Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tales of Pottsville: sac⋅ro⋅sanct [sak-roh-sangkt]

from Dictionary.com:


extremely sacred or inviolable: a sacrosanct chamber in the temple.
not to be entered or trespassed upon
above or beyond criticism, change, or interference: a manuscript deemed sacrosanct.

Use word in a sentence:

Paul Harvey broadcasts were sacrosanct in my grandparents' home.

It's true. Those twice-a-day radio shows were "extremely sacred" and "above or beyond criticism" and "not to be...trespassed upon."

It was after we moved to Arizona from Ohio, the July I turned 9 years old, that I first heard of Paul Harvey and his signature "rest of the stories." Every morning and afternoon, like clockwork, the teaser for the Paul Harvey show would come on the battery-operated radio in my Grandma and Grandpa Potts' home up on the hill in "Pottsville" where we lived. And, no matter what we were in the middle of, all activity would stop - or at least we'd better do whatever we were doing real quietly - and Grandpa would go sit in his big black leather-like armchair and listen to every story, every endorsement, every cliff-hanging moment of Paul Harvey's program that was piped through the airwaves on 1270 AM KDJI.

I was just getting to know Grandma and Grandpa Potts that first summer. They were still somewhat a mystery to me. We'd visited them over the years, of course, but I'd never spent any real time with them that I could remember and their way of life was a whole new world for me. Coming from a typical Midwestern, middle-class home with big leaf trees, redbirds, slugs, lawns you didn't water, Lake Erie just down the road, and electricity at the flip of a switch, I was fascinated by the mesas, plateaus and broad horizons surrounding Grandpa's home up on the hill, 3 miles away from the nearest town, which itself was actually a little hamlet of maybe 200 people.

It's not just where Grandma & Grandpa lived that was new and fascinating, it was how. They lived in a little trailer nestled among outbuildings, 3 gardens, a small orchard, and a nicely built little guest house that was inlaid with chunks of petrified wood my Grandpa had gathered from the surrounding desert. There was a wood cook stove in the kitchen next to a more familiar electric stove; a wood stove for heat in the front room, a diesel generator for electricity (that would later be supplemented by a windmill), and a wringer washing machine and clothesline outside. There was canning lard and making lye soap. There was Grandpa cussing over the lawn mower he counted on to groom the postage-stamp lawn out front. And there were Grandpa's roses.

Grandma was easy to get to know that first summer - she simply loved us, was full of smiles and stories, and cheerfully put us to work, never doubting we'd do the tasks she assigned. It didn't occur to us not to. Grandma was a soft place to land, squishy hugs, soft pats on the back and a comfort for homesick little girls waiting for our parents to pack up our Ohio life and join us in the Wild West.

Grandpa, though, he was a study in contradictions. I remember hanging back a little, peeking around corners and trying to figure out Grandpa. When I say that he would cuss over the lawnmower, I mean he would cuss. He used words I'd never heard before. Often. And, while you would think that if someone is calling someone else a "sonsabi*****gba***rd", it would mean they really didn't like that person, I learned that with Grandpa you had to consider the tone. Was he laughing when he called the guy that? Oh, then he liked him; he actually meant, "Oh, that little character!". Was he scowling and spitting a little bit when he said it? Then odds are, Grandpa really was calling the guy's parentage into question. I was fascinated and a little frightened by Grandpa. But, it was Grandpa's roses and Paul Harvey that hinted that there was more to this somewhat crotchety old man who I grew to adore, cherish and miss as the years went by.

More about the roses later and what they helped me understand about Grandpa. Let's stick with Paul Harvey for now.

So, Paul Harvey comes on the radio and Grandpa sits down. If Grandma didn't have us quietly working on something in the kitchen, we'd scramble up on the orange and brown plaid, rough "davenport" situated under the window. We'd listen to Paul Harvey's distinctive staccato cadence and ultra-enunciation, and his stories reminded me of the stories I'd read in the Reader's Digest, also a new discovery since coming to Grandma's house. Paul's stories were always unapologetically moralistic; either extolling the virtuous or heroic acts of a no-name, average Joe, or unraveling little-known stories of famous individuals. I was fascinated by his storytelling, waited impatiently over commercial breaks for the rest of the story, and, as most kids would, dreaded what seemed like endless endorsements. And, while I was looking around the room while listening to Paul's stories, I'd sneak glances at Grandpa in his big black chair.

It was during Paul Harvey time that I'd see him sitting still, listening intently, rather than my more typical images of this man who seemed to always be in motion, affording me only glimpses of the back of his old cap, plaid shirt and suspenders as he toiled away over the pump, the generator or some building repair. With Paul Harvey, he'd be so focused on the radio I could watch his every expression without him noticing my scrutiny. It was the sparkle in his eye at some merry story that let me see his sense of humor soften what I thought were hard edges; it was when he would throw his head back, reveal great big slightly yellowed teeth, crinkle his eyes and laugh a curiously silent laugh that was nonetheless full of mirth and unabashed enjoyment that I would feel a tingly contentment creep into my stomach, warming me towards this wiry old guy with the stern visage. And, sometimes, he would drift off for a short snooze near the end of the afternoon show, revealing the toll all that hard work that he never complained of doing was taking on an aging man with emphysema and diabetes.

Like clockwork, Paul Harvey would come on the radio - his twice daily show was part of the rhythm of my childhood and those precious years on the hill with Grandma and Grandpa. I loved listening to Paul Harvey not only because of his stories, but because of the time his shows gave me to swing my legs back and forth on the davenport, take a break from chores, and steal lots of glances at my Grandpa as he listened intently and laughed often.

As I grew older, I began to understand the nuances of Grandpa's personality and figured out he wasn't just the gruff old guy I first thought. I loved my Grandpa Potts, with his shock of black-streaked grey and white hair, that always looked slightly overgrown and kind of pokey-outy, like that of a 10-year-old boy's crew cut three days before summer vacation is over and he has to get his back-to-school buzzcut. I figured out Grandpa's quick sense of humor and the depth of his affection for the people in his life, and I knew he loved and adored me. Those realizations took some time, though, and that first summer when my life changed so radically and I needed to know I was in a safe place with kind people, I'm grateful that Paul Harvey revealed glimpses of my Grandpa's warm and laughing characteristics, and helped my anxious, fearful 9-year-old tummy calm down with every silent laugh and merry twinkle.

Love from the farm,

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