While Gerry Stanek’s first book, a collection of short stories called They Came Here Looking For Light: The Plattsville Stories, was well-written, but dark, his second is a light, coming-of-age gem set in the 1970s in northern Cambria County.
Loud and Sure of Myself tells the story of a young boy raised in a Catholic family surrounded by Nicktown neighbors who looked out for one another. It’s Stanek’s own story and locals will identify with much in this delightful little book.
“I think my second book might be closer to what you expected from the first,” he wrote by way of introduction to the book. “(It’s) a fun and affectionate look at Coal Country and Western PA in the 1970s.
“It’s also geared toward the America that I miss, at a time when important ideals seem so precarious.”
Perhaps viewing the world through the today’s prism helped the author recognize the beauty in the simple life he enjoyed as a boy.
Stanek has a poetic gift for writing in a way that places you in the moment. Readers will find themselves searching for arrowheads and chasing down “escaped convicts” hiding in the scarred hills left behind by strip mining.
Eventually, the convicts are found and suitably punished. “We walked home slowly, then, the entire group, intent on a cool glass of water or, on better days, some grape Kool-Aid that waited in somebody’s refrigerator,” Stanek writes.
“We played baseball and football, war and hide-and-seek. Our bicycles were overworked, our sneakers and jeans threadbare and dirty. We were dirty. My mom used iron-on patches to repair the jeans. And once a year we got new sneakers.”
Wiffle ball in the back yard often included the use of “invisible” runners.
“We lived and died with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and we wanted to be them in our backyard games.” he writes. “‘I’m the Pirates today. I called it!’ And then we could move through the lineup – we knew it by heart – with all the play-by-play action, since our games had announcers, too. It was as if Bob Prince was there in our yard: ‘Willie Stargell steps to the plate. He homered last inning and drove in three runs.’ Or ‘Steve Blass is on the mound. Don’t forget he threw a no-hitter last week, and today we’ll see if there’s a repeat performance in that right arm.’”
Stanek’s formal education began at St. Stanislaus School in Barnesboro, where he met the kid who would be his best friend for life, Charlie Farabaugh.
The two got into many adventures together – to the dismay of the nuns trying to educate them.
In their teen years, they started a band and music became more important than making mischief – although they still managed to have fun every chance they got.
After high school graduation, Stanek got a job at Bill Bland’s WNCC in Barnesboro where “the deejays filled the time between records with localized public service announcements – church dinners, pierogi sales, blood drives, firehouse raffles, fish fries, and dances … Coal Country stuff for Coal Country people.
“At 6 a.m., even before the first newscast, a local member of the clergy was given time for morning devotions – five solid minutes for God and his preachers. Only then could the broadcast day begin. WNCC’s morning rush was as much a part of waking up as the smell of coffee in the kitchen.
“At 9 o’clock each weekday morning, Dial ‘n Deal hit the airwaves. In those early days, Johnny Dial was the host. The premise of Dial ‘n Deal was simple: an opportunity to buy, sell, rent, trade or lease…private individuals only, please. Want ads on the air.”
Stanek eventually left the radio station to pursue a career as a musician. He made his way to New York City where he became a member of a band called The Lost. The group toured and opened for some well-known acts.
He had great times and made memories, but the one that stuck out the most was spotting his supportive father in the crowd at one concert. His father passed away in 2012, but it’s probably safe to assume he’d still be proud of his youngest son and the little book he wrote.
Loud and Sure of Myself is published by Bituminous Press and is available online through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.