By: Jack Serig, Sr.
I remember two significant falls during my childhood. The kind that hurt!
THE FIRST FALL:
We lived on a hill. I remember a steep climb of
about three blocks from the bottom of the hill to Wilson Street where our
family lived; number 2306. Our family was mother, Loma; father, Louis;
big Brother, Buster; me and kid brothers Ward and Joe.
Twenty-third Street began at the Ohio River. If
you stood at the river bank looking up, east, about eight blocks away
you could see our house because it was on the last and highest city block
that had been built in that hilly neighborhood.
Most of the streets in the area were brick. Jacob
Street, southbound, and Chaplain Street, northbound, were arteries
embedded with streetcar tracks, a nickel to ride anywhere in our town of
Wheeling, W.Va. The last uphill block to our house was cobblestone.
Wilson Street was also cobblestone. The rounded stones were difficult
and sometimes slippery to traverse and it was impossible to play in the street.
But the sidewalk was brick and that is where all the neighborhood kids gathered
We also played on the rolling hills behind our house.
Once we discovered a spring near the top of a hill and we would go there
to get fresh water . From that springs location we had a view of the entire
Ohio Valley, the trains going up and down the valley on both sides of the
river, the barges, paddlewheels and other river traffic. Sometimes
we would see acrobatic planes writing ‘PEPSI’ in the sky. It was a
special place for me to go and dream of the places the trains and river traffic
would find at the end of their journeys. Often, I would remove my shoes
and socks and run wildly through the prairie-like grass which grew alongside
the hillside paths.
Ms. Lassiter owned our house. She took care of an
invalid sister whom we never saw. We lived in the bottom floor of the two-story,
which had attic and basement. Ms. Lassiter had sole access to the attic.
We controlled the basement, which was cool in the summer, because it had
been built into the hill. We stored bushel baskets of fruits and vegetables
in the basement and they wouldn’t spoil.
You could enter our house two ways. Either through
the basement and up a set of wooden stairs or by a step-up entrance built
through a concrete retaining wall. This entrance led to a brick courtyard,
about ten feet wide, the full depth of the house. At the far end of
the courtyard was a sheer, thick concrete wall constructed to keep the hill
from falling inward against the house and the courtyard. Ms. Lassiter
had built a steep set of wooden stairs, with banister only for the left hand,
going up, in order for our family and friends to gain access to the hillside.
One day I was coming down those steep wooden steps using the handrail with
my right hand when I saw Ms. Lassiter on her back porch. I let go of
the handrail to talk to our landlady and got too close to the side of the
steps that didn’t have a handrail. I was about ten feet higher than
Ms. Lassiter when I lost my footing and fell hitting my head on the
concrete and losing consciousness.
I recall waking up in my mother’s arms on Ms. Lassiter’s
back porch. Mom was soothing me with kind words and checking to see
what the damage was. Poor Ms. Lassister was extremely nervous
and frightened. It sure showed on her face. The fall could have
been a lot worse. I had fortunately landed on a concrete ledge built
into the retaining wall. If it had not been for the ledge I would
have fallen another story. Ms. Lassiter had those steep steps rebuilt
taking a little of the steepness out and providing handrails on both sides.
Ms. Lassister was a real fine lady!
THE SECOND FALL:
The second fall was a lot worse. I was climbing
up what we kids thought was the tallest sliding board ever built, which was
located in our community playground, probably twenty feet in height.
Mom and Dad had allowed my big brother, Buster, to take me to the park, as
they would join us shortly. I had been sliding and climbing for some
time with other kids of the neighborhood when I saw Mom and Dad entering
through the playground gate. I stood on the top step of the slide waving
at them, momentarily taking my hand off of the handrails. The stupid kid
behind me was in a hurry and gave me a hard push. Over the side I went,
twenty feet down. Unconscious, again!
Dad and Mom were huddled over me checking for broken bones
when I recovered. Other than my left arm and head hurting I appeared
to be allright. I was able to walk home with my parents. Three
days later I had terrible pain in the testicles. Dad looked and saw
some significant swelling. We ended up in a local health clinic.
The doctor told us that if we had waited much longer the injury could have
taken my life and a hernia operation was scheduled.
I was admitted to the Ohio Valley Hospital, in Wheeling,
the children’s ward. The most embarrassing moments was when the beautiful
young interns had to shave around my private parts to ready me for the operation.
The first shave I ever had, complete with shaving cream and a barber’s straight
razor. Not a good place to start shaving! What if she missed!
Think of it! Fell on my head and busted my balls!
The thing that probably was most significant in saving
me for a long life is that I’m just another HARDHEADED German, knocked unconscious
twice to perpetuate the myth.