reflections from the southeast PA rural underground

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Art in Tamaqua, PA

John O' Hara leans heavily on the town of Tamaqua, in the coal region of northern Pennsylvania, for the literary backdrop of his novels. While never surpassing his use of the fictional Gibbsville aka. Pottsville, "Taqua" looks like a miniature version of Pottsville. With an old train station at the center of town and a red brick flat iron building just off to the right of the convergence of rt 209, rt 309, and Broad St., the town is an atypically historical one. Indeed, as one drives through town its almost as if all the buildings, parks, and churches are life-size train set models.

A bunch of us drove up to Tamaqua from Berks and Schuylkill Counties to celebrate the work of our scene's much beloved 'patriarch' at his gallery opening on Friday night. He had told us many anecdotes of Tamaqua's St. Patty's parades and night time haunts. It's plethora of gin joints, speak easies, and old time neighborhood bars that hadn't really changed since Prohibition ended. But this night wasn't centered on spirits of that sort as much as on the art work of three generations of the Rimm family. Hailing from Hometown, a small suburb of Tamaqua, Mr. Rimm Sr. and his wife, their two sons, and, if only represented in her bright orange paintings, one granddaughter, were all in attendance. We strolled around the gallery in among the wooden blue fishes, priests, naked women, and suns, that hung in the form of 'dream' mobiles. The sculptures seemed like they could only have been made by this particular artist. Having known him for years I could see his whole personality in the objects. This is folk art, I thought. Icons of Michael Rimm's mindscape. On the walls were black and white photos of street chess players in Reading, Pa. Old trucks and fall foliage montages with trains on sky high tracks passing through the leaves. Couples sharing laughs and moods in the night. Life shots of the region.

In the back room were most of this family communing together, their heritage oozing from their bodies in smiles and good conversation. I spoke with the elder Rimm about last deer season and the most perfect buck I had ever seen. The delicious flavors of halushki, macaroni salad, angel food cupcakes filled with white icing, and ham sandwhiches to wash down with red wine. Everything so simply laid out for the guests with the subtle care that seemed so much a family affair. We were partaking of this cultural line. Soaking it all up in the old Polish, Ukrainian, Catholic coal town that time may have forgotten if it weren't for the arts that now had to supplant industry for the peoples' life blood.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Salad Days

I went up to turn the water on at 5:30 am. This had become the usual routine. There hadn't been any rain for about three weeks. To say nothing of the August-like temperatures of high 90's in this first week of June. My vegetables, especially the salad greens, were surviving on a daily (and often nightly) dose of sprinkler and drip tape action. After making sure the potatoes were indeed getting a drink, i kept walking passed the deer fence to the edge of the woods. I stopped suddenly as i heard that familiar rustling of ground cover, not too far from where i stood. My heart beat faster and i tried to stay as still as possible. I knew they were there. One of them at least. As I stood there, filled with an excitement that never tires, waiting to catch a passing glimpse of the wood's most magical of creatures, i saw a white flash. I always seem to catch that first. The white tail of the Pennsylvania doe. Flickering upwards as they shift their bodies spasticaly, deciding if to run. They always run when spotted by a human. The question is how long will they tarry before leaping into action, stealthly and sleekly darting away from the outsider.

I had put the fence up because, like most vegetable growers, i did not want to see my potential profit eaten up by any of the various gourmands of the outdoor world. I even attached a low strand to deter groundhogs and racoons. For months now it had seemed to work. I thought of all this strategy as the does took their leave and i began to cut mesclun mix for the fifth week of the season. I'd be up over 20lbs if the stuff this week. Did they know what was just beyond their realm, waiting to be devoured just beyond two strands of easily passable rope fence? Had they touched their noses to the strands, as i had hoped, and gotten enough shock to create a different path around my acre? I cut and cut and figured i was lucky so far. Lucky to have had Kim to erect this light but sufficient boundary for my lettuces, mustards, and spinach. Lucky so far. But will they realize eventually that the strands are a mere 3 feet apart and only just over 4 feet high?