This article is part preteen memories of growing up in rural Pennsylvania, part generational hero-worshipping, and part obituary, but it’s all about life in this magnificent part of the country.
As a youngster, I remember those days when my dad and his only brother, Bert, would find ways to spend exciting times with us meandering through the woods around St. James Park, now Linden Hall. My grandfather was the gardener and caretaker there for over 50 years, and we were the recipients of his knowledge about the plants and wildlife that flourished in that region.
Every Sunday, we would go for walks in the woods, and return to have an incredible Italian meal that had been lovingly prepared by my grandmother. After Granddad passed, however, life changed significantly, and the only male woods-bonding that occurred was due to carefully plotted adventures dreamed up by my dad and his brother.
A few weeks ago, I ran across a letter I had written to my brother when he was entering his freshman year at college. The letter went into a detailed description of what had to have been an eventful and fascinating journey into the past.
Typically, my dad and uncle would find something unique to hone-in on and then pursue that something to its fullest extent. Bert had been a seeker of Native American artifacts, and he spent many a weekend looking for arrowheads, tomahawks and pottery.
This particular day, however, was different. We were going to look for artifacts from the American Revolution.
We began our journey by stopping at the home of Don Keffer. Don had two daughters and a wife, Alice, and all I knew about him at the time was that he was a Boy Scout leader, a really nice and interesting guy, and someone who knew a lot about lots of things. My dad and Uncle Bert had decided it was time for me to learn the proper way to look for relics from the American Revolution, and today’s journey into the deep woods would be to the site of an old iron furnace where cannonballs had been produced for the Revolutionary Army.
As my letter, the writing of a 12-year-old boy, described it, “We went to Don’s house where he got his snake bite kit, two Army shovels, a 2-quart canteen, and a strap-on knife. Then we followed the road past the junkyard to a dirt road that led to the gas lines where we started walking up and down hills – hills that tired all of us out. Then we followed railroad tracks until we ran into what I described as ‘a tribe of oat bugs’ that covered us from head to toe. That’s when we finally found the iron furnace where my buddy, Roy Fuller, and I went inside and had our pictures taken.”
My uncle began searching for iron cannonballs with dowsing or divining rods made from willow tree branches. He got several positive readings, and each time we dug, we found pieces of the iron furnace. According to my letter to my brother, “We dug dozens of holes but found no cannonballs. It was a great time.”
Now for the end of this journey. I saw today that Don Keffer had passed away at age 101. Here’s what I didn’t know. He was a veteran of WW II, had participated in the Invasion of Normandy, was a prisoner of war, a longtime Boy Scout leader, and according to his obituary, a noted Native American artifact hunter with a vast collection. It went on to say, “He enjoyed the outdoors, hiking, and took pleasure in his woodworking talent, carving totem poles which are exhibited at Yough Park and at Brownfield Community Center. He was also an amateur photographer and musician.”
So, there you have it. Dad, Don, and Bert were part of “The Greatest Generation,” who all contributed significantly to preserving our world.
Nick Jacobs of Windber is a Senior Partner with Senior Management Resources and author of the blog healinghospitals.com.