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You Can’t Go Home.....

On September 6, 2010 as we were leaving Newfoundland and entering Nova Scotia,  I wanted to stop in Springhill one more time.   It is the place of my ancestry, the place that my Grandmother came from.   It is the place where me and my brothers spent part of our summers each year and it is the place that I took my children to when they were babies and then grown children.
Springhill,  a coal mining town in the North part of Nova Scotia,  a town of hard workers and very simple people.   People who love their town,  who at one time cherished family and friends and who knew that things would not get better.   They lived a hard life and even when my Grandmother moved to the states she kept her eye on her family.   Everytime there was a coal mining disaster she would be glued to the t.v. waiting to see if this time it would be “one of her’s”.   Sometimes it was but even when it wasn’t it was someone that she knew.   Springhill you see, was a community of souls tied together through-out life.  A shared existence that spilled over into family,  friends and friends of friends and when my Grandmother died we were still treated as family by everyone in that town.  
As children it was the highlight of our summers.    Because neither my Mom or my Grandmother had a car and my Dad was in the military my Grandmother would always find us a ride with someone going “home”.   For that reason only two of us kids could go in any given year.   I was always so happy when it was my turn.  My Mom would make fried chicken and potato salad and some kind of dessert for the long trip over.   I can remember that fried chicken still.   It was not something that we got on a regular bases so it was very special.   We’d pack the car and just leaned  into that 12 hour trip.   By the time my kids came along the trip was a few hours shorter and we stopped at roadside restaurants but I think we were the lucky ones with the fried chicken.
Each year because there were so many of us we would get separated when we got there.   Not many rooms in those “pit houses” but none of us minded.   We loved being there and during the day we would once again find ourselves at one of my Aunt’s or what was referred to as an Aunt.   None of it mattered because they were all loving us up and making special treats for us.   We could cross the road (dirt) and go to the store all by ourselves and get the best chips in the whole world.   Canadian Humpty Dumpty. Today you can not find those special chips.     At 4:00 each day when the whistle blew the whole family would walk down to the mine shaft and wait for my Uncles to come out.   
I was totally fascinated with this process of meeting my family at the pit entrance.   Their faces were pitch black and we couldn’t kiss them until they had cleaned up.   Up they came with helmets with lights attached.   How cool was that and they were always so happy to see us.  I loved going to the mines. For a small child it was a great adventure.  It wasn’t until many years later that we learned of it dangers.  The air in Springhill even smelled of coal and this lasted for many years after the mines were shut down.   I remember the first time Jim and I walked the mine field after the closing and I was very aware that the smell was finally gone but it was 30 years later.  I was so sad that I couldn’t smell the coal anymore.    Then though when we were little  we walked home from the mines after waiting for the men to change into street clothes in the wash room.
So long ago those memories of family and friends.   Of coal mines and black faces and of dirt roads and outhouses.   Memories of going into the fields to pick fresh blueberries each summer and taking them home and Aunt Lila making pies and cakes and dumplings with those fresh blueberries.   Memories of seeing the moon rise straight out across the field in the back yard.  Memories of laughter and tears and fear.  Of spiders and smells in the outhouse and of hoping you didn’t have to pee in the middle of the night.   I remember a quiet so quiet it was scary.   The smell of the soap in the bathroom that had no tub but still you felt clean and cared for.   In bed at night I would listen to the laughter of the grown ups and now I understand how precious their time together was.   To meet only once a year.   And Springhill is where I learned to drink tea.   
This day I went to visit the one last connection that I have in Springhill.  He was my Grandmother’s best friends son.   He took us in after his Mom died and for many years we have been visiting him.   He was family.   This time when we visited him,  he was in a nursing home and he didn’t know who Jim and I were and it was so sad.   I talked to him and he talked to me but as a stranger,  not as someone he knew since I was a baby.   I left him after several hours and went to town.  I walked the streets  that I walked as a child and I visited the pit and my Aunt’s house and then I sat.
Sitting on the Liar’s Bench for the last time (spent many a night there) looking out over the coal mines,  just turning slightly I could see Annie’s house and I realized “you can’t go home”.   You can’t go home because there is no body there anymore.   There is a street named Harrison Ave.  That is my  family name.   There are no more Harrison’s.   I also realized that the  little town of Springhill is as old as my people.   It has deteriorated just as my family has.   Now instead of being that wonderful playground I loved growing up it felt like a ghost town.   I could feel their presence,  those that walked those streets before me.   I could still see the pit entrance but now it had a coal cart with a sign stating the closing after the 58 mine disaster.   I was glad I came to say goodbye to my friend but this time as I leave I take my memories of my family and childhood with me,   knowing that there is no need for me to return.   
I’m going home now to my family and to Liam......we will make new memories.    Not such a bad exchange.   
September 25, 2010
1 Comment 
Cheryl, I lived through it all with your eyes.  Wonderful!  Sad to see a city close down after the last mine tragedy...there was nothing left for them when the mine closed.  I remember going with Uncle Fred to the mine to see the men come up...they were all happy because they were glad to be out of the pit alive for another day.  I took pictures of them all running out to get to the washroom.  When I returned to Aunt Lila's I had to take a bath, and the ring of coal dust on the tub showed me how much dust was in the air, and probably in our lungs.  It was a hard, hard life for them all.
Sorry to hear about Ralph.  He was a good, simple man that couldn't do enough for you.  Another good memory.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010 - 11:16 AM
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