Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You're from Smock? SO WHAT?

If you are looking to find Smock, PA on a map, good luck. And if you find it on a VERY detailed map, you'll see that there's only one road in and one road out. Unless you know the less traveled other road that took you past the farm where people like Joe DiCosimo lived.

So you're the kid of a coal miner. Or a steel worker. Or a farmer. And yeah, you went to a school that maybe had more than one grade in a classroom. Or you ate lard sandwiches during the depression. Or you can trace your entire history in the record books of St. Hedwig's. So you hung around in a gang. Or had to ride an hour on a drafty bus just to get to school. Or maybe your bathroom was 30 yards or so behind your house? Maybe you learned how to cook on a coal stove? Or your clothes dryer was a piece of rope that connected your home with that other "house" where you weathered all temperature extremes? Maybe you were the brunt of ridicule by those "cake eaters" from the big town?

So life wasn't so easy? SO WHAT??????

Every kid I grew up with graduated from high school. A major percentage of them went on to college. Some of us held down simple jobs but we held them nonetheless. We were never fired from work. No one accused us of being lazy.

Mom washed clothes on Monday. So what? Well, if you did the wash on any other day, you'd be wearing clothes covered in black soot. The coke ovens had to run if we were going to make steel. Mom also kept the dust and soot to a minimum in the house. Do you know how "stable" a coal fire is in a stove? Baked goods which were highly dependant upon constant, stable temperatures just flew out of those ovens. No one complained, but if anyone had the notion, you were told to button your lip before you get it smacked. Yep, we had child abuse, if that's what you wish to call it.

Dad was quiet and said little. When he did speak, many of our fathers talked with accents that were the target of impersonation. "You don't behave it, I'mma send you to the GYPSY." (There were the threats but I don't remember one child who actually was sent to this mystical cult.) And why did Dad always have to go to the bathroom when the National Anthem was played? So what?

Why were we threatened with violence if we missed church on Sunday? And why, after church, did the whole town smell like boiled cabbage? Why didn't people tie up their dogs and cats? And why, OH WHY did our parents treat those dogs and cats better than us?

Two words immediately come to mind; character and integrity. The Bible teaches us that steel sharpens steel. And a tough upbringing taught us that adversity is also a gift from God if we choose to look at it that way. Of course, John Hovanic would say "What doesn't kill you will make you stronger." Good one, John. Deep within those hard times were lessons learned. No one I knew that cleared three feet of snow with a Number 2 shovel ever had any permanent back injury. But you needed that path to get to that tiny house in the back yard. And how many of you who shared a duplex house can remember those outhouse conversations? They sure took away our inhibitions and made us appreciate the luxury of a porcelain throne.

We faced tough times with tough people. People who could shake off the chiding of others while they put on their hard hats. People who learned that God was first and family a close second. Honesty wasn't even talked about since the only people who practiced deceit were those of us who stole tomatoes on moonlit nights. But hey, we only stole enough to eat.

If I owned an industry today, I'd hire the people that I grew up with in Smock. They'd be loyal, honest, chock full of integrity, and would only call in sick from a hospital bed. They'd give you a solid eight hours a day and not complain if the temperature went up or down a few degrees from 72. They'd sing while they worked and would never forget where they came from. They would respect everyone, every day. They'd care for their families and for each other. Integrity and character weren't words in a dictionary. They were a way of life. And parents and grandparents would pass this down to the next generation and guard these virtues as if they were gold.

And on Sundays, we'd all eat boiled cabbage.

So what? So there!

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