Tuesday, August 13, 2013

When Kingsbridge Town Came to Bangor, PA

Fifty-eight years ago today, Kingsbridge denizens en masse descended upon the small town of Bangor in Pennsylvania’s lush Lehigh Valley. It was my mother and father’s wedding day. The former was born and raised in this picturesque hamlet with its working slate quarries and delicious bologna. The folks got married in the town’s sole Catholic church. While Catholics were a ubiquitous lot in the environs of Kingsbridge, they were a tiny minority in Bangor, which hosted houses of worship of every conceivable Protestant denomination and a synagogue, too.

Courtesy of Hurricane Diane churning in the nearby Atlantic, August 13, 1955 was a horrible day weather wise—dreadfully humid, extremely windy, and completely waterlogged. Several days later, in fact, this very same, slow-moving hurricane would wreak havoc in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains and elsewhere in the northeast with epic rainfall, flash flooding, and many reported deaths. So, in this age before GPS and SUVs, destiny divined an anything but smooth voyage from the Bronx to Bangor.

My paternal grandfather—and father of the groom—determined that it would be best for one and all to charter a bus for the trip. He correctly surmised it would be a major hassle for such a diverse cast of characters to travel independently to foreign terrain sans both the aforementioned GPS and Interstate 80, which had as yet reached the New York Metropolitan area. Back then, a trip to Bangor involved numerous twist and turns and the venturing through scores of small towns. Traffic lights and traffic jams were all too common. Opportunities to make wrong turns and get hopelessly lost were multifold. And this reality snippet didn’t even take into account the possibility of inclement weather. (Pre-Interstate 80, a Kingsbridge to Bangor trip took three hours or thereabouts. Post-Interstate 80, that time was cut in half.)

A bus was thus chartered to transport an eclectic group of Kingsbridge residents and others to the wedding. It was an arduous ride through unremitting heavy rains and ghastly humidity. Smoking on the non-air-conditioned bus ride was permitted in those days—and a lot of people smoked. Happily, there were no reports of passengers needing oxygen when they at long last set foot on Bangor soil. Taking into consideration the foul weather, the wedding Mass had been delayed in anticipation of Kingsbridge Town meeting Bangor, PA.

The oral history passed down to me has it that the bus trip to Bangor was decidedly somber as the driver carefully navigated through flooding rains, but considerably more raucous on the return trip home. The boys—my father’s buddies from the old neighborhood—brought along a barrel of beer with them to help pass the time. And all of this after a fun-filled reception at the Blue Valley farm fairgrounds. There was no bathroom in the bus, which I expect added further drama to the successful Kingsbridge meets Bangor experiment.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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