Growing Out of “Gone with the Wind”

This is a magnolia tree. Margaret Mitchell included the presence of magnolia trees in her novel “Gone with the Wind.”

I posted here that my cousin doesn’t like the term “New Normal” and she and her co-workers prefer the term “Temporary Weirdness.”

Yesterday, I listened to the most recent episode of the podcast “American Hauntings” hosted by Troy Taylor and Cody Beck. Taylor and Beck constantly referred to the days before Covid-19 as the “Before Times.”

So, IRREGARDLESS of whether I use the term “Before Times” or “Tempoary Weirdness” the thing is that I think about the days before Covid-19 A LOT.

So, here’s a story about my life before Covid-19.

My favorite book when I was 12 or 13 years old was Gone with the Wind.

Up until that time and even after that time, I still read the Babysitters Club and Nancy Drew books. (And also Little House on the Prairie.) However, when I was 12 years old, I watched the North and South miniseries on television, based on the book trilogy of the same name by John Jakes. I loved it. Someone suggested that I would like Gone with the Wind. I checked Gone with the Wind out of my school library. I was only in the seventh grade, but at my school grades 7 – 12 all shared one building and we shared one library.

So, I read Gone with the Wind cover to cover when I was 12 or 13. I didn’t even skip to the end and read that first, as I used to do (and still do sometimes). This was the very first “grown up” book that I read the entire way through. It was over 1000 pages long.

I loved Gone with the Wind so much that I asked my mom to buy me my very own copy of the book for Christmas. She did!

Then, I re-read my favorite sections.

Gone with the Wind was one of MY Harry Potters. (My other Harry Potter was The Babysitters Club.)

I outgrew Gone with the Wind a very long time ago.

Now, just to be clear, I’m talking about Gone with the Wind the novel by Margaret Mitchell. I’m NOT talking about the novel’s famous movie adaptation.

Here’s something that happened in the second half of Gone with the Wind the novel:

During the year 1866 or 1867 or something, Scarlett O’Hara married her second husband (Rhett Butler is husband #3). She took over the accounting / bookkeeping of her husband’s Atlanta sawmill because she was really good at numbers. All of the respectable white people in town disapproved. She did it anyway. One day, she travelled from her husband’s sawmill back to her house. Two big black men (newly freed enslaved men who live in the town slum) attacked her and tried to rip off her dress. Her husband rounded up all of the other respectable white men in town and they went and had a Klu Klux Klan raid on the black people who lived in the town slum. Husband #2 got killed in the process.

Yes, this is something that happened in the novel Gone with the Wind. This book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1937.

I guess that I ignored this part of the book when I was a teenager. I don’t remember.

What I do remember was that I completely fell for the “Lost Cause” narrative as Gone with the Wind (the novel) represented it. I disagreed with my high school history teacher about the actual evils of slavery. I actually did this. My history teacher had a PhD.

I read at least one biography about the author, Margaret Mitchell. I also watched the made-for-television movie about her life. Shannon Dougherty of Beverly Hills 90210 starred in this movie. Based entire on this one biography and this one movie, I personally think that Margaret Mitchell suffered from trauma over losing her fiance in World War I, losing her mother in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, and then suffering domestic violence in a very brief first marriage. This is my personal opinion. I personally believe that Gone with the Wind reflected Mitchell’s trauma over these events.

By the time that I was out of college and married, I was completely over Gone with the Wind. Then one day, my husband Jonathan got sent to Atlanta on a business trip. I tagged along with him.

By complete coincidence, our hotel was on the opposite site of the exact same block as the house where Mitchell lived when she wrote Gone with the Wind. The Federal Reserve was on this same block. Neither my husband nor I chose this hotel ahead of time. Somebody else at my husband’s place of employment chose the hotel. I never met this person, and this person had no idea that I used to like the novel Gone with the Wind.

The house where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind was actually a downtown Atlanta apartment building. Mitchell lived in one of the apartments with her second husband (John Marsh) when she wrote the book. I read something once that suggested that Gone with the Wind was actually a team effort. Mitchell once wrote for an Atlanta newspaper, and Marsh was her former editor. Anyway, years later a group purchased the apartment building with the intention of turning it into a museum about Mitchell and Gone with the Wind. Shortly after the museum was set to open, most of it burned down in an arson. The group rebuilt the thing. They opened this building as “The Margaret Mitchell House.”

So, yeah, I visited the Margaret Mitchell House that one time when I went to Atlanta. I got to spend an entire week sleeping on the same block as the Margaret Mitchell House. It felt really weird, though. I had loved that book for so long. Then, by the time that I got to see where it was written, I didn’t actually think much of the book.

In fact, the docent who led me around the Margaret Mitchell House opened the tour by telling me about how much she personally loved Gone with the Wind. (I guess that you have to love Gone with the Wind in order to give tours around the apartment where either Mitchell or Marsh wrote it. I was under the impression that the docents were all volunteers.)

Then she said to me, “What do you think of the book?”

I said, “This used to be my favorite book. Now it isn’t.”

The tour was kinda awkward after this. Oh, well.

During this same trip, I rode the MARTA (the commuter train) and walked a bunch in order to visit the Joel Chandler Harris House (also called “The Wren’s Nest”). I did this because Harris wrote the Uncle Remus stories that my Grandma Gaffron read to me.

So, on my one trip to Atlanta, I toured the homes of problematic authors.

Also, my husband and I ate in a downtown Atlanta restaurant where we eavesdropped on the business meeting happening at the table next to ours. It was clearly a business meeting. All of the participants were wearing business attire. Also, I’ve sat in enough business meetings myself that I enjoy watching the pain of other people who are trapped in business meetings. The one man in this meeting told the other participants that when he was a kid, he raised a goat on his dad’s farm. Then his dad had the goat served as dinner one night. I think that someone at that table had ordered goat meat for lunch.

I miss sitting close enough to strangers to hear their entire conversations. I miss eating in restaurants. I miss visiting the museum homes of problematic authors. I can’t wait until the “Temporary Weirdness” ends.

Restaurant Confessions Part I: The Great Veterans Day Weekend Oil Shower

I have a confession. Before the Covid-19 crisis changed my world in March, I ate out at restaurants A LOT. Everyone has a different definition of “A LOT.” I’m not going to provide my definition of “A LOT.” Let’s just say that I’m embarrassed to let my dad and sisters know how often I ate out.

I didn’t always eat out A LOT. I didn’t go out much during college or right after college because I couldn’t afford it. In fact, when I worked at my first job after college in Johnstown, my friends and I made fun of a co-worker who did go out to eat “A LOT.”

Then, I got a job in downtown Pittsburgh. I married a man who worked in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. I moved into his house in New Kensington. New Kensington isn’t that close to Pittsburgh during rush hour. My after-work commute changed from 5 minutes in Johnstown to much longer. I also made more dough because I no longer worked in Johnstown. Also also, my living costs were still really low because- well, because I lived in New Kensington. So, I paid other people to make my dinner.

That all changed in March 2020. People on Facebook told me that I could die or kill my grandmother if I went outside. My employer told me to work from home. (Woot! Woot! No painful commute!) The governor shut down all of the restaurants. So, I learned how much money I actually save by making my poor husband cook for me.

The very last time that I ate in a restaurant was Sunday, March 15. My husband Jonathan and I ate at the brunch buffet at DiSalvo’s Station Restaurant in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. According to Facebook, we should both be dead right now! Good thing that the restaurant only had about five other patrons during our meal.

DiSalvo’s is a renovated former train station that sits under active railroad tracks. The current Amtrak station sits above the restaurant. When you dine at DiSalvo’s, you can hear freight trains or perhaps even the Amtrak over your head.

I visited DiSalvo’s for the very first time when I was a senior at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. I ended up at DiSalvo’s as part of a double date. It turned out that my “date” part of the double date actually wanted to be with the other girl in our foursome, and a few months later he did just that. However, that’s the way that things go sometimes. I got a free meal out of the whole thing.

So, the place has a model railroad that travels along the dining room wall. This little train passes replicas of Latrobe landmarks, including the Saint Vincent Basilica. When I went there on my “double date,” the other girl and I cooed “Oh, train!” every time that the train passed our table. Someone finally turned the train off just to shut us up.

A few years later, I went to a wedding reception held at DiSalvo’s for a college classmate who got married at Saint Vincent Basilica.

A few more years went by and I got married myself. (I married a guy who never went on a double date with me while he actually wanted the other girl. Also, my own wedding wasn’t as fancy and it didn’t take place in Latrobe.)

A few years after this, my sister K. gave me a gift card to the place. Then, I went cabin camping with my husband and in-laws at nearby Keystone State Park over Veterans Day weekend. My father-in-law is a veteran. My father-in-law loves trains. We used the gift card to treat him to Sunday brunch at DiSalvo’s.

So, after brunch, we walked up to the railroad tracks to watch trains. A few freight trains passed us. We even saw a male and female stowaway riding on one of the cars. (I’m too politically correct to use the word “hobo.”)

And then . . . it happened. A train stopped on the tracks directly above DiSalvo’s Station. Oil covered the locomotive and several of the front cars.

It turned out that the thing’s turbo had exploded. Thus the mess. Oil everywhere.

We watched railroad employees disconnect the oil-covered locomotive from the front car and replace it with a fresh, oil-free locomotive. We watched this for over an hour. We didn’t need no stinking model train that could be turned off by the whim of annoyed restaurant employees. We had our own, real train entertainment outside!

I swiped this photo of the oil-covered locomotive from my sister-in-law’s Facebook page. Good thing that I don’t actually make any money from this blog!

My husband and I saw all of this with his mom Fran, his dad, his sister M., and her future husband J. After this, my husband and I drove to Latrobe sometimes to grab brunch at DiSalvo’s. Every time we ate there, we talked about the Great Veterans Day Weekend Oil Shower.

After Fran died, I couldn’t think about the Great Veterans Day Weekend Oil Shower without thinking about how much fun Fran seemed to have had that day at the train tracks above DiSalvo’s Station.

Now, as I said, my routine completely changed in March 2020. A lot of people’s lives did. My employer had planned a major client social function at a downtown Pittsburgh restaurant for mid-March. Two weeks before everything shut down, my big manager announced that the client function was still on her schedule. She told my co-workers that she herself planned to keep eating out.

By that time, Twitter was filled with memes about how our entire family would die if we left the house. I ignored the memes because my mother-in-law and my own mom had both lived their lives “correctly” and they had both died anyway. So, if I croaked from eating at a brunch buffet, at least I got to eat that final piece of chocolate cheesecake.

So – about that brunch at DiSalvo’s Station on March 15. The restaurant was pretty empty. We were at least six feet away from the other patrons the entire time. The only other patrons sat on the other side of the dining room. The staff seemed really nervous and stressed. Maybe I just projected my own feelings onto them.

The next day, Monday March 16, was my last day inside my employer’s downtown Pittsburgh office. During that day, we received an email to start working from home effective immediately. The governor shut down all of the restaurants less than a week later.

I’m blessed because I didn’t lose my job. I got to stop making my commute. I saved a lot of money. However, I’m sad that I haven’t eaten inside of a restaurant since March. I’m sad for all of the restaurants that I loved to visit. So, from time to time, I will blog about my restaurant memories.

By the way, I’m aware that Pennsylvania restaurants eventually opened again to inside diners. However, my husband and I decided to cherry-pick our activities. We are involved in some other stuff (including my husband’s participation in our community’s volunteer fire department) so we balanced this out by not eating inside of restaurants. Now restaurants in my area are being shut down again. It looks as if I won’t be eating inside of a restaurant for a long, long time.

Happy Birthday, Stephen Foster!

Here is songwriter Stephen Foster’s grave and also those of his parents at Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh.

From this photo, you can see that:

1.) Stephen Foster’s birthday is July 4.

2.) Stephen’s father, William Barclay Foster, served as a veteran in the War of 1812.

Two Truths and a Lie

So, my manager at work has instructed her team that tomorrow we will play “Two Truths and a Lie” as part of a virtual team-building exercise. We will all need to log into our meeting prepared to play this game. That is, we all need to provide two things about us that are true and one thing about us that isn’t true. Our co-workers will need to guess the thing about us that isn’t true. If they guess correctly, then they win.

I’m brainstorming right now for this game. If any of my co-workers are reading this blog now prior to tomorrow’s meeting, then congratulations. You win.

Here is a bunch of stuff about me that is actually true:

I am the oldest of my parents’ five daughters.

I have a sister who is almost 22 years younger than I am.

I have an ancestor that was an American officer during the Revolutionary War.

My parents lived at their house in Somerset County for several decades before my dad realized that this ancestor from the American Revolution was actually buried only a few miles down the road from their house.

I have a great-grandfather that was a German soldier during World War I.

I have a great-grandfather that was a U.S. soldier during World War I.

My great-grandfather that was a U.S. soldier during World War I spoke German fluently because his family was German American. This great-grandfather was taken as a POW by the Germans. He overheard his German captors discussing in German their plans to shoot him. He protested this in German. His captors didn’t shoot him.

When I was a kid, my parents heated their house each Pennsylvania winter with a wood-burning furnace. My dad went to the top of a mountain each summer to cut our winter supply of firewood.

My dad kept me out of his woodshed by telling me that it was full of rattlesnakes.

My high school senior class trip consisted of a tour of a potato chip factory. (My high school sat down the street from the Snyder of Berlin potato chip factory in Somerset County. The entire senior class walked from our high school to the factory. We toured the factory. A bunch of my classmates waved to their relatives who worked at the factory. After the tour ended, we walked back to our high school. This was our entire “class trip.”)

My dad took me deer hunting, and I shot a doe on the first day of doe season when I was 17 years old.

I was in my mid-20’s the first time that I ever flew on an airplane.

I worked for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission one summer when I was in college. I got to visit abandoned tunnels that the Turnpike Commission now uses to store salt. I also got to paint parking spaces at a service plaza. I got to watch motorists drive across wet paint. I secured the job by writing a letter to Congressman John Murtha’s office.

My grandfather allegedly rode down the Pennsylvania Turnpike (uninvited) on his motorcycle before the turnpike had actually opened to the public.

The summer before my senior year of high school, I attended “Keystone Girls State,” a week-long program about politics for Pennyslvania high school girls hosted by the American Legion Ladies’ Auxillary. On the last night of the program, we had a banquet. A bunch of people left the banquet early to go watch live television footage of police chasing O.J. Simpson down an L.A. highway in his white Bronco. A little over a year later, I went to college. A bunch of my fellow college freshman skipped our mandatory seminar about alcohol abuse so that they could watch live coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial verdict. Other people wore headphones to the alcohol lecture and listened to the verdict on the radio. Someone stood up in the middle of the lecture and announced the verdict. The college’s dean stopped the alcohol presentation and repeated the verdict over the podium microphone.

I think that I have enough material to play “Two Truths and a Lie.”

Jonathan’s New Desk

Here is the blog post that my husband Jonathan wrote about the new desk that he built for himself.

Jonathan set up a new work area for himself because we have both been working from home since February / March. (Jonathan’s employer instructed him to start working from home in late February. My employer told me on Friday, March 13 to only come in to work every third day. My first day on this new schedule was Monday, March 16. A few hours after I reported to work on March 16, I received instructions that I was to start working from home full time effective immediately. Jonathan and I both take public transit to Pittsburgh. Jonathan has his own office at work. However, I work in a cubicle in an “open office.” Don’t even get me started about the “open office” concept!)

So, now Jonathan has a brand new desk to use in our living room. I have use of two desks that we already owned, including a desk that my mom and I picked out together at a furniture store on my 16th birthday. As I mentioned in the previous post, we both have “new” chairs. So, we’re all set to continue working from home together!

Return to the Ghost Town Trail

Ghost Town Trail, Cambria County, PA. May, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Almost every person in the entire world had a rough few months, or a rough few years, or a rough life.

I’ve worked from home full time since mid-March. I know that this takes me out of the running for “who had it roughest.”

I don’t want to get into a contest about who had it roughest. I won’t win. I don’t want to win.

Even so, I’ve struggled since March to make it through each work week – and that’s okay.

I heard through our aunt that my cousin K.G. and her co-workers decided to NOT call our current reality the “New Normal.” Instead, they refer to it as the “Temporary Weirdness.”

(Cousin K.G., if you’re reading this, keep in mind that I’m not trying to be F. Scott Fitzgerald as he plagiarizes his wife Zelda’s diary. Let me know if you want me to remove all references to “Temporary Weirdness” or else give you a writing credit for this blog post.)

So here’s two things that keep me going through this “Temporary Weirdness”:

1.) My “new” chair

My husband J. also works from home in our “Temporary Weirdness.” When this “started,” J. purchased a “new” chair for himself. That is, he purchased a chair from a company in Chicago that refurbishes office furniture and also manufactures Covid-19 masks. (The company was permitted to stay open BECAUSE they added “mask making” to their list of things that they now do.)

Meanwhile, I worked each day from one of our dining room chairs. I did this for several weeks.

I told myself that it wasn’t “necessary” for me to spend money on my own “new” chair because I should save up all that I could just in case I caught Covid-19 and got really sick or died. I know, that was stupid.

My back hurts even when I’m not sitting all day on a dining room chair. So, for several weeks, I snapped at J. all day, every day.

Then J. said to me, “Why don’t you use my chair today?”

I used J.’s chair that day.

That evening, we ordered a chair for me from the same company.

I really wish that I had just purchased my own comfortable chair back in early March!

See, I read the blogs of other people who work for long periods of time from home offices. A bunch of these people highly recommended that readers invest in comfortable office chairs. And it STILL took me weeks before I broke down and bought myself such a chair.

2.) Awesome podcasts, videos, and live-streamed events from extremely talented people

Ever since the global pandemic “quarantine” (it’s not a REAL quarantine) hit my world, I’ve entertained myself with podcasts, virtual tours, videos, live-streamed events, etc, from entertainers. Many of these extremely talented souls post links to their online tip jars since they haven’t been able to perform to live audiences since March. And of course I tip. After all, I’m privileged enough to work 40 hours a week from my “new” comfortable chair.

I consider many of these talents to be “essential workers” because they’ve helped me to function ever since the “Temporary Weirdness” started.

Actually, some of these talents helped me to make it through life as a semi-functional adult ever since my mom got sick and died two years ago.

And the thing is, almost all of these talents perform in places too far away for me to realistically visit in person. So, if the internet didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have the joy that they all give to me.

Here’s the thing that hurts me: I know that I will never be able to do for other people what these performers do for me. I will never be able to write a podcast, or take a photo or video, that will help somebody who just lost her mother make it through a stressful day of work. I will never give somebody a reason to get out of bed after nightmares about dying alone of Covid-19.

But, I can attempt to keep a single reader fairly amused for a few minutes.

Ghost Town Trail, Cambria County, PA. May, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this post isn’t actually about the Ghost Town Trail. Here is an actual post about the Ghost Town Trail.

(Just to recap: The Ghost Town Trail is a walking and bike trail in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. I graduated from high school in the county that sits just below Cambria County. After college, I worked for Americorps in the nearby economically devastated city of Johnstown. I shared office space with several Americorps members who contributed to the Ghost Town Trail. )

Anyway, my husband J. and I biked on the Ghost Town Trail last month.

(Don’t worry, the trail was “legally” open that day. We social distanced. We brought masks. We hand sanitized. We did nothing during our bike ride that would cause you to blame us for killing your grandparents. )

I blogged last June about our previous trip down the trail.

Last month, we rode on a newly-opened trail spur. This spur took us past the spooky old train depot pictured in this post.

The thing reminded me of Stephen King’s short story “Willa.”

I told J. that the train depot just HAD to be haunted. I just HAD to grab a photo just in case I “saw a ghost”.

I didn’t see any ghosts. Still, I hope that you enjoyed these photos for a few minutes.

Here’s something else that’s up with me and J.: My husband has been really busy with woodworking during our “quarantine.” He finished our downstairs bathroom medicine chest and he made himself a new desk. (You know, so that he can work from home during our Temporary Weirdness.) Here’s a blog post about the chest. He already wrote the post about the desk and he will post it next week.

Soldiers’ Lot, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Cannon. Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

In 2018, I took a guided tour of Allegheny Cemetery. This cemetery is on the National Register of Historic places.

 Allegheny Cemetery includes a National Cemetery Administration’s soldiers’ lot. The Allegheny Cemetery Soldiers’ Lot is located in Section 33 of Allegheny Cemetery. The majority of the 303 soldiers buried here were Civil War soldiers. Most of the burials were of Union soldiers; however, the lot also contains several Confederate soldiers.

I returned to the Soldiers’ Lot in 2019 in order to take some photos.

Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I didn’t have any prior knowledge of this following soldier, but I Googled his name when I returned home.

From the Veterans Affairs / website for Allegheny Cemetery Soldiers’ Lot: Corporal John M. Kendig (Civil War). He received the Medal of Honor while serving in the U.S. Army, Company A, 63rd Pennsylvania Infantry, for actions at Spotsylvania, Virginia, May 12, 1864. His citation was awarded under the name of Kindig. He died in 1869 and is buried in Section 33, Lot 66, Site 32.

Corporal John M. Kendig (Civil War). He received the Medal of Honor.
Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here’s a grave for an unknown Union (United States) Civil War soldier:

Unknown U.S. Soldier grave.
Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Finally, here is a Confederate grave that I saw at the Soldiers’ Lot. Note how the headstone differs from that of a Union soldier.

Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

“Man Proposes, God Disposes”

“Man Proposes, God Disposes” by Edwin Landseer, 1864

I didn’t take any art history classes in college. So, maybe my post is about something that everyone who actually took art history learned in Art History 101.

But now I kinda want to learn more about art history.

This image is of an 1864 painting titled Man Proposes, God Disposes by the British artist Edwin Landseer. (I found this image on Wikipedia. Wikipedia advised that this image is in the Public Domain. I’m thinking of just starting a blog titled Things that I Learned from Wikipedia.)

This is a painting of two polar bears eating human remains in the ruins of a ship. You can see the bloody sails and the mast. The polar bear on the right stands over a ribcage.

Man Proposes, God Disposes was Landseer’s interpretation of what happened to the British explorer Sir John Franklin’s 1845 trip to the Arctic. You can read all about it on Wikipedia.

I learned about the painting today on the podcast Haunted Places from Parcast by Cutler Media. If you listen to this podcast on Spotify, you get to learn about a haunted place every Thursday AND you also get to learn about an urban legend every Tuesday. Today’s urban legend was about this painting.

This painting graces a wall at Royal Holloway, University of London. And the painting is HAUNTED, guys. Haunted. The painting is so haunted that the university covers it with a Union Jack when students are taking exams in the same room.

By coincidence, I listened to the podcast about this haunted polar bear painting RIGHT AFTER I listened to a completely different podcast about a real, 21st century guy who lived among grizzly bears every summer for a decade until one of the grizzlies ate the guy. We know the fate of the grizzly bear guy because a pilot flew over and saw a grizzly standing over a ribcage.

I wish that my mother-in-law, Fran, were still with us so that I could tell her all of these stories about bears. Fran loved bears – in theory. The local news reported that a black bear visited homes in the neighborhood next to Fran’s. Fran said, “Everybody gets a bear except me.”

(For the record, I pray that I NEVER see a bear in the wild. I will be perfectly okay if everybody gets a bear except me.)

So what?

Well, this whole global pandemic reminded me YET AGAIN that we’re not in charge. And I didn’t actually need ANY reminder that I’m not in charge.

So, it comforts me to read that the British Empire wasn’t actually in charge in 1845 when Sir John Franklin may or may not have gotten eaten by polar bears.