My earliest memory of my Granpap, as we called him, was him heading out into the hills down to the river behind the family house in a coal-mining Patch Town in Southwestern Pennsylvania. He was going mushroom hunting, and would not let me come with him for all my pleadings, I was only 4. My mother patiently explained that he was afraid for me as there were copperheads in the fields he would walk through.
I was 8 when he finally relented and I was allowed to accompany him on the hunt. That first time out, he actually killed a snake with his Miner’s Belt, a heavy piece of leather he wielded like a whip. So, first piece of knowledge, use the tools you have at hand and make sure you know how to use them. Next was learning the difference between edible mushrooms and the poisonous look a likes. That was a bit longer lesson.
My grandfather was a quiet man with few words. An immigrant from Poland, he spoke broken English, but enough to be understood. I unfortunately never learned anything of the Polish language. But he taught me about growing things and finding food in the wilds.
The Patch Towns were very poor, and so most families grew much of their own food and raised chickens, pigs and maybe a cow if they could afford it. I loved working in his vegetable garden every summer when we visited for several weeks. As I got a bit older I convinced Mom and Dad to let me go for the whole summer.
I learned how to start seeds, when to plant, how and when to harvest and how to put up food for the winter. To this day I still grow my own tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, peppers, corn, beets, potatoes and onions and either freeze, can or store them in our root cellar.
My grandfather was a poor coal miner who raised 11 kids, clothed, housed and fed them with his hard work in the mines and in the garden. The man woke at 5am every day and worked until sundown. The most valuable inheritance I could ever have hoped for was his teaching and his determination. Oh, and I now have his habit of waking at 5am and working until sundown. Thanks Granpap!