More Ramblings Down Memory Lane

November 15, 2010

That puzzle magazine continues to stir the memories long ago locked away in the remote recesses of my brain.

My original shopping center

As the calendar crept toward Thanksgiving, the merchants of our neighborhood would begin to order their Christmas wares. Note that I did not say they would display them; they would simply order them so they could be displayed soon after Thanksgiving.

Not shown in the above photo is the Crafton Heights First United Presbyterian Church – my first church home. The building sits back to the left of the telephone pole and car shown in the left corner of the picture. I point this out because shortly after Thanksgiving, a huge community Christmas tree would be erected in the church yard. The merchants would split the cost of the decorations and electricity to keep it lit throughout the season.

Back in the days when a letter could be mailed using a three cent stamp (Christmas cards could be sent for two cents if the envelopes were left unsealed) the U.S. Mail (this was long before the outfit changed its name) increased its service leading up to Christmas. We had our mail delivered twice – morning and afternoon – on Monday through Friday and once on Saturday. It kind of makes me wonder what happened. When they changed the name to Postal SERVICE, things seemed to go in the wrong direction.

Speaking of pennies, how many of you remember when you’d put twenty cents in a cigarette machine and get a pack of smokes that included two or three pennies in change?

I quit smoking more than ten years ago, but I’m told the price of a pack of cigarettes is now over $5.00! And there are no coins in the wrapper as change.

Another thing I remember about the Holidays was a company called Railway Express. Whatever happened to them? Quite often my family would receive a package sent by an uncle who spent his winters in Florida. That was the one time of year we’d have orange marmalade.

Come to think of it, winter was the only time our family had citrus fruit. As I recall, it simply wasn’t available any other time of the year. Of course, this could be said about most fresh produce. If it wasn’t grown in the U.S., it either wasn’t available or was too expensive for my family’s budget.

To this day I am amazed that our family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner at my parent’s home. When the twins got home from the Navy following World War II, a normal dinner would find mom and dad, my three brothers, and I gathered around a standard sized dining room table. With the other furnishings in the dining room, there wasn’t very much space for anything, or anyone, else. Yet, we somehow made room for the extended family on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The extended family included our two sisters, their husbands, and their combined four children. So, on those special occasions, we had eight adults and six children crowded into that same space. We must have had a “children’s” table, but I don’t remember it.

I do remember those 25 to 30 pound turkeys! Mom and our sisters really went all out to make sure no one left hungry.

If I’m not mistaken, Thanksgiving is only a week or so away. Time to fire up the cooker and make sure I have plenty of peanut oil.

Things will never match my memories, but then I wasn’t doing any of the cooking. My only job was to clean my plate. I was good at that. Come to think of it, I still am.


Haunted Childhood Memories

March 25, 2010

The Haunted House on Round Top Street

This photo taken in 2008 would indicate that someone finally bought this old house and refurbished it.  When I was a child in the late 1940s and early 1950s, my friends and I were afraid to walk past it.

The photo clearly illustrates what an imposing edifice the structure is. It sits on the highest point in Crafton Heights and, when all the surrounding area was overgrown with weeds and vines, and the home was badly in need of paint, it was easy for a child to let his or her imagination run wild. Add numerous broken windows and a roof that was missing many shingles, and it became more frightening. And all of this was prior to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”!

There were rumors that some brave boys entered the stately old mansion (it still has the stone hitching post on the sidewalk in front of it) and found such oddities as a dumb waiter. But I never met one of these lads, so I could only go on what I heard from the rumor mill.

In any case, I avoided it like the plague, especially on Halloween.

Our woods above Steuben Street

These woods, which – surprisingly – are still there, represented one of our favorite places. We spent many hours playing games in the woods and throwing snowballs and other objects down on passing vehicles.

However, I was not permitted to go into those woods until I was allowed to cross the street by myself. I really don’t recall when that magical part of my youth came to pass. What I do remember is the night we were scared silly walking this road past the woods. It was in 1954, when I was ten years old. My brother and I, along with a number of friends, walked down to the Crafton Theater to see the latest horror movie.

By the time the movie ended, the sun had set. I don’t recall the exact season of the year, but it was warm enough for the crickets and other noisy insects to be out chirping away. Those chirps sounded just like the giant ants in the movie we’d just seen. That’s one time our parents didn’t have to worry about our dawdling on the way home. We made record time!

I’m sure there were other things that kept us awake at night, but hiding under the blankets always seemed to keep us safe.

The one thing I miss from childhood is movies that allowed us to use our imagination. Today’s films, with their constant displays of blood and gore, are disgusting… and not nearly as frightening as what we can envision by ourselves.


Picture this… Again

January 27, 2010

Crafton Heights

For the most part, this scene has changed little since I was a lad in the 1940s. The major difference is the lack of plate glass windows. When I was growing up, most of the store fronts had large glass windows so people could see the merchandise. Today, brick walls are used to protect the merchandise.

I moved away from Crafton Heights around 1970. I left the Pittsburgh area in 1977. I’ve driven through the old neighborhood countless times, but I’ve seldom stopped. (The day I got out of the car to snap the picture was a rare exception.)

I have no idea who is living in the houses on Stratmore Avenue. There was a time when I could rattle off the names of most of the families living on the street. I have no idea what sort of people are now living in Crafton Heights. Thus, I cannot say they are a bunch of evil crooks who forced the shopkeepers to replace the glass with bricks. Perhaps the troublemakers came from the West End, or Westwood.

All I can say is that it is a shame that this scene has played itself out in so many parts of America.

Talk to any old-timer and you’ll hear stories about leaving car keys in the car, leaving the doors on houses unlocked… even when no one was home. You’ll hear that there were thieves and troublemakers, but not many. And there was no need for special “Neighborhood Watch” groups. Neighbors who watched out for other neighbors were the norm.

I count two items responsible for the change: television and air-conditioning.

When I was child, – NO! Wait! – When I left Pittsburgh in 1977, we still did not have air-conditioning in our home. During the hot summer months, we opened the doors and windows and ran fans. We also spent a lot of time outdoors. We had a very nice patio with a roof.

As for television, our family bought one in the early 1950’s. At that time, there was one channel and much of the schedule was devoted to the test pattern.

Because we didn’t have those things that caused us to spend most of our time indoors, people sat on their porches and watched the world go by. This deterred many would-be crooks.

Perhaps we need to go back to that aspect of the old days. Turn off the TV, turn off the A/C (and save a lot of money), and take up a position in the yard or on your front porch. Armed with a modern cell phone, you won’t even need to go into the house to call the police when you see something or someone strange.

In case you’re wondering… Once again I couldn’t come up with an idea to write about. So I went to my picture files and picked one.


Details We Don’t Need to Hear

June 30, 2009

In the last few weeks, the entertainment world has lost some true luminaries.

First it was Ed McMahon, then Farrah Fawcett, followed by Michael Jackson and Billy Mays. Three out of the four were easily classified as ‘natural’ although it would be nice if someday cancer can be removed from the list of natural causes.

Billy Mays grew up in McKees Rocks (a few miles from Pittsburgh) which was within ten miles of Crafton Heights – where I called home. Our age difference ensured that we never had an opportunity to meet while we were both living in Pittsburgh. That’s a shame because he seemed to be a real likable fellow.

All four of these celebrities lived busy stress-filled lives. While I have no way of knowing for sure, they all may have used some substance – prescription drugs, street drugs, or alcohol – to unwind from their daily grinds. However, it seems that Michael Jackson is the only one who abused those substances.

People might get upset with such comments, but when the nanny of his children tells reporters that one of her duties was to pump Michael’s stomach when he’d taken an overdose of drugs, we have to recognize that he was an habitual abuser.

But wait! The Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are already in front of the cameras – they simply cannot pass up a good photo opportunity – praising the man for all he did for popular music. When asked about Michael’s problems, they quickly point the finger of accusation at Elvis Presley. (It’s interesting that they didn’t show up in Memphis or wherever to help Elvis’ family plan his funeral.)

The “someone else has done something worse” tactic is used all too often by people who refuse to admit that their ‘hero’ could do anything wrong. The same happened when Bill Clinton finally acknowledged what he was doing with Monica. His defenders, rather than saying “that was wrong” pointed the finger at Richard Nixon.

Defenders of Richard Nixon are quick to point the finger at Franklin Roosevelt – after all, didn’t he die while spending a quiet weekend with his mistress?

Why can’t people simply say, “What he did was absolutely wrong.” And leave it at that. No ‘buts’ about it. Yes, the man was a tremendous entertainer, however, he sent the wrong message to many of our youth. Drugs and deviant behavior are fine as long as you’re a super star! Is that what we want our children to grow up believing?

But Wait! There’s more! If you act now, you’ll realize I’m paying tribute to the guy who convinced my step-daughter and my bride that laundry isn’t truly clean unless Oxi-Clean is put in with the regular soap.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work on the kitchen.


Kennywood Park School Picnics

April 15, 2009

If you go to Youtube.com, you can view a video taken from the front seat of the Jack Rabbit. I haven’t been to Kennywood Park in decades, and it’s been even longer since I rode the Jack Rabbit. And yet, my stomach flipped just watching the video. That double drop gets me every time!

The weather here in Georgia has turned the corner. We’re having the typical Spring severe weather, but I think we’ve seen the last of the frost. Today is in the mid sixties and the sun is shining brightly.

As I recall, in Pittsburgh we wouldn’t see weather like this until mid-May. That’s about the same time as the signs would go up announcing the annual community/school picnic at Kennywood Park.

When I was in grade school, my first thoughts of Kennywood included the Penny Arcade and the Old Mill. They were the first two things we saw as we entered the park from the picnic area.

While many people rode the street car to get to Kennywood – believe it or not, Kennywood and other amusement parks around the country were built to get people to ride the street cars during the weekends – my family always drove. Perhaps that’s because we always took a picnic lunch to avoid paying the high prices for food at the park.

We’d park as close to the picnic shelters as we could; then everyone pitched in to carry the coolers, table cloths, paper plates, and everything else to a table, which, by the very presence of our stuff, became ‘reserved’.

I can’t imagine doing such a thing today. It’s a shame that we have to fear that our stuff would be damaged, stolen, or destroyed unless we left someone behind to stand guard.

Looking back, I doubt if the menu varied much from year to year. Mom made ‘ham’ salad – using jumbo bologna – and potato salad. Our beverage was usually Reymer’s Blend.

As soon as the table was taken care of, we’d be off to the park for a glorious day of fun.

Back in those days, we didn’t have to pay to get into the park. We bought tickets and each ride cost a certain number of tickets. Although my memory isn’t real clear on this, it seems to me that the first year or two that I went, the tickets were around a nickel apiece. I also vaguely recollect that most rides cost two or three tickets.

Representatives from Kennywood would visit our school each year a week or so before the picnic. The tickets were a bit cheaper if we bought them in advance. In addition, they usually gave us ten or twenty ‘complementary’ tickets.

As I said earlier, one of the first rides we’d go on was the Old Mill. As a very young little boy, riding in a boat through a dark tunnel – occasionally interrupted by a scene made up of statues in various poses – was really exciting. As a pre-teen, it seemed rather stupid. As an older teen – attending the park with a young lady – I finially recognized that the Old Mill was in fact the Tunnel of Love. Woo-hoo!

For whatever reason, during my early years I was inexorably drawn to the Penny Arcade. Perhaps it was the sounds of bells ringing and buzzers buzzing. Or maybe it was the neon lights above the various machines and games. Whatever, I’d go in and play Skee-ball until I’d won enough coupons to by my mom a nice gift – like a Dutch boiler made out of 100% pure tin.

Then I’d go through all the pennies I’d saved to buy cards with pictures of fighter airplanes or Western movie stars.

Finally, I’d head for the rides.

I’m sure Kiddie Land captivated me in my youngest days, but I was more than thrilled when I’d graduated to the adult rides.

The one attraction that I loved – and was long gone before people started suing every chance they got – was an old fashioned fun house. It had a little bit of everything: mirror maze, dark passages, and a floor that was really a trap door. When enough people reached that point, the floor collapsed and we found ourselves sliding down a wooden ramp that took us to the egress.

That building later housed “Laugh in the Dark” which forced us to ride a car that careened through much of what we once walked through. However, there was no trap door and no drop onto a slide. The car simply took us back outside where the attendant politely helped us out of the car and back to the end of the line.

At this point, I was going to let you view a video of Noah’s Ark which more or less replaced that original fun house. Of course, they eliminated all the really fun stuff that might cause someone to twist an ankle and sue.

For whatever reason, the videos of Kennywood refuse to be embedded in my blog. So, we’ll let everyone use his or her imagination to visualize the fond memories.

There are so many memories wrapped around Kennywood Park that I couldn’t begin to list them all here and still have time to do something else with my life.

I fondly remember the Scooters (bump-em cars), the Pippen (which is now known as the Thunderbolt), the Racer, the Jack Rabbit, the row boats, miniature golf, and the train.

I really enjoyed riding the train – even after I’d grown older and more adventurous – because of the wonderful view of the Monongahela River and one of the dams.

One of these years I’ll get back to my old home town and take the time to revisit the park that meant so much to me while I was growing up.