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Reader react: 'Don't forget where you came from'
Susan Bodnar's story about growing up in McAdoo, Pennsylvania, drew hundreds of reader comments.
November 28th, 2011
12:23 PM ET

Reader react: 'Don't forget where you came from'

Editor's note: Readers have a lot to say about the stories we post, and we're listening.

"I sometimes feel insecure being around so many wealthy people and I’m having trouble with my extended family who think I’m being uppity by sending the kids to a private school," Susan Bodnar recalled in her essay, "Don't forget where you came from."

Bodnar shared with readers the experience of growing up in the impoverished coal mining community of McAdoo, Pennsylvania, and her attempts to fit in while attending a university and now that she lives in Manhattan. Bodnar's essay resonated with hundreds of readers, who commented on their own histories, struggles to belong and desires to honor their family members, even as their paths diverge.

Janet Fiedler said: "My life today is so much more comfortable than it was when I was growing up. I have recently re-started searching my family's roots and discovered that my great-grandmother was widowed at the age of 36, three months before giving birth to her fifth child. To support herself and her family, she became a washerwoman. I sat at my computer and cried for this woman and her hard life, comparing it to my soft one. Thank you for your heart-felt article about staying in touch with one's roots."

BlackYowe said: "We are a nation of immigrants and no one should feel shame about where they came from."

Lynn said: "I'm a city girl now... but remain proud of where I'm from. Despite the miles, I believe it is important to give back to the area which formed us."

Chris Esposito  said: "I also was raised in a relatively small town with parents who were very young when they had my sister and me. I remember the valuable lessons from my family: hard work, dedication, family values, etc. I have journeyed forth outside of my small home town and was the first to get a college degree. I too have raised my girls to appreciate both small knit family life in addition to exploring the world. I am thankful for the lessons learned from my family and from my later experiences."

Tiffany said: "Boy, it's as if you opened a door into my soul, defining the struggle you so beautifully describe. I grew up in a small SW PA town, Carmichaels, surrounded by coal miner's children. My 'playdates' were on porches of row homes that seem to fall into the weaving roads which led to the Mon River in Nemacolin or on sprawling acres of land where we ran and discovered. We live in the wealthy Main Line now and my children get dropped off at estates for playdates. My children are being raised so differently. Aren't we fortunate, though, to have experienced both?"

Susan Bodnar responded: "Tiffany, I really understand you, from row houses to estates. Anyone who grows to know life's greatest expanse is lucky, although the road from row house to estate is often complicated and tricky. I'm not sure that as many get to embark upon that path as would like to. I wish that were different."

Beata said: "You should always remember were you came from, but never forget who you are now."

AGuest9 said: "Susan, you are an escapee. You are a survivor. You got out. We proudly look back upon our heritage, but know that our parents' and grandparents' sacrifices so that we could get out and be successes in the larger world were truly worth it."

Susan Bodnar responded: "Yes, and I am thinking about how to give the people of our immigrant heritage more credit and to turn them into role models particularly for our younger people today – including my kids – who are facing serious social and economic challenges."

Kate said: "I came from a family that was poor and struggling. It motivated me to make something of myself, earning my PhD and a professional position in academe. The trick is trying to pass along those values of hard work to the next generation who has reaped the benefits. I don't really care 'what' my children become in life, as long as they work hard for it. But social class is alive in America and does impact their options, like it or not."

Medstudent said: "My situation is most analogous to the children of this author; my grandparents lived in Wilkes-Barre, PA, also in coal country. My parents were the first in their family to go to college. They moved away and were really successful, and they've given me huge opportunities. I am driven by how much my family sacrificed for me, but I can never really claim to be "from" Wilkes-Barre. I want to embrace my roots there, but that generational separation makes me feel like a fraud - my actual childhood was spent at private schools and living in a big house. It is an awkward cognitive dissonance. All I can do is keep visiting my grandparents while I can, study hard, serve in the military after medical school, and try to help as many people as I can with my life."

Susan Bodnar responded: "It is not common in our society to acknowledge the influence of grandparents and their communities, but their impact can be as powerful as parents."

Bodnar's article also allowed her to reconnect with family member

Gerard Gober said: "Susan – I believe you are my wife's cousin. She hails from Weatherly; her father owned Bodnar's Market – noted in your story."

Susan Bodnar responded: "Indeed, I am related to your wife. Would love to see her again. Lots has happened in the years since we played together. Thank you for connecting."

Did Susan's story resonate with you? Tell us in the comments below.

Some comments were edited for length or clarity. 

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Filed under: How we live • Who we are
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Edie Efthymiou

    But this heritage is what made me and my sister and cousins strong. Our grandparents were obviously very smart people and so, luckily, that was passed on to us. However, I know a lot of very smart people who do not have our strength, our values, our goodness and gratefulness to live in this wonderful country. We come from Slovak and Hungarian grandparents; we could have lived behind the Iron Curtain. Every day of my life, I think of some valuable lesson my grandmother gave to me, i.e., "if you are lucky enough have more than any of your neighbors, like me, give to them and never except a thank you; if you get one, good. If you are unlucky and more like them, when they give you something, be the one who says 'thank you." A wise and wonderful grandmother.

    April 24, 2013 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  2. Susie

    Susan,

    Your story resonated with me as I am a coal miner's daughter of Croation and Slovak heritage from Greene County PA. I was the first in either parent's family to attend college. The gulf is enormous and those of us who are successful feel it all our lives. I often think that most people who refer to themselves as having a poor childhood really don't know what poverty is.

    December 31, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Susan Bodnar

    Thank you for your story, and the beautiful thoughts that have come out of the ugliness you witnessed in segregation. I agree with you!

    December 9, 2011 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
  4. Anita Bianchi

    Susan, I was born in Braddock PA, my mother was good friends with the Bonner's.(don't know if they were your family) We lived in a row house on Grandview Ave. My Grandparents were Immigrants Irish and Italian and all made and impact on the towns they lived in, the majority of them were Railroad people and some coal miners. I now know that we lived in poverty but being a child everyone else was just like me so I never knew the difference in life until my family moved to S. Florida it was the first time I saw what is segregation. In my neighborhood there we so many nationalties that in my world we were all alike except talked different languages. It was the first time I saw what was a chaingang, saw signs 'colored people'on water fountains and what was really sad was it was the first time I saw Seminole Indians and they were treated bad. If you lived on the beach or went to certain schools you were treated different than the other kids at less likes schools. I have grown up around rich and poor and love this country that my Dad fought for. We need to all get together rich and poor and help this country, somehow everyone needs to get back to their roots good or bad and heal this place we live in and make it a better place for generations to come.

    December 4, 2011 at 7:10 am | Report abuse |