Old Red Hill
“That old red house on old red hill,
winter's frozen, bones are chilled,
and the snow outside flakes the ground,
cold white, through is rotten window sill.”
Cresent Heights is a neighborhood that sits on top of the hill above Daisytown, in Washington County Pennsylvania. Every house in these two little places was built for the sole purposes of housing immigrants who worked under their houses in coal mines. It was cheaper and more efficient for the company to build multiple versions of the same house, exactly the same way. The house's in Cresent Heights were all red. Thus, it was called Red Hill. My grandparents and my uncle lived there.
Sometimes we force ourselves into winding up alone simply because we never get over something. It eats us and drives every aspect of our daily lives. We have all faced troubles, we have all faced consequences for poorly made decisions. One of the most important lessons I ever learned was that in spite of what I thought, my actions effected everyone around me. It's possible to destroy a life, a family, or the world you live in with one bad decision. But, it's possible to fix it all if you can learn to live with it and let go.
My uncle Ernie taught me that lesson. He was a wonderful, generous, kind person....with all of the quirks everyone in my family has. Hard work run's deep in my blood. I come from miners, railroad workers, and the like. My uncle worked 6 days a week, 12-14 hours a day, every day that I ever knew him. He lived with my grandparents, as he was recently divorced when I was born, and he never left. He just stayed there and went to work and drove around in his car. He took my sister and I everywhere. Uncle Ernie was always there.
As I got older, he became a friend. I talked to him about so many things, so often. As time when on, he told me more and more about his life before I was born. My favorite stories were the ones he had of his 40 years of playing tenor sax in a polka band called The Melody Aces and the old family stories. There was a 16 year age gap between him and my dad. He could almost be my grandfather. In many ways, he was a link to my past and my families heritage. There were stories of many family members who I had heard of over the years but had never met. The all moved away, sometimes to very distant parts of the country. Some went to Florida, my Great Uncle Joe went west to California. Most of them were never heard from again. The chronology of it always fascinated me. The all fled at about the same time, it was almost as if there was something drastically wrong. Gradually, over about a year of conversations, I pieced together the story.
My grandmother called her living room the Front Room. My uncle was a very earnest person and his middle name was Delbert. Ernest Delbert Antal became Earnest Delbert sitting in the rocking chair in grandma's house, quietly alone with himself, staring out the window. I learned that you have to get over mistakes and move on becuase I realized that he didn't and it guided the days of his life until their end. This song is the story of what he did. I love him so much that I still don't understand it. But, every word of this song is a truth. It's part of my family and from what I've heard over the years, it was a part of the town in some ways. The story is terrible, but he wasn't. We all make mistakes, I just wish he could have gotten over his.
When he played his sax, he had this kind of skip in is rhythm. It wasn't really a swing. i He was a really good polka player, with a huge tone, and a really nice King Super 20 horn. It was a beast. If I had a recording of him (none exist) and put it along side an old Boots Randolph record, you would never know who was who. The song came out of the weird little mandolin intro, and you can ask my dad, it is somehow fits the idea Ernie perfectly.
He was always quoting lines of songs to me in his later years and telling me they were songthat I should sing. He didn't always remember who sang the songs originally, and when I researched most of them I came to find that they were almost always Hank Williams songs. Souldn't suprise me, one of the coolest gifts he ever gave me aside from saxophone lessons was a 45 of “Hey Good Lookin'”
Dark as it may be, Old Red Hill is a love song. Period. My family misses him everyday