Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

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

-- Larry E.
Time II

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Back in Town

To recap: When The Kid was born a war started. Not over him, he's a peaceful sort of fellow. His dad served in the South Pacific. When he came home after the fighting, he took a job driving a milk tank truck and the place gave him a rent-free house to live in. It was in a swamp in the country and The Kid lived in isolation for two years, from halfway in First to halfway in Third Grade. At this point his dad left that company for another long-distant trucker and hauled sugar one way and steel the other. Would you believe it, that milk hauling company took the house away. The Kid and his parents moved back into town with his maternal grandparents.

They lived with his grandparents at Number 424 for a year or so until his parents were able to rent a place of their own at number 417, a double-house on the other side of the avenue.

The Kid lost something called social skills in that swamp. It was hard for him to fit in with the town kids, even though he had lived there previously and had been friends with several. He was now a hick, who didn't understand anything cool and couldn't play team sports well. His father was seldom home on account of his job. He was gone from early Monday morning until Wednesday afternoon, when he would stop at home between loads just long enough for dinner and then be out the door by late evening. He wouldn't be home again until Friday night.

But The Kid seldom saw his dad even on those weekends. His father would sleep late on Saturday morn and then dad and mom would go out in the evening. When they did rent their own place he saw him even less. When his dad would come home his parents would want alone time all weekend and The Kid would be packed off across the street to my grandparents. 

In many ways he was as isolated in town as in the swamp.

His grandfather became closer to him than my father. 

Now his grandfather was a crusty guy. He looked and sounded like Fred Mertz from "I Love Lucy" and dressed like Indiana Jones, except for the whip. He knew how to build things, having been a carpenter and he knew how to get things done, being a foreman at the iron works. (In the photo he isn't standing in front of a rocket, but an underground storage tank, which is what they made where he worked. The photo was taken out of one of a photo history book of the town where The Kid had lived. It is dated 1950, the year he moved back to town. The kid was 8 at the time.)

His grandfather also know how to curse, tell dirty jokes, drink, smoke and all those so-called "manly" things. The Kid never forgot a joke his grandfather told at breakfast when the first Bikini bathing suits were reported in the paper. This joke angered The Kid's grandmother. "Don't say such things a front of the boy," she snapped. The Kid didn't even understand the joke for another dozen years and probably wouldn't even remembered it if not for her reaction. If men are supposed to have a feminine side then he'd say his got lost in transition. 

But grandfather was his idol. He gave The Kid the first dog of his own when he was five, a Toy Fox Terrier The Kid named Peppy. He gave him a genuine official Stan Musial baseball bat when he was six. A 34-ounce piece of lumber too big for his age, but which he learn to hit with. The Old Goat still has it, gnarled, cracked and dented, with Stan Musial's name worn away, out in the shed. He used it all his life right up to hitting fly balls to his own son for Little League practice.

Grandfather would take him places. Once he took The Kid on a train ride. Big deal, huh? Well, hey, it was. This wasn't on a passenger train. This was in the caboose on a freight train. The Kid could have ridden in the engine cab, but back then these were steam trains and when the engine sat it hissed and popped and billowed out that steam like some mechanical dragon. The Kid wasn't going near that fire--breathing monstrosity. Those trains are gone now, no longer there to frighten anyone. Even the tracks he rode on are gone. The old rail bed is now a hiking trail up through the woods outside of town.

Grandfather's passion was fox hunting. He kept a group of hounds by the house there in town. He had a stuffed fox in the attic, pictures of hunts on all the walls. He didn't ride to the hounds. Perhaps he did when he was younger, there is a photo of him astride a horse, but not when The Kid knew him. Not that he was all that old. In 1950 he turned 50. But nonetheless, he went to the hunts regularly and took The Kid with him. 

The hunts began at someone's farm. They would drive out there. His grandfather carried a pack of chewing tobacco in the glove compartment and a pint of whiskey beneath the seat. When he met a friend he would always offer them a chaw and a swig. And he had a lot of friends. Seemed he knew everyone and everyone knew him. (This is a trait The Kid's own son seemed to inherit and The Kid never had.) Once such social interactions were done, the hunt would commence.

The fox was in a cage. Someone blew a horn, the cage was opened and that fox went lickety-split off into the pastures. The hounds and horses gave him a fair start and then were off as well. As was said, his grandfather didn't ride anymore. They followed the hunt in the car, winding down back country roads a bit and then grandfather would pull off onto the shoulder and sure enough soon after came the charge. First a red blur of bushy tail through the weeds and then the baying of dogs and clomp of trotting hooves. They'd watch them out of sight and then drive on to another spot. The Kid didn't know how grandfather knew where to park and wait, but he always knew.

When the hunt was over, the fox re-caged and the hounds exhausted, he would take The Kid to a cave-like tavern on a gravel lot in the middle of nowhere. Inside he was greeted like Norm on Cheers by shadowy men aglow in neon. They all looked like him in their own Indiana Jones hats and short jackets. He'd climb up on a bar stool, heft The Kid to another and order up drinks, whiskey straight for himself and Upper Ten for The Kid.

Upper Ten was popular in the area. The Kid loved it and called it woody. (I don't know why; perhaps, having started on it young he thought it was water and that was his baby-talk way of saying it.) It was a lemon-line soda like 7-up or Sprite.

He'd give The Kid some change to play the shuffle bowling game while he and the men guffawed over things The Kid wasn't 'posed to hear.

To tell you how different things were in those days, let me tell you this.  His grandfather smoked cigars constantly, Phillies Blunts. There was an Atlantic Gas Station across the school ground from his home, up on the intersection of the main highway. There weren't Quiki stores yet, but it did sell some stuff.  There was a coke machine just outside the front door. Inside was a big white box with black lift-up lids containing Ice Cream sandwiches, Creme- and Fudgesicles and Popsicles. There was candy, gum and tobacco products behind the counter.  His grandfather use to give him money to go up to the gas station and buy him his cigars. He'd give The Kid enough to get himself a Popsicle. No one thought twice about an elementary-age kid buying smokes. The Kid would bring the package back and grandfather'd pull out a cigar, unwrap it and stick the cigar band on The Kid's finger like a ring.

But one day at the shop, his grandfather fell into a tank while inspecting it and shattered a leg. He was laid up for months and the pain stayed forever. He took to drinking more and he was a mean drunk. He'd collapse on a dining room sofa in a stupor most evenings and curse at the world, and at The Kid if he came too close.  It was devastating to The Kid.

His grandfather died of cirrhosis of the liver at 57 years of age. Coincidentally, The Kid turned 16 that year and got his Ford along with a burden of guilt. He carried that conflict a long time, the death of the man he loved leaving him what every 16 year-old boy wished for in those times, his own car. It was almost as if he had grabbed that dream with blood on the steering wheel.  


2 comments:

nutuba said...

Larry,

Beautifully written story about you and your grandfather. I can picture Fred Mertz. Your description of how the accident changed your relationship was a painful one to read ... it really brought it home.

Tamela's Place said...

Hello Larry,

What a wonderful story, but with a sad ending. But i know that you cherish the good memories with your Grandpa.

I want to say thankyou for your prayers and we would be very grateful for anyone else's prayers as well. Thank you so very much.

WE just got word back from our landlord that he is going to wave January's rent for us, he felt really bad for us because of the break-in and he wanted to be a part in giving us a Merry Christmas. We thought that was very kind of him. He said that we were good tenants. So we thank the Lord for that blessing!