When I was a kid, this question was frequently posed at a farm where my brothers and I worked as laborers.
It took me years to figure out what it meant, or at least what I thought it means.
The answer does not have to do so much with logic as it does the background and experience of the farmer we worked for, who was 69 when we first met him. To me he seemed as old as anyone could ever possibly be. Unlike most elderly people, he was strong as a piece of steel, with tremendous power in his frame. His knees were shot so he often leaned on the shoulders of the boys who worked for him whenever he had to walk. He ran a farm of about 100 acres on the flats next to the Susquehanna River, not a mile from the site of the Knox Coal Disaster. Though farm work was hard, it really did build strength and character. From him, we learned to work methodically and safely. We also learned how to curse. Our poor Mother was appalled.
The farmer had himself grown up in a time which had by then vanished. He was a boy when the coal mining industry was thriving. He often spoke of the size of rail and coal operations, the massive machinery employed, the thousands of men who worked above and below the ground to mine the coal which filled huge trains to be hauled and shipped all over the world, the work of many which made just a few wealthy in the process.
Our region has its own distinctive legacy of the exploitation of massive natural resources translating into widespread poverty to enrich the people on top. This trend has not abated. The median income in Northeast Pennsylvania is very low and in the national press we are referred to as “hardscrabble”. What the hell does that mean?
If it means it is a tough place to live, then I agree. The character of average citizen of Northeast Pennsylvania exhibits a very distinctive toughness. I see it in my clients, my family and my friends. They have a resolve and a commitment to family and to community which I do not perceive in people from other areas. We owe this to our heritage and we should be proud. We need to do all we can to preserve it for our children and grandchildren.
Do you walk to work or do you carry your lunch?
If you know the answer, you might be from Northeast Pennsylvania.