My father's cousin, Mike Shostak, came around every once in a while. I can't tell you exactly how often, but he came around whenever there was a wedding or something, some kind of special event - maybe once or twice a year. His wife was dead. I think she had died during the flu time. Andy Shostak was just a tot when she died. So Uncle Mike always brought his kids along when he came. They were living at 436 West Green Street in West Hazleton then. I know that because I lived with them about four, four or five, about four summers. Shostak came and got me after school was out and took me there for the summer about four times. Uncle Mike's horse was pretty big. Most of the kids slept on the bottom floor. Mr. Shostak slept on the upstairs floor and I did, too. I had a room of my own. Joe lived in the attic. I don't know what Joe did, but he played music in bars in Hazelton. I don't know what that instrument is called, but it's like a violin, but real big. Isn't it a base violin, or something? Well, one day Joe fell while going down the attic stairs with that instrument and he went ka-plunk, ka-plunk down the stairs with that thing. Poor old Joe. One other thing that I remember doing while I was living there is roller-skating on one foot. I couldn't roller-skate, I had never tried it before, but I put a roller-skate on one foot and skated on the sidewalk on one roller-skate.
My father worked for Deedo for 6 or 7 years on his farm. But one morning my father told him to "wake up and we will do the chores early and rest in the afternoon." Deedo took this very hard, and afterwards they kind of separated. My father stopped working on the farm and our families stayed friends, but cool friends. We talked to them and once in a while we went there, but it... you know, it was never the same, never. They didn't associate unless they had to. Maybe sometimes I would go over and tamp hay for them, we'd get on the wagons and tamp the hay down or we'd go walking with Baba through the woods, ah... but not much. The only time there was any kind of contact was if somebody's relatives or somebody came up to the mountain or something. We never turned into enemies, but it wasn't like it should have been between us. I guess that that must have been about 1932.
I think it was about that time that my Uncle Steve, my mother's brother, came up to live with Deedo and Baba. Maybe he up came up sort of as a replacement for my father after the falling out. Uncle Steve had been living down in Parsons near Irishtown. I guess that's where he met his wife, Anastasia Danilack. They had a son Larry, my cousin Larry, and he was about five when they moved up to the Mountain. My Uncle Steve, he had, I don't know... a temperament which I didn't go for too much. We kids didn't associate with him much, but sometimes we would help him out with the cows or something.
We had diphtheria when I was fourteen years old, two or three of us kids had diphtheria, me, John and I don't know who else had it. We had gone to the Kerby Health Center and had gotten shots, shots to avoid getting diphtheria and after we got the shots we got diphtheria. Maybe the serum wasn't properly prepared or something. Doctor Worley came up to the house and gave us some more shots but after that we started to break out in hives, I was just covered with sores. So my father had to drive back down and Doctor Worley had to come a second time. I was sick three or four weeks, three weeks, I don't know exactly how long. I don't think it was a diphtheria epidemic but people got diphtheria occasionally back then.
The only epidemic that I know of was the one when my mother was young, before I was born, the flu epidemic. My mother said that there was a casket in practically every house in Irishtown. That's when the King's boys' mother died - left seven boys, she did - she's the only one that died during the flu time that I can think of now.
I guess I started high school in 1932 or 1933. I went to Plains High School. We went there by bus. We caught the bus at the end of where Kresge's is, at the end of the street, near the Kresgeville School. That's where the bus picked us up. So as long as we went to school, we walked a mile home and back. I have no idea how far it is to Plains High School. John told me it was 5 miles from our home to Public Square and I don't believe a word he says. I think it might be five miles to Plains High School, though.
It was in high school that I first saw girls wearing make-up. My mother never wore make-up, no, no, never. No. I don't think make-up was as common then as it is now. But the high school girls wore make-up - lipstick, rouge and powder. I guess they wore make-up every day, I guess so. I remember they used to go to the bathroom at lunchtime and put make-up on.
In high school they once told us to bring a tin can with us to school. I think I was a sophomore and we had biology. In the morning they rolled in a big, big container, like a big barrel, an oil-drum into the classroom. It was full of dead frogs soaking in formaldehyde. They gave each student a frog to put in their tin can and take home. It was a school project and each student took home a dead formaldehyde frog in a tin can. We were supposed to boil them to take out the bones. I boiled my frog on some flames between some rocks out back of the house. I build a fire there between some rocks and did it outside, yes, outside. My mother wouldn't let me do that in the house, boil a frog on the stove. So I boiled it outside until it was falling apart then I scraped off the flesh and took out the bones. I had a piece of cardboard from the back of a tablet and I painted that black and stitched the bones on that. We were supposed to stitch the bones onto the cardboard in the same order that they had been inside the frog. I got some of the bones mixed up a little bit, ha, ha, but it was nice looking when I got done with it and I passed anyhow.
I remember a joke that some of the girls in high school were talking about - you pick up the phone and call the corner store and ask them if they have Prince Albert (tobacco) in a can and if they say yes, you say, "Well, let him out." We didn't have a phone then and felt a little left out but I thought that that was so funny that thirty years later I got Annika to do it - call up Doc's down on Evergreen and ask if they had Prince Albert in a can. I kind of felt bad about that because the lady that answered wasn't very nice to Annika and she felt very hurt. Annika was too little to pull something like that. She got so unhappy and I felt sorry I got her to do it.
I think I was fourteen when they shot John Dillinger. And, well, I was very unhappy about how they did it. John Dillinger he robbed banks, you know. And instead of talking to John what made him do that to get bank money or what he was up to, they shot him. Tricked him and then shot him. They got his girl friend to send him out to the lobby of the hotel to get a candy bar for her and then the FBI shot him. I thought it was terrible to pull something over on him like that. They called that girl friend "The Lady in the Red Dress." I think she committed suicide after it was over with. Oh, I just felt real bad. I heard that most of the world, most of the United States was sorry about the way that John Dillinger died. Get her a bar of candy to get shot!
My Uncle Peter came to live on Bald Mountain, too, sometime after Uncle Steve and his family did. Maybe 1934 or so. They all lived with Deedo and Baba. I remember when Uncle Peter married Mary Bellas. After that he didn't stay on the Mountain too long. They just lived there a couple years, two or three, maybe two years, then they moved someplace else. They lived there until they had two children and then they had to move because... I guess with all the kids running around... Larry, Jackie, Joan...
He was a great guy, my Uncle Peter. He'd do a lot for us kids. He was like taking after my grandmother. Uncle Peter and my brother Steve used to hook up the horses and go up the road for about five miles to where the road ended. They'd take the horses and ride them up and then come back down. He was good with kids.
It was my Uncle Peter that bought a carbide lighting system for his father's house, for Deedo's house. It had some kind of an underground tank with a pipe that stuck up where you could put the carbide and water to build the gas. Pipes carried the gas into the house. But it didn't last long. It clogged. They just had it working a few months, I guess, before it all clogged. Miners had carbide lamps on their caps in those days with carbide and they had to unblock them all the time. My father was a miner and he knew that carbide is a real good clogger and that's why my father wouldn't take that system. It wasn't a good lighting setup.
We didn't have any electric lights then. We had kerosene lamps the whole time I lived on the mountain. We had one gas lamp, too... I don't know what kind of gas you used for it. It didn't have a wick in it like a kerosene lamp. It had kind of a little... it had two little kind of sacky things that hung on inside there and once it started burning, they turned into ashes if they were touched. My mother had gotten it from Octagon Soap coupons. But with children around it wasn't a real good lamp because if you touched that little bag that the light came through, it would turn to ashes.
It was very dark on the mountain at night. When I was a kid it was very dark. If the moon was out it was not too bad. But the only light you could see was the lights in Baba's house. That's all. When you went someplace if it was dark you had to know the turns in the road to make it home. Once when it was dark my mother and father went somewhere, somewhere down in the valley. My brother John went with them. Maybe it was the first time he come down off the mountain, or he was pretty young anyway. When they came down to where you can see the lights of the city John said, "Oh my gosh, back up on the Mountain the stars are in the sky, but down here they are on the ground." That's what John said when he saw the city lights. My mother and father they laughed and thought that that was a fun story about John and they told it all around. It is a fun story.
We caught fireflies at night. We'd run around and catch them with our hands and put them in a jar. We put holes in the lid on a jar and we'd put them in there. There were plenty of fireflies up there! We'd watch them light up in the jar and if there were lots of them it was a little like a lantern. Then we'd let them go.
We went to bed with the chickens, as soon as it got dark out. Whenever it got dark out we went to bed. We could use the kerosene lamps if we wanted to and stay up, but not a lot. We did that mostly in the winter, to stay up and do lessons, or something. We had to get up early to go to school, but in the summer you could sleep as long as you wanted to. But mostly we got up early. We went to bed so early we couldn't miss getting up early. We never had any alarm clocks or anything. We did have a wall clock, though, a wind-up clock on the wall. My parents wound it up, once a day, I guess.
One year we stayed up until after midnight to listen to the collieries blow their whistles. It was New Year and all the collieries were going to sound their whistles at midnight. Then the next year, I don't know for sure that it was the next year, but one year after that, we stayed up again on New Year's to listen to the whistles again. But midnight came and went and my father said if they haven't sounded them by now they're not going to blow them, so we went to sleep.
We had the "Big Dam" nearby, but Helen and I never went swimming there, never. We didn't go swimming so much. When it was real hot we went down to the creek and laid in the cold water 'cause Mill Creek was very, very cold. My brothers did go swimming up at the Dam. They even had special places they liked to go. They swam naked and sailed around on rafts that they built. But Helen and I never went swimming there. We did all go to the dam just to play - not when we were real young though, not until we knew how to be careful and not fall into 60 feet of deep water. Occasionally, we went fishing there. We'd take a stick and some string on it and fish hooks and go fishing. We'd go out the in woods and cut a new stick every time. Once we caught a whole lot of... what the heck do you call it... rock bass. There were a lot of rock bass up there, perch and some trout and catfish. Steve and I once walked behind the dam and we brought home some of them, catfish. And we'd stand on top of the dam and throw pebbles and see if you could make them jump, make two touches off the water. That's what we did at the dam.
My mother would holler if we were up at the Dam and she want us to come home. We'd hear her even if we were up there, as loud as she could holler! She'd call our names, "Domu!," she'd say. Then we'd come home.
We keep just chickens, no other animals, except a goat. It was a gray and shorthaired kind of goat. Somebody gave it to us for the milk. It ate grass any place. We had a pretty big yard, you know, around the house and the goat ate there or else he went some place else to eat. I don't remember that we had to cut the grass around the house in the beginning. I guess the goat ate it sometimes, but sometimes it just grew and died.
My mother milked the goat. She sat on some kind of a box or something and milked it into a galvanized pail, I think. It would stand still while she was milking it. She didn't have to tie it to a post or anything. We drank the goat milk. You don't get much milk from a goat. We drank it all almost right away. If we didn't drink it, it wouldn't keep more than a day, a day and a half at most even if my mother put it in the cellar where it was a little cooler. We had that goat for years. I think we called him Billy. Billy Goat.
He was a great friend, that Billy. My brothers really loved him. They'd try to ride him and they'd grab him by the horns and wrestle with him. He'd sneak up behind you and buck you when he wanted to play. And he'd go for walks with us, follow right along beside, like he was one of us. He'd often walk and jump along the top of the stone fence. Or jump over it and he was sure-footed as a goat. But he broke his leg up on those stones one day and my father told us what had to be done. We got a little desperate trying to think of all sorts of things 'cause Billy was such a great goat. We were crying and crying, "We want to have our goat." "Kids! Kids!" my father told us in Russian, "It's a goat with a broken leg! What are we going to do with a goat with a broken leg?" He told us to go up the road and we did because we didn't know what else to do. When we came back the goat was butchered, skinned and quartered. That was the end of our goat. We ate it. Goat meat is real good. It's very bony, but it's very good meat.
There was a coal shed behind our house. It wasn't little that coal shed - a ton of coal could go in it. That was there when we came to Bald Mountain. My mother used the coal shed as a doghouse. That's where she fed the dog when we had a dog. Behind the coal shed there was a chicken coop set back a bit in the woods. The chicken coop was about twenty-five feet off the path that went to the spring, that's where the chicken coop was. That was there when we came there, too. I would say that is was, maybe, fifteen foot long and ten-foot wide and with a roof on top. There were rafters with boards going across so there was like a little room up there. That was where we used to keep various things for the chickens and ladders and thing like that. There were some supports like little two-by-fours or something that went on a slant from where the ceiling met the wall down to the middle of the floor. I think there were four of those supports. Then there were crosspieces on that. I think there were about four of those supports, too. They were similar to ladder-rungs, but long - the length of the chicken coop. Those were the roosts. The chickens would go in the coop for the night and sit up there on those crosspieces. They were on a slant like that so they wouldn't poop on each other when they were sleeping. If you looked in there at night you'd see them there on the roosts, all lined up, not moving. They stayed in there all night. We didn't lock them in or anything. They went in and out by themselves. They went out through their own little door and went out in the yard. They came and went as they pleased. Even in the wintertime they went out when they wanted to and when they got cold they went back in.
Oh, I would say we had something between thirty, fifty chickens. We had more in the summer. There'd be less when we were eating a lot of chickens. My mother would sometimes bring home chicks from some poultry place, some place down in the Valley if we needed more chickens. We had Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns and another kind that had feathers on their legs - I don't know the names of them. The leghorn is a small white chicken and you have them mostly for the eggs. They lay a lot of eggs. The Rhode Island Red is bigger and more for the eating. The ones with feathers on their legs are sort of gray with spots of black feathers on them. And they're heavier than the Rhode Island Reds. They grew real big and heavy. They used to go ten, twelve pounds. They must have an English name, but I don't know what-the-heck it is.
They made their nests anywhere. Inside the chicken coop there were some little boxes. We put hay or straw in those and the chickens would sometimes lay their eggs there. But mostly the chickens made their own nests. They made them in the woods, in the chicken coop, on the lawn, everywhere. Wherever they felt comfortable, the chickens made their nests.
In the summer time, my mother would buy clamshells, crushed clamshells, and throw it over the ground for the chickens to eat. Other than the clamshells, the chickens found most of their own food in the summer. In the winter we fed the chickens corn. We spread the corn over the floor of the chicken coop and they ate that.
There was just one chicken that had its own name and that was Butse. Butse, Bu... I don't know just how'd you spell Butse, B-O-O-T-S-Y? No, that would be Boot. This is like "put" except with a "b," - Butse. In Russian I think it meant "barrel" or something, but it could also mean "Tubby" or something like that - some kind of a fat guy. Butse had feathers on her legs. I'm not real sure, but I think that butse was the Russian name for that whole race or breed of chicken, the ones with the feathered legs. We called them butses. They were real big and laid brown eggs. But Butse was also the name of that one chicken that was kind of like a favorite chicken. My father named her and that's the name she went by - Butse. My brother John, he raised her from a pip. John and Butse were real close. John was real little then and he used to hop around with Butse between his legs, like he was riding her. Butse used to follow us around, all over the yard. We never killed Butse and ate her. She lived a long time, something between eight and ten years old, maybe twelve. When Butse died my brother Steve buried her up in the woods someplace. I don't remember where. That was Butse.
Every once in a while we'd loose a chicken to a chicken hawk. 'Cause we had chicken hawks that used to sail, they didn't fly around, but they'd sail around overhead. They're big birds, bigger than crows. They used to say that they sometimes would carry off a chicken, but I've never known a hawk to pick up a chicken. They'd kill chickens sometimes, but they'd eat them on the ground. I don't think they could pick up a chicken... a small one maybe.
Cluck - a chicken that was sitting on a nest we called a cluck. We didn't go out and gather eggs regularly, we just did it when we needed them. Sometimes if we needed eggs we had to go around looking for the nests. Baba, she was always walking around in the field, in the woods, looking for things she could use. Sometimes she used to find a dozen eggs or so in nests and bring them in to us. Occasionally, we sold some of the eggs. I remember once somebody bought some eggs and then got angry because she wanted me to give her one or two more free - just think, after sixty, seventy years I can remember that.
When we collected eggs we had no way of knowing if they were fresh or not, if they were fresh or had been in the nest for a long time. We had no way of examining them. My mother used eggs in noodles or some form of dough practically every day so they were pretty likely fresh. But she would open up the eggs over a plate first to check it. She'd break the eggs open on an empty plate before she poured it into the flour. If the egg was bad you'd just throw it out, that's all.
We mostly fried our eggs that I remember - fried them in bacon fat or something. Sometimes we boiled them. My mother used to say that the fresher the eggs were, the more difficult it was to take the shell off.
Once Helen was playing around with some kids. And they decided to see who... they decided to have a contest to see who could drink most eggs. They put a hole in one end with a needle and a hole in the other end, too. Then they would suck out the eggs. Helen sucked out a dozen eggs and then she vomited all over the place. She emptied out twelve eggs and then vomited.
We had chickens real often, about twice a week, I guess, three times, twice a week. My mother killed the chickens. She cut off their heads with a knife. If my father killed a chicken he used an ax but my mother used a knife. Often times she would hold their wings down with her feet when she cut off their heads so they wouldn't fly around. We once had a chicken that lived for a day without its head, quite awhile at least. My mother cut its head off and let it go. It just ran around, just wobbled all over the place. It ran into everything, just flopped around for the longest time. Somebody joked that it must be getting hungry and that maybe we should get a funnel and pour some food down its gullet. It acted dizzy but it ran around for about a good day, a few hours at least.
I killed two chickens in my life, too. Two chickens. The first chicken I killed, I killed behind my back. I held the chicken behind me and I cut off its head. It was my mother that usually killed them. But I plucked them. After you kill a chicken you have to pluck it. You take a pot of boiling water, dump it on the feathers to loosen them and then you pull the feathers out. Or you can dip the whole chicken into the water a few times, turn it around in the hot water. I guess that's the best way. I did that a lot when I was a kid, plucked chickens. It just takes five, six minutes to do it. Then after you pulled the feathers out, you gut it, make a slit in the stomach and take everything out of it. When that's done, the chickens have little hairs on the body that you have to burn off. If you got a good hot fire going in the stove, a fire with a flame, a wood fire, then you could take off one of the lids on the stove and hold them over the flames. But most of the time we used coal and you can't singe a chicken on the coal fire, no, no. There's no flame, just heat. So when we were burning coal we took a bowl like a soap bowl, poured a little alcohol in it, rubbing alcohol, I guess, lit it up, and ran the chicken over it, burned the hairs off. That's the way we usually did it.
We threw away the head, but we used the neck, the liver, the heart and the gizzard. The gizzard, that's where the stones go that the chicken eats. We cut open the gizzard, cleaned it out and took out the lining. If we made soup all those things went into the soup. We used the feet, too. We cut off the feet off the chicken and sometimes we cut the toenails off. Then we'd put them in boiling water for a short time. After that, the heavy outside skin, it'd peel right off. The feet went into the soup, too, along with the rest of the chicken. My brother John loved the feet, too. We used to fight over them.