Monday, July 28, 2014

The final installment of the Southwestern Pennsylvania poem. I've tried to cover a lot of history and heritage in a short amount of time and words. I hope that you've shared some of these experiences too and my words have brought them to mind.

I’ve toured the forts of Ligonier and Necessity
Walking the woods where Indian’s voice rang loud and free.
In history, we rebelled at paying whiskey’s tax.

I’ve been to festivals where linen thread’s spun from flax.

The Quakers and Amish chose to make this land their own

Hunters and trappers carried knives with handles of bone.

Your religious liberties drew folk from far and wide.

Boys became men in your wilds as their mettle was tried.

Conestoga wagons and carriages plied your trails.

Peddlers and freighters hauled supplies in bundles and bales.


I’ve ridden rides at Idlewild and Kennywood Park

And explored your caves and caverns gloomy and dark.

Some folk have used crossing rods, dousing to find water.

Jugs, crocks, and bowls were formed by the hands of a potter.

I’ve been awed by beautiful barns, bathed in moon’s soft glow.

And been inside of grist mills once powered by streams swift flow.

Pennsylvania, rich with history and things to do

From your museums to aquarium and zoo.

Hayrides and sleigh rides and riding the Duquesne incline;

Bakeries, breweries, markets, and places to dine.


Views from Mt. Washington, stunning when Pittsburgh’s lights shine

At Amish farms, bright hued quilts hang to dry on a line.

Your mines delved deep seeking your veins of coal and iron ore

And walked through groves of chestnut, oak, elm, and sycamore.

Your inns gave provided respite along your roads and pikes.

I’ve watched smithies shaping rods into nails and spikes.

Your lands shaped your people and they reshaped your land

With pick, axe, gun, shovel, or whatever was at hand.

Western Pennsylvania’s shared your bounties in the past.

Your mark in history’s journal’s wide ranging and vast.


Friday, July 25, 2014

This is the continuation of the Southwestern Pennsylvania poem.
I’ve watched the Chestnut Ridge turn from green to red and gold
And toured festivals where steam belches from tractors old.
I’ve read the words your patriotic sons dared to speak.
They fought for their liberty and to protect the weak.
I’ve fished for trout in brooks fed by icy mountain springs
And been scared by Ruffed Grouse, exploding with thunderous wings.
Pennsylvania, your streams chuckle and your rivers roar
Still keeping your covered bridges and small country store.
Your trails have turned to highways, your ferries are bridges
Building roads over and through thick glacial ridges.
I’ve been to Highland Games celebrating the Scots’ past
and worked factories where huge valves were poured and cast.
Your part in underground railway, helped to free black slaves.
Walking on your lakeshores, I’ve heard the soft lapping waves.
Osprey fly over your lakes with fish clutched in its claw.
I’ve eaten sandwiches piled high with French fries and slaw.
Germans, Irish, Polish, and Scots came to live and die.
They came to build their homes and shops, to work, sell, and buy.
They raised their children, passed on old ways while making the new.
Western Pennsylvania, all your children salute you.
I’ve climbed the steep hill crowned by Jumonville cross.
Finding love in those hills to raise children and taste loss.
I’ve watched storm clouds gather, then erupt with lightning streak.
The touch of your pale winter’s sunshine warms my chilled cheek.
I’ve driven the Wilderness Trail from Cumberland Gap
Through steep rugged lands where brave men came to hunt and trap.
Rivers that formed the Ohio were the settlers’ roads,
Local built flatboats carried them and their household goods.
Your small homesteads grew, fed by river’s trading flow
to become towns, earning wealth from above and below.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

This is a lengthy poem that I wrote touching on the history and the people of Southwestern Pennsylvania. I plan to share it in three sections. Thanks for reading it.

Southwest Pennsylvania

I’ve heard the Monongahela rush through wooded glade
And smelled the richness of your soil as it’s turned by spade.
I’ve walked your verdant valleys and climbed your gentle hills.
Been told tales of “revenuers” hunting for “shine” stills.
A few of your farmers still walk behind horse and plow.
I’ve seen tired miners trudge home with coal dust darkened brow.
Pennsylvania, your rivers were gateways to the west,
Your wilderness was haven for those who were oppressed.
Your mountains rise as monuments to all who were slain
In lands purchased with sacrifice of blood, sweat, and pain.

I’ve walked the Youghiogheny, fishing her small streams too
Awed as bright morning light sparkles on blankets of dew.
I’ve eaten buckwheat cakes in golden-brown steaming stacks
And walked in fields that were cleared of trees by sweat and axe.
I’ve been to Ohiopyle and rafted waters white,
Visiting Fallingwater and Kentuck; homes built by Wright.
Your lands are rich with history’s strong cultural mix.
Your life blood still flows in your rivers and “cricks.”
You’re a diverse land born of your people and places,
A heritage that’s etched in your son’s hearts and faces.

I’ve walked the land at “the Point” where three rivers meet,
A land where the French and English trod with marching feet.
Great beehive ovens were built to bake huge piles of coke.
Steel was forged in your factories amid flames and smoke.
Mountain laurel grows with pale blooms and dark leaves.
I’ve watched women working their looms, making rag rug weaves.
Your daughters and sons dared to live in wild frontier lands
Carving homes and farms from the wilderness with bare hands.
The harshness of their world was deeply etched on each face;
Hunting, clearing, planting, fighting: all to claim their space.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Food For Thought

When I eat certain foods, I think of certain people. With old Mrs. Carrie Hall, my mom and dad’s neighbor, I think of her soft sugar cookies, strawberry pies, and her fresh baked bread. Another of my friend’s mom would use the tube biscuits, cut a donut hole, and fry them in bacon grease and oil mixture. While they were still hot, she would dredge them through a glaze of confectioner’s sugar and milk. They were as good as any donut made by any other company.
My grandmother Miner made the most delicious chicken salad. It consisted of only chopped, boiled chicken, chicken broth, salt, pepper, and chopped dill pickle. She made this mostly when we culled the brood at the end on the egg laying season. Pieces of chicken at my grandmother Beck came with the story of how the chicken was divided when my dad was a child. The thing that I most remembered was that my grandma, Anna, always ate the back and tail of the chicken. She always said that she liked it, but I always thought that it was the only part of the bird that was left once the chicken was divided.
My Aunt Rachel Peck would make mashed potato/peanut butter fudge. All of us kids could hardly wait until it was ready to eat. My Aunt Cora Hyatt, I remember that she drank her tea, straight, hot or cold, without cream OR sugar.
 What got me thinking about food was what I made for lunch today. I made mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, and hot dogs and my aunt Violet Bottomly is what I remember at her house. She would cook the hot dogs in the kraut and serve it with the potatoes. She’d cut the dogs into thinner wheels; bite sized chunks which made an impression on me.
At my aunt Ina Nicholson’s home, it was the fresh vegetables from her garden. The delicious, juicy tomatoes freshly picked and washed, green onions, and sweet green bell peppers. They were served at each meal with whatever she and my mom cooked. Sometimes it was with fresh caught fish from Buckeye Lake.
My aunt Cosey Brothers Had a large garden as well, but she had a large family and needed it. What I remember from her menu was her hamburgers. She used bread crumbs, catsup, and onions to stretch the ground beef. It also enhanced the flavor. Served on homemade buns, they were delicious.
Finally, speaking of hamburgers, I think of my mom, Sybil Beck. One Sunday, she made hamburgers for the family, one for each. A platter of tomatoes, lettuce, and onions claimed the center of the table. Another saucer of sliced American cheese held a place of honor. Everyone had built their sandwich and started to eat. Mom had stacked lettuce, tomato, onion, and cheese on her bun. She took a bite and as she chewed, she saw a burger patty still on the serving platter. When she swallowed, she asked, “Who didn’t get their burger?”
All of a sudden, it hit her. She was the one who hadn’t picked up her burger. She had concentrated so much with the condiments that she forgot to put the patty on her sandwich. Every time she would serve hamburgers, someone would say, “Who forgot their hamburger?”

Friday, July 18, 2014

Passing Like Ships…

My father-in-law, Bud Morrison, used to tell me a story of two vendors that passed each other going in opposite directions, every day along the same stretch of highway as they serviced several stores and restocked their products. One was a bread truck, delivering fresh bakery goods and the other was a dairy truck, delivering milk, cream, and cottage cheese.
The man in the bakery truck chewed tobacco. He developed the habit of spitting the juice from his quid of tobacco onto the milk truck as they passed going in opposite directions. By the time the dairy truck reached the next grocery store, much of the spittle had dried and was difficult to remove. This quickly got under the skin of the dairy driver. It was so offensive.
He made the decision to hurry through his deliveries to meet the driver of the bread truck while he was still unloading his wares. He caught the bakery driver and told him, “That is disgusting and I want you to quit spitting on my truck. I’m warning you,” then unloaded the dairy products, ignoring the bakery truck driver.

The next morning, the dairy driver found out that nothing had changed. When the two trucks passed, the baked goods driver spit a stream of brown spittle from the open window of his vehicle and onto the windscreen of the milk truck. He was furious. He had already tried to talk with the other truck jockey and hadn’t resolved anything.

He made a plan for the following day. Removing one of his products from his inventory, he placed it at his side. Everything was ready. The dairy driver picked up the cardboard container of chocolate mile. It was a full quart, not one of the smaller containers like kids could get in school.
As they passed, the dairyman tossed the quart out his side window and onto the windshield of the bakery truck.
The driver of the milk truck told Bud, “When I looked back in my side view mirror, all that I saw were brake lights and a bakery truck swerving side to side as it slid to a stop. The great thing was that he stopped spitting on my truck.”

This is one of the stories that Bud enjoyed telling to us.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I am going to write a few odds and ends that may generate a paragraph or just a few lines, but they popped into my head, so I will pass them along. I want to write them before I forget them. The first was a weird, pizza-like thing that we ate while driving through Canada on our way to Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s called a Donair. Now, that it’s written on paper, I’ll never want to think of it again.
Another thought as I mowed, was the ornamental bamboo, my wife Cindy wheedled and cajoled me, saying, “It’s ornamental. They say it won’t spread like other bamboos.” She was wrong and I am left to deal with it and all of its attempts to reproduce and spread. I am caught on the horns of a dilemma. The bamboo was one of the last plants that Cindy planted. I would hate to destroy it and do whatever it takes to keep it from spreading. It has reached about a square of eighteen inches, but is constantly sending out shoots. I keep it check so far by mowing them off and mowing close to the main clump of the bamboo.
Does anyone know a person who works at the Pittsburgh Zoo? I have bamboo to harvest for the pandas, anytime and as much as there is. It’s free of charge.
The mowing made me think of my last hair cut. The barber isn’t the best, but he’s close and he’s cheap. He’s known for his white walls. White walls are cutting the hair so close that the skin under the hair on both sides of the head show through and glow white. The last two times I have had my hair cut there, I had problems. The first time, my sideburns were off about an 1/8 of an inch. It could happen. So I trimmed it myself and didn’t say anything.
The last hair cut, he trimmed my bushy eyebrows. I didn’t notice until I got home and took a shower, then looked in the mirror. It was a scary sight. One eyebrow was nearly gone. The other was trimmed carefully and looked good. I didn’t know what to do until I thought to trim the other closer to match and to then I used the dye made for beards and moustaches on them. It made them dark enough to see, even though they weren’t very long or pronounced. I guess that I could have used some kind of make-up that my daughter used on her eyes, but I didn’t think of it at the time.
Will I go back to him? Probably, it’s only hair and I plan to tell him to be more careful. I know that I can’t put hair back on, but hair will grow.
I found an old pair of scrub bottoms in a dresser drawer, as I was cleaning. I thought I’d try them on. They were mediums and I’m now a large (Minimally). I had just seen a video of a girl trying to climb into a pair of jeans, two sizes too small and that’s what I felt like. I wiggled and pulled. I managed to get into them, but I think that they are going to be passed onto someone else. I don’t foresee myself losing weight in the near future.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Like a Rugg

Everyone likes a Rugg, right? Not always, but yesterday was the Rugg reunion, so there were Ruggs all over the place. Old ones and young ones and they came in all shapes and sizes. My grandmother Miner’s maiden name was Rugg and still carrying on the tradition, my daughter Anna and I went. It’s a time, like at any other family reunion, to see people that do not live close or if they live close, they live separate lives. It’s great to be able to see new family members brought into the family by marriage or by births. Sometimes it is hard to remember all of names, especially for me. Some of the people are regular attendees and others visit occasionally, but I like to visit and catch up on what is new in the other relatives’ lives.
Everyone brings a covered dish of food and a dessert, trying to outdo the dish that you brought the year before. The chicken is paid for by the monies collected from previous years. We used to “pass the hat” and take up collections, but for the last several years have started a “white elephant” auction.
Each family brings an item or two, or three… well, you get the idea, and then auctions them off. It still is a basic passing of the hat, but at least you end up with a prize. None of the items are a zonk, but all are wrapped up or placed in gift bags with a note saying whether it is for a child, male, or female and the bidding begins. It’s not always the gift, but bidding against another family member for fun or “one-up-man-ship” that causes the bids to rise. Amid whoops of laughter or cheers when the gift is unwrapped, the good-natured jesting erupts when it is a gag gift or when a real prize emerges from the paper.
Sometimes, people will bring albums and share, some old and some new. The older photos, we try to help identify the person if the owner of the picture isn’t sure of who it is or doesn’t know who it is. Sometimes, we sit and share stories with the younger generation, trying to pass on the heritage and history of the family.
Sharing of family stories was my reason that I started my blog spot, not that my thoughts are better than another persons, but that I wanted to get stories of the family recorded. I know that I’ve lost tales that my grandfathers told of their lives and that saddens me. Unless something happens that jogs my memory, they will be lost forever. That is why I began to record the thoughts as they came to mind. I want my children to have those thoughts to read and share, if they choose.
I tell relatives, if you have a story, let me know, often I just haven’t thought of it and just need the idea refreshed in my memory to share.

Until next year, to all of my cousins, first, second, third, etc. I hope to see you then.