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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Vonnegut, My Dad and Bethlehem Township

Michael N. Pocalyko, who lives in Virginia, has at one time or another been just about everything. He's been a reporter, steel worker, combat pilot, political candidate and venture capitalist. He's just written a financial thriller, "The Navigator," set to publish on June 11. I was more than a bit shocked to learn that he reads my blog. But there's a reason. You see, his Dad and mine were tight. He has shared a story involving them both, along with author Kurt Vonnegut and Bethlehem Township, at Algonquin Redux.

This story goes back to the mid '60s. At that time, Pocalyko's Dad, Walt, was a financial manager at The Steel (as we called the Bethlehem Steel in those days) by day, and was also Bethlehem Township's municipal secretary. My Dad, believe it or not, was the Township's Solicitor. But he was wrapping up his work there because he had just been elected District Attorney.

In those days, Townships met on Saturday mornings. Even the courthouse was open then for members of the public, who work for a living. That's just one of many municipal services that seem to have disappeared, with no one noticing. According to Walt,
“This had to have been during one of our Saturday morning meetings. As I said, Bernie was still attending. The way I remember it, Connie Schubert came in to find me. I know you remember Connie, my secretary. She said that there’s a guy here looking for Bernie. I went out and met him. Such a nice, decent guy. We chatted for quite a while, and eventually he told me that he and Bernie were prisoners of war together. Now I remembered that Bernie had fought in the Bulge along with your Uncle Mike and your Uncle Pete, but until then I’d forgotten that he was captured and became a German POW. That’s where the two of them met.”
The fellow looking for my Dad, of course, was Kurt Vonnegut. My mother probably sent him over to get rid of him. He wasn't famous then.
"So soon enough, Bernie comes out. It was not any kind of big emotional reunion, even after what? Nineteen years? None of us was that way. But those two were both obviously very happy to be there. Together. They had one hell of a bond. And they were really fine, good men.”
That definitely sounds like my Dad. The only times I ever saw him cry were when his mother died (two days straight) and when his Dachshund, Ursula, died (three days straight).

After Saturday morning meetings, all the players would reconvene to violate the Sunshine Law (although it didn't exist then), with an after-meeting meeting. Naturally, it would have to be in a place where the alcohol flowed freely. That would be the Peacock Hotel, which was located on the fringes of Freemansburg, near Pembroke Village. This was a wild place. Owner Albano Silva was one of my first clients. He committed suicide.
“By the time I got there Bernie and his army buddy already had a couple of beers in front of them and were just talking quietly. Talking. I knew other POWs like that. They had it the worst of all of us. We had a great afternoon after that, maybe eight or ten of us eating and smoking cigarettes and drinking and talking. Bernie’s buddy just became one of the gang for the day. And the funny thing is, Mike, he didn’t tell us he was a writer. I never knew that until you came home from college with his book. The one Bernie and Mary are in."
Walt is 88 years old. In addition to his work at "The Steel" and as Township Secretary, he served on school boards and as the Township's auditor and zoning administrator.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Bernie Great story!

Anonymous said...

wow Bernie that was a great piece of writing to read. I wish life were that simple today. I loved their Saturday meetings. Bernie I still believe in the human element of life and that is slipping away today. That is why I still think there should be town hall meetings, public meetings and community events where people can get together and make this country more caring again.