Sunday, March 9, 2014

Turnpike Avenue

Literacy:  Pop bottles found along my brother's paper route paid for my early comic book collection.
by Shawn K. Inlow

Turnpike Avenue runs through my life like connective tissue.

Turnpike is a long, narrow, straight road that runs from the downtown at one end, where the junior high school was, the whole way out to a place called Paradise, where my father was born and raised and went to a one-room schoolhouse.  It connects the entirety of Clearfield, Pennsylvania's west side like one long yard stick.

Here is Robbie Spingola's house, where we'd stop on the walk to school and play bumper pool and watch Robbie and his sisters Deanna and Valerie fight over God knows what until they'd wake their father from his third trick slumber and he'd come down in his underwear and threaten them all.

There was Tim and Bobby Cline's house up a pair of steep steps by the Clearfield Taxidermy where we played "Green Growth" as kids.

Here, at the corner of Turnpike and McBride was "The Wall."  The Wall was our street-corner hangout, probably much to the chagrin of the Rowles family who lived there and somehow tolerated us.  McBride Street was simply called, "The Street," and we were its punk kid inhabitants.  When you were going "Up the Street," you were heading roughly to the 700 block of McBride, where I lived.  For some natural reason the older boys who my big brother, Chuck, hung out with:  Boyd & Dave McKenrick, Scotty Duckett,  Barry Angstadt, Dave Beauseignor, Dave Potter, Spiff, Frog Moore - also hung out there.  Those guys were awesome.  Frog had a "Super Bee" muscle car.  Spiff was a nice dresser and a handsome guy and he had a hot girlfriend.  Dave had a dirt bike that we'd hot-wire and take for rides in the strippins.

Further up Turnpike was Ed Billotte's Star Grocery and the Clearfield Hospital, where I was born and where most of my family at one time or another worked.  Further out was my Dad's homestead.  In Paradise, where he has returned, God rest his soul.

I want to tell you today two stories about my big brother that took place on Turnpike Avenue.

Story 1.  1967.  A scrawny 6 year-old in jeans and a raggedy t-shirt is walking in the roadside grass along Turnpike, just past the hospital.  I'd spied the old bottle of Mountain Dew glittering green in the sunlight and I liked the cartoon logo of the hillbilly with the hole in his hat and his rifle raised.

I galloped up alongside Chuck and traded him the bottle for a newspaper that he drew out of a large white canvas bag he had slung over his shoulder.  The bottle disappeared in the bag and rattled against several others we'd found.  He handed me the paper, folded just so.

"The green house over there.  Put it in the mailbox," he said, and off I raced across the road, helping my big brother do his job.

I don't remember who lived there in 1967.  In the mid 1980s a pretty good drummer name of Tommy Rowles lived there.  We walked out Turnpike together, two blonde-haired boys cut from the same cloth ten years apart.

On the return trip, with a bag empty of The Progress and full of pop bottles we stopped into Ed's, a kind of neighborhood store that no longer exists anywhere.  We'd cash in the bottles at something like 10 cents each.  A small fortune.

On the way back up The Street I'd carry the comic books we'd got from the rack.  Chuck would share his bottle of pop with me after the day's work and would hand down the comics too once he'd read them.   My love of literature came from these comics.

Chuck was a DC guy.  He said he didn't like that the Marvel comics were serialized and you had to always buy the next issue to finish the story.  I, however, had my eye on the very cool looking issues of "The Incredible Hulk."

My brother would never go to Vietnam.  His shin had been broken completely in half in a Babe Ruth game between Dufton's and McGregor's.  Chuck was playing second and the throw down from the catcher made him leap high over the bag and when he came down, the would be thief's spikes literally cleaned his leg out from under him.

I guess the steel plate by which my brother's shin was put back together kept him out of the war.  A fortuitous play at second.  I don't remember Chuck's baseball accident.  He can still tell you the name of the base stealer, but I think you have to thank the catcher too for a lousy throw.  I don't remember much about the 1960s.  I did not know about Vietnam.  I missed The Beatles.  The Big Things, to me, were my big brothers, Chuck and John, who loomed large in my world, a paper route, pop bottles, comic books.

And the world turned on its axis.

Story 2. 2013.  I parked my car in the parking lot where that green house along Turnpike had once stood.  There are medical offices there.  I was passing by and I knew it was Chuck's dialysis day and I thought to go in there to sit with him.  Chuck has to go on the machine every other day or so.

Over the years, my brother had come to depend on a medication that slowly destroyed his kidneys.  And the time had come and members of my family began to get tested to become donors.  A preliminary test showed I was a match.  A possible donor.  And I'd thrown myself deeper into the testing procedure - which I'll tell you about another time - so as to hurry and help my brother.

But this visit is my second story.

The dialysis room, once they let you in and give you things to wear so you don't cause a mess, is really clean.  And quiet.  And square.  And cold.  Almost refrigerated.  Around this room were eight or twelve comfortable chairs, with a square white machine beside each.  Most of the chairs were full of people, most of whom were dozing.

I sat down beside my sleeping brother not bothering to wake him up.  He was snuggled under a useful if unadorned blanket.  A tube red with his blood ran out of his right arm and into the machine and back again into his body.  It was a chilling, austere and sad thing.  And I looked around at all the others.  Never had I thought that there were "other" people like my brother, who needed dialysis to survive.  And I wondered what Chuck's chances were.  I wondered who would be there for all these others.  What were their chances?

The healthy don't think about the sick unless somehow the sickness intrudes on their world.  Being in the dialysis room was a sharp awakening for me.

My big brother stirred and awakened too.

"Hey, Shawn, how you doin'?"  He sounded weak and tired but glad to see me.

"Doin' okay, Chuck.  Gonna try to get you offa this machine."

He had had a book open but he didn't get far before the cold and quiet conspired to make sleep.  And we passed some time.  I couldn't stay for the rest of the two-hour session.

When I pulled out of the parking lot and turned toward town on Turnpike Avenue, I accelerated, passing between the hospital and the upper parking lot that used to be a field where we played football.  Where I'd found a green pop bottle once.  I drove past where Ed's Star Grocery used to be.  In it's place is now a hideous looking square, brown doctor's office.  Across from The Wall is another parking lot where Duckett's Field used to be, where we played wiffle ball.  Another hideous looking doctor's office stands where Scotty Duckett's house once was.

Everything is turning into lousy doctors' offices and parking lots.

The world turns on its axis.

But everything isn't shitty.  Here's the thing.  Chuck and I are going to the hospital in Pittsburgh this week and we're going to share an operating theater.  After almost a year and a million dollar work-up and a great deal of learning about myself and the donation process, we're going to share an operation.

And to my brother, who handed me down everything from clothes to comic books, who taught me how to box and how to wrestle, well, finally, I'm going to give him something back.

Now Hear THIS!!