June 2, 2012

Ligonier Tornado, June 1, 2012



The lights blinked once. Twice. Three times.

The wind roared and the rain landed with a vengeance.

It was just before Laurel Mountain Park’s 6:00 p.m. pizza party fundraiser. Oh, they won’t get too many people out for the event, I thought, as I gathered an umbrella and headed toward the path leading to the Park shelter house. My husband, Monte, walked with me, but he didn’t consider it necessary to carry an umbrella.

During the party I learned there was a tornado in Ligonier Township, and that route 711 north was closed. No one had many details.

June certainly roared in like a lion, I thought.

The next morning I drove down route 30 to route 381, heading to the St. Michael Church summer festival. There were work crews on the road, which was reduced to one lane. I could see the problem: a tree had fallen, and an electric pole was snapped in half. Further down the road was evidence two more trees had fallen, at least one of which would have blocked the road earlier.

Later I spoke with my daughter, Sandy. She was taking her daughter to pick up a friend, and they were going to the mall. Just after turning onto route 711 north her husband Michael called to ask where she was, that the news had reported tornado activity outside of Ligonier.

“He asked how far out 711 we had to go. I said about six miles,” Sandy told me. It was only a light drizzle then. “He told me to be careful.”

After ending their conversation Sandy crested the hill by the Cairn’s pumpkin farm. “The sky got very black instantaneously,” Sandy said. “As soon as we rounded the bend by Ligonier Country Club we could see a wall of heavy rain—white—I could barely see beyond it.” She noted it seemed to come from the Donegal area.

She told her daughter that “something isn’t right about this. We’re going home.” She turned around at Barclay Crossroads. “By then it was raining so hard you could hardly see. Stuff flew off trees and was (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…)

March 28, 2010

Animal Cruelty? What’s behind the Truth?



     What is true?

     The Almost Heaven Kennel, owned by Lehigh County resident Derbe “Skip” Eckhart, was closed down in 2008 by Pennsylvania dog Warden Kristen Donmoyer (a kennel-compliance specialist with the state Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement). He is on trial for animal cruelty and other counts following a 2008 raid.

     Donmoyer, who closed the kennel due to deplorable conditions, testified that she’d “never forget the (sickening) smell” of ammonia produced by animal urine. On cross-examination, she acknowledged that the kennel passed inspection earlier in 2008, less than two months before she closed it. She testified that there was no “notation of dogs in wretched, deplorable conditions” After Jeff Conrad, defense lawyer, stated that wardens could be arbitrary and capricious if they chose to be, Donmoyer agreed that even a “nasty old weed” on the premises could be in violation of the finer points of the Pennsylvania kennel regulations.

     Some of the scores of dogs and cats seized from Derbe ”Skip” Eckhart’s Almost Heaven kennel are already up for adoption through the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Philadelphia, and many more are expected to be available after they receive medical treatment and behavioral rehabilitation.* On June 25, 2009, Chris Ryder, a Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture announced that 211 dogs were healthy enough for adoption.**

     Larger issues are raised by this case. How was the Animal Heaven kennel initially approved, considering Eckhart had a long history of run-ins with state and local authorities, and was convicted at least twice of animal cruelty.*

      I’m not examining this case to decide whether Eckhart is guilty or innocent. I do want to examine whether it is possible (more…)

January 30, 2010

Replace Punxsutawney Phil with a ROBOT?




Cochran Cornell the Cantankerous Cockroach

     OK, so you haven’t heard from me for a while. Writer’s block. That’s what I suffer from. Just when I thought it was hopeless, I was injected with a jolt of verbal energy…just as you would be if someone suggested replacing all humans with robots.

     I’m so shocked!

     I had pulled myself out of my doldrums just enough to scoot over the local newspaper that my creator Carolyn was reading. And what did I spot? Why, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is campaigning to replace Punxsutawney Phil with a robot

     (Carolyn has this illustration for Punxsutawney Phil— . He is so cute as a Beany Baby that someone adopted him.)

     Who do those folks think they are? Personally, I think it’s just a publicity stunt. But if the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals manages to succeed in their quest to robotize my friend…well, fat chance of that…

     PETA claim that humans should treat Phil with compassion. That drew the ire of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, and drew battle lines with the thousands of people, perhaps millions worldwide, who rise early each February 2nd to find out what the near-future weather will be.

     When I heard PETA was campaigning for humans to be compassionate to Phil, I thought to myself, “Rubbish!” But to get the real scoop, I scooted off Carolyn’s newspaper onto the road. Fortunately, I was able to hitch a ride to Punxsutawney, not too far from Carolyn’s Pennsylvania home, in (more…)

January 22, 2010

Earthquakes in Maine?



     On January 12,2010, Haiti was hit with a devastating earthquake that measured 7.0 on the Richter Scale. It was followed by some one hundred aftershocks, the worst of which, registered 6.1 and occurred on January 21.          Amidst the reports of the tragedy, I pondered what earthquake risks existed where I currently live: Southwestern Pennsylvania. I have a faint recall of minor tremors occurring one time while living in Slippery Rock (between 1969-1982). In 1998, while living in New Castle, a 5.2 magnitude earthquake hit Western Pennsylvania*. Of this, I recall people telling of their china closets and windows rattling.    Between fall 2006 and spring 2007, a sequence of earthquakes took place near the town of Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island on the coast of Maine**. We were traveling along our typical coastal route between Newport, Rhode Island and Lamoine Beach, Maine. I was a little bit nervous about it, but we went anyway. Below is the journal entry I wrote about being there at that time. 

     October 10, 2006: from the Ellsworth Public Library, in Ellsworth, Maine.

     Although I really wanted to travel to Lamoine, Maine, this visit was filled with trepidation and apprehension.

     While in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town we always visited during our New England travels because it was my childhood hometown, my husband and I heard rumblings on news reports about an earthquake on Mount Desert Island—the location of Bar Harbor. The island is just across the Narrows, the strip of water separating Mount Desert Island from Maine’s mainland. Lamoine Beach, our final destination, is on the eastern end of the Narrows, where it borders onto Frenchman Bay.

     I thought about the California folks who routinely experience earthquakes, then about the Maine people for whom the natural phenomenon is not common. It couldn’t have been anything to be concerned about. There were no news reports about further earthquake events that (more…)

December 7, 2009

Pearl Harbor: A 1942 Radio Broadcast Script



My files on my grandfather, Albert C. Briskay*, include a script from an NBC radio broadcast that contained interviews from non-military personnel, including my grandfather, at the Navy Yard in Pearl Harbor. Below is the text of Briskay’s part of the interview.

View photo:



1100-1115 – Wednesday, March 18, 1942

WAHL: Remember Pearl Harbor? This broadcast comes to you from the pulsating heart of that gigantic mid-Pacific naval base, 2200 miles west and south of San Francisco. Until three months ago, Pearl Harbor was just a name! Today it is a legend…..the place where our war began.  Here are all the complex activities that comprise a naval base.

And there are men – thousands of them – civilian workers – who ready the ships for new jobs at sea when they come in from scouring the seventy million square miles of this Pacific battle front. For every man at sea there must be (more…)

August 20, 2009

Vicious dog or man’s best friend?



      Often dog owners often have a less-than-realistic opinion of their pet’s personalities. An owner’s loyalty to their dog precludes any insight into its degree of viciousness.

     Bob Petrillo, a Jeanette (PA) dog owner, believes authorities “overreacted” when they shot and killed his pet. Rocky was a one hundred fifty pound Rottweiler. Police justified the shooting because, they claim, Rocky (more…)

June 18, 2009

Health care reform & Silver Sneakers



A month ago I joined the Silver Sneakers program at the Ligonier (PA) YMCA. Since participating, I can feel the positive physical effects. Since national health care discussions place this Medicare Advantage program in jeopardy, Silver Sneakers members were asked to write a letter explaining why this program should not be eliminated to reduce governmental health care costs. Below is my letter. Please write one of your own and send it to your legislators.

A nation, a community, a family, are only as healthy as its people.

Thus, quality health care, including preventive and rehabilitative care, should be a major priority. Yet, escalating health care costs are threatening the health of the American people.

Persons who knowingly promote their ill-health should be required to take responsibility for the consequences. Conversely, persons who take responsibility to maintain/regain/improve their health, thereby decreasing the need for medical care, should not be penalized.

The Medicare Advantage funding of the Silver Sneakers health maintainance/rehabilitative exercise program, geared towards improving/developing the health of America’s senior citizens, is an example of preventative medicine.

Health care reform discussions include the Silver Sneakers program. This issue is likely to be part of the health care reform bill being drafted this summer. And it is likely the discussions and results of the discussions will be (more…)

May 17, 2009

Don’t let the bed bugs bite…



 Good night,

Sleep tight,

Don’t let the

Bed bugs bite!

      A children’s ditty, but filled with history. Travelers used to sleep on rope-boxprings (rope woven together, tightened by twisting a wood piece attached to the bedframe). Several travelers shared the same bed. It was fertile territory for bedbugs to thrive.

     According to the Harvard School of Public Health, bedbugs are small, wingless insects. They are parasitic, and seek out the nests of warm-blooded animals, whose blood they feast on.  Although some types of bed bugs (and their relatives) inhabit bird nests and bat roosts, others seek out human “nests,” eg., people’s homes.

     While clearing out information from my New England travels, I came across an article headlined “Couple claims room infested with bed bugs.” A couple was (more…)

May 13, 2009

Eavesdropping—the good and the bad of it



       I entered an office today to see if they had any news story updates. While waiting for the director, I heard an employee on the phone: THAT’S NOT MY JOB! Hmmm, I thought, good prompt for the writers group. It wasn’t totally eavesdropping—the office was small and the employee was speaking in a loud voice.

     However, writers are instructed to (more…)

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