Monday, June 29, 2009

50 years separate West Point teammates

Good things happen in threes.

It's certainly true in the case of 2nd Lt. Andy Ernesto and Dr. Len Marrella and Gen. Frederick M. Franks Jr.

When Ernesto, of West Lawn, took an internship with Spring Ridge Financial in Wyomissing during his junior and senior years at Wilson High School he got to work closely with Dr. Len Marrella.

About a week into the internship he learned that Marrella, aka the Money Doctor on WEEU and author of "In Search of Ethics," a book extolling the virtues of good character, morals and adherence to principles, was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. Franks wrote a chapter in Marrella's book.

Ernesto had been kicking around the idea of going to West Point and Marrella encouraged him all the more. Ernesto and Marrella also talked sports and Ernesto learned that Marrella had played center field at West Point and had been a team captain.

"It was awesome," Ernesto said of working with Marrella. "He is a great guy."

When Ernesto got to West Point he met Franks, a West Lawn native now living in Florida, who still teaches at the academy.

"It was kind of weird: We went to the same high school," Ernesto said. "He graduated from West Point 1959 and I graduated in 2009, and your 50-year class is a really big thing at West Point," Ernesto said. "They are your class sponsors."

Ernesto also learned that Franks had played baseball at Wilson, and was a center fielder and team captain for the Army Black Knights.

Franks said he is impressed with Ernesto's leadership skills, both on the baseball diamond and in the classroom.

"Ernesto and I both played center field for Wilson High School at the Owls Field in West Lawn and share with Len Marrella all being West Point baseball captains and all from Berks County," Franks said. "I played in the same outfield with Len at West Point for one year."

Marrella, whose book is required reading at West Point, said he was two years ahead of Franks and remembers playing with the general in the Black Knights' outfield.

"I played center field and Gen. Franks took over center field when I graduated," Marrella said.

Franks and Marrella both praised Ernesto as the kind of leader that not only the Army but the country needs.

With lieutenant's bars and a degree in engineering management under his belt, Ernesto said he's off to Fort Rucker, Ala., in August, where he'll spend two years training to become a helicopter pilot.

When you talk about local boys making good, Franks and Marrella are two and Ernesto makes three.

On the Web

To learn more about Andy Ernesto's record-setting baseball career with the Army Black Knights visit

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Did dad's hopes for son go up in smoke?

The first memory I have of my father, Dan Sr., was when he sat me in front of the television to watch news coverage of the Kennedy assassination.

I remember him telling me it was important, but the more he tried to get me to focus the more my mind wandered. All I really remember is him trying to sit me down and what looked like a big parade on our black and white TV.

I had just turned 5 years old, and we were living in a small ranch home at 410 Larchmont Drive, in Delanco, N.J.

It was just across the river from the Mayfair and Tacony sections of Philadelphia, where my mom and dad grew up, but it was a heck of a commute to dad's job at the former Western Electric plant on Allendale Road in King of Prussia.

We moved to Norristown in the summer of '65.

The next thing I remember was Dad and I walking to Sunday Mass through a blizzard.

We walked down the center of North Hills Drive with me right behind my father, grasping the hem of his coat so I didn't get blown down by the wind and snow.

Then there are times in every father and son relationship when the son does something that leads the father to ask: 'Where did I go wrong?'

In our case they are too numerous to mention here, but the "Star Trek" incident is a fitting example.

One night after dinner I was downstairs in the rec room watching my favorite program, "Star Trek."

A few minutes later Dad yelled down, "Is something burning down there?"

"No," I replied.

Ten minutes later, Dad came to the top of the stairs.

"Are you sure nothing is burning down there?" he asked.

"Yeah, I don't smell anything," I said.

Five minutes after that, Dad came down the stairs to see for himself.

I was lying on the floor in front of the television. My head was propped up on one of those pillows with arms on it. Thick clouds of acrid smoke were pouring out of the back of the television.

Dad pulled the plug on the TV and pushed open the sliding glass door to the back porch.

He chased me up the stairs wondering aloud how I had failed to notice that the TV was on fire.

What Dad failed to see was that in the roughly five years since the Kennedy assassination, I had learned to focus.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sleep study no slumber party

I had a sleep study done last month.

It was the second one I've had in about 10 years.

After the first one I had throat surgery.

Back then, I told a doctor I would rather have big hunks of flesh cut out of my throat than to go through another sleep study.

The surgery corrected my sleep apnea for a while but it has returned.

If you don't have sleep apnea or know anyone who has suffered from it, it's like undergoing waterboarding in your bed every night.

As soon as you relax and start to fall asleep your throat muscles relax, closing your airway, and you wake up gasping for air. Then you fall back asleep and repeat the process as often as hundreds of times every night.

It sounds like torture but the cure is, too.

The medical community has really dropped the ball in this area.

I thought sleep studies were medieval 10 years ago. I'm here to report they are no better.

It takes 45 minutes for a technician to attach electrodes to your scalp, face, throat, jaw, chest and legs. Elastic belts are wrapped around your chest and abdomen. Small tubes are inserted in your nose.

Ten years and the only improvement medical science has made is to put you in a nicer room. Have these sleepologists even heard of wireless technology?

Don't get me wrong. The Reading Hospital Sleep Center technician that got stuck with me was completely professional, courteous, respectful of my privacy and answered all my questions.

But you can only relax so much when you're trussed up like a Christmas tree - complete with blinking red lights - while someone watches you through a video camera and records your every move.

I can't sleep with a tight T-shirt collar around my neck, and I had at least two rubber hoses and a half-dozen electric wires draped around my Adam's apple. You have to ask to be unplugged to go to the bathroom.

And you tend to be more cautious about scratching.

The study showed I had significant sleep apnea.

But just when it looked like I'd have to go through a second study, my doctor hooked me up with a lifesaver, Manny Esch, a Shillington respiratory care expert, who hooked me up with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine I'm trying out.

After 10 years, I can't wait for this odyssey to end.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Blogging via email: Is this a headline?

I set up my blog so that I could make entries via Email.
It's also set up so that I can make entries from my phone, although I don't see myself using that function any time soon.
I have a Motorola RazR, which like other standard cell phones, is just okay for texting a few words here and there but not writing extensively.

Brother and sister meet at Cabela's

Stan Stine looked like a little lost boy Wednesday morning standing outside the entrance to the cavernous Cabelas store in Tilden Township.

The burly, 45-year-old mill worker held a bunch of flowers in his left hand, balloons in his right.

His stomach had been churning since 9 a.m. when he and his wife, Susan, left home in Tamaqua.

"He's never had family of his own," Susan said.

Stan had agreed to go halfway to meet his half sister, Tammy Cavalier, 35, of Birdsboro, for the first time in their lives.

Unlike Stan, Tammy had no trouble putting her feelings into words when the two embraced at the appointed hour.

"Oh my God, this is a great day," Tammy said as she threw her arms around Stan's neck. "I wish mom were here to see this."

Tammy said their mother, the late Nancy Cavalier of Reading, always talked about finding Tammy's three older brothers.

The mother and daughter located one of Tammy's half brothers in Reading when Tammy was just 6 years old.

But time had taken its toll.

"He didn't want to have anything to do with me or mom," Tammy said.

Undaunted, the two women continued to look for Tammy's two oldest brothers, Stanley and Jesse.

"Mom knew that you had been adopted by a family in Schuylkill County," Tammy said.

Stan and his older brother, Jesse, had been adopted by Paul and Pat Stine and grew up in Tamaqua. Stan said he hasn't spoken to Jesse in ages.

For years Berks County Children and Youth Services officials told Nancy Cavalier they could not help her find her sons.

Nancy Cavalier died May 25, 2008.

"She made me promise that whatever I did I had to find my brothers," Tammy said.

The county youth agency in January bought a computer program that located Stan.

"I got a letter from the agency on Friday asking if it was OK if Tammy contacted me," Stan said. "She called me Monday evening and we agreed to meet."

Tammy said she felt like the circle of her life had finally been closed.

Stan said he can't describe how he feels about the day.

But that's OK.

From now on he can let his little sister explain.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It's no fun being the family snoring champion

As the sun sticks around longer each day, flowers bloom and I'm awakened by birds chirping, I'm reminded to keep my windows closed at night so my snoring doesn't wake the neighbors.

I come from a long line of blue ribbon champion snorers.

My grandfather on my mother's side snored so loudly that my grandmother, who also snored, eventually went deaf.

Uncle Tommy Ryan, a barrel-chested Irishman, woke up one morning with concussionlike symptoms that his doctors attributed to the thunderous drumming of his uvula against his soft palate.

He also eventually lost his hearing and later became slightly cross-eyed, we thought from the tremendous suction of his massive lungs against his small windpipe.

My first experience with public snoring occurred shortly after college. My friends all gathered at the large home of one of our parents in the suburbs of Philadelphia for a New Year's Eve party.

We did this so no one group would be faced with a long drive home late at night.

The guys let the girls and kids have the beds, and we slept on floors and couches around the house.

I ended up sleeping on the floor of a walk-in closet in the master bedroom.

I was awakened about 9 a.m. the next day by one of my friends kicking my foot.

As I opened my eyes I saw my friend Larry standing in the closet doorway holding the hand of his 3-year-old son, who appeared to be crying.

"Kel, wake up," Larry said, turning the closet light on.

"What's wrong?" I asked, rubbing my eyes.

"You're scaring the kids," he said.

Alas, I inherited the snoring gene. But instead of the thunderous variety, my snoring has been likened more to the song of the humpback whale.

I had a sleep study done about 10 years ago, and the grad student doing it woke me up early and said he had had enough.

"So, you've collected enough data?" I asked.

"No, I just can't stand your snoring anymore," he said. "I've never heard anything like it."

Poor guy. The needles of his snore-o-meter must have been spiking all night.

I bring this up because my doctor is scheduling another sleep study for me.

Until then, I'll remember to keep my bedroom windows closed at night so my neighbors aren't out with flashlights looking for the source of that strange howling noise.