The same night Stan Musial died in St. Louis, an old friend died near Donora.
Veronica Duda, 98, was the strong and talented widow of Dr. Michael Duda, Musial’s mentor at Donora High, now long amalgamated into a district school.
The Dudas, young and childless at the time, took to the shy athletic kid from one of the poorest families in the mill town. Musial had the slightest bit of a stutter from being made to write right-handed, as was the fashion back then. Musial was not a scholar, but he could play basketball and baseball. Michael Duda, known as Ki (he used to portray the Kaiser of Germany in childhood games), started a high-school team, partially to give the boy a chance to play spring baseball.
Verne Duda was a trained violinist who had cut back on her performing to follow her academic husband a few miles from Latrobe to Donora. Teachers were treated with great respect in this community of newly-arrived ethnics. As hard as Donora was, people looked after each other.
Musial had an instinct for finding role models – a man with an auto dealership who taught Musial how to carry himself; the basketball coach who taught them citizenship; a mill worker who ran the town baseball team and one day let the skinny batboy pitch.
On Halloween evening in 1948, when Musial was already a star in St. Louis, Verne Duda was a queen of the parade, right down the busy main street of Donora. She noticed the normal bad air was getting worse but continued to toss apples and candy to the crowd – until news came that people were falling, and dying. It was the start of the Donora Smog that killed 18 people right away, not counting Lukasz Musial, who was taken to St. Louis, where he died in late December.
Michael Duda became the president of the state college branch at nearby California, Pa. He was beloved, and died way too young. Verne remained friendly with Musial’s mother Mary -- went with her to Hollywood when Stan was honored on “This Is Your Life.”
I caught up with Mrs. Duda a few years ago in a retirement apartment on campus. She was in a wheelchair and her eyesight was going, and she had misplaced some documents about her husband and their prize protégé. She did not lack for opinions, but her main one was pride in the boy from town who made his way in the world.
"Among the things that have long fascinated people about Jesus and explain his enduring appeal is his method of dialogue and teaching. "He asked a lot of questions and told a lot of stories in the form of parables. In fact, parables form about a third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. The Gospels were written decades after he died, so his questions and parables clearly left a deep impression on those who bore testimony to him....
"Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical; others were meant to challenge or even provoke. In some cases, Jesus used questions to parry attacks by religious authorities who set traps for him. In others, he used questions to enter more fully into the lives of others and to help people look at the state of their hearts. He asked people about their fears and their faith. Jesus used questions to free a woman caught in adultery from condemnation and to inquire whether people considered him to be the Messiah. He probed deeply into questions not many had asked before him, like “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
---(Peter Wehner, long-time White House consultant and writer, in the NYT last week about Jesus Christ’s method of teaching by asking questions.)
"Would that I could mention all the illuminating details in this biography, for example, why Wells praised Black Americans so highly, saying, 'I took a mighty liking to these gentle, human, dark-skinned people,' and 'Whatever America has to show in heroic living today, I doubt if she can show anything finer than the quality of the resolve, the steadfast efforts hundreds of black and colored men are making today to live blamelessly, honorably and patiently, getting by themselves what scraps of refinement, beauty and learning they may, keeping their hold on a civilization they are grudged and denied.''
-- "How H.G. Wells Predicted the 20th Century," Charles Johnson, NYT Book Review, Nov. 19, 2021. ***".
...the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)