As this year's Thanksgiving becomes nothing more than a memory, and visions of snowflakes appear outside my window, I cannot help but think of those blessed days of Summer back in our little home town.
If you refer back to the blog entry called A Year of Firsts, you would not be surprised to know that the only house with an air conditioner in the Smock Hill of the early 60's belonged to our parish priest. And considering how hot under the collar he would get at times, he deserved it.
For the rest of us, we had to find interesting and clever ways to cool off. You could sit in the basement next to the coal bin but most of our basements didn't smell like flowers. You could sit next to the four-bladed fan with the "G.E." (which stood for General Electric) situated in the center of that guard so that you don't cut off your fingers. Then there was the garden hose.
But for the resourceful Smock resident, there was Spillway Lake. Situated about an equal distance between Smock and Perryopolis on Route 51, Spillway Lake was an easy 10 minute drive from home. "Spillway" had a big building with the showers and bath house on the ground floor and an entertainment hall above where you can spend a lazy Sunday afternoon listening to polkas, waltzes & obereks, which is what you would also hear Johnny Sims play on the radio if you stayed at home. There was the marvelous "protection net" that gave you the feeling that you were separated from the hostile other side of the lake where fish, water snakes, and all sorts of evil creatures lurked. But we know that the net really didn't work, so you swam and you took your chances at being bitten or eaten alive.
Spillway Lake was full of magic for some lucky people like my dear friend Gene, who we know better as Bug and his wife Star, who met each other at this verdant setting decades ago.
Also, if you swam to the other side of the lake, there were rocks that you can hide behind and make your own personal brand of luck.
But as the years passed, more opulent swimming holes were formed such as the "see-ment" pool created by the Curfew Grange in Flatwoods. It lacked the black mud which oozed through your toes that Spillway Lake had. And, after swimming in this new pool, your white swim suit would not be that familiar color of yellow that branded you as a Spillway swimmer. There were no bands, no hot dogs. Nothing but clean water and a wire basket to store your clothes. I liked the fact that you could open your eyes under water at Flatwoods and actually see stuff. My friend John Michael Hovanic still cuts the grass there during the summer.
For the more enterprising few that required a lake-sized experience, there was Shady Grove Park, which was located in Lemont Furnace, PA (pronounced LEE'-mont) and was more like a 15 to 20 minute ride from Smock. Aside from the grassy area around the pool which was big enough to land the Hindenburg, the pool was equally as gargantuan. In the more shallow side was a fountain which had holes in the bottom so that you can explore the inside if you were small enough (like me). And then, there was the high dive, which you climbed a long series of steps to get to. It amazed me that you could jump from this platform and probably count to 50 before you hit the water. You can still go to Shady Grove in the summer where the daily admission is up to $7.00. SEVEN BUCKS???? It used to be 50 cents.
On Sundays, the old men gathered behind my house where there was a pretty nicely kept horseshoe pit. They'd curse, tell stories, and drink Rolling Rock pony bottles. It was located next to the ditch where Walter Dubos would cut the heads off of his chickens on Sunday. Now I know how the people felt in ancient Rome.
We had many ways to occupy ourselves while spending very little money. But the focus was that we occupied ourselves with very little planning. To do something fun on Sunday didn't require a flight plan, enroute food and two pit stops on the way.
For lack of a better way to put it, we'd just go jump in a lake.
(Thanks to Gene "Bug" Vitikacs and his dear wife Star for the inspiration on this one. You may live near Philadelphia but you'll always be my "through the wall" neighbor.)