Wednesday, January 7, 2009

More Memories

Even More Memories of Clairton

Some very clever seniors: Not sure about your emailbox but mine is rife with reflections of the “good old days.” I’m sure they were more old than good but human memory being what it is we have a tendency to reflect mostly on good nostalgia rather than the bad. Thus, as I reflect on the halcyon days of the 1950s and 1960s I often reflect on my hometown of Clairton, PA which is still frozen in my mind as the ideal Norman Rockwell painting setting. Others have shared the setting and written me with their own reflections which stimulated some of my forgotten memories. So, if you can stand one more Reflections of Clairton and 50s era post, read on.

Bridges to the Moon: A small orb was launched from Russia in 1957. It contained two dogs and from that moment the term Suptnik struck terror into our hearts as we were told that Russia was now the dominant world force. The theme of our high school graduation class was “Bridges to the Moon” and a young charismatic president promised the American public that we would place a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s decade. Both were prophetic as on July 21, 1969, even as our lexicon was beginning to include the words “Viet Nam,” an American walked on the moon. Clairtonian Ron Trunzo reminded me that when the Eagle landed on the moon the astronauts discovered Alice Kramden. You have to have been a fan of The Honeymooners sitcom to get than one. Other reflections from readers touched home so with a few tweaks to localize them, read and enjoy:

More Memories – in Technicolor: Someone asked the other day, “What was your favorite fast food when you were growing up?” We didn't have fast food when I was growing up, all the food was slow. Where did we eat?

It was a place called home. Mom cooked every day and when Dad got home from work we sat down together at the kitchen table for dinner, and if we didn't like what she put on my plate I was allowed to sit there until we did like it. My sister Kathy usually got to sit the longest because she didn't like much. Meals were called breakfast, dinner, and supper, not breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We had to have permission to leave the table.

Many parents NEVER owned their own house, wore Levis, set foot on a golf course, traveled out of the country or had a credit card. They had something called a revolving charge card. The card was good only at Monkey Ward (Montgomery Ward) or Sears Roebuck - or maybe it was Sears & Roebuck. Either way, Roebuck has gone the way of Monkey Ward.

Parents never drove their kids to soccer practice. This was mostly because we had never had heard of soccer. After a hard day at school, learning how to “Duck and Cover” in case the Russians bombed, we’d go home to family supper. I rode the neighborhood on a bicycle that weighed probably 50 pounds, and only had one speed (slow). It was a “boy’s” bike and had a bar that ran from the seat to the handlebars, as opposed to a girl’s bike that had no such bar. We didn't have a television set in our house until I was ten. It was, of course, huge and black and white.

TV test patterns came on at night after the last show and the Star Spangled Banner - and stayed there until TV shows started again the next morning. There were only 3 channels – WDTV Channel 3 from Pittsburgh (The “W” was required by the FCC, and DTV stood for Dumont Television Network), channel 5 from Johnstown and channel 6 from Pittsburgh that later changed its location to channel 11 and call letters to WIIC with the clever slogan, “the ones to watch.”

I was 13 before I tasted my first pizza. It came from a local bar called Juliot's and was called 'pizza pie.' When I bit into it, I burned the roof of my mouth and the cheese slid off, swung down, plastered itself against my chin and burned that, too. It's still the best pizza I ever had. And Coke? Forget about it. We weren't allowed to drink it because according to my father, a neighbor girl almost died because she drank Coke. However, if we were very subtle about it we were able to sneak a drink of soda at our grandparents' house. My favorite was cream soda.

Pizzas were not delivered to our home but other things were.
The milk man from Keck’s or Aldrich’s dairy delivered milk in quart bottles with cardboard stoppers and cream that rose to the top. He’d leave the milk on the front porch early in the morning. Sometimes in cold weather the milk would freeze and pop the cardboard tops. Neighborhood cats loved that. The bakery man from Clairton Bakery, which is still in business, came three times a week. Mail came twice a day and stamps cost three cents.

Our grandparents did not speak English. Neither did the grandparents of nearly everybody I knew. But January 7 was a very special day for the Serbian, Greek, and other families who attended churches that had “Orthodox” in the name. It is Christmas day according to their calendar – exactly two weeks after the rest of the community celebrated Christmas. Kids lucky enough to attend those churches were often lucky enough to celebrate two Christmases.

I never had a telephone in my room. In fact, I didn't have my own room until I was almost a teen when the back porch was converted. The only phone in the house was in the living room and it was on a party line. Before you could dial, you had to listen to make sure some people you didn't know weren't already using the line. Many times they would listen in to our conversations. Later, since each house had only one phone line our father was able to get Buzzie, who knew about phones, to gerrymander a couple of extra hookups. Besides the one in the living room there was an extension at the top of the stairs, one in my parent’s bedroom, and one in the basement. But whenever the phone company repairman came by we had to hide all the phones except the one we were allowed to have. Our phone number was CL3-8054. Our neighbors was CL3-8654 and our grandparent's was CL3-7761, but our grandfather (Diedo), despite living more than 60 years in the U.S. never learned the English language and refused to learn how to use the phone.

All newspapers were delivered by boys and all boys delivered newspapers. My first route was 21 Pittsburgh Press papers delivered seven days a week. My route included only Halcomb and Mitchell Avenues to the end of Halcomb next to the Niklas Car Dealership - they sold Studebakers. Later I got a Daily News route with 56 papers but no Sundays. When I collected 60 cents every two weeks, Smokey Decarlo’s wife Gloria always gave me a nickel tip. The paper cost five cents, of which I got to keep a penny and 1/4. The Sunday Press cost 20 cents.

I didn't ride my bike to deliver papers, I slung the canvas Daily News bag of papers over my shoulder. Then I folded each paper as I walked so I could toss them. My aim was pretty good. I never remember breaking a window or knocking down a drain spout. My favorite day was Saturday because the papers were only 18 pages - very light and easy to carry.

Our street, St. Clair Avenue, was not paved beyond the intersection that included the Corner Store, Gumble's Chevrolet, and Vitori's Esso station. The part that wasn’t paved was called an ash road, as ashes or other residue from the nearby steel mills were placed on the roadway. With cars rolling over the ashes, they became pulverized and a cloud of dust would rise each time a car passed. To keep the dust down the City contracted to have tar spread over the dust a couple of times each summer. That kept the dust down but drove mothers crazy as their kids would track tar into their pristine homes, so moms would cut up large cardboard boxes and lay them across the street to allow the kids to cross with minimum tar on the shoes. Parents sometimes took a snapshot of their kids using the Brownie Hawkeye camera with blue flashbulbs that worked sometimes.

Our parents never missed a chance to remind us that they were "Depression babies" and had learned to make do. Mom would poke holes in the top of an empty soda or wine bottle and make a sprinkler to dampen the clothes before they were ironed.

A little blogging music Maestro… “Those Were the Days,” the theme song from the sitcom of the same name.

Dr. Forgot

1 comment:

Nancy S Ray said...

I,also am a Clairtonian!!!!!!!!
Graduation in 1954 with a ressounding 50th reunion in 2004 with over 120+grads,mates and friends.The truly most wonderfultime I have ever had,I got your blog from my sistr, Sharen Hartill Berlich....I am Nancy Hartill Ray. John Tucci spoke at our reunion and touched us all deeply with his many reminisces of the "truly good days" back then. I also lived in Las Vegas until 2001 and now find myself in a small Texas town much like Clairton and I lovr it. Please keep in touch if posxible and perhaps we can share more memorie

Sincere Affection