Friday, December 31, 2010

trappers-not for the faint of heart.

During our grade school years, brother bill and I were animal trapper's.  More specifically, muskrats. Rarely were there any animals whose fur was worth the trouble along the allegheney, like mink, for instance.  Looking back, I will never trap for animals again, at least not using steel jaw traps. Members of my extended family are sportsman hunters; i agree with what my mother always said: don't kill it, unless you need it for food." Besides, wild game taste crappy, whether deer, rabbit or pheasant and even squirrel's, which are nothing more than rat's with cute tails who mess on your car.
My dad was a trapper and gave us his old, rusty, steel traps plus the one's we bought They all got rusted from being in water so much). The new one's were boiled in water with tree bark to take off the shine. Used Grandma's copper pot since she no longer boiled clothes and finally got a modern washer and dryer.  It went like this: we would arise about 4 AM get warmly dressed(it was wintertime, and carried a burlap bag or two filled with traps and some extra wire.  Plus we would have a 2 oz. bottle of muskrat scent and a few old apples for bait.  We also had a heavy pair of mittens that were dipped in some kind of water proofing since we would be setting traps at the river edge in frigid and sometimes frozen water.  Tree branches about half" in diameter were placed in a semi circle a couple inches apart and opened facing the river, not shore. right inside was a slightly taller stick with scent on it and a piece of apple on the end .  The steel, spring-loaded steel jaw trap was set in front of the baited stick, under a little water, and the trap had a chain on it which went around a thick stick stuck in the river shore mud, or if needed a piece of wire was attached to the ring on the end of the chain and this was twisted around a sturdy tree limb.  After we set all our traps we had along the shoreline(looking for signs of life such as chewed off tender tree bark or foot prints, we went home, washed up, got a little sleep then went to school.  It was suppose to work like this: the muskrat would smell the scent or want the apple and there was only one way to get to it: swim over the set trap.  when the poor animal stepped on the trap's round trigger-set, usually with a hind leg, the had to stand on two legs to reach up for the apple, the trap would spring tight on his lower leg.  Frightened and no doubt in great pain, it would swim out into deeper water when the chain would stop it and the weight of the trap drown him.  The next day, we would check our traps, re-bait, if necessary, and if we caught any muskrats, we would loosen the jaws of the trap and put the dead animal in a 50# burlap bag, leave it in the garage, and when we came home from school remove the pelt, put it on a specially designed stretcher, scrap off excess fat and hang up to dry until we had enough to sell or it was the end of the trapping season which was usually mid November through January.  The colder it got, the longer the fur the animal would grow, with the thickest about the front shoulder blades.  Most people think that the entire fur of one animal is used for a coat or wrap: not so.  The best coats were made from 100's and 100's of small pieces cut in sections from the heaviest part of the animal and skillfully sewn together.
Let me say right up front I do not like PETA because of their tactics, but the steel jaw trap(ours did not have "teeth" like you see in cartoon's or movies), is the most cruel way to trap an animal, such as a muskrat.  By the way, with all our work, I don't think we ever made more than $10.00. This is not for the faint of heart: many times, the animal was still alive and frightened so we would have to kill it without damaging the fur. I won't get into how that was done. If you really want to know, e-mail me.It was just important to avoid those long front teeth of a animal in pain.  Other times, we would find just part of a foot in the trap.  The poor animal's desire to live was so strong, it would chew off it's foot to escape.  How terrible cruel and sad. I would never think of trapping again or encourage my children or grandchildren to do so.  You don't need the fur to keep warm or have to cook the meat and eat it to survive.
Those who made some money from it, had a boat and worked the opposite shoreline,away from the towns,usually before the season legally began, thereby getting ahead start on us kids.
Side note: Grandma told of a time my dad, when he was younger and trapped,  caught a skunk and, of course he skinned the animals in the basement.  The most skillful trappers are able to cut as close to the pelt without putting a hole in it with their knife, which lowered it's value.  Well, my dad cut too deep in the wrong place and punctured the skunk's scent bag,  which they spray on enemies to get them to leave, and, since there were no modern spray deodorant sprays, she heated a skillet on the stove and burned cinnamon so the aroma would fill the house and mask the skunk-which was quickly taken outside, far from the house.
Also, consider this: the cost of equipment, fees like guns, rifles, traps and fishing gear-that animal you shot or fish you caught is really quite expensive.  Cheaper to just go to the grocery store, I know and hear what your saying: it's the love and fun of the sport. "Yes, I would like a double cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake, please."..............


as far back as I can remember, anything scientific, like electricity and electronics were my thing. As a pre high school-er, brackenridge did not have a library, but the adjoining town of Tarentum did on 6th avenue. By the way, i would suggest looking at Google Maps to see the areas I mention.  Below 6th avenue were the train tracks and then about 3 blocks of the business district, then 3 or  4 streets of home and finally the park on the Allegheny River. I would take my empty wagon, check out a dozen science related books for two weeks, and pull them home.  I vowed to read every science book in the library and I considered fiction a waste of time. Why would anyone want to read stuff made up? And then I read my first fiction book, 'The Time Machine."  I was hooked how fiction could expand my imagination.
Anytime I had some extra money, I would send away for science kits-which, in most cases were a waste of money, since I could find the materials, or most of them, for free. And that big old table in Grandma's basement was my labortory
  When I was just a tot, I was afraid to go to bed without the hall/bathroom light on, or at least the bedroom door cracked open a few inches. When my Dad thought I was asleep, he would close the door.  So I rigged a switch to the door which sounded a buzzer and turned on a battery powered light! Drove my dad nuts.
During our grade school years I or someone with me did some things that  is a wonder we are still alive.  For example, when Bill and I were around 8-9 years old, we decided to go fishing down at the river.  At about 3-4 A.M.  Without our parents knowledge.  At the side porch of the house(next and very close to the American Legion) I was on the sidewalk and Bill was handing me the fishing poles and a tackle box from the porch.  All of a sudden, a bright light shown on us. Then a voice boomed,"You boys almost got shot!"  It was the town cop making his rounds and he at first took us to be robbers of the Legion!  Well, since we were still alive and dad and mom asleep, we went ahead and went fishing! Crazy.  It's a wonder we didn't go to the bathroom right there at the time, if you catch my drift.
Friends. On the other side of the Legion was a small house with a chicken or pigeon coop in the back yard. it was raised up about 3' and had steps going to a door.  the coop was probably 10' x 12' and the inside was splattered with white, you figure it out.  An old man once lived there but his son, wife, two boys and a girl(I think there was a girl) moved in while they built an expensive home way out in the country.  He was an engineer for the glass co. Alan was the oldest and brainy and then Terry, who was my age(10?), we became best of friends and got into all kinds of mischief.  We totally cleaned out the coop, painted it and found used carpet for the floor, which had a trap door. We managed to find some light fixtures and tapped into the electricity of the house.  There were nights we just camped out there all night.  My brother Bill became friends withe the Korts-buddy(Edward) and Ray(mond)  Buddy was a great little league and minor's baseball pitcher, but just never made it big time. Ray had a glass eye-he was sneaking behind a bow and arrow target while his brother let fly an arrow.  Their dad could never forgive Buddy for putting his brother's eye out. He was hard core German stock and was a knife maker during the war-probably for the wrong "side." His wife was pure Polish and in the summer started to soak candied fruit in a jar of rum for Christmas fruitcake, which, we just had to have some! Dad was also a musician-Sax, Bow Fiddle, Clarinet, keyboard.  I would take my accordion over there house(about 4 down from grandma's) and Mr. Kort would start the metrotome swinging. I drove him nuts by always playing a piece to fast!
Just a little more then I got to rest: besides our BB guns which we would shoot at each other below the belt, we would also go into a large field and shoot arrows straight up with our bows, then run to hopefully miss the arrow's down flight. We would have been safer staying in the same spot as the arrow always took a curved flight back to the ground.  We would also play dodge ball-with a solid leather medicine ball. It was about 18" in diameter and was so heavy we could hardly throw it.  only rule: you had to aim at the legs; no matter, if you got hit, you went flying! The other fun thing was using heavy canvas hammock's, which my dad brought home from the Navy.  One end was screwed into the back of the house, the other end into the back wood garage where dad started his boat business.  The hammock was wide enough to completely wrap around someone and then fastened with belts and ropes. You guesses it: we kept swinging the victim until he went completely around in a circle.  And yes, it hurt if the swinging stopped while on top-you would go straight down, face down.  It's a miracle our backs were not broken.  And eventually, Terry and I went to "war" against Bill, Buddy, and Ray with water balloons and hard green apples which we flung from the pointed end of a 4' green branch.  Sometimes, those apples flew over houses into the next street. I wonder if we hit anyone or broke any windows? Don't know and who cares?  It was fun-just like launching model rockets and have them come down and stick in a neighbor's roof.  It did. Guy said he would go up and patch the roof.  Nice of him.  More next time.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


just a little description of my immediate surroundings as a kid.  grandma took care of all the flowers-from planting to cultivating.  i think one of he favorite's was the silver dollar plant, which when full grown and dried could last all year inside the house.  once it was cut and dried, it had large circular, flat pods on the ends of the stems that were thin silvery, and looked like silver dollars. Another name was the "money tree or bush.  Most of the other flowers just looked like weeds except the red, yellow, and andpink climbing rose bushes tgat grew by the porch and her prized peace rose off in the left center of the yard.  I remember to taller than me hibiscus tree's on the left side of the yard and I think they marked the property line from the neighbor on the left-who originally was Mrs Powel. a relation to the writer of cowboy books. then it happened: Japanese beetles would infest the bushes and granddad would fill his hand sprayer with his favorite bug spray: DDT.  It was actually quite harmless to humans, cheap to make, killed mosquito's that carried yellow fever, which killed millions in third world countries.  But politics got involved and it was banned.  The real reason was you could make a 55 gallon drum for about five bucks.  there was a movie clip of the inventor in nohing but short;s, being sprayed with a hose of DDT, with no ill effects.  Years later, I learned that you spray the ground in the spring while they were still in the larvae stage and didn;t pop out as beatles with hearty appetites.
Granddad had about 5 different plots for his vegtables in different area's. When I took your mom to visit, granddad to a liking to her and found she like green pepper and some tomato and string beans.  While we were in the house gabbing with grandma, he would pick his best ones and with a soft cloth, shine each pepper and tomatoes.  I was also always fascinated by his onion plants: when big enough to pull out of the ground, he would take a bunch with the dried stems still attached, and braid them as a woman would have her hair braided. then hung in his shed to keep dried
His other fascination was with trees, especially fruit tree's.  there were two large silver maple tree's in  the yard, one on each side of the side walk.  when a storm was about approach, the winds would turn their under side up revealing a silver leave.  It never failed to forecast an approaching storm. His fruit tree's considered of a dual variety cherry tree( the birds ate most of the fruit), a dark skin pear tree, a prune-plum tree. about 5 peach tree's which always bore fuzzy skin fruit(yuck) and at the end of his property and the beginning of my dad's, a two story apple tree. GRANDDAD COULD NEVER JUST LET A FRUIT TREE BEAR ONE KIND OF FRUIT: THE APPLE BORE DELICIOUS VARIETY AND HUGE, WHAT HE called winter apples. stupid  caps lock button! Sorry.  they were huge and had a sweet tart flavor. I have never been able to find that variety anywhere.  When the cherry tree, which bore sweet red cherries, was about 12' feet in height, granddad would call someone over to graft another variety. A branch was cut leaving an inch width and several feet in length. It was split opened several inches and a new variety cut to a flat point was inserted.  The neighbor would then put this homemade goop all around it with a rag wrapped around the whole mess like a bandage.  But, darn if it didn't work and the tree had two kinds of fruits, more if they desired.
the other "new" enemy were tent worms which would devour a tree by eating all the leaves. the "tent" was so dense that no bug killer would penetrate. Not to be defeated, granddad would take a kerosene soaked rag and wrap it around the tent. Then ignite it with his trusty Zippo lighter.  once the tent was burned opened he would "DDT" the tent caterpillars to their death. if the tent was at the end of a branch, he would just cut it off and engulf it in flames on the ground!  I did mention the grapes:  the were no good to eat with a bitter skin and slimy center to hold the seeds in place.  The green variety were a little bit better. However these were grapes to make jelly and jams with-which grandma did.  She would pour the jelly into tall glasses and then pour a half inch of wax on top to seal and preserve them.  they were then stored on a shelf in the basement,  But what I liked the most about the huge grapevine arbor was to sit on the big bench underneath, either alone or with granddad
As a side note: Granddad did not want to retire and was bitter about it-so he just sat around doing nothing-which is why he had a he mild stroke.  After that, he put himself on his old factory work schedule: he arose at six and put on a pot of coffee, by the time it was done brewing in the aluminum peculator pot, grandma was up and had his breakfast ready.  by 8 AM he was working in the yard till noon; took a lunch break, just as he would in the factory. At 12:30, it was like a whistle blew and he went back out to work till 4PM, at which time he would come inside, clean up, eat supper, then  rest. read the paper and watch TV til bedtime. He did this M -F till the day he died and I think the "schedule: is what kept him alive till 12/77.  Looking back, it was interesting seeing him use the "old" ways," which he probably learned as a youth. And he always left the largest tomato, green pepper on the vine till right before the frost. He would then smash it open on newspapers for the seeds to dry-those seeds were put in planters inside the house at just the right time in spring. They became next year's crops. And they sa
y you can't regrow hybrid's: he did.
 I really don't like salad's but he grew red leaf lettuce-the more you cut off the more that grew.  Grandma would put in a chopped onion, mix it with oil and vinegar and it was DELICIOUS!  Figure.Next: the mischief or enterprises i got into. Sometime with Bill or a friend but usually my own doings. They usually involved two things"experiments and how a kid could make some spending money: for making model planes, going bowling and buying ice cream cones and chocolate soda pop(really!) from the machine at the gas station.


today rather than 50 years ago.  Mom and Ariana are going to St. Louis through Sunday.  I would like to go but cannot s I would sleep and be in pain the entire time.  It kills me to say"no" to my children but I am struggling for answers as to why my body seems to be on a shut down and i have a slew of doctor appointments for tests, etc.  I want to live as healthy and active as possible.  If they do identify a particular condition, then just knowing, I can make a plan of action and deal(hopefully), with it. I just want everyone to understand what is happening and i wish I knew so i can form a plan of action.  sometimes I get scared when my hips hurt because prostate cancer spreads there first; but it is probably just having crappy knees!  Thanks Grandma Valencic for passing down your bad DNA to me:(..Anyway, later, I will continue back to my childhood and relate some of the things I did or Bill and I did, etc.  Like play "hockey" on the frozen (almost) Allegheny river, using  a dead tree branch to hit around a chunk of ice(the"puck."  I say almost frozen because the deepest part or center of the river, the ice was broken up by a front barge with "teeth" so river barge traffic could continue during the winter.  Of course, older people on the shore would be screaming and cussing at us to get off the ice-if we broke through, we surely would have drowned.  But hey, we were kids and were invincible!  As I look back at a lot of the crazy, dangerous things we did, it's a wonder we made it through puberty.

to go on

just a little more about grandma's house: it stood about 15' above the sidewalk, with steps leading to a cover porch, which was painted black. The only time the front door was opened was to get the mail-even the newspaper was thrown on the back porch.  Granddad was famous for his use of paint: as soon as one of the porches faded from sunlight or began to chip, another coat of paint.  same thing inside of the house, especially the bathroom.  Wainscot-wood strips going from floor to about 3' feet and then a chair rail must of had about 20 coats of oil based, gloss white paint.  Two large closet doors were impossible to close;and if closed, impossible to open- again-to much paint.  Same with all the rooms of the house.  I am convinced that the multicoats of paint is what held the house together.  The only room of the house that was finished professionally, was the living room-new plaster walls and ceiling with wall-to-wall carpeting.  the dinning room, kitchen and the 3 bedrooms upstairs were the rough, ready to fall down smooth plaster walls with a slab of linoleum on the floor with a throw rug by the bed.. I take that back: their room was also refinished, along with carpeted steps(to steep to be safe) with two full sized beds: they slept in the same room but in separate beds, probably from the time Uncle Lou, their youngest of 3 boys was conceived. From the time I knew them their relationship was platonic. I have some ideas why, but not now.
Downstairs, the kitchen was for preparing meals, at a sit down yellow, chrome legged table with yellow padded, plastic covered chairs. Remember, vinyl didn't exist yet.  There was one thing I always wanted(but didn't have a chance at) was a kitchen cabinet with glass doors, a pull out cream colored metal shelf which, on one end was  metal and wood block which was to clamp on a nut grinder, poppy seed grinder, or a meat grinder. I never know grandma was paced in a high rise nursing home and everything was grabbed up bu two of the kids and the kitchen cabinet was sold for $50 bucks to some bastard.  There also was an ash tray and a chair on the side.  Granddad smoked Camel cigarettes.  It was the only room in the entire house where smoking was allowed-not even outside.  Supposedly, years ago, his teeth hurt, and no one could afford a dentist during the depression era, and a coworker told him if he smoked, it would help with the pain. He smoked till shortly after his forced retirement @ 65from PPG-Pittsburg Plate Glass Co.  He made windows for B-52 bombers for the government. and then quit on New Years Day.  Actually, he had a mild stroke, and the old family doctor, Dr. Pacek, said,"Frank, your like a man with $5,000-you can spend it all it once (die now) or a little bit each day-he chose the later. he ate hard tack candies and played with gum(rubber) bands, to keep his hands busy.  GRANDMA SAID SHE PICKED UP GUM BANDS EVERYWHERE! Stupid caps lock,  but granddad's pride let it stay as a New Year's resolution.  He was scared to death(no pun intended) of death and he died in his sleep, in his favorite living room chair in December, 1977.  The Lord was kind to him.  He once asked me what I was reading in the paper: I said, "the obituaries-I wanted to see if I was dead yet! He went nuts! Grandma always figured she would go first, but she lived just a few days short of her 94th birthday.  The next post will be about the wonder full back porch, facing the rolling mountains, smelling sweat ozone during a thunder storm, as we sat on the glider, eating cherries, and spitting out the pit out into the ground! And the great variety of vegetables, fruits, and flowers.  Side note: and maybe back then granddad already knew what science was to discover: the tobacco mosaic virus was identical to the tomato virus.  If you smoked and didn't have clean hands and/or clothes, chances were that you would lose your tomato crops that year.  Interesting, huh? Granddad was a whiz at growing things.  I think if he put his thumb in the ground, a hand would grow.  And he turned all the dirt in his garden plots by hand with a shovel, starting in the spring when a truckload of manure/straw was delivered to turn in the soil for fertilizer. Next: prize wining veggies and fruit trees that had different varieties grated on an existing branch.  And, of course the grape arbor that was large enough to park a car under. It had a homemade bench (the usual 20 coats of gloss green paint!) and the many, large grape vine leaves, was a welcome relief from the summer heat,

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Grandma's house-finially

I suppose I should say granddad and grandma's house, but to us kid's it was, "we're going to grandma's,etc."This is my earliest memory and I suppose we were living in an attic appartment next door, owned by Rudy Seft, who also owned a smaller house down from the big house I lived in as a very young kid.  Rudy's house was brick on River Road-my dad would build his first house with land and funds from his parents as I stated before.  For some reason, my parents and the Seft's didn't get along as neighbors, which, as my brother Bill has pointed out, it seems my parents made enemies in the three different places they lived, of all their"neighbors".

The first thing  can recall about grandm'a house was that it was BIG. When they bought it, it was made of 4" wood plank boards, painted yellow and most of the paint was chipping or weather rotting off... A number of years later, they had the house sidded with white, aluminum siding(vinyl was not invented yet!  Now, my grandmother, years later, swears I wasn't "around" yet to remember this next fact, but I was:  the basement was just a hole in the ground!  I The floor and walls weree a red-brown colored dirt.  The Big ol' coal furnace sat towards one end and what became later, a small tool, paarts shed for my granddad, was the coal storage room.  A metal door on the side-outside-would be opened and the coal truck would fill the room via a chute full of coal.  a coal furnace either made the house to hot or when the coals died down, it got to cold.  Plus, the ashes and clinkers would have to be shoveled out of the bottom of the furnace to make room for fresh coal to be shoveled in the top. the basement got toasty warm in the winter just from the heat the metal furnace gave off-which was better than the warm months of the years, the basement always smelled musty.  There were 3 other items in the basement: a Maytag single tub, wringer washer machine, next to a galvanized steel double sink.  An old kitchen table was near to fold dry clothes on.  Clothesline was strung in the basement and the back yard.  At the wall opposite the coal room was a two burner gas burner, made of cast iron and on which a large oval, copper tub sat on the burners.  On laundry day(usually Monday's) it was filled with water and cotton based clothing and brought to a boil to clean and also to starch those things that needed starched-like linen table cloths for the dining room table-which was only used to eat on at Thanksgiving.  All other times, all meals were in the eat in kitchen.  There was a vertical rack with 100's of small nails sticking out-rack was probably 4x8 feet.  After the crocheted tablecloths were starched they were stretched on the rack to hold their shape while drying. And when I say laundry day, it was ALL day-not just load and push a button, then go do something else.
Years later. after the basement was finish with cement block walls and a poured cement floor, that old wood table became for my use-which was usually some kind of science experiments involving either electricity or chemicals.  I just remembered: there also was an unused full wooden radio with the big paper dial behind glass.  it stood about 3-4' high and was vacuum tube powered with a 12-15" speaker.  Bill and I decided to take it apart; he wanted to turn it around and put in book shelves.  an I wanted the big magnet from the speaker.  Lots of copper wire which we eventually sold to the "junk man" for cash to go bowling when the new automatic, 32 lane bowling plaza opened up in Natrona Heights.  3 games for a dollar!  The other thing in the basement was the old fashion record player that you wound up with a handle on the side and "music" came out of the interior, when you opened up the doors.  So we used it for the next best thing, since it really played badly" we used the turn table for pottery-placed a glob of real gray clay in the ceneter and tried to fashion vases.  that hobby didin't last for more than a few days!
Now the old dirt basement had unwanted visitors: RATS. not little mice, but big sewer rats who probable seen the big dirt hole as a good place to live.  I recall granddad walking up the avenue to the hardware store and buy a bag of arsenic.good ol deadly, heavy meal arsenic!  He would mix this with some sugar, take a slice of his favorite Vienna bread, butter it, then sprinkle the poisoned sugar all over the top(the butter kept it in place) and place slices of the bread in different dark area's of the basement.  I can't remember if he used rat traps-they look like mouse traps, only larger and strong enough to break your finger.  or a rat's neck!.  But I do remember the poisoned bread, something he probably learned how to do while still in EUROPE.  Anyway, I will describe the rest of the house and yards later.  Just don't eat any homemade bread if it has butter with"sugar" sprinkled on top!! As a side note which I learned selling for Ruth Industries: arsenic is the best crab grass killer available, and it was on and of the market at the whim of the Ag department.  I had a customer who was park superintendent of Ottawa, IL.  He was getting overrun by pigeons around the park dumpsters.  When he started to shot them with a pellet rifle, all the "sweet" old ladies who fed the pigeons, called the Mayor to complain.  Pigeon's are known to carry at least 27 different diseases.  Our company carried a water based crab grass killer with arsenic in it.  So Russ would soak bird seed in the crab grass killer and then put some in each dumpster, trying to keep it away from song birds.  Eventually, no more pigeons!  Arsenic never leaves the body; like any other heavy metal, it just keeps building up in concentration till it killed the pigeons!  Just thought you would find that interesting! So if you spray your yard for crab grass and it has arsenic in it, good idea to keep pets from walking or eating the grass and don't let your kids (or you) run barefoot through the grass cause the poison will be absorbed through the feet! Next:  the wonder's of the "back yard" and the wonderful  breakfast of bacon, eggs, and Vienna bread for breakfast every Sunday after church at"grandma's" house:)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

christmas part 2

the earliest christmas i can remember was in the house on river road.  you need to understand the layout:  there was a front yard with two buckeye(horse chestnut)trees planted by my grandfather. in front of the house, was a huge glob of concrete that, when my parents had the money, years later, turned into a porch with an awning.  until then everyone used a small side porch to enter the house on the American Legion side of the house-which went into a small hallway-turn right and you were in the eat in kitchen; turn left and you were in the living room.  back to the front door; when you opened it, the living room was to your immediate left.  facing straight ahead was the steps going up stairs;turn left and the bathroom(no shower) was at the end; before that was two bedrooms one on each side. one bedroom was my parents and the other bedroom was shared by bill and myself.  until I finally left home for college, I never had my own room till I was a sophomore.  the reason it is important to know the layout was because Bill and I would hang our Christmas stockings from the front door  hinges.  and every 10 minutes(it seemed like) we would take turns getting out of bed, on Christmas eve, to see if the stockings were filled by Santa: but no matter how much we tried to stay up and keep checking, they never were filled-which meant Santa was not there yet and no presents were under the tree-which was in front of the living room picture window.  of course, when we awoke around 6 AM, all was well.  After seeing what delights were in the stockings and under the tree and some breakfast, it was get dressed and run to grandma's house to see what Santa left there.  One year it was 2 electric train sets;  one was an old fashioned locomotive with smoke that came from the smoke stack, created by a few drops of 3 in 1 oil.  the other train set was a trolley car that went on a straight track till it hit a roadblock at the end and it would reverse direction and go back and forth forever. it was a 3 track Lionel while the other was an American Flyer set-both today would be worth thousands. Another year it was two new Murray bikes-24" for me and a 26" for Bill.  Another time it was two a-little-bit better than a toy-accordion.  Everyone assumed I took more interest than Bill so I ended up taking accordion lessons in New Kensinton, at Groboski's Accordion Studio-across the river and about 7 miles away.  My mom got tired of driving me every week, so for a quarter, me and my full size accordion(which my folks eventually bought for $475.00-they never let me forget the price) -we would board the bus on Brackenridge avenue, and I usually got home when it was dark. New Ken was a gangster town, small, but still run by the mob.  Back to the trains: Around 1962, the locomotive set twas in the garage/barn at the house in pymatuming Lake.  A man seen it a week before and came back and offered my dad $600.00 for it. Unfortunately, he considered it junk and threw it out during the week!  anyway, Christmas time was magic when we were little;  as we got older, the gifts diminished with the reality of a Santa Claus fading away.  Oh well, such is childhood.  By the way, the owner of the accordion place had a woman who was from Russia: she was drop dead gorgeous with should length shinny black hair-and I had a crush on her.   Iwas 10 years old!  My first love;

Saturday, December 25, 2010


I will eventually get to describing the house but, since today is christmas i thought i would describe that magical time, at least till I got a little older. First of all Christmas did not start till the day after Thanksgiving, Period, No Christmas in July or holiday greed decorations set up in the stores by August.  The first thing I absolutely loved were the light bulbs pit up by the borough-yes, Brackenridge was not a town or city but a borough, if I spelled it write,  Shortly before Thanksgiving, workers would string  light bulbs, as in full size light bulbs of different colors from the top of a telephone pole on one side of the street , across the street to a telephone pole on the other side.  Probably every third or forth telephone pole.  AND THIS WAS DONE ON ONLY ONE STREET-Brackenridge Avenue.  I would watch the workmen shimmy up the pole by stepping on rusted steel large nails which started about ten feet from the ground.  Below that was a fixture where a temporary step could be snapped in place to reach the permanent one's.  This no doubt, to keep us kids from reaching that first permanent step-which we tried to many times to count!  The workman also had a thick leather belt which went around his body and pole and hooked in place.  He would move this up a foot or so at a time as the climbed to the top.  Remember: these were the days before cherry pickers or ladder trucks.  One string of lights was right in front of my grandparent's house.  They were not lite until Thanksgiving day.  The lights plus the Macy Department Store Parade in New York, and which ALL of us kids watched in glorious black and white on TV (if we has access to one) was the start of the Christmas season and not a moment before.  Perio.  Also: there were ONLY the string of lights-no tinsel, banners or anything else. The lights were flashy enough for us.  Why Brackenridge Avenue?  I was the "Business District"  "stores" really dydn't begin until you got close to the steel mill  Within a three block area, if I can remember all of them, there was a bank(the kind from "Mary Poppins"),the post office, where grandma would occasionally have me get a roll of 3cent(everyone roared, when they went to 4 and five cent's)stamps, to mail out her to many holiday cards, sent from Catholic charities around the world-for a donation, of course.  As she became an aged widow, they were exhausting her income.  anyway, a drug store, with a soda fountain, stools and all, a shoe store where you got 1 pair of dress or church shoues that always hurt, plus either a pair of Keds or PF Fliers sneekers/sport shoe's, which when place on your feet, you could run faster than a cheetah! There was also two grocery/butcher shops, and a newstand that sold more than paper's and magazines; like REAL M-80 firecracker's, which Bill and I conned our Mom into buying for us-a gross at a time.  I remember my mom asking the owner how powerful they were and he said 2 would blow your hand off and 4 was the same as a stick if dynamite.  Stupid owner.  She got them for us anyway because we were such angelic boys:)  There was also the borough building where you paid your water bill and which house the police force-the chief and his deputy.  My uncle Steve(my dad's middle brother was a deputy at one time and wanted to be a state policeman but his wife feared for his safety and made him go back to being an electrician at the glass factory.  Ironic: his son is an officer with the PA. State Police.  That was pretty much the business district, until, on the very opposite end of the street, the Acne super market opened-the beginning of the modern day grocery store where you went up and down the aisles and put stuff in your cart instead of the owner(like Buba) would get the item for you, even if it meant going up a ladder! I will finish this latter and tell you how Bill and I waited for Santa-never could catch him, no matter how hard we tried to stay awake.  By the way: 2 M-80 taped to a rock(the fuses were water proof) was an interesting way to fish:  you heard a muffled thud after you threw the lite bomb in the water, and a handful of stunned fish floated to the top.  Also, to our dismay, the police fined and made the newsstand owner quit selling fireworks! Later

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


before I describe my grandparents home and numerous plants, trees and flowers, i feel I should back track a little. "Buba's house was on the corner of what is now Stieren Avenue and Hathaway street, which was originally Steiren Avenue.  It was a hill connecting Brackenridge or second avenue with what was then Nelson Street. It was a tar, chip stone, and lots of oil, street When we has a good snow fall in the winter, the town would block the top and bottom off with saw horses for us kids to sled ride. They put fresh gravel at the bottom to stop the sled from going into the path of the cross street.  About a block and a half started the beginning of Allegheny Ludlum Steel Mill, which then ran along the river for about a mile.  What is interesting, my mom's dad laid out the entire side walk with cement, by hand,  The mill connected the towns of Brackenridge and Natrona. is

they developed a type of metal like stainles steel, but was so strong, it was difficult to cut or weld with a torch. For those who read, "Atlas Shrugged," it reminds me today of Rearden Metal.  Her house consisted of an old style brick building that sat right on the corner; the lower level was her grocery store, with living quarters above. attached in an "L" shape was a white board wood house with green trim and a small yard hedged in from the road. Julia(buba) and Nicholas Potocni( pronounced poooa  Touch knee), I found a picture from when they were probably first married and she was a beautiful woman and he a handsome man who was into all kinds of healthful living.  I only knew buba and when she was probably in her 60's. Nicholas worked at the steel mill; buba worked the little grocery store, 7 AM to & PM, 7 days a week.  She had 3 often used expressions: " boy, boy. boy." "I give you good smack!" and she would belt anyone trying to steel from her, especially little kids(and teenagers) who would reach around and slide open the penny candy counter-the front was glass, wood sides. and finially, she always said that there was no hell; that hell was on earth.  Why? see if you can see: her young husband hurt his arm and it got gangrene.  He refused to have it amputated at the elbow.  Buba got the doctor to lie and said they would operate and save it.  as soon as he was "under" buba signed the papers to have his arm removed.  after that he just diddn't feel like a "whole" man, gave up the will to live and died. there was no medical reason for his death.  While he was still around, buba wanted to make and bottle "moonshine" during prohibition.  he firmly would not let her. Cheeze, we could be rich like the Kennedy's who made a profit on every bottle of scotch bottled-domestic or local.  of course they ended up with three dead sons and a daughter who they had given a frontal lobotomy and was a vegetable all her adult life, lived in a home till the day she died. She was only mildly retarded, but the thought of the mighty Kennedy clan having a less than perfect kid was more than the old man wanted-to him, it was a disgrace. Back to the Potocni's a Slovak name and Buba would curse or belt you if you ever refereed to her as a Czech, or Slovenian. In between were born a set of twins, who cried non stop in their cribs, then died. to proceed the other child:  the grocery store had the old, unfinished, wood plank floors or perhaps linoleum (not modern vinyl) a large metal bucket was filled with boiling water to mop it down.  the other middle child fell backwards into the bucket; Buba grabbed him, ran cold water while holding him in the large, single tub, porcelain, sink.  my grandma, a child yet, was sent running to the only family on the block who had a phone, to have the doctor come a running with his bag.  My grandma still remembers the two of them puling the cooked flesh from his bottom and upper legs, etc., but it was too late. he was dead. Grandma said that once in awhile, in the evening, she would see her mom stare off, her eyes tearing up, and she just knew she was thinking of her losses: her husband and three kids who never made it to probably 3 years of age or so.  Hell on earth?.......There was no such thing as "the good old days.' By the way, she rented out one full size bed to 9 steel workers-3 men per shift.  Anyway, the attached white house was where my grandparents lived until they had enough or was given the down payment for a house, I know my dad was already born. Next, great uncle Steve lived there with Helen, his wife;same play: they had 2 girls then a boy, Richie.  When he was old enough to work in the mill, the house was his.  Buba favored boys. She bought Richie(her favorite) a new car every few years,  It was estimated she gave away about 50,00.00 from working that little grocery store, which would be considerable in today's dollars.  Although my grandma was very smart and her brother was not, no matter how she pleaded with her mom to let her go to college, it was a firm "NO"  Higher education was only for boys and girls were to get married and have babies and clean house.  One more tidbit and then I got to rest awhile: when Grandma went into labor with her first of three sons(my dad), Buba told her to"go into the bedroom and suffer, till the baby comes."  So much for pain meds or an epidural! Also: the Mill ran a mile and connected the town of Brackenridge with Natrona.  A cement sidewalk ran the entire distance and my mom's dad(Grandpap) did the whole thing himself-and all by hand! Later- and I hope one of my children is saving this for a family history book-feel free to correct any minor spelling errors!


the house
it seems that, for all practical purposes, bill and i pretty much lived at grandma's house;  all I can remember of the first house which my dad built with funds and land from my grandparents is supper(now called dinner);doing the dishes-bill and i would alternate who washed and who dried; emptying the garbage can under the kitchen sink-everyday-by taking it out back to a large metal garbage can.  it was brought in an realigned with overlapping newspaper.  Plastic trash bags were a future invention-like disposable diapers and powdered  baby formula, that went into plastic or disposable bottles. anyway, after supper, we watched TV-when we finally bought one-in which the cabinet in their second TV-for there house in Pymatuming Lake- was 6' long; a record player on on end and a radio on the other, with the black & white TV in the center.  The TV was connected to a roof antenna which had motor controlled by a box, which sat on top of the TV unit.  The purpose was to turn the antenna for the best reception without having to keep climbing on the roof.  After TV, it was a bath, then bed. Prayers and scripture reading was unheard of and all Catholic homes had a proudly displayed Bible on a low coffee table in the living room. the Bible was not for reading but served as a repository for newspaper clippings of family an friends/neighbors newspaper obits. Also were included were birth announcements and any family events that made it to the newspaper-mostly tragedies or bad things, rarely good stuff.

I am getting way out of line about grandma and granddad's house.  since I am getting tired i want to mention just 2 things; they bought the first TV-an Emerson. The dark mahogany or cherry cabinet  was about 3' wide, 4' high and at least 3' deep- with 2 swinging doors that opened to reveal the 16" screen. four channels--three commercial and one educational( where Mr. Rodger's started)  Back in the early 50's it cost$600.00 and every Saturday morning bill and I were there to watch the children shows.  They probably owned one of the few TV's on the street, if not in town. A TV, but no car(granddad never learned to drive).  About 1963, grandma got her first driving license.

The other thing I want you to understand was the pattern in this very ethnic town:  the father would raise and save enough money for boat(steamer) passage to America.  He would stay for awhile with relations till he secured a job in the coal mines(12 hour days, on your knees, swinging a pick ax to free the coal out of the mountain) or in one of the steel mills or glass factories as a laborer.  He had to do 2 things: one was learn English(or be fired) and, 2, set aside enough money to bring his wife and children(by ship) to the Land of the Free.  His parents and family worked hard enough, as he did, to have enough money for a house down payment.  That's the way it worked: my grandparents and children were given the money by the previous generation to get a house and start their own life, while living in a home owned by their parents and eventually, just like my great grandmother who affectionately was called Buba, which means "old lady," in Slovak.  And after my grandparents were given a start in life by their parents, the pattern ended as my folks never lent me, or any of my siblings, as much as a penny. to start our new life when we married, for a house down payment, or even for food or anything else.

OK, the next memory will be about my grandparents house and huge yard. and life there, since we spent more time there than at my parents house.  Grandma was a "cookies and milk" kind of grandparent-and it had to be granddad's hard work in the glass factory that provided the funds, not only to feed Bill and I, but we got some of the best gifts from them-especially at Christmas time.  And every time granddad went 'up north' (Kane County) to deer hunt, he had the best stories to tell about seeing Santa and his reindeer-cause he always brought some kind of gift back-like a Flexible Flyer sled or snow sliding dish or better yet a Red Ryder BB gun (can'
't remember if he saved the sleds for Christmas,  No matter).  He was the best, although, till the day he died, grandma had everyone convinced he was a mean man-to her(?)  Not so. He never even raised his voice to anyone( especially in anger), to her or anyone else in the family. AND, this is important; not once did he ever curse or use  a "swear" word to me an my brother Bill, even though, there were times it would have been more than justified. He loved to watch "fake" studio wrestling at 6 PM every Saturday on his B & W TV, and he was convinced it was real; he would sit on the edge of his chair, and when the 'bad' wrestler did something unsportsmanlike-which was a lot- granddad would talk to the TV and say many times, "You son of e beach!!  remember he still had some Slovene in his language(he could speak it) and grandma could also speak Slovak-2 different languages because they came from 2 different parts of what was then Austria-Hungary, although they were married in the U.S.A.  Good night, everyone.

Monday, December 20, 2010

the ifirst day

yes, it is true. i slept with another woman. for four days. my mother. I entered the world on21 December11947.  the winter solace and the shortest day of the year.  we would light my birthday cake candles early, just for light!  Tomorrow is my 63rd birthday and there will not be that many candles as it would be both a fire hazard and set off the smoke detectors, In reality, our family of 10 got into the habit of celebrating a birthday on the closest Sunday after church as that seemed to be a day free of work and/or school

Back to the first few days.  mom and I spent 3 days in the hospital, which was the custom back then. I think I weighed in at 5.5 lbs.  Out of the 5 boys my parents had, I was the only one who was breast fed.  i don't know why, it was so.  Really not the best tasting food, but I certainty liked the containers:)  I remember my younger brothers being bottle fed: the bottles were glass and, along with the rubber nipples and collars were boiled in a tall aluminum pot and one was removed while still hot with a pair of tongs which looked like a bent out of shape scissors with rubber tubing on one end to keep from scoring and breaking the glass. Formula: you made your own, usually with whole milk to which dark karo syrup was added. 2% milk was not thought of yet by the industry-they could take half of the cream of whole milk, make butter, then charge you for both milk and butter.  ya gotta love American greed(industry).  Anyway, breast milk was suppose to be better health wise, but I certainty had my share of childhood and later, age related illnesses. Measles, chicken pox, tonsillitis(they were removed when I was 5 years od-it was THE thing to do' and I almost bleed to death.  and, of course a cyst in my right upper arm which primitive surgery left the right arm two and a half inches shorter than the left-a pain when buying shirts or a suit coat.  how that was discovered and how I feel it was all part of God's plan, to save my life later, i will leave for another time.  Anyway, me and Mom spent my first birthday and Christmas in Allegheny Valley Hospital.  I then went home to be greeted by my brother Bill, who was 17 months my senior.  As far as I know, my parents rented a 3rd story apartment-a ugly colored, huge house next door to grandparents Valencic's.  It would be at least 6-7 years till my dad built his first house with funds donated by his parents and also t land given to them.  The property owned by my grandparents and how it was laid out into a land of gardens and fruit treat and grape vines is a magical story in itself and I will attempt to describe it next time. For now, my grandparents owned a house on Brackenridge avenue (2nd avenue and a sidewalk with land growing just about everything on each side-the side walk went all the way to River Road(or first avenue) Accross the street from River Road was Brackenridge Park. To the left. it went all the way to the water compamy, and to the right, it went to Dresser stadium, which was in the neighboring town of Tarentum-and when the other side of this baseball diamond/ football field with bleachers and a score board ended, Tarentum park started and the park was almost the length of the town.  And if you walked across the park you came to our summer hang out-the Allegheny river.  Our side had a steep dirt embankment with willow trees and over our head weeds, which had our many trails.  we always started fires to be used to throw potatoes in, which we would eat out the center's and leave the charred outsides.  The fire's were also great to throw aerosol cans and co2 cartridges in-then run like crazy before they exploded  The river was probably a mile wide and the other side had a smaller but steep embankment which, once you reached the top was a pair of active train tracks and then the rolling Allegheny hills-they were full of sulfur flowing water-orange and smelling like roten eggs. also, there were pockets or caves from companies, in years that past, were looking for coal to mine-which there was none to be found.
I'll relate some of our adventures along and on the river in another installment.  For now, understand, there was no close or convenient way to cross the river until, when we were in 6 or 7th grade and the Tarentum bridge was constructed-about where the Tarentum park ended  It was a toll bridge; half way across you had to give an attandent ten cents or a ticket from a booklet you bought to continue.  After the cost of the bridge was paid for 3 times over, it was decided to remove the toll house!

Next: the land of "milk and honey" granddad's many gardens and fruit trees while grandma took care of planting flowers.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


while i want his blog to be a history of stories (true-just like "Big Fish") of me from birth to now, the death of my father is still fresh in my mind and heart.  after 64 days without getting out of his hospital bed, except to be transported for radiation treatments on his brain, (about 30), the day he died or the day before-i cannot remember which, talking on the phone with my brother Tim(8 years younger than me, 12/08)), because he was sobbing so hard. dad opened his eyes and said loudly, "I want to die!  This, from  a robust man who always said he planned on living till he was a 100 years old, was quite traumatic to Tim and then to me when Tim told me.  He just must of had enough.  Rita, Tim's wife was a saint: always shaving dad so he would look his best and going with him in the ambulance to radiation.  I think she was the the last person in the room before he crossed over. she kissed him, said, "I love you dad," and left the room By profession, she is or has nursing skills.  but I know, and the Spirit confirms, that dad wanted everyone out of the room before he "left."
  Tim relayed another thing that I can't remember being told, but probably was, by dad, four simple values to ALWAYS do:  they are: "Always say "Please," and always say "Thank You," use a firm grim in a hand shake and ALWAYS open the door for a woman.
 They sound so simple yet, when was the last time when asking of someone, did you say, "please?" and then in gratitude, no matter how little the act, did you say, "thank you?" and not only was your handshake firm-like you meant it-because your word was your bond, and a firm handshake was you "notary seal," so to speak. And to h**l with woman's "lib" garbage, but do you ALWAYS  open the door-car, home, or a store, for your wife or just as an act of courtesy for any women of any age, perhaps an unspoken  "thank you," for having children, and not choosing abortion as a convenience, and nurturing them with love forever.  remember mom (and dad) your child is your child now and forever-more important than spending dollars on yourself or putting you pleasures- physical-pizza and booze and ice cream immediately come to mind- and buying things that you think will make you happy.  I will end tonight with this: pleasure is outside the heart: something we have to go and get or add to our list of "toys" or we will 'die' without; joy comes from inside the heart.  how often do we in the world confuse the two?  Remember, Jesus Christ wore simple clothes, didn't have the latest chariot, ate simple foods donated or bought with donations, and completely changed world views in three years.  A God, in His own right, who under the direction of his Father, created us, ALL life forms,yea,"even world without numbers."
 I wonder if He was sad on His birthday(Christmas) because he didn't have a high definition TV, an i-pod or a Lexus parked outside his step father's shop. Ending with a suggestion of life for this time of the year and next year for sure: how about the week before Thanksgiving till the Super Bowl is over, we all cancel our newspapers, turn off the radio and TV"s, no texting, and cell phones are for emergencies only? Dad(or Mom) being told to bring home "fast food" via the cell phone, for dinner, is not an emergency, and all christmas gifts can't exceed $20.00 and have to be hand made?  Could you handle it?  It's not like I am asking you to live in one of the many cavedominiums (like the Babe, Jesus and putting you children to sleep in their manger's and bed's of straw! Be of good cheer (a commandment in Romans-find it)) for if you really stop and add the + and -'s your life,blessings outnumber your sorrow's.  Even if the sorrow's of life hurt, and they do.
COMING UP IN THE NEXT BLOG: " I slept with another woman a long time before I met your mother and my wife and eternal companion: she kept me warm and cuddly and fed me meals she made herself, which she didn't do for my four brothers! and it was in no way a sin to be confessed!  love and hugs and my blessings upon you, dad / tom valencic
This blogs continuous quote is from Mark Twain:  every word can be spelled in more than one way!