BTS Torture

Well, it’s August 10th, and as a young boy growing up in the Duquesne area, the last thing on my mind would have been going back to school. In August, I was still thinking about playing outside all day, perhaps looking forward to a family vacation at Presque Isle, or at the very least, one more outing to Kennywood combined with a few more Volk Clan picnics.

During those swelteringly hot August days, my mom did manage to jolt my brother and me into realizing that school would be beginning soon, by subjecting us to one of my most dreaded activities…… trying on school clothes that had been packed away from the previous year. I still contend that this was a form of child abuse. Had Mom traded her secrets with the government, I’m confident that this form of torture could have been elevated to a point that would have surpassed waterboarding!

Early in August, Mom would always let my brother and I know that we would be trying on clothes at some point during the month. Once she had decided on a day, she would always count down the days and remind us each day that “IT” was approaching. I think it was to build the anxiety in Steve and me, and it worked.

Having no air conditioning in our home, Mom would somehow manage to pick the hottest day of the year to torture us. Of course, we had to do it during the daytime since she insisted that “the light was better” and she could “see how they fit.” We would be summoned up to our parent’s bedroom on the 2nd floor of our non-air-conditioned home. Since hot air rises, this made it an especially “toasty” experience.

The storage chest that contained all of the pack away clothes was in an area that we called the “cubby hole.” Now that I think of it, what an appropriate name. A perfect place for animals to hibernate during an ice cold winter since it provided extra warmth. Our “cubby hole” was no exception. It was at least 20 degrees hotter in there than in the bedroom itself. Fortunately, Mom didn’t make us try the clothes on in the cubby hole. She did however, keep the door open so all that extra heat would pour out into the bedroom and raise the temperature even higher.

Now, the purpose of this entire exercise was to determine what still fit my older brother and what articles of clothing were now considered “hand-me-downs.” That was where I stepped in. I was the “hand-me-down” recipient! Lucky me.

The clothing had been stored in a huge green trunk that my dad had gotten from someone. It was so large, that you could fit a small nation of children in it comfortably. Since hunkys would never throw anything out until it had exhausted all practical use, it contained layers and layers of clothing that would be reused at some point in my childhood.

To add insult to injury, Mom believed in protecting the clothing from being eaten by moths. Seriously, you and I both know that moths are attracted to wool. Considering that the majority of items in the trunk were either corduroy, flannel or cotton, no self-respecting moth would even consider dining in our trunk. Nonetheless, Mom protected the clothing “just in case” by hermetically sealing the clothing in the trunk each season along with a VERY liberal sprinkling of moth balls and moth crystals. By the time these garments had been stored in a virtual vacuum of naphthalene for at least 6 months in a room that reached temperatures that could melt soft metals, let’s just say the odor was rather… “heady” to say the very least.

In order to find out what still fit my older brother Steve and what items would become his fashion leftovers, a.k.a. hand-me-downs, Steve and I had the pleasure of stripping down to our tighty whities and trying on item, after item, after item in the sweltering hot 2nd floor bedroom that was teeming with the smell of mothballs and sweat.

Steve as always the first to try on any item. After all, his size was the determinant by which an article of clothing would be reused or handed down. For him, it was a quick try on, an inspection by Mom, and then he was on to the next item. For me, the process was a bit more arduous. If a pair of pants or a shirt appeared to be both too tight and beyond the point of being altered to fit Steve once again, it became a hand-me-down. It was at that point that I stepped into the picture in my tighty whities. For my mom to decide if a newly created hand-me-down would be used during the upcoming school year, I had to try the item on. Nothing felt worse than being told to try on an article of clothing that had just come off of another person’s sweaty body (sorry Steve, I still love ya), AND then have to wait for Mom to inspect and decide on the fate of said item. I used to pray that each shirt, jacket or pair of pants would fit. Not because I liked it, but because it meant that I could quickly remove it and expedite the end to this torture. You see, IF an item fit but was too long, I would have to wait while Mom would pin the hem each pants leg or perhaps mark how much an item had to be taken-in for it to fit. I loved my mom, but she was no Ernie Plastino when it came to her sewing abilities. As a result, the measuring and pinning procedure seemed to last forever.

When we had gotten to this stage, the whole process was most like a form of torture that could be used at Guantanamo. To make my point, consider all of the finer points of this picture:

• A 6 year old boy and an 8 year old boy forced to give up a day of playing outside with their friends

• An extraordinarily hot second floor bedroom in August

• Bright and hot sunlight beating down through the windows adding to the steaminess

• The pungent odor of mothballs filling the air

• A young mother being forced to control her two fidgety sons without yelling since her mouth was busy holding onto straight pins for the task at hand

• The six year old standing perfectly still, dressed only in his underwear and a heavy corduroy jacket that reeked of mothballs and damp with his brother’s perspiration and his mother trying to determine and pin the perfect sleeve length.


Yes, I believe my mom could have eventually broken Bin Laden if given the opportunity. Thanks for those special memories Mom!!

In a previous post, I included some articles from The Duquesne News that everyone enjoyed reading. Some even found their own name or a parent’s name in the article. Since this post is related to going back to school, I’m included some articles I found that I think you’ll enjoy as much as the last ones I posted. Let me know! Happy reading neighbors!

Front Page Cartoon from the Duquesne Times

Each year, The Duquesne Times would publish the upcoming school year’s list of teacher assignments. Interestingly, the lists contained not only the school and grade assignment, but also included their individual salaries as well. I am posting the lists from the 1948-1949 school year for your enjoyment. I would think that you might recognize some your favorite teachers and further realize that compared to the national average of $4300 to $7400, Duquesne’s teachers were truely on the low end of the scale.

1948-1949 Teacher’s List

This entry was posted in Autumntime, Church and School - Holy Name, Church and School - Holy Trinity, Church and School - St. Joseph, Duquesne Public Schools, Life in General, Parents. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to BTS Torture

  1. Bob Chermonitz says:

    I remember John Donelli as the DHS football coach. When I was a little kid my grandfather, John “Doc Green” Chermonitz the high school football trainer, allowed me to attend practices and travel on the bus to away games with the team. As a kid I thought all those high school guys were real heroes and I can still remember some from the 50’s and early 60’s. QB’s like Madar and Forgash. Running backs like Steve Edwards and linemen like John Clogerty and Tret Lemak. I can still recall the locker room smells. All that wet canvas and the linament from the trainer’s room. The mud from the cleats and the sweat from the players. And I remember the “pep” talks from Coach Donelli. Later, as a high school football coach myself, I would use those same words to inspire young men. Interestingly, Donelli had a brother named “Buff” Donelli, who was the head football coach at Duquesne University. I heard stories that he would bring his team to the DHS field and scrimmage with his brothers high school team. And that’s how the DHS team got the tag “Little Dukes” as opposed to the college team. In 1974 I started my teaching career in Ohio and was paid $7200. my first year and got a contract as the assistant HS football coach for a massive $495. Wow, how times have changed! But the memories this blog invokes keeps those old memories alive. Thanks again, Jim!

    • Jim says:

      My pleasure Bob!

    • Tom Lane says:

      John Clougherty was a fullback who broke his leg in his senior year. Sat beside me in Ma White’s English class. John went on to get a Phd and headed the NCAA’s referring committee after a long career in basketball ref’ing. I used to watch him in the final four games. A good guy. Another Duke that did well. Jim Ragan, from Goldstom lane, was a excellent end at that same time. Jim is now head of a department at USC and is a world class poet with many books to his name. Quite the team.

  2. Michael Bashista says:

    Like Tom I remember having many of the teachers on the list. I even went back and looked at all my school class pictures that my mother had kept in an album. All those grade school photos taken on the steps of Libengood school Then Elementary and Junior High. Unfortunately I lost all my 10th – 12th grade yearbooks in a flooded basement years ago. I remember Jim Magee as a close family friend when he was principal at Junior High/Elementary school. He allowed to me to remain there with all my friends instead of having to transfer to Crawford for 1 yr in 6th grade because we moved into its district. I would have been back at the school after 6th grade anyway. He later lived on Hinerman across the street from my grandparents house. One high school teacher I remember very well was Prof. Harsky[sp?], who taught Russian language from his own papers and his own way.

  3. Jack schalk says:

    Miss Surgent was my study hour teacher in 1954, my senior year. Jim Kelly and I always made a donut run for her when she was feeling underfed.
    Betsie Kratzer was my latin teacher and I found out that altar boy latin was different from the language the Roman legions spoke from her.
    Ray Henry was my 9th grade principal and taught me the meaning of the word halitosis (sic) Schalk, do have halitosis? Get rid of that gum!
    Mike Radvansky was my health teacher and taught a class of worldly guys that they didn’t know squat about real life.
    Eugene Szilagyi was the band director and his job was immense in that he had all these players and he was tring to make it sound like we were all playing the same song.
    My sister, Dee Schalk, joined the list of teachers at Duquesner Jr. High for a couple of years before moving with me to Florida. She taught and I was a frosh in college. We were separated by a 100 miles but stayed in constant contact. She was always my best friend!

  4. Tom Lane says:

    I think there is a teacher I had from every grade from 1st to 12th. Amazing how I can still see their faces. And I can still remember that mothball smell, even though I never had to do the hand me down thing.

  5. Harold West says:

    Thanks for your post. Since I did not have an older brother my mom did the same try on routine using bags of clothes from my three older skinny cousin who lived in West Mifflin. Everything was always too tight or too long. Posting the teacher list from 48-49 also reminded me that some teachers were still in the school system 20+ years later when I either had them or knew them. (RIP Mr. Jerosky, Miss Surgent) It also reminded me of an Aunt who was a teacher but passed before I was born.

  6. Michael Bashista says:

    You really can appreciate how much teaching was about training the kids for the future rather than about salaries/bonuses as it has become in some areas. Teaching is still a vastly underpaid profession seeing what is expected of teachers these days [teaching, babysitter, behavior supervisor, testing coach, & all the politics of the job] and how limited their authority has become. I’m glad to have been educated in that era rather than today. They seemed to handle the entire range of very smart to challenged students often within the same classroom back then. They also made sure you didn’t advance until you were ready for the next grade’s work. I really appreciate some of those “ogres” I thought I had back then. They successfully prepared me for the world I eventually faced. Thanks to all my old teachers and to those today who really care about students, we are forever grateful.

    • Jim says:

      Michael, I couldn’t agree with you more. My wife has been an educator for almost two decades now and I completely understand the multitude of roles they need to play. Between the Administration, the parents, the students, the school board and the general public, teachers live in a Land of a Thousand Bosses!

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