Old Mr Loughner
OLD MR. LOUGHNER
Just two miles north of the city of Jeannette, PA., if you follow the country road past the Dry Dam, is a tiny settlement of homes with the unsavory name of Shantytown. Shantytown Road, on which we lived, was roughly covered with what Dad called “red dog,” a by-product of coal and the coke ovens. My brother and I didn’t understand the terminology, but we knew better than to fall onto the rough jagged-edged pieces of red dog that comprised the surface of the road. I still have some of the those black-red ashes beneath the skin of my right knee to remind me of a tricycle accident which occurred as my brother and I sped down the hill from Mr. Loughner’s house to ours one peaceful summer day.
There were few neighbors, so most days, my brother and I played alone together, but often, when my brother was taking a nap, I would beg my mother’s permission to visit our elderly neighbor, for up the road a piece in an old farmhouse, lived the most interesting person I have ever known.
Alvin Loughner lived just a stone’s throw up a slight grade in the road from our house. I loved to visit with Mr. Loughner and did so almost every day. My imagination would run wild as he told me story after story and I was never bored.
My memories of this unique childhood friend are rich and even as I write this, I am thrilled with every detail I recall, no matter how minute. He was always dressed in bib overalls, a plaid shirt and “working shoes.” Strange, but I am unable to bring to mind his facial appearance. Did he wear glasses? Did he have a beard? Was his hair black or gray? I don’t remember. Perhaps these features are inconsequential, for it is his character and his lifestyle that provide the vivid memories I share with you now.
On the old wooden-planked floor of the outside porch was a water pump with a dented metal bucket hanging over it. I remember the anxiety I felt each time I stood on the old deck to pump up some fresh well water. I would have never let him know, but I was always hoping and praying the deeply grooved boards did not give way and allow me to fall feet first into the depths of the well and icy cold water.
The rest of his back porch was closed in. I suppose it served as a wind-breaker during the winter when the cold winds would howl as they tried to penetrate the warmth of his home. I remember seeing a sink of sorts which contained a basin for washing your hands. This, I know now, would have been a dry sink. A hook for his jacket is the only other item I can remember being there.
Mr. Loughner’s home was a two-story four-room house, just like ours,but he lived alone in only one of those rooms. His living area was just inside the back porch door and was probably no more than ten feet wide and fifteen feet long. On the right side of the room (as you entered) was a quilt-covered couch on which visitors would be invited to sit. It also served as the bed on which Mr. Loughner slept each night. Beyond the couch, to the right, was a door that was never open. Curious about the fact that he lived in just one room, I once asked him about the rest of the house. A bit reluctantly and without commentary, he opened the door and allowed me to peek in that day, but from that point on the scene was never revealed to me again.
I have but a faded memory of looking beyond that closed door which led to the other downstairs room. There was a stairway to the right and in the parlor; the furniture was covered with sheets to keep out the dust. I wonder now…was the door to the parlor and the stairs that led upstairs closed in order to avoid the memories of days gone by…or had he found peace in the simplicity of a Spartan life style?
Across from the couch was a wood-burning cook stove and to its left, an old wooden wall cupboard with glass-paneled doors. He kept his oil-burning hurricane lamps—one in the cupboard and another on the table—ready to use as night-time approached, for Mr. Loughner had neither running water nor electricity. He wanted nothing to do with “those newfangled things.” Directly in front as you entered the room, on the opposite wall, was a small, square wooden table with two chairs, one to the left and one to the right. I often wondered what if was like to eat alone, every meal, day after day. As I get older, I am beginning to understand. The table sat beneath the four-paned front window and in the center of the oilcloth-covered table there was always a tempting bowl of Brach’s candy mix! I can remember the anticipation I felt when visiting as I awaited his offer of candy. In his time, he would tell me I could take one item from the bowl, a hint of a smile across his face as he did so. (We both knew that a child would never ask for a piece of candy.)
Mr. Loughner and I would talk endlessly, although now I have difficulty remembering much about our conversations. I do know that his tales of bygone days always transported me back in time, and combined with my youthful but rich imagination, I could visualize myself right along there with him. He once told me that his mother had been captured by the Indians! How intriguing! How frightening!
“You mean she was captured by REAL Indians?”
I wanted to know more, but he was silent on the subject. He did tell me that when he was a young child, his mother had taught him their language. As much as I pleaded, he never spoke a word of it for me, and in fact, gently but adamantly refused.
I don’t remember what he had done for a living before he got old, but when I met him, he still had a garden, a berry patch and a smoke house. How fun it was to walk along beside him to survey the area. I loved the hickory odor that permeated the little building and can smell it yet today as I recall the stories he told of the ritual of slaughtering and curing the meat. In my mind’s eye, I easily conjured a picture of a busy farmer caring for his plot of land and his family so long ago.
On lazy summer days, he could almost always be found in his time-worn gray wicker rocking chair which sat beneath the huge red apple tree in his side yard. When the towering tree succumbed to age and weakness and toppled over, I was filled with sorrow that he had lost his favorite cool and shady resting spot. However, it had been such a tall tree that when it fell, the branches were still so high that they continued to provide the necessary shade and coolness for a hot summer afternoon. The chair was unharmed and thereafter, he spent his quiet afternoons beneath the shade of a now-horizontally lying apple tree, a bonus being that we could now climb it more easily! Countless hours of treasured visiting time were spent there beneath the old tree with my treasured best friend.
Well, I suppose it is time to close my memory book. It’s getting dark and it is only 6:00 PM this cool October evening.…which reminds me of another facet of my friend’s unique life style. Mr. Loughner would have said it is 7:00 PM because he didn’t use the “new Daylight Savings Time.” His pocket watch and the clock in his house were permanently set on what he referred to as “Railroad Time.”
Yes, he was from another time and place. How I wish I could travel back to those peaceful days once more and spend just one quiet afternoon with my special childhood friend…and of course, have a piece of Brach’s candy.
© Carol A. Krejci
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