1. Duquesne has to be the BEST place to learn how to drive a car with a standard transmission. I bought my first car from People’s Union Bank’s Repossession Department. It was a white VW with a standard transmission which I had NO idea of how to drive. I started off mastering the hill that runs from Thomas Street into St. Joe’s Cemetery. I would stop halfway up the hill and try to restart without drifting back or burning up the clutch. Once that maneuver was mastered, I graduated to negotiating the ascent up Kennedy Avenue from 1st Street and eventually took on the “monster of monsters” …. Center Street!!!
2. I remember that the best part of going into Duquesne City bank was being able to step on the huge scale that they had. I would always try to guess my weight and then try to persuade my mother to get on the scale and let me try to guess her weight. I never understood why she would always refuse …. that is, until I was an adult!
3. I remember a special adventure that my friends and I discovered that wasn’t far from my home on Thomas Street. At the top of Cato Street which runs from Ohio Avenue to Homestead-Duquesne Road was an empty lot that ran down the entire length of Cato St. to Homestead-Duquesne Road. The lot was heavily treed, and at the very top was a HUGE old tree that had branches that spread over the lot. Someone had tied a long piece of bull rope over one of the branches and created the most awesome rope swing that could imagine. My mother did NOT like me to ever go to the lot, but every once in a while she allowed me to partake. Due to the deep drop from the top of the property to the bottom, the swing provided an incredible thrill. We never had problems taking turns for the swing since it took us a moment or two to recover from risking our lives on the swing between each turn.
4. Only recently did I discover that two plants that were plentiful around my house and the area are poisonous! Rhubarb leaves are apparently toxic and lilies-of-the-valley are highly toxic! Fortunately, we never felt the urge to ingest either of these plants, so we were spared. I wonder if our parents knew.
5. Remember how difficult driving alone South Duquesne Blvd. could be at times. Due to the streetcar tracks, sometimes they would catch your tires just right and throw you to the left or right. This was especially problematic when you were trying to maneuver around one of the streetcars or oncoming cars. As difficult as this was in normal weather, dealing with it in rain or during a snowfall made it that much more difficult.
6. Irene’s Pizza on Grant Ave., I still have yet to find a pizza joint that can compare. We used to fight over the end pieces and especially the corners as one would fight over the same pieces in a brownie pan. The ends were always perfectly crisped and browned and were like “food for the gods!”
7. I happened to be shopping at Wal-Mart (ugh!) the other day and noticed their huge display of sun products. The array of products was overwhelming! However, my eyes shifted to the bottle of the suntan lotion of my youth – Coppertone. Just for kicks, I unscrewed the top and took a whiff and was immediately transported to another time. Remember sitting around Kennywood’s Sunlite Pool with the smell of Coppertone all around and the sounds of KQV radio blasting from every transistor radio around the pool?
8. I first began driving in 1967 when I was 16. The gas station of choice for my dad was the one located on the corner of Aurilles Street and Kennedy Ave. The price of gas per gallon was thirty-three cents. Self-serve pumps were not even on the horizon at that time. As I was watching a movie recently that was set in that time period, I realized how much I miss the sound of the bell that used to ring whenever you pulled up to the pump and ran over that black hose that ran across the ground. Just think, 33 cents included the gas, clean windshields and an oil check, AND, if you asked nicely, they would check the air in your tires too!
9. Now that Spring has arrived, I have begun my twice weekly grass cutting regimen. I hate cutting grass with my power mower. I only have a quarter acre to cut, but it is a pain. I miss having a ride-on mower as I did when we had a larger lot. However, whenever I begin whining about the chore, I remind myself of my Uncle Lou (Goldman) on Martin Street. The entire time that he lived in on Martin Street, which was over 40 years, he diligently mowed his grass with a manual lawnmower. He kept the lawn and the mower in pristine condition at all times. He was like the “weed Nazi” and would NEVER put up with a dandelion in his yard. After cutting his grass, he would meticulously rake up all the cuttings and then take care of trimming with clippers and hedge cutters, no power, all manual. I have GOT to stop whining!
10. I find it amazing that our senses can evoke so many memories. As a diehard hunky, I grew up, like most of us, on the smell of cooked cabbage. On Thomas Street, the street I grew up on, were several couples who were directly from “the old country,” as they put it. They, like my dad, had a separate stove set-up in their basement where they prepared the more “pungent” recipes. If I walked into any of their basements, I was immediately hit with the smell of cooked cabbage, whether it was being prepared or not! Now, whenever I encounter that smell, it’s as if I’m visiting Mr. and Mrs. Orivick again! Definitely a Fabreeze challenge!!
11. Both of my daughters took piano lessons. As a kid, I always wanted to learn to play the piano and was so impressed with anyone who had musical abilities. My wife and I decided to buy a piano when my oldest daughter began taking lessons. In order to get the piano that I wanted to have however, I had to make a commitment to take lessons as well. Imagine, 45 years old and just starting lessons.
When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I discovered that the neighbors who lived behind us on Mellon Street had an old upright piano in their basement. I am sure that Mrs. Zewe tired of me knocking on her door and asking if I could play the piano. I think I crossed the line many times and finally became a pest. Nonetheless, I taught myself to play few songs that I repeated “ad nauseam.” Heart and Soul (both parts), Somewhere Over The Rainbow and Chopsticks were part of my repertoire. Vegas, here I come.
12. Julie, one of my co-workers was involved in an accident two days ago and was relating the incident to me yesterday. Although her car was totaled, fortunately, she came out of it unscathed. I recalled my very first fender bender when I began driving. Of course, in my mind at the time, it was the most disastrous incident that had ever occurred in the history of automotive history. However, in retrospect, it was just a little fender bender.
I had just gotten off of work from Gimbels and had walked over to the JCPenney Auto Center to pick-up the car from my dad. Dad warned me to be careful and I just rolled my teenage eyes and told him not to worry. I honestly was being careful and was inching my way to the exit from Eastland Shopping Plaza when the car in front of me stopped suddenly. As luck would have it, I slid into the back of the car. The woman who was driving was not hurt, and the cars didn’t seem to have much damage. We exchanged names, license numbers and phone numbers and proceeded on our way. Since my life never seemed to lake drama in those days, it came as no shock to me that the woman who I plowed into ended up being the wife of the mayor of White Oak!! Only me……!
13. As I was growing up, I had every conceivable type of pet. Some were purchased, some were given to me and some were wild creatures that I decided to keep and call my pet. One of my first pets was a tiny baby turtle (known as a Red Slider) that I had talked my mom into buying for me from G.C.Murphy’s on 1st Street in Duquesne. I remember 5&10 Cent Stores always having a table full of the little critters and I was always fascinated watching them. Unfortunately, I don’t think the little guy lasted too long. I think I may have over fed him and one day he just killed over.
Several years later, my dad found a turtle meandering along the side of the road while he was on a fishing trip. He was about the size of a cantaloupe and if it was possible, was fairly friendly. He made our backyard his home and stayed around for months. I kept a small bowl of water out for him (or her, but who knew?), and he seemed perfectly happy munching away on the weeds and grass around the yard. However, one sad day, he ran moseyed away. Although years passed, he decided to return one Spring day about three years later. Same turtle, same markings and the same spot of paint that had fallen on his shell three years earlier! The little guy hung around for a few more years, but disappeared again one day and never returned.
Perhaps one of the most traumatic and grossest events of my childhood involved a turtle. Mr. Ray Snyder was an avid fisherman. One day, he invited the kids in the neighborhood into his backyard to see a snapping turtle that he had snagged on his most recent fishing trip. I remember walking into his backyard and seeing this HUGE angry creature crawling around the yard. Mr. Snyder had a large stick that he used to try to keep him from crawling toward us. At each poke, the turtle would snap at the stick either in defense or in anger. In retrospect, I kinda felt bad for the turtle, although he was not that “attractive.” What followed our introduction to this creature was nothing short of ghastly. We all received an invitation to watch as Mr. Snyder “butchered” the turtle. Needless to say, we all declined and ran from the yard as fast as we could.
My brother and I always would take a shortcut through the Snyder’s backyard when we went to my Aunt Mary’s house. What I discovered the day after my introduction to the snapping turtle was indelibly etched into my little hunky mind. There on Mr. Snyder’s shed was the shell of the snapping turtle nailed to the side. Just the shell, no turtle around. I’ll never forget it, but mmmmmm, what’s that delicious smell?!?
14. One of my favorite jobs as a child was going to Great Valley Beer Distributors near Eastland Mall. My job was to take care of assorting the Regent brand pop whenever we were having some kind of party. At Christmas, Dad would always get two cases since we always had so much company. My favorites were the cherry and grape, closely followed by orange and lime. I would never pick out any crème soda or cola, and would only get a few bottles of root beer. I always wondered if they ended up with case after case of crème soda leftovers.
15. Remember Summer Reading programs? When I attended Holy Name Grade School, prior to school being dismissed for the summer, we were given a list of books. Our assignment was to read at least five of these books during our summer vacation. The good sisters always made sure that their icy stares and ruler thumping wasn’t completely out of our minds during our summers. One of the first steps to tackling this reading list was to make a trip to the Carnegie Library and determine:
a) How many pages were in the book?
b) Was the print large or small?
c) Were there pictures?
d) Had you ever heard of it?
e) Did the first sentence sound interesting?
f) Are any of my classmates reading the same book? (That was a good thing!)
Once these important questions were answered, we would make our choices and commit to the program. Truth be told, I always waited until the last weeks of summer vacation to begin reading the books. Mom would badger me throughout the summer, but it fell on deaf ears. You see, since a few of my friends were reading the same book, we were always able to compare notes by the end of summer! I’m surprised we weren’t recruited by the CIA for our cleverness!
16. We very rarely took field trips when I was in grade school. However, I remember one trip that was pretty exciting. Our class visited and toured the H.J.Heinz Factory in Pittsburgh. Only two things stand out in my mind. First, the entire facility smelled like you were walking through a pickle jar. The smell of vinegar was so pungent that it almost burnt the inside of your nose. The second thing I remember was receiving a tiny pickle pin at the end of the tour. I must have hung onto that pin for years. I wonder what ever happened to it?
17. One of the best things that occurred at this time of the year was the resurrection of our outdoor furniture. Usually by the beginning of May, Dad would bring out some of the furniture, and we could begin enjoying the outdoors even more. My favorite was the large porch swing. For most of my youth, it was the only piece of furniture we had on our back porch. It hung parallel to our house, and we would sit for hours facing Mellon Street and watching the world go by. Eventually, Dad expanded the back porch and more pieces of furniture were added, but the swing remained my favorite.
18. I always wanted to build a tree house, but that never happened. The sycamore in our back yard wasn’t large enough to accommodate a tree house until I was well past the stage of wanting one. As a substitution for the tree house, my friends and I managed to create a “fort” in St. Joseph’s Cemetery.
The fields at the base of the hill leading up to the cemetery from Thomas Street are large expanses of well-maintained grass. However, when I was growing-up, they were over grown with trees, shrubs and weeds. As such, we were able to find a “secret” path to a cluster of trees and bushes that proved to be the “perfect” fort/clubhouse for us. To make it even better, just a few yards away, we discovered a group of tumbled down tombstones that had deteriorated through decades and decades of exposure to the elements.
We would spend hours on end in our fort letting our imaginations run wild. Donnie Brown managed to pull a section of bark off of one of the trees to expose the clean white trunk. It became our “blood brothers” symbol as each one of us took a pin and pricked our fingers and swiped the bare trunk with our blood. Painless but effective! We obviously had watched too many westerns on TV!
19. I often wish that my parents and grandparents taught me to use their parent’s native languages. Although I learned many words, aside from the lyrics to some folk songs, I never learned to “speak” either Croatian or Slovak. I did learn that my mother’s maiden name, Puskaric, meant “gunman” in Croatian. I checked Google Translator to find out if that was fact or fiction. I discovered “puška-čovjek” is the literal translation of “gun man.” Close enough to Puskaric in my book. Well played Mom!
Another set of words that I decided to research was “Tetka and Voya.” These two words were used by my parents when referring to their Uncle Rudy and Aunt Mary who lived in Youngstown, Ohio. Mom always told me that the words meant aunt and uncle in Croatian. I did my research again and found that it was “almost the truth. “Tetka” IS the Croatian word for aunt, however “Voya” actually means “leader” in Croatian. I suppose this was an appropriate name for Uncle Rudy since he was the family’s patriarch. Dobar posao mama! Gee, I wonder if they make Rosetta Stone in Hunky?
20. I came across a photograph of the OLD Kennywood Bridge. Seriously, is it any wonder why people were often terrified walking over from Duquesne Place?