The Church Hill Gang
The Church Hill Gang, is the self-appointed title I have given to my clique of friends that I had while growing up. This page will be updated with short stories as I recall the adventures and pen them down. I ask you to come back often to read these stories.
Story#1 – What’s Behind A Name?
I used to joke with people when they would ask where I grew up. I would say that I grew up in a town smaller than Bethlehem. Then I would snicker and laugh, then I would say Era, that is where I grew up. Then of course, I would always get a blank stare and a “huh”? It sounds so weird to say, Era, it is pronounced with a long “e” then a “ra”, Ra, like the Egyptian sun God. The town of Era, is situated off of St Rt 62 in Ohio, 3 miles north of Mt. Sterling, About 30 miles southwest of the capital, Columbus. Its only road follows and lays parallel to a northern tributary of Deercreek Lake, until the road crosses the creek near the Pleasant cemetery. Our town had no stop signs, had no stop lights, and it was only about 3/8 of a mile long, it was very small. When asked to describe this town, I would tell folks that It’s that little town near Mt. Sterling where God is outnumbered 2 to 1; I used to say that because in a small village of 200 people or so we had 2 bars and only 1 church.
The little church is where the name Church Hill comes from. My best friend growing up, Chip Mack lived next door to the Holiness Church, we spent many days building bicycle ramps in his yard, racing our bikes around his yard, building tree houses and forts near the back of his families property, and conquering Church Hill; we practically lived over that hill. Church Hill was very imposing, even to the adults in town. It was extraordinarily steep, and over 400 feet long, with a big bump at the bottom of it. In the town, if someone got a new bike, or motor cycle, or even cars and trucks, the question on the end of everyone’s tongue was, “well, can it climb Church Hill”? Yes, I did say cars, there had been many cars try it, but only a few modified ones could climb the hill all the way to the top. Lets see, there was a Volkswagen Beetle with truck tires on it that made it to the top. A Chevrolet Chevette with truck tires on it that made it up. There was a Mazda 626, a Le Car, K5 Blazers, and various pick up trucks, that made it up, eventually all would make it up, because if it failed, we would alter the vehicles until they would. The Mazda, and the Le Car had the most trouble. You had to tactfully climb the hill because of the big bump at the bottom. If you negotiated it wrong, it would throw you from your motorcycle or slam your head into the roof of what ever unlucky car or truck you were in. We had foot races up the hill, dry and wet. In a way, it was the standard by which things were measured for the youth of Era. We would race anything up and down that hill.
Story #2 – How you miss the days when…
The first time I ever went over the crest of Church Hill I was five years old. The spring after my fifth birthday, I had snuck out of my house when my mother had went to the bathroom. Usually, Mom only had two rules: you don’t leave the house unless she knew you were leaving, and when you’re out playing, if you hear me yell for you, you had better come running home! I had a plan that normally worked well. I would wait for mom to use the bathroom, and as soon as the lock would make its latching noise, out the door I went! Now, to remedy the part where she said “if you can hear me yell for you, you better come running home” I would always run or ride my bike fast about a city blocks distance every time I snuck out. You see, if I was out of earshot when she came looking for me, I could always claim I couldn’t hear her, and normally I would only get in trouble for sneaking out, not both.
I rode up the road toward Chip’s house quickly. I looked in his yard and didn’t see anyone. I then rode around town for a short bit searching for someone to play with. I rode into the trailer park, no one was outside there either. Then, back out onto the main drag, I rode toward my cousin Benji’s house at the bottom of the alley. Nope, no one outside at his house either. You will notice I didn’t knock on anyone’s door to see if they were home. When I was young I was fairly shy, and I wouldn’t knock on anyone’s door. Friends had to be out already for me to play with them. It had rained earlier that morning, so I figured no one was out playing. When I rode away from Benji’s, I headed up past Chip’s one last time, then I was going to ride home if I didn’t see anyone. As I came up the street, I seen heads bobbing around just over Church Hill. It was Benji and Chip, with their bicycles riding short distances around the crest of the hill. So I rolled into Chip’s mom and dad’s driveway and headed for the hill. I slammed on my rear brakes and slid sideways at the top of the hill, like all the older “cool” kids did. Chip was four years older than me and Benji was five years older than me.
When they seen me they immediately began trying to coax me into riding down the rain-soaked and very muddy hill. The hill was menacing enough dry, let alone muddy. I was not thrilled about riding down the hill, I quickly changed the subject. (I don’t recall riding down Church Hill until a couple of years later.) So, as the old saying goes, “boys will be boys”. After they couldn’t get me to ride down, they coaxed me into walking down, which was really hard for a five-year old. What I was unaware of, my mom had been on the rampage looking for me, she had one of her favorite weapons of choice, a switch off a rose-bush from our yard. Meanwhile, over the hill I was playing and didn’t have a care in the world. That is until I realized I had to use the bathroom. Not just an easy number 1, I had to go number 2. Let me stop here just to say “hindsight” is definitely 20/20. Now, looking back, what I should have done was get on my bike and ride home. However, I had runaway from there and when I got back there there was an ass whoopin with my name written all over it. I knew mom was gonna whip me like a runaway slave. So, naturally I didn’t want to ride my bike home. That would have been the end of playing and an ass whoopin.
So I tell Chip and Benji that I have to go, nature calls (thinking they would tell me to go up to Chip’s house and use the bathroom) they told me to go “camp style” just go over there in those broad green leafy plants and drop your pants and go. I was defiant, I said to them, there is nothing to wipe with! Then Chip says, “that’s why we said to go in the leafy plants, just pick a few of them and use them for toilet paper”. So I went about forty-five feet from them, right in the middle of the plants. I went to use the bathroom and as soon as my pants hit my ankles I could hear mom screaming bloody murder, yellin my name. I also hadn’t noticed Chip and Benji slip away to make mud balls to throw at me. Let me flesh out the scene for you. Here come Benji and Chip at me with fresh mud balls to throw at me with extreme prejudice. Mom has just made her way walking into Chips yard, and remember, she’s on the warpath. My bare ass is hangin out for all to see. So I panic! I grab a huge handful of the green plants leaves and go to wipe just as the mud balls begin pelting me, I turn and try to run and can’t, my pants are still around my ankles, I fall a few times trying to run away, I try to succeed at wiping my butt as I’m running for the top of the hill. Much to my surprise Chip and Benji had steered me toward a poisonous plant (nettles) to use as toilet paper. So, I’m itching all over my hands, ankles, legs and yes on my rear end. I have been hit by at least six mud balls, and when I get to the top of the hill, I’m met with a rose switch attached to an angry mother! Mom whipped me all the way back home, while I pushed my bike because I couldn’t sit on the seat. I had nettles, mud, and switch marks all over my body. Needless to say it was one of the most memorable trips over Church Hill, and the trips had only just begun.
The human mind amazes me. It is absolutely uncanny the way it can recall certain scenes from your childhood and immediately transport you to that time and place. The emotions all come rushing back in a tsunami of loss of innocence, sadness, happiness, yearning for simpler times, missing your friends and so on.
You end up feeling such a connection with the land where you spent your childhood, it’s almost as if you have become one with that patch of earth. It is a spiritual feeling, like the Native Americans taught, a oneness with the land.
(This story dedicated to the memory of one of Era’s finest and a fellow member of the Church Hill Gang John W. Vulgamore Jr. “Johnny” or “Joggy” November 24, 1970 – July 24, 2012) You will be sorely missed, you were a brother and a friend to us all.
Story #3 – Fourth of July Hi Jinks 1989
Story #4 – School Bus Yellow Colored Eyes
Bicycles were our life blood in Era. They were our freedom, our money, trading stock, they were what separated the classes.
I remember one in particular. It was I believe a Huffy and it had a springer front fork on it. It also had a short little squared off banana seat on it. It was competition yellow. The amazing thing about this bike was it’s uncanny ability to ride on one tire almost everywhere it went.
The bike belonged to Chips older brother Les Mack. Les could ride wheelies for what seemed like miles! He was the standard bearer when it came to wheelies. No one could ride one longer. At first glance, it seemed the design of the bicycle held the secret to an exceptionally long wheelie. However, it didn’t much matter what he rode, bikes, motorcycles – the result was always the same.
This inspired all in town that owned a two wheeled terror to attempt to ride wheelies. We lived on our bikes.
We were out riding one day and Chip decided he wanted to work on his bike a little. So we swung into his garage/barn. I decided to help. We were tinkering with it, as it seemed we always were, as we were working on it Chip began searching for some spray paint. He had decided to change the color of his bike to something, we just didn’t know to what yet.
As he searched, he would find a color, and it would be almost empty. He found a red, almost empty. He found a chrome color, almost empty. Then, he stumbled upon “bright school bus yellow”. It wasn’t competition yellow but it would do. Also, it was more full than the rest of the cans of paint.
Like anything, you could always tell how long a job took us by the quality we put into it. If we were in a hurry, the job would be a little shoddy. If it was slow and methodical it would be very nice. This is where taping off a painting project comes in. We were in a hurry to get Chip’s bike under a new coat of paint, we didn’t tape nothing off. We hung his bike from the rafters in the garage/barn to paint it. Chip began spraying and had about 80% of it covered in the bright school bus yellow. It was covering pretty well until…… psst– psst– the can was beginning to run out. So here we were no more really sweet yellow paint and a bicycle that was 80% finished. Chip shook the can, it seemed like it had more paint in it, but it was running out of propellant. He approached the vise on the workbench. He found a nail and placed it in the vice, pointy side up, and slammed the side of the can near the bottom onto the nail. As the can hit the nail it slipped slightly from Chip’s hand and turned. It turned and sprayed his eyes and face full of yellow spray paint. He was officially blind! I looked on in horror, I was 7 years old, I had never seen anybody paint their eyes with a spray can. I told him to stay there and I would go and get his dad. He was trying to make his way out of the garage stumbling everywhere and bouncing into stuff. His father Roy came out to see what all the commotion was about, and here’s Chip with a bright school bus yellow face and eyes. He immediately took him over to the pump house and turned the hose on him to flush his eyes out. He was not thrilled. Playtime was over for a few hours that day.