Not long ago, someone asked me to name my favorite place that I’ve ever visited and my brain immediately locked onto faraway places like Dublin, Paris, and Hong Kong.
However, over the past couple weeks, childhood memories have nudged a locale far closer and far less exotic into mind.
Sure, if anyone wants to hook Paloma and me up with round-trip tickets to Dublin, Paris, or Hong Kong, those tickets will be used, but – at this moment, here in the midst of summer – the place I think I’d most like to spend some time is a small cabin, nestled in the Allegheny Mountains in Upper Turkeyfoot Township.
Growing up, most summers would include two weeks spent in Western Pennsylvania, visiting relatives – a trek that lost appeal mere hours after arriving.
However, most summers, as much as a week of that time would be spent at the cabin belonging to a great aunt and uncle. It had been passed down to my aunt from her father who had purchased the rustic outpost not long after World War II.
It was place that was strictly a getaway where my father, his brother, and other relatives had often headed for some hunting during the winter months. Though hardly luxurious, it had considerable charm.
Provisions would be purchased at a small gas station that had a general store in a speck of a town nearby and the stocks would be replenished by periodic return trips.
The cabin was situated near several others on a dirt road that ran parallel to Laurel Hill Creek and up to a state road which passed over a small dam. Other, similar dwellings were spread throughout the area, usually clustered in threes and fours with some larger, more posh getaways sitting alone.
The days would be sunny with highs in the upper 70s or low 80s and little humidity – nothing but pure sunshine that warmed the spirit. My brother and I would head down the stone steps to the creek – which was no more than thirty yards from the cabin – and wade about in the water or fish from a perch on the rocks.
Oftentimes, the two of us would head out with our father and uncle and take a rowboat kept near the dam to do some fishing in the late afternoon or merely to explore the numerous channels.
In the evening, as dusk arrived and dinner digested, the family would sit on the screened-in back porch and the adults would talk or the radio would be tuned in to KDKA and to a Pittsburgh Pirates game.
If it was late enough in the summer, there might be a Steelers preseason game we’d watch through the snowy reception on the television.
When everyone would finally retire for the night, my brother and I would sack out on the couches on the back porch. I’d lie there in the cool, mountain air and stare out through the screen at the stars with the sound of the creek lulling me to sleep.
The last summer that we made the trip to the cabin was in ’82. I was headed to high school that autumn and my brother would do the same a year later. It became more difficult to coordinate schedules to make annual trips back east.
Here are four songs that I remember hearing while scrolling through the radio dial at the cabin during the late summer of ’82…
Asia – Only Time Will Tell
Asia’s debut had been in my cassette player for most of the summer of ’82. By the time we made the journey to the mountains that year, Heat Of The Moment had given way to the album’s second single, Only Time Will Tell.
As much as I dug each and every track on Asia, from the first listen, Only Time Will Tell was the song I wanted to play repeatedly.
It was grand, majestic and an epic musical melodrama.
Or, it was overwrought, flaccid and a total sell-out for the band’s storied personnel.
I was fourteen, so it was the former.
John Cougar – Jack & Diane
from American Fool
Johnny Hoosier, as my friends and I called him, had gone from local, Indiana singer to the man with one of the summer’s biggest hits with Hurts So Good.
But I’d only heard Jack & Diane a few times on the radio before we headed out on vacation.
Two weeks later, when we returned home, I was hearing the song a half-dozen times or more a day.
Frank Zappa – Valley Girl
from Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch
I haven’t listened to a lot of Frank Zappa’s music, but I have encountered a few memorable characters that were insane for his work.
I thought that Valley Girl was fun, but the culture, trappings, and slang mocked in the song didn’t really take in the corner of the American midwest where I was growing up.
In fact, it seemed like the song was everywhere for a few days and then the stations I was listening to never played it again. It was as though it had never happened.
Journey – Only Solutions
from Tron soundtrack
As summer ended in ’82, Journey’s Escape had spent a year as one of the best-selling albums in the US. I actually remember hearing Who’s Crying Now for the first time on the drive home on our vacation the previous year.
During that year, there were the big hits – Don’t Stop Believin’, Open Arms, Still They Ride – but I heard almost every track from Escape on the radio at one time or another. They could have put out anything and it would have gotten played.
So, I suppose it wasn’t surprising that stations would jump on Only Solutions, a song that the band contributed to the soundtrack to the movie Tron. The flick was cutting edge at the time, but, for all the hype, it was a bit of a flop. I didn’t see it when it was in the theater and I don’t recall any of my friends seeing it either.
But I liked Only Solutions. Though it wasn’t quite as good as the best stuff from Escape, it was new stuff from Journey and that was good enough for me.