My husband and I are grateful for our nice ranch home, our cars, money to travel, dining out, and being able to buy things we want. Yet, we’ve found out most prized possessions aren’t always material things.
Both of us take pride in our ethnic heritage. We’re proud of the schools and college we attended. Furthermore, we’re proud of our hometowns and the communities we’ve lived in. We’ve been blessed to live in the state of Pennsylvania.
These are things that give us a sense of belonging. We get excited over these simple, yet prized possessions.
Probably, the first excitement of seeing my family name came as a youngster, when my parents visited the cemeteries. Mom’s side---the Kohler’s---were at Mt. Zion, Krumsville, in Berks County. Pop’s side---the Christman’s---were at Solomon’s Church, Macungie, Lehigh County.
It was on the Macungie Cemetery, I found my baby brother, Mom’s first born, who died in infancy. I loved roaming the tombstones looking for our family names.
As a youngster, I also kept the dates of the marriages and children of my siblings. Later, as an adult, I did more research, compiling, the Kohler/Kistler and Christman/Herber family trees into a small booklet for the family. I loved the history of our family.
Once I was published as a free lance writer, it was my husband who suggested using my maiden name. Thus, it was I started sending my stories out as Carole Christman Koch.
My hubby even found a village with the name Christman on Route 903, between Lake Harmony and Jim Thorpe. When he drove me there, I almost missed the few houses it consisted of.
We also look for things related to the Koch’s. Just this winter, we drove quite a number of miles to find the Koch Turkey Farm, located near Tamaqua, Schuylkill County. We made sure we bought some Koch turkey legs while there.
Sometimes we go to extremes with our name. On one of our antique ventures, we found a dilapidated fly swatter, with the Koch name on it. We bought it and proudly hung it in our kitchen.
Koch’s were also into beer making. A Koch beer tray coaster sits on a rack in our TV room, above the bar. Although the brewery hails from New York, it did have the Koch name on it.
Recently, I attended a dinner for Hospice volunteers. I was excited when I read the names of my two dinner mates name tags: Koch. Mr. Koch was even more elated that I pronounced their name properly. It seems, unless you live in the Dutch County, people generally pronounce Koch differently.
As much as we’re proud of our name, we’re proud of our ethnic background. We’re both Pennsylvania German.
One time, at a festival, I spotted a man with a t-shirt with “You Ain’t Much, If You Ain’t Dutch” emblazoned on it. Immediately, I pursued the man in the crowd. Before we parted, I was able to obtain the address of where I could purchase such a t-shirt of my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.
My mother-in-law is of Swiss heritage. Someone once gave her a t-shirt titled “Kiss me, I’m Swiss.” Naturally, my hubby displayed his Pennsylvania Dutch t-shirt and the two of them proudly posed for a photo in their ethnic shirts.
I still have a bit of my Pennsylvania Dutch accent. (My hubby laughs as he reads ‘a bit’). On one of our trips west, we stopped at a motel in Buffalo, Wyoming. As usual, my husband went into the office to register, while I waited in the car. It wasn’t five minutes, he came back to the car, “Carole, the guy insists you have to sign too! It turns out “me signing in” was a ruse to get me to come to the motel office to hear the owner’s accent. The owner happened to have a Pennsylvania Dutch accent. We were both delighted.
In chatting, we found the couple was from Pennsylvania and planned on moving back to Pennsylvania upon their soon-to-be retirement.
On still another trip west, we spotted a Pennsylvania license plate on the car I was passing. I quickly tooted the horn as if to say, “Hi, we’re from Pennsylvania too!”
Our excitement grew when this same car pulled into the same tourist attraction as we did. We were further delighted, upon talking to the family, that they lived in a community near us in Pennsylvania.
Our educational backgrounds are also important to us.
Since I attended a one-room school house, I wrote a story about Eagle Point, near Kutztown, Berks County. (published in Pennsylvania Magazine)
Both of us have miniature wooden block replicas of our high school: Kutztown and Hazleton, plus my husband’s alma mater, Penn State.
When we travel, if my hubby spots someone wearing a Penn State shirt or hat, he’ll ask, “What year?” and soon conversation ensues.
Even in our local museums, or elsewhere, a spark of nostalgia can overcome the both of us. A wringer washer, an old coal stove, or a farmer’s combine will bring back memories of my parents’ farm, near Monterey, in Berks County.
For my husband, its musical instruments and photos of “years ago” community bands in uniform. His fondness of music, comes from the years his father, his brother, and he played in the Hazleton Liberty Band, Luzerne County. Nowadays, he plays for the Pioneer Band of Allentown.
Pennsylvania’s rich diversity in ethnic foods continue to call us back to Kutztown fairs and festivals. We love the Pennsylvania Dutch shoo-fly pie, scrapple, and fasnachts. But, steaming hot Polish potato pierogies make our mouth water, as do Italian sausage sandwiches with extra “schumutz” at the Hazleton fests.
Our hometowns are important to us.
I have an ongoing joke with my hubby, when we travel. If we’re in the country and he smells manure, he’ll roll down the window and say how good it smells. I deny it, “The best manure smell comes from Berks County.”
We have a painting of the first home we lived in. My husband’s home if from Chestnut Street, in Hazleton. Mine is the Monterey farmhouse. My siblings and myself had the privilege of being born at home.
We’ve also obtained ceramic pots with Hazleton, Kutztown and the communities we’ve lived in together: Easton. Now we’ve moved to Allentown, we’ve purchased an Allentown mug for our collection.
People we know are important too! When we visit fairs or festivals, where we grew up, we are always on the look out for “someone we know.”
My husband’s siblings take turns each year choosing an anniversary dinner date. This year, my husband’s brother chose Louie’s Restaurant, in Allentown. On the drive there, the three siblings were discussing the name Belletieri, who they thought owned the restaurant. They knew people, by that name, who lived in Hazleton, when they were growing up. To the siblings delight, the waitress mentioned how long her boss was in business and added, “He’s from Hazleton.” Before long, the boss showed up and conversation ensued about all the Belletieri’s from Hazleton.
Knowing the dramatic role Pennsylvania played in America’s history makes visits to Philadelphia, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, to name a few---Valley Forge, and Gettysburg, so much more prideful in our state.
Knowing about Pennsylvanians who became famous creates in us a warm, inspirational feeling.
On a visit to historic Bardstown, Kentucky, we learned that Stephen Foster, who wrote “My Old Kentucky Home” (while visiting there), came from Pennsylvania. We later visited his memorial in Pittsburgh to learn more about a man who gave us such a rich heritage in music. (published in Pennsylvania Magazine)
Another Pennyslvania notable, is our one and only president, James Buchanan, from Pennsylvania. Both his home, “Wheatland,” and his burial site, in Woodword Hill Cemetery, are found in Lancaster. You might be surprised, as were were, to find he is buried in humble surroundings, with only a small granite memorial.
Through all I’ve mentioned, and more, we’ve found our most prized possessions---all in Pennsylvania!
Carole Christman Koch grew up in Berks County and has been published in numerous publications. She has a passion for writing and has many stories from growing up on a farm to raising children to humorous stories about her and her husband to everyday stories to season stories and more.