Mary's Duties As The Eldest Daughter In The Family 1905 1917


The lives of the early immigrants and their offspring were filled with hardship and danger. The young men taken to the mine fiends by the mine owners, were predestined to little in the line of education or benefits. Theirs would be a life of hard works and exposure to dangerous situations- both the obvious: and the not so obvious, as the insidious, slow developing mineral asthma. Few would escape.

On the surface it would appear that the female child would fair better. This was not the case. Protected from the direct hazards of the mines and the indirect health problems associated with the inhalation of coal dust; it was her destiny to marry the miner, often at an early age. Families were large, and most women bore many children- eight to ten was not unusual. These women gave birth under adverse situations, and often at intervals that were dangerously close. Many died as the result of multiple births, poor hygiene and the resultant complications of birth.

Theirs was a 24 hour day. If she was lucky enough to survive she did so as a destitute widow or as the wife of a maimed or often chronically disabled miner. There was little to be had in social security or other benefits. They were penniless.

They say that youth is eternally optimistic and I suppose that is how it should be. One should have dreams, and so it was with my sister Mary. As the eldest daughter she had to assume many responsibilities necessary for the survival of our large family she took her role seriously.

Ma and grandmother tended to the new baby--and there always seemed to be a new baby! They also did the washing, ironing and cooking. When time permitted they cut patterns sewed dresses and underwear. As the eldest Mary was the one who organized and led the chores assigned to the younger members of the family. Everyone helped.

One of these duties was to lead us to the lush huckleberry patches a distance of three to four miles. One huckleberry field was located two miles past Brooklyn (Not Brooklyn New York, but another small patch) two miles from Morea. To get there, we followed the railroad tracks to the right. Just before reaching Brooklyn: the train crossed over a trestle which connected two coal banks. In order to shorten our walking distance we always took the short cut over the trestle. As I look back I have to thank the good Lord for looking after us. We made many a trip over that trestle. If a train had approached, we would have been trapped. There were no easements. Our only escape would have been to jump into the deep ravine, that's into the grimy coal dust and the water coming from the breakers.

Brooklyn was inhabited primarily by Greeks but there were a few Russian and Slavic families who also lived there. Their homes were located close to the strippings and breakers. As a result they were black with soot. It was a very polluted environment and I suspect that even those who were non miners were exposed to dangerous levels of coal dust and thus silicosis.

There were many young boys there who came to this country without their families and who boarded with other families until such a time as they would venture into marriages and establish their own homes. There were weddings almost every pay day.

My mother had made it quite clear that she did not want any of her daughters marrying "those boy's".To marry outside ones religion was taboo. Mary was not beyond mixing work with a little anticipated pleasure. She enjoyed going this router for the opportunity of some chance encounter. This could not be avoided since the best huckleberry fields were in this area!

Mary was friendly with several of the Greek girls; and as their friend had attended several weddings. She was not inclined to view her Greek neighbors with the same religious tunnel vision characteristic of our parents.

Picking huckleberries was an all day event. We took several buckets and we also carried an old sheet. Our group included Mary, Margaret, and Dorothy. When our buckets were full, Mary would spread the sheet. We would then gather ferns and line the sheet. The berries were then slowly emptied onto this soft green bed, followed by another layer of ferns. Two opposing ends of the sheet were tied. Mary then gathered the loose ends and relocated the whole to a place in the shade.

On these occlusions we always carried Jugs of water along with bread spread with peanut butter and occasionally with farmers cheese. After a relaxed lunch and re-hydration, we again busied ourselves until our buckets were filled to the brim.

Proud of our accomplishments, we headed back to the shaded area where rested the fruits of our morning labor.

Mary carefully lifted the sheet by the untied ends over her shoulder. With a bucket of berries in each hand, we again headed for home. The trip back was slow. We were tired and we were burdened. We had had a successful day. Our efforts would be rewarded with fresh baked blueberry pies, and plenty of berries for our morning oatmeal.