‘A hundred pounds of dynamite’


Fred Eshleman is nothing if not passionate. He never does small talk. He does big talk. Big, enthusiastic, love of life talk.
Fred’s favorite topics include his native Avoca, his new home in Florida (especially if he’s hosted visitors from Avoca), baseball, and his mom.
And Mom’s passing has only inspired him to talk about her even more. As Mother’s Day approached, he sent me some of his thoughts in a letter.
“A hundred pounds of dynamite,” he called her.
“She was Connie to most,” he wrote, “Nana to many, but mom to me.”
Fred said his mom loved gardening, crafts, canning and prayer, doing all well into her 90s.
Fred explained that his dad died in 1953 and his mom remarried six years later. The lucky man was Bernard McTigue, an auto salesman at Barber Motors in West Pittston. She had known him for many years. Bernie had two grown children, Bernie and Sheila. “We all got along like a true family and the result was 12 grandchildren,” Fred wrote.
Fred said his mom and her sister, Frances Cirelli, were constant companions. “Batman and Robin,” he called them. If you saw one, you saw the other, often in a little green VW heading to a flea market or perhaps the Bloomsburg Fair. Aunt Franny was Fred’s godmother.
Fred said his daughter Kelly still longs for those Sundays at Nana’s of her youth. Although, Kelly still insists that when she asked for and received her grandmother’s spaghetti sauce recipe, Nana purposely left out a key ingredient because Kelly’s never quite tasted like hers.
For the last years of her life, Connie moved in with Franny. On a visit back home from Florida, Fred was surprised to find the shelves in his mother’s canning cellar empty. A neighbor filled him in as to why.
Before she moved, Connie, with the assistance of Franny, transported all of her canned goods, hundreds of jars of chili sauce, peppers, pears, tomatoes and more, up the street to Franny’s in a wheelbarrow.
Connie and Franny visited Fred and his wife Catherine in Florida some years ago. “My wife took them to K-Mart for bathing suits,” Fred wrote. “They had never been in a swimming pool in their lives. After a few days I overheard a very early morning conversation. Franny said to Connie, ‘What are we doing here? We could be home canning tomatoes.'”
“I guess you can tell I miss my mother more and more as time rolls on,” Fred concluded in his letter.
He said it gives him comfort to know “Heaven has a Blue Ribbon gardener taking care of God’s Kingdom.”
He also reminded those of us who still have our mothers to enjoy them and to cherish them. “Life is short,” he wrote. “And mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, and mothers-to-be will always be the heart and soul of the American family.”
(That’s Connie, on the left, and Franny)

Ed Ackerman