I had a small-town America weekend, and am praising the Mon Valley and the entire Southwestern Pennsylvania region. If you live here, I celebrate you. I celebrate who you are, I celebrate what you’ve done, and I celebrate that you’re here. Don’t ever be anyone else. Always be one of us.
There is no more beautiful place on Earth, because there are no more beautiful people than our friends and neighbors in Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
My travels last weekend took me to the Greene County Fair, complete with livestock auction and demolition derby, and to Monongahela for its 250th birthday celebration.
The latter included a parade down Main Street and an off-the-chart concert at the Aquatorium, kicked off by local businessman John LaCarte fronting the “Stoney’s Pure & Honest House Band.” An incredible fireworks show followed. The weekend, of course, would not have been complete without doing my part by eating – not baking – for the Guinness World Record-setting largest wedding cookie table at Chess Park.
And what’s more American than baseball, hotdogs and apple pie? I had a hotdog in the bleachers at the Pony League World Series at Lew Hays Pony Field in Washington. This was in addition to pies auctioned in Monongahela (apple among them).
I also must tip my hat to Laura Magone and the 250th Committee, City of Monongahela, and every organization that contributed to the planning and execution of an amazing celebration. While the Greene County Fair has a long-standing tradition, Monongahela probably created some new traditions. I plan to attend the 300th celebration to see whether Laura and her team can top this one.
With my mother, who is visiting from California, my mother-in-law and several grandkids in tow, I made a sizable contribution to the regional economy. But what I received in return was priceless, a hardy helping of everything that makes our part of the world so special. We may be fewer in numbers, we may not always see eye to eye, and we may even fight. But we are still pretty darn beautiful.
In Greene County, I saw bankers and coal miners smiling and enjoying the activities at the fair. In Monongahela, I saw many friends from Charleroi, Belle Vernon and Monessen celebrating the city’s 250th birthday. There was no judgment, no negativity.
My perspective changed over the weekend. There are certain things that you see many times, but may look at differently at some point. Seeing my mother, Saundra, and mother-in-law, Emma Polonoli, both in their 80s, and my 16-year-old granddaughter, Emma Grace, watching the concert at the Aquatorium, it hit me. We are exactly who outsiders say we are. And I couldn’t have been prouder to say, “I’m from here.”
As I stood in Chess Park, hoping to hear that Monongahela broke the record for most wedding cookies, a young fella of about 5 asked me the question of the day: “Hey mister, can we eat the cookies?” I said we had to wait for the official announcement. He, of course, again asked “Why?” I tried to explain the cookies were be being counted to see whether the record had been broken.
He once more asked, “Why?” Having significant amount of experience with the 5-year-old mind, I asked how many cookies he thought were there. His answer was perfect: “a lot.”
The Guinness adjudicator (a fancy word for judge) estimated more than50,000 cookies on the table. It doesn’t matter whether the final number was 19,000 or 50,000 or 41,256, isn’t “a lot” enough? Does that number change how wonderful this community event was, or how important this past weekend was to the Mon Valley?
Far too often, we get lost in the tall grass. We overthink things. I saw a county celebrating its heritage. I saw a community celebrating us. It was beautiful. For me and my young friend, the world record for cookies on the largest wedding cookie table will always be . . . a lot.
Jamie Protin is founder and principal of The Protin Group in Belle Vernon.
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