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

Sunday, August 1, 2010



Preface: All About The Kid Once upon a Time

Over on "Retired in Delaware", Ron reminisced about his high school graduation 50 years ago. Billy Coffee at "What I Learned Today" and Katdish at "Hey, Look, a Chicken" are answering questions about themselves. I guess it is time for retrospection.

Well, why not? I'm coming up on some anniversaries these days that once seemed impossibly far away. I graduated high school 50 years ago, too. That's my class in the picture. you can play "Where's Waldo" and figure out where is Nitewrit. Here is a hint to help, I was tall for my time and I wore glasses then. I was male, so I also wore a dark robe.

I weighted 180 pounds when I graduated, basically the same as now, except some things have shifted around a bit. Gravity has grave effects on once youthful bodies. (I was 17 when I graduated.)

Oh, I also had a lot of dark brown wavy hair. It's gray now and not so much. If you wanted to paint my portrait you'd need more skin tone now.

Here I am from my senior Yearbook as a member of the track team. I was very fast. Especially in the mile. I could out run anyone on our team at distance then. Probably outrun everybody in allthe schools we competed against, except Octorara. Problem was, I hated to run. That was all milers did during training - run. The field guys didn't run as much, especially the weight guys, so I choose to throw the discus and shot put. The only meet where I out threw everyone with the discus, I lost my balance and fell out of the circle and was disqualified.

As for the shot put, well, at 180 pounds I was usually the smallest guy in the event. I didn't have the heft or the upper body strength to do well.

But at least I didn't have to run.

I suppose that is one of the few things I would change if you want to know. I would have run the mile. I probably could have won sometimes. Even now I'm pretty fast. Not at the mile, of course, but you'd be hard put to beat me in...oh, say...a three yard sprint.

Well, maybe not since I suffered this hip injury carrying my dog outside a couple months back. Maybe I couldn't run nine feet at all since I don't even walk so well these days.

As I said, lot on anniversaries or milestones are coming up in my life. My 50th Class Reunion from High School as previously noted. I'm actually past the 50 year mark having graduated in May that year. It was a spectacular event. We sat in the front rows of the auditorium and marched across the stage as our name was called. Early on someone kicked a cable and sparks flew like small fireworks the rest of the ceremony.

I graduated high in the class, but I didn't work very hard in school. I never liked being there.

There was a guy wrote a book called, "Everything I Know I Learned in Kindergarten". I can't say that, even though I spent two years in Kindergarten. [I always kid that I flunked Kindergarten, but that isn't the truth. I repeated kindergarten because the school district decided I couldn't enter first grade at age 5.) What I say is, "Everything I know I Learned from Uncle Scrooge Comic Books".

There really was a lot of knowledge in those comics, mythology, history, even economics. When Scrooge and his nephews went to Shangra-la it really taught the difference between socialism and capitalism.

There are a few politicians need read more comic books.

Let me see, what is coming up? Well, Ron of "Retired in Delaware" and I became friends in January 59 years ago, so in sixth months we will celebrate our 6oth year. We grew up in a small town in similar circumstances and we share a lot of things. We have some differences as well, but if one drops every friend with whom one has differences, then we all end up lonely, angry old hermits.

My dad and mom will celebrate their 69th wedding anniversary next week on my mom's 88th birthday. I'm not sure they will make it to the 70th. My dad will be 91 in October and he had been healthy and employed until just a couple months ago. Suddenly he can't work because he was told he can't drive anymore. His heart is too bad, he would be a risk to others on the road.

My wife and I will have our 48th anniversary in a couple months, so we are two years away from that big 50th.

Same month I will be a Christian for 34 years.

If my first child had lived, he'd be about 47. My son is approaching his 27th birthday and my daughters are 28 and 31. And in two weeks I'll be a lot closer to 70 than 60. Pshaw, I'll be closer to 70 than 65 for that matter. Man, oh man, in a dozen years I'll be eighty!

It's amazing the changes in that time. As a young child I listened to radio because there were no TVs, computers, video games, cell phones, IPods and so forth. We didn't have CDs, not even tape cassettes. I had some 78 rpm records and then 45s. Jet planes were new. No rocketships yet. Most movies were still filmed in black and white. We were fighting with Germany and Japan, then Korea (well, I guess we still are fighting Korea, gee, how nice some things from my childhood remain) and had never heard of Iraq or Afghanistan, or Vietnam for that matter.

We were allowed to pray in school. In fact, it was required.

Most Protestants read one version of the Bible, the King James. Catholic Masses were done in Latin.

Cars were monstrous things with big fins on the back. Gasoline was under 20 cents a gallon. I could get a full meal for 50 cents, including the tip.

A few stats on my life: I have had 17 or 18 cars. My address changed 18 times. I lost 7 children and had three who lived. I attended 11 different schools and then numerous classes. Since high school I have worked for 14 different corporations in 11 different type industries. I have had around three hundred poems, stories, essays, speeches and plays published or performed, not counting my Blogs. I have been a comic, a DJ, an editor, an youth minister, an evangelist, a farm hand and a bubblegum welder among other things. I have lived in three states dwelling in swamps, woods, small villages, small and large towns, suburbia and the big city. I've traveled to a majority of the United States and one time to Canada.

I've had one wife.

I guess I've lived a life.

I trust in God: "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. 
 I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you." Isaiah 46:4.

I have picked up a few scars. I've been knocked down several times and gotten up. I've been poor and not so poor, employed and unemployed. I've been lost and now I'm found. My body aches and is racked with pain, but I am not afraid of living and I'm not afraid of dying. I hold God to his promises:

They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, "The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him." Psalm 92:14-15


Pondering the Past Before the Kid

(In the photo [1932], William E. T. stands on the ground at the right. His brother James stands upon the log at the left. In five years both will die.)

The Obituary of William E. T.

William E. T., a well known resident of West Caln  township, died yesterday in Coatesville hospital, where he had been a patient twenty-four days.  He was in his seventy-fifth year.  Death was due to pneumonia, complicated by a stroke of apoplexy.  His death is the third to take place in the family within three weeks.

Mr. T. and his brother, James T., lived together near Sandy hill, north of Sadsburyville.  James T. had been ailing for some months.  Then William T. suffered a stroke and a few days later developed pneumonia.  He was taken to Coatesville Hospital, and a few days later, on January 23, his brother, James T., passed away.  While he was still in the hospital his son-in-law, Benjamin F. M., of Modena, also contracted pneumonia.  He died on Thursday last and his funeral takes place today.

Mr. T. had lived in West Caln for close to sixty years, having moved to that section from the vicinity of Marshallton. When the first steam traction engines were placed on the market, he and his brothers, James and Harry, became interested, and they were the first to operate a traction threshing outfit in this part of Chester County.  For years they followed the threshing business, and later they engaged in business of providing wood to the Coatesville Steel mills.  They continued in that business until a few months ago, when they were forced to retire on account of ill health.

In his younger years, Mr. T. was very active in community affairs in Sadsburyville and vicinity.  He was a member of the famous Sadsburyville Band, which was a musical institution of note a half century or more ago.  At the present time only a very few members of that band survive.  It traveled about the country in a very ornate bandwagon, seating thirty or forty people and carrying the elaborate array of band instruments.  It was drawn by four or six horses, and its arrival in any community was considered an event.  The musical instruments used by this organization are now eagerly sought by collectors.

Mr. T. was the last of his generation.  Surviving him are two sons and four daughters: Jesse L. T., of Downingtown; Mrs. Charles J., of West Caln; Mrs. Benjamin F. M., of Modena; William B. T., of Berwyn; Mrs. James S., of near Parkesburg, and Mrs. Edwin B. at home.  Two children are deceased.  His wife died ten years ago.

The funeral will take place from the Landis Funeral Home in this city on Wednesday afternoon at 2:30.  Internment will be in Upper Octorara Cemetery.  Coatesville Record,  2/15/1937

(In the photo from left to right: William, my father, Florence T. M., Benjamin Franklin M. IV, Benjamin Franklin M. III and Francis M., 1931)

The vagaries of the moment often determine the paths of lives. There are no "but, ifs" in life worth a moment thought. There is what is and if each event had turned a different corner it does not mean your existence would have been improved. It could mean your existence never occurred. 

In 1937, The Kid's grandfather, great grandfather and great uncle all died within a three week period. His grandfather, Benjamin Franklin M. III had injured his back in a work accident when young, which may be the reason he stands slightly bent in the photo, and been given the job of managing the family general store. That is the delivery truck in front of which the family posed. His wife Florence had worked for the family as a servant.

When they married in 1918, The Kid's father was already on his way.  The family patriarchs claimed Florence was a goldbricker who had seduced this young man and led him astray.  At the time of their marriage, he was 19 and she was six to eight years his senior. (Her tombstone gives her birth year as 1893, but according to her obituary she would have been born in 1891.) Although The Kid's father had nothing to do with the situation leading to his birth, somehow the wrath of the family fell upon him. The Kid's father was named for his grandfather, William Wilson M., but when William Wilson M. died, the inheritor of his name was not an inheritor in his estate.

The Kid's father, Bill, didn't have an easy life. He was disparaged by his father's side and came to be closer to his wife's family. In 1937 he lost most of that. In 1937, Benjamin Franklin III died at the age of 37, leaving behind his wife and three children. Florence father died at the same time. 

Bill joined the Civilian Conservation Corps to support his mother and brothers. They were living in one of the row homes along what was called M. Row in Modena. (The picture was taken in the early 1990s.) William Wilson the grandfather owned the entire string as well as the store that sat on the front corner of the street, but his generosity didn't go much further than renting out a unit to his daughter-in-law and her sons. 

Bill's grandmother disparaged his joining the CCC as it being "work only fit for niggers," but did very little to help the struggling family of her late son.

The Kid's maternal side wasn't sitting on easy street either. (The Kid's maternal grandparents pictured at Whitford in 1920, year The Kid's mother was born.) Francis and Esther were married in February 1920, just about 3 1/2 months before the birth of their only child, Millie. Esther was the older by a year of this couple as well.

Things were going to get rough by the time The Kid's mother was nine when the Great Depression began. Her father was going to find some work pulling weeds at a dollar a week. Her mother went to work as a maid to the rich folk who lived on the edge of the county seat.  By the time teenage Millie met the Kid's father at a carnival, she was working in the dank darkness of a mushroom farm. The Kid's mother has memories of the wealthy man on whose estate they were tenants giving her gloves each Christmas.

Billy and Millie married in 1940, living on a shoestring, poor enough they lived in separate homes with their parents the first month of their marriage. They then moved into an upstairs apartment by the Modena railroad tracks .

A year later, The Kid was born and to save him from nightly bites in the bedbug infested apartment, moved in with Millie's parents at Whitford.

By the time The Kid was six months, the whole family had moved to a rental house in Downingtown.

The Kid's father had a job as stoker at Lukens Steel in Coatesville. (Retired in Delaware's father was also working at Lukens at the time, as a shop foreman.) There wasn't a lot of money to begin with and then there was a war that took Bill away for several years to serve in the South Pacific.  He survived a Kamikaze attack upon his destroyer escort when it was tethered to an ammunition ship and he contracted malaria on the islands that would plague him the rest of his life.

When Bill came out of the service, he took a job as a long distance trucker, an occupation he was to do for nearly fifty years.  The salary wasn't great, but it included a house back of a swamp across from where the truck terminal was located.  

The house was half brick and half stucco where it had never been finished. The workmen's scaffolding still stood along one side. The Kid and his parents moved into this isolation for the next two years.

There had never been much money in those early years. When The Kid was moved back into town two years later when Bill changed trucking firms, he became the butt of teasing about his limited and oft-patched wardrobe of ragged overalls. 

Although the overalls soon were replaced by jeans, the number of changes were slim. Some habits die hard, even when circumstances would allow for changes. As a child, The Kid had two pairs of shoes, one pair for everyday and one for "dress-up". The Old Goat still keeps but two pairs for the same purposes.

The Kid and his parents moved back into town during Christmas week of 1949. In 1950 all his great grandparents would die. 

William Wilson M. I on May 13, 1950 at age 84.
Ella Sheeler M. on June 4, 1950 at age 82.
Sara Ann Smiley B.  on July 24, 1950 at age 71.
Millard Charlton B., Sr. on December 2, 1950 at age 73.

The Kid was taken to the funeral of Sara Ann and Millard (pictured at the year of their deaths) and has memories long kept of this couple, but The Kid never knew his paternal grandparents either alive or in their death.  His dad remained anathema to them for the sins of his parents to their dying breath and Bill was cut out of his grandfather's will, with the exception of the forgiveness of a loan his grandfather had given him to buy a car. 

But these grandparents were the losers, losing the bond of kinship with their firstborn grandchild and the contact of their great grandchild out of obstinate pride and snobbery.

For The Kid and Old Goat no memories of these paternal grandparents exist. 

Obituaries of William Wilson and Ella Sheeler M.

W. W. M., of 413 West Minor Street, West Chester, passed away yesterday at his home in the 84th year of his age.  Son of the late Mr. and Mrs. B. F. M., he has resided in West Chester for the past 30 years, moving here from Modena where he operated a lumber yard and general store.  Surviving are his wife, Ella Hanna Sheller (sic) M., one son, John W., of Modena, a daughter, Mrs. Ella M. J., West Chester, a brother, B. Frank, of Atglen, and a sister, Mrs. Horace S., of Hollywood, Cal. Daily Local news. 5/14/1950.

W. W. M., of 413 West Minor Street, West Chester, died at his home yesterday in the eighty-fourth year of his age.  He had been in ill health for the past several months.  Mr. M. lived in West Chester for the past thirty years, except for a period when he made his home in Modena, where he operated a lumber business and general store.  He is survived by his wife, Ella Hanna Sheeler M.; one son, John M. M., of Modena; a daughter, Mrs. Ella M. J., of West Chester; a brother, Frank M., of Atglen and a sister, Mrs. Horace S., of Hollywood, Calif.  Private funeral services will be held from the Wentz Funeral home, 342 East Chestnut street,Coatesville, Wednesday afternoon, May 17, at 2 o'clock. Interment will be in the Upper Octorara cemetery.  Friends are invited to call at the funeral home Tuesday evening, May 16. Coatesville Record. 5/15/1950

"M. - on June 4, 1950, H. Ella Sheeler M., wife of the late W. W. M., in the 82nd year of her age.  Private funeral services will be held on Tuesday, June 6 at 2 P. M., D.S. T.  from her late home 413 W. Miner St., West Chester. Interment at Upper Octorara Presbyterian Cemetery." - Daily Local News. 6/6/1950

H. Ella M.  H. Ella Sheeler M.h passed away in her home in West Chester, 413 West Minor Street, yesterday morning in her eighty-second year.  She was the widow of the late W. W.M., who passed away here just three weeks ago.  The daughter of the late Mary McC. and John S., the deceased is survived by one son, John M. of Modena, one daughter, Ella, wife of William H. J., Sr., of West Chester; six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.  Also surviving are two sisters, Mrs. Jennie G., of Honey Brook, and Mrs. Chester W., of Coatesville, and one brother, John S. of Elverson.  Daily Local News. 6/5/1950.


All That in My Beginning Stuff

The Kid was born on the same date in June as Helen Keller, Bob Keeshan, Ross Perot, Tobey Maguire, Julie Ordon and Matthew Lewis, and the clerk at a nearby Ryder Trucks Rental. I have no idea what those sillies astrologers make of this mix of characters. These people were all born in different years, of course. Maybe that gives the stargazers an out.
He was born in 1941, but refuse to take any blame for World War II.
There were a few famous names that passed on beyond the stars on that date as well. James Smithson, famed for creating the Smithsonian Institute; Joseph Smith, famed for creating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Jack Lemmon, famed for creating Felix Unger on film. The Kid  non-famed for creating much of anything, unless it was ditching derbies in grade school, but then, he also has not passed on yet.
None of the above named people really have anything to do with The kid, except for the rental clerk from whom he rented a 16-foot truck to move his daughters’ furniture, and Jack Lemmon, who is one of his all-time favorite actors. So that is all we will say about any of those folks. This is supposed to be about The Kid, a kind of long self-congratulatory, patting-my-own-back, blowing-his-own-horn, brag. What fame he has is rather local and limited and his life is no more extraordinary than the guy next door, and the guy next door might actually be somewhat more interesting. The guy next door is from Peru and his wife is from Ecuador and he maintains cranes for a living, those big girded things, not the swamp birds.
His friends say they are writing their life stories, with truth, and will name names, and that he will be up to his eyeballs in their memoirs. Thus The Old Goat feels compelled to write some things as a form of self-defence or a preemptive strike if you prefer. He is this his “Impressions of life.” This seems the best he can do. He no longer recalls all the minutia of his life with full clarity. He is an honest person, but can only tell life through his own eyes. He'll try to present The Kid unwashed, but we all have a built-in filter of self-preservation, which may prove difficult to circumvent. Besides, he can only speak about what he thought, felt, intended or did, and don’t know if that is the truth at all. He doen’t know what others involved knew or felt. What factors played a roll of which he never knew. Perhaps he was wrong and thought he was right. Thus even the years lived through are only impressions of what may really have happened.
The Kid was born in June 1941 in Pennsylvania, a Friday’s child, “loving and giving”. (Ah, if that were really so.) He weighted in at 8 pounds, 13 ounces and given the name Larry Eugene. (I have always accepted 8 as my lucky number; the less said about 13, the better.)
Yes, The Kid's given name is Larry, not Lawrence, the family were too poor to afford all those extra letters. "Larry" was the hero in some favored novel read by his mother. "Larry" was dashing, noble and brave, I suppose, but then only fiction. His middle name has no ties to anything. His parents say it was the only one that went well with his first and last.
But The Kid hated the name Larry in his earlier years (never mind what he thought of Eugene). “Nobody is named Larry,” he would protest. Those who were so christened hid behind nicknames: Larry BUSTER Crabbe, Larry YOGI Berra and even today, we have Larry CHIPPER Jones.
Although now The Old Goat rants there are too many Larrys, always portrayed as bumblers, buffoons and boneheads: Larry, Moe and Curly of the Three Stooges, Larry, Darryl and Darryl of the Newhart Show, Larry the Cable Guy. Well, at least the latter “git’s ‘er done!” Larry, Darryl and Darryl added insult to injury since my son is named Darryl. If he only had a nickel for every time someone asked him where his other brother Darryl was.
But let us return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.
The Kid has blue eyes. They never worked well. His mother and father have blue eyes. His grandparents had blue eyes. His wife has blue eyes. All his children have blue eyes. One would have to search deep and wide to find someone in The Kid's direct line with eyes of another color. It is a recessive gene, a mutation. That’s okay; blue eyes are pretty.
His hair at birth was red. His mother had dark red hair, auburn. Perhaps her mother did as well, he never really took notice and am sure by the time he was of an age to do so his grandmother was not sporting her original coloring anymore. There were a number of redheads and blonds on her side of the family tree though. His own hair grew out curly and thick. Somewhere around beginning public school his hair turned a very dark brown, almost black. Somewhere much much later it turned gray, what of it didn't go away.
There were address changes those first few months of his being. He cannot swear to the circumstances of them all, only to the bits and pieces passed his way and some conjectures of his own devices. He once believed his first home was a second floor apartment up a fire escape above the old family store on the corner of Meredith Row (now called Meredith Court) in Modena. His mother recently corrected him. It was an apartment a block from there in a building next to the railroad, most likely on the wrong side of the tracks (pictured above). His parents escaped from this location a month after his birth, leaving behind the rattling trains, the rusting scrap yards and the colony of bedbugs that feasted nightly upon The Kid.
His next stopover was at his maternal grandparents' home in Whitford, a whitewashed house behind a pond, but, oddly enough, still next to a railroad. I know little about this home or under what circumstances they lived there. They didn't own it. It was on the estate of one of the founding families of the area. The owner used to visit at Christmas and always gave his mother a pair of gloves. I know his mother grew up in the big house. There is a smaller house near the road his mother calls the tenants home and a working blacksmith had his shop behind it. It still exists much as it was except it has had a face lift since those times and is bright and sturdy looking these days.
But by December of The Kid's first year they all had moved from there. I do not know what occasioned this migration from country to town. There are several possibilities, all of which might be the cause. I know his grandfather worked at the town Iron Works during The Kid's childhood. Perhaps he began that job in late 1941 and they moved to be nearer. They also made the change in December. Pearl Harbor had occurred on December 7 putting us into World War II and, eventually, his father into the South Pacific. Did the emergence of war and his father's service help decide this move? His grandparents never owned the home in Whitford. They never owned any home, but always rented. Perhaps the landlord had decided on another use for the place and they had to go? It matters little; he was too young to consciously experience these changes or to care. I only know by Christmas 1941 they were living in what The Kid considers his hometown.
Your hometown stays with you, hangs around your neck like some kitschy piece of bling. "Why do I wear this ugly piece?", one asks. "The weight bruises my chest? I’m too old. It’s too old. I should toss it away, drop it in a dumpster and forget." But in the night-lights of dimming memory it glistens, it sparkles, it seems pretty. All the doss is hidden in the dark of forgetfulness and only a small diamond of reminiscence glimmers.  One can never let it go.
That town will always clutter his mind. He tell tales about it (he often has).

When Sirens Ruled the Empire

These are the shadows of memory from The Kid's first five years such as sitting on his maternal grandmother’s lap while she read stories from a book called, “A Hive of Busy Bees” or Robert Lewis Stevenson’s, “A Child’s Garden of Verses”. She read him other things, most notably the Sunday Comics in both the Philadelphia Papers. Dick Tracy, Blondie, the Berrys, Casper Milquetoast, Little Iodine, Smitty, Maggie and Jiggs, etc. and taught him to read well before he went off to any school. (Henry and The Little King were no help; they never said a word. And fortunately for what grasp of grammar The Kid developed, L’il Abner or The Katzenjammer Kids weren’t his favorites.
There was an enormous record player in the living room. It was a stand-alone piece of furniture. All it played was 78-rpm vinyl. His parents had a fair-sized collection of music and he would sit in front of this contraption and listen to songs as he played. His mother had ballads and crooners, especially Bing Crosby, but his father had mostly Country and Western, the real Americana stuff, Montana Slim, Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff and Red River Dave’s Hillbilly Ballads. Oh, The Kid loved that collection: “The Wreck of the Streamline Train”, “Put Me in Your Pocket”, “The Ballad of Floyd Collins” and “Red-Headed Mama Blues”.
“The Ballad of Floyd Collins” was about a real person. Floyd Collins died trapped in a sandstone cave 125 feet below ground in 1925. It may have been the first media circus, the rescue attempt reported on the radio and in daily papers across the country. People flocked to the site and erected booths and tents. Billy Wilder based “The Big Carnival” on the event (1950 -original title, “Ace in the Hole”). It starred Kirk Douglas. The Kid saw it at the town theater, The Roosevelt, as a child. A new movie is actually in the works about Collins to star Billy Bob Thornton as Floyd. The Old Goat has today the original cast album of Floyd Collins, a musical produced in Philadelphia in 1997. (As you can see, Red River Dave’s “The Ballad of Floyd Collins” had quite an influence on The Kid.
“Gather ‘round me children
And listen while I tell
The fate of Floyd Collins,
A man we all knew well...”)
This child listened quite well.
A more unpleasant event was the death of Nellie. She was his mother’s dog, quite old at the time. She was the housedog, a shaggy friendly and fat pooch. His grandfather kept several hounds in the side yard, chained to their boxes and never allowed indoors. He sometimes crawled into the doghouses, but Nellie often shared his bed. She and he had a closer relationship. She inspired a story many years later, called “Passing” about a young child confronting the issues of death and faith. In the story, the child is a girl and the setting is in the country (actually at another boyhood home of The Kid's in Glenloch). The dog, called Nellie, is nearing its end. Some people find this story emotionally difficult to read, thinking it sad. Personally I feel “Passing” is optimistic and about hope. A sequel story called “Ground Dog Day” which people find humorous is the truly sad story, because it speaks of isolation and disconnection within a family and a child’s learning of the harshness of this world. But The Kid and The Old Goat's stories are always about something beneath the tale on top. Fiction often is closer to the truth than the fact-based reportage of nonfiction. Without the storytellers and poets we'd be trapped in a world of cold-hard reportage passing as reality.
The music and the readings were pleasant and influential, but there is a deeper memory, a dark one that stayed with The Kid a long time and made it impossible for him to sleep without a light on or the shades up, and made him miss the comfort of Nellie even more.
The firehouse siren blew everyday at noon in town. Perhaps it stills does. It was a constant of The Kid's childhood and always flashed his thoughts to World War II. Granted, he remembers little of the war news; World War II ended in 1945 when he turned four, but the sirens and the planes got his attention.
There were all kinds of airplanes that flew over town, big bopper bombers and sleek, fleet fighters. All prop driven, since the jet had not appeared on the scene yet. These flew in V formations, like ducks emigrating north. There was even an occasional flying wing. Now these images are garbled by time because the flotillas of planes continued for a few years after the war ended for he recalls being out and about the neighborhood playing with others when there’d be a roar and all heads would turn up to see and guess what kind of planes these were. This kind of activity didn’t occur until he was at least school age.
The Old Goat also remembers the flag in the front room window, actually more a square pennant. He forgets the exact design. It had a star in the center, I think. It indicated someone in the household was serving in the armed forces. If someone had died in the war, the flag would tell that also. His father suffered neither a wound nor death, although his absence left The Kid with scars. The Kid does remember him coming home on leave once. He was in his sailor suit, his Navy blues. There are pictures of The Kid with him wearing a miniature uniform of his own.
But what he was clearest of were the sirens.
In the house where he lived were two doors side by side in the dining room. The one toward the outer wall went upstairs. The other went down to the basement. (All the stairs in that house were circular to save space. You had to be careful going up and down because to the outside they were wide, but to the inside they were only an inch or two and you could easily slip.) Tacked on the basement side of that door was a big yellow chart. It showed the siren codes. A long continuous blast meant one thing; little short bursts meant something else. You could tell the severity of a fire by the siren pattern. The most effecting for The Kid was the air raid blast.
Air raid warnings weren't uncommon. Some were a test, much like the test of the Emergency Broadcasting System, to see if the system worked, if the Air Wardens were alert and if the citizenry did as they should. A few were accidental. Many were true alerts, an unidentified plane spotted or some suspicious activity indicating a possible attack. You never knew which was which.
If outside, when this siren blurted its message during the day, there was a hustling to scoop him up and carry him to safety. (He was often outside on nice days even at the toddler stage. His grandfather raised chickens and as a former carpenter build a giant playpen in the back yard of chicken wire. [pictured above] They plunked him down within its security to play.) Once inside, the family hid in the kitchen, quaked by fear until the all clear sounded.
But worst, and most vivid, were the night sirens. First the clamor, that loud wail, that banshee shriek announcing coming calamity. The hurry and haste to pull the blackout shades, heavy and pure black, designed to hide the slightest light within, and as a consequence also kept any external light outside. All lights were extinguished, not just their lamps, but all the lights in all the neighborhoods, and all the street lamps as well. A heavy darkness shrouded them and everyone huddled in this pall trembling. What could a youngster be, but imbued with terror at this behavior?
Something akin to Floyd Collins trapped in the dark of his cave.

Good Old Golden Rule Days

There was a time when parents raised children most of the time and not institutions. In that period during World War II, not much after the Great Depression, there wasn't much in the way of daycare or after-school programs. There wasn't what you would call organized activities for kids. Some moms went off to work (you've heard of the song, "Rosie the Riveter"), but many were still at home. Most of the fathers were off in the war somewhere.

The Kid's dad was serving in the South Pacific with the Navy, scanning ahead of the convoys for submarines on a destroyer escort. His mom and he lived in a small town with her parents. His world was restricted to one block.

They lived directly cater-cornered from the elementary school, yet he wasn't sent there to kindergarten. He was sent off to a private kindergarten clear across town, and not at age five, but at age four. Why? I don't know. Perhaps they just wanted him out of their hair a while each day.  Someone came by each day and picked him up and brought him home. I don't know if it was Mrs. Helms, who ran the kindergarten, or some mother of one of the others.

He believes he enjoyed kindergarten. He really doesn't remember much about it. The Old Goat has on his desk a large hunk of coal, lacquered and decorated with colored spots of paint. This was a project The Kid made. For a long time he carried another memento of that project. the class had been taken out to the rail yards behind the town train station where they gathered pieces of coal and at one point were up in a meadow above the tracks. Perhaps The Kid was running or they were playing tag,  but somehow he fell into the barbwire fence between the meadow and the railroad and a barb pierced his left cheek. He wasn't given stitches and it left a one inch scar on his face. He looked like those old Prussian aristocrats who proudly bore saber scars across their cheeks as a symbol of their class. He was the aristocrat soldier of Mrs. Helms' Kinder class.

He likes to tell people he flunked sandbox and had to repeat kindergarten. He did go two years, but for bureaucratic reasons, not academic. His mom tried to enroll him in first grade, but because he was only five they refused to allow him entry, so his mom sent him back to Mrs. Helms for another year.

The photo up top is the class during that second year. This is probably where he met one of my early close friends, Tim. Tim is the boy kneeling in the front row to the extreme right. The Kid is kneeling to the extreme left. Perhaps you can tell that he was the tallest in the class even though on his knees. The photo to the right is Tim (left) and The Kid, budding Major Leaguers. Tim is really choking up on the bat, down in a Ty Cobb crouch. The Kid is more upright breaking a cardinal rule with the bat resting on his shoulder. 

Another feature of that kindergarten photo is its reflection of those times. Notice the classmates are all grouped together except for one girl off on the right by herself. The girl's name was Blossom and there was nothing much different between her and the rest except her skin was a darker tone. I suppose it was actually somewhat progressive that Mrs. Helms had an integrated kindergarten. You won't see any thing but white faces in the photo of the East Ward Kindergarten of the same year. There were black kids who went to East Ward, but at that time they were all taught together in basically a one-room school separated from the rest of the white student body.

The Kid had two guys who were his best friends in those early years. Tim was one and Billy was the other. Here are the three of them in 1946. Tim is at the right, down in that stooped batting stance again. The kid is in the middle. He was a catcher when he first started playing baseball for one very important reason. He owned a catcher's mask.

The boy out of uniform, and just about anything else, is Billy.

(Tim passed away in 2010, and The Old Goat does not know the whereabouts of Billy now.)

The Kid had several birthday parties then. You may notice something about his parties. Yes, even then he had an eye for the ladies.

Here he is  turning five. Tim and Billy are on either side of him and then there is his bevy of beauties.

The girl just behind him was his best friend even before Tim and Billy. Her name was Iva and she was a petite redhead. In those early years, he was a redhead, too.

Here is a party a couple years later and Tim isn't there. Billy is the boy in the striped shirt. The other boy was Denny, who lived in an apartment on the other side of the school in those days. He was later to move into the house Billy then lived in after Billy moved. The Kid is on the right leaning over and looking down over Iva's shoulder. The blond girl
directly in front of him was Mary Jane and the Kid carried a torch for her right into Junior High School. The girl standing next to Denny is Judy and the dark haired girl sitting just in front of her was Toni. The name of the other girl has been forgotten.

After two years in kindergarten, the bureaucrats finally allowed The Kid to go into first grade. No one needed to pick him up anymore, he lived right across from the school. This was East Ward.

It was a stone building. It had these porches on the side with stone walls and stone pillars that made for great pretend forts. In the back was a macadam area where the children would ride bikes and roller skate. Off to one side was a playground with swings, Jungle Gym and seesaws. There was a ball diamond on the other side.

In first The Kid had a teacher named Mrs. Warren. She was a tall, stern woman who kind of scared him. She had a method for getting your attention or keeping order. She would pull hair. If you weren't paying attention, she would come up behind and yank...ow!

Teachers could do such things then. They could spank you if they wished. There was a supposed "enforcer" that the principal had. No one ever saw it. No one  knew anyone who had seen it. But everyone had heard stories about it. It was a paddle, but it had holes drilled in it to increase the pain when struck against tender bottoms. No one wanted to face the "enforcer".

By the time The Kid got to first grade he could already read well. When he was called on to read about Dick and Jane chasing after their dog, Spot, he did it with the emphasis such an adventure deserved, and Mrs. Warren pointed out to the class this was the way a story should be read. First year and already establishing himself as a teacher's pet.

The Kid seemed a happy enough back then with several friends and a good start in school. Then something happened that changed everything.

His father came home from the Navy and moved them to a swamp.


Swamp Rat

The Kid turned six in June 1947. At the time he lived with his mother and her parents on a quiet street of a small town. The photo is how the town looked at that time. You are looking toward the north.

The town was in a valley of the Brandywine Creek. In the 1940's there were wooded hills or farm land surrounding it. There were none of the malls, rows of fast food and chain restaurants or housing developments that stretch from small town to small town today. In the 'fifties they would build a farmer's market to the east of town, but that wasn't there yet in 1947.

His little block was quiet and had a splattering of kids his age, those born just the other side of the "Baby Boomers". Apparently he was a gregarious child or so his mom has claimed. He spent plenty of outdoor time with several friends and tended toward speaking out in public. One time at the shoemaker's shop (that seems such a quaint thing now) there was a man with some sort of skin discoloration, perhaps a large birthmark or a burn scar. The Kid blurted out, loudly, something like, "look at that man", embarrassing his mother and grandmother. (He sometimes wonders if his extensive psoriasis was some curse for this youthful rudeness.)

But sometime in that period his father mustered out after serving during World War II. Before he had joined the Navy, his job had been as a stoker in a steel mill. Now he wanted something different and heard from a friend they were hiring at a trucking company out along the Lincoln Highway. His friend told him, "don't tell 'em you know mechanics or you'll never get out of the garage." His own dad had driven a delivery truck for the family store, so his father applied as a truck driver and got the job. It paid $100 a month plus the house.

Ah, yes, the house, there is the rub. It meant d a place of their own, his dad, mom and he. It also meant they had to move out of the small town several miles east, out past the busy little crossroads called Exton to a place called "Glenloch".

Glenloch had once been the 684 acre estate of a man named William E. Lockwood. His mansion, which still stands, a sort of spooky ghost from the past, out along Route 30, a dark and brooding stone edifice to opulence and gothic charm. It had been build in 1865-68 and was designed by a renowned Philadelphia architect named Addison Hutton. He was the man known not only for his prominent homes, but also for several libraries, hospitals, courthouses and schools. He designed the Ridgway Library, Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr Colleges and Lehigh University.

This mattered little to a six year old being torn from his little town home over Christmas vacation to the desolate remains of a long forgotten estate. No, they weren't moving into that famous mansion, now known as Glen Aerie. They were going a bit further east to a house in the middle of nothing in particular. It was surrounded on one side by a marsh, very brown and half-froze in the winter they arrived and festooned with cat o'nine tails and red-winged blackbirds in the summers. It sat well back from the highway, down a long double lane little more than some hardscrabble and gravel tracks. To the west stretched a barren cow pasture and beyond, running up a hill, the broken wasted stalks of cornfields.

The house, itself, was large inside, or in the perspective of this child it was. There was an eat-in kitchen, a dining room, a living room downstairs; four bedrooms upstairs. It had these very wide windowsills. The Kid use to lay on these sills, curled like a cat, peering out on the emptiness.

The exterior was a mess. The house was cinder block that someone had begun to stucco over and quit halfway. The scaffolding still stood along one side of the building, the piping rusting, the boards warping and the structure would sing and sign in the winds.

During the week, it was just his mom and he. The trucking job his father took was driving milk tankers long distance. He was to be a long distance trucker most all his life. He was seldom home. He was a weekend husband, and not too much of that time was given to being a father. In fact, the usual routine was to deliver The Kid to the grandparents on Friday evening and take him home after Sunday dinner at their place.

He'd usually see Billy and Iva when in town on those weekends, but most of his time was spent alone. He strode down the long lane to catch the school bus and went to West Whiteland School, of which he remembers nothing, not the teachers, not his classmates. It is a blank in his mind he can't explain. There were no kids his age who lived near him year long. His mom and he dwell in isolation during the week because she didn't drive in those days. He had to learn to be comfortable with just himself for company.

When your days are spend scooping tadpoles and snakes from a swamp or following crayfish up a winding stream, when you wander in the woods alone, sled down wagon rows alone, or invent games in your playroom along, you lose your gregariousness. A hermit becomes introspective and withdrawn. You don't develop social skills in an human-less landscape of bullfrogs and skunk cabbages. Notice there is no one else in these photos but The Kid.

There was a period when there was someone his own age, a brief span within each year when he would play with others like a normal child, but even this was to have its tragic conclusion.

Snippet Scenes

The memory of life in Glenloch plays like a movie trailer in The Old Goat's mind, not of coming attractions, but of a short subject long over. Snippets flash by, hints and teases, abbreviated scenes that sometimes please and sometimes haunt.

Perhaps long exposure to isolation exaggerates winds in the night or hones observation in the day; perhaps in loneliness is the soil for a writer's imagination. Or perhaps realities in such a life cause a boy to seek comforts in the peace of a field or the fantasies he wished to believe.

One Christmas Eve, in the dim and quite hours pass midnight, The Kid heard the whoosh of Santa's sleigh circle that house. And on a cold and early Easter morning, when fresh snow had settled across the lawn, this child found the bunny tracks that came to the side window, then away from where the rabbit entered to leave the basket of jelly beans and coconut creme eggs upon the dining table.

When you have heard St. Nick or trailed the Easter Rabbit's route, how can you not extend belief? Who is there to tell you different? But if those mystical moments can be conjured up clearly, so the scenes of real life are as well.

The Old Goat can still picture the silent snows of those winters or the butterflied and flowered fields of quite summers.

In the spring, grass grew high across the cow pasture, speckled with yellows and blues of wild flowering weeds. The ground was split by a narrow stream within a deep crevice where The Kid dropped in petals to watch them float or followed crayfish down stream. He never tried to catch these strange creatures, which reminded him of scorpions with their little claws. He would never have considered eating such a thing, but he did pluck and sample the watercress that lined the banks.

In summer there were cows in that field. I don't know from where they came. There was nothing much around, no sign of barn or farm.

There must have been a farmer somewhere, for corn grew on the steep hillside behind the house. The Kid doesn't recall the planting, but he experienced up close and personal a fall harvest. Some men came with odd machines and one man let him ride in the cab, a contraption in front swept over the corn, crushing down the stalks. As it did the cobbs, still wrapped tightly within their leaves and silk came whizzing out a tube over the roof of the cab into a truck bin behind. Occasionally an errant missile flew through the open side windows and The Kid would react to pick a bird: duck or grouse.

It took a few hours of one fall day and they were gone and he doesn't remember them ever coming back. Broken stalks rotted across the hillside forever more and when he toted his sled up he had to stay along the fence line or be thrown by the rough and treacherous traps of crushed cornstalk. It was while sledding down that tree line he found his dog, Topper. *** (If you care to know how that happened, click here and read "Ground Dog Day". "Ground Dog Day" as a short story is a thinly disguised description of how The Kid got Topper.)

In rescueing Topper, his dad showed the care and dedication he had for doing right, characteristics The Kid seldom recognized as a child. His dad and he did not have an easy relationship. They never quite understood each other. His viewpoint of his father is probably illustrated well by another instance back in that swamp.

On his eighth birthday he received a bike, his first two-wheeler. It was a "twenty-six" incher, meaning the wheels had 26 inch diameters. This was the standard, normal bike size of that time. They had "twenty-four" wheelers, but he had the big boys' bike.

There were no training wheels then. His dad took him out to what they called their front yard to teach him to ride. The trick to riding is learning to balance. His father held the bike as The Kid climbed onto the seat. There was a flat rack over the rear fender.  It was there for tying on packages to carry or allow a second person to piggyback a ride, but in this case it provided a handhold for his dad to keep the bike upright. His dad told him to push the pedals. The bike wobbled a bit and The Kid grew nervous, but his father assured him he would not let him fall over. "I'll be right behind you holding it up," he said.

The Kid's feet slipped off the pedals at first, but finally he was pushing them down effortlessly and moving in a circle about the little plot of land at the edge of the swamp. This was fun. Then he
grew tired. "I want to stop," he yelled back to his father, but they kept going. He didn't know how to stop, he was depending on his dad to halt the bike and hold it up until he got off, yet his dad didn't respond and pull him to a halt. "Let's stop," he yelled and looked back over his shoulder at his dad, except his dad wasn't there. He couldn't know if dad had left seconds before or minutes, but his father had gone back into the house and he had been peddling along on his own quite well; at least until that moment of discovery. Now he lost control. The front wheel began to quiver and he fought to straighten it up and still not knowing how to stop went over the little embankment and landed in the marsh.

Dragging his dripping body and bike up to solid ground was when he stopped trusting his father.

It mattered little, because his dad was seldom around. His trucking took him away most days of the week. Although he was there the first day The Kid almost died.

He awoke one morning with the sun was shining brightly through the bedroom windows. He threw aside the covers, anxious to get up, but as he swung his legs off the bed was struck amidships by a sharp pain. He fell to the floor with a scream. It was loud enough it brought both mom and dad scurrying in where they found him in a ball on the floor, howling and crying. His dad scooped him up and they drove the eight miles to the hospital where he had been born. He was taken for immediate emergency surgery.

He had come very, very close to suffering a burst appendix, which would have most likely resulted in peritonitis and his demise. They didn't have the antibiotics to fight that condition back then.

He was in the children's ward, long lines of beds full of kids with various problems. He didn't like being there and didn't like the nurse, who perceived as mean. They didn't sew up the incision, they clamped it shut with staples. Removal was a form of torture. If he had had any secret information, he would have told them all.

He missed almost a month of school. It took awhile to walk comfortably again. When he went up and down stairs he had to step with his left leg, then carefully ease his right down or up to the same step than repeat. He was left with a long scar this time, perhaps three inches long, but it was at least in a spot that didn't show.

The Kid didn't mind missing school. In truth, he felt he missed all that particular school anyway. He remembers nothing about it. The Old Goat drove there decades later and photographed it, but nothing came back to him. He can't even find the report cards for that period. He has all the others from all the other schools. If this were a horror movie there would be a deep, dark secret that happened at that school. Is there? Will some long forgot goblin pop through The Old Goats brain someday?

The Kid had little interest in what was taught anyway. He had discovered a wonderful thing in the fourth bedroom of that house, the one used as a storage space. What he found in there made him think about the world beyond the swamp and gave him his first ambition, the first pursuit he thought he would someday accomplish.

*** The Kid had three pets when living in the swamp. Peppy is the Toy Fox Terrier he's holding in the first photo. His grandfather had given her to him when she was a pup and he was six. He also had a white rabbit named Snowball. She was kept in a above ground hutch back in his mom's garden. He believes she had been an Easter gift as a kit, a practice he doesn't approve of today. But they took good care of her. Topper became the third, discovered by him in the rows of trees between two fields that ran down the hill behind the house. Topper was one of several puppies left in a groundhog hole to perish, but his dad dug them out and rescued them. That is him playing with Topper in the middle photo. (You can go read the story of how Topper was discovered by clicking on the title of this post.)

The bottom photo is West Whiteland Elementary School which he attended over a two year period.

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 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.