Yet, that stupid stunt was an adventure to treasure in a boy's life. Those train dreams weren't the nightmares that really came to haunt his sleep. The bad nightmare's came from the highway.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
From the Snows of the Himalayas to the Rails of Sudden Death
There were four bedrooms on the upper floor of the swamp house. The Kid's parents had the master, naturally, although his mother slept alone four to five nights a week depending upon his dad's schedule. The Kid had the back east-corner room for sleeping. The other back bedroom, the west, was his playroom.
Ah, there are advantages to being an only child. Not only don't you have to share a bedroom or bed, but where there is a spare room, you can claim it as your sanctuary and spread out your toy trucks and soldiers. You never have to squabble over territory or maneuver for your mother's attention. You can't blame your sibling for your misdeeds either, but those who have that opportunity probably get caught in the lie and doubled down on the punishment.
This left one more room upstairs and this became a store room, not that his folks had very much to store. There were, however, some things stacked in the middle of the room that caught his attention.
There were tall mounds of comic books. Who knows how many, but at least two piles as tall as he was. Considering their thinnest, even in the days when they bragged of having "52 pages", that was a lot of comic books. These must have been his dad's, for he had never seen his mother read a comic book and it was doubtful some previous occupant had left them there.
These were an eclectic collection, somewhat historic even then. If The Old Goat had them now he could make a small fortune on eBay. There were among these publications the originations and first adventurers of some of the superheroes still in print today, Superman and Batman. There were also comics of characters probably no one remembers, because there were some of the earliest comic books created in those piles. There were comic books in black and white and there were comic books that were collections of the newspaper strips of the 'thirties.
Although comic books were to play a roll building relationships in The Kid's near future, it was the other pile in that room which grabbed his attention even more. These were strange books. They were an inch or so thick, but not very wide or high. When you flipped through there were a lot of illustrations, even stills taken from movies. Some books had famous names and portraits on the covers, others had garish scenes of World War I fighter planes in combat or cowboys chasing stampedes or beautiful damsels in distress. These were called "Big Little Books" and there were a ton of them.
These were what belonged to his mom and he began asking her to read them to him at night. He quickly found he could read along with her well enough that soon he was spending hours alone honing his reading ability. The Kid was especially drawn to the adventure books, the explorations of unknown parts of the world. He was most enthralled by several baring the name "Frank Buck" on the cover. Frank Buck was famous once. He was an actor, a writer, a trainer for the Ringling Brothers and even more impressive an explorer who captured wild animals for zoos and circuses. He was known as "Bring 'em Back Alive" Buck.
Here was this man traveling the world; here was The Kid stuck alone in a swamp. Frank Buck brought home lions and tigers and hippopotamus in cages; The Kid brought home tadpoles in jars and snakes on sticks. People celebrated what Buck brought and paid to see the beasts; The Kid's mom always made him dump his menagerie back in the marsh.
"She can't stop me from growing up someday," he thought, "and when I do, that's what I'll be, a world-renown explorer. I'll go on adventures in darkest Africa, searching for King Solomon's Minds or lost tribes of headhunters." And after hearing about some strange creatures on radio, he decided he would be the boy...uh...man who would capture the Yeti.
There was irony to such a goal for The Kid. The Yeti, better known as "Abominable Snowmen", did not lurk on some savannah in Africa or hide in Amazon Jungles. It dwelt in the highest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas. You could only reach the Yeti with pickax and rope and Sherpa guides.
And The Kid was afraid of heights.
This fact did not daunt his dreams of capturing the Yeti someday, but these books also inspired him to more immediate boldness in exploring the surroundings of his own backyard. It was those explorations that brought him to the place where for the second time he almost died at that place in the swamp.
Remember the cornfield behind the house, the hill where The Kid used to sled. He was told never to crest that hill. He was a boy and alone. Who would ever know, so of course, he did. After all, Frank Buck would have went over that hill to see what was on the other side. So one day he went up and over the ridge.
Beyond the top was a gully cut through the hills in which was laid the mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Past these tracks was nothing to see but woods. The Kid crossed the tracks anyway.
There were two sets of rails parallel to each other, one for the eastbound traffic, the other for the west. As he crossed he could hear the trains. One was coming from each direction toward each other and he was in a gravel strip between the two sets of rail. He froze, afraid to move when he saw them closing upon from the two distances. Soon they whizzed by him, front and back, blowing his clothes and hair, and the scream away from his mouth. As quickly as they had came, they were gone, and The Kid ran across the remaining rail bed and dashed home where he never mentioned the incident, never, ever, until now.
The Kid never crested the hill again, but he had dreams about those trains off and on for years. He had dreams where they blew him over, battering him between them, and dreams where they sucked him under the wheels and cut off his legs, and dreams where an object sticking out from one of the railcars sliced off his head. He carry an edginess when on train platforms from that day forward all his life.
The first two illustrations are stock photos of a Big Little Book and a Frank Buck Flyer.
The third photo is not a Yeti, but a heavily doctored photo of a late friend, Tommy. It was not taken in the Himalayas, but in the Poconos (1975).
The last illustration is a stock photo taken near where The Kid lived. It is of a Pennsylvania Passenger train on the mainline rails. The trains which had passed him were freight trains and much longer.