Coal Region. Family. Gram’s house. Nanny and Pop Pop’s house. My brothers. My cousins (all 897789790098 of them). Childhood friends. Franklin St. Shamokin. Chestnut St. Kulpmont. Wildcats. American Legion. Mt Carmel Area Red Tornadoes. Friday Night Lights. State Champs. These are just some of the many things I think of when I think of home. Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. Living down in the Philadelphia area not many have heard of Mt Carmel, or Kulpmont. “Hey Steve! What high school did you go too?” Marnt Carmel (that was for you Mr O’Brien). “Oh New Jersey!” No not Jersey. By Centraila. No? How about Knoebel’s? Got it? Cool!
I was born at Shamokin Hospital on February 7th, 1979. Then came Tony, then Barry (he actually cursed the doctor the day he was born), and the baby Matthew. I will never forget the day Matt came home. Me and Tony are playing in the middle room when Barry stomps over and plops down and says “great. Now no one will ever talk to us.” It obviously had a impact on Barry because if you are in a 10 miles radius you will at least hear him. He is the loudest human being in the whole family by far and that says a lot from our family. But you try having a conversation at a table with all 8 of our parents, aunts and uncles, their significant others maybe, and all of us cousins huddled around the table just hoping we get one the jokes. But Aunt Donna is cackling like hell so I will just have to ask cousin Bill what it meant. Holy shit. Turns out cousin Bill knew everything his whole life. (I so hope he sees this…LOL). Oh and cackling is laughing heartedly but specific to those from my mom’s Grimmer family awesome enough to be worthy of this rare genetic trait. It is hard to explain but maybe if you imagined a chicken bocking and laughing at the same time. I think Aunt Donna has the best one but if Uncle Barry is there he is to get my mom cackling as well. When Gabe’s super power cackle emerged I realized his greatness. Then when Chase possssesd the power to bring forth the cackle…I am so blessed. LOL. But for real, these people helped shape who I am, and also who I am not.
Shamokin was home until 3rd grade for us. I remember whiffle ball with Dad and the neighbor hood kids. Tony would bring that giant red Fred Flintston bat and everyone once in a while would take a cut. Thanks to dad I was always playing sports with older kids. Baseball or anything to do with a ball we were probably playing it. In 2nd grade,my friend Tony asked if I wanted to play basketball on his dad’s team. So I joined the Fan Club in the SYBL. We lived next door to my mom’s sister, Diane, and her family. So we were always playing but us 4 bros were always pretty tight. We used to have this He-Man vehicle that shot this red rocket. And we had hundreds of the green army men and Lincoln logs and Leggos. We would build something or use a play set we had and place the guys around our middle room. You had 3 shots with the He-Man rocket and you tried to knock them down. Those damn laying down Army guys were impossible to get. Since they were already laying down, you had to flip them on their back to get them. That is where would introduce them ground crawling scoundrels the wrath of the giant orange atomic Nerf ball bomb. Hopefully Matthew hasn’t chewed a hole in it while mom was in the kitchen cooking and dancing to CCR while me and Tony were at school.
The Nerf basketball games were never more epic until we moved to Chestnut St in. Kulpmont. I would dunk on Tony so hard. Barry and Matt too but Tone definitely took the brunt of it. Then I would knock down a 3 in his eye and yell “Hubie!” (I loved Hubert Davis, UNC guard). One of our favorite games was over the top. Matt and Barry being the youngest were always the guinea pigs. Tony and I would get down on our knees in front of the couch with as many pillows we could find. Then Barry and Matt would take turns seeing if they can score a touchdown jumped “over the top” of us. Tony and I would try to hit them and flip them onto the couch. One day we thought it would be a good idea take our game outside in the yard. When Matt was flipped upside down and landed on his head (just like when the Brown’s safety Felx Wright hit Buffalo Bill’s Don Beebe) it was a strictly indoor game only. We did play it though during the great blizzard in March of 1993. After all now Matt had all of the snow to cushion his head when he hit the ground. That snowstorm was epic and our back yard was perfect for it and was turned into a sort of Winter X games track. Our yard was long and the top of the yard was a car port. If you stood in the yard the wall of the car port was about 5 feet high. Our yard then ran down towards the house and another wall was there with about a 3 foot drop or so to the lower yard. We decided that a snow track had to be built for sledding down the yard. So we went up to the car port to shovel some snow down so we could build our starting ramp from the base of the wall. When the borough worker with the snow plow came down the alley, we flagged him down and asked if he would push a giant pile of snow into our yard. He happily obliged and the starting point of our ramp was built. Quickly the rest of the track came together and ran down the hill of our yard to the wall that dropped into the lower yard. So why not build a jump off of that wall. The test run was not as expected and Matt barely made it to the bottom. So we piled the 2 youngest bros in the sled and I pulled them down the track to smooth it out. My cousins Bill, Joanne, and Becky were there as well and Bill had a great idea to pour water down the track to make it faster. Matt ascended to the top of the ramp and down he went. He was going so fast he flew off of the bottom of the ramp into the lower yard. In midair, the sled and Matthew went their separate ways. Without any regard for our youngest sibling well being, we zoomed down the track with the result. Fun was had for days with our track with our neighborhood friends.
When you grow up in a small town like Kulpmont, the neighborhood was the whole town of Kulpmont, Marion Heights, Shady Acres, and Den Mar Gardens. I spent most of my time playing sports and with my friend Adam. Actually 2 Adam’s. One lived down the street from me and one summer we watched the movie Major League everyday. Baseball was my life through my childhood. My dad was always wiling to play catch or take me to the field to hit some ballls. That was even more fun when he started coaching the Kulpmont Wildcats. I was 9 and on the B team (under 10 squad) but I always hung out with the A team practices after mine and watched the older players that I looked up to. I remember how cool I thought it was that my dad was coaching and all of the stuff he was teaching them was the same stuff he taught me about the game my whole life. My cousin Bill was the catcher for the A team so naturally I was destined to take his place. When school let out that year I remember going to the Kulpmont fields and there were the A team Wildcats playing baseball with other kids from the Cougars team (the other Kulpmont team). Our field there was on a footballl field with 2 baseball diamonds at each end zone. On the one side was big section of old metal bleachers and directly across the field were the basketball courts. Home plate was close to the fence enclosing the courts and those metal bleachers was a home run. That is when I heard “yo Anoia! We need a guy get over here!” I was so excited and ran over and joined the older guys I looked up to. There I was in all my glory playing baseball with older kids and some young teenagers. I knew most of them by name or from my team but now I am one of them. I remember so vividly the sound of that baseball hitting the metal bleachers the first time Packer launched one over my head. Damn Dave could hit a baseball a mile. Later as a Freshman on the varsity team, Dave launched one over my head too but this time I was on his team and on 2nd base. Talk about launch angle. So to Jamie, the Higgins and Gratii brothers, Ryan, Pete, Lefty, Corey, Packer, Joel, and others thank you for giving young kid the confidence to do anything. Cuz the first time I launched a baseball into those bleacher I felt invincible. Apologies to anyone that I missed. You all gave me the courage then that I need now more than ever.
I purposely left a name out of the thank you’s above. The voice that called me to join my new friends belonged to Stosh. An 11 year old from the Wildcats A team and easily our best player. Stosh would catch rides with us to our games along with other kids so I got to know Stosh pretty well. The following baseball season I was the catcher and I had the “pleasure” of catching for this giant 12 year old. He threw hard as hell and a batting glove and pad in my catcher’s mitt did not provide the cushion needed. But he also had a pitch called “the gerkin”. If I remember correctly, the slider/sinker of sorts adopted that name from hitting the catcher in his dill pickle trying to catch this thing. One day catching I took a shot in my ankle and somehow Stosh managed to hit the same spot on my ankle multiple times. Finally I told dad I cannot catch him anymore out of fear of losing a limb. Now Pete would be Stosh’s personal catcher as I grimaced in centerfield every time he took one in the dirt. I would later get to get to play with Stosh again on our undefeated championship 13-15 year old team and later in high school. Stosh was a big brother to me and I cannot thank you enough. For a Mets, Lakers, and Redskins fan you are ok.
My teenage years I played basketball everyday that I could with my 2 friends Dave and Mike. Every day we would play all day and at night we would play under the lights at the courts by the Mt Carmel pool. High school was fun and our class of 1997 was always special. Our football team would win 3 state championships while we were in school. Football tradition is a huge part of our community in Mt Carmel. Growing up playing football in my yard I would pretend to be my favorite football players. But instead of an NFL player I would pretend to be Tony Mazzatesta or Bob Schiccatano. I am sure that if I was a kid when Brett Veach played I would have pretended to be #22 as well. Brett was easily our best player and would go on to play at the University of Delaware. From there he would go to work with the Philadelphia Eagles and currently is one the youngest GM’s in any sport with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Aside from football success, our class was always close. This would become more evident to me and others the day a classmate messaged me on Facebook a couple months ago. Amanda has always been the sweetest person so it didn’t surprise me when she said that Kenny, Jaime, and her wanted to throw a fundraiser for our family. Soon my Facebook messages would blow up from old friends and new friends as the planning of Rock the Complex began. On August 11th I really didn’t know what to expect. When our family arrived that day I was greeted by Amanada. And then Jaime and I broke down immediately. Even old teachers waited for me to arrive. Old coaches too but most importantly my family and classmates. The week prior to this Kenny and Shawn told me that Brett was planning on doing something for me. That is when I was sent a YouTube video of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce wishing my the best and encouraging our hometown to Rock the Complex. Later I would get to text Brett to thank him. He also sent me some official Chiefs gear and at the event I was presented with a game worn helmet signed by some players including Kelce. August 11th was easily one of the top 10 days in my life. The money raised for our family is a game changer for us and helped us immensely. To be honest, seeing everyone there was just as awesome. I was never hugged more in my life and I loved everyone on of them. Even the super hard hugs that pushed on my feeding tube. Seeing Coach Mick was so awesome. Introducing my son to him meant the world to me as I have shared many life lessons with my son taught to me by coach. I relived my childhood that day so much it was like I never left. What you guys did for us that day is something we will never forget.
I hope that my sons learn valuable lessons during our famiily’s battle it’s ALS. I like to think that what they witnessed that day did just that. Knowing that my hometown is still filled great people is comforting. If you are from the area and even if you are not, check out what Kenny, Chris, and Tom are doing for the kids. If you can donate anything to them please do. I can never thank everyone enough for that day. Everything was more than I ever expected and I still in disbelief over it all. Before I go I would like to give a special thanks to Brian Hollenbush. I forgot my mask to my cough assist machine at home and I would have survived the weekend without it. I messaged him and from his vacation he was able to find me one. I dated Brian’s sister, Kim, and this family has always been special to me. It was pretty fitting that the first old friend I saw that day was their other sister, Kelly, and her mini me at Turkey Hill. Thanks for love so much! I love you guys. I love all of you from home and the love and support was overwhelming and amazing.
Finally I want to have a moment to remember a couple of our classmates from our class of 1997. You are gone but will never be forgotten. RIP Joe “Casty”” Costello, Danny “Mutsy” Malakoski, Ricky Harris, and Jay Pellowski.