At Large Column

Rural experiences help on the job

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Versatility is a job requirement for anyone who works for a news organization the size of the Observer-Reporter, so growing up in Pittsburgh, my sole forays to farm country happened to be, ironically, to Washington County where my grandmother’s cousins, Adam and Margaret Angerer, lived.


Little did I know, decades ago, that one day I’d find myself writing for a newspaper farm page and, later, occasionally researching or covering agriculture-related topics.


In the family photo albums, white ink on the black pages designates the location of the Angerer Farm as Canonsburg, although it was actually in Cecil Township. My grandfather, grandmother, mom, uncle and cousin took the interurban streetcar to the borough from Pittsburgh, and Adam would pick them up, I kid you not, in a horse-drawn wagon.


My mother recalls that her dad, a steelworker at the Jones & Laughlin mill on the South Side, should have been a farmer. Her family spent many summer days there, her dad reveling in farm life long before farm vacations became fashionable.


At their home on the South Side slopes, they kept chickens and pigeons and tended both vegetable and flower gardens. When they moved further south in the city, they had a double lot with more gardens, fruit trees and grape arbor.


By the time my brother and I arrived, my father owned a car, and presumably, so did Adam.


I can remember just one terrifying visit in the 1960s.


My cousin, brother and I were tromping around the Angerer farm one hot August day.


We ended up in a hayfield that was at least knee-high, maybe higher, when compared with my child-sized frame.


I was convinced the field was inhabited by snakes. I don’t know if I conjured up the serpents in my own mind or if the young male relatives menacingly planted the idea.


But I ended up screaming at the top of my lungs, perhaps hoping that this ungodly noise would scare away any snake within a five-mile radius. If that was the case, it worked.


Two other visits were more pleasant, and they both started with drives through Southpointe. I was out there covering something and I made a wrong turn. Lo and behold, there was a sign pointing to, of all things, Angerer Road. I followed it, and on the left was the stately farmhouse I had seen in those family photos.


My family took my mother out to dinner a short time later for her birthday, and I didn’t tell her where we were going afterward.


We headed toward Southpointe, which she probably hadn’t seen since the place was known as Morganza or Western Center. And she exclaimed when, during the drive-by, she recognized the former Angerer farmhouse, calling it the best surprise present she could receive.


And, speaking of birthdays and surprises, here’s yet another one.


Coincidentally, this column appears the same day as a story about some local participants who were heading to the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, which runs through Saturday.


An impressive array of local youth will be participating in the event, and in compiling the story that appears on the front page, I had the privilege to speak with a few of them.


One young man, however, stands out, and, if you happen to be a mother, you’ll soon see why.


After I concluded my interview with 12-year-old Hayden Demniak of Carmichaels, I was on the phone with someone else. Hayden called and left a voice mail message, which was actually fortuitous, because I was able, after retrieving it, to transcribe it word for word.


This is what he said:


“I didn’t want to tell you this because my mom (Cindy Demniak) was in the room, but can you please put on the end of that ‘Happy Birthday to my mom?’? Because when the thing comes out, it will be my mom’s birthday on Sunday and I wanted to surprise her and put happy birthday on there. So could you please do that for me? I’d really appreciate it. Thank you. ’Bye.”


You’re most welcome, Hayden.


Consider it done.



Barbara Miller is a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter.


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