May 29, 2009

Lost In A Lost World

Like a lot of young couples, Jan and I moved around several times during the first five years of our marriage.  Our most adventurous move was from Davenport, Ia. to a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania.  I had been given the opportunity to work for a different feed company at either their Peoria or Everson, Pa. locations.  The choice turned out to be simple.  Jan said she wouldn't move to Peoria because it was a scum bucket town and an insider at the new company told me that the job at Everson was easier.  Choice made!  We moved to Pennsylvania.

I left Davenport to start the new job and to scout out locations to live, which turned out to be a little more difficult than I anticipated.  Now granted, Davenport was no Metropolis, but at least it had grasped the concept of "apartments" and we had lived in several nice complexes while we were there.  But we were moving to coal country, which turned out to be another culture entirely.  I spent days looking for a decent place to live in towns called Connellsville, Continental I, Continental II and Uniontown.  After a while, one of the guys at work took pity on me and suggested that I look at a house in Scottdale, which abutted Everson (only later would it come to me that this work comrade didn't like me very much).  I tracked down the landlordess, and after she determined that I was married and had a job and wasn't a low-life douchebag drug dealer, she agreed to rent the house.  Since my new employers weren't going to pay for a motel room for very long and Jan had quit her job, we had to move fast, so I described the house to Jan over the phone and she agreed to it, sight unseen.

So, we moved to Scottdale, which was a typical small SW Pa. town of about a thousand people.  It had a little downtown with a movie theatre, a five & dime, a state liquor store and several "lodges" (Elks, Moose, Vet's) which turned out to be THE social centers.  Our new home was a 1920 something vintage "shotgun", which meant you could fire a gun from the front door through the house and the bullet would exit through the back door.  We ran into trouble immediately.

On the first day, the moving van broke off the utility pole at the street corner, we figured out that the house had several spots in it that we had no interest in going into (the root cellar and the second bedroom occupied with wasps and bats that I later boarded up), and to top it off, on our first night there, Jan woke up in the middle of the night, sat straight up in bed and yelled "Ican'tlivehereIcan'tlivehereIcan'tlivehere" until I calmed her down. Actually, I didn't want to live there either, but we did ... for a while.

Gradually, we settled in, but discovered that we were looked upon as outsiders by the local poplulace. In fact, we might as well have been from Swaziland as Iowa.  We did socialize with people from my work. In fact, the production manager took a real shine to Jan and we were invited to the Elks Club every Saturday, where at midnight, 12 bells would ring to remember and honor those Elks who had passed on to that big Elk place in the sky.  I was invited to the Friday night bar crawl, which started at 9:00 at the "Coop" and ended at about 2 in the morning back at the same place.  I was only invited once though, so I must not have did it right. 

We were friendly with our next door neighbors, "Big Barley" his wife and JD sons, and we would drift over on an afternoon and drink beer with them until the police would show up to hassle either Big Barley or one of his sons, at which time we would awkwardly shuffle back to our place.  We were invited to dinner once by one of the landed gentry, who wanted to check us out to see if we really were aliens from another world as had been rumored around town.

We made the best of it, until winter hit.  I came home one cold afternoon to find Jan hunched over on the couch with blankets covering all but her eyes and nose.  The water froze in the toilet one night.  It was time to move.  Jan found a nice new condo to rent in Mt. Pleasant, which was actually as nice a place as the name suggested.  We enjoyed our new place, ate at the Italian restaurants in town, sat in reasonably nice bars and watched TV while we sipped our drinks and took trips to parks up in the Laurel Highlands.

But, even though we didn't say it, we knew there was no future for us in that area.  Jan couldn't find a teaching job because she didn't have direct lineage to either Benjamin Franklin or William Penn and my job had kind of stalled.  When I was offered a promotion to move to Illinois, we didn't think about it for two seconds and we've been here ever since.

I think that if you live long enough, or even if you don't, most people have THE one place that they lived that fuel endless stories and jokes.

I just hope that Pennsylvania turns out to be the only one.

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