Industries and factories had come and gone. Some stayed around long enough to prove their worth, but most of them had disappeared. A company or two had built an empire; a few men had become rich. There was even one factory that managed to employ many through the gain and loss of a small fortune. For some men carpentry was a livelihood, for others it was lumber or maybe even smithing. For the men who made their home in Theary Pass it was coal.
Theary Pass isn't a pass at all. In fact, it has nothing to do with a mountain at all. It's flat. Tallest point is the top of the hospital, which, by the way, is the building with the most rooms in Theary Pass. It might have a population 17,000 in only a few years. It has a Main Street that, as the name implies, is the main strip through the town. Starting with the sun in your face you'll go by an auto parts store, the Lions Club, the Grange, couple of hair salons topped by a few layers of apartments. You'll probably walk right past the Tsao Chung Family Chinese restaurant and not realize it's even there. It isn't small, it just doesn't draw much attention. Next to that is the Calle de Mexico restaurant, and just across SR 68 is McDonalds. Main and SR 68 is the location of one of two stop lights within the town limits. There are a few insurance agencies followed by a grocery store. A gravel parking lot and a Presbyterian church sum it up. There isn't much more then wheat far as the eye can see. So you turn around, cross the street, and start heading north... ish. A challenging Catholic church stands with a tall bell tower, tolling if it had been Sunday. Jennings and son's contracting office was right across from insurance. Then the paint and supplies store followed by a liquor store which seemed a little out of place.
Across 68 there is an out of place park. I think it had been purchased by the Catholic Church a few years back. There is a great arch on that corner that says in roman script 'The Park of Heaven's Light.' It had two swing sets beneath three equally sized elm trees at the far end on a small rise. It is probably the only hill in town. At the bottom of the rise there is a set a picnic tables, five or six of them, all in a long bend matching the hill. On the left marches a parade of small oak trees, on the right there is a fence dotted with oak trees and in the middle is about half a football field of lush green manicured grass. A small slide is made miniature by a big one that probably reaches ten feet. Passing a couple of elm trees and a drinking fountain you'd find Main again.
Moving up Main there was another apartment building with a bottom floor that served as a nice place for a barber shop and a video rental store. Frank and Sons furniture store, a non-descript grocery store, a gas station and carwash.
Coal didn't make my grandfather rich, you couldn't eat it, and it wasn't turned into gold by alchemists. Coal wasn't a quick way to make a dollar either. You would head down a long dark shoot that spits you onto 'Hell's front stoop,' as grandpa would call it. You can't see. It's wet and sticky, or it's so dry your nose bleeds. You dig the thickest dirt and mud out of the earth, who hates you for it, and you send it back out the shoot you came in through. The shovel you are given is about the shape as a spoon. It has the same worn smooth handle and the same worn smooth blade so you don't cut your mouth while flinging slop into your belly between shifts. You spend eight of your precious hours moving this clay. It all gets washed up and dressed to the tails like it's going out to the senior prom. Out it goes ready for a hot night in the furnace. Your eight hours are spent to push electricity through the few hours of TV you watch at night. When you came out of that wretched forsaken hole you were one of two colors: Black as night, or black as coal.
Grandpa didn't watch tv in his spare time. He couldn't. It didn't exist then. Back in those days if you were rich you spent your time going to school, but if you were poor, as was my grandpa's case, you built things. He built a fence. He built a barn. But most importantly, he built a house. He built it with both of his tired bare hands. He measured and inspected each piece of golden lumber. He checked and double checked every angle. He didn't put in every nail. My father and my two uncles helped with that. My father tells me of how they stayed in a tent on the property. They cooked over a fire I now call the fire pit. They washed with water from a well cold as ice. When I was younger I thought it would be lots of fun to be camping all the time. Chores were not short in supply. My father would say, "Ya know son, your grandpa told me that some day this house would be mine. He told me that every day when he'd call us out to work on it. Now it is mine, and I'm telling you the same thing, so long as Uncle Sam don't take you or this house away from me. So you better sweep up this house, son, 'cause one day it'll be yours."
Imagine, if you would, a Victorian house, light blue, white trim, picket fence. Imagine two floors of beautifully intricate Cape Cod windows. Now imagine if you can a brick and sea-glass walkway leading up through moss colored grass which springs up under a great oak that is old as time itself. Imagine great double door entry, not to mention the hardwood floors with lavender and crimson runner style carpet in the halls and great stairway. This was grandpa's house. The banisters were carved with cherry lions' heads at top and bottom ends. The halls had decoratively lathed columns lining every corridor. The kitchen had a marble top island facing the lowered family room that was indistinguishable from the front yard through the sun filled bay window. The family room had carpet so plush you would sink into it like quicksand. If you ever removed your toes from the living room carpet, then you would have a chance to see the library. It wasn't really a library, I think it was grandpa's smoking room, but it had some books in it. There was War and Peace, right beside Moby Dick, followed by a volume of some version of encyclopedia. The next shelf was definitely grandmas. It had Charles Dickens, Emily Dickenson, a novel that was probably French: Hamas Humaine, and finally Pride and Prejudice. We didn't spend much time in there, but we called it the library. Through the mud room you would walk out into just enough room to throw the pigskin, If you avoid the workshop sitting against the fence.
Grandpa had gone to meet his maker, but my father was still around, and so was that old house, when the war broke out. We had read about it in the news. We had heard about it on the radio. We had even studied the geography in high school. 'Mostly sand' we would read, like a large oceanless beach. Cacti abound among the oasis yielding only to the glorious mirages that were so famous. Settlements were few and far between. We would see the kids playing army men out in the fields with their roughly M-16 shaped wooden assault rifles. Rolling back and forth they would hurl dirt clod laden wheat clumps at each other and duck away from the blast. Many of them were injured and left to die, rising a few minutes later to triumphantly overtake their enemy. I remember Freddy Jackson, whose dad owned Tony's Paint and Supplies, had a tank made out of cardboard appropriately colored to match the army style fatigues seen in movies of the day. Freddy and Jacob could carry their tank around holding poles connected to the inside. Dials and knobs painted on the inside would direct and redirect blasts out the main wrapping paper tube barrel. This would go on until meal time would signal a retreat and no band of warriors would be held in either victory or defeat; the deciding battle was always to take place tomorrow.
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