I love my city. The campaign has only just begun and I’ve been spending time in nearly every part of the city, getting to know it in ways I never have before.
I have roots all over the city, from the Italians in South Side to the Lebanese in West Side. My relatives came over, like many immigrants did, and started businesses, settled in neighborhoods and started families. I often think on my heritage and its role in shaping me.
Family has always been the center of my life, so I thought it important, when beginning a bit of background on myself for the general public, to acknowledge that and let you know not just who I am, but what makes me who I am.
On my mother’s side, I’m Italian and Lebanese, which means I ate very well growing up. Like my mother Mary Sarkis, I’ve lived on the same block my whole life. I bought my house from an uncle, three doors down from my parents. My two uncles live on the block, as does my grandmother. My parents picked up and moved to Old Forge recently, leaving the block empty, but it’ll always be home for me, and probably always feel that way for my mother.
This is the side of my family where the political interest comes from.
My Uncle Joe Sarkis (mom’s brother) is the Vice President of the Pennsylvania State Trooper’s Association and, as you can imagine, my family believes in a strong working class and union rights. I myself am in a union (PSEA). My father was even a union steward at Sandvik years ago.
Diana Mela, my grandmother, is an Italian from South Side, and many of my cousins still reside there (the Chiavacci, Mela, and Antonini families). My aunts (Josephine Mela and Wanda Chiavacci), in particular, were wonderful cooks and the warmest people you could ever meet. My grandmother still cooks and bakes every day and there’s always homemade pasta drying whenever I visit (I sit for coffee with her a few times a week). It’s from my grandmother that I get my firey political side. She is a vehement Democrat and watches C-SPAN like it’s her job. Through her, I’ve really come to admire FDR and JFK more than I ever could through simply reading the history books. She’s always concerned about the poor and disenfranchised and did a good job instilling that concern in me. Her father was killed in the mines when she was young and she had to drop out of school as a kid so she could go to work to help support the family. I wish I knew her mother, my great-grandmother Angelina, who had the fortitude to survive as a widow with four children during the Great Depression. It’s because of this that I understand my grandmother’s empathy for the poor and unfortunate and her particular passion for education. She’s spent her life regretting that she couldn’t finish school and, because of that, has, since I was a kid, emphasized how important it is to get a good education.
My grandfather, Joe Sarkis (Doey, to those who knew him), whose grave I wave to every day on the way to work, was also a World War II veteran and saw action in the Battle of the Bulge. His stories from the war and from his life fascinated me as I grew up. He owned the Center Men’s Shop on Main Avenue, along with friends. He was always a generous patriarch. Now, looking back, he’s larger-than-life to me – the center of a large, close-knit clan (many of whom haven’t strayed from West Side). In fact, many of my Lebanese cousins have pulled me aside to say they know that my grandfather and my Uncle Joe Leon (who was a constable) would be all about this run, as would my extensive network of Aunts. They all followed and were involved in local politics throughout their lives. Dinner conversation (or coffee conversation) centered around politics ever since I was young.
My father, Tom Borthwick the Elder, is a small businessman and has owned SI Studios for twenty-five years, most of that time in Downtown Scranton. He’s originally from Old Forge and my cousins down that way are scattered throughout the Downvalley and Duryea/Avoca. Borthwick isn’t a familiar name in an area heavily settled by Irish, Italians and Polish. Borthwick is a Scottish name (with the Scranton School Board being mostly Irish, I’m trying to diversify). My grandfather, Ken (Grandpa Spike to me), was a World War II veteran, serving in Greenland after his convoy to Europe got diverted due to a U-Boat attack. His background is Scottish and English and, after World War II, he spent much of his life working at the Tobyhanna Army Depot. His wife, my grandmother Catherine Kemler, who just passed last year, was German and English. As you can tell, I’m 50% WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, for those of you not familiar with the acronym).
I spent much of my childhood down Duryea-Old Forge way, and grew up Methodist, at the Brick United Methodist Church. Every weekend would be spent with my grandparents, who indulged my creative whims (I would invent games and force them to play, they humored me every time). Later, as a teen, my grandmother, in an act of unparalleled charity, let my band practice in her basement. She never needed a hearing aid until a few years ago and I’m hoping we didn’t contribute.
As you can guess, with my father owning a recording studio (the aforementioned SI Studios), I’ve been surrounded by music my whole life. I’m not great, but I’ve played ever since my father put a guitar in my hands in my teenage years. It’s more a hobby than anything. I can play a little classical. My brother Mike, on the other hand, is a phenomenal classical pianist. I’m nowhere near the musician he is (few people I can think of are, really). My youngest brother, Alex, is a drummer and soon-to-be-computer engineer. We’re all over the map.
So, there you have it. A diverse background!
I could, frankly, go on forever here, but, for your sakes (those of you interested enough to make it this far), this should suffice for an introduction to my family background. Like I said, family is the center of my life and along this foray into the political world, they’ve been my strongest and most vocal and enthusiastic supporters. I’m going to quote an Irish friend of mine here, “There really is nothing like a big family.”