Friday, September 22, 2006

when i was ten, we moved from toledo to pittsburgh, around 1964; we noticed a big difference right away. pittsburgh was very hilly, full of woods, and the streets weren't straight and gridded; they wound around and down hills and such. our house was on a brick street on a hill; down behind it was an orphanage, their small baseball field and a woods; way back beyond the woods was Howe elementary school where i had my first male teacher and another one too. in junior high we'd walk a mile or more, along trolley tracks, through woods; sometimes across a trolley trestle, in all kinds of weather, to get there; we feared the 'hoods' and a certain trolley driver we called 'eagle eye'...we played baseball a lot; the kids in the orphanage often gave us enough people for a decent game. the schoolyard had a better field but was too far away; one would miss the dinner bell, if one wasn't careful.

people had a different accent. they said 'gum band' instead of 'rubber band' and had strange vowels which were very interesting to me. i got a paper route and went around collecting 42 cents a week, but mostly people didn't say much; they just gave me 50 and told me to keep the change. early in the morning, i'd open one fresh paper and see if the indians won, but usually they didn't. sometimes we'd go to pirates games in forbes field; my brother got free tickets for getting straight a's in school, and we could take the trolley downtown (dahntahn) and transfer- for a day of roberto clemente and the gang. clemente i still maintain was the best player ever, mostly because he could and would throw a perfect strike from the right field wall to home, and catch the runner. pirates pitchers gave him lots of opportunities.

my parents put illuminaria on the sidewalks at christmas and my dad had a ham radio tower which was a sight because we were on the hill. our yard had three levels and i had to mow all three, and the neighbor's too; i became philosophically opposed to the concept of mowing lawns but it didn't do any good; had to mow anyway, then drag the mower back up the hill to the house. i sledded one time and, unable to stop, crashed over the orphanage wall into the little walkway directly outside someone's window. we liked the orphanage - mom wasn't crazy about that story - but the heavy snow had cushioned the fall, nobody was hurt, and they were tolerant down there, i guess. if they got mad i didn't know about it.

with the paper route money i bought a cello and this was the only thing that kept me from spending entire summers playing monopoly or baseball-card baseball, a card-flipping game involving a woven rug that you would aim for and hope the card's corner hit the appropriate spot. We'd play real baseball if we could, or tag, or capture the flag, until we got older and just took up too much room. my brother was often not involved in this; he'd play chess, go downtown (dahntahn) for a tournament, fall asleep on the trolley home and end up in castle shannon. but there were lots of kids in the neighborhood and i got plenty of fresh air, even in the peak of the monopoly craze.

my best friend bobby heckman ended up in florida, i guess, but was with me all five of those years, though he was a couple of years behind me and not always in the same school. another kid, paul, was rarely allowed out of the house unsupervised, and we became impatient with that, though i'm sure his parents had good reasons. i still think about him on august 1, don't know where he ended up.

but dec. 27 is paper route day- one would get a paper route on a day like this, of course, so that the previous paperboy would not lose out on christmas tips...and i'll never forget walking around every morning at 5:30 am, folding and throwing pittsburgh post-gazettes up onto porches, climbing steep hills, rustling out deer, occasionally getting spooked by a shadow or some snow that would be shaped like a person's head. nobody was ever up at that hour, or at least, nobody was on the street, nobody was on the paths i walked. one night i was out there, and a meteor shower lit up the sky- thousands and thousands of shooting stars, everywhere. in amazement i actually stopped- usually i had a tight schedule and didn't do this- but i lay down on some grass and just watched it for a while. i felt like waking everyone up, but decided not to. daylight was coming surely and steadily anyway- and soon overtook us- a new day arrived, and i took a shower and went to school. i had a secret, though. the natural world was awesome, and i knew it for a fact. but i also knew that words weren't adequate to describe it; and, even if they were, most people weren't listening. my dad, a nature photographer, would have understood- but he was beginning to get overloaded from the stress of four kids, and another lousy chemical engineering situation, i think. he did take us camping in that era- to kelly pines in northern pa, and down to w-va to some caves known as the sinks of gandhi- my mother was into it too, and we'd go out, pitch tents, make a fire, breathe in the woods. those were the good times. sure, i had some anger building up. i was not producing the grades the way my brother was. but somehow, under those millions of stars, i got the message: i was lucky; i'd seen the best of the natural world, the birds singing, the deer out at their own hour; the heightened awareness of the break of dawn. i was wide awake- i saw it every day, except sunday- at the price, of course, of missing the evening news, at night.


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