The Fall 2015 edition of Pennsylvania Bridges is now available online & in print.
It’s with a heavy heart I sit down to pen my column in this edition. As I was sipping coffee and preparing to wrap up this issue – our biggest yet – I learned via social media my good friend Ron Shannon, whose byline you may have seen in the pages of past issues, has passed away after a short battle with cancer.
I started percolating ideas for what I wanted to say in this space a few weeks ago when my assistant editor, Hayley, and I settled on the cover image and the theme for this edition.
I wanted to mention this issue is all about new and evolving local businesses, and I was planning to pair that information with the fact that we’re celebrating our first birthday as a print publication.
My late grandmother, Eleanor Jean Allen, had a saying about birthdays. “Every birthday is a gift from God,” she’d say when asked if she found her own steady march of years alarming.
She and my grandfather, Carl, were given exactly 65 “gifts from God” before they were tragically taken from us in a tornado in 1996. Nearly 20 years later, I still get a lump in my throat just typing that, but I take comfort in the knowledge my grandparents loved life, and lived every moment of those 65 years to the fullest.
I could share so many memories about my grandparents; they were remarkable people who were loved by many, evidenced by the fact their joint funeral was standing room only. Not only were they cherished by others, their love for each other was obvious in both large and small ways.
Theirs was a love story that began when they were only 12, when my grandfather first noticed my grandmother playing with her dolls on the front porch of her parents’ house. Theirs was a tale of romance punctuated by moments like the time my grandmother had a sweatshirt airbrushed for my grandfather’s 60th birthday that read “Not Older, Just Better.”
Not older, just better, like so many of the people and places featured in this edition. New commercial enterprises melded with stories of people in the process of reinventing themselves. It’s not about the number of years they’ve been established but rather the burst of energy they bring to their respective ventures. It’s about their passion and zest for making their communities better places.
Not older, just better, just as we are at Pennsylvania Bridges. You may have noticed this edition feels slightly heavier in your hands than the last. Over the past year, we’ve steadily increased the number of pages, the quality of the paper we’re printed on, and the scope of our coverage. We’ve welcomed new and veteran contributors and expanded our distribution. Your response, dear readers, has been tremendous, and as we celebrate our first birthday, we’d be remiss if we didn’t say “Thank you!”
In conclusion, however, I’d like to shift focus back to the tragic loss of Ron Shannon. Ron was a terrific guy who always had a kind, encouraging word for everyone. He was also a talented and prolific writer whose books I’m proud to have on my bookshelf. We met as fellow students in the Writing Popular Fiction MFA program and subsequently at alumni events. When my thesis novel, The Heart Absent, was published, he was one of the first people to read it and write a glowing review. When he learned I had started a publication, he was quick to offer to write for it, and never shirked at any assignment. It is to his memory and his spirit I’d like to dedicate this edition. He was my constant cheerleader, and I’m going to miss him so very much.
Until next time, Carla E. Anderton
The August/September edition of Pennsylvania Bridges – Take it Back! – is now available online and in print.
My friends and anyone who has ever spent more than a few moments in my company would be surprised to learn I was a shy, reticent child, prone to spending hours alone, penning stories in my mind that sometimes made it on paper.
My parents, who I idolize, worked long hours to ensure I had food, shelter and a promising future. Like many children of my generation, I spent my after school hours and summers attending various day camps.
The summer between first and second grades, I attended a day camp held at a local community center. My family and I had just moved to a new neighborhood so my mother could attend law school at the nearby then Memphis State University.
Knowing me as she did, and knowing I was certain to feel uncomfortable on my first day at a new day camp where I knew not another living soul, my mother packed a beloved stuffed animal – a pink bunny rabbit I revered above all of my other toys – in my Care Bears bookbag. Whenever I felt sad or lonely or afraid, she told me, I was to hug that pink bunny and know how much I was loved.
It didn’t take long for the camp bullies, a group of kids a couple of years older than me, to decide I was to be the latest target of their derision. Their ringleader, a 9-year-old blonde haired, blue eyed monster, took especial delight in tormenting me and, one day, that cruelty took the form of him snatching my precious “Pink Bunny” from me. With a gleam in his eye I’ll never forget, he jerked one of its plastic googly eyes from its socket, leaving me in hysterics and my poor rabbit half blind. To add insult to injury, he then absconded with it to parts unknown.
It was a case of my word against his, and without a “body” it was decided there was no crime. I spent the rest of the day suffering in silence, fearful of further recriminations from the bully and his band of merry pint sized followers.
I went home and told my parents what had happened. They asked me if I wanted them to go talk to the camp director. No, I insisted, there was no point. The bully in question’s father was the camp director. Even at the age of seven, I knew enough about the world to know the odds weren’t skewed in my favor.
A few days later, however, opportunity presented itself during naptime. Always a restless youth, I frequently made use of our daily sanctioned nap-time to visit the restroom. On my way back from one such trip, I passed the row of cubbies where all campers’ belongings were kept. Peeking out of the corner of the cubby belonging to my childhood tormenter was a ragged pink floppy ear, an ear belonging to that favorite toy of mine. With care, mindful not to disturb the cubbie’s other contents, I rescued my beloved bunny from captivity and returned him to his rightful home, the confines of my Care Bears bookbag.
When my mother picked me from camp that day, I was barely buckled into the passenger seat of the family’s dark green Chevette when I unzipped my bookbag and presented my mother with my day’s bounty.
“Did one of the counselors make that awful boy give Pink Bunny back to you?” she asked.
“No,” I said, matter-of-fact. “I saw him in Tommy’s cubby and I took him back.”
“What made you do that?” she asked. “You should have gone and told a counselor what you found so he’d get in trouble for stealing.”
“I don’t care if he gets in trouble. I just missed my bunny. He’s mine and I love him so I took him back.”
My logic must have made sense to my mother because that was the last we spoke of the matter.
Maybe there’s something – or someone – in your life you’ve lost and you feel hopeless about the future. Maybe there’s something holding you back, some struggle that’s keeping you from reaching your full potential, whether it’s your job or family issues or some internal torment eroding your sense of self confidence and worth.
Seven-year-old me has one piece of advice for you. Take it back. Take back control of your life and your happiness. It’s yours. It belongs to you and no one and nothing has the right to deprive you of living your live to its fullest.
This edition of Pennsylvania Bridges has many stories of people who’ve triumphed over adversity, who’ve decided to take control of their present and their future with the aim of making it great. We’ve also got a ton of fun arts and entertainment features, too.
Until next time, happy reading!
Carla E. Anderton
The Summer 2015 edition of Pennsylvania Bridges, Seeds of Rebellion, is now available online.
Several of my friends have had babies in the last year. Thanks to the wonder of social media, I’ve had the opportunity to witness countless photos documenting the first year of their children’s lives. There’s perhaps nothing more miraculous than a newborn baby, no sensation so sublime as to hold one in your arms or to see them smile at you for the first time. There’s no feeling so powerful as to realize someone depends on you, no motivation greater than the knowledge someone looks up to and admires you.
However, as any parent will eventually testify, there comes a bittersweet moment when your child gains more autonomy and independence and – suddenly – you cease to be a super hero in their eyes. No longer their Superman or Wonder Woman, just like that. You’re only human, they’ve discovered, full of flaws and not always invincible. Then there are the days they treat you like an outright villain.
My own son will turn 18 at the end of October. While I envy my friends the joy of new parenthood, there is no power on earth or elsewhere that would compel me to repeat the experience of shepherding a child through the teen years. Adolescence is a particularly rocky road, along which there are many pitfalls. Think the “twos” are terrible? Give me a toddler over a teenager any day of the week.
All children rebel against their parents. It’s part of the cycle of life, and as they grow older, they develop ideas of their own, notions that sometimes frighten us.
Watching those we love most make mistakes can be heart breaking on the best of days and soul crushing on the worst. Yet, we weather the storm of injustices that accompany parenting an adolescent. We know that in order to learn how to do the right thing, sometimes we must first do the wrong thing.
While the transition from child to adult can be seemingly traumatic, a light does beacon at the end of the darkest of tunnels. That’s because, as adults, we’ve already walked this path. We know that the seeds of rebellion sowed in youth will blossom into hardy flowers given proper care.
As we prepare to celebrate the occasion of our nation’s birth, it’s important to take a moment to recognize this country was founded in the spirit of rebellion. Revolt against tyranny and oppression is the building block with which this nation was built. Our forefathers vehemently questioned authority and believed in the free will of the individual.
We pause on Independence Day to honor their memory, but their ideals have continued to advance, their spirit of rebellion alive and well. Just as teenagers question their parents’ once seemingly infallible judgment, we as Americans still demand answers from those in power. It’s part of what makes this country great.
Happy birthday, America! We at Pennsylvania Bridges wish everyone a safe, fun filled summer. We’ll be back in August with our Back to School edition.
Until next time, happy reading!
Carla E. Anderton, Editor-in-Chief
The Spring 2015 edition of Pennsylvania Bridges is now available online.
Cover photo courtesy of wildlife photographer, Glenn Mucy.
Three weeks before his murder in December 1980, John Lennon’s last album, Double Fantasy, was released. A collaborative effort with Yoko Ono, one of the album’s songs contains a phrase I often quote: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I like this quotation so much you’ll notice I chose to use it as this edition’s Notable & Quotable.
This sage sentiment is one of the lyrics of “Beautiful Boy” – an ode Lennon penned for his son, Sean. Still, however well-intentioned Lennon may have been in wanting to convey this powerful adage to his young progeny, this idea that life often takes us by surprise when we least expect it, the thought didn’t originate in his psyche.
When researching this phrase so I could accurately quote it – pun intended – in Notable & Quotable, I discovered the author of this particular piece of advice was actually author and cartoonist Allen Saunders, who wrote “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans” in an article published in Reader’s Digest in 1957. In 1957, John Lennon was a kid of 17, and it would be three years before the “Fab Four” would form The Beatles.
It’s often said “good writers borrow and great writers steal” and while this message rings true, it doesn’t make Lennon any less of a thief for trying to pass “Life is what happens…” off as his own words. Nor does it make me any less complicit for perpetuating the myth the aforementioned advice was his alone, which begs the question why I chose to do so. I wanted to put a photo of Allen Saunders above this quote I’ve long cherished. The problem is I couldn’t find a usable one and, for that matter, I was unable to unearth much information about Saunders at all.
Here’s what I did learn, in a nutshell. Allen Saunders, who was born in the last year of the 19th century and departed this life in 1986, was best known for writing and illustrating the popular comic strips Mary Worth and Steve Roper. These comics were long running visual serials, a collection of which might nowadays be called a graphic novel. Saunders was industrious and driven and it was his fervent belief that everyone had a story worth telling, an ideal he espoused in his autobiography when he stated “as long as there are people, there are plots.” But, on the whole, history has overlooked this unsung hero.
Unsung heroes, they’re all around us and yet they go unnoticed. Case in point is Viola Liuzzo, slain civil rights advocate, subject of this edition’s lead story, and one time resident of California, Pa., where this publication’s office is located. Another example would be Westmoreland County attorney John Noble, who devotes time and resources to showcasing the talents of youth in our region. His story is on pages 5 & 6.
This edition is so packed full of heroes, unsung and otherwise, we added four new pages to contain them all. Won’t you celebrate them with us and give them the long awaited recognition and acclaim they deserve?
Most professional writers, myself included, toil away at some sort of “day job” in order to pay the bills and put food on the table. When I’m not sitting at the editing desk, by day you can find me in the classroom, teaching English and public speaking. On the first day of class, I like to lead students through an ice breaker activity to help us all get better acquainted.
Timons Esaias, one of my professors at Seton Hill University, taught me a valuable lesson about reaching students: offer them an incentive. To entice my students to open up about themselves, I give each of them a small bag of mixed candies and ask them to answer a question about themselves for each piece. For example, if your bag contains a “fun size” Milky Way bar, you have to say a few words about your dream career.
In the spirit of fairness and cooperation, I keep a bag, and for each piece of candy I reveal something about myself.
This semester, I drew a Milky Way from the bag of goodies and had to share with the class what my dream career would be. It took me only seconds to respond.
“I’m doing it,” I said. “What’s next?”
Yes, I often joke on social media about leading a rock star life but I’m dead serious. About five years ago, I made an important decision about life. I was going to stop trying to please everyone, and I was going to do exactly what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. Life’s simply too short to do otherwise. I’ve never regretted that decision.
Truth be told, I am doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, and that is to reach people. Occupy space in their brains, make them think, and reach them with my words, whether they’re written on a chalkboard or here in the pages of Pennsylvania Bridges.
Speaking of, this edition’s pages are filled with stories about people who’ve decided what they want out of life is to reach people, to make a significant contribution to the lives of their family, friends and communities.
As I said, I love my work, but putting together this issue was even more awe inspiring than usual. I witnessed volunteers coming together to assemble bags of food for needy children who otherwise would go hungry on the weekends. I saw a near mountain of backpacks filled to the brim with items intended to bring comfort to children and youth in distress. I heard about a minister and beloved community leader whose community is rallying around him while he struggles with health issues. I read about an arts organization receiving a grant to help fund their efforts to bring art to underfunded schools. And we’re only up to page 14!
My aim with this edition, as with every issue, is to reach my audience and report to you on all the fantastic arts, entertainment, education and lifestyle news happening in our region. Here’s hoping I was successful.
Until next time — Carla E. Anderton, Editor-in-Chief, Pennsylvania Bridges