As we enter the final weeks of a brutally cold and downright bizarre winter, our thoughts turn to spring. To most residents of central Pennsylvania, St. Patrick’s Day marks the end of winter. While snow likely will occur after that date, the threat of extreme cold will have passed. Warmer weather is ahead.
When I think of March, I think of buds on the trees and sighting the first Robin. I also think back to childhood days. As a boy, growing up in Johnstown, I lived in Oakhurst, a neighborhood of immigrant steelworkers and laborers, with red-brick streets and rows of pre-war houses that all looked the same. My family lived about three blocks from the local elementary school, which enabled me to walk to school through the sixth grade. The concrete sidewalks would often be covered with snow and slush, as many of the families that lived along them worked shifts, meaning they often weren’t home to clear them early in the morning. So, we would simply walk down the brick street. These, too, were often slushy with hidden slick spots. I would often enter school with wet clothing from taking a spill on those bricks.
Every morning my mom would battle with me to wear rubber pullover boots, the kind with three military-grade metal buckles that would cut your fingers every time you unbuckled them. Sometimes we would wear rubber galoshes, which would simply cover the shoe, but would often fill with slush and water. As I sloshed to school in my rubber boots, I would meet up with other neighborhood kids heading in the same direction, which would inevitably turn into horseplay and snowball fights.
Once at school, we would hang our coats in the closet behind the blackboard and settle in for the long school day. In my classroom, there were very large cast-iron radiators along the windows. These would heat up like a furnace and sizzle and steam throughout the day. Whenever the other boys and I had a chance, we would place crayons on the radiators to watch them melt. In my mind, I can still smell that scent of melting crayon and visualize the long color streaks oozing down to the floor. If you used enough crayon colors, before the teacher caught you, a beautiful psychedelic masterpiece could be created. Sadly, the teacher did not share our appreciation of modern art.
After school, we would fly kites. Flying kites in the city posed a real challenge, with most of our creations ending up in trees or powerlines, but that’s what you did in March.
The bricks have been paved over and the school is gone, but it was pure fun while it lasted.
Bernard A. Oravec