We are from

A couple years ago now (!) I invited my brothers to write a “Where I’m From” essay as a way to explore the story of our growing up together…

I’d treasured what they’d written and held the essays close to my heart, but never felt quite satisfied enough with my own version of our story to publish it here. I’m still not, really, but thought I’d share anyway; mostly because their stories make me smile today…

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From Kevin, the eldest:

I am from Mexican dinners, from Cadillac and Lucky Strike.

I am from the typical 1950’s urban sprawl home on a postage stamp property, cut from the fabric of a long gone family farm.

I am from the fuzz of a dandelion, the wind; not always litely blowing me through life.

I am from sauerkraut and pork chops and stomping feet, from Neil and Claire and VonOesen and Whary.

I am from the “last to arrive” and “last to leave” family.

I am from “be careful crossing Middle Road” and “Don’t let a stranger buy you a Coke”.

I am from a Protestant upbringing, but with keeping an open mind and finding my own way to the truth in life.

I’m from Jersey City, Mom’s Lasagna on Christmas Day and Dad’s antipasto on Christmas Eve.

From brother Neil opening ALL the presents on Christmas morning before everybody woke up, the other brother who broke everybody’s toys on Christmas and the Holly Hobby House debacle.

I am from family albums filled with pictures of days gone by, faces almost forgotten, slices of memories, stored in boxes, waiting to be divided on some future free weekend.

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From Brian, the middle child and family poet:

I am from the dirt field where we grew up as kids, from Band-Aids on so many skinned knees with wet shoes and soiled socks so often left in the downstairs foyer.

I am from that big house facing the field, where from our picture window you would show us the seasons as they changed from brown to green to gold to white, never far from its delights, if only to pick flowers next spring so as to surprise you.

I am from the Black-Eyed Susan daisies that grew so wonderfully there, unbothered by the wind, and that sturdy mulberry tree by the jumping fence behind Wolfkind’s, whose fruits always littered the ground with their sweet exhuberance and so stained our hands and lips with their purple goodness.

I am from Friday night fish stick dinners and the strength that was brought to bear in the face of incredible sadness, from Dad, from Grandma VonOesen, from Old Man Wheary.

I am from the solid determination of good Pennsylvania stock and from the hardiness of the anthracite coal our family toiled for so long to bring to light.

I’m that child you told to “sit up straight at the table and mind your manners,” so that Mom and Dad could brag to us and the rest of the family at holidays that they were never embarrassed to take us kids out to a fancy restaurant for dinner.

I am from that busy corner’s stick-built church where Dad was an elder on Sundays and us kids the freest of spirits along for the joyous ride to the corner sweet shop after Sunday School to pick out our favorite chocolate-covered treats. “Remember not to eat it before breakfast,” Mom always said. I am the one who usually could never quite wait.

I’m from a family from Shamokin Pennsylvania and from those Jersey City ballfields we mused about as kids from the raised highway as we passed by them on our way to Aunt Letha and Uncle Doc’s apartment in New York City for Thanksgiving, or Easter, and from Mom’s special lasagna and tomato sauce on Christmas Day and that chilled chocolate pudding we so loved from the icebox in those fancy crystal cups.

I am from the son of a son of an adopted boy who grew up strong and proud as the result of a shared love and kindness the Whary family gave, and from a man whose only son would attend school only to the second grade, but who would grow up to be a power engineer, role model and generous friend to so many people.

I’m from that white-haired Shamokin man whose youngest grandson’s persistence and drive for the better things in life would finally allow him to announce the coveted role of senior electrical engineer to his congratulatory wife at home.

I am the one you see in those black and white pictures from Gerald Square and Washington Park at Easter… the one in that fancy blue baby carriage that carried all us kids just the same, so snug and warm in our new outfits that Mom picked out with so much love and faith for our family’s bright future together.

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From me, the baby girl:

I am from paper-bag lunches, Scooter Pies and tea with Grandma.

I’m from the house on the corner with the weedy front lawn, a parade of Cadillacs in the driveway and pots banging from the stoop at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

I am from firethorn, spirea and quack grass. A neighborhood creek to play in, lounge chair forts at the pool club and ice-cold plums at the beach. A lonely dog staked out back and the shadow of a tall weeping willow.

I’m all legs, blue eyes and skin that freckles in the sun. From the radioman and the roof-model, Neil and Claire and others a part of the past now, too.

I am from late nights at the kitchen table, the coffee always on, talking long into the night. A daydreamer and a dawdler.

From the family that eats together stays together. From little pots that have big ears. From God’s eyes and the healing power of pyramid water. The temple on Osborne and Vacation Bible School at the church on the corner. From children are to be seen and not heard.

I am from the water’s edge and the dour faces of Pennsylvania coal mine country. I’ve never stopped looking back. Forever landlocked within my own body, I lose myself when far from the coast for too long.

From Uncle Doc who peppered his beer and ground his teeth and never spoke Spanish after Franco. From Grandpa with his cigars and baseball games on the radio in the parlor.

From a battered box of costume jewelry and a closet full of my mother’s clothes that I’ll never grow into. The baby girl, the tattletale, the spoiled one. I’m from the stories I heard, but never loved until they stopped being told.

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What’s most interesting to me, I think, are the things we each choose to claim…

Anyway… the template is here… give it a try, share your story.

10 thoughts on “We are from”

  1. Laura,
    The English teacher I work with in our alternative high school does this with our 9th graders. The result is just as amazing and enlightening as the ones you and your brothers created. Very cool. I am going to try and see if I can get my brother and sisters to do same.

  2. We just aren’t bold enough :<) Besides – I’m not sure I want to hear from my sibs this way!!!

    My Grandpa smoked a cigar sometimes and took me fishing. Everytime I smell cigar smoke – back I go!

    He also had a radio on a shelf up on the little back porch of his house and the Detroit Tigers were always on ….

  3. Thanks, I had great fun reading yours and then doing mine.

    And even after I finished I kept remembering things. I still am.

    Yeah, thanks.

  4. Laura–I love love love this.
    I agree, it is a wonderful way to help someone express herself. A great way to get the writing juices flowing, too.
    I think I will try it with my sibs. See what comes of it.

  5. This made me cry, Laura. I don’t know why, it just did. I see so many similarities with all three of you.

    …and that chilled chocolate pudding we so loved from the icebox in those fancy crystal cups.” That’s where I’m from, too 😉

  6. I didn’t comment before now because I didn’t want to read the whole thing (so I could do this exercise myself without influence). But, Laura, this is beautiful. It’s especially marvelous to see three different views of the same history that overlap in both hidden and blatant ways.

    This is powerful. Mary got it right: It made me cry in the best possibly way. Thank you!

  7. Laura.

    This was so astonishingly beautiful. There were lines from each sibling that caught my breath.

    Throughout them all, I heard America singing.

    It’s a beautiful song and always leaves a lump in my throat for the great goodness and struggle of the people who made her.

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