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First Person: Close encounters

I've had my share, and await my last

Saturday, April 17, 2010
By Eugene F. Jannuzi, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

I have had close encounters, but they are nothing like those experienced by the characters in Steven Spielberg's 1977 film, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Their Close Encounter of the First Kind was the sighting of UFOs in the Mojave Desert. Their Close Encounter of the Second Kind was evidence of aliens. Their Close Encounter of the Third Kind was contact with aliens.

In the cascade of my years I have seen no UFOs or aliens, at least not those of the extraterrestrial kind. Rather my close encounters conjure, dreamily, clusters of my years on planet Earth.

In my Close Encounter of the First Kind, a chrism lies deep in my years. It is myself anointed as a pilot light for sentient flame, life inchoate, innocent of life's hungers and pains, happy with food and a mother's warmth.

I see myself on the kitchen floor, ignoring toys, clanging pots and pans. With me are a mewing cat and my father's hunting dog asleep under the kitchen stove.

My mother's figure, ever-present, moving about in a housewife's occupations, looms comfort, safety and promise. From me come burbling words, begging for the few small wants of three years. I laugh and cry with siblings, surrounded by their love and care.

Then, soon, school at the Eleventh Street Elementary School in Beaver Falls, where Miss Ethel Dunlap taught us how to print MOTHER and FATHER. She had printed those words large on paper strips, and with a straight pin we pricked our way around each letter. Many a prick bloodied a finger.

My Close Encounter of the Second Kind I associate with the flowering of my cognitive powers. It spanned many years.

Elementary school, a growing enchantment with words spilling from an opened book. Then, as arms and limbs became stronger, came obsessive interest in games involving balls -- any kind of balls -- catching and throwing baseballs, shooting baskets or just dribbling, trying to spiral a football.

The physical all but took over. There was running, jumping, pole-vaulting, swimming, tennis. But there was time also for shooting marbles -- a lost art -- for peddling papers, including this one; reading books; an aborted fling at the violin; uncertain first love; an occasional punch in the nose.

In an attic of my mind this Second Encounter wanders, glimmering, into manhood.

I see Geneva College, where there is deciding, wavering, on a career; imitating Bing Crosby and Cary Grant in dress; shy consciousness of the image I presented to my peers; graduate school at Pitt and Harvard; my first job, teaching science in the Beaver Falls Junior High School at a salary of $100 a month; relative affluence in The Great Depression.

Now, in A.D. 2010, I poke at the dying embers of my Close Encounter of the Third Kind.

This encounter began long ago, with war, true love, the anguish of parting for the unknown, brushes with death. Then back to the home front and the chagrin of alienation, which thankfully was relieved by five wonderful years as a reporter for the Post-Gazette. I count that experience as my Ph.D.

Then working for J&L Steel at Three Gateway Center headquarters, and a career completed as owner of my wife's family company, Moltrup Steel in Beaver Falls.

This Close Encounter of the Third Kind has had much joy in it, and much sorrow.

There was satisfaction in work, golf and tennis until I was 80; in travel; in 70 years of the Pittsburgh Symphony; in active roles at the First Presbyterian Church in Beaver Falls; in many community affairs.

But along the way I lost family members, friends and my wife of 58 years. In these later years -- the golden ones? -- there have been trips to the ER at Heritage Valley Beaver, etiology irrelevant.

And now, in solitary residence at my home, I enjoy the warmth and attention of remaining family and friends. I still go to church and symphony, and occasionally drive to Cape Cod to visit my 103-year-old sister.

In the flickering candle glow of this waning Close Encounter of the Third Kind, I await, in wonder, a Close Encounter of the Fourth Kind.


Eugene F. Jannuzi, 94, is a retired CEO of the former Moltrup Steel in Beaver Falls, a Navy veteran of World War II and a former Post-Gazette reporter (efjannuzi@verizon.net).


 

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