As we wind down from the initial effects of this global pandemic, I am increasingly thankful to have been able to shelter in place here in Erie. As schools, day cares, businesses, and jobs have been shut down, vulnerable single parent households have had an even greater struggle. In a society struggling with fatherlessness, my husband has been a good father in our family. If you knew his past, you might ask, “How did he manage to do this?” You see, in his youth he was subjected to violent, abusive father figures, but God was merciful and put men in his life who demonstrated good fathering. As an adult, Tom tried to take the best of what he had seen and build into his parenting the life-giving traits that go along with true Christianity. I realize not everyone comes from an intact family and my heart goes out to those who don’t. Our family is well aware of the privilege we have and the responsibility of doing something with it that helps others. Those stories are for another time.
One of the foresights Tom had as a father, was the wisdom of moving our young family back to Erie from Southern California. He wanted to rear our children close to extended family in small town Pennsylvania, knowing we needed the atmosphere and people here. In the story “From Gate to Gate” I wrote about not wanting to move back to PA. However, as time rolls on, I am so glad we did. Our kids went to Fort LeBoeuf Schools in the 1990’s and into the 21st century. During those years, no fewer than 17 of their cousins also attended! Someone was always around to “have their back.” I’m not saying they always stepped up when needed, but opportunities were there. Holidays were spent with extended family and there were enough birthdays to celebrate with a party at least once a month. Loyalty, respect for family, and reverence for God are traits that run deep in our family gene pool.
Tom and I are living proof there is hope in Christ for restored family life. We turned our hearts and paths toward family, and God has been ever faithful. He knew we needed to keep drawing from the strengths of past generations while forging a new path into our future. It saddens me to see the end of the era of extended families living in close proximity. However, I take comfort in knowing that the same technology that is providing jobs around the world also provides the means to stay connected. Families are finding creative ways to make a fuss over birthdays and holidays. The family zoom meetings we tried have been fun. Well, maybe not so much fun for the active adolescent grandsons! Funny thing though, they do love getting an actual card or letter in the mail from their Pap & Gramma.
Malachi 4:6 (TLB) “The prophet’s preaching will bring fathers and children together again, to be of one mind and heart, for they will know that if they do not repent, I will come and destroy their land.”
Our family history goes back to some of the first settlers in NW PA. Jane Campbell came to Edinboro in 1797, as a Revolutionary War widow. She came to the western frontier to claim the one thousand acres her Scottish husband had been awarded for his war service. She and her six children farmed the land and “Clan” Campbell prospered. It is a common name and most local Campbells can be traced back to Jane. I know she could claim those 17 cousins! Their (5x) great-grandfather was one of Jane’s boys whose father died in the fight to establish this sovereign nation. This brings up another trait that runs deep in my history; patriotism for the sovereignty of these United States of America.
After the Revolution people were on the move. Many came to this western end of Penn’s Woods to forge a new life. They brought skills, many more than could be mentioned here, from the old country. They used these skills to establish farms, vineyards, businesses, and churches. Generations later we still enjoy the fruit of their labors. Those who live around here may recognize some of the names: Pulakos brought candy making skills in 1903. Jareckis started crafting fine jewelry in 1862. Koehlers brewed beer in 1891. 30 women, Sarah Reed among them, founded Erie’s first Social Service Agency later becoming Sarah Reed Retirement Center. The abolitionist movement was well established in Erie and the port city was an important part of the Under-ground Railway.
They built churches in which to worship and celebrate their cultural heritage. The Irish built St. Patricks’ while Lutheran Germans established St. Johns. Roman Catholics drew up plans for St. Peters Cathedral in 1873. Erie is home to one of the earliest churches of the world’s oldest Protestant denomination founded by blacks; Saint James AME Church. And, still standing with the gold dome shining on the bayfront, is the Russian Orthodox church. There was plenty of fresh water fishing and they all brought music; foot tapping polkas, beautiful ballads, rich gospel melodies, and rousing bag pipes. * Clan Campbell kept the music alive with Square Dances. Adults and younger cousins alike would go and the kids loved those dances!
In her younger days, my Mom could rock a piano! And she carried the courage required of an adventurous spirit to her last days here on earth. Always active and on the go, she would not have done well being quarantined in this pandemic. My parents both loved music and loved to dance. When they were on the dance floor, they looked like they were gliding, seriously, almost like they were on ice skates. They were so smooth together. In fact, they met at a dance. Dad was a freshman attending Edinboro College on the G.I. bill. We heard the whole story, as much as Mom was willing to tell, one evening at a sleep-over our daughter arranged with her friends. Natalie had gotten the idea to have a three-generation get-together. Mom represented the oldest generation. My sister, sister-in-law, and myself represented the middle generation. Natalie and two of her friends were the younger. It was an evening for telling stories, the kind of stories girls of all ages like to talk about. The main topic was, “How did you meet your husband?” It was the first time I’d heard certain details of my parents meeting. As I mentioned, they met at a dance. Natalie and her friends commented, “Wow, boys and girls met at dances in the 1940’s, not so different than today.” Mom’s older sister, Vera, was out of High School. Mom would have been a High School Junior, tagging along so Vera didn’t go alone. Their elder brother, Uncle Bub, had driven the sisters into town for the college dance. I was aghast when Mom finished her story with, “Your Dad drove me home.” What was Uncle Bub thinking by allowing this college man to drive his kid sister home, alone!? We gave our mother the same lecture we’d heard as young ladies. And there you have the irony of it, my sister and I scolding our mother for getting in a car with a man she had just met, who was to become our father! It was the best story of the evening, solidifying a bond of sister-hood between three generations.
What’s your family story?
By Cindy Matta
* Times Publishing Company – 200 Years as a Community.