I am feeling nostalgic today… and my mind goes back to a place where we used to live. A very unusual place. So unusual that… well, let me explain.
First, you must understand that for about 6 years we lived in a small community in the mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania. Our house was only a few miles from the state lines for both West Virginia and Maryland. In less than five minutes we could be in either state. Although a rural community, we were not lacking in population; however, sometimes I felt that some of the population was lacking in… well, something. I am still not quite sure what.
Before I continue, I must make a brief disclaimer. This is necessary as some of my loyal Trogo readers live in this area. Please understand that I am not thinking of any of you. Or your family members (I hope). You are all sane and rational… it’s your neighbors I worry about.
Anyway, one summer morning I was driving to the church where I worked (in case any of you don’t know, I was an associate pastor at the time), and was only a short distance from my house when I saw it. Driving peacefully along, windows down, enjoying the morning coolness before the heat of the day sets in… my psyche was startled into alertness by the sight of a garbage truck. Now this should not be unusual. We have all seen garbage trucks. It is a common sight on weekday mornings. That day, I had just put out my own trash, in fact. But there was something different about this truck. It was facing me head-on, in my lane. That is to say, as the garbage guys were picking up bags of trash, they were driving down the wrong side of the street!
Now, I asked myself… why? It’s not like the mailman delivering mail, where you have to reach the mailbox from one side of your vehicle. You can pick up garbage from any angle, perspective, or direction. North, south, uphill, downhill, right lane, left lane… it’s all the same to a garbage truck. Why, in the name of all that’s sane would you have need, or even want, to drive down the wrong side of the street to pick up garbage?
Ahhhhh! Enlightenment. I had forgotten a fundamental truth. This reality popped in my mind that morning: “This is Markleysburg. And life is lived differently in the borough of Markleysburg, PA.”
How is it different? Allow me to elucidate about life in Markleysburg, PA.
This is a community with people that are a little bit different. Like the elderly couple who travel to the local store everyday. Not weekly, but everyday… pulling a Radio Flyer red wagon to carry home their daily allotment of groceries home. Here there is a man who spends most of his day on his bicycle, going up and down the main street of our borough—often not pedaling, but pushing himself along with one long, lanky leg. In our neighborhood you could tell when spring comes every year—people start riding their lawn mowers to the post office. It was not uncommon to see more four wheelers and riding lawn mowers on the street than cars. Except in winter, then you must dodge the snowmobiles zooming up and down the sidewalk.
Just down the street from our house was an old gas station. The pumps are gone, and the building is empty—except for the cats. The building is full of cats. Dozens of them. Black cats. Spotted cats. Gray cats. Tabby cats. Tiger cats. Loads of cats. They are fed by a lady who lives nearby. They do little but eat, sleep… and breed. And, boy, do they breed. It’s a virtual cat farm. Must be something in the water (which is orange, by the way) which makes for fertile felines. Cats are probably the major export.
Growing cats is a local pastime. People there raise cats the way other people raise flowers. But then again, they don’t need to raise flowers. The planters in their front yards have such lovely artificial begonias and petunias in them. Who needs dirt and fertilizer when you have cement and plastic? Indeed, fake flowers are another harbinger of spring. When you see those planters that were empty in winter, now bursting with artificial blooms, then you know that warm weather has finally arrived.
And thank goodness for the arrival of spring and summer. People in the frigid mountains of southwest PA really enjoy the warmer seasons. They last all of three weeks—from about June 30 until Sue’s birthday on July 22. Then it’s back to sweaters and coats. Think I’m kidding? The first year we were there it snowed on Mother’s Day. And back in 2001 we had frost the first week in June. At the other end, it will start to cool off significantly sometime in August. I recall that there is a certain tree in the church yard there whose leaves turn bright red… beginning about the middle of August. Alaska has nothing on us.
Everybody knows everybody else in Markleysburg. For me, growing up on the outskirts of a rather large city was nothing like this. I was used to living three doors down from people that you never knew—and really didn’t care to. To give you an example of how things are—the first fall we were there Sue and I went to our local borough building to vote. The election officials, whom we had never met before, saw us coming through the front window. As we approached the table where the officials were sitting, we saw that our personal voting information was already pulled and laid out, ready for us to sign. By the way, it was 3:00 p.m. on election day. Sue was voter # 32 and I was # 33.
If you want to find out information about anyone in the vicinity, just ask Mrs. **********. (Her name will be concealed to protect the guilty.) She knows everybody, and everything about everybody. It is her hobby. Her occupation. Her passion. She sits on her front porch, notebook in hand, and watches Markleysburg life unfold. Anything new, different, unusual, or just plain worthy of gossip gets put in her notebook. I know someone who was talking with her once, and she made them stop what they were saying so she could get her notebook out. She wanted to make sure she got the “facts” straight. Near where Mrs. ********* lives is a soda pop machine in front of the general store. I remember that occasionally Sue and I would get thirsty late at night. So I would drive up to get a drink from the machine. I will often park so that my car faces her front windows. That way, when I would see her peek out of the windows at midnight to watch what I was doing, I could quickly put my headlights on bright. Sorta like spotting a deer.
Speaking of wildlife…
In M’burg we had squirrels and turtles and buzzards and occasionally a black bear. Oh, and cats. Not many mice though. One of our neighbors had turkeys penned up next to their rabbits and hunting dogs. One of these dogs liked to stand on the roof of his house, a la Snoopy, and bark at anything that moves, especially the cats. There was a possum that frequented our back porch and ate the bird seed I stored there. The possum seemed oblivious to our neighbor’s cats, who sleep and gave birth on our porch. We were an involuntary nursery for the burgeoning feline population. The cats tolerated the possum. There was a path worn through our yard as a result of various cats going back and forth from one neighbor’s house to another. In the winter, you could see a new path made after each fresh snow fall. Creatures of refined habit, nothing would break their tradition.
There was a skunk who skulked around behind the house. Sometimes I could see him stick his little black nose around the corner of the building when I pulled into our driveway. He furtively pulled back and runs away; only to come ambling back later to spray generously under our bedroom window. Perhaps he was angry that our car’s headlights disturbed his late night jaunt. Or perhaps it was self-defense at a massive onslaught of cats. I can envision the poor creature buried under mounds of whiskered fur and yowling bodies. Whatever the cause, this was a frequent occurrence. Many a summer night Sue and I were awakened by his odoriferous offering in our backyard.
We were a large enough community to have a post office and a grocery store. But no traffic light. The only stop light in the Borough is an advertising gimmick in front of a mechanic’s garage. No doctor, dentist, pharmacist, or chiropractor. But once I did hear of man who was going from house to house, promoting himself as a door-to-door gynecologist. He didn’t drum up much business though. We didn’t have a gas station in the borough, but there is a funeral home, a nursing home, a Kingdom Hall and three churches. You can’t get gas to go anywhere, but you can get sick, die, and have someone preach your funeral. And you can count on the funeral being well attended. Funerals are free entertainment, and a highlight of any week.
The Borough is eight miles from Friendsville, four miles from Flat Rock and 15 miles from Falling Water. One way into Friendsville from PA is to travel Pig’s Ear Road. We are not far from the Youghigheny River, Nemacolin Woodlands, and Ohiopyle Falls—but there are no Indians hereabouts. You can get from Lower Turkeyfoot township to Markleysburg via Mae West Road (called such because it has so many curves). Pittsburgh is 70 miles and another world away. (And sometimes Virginia seemed only a dream!)
All in all, it was not an unpleasant but sometimes rather quirky place to live.
So why was I surprised to see a garbage truck meeting me in the wrong lane?