GROWING UP IN CUMBERLAND, MARYLAND IN THE 70’S
It seems like the older I get, the more I think about my childhood. I feel like I’m stuck in an episode of “The Wonder Years.” But, lately Cumberland, Maryland has been on my mind.
I was a happy seven year-old boy in 1970 when my mother told me we were moving from Cincinnati to Cumberland, Md. I did not have any idea where Cumberland was and I remember thinking Maryland sounded like a woman’s name.
It was tough leaving my beloved Cincinnati Reds and Bengals to move to Colt, Steeler, Oriole and Pirate country, but Cumberland helped take me deeper into sports. It was an exciting area in a great era of sports. The Reds fought and lost to Baltimore in the World Series in 1970. The Orioles were exciting with stars like Frank and Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer and Boog Powell. The Pirates, much unlike the Pittsburgh teams of today, were regulars in the playoffs. Legends like Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell played alongside of fan favorites Manny Sanguillen and Richie Hebner.
In football, the Colts were still in Baltimore and dominant with names like John Unitas and Bubba Smith. The Washington Redskins were a powerhouse with Sonny Jurgenson, Bill Kilmer, and Larry Brown. And of course, Terry Bradshaw, Mean Joe Greene, and Franco Harris were starting the Steeler dynasty in Pittsburgh. All of these quality teams played just two hours away from Cumberland. Seventies’ sports made me a sport fan for life.
It was more than professional sports, Cumberland offered many opportunities for youth to participate in sports. It was a different era and as youth, we did not have computers and video games to keep us entertained. We played softball in a gully behind my house on Beechwood Drive. It was rocky and very bumpy but we played softball and football. I remember playing with neighborhood friends like Gary and Richard Geiger, Lou Baker, Doug Dunn, Shawn and Damon Thomas and others. We even built a goalpost out of sticks and a wooden backstop for softball.
We were always playing sports it seems. Two on two football, wiffleball, and basketball at the Bakers. Wiffle ball and Rundown at the Thomas’, just as long as the ball didn’t go into the Miller’s or Hack’s yard. Football at the church yard. Tennis ball in several different yards. We were young, energetic, and living in a time when our parents didn’t have to worry about stalkers, kidnappers, molesters, and drug dealers. There were not any crack dealers or meth houses just a few harmless hippies smoking pot that hung out around the bowling alley. They never bothered us and for some reason, we called them ‘sweats.’
Dapper Dan Little League also played a major part in me developing a lifelong love of sports. The uniforms made out of wool were hot and heavy but we felt like big leaguers. I remember the local cable access channel broadcasting a few games and we felt like stars. Of course, two hits in a game would get your name in the newspaper. I was terrible as a ten year old playing for the Pirates but we had a heack of a team with Doug Dunn and Alan Page. A good childhood friend, Todd Beal, played for us and his dad was the manager. I remember my brother parking my dad’s car outside the field at a game at Constitution Park. Gary Geiger who definitely was not a power hitter cracked a homerun which cracked my dad’s car. His Chrysler was his pride and joy.
The next year, I started out the season and was not much better. Then in a game at Post Field, John Holsey was throwing a no hitter against us. I remember standing in the on the deck circle and repeating to myself “it can be done and I’m going to do it.” Over and over I repeated this to myself. I climbed into the batter box in my imitation Pete Rose stance and nailed a single and a double in my next two atbats and those were our only two hits of the game. I started to believe and went on a tear over the next couple of games getting eight straight hits. I went from a scared number seven hitter to the leading hitter on the team hitting about 560 for the year.
We also loved sports at Johnson Heights. I remember arriving early to play softball on the blacktop and hitting balls over the fence. In gym glass we would play on the field in the school yard and thrive to hit the ball onto the blacktop. I remember a young coach named Don chaney (who would become Fort Hill’s football coach) trying to get us to play soccer in gym class. I hated soccer and to this day do not consider that a real sport, lol. I remember my friend Eddie Bishop dominating us in basketball. Eddie and I walked together to Washington Jr High School. We entered a one on one intramural tournament. Of all the people in that school, I drew my friend in the first round. I knew I was doomed but practiced and practiced. Eddie promptly thrashed me and I was out in the first round.
But, how can I ever forget Johnson Heights? From the moment, I walked into Mrs. Moore’s second grade class, ol’ Johnson Heights became a place I never would forget. We were a singing and dancing bunch I know that. The old May Day festivals seemed torturous at the time. Each class would do a weird dance like ‘the sword dance.’ We would practice it over and over during the day. Then, on Mayday we would have a festival or carnival. We would put on a weird show for everyone to see and then play games after ward.
We seemed to have a lot of plays and Christmas shows as well. I remember one song that went “leave it be, leave it be, if there’s a flower in the woods, leave it be.” In the sixth grade we went to Outdoor School. It was scary being away from my family but it was interesting and we learned a lot about nature. The counselors scared us with tales about Chicken People coming down and eating children. Of course, went had to put on a skit at the end of the camp. Our cabin did Attack of The Chicken People where we had a couple of kids with ketchup on them like blood, run into the building screaming. The rest of us were knocking on the building and making chicken noises. We scared the heck out of several girls. They were screaming and crying.
I made great childhood friends like Eddie Bishop, Mike Twigg, Brady Anderson,Todd Beal, Mark Keefer, and others. It was sad to leave. Johnson Heights was a great time period in my life. I’m not sure what happened in my one year at Washington Jr high but things changed. I became separated from my Johnson friends and we quickly grew apart. Todd started hanging with the jocks, Scott Lewis became a brainac, lol, and Mark Keefer and Howie emerick became ‘ladies men’. I felt kind of left out. My world changed. There were bullies and constant talk of iniations. Some thug named Robin Woods used to take my lunch money. Now that I’m six foot five, 280 pounds, and spent many years in the gym, maybe I should come back to Cumberland and take Robin out to lunch, lol. It was to grow apart from my friends and be separated into groups.
I’ll always remember my true best friend – my dog Lucky, In those days, dogs could go every where. He’d follow me to Village Dairy and the owner Jim would come out and give him ice cream. Then we would walk down to Grants and bark at Jim’s big sheep dog Sam. Lucky would follow me to the park and to Acme and Town and Country and wait patiently for me outside. He even defended me when an older Tommy Stallings picked on me.
My brother, Gary, was five years older than me but he was a great big brother. We rode our bikes all over Cumberland. He had his own friends but let me tagalong to Fort Hill football games. We used to play Army and hide and seek with our friends in the woods behind our house. Lucky always gave me away when I was hiding. Then, Lucky would chase a rabbit. He must have chased with his eyes closed because the rabbit would turn off and he kept a runnin’!
Every year I would wait patiently for new baseball cards to arrive. I would check Dairy Mart, Drug Fair, and the Village Dairy for them to arrive. Uusally Joe’s Texaco got them first. I liked Joe’s but some old guy would run me off every time I tried to read the magazines.
Sometimes I still taste the double-deckers or clams from Mr Ed’s, the hard dipped ice cream cones or roast beef sandwiches covered in mash potatoes and gravy from Village Dairy, or the turkey from The Bucky Bradford House, the restaurant that was inside of Grant’s.
Of course, I developed a love for music in Cumberland. Of course, my taste did not start off good. I used to buy 45 rpm records at 50 cents every chance I could at Town and Country, Grants, or Drug Fair. My first single was Neil Disamond’s “Play Me”, lol but my second was “The Joker” by the Steve Miller Band. I used to listen to WCUM (wonder why they changed the name, lol) and to JJ Jeffries on WTBO…. And of course some guy name Casey Casem on America’s Top Forty.
Yes, I often recall Cumberland as a magical place where I discovered sports, music and well……I never had a girlfriend. But, I had a secret crush. There was a girl that was in my second greade class. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. I lusted from a far. I never said a word to her or her to me. I’d walked down her street to steal a glimpse (hmmmm, guess I discovered stalking in Cumberland, too) and I still think about her from time to time and wonder if she is still is as pretty. No, she’s not on Facebook….drat!!!!!!
I guess wherever you grow up is always special to you. It seems like it was a great time to grow up. Yes, there was stress from the Viet Nam war, Watergate, and HIPPIES!!!!!! But, it seemed like it was much more innocent times (maybe because we were innocent children) and there were jobs for everyones parents. PPG, Chessie system (now CSX), and Kelly Springfield were big employers. I’ve been back to Cumberland but while the names on the mailboxes in White Oaks are still the same, sadly, most of my friends moved away without a trace. Jails (local, federal, state) are the biggest employer now in Cumberland. Cumberland never knocks down and rebuilds the buildings so it still looks the same. But something seems to be missing, maybe it’s just the loss of the innocence of my youth.
Mark on September 05, 2020:
Great writing and thank you for the reminder of how great Cumberland was during our youth. Sounds like we may have been in the same class as I knew Brady, Howie, and some of the others mentioned. After a few years in radio at WTBO, I headed to DC and visit to see family, the best memories are from the 70's and 80's.
Kim Jacobs on September 03, 2020:
Thanks for the post so nice walking down memory lane!!
Rick Schuler on July 11, 2016:
Sonya....OMG.....I do remember U from Johnson Heights in the 5th/6th Grade class of Mr Conrad....Moved away for the 6th grade and came back a few years later but went to BW instead of Fort Hill...Longtime since the crazy MayDay festivel at the playgrounds of Johnson Heights eh? Oh well , just wanted to give u a shout out even though u might not even remember me, its been , what, 40 plus years...Hope life has treated u well.... 60's and 70's Memories of Old Cumberland will always live forever...Hope everyone remembers the good ole days of Cumberland...Have a good one....
Sonya Wachter on May 08, 2016:
Omg Darrs Chicken, I remember it well.
Rick Schuler on June 23, 2015:
Cool picture of Joes Texaco bro....I remember it in the late 60's though where Donnie always sat out front in his wheelchair....nice guy...used to walk up the alley from my granny's house on Maple Street and over to it...best place to buy baseball cards...still have a bunch of them...between Joe's, Smiths and Browns, u could always get a lot for your money....Oh, and lets not forget Darrs Chicken, u could always smell it cookin for miles away....ahhhh, the good ole days eh
Mike Bosley on October 27, 2014:
Thanks for posting this memory.
Sounds like we grew up on the same side of town as most of the names you mentioned were either my age or very close.
Moved here from Columbus OH in 1970 as both of my parents were from here. Settled into a home on Maryland Ave. Sports rivals were always the Maryland Ave/Baker Street kids against the Elm Street/Spring Street kids.
Went to Johnson Heights from 1970-1976 and then onto Washington Jr. High from 1977-78 and Fort Hill from 1979-1982.
Lived many places in my life, but always seemed to end up back home in Cumberland when things didn't go as planned.
Currently live here in a house built by Grandfather as a wedding gift to my Grandmother in 1902
Life is not what is used to be here in the Queen City, but it's not as bad as some portray it to be. There are some bad elements, but find me one city that doesn't have this issue?
Cumberland for the most part has, and god willing, will always be home.
PS: not being nit picky...but the Gym teacher JHS was Jim Chaney
Kelley Martin on July 08, 2014:
Some of those names sound familiar. I did not go to Fort Hill but Cliff Kenney and those twins . . . Dan and ? did.
I went to Allegany in 1973-4 and then Bishop Walsh.
I came from Short Gap and write about it. You can find it here: http://sweetteasister.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/...
Alligator Jackson (author) from Huntington, WV on May 21, 2014:
Which jail are you in?
Robin woods on May 18, 2014:
I don't know this person who claims that I took his lunch money but maybe you should come home and settle the issue with me if you really have one!!! I'm not hard to find. And I look forward to seeing you!!!
Dave Edwards on March 27, 2013:
Tony, I remember you. You lived up behind Columbia Street School. We went to Columbia Street and Braddock together. I remember Steve Law. I did not know that Jim passed away. I ran into him a number of years ago working for a Supermarket in Frederick. Do you remember Janice Smith? Man it has been a long time.
Rick Schuler on January 16, 2013:
Cumberland Maryland was without a doubt the best place to grow up in....
Johnson Heights and Old Mrs Kuhn.....Miss Eckles the witchy 2nd grade teacher and Mr Conrad who taught 5th and 6th grade....
My dog Buff would follow me to school and I would have to take him home to my house up the block on Kent Avenue....
Mike Burke, Sherry and Lori Kramph, and many others were great friends.
Those were the best days a kid could ever ask for........No violence, drugs, computors etc......
Just go to Joes Texaco, Browns Store, or Smiths and spend a quarter for a ton of candy.....
I was lucky enough to enjoy Cumberland for what it used to be.....
Bob on January 12, 2013:
Cumberland is a good place to be from.
Dave Martin on April 21, 2012:
I went to Fort Hill High School and graduated in 1975. I only lived there for 3 years before moving to the West coast right after graduation. I frequented Mr. Eds a lot and I worked at Grants Bradford House in High School. Some of my friends were Jim Whisner, Chuck Dicken, Craig Lewis, Ray King, Bob Whetzel and more. If anyone remembers me and wants to contact me then e-mail me at:
Jeff Wissler on January 05, 2012:
I knew the same guys, I ran around with Brady, and Eddie, I Miss those times also. What a great town to grow up in the 70's
Tony Lease on November 08, 2011:
Dave Edwards, That name sounds familiar. I also grew up with Jim Koontz who past away a couple years ago. Graduated with Steve Law. I was one of the Lease boys. Tony,Criag,John. Great memories from the north end and Columbia Street School. We was known as the marble players. Craig and I went to the nationals a couple times. When we got older we took suit cases full of marbles and rolled them down the alley by the paly ground. Awwwh the good old days.
Dave Edwards on September 07, 2011:
I spent my early years in Ridgeley, WVA. LaVale, MD. and Cumberland, Maryland. The most memorable was Cumberland. I went to 5th and 6th grade at Columbia Street School. I then attended Braddock Jr. High School. I attended 9th grade at Alleghany High School. My Family moved to Frederick in June in 1973. My sister and I was devastated. I grew up with the following friends. Ron Rockwell, Charlie Riggleman, Joe Darr, Jim Koontz, John and Jame Self, Steve Law, The Snyder Brothers and many more. I remember going to Pokey field and playing baseball all summer day long. Chestnut street made great sledding in the winter. We could run around Cumberland until the street lights came on. I go back occasionally and walk the streets that we once ran and had no fears. Not many of the friends are around now. But when I close my eyes and stand on Furnace Street heading toward Pokey Field. I see all the guys yelling and coming up the street with their bats ang gloves and smile knowing that it is going to be a great day!
james twigg on August 30, 2011:
i also grew up in cumberland and am still here unfortunatly. i grew up in the 80s and early 90s. cumberland was a great place to grow up then. however, now it is the pits. drugs thugs and a low jobless rate have destroyed this once great town. and it is getting worse everyday.
Doug Dunn on January 19, 2011:
I remember those days like it was yesterday.Fun times.
Barb (Bolinger) Bridges on January 18, 2011:
I would like to make one correction to this article...The group of guys you spoke of early in the article, it was "Brady Andrews" not Brady Anderson, he played for the Baltimore Orioles!
ROSS A. BISHOP on January 16, 2011:
RICH SHOOK SENT ME A MESSAGE ON FACE BOOK ABOUT "CATFISH" ARTICLE HE WROTE AND I REALLY ENJOYED IT. IT BROUGHT BACK MANY FOND MEMORIES TO THIS 76 YEAR OLD WIDOWER. AS BOB HOPE WOULD SAY "THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES". FROM LARGO. FLORIDA WHICH CAN NEVER BE LIKE GOOD OL' CUMBERLAND.MD.