Despite health issues, Eshelman ‘still going'|
Saturday, March 16, 2013
By Annie Lynn Staff Writer
CURWENSVILLE - Al Eshelman of Curwensville was born at Bigler in 1928. His start in life was a little shaky, to say the least. He shared his story, saying he was born premature, weighed only two pounds and had jaundice. The doctor told his parents he would not be alive the next morning. But never underestimate the power of parents determined to keep their child alive.
Eshelman said it was because of his parents that he is alive. Unlike today, there was no neo-natal unit in a hospital with special equipment and trained personnel to sustain life. But, Eshelman's parents devised their own plan to keep him alive. Back in 1928, cooking and heating were accomplished with stoves that burned coal. He said his parents placed him on pillows in a box, opened the oven door of their cook stove, and set the box on the door. The warmth coming from the oven kept him alive that night and beyond. His parents, he noted, hired a housekeeper, giving their attention to caring for him. He added that they carried him around on a pillow for a year.
According to Eshelman, as a young boy, he kept himself busy by mowing lawns and other odd jobs. He also worked on the Knepp farm and went about huckstering hay, apples, straw and so on around Philipsburg, Hawk Run and other nearby places. He confessed he drove truck when he was 14. Then, in 1944, the family moved to Curwensville where his father was part owner of the Clearfield Cheese Co.
After the move to Curwensville, Eshelman said he worked for a short time at the Oak Hill Cemetery, digging graves by hand. He remembered a time when, during the winter, he and his brother shoveled a path up the Oak Hill Cemetery road from Curwensville so cars could get up to the cemetery. Also that year, he began working at Clearfield Cheese Co. part time as a laborer.
A few years later, around 1948, he fell nine feet through a trap door at the cheese plant, landing on his back. "But," he said, "I kept working." It was difficult, but he stuck it out until the end of the day, when he ended up on his knees, unable to stand. He went to the hospital that night and was diagnosed with four broken vertebrae. He was in a body cast for one year and a steel brace for another two years.
During his years at Curwensville High School, Eshelman played tackle for the football team. He said during practice one time, he hit a guy's leg with his head, resulting in a concussion. Another time he dislocated his right shoulder and had to miss three or four games. At his next game, he went in for the kick-off and a player hit his right leg from behind, and he had to have the cartilage removed. That was the end of football for him, he said.
Eshelman served his country in the Army Infantry from 1951 to 1953 during the Korean conflict. When he returned from the service, he noted he went back to Clearfield Cheese, still as a laborer. He and his wife Jeanne were married on Feb. 13, 1954.
Through the years, Eshelman was promoted several times at Clearfield Cheese, first becoming a night foreman, then a second and third shift superintendent and finally advancing to the position of personnel supervisor. In 1988, he was forced to retire due to the closing of the plant in Curwensville. Around that time, about 25 years ago, he said he was diagnosed with Barrett's Disease, or Barrett's Syndrome, which he says is ulcers in the esophagus. WebMD further describes it as cells lining the esophagus changing and becoming similar to the cells lining the intestine. Eshelman added that he keeps it under control with medication and regular medical check-ups.
Following the cheese plant closing, Eshelman worked for the Beard Oil gas station in Clearfield in 1989 for a while and then became employed at Chester C. Chidboy Funeral Home in Curwensville, where he still works part time. He serves as a greeter, general helper, and transporter. He noted he has picked up from, or transported to, many different states.
Also, after his retirement, he and Jeanne transported deaf children from the surrounding area to the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Pittsburgh for about eight years. Jeanne noted they took the children down every Sunday and picked them up every Friday for a weekend at home. She described the six-hour trip as two hours to pick up on Sunday, two hours to get to Pittsburgh and two hours to return home. They transported four to six children.
One activity Eshelman enjoyed for about 50 years was walking. He said he walked every day from home to Errigo's Antique Store on State Street and back - about three miles. His greatest joy during those walks was when the people who drove past him often, recognized him and waved or honked their horns at him. Many of these people would see him at other places and remark, "Oh, you're the walker." He said he really appreciates and thanks those friends who took the time to wave and greet him.
Jeanne noted that he has always been quite a jokester and always has a joke to share with others.
In 2011, Eshelman had his left knee replaced. He lamented that it has been down hill ever since. During the surgery, he developed a blood clot. After surgery, he was in therapy three days a week for six months.
His knee was still swollen and wouldn't bend, and the doctor advised him to discontinue therapy. It is still swollen. While in therapy, he went into atrial fibrillation every day - sometimes during the therapy. He noted he had a pace maker installed, saying that it is fine now. His heart is monitored closely. However, he is no longer able to take his cherished daily walks; he keeps active by using an exercise bike instead.
Jeanne said it all when she quipped, "He's still going."