Tuesday, May 05, 2009

An inside the family story....read on at your own risk

Enjoying being in Western Pennsylvania is weird. For years there has been an outward migration from the old steel towns. The countryside is a complex mix of Appalachia-style living and opulent wealth. The oldest structures seem to stay having been re-arranged and brightened up. However, the people are the ones which drive us to return to our roots and rekindle old relationships.

First, the countryside. We drove north, yesterday, passing the Golden Triangle, Heinz Field and PNC Park and up McKinght Road to US Route 19. This is the old way (really old way) of going to Lawrence County from Downtown Pittsburgh. We took it because we wanted to see the change and experience the frustration of stop and go traffic. But we also took it because it would take us past the places of our childhood...Mars, Zilienople, Portersville, and bring us in to our hunting grounds of family homesteads.

We crossed 422 near McConnell's Mills, passed the now silent artesian well at the endge of the Slippery Rock Creek and onto Halansburg. Our trip found us looking at the building where we were married; confusion. No longer a church, it is now a plain looking multi-family housing of some sort.

Once in the heart of the village Aleene pointed out the location of Aunt's, cousin's, grandparent's homesteads before we drove past her home, now chaged...for the better, and the former farm her parents bought in 1941 which has transformed into a community of well-kept houses perched on the top of the plateau.

From there we drove through East Brook and saw the old structures, now crumbled or transformed, that were full of memories of our youth...on to the northwest and across the Neshannock River where our comments changed to the family names of the old homesteads and where the school bus did and did not stop.

We rode up Valley Road and for a mile tested our memories for names and sites: the still active spring flowing out of the hill, the spot where Mom and Dad and I rolled the old 1940 Ford, the access to one of our old swimming holes. We came in site of the old homestead we call Luacres...landscaped and trimmed, new windows and siding it was good to see the old place after nearly 50 years. It seemed to be in tact and thriving. Those who have followed us were good stewards after our turn through the 40s, 50s, and early 60s when it was a farm.

We proceeded on to New Wilmington searching for a place to eat lunch. Westminster College has dominated the sleepy old farm/Amish Dutch town of our era. The buildings are grander, the public areas are clean and well kept. The corner deli and ice cream parlor that we knew as Isaly's was gone and in its place is a corner restaurant obviously catering to the student clientele of the the college. We ate there. We were in Dutch Country.

When we get this close the thought always comes up to visit Jonathan. We know where his well kept farm is located and over the years we have stopped from time to time to talk about our families. He lived with us for almost two years following Joe's ventrue into the Navy. We decided to go search him out.

Back the lane we drove, ever so slowy...a single track with a firm bed of limestone splitting an old sugarbush now searving as a pasture for young dairy cows and on to the buildings that house a wagon-making shop, a barn and two houses. We turned around in the wide spot of the barnyard, adjacent to the active gas well. As we stopped the car a door of the small house opened and out walked a trim old-looking man with long white hair and beard adorned with his barn coat and traditional black hat. He walked the 30 yards toward us and Jim sofly said that from the gait alone he could recognize Johnathan.

What ensued was a twenty minute conversation standing in his yard, which was intersperced with jolly laughter and serious listening about who was where on this earth. He recognized us after a brief introduction...and his memories were not of the last time we visited (13 years ago for me) but of how we were when he lived with us in 1946-47. "Did you stand in chicken manure to get so tall?" he jokingly asked me. "You were only this high (putting his hand at his waist) when I lived with you." More tales ensued. He always pays tribute to our parents during these visits. After all, he is 84 now and his wife 85 and having raised five children and too many grandchildren for him to remember the count...parenting was all that matters to him. He has been blessed with prosperity within the Dutch community. That is obvious.

We left watching him saunter back into the house to finish his lunch. We drove off giggling and chatting about the memories of the 40s and since and what an impact the interface of the Amish culture had with our family over the years.

We continued the tour of the "Dutch country" and traced down a pair of chickens walking long a gravel road... Pertelote and Chanticleer, I thought, but, no. It was Chanticleer and Chanticleer, two roosters of different breeds strutting along the edge of the fields searching for some seeds to eat. I got pictures, though.

We finally made it to Freedom and some good conversation and then supper at Aladin's which is a middle eastern eatery. There was no urgency to finish stories afterward since we will see Dave and Midge in a few days at the wedding. It is a nice way to end the visit...knowing you will soon be together again.


Anonymous said...

Who is that in the picture??? It is so fun to read your stories of the "olden" days! I am reading a fictional book about the Amish and can always see the pictures the author paints with her words after living in New Castle and hearing the Lutz stories.

Safe trip south...we can't wait to see you all.


Tom said...

The picture was added a day later...I remembered I had it on my computer. Don't tell Jonathan. Amish do not like to have their pix taken. This was 1947: Tommy (5), Joe (19), Johathan (21). I have a ton of pix on my camera, but I do not have the interface with me to get them uploaded.