Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is it real or Memorex?

Days of Wine and Roses and Runny Noses

Welcome to Clairton, City of Prayer: So says the sign that greets people as they enter Clairton from Large. No, Large is not a modifier, it is just Large, which is actually a small village outside Clairton. The City of Clairton, PA can also be accessed from the hill (Route 885), or the River Road, (Route 837), or even by crossing the Elizabeth or Glassport bridges. It is quite a different city today than it was during the 1950s and 1960s. The Clairton Works mill once belched smoke and boasted the manufacturing of more coke to make steel than any other mill in the world. In its heyday the city produced All-American football players, Military Academy graduates, and a host of young men and women who would make their mark in the bigger arenas. Clairton’s biggest export somehow changed from coke and steel to talent as its children went off to college and did not return.

The Clairton phenomenon: Clairton was the kind of town you left but it always stayed with you. I lived my first 17 years there and the past 40+ in Las Vegas but I still consider myself a Clairtonian. In 1962 I was in Hawaii and bumped into two fellows from Clairton who were stationed at Schofield Barracks. In 1964 I was in the small village of Oxford, PA near Delaware when I ran into a high school classmate. In 1965 while in Pocatello, Idaho pumping gas a fellow Clairtonian driving from Montana to California stopped to gas up at the same pump. In 1991 I ran into another CHS grad in Carlsbad, CA. And during my years in Las Vegas I’ve met dozens of current and former fellow Clairtonians.

Long term, short term memories: A well known radio talk show host wrote a book called, “The Way Things Ought To Be.” To those who grew up in Clairton in the mid 20th century, that’s the way things were. Whether one attended Shaw Avenue, Miller Avenue, Fifth Street, or Catholic school during their elementary grades, everybody coalesced as a single class upon reaching Clairton High School. We had all learned the “Pennsylvania” song as well as the “The Erie Canal.” We all had learned to duck and cover, wrote on Clearfield pencil tablets using No. 2 Ticonderoga pencils, and used Zaner-Blozer pens to make ovals to improve our penmanship. We were each given a pen nib to dip into the ink well and, yes, occasionally a pig-tailed girl got her hair dipped by the imp who sat behind her. When we stepped out of line we got the paddle from a female teacher whose swing was as good as any high school coach. All this was done before entering CHS.

Parents in the iron and steel business: The standard joke by anybody from Clairton or the greater Pittsburgh area was, “My parents are in the iron and steel business. My mother irons, my father steals.” But Clairton in the 1950s was an ideal place for a boy to grow up. It was the Boomer era so there were many children to play with. Two boys together meant a 1 on 1 basketball shootout. Six boys together meant a 3 on 3 football game. We played on the street and even designed sophisticated plays, “Go to the back bumper of the red Ford and cut over to the blue Desoto.” An odd number of kids meant a singing group, and that might have even included a girl. Every boy envisioned himself as an athlete and a singer. Occasionally the singing groups organized and sometimes even cut a record.

Sing along with the Holidays: Singing groups usually called themselves “The (something)”. Sometimes the “something” was a made up word like The Deltones, DelVikings, Shirrels, etc.” Other times “The” was followed by the plural of a word such as Four Tops, Playboys, Teenagers, or Holidays. The Holidays consisted of a group of Clairton high school kids who in 1959 had two hit records; “Lonely Summer” and “Who Knows?” Franny Grisnik and Frank Gori sang baritone bass, Charlie Hatfield sang tenor, Barbara Jo Lippzer sang alto and Ray Lancianese was the lead and played the piano. It was an innocent era. We were invincible. Our generation made the rules and changed the world. But then we grew up and had adult lives with adult issues and illnesses and adult heartbreaks. That fact was brought home a couple of weeks ago when I heard that one of the Holidays, Franny Grisnik, had passed away after years of fighting Multiple Sclerosis. He died peacefully in Clairton.

The legacy continues: The steel town of the ‘50s with 20,000 citizens had a dozen car dealerships, three movie theaters, a large, beautiful park, and a high school with a swimming pool. A bond among residents of every ethnic background developed that has lasted into the next century. A group of Clairton alumni celebrates a reunion each February in Florida. Several classes get together each year around Labor Day for a family picnic in Clairton Park. Individual classes have reunions every five years. Who needed Camelot? We had Clairton.

A little blogging music Maestro... “The Way We Were” by Barbara Streisand.

Dr. Forgot
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