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Tuesday, July 12, 2022


 The folks who really knew me early on said that I took after the McCloskey side of family, especially 

in the looks, that I took after my grandfather, William McCloskey.  This clan originally hailed from the 

Johnstown, Pa area.  We had relatives who died in the Johnstown Flood and who fought for the Union at 

Gettysburg.  My grandfather and his wife Mary Pearl Angus McCloskey had two daughters: my mother 

Elmina and her older sister Evelyn.  Together the two McCloskey girls would go on to bear 12 girls and 

two boys.  I suspect the reason everyone in this clan said I resembled my grandpa was because I was a 



From left to right: Auntie Evelyn Lawrence, Sharon Lawrence, Grandma McCloskey, Elmina Petras

        Anyhow, every summer my Uncle Ray and Aunt Evelyn loaded up their bus (they had ten of the 14 

kids) and met us up at Rock Springs Amusement Park in Chester, West Virginia for rides and a picnic.  

Auntie Evelyn made the best potato salad ever, Pennsylvania Dutch style. The kiddie rides at Rock 

Springs were pretty memorable, too.


Safely landed, with sister Elaine as navigator.

    During my kiddy ride days, my Aunt Evelyn was still a few kids shy of having a full battalion.  

Cousin Richard was six years older than I, and I had always hoped mom and Auntie would someday 

pop out a boy whom I could beat up.  I was five when my parents brought home my third and youngest sister, 

Elaine, whose introduction to me was pretty much summed up by my house-welcoming to her: “Oh, no, not 

another dumb girl!”

            “Auntie,” by the way, is a term of endearment of the mountain folk of Pennsylvania Dutch.  On the Petras—Slovak—side we always said “Aunt.”


Judy and I sharing a boat at Rock Springs

 The kiddie rides at Rock Springs were especially memorable, thanks to my family’s passing down tales through the generations of the horrors that had befallen them at Johnstown.  And it all started because of an earthen dam upstream constructed by rich people,  like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. Because of this catastrophe, my mom never trusted anything put together by man.  When we rode the tethered airplanes at Rock Springs, Mom expressed her concerns that their cables would snap and fling us back to Johnstown.  Mom equally voiced her fears that the kiddie boats would sink and we would drown like Great Aunt Auntie Suzanne Buck, the kiddie cars would crash and give you seven kinds of whiplash.  As far as the mammoth wooden wonder, the Cyclone Roller Coaster went, you could get stampeded to the size of an Amish throw rug just by standing in line.

            Probably the kiddy ride I remember the most in my kiddy days was the Ferris wheel. Rock Springs smelled like buttered popcorn and cotton candy.  And I could smell these sweet aromas as I wheeled around and around, listening to the calliope of the merry-go-round and the laughter and screams on the big boy rides. Suddenly I stopped wheeling around and my carriage, with me still inside it, stopped at the tip top.  And I started thinking about Great Auntie Suzanne, how she clung on to that tree branch until her Pennsylvania Dutch grip let go and she was swept away with the raging Little Conemaugh River, and I started trembling and my trembling started rocking the carriage, and I let out a scream, but returned to earth safely, more mature from the firsthand experience,  bearing my park souvenir of electrified white hair.


At the top left is our tethered airplane right before its cable snapped and flung us to Johnstown.

The tethered planes platform. sometimes known as the launch pad

       A few years later, I did not think girls were so dumb, just those I was related to.  Near the end of the 

school year, 7thand 8thgrade at SC Dennis Junior High would load up the buses and take us to Rock 

Springs Park for the day. I was in Seventh Grade and rode the Cyclone, bumper cars, tilt-a-whirl with a 

pretty blonde eighth-grader Debbie Westlake, and we went on the tunnel of love quite a few times.  I 

even worked up the courage to put my arm around her shoulders. Debbie was my girlfriend that 


            I really can’t remember any more memorable experiences at Rock Springs after my tunnel-of-love summer.   I remember becoming self-conscious about pimples and nose hair and tattle tell sisters.  But the wildest amusement ride of all is life itself, and my wife Debbie (Minor) and I had our first born, a girl, of course,  in 1976.  Most everyone says Severine looks like me; so she must take after the McCloskey side of the family in the looks department, but not the Johnstown fears.  She, together with our son and their spouses-- Felipe and Brandie --have four girls and two boys.  I believe it’s a good time to endear these beautiful women in the family by calling them Auntie.  

We have enough in the family now to participate in a good go at bumper cars.

            Rock Springs Park closed in 1970, the year before I graduated from Toronto High School.  But every once in a while every summer I go back to Rock Springs for a spin or two in the front car of my memories.


Moments before derailment


My last time on a Ferris wheel--ever

Auntie Evelyn on stampede look-out in front of the Cyclone


            When I was growing up, my dad worked at Sears and Roebuck.  He didn’t have any stock, but he had a lot of stock sayings.  He especially liked to blurt “money doesn’t grow on trees.”  He blurted “money doesn’t grow on trees” so much I suspected he was hiding something.
            I like to attribute my father’s frugalness to being a child of the Great Depression, as were most of the parents of my generation—the Baby Boomers.  By the way we lived it up back then, you would have thought the Great Depression ended with the landing on the moon. 
            Only rich people had color television sets back in our day.  The average family had one console tv, a monstrous rectangle of wood and plastic that could have been a recycled coffin.  These black-and-white monsters squatted upon the living room floor and received black-and-white transmissions from the lightning -rod antennas snugged to the chimneys, the tines on the antennas with spans as long as the Market Street Bridge.  On a good day, they could pick up fuzzy transmissions clear to western Pittsburgh, depending, of course, upon on how high your house stood on a T-town hill.
            Often, when some neighbor was operating a power tool, the broadcast emitted on your coffin emitted enough static and white squiggly thingies to make your standard RCA casket look like a snow globe.  Other times, the vertical control went bonkers, resulting with a never-ending black-and-white image steadily dripping from top to bottom, a visual torment as excruciating as the infamous Chinese water torture.
            Whenever the vertical took the eternal horizontal, you brought into the living room the little shoe box portable your mom watched game shows and soap operas on and mounted it upon the lifeless snow globe.  Every night, you participated in the family squint fest watching the only channel the rabbit ears would pick up—good, old Channel 9.  The television remote back then consisted of the youngest son, who had to physically hike from the couch to the microscopic tv to turn by hand the volume and blasted vertical control.  Often, he had to hold one of the aerials so that the reception improved.

No one had private swimming pools or jacuzzies in our day, if they did their name was Clampett.  The closet thing that came to a private swimming pool was if you lived within the proximity of a creek and it was dammed and had lazy spills and pools.  We swung into the cool flowing waters of the creeks from monkey vines and had chicken fights and other challenges with our friends while our pop chilled within the shallows of the creek.
            None of us lived in air-conditioned homes back then.  In the Petras manor, we had one condition—“Either stay inside or out,” another stock saying of my dad.  We had screen windows on the house and one fan that was about the size of the box that package the television, the one the size of box the Keds came in.  Whenever a hole developed in one of the window screens, my mom would darn it with a needle and thread.
            Our family cars provided little relief from the summer sun.  On the hottest days, we rolled the windows completely down manually with hand cranks as stubborn as tow truck winches.  For extra BTUs, you would accelerate the MPHs.  Additional climate control could be maintained by moving these little triangle panels of glass in front of the passenger and driver’s windows.  It was only when I was taking Driver’s Ed that I learned these little glass jibs were called “vents,” not “cigarette disposal ports.”
            In a Baby Boomer’s booming day, self-propelled and self-motivated usually resulted from a gentle nudge toward the lawn from a father’s steel-toed work boot.  Steel rule usually awarded lawn care duties to the designated television remote, or so titled at 1017 Biltmore Avenue the “aerial- holding specialist.”
            We indeed had one of those push mowers you sometimes see in a museum.  Our so-called push mower was more like a mush mower because it required to budge it a smidgen the lean and the leg power of an Iditarod sled dog.  The mower paddlewheeled glass clippings, dandelions and dust while chirruping like a Bill Mazeroski baseball card in the spokes of a bicycle.
            After zigzagging swathes of lawn that resembled a cornfield maze, you rewarded yourself with a cool drink from your outside drinking fountain, more commonly known as the garden hose.
            There must have been something rejuvenating about the taste of rubber-flavored water.  We always had plenty of energy remaining for a game of sandlot baseball.  In our day, we didn’t have composite-alloy bats.  “Graphite” we called “lead,” and it was inside our standard number 2 Ticonderoga pencils, and the wood of the pencil was probably the same wood our bats were made from.  If you swung the 28-ounce Ticonderoga bat and connected the hardball smack dab on the trademark, the bat handle would crack and need some repair because we didn’t have extra bats.  We would mummify the bat handle with black electrical tape that we would borrow from some father’s toolbox and use the bat over and over until it was reduced to a mere tent peg.
            The leather from the hardballs would also peel off as would the compressed yarn comprising the ball’s guts.  Again, we would repair it with a generous raveling of borrowed electrical tape.
            On the Baby Boomer sandlot, we did not have batting gloves to reduce the sting of contact with the hardball.  Believe me, hitting a taped-up Spalding with a tape-reinforced 15-inch Louisville Slugger emitted an aftershock you felt clear up to your ears.  To reduce the sting to a mere 5.5 on the Richter scale, we would spit into our palms and rub a generous helping of dirt into them.  Come to think of it, we didn’t do much handshaking after games.

            I like to think I have come a long way from those booming Boomer days.  Now, after a few hours of mowing grass on my John Deere X330, I like to hang out at my pool with a glass of Cabernet.  My wife Debbie says that my wine would best pair with a brown paper bag.  My taste buds have progressed, as well.  I can detect traces of black cherry, chocolate, tobacco, with a very big finish of garden hose.