Friday, April 17, 2020

Today is my birthday

I was born 73 years ago today at Welch Memorial Hospital in Welch, WV, about 20 miles from Anawalt, where I grew up.

When I was born, the population of McDowell County--where Welch and Anawalt are, was over 98,000. Coal mining was booming and miners were paid well. Today, with all the deep mines closed, the population of McDowell--the southernmost county in West Virginia--is barely over 18,000. Imagine that, over 80% of the population is gone from a county about the size of Rhode Island!

About 20 years ago, some folks and I took a dozen kids from St. John's in Waterbury to Keystone, also in McDowell County, to do a work camp, working on houses of poorer people.

Back then the population of the county was 35,000. I took some of the kids across the mountain--any place in West Virginia is 'across the mountain' from where you are--to look at Anawalt. Even then, my heart broke in pieces. The place I remember from my youth no longer existed. The apartment where I grew up was gone, as was my Uncle Russel's house behind it. Nothing was the same. I was horrified.

When I grew up McDowell County (MAC-dowell to the natives) had 8 high schools. Now there are only two so some students ride a bus over an hour to and from school. Only 33% of students are proficient in reading and only 9% proficient in mathematics.

I have 4 degrees--BA, MTS, M.Div., D.Min--and I got my start in schools there.

Anyway, enough whining about my home county.

I was the only child of a father who was 40 and a mother who was 38. In those days, that was not the norm. My parents were friends with my classmates' grandparents.

We lived in a two bed-room apartment above one of the three grocery stores in town. No central heat and a bathroom that was outside the coal stove warmth of the apartment. I slept in "Pat's room" because before I was born a much older first cousin named Pat lived with my parents for several years.

But I knew nothing else and didn't mind.

When I was in high school I thought I wanted to go to Shimmer College in Chicago. (Now it's a part of the University of Chicago.) It was a 'great books' school and I was fascinated. But it required a year of a foreign language and the only language at Gary High was Latin. Students usually took Latin I and II in the 9th and 10th grade. So, there I was, a senior with kids 3 years younger than me.

I never went to Shimmer, but I thank God for them, because in Latin I I met Bernadine Pisano, love of my life and my wife for 50 years in September. What luck that was.

I've had a series of names. As a child I was Jimmy Gordon because I had a cousin named  'big Jim' and that distinguished me. In high school I was 'J. Gordon' as an affectation. My college friends know me as 'Brad', and now I'm just 'Jim'.

(By the way, my parents and I didn't live in a non-central heat apartment because they had no money. My mother was a school teacher and my father drove a laundry truck and sold insurance--Nationwide, which Bern and I have today.)

The year I left for West Virginia University, my parents paid cash for a house in Princeton, WV--in the county to the east, Mercer County. When I came home from college the first time I wondered if I had interrupted their lives and now they were back on track.

Much more to tell--12 years of higher education, marriage, two kids, ordination to the priesthood, 2 wondrous children and 4 incredible granddaughters, serving three remarkable churches in 30 years,
my 7 years of part time work since retiring, the books I read, the things I write here on this blog, my political beliefs that make Bernie Sanders look like a moderate, what I love to eat, how I sleep at least 9 hours a night, how precious Bern is, how much I love my life....

But that's enough for one birthday.

"Happy birthday to me, Happy birthday to me, Happy birthday, dear Jimmy, Happy birthday to me."

I do sing that washing my hands.

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.