In 1918

a girl was born in rural Pennsylvania, a place where the valley flooded every year, and a man who completed high school was a rarity. A green-grocer with a sixth-grade education wasn’t considered an ignorant man unless he earned the label, and he could make a nice life for his family if he worked hard and lived thriftily. Electricity was rare, and “Pinkerton” meant a thug hired to come in with pick handles and beat up any of the coal mine workers who got out of line. Everybody was white, though at the time that didn’t include anything south of the Alps or Pyrenees, and didn’t always cover Irishmen, who were still barred from owning property in parts of the Northeast.

Such a different world from 2005, when all her grandkids went to college, or aimed to, her husband was Italian, her neighbors were blacks, Koreans, and increasingly, Sikhs, each prosperous ethnicity deeply suspicious of the immigrant upstarts moving into the neighborhood. Coal was quaint in an age of nuclear power, and the fact that she knew the different kinds, and which burned cleaner than the other, was rare knowledge.

The world of 1918 is gone, and so is she. She died the way she lived, quietly taking care of everybody else. God give her peace.

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