Throwback Thursday: Growing Up in Coal Country

That's me sitting on the back steps of the house my parents rented when we lived in Western PA.

That’s me sitting on the back steps of the house my parents rented when we lived in Western PA.

I was born in Western Pennsylvania. I was a coal country kid, born and bred. In the photo above, I’m sitting on the back steps of our rental home in Miller Shaft. I got to play outside every nice day while my Dad worked in the local steel mill and my Mom cooked amazing food on a huge wood-fired cast iron stove in the kitchen. We had a big hill on the side of the house where we lived. In the winter I’d sled ride right down it, zooming down in seconds. My Dad would wait at the bottom to catch me.

I wish I could have gone inside our old home.

I wish I could have gone inside our old home.

One of my sisters and I drove by Miller Shaft in 2010. The outside of the connected houses didn’t look much changed, but I wondered if it still has a coal stove to heat the living room. And the huge black wood-fired cookstove in the kitchen. There was a hole cut into the kitchen ceiling and the black stove’s pipe went right up through it on the way to the roof. I think my two older sisters’ bedroom got some heat off that pipe as it went through their bedroom. My parents’ bedroom, where I slept too, didn’t have heat. My Mom dressed us in footed pajamas to go to bed in the winter. And we had lots of covers.

I remember talking to my Dad when I was growing up in New Jersey about his years growing up in Western Pennsylvania. He often shared his stories with me. He told me that I should always remember where I came from. Did your parents say things like that to you when you were growing up?

My Dad’s first job when he was a teen was working in a coal mine. He told me he didn’t like being in the first group of men to go down into the mine in the morning. Those guys were the ones who got hurt if their car hit debris on the track from an overnight cave-in. He told me how cold and dark the mine was. He told me he didn’t much like the job, but it was a job and jobs were hard to find when he was growing up. So he said he showed up every morning, hung back so he wouldn’t be in the first mine car, and said a prayer before he dropped deep into the earth for his day’s work shoveling coal.

My Dad’s second job was working in a steel mill. He told me how hot it was there. I don’t know if it was always his job, but he told me that he “fed” the blast furnace during his shift. He said it was hot, hard work and that he’d lose pounds every day from sweating.

On this Throwback Thursday I remember that I’m the daughter of a coal miner, steel worker and, later on, factory worker. And I’m proud of my heritage.

How about you? Where do you come from?

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