In East Wheeling in the mid 1960’s there was a ‘bar’ on almost every corner.
But the word ‘bar’ isn’t all they were, they were also community centers. Places that glued the small neighborhoods together. Places where we got to know our neighbors, where we became a community.
Our bar was called ‘The Leap’.
The Leap sat on McColloch Street just at the top of a long hill that ran down to Eoff Street. In the other direction McColloch Street was flat. Across from the Leap was the local grocery store, ‘Henry’s’ and up the street, about five houses, was ‘Leo’s’ the barber (but those are other stories).
There were small apartments above the Leap, and one larger family apartment underneath. Cub and his two kids lived there. We all liked Cub, he was soft spoken, smart, and he cared. It showed in his kids.
Inside was was an old wooden bar. In the back were tables for gatherings or for playing euchre. The Pirates ball game was normally playing on the radio and a chalk board for recording the game R/H/Errors was behind the bar. Bob Prince giving the play by play.
Back before air conditioning, the doors were open on hot summer days. Kids running in and out every late afternoon, perhaps to buy a cold RC cola, or talk to a parent.
Helen, Jack, and their ugly pug dog ran the place. Helen and the dog sat all the way in the back. The dog looked like a small overinflated tan football with asthma. If Helen gave the word it would run over and try to bite you. Not that big of a worry though, all you had to do was lift your foot and that little wheezing football couldn’t get you.
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Mr. & Mrs. W. sat on two stools near the middle. Mrs. W. always claiming she was only there so she wouldn’t smell the beer on her husbands breath.
‘Pickles,’ a small Italian man in his sixties was sometimes there. He walked everywhere, and fast! Even the kids couldn’t keep up with Pickles. ‘Where ya going Pickles?’ we would yell, and Pickles always would yell back. A trip of five or ten miles was nothing to him, he had the energy and legs of an athlete.
‘Whimpy,’ a very thin guy, lived above the Leap. He always wore a sailor’s hat. He looked like ‘Poopdeck Pappy’.
George and Dottie sat near the back with my dad. George drove a bus for a living and was a good friend of my dad.
They were all good people.
There were many others that time has erased. Looking back it’s surprising how much ‘us kids’ just ignored so many of the adults. We were too wrapped up in our own adventures and the grown-ups were just things to run around or avoid as we played our games and waited for the ice cream truck.
Some memories and some conversations, however, stuck. Outside of the Leap was a long bench built into the sidewalk. This wooden bench was under a shady sycamore and everyone liked to sit out there on hot days.
Once a very old fellow, I never knew his name, was sitting on the bench. He started to talk about McColloch Street when he was a lad. He had grown up on McColloch and now lived above the Leap. He sat on the bench and talked of a time that was still alive inside him. An important time, a time he wanted someone else to also see. He described how the street had been cobblestone and a slaughterhouse had been at the bottom of the hill. He talked of the ice wagons and meat carts rumbling up the long hill at dawn. The horses puffing clouds of steam like locomotives, the slow clopping noise of horseshoes on cobblestones as they pulled up the hill.
It’s been some fifty years since.
Keeping it alive, just a little longer, seems important.