|The view from Hetchel's Tooth through the Huckleberries. That is East|
Side Jim Thorpe, the Kettle, in the background.
The Strauch’s were commonly unique. My Great Grandfather Heinrich Strauch and his family were just common folks, but strikingly unique. Perhaps a sampling of Strauch anecdotes will explain what I mean.
The Strauchs first lived in Hacklebernie, in the western extreme of upper Mauch Chunk (Today's Jim Thorpe). Heinrich was a butcher and may have worked in the Mauch Chunk sausage factory, which at the time employed many men in that vicinity. Sometime around 1908, the Strauch family moved to Jamestown, near Lehighton. (The picture below is the Hacklebernie school house around 1900. I can imagine my grandmother Mary as one of those indistinct faces. Above right, huckleberries looking off Hetchel Tooth.)
Henry was too young for the first one, and an old-timer when drafted for the second. He served out the war in the Aleutian Islands. Edwin was said to be such the reader that he opted for the relative sedate job as Allentown library’s custodian, immersing his days in books. As far as I know, all the Strauchs had an uncommon love of books.
Aunt Margaret had a sophisticated air and classic Franco-angular cheeks. She was a longtime telephone operator and supervisor for Ma Bell. She would relay to us, with emotional freshness, the trauma the folks in eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey felt during Orson Welles’ ‘War of the Worlds’ program, sharing her memories of the frantic phone calls she fielded that night.
I’m told she had a few sensible suitors in her day, but I don’t think she ever appreciated or relished the idea of a man telling her what to do. Lizzie, the family matriarch, a Christian Scientist, never married either. Neither did Leonard. They shared a home together around 13th and Turner in Allentown. They chose not to own a car. In fact, the only Strauchs to ever own cars were Edwin and Carl.
This is one of my favorite Strauch distinctions: they were all great walkers. They walked everywhere. Uncle Carl was a self-proclaimed “Great Walker." He claimed to "...take 10 and 15 and sometimes 20 mile hikes…fifty miles a week.” This, I’m sure, was said with much ado of natural proclivity and was certainly an allusion, a homage toward Thoreau and Emerson, for Uncle Carl was a man of letters, a scholar, a professor of note at Lehigh University.
Suffice for now, enough said: the Strauch’s were interestingly common, uncommonly unique.
Uncle Henry was my Dad’s favorite uncle. And of the Strauch Uncles, the one I remember best. He married late and delivered coal. During huckleberry season, his delivery truck would be parked at his sister’s, my grandmother’s home on Ninth Street Lehighton.
|The Gorge from Hetchel's Tooth.|
He’d walk up and over Flagstaff Mountain and pick all day. The mountain was scrubby due to over-timbering and a few forest fires, ideal for the low-growing huckleberries. Sometimes he’d come again a few weeks later to pick from the higher blueberry bushes. I remember the two, quart-sized lard cans he’d carry around his neck with butcher’s twine. This would keep both hands free for picking. I only wish that I had been more interested then, back in the 1970s, to ask him about the war, his great walks, and his adventures in the huckleberry scrubs.
Serendipitous prompts finally lead me to the huckleberry scrubs this past June. I carried two quarts of water plus my popcorn bucket from “Cirque du Soleil.” I looped it around my neck with a “U.S.A.” lanyard. If I picked enough, my empty Nalgene bottles, carabinered to my workpants, could serve as extra berry storage.
Huckleberries are small. They grow in the lowest of bushes. It takes a lot of picking and bending to accumulate much of any kind of stockpile. For a few years now, I’ve wanted to experience an extended berry pick of my own, to go out in the morning and arrive home in the evening with a haul of berries.
I found it takes patient persistence and some awareness. The berries can be few and spread out. They grow among the rocks and in the type of terrain suited for snakes. My awareness allowed me to see a brown rattlesnake rustle away from me. Thankfully it saw me and ran before I had time to be frightened. (Right: My solitude and stillness even fooled this deer, who walked ever closer steps toward me before realizing I was not part of the forest.)
But that would not have disconnected me from this hyper-connected, maximum-gratification, minimum-effort world of 2010. It would not have provided me the view from Hetchel Tooth. It would not have connected me to my long departed ancestor.
Something can be said for ‘great walks,’ for maximum effort for minimal reward, for stepping into an unknown place, in taking a chance, exploring uniqueness in quiet solitude.
And that is the best answer I can think of for my effort that day.