My grandmother insists she doesn’t dream. I don’t believe her. When she wakes up from her nap she tells stories. I’ve heard them all before, yet they change each time. If she doesn’t dream, she must write stories in her sleep.
In 1990, I began recording my grandmother’s stories about the years she lived in Avella, a small coal-mining town about forty-five miles southwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I took my first trip to Avella that summer in my aunt’s small black Ford, with a microphone stuffed in a Kleenex box and my grandmother sitting next to me, giving surprisingly detailed and accurate directions. It rained every day of our trip. I saw Avella through a fog of moisture and listened to my grandmother over the wheeze of the window defroster. It was like driving through my grandmother’s dreams. Cross Creek overflowed during that trip and flooded Browntown Road, the street where my father grew up. But I returned to Avella the next summer and many summers after that to visit and photograph the families still living there.
When I leave her to make pictures in Avella, my grandmother always says, “What the hell you see in that place?”
I reply, “I see you — you and your stories.”
She says, “If you tell anyone what I say, I’ll kick your pants.”
Grandma, Summer 1990:
Your· father was born in a Ford. We was Living in this mining camp and I was scared to stay up there. I said to Roger·, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m all wet. I’m all wet, all wet, all wet. I do n’ t know what’s going lo happen!’ And be says maybe 1’m going to have the baby. And I says, “I’m not going to have my baby here. I’m not going to, not goin’.” l put my housecoat on, nightgown, and I started walking down the hill. I said, “I’m going to Mrs. Babish’s house!’
So, when we’s up at Mrs. Babish’s, Mrs. Babish says, “Ob, my, my, my, you going to have the baby pretty soon:’ She says, “My Cha ile going to come home from work in the mine, and he’s going to take you down to your mother’s!’ So, he took.me down to my mother’s, and ohh, I was miserable all the time. So my mother, when I knocked on the door, it was about one o’clock in the morning or· something like that, my mother called the doctor. He said, “Take her·to the hospital.”
Well, at that time nobody had cars. This Mit Nicoli, well, he drank a lot, but be was a good worker, he was a painter. And my mother couldn’t find nobody else. My mother says, “You take her to the hospital, I buy you a carton of cigarettes.”
My mother and Roger· was sitting in the rumble seat, Mit Nicoli and I was in the front. lt was raining and thundering and lightning, and I was hollering and I was yelling. So my mother says, “We’re almost there, we’re up to Fourth Avenue Station. Pretty soon we’ll be a t the hospital. A little bit more. A little bit more. Hold it hold it, please bold it”
“I don’t care what you say,” I told her: ” I can’t, I can’t, I can’ t!’ So, we enter the hospital l, where it says emergency. I didn’t get far as emergency, I just got right there, and out went the baby on the floor·. Milt Nicoli jumped out of that damn car as fast as he could. He jumped out of that car·, and I fell right over where the steering wheel was. Thai was the end of me right there.
Well, Roger and my mother runs in the emergency mom. Roger says, “My wife’s pregnant. Hurry up she’s out there !” The nurses said, “Oh, don’t worry, don’t worry. Lots of time. Lots of time!” My mother yells, “No, no lots of time. Baby in is in the car!” Boy, they rushed over with the ambulances.
AlI know the next day I was in bed, and here’s my right hand to God if you don’t want to believe me. That morning the nurse come in and says, “Are you Mrs. DuBois’!” I says, “Yes!’ And she wanted the whole record of me: how old I was, where I was born, dang and all one thing like that. And she says, “Are you married?” I says, “Yeal1, I’m married, here’s my wedding ring!’ And she looks at m e and says, “Oh, honey, Jolla girls put rings on their finger and says they’re married!’ She thought I was a pick-up because I was all dirty. My nightgown had grease and blood. Well, oh boy, I cried the whole day until Roger came in.
So, it wasn’t Loo long before we was suppose to go back in the mining camp. On the way back, Roger says, “l have something to tell you, I don’t have a job!”
I said, “What?”
He said, ” No, I don’ t have any work at all!’
I said, “Why?”
“Oh, somebody tried to say I did something and this and that”
l said, “What, what did you do wrong?”
“Well, they says l load dirty coal!’