Wednesday, December 19, 2012

500 Days, Why Pithole?

Everyone is always asking me why I write about Pit hole city.  It seems unlikely that a Californian would be writing about an Oil Boom town in Western Pennsylvania   But, once I heard the stories about the town, once I visited the site where it once stood, I felt the need to dredge up the stories that happened there and bring them to light.  I think places hold the residue of their history (told and untold) and there are some places I visit, or I live, that have so many untold stories that I can't let them go.  That's what happened the day I visited Pit hole (or what's left of it).  These days there is just a broad open field, and a small visitor's center (that was being closed due to budget cuts). The day I visited it was closed, but a few of the staff were there and they offered to give me a tour.  It is then, walking around the small visitor's center, looking at the diorama of the booming city, that I heard the story of Amy--her imprisonment  her letter and her rescue.  It's then when I heard Widow Ricketts and how she struck oil. It was then when I heard about the all of the young girls who were forced into prostitution there and I knew I needed to tell their stories.  So, this hybrid collection attempts to tell.  It attempts to dig up and find what hasn't been told.

In today's passage, Amy awakens freed from her ordeal at the Dew Drop Inn.

Amy Awakens

The scent of dust and oil makes me nauseous.  It’s all that I can smell mixed in with the doctor’s smelling salts when I come to.  Mama is looking down at me and the blue sky blooms out from her hair.  Her hair has so many wisps it is half down.  There is dried blood on her cheek and her right eye is half-closed and swollen.  There is a halo of shadow glowing around her face.  “Amy, Amy we here honey.  We are here.”  She says over and over. 
A man is standing next to her.  Not my Pa.  I look around me.  I’m lying on grass next to a white washed building that looks like a church.  The sun is so bright it makes everything around me seem dark. 
“I don’t think she can see.”  The man says.
“No, no I can’t.”  I say, but the sound that escapes my lips doesn’t form the words I intended.   Instead,  I hear a low moan.  I look around to see what animal has made this terrible sound before I realize it has come from me.  The noise has arisen from my own throat. 
How can it be?  I think.  How can that silly letter I wrote, how can that dumb hope have gotten all the way to New York. It seems like an impossible journey.  What hands had to pick it up off the ground.  What person had to have had the sense to pick it up, take it to the post office and pay the postage, and mail it off to my Mama?  Who would have done such a thing?  It seems impossible.  But here she is looking down into my face like I’m her newborn child.
“Water.”  I rasp.  And it’s clear that they understand me because the man stops his gaze to lean back and dip a tin cup in a wooden bucket. 
“Here,” he says, handing me the cool, dripping cup.  “Drink this!” 
And I take a sip.  And then sink back into another darkness.  But not before I let out a deep breath.  Not before I let the worry wash out of my face as my mother strokes my cheek.  “It’s alright Amy,” she says as I slide back into the dark.  “Everything is going to be okay.”

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