Disjointed Parts

Periodically, I come to a point when my recollections fail to come together to be able to write a cohesive story about my life in Duquesne, or as a child growing up as part of a large hunky clan. As a result, this post will be one that’s just a bunch of random disconnected thoughts. In an earlier post, I compared it to rinsing out the ketchup bottle to get every bit of goodness out. I’m hoping to do the same with my recollections.

A Towel, A Pin and A Little Blue Bottle

When I was a child, there were times when all of the outdoor play at this time of year took its toll. Every once in a while, my brother or I would come down with a cold, cough or some minor ailment. Whenever that would occur, the first line of defense was quickly implemented by my mom.

• Step 1 – We immediately changed out of whatever we were wearing and donned our warmest flannel pajamas.

• Step 2 – Once we were properly dressed for bed, it was off to our room and our bed regardless of the time of day. Our little bodies were tucked-in under layers of blankets so tightly that we resembled a burrito at Taco Bell.

• Step 3 – After we were settled into our bed, Mom would always begin by determining our temperature. Of course, there would be the proverbial hand on the forehead to establish that we were running a temperature. Once Mom realized that we were in fact a bit warm, she’d whip out the thermometer, wipe it off on her apron, shake the mercury down to within an inch of its life, and then quickly insert it under our tongue. Thank goodness that the “alternate temperature taking site” was abandoned years earlier. However, if we fussed about having our temperature taken, Mom’s threat of reverting to “the other” place would quickly settle us down.

• Step 4 – In those days, the next step would be unheard of in today’s medical society. After Mom read our temperature, she’d have to decide if we were sick enough to call Dr. Fletcher and ask him to make a house call. I still remember how the doctor would arrive, just like you see in the old black and white movies. A knock at the front door, a stately gentleman in a black wool overcoat, replete with a proper dress hat and carrying the stereotypical little black bag would enter. He would quickly be directed to our bedroom and before you knew it, the exam took place.

• Step 5 – As in most cases, we rarely were sick enough to call in the good doctor. Mom would normally treat our “set back” on her own. That mean using one of the most trusted and time proven treatments known to Hunky-mankind:

First came the little blue bottle of Vick’s Vap-o-Rub. Mom would liberally smear the gooey and smelly mess over our chest. She’d quickly button-up our pjs and move onto the next phase.

As if the thick layer of Vap-o-Rub on our chest wasn’t enough, Mom would take an additional glob and begin to massage it on our neck.

  • The next piece of the treatment puzzle was the wrapping of a hand towel around our neck to cover the gunk that was ready to do its job. Mom would then secure the rag/towel around our neck with a HUGE diaper pin that she had instinctively saved from the time we were infants, just for this occasion.

Before we knew it, we were rubbed down, swathed in terry cloth, and tucked back into bed, armed and ready to do battle with any germ that had the nerve to come around!

• Step 6 – Remember those little blue and pink bottles of baby aspirin? One of Mom’s sure cures for what ailed us was by dosing us with two tables every 4 or 6 hours. However, being the picky kid that I was, Mom would always dissolve the tables in a teaspoon with some water for me to swallow. I had convinced myself that I could never swallow them whole and chewing them was out of the question. Thanks for understanding Mom!

Who would have thought that those little 81mg tables would become a recommended part of our daily life years later as a healthy heart regimen? I’ve even grown-up enough to swallow them whole! Mom would be proud.

• Step 7 – Perhaps my favorite step in Mom’s treatment regimen was the TLC that was lavished on us. Mother Teresa’s care and compassion would pale in comparison to that of a hunky mother taking care of her child. Aside from the willingness to sit beside us for what seemed like hours and read us stories or just gently petting our foreheads in order to soothe us, there was always the special food we would enjoy.

Being sick always meant that we became recipients of Mom’s special sick bed menu. First was two pieces of toast. Perfectly buttered and cover with her homemade jelly, the toast would be cut in 4 little triangles for our consumption. Any ordinary day, we’d get toast cut in half. Somehow, cutting the toast in quarters carried some mysterious healing powers in our mind.

The next special food was Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup. This special treat was reserved ONLY for when we were sick. The significance of getting a bowl meant you REALLY were sick. I remember sitting up in my bed, pillows gently tucked behind me by Mom and a metal tray placed across my lap. I would luxuriate forever, enjoying the soup, the toast and crackers and Mom’s company.

• Step 8 – This step was my least favorite. Mothers had the notion that a cold or flu virus could be cured by “sweating them out!” This was never pleasant. It usually meant that the heat would be pumped up in the house and we would be made to stay in bed, tucked in like a sardine under those heavy covers. The concept was that by warming us up and making us sweat would expel any toxins that might be in our system. Whether it was the natural progression of our sickness or whether “sweating it out” actually had merit, shortly after that, we’d begin to feel better.

• Step 9 – Once our fever had broken and Mom was convinced that we were on the road to recovery, we would be permitted to come downstairs after a hot bath and snuggle on the sofa with our head on Mom’s lap, and watch TV. We were treated to our dinner in the living room while watching TV too! That was incentive enough to get better.

Once we had reached the watching TV stage, we were cured in Mom’s eyes. After a good night’s sleep, we’d be back at school or allowed to play inside for the day, outside of our bedroom, but NEVER outdoors. The “one for good measure” rule applied to the days of recovery, so it was indoor play only.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could, just for one more day, have our mother’s gentle hands and loving care with us when we’re not feeling quite up to snuff?

What Happens in Duquesne Stays in Duquesne

I was browsing through an online news source recently and read about yet another BIG lottery winner. I thought about my dad and how he loved to play the Pennsylvania Lottery. Ever since the first ticket was sold on March 7, 1972, my dad was hooked. He was a consistent player, but only an occasional winner. He never hit the BIG money, but to win a few hundred dollars every now and then seemed to be his pattern.

Long before the inception of the Pennsylvania Lottery, Dad would always find a means of betting and winning money or prizes. He was a very lucky guy when it came to raffles, punch boards and such. His litany of prizes included radios, tv’s, turkeys, hams, a car and all sorts and sundry items. I think for my entire childhood, he never had to buy a turkey at Thanksgiving, but would win one from the GBU. Of course, he was always so proud of winning the bird, but would never confess how much he had to spend and/or drink before winning.

In addition to his consistent winning streaks, dad also was hooked on playing “the numbers.” The act of playing “the numbers” was apparently quite illegal since it was always spoken about in quiet whispers. All I remember about the bets that occurred were that they were placed in some rather unlikely places; a bar, a dairy, a candy store, etc. Often my dad would come home with three or four hundred dollars in winnings and his only explanation was that he had “played the numbers.” I would say “Wow” and then just walk away as confused as I was in the beginning.

As I got older, I would ask Dad about what he did when he played the numbers. He tried to explain, but it never made a lot of sense. I just remember that it had something to do with the stock market but wasn’t connected to the buying and selling of stocks. I think I remember him telling me that it had to do with the last digits in certain stock quotes, or something just as obscure. Rather than confuse the facts, I’ll defer to someone reading this to comment and explain the system to me.

I checked back in past issues of The Duquesne Times and discovered countless references to “the dark side” of Duquesne. Racketeering and Moonshining were words that were frequently used during Duquesne’s Roaring 20’s. As the decades passed, the press gave way to stories and reports about various “number joints” being raided or shut down. They often referred to arrests, not only of the owners but of the patrons as well. Luckily, Dad was never in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like I said….he was one very lucky guy!

And In This Corner………

I have no idea what started me think about this feature, but for some strange reason I couldn’t get it out of my head.

One of my favorite parts of the McKeesport Daily News, aside from the comics page was a daily feature called “Uncle Ray’s Corner.” Each day, Uncle Ray would relate some strange or exotic story from history, science, world culture or other fascinating subject.

I remember collecting the articles each day and compiling them in a scrapbook in case I needed them for reference at some later date. Of course, that never happened, so at some point in time I threw them all away. However, in my heyday of collecting the articles, I remember reading some really captivating stories about faraway places such as India and Australia; about the invention of the radios and submarines; and of mysterious people like Queen Victoria and Mata Hari. Whatever the subject, Uncle Ray always gave the story a spin that held my interest.

As with all of the adventures conjured up in a young boy’s mind, those that started with one of Uncle Ray’s stories eventually faded away as the realities of growing up set in. Just think of the stories we could tell if the adventures we planned in our minds came true. Thanks for the memories Uncle Ray!

Over and Out

As I said, this was going to be a disjointed little ride into what used to be. Thanks for allowing me to empty the ketchup bottle. Until next time…… “zbohom moji priatelia!”

This entry was posted in Life in General, My Hunky Family, Parents. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Disjointed Parts

  1. Jada C says:

    Lovved reading this thank you

  2. Susan Dittman Moody says:

    jim; thanks again for sharing…memories are an awesome uplifting…i have a bottle of vapo rub in my closet today…and we always got a vic’s mustache too…

  3. Bob Chermonitz says:

    Jim, I swear you touch more nerves than a bad dentist! My Mom used St. Joseph’s aspirin for children. She also used that big diaper pin on the hand towel (I was mortified). And, to this day, I believe that sweating it out is the way to go (a bottle of Rock @ Rye can accelerate the process).
    Concerning the numbers, a nameless family in Duquesne Place during the 60’s had a really nice house and car and their kid had all the toys plus a real attitude. The father dressed like Beavers’ dad and we all thought he was very rich and didn’t work. One day the Feds showed up and the next day all was gone, even the kid. The only word whispered was “numbers”. And when I worked down the mill in Homestead, a guy named “Spider” came around each day to take your bet. He was always clean and NEVER did any thing else. But when my parents “hit” the number life was good for awhile. 🙂

  4. Joann Revak says:

    Loved this column. I did all of these things for my kids and never knew why. It was instinctive! The only thing I did different was make my own chicken soup and never had them “sweat it out”. Thanks for a trip down memory lane.

  5. cathy sturm says:

    Jim …I remember asking my Uncle about the numbers and all I could decipher was that there was “old stock” and “new stock” ??? and “boxes” .
    Our Mother rubbed the Vicks on our chests until our eyes were watering then like that wasn’t going to be enough we also got just a little right under our noses for a Vick’s mustache. …When she made the special Lipton’s chicken soup she would drop egg dumplings in there for us. mmmm Once my husband wanted to give me the extra special hunky sick person treatment ….after I told him you’re supposed to drop the egg dumplings in the Lipton soup …he said why’s your remedy got to be so hard ? …his Mom opened up a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle …but she was a working Mom from Texas not a Hunky Mom from Duquesne!

  6. Carol says:

    Wow, I was just telling a friend about “playing the numbers””. My Mom or Aunt would send me to the Dairy Store with a small scrap of paper and a nickel or dime to play the numbers!! I walked up and handed the woman or man the paper & money. Our families had no concern for a child being involved in this illegal activity!! It could never happen now. Thanks for lots of memories.

  7. Linda (Negley) Gibb says:

    Besides Uncle Ray’s Corner I also loved the daily poems of Edgar Guest. He wrote about every day stuff that you could relate to. I sure wish I’d have cut them all out & saved them.

  8. David Marks says:

    What a wonderful column this time! Thanks!

    On my Daily News paper route I had a customer who was very mysterious. I rarely saw him outside of his home. In fact, I can only remember seeing him when I ‘collected.’ There was a fair amount of traffic at his house at times, bt not like today’s crack houses that come and go. Anyway, my customer’s home was immaculate – I was permitted inside maybe TWICE in three years, and that was to stand in the vestibule and marvel at the chandeliers, WHITE carpeting, and beautiful furnishings. My friend Kevin, who turned the paper route over to me, told me this was a numbers place. Ha. I never did know what that meant, even at 15. Ya know, I would turn the clock back to those times when I consider how that same street is today!

    And come to think of it, if I was delivering the paper every day again, I would surely get rid of this belly that mysteriously appeared over time…

  9. Gloria Hess Fendrick says:

    I remember the touch of my Mother’s hand stroking my face and forehead when I was sick. So gentle and so very different from the disiplinarian that she was. I remember the feather ticks we had and how heavy they were. I remember the vicks vapor rub and how I had to wear a towel around my neck when I had a sore throat. Hmmmmm – to be majically transported back to Duquesne for a couple of hours to be with family and friends once again~

    Oh and the numbers – they were a big part of my parent’s entertainment. Play 563 box

  10. gary dillinger says:


  11. Tom Lane says:

    Like you, I loved the Uncle Ray articles and read everyone of them. Totally had forgotten them, so thanks. As for playing the “numbers” it seemed like everyone I knew did that at one time or another and many of the small candy stores had that side business. I still do not know what they were based on. A real part of Duquesne life.

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