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

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Car Tales of a Former Teenager

When I was a boy we became Stock Car fanatics.   Every Sunday we attended the races at Mason-Dixon Speedway more faithfully than some people attend church. Friday nights we might be found at the Lancaster Speedway and some Saturdays sitting on the bleachers at Grandview near Boyertown. Mason-Dixon remained our Mecca, however, perhaps because my dad was friends with one of the drivers, Stan Zelick, which gave me the opportunity to sit in his race card wearing his crash helmet. I remember it as being very heavy.

I loved everything about stock car racing, the sound of the unmufflered cars, the perfume of their fuel in the air, the excitement of the finishes, the crashes and especially the greasy French Fries sold in paper cones behind the stands. Nearly overtime we went I bought a plastic racer at the souvenir stand. These and other toy cars I would race in my bedroom, doing the whole program, from the heats and consolation races to the feature, pushing three cars at a time in rows to determine a winner. I dreamed of being a race driver and of the day I would even be old enough to drive a car period.

In the summer of 1956 we moved from Downingtown to a stretch of highway on the fringe of a small village called Bucktown, population 100. On one of the first days I was at my new home, pitching a rubber baseball against the back of the house, I was interrupt by a boy standing on the lawn. He was my height and age, but a little heavier. We became instant close friends (after all, there was no one else nearby our age, but us) and he was crazy about cars, not unusual in that farming area in those days. You couldn't do much without a car to take you somewhere to do it.

But that summer I just turned fifteen, so neither Richard Wilson, which was the boy's name, nor I had a driver's license. That was to prove not a problem since we soon found we had a source of vehicles free for the choosing beneath our very noses. His parents and my parents, a number of other couple went out to some bar together every Saturday night, leaving about 8:00 o'clock and staggering home somewhere after two in the morning. They always met at his house and carpooled together in a couple cars to their favorite watering hole. They took turns in this and all the other cars were left behind at Richard's house, many with the keys still dangling in the ignition or tucked behind the vision or stuffed in an ashtray. Those were more trustworthy days and people did that, but their trust was mislaid for a quarter hour after they had driven off into the evening we were checking out the ignitions and visors and ashtrays. By eight thirty we fifteen year olds had highjacked somebody or others' wheels and were heading up the road, probably making a stop at Rock's Drive-in for a milkshake or a burger, maybe trolling for girls. We could always score our shake or burger; hardly ever a girl.

We would spend the night zipping around those country roads outside Pottstown, sometimes going without lights because someone thought they had spied a county cop. We weren't alone, you see. Sometimes we let Richard's brother Tommy tag along and we might pick up Tommy Frame and Jim Witlach to joyride, too.

Things did not always go well. For instance, one night we took a car belonging to a person named Moses. I can't recall if that was his first or last name. We had been having a good old time when we decided we should turn around and head back. It was a narrow backroad, nothing but cornfields or woods along the shoulders. Cornfields had wagon trails along their borders and so we pulled into one of these, squeezed between a fencerow and the corn on rutted round. Fine and dandy until I threw it into reverse and discovered there was none. Did Moses now he had no reverse? I have no idea. I wasn't gonna ask. I put it in neutral and the other guys pushed it back on to the road.

But one night the selection fell to my parents' car, a 1953 Studebaker.   The night went pretty much as usual until I was driving on Old Grubbs Mill Road. You have to understand this road. It was a typical Pennsylvania byway with hills and curves. I was going up a long hill, hitting just about 60 when I crested it and started down. From here the road would continue down hill for a couple or more miles and not too far from the top it would hit a series of sharp curves. These were 90 degree twists and going straight would either send you over a ridge into a gulley or smack you into the hillside.

As I was in descent with one such curve not far ahead I did what you would have done, pressed down on the brake. The car did not notice. The brake petal went flat down to the floorboards without effect. I then yanked up on the emergency brake, with did nil even though I almost pulled it to the roof.

This was not good.

"We don't have any brakes," I yelled.

No one believed first. There was nothing to do but hang on and steer. Fortunately those old Studebakers were a design ahead of their time, a low sitting car with a low center of gravity and we made it around every turn, all four, and eventually we drifted to a stop. I was too shook up to drive anymore, so Richard drove the car back to his home, going very, very slowly for a change. We pulled up and parked it where we took it from, tucked the keys back up in the visor and went inside; well, Richard, Tommy and I did. Jim Witch and Tom Frame walked down the road heading to their own places or hitching a ride. But the scares of that night were not over for me.

In the wee hours the adults returns in varied states of inebriation. It was time to head home. I went out and climbed into the backseat of the Studebaker in silent terror. Now let me explain the Wilson's driveway. They sat on a hill. Their drive went ahead rather flat, then took a quick dip down a steep decline, straightened slightly at the bottom where it deadened into the main road, Route 100. If you did not turn sharply onto the highway you would go straight across and over a high embankment. There was also the danger of traffic spreading from either direction, especially from around a blind
curve on the left.

I knew the car had no brakes. I knew I could't tell the; how would I know that fact. I slumped down on the seat as we went over the hill. The situation was quickly apparent. The car was rolling fast now, my mother was screaming and my dad was fighting the wheel. He was a professional driver and somehow he made that turn at the bottom and we arrived home safely.

I never told my parents about what I knew and how until their fifties wedding anniversary.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Lot of Been-Ship

There were times when I complained about being alone and saw myself isolated from others; viewing myself  being one of the legendary loners, sans much of a legend, of course. If I had visions of the stoic cowboy riding off alone into the sunset, they probably concluded much like that Geico Ad with me smacking into the The End credit. The reality is I always had friends from the beginning to the end, even if it was a shifting cast of characters. I was never truly alone

The girl and I sitting on the pavement (I being
the one on the right with the longer hair) were friends almost from birth. Her name is Sandra "Sandy" Yarnell and we were baptized together at the Grove methodist Church on hot summer day in 1941. Her and her brother, Billy, and assorted other Yarnells remained friends through those toddling years, then somewhere when school age came we disappeared from each other's lives. (That is Billy in the photo to the right and again I am to the right with the longer hair.)

Close to the heels of Sandy came Iva Darlington.  I apparently enjoyed female company early on. Iva and I started out as redheads; she remained ginger, but I turned a dark brown, that usually photographed as black.  Iva is in the center of the back row within this giggle of girls at one of my birthday parties, proving again my early preference for the fairer sex. However, I did spend most my playtime with the two boys in the photo, Billy Smith on the left and Tim Mahan on the right. I am kneeling between them.  (In the baseball photo to the right, reverse that order, Tim  on the left and Billy on the right. I'm still between them, squatting this time.)

I had several other friends in those World War II, pre-school years,
 such as Billy Griffith, with me on the swing, and Bobby Lukens, with me smoldering rifles and ready to fight back any Nazis or Japs (I know that is now politically correct, but that's what everyone called them during World War II or worse.)

I started school with some of these initial friends, but then we moved during first grade and it would be a time when I was somewhat along for real and then a transition back to town and a whole new lot of BFFs, although the final F did not quite live up to what it stood for.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Try to Remember

I can remember much of my life, but there is a period I don't too well. I would guess this is true of most people. I guess the mind is too busy learning about the world it has been thrust into that taking time to store away the memories. Or many over three-quarters of a century so much other junk got shoved into my hard drive that the earlier things got erased to make room. Whatever, I try to remember those first few years of my existing.

For instance, I remember nothing of my first home. That is it in the picture as it looks today,
sitting just across the tracks in Modena, Pennsylvania. Yeah, it is a reminder that I got my start like the old saying, "come from the wrong side of the tracks".  This photo to the right must have been taken nearby. This photo is from 1919 and shows my Grandmother pregnant with my Uncle Ben and standing behind a buggy holding my father.

I've visited Modena many times, especially as a child because my Uncles and their families continued to live there. I do know my Great Grandfather William Wilson Meredith (whom my father was named for and carried thus the same name) seemed to own much of the place. He had a general store (still there) on the corner of Meredith Row and he owned the row of homes that lined that little street. Somewhere in recent decades the Row was dropped and now it is Meredith Court. The home and its neighbors where my dad grew up
are lived in by Hispanics today. And, of course, the apartment building that was my first home, also owned by my Great Grandfather, is also still there. I remember nothing about it. We moved to my second home when I was just a month old.

I remember nought of my second home either. I have visited it several times in my life, but never inside since we left. No one in the family owned this house and I have never learned the circumstances of how my mother's family came to live there, but it is the home she grew up in. When we moved in her parents were still living there. The area there is called Whitford and has a train station. Whitford was the estate of the Thomas Family, one of the Welsh Quakers who settled the area in 1683, as did my father's ancestors. The Merediths had a farm they called Whiteland. That is my father standing on the back porch of the Whitford home in 1939. He didn't live there yet; he was courting my mother at that time.

We moved again when I was six months old, for reasons I never knew. This was all of us,
grandparents, mother, father and me, that transferred our lives from Whitford to Downingtown. It is kind of funny that I began in a town called Paperville to one sometimes called Papertown. Yes, paper mills once dominated Modena and the town probably didn't get its name from Modena in Italy, but from the Mode Family that owned the mills. In fact, it was originally called Modeville.

Downingtown was full of paper mills, too, even when I was a boy. Most were owned by the Bicking Family and I was related to them. My Great Great Grandmother was Esther Helen Bicking and Frederick Bicking, who ran the mills once upon the time, was my great Great Great Grandfather.

The photo is my mother holding me on her lap in 1941 at the house in Downingtown.

Of course those things I learned, rather than remembered.

What do I remember of life at 424 Washington Avenue prior to my beginning school? Not much. I try to remember, but very little is there. I do have two memories from those years firmly tattooed into my brain.

First of all are the sirens. Downingtown blew the sirens everyday at noon, just to tell you lunchtime had arrived, I guess, but that isn't why I remember them. It was the war, War World II. There were these things called Blackouts and you were notified of a Blackout by blasts on the sirens. The sirens sounds were a code. Besides announcing the noon hour, they signaled other things, like fires. There was a code and a chart was pinned to the backside of our basement door, which opened from our dining room that gave what each series of blasts meant. Well, one sequence meant Blackout and when it sounded there was a great deal of frantic behavior and tension throughout the house.

The Blackout could mean enemy planes were coming from Germany or Japan to blowup our paper
mills and the Iron Works and us. To prevent them seeing their intended target, at least at night, everything had to go instantly dark. All the house lights had to be tuned off and these black shades were pulled down over all the windows to keep out any stray beams from anything else. The town turned off all street lights and traffic signals and they world was plunged into a dark this two-three year old kid couldn't understand. I probably cried, but then everyone would be shushing me. Those kind of panicked nights full of noise followed by absolute night and silence left me with nightmares.

My other earliest memory is as pleasant as the first was scary. It is of my grandmother holding me on her lap, seated in a rocking chair, and reading to me. (That is her with me on the right.) She read to me a lot. I learned to read upon her knees long before I ever set foot in a classroom. I learned to read when she read me the newspaper comic strips. She also read me several other things, books. Oh, the usual Mother Goose and Grimm, but I remember most two other books and perhaps these ingrained something in me.
One was called A Hive of Busy Bees. It was a collection of short stories, but each story had a morel, like Be Good, Be Kind, etc. I still have that book somewhere in the storage room and I should search it out and give to my son to read to my grandson.

The other book she read often was Robert Lewis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verse.  

Do I need say what influences it may have had on me?

At any rate, these are the extent of my earliest memories. Hard as I strain, I can produce no more.