I exited “the mayor’s office” and instinctively turned right, planning to make my way out of the Patridge-Tippet nursing home at Wesley Village the same way I’d made my way in. I’ve been to Wesley Village enough to know how easily I can get lost in the maze of hallways and did not want to take any chances.
But something stopped me. Probably the memory of being led through the building by my wife, a daily and often nightly visitor when her mom resided there.
“If I go left,” I reasoned, “I think I can exit through the dining room.”
So I did. And wound up with a most pleasant surprise.
But first a word or two about “the mayor.”
That’s a title my friend Jimmy Ardoline claimed for himself almost the moment he took up residence at Wesley Village a couple of years ago. He called himself “the mayor” and he called his room his “office.”
Jimmy and I grew up together. He’s a year older but was two years behind me in school. He graduated from Pittston Area in 1969 and immediately became an honorary coach of the Patriot baseball team.
He held that position for some 40 years.
Head coaches came and went, but Jimmy was always there. When he retired, they named the home team dugout after him.
Today, Jimmy would have been designated “special needs” or something like that but back then “special” was not a word most people used for students like him.
He was always known as a “good boy” (one of his favorite terms) but never fully recognized for how downright smart he is. And Jimmy is incredibly smart. In recent years he’s been my go-to guy when I cannot remember someone’s name. Jimmy never forgets a name.
Jimmy and I always find plenty to talk about: his busy life at Wesley, changes at his parish, Bishop Joseph Marello, formerly Our Lady of Mount Carmel — Jimmy is affectionately known as “Mr. Mount Carmel,” any mutual acquaintance who has died, the New York Yankees, and his favorite topic, the Pittston Area School Board — don’t get Jimmy started on the Pittston Area School Board.
If there happens to be a lull in our conversation, we have his “office” mate Carmen Morganti to pick up the slack. Carmen, in his 80s, was quite a local baseball player in his day and has plenty of memories to share.
While a visit with Jimmy is always a treat, I don’t get to Wesley Village as often as I’d like. Life has a habit of getting in the way. But I’m never sorry when I make the time. And making the time was especially important last week. For Jimmy, yes. But also for my old friend James “Spot” O’Donnell, another resident.
Spot O’Donnell, now 94, was head pressman at the Sunday Dispatch when I worked there. He’s known me since I was 17. That’s 50 years. Running the press alongside of Spot for many of those years was Carl Rhodes. What a team they made. Carl’s wife of 63 years passed away June 25 and as I hugged Carl at the funeral home I knew my next stop had to be Wesley Village and Spot.
“I’m here to see ‘the mayor’,” I told the lady at the reception desk, “but also Spot O’Donnell.”
“Oh, you mean the ‘celebrity’,” she said. “That’s what we’ve been calling him. He’s had his picture in the paper so much.”
The timing of my visit with Spot and Carl was significant. It was a few days after the 45th anniversary of the flood of 1972 and we share incredible memories of putting out a newspaper that weekend. Spot and Carl were the only pressmen in the region who could operate our new offset printing press and the raging Susquehanna had left them stranded on the west side of the river with our printing plant on the east side.
Displaying the “never say die” attitude that characterized each of them, Spot and Carl made their way by boat to the railroad bridge spanning the river from West Pittston to Pittston. It was too dangerous for the boat to go further, so with the rampaging Susquehanna visible between the ties beneath their feet, they walked across the bridge. I still find it hard to believe. So, they admit, do they.
I spent some time sitting on the edge of “the celebrity’s” bed recalling the good ole days before heading over to “the mayor’s office” and visiting for a good while and was sure ready to call it a night when I took that left that led to my surprise.
I have to admit, however, I almost missed it, or more appropriately her.
I was a few steps past Lucille Maziarz, sitting in a wheelchair in the doorway of her room, when I caught a glimpse of her in my peripheral vision and backed up.
“Are you who I think you are?” I asked.
She looked at me quizzically and I surmised she could not hear me.
“Are you who I think you are?” I asked much louder, and this time she broke into a bright smile.
“Well,” she answered coyly, “that depends on who do you think I am?”
As charming as ever, I thought, and got down on one knee in front of her.
“I think you’re Lucille Maziarz,” I said, making sure I kept my volume up. “In fact, I know you are. And I’m your old friend Eddie Ackerman.”
“Eddie,” she said, looking pleased to see me. “I hope you’re here to write a story because I can tell you plenty.”
Yep, as charming as ever and just as spirited, I thought. I bet she gives everyone at Wesley a run for their money, just like she once did her fellow members of Duryea Borough Council.
“No, Lucille,” I said. “No story. I’m just a visitor.”
She couldn’t hide her disappointment. It sure seems she wanted to stir the pot. But I sensed she was pleased to have company just the same and told myself to stick around and chat.
We talked about her days in politics when she was one of the most powerful women in the Democratic Party in Luzerne County, her beloved Duryea and, of course, her trademark Cadillac.
I could not help but notice Lucille was as put together as she’d always been, right down to her red lipstick and matching manicured nails. They complemented that old unmistakable gleam in her eye.
The mayor better be careful. He might have competition for his title lurking just down the hallway from his office.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.