Bits and Pieces

My brother and I put our hand prints into cement outside our family home in 1954. For a time, we thought those prints could last forever. They have been gone for a very long time.

My neighbor, Ed Norton, had hunting dogs for every sport. He trusted me to feed these dogs when he was away. The responsibility was like child care since those dogs were like his children.

As kids we liked to hike and camp between Thorn Creek and the railroad tracks. On one occasion we placed a penny on the tracks to see if it would be squashed. We may have started a fire with that stunt. We called the fire department and stayed to watch it put out. I can’t imagine how it started if not for the penny.

We once tried to have a “bug show” in our basement. Over two days in early summer we went out to capture specimens. Jack Smith captured a large and particularly interesting spider. Mike Hallahan found a walking stick. I can’t imagine why we imagined we would make any money from this enterprise. I think my parents came and paid the quarter entrance fee to see the show in their own basement. We made fifty cents which we’d have to split seven ways.

The YMCA ran a boys’ day camp. Our final activity every day was swimming which we did while completely naked. One cannot imagine that today. The “lifeguard” sat on an aluminum garden chair while reading the newspaper. The final activity was an overnight at Camp Wesley outside Butler. The “counselors” were a dubious lot. After quickly putting all of us to bed in a large cabin, they went off with their girlfriends to do who knows what.

For reasons I cannot understand, my two sets of grandparents watched completely different television programs. Don and Ada watched Ed Sullivan and Tennessee Ernie Ford. They never missed Lawrence Welk and the Lennon Sisters. They loved Lucy and went to court with Perry Mason. They followed Walter Cronkite. Jack and Lou were Perry Como people. They preferred Jack Parr, Bob Hope and Phil Silvers. They always watched the Jerry Lewis telethon. If they watched the news it was Huntley – Brinkley. At home we always watched Twilight Zone, Candid Camera and Bonanza. Those were shows that none of my grandparents ever watched.

When our championship basketball team played Etna, my friend Rich always wanted to see “The Knights verses the Etnamese.” Etna had a curious court that appeared to be an old swimming pool. If a ball hit a wall, it was out of bounds. Despite the odd situation our players always played on without public complaint.

In the 1950’s you could go to a shoe store in Butler that allowed you to look through a fluoroscope and see how your feet fit into the Buster Brown or Blue Goose shoes you were considering. Apparently, for a time, there was no concern about exposure to radiation.

As a kid who was sick quite a bit when I was young, I spent a lot of time in Dr. John Burn’s waiting room. Thankfully, there were always Highlights Magazines available. I really liked Goofus and Gallant and the pictures where you tried to find the hidden objects. I was always bummed when I saw drawings of horses or cars from kids half my age that looked better than anything I could draw.

Larry Flatt operated an Esso station on Route 8 near our home. He always allowed us to fill up our bike tires from his air tank. He operated a small store where he sold a very limited supply of candy and pop. He had the best pop bottle cooler. The bottles were on tracks that suspended them in cold water. When you put in a dime you could maneuver your drink to a gate and pull up a cold Mountain Dew which claimed would “tickle your innards”. At Halloween he always sold a “treat” I never understood. They were orange “harmonicas” made out of wax that you “could” chew or maybe swallow. Why anyone would want to either play that harmonica or eat that wax was beyond me.

My brother always made friends with adult neighbors. Sometimes he got a bit too intimate. One Saturday he told my mother that he been visiting the Howards. Mom suggested it was too early to visit. “It is”, said Don. “When I peeked in their bedroom, they were still sleeping.”

We used to have milk delivered in bottles to our home. You could order milk that was not homogenized which would allow you gather real cream off the top. That was so good. In later years, we picked up milk from Knapp’s Dairy in Saxonburg. The bottles were all recycled. Milk always looks best in glass bottles.

I guess everyone had their favorite “Sunday funnies”. My favorite artist was Jimmy Hatlo who drew “Little Iodine”, “Hatlo’s History” and “They’ll Do It Every Time.” The popular favorite, “Peanuts” did nothing for me. This was another example of how I often felt out of step. While classmates were arguing over whether the music from The British Invasion was as good as The Beach Boys, my comment was, “Has anybody heard this music from Brazil by Antonio Carlos Jobin?”

Shortly after the Milwaukee Braves won the 1957 World Series, my Cub Scout Den Dad, Mr. Newton, was able to have two of their players come and talk to us. What a treat! I did not fully appreciate at the time that Lew Burdette, one of our guests, had just pitched three World Series victories that fall. At another meeting, Mrs. Newton read a Halloween story and had us wear blindfolds as we listened. The reading featured tactile experiences such as putting our hands into a bowl of grapes when the story talked about collecting eyeballs. We all loved that adventure. The Newton’s were great Scout parents.

In Jefferson Township a local auto repair shop featured a sign with a very young boy and girl both staring down their diapers. The slogan suggested that, “There IS a Difference”.

Our freshman dance was themed “Hernando’s Hideaway”. That song belonged to our parent’s generation and had no meaning to our class. I attended on crutches but it didn’t matter. Either way, I would have just sat with my friends and watched the girls from afar.

Phillip and Jeffrey Krause one seduced me to commit sin. We got corn cobs, made pipes and smoked corn silk in a lean-to we built by the small stream in their backyard.

Fast food was really cheap back in the day. Morgan’s, in addition to serving KFC, sold hamburgers that cost a quarter. The patty was the size of a quarter as well. Winkie’s drive-through on Route 8 near Etna could give you an entire “meal” including a “milkshake” for less than a buck. When travelling to weekend Student United Nations meetings in Pittsburgh, we’d often stop at the Eat and Park at that same intersection. It was there that Jane Larrick introduced me to the joy of onion rings!