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

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.

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.

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.

5 comments:

Greg said...

I'm no thrill-seeker, but that train incident must have been cool to experience! Of course, my engineering side would probably be afraid that the air currents might suck me right into one of those trains!

I used to be very much into comics, especially Superman, in the 80's and 90's. But after I got saved and finally decided to get rid of them, I thought it was better to burn them than have them be a temptation to anyone else. I still have two very small boxes of a select few, and we collect action figures. Most comics have gotten so immoral now, I don't touch them with a ten-foot pole, but the concept of superheroes continues to grab my imagination. I've thought about writing a story about a superhero that gets truly saved.

Larry, aka The Kid & The Old Goat said...

Greg,

The only comic books I have left from my childhood, in fact the only ones I have at all, are a few Walt Disney's Scrooge McDuck Comics. They were my favorites. As a kid, my favorite superhero was Plastic Man and then Green Lantern.

Larry E.

Tamela's Place said...

Well the answer to my comment about being a writer was answered on this post. The train incident would of made me have nightmares also. I am glad you are alive to tell about it :). Are we going to find out that you are just like your kitty cats but a man with 9 lives instead :). So many adventures living in a swamp!

Larry, aka The Kid & The Old Goat said...

Tamela,

Considering the close calls and the foolish risks over my lifetime, I think I've had more lives than a cat. Actually, I think I had a very dedicated guardian angel.

You know, I have thought about the subject of when different people die and one of these days I'll do a post on it. It is probably a bit controversial.

My father gave all the other puppies away to friends of his. He let me choose one to keep. I choose the runt of the litter although I named him Topper. He really was the tops, though, a very gentle dog (although he would defend me if I was threatened).

Maybe the roots of wanting to write began on my grandmother's knee when she read to me, but my imagination was certainly nurtured by the isolation of the swamp. I probably had more than the average imaginary playmates.

Larry E.

Ron Tipton said...

Lar,

I don't remember those Swamp Years of yours. Actually, I don't remember exactly when we became such good friends in elementary school. Do you? I do remember us trading comic books (loved that) and how envious I was of you in your Mr. Peanut costume at the Sixth Grade Halloween Parade.

As you know my circle of friends was on Washington Avenue. Dayton "Chubby" Shores, Eddie Rose, Lee Harris, Donald Murphy, Billy Null and one friend we shared, Timmy Mahan although we never saw him together. Did you know Tim lives in the house on Pennsylvania Avenue where my Mother lived when she grew up? I have yet to see the inside of that house. I've invited him to our 50th reunion. Maybe I'll ask him then.

I've enjoyed reading the chapters of your early life, especially the Swamp part. I never knew you risked life and limb on the railroad tracks. You never told me.

Have you read Bob Wagner's books abort his childhood? You should really write a small booklet and publish it for posterity. You have led a very interesting life. It would be a shame if all those memories disappeared after you pass on.