Those of us that are
of the generation considered Baby Boomers certainly had a rather unique
experience growing up in New Castle. We sort of fell through the cracks of
greatness and decline, and I say that with no judgment towards any person that
still calls New Castle home.
From time to time I catch my mind wandering
down the streets of that long ago and faraway place. We came to be during the mid-century when New
Castle was no longer in its glory days, but it was still thriving and bustling
with activity, torn between being a big town and a small city.
I can remember
streets and details.. Like old Neshannock Ave, the area along the river from
Rural Ave to the North Street Bridge. How dark and spooky it was at night, rows
of old Victorian homes and mansions, the streets lined with catalpa trees that
stifled the glow of the street lights.
My father born in 1906 used to speak of the days when that was the most
exclusive part of town. He'd talk about
a hotel called the Loxley Hall where actors or performers would stay when they
came to town to appear in vaudeville shows.
Then the avenue extended on along the river, beyond where it branched
off to become North Street. It went on down to the Penny Bridge on East Washing
Street. At the corner by the river was
the Thomson Building, a collection of doctors'
and professional offices. The building had a stone façade, with a sort
of medieval tower and turret at the corner. Butz Flowers on the ground floor
with a wrought iron balcony that jutted out over the river. Along the rear side of the building was a
Maytag Appliance store as I recall. I
remember the curb there was at least knee high, don't think you could have
parallel parked your car and have opened the passenger door. Across the street was a bar, above which on
the second floor was Francis Bilyk's Dance Studio. The bar was considered disreputable during
the light of day, but at night it was
strictly off limits..lol
As a toddler of
about 5yo, my old man Wilbur would take me out for a ride from time to time in
the evening, at least that's what he
told my mother, Edith. We'd generally
leave the house between 10 -11pm and be gone a couple hours, I never did have an actual bedtime as a
child. He was actually using me as an excuse to go hit a few bars. I can remember going to the Croton Cafe' or
Pisto's (pronounced pee-stoe's)as we called it, and of course the Joy
Garden which I could walk home from if I
got too bored.. I was a regular at the Black Whale in the alley between Castle
Stationary and the Camera Shop, around the corner from Figuly's Meats.
One hot summer night
he went to the bar on Neshannock Avenue, below he dance studio. I guess he
didn't deem it fit to take me into, so he left me in the car. I was unbothered. Can you imagine doing that
He brought me out a "Blind Robin" which was a
little salted and dried Herring, like a very fishy piece of fish jerky. I loved those things. I must have been about 6 or 7yo cause it was
his '63 Chevy Bel Air station wagon.
Anyway, I pealed
back the cellophane wrapper and nibbled on the Blind Robin, got bored with it
and stuck it under the car seat.
When he came back
out to the car he asked me about the fish and I told hi I ate it. When we got home he left the car sitting
out, probably too in the bag to get it in the garage. The sun beat down on the
car all day and when he went to get in the car later, the stench of fish almost
knocked him dead when he opened the car door.
He was so incredibly
pissed off at me, but for some reason he didn't punish me or even yell too
loud. I couldn't figured out why I had
been spared his usual rage and wrath. It
didn't occur to me until years later that his hands were tied. Had he made a
stink about the stink, Edith would have found out where he had taken me and
left me sitting in the car at midnight and he'd have had his ass on a platter. LOL