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Growing up in Ducktown - Part 1
By Dave Roman

Life in America today is so complex.

Watching mainstream television and reading local newspapers makes one very disappointed and saddened about the state of the world. Life seemed so much simpler when I was a boy and I just wanted my kids and grand kids to know that it was a lot more fun back then.

The way things used to be in this country when I was a boy during the late 1940's and the 1950's were a lot less stressful than they are now.

I was brought up in a working class Polish neighborhood on the Southeast side of Cleveland off of Harvard and East 71st. People used to call the area "ducktown". It was called ducktown because Polish people, who came here from the "old country", made a soup out of duck's blood called czarnina - "chad - ni - na". That is the pronunciation.

My grandmother would buy a live duck at the market and take it in the back yard and cut off the head, hanging it up so the blood would drain into a pot or big bowl. From that she would add vinegar and other ingredients to make the soup. Add some dumplings or noodles and you had some great soup.

The market she bought this duck at was not the giant super markets you see today. It was on a street lined with two family homes and the building looked like it used to be a small auto repair shop. All they sold was chickens and ducks. They made a living just selling poultry!

My grandmother on my mother's side spoke English, but my grandfather only spoke Polish, so I could never talk to him. Even so, he got a job with the Steel Mill and later with the County until his bad heart forced him to quit. My father's grandparents never spoke English, so my father had to translate when I talked to my grandparents.

My grandfather on my father's side worked until he was in his 80's. He even went up on a ladder to help my father paint our house! We also didn't have OSHA back then.

The school I attended was a Catholic School called Holy Name on Harvard and Broadway. Nuns ran the school with their inevitable discipline. Discipline is something that all public schools need today. The Nuns were very strict, but also very nice.

Traveling from class to class was done in silence. No talking when walking from class to class, at least not in the same building. The girls wore uniforms and boys wore dress clothes (no jeans) and no one complained!

"Yeah", I was "cool" because I used "Vitalis", which was a hair tonic used to help your hair stay combed. We wore "pegged" or "draped" pants at that time. These were dress pants that were about 16 or 17 inches wide at the bottom and tapered up to regular size at the hip. The cool shoes were wing tip Stetsons. This was after school of course!

I did spend two years in a public school called Harvard Public School. Does that mean I can tell everyone I went to Harvard?

Back then they also had discipline in public schools. In my case it was provided by Mrs.Thum and Mrs. Hook. Sounds ficticious doesn't it? They wore dresses and high heels and wouldn't think of wearing "slacks".

These teachers even led us in prayer before class every morning! Imagine that in a public school. Do you hear that ACLU lawyers? I walked to school from the 4th grade through high school, winter and summer. The public school was just a few streets away, but the Catholic School was a couple of miles away.

There were no school busses! I'll bet all parents and grandparents tell there kids that. "When I was a kid, I walked to school." We didn't have any school busses back then other than for the football team! It was fun except for those cold, windy, winter mornings.

My mother always packed a lunch for me. I never ate in the cafeteria. We didn't have enough money to afford that. I even worked after school to pay the tuition which was all of $90 a year. You heard that right - ninety dollars!

We had no TV until I was a little older, probably 11 or 12. TV was something new back then and they even had round screens. We just had a radio and then we were only allowed to listen after we ate supper and our homework was done (if we had any).

We'd faithfully listen to Tom Mix. Later we would listen to all those great programs like The Shadow, The Green Hornet and Inner Sanctum. On weekends we'd listen to the Al Jolson show, Fibber McGee and Molly, Amos and Andy. When we finally did get a TV, we'd faithfully watch Howdy Doody.

We had local movie theaters back then, not the giant big screen complexes of today. My local theater was called the New Victory Theater. It was within a few blocks from our house, so we walked there. On Friday night my Mother would give me a quarter and send me to the movie. That's right 25 cents. It would cost 10 cents to get in the movie, so we had 15 cents to spend on popcorn and candy!

The movie was usually a western starring Roy Rogers, Gene Autry or Hopalong Cassidy. Some nights there was a double feature, with the second movie being a Polish movie. A movie where all the actors spoke Polish! Hey, I lived in a Polish neighborhood. What did you expect?

Weekends they even had prizes that were given away during the intermission between movies! Usually they gave away dishes or glasses.

Growing up in Ducktown - Part 2 - Working at Richman Brothers, the icebox and kids at play.

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