Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sunoco dealers plan bombing of Northern Lights

So, yesterday I was skimming some old issues of The Beaver County Times* when I came across this ad:

Sunoco ad
advertising "bombing" of Northern Lights,
Beaver County Times, January 31, 1969

On February 1, 1969, Sunoco planned to "bomb" Northern Lights by dropping 3,000 Styrofoam balls from an airplane onto, I presume, the shopping center's parking lot, to draw attention to "The New Sunoco Antique Car Coin Game."

Nothing for kids to do except catch the balls--and try to scramble for the higher coin-value blue or yellow balls--and then nag their parents during the following week to take them to one of the listed Sunoco stations to redeem the balls they'd collected for New Sunoco Antique Car Coin Game coins. And maybe they'd win dinner with Romper Room's Miss Pat.

Because nothing says "Antique Car Coins" and "Dinner with Miss Pat!" from Romper Room like bombing a shopping center with Styrofoam balls.

Romper Room. So targeting pre-schoool age kids.

Young kids trying to catch balls.

3,000 Styrofoam balls.

Dropping from a plane.

In the Northern Lights parking lot.

What could go wrong?

I was away at college at the time, so I didn't know about this promotion until yesterday, but I assume that nothing awful happened since there was nothing about the "bombing gone wrong; what were they thinking?!" in the next issue of the Times.

I wonder how well a similar ad promoting a "bombing" of a shopping center would go over today. Even back then, the U.S. was in the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War, so perhaps a plan for a "bombing" via a plane was not the best image for promoting a game.

Does anyone remember the "bombing"?

*Yes, that's what my life has come down to recently, skimming old newspapers and surfing websites to find information for this blog.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Father Wore a Hat

Wiki Images
by Robert Giles

Most of the time, Dad wore a fedora – the one I remember best was black and grey herringbone tweed. There was a tiny blue feather in the hat band. 

It sounds dressy and it may have started out that way. But hats have a way of getting more comfortable after two or three years. I think that particular hat served Dad at least eleven years.  Near its end, it looked extremely comfortable.

Dad wore the fedora to church or when he went to the bank or when we visited relatives. When he went to work in the mill, he wore a grey cloth cap like a baseball cap, only with lighter material and a wider visor. It had tiny metal grommets that circled the crown. At the apex was a small round metal button.

Was there a badge with a number on it pinned above the brim? I think there was, at least during the early days. It must have identified him as an employee of the Bridge Company.

Sometimes he pinned his fishing license to his hat and forgot it was there. Mom would remind him that he wasn’t out on a stream bank and hinted that he could unpin it. 

Mom was the family barber and gave Dad a haircut every six weeks. He never ever went to a barber after he married Mom.

Mom wasn't always a steady hand with the clippers – I can show you photographs to prove it. Dad didn’t mind. Why spend good money on a fussy haircut when you’re going to cover it up with a hat anyway?

Dad sure had a big round head. I remember trying on his hat when I was nine or ten. It came down over my eyes. If I bent forward even slightly, the hat fell on the floor.

In winter he wore a red and black plaid hunting cap. It had ear flaps that you could leave tucked up underneath if you were vain about appearance or didn't mind the cold. Dad wore his flaps down from November through March.

I’m pretty sure he took his hat off when he went to bed. Mom made sure he took it off in church - it was customary for a man to remove his hat in a public building. 

The hat creased his hair and flesh in a circle where it rested on his head. It left an imprint like the one you might see on the head of a king who had doffed his crown. No one would mistake it for a halo.

Dad always wore boxer shorts, and thin sleeveless undershirts. Over these he wore long-sleeve shirts, winter and summer. The shirts always had matching breast pockets – the pocket on the left contained a complimentary “pocket protector” from the hardware store and a mixed row of pens and pencils.

He bought work suits at J. C. Penny’s – dark blue-green pants and shirts – cotton twill. He would buy several sets and wear them six days a week for several years, then replace them, alternately buying gray or olive ones.

Dad favored a monochrome look although once in a while a plaid flannel shirt would work its way to the top of his bureau drawer.

His socks matched his pants and shirt - a paler shade of the same color. He wore ankle-high ocher leather boots with heavy treaded soles and waterproofing. He held up his pants with a wide leather belt.

A Stanley tape measure was hooked to his belt. He carried a pen knife in his pants pocket. Sometimes he had sawdust on his sleeves.

He was five foot eight, and weighed 200 pounds for most of his adult life. Dad called it “husky”. He was low and thin in the hips but big through the chest and arms. His shoes were triple EEE wide.

He wore glasses – the kind with frames that are dark on top and clear on the bottom. Dad was always about 20 years behind – not that he knew it or cared. He wore loud, wide neckties from the forties through the 50s and 60s. His ties came back in style in the 70s.

When he went to work,  Dad carried a Thermos and a brown shopping bag with sandwiches, oatmeal cookies, a banana, magazines and two or three paperback novels (“pulp” he admitted freely). He liked anything by Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey. He always read the Saturday Evening Post, and Outdoor Life or Field and Stream.

He was a craneman and read through his breaks since he didn't want to bother returning to earth.

Dad considered the rainbow trout to be the world’s finest expression of beauty, but on a road trip, he would pull onto an overlook and order everyone out of the car to appreciate the sun going down over the mountains.

Dad lived to be ninety-five. He looked like a stranger lying there in his casket among the flowers, in a dark suit, motionless, thin and without his hat.

The David Shop

The David Shop
The Daily Citizen, January 7, 1959

In 1959, Ambridge businesses ran a series of "Meet Your Ambridge Business Establishment" ads in The Daily Citizen. Each week, the ad would focus on one of the businesses listed in the ad with a photo and a brief write-up about the store. On January 7, 1959, the focus was on The David Shop.

The write-up of the store said it was founded in 1947 by Mr. and Mrs. David Apple, who also managed the shop, originally at 704 Merchant Street, but it had been at 658 Merchant Street for three years. According to the ad, "The David Shop carries a complete line of clothing for women with the exception of hats and shoes."

I don't remember much about The David Shop. If you do, please share your memories in the comments.

Update 2/3/2014: A June, 1955, The David Shop ad:

The David Shop ad,
Beaver Valley Times,
June 29, 1955

Magical Moments Child Care,
658 Merchant Street,
Google Street View
The most current photo I could find of 658 Merchant Street was a Google Street View showing the building occupied by Magical Moments Child Care.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Demolition of the old Ambridge High School

Ambridge Junior and Senior High School,
Ambridge Golden Jubilee Souvenir Program, 1955

Ambridge High School,
Bridger yearbook, 1964
The first Ambridge High School, built in 1914, was at 740 Park Road in the building which later became Park Road School. My grandmother was among the students in grades 7 through 12 who attended that high school. 

In 1925, a new Junior High School was built in the 900 block of Duss Avenue for grades 7-9. In 1938, an annex to house the Senior High School was built on the south side of the Junior High School. My mother went to grades 7-12 during 1936-42 in the combined Junior-Senior High School. She remembers a beautiful school with gleaming marble and polished wood.

Fast forward to the mid-60s when I went to the high school for grades 9-12. While the sturdy brick exterior of the school seemed to be holding up, the interior, worn and dated, looked older than its actual age. I remember dripping pipes, drafty windows, and in winter, some classrooms would be steamy hot, while others would be freezing cold.

The electrical system was worrisome. The girls' gym, where the boys played varsity basketball, was laughably outmoded. The showers in the dismal girls' locker room no longer worked, for which, I suspect, most of us were grateful.

The large contingent of baby boomers coming through the school added to the wear and tear on the building. To put it mildly, repairs and updating were sorely needed.

After Ambridge schools merged with Baden, Economy, Harmony Township, and South Heights in 1971, the high school underwent a major renovation. In 1979, the school underwent another renovation that included the construction of a field house south of the main building and a new cafeteria where the boys' gym had been located. 

However, some school board members continued to talk of a new high school. In 2005, the year after the high school was declared eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places and Preservation Pennsylvania added the school to its list of historic buildings "at risk," construction of a highly controversial new high school began northwest of the then-existing school. The "old" high school was demolished when construction of the new school was completed in 2008.

P.J. Shotter took photos of the demolition of the old school and has given me permission to post them here. The photos below, plus more, are in P.J.'s slideshow, "Ambridge High School."

All photos of the demolition of the "old" Ambridge High School courtesy of P.J. Shotter, used with permission.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Super Bowl - Who Needs It?

by Robert Giles

I bet you remember the object pictured on the left. It's a paper football. 

The football is made from a standard 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of paper folded into a tight triangle.

There are various ways to fold a sheet of paper into a football. 

Follow this YouTube link for simple folding instructions --

Simple but Fun Fold

Once you have made a football, you can play a game with a partner. The two players sit opposite one another at a table.  

To score a touchdown, you "hang" a side or corner of the football over the edge of your opponent's goal line (the edge of her side of the table). You have to do this within 4 tries (downs).

If you fail to get a "hanger" within 4 tries or you flick the football completely over the edge of the table (your football goes out of bounds), your opponent takes over on her own goal line and begins to flick the football across to your side of the table (as she would also do if you had scored a touchdown).

A player has to "flick" the football across the table, not "push" it. The finger must not linger. 

A "hanger" or touchdown yields 6 points. When a touchdown is made, the player attempts an extra point. The opponent approximates goal posts by touching his two index fingers point to point with thumbs erect. 

You guessed it. You have to flick the ball through the air and between the opponents "uprights" (thumbs) to score the extra point. Hold the football perpendicular to the table top and flick it good. Technique is illustrated in the following link --

How to Play 

Did I mention that the football is ordinarily flicked while it is lying flat on the table top (it is only held erect when attempting an extra point)?

The game ends when the players decide to quit or an adult intervenes and puts an end to the "nonsense" (or you can set a point limit like 50 or 100 points).

You can play this game while sitting on the floor as long as there are two parallel lines to demarcate the players' goals.

Indulge in as much "trash talk" as you like and never forget, the object of the game is to win at all costs.

Note: This is the game I learned growing up in Byersdale. As you might expect, there is variation in the rules (we allowed a player 4 downs to achieve a hanger and we did not have kickoffs or the option of kicking a field goal).

Friday, January 24, 2014

Ambridge Pharmacy

Ambridge Pharmacy ad,
The Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory, 1956

The ad above shows the lovely Art Deco storefront of the Ambridge Pharmacy, 752 Merchant Street in Ambridge, John Donatelli, Pharmacist.

The ad promotes the pharmacy's "EXCLUSIVE PRESCRIPTION SERVICE" and stock of:

Surgical Braces & Elastic Stockings & Wheelchairs
Trusses For Your Rupture--Comfortably, Effectively Fitted

The address no longer exists, and it appears the site of the pharmacy is now part of the 8th Street CVS parking lot.

CVS parking lot,
looking East from Merchant Street,
Google Street view

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A fond farewell to SOLS of Ambridge

Sol's Store ad, Bridger yearbook, 1969
The address under the ad is wrong;
at the time, Sol's was at 562 Merchant Street, not 526

SOLS of Ambridge is one of the few remaining old, family-owned businesses on Merchant Street, but not for long. At the end of January, it will close, joining the many other former Merchant Street stores that have closed or moved. And when SOLS closes, it will be the demise of what is probably Ambridge's longest operating store.

SOLS of Ambridge,
June 23, 2013

copyright Nancy Knisley
Jim Neft, the current co-owner, says that SOLS got its start almost 100 years ago when his dad, Harry Neft, and Harry's brothers, Jim's uncles, worked for an area auto parts store, Sollys. The Neft brothers learned the business and liked it so much they decided to start auto parts stores of their own. The Neft brothers named their new businesses "Sol's" after Sollys. Eventually, the Neft family open Sol's stores around the Pittsburgh area. The Braddock Sol's was operated by Edward "Pete" Neft and Alvin "Bud" Neft; Wilkinsburg by Morris Neft and Bernard "Ches" Neft; Homestead by Joe Neft and Manny Neft; Aliquippa by Saul Neft; and Etna by Hank Rosenblum, who was married to Jim Neft's Aunt Cecelia Neft. Harry opened the Ambridge Sol's store in 1929. Jim Neft says, "I believe we were the oldest business in Ambridge. My father said that Caplan Wholesale Grocery formerly at the corner of 8th and Merchant was the only business here longer than SOLS. Since Caplan closed, we are the oldest."

Although the Sol's stores were run as independent businesses, they joined forces when buying inventory in order to negotiate lower prices by buying in volume.

About 10 years ago, Jim Neft changed the name of the store to "SOLS of Ambridge"--although he never did get around to changing the store's sign which still says "SOL's."  And the name isn't the only change in the business over the years since its founding.

Sol's ad,
Beaver County Times,
June 1, 1961
The first Sol's Ambridge store was at 633 Merchant Street and primarily sold hardware and auto parts, very popular in those days of barebones Model Ts which came without fancy extras...such as a horn. Later, when more cars were mass produced, the store's sales of auto accessories such as tires and hubcaps picked up. Sporting goods weren't yet the focus of the business, although hunting and fishing equipment sold well. Oddly, pocket watches were probably the most popular item sold by Sol's during that era.

During World War II, the great scarcity of materials needed to make bicycles and tires made them hard to find, but Sol's had a source and was able to supply bikes and tires to eager buyers. After the war was over, people had more time and money for leisure activities, so Sol's sporting goods business took off and eventually became the focus of the business. Many people who grew up in Ambridge in the '50s and '60 remember buying their sports equipment at "Sol's Sporting Goods."

In 1964, Sol's moved to 562 Merchant Street, now the shoppers' rest area. On June 25,1975, tragedy struck when a suspicious fire started in mid-afternoon in the back of the store. Sol's then moved across the street to the former J. C. Penney store at 601 Merchant Street, which Sol's had been using as a warehouse. 

Beaver County Times photo, June, 26, 1975

The text below the photo says:
Spectators gather beneath smoke-darkened skies to watch firemen battle Wednesday afternoon's fire which destroyed Sol's in Ambridge, while Ambridge fire chief Ercole Dinino (insert) looks on worriedly. Many spectators later later collected souvenirs in the form of spent gunshells, which littered the sidewalks after exploding when the fire hit the store's ammunition supply. Other photos on page A-3. (Photo by Rudy Schunk)

Beaver County Times photo, June 26, 1975

Beaver County Times photo, June 26, 1975

The text below the photo immediately above says:
Firemen pour water into Sol's of Ambridge, destroyed in a spectacular fire Wednesday afternoon. Five fire departments battled the blaze, which caused damage estimated as high as $300,000. (Photos by Rudy Schunk)
Toys weren't a big part of Sol's business until the early '70s according to Neft. "Trains. Everyone had Lionel trains. They were a big business." Later, the store's general toy business took off, but gradually, as big box specialized toy stores like Toys R Us opened, Sol's toy business become increasingly unprofitable, and Sol's got out of the toy business.

Still, Sol's had a variety of departments: small appliances; bicycles, which Neft says the store "sold by the hundreds"; auto parts; hardware; and sporting goods. Then K-Mart started offering stiff competition in sporting goods by buying a few items from manufacturers at a heavy discount and selling them as "loss leaders" to bring customers into their store. More recently, Dick's Sporting Goods arrived, so large and with such a huge inventory of sporting goods, that it pretty much killed local sporting goods stores like SOLS. As a result, rather than selling general sporting goods to the public, SOLS has primarily sold sports equipment and clothing to schools and teams for a number of years.

Jim Neft says he worked part time at Sol's during his high school and college years and began working full time in December,1972. His father retired in 1982 when he was nearing 80, and Jim Neft continued the business with his partner, Myron Watzman. Since then, Jim Neft has been involved in a variety of tasks in the operation of the business including administration, accounts receivable and payable, retail and wholesale sales, and purchasing. Harry Neft died in 1991.

Neft remembers a time when Ambridge stores stayed open Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday until 9 PM. The sidewalks would be crowded with shoppers, and the traffic on Merchant Street was so heavy, that traffic cops were needed to manage it. Now, few shoppers frequent the remaining Merchant Street businesses and even the traffic lights that once controlled many Merchant Street intersections, are no longer needed, and some have been replaced with stop signs.

Neft says the reasons for closing the store now are that his business partner, Watzman, is now 72; competition is "severe," and with online sales growing, "it's a matter of changing trends of shopping."

In July, SOLS' landlord sold 601 Merchant Street. Recently, BSN Sports, a national team and school sporting goods company, bought SOLS' business, but will operate out of a showroom in Robinson Township. SOLS is currently liquidating its existing inventory and should be done by the end of the month. The future of the old building? Neft doesn't know.

Looking back, Neft fondly recalls Ambridge's Sidewalk Bargain Days, when it would take him an hour just to put the displays on the sidewalk in front of the store. He says he and his employees would arrive extra-early in the morning and park their cars in the spaces in front of the store, so that merchandise could be put on both the store and street sides of the sidewalk and yet not block access to customers' cars.

Another fond memory--the early years of Nationality Days when the churches set up booths with authentic ethnic food. "Lately, it's more of a flea market. It's all commercial. There's no evidence of churches. People don't have time or the desire to put in the volunteer hours anymore."

Neft says, "I have many great memories of my 41 plus years here. I have been fortunate in meeting hundreds of great customers and suppliers during those years. Obviously, I will never forget the fire in 1975 that destroyed our business at 562 Merchant and the ordeal setting up operations at our current location at 601 Merchant Street. I am going to miss coming to work every day and seeing my employees. I am also going to miss talking to the other business owners. I will really miss the wonderful people who have worked at Citizens Bank
across the street. They treated me special every morning when I came in."

Even though Neft is closing SOLS, he says he has no intention of retiring. "I am currently looking for a retail sales job in the area."

Neft adds, "Thanks, everyone, for your support of our business."

Update 2/3/14: 1969 SOLS ad:

SOL'S Washington's Birthday ad,
Beaver County Times,
February 19, 1969

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Highland School Juke Box 1962

Microsoft Word
by Robert Giles

When the weather was too bad to go out on the playground, we had recess in the gymnasium. The gymnasium in the old building was a basketball court. Along one length of the court were metal fold-away risers or "bleachers". Opposite the risers on the other side of the court was a stage shrouded by a heavy red velvet curtain.

The curtain was kept closed unless there was a movie. Sometimes we would watch a travelogue. But most of the time, a couple boys would be delegated to wheel out the juke box and play records for us to dance and listen to.

In 1962 I was in the 7th grade. If you are thinking that most of the dancers were  girls, you are right. The boys mostly milled around and talked or flipped baseball cards or sat on the bleachers and watched.

I was no dancer but I liked music. Still do.

Note: The links below will open shortened versions of the songs in iTunes. Be patient. Its a little clumsy, but allows you to sample and "remember" the songs. Enjoy.

A clarinet tune, "Stranger on the Shore", by Acker Bilk was the Number 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit of 1962. I don't think it was in the Highland School juke box. It was pleasant - I guess it would fall into the "easy listening" category today. Strictly for an older crowd. I don't think "Acker" ever made the Billboard Hot 100 again, but maybe he did. I have nothing against him personally. His parents just handed him a funny name, that's all.

Speaking of funny monikers, clocking in at number 37 was "Alley Cat" by Bent Fabric. I guess the Hot 100 was big enough for both Acker Bilk and Bent Fabric in the same year (for a minute I thought maybe they were the same person - they aren't).

Our juke box did have some other specimens that weren't too hip --

Roses are Red (My Love), Bobby Vinton
Johnny Angel, Shelley Fabares
Soldier Boy, The Shirelles
Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Neil Sedaka

"Johnny Angel" is just the kind of sticky, sugary stuff that girls always wanted to slow dance to. Shelley Fabares should have stuck to The Donna Reed Show.

Neil Sedaka is probably in the rock and roll hall of fame but I wanted to break up this particular record every time I heard it. It wouldn't have been hard to do - just one quick snap over the knee. 

How did the Shirelles get stuck with the "soldier boy" lyric? And Bobby Vinton is from western Pennsylvania, or claims to be. Unbelievable. 

1962 was the year of the dance craze - all these songs made the Hot 100 --

The Loco-Motion, Little Eva
The Twist, Chubby Checker
Slow Twistin', Chubby Checker

Twistin' the Night Away, Sam Cooke
The Wah Watusi, The Orlons
Peppermint Twist, Joey Dee and The Starlighters

Dear Lady Twist, Gary "U.S." Bonds
Twist and Shout, The Isley Brothers
Percolator (Twist), Billy Joe & The Checkmates
Twist, Twist Senora, Gary "U.S." Bonds
Twistin' Matilda (And the Channel), Jimmy Soul
Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes), Dee Dee Sharp
Soul Twist, King Curtis
Let's Dance, Chris Montez

I have to say that to market a hit record in 1962, all you had to do was add the word "twist" to the song title. 

Billy Joe & the Checkmates relied on a cheesy percolator noise for their only hit ever - "Percolator (Twist)". It wasn't enough to have it sound like a coffee pot - adding the word "Twist" sealed it.

"Soul Twist" by King Curtis is probably the most fraudulent use ever of the word "twist" in a song title.

The best crazy dance song of 1962 - I have to agree with the public on this one - was "The Loco-Motion" by Little Eva. "Twist and Shout" by the Isley Brothers is a close second. The original Chubby Checker hit "The Twist" is also good as is Sam Cooke's "Twistin' the Night Away".

"Twist, Twist Senora" was originally recorded by Harry Belafonte under the title "Shake, Shake, Senora" (a wonderfully comic addition to the "Beetlejuice" soundtrack). The Gary U.S. Bonds version does clinch my argument about adding "twist" to a song title.

Dee Dee Sharp had a hit with "Mashed Potato Time" in 1961. In 1962 she came back with "Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)". Lame. I blame the record company.

So , what are my personal favorites from 1962?

Let Me In, The Sensations
The Loco-Motion, Little Eva
Green Onions, Booker T and The MG's
I Can't Stop Loving You, Ray Charles
Duke of Earl, Gene Chandler
Break It to Me Gently, Brenda Lee
Playboy, The Marvelettes
Twist and Shout, The Isley Brothers
I Know (You Don't Love Me No More), Barbara George
Baby It's You, The Shirelles
What's Your Name, Don & Juan
You Don't Know Me, Ray Charles
Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream), Roy Orbison
Things, Bobby Darin
Let's Dance, Chris Montez
You'll Lose a Good Thing, Barbara Lynn
I'm Blue (The Gong-Gong Song), The Ikettes
If I Had a Hammer, Peter, Paul & Mary
Where Have All The Flowers Gone, The Kingston Trio
Surfin' Safari, The Beach Boys

It's surprising that there were so many gems on the Hot 100. There were a lot of clunkers as well.

  • Instrumentals were still popular.
  • A large number of songs were from the R&B genre.
  • "Girl Groups" and female solo artists were well represented.
  • Peter, Paul & Mary scored their first hit that year with "If I Had a Hammer".
  • The Beach Boys introduced a new craze in 1962 - surf music.
  • Did you know that "The Loco-Motion" was written by Carole King and her (then) husband Gerry Goffin and that Little Eva was their babysitter.

The very next year (1963) marks the beginning of The British Invasion.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Little Egypt

Wiki Images
by Robert Giles

It was coming down to the wire and I still hadn’t started my assignment.

We were studying ancient Egypt. The assignment was to make a papyrus-like scroll displaying hieroglyphics. It was due Friday. Tuesday and Wednesday had come and gone. Now it was Thursday evening. I hadn’t even started.

There was a picture of hieroglyphics in our book but I didn’t want to copy it. Wouldn't all the other kids do the same thing?

Where could I find some other hieroglyphics to copy? Mrs. Piper surely didn’t expect originality. Hieroglyphics were the Egyptian alphabet, after all. Little pictures were substituted for letters and words. If the scribes went in for originality, no one would be able to make heads or tails of what they were writing. That’s what an alphabet was – a standard set of symbols to be understood by others over time and distance.

What if I suddenly created a whole new alphabet and wrote a story using it? No one would be able to read it. No, originality was not of great importance to this assignment.

All this tortured thinking was making me anxious. I looked across the kitchen at my mother, washing dishes at the sink. No, better leave Mom alone. Egyptian hieroglyphics were not something I wanted to bother her with. Grandma sat sphinx-like in her rocker. I could wrap her in cheesecloth and turn her in as a genuine Egyptian mummy, but that wasn’t the assignment. Dad was at the mill as usual, missing out on all the good stuff at home. Dad always headed out the door just as we were headed in. Maybe he planned it that way.

Maybe I could just explain to the teacher that I suffered one of those creative “blocks” and had sat paralyzed all week, unable to get the traction to move forward. That would be truthful … and a poor strategy. I could just hear what Mrs. Piper would say --

“In my class, Bobby, blockheads always get an “F”.

Just then my older brother came in the front door. I was on him before he could take off his hat and coat.

“What do you need, an Egyptian scroll with hieroglyphics?” (I had caught him in a good mood. He had actually listened to what I had said.)

Chuck went to the refrigerator and made himself a sandwich and poured himself a glass of milk. I stood patiently by while he ate.

Chuck wiped the milk from his lip with his shirt sleeve. “OK, Bobby, get me one of those brown grocery bags from underneath the bread drawer.”

Chuck cut the bag down the sides and laid it out in a long rectangle. "Get me a couple of those carpenter pencils from Dad’s work bench. I need a tin of water colors while you’re up.”

“What do you think, Bobby, should we start out with an entreaty to Isis and Osiris?”

That sounded good to me. When you get in trouble, always pray.

Chuck soon had filled up the rectangle with a lot of squiggly marks and little pictures that looked to me like genuine Egyptian writing. I could make out a rabbit, a snake, a tombstone, and something that looked like a hybrid giraffe and lion.

It was all done in dark pencil with dashes of red and green water color.

“Bobby that looks like a good start, but essentially what we have now is a brown paper sack from Isaly’s with some scribbling on it. We need to give it an ancient look.”

Chuck rounded off the corners of the rectangle and tore little pieces out of the sides so that it looked like it might have had a life other than as a grocery bag.

“We need to age it a little.” Chuck looked towards the gas burners on the stove but after one glance at Mom, he went to Plan B.

We descended into the basement. Dad thought he had hidden his propane torch but Chuck knew where it was. He screwed the brass nozzle onto the thread of the canister.

Chuck turned the knob. We heard the hiss of the gas. Chuck struck a match. There was a pop as the gas ignited.

I held the paper to the floor as Chuck brushed it with the flame. He moved quickly over the surface so that the paper scorched and didn’t kindle. In a few spots he lingered to get a good brown glow.

Now Chuck took a sliver from a board and set it on fire. He let it burn until the tip had turned to charcoal. Then he finished off the scroll with a few flourishes of the blackened wood.

“OK, Bobby, now roll that up into a tight ball so we get a little wrinkle. Don’t worry. We’ll flatten it out with Mom’s iron.”

Chuck cut a dowel to fit and blackened it with charcoal. We glued the two halves of the dowel to the ends of the ironed and furled “papyrus”.

We took it back upstairs to get a good look at it in bright light.

“Don’t worry about Mrs. Piper being able to read it Bobby. She can’t read hieroglyphics any better than we can.”

It was a complete fake but after all, that was the assignment, wasn’t it? It looked pretty darn good to me.

The following Monday, Mrs. Piper returned the graded assignments. I sat there for a moment wondering where mine was.

“Class, I want to show you something really special. Here is Bobby’s scroll. I’m going to keep it. Every few years, someone does something truly wonderful and I put it in my private collection.”
I sat at my desk in silence, with a mixture of pride and embarrassment, mostly embarrassment. I didn't have the heart to tell her my brother had done the assignment for me.

Sometimes I dream that someone from Duluth brings an ancient artifact to the Antiques Road Show. I am among the hangers-on. The appraiser carefully unrolls the papyrus. “The provenance is doubtful but …  

The TV audience waits with bated breath. Dollar signs appear above their heads.

Wait a minute … I can clear that up. I have personal knowledge of the artist. He is my brother Chuck.

The appraiser clears his throat and swallows. “I’m sorry. In that case, it is worth … twenty-nine cents.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

400 block of Merchant Street, 1965

400 block of Merchant Street, Ambridge,
looking north,
Bridger yearbook, 1965

Here's a photo of what the 400 block of Merchant Street, Ambridge, looked like in 1965. You can see:

  • Nicholas Grill, 401 Merchant Street (later the location of The Red Bull Inn)
  • Kristufek Agency, 405 Merchant Street
  • Ambridge Army and Navy Store, 427 Merchant Street
  • Vince's Pizzeria, 427 Merchant Street
  • New Rainbow Room Hotel and Bar, 412 Merchant Street
  • Modern Furniture, 432-34 Merchant Street
  • Princess Shoppe, 454 Merchant Street

Can anyone identify the barber shop next to Nicholas Grill or the restaurant mid-block, odd numbered (west) side with the black sign? And does anyone have an address for Vince's Pizzeria?

Update 1/4/14: Kevin Butch O'Keefe, who worked at the Ambridge Army and Navy Store from 1963-86, provided the following information: "The address of Vince's pizza would have been 427. The Army & Navy store had already moved to 517 Merchant. The owner of the Army & Navy still owned the building at 427 and used the wall for advertising." Thank you! I've added the address for Vince's above and removed "Ambridge Army and Navy Store" from the list.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Ambridge Today: 400 block of Merchant Street

When I started this blog, I didn't plan on posting so many recent photos of Ambridge, but they seem to be popular, so I will continue to post them as long as interest continues, and I have photos to share.

400 block of Merchant Street. Ambridge,
west (odd numbered) side,
looking south,
June 23, 2013
copyright Nancy Knisley

400 block of Merchant Street, Ambridge,
west (odd numbered) side,
looking north,
June 23, 2013
copyright Nancy Knisley

400 Block of Merchant Street, Ambridge,
east (even numbered) side,
looking south,
June 23, 2013
copyright Nancy Knisley

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Celebrating New Year's

My parents didn't "go out" often, but they did every New Year's Eve, either to a party at someone's home or the Ambridge Vets (VFW), leaving me and my sisters to spend the evening celebrating with our grandma. My grandma would feed us cookies and let us stay up, dressed in our pajamas and slippers, way past our usual bedtime. She'd turn on her TV, and we'd watch Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians live from a New York hotel ballroom.

Sometimes Grandma would dance with us. When we were little, she'd let us stand on her feet while she stepped and swayed around her living room. We were incredible dancers!

We'd watch the glamorous people party until the ball dropped in Times Square at midnight. Then we'd grab some of Grandma's pots and pans and rush out into the cold night air, stand on her front porch, yell "Happy New Year!" and bang those pots and pans together as loudly as we could. We could hear others in the neighborhood doing the same. After a few minutes of making a ruckus, we went back inside and to bed.

I loved the morning of New Year's Day when we'd get the exciting booty my parents had brought home for us from the party. Shiny cardboard hats. Sparkly tiaras. Streamers. Cardboard horns with thin strips of tissue paper hanging from the bottom. Blowout horns. Decorated tin noisemakers that clicked, clacked, rattled, or made a cranking sound when you spun them on their handles. Such fun!

Then we'd go to Mass since January 1 was a Holy Day of Obligation, which obligated Catholics to go to mass. Back then, it was "the Feast of the Circumcision." If we asked what "circumcision" was, we were led to believe that it was sort of like a baptism for Jews. Because you couldn't tell Catholic kids, especially girls, about cutting off part of Jesus' penis. Later, the name of the day was changed to "Octave of the Nativity." "Octave" is much easier to explain to inquisitive kids. Now, the day is called "Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God." Even easier to explain. Or not. "Well, 'Solemnity of Mary' doesn't mean Mary was 'solemn,' which means 'serious' or 'somber' or 'not a lot of fun.' Rather, in Catholic-speak, 'solemnity' means this is a extra-important Catholic celebration."

My mom would always cook pork and sauerkraut for our New Year's Day meal. I also seem to recall that my dad had a New Year's tradition of eating smelts. He'd try to talk me into eating one, but the smelts smelt, so I'd decline. I've tried to find out if the smelt-eating was some kind of Slovak New Year's tradition, but so far, I haven't found anything indicating it was. Does anyone know why my dad would have started the new year with a smelt snack?

The VFW is still at 1098 Duss Avenue, and it doesn't look like the exterior has changed much over the years. The above photo shows the Google street view.