Steelers Nation: Family huddles up for funeral, football to honor matriarch
Every family has traditions special only to them -- traditions that provide consistency, comfort and a reliable sense of solidity.
No matter what turbulence my own family faces, you can rest assured that we will weather the storm as a cohesive unit if we believe in God and cheer for the Steelers. The black and gold. It's in our DNA and we bleed it from the cradle to the grave.
My grandmother, "Mama," loved the Steelers. She would come over for parties or join us at a local sports bar to cheer them on with her best game face. She always owned a Terrible Towel and a Steelers shirt.
After she passed away a few weeks ago we resorted to higher-order thinking by checking the Steelers' upcoming schedule and strategically working the funeral arrangements to make use of it. A family member huffed in disbelief, "I can't believe you are scheduling the funeral around a Steelers home game."
We looked at each other and all said at once: "Why wouldn't we?"
Our family lineage in Pittsburgh reaches back to the early 1900s, when our ancestors moved to the city and set roots there. My grandfather, Paul Naugle, worked for Westinghouse and was very active in the local Rotary. But more importantly, he was a diehard Steelers fan.
My grandmother, Mary Kay Naugle, organized local charity events and fashion shows. She was a model and tolerated our Steelers obsession. My other grandfather, Sebastian Semieraro, was a builder and crafted Pittsburgh homes. My grandmother, Marie Semieraro, sold real estate in Pittsburgh.
My parents, when they were children, enjoyed Isaly's ice cream and watched the slag being dumped. When they played outside, they would end up with soot on their clothing from the steel mills' pollution.
My father, Allen Naugle, was in a local band called The Apollos, a group that cut a 45-rpm record titled, "I Know Your Mind." You could have caught that song playing on WAMO.
My mother, Kathy, went to Baldwin High and helped take care of her little sisters after her father passed away at a young age. My parents met and were married in Pittsburgh in 1966.
I have fond memories of living in Pittsburgh as a young child -- of playing in the snow, going to Pirates games and taking interesting field trips to farms and the Buhl Planetarium. I remember desperately trying to stay awake for Super Bowl X -- the Steelers vs. the Cowboys -- and my dad waking me up the next morning, throwing me up in the air yelling, "Who won the game last night?"
Things took a turn in the late '70s when my parents got tired of shoveling snow and followed a job to the South, but our hearts remained in Pennsylvania. We still love all things Pittsburgh: Heinz ketchup, Lemon Blend, chipped ham sandwiches and Klondike bars.
My brothers both converted their wives to Steelers fans while dating. I was there during the pivotal moment in Jim and Kim's dating relationship when she gave him his first Steelers helmet. The next day he talked about buying a ring. "She is a keeper," he said.
When brother Jeff and Tricia became engaged, my husband Brett (who grills a mean "Roethlis-burger") warned Tricia that being a Steelers fan is written in the wedding vows.
"I thought he was kidding," Tricia would say later, "until the fall arrived and I was told I could cheer for the Steelers or spend Sundays alone."
We have hosted Steelers parties for decades and bring out the works, though it is difficult to find Iron City beer in Florida. (This liquid gold is a must for playoff games.)
In the late 1990s my grandfather shipped us a case from Pittsburgh. His note said, "It is illegal to ship alcohol but a bigger crime not to have it for the game." God rest his soul. He passed away in 2007 during a Steelers game week. My dad says it was his final parting gift to the family. We raised a glass in his honor at Heinz Field the day after his funeral.
This Sunday, we will all be in Pittsburgh, at Heinz Field, to wave our terrible towels to Mama. We will be reminded of our Pittsburgh line, where it all started, in a city that once produced half the nation's steel. We are a family as strong as iron, always there for each other, God and the Steelers.
Long live Pittsburgh-centric family traditions.
First Published October 5, 2012 12:00 am