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  • I grew up in a large family in Pittsburgh. I was the 6th of 7 kids, the 5th boy. I was born in 1954, smack in the middle of the baby boom era. I was the 6th kid in 8 years. Mom and Dad certainly did their part to contribute to the Baby Boom!

    My earliest memory is of getting my nose broken - not necessarily a bad memory - not at all! It brought attention, and one thing I loved then, and still do, is attention. In the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator tests, I'm an ETSJ, and my E is off-the-charts. I love being in the middle of things.

    I love sports, baseball best of all. Baseball is the most social of sports. It’s a game that moves at a conversational pace - there are many stories behind the scenes in a baseball game. There’s plenty of time between pitches to talk to the people around you.

    In Pittsburgh, our beloved Pirates would shock the world in the 1960 World Series, beating the mighty New York Yankees of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra in most dramatic fashion - a Bill Mazeroski seventh game walk-off homerun over the head of the legendary Yogi Berra. It was the most exciting ending possible for a series. Little David had slayed the powerful Goliath, and our team was David!

    The nose-breaking incident occurred several years before that great World Series triumph, but for me, it was certainly no less dramatic. I was 2 ½ - it was the summer of 1957. We were at “the cottage”, a wonderful vacation spot right on Pymatuning Lake in Western Pennsylvania.

    The cottage was where we spent most of our summer vacations when I was growing up. This was due to the wonderful generosity of my Dad’s older sister, Lollie, and her amazing husband, Roman Eichenlaub. They always invited our large family to come stay at the cottage for a couple of weeks in the middle of the summer. Mom and Dad could ill afford to take us anywhere that would cost much. We only had to help out with the food to feed the large number of children (there were 3 Eichenlaub children in addition to our 7).

    Uncle Roman was a legendary figure in our family. Dad was in utter awe of him, because he was so skillful at working with his hands, and he possessed the mind of a brilliant engineer and inventor. These were skills that Dad felt woefully inadequate in, and desired to develop for himself. Roman took Dad under his wing, and was happy to teach him some of the things he knew about. Dad always spoke of Roman with the greatest deference. Roman had a gruff exterior, but he possessed a great love of life and was always in a good humor.

    He was always fixing something, inventing some contraption or other, or just puttzing around in his cellar. Back in the 40’s, Roman had designed and built the cottage himself from scratch. Dad had helped him, along with other family members. They’d cleared out several acres of trees to create the space for the cottage and a surrounding yard of sorts. They built the cottage on a slight rise about 100 feet above the railroad tracks that came through the area, and laid about halfway between the cottage and the lake.

    For us kids, it was a wonderful place to spend a couple of weeks. Some of my fondest memories of growing up are from the cottage. There would always be fresh berries to pick, it’s where I first learned to fish, and there would be wonderful picnics on islands way out in the huge, man-made lake. It was really a magical place for a young boy, and was the background of many of my rich fantasy scenarios that I would often play out in my mind as a young lad.

    One of the memories of the cottage that are strongest, and has stayed with me the longest, is the memory of the smell of Roman’s dirt cellar beneath the cottage. To enter the cellar, you had to lift a big wooden trap door over at the one end of the outside of the cottage, and descend several concrete steps, and then you would enter Roman’s little kingdom, just a dug-out cellar with the rich combined smell of dirt, oil, and gasoline. This was where you would catch Roman in all of his glory. To this day, whenever I go out to my shed out back and get out my lawnmower to cut the grass, when that combination of smells hits my senses, I am reminded of that cellar beneath the cottage. It is a warm and fond memory, of a place, a time, and a man that meant so much to me and my family.

    Back to the incident. Parts of this earliest of my conscious memories remain etched in my mind as if it happened last year, not 55 years ago. Mom and Aunt Lollie went into town (Jamestown) to go shopping, and I went along with them. We went in Lollie’s station wagon with wood-paneled sides – I have no idea what make or model it was, but it was a cool vehicle. I can still vividly remember the old store, the smells of it, there was a place around the side of the store where you could buy worms for fishing, and the store itself had tables filled with fruits and vegetables of all sorts, big ripe tomatoes and baskets of corn on the cob, and several aisles with shelves full of various canned and boxed goods. There were also various toys up near the register that could be purchased. My eye was drawn to a set of 3 colorful styrofoam plastic balls in a mesh bag, a small one, a medium one, and a large one. I begged Mom to buy them for me, which she did. I would watch the older boys playing ball in front of the cottage, and it looked like so much fun – now, I had my own set of balls to play with!

    Upon our return to the cottage, there was indeed a game of softball being played right in front of the cottage, and I eagerly ran over to my brother Chris and asked him if he would hit one of my new balls for me. I asked him if he could hit it all the way down to the railroad tracks. He laughed and said that he would give it his best shot. Poor Chris had no idea that I stood there right behind him to watch the feat as he tossed that styrofoam ball up in the air, wound the bat back and gave it a good, hard swing with everything he had. There was a loud crack that one would not expect to hear from a wooden bat hitting a styrofoam ball. The cracking sound was not made by the bat striking the ball – my nose had gotten in the way, and the cracking sound was my nose being broken by the bat.

    Everything went dark and quiet, and then I was laying on the ground, and really felt nothing at all, at first. All the older kids had gathered around me, and Chris was just beside himself as he bent down to tend to me – it was just about that point that I noticed all of the blood, and realized it was all coming from me! I thought for sure that I was dying, and became frightened beyond belief. A towel filled with ice was quickly produced, and there was a swirl of activity going on all around me, and I grew more and more frightened and could barely catch my breath I was crying so hard and loudly. At some point, I was carried into the cottage and laid down on one of the benches by the windows, still crying my eyes out and scared beyond belief.

    Then, my cousin Janey, several years older than me, a very pretty blonde haired girl who I thought was like a princess, sat behind my head on the bench, looked at me and said, with a soothing voice, “Don’t cry, Pete. You’re a big boy, and big boys don’t cry.” I immediately started choking back the tears and stopped crying as Janey kept calmly talking to me, saying how proud she was of me and what a big boy I was. I was always a sucker for a pretty girl, and Janey talked me down from the edge of sheer panic with her calming voice and presence.

    For the rest of that summer, my broken nose made me the center of attention, and I loved it. The price of that broken nose was a memory that has lasted a lifetime, of a cottage that represented the best that my childhood had to offer. .. yeah, it was worth it!
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