Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I live in NEPA.

Northeastern Pennsylvania, or NEPA, as we call it now, is truly the birthplace of Anthracite Coal mining, and was once a real swell place.  My parents came over on a boat from our beloved Slovakia in 1890's, and this corner of Pennsylvania wasn't far from Ellis Island, so they landed here when they got tired from walking. That's the way my parents were.  But good heavens.  By the time the 1950’s came around, coal mining had trickled out of the region, and left disasterous mine fires in Centralia and Laurel Run which heat the grounds below our feet as they burn unextinguished decades after the mining stopped.  The large amounts of coal still beneath us are now being fracked by high tech coal miners.  

When the old timer coal industry left the area, we were all high and dry.  Some of the boys got jobs out at Tobyhanna, some factories out in Dallas, still others moved to Allentown.   Two brothers got jobs as truck drivers, and my Walter got a job with the railroad.  It was so very difficult for us to make ends meet here in this economically challenging landscape.   The Depression certainly didn't help, but as long as we were able to get jobs sewing dresses, we didn't have to toy with the idea of beauticianism and cosmetology.  Once I snagged my Walter, he was breadwinner, and I didn’t need to worry about anything.  I decided against a full time career outside of the home and even though a few of my ladyfriends had jobs, we all seemed very poor. 

In the 1950’s,  I was still a demure bride, but our Wyoming Valley had really changed.  The coal breakers and mine shafts were sealed up and forgotten, and the trees grew high.  The industry left behind mountains of black coal mining waste, and tons of inferior anthracite that the corporations  dumped everywhere.  It wasn't hauled away to toxic waste disposal sites.  It was heaped onto our chiaroscuro, and subsequently, this blackness has made its way into the blood of all who live and work in NePa. 

Elegant trees with white bark grow green alongside Pennsylvania highways on the ersatz mountains man has fashioned with this black soil.  Culm is what they call it, and what's piled too high to wash away when the Susquehanna overflows her banks,  will grow the pretty white trees that we turn into a delicious carbonated beverage called Birch Beer

Some of the hearts and minds of the people here in the Wyoming Valley?   Well.  They are just as black as the coal--especially down at our Luzerne County Courthouse and in the entire Wilkes-Barre Area.  Don't even get me started on the scoundrels over at Penn State

Tut tut, there is coal dust smeared an inch thick across all of our faces, and we cannot scrub it off.

Yours in the Love of Christ,
Mrs. Walter J. Katsellas, Jr.

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