Senior Memoirs - Stan Levin's January reading- (Next Meeting on Wednesday)
Sydney Kessler- A Most Unforgettable Character
Robesonia, PA. - A Most Unforgettable Town-
By Stanley A. Levin
In 1956 I was studying for a B.S. Degree in Textile Engineering at The Philadelphia Textile Institute in Philadelphia . As part of the curriculum, during the summer break, students were urged to obtain employment in any company that was related to any phase of the industry.
I was excited by my new found discovery of and interest in the myriad phases of the industry. On my quest to find employment I was fortunate to be hired by The Aldon Rug Mills located in Lenni , Pennsylvania . Assigned to a small three desk office which I shared with two mature gentlemen our responsibilities were to analyze the methods of one phase of production of tufted rugs.
A door leading into a chemistry laboratory was always open. This area of the company was loosely structured and the other two gentlemen often not being at their desks enabled me to wander daily through the open door into the small laboratory.
One gentleman and his female assistant were busy with their test tubes and working with all manner of chemist’s paraphernalia doing what chemists do, analyzing and further analyzing their solutions. Their tasks were totally foreign to me. What lured me to the laboratory every day was the gentleman with the unusual name, Sydney Kessler. He was unusual in more ways than one. He too had studied at the Philadelphia Textile school with Chemistry and Dyeing as his major and had graduated in the late 1940’s. Most fascinating to me was the fact that he had been a World War II veteran and readily discussed his combat experiences with me each and every day.
Sydney was an exceptionally warm individual and he befriended me. World War II history had been of major interest to me ever since the times during the war when as a youngster I would read the paper every day to follow the progress of the war. Sydney was the first man I had ever met who openly discussed the combat horrors he experienced and freely told me what transpired during the Battle of the Bulge and his experience during the liberation of a concentration camp.
Another most fascinating side of Sydney was his sensitivity. He was already an accomplished poet. He recited to me, verbatim, one of his long poems, “We Keep, Here, The Records of Days,” which had been published in the prestigious literary magazine “The Saturday Review.” His poetry certainly was not of the “roses are red, violets are blue” genre, rather were laced with obscure imagery. This sensitive man had me totally fascinated in conversation for the ten weeks of my employment at Aldon Rug Mills.
Although I never saw Sydney again after leaving the part time job I never forgot the first two lines and the last line of his poem. On the rarest of occasions some incident during my life would remind me of him and his poem. He had a profound affect on me which would be revived and revisited 56 years later. Had we not traveled on different roads in our future careers Sydney and I might have become good friends.
Recently in 2012 during a discussion with a friend I was to learn Sydney Kessler had become, during his lifetime, an important voice of the battles during the Ardennes campaign in the winter of 1944-1945.
As I researched his life I learned he had more than 100 of his poems published in 20 journals and magazines. His war poems and related prose writings have been placed in the Archives for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville .
My fellow Textile graduate friend who advised me about the existence of the poetry book lives in Reading , Pennsylvania . He gave me the phone number of Sydney ’s 86 year old widow who lives in the nearby Reading suburb of Wyomissing , Pa. I called her and when I told her my name is Stanley Levin the first thing she said was “your name is familiar to me were you employed at Aldon Rug Mills in the 1950’s?” Wow! Obviously Sydney must have told her about our conversations that many years ago. It was a most warm revelation for me. We had a long conversation wherein she told me Sydney died in 1996 one year after the book was published. She told me he had his first heart attack at the age of 39 and did not enjoy good health for most of his life due to his heart condition
I was determined to obtain a copy of this major winter soldier’s poems. Thanks to “Google” I became aware of the book title “That Which Was Once a War”. The book, containing 60 pages of Sydney ’s poems, was published in the mid nineties and I was concerned it was out of publication. More research enabled me to learn the publisher was the Charming Forge Publishing Company. I placed a few calls to the publisher and each time the phone would ring and ring with no personal response nor voice mail. Determined to learn more I wrote the company to inquire about the availability of the book.
More than a month passed since I had written the letter. Receiving no response, I could not have been more disappointed with the prospect of not being able to read my long ago friend’s poetry book. My thoughts of my brief and most friendly relationship of the long ago were now revived. Those conversations and valued memories were most vivid.
Recently, to my extreme and pleasant surprise I received a package in the mail from a Mr. J. Wesly Bahorik whose return address was in the small town of Robesonia , Pennsylvania . Lo and behold, in the package was the book “That Which Was Once A War” – a winter soldier’s poems – by Sydney Kessler. Included in the package was a letter which revealed his company, Charming Forge Publishing, had closed its business ten years ago and he was retired from the business. My letter had been in a dead letter box with a Berks Transfer office which, fortunately for me, eventually found the former owner of the publishing company and forwarded my aging letter to him.
Mr. Bahorik worked with Sydney on his book and was his publisher. He suggested I read the poems from beginning to end in sequence as advised by the poet. I already have read the book twice and certainly will read it again. It is a most profound story of the progression of a soldier in combat trying to survive and his observations and thoughts about war. I loaned the book to a fellow Korean War veteran who also was a combat veteran. He returned it to me and told me he was only able to read half of the book as it was too heartfelt and he was unable to read it in entirety. Apparently the images were too somber for him.
In 1958 I was hired by The Gloray Knitting Mills based in the town of Robesonia , the residence of Mr. Bahorik.
He and I have now exchanged correspondence. He has suggested I write a memoir of my employment there and tell of my experiences in the town. He also advised there are people in the community and in their historical society interested in local history. It has been often said it is a small world. It is probable only those folks native to the area ever had heard of the town of Robesonia . Yet, for the two years from 1958 to 1960 the town was surely part of me, the big city guy. Accordingly, I have written a 14 page memoir of my days in Robesonia.
The unforgettable Sydney Kessler, the unforgettable small town of Robesonia, Pa. and Philadelphia Textile Institute now all intertwined with Stanley A. Levin and his memories.
Small world indeed!