High and Low

“Let sleeping dogs lie.” Robert Walpole

   I’m a Bay Brat, which means I grew up in Bay Village and lived there my whole life until my dad died. When I was a girl, I picked up every lost bird and squirrel, every lost cat and dog, and every injured animal I found and brought it home to protect it.

   I was an animal lover from the get-go. I got it partly when I was born, in the blood, partly from my dad, but definitely not from my mom. My mom never liked any of the animals we had in our house garage backyard.

   My parents met at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a few hours west of Philadelphia. My grandparents on my dad’s side had moved from Ohio to Philadelphia a few years earlier and he enrolled there after high school. My mom was working in the library, which is how they met. He fell head over heels for her, swept her off her feet, and then they got married.    

   “We’re out of here,” is what my dad said the minute they got married. They quickly and promptly moved right back to Cleveland.

   Even though they were married for more than forty years it might have been the worst thing either of them ever did.

   I had a mom who didn’t love my dad, and a dad who was frustrated about it, and the way he tried to make her happy was to beat the kids, which was us. So, it was a tough childhood. Either you were being totally ignored or you were being hit.

   There were four of us. First, there was Patty, and then two years later Betsy, and then me five years after that, and last, five years later, Brad. 

   Mom always said dad tricked her four times.

   My dad was from Cleveland, from the west side, where he grew up almost rich for his time. My mom was from Jersey Shore, just a few miles from Williamsport, where she grew up poor.  Jersey Shore isn’t anywhere near New Jersey, the Jersey coastline, or any real coast of any kind. There used to be silk mills and cigar factories in Jersey Shore. Later on, factories made steel rails there for train tracks.

   During the Depression my grandfather was the only teenager in his high school who had a car. He used to follow my grandmother down the street trying to get her to come in his car with him, saying he wanted to help carry her books, so what happened was they eventually got married.

   My other grandfather in Jersey Shore had three jobs the minute he stopped being a teenager. He was a coal miner, a school bus driver, and a milkman, but they were still poor. Even though they were moneyless they built their own home on the Susquehanna River. I honestly don’t know how they ever got it built since they were so strapped most of the time.

   The river was their front yard. Susquehanna means Oyster River and it was on the Susquehanna where the Mormons say they got their priesthood from heavenly beings. It was a huge beautiful comfortable house. It’s still standing, although it’s not been taken care of lately, so it’s falling apart.

   My grandmother lived in that house into her 80s, but then sold it and moved into a trailer, in a trailer park in the mountains above Jersey Shore. She started believing people in other trailers were trying to shoot her with laser guns. She slept wrapped up in foam rubber with an umbrella balanced above her head for protection. My mom never wanted to talk about her mom because she thought she was crazy, and a Jesus freak, too.

   I didn’t know my grandfather because he died young. He had rheumatoid arthritis bad and it finished him. It didn’t help working in the damp underground. I knew my grandmother well. Whenever my sisters and I visited her in her big house she taught us how to pull taffy and fudge. We played with her paper dolls. She didn’t have any real dolls for us. We sat on the front porch and waited for the bean truck.

   Sometime before dinnertime she sent my older sisters to the side of the road. When the bean truck, or sometimes the vegetable truck, went by on the rutted bumpy road beans would bounce off of the back of it and they would run and gather them up. My grandmother cooked them for dinner. If no beans fell off the truck, then there was no dinner, although she usually had a little something else in the house. 

   Most of the time it was something cold she had canned months earlier.

   My dad went to Upper Darby High School just outside Philadelphia, starting when he was a sophomore. His parents moved him to Philadelphia from Cleveland and he always said he hated it. He was a Cleveland Browns fan and wore their colors, so he got into fights every day with the other kids who were Philadelphia Eagles fans.

   He liked telling us stories when we were growing up, like the one about how one day he and his friends went onto the second story of their high school and jumped up and down all as a group until the second floor fell in on the first floor.

   The school’s mascot is a lion now, but when he was there it was a court jester.

   My father’s parents were from Akron, and lived in Lakewood for a long time, but had to move when the new I-90 was being built. It was called the “Main Street of Northern Ohio” back then. Afterwards dad would drive us to a bridge over the highway and show us the spot below the bridge where their house used to stand.

   It was when they had to sell the house to the state that they moved to Philadelphia. After my mom and dad came back to Ohio they lived in Lakewood in a rented house for a few years. My older sisters were born there, but by the time I came along we were living in Bay Village.

   We lived on Jefferson Court my whole life, which was a short cul-de-sac street, five blocks south of Lake Erie. My dad designed our house and it was built just the way he wanted it. My family lived there until the day he died, when I was thirty-three years old.

   We all had our own rooms, although my brother and I shared a room when we were tots because we were a room short. My sisters had their separate bedrooms just down the half-story stairway from us and my parents were at the other end of the hallway. We had the crow’s nest until Patty moved out and got married, when she was nineteen, and Brad was seven. 

   It was in the crow’s nest where I grew close to Brad, who looked just like the boy Bamm-Bamm in the Flintstones. We even called him Bamm-Bamm. I became his number one protector like I did with all the neighborhood’s lost cats and dogs.

   But I could never protect him from Coco, our poodle, who used to bite and tear off his diapers when Brad was little. He could never crawl away fast enough.

   Although, honestly, there were times I didn’t try to stop Coco. I had some of my mom’s tough love in me. Other times Brad had done something I didn’t like, and it was just his tough luck that Coco was on the rampage.

Excerpted from “Dogs Never Bite Me” at http://www.dogsneverbiteme.com.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.