Friday, July 2, 2010

#211: Happy Dormont Day

It's a sleepy day in Pennsyltucky. The only sound in the house is the oscillating fan. The neighbors across the street are playing cornhole in the yard. (Don't be alarmed. It's a beanbag toss game played by rednecks and tailgaters.) The air is mercifully free of the sound of small engines. It's been a rainless week, so the lawns are in pretty good shape, ready for hundreds of amateur pyrotechnic wizards to start setting fire to the trees. Temperatures are hovering around a perfect 80 degrees, and the bunting and flags are out and fluttering. It's Independence Day weekend in the Bluegrass.

I'll miss the hot dogs and pie this year. I'm postponing that menu till Labor Day. Chemo tomorrow, so there's not going to be any parade or barbecue for me either. That's OK. I have other priorities this year. So naturally, my mind is travelling backwards instead.

Fourth of July was "Dormont Day" in the town where I grew up. Dormont was our borough, a suburb in name only. We were for all intents and purposes part of the city of Pittsburgh, but formed sort of a buffer between the city and the nicer neighborhoods outside. The other school districts called us "greasers" and we called them "cake eaters." We joked that we usually lost the game, but alway won the fight afterwards.

Dormont Day always started with a trip to Dormont Park where you would pick up a bag filled with candy, peanuts in the shell, and a toy of some kind, usually a paddle ball that turned into a weapon as soon as the elastic string broke. If you hadn't gotten one yet, you could also get your raffle ticket for a chance to win the big Cadillac that the Volunteer Fire Department gave away every year. Then you'd go home, eat the whole bag, or at least eat till you were sick, and get ready for the parade.

The streets were lined with American Flags, some of them still had 48 stars in those days, though Alaska and Hawaii had entered the union long before. Bands, the VFW, boy scouts and fire departments. I loved all the fire trucks, Especially the big red American Lafrance that carried the Dormont Volunteer Firemen. They were heroes in our town. Brave dads who used to jump up when the big alarm over the borough building sounded and race through the streets to help whoever was in trouble. I marched a couple of times. Even got to carry the Troop 23 flag once. We would strut down West Liberty Avenue, then race home to get ready to go to the pool.

Thanks to Judi for this photo
Dormont has a great pool, the size of a small lake, or so it seemed, and we would gather at this urban oasis all summer long. The grown ups would sit tanning in the grass, the kids would play on the slides or the diving boards, and the teenagers spent their time studying anatomy out in the deep water where the little kids weren't allowed to swim. The lifeguards would whistle down at any misbehavior and the PA announcer would call your name when you failed to meet your parents at the front gate at the appointed time. Everybody looked after everybody else's kids. Dormont pool was a great place to grow up.

Then it was up the hill to the park for cook outs, lawn darts (the most horrifying and fun game in the world,) and pony league baseball where young men played like pros and little kids watched in awe behind the screen while the bad boys smoked under the bleachers along the first base line. You could walk down to the tennis courts on Memorial Drive, where the flagpole honoring World War I vets was, or you could go to the shady horse shoe pits where the old men tossed and cheered and cursed mildly (often in strange, Mediterranean tongues,) as their horse shoes arched through the air and landed in the soft clay or clanged on the stakes.

When the sun went down, the whole town seemed to gather on the big hill to watch the fireworks being shot from the pool parking lot. There were amazing aerials that went off right over your head, and ground displays that spun and crackled. It's a miracle that no one was ever killed. Then after the Grand Finale, everyone would gather up their blankets and walk back up the hill, (everyplace in Dormont was uphill,) laughing, greeting neighbors, and talking about how much better things had been the year before.

I'm sure it wasn't as beautiful as I remember it, but it was pretty darned nice.

There have been other Fourths. Summer nights on Lake Chautauqua. Drinking Rainier beer on Pismo Beach while the fire pit blazed and the rockets shot off into the Pacific night sky. Standing on Spike and Noah's roof on the Lower East Side watching the fireworks between the Twin Towers on my first summer in New York. Leaning back in my seat at the ball park, holding Mrs P close as young men with big dreams cracked homers over the left field bleachers. Beautiful nights.

But my Dormont Day memories are special. Probably as close to Norman Rockwell as a Pennsyltucky boy was ever likely to get. I sure am glad I got to be there.


1 comment:

  1. I loved getting my "grab bag", and we had the best fireworks in the city, bar none, despite being only 1 square mile big. I loved how we had to 'swim the pool and back' before we were allowed in the deep end.

    Ah Dormont, you gave me quite the wonderful childhood!

    ~kim benson


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