Jumping 17 barrels was just one thing making dad special
October 16, 2013 4:15 AM
Gene Glickman with his daughter Audrey, left, and niece Beverly Levite in 1958.
By Audrey N. Glickman
Apparently at some point during the 1930s or 1940s, my father put on roller skates and jumped over 17 barrels.
An exemplary feat it is, but that is not the most amazing part of this story. For in those days, even before the arrival of electronic or online social media, it seems that everybody knew about it.
Tall tales, you say! Old-school versions of selfies and Photoshop! A braggart blaring his own trumpet! (My daddy did that, too -- played the trumpet, I mean, in a recital at age 4, but without roller skates.) You'd think he made up those barrels.
Yet the proof has been filtering in for years; apparently the whole city was there!
It began when I was in grade school. At family dinner I mentioned a classmate by name. My father said, "Oh! Ask him if he has an Uncle Gumpy!" Being young, I responded, "I can't ask him that." But Dad insisted.
The next day I asked. And the following week I got a story from my classmate: "Uncle Gumpy says that your dad jumped over 17 barrels on his roller skates!"
Still blown away by the existence of an "Uncle Gumpy," I was fairly dubious of the whole matter. But I asked my dad.
Daddy was flattered that Uncle Gumpy remembered.
Years later (after my uncommunicative teen years), when I would be discussing college classmates, or co-workers or people I'd gotten to know, my dad would always ask for their last names, and he would mention someone he knew with the same name.
A lifelong Pittsburgher who grew up on the Bluff, my father was the sort of fellow who could be walking down the street in Akron, Ohio, or Wheeling, W.Va., or Niagara Falls, and see someone he knew. There were a lot of names in his catalog of acquaintances. And everyone liked him.
So when I'd go back and ask my friends whether they were related to so-and-so, the answer would most often be "yes," and the very next day I would hear, "Did you know that your father jumped over 17 barrels on roller skates?"
My dad, Gene Glickman, was the youngest of 10 siblings. And the Glickmans have long been known about town -- in the furniture business, wholesale shoes, insurance, cleaning furniture and rugs.
My aunt played the violin for orchestras and social occasions. My uncle was mentioned in an August Wilson play as the person to see to buy a chair. And often folks confuse one brother for another. But when it comes to the tale of skating over the barrels, it's always the same Glickman brother they remember.
Daddy did some other amazing feats -- he served in New Guinea during World War II and notably rescued a local from an ugly fate; he did fancy dives off high diving boards; he could fix anything broken in any neighbor's house no matter what, even if he'd never before seen whatever it was. He could play any song you'd name on the piano, and if he hadn't heard it you'd just have to hum it once so he could "get it."
And still they always mentioned the barrels first.
Now, I never got the details as to time and place, or if I did I never wrote them down. Maybe it was a big deal, maybe it was a publicized event. Maybe all those people were there to see my dad jump over 17 barrels, maybe they bought tickets.
Did someone build a ramp? Who decided on 17 barrels? Where did the barrels come from?
I know my dad's sister, the violinist, worked at a steel drum company ...
Maybe I will never know any more about it. After a full and loving life, my dad has been gone for nine years to the day as I write this. But there still may be some spectators who remember that barrel jump and could tell me about it.
If only I knew their names and social media addresses.
Audrey Glickman of Greenfield, a program coordinator for Scenic Pittsburgh, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.The PG Portfolio welcomes "Storytelling" submissions and other reader essays. Send writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255. First Published October 15, 2013 8:22 PM