Whatever it takes
Christmas Day will come early this year for the extended family of Nancy and the late Jerry Hurl.
“We’re celebrating Christmas on July 1st because my granddaughter’s husband in San Antonio is a minister, and they can never come home at Christmas,” Nan said. “We’ll have Christmas presents and everything, just like a regular Christmas.”
Even if all of Nancy’s six children, 19 grandchildren, and 16 great grandchildren can’t make it, it should turn out to be a large party.
“I know my daughters from Delaware and Michigan will be here, and my son will be here. One of my grandsons goes to college in Atlanta. I hope he’ll be finished by then. And then the California kids are coming. So we expect to have a nice reunion.”
Having a Christmas party in July is typical of the way the Hurl family has always enjoyed life – with a do-whatever-it-takes-attitude.
Nancy and Jerry were both born to long-time Sharpsville families – Jerry on July 31, 1914, and Nan on December 17, 1922.
Her maternal grandfather had a hardware store where the police station is now, on the corner of Main and Walnut, but Nan never knew him.
“He and a friend were looking at guns, and my grandfather got shot. He didn’t die at the time, but he got pneumonia and died about six or seven months later. Their house is still there on Pierce Avenue.”
Nancy’s father, Tim Holland, was a cavalry soldier way back during World War I, when the cavalry still rode horses. He was discharged with a pension after being injured by a fall from a horse.
“I was born on Walnut Street,” Nancy said. “The house is still there. They used to call that section Oniontown. I don’t know why they called it that.”
Her father worked for Oldsmobile and Buick dealerships until he was able to open his own Pontiac dealership on Main Street in Sharpsville in 1941, where Valley Screen Printing is now. The timing was unfortunate because World War II caused the suspension of automobile manufacturing. He spent the war at Fort Holabird in Baltimore where he served as a civilian mechanics instructor.
Nan has a lot of good memories of her childhood.
“We spent a lot of summers at Conneaut Lake,” she said. “My Dad ran the hotel at Midway during the summers. The ferry went around the lake and would stop at the dock.”
Nan, her sister Carol, and brother James had a lot of great times at the farm of her maternal Grandma Hum in Hamburg, near Fredonia. And they had special adventures with her Dad in Sharpsville.
“When my brother and I were little, our father belonged to the volunteer fire department. He would take us down to the fire house. That pole the firemen go down, well, it took us quite a while but we learned how to go down it. We always loved our dad to baby sit us because that’s where he would take us. The building is still there on the corner of 3rd and Main Streets. There’s a flower shop in it now.”
Nancy remembers that the fire department had some moments that were less than stellar. Although it was volunteer, there was always a member staying there who would start the truck and alert the other firemen when there was a fire.
“The Welsh House was a hotel about a block away from the firehouse. One night it caught on fire. Somebody ran up to the fire station, but the guy on duty thought they were kidding, so he rolled over and went back to sleep. The hotel burned to the ground. Another time the Isaly store caught on fire, and the man driving the fire truck had a heart attack, so that store burned down, too.”
Nan married Jerry on October 31, 1941.
“We were the first couple married in the new Presbyterian Church. It took years and years to build it, and ours was the first wedding there when they got the main part finished. Grandma Hum made my wedding dress and all the dresses for the bridesmaids.”
Many young couples married around that time had to spend the war apart, but Jerry and Nan were able to stay together – for a very unusual reason.
“They wouldn’t take him into the service because they couldn’t fingerprint him,” Nan said. “He was a roll turner at Sharon Steel. He had to check the stainless steel for defects with his fingers, and his fingerprints wore away. And he didn’t have a birth certificate. He had a baptismal certificate, but the church burned down so there were no church records. Then they had a fire in their home, so there were two fires that destroyed the records.”
Nan’s and Jerry’s first daughter Karen was born in 1944, followed by daughters Krista (1949), Kyle (1951), Kim (1952), son Gerald (1955), and daughter Karole (1956).
Jerry had to work hard to support his large family. He worked at Sharon Steel for 38 years. Most of that time he worked a second job at Phillips Steel. But the family made the very best of his time off.
“We always took our kids on vacations,” Nan said. “The one place we loved to go to was Wasaga Beach in Canada. You could walk a long way out into the water and you wouldn’t be in over your knees. It was all sand. We could sit on the porch of the cottage and watch the kids.”
Florida was also a regular destination.
“My dad retired when he was 56 years old and moved to Florida, so we spent vacations down there, too. A lot of times we would drive all night so the kids could sleep. We had a big Pontiac station wagon.”
Nan remembers one very special vacation. Around 1972, Jerry had accumulated enough vacation to take 13 weeks at one time. They decided to go on a long trip without the kids.
“We started out going south, stopping to visit friends and relatives along the way. We went to New Orleans, then to Texas. We saw a baseball game in Houston, and the Alamo in San Antonio. We stayed in Arizona for a while. In California we went to Disneyland with Peter, Judy, and Jonah Steinhart, then to their home in Palo Alto. Judy is my niece, and she’s like a daughter to me. We went to Santa Barbara, the Hearst Castle, and Yosemite. When it was time to come home, we drove to Reno on I-80. From there we decided to take back roads. We saw a lot of small towns, and even got a speeding ticket in one of them. We visited friends in Boulder, and finally stopped to see my best friend in Chicago who used to live in Greenville. Then we came on home.”
Nan’s parents came up from Florida to take care of the kids while Nan and Jerry were gone. They found themselves dealing with more than their grandchildren.
“All the kids in the neighborhood were used to coming to our house because all the other mothers worked. They still came when we were on this vacation. After a while my Dad put up a big sign on the front porch, ‘The Clubhouse is Closed.’”
When Jerry approached retirement age, his lack of a birth certificate proved to be a challenge.
“All we had was this little slip of paper that the doctor had filled out. His mother was still living, but they wouldn’t believe her. We joked that he would never be able to retire, that he would have to work forever. We had to find other people who knew him way back when. But finally they did give him a birth certificate.”
In the late 1970s, Jerry had open heart surgery and never completely recovered.
“We fought it for about 15 years. He’d get better, then worse. He passed away on Memorial Day, May 29, 1992.”
The Hurls are still a presence in Sharpsville. Nancy lives there, in an apartment behind her daughter Karole’s house. Daughter Kim lives not far away. Nan’s and Jerry’s former home on Koehler Drive was passed on to their son Gerald, then to his son Gerald who lives there now. That makes it a three generation Gerald Hurl house.
All of the Sharpsville Hurls, along with their relatives from Delaware to California, are looking forward to celebrating Christmas together on July 1st. After all, what’s six months more or less in a do-whatever-it-takes family?
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 1, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2007