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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

In Search of Bread and Butter Leaves. A Trip to Steam Town in Scranton, PA

In search of bread and butter leaves.

For many, many years I have wanted to return to Scranton, PA, and its nearby suburb of Throop. I grew up in NJ, the land of Sinatra and The Sopranos, Philip Roth, Bruce Springsteen, and Ruben Hurricane Carter. New Jersey is diverse, but in the New Jersey of my childhood, certain ethnic groups dominated: Italians, Blacks, Dutch, Puerto Ricans, Jews. Mine were not in the mix. In this very diverse state, *we* were weird.

When I went to Throop, though, it was *normal* to be Polish and Slovak.

My memories of childhood visits to family there are mostly good. I remember a mountain that glowed blue and smelled of sulfur. I remember polka dancing and abundant wild mushrooms my Polish relatives gathered and home-canned.

My parents were immigrant kids during the Depression, and they experienced real hardship. My mother remembered receiving cardboard shoes from the Poor Board. She used to remove her shoes while walking to school and walk along railroad tracks – easier on the feet.

My dad talked about being sent to reform school, St. Michael the Protector. My mom talked about reading Street and Smith romances by streetlight. I can now google "St Michael the Protector" and "Street and Smith" and discover something of the lost world of my parents' childhood.

There was one thing they talked about that I've never been able to track down. They said that, during the Depression, when they were very poor and very hungry, they used to go into the woods and find something called "bread and butter leaves." What were these leaves? For years I've tried to find the answer, but I am still unsure.

I just now Googled "bread and butter leaves" and I find some references that were not on the web the last time I did this search. Some call hawthorn leaves "bread and butter leaves." Now it is my duty to eat a hawthorn leaf and see if it tastes like bread and butter.

My mother used to tell me that the most delicious thing she ever ate was the beet cakes of her native Slovakia. When we finally went to her village and ate those beet cakes, I wanted to throw up. I hope I don't have the same reaction to bread and butter leaves.

During my trip to Scranton, I visited #SteamTown, a museum dedicated to steam trains. At first, I thought that I would not like it, that going there was just a traveler's duty. But I LOVED Steam Town. In fact, I cried.

I value order, and human creativity, and energy, and progress. These trains represent all these virtues. In their presence, I felt as if I were in the presence of vast, iron poems. Each part was so carefully calibrated to correspond to another part. All the parts are perfectly calibrated to perform together. The blood, sweat and tears that went into these trains moved me greatly.

When the steam train era passed, it took so much muscle and passion and poetry, discipline and ambition with it. We live in a different world.

Explanation of pictures of me with the signs. I mention Scranton, and Throop, in "God through Binoculars." I may use these pictures someday in relation to the book.

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