Wednesday's Words, by Morgan Ashbury

Tomorrow we leave for our annual visit to Pennsylvania. We’re headed to coal country once more, as we’ve done at this time the last few years. We go to visit our friend and his mother, and for me, as well, to do just a little more research into the area. I’ve been planning a mainstream suspense novel that takes place in that part of the country, but there’s a lot I still don’t know about the region. There’s probably more I still don’t know about the novel, too, but that’s another topic.

During past visits, we’ve toured northeastern Pennsylvania with our friend as tour guide. We’ve walked through the Eckley Miner’s Village, famous for having been the filming location of the movie, the Molly Maguires in 1969. We’ve visited the haunted jail in Jim Thorpe and seen that handprint. We’ve toured the Steamtown National Historic Site which houses an extensive rail museum in Scranton, and we’ve been to the Lackawanna Coal Mines which offers underground tours of some of the anthracite mines once vital to the economy of the region.

We spent an afternoon at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, a place that had my husband’s attention every bit as much as the locomotive museum did.

We’ve heard the stories of people who came to this part of Pennsylvania from across the oceans to dig their futures out of the ground and who built their lives in the company owned patch towns—some of which survive to this day, having morphed into current day boroughs. We’ve listened to the tales of a hard existence, of a time when simply earning a subsistence living was fraught with peril.

We listened to stories of wives, suddenly widowed, faced with being tossed from their company-owned homes unless they sent their young sons to work in the mines, in place of the fathers who’d lost their lives doing just that.

We’ve driven the grass dissected, heat-ruptured streets of Centralia, a former borough and now a ghost town, the location of an underground coal fire burning since 1962. We’ve stood and read the plaque at the site of the Lattimer Massacre of 1897.

The mountains dominate this land, and the mountains rule. They affect the weather and the culture and the livelihoods of those who call them home. They support houses, and even entire towns built vertically into the rocks, and streets that are steep and narrow. They can also play games with radio signals—our friend, when he worked in Scranton, which is several hundred miles away from us, at night would listen to the radio station in Hamilton, Ontario—a city just thirty-five miles down the road from where we live. 

This year we’re also honored to be attending the wedding of our friend’s niece, a young lady we first met several years ago.

We look forward to this visit each year, to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones. It’s a family time, of sorts, as our daughter accompanies us—as does Mr. Tuffy, our dog. Our fur baby has proven to be a good traveler. He’s especially content, I think, because he has all three of his favorite humans all to himself, for the excursion.

Do we even need to talk about the big, smoked, chewy bone our friend has waiting for him? It takes the dog no time at all to remember he’s among friends as he follows our host out to the kitchen at every opportunity, knowing a tasty morsel will most likely be his as reward. For a few days he trades his computer desk and his porch for a different house and a hotel room, guarding his two domains like the brave sentinel he is.

He, too, has been invited to attend the wedding. It is, after all, going to be a family affair.


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