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 August, 2006


 Beating the heat with words

Want to Beat the Heat? Think Winter!

By Al Owens
According to The Weather Channel, by the end of today, it’ll reach 91 degrees. That’s hot!

Although when I lived in Phoenix back in the early 1980’s, I can vividly remember some guy on the radio gleefully proclaim, “It’s a glorious Phoenix Sunday afternoon. The temperature could get down to 92 degrees. So get out there and have a great day!”

Ah Phoenix, Arizona! I spent 4 years of my life there, but I only wore an overcoat once. I don’t remember it ever snowing while I lived there. If it had, it certainly wasn’t like the snow we had when I was growing up in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Nobody I knew in Phoenix owned a sled. And besides, there are no sled rideable hills in Phoenix.
Nothing like we had up on Searight Avenue in Uniontown, where they’d place wooden horses and smudge pots at the top of the hill to prevent vehicular traffic – so we’d be able to sled ride all evening long!
While living in Phoenix, I befriended a little guy named Peter Billingsley. You may know him as little Ralphie from the Christmas classic, A Christmas Story. He’s the kid who desperately wanted that Red Ryder BB gun.

As a movie reviewer at one of the local television affiliates, it was the 12 year-old Peter Billingsley who’d accompany me and give his “kids eye view” of animated features and children’s films.

Peter was definitely not Ralphie. While he was born in New York City, he and his parents moved to Phoenix when he was very young. Ralphie had supposedly lived in Cleveland all his life, and he always enjoyed winters just like mine.

I doubt that Peter had ever even seen much snow until he went on location to shoot that movie. But I’ll bet, knowing Peter, he had a blast. Just watching that movie makes me think about Uniontown at Christmastime. When there were downtown streets full of parents with their kids in tow.

Where there’d be lines of kids getting fitted for new shoes and clothes that always seemed to get in the way of our toys under our Christmas trees.

And there were real Christmas trees back then. I can remember going with my parents to some empty lot to pick them out. Some of them reached to our ceiling. I can still remember how angel hair felt. Ouch! It was beautiful but it hurt.

I doubt that Peter Billingsley had ever had to wear goulashes the way we did as kids. Nor had he ever had to wear ear muffs or mittens. Mittens?

Who ever came up with that idea? Didn’t they know that putting on those bulky leggings required a bit more digital dexterity than four fingers bound together by a clumsy glove? Come to think of it, I can remember being so tightly bound before getting sent off to Park School, I felt like a May Pole! (the stuff of another column, by the way)
Winters in Uniontown always meant Saturday-long visits to the State Theatre. (We used to call it Theee-ate’-er) We’d get there around noon. We’d leave at dark. We would see newsreels, serials, with a half dozen features in the middle. There would be door prizes and even special guests.

Once, after on of those State Theatre visits, Leon Jones and I followed Paul Shannon and Moe Howard of the 3 Stooges to their car parked down around Peter Street. I don’t remember we said much to them. We just followed them, hoping Moe would ask one of us to “pick two”, I think! Leon, could do a perfect Curly. But Moe never obliged.

I remember those days around Christmas when we’d go and get out all of our layaways at Metzler’s. I was always fascinated by the method of payment. There would be a tube that the clerk would open, place the money in it, and then send it skyward where it would disappear for a few minutes. A couple of minutes later, you’d hear that tube would reappear, the clerk would reopen it and then hand us our change and receipt. That experience was more exciting than sitting on Santa’s lap. And I’ll bet little Ralphie would agree!

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