Music remains family’s most valuable possession

It was way out in the sticks.

There was no electricity or plumbing.

There were 13 of them in a Sears & Roebuck kit home with three bedrooms, a kitchen and an unheated room added later.

Even when the youngest, now 51, turned 18 in the early 1980s, they were living in a Depression-era style, with few modern conveniences.

But the Steinbeisers always had music.

They grew up with people helping.

There were Christmases when people donated baskets of food, especially during times when the Steinbeisers’ father was laid off from his job as a machinist in the Juniata shops, according to Barb Diehl of Warriors Mark, one of the 13 siblings.

Winters could be “pretty lean,” said her brother Leo, who still lives in Sinking Valley.

People would give them clothes, and once someone delivered a pickup-load of toys, Leo said.

“I don’t know that you ever really feel good about [that],” Barb said. “At times you knew that you were different.”

“[But] we can give it back now,” said their brother Skip, also of Sinking Valley.

Jim Rodland of Warriors Mark has idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – scarring of the lungs – from asbestos and fiberglass insulation inhaled during a career in construction.

He needs a double-lung transplant.

A supervisor, Jim, would go to work even after he got sick, toting his lunch box and his oxygen.

But last April, it got to be too much.

His wife, Amy, graduated from business school in September and began working full time, but she had to quit to become Jim’s caretaker.

He needs a full-time caretaker to qualify for the transplant program.

They’ve been living at a family house in Pittsburgh since November, so they can get to the hospital quickly if a donor – who must be brain dead, but with bodily functions sustained – becomes available.

The charge for the house is $1,000 a month.

They also have the mortgage to pay back home.

They’re living on Jim’s Social Security disability benefits.

It’s not enough to cover either bill.

Bill also comes in for his COBRA insurance.

Medicare doesn’t start for them until 2015.

They are one of the beneficiaries of the old-fashioned folk music “Hoedown” benefit shows that the Steinbeisers – Leo on guitar, Skip on keyboard and Cletus, who lives on the homestead property, on harmonica, plus a varying cast of family members and friends – hold at Tipton Fire Hall on the second Saturday of every month.

Music has the power to connect, Leo said.

A long time member of bands that have played around the country, he recalled being by himself in bars or restaurants, then getting up to play.

“You’re not lonely any longer,” he said.

Neither are others within earshot.

“Now the whole crowd is one big family,” he said. “[And] you can kind of make your mark.”

Sometimes, he’d be with Skip, and they would ask to join in with a house band, and sometimes, they’d displace the house band for the evening.

“You can change the mood of a place,” he said. “You can make 50 people feel good.”

Music is like painting a picture or writing a story, he said.

You’re “pretty much showing [what’s] inside.”

His father played with Bob Irvin and the Hilltoppers in Tyrone, square dances and barn dances, mainly on the fiddle, piano and accordion.

He couldn’t read a note, but he could “hear it and play it,” Diehl said.

Leo got hooked when an uncle called him up to play the harmonica at a square dance at the Eagles in Huntingdon when he was 10 or 11.

“There was 200 people,” he said. “It looked like 20,000. It felt like Woodstock.”

At the homestead, there was a bedroom for their parents, a room for the boys and a room for the girls.

They slept in bunk beds, three or even four to a set.

There wasn’t much privacy indoors, Cletus said.

They played in the woods and fields all year round.

They had an outhouse, a pump on the porch for use in warm weather and a spring house, about 50 feet from the front door, they used in winter.

They had acres of tomatoes and strawberries and grew pumpkins, corn, carrots, Brussels sprouts and pears, Cletus said.

“My mother canned everything,” Cletus said.

She did it 50 or 60 quarts at a time.

They grew apples and preserved them under hay in the barn.

They would go to Cambria County at potato harvest time and get permission to pick what the machine missed, filling 100-pound bags, enough to last all year.

They’d bring the potatoes back in their Volkswagen microbus.

They kept the potatoes in the cellar.

They picked buckets of huckleberries on the mountain, and their mother would make jelly.

They had a couple cows.

They kept milk in the spring house.

They skimmed off the cream, churned butter and made smearcase – cottage cheese.

They raised hogs and hunted deer and their father would butcher and smoke the meat, some of which their mother canned.

Once a month, they’d go to town – the Quaker market where Burger King now stands at the foot of Kettle Road below Sinking Valley – for groceries like coffee, sugar, salt, flour and maybe roast beef for a treat.

Their mother would bake 16 to 18 loaves of bread twice a week.

In the evenings, they played music, read books, played cards and went raccoon hunting.

They built things.

They had a gasoline-powered washing machine and wood-working equipment powered by the tractor-flywheel.

In the Tyrone schools they attended, other kids regarded them as “a little bit lower,” Leo said.

They weren’t as nice, he said.

They couldn’t do sports.

Their dad said that if they had that kind of energy to burn, they could do it by working around the house, Leo said.

It wasn’t necessarily idyllic.

Their grandmother, who had developed dementia, died in a way painful to contemplate.

One August day, their mother asked her to go into the woods, where their father and grandfather were working, to call them in to lunch.

She didn’t come back.

People came to the area and helped the family search all over.

They didn’t find her.

That November, a hunter found her partial remains near large power lines that run through the area.

Still, all the siblings survived and prospered, got their own places and paid their way. Eight of them – the oldest is 74 – are now retired.

Nobody ended up in jail.

“We showed them,” Skip said. “We made it.”

Helping others was common among residents of Sinking Valley.

Once, a neighboring farmer became incapacitated, and 20 to 30 others came to his place and brought in his crops, Leo said.

Helping others was a way of life for the family, also.

When Barb was young, someone came to their house to collect money for a cause – maybe an orphanage or Catholic Charities.

“I can remember and see in my mind my dad taking his wallet out and giving the last dollar he had,” she said. Afterward, he told them, “Those little children need it more than we do.”

“We were pretty poor, but we really didn’t know it,” Barb said.

Once there was a forest fire on the mountain above their house.

Their father got a ham, their mother ground it up and made ham salad sandwiches, and they gave it to the fire warden to give to his firefighters.

People nominated to be Hoedown recipients often say they don’t want charity, Diehl said.

“We say it’s not charity, we’re just helping,” she said.

They also say, “when you get onto your feet … just help someone else,” she said.

Cletus speaks with nominees first.

“I trust them but still look into it,” he said.

For the Rodlands, it was awkward at first, seeing all the people assembled, having to tell everyone their story.

Her husband began crying, so Amy took up the narrative.

That was overwhelming, she said.

Still, “it was kind of cool,” she said. “Next thing you know, they’re popping money in jars for you.”

She hates to ask people for help, but the Steinbeisers are “very giving,” she said.

“It’s actually fun,” Cletus said.

“Their hearts are in the right place,” Amy said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.