Reminisces of Old Warrior Run, August 1925
Saturday Evening on Orchard Street
by Edward Sylvanus Williams (a local schoolteacher)
It is the last Saturday in August, and "Pap" Tudgay and I are sitting together under the cherry tree in his garden, quietly observing the movement of life in the streets below us. From our position, elevated more than twenty feet above the streets, we are able to observe the various shifts and turns for the whole stretch of Hanover Street, running from east to west; and, most especially, of Orchard Street in front of us, leading off toward Shanty Hill on the north. Immediately below the embankment, runs the local branch of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, used chiefly as a means for transporting coal from the Newport and Nanticoke Collieries to the Ashley Planes. Three men are squatted within the shade of a freightcar standing on the switch, all discussing earnestly some question which has just arisen in the Miners' Union. On the left, sallowed cheeked "Al" Miller, hopelessly crippled by a fall down a mine chamber, but enough to live, is sitting in a wheel chair in front of his poolroom, silently smoking and observing and thinking as the people pass slowly back and forth. On the right, Victor Brill, the local butcher, waiting for business to begin, is sleeping contentedly in an armchair within the shade of the weather-beaten awning.
On this particular afternoon, the pale blue sky, arched above the little town of Warrior Run, is clear, cloudless, and unfathomable. The sun is hot and high overhead. It seems to have been poised too long in an intolerable white glory above us. Since noon, it has sent its piercing rays, like burning arrows, upon the roofs, sidewalks, and streets. The cinder-bedded railroad, the concrete sidewalks, and the asphalt streets radiate the resultant heat in an oily, quivering shimmer. The leaves of the cherry tree, lilac and maple droop motionless, limp and relaxed under the scorching, searching blaze. The shadows of the trees have shrunk to their smallest circumference, with now, perhaps, a slight variation to the eastward. It is with the greatest difficulty that "Pap" and I find some spot partially protected from its penetrating gleam. "It's 'ot as 'ell" exclaims my English friend; and, in my discomfort, I am inclined to agree with him. Now and then a wandering breeze comes without warning from the direction of Hanover on the west and lingers only for a moment, shaking the beads of sweat upon our hot foreheads and stirring faintly the drooping leaves on the lilacs and rose bushes. There is scarcely any relief, for the sun is everywhere. The heat radiating from the steel rails, cinders and streets seem to meet the sun, descending like a hot blanket from the burning sky. With his cane "Pap" points to a red lizard that has emerged from one of the interstices of the sidewalk; but the little animal stands motionless, utterly heedless of danger, a little silent creature, like a stuffed specimen, its eyes closed to mere slits, dazed, stupefied by the heat. At varying intervals, the prolonged drone of the humblebee or of the hummingbird sounds in our ears, vibrating for a fleeting moment in a soothing, somnolent note, then passes quietly off into the distance. Upon the roof of Taylor's pigeonloft, a group of pigeons is cooing incessantly, the males strutting about in conscious grandeur, with their consorts nodding their adoring heads and uttering subdued and plaintive murmurs. On the top rail of a neighbor's fence Hettig's white cat, with its pink nose and thin pink lips, is dozing complacently in the burning sun, A little to the left of us, along Hanover Street, some of Snyder's black-and-tan hens —all prize stock, you may be sure— are wallowing in the baking hot sand, their wings fluttering, their feet clawing the earth, and all clucking comfortably as they envelop themselves within a cloud of dust.
Immediately below us on Orchard Street, extending north and south in a deviating and undulating way, the heat of the sun does not seem to be a deterrent to the human activity which is everywhere manifest. Along the inconveniently narrow sidewalks, made still narrower by tolerated encroachments of one kind or other, everybody is astir. In front of Trice's block, a small stand projects upon the sidewalk; and an ambitious young Pole, with his day's work in the mines done, is busily engaged in selling wilting peas, lettuce, onions and cabbage, and, perchance, some fruit of the most untempting frowziness. A lame man, keeping close to the curb, is pushing a hand-cart in front of him, yelling lustily at intervals: "Horse-radish! Horse-radish! Anybody want to buy some horse-radish?" Several young miners with their flannel shirts open at the throat and rolled up on their muscular, grimy arms, with their caps tilted jauntily over their left ears, and nonchalantly smoking cigarettes, proudly saunter up the street until they reach Steve's Place, when they suddenly disappear behind its swinging, latticed door. A little farther up the street, "Bobby" Wagner can be seen emerging frequently and impatiently from his store to supply the needs of the younger generation that must have a goodly supply of gas and oil. At the Orchard house, immediately beyond Wagner's, men and women can be seen passing in and out; for John Dzikowski can always be depended upon to gratify the thirsty and the hungry. Within the enclosure, men and women are eating and drinking, some of them in the dingy, sprawling rooms, and some of the outdoors at little tables set in curving lines under the grape arbor or beneath the gaily covered awning, which covers a large part of the open space on the southern side of the restaurant. Across the road, the brassy staccato of a cornet can be heard, rendering in halting fashion, "I Want a Girl Just Like the girl that Married Dear Old dad." On River's porch, on the second floor, sits John Sobolefski, playing in supreme contentment upon a reed instrument some favorite Polish polka. Lolling against the opposite fence, the irrepressible Stanley Podsaidlik, dirty, unkempt, and frowzy, with a cigarette clinging to his under-lip, is directing the placement before his moving-picture theater of the lurid posters which are calculated to bring a crowd to see "The Famous Diamond Robbery" and "The Holdup of the Black Hill's Stage". Now and then a huge truck with beer, household furniture, or mine ties comes lumbering through the street; and before the truck the children scatter, waiting to the very last moment for possible escape. At frequent intervals, automobiles of various types and makes, from the humble Ford to the expensive, elegantly equipped Packard, pass up and down the street; and, in the faces of the miners and their sons, who sit behind the wheel, there is the expressed feeling of possession. Before these numerous machines, the youngsters dart, and dodge and scamper. There are countless children, and they are forever swarming out of the houses and over the sidewalks and up and down the street. They are of all ages, from the babe in the arms of some strapping, thick-set mother to the sturdy boy and girl of from ten to twelve. They run wild in the street; and, although they are in constant danger, their parents give but little heed. Some can be seen playing about the knees of their mothers, who sit gossiping in the doorways; and some can be seen climbing the porches of high buildings to filch nosegays from broken wooden boxes on the railing above.
The crowd that moves up and down the sidewalks is cosmopolitan and unhurried. For the most part, they are prosperous and good natured. There are no beggars; there is no appealing poverty. There is an occasional "drunk"; but nobody, except the children, seem to notice him as he makes his unsteady way homeward. Manifestly large families are not the exception; for, even in this day of high cost, reproduction is not regulated or restrained, and everyone is well-fed and well-clad. With gratifying frequency, baby carriages pass up and down the street, the young mothers dressed in bright, clean dresses and white aprons. At varying intervals, groups of three or four girls could be seen gossiping and giggling. Occasionally, some modern Romeo, dressed in a suit of immaculate white or becoming tweed, and with his hair carefully groomed, struts up the street, invoking the admiring glances and frank comment of the local Juliets. Several young men, perhaps less romantically inclined, are leaning against telephone poles or sitting on store porches, smoking and exchanging opinions. Near Stackhouse's barber shop, John Wordoski, with a tilted cigar in the corner of his mouth, and "Pat" McGonagle, nervously chewing his cud and squirting tobacco juice upon the pavement, are discussing the election prospects, trying in some way to evolve a plan whereby the local Republican machine might be deprived of its power. On his front porch, carefully screened from the burning sun, sits the Burgess Enoch Thomas, who, like Scattergood Baines, is fond of a quiet moment when he might twiddle his toes and think —think seriously of his financial investments and of plans to circumvent the well laid plans of his political enemies. He is fully conscious of their enmity; but in due time, he will summon his chief lieutenants, reveal his plans, and throw confusion into them by a new and unexpected stroke. In front of his shop, "Jack" Stackhouse is describing, for the pleasure of his tradesmen, some thrilling experience with big game in the Rockies or in the wilds of Western Canada. In spite of the heat, there is a general air of prosperity displaying itself in the sunshine; and none of the misery and the want, so frequently encountered in the large cities, is visible anywhere.
Since it is payday at the local collieries, a new element is observable as it moves hither and thither. As Sam Pripstein, the Jewish merchant, emerges from his place of business and passes up the street, old "Pap" gives me a nudge and exclaims: "Damn my old shoes! It's pay day. Don't you see old Samuel going up the street to collect his bills before the money's gone? Sure thing Ed., it's pay day." Confirmation of "Pap's" judgment soon followed; for a swarthy, dark-skinned Arabian woman, with gold rings in her ears, bright colors in her skirt, and embroidery on her neckerchief, lumbers up the street, carrying two large telescopes of dry goods for the prospective buyers among the foreigners. Two gypsy woman, dresses in bright yellow skirts, velvet waists, scarlet shawls across their shoulders, and dirty, broad-brimmed straw hats upon their heads, pass slow along the street, looking about them with shrewd, appraising glances. On the corner, where the street is intersected by Bauer's Lane, a plain but plump Hungarian woman, perhaps thirty years of age, with a baby in her arms and a girl of three clinging to her patched and faded calico dress, is seeking the whereabouts of her recreant husband; two other children, both under six, are playing in the street nearby; and two more, a boy and a girl, several years older than the rest, are searching from saloon to saloon for their father. A feeling of compassion sweeps through the throng as they pass her by; and many an indignant feeling is expressed in lurid language or forceful epithet for the renegade from beyond the line.
Everywhere are noises and smells. The incessant clatter and shrill cries of the multitude in the street, the whir and throb and explosion of starting motor cars, the oft repeated toot of passing machines, are mingled with the constant rumble in the coal chute, where the hoisting engine at the Hillman Slope dumps the mine coal into the hopper. From a few ill kept kitchens, a rancid odor is wafted into the nostrils of the passerby, who glances hastily about to discover the source of the annoyance and passes on. The pungent odor of pork and cabbage, garlic sausage and faggots, is merged with the mitigated effluvium of decaying fruits and vegetables. With the healthy and strong, it is not unpleasant to the nostrils; but to the supersensitive, it is revolting.
But over and above all the smells and the noises and the ceaseless clatter and activity of the throng in the street, both "Pap" and I could not escape the impression that we are all viewing life itself. We are being given a glimpse of the great struggle for existence, strong, incessant, and inevitable. The spectacle is not a beautiful one; it is not even picturesque; and it is certainly not inspiring; but it is, for all that, interesting—yes, unmistakably interesting.
The above information was donated by: Dan Foose
©1997-2016 Mary Ann Lubinsky for the PAGenWeb Project, and by Individual Contributors
Mary Ann Lubinsky, County Coordinator