Science Packs a Wallop


Since school has started almost all over the country, I am reminded of an incident from my school days in the fifties. As young girls, my sister, Gretchen, and I lived in Pittsburgh and went to Winchester Thurston School in Oakland. I was a year ahead at school, but our birthdays were only 22 months apart, so we were close.

Father drove us to school every morning, but we took the streetcar in the afternoon. We took the #75 streetcar from Ellsworth Avenue, through East Liberty and east on Penn Avenue to our street, Homewood Avenue near Frick Park.

Our route took us past a bread factory, where the aroma of fresh baked bread tempted us every afternoon. Mother warned us not to get off the streetcar and try to buy bread at the factory, and she always had a snack ready when we got home. We usually had a choice between potato chips and Coke(my favorite) or milk and cookies.

One day, when our streetcar got to the corner of Penn and Fifth Avenues, the conductor announced that because of road construction, the streetcar was not going the rest of the way up Penn Avenue.

“We’re going to turn left here and go down to blah blah and turn onto blah and blah, blah, blah.” I suppose the adults on the streetcar understood these directions, but it was gibberish to us. We had no idea where our faithful #75 was going. We were panicked. How were we going to get home?

“We should get off here,” I said, thinking we could walk the rest of the way home.

“No, we should stay on the streetcar,” Gretchen said. “We don’t know the way home.”

“I’m pretty sure we just stay on Penn Avenue until we get to Homewood Avenue,” I said.

That day I made my sister get off the streetcar. We were standing by ourselves at one of the busiest intersections in Pittsburgh and Gretchen was mad. She was almost in tears when she said,

“What are we going to do now? We don’t even know where we are.”

With that BANG! She hit me on the head with her science book!

“Ow!” I groaned, surprised by her sudden turn to violence. “Why did you do that?”

“Because now we don’t know how to get home,” she yelled at me.

“I know how to go,” I said, trying to sound self-assured despite my recent injury to the head.

We stood there quite awhile trying to figure out how to cross the intersection. It was four lanes in one direction and three in the other. Using the lights to tell us when to go, I led Gretchen across both streets and we started walking up Penn Avenue. I didn’t know how many blocks it was to Homewood Avenue, but I knew it crossed Penn and we would eventually get to it. However, we were getting tired and I still couldn’t see Homewood Avenue ahead, so I suggested we turn into a drug store on one of the corners. Gretchen agreed. We did what our mother and father had taught us. I asked the salesgirl if we could call home because we were lost. She looked at me very strangely and let me use the phone.

When Mother came and picked us up, she only had to drive two blocks to get to our house. We felt kind of stupid, but she was glad we called her and said we did the right thing to get off the streetcar.

I felt justified, but I had a sore bump on my head for several days. I had learned that science packs a wallop.

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