Home (when an option) is a great place to spend your Holiday season. Familiarity is a good thing when that which is familiar, is beneficial to your health and well-being. It’s the place that made you who you are.
Now, if the adverse is true, well, that’s going to be a terrible couple of weeks. Conversely, what if there’s no home to speak of?
While you wrap your gifts, I try to wrap my head around all these thoughts.
For 30 years or so, I’ve spent my Christmas break in my hometown, Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania.
It’s a gritty, tough as nails place. It isn’t particularly pretty to look at. There is beauty to be found here, but it is found in the people, not the place.
I sound cynical. Truth is, I love that little town. I didn’t mind being surrounded by those black coal mountains. I didn’t mind having to scrub the siding of the family home with soap and water to get the grit and grime off of it. I didn’t mind my clothes being blackened by coal dust after playing basketball at my favorite court that sat on a coal path. Hell, I didn’t even mind those coal mounds sheltering me on nights that I couldn’t go home. That’s my hometown. For better or worse, that’s the town that helped mold me into the man, father and business owner I’ve become.
I’m gritty too. These days I use my words, but back home? Back home I would have knocked you out for looking at me funny. When I came up, we fought. We fought a lot. In retrospect, what the hell were we fighting about? If you weren’t a football player, or former football player, there wasn’t a sense of town pride like there is in other places. We didn’t fight for pride. At least I didn’t. I fought because my lanky frame made me a target but moreover, I fought because I was poor and pissed off. I mention that because there’s an anger management article in this issue and to articulate the place I come from.
When did we stop fighting? Christmas. Mt. Carmel, which I featured on the cover of this issue, is a church and bar town. There are a lot of these in the “Coal Region”, oh yeah, that’s what the area I grew up in was called, creative, huh? Church and bar towns are exactly what they sound like. As many bars as there are churches and Mt. Carmel is no exception, maybe even overachieving at it. We were all altar boys. So, we didn’t fight out of respect. Weird, right?
That taught me toughness, resilience and respect. Respect for people, property and tradition.
I was in Scouts while I lived there and that taught me all my other good qualities. Going home, for me, sans the foster care thoughts, is a great thing. Even while in care, I went home to my Aunt’s home for the Holiday.
The whole family gathers at my Aunt’s during the Holiday. Everyone. It’s a great time.
I stayed home this year.
It was a combination of my newly formed social anxiety, my longing to give my family our own tradition and, if I’m being completely honest, exhaustion, all conspired to keep me from one of my favorite traditions.
It’s been a long year and I just needed to stay home for a change. Everyone seemed to understand. It ended up being a great Holiday. But it wasn’t always that way. There have been rough years with no cheer but we’ll leave that rant for another year.
What got me this year was the cold. I couldn’t shake thinking about nights that I was without an address and cold. I was lucky in that I was generally homeless when the weather hadn’t turned for the worse. But here I was in a nice warm house enjoying life but thinking of those who didn’t have. That’s the Mt. Carmel part of me. We aren’t a showy people. We helped each other. I can remember taking food over to people in town while our cupboards were rather bare. When I do well, I try to give some of it to others. Just a reflex. My wife didn’t like it in the beginning, but good things happen to you when you do things for others. It just does. Now that I have proven that to her, she digs it.
So, I asked my friends to help me donate free digital subscriptions underfunded agencies. The mag is a business, asking my friends to give me money was strange. I give out free subscriptions all the time and it crushes my bottom line. I just can’t afford to do it as often. But it was Christmas and two days later, my Birthday, I felt like it was okay.
In the end, I gave away 100 digital subscriptions to balance my karma and take some of the sting out of not going back to the region for the Holiday.
Someday I’ll find myself in a position to help more people directly. I’ll have the means to impact the problems I see on their level. Until then, I’ll stick with what I learned in my hometown; help others no matter what I have, have compassion for others regardless of my personal standing and of course, fight my ass off for the respect I deserve and the things I work hard for.
I’m a Coal Region fighter from Mt. Carmel, PA. I will always be a Coal Region fighter from Mt. Carmel, PA. Wanna fight about it?
This was a rambler of a column. Enjoy the issue. I’ll be more coherent with my thoughts next issue.