Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Growing up Clairton

Days of Runny Noses
Forget the Days of Wine and Roses, let your mind drift back to the Days of Runny Noses. I grew up in the post-war 1950s in Clairton, a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA. I was born at home because I wanted to be near my mother when it happened, although I don't remember much because I was very young at the time. My parents were in the iron and steel business. My mother would iron and my father would steal.
Kids im my generation started school in the first grade - we had not yet heard of kindergarten - just before 1950. We got our naps and lukewarm milk in the first grade. Somehow we were able to survive the steel mill curses of putrid air and the shingles on the rooves of our homes that turned black with soot within months after they were installed. In fact, Clairton was famous for its coke (not the drink nor the drug but the stuff used to make steel). Clairton Coke Works provided more coke than any other mill in the world.
State street ran along side the mills and whenever the coke was cooled, something called quencher rained down on the cars so heavily that windshield wipers were required to see and the stench was intolerable. We had no OSHA and no seatbelts. No child safety seats nor the myriad of other government required safety devices, but somehow we survived. Nobody ever "broke their neck" despite every mother's warning.
We did have candy cigarettes (nobody caught cancer from them but they might "rot your teeth") jukeboxes (Elvis did not doom us all to Hell), milk delivery in bottles, and the telephone exchange was CLairton - 3 followed by four numbers. Later the CLairton exchange was modernized to BElmont-3, then simply 233. Ah progress. Oh, yes, we still say "Dial a number," but no dials exist on today's phones.
We drove our teachers crazy by smuggling pea shooters into class (although at home we had pop guns that shot corks on a string) and listened to our 45s because 78s were so out of style. We saved S&H Greens Stamps and fastened our roller skates onto our shoes using a skate key. And when the doorbell rang it might be the Fuller Brush Man or a huckster looking to sharpen Mom's knives, but we opened the door for them.
We bought a pack of gum for a nickel, threw away the gum and kept the baseball cards. They have become more valuable than stocks. If we had a penny or two left over we were able to buy penny candy. The most fearful "disease" one could catch from another was "cooties," which some smart marketer turned into a game. Saturday mornings were for cartoons on the black and white TV - if you had one. If not you could build using Lincoln Logs or your erector set. Two boys together equaled 1:1 basketball, three boys together equaled a singing group. More than that equaled tag football.
Our fathers served in WW-II, our big brothers served in Korea and we got to serve in "Viet #$%&%$-ing Nam." Somehow we survived. Today we're helpless, bald, and use diapers. Wait, isn't that how we started out?
Dr. Forgot

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