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Under my hat: Last man’s club

It seemed like a good idea, even if it took a surprising turn.

I’d get away from home and spend time in Kingston, where I once lived, and Wilkes-Barre, where I worked. It’d be the perfect getaway after the coronavirus lockdowns and maybe give me a chance to renew acquaintances.

It’s been several decades since I was there.

I’d moved to the Wyoming Valley while the region was recovering from the devastating Hurricane Agnes Flood, which President Richard Nixon called “the greatest natural disaster in American history.”

I had accepted a job offer with Blue Cross/Blue Shield. There, I was involved in corporate communications and speechwriting, traveling all over the country.

I worked with a great team of polished PR professionals.

They were warm, classy co-workers who cared about others, and I was honored they welcomed me into their circle.

One gal, Sandy, came from an ad agency in New York City. She was a fashionista sporting makeup like Cleopatra. She also wore leather, knee-high, custom-fitted boots.

Sandy drove me around the valley to show me how the towns were still struggling to overcome the destruction of Agnes.

“You see that pizza place over there,” she said, as we toured Wyoming Avenue in Wyoming. “It was called Victory Pig. It never reopened. It’s still sitting there filled with flood mud.”

One of the staff writers was Tom. Last name, Jones, just like the singer. He was a Wyoming Valley native who liked to tell me about humorous but common writing errors.

“I chuckle when people write that they ‘poured’ over a book, instead of using p-o-r-e,” said Tom. People aren’t iced tea, which pours. People are readers, who pore.

Then there was Doyle, Southern transplant and head of the department. He was a Kentucky Colonel, a blue blood and member of the Sons of the Confederacy.

He was tall, elegant and sophisticated. He spoke impeccable English with a deep Southern drawl.

Folks would be enthralled to hear him speak. Spellbound, actually. He’s the only person I ever knew who won awards for diction. In other words, he spoke so eloquently - with style and concision - that awards were bestowed on him over the years. Truth be told, I never knew there was an award for diction.

The entire staff got along famously. By weird coincidence, all of us were unmarried. We definitely bonded.

When Doyle retired, I was promoted to fill his position, director of corporate communications. He made sure the transition was smooth. I was delighted to do the work but never felt I could match his outstanding credentials.

Shortly after, he passed away.

Over the next 14 years, I coordinated a multimillon-dollar corporate image campaign, including an ambitious program of radio, television and newspaper advertising. It was an exciting job with lots of travel to New York City and places like Texas and California.

I also became a friend of the corporation’s skilled sales staff: Dave, Mickey, Tony and another Tom.

Yet, when I left Wyoming Valley and moved on with my life, I never kept in touch with these folks. That’s how it goes, sometimes. Life brings us changes and we leave and make new friendships.

So in preparation for my return, I decided to Google their names and check Facebook to see if I could find them and learn what they’re up to.

Not one of these folks was there. I understood in a way. Computers weren’t commonplace when I worked in Wyoming Valley. And today, some people prefer to avoid all things cyber.

But I did eventually find their names online. I found each in the obituaries.

Every one of them is gone. For me, a rude awakening. Naturally, it gave me pause.

I spent time thinking about things and decided to go on my visit anyway, sort of like a last man’s club.

“They’d want me to do,” I told myself.

So I went. The trip was enjoyable, even if bittersweet. And I couldn’t help but notice that everything has changed in Wyoming Valley. Everything looks different today.

“You can’t go home again,” wrote author Thomas Wolfe in his novel.

What he meant is that you can’t return to a young man’s dreams. You can’t go home to old forms, or memories, or visions which once seemed everlasting.

Did such a thing ever happen to you? I’ll bet it did. Happens to all of us.

Time takes a profound toll. It removes most of what was familiar and takes with it the voices and faces of our past.

When we discover all of that is gone, the best we can do is try to remember.

Contact Donald R. Serfass at dserfass@tnonline.com.

In the late 1970s and '80s, I'd walk across the Market Street Bridge from Kingston into Wilkes-Barre every day on my way to work in the PR department of a major health insurance company. Last week, I retraced my steps. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS