JOSH O'BRIEN NEVER REALLY GAVE much thought to aging until he turned forty-five. He looked in the mirror and said, "Who is this old person I see?" He could handle balding. Well, at least he had grown to handle it, but why is the hair from his head being replaced by hair growing from his ears, back and nose? And it is coming in gray at that.
He could still hear his grandmother telling him, "I know people look at me and see an old woman, but in my mind I am still a young girl."
You always think you are young and hip until some fifteen year old teasingly calls you old! Just like his grandmother, when Josh thinks about it, it seems like only a few years ago he was that young boy's age. In fact, he can remember it like it was yesterday. That is where this story begins....
Josh lived in a small Pennsylvania town called Oakwood Acres. An attractive little neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh with his mom Maddy, father Cletus, little sister Janie, and younger brother Paulie.
At fifteen years old the biggest problem Josh had was running out of Clearasil, and trying not to trip over his tongue when one of the neighborhood girls talked to him! He was extremely shy around people, especially the girls. His dad used to say, "You wouldn't say crap if you had a mouthful," and he was right; However, when he was around his buddies, that was a different story.
Josh had three best friends growing up. They were Jake Thompson, Joey Flynn and Walt McDonald. Walt didn't like to be called Walt so they called him "Mac". Then there was Joshua O'Brien, but everyone called him Rusty, because of his red hair. Mac was sixteen and at that age he seemed a lot older than Jake, Joey and Rusty. They were fifteen so they all looked up to Mac. He was the ladies man of the group. Jake was the daredevil. He could always jump higher than anyone else would even try on their dirt bike and he loved to take risks. Joey was the instigator. He usually got Jake to bite off more than he could chew. Rusty was the quiet, levelheaded one that usually tried to keep them all from getting into trouble.
Joey was the youngest of four children in his family. He was the only boy. His father, Mr. Flynn, had hoped for a son after having the three girls. He would finally have another man in the house that he could teach sports and other guy things that didn't involve dolls. Being the youngest sibling and the only male child, Joey couldn't help but be spoiled rotten growing up. The whole family made a fuss over him. Rusty decided that was why Joey was always clowning around and putting on a show for everyone.
Mr. Flynn was a chemist at Monroe Glass. He was one of the lucky ones that had an office away from the heat of the furnaces, although he ventured into the plant now and then, when they were working on a new formula. Mr. Flynn had been working for Monroe Glass since 1949 when he graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He was about nine years older than Rusty's father. Their families lived only two doors away from each other but Mr. Flynn and Mr. O'Brien were not close friends. They exchanged pleasantries with one another but that was all. Rusty didn't know if it was because of their age difference or status.
Mrs. Flynn was a stay at home housewife. In the early 1970's more women were starting to focus on a career once their children were in school. Depending on their financial situation, many women had to juggle working outside the home while taking care of the household also. Mr. Flynn made a comfortable living working at the glass plant and she didn't have to work.
This fact also bothered Rusty's father, knowing that he didn't make enough money without his wife helping out. Especially, since she took in some ironing chores for the Flynns. Mrs. O'Brien looked at it as a blessing, but Mr. O'Brien saw it as if they were one of the Flynn's charity cases. He grew up believing that a man went to work and took care of his family while the woman stayed home and took care of the home. It never seemed to bother Mrs. O'Brien. She loved Rusty's father and had always been very proud of him.
Joey's oldest sister Amy was twenty-four, married and had a two year old child of her own. His name was Justin Junior, named after his daddy. They called him Junior. He was fawned over just like Joey had been, particularly by his proud grandparents. Amy and Justin lived in Monroe, not far from Monroe Glass. Justin had worked at the Texaco gas station pumping gas until three years ago when he became engaged to Amy. Mr. Flynn said that if Justin was going to marry his daughter he would need more than the salary a gas station would provide, thus he got him a job at the glass factory. Justin worked in the foundry also, on third shift. That was where almost everyone started out.
The second oldest sister, Mary was twenty-two, also married and lived in Ohio; somewhere near Cleveland with her husband, Lou. Lou was a salesman for an electrical distributor. The Flynns were not wild about her moving out of state but Lou's company transferred him soon after they got married. There wasn't a whole lot that they could do about it. You have to go where the work is, Mr. Flynn said. Mrs. Flynn wasn't too upset since they were only about three hours drive away from home.
Joey had one sister that still lived at home. Her name is Colleen, she was seventeen. Colleen had no intention of following in her older sister's footsteps, getting married right out of high school. She planned on attending Slippery Rock University to pursue a teaching degree. The Flynn girls were good-looking and had no trouble attracting eligible bachelors. Colleen was no exception, but said she didn't want to depend on a man to keep her. She was extremely independent. Mr. Flynn liked the idea, especially because he wouldn't have to bring another son-in-law into Monroe Glass. Besides, he had already used one favor for Justin's job.
Joey and Rusty had been friends since they were in kindergarten. That was when the O'Brien's moved into the house on Lincoln. They had been living in an apartment in town. After Janie was born, Mrs. O'Brien decided it was time to find a place of their own with more room. Joey had been born and raised in their home on Lincoln Street.
The Warrens lived in the house between the O'Brien's and Flynn's. They were retired and their children were grown up and gone for as long as Rusty could remember. They were friendly old people. They traveled a lot, visiting relatives. Rusty's parents would look after their place while they were gone. He liked when they came home from a trip because he knew Mrs. Warren would be sending a cherry pie or devil's food cake over to his family in appreciation. Mrs. Warren loved to cook desserts although she and Mr. Warren didn't eat many sweets, which puzzled Rusty. When they were home they didn't see them very often. The Warrens were one of Rusty's first customers. He had been cutting their grass for two years. They spent most of their time in the house. Mr. Warren liked to work on his model airplane collection and Mrs. Warren was usually keeping busy in the kitchen. Mrs. O'Brien would sometimes get her to help out with baked goods for church fundraisers.
Rusty liked hanging out at Joey's house better than his place. Not because the Flynn's house was nicer than his, but because he could check out his sisters. Colleen was only two years older than Rusty and Joey, but to Rusty it seemed like she was so much more grown-up. She was nice to look at and she also talked to him like he was a person, not some punk kid. Rusty had had a crush on her for a while. It wasn't hard to tell. He would blush whenever she talked to him. Although Joey missed his two older sisters since they moved out, he liked it better only having to share the bathroom with one sister.
When the boys went to Joey's house, they usually hung out in his room. He had his own T.V. and they played Atari most of the time. They would amuse themselves with Asteroids and Pong for hours. The rest of the boys were lucky they had one T.V. in the whole house. Rusty's family had just gotten their first color T.V. four years earlier. He remembered that it seemed like being at the movies after watching the old black and white set, even though it was only a thirteen-inch screen. The Flynn's were the first family in the neighborhood to get cable television, also. They were able to bring in ten different stations.
Mr. O'Brien thought it was ridiculous to pay six dollars a month to watch television. The family would have to make do with the three network stations that came in with the help of an antenna on the roof. Rusty was okay with it as long as he got to watch the Three Stooges on Paul Shannon's Adventure Time on Channel Four. His mother thought this program was too violent, but Paulie and Rusty never missed the show if they could help it. They would be careful not to imitate the Three Stooges moves, especially if their mom was looking.
Rusty met Jake Thompson in first grade. Joey, Jake and Rusty were in the same class together. On the first day of class, Joey being Joey, flipped his eyelids inside out and made faces at Rusty and Jake, while Miss Deluca was writing on the black board. They started giggling and the three of them had to spend 10 minutes in the corner for goofing off. They were inseparable ever since.
Jake had one sister Tina. She was a year younger than they were. Rusty never paid much attention to her when they were younger, but when she started in Junior High with them, Rusty couldn't help but notice she was turning into a real babe. Jake could see that Rusty asked about his sister a little more than he used to, but he thought it was cool. Mr. Thompson also noticed it and he wasn't as tolerant of it. It wasn't that he didn't like Rusty; he was very protective of his little girl and he wasn't ready for her to grow up yet. Rusty remembered that Mr. Thompson would say, "Don't you boys have anything better to do than hang around the house? Why don't you go outside and blow the stink off of you?"
Mr. Thompson and Mr. O'Brien were friends. They worked in the foundry at Monroe Glass together. Jake's mother was a stay at home mom like Rusty's mom. Mrs. Thompson and his mother were both involved with church functions together. The two couples would go out to dinner and catch a movie occasionally. Their families would have cookouts together in the summertime.
Now and again, Rusty would overhear his dad and Mr. Thompson discussing over a cold beer, how the management at Monroe Glass would look down their noses at the uneducated laborers in the plant. They would always come to the same conclusion that those high and mighty sticks-in-the-muds couldn't handle the type of work that they do everyday. Rusty thought that was the reason why his dad and Mr. Flynn weren't very close. Even though Mr. Flynn and his father were cordial enough to each other, he was one of them.
Rusty met Mac through Jake. He lived a few doors from Jake. He was a year older than the other three boys which automatically made him their mentor. Mac's mom raised him alone from the time he was six. His father decided he didn't want to be married anymore and just up and left one day. They never heard from him again after that. The few times Rusty talked to Mac about it he would say "Good riddance to him!" Although Mac didn't say it, they boys could tell it bothered him once in a while. Especially at Little League games and things like that, when it is nice to have your dad cheering you on. A situation like that would make a lot of kids insecure, but not Mac. It seemed to make him stronger.
Mrs. McDonald did everything she could to provide a normal home for Mac. She worked as a receptionist at Monroe Glass during the day and also worked as a waitress a few days a week at Wilson's Diner. Mrs. McDonald never remarried. Rusty always figured that she thought Mr. McDonald would return one day when he came to his senses, but he hadn't even called in the nine years that Rusty had known Mac. Mrs. McDonald still kept a family photo on the end table in the living room of the three of them which was taken about a year or so before Mac's father left. Mac spent a lot of time with Mr. Hilton next door helping him with home improvement projects. A lot of it rubbed off on Mac, because he was good with his hands. Mr. Hilton took Mac under his wing and taught him how to fix little things in their house. He knew Mrs. McDonald couldn't afford to pay a handyman every time something happened. Mac's mom was also glad that he had a man to teach him things that she didn't know about and just to spend time with him.
Mac knew his mother wouldn't have the money to send him to college which was okay with him. He knew he would end up doing some type of labor but he enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together again. One thing Mac didn't want to do was work at Monroe Glass. He wanted to be either a mechanic or work in the construction trade.
Mac taught himself how to work on his dirt bike just by tinkering around. He worked on all of their bikes when they broke down. He taught them how to change the oil, spark plugs, brakes and replace the clutch cables which seemed to wear out regularly. The closest bike shop was about 30 miles away near Pittsburgh, but Sparky who owned the Texaco would order parts for the gang and have them delivered to the gas station so they didn't have to beg someone to drive them into the city. He also had a machine to take the tires off of the rim when they would get a flat.
Most kids had a favorite hangout place. Theirs was the Open Pantry, or as they referred to it, the O.P. Just like any other fifteen year olds, they got into their share of mischief. There were the occasional Halloween pranks involving eggs or toilet paper. Some of the guys had even been known to streak every now and again. Of course Rusty was way too bashful for that. But overall they were pretty good kids.
Bill was the owner of the O.P. The boys always called him Birogus Bill, although for the life of him, Rusty didn't know why. Birogus Bill was a short stodgy guy with slicked back salt-and-pepper hair. He was forever at the O.P. from morning until nine p.m. when he closed the store. The only day he wasn't working was Sunday. Most of the businesses in town were closed on Sunday. Birogus let them hang outside behind the store. This is where most of them learned to ride their dirt bikes. Just about all of them had a dirt bike and they shared with the guys that didn't own one. Rusty was the last of their gang to get a bike.
He had saved just about every dime he had made for two years doing odd jobs and cutting grass. He wanted a dirt bike something awful, and he was bound and determined to buy his Suzuki this year. It was about a week before summer vacation started. Rusty had seen a used motorcycle in the local newspaper for sale the day before. There was a black and white picture in the ad, but it looked perfect to him. It was only four years old and everything he had imagined, except for one major hurdle. The cost was two hundred and seventy-five dollars. Immediately Rusty was heartbroken. He only had been able to save two hundred and ten dollars. He had laid the paper on the coffee table and was moping around the house most of the day.
That evening Rusty heard his mom and dad discussing something very quietly although he had no idea what they were talking about until they came outside and said they wanted to talk to him. Mr. O'Brien had his hands on his hips and Mrs. O'Brien's arms were crossed. They both had serious looks on their faces. Rusty thought he was in trouble for something.
"How much money have you saved so far Josh?" His father asked, even though he knew exactly what he had saved. Rusty had mentioned a new total almost every week.
"Two hundred and ten dollars." he answered dismayed.
"Hmm," His father paused for a moment and looked at his mother momentarily.
"We may be able to help you with your dilemma." His dad said with a hint of a smile on his face. Rusty jumped to his feet, "Really? Thank you, Thank you!" he was grinning from ear to ear. He looked at his mother for validation. She had not changed her somber expression. Because she didn't protest, Rusty took this as a good sign.
"Wait a minute, there are a few stipulations," His dad interrupted.
Immediately Rusty was the solemn one, "Yes, Sir?"
"Well, you will have to take on more responsibilities around the house," Mr. O'Brien said.
"Oh, I will. I promise," he said persuasively.
"And your allowance will be cut back for a while." His mom finally spoke, looking for any hint of rebellion on his part.
"That's ok!" he said in agreement with her.
Rusty hugged both of them, thanking them profusely. He could finally see the hint of a slight smile on his mother's face. He ran through the house to find the newspaper. He was about to bust and had to call before someone else beat him to the deal. Rusty's mom and dad were still talking on the porch. Rusty's mom was apprehensive about him getting hurt. Both of them were a little concerned about spending the extra money, although neither one of them mentioned it. His father convinced her that everything would be fine. Rusty knew that money was tight, making him all the more appreciative of their sacrifice for him.