Looking back on a childhood home
Thursday, April 16, 2020 | 1:43 AM
As we Baby-Boomers age and fade, it’s good to remember those people, places, and events that formed us into the adults we have became and are. No matter where a person grew up, that place is bound to have formed lasting memories. Those of us who knew Penn Hills as home are no exception to that rule. My own reminiscences might be another man’s or woman’s, as well. Yet, each of us has our own house, street, neighbors and friends who have helped to form those memories. These are mine; come with me as I share my memories with you.
In 1949, when my father brought my mother to the lot he had purchased in Penn Hills on Evaline Street, she thought he had lost his mind! They had been living in Sharpsburg where my father was born. Definitely a city environment, very unlike the “wiles” of Penn Hills at that time. He was working for Scherger Brothers’ Construction, and this side of the street was being developed for post-war housing by Mr. Sherger’s company. My father worked on that house every weekend, both inside and out, in addition to the regular construction assignments being built. The stonework was carefully done by his talented and artistic hands, as well as the difficult and heavy-duty tasks building this house required. Finally, in October of 1950, we moved into the house, built with loving care. This location at 221 Evaline Street was to be our family home for the next 66 years.
We became a genuine suburban post-World War II family, part of the American Dream! That red brick colonial with its beautiful and spacious side porch and perfect breakfast room became the center of my childhood world. The interior reflected the fashions and the world of 1950: a round-screen Zenith television in a mahogany cabinet, heavy floral print drapes, topped with hand-made cornices, high-gloss hardwood floors, and end tables with blue mirrored tops. My father parked his new blue, four-door 1951 Plymouth Cranbrook in the attached garage, and we were “on our way!” Over the following years, the neighborhood grew and we were blessed with neighbors named Cramer, Christenson, Bish, Hysong, McLaughlin, Spinelli, Cartwright, Connor, Herschenroder, Dillon, Starkey, Williams, and the list grew each year. All younger families who had similar goals and work ethics. It was a happy group of adults and children. In fact, my best friend is still the one from our old neighborhood.
Faith practices were at the center of the families who lived there: Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran. My father and mother were two of the first parishioners at Saint Bartholomew Parish (St. Bart’s) while others attended Hebron Presbyterian, Laketon Heights Methodist and Advent Lutheran. I attended Saint Bartholomew Grammar School for my entire eight years (1956-1964). It was filled to overflowing with kids during the 1950s and early 1960s – three of each grade with about 55-65 in each classroom (whatever happened to Frank Hicks and Gary Holden?), all taught by the Sisters, The Daughters of The Divine Redeemer, now known as The Sisters of the Divine Redeemer, headquartered at their Mother House in Elizabeth, Pa. We were taught and guided by Sisters with improbable names like Anastasia, Enrica, Mathilde, Leona, Cecila, Benigna, Pancratia, and the list goes on. There was one lay teacher among these dedicated Religious ladies, a very nice lady we knew as Mrs. Smith, a religion and English teacher.
These Sisters loved the students, but they were very tough; they had to be with those numbers and all that responsibility. In addition, many of these women escaped either the Nazis during World War II, or the Communists during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. They had to teach all year and then in the summers, go to Duquesne University to work for their degrees. Not an easy job, but anyone reading this and who attended St. Bart’s knows the excellent job the Sisters did. (Where is a copy of the 1958 Bartonian?)
To get to school each day, I was guided across Frankstown Road by a kindly school guard named Pete, a WWI veteran, and then stood in line at Bon Air to wait for Bus #43, a 1955 International driven by a woman named Marie. (When it snowed, we had to wait 20 minutes after the scheduled time of arrival. If it was later than that, we could go home. She always showed up!)
It wasn’t all school and obligations, however, especially with entertainment not so far away from Evaline Street and Frankstown Road. There was the Eastwood Theater and right underneath it was the Eastwood Bowling Alley, all duckpins! Sun Drugs was across Frankstown at the entrance to Eastwood Shopping Center with the Star Market as its main business. There was the State Store at the end of the lot with a barbershop, a shoe repair and various doctors’ offices in the green wooden structure directly across from the Star Market and next to the Eastwood Dairy. A fine man, Dr. Cleary, a dentist had his office in that green structure. Long before the Dairy Queen existed, there was a Tastee-Freeze right down from the intersection of Frankston and Robinson Boulevard (Verona Road) across from Cooper’s tires on the right-hand side (where the entrance to the Giant Eagle is now). Up the street was the Thad Stevens Fire Department that put on the best and biggest Fourth of July parade each year!
Perhaps the biggest news came in 1960, when East Hills Shopping Center was opened. It was beautiful and much closer than Miracle Mile in Monroeville! It had a large fluorescent lighted Sputnik rotating on a tall light pole near the Loblaw’s Supermarket and all the sidewalk streets were named after Presidents of the United States. There was Islay’s, Hot Shoppes, Kenny’s Children’s Store, Suburban Dress Shop, Cox’s, Joseph Horne’s, Mellon Bank, and so many more beautiful places to shop or just walk. Plus, at the grand opening, Ricki Wertz (of Ricki and Copper fame WTAE-TV) was there signing autographs. Penn Hills was the place to live and to be, and I was there!
My father, mother, grandmother and I lived in that house for all those years, and we watched neighbors come and go, with others moving into houses we watched go up, we still kept our house as that one constant in a world of variables: it was our Penn Hills oasis and we loved it.
Time passed: My father died in 2001 and my grandmother in 2002. I promised my mother that she would never go into a “home” and that I would take care of her right in her own home if the necessity ever arose. It did.
I had been living in California for many years and returned home for visits frequently each year. In 2010, when she turned 90 her health began to fade and I returned to that home I knew and loved so well, to the Penn Hills I knew and loved so well. I did, in fact, take care of my dear mother who remained in her home until her death five years later in 2015 at 95. When all was said and done, I faced with what so many others have encountered, and that was to clear everything out of the house, have it cleaned and sell it.
The most difficult thing I had to do was walk out of that house for the last time, knowing that I would never live there again, even temporarily. I had to leave the only real home I ever knew. There had to be another solution, and there was: I gave the house to my cousin, a realtor, with the promise that he would revitalize it, keep it in his possession, and if desired, use it as a rental that he would always own. He spent many days there with the family and that place meant something to him, as well.
I owed it to my father who built that house brick by brick. I owed it to the neighbors who were so very good to my mother: Linda and Mike, Gail and Craig, Shelly and Sheridan, and, of course, dear Miss Shirley. There are now people, the neighbors of Evaline Street, along with others, who, with my cousin’s care and maintenance of 221, will keep that little neighborhood from becoming a Penn Hills “statistic.” These folks, and others like them will make their part of Penn Hills a home.
I imagine there are many who could share this same kind of story about growing up in Penn Hills. If so, I encourage you to do just that. Thank you so much for sharing these memories with me.