In the Library


From the children’s collection, “Library Lion ” by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.  Published in 2006, it was a New York Times bestseller.  Everyone knows that you must be quiet and there is no running in a library.  But what will happen when a lion has the audacity to enter Mrs. Merriweather’s  library.  When her assistant, Mr. McBee came running down the hall, Mrs. Merriweather, called, “No running.”  “But there is a lion,” said Mr. McBee, “in the library.”  But he wasn’t “breaking any rules” so Mrs. Merriweather said,  “Then leave him be.”

Can you picture Mr. McBee and Mrs. Merriweather.  He is wearing plaid pants, a yellow suit coat, poka dot bow tie, close cropped hair and large glasses.  She is wearing a blue-gray frock, with lots of buttons and a belt, sensible shoes, a bun hairdo and oval glasses that she wears on the end of her nose.

After exploring the card catalog and stacks, the lion settles down for story hour.  But when the story hour ends, the lion roars, raahhhrrrr!  Corrected, he promises not to roar and Mrs. Merriweather says he can return tomorrow.  The lion begins to do all kinds of library chores, dusting encyclopedias, licking envelopes with overdue notices, helping children get books.  He always laid down with the children for story hour.


One day Mrs. Merriweather “stretches a little far for a book on the top shelf.  She falls.  The lion runs down the hall and roars at Mr.McBee.  McBee gasped, “Your breaking the rules.”  The lion knew what that meant and left the library.  McBee finds Mrs. Merriweather on the floor and calls the doctor.


Days pass. The lion does not return.  He was missed.  McBee decides to search the neighborhood; he eventually finds the lion and brings him back to the library.  Mrs. Merriweather runs to greet him.  “No running” Mr. McBee says. Everyone learns a lesson.   “But sometimes there was good reason to break the rules. Even in the library.”


Lions in front of the New York Public Library

I was in early elementary school when my father first took me to the Dorrance (Campbell soup family) street library in Bristol.  It was an old wood frame building; the librarian resembled Mrs. Merriweather, but had gray hair.  I was soon checking out books myself.  One strong image is finding that there was more than one “Wizard of Oz” book.  And the library’s copies were beautifully illustrated, first editions I believe.   I worked my way through the Hardy Boys, then Tom Swift, and other “boys” series.  I even tried a few Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins books.

I also remember the librarian guiding me in late elementary to a new area labeled Junior classics.  There were Jules Verne books, “Robinson Crusoe,” “The Swiss Family Robinson,” “Huckleberry Finn,”  and “Tom Sawyer,”‘ possible some Dickens.  New worlds to explore.

The old Bristol Free Library was replaced by the Grundy Library on Radcliffe Street in the early 1960s.

Privately funded, it is probably one of the best libraries in the County.  I used it when it first opened, and when I first started teaching, off and on since then.  They had a great selection of LPs (many of historic interest) that I would check out for classroom use.  For years I borrowed a 20 plus set of blue bound,  facsimile books in early new world history to teach about primary sources (some were in Latin or languages other than English languages).  In the 1980s the librarian contacted me.  Since I wás the only one who used the books, would I like them. They are now part of the HGP collection. I’m sure they are checked out regularly.

My High School library at Holy Ghost Prep was a disappointment.  Father Curtin, later Brother Dominic served as librarian. Someone was buying easy to read series– biographies, books about saints or books about states.  I checked out a lot of books but also bought many paperbacks because I knew the school library offerings were not great or challenging reading.  In the summer of my sophomore year I took an American literature course at Neshaminy HS.  In my senior year, Father Dave Marshall taught a good literature course.  I began to read Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Twain, and other American authors.

I loved the Bapst Library at Boston College Library.

Although required reading books were usually purchased, library  books were used for research papers.  The subject of my first paper was Hemingway.  I read every book of criticism and biography in Bapst, even doctoral dissertations.  I then traveled to Boston University to supplement BC offerings.  No question I was a library person, a book person.  Bapst with its antique furnishings, low lights, long tables was also my favorite study venue. Footnote: after reading so much Hemingway criticism, I felt everything had been written.  Fortunately my professor, John McCarthy, helped me develop a topic —  “Huckleberry Finn and the Nick Adams stories.”  A well-known Hemingway critic stole the idea a year or so later?

When we moved to Yardley, the “Old Library on Lake Alton” became a special place.

It had been started as a private subscription library in the mid 1800s.  By the 1970s it was part of the County system.  It was small.  Books were two deep on the shelves.  But it was always an exciting place to visit.  They were purchasing new titles but also had a lot of older volumes — sometimes dusty.  The librarians were pretty typical.  But there was nothing better than walking to the library on a snowy evening for a good winter read.  When the County built a new local library in Lower Makefield township, the “Old Library” became the home of the Yardley Historical Association.  For many years I was active with the Association and presented quite a few slide programs on Yardley history.  It’s probably one of the most painted and photographed buildings in Bucks County.

In 1974 I was hired by Headmaster Francis Hanley as librarian at Holy Ghost Prep.  A Spiritan brother, Dominic Reardon, was the librarian. The library had been moved from a room on the third floor in my student days to the former first floor gym.  It was a good size room, nicely furnished but most of the books were not labeled with clear call numbers, there were few, if any, new purchases.  Donations were accepted from other libraries, even donated card catalog cards.  I disposed of thousands.    I don’t think many books were checked out.  The library pretty much served as a study hall for classes. (Ironically, since I’ve retired some faculty tell me the library is again a silent study hall.)

Hanley wanted me to run a more open library.  Let in the lion. Sometimes it roared.   I began taking courses for a MA degree in educational media.  Libraries were becoming labeled media centers.  I established a music center (problematic as kids would talk loud with earphones); a room for AV equipment and the software (film strips, tapes, slide programs) was set up for faculty. I established a relationship with the BCIU to borrow 16 mm films.  Sometimes I would feature a film  in the library.  I also managed several other small rooms — one as an audio lab, a darkroom and eventually a video room for taping.

I served as HGP’s librarian (always taught 3 courses, so it was not full time) for several years but was appointed Assistant Headmaster in the late 1970s.  For several years the library was managed by volunteer mothers until we hired a librarian, Jan Showler.  I went on to serve as Assistant Headmaster for over ten years but was destined to return to the library.

In 1989-90 I took a sabbatical to research and write my dissertation for an Ed.D program in educational leadership. When I returned I was offered the position of librarian. Since I was writing my dissertation (another story),  it was a good fit.  Several years later the HGP library moved to the first floor of a new building, Founder’s Hall.  Arlene Buettler was hired as a part-time assistant and I would continue to teach 2, sometimes 3 classes.

The new Holy Ghost Prep library was an extremely pleasant environment.  I was teaching several courses at LaSalle and Holy Family in the evenings and I continued to teach several courses at HGP.  What I enjoyed most was exposing students to a new book, a new idea, a new question.

For me a library has always been a special place, a space to think, to read, to write, to explore new worlds. There were rules but also reasons to break the rules.  It was good to let the lion into the library.    I would finish my education career as a librarian and part time classroom teacher.


New worlds, new ideas, even a bit of magic — all found in libraries.  You just need to look, listen, and read.                                              “Old Library on Lake Afton” Yardley.




Isaac’s Storm


I recently read or heard a headline “Atlantic hurricane season to be more active than normal.”  I get fear flashes.  My first hurricane experience was as a young kid in Bristol, Connie (missed us) followed by Diane (hit the Delaware Valley).  Both in August 1955.  I was eight years old.  I remember my father protecting our store’s plate glass windows with plywood, the winds howling down Mill Street,  the river rising, into the Mill street parking lot, then our warehouses filled with  the store’s GE appliances.  There were rows of refrigerators, washing machines, dryers and stoves.  The day after,  my father and an employee, Harry, moved the damaged goods to a building up town on higher ground.   I have a strange recollection that Harry was working in his undershorts.  Strange but vivid?    Were they insured?

In the late 1970s, Diane and I had bought a small riverside house in Yardley Borough.  We bought directly from the owner, I don’t remember any talk about flooding.  Certainly nothing had happened since Diane in 1955.  But it soon became obvious Diane’s waters had flooded our new house.  Windows were wracked; mud crusted beams in the basement.  Later renovations showed flood waters had reached about 3 feet on the first floor.

Years passed.  Ocassionally the river rose, particularly in the spring snow thaw.  We learned to read the Trenton station — on the telephone then the Internet. .  Normal river height was 9-10 feet.  At 17 feet water was crossing River road in Yardley.  At 20 it was in the back yard — up through storm drains.   At 23 our basement was filled with water. In 1996 there were high levels in the neighborhood but no damage to us.   The worse never happened.  Until 2004.

For the next three years, we flooded.  Some due to hurricanes.  Our basement filled with water, destroying electrical, furnace, and whatever we had left ground level or below.  So now when I hear “Atlantic hurricane season to be more active than normal,” I perk up.

For some reason, last week, I decided to reread, “Isaac’s Storm: a man, a time, and the deadliest hurricane in history.”  The author, Erik Larson, tells an amazing tale.  He writes, “This is the story of Isaac and his time in America, the last turning of the centuries, when the hubris of men led them to believe they could disregard even nature itself. ”


A short summary:  1900, a storm develops off Cuba, the National Weather Service reports it will track up the Atlantic Coast.  Cuban forecasters who  are not respected by the NWS are blocked broadcasting an alternative route. Isaac, the NWS man in Galveston, Texas, follows the Washington-party line. The storm must turn to the northeast.

The storm, a major hurricane, heads west, not northeast, and hits Galveston. About 6,000 die, the city is destroyed, Isaac’s  wife is lost in the waters, could we have predicted, prevented this?

Galveston rebuilds.  Just as New Orleans would rebuild after Katrina.  And on a smaller scale Yardley, my Rivermawr neighborhood, would rebuil after three floods in three years.  Some due to hurricane waters.

I worry about the coming hurricane season even though we elevated our house.  Our flooding is made worse (higher) by man made dams on the river in New York.  They are kept at 100% capacity and spill water in heavy rains.  Should the dams in NY be kept at less than 100% to povisde  space for some upriver rain?

And then there is global warming, higher ocean waters, hurricanes and increased flooding.  Should we have policies to slow man’s impact on global warming?





Uncle Frank and grandson Frank.

Growing up our closest extended family was my mother’s older sister, Ellen and Uncle Frank.  There were three cousins, William, two years younger than me, Ellen and still younger Maryjo.  We had family dinners, visits, went to school and church together,  vacationed together, exchanged Christmas presents.  When the kids were young, we couldn’t have been closer.  It was the sister’s bond.  My father and Uncle Frank Mignoni were friendly but their interests and personalities were quite different.

Uncle Frank was much more old school Italian.  His father had a garden, including a fig tree; his mother cooked Italian, including cannolis.  After leaving Italy, I  doubt that my Italian grandfather Profy  ever got his hands in the soil; and grandmom Profy didn’t cook once the children were grown.   Grandpop had anglicized his name from Porfirio and had limited interest in Italian culture.   As a kid, I always thought the Mignoni heritage coat was much richer

Uncle could be a tough cookie.  I often stopped at their home on Radcliffe street for a Sunday breakfast after church.  I watched as my Aunt patted bacon grease off the tops of sunny side eggs with a paper towel.  Frank called for her attention, “Ellen, you buttered my toast on the wrong side.”  She looked at me, shaking her head, “Your Uncle.”  My thirteen year old mind reeled, it  was a joke I thought but . .  . but also it was Uncle claim as master of his table.  ( P.S. My aunt may have buttered the other side of the toast but she staked a strong  claim in family decision making.)

One afternoon William and I rode our bikes to Levittown.  At the time they lived off 413 in Winder Village.  We rode through woods to Bath street, into Bristol, up Radcliffe to Tullytown and the Levittown Shopping Center. When we returned, Uncle was home.  He was furious (at William, I was never mentioned).  He knew he shouldn’t ride all the way to Levittown.  I had frightening  images of William being beaten, his bike confiscated.  Uncle expected respect and obedience. No questions.

Years later in the summer of my sophomore year I was leaving Bristol to hitch hike back to Boston. My father was refusing to sign papers so Diane and I could be married. I stopped at Mignoni’s on Radcliffe. Aunt Ellen was in tears, Uncle offered to give me a ride to the turnpike, “Things will settle down,” he said before slipping me some spending money. “Thanks, Uncle, hope I see you soon.”  When he left I thought, I don’t think he’d have given William a ride to the turnpike and money.  Either strict obedience didn’t extend to nephews or he accepted that I was to be married.

My Aunt and Uncle were always generous with me.  Throughout HS, I was part of their family skiing season in the Poconos.  They paid for equipment and lift tickets.  I was treated as a member of the family.  When I started graduate school for a doctoral degree, finances were tight. I met with Uncle.  Over the next few years, he lent me $10,000 with an agreement if I earned the degree, the loan was forgiven.  His agreement was an incentive to not give up.

Uncle Frank was ambitious.  I think he had some of the immigrant, World War II veteran’s hunger for a better life.  Rather than go into the jewelry business with his brother Carmen, he became a real estate salesman.  He worked for an agency with offices at Mill and Pond street.  I think he met Aunt Ellen there.  In a few years he had opened his own office on Mill street.  He eventually hired several salesmen and close friend Gus Cocordus to handle insurance. Mignoni became a name in real estate in Bristol and Bucks County.  At some point he took some assessment workshops at Harvard allowing him to claim, “I graduated from Harvard several years ago.”

I remember stopping in his office quite frequently.  When William and I were younger, it was to get bottles of cold coke from a refrigerator in the rear of the building.  As I got older, I remember stopping and asking the secretary  if Uncle was busy.  I was usually sent through. He’d be sitting at a large desk with phone and piles of papers.  I guess I went to socialize, discuss work, school or other major questions in my life.  I respected his judgement and success.  The Winder Village house was sold and Mignoni’s built a home on an empty lot on Radcliffe street.  They joined the street’s  social scene of successful doctors, lawyers, contractors. Our family entered that world with them.

I think my first job outside of Thomas Profy and Sons was caddying at the Torresdale Country Club.  I carried Uncle’s bag and he introduced me to the Caddy Master.  For several years I was a country club caddy.  Although we had golfing privileges once a week, I didn’t take full advantage and never became a golfer.  Both Aunt and Uncle golfed regularly.  With my father, Uncle was part of the Mill Street Boys Club that went to Penn Relays and NY Millrose game.


Mill Street Boys Club.  Uncle is fourth on right.  Father is second on left

Uncle also hired me for painting jobs.  I remember painting an apartment over his office.  One summer I painted the interior of their house which led to other painting jobs. For al least one summer after my college Freshman year maybe, he got me a job with a contractor friend.  Roy Butterworth started me hauling lumber, sheet rocking, but by the end of the summer I was doing some wood trim finishing under the supervision of a Cordisco master carpenter.

Uncle Frank was at ease with old friends and new acquaintances.  He drank moderately (whiskey, gin and tonic or small Pony bottles of Rolling Rock) and smoked small cigars.  He would regularly go to the Ninth street market in Philadelphis for provolone, prosciutto, olives, good Italian bread. He always enjoyed fresh fruit and a bag of pistachios or lemon ice was a treat.  At the beach house, he was known for his clams casinos.  For a few years, he packed the kids in a car.  He had bought a farm in NJ and the peaches were ripe.  The land was probably a short term investment but he wouldn’t let those peaches rot.

Uncle and Aunt came to visit Diane and I in Boston.  We took them to Durgin Park for dinner.  We waited in a line for a seat at their signature family style tables.  Uncle struck up a conversation with a couple behind us.  He concluded by giving the guy a business card.  I was impressed with his sociability.

At home after dinner or during a party, Uncle would play the piano.  We’d hum tunes or prompt him with songs we wanted to hear.  On special ocassions he got his 8 mm movie camera with bright lights indoors.  All the kids were lined up off stage.  As Uncle started filming we were encouraged to walk or dance toward the camera, one after another.  The movies are classic 1950s.  Uncle was a story teller.  When we were young he told and retold a war story.  He had a quarter size brown birth mark on one arm. A bullet wound he claimed.  It was a short story.  He was shot by Germans sitting in an outhouse.  We stared in wonder.  At least that’s what I remember.

During those same elementary years, he would end summer dinner stories with a question. “Listen carefully,” he’d begin. “I have a question, listen.  What’s the difference between a duck?”  Listen, what’s the difference between a duck.”  We squirmed.  “A duck and what,” we screamed.  Again, “What’s the difference between a duck?  When you know the answer, you will know it’s correct, and won’t have to ask me if its correct,” he continued.  “Just think about it. He repeated it slowly emphasizing each syllable. “What’s the difference between a duck?”  A week later we’d repeat the routine.  I answered Uncle my sophmore or junior year at BC.  I wrote: “What’s the difference between a duck?  I know the answer.”

Thanks Uncle.


Life and death in Bristol, PA


It seems like yesterday that I was a kid in Bristol (that’s Bristol Pa, not one of the many other Bristols in the country.)  I was going to school, and church, visiting relatives and neighbors, shopping Mill street stores, walking the streets and alleys, fishing in the river, meeting people — in short, growing up in small town America in the 1950s. But it wasn’t yesterday, it was about 5 plus decades ago, I was seven, ten, fifteen maybe. Now I am 68.


As a college student, I read Tom Wolfe’s,  “You Can’t Go Home Again.” I thought that was my relationship with Bristol. How untrue. In fact you are always going home. Although my wife and I eventually moved up River (Delaware) to Yardley, we lived for several years in Bristol. Just out of the Peace Corps, we rented on Cedar Street, several blocks from where I grew up on Mill. Several years later we moved into the family Mill street apartment. You can go home again.

More recently we lived in town while our Yardley home was being elevated. What a trip down memory lane. Katie’s Corner at Cedar and Market was closing, had breakfast in Strouse’s, hoagies from Mazzanti’s market,  walked along the river, spent hours in Grundy Library, lunch at the King George — yes, you can go home again, Tom.

Yesterday,  October 18 was Historic Bristol Day.  Last year I attended briefly.  Since I had afternoon commitments, I went  in early. I  stopped to see my sister, Cissi,  on Radcliffe ( her house was scheduled to be opened), I walked down Radcliffe to Mill. A few people were about. Mrs Mulhern’s, one of the last of my parents generation was on her porch, several Quattrocchi girls were out organizing vendors. I talked to several Latino barbers who now own “Cattone’s” barber shop. It’s where I got my hair cut growing up. Several years ago, Joe (in his 90s) was still cutting hair.

A walk down Mill street is always a treat. Is it the same or has it totally changed. The buildings are the same, but few stores or names from the 1950s remain. In fact the only family business from my childhood is Mignoni Jewelers. Gone are Ballow’s, Spector’s, Nichol’s, Cantor’s, Popkin’s, Plavin’s, Budney’s, Brosbee’s, and Arnold’s. There is no more Grant’s or McCrory’s 5 and 10, Jerry Jewlers and Mignoni’s Real Estate are gone. As I walked down the street Ann and Carol Mignoni pulled up in front of their family store. I joked about them not being opened yet, on Bristol Day, their father Carmen would have had the shop opened — it was 8 o o’clock.


Tragically I returned to Bristol weeks later.  Yes Tom, you can go home again. I went to the wake of Ann Mignoni (Mundy) at Saint Ann’s church on Pond Street. Unexpectedly, shockingly Ann died on Monday morning, November 24. The Mignoni Jewelers kids were cousins to my cousins. They were cousins to my best friend. Ann was married to a childhood friend. In Bristol, everyone is family.

At the wake I saw and talked to a cross section of Bristol. Relatives, friends, people I knew and people I knew I should know. Ann’s husband, John was also a childhood friend. He lived in the Delaware House (King George). Today I joked that John lived on my right; Ann on my left. I was caught in the middle. Small town America. At the wake were many HGP alumni and staff. John like me, left Bristol and attended HGP. And we both ended up teaching there. I as a teacher/ administrator; John as a track coach.

Going home is tricky. You can but . . . There are so many positive memories; mixed with sadness.  Life and death.