Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Grapevine Trellis

My dear sister Iris and I spent hours together under the grapevine trellis, fantasizing about what we might do after graduation from high school.  Iris wanted to be a violinist, and the entire neighborhood knew it.  This is why we spent so much time together: preventing her from practicing her scales protected my eardrums and those of our neighbors!  But when I remember Iris as a young girl, she was gracious and kind, and always laughing.  She later went on to study music and become a music teacher and choral conductor, that Iris.  We stopped communicating in 1989 though. 

Zlata wanted to be a nurse, and on Sunday afternoons, she would experiment in the kitchen, with all sorts of outlandish and never before heard of cookies.  My goodness Zlata cleaned houses for rich women, and somewhere along the line, she served us something called a chocolate chip cookie, which being rather new and unusual, was met with some bit of resistance.  But oh they were delicious.  I loved my sister Zlata.  She followed her dreams and attended College Misrecordia, got her degree and never married.  Me?  Well, I dabbled in many things, and during WWII, I did my fare share of going to work in the factories when all the boys went off to war.  Early on, I showed a natural aplomb with needle and thread, but more on that at another time.

Iris made a couple hostile comments to me when I was in mourning after Zlata died.  I was devastated by the loss, and once I came to grips, I said "to heck with Iris and her sourpuss attitude!"  I never thought she'd call my bluff, but to this day there's a stalemate about who is supposed to return a phonecall.  She lives up the line in the Greenridge section of Scranton but we never talk.

Many years ago, my teenage years in the Valley were filled with girlish summer afternoons on the backyard glider, underneath the valley sunshine without a care in the world.  Mother and I enjoyed quiet time together when we weren't tearing one another's eyes out.  She was a strong personality and so was I.  She truly was the pioneer of our family, bringing herself and my Papa to the USA at age 16 after a terrible electrical storm on her parents farm, where she had been living with her husband, newborn and parents.  The infant son was struck by lightening in barren cornfield of Slovakia while she was holding him, engulfed by a surprise surge of lightening that also burnt their home to the ground moments later.  She was unharmed, and lost both parents and all of her property.  Well, that type of experience changes a person forever, and at age 16 mind you!  This is probably why Mother never cared to hug or be sweet, but I spent many many years under the impression that she just didn't like me, which was very confusing to my heart.

After that fire in Czechoslovakia, they came to the US on a boat of squalor and pain to start a family again on American soils via Ellis Island. They clawed their way from New York City a bit west to a small town called Swoyerville, in Northeastern Pennsylvania where the coal industry was booming.  Back when this town really had something to show for itself.  They swallowed the pain and left Eastern Europe to obtain life beyond the farms of Slovakia, and their family grew to 10 young children.

Over the years, Daddy worked for several coal companies of the era, he was a giant man and he won a lot of respect for being so agile and adventuresome so far underneath the ground. He was only at Red Ash for ten years, a few years at Jeddo, another ten at Glen Lyon, etc.  Mom and Papa were able to afford a car, and Papa never cared about loyalty, employee of the month awards or educating himself further.  I suspect we were a lucky family in that we had such a shrewd Mother and Father at the helm, keeping us clothed and fed!  We were by no means rich, but with destitute people around all us during the depression, I was reminded every day in church to cry real tears of thanksgiving that I was not one of those Swoyerville derelicts of which God had forgotten. I didn't understand, but my tears really impressed the adults, and I learned there were great rewards in life for those who toiled and prayed and gave daily thanks to the Almighty.  

But in that small home, we were not allowed the life of folly some families have enjoyed.  It was a stern and dour existence filled with devotion to Jesus Christ and fear of eternal Hellfires.  There was very little time for laughter or joy. 

Yours in the Love of Christ,
Maureen Katsellas

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