Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

So what did Father's Day mean in our little town of Smock? Since it fell on a Sunday, everyone except the one non-Catholic family in Smock went to St. Hedwig's church to listen to the bilingual sermon. Half in English, half in Slovak. Actually, the preaching from the pulpit was more like being scolded for doing some heinous crime like leaving church during communion or not coughing up the money to be publically listed in the church bulletin in the "Dollar A Sunday Club". I remember that the people who gave 5, 10, 15, and an unbelievable twenty bucks a Sunday were listed too so that the givers could gloat and the people who just dropped coins in the wire baskets could envy. Man, twenty bucks. Actually in those days, it probably paid for the electric bill for an entire month.

If you were a boy, you were expected to be an altar boy. Girls were banished to the choir or the Sodality, a word whose definition had escaped me since the boys never had such a "club". Our nicknames never changed when we were listed in the bulletin to serve at mass for the following week and Sunday. Imagine waking up at 6:30 to run down the street, change into a robe that made us look like mini-priests, and then after all of this discipline, head off to school? But the names like Junie and Zimmy and Kikel and Pecker (that is no misprint) would be listed every week or two to undergo the scrutiny and discipline of the parish priest, who at that time, was allowed to smack you across your head if you goofed up.

For our efforts, we were rewarded by a once a month bus trip to Shadowland, a skating rink in Uniontown that later became a supermarket, and even later, a drug store. We traveled with the Sodality girls so that we had things to confess on Saturday evening. It was not unheard of to stand in line for up to an hour to wait to get inside that confessional only so that the others outside would hear the priest bellow "You did WHAT????" I used to live in fear that my penance would include being lashed by whips that were wielded by the nuns.

Oh, FATHER'S DAY. In church, the priest would thank all of the fathers in the crowd for not killing their offspring in the last calendar year while also reminding everyone that HE was called "father" in hopes of getting a few monetary gifts. (He wasn't crazy about being invited to dinner since he had an aversion to cooked cabbage.)

I do not have any recollection of my own father on these days, but I remember what my grandfather used to do. Like every summer Sunday, he'd come up to the area in the back alley behind our house and pitch horseshoes with the other men. And of course, they'd drink Rolling Rock in those little green "pony" bottles, spit, curse, and when the conversations got racy, they'd launch into Slovak or Polish to keep the little ears from hearing.

Father's Day was not special in Smock since we felt that every day was Father's Day. Dad was a guy that was to be respected and obeyed in every fashion or face having your hind quarters blistered by a "pit belt", the wide leather belt that the men wore while in the mine.

So that was it. Happy Father's Day, dad. And he'd look at you, belch a couple of times, tell you that "you better watch it if you know what's good for you" and go and play horseshoes.

I never got the chance to do all of those things that were reserved for dad's and grandparents. But I remember and somehow, that's good enough.

Monday, June 2, 2008

On the banks of the mighty Redstone

We called it the sulphur creek. Sounds like the name of a body of water that flowed through hell.

If you travel South from Smock toward Uniontown, you will see a ridge line just East of the city. That is called Chestnut Ridge. There is a town by the same name, but for accuracy, we're talking mountain and not town. It is on the Western bank of Chestnut Ridge that the Redstone Creek originates. But before it hits Smock, the watershed takes a detour through an old mine where sulphur was found. Hence, the brilliant orange hue that one sees when viewing the creek from the bridge that separates Smock Hill from "the other side" of Smock.

It was impossible to lie and say that you didn't go swimming in the creek during the summer months since your skin and clothes matched the creek's color.

Also, it was an absolute haven for shooters who floated bottles, both plastic and glass, down the river to serve as a moving target. It was already contaminated so "what the heck" was the attitude back then.

There were several ways to cross Redstone Creek and several reasons why one would do that. In the fall, when the kids stole horse corn from a local Smock farmer, you had to cross the creek to avoid being caught carrying corn husks stuffed in every pocket, down your pants, inside your shirt and in that burlap sack that you would procure. The corn was removed from husk and cob and then a few days would pass to insure the corn was hard. VERY hard. This way, on or near Halloween, we would fill our pockets with massive quantities of this stuff to throw at houses. Wooden houses with big picture windows. We never destroyed anything, but the sound of six kids simultaneously throwing this stuff onto your porch at night could scare you right out of your chair. We called this "racking" houses. It was free, fun, and made the homeowners furious.

Another Redstone crossing was what was called the Number 4 bridge. It was a railroad bridge that crossed the creek and made a superior platform in which to shoot at moving targets. The younger folks in Smock used .22 caliber rifles, but lately, have "graduated" to any number of American and Russian assault rifles. The creek remains pretty contaminated so there is no fear of people cutting their feet on what is most probably a 6 foot thickness of broken glass in the creek bed.

What is true about this body of water in the region of Smock is that I cannot recall anyone ever having an accident near or on the shore, let alone in the water. Sure, you'd hear about the odd dead body of a deer or unwanted spouse near Uniontown, but never at Smock. Just broken glass and euthanized cats.

The environmentalists may not appreciate my musings, but every word of this is true to this very day. Some people had Disney World. We had the Redstone Creek.

This day's blog is brought to you by Nick The Barber. I didn't know Nick's last name until I was in the 7th grade. He was just Nick and he was Italian. Smock didn't have many Italians, but in order to maximize the stereotype, we had Nick. You got the haircut Nick gave you. You wanted him to leave parts of your hair long? Too bad. Offended by cigarette smoke? Too bad. Afraid of fire? Too bad. (Nick actually "singed" hair. It was an art he learned when he was young back in Ancient Rome.) So for the best buck seventy-five haircut that you didn't want, Nick was your man. And his shop overlooked the Redstone Creek. Just as it should.