Sunday, January 1, 2017

"Hilltops"
© By Jack Bogut

            The gravel road sounded like the crunch of snow as we drove through the gate at the old cemetery. As the car rolled to a stop, all conversation ended and silence descended on us, not by any grand design - we just stopped talking.
            Uncle Ray shut off the engine and we all sat there, as if we were waiting for the heavy quiet to lift and allow us out of our seats.  Then I asked softly,
            "Where are they?"
            "Over there," my aunt Clarice replied as we opened all four doors simultaneously and spilled out into the day.
            And there we were, each of locked in our own private moment; profoundly personal because no two people see or remember anyone exactly the same way.  This is even more true when we recall someone gone.  Two people whose faces each one of us could see vividly in our own minds were buried in this place somewhere: my Grandma, and Uncle Elvin.
            The cemetery was draped over a hilltop like a green afghan.  The grass waved back and forth, almost like a shiver on this cold day. Then, a deep shadow swooped down like a raven as a late autumn wind stole most of the heat from our faces and hands and moaned off through the sparse trees.  The chill in the air was bone deep. And it was so quiet.  Even though the only barrier to the noisy outside world was a rusty old fence, it seemed like all sound ceased inside the wire.
            The school yard across the street was full of children. The high pitched blanket of noise they made filled the neighborhood around the school but seemed to soften at the fence.  Perhaps sounds of the outside world diminish inside cemeteries because the life and times within us gets so much louder.  
            It had been many years since I'd been to that old cemetery to pay my respects and I'd forgotten where my grandmother and uncle were buried.  My Aunt's, "...over there" meant east of the car somewhere, so I wandered off by myself, trying to find their graves by reading headstones.

            I felt a little embarrassed searching; I should have known the location of their graves, and I was not comfortable reading and skipping over all those names I didn't recognize.  Each grave marker I didn't know was a private moment that belonged to someone else, someone who knew the names I saw and could remember faces that would play back in their memory like a movie.
            I paused at the grave of a young man killed in Viet Nam, twenty four years old.
"I owe you," I thought.  "If not you, maybe my son," and John's face flashed through my mind, bright eyed, handsome, alive.
            I stood there until the cold wind pushed me on.
"Grandma, where are you?”  I said, laughing softly out loud. "I'm looking; I'm looking…" 
I could almost feel her watching me, and hear her voice again: 
            "Well, there you are, Jackie, wandering around again.  Are you lost, or looking for something?"
            I'd heard her say that so many times when I was chasing a grasshopper or watching a cloud graze its way across the sky or daydreaming instead of working.  Then Uncle Ray broke the silence. 
"Over here," he called.
            We gathered together and stood, close to one another and yet very much alone, each of us lost in thought and immersed in memories of faces, places, times and stories; remembering meals and chores, clear nights and Sundays, blizzards and dust, birds and snakes, animals and tumbleweeds, sunshine and stars, sickness and laughter, the touch of a hand and the sadness of good-bye.
            Standing in that old cemetery I could almost feel the grass reach up and wrap around my ankles.  Something seemed to be telling me,
            "Part of your roots are in this place.  Today you are here, and all that you have been gathers in you. And all the time you have left begins here, now, in this place."
            Ever wonder why most cemeteries are on hilltops?  The practical part of us says better drainage, a better place to put graves.  But the deepest human side of us says cemeteries are on hilltops because, if we take the time to look and reflect, they give us vision.  Cemeteries allow us to see in all directions.  Up and down; North and south; East and west; Present and past.

            Visiting a Cemetery can be like reading a road map. It's easier to get to where you're going if you know where you are.  And you can always find where you are, if you know where you've been.         

            Each of us is bound to the past by those who've had their turns around the park.  And we're tied delicately to the future by the steady rhythm of our own heartbeats. 


A cemetery gives us vision to find where we are and who we are by helping us remember where we've been and whom we've left behind.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Legend of the Farkleberry
By Jack Bogut

Let me set the stage:

Residents of Montana and North Dakota have always made good-natured (usually) fun of each other:
“North Dakota is so flat, your dog can run away and two days later you can still see it.”
“The wind blows constantly and so hard, nothing taller than grass can grow. That’s why the North Dakota State Tree is a telephone pole, and the State Bush is a fence post.”
Some North Dakotans were so angry about being the butt of State jokes that they decided to march to Washington to protest. When last heard from, they were more than halfway to Seattle.''
I can’t remember any of the things North Dakotans said about Montana (heh, heh).
The above is why, in the fall of 1971, when a listener sent me a clipping from the Denver Post newspaper about a Farkleberry Bush Festival in North Dakota, I thought it was hilarious. Plus, the name, “Farkleberry,” does have a certain euphonious appeal.

Now it’s important to note that during my morning show on KDKA, I played a march about 6:45 to help people start their hearts and get them running for the day, injecting stream-of-consciousness comments over the music.
One day I introduced the march by saying, “Alright, it’s time to start your heart…(I had no idea where I was going with this), eat a Farkleberry tart…(now what?) and tear the world apart!”
I have no idea why I said that. It just happened.
Then it occurred to me how close to verbal disaster that utterance was.
One of the guys on the air, Mike Levine, said he lived for the day he heard me say, “…eat a Tarkleberry…”
I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.
So, “Start your heart, eat a Farkleberry Tart, and tear the world apart,” became an on-air catch phrase that fall and carried over toward our Children’s Hospital broadcast.
Plus, “The Farkleberry Free Care Fund” had a certain ring to it.

Jim Delligatti, a friend and very generous man who owned all the Macdonald’s restaurants in western Pennsylvania (and invented the Big Mac) was a big supporter of Children’s Hospital. So I approached him about making Farkleberry Tarts to sell for a dollar each at our department store window broadcasts. Jim graciously agreed and we were off and running.
That first year we had contest where people could buy 5 seconds of air time for 500.00 and attempt to say without a mistake, on the air, “Start your heart, eat a Farkleberry Tart, and tear the world apart!” If they did make a mistake, (we secretly hoped someone would transpose the letters and commit verbal disaster) they didn’t get their money back because it would already be in the collection barrel. If they were successful, they would win an after dinner set from Horne’s Department store. There was very little chance of that because I had the official stop watch and time always ran out. Until a teacher from The Derry Area School District showed up with 500.00 her students had collected.
And her own timekeeper!
So, in an effort to maintain control of the situation I gave her and new set of instructions:
“You understand you have to say, ‘Start your heart, eat a Farkleberry Tart, and tear the world apart,’ she was nodding her head, “In Swahili.”
She continued to nod here head.
WHAT?
And she said, quote, “Start your heart, eat a Farkleberry Tart, and tear the world apart in Swahili.”
Busted!
So I gave her a box of toothpicks from Horne’s Tearoom.
She was underwhelmed

From that point on, each year, sometimes in a panic, I devised another Farkleberry something-or-other and sat down with Jim Delligatti. Sometimes he would just look at me and shake his head, but he and his Macdonald’s restaurants always came up with something delicious and donated everything to The Free Care Fund. He was the best.

He and the folks at Macdonald’s made Farkleberry Snickerdoodles, Coffee Cake, Ding Dongs, Farkleberry Brew (spiced coffee), Frump (a kind of a sheet cake), Farkleberry Turkey Cookies – say that 3 times without stumbling…you get the idea. There were even Farkleberry songs written and performed at the broadcast windows by school groups from around the region.

So what began as a frivolous accident became an excuse to be generous and have fun at the same time.

Even though it’s not used nearly as much today, The Farkleberry is still a symbol of the Children’s Hospital Free Care Fund collection on KDKA Radio, a fond remembrance for many, and one of the best, most enjoyable things ever to happen to me.

I am blessed and truly grateful.

Jack Bogut