The Pennsylvania Hills - My Family Travels
On the Hills in Pennsylvania

On the Hills in Pennsylvania
On the Hills in Pennsylvania

I learned to measure milk in a half an eggshell, found doppelgangers exist, fell in love with rollercoaster-like land . . . and decided family reunions had possibility.

I truly tried to avoid my great-aunt’s “genealogy get-together.” My parents, more persistent than me, required I attend. At 17, what had I in common with my older relatives? My aunt hosting the event was 84!

Graysville, Pennsylvania varies from any place I’ve ever been. It is beautiful and steeped in antiquity. Most buildings are decades, even centuries old. Bridges connect homes to roads. So extreme are the land’s rolling hills that travel is difficult. My grandma who grew up here was responsible for milking duties. Supposedly, to ascend the hills, she had to cling to a cow’s tail. Locals say Graysville farm animals differ from other beasts because of their need for two shorter legs, enabling them to say erect on the tilted ground. Arriving at 7:50 a.m. to the Graysville Fire hall, I genuinely looked at the landscape. Those stories might be less exaggerated than I had suspected.

A bit surly for my forced attendance, the smells from the hall reminded me that these dull old people sure can cook. After sausage gravy and biscuits and pancakes and gooseberry muffins and “Blueberry Boy Bait” with sweet cream, my attitude improved slightly.

The adults proceeded to spread collections of family pictures and war documents on the unused tables. While they left to tour four local graveyards, my sister and I opted to clean the breakfast dishes. Gathering plates from one long table, I literally stumbled on a glob of breakfast leftover, knocking a pile of photos to the floor. Collecting them, a weathered sepia photo of my younger sister driving a horse and buggy caught my attention. Tossing a scarf across her shoulder, she eyed the camera with a challenge that only my sister can convey. I flipped the picture to see elegant fading writing identifying the photo’s subject as IdaMae Iams—my great-grandmother.

I’d never heard much about her. My grandmother died when I was 12; her mother, IdaMae, died when grandma was only 8. As I looked, I discerned small details of the scene. The road on which she and her horse stood was about ¼ mile from where I sat. The pervasive hills lined the distance. She was a double for my sister.

After the adults’ return from the graveyards, I asked about IdaMae. To learn more, I worked beside women making homemade noodles. I wanted to go and buy some egg noodles; they wanted to talk about my great-grandmother. I stayed and kneaded. Measuring milk in half of a broken egg shell, “the only way to get the exact amount of milk that you need in relation to the egg you use”, stories unfolded. My sister’s twin was an accomplished music teacher and horsewoman who handled horses that large men feared. She traveled to her students’ homes in that buggy, in the late 1800’s, on roads that I feared in our safe SUV.

After a lunch of chicken and noodles more delicious than I knew possible, I grabbed my sister’s arm and we walked around the grounds—the same property on which my aunt now lived and my earlier ancestors toiled. We stood on the old bridge connecting the fire hall to Dividing Ridge Road watching the crawfish squirm below. I couldn’t help but wonder if IdaMae had stood in the same spot, observing the same critters, wondering at what life had to offer. My connection to the place was unquestionable, and I was proud of it.

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