December 27, 2010

Paying the Penalty for Retail Theft and Deception







     All I needed was an eight by ten manila envelope for an immediate project.

     I entered the dollar store, probably the only source in our small community, to purchase this item. I asked a clerk where to find the envelopes, headed to the appropriate counter, and located the product.  I quickly picked up the only one package on the shelf. Then I noticed its condition.

     The plastic wrap was torn. Counting the envelopes in the package I discovered that two-thirds of the contents were missing—there were four envelopes, not the six designated on the sticker.

     I took the package over to the clerk I’d spoken to and asked her if she was the store manager.

     “Yes,” she said.

     I showed her what I’d found, fully expecting a reduction on the price of the package.

     “I’ll have to put it in with the damaged goods,” she said, indicating the product was no longer purchasable.

     “I’m willing to pay for the envelopes that are there,” I said.

     “I can’t do that. I have to (more…)

December 13, 2010

Six Camels for Your Wife, Sir…



     “Is that your wife?” the Omen* citizen asked the West Virginian I’ll call Tom.

     “Yes, she is my wife.”

     “I’ll give you six camels for her.”

     Tom declined the offer.

The country OMEN

     Tom and Joan were on a cruise to the Mideast. Their bus passed a desert area where the women were totally covered except for the slit of their eyes and their fingertips. There was a line of camels off the roadside. The driver stopped and told the tourists they could get off the bus to have their pictures taken with the camels.

     Tom further explained that a few days earlier his wife had visited an Asian beauty salon where the beautician didn’t speak English and Joan didn’t speak the Asian language. The net result was that she entered a brunette and exited a blonde, a hair color which she retained well after the cruise ended.

     While Joan posed with a camel, the Omen man approached her and gently ran his fingers over her golden curls, after which he offered Tom his barter.

     Later, Tom wondered if he should have bartered—perhaps the Omen man believed his wife, whom I’ll call Joan, was  really worth ten to twelve camels.

     He also wondered what the logistics would be had he accepted the offer. How many camels would he be allowed to keep in his cabin? Where would the other camels be kept? What would he feed them? Would he be allowed to keep them on his property in Southwestern Pennsylvania?

     This story entertained me while I volunteered at a Ligonier Valley (PA) Historical Society fundraising event, the Festival of Trees. There were only a few persons visiting the event at the time. While I was talking with some of them, Tom asked me if I wanted to hear a story. Since camels are reported to have been present at Jesus’ birth, and are an item in every Nativity set, it seemed appropo to hear a story about camels.

     Bizarrely, though, the afternoon included four more camel stories.


     Camels seemed to like Tom’s wife. On another cruise, this time in Australia, Joan and another female traveler accepted a camel ride.

     “Camel rides aren’t smooth, like horse rides,” Tom noted, elaborating that when the women dismounted the camels at the end of their ride they were vibrating. Even so, each woman claimed a camel cheek and stood there stroking it. The women invited Tom over to join them.

     “I noticed the camel’s mouth was juxta-positioning to spit,” Tom said. “Since the camel was giving me the eye, I knew it was preparing to send a burning spitball at me. I backed off.”


“Watch out for camels or they’ll spit on you when you aren’t looking!”

     There are two misrepresentations in the statement above. First, camels do (more…)

December 8, 2010

Robert and Janet: Nowy Targ Holocaust Survivors




     Last year, on my birthday, I both lost a friend and gained a friend.

     I was privileged to meet Robert (Reibeisen) Mendler, the last Holocaust survivor in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. I was privileged to write an article on him in the Westmoreland County Historical Magazine and to continue his story on this blog.

     I was privileged to spend the afternoon of December 8, 2009, in his company (see link at end of post).

     I was also privileged to be the person who informed him that he was not the only survivor of his hometown, Nowy Targ, Poland. The survival of Janet Applefield, also a Nowy Targ, Poland, Holocaust survivor, was a revelation to him.

     Thus, enroute to his funeral, I made an impromptu decision to try to speak.

     I asked my husband, Monte, who was with me, if I should do this. After all, I knew nothing about Jewish funerals—this was my first experience. I did not have the time to consult with Janet, on whose behalf I wanted to speak. Somehow, though, I felt that she wouldn’t mind.

     When I arrived at the synagogue I fear I made myself obnoxious, asking different persons if I could speak. Even so, I was given permission, and I was invited up to the podium during the service.  

     Here is what I shared at Bob’s funeral:

     Everyone here is (more…)

November 11, 2010

My People



Nancy Briskay Cornell Lipsius

     During her lifetime, my late mother worked as a secretary for a psychiatrist. Below are vignettes of a few patients who touched this season of her life.


   He enters the waiting room quietly, slides into a chair and sits, body slumped, eyes downcast, a rumpled, unwashed, unshaven, disheveled appearance. My greeting to him goes unanswered and he glances at me surreptitiously from under lowered lids. He is early for his appointment and the magazines on the table hold no interest for him. Nor does he converse with any of the others in the room. His posture projects dejection, sadness, loneliness, the very burden of life itself. At long last it is his turn and he shuffles slowly into the doctor’s office for an hour of therapy, and medication that appears to relieve nothing. He returns to me, and, without comment, accepts the card for his next appointment, tears close to the surface. My “Goodbye, see you next week” goes unanswered.


     He enters my line of vision, snowy white hair, incredibly blue eyes, a man in his late seventies who for all intents and purposes may well be old St. Nick himself. His smile and gracious greeting could melt the heart of a stone. It is only his trembling hands and the slight list as he walks that betrays the (more…)

October 16, 2010

Baby Removed from Home after Mother Eats Poppy Seeds




A Pennsylvania House Bill 2760, passed three years ago, allows hospitals to test a mother’s  blood to protect newborns.

  • Children and Youth Services removed Elizabeth Mort’s three day old child from her New Castle, Pennsylvania, home because the mother tested positive to opiate use.
  • The ACLU believes Jameson Hospital and agency workers made a judgment without thoroughly investigating.
  • Mort’s positive test was due to her ingestion of poppy seeds, which can influence drug tests.

     Jameson Hospital may have gone too far by failing to consider what Mort might have eaten. (read Can Poppy Seed Ingestion Affect Drug Tests?)

     “One thing I think is a violation is the fact that Lawrence County CYS immediately got a court order without the parents present to remove a newborn baby based solely on the hospital’s report of a positive drug test,” said Sara Rose of the ACLU, noting that CYS may have violated the law.


     This isn’t the first time Lawrence County’s Children and Youth Services overreached their powers.

     While living in New Castle in the latter 1980s I came to know a woman I’ll call Sylvia. While five of her children were removed from her home and placed for adoption she remarried. A child was born from this union.

     I was closely involved with Sylvia, and worked with her, teaching her to overcome a number of problems. She was a good “student,” and had the Children and Youth Services helped her in this way, she would not have needed me. Instead, they (more…)

October 13, 2010

October 13, 2010: The San Jose Mine Rescue



     As I write this post, the following is occurring:

    The 25th miner to be rescued, Renan Avalos, 29, is on his way up. Renan’s younger brother Florencio was the first miner to be brought to the surface just after midnight on Wednesday. He decided to come to work in the San Jose mine four months ago.

     I interrupt my writing to view Renan Avalos’ reunion with his wife. The BBC commentator noted that there is amazing discipline among the press, who are unwilling to invade the privacy of the miner’s reunions, yet who know the whole world is participating in the event unfolding at the San Jose Mine in Chile.

     For me, it’s been a day of distractions characterized by an inability to focus. Partially, it’s that this day follows five hectic days. Two days were absorbed by Fort Ligonier (PA) Days: photographing its ninety–minute parade, manning our Beanery Writers Group table, and enjoying festival concert. On Sunday my husband Monte and I traveled to Harrisburg for a conference on poverty, which ended mid-afternoon on Monday. Leaving the conference, we headed to Minersville, where I finally met two fourth cousins—Bob and Allen Borinsky—who filled me in on some family history. We left Minersville, ate in Pottsville, and found a motel room a little further on. Tuesday morning we took side routes—not the interstate—back to Laurel Mountain Borough, arriving in time to attend Mellow Mike, where I was guided some writers in practice writing about structures.

     It seems coincidental that Lawrence Borinsky, the grandfather of Bob and Allen, died in a mining accident in Minersville. He was 27 years old. He left behind a two year old son, William a.k.a. Vince, the father of the two brothers.

     So perhaps my restlessness is due to tiredness.

    Or perhaps it’s due to the fact that the date is the thirteenth—even though it’s Wednesday, not Friday.

    However, a large part of the distraction is a deep-seated need to participate in a global celebration—good news, for a change—surpassing that which happened at the Quecreek Mines in July, 2002 (QUECREEK MINE DISASTER: A 21st Century Historical Site in Somerset County, PA).  Then, nine miners were rescued—a miracle. Although I lived about twenty miles from the site, I watched in New Jersey, where I was visiting my sister, Kitty.

      Today, thirty-three miners are being rescued. Is one rescue scene more miraculous than the other? Not really…but as the world (more…)

September 27, 2010




     I recall a time when I received a gift.

     We lived in Atlanta, Georgia.  On a marvelous late-summer evening I was driving to Roswell to visit my cousin. The car windows were open, and mixed with the wind sounds was a favorite classical symphony playing on the car radio.

     A black van pulled up behind me, following too close. The driver was waved at me, almost flirtatiously, invading my “space.” When I attempted to maneuver away from him, he stuck close to my tailgate. I was getting very nervous.

     I knew a gas station was about a mile down the road. I pulled into the right lane.  Even in the heavy traffic, the man kept (more…)

August 12, 2010

Coffee Hour at “Echoes on the Lake”


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Scene 1: The Yearbook

Scene 2: Mr. Roach

Scene 3: Elderly Suicide

Scene 4: My last day

     While visiting Edwardsville, New York, and staying at the Sunnyside of Black Lake cottages*, I walked across the street for my morning coffee at Echoes on the Lake, a small-town Mom & Pop store. Following are scenes gleaned from my visits.

 Scene 1: The Yearbook

     Local customers, sitting around a table in a small-town corner Mom & Pop store in Edwardsville, New York, scrutinized on photos in a small book—the 1962 Erie County Technical Institute yearbook.

     Two were 1963 alumni who had met at the coffee machine two days


previously. They never met while students at the community college in Williamsville, New York. Nancy was a resident of Morristown, New York, who studied to be a dental hygienist. Carolyn was a transient, staying in the cottages at Sunnyside of Black Lake, across the street from the store. Nancy had invited Carolyn, to join several persons—other locals—sitting at the two tables in the back of the store, conveniently located by the coffee machine and sandwich/pizza  counter. Locals wandered in and out, sharing the camaraderie which characterizes “coffee klatch” gatherings found in many corner stores where people gather for their morning coffee. Later, someone described Nancy as the (more…)

July 31, 2010

The Donut King Restaurant in Ogdensburg, New York



      The Donut King restaurant in Ogdensburg, New York, is a favorite dining place for my brother-in-law, Elwin. We ate there several times while visiting Northern New York in the last week of July, 2010. As commonly happens, local eating spots produce many stories.


STORY ONE: Kim’s Opinion on the Banana Split

     While Kim, a waitress at the Donut King, took our orders, we mentioned that our hometown was near the hometown of Arnold Palmer and Mr. Rogers—Latrobe, Pennyslvania.

    And—“Don’t forget, Joe—what’s his last name? Of the banana split fame?” Monte said. “You know Joe, from the pharmacy where the banana split was invented.”

     Neither of us could pull up Joe’s last name. For the record, it’s Greubel. He is known affectionately as “Ice Cream Joe” in local and far distant areas: I do believe we were first (to produce the banana split),” says Joe Greubel, owner of the Valley Dairy ice cream chain in Latrobe. “I knew Dr. Strickler. And I still regret not having my picture taken with him.* He also owns the Valley Dairy Restaurant in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, where I had the privilege of interviewing him for a newspaper article.


     “Tell him to keep the banana split in Pennsylvania,” Kim retorted.

     This unusual response required an explanation, which I hastily requested.

     “They are (more…)

May 20, 2010

Beyond Prejudice



     The clerk approaching me took a second look, ogled me for a moment, turned on her heal, and scurried in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.

     Fair enough, I thought, viewing myself in a nearby mirror. The image was of a woman wearing a faded, wrinkled skirt; a  stained blouse, and  saggy, runny hosiery, all topped by unkempt hair—an intentional style meant to discourage sociability, even from store clerks. What business could this “bag lady” have in this department store? Must be she needed to get warm or to use the rest room!

     Her prejudgment was expected. My life was too full of people, many with deep-rooted problems that created extreme tension. I needed relief from the stress. Roving around the mall was relaxing only without clerks constantly asking me if I needed help. My attempt at manipulating others to leave me alone was (more…)

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