Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Hi Bill

Have I ever told you about my YMCA experiences. 

Young man, there's no need to feel down.
I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground.
I said, young man, 'cause you're in a new town
There's no need to be unhappy.

Young man, there's a place you can go.
I said, young man, when you're short on your dough.
You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time.

It's fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.
It's fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.
They have everything for you men to enjoy,
You can hang out with all the boys ...

Whoa! Wait, not the YMCA song by the Village People, the actual Y.M.C.A. in Hollidaysburg when I was young. It was an amazing place where I spent a lot of time during junior high and high school. The building was old and showing its age and it certainly was not elegant. However my friends and I spent many happy hours in it.

I doubt that you were ever inside that YMCA, but you are probably familiar with YMCAs in general. Therefore, you will not be surprised that there was a gym in that building and a few lounge areas and vending machines. It also had a pool, a bowling alley, and a weight room somewhere in the bowels of the building. I think I was only in the pool a few times when I was in junior high school. I’m fairly sure that we also used the bowling alley then, but I don’t remember ever using the weights. No surprise there. Clark was (and is) not a weight lifter. I think the pool and bowling alley were closed as I entered my high school years. 

The gym/basketball court was a big attraction for me and my friends. My good friend Frank got me to join his basketball team, which played in the YMCA program/league. That was a wonderful experience for us. Although I was tall I never played basketball for my school teams. I probably thought they required too much time and discipline and created too much pressure. However, playing at The Y was prefect for us casual players. Not that we weren’t serious about winning, even though we were a little lax about practicing and about some of the rules! Those YMCA games were always very competitive, often very rough and we didn’t obsess about some of the rules. We didn’t need no stinking rules! Well maybe we needed and tried to adhere to most rules, because I think there was someone who acted as a referee in those games. Anyway, I really enjoyed playing in that YMCA basketball program throughout my high school days. Unfortunately, I can’t remember our teammates on that team, probably because there was a fairly regular turnover.

I also helped Frank coach some younger boys (maybe 6th graders) in basketball at The Y. We tried to help them learn to dribble, pass the ball, and sink some baskets. I can’t remember too much about those younger boys’ basketball experiences, but I think they actually played some games against other teams. I also remember that I enjoyed coaching them with Frank. Those boys were mostly motivated, but they would sometimes do some very strange things and sort of ignore the rules - just like us older guys.

By the time I had reached about 10th grade I had discovered that, in addition to sports, the YMCA also provided social gatherings for us teenagers. Now we’re talking about something every teenaged boy is interested in, i.e., a place to meet and hang out with girls. That quickly became one of my favorite activities. I seem to remember dances at the YMCA after HS football and basketball games, with local bands providing the music. I can’t remember the names of any of the bands but there was one Hollidaysburg band fronted by one of the Meadows boys that we all liked very much. Those dances were lots of fun, but most of us guys certainly did not display many elegant dance moves. I mean we just jumped around like a spaz during fast songs and tried to squeeze against whichever girl was willing to squeeze back during slow songs. Now that I think about it those dances were wonderful. I still like the squeezing.

I only have one bad memory connected with that YMCA. Sadly, teenaged boys are prone to getting involved in stupid and unwise behaviors. I stupidly got into a fight with one of my classmates in the locker room of the YMCA. Unfortunately, my opponent had to have some stitches on his face and I will regret that fight forever. Also, I did not emerge unbruised from that fight, and I was later confronted by two older guys who were very angry that we were fighting in the YMCA locker room. Fighting in the YMCA, unless you are boxing, is a big No! No! One of those guys punched me right in the mouth. I understood why he was so angry and I took the punch and just walked away from him. However, that punch damaged one of my front teeth and it has been discolored and sometimes painful ever since. I figure I deserved that punch and the resulting bad tooth has served as a reminder to keep myself under control.  

Oh, one more thing that I remember about that YMCA. It had small sleeping rooms on the upper floors and one of my friends actually lived in one of those rooms for a while during HS because he and his father were not getting along with each other. I saw that room once and I said, “Dude are you crazy! You need to go home.” I don’t remember how long he stayed at The Y, but he eventually reconciled with his father.

Bill – Overall, that YMCA provided many wonderful experiences during a truly magical part of my young life. I have many fond memories about that building and the experiences I had within it.

…It's fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.
It's fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.
They have everything for you men to enjoy,
You can hang out with all the boys ...

Y.M.C.A.... you'll find it at the Y.M.C.A.

Young man, young man, there's no need to feel down.
Young man, young man, get yourself off the ground.

Y.M.C.A.... you'll find it at the Y.M.C.A.

Young man, young man, there's no need to feel down.
Young man, young man, get yourself off the ground.

Y.M.C.A.... just go to the Y.M.C.A.

Young man, young man, are you listening to me?
Young man, young man, what do you wanna be?

The song isn’t bad either!

I hope all is well with you and your family. Please keep in touch.

Sincerely Clark

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Base-A-Ball, Base-A-Ball, Base-A-Ball

Hi Bill

I have been thinking about when I played baseball with the neighborhood sluggers and then moved on to organized leagues. I know you played with us occasionally in the neighborhood.  I remember that you often practiced with me and you really helped me learn how to play the game.

Grandpap used to say “Base-a-ball, Base-a-ball, Base-a-ball, that’s all you guys ever think about.” He was pretty much right about that. Our West Plank Road neighborhood boys were into sports, especially baseball. Pat and Mike H’s father created a baseball diamond in the back of their property. It was our Field of Dreams, long before that movie was in the theaters. Weather permitting, and even when the weather was not so kind, we played baseball. Shortly after we moved to that neighborhood they got us involved, because there were not enough neighborhood guys to field two teams to play each other. So we would play four against four or whatever. We eventually were able to put nine players on our team and we played other neighborhoods.

My good friend, Pat H, took me to Hollidaysburg to sign up for the peewee league or whatever they called it, I believe during our second or third spring in the neighborhood. He had played in that program the previous year and he guided me through the signup process and helped me get accepted by the other boys. I will never forget Coach Weaver, who was a teacher in the junior HS, and also lead the youth baseball league in town. Shortly after I joined that program, Pat and I ran into him at The Blue & White Snack Bar, which was also known as Curlys. He bought Root Beer Floats for both of us and sat at a table talking with us. He was a great guy, and I have fond memories of him. That program introduced me to what would become a lifelong love for baseball, although I haven’t played it for many years now.

I have a vivid memory of a time shortly after I joined that baseball program. The coaches were hitting fly balls to us little guys. They hit one sky high pop up that went over my head and I kept backing up as fast as I could thinking: “Oh no! Why did he hit it to me? Please, please, please let me catch it!” I kept backpedaling and finally held my glove up and somehow the ball just plunked right into my glove as I fell onto the grass. I did not drop it either. It was a miracle catch and everybody expressed their amazement and congratulations to me.

That miracle catch was another pivotal event that fed and sustained my love for the game. I played peewee baseball and then went on to play little league in Hollidaysburg. While playing little league, I played almost every position including outfield, third base, first base, catcher, and even pitcher.  It was a wonderful program that had a beautiful field with dugouts, concrete grandstands, an outfield wall, and a well-groomed turf.

That baseball field was near the junior HS and Pat H and I usually rode our bikes to practice and the games. It was a few miles on the berm of a very busy highway and then on the city streets. However, Pat H showed me another route that took us on a narrow path into the woods and over a ridge between our neighborhood and Hollidaysburg. That path through the woods was a much shorter and quicker route. However, it also included some steep slopes and at one location it required us to carry our bikes on a cable-fence (three steel cables, i.e., one on top, one about 2 feet below the top cable, and another 2 feet below the middle cable) that traversed a usually-wet gully. We could either carry our bikes across the cable-bridge or take a longer detour through the woods. We usually chose the cables. It was all part of the magical environment we lived in. Anyway, that path emerged from the woods right behind the baseball field. I used that route very often, but not when it was raining or when it had just rained. Playing in that baseball program was an exciting time for me and it was especially great when our parents, Grandpap and you came to watch me play.

Unfortunately, not all of my baseball experiences were encouraging. I played JV baseball during my junior year in HS, with beloved Coach Weaver. Then I joined the varsity team during my senior year and I was enjoying being on that team. However, varsity Coach C found out that I, and a few other players, had signed up for the class play and had begun rehearsing for it. He got us together and told us that we were no longer on the baseball team because we had joined the play cast. Although we all agreed that we would quit the play, he did not want to hear it. He pointed out that if we left the play the director would need to find other actors to take our parts. Even though it was early in the play rehearsal phase, he would not allow us to quit the play and remain on the baseball team. That ended my HS baseball career. I like to think that would not happen today, when participation in a variety of school activities is encouraged – isn’t it?

You may remember that I also played VFW baseball for a few summers and that was a great program. Our coach, Purse, was a wonderful guy and my teammates were good friends. We did very well in that league and it was a terrific experience for me. I discovered that I was very comfortable and competent at playing first base in that league. I got to play in the All Star games a few times. That was a fun time for me. I often wonder what happened to Purse. I hope he had a wonderful life.

After my senior year in HS I didn’t play anymore organized baseball, although I did play softball for our Department of Public Assistance team when I was working in Philadelphia for a while after college.

I still love baseball, but as a spectator, not a player. I attended Phillies games when my wife Pat and I lived in Philadelphia and Reds games when we lived in Cincinnati. Of course I attended several Pirates games in Forbes Field and then in Three Rivers Stadium. Unfortunately I have never attended a game at PNC Park. However, I have remained a lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan and Pat and I have watched almost every Pirates game during the last few years on the MLB Extra Innings package on Direct TV. She and I are addicted to those games and they sometimes create difficult scheduling problems for other activities. I used to think she would get tired of fanatically watching Pirates baseball, but she seems to have contracted the Base-a-ball, Base-a-ball, Base-a-ball fever that I contracted back in our old West Plank Road neighborhood.

Please give my best regards to your family and take care.

Sincerely Clark

Our Old Field of Dreams

Clark (7th grade)

Grandpap and Clark

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Moving to the Homestead

Hi Bill

I have been thinking about when our family moved to the homestead on West Plank Road back in the summer of 1956. I was 7 and you were 15 when we left Grandpap’s house in the city for our own house, which would remain under-construction for almost a decade. 

Our parents were very happy to move to their own property on a few acres in a sparse but slowly growing rural neighborhood. Previously, that property had been part of a large apple orchard. Many of those trees still remained and supplied us with apples to eat, to make cider, and (for us kids) to throw at each other for many years. Dad cut them down gradually. The property also had a compound of sheds on it and eventually Dad turned one of them into a chicken coop for a while. Later he got rid of those sheds and built a large garage. The property was on a busy highway (route 220) and there were no sidewalks, stop signs, signal lights, street lights, etc. In fact there were no intersecting roads for miles in either direction from our driveway.

Needless to say, little Clark was not overjoyed to be kidnapped from his beloved city neighborhood and released in the lonely wilderness. My friends were in the city where we could ride our bikes on the streets and sidewalks (although the memory of screeching tires and finding myself under the front bumper of a car in the city made the new neighborhood more tolerable for me). Regardless, I was now in a rural neighborhood with no friends and I had to accept it. We had a few neighbors across the road, but we didn’t know them. Uncle John and Aunt Helen had moved to the property between the cemetery and our property, so we had relatives nearby, but they didn’t have any kids for me to hang with. Art and May lived a few vacant lots away on the other side of our property. But they didn’t have any kids either, although Art turned out to be a very entertaining man as I got older.

Bill, you probably remember that move better that I do, but I remember spending a lot of time hanging with our parents and you. I believe Dad took some time off work when we first moved and he let me hang with him and help with little jobs. I believe Mom was not working at that time so she certainly helped entertain me. However, Dad and Mom were usually busy with chores or whatever.

At first, exploring the property was a fascination for me. The back section, which ended at the top of a hill where the still undeveloped/unused section of the cemetery began, was full of adventure. It was a wild area of the property crammed with weeds, brush, and unfriendly plants and creatures, including: poison ivy, thorny wild bushes, bees, wasps, ground hogs, snakes, and other wild creatures. I had unfriendly encounters with all of them over time. The trees also provided adventure for me. I got lots of practice climbing (and falling out of) those trees. Eventually, I became an expert tree climber, which didn’t really get me very far in life. All of the interesting stuff (and critters) in the old sheds, also provided interesting explorations for me.

However, I was very lonely for what seemed like a long time. I remember you spending a lot of time with me and I was very grateful. You were a teenager and you retained your friends in the city (you did not switch schools and graduated from HS in the city). However you made time for your little brother. 

Luckily, Grandpap visited the new homestead almost daily in his 1952 Oldsmobile and he kept us entertained. Occasionally, he would take us back to the old neighborhood, where I could see some of my old friends. He also took us with him on errands and to stores and restaurants, etc.

Occasionally I saw some kids that were about my age, and maybe a little older than me, in the new neighborhood. However, I was too timid to approach them. Therefore, I had no friends in the new neighborhood for quite a while. Luckily you decided to fix that for me and dragged me across the road to meet some of those kids. I believe the first new neighborhood kids that I met were Mike O. and Tom T. You also helped me meet others, including Tim T., Bob D., Pat & Mike H., and Billy & Victor P. With your help, I became comfortable with my new neighborhood friends, and I will always be grateful to you.

You were older than most of our new friends in the neighborhood, but you quickly became a popular member of that gang. You even became an organizer of that neighborhood gang for a while. You were already into music and band in the city HS and you eventually got the new neighborhood gang into marching exercises and all kinds of other activities. You also played sports with us, which were important bonding activities in that neighborhood.

You graduated from HS in the city about three years after we moved to the West Plank Road acreage. I (and all my new neighborhood friends) missed you very much when you left for college. I didn’t need your help to make friends anymore, but I still missed you.

That move was a traumatic experience for me, but you helped me through it and I had a wonderful life in that neighborhood with those great friends.

In 2011, the West Plank Road neighborhood gang held a reunion and we all visited the neighborhood. The beautiful house that Dad build and the house that Uncle John built were both completely gone. The neighborhood still had a few houses, but it had gone commercial and all of our old rural haunts were gone. Our old West Plank Road friends were disappointed that you could not join us for that reunion. They all wanted to see you very much. Pat and I both had a really good time at that reunion.

As you know, Pat and I drove to your house north of Philadelphia after the reunion. We had a wonderful visit with you and Jane for a couple of days. We were also happy to see Andrea and her children. It was a wonderful visit and I wish we could see each other more often.

It was great to think about that move to the homestead back in ‘56. I now feel very lucky that our parents made that move and I miss that neighborhood and those friends.

Sincerely Clark

The Home that our Father Built 
(many years after his death)

Clark 1956