I was born in 1944 and grew up on Stratmore Avenue in the Crafton Heights section of Pittsburgh. My earliest playmates were Frankie Sabash, Joey Geagin, Billy and Bobby Ault, Joey Steiger, David Raspanti, Herb Gallagher, and Marvin Hess. Oh yeah, my brother Lewis was also part of that gang. There were two other boys around our age – Donny Yarling and a boy whose last name was Vatter. They both moved away while we were still very young.
We called ourselves the Hollywood All-Stars whenever we played football against kids from another neighborhood. One of the side streets off Stratmore was Hollywood Street. Joey Geagin, Herb Gallagher, and Frankie Sabash lived on Hollywood. It made us sound important. Too bad it didn’t help us win.
One other boy, who was a bit older, played with us from time to time. He suffered from Cerebral Palsy. His name was Billy. Our parents were afraid of him and warned us to be careful not to make him angry. The only problem we ever had with Billy occurred when we were playing any game involving guns.
When it came to gun control, my parents were definitely backers. The only time my brother and I saw anything remotely resembling a gun was on the Fourth of July. That’s when the cap guns came out of storage and for that one day a year, we were allowed to shoot roll after roll of caps. We were also allowed to play with sparklers. But that was it! No cherry bombs or anything else that might cause bodily harm.
Unfortunately for my parents, they were the only parents who felt that way. All the other children mentioned above were well armed all year long. In fact, Donny Yarling had an entire arsenal of interplanetary weapons. Laser beams and zap guns were his specialty. He even had a Captain Video space helmet.
Getting back to Billy, if we ever pointed as much as a make believe gun at Billy, he would freak out. (The make believe gun was the old finger-pointing trick accompanied with our best sound effects of a gun shot.) But Billy didn’t get angry; he’d be reduced to tears and beg us not to hurt him. We’d immediately stop the game and reassure Billy that no one was going to hurt him. Then we’d play something else so that Billy could be a part.
Someday I’m going to take the time to write as much as I can recall about my childhood. For now, I’m simply going to explore where my childhood playmates have gone.
David Raspanti was killed in an automobile accident while we were in high school. Part of my memory wants to say David was speeding in a stolen car when he failed to negotiate a turn. The stolen part might be wrong, but the speeding is not.
David was an interesting sort. We were told he was adopted. I have no way of knowing if that was true or not, but David seemed to think the only way he could have friends was to ‘buy’ them. He was constantly trying to give us candy and toys.
You would think that a bunch of young boys would have gladly taken anything that was free. For some reason, we didn’t see his gifts as free. Most of the time we refused whatever it was he was offering. Perhaps that made matters worse. Perhaps rejecting his gifts was taken as a sign that we were rejecting him. We’ll never know.
Joey Geagin died in 1999. I didn’t learn about Joey’s death until 2006. It was strange how it hit me. I haven’t seen any of the old gang since I got married in 1966 and moved out of the old neighborhood. Yet it really felt strange to realize one of my first playmates was gone.
The most interesting thing I can recall about Joey Geagin resulted from the time a bunch of us went to a drive-in movie with Herb Gallagher. Herb Gallagher was a year or so older than me, but had parents who were much less strict. Herb gave me my first cigarette when I was in the second grade. He was a regular smoker by then. One time we even made a Turkish water-cooled pipe in Herb’s parents’ garage. We tried smoking corn silk. As I recall, Herb was the only one who didn’t get sick.
When I returned from the movie, mom immediately smelled cigarette smoke on me and demanded an explanation. When I finally confessed and told her that Joey Geagin and I had gone to the movies with Herb, she was livid. Herb was already on my “do not play with him” list. Now Joey Geagin was added. My mother saw them both as bad influences on me.
In the meantime, Joey Geagin was going through a similar interrogation. His ordeal resulted with me being placed on his “do not play with him” list. From then on, we’d joke about being a bad influence on each other.
As for the other members of the Hollywood All-Stars, the only one I can account for without question is my brother, Lewis. Of course, he’s now known as Doug; but that’s another story for another time.
Herb Gallagher is still living in the Pittsburgh area. His daughter is married to one of my older brother’s grandchildren. We never communicate; I guess he’s doing all right.
A friend from school, with whom I maintain contact, went to college with Joey Steiger. He tells me he hears from Joey occasionally.
Billy, the boy with Cerebral Palsy, used to work for the Easter Seal Society in Pittsburgh. I’d often see him walking to work near the old IBM building in Pittsburgh. But I haven’t seen him in over thirty years.
So, they may be out there somewhere. I just don’t know where. I’m afraid we’re at that stage in life when the only time we’ll hear anything about one another is when our obituaries are listed in the local paper.
If you recognized any of the names mentioned in this article, and are in contact with them. Tell them I said ‘Hello’ and invite them to drop me an email. Thanks.