Fate brought this writer home twice in the last few weeks to Lantenengo County. Fate and Mother, in the case of the annual Christmas Eve pilgrimage.

Every Christmas Eve, Mother, who like Opal Matino has been a church organist and choir director since the age of thirteen, implores me to return and sing in her church. She is no longer at St. John’s in Mountain City, but a parish closer to where she currently lives just outside of Gibbsville. The folks there are nice and have put up with a lot of shenanigans from me and my vocal performances over the years, the most unique being when I wrote and performed a Christmas song I can only describe as “outlaw reggae.” This is not the sort of musical fare one expects at Christmas in a coal region church, but I was undeterred. I brought a fully-orchestrated soundtrack to accompany me and when the bass and drums kicked in I was shocked to see heads bobbing and half-expected to begin to smell the sweet perfume of well-bred chronic.


(Yeah, Mon!)

This year Mother instead asked me to bury my ego and be part of her entire choir ensemble as they sang a cantata (not one of my original works, unfortunately). Little did I know that said cantata was 45-minutes long, I’d be standing the entire time, and because of my tight schedule and general laziness, I would be sight-singing the entire thing. Quite the exercise in stress and endurance for a sickly old man like me.

In light of my recent heart woes, Christmas kielbasi was lower-fat turkey. Low Fat! Turkey! I was assured it was purchased locally at the Andoshen Kielbasi Shop, where Mother had to stand in a line outside the door awaiting her turn (purchasing Christmas kielbasa in Lantenengo County being similar to trying to buy Springsteen tickets in Asbury Park).

not kielbasi.jpg

(And worse yet, turkey kielbasi is only smoked, not fresh!)

Tried to squeeze in a visit with an old friend or two. Emergency Manager Artie came to mind, still living in Mountain City as he does. “Artie,” I said, “Care to invite me over to see you and your family over Christmas?”

“Sure,” he replied, “when are you coming in?”

“Arriving Christmas Eve and departing December 26th.”

“Oh, that won’t work for us. We’re leaving on vacation Christmas Eve and will be gone over a week.”

“Artie,” I said, “Did you think I was talking Russian Christmas? Or might that already take us to closer to Ground Hog’s Day?” Alas, we will have to catch up some other time.

The rest of the visit was quick and relatively painless. The biggest blizzard the Jersey Shore has had in quite a while was to greet us upon our arrival home, so we left incredibly early (for us) the day after Christmas, but not before I got my annual case of Danny’s Boulevard Hot Sauce. It should last at least a few months.


(Pour it on your burgers and enjoy!)

Chronicles of my second trip a short time thereafter to follow.