Sunday, June 20, 2010

#191: The Girl From Limestone, Part One

This is the story the way I tell it. Much of it is factual. All of it is true. The parts that didn't happen that way, should have...pennsy

She was born in Hershey, Pennsylvania, a beautiful little village in the mountains of Pennsyltucky that smells like chocolate. She was the eldest child and first daughter of George and Laura, her mother who for some reason haded her own name so much that she insisted on being called Margaret all her life. Hershey, at the end of the depression was one of the few happy places in the world, what with the street lights, fountains, and all the buildings being made of chocolate, but George was not the kind of man who could ever be comfortable sitting still. He knew there was no future for his little family there, so he moved them to Harrisburg.

Harrisburg was not like Hershey at all. There was no chocolate there. There were politicians. George and Margaret tried to fit in, but their little girl didn't like the noisy, dirty city or the Philadelphia Democrats who cluttered the streets. Another little girl was born. Life was hard. Then one Sunday morning in December, everything changed.

Strange people from far away killed a lot of other people on an island in the middle of the ocean. Suddenly everybody had a job. George got a job guarding Lake Erie from the Germans and Margaret took her babies home to Limestone to live with her mom. They had a little bit of land, a barn, some trees, a big garden. Everybody worked hard and got by OK.

When George came home from the war for a while, everybody would hug him and he would pick Margaret up in the air and spin her so her dress would float in the sunshine. They walked the gravel roads of Limestone and he would tell her stories about people he met from foreign lands like Texas and Cleveland. She was so proud of him and he was so very handsome in his uniform. He looked just like a sailor should look. They would sit on the porch and eat home made ice cream and white cherries, then George would go back to the war. It was good knowing that the folks up in Warren were safe under the Navy's protection.

A boy was born, and they named him George. Then after the war, one more baby sister to round out the family.

So the girl from Hershey grew up with her family around her. They had a cow and a pig. Some chickens. Not really a farm, more like a very large pantry. In the spring they would plant their garden, In the summer and fall they would put up enough fruit and vegetables to make it until the next year. The depression was over, but they knew better than to go without provisions. She used to lie on her back in the grass and watch the big clouds parade past the trees, nibbling on a green pepper from the garden or dipping a stalk of fresh rhubarb into a bowl of sugar and crunching it down.

George was a hard worker. He did lots of jobs. He worked for a tire company. He sold insurance. Sometimes he drove a van that delivered movies and film strips to schools all along the new interstate highway from Corsica to Dubois. He once worked for a man who helped people to breed their cows. He had a special horn installed on his old Chevy Impala and when he pulled up the the gate and honked it, it sounded like a frisky bull. All the lady cows would come running to see the handsome new bull and George would.... to be honest, no one was really sure what he did, but the farmers were happy about it. The cows were a little disappointed, though.

George tried a lot of jobs, but never really caught on anywhere. What he was best was a Father. The girl from Hershey loved her dad so much. He was big and strong like a cowboy and he could pick her up and carry her through the tall grass. And he could laugh. He had a laugh like thunder and he would joke and poke fun and they loved each other very much.

The little girl grew up into a pretty young woman. She learned to play the big old piano in the dining room and she studied hard and when it came time for her to get married, she was a little stuck. She was a lot like her Dad. She didn't like to stay put. There was more of the world out there than she could see from Margaret's rhubarb patch, and she wanted to see it. She didn't want to stay home pressing someones shirts and making fried ham sandwiches for their lunch pail. So she decided to go to business school in Pittsburgh.

No one from the farm in Limestone had ever wanted to live in Pittsburgh. It was bigger even than Harrisburg. It was full of smoke and strangers and colored people. Pittsburgh was as far away from Limestone as Limestone was from the Moon. She packed up her Smith Corona and her Stenotype machine and George and Margaret drove her to a boarding house for single ladies in the city. The night they left, she cried and cried. She had never been so alone in her life and she had no idea what the world had in store for her. Beverly Cole was sure she had made the biggest mistake in the world.

Business school was so much fun. She met all sorts of girls. She even met Jews and Negroes, people she had only read about back home. They were just like the folks in Limestone. Some people were loud, some were shy. Some loved to laugh and some were kind of grumpy. She did well in her studies and found a job working for the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph. One day a big tall man with an easy smile and a bald shiny head came into the office. He was a printer named Bob and he made her laugh. Everybody liked Bob because he had such an easy way of talking to you. He used to tease her about introducing her to his son. She would blush and look down at her desk, but she wondered what the boy might look like. She was sure he would be nothing like the guys back in Limestone who smelled of coal oil and cow barns.

Bill Johnson finally got up the nerve to ask her on a date. He polished up the old '39 Cadillac convertible till it shined like a bootleggers car. They went on a long drive in the country and he told her about how much he loved the woods and she talked about how much she missed the country. They drove so far that they left the smokey Pittsburgh skies far behind. Bill pulled the old Caddy up under a tree and they talked and talked until the sun started to set. "Well, I guess we better be getting back," he said. He was a gentleman. He turned the key. Nothing. That's right. The girl from Hershey was lost in the country with a printer's son from Pittsburgh who claimed he had just run out of gas. She huffed and crossed her arms while Bill trotted to the nearest farm to borrow a phone. He called his brother Buddy who was more than happy to drive out to the country with his girlfriend Eileen and a can of gas. They laughed about that night for years, but never did tell their parents about it.

She forgave him, eventually. He was very handsome, and he had been a gentleman. Mostly. They started going steady. Her parents loved him. His parents loved her. Well, they loved her, but his mum was a tough little nut to crack. She had only one child left, her baby boy, and she seemed like she was going to make it pretty tough for the Girl from Hershey to get him away from her. Not that she wanted to. Julie Johnson was everything in a wife that she would never be. Julie turned a blind eye. Her boys walked on water. She would get up out of a sick bed to make them eggs at two o'clock in the morning. She ironed their pillowcases for Pete's sake. Her floors sparkled, her window panes were invisible, her living room could have safely been used as an operating room. After they were married, she would look around and cluck her tongue whenever she came into the house. It hurt, but Julie was her mother in law and she loved her as best she knew how.

They were married in Limestone, in the little white church just down the hill from the house where she grew up. Bill and Beverly Johnson became a family, joining the rough talking Pittsburghers to the slow speaking family of George and Margaret. Bill looked like a big band singer in his white tux jacket and Beverly wore a ballet length dress with a poofy skirt and a tiny waist. They honeymooned in Williamsburg and visited Luray Caverns and the Skyline Drive.

Looking out the windows over the forever skies of the Blue Ridge, she wondered what would happen next.

Part One   Part Two   Part Three   Part Four

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