Categorized | Light Lines

‘Balloon people’ filled with more than hot air

Posted on 10 August 2017 by admin

I have a lot of “theories.” One of them is that there are only two basic types of people in the world: balloons, and stringholders.
Balloons are full of ideas; stringholders rein them in, putting dampers on things that will never fly.
By definition, I’m a balloon. Anyone who has been writing personal opinion columns for as long as I have must generate many ideas in order to meet deadlines (the hardest part of being a balloon). Stringholders are the people we balloons count on to tether us to reality: accountants, attorneys, and — especially for me — editors. And there are important others …
My newest stringholder is an archivist. She has taken over a good bit of my office in order to make order out of about 60 years of my published work, most of it “preserved” (some of it barely) as old, now yellowed and brittle, newspaper clippings. The piles and boxes and bags finally had to come out of the closet, either to be saved or tossed. And I hated to part with all of them — there were memories I wanted to keep (although I didn’t know where most of them were…).
I’m not the only one who hates to part with things. In a back corner of the closet was a box I had never even opened. In it, on top, was a note from someone I haven’t seen or spoken to in many years. She may even be gone from this world; the last time I tried to contact her, my letter was returned for a wrong address, and I couldn’t find any other. Her simple message read “I couldn’t bear to throw this out.”
The note was dated 2008. In the box were the “leavings” of a massive party I had engineered in 1979! It started out to be a simple get-together of others from the south Chicago area who, like me, were ex-Pittsburghers with a love of the old hometown. It wound up to be an extravaganza: more than 150 people in Fellowship Hall of a local church, each bringing some “artifact” he or she had carried around for years as a talisman, “native” food and drink items (including Klondikes, which were then exclusive to Pittsburgh) flown in for us, historic home movies and — here’s the big, important part — an informally formal collection of materials related to words and phrases that are idiomatic to western Pennsylvania and define its speech. In this latter, I was cooperating with the late Dr. Robert Parslow, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh; our findings were instrumental in his successful effort to have “Pittsburghese” officially declared as a recognized subset of American English!
Everything was in that box! Word of our party got much advance publicity in the daily papers of both Chicago and Pittsburgh; four Pittsburghers actually got into a car and drove 500 miles to see if this could possibly be “for real”; we even got a telegram from the then-governor of Pennsylvania, Richard Thornburgh, reminding us that his surname — like that of our beloved city — ends with an “h”!
My archivist dropped her work on my personal writings and began to codify this collection, which I will take with me on a forthcoming visit to the old hometown, where I will meet with the acquisitions and archival staff at Heinz History Center for a potential exhibition! A balloon’s dream come true, made possible by the work of a standout stringholder!
And there’s also this: The museum is considering two of my party-unrelated documents for permanent display in its Jewish section: the ketubahs of my Boubby the Philosopher and of my own mother. The back of the first was used by Zaidy Dave to record the birthdates of their 12 children; the second was printed locally and clearly displays its Pittsburgh origin. And I have wedding pictures of both couples to go with them!
One never knows where a balloon might fly!

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