THE GLORY DAYS OF CUMBERLAND, MD

                              GROWING UP IN CUMBERLAND, MARYLAND IN THE 70’S  

     The older I get, the more I think about my childhood.  I feel like I’m stuck in an episode of “The Wonder Years.”  Lately, Cumberland, Maryland has been on my mind.  I was a happy seven year-old boy in 1970, when my mother told me we were moving from Cincinnati to Cumberland, Md.  I did not have any idea where Cumberland was and I remember thinking Maryland sounded like a woman’s name.    

  It was tough leaving my beloved Cincinnati Reds and Bengals to move to Colt, Steeler, Oriole and Pirate country, but Cumberland helped take me deeper into sports.  It was an exciting area in a great era of sports.  The Reds fought and lost to Baltimore in the World Series in 1970.  The Orioles were exciting with stars like Frank and Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer and Boog Powell.  The Pirates, much unlike the Pittsburgh teams of today, were regulars in the playoffs.  Legends like Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell played alongside of fan favorites Manny Sanguillen and Richie Hebner.      In football, the Colts were still in Baltimore and dominant with names like John Unitas and Bubba Smith.  The Washington Redskins were a powerhouse with Sonny Jurgenson, Bill Kilmer, and Larry Brown.  And of course, Terry Bradshaw, Mean Joe Greene, and Franco Harris were starting the Steeler dynasty in Pittsburgh.  All of these quality teams played just two hours away from Cumberland.  Seventies’ sports made me a sport fan for life.

 

    It was more than professional sports, Cumberland offered many opportunities for youth to participate in sports.  It was a different era and as youth, we did not have computers and video games to keep us entertained.  We played softball in a gully behind my house on Beechwood Drive.  It was rocky and very bumpy but we played softball and football.  I remember playing sportñ with neighborhood friends like Gary and Richard Geiger, Lou Baker, Doug Dunn, Shawn and Damon Thomas and others.  We even built a goalpost out of sticks and a wooden backstop for softball.   

 

   We were always playing sports it seems.  Two on two football, wiffleball, and basketball at the Bakers.  Wiffle ball and Rundown at the Thomas’, just as long as the ball didn’t go into the Miller’s or Hack’s yard.  Football at the church yard.  Tennis ball in several different yards.  We were young, energetic, and living in a time when our parents didn’t have to worry about stalkers, kidnappers, molesters, and drug dealers.  There were not any crack dealers or meth houses just a few harmless hippies smoking pot that hung out around the bowling alley.  They never bothered us and for some reason, we called them ‘sweats.’           Dapper Dan Little League also played a major part in me developing a lifelong love of sports.  The uniforms made out of wool were hot and heavy but we felt like big leaguers.  I remember the local cable access channel broadcasting a few games and we felt like stars.  Of course, two hits in a game would get your name in the newspaper.  I was terrible as a ten year old playing for the Pirates but we had a heck of a team with Doug Dunn and Alan Page.  A good childhood friend, Todd Beal, played for us and his dad was the manager.  I remember my brother parking my dad’s car outside the field at a game at Constitution Park.  Gary Geiger who definitely was not a power hitter cracked a homerun which cracked my dad’s car.  His Chrysler was his pride and joy. 

 

      The next year, I started out the season and was not much better.  Then in a game at Post Field, John Holsey was throwing a no hitter against us.  I remember standing in the on the deck circle and repeating to myself “it can be done and I’m going to do it.”  Over and over I repeated this to myself.  I climbed into the batter box in my imitation Pete Rose stance and nailed a single and a double in my next two atbats and those were our only two hits of the game.  I started to believe and went on a tear over the next couple of games getting eight straight hits.  I went from a scared number seven hitter to the leading hitter on the team hitting about 560 for the year.  

 

    We also loved sports at Johnson Heights.  I remember arriving early to play softball on the blacktop and hitting balls over the fence.  In gym glass we would play on the field in the school yard and thrive to hit the ball onto the blacktop.  I remember a young coach named Mr. Caney (who would become Fort Hill’s football coach) trying to get us to play soccer in gym class.  I hated soccer and to this day do not consider that a real sport, lol.  I remember my friend Eddie Bishop dominating us in basketball.  Eddie and I walked together to Washington Jr High School.  We entered a one on one intramural tournament.  Of all the people in that school, I drew my friend in the first round.  I knew I was doomed but practiced and practiced.  Eddie promptly thrashed me and I was out in the first round

 

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But, how can I ever forget Johnson Heights?  From the moment, I walked into Mrs. Moore’s second grade class, ol’ Johnson Heights became a place I never would forget.  We were a singing and dancing bunch I know that.  The old May Day festivals seemed torturous at the time.  Each class would do a weird dance like ‘the sword dance.’  We would practice it over and over during the day.  Then, on Mayday we would have a festival or carnival.  We would put on a weird show for everyone to see and then play games after ward.      We seemed to have a lot of plays and Christmas shows as well.  I remember one song that went “leave it be, leave it be, if there’s a flower in the woods, leave it be.”  In the sixth grade we went to Outdoor School.  It was scary being away from my family but it was interesting and we learned a lot about nature.  The counselors scared us with tales about Chicken People coming down and eating children.  Of course, went had to put on a skit at the end of the camp.  Our cabin did Attack of The Chicken People where we had a couple of kids with ketchup on them like blood, run into the building screaming.  The rest of us were knocking on the building and making chicken noises.  We scared the heck out of several girls.  They were screaming and crying.  I made great childhood friends like Eddie Bishop, Mike Twigg, Brady Andrews,Todd Beal, Mark Keefer, and others.  It was sad to leave.  Johnson Heights was a great time period in my life.  I’m not sure what happened in my one year at Washington Jr high but things changed.  I became separated from my Johnson friends and we quickly grew apart.  Todd started hanging with the jocks, Scott Lewis became a brainac, lol, and Mark Keefer and Howie Emerick became ‘ladies men’.  I felt kind of left out.  My world changed.  There were bullies and constant talk of iniations. 

 

  It was to grow apart from my friends and be separated into groups.     I’ll always remember my true best friend – my dog Lucky,  In those days, dogs could go every where.  He’d follow me to Village Dairy and the owner Jim would come out and give him ice cream.  Then we would walk down to Grants and bark at Jim’s big sheep dog Sam.  Lucky would follow me to the park and to Acme and Town and Country and wait patiently for me outside.  He even defended me when an older Tommy Stallings picked on me.      My brother, Gary, was five years older than me but he was a great big brother.  We rode our bikes all over Cumberland.  He had his own friends but let me tagalong to Fort Hill football games.  We used to play Army and hide and seek with our friends in the woods behind our house.  Lucky always gave me away when I was hiding.  Then, Lucky would chase a rabbit.  He must have chased with his eyes closed because the rabbit would turn off and he kept a runnin’!      Every year I would wait patiently for new baseball cards to arrive.  I would check Dairy Mart, Drug Fair, and the Village Dairy for them to arrive.  Usually Joe’s Texaco got them first.  I liked Joe’s but some old guy would run me off every time I tried to read the magazines.      Sometimes I still taste the double-deckers or clams from Mr Ed’s, the hard dipped ice cream cones or roast beef sandwiches covered in mashed potatoes and gravy from Village Dairy, or the turkey from The Bucky Bradford House, the restaurant that was inside of Grant’s.

 

  Of course, I developed a love for music in Cumberland.  Of course, my taste did not start off good.  I used to buy 45 rpm records at 50 cents every chance I could at Town and Country, Grants, or Drug Fair.  My first single was Neil Diamond’s “Play Me”, lol but my second was “The Joker” by the Steve Miller Band.  I used to listen to WCUM (wonder why they changed the name, lol) and to JJ Jeffries on WTBO…. And of course some guy name Casey Casem on America’s Top Forty.     Yes, I often recall Cumberland as a magical place where I discovered sports, music and well……I never had a girlfriend.  But, I had a secret crush.  There was a girl that was in my second grade class.  She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.  I lusted from a far.  I never said a word to her or her to me.  I walked down her street to steal a glimpse (hmmmm, guess I discovered stalking in Cumberland, too) and I still think about her from time to time and wonder if she is still is as pretty. 

 

      I guess wherever you grow up is always special to you.  It seems like it was a great time to grow up.  Yes, there was stress from the Viet Nam war, Watergate, and HIPPIES!!!!!!  But, it seemed like it was much more innocent times (maybe because we were innocent children) and there were jobs for everyones parents.  PPG, Chessie system (now CSX), and Kelly Springfield were big employers.  I’ve been back to Cumberland but while the names on the mailboxes in White Oaks are still the same, sadly, most of my friends moved away without a trace.  Jails (local, federal, state) are the biggest employer now in Cumberland.  Cumberland never knocks down and rebuilds the buildings so it still looks the same.  But something seems to be missing, maybe it’s just the loss of the innocence of my youth.   

 

                                      JOHNSON HEIGHTS

Www.dehartdavisart.com

 

Johnson Heights.....  as I get older, I think more and more about where I came from and how I became the person I am today. Although I left Cumberland in 1976, I feel like I learned a lot of my morals and developed a great deal of personality in Cumberland, Maryland. In many ways, Johnson Heights helped shape who I am. Johnson Heights was more than a school it was a community.

 

The school tried many ways to make sure we were well rounded individuals. My love of sports came from playing sports and even discussing sports. I remember even getting to watch playoff games and World Series in classrooms. Like every school, we played softball in gym class and at recess. In the morning before school we would also play pickup games on the blacktop and hit homeruns out over the fence into the street.

 

Johnson Heights also helped instill an appreciation of music in me. Sure, we sang a lot of hokey songs in music class like Lazy Bones and Swinging on A Star but the love of music still stuck in me. There was always plays, musicals, and Christmas shows going on. No matter how shy we may have been we still eventually had to get on stage and stare out at the audience.

 

Who could forget the annual Mayday ritual? At the time it seemed like cruel punishment as we endured what seemed like hours of rehearsal out on the playground doing routines like The Sword Dance. Then in early may we would put on a show. Each class would do their ‘dance’ in front of our parents and anyone else who was at the festival. It was a show of community, though as there was food, games and even raffle prizes. At the time it seemed awkward and like work, but I do realize now it made us a tighter community.

 

I still remember my first day at Johnson Heights. Mrs. Moore was my second grade teacher. She was older and I would guess near retirement but I still recall a story she told us that first day. I remember her telling us that her and her husband went to Ocean City. He thought he saw a ball so he went and grabbed it and it was a jelly fish or some type of creature and it wrapped around him and would not let go. I’m not sure why I always remember that story but it stuck in my mind for all of these years. I remember seeing a beautiful girl named Robin in my second grade class that first day. I thought she was the most beautiful girl I ever seen. I never ever talked to her in my life as that was the only class I was in with her. I just admired her from a far and was afraid of her. My first friend was Danny Bopp. He moved to South Carolina later. We used to trade baseball cards and play on the monkey bars. He liked Robin and would talk to her and I’d hide when he’d get close to her.

 

In the third grade, we had a split class. We had fourth graders in there too. Mrs. Castle was the teacher. Midway through the year we got a fourth grader named Alan Paige. He was one of the first African-Americans in Johnson Heights besides the Trimbles. Mrs. Castle and my parents made it a point for me to treat Alan good because he was different. This is how weird that period of time was in the 70’s. I remember going out of my way to be friends with Alan and Kevin. I liked them but it was like people was making me feel like I was changing the world by being their friend. It is awkward and embarrassing now, they were great guys it should not have taken a special effort but that was the 70’s and people were ignorant and awkward.

 

I also remember The Heart Unit (not sure if that was the correct name), but in the sixth grade, we had a very extensive program dealing with our hearts and how to take care of our bodies. Each section was very extensive. They tried to teach the value of exercise, good nutrition, and discourage smoking.

 

In the sixth grade, we were went to outdoor school. Outdoor school was like a week long camp. It was the first time many of us had been away from our parents. We got to meet and make friends with children from other schools. We took hikes and watched movies about nature. The counselors teased us about ‘mountain chickens.’ So when it came time for our cabin to put on our skit (it wouldn’t have been Johnson Heights without singing or skits) we acted like we were attacked by mountain chickens. We were banging on the doors and some of our members ran into the room with ripped clothes and ketchup as blood. The rest stood outside and banged on the cabin and made noises. Girls inside were screaming and crying. What fun! I guess this may have helped developed my sometimes twisted sense of humor. The teachers tried to give us moral guidance and help to develop us as good citizens. I still remember a speech Mr Delany gave us in the fourth grade. He told us in a couple of years we would be sixth graders and we would be ‘at the top’. But then in the 7th grade we would be back ‘at the bottom.’ Again at the top in the 8th and then at the bottom. He compared it to the rest of our lives and tried to instill humility and understanding in us. In the sixth grade, I had somehow acted up in the cafeteria, and he took me aside and reminded me of that speech. I remembered that throughout my life, maybe I remembered the reinforcement of that more than the original speech because I was truly embarrassed about my behavior and had a hard time looking him in the eye. But there was not a lot of bullying or bullies at Johnson Heights and maybe it was because teachers tried to stamp it out early and be a good influence on us. I only went to Washington Jr high a year but things changed. Our tight group of friends kind of separated and met new friends. Things changed. There were more bullies at Washington. The whole atmosphere was different and at times was very intimidating. I found myself often missing the sense of security and family we had at Johnson Heights. Nowadays we hear of drugs and violence in our schools and perverted teachers. That world just seems eons away from our little world inside the gates of Johnson Heights.

 

          

PPG 

PPG (Pittsburgh Plate and Glass) was one of the major factories tbat fueled Cumberland's prosperity.  When the plant closed along with Kelly Springfield, The Celanese, and the Cumberland breweries, Cumberland's economy went into a downhill sñiral.

 

"1954-1992 PPG Cumberland Works No. 7 - Constructuted in 1953 by the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, the Works No. 7 Plant manufactured plate glass in Cumberland from 1953 to 1981. In 1981, the No. 7 manufacturing facility was shut down and used as a research and development facility until 1992" (according to wikipedia History of Cumberland)

Celanese 

Celanese built the plant in 1918.  The first cellulose acetate yarn was produced the Amcelle plant in 1924.  The company's name in the beginning was American Cellulose and Chemical Co.....thus they called the geographical location Amcelle.

The plant started low with 220 employees in 1924.  The company expanded over the next 20 years and employed over 10,000 people in the 40's.  The plant was closed in 1983 and sold to Allegheny County.  Most of the factory buildings were demolished in the early 1990s and a Maryland State prison was built there.  When the plant closed, there were about 550 workers out of work.  

 

 

Kelly Springfield Tires 

When Kelly Springfield Tires opened up a plant in Cumberland, Md in 1921, it instantly impacted the city's economy.  It continued to impact the economy positively employing thousands until 1987.  Then, the company impacted the local economy again....but this time negatively...by putting over a thousand out of work by closing the plant.

At the time of the closing, then Cumberland Mayor George Wyckoff Jr. said the plant's closing was inevitable, given its age -- 65 years -- and the fact that the market for the bias-ply tires it made was diminishing. "The plant here has not really been profitable," he said. "It's an old plant. Eventually, it was going to go."

When Cumberland Brewed Beer 

There was a time when Cumberland proudly produced two major beers....Old German Beer and Old Export.  Over 300 people were employed in the local brewing industry as suds were brewed in Cumberland and sent out into the world.  I was not of drinking age to ever taste the fresh brew as the last brewery shut down in 1974 but Ebay and other sites are full of beer memorabilia that flowed out of the Queen City.

Herman The German was a well known 'figure" around Cumberland as the mascot helped Queen City Brewing sell beer.  Queen City Brewing was on Market Street along Wills Creek.  Queen City would produce Queen City Pilsner, Gold Crest 51, Kings Ale, Gold Brau, Fischers Beer, Old Dutch, Frankenmuth, Great Lakes and others. Cumberland Brewing made Gamecock Ale, Mann’s Export, Kol Beer, Bock, Keeley Ale, Blackhawk Beer, Red Fox Beer, Sweet Life and Arrow 77 to name a few.  At it's peak, the company produced over 250,000 barrels of beer a year.

Cumberland Brewing Company operated on North Centre Street produced Old Export Beer and Gamecock Ale. The Cumberland Brewing Company was the oldest major brewery that operated in Cumberland, and was purchased by Queen City Brewing Company in 1958. It was the last surviving brewery in Cumberland before it closed its doors in 1976.

Cumberland Brewery in the 1900s

 

70s Cumberland Radio 

 

Today’s teens may think 70’s music is very cheesy and hokey, but in the early 70’s it was the soundtrack of our lives. We used to listen to “Seasons Of The Sun” and ‘America Pie’ over and over for hours on our old record players. We all had stacks and stacks of 45 rpm singles. 

Our radios were tuned to WCUM and later WTBO. Ahhhh those were the days. WCUM…..wonder why they changed those call laters. For a while, their slogasn was “the Fun One.” I remember listening to WTBO AM 1450 on the radio dial. I remember JJ Jefries and Chuck O’brien. I remember “The Dunk The DJ” Radio contest. The lucky caller would answer a question about their favorite and dj and if they were correct, they would receive a prize like a album. If they were wrong, they weould hear “hhahaha you lose you lose and the listener would still win a certificate for the new Pepsi package called The Boss. I believe it was a 2 liter bottle or something similar. 

We would also listen to Casey Casem’s American Top 40 every week. The sounds of the 70’s still sound good to me but nowadays we list them as guilty pleasures. I do admit though that I did throw my 8 track tapes out decades ago and even parted with my cassette tapes at the turn of the century. But every now and then, give me some Neil diamond, Carpenters or even Sonny and Cher. You can keep The Captain and Tenille. No Chipmunk Love for me, thanks.

Pre-WalMart and Pre-Mall Cumberland, Md  

Before the days of Wal-Mart, customers still roamed the aisles of Cumberland retail stores. The Cumberland Mall brough Kmart to town as an anchor store. But, before Kmart, Cumberland residents were still able to shop. 

When my family moved to Cumberland in 1970, The white Oaks Shopping Center was just a couple of blocks from us. It was a thriving strip of stores. Next to the bowling alley was Town and Country. Town and Country was department store. They had many items that you would find Wal-Mart but did not have a grocery store inside of it. The grocery store was at the end of the strip and it was Acme. 

Town and Country closed in the mid seventies. Until then, I walked over every week and buy 45 rpm single records for 59 cents. The first record I bought was The Joker by The Steve Miller Band. My 45 rpm is long, long gone but the song still remains a favorite of mine today. We bought school clothes, baseball gloves, and of course – Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars from there.

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Tennis Shoes we bought down the strip at J.D. Raubs. If our fathers needed car parts, Joe The Motorist Friend was also conveniently located in the strip. Thrift drugs was right there as well but my favorite was The Village Dairy. I go to ice cream and baseball cards and my dog Lucky would follow me and watch me through the glass door and bark and paw at the door.The owner Jim would come out and give Lucky an ice cream sandwich. Jim was very friendly and loved animals. He used to have a sheep dog named Sam that stayed in his fenced in yard a few blocks down the street. Village Diary had hard dip ice cream and also was a diner. My favorite was open faced beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy. 

Right down the street was a shopping center anchored in the early 70’s by Grants. Grants was a lot like Town and Country but bigger and was part of a large national chain. Grants had a restaurant inside of it called The Bucky Bradford House. My favorite there was Young Tom Turkey. The national chain grocery store A&P was at the other end up of the strip. Drug Fair was a large drug store located between the two. They sold 45 rpm singles as well. I also used to buy comic books from Drug Fair. 

When Grants went out of business, it was replaced by Hills. Sadly, Hills, Town and Country, and Grants have all been out of business for quite a while now. So is Westons, GeeBee’s (downtown), and Kings that was in LaVale. All were popular department stores who went out of business decades ago. Even Kmart, that came into the Cumberland Mall is long out of business, though of course, the chain still survives. For now, it is a Wal-Mart world. 

Many of the mom and pop stores are gone. Joe’s Texaco is long gone. For now, it is a land of giants. Martin’s and Wal-Mart are the kings of Cumberland’s retail stores. In this regard, Cumberland changed like the rest of the world. The mom and pop stores and regional chains are now part of the good ol’ days.

Ahhhhhh! Sno Cones! 

The kids in our White Oaks neighborhood were very active. We would spend hours playing baseball, basketball, army, tag, hide and seek and any other active game we could come up with or invent. So it was only fitting that in the evening, we were treated to some sort of refreshment. ‘The Sno Cone Truck’ pervaded that cold, liquid refreshment. Frankly, I have never had a sno cone that tasted as good. Probably, because this was the sno cone of my youth and it is intertwined with memories. 

The old white truck would come around every summer evening enticing kids with it’s bell or music. We would line up and try new flavors. Licorice was a favorite of mine. It was a daily ritual. We would be playing a game and then run to the truck. 

When the energy cris of ’74 hit, the sno cone man was forced to up his price from 15 cents to 25 cents. We thought that was steep and not worth the price. So we did what any other group of American children did, we boycotted the sno cone truck. Ahhhh, capitalism at work. We stood out and yelled boycott as the truck went by. Then quite thirsty, went back to our games. I remembered one of our friends, Shawn was very distraught and even ran home crying. The thought of never again getting the tastefulcold treat was just too much for him to bear. But the summer got hotter and we got awful thirsty and soon we were standing in line at the front of the sno cone truck. 

My favorite Mister Softee never came down our street. But I remember I could see him on a backstreet. It was kind of late as it was dark. But when I could I would run over and enjoy what seems like magical ice cream. Ahhhh, the ice cream of our youth – how good does it taste in our minds.

The Evel Craze Hits Cumberland 

I was just watching Ridicoulessness on MTV. It is a new show that is kind of like Jackass. Anyway, they had a few videos dealing with people building makeshift ramps and crashing on them and hurting themselves. It took me back to Cumberland and the days when kids worshipped Evel Knievel. 

There was a ditch or sewer hole in front of The Bakers house. We decided to build a small ramp. Shawn, the youngest of the group, successfully jumped it with his bike. Richard the oldest of the group, tried to jump it but failed and wrecked. We had some scary moments but he was okay. 

Evel Knievel was everywhere in those days and he probably was not the best role model. 

All of the kids in the neighborhood has various Evel toys including the windup toy motorcycle that jumped over things. 

But I guess the smart ones of us were the ones that saved the toys. I just looked it up on Amazon and they are going for $249!

A Small-town in Maryland and it's love affair with high school football 

 

There's a small American town of 20,000 that gets 10 to 15,000 fans to the annual homecoming rivalry between the town's top two schools.  One of these schools just notched up its' fifth state championship in the last six years today. 

Nope...I am not talking about Texas.  Texas has become known as the home of high school football, where high school football is king.  Nope...this small town which has become High School Football USA is a town in Maryland.  The town is Cumberland and the champions are the Fort Hill Sentinels. 

The culture of Cumberland is the same as small-town Texas.  Friday nights are the main event.  Whether it be the Fort Hill Sentinels or the Allegany High Campers... All generations become psyched up on Fridays.  Kids start young playing youth football and dreaming of busting through a huge red sign that reads “Go Big Red” that is draped over the goalpost. 

  

I grew up in Cumberland in the 70s.  Cumberland was thriving thanks to the railroad industry, Kelly Springfield Tires, PPG, and others.  Over the years, the jobs disappeared.  The biggest employers were state and federal prisons.  To make things worse, the drug epidemic hit. 

  

Every year, hundreds or thousands of alumni that left for more opportunities return to see Fort Hill and Allegany meet.  Cumberland comes alive every November for that event. 

  

The fans and teams are classy and full of heart.  In today's championship game, a player from Fredrick Douglass was seriously injured (the young man has been discharged from the hospital).  The Fort Hill players prayed on the sidelines. 

Cumberland, the town, is full of heart.  Like the champions that the city raised, Cumberland will prevail.  The town will prevail. 

  

Cumberland is a city city of champions.  Fort Hill now has 7 state championships.Allegany has 8 giving the city 15 state championships.  Fort Hill is 81-3 since 2013. The town has a big heart and a love of high school football perhaps only rivalled deep in the heart of Texas. 

 

Lucky: A Boy and His Brother's Dog 

In my best Pete Rose stance, I punched the wiffle-ball into right field for a base hit. Heck, I was Pete Rose. My friends were Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Lee May. It was 1970 Cincinnati and we were 6 year-old boys. I was Greg Cook (Cincinnati Bengals quarterback), Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati Royals basketball great), and BatMan. Life was good. But on this day as I rounded first base, I heard my mom calling me home through the open yards. So Pete Rose ran off the field, got on his trusty red bike and headed home... not to score a run but for dinner.

It's hard to imagine now that I was ever so skinny, but I could stick my small hands all the way around my arms. Tall for my age, I had two huge front teeth, a Frankenstein haircut, and the energy of a water bug on speed. I threw my bike down in the yard behind our house on Cleander Drive and ran around to the front door and into the house. My mother was coming out of the kitchen. Doris Williams was forty years-old. She was cookie-cut from a 60's and 70's sitcom. She had dark hair that she wore in a half bee-hive style with a pretty smile. Dinner was always on time and like June Cleaver, she may not have had what we call a "real job" today but was as much house manager as housewife.

I charged into the house and ran into the dining room. Looking up to my mom, i chirped, "Where's dinner?" My mother put her arm around me and steered me into the TV room. Sitting me down on a blue sofa, she sat across from me in a blue easy chair that was my dad's throne. In a soft voice, she said, "It's not quite ready. It will be done in a few minutes." She paused and then seemed to talk even more softer and slower, "I want to talk to you about something." "What's wrong?" I asked her with a puzzled look on my face. "Am I in trouble?" "No, you are not in trouble," She started. "Your father has been transferred at work. So we will be moving soon."

"Leaving here? But, I like it here. All of my friends are here."

"I know, David. But you can make friends anywhere. It's a nice little town. It's called Cumberland, Maryland."

"Maryland?" I queried in a high-pitched voice. "That's a woman's name. Do they show Reds games on TV there?" "Well, I don't know about Reds games, but I'm sure there are other teams up in the area that they show on TV." "Do they have Gray's Drugs there?" I asked with the utmost urgency. Gray's Drugs was my favorite store in Cincinnati. The comic books were on the bottom shelf of the magazine rack and I'd run straight to the rack and literally dive into the comic books while my mom shopped.

Mom shrugged her shoulders and said, "Well, if they don't have Gray's they will have something just like it."

"What about King Kwik?" I asked. King Kwik was a popular convenience store in Cincinnati in the 60's and 70's. i used to get baseball cards and Icees there. Mom assured me that there were convenience stores in Cumberland and places to buy baseball cards and Icees. Mom realized these things were very important to me and took them very seriously. For me, my world was baseball, superheroes, and my friends and family.

My brother Gary, who was five years older than me, had important issues as well. He loved Cincinnati. He had lots of friends and was getting ready to enter Delhi Jr.High School. Gary did not want to move either. My oldest brother Melvin Jr. , who we called "Butch" had graduated from Oak Hills High School. The world was at his knees. He had many friends. He did not want to move to some little small town in Maryland. He would have a much better chance finding a good job in Cincinnati than in Cumberland, Md. My father, Melvin Williams Sr., had the most at stake though. He had busted his ass working his way up on The B&O Railroad. The railroad had merged with C&O and was now The Chessie System. He was getting a promotion to Master Mechanic. He was not keen on moving to Cumberland but there was an opportunity there to move up and make a better life for his family. I was born in Cincinnati in 1963 after my family had moved from their hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois after my dad's first transfer with the railroad. My parents knew there was not a choice in the matter but they wanted their kids to be happy.

They bought a modest three bedroom house on Beechwood Drive in Cumberland. The house a few factors that were intriguing to a young boy. My mom did not drive so it was imperative that the house close to a shopping district. I was a little boy who loved candy, baseball cards, and comic books so stores were appealing to me as well.

My parents tried everything to sell me on the new house, including using my brother Butch to help pitch it even though Butch himself tried to stay in Cincinnati but then agreed to move. Mom knew her son loved forts and playing cowboys and Indians and Army, so she tried this approach. She came into the TV room when Butch and Dad were in there and said, "David, the new house has woods in our backyard." "Woods in the backyard?" I asked kind of puzzled, not sure what that would look like. "Yes," Mom said softly and then continued, "Well, there is hill right behind our house after the backyard. After the hill is a flatland." "It's called a gully," Dad chipped in. "What's a gully?' I quizzed. Dad answered, "It's a like a yard, it is flat but the surface isn't grass. It's real hard?" "Like a parking lot?' I wondered out loud. Dad answered, "It's not as hard as a parking lot there are a lot of rocks though but there are a lot of things you can do." Butch chimed in, "You can play baseball and football there. I can also build you an underground fort in the gully." I was almost sold, "An underground fort?" I exclaimed. "Yes, it will be easy. I'll just dig a big hole in the ground and we will make you a fort," Butch promised. Dad continued, "There is also a woods right behind the gully. I'm sure there are plenty of fun things to do like play Army and Hide and Seek." Feeling left out of the conversation Mom added, "And there's plenty of stores within walking distance!" Now, this statement got me excited because now there was a real certainty that I would be able to continue collecting baseball cards and reading Fantastic Four and Batman comics. I was very interested in the conversation now as suddenly ol' Cumberland, Md did not sound so bad. I spoke out, "What stores? Gray Drugs? King Kwik?" She started slowly, "Well, no Gray Drugs or King Kwik but there's a Thrift Drugs and a Drug Fair and a whole bunch of other stores within walking distance." I was excited and just had to ask, "Are there any kids in the neighborhood for me to play with?" Mom answered, "There are several kids including a kid your age right next door." I was ready. I'd had heard enough about this little town in the state that had a woman's name and I was ready to say goodbye to my beloved Cincinnati Reds and Bengals and move onto bigger and better things at age of six. After all, I would soon have an underground fort of my very own.

 

Then it finally happened, on the day that Pete Rose would lead the National League All-Stars over the American League All-stars with a bone-jarring smash into catch Ray Fosse in the bottom of the twelfth at Riverfront Stadium in my Cincinnati, Ohio, our furniture was loaded onto a Mayflower truck and we were on our way to our new home.  It was exciting to finally reach my new home. Our new house was in fact brand new and bigger than our old one. I was still sharing a room with my brother Gary but now we have two stories instead of one. The gully and the woods were indeed fantastic to a young boy. Of course, I was too young to explore without my brother Gary but Gary was always a great big brother and let me tag along.  The sad thing was that Butch's shovel could not penetrate the hard surface of the gully and it was apparent very soon that my underground fort would remain a dream. We would find other uses for the gully and would spend many hours in the next six years playing soft ball and hide and seek in the gully.

I was only allowed to roam the neighborhood with Gary or take a walk with my mom. I could see kids all around the neighborhood but my mom wanted to become friends with Randy Manuel next door. Randy was my age and my height but was heavier and stronger than me. Randy wanted to hang around with my brother Gary more than me. Randy tried to bully me some so I really did not like him much. But, his mother Shirley was very nice and became friends with my mom. We would play games like Clue, Monopoly, and other board games at their house. Gary met some friends and ran around the neighborhood and our part of town on their bikes. Butch got into motorcycles and found a new gang of friends to ride with. But the first few weeks were still sad. We were missing our home in Cincinnati and our friends. I was missing listening to Reds games and watching the Reds on TV.

It was this obvious sadness that helped something happen that I thought never would. This event was outright miraculous in the eyes of a young boy. It was a hot summer Saturday afternoon. Gary had gone somewhere with some of his friends from down the street. I was very bored. I had a good imagination and was making the best of it. I was jumping around the backyard playing Batman by myself when I turned and spotted someone running through the gully. It looked like my brother Gary but he was carrying something.  As the figure got closer I could tell it was my brother running toward me but what was in his arms? There was something brown and white and very furry in his arms. What had he found? He came running up the hill. "Look at my puppy," he exclaimed. "Where did you find it?" I asked.  "I bought it in the pet store downtown, " Gary stated. "There's no way Mom is going to let you keep him!" I said hoping with all of my heart that she would. I had always wanted a dog in Cincinnati but my mom and dad would not even discuss it. "Mom is the one who gave me the money to get him." "What kind of dog is he?" "He is part Collie, part Cocker Spaniel," My brother Gary answered. "What are you going to call him?" "I don't know I have decided yet. He's kind of brown I thought about Smokey." I suggested, "He's got spots why not Spot?" "That's stupid," Gary said. "We are lucky Mom and Dad is letting us have a dog so how about Lucky?" "I'm not going to let you ruin my dog with a stupid name," Gary groaned. But, after hours of thinking, Gary decided that Lucky did work as a name for his new dog. I was right, we were certainly lucky that we could have a dog because I never thought Mom would give in. She was OCD about cleaning and was even more OCD about complaining about cleaning. Anytime I thought about us having a dog I could picture Mom following the poor pooch around with a vacuum cleaner.

My brother Gary said about how he became Lucky’s owner, “Randy Winfield was one of the first kids I met…I spent a lot of time at his house. They had a Welsh Corgi names Tiny. One day we were all playing and a friend who lived on Church Street said he was going to buy a puppy from the pet store…I think it was on Baltimore or Mechanic Street. They were $3…I asked Mom and she said yes. They had about a dozen or more puppies in an elevated pen. He picked out a dog and I picked outa white puppy with large light brown spots. They said he was born on July 13, 1970 and was a cocker spaniel and collie mix.” Lucky wasn’t house broken when Gary brought him home and Mom said he had to stay downstairs in the basement. Part of the basement was finished with a family room and the other part had not yet been finished. He stayed in the unfinished part when no one was there…he would eat all of the insulation out of the wall. Lucky would soon discover that living with three boys guarantees that there will never be a dull moment. Dad eventually became a big Lucky fan. Mom would soon love him but she did not believe in showing affection to an animal. She never pet him but she was the hand that fed him and cleaned up after him. We would try to keep him in the house when Gary left for school. Gary and his friends would walk to Washington Jr. High about a half-hour before I would catch the school bus to JohnsonHeights. Sometimes Lucky would go downstairs to Butch who would let him out early. Other times, we would get him in and then he would go right downstairs to be let out again. Some mornings when we would call him to come in so Gary could leave, he would hide in the bushes of the house across the street and wouldn’t come out until Gary was 2 or 3 houses away. Then he would run up next to Gary. He rarely followed up past the church and he never actually crossed Oldtowne Road.

Gary had a friend named Mike Buckalew who lived a couple houses away from us. My mom would go to their house too and talk to Mike’s mother Kate. They had a brown dog who was bigger than Lucky named Snoopy. When Lucky was a puppy, Snoopy would pee on Lucky so he did not like Snoopy too well. But when Lucky would go there he acted like he liked Snoopy. Lucky would even go by himself to Kate’s and she would let him inside and feed him. One time we were all out in the neighborhood looking for Lucky and he was inside Kate’s house the whole time. When Snoopy came into our yard, it was a different situation. Lucky would go nuts and bark and throw fits and follow Snoopy barking until Snoopy left the yard.

 

Lucky liked to sit on the top of the hill in the back yard and look for rabbits and cats across the gulley in the woods. If he saw one, he would then tear down the hill, across the gulley and back up the hill into the woods. He was always filled with ticks after he chased the rabbit for awhile. On several occasions, he pulled leg muscles by taking off so fast and would limp around for a day or two. He would also come back gasping for breathe because he would run and chase until he dropped…didn’t know how to pace himself when he was chasing. We used to say that Lucky ran with his eyes closed because if he was chasing a rabbit, at some point the rabbit would turn off and Lucky would keep on running straight ahead.

Lucky thought cats were called “Em’s”. If we saw a cat we would say “go get ‘em!” After a while we would just say ‘em and he would jump up and start looking for a cat. Lucky was Gary’s dog but he loved us all.

He loved Butch as well and would wait up all night for Butch to come home. He always knew the sound of Butch’s cars and would go crazy when he heard Butch pull into the driveway. Butch had a turtle pond in the basement for awhile and he didn’t like the turtles at all. We had to keep him out of there because he would try to get the turtles in his mouth. Butch would take him to a pond by Allegheny Community College and Lucky would jump in and swim. Although Lucky loved to swim, he hated to get wet

.Mom would give him a bath but it took a lot of effort. We had to chase Lucky all through the house and carry him to the bathtub. He soon knew the word bath and would growl if you said the word. Lucky was a puppy and I was a little boy, so I think we understood each other perfectly. We had one thing in common and that was we liked to explore. When we first got Lucky, he was too small to roam on his own and I was too, but as we both slowly got older – that changed. By next summer, Lucky and I were both able to expand our roaming area. Lucky loved all of us. He would follow Gary every time he took his purple bicycle out of the house. Lucky would wait for the sound of Butch’s car pulling into the driveway late at night and then be at the door to do a dance for him. But, Lucky and I were very close, because as I became old enough to explore; Lucky also became old enough to explore.

By the Summer of ’71, Randy had moved from next door. I became expanding my boundaries and looking for new friends. On the edge of Magnolia Court, touching Industrial Boulevard, and right in front of a huge shopping center lived two brothers that would become my friends. Shawn and Damon Thomas lived in the house that overlooked Town and CountryShopping Center in White Oaks. The parking lot was huge and hosted tennis ball games and was the lot we rode our bikes and played Cops and Robbers. On the far left end of the shopping center was a bowling alley. Shawn, Damon, Lucky, and I would run into the alley and watch the bowlers. I enjoyed playing pinball machines but that part of the alley scared me. That part of the alley is where “the sweats” hung out. I was not quite sure what sweats were but Shawn and Damon informed me that sweats were no good pot smoking punks. Thinking back, I think sweats were young hippies. It was the early 70’s and it was “The Age of The Hippie.” These sweats were not necessarily hippies themselves but future hippies. They wore long hair and often had a bad attitude and loved to push younger kids around.

Of course, Lucky was not inside the alley to protect us. He would be outside patiently waiting. Well, he may not have always of been patient as he would go into a barking spree and occasionally scratch the door but he would never leave. The next store up from the bowling alley was Town and Country. It was a department store that was like a cross between a K-Mart and a Big Lots. I fell in love with music as a kid and bought my first 45RPM single records at Town and Country for 59 cents. Whenever I could get a hold of some loose changes and decided not to spend a dime on baseball cards, I would head to Town and Country with Lucky right behind me and flip through the singles while Lucky waited outside. The shopping center also had a Thrift Drugs, an Acme Grocery Store, and a few other shops but we would always end up at Village Dairy. Village Dairy always had a box of baseball or football cards on the counter. They had hand-dipped ice cream and a little diner inside. The diner had great food and Mom and I would walk over and enjoy the Open-Faced Roast Beef. No matter why I was going to Village Dairy. It could be anything to taking some money and a note from my mom for a pack of Pall Malls for her, or could be running in for a loaf of bread: I always had the cards as my goal and Lucky always waited for an ice cream sandwich from the freezer. Jim owned the Village Dairy and he was an animal lover. He did not live far from us and had an old sheep dog named Sam in his front yard. Lucky and Sam would always engage in a bark-off whenever we passed. Perhaps Sam knew that Jim would always come outside the store and give Lucky an ice cream sandwich when we were there. Lucky quickly became conditioned to the ice cream and looked forward to going to the Village Dairy. I could see the disappointment in Lucky if we would be walking down the sidewalk of the shopping center and passed The Village Dairy. Then again, I was disappointed too if we walked passed there and I did not get any baseball cards. When the Village Dairy closed around 1974, I do not know who missed it the most, me or Lucky. Lucky would play tennis ball with us in Shawn and Damon’s side yard facing the shopping center. He tried to play football with us but that usually led to him getting in trouble as he got mad when I got tackled. We could go inside and play games or watch TV and come out and Lucky would be right there waiting. There were several dogs that ran free in our neighborhood back in the 70’s and people did not get too upset. It was a more care-free age. Kids could roam the neighborhood and parents did not have to worry as much about child molesters or drug dealers. It was a different era. People were friendlier. The railroad moved their headquarters to Huntington, WV and in 1976 we were on the move again. Once again, I was unhappy. Butch was working for the railroad and stayed in Cumberland. Gary stayed a few months at Doug Dunn’s and Doris Brady’s house and finished Fort Hill and graduated in 1976. Lucky, Mom and Dad, and I packed up and moved to Proctorville, Ohio. Proctorville was/ is straight across the Ohio River from Huntington. Lucky ran and played with me and my new friends Jeff Westlake, Forrest Hardy, and Tim Watts. He gained a new enemy in Forrest’s mean black cat Spooks and chased Jeff’s cats Tinker and Frosty up a tree and would try to chop the tree down by biting the bark off of it. The neighbors did not take to Lucky like they did in Cumberland and we had complaints. Lucky never seemed to adjust to the move. Gary came home but left rather quickly to go to college at University of Cincinnati. Butch would visit and the sound of his car in the driveway would send Lucky into fits of joy. But, Lucky missed them and he missed my friends in Cumberland. He also missed his gully and woods. Lucky died about three years after our move at age 9. We find him laying in the bushes of our neighbors house in Proctorville. The doctor said his liver was badly damaged and perhaps he drank anti-freeze. Many neighbors did not like his roaming so I always suspected that someone poisoned him. I remember him being at the vets and I was terribly shaken. I was shooting basketball with Jeff and I was saying to my self if I make five in a row maybe Lucky will live. Every thought in my mind was of Lucky. I cried more when he died than I did when anyone I ever knew including my mom and dad died. It was one of the saddest days of my life. A dog provides everything a young boy needs when growing up. The dog is a bodyguard, a trusted friend, a constant fan, and he gies the boy unconditional love. His love gives the child confidence. They grow together and they learn together. They dream together and experience life together. Lucky touched more than one boy, he touched a whole family. It’s been almost forty years and I still miss him. I am just thankful I had him in my memories.