My early childhood was spent in Steubenville, Ohio, a small city on the banks of the Ohio River, just across from the steel mills of Wheeling, West Virginia. My father was pastor of a Congregational Church and we lived in the parsonage. Both the church and our house were situated on high hills well above the river and I recall with clarity pieces of my life there with my two sisters and my parents.
Lawson Avenue was a wonderful place for a boy to grow up. A neighborhood full of other kids, all with creative imaginations, and the paved alleys were just the place for games of hide and seek and stick ball. Our backyard was the center of fun for a small boy, with a sandbox just right for little towns and small cars. Croquet was the family game and it drew us all together. Dad would always get the black colored mallet, mother the orange, and I was always stuck with whatever was left after my two sisters had their pick. It was great fun, once I learned how to hit the ball.
Our house had a large back porch with a swing that was perfect for a pirate ship, but too often it housed dolls, my sisters and those girls from down the street. That porch had big spiraea bushes growing all along the one side, and I remember one night-time game of hide and seek, that ended badly for me. When looking for my sister, in the deep shadows beside the porch, she jumped out from behind a bush and scared me so much that I wet my pants. Ah, those were the days!
During those war years, we had a “victory garden”, well out-of-town, with a little cabin and lots of space for kids to run around and explore. There was a natural spring, flowing out of the rocks and foliage, just up the dirt road where the water was sweet, cool and mysterious, just the thing for a small boy looking for adventure. We would go to that spring and fill jars to bring back to the cabin to have with our lunch. The spring was also the habitat of frogs and other “wildlife” so I always wanted to go there.
I had an older friend from the neighborhood who had a paper route and he “let” me run up the steps of houses and put the paper in the mailbox. One of the benefits of being with my friend were the lessons I learned. For instance, our favorite stop was a small grocery store where he treated me to RC Cola and taught me that if you poured salted peanuts in the bottle it was a “double treat”.
Another one of my friends was George Schmidt, who lived across Lawson Avenue from us. We were the youngest and smallest kids in the neighborhood and always seemed to be picked on by the bigger kids. We had a special place behind his house where we were safe and we plotted evil things we would do to those bullies if we had chance, but never did.
Behind the church were the trolley tracks that lead down into the “hollow”, and that was a perfect place for kids to play. Paths in the hollow lead down to the creek, which always seemed to have great sand bars and large rocks on which to play. One late fall afternoon, my friend George and I went into the hollow and created a little shelter of dead limb branches. I had brought along some kitchen matches and we decided it would be exciting fun to have our own bonfire. Somehow the roof of our shelter caught fire and we ran out of there just as the whole hillside started to blaze! I ran home and went right to bed! Within an hour, a fireman knocked at the front door and my culpability was exposed! The punishment was quick and severe!
It is interesting what sticks in our mind from those early years. Barbara Streisand song, Memories, captures the reality of memories: “Mem’ries, may be beautiful and yet, what’s too painful to remember we simply choose to forget”. Maybe I am guilty as charged, but nevertheless, it is fun to revisit the “pain” and the “laughter”. Other memories I will save for another time and another essay.
For What It’s Worth.