The First Family of this "Clean City" in northeast Pennsylvania had waited 14 frustrating months for the call that finally came at 1 p.m. today telling them their long ordeal was over.
The caller was Henry Precht of the State Department and the news for Harry and Alice Metrinko was that the 52 American hostages, their son Michael among them, were airborne and on their way out of Iran.
"They're definitely out?" Harry Metrinko asked.
Alice Metrinko, who had watched the television while her husband watched the phone, echoed his disbelief. "They're in the air?" she asked the caller. "And this is it? Oh, thank you."
Then, turning to the television crews and reporters who had laid siege to her home, she smiled and said in a soft voice, "It's official."
It was even more so several hours later when the former hostages landed in Algiers and the Metrinkos, glued to a television set, saw their son, wearing a leather jacket and an newly sprouted beard, passing through a receiving line. "He's laughing," his mother said. "He looks very good."
The last two days had been the hardest. Yesterday was Harry Metrinko's 70th birthday, and he had hoped for a birthday call from Michael. Harry's older brother, Peter, who runs the family-owned bar beneath their living quarters, had played the upright piano in the dining room for the first time since the hostages were seized.
He played "God Bless American" and "Happy Birthday," and there had been laughter and tears as the hostages' departure seemed imminent on Monday. Then, a last minute snag developed. The birthday call became an unfulfilled wish and the signs posted outside the red, asbestos-shingled building -- "Free At Last, Free At Last, Thank God, Almighty, They Are Free At Last" -- seemed sadly ironic."
So, after two dozen phone calls this morning that offered no official word of the Metrinkos' son's release, the tension and anxiety were almost palpable each time the telephone rang.
Emotion, however, was least reflected in the faces of the Metrinkos themselves. They appeared amazingly calm, graciously accommodating family, friends and the media with good humor and concern for their well being.
Only after the State Department call today did the Metrinkos cry and hug. And then, only briefly, before facing the inevitable television question, "How does it feel?"
It felt great, they said, while neighborhood women in the bar sobbed "It's over, it's over."
Bill McAndrew, a friend of the Metrinkos and at times their press spokesman and chief of staff, immediately contacted Mayor John Chichilla, who sounded a blaring siren in this former coal mining town of 5,000 people. As soon as he heard the news, school board president Andrew Hegedus declared the day a holiday for the 1,162 students of the Midvalley District.
There was indeed a holiday mood here, especially on the Metrinkos' street wheree modest homes were bedecked with American flags and yellow ribbons. While inaugural parade preparations were under way in Washington and before the official phone call, several hundred Midvalley junior and senior high school students paraded to the Metrinko home.
Holding aloft signs and flags, they sang the national anthem. "The student body is here to thank God for the good news we are about to receive after all this time," said student activities coordinator James Loftus.
"Mat God grant you many, many happy days," sang a half-dozen older women in Ukrainian, the language of the Metrinkos' forebears.
Harry Metrinko's father, Simon, emigrated in 1886 to this eastern European enclave in the mountains north of Scranton. He opened the family tavern in 1904. A picture of Babe Ruth surrounded by local school children hangs on one wall. An old sign in the windown says "See television here." Metrinko's Cafe is frequented by the factory workers of Olyphant who buy 20-cent drafts of beer and 45 cent shots of whiskey.
It was here that the Metrinkos raised three sons, all of whom left for professional careers and one of whom will soon come home.
Michael Metrinko, 34, the middle son, is a Georgetown University graduate and former Peace Corps volunteer who worked in the political section of the embassy in Tehran. He had been held hostage once before, when he was U.S. consul in Tabriz. For a while after the embassy takeover, he had been held in solitary confinement, Newsweek magazine reported.
In the early months he was not heard from, "and I really got depressed," Alice Metrinko said. The first note, only a few lines, came through the Red Cross last April. A second letter arrived in December, and a pessimistic Christmas card arrived just last week.
"I never knew what my home and my country meant until I left them, and I never knew what liberty was until I left it," he had written. "I miss home and the people there a lot -- I had thought homesickness was beyond me after all these years but I guess I was wrong."
The vigil outside the Metrinko home began over the weekend as word of the settlement spread. After a 4 a.m. State Department call Monday, the Metrinkos' mood soared.
A telegram from President Carter also brightened their morning. "The dignity and courage that you have shown during the months you have waited for the hostages' return will be remembered," he wrote them.
The Metrinkos' living and dining rooms looked and smelled like a flower shop. A boxwood bush with 52 yellow ribbons formed a table centerpiece and "Welcome Home Michael" signs were everywhere.
But as Monday wore on without a release, the mood changed. "Struggling along" was how Harry Metrinko, a retired county tax assessor, said he was doing.
To get through the day, the couple went to the Ukrainian Catholic Church to pray, and Alice Metrinko, a diminutive women with a sometimes impish grin, went shopping for a red-white-and-blue dress she plans to wear for Michael's homecoming.
"He's been away two Christmases, two Easters, two birthdays, two Armistice Days, two everything," she said at one point. "This [the release] is the real thing, isn't it? I think this is the real thing."
As the evening news reported it might not be the real thing, Harry shrugged."It's a matter of just holding it up a little," he said. "It's like a play, isn't it?"
"It's a blessing, isn't it?" a somewhat inebriated man from the bar said to Alice Metrinko.
"No, they got it all messed up," she said, sipping tea. "You weren't listening to the news. You were making all the noise."
To celebrate Harry's birthday, they had a "booze" cake cooked by Janet Nichols, their next-door neighbor.Harry Metrinko made a secret wish but added, "I guess you all know what our wish is."
That wish finally came true today. Then, at the instigation of Bill McAndrew, members of the press contributed a quarter each to buy three Pennsylvania lottery tickets for Harry, Alice and Michael Metrinko. The digits were 444, the number of days the hostages were held captive. (But it turned out that today's payoff was on 239.)
At the Ideal Restaurant in downtown Olyphant, proprietor Theresa Pachucy, a yellow ribbon pinned to her blouse, beamed at the news of the hostages' release. "Thank God for that," she said. "Now, all that has to happen is for the Eagles to win the Superbowl and we're all set."