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Request from granddaughter leads to trip on memory lane

| Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2005

A request from her granddaughter got Mary Holowach, of Donora, embarking on a nostalgic trip back in time.

Born during the Great Depression, Holowach had an amazing recollection of how life was during her childhood.

"Chelsy (Todd) was doing a research paper in creative writing for her English 12 class and asked me to tell her about my early life," Holowach said.

That got her started on a plan to record this information so it could be shared with others.

Through conversation with some friends of her own era and stories recalled from her parents, she was able to compile enough to fill a book.

She agreed to share some of her information.

"I was born in 1924 and, as a child, my family and I spoke Russian until we went to school," she said.

Her parents emigrated in 1906 from the Carpathian Mountain region of Europe.

She said her father worked in the Donora mill and the family took in six boarders who needed a place to stay.

"My mom cooked and did laundry for them and this helped pay the bills," she explained.

Her father carried his lunch in a square aluminum container.

"Many days, my dad would come back home because he was not chosen to work that day," Holowach recalled.

"The boss would stand on the back of a truck and point to the men he wanted to work, who usually were his friends."

"Coal (for heating and cooking) was delivered in a horse-drawn wagon and we had to carry it inside with buckets," she said. "We all had to pitch in to take out the ashes."

Holowach recalled the ordeal of the "outhouses" on cold winter days, the Sears catalogs for paper and the annual emptying of the outhouse by the "honey dipper."

She remembered the iceman delivering blocks of ice and the raised porch swing being used to keep food cold in the winter.

"Our dad would repair our shoes by nailing pieces of old tires to the soles," Holowach said. "Sometimes the nails would hurt and we would put cardboard inside the shoes.

"We had chickens, the peeps ordered through the post office. We had chicken soup every Sunday and used the feathers to make pillows and comforters.

"We made homemade root beer, beer, wine, moonshine and jellies and canned fruits and vegetables."

Holowach recalled hucksters delivering produce and meat sold from trucks.

"The grocer would record our purchases in a little book." she recalled. "Hopefully, on payday there would be enough money to pay for the groceries. When a child paid, a bag of candy was expected."

She also spoke about the period of rationing during World War II, the "white" margarine that had to be mixed with a packet of orange powder to look palatable, Klondikes that were broken in half to see if there was a pink center that would give you a free one, and Popsicles that sometimes had a stick marked "free."

Holowach described doctors making house calls.

And she remembered clothes being boiled in a copper kettle before being removed with a broom handle and then hung outside on wire lines.

"Saturday night was bath night, usually in a big metal tub in the living room," she said with a smile.

"There was no shampoo, so a bar of soap was rubbed into our hair."

I had better stop, Mary.

Kids of today aren't going to believe this.

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