The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

April 15, 2013

'Gunsmoke' revisited: Festus, Chester, Dillon

By Jim Raykie
Executive Editor, The Herald

---- — CALL IT SOME BAD luck, but on the nicest two days of the spring last Monday and Tuesday, I was at home nursing a head and chest cold that had been keeping my sleep to an hour or two a night.

It seems as though four out of five people one knows have had this viral illness this year, and from talking to many of them, quick cures are out of the question.

I didn’t feel like doing much Ð you know the feeling. But I love watching TV, and with remote in hand, my golden retriever Brady and I hit the recliner for the day.

As I started to scroll, I stumbled upon a soon-to-begin episode of “Gunsmoke,” passed it by, but after a minute, returned to the classic TV western.

To be honest, I hadn’t watched an entire episode of “Gunsmoke” since I was a kid, and with nothing better to do, I decided to watch it to rekindle a few warm childhood memories.

I say that because for a large chunk of the 1960s, “Gunsmoke” on CBS was a weekly ritual for my grandfather, Pasquale Lenzi, and me. We would huddle in an unlit room off the dining area in our insulbrick row house on Emerson Avenue.

My grandfather would sit in the corner, nestled in his yellow leather chair, and either his pipe or Italian cigar and an occasional bottle of Iron City or Carlings beer on the standing ash tray. I was 10 feet away, plopped on the couch, most times serving as my grandfather’s remote for the black-and-white console TV.

As I sat on the loveseat with Brady and watched the “Gunsmoke” episode last week, I realized it was a much different experience (as in less interesting) without my grandfather’s short words, grunts and groans of commentary throughout the show.

This episode featured Festus Haggen as Marshal Matt Dillon’s jailhouse helper. Festus, as many of my generation may recall, succeeded Chester B. Goode, Dennis Weaver’s character who had played the marshal’s right-hand man for the first several years of the show’s 20-year run.

My grandfather always seemed to know what was coming in the show, whether it be an ambush outside of Dodge or some playful interaction between Dillon and Miss Kitty, the red-headed proprietor of the town saloon.

For that hour last Tuesday, it was a time warp of nearly 50 years. It recalled a simpler time in all of our lives, and a realization that all of the principle “Gunsmoke” characters have died, some decades ago.

As I peeked out the window and saw some children walking across the street, I wondered if they will have a “Gunsmoke” experience to remember from their childhood? If they do, what will it be?

Watching westerns with my grandfather meant that I could relate to actors like James Arness, John Wayne and Gary Cooper and the way they handled themselves? I wondered who are their Hollywood replacements for kids today?

But all was lost on Brady. Snoring with his big head on my lap and an occasional grunt and groan, similar to my grandfather, he could have cared less.

Ills and chills aside, it was a good afternoon.

Who could forget the Silver Grille?

My recent column contained a list of businesses from Downtown Sharon that were thriving in the early 1970s but were eventually displaced, relocated or demolished during the city’s urban renewal efforts.

As I was leafing through a vintage City Directory of the West State Street, South Main Avenue and South Water Avenue areas, I paused when I came to the Silver Grille. I stopped so long and reflected so much that I omitted it from the story.

Hey, it happens.

The grille was owned by the late, popular Hymie Barr. Hymie’s ham and cheese sandwich was legendary, as one could argue, was Hymie himself.

When the renewal project claimed the Silver Grille, its liquor license was sold to the budding Quaker Steak & Lube a couple of blocks away. Hymie went with the license as a package deal, and for many years, was the popular bartender at the fledgling Lube for owners Gary Meszaros and George “Jig” Warren.

Had I not gotten an email from Hymie’s son, Norman, who lives in Cleveland, I probably wouldn’t have realized that I omitted such a colorful piece of Sharon history. Thanks, Norm.

Wishing ‘Mr. Bennett’ a Happy 90th

Don Bennett, one of the area treasures, turned 90 years young Sunday (as in April 14). Bennett, of course, is the retired Sharon schools administrator and coach who remains wildy popular with generations of his ex-students from Sharon High.

Don calls Whispering Oaks in Hermitage his home these days Ð that is, when you can find this amazing busybody not out and about or speaking at a Sharon High class reunion.

Cheers, Coach!

Jim Raykie is the executive editor of The Herald and writes this column on Mondays.