Saturday Diary: Connecting the dots that reveal the past

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As a sometimes writer, I like to connect the dots, the dots being events that would seem to be unrelated. Random acts that on the surface are as similar as Fourth of July fireworks and Christmas garland. Connections that at the very least make doubters revel in happy coincidence and believers wonder if they’ve caught a glimpse of a greater plan.

Neither of my parents was from Pittsburgh.

Neither of my parents’ parents was from Pittsburgh.

The South Park Drive-In in Bethel Park opened in 1940.

My mother studied nursing at the University of Pittsburgh during the last years of World War II.

My father served in Europe from late summer 1944 through the fall of Germany and then well into the occupation.

In May 1946, my father and mother were still 11 months from marrying.

On May 28 and 29, a Tuesday and a Wednesday, the drive-in on Route 88 that stood near the entrance to South Park showed a double feature.

My father was home on leave for the first time since the end of the war.

My mother kept a scrapbook of their time apart. Letters from England. Postcards from France. Telegrams from Belgium. Easter and Christmas cards. Snapshots. Ticket stubs. Fears for the present and hopes for the future.

They saw “This Gun for Hire” starring Robert Preston and Veronica Lake, and “Taxi, Mister” with William Bendix and Grace Bradley.

Those ticket stubs, the playbill from the drive-in and a rare day together in a country long fractured by war made their way into her scrapbook; a day years before they knew me or my brothers and sister. A day that time might have otherwise forgotten.

My parents had 25 addresses in their first 25 years of marriage. Pittsburgh was not among them.

My mother last worked as a nurse in 1969.

Veronica Lake died in 1973.

The South Park Drive-in closed in 1985.

My goal in the early 1990s was to move back to Ohio, to move closer to home.

Pittsburgh was as close as we could get.

Life can be funny. It was closer than we thought.

My wife and I and our two daughters moved to Bethel Park in 1994, unaware our adopted home once was also home to a drive-in movie theater.

My father died in 1996.

My wife and I bought a house on the South Park side of Bethel Park in 1999.

A fast food restaurant, a doctor’s office, a paint store and a daycare center covered over the memory of the drive-in.

My mother’s scrapbook, yellowed, fragile, attic-old, but still bound together by a shoelace and time, survived and came into my possession.

On July 3 of this year, Kory Stephen was born to our oldest daughter. Just five days later, Landon Thomas — Kory’s cousin, son of our nephew and grandson of my brother — followed him into the world.

Two snowflakes dropped into the world? Two souls whose destination has been known since the beginning of time? Kory and Landon live on either side of South Park and down the road from the past.

Some of their first outings were walks with parents through the park, some of their first car rides past the ghosts of movies that played into the night.

How many under the age of 40 in the South Hills even know there once was a drive-in in their backyard?

My mother is still with us, but mostly homebound and lives hours away in Ohio.

There is a chance she will never meet her newest great-grandchildren.

It is almost certain they will never know nor remember their great-grandmother and it is equally as certain that they will grow up and never watch a movie starring Veronica Lake or William Bendix.

Sometimes none of that matters.

This Christmas, in the stockings of Kory Stephen and Landon Thomas will be a seemingly random collection of things inside a frame. One South Park Drive-In ticket stub. The titles of two forgotten movies made 70 years before they were born. One picture of a young man gone off to war. One picture of a young woman from another time.

They won’t be able to play with this gift. They won’t be able to eat it. They won’t be able to wear it. At 5 months old, they certainly won’t be able to understand it. Not this Christmas nor for a lot of Christmases to come.

Yet one day they will.

One day they will pull the frame from a box in the basement, they will look at the stub and the titles and the two faces beneath the glass and realize that for all those years there had been something else inside that case; something that wasn’t there before but, yet, was always there.

They will look in there at age 30 or 40 or 50.

And they will see dots.

Lots and lots of dots.

Dots that connect to the past.

Dots that connect to their past.

Dots connected by an old woman they never knew but an old woman who once upon a time thought of them; who one day thought of a family that in them had looped back on itself to a young man gone off to war and a young woman from another time and to Veronica Lake and to a drive-in that used to be there and to a time and a place that was theirs.

A time and place that, randomly or by design, was, in fact, all of theirs.

Steve Ziants is a page designer and copy editor for the Post-Gazette sports department (sziants@post-gazette.com , 412 263-1474).


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