I dropped off a signed copy of my book yesterday to Otto’s Tavern for an upcoming raffle. It was a good excuse for a mid-day lunch break at our town’s watering hole. The owners were present and ready for good, friendly banter. The drafts were extra cold and not one person had a nose buried in a phone. An exuberant Ernest Hemingway look-alike sat across from me at the bar. Before leaving I had purchased two fresh chickens (as organic and local as you can get) for ten dollars from the woman next to me and had a vacation home in Florida lined up for a free stay whenever our family feels the need to head south. On the way home, I picked up a pizza from Little It for dinner and had the pleasure of more friendly talk with Julie Powell, Kristie Campbell and Barry and Marilyn Louise. It was a good day.
Small-town life has a way of magnifying characteristics. This morning, the smell of fresh cut grass, massive erupting ferns, and oversized rhododendron blooms burst alive in the yellow sunlight. The sweet aroma is intoxicating and rushes in to fill the voids of winter. Spring is giving way to summer in this Pennsylvania river valley.
Characters. This town is lush with the good ones.
At the same time, a small town will also coax the brighter characteristics out of people. That inner-character that we all inherently own. When the pace of life slows significantly and you enjoy getting to know your neighbors, the more interesting side of all of us is bound to come tumbling out. Emlenton is especially good at it and always has been. Around this time last year I received a manilla envelope in the mail sent to me by the man who grew up in our home some fifty-some years ago. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Archibald Newton, Jr and relish being able to hear about his life in this house we share in many ways. The large manilla envelope was chock full of goodies. Any long-term residents of Emlenton knew the Newtons and have an especially warm regard for Mrs. Rachael Newton. Rae, as she was known, was, coincidentally, a writer. More specifically, a journalist and reporter. My neighbors have told me you could hear the tap, tap, tap, ding of her typewriter on the front porch until winter temperatures became too much for exposed fingers. I’ve been told she was never seen without donning a sharp outfit and never shied away from conversation. She loved nature and enjoyed using the balcony that doubled as a sleeping porch. Two outlets remain that are reminders of the electric blanket she would use when mountain nights began to cool but the indoors still held on to the day’s heat. She was also fond of entertaining and apparently few could hold a candle to her skills of making townsfolk welcome at her famous cocktail parties. I wish I could have known Rae. Thinking back to a few summers ago when we talked with her son on our porch is a special memory. Today, the same wicker porch swing hangs from the ceiling and I’ve been told Rae, herself, obtained it from a house on Hill Street
Two days ago, the town was abuzz with a visit from the show American Pickers. The show’s creators, Frank and Mike, spent the day in town and, from what I’ve heard, fit right in with this crowd. Mike and the crew stopped in for lunch at the always-delicious Little It restaurant and visited the bike shop (Segway of Western Pennsylvania) across the way on Main Street while mixing it up with the locals. From watching the show, I know they have a love of bikes and motorcycles. They must have loved this scenic trail town that is full of both. Like most, I’ve enjoyed watching the characters the show features as hearty negotiations take place for treasured finds. As I’ve eluded to, we’re not short on charming characters, either. They came to the right place to film and the show’s scouts had the good sense to lead Mike and Frank to Jae and Andor’s Emlenton home. When the show airs, Jae and Andor will undoubtably be the real stars of the show. Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to receive an invitation for martinis at their eclectic stone home along the Allegheny River. Their effervescent personalities are warm and their stories of traveling around the world and sharing meals with dignitaries leave you trying to keep up.
When I meet people here for the first time, I am often introduced as the person who lives in the “Newtons’ house”. I instantly think of one particular photograph sent to me by Arch, Jr in that manilla envelope last spring. Among original deeds and a handwritten letter, there were pictures. How I love looking through it all and that one picture sticks out in my mind. The Newton family entertaining on their (our) beloved front porch. I can only imagine. If it is anything like the impromptu gatherings that occur on that porch today, it was sure to have been lively.
Rae may not be here anymore (although, then again … well, that’s another story) but the same friendly characters remain. Do yourself a favor. Take a lesson from Emlenton’s residents and let your inner-character out this summer. When you do, be sure to plan to visit all of us here in Emlenton. You won’t be disappointed.