It all started in a small town called Rock Springs, Wyoming…My parents brought me there from the East Coast to this little coal mining town. My father served in WW11 and after returning home, married my mother and had heard from a friend about Wyoming. So he “went West” to start a new life…. The town was small and “rustic” to put it lightly…. Streets were not paved, no stop signs…. and a lot of dirt…
Dad became a coal miner, not what he wanted , but he needed to work….so I guess you could say “I am a coal miner’s daughter”….Dad worked long hours and often would see him coming home with his metal lunch pail, just long enough for him to kiss me on the head and then off to sleep for him…..
As a child I remember seeing so many different and interesting people. Charlie, the “Indian”, no disrespect meant. He had lived on the reservation all his life and had recently moved out and lived just a few blocks away. All he would say about his name was “I am Charlie, the Indian.” He and my dad through the mines and he was a frequent dinner quest…. Never met any wife or children. He gave me a wonderful little doll that they sold on the reservation, a plastic doll called the “Bully Good Indian Doll” and he also gave me a clay cigarette box. On the top of the box lid was an Indian Chief engraving in full head dress… Loved that box, but somewhere it disappeared, but I still have the doll..
There were also Chinese in the city, I did not see them often, and was told they were not friendly to non Chinese because of what happened… When I would ask “What happened ??”.. I would not get and answer….. Many years later, out of curious I researched and found out that the very first race riot in America was in Rock Springs , if l you can imagine… Turns out the railroad, the very greedy railroad, wanted to make even more profits than they were already making. The majority of the workers were Caucasian and a handful of Chinese. The railroad, decided to import a large amount of non English speaking Chinese and pay them peanuts to work the railroad. The very worst happened and some white workers attacked the Chinese miners. Riot broke out and it got very ugly , many Chinese were killed and injured and many of their homes were burned to the ground. Federal troops were even called in to end it….
Rock Springs was so full of interesting people from all over the world. i remember a black family on the hill and a Finnish family on the block and some Italians… I knew of them, but never got to know them well. The world was different then and little kids were given so much more freedom. It was not unusual to see small children out walking to school or by themselves. Small children could go to the store for their moms or make deliveries or go visit friends. I was often out walking to visit friends and my best friend Johnny and I made many trips hiking, sledding, or to explore our favorite cave.
One of my very favorite friends was Mrs. Rodosevitch (I hope that is how it is spelled, that is how I said it )… She was a very old , grey haired lady, just as sweet and wonderful as one could be. She would often invite me in to tell me stories and she always had something good for me to eat….. She was an immigrant, I believe from Poland and she never told me the whole story, where you are a child people tend to protect you from things… But she did say that some “very, very bad people” had taken over her country and that she and her family had to escape one night. She said they had to leave their home and their beautiful furniture behind, but took jewelry and some paintings. They left in a hurry, went to England and from there, to America.
But she did tell me that God protected them and made a way for them to come to America and she was so grateful for that. She could cook and bake… Wow… could she… My mother was the beneficiary of many of her wonderful recipes. One of my favorite was helulpka, or stuffed cabbage rolls, fried cookies and fried bread with powdered sugar and since her family made the best Kielbasa sausages in Wyoming, we often enjoyed them…
And then there was my mother’s favorite , which she baked every Christmas for years. That was potieca bread…It is still very common in Rock Springs, hard to find in many places.. It is a yeast dough that is rolled out that is rolled out into a long rectangle, then filled with ground walnuts, cinnamon, butter and sugar, then rolled again and shaped into what looks like a cinnamon roll, but the size of a hat box.
After learning, Mother made these around the holidays in batches of ten to thirty…. Many she gave as gifts and neighbors loved them…The year I graduated from high school the family moved to Anaheim and that year for Christmas mom had filled the pantry there with loaf after loaf….. That was my last year at home and I will always remember the smell and taste of that amazing bread.
Mrs. Rodosevitch and I became close after many visits…. I became a regular and she would always sit in her rocking chair and tell me a story and feed me…. mostly cookies and sweet stuff….. One day she said “Linda , I have a surprise for you” . “What is it?”.. of course I could not wait…. She said, “I want to show you something, but you have to promise it will be our secret.. You can not tell anyone..” Of course I said “OK” and never did tell anyone , until long after I had left Wyoming……
She took my hand and led me downstairs into the basement. Most people in the area had basements and some were used for pantries, or storage and some for extra rooms. My Dad’s friend had one that he converted to a rock polishing and collection area. He made beautiful rings, necklaces and jewelry from rocks he found in the area…. oh well, that is another story…. We went down and she turned on the light switch and I could not believe my eyes… There was this room that was painted brightly and lots of lights. And on the wall were beautiful paintings, not small flowers or landscapes, but large oil paintings in hand carved wooden frames or gold painted. One I will never forget, I had never seen anything like this, it was a large Virgin Mary….. She didn’t say much, just took me around to look at each one and had such joy in her face as she gazed. Then suddenly she took my hand again, headed up the stairs, turned out the light. When we sat down she seemed very tired and she said this, “Linda, that is all I have left of my home country, they destroyed everything, but thank God we got out before they could destroy us.”