With any bad news – maybe there is always some good to share.
I hesitated greatly to write this post – with the untimely passing of the man known as EFA and the attendant posts – I feel guilty a bit about posting so soon. It doesn’t seem proper in some ways. Maybe a little happier missive with a side of humor is in order, maybe it’ll help to ease some pain, I don’t know. I hope so. If it offends – forgive me – I do apologize.
I was ( being the poor excuse for a human that I am -I forgot) reminded today that April 22nd is indeed a rather important day in my little world. It might be just another day to some – in fact most people would consider today as just another day. But for me I felt compelled to maybe share a bit of a success story in life.
My Mother quietly reminded me that today was their Anniversary – 55 Years ago, A girl from the hills of West Virgina and a City Slicker steel worker married. Polar opposites in the worlds they grew up in – they somehow met, fell in love and now for 55 years they have made it work.
Mom was a mountain girl and the youngest of three kids – born in a small log cabin 15 miles or so outside of Charleston. We always had real working hurricane lamps when I was growing up, it never crossed my mind that those lamps, those were a part of my mothers life when she herself was growing up. She related years later when I asked about them – they didn’t bring electricity into the “holler” until she was a freshman in High School. If the electricity went out she studied by lamp light, and she clung to that tradition. I don’t think even living in a modern city she fully trusted the electric company. That cabin was gone by time I came along – the “holler” was full of mobile homes by time I set foot in her world, her father having built a home with his bare hands that still stands today. It overlooks the same area she grew up in. Time moves on.
When I was a kid – that house her father built still had a hand crank well and cast iron stove. I remember it being my ‘chore’ in the morning to draw the morning’s water, I thought it was the funnest thing in the world to do, it was terribly important – or so I felt at the time, I couldn’t for the life of me fathom why people called it a chore…My sister would try to help- and I’d tell her to get lost, this was a boys job. There was also an outhouse or “privy”. They didn’t have running water.
It wasn’t until my Grandmother’s second heart attack that everyone pulled together to have plumbing put in for her, she could no longer climb the 40 some odd steps up the side of the mountain to reach the privy. I reflect often on the few weeks every summer we would visit – a city kid like me – dumped into the middle of the mountains of West VA. It was pure heaven – or hell I guess depending on your outlook in life. Of course I spent a fair amount of time, some of it down right scared half witless, roaming around lost on that mountain and in the woods – unable to find my way home for hours, but my Grandfather, retired from the logging industry, had always told me “if you get turned around – climb as high as you can and follow the ridge line west”, and showed me how to do it – “it’ll bring you right home if you get lost” I remember him saying. Mind you if that sun sat below the ridge and you weren’t home, scrubbed and washed for dinner – there was probably a switch of your choosing waiting for you. Grandad was 6’5 – and he brooked no lateness to the dinner table. It was a powerful incentive. I was a pallbearer at his funeral.
Dad, The third generation of German immigrants that made their way from Ellis Island in the late 1800′s via PA and into Ohio to work in the steel mills. The last of 10 children only two of them, him and my aunt Bett still alive today. At 81, and in frail health he’s the physical shadow of the man I remember growing up around – the one that would show you what a steel worker’s right hand could do should you forget that “yes sir, or yes Dad” at the end of a reply. He never made it past the 9th grade, and I remember him pouring over books at night – learning to read better. My Mom helping him, because he was going for a Master Pipe-fitter Trade Certification.
Frail he may be, But he still commands respect, his life has been nothing but hard work and being a provider for his kids and wife. Nary a complaint ever, he just always worked it seemed, if he wasn’t at the mills or out at the GM plant where he wound up after the mills closed, he was working on the house. He cried when they blew the stacks to the mills at US Steel during the demolishing of the plant. That was back when the forming of the rust belt started in earnest. I can remember being as scared as I ever was lost in the woods of West Va to see my father with tears on his face. Dad didn’t cry.
I remember being very young, waiting impatiently for the big copper colored Plymouth Fury III he drove to come nosing into the drive way. The big 440 under the hood ticking over like a watch, His face streaked with black coke dust and sweat tracks – I would rush to the car and as he got out I’d rummage through his lunch pail and steal his salt candies. They gave them to the guys to replace the salt they would sweat out working on the blast furnaces.
I remember the summer day Dad was late coming home. I sat there until almost dark, and Mom called me in and said, “The mill called, there was an accident. Dad is at the hospital we’re going to go see him so help get your sister ready”. I remember my gut hurting, this gnawing fear. My uncle came and got us, Mom to this day never drove a car, we never owned more than one at a time until I got my first car that I can remember. We went to the hospital – and Dad was there. I can remember not understanding what happened, only being relived that he was cussing with my uncle, who was also a steel worker, about oxygen in the furnace and then smiling at me and patting the bed. My sister and I were allowed to crawl up on the bed to sit next to him, while he talked things out with the Union safety rep guys and my Uncle. He’d been forced to jump off a blast furnace – something went wrong with a safety device that should have prevented the addition of pure oxygen into the furnace and there was an explosion and fire, he jumped 3 stories to the rail road tracks below, it was that or burn to death. Busted ribs, some bad bruises, and they picked cinders from the tracks out of him for a while. Then he went home. Next morning he went to work. I always cringe now a days – when I get a case of “fuckitall” and blow off a day of work to just screw off. I work at a desk behind a computer for the most part. I get a twinge of guilt because there is no way in hell my old man would have ever thought about it. That would be lazy.
So 55 years today they’ve been married. It’s certainly not the norm by anyone’s standards today – careers, no fault divorces, changing outlooks on the sanctity of the word marriage. Times have changed. My parents seemingly are almost relics now- of a time gone by.
There’s something else tho about this day. Never got a clear answer on just how they managed to pull it off, but the day of their anniversary, in 1972 was also the day a judge’s gavel fell – maybe fell is too light of a term. It was hammered – that gavel was wielded by my sister – sitting on a family courts judge’s lap. The foolish man had told her she was to close the proceedings and handed her the gavel, he said “hit right here”. I think he underestimated how fast that little tyke could swing that gavel…She just missed the mans fingers, and she hit the damn wood plate used with such an instrument so hard she left a dent in it….CRACK! It’s a story we still laugh about over coffee.
We had, after at least 18 months that I can remember, of being bounced from foster home to foster home, been legally adopted by two people that cared enough to share their homes, hearts and their lives with a couple of kids that had the bad luck to be born to a couple of jack asses that couldn’t seem to get their acts together and the kids wound up in foster homes. I was 5 and a half years old. My sister just 4. 20 some odd years after, another sister turned up, the baby. I never knew of her, She had been abandoned at the hospital, our maternal mother just got up and walked out and disappeared. This all came out decades later after my maternal mother had passed. Hard realities passed by family members, didn’t paint too kind of a picture of either her or my father.
Looking back it took me awhile to figure out that the damn state case worker, her name was Mickey- wasn’t going to come in one day and say “Okay kids it’s time to go meet your new family”. I lived in fear of that moment for lord knows how long after my parents adopted us. It used to keep me up at night.
There was quite a battle before the official adoption when we had come for a visit – The state had decided it was best since we were older to ease us into this new life and home. So we went for supervised day visits. I didn’t know who these people were but they gave me a Tonka Truck with a speed boat on a trailer – that toy still sits in the basement – 4o some odd years later collecting dust. I’ll never forget it. Anyhow, The case worker tried to take us back to the foster home and according to most accounts – she ended up with quite a few dings, as I kicked, fought, and generally did my utmost best to pummel her, I wasn’t leaving if I could help it. These people didn’t scream at me – they didn’t curse at me, they gave me a sense of place, and security…. and as far as I was concerned – hell itself was going to freeze over before I ever left. It was my soon to be Mother that defused the situation – talking to me, calming me down, and assuring me that I could come back any time I wanted – and the sooner the better. The next time I was given new shoes, they had taken note of the fact the shoes I had on last time I came for a visit were too small. I thought I had a kings ransom, my feet didn’t hurt.
I wish I could say “and they all lived happily ever after”, I can’t. It wasn’t any cake walk for my parents I am sure. It would take paragraphs to describe my earliest memories but suffice it to say – my earliest memories were of being on my own, I went where I wanted, did as I pleased most the time, and I cannot recall really ever having any sort of direction or guidance. I was all but feral when I showed up at that early turn of the century home overlooking the mills – looking back at things, I wonder if those two people would have still taken me in knowing what they were getting themselves into. I suspect they would have, they were not about to ruled by a 5 year old wildcat.
I might have been a bit of an urchin – but I was fiercely protective of my sister. Mom still chuckles about the day shortly after that gavel fell – she gave my sister a scolding and a crack on the butt for one transgression or another – only to be confronted with 50 or so lbs of seriously pissed off big brother who told her in no uncertain terms “lady- you hit my sister again and I’ll break every f**king lamp in this house”. I spat out soap for a solid day after – and I remember it being a bit hard to sit too….I never called her “lady” again either. To say I lost that battle to the girl from West Va would be an understatement, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort on my part. But the boundaries had to be drawn I suppose, and draw them she did.
I could go on the length of a novel relating the test of wills over the years as I grew up. But I won’t. There was good times there was bad times, It was our life in the rustbelt.
So now March 22, 2013 it’s 40 years later, I’ve been around the world, got two kids in their 20′s of my own. My beard I trim short – it helps hide those grey hairs that are coming in so more quicker …And at times, I wonder if I was half the parent that that steel worker and mountain girl were. Maybe even half the person they were and still are. I doubt it. In fact I know I am not. Because had I had to deal with my insolent ass all those years, my half feral and utterly independent steak that I never really was able to let go of, I fear I would have killed me, or at least put me in a home for troubled yutes ….Patience of Job those people had.
I’ve seen it said here many a times – “there before the grace of God go I” – and so it is. Because had not two people cared enough, had compassion enough to open their hearts and homes to a couple of urchins, one with a rather severe attitude… who knows where it would have ended. Certainly not here, writing on a blog reminiscing to people I consider friends, But it ended well. And yeah sometimes I think my life sucks a bit, I think we all do from time to time, I’ve chosen things that make it a bit more chaotic then some – but I’ve had fun too, and today, being reminded of how it all started 40 long years ago, well it hasn’t been a bad ride. Not bad at all.
So in closing I’d like to thank my lucky stars, God, and most of all my parents. I don’t know how you did it but you did, and I am eternally in your debt.