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I proudly tell the people that ask that
 I am from Emmitsburg

Donna Wetzel-Needy Sterner

Ahhhh....Emmitsburg. When I was fresh out of Catoctin High School in 1977, I wanted to be anywhere BUT! I wanted to be the next Karen Carpenter or Margaret Mitchell. I had dreams of Atlanta and Los Angeles. I didn't want to live in a one horse town with a bunch of bars and old people. I guess I didn't count on what my adopted mother' subliminal messages would do to those visions of grandeur.

I came into this world on Feb. 9th, 1959 in Annie M. Warner Hospital. My mother wasn't yet 18 and unmarried. Some higher power brought me together with two of the greatest mothers anyone could ask for: Josephine Wetzel and Mary Virginia Motter Needy. The latter took me to raise and gave me the foundations of a character that I am proud of to this very day. The former is my best friend and a very courageous woman that I am proud to call mother.

I remember well the trips to Cornies Corner when I had my little VW bug for those to die for cold cut subs. But I guess what I remember most fondly is Sunday mornings at Crouse's Store. You see, my adopted family, the Needys, went to Elias Lutheran Church. But I was baptized in St. Joseph's. So Mom would send me off to St. Joseph's for Mass and she and Dad would go on to Elias. They would give me money for the collection plate and, since my church let out first, a couple of quarters extra for an ice cream soda or a snow cone (depending on the weather), at Crouse's. Mr. Crouse always called me Matilda for some odd reason and his wife and daughter would follow along. I remember the taste of a fresh pulled Coca-Cola, one made with syrup and soda water. It's a taste that is long past but never forgotten. Sometimes I'd meet them as they were coming out of services. Other times I'd be of to my grandmother's on East Main Street.

Mary Motter was a wiry little woman with crutches that could boot and unruly kid in the butt in the blink of an eye. She had retired from housekeeping at St. Joseph's College. She made the best roast beef with brown gravy that was so rich it was almost black! But she always had lima beans and I had to eat them. To this day, I HATE lima beans! But there was always a can of King Syrup on the table to take away the taste, (can't get that here!) Her husband died when I was just 2 or 3. Looking at a link on this site pertaining to town minutes, it lists my adopted grandfather for July 11, 1916. He was paid $1.15 for constable duties. I remember that he called me honeybunch and Mom always talked about his public service and his work on the railroad.

My adopted mom was a church going woman who'd give the shirt off her back to anyone that asked. In the 1930's she was a hand model for Lux Liquid. She had a Barbara Stanwyck voice and looked like she stepped out of "Silver Screen" magazine. She was 5' 2", blond and blue eyed and she idolized Mary Pickford, Clara Bow and Jean Harlow. To this day I love the Classic Films like "Arsenic and Old Lace" and "Bringing Up Baby."

Mary Motter Needy worked at the Cambridge Rubber Company, the Emmitsburg Shoe Factory and the Gettysburg Shoe Factory. As a child she would go out and gather bottles with her Aunt Grace Eyler who was only a few years older. They would turn them in at Frailey's Store for a can of pork and beans, some milk and some fresh bread which they would promptly devour. She would eat beans right out of the can until the day she died in 1983! She told me about working for the Revenuers during the waning days of Prohibition.

Since her father was a deputy constable or something of that nature, she wanted to follow in his footsteps. She worked undercover for the Revenue department when she was in her late teens. She used to go to a bootlegger and ask for a bottle of his best. The deal was she'd taste it and, if she like it, she'd go to the car and get her purse. Once at the car, she'd spit the moonshine into a cup and the dealer was busted. Well, evidently word got around about the little blond snitch. She went to a spot in Beartown, along what is now PA 16. She did her bit, sipped the shine and turned to go for the car when she heard click, click, click echo behind her. The bootlegger was standing there with his three sons, shotguns aimed and cocked. He told her to swallow it and she did. She said the stuff burned all the way to her toes! She decided then and there to give up the Temperance Cause.

I was enrolled at Mother Seton Elementary when it was out on Seton Avenue but I never went there. By the time of my first grade initiation rolled around they had already built the new school on Creamery Road. Since my mom took care of my ailing grandmother, I got to walk to school most of the time.

I can remember stopping off at Boyle's Store just itching to spend my twenty five or fifty cents on all the wondrous candies in that weathered old showcase that sat right out front.  Before my school days, Mike Boyle used to deliver our groceries to our home out on the Waynesboro Road. Mom had bought me a Thumbelina Doll, the one that wound up from the back. It was laying on the couch in our living room when Mike delivered the groceries and it was squirming as it was supposed to do. He almost dropped the eggs trying to catch the "baby" that almost fell off the couch. Mom said he was sweating bullets until he discovered that it was just a doll.

In the summer time, my grandmother would send me to Boyle's for longhorn cheese, fresh beef liver or brains, or whatever was her lunch duí jour. Pat, Mike or Bernie Boyle or Dick Sprankle would always know just what grandmother wanted, even if I wasn't quite sure. Mary Boyle or Millie would tie the eggs with twine and bag everything just right so a 7 or 8 year old would get everything home in one piece. And they'd always slip me a red licorice or some wintergreen lozenges for that long trip back to 219 East main where my mom and grandmother would be waiting to make lunch for us and my Uncle Gabby who came home from the shoe factory at noon every day.

Feb. 4, 1967 tragedy struck. A remodel in my house went wrong and it caught fire. I was watching Casper on TV when my mom, stunned and alarmed handed me the fire extinguisher and sent me next door to her cousin, Mrs. Aubry Houck. My uncle was the contractor and she wanted to get him out so she stayed behind. The Emmitsburg Fire Department responded lickety split but they were ducking and dodging bullets as they fought the flames that would consume our house (My dad was a hunter and his bullets kept going off at random!!!) When the fire was finally out and the firemen where searching for "hot spots" they faced another obstacle. All the old wheat pennies and silver coins that my dad had been saving in the attic broke through the soggy floor and showered down on the exhausted firemen.

We took refuge in a trailer down by Flat Run owned by Brooke and Queena Herring where I learned to catch minnows, frogs and crayfish before the latter was a delicacy... back then they were something only Granny Clampett would mess with! Mom lost her eyesight that summer but she still went to the creek with me. Queena Herring made my wedding cake when I married in 1978 in Elias Lutheran Church.

I wrote the Catoctin High School News and the horoscope for the Emmitsburg Chronicle in my senior year I got my gas at Regis Miller's Sonoco and made weekend trips to Castle Farms Dairy for schmerekase, butter and homemade root beer. I made Bazaar Posters for both Mother Seton and Elias Lutheran Church. Talk about religious tolerance!

I delivered geraniums on Mother's Day and fruit baskets to shut-ins for Elias Lutheran Church with Gilmore Needy, my adopted Dad. I counted among my hometown heroes the likes of Miss Ruth Shuff and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Shuff. I took organ lessons from the daughter of the electrician, Ralph McDonald. Mr. Earl Rice delivered our gas for Matthew's Gas Company. We got our first RCA colored TV from Mr. Matthews.

When I turned 18, I proudly bought my first six-pack from Ralph Irelan ... in front of Rev. W. Ronald Fearer. I declined the bag and the good reverend told me that my dad would double or triple bag his purchases if he saw him. I promptly told him that, "if God sees everything I do, why am I worried about YOU?" At that point Ralph Irelan damned near died laughing. I bought my first guitar at the Western Auto and all my 45's. LPs and musical accessories from Gene Myers who always called me "Purple" because I wore a lot of blue and I guess he was color blind.

I think I learned every back road in Emmitsburg when I took over my mom's old Avon route at the age of 17. I had a little gray VW bug that I trimmed in fluorescent orange and named "Tater Bug". I was on the go so much that my mother insisted the assistant chief of police, Jim Fuss, put in a CB radio because 20/20 called all VWs death bugs and she wanted me to be able to get help in the days before cell phones if an emergency arose. I traded in that little bug to John Hollinger at Sperry Ford when my parents bought me a brand new 1976 Mustang II.

I well remember my high school graduation night when I celebrated a wee bit too much, slipped in a puddle on N. Seton Ave. and thought I would drown. I had the foresight not to drive and I had to ask the Chief of Police, the late Henry Fuller, to drive me home. He "accidentally' hit his siren and lights right in front of my house to make sure I couldn't sneak in without my mom knowing what I'd done.

Hillary Clinton said it takes a village to raise a child. When I was growing up, every person in Emmitsburg touched my life in some way. My mothers, birth and adopted, my families, the townsfolk...everyone was there for me and is so much ingrained in my memories. Like George Bailey in "It's A Wonderful Life", the town I couldn't wait to get away from is etched in my brain like a Norman Rockwell painting on the cover of "The Saturday Evening Post".

Mom cried her eyes out when Walter Cronkite announced to the world that JFK was dead. They interrupted her "As The World Turns". She despised Dallas for that and despised Texas for something that happened in her family during WWII that was directly associated with Texas. Ironically I've been in Dallas, Texas since 1988, chasing my dream of being the next Margaret Mitchell. The manuscript is finished but the sale of said manuscript has yet to come. I'm told it's good but it's a Texas story and there seems to be an abundance of them. Besides that, Texans think that everyone north of the Red River is a Yankee. I proudly wear a pin depicting a Maryland State flag.

The school I went to says that Maryland is SOUTH of the Mason-Dixon Line. I grew up with traditions rooted in the south such as "beau nights" and hospitality and nowhere was any of that stronger than in Emmitsburg, MD. So last March I took my son back to see the town he barely remembers, (he'll be 25 in March, '06) and walked the streets that I didn't realize I'd ever miss. I paid homage to St. Joseph's and went to service at Elias on Palm Sunday. I stayed with my birth mother in Arendtsville, but I went home to Emmitsburg and placed flowers on the grave of the woman who instilled both character and history in me.

I proudly tell the people that ask that I am from Emmitsburg.

My hometown is the final resting place of the first American Born Saint and the National Fire Academy, Mt. Saint Mary's College and The Grotto but that doesn't mean as much to me as one thing. It is the place where I became the woman I am today, the woman I look at in the mirror every day. To that I say, thank you, Emmitsburg.

Read other personal memories of life in Emmitsburg

Read Other articles by Donna Wetzel-Needy Sterner

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