Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Visit to my Past

Come, talk a little walk back with me, in time to about 1950-51 and you'll find me playing along the street - same one where I live today (same house, too) and you might just find me playing with the two blonde girls in this photo.
These two girls, Lucille on the far right and Martha, in the center, lived about a quarter of a mile up the road from our house, so they weren't my "everyday" playmates. Most likely, to have been playing up at their house, I would have had to have permission to venture that far from home at that age. Well, let's put it this way - I most likely SHOULD have asked and was granted permission to go play with them. Sometimes, when I was a kid, asking permission to roam around, that far from home, was a minor thing to me and thus frequently escaped my mind.
Martha was a year older than me and her sister, Lucille (or Lu) was three years my senior. Since their mother and two of her sisters all married brothers, they and their 12 first cousins who grew up in this village too all looked very much alike.
Like me - and most everyone else along this street when we were kids - we belonged to the same church, the Emmanuel Lutheran Church at the intersection in the middle of town. I think only one family on our street belonged to the Nebo Lutheran Church, which sat atop the hill - high above us, or so it seemed. By about 1953, the two churches decided to unite and become one parish - First Lutheran - and everything in our old church was sold off and the church eventually was torn down. Today, there is a stone marker along the front of the property indicating that our lovely old church had once stood there but now, well behind that marker, is a fairly large garage, built into what had once been the foundation of this church.
Martha and Lu's grandfather, Jonas Nelson, my great-grandfather, Karl Eld and my grandfather and his brothers along with most all the old Swedes from the lower end of town and the village of Peale just east of us, were among the founding fathers of the Emmanuel Lutheran Church. Almost all the men along our road worked in the mining industry - the old-timers then having worked in the old slope coal mines and the younger fellows, parents of my childhood friends, either worked in the clay mine down in Peale or as the slope coal mines faded into obscurity in the area, had shifted over to work in the "strippings." (Slope mines are underground mines but unlike most underground mines in the eastern part of Pennsylvania where the mines were generally shaft type, the old mines in this part of the state were of the "slope" variety which the miners walked into, as opposed to riding down a deep shaft to get to the ore and dig. The "strippings" were the kind that used the big steam shovels and draglines, bulldozers and such to rip huge cuts into the earth, dig down to the vein and load the coal into dump trucks to be hauled away to tipples, railroad cars or other companies to be shipped out of the area.
Although any type of mining was, still is dangerous, the old slope mines held the constant danger of cave-ins or the potential to be injured by a mine car, pulled by mules, in and out of the mines. My Dad's youngest brother, my uncle Bill Hill, lost his leg the very first day he went to work in the mines at about age 15 or 16, when his leg got caught between two mine cars. Amputated at the knee, this meant his potential to work in the mines had ended and after he recovered, got a prosthesis, he went back and finished high school but died two weeks before his scheduled graduation because of a kidney disease. He would have been the only one of my Dad's brothers who would have graduated from high school although all three of his sisters graduated from high school and two of them went on to college and became school teachers. My Dad and his four remaining brothers all only ever completed the 8th grade but lack of education never stopped them from finding decent employment and a means to support their families. One sold life insurance, another got into country politics and was elected to various county offices during the 40's, 50's and 60's. But they all paid their dues, did their time as almost all young males in this region did by going to work in the mines as soon as they turned 14 or 15 years of age.
But I digressed there a tad and back to this picture we go.
I had never seen this photograph until last summer when Martha approached me after church one Sunday morning, telling me she had something I might be interested in. She knew from several articles I had written and published in the "West Branch Review" that I liked getting to see and often borrow, old photographs and scan them into my computer for use in a future article, or just for memory's sake and she pulled this photograph from her purse.
"I came across this a while back and have been carrying it in my purse to show you." she told me and went on to say I could use it if I wanted to scan it. I just finally got around to doing that little task this weekend - after having the photo sit on top of my computer for a while, then atop my monitor so my little granddaughter couldn't reach it and take off with it. For a time, I couldn't get to it to scan it because it had fallen down behind my computer desk and I couldn't move the desk along with the computer and all my other piles of stuff in the desk and on top of it to get to the photo. Finally, about a month ago, my daughter moved the desk out and rescued this picture along with a couple others that had landed back in the corner on the floor and I stuck it in a small holder in front of my monitor where Maya couldn't reach it and it was still out in the open facing me as a reminder, day after day, that I really should get busy and scan this photo in to save it for myself.
And, to track a little bit of other history from my time to the present, as I mentioned earlier, the church most all of us on this street belonged to "disappeared" in the mid-fifties, by uniting with the Nebo Lutheran Church at the top of Grassflat hill in town and becoming First Lutheran. Throughout the late fifites, until 1967, the minister of our church also was the pastor of the Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church in Lanse, a neighboring village about 3 miles away.
In early May of 1967, my mother and I had my daughter, Carrie, baptized in the First Lutheran Church. We had no idea of course that she would be the last baby to be baptized in that church but a week later, it was struck by lightning on the steeple and within and hour's time, nothing remained of that old church. We then began to drive to the church in Lanse and shared their building until papers were drawn up and our members united with the members of Gustavus Adolphus to become what is now known at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church - located in Lanse. Since joining the two parishes and with the old church in Lanse being very small to hold two congregations, in essence, in the 1980's, a brand new church was erected there, a beautiful building we now have for our sanctuary but one which has its roots back to a very small church built in Peale in the 1880's and which also was destroyed by fire. That one, so the story goes, caught fire from live candles used on the church's Christmas tree.
And, today - indicative maybe of the beliefs of her grandfather, Jonas Nelson, one of the first members of the old Emanuel Lutheran Church of my early childhood, Martha is the treasurer now of Holy Trinity.
Something else I didn't realize until this past summer/fall too is that Martha's grandfather was a first cousin to my Mom's older sister's husband. I remember about the time most likely when this photo was taken or close to that time, going out to an old farm near home with my Uncle Albin "Butch" Gustafson to visit his great-aunt, Christina Wick, who would have been Martha and Lu's great-grandmother. All these years, I knew that family name but never connected it to my uncle's family tree until I "met" online a great-nephew of that uncle who now lives in Phoenix, Arizona.
So Eric - and for his mom and Dad, Mary Ann and Mel - if you're reading this, here's a picture tonight of two relatives of yours, one who still lives in this vicinity too. Maybe, when you come back east in June, we can arrange for you three to meet Martha - might be a very interesting meeting for all of you!
That's the end of my little "memory" trip for tonight. As usual, a lot of ramblings about what many would say is a lot of nothings too. But to me, it represents where my roots lie, the strength of fabric of my life too in the type of community where I grew up, the church that has always been a major aspect of my childhood and teenage years and still is a part of my life today as are the many people I knew then and some still living nearby me today - like Martha Jane.
Thanks Mart for letting me use this picture.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jeni, I am a history buff and did graduate w/i BA in History. How wonderful to relive American history through your eyes.

Don't say this post is a lot of ramblings about a lot of nothings. It's your history and your stories.

And the perfect kind of bedtime story.

PS-our neighbourhood church is slated to be razed this summer for city beautification projects. This church, one of the first black churches in town, has stood since 1943! My family and our last few remaining neighbours are just sick to see it go.

Maybe I'll do a small homage to it on my page.

Now I'm rambling:0 Good night.

Debo Blue