Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

In the City of Change


Just thinking where I was 50 years ago. Lois and I lived in University City in Philadelphia then. She worked at the University of Pennsylvania in the Chemistry Department and for a while I was just a free lance writer, before going to work at a publishing company. We spent a lot of nights in the coffee houses prevalent then or hanging about Rittenhouse Square into the wee hours with a group of friends, all aspiring to the arts as writers, poets, songwriters, actors and artists. We wore clothes we bought in Hippie Stores and
hung about with the street people. I began writing regularly for a local arts paper and for a publisher of horror stories. I wrote this poem in 2004 and it was quickly published. I am just looking back now at that time and it is hard to believe it was 50 years ago. But everything changes...

IN THE CITY OF CHANGE
by Larry Eugene Meredith





Literature of life was learned on trains.
Poetry to the beat of the rail seam,
In the trickle of rain,
The rising steam rhythms from summer heat;
Crackles of ice off long cold station gutters under strains
From winter snow piled deep upon the roof.
These teaching me all the beauty and pain nature sows
From which reap pleasure and vice.


In my life of change
in a time of change,
The streets were colorful as flowers bloomed.

Posters swirled and glowed while 
New music boomed with meaning,
with cause.

Cool, yet laced with care;
Accepting all the people in full rage
Against the bloody pool of war and hate.

And I struggled to paint upon the page
each hero 
And each fool
I met while there.


In the park in the dark
passing shadows change
with each changing hour and all seasons.

In Salvation Army store dress,
With Stocking runs;
Bell-bottom denim and
Pea Jacket dour. 
Came men who love men;
Druggies on their prowls;
Hippie girls with flowers in their tresses.

Poets and writers and actors;
All pals adding to the bowers
where my words grew.
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Changes came into the city of change.
The nightlife shifted streets.
Head shops went dark.
Psychedelic posters dimmed to new art.

As Hippies came from Beats, they went to Goths.

Rittenhouse square is where now old men range.
They occupy the seats and sing no songs.
So though I trod old walks and find them strange,
Memory’s Glow entreats their tales like moths

That I attempt to change back to butterflies.
2004

 (All photographs by the author)


 Prints: Celebrating 20 Years of Continuous Poetry in Wilmington, Delaware


Edited by e. jean lanyon (Poet Laureate Emeritus of Delaware 1979-2001)
Beverly Andrus
Steven Leech
and Joe Allen
2nd Saturday Poets
University of Delaware Press
Wilmington, Delaware

June 2004







Urban Undulations
Poetry by Larry Eugene Meredith
Wilmington, Delaware
2004



Saturday, December 22, 2018

CHILD OF SNOW

An introduction to this tale: I stated before that I have always loved Christmas and gotten great joy from it, but never been able to write joyful Christmas stories. This one started life as a typical "Miracle of Christmas" story full of magic as a snowboy was brought to life on Christmas Day. I originally wrote it back in the early 1960's, but was never happy with it. It seemed too full of clich├ęs, so I chucked it aside. Then I got an opportunity to publish something in 2001. I pulled it out and reworked it, but somewhere the stories took a left turn into dark places.

I lived most my boyhood in Downingtown, which is where I set this piece, out along Lancaster Avenue, also known as Route 30 or the Lincoln Highway. Many times I ate at the Exton Diner, as some of my teenage friends might recall. The matter of the witches is based on true events. What happened to the character of Warren actually happened to me as a young boy. There were supposed witches living about Downingtown in those days, one an old hag up in the woods as described in the story, one some where near the waterworks and the one in this story who effected Warren. I had warts on my hand as a boy, and one day sitting with Iva on her porch, which she may or may not remember, along came this woman rumored to be a witch. What happened next is exactly as told in this tale. My warts went away and never came back. But was my psoriasis a curse from the witch?

Anyway, have a storm and watch free Merry Christmas!




The southern high moved toward the northeast low meeting it a tick from moonset. They pushed at each other and stalled over the county.


Rusty Kramer sipped coffee while filling the tank at the only open gas station. It wasn’t yet dawn. The air was still. Rusty hitched up the hose and secured the cap. He slid onto the seat and snapped the AM to the all-news jabber; weather updates and school closing lists. His scanner crackled intermittent messages, all early-morning innocuous and non-urgent and dispatchers making small talk. The road was wet from the weekend’s melting powder. The day began in deception.

He made a quick round through the west side. There was little activity. The school was dark. Out along 322 a dump truck loaded with salt idled along the sand pile. Men in insulated clothing clustered nearby drinking their own morning brews, talking about old storms that had rumbled through. He stopped next to the crew chief.

“Hey, Roy, got’ch woolies on?”

“Two layers” the crew chief removed his hat and wiped sweat from his forehead. “Maybe it’ll go north.”

“I wouldn’t make book on it.”

“Nope,” the crew chief moved back toward his men, “too blasted early for winter. Ain’t even mid-December. Ill omen.”

Rusty nodded and drove off. Turning east, he circled around to the Lincoln Highway. The night sky had changed to day sky without a noticeable difference. The clouds thickened to a solid gray drape. Everyone’s headlights stayed lit. 

There wasn’t traffic on the highway, although a steady rumble of trucks moving west continued unabated. Most these robust vehicles turned onto the bypass two miles above town limits. Rusty went straight, taking the business route into Downingtown, what was called Lancaster Avenue.

Among the first houses was the Hildebrand’s tidy white colonial, lit with Christmas trim. Warren and Lily were patching spoilage that the thaw did to their child of snow. Rusty flipped on the flashers and pulled alongside the opposite curb. He ran down his window.

“Hey Warren, Lily.”

Lily looked and waved. Her gloves were too large and the fingers waggled empty. She went back to patting down the snow boy while Warren limped across the yard to the wrought iron fence. The man grasped the top rails with two red-raw bare hands, the fingers large in the knuckles and the indexes unable to bend. The weather played havoc with the arthritic. Rusty felt twinges around his big toes, an ominous reminded of the seasonal gout that sometimes hit him.

“You wait a bit, Warren, the day’ll take care of the boy for ya.”

“Jest doin’ some patch work. Lily’s been hopin’ this ‘un’d last the holidays. She feared the Saturday snow was too early; built ‘im anyways.”

“Well, tell her to stop worryin’, Warren. From reports I’ve heard all morn, snow ain’t goin’ be a problem.”

Warren looked up, scanned the sky. “Feels a might warm.”

“You don’t look any too warm.”

Warren laughed and held up his red hands. “Lily couldn’t find her mittens. I gave her my gloves.” He leaned across the fence, lowering his voice. “She gets a mite forgetful anymore.” He winked.

Lily didn’t look up from her smoothing, “There’s nothing wrong with my hearing though, you ol’ coot.”

Both men laughed. Rusty went sober first. “Listen, you be okay? You got enough food in?”

“You think it’s gonna be a real bluster, eh?”

“Yeah, I gotta hunch this is one of those storms of the decade.”

“Awful early.”

“Still.”

“Well, we jest loaded up on groceries yesterday. I reckon we’d get through from Christmas to Groundhog Day before we’d starve. Ain’t big eaters.”

“Okay, Warren, but if I was you I’d stack up a bunch of blankets and get some flashlights handy?”

“I got about three hurricane lamps down the cellar I’ll bring up.” Warren saw Rusty raise an eyebrow. “Oh don’tcha go worryin’ none. These ain’t oil lanterns. All battery charged. Got extra cells, too. We’ll be okay come hell or high water.”

“Well, if hell comes it’s gonna be froze over. Look Warren, I’ll check by a couple times jest to see to you.”

“’'Preciate it, Rusty, but we’ll be fine.”

“An’ don’t go out to tend the boy if this thing hits. Let it blow out first.”

“Yep,” Warren stepped back and touched a crooked finger to his hat brim.

Rusty rolled up his window and sped over to the right lane, killed his flashers and headed through Downingtown proper.

Nice people. Little crazy. You’d think after so many years they’d give up on the whole idea. 

That snow boy had graced their yard as long as he could remember and he had plenty years to remember anymore. He’d grown up just around the corner from the Hildebrand’s. Anybody grew up nearby knew them.

They never had children of their own, thus they fawned over every kid in the neighborhood. They didn’t give out treats on Halloween. They threw a feast of candy, ice cream, cakes and cider. They had little gifts for neighborhood kids every Christmas, chocolate bunnies each Easter and little bags of hard cinnamon hearts on Valentine’s Day.

 Rusty sighed. Why do they cling to that witchcraft stuff? They must be pushing eighty, well past Lily’s childbearing years. That witch’s spell wasn’t too likely to happen now, if it ever was. Which it wasn’t.

Rusty zipped through town where storeowners prepared for non-business. Some were hanging closed signs on the door. Others were crisscrossing masking tape across display windows to cut down on shattering if blizzard winds hit. The street was empty both sides, whatever cars might have been parked at the meters overnight were moved elsewhere clearing the path for snowplows.
He cut through the high woods northwest of town. These hills remained untouched and undeveloped, for how many more years he didn’t know. Downingtown had changed a lot since his boyhood. He made a U-turn and headed back. His mind turned to the witch. Use to be a witch lived in a clapboard shack in those woods. Use to be she would pass through town now and again. Usually about the time of the town fair or when the circus played down on the empty lot next to Kerr Park. She died decades gone by. The shack had tumbled down in the last hurricane that got this far inland and the planks had rotten away into the soil.

Might have been this same witch put the idea in their heads so long ago, caring for a child of snow could result in a barren woman having a real baby. By now they should see this spell for the hustle it was.


The first flakes were beginning to fall and the temperature dropped to the Frigid Zone. Rusty clicked his heater up a notch. He circled back to the Hildebrand’s. The yard was empty except for the child of snow now restored to some semblance of a little boy. Fresh black button eyes sparkled with an eerie echo of life reflecting the blinking Christmas lights. A new baseball cap was upon its head.

Maybe as a child he’d believed in magic, but he had grown up and seen too much reality. What a cruel hoax to give this old couple such a hopeless hope; a shame considering the love they would have lavished on a real child if they so faithfully lavished such care on a snow boy for fifty years, building anew each winter, praying for early and lasting snows and waiting through the dry years when nothing fell.

A rumble in his belly knocked the thoughts out of his head. It was past noon and a long patch since he’d eaten anything but coffee.

He turned north on the Pottstown Pike. The ground patches in the fields had disappeared again and wispy white snakes wiggled across the highway. Drifts were edging onto the lanes from the shoulders. A gray veil had fallen about him. Through the haze he saw the neon sign in the window of Willie & Ruth’s Truck Stop blinking a warm OPEN. He pulled into the lot between two idling semis and hustled into the diner. Ruth greeted him with a fresh cup of coffee when he sat at the counter.

“Glad your open,” he said.

“We never close, you knowed that. 24/7. ‘Cept Christmas Day. Somebody got to look after these truckers.”

He ordered up and she came back shortly with a sandwich and fries. She sat the plate before him along with a bottle of ketchup. “Gettin’ bad?”

“Pickin’ up.” They both paused in silence, listening to the wind whomping against the front windows. “Startin’ to lay on the roads pretty quick now.”

“Expected it. Tol’ the regular staff to stay home. Jest me and Kate here. We can handle it. Ain’t gonna be much business today.” She looked down the length of the diner. Rusty followed her gaze. No one else was there except two burly men in a far booth. “Been a long day already. Mind if I join you?”

“Not a-tall.”

Ruth poured herself a cup of coffee, grabbed a slice of pie and came around the counter to take a stool beside him. They sat eating for a bit.

“You look lost in thought, Rusty. What’cha thinkin’ ‘bout?

“Hildebrands. You know ‘em?”

“Sure. I grew up with Warren. Lived in the house next door. Didn’t know that, didja?”

“Nope.”

“Me and Warren’s the same age.” She laughed. “I’m a pretty old bag.”

“Don’t look it.”

“Use’ta have a crush on Warren. Dated some in high school. But he always had eyes for Lily.” She frowned. “Foolish people.”

“Rekkon. Why do you suppose they believe in that stuff?”

“Why, don’t you believe in witches, Rusty?”

“Been a long time since I’ve seen any witches around the county.”

“Don’t mean they all went away. You see any butterflies around Downingtown or Red-Winged Blackbirds out along the swamps of Glenloch or White Tail Deer up on Harmony Hill anymore? That mean you don’t believe in the existence of butterflies or blackbirds or deer?”

“Didn’t say that exactly. I’ve seen witches in my youth, jest don’t hold with them havin’ powers.”

“Warren seen a witch, but he knowed a witch’s power in his youth as well. You know Warren got arthritis?”

“He’s an old man. I got a touch myself.’

“Me too, Rusty, but Warren started cripplin’ up with his while still a teen. Think he’d of learned right then witches is bad business.”

“What’s witches got to do with it?”

“You remember that crone lived up in the woods out along Horseshoe Pike, up in the trees all alone.”

“Jest went by there today. She’s been dead awhile. I remember she used to come downtown once a time.”

“It was one of those times when she passed though from someplace to somewhere, beggin’ at back doors up and down our street. Warren was sittin’ on my front porch and saw her starin’ at him. He saw where she gazed and folded his hands in his lap, ‘shamed of the ugly warts runnin’ down his finger and thumb. Some doctor had proscribed a fowl smellin’ salve what wrinkled up your nose, but it did nothin’ to unwrinkle his warts. Anyways, she comes up to him bold as can be and takes his hand right from his lap. She was an imposin’ woman, big, with short-cropped hair under a faded orange bandanna. She wore a long full skirt over petticoats and a puffy white blouse. Large bracelets slid up and down her arm when she moved, tinklin’ together with a bell-clear ring and twinklin’ in the afternoon sun, castin’ a’ half-moon of golden light across our faces. I still sees her plain as your face.

“’You like to be rid of these?’ she asked him.

“He shook his head rapid-like, fearful what she’d say next. Prob’bly had visions of buryin’ dead toads in midnight cemeteries, but all she said was, ‘come back here Thursday evenin’. After dark.’

“She dropped his hand and left.

“He came back to my place on Thursday, wonderin’ what was the significance of that night and we waited on the stoop as the sun set and a full moon rose, bathin’ us in white. A shadow crossed the glow and she was standin’ there reachin’ for his hand.

“’You ain’t gonna prick me,’ he asked.

“She held his warty hand up in the moonlight and began runnin’ her thumbs over the bulges.

“’Done,’ she said, droppin’ his hand. ‘I take warts with me now. Never come back.’

“He looked at his hand and the warts were still there.

“She smiled. ‘Hope may be all you ever have,’ she said and walked away.

“Next day, Warren woke up and the warts were gone, gone fer good. But five years after, the arthritis starts. And the first twinges began you-know-where.”

Rusty chuckled. “You know Ruth, I never can tell when you’re pullin’ my leg.”

“I ain’t pullin’ your nothin’ this time, Rusty. Where you think they got this snow boy nonsense? Truth be, Lily’s a barren woman...or maybe it’s him, but she ain’t goin’ to have a child anymore, not at her age. Jest don’t happen.”

“Happened with Abraham’s wife, now didn’t it. Sarah was an old barren woman who bore a boy.”

“Glad you know yer Bible, Rusty, but that was faith in God weren’t it? Not a witch. Ain’t no good gonna come of it, but ol’ Warren ‘membered that witch and those warts and he sought it out. Only thing he forgot was the arthritis.”

Rusty pushed off the stool. “Better git on back out there. What’s the tab?”

“On the house, Hon. You jest keep safe, be payment enough, okay?”

“Gotta deal.”


The storm was as bad as any Rusty had known. Even the big rigs were gone from the highway. The wind was tearing off roofs in the Glenloch area, drifting shut the back roads, ripping down wires to plunge half the county into darkness and chill. Fools who ventured out were getting trapped in snow banks or hitting fallen tree branches the size of Yule logs. Seemed there was always somebody who just had to go to somewhere they couldn’t get. 

Running fast and furious between calls, Rusty only passed by the Hildebrand’s once at the storm’s afternoon height and caught a fleeting glance of the couple watching the blow through the living room window, outlined by the soft glow of lamplight. He was glad the power had held up in this end of town. The wind was rattling the trees and had already snatched away the cap from the snow boy’s head carrying it to a neighbor’s yard.


Rusty swung back through Downingtown once more late in the afternoon; weary and half-blind from the continuous swirl of snow and sleet bouncing across his windshield like white bee bees. The patrol car fishtailed at every curve. It was time he took shelter himself. He came across the town line, snapped his spot on and aimed it across the Hildebrand yard. He blinked and pulled across the lanes and stopped.

He stared, heart pinging behind his badge. He sat a long moment before he lifted the radio mike from its cradle.

“You think you can get an ambulance out to 121 East Lancaster?”

“Accident?” The radio faded in and out.

“Death,” he said as level as he could. “Lily Hildebrand.”

“You sure,” asked the dispatcher.

“Yes.” He clicked off.

He placed the mike in its cradle and raised his eyes from the snow woman that had been built next to the tumbled remains of the child of snow to the solitary figure of Warren Hildebrand behind the front room window. 


The old man looked back at him with hopeful eyes and waved a gloved hand.

Published in "Creative Writers" 
2001
Barnes & Noble,
Wilmington, Delaware
Joe Pokatsch, editor
Copyright by Larry E. Meredith, 2001