I recently made contact with a gentleman by the name of Kenneth Sooy. He’s my fifth cousin once removed, which means we are somehow related. In any case, Ken and I are both interested in genealogy. Most genealogists will tell you that the most frustrating aspect of their research is that we can learn very little about the lives of our ancestors. We feel fortunate that we can determine exact names and dates, but wish we could learn more.
For this reason, I’ve been trying to document my life for future generations. I guess I could sit down and write an autobiography, but my efforts would probably result in a boring book. So, rather than writing one enormous life story – ‘enormous’ based on the number of pages – I’m writing a series of essays. While some are labeled childhood memories, others are simply records of my travels and other experiences. In truth, there’s a little of me in everything I write.
I’d also like my descendants to experience some of the things I’ve experienced. Things that will be long forgotten two or three hundred years from now include musical groups like the Statler brothers. Some symbols of the my earlier years will also be lost to the past. For all I know, my great grandchildren will have no idea that humans once chewed tobacco.
Some of the things mentioned in that song were before my time, but not many. I’m not older than dirt yet, but I’m headed in that direction.
The interesting thing about the song is that there’s no mention of television shows. The Statler Brothers did refer to a radio show when they sang, “Only the Shadow knows,” and they also mentioned a movie star, Clark Gable, but for the most part, the memories were about things we did and products we bought.
Last night I was trying to remember some of the things we did for fun… beyond the childhood games of “Tag” and sports. I remember walking to the Westlake Bowling alley in Elliott where we rolled smaller balls at rubber-band duck pins. If business was slow on a given day, the proprietor would let us bowl for half price if we set the pins for each other. The automatic pin setters of today would eventually replace the pin boy, but those devices were still in the developmental stages back then.
I wonder how the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) would view the job of pin boy. It was a very dangerous job, There was a small area to hide from the impact of the ball meeting the pins, but boys were often hit by pins. To make matters worse, many bowlers didn’t pay much attention and would roll their second ball while the pin boy was still clearing the pins away after the bowler’s first attempt.
I believe the building that housed the Westlake Bowling Alley was once a school, but I could be wrong. I know the first floor of the building had once been a roller skating rink, but it had gone out of business before we were old enough to go there.
We did go skating at the Greater Pittsburgh Roller Rink located on the Steubenville Pike. The owners of the business used an old (retired) Greyhound bus to come around to the various neighborhoods to pick up skaters. There was no charge for the bus ride, so it was a good deal!
There were two movie theaters within walking distance. I think the one in Crafton was simply called the Crafton Theater. The one in Sheridan was called the Temple. Both theaters had Bards Dairy stores nearby. After the movie, we’d stop and get “walk-away” sundaes – the ice cream and toppings were simply served in a conical shaped paper cup.
When we got older and got our driver’s licenses, we were able to travel farther afield. We’d often go to one of the two drive-in movies that were relatively close to home. The Twin-Highway showed movies soon after they had finished playing at the ‘first-run’ movie houses in downtown Pittsburgh. The Penn-Lincoln took longer to get the new movies, but showed a lot of the B movies that never made it to the downtown theaters.
We also played miniature golf. There were no courses near our homes, but most courses were open in the evening, and the game was fun to play with a date. When we’d take a girl out to play golf, we’d usually stop at an Eat’n Park drive-in restaurant and have the car hop bring us Big Boy hamburgers and milk shakes to top off the evening.
In the summers, when I didn’t have a job and didn’t have to get up early in the morning, I’d go home after the date and watch Swing Shift Theater. They showed really old movies and the same two or three commercials every fifteen minutes. An animated little girl jumping up and down on her bed singing “Serta perfect sleeper” was followed by another advertising jingle. “Three rooms three ninety-eight” was, I believe, trying to get viewers to run out and buy their furniture at Olbums. The third commercial was often for Wilkin’s Jewelry store – “Easy credit, easy credit, Wilkins is the place where you can get it!”
Television was relatively new when I was a teenager, but it had come a long way. Pittsburgh’s first station belonged to the Dumont Television Network and was broadcast over channel 3. It later moved to channel 2 and became KDKA TV. Milton Berle was one of the earliest shows, but the clip I found on Youtube.com shows an older Uncle Milty being heckled by two older gentlemen.
While television was a novelty when I was growing up, it didn’t seem to hold the same magnetism it does today. Perhaps the lack of air conditioning made it too hot to sit indoors to watch it in the summer. For the uninitiated, early televisions used vacuum tubes which put off quite a bit of heat. It wasn’t that noticeable in the winter, but you could definitely feel it on a hot summer day.
It didn’t take much to pull us away from our favorite shows back then. If a friend called and asked if I felt like playing basketball, or wanted to go bowling or skating, or whatever, I had no problem walking away from the boob tube. Come to think of it, the only thing that would cause me to hesitate today would be a Pittsburgh Steelers football game.
I’m going to bring this to a close before it becomes that boring book I mentioned earlier. But I will share one more video. This is another Statler Brothers’ hit called “The Class of ’57”. I was a member of the class of ’62, but we had a lot in common.