Uncle Brian the Economite

On the way back to New York from our short Michigan vacation, the wife and I detoured to Meadville, PA.  A modest little city in the Northwest corner of Pennsylvania where Baseball for Dinner contributor the engineer’s Uncle Brian resides.  Anyone who knows the Lindsay’s will attest that they are a pack family of geniuses.  Yet, some of them, Uncle Brian especially, express their genius in unconventional ways.  In fact, his genius is difficult to follow, because he also enjoys his fair share of nonsense.  Its funny and entertaining mostly, but sometimes confusing.  Sifting between the nonsense and meaningful input is the task at hand when you meet with Uncle Brian, because with him the two always go hand-in-hand.

Take for example my most recent reunion with him. After a wonderful dinner he offers me a drink.  I request a gin and tonic, if he has it.  He searches the kitchen for gin and tonic water, and I note that he is awfully quiet and not as talkative as I remember.  Figuring this is my first visit to Uncle Brian’s home in a town I’ve never been to, I prompt him with, “Meadville.  So what’s the slogan of Meadville, Pennsylvania?”

Like pressing a big red button, Uncle Brian begins.  “Zipper City.”  “During the great depression,” he tells me, “the clothing industry was largely unaffected and a company in Meadville pioneered the zipper.”

Interesting, I think to myself.  He continues a little more about the city’s history and its surrounding areas before jumping to, “Last Halloween I went as an Economite.”  I think to myself… huh?

“An Economite?” I innocently inquire.

“An Economite!  Also known as a Harmonite!” he exclaims.  He hands me a gin and tonic.  It is perfect.

“The Economites died out,” explains Uncle Brian.  Like so many other Mennonite denominations, celibacy was a common practice.  Even more so for the small Economite establishment, hence the reason they faded into the Ohio sunset.  “And the sons of bitches were filthy rich, too.”

I think to myself, oh… ok.  Before I can ask, Uncle Brian shouts, “Oil!  Drake’s Well!  You know Drake’s Well.”  I sheepishly admit being unfamiliar with the well.  A grizzly smile spreads across Uncle Brian’s face, the kind only a Lindsay can produce.  “Oh, bless you Patrick for knowing so little.”

The lawyer traverses the room to a small study in the corner of his living room.  His finger skims the many titles and targets a large encyclopedic-like book.  He pours through the pages and I wait patiently in silence, afraid to disrupt whatever progress we’re trying to make in this conversation.  Finally, he finds a few pages of interest, skims through them ponderously, closes the book and stands to face me.

“Drake’s Well was the first profitable oil well on American soil, Patrick.”  He goes on to tell me that it was the first oil well drilled for the sole purpose of finding oil.  This eventually kicked off the international race for petroleum and essentially changed the way we live.

Uncle Brian pauses a moment before laughing to himself, “And those Economites were sitting right on top of it all.  Ha!  It was their land!”  He shares with me the story of Edwin Drake, the man who tapped oil in nearby Titusville.  Uncle Brian goes on about the surrounding region and its role in pioneering the search for oil, towns with weird names like Titusville, Hickernell, Lickingville, Breedtown, or Plymptonville.

“Have you ever seen that movie with Tim Allen and Kristie Alley?”

Digging deep I guess the movie, For Richer or Poorer, where Tim Allen and Kristie Alley suffer the witness protection program out in Amish rural country.

“Yeah, I don’t care,” Uncle Brian moves on.  “But there is a scene in that movie, with the barn party, do you remember it?”  I do remember it.  “The clothes having different colors was a big deal to the community, which is true in actuality.  There are many nuances between the different religious groups, many of them determined by clothing.”

I nod my head, not having anything to disagree with.  “So considering such things like this, I was able to disguise myself as an Economite for Halloween.”

At this point, I can only imagine Uncle Brian wearing something resembling an Amish man drenched from head to toe in black oil.  So I ask him, “Were people able to tell you were an Economite from a Mennonite?”

“No, of course not.”

“So you’re costume wasn’t a big hit this year, I guess?”

“No, it was.  It was a big hit!”  That self-assured Lindsay smile spreads once more.  “I’m always a hit!”

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