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, November 26, 2014

It's Not Christmas Yet!

It's the day before Thanksgiving, and at the moment, snowing out. Yesterday I put up our exterior Christmas lights in front of the house, but I'm not turning them on until tomorrow evening. I'm not jumping the gun on what has been a lifelong tradition.

Christmas Season begins after the turkey.

Of course today we have the greed mongers and the shopping addicts who want stores to be open on Thanksgiving. Man the cash registers and damn the family get-together!

They will push for the stores to be in full fury on Christmas Day as well, I'm sure. Meet the new millennium Scrooges: CEOs Marvin Scrooge, Eddie Scrooge, Ronald Scrooge, Gregg Scrooge, Doug Scrooge & Terry Scrooge.


 It is somewhat ironic that Terry Scrooge is in the list. The 1948 book and movie Miracle on 34th Street was a broadside against the merchandising of the holidays and turned that Mr. Macy's hard heart into a cream puff. But these Ceos pictured here have more in common with Mr. Sawyer. They obviously don't believe in family, tradition, Thanksgiving or rest for the weary. They will excuse themselves of guilt by blaming it on the shopping habit of 18% shopaholics that could use a little cold turkey rehab on Turkey Day for their own good.

Nonetheless, greed does as greed wishes and when comes to stuffing it evolves a different kind of "bread" for them. Thus they how have extended the season until by Thanksgiving instead of feeling uplifted we almost are tired of it. The ads began just as the last witch parked her broom after Halloween and has continued ad museum ever since. But then it is appropriate to their mindset, for indeed, there is more of the Devil of Christmas presents to them then the Ghost of Christmas Past.

The object has been all along to remove Christ from Christmas and turn it into Seasons Greedings and so me have a Holy Day that is an empty secular holiday of little warmth and meaning. But these merchandise mongers have turned every other holiday in a Sales Celebration and deprived them all of their raison d'être, so why not do the same to Thanksgiving and Christmas?

As for me I keep the old ways in my heart and practice. I still get that glow when Thanksgiving comes, when my family would gather for the day, to watch the parade or the football game, to simply talk or help in the preparation for the feast of turkey and candied yams and stuffing and Harvard beets and mashed potatoes and cole slaw and cranberry sauce and other sides all followed with pumpkin or mince pie. Then we would kind of sit around in overstuffed inertia and satisfaction.

In my boyhood I would feel a shiver of anticipation as the November skies turned to their slide gray and the trees fell bare to the winds. The leaves were long raked and burned, the pungent aroma of the ash gone to be replaced with a underlining scent of impending snow. This shift of nature told me it was near time when I could erect my electric train platform for another season.

I only got to put my trains up from Thanksgiving until Epiphany, but building the countryside for my
Lionels and American Flyers to rumble through was my passion.  I
constructed papier-mâché mountains, turned mirrors into snow-rimmed lakes with skaters and invent my own little town of Plasticville buildings. I wired each structure so I could gradually light them up as my pretend night fell. I accomplished the transition of time with a board above the tracks that held tiny flickers to be stars when I turned off my main light that substituted for the sun.

There were in the weeks between the turkey and Santa, visits to the Big City, Philadelphia and the great department stores - Gimbles, Strawbridge & Clothier, Lit Brothers and John Wanamaker along East market Street. These were magical places to this boy with the dancing fountains, enchanted village, The Magic Lady, Punch & Judy, and the great train layouts of the giant toy departments. Even getting to the city was an adventure. We rode the Short Line Bus to West Chester where we caught a Red Arrow Line trolley to 69th Street in Upper Darby. Perhaps there I would attempt again to conquer the giant slide constructed before the terminal. We would catch the El-Subway train to center city and then walk the lit up avenue taking in the window displays.

I embraced all the nooks and crannies of the time: the catalogs from Sears, Montgomery Ward and Western Auto. And then the baking cookies, the Christmas Cards, the trimming of the house and the Christmas Tree and the Candle Lit Christmas Eve Services that brought us the solemnity and promise of the day, and the day itself with all that meant to our family and mother especially. And the peace and quite of the day after with all did feel right with the world for a while.

This is almost a piece for Throwback Thursday a day early. But I tell you, I toss aside this jumping the season to chase a buck and I celebrate as I did in those days long ago. This is how I raise my own children. I will turn on my lights tomorrow night after The Dinner with my family. And in the days ahead watch those old chestnuts, It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story and A Christmas Carol and rejoice in the saving grace that Christmas really is.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Death is Breaking Up that Old Gang of Mine

I got a shock in the mail yesterday. The booklet for the most recent reunion of my high school class arrived. I didn't attend the reunion and haven't for a while now. I told my wife maybe I'll go to the 100th. But I'm thinking I may go to the next.

It wasn't getting this booklet that shocked me, but what was listed on the first page inside -- In Remembrance. The last booklet I received there weren't many to be remembered, now I see almost 22% of my classmates have died.

It doesn't seem possible, if I was 83 maybe, but not 73. Even more shocking were those on the list who'd been my closest friends in those years. You see the picture on the left? Everyone in it is deceased.

I always thought I should have been in this photo, the Class Clowns. This was my group. Perhaps given the circumstance that each clown has died it is good I wasn't included.

It is as if my high school years have been swept away, at least my companions. The people in the photo from bottom to top, are Nancy Bright, Betsy Fillman, Ray Ayres and Richard Miller. Richard and Ray were my best friends in OJR High.

Here are my companeros lost.

 Richard Allen Wilson was the first friend I made after I moved from Downingtown to Bucktown. I was 14 at the time and out back of the house pitching a rubber baseball against the wall you see behind Richard. Suddenly, this guy came around the side yard and stood looking at me. He was my height, but heavier.

"Hey," he said, "wanna have a catch." He became one of my best friends from that day until I got married and moved away.

He served as an usher at my wedding (pictured left).

Life sent us in different directions as adults. I thought of getting in touch with him at times, but you know how that goes, we intend, but never quite get around to doing it.

Too late now, of course, Rich died around 1993-94 about 53 years old. He had a heart attack. This is
the last photo I have of him taken in 1993 by my parents. He left behind a two or three year old daughter. He was the inspiration for characters in several of my stories: "In Snow and Sand", "Moon Was Cloudy", "Ya-Ha-Whoey!" (a play) and "Come Monday" (a novel) among them.

I also wrote a novel called "Forty-Dollar Car", which was relatively autobiographical and told the adventures we had with a broken down 1949 Plymouth he bought and got working again. Cars were his passion and he dreamed of building hot rods and of designing cars in Detroit. His desires never came to be and I think he spent most of his life driving a truck, just like his father before him.

Despite Richard dying relatively young, he wasn't the first of my close high school chums to go. That fate goes to another Richard, Richard Ray Miller.

Richard Ray was one of those I spend most my time with at high school. He was in the same academic section as I in those years and one of those I ate lunch with and hung with sometimes outside of school.

He also was part of The Trio, him, me and Ray Ayres. Yeah, it can get confusing. My three best friends in high school were Richard, Richard Ray and Ray. We wrote and performed together as well. For instance a short comic play called, "Barber and the Boy" that we wrote and starred in. I played the Barber and Ray Ayres was the Boy, and Richard Ray was a weird customer in the shop.

The last time I spent any time with Richard Ray was in September 1959. He called and asked me to ride the train to Philadelphia with him. He was going to a job interview with AT&T, but he had never been to the "big city" alone. He knew I had attended classes at IBM school that summer and felt I was the expert on the city. He and I rode the rails from Royersford to Reading Terminal in Philly and walked to the AT&T office.

He was taking tests to apply as a Linesman, something he was very excited about becoming. When we arrived at the reception desk I said I was an applicant. I had no desire to be a Linesman, given I was afraid of heights, but figured it looked better for Ray to tell them that than to look like his babysitter for the trip.

I did very well on the electrical aptitude, but not so hot on the mechanical. It didn't matter to me, but Ray failed both tests and he was despondent on the ride home.  Perhaps that is how his life after high school went. I don't know his circumstances beyond what I heard here and there from others. I heard at the end he was living along and was alcoholic. Whether this was totally the case I can't swear, but I think it was the case. He died in his thirties.

If possible, even closer to me was the other Ray of us three, Ray Ayres.

Ray Ayres probably saved me a lot of grief in my new school. I was this geeky, weird guy just moved from Downingtown. I didn't have great social skills and I had reasons to be cautious around others. We had a gym class and I didn't do so well in whatever we did that day. Ray came over to me in the locker room and began giving me some advice on how to do better at whatever it was. For some reason we became fast friends the rest of my high school career.

Bullies and such didn't fool around with Ray and as his friend, they left me alone too.

It didn't make sense, because big men on campus don't usually attach themselves to skinny, awkward nerds like I was then. He was everything I wasn't, I guess, except tall. He was short, about five foot six, but tall in every other way. He was that rarity, a good scholar and excellent athlete. He was also considered cute and so popular with the girls. Despite these gifts he was humble, had a strong moral compass and a great sense of humor. We had a great bond between us.

Besides writing those little plays, we also became a DJ duo hosting some school dances as "Gravely & Hearse".  Ray talked me into joining the YMCA and working out with him in the weight room and later joining the OJR Track Team. We also snuck off to a room behind the school auditorium and listened to Tom Lehrer records when we should have been in study hall.

In our senior year he wanted to stop cursing. He asked me to smack him upside the head any time I heard him cuss, which I obliged, even when it drew some questioning looks from our teachers.

To me, he was a guy who had it made, had it together, but somehow he seemed to struggle after high school. He disappeared from view for a number of years. A few years ago I heard he was back and living in Reading. I considered looking him up, but just like with Richard Wilson I never found the time. Yesterday I found out he died two years ago in Tremont, Pennsylvania in a Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. He died about one week after my mother passed away. He left behind his companion, two daughters, three sisters and a grandson, and a lot of memories.

Another friend in our little entourage was Phil Hahn.  Phil was a rather large fellow, perhaps a little taller than myself and a darn sight heavier.

I beat Phil in a wrestling tournament we had my senior year, giving me a perfect record. He had weight on his side, but I had stubbornness.

At some point in the match, during flipping and floppy about, he caught me square in the nose with his elbow. After I pinned him and bounded up for the gym teacher, Mr. Buckhalter, to declare my win all I heard from him was, "Who got blood all over my clean mats."

Phil was one of my old OJR classmates that I had some social contact with years after high school. On the left is Phil and his wife visiting us at our apartment at Ski Mountain, New Jersey in 1974.

Phil passed away a couple years ago and I had known that before yesterday.

In high school, I had put him in our acts. On the right he is performing in a play I wrote for an assembly called, "Wild Bill Shakespeare and the Theatre." The girl (The Poetess was her role) he is pulling off stage is Margaret Whitely, known as Peggy.

Peggy was the first girl I went steady with. I began dating her in Eleventh Grade, asking her to go to the Junior Prom with me. We ended up going together through the next summer right into our senior year. I pinned her, in fact, meaning nothing more than I gave her my senior pin, a little do-dad she wore around her neck on a chain.

Peggy was a tall blond. Her passion was horseback riding and we went to some horse shows during our time together, as well as many dances. I enjoyed being with Peggy, but honestly there was never that real spark for me.

I guess it jumped the shark at Exton Drive-in when she bit my thumb. We had double-dated with Richard Wilson and his girl of the moment. Rich and his girl had disappeared from view in the back seat. I put my arm around Peggy and she bit my thumb. I had no intensions beyond holding her against me and after all the time we had been dating it did not seem an out of line maneuver. Shaking away the pain in my thumb made me wonder if this relationship was worth continuing.

It ended rather badly some weeks after that on another double-date, this time with my Downingtown friend Ronald Tipton and a beautiful brunette name Carmella, who thought she was my date. It was a breakup I always carried some guilt about. My short story, "A Goodbye For Maggie" is based on that instance in my life.

Still it came as a real shock when I discovered yesterday that Peggy too had died.

As if seeing a former girlfriend had died wasn't bad enough, it was doubled up when I saw a girl I dated after Peggy was also dead.

I dated Susan Cannell during my senior year. She had been a steady of another classmate, Jon Harris, but something must have gone a rye between them and for a while I was taking her out. She was very adventurous and even though a teenager already had a pilot license. We used to go flying on the weekend. On one of those excursions she stalled the plane, a Cessna I believe, making too tight a turn. We were quickly heading down into a forest, but the co-pilot got the engine started again and we survived.

I liked Suzy a lot, she was cute and funny, but I was dating another girl at the same time, Pamela Wilson. There was a crisis of decision when the Senior Prom came around. Both girls wanted to go with me. I officially took Pamela, but in reality I talked my friend
Ronald into taking Suzy. I did not know in those days that Ronald was gay, of course, that had no part in this. I simply wanted my friend along and I wanted to take both my girls.

It was humorous to watch Ronald and Suzy dance together, she being five foot eleven and he being six foot three. As he put it, we were dancing cheek to belly button.  (Ronald and Susan are on the left and Pamela and I on the right.)

Suzy and Jon went back together sometimes after the Prom and were voted Cutest Couple in the Yearbook. Pamela and I dated off and on for a couple more years, although I had other girlfriends during that time. I do not know where Pamela is today. She was Richard Wilson's cousin, by the way.

Suzy continued to be adventurous and some years after high school was badly injured in a motorcycle accident. (I used a number of these events of our dating period in a story, "Pour Out Your Life at the Old German Tavern".) She and Jon did not marry. She married Gary Mahr and she survived him and her two sons.  She died in August 2014 at the Pottstown Memorial Medical Center. Her obituary states: "Susan was a member of Berean Bible Church, Christian Motorcycle Association, and was a notary and pilot."

Hey, probably adventurous to the end and would have fitted right in at my church.

It is eerie to think so many have gone, especially all those who were my closest friends in high school. As I said at the beginning, if I was 83…

Oddly, my two best friends from Downingtown where I went to elementary school and junior high all still remain, are in touch and still best friends. As I look back on the memories of those who have left me, I am grateful to still be in the living group of Stuart and Ronald. Long life to us all!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Back to the Beginnings: A Throwback Thursday Piece

To tell the truth, these last three years have been very…how shall I put it…distracting, hectic, off-putting; just the aggravations of life interfering with living that very life. It has been especially interrupting of my writing. Most of my life I wrote every day, maybe a lot or maybe a little, but every day, until 2012 and since then my output has shrunk to almost nil. I didn't think this possible. I thought writing was an incurable disease. It seemed to be a curse as much as a gift. I could NOT not write. But now I wonder if I can.

Maybe looking back to the beginning of the itch will refresh the rash.

I was twelve, just. It was the summer of 1953 and I had recently finished the sixth grade. I was sitting
on the floor of my bedroom playing with some toy soldiers, making up the plot of their latest skirmish with a tribe of plastic Indians. (It was 1953, after all, no one had replaced the misnamed term Indians with the misnamed term Native Americans yet. Quite possibly, in my twelve-year-old mind I might have referred to them as a tribe of plastic savage Redskins.)  My father came down the hall and began to ridicule me, a not completely unusual occurrence.

"You're too old to be playing with dolls," he said at some point. I never thought of the little toy people most we boys played with as dolls.

"I'm not playing," I said. "I'm writing."

He gave me a hopeless look and left me alone.

"I'm writing" was something that simply popped into my mind and out of my mouth, but it wasn't completely a lie. I had a vivid imagination and my little games were always elaborate plotted plays. Still, having said it, I figured I better write something.

Writing wasn't really foreign to me or far-fetched. I had gained some success and notoriety as a writer in grade school, though I didn't think of myself in that term, "writer", yet. I wrote my first short story as a third grade assignment and was highly praised by the teacher, Miss Ezrah, for my effort. In fourth grade I performed a puppet show, which I also wrote, in an assembly and it was a success. Finally, in the sixth grade my friend, Stuart Meisel, and I ( we two pictured left) had created, written, published and sold a weekly newspaper we called "The Daily Star". (Yeah, I know, "daily" and "weekly"are not the same thing.)

At any rate, I picked up a lined pad left over from school and began to write my first novel; that's what I called it - a novel.

The novel was titled, "It".

Some of you may be familiar with a bestselling novel titled, "It".

This wasn't that one. Stephen King wrote that one. Stephen King has a habit of stealing my titles. My wife and I wrote a book in the 1960s called, "Danse Macabre". Stephen King wrote a book in the
1980s called, "Danse Macabre". He's had better success with his titles than I had with mine.

King's "It" was about a group of kids (sometimes adults just to confuse the issue), who join together against an evil clown that becomes a monster. My novel was about a group of grownups (never children), who join together against an evil monster that was never a clown. He could have been a clown, but I didn't have a little clown top person. All the characters in my novel were based on my toy men, so the group was a tall cowboy, a shorter cowboy, a tin soldier and a one-armed cowboy, because one of my toy cowboys was broken.

The basic plot went like this. An explorer named Tom Reiser is found dead beneath a tree with his unfinished diary in his hands. Thus we are introduced to the tale by Reiser's diary entries. (This was the devise used often in the 19th century and I coped the form from Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" (which is quite different from the Universal film version as I found out when I read the Classics Illustrated Comic book version) and Bram Stoker's, "Dracula" (which I am not sure was ever a Classics Illustrated Comic.)

By the way, as a caution, you can't always trust Illustrated Classics Comics as a shortcut to your high school book reports. Sometimes the comic book doesn't follow the classic exactly as I discovered when I used this trick in eighth grade. My assigned book report was "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". Somewhere through the first chapter I decided there must be an easier way and, aha! Classics
Illustrated. Don't think I always avoided Victor Hugo. I did read "Les Miserables", the unabridged edition, all 1,463 pages of it.

I do own a copy of the Classics Illustrated "Les Miserables". It is hanging on the wall of our Rec Room, which is an out of date name for a place where families and friends are supposed to get together and play games and stuff.

I have a Les Miserables Coffee Cup, too, which I bought when the play was popular on Broadway. I can't drink coffee anymore because of a medication I take, so I use the cup to take my medications, a cruel irony. Not being able to drink coffee is indeed les miserables.

Want to guess my favorite Broadway show?

But I digress, let us get back to It, the subject at hand; that is, my first novel at age twelve entitled "It".

We had poor dead Tom Reiser's diary and authorities trying to figure out how he became poor dead Tom. The clue was in his last entry and the mention of a mad scientist and monster (a bit of stealing from "Frankenstein" here) hiding out on a mysterious island (I also took some ideas from Robert Lewis Stevenson's "Treasure Island") surround by quicksand (a bit stolen from many episodes of "Ramar of the Jungle").

Eventually the authorities call on a group of sleuths (a mix of specialists in the mode of "Doc Savage"). They fly by helicopter to Quicksand Island, where the mad scientist lives in a castle, guarded by his monster. Here they join forces with a one-legged giant hermit, who lives in a cave upon the island, to destroy they creature and blow up the castle.

I don't have any original copies of this manuscript. I had first wrote a short version on a lined pad, but then expanded it into chapters, but I wrote these on onionskin paper and this long ago faded away and was lost.

I followed up "It" with a comic novel based on my first years in junior high school.  It had no monsters per se and was pretty autobiographic, just slightly exaggerated for comic effect.

As to "It", I rewrote the original idea over and over again as I grew up until in retained little of the story I outlined above. It eventually became a story of a teenager spending the summer on an island caring for his aged uncle. It is a tale of greed and the boy comes to a bad end.

The title also went through changes from "It" to "Quicksand Island" to "It, The Horror of Quicksand Island" to "Dream of Horror" to just plain, "Dream".

I groupd it with two other novellas I wrote in a collection called, "Smoke Dream Road".

There we have a Throwback Thursday look at how I decided to be a writer way back in 1953.
 Me and Peppy, 1953

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

And Now, the New Survival Adventure - Wimpyman!

There is this show on the Discovery Channel called "Survivorman" starring Les Stroud. It comes out of Canada (Ah, these crazy Canadians) and is filmed and narrated by Mr. Stroud, who goes off into extreme wildernesses and tries to survive for a week with nothing more than his sixty pound sack of cameras and film.

Well, I go off to somewhat less strenuous climes with a camera in my pocket and little else, so why not film how I survive. Thus we present the first episode of the adventures of WIMPYMAN!

Yes, packing my trusty camera, I venture into the wilds of Northern Delaware on foot, alone and hardy unafraid to face hills and rutted trails and sometimes scratchy bushes or slippery rocks to film the rigors of survival just for you.  In this case the highlights, well, some scenes anyway, from a nearly two and a half hour trek through the daunting paths of Brandywine Creek State Park, on the upper side down from the Nature Center.

Click below to follow Wimpyman's attempt at survival against jutting, hidden rocks aiming at his toes, of crunchy fallen leaves drowning out his narrative, of forty degree temperatures and howling winds (or was that just Wimpyman wheezing?) of water buffalo…Water buffalo?

See for yourself and spend the next almost hour on the trail of finding his way back to his car. Come and be, WIMPYMAN!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Changes in Attitudes; Changes in Platitudes: A Kind of Throwback Thursday Piece

That title is a little twist on a Jimmy Buffett song, "Changes in Latitudes; Changes in Attitudes". Latitude had nothing to do with my changes in attitude, but age did. There were things I said in younger years so often they did become platitudes; promises I made to myself and sometimes anyone else in earshot.

For instance, I oft declared I would never work in an office. By that, I meant some stereotypical business office. As it turned out I sat my body down in many an office over the decades of my life from rooms with long rows of desks, to private ones to cubicles.

The timeline of my life became a long litany of office locations.

 Of course, as a teen my desire was to be a writer of books, not a bookkeeper or some other mundane means of earning a living. I developed a platitude about this in my late teens. "I am going to write a novel someday that will shock the world."  What I meant by that was a story filled with all the things taboo to writing in those times, something filled with salacious activities and naughty words. This was far from the perspective I projected to those who knew me.

I never used any naughty words. An occasional "darn" or "heck" might escape my lips, but little else. As far as salaciousness…well, anything along those lines was purely in my imagination in those days.

You must realize I was a teen in the 1950s. Censorship was king when it came to the arts. The Catcher in the Rye was considered a scandalizing book. Books were not only censored, they were often banned from even coming into the country. Henry Miller was not a name you found on your local library shelf in Downingtown. You'd have to travel to France to find a copy, and then maybe it wouldn't be in English so you'd be out of luck anyway.

D. H. Lawrence was another author not so welcome on our shores. Even home-grown authors who were welcome in American bookstores faced difficulties of meeting high decency standards. Hemingway was forced to substitute for words he had in mind for some of his characters. Go read the uses he made of muck and milk in "For Whom the Bell Tolls".

I had never read Henry Miller or D. H. Lawrence then. How could I; they were verboten! In 1959, a book called Peyton Place appeared and rocked the literary world back on its heels. The sexual twists in its plot led to the term "Peyton Place" entering the language to describe any tawdry place with seamy secrets.

My plans to write the world's most shocking novel was actually exceeding my grasp as the sixties passed. It the years after I graduated high school a lot of "shocking" novels appeared and by today what could one possibly write that would shock anyone?

My own work contains little in word or deed that anyone would even blush at let alone be shocked by.

But when I grew up and actually began being published, I became more reserved in my ideas of what
to write; that is, I became tactful and reserved and less likely to offend anyone. I also soon developed a new platitude about the future. "When I get old I will write what I want and not care what people think."

After all, I reasoned, once you are old you can say the most outrageous things and everyone just passes it off to your age; i.e., he's a bit senile or eccentric or just plain nuts. Ignore him with a laugh, you know how these old curmudgeons get.

Now here is my problem and why I don't live up to my promises of what I will do. I can't figure out when old is.

I am working my way through my 74th year. When I was that callow teen someone of 74 was ancient. I mean, if you were over 70 you were fixin' to die! I somehow don't feel fixin' to die. I don't feel like much needs fixin', period. I don't feel all that broken down, so I don't know if I am old enough to be eccentric in anyone's eyes. When is old? I heard a survey was taken on that question and the highest percentage picked 75 as old. I am not that far from that milestone, but will I really look and feel so different in less than two years? Must I wait until I am 80 or 90 to be allowed crabbiness and politically incorrect criticism of society?

I guess in the meantime I'll just have to be my boring silly self.