The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 20, 2013

MICHELE M. BENDER | Jubilee magic lingers

Michele M. Bender
For The Tribune-Democrat

— The first house I lived in had casement windows and glass doorknobs.

Those windows seemed like doors to me. I’d crank one open, savor floral fragrances, listen to crickets and watch lightning bugs. Hello, world!

Hey, I was 3.

Some 20 years later, I chatted with a real estate lady: “I like classic touches.”

“I know just the place,” she said with a smile.

 Standing out front, she pointed across the street. “That’s the Oakland fire hall. They hold a giant firemen’s jubilee every year.”

 I flashed back to age 9, sitting in my dad’s Pontiac, stopped at Bedford and Penrod. I heard the music, smelled the food, and yearned to ride the Ferris wheel aglow with brilliant neon against the night sky.

 I fantasized about spinning on the swings or tossing a ring to win a silly plastic prize.

“Sold!” I declared.

Did I mention the casement windows and glass doorknobs?

I spent 11 special years in a neighborhood where warm, friendly people cared about and helped one another.

We had one traffic light, two playgrounds with tennis courts, two gas stations and two bars. Many work mornings, I sleepily applied lipstick at the light. I attempted tennis, but me whacking at that ball was like a raccoon trying to play a violin.

I shared my home with my loving Irish setter, Bridget. We walked daily and met fascinating folks. Oaklanders maintained their houses and tended their gardens. Neighbors waved, and we waved and wagged back.

I never slept the night before a festival. I’d crank my casements wide and listen to workers unloading trucks, assembling rides and constructing shelves.

Neighbors, friends and firemen supervised booths, games and food preparation. Carnival workers operated the rides. Music played. Crowds sampled the foods. Folks played games, enjoyed rides and celebrated the season.

The inconvenience of cars parked everywhere annoyed some residents, but most rolled with it. A man with a Chrysler full of children became stuck in a drainage ditch (I called it my “moat”). Instead of phoning AAA, I hopped in, straightened the front wheels and eased that dinosaur out.

The night of the ’77 flood, Bridget and I huddled on the rug by the front door. The power and phone were gone, and water rose in my basement. The house caught fire when lightning struck the second floor, but the torrential rain extinguished the flames.

The next afternoon, a group of guys brought a ladder, tools and a huge tarp to cover the gaping hole in my siding.

It was OK.

We were family.

And every spring we shared jubilee magic. It swept the bad stuff away.

I never slept on closing night either. I still opened the casements wide, even turning the glass doorknob of the spare room to achieve “stereo.”

It saddened me to hear the “tear down” and the packing. But it reminded me that, more than likely, the best of summer lay ahead.

Michele Mikesic Bender is a Johnstown resident and a member of  The Tribune-Democrat’s Readership Advisory Committee.

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