Beer And Games.


At the end of a working day every miner looked forward to a hot bath plus a shot of whiskey and a beer. The hazards of working in the mines were suspected even in the early days of the industry. A shot of whiskey and a beer were believed to clear the lungs of coal dust.

On pay days and week ends most of the miners in the towns, such as Mahanoy City headed for one of the many saloons in their neighborhood for socialization. For the Slavs, as well as other nationalities, the saloons were the place to exchange news, play cards or games, gossip, and even find a wife.

Initially there were many more men than women. Many of the young immigrants were seeking wives and many of the married miners had wives and daughters who were still living in the old country. Match making was common. Everyone carried pictures. A respected young miner who was conservative and had saved his money would be willing to pay the fare to have his intended bride transported to America. What is more he might even be willing to pay the fare for her mother and other siblings. Of course she was expected to be a hard worker and to have a sweet disposition ! !

There were no saloons in the patches but their desire for recreation was just as great. Several Greek men from the nearby patch of Brooklyn had beer wagons and would bring these to Morea on week ends and paydays. Everyone would gather around the beer wagon drinking beer and whiskey a embracing one another and singing their national songs. The merriment went on for hours allowing them to forget their misery and the dangerous working conditions of the mines.

Beer was sold by the bottle. Whiskey came in quart bottles, but if you brought you own pint bottle, they would measure out a pint for a small extra fee.

Pa never went to the beer-wagon. He was against public drinking. We did, however, keep beer and whiskey in the house for company. Pa and my brothers would also have a beer and whiskey daily after each shift.

When our supply was low, Ma would send us to the beer wagon with a note for an order. The owner would send his assistant to the house with her request.

Brooklyn, the smaller patch on the far side of Morea, was primarily a Greek settlement. On pay days as the drink took its toll, you could hear the Greeks as they played a numbers game. Their voices and high spirits, could be heard far into the night. The Greek settlers loved wine and most made their own from grapes grown on their own grape arbors.

On week ends and special occasions they would meet in the yard of the miner who had the largest arbor. Some of the grape arbors were trained along a long frame that stretched over an area used for games by the men and on special occasions for family gatherings and picnics.

With or without the facilitation of alcohol, the Greek immigrants were very emotional about their numbers game. Many Italian families also had grape arbors and played a similar game. I was told they called it Morra. It required no cards or game board.

The game was played with the fingers if the right hand and they kept score by projecting a finger on the left for each game won. Two would for play at a time starting with a clinched right fist. They would then simultaneously thrust out one to five fingers as they cried out a number from two to ten. To win you had to thrust out the exact number of fingers needed to compliment your opponents hand as you shouted out the expected sum. The person with the correct score won. Of course the odds were such that on most moves no one won--so the numbers were cried out in rapid succession. The skill was to out guess your opponent. When that occurred there would be shouts of victory.

Serious discussions also took place under the arbors regarding religion, philosophy, politics and work.

During these periods of respite, the women of the patches gathered in their own little conclaves (of one ethnicity or another) to socialize. They usually met in their homes exchanging recipes, sewing, gossiping etc.. Coffee was often served with just a small bit of anisette or other liquor. These were harsh times, and they too had much to forget, but they continued to have hope for their children and their future.