Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter in Clairton

Reflections of Easter in Clairton

As mentioned in this space previously, I was born in Clairton, PA during World War II. I was born at home (not some fancy McKeesport Hospital) because I wanted to be near my mother when it happened. I therefore grew up in 1950s Clairton and most of my memories of my hometown are from that era. It was a wonderful time and place to grow up. My family was bilingual as were so many families who were children and grandchildren of European immigrants.

All four of my grandparents migrated from an area of Europe that during their lifetime was called Austria-Hungary, The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, and after the conclusion of World War I, Yugoslavia. In the 1990s, after all grandparents had passed, Yugoslavia encountered a civil war that resulted in each state therein becoming its own sovereign country. Serbia retained the name Yugoslavia but Croatia, Bosnia, et al became individual countries.

Clairton was made up of a wealth of diverse people and nearly two dozen different churches. My maternal grandparents attended the Serbian Orthodox Church and my paternal grandparents attended the Roman Catholic Church so as children we attended both. As we got older we were encouraged to attend church with our peers and I attended the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches with my friends and classmates.

Eventually the church attended by all my siblings that became our primary place of worship was First Presbyterian on Mitchell Avenue. During my teen years our entire family officially joined and became active in that church.

Easter Sunrise services were a part of many Clairton churches including the Methodist and Presbyterian. I recall attending those services with my family as well as with my high school buddy Jay who attended the Methodist church. Once we got drivers licenses a group of peers would attend various Easter Sunrise Services together.

As a family we visited our grandparents on holidays. My memory includes vivid reflections of the Serbian Orthodox grandparents who always prepared holiday dinners for the extended family. Delicacies included dishes that I am unable to spell as well as lamb, a staple of their homeland.

Religious pictures and icons decorated the walls of my grandparents’ homes and we would occasionally attend services at their respective churches. I must admit that as a lad this was not my first preference as the Serbian priest had a long beard which was kind of scary to a kid and he swung a container of incense back and forth which trailed smoke and whose odor did not do good things to my stomach. Ditto the Catholic Church where the priest spoke in Latin and it seemed we were kneeling, sitting and standing so often that my knees ached. The Presbyterian and Methodist services were much less traumatic for a youngster.

Regardless of the churches attended I loved the beautiful musical oratorios of Hayden, Bach, and of course Handel’s Hallelujah played on an organ. Every church I attended had a choir that was simply outstanding. Those were some of the fondest memories of my Clairton church days at Easter.

Eggs were always a part of Easter. Easter egg hunts and rolls were part of every child’s ritual. But before such activities other rituals took place. The family gathered around the kitchen table to dye Easter eggs. Mine lacked any sort of artistic flair but those of my siblings were often creative. Other Easter activities were held. One is a Serbian Orthodox custom. In Serbia, the first dyed egg is kept until next Easter, guaranteeing family security and health. All the rest hard boiled dyed eggs are used in a traditional game, known as egg dumping, where each player hits the other players’ egg with their own. The winner is the holder of the last intact egg. The losers get to eat their eggs. This is a common practice in all Christian Orthodox countries on Easter Sunday.

Whether it was sunrise services, visits to grandparents or attending church to the strains of beautiful Easter music, Easter in Clairton was a very pleasant time.

A little blogging music Maestro: Handel’s “Messiah.”

Dr. Forgot

Comment by reader Jill: My mother was the organist for the Lutheran church on Walnut Avenue in Wilson. I remember sunrise services on Memorial Hill at Clairton Park. They would rent her a portable organ and she would have to pump it with her feet to keep it going!!! We never missed a year even though sometimes it was freezing!

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