Sunday, April 30, 2006

I need more rocks!

It's going to be hot today. And it's not even May! Okay, so it's close enough.

Took the dogs for a walk today and brought home some more rocks. Why would I carry a bag of rocks home? Well, because I need them for my garden. No, I'm not planting rocks. Borders! I like to use them for borders. I installed a pretty urn fountain and planted some flowers around it. Now I need rocks for a border. I would rather use something more natural than any of those manufactured things you can buy at Home Depot. Here is a picture of my work in progress. Little yard, big dreams.

I planted some verbena because the butterflies like it. I put out the hummingbird feeders yesterday because they should be migrating back shortly. After ten years, I've finally learned how to garden in Texas. It takes a lot of trial and error to find things that you know will grow. I planted some asters for the first time. We'll see how they endure the heat. They will only get morning sun where I've planted them, so hopefully they will survive.

My roses are flourishing so far this year. I do have a problem with blackspot on one of them. Trying to contain that and eliminate it. Wish me luck!

Time to take a shower and get to the grocery store.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ten Years in Texas

This is the second longest I have ever lived in one place my entire life!

The record is eleven years on Zandhoek Road in Hurley, New York. The very first home we ever bought. 1982. $38,500. No, it wasn't a dump. Homes were pretty cheap back then. But interest rates were high. Our first mortgage was 17 1/2%%%. How's that for an interest rate? That house would be paid off now. Damn. It had a gorgeous view of the Catskill Mountains. Biggest problem was the backyard. Pretty much all downhill. Not much usable space. But it sure was pretty.

If you had told me 25 years ago that I would end up in Texas, I would never have believed it. Then again, I was always open to new places. Left Philadelphia after I got married in 1980 to live in the Catskill Mountains. Four hours away from home was perfect. Far enough away that the family couldn't just 'drop in', but close enough for a weekend visit back home. It's not that I'm not a family person, it's just easier to like your family more when you don't have to deal with the internal politics on a daily basis. Plus it forced me to grow up and it made my marriage the most important relationship in my life immediately.

In 1994, we moved to Boca Raton, Florida. Now THAT was my favorite place to live ever. From our front door to the beach was twelve miles. It was perfect. I call that my 'two year vacation'. We moved to Texas in 1996. I hated it at first. But now, it's home. And it was a great place to raise my boys. They went to good schools and are excellent students. But I don't think any of us will ever call ourselves "Texans". Me? I'm still a Philly girl. But when I talk to people 'back home', I am starting to hear their accents. So I guess that means I've been gone long enough to notice.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Hooked on Genealogy

My dad's father was an only child. So was my dad. So I never knew anyone who had my last name. A newspaper clipping that my brother found when he was cleaning out my grandmother's house led me to start researching my grandfather's family.

My grandfather was only four months old when his dad was killed in the coalmines. I didn't even know his father's name until I saw that clipping. That led me on a search to learn more. I spent hours pouring over old census records on microfiche at the LDS Family History Center. It is a glimpse into another world. I found out that my great-grandfather was already working in the coal mines at 15 years of age. And he was dead at 25.

Now that there is so much online, I am finding more. Northumberland Mine Fatalities 1909.

Here is the entry of my great-grandfather's death:

13-Aug Millard, Lot- English, Miner, 25, M, Locust Gap. Killed by fall of slate at face of breast while trying to bar it down.

Both of my grandfathers were coal miners. And they both lost their fathers to the mines. Looking into the past certainly opens your eyes to a very hard life. If you read that document and see the circumstances to so many deaths, it is really shocking and heartbreaking.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Strong, Pennsylvania

My mother was from a little town in Pennsylvania called Strong. That was the official name. But it was always known as Green Ridge, or just "the Ridge". My grandfather was a coalminer, and this little town was originally built as company housing.

The town had 66 buildings. I know this because they started at "1" and ended at "66". All but two of these buildings were houses, mostly duplexes. There were only three streets which were parallel to each other: Front Street, Second Street, and Third Street. Front Street was actually Route 61 which sort of passed by this little town. My grandparents lived on Second Street, in the middle.

At the top of the town was the 'hosey'. For those of you unfamiliar with a 'hosey', it is the volunteer firehouse. Also known as the 'hosehouse', or 'hosey' for short. Every hosey in that area has a bar. At dinner time, the wives would send their kids up to retrieve daddy from the hosey. That's where he would be having a beer with all his buddies.

The hosey was a big brick building with one bay for their one firetruck. It had one of those big old-fashioned front porches with the half-wall that you could sit on and watch the traffic go by on a lazy summer day. There was also an upstairs that you could rent out for baby showers or weddings. It was the social center of a tiny town.

At the other end of town (about two blocks away) was the 'ending'. That's what it was always called: the ending. When I was a little girl, that was where we would play kickball or just climb up on the decaying concrete railroad trestle and smoke cigarettes that we bought from a machine at the Tastee Freeze across Rt. 61. The ending was just a dusty field - shale and coal dust. This is where the rail tracks were that used to carry the coal from the mines. In the summer, the wild blackberry bushes would be bursting with sweet fruit and we would devour it by the handfulls. To run from the ending to the hosey would only take a few minutes although it was mostly uphill. To go back the other way, downhill, it was probably much faster.

No one had driveways. The front of the houses butted right up to the roads. My grandmother's narrow front porch (only deep enough for a couple of folding chairs) was actually built over the road. We used to sit under there in the shade and play jacks. Obviously they were very quiet roads (except Front Street because that was the highway). Everyone shared yards, although a few had fences. My grandmother shared her yard with the Hollisters - two spinster sisters and a brother. They had a hanging swing under an arbor with a grapevine. I remember swinging there and eating the sweet grapes in the summer also.

It was such a tiny town, we didn't have a mailman. The post office was actually someone's house on 3rd Street. I don't remember the old woman's name who was the postmistress, but I would be sent to retrieve the mail. Through the front door to a tiny vestibule with a pot belly stove and a window. She would come out to the window when she would hear you and give you the mail. Across the street from the post office, was a store. Like the rest of the town, it was small. Run by a man named Albert Rossi, but he was called "Gabsy" for some reason. A friendly man with a booming voice that knew everyone by name (well, that isn't hard to do in such a small town). Gabsy made the best kielbasa. And he made something that was called "city chicken". It was actually pork, I think, on a wooden skewer. Oh, and he had a penny candy case. He would be so patient as we would try to decide what we wanted to spend our five cents on. He kept 'books'. My grandmother would send me to Gabsy to get what she needed and he would put it on her book. My mother told me that Gabsy kept many a family fed during the depression or when they were out of work. I remember him as a funny, friendly and kind man in a white apron.

Life was very simple in the Ridge. Life was slow. Everyone knew everyone else. The coal mines had closed up, the houses had been sold, but most everyone had some connection to the mines. I remember my grandfather had retired from the mines, but was working at Shamokin Hospital in maintenance until he retired.

The house they lived in was always immaculate. No one was a better housekeeper than my grandmother. And that was no easy task living in a place where the coal dust still blew and left a black haze over everything. When I would come in from playing, my feet would be black and I would be sent up to the tub immediately. And what a tub it was! One of those big cast iron tubs with the claw feet. And like everything else in the house, it was sparkling clean and shiny.

I spent many a summer in the Ridge. We were living near Philadelphia, but we spent a lot of time there with my grandparents. It was only a three hour drive. We would go up in the winter for short visits too, on holidays.

As a little girl, I remember the coal bin in the basement. That was how they heated the house. There was a grate in the floor between the parlor and the dining room where the heat would come up from the coal furnace. That was the only heat. The bedrooms and bathroom upstairs were always very cold, and the attic was positively frosty!

Now, I say 'dining room' but it was really the tv room. My grandmother didn't have a dining room. We always ate in the kitchen. The dining room had a couch and two chairs, one of which was my grandfather's chair with his little table for his glass of beer. They had a big zenith console television with cable. Cable was only for places that couldn't get tv reception in those days. Very few channels, mostly from Scranton and Wilkes Barre. I can remember watching Lawrence Welk and Mitch Miller on that tv. My grandfather loved 'rassling'. There was no WWF back then. It was fake too, but it was very primitive. My grandmother and her sister-in-law, Aunt Cely (Cecilia), loved to watch roller derby. Two old ladies really getting into it. Funny stuff.

The parlor of course, was just for company. Nothing fancy, but it was off limits.

Sometime in the 70s, they converted to an oil furnace and hot air heat. The winter nights around the grate in the floor were no more.