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  • My favorite body of water? That’s a tough one. I’ve loved so many bodies of water in my life.

    I grew up around a lot of rivers. Pittsburgh is defined by the three rivers that converge at “the point” – the Monongahela, the Allegheny and the Ohio Rivers – whose convergence forms the triangle which is downtown Pittsburgh. I spent a lot of time in my youth down there, between those rivers, usually on my way out to Forbes Field for a Pirates baseball game.

    I would take the number 39 Trolley from Brookline, where we lived in the South Hills area of Pittsburgh, through a tunnel that cut through Mt. Washington, across the Monongahela River on the Smithfield Street Bridge, to Fifth Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh, where I’d catch another trolley that ran up alongside the Monongahela, then through the Hill District, on its way to Oakland and the University of Pittsburgh, beside which stood that beautiful ballpark, that would put Wrigley and Fenway to shame, if it still stood today.

    I also lived on water for my last two years in the Navy, aboard a Nuclear Guided Missile Cruiser, which I had been trained in all aspects of the mechanical operation of the Nuclear Reactors on. I didn’t like the work all that much, but did love sailing the ocean, and the various seas we traveled – the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the Caribbean Sea, the Mediterranean, Ionian, and Tyrrhenian Seas. I loved being out at sea – except when we had a tyrant for a Captain, which we did on my last cruise. That made my love affair with the Navy quickly come to a close.

    I still love to take cruises, and have sailed the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the North Sea, Baltic Sea, Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas. Over the past 15 years, we’ve taken close to 20 cruises, and spent over 100 days at sea aboard cruise ships. I love to cruise on the oceans and seas of the world.
  • While rivers, oceans and seas are cool - a big part of my life for most of my life - the body of water that was the first I came to love, and forever holds a magical place in my memory, is Pymatuning Lake, in Western Pennsylvania, near the Ohio border.

    Why this lake? It truly was magical, in so many ways. All memories I have of family vacations, up to around the age of 12, are of spending weeks in the summer at Pymatuning Lake. It is where I caught my first fish ever, a 13 inch Pike. Dad and Uncle Roman took me out on the lake in Roman’s little motor boat, which he steered with handle on the motor itself, from the back of the boat, always smoking a cigar or chewing tobacco. Roman was one of the most remarkable men I’ve ever known. He kind of scared us kids, but he always had a hearty laugh, and a twinkle in his eyes, like he was in on the secret of life, and was willing to let you in on it, too, if you were willing to take the time to learn it. Dad was enthralled by Roman, and always considered him a mentor. He learned so much from Roman.

    Roman had built the cottage we stayed in there with his own hands, and with the help of family, including my Dad. My large family of nine could never have afforded to go on vacations, were it not for the generosity of Uncle Roman and Aunt Lollie always inviting us to the cottage.

    My first memory is of an incident that happened right outside of the cottage, with the lake down the hill, across the railroad tracks, and through a small wooded area. The incident was my first broken nose. I was 2 ½ years old at the time. I would break it two more times after that, playing football and in a barroom brawl in the Navy.

    But, that first time, it was a baseball bat that did the damage. A bunch of the older kids were playing ball out in front of the cottage, and I had just talked mom into buying me a set of colorful balls at the grocery store in town. I had asked my older brother Chris if he could hit one of my new balls all the way down to the railroad tracks.

    He laughed and said that he would try. He threw the ball up in the air, winding up the bat to take a good, hard swing at it. He had no idea that I had stood right behind him to watch his heroic deed. As he swung the bat around, there was a loud crack… but it was not that sweet sound of the bat on the ball, that I have come to love. No, the crack heard was my nose, being smashed all across my face by that bat.
  • This memory is so vivid to me, I remember it like it happened yesterday, in full detail. I remember laying there on the ground, everything totally quiet all around me. It was a very strange state of being, for a moment, but seemed like it went on for some time. Everything seemed to be going in slow motion, and I was completely fascinated by it all.

    Then, like an explosion of sound, I heard everyone yelling and a crowd of kids gathered around me, my brother Chris leaning over me looking horrified at what had happened, but deeply concerned about me. That’s when I saw all the blood, and while fascinated by the volume and deep red color of it at first, when I realized it was all mine, and still pouring out of my nose, I just lost my mind.

    Somebody put a towel on my face, and I was carried into the cottage and laid out on a cedar bench by the windows. I was screaming bloody murder, when my sweet cousin, Janey, several years older and a pretty blonde, sat behind my head, stroking my hair, and said, “Don’t cry, Pete. You’re a big boy, and big boys don’t cry.” I choked back my tears, and stopped crying. She was right. I was a big boy. I wasn’t going to cry. So I stopped. That’s all I remember about that incident.

    We would take the boat, along with the Daffins’ little yacht, out to an island way out in the middle of the lake, for picnics. It would take a long time to get to the island, which was miles down the lake from the cottage.

    The first story I ever wrote was set on that lake. It was a horror story – the title was, “That Hideous Face”. That’s all I remember about it, other than, that it all took place on the lake.

    I can still smell the little cellar beneath the cottage, where Uncle Roman reigned in all his glory, his little work room, filled with smells of dirt and gasoline. Whenever I go out to my shed to get my lawnmower to cut the grass, where the smell of gas and dirt are prevalent, I think of the cottage and Uncle Roman. I love that smell!

    But, I love my memories of Pymatuning Lake even more. It was a great place to grow up.
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