Storytelling: Appeal of vacation is in time travel back to Stanton Heights
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Dad's advanced years and arthritic back, and my intense fear of flying, make a summer vacation more a fantasy than a reality. Yet, Dad and I compensate for our inability to visit distant places by visiting distant memories.
To do so, we travel back to the future -- to Nanty-Glo, his hometown; to Johnstown, his childhood "go to" destination; to Altoona, his first home with Ma.
My favorite trip, however, is the 10-minute drive to Stanton Heights, the neighborhood in which I spent my first 18 years.
Ma and Dad, like many young parents of baby boomers, moved to Stanton Heights shortly after World War II ended. The sense of community appealed to them. Mothers chatted from yard to yard while hanging clothes on the line; fathers talked as they mowed lawns or shoveled snow; and we kids laughed as we played board games on the porch or kickball in the street.
When I was 7 in 1954, we had already moved from our smaller house on Simona Drive to a larger one on Downlook Street. With my help, Dad planted a tiny tree in front of our house. Now, when we stop and stare at the tree from the car, I marvel at how tall and majestic the once-scrawny tree looks. I wish that tree could tell me about the changes it has experienced and about its ability to survive.
During our trips to Stanton Heights, I am the one in the driver's seat, but it was on Downlook that Dad taught me to drive. He devoted hours to teaching me how to perfect that pesky parallel parking. He encouraged me to drive in and out of the garage located in the alley so I could learn to maneuver through tight spots -- a lesson that has benefited me both in and out of the car as I have journeyed through life.
It was also in Stanton Heights that I had my first car "accident": The carton of eggs on the back seat tumbled when I drove too fast down a hill and created a scrambled mess on the floor mat.
Dad and I drive up and down the streets now, remembering how we walked those same streets on Halloween with me dressed as a witch or ghost and Dad hovering in the background, simultaneously giving me my independence and protecting me from any real witches or goblins. Once we arrived home after trick-or-treating, I would create two piles of candy on the living room floor -- one pile to be savored, and the other to sell to Grandma for her store in Homewood.
We pass the corner of Woodbine and Stanton Avenue, where Dad and I melted in the heat, shivered in the cold and caught raindrops and snowflakes on our tongue as we waited for the bus. Standing at that intersection, Dad shared with me the truths that I have never forgotten: a cup of hot Ovaltine will cure all ills; a cud-chewing cow always looks more sensible than a gum-chewing girl; and, as Rudyard Kipling advised, I should try to keep my head, even if all around me are losing theirs.
Every journey to Stanton Heights begins at Sunnyside School, the "new" Sunnyside I attended from grades 2 to 6, and ends at what was once the thriving Stanton Heights Shopping Center.
Sunnyside evokes memories of my principal, the blue-haired woman whose glass frames always matched the hue of her dresses; of Dad attending an assembly when I led the school in the Lord's Prayer; of the newspaper sponsor who caught me in an act of plagiarism and ensured that I would never ever repeat that crime.
The space that once housed the shopping center reminds me that change is the only constant in life. The deli, with its hot, fragrant soups and equally delicious corned beef sandwiches, no longer exists; cars no longer circle like the Kennywood carousel in an effort to find a place to park. Now, the shopping center is a ghost town filled with silence.
With every visit, my house on Downlook looks smaller than I remember.
Stanton Heights, which once defined my world, seems to have shrunk. Like me, the neighborhood has aged. Like me, it has struggled to survive and to find ways to adapt and thrive.
Even so, while Stanton Heights may lack the razzle-dazzle of most vacation spots, for Dad and me it is the perfect place for a mini-getaway.
First Published July 11, 2012 12:00 am