Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Growing Up in Athens

Submitted to the Growing Up in Athens project.

Let me begin this contribution to Growing Up in Athens with a caveat. These memories will be scattered, incomplete, and decidedly random. I would prefer that this not be seen as an indictment of my abilities to organize or of my writing skills. I blame it on repeated blows to the head, many of which occurred, well, while growing up in Athens.

Just a few examples:

·         I fell from the slide on the East Side Elementary playground at a very young age, landing on my head. I do not remember this feat, but my siblings tell me it is true.

·         While riding my bike for an unsanctioned Andy’s sugar binge, someone opened their car door. I remember ending up in the front seat.

·         Back at the East Side playground, I rode my bike down the hill, across Wallace Drive, and into the curb on the other side. My bike stopped; I went over my handlebars.

·         I played a lot of football. And I continued to play when we moved away when I was 11, in the summer of 1968. I played almost all of it without a helmet.

(A relative of Joe Mauer also hit me in the head with a baseball, but that was in Minnesota. The point is the head traumas did not end when we moved away.)

So with that information laid out in advance, let me proceed to the memories:

·         I remember at least three floods, and since we lived on South May Avenue, very much in the flood plain, these floods were significant. I recall TWO floods in 1968, but they were not the only ones. Research shows me that the floods of 1963 and 1964 were probably others I witnessed. 1968 was significant, however, because my siblings and I ended up being evacuated by the National Guard and taken to my grandmother’s apartment, a few blocks away, on Sunnyside.

·         Every time there was a flood, my father would let the basement fill with water – the water reached the second-to-last step in 1968. When other basements in the neighborhood would invariably collapse, my father would make a point of letting us know he told us so.

·         I also remember that these floods caused the school to be closed. This meant that every time it rained, the potential was there for more missed school time. For this reason, I admit, with some shame, that I cheered the Hocking River on.

·         A highlight of the (summer, I assume) weeks were the “kiddie matinees” at the Athena. I remember getting tickets at the Electric Company building across the street from our house. I also won the drawing one afternoon, a gift certificate to Swearingen’s. I bought a leather-covered rubber baseball, and put the balance of the certificate in the bag. I took the ball out on the walk home (I walked everywhere) and threw the bag away. A regret that has stayed with me.

·         I do not remember a single movie from those matinees. I do recall two of the first movies I saw were The Sound of Music at a drive-in and Help! at the Athena. I believe there were several Tarzan features.

·         I spent a lot of time at Crystal Pool. I vaguely recall the showers. Cement and a roof, but basically outdoors? I also remember “Downtown” playing over the speakers. I grew up in love with Julie Andrews and Petula Clark. Go figure.

·         I played little league baseball. Well, first I played whatever level it was that used that leather-covered rubber ball. It seems to me the fields were over by Morrison Elementary, but I could be wrong. Maybe I was hit in the head a few times playing baseball, too.

·         Father Black was our priest at The Church of the Good Shepherd. His son, David, introduced me to Strat-O-Matic and stickball, two activities that occupied most of my adolescence.

·         Jimmy Armbruster, Mark Donahoe and I set a fire in the old stove by the State Highway Building, between May and where Hudson dead ends. The fire department was called. I ran away with Mark and hid in his garage. Jimmy stayed behind to talk to the firemen. I was, generally, a well-behaved child. Al Penson may also have been involved.

·         Mathew Jonas was my best friend. He was hit by a car as we came from a movie at the Baker Center. I distinctly remember him being knocked north on College Street. All records indicate traffic never flowed that way. I cannot explain this discrepancy. It was horrible, but Mathew recovered from his injuries.

·         I was an OU Art Department kid and spent a lot of time in Siegfried Hall. I remember it was dirty in the exact same way all art buildings are dirty. The Lins, Eldridges, McCarthys, Hostetlers, Jonases, etc. were all a huge part of my childhood, as were English department families.

It was a wonderful place to grow up. I hated to leave. I miss it still.

Some photos:

 Karla, Maya and me. Art!

 The author, in his backyard.

 Little League.

 Family dog with State Highway building in background.

.Siblings. East Elementary in background


 Father and 3 children.

 Porch time with siblings.

 Mother and daughters.

Matt Leach 1-27-2015