Fewer stories I have written on my blog have elicited more passionate responses as have stories that involve McKees Rocks (and Stowe Township, of course). Not being born and growing up in any other town, I don't really know if this exists in, say Braddock, West Mifflin, the Northside, or any other Pittsburgh/Allegheny County towns. But my feelings are that it does not. Growing up in McKees Rocks and then moving out of the town, I have had several occasions to meet up with my Mckees Rocks counterparts and discuss this almost religious devotional love for the town (a town, in many ways, now, is unrecognizable to what it was in its past - its heyday). The Rocks truly is someplace special.
I refer to a conversation I had with a friend in my last story about "The Rocks." She is a Charleston, South Carolina native who has, because of her husband's work in the steel industry, has moved from city to city, more than I can mention or count, in her young life.
They moved to Clinton Township around 2006. She is an professional rugby player who has either played on, coached, or run most of the local significan women's rugby teams in the Greater Pittsburgh region. She has also coached rugby at Fox Chapel and then Sto-Rox. And, as I said, she has lived in many cities.
When she took over the coaching duties at Sto-Rox, I had several conversations with her about "the Rocks" people and "how they are." I say that with pride and not out of contempt. "The Rocks" people are different, I told her, and she will find out on her own what this difference is. According to her response, then Sto-Rox Athletic Director Billy Minear had already informed her of this.
Forward to a few weeks ago, I was helping her and her husband move some furniture into her cottage on Pymatuning Lake, and we had a chance to talk about her experiences working with not just the players and students on her team, but the parents as well - many of whom were graduates of Sto-Rox who stayed in the community.
To sum up her response to our discussion: She noticed something special about the McKees Rocks "attitude" and how special many people felt to consider themselves "Rocks" residents. How much pride McKees Rocks and Stowe Township students and parents felt about their town. I was able to fill her in on times gone by in McKees Rocks - how safe it was, how many, many businesses flourished Chartiers Avenue and Broadway Street.
Her feeling, as I stated in my last posting, was that she wished that she had enough money and would purchase the Chartiers Avenue section of McKees Rocks, from Quality Cleaners down to Eat'n Park, and started naming stores, restaurants (professionally, she's a chef), and entertainment venues that would make McKees Rocks a destination, rather than a somewhat dying, old mill town. (See past post on McKees Rocks - my bike ride down memory lane).
The interesting aspect of this conversation, to me, was that all of the things she mentioned did indeed exist at one time or another, even when I was a student in the mid-1970's. It was a flourishing, very much living, town. I grew up on St. John Street in the house directly behind Quality Cleaners, down the street from St. Mary's Church. My neighbors were Geyer's, O'Shea's, Maritz's, Cersosimo's, and many more. Some prominent names in McKees Rocks lore. A community in itself.
Back to my story. My rugby friend is an extremely smart and observant person, and for her to mention and wish to rebuild the places and events I knew once existed wasn't surprising to me because I felt the same sense of pride that she told me her players exhibited.
Recently, in conversation with Don Hollowood, I explained her comment, and his response, truly from his heart, was "Steve, we're trying on our part to do what she wants to do, but it's a slow process." Having the Hollowood family "on the case" so to speak made this revitalization seem more doable. The fact that Hollowood music is spending money to put up a more dazzling store front guitar (in case you haven't notices, the old guitar has been taken down, and the new one, as Don explained to me, is going to be really cool). Can't wait to see it. Some people who have noticed that the guitar has been taken down have incorrectly concluded that Hollowood Music and Sound is moving. (They are not). It is comforting to know they will remain the McKees Rocks legend that they are. (Now, if Carson Street would finally after seemingly 50 years of construction be repaired and open to two way traffic again, local businesses, including Hollowood Music and Sound, could get "back to business as usual").
As I drove away from his shop, I noticed (and I don't know how long it has been there) but the signage for the Roxian theater - a fabric sign that catches your eye and sticks out over the sidewalk below. When I came home, I noticed an artist's rendering of what the Roxian could look like in the future when it becomes a functioning theater, entertainment venue that most assuredly will entice visitors to this area of McKees Rocks.
And recently, I stopped to use the PNC automated teller (cash machine) and noticed the Father Ryan Art's Center across the street (old Hershman's Furniture building - what used to be next to White Tower Restaurant) and what a lovely facade and building it is. It's crisp, clean, and very modern looking. Drive by's don't do the building justice. You have to stop and look at it to appreciate the architecture.
So hope does spring eternal in bringing McKees Rocks back to a semblance of it's importance in both the history and the culture of the Pittsburgh region, and I also feel that with its proximity to the downtown area, it can be accomplished, step by step, inch by inch, I assume.
I did not sit down to write another long winded piece on my hometown, but I felt the need to explain this to those of you who already know this. Just sort of a reminder. At 58, and even if and when I do move away form this area, I still will hold this town closely in my heart. What is as. What is could be. What it will be. And I applaud those who have stayed (like the Hollowood's) and decided to continue the fight to rebuild a once thriving community.
(Note to Kevin and Tom Sousa - maybe another Sousa extravaganza in your hometown? Just a thought).
I have several stories about my experiences, and probably 100 of them occurred somewhere between Thirteenth Street off Broadway and Eat'n Park off Chartiers Avenue. And I posted some of these stories, which now seem too many to put in a piece of writing.
I do however, want to share a story that might not not sound important to you as a reader, but to me, it meant the world. It speaks to the "family" atmosphere that was and still is McKees Rocks and Stowe Township:
When I was a junior in high school, around 10 o'clock one Saturday evening, I decided to take a walk and meet up with some friends at Eat'n Park, one of our many hangouts. My walk down Chartiers Avenue took me to about the FOR center, formerly a bank, when a carload of "Montour" students pulled up to me, shouted obscenities at me, and told me in no uncertain terms that they were going to "hurt" me. As most of you know, I played basketball and knew many of the local basketball players and students not only from Montour but from Sheridan as well. Being a basketball player at Sto-Rox had a special celebrity about it which mostly I was able to enjoy. But, when confronting the enemy, and as you well know, Montour was "the" enemy, and being a skinny, lone walker on this dark night, I felt that it be better I reroute back to home to avoid an unpleasant "beating down" that I was sure to receive.
(At this point, I wish to interject that Montour students were not the only cause of this "hatred." I would like to thank those football and basketball players who came before me - the McKees Rocks, the Stowe Township, and the Sto-Rox players who equally incited and fueled this animosity. At times, I kind of wish that my Sto-Rox elders would have left the poor Montour students alone so that I could, in my future, walk the streets of my town without fear of being attacked by random hatred that existed between the two schools). Funny.
Back to my story. On the way home, this car full of Montour students (of course I recognized them - had played basketball many times against them) kept driving up and down Chartiers Avenue and threatening me. I made it to Pasquarelli's Pizza House, Bruno Pasquarelli, owner, and probably THE hangout in McKees Rocks next to Eat'n Park and White Front Market (across the street from Pasquarelli's).
And this is where my story takes a turn and demonstrates the "community" evident in about which other people speak, opine, and reminisce about "The Rocks." Noticing that many of my elders (former Sto-Rox students who probably ranged from three to six years my senior) were hanging out. I knew them well. (In my time growing up in McKees Rocks, I enjoyed the company of many older "kids" who really took a liking to me - don't ask me why - and I knew I would find solace in both friendship and numbers. That's the way it was). Thus, I made it to the gas station (which is now a Family Dollar) and crossed the street. The "Montour" car pulled into the gas station and were shouting insults at me from across the street.
One of the friends at Pasquarelli's asked me what the problem was. I told them that this car appeared out of nowhere, and I did fear that I was going to lose this fight. Of course, again, if you know me, fighting was always the last resort - more of a "negotiator" to get out of fights than actually engaged.
Another friend commanded me to stay at Pasquarelli's and they would find out what the problem was. This gang of about seven Sto-Rox students and alumni walked across the avenue and to "solve" this (my) dilemma. Within seconds, a fight broke out, and believe me in my explanation, with the Sto-Rox contingent, the Montour car full of bullies was no match. The "fight" was over in minutes, and the car drove away. The Sto-Rox "gang" came back across the street unscathed and happy they could be of service.
The point: I felt safe. The reason for this is this undeniable allegiance that McKees Rocks and Stowe Township people had for one another. I would have done the same for some other weakling like myself in need of assistance if the tide were turned. But the fact that regardless of age and status, I (anyone for that matter as long as they were from The Rocks and Stowe) would feel the same way.
This is just a small story I think exemplifies the loyalty that existed in this Town.
Welcome to McKees Rocks.
I invite you either on this blog or on my Facebook page to share any similar Rocks stories that you might have. It's fun to listen to the loyalty that McKees Rocks and Stowe Township residents had for one another. (I won't get into stories about Rocks vs. Stowe. I was too young to accurately remember (merger was 1966 and I was only 9 at the time - too young to experience the stories that I have heard, and too young to recant them accurately. I can leave those up to you).