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.

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