Ivan’s mother loved to talk about her family. How they were decedents from Polish royalty and that they had a coat of arms. Her family name meant something in this town and in the world at large. Her husband’s life, she said was not so much. Many people thought she had married beneath her and she was not afraid to say it out loud. Stanly hardly ever spoke about his life or where he came from. So, Ivan was surprised on the day they drove to Lattimer, Pa to see where his father had grown up. Ivan had no idea his father had ever lived anywhere else, or ever had another job outside of the paper factory he worked in. It was Ivan, his sister Judith and both his parents. His mother was oddly silent during the drive, but Ivan did not mind it left him free to doze off. He had a habit of being lulled to sleep in cars and his mother often chided him for not paying attention to the lectures she was fond of giving about manners, the importance of family and the need for hard work. A Saturday drive was for Ivan usually a lot like school.
The coal company camp looked unchanged from about 100 years ago Ivan thought as they walked up to a small one-room house that his father said was where he began and ended every work day. Wooden floors and no pictures on the wall and only one window would have been bad enough, but inside there was a filthy porcelain bathtub with claw feet and no water hook up. It was black inside and the water in it looked like mud. There were no towels around it but there was a clothes tree to hang your stuff on. A few feet away there was a hole in the floor that was a black and scary as anything Ivan had ever seen, all around the outside of the whole there were black dusty fingerprints making it look like someone, or something had dragged many people out of, or into that hole.
“What is that hole daddy?” Judith asked her father holding tightly to his hand. “Here is where we climb down into the mine,” her father said. We go in before sunup and at the end of your shift you come out, you bathe yourself there before you go home. He said this with no real emotion at all. Ivan was staring into the hole intently hoping he might see someone come out when his mother started to cry. It was quiet at first, but it built like a thunderstorm into sobs and hysterical tears. His mother took Judith’s hand from her father and left the room. You could hear her sobs outside and Ivan was not sure if his sister was supposed to console his mother or not because soon she was crying too. Ivan’s father said nothing for a while; he just looked down the hole for a long time, and for a second Ivan thought he saw his father smile.
©Matthew Borczon all rights reserved
Matthew Borczon is a writer and Navy Sailor from Erie, Pa. He has written 8 books of poetry and publishes widely in the small press. He is married with 4 children.