Excerpt for Winter Is My Middle Name by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Winter Is My Middle Name



By


DW Rayner



Published by DW Rayner at Smashwords




Copyright 2017 by DW Rayner



Heather Rayner Ditch - Editor


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. All rights reserved. No reproductions, by any means, are allowed. Excerpts may be used for critical reviews only. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


This book is available in print at online retailers.


Some of the places in this book are real and some are fictional, but the characters and events are all fictional and purely a figment of my warped, fragmented imagination. Any resemblance of anyone living or dead is purely coincidental.



Dedicated to my wife Darlene, my daughters Heather & Erin, my grandchildren Collin, Ethan & Jaxon, and my son-in-law John.

Thank You All!



Table of Contents:


Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10


January nips the fingers and bites the toe

February is full of ice and snow

March winds down the chimney blow

April showers

Bring May flowers

June pretty flowers everywhere

Warm July our nation's birthday

August ripens peach and pear

School begins in warm September

In October leaves all fall

Turkeys come in bleak November

Then comes December, best of all!


My mother knew that old poem by heart and would always say it in the winter. I think deep down she really liked winter almost as much as I did. Now, many years after she has gone, my wife and I are taking down our Christmas tree on January 2. This has become a tradition and it is still just as sad now as when I was a kid. Even though I hate putting the tree up in December, come January, I hate to take it down. I don't know if this will be our last Christmas together when you get old you start thinking about things like this and your past in general.

As I look out the window there is no snow in sight. This has been the warmest winter I can recall since the early 1960s. That was a year like this and I thought it would never snow, but snow it did! I was ready to run away to Canada, there is always snow there I thought. That was my goal in life, to go to Canada and build a log cabin along a desolate lake. Just fish, trap animals, cut firewood, and have a small vegetable garden with fruit trees all around. Yes, I had it all planned out I could not wait to get out of school. It was a waste of time I knew how to read, write, and do arithmetic, that was all I needed to know, or so I thought at the time. Enjoy this look back at a simpler time, when no one locked their doors and kids could play outside and roam the neighborhoods without fear of anything happening to them. I can hear my mother telling me, "Just be home when the streetlights come on." There were pay phones everywhere, cell phones weren't invented, and not everyone had a television. It was a fun time growing up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and we enjoyed every minute. I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it.




Chapter 1



There I was, trudging home from school. Normally I would be running home; the sooner I got away from the school the better. Christmas vacation was too short; they should give us the three winter months off from school and let us go to school in the summer. It was January 2; this was always the saddest day of the year. Not only did I have to go back to school, but it would also mean that when I got home, my mother would be taking down the Christmas tree! I hated to see the Christmas season come to an end. I loved Christmas and anything that involved snow or ice. "Winter" was my middle name! I could not stand being in the house. It didn’t matter how cold it was outside, I would spend every minute I could sled riding, skiing, or just walking in the snow. I loved it! When I came into the house, my fingers would start to sting and I would run cold water over them to take the pain away.

We had snow at Christmas, but now there were only traces of it where the snowplows piled it up along the streets or where it was heaped up along the sidewalks after being shoveled. The piled up snow was turning black from the soot and coal smoke spewing out of the chimneys on houses and from the smokestacks at the mill. At the other end of town, the snow piles were turning a rusty brown color from the open hearths and the blast furnaces. We lived in the west end of town and the wind blew everything toward the east end.

At least my father would not be at home with his yelling "Fiddlesticks!" at everything he didn’t agree with. He was working 3-11 in the steel mill and I would be in bed long before he got home. He was from England and believed in the class system, and of course he was at the top. He thought everyone was put on earth to serve him and "children should be seen, and not heard."

During World War II, he was a radioman in the British Navy; he always called it the "Royal Navy." He had a way of using words like "lorry, flat, loo, fag, blimey, and cheerio." My friends had no idea what he was talking about, and for the longest time I thought "little bugger" was a term of endearment. When I would bring a friend home, he would ask me, "What's that little bugger up to?" It wasn’t until I was grownup that I found out that it had a very different meaning.

When he was home my mother had to cook meat, potatoes, gravy, and vegetables for every meal; I hated all these big meals. I only "ate to live," I didn’t "live to eat" like my pal Tubby, he would eat constantly! Now mom could open a can of soup, or make hamburgers or hotdogs, and we both would be happy.


My father had been stationed in Baltimore for a month while they made repairs to his ship and my mother had been working there at the Social Security office as a keypunch operator. It was New Year's Eve and they met in a dark, smoke-filled little bar. Three weeks later they were married. That is how my mother was, very impulsive, I think everyone who knew her must of thought she had lost her mind. A week later, he shipped out and occasionally she would receive a letter from him. It was during the war and they could only send mail when they went into a port. The letters would be postmarked "Cape Town," "Sierra Leone," or some other exotic place. The remainder of the time they were out looking for Nazi warships. After the war was over, my father returned to England and sent for my mother. They lived there for several years and that is where I was born during the "storm of the century." I imagine that was why I enjoyed winter so much.

My mother did not like living in England; she said it was too wet and cold. It was a custom in England to put the babies outside for at least twenty minutes everyday. They believed it was very healthy for them; perhaps they were right.

My mother would go shopping and leave me outside in the pram with all the other babies. One day she came out and there was a horse looking into the pram and she almost had a heart attack. That was when she finally convinced my father to come back to Johnstown. He found a job in the steel mill and they rented a house in "Ducky Beach." There were no ducks and no beach, just a great view of the Conemaugh Gap and the steel mills. This section of town did not have sewers, so we had an outhouse, cold running water, and electricity. We eventually got a telephone.

I remember my mother heating water on the stove so I could take a bath. There was a big, maroon enamel Kalamazoo coal stove in the middle of the kitchen to heat the house. We used to sit at the kitchen table in front of the stove and listen to "Superman" and "Fiber Magee and Molly" on the radio. The public sidewalk went right by our window and we would see women coming home from shopping, carrying their bags, or coal miners with their lunch buckets, stooped over from a hard day's work, covered with coal dust, coming home.

My father could not believe there was not a toilet in the house. He said he was going to get a "real" house even if he had to build it himself, and eventually he did. That is how we came to be living in a cement block foundation. It was like living in a cave. Most of it was below ground except for the back where the door was located. The few windows we had were high up and you could not see anything out of them, except for the sky.


I was walking past Silver’s Drug store and I stopped to look into the big glass window. It didn’t matter what the weather was like, the glass was always clean. There was a long counter with old-fashioned stools with backs on them, not like the more modern round stools at the Dairy Dell. The floor was made up of small black and white octagon tiles, and when I had money to spend, I would go inside for the best milkshake five cents could buy. Then I remembered we had to take the tree down and I knew I should get moving and get it over with. There would be no changing my mother’s mind and I might as well not even try. Up ahead I saw my pal Tubby; he wasn’t what you would call fat, just big. I ran up to him and tapped him on the back. He jumped a foot off the ground, which was high for his size!

"What’re you trying to do Danny? Scare the crap out of me!"

"Take it easy Tubby, that would take a lot a scaring. I have to get home to help take down the Christmas tree."

"Taking it down already? Aren’t you going to leave it up for the Russian Christmas?"

"Naw, my Dad wouldn’t want anyone to think we were Russians!" The Russian Christmas was celebrated on January 7, and from our neighborhood we could look across the valley over to the Russian neighborhood where it looked like every house was lit up.

My dad would put a ten-watt candle in the window and that was our outside decoration. Although one year after Christmas he found two sets of outdoor lights, with eight bulbs on each string, on sale for ninety percent off, and he bought them. That was all he talked about for a week. How he got those lights for only ten percent of the original price. He thought it was the deal of the century! The following year he put them on the two small evergreens on each side of our front door. Well, eight lights on those trees did not cover much. It was the skimpiest looking outside decoration I ever saw. I think we were the talk of the neighborhood that year. He never put them up again.

"Hey, are you going skating Friday at Faiths Grove?" I asked Tubby.

"It’s Friday, isn’t it? Of course I’ll be there." Tubby also lived to roller skate; he was there everyday they had skating. He would also go over to Roseland, Skateland, or Skate Away and skate there if he had enough money.

"I’ll see you there, since we haven’t had much snow yet this winter. I would sooner be sled riding or skiing in the graveyard." The graveyard was like our private park; it was where we played football, baseball, and went skiing and sled riding.

"I’m going with Joe. We’ll meet you at the graveyard at 6:30, OK?"

"Ok, I’ll be there. You know, I really don’t like Joe. He’s always getting me into some kind of trouble."

"You don’t like anyone, you know that? It’s not just you; he gets everyone into trouble!"

He was right. I didn’t have any "best" friends; Tubby was about as close to a best friend as I would ever get. We had a lot in common. He was an only child like me, and our fathers worked shifts in the mill. I guess I was sort of a loner. I didn't mind being by myself. It seemed in those days that when you were with your "friends" it involved a lot of hitting each other, which I didn’t like. If you were walking down the street with your "buddy," and he spied an empty Lucky Strike cigarette pack on the sidewalk, he would jump on it while at the same time punching you in the arm yelling "Lucky Strike!!" Or if he found an empty Camel cigarette pack, he would pick it up and ask "Hits or cracks?" You would respond with either and it seemed like no matter which one you said you would end up getting punched in the arm. He would peel off the blue tax stamp to reveal either an "H" or a "C" and would say either "You're right, its "H'" and punch you or if it was a "C" you would get punched because you were wrong. When someone punched me I would go crazy, I could not explain it. So that is probably one reason I didn't have many close friends.

I just tried to get along with everyone I was with at the moment, but there was something about Joe I just didn’t like. He had a way of getting into trouble without even trying. If you were sitting next to him on the playground, in the next moment you would be running for your life because some big kid was running after Joe and anyone he was with, yelling, "I’ll kill you!" I never knew what he did to those guys to make them so angry, but they sure didn’t like him.

"Yeah, yeah, I’ll see you there!"


When I arrived home, my mother, who was as tough as nails, had all the ornaments off the tree and put in the boxes. She was now taking off the icicles and saving them for next year. I could never understand why she didn’t just throw them out with the tree; they were only ten cents a box! I guess it had something to do with growing up during the "Great Depression" that I always heard about. She was always telling me how lucky I was to have all the things that I had. When she was little she had to make her own clothes out of gunnysacks, and they itched!

She always had that Lucky Strike cigarette hanging out of her mouth. When they coined the phrase "chain smoker" they must have had her in mind. As she talked, the cigarette would bounce up and down between her lips like a twig bouncing in the wind. It was amazing to watch. I don’t know how she did it, but the ash never did fall off. She had an ashtray on every table and would flick her ash into the closest one as she went about her daily routine.

My father, on the other hand, was a Camel smoker. A little too strong for my taste, I preferred the "Luckies." He would also smoke a pipe or cigars, whatever was closest. The steelworkers smoked cigarettes (or "fags" as my father called them), coalminers used snuff (either Copenhagen or Skoal) and the refractory workers used side chew (like Mail Pouch or Beechnut). And they all liked their beer!

My father was a "jack of all trades, master of one." He was an expert in electrical, radio, and television repair. When our 1933 Plymouth would break down, I would hear him yelling, "Fiddlesticks, that damn throw out bearing went again!" Although this was not electrical, he became an expert. He would replace throw out bearings as often as other people changed oil. He could change that bearing in two hours. He would be out in the street in front of our house and would be lying under the car with just his feet sticking out. His feet would turn one way then another, and then disappear all together. I would have to stay there the whole time just in case he needed something. Every now and then you would hear "Oh fiddlesticks!" and some mumbling. I would pretend I didn't hear anything.

My parents called that old car the "Green Hornet." They gave all of our cars names. I didn't know of anyone else that did this and I never told my friends about it. Our next "new" car was a 1950 Studebaker, the model that had the rocket-shaped front end; they called it "True Blue Trudy." It was blue, just like the Plymouth was green. We never bought a brand new car; any car with less than 50,000 miles was new to my father. I am not sure if he realized that the odometer only went to 99,999 miles, and then went back to 0. I am sure all the cars he bought had over 100,000 miles on them. They all had some sort of defect.


"I ran into Tubby on the way home and we’re going skating on Friday," I told my mother.

"What else is new? You go skating every Friday. You don’t know how lucky you are that you can do that. During the "depression" we could only afford food, and we were very grateful for it, not like some people I know." Then of course she was looking right at me. My father would get so upset that I didn’t eat everything on my plate. I just wasn’t a big eater, He would have liked the way Tubby could eat! Then my mother would try to defend me and he would say "Fiddlesticks," and that would be the end of the discussion.

"Who all is going skating?"

"Me, Tubby, and Joe."

"I don’t like that Joe kid. Ever since his father died, he seems to have gone off the deep end. And Tubby, well you know what his mother did don’t you? She went and painted all her kitchen appliances BLACK! Can you believe that? They’ll be locking her up in the loony bin soon! White is the only color they come in, just go look in Sears or Montgomery Ward. Did you ever see a green fridge or stove? NO, and no yellow or pink and especially not BLACK! I just couldn’t believe it when I heard about it. So you better watch that Tubby kid, it just may be hereditary!"

With that she left the room shaking her head and mumbling to herself. She was the school truant officer and that was how she knew so much about everyone. Then she stopped and turned around and said, "I just remembered, we have to go up to Farmer Black’s place. He didn’t send his kids to school again and he can’t blame the weather; we haven’t had much snow yet and hunting season is over. I don’t know what is going on up there."

It was always an eerie drive up there to that farm. The trees above the steep road bank had roots sticking out of them like arms with hands and long gnarled fingers that dug deep into the ground to keep them from falling over on to the dirt road below. The sign at his property line stated: "KEP OWT." I am not the best speller, but even I knew "KEEP" had two "E's.

"Oh man! I don’t want to go up there! Remember what happened to us the last time? That darn pig chased you down the road! I think he left him out on purpose. Can’t you wait until dad can take you?"

That pig was as big as a Nash Metropolitan! My father and I waited out in the car with the motor running. He was sitting in the driver's seat of our 1933 Plymouth, looking over his shoulder, watching the old farmhouse. He saw what was happening and he leaned over and opened the passenger door just as my mother reached the car. She jumped in and slammed the door shut just as the pig got to the car. It was a close one. My father floored the gas pedal and we took off at breakneck speed, at least for a 1933 Plymouth, down that old Country Road. That episode would be remembered for years to come.

"I guess we could go up tomorrow before he goes to work. We’ll see. I did want to get this tree out of the house before he comes home tonight."

"Sounds like a plan to me. I’ll help you take it out. It’s going to get dark soon anyway, and you don’t want to go up the Country Road in the dark."


Friday finally arrived; for me it was the best day of the week during the school year. It meant no school for two days! Yippee! But then Sunday would come and I would keep thinking "I have to go to school tomorrow," and that ruined the whole day. I think Sunday was the worst day of the week.

I ran home from school and mom had made pancakes for supper. Now this was a meal I could get used to, but my dad would never hear of it. He would say, "Pancakes for supper? Fiddlesticks!" After we ate I ran to my room to get my dungarees and white tee shirt. When I opened the drawer, it was EMPTY! I couldn't believe it. Where were my clothes? What had happened?

"MOM, where are my clothes?"

"Because of the holiday I am a day behind on everything. I won't be washing clothes until tomorrow."

"Tomorrow? What am I going to wear to go skating tonight?"

"You can wear your dress clothes."

My dress clothes? She must have been kidding; I couldn't go skating in them! I would never live it down. Every kid there would be wearing the uniform of the era: dungarees, white tee shirt, clodhoppers, and a crew cut or a flattop hair cut. NOT dress clothes! It was bad enough that I was not allowed to wear clodhoppers, but there was NO way I was going there in dress clothes.

I looked in all my drawers, closet, laundry bag – NOTHING. I was doomed. I had to go skating; there was no snow to go sled riding or skiing - what else could I do on a Friday night? I put on my dress shirt, dress pants, and black shoes. Maybe no one would notice; it was winter and I had to wear a coat. But, I couldn't skate with a coat on. I was definitely doomed!


As I approached the graveyard, I could see Tubby and Joe sitting on a headstone waiting for me. I never would step on a grave let alone sit on a headstone; I knew better than that.

"Get off that stone," I yelled.

"The guy under here don't care what we're doing up here," replied Joe sarcastically. Oh, I didn't like that Joe!

"You got to learn to take it easy, Danny," yelled Tubby. "Hey! Look at YOU! Aren't you a DANDY!"

"What are talking about?" I pretended I had no idea what he meant.

"You're a DANDY in those dress duds."

"Hey! Don't say things like that!"

"Hey Danny is a Dandy, Danny is a Dandy," said Joe in a singsong voice.

Tubby yelled, "Lets go Dandy, we're going to be late."

"Hey you guys, cut it out. My dungarees are all in the wash. Tomorrow I will be wearing them again."

"Naw, I don't think so. I bet you’re a Dandy now," yelled Joe.

"Shut up Joe! Quit calling me that."

"You going to make me?"

"Don't push me or I just might."

"Ha, ha, ha," he laughed as he shoved me away.

Just then Tubby stepped in and separated us. He knew what my temper was like. He found out the hard way. We were playing with his Marx - Fort Apache set, the one with the trading post, in his living room one day. I liked this set because it had the trading post. That would be where I would have to go for all of my supplies when I moved to Canada. I would trade the furs from the animals that I would trap for sugar, flour, coffee, and anything else that I would need. Yes, I had it all planned out.

I had the Indians and Tubby had the Cowboys. He punched me in the arm as he shot one of my Indians and yelled "I gotcha!" He did this a few times.

My immediate reaction was to hit him back, but I controlled myself. Then he hit me again, only harder, and I went berserk and was on top of him pounding him with all my might. His mother heard us and came running into the room and pulled me off of him while yelling "STOP IT!! You're going to kill him. Get off him right NOW!"

I didn't know what came over me. Tubby was twice my size and I am not a fighter, but when someone hits me, I just go crazy.


"Come on, let's go. I don't want to be late," Tubby hollered

Nothing more was said until after we got inside and started skating. Then Joe said "Hey Dandy, come and get me," as he skated away.

Then Tubby started doing the same thing and everyone was looking to see who Dandy was. I could hear someone saying, "That’s not Dandy, its Danny" and "So is he Dandy now?" Then, after an hour or so, everyone in the entire rink was calling me "Dandy." I couldn't take it any longer, and I snuck out and went home early.

That was how I got my nickname "Dandy." Boy, I hated that the first few weeks. Everyone I saw was calling me Dandy. I couldn't believe how fast something like that got around the neighborhood and the school. I would run all the way home, through back alleys and side streets trying to avoid everyone, but I would always run into someone and they would say, "Hey Dandy, where you going?"


After a few weeks I figured it was no use fighting it, it was not going to go away. I may as well get used to being "Dandy." Maybe if everyone saw that it didn't bother me, they would quit calling me Dandy and I could go back to just being "Danny." No such luck. I would be known as Dandy for the rest of my life.

Things started looking up and I wore the nickname "Dandy" with pride. Even my mother and relatives started calling me Dandy - everyone except my father. He would only call me Dan or Daniel, not Danny and certainly not "Dandy."


It was a cold morning and I was eating my Puffed Rice; not because I liked it, but I wanted the land deed that was advertised on the box. The cereal’s radio show was about Sergeant Preston, a Mountie in the Yukon. In each box of Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat they would give away a deed to a square inch of land in the Yukon where Sergeant Preston and his trusty sled dog King had their adventures every week. After that, we cereal eaters were offered a one-ounce "poke" of genuine "Yukon dirt" for 25 cents. This was my goal in life, to move to Canada and get a dog sled and live by a lake in a log cabin. Like I said, I loved winter.

My mother came into the kitchen after going out for the newspaper and said, "The Russians are going to have a white Christmas. It smells like snow."

She could smell anything. I don't know how, being a chain smoker, but she could. I couldn't smell anything different from the day before, but she was usually right. About an hour later it did start to snow, and snow, and snow. I didn't think it would ever quit. It was twenty below zero and the winds were howling down from the mountaintops. Roads were drifted shut, vehicles were left abandoned in the middle of the streets; school was closed for the first time that I can remember. Life was Great! I would not have to run away to Canada after all.


We were lucky that we lived close to a dump. Other kids had to go to the hardware store for things; we just went to the dump and found everything for free. We were poor, but we never knew it. Tubby said he saw a Westinghouse refrigerator at the dump. Now this was the Cadillac of all refrigerators and had the best door for sledding. It had an Art Deco look with four rounded corners, not like the more modern boxy refrigerators with the square corners. The square corners would dig into the snow and the "sled" would not go anywhere. We knew this because we tried one last year and it was very disappointing.

All we had to do was to take off the handle and tie a rope through the hole and that Westinghouse door would fly down the hill at 30 miles an hour. Nothing would stop it! You could fit eight kids on it and all that weight made it go that much faster. This was going to be the best winter ever!

As I look back now, I often wonder how none of us were seriously injured. We would sled ride out into the street without looking for cars. Surprisingly none ever came. We would also climb to the top of the street, which was on a big hill. We would get a running start….fly down that street straight down the road through several intersections. No cars ever came in all the years we did this. I know there was not as much traffic then as there is now, but it is a wonder that a car never came. We were very fortunate.


We ran over to the dump before someone beat us to it. Luckily the fridge was still there, standing alongside a Wedgewood stove, both upright like two mighty sentries with old tires, rims, broken glass and other garbage lying all around. The door still intact. Tubby brought a hammer and a ten-penny nail to knock the pins out of the hinges. The handle was the only problem; it had to come off. It looked like a gearshift from a 1932 Ford pickup truck, with a round base and it protruded from the door at an angle. To open the door, you would pull on the handle and turn to the left or right.

Tubby had learned over the years how to get these off. He had made a mistake one year and he didn't take the hinges off first and after he took the handle off, the door would not open. We had to leave that refrigerator at the dump, sealed closed, never to be opened again. Sometimes you would see Tubby down there looking at that old thing; it was like he was paying his last respects to it. It was still there at the bottom of the dump and was now half buried with trash. In a year or two it would be completely covered.

Tubby looked at his Hopalong Cassidy wristwatch before he started. He was always trying to see if he could break his old record time of five and half minutes. He looked like a safe cracker that you see in the movies. He would cock his head to the side, put his ear near the base of the handle, and listen to the clicks as he gently swung the handle back and forth while at the same time pulling outward on it. He almost had it, I could tell by the big grin on his moon-like face.

But just then, it turned into a frown; something had gone wrong. The handle would not come off. Even though it was only twenty degrees outside, he was starting to sweat. He would move the handle to the left, then to the right, slowly, then faster. This went on for several minutes. There was no way he was going to break his record this year. I thought this fridge was going to end up with the other one at the bottom of the dump. Just then he swung the handle almost halfway around gave it a yank and it popped out and the smile returned to his face.

Now we had to pull it over to the graveyard; these things weighed a ton! I had brought an old piece of rope with me and we tied it onto the door and in no time flat we were on our way to try it out. The next problem was that all this snow was too fresh and deep to sled ride on. We went home and got our skis. Now these, of course, are not store bought skis. They were made from barrel staves that we found at the dump. We would find the widest stave, cut it in half and make a pointed tip where it was cut. Then an old belt was cut and nailed onto the staves for a strap for our feet. We would find an old candle and rub it on the bottom of the stave and we were ready to ski! After a few runs down the slope, the snow started to get packed down. More kids showed up with sleds, snow saucers, and coal shovels.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with shovel riding and have never slid down a hill on coal shovel, let me explain so you can try it out. Get a coal shovel, about a foot square, preferably with a short handle, and go to a steep hill. Straddle the shovel with the handle in front of you, grab the handle and lean back, and then hold on for dear life as you fly down the hill. It is really great! Of course our parents didn't appreciate us taking their shovels.

All this activity really packed the snow down. We put our barrel stave skis to the side and got that old refrigerator door and about six of us piled on. Riding this was similar to the snow saucers; you could not steer, and it went wherever it wanted to go. Sometimes it would go straight down the slope and other times it would be spinning around, zigzagging from side to side. We saw a group of kids pulling their sleds up the hill and we started yelling for them to get out of the way. We must have been going faster than the speed of sound because they acted like they didn't hear us and never moved. It was like getting a strike in bowling; kids and sleds went flying in all directions, some just wobbled back and forth and then fell over.

At the bottom of the graveyard was a dump where they threw all of the dead flowers, wreathes, and anything else they didn't want. It was overgrown with bramble bushes and small saplings. So when we got to the bottom, if we made it that far, we would either jump off or ride it into the dump. When we finally stopped, we would be so dizzy we would not be able to stand up for several minutes.

This was fun the first few days, but then our enthusiasm waned, and we got tired of pulling the heavy door up the hill. We would abandon the fridge door and eventually take it back to the dump to be covered over by the next day's trash.

We couldn't leave the door in the graveyard dump. The gravedigger, who lived two streets above the graveyard and always watched what we were doing, would yell at us to get it out of there. "It doesn't belong there," he would tell us.

I think he was a retired coalminer. He was short but muscular and I was always amazed that he could dig a six-foot deep grave in three hours, even in the winter when the ground was frozen solid. The sides would be perfectly straight and smooth. It was a work of art!


The following Monday school opened up again and all the roads were cleared of snow. Everything was returning to normal. This also meant that all of our fun was over. After supper I would get my sled, the one that could carry four kids sitting up. It must have been almost six feet long. Since my dad also grew up in the "Great Depression," he always thought that the bigger things were, the better. Like the year I got what he thought was a baseball and bat. He never played baseball when he was a kid, only soccer, so when he went to get the baseball and bat he got the biggest they had. They were a softball and a softball bat! When I went to the playground with these, no one would use them - they were way too heavy. Before they went to bat they would pick up my softball bat and swing it a few times to warm up. Then when they picked up the baseball bat it felt as though it didn’t weigh anything.

The Christmas that Santa brought me the sled, it had to be the biggest one he had. It was a "Speedaway" that must have been six feet long! If I rode this sled sitting up and was steering with my feet, if I wanted to make a turn, I would have to start fifty feet before the turn. Lying down was the only way I could ride this thing and I would drag my left foot to turn left and my right foot to turn right. We called this spragging, and snow would fly up on anyone who was behind me. They would yell, "Quit spragging, that's cheating!" but it was the only way I could steer.

I would go over to the graveyard to spend the evening sled riding. Sometimes I was the only one there. Just me and my gigantic sled. I would ride down the hill and pull the sled back up and I would do this all evening. I never got tired of it. I would make a jump out of snow and go over it with my sled and fly through the air and land with a violent jar onto the packed snow.

When I finally did go home, my mother would say, "You're going to get frostbite, you should come home once in a while to get a warm on." I knew once I came home I would not be allowed to go back out, so I would stay out as long as I could.


The weekend finally came around and I went to the graveyard to sled ride. I was the only one there and after a few runs down the hill, "smack" I got hit in the back with a snowball! "Hey Dandy, what are you doing?" Oh no, it was Joe. Trouble was sure to follow.

"I'm just sledding. What are you up to?"

"I'm going over to the pond, I hear it's frozen solid. Want to come?"

"Naw, I'll pass."

"They got some holes cut in the ice so you can fish. Come on, it'll be fun. You have been sledding for weeks now, aren't you tired of it?"

"I never get tired of this." Then I thought that this might be a way to add to my skills for when I go off to Canada. Ice fishing; nothing could go wrong!

"Come on!"

"Wait until I take my sled home and get some fishing line." I don't know what I was thinking; I had a bad feeling about all of this. But I sort of felt sorry for Joe; he didn't have any friends.


It had only been a little over a year since Joe's father had come home from his 3-11 shift as a 3rd helper at the open-hearth. He stopped at the Stumble Inn. As soon as you walked inside, the smell of stale beer would hit you. Then the smell of fresh sawdust, and tobacco juice that was in the trough between the foot rail and the bar that was used as a spittoon by the tobacco chewers would almost knock you over.

It was the tavern where they had that jar of pickled pigs feet on the bar. It was a clear, square jar with a red screw on lid. You could see the pigs' feet with the hooves still on them. That jar had been there ever since I could remember, and it didn’t look like anyone had ever bought any. There was what appeared to be the same amount in the jar every time I went in there with my grandfather.

I didn't know if it was there for atmosphere or it was such a big seller and had to be refilled everyday. They didn't look very appetizing to me. My grandfather would take me there and we would go to the end of the bar and sit on the last stools. That was his seat and everyone knew not to sit there or there would be hell to pay. Then he would order a Pabst Blue Ribbon and I got Canada Dry Ginger Ale, or if they didn’t have that, I would get a birch beer soda.

My grandfather had owned the bar previously and sold it to Jack with the stipulation that he could drink there for free. Jack had agreed, but under the condition that it was on the premises only, "NO take out." My grandfather reluctantly agreed. He was a retired coal miner and had owned a few mines in the area. Every time he sold a coalmine there was always a stipulation associated with it. He sold one to a local hardware store owner with the stipulation that he got a twenty percent discount on everything he bought there. With another mine he sold he would get free coal to heat his house. He was a good businessman.


Joe’s father had a few quick beers and headed home. When he got there, he opened an Iron City beer, his favorite, and told his wife that he would be up when the "Creature Feature" with Chilly Willy was over. His father really enjoyed the classic horror movies of the 1930s and 40s. That night they were having his favorite movie of all time - "Dracula" staring Bela Lugosi.

Bela had just died a few years ago, and Joe's father had told us that he had taken Bela's last wife, Hope, to the prom when they were in high school. His friends had dared him to ask Hope to the prom. They said she would never go out with the likes of him. "I dare you to ask Liny," her nickname, they had taunted him. So he did and she accepted; he said he couldn't believe it.

Apparently everyone else thought she was too good for them and nobody had asked her. She was too proud to ask someone to take her to the prom, so when he asked her, she didn't have to think twice and accepted. She really wanted to go to the prom, she didn't care who she went with. He only took her out that one time, but he said he could never forget her. She really had made an impression on him.

Then right after they graduated, she moved to California to find her fame and fortune. He would receive a Christmas card from her every year and she would always be bragging about all the movie stars she had met. She never did find her fortune, but in 1955 she wrote and told him that she had married "Dracula". Well, not actually "Dracula", but the star that portrayed "Dracula" in the movies.

She said that Bela was so fascinated with this role that he actually slept in a coffin. I could not believe this, but Joe's father said it was true and even showed us the letter. Sure enough, there it was in black and white on the one-page letter. Wow! To think this lady was from Johnstown and she did find fame.

Too bad it only lasted about a year. Bela Lugosi had died before they could celebrate their first anniversary together. She stayed in California and Joe's father did not get any more updates or cards from her. He said she just seemed to fall off the face of the earth after that.


He made a few trips to the refrigerator to get more beer during the commercials. He never went to bed. The Creature Feature must have been too much for him. Joe’s mother found him sitting in his favorite chair with his beer still grasped in his hands, his eyes wide open, staring at the "test pattern" screen on the television at 2:00 in the morning. He had had a massive heart attack and never knew what hit him.

Joe never said anything to anyone, but I think he took it very hard and was now angry at the whole world. Before this he was just like everyone else and seemed to get along with everyone. Now it seemed as though he didn’t care about anything.


I took my sled home and hurried back to the graveyard with a piece of fishing line and a lure in my pocket. Of course Joe was nowhere around. Then, "Whack!" I got hit on the back with a snowball, and from behind a tombstone I heard Joe laughing like crazy, which I think he was.

"You'll never learn, will you Dandy?"

"I knew I shouldn't go with you!"

"Come on, I won't throw any more snowballs."

So off we went to the pond. When we arrived there, there were about a dozen kids from Cookietown playing hockey with homemade sticks and no ice skates. Cookietown was at the bottom of Country Road where the valley was so deep and narrow that the sun did not shine there from October to March. It was a neighborhood made up of tar-paper shacks. I believe the people who first settled there were named Cook and that was how it got the name. They all had outhouses and some may have had electricity, but that is all. No one associated with these people; they were all a bunch of ruffians.

Luckily they were in a different school district, and my mother, as truant officer did not have to deal with them or she would have been there everyday. I had heard of people who drove through there and got a flat tire, but they would not stop to change it because they were too afraid of what might happen to them or their car. They just kept driving and ruined the tire and possibly the rim!

"Joe, lets get out of here! I don't want to go down there with them here."

"I know these guys, they’re not that bad once you get to know them."

"You know these guys?"

"Oh yeah! I go to Cookietown all the time!"

Yes, Joe would fit in there. He was a lot like them. So we went down to the pond. Then I saw the holes had frozen over and there was no place to fish, not that I would have wanted to with these goons around. I just wanted to go home, but I didn't know what to do. They all looked at us like we were freaks. Then Joe went over to the smallest guy there and grabbed his stick and shoved him into a snow bank and said, "Take a break, I’m going to use your stick for a while."

Then the biggest, ugliest goon there, with long, dirty, straggly blond hair sticking out from under his stocking cap, and warts on his face, ran toward Joe and started yelling, "Hey! That's my brother! I'm going to kill you!"

Then I could hear Joe yelling, "Take the damn stick, I don't want it!"

They pulled his coat up over his head and started pushing him from one to another. He looked like a ball in the pinball machine down at Kitz sub shop bouncing from a bumper to the flipper and back to the bumper. Then someone started screaming, "Get the other one!!"

That was all I needed to hear! I took off running and I just kept running faster and faster. The first rule, when someone is chasing you is don't run home, run in the opposite direction, you don't want them to know where you live. But in this case I just ran straight home, the sooner the better.

I didn't wait for Joe, but the next day I heard he had a black eye. He told everybody that he ran into a tree while skiing. Maybe he learned his lesson. We'll see!



Chapter 2



A few days after the pond incident, I ran into Joe. I saw him come out from behind a tree ahead of me. I stopped and turned around and started walking in the opposite direction. Then I heard him calling "Dandy! Hey Dandy, wait up!"

I stopped and turned around. His black eye was now fading to more of a lemon-yellow color. "What do you want? Every time I run into you, something bad happens."

"Nothing bad happened the last time I saw you."

"What do you mean nothing bad happened? When I left and ran home, you were dancing around with your jacket pulled up over your head and those goons from Cookietown were using you for a punching bag. I call that bad."


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