As a child, this question was frequently asked on a farm where my brothers and I worked as day laborers.
It took me years to figure out what it meant, or at least what I thought it meant.
The answer is not so much about logic as it is about the background and experience of the farmer we work for, who was 69 years old when we met him. To me, he possibly looked as old as anyone could be. Unlike most older people, he was strong as a piece of steel, with tremendous power in his body. He was shot in the knees, for which he often leaned on the shoulders of the children who worked for him whenever he had to walk. He ran a farm of approximately 100 acres in the plains along the Susquehanna River, less than a mile from the site of the Knox coal disaster. Although the farm work was tough, it really developed strength and character. From him we learned to work methodically and safely. We also learned to curse. Our poor Mother was appalled.
The farmer himself had grown up in a time that had already disappeared. I was a kid when the coal mining industry was thriving. He often spoke of the size of the railway and coal operations, the enormous machinery employed, the thousands of men working above and below ground to extract the coal that filled huge trains to be hauled and transported around the world, the work of many. which caused only a few to get rich in the process.
Our region has its own distinctive legacy of exploiting massive natural resources that results in widespread poverty to enrich the people at the top. This trend has not abated. The median income in Northeast Pennsylvania is very low and we are called “assholes” in the national press. What the hell does that mean?
If that means it is a difficult place to live, then I agree. The average Northeastern Pennsylvania character exhibits a very distinctive toughness. I see it in my clients, my family and my friends. They have a determination and a commitment to family and community that I don’t see in people from other areas. We owe it to our heritage and we should be proud. We need to do everything we can to preserve it for our children and grandchildren.
Do you walk to work or bring your lunch?
If you know the answer, it may be from Northeast Pennsylvania.