Essays on memoir, music, and more from Beatrice M. Hogg

N 40˚ 18’, W 80˚ 07’


      Where am I from? According to a show I once saw on the History Channel, I am from Appalachia, a word I have always had a hard time spelling. And its pronunciation has changed since I was a little girl. I still say App-pa-lay-sha, but the modern pronunciation is App-pa-la-chia, or something like that. If I use the facts relayed by that program, the boundary between Washington County and Allegheny County that was about two miles from my home was similar to the Mason-Dixon Line, separating Appalachia from the Industrial North of Pittsburgh and points East.

Whatever. I grew up in a coal mining company town, in western Pennsylvania, in Washington County, in Cecil Township. I tried to look up my hometown on Google Maps, but all I got was a satellite photo of some railroad tracks. Maybe the name is the problem. My hometown was Hills, named after some guy named Thomas Hill. But when the railroad went in at the bottom of the hill, the stop was called Hills Station. But the post office was Lawrence, PA 15055. The local coal mine was Montour Four.

About nine years ago, after reading an essay about my hometown in a workshop during my MFA residency in Los Angeles, another student made a remark about what he called my experiences growing up poor in a coal mining camp. I could feel the invisible hackles start to rise. I crossed my arms across my chest and rolled my eyes – the international black girl symbol for “no you did not just say that.” I quickly set him straight in a manner that would have made John L. Lewis proud. Yes, I grew up in a company house, but it was an eight-room house and my parents owned it. My father drove a Cadillac, which he paid cash for, trading one in for a new model every few years. We didn’t have sidewalks, but we had indoor plumbing, gas heat, and electricity. My mother hung her laundry outside because we had a big yard and it made the clothes smell like sunshine. I may have gone to a two-room schoolhouse for the first three grades of elementary school, but Mrs. Morrison and Mrs. Spillman were the best teachers a child could have. I was a spoiled only child who never wanted for the necessities of life. Sure, I didn’t get every Barbie or even every book I wanted, but I got most of them. After my unplanned tirade, he apologized. He was from West Virginia; he should have known better.

There is the problem. No one who didn’t grow up in the area knows anything about western Pennsylvania. Even in 2012, I’m still educating people on the difference between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. (No, they are not near each other. Didn’t you have geography in grammar school? Get a map.) And Heaven forbid if I have to explain about the West Virginia panhandle. (It involves hand gestures.) The Cecil Township web site only has a photo of the Township municipal building. I think they should add some photos; maybe hire a good photojournalist who can capture the spirit of the place. They could ask for donations of pictures chronicling parades, picnics, carnivals, and other local events. I don’t know about the rest of its current and former residents, but for me, Hills was a wonderful place to grow up. It took many years of reflection to come to that realization, but I’m glad that I did.

So I will tag this essay accordingly. I will spend the rest of my years writing about the town that made me the person I am today. I will wax romantic and poetic about my memories of decades gone by. Because I didn’t grow up on a tiny black spot on a Pennsylvania map. I grew up in a great town, among great people, in an area that deserves to be recognized. That’s where I am from. Put that on your map.


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5 thoughts on “N 40˚ 18’, W 80˚ 07’

  1. Cynthia Jane (Plute) Betarie on said:

    Dear Ms. Hogg,
    I really enjoyed your article. Your writing is excellent and entertaining. I still live in Hill Station. I went to college to be a nurse and a lot of people who have moved away make desparaging remarks about the town. I love my home. I think it is beautiful. My husband is a retired coalminer, as was his father and his Grandparents before him. My Grandfathers were also both coalminers. I was loved and cared for here. It is lovely to read such a beautiful tribute written by such a beautiful, kind, well educated spirit. Thank you. Cynthia Jane Betarie

    • Dear Cynthia,
      I loved growing up in Hills Station, but I didn’t really appreciate it until after I left. I miss it a lot, but I haven’t been back to visit in years, as I don’t have any close friends or relatives there any more. I have a collection of stories about Hills Station (several of them are here), but it seems no one wants to publish positive stories about small town life. Tell everyone in Hills Station that I said Hello!

  2. Cynthia Jane (Plute) Betarie on said:

    I know I spelled disparaging wrong and I hope it doesn’t take away the sentiment I meant to send to you, Ms. Hogg.

  3. Mike Kelly on said:

    Ms. Hogg,
    I too am from Hills Station, born and raised. The photo you have of the yellow house has the house I bought and remodeled on First Street. My grandfather was a fireman in Hills, as was I for over 20 years. I love reading the stories you had of Hills Station, and sharing them with my daughters. From the ball diamond to the patch, to playing ball at the old civic building lot where the post office is now! Great place to live, grow up and raise a family

    • Thanks Mike, for reading and sharing my stories. I found the photo online, as I don’t have an photos of houses in Hills Station. Now I wish that I had photographed everything!

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