I may have written the early columns by hand, but one of my first goals was to get a typewriter. My mother, who'd learned to type in high school, supported that goal, and I believe she put some money toward my first typewriter, a blue and grey Underwood portable that we bought for about $60 in Johnstown. Mom taught me to type (really just how to put my fingers on the home keys) and I quickly mastered that skill and always wondered why the piano was so much harder!
This page by Jon Kennedy
Writing for the Mountaineer-Herald
When I was in seventh grade at the Big Bend School in Twin Rocks, we were urged to start making plans to go on the AAA trip to Washington for school patrol officers that would come close to our graduation from eighth grade the next year. Our principal, Mr. Ray Clawson, was inclined to give everyone who had any interest in making the trip a chance to be in the "patrol," so the whole class could qualify. I'm sure the total cost of the trip, which included chartered Greyhound Bus transportation, two (or more, I don't recall) nights in the Capitol, and meals, was well under $50; probably about $30. But in those days it was necessary to begin planning in seventh grade to get that much money by the end of eighth grade.
Our seventh and eighth grade English teacher was Mrs. Fleming Manseau, a very interesting woman I'd like to devote an essay to someday, but for now will limit my remarks to the fact that it was she who first suggested that someone in the class try writing local news items for one of the area's weekly newspapers. Things like who went on an out-of-state visit over the weekend, who the new officers of the Ladies Aid at the local church were, who was engaged to get married, that sort of thing. These newspaper columns were usually written by middle-aged women, so it was far out, her suggesting that a seventh grader try writing one. It was even farther out that I decided this could be my ticket to Washington in eighth grade. The weekly papers paid seven cents per column inch in those days, and a typical column could be 15 to 20 inches; I should easily be able to make $30 by the spring of the following year.If you're wondering how Belsano gets to be the topic of this so-far Twin Rocks-based recollection, it was in the fact that Belsano was the territory I chose to cover for my column in the Ebensburg weekly, the Mountaineer-Herald. I can't say for sure now why I chose to write for the Ebensburg paper rather than Nanty Glo's, but there were no doubt several factors. My family were doing fairly regular weekly shopping at the Ebensburg A&P, so it might have been easier to see the editor there on one of those trips, than the editor in Nanty Glo. I thought the Nanty Glo paper was ugly, because it usually had big blobs of black ink (photographs printed on a press that tended to over-ink). And I was intimidated by Nanty Glo. It was a rough and tumble place; Ebensburg was better behaved. Or it might have been simply that Belsano already had a correspondent in the Nanty Glo paper at the time.
Always a precocious kid, I dedicated one night a week to my "news gathering." And to do this, I went out from the house, walking as far as I could in an evening before my curfew (whatever it wasmaybe eight o'clock), knocking on doors and telling people I was writing news items for the Mountaineer-Herald and asking if they could give me anything. (We didn't even have a telephone at the time, so this was the only way I could get started.) I hated it, because I was shy, but I also was exhilarated by it as it forced me to come out of my shell. And it gave me an opportunity and excuse to act independently for that one evening a week, being more adult than most kids, which was always a priority to me.Some people always had items. They were going out of state often, or having out-of-state guests at their houses. Many never had anything or wouldn't have told me their business if they did. Some were active in their churches and could tell me what was coming up, and about those Ladies Aid elections. I always visited any businesses that were open in the evening, and one of these was Jesse Edwards' store, introduced in the previous memoir. Jesse obviously took an interest in me from the start and always tried to engage me in conversation. He may have provided bits of news about the Methodist Church, where he was active, but mostly I remember him plying me with conservative political ideas, the first to ever do so. My dad was, of course, a member of the Miner's Union and both of my parents were staunch Democrats who even had a picture of Franklin Roosevelt framed on the diningroom wall. Being a Democrat was almost as basic, to me, as being a Protestant, though Jesse Edwards suggested that Christianity had more in common with Republican principles. I did have to concede that most of the people I knew to be active in their churches were Republicans. This was all extremely superficial stuff, but seemed deep and challenging to a mere seventh grader, of course. Another business I got into visiting regularly was the Pinehurst Restaurant. That was at the extreme east end of Belsano, at least a mile and a half's walk from home. It was run at the time by Frank and Arlene (?) Philbrick. My brother had already mentioned them at home; they had lived in California and moved back (now there was a revelation!) and Frank was some kind of cousin of Herbert A. Philbrick, the central character in the TV series of the time, "I Led Three Lives," about a counterspy for the FBI who was pretending to be active in the Communist movement. It was about the most compelling program on the air in the 1950's (this was c. 1954-55). So, even though I didn't get much news from the Philbricks, I greatly enjoyed getting to know them and hearing about their famous relative. And I believe I shared with them some of the ideas Jesse Edwards had been plying me with minutes earlier, and pretty much got their assessment that Jesse was right; my Democratic ideas were all wet. I continued writing the column well into high school, long after I was also writing the teen column in the Nanty Glo Journal, starting at the beginning of my sophomore year (1957). It was an income source, and that's what freelance writers do, although I knew nothing of freelance standards at the time. Eventually, we did get a telephone, and I started gathering news in Twin Rocks from school mates, teachers, and on lunch hour, and expanded the coverage to Blacklick Valley rather than just Belsano. I wrote the Ebensburg column under the byline John R. Kennedy, the Nanty Glo one as Jon Reid Kennedy. Once I overcame my Nanty Glo intimidation and started hitchhiking there regularly, Belsano faded from my active focus; as Redmill Road and points south increased, South Street and points north decreased.
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