of the same age, was cutting up cheese and cold cuts for us, my brother Bill told him excitedly about our 50th anniversary.
“Yeah?,” said Tim a bit disinterestedly, “Truman’s store is celebrating its 150th year this month.”
“Has it always been Truman’s?”
“Any celebration planned?”
And that is one reason why I love this region.