Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

The following is a reprint of a piece I wrote to commemorate Independence Day 18 months ago. Read and enjoy, especially if you are a Western Pennsylvanian in fact or in spirit.

Fourth of July 2007

Happy 231st Birthday to America. As far as reflecting about Clairton, according to “Early History of The Peter’s Creek Valley and The First Visitors” by Noah Thompson, the Ravensburg Patent was granted in 1791 which defined what is now Wilson. Later tracts of land that collectively made up the City of Clairton were surveyed by Samuel St. Clair (1784) and Samuel Wyile (1788). More about the historical beginnings of our city can be found in the following link:

Clairton in the 1950s was a booming metropolis. We were known as the “Coke City of the World,” and the coke that our mills produced was neither drunk nor snorted but served as a component of the manufacture of steel. Virtually everybody had some family member who worked in a steel mill. We were na├»ve to the ways of the world although it was just about a dozen years after World War II had ended. Most of our fathers or uncles served in that war and many of us were the product of wartime relationships. The old joke was, “My parents wanted to name me ‘Furlough.’”

We did not understand the message of the KKK as most of us were an amalgamation of Europeans, Eastern Europeans, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. CHS was naturally racially integrated and our common bond was high school football. Coach Neil Brown was spirited away from another school for his coaching prowess and his success coaching the football team was eventually rewarded with the principalship of CHS.

Benny Benack did a superb job with the marching band. On Friday nights the band would assemble at the high school and march the ten or so blocks to the stadium. Residents would crowd Miller Avenue and watch the parade. I can remember as a lad, watching the Honey Bears twirling their batons followed by the band in full regalia marching and playing fight songs. In fact for a long period of time I actually thought Notre Dame had stolen its fight song from the CHS band. Another memory of childhood was that It seemed the biggest, strongest band member was needed to carry that huge bass drum.

When I got into high school my athletic prowess was limited to shifting my Jeep into second and third gears and my musical ability tuned the radio. I was surprised when classmate who was the skinniest, scrawniest kid in the band, was the one to carry that big bass drum. I was also ecstatic when my own sister was selected to be a Honey Bear majorette.

And CHS was powerful on the football field. We won the WPIAL championship in 1954 led by Carl Pastore and Marion Vujevich, we had All State lineman Gary Kaltenbach and All American end Jim Kelly bringing glory to Clairton with their on-field exploits.

We were as patriotic to our country as we were loyal to our school. Reggie Desiderio went off to fight in Korea and was posthumously awarded our nation’s highest medal – the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Roll of Honor stood proudly near the police station and many families, including my own, erected a flagpole in their front yard to recognize the sacrifices of young men and women who served.

The patriotic holiday hoopla included Independence Day celebrations on the fourth of July. That was a day of “cookouts” and games and marked the halfway point of summer vacation. At night everybody sought the best vantage point to watch city sponsored fireworks displays. Since we lived at the end of St. Clair Avenue – there was no bridge to Clairton Park in those days; in fact, St. Clair Avenue was not even paved beyond Gumble Chevrolet at Seventh Street, we walked around the corner, to the edge of the hollow. From that vantage point we were able to see not only Clairton’s fireworks, but Glassport’s, and bits of McKeesport’s.

Remember and reflect where you might have been during those lazy crazy hazy days of summer and Happy 4th of July, 2007.

UPDATE: Happy New Year, and may 2009 bring us a little closer to those happy days of our childhood. Our children and grandchildren deserve no less.

A little blogging music Maestro… “Dream the American Dream” by Joseph Pokorny.

Dr. Forgot

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