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 June, 2008


 A Fond Look Back at the Childhood Adventures

Whatever Happened to Adventure
By Al Owens

I once heard a recorded interview, in which Gen. George C. Marshall told a WMBS reporter that he and his childhood friends used to ride their bicycles from Uniontown to Brownsville.

Man, I would have loved to have been along for those adventures. (Although that would make me about 120 years-old if I had)

I can only fondly daydream about my own bicycle adventures. And there were lots of them.

In the 1950’s, there weren’t nearly as many automobiles on the streets of Uniontown as there are today.

Bikes, ridden in summer by adventure seeking out-of-school kids, may have been the predominant modes of transportation in those days.

There were times when you could see bicycle armadas comprised of young people simply hoping to head somewhere, and to get back home before dinner.

Sometimes, we’d get up enough change to buy balloons, blow them up, stick them through the spokes in our tires and then make believe we’d converted our bikes into motorcycles.

The sounds of the fluttering balloons could be heard for blocks – if only long enough for the heat generated by the friction of the spokes-against-balloons – caused our make believe motorcycle engines to burst.

In that last paragraph I used a phrase that just may seem foreign to the kids of today – MAKE BELIEVE.

We had no computers back then. Remote controls were still something of the future. The joy stick hadn’t been invented.


It’s what turned a tree limb into a sword. It allowed us to fashion a battleship out of an old abandoned anything. Mini-street fights would ensue about who would be Roy Rodger and who would be the bad guy.

We learned early in life to show man’s superiority to beasts. Well, maybe not beasts – but lightening bugs. I can remember entire evenings spent in pursuit of those fascinating little devils. And there’d always be somebody who would appear with their Mason jar, who’d gather them and show them to anybody who’d come within view.

I’m still amazed that something that small can emit so much light. I just may go hunting for a few of them tonight.

Adventure gives and takes your energy, but it also allows you to think.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. I’ll drink a cherry Coke to that.

Armies of enterprising youths could earn a fair amount of cash, just riding our bikes in search of discarded pop bottles. (A nickel for a quart bottle, and two pennies for a twelve ounce one)

Fifty cents could get you anything you wanted up there at that Dairy Queen on Connellsville Street. My favorite on the DQ menu was, well, EVERYTHING.

Keep in mind those were the days before some nosey medical scientists invented cholesterol and calories.

If forced to make a selection, though, it would most likely be one of their soft-served hot fudge sundaes, with lots of whipped cream and a cherry on top.

Hold on a second…………………….
Ok, I’m back. I just got one of those ice cream headaches just thinking about that. Oh the delicious pain!

In late evenings, we would play a strange game in which the loser of the previous game would have to search for a group of individuals who would try to return to a designated spot without getting caught.

Ah, Hide ‘n Seek. Whoever invented a game so full of excitement – and yet so perfectly simplistic?
It also took a bit of street smart inventiveness to concoct “The plan.”

That’s when, as full darkness approached, the person who was “it,” would have not been advised of the fact that everybody else would go their own homes – while the “it” person would search all night for them.

There may still be some 60 year-old Uniontown kids, hoping to “tag” so THEY, too, can finally go home.
When it rained during my summers, the playgrounds would close – and we’d all huddle a Keith Leos’ house. Keith was the best “make believer” I’ve ever known. We’d huddle on his front porch and he’d show us how to play his baseball card, baseball game.
I never won that game. That’s because Keith would change to the rules (I have now discovered, to suit himself) everyday.

No kid in those days, ever really wanted to see the inside of a house in the summer. We tried to live outside. Beds were considered unnecessary.
If there was sunlight, there were new frontiers to conquer.

There used to be a heavily wooded area just off Butler Street in Uniontown.

Please don’t tell a soul what I’m about to say. Butchie McMurray (not his real name) discovered matches one summer. We’d all headed to that wooded area, with Butchie haphazardly flicking his matches as we proceeded.

He flicked one too many times. The tall grass suddenly caught fire, causing a half dozen ten year-old thrill seekers to desperately try to undo Butchie’s flickings.

It was futile. Suddenly adventure meant the dreaded act of returning to our homes as fast as our little arsonist legs could take us.
The sound of fire sirens could be heard all over Uniontown – while smoke filled the upper East End.

I’ve always known the truth when what they say in those police dramas that arsonists always returning to the scene to witness their own handy work.
Within ten minutes of our departure from that wooded area, every single one of us who had been there when that fire started – was standing there watching the firemen perform their duties.

That evening, with there no longer being a wooded area to burn down – I think we played sandlot baseball.

I never saw Butchie McMurray with another match after that.