The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 31, 2011

MICHELE M. BENDER | Mum’s the word on Jan. 1

Michele M. Bender
For The Tribune-Democrat

— Who’s that?” my visitor asked, pointing at a picture. (I display a gallery of family photos in my hallway.)

“That’s G-Pa in his Navy uniform,” I answered.

“Is that him, too, wearing a different uniform?”

“Sure is,” I continued.

“When he retired from the Navy, he worked as a railroad conductor.”

New Year’s Day rekindles fond memories of my grandfather.

The Mummers, a troupe of elaborately costumed entertainers, parade down Broad Street in Philadelphia every Jan. 1.

They’re probably marching as you read this.

Few folks know that Swedish settlers were among the first to colonize the City of Brotherly Love. Traditionally, they celebrated the New Year with noisy revelry and masquerades.

Four divisions feature approximately 10,000 participants decked out in feathers, sequins and glitter.

Some strum banjos; others play accordions and percussion. Fiddles and horns blend in as well. This impressive spectacle lasts two to three hours, attracting thousands of spectators.

I’m a fountain of Mummer info because this event was

G-Pa’s absolute favorite. He watched the first city-sponsored parade in 1901. He was 22 and it rocked his world.

G-Pa was one cool dude.

Born in 1879, he pursued three separate vocations in his lifetime.

He enlisted in the Navy as a teenager and was stationed at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. A distinguished officer, he accompanied Admiral Byrd on the famous South Pole expedition. He retired after 30 years of service.

G-Pa loved travel. At 46, he became a Pennsylvania Railroad conductor, punching tickets between Philly and New York City for 20 years.

He was 70 when I was born in 1949.

G-Pa began his third career at age 66. Still spry and spunky, he became a night watchman at Horn and Hardart.

Better known as “the automat,” H&H opened its first restaurant in Philadelphia in 1901, coinciding with the Mummers’ official debut.

G-Pa ate lunch there after that parade.

The trendy atmosphere wowed him. He never forgot.

I saw my first and only Mummers Parade in 1960. A frigid January day melted as the masqueraders and musicians strutted their glamorous stuff.

Of course, we headed for H&H afterward, totally reliving G-Pa’s magical day of 59 years before.

“Your granddaughter is adorable!” A lunch lady slid a “complimentary” Jell-O through my empty sandwich chute and winked at us.

In 1960, G-Pa was 81. Soon after, his health failed. We lost him in 1963.

I sooo regret being too young to appreciate his diverse and colorful past. Oh, the questions I would’ve asked!

Author Patrick Dennis’ famous Auntie Mame declared, “Life is a banquet, but most poor suckers are starving to death!”

H&H guaranteed that G-Pa never starved.

May the Mummers Parade endure another hundred or more years. The marchers don’t know that while welcoming the New Year they are saluting the memory of their most devoted fan.

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

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