Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Chester P. Mertz

Chester P. Mertz lived without entanglements.  He was not timid.  He was not brash.  

And he’d be upset with me for writing this.

I am not sure how much of his story I can tell and still keep my word.  

And for that, this might be my hardest blog post to date.

The Mahoning Mertz's were a big family.  Chester's father Ambrose "Amby" was one of fifteen children.  Most lived to adulthood.

His mother Sarah was a distant Mertz cousin of Amby.  She was one of five daughters.  Her sister Lillian married Moses Heilman and their large family grew up next door to Amby and Sarah's small family of three:  Chester was an only child.

Sarah and Lillian's sister Carrie Mertz lived in the home of her parents next to all her cousins and her school.  She was from the old notion that for a woman, once you chose to teach, you either married and resigned or never marry.  

She never drove or married and taught school across the street at the Sandel School (Today's Union Sunday School, where Chester continued to play the organ up until recently).  Carrie was one of several of Mertz family that relied on Chester to drive them and to take care of them in the later years. 

This is the school all the Mertz and Heilman children attended.  Carrie taught all of them at one time, First through Eighth grades.  The fourth sister, Elsie Mertz Mosser was also a teacher.  One of them took a horse and buggy past today's Charlie Snyder Tractors to teach in the one room schoolhouse there.

And even though it was the Depression, and the children had a wide range of farm and chore duties, growing up there immersed in love and family sounds so ideal today in a society that is rushed and somewhat fragmented, distanced from each other with too many modern responsibilities and technology's crutch of false connectedness.

His 1931 class picture looks like something from "Our Gang."
This is the 1931 picture of the Sandel School First through Eight grades taught by Chester's Aunt Carrie Mertz.  Chester is bottom row, third from left.  Two rows above him are a pair of twins with piercing eyes.  If anyone knows any other people in this picture please let me know.


So suffice it to say this is all I am comfortable telling for now.  But as I see fit and as I feel his story needs to be told, I will re-visit this post and add more.  But as for now, this is all.

So many people knew Chester.  He was so social, he seemed to be everywhere.  And yet, he rarely if ever, thought of himself first.  It's hard not to make a god out of him.

He was my number one reference point, he was my Mahoning Valley local history instant Google search.  He always answered his phone or always returned the call.  I feel a tremendous loss of knowledge, a void that is saddening me more as the reality of his departure is sinking in.

There are several posts on this site where Chester's wit and wisdom still lives.

Today was the day we buried him, a day we all said goodbye to the best of friends.

Chester was always diligent and faithful to all his family and friends.
Chester weeds at the grave of his parents, just up the slope from his own grave,
leaving little unfinished burden on others.

Last June I finally got the call I'd hope I'd get from him.  He said he wanted to sell me his truck.

We celebrated the sale with lunch at the Boulevard, chicken barbecue with a cup of beef, barley and vegetable.  It was Chester's treat.

We did some porch sitting.  One of the best porches in all Mahoning Valley.  We said our good byes with enough said.  And as his truck left the driveway that night, I could hear Chester call from the kitchen, “Now mind the gas gauge.” 

Dear Chester,
It must be hard for you
To see them all so proud.
But Chester

Could you play,
Just a little?

That lets me close my eyes, 

Some ragtime,
Something new,

But play it from your shoulders,

Like Joplin used to do.