Pennsylvania German Powwow

Faith healing and folk magic of the Pennsylvania Germans


A world away. In memory of my grandparents, Arthur and June Whitley.

Posted by Rob Phoenix on August 20, 2017 at 6:05 AM

As is often the case when my mind is focused on research into powwowing, I find my thoughts drifting to my grandparents. Born of immigrants from both Austria and Wales, my grandparents, Arthur "Red" Whitley and June Betty Whitley (formerly Bankes)  built their home with their own hands in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. My grandfather worked at Atlas Power Co. his entire life while my grandmother worked as a clerk in Mitchell's Furniture Store in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. They were members of Zion's Stone Church, a German Reformed Church which later became United Church of Christ. I always remember them as old people, but I suppose that's how most of us remember our grandparents.

Almost every weekend, my grandfather would drive to our house and pick up me, my brother, and my sister and take us to his home for three days. There was a set schedule to the weekends, which in my adult years became a part of the fondness I miss about them. Saturday mornings we would drive my grandmother to the hairdresser and drop her off. Then my grandfather would take us kids to the newspaper store for his paper. Each of us would pick out a pack of gum to chew on for the weekend. Then we'd go to the hardware store, or perhaps to the bakery for a cruller. On occasion, we'd visit our Great Uncle John and Aunt Sarah. In later years, after Great Uncle John passed away, we'd visit Aunt Sarah in her eclectic loft apartment. She had traveled the world and always had interesting things to look at and touch around her apartment.

Our grandparent's home had several acres of land, both wooded and open, and the Appalachian Trail ran through their property. My siblings and I would pick wild strawberries, play in the woods, swing on a homemade swing my grandfather hung from an oak tree, watch my grandfather burn paper trash... we'd play in my grandfather's garage, or throw balls up to bounce off the garage roof. Year round we'd sled down the grassy hill next to their house. For a few years, we had a tree house to play in. There was a small creek that separated their property from the neighbor, who we remember being named "Rolly". My grandmother had a small vegetable garden where she grew her own lettuce and, just outside the kitchen she grew the most delicious tomatoes I've ever tasted.

My grandfather was a hard worker, always on the go, and quite impatient at times. I like to think I'm just like him. He had a good sense of humor, liked to intersperse German words with his English, and he loved us tremendously. My grandmother was very loving and 'grandmotherly', always in the kitchen or working on crossword puzzles in her favorite chair in the television room. In the evenings she would watch Love Boat and Murder She Wrote and Wheel of Fortune.

On Saturday nights, my grandparents would play cards at the local Rod and Gun Club while we kids ran around the bar, drawing on a large chalkboard that hung on the wall, or playing outside in the fields with other kids whose parents were members.

Every year, on Labor Day weekend, my grandparents would take us to Ocean City, Maryland for vacation. My memories of these vacations are endless and there wouldn't be enough room here for me to elaborate.

Needless to say, I have nothing but fond memories and love for my grandparents.

My grandfather passed away in the late 1990's followed by my grandmother in the early 2000's, but I am still saddened by the loss. I often wish I had been older when I knew them so I could have asked them more questions about their lives, about what life was like for them when they were young... I'd ask them what they did as children and what their parents were like. I'd want to know more about what they had hoped their lives would be like and what dreams they may have had. There are so many questions I could come up with, but the opportunity to ask them has long passed.

When I look at my life today and compare it to the life my grandparents gave me, I find myself feeling both pleased because I have brought some of their values forward and passed them onto my own son, and ashamed because I have allowed myself to become quite 'modern' and fixated on worries over financial matters as opposed to allowing myself to enjoy the simpler things the world has to offer.

I still visit the local bakery on occasion, this time with my son. I let him pick out a treat and I always tell him how my grandfather (my pop pop) did this with me. I still like to go on Sunday drives with my family, just like my grandfather did with us kids back in the day. I point out the cows and barns and horses to my son and reminisce about things I saw or did as a little kid. I suppose this behavior speaks of my increasing age, but I'm ok with that.

When my work week begins again and I'm back in the modern office building with things like "fiscal year" and "ledgers" and "reconciliations" on my mind, it's so easy to forget where I came from. Because my grandparents are gone, the life they shared with us seems a world away. And this makes me sad.

But when I see my son playing in our garage or prodding something in our pond with a stick or picking out a treat at the bakery, when I see his eyes light up at his first sight of the ocean at Ocean City, Maryland, I realize that little bits and pieces of my grandparents are still with me today, and maybe they aren't so far away from me after all.

My Great Aunt Sarah (on the left) and my Nana and Pop pop, June and Arthur Whitley.


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