My husband, Jonathan, made a Christmas video and posted it to our other blog.
So, a little bit over a week ago, my maternal grandmother died. Grandma Margaret.
Grandma celebrated her 90th birthday this past summer. In fact, she celebrated her birthday during the week between my birthday and my sister’s birthday, and several other family birthdays occurred during this same week. Grandma left behind a lot of people who loved her. However, I understand that all or almost all people who live to the age of 90 lose much. My grandfather died several years ago. And, as Grandma reminded me, she herself had only one sister, named Shirley. Shirley died of cancer in her 20’s. About two years after the first Shirley died, my grandmother had my mom and she named my mom Shirley. My mom, the second Shirley, died of cancer three years ago. Grandma wondered about this to me. She wondered about the odds of losing both of her Shirleys to the same disease, decades apart.
But, I remember something completely different now. After my mom died, I sat and looked through Grandma’s photo albums with her. We looked through an album consisting mostly of photos that Grandma herself took. Grandma took A LOT of photos of sunrises and sunsets. She took some of these photos when she visited my uncle in Florida. She took other sunset photos over the winter countryside after my grandparents retired and moved out to farmland in Beaver County and raised goats. She took them with her point-and-shoot camera. She paid to develop them, then put them into her photo albums along with her photos of her family.
I learned that day that when I enjoy a sunrise or a sunset, I owe this at least in part to Grandma Margaret.
Sunrises are beautiful. Sunsets are sad but also beautiful. Neither exists without the other.
If you Google “New Kensington” and “Voodoo Brewery,” you can find a lot of photos of Shane Pilster’s “Rising Phoenix” mural. In fact, here are photos that I took last December, a week after Krampus brought me my camera.
You can also find a lot of information about New Kensington’s Voodoo Brewery / Voodoo at the Ritz and Old Town Overhaul with a quick Google search. Here’s such an article from the Trib.
So, for this blog post, I took a bunch of photos that showed the “Rising Phoenix” mural in the background as the community gathered for New Kensington’s Christmas Parade.
I felt really defeated last spring over the setbacks that Jonathan and I had encountered in trying to rebuild our front porch. I wrote a snarky post on this very blog about how murals weren’t going to solve New Kensington’s problems. The murals weren’t solving any of MY problems. My sister Elizabeth is a hero because she read the post right after I published it. She told me that I was harsh. I took the blog post down about an hour after I published it. The post now resides for eternity in blog post hell. Or, maybe it resides in blog post purgatory because with my luck it’s cached somewhere.
But, now our porch is almost complete. I feel much more hopeful about my future here in New Kensington.
These marchers arrived on a bus from Valley High School in New Kensington. I watched the bus arrive. It travelled past me and unloaded on the next block over from where I sat waiting the parade to begin. I saw kids sitting next to the windows, holding their trombones.
I have a soft spot for the high school marching band. I marched in a high school band when I grew up in Somerset County. I played the clarinet.
I don’t remember getting to march past any cool brewery murals, though.
I cheated and posted a version of this photo on Facebook yesterday so that I could share it with New Kensington’s Fire Department.
I wrote before that my eyes have a “little bit” of a strabismus. I’m having a really terrible time figuring out if this photo is straight, even with the tools on my Lightroom software. So, please let me know if this photo looks crooked. A close family member told me that my photo cropping on this is fine, but I don’t believe them.
Bernie Wilke and other local artists, including local volunteers, painted this mural in the spring of 2021. Here are the photos of that I took of the Work-In-Progress Mural and also of the mural dedication.
If you leave the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Allegheny Valley Exit, drive through Cheswick and Springdale, and then turn right to drive across the C.L. Schmitt to cross the Allegheny River into New Kensington, you will see this mural as you enter downtown New Kensington.
The very first time that I ever came to New Kensington, I drove here on Route 56 from Johnstown. I lived in Johnstown at that time because I worked in downtown Johnstown at my very first post-college job that provided health insurance. (I used to refer to the job in Johnstown as my very first “real job.” But, you see, that’s not fair to anybody who worked with me at Wendy’s or McDonald’s or Wal-Mart before I found an office job with health insurance in Johnstown. So, I’m going to replace “real job” with “job that provided health insurance.”)
On my very first trip ever to New Kensington, I visited my future husband, Jonathan, at his then newly-purchased house in Parnassus. Then, I watched a New Kensington Civic Theater play for which Jonathan provided tech and manual labor.
I left New Kensington in the dark on that visit. I intended to use the Pennsylvania Turnpike to drive to my parents’ house in Somerset County. This being my very first trip to New Kensington, I had no idea how to access the turnpike from New Kensington. I did not own any mobile devices that had GPS.
Jonathan said, “Oh, how about if I drive to the turnpike on-ramp in my car, and you can follow me. The turnpike is really close to my house, and it’s no problem at all for me to just show you where it is.”
So, I followed Jonathan to the turnpike entrance. Turned out that the turnpike was NOT “really close” to Jonathan’s house. The drive took us 15 minutes with no real traffic. Jonathan later admitted to me that he feared that I would get lost finding the turnpike and thus I would never agree to drive to New Kensington ever again if he left me to locate the turnpike on my own.
Anyway, I took the photo at the top of this blog post yesterday during New Kensington’s Christmas parade. I considered skipping the parade this year because my mom used to drive up (drive down?) from Somerset County each December to watch the parade with me before she passed away in 2018. But, we didn’t have a parade in 2020. So I went to the 2021 parade.
The above photo was an afterthought. The parade route started on Fifth Avenue, made a left, made a second left, and proceeded onto Fourth Avenue. So, the parade route has a U shape. I set myself up to watch the entire parade on Fifth Avenue. After the parade ended for the people watching on Fifth Avenue, I cut across the parade route to re-watch the tail end of the parade on Fourth Avenue. I crossed Fourth Avenue behind the end of the parade and I kept walking until I stood directly across Fourth Avenue from the New Kensington mural. Just then, the fire truck carrying Santa Claus passed by the mural. I decided at that moment to take out my camera and try to grab a photo. I really wish that I would have pre-planned this. Maybe I could have gotten a photo of Santa Claus looking at the camera.
But, I can’t complain about a photo that I didn’t plan at all.