What I Learned From Getting Hit
by Regis Boff
The Football Fields of Pittsburgh
Every summer in the sixties, fat dump trucks would appear with fresh young dirt to heave onto the cement floor of our football field at South Hills High School. The caravan of heavy loaders would struggle up a ramp and through a special gate that was theirs alone. The trucks were trailed by men who leveled it with rakes. What they dreamed of I don’t know but I would guess it was a job in the Steel mill. We all did.
Locals would plant themselves outside the cyclone fencing on concrete stands seamlessly joined directly to our field like giant cement Legos. The neighborhood residents, eager to break their summertime boredom used this event to bridge their lives until the after-school fist fights at the sandwich shop started up again.
The testy summer schoolers, roasting like dull birds in the classrooms, would wave from the windows and breathe in the dust. They knew a good thing.
Two weeks before football practice began in August, oil trucks would spray the field to dampen the dust. It would glisten and was still black when the first cleats stepped on the field. Even today the smell of petroleum can ferry me back to those days.
There hadn’t been a water break at our school since 1952. Water was a sign of weakness and a sure indicator of sterility. We would have been called homosexuals if we drank, but that idea hadn’t reached Pittsburgh yet.
We were routinely urged to down salt tablets. They were pink, small and fabulous. These equipped us for rampant pill popping that was to arrive in the seventies.
As the winter months loomed, mountains of dirty salt crystals were dumped at the crest of every hill in my hometown to be spread by our fathers in the case of treacherous ice. In the morning, we would fill our pockets and eat it all day as a treat.
We were hit with long wooden paddles if we got D’s, or E’s on our report cards. Two swats for an E, one for a D. They hurt and scared me. I saw a black kid who I feared break down and cry. Until college, I was subject to getting hit. When I was very little the wait was as bad as the act. Oddly, I try to get bad things over quickly as an adult. I do not hesitate to confront the inevitable. I think that was all I learned by getting hit.