A realistic but fond memoir of a girlhood lived in a coal camp, or "patch" in southwestern Pennsylvania during the Great Depression of the 1930s,Icon of Springis also a coming-of-age story. It begins in 1932 when the narrator, the child of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant parents, is seven years old. Her father is a miner, and work is scarce as the grip of the depression tightens. The jars of canned food on the storeroom shelf are dwindling, and the family fears eviction from their small company-owned house.Icon of Springrecounts her childhood during the next seven years, as she grows to adolescence in a world that is protective within her family but shares the violence of the coal region. She is witness to accidental death in the mines, the murder of a coal and iron policeman, the muted struggle to unionize, and the itinerant beggars who appear at the back door.Yet this is far from a grim book, for we see life in the patch through the eyes of the child. Warmed by the closeness she feels toward her parents, especially her mother, and her nine brothers and sisters, she knows the joy of one sister's wedding and raucous reception, the mysterious Easter ritual of the Eastern Orthodox Liturgy, the fun of attending a medicine show, and the almost incandescent hope placed in the new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Her life is peopled by traveling peddlers, the priest of her church, a union organizer, and the town bachelors: Big John, Peg Leg Pete, and Shorty Steve.Icon of Springevokes life in a depression coal patch from a female perspective. A splendid memoir of childhood told with accuracy and warmth which is also rich in social history, it will appeal to general readers as well as students.
Front MatterFront Matter (pp. i-viii) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.1
Table of ContentsTable of Contents (pp. ix-x) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.2
IntroductionIntroduction (pp. xi-2)Sonya Jason https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.3
A wise observer once commented that many things in life shape us into what we become but in the beginning and in the end, it is one's family. To this I would add that it is also our early community environment.
Until my family moved from the mining patch of Jefferson, Pennsylvania, some thirty miles southwest of Pittsburgh, I had little conception of how materially poor we were during those years. But since then, I have never ceased to marvel at how wealthy we were in those intangibles that enrich human lives.
Icon of Springis a true and actual...
1 In the Beginning1 In the Beginning (pp. 3-11) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.4
The little girl who had just moved into the house next door eyed me curiously, index finger in her mouth.
“Where didyoucome from?” she demanded.
In my childhood this was not a question that might have the sophisticated connotation of sexual precocity of some children today; it was far more basic. In the melting pot of our first generation born to immigrant parents in the mining village of Jefferson in southwestern Pennsylvania, this question was often the opening gambit to determine exactly which section of central, eastern, or southern Europe one’s parents had emigrated from. It was a...
2 Darkness at Midday2 Darkness at Midday (pp. 12-27) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.5
The first load of clothes had been hung out to dry in the brisk winds of early spring. The beds had been stripped of sheets and along with towels were now boiling in the copper boiler to sterilize them to antiseptic whiteness. Mother kneaded the pan of bread dough, and I stood on a chair to wash dishes as Mary read to us from the newspaper. Mary stayed home from school to help out with chores that were too much for Mother, who was not feeling well.
“Boze moi,”Mother said. “My God.” She paused again and again to straighten...
3 And Then We Were Ten3 And Then We Were Ten (pp. 28-41) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.6
It would be impossible to determine which of the laws that governed the destiny of the coal miners’ families in our patch was the more implacable. Was it the natural law of human fertility, or, as Dr. Stanley tried to explain it, was it the 1873 Comstock Law that prohibited him as our village doctor from providing any birth control information? As with most laws, according to him, it was imposed primarily upon the ignorant and poor, compounding helplessness with a sense of guilt for having somehow failed. The economically better off or the more educated or sophisticated were sanctioned...
4 Visitors from Afar4 Visitors from Afar (pp. 42-49) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.7
From the other side of cross creek Valley, though the green velvet foliage and heavy brush cushioned some of it, we could hear the shouts.
“Move on, I say, move on,” a masculine voice volleyed off our hill.
“The gypsies are coming! The gypsies are coming!” a child shrilled from the top of the hill overlooking the valley.
There was a tingle in the spine and pounding of blood as the striped peach and white canvas-topped wagons hove into view. They rounded the curve by the super’s house and headed uphill to our patch. Tired horses labored that last long...
5 Where There’s Smoke There’s Gypsies5 Where There’s Smoke There’s Gypsies (pp. 50-63) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.8
I was the first one home that day from school. Charles and Danny were playing in the yard. Tootsie was in her cradle, but Mother was nowhere in sight. The scent of something burning was the only sign of life in the house. I sniffed deeply to be sure. Definitely smoke. And now I could see it drifting out from beneath the crack at the bottom of the junk-room door. I pounded on it. “Mama!” Ready to shout out the word we most dreaded—fire.
“Fire! Something’s burning!”
“No smoke. No fire,” Mother replied, coming out of the room. The...
6 Doom and Dissent6 Doom and Dissent (pp. 64-75) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.9
By the spring of 1932 our worldly goods were almost gone. The root cellar was down to its last layer of slightly shriveled potatoes and apples and turnips, and the sauerkraut barrels had as much juice as cabbage. The dried fruits and mushrooms were long gone, and the jars of tomatoes and piccalilli and jelly and jam remaining on the makeshift shelves in the junk room could be counted on one’s fingers. Every house, however crowded and small, had one room for storage, usually called the junk room. Ours contained food supplies, broken household items, and old clothing.
7 Children of a Free Man7 Children of a Free Man (pp. 76-85) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.10
It was that last gasp of summer just before the Pennsylvania fall swoops in with a surprise brisk wind to send the warm, humid air swirling off into the far North.
Berries had been picked and made into jelly with precious relief sugar. Vegetables were almost ready for canning and other crops for harvesting and storage for the long winter ahead. Private agencies had run out of supplies and shut their doors and none replaced them. Even the Red Cross left quietly from Avella.
The news of the kidnapping of the Charles Lindbergh baby, who was later found dead, had...
8 Lo, the Bridegroom Cometh8 Lo, the Bridegroom Cometh (pp. 86-100) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.11
The new president, franklin d. Roosevelt, had made a great inauguration speech, and my parents gathered at the battery operated radio in the Rotellini garage with other miners and their families to listen. Later Father read some of the speech aloud from theDaily Worker,and Mary read from thePittsburghPress to Mother and her friends.
All banks had declared a moratorium for an entire day. No bank in the country opened its doors, and for once we felt on a par with the privileged since they also had no access to currency that day. We chuckled when we...
9 And Then They Were One9 And Then They Were One (pp. 101-114) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.12
Car headlights cut across the kitchen window, quickly followed by spasms of excitement. A car was rare. It came closer and closer and then down the hill and stopped right before the bedroom window outside. Mike. That could only be Mike, the young man in love with our Anne.
With him were his parents, austere and dignified. And they had come on a solemn mission: to ask formally for Anne’s hand in marriage. Mother greeted them uneasily because she knew how much better off they were economically, and she had not had time to make arrangements for overnight guests.
10 My Man Works for the Govinment10 My Man Works for the Govinment (pp. 115-126) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.13
Even though there were no major changes in our lives in the spring of 1935, it was more than evident, even to Father and other miners, that the political game being played in Washington, D.C., was new. It was appropriately called the New Deal. Optimism exceeded opportunity for us in our mining patch as yet, but the sweet scent of hope was still wafting like that of a late spring wild rose over our lives.
And now there was a second “new deal” in the works. Since the fall of 1933, no longer did Father and Adam receive those dreaded...
11 Other Authorities11 Other Authorities (pp. 127-143) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.14
It had been a cool september morning several years before when my sister Eve led me by the hand to deposit me in the schoolroom for Arst and second graders. Immediately I lost my battle with terror and tears, despite the fact that Miss Post, the kindly stranger who wore lipstick on this ordinary day, tried to help by putting her arms around me to comfort me. My feeling of abandonment and desolation was overwhelming, and the duplicity of my sister, who had blithely gone to her own room with her laughing friends, was too much. I could only wail...
12 Levity at Last12 Levity at Last (pp. 144-154) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.15
Those early and middle years of the 1930s and the Great Depression were an imposition of darkness and blight on an otherwise happy existence. We prayed, we loved, and we hoped, but we also feared and came as close to that sin of despair as to the outer edge. As we crossed the midline into the latter part of the decade, we plunged into frolic with all our beings. There had been, of course, weddings as occasion for delight, or a christening as a party for hopes and dreams, but frolic for its own intent borne of the simple desire...
13 In the Garden, an Ending and a Beginning13 In the Garden, an Ending and a Beginning (pp. 155-167) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9f1.16
A decade was passing away but resisting its demise as befitted the most turbulent ten-year period in our history. The New Deal had changed a nation from one dedicated to self-satisfaction to one forced to assume responsibility for the destinies of all its citizens.
Hated by some, President Roosevelt was still a hero in our home, and we were among those who made him the most popular man in the land. Later we would understand how he had managed to quell any ripeness for revolution from both right-and left-wing radicals. Although he took on unprecedented powers, as Mrs. Ryan, our...