Napping On The Porch

Growing up in Wheeling was like coming from a special planet.  Wheeling seemed to specialize in cultivating unusually eccentric people.  Wheeling suffered from a disease called acute prosperity.  The prosperity struck in the late 1800s.  An article appeared once in The Wall Street Journal about Wheeling.  The article pointed out that Wheeling was the wealthiest city in the United States per capita in 1894.  All of the prosperity emanated from its position as a jumping off point to the West on the Ohio River.

The little seed that was me popped from my mother’s garden of nine children as child number seven.  My life fluttered into existence on 26 Poplar Ave..  Somehow this family of nine children was plunked down amidst mostly doctors.  Our family was surrounded by doctors on three sides.  With nine kids money was not plentiful for us as it was for the children of doctors, but we survived. Often I identified more with the Home dingers than the doctors children.

Who were the Home dingers?  Over on Orchard Road was the Children’s Home.  It was a kind of massive, scary building where the orphan kids lived. We called them the Home dingers.  All those kids went to school with us, and it was a good experience.  Those kids were tough; they had to be.  If you messed with one, you messed with all of them.  Quickly you learned don’t mess with the Home kids; they were a tribe.  As a Quinn we were a tribe of nine.  It was also wise not to mess with our tribe for the same reason.  We had Scouts with the Home kids, and it was fun to have them as compatriots. If you ever felt sorry for yourself, you immediately could see things could be worse.

One of the most peculiar things in Wheeling was all the huge mansions scattered around. I grew up thinking this was the case in every town.  We were friends with many of the kids who lived in those huge old houses. It was fun to see the excess that was once common in Wheeling.  I always wished I could have seen some of those magnificent houses in their glory days.  As kids we would sneak around the yards of some of the estates that still had goldfish ponds full of huge carp.

We lived close to Oglebay Park.  A lot of our life revolved around the park.  My father was a Brooks bird club devotee, and we spent many hours at the old nature center.  In the summer we all went to nature camp.  As a youngster almost daily I hitchhiked to Oglebay to swim.  Being broke, money had to be raised to pay to swim.  It was usually a simple matter of finding some pop bottles to return in the hedge by the park across from Woodsdale school.  To this day people are amazed by my free-diving skills.  I always find the keys and lost glasses on the bottom of the lake I now sail on.  I developed this skill at the pool at Oglebay.  Before leaving the pool I would stare into the water from the diving board for coins.  On most days I could pick up enough change from the bottom of the pool to pay to swim the next day.

My grandfather lived over on Walnut Avenue with just one house between us.  The neighborhood was magnificent in those days. Every house has a huge porch.  Each kid had a club under the porch where you could smoke cigars stolen from the drugstore and read Playboy, also provided courtesy of the drugstore.  Up on the porch you could sit and watch the world go by.  People were social, and everyone knew everyone.  As people walked by, they stopped and chatted.

Now I will divulge since porches have been mentioned. Our porch had a swing, and we lived on the corner.  Nothing could be simpler or finer than a swing on a porch high above the corner on Poplar Ave.  My entire life was set into motion by that swing.  One lazy sunny day, I lay on that porch napping on the swing.  George Mattason walked by and said “Hey Quinn, what are you doing?”  I replied “Nothing.”  George asked me to go along for a ride with him down the river.  George’s mission was to fill out a job application to become a summer employee of Consolidation Coal Company.  Down the river we went to the Ireland Mine.

At the mine a man called everyone into a room.  Each person was handed an aptitude test.  With great care we each filled out the test, carefully answering every question.  The man doing the hiring did an amazing thing.  He took the bundle of tests and neatly banged them on the table to make sure the pile was in good order.  Next without looking at a single test he threw them all in the waste basket at his side. Then he announced, “The company requires me to test all new applicants, I did.”  After tossing the test he looked around the table and said, “I have a problem.”  He explained he had told 10 people to show up and fill out applications. Counting the people, he realized there were 11 people.  The human resource guy said, “Someone is here who does not belong. Who is it?”  Like a sheepish idiot, I raised my hand expecting some insult.  Then he said, “Well you’re hired too.”

Everyone else in the room put on their application they wanted summer work.  For some reason I thought I should apply for a full-time job.  Life has strange twists. They taught me to operate equipment and made the other guys pull weeds and do miserable work. When fall came, I left and went to college, but I came back each summer and paid my way through college.  It is a long story, but one thing led to another and after college I had a career in coal mining that took me from Benwood to southern West Virginia, to Eastern Ohio, and at last to North Dakota. I retired at 50 and have been living happily ever after all because of that nap on that porch swing on 26 Poplar Ave.

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Mike’s blog, Kadizzled. He has generously agreed to look the other way while we pilfer his material that pertains to Wheeling.

6 Responses

  1. Cary Butler

    WOW! Your talented story telling and great writing have certainly stirred my memories and emotions of the early Woodsdale days in Wheeling, WV. You see, me and my brother were were among your neighbors. We were the sons of a doctor and a nurse.

    All of the Quinn siblings were older than I. Growing up there from birth, I just assumed that growing up in “Leave it to Beaver” land was every kids norm. In my mind, your family was just awesome. I loved the times that I was lucky enough to hang out with “big Mike”. Heck, I was just a little punk. Even though I was just a bit younger than your younger brother Colin and your baby sister, Patty, in the early child hood years, one to 5 years difference in age was huge. I was actually a little frightened that I might not act correctly when with the Quinn clan. I did not want to be banned from the clan.

    I like to think that my parents raised me well and taught me good values and to respect everyone. I remember having to work 2-3 hours for my allowance of 15-25 cents by picking weeds or cleaning the garage and it was very rewarding.

    Anyway, back to “big Mike” and brother Colin. You guys showed me wonders of the world in the early stages of life. Wonder # 1: You guys built and showed me how to build the best snow fort/igloos that could ever be. Some even had 2 rooms and enough space for many us to get inside. I was amazed at the warmth and silence when inside. I always hoped and prayed for next big snow. #2. The “fort up on the “hill”. I remember the first day that I was allowed to tag along. I was honored, because I had heard the great tales of the cement dug out and the tree fort/cabin under construction, and OHHH, maybe a vine swing! . After training, and some years Iater, I built my own cabin at age 14 on yet a different hillside, from lessons learned. Funny, I guess, I was a little disrespectful, although, more likely naive, because I was chopping down trees on who knows whose land it was. #3. The times that I was able to go with you guys and your Dad to “the farm”. You taught me how to shoot my first real rifle as well as many wonders of nature.

    So many more tales to tell, but I just wanted to say that I Passed along all those lessons learned to my 2 sons. Snow forts built in the mountains of WV…Vine swings and many Igloos…many igloos (all of the “Quinn design”) My guns now belong to my youngest son. And guess what ? His name is Colin. Named after your brother. Another doctor’s kid across the street from you named one of his sons Colin as well. Sorry, “Big Mike”, Colin was just a better name. I wanted my name to be “Mike”, when growing up, but it was too late for that.
    The whole sense of adventure learned in my early years have followed me through life. I worked hard, very hard for many years “in the mountains of WV” after completing my education. That was an adventure of sorts.
    Now retired and not wanting any more snow forts, I am living my dream. From early childhood adventures to adult adventure. I reside in sunny Cozumel, Mexico spending my days snorkeling, scuba diving, bike riding, helping special needs kids and disabled divers when possible.
    Many things shape our lives, but I would like to think that growing up in Woodsdale with so many great families surrounding us all, had a tremendous influence on us, not the least of which was the “Quinn Clan”.
    Cary Butler

    • Mike Quinn

      Cary, it was a lot of fun reading your comments, and like you I was always amazed by how quiet it was inside. Strange thing is right before I read your comment I was coming back to our RV from Globe AZ. I was thinking about writing a story about the old adventures on the hill. So if my brain will engage itself you may have insprired me.

    • John hastings

      Gary, John Hastings here . I just reconnected w/ Mike Quinn and am actually going to visit with him next week while playing golf in Phoenix . My wife & I just returned from Isla Mujeres. I had heard you were living in Mexico and I expect your’e having the same love affair w/ Mexico that I have been having for 40 years.

  2. Anonymous

    Enjoyed your story ….funny how we both grew up in wheeling and have a lot oof the same thoughts about our city…..I also grew up in wheeling but was on the other side of the tracks…..South Wheeling also has some nice Victorian homes ….I also wondered when I was walking the alleys what the homes looked like when they were first built…… funny the difference it makes living in Woodsdale …or growing up in S. Wheeling. Our hometown had to be a picture of art when it was completed in its early stages. I enjoyed reading your story so much I had to comment… Gods speed

  3. Dan Zinsky

    Very nice and true about living in Wheeling. I grew up on 26 Poplar Ave from Dec. 1979 until 1999. I have taken many naps on the porch swing during that time and to this day, wish I had a large porch like the one on 26 Poplar Ave.

    • Tom

      We lived on Maple Ave for 23 years and had many porch parties. Neighbors would rotate hosting parties each weekend in the summer, lots of fun. We had a swing on our pouch and I took many naps on it. It was and still is a great neighborhood.

Leave a Reply