Thursday, January 28, 2010

Youngstown Makes My Mouth Water

I moved from the Youngstown, Ohio area in 1986 to Ashland, a couple of hours away. I visit frequently, now probably once a month, to see family and friends. While I'm there, I can't resist the urge to partake of some of the different foods that are available exclusively there or at least were when I was growing up.

Often noted, Youngstown was the melting pot of many ethnic persuasions, due to many Europeans immigrating there to work in the steel mills at the turn of the twentieth century. Almost every area had a specialty restaurant or store to supply the masses with their favorite food, reminding them of their homeland. It was understood by the local population of what side of town you were going to drive to for dinner depending on your palate that night.

Everyone has their favorite Comfort Food. I'll mention a few of mine and where to find it, if it's still available. I became partial to Italian food, which is the dominant heritage in Youngstown, hence the wide array of anything that came from Italy. Pizza parlors or restaurants that featured many Italian foods dominated the landscape of places to eat. My mouth waters just thinking about some of those dishes.

It's hard to declare my favorite pizza in the Youngstown area. It's like saying which one of your kids do you like best. Elmton Pizza on Fifth Street in Struthers stands as one of the best. Their huge, greasy slices are to die for, especially on Friday nights after a football game. It's a ritual for Wildcat Fans. Their meatball subs are spectacular, too. Wedgewood Pizza in Ausintown and Boardman probably serve more pizzas than the national chains in the area. Their deep-dish style is loaded with toppings and tons of mozzarella cheese that leaves a long string from your mouth to your plate. I usually pick one up on my way home from a visit. Wedgewood even ships their pizza anywhere in the country to those home-sick Youngstown folks that have a craving.

Petrillo Pizza that was on Powers Way in The Brownlee Woods Section of Youngstown, was famous for their "sheet" pizza. Four-inch squares of high-rise pizza that was plain on toppings, but loaded with flavor. Their sauce had a lot of garlic in it that stayed with you for hours. Our high school cafeteria offered Petrillo Pizza most Fridays and it always sold out. At twenty cents a slice, it was a cheap meal. I remember having a pizza eating contest with several other sixteen year old friends. I tied another guy for the win by eating fifteen pieces of pizza! Ah, the days when my metabolism could handle anything. Petrillo closed a few years ago. Wish I had known, I would have attended the Wake.

Another main-stay of Youngstown's foods was DiRusso's Italian Sausage. Starting out as a little Mom And Pop restaurant in Lowellville, many decades ago, it has evolved into a Major Brand. Be still my heart the first time I walked into a Sam's Club and found it available by the case in the Freezer Section! I've been a fan of DiRusso's since the sixties. They had opened a small restaurant in Canfield, but it has since closed. Until their national marketing in the last few years, the only place you could get an authentic sausage sandwich was at festivals or fairs where they had a trailer. Nothing beat a DiRusso's Sausage Sub made on a Hoagie loaded with grilled onions and peppers and topped with Marinara Sauce. Yum!

The Canfield Fair, the largest county fair in the country, is held every year for a week, ending on Labor Day. I've attended the fair most years since I've been a wee tot. Nothing temps your taste buds more than the area foods offered at The Canfield Fair. DiRusso's has several trailers there as well as Richardson's French Fries. Good "Fair fries" can't be matched. Long, golden-brown fries stuffed in a cardboard cup, covered with malt vinegar and salt with optional ketchup. Some wise entrepreneur bought the old malt machines from downtown Youngstown's Strouss's Department Store after it closed and had the original recipe for the frozen concoction. Any Baby Boomer from the area had to have one if they spotted their booth. I, of course, was one on them. Similar to a Wendy's Frosty, but ten times creamier and richer, Strouss's Malts were a must have if you were shopping downtown.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Pirogi, available at many Catholic Churches in the area on Friday afternoons. The pronunciation varies as widely as the variety of filling they had available. Pa-row-gee was how I always said it. Close enough. They were thin dough squares folded over to about three inches square or in a half moon shape. Filled with potato, cheese, lectvar(prune), and/or onion. Boiled for several minutes and covered usually with a butter sauce. Once again, Yum!

One of the treats when I was on-duty at the North Side Fire Station in Struthers on Fridays was to drive the Fire Truck up to Holy Trinity Church. The sweet, old ladies making Perogi in the basement would fill my cooking pot to the rim at no charge. They loved their Firemen. We loved them back, especially on Fridays!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

We Thought We Looked Cool or Was It Hot?

Fads and fashions come and go. In the 60's and 70's in Ohio's Steel Mill Region, in and around Youngstown, kids tried to keep up with the national trends of what was "Hot" and what was "Cool". If there's a difference, I need somebody to explain it to me. Maybe I was being Hot, when I should have been Cool.

My earliest recollection of a "Must Have" item was the Nifty Notebook. It was a hard plastic notebook with a magnetic latch. The two spindles to load the paper on were at the top of the page, instead of the traditional three-ring binder. This appealed greatly to my left-handedness. No rings in the margin to get in my way. Sold! The marketers of this were geniuses. They also cornered the market on the special notebook paper required for the Nifty. Of course, it was about double the price of regular paper. After about three months of kids using these new notebooks, the teachers put a stop to it. Apparently, the odd size paper was too much for them to deal with when grading papers, so they boycotted it's use. If that was today, some left-handed kid would have sued them under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The British Invasion of many Rock Bands, brought along many items intended to woo the masses. Many fashion apparel items were adopted by kids following the clothing designs of their favorite groups. The Beatles were copied by a lot of kids with their haircuts, Beatles Boots, Pea Coats, CPO Jackets, and Mandarin Shirts. The Rolling Stones Famous T-Shirt with the Tongue Sticking Out is still popular today. A couple of American groups that created a fashion craze was The Beach Boys with Bermuda Shorts and Paisley Shirts and The Monkees with their checkered black and white pants.

Around the time of the Woodstock Music Festival, anything with a Peace Sign on it was a big seller. I had Dog Tags with a Peace Sign on one and an American Flag on another. As a sixteen year old, I also had my head shaved for football. (We all did that in those days.) I walked into a restaurant bar looking for a friend. The Bar Tender insisted I sit down and have a free beer. He noticed my Dog Tags and my lack of hair and assumed I was home from Basic Training in the military. I didn't say a word, chugged down the beer and sat there looking straight ahead. He asked me who I was with. I figured he meant what high school I was playing football for. I said, "The Struthers Wildcats". "No, no," he said, "What branch of the service are you in?" I told him I was sixteen and still in high school. He grabbed my glass and told me to leave. Can you believe it? What Nerve! Hey, I wasn't going to pass up a free beer.

Some of the boys in my class started fashion trends on their own. One kid in my class had a black Beret he wore backwards. We asked where he got it at and Paris' Men's Shop sold out their supply in a week. Black Leather Jackets were popular in high school, especially if you were a hood. I never had one, that wasn't my style or in my parent's budget. Black sneakers with white trim were a hot commodity, only available at A&A Department Store in downtown Struthers at five bucks a pair. I think that's all I wore all through high school. White Levi's were popular locally, thanks to a popular radio commercial featuring a poor duck that lamented the fact that he couldn't wear White Levis and how lucky we were that we could.

My mom, always on the cutting-edge of the fashion world,(Tongue firmly planted in cheek), bought me a zippered sweater that was red on one side and black on the other. I felt like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" that was forced to put on the Bunny Outfit the first time she made me wear it to school. The guys in my class all laughed at my sweater and asked if I was a Joker from a deck of cards. Needless to say, that was the last time I wore the sweater. I was no Fashion Setter, for sure.

I laugh when I think of some of the failed attempts of trendy fashions that were popular back in the day and how many I actually had. I actually wore Platform Shoes on my Wedding Day in 1976 and many men wore Leisure Suits to the reception. My Leisure Suit was Pea Green with a Nehru Collar. I must admit, it was much better than wearing a Tie. I wore a yellow crushed-velvet jacket to a Winter Formal in high School along with rented Patent- Leather Shoes. That went along with my Afro hair-style of my red hair. I looked a lot like Ronald McDonald, I was told. How Flattering! Thank God any pictures were burned a long time ago!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Adventures On And Under The Water

My recent post had to do with foolish stunts I had done in my life. A loyal follower had related me to a cat with nine lives. That jogged my memory to think of other near death experiences I've had. I totally forgot about my adventures with water.

A favorite Winter past time for the gang I hung around with as a grade-schooler was to walk in Yellow Creek Park in Struthers, Ohio all the way out to Hamilton Lake. The creek itself was usually frozen and we would sometimes wear our Ice Skates and be able to skate most of the way to the lake. I had visions of Hans Christian Andersen and the story of The Silver Skates. Unfortunately, this was Ohio and not Holland. Winters weren't as cold or sustained and the freezing of the creek wasn't consistent. Run-off from salt-covered streets turned the ice into mush in some parts of Yellow Creek.

We had great fun in gliding over these weak spots and watching the ice crack beneath out feet. If you happened to break through the ice, it was usually very shallow and the worst that would happen was getting a wet foot. As luck would have it, I broke through the ice near a small dam and was in water over my head. I was close enough to the edge of the creek to reach it with a couple of dog paddles and grab some overhanging tree branches to pull myself out. I'm sure if a friend had attempted to help me, he would have encountered the same fate. I was of course, soaked to the bone and had to struggle to walk up a steep incline over a mile to get home. Thankfully no one was at home and I was able to slip into a hot shower and hide my wet clothes until they dried. I'm sure my days exploring the creek would have been over if my parents learned of my mishap.

In the Summer, my family often went to a relative's cottage in Sandusky, on Lake Erie. My cousin, a couple of years older than me, was my constant companion as we spent a good part of the day in the water. I was probably eight years old and could swim well enough in a pool, but I was no match for a rough Lake Erie. One lazy afternoon, we were on blow-up plastic rafts just sunning ourselves and riding the rolling waves. I was practically asleep when I slipped off the raft and found myself well beyond the pier that went about fifty yards out into the water. The raft had drifted too far away from me and I began to panic, knowing I couldn't swim that far to shore. I hollered to my cousin and he came to my aid and helped me towards shallow water. Clearly, he saved me from drowning. We never told anyone for fear of being banned from the water.

Rose Lake, a long-closed Swimming Hole off Kirk Road in Youngstown was the site of my next calamity. Another cousin and I with whom I spent weeks with every Summer, went to Rose Lake once or twice a week to swim. I marveled at the kids that could swim across the small lake and finally mustered up the courage to try it. Needless to say, I didn't make it. About three-fourths of the way, I became too tired to swim any further and became disoriented as I struggled with each stroke. A large metal pole that was used as a marker, vertically jutted out of the water in still deep water. I clung to the pole and began calling for help. The next thing I remembered was water pouring out of my mouth as a Life Guard did compressions on my back. Still groggy from my ordeal, the owner of the lake gave us a ride home and told my Aunt and Uncle what had happened. I can only remember them scolding my cousin for not keeping a better eye on me. The poor kid, I was the one who attempted the dumb stunt.

Several hours later, I was feeling better and was sitting on my cousin's front porch. A few of his friends came by and asked if I'd like to play a game called "Pass-Out". I asked how to play and they said stand up and they would show me. I was told to lean over and take ten very deep breathes, then stand up and hold that last breath as long as I could while another kid would Bear-Hug me from behind, making you pass out. I was gullible and went along with it, doing as I was instructed. I was squeezed and sure enough, I passed out cold. I can remember a sound while I was unconscious like a herd of Buffaloes running over the top of me. I slowly came to my senses to the sound of laughter from all the kids who witnessed the event. I later learned that this "Game" had deadly consequences. Apparently, several kids had died or suffered brain injuries from lack of oxygen or hitting their heads when they passed out. As if I didn't have enough To deal with that day.

I think God has spared me on all of these occasions so I could become the Poster Boy for all those things kids should never attempt. My ignorance got me in plenty of trouble. By sheer luck or the grace of God, I'm still here. My destiny is yet to be determined.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tree Riding And Other Stupid Stuff

The Grim Reaper eventually comes calling on all of us. Depending how you've led your life decides whether he turns left or right at the Crossroad. I've came very close to meeting him face-to-face on several occasions, knowingly and unknowingly, by sheer luck. When I look back at some of those moments, especially in my youth, I ask myself one basic question,"What the Hell was I thinking?"

I think most active boys, especially in the Blue-Collar Steel Town I came from dared each other to feats of athletic prowess as a rite of passage. Kind of a stepped up version of Follow The Leader. I recall several occasions in my pre-teen years of challenging somebody or they challenging me. One stunt involved jumping from the top of a culvert pipe to a creek bed below, a distance of about fifteen feet. I just so happen to be familiar with the area around the creek bed, having walked through the creek many times before. I jumped first landing very close to the wall of the culvert, but in about six inches of soft mud, knowing the mud would cushion my fall. I was a muck-covered mess. Everyone laughed, but I suffered no injuries. My friend wasn't so lucky. He jumped far out and landed on the rocky creek bottom, severely spraining his ankle. I clearly won that round.

The next episode was started by a buddy I think was part Monkey. He was always climbing trees and swinging from limb to limb. He invented a game of "Riding A Tree down". He would pick out a young tree about 25-30 feet tall and 6-8 inches in diameter in a woods we often hung out in. He would climb to the very top of the tree and begin swinging violently back and forth. This would continue for several minutes until the tree would eventually snap from the stress of the bending and he would "ride" it to the ground, totally uninjured. I thought it looked like fun and told him I could do it,too. We picked out a suitable tree and up I climbed. I began swinging and didn't realise my friend had also wrapped his legs around the trunk for added gripping power. After about a minute, my hands lost their grip and I fell down through the tree like a pinball, bouncing off of several branches before landing with a thud on thankfully soft ground. Besides having "My Bell Rung" and some bruised ribs, I was O.K. My friend definitely won that round!

Moving into my Teen Years, stupidity didn't take a holiday. Not long after getting my Driver's License, I was tooling around town with my buddies in my Clunker of a car. For some unknown reason, my friend that was riding Shotgun in the passenger seat hollered out that "You're in last place!" I think it was from a line in a movie, but in any event, I felt obliged to floor the accelerator. Problem was the gas pedal stuck to the floor! I panicked, being a young inexperienced driver. I just started steering like Richard Petty, yelling over and over, "What should I do?" My buddy reached over and simply turned off the ignition and said slowly pull off on to the side of the road. I sheepishly listened to him as we glided to a stop. We popped the gas pedal out that was buried in the carpeting and went on our way. I screamed at my friend to "Never tell me we're in last place again!"

My next act of stupidity was in my adult years. I've had a motorcycle since I've been eighteen. After pulling my bike out of storage from the Winter, I noticed I needed new license plates for it, so I rode it in to town on some winding country roads to avoid detection from police of my expired plates. Something had blown out of my pocket as I tooled down the road. I quickly turned around and retrieved the paper, hopped on the motorcycle and was on my way again.

About a mile down the road, it curved sharply to the left. I leaned the bike into the curve too late to realise I had left the kick stand down. The kick stand dug deeply into the asphalt and I was going to fast to stop in the middle of the curve. Unfortunately, I ran out of road and wound up in a deep ditch. I was vaulted over the windshield and landed in some high grass. I took stock of my situation and attempted to get up. That's when I noticed my right elbow was now where my bicep was. Apparently in shock, I felt no pain, but I couldn't get out of the ditch on my own. I wasn't visible from the road, so every car that passed, I whistled as loud as I could. Eventually someone stopped and found me. Two months later, I was as good as new. Ironically, the next year, all motorcycles were manufactured with a Kill Switch that wouldn't let the bike run with the kick stand down. Gee, I can't imagine why...

As a Fireman, during a benefit softball game we were having, we received a call for an apartment fire above a machine shop. I arrived at the scene and donned my fire gear which consisted of a helmet, coat, gloves, and thigh-high boots. Coming from the ball field, all I had on was shorts and a tee shirt. The upstairs was roaring with fire by now. Fire Hose in hand, I made my way up the steps, extiguishing the flames as I went. Unfortunately, the hot embers found their way into the top of my boots because I had shorts on and they weren't very tight around my thighs. I could only stand the burning sensation for so long, then immediately turned the Fire Hose on myself and squirted water down my boots. We got the fire out quickly and I retreated to the Fire House to tend to several quarter-size blisters on my legs. needless to say, I always made sure I had an extra pair of pants with my Fire Gear.

It's taken me many years to think of the consequences of my actions at the time I'm doing something. By obtaining a Doctorate from The School of Hard Knocks, I hope I can pass along more common sense to my children then I had at their age. As they say, at least at the end of this life, I can slide into home safely and say, 'What A Ride!"

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Version Of The Culture Club

The culture my father had could be held in a thimble. It really wasn't his fault. His up bringing in the hard scrabble neighborhood off Hillman Street on Youngstown's South Side didn't lend itself to being a place remotely considered High Society.

My mother on the other hand, had "Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget", as my Dad used to say. Mom grew up in Struthers, far from a life of the privileged, the oldest of four other siblings. Her father labored in the Steel Mills and later was an electrician at an industrial plant. Her mother was raised in the hills of Kentucky in a conservative religious family.

Besides a short stint for about a year in New York City as a telephone Operator, all my mother really knew about the world she learned from the comforts of Suburbia Youngstown, Ohio. She appeared content, but you knew underneath, there was a George Bailey from "It's A Wonderful Life", wanting to explore the world.

Mom used our annual 2-3 week family vacations to teach us as much about the sites we were to see as possible. Thanks to her AAA Travel Books, atlases, and campground guides, she gave everyone a narrative when touring about the history of our current location. All of us kids and Dad would look at each other and roll our eyes, as if to say, "Here we go again." Mom would occasionally catch our bored glances and tell us how lucky we were to be able to see these sights. It would be thirty years before I realized how right she was.

Mom insisted on teaching us some things about the finer things in life and proper etiquette. Proper table manners were drilled into us on a regular basis and she enlisted my father's help in enforcing the rules. I can remember my elbow being knocked off the table or getting jabbed with a fork for reaching across the table. I believe Emily Post, the manners and etiquette author, had a firm grip on my Mom's physique. She frequently said that we would go further in life with good manners than a good education. In a lot of respects, I suppose her words rang true. Today, a good combination of both would serve us better.

Mom and Dad loved to dance, regardless of their strict Baptist upbringings, which prohibited it. As a teenager, my mother would sneak off to The Point, a dance hall on the outskirts of Youngstown, to dance the night away. It's alledged she even smoked a cigarette or two, back then. The audacity, can you imagine! I guess we all need to sow our Wild Oats.

In any event, after my folks married, they started a dance club with their friends. About once a month, several couple would converge on our Rec Room to "Cut a Rug", as they used to say. Couples with children were encouraged to bring them to learn to dance. Between our Basement Ballroom and the Masonic functions I got dragged to, I felt comfortable dancing at a young age. I must admit, I had an advantage on a lot of my peers at those awkward Junior High Dances. I wasn't afraid to ask a girl to dance.

Because my Dad usually worked the afternoon shift, I became Mom's escort for anything going on during the week. She had joined The Monday Musical Club at Stambaugh Auditorium which featured primarily Classical Music and Pre-Rock and Roll Artists. Despite my whining, I was expected to be showered with my suit and tie on by 6:30 P.M. to leave for my Monday Plunge into Culture. I actually enjoyed most of the performances and got to see a lot of top acts in the day. Needless to say, I never gave my mom the satisfaction of telling her that until well into my adult years. I had played that card for years that I was doing her a huge favor.

My mother's Glory Years are long behind her as she withers away in a Nursing Home with Alzheimer's Disease. For that matter, the prime of my youth is long behind me. I can never forget the dedication Mom put forth to her children to try and give them the best she could. She certainly expanded my horizons and raised the bar for her expectations of what I should become. I became a lot more than what I would have with her guidance and learned a lot more than I would have at the local pool hall. Also, as a bonus, you'll never see my three children with their elbow on the table.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I Got It All from Him

Anyone who knows me and my family knows where my sense of humor came from. My father, Clarence, better known as C.B. was the ultimate joker and king of the one-liners. Dad always called 'em like he saw 'em and wasn't intimidated by anyone.

You had better have been prepared if you came to our house for any reason. My sisters as teenagers would frequently invite girls over and first they would have to pass the muster of my Pop's humor. For instance, a girl might be introduced to C.B. and he would take their hand and pull them into an embrace and ask, How ya doing, Baby Doll?", in his most sexy voice. The girl would do one of two things, cringe or howl in laughter. If she laughed, she passed Dad's test. Another one who could take a joke.

One time, my oldest sister had a date. The guy rang the doorbell and I answered the door and let him in the house. Around the corner of the living room came my father, donned in a shoulder-length blonde wig! Dad sashayed towards him and in his best lispy voice said,"Hi! How are YOU!" The poor kid could only stammer that he was fine. I thought my sister was going to climb under the coffee table. She apologized for my dad's antics and they quickly left. If looks could kill, Dad was a dead man!

No one came closer to the persona of Archie Bunker than my father. Very set in his ways and leary of anything having to do with change. He, like many of his generation, grew up in a pretty segregated neighborhood and didn't have much exposure to people from different religious or ethnic backgrounds. Some friends and family, including myself, used this knowledge of my dad to play a joke on him.

My father was the kind of guy who didn't believe in sharing his business or personal information with neighbors. That's all the information a friend of his and his family needed to get one over on C.B., but good. A couple of days after his June birthday, we heard all this racket coming from up the street, getting louder as it approached our house. Dad's Friends were hanging out of their car windows with patriotic music blaring, carrying huge banners proclaiming that "Tuesday Was Clarence's Birthday!". Several cars whipped in our driveway blowing their horns and wouldn't stop until Dad came out to greet them. They had given him several gag gifts including an old suitcase full of all kinds of junk, like used toothpaste tubes and old telephone directories. He received a Milk Weed plant in a milk bottle and promptly planted it near the bird bath where it flourished for years. I think he planted it as a reminder of how much his friends cared about him.

I finally had my chance to get even with Dad's sense of humor by preying on his prejudice of black people. I shared this information with a black friend of mine in high school. He just happened to be a Tackle on the Football team and was a very intimidating figure at about 6'4" and 250 pounds. This kid had a great sense of humor and conspired with me to teach this "Cracker" a lesson.

After school one day, I had my friend come to my house, knowing my dad would answer the door. We discussed a dialog and it went perfectly. My father's eyes were as big as saucers when he saw this huge black guy as he answered the door. My friend said," I understand you don't like us black people. Is that right?" My dad began stammering as he replied that my black friend must be mistaken.(I was conveniently out of sight.)"Well, than you won't mind if I go out with your daughter this weekend, will you?" My father told him he didn't think that would be a good idea, seeing that my sister had a lot of homework to do. My friend couldn't take it any more and just busted out laughing in front of him. I came out of hiding and joined him in a good belly laugh, complete with tears, right in front of dad. It was my turn for the "If looks could kill" stare from my dad. Until the day he died, I teased him about that one.

Poor Dad unfortunately had Prostate Cancer in the early 80's and had to have his testicles removed. Naturally, I felt very sorry for him and went to visit him shortly after surgery. The anesthetic was still wearing off as he motioned to me to come closer, since he could only talk at a whisper. In a voice reminiscent of Don Corleone from The Godfather, he said,"Tom, I want you to make a phone call for me." "Sure, Dad, anything you want me to do,"I said, sympathetically. I was on the verge of tears. "I want you to call Blackie for me",he said. Blackie was the unaffectionate name my father had given my dark-skinned Hungarian Ex-Brother-In-Law. "Sure Pop. Why do you want me to call him", I asked. "Tell him about the surgery I just had and tell him I STILL have more balls than he does!" That was my Dad, humor was NEVER out of place.

I believe humor got my father through many tough times in his life. Fatherless from the age of three, The Depression, combat in World War II, Trying to provide for his family during lay-offs and tough times in Youngstown, Ohio's economy, they all had to take their toll on him. I never knew my dad without compassion towards anyone who genuinely deserved it. He taught me that humor "breaks the ice", in uncomfortable situations and wins people over to being friendly and not afraid to talk to you if they're shy. "Good night, Mr. Rupe! Where ever you are!"

Sunday, January 3, 2010

It's A Long Way To Tippy, Really

Growing up in the late 60's and early 70's, I was always looking to make a buck to supplement my two dollar a week allowance my dad gave me every Saturday morning. I did plenty of the usual neighborhood jobs such as cutting grass, raking leaves, and shoveling snow. I kept the same regular customers season to season. The extra money kept me supplied in comic books, trading cards, and Sky Scraper Ice Cream Cones at Isaly's Dairy Store.

A new family moved into our neighborhood in the late 60's and I soon learned from their four boys how to make some REAL money by Caddying at Tippecanoe Country Club.

Golf was still pretty foreign to me, so I asked a bajillion questions about how to go about being a Caddy. I learned that The Club Professional actually conducted a class one morning a week on the Do's and Dont's of Caddying, how to rake a Sand Trap, determining yardage, etiquette, which club to use, etc. I decided I was in and told one of the boys I would go with him the next time they had a class.

The appointed day arrived and I anxiously knocked on my neighbor's door to start this new adventure. I was twelve at the time, the minimum age to Caddy. I asked how we were getting to the country club, which was nine miles away. He said we were going to "Thumb". "What?, I asked, What is that?" "Hitchhike, Ya Dummy, Ya know, put out your thumb and bum a ride from somebody!" Of course, I'd seen kids hitchhiking before, but had never actually done it myself. Too late to turn back now, I thought, so we headed up the street to the main road towards 'Tippy" as the country club was known to everyone.

It didn't take long for someone to stop and offer us a ride as we began "Thumbing". Fortunately, it was a very direct route with no turns until the last quarter mile on the road the country club was located on. Golfers were also on the look out for boys hitchhiking along the way, too, knowing they were probably headed to Tippy. The dangers and stigma associated with hitchhiking was nothing compared to today. Even my conservative parents had no problem with me hitching a ride.

We finally arrived at Tippecanoe Country Club and walked up the long driveway to this Grand Mansion and Golf Course nestled in the woods. My Middle-Class Mouth was wide open in awe at the magnificent sights before me. So, this is how that "Other half" lives, eh? I could get used to this lifestyle! Of course, being a lowly Caddy, I never got to see the inside of the club, in fact, we couldn't even use their restrooms. We had to walk into the woods and water a tree somewhere. If you had to do something else, plenty of leaves were available for your convenience.

I attended the Caddy School and immediately went to work. Most days were very busy and the pool of about fifty Caddies at any given time, usually had no problem in getting assigned to a golfer. The man assigning the caddies was called the Starter, staying on his good side was a good thing, I quickly learned. There was a pecking order in The Caddy Yard. More experienced or older Caddies were given the better golfers and the golfers that were considered good tippers. You could hear the audible groans when somebody would be assigned to a notorious Tight-Wad.

Minimum wage was $1.60 an hour then. Caddying paid $4.50 for nine holes and $9.00 for eighteen holes, plus tip for a single bag. If the course was very busy, you might get to carry two bags at the same time or "Doubles", as it was called. Double the work catering to two golfers, but double the money. a round of eighteen holes typically took four hours. If a boy carried Doubles twice in a day, he could make a cool forty bucks! That wasn't bad for a twelve year old, "still wet behind the ears", my dad used to say, whatever that meant.

Over that first Summer of Caddying, I made easily enough money to ironically, buy my first set of golf clubs. Taking up the game taught me that it's a lot harder than it looks. It did give me a better understanding of the game and to know the rules. I learned on a course near Struthers called Countryside. A perfect name for it in its early days. It was a glorified Cow Pasture, complete with Cow Patties sprinkled about the Fairways! I remember a silo on the ninth hole. None the less, A gang of about 8-10 neighborhood kids would golf there a couple of times a week.

After a long day of Caddying, I still had to face the nine mile trip home. On a hot Summer day with little shade and few rides while hitchhiking, it could be drudgery. I sometimes would spread out under some body's big tree in their front yard, taking a rest and often falling asleep in the cool grass. I'd awake from my short nap and continue the long walk towards home. Occasionally, I had to walk the entire way. Of course, I embellish the story when I tell the kids about it. You know, twenty miles both ways, all uphill, in a foot of snow. It just felt like it some days.

I caddied until I was sixteen, when I got a "Real" job. It was hard work, but also a lot of fun and I treasure the experiences. I was fortunate enough to Caddy for the eventual winner of The Ohio Amateur Tournament held at Tippecanoe. I got tipped fifty dollars and I felt like I was the one who won! Never did get to use that restroom in the Club House though...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Great Tower Caper

Struthers High school had the distinction of being the first secondary school in the nation to offer a vocational program in Radio. WKTL-FM went on the air in the late 60's and offered a wide array of programming to the general public. Classic Rock And Roll, Classical, Jazz, Big Band, and even Polka were featured regularly. The Polka Program was hosted by the Wood Shop Teacher.

A lot of Students started out "learning the ropes" at WKTL and went on to careers in Broadcasting. Football and basketball games were broadcast live with the students trying their best to remain neutral and professional while announcing the games. I can recall a couple of occasions while listening, that the kid would about swallow his microphone getting so excited over a particular play. I believe they called it "over-modulation". Listening you would encounter periods of dead silence. A flustered announcer would start spitting out statistics about the game that was a repeat of what he said two minutes ago, just to fill the time.

The kids in the radio program became known as "WKTLers" or "Radio Heads" to the general school population. Another clique to go with the Greasers, Preppies, or Jocks. I guess the majority of the students in radio could be classified as "Geeks" today. I think I remember a few wearing pocket protectors and having taped glasses.

The teacher that got Struthers High started in radio had a background with a major station in Youngstown. I'm not sure where all the money came from to construct the station. It was housed in some old second floor offices in the field house, conveniently located overlooking the Basketball Court. I'm sure some equipment was donated and a huge tower was erected, about 150 feet high, at the corner of the field house. You could see the tower from most places in town if trees weren't in your way.

As I've written before, I grew up in a house across a field from Struthers High School in Ohio. My bedroom was on the second floor of our Cape Cod Style house and from the back window, I had a great view of the school and the field house, which was a huge gymnasium. As a kid I always wondered if the radio tower fell, would it hit our house?

Early one June beautiful Summer day, I awoke and went to the window to catch a breath of the cool morning air. I looked towards the High school and noticed something hanging from the top of the radio tower. Trying my best to wipe the sleep out of my eyes and focus, I realised it was a bed sheet with writing on it. Finally a stiff enough breeze blew the sheet straight without flapping in the wind and I could read it. In big blue letters it simply proclaimed,"HOWDY BLOWS". Howdy happened to be the nickname of our high school Principal. Hmmm...I don't think it was a coincidence.

I immediately sprung into action and started calling every friend that I could think of to come and see this spectacle! I drove over to one of my buddie's house and literally dragged him out of bed to come with me to see a surprise. His mother and four siblings tagged along to witness it, too. I would say there was fifty people at the school by the time we arrived, along with the Fire and Police Departments.

A Beet Red Howdy was there, yelling at the top of his lungs for someone to climb up there and get that sheet down. A large, overweight Patrolman was laughing so hard, tears were running down his face. I also then understood what they meant about Santa's belly jiggling like a bowlful of jelly. This Cop had it shakin'! Howdy was getting madder and redder by the second and I think it dawned on him to try a kinder approach with Struthers' Safety Forces. Finally, a sympathetic Fireman climbed the tower and took the sheet down as the crowd loudly booed his efforts.

No one was ever caught for the "Great Tower Caper" as it became stuff of legend in our community. Not long after my graduation I learned who the culprits were in pulling off the best practical joke that Struthers ever witnessed. I'll never tell, these guys were my heroes!