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