Monday, June 28, 2010

Keeping Busy At Mauthe Park

Mauthe Park in Struthers, Ohio was dedicated in the early 60's. A large park by small-city standards, Mauthe filled a niche in the west end of the city for a recreation area. Little League Baseball fields were created and the park became the focal point of Summer activity, sun up to sun down.

A large playground with the usual assortment of equipment was available. Teeter-todders, a Jungle Gym (better known as Monkey Bars), a Merry-Go-Round, and swings that were suspended from sixteen foot poles kept all the kids busy trying them all.

The city version of Horse Shoes, Ringers also was played there. The Ringers game for the uniformed, was similar to tossing horse shoes except large washers were used and thrown towards a five inch piece of pipe that was buried to ground level. I remember getting many a bruised shin bone from the washers bouncing off the pipe and banging into your leg. Many a boy derived extra pleasure in beating an opponent and causing a few bruises to their shins in the process.

During Struthers' good economic years when the steel mills and industry was going strong, the Parks and Recreation Department hired playground supervisors and held craft and activity classes. I'm sure there are still some Popsicle houses, plaster crafts, and vinyl braided key chains laying around some one's basement. I remember my dad using a key chain I made him well into his Golden Years.

The City Fathers acquired a retired fighter jet and mounted it on large concrete pilings in the park. Many a boy spent countless hours sitting in the cockpit pretending to shoot down enemy aircraft. Unfortunately, the jet fell victim to senseless vandalism and it had to be removed after a couple of years. I never did or never will understand the mentality of kids to destroy things for no good reason. I guess our high school principal was right when he said it the two percent that ruin it for everyone else.

Back in the 60's, I encountered one of my life's biggest disappointments at Mauthe's Baseball practice field. I was "cut" from the Little League team I tried out for, The Fifth Street Plaza Cardinals. I cried all the way on my bike ride home. It was tough to take as an eight year old. My father consoled me and immediately took me to the batting cages at Riley's Fun Spot to begin working on making the team next year. It paid off. I made the teams I tried out for every year after that. No one gets left off the roster in baseball these days. I can see both sides of it, but in my case, I thinking it created ambition in me I didn't know I had. Learning to live with rejection builds character, too. There was no coddling, just perseverance taught by our parents.

A new municipal swimming pool was built at Mauthe Park in the 70's. a rather non-descript Z-shaped pool with a nice size bath house. A lot of children learned to swim there with morning lessons and cooled off on those sweltering Summer days. Unfortunately, The pool was permanently closed when it developed large cracks in it and loss of water. Investigation revealed that the pool was built over abandoned coal mines and the ground had collapsed beneath it. I don't know if anyone took the blame for that mistake, but the kids of Struthers are now left with running through their sprinkler in the back yard.

All the neighborhood city parks have been closed. Economic factors and population shift is to blame. I'm so disappointed for the area youth. I spent many hours of my formative years in the city parks and it helped keep me out of mischief I'm sure I would have gotten in to if left to my own entertainment. The Mill Creek Park Commission of Youngstown took over ownership and maintenance of Yellow Creek Park which is the last vestige of nature left in my home town. I hope that the citizens of Struthers continue to use and appreciate the beauty of what's left in a once proud, thriving city.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Those Boring Summer Days

Contrary to popular belief, Struthers, Ohio, a suburb of Youngstown, was not always an exciting place to live. Especially for a school-age kid in the sixties and seventies. As much as we celebrated the end of a school year and the beginning of Summer vacation, within about two weeks, most of the kids in my neighborhood were bored to tears.

All of us kids seemed to go through spurts of different activities. Someone would come up with an idea and by acclimation, the group decided if it was worthy of wasting an afternoon doing it.We always had the old stand-bys of going to Fifth Street Park and hanging out and playing Washers or go hiking through Yellow Creek Park or maybe fishing at Hamilton Lake.

One boy's father made him a pair of stilts out of a split two by four with triangle wood wedges for footrests. We all faked admiration to his dad about what great workmanship he did on the stilts and before you knew it, he made a pair of stilts for every boy on the street that wanted them. For a good two weeks, we became Stilt- Walkin' Fools! Up and down the street, in and out of driveways, across yards, and even up concrete steps. After many scraped knees, bumps on the Noggins,(before Bike Helmets), and countless races, the stilts began collecting dust in the corners of our garages.

By the time I hit the junior high years, we neighborhood boys apparently had reached an intellectual phase. He started getting into board games every afternoon on some body's porch. Risk, Mouse Trap, Monopoly, and Scrabble were just some of the few we played. Jeopardy! was probably the group favorite with it's little "Cricket" clicker you used to signal you had an answer. Within a couple of weeks, everyone had memorized the answers and it wasn't fun any more. Time to break out a different game.

Many of us took up golf and learned the game while caddying at Tippecanoe Country Club. Many an afternoon was spent at Countryside Golf Course playing as much golf as daylight would allow. It was fairly cheap to play there. The course was in it's early days of being constructed and part of the hazards was an occasional cow on a fairway. I do remember bouncing a golf shot off a silo on the ninth hole and the ball landing about three feet from the hole. Every dime we made caddying was spent on green fees and golf equipment.

During our pre-driving years, most of the neighborhood kids walked to Struthers' Municipal Swimming Pool, better know as "The Birdbath", down at the bottom of Wetmore Hill. A huge circular pool with a fenced-in diving platform in the center. The chlorine was so strong that if you opened your eyes under water, they would sting and be red for days. All the Little Leaguers were forbidden to swim on game days and the red eyes were a dead give-away to your coach if you had been to the pool.

By the time we got our driver's licenses, the world became our oyster. All though most of us were restricted to staying within the city limits by our parents, trips to Cincinnati that was five hours away or a one hour trip to Pittsburgh, were not uncommon. We just pooled our gas money and hit the road. It was nice when gas was 32 cents a gallon. If our parents only knew we would still be grounded.

It's funny now, thirty years later when I bump into some one from the old neighborhood. Many a conversation begins with,"Remember the time...". Yes, I DO remember the times. Looking back on some of the best times of my life that I thought then, were the Boring Days of Summer. We made our fun and created memories we will always cherish and tell our kids about.