Beginnings: Searching for the Face of America along the Blue Lined Roads of Pennsylvania

By Tony Mussari

It’s been quite a week.

We started our Face of America journey during a light snow shower in Windsor Park. As we drove our Prius toward the highway on February 28, it was a damp, cold, winter day. 

For sentimental reasons, we stopped in Centralia, PA.  Known to many as a “Ghost Town Burning,”  for us, it is the place where we got our first opportunity to make documentaries about hope, inspiration and service. In so many ways, this little town, the scene of the largest underground mine fire in America, defined much of what we would do and how we would do it for the next 30-plus years.

Driving along the deserted streets of Centralia, the names and faces of people we met in 1982 flashed through our minds. On this day, the only activity in the town was limited to cars moving too fast for conditions along Route 61, that was once the main street in the borough.  Gone are the shops, the houses, and the bank. The underground mine fire had claimed everything but three homes, the municipal building and St. Elizabeth’s Cemetery.

Fifty miles south of Centralia, the sights and signs of life were everywhere. When Katy Finn opened her door, we entered a home that is filled with the energy of two wonderful children, a new puppy and two parents who are the salt of the earth in our book.

For more than an hour we experienced a kind of hospitality that happens when caring friends are reunited. We laughed and talked about things that parents and grandparents talk about: children and the challenges they face in a wired world, schools and how they are changing in ways we never imagined, government, family and friends.

It was a wonderful reunion with moments we will cherish forever.

Just about the time we were saying good-bye to Katy and Bob, the weather changed.  By the time we reached the exit for the Lincoln Highway on our way to Shanksville, it was snowing. For this part of our journey, our positions were fixed right on the edge of our seats.

The back roads were snow covered and the scenery was beautiful. That being said, we were a bit on edge, because we realized that one false move might end any plans we had made for our trip to California.

With a lot of caution and a little bit of luck, we managed to conquer a snow covered Cherry Lane Drive, and in minutes were parked in  front of Janie Kiehl’s snow covered porch.

Inside the hospitality was warm and welcoming.  Our evening with Chuck and Jayne Wagner and Janie Kiehl was delightful.  It was a night of friendship in a place that holds many memories for Kitch and me. Since September 1, 2001, these three faces of America have been doing everything they can to honor the Heroes of Flight 93.  Theirs is a life of service to others, and this evening was not an exception.  They opened their hearts and their homes to Kitch and me, and forever we will be in their debt.

Sometimes the face of America can best be seen in the little acts of kindness we experience from our friends.

Our next stop will be in Kentucky. Until then, we hope that all of your stories have happy endings.

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