Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Raymond Greiner

The old telephone exchange from the old YMCA by Neville Goodman is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

The year was 1947, my seventh. On Saturday mornings my Dad accompanied me to the YMCA for swimming lessons. We took the streetcar from Vienna, WV to Parkersburg, a six-mile trip. The streetcar clattered, as the operator pulled and pushed levers, no steering wheel. Seats were slatted wood, and hand loops suspended overhead for those required to stand when the streetcar’s seats were at capacity, although the Vienna to Parkersburg run had no standers and only a few sitters. The YMCA seemed a gigantic building with wide steps to enter big double doors. A few young boys sitting on the steps were playing ukuleles and wearing beanies. Beanies were a fashion trend during the late forties. As we entered the large main central room, with high ceilings, two wooden towers constructed of tree limbs lashed together located on each end of this large central room. Boy Scouts were perched atop these towers waving signal flags, conveying semaphore messages. In these days with the cell phone craze semaphore lost out. I wonder how many young people of today even know the meaning of the word semaphore?

At the concession stand I could buy a large RC cola for nickel, and add a big, long pretzel for an additional three cents. My dad would give me a quarter, and it went far. I liked those frozen Milky Way bars also. Older kids were engrossed at the pool and ping-pong tables, and on the upper level in a small room, they showed Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin movies using a 16 mm projector and a roll down screen. The film would break often, causing pause in the levity. The place was a beehive of activity. 

The swimming pool was small, but seemed big to me then. No swimming suit in those days, naked was the dress. We first learned to float, I was instantly a good floater, and sort of an ego resulted. After two weeks we graduated to the deep end, and eventually to the diving board, which seemed a fearful challenge at the time, and over a few weeks training I became a swimmer and awarded a little silver fish to wear around my neck. I then moved from minnow class to fish class. Next big challenge was to get my shark patch. Got it, barely. 

Vienna, WV was a tiny town, only a few small businesses, hardware, grocery, filling station, and a small variety shop. I attended Vienna school built in the nineteenth century with oiled oak floors, suspended globe lamps, and classrooms with wooden lift top desks and inkwells. Paddles hung next to blackboards, although seldom used, were effective reminders and deterrents. Paddles have long been obsolete, as during this current era discipline is applied differently with neatly typed, carefully worded letters to parents scheduling a meeting to discuss disruptive behavior caused by their child. I’m unsure if this is an improvement. In the forties teachers addressed misbehavior on site. 

The best thing about living in Vienna in those days was the easy access to the woods; it’s what we called them, “The Woods”. It was hilly, and we had “Camels’ Back”, where we sledded in winter, but the greatest place of all was the Marietta Hole. A nice creek, flowed through the woods, no name to this creek I can recall, but the creek made a sharp bend far back in the woods, and formed a deep hole near a big tree undercut by the eroded bank exposing the tree’s roots creating an ideal diving platform. In summer months, friends gathered, Richard “Wink” Matheny, Russell Woodyard, Jim Catlett, Dwight and Norman Matlack, Roger and Mac Helmick and me. We would locate a few tire inner tubes and trek to the “Marietta Hole”. No swim suits, a gang of naked kids in the woods, swimming in the creek having a great time. Russell Woodyard was the oldest, he would float on his tube and smoke cigarettes stolen from his parents, and I thought this was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I never knew how the name of our swimming hole was chosen, but Marietta, Ohio was nearby, just north and across the Ohio River, and this may have offered connection.

I visited Parkersburg fifty years later; the old YMCA was a parking lot, I then drove to Vienna and my old school was gone also. I hiked into the woods, it remained with no changes, and the Marietta Hole was intact, but seemed smaller. What an emotional moment it was, as my eyes watered. I could visualize Russell Woodyard floating on his inner tube smoking his cigarette, as we dove into the creek from the big tree’s roots laughing and just enjoyed being kids. What a time it was. We moved to Marion, Ohio in 1951, and I never saw those kids again.

These youthful experiences are gone forever, never to return, it saddens me. It’s a fascination to see and feel life unfold as the forces of time move forward, touching us in both magnificent and less than magnificent ways. I do feel youthful memories add strength to the tasks associated with aging. Our individual past experiences represent our history, where we came from, a time when certain structured values were presented delivering a lifelong affect. I have now entered my eighth decade, and so much of who and what I was as an eight-year-old remains, guiding me forward to coming years. If I live to my tenth decade I will be inspired to write an essay on experiences at this stage of life. There will be no Marietta Holes, but it’s a good bet the joys of life will awaken and a new show will begin, maybe the film won’t break too often.        

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