Note to Readers: The following 7 blogs are a letter that is part of a series of letters about family history that I am writing for my great niece and her unborn sibling. The agreement is that for the sake of time and the truth of spontaneous thought, I write in stream of consciousness without much editing. "16 Shetland" is a companion piece to "528 Halcomb" which was the home of my maternal grandparents. I believe my current quest which led to this trip began at 16 Shetland, the home of my paternal grandparents. It's long, so I broke it up into sections. While the latest post is usually first, for the ease of reading, I published them so that you can read downward, 1 through 7.
Oh, dear Lucy and the One For Whom We Wait,
Setting out to tell you about 16 Shetland in East Liberty is a lot like walking up the steps of the house. We park on a narrow street that looks like any old Pittsburgh neighborhood. The houses are mostly brick, close to one another, with large porches along the front. Just enough greenery to make the place looked lived in. The air is calm. The world appears quite normal. But what is about to happen fills me, even now with a unsettled feeling, not dread exactly but preparedness. You must prepare because you are not simply entering a house. You are walking into the World of Grandpa. Fa as his children called him. I can describe this world, for in it there are tables, beds, chairs, a bathroom and kitchen, everything you would find in a house of that era. But there was something else there, something invisible, powerful, full of awe and a little scary . . . something I cannot fully describe but will try. Thinking of it, I am reminded of Luke’s conversation with Yoda as Luke paused before entering the dark cave. My recollection is that going inside this dark place was a prerequisite for becoming a Jedi master.
"That place… is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go," Yoda instructed.
"What's in there?" asked Luke.
"Only what you take with you," Yoda told him.
Before I elaborate, I would like to start with the fact—and I have no idea why I am moved to do this—that I saw my first lightening bugs in the yard at 16 Shetland. I was four or five. Lightening bugs have all but vanished. They are a form of beetle that flies and because of some chemical, they emit a luminescence that flickers on and off at night. They are also called fireflies. It is thought that the painter Caravaggio put dried fireflies on his canvas to create the luminous essence for which his paintings are known.
Being environmentally minded, I will never look at a Caravaggio again in the same way. Although I was also not innocent in that when I was a child, we used to catch lightening bugs in a jar. I always let mine go. But can you imagine some large thing trapping you in a small container and whisking you off somewhere to sit in foreign place only little holes to let in air. It’s a lesson in living: Always be conscious of what you do because there may be consequences that are not yet apparent. And in fact, lightening bugs have all but vanished from the time when swarms of them flew about as a delight in the night.
But it does not appear to be the work of thoughtless children or the passion of artists that has taken this fascinating creatures from our scene. Firefly larvae thrive in rotting wood, and Americans have done a very good job of paving over our country to the detriment of wild things. Also, scientists have found that fireflies use their flashing lights to communicate. Light pollution has interrupted their patterns of flashing. The world has changed since my childhood years in the 1940s. We sharpened our motor skills by catching fireflies in jars, for it was no easy task to catch a small flying thing. I remember the first time I accomplished this. It was splendid. I loved my firefly, cruel as I was in trapping it.
Children today play video games. I will leave it to you to write a letter to your great nieces or nephews about this.
Perhaps in some unconscious way, I recall the lightening bugs at the outset of this piece because I have learned over the years that in any dark situation, there is generally some light, no matter how small it may be. And among life’s dark situations, I think it might be possible to include 16 Shetland.
So now, after procrastinating, we must make the visit, which my parents, sisters, and I did at Christmas and Easter, as the holiday celebrations took place at Aunt Carrie’s house. Before she bought that house, the Cutulys congregated on Christmas eve at 129. Grandpa, of course, never came.
Remind me to tell you about the night Mr. Parks, our neighbor, came over dressed as Santa Claus and Aunt Carrie had, as we say, had a few. But for now I must not digress.
And yet, I must digress in order to stay on track: