Lithuanian Room Committee


For study in Lithuania.








In memory of Josephine and John McCloskey.



Memories Growing Up


by Josephine (Jay) McCloskey


(April 4, 1918 – April 3, 2004)


Written April 2, 1997



Growing up in a coal mining town in southwestern Pennsylvania was a life deprived of many material things but filled with the comfort of a solid, loving family and the blessings of close extended families.  I had a brother, sisters, many cousins, many playmates.  It was a happy childhood!  Of necessity, we had to make our toys and what a challenge to imagine, then produce, something from available items:  cardboard boxes, burlap bags, clothes pins, tin cans etc. 


When we were children, my husband John’s family at one point lived near ours in Vestaburg, PA and John remembers playing in a house we made of burlap bags attached to a garage.  He said I was always the mother of the group. 


Our games as children required much interaction and physical activity which resulted in many skinned knees.  My mother would wash out the dirt and cinders with peroxide amid loud wails.


There were always chores.  We were taught how to work and were expected to work with no coaxing and no grumbling (and no allowance).  Things being equal in a coal mining town, our playmates had the same chores with the same conditions.  The sooner the work was done, the sooner we played.  We had specific jobs and brother Joe had to dump out the water which had dripped from ice onto a pan in the ice box.   If that pan wasn’t removed on time, the kitchen floor was wet and he was in trouble!  That water was saved as was everything else.  Water from the laundry was used to scrub the porches.  Fat from cooking was saved to make laundry soap.   Chicken feed sacks were used to make aprons, tea towels or kitchen curtains.  Feathers plucked from chickens and geese were used to make pillows and comforters (patalas in Lithuanian).  Worn out clothing was ripped or cut into long strips, rolled into balls and then, on a loom set up in the backyard, scatter rugs were made.  Recycling is nothing new --  we were doing that many years ago!


Summers were exciting.  On Sundays, we would wear our best clothes and drive to visit my mother’s sisters in Pittsburgh (Anna, Margaret, and Martha) and her brother Andy in Washington, PA and their families.  Sometimes I would remain for a “vacation” with cousins and when it was time to return home, a cousin would come to our home for a “vacation.”  We attended many picnics on a farm nearby.


Summers also meant gardening.  We always had a garden, fruit trees and chickens.  For a city cousin to help weed a garden, pick peaches from a tree or chase a chicken was a real treat.  We went blackberry picking and we filled many buckets and a wash boiler (the same boiler used to boil white clothes on washday to get them truly clean).  Sometimes picking was on a shared basis with the farmer, sometimes we paid the farmer 10 cents a bucket for berries picked.


In the fall we went mushroom hunting with father supervising and showing us which ones to pick and which ones not to touch.  In quart jars my mother canned vegetables, berries, mushrooms.  We made our own Hires root beer and always drank it too soon because we couldn’t wait until it aged properly.  Home canning was a necessity to ward off hunger when the mines were on strike and there was no income.  I remember many long strikes but don’t recall ever being hungry.


In anticipation of a dreaded strike, my mother was thrifty, very frugal, and wasted nothing.  We were taught to save for that inevitable rainy day, and regardless of a small income, we were given some money (maybe just a dime) to take to school on Monday, banking day.  The teacher entered the amount in our children’s passbook.


My mother hated the strikes.  She grew to hate the mine, the lack of safety measures for miners, the dirt in the town, the isolation;  the list grew longer.  She worried.  Finally, when we approached our teenage years, her mind was made up.   We must move to Pittsburgh as she saw no future for her children in Vestaburg.  My father balked.  She was determined.  We moved.  We lived in a row house in Elliott only a few doors away from Aunt Anna Lubon.  It was a good decision but my father missed working in the mine.


We eventually moved to Oakmont and my father worked in the nearby Harmarville and North Bessemer mines.  My mother was finally able to realize her dream of owning their own home.


Being the oldest, my brother Joe was the first to hold a full-time job.  He was a bookkeeper at Fox Chapel Golf Club and was told his “foreign” last name Yocius (also spelled Yacenas, Yokus) would be a handicap and should be Americanized if he wanted to pursue a career.  With my father’s consent, the name was legally changed to Yorke in 1937.


My parents, Eva and Joe, are buried in Oakmont.  They left us the greatest legacy:  how to work and to love. 

McCloskeys Venice