Answering the phone in the newsroom is kind of like, to quote Forest Gump, a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get. Some callers, the really interesting ones, can be quite delightful. And I must admit that I was delightfully surprised by one of the callers on the other end of the line earlier this week.
I had the distinct honor of speaking with Alvin Reiner, who is in town today for his 67th high school reunion for Lewistown High School's Class of 1941.
Alvin - who explained his first name is spelled just like the famous chipmunk - had a story suggestion. I'm always up for covering a good human interest story, and Alvin had one. He said that he and two of his fellow female classmates started first grade together in Lewistown in 1929. They attended all 12 years of primary and secondary school together, and remain friends.
Heather Goodwin Henline
That's quite an accomplishment in a day and age when fads come and go at the drop of a hat and loyalty is in short supply. However, to Alvin - who is from the greatest generation that puts us all to shame - friendships should be lifelong. That's just the way it was.
The more Alvin shared about his school days, the more questions I?had. It didn't take much prompting, as Alvin is a great conversationalist, but he soon began telling me of what life was like in Lewistown just two, or three, generations ago.
At 15, Alvin did ring and valve jobs at the old airport, which was on the west side of town. He explained how the open-cockpit biplanes were covered in canvas and usually only accommodated one person. To test the valves of the radial engines, Alvin said he would hold tight to one of the wings, while the pilot would take the plane airborne. Then, he could hear which pistons weren't firing correctly in an attempt to diagnose the problem.
That's a pretty gutsy move for a teenager. For Alvin, that's just the way it was. His services as a mechanic were a way to earn free flight lessons - something that wouldn't be legal now, he said.
His hands-on education led him to the signal corps as a civilian, to service in World War II, to Penn State University on the GI Bill and to a long-term career at the Federal Communication Commission.
Alvin now is retired and lives in Silver Spring, Md. Those days have passed, but the memories haven't faded. Nor has Alvin's zest for life or a passion for history.
He belongs to the Mifflin County Historical Society and shared two little diddies with me that I wanted to share with you, my readers.
The first is how Electric Avenue got its name. Alvin said electric trolleys used to run from Main Street to Valley Street and into Burnham. The barn where the trolleys were kept was located down the hill, below where the hospital is now. Hence, the road in front of it became known as Electric Avenue. That's just the way it was.
The second is how the terms upper case and lower case originated in the early days of the printing press. Individual type blocks used in hand typesetting were stored in shallow drawers, known as cases. For typesetting, the two cases were taken out of the storage rack and placed on a rack on a desk. By convention, the case containing the capitals stood at a steeper angle at the back of the desk, with the case for the small letters at a shallower angle below it to the front of the desk, hence upper and lower case. That's just the way it was.
Alvin knew this because he lived near The Sentinel's office, which then was downtown. He often stopped by to say hello and had his name in the paper - the editor's column in particular - a time or two. That's just the way it was - today it is again, for old times' sake.
Heather Goodwin Henline is managing editor of The Sentinel. She may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by calling 248-6741, ext. 119.