.TICKLING MY MEMORY
From book of published Poems, Prose, and Ramblings
Submitted by PHGS member: Charles E. Heffner





I always loved to hear how my grandfather Johnson left Sweden when he was age 14, and worked for his passage on a barge coming to America. He never spoke of parents, so my mother said, but he did leave an older sister behind to whom he used to have my mother write - her name was Hattie . We know not how he came to Pennsylvania, and he had little of clothing aside from 'on his back', and what was sympathetically given him by those he found work among. However, back in Sweden he had been a champion ice-skater, and his Few cherished possessions were his skates, an old well-used accordion and the Swedish bible from home. 

In this territory he became a woodsman, and though he was a hardy drinker, stories of his agility amid the logs rolling in the streams afloat to mills, or be it on thin ice that broke up behind him, he was at home and adept. And wherever he went, went his accordion. However he learned it, he spoke English fluently, and his former country's language flowed like milk and honey from his lips. He and my grandmother, whom he met and married in Pennsylvania, parented ten children, my own father, Ernest, being the first born. 

They were the days of the lumber camps - they moved with the camp outfits from place to place - my grandmother Johnson helping to cook and wash for the lumbermen. My father was born in Instanter, a spot flooded when the dam was built - East Branch Dam. 

Fascination was always mine as I'd listen to my mother relate how her parents' union came about. It appears that in her very early teens, this granny of mine was promised to a neighbor's son in exchange for cattle, and that they would be wed when she reached the age of seventeen. My grandmother Tyler never addressed her husband as anything except 'Mr. Tyler'. He was a tall, broad specimen of manhood, and she was quite small. She always wore her hair like a beehive. I never recall seeing it loosened. 

This grandfather had been a lumberman in his heyday, and lived five miles above the Austin Dam that broke and destroyed the town of Austin, Pennsylvania in 1911. He had a mill where logs were cut into lumber, and a plug mill. In those days barrels were in demand and barrels needed plugs. Grandfather also did blueprint plans, and on his drawing board he had all the dimensions and a drawing for a new and better product, and soon would have been seeing it off to the patent office. 

However, among his quite well-behaved children was one errant son who was dubbed wild, the word for that day......who drank, and kept what my grandfather called shady, questionable friends, and who had been forbidden to come to the farm. But it being known grandfather and some of the others of the family were to be away at a certain time, George brought them anyway, and during the night they stole the patent from the board and made off with it. My grandfather's wrath knew no limits, and though he had led a hot pursuit for the two culprits whom George had brought home, they had made their way safely to the State of New Jersey, secured the patent, and became quite wealthy on this stolen item. My grandfather then put this son out of the home, never to return. And as well, at grandfather's death and from his will, George had been completely abolished. 

It had to follow that woodsmen went from camp to camp, and I do not know how my father and grandfather Johnson both found their way to the Potter County area and ended up, at least temporarily, working for my grandfather Tyler, but they did, and therein came about my mother and father's love affair and marriage. Soon after, they departed for this town of St.Marys, Pennsylvania, where they took an apartment on Erie Avenue, and that's where I was born three years later. 

My father was at that time working in the coal mines; then they moved to the country, where, in the process of time, they moved in and out of two other farm homes, and produced four other daughters over the next ten years. My father had left the coal mines and went to work in Joe William's clay mines, the St. Marys Pipe plant. Both places of employment were grueling, arduous labor, one went first to the coal pits, and later to the clay mines---before the break of day, you were inside all day, and dark at day's end when you emerged. 

The Depression years came, as did the advent of strikes, labor revolting against unfair work practices, and people had no recourse but to hope for the ability to relieve, but relief was, in those days, like a loan - you worked it off at a future time, and the depression gave birth to government projects such as the W.P.A. a pittance for a wage, but a break for a man to put food on the table. 

Hardship was the lot of the lower class worker, the poor, those with little education, but there was a unity, a bond amid the down-trodden that gave man a special respect and a helping hand for his fellow man. It seemed the less you had, the more of nothing you shared. You shared of yourself, of what you could offer, a bar of soap perhaps - give your neighbor half; a baking of bread - share it. A sick child, and a neighbor woman would help you sit through the night, and take turns watching over a fevered babe. Brotherhood takes other forms than blood bonded. 

This is the era of history into which we five girls of Ernest and Olive Tyler Johnson were born. Meager, sparse and stressful had to be their life, my parents, and yet - and yet - we knew not the meaning of poverty, not as poverty is defined today. 

I would love to grab my grandchildren, and my great grandchildren, and run back to the yesterday we had and give them a tour of our world. Could I ever think for a moment that the nothingness we had was overflowing with everything? What a sentence! 

Dorothy Johnson Heffner : The mother of Charley Heffner

Dorothy Mae (nee Johnson) Heffner, 1918 - 2000, was the eldest daughter of Ernest Leroy Johnson, 1892 - 1954, and Olive Effie Tyler, 1895 - 1961. She was the granddaughter of Clarence Edward Tyler, 1861 - 1942, and Mary Effie Barnes 1871 - 1939, and the granddaughter of Frank Johnson, 1863-1942, and Agnes Young, 1872-1932.

 

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