I’ve told many a tale about my growing up days in good old Crafton, but I’m a second generation Crafton boy. My dad, born down in the Idlewood part of town in 1913, grew up there too, and this is a story he told me about his younger days.
The “Roaring 20s” might have been boom times for a lot of Americans, but they weren’t for the Graham family. My grandfather, a 1907 immigrant from Northern Ireland, lacked either the skills or the perseverance to hold on to a good job for long. Seems like the family moved around a lot, perhaps one step ahead of the sheriff. This story happened when the family lived in a rented farmhouse up in Whiskey Hollow, in the neighboring Borough of Greentree.
My grandmother passed away when Dad was 6 years old. Grandfather remarried soon thereafter; the new stepmother was apparently much like the one in Cinderella. The older brothers moved out to fend for themselves. Dad and his slightly older sister were too young to do so. I only knew this new grandmother years later when she was a kindly old lady to me, but Dad’s memories were different. The children were expected to make a buck when the could, and to bring it home to help make ends meet.
It was not uncommon for youngsters to walk miles in those days. Most folks didn’t have cars, and who had a nickel for the trolley? Dad and several of his buddies were down in Carnegie, and as they cut through a back alley, Dad spied an old automobile battery laying along the wall of a shed. It looked pretty derelict to him. Darting in to the shed, he picked it up, shouldered it, and the boys hoofed it on down to a junk dealer over near the Chartiers Cemetery. Dad got seventy-five cents for that old battery. “What are you going to do with all that money?” his buddies wanted to know. So on the way back he treated them all to ice cream cones at Glaser’s Bake Shop on the boulevard, across Black’s Bridge, and right across the street from what was then Crafton High School. Dad knew his stepmother expected him to turn in all of the money he got, but how would she know?
When Dad got back home, he put fifty cents in the glass dish on the china cupboard, where his stepmother kept her house money. He was feeling pretty good until a little later when she asked him, “Where did you get that fifty cents?” Only partially fibbing, Dad told her he had found some scrap metal and sold it to a junk man. “How much did he give you for it?” she asked him. It only got worse after that.
Seems like Dad had been seen taking the battery by a neighbor, who not only recognized one of the other boys, but who called the Carnegie police as well. A little quick detective work revealed the culprit, and a call was made to the Greentree policeman, who stopped by Dad’s house, just before he got home. His stepmother knew all about it. Dad had to go tell the junk man he had sold him a stolen battery, carry the battery back to its owner and apologize, and then had to work for the junk man half a Saturday to pay him back the twenty-five cents he had spent on ice cream. Needless to say, he got a whooping too for lying about only making fifty cents.
So even in those days, crime didn’t pay very well. If I ever get to thinking I had it tough as a kid, I just stop and think about my Dad and the battery.