How we came to Smiggle’s Bottom

I didn’t grow up in one place. My family didn’t make far-flung “military relocation” moves but we didn’t stay in one town as most people in northern Appalachia do—for generations. I was born in Pittsburgh—only because my mother and I were very sick, sent to Pittsburgh for consultation, and the doctor deemed it wise to perform a C-section then and there. We went home to a little town on the Monongahela River, Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania. When I was four, we moved to the north side of Pittsburgh, an ancient house in an odd neighborhood on Jack’s Run Road. When I was eight we moved to Connellsville, Pennsylvania, where I lived until I went off to college in Morgantown, West Virginia. In between we visited family and friends in many small towns in the valleys and mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania. What was once a thriving coal and steel area, was in it’s demise when I grew up. The scenery varied from wild natural woodland and mountain vistas to streets of decrepit company homes, abandoned coke ovens, slag heaps, weed-covered rail road tracks, oily rivers, and slumped neighborhoods—the result of mine subsidence.

I had an aunt that lived in a middle-class suburb of Washington DC. We visited her once a year and my dad, who didn’t care for crowds of relatives, took me on day trips to DC and Baltimore. Because he was a magician, we went to magic conventions in exotic places like Cleveland and Chicago. I had an aunt in Missouri and we drove out there a few times. Because one of my grandmothers had emigrated from the Isle of Man, we went to Manx conventions in various American cities. And when I was nine, she remarried and moved to Miami. My family drove there on Christmas vacations.

What this means is that I traveled more than the average small-town girl form a family that could probably be categorized as lower middle class. We drove to all these places at a time when gas was cheap and chain-gangs worked the roads. Because I was prone to carsickness and couldn’t read in the car, I saw lots of sights and had plenty of time to daydream. My impressions of these places were, perhaps, not very realistic. I was a child when I visited them, one prone to fantasize. As an adult I’ve been to as many places as possible: foreign countries, ancient ruins, places with oceans, canals, volcanos. Floating cities, crocodile-infested rivers, secluded cays, jungles and deserts.

Smiggle’s Bottom, where Felicity grew up, is a loose mix of all these places and impressions. A lot of people meshed into unique characters. The stories happened internally and externally. Some may have been stories I overheard. They’re all patched and embroidered, stitched together as the women in my family were disposed to do with thread, yarn, fabric. (No needles were involved as I never achieved their level of competence with them.)

Everything in the book: places, people, tales, is my own creation, the world inside my head. For better or worse…

Gay

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