Monday, October 26, 2015

A Voice of Kennywood

Kennywood is an amusement park just southeast of Pittsburgh, PA.  One of its features is the Park's public address and musical entertainment system.  Since the 1920s and to this day, announcements made within the Park begin with the words "This is the Voice of Kennywood".

Briefly, during the summers of the late 1930s, my dad (the Munch, called that years later by me and some of my friends because he was about 5 ' 4 ", thereby earning the sobriquet Munchkin) was The Voice of Kennywood.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Guilty as Charged

Several decades ago, there was still a public library in Braddock, PA.  That library was historical; it was the first established by Andrew Carnegie.  It was also the scene of an early life lesson for me.

At the age of eight, I was already a voracious reader.  I regularly borrowed a dozen or more volumes at a time.  Those tomes were usually checked out to me by my Aunt Helen, a library employee.  Having one of my favorite aunts in this role gave me the idea I was a privileged patron.

Aunt Helen disabused me of that thought.  One day, I returned 12 books, all significantly overdue.  Aunt Helen checked them in.  Then she told me that, because these books were so late, I could no longer take out more than two volumes at a time.

I cried.

Aunt Helen smiled, but remained resolute.  The appeal of my sentence failed.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Extra Credit

When I was still in the classroom, I sometimes gave extra-credit assignments that did not directly relate to course material.  For instance, at more than one HBCU (Historically Black College or Univrsity), in courses on basic computing, I regularly used the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin as such a topic, telling my students Pushkin was a point of intersection between their background and mine.  Particularly among young men, Pushkin was a big success in this context.

Now that my teaching is done entirely online and through my blogs (yes, I do consider this teaching), I've got a new topic for extra credit that I want to put  in front of you.  Anyone who can explain clearly the three terms below will receive an award as IPOW (Informed Progressive of the Week)  as well as lots of congratulations.

The brain twisters are:
  • Does the First Amendment to our Constitution make any provision regarding the establishment of new religions?
  • In the First Amendment, what right, of the American people, is described as needing to take place peaceably?
  • For what reason should such actions be taken?
Explaining concepts like these in English without one's eyes rolling back n one's head isn't easy, but it's needed in order to win the award.  I'll announce the winner a week from today.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Kochinina and Wax Lips

Side by side on Bell Avenue in North Braddock, just to the west of 13th Street, stood two stores.  The larger, Berta's, was a 1950s precursor to today's supermarkets.  The smaller, Eliskowitz's, was that era's convenience store.  Both served the (mostly Eastern European in origin) working class residents of that part of the borough.   Each was responsible for a fond moment from my childhood.

Berta's first.  As one entered the store, there were shelves with bread, dry goods, and so on to the right, produce bins to the left, and, straight ahead, a refrigerated case that held meats, and a Rusnok delicacy called kochinina.

Kochinina are pickled pigs feet.  Not even I, a to-the-bone, both-sides-of-the-family Ruthenian, could or can handle these gooey goodies.
No groceries at the establishment next door.  But Eliskowitz's carried many items targeted at kids.  Penny candy (yes, penny - one piece for one cent), pretzel rods (also one cent), faux / candy cigarettes, and wax lips filled the display case just inside the door.

One afternoon, I put down big money at Eliskowitz's - a nickel, to be precise.  I walked out with two pretzel rods, a Mary Jane, a Mint Julep, and wax lips.  Pretzels ad candy were consumed almost immediately.  Wax lips were clutched tightly in my right hand, as I proceeded back down Bell Avenue, past our house, and to that of my paternal grandmother.

As I approached the door, I put on the wax lips.  They were in place, bright red and prominent, as I knocked.  Grandma Petrovsky answered, but in a way I hadn't expected.  She shrieked something in her native language.  To which I responded by removing the wax lips and saying "It's ok, bub; they're just candy."

My bubba's closing observation?  "Bozhe moye!  I thought you hurted youorself."

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lefties Galore

My family, at least my dad's, was unusual in being loaded with left-handers.  Of the Munch and his 3 siblings who survived into adulthood, 3 (my dad, my Aunt Martha, and my Uncle Al) were born lefties.  All were "co0rrected" when they entered grade school.

The Munch wouldn't allow our school district (of which he had at one time been an employee, as a junior high school teacher) do the same to / for me.  He realized that this practice, which has since largely been abandoned, was the only known cause of habitual stuttering in adults.  So he put the kibosh on such efforts really quickly.

I'm glad he did.  I like talking far too much to want to contend with stumbling speech ... :-))

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Role Models

I've had several role models in my life.  The most significant have been from my family.  But there have also been 2 fictional characters who've contributed to my ideas of who and how I should be.

Family first.  My mom Betty was the kindest soul I ever met.  She accepted unquestioningly, and criticized gently.  My sister Pat exemplifies Winston Churchill's definition of courage - grace under pressure.  My Aunt Martha was sharp as a tack, had an acerbic wit, and used her gifts with humor.

In fiction, my two role models are each professional women who haven't forgotten how to care.  Each appeared in a successful film - Annette Benning's character of Sydney Ellen Wade in The American President, and the unnamed editor of a small-town newspaper in Field of Dreams.

I think all these women would understand and accept wholeheartedly my affection for and appreciation of J. Thadeus Toad.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Two Birthdays

How many of us can claim to have two birthdays?  My dad did; he loved to tell this story:

I was such a big strong baby that the midwife had a hell of a time delivering me.  It was so bad that she went out afterwards and got drunk, and didn't record the birth for three days.

So, every September 7th and September 10th, wish the Munch Happy Birthday ... :-)