“Do you know it’s 40 years this month since we bought the place?” Geroge Lorenz said.
My hand rested on the warm oven, fresh-baked snickerdoodles on the counter. Mary stood by the sink wearing a purple top and jeans; her eyes looked tired. Battling a sinus infection, her ear drum burst two weeks back; still, in recovery, she didn’t have her usual energy. George, dressed in a black t-shirt and shorts, looked well, standing tall and lanky, with trimmed gray hair. Lunch sat on the small table before us; as usual, I overlooked the obvious, so excited to see the couple. In the tiny kitchen, once huge to my childlike eyes, George and Mary reminisced about my childhood home in Madison Township.
“Really? What was the date?”
“July 21st, because we had to be out of our place by August 1st. Speed and Kathy bought the farm, and we needed a place to live.”
“When Annie died, we rented the bottom, and Violet lived upstairs. Then Speed and Kathy were moving back, and they wanted the place. Speed got out of the Air Force.”
At lunch with cousin Karen, I asked her what she remembered about our move to DuBois.
“I know you had a moving sale because we bought two of the three-wheelers and the kitchen table.”
To my recollection, we had something similar to Alsport Trike. Many ribbings I received for letting mine roll down the bank. Afraid to drive the trike along the bank’s edge, I parked by the baseball backstop, and one of the boys took it around. Unfortunately, the brakes didn’t hold, and the bike rolled onto the road; thankfully, not damaged.
Watching Matt and Ron climb the steep hills straight-up scared me. Our favorite chuckle happened when Mom accidentally revved the gas while watching the boys climb, propelling herself into a small tree. Besides a bruised ego, Mom didn’t suffer any significant injuries. Thankfully, neither did I when I lost control of my trike, searching for Dad one day. Down at our neighbor’s, Jim Hornberger, I found Dad and Jim on the edge of the small ravine towards the back of Jim’s property. Seeing the ditch too late, I put the machine on two wheels as I dodged the ditch, Dad screaming, Jim trying to stop me; thank God all survived unharmed.
Between the summer of my 7th and 8th-grade years, my memory blurs. I vaguely remember the moving sale. Coupons from Dad’s cigarettes, Raleigh’s, purchased the blue comforter for my new room. What kind of truck we used, who helped us move, and other details escape me.
“You were just gone. We wrote letters for a little while, then that stopped.” Lori said when we talked about the move. Cell phones didn’t exist, and staying in touch took more work than today. Lorn’s funeral connected Lori and me again, a connection we never lost.
My sweet half-sister Lorna and I shared a father. When her mother, Em, passed away, Dad remarried my mom and, as I say, “Didn’t know when to stop.” Three kids later, Dad had 8 kids in total. Two sets of twins, Lorn and her sister Linda, who passed away at two years old from pneumonia. Linda woke up feeling fine one morning, started feeling bad, and died the next unexpectedly. Em next had a stillborn girl before giving birth to Earl and Merle, a.k.a. Butch and Dutch.
“Watch out for your Dad’s foot!” Mom yelled. As a child, I never saw my Dad walk without a limp. In my tasks on my cell phone, I discovered notes of Dad’s medical journey, unable to recall who gave me the information. According to my notes, Dad lost his little toe and big toe in 1961 after he froze his foot working on the dragline. Dad’s last day of work happened on Nov. 30,1977, he lost his other three toes due to poor circulation on Dec. 1, 1977. In 1982 he suffered a bleeding ulcer which hospitalized him, and in the summer of 1983 Dad lost his leg, amputated because of poor circulation.
“You no longer have a father; I’m half a man,” Dad said to me when I walked into the hospital room. Sitting beside him after his amputation, listening to the Little League World Series game from Williamsport, PA, the announcer’s words as brother Ron came up to bat still ring true in my head.
“Up to bat, Ron Minick. Ron’s dad couldn’t be here today. He’s in the hospital. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.”
Dad didn’t have an easy life, but he never stopped living. On disability, no longer able to work full-time, Dad still managed to keep himself busy. A security guard at the back gate of Treasure Lake, Dad spent his days keeping the riff-raff out of the resort from the guard shack.
After Dad lost his leg, we purchased a Dodge Caravan Minivan because it had no hump in the middle floorboard. I remember sitting beside dad in the passenger seat, his fake leg resting to the right of the gas pedal, driving with his left leg. And when he received the lung cancer diagnosis, he still smoked when he drove, a memory engraved in my mind.
Mary turned what we used as a T.V. room into her dining room. We rarely used the living room, only for special occasions such as Christmas. Grandpa Minick lived with us until his death; he said the dinner prayer each evening, a role I took over after he died.
“Grandpa used to read the Bible every night. He started in the front and read straight through. When he finished, he started over again.” Dutch said. Something I didn’t witness myself but wish I had.
Pristine, the wood paneling’s shiny sheen looks the same; the smell of Mary’s baking fills the house with warmth. The landline phone lives in the same spot as when we occupied the place, above the hot air register where I warmed my feet as a child.
A desk sits beneath the window in Mary’s dining room, overlooking the driveway. Seeing my bike parked in the driveway took me back to my childhood when kids’ bikes strewed the yard. Dad made us pick up our toys each night, never allowing them to clutter the yard. The patio with yellow, pull-out sides no longer exists, only the cement foundation remaining. The smell of Mary’s flowers fills the nostrils in the damp air. A decorative flag sits at the entrance to the basement, the place we tried valiantly to fill with water for a pool but never succeeded because of the drain.
“Your basement was the best. Do you remember playing restaurant in it?” Lori said.
We didn’t venture into the basement to see its current state. I remember the downstairs kitchen where Mom did her canning, and we played restaurant. Roller skating past the kitchen, around the furnace, through the walls lined with canned foods, and circling the basement time and again gave me a roller rink.
“Owen Young built the house. Grampy gave him the land, and Jim got the land behind me. They bought the Gundluch’s place and turned it into a house; that’s when your Dad bought it from him. Lorn came down and played with me when I visited Grampy. That’s how I met her.”
Built in 1930, the 1314 sq. ft. home still has three bedrooms and one bathroom. Sitting on 1.5 acres, the gas pump no longer exists, the concrete steps crooked after settling, and the wall cracked. As a child, I loved jumping from the wall, arms pumping, channeling my version of the Bionic Woman. Riding our bikes in circles around the driveway, running over a dead frog, and making it poop always makes me smile. Offering Reva Hornberger, mom’s best friend, mudpies when she came to visit, my childish version of hospitality.
“Do you want to see your old bedroom? It’s my blessing room.”
Walking up the stairs felt surreal. Visions of the boys and me sneaking down the stairs at Christmas, excited to open our gifts, remains a dynamic memory. Matt and Ron scared me with stories of witches walking on the roof and bodiless hands roaming about while I lay in bed, trying to sleep; once terrifying, it now makes me smile. I held my breath as Mary opened the door, revealing her blessing room.
From within these walls, Mary creates works of art out of paper, sending them all over the world to bless others. During COVID, she made cards for nurses to encourage them. On my second visit, Mary showed me graduation cards made for friends grandchildren. Even though her health challenges Mary, she still can make the trip to her blessing room to bless others.
And to think, I once called the room mine. Double closets on each side of the window, my bed sat between them. Looking out the windows, the Pennsylvania hillside holds natural beauty. Watching deer play and the occasional wild dog run, nature in its glory. When Aunt Mabel came to visit, I shared my bed with her. When the boys scared me too much, I slept on the floor in their room. My life in Mary’s blessing room never seemed dull.
Across the hall, Matt and Ron’s old room now holds a double bed. The beauty of the wooden ceiling escaped me as a child. However, I cherish the memory of crawling out the boy’s window and jumping off the porch roof. When Mom found out Ron twisted his ankle on the landing, it didn’t bode well for Matt and me.
“Can I look in the attic?” I asked Mary.
Parting the clothes in the closet, I climbed into my favorite hiding place. For whatever reason, I loved hiding in the attic. Covering the floor in pillows and using a flashlight, I would read for hours in my little cubby hole. I left my mark, writing the love story of my younger years on the walls. Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries and Parker Stevenson captured my attention and heart. Alas, Parker and I’s relationship didn’t last, but the memories always will.
Coming down the stairs, we exited through Mom and Dad’s old room, now Mary and George’s. The small bathroom, unchanged, reminded me of Dad pretending to shave my face, covering my chin in shaving cream, and scraping it off with the lid of the razor. Their headboard sits against the window sill, unlike Mom and Dad, whose headboard rested against the wall, allowing Dad to sit on the edge. Back bare, in his white underwear, a plume of white smoke creating a cloud, Dad would sit smoking, looking out at the valley below.
When Three Mile Island occurred, I packed a survival kit for the family and hid it under their bed. Sleeping on the floor beside mom, I had a plan to save us all. My young mind didn’t understand the situation’s complexity, just knowing it threatened our lives. Now Mary’s dresser sits where I once slept.
“I think I’ve finally forgiven mom and dad for moving to DuBois,” I said to Lori after our visit.
“God had different plans for you,” Lori said.
Leaving Tidal left its mark on me, the move traumatic for my young self. Yes, we had opportunities in DuBois not afforded us in Tidal, but I didn’t care. Running the hills barefoot and fancy-free made me happy. Counting the countless stars at night made my imagination soar.
Sleeping on the hill with Ginger and Tricia Unger, playing baseball in the backyard, picking wild blueberries, and selling them door-to-door, all part of my childhood. For only spending twelve years living in Tidal, its impact forever shaped me. Starting life in Armstrong County equals one of life’s biggest blessings.