Thursday, October 30, 2014

400 block of Merchant Street: vintage views

The 400 block of Merchant Street may be the most photographed block in Ambridge. Here are some vintage views showing the changes over the years.

I'm not sure of the year the photo on the postcard below was taken, but I think it's the oldest photo that I have of the 400 block of Merchant since it looks like it shows the trolley tracks being laid. They were completed in January, 1906. Although it's hard to tell in the photo, there are two sets of rails being laid.

The caption on the card says this is Merchant Street looking west, but most of us would say it was looking north, although both are sort of right; it's a northwest view; that part of Merchant Street does not run straight north and south.

I believe the three buildings with the awnings on the right may have been 454, 458 and 462 Merchant and have been razed. The building above those is the old Ambridge Savings and Trust building built in 1905 at the corner of Fifth and Merchant. It was later replaced by the large gray stone Economy Bank of Ambridge building, which was later occupied by Equibank, then used by a variety of short-lived tenants including The Bank Restaurant, then finally demolished to build a parking lot and drive-up windows for Economy Savings and Loan, now Wesbanco bank.

"View of Merchant Street, Looking West, Ambridge, Pa."
postcard showing building of trolley tracks,
400 block of Merchant Street, looking north

By the time of the suffragette march in May 1906, the trolley tracks had been completed, and the buildings with the awnings in the first photo now have neighbors: the Ambridge Laundry building to the left and and several brick buildings to the right.

Temperance March, May 1906
400 block of Merchant Street, looking south

In the postcard below, the painted sign advertises Coca-Cola and Tingley's Pharmacy.

"Merchant St.--Ambridge, Pa."
400 block of Merchant Street, looking north

In the next postcard, the building at the bottom of the left side is Tingley's Pharmacy. There appears to still be empty lots on both sides of the street. The building on the left side with lighter bricks on the upper stories has a sign for a "Hardware & Supply Co., but I can't read the first word. Can anyone make it out? There are still two sets of trolley rails.

"Merchant Street, Ambridge, Pa."
400 block of Merchant Street looking north

I'm guessing the date of the next postcard is in the 1920s. I don't see any vacant lots on either side of the street. Already, parking looks tight on the increasingly busy street. Now, there's only one set of trolley tracks.

"Merchant Street, Looking West--Ambridge, Pa."
400 block of Merchant Street, looking north

The photo below is not a postcard. It shows a bustling street with businesses many of us still remember. On the left. mid-block, you can see the sign for Ross Plumbing.

On the right, there's Economy Furniture, Iron City Beer, then a restaurant and bar whose name I can't make out (is it City Restaurant and Bar?). At the end of the block, you can see the Penn Theatre's marquee.

Merchant Street now has electric street lights.

400 block of Merchant Street, looking north

The photo below is still of the 400 block, but the photographer shot from further south.

On the left is Nicholas Grill, 401 Merchant (later the location of The Red Bull Inn); Kristufek Agency, 405 Merchant; Vince's Pizzeria, 427 Merchant; and Villella's Barber Shop, 443 Merchant. Although there's a large painted sign for the Ambridge Army-Navy Store, it had already moved to 517 Merchant Street.

On the right: New Rainbow Room Hotel and Bar, 412 Merchant; Modern Furniture, 432-434; and the Princess Shoppe, 454 Merchant.

The trolley tracks have been paved over.

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

Here are some recent photos of the same block for comparison. A number of the buildings appear to be vacant.

Villella's Barber Shop is still at 443 Merchant. Vocelli Pizza at 447 Merchant was once the Pfeifer funeral home.

400 block of Merchant, west (odd) side
March 30, 2014

400 block of Merchant Street, west (odd) side
June 23, 2013

400 block of Merchant Street, west (odd) side
March 30, 2014

459 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

465 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

400 block of Merchant Street, west (odd) side
June 23, 2013

418 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

Tim Cassidy Remodeling
424 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

430-434 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

There is an empty lot between 434 and 448 Merchant where I think Economy Furniture's parking lot once was.

448 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

The Chapel on Merchant Street
452 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

PNC Bank
498 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Divine Redeemer St. George's Cadets

Divine Redeemer Church's St. George Cadets,
Daily Citizen, July 5, 1955

This was one of several vintage photos published by The Daily Citizen during Ambridge's Golden Jubilee (50th Anniversary) Celebration in 1955. I don't know anything about the photo other than the original caption which read:

ST. GEORGE CADETS, of the Divine Redeemer Church, organized in 1916, when this picture was taken by Valent Hovanec and Mike Safo. The cadets participated in the 1924 celebration parade. Known members of the band are: F. Zalmenek, A. Hertneki, V. Hovanec, A. Churni, T. Kerzan, T. Tkatch, T. Huk, M. Safo, V. Fagul, T. Hertnecki, B. Minueski, M. Hovanec, and C. Lulkovich.

I put a "?" after the 1916 date given for the photo because it looks like it was taken on the church's front steps, and the church wasn't built until 1918 according to the church's history.

The priest in the photo is most likely Rev. Ignatius S. Herkel who served as pastor from 1916 to 1941.

The "1924 celebration" was the Economy Centennial. The Centennial parade was held on June 7, 1924.

Here is a photo of the cadets published in Divine Redeemer's Golden Anniversary Celebration book in 1956:

St. George's Cadets, 1917
Divine Redeemer Church
Golden Anniversary book, 1956

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

800 and 900 blocks of Glenwood Avenue,1950s

This photo shows the 800 and 900 blocks of Glenwood Avenue looking north. I do not know the date of the photo, but the cars would put it in the 1950s.

You can click on the photo to enlarge it.

Because the view is slightly elevated, and Glenwood doesn't cut straight across 8th Street, but makes a shift to the west in the 800 and 900 block, I think the photo probably was taken from inside the old St. Veronica Church which once stood on the southwest corner of Glenwood and 8th Street where Good Samaritan Church's round Jericho Hall* is now.

800 and 900 blocks of Glenwood Avenue looking north
Circa 1950s
photo courtesy of Bob Mikush, used with permission

To the far left of the photo is the former Iron City Beer Distributor building.

The building cut off on the far right of the photo with the cars parked in its lot is the former Wall's feed and seed store. Wall's, like other Ambridge stores in that era, was closed on Sundays, and St. Veronica church-goers would use the Wall's lot for parking.

Ambridge Auto Repair was at 814 Glenwood next to Wall's, behind the Iron City trailer.

Towering above the buildings on the east side of the street are the lights for Ambridge High School's football stadium.

About half way up the west side of the street is L & S Auto Service (a Hudson and Rambler dealership) at 901 Glenwood, now the location of Kal's Body Shop.**

Where Glenwood dead-ends at 10th Street, the low white building is the Briola Ice Co. building.

The tall building to the left of the Briola building, peeking above the roof of L & S, is the old Heinz Vinegar Plant on Sherman Street.

The mill behind the right side of the Briola building is National Electric on 11th Street.

Beaver Valley Builders Supplies was at 906 Glenwood. Ambridge's newspaper in the 1950s, The Daily Citizen, was at 930 Glenwood.***

Do you remember any other businesses on those two blocks of Glenwood in the 1950s? If so, please leave a comment.

* Jericho Hall was originally Saint Veronica's grade school, replacing a brick school which stood on 8th Street and Melrose Avenue where Good Samaritan Church's parking lot is now.

** At one time, Hupmobile Sales and Service was in the 901 Glenwood building.

*** 930 Glenwood was the location of a number of other news or printing companies over the years: the Ambridge News-Herald, the Aliquippa Printing Company, and Vaughn Arnold's Citizen Printing.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Haunted Byersdale

Used by permission of the artist.
by Robert Giles

Some of the old timers who put up their own homes on top of the hill in Byersdale must have built without benefit of plumb or level.

I’m talking about the houses just beyond the water tower where the road straightens out just before the dogleg to the left. They were all jammed in cheek-by-jowl, like row houses. Maybe they held each other up. Or perhaps the thick tangle of woods on the hillside kept them from rolling over backwards into Legionville Hollow.

That row of six or seven houses always seemed to be holding on for dear life.

I may exaggerate. It is one particular pair of houses I remember from fifty years ago. The others suffer from guilt-by-association.

I delivered the morning paper to the occupants of the two houses. The two families were related and shared a single copy of the Post-Gazette.

There were two brothers – one married and one a bachelor. The bachelor lived with his mother. When it came to paying for the paper, I collected from the married brother; but if he and his wife were absent, I was instructed to call on the bachelor.

The bachelor seldom spoke. The mother I saw only once.

In autumn the days shortened. It was dark when I got home from school. I delivered papers in the morning but did bill collection in the evening. Who wants to get out of bed at sunrise to do business with the paperboy?

That stretch of road wasn’t my favorite place. There was one streetlight. If you looked closely you could spy out a bat or two circling the water tower. Beneath my right shoulder were the black depths of the hollow. The pavement was neglected and broken away at the edges.

I shuffled through a cover of fallen leaves. The night air was frosty.

I turned onto a boardwalk that forded the frozen ditch in front of my customer’s front porch. The house sat right on the road. It was just a few feet over the ditch and onto the porch. There was no room for a lawn. The two houses were separated by a gap of twelve inches. The families shared a single porch as well as a single newspaper.

The decking of the porch gave perceptibly with each step. I felt as though I was aboard an old ship that was groaning in a heavy sea. One false step ...

I approached the door. It seemed no one was at home. There was one dim light on, back in the kitchen. I knocked once, then a second time. I waited. No one answered. I walked over to the bachelor’s door.

I knocked at the second door. I knocked again, then a third time, more forcefully. I turned to leave. Just then there was an answering knock – more aptly, a tap, slowly repeating and becoming louder.

I looked into the small window high up on the door. A creature with a thousand legs scurried across the glass.

I peered in. Tap … tap … tap. A figure in black came toward the door. The room was unlit. I could see that the figure held a cane.

Slowly, slowly, slowly towards the door it came. The knob turned. The door opened wide. Before me was an ancient head in a heavy black babushka, its owner clad in widow’s weeds. Someone had dressed for a funeral thirty years before and had never undressed.

The apparition looked at me blankly as it opened its mouth to utter something unintelligible in a foreign tongue.

It was time to screw my courage to the sticking point. Screw courage.  I turned and fled.

The Dead-End Swing

If Roy wasn’t a jagoff he wouldn’t have jumped like he did onto the Tarzan swing beneath the Legionville Bridge.

Couldn't he see there were already two kids holding onto the rope? They were swinging out over the pit under the north end of the bridge. Below them was a whole bunch of broken concrete that some chiseler had left scattered on the ground when he replaced the deck.

There was an open sewer line down there. It always stunk.

We saw that Billy was scared bad. You could tell by the way he clung to Dave’s waist. The rope swung back towards us like a pendulum beneath a cuckoo clock.

Roy landed high up on Dave’s back, missing the rope completely. How did he think Dave was going to hold on? Dave was the strongest kid in the neighborhood but Roy must have weighed two hundred pounds.

What was he thinking? A big fat zero. To think you have to have a brain.

Three kids were taking a ride and only one had a grip on the rope. Something had to give. Roy may have panicked and started to kick. Maybe Billy was trying to grab the rope to help Dave. Anyway, something made Billy lose his grip. He started to slide down between Dave and Roy. Dave tried to grasp him with his legs in a scissors lock to save him, like the way The Flying Wallenda had saved his partner on the high wire.

Dave tried his best but down Billy slid. It all happened in a second though it seemed like forever plus one day. Everything was quiet except for the wheeze of the rope against the steel of the bridge.

Billy grabbed at Dave’s foot but it was bye-bye Billy. He went down like a load of bricks. Luckily Billy missed the concrete - he landed feet first between two huge chunks.

Couldn't those highway contractor bastards pick up after themselves?

Billy’s legs buckled, then his ass hit, then his back and shoulders, finally his head. Everything bounced as it hit the clay.

We looked down. Was Billy dead? What would we tell his mother?


We took a shovel and a galvanized steel container down into the woods to dig some topsoil for Dad. “Get some good black earth”, he instructed.

We descended the path that cut across the steep hillside of the hollow. About half way down the ground leveled out, down by the “gold mine”. That was where we were going to dig for dirt.

The “gold mine” was perhaps a stone quarry back when the Harmony Society owned the land. Maybe they dug into the hillside poking around for minerals. Who knows? (Farther up the hollow in Economy Park was a “silver mine”.)

We looked for a spot a good distance from a large tree. We wanted to get twenty gallons of dirt quickly and go home. We didn’t have time to fool with tree roots.

My brother called out, “Over here. Someone may have already loosened the dirt.”

We dug down about two feet, filling our “bucket” with light, friable earth containing lots of naturally composted oak leaves and mast.

Just then the shovel struck something hard. Chuck reached into the hole. He pulled out a skull and a jawbone.

“There’s a whole skeleton down there, he exclaimed. Maybe someone was murdered.”

It was too small to be an adult. Maybe it was a child. The skull was narrow and elongated.

“Why this must be a big dog, like a collie.”

Just then something made us all look up the hillside toward Anthony Wayne Drive. On top of the bluff stood Old Mike, glowering at us through the trees.

“Christ almighty, I think we just dug up Frieda,” Chuck mumbled beneath his breath.

Frieda was Old Mike’s beloved pet.

Six Ghouls in an Olds 88

One evening after dark Mom sent me over to the Isaly store for a half-gallon of milk. When I came out of the store and headed up the alley, a big car pulled up alongside me.

The man at the wheel rolled down the window. There were six men in the car.

I wasn’t savvy enough to know that six men in one car always meant trouble. Still, I got a little nervous.

“Hey kid, is this where the girls are?” the man asked.

“Do you mean in the hotel?” I asked, puzzled at the man’s question.

“Yeah, in the hotel, you know …” The man’s voice trailed off and he began to wink at me. He moved his arm as though giving me a nudge even though I was outside the car and three feet away.

“Yeah, I guess there are ladies in the hotel. I’m not allowed to go in.”

A man in the back seat started to laugh. “Let’s get out of here, the kid’s still a virgin”, he said. They all started to laugh.

When you put your finger on a phonograph record, everything slows down and gets distorted.

“Haw, haw, the kid's stilllllllllaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaviiiiiiiiiiiiiiirgin,” someone cackled again as the car pulled away.

I told Mom what had happened when I got home. She turned almost as white as the milk I handed her.

“You stay away from that place, you hear me. Stay out of the alley.”

One thing about moms – they always order you to do the impossible.

Miracle of the Fishes

My brother and I were fishing for catfish down at the old lock wall when we noticed that the water below us was teeming with tiny silver minnows. We put down our rods to make a survey.

The minnows seemed to be coming from the stream that flowed into the “lock” from a tunnel that led back to the swamp that pooled just below the Byers plant.

Those minnows must have taken a shine to swamp water. There were millions of them.

Dave had an idea. “Let’s go home and get Dad’s seine out of his fishing tackle. We’ll get some big plastic buckets too.”

Soon we were back at the river properly equipped with minnow gear.

We waded into the stream. We wore our tennis shoes to protect our feet from glass and metal. 

Our feet sank in the muck. Soon the water was cloudy and we couldn’t see the minnows. We could only feel them bumping into our bare legs, hundreds at a time.

Dave instructed me to go upstream and walk towards him as he held the seine across the run.

All of a sudden he raised his net. There must have been ten pounds of minnows thrashing about inside the seine, their silver sides reflecting the sun. We scooped them into our buckets.

“This is way more fun than catching catfish.”

We sat and made plans to open a bait store. Why pull night crawlers from the grass when we could scoop up a thousand minnows with one sweep? We calculated we would need two 50-gallon aquariums.

I put my arm up to my elbow in one of the buckets. It was all squirming flesh. “This is what a doctor must feel when he opens up someone’s belly and probes around for an appendix.”

“Yeah”, Dave agreed, “it feels just like life.”

What happened to our bait store?

We returned to the river many times to catch “shiners”. We never again caught more than a handful.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The happy beginning and the sad end of the Ambridge Pool with the unfortunate series of events that led to its closing and razing

As a result of the First Street children's demand for a municipal pool after their Dead-End Pool was condemned as a "public health menace" in 1938, the Ambridge Borough Pool was built in 1941. It opened on Memorial Day, 1942 and was formally dedicated on July 12, 1942.

Ambridge Borough Pool
circa May 1941
credit: Edmund Silla
photo courtesy of Jay Silla, used with permission

If you had told me when I started to go to the pool by myself in the late 1950s that the pool was less than 20 years old, I would have been very surprised. Even then, the bathhouse looked dated and worn. But it didn't matter to the kids who swam there day after day, summer after summer.

Problems at the pool started surfacing in the mid-1970s, and things were never quite the same:

1975: Pool renovations are scheduled for September, but a council member wants the pool closed and repairs to the electrical wiring and bathhouse roof made immediately. Reportedly, extension cords are sitting on rusting metal ceiling beams below a leaking roof that is so rusty it might cave in.

1976: Despite citizen protests, the borough council votes to close the pool for the summer for major renovations financed by federal funds. The decision results in the resignation of long-time pool manager John Zivic.

The state allocates $95,000 towards pool renovation; HUD supplies $91,000.

1980: A council member works as an unpaid pool manager.

A letter to the editor in the Beaver County Times complains that pool management allows people to eat wherever they want and food, wrappers, gum, and cigarette butts litter the pool area. The writer also says that garbage cans aren't emptied or never placed out for use. The water is reported to be murky and the rest rooms and showers, dirty.

The pool ends the season with a $39,546 deficit, $1,965 unaccounted for.

The pool is vandalized in September.

1981: The council argues over the number of employees at the pool in 1980. Allegedly, 21 were originally hired, but 18 more were added because of "political machinations" of a council member.

Pool admission fees are raised by the council despite objections.

An investigation is begun into alleged financial mismanagement of the pool by the councilman who worked as an unpaid manager in 1980. He is later cleared.

There is controversy in council over who will run the concession stand.

Council plans to close the pool for major renovations during the summer, including deepening the diving tank and connecting it to the main swimming pool using money from a $140,000 grant. Because the council didn't plan on opening the pool, it did not budget for pool operations. Citizens protest.

The council later drops its major renovation plans after a consultant recommends against combining the diving and main pools and says the pool can be opened after some minor repairs. The consultant reports that the pool lost thousands of dollars in operational costs and damage to the physical plant due to "ignorance and gross mismanagement."

The pool does open, but late, after some minor repairs are completed with the help of citizen volunteers.

The water line to the pool breaks, but is not repaired.

1982: In July, the Pennsylvania  Department of Environmental Resources cites the pool for 13 safety violations, some serious, including a broken vent in the chlorine gas storage area, lack of proper drainage in the shower and toilet rooms, and lack of hot water in the showers. Reportedly, if the pool isn't closed, it will end the year with a large deficit. The pool stays open after repairs are made.

Council fights over pool finances. The pool is consistently losing money, as much as $20,000 this year. $7,500 was budgeted for supplies; by mid-July, $12,500 has been spent. $55 was paid for a push broom. A council member says, "If politicians would just keep their noses out of the pool, it would be run a lot better."

John Zivic is discouraged from applying for his old job as manager; a different manager is hired.

1983: The state awards the pool $10,000 to serve as a model for other pool operators. $5,000 is spent for pool improvements; $5,000 for a manual on how to operate a pool.

Council fights over hiring a nonresident (from Harmony Township) as a lifeguard.

John Zivic is rehired as pool manager.

1984: A council member proposes closing the pool. Another objects predicting, "If we get rid of the pool...we really will need more policemen."

A member of the council's recreation committee says that the pool is in better physical and financial shape than it's been in years, but the pool will continue to operate at a loss.

1986: The Pennsylvania Department of Community Affairs offers a $37,500 grant for pool repairs. Ambridge must match funds.

1988: Ambridge claims it doesn't have the required funds to match the 1986 state grant money for repairs including a roof over the "promenade deck," new bathhouse floors, handicapped ramps and toilets, updating the chlorine exhaust system, and improving the heating and plumbing systems.

1989: The pool loses $33,000, $785 from the concession stand. Attendance for the season is 12,031.

1990: The pool loses over $15,500 despite cutting its payroll by eliminating maintenance workers and dressing room attendants. Lifeguards do maintenance. The concession stand is replaced with vending machines. The price of admission is increased. Attendance falls to 8,340. Opening in 1991 is said to be "very, very questionable."

Ambridge, now officially a "distressed community," obtains an economic recovery plan to make the town financially solvent. The final plan does not recommend closing the pool, but does recommend changes to its operation.

This turns out to be the final year the pool is open.

1991: The pool is not opened because of "the expense of numerous repairs that it needs."

1992: The pool remains closed for the second year because of the need for extensive repairs. A $188,000 state grant for renovations is put on hold until the council receives a cost study of the work needed which includes new mechanical and pumping systems.

1997: The borough manager finds a $17,000 checking account that he didn't know existed. The funds turn out to be $14,000 received from the state in 1990 that was supposed to have been spent on operation and improvement of the pool, plus $3,000 interest. The state demanded the return of the money in 1995, but the money was never returned.

The Sewickley YMCA expresses an interest in operating the pool, but the idea fizzles.

The empty and neglected pool building suffers the indignity of being converted by a theater group into a "house of horrors" for the Halloween season.

1998: Council considers the possibility of reopening the pool.

1999: There is a brief flurry of excitement about a citizen's proposal to open a wave pool and water park in Panek Park, but borough officials are skeptical that the plan is financially viable because of the number of similar parks in the area and the fact that residents would have to pay as much as $17 per person for admission. The plans never come to fruition.

Ambridge wants to restore the main and baby pools and fill in the diving pool for a sundeck. $87,000 is needed to resurface the pools which also need a new pump and filter system, plus electrical work.

The borough asks for $100,000 from the state towards the $350,000 project. Ambridge also asks for financial help in reopening the pool from neighboring communities, but they choose not to help.

The council gives up on pursuing grant money for pool repairs.

2000: Council approves reopening of the pool, but it never reopens. The mayor seeks donations towards the reopening from residents and businesses, but collects only about $800.

The mayor and council argue about whose responsibility it was to apply for grant money for pool repairs.

2006: The abandoned pool is extensively vandalized with graffiti including obscenities against the police, Confederate flags, and crack pipes. The damage to the bathhouse, concession stand, plus other areas of Panek Park is estimated to be over $5,000. Four young male Ambridge residents are charged with criminal mischief and institutional vandalism.

2009: The pool is razed.

The photos below from Joanne Trella show the condition of the pool buildings at that time and the demolition in progress.

Vandalized bathhouse,
Ambridge pool,
credit: Joanne Trella, used with permission

Vandalized bathhouse,
Ambridge pool,
credit: Joanne Trella, used with permission

Vandalized bathhouse,
Ambridge pool,
credit: Joanne Trella, used with permission

Concession stand
Ambridge pool,
credit: Joanne Trella, used with permission

Ambridge pool demolition,
wading and main pools, bathhouse
credit: Joanne Trella, used with permission

Ambridge pool demolition,
main pool
credit: Joanne Trella, used with permission

Ambridge pool demolition,
diving tank
credit: Joanne Trella, used with permission

Ambridge pool demolition,
 main pool
credit: Joanne Trella, used with permission

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The 1955 Accordion Band

Accordions and accordion music were popular in the 1940s and '50s, especially in Ambridge where the accordion was a featured instrument in the music of eastern and southern Europe our parents and grandparents enjoyed hearing and dancing to.

The young members of this 1955 accordion band are unidentified. Do you recognize anyone?

The band's director, Walter G. Soroko, may have given group accordion lessons at the Ambridge PNA/ZNP in the 1950s. Can anyone confirm that? I took My parents made me take accordion lessons there, and the name seems familiar.

Accordion Band members
Daily Citizen,
July 5, 1955

Original caption:
MEMBERS OF THE ACCORDION BAND under the direction of Walter G. Soroko who participated in the Friday evening preliminary program of the Golden Jubilee at the Ambridge High School stadium.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Ambridge High School: first football game in new stadium program

Ambridge High Football
first night in new stadium
Ambridge High vs Monaca High
September 4, 1942

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Ambridge trivia: Did you know...? #4

The Maple Restaurant building was once the Beth Samuel Synagogue.

Maple Restaurant
463 Maplewood Avenue
September 28, 2014

Beth Samuel Synagogue
463 Maplewood Avenue
Beth Samuel Synagogue and Community Center: dedication ceremonies,
May 26, 1963

The Maplewood Avenue building was the Beth Samuel congregation's first permanent home. Previously, the congregation had met in homes, businesses, and the old Ambridge library at 462 Maplewood Avenue. Because the 463 Maplewood building eventually became too small to accommodate the congregation's growing membership, the congregation purchased land on Kennedy Drive (then Latimer Avenue) near 8th Street in 1961 and built a new synagogue and community center, currently called Beth Samuel Jewish Center. 

After the congregation moved into its new home in 1963, they sold 463 Maplewood Avenue to James (Jimmy) Pappas who had been looking for a building in which to open a new restaurant. Pappas opened the Maple Restaurant in August 1963.

Maple Restaurant ad

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Up on the Lowdown

Microsoft Word
 by Robert Giles

“Who’s that at the door?”

“It’s Mary, Mom.”

“I’m not going to get a thing done this evening. Oh, alright, Bobby, let her in.”

“Hello, Bobby. Where’s your mama?”

“In the kitchen…. Mary’s here, Mom.”

Mom led Mary into the living room and sat her down on the sofa.

“Bobby, put the kettle on.”

I went to the kitchen and put on the kettle. Then I hurried back to the living room to hear what Mary had to say. Mary was always up on the lowdown.

Mary was still inquiring about Grandma’s health.

“Is Grandma still taking that sassafras tea I gave her?”

“Oh, yes, well she’s feeling a little better,” Mom fibbed.

“You know, when you get old you get blue. There’s no escaping it. Sitting by the window all day in a rocking chair doesn't help. A little bit of that tea will fix her up, poor thing.

If that doesn't help, let me know and I’ll give her some ginseng. Deedee found a new bunch up in Kingerski’s Hollow the other day.”

I went to the kitchen and poured two cups of Maxwell House for Mom and Mary. I put a little extra sugar in Mary’s, just the way she liked it.

“Speaking of Grandma, sitting in that rocker has got to affect her innards. She doesn't get bound up does she? (Mary didn’t like to use the word “constipated”.)

“Why no, she hasn't complained of it, not that she would. She doesn't like to complain.”

“That’s how old folks are. Why complain? Things could always be worse.

Did I tell you about the enema I gave old lady Butnik? Mildred says I saved her life. The old lady was backed up like the Aswan Dam and just wanted to die. Mildred didn’t know where to turn.

A person feels like if they go to a medical doctor for an impacted stool, they will just get the brushoff. ‘These things take time,’ they will say. Well sometimes Mother Nature needs a little help.”

I piped in, “Did you give her some of that “Big Thunder Prune Juice”?

“Why Bobby, that might work. I’m not familiar with that brand. Mildred did try some prune juice for a couple of days.”

“If prune juice doesn't do the trick, have her swallow a stick of dynamite." (I was thinking of a Daffy Duck cartoon.)

“Why you little half-baked potato, I do think you’re making fun of me. You know, I've put spells on little boys before. You wouldn’t want me to put a hex on you, would you?” Mary’s sharp nose threatened from between her pink cheeks. I could swear her left eye turned from blue to green and back to blue again.

“Bobby, either be quiet or go read a book”, Mom commanded.

Mary continued with her story. “You know, it would have taken maybe three sticks of dynamite - Oh, I’m as bad as the boy. An impacted stool is no laughing matter. I tell you old Mrs. Butnik was standing on a banana peel at death’s door. ‘Please help, whatever you can do’, Mildred begged me.

‘You’re my angel of mercy.’

I’m no angel but I do know a thing or two about helping my neighbors when they are in trouble. I got out my bladder and hose and squeeze bottle of glycerin and took charge.

We got old Mrs. Butnik up on the toilet – you know it wasn’t hard because she is just wasting away.

She jumped about two inches off the seat when I did the insertion so I knew she was alive. When I finished, we left her there. Mildred and I started a little game of pinochle while we waited.

I know you want to hear me describe the explosion, Bobby, but it wasn’t  like that. But imagine what would happen if the Aswan High Dam suddenly collapsed.

'Don’t flush that toilet', I yelled. Too late, Mildred flushed it while I was helping her mother back into bed.

I’m afraid there was an overflow and Mildred’s plush turquoise rug got ruined. I don’t know why people feel that have to pretty up a bathroom like that anyway.”

In another hour or so, Mary exhausted all her topics. We all caught our breaths.

Then it was out the door and up the street. Well, not all the way up the street. Mary had a few more neighbors to call upon before she reached the end of the block.

I don’t think Mary ever actually put a curse on me but if she did, it would explain a lot.