For Scarlett

For Scarlett

This is my buddy, Scarlett. It’s her first birthday coming up this weekend, and she’s moving. She’s going with her parents to live in the Altoona area, a couple of hours from here. She’s just starting to like to be read to, so I got her a book called “No Matter What,” by Debi Gliori. It’s about Small, who is having a bad day, and he’s wondering if Large will still love him, no matter what. I thought the last few lines were fitting:

“But does love wear out?
Does it break or bend?
Can you fix it or patch it?
Does it mend?”

“With time together, a smile, and a kiss–
love can be mended with things like this.”

“But what about when you’re far away?
Does your love go too, or does it stay?”

“Look up at the stars.
They’re far, far away.
But their light reaches us
at the end of each day.”

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“When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am.”

A beautiful soul she was.

The Daily Post

Maya Angelou by Spanglej, CC BY-SA 2.0.Maya Angelou by Spanglej, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.

Find a beautiful piece of art. If you fall in love with Van Gogh or Matisse or John Oliver Killens, or if you fall love with the music of Coltrane, the music of Aretha Franklin, or the music of Chopin — find some beautiful art and admire it, and realize that it was created by human beings just like you, no more human, no less.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.

When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how…

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Crazy Charlie

Charles and Dolphe

If I could talk to anyone about culture shock, I would choose my maternal great-grandfather, Charles Danielson, a colorful character by any standard. In a portrait that belongs to my mother, he’s solemn, with neatly parted hair, a strong jaw and a light blue stare, just like my grandfather Einar’s. “Carl Johan, Nov. 16, 1870. Came to America May 11, 1889. Citizen 1894,” is scrawled on the back in pencil. It’s the same clumsy cursive on a cardboard box of buttons my 78-year old mother treasures: “All kinds of buttons in here Come in handy some time When you are looking for button to your shirt or pants or koat.”

“Pap was always writing stuff,” my mother said. “He wrote on everything. Crazy Charlie they called him. He was a wild man.” Charles and his brothers changed their last name from Lindskog to Danielson after their father Daniel, upon immigrating to the United States from Sweden. Records about Charles’ early activities are scarce, but a 1930 census lists him as head of a household in Forest Hills, east of Pittsburgh. He was a steelworker with five children.

By 1940, he’d moved in with Einar, in nearby Swissvale Borough. Einar had married Della Mae Seims, a widow with two daughters: Delores and Lois. They had two more together: Donna, my mother, who was 3 when Charles moved in, and Marlene. Apparently Charles, who spoke in broken English and never drove, had worn out his welcome at the homes of his other children. After walking home from haunts that doubled as places of employment, such as the Swedish Club or Lila’s Morningstar Inn, his temperament and language could be foul. More than once, Einar, with a small daughter in tow, bailed his father out of jail.

“Pap cussed in Swedish,” my mother said. “He was a bastard when he was drinking. He used the F-word. One time he was sleeping on a bench and a cop went over to shake him. He got into a fight with the cop and broke his glasses.” During a trip to Isaly’s for ice cream, the girls saw their grandfather wrapped around a lamppost. “We wanted to go to him,” my mother said. “But my dad said ‘No.’ We weren’t allowed to talk to him when he was like that.”

She smiles when she talks about Charles’ antics, such as defacing the killers in “True Detective” magazines, and the explosion that occurred when Dolphe, his German shepherd, gobbled a whole ham off the dining room table. “For years after that,” my mother said. “All Pap would have to say is ‘Ham, Dolphe,’ and that dog would go flying.”

During an argument one day, my grandfather grabbed Charles by the scruff of his neck and his belt, intent on tossing the old man out. But Einar relented when his daughters protested. “It was about a week after that that my grandfather killed himself,” my mother said. “It was about 1953. I was 16 years old.”

Panic spread after my mother and sisters discovered Charles’ watch and a back brace in his empty room. He never left without them. They learned that he’d jumped from the Rankin Street Bridge. An eyewitness said Charles paced for 20 minutes before he sat on the ledge and let go. “He hit the abutment on his way down,” my mother said, adding that his rescuers believed they’d saved a man in his 60s, not an 83-year-old. “He came up three times. He wanted to live. He lived for 20 minutes after they pulled him out. He’d been OK if he hadn’t hit the bridge.” The structure, built in 1951, recently underwent a $40-million renovation. It provides access from Rankin Borough, next to Swissvale, over the Monongahela River to Kennywood Park and Whitaker Borough.

When I drive across the Rankin Bridge, I always think of Charles, and what it must have been like, coming here with his brothers, William (Wilhelm), Henry (Henning) and Emmanuel. In a strange land, not knowing the language, they must have been close. They all lived in the same house in McKeesport and sweated in the steel mills.

William never married, and died in 1956. He’s buried in McKeesport- Versailles Cemetery, where his father, Daniel, an ironworker, was buried in 1907. I haven’t verified this yet, but I believe Henry is buried in Jefferson Memorial Cemetery in Pleasant Hills, south of Pittsburgh.

My mother said Emmanuel, known as Manny, committed suicide after burning his hands working in a rod mill. Doctors allowed his hands to heal in the shape of the metal rods he handled so he could still work, my mother said. He just couldn’t take the pain.

Charles is buried in Monongahela Cemetery, in Braddock Hills, not far from his stomping grounds. His wife, Hilma, who died of cancer in 1927, is buried there, too. But they’re not together. His marker, which says “1870-1953; Father,” is the last one in the row at the end of a dead-end street. My mother said Charles’ daughter, Signe, a housekeeper for the wealthy, gave away his personal effects and probably isolated him intentionally.

But my grandfather missed him. Einar died in 1981, and wish I remembered more of the Swedish cuss song he used to sing. Charles taught it to him. When Charles talked about the weather, it was “Yesus Christ, it’s hot!” or “Yesus Christ, it’s cold!” When anyone talked about Charles, and what he would say, or what he would do, or wished he was there, Einar would say, “I wish the hell he was, too.”

Charles J. Danielson

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Henry Siems

Henry Siems

My great-grandfather, Henry Siems, immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1884. He was a boilermaker for the railroad and made moonshine in the mountains in Cameron County. He died Dec. 6, 1941. On the way back from his burial, my grandparents found out the U.S. was at war with Japan.

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Bit of the south

Bird Girl

Sometimes I think I’m a reincarnated rebel. When I was young, I loved our family trips, driving from Pennsylvania to Virginia. One year, fed up with the bickering of their offspring, my parents put all of us in the back of their 1973 GMC pickup. It was fitted with a cap with windows and an intercom system through which we could communicate and still irritate. Behind that was a pop-up tent trailer that we parked in Seashore State Park. I think the last year we went was 1977, when Jimmy Buffett released “Margaritaville.” That was the year someone threw a red jellyfish in my face, resulting in my lips and eyes swelling with hives for the duration.

In the late 1980s, I moved to Newport News, Va., with my now ex-husband. I got into apartment management, and he worked in a smelly meat plant in Smithfield.

When we went to Virginia Beach, I reveled in the sounds and smells of the ocean. I became a seafood snob – dining on crabs, oysters, mussels and blackened tuna. After the divorce, I stayed for awhile, dating a shiftless, privileged beach dweller and a Jewish lawyer who took me sailing and tried to teach me to play guitar. I explored the Edgar Cayce Institute and began speaking with a southern drawl.

Eventually, I decided it was best to move back north with my daughter, so we could be around family. For awhile, we stayed in touch with our friends, but after 20 years, the names and faces have faded.

Just recently, I rekindled my love affair by traveling to New Orleans and Savannah.

In the Big Easy, I visited the above-ground cemeteries, tried a beignet and had a Ramos Gin Fizz in the Sazerac Bar, in honor of Huey Long. I bought Day of the Dead statues from Marie Laveau’s Voodoo Shop and took pictures with the performers along Bourbon Street. One night, I rode on the Steamboat Natchez on the Mississippi, and I was terrified we were going to be pulverized by one of the freighters that dwarfed us.

In Savannah, I took a ferry from my hotel across the river into town every day, where I walked under Spanish moss on cobblestone streets and saw Forsyth Park. I ate Leopold’s ice cream and garlic and parmesan grits and toured Mercer House – one of the stars of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” The book and subsequent movie drew unwanted attention to the Bird Girl of Savannah, a statue that was part of the Trosdal family plot in Bonaventure Cemetery. The statue is on loan to Telfair Museum in the city’s historic district for safekeeping.

When I returned home, I found a garden store in Pittsburgh that carried a replica of the design, and I hauled her home in the trunk of my car. She weighs about 200 pounds, and it took several men to place her squarely on her concrete platform.

My Bird Girl is my little bit of the south in my own front yard.

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Charles and Allie May Law

Charles and Allie May Law

I have a lot of fun with genealogy.

This is my great-grandfather and great-grandmother, Charles W. and Allie May (Neptune) Law. She was from Irwin and he was a coal miner from Larimer. They were married in Greensburg on Dec. 17, 1891 by D.S. Ferguson, magistrate.

Allie May’s father, Frank, served in the Civil War, and she raised my father after his own mother died when he was 7 years old. He loved her and called her “Mom.” Allie May died in 1954.

She was widowed while pregnant with my grandfather, Jasper Porter Law. She supported five children cleaning and washing clothes for people and working at the Jacktown Hotel, near Irwin, Pa. This is a copy of her death notice:

Greensburg Daily Tribune
March 2, 1954
Mrs. Allie M Law, 88 years old, formerly of Circleville but who has resided in recent years with a son, Jasper of Forest Hills, died Monday at the Shady Side Hospital. She is survived by the following children: Mrs. M C George, of Jeannette; James, of Grove City; Charles and Jasper, with whom she made her home, of Forest Hills and Frank, of Murraysville. Ten grandchildren and nine great grandchildren also survive. Funeral services will be conducted at 2 o’clock Thursday afternoon from the Courtley Funeral Home, Wilkinsburg. Interment will be in the Union cemetery, Irwin.

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Sunoco pipeline

Sunoco pipeline

Our 50-acre farm in Salem Township, Westmoreland County, Pa., appears to be in the path of a 10- to 12-inch liquids pipeline that has been surveyed for Sunoco. The proposed line is 10 feet from a petroleum pipeline that has existed since the 1930s. The document on record signed by former owner Mary Waltour doesn’t specify width, and allows for additional pipelines, but we have yet to be approached about the details. Seismic testing has been done for drilling by Consol, which now holds the deep rights in a storage lease obtained in the 1940s by Peoples Natural Gas. We granted permission to Sunoco representatives to study the bats that live along Beaver Run Creek, which also cuts through the property. Things are certainly changing in my quiet little neck of the woods. A lot of truck traffic and construction related to the industry.

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