Michelle R. Gallagher, June 2009\
I followed the pastor around the corner of church, its large silver domes looking strangely out of place in the small central Pennsylvanian town of Mount Carmel. But in many ways, I felt more noticeable than the conspicuous onion domes of St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church.
The greeting materialized from the opposite side of the street before we could reach the doorway. A woman asked brightly if Father Evans would be attending the picnic at the church right down the street. His response that he unfortunately could not was then followed by a series of other queries about his possible plans for that afternoon, based on his normal schedule of activities. Would he be going to his second parish over in the nearby town? Cutting the grass? Starting the preparations for pierogies?
“You can’t go anywhere without knowing somebody,” he told me later. “Here…you know everybody. They know your habits, they know everything.”
Besides everybody knowing everybody, Mount Carmel seems to define the stereotypical “small town” in many ways. Indeed, without an understanding of the history of the region, it would be difficult to imagine that this sleepy town once anticipated becoming part of a great center of commerce and industry, rivaling cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Settled in the anthracite region of eastern central Pennsylvania around the late 1700s, Mount Carmel once enjoyed a lucrative coal-mining industry and promising future. Thousands of immigrants from all over the UK, Italy, Germany, and Eastern Europe settled here and in other towns of “coal country” with the hopes of building a prosperous future for their families. However, over the years coal mining began to decline, and factories were shut down as more and more industries were transferred to overseas facilities.
As outsiders, we tend to romanticize—either tragically or optimistically—the current life of the towns and their future prognoses. At first, we’re inclined to think—as populations continue to dwindle, as fewer and fewer young people stay or move into town, and as the ghosts of once booming industries loom in the forms of monuments and memories—that these are dying towns. But when we speak to the residents of coal country and learn more about the rich history and ethnic heritage that brings color and life to their small towns, we feel hopeful. Our perceptions shift with curiosity. We instead begin to think that the towns will indeed survive, that people know these places as home, will miss their family and neighbors, will move back someday.
Yet I don’t feel that either of these views accurately describes what it means to actually live in Mount Carmel or the other small towns and villages of the anthracite region. Truthfully, I don’t know what it is like to live here, and I can’t accurately predict what will happen to these towns. So I decided to listen to the tales and musings of some local residents. While some people were delighted by my interest in Mount Carmel; others were confused and somewhat suspicious of my intentions—why was I so interested in their town? Did I foster some idealistic notion about Mount Carmel that they did not share? Even worse, if was I going to write about their town, would I portray it in such a way? But I hope that I will avoid the self-fabricated dead ends to which sweeping generalizations and conclusions often lead. Instead, I would like to weave an image of Mount Carmel from the threads of small histories and conversations; I would like to tell stories.
While my overall goal was to discover how the people of Mount Carmel relate to the surrounding geography, and how their history and culture has become embedded in the landscape of the town, food became a main topic in my conversations. Actually, one food in particular filled our discussions more than any others: pierogies. One might be skeptical that these potato and cheese-filled dumplings could provide much substance for conversation, but I soon discovered that this traditional food has substantially wedged itself into local customs and events. Quite unexpectedly, pierogies and other ethnic foods became a major way for me to connect with people and helped me to understand what types of things were meaningful in their lives.
I had arranged to meet with Father Michael Evans, pastor of the St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church in Mount Carmel, and was met by a friendly man with a knack for trivia and a delightful sense of humor. His church had been one of the initial landmarks that captured my interest in the town during my first visit. As we drove across the bridge leading into town, I saw large gold and silver onion-shaped domes ensconce themselves among the surrounding rooftops and steeples. In that moment the town seemed to be pulsing—not bustling like a city, but steady like a place seeping with stories and an unusual past.
“What’s keeping this parish alive, to be honest with you, and you’re gonna laugh when you hear this…[is] pierogies!” Pastor Evans’s statement was, perhaps unsurprisingly, met with my confusion. He then explained that once a month, St. Michael’s makes pierogies and then sells them to raise money for the church. As the population of the community has decreased over the years, so has the number of active church members, and they needed to find an alternative source of income for the church. For all twenty-one years that Father Evans has been the pastor at St. Michael’s, they have made pierogies.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this tradition is how the community comes together to make it work. Parishioners from St. Michael’s church are not the only people in Mount Carmel who want it to remain active. “In fact…half of the people that make pierogies are not parishioners… And if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be making pierogies,” Father Evans explained. For many people, the time allotted to making pierogies once a month affords a guaranteed, scheduled time when they simply have something to do. It’s a community activity that provides time for socializing as well as the opportunity to help a local parish.
And pierogie-making is not a phenomenon unique to Mount Carmel. When I spoke with an anthropologist whose subject of study is the nearby town of Shamokin and with a fellow Bucknell student who grew up in Marion Heights just east of Mount Carmel, I discovered that churches in both of these towns also make pierogies to raise money. In fact, food seems to unite people in various contexts all throughout coal country. Fairs, parades, and social functions always seem to include staple foods that demonstrate the area’s diverse European ethnic heritage. Catie, the Bucknell student with whom I spoke, laughed as she told me how shocked she was when she met people who had never eaten haluski, a Polish food so popular in the area that it is even sold at the Mount Carmel High School football games.
With all this talk of food, it would have been a shame if I couldn’t have experienced it myself. When I visited Mount Carmel, I met Connie, a woman in her eighties who has lived in town for her entire life. She took me to her church’s picnic down the street from St. Michael’s to “show me what it’s all about.” There we found a few white tents with signs for pierogies, haluski, potato cakes, kielbasa, french fries, whoopee pies, and “pigeons” (goloubki). I purchased some pecan tassies while Connie bought us some potato cakes, and then we walked back to her house to enjoy them. As we sat on her back porch eating our food with a glass of Coke, Connie expressed her regrets multiple times for not buying more potato cakes and told me more about her family and her life in Mount Carmel.
Mount Carmel is sometimes known as the “town of churches.” The reason for this nickname reveals itself immediately in the presentation of the town, which is speckled with steeples and stained glass windows all throughout its undulating landscape. Before the consolidation of most of the Catholic churches, there were about seventeen to twenty total churches in Mount Carmel. Even those that are no longer active still remain standing as essential parts of the landscape of the town. People are proud of the churches. As in the case of the pierogies at St. Michael’s, the whole wants to help to preserve them, to keep them alive. The churches have become irreplaceable in their unique shaping of the town’s character, both in their architectural beauty and their close ties with the history and ethnic heritage of the town.
In my own personal exploration of the town, however, these churches held even more significance because they became the sought-out clues that solved the mystery Merriam Mountain cemetery. Cue Flashback, three days earlier, during the group trip to Mount Carmel. Besides the strange aura I felt from the town of Mount Carmel itself, another reason that I decided to return was to try to find out why the graves in the cemetery seemed to be segregated by ethnicity. As I stood stationary on the road, graves lined up on either side of me, I looked left and saw Lombardi, Romano, Piazzi, Amorelli; to my left were Nowak, Kalinowski, Kaczmarek. Down further were sections for Irish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Welsh, and then an entirely different, small section gated off from the others for Jewish graves…I had never seen anything quite like it before.
Did people hold so tightly to their ethnic heritage here that they segregated themselves, even in death? No…the answer was actually much simpler than I had anticipated. The graves were separated—we at least did not imagine that—but they were not separated by ethnicity, at least not directly. The cemetery was sectioned off for the different churches of the town. Because each church in town was erected by particular ethnic sects of (mostly Catholic) religions, it seems as though the cemetery has somehow been divided according to one’s heritage. The cemeteries and the churches are meaningful to the people of Mount Carmel in ways more deeply rooted than they outwardly appear. It seemed strange at first, but later made sense, when one person told me that many people look forward to being buried in a particular section of the cemetery. “They are very proud people.” Proud of who they are, their ties to a distant homeland, their ties to this land.
Some people who visit or even study Mount Carmel see a dying town unable to accept its inevitable fate. The people there are “trapped” as they cling both to their families’ ethnic heritage and to the town’s coal mining heritage. The mountains surrounding them become physical reminders of this entrapment, and of a lost past and tentative future.
Perhaps, in some ways, this perception of Mount Carmel is accurate. Yet in other ways, and maybe despite the inevitable entrapment of living in a small town, this community is very much alive and held together by the links that seem to be hindering them from moving on.
After visiting Mount Carmel, I talked with a resident my own age named Logan. He talked about the wonderful food in Mount Carmel and the way the entire town supports the youth in whatever they do. “You could rob any house on a Friday night around here,” he joked, describing football season for this small town. As I imagined these Friday nights, it seemed exhilarating, like a focal point for the community: The atmosphere of those nights they must be electric. Logan reminisced about his childhood in Mount Carmel. He told me that for kids, the mountains and surrounding landscape become a source of freedom to explore, to be creative, to be mobile and feed that ever-hungry curiosity one has as a child.
When I later reflected on my conversation with Logan, other voices chimed in from discussions I’ve had with various scholars and residents of Mount Carmel: cynical, romantic, apathetic…
While living in Mount Carmel is exciting for children, there are no jobs. There is no development…
Mount Carmel is a special place. People have held onto their heritage here, even their languages.
But isn’t there a point when people need to move on and accept the changes around them?
Everyone takes care of each other. Everybody knows everybody.
But there is no privacy, no sense of individuality. When you know everyone, it can become quite boring…
This place is important. Look at the history surrounding you on every street; feel it in the surrounding area; listen to it in the stories of our elders.
The flourishing of the coal era is over. It is past. This region is merely a monument to the short-lived promises of the land, promises that we can’t let go of. When people leave, they usually don’t come back.
No! That’s not true at all. They’re alive, nurturing beautiful and long-withstanding cultures…
For every argument there is a counterargument. But I wonder, what does this arguing—over whether or not Mount Carmel is thriving or barely surviving—actually achieve? While it seems illogical, none of these perspectives is wrong.
There is no right or wrong. There is only experience.
Logan told me the story of how his family moved to Mount Carmel ten years ago. His father was diagnosed with cancer, and when he thought about the places he had been when he was younger, he remembered Mount Carmel. He decided to move his family there, because he remembered Mount Carmel as a place where people took care of each other. Logan recalled a time when his mother was in a terrible car accident, and women from all over the town brought them food and tried to help the family in any way they could.
“Mount Carmel is a special place.” Perhaps that’s all we can really know.
So, anyway, our priests marry, and unlike the Roman Catholic church they have like…2000 orders of…priests, we only have two orders, you know? And it used to be a joke—I graduated from a Catholic University, Marywood College (it was ‘college’ at that time), up in Scranton—they used to have a joke, they said, the one thing God don’t know is how many order of nuns they actually have in the Catholic Church. Because, you know, they have so many…but…we only have two. I’m white clergy cause I’m married, and the black clergy are our monks. But we do have priests that aren’t married and they’re not monks; they’re white clergy. So it’s simple, just white and black. So…people say to me ‘you have orders in your church?” And I say only two, white and black. And they say ‘what?’ And I say, well, married clergy and not married clergy…so that’s how that’s looked upon.
How have you liked living here for the past 21 years?
Well, I think the people, particularly in this parish—they’re like family. And, as a matter of fact, this whole town…I’m from Pittsburgh, and I lived in Squirrel Hill all my…until I went to college, and then the seminary and…you didn’t even know your neighbors, in Pittsburgh. But here, I mean, you know everybody. They know your habits (laughs), they know everything. I mean, you can’t go anywhere without knowing somebody, you know? It’s not that you get tired of knowing them, it’s just like, boring cause, these people here, the majority of them I just know who they are, used to seeing them, talking to them. But…we like the area because…it’s not a growing concern so far job-wise, but…this community…I think you’re better protected, you don’t have the crime. I mean you do have problems, once in a while. I mean, no town’s free of that. But…you’re safe. You know what I mean? Nobody bothers ya…(MG: Especially since you know everybody…) Yeah, (laughs) sometimes too well.
And…what’s keeping this parish alive, to be honest with you, and you’re gonna laugh when you hear this…because it’s so small, pierogies! If it wasn’t for pierogies, my wife and I wouldn’t be here. (MG: Wait. How is this? How are…?) Because that’s our biggest money-maker. (MG: Oooh) And with the population and the people, and…they’re in these budgets cause they have…it’s not that they don’t have money, it’s just that, they didn’t have the big jobs—like the steel-workers, I’m from a steel working family. They had better jobs, and they made more money, but in this area they didn’t make the money in the mines, but, they were savers. And we’ve got good givers, it’s just that…our people… the people here in Russian Orthodox, they were never taught…ten percent of your salary or anything like that. So…they bring income in, but the big income, that makes up for…the decline in the parishioners, the list of parishioners, is pierogies.
(MG: Where do you sell those?)
In the basement…we have a basement.
(MG: Are there special days...?)
Once a month, we make…well we make anywhere between eighteen hundred a month, and this last month we got extra potatoes, so it was over two thousand dollars. That’s profit. That’s with all the expenses paid. So we’re in the two thousand bracket…almost two thousand to a little over.
(MG: And do people come from all over, like all over town?)
As a matter of fact, you’re gonna laugh at this, cause half of the people that make pierogies, are not parishioners. We have parishioners like any place else that could come, even the church…we have people that belong to the church, we have a few that don’t come but they support it. Like, they give donations and stuff. And we have some that…we have some parishioners that are Roman Catholic, Protestants, Ukranian Catholics, different denominations of Protestants…they come to church just for pierogies and help…It’s more than half, or about half the people that are here that help the parish…well I would say that a little bit more than half, but half are non-parishioners. And if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be making pierogies. And over the years, over the 21 years that I’m here, you see I’ve had four parishes and the last two made pierogies. So the 21 years that I’m here, for this parish…we lost a lot of parishioners—some of them were not even parishioners—parishioners and non-parishioners, that passed away. But God managed to send us people, to make pierogies and you know, to keep us going. And…some people just want something to do, and they wanna help a smaller parish, and they come here.
At one time, I can’t remember how many years ago it was, we had ten Catholic Churches just in Mount Carmel alone, and Bishop Tulio, he passed away. He…made two out of ten, you know, he kept two open. And that’s the one down the street…the one that’s having this picnic. And the one on the other side of town, Our Lady’s, so he made two out of ten. You know how they’re closing Catholic churches? Well they closed…oh I don’t know how many years ago it was, it was nine maybe? Eight or nine years ago I would say, they closed all these Catholic churches…they had a lot of problems over it because, you know…the Irish people were going with…they had like two Polish churches out of the ten, so when they combined, some of the Polish and some of the Italians in one…they’re still the same faith…but over the years…they’re declining, too, it’s just that they’re a minority, you know what I mean? The people are dying off, and young people aren’t coming like they used to…and when this generation goes, they won’t be making pierogies, because the young won’t do it…They won’t come and help cause they have other things, you know. So we just have a generation that was willing to keep that…it used to be impoverished food, and now it’s gourmet. Since we’re on the pierogies subject, you might be interested to know…[Pastor Evans tells me about how “pierogie” is a Polish word that means “baked,” which isn’t accurate because they are boiled. The Ukrainian word for them is more accurate because it means “boiled,” but people are so used to the Polish word. Around 9:00 mins.]
(And do you think you’ll be staying here for…?)
Four more years. I retire in four years. Yeah, I look 45 but I’m actually 61...as long as they can afford me, I hope to retire from here, but I don’t know what’s going to happen in four years with the economy…
(12:20) (Cemetary) It’s called Merriam Mountain, there’s a town Merriam…it’s not really a town, it’s just got a couple of homes actually, but it’s called Merriam Mountain. There’s a little town below it called Mirriam. (And that’s where the cemetery for this town is?) No, well, everybody in this town, all the churches, and even the ones that closed, there’s four, well there’s three, three around us. There’s a Jewish cemetery and there’s two Catholic cemeteries, ok? And…some of the other cemeteries are down below, next to Mount Carmel, it’s called Connersville. Connersville is actually when you start from the stadium…but they still say Mount Carmel, but actually the town is Connersville. The cemeteries like…if you go down two blocks and make a right, that’s like, where the Ukranian cemetery is and…so actually there’s like, two sections, like Mount Carmel cemetery, there’s a couple down here and a couple up in…and next to us is the Jewish cemetery, but there’s no synagogue here anymore, that was closed way before I came. (I think that’s what I saw…the small section next to everything else) Mhmm, that’s our cemetery there right next to it. But…I’m a guy who likes detail, I like trivia, so, just so you know, people say, they’ll say to me ‘is that the Jewish cemetery?’ And I’ll say, yeah. And they’ll say, ‘Well, on their tombstones they have these hands, you know?” (MG: I was wondering what those were!) You know what that is? That’s a Jewish blessing. So in other words if they had food, like say this was food, and they’d go like that (gestures, moving his hand in the form of the blessing and passing it over the invisible food), and say a prayer, that’s a Jewish blessing. Well you know Star Trek?…Gene Roddenberry was a Jew, well he passed away, and Leonard Nimoy, he’s Ukrainian. Well actually, he’s not Ukrainian, he’s Ukrainian Jew, okay? Well, Leonard Nimoy wanted to come up with this, uh, thing…he’s Jewish, and Rodenberry’s Jewish, so they wanted to give Spock on Star Trek some kind of a handle, if you wanna put it that way. So he said, for Spock …well you know how everything is logical? It has to be logical on Star Trek? I don’t know if you, you never follow it? He puts his hand up and says “Live long and prosper.” Well they got the idea from, for Star Trek, from the Jewish blessing. And that’s on their tombstone…I don’t know the origins of it, but I know Rodenberry used it cause I’m a Trekker, you know. I grew up on Star Trek...(continues)
[MG: So, you’ve lived here your whole life…can you tell me a little bit about how it has changed over your lifetime?]
Sighs. Oh, stuff’s changed so much I don’t know how to explain it to you.
[MG: Because this used to be a big mining town, right?]
You’re right. And when I lived in, where I told you, over in Conorsville…the miner’s used to pass our house, and they would go up the hill and way in the back of the town. And that’s where they worked evidently in the mines, and they had a trestle that passed our house…and the coal cars, you know, where they’d pick coal from the mines, and then they, well…they’d bring it up from down in the ground, process it and everything else. And we could hear the things dumping, they’d dump it into the cars to get it hauled out.
And when I was little, now (laughs), that was a long time ago…when we were little kids, we would sit on the edge of the porch, and the miners would come back from having their shift, and if they had anything left in their…lunch bucket, they would give it to us kids. Some food, or cake, or whatever they had. Very seldom a sandwich, it was usually the fruit or the cake. We’d get it. We’d be sittin there, and my mother would go wild! Sayin “you’re crazy, jeepers, like we’re not feeding ya!” But, you know, that’s years and years ago. But it was a nice, quaint little pass down there.
And…of course I was married young, my first marriage. And then…we lived just in a little house in an alley. It was in this town, it was up on the east end of town, and…we only paid like fourteen dollars a month rent. That’s how many years ago that is. And my son, I have two sons, were born…well, my first son was born there, not in the house, in the hospital, but we lived there. And my second son, I think he was born there, too, if I’m not mistaken. And that was about sixty-some years ago. The two of them, they’re both about sixty now. So…it was tough, tough bringin up, workin with the kids. [Distraction as friend drives by and yells out to ask if she’s “working on Tuesday” (translation: helping to make pierogies at the church)]
So…like I said, I just had the two boys.
[MG: Do they live around here still?]
Nah, they live in Harrisburg. And...well, both of them are barbers…My first son, he was in the merchant marines, or maybe it was…no, I think that’s what it was. Ah well, whatever, it was one of those. And then when he came out, he went down to Harrisburg to look for work. And somebody talked him into going to this school, and then he ran a school himself. He taught in a school, and then he gave that up, too, cause it was getting rough. So he opened his own barbershop—in his house. I mean, they took a part of the garage, and then fixed up the garage and made a shop. But the other boy he’s, well they’re both still cutting hair. But the other fella, my other son, he works in a barbershop…They have two kids each. Richard—the oldest boy—he has two boys. They’re both married. And then my other son has a boy and a girl, they’re not married. So that’s my family. And…well, my older son, he comes up a lot and helps me out. But that other bugger, he don’t like to come home! He’s a homer himself…he just doesn’t like to travel.
But when he was a little boy, though…he was five years old I guess. And I…joined a bowling team, and I was getting dressed to go bowling. He comes in the house and he said, “Mommy…I stuck a knife in my eye!” I said, “You what?” I couldn’t understand what he was saying cause he was cryin so much. He said, “I stuck a knife in my eye.” He had one of these, what do you call em, knife pens, pen knifes? Pen knife…with the little pointed edge on it, I don’t know if you ever saw any, years ago they used to have them. And he was chippin at a tree, like this. [Gestures a sideways chipping movement. He had been chipping at the tree horizontally and toward himself.] And then it slipped and hit him in the eye, he’s blinded in one eye. But, he’s getting along. You see, all the sight he lost in the one eye went into the other, that’s what they told me…And he drives and everything, and he’s sixty years old…It’s terrible, though. Every time I see him I say “Terry”—that’s his name, Terry—“Terry, why don’t you go get that eye taken out?” You know, cause I had a nephew, my brother’s son, he had one of those sticks on a balloon—you ever see those? Balloons, they used to be on sticks. And he cracked it like this [in half, toward himself] and it come up and hit him and he’s blind. And then, what happened there, his mother would never consent to him gettin that eye out. So then…well, he went to college and everything. They sent him to…I think they sent him to Penn State. And he got married. And after he got married, he went and had the eye out and didn’t tell his mom until it was all over. Because, she couldn’t take that. But he did it without her. [MG: Yeah, well, I guess maybe he was old enough by that time.] Yeah, well ‘I’m married now, I can do what I wanna do.’ But he only has the one eye. Isn’t that strange? The two of them, two cousins…That was really an awful time. I used to go to the hospital, to see my son, and he cried and cried. And he couldn’t see me…the one eye had the patch on it, and then the other eye had only like a little round…it was black and it had a little round hole here, and that was all he could see through for a while. And then they told me that I shouldn’t come, because he gets too upset when I’m there and wants to go with me, you know. So then for a while…I didn’t go to see him, but I was a wreck. But he’s big and strong. So, that’s my life story! I don’t know what else I could tell you. [Laughs.] What do you want to know about the town?
[MG: Well…what would you do for fun? When you were younger, or when your boys were growing up?]
Well, you know, I was married very young…we used to go to dances…some of them were in the church halls.
[MG: And you had a pretty big boom of people moving here at one time, right? When was that? When did they start leaving?]
Well, when things got bad they had to go look for jobs. They had like a depression…years and years and years ago. Oh god I can’t tell you what year that was. I really don’t know.
But…for fun, go to the movies…there wasn’t much to entertain ya…
[Pause. MG: Shamokin Creek runs by near here, right?...]
All there is around here is creeks. Small creeks. [Do you know the names of them?] Not really, no. [Do a lot of people spend time in those, swimming and stuff, or are they pretty bad from the mining?] No, well they’re not too bad. They’re just little creeks, they’re not big. But of course when we get bad flood rains, some people get flooded. We have over here, at Danville there…you ever hear of Knoebel’s? Well they [creeks, flooding] usually go down to that when it rains. Oh yeah…I had a friend who had a cottage there, and gosh most of their stuff went down the creek…from the flooding. But she, she just died lately, so…I don’t know if they’re gonna keep it. She had two sons and a daughter, and she buried a daughter. And…two want to keep it and the other wants to sell it, so I don’t know what they’re gonna do…
[Were any of your family members coal miners?]
No, my uncles were, but not my family. [MG: Oh but your uncles were, though?] Oh yeah, my mother’s brothers, they were all miners…they used to go down in the mines. It was dangerous. They don’t have them anymore. Did you ever hear of the place up in Centralia that burned and is always burning? [MG: Yeah, I did. We went there. Yeah, it’s crazy.] Yeah, my friend that lives across the street, she came from there. [MG: Were there a lot of people who moved here from Centralia?] Yeah…right out the road here, when you go the back way to Shamokin…for these people in Centralia, they built all their homes, they call it Den-Mar Gardens…
Well my brother and his wife…they used to live, if you go the back way through Shamokin, did you ever hear of Excelsior? Well there’s a little patch called Excelsior…and that’s where my brother lived with his wife. They lived with…her mother. And that’s where my nephew was brought up. And his sister, she had her…quite a few years after Michael. She went to some dam, I can’t remember the name of it…she went down with a neighbor, and she drowned. She was only thirteen years old…beautiful girl. Her mother took it very hard. Boy, did she take it hard. But, what could you do? I mean, that lady couldn’t help that took her, she must not have been able to swim or something…God that was terrible, that was the biggest shock to us. And then my mother, when she died, she died in church…just sitting there, isn’t that sad?
....Your parents are living? [Yeah.] And…do you just have the one brother? [No, I have another brother, and one sister. I’m the oldest.] Ohhh, so you’re the head of the family…[asks more questions about my family, what my parents do, etc.]
[MG: So, what other kind of industry was around here, was it just coal mining? Or…]
Yeah, that’s about it. There were factories for the women…I worked in a garment factory, it made nightgowns…way down on the other end of town. And then there was, well there was a couple in town, but there’s none now, can’t find anything. And then I worked at a blouse factory, used to make blouses. And then they had them in another little town in Shamokin and…but they’re all closed. The industry’s gone. Well they send everything over to China and them places, so they ran out of business. But I worked up there till I retired…what else…well one had a cigar factory…that was up on the other hill. You know where Hickory Street is?...That’s where the factory used to be.
[MG: Do you remember when that was?]
I remember that but I mean, I was never in it, I never worked in it…oh my god that was years and years ago, I couldn’t even tell ya. Some of my old buddies could, but they’re all dead! I have a few, but the ones that worked there, they’re gone.
[MG: I didn’t realize there were all these factories here, too. So…your parents, did they move here from somewhere?]
Well my father came from Italy, but he was only a little boy. And he was a plasterer. Do you know what I mean by a plasterer? He plasters the homes inside. He did that, and he did beautiful work. There’s a house that he did over here in Atlas, and my dad’s niece lives there. That house is like the day he did it…and that’s what he did. And my mother, my mother never worked I don’t think. Not that I can remember. Her sister was a nurse…but I don’t ever remember her working or what she did…but she died young, too. She was only like fifty-some…but we were seven of us, four brothers, and three of us, the girls. And there’s two of us left, me and my sister…she lives all the way up on the other end of town...she lives on East 7th Street, and I live on West Avenue. [MG: Do you get to see her a lot?] Oh yeah. And we talk on the phone a lot. We’re the only two left! And I have a sister-in-law, she’s ninety-seven. Still living, one of my brother’s wives. So, what else could I tell you?
[MG: Well, I don’t know. I guess there’s a lot going on today, there’s relay for life, and the church is having it’s picnic over there right?]
Yeah, that’s the church I go to. But it belongs down there, on the corner, this one’s closed. But this one’s St. Peter’s church…see the one that goes up, with the steeples…that’s the one this one merged with…used to be MOC, Mother of Consolation…My husband, he was a Methodist. His church was up on Hickory Street. And I’d go to this church. He went to his church and I went to mine! [Laughs]…
[MG: Is the picnic something where you go and buy food?]
Yeah they have stuff to eat…they have good pierogies, you ever eat pierogies? And they have potato pancakes, bleenie or whatever you wanna call them, and they have all kinds of…haluski and they have…the Italian church probably has meatballs and…would you wanna go over? I’ll take you over and show you what it’s all about?
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