I have a lot more memories of my mom’s family: her older sister Phyllis and younger siblings “Buck” and Jo Ann. They all gathered for holidays at Buck & Dotty’s house outside Scottdale. Only my mom and Buck had kids, so there weren’t many cousins to play with; in contrast, my dad’s Catholic family produced billions of cousins but he never went to family gatherings so I barely know any of them. But I digress.
Mom was a lot more connected to her family in general. The old “home place” (family farm, on her mom’s side) lay outside Scottdale in a pretty rolling valley. The old white farmhouse was built like so many of those turn of the century houses — big square rooms, plaster walls and ceilings, interesting staircases tucked in strange places (that house had a tight small staircase connecting the back of the kitchen to the upstairs), and a coal stove in the earthen cellar.
I never knew either of my grandmothers, and my mom’s dad was the only grandparent I actually remember. (My dad’s dad died in the mid 60s, a decade before I came along. His mom passed away a couple months before I was born. Mom’s mom lived long enough to hold me in her arms before succumbing to breast cancer.)
But I did know many of my great aunts and uncles on mom’s side. Uncle Art presided over the home place in conjunction with his wife Emma Jean. (Pronounce it quickly: Emma-Jeannn) Art suffered from “black lung” after a career as a miner, but smoked anyway and drank lots of Stoneys (a local beer brand from Smithton, PA, just down the road).
We went over there a lot — a couple times a month, it seems, and especially on Sunday afternoons if we weren’t hanging out with my grandfather who lived till I was 12. The home place was interesting as far as places go, but there were few kids around and Art was too old to want to do anything except smoke shirtless on the porch (summer) or watch tv at head-splitting volumes (all other seasons) in the front room.
For me, as a kid, the most significant feature of the property wasn’t the historic house and barn, the old outhouse that stood as a reminder of primitive plumbing that served the house well into the 60s, or even Emma Jean’s good homemade food. (She seemed to make egg noodles a lot, I remember.)
No, what stuck out to me was the watch-goose.
See, I really don’t like geese. When I was 4, my parents dropped me off at a nice little daycare facility that also had a goose. A goose which hissed and snapped and threatened. When you’re 4 you’re eye level with the hissing beast. And that goose scared the beejeebus out of me. No chance of me escaping into the yard!
Art and Emma Jean’s goose was no nicer. That thing was just downright mean. We’d pull the car into a spot off the gravel driveway near the start of the walk into the house and the goose would be there, eyeing us. She had the run of the yard and felt no need to share. Mom always got out of the car armed with a heavy pocketbook….. She threatened while I cowered behind her skirt and ran for the door. I kid you not.
I can’t exactly claim a need for therapy or anything, but I still steer clear of angry waterfowl.