Archive for February, 2015

The Sounds of Bojon Town

Growing up in Bojon Town was a treat for the senses.  The sights, the smells, the sound.  The sounds were important.   They told you what time of the day it was, and they gave you a clue to things that were about to happen.  There were sounds from everywhere, and it was a noisy place back in the 60’s and 70’s when I was growing up.  It’s quieter now, with different noises.  New noises.  Recently there have been reports of a loud male voice hollering at random times of the day and night, in equally random spots in Bojon Town.  Those that have heard it say that the person always shouts the same thing.  “There is no Eilers Heights!  This will always be Bojon Town!”  Go figure.

But to the past.  The sounds that we remember.  I had forgotten about a lot of them until I started thinking about it for this post.  The sounds were such a part of our life that we ignored them most of the time, but we also relied on them a lot.  My memories are kind of hazy, so I’d love for help in filling in some of these details, and do not hesitate to point out my mistakes.  There were two main noises that all Bojons relied on.
The first was the whistle at the Mill.  It blew at shift changes, if I’m not mistaken, and at other times during the day.  It also blew for emergencies at the mill.  You could hear it all over town.  Since Bojon Town was just a few blocks away from it, we heard it very well.  It would wake you up from a sound sleep.  When I was in college, I worked one summer at the Mill.  I was working graveyard in the Rail Mill, which was very close to the whistle.  The first night I did the graveyard shift, they had me in a little shack marking steel billets.  It was one of those ‘work for 5 minutes, wait for 25 minutes’ kind of job.  So while I was waiting, I was eating a sandwich in the shack when the whistle started blowing.  It was only about 100 feet from where I was, and at first, I thought I was under attack.  I could feel the sound in my bones, and it was so loud that I thought my head would explode.  The guys that worked there a long time were laughing their asses off, because they all knew where to be when it went off like that.  I learned that lesson in a hurry.  I can’t remember what times the whistle blew.  I believe it was 7 in the morning, noon, 3 in the afternoon, and eleven at night, but i could be wrong.  But when you were a kid, a lot of times your instructions were ‘you better be home no later than 5 minutes after the whistle.  Sometimes the whistle would blow and kids would be running in every direction, trying to beat that 5 minute deadline.  We didn’t need wrist watches.  We had the Mill.

The Bells at St. Mary’s Church were the other timepiece for Bojon Town kids.  The bells rang at set times of the day automatically, and they could be manually rang at any time.  They rang 5 minutes before mass.  There were 3 bells, and they could be rang individually by turning on a switch that looked like a light switch.  There were 3 switches, one for each bell.  One was huge, and if you were close, you could feel the floor shake when it rang.  The middle one was almost as loud, and the small one was pretty high pitched.  When you timed it right, you could turn them on in such a way where all 3 of them would ring pretty close together.  That was awesome!  I loved being an altar boy for 3 things.  The leftover wine, getting paid for serving wedding masses, and ringing those bells.  They were used for a clock by Bojons as much as the whistle, and they rang at different times.  I think 6 in the morning, noon, and 3 and 6 in the afternoon.  Someone correct me if I’m wrong.  The bells don’t work anymore.  They need 40k$ to get them working again.  I saw an article somewhere a while back about a lady from the parish that is trying to do some fundraising to get them going.  If anyone knows about this, please post it.  That’s a very worthy cause, preserving that part of our history.

Other than the whistle, the Mill produced a lot of noise.  There were dozens of other whistles that blew non-stop.  Trains rumbled by, the engines pulling the cars with the squeaky axles.  The steam escaping, the clanging of dropped steel, the quaking of the ground when one of the Blast Furnaces went haywire.  My bedroom was a block from the Northern Avenue fence of the Mill.  I don’t know how many nights I fell asleep to the sound of the train engine pulling the slag pots from the Blast Furnace to the slag dumps in Salt Creek.  The noises were also warnings.  People didn’t have clothes dryers back then, and the ladies would hang laundry on clothes lines in the back yard.  It would work well, until there was a huge thump that felt like someone just set off a stick of dynamite.  You’d look outside and see this huge black cloud rising from the mill, and 5 seconds later, every Bojon Town lady was running for the back yard with a laundry basket.  They had about 45 seconds, and then the black cloud would fall straight down, and the entire neighborhood would be covered with black soot.  If you didn’t get the clothes in time, you were washing them again.  After they got the laundry in the house, they’d be outside with the garden hose washing the sidewalks so you wouldn’t track that black crap in the house.  We breathed that crap, and our government is worried about the arsenic levels from smelter that was torn down 120 years ago.  The Mill fed us all in that neighborhood, but their pollution killed far more Bojons than the old smelter ever did.  Oh, did I mention that ‘Eilers Heights’ doesn’t exist and Bojon Town actually includes much more territory that Eilers Street.

There was a constant background of kids playing, ladies talking over the fence, old cars, and arguing Bojon men.  Bojon men love to argue.  I love the sound of it.  It’s like a symphony.  The only thing better that two Bojons arguing is three or four or more Bojons arguing.  They will argue about anything.  Politics, who has the nicest lawn, who catches the most fish.  I even heard Bojons arguing about who was the best bowler to ever come out of the neighborhood.  I ended that one.  It’s me.  And if I hear any arguing about that, I’ll dust off my equipment and show you again.  See, that’s how Bojons are.  We like to argue.  The greatest arguments I’ve ever witnessed were on the premises of the legendary Medveds’s 66 Station.  My all-star team of arguers includes my Uncle, Edward Kocman.  He put some feeling into it!  He could go from arguing to loud in the blink of an eye.  I knew he was a big gentle teddy bear, but when he got loud, I moved to the other side of the room!  The guy he loved to argue with the most was Sammy Burin.  Sam would come to the gas station every day.  I’m not talking about a few times a week.  Every day right after his shift at the wire mill.  He’d come in, buy us all a Pepsi, and say ‘Where’s Hazhie?  I gotta get him fired up!”  Sammy would always pick the perfect topic to get him going, and they’d go at it for 30 minutes.  When they ran out of steam, they’d laugh, tell each other good bye, and they’d go home.  The next day, it would be on all over again.  Some of the other guys that would put up a fight were Natz Papish and Al Petrick.  They were married to sisters if I’m not mistaken, but they’d argue about the color of the sky.  They’d go for a walk together, and sooner or later they’d be bitching at each other and going home by themselves.  Next day, they’d be out walking together again.  I remember the Pechek brothers arguing with each other.  Hank would argue with Bobby,  Bobby would argue with Coogan, Coogan would argue with Chip.  But if you argued with Bobby, you’d be arguing with Hank, Coogan, Chip, and Bobby!  Bojons love a lot of things.  They really love to argue.  I inherited that trait.

Other sounds that bring back memories.  The sound of the air wrench when my Uncle Dan was taking tires off of cars.  When I was little, I loved that sound.  When I got bigger, he taught me how to do it.  I did a lot of them.  I don’t love the sound as much now.  Breaking glass.  We loved to break glass.  Pop bottles, beer bottles, anything glass.  The nuns used to let us throw out the old devotion candles after they burned out.  We’d take them to the old foundations from the smelter behind Father Dan’s workshop and break them on the bricks.  I’ll bet if you go down there you would find a huge pile of glass and wax residue 50 years later.  We were loud.  We hollered at kids that were 3 blocks away.  We were around a lot of noise and we were the cause of a lot of it.  Thinking about the sounds brings back a lot of memories.  Like most things, the sounds are gone, and the memories are fading.  The sound that I miss the most is my mom telling me she loves me.  Hi mom.  I love you.  I’ll try not to argue so much!