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I recently returned from Martinsburg, Pennsylvania, population 2,236 humans and 1,257,478 [yes, I made that up] four-legged critters. I couldn’t begin to get a count the chickens.

Dang roosters!

While there, I hatched the idea of an article about my roots, about the place where I was born and where I lived until my family moved to a suburb of Pittsburgh.

This post covers that period of my life–my sapling, tap-root days.

From my early days in farm country through when we moved from The Cove when I was nine years old.

*I plan a later post about the Low Hanging Fruit days after our move to the thriving metropolis of Elizabeth, PA (population 13,271).*

BY COINCIDENCE

One of the first blogs I read after I returned to Texas was Jenny Hansen’s Describe where You’re From on her More Cowbell blog. Click on her name. Go on! You’ll love the read.

I took her prompt and hopped over to Sharla Lovelace’s Where I’m From. Sharla also recently published a book titled The Reason is You. My pal, Pay, and I took a walk in the Amazon and found this treasure. Click the link to join us.

TAP ROOTS

By definition, the tap root of a tree is the lateral root that grows straight downward from the trunk. Barring (1) underground impediments, and (2) inadequate sunshine, the tree will grow straight and tall.

Willie, Gloria, Sheri, Donna, Sandy

The struggle for sunshine in a family of five girls–The Burns Girls–may have caused the first twists in my life.

Twists that I love and wouldn’t trade. Can you see how close in age the four oldest are?

Maximum time between birthing them babies for Mom? One year and three months. Shortest? Eleven months and three weeks.

Mom got a break for four years before Sheri joined us.

Five years prior to Sheri’s birth, Dad quit farming and became a long-haul truck driver. Coincidence? You decide.

MAKING MY OWN SUNSHINE (and Puddles)

No complaints here.

Growing up with sisters so close in age meant we had built in playmates. Especially important for those Sundays Dad declared “Family Day”.

And, we each created our own identity. Mom and Dad barely had time to sort out our names, let alone our unique identities. At least, that’s how I saw it then.

During the year this school picture was taken, our teacher gave us an assignment.

Memorize a poem to recite to the class.

While my friends went off to find the shortest or most poignant poems, I searched for the longest. The Spider and The Fly! Seventy-two whole lines! Perfect!

Well, perfect so long as you don’t show off during recess by reciting your poem instead of visiting the girl’s room. Perfect, so long as you don’t drink water on your way back to class. Perfect, so long as you don’t refuse to ask permission to leave your seat for fear the teacher will call your name while your gone.

Skipping the sordid details. [I leave it to your imagination.] Suffice to say, I recited my seventy-two line poem in front of the class while leaving my Pride in a Puddle.

Sharla Lovelace provided a great template to use for your own Where I’m From tale. Here’s mine, using that template.

THE TAP ROOT — WHERE I’M FROM

I am from homemade dresses, A&P green stamp collection books, and Burma Shave reverse slogan signs.

I am from rolling hills and farmlands of Pennsylvania dotted with silos, from John Deer farm equipment, from Mason jars stacked on basement shelves, and filled with vegetables and fruits harvested from personal and neighbor’s gardens and orchards.

I am from an old farmhouse with stairs a young girl might be tempted to substitute for tumble-haven-hills on a boring rainy day, and suffer no drain bamage on the way down to speckled linoleum floors.

I am from a second, temporary home that had no indoor plumbing while we waited for our new (!), big (800 plus square foot!) home to be finished.

I am a survivor of one smelly trip to a two-seater outhouse on a hot, summer day when curiosity about why the latch was on the outside yielded imprisonment for hours with a cranky sister.

I am from the scent of recently fertilized land (cow pooh!), hay-bale-forts in barn lofts, silos filled with grain for winter feed, chicken coops with hens sitting on my breakfast eggs, milk fresh from the cows made low-fat when skimmed of cream for the butter.

I am from dandelion greens picked fresh from the fence-row, from blackberries harvested with Aunt Katie while riding double on an old horse named Trooper, from fried chicken dinners made from hens who roamed free until Mom whacked them headless using a small hatchet and a tree stump.

I am from maternal Pennsylvania Dutch stoic heritage and paternal Heinz fifty-seven Irish and Native American and who-knows-what-else heritage. I am from a mother who filled her cedar hope chest with traditional embroidered doilies, pillowcases, and sheets, leaving no room (or parental support) for her own dream of becoming a nurse.

From a spitfire tiny woman who taught her five daughters they shouldn’t answer to any man, and could accomplish what they wanted.

From a father whose intelligence far exceeded his education level, a man who dropped out of high school when his help was needed on the family farm, a man who built his own trucking company when disease stole his eyesight.

From parents who insisted our education, including college, came first.

I am from a religion two baptismal dunks separated from the Mennonites, from Sunday school and Church and Evening Service each Sunday and Wednesday Night Prayer Meetings, from memories of waiting in the church parking lot while Dad finished listening to Gunsmoke on the car radio. From a religion with a list of thou-shalt-nots that included drinking, smoking, dancing, slacks for women, jewelry, make-up, movies, and slang words such as dang and darn (because they were substitutes for blasphemy). From Hellfire and Damnation and Altar Calls and backsliding so often I was certain I was bound for Hell at the ripe old age of eleven.

I am from a paternal Grandma who used to bounce us along with her in Nelly Belle on country roads when she made her egg route.

From a Dad who outran the local Mayberry Sheriff en route home from courting Mom. I think that’s him with Nelly Belle, the only family car.

From a Nana who used to get so angry with people, she could “just stand them in a corner and throw water on them.”

I am from Morrison’s Cove, Pennsylvania, where the seasons are distinct and memories of hills in full autumn regalia—like dollops of orange, lemon and raspberry sherbet—tug at me. My sisters and I—The Burns Girls—are now far-flung, as are the family treasures, but we share a history that won’t be broken.

I am closer now than I’ve ever been to the Tap Root of my Wonky Tree—to my Aunt Katie, my cousins, their children and grandchildren and—well—just about anyone I happen to meet when I’m home and grounded.

That’s my story. What’s yours? Share your comments here, or link to Sharla Lovelace’s site (above) to pick up your own template. Have a great and memorable day.

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