Charles Owens 9/13/12 ..cro
The closest thing we had to a coal mining town near my hometown of Claysville, Pa., was a small mining camp that my mom called Ike’s Crossing. The town had a row of company houses sandwiched between the old National Pike on one side and the old Baltimore & Ohio Railway on the other. There was a B&O Grade Crossing at the bottom of a dip at the base of the hollow. Claysville was a big place compared to the community mom called Ike’s Crossing. The mine was never active during my lifetime, but I loved driving on the old National Pike all the time. I could just feel the history.
In the fall of 1960, everyone in southwestern Pennsylvania had Pittsburgh Pirate fever. The regular season was great. Dad actually took me to see a game at Forbes Field that summer. As the teams warmed up, I walked down to the fence that separated the stands from the field and was close enough to hear Roberto Clemente being interviewed on radio. I was no more than five feet from him and heard him say: “You’ve got to heat the bowl,” in a Spanish accent. I think he said that a lot, but after that afternoon, so did my dad and I. It was our saying for everything — like a special connection we had with the great Clemente.
Pirate games were always something we listened to on the radio, because there wasn’t anything else to listen to, and games weren’t routinely televised. The Pirates never really enjoyed much success. They were like the pre-Chuck Noll Steelers — always interesting, but seldom successful. As improbable as it was that year, the usually hapless Pirates played like champions throughout the 1960 season, and made it to the playoffs.
It was surreal when Pittsburgh won the National League pennant. I was in a fifth grade class that met in the West Alexander, Pa., fire hall because the old school was overrun by baby boomers like me. Every boy in my class huddled around the firehall radio and listened to the World Series games until it was time to go home. Win or lose, it was magic.
Dad was still recovering from his 1958 heart attack in 1960, and was working at Campsey’s Feed Store in Claysville. Mom was selling Avon and I was tending to the farm and selling eggs on the side. We were still in survival mode, living on mom’s dreams of the Great Depression, and dad’s nightmares of combat in Europe. We didn’t have anything, but we had the Pirates on the radio in the 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door that we called Pinky. I never knew why we called the car Pinky.
For some reason, dad picked us up from school on Thursday, Oct. 13, 1960. Stu was in second grade at the old West Alexander school building. My sister Peggy was in the seventh grade at the United Methodist Church and I was at the fire hall. After dad picked us all up, he said he needed to go back to the feed store and make some deliveries on our way back to our farm. Dad could have said we were driving to Timbuktu for all Peggy and I cared — as long as we could get KDKA-AM on the radio to hear the game.
I’m sure that dad made a couple stops before we got to one of the row houses at Ike’s Crossing where he pulled into a driveway and carried some packages to a small house ... a shack, really. The thing I really remember about that time was how humbling my life was. I remember going into Campsey’s one day with hat-in-hand to pick up something small for the farm. Dad was working, but someone else sold me what I needed. I didn’t want anybody there to see my face. I feared they could look through my eyes and see poverty in my soul.
The last two innings of the Pirates-Yankees game 7 were thrilling. The Pirates were up, and the Yankees came back. Peggy and I edged closer to the radio with every pitch and listened as Bob Prince described the intensity of the game. The action was so compelling that we could almost feel the steel I-beams that held the old ballpark together and taste the salt from the hot roasted peanuts.
Time passed. Three years later, we moved off the farm and into our home at 104 Main Street. Peggy started attending college at West Liberty in 1965 and I drove her back to the campus every Sunday night. I never took new U.S. Route 40 between Claysville and West Alex. I always drove the old National Pike. When we passed that driveway where we listened to the end of the game, both of us would say: “That’s where we were when we heard Bill Mazeroski hit the home run that beat the Yankees at Forbes Field.” We never tired of hearing those words. They transported us from the reality around us to a magical place where dreams came true. Maz was from Wheeling — just down the road from us.
Bill Archer is the Daily Telegraph’s senior editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles Owens 9/13/12 ..cro
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