I’ll return to Dad’s story in a bit. Let me backtrack now to fill in some of Mom’s.
About 20 minutes north of my dad’s coal town lies Scottdale, a small community with some of the coolest old houses ever.
Of course, most people didn’t live in a house that cool. Scottdale was founded as a mill / mining town. The thousands of coke ovens all over Western PA processed unending streams of coal out of the mountain coal mines, which was then taken by railroad or barge to Pittsburgh to fuel the mighty steel industry.
My mom Nancy was born the 2nd child of 4 to a man with an 8th grade education and a drinking habit. Her mom, a devout Christian (Methodist), seemed to be the glue for the family. Her dad’s family lineage probably traces back to Swedish immigrants in the late 1700s; her mom’s line is strongly English and Welsh, with deep roots in central PA and Maryland.
Mom got very fair skin and red hair as a physical heritage from her Swedish-English roots. Combine that with my dad’s Italian genes, and I might make more sense to you now. 🙂
Though my mom’s Depression-era life (a few years behind my dad) was marked by a similar poverty, her home life seemed happier. She didn’t tell a lot of stories about growing up, but I know little things…..like the 4 kids shared a single pair of roller skates.
Actually, I remember being amazed when my little Christian school started doing skating parties (all the rage in the 80s!) and my mom got on the rink with her brother to waltz, two-step, and accomplish other amazing feats on skates.
Nobody expects their mom to bust a move like that, especially when wearing 10 pound roller skates. (This was pre-roller-blade.)
Being poor, no one in their community (technically “Browntown,” just outside Scottdale) owned a ball to play with, so when the kids in town wanted to play a game, they borrowed a ball from the local PE teacher who lived down the street. Or just threw rocks instead. (Not making that up.)
By the time my mom graduated high school in the mid-50s, she was ready to move out and get started on life. College was out of the question – though I can see now that my mom would have made an excellent teacher, the family didn’t have the resources to send her to college, and she wasn’t the oldest kid anyway.
So she did what kids were supposed to do back then: turn 18 and go get a job. As a secretary.