Before he ever picked up a football, went to school, married my mother, or built a business, my dad was a brother.
He shared a large room at the back of my grandparent’s green slate house on 20 Row with his older brother George and his younger sister Martha.
Together, he and George were known as Butch and Sonny, and, under the watchful eye of a street full of relatives, they enjoyed a bucolic childhood with a whole woods full of animals to trap (my dad kept a fox as a pet for as long as that fox would let him), games to play, and mischief to make. Including cousins and friends, there were 22 boys Butch and Sonny’s age on 20 Row back then.
They enjoyed an expansive, natural playground on which a single sled ride from the top of 20 Row down to the mine could take most of the morning.
One day, when my dad was eight-years old, the boys brought him back to the house bleeding and unconscious. Apparently he had run his sled so fast down the hill that he skidded under a car.
Dr. Marten fixed him up that time and many times after.
“Your Grandma often said a summer didn’t go by that Ronnie wasn’t in the hospital,” Aunt Martha said.
A brave and mischievous boy, my dad wasn’t afraid of much. But thunderstorms did scare him.
“Thunder in the mountains can be very scary,” Aunt Martha said. “During one storm they couldn’t find him. The thunder and lightning increased and they became more concerned. All the relatives were out looking for him. Finally they found him sound asleep on the front porch, hiding under the glider cushions.”
The 20 Row kids worked as hard as they played; they picked elder berries and potatoes for spending money, and woke early to deliver newspapers. They all walked a mile back and forth to the grade school every day. When he was 11 and George 13, they helped their Pap hand dig a basement under the house, no small task in that tough, clay soil.
At night, they would tell stories.
“I remember asking, ‘Butchie, would you tell me a story?’ and he would. Usually they were about Tarzan in the jungle,” said Aunt Martha. “He did the best Tarzan call next to Johnny Weismuller.”
Ironically, both Weismuller and my dad wound up in the Central Cambria County Hall of Fame.
Though he was naughty “If there was a scratch on the car, nobody ever asked, ‘Who did it?’ They just asked what Ronnie did this time,” Aunt Martha said, my dad had a soft spot for his family.
Like everyone else, he picked blackberries, strawberries, hickory nuts and sassafras for tea. But, according to Martha, he was the first and possibly only boy on 20 Row to also pick his mother a bouquet of wild flowers every spring.
When his brother George left Colver to join the service after high school, my dad took to his bed and stayed there for a week. Finally, my Grandma got his Uncle Jimmy and some other boys to come to the house and coax him out.
Eventually, my dad’s career took him away from Pennsylvania, and, following his time with the Green Bay Packers, he made his home in Wisconsin.
But, a piece of his heart stayed in Colver, where he was Butch to his big brother’s Sonny, and Marcie’s stubborn guide.