This post was written by Bev Hendricks, who returned this year as a volunteer after working with us at the Canal Street Site last summer. A previous blogpost about that experience can be read here.
“The more things change the more they stay the same”. At some point in life everyone has heard that phrase. And yet while perhaps a cliché, it remains true. If I were asked to give a one word summation of this year’s field experience, it would be continuity. Though there are a few differences between the Lattimer Canal Street site from 2012, and our current site in Pardeesville, I am struck by the major similarities. Both sites were once the place where immigrants tried to eke out a living, raising their families along the way. In the process they created a close knit community that survives to this day, while their own existence faded into history and the places they called home fell into disrepair and were removed from the landscape.
I returned to the project this year as a volunteer and official graduate of Bloomsburg University. And while I am a cultural anthropologist whose main focus is religion, I am still drawn by my own family history and curiosity to see what else can be revealed about the lives of the coal miners and their families from the area. Much of it was revealed to me last year at the Lattimer Canal Street site. The hard work that all members of the family did every day, the simple meals that were eaten, even the toys that the children played with. This year those images were reinforced in my mind’s eye, and some new pictures began to emerge. From the proximity of the homes to one another you feel a sense of security, a close bond between families that may have been related by blood, but were definitely related by circumstance. In excavating the site we have also seen a pragmatic side of the occupant’s lives in the use of the privy, and its contents. These people were the ultimate recyclers, a habit born of need more than altruism. Even the way in which they utilized their space, planting gardens of edible foods in every available piece of ground they could find. All of these things add to the picture that is ever changing in my mind of the lives of the people who lived so long ago.
So I continue digging, troweling and sifting, searching for more pieces to the picture of the lives of the coal miners and their families. Saddened at times by the hardships they faced and reflecting on the fact that my own family faced those same hardships. Yet realizing that without those people and their lives, many of Northeastern Pa’s small close knit communities would not exist. It’s from these roots that our communities grew and continue to branch out.
Last year one of the first things Mike told us was, ‘Archaeology is always dirty, sometimes exciting, often tedious, all interspersed with moments of joy’. Now, as we wrap up this second field season for the project I realize that those moments of joy do not come primarily from the finding of a specific artifact, although they are very exciting. What I have come to realize is that being able to see a picture in your mind, like the vision I have in mine…. A miner walks out of his back door, and strides the few steps to the fence surrounding the backyard garden. Leaning on the fence he leisurely lights his pipe, preparing to enjoy his after dinner smoke outside, where his wife won’t complain about it, before heading back inside, and up to bed….Being able to imagine those small pieces of everyday life from the features and artifacts we uncover during the excavation, from the pieces of history available to us, and even the memory of those still in the area who may remember similar scenes, these then are those moments of joy.