Saturday, February 26, 2011

Early life on a dirtpile

The Pile!

When my wife and I talk about our education we realize how different we were educated and raised. This should come as no surprise. She was raised in an area in Quebec where aluminum mining was the big industry. I was raised in an area of New York where the big industry was iron ore mining. That is where the similarity ends.

Her dad was the Assistant Superintendent of the company, my dad was the guy who went into the ground every day. A dangerous place. There were many mine widows in our town.
Sadly, my wife's dad could never become the big boss of the facility. He had the education. He spoke perfect English, but he was French Canadian. The facility was owned by English people. He could drink coffee with them but he would never be invited to join the country club.
It was very much like being a black man in Mississippi during the 60's. As long as you stayed in your place life was OK. The French Canadians were treated like second class citizens in their own province. This may help explain why "Parti Quebecois" became so powerful.
But that is another story.
This is about kids being educated and socialized.
My wife is surprised that I can remember all of my teachers from Kindergarten to high school. I am not.
She was educated by nuns. They all looked alike when she was in school. They wore black with white trim. Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Elizabeth looked like twins.
She did not have teachers with colorful nicknames like Peg Leg, Hose Nose, Frizzy, Fossil, Whitie, Bull, and Izzy, to name a few.
Some of the students had very colorful names also. Most of the names were some type of animal like Beaver, Horse, Dogbone, Mole, Cougar, Cub, Munger, Slats, and Carp, to name a few. That was my class only. I am sure some of the other classes had some colorful names also.

The teachers who survived and got tenure were actually quite good. You had to be pretty dedicated to hang around and teach at this school. The school was built on a pile of tailings. Our campus was dirt, gray dirt. If you left the windows open you could hear the sounds of ore cars coming out of the mines and the 2:20 PM explosion. The ground would rumble. They're getting more ore ready for the next shift.
One thing we have in that area is dirt, mountains of dirt.

The people who worked in these mines were a very diverse group. There were many names with "ski" at the end. I guess that would be the Polish People. We had black people who came from South Carolina to find work. We had numerous Spanish people, many French Canadians and of course, the Irish.

I lived a sheltered life for a while. I didn't actually meet a black person until I went to school. Let me correct that. I didn't actually see a black person until I started school.
I was waiting for the school bus which would drop off kids at the school.
The bus arrives and kids start getting off the bus. Suddenly this really black human gets off the bus. I was shocked. I never saw a person with that particular condition. Whatever he had I didn't want to catch it. I didn't know whether to run, poop my pants or go blind. I was traumatized. I eventually got over it. I made a full recovery from this trauma. The guy actually became a good friend later in my teen years.

My school never had a "gay" issue. Huh?...Well, maybe.
I knew of some people who were "different". The one person who really stood out as being gay was not really given a hard time. It was more insidious and subtle. He really wasn't "one of the boys". He was tolerated.
The odd thing, a couple of my classmate came out as gay later in life. I didn't have a clue that they were thinking of joining that club. It's a choice, right? (wink! wink!)

No child left behind? What a concept! There were no Special Education classes when I was in school. If you had an education issue, too bad for you. About half the class I started with in Kindergarten was left behind. It was a miracle that I didn't fall behind.
I made it through. I was horrible in math until 9th grade. The light bulb finally went on.
I was good at physical Education.(Gym)

Life on the dirt pile was interesting. This town of 5 hamlets had about 7,000 people in 1970. Numerous churches, 3 small high schools, 2 catholic schools, 5 post offices, numerous taverns and eateries and big brother, THE COMPANY!!!

The Company decided to close the mines in 1972. They could import steel cheaper.
Outsourcing began. 800 people lost their jobs. My dad retired in 1972. He collected a pension, social security, free health insurance for the next 33 years. Not too bad. I hope to do the same. That will take me right up to 2041. I don't know what I will do after that. I will be getting close to 100 years old.

The town is still there but they are dying a slow painful death. Me too. I hurt everywhere already. 

Pictured: Miners on their way to work.

Note:While getting information for this blog I came across a side story that is interesting.  It was a topix blog called "Remember when". It happened in my hometown.

Pictured: My school literally on a dirt pile.

December 1968: (posted by HWH)
I was at HWHenry(a car dealership) having a beer with Dick F, George B. , C. Henry, and Mark S.
Mark took a bottle of beer, put it on a steel beam in the back of the garage.  He said he would drink this bottle when he gets back from Vietnam.  
End of story? Not really. They say the bottle is still there.  The building is now the firehouse.  
April 26 would be 42 years.  Mark would be 62 years old now.  
Let me know for sure if the bottle of Genesee is still there.

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