Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Boy's Memories

Kennywood’s Open

A small departure: In response to several comments about Clairton nostalgia I’m going to try something different. I’ve got several projects open including a semi-autobiographical novel about a boy growing up in Clairton in the late 50s. The post that follows is an excerpt from that work in progress. It comes from the chapter entitled “Kennywood’s Open:”

When I was a kid there was a poster on my teacher’s wall. It showed a boy flying a kite and in block letters it said, “March is Kite-Flying Time.” But to me March is something else – boring. Seems like a century since we got out for Christmas. Seems like two centuries till we’ll get out for summer. Boring, boring, boring. Mrs. Massara gave me an INC on my arithmetic homework because I forgot to put in the decimal points. Mr. Balta said if I don’t get the paper in by Friday he’s going to call my parents. I hate it when they do that. Just because he knows my parents he doesn’t have to squeal on me for every little thing.

Alan Ambrose can drive his father’s car. It is a ’53 Ford and the steering wheel has a pendant on the middle post with gold writing that says, “50 Years of Excellence – Ford Motor Company.” He gets to drive it in the field out past the cemetery. Bobby Brundage’s Dad got a ’54 white Merc convertible that he says will be his when he learns how to drive. They park it in the alley between Waddell and St. Clair behind the Chevy dealership. I walk home from school that way now every day just so I can get a look at it. Sam Lauderbaugh and Don Chiapetta’s Dad’s both have Chryslers. They get to drive them sometimes too. Sam’s Dad’s is a blue and white ‘55 convertible – a really sharp car. Don’s Dad’s is new and has a record player in it. Wow. It only plays 78s but I’ll bet that in a few years every car in America will come with a record player.

Oh, oh, Miss Opacic is giving me “the look.” I’ll pretend I’m trying to figure out the answer and hope she doesn’t call on me because I don’t have a clue what she’s been talking about. Oh, good. She’s looking at Alex now. If she asks a question one of the girls will raise their hands to answer it. Probably Rosalyn. She’s really smart. I can’t wait for the bell to ring. Pretty soon it will be one day closer to Kennywood Picnic day.

Kennywood is really famous. Whenever a guy walks out of the Boy’s Room and forgets to zip up his fly we yell, “Kennywood’s open!” My best buddy Jay says there’s a place in Gill Hall they call “Little Kennywood.” It is a small meadow next to a creek where the big kids go to park. He says they call it Little Kennywood because the guys who park there get a free ride. The real Kennywood is over by Munhall. We call it Mudhole when we play them in football, but the name is really Munhall.

Some years we would all go to Kennywood as a family. My Dad would park in the lot then we’d have to walk through the tunnel to get into the park. The first stop was always in the grove to get a good picnic table where we’d set down our picnic basket then go on the rides. I hated that I had to go with my sisters. All they wanted to do is ride the Merry-Go-Round and the rowboats and stuff. Nothing scary. They might as well have just gone to Kiddieland and stayed there for all the fun they had. I liked the bumper cars and the Jack Rabbit. After a while we’d go to the picnic table for lunch. I always wondered how everybody knew whose basket was whose and nobody ever bothered one that didn’t belong to them. Food always tastes better at a picnic.

The Best Day of the Year: This year we took the train to Kennywood. My buddy Jay came to my house. His parents drove him in their blue ’53 Plymouth. Jay said his Dad was going to teach him how to drive it. Then they drove us down to the bottom of St. Clair Ave. to catch the train. I don’t remember riding a real train before but this was fun. It was filled with kids and we had a great time. I think the guy who worked on the train was somebody’s grandpa because when we did crazy stuff like pretending to pop out our eyeballs or put Johnny Porzio up where the luggage was supposed to ride, he didn’t get mad at us or anything. He just shook his head and said, “Kids!”

As we pulled out of the Clairton station, probably none of us realized but that was the very spot that many of our grandparents and even some of our parents saw Clairton for the first time. They rode the rails into Clairton from Ellis Island. For some of them it might have been their first train ride too – coming to a place where the people spoke a different language and one that held hope for their future and the future of their offspring. But for us the rails were an adventure. We rolled along side the Monongahela River through Wilson, and could see Glassport across the river. Most of us weren’t looking at the sites as we passed Bud’s Red Hots and followed Route 837 toward the McKeesport Bridge. We couldn’t see Paule’s Lookout from the train either, although it would be where many of us would have a romantic dinner when we got older.

Finally the train pulled to a stop and what seemed like thousands of kids scrambled off and up the steep hill that seemed to go on for miles, especially when trying to run up it to be among the first to enter through the back entrance of the park. Jay and I were among the first into the park. He had his tickets that were purchased in school. I also had mine. Some of the rides took two or three tickets for one ride but I had a special book of tickets. Mrs. Lowry was an art teacher and was friends with my parents. Teachers got a special book of tickets for free and she gave it to my parents. Those tickets were good on any ride – one ticket per ride no matter what the ride! So when Jay ran out of his tickets and I ran out of mine, we shared teacher’s book.

We spent the day on every action ride in the park starting with the Jackrabbit. We went on the rowboats and were almost thrown off for splashing some of the other kids with the oars, and one kid was acting stupid and fell into the lake. But other than getting wet and having to call his parents he didn’t get hurt because the lake is only about 2 feet deep. We spent some time in the Penny Arcade and made a good luck penny. It was inside a horseshoe that said, “Keep me and you’ll never go broke.” We met a couple of girls from another school and talked them into going into the Old Mill with us. Once the boats started we told them that last summer they found snakes in the Old Mill. The plan was to get them to snuggle but they shrieked and somebody who worked inside the ride shined a flashlight on us. That was a bust.

After a long hard day playing, riding, walking, watching “The Amazing Mr. Cannonball” get shot out of a cannon and into a net, eating junk, and generally having a good time, we headed back to the train. The walk down the hill was a lot easier and nobody was running. We boarded the train for the short trip back to Clairton. The kids were mostly quiet. Some dozed off. My parents were among the many waiting for the train when we arrived in Clairton. They drove Jay home then we went home and I spent the night dreaming of one the best days of my life.

A little blogging music Maestro… An old Gypsy song that was translated from Russian and became a hit in the late 60s, “Those Were the Days My Friend…”

Dr. Forgot

1 comment:

Sharon said...

These are fabulous blogs. Thanks so much! Why isn't anyone else writing???