Summer memories: Magic of Pacific Avenue for a boy in 1930s still flickers for him

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A firefly flickered faintly, and as the sky slowly darkened, I knew there would be hundreds of little lights all around our new house in the 200 block of South Pacific Avenue in Bloomfield.

It was the summer of 1938, and our family had just purchased the house a block from Penn Avenue in June. I was not quite 8 years old. This was the closest I had been to living in a green-lawned suburb after spending my earlier years in more crowded areas of East Liberty.

As the fireflies worked their magic in the sky, other “magic” filled the air on South Pacific Avenue: the music from the Penn Roller Skating Rink, which was then thriving at the corner of Penn Avenue and Pacific.

Every evening the whole neighborhood could hear the music from the rink’s organ as couples rolled to “All Skate” numbers, or perhaps “Ladies Choice.” Hearing those skating tunes floating through the air was just something we all expected each night.

Summer life on our street included still more magic: Across Pacific from the skating rink was the Reinhold Ice Cream Co. factory. The company’s operation there had tables and booths for lovers of their refreshing banana splits, sundaes, sodas and milk shakes.

Or you could settle for ice cream cones or Reinhold’s delicious Creamsicles on a stick. The hotter the evening, the more customers crowded inside. It didn’t take very long for this 8-year-old boy to try out all of the treats in assorted flavors.

The teenagers from surrounding streets played softball every evening in our back alley, but my sister Carmela and I hadn’t gotten to know that group yet. We were content to stay on the front street with others closer to our age and keep active with roller skating, hopscotch and tag.

Summer evenings for residents meant slowing down a little from their daytime work. Most of the women had been shopping, cooking, house cleaning, doing laundry and cleaning up the pots and pans after dinner. Some had jobs as nurses at the three nearby hospitals or as teachers or secretaries for companies Downtown.

Men had spent the day working in offices, stores, warehouses and manufacturing plants. Evening was time to “set a spell” and talk about family activities and the day’s events.

There was virtually no air conditioning, so people relied on porch swings suspended from the ceilings in front of nearly every house to generate a breeze. If there was no swing, there was usually a glider or a rocking chair. With open porches, neighbors had a good opportunity to converse and build on their feelings of trust for “the people on their street.”

Maybe it was that sense of trust that neighbors shared that I liked most about living on South Pacific Avenue. In those days screened windows were left open all night to let the house interior cool down. There was never a concern about home invasions then. Also, car doors and windows were left unlocked.

Occasionally, I would isolate myself from others and simply read. Sitting on the front porch in the summer of 1938 I began to change my reading habits from the Big Little Books about Dick Tracy and Flash Gordon to a newer form of publication called “comic books,” which introduced superhuman characters into our culture.

Among them was Superman, who grabbed my interest as he pursued the bad guys. Oh, how I wish I had saved my first edition copies of Superman and Captain Marvel and all of the other superheroes that rolled off the printing presses. I would be very wealthy today if I had.

I’m still living on South Pacific Avenue. I often thought of moving, but I never really had to do so. The neighbors have changed, but they still engage in friendly conversations as their predecessors did years ago.

A Family Dollar has replaced the Reinhold plant, and a Bottom Dollar store has replaced the skating rink. Neighborhood doors and windows are all carefully locked up day and night now. But there’s one touch of magic unchanged from my childhood.

On warm summer nights as the sky begins to darken, hundreds of fireflies, perhaps thousands of them, perform the same flickering, magical light show that I used to watch.


Anthony E. Pizzuto, a retired manager for Calgon Corp., can be reached at pizzuto211@verizon.net. The PG Portfolio welcomes “Summer Memories” submissions and other reader essays, including school-related entries for our upcoming “Back to School” series. Send your writing to page2@post-gazette.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.

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