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Memories and Memorials

Curious about the age of the pictured tree, I used a tree dating formula to determine it has been there as long as she has. Multiply the growth factor of 4.5 for Norway Maple by the diameter of this particular tree (roughly 25 inches) and the tree seems to be about 112 years old. This correlates exactly with the founding of the Saint Stanislaus parish in 1899. This tree has stood as a silent witness to the mourning of many losses, as it has only gained in height and width.

I’ve been researching my family history since I was a teenager, and – due to poor record keeping – it’s not been easy-going. While my Scots ancestors arrived before the US became a sovereign nation, have a common name and are therefore challenging to discover – some of the more recent immigrants have been easier to find and learn about.

Pictured here is the grave of my Great-Great Grandmother, Stanislawa ‘Stella’ Kaczmarek-Wilk, at Saint Stanislaus Church Cemetery. The headstone is missing a cross, and her name was spelled incorrectly (this mistake literally set her surname in stone as ‘Welk.’ A new headstone to correct the name would have been too costly for a poor immigrant coal miner like my great-great grandfather – Stella’s husband Andrew).

Stella he died a year after the birth of her daughter, Louise Marie (my great-grandmother, or ‘Gram’).

In my youth, I did have the foresight to talk with my Gram Louise about her own parents and grandparents before she passed away in 1997 (exactly one year and ten days after her husband, Michael ‘Mike’ Stanley, my great-grandfater). As she was just a year old when Stella died, standing at her grave brings me nearly as close to my great-great grandmother as her own daughter ever was.

Genealogy is 1 part math, 1 part history, and whole a lot of mystery…

I consider myself fortunate to have known my great-grandparents so well, they were truly from another time. I have nothing but the fondest memories of these older family members and their quirks. Mike (Pap) loved to paint, but he didn’t restrict himself to canvas. Instead, he painted the boulders in the yard in white and red house paint – owls, flowers and – of course – polka dots. Every block of the foundation of their house was adorned with five red polka dots; inside too.

My great grandparents collected calendars – or rather, never removed the old calendars when they put they put up the new. I remembered marveling at them as a kid – ‘ a calendar from 1936!!?! WOW! That’s so old!’ Pap and Gram lived very simply, adopted few modern conviniences and the orchard they planted on their property still bears fruit.

Pap played the harmonica and accordian and Gram….well, she played the lottery.

Pap was a second-generation coal-miner, born in Poland who married a first-generation American, who also happened to be a coal miner’s daughter. Life was very homogeneous in those patch towns, where the coal companies owned the houses, the stores and paid in scrip instead of cash. Despite these conditions, life in America was a great hope for those who wanted to preserve their Polish heritage. My Polish ancestors came to the States to avoid subjugation by the Russian Empire that sought to eradicate all traces of Polish culture and irreverently abolished the churches of my Catholic ancestors.

Though they had very little by today’s standards, my ancestors – like many that had come before them – had the freedom to be themselves in America. Their immigrant status did not go unnoticed by earlier settlers, who much like today – saw the influx of cheap labor as a threat to their livelihood. Like every wave of immigration before and after – ethnic Polish families banded together and founded churches and populated small towns sponsored by the companies they labored their entire lives for. Raised in such an environment (not to mention – surrounded by all of that Polish food) – my great grandparents were the happiest two people I’ve ever known – and were married for nearly 70 years. Even when he had lost all of his teeth, suffered problems of black lung and could only shuffle rather than walk, Pap still mustered smiles that went from ear-to-ear and laughed heartily. Gram was bubbly and cute and always maintained a kind of playful innocence that seems to have vanished from existence.

Each time I visited, Pap gave me a single dollar bill and Louise gave me a Tootsie roll pop. They served orange juice with the pulp and listened to the Polkas on WCNS every Sunday. They also drank Gennessee and Yuengling beers. Pap chewed Levi Garrett tobacco and Gram smoked Kool cigarettes, which she always kept in a leatherette snap case with a lighter holster.

Pap was 94 when he died, and Gram passed away at age 84.

Pictured below is the slate dump just across the road and in the valley near the church and cemetery, a reminder that my ancestors truly lived and died for their work.

Slate dumps such as this are part of the Pennsylvania coal country landscape, and are sometimes indistinguishable from the actual rolling hills as they are reclaimed by plant life.

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Posted by on November 3, 2011 in Uncategorized


IML Syndrome

Anyone who knows me personally already understands I have this cluster of symptoms known as IML Syndrome. It’s a widespread affliction that causes people to do things like drop $200 to witness a group of lassitudinous septuagenarians gyrate for two hours. As recently as a decade ago, people who suffer from IML Syndrome might have spent more than $20 a week on shiny pieces of plastic – or, in serious cases – be compelled to spend inordinate amounts of time studying esoteric things like ‘bessel crossovers, cabin gain, or phase coherence.’ Some people work diligently to diminish the symptoms, and will only listen to music as loudly as they like in their car, alone – while others will openly wear garments known as ‘band shirts,’ which send the message of ‘I have IML, and I’m proud of it.’

‘IML’ is known as ‘Intense Music Love,’ and if you or someone you love has this condition, you will understand how it can alienate those with the disorder from people who are immune. One symptom of IML has actually caused me to break-up with otherwise-decent boyfriends or not even give some people a chance, as I (perhaps irrationally) presume someone who doesn’t have the disorder will never understand what it’s like to live with it.

When I first realized I had the disorder, I tried to limit my particular variant in such a way that I only associated with others with that specific type. Now that I’ve matured, I realize that all those affected by IML syndrome are faced with, essentially, the same issues – and as long as they embrace the disorder and it’s effects, we can all learn to accept one another, regardless of any perceived differences.

People with IML syndrome look beyond the simple effects of music such as those beats that make your head bob, to actually philosophizing about it. Obviously, it sounds good – but IML sufferers see music in a very special way. To me, it is a craft. It’s something just a couple of people can make together; or even one person can do alone – with just a voice. How many things are like that nowadays? So simple to make (with a little practice) yet capable of providing a quality and quantity of happiness the most manufactured, expensive, mass-produced, designer-label, interest-bearing, assembly-line packaged, in-demand commodities can’t possibly impart. All the while it’s never perfect; even one song isn’t always the same thing twice. You can share it but you still have it.

If you feel this strongly about music, you too may have a case of IML. But don’t worry, you don’t go to that concert alone. Unlike most disorders, IML sufferers who are exposed new variants will often benefit.

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Posted by on June 15, 2011 in Uncategorized



I gave up Facebook for Lent. I’m not religious, but it seemed like the thing to do.

Rather than cramming everything I have to say into multiple 420 character status updates (or blasting my boyfriend’s email inbox with a volley of carping), I’ve decided to start a blog. I will probably go back to Facebook eventually, but until then – this is where I am.

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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Uncategorized