Tag Archives: family

The Backstory: Gravedigger

My Backstory series offers stories about my upbringing and background. You can find the whole series under the category “Biography,” if you’re interested.

It was 1986 and late June, not long after my parents’ wedding anniversary – not that I ever saw my parents celebrate their anniversary, ever.  My last surviving grandparent, my maternal grandfather, had died after years of declining health, endless hand-rolled cigarettes, severe alcoholism, and abusive behavior toward many in his life. (My #metoo story of sexual abuse stems from the few months my grandfather lived with us. I was 3; he was always drunk; his had went down my underwear when I was sitting on his lap one afternoon. I told my parents what he did;  he moved out within a few days.)

Now Grandpap was dead, and we were left wondering what to do about it.  It was a little more complex than I’d expected, this being the first family death I’d been party too. There were late-night calls and quiet discussions centering on whether my grandfather’s children were willing to take part in his death rites. All of this was news to me, and much of it I learned eavesdropping on my parents’ conversations after I’d “gone to bed.”  What I overheard broke a lot of my childish illusions about my extended family. Ugliness lurked under the surface, very real despite the way no one talked about it in my presence.

My youngest aunt, who’d born the brunt of my grandfather’s abuse, wasn’t interested in anything related to the funeral. (I wish I could go back in time and send her a therapist. She desperately needed one.)  My other aunt and her husband didn’t really want to be involved, though they probably had more money than anyone else in this story. Like many family deaths, the money issue was a sharp divider. Our family was struggling, barely surviving my father’s disability and ensuing unemployment. The price tag of a death was beyond what we could bear at that point.

My uncle and my mom conferenced to see if there was any money to address the obvious needs: bury him, pay for the coffin, settle his bar tab at the ancient watering hole in Scottdale where he’d drink with his buddies.

I had to ask someone to explain the term  “pauper’s grave” after hearing it thrown about by a relative. Turns out that was still a thing in Scottdale in the ’80s. But I guess  family pride kicked in, and Mum and my uncle weren’t going to let it come to that.   No money to buy fancy clothes, and Pap didn’t own any, anyway.  Dad went through his closet and found a nice navy suit that he couldn’t any longer fit into, given the massive breadth of his shoulders and chest after spending the past 4 years cutting firewood.  The local VFW (I think) helped supply the flat brass plate that served as his grave-marker.

Granpap had a $5,000 insurance policy, probably from his Navy days. It was enough to buy a basic coffin, pay for the embalming, and set up a graveside funeral. But it wasn’t enough to afford an extra couple thousand for the concrete vault required by the large “nice” cemetery where my grandmother was buried. That’s not  even to consider the shade thrown by mom’s other siblings at the idea that he would be buried next to her.

Family gets weird when someone dies. Grudges that didn’t provoke action from the living are waged around the dead.

Another conference around the kitchen table.  Several calls to local cemeteries: can we bury someone in your ground without a vault? And what do you charge to dig the grave?

In the end, it was Mount Tabor Cemetery tucked up in the mountains where I lived, across the ridge and near Indian Creek, that offered terms we could collectively afford.  And so it was on that wet, warm morning in late June that my dad, my half-brothers, my uncle, and his son stood on our porch with their collection of tools to tackle an age-old tradition: digging a grave.

It took them several hours. They were in for hard work, and they knew it.  Under the lush black dirt of the mountains would be sticky yellow clay, the kind that could bounce a pick right up into your face if you weren’t careful.  And worse, it had started to rain. Not a gully-washer, but a humid drizzle that threatened to produce bigger showers.

The men returned mid-afternoon hungry, tired, and dirty – but satisfied they’d dug a good grave, and seemingly appreciative that they were contributing to a good burial for a man they didn’t fully admire, but whom they were willing to claim because of blood.  But they were also concerned – although they’d covered the hole, the impending thunderstorms threatened to fill the grave with water, a puddle that the clay soil would preserve, delaying the planned funeral.

In the morning, a couple of them headed over to see how things stood. My dad returned with heartfelt news that the hole was completely dry. It shouldn’t have been; the men all knew it’d rained enough overnight that they should have been dealing with a mess. But that’s not what they found, so dad offered his thanks for the Providential surprise, and went to put on the only dress clothes he owned which still fit him. My brothers changed into their finery recycled from the 70s (my own wedding photos a decade later would confirm that one of my brothers bought his only suit around 1975 and saw no need to put money into an updated one). The family and a few associated friends assembled for the service.

It dripped rain on us as we stood on an unusually cold June day on the steep slope of the Pennsylvania Appalachians in a cemetery which now seemed quaint. A minister who’d known my mom’s family found something kind to say over my grandfather’s bones. Pap had been a machinist at various points in his career interrupted by bouts of drunk-induced unemployment. But a few of the old men in the town remembered his skill with a tool, and with rolling a good cigarette, and serving in the Navy during World War II. The minister salvaged what he could of my grandfather’s life and drew our attention to the shortness of human existence.  As my adult self, I can appreciate now that the minister wasn’t one of those guys who had to turn every moment into an altar call or threaten us with hell if we didn’t confess Jesus. It was a simple service, simply delivered, matching the simple way my grandfather’s hand-dug grave would accept his body.

And there he lies to this day.  He was the only one of my grandparents that I remember.

His wife, my maternal grandmother, survived breast cancer long enough to hold me, then died a few months after I was born. I am named for her and for my mom’s youngest sibling, the one who suffered the most in the unhappy household my mom grew up in.

My dad’s parents were gone by the time I came along.  His father, an evil man, died screaming in his bed and was laid out in their family parlor in 1964 for viewing –  that’s a story my dad told with great consistency. His mom lived to see my dad get married to my mom, but passed shortly after.  We had a photo of her in the family collection, sitting in their living room staring into the camera in that frank way old people look at the world, next to photos of my mom’s family.

Grandpap retained his place in the family photo collection. Whatever he’d done to his family or to her, it wasn’t enough for my mom to cut him out of her life.

The Backstory: Dollar a Day

My Backstory series offers stories about my upbringing and background. You can find the whole series under the category “Biography,” if you’re interested.  Today happens to be my parents wedding anniversary date – it would have been their 42nd.

My mom was one of those indomitable women, the working ones who juggled career and child-rearing and house cleaning and everything else without losing her sanity. Most of the time.

For as much as working parents fret about ruining their kids, I think  I turned out ok. My earliest memories were of two parents juggling their schedules and me alongside my teenage half-brothers.  Dad worked swing shifts that involved occasional night work, but his preferred was second. Once I started school, he swung his schedule back to daytime so he could pick me up after school.

loan-sharkMom had a more “regular” job as a loan clerk at a finance company. Yeah, the loan shark company that gave people money at like 30% interest. It was a job, and she was good at it, and I doubt she’d had a lot of options when, as a divorced single mother in the 1960s, she first hit the pavement looking for employment.

So by the time I came along, she’d worked at The Associates for at least a decade. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s how my dad met her…. making payments on a small car loan.

Mom’s job was pretty decent when I was a wee lass. She worked in my hometown of Connellsville; at least, that was the closest actual “town” to where we lived, since I hardly consider the mountain hamlet of “Normalville” a town. Normalville had a post office and an ice cream place and maybe a gas station.  Connellsville was a bustling metropolis by comparison.

Murphy's And The Associates had a branch office near the center of town next to a Health+Mart and across the street from a number of fascinating shops including a Murphy’s and McCrory’s and Woolworth. Sometimes after kindergarten or on summer days when I had nowhere else to be, I ended up playing on the chairs in the guest waiting area, or killing time in one of the conference rooms.  Mom’s bosses and coworkers were always nice to me. I remember one of them trying to help me learn to tie my shoes. I think I was a helpless case at the time, but velcro was about to bust onto the scene, along with jelly sandals, saving me from some serious frustration.

And at lunch or in the afternoon, sometimes she and I would walk into Health+Mart to buy a giant Crunch! bar or across the street for an ice cream, and talk to the friendly old men who sat on the benches and liked to touch my hair. Mom knew they were just being friendly, not creepy, but it always pissed my dad off if he found out.

Because Mum had worked in her industry for so long, she knew the ins and outs of loan paperwork and interest and processes apart from adding machines or computer programs. That always amazed the 20-somethings who worked alongside her. “How do you KNOW that?” they’d wonder, looking at my mother like she was some priestess of an ancient tribe, hoarding the secrets of a sacred order of finance to which they had never been invited. She knew how it all worked. And whenever the computers went down (sometimes for a day or more), her loan paperwork was still moving right along, powered by her knowledge and a hand calculator.

ibm-punchcardGrowing up, I watched her office morph from punch-card IBM computers (no kidding!) to one of those classic 80s era IBM systems with the black monitors/green type. (Or maybe it was orange?)  The keys on the computer keyboard were extra clacky back in those days…. a stiff tactile memory. And IBM typewriters and Selectrics, where loan papers had to be typed in triplicate with carbon paper in between the sheets.

I know because by the time I was in double-digits, Mum had me helping her with paperwork. Her job got busier and busier, and there was always more filing and typing than she could keep up with. And some of the work was truly mundane, perfect for a bored 12-year-old on a weekend or lazy summer day.

I wish I could say my mom loved her job, but she didn’t.

This logo was burned into my memory as a kid. It's not a bad design, actually...
This logo was burned into my memory as a kid. It’s not a bad design, actually…

Around the time my dad lost his sight and thus his job in the steel mills, Mum’s office closed and they folded in her branch into one further away, about 30 minutes down the road in Uniontown. Her commute instantly make it far more difficult to drop me off or pick me up from school, and I found myself riding busses with the public school kids…. but that’s a story for another day.

Her office situation in Uniontown wasn’t as friendly or welcoming. The coworkers were decent, many of them, but offices always incite drama. One lady was sleeping with the boss, so she got extra favors. The men, who held the assistant manager positions, got paid way more than the women who shuffled the papers. The boss was basically a drunk, and though he was always nice to me, he could be nasty to his employees.

[An important side story: I got married after my mom had died. Several of her coworkers were incredibly kind to me during the months leading up to my wedding. One of those ladies baked our wedding cakes, and the entire office gave us a wedding gift.]

Things went from bad to worse and Mum faced a difficult choice. Locked into her job as primary breadwinner for her family, she could either trudge along doing loans, or she could move in the assistant manager position over Collections.  It was a rough gig, calling people who had defaulted on their loans and threatening them with whatever worked to get them to pay up. Or sending out the “repo man” to repossess whatever collateral backed the usury that folks were paying to this loan company to finance their summer vacation or last year’s Christmas. And unlike all the men who’d held this job before her, my mother wasn’t given an office assistant to shuffle her paperwork. She was now responsible for all of her former cases as well as all the new work of being a supervisor.

The pile grew large. I showed up on many more weekends during my teenage years, even one entire week during the summer, to type and file and process records. I learned how to read a credit report, how to properly file last names beginning with Mc-, how many horrible cuts and hang-nails you get when filing papers, how to send faxes and read the faint lettering on the shiny papers, how to do data entry.  It was actually a pretty good gig for me as a teen job for a little money here and there, though often my earnings disappeared when the money ran short at the end of the month, and Mum had to “borrow” it from me to buy gas. I resented that, and didn’t really see her point when she reminded me that I was getting a whole lot out of my parents already …. I don’t think any teenager is quite ready to understand that lesson.

Mom’s work hours got longer and longer and she felt more and more stressed, trapped by a job that didn’t end and the financial burdens of owning a house my parents had built when they had two incomes. We were the classic example of “house poor,” and since my parents had spent half of their lives waiting to finally build a house, they weren’t about to give it up. So we — and she — soldiered on.

Dad and I were pretty sure that the stress of her job contributed to the onset of breast cancer when I was 12 and she was 50, but who can say? She had a family history of the disease but none of us could deny that The Associates didn’t offer a safe, nourishing environment for her soul.

After the diagnosis, biopsy, mastectomy, and recovery, Mom want back to work. What else could she do? We needed money, and her salary was decent given the opportunities available in Fayette County.

My mom’s story is one of surviving. Trudging. Working. Earning. Coming home exhausted and worn down. The story of working mothers everywhere in America, where “work-life balance” really is a laughable term….. Turning down promotions for better positions away from the bullshit in her office because she would have been forced to move away from our family home (and my school). Running a side business in the springtime preparing people’s taxes because she could earn a little extra money to pay off just a little more of my Christian school tuition. Juggling the books and robbing Peter to pay Paul so everything more or less got paid and we all more or less had food to eat. 

She didn’t complain. She set her jaw, and she worked.

Because that’s what working mothers do. They sacrifice everything they could have been and all of their own dreams for the sake of their children’s futures. They drop us off at college, give us a hug and a kiss and a pep talk, and hold themselves together so the weeping doesn’t start until they’re in the car for the lonely ride home.

She didn’t get the chance to see me grow up enough to understand just what my opportunities cost her. That, to me, is one of the world’s great injustices.




The Backstory: Light Fading, Darkness Closing

My Backstory series offers stories about my upbringing and background. You can find the whole series under the category “Biography,” if you’re interested.

We just celebrated Father’s Day, and I loved seeing all the photos of everybody’s dad popping up in my Facebook feed.  It reminded me that I promised y’all way back that I’d finish telling my dad’s story…. but I haven’t.  Most of it has been told, at least as a story arc, up through my early years. What remains is a sketch of what were to me the most vivid memories of my life intertwined with his.

To recap:  My dad was the son of an Italian immigrant and he grew up in a poor immigrant section of Connellsville, Pennsylvania – a town that existed to feed the industrial behemoth of Pittsburgh via coal, coke, and glass. My dad survived his childhood, impoverished and terrible as it was, and did a stint in the Army before settling in for a 30-year career in the world’s longest steel mill. (Really!)

He met my mom when she was the single mother of two teen boys and fell in love. Along the way, he became a Christian and they got married, touching off a firestorm in their small church. But my dad was stubborn, so he stuck it out in the pew Sunday after Sunday, growing angry that he’d been pigeonholed as an unrepentant “adulterer” (because anyone who marries a divorcee is breaking the Bible’s commandments, right?) and sidelined from doing anything more at church than warming a seat. Meanwhile, they’d built a house and manufactured a daughter, and so the set pieces for my young life were all in place by 1980.

I imagine if my dad were to list the critical moments of his life, a fateful Sunday morning on a lovely October day in 1981 would rise to the top of the list.

He got up and dressed for church, as he always did. There was a funny foggy spot in his vision in his right eye, but he assumed it would go away eventually; if not, the eye doctor would be open on Monday and he could get it checked out.  The church lights really bothered him that day.

Monday morning found my father, who was almost never sick and certainly never in the doctor’s office, sitting in the chair of the town’s optometrist. Our town was small and our doctors not exactly cutting-edge. Anything “fancy” happened down in Pittsburgh, more than an hour away. My dad always wondered if perhaps a better doctor would have saved his sight, but “what if’s” do nothing but stir up dissatisfaction.

A few routine tests indicated that something – a rogue blot of calcium perhaps? – had hemorrhaged my dad’s eyeball, not the big inside part but the small area between the lens and the cornea. The fluid was 90% gone, meaning the growing grey spot which had eaten my dad’s vision in his right eye was permanent.  The eye itched and burned and ached and he was able to see only at the very top of the field of vision.

At first, I think my dad had a little bit of hope that perhaps they could find a solution, and a great deal of gratitude that the chunk of calcium or whatever that had floated around in his head chose to lodge itself in a blood vessel in his eye rather than in his brain to cause a stroke. But it was a cold comfort for a man who’d spent 50 years working with his body.

I was too young to process much of what was going on, other than the fact that my dad was home a lot more and not going to work as much.  I imagine those were deeply disappointing weeks for him.  He talked to his bosses and US Steel offered him sick leave and eventually a new job: dipping disks (of some kind) in acid (for some reason I don’t remember). Dad was quite offended that this was his option. I’m not sure if the job was demeaning (to him) because it was a huge demotion from his previous work driving big dump trucks and bulldozers, or if he felt it was unsafe for a half-blind man. Either way, he was rather indignant and walked away from the offer.

Fortunately for our family finances, dad had just completed his 30th year at USSteel-ClairtonWorks, meaning he was eligible for a small company pension and continued health insurance coverage. It was a massive pay cut, offering about 40% of his former salary. But it was something.

I remember a few of dad’s mill buddies stopping by to see him during the year that followed. His personal misfortune was soon gulfed by the widespread collapse of the steel industry in Pittsburgh in 1983-84. Ironically, many of his friends who stayed at the mills to try to squeeze out any final months of work were rewarded with less than what my dad got from his pension.  If he’d stayed at Clairton, as he’d intended, he probably would have been in the same position…. along wit the 25% of people in Fayette County who were unemployed by 1983. (!)


Life for my dad form then on was a lot more bitter. He still played Johnny Cash tunes for me at nap time, fiddled around the house with building stuff like our back deck, and cut wood to burn for heat in the winter.

Dad was a very skilled man, really, considering his aborted acquisition of a college education. He could figure out how to build nearly anything — but now he couldn’t see well enough to hit the nails squarely.  The constant watering and pain in his eye made going out in bright light nearly impossible, made reading very difficult, made driving dangerous (though he still drove), made everything harder.

So at 50, my father wrestled with God over what to him were the worst possible questions: What had he done to deserve this? What sin had he committed that brought upon him blindness, uselessness, encroaching poverty, inadequacy? As he said it (many times), “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t run around, I don’t gamble. Why, God? Why me? Why us?”

I don’t think the answers ever came.

We continued on as a family, cutting expenses and tightening our budget, eliminating household utilities that others probably considered necessities.  My dad cooked (he was an amazing cook) and did laundry and met me at the bus stop after school.  He still mended his own socks (as he’d been taught in the Army) and picked away at songs on his guitar or harmonica and wielded his chain saw with mastery. We listened to Pirates baseball games together on the radio or TV on hot summer nights as tree frogs and crickets created such a chorus from the trees around us that we had to put the volume on high. I was daddy’s girl, just as I’d always been.

But my dad wasn’t the same anymore. That gregarious, talkative, personable man shrunk down into his shell of pain and irritation and bitterness and darkness and watched as many of the bright spots of his life faded before his eyes.

By the time I was a teenager, the marital strain was painfully obvious. It was joint blame for sure, for my mom’s loyalty to her older children above her current husband led to bad fights and a lot of screaming and a hateful anger which took up residence in our house and didn’t leave. Their intimacy crumbled, their working lives crumbled, and their drive to be something useful to the world fell apart as well.

By the time I went to college, I’d learned to appreciate the love and energy my parents had poured into me – on that score, they were still united. But my dad’s bitterness and soul-darkness did not break until my mom died.

That’s probably a story best left for another day. 

around this time, a few years ago….

…. I was celebrating my 18th birthday, having just graduated from high school.

My parents and I on the night of my high school graduation.
My parents and I on the night of my high school graduation.

This photo is rare for a few reasons.  One, the reality of anyone over the age of 15, every photo from my pre-digital age is still packed in a box somewhere. So I have to resort to bootleg pictures-of-a-picture taken with my cellphone because I don’t own a scanner and who has time to send this stuff off to Wal-Mart?

Secondly, we weren’t a huggy, feely, photo-taking family.  I owned a small camera and shot pictures all the time — well, as much as I could when film was $2-3 a can and developing cost at minimum $6 for the super-cheap 3×5 prints you could get through the mail, and $7-9 at a drugstore counter.  I didn’t have a huge film budget, so I had to make those images count.  Taking photos of my parents didn’t really occur to me. I lived with them…. I mean, like, duh.

Thirdly, my dad just didn’t “do” pictures.  He didn’t “do” suits either.  He’d owned a suit and some sport coats about 10 years before this photo was taken …. but then he’d lost half his sight, his job, and any reason to dress up from time to time. In fact, his woodcutting beefed up his entire torso, so none of his sport coats would have fit anyway.

Someone gave my dad a suit. I don’t remember how it happened, exactly … if the person had actually handed my dad money he would have bought groceries with it.  Suits were a lavish waste of resources when he had a family to feed and too little income to do it.  But I do remember helping my mom pick out that tie, wondering whether Dad would like it, or even consent to wear it.  I guess the benefactor gave the money to Mum, and she and I shopped together.

Anyway, sorry for the digression ….   Dad, in this photo, looks almost nothing like the mental image that’s burned into my memories.   To really be Zeke, he needs to be wearing Dickies pants (in brown) and a plain pocket t-shirt, and a black ball cap that’s seen too many years of working in the sun. His shoes need to be steel-toed work boots, and he really ought to have a pair of work gloves sticking out of his back pocket.

And a smile.

My parents both had wonderful smiles, wonderful laughs.  You wouldn’t know it from this photo, though. 😉

Maybe they were feeling what all parents of high school graduates must be feeling: My word, when did our baby grow up?! 

The rhododendrons would be blooming, just to the right of where this photo was taken. The azaleas in front of the school / church building would be blazing in their orange-coral glory. The irises (“flags,” my mom called them, because they were up in time for Flag Day) would be budding, preparing for a glorious show of color.

It was late May. That evening I would don a white graduation gown (the boys wore kelley green) and tassel and honor cords and give a valedictorian speech. A speech about pressing on, moving forward, getting ready for an exciting new stage of life. Don’t hold back.  My principal asked me twice to tone down my “Yeah! We’re done!” rhetoric. I didn’t really understand that request, and I still don’t. The whole point of commencement is to start something.  I knew the meaning of the word.

More years ago than I’d like to admit 😉 I commenced a life that has been rich and good, though often unexpected.  I’ve been joined in the journey by a man who loves God and loves me, and I walk the road with friends for whom I care deeply.

So as I come to another turning of the sun, another birthday (shout-out to Bob Hope and JFK and Patrick Henry, who share my natal day), I’d like to think I’ve got a few more great decades ahead to explore and experience life under the sun.


The Backstory: What’s your earliest memory?

My Backstory series offers stories about my upbringing and background. You can find the whole series under the category “Biography,” if you’re interested.

I don’t know about you, but my earliest memories stretch back pretty early.  I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure I have fuzzy memories of being 2.  For sure, I recall events from when I was 3.

Not unsurprisingly, my earliest memories center on strong emotions, usually negative ones.  But most of these stories are funny nonetheless.

For example, every older sibling can remember the ball and chain of watching a little brother or sister.  I’m sure it’s a drag. I’ve never had to do it. 🙂  I do remember belong left in the care of Brother #2 when both of my parents were at work during summer months – I’m sure it made perfect sense to my parents that they not pay someone to babysit me if they had a perfectly capable teenage boy at home to take care of it.

Of course, that wouldn’t have been as simple as it sounded.  I have two striking memories – mostly just images – from those brotherly babysitting sessions.

The first involves me wandering outside by myself bawling because I woke up, found my parents gone, and stumbled out the back door to find them. The vehicles were gone, and I must’ve assumed that I was abandoned.  lol   Brother #2 was dead asleep – teenage boys aren’t known for being early risers — but he finally found me outside and I guess it got sorted out.  I’d cried myself into fits.

The much funnier story involves the first curse word I ever learned.  My parents weren’t curing people …. even when my dad was furious and yelling, he didn’t curse.  Not anymore, not after he got saved, or at least never in my hearing.

Brother #2, who was probably 16 or 17 at the time of this memory, was home babysitting me (again) when he had some reason to call something shit. Shit is a fantastic word — it starts with a sibilant, ends with a  hard consonant, and works great in rhymes. My brain has always hoarded words, and my tongue quickly picked up that one.

I was walking around the upstairs enjoying the taste of the word when Brother #2 tackled me.  His intensity frightened me and I immediately started to cry.  “Don’t ever say that again! Never! I don’t ever want to hear you say that!  That’s a dirty word! A bad word!”

The memory is all red and black in my mind – I am not making this up.   I can see the room, the moment, my brother’s shadowy outline (my memories and dreams rarely capture full details).  The shadows are deep black; the highlights in the room are red.  When I was old enough to spell and recognize words, my brain tagged the visual tones of this memory to the word – even today, if you say the word shit, I will see a word in bold black sans-serif type against a deep red background, with the ghostly outlines of my childhood house lurking in the corners.

I was too scared by his reaction to say the word to my parents, which is (I’m sure) his motive for freaking out like he did — the only way I’d know a “bad word” would be if I learned it from my brother, and he knew my dad would lay into him.  Honestly, I think it’s a hilarious moment.

Some memories are borrowed from later storytelling — as family lore enters the minds of the next generations from hearing tales repeated at family gatherings and big dinners.  I am too young to really remember wandering the field on our property in tandem with our friendly golden retriever Brownie, but my dad loved to tell how he’d lose sight of me in the tall grass — but he wasn’t worried because Brownie was barking happily and the grasses and field flowers swayed as our trail rippled through the field.  I’m not sure what happened to Brownie; my memories of him don’t go past 3 or 4 years old.   But I’m pretty sure my dad ranked that memory of me as one of his favorites.

My brothers, perhaps as “payment” from my parents for dragging them up to the mountain to live, got a horse. Apparently this was the meanest, orneriest horse ever to reside on our hill, because nobody could ride the damn thing.  It had a name; I can’t recall.   But if you want to get my brothers laughing hard enough to snort their beer, let them tell you about the time Bruce, the Martin boy – who’d grown up around horses and figured he knew enough to break the animal – found himself lying on the ground after the horse took a direct beeline for a Y-shaped tree and scraped him off!

(The horse was sold; the field lay fallow; I apparently wandered it as a toddler and then the forest retook its own ground — you’d have no idea today that the area had ever been cleared.)

Brother #1 has always been interested in guns and hunting. He made friends with Eugene who lived a few hundred yards down the road, and they made their own fun on most days.  At one point they ordered a fancy scope from a gun magazine and hooked it to large caliber rifle that my brother always called “an elephant gun.”  They took their beast rifle out to test out the scope and the recoil shook the scope to pieces.  Apparently the company hadn’t expected teenage boys in Pennsylvania to shoot elephant guns? lol

My memories of home life accumulate rapidly by the time I’m 4….  I remember my dad finishing our house on his 2 days off each week, with me as “helper” …..

I recall lying down on the seat of his 1964 Ford pickup truck for naps, wrapped in a quilt that used to have a name, cradling a beloved red yarn octopus (that I named “Octopus,” of course) …

I definitely remember playing with our friendly black lab that my dad named “Governor Shapp.” (“Laziest dog I ever saw….just like the governor,” Dad would tell people, getting in a zing against the late 70s Pennsylvania governor.)

Governor (the dog) and my dad played a game — the dog would steal my dad’s work gloves or hat when my dad “wasn’t looking,” then he would chase him around the yard and I would help or laugh or both.

Someone stole the dog one day, and that was the end of my dog ownership.  We were a cat family, really.  But it always hurt my dad’s heart that someone would steal a dog…..

Mountain life was hard on animals. I probably won’t post those stories- nobody really cares about my cat tales. But dad buried a lot of animals on a corner of the property.  ….We lost a whole pile of “outside” cats one winter when they drank antifreeze that had spilled as my dad was prepping our truck for sub-zero weather that night.  Cats love antifreeze; drawn to it like moths to flame. But it poisons them and they die a pretty sad death within a day.    …. Then there’s the black cat who crawled up into the truck motor to warm up; nobody knew he was there and the fan belt took off most of his tail.  He was a much wiser cat after that.

But I promised I wouldn’t get into the cat stories.

What’s your earliest memory?