Chapter 4

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

Child Labor

Scranton was a big drinking town. During the coal boom in the 1800’s Anthracite was first quarried from outcrops. When quarrying became impractical, the miners went underground. The coal miners would work a 12-hour day. Covered in soot they would stop at the bar before they went home. Drinking had been just what the hardworking men did. Work hard drink hard! There was a bar on every corner. They would drink in their neighborhood bar and then stumble home. No fear of a DUI, then. Even after the mines closed that mentality continued in our valley. There were only two kinds of drinkers in my hometown. Those that were in the bar drinking and those that were in AA meetings. The popular opinion was that the drunks in AA couldn't hold their liquor.

Getting drunk wasn’t a bad thing. However, public drunkenness was frowned upon. It was acting drunk that brought shame. I had an alcoholic father that often embarrassed me in front of my friends and was the bane of my life. When I was about 15, a roller-skating rink opened called Town Hall. My friends and I were so excited. I didn't even know how to roller skate, but I learned fast. After all, that's where the boys were. We would all skate round and round the rink in a circle. The hardest part to learn was how to make the turns. Popular music of the day was played such as The Beachboys, Leslie Gore, Dion, etc. One Saturday I was skating and trying not to let the boys see me looking at them. Out of the corner of my eye who did I see but my father. Of course, he was drunk. I watched with horror as he rented a pair of skates. He got into the rink and he started to skate. I pretended I didn't know who he was. He didn't get very far before he crashed into the guardrails and fell. He couldn't get up. People came over to help him and they had to call an ambulance. It turns out he broke his wrist. Sad to say, but I was happy that happened. He didn't come back again.

The Gods had let me keep at least one place of my own. Here I was with a drunken father, who made beer in the bathtub and there was no escape from this hell. I was looking forward to going to college. My dream was to be a High School English teacher. I was a voracious reader. I grew up right across the street from a library. I had a branch of the public library right across the street and our church a block away. These were very good places for me to escape to. They were places that my parents would not declare off limits. I would go to that library and check out a bunch of books. Run upstairs to my room. Put the Platters or Temptations on the record player and I'd be up there for hours. One time my father came to the door and said I was spending too much time in my room and demanded I come down with the rest of the family. So, I started going downstairs and watching TV at night.

I loved school and I was so blessed to have had a wonderful English teacher in seventh grade. Mrs. Wilder would not only tell you about the book, she would act it out. Then she would assign parts to some of us in class and do a little play. I fell in love with her. She stoked the fire of my love of reading. She had talked about a book called Gone with the Wind. I wanted to get that book as soon as I got home from school that day. Back then they used to have a children’s section and an adult section. I was only 14 or 15th time. This book was in the adult section and the librarian would not let me check it out. So back across the street I went and asked my mother to please check this book out for me. I told her the teacher told me to read it. My mother did go over and checked it out. When first published, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind was banned on social grounds. The book had been called “offensive” and “vulgar” because of the language and characterizations. Words like “damn” and “whore” were scandalous at the time. The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice disapproved of Scarlett’s multiple marriages. The term used to describe slaves was also offensive to some readers. In more recent times, the membership of the lead characters in the Ku Klux Klan became problematic. Being a teenager, I was more focused on the love triangle.

I was an A student and my love of reading had me placed in an AP English class. I still had the dream of going to college. My parents instilled in me and my brother Joe that we had to work to get things that were not necessities. We had jobs after school from about 9 to 10 years of age. I cleaned Mrs. Frank’s 5 & 10 store and walked down the hill every night to pick up her dinner at Smith’s Restaurant. Joe shined shoes in bars at night and did other odd jobs. When I was almost 16 and Joe 15, we both got jobs working at a bakery for Sam Miller. Five days a week after school. My job was wrapping the bread and other baked goods. There was a hot griddle type plate. I would wrap the cellophane around the product and then place it momentarily on the hot griddle to seal it. I got quite a few burns. My brother helped the bakers. Getting supplies out of the storage room etc.

One of the bakers was a stunning man named Steve Mellin. He was in his late twenties, was married and had children. He flirted with me all the time. I loved the attention. I still had not learned to drive. That was the ruse that got me to be alone with him. Steve offered to help me learn, I still had homework waiting at home, but I would go with him for a short while. He would find a deserted lot or sometimes drive to Nay Aug Park. The driving lessons turned out to be make out sessions. I had never kissed a man before, just boys. There was no comparison.

After a few weeks, he started to tell me he was in love with me. He wanted us to run away together. I was torn between the headrush of this man telling me he loved me and my Catholic upbringing. So, I did what any good Catholic girl would do. I went to confession. I told the priest I was having an affair with a married man. He told me to put myself in the wife’s shoes. As soon as he said that, I knew what I had to do. The next night when I went for “my driving lesson”, I broke it off with Steve.

The ironic part was that my brother Joe had followed us that night. He saw me with Steve. My brother had me on a pedestal since the bond we formed in the orphanage. That night, I fell off that pedestal. At home, he confronted me and told me how disappointed he was in me. I was no longer the saint, he thought I was.

For years I romanticized that fling with Steve. Finally, I realized that legally he would be labeled a pedophile. The priest never mentioned that the actions of this married 25-year-old man were sinful and inappropriate. No, he put the blame and shame on me. I will not judge Steve for the short-lived affair. But I have changed the lens through which I see this experience. The universe gives us unlimited opportunities and unlimited messengers. There was a pattern emerging. A pattern I wouldn’t see for many years.

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