Oh the places your brain occasionally will go, randomly connecting the dots of your past and taking you along for the ride.
Such was the case last week when I traveled from an elliptical apparatus in Pittston Twp. to a suite of offices in City Line Plaza and finally to the Inspiration Mural on Main Street where I lingered for nearly an hour, all without leaving Planet Fitness.
It began with perspiration in my right eye.
No matter how often I attempted to wipe it away, the stinging sweat kept coming right back until I finally gave up and ran on the machine with one eye half closed. And that got me to thinking of the late Joe Joyce.
Joe Joyce, who passed away in 1998 at 68 years old, a year younger than I am now, went through much of his adult life with one eye closed, or nearly closed. If you didn’t know him, you might think the sun was in his eye, or he was winking at a pretty girl, but it was just something Joe did without even thinking about it. It became kind of a trademark. I’ve noticed the same trait in his sons John and Bill, by the way, and Bill’s son Billy is showing potential.
Joe was the founder of the massive insurance firm which now occupies the former Kresge building on Main Street and is run by his sons. When I first started dealing with him, he was located in the aforementioned City Line Plaza with my late Aunt Connie at the counter. Joe’s sons will tell you how much their dad loved Pittston, and in his honor they’ve made Joyce Insurance one the best tenants Main Street has ever had.
They’d better, because in a way, Joe is keeping an eye on things. He’s doing it from the Inspirational Mural, where he’s depicted with a suit coat casually slung over his shoulder. It’s a younger Joe in the painting. Both eyes are open.
That got me thinking about the mural and the Pittston Tomato Festival which opens Thursday. Newcomers to the Festival are in for a surprise. It’s a safe bet they’ve never seen anything like the four-story painting filling the entire side of the Penn Park building and providing a backdrop for the Festival’s farmers’ market, kiddie rides and entertainment. I suggest taking a moment and perusing the legend located on a pedestal in front of the mural.
Or at the very least, to allow yourself to roam over the faces — see if you can find William Pitt, the British statesman for whom Pittston is named, or baseball Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings, a Pittston native, who was hit by a pitch 51 times during the 1896 season, hence the bull’s eye on his jersey — and take in the scenes — Penn State star Jimmy Cefalo’s mom, Gertie, ladling sauce on a plate of spaghetti for Joe Paterno, or Chef Biagio Dente displaying his giant tomato cake.
As I ran along on the elliptical I began wondering: what are my favorite faces on the mural? Not mine, that’s for sure. Oh, I’m there, but sort of as an afterthought, not one of the original group voted on by the public. I’ll never know for sure, but I suspect some friends of mine cornered artist Michael Pilato in the Tomato Bar one night and either talked my way or bought my way into the painting.
I do like the guy standing next to me in the upper left corner though. It’s the late Jimmy Norris, my classmate in the first graduating class of Pittston Area, and the first ever Patriot quarterback.
My eyes are always drawn to the late John Watson because the painting looks just like him. Also because, like me, he sort of wasn’t supposed to be there. His dad, Pidge Watson, was among those voted in and is pictured elsewhere next to Pittston’s greatest cheerleader Angelo Marcino. But when the artist went online looking for a picture of Pidge he found John by mistake and already had him painted in when it was called to his attention that he had the wrong Watson. The likeness was so perfect, however, and John enough of a inspiration himself, that keeping him seemed the right thing to do. I’m glad they did.
Not far from John is another friend of both of ours, the late Dick Cosgrove. The artist made a mistake in painting Dick, too, but went back and fixed it. His first representation had Dick in a long tie. But he’s sporting his traditional bow tie now.
I guess it’s obvious I really enjoy the Inspirational Mural. I like looking at Stephanie Jallen and Shawn Klush and the Insalaco Brothers and little Justin Burns and all the others. And I never tire of it.
I hope others in town feel the same. While newcomers, as I said, should be overwhelmed at seeing it, I’d hate to think it has become “white noise” for those of us who see it almost every day.
Even if that’s the case, however, one thing never changes. Whether we notice the faces on that wall or not, they’ll be watching us. They always do. Every day and every night. All 71 of them.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs during the week at pittstonprogress.com.