Visits to Lopez
Oh those hamburger sandwiches
My memories of Lopez, there are so many, I don’t know where to begin. My grandparents were James and Mary Anne Gilligan McGee, also known as Molly. My Dad was their only son, Leo McGee. From the time I was very young we went to Lopez to visit my Grandparents, several times a year.
At the age of 3, my Dad brought me by train from our home near Philadelphia. We arrived in Lopez on Election Day in 1932. I can remember running thru the house yelling Pa, Pa! He was in the kitchen sitting next to the ironing board which held a radio almost as long as the ironing board.. He was trying to pick up station KDKA in Pittsburgh, which I suspect in those days, was the only station available. A staunch Democrat to the day he died, I’m sure he and my Dad celebrated the election of Franklin Roosevelt into the wee small hours. I was much more interested in the candy and ice cream in the store.
My Dad’s first wife had died when their daughter Kathleen was born. Our McGee grandparents took her in and raised her, as well as her two cousins Jean and Francis Herker. Their Mother, Alice, my Dad’s only sibling, had died following surgery at the hospital in Sayre. So we had several playmates whenever we were fortunate enough to get to Lopez. Eventually, I had two younger brothers and two sisters. The two youngest were much too young, sadly for them to remember much about Lopez., but my brother Leo Jr. ( Sonny ) and sister Eileen share many memories.
We remember the long drives to Lopez from our home in Southeast Pa., usually four or five hours long. I remember one drive up Red Rock Mountain in a thick fog, with my brother hanging out the window with a flashlight, yelling LEFT, LEFT, when ever my Dad got too close to the edge.
Lopez was our idea of Heaven. We spent swimming in the “crik” as everyone called it, we went berry picking in the hopes of making large sums of money , but like most kids we ending up eating the berries before we ever got home.
I remember a man named Layman who worked for our Granddad, he would load us into his wheelbarrow and go tearing thru town scaring the ever-present cows and go to a barn my grandfather owned to get big blocks of ice. Layman cut the ice from the creek in the winter and stored it in the barn, covered with canvas tarps. After he loaded the wheelbarrow with ice for my grandmother’s ice box, we’d have to walk back to the hotel.
One Mother’s Day we were all sitting on the front porch of the hotel, when a car came roaring thru town, hit the railroad tracks, flew into the air and landed upside down. We all gasped in horror, but suddenly an arm appeared from the passenger window holding up in the air, a large Mother’s day cake!! The driver was Layman, the passenger was his brother. By some miracle, neither one of them was hurt, and with the help of some local men, who had come running, the car was turned upright and off they went to deliver their cake to Mom!
My grandmother had a lady who lived on the far side of the school, who did her laundry. We would put the basket of dirty clothes in a wagon and pull it to her house and bring back the clean things. This was one chore we never complained about because she had a wonderful player piano in her living room and I’m sure we drove her crazy playing it as long as possible, until she finally chased us back to Grandpa’s, with a basket of clean, ironed things in the wagon.
Several times when we were in Lopez while school was still in session. I went to school with my big sister, Di. My Dad’s two cousins, Genevieve and Margaret Ritter, were teachers in Lopez School and they tolerated us for brief visits to their classrooms. In the summer, when there was religion classes in the Catholic Church in Bernice ( Or Mildred, I was never sure ) we would ride the bus with our sister and cousins. However, we were not allowed to answer the nuns’ questions, because we went to Catholic School and at least, thought we knew all the answers! One of the nuns was Sister Elizaretta, who was another cousin of my Dad’s. Her parents lived in Bernice ( or was it Mildred?) Years later when my own family was living in Binghamton, Sister was teaching at a local Catholic School and would occasionally come to our home for dinner.
Yet another of my Dad’s cousins, Genevieve Farrell Daly lived across the street from my grandparents. She and her husband, Paul Daly owned and operated the Hotel Lopez. By then I don’t think they had many guests but did still operate the bar. Genevieve called one day and said they had some people in the bar who wanted some lunch. She asked if one of us would come over to help, so I volunteered. I think I was about 12 years old. Genevieve handed me a big platter of hamburger sandwiches and asked me to take it to the dining room and serve her guests. There was a pantry between the kitchen and dining room with swinging doors on both sides. Somehow, when I was in the pantry, I managed to spill all the hamburgers on the floor! I franticly managed to get them all put back together, on the tray, took them into the dining room and served them. I don’t think I ever told anyone that story before. I do hope none of those poor guests will read this. Since that happened more than 65 years ago, I hope that they would have recovered from any ill effects, by now!!
Other memories are Sunday Mass in the little chapel with Father McHale coming down the aisle, carrying his vestments and greeting everyone! I remember one Easter Sunday, when I was about 6, all dressed up in my new Easter clothes, tiptoeing thru about 3 inches of snow, across the street to Mass.
The Borick family lived right behind my Grandparents and I would play with Babe, who was about my age. I loved going to her house at Easter because her mother made the most wonderfully decorated Easter eggs, and she would give us each one to take home.
Lopez, from my childish eyes was a wonderful little paradise. As an adult, I lived in Binghamton for 25 years after I was married, and did get back to Lopez occasionally, but sadly, after the fire, it was never quite the same special place of my childhood memories. However, it still has the beautiful scenery, and the wonderful people who made it so special. But I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to all the cows?