Being a Bay Brat


“Let sleeping dogs lie.” Robert Walpole

I’m a Bay Brat, which means I grew up in Bay Village and lived there my whole life until my dad died. When I was a girl I picked up every lost bird and squirrel, every lost cat and dog, and every injured animal I found and brought it home to protect it.

I was an animal lover from the get-go. I got it partly when I was born, partly from my dad, but not from my mom. My mom never liked any of the dogs and animals we always had in our house.

They met at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a few hours west of Philadelphia. My grandparents on my dad’s side had moved from Ohio to Philadelphia a few years earlier and he enrolled there after high school. My mom was working in the library, which is how they met. He fell head over heels for her, swept her off her feet, and then they got married.

“We’re out of here,” is what my dad said the minute they got married. They quickly and promptly moved right back to Cleveland.

Even though they were married for more than forty years it might have been the worst thing either of them ever did.

I had a mom who didn’t love my dad, and a dad who was frustrated about it, and the way he tried to make her happy was to beat the kids, which was us. So, it was a tough childhood. Either you were being totally ignored or you were being hit.

There were four of us. First, there was Patty, and then two years later Betsy, and then me five years after that, and last, five years later, Brad.

Mom always said dad tricked her four times.

My dad was from the west side of Cleveland, where he grew up rich for his time. My mom was from Jersey Shore, just a few miles from Williamsport, where she grew up poor. Jersey Shore isn’t anywhere near New Jersey, the Jersey shoreline, or any real shore of any kind. There used to be silk mills and cigar factories in Jersey Shore. Later on factories made steel rails for trains.

During the Depression my dad’s father was the only kid in his high school who had a car. He used to follow my grandmother down streets trying to get her to come in his car with him, saying he wanted to help carry her books, so what happened was they eventually got married.

My grandfather in Jersey Shore had three jobs. He was a coal miner, a school bus driver, and a milkman, but they were still poor. Even though they were poor they built their own house on the Susquehanna River. I honestly don’t know how they ever got it built since they were so out of money.

The river was their front yard. Susquehanna means Oyster River and it was on the Susquehanna where the Mormons first got their priesthood from heavenly beings. It was a huge, beautiful house. It’s still standing, although it’s not been taken care of lately, so it’s falling apart.

My grandmother lived in that house into her 80s, but then she sold it and moved into a trailer, in a trailer park in the mountains above Jersey Shore. She slept wrapped in foam rubber with an umbrella balanced above her head for protection. She thought people in other trailers were trying to shoot her with laser guns. My mom never wanted to talk about her mom because she thought she was crazy, and a Jesus freak, too.

I didn’t know my grandfather much because he died young. He had rheumatoid arthritis real bad. I knew my grandmother. Whenever my sisters Patty and Betsy and I visited my grandmother in her big house she taught us to pull taffy and fudge, things like that. We played with her paper dolls. She didn’t have real dolls for us.

At dinnertime she would send my older sisters out on the road to wait for the bean truck. When the bean truck, or sometimes the vegetable truck, went by on the bumpy road beans would bounce off of it and they would run and gather them up. My grandmother cooked them for dinner. If no beans fell off the truck, then there was no dinner, although she usually had something in the house.

Most of the time it was something cold she had canned months earlier.

My dad went to Upper Darby High School just outside Philadelphia, when he was a sophomore. His parents moved him to Philadelphia from Cleveland and he always said he hated it. He was a Cleveland Browns fan and wore their colors, so he got into fights every day with other kids who were Philadelphia Eagles fans.

He liked telling us stories, like the one about how he and his friends went up on the second story of their high school one day, and jumped up and down all as a group until the second floor fell in on the first floor.

The school’s mascot is a lion now, but when he was there it was a court jester.

My father’s parents were from Akron, and lived in Lakewood for a long time, but had to move when the new I-90 highway was being built. Sometimes dad would drive us to a bridge over the road and show us the spot below the bridge where their house used to stand.

It was when they had to sell their house that they moved to Philadelphia. After my mom and dad came back to Ohio they lived in Lakewood for a few years. Patty and Betsy were born there, but by the time I came along we were living in Bay Village.

We lived on Jefferson Court my whole life, which was a short cul-de-sac street, five blocks south of Lake Erie. My dad designed our house and they lived there until the day he died, when I was thirty-three years old.

We all had our own rooms, although my brother and I shared a room because we were the youngest. My sisters had their separate rooms just down the little stairway from us and my parents were at the end of the hallway. We had the crow’s nest upstairs until Patty moved out and got married, when she was nineteen, and Brad was seven.

It was in the crow’s nest where I grew close to Brad, who looked just like Bamm-Bamm in the Flintstones. We even called him Bamm-Bamm. I became his protector like I did with all the neighborhood’s lost cats and dogs..

But, I could never protect him from Coco, our poodle, who used to bite and tear off his diapers when Brad was little.

Although, honestly, there were times I didn’t even try to stop Coco.


Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus