Interview with Mr. Clyde Wright, 14 December 1998, at his apartment in Pennsylvania Bidwell High Rise, Manchester, Pittsburgh, PA.; interview conducted, transcribed and edited by Barry Chad.
Transcribed: 17 and 22 December 1998.
Reviewed with Mr. Wright: 21 January 1999.
Entered online: 12 January 1999.
Updated: 25 May 2003.
Q How long have you been here at Bidwell?
A Twenty years.
Q Are you originally from Pittsburgh?
A Yes, Mt. Washington.
Q And you came from Mt. Washington here to Bidwell?
A Yes. I lived up there eighteen years. Prospect School--I went to Prospect School and then over to Junior High: Prospect Elementary--but they had also Junior High in the same building. I stayed in there for a while and when I come out, I [briefly attended South Hills High School]. I started...I was working at Goodwill Industries down on 28th Street. There's one in Lawrenceville on 28th Street. And then I stayed there for nine years...it was about nine years.
Q What did you do there?
A Well, we were making these toys, these robots--like tinker toys. Not "tinker toys" but...plastic. The robots were about this big [indicating about a foot-and-a-half in height] when you finished with them and you had to put those together. I did that and I did tool belts--putting tools in the belts--and we used to do the Mexican jumping beans.... And I was there for a good while. After I left that, I started working at laundries. I only worked at the laundry for...that was after Lawrenceville--Eagle Linen Service...I worked out there for just three months and then they laid me off there. And I worked up on another one up by Brighton Street.... I worked at another laundry...just took somebody's place, that's all.
Q When you worked at the laundries, what did you do?
A I was a towel counter at Eagle Linen Service. That's the one I worked for three months and then I worked at the...can't even think of the name of it, it's been so long. It's a rag laundry and we were sorting rags and I worked there about a week 'cause I took somebody's place that was sick. But after that I come out and I wasn't able to get any other jobs. And to be more to the point: the reason I couldn't get the jobs was my disablement. A lot of them wouldn't take me on for a job because I only had the one hand to use. Then I got on Social Security disability and that's what I'm on now.
Q Have you always been disabled?
A Yes, a birth defect. The doctors they didn't expect me to live this long. I'm 65 now and they said, usually, that somebody in my condition, they're in a wheelchair from nine years old and to the rest of your life and I didn't get in a wheelchair until 1980 and I was 48.
Q How were you getting around when you were in school?
A I was walking. The doctors said that somebody in my condition isn't supposed to be walking around but I went walking around anyplace [but] they wouldn't let me out on the gym floor 'cause I had special shoes and I couldn't change into the gym shoes like they had. So I just sat on the bench and watched the rest of them. But what I wanted to do was learn swimming and they wouldn't let me take swimming 'cause they didn't want me to break this left arm. And I guess they didn't have anybody to teach me with one arm swimming. That's what I wanted to do then and that's still what I want to do. I was never able to make it though.
Q What's life like here at Bidwell?
A Oh it's pretty nice. I have my own apartment. I used to live with my sister in Mt. Washington. And then I lived with my brother in Bellevue. But I'd rather be up on my own. What you want to do or things--you don't have to have somebody to tell you whether they think this is good or something else. And that's what I want. I've been getting along pretty good. Go to church...New Zion Church...23 years.
Q Where's that located?
A It's on the North Side here. I used to sing in the choir [but not anymore]. My legs started going out on me--buckling--and I couldn't go up the steps anymore so I come down from there. Haven't been singing. But I liked it. The choirs would go different places--out of town 'n' 'at. I'd go with them, but I got along alright. We went out to Detroit and then we went to Charleston, West Virginia, and went to Canonsburg, [Pennsylvania], we went to Buffalo, New York.... It's been so long. [I now attend Hillcrest 7th-Day Adventist Church on Wylie Avenue.]
Q Your family still lives here.
A Yes, my family still lives here. I have a sister. And my mother and dad passed. My dad passed in '50 just before Christmas.
Q What did he do for a living?
A He worked down at the Farmers Bank [at Fifth and Wood]. He was a guard. He was down there when the '36 flood.... I was too young to know but I seen the water 'n' 'at. And boats.... He went to work in boats 'n' 'at.
Q So you spent about the first half of your life up on Mt. Washington.
A Almost yes, but the first half I spent in the hospitals.
Q How much time did you spend in the hospitals?
A Up to fifteen years old. I was born in Mt. Washington in the house we were living in on Prospect Street. [Mr. Wright describes a fall suffered by his mother, a month before his birth, which was believed to be the origin of his disability.] When I first realized or noticed anything, [it was in a hospital.] Allegheny General-- I think that was the first one. And then I had seven operations at Allegheny General. Then I went to Shriners' Hospital in Philadelphia and I spent three months, three solid months there. My heel was up--wouldn't touch the floor--and they were trying to fix it so it would go down. They got it down almost all the way but it's still up so I had to wear the special shoes. The regular shoes--my heel would come out of it. So that's why I'm on the special shoes now. I would like the other shoes. Usually, you like something you can't have. There's some nice looking shoes out there, but I can't have them so I have to make myself satisfied.
Q If so much of your life, your early life, was spent in the hospital, how did that shape you, how did that affect you, your growing up?
A I didn't get to do a lot of the things that the kids my age usually do. But I did some things that I wasn't supposed to do. [A broad smile fills Mr. Wright's face.] I used to go down to Dilworth Street Park in Mt. Washington and the kids and I we used to go over the hill and climb down and walk in the woods and it was by a railroad track. And I wasn't supposed to but I did. I climbed...I started climbing and doing things the rest of the kids were doing. They would climb down; I would climb down. So, I managed to do a little...to play baseball...soccer, but I couldn't do a lot of the things--other things that they did--like, I never went in for football. I missed out on a lot of things. But now, it's good that the good Lord let me do what I did--least I was able to get around and walk. I used to walk around Mt. Washington, up to Grandview Avenue, to the show (the Glade Theater up on Boggs Avenue). I used to climb the trees down in Dilworth Park. That I wasn't supposed to do, but I did and never got hurt, never fell...but it's just a different way of doing it than the other kids. But I did the same things: used to smoke cornsilk. Put that in a pipe and smoke it. It was a lot of fun--made you cough a lot though, but doing that and climbing and going different places. There's a place in Mt. Washington in the park. It's down over the hillside. It leads to Saw Mill Run Boulevard and I'd climb down there and play down there and then climb back up--which I was not supposed to. If my mother hadda known, I wouldn't have been doing it anymore. Nobody ever got hurt. There was a lot of things that the doctors figured I wouldn't be able to do, I did. And now--I'm glad I did them 'cause I wouldn't be able to do it now. And I went to therapy and they told me that my legs--the bones--were deteriorating. [But I stopped going to therapy]--I did it as long as my legs worked with me and I was able to do some of it. They said that I couldn't do the rest of it 'cause of deterioration of the bones and it was set so I couldn't do anymore.
Q When you were living up on Mt. Washington, did you ever ride the Incline?
A Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Yeah, I was down on Prospect Street and I went up to Grandview Avenue and road the Mt. Washington Incline. (I went once on the Duquesne Incline.) I liked riding up there, riding on the Mt. Washington Incline down to Carson Street and go into town, take the streetcar and go into town, and I used to go into town, but I didn't know the names of the streets. But anywhere I wanted to go, I knew how to get there. I was thirteen years old when I first started to go into town by myself. I went to the theaters--like the J. P. Harris on Sixth Street; the Loew's Penn which now it's Heinz Hall; the Fulton; the Nixon Theater [where I saw] "Porgy and Bess." Count Basie was at the Loew's Penn. I went down there and seen him…Cab Calloway. I used to go...see all the stage shows, but I don't go much with a wheelchair now. But I always said that if you're gonna go, you might as well go then because later on I probably wouldn't be able to go. I had a good time. I used to go down there a lot and walk around town. Even walked up to--almost to Bloomfield Bridge. Yeah, I got adventurous--went out that far. I didn't go out any farther...but that's far enough. Then I'd go to the restaurants, eat out; and that's what I enjoyed, eating out. But now, the places that I went to, a lot of them have moved or a lot of them have changed and they tore down some of the places. To me it was having fun. I guess to somebody else it probably wouldn't be because they was able to do it. But to me, everything--when I found out I was able to do things, it gave pride to be able to accomplish things that people didn't think you'd be able to do. I road the streetcars a lot. It was good just to be able to get out.
Q How many brothers and sisters did you have?
A There was three: my brother is the oldest, my sister and me. My sister lives in Wilkinsburg. Most of my nieces and nephews, they're in Florida. I don't get to see them--I talk to them. I only have one niece that's living in Pittsburgh.
Q What do you think of Pittsburgh?
A It's pretty nice. I like it. From the time I was growing up 'n' 'at it's changed a lot because the steel mills were here. We had that cloud when they fired up the furnaces. It was foggy a lot. But now, since they moved out, it's clear. Still miss it.
Q What keeps you busy?
A I just went to computer class [with Charles Wilkerson] in the office at 213. Passed--which I didn't think I was going to, but I did, and it was a lot of fun. I learned the basics. I had never operated on a computer before so I had to learn the basics--of how to turn it on and bring up your program that you wanted and what you were working on. It's a ten week course. I enjoyed it. And also [I'm] on the Board of Directors at Bidwell Council.
Q How long have you been on the Board?
A About five years.
Q What does that involve?
A It involves the activity of the building, Bidwell Hi-Rise: they have dinners and different programs so that gets me out some. Each floor person, when they have some activity, they distribute the flyers to the apartments. Also, I used to play bingo. They have it down here in the building Monday nights and Friday nights. They start at six and sometimes it goes till ten, especially on Friday nights--depending on the amount of people and if they want to stay longer. Doesn't have a certain time to quit. But it's a lot of fun.
Q How did you come to be on the Board?
A I used to go down to the Council meetings and I didn't enjoy it too much, but then I started participating [in arranging activities], and from that evolved getting on the Board. They were looking for some people so they could have a Council Board and I was liked a lot so...got on there and tried to help out some.
Q After all you've been through, how would you sum up your attitude towards life?
A After everything that I've been through, you relax yourself and don't get upset about things. I should--but I don't. Things I should get upset about, I don't. Just let it go. Life is too precious to be arguing all the time--me, I just take it easy. I'm easy-going so.... That's the way I get along.