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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS, Part 2: BABA'S HILL

Babicka means grandmother in Slovak...which is why (I assume) my brother and I referred to our Grandma Raymond as Baba.  Just five short miles from the Morosky household in Richeyville, PA, my grandmother, Mary Raymond, lived in a small house on Lowhill Road near the Monongahela River.  Just as the water tank overlooking Richeyville heralded  that our arrival at our Grandma and Grandpap Morosky's house was imminent...descending down Baba's Hill was indication that we were close to Grandma Raymond's.  Baba's Hill (officially known as Gillis Road) is a sketchy stretch of Pennsylvania, tar and chip, back country road that, as I remember it, is BARELY able to accommodate any sort of passing traffic. Wooden posts, linked together with rusty steel cables, were the only barrier between the road and steep, wooded, ravine that was just a few short feet away.  Baba's Road ended at an obnoxiously steep angle when it intersected with Lowhill Road....indication that grandmother's house was just around the corner.

Mary Raymond's house on Lowhill Road. -- 1978

For as long as I knew my Grandmother, Mary Raymond, she lived alone.  My grandfather, unfortunately, passed away long before I was born.  I've never known a woman as tough as Mary Raymond.  Tough mentally, spiritually, and physically.  By the time I had become part of the story she had lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the death of her husband, and had raised four boys (my father being the youngest).  She was an active member in her church and rarely, if ever, missed Sunday Mass.  On her own she would mow her massive yard, paint the railings on her porch, and almost daily carry water up from the spring that cut through the yard.  Yet, she was always the optimist...seeing good and beauty in everything.  She would religiously root for her Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers...always hoping that they would "bring home a winner" but still loving them when they lost.  Mary Raymond never tried to rid her yard of dandelions...instead she would comment on how colorful they made the yard look.  Daily, Grandma would work on her crossword puzzles while she drank her morning coffee which, she would say, always "hit the spot."

My Grandmother, Mary Raymond -- Christmas Day 1986

Freshly baked bread was my absolutely favorite smell that came out of Baba's kitchen.  There was always a loaf waiting for us when we arrived.  I can picture the homemade bread sitting next to the knife and the crumbs on the cutting board on the kitchen table.  Grandma's homemade bread had a dark, tough crust...but man, the inside of it was so fresh and soft.  I loved it.  For breakfast, Baba would essentially fry eggs by floating them on top of a layer of sizzling butter.  Not the healthiest way to make eggs...but one of the tastiest!   There were also a few meals that I considered a little questionable...huge pots of sauerkraut soup and one of my father's favorites....something he loved, but even my mother turned her nose up at...fried mush.  I'm still not quite sure what that was.


Grandma Raymond allowing a one-year-old me to help clean up Christmas Dinner.  -- Christmas Day 1974

Mary Raymond cooking at her stove. -- November 24, 1984

Mary Raymond putting the finishing touches on Christmas dinner.  -- Christmas Day 1999

Grandma Raymond did so much with so little and was brilliant at making sure that she took care of the things that she had.  In the corner of the living stood a multi-colored lamp post which now has a home with my brother (I'm so jealous of it).  Baba had the most amazing silver artificial Christmas tree.  I'm sure that it was purchased in the 60s or 70s...and was horribly out of fashion when I was growing up...but that tree was vintage.  To my wife's horror...I really want one just like it.   At Christmas time she also displayed mechanical toys (a tin Rudolph and a camel) that were surely manufactured in the 1930s or 1940s.  They were so delicate that we were only allowed to with supervision.  Parked in Grandma Raymond's driveway was a brown AMC Gremlin.  That was the only car I remember her having up until she upgraded to a blue Ford Escort sometime in the 1990s.


Not only is this a good picture of my grandmother...but displayed on the wall clock were her vintage Christmas toys.  Off to the right you can see her multi-colored lamp.  -- Christmas Day 1987

Love, love, love the silver Christmas tree with the revolving multi-color light that would shine on it. -- 1979

My grandmother's AMC Gremlin. -- 1981

For my brother and I, especially in the summer months, Baba's house was a place of outdoor adventure.  Not everyone has a spring flowing through their yard...but Baba did.  The water flowed from the hillside, through a filtering system, and then into a stream that dissected the yard...eventually flowing underneath the main road and...I can only assume...down the hill and into the Monongahela River.  The water from the spring was a source of drinking and cooking water for my grandmother.  Jake and I would spend hours playing in the spring catching crayfish and building small dams.  On rare occasions, my mother would allow us to crawl through the corrugated pipe under the main road in which the water flowed to exit my grandmother's property...which seemed to me, at the time,  such an incredibly fun adventure.

Grandma Raymond walking back to the house from the spring. -- 1982

A very skinny me playing in the spring. -- 1980

My brother, Jake, and I playing in the spring.  -- 1981

My Uncle Dan walking on the side of the road just over where my grandmother's spring flowed off of her property. -- 1982

The spring wasn't the only part of Mary Raymond's yard that was memorable. In my earliest memories, I remember my grandmother's dog, Alphie.  Like my Grandpap Morosky's dog, Duke, Alphie chained at the dog house in the yard.  I never had much interaction with Alphie and I don't recall when he died.  Behind my grandmother's house was a green block building everyone called "the foundation."  It looked and smelled like a basement with a roof on it.  I'm not sure who originally built the structure but I recall my Great Uncle Tim and Great Aunt Olga would come live in the foundation during the summer months.  Further up in the woods, behind the foundation, was the remains of the old Radvansky Farmhouse. (My grandfather changed the family's last name from Radvansky to Raymond.)  I only recollect visiting the farmhouse when it was still standing once or twice...with my dad and my uncles.  Even then I wasn't allowed to go too far into it because of how unsafe the adults considered it to be.  Later, during my college years, I would wander back there a few times to poke around...but by then there wasn't much of the old house standing.

Alphie the Dog. -- 1982

Easter Sunday 1986...my brother, Jake, and I with Grandma Raymond.  You can clearly see the foundation in the background.  -- March 30, 1986

Uncle Tim and Aunt Olga (holding me just months after I was born) were common fixtures at my grandmother's house during the summer months.  -- 1973

The remains of the Radvansky farmhouse. -- March 24, 1995

The remains of the Radvansky farmhouse. -- March 24, 1995

Unlike at my Grandpap and Grandma Morosky's house, at which my cousins were a constant presence, I didn't get to see my cousins, aunts, and uncles on my dad's side very often...which made the times that we were together extremely fun time.  I always looked forward to seeing my Uncle Tom, Aunt Ande, Uncle Dan, Uncle Jim, Aunt Jane and my older cousins Ramona, Monique, and Tommy.  As a young boy I especially looked up to my cousin, Tommy, and wanted to be around him as much as possible.  I imagine that I probably drove him nuts!  I also took pride in playing the role of older cousin to Mariaelena, Jared, Jayme, and Jordan.  Because Grandma Raymond's house was so small these gatherings usually took the form of back yard cookouts with my father and my uncles manning the charcoal grill.  It was the stuff that made for great childhood memories. 

Grandma Raymond with her grandchildren.  Front:  David, Jacob, Mariaelena, and Mary Raymond.  Back:  Monique, Ramona, and Tommy Raymond. -- 1981

Cousins:  David, Tommy, Jacob, Ramona, Monique, and Mariaelena Raymond. -- 1981
David, Ramona, and Tommy with Uncle Dan.  --1981

Mariaelena, Monique, Ramona, Tommy, David, and Jacob Raymond. -- 1982

Cousins ganging up on Uncle Tom.  -- July 4, 1986

Family wiffle ball game at Grandma Raymond's House.  Tommy is up to bat.  -- July 4, 1986

My mother, Kathy Raymond, getting a hit.  -- July 4, 1986

Celebrating the Fourth of July at Grandma Raymond's house.  David, Mariaelena, and Tommy Raymond. -- July 4, 1986


Grandma Raymond with my cousin, Jared.  My father is in the back with my Uncle Tom and Uncle Dan.  -- July 1988


Hanging out with my little cousin, Jared. -- July 1988


One of my favorite pics from Grandma Raymond's house.  Jared, David, Tommy, and Jacob Raymond. -- July 1988

My dad and Uncle Tom manning the grill.  -- July 18, 1993

Family gathering for Grandma Raymond'd birthday.  That is a 19 year old me on the right in the back. -- 1993

Looking back, the one thing I remember the most about my grandmother was how generous she was to me.  It's obvious to me now, as an adult, that she didn't have a lot of money to give away...but she always found a crisp dollar bill to give me after each visit.  She would offer to help, assist, or feed anyone who needed to be helped, assisted, or fed...and she did it graciously, with a smile, and with a sense of eternal optimism.  In the ultimate show of generosity, Grandma allowed me to live with her my senior year of college.  I won't sugar coat it...there were definitely some growing pains and adjustments that we both had to make...and we naturally butted heads a few times.  During the year I spent with her, my relationship with my grandmother increasingly became stronger.  I had always loved my Grandma Raymond...but the experience really helped me to understand her, respect her, and truly know her. Our days began and ended with conversations (something that still doesn't come easy to me) that helped bridge the gap between Generation X and the Greatest Generation.  By the time my stay with Grandma came to an end we had forged a close and unique bond that I still hold precious to this day.

I was a senior in college in the pic.  I enjoyed my free time playing my guitar on the bridge that crossed over the spring.  -- October 1, 1994

Grandma allowed me to convert her ONE extra room into my bedroom for the year that I stayed with her.  -- February 5, 1995

My grandmother, Mary Raymond, passed away in February 2006.  At the time I remember thinking that she, at least, got to see her beloved Pittsburgh Steelers win their 5th Super Bowl championship.  Even if they would have lost, she would have found the positive in it.  Baba had the ability to find the silver lining in any situation.  The day she looked  out the kitchen window to find her Ford Escort engulfed in fire in the driveway she just considered it a sign from God that she wasn't suppose to be driving anymore.  That's such vintage Mary Raymond!  That attitude and spirit greeted anyone who visited her and it was the reason why I liked the drive down Baba's Hill so much.


A picture of Mary Raymond with her four boys:  David, Dan, Tom, and Jim.  -- July 10, 2002



Life is a journey...not a destination.





I loved the bond I had with my grandmother.   This picture was taken in the summer of 1995 shortly after I graduated from college. -- July 1995

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