The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Bill Eggert

March 8, 2014

BILL EGGERT | Going home can sometimes be only walking distance

JOHNSTOWN — One of the most popular topics during my eight years of writing this column is the one of looking into the past of the Johnstown (and my areas of Moxham and Richland) of my childhood. A lot of baby boomers relate to these time trips with a sense of nostalgia, remembering a kinder, simpler, more innocent era. Or at least that is the way we remember our childhood, looking through those rose-colored glasses.

My favorite episode of Rod Serling’s TV classic “The Twilight Zone” was called “Walking Distance.”

Martin Sloane, a 36-year-old ad executive from New York City, has to have his sports car repaired at a small gas station that happens to be within walking distance from his hometown, Homewood. The picturesque little town is based on Serling’s own hometown, Binghamton, N.Y. The town consists of not only beautiful old homes, but also a drug store/soda fountain and a large park with a gazebo and merry-go-round. The fantasy twist is that Sloane has not only returned to the physical town but also has gone back in time 25 years, to when he was 11 years old.

As I celebrated another birthday Tuesday, I looked back on my childhood in Johnstown, to live out my birthday in the past for that day.

 I’m living at home again. Our family dogs, Inky and Holly, race upstairs to my bedroom to wake me up. Younger brothers Tim and Tom (thought to be raised by wolves) are sleeping soundly in their bedroom.

The aroma of bacon cooking in the kitchen wafts upstairs and I fly down to the table. Dad is reading the newspaper, and Mom is working her culinary magic on the stove.

I inhale breakfast, hop on my Schwinn bicycle and head down to the old baseball field at the dog-bend end of Norwood Street. My buddies from the Norlen team are there taking batting practice. I take my glove off the handlebars and join them.

Later we head back down to Hostetler Road to Bab’s corner store, for ice cream bars and Pepsi – the breakfast of champions.

That afternoon we head down to Grant’s department store in the Bel Air Plaza. Grant’s has a new shipment of baseball cards and those violently graphic Civil War cards for us to enjoy.

We stop at Acme Supermarket on the way back to cool off in its wonderful air conditioning, and then hit the Richland roads on our bikes, enjoying the sun, fresh air and spacious farmland along the way.

That night, Dad drives me down to Moxham to get my allergy shot from Dr. Morrison, and then to Heck’s to pick up the latest comic books on the wall racks to the left of the entrance.

Later the family gathers at the kitchen table with a birthday cake to sing me “Happy Birthday.”

Of course, I never had an ideal day that played out like that.

My birthday is in frigid, snowy March, and bike riding and baseball were confined to summertime. Inky and Holly never knew each other; Holly came after Inky. The old baseball field was replaced by apartments, and the dog-bend became the entrance to the Blue Moon subdivision.

Bab’s is gone (now a hair salon) as is Grant’s, which moved up to where Ollie’s was, before it too disappeared.

Dr. Morrison is gone, as is Heck’s, and for that matter, Dad’s workplace: U.S .Steel, though the physical plant remains standing. More devastatingly, Dad is gone as well. A civilization, and time, gone with the wind …

The Ponderosa (our home) and Mom are still with us, thankfully. And those two younger brothers raised by wolves turned out pretty well after all.

Getting back to Martin Sloane, his idyllic dream turned into a nightmare.

His parents (alive again in 1934) are alarmed that a grown man says he’s their 11-year-old son. He drops his wallet on the porch and leaves. After some minor drama, Sloane’s father finds him at the merry-go-round to return his wallet. His father now believes his story, viewing his driver’s license and the dates on it (then-present year 1959, the future for his dad).

Is the future really that bad, his dad asks, that you have to return to the past? The son replies he thought it was. The father tells his son there’s no room for him in 1934; that is the 11-year-old Martin’s time to live. You have been looking backward; you should be looking ahead, he tells his son. Martin bids goodbye to his father and miraculously returns to 1959 to retrieve his repaired car. This bittersweet episode ends with a sadder but wiser Martin Sloane.

Back in the 1980s, Dad and I were watching TV while I was visiting my parents. The “Walking Distance” episode came on, and having seen it, I wanted Dad to watch with me, which he did. It resonated with him because not only did the eras almost match, but the town (Homewood) was the name of his and Mom’s area of growing up. We never really discussed it afterwards; I think it was too emotional for us.

I’ll leave the final, eloquent words to Rod Serling:

“And perhaps across his mind there will flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he’ll smile then, too, because he’ll know it is just an errant wish … some laughing ghosts that cross a man’s mind, that are part of the Twilight Zone …”

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Bill Eggert
  • EGGERT AND CHILLY BILLY Bill Cardille brings back childhood chills

    One of the nice things about moving back to this area was being able to connect with childhood heroes from local television. Some, like Paul Shannon (“Adventure Time”) and Hank Stohl (“Popeye and Kinesh”), unfortunately have passed on. Others, like wrestling champ Bruno Sammartino and Bill Cardille (“Chiller Theatre”) are happily still with us.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • EGGERT6 Riverboat reverie on ‘uncle time’

    Thoughts of the summer months bring to mind annual weeklong vacations with Granny, Pop-Pop and Uncle Don in Pittsburgh. One memorable summer, “Unck” took me to see the Delta Queen riverboat, sitting majestically in the Monongahela River, moored at the Mon wharf.

    July 5, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert Columnist Photo Bill Eggert | ‘Whatever it takes’: remembering Chuck Noll

    Once upon a time there was a colorful yet inept professional football team, owned by an equally colorful Irishman who participated in sports during his younger days. Unlike their crosstown professional baseball and collegiate football team counterparts, the pro football team never tasted the sweet nectar of success for about 40 years. That all changed in 1969, when Steelers owner Art Rooney and his family found a wise, humble and grounded 37-year-old man named Chuck Noll.

    June 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert columnist  photo Life after Dad: A Father’s Day reflection

    One of my dad’s favorite movies was the 1947 classic “Life With Father,” starring the great William Powell (coincidentally also born in Pittsburgh) as the stern but lovable family disciplinarian.

    June 7, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert columnist  photo BILL EGGERT | Hollywood’s take on the Great Flood

    About 37 years after the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889, Hollywood decided to make a motion picture of Johnstown’s most catastrophic event.

    May 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • EGGERT4 75 years of Batmania: The Dark Knight’s evolution

    The appeal of Batman is universal. We can identify more with Batman.
    Local resident Wayne Faucher has been a professional artist/inker on the various Batman titles for over 20 years.

    May 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert Columnist Photo Travelogue of terror features Johnstown area

    A historic week will surround the venerable Silver Drive-In come the beginning of May.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert BILL EGGERT | Captain America: Sentinel of liberty for 70-plus years

    When I was a kid reading comic books, my two favorite superheroes (Batman and Captain America) were not really super; maybe that is why they were my favorites.

    April 5, 2014 1 Photo

  • BILL EGGERT AND FRANK COONELLY BILL EGGERT | Pirates: a rite of spring

    Opening day for the Bucs is March 31. Every year, hope springs eternal for Pittsburgh Pirate fans. Especially for the past two decades, since outfielder Barry Bonds’ errant throw allowed gimpy-kneed Sid Bream to score the come-from-behind winning run for the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 National League Championship Series.

    March 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert BILL EGGERT | Going home can sometimes be only walking distance

    One of the most popular topics during my eight years of writing this column is the one of looking into the past of the Johnstown (and my areas of Moxham and Richland) of my childhood. A lot of baby boomers relate to these time trips with a sense of nostalgia, remembering a kinder, simpler, more innocent era. Or at least that is the way we remember our childhood, looking through those rose-colored glasses.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

Poll

Do you think pet obituaries should be included with death notices?

Yes, my pet is considered a member of the family.
No, pet obituaries are inappropriate.
Pet obituaries should be placed on a different page in the newspaper.
     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads