Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Ancestral Home

It was the lovely summer night in my backyard tonight that transported me back in time to my childhood.  The mind is a funny thing, you know.  Or maybe it was that blasted neighbor of mine Gert Whipple next door, burning her garbage again.  Everybody used to burn their garbage, but the Borough outlawed that long ago, so I now take certain delight when I inhale fresh air.  But hey that doesn't stop Gert from keeping an illegal fire pit to burn her refuse.   Or maybe it was because I should have been in bed a long time ago.  Then again, I have always had problems falling asleep at night, I don't expect to lose that bad habit now that I am well into my 80's.

My mind would not stop reeling.  I began to smell whiskey boilo and hear the childhood laughter of my sister Zlata.  So many memories are coming to the surface lately.  My dreams are tormenting me, and I feel as though my imagination is constantly playing tricks.  We were children in the 1930's, and Zlata has been dead for over 30 years, bless her heart, but I conjured an image of Daddy pushing me on one of the swings he had suspended from a tree limb, and I wanted to keep swinging higher and higher.  Zlata looked on wearing a lavender dress, clapping her hands and squealing patiently waiting her turn.  I smiled so broadly back then that oftentimes, my face would begin to hurt.  I felt so loved and so admired when Daddy would push us high in the swings.  Afterwards, he would waltz around singing Slovak folk tunes with the visitors in all manner of drunken caprice.  It was a different person than we knew in the privacy of our home.

I still call that place my home, that three bedroom coal shanty house my parents built when they settled here in the 1890's.  That is where I live now, modernized over the years, of course!  I had a full remodel after the Agnes flood and since it is only me, everything remains in pristine condition.  I became full matriarch of this home with my Walter once we married back in 1945.

Mother and Papa moved up the street to live with Zlata and her husband in the 1950's, but there was always a brother or sister hanging on.  This house has seen an awful lot of foot traffic.  Family and neighbors would often gather in our backyard underneath the trellis where my father's grape vines grew.  He fashioned a small arbor and shaded porch area with a glider and a firepit and chairs for us to convene on breezy weekend nights.  Visitors would be treated to a drink from his cauldron of home made boilo or perhaps some birch beer or a maybe cold Stegmaier's out of the cool cellar.  I think this was before the delicious Ma's Colas swept into the Valley and won our hearts.

Oh wake up you silly old Mrs. Katsellas! It is the year 2012, and you are all alone right now. You have been left all alone in this house!  A lonesome old lady with an internet's connection who thinks too much.  A sad old lady who cries too much.   This house knows heartache and pain, for what is family, if not heartache and pain?   I don't think Daddy was a happy man, he never spoke English, so I didn't know if he ever complained about anything.  Mother had better command of the language, but even then she kept quiet, preferring to demonstrate and charade out the words for us all to interpret.  She knew how to sign her name, and that was it.  Papa was able to read, I assumed, but no, wait a second, if he couldn't speak English, well then forget it, he couldn't read either. 

Rarely did we hunger for food, except for a very lean period of two years, when our resources were stretched for beyond comfort for a family of ten.  Let me tell you, the Depression left no survivors, we all died in some way as a result of terrible government practices.  Mostly though, we all had shoes and we each had a down pillow, and we each had 2 dresses and 2 knockabout outfits, and plenty of underwear and socks. When we grew out of our clothing, naturally, the garments were handed down and the one who outgrew the clothing began extra chores in order to procure a replacement.  Daddy kept himself and all of us working so hard to keep the down mattresses we shared (5 kids per bed) and by making the home decent and presentable through hard work and ingenuity.    He tried to make life good for us in his own little way, and I don't know how he managed to do all of it with ten little mouths to feed.  There were times that all of us saw his dark male personality, and for whatever reason, he called upon me to vent time and again.  Whenever I saw that look in my father's eyes, my blood instantly ran cold.  I learned to swallow my pride and allow Papa to verbally abuse me or whip me if he needed to.  I just wished I knew what the heck all that Slovak was that he'd be hollering at me while I cried and cried!

Walter had one of these dispositions as well.  Maybe I do too?  I think it is a Wyoming Valley trademark, that we hold our anger deep inside.  We don't trust the promise of relief that is found in confiding a secret to a loved one.  Naturally, the Church has cleansed me of my sins. By telling all in the confessional, I still place a great deal of faith in the powerful sacrament of confession.  I adore the word of the Lord, and strive to walk in Christ's Love each and every day, but it doesn't always work.  Nor does Christs' Love seem to take any of my anger away.  

Blogging on my new Appel computer has helped.  Janice down at the Senior Center helped me pick it out and buy it and all of my grammar and secretarial skills of yesteryear are whisking you visitors on a thrill ride through the emotions and private folly of an 85 year old boobie.  I know I am completely confidential, but getting things off my chests is not in my nature, as a Catholic, perhaps.  Rather than talk, it always feels so good for us to scream at somebody or break something.

But after so many years, I am fighting against this cruel habit that is so deeply ingrained into my soul, for I realize that I am alone and lost and I cannot take much more pain.  Here I sit typing at my computer pouring out my heartache and pain in a last ditch effort to assuage my guilt and shame of all the mistakes I made and continue to make in in my foolish life of 85 years.

Does God still love me?  Or has he forgotten about me because I sin too much?   Or did God forget about me and everybody in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton a long time ago, because we all sinned so much?  I wish I knew who God was.  I just don't know anymore. 

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

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