Growing up, I learned that Mt. Lebanon was a magical place. I lived in Robinson Township, west of Pittsburgh, near the airport. Back then, we didn’t have much to do there—just general 1970s stuff. We would go to the township pool. We’d listen to our Donny Osmond records (don’t judge). We would catch fireflies. We would ice skate on Lake Steuben when it was cold enough. (More on that later.) The first I heard about Mt. Lebanon was that it had two things we didn’t: an ice rink and pediatricians.
The latter was the reason I came here as a little girl, to see Dr. Arthur Harmuth (an odd name for a pediatrician, don’t you think?) I loved him because he was a comforting soul when I was sick and because he helped me win an argument with my mother. Mom often bought and sold old urban legends. She wouldn’t let me catch a chill because, as everyone in the ’70s knew, the cold makes you sick. That would be tolerable if we lived in Miami Beach, but here in Pittsburgh, it gets cold and damp a lot.
I insisted to my mom that it didn’t sound possible. If the cold caused people to be sick, everyone in Alaska would be in the hospital. She said we should let the doctor settle it. At my next checkup, the question was barely out of my mouth when Dr. Harmuth said “You can’t get sick from being cold. The Army proved that.” I hadn’t known he was a veteran (he was in the U.S. Army Air Corps), but he explained how they did a test where they took people who weren’t sick and threw them from boats into icy water. I then lost focus in the conversation because I didn’t know the Army had boats and how did they know they weren’t incubating something?… But to the point, no one got sick. It then followed that germs make you sick. Mom had her revenge though, when I was 8 and came down with what looked to her like the measles. She tossed one of my dad’s wool Army blankets over my head, put me in the back seat of the car and drove me to Dr. Harmuth’s. In June. On my birthday. It was 90 degrees. I should have asked if the heat makes you sick, because I did indeed have measles and my mom learned that another of her myths was busted: Sunlight doesn’t make measles patients blind.
I spent my eighth birthday week in bed, watching Lost in Space and playing with my Magic 8 Ball. But I had won the information war. And now that I was allowed to catch a chill, we started coming here for the ice rink, too. I may have had to wear an extra hat, though. You know you lose the most heat from your head…