When I was a child and we lived outside of Buffalo, our trips down to Oil City were frequent. My great grandfather was still alive then, living with my great aunt and her family in the house they had lived in since 1905. My grandfather was born in that house, and my father grew up there as well. It was the quintessential Grandma's House kind of place to go visit, even though none of my grandparents actually lived there. Or maybe that was why.
The house in question (pay no attention to the dapper fellow in the foreground)We moved to Raleigh in 1969 and the following year my great grandfather died.
I think we went to Oil City once more after that, on a trip up to Buffalo to visit family. My great aunt had also passed away by then and the family had sold the old house to consolidate funds and provide my great uncle with medical care for his emphysema. That was around 1972 and we never went back again. I do recall us going to see the old house, and the new owners allowed us to come in for a last look around. I never see love beads that I don't think of my great aunt's living room during that visit. It was a punch to the emotional gut to see the changes the new owners had wrought, and from then on, my memories were all I had.
In 2000 the hub-man and I took a trip up north to visit family and on the way back we stopped off in Oil City to do a little family research. We located a cemetery that first trip where my Great-great-great grandparents were buried and decided it was worth the extra time to go check it out.
I stood in that cemetery, on a hilltop outside of a little town called Rouseville, watching a thunderstorm roll in over the surrounding hills, and for the first time since we had moved away from Buffalo, I felt like I had come home. Not to be all New Age freaky, but cemeteries all have different vibes to me. Most of the time they feel like you've just walked into someone else's house, but there on that hill, I could almost smell the old house that only lived in my dreams, and felt my family all around me. There on that hill I cried, for the joy of having found them, and for the frustration that they were still so far away.
I went back the following year, and the year after that, staying a night or two in the local hotel, always feeling a bit out of synch with the area. In 2004 I found a house to rent and my parents came with us that year. We all fell in love with that old house, partly, I believe, because it was similar to my great grandparents' house. It was also on the grounds of a park where my dad had played as a kid, so the proximity to his old stomping grounds was another factor. The other added bonus of having a big house to stay in was being able to host my aunt and some of her family, who drove down from Buffalo. It had been over 30 years for me since I had been back there, but it had been even longer since my aunt and my father had been there together. The stories that poured out of them as we went around town were invaluable to the research I was conducting, and highly illuminating, since I wasn't around when a lot of them happened. Home away from home
Creek at Miller Farm in Oil Creek State Park
Single file at Petroleum Centre
The stories we tell on a trip like this are the best reason to go. The tales of ancestors scraping a life out of this place, of their devotion to and reliance on each other. These stories, told by my father to his grandchildren are priceless jewels in the crown of their identity. They are moments that can only occur for a limited time, but their potential to be remembered and passed down grants immortality to so many.