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

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Friends We Knew and Games We Played before There Was TV

In those preschool days I wasn’t shy. Quite the opposite, I was very outgoing and friendly. I had a good many friends, the preponderance of which apparently were of the female persuasion. Of course one of my earliest friends was Iva, the little redhead who lived in the next house up the street, before one was built in the vacant lot on the west side of 424 Washington between us.
Another very early friend, also female, was Sandra “Sandy” Yarnell. The Yarnells were friends of my grandparents. My grandfather was very close with one of his co-workers, Joe Yarnell, who lived in a ramshackle house on Dolen’s Mill Road. I am not certain of Sandy’s exact relationship to Joe. Sandy and I went way back in our friendship as you see by the photo on the right. I am the one with the long hair and not sucking a thumb.

I also was friendly in the early years with her brother Bill. Again I am the one with the long wavy hair. The Yarnells were in and out of my life during my youth. After I grew up they disappeared from it. I don’t really know what happened to them or
even if they are still alive today. They certainly aren’t any older than I so I am assuming they are living and breathing somewhere. The last contact I had with Sandy was in high school. She grew up into a pretty young woman (right-1959).

There were a number of other friends I had then that disappeared from my life over the years. Bobby Lukens was another boy my age that I played with a lot. The Lukens were good friends of my parents and visited back and forth regularly. Is the Lukens Steel family their relatives? I don’t know. Bill
Lukens, who served in the Navy with my dad, was Bobby’s father,.
I also don’t know the fate of Bobby after we grew up, except in May of 1962 he married a Peggy Alice Knowles.
I had another close friend in those early years by the name of Billy Griffith. He is the boy in the foreground of the sandbox wearing a white shirt; I am shirtless behind him. Sad to say I cannot remember anything about him beyond his name. The sandbox we are playing in was build by my grandfather Brown. I had many things created by him using his carpentry skills. It is a shame he never passed any of his wood working knowledge along to me.

He built the swing Billy and I are sharing, me on the left and Billu on the right.

My mother gave me birthday parties. The illustration at the very top of this chapter was in 1945 when I turned four. The one shown here on the left was for my eighth in 1949. Several of the same kids appear in both. Iva Darlington was always at my parties. Judy Baldwin, the girl on the end with the pigtails was a friend of mine because she was a friend of Iva. They were inseparable in those days. The same for the two girls seated to the right of Iva. The darker haired girl on the left is Toni Yost and the girl with the curlier hair is Jeannie Bicking. It was as if they were joined at the hip. Jeanie was my first cousin twice removed. Esther Helen Bicking was my Great Great Grandmother.
In the years to come I was to have a crush on the blond girl with glasses on the right. I thought
she was the most beautiful girl in the world, but I never got further than a friendship with her. Just look at how happy I was to have my arm around her in the picture on the right. Her name was Mary Jane Chudleigh and she lived at 120 Washington Avenue, in the same apartment building where my not yet friend Ronald Tipton lived.
It is interesting that there are only three boys in both party photos and one of them is I. In the 1945 photo at the top, Tim Mahan flanks me on my right and Billy Smith on my left. I met Tim in Mrs. Helms’ Kindergarten, but I really don’t know how I met Billy. Most likely just on the Avenue. He lived a few doors up from 424.
In the 1949 photo things have changed a little. I am on the end looking down at whatever Iva is looking at. Billy Smith is there beside me. Billy was my best friend in the years before 1950. Tim Mahan is not in the picture. I don’t know if we had stopped being friends by then or not. I don’t recall that Tim and I ever had a real falling out. I think we just drifted into different groups as we grew. In the photo on the left Billy and I are playing cowboys. The dog between us is Peppy. In the background is East Ward Elementary School.
The other boy is Dennis “Denny” Myers. At this time Denny and I were buddy-buddy. In a few years we would not be. Denny would become one of my chief tormentors at East Ward School and onthe Avenue. One of the ironies here is Billy moved from Downingtown to Coatesville around this time. Denny Myers moved from an apartment fronting Lancaster Avenue about a block away into the Smith’s old residence. Another friend of the time named Gary Kinzey then moved into the apartment the Myers-Shirks left.

At the time of this 1949 party I was not living in Downingtown, but my mother had the party at my grandparents home, which was 424 Washington.
Another friendship I had beginning in 1943 and lasting into adulthood was with Patty Lilly,
yet another girl. Her parents were friends with mine and we all visited back and forth a good deal in those years. Patty lived out along Creek Road near Lenape. The picture of Patty and her brother Bobby with me was in a field behind her home.
The Lillys were a tall family. Mr. Lilly was very tall with broad shoulders and a square head. Mrs. Lilly was nearly as tall as he and a big woman. Patty took after her parents and grew to be at least six feet tall if not more. I know she was always able to look me straight in the eye. Patty married another friend of mine from a different place and different time named Paul Miller. He was another giant sized human being. He also served as an usher at my wedding.
But that is getting ahead in my story.
The two boys I played with most in the early 1940s were Tim Mahan and Billy Smith. My
grandfather, who had given me the Stan Musial bat, also gave me a full baseball uniform and a catcher’s mask. I was thus a catcher in my first attempts at the game. There really weren’t a lot of full team games then. Mostly it was Billy, Tim and I playing catch or trying to bat the ball to each other. My bat was too long and heavy for any of us, but I persisted and I think swinging that outsized bat helped make me a good hitter.
Tim also had a full baseball uniform. He seemed to prefer a crouched batting stance. The bats we have here were more to our size than that club I owned.
Tim was given a bow and arrow set either for Christmas or his birthday one year. Not a toy set like the one I once owned, with suction cups on the end of the arrows. He had the real deal with metal-tipped arrows. A friend shot Tim in the temple playing with it. It penetrated, but was just off enough to miss killing him or causing major damage, probably as a young boy the friend didn’t get a lot of pressure on the string before letting it fly, lucky for Tim.
As previously explained Tim and I drifted away to different cliques later.
Billy Smith and I remained best friends until geography became too great to overcome. When our friendship began we lived a few doors apart. There weren’t a lot of buildings on our street. 424 sat at the east end with vacant lots on both sides
(the lot on the west side later had a pink double house constructed on it). Going west, the next residence was a double home. Iva Darlington lived on the side toward us. The Ingrams lived next to her. Next was a small single home belonging to a Mr. Zittle. Mr. Zittle always dressed in black and wore a derby hat. As far as I know he lived there alone. I thought he was an odd fellow because of his peculiar dress. I believe he is the man on the right in this photograph taken in 1900. In the 1940s he was still dressing in the same manner.
Just past Mr. Zittles was a large building. It was a mixed residence. The east side was apartments and I believe three separate families occupied it, one family to each floor. There was a lady living on one floor whose name I forgot, but as a boy she reminded me of the comic book character Etta Kett. It may be her name was Etta. There was also a young man living there whom I have also forgotten. Another friend of my youth, another girl, lived there. Her name was Mary Louise LaFevre, shown below on the right with Michele Buckley in the background.

Mary Louise was a close friend with Iva and Judy, and the four of us played hopscotch and jacks, not exactly considered manly games. Michele was a friend of mine until a certain instance in grade school.
 One day at recess I chased after Michele near the Monkey Bars. I caught her somewhere near the seesaws and I kissed her full on the mouth. Mister Buckley was none to pleased when he heard of this and took the matter up with my parents. My father was home from the Navy by then and he confronted me on the street in front of our parked car. He told me if I ever did something like that again he would take his belt to me.

Let me say my father often threatened to take his belt to me, but I can’t recall an instance
where he actually did. He would sometimes unbuckle and draw it partly out of the loops, but he never hit me with anything more than his hand, and he only used that to spank me. I didn’t even get very many spankings.

I don’t to this day understand why all the fuss. I wasn’t old enough to be dangerous. I wasn’t capable of anything further than a kiss nor inclined to such anyway. I knew nothing of sex as a child. As I said, I wasn’t shy in those days. I was outgoing and friendly, apparently a bit too so in this case. I think I might have done it on a dare, although looking at our closeness in some of these old photographs; maybe I did have a thing for her.

On the corner of Washington Avenue and Chestnut Street a house sits on a fair sized lot. This
was the home of the mysterious Fahay Sisters. A wrought iron fence surrounded the yard. There were a number of trees about the grounds that kept the place in perpetual shade. We neighborhood children were afraid of the place.
When we had to walk up to Chestnut Street, we crossed to the opposite sidewalk to pass the Fahay Home.
I’m not sure I ever saw the Fahay Sisters, which probably added to the mystique about that house. You would think it was the perfect Halloween site, but none of us ever had the nerve to knock on that door trick or treating. We wouldn’t even open the gate.
It’s funny what settles in a childish head. As far as I know the Sisters were perfectly nice old ladies, if indeed they were all that old. Yet we imagined rather nasty things about these spinsters, of spells being cast and perhaps children boiled in pots like in Hansel and Gretel.
Billy Smith lived right next door to the Sisters. This is his home when we both lived on Washington Avenue. The left side of this building was an apartment house, each floor holding a different family. The right side was just the Smiths. Billy was an only child like me.
Billy wasn’t just a friend; he was my “bestest” friend. I’m always a bit uncomfortable with the term “Best Friend”. It seems so exclusive. We have many Best Friends over the course of our lives. Sometimes we have more than one at once, as I did in my second Downingtown incarnation when I considered both Ronald Tipton and Stuart Meisel best friends. I had even more in High School when Ron and Stu still remained close and I added Richard Wilson and Ray Ayres to that Best Friend category. It is a bothersome term because it is singular. But Better Friends doesn’t work because that somehow implies status. “My Better Friends have more manners, or polish, or savor faire or economic standing than my other friends,” the term says. So I am stuck with saying I had Best Friends of equal status.
However, for the period 1944 to 1950, Billy Smith was my Most Bestest Friend.
Billy was a toe head, a blond, and he had a big head, in size, not ego. Since he lived a few doors away I assume I simply met him on the street. At some point our mothers trusted we were old enough to wander about the avenue on our own. I’m not sure when that was, perhaps in the latter months of three or at the age of four. The photos of us playing baseball in my backyard were from 1945 when all in the photo turned four. (Billy is the shirtless boy, Tim Mahan is batting and I am behind the catcher mask.)
He and I clicked. We could talk freely about anything to each other, although I don’t know how much controversial conversation passes between four year olds requiring a lot of trust. We certainly were constant companions always at one or another’s house until I moved out of town. We still were able to get together on weekends when I stayed at my grandparents, but just after I moved back to Downingtown in 1950 Billy’s family moved to Coatesville.
I remember some of the games we played around 1944 to 1946. If at my house we sometimes played pirates. 424’s wooded railed porch made an excellent pirate ship in our imagination. On Billy’s front porch we played something called “Heil Hitler!” You see his porch didn’t have that railing around it back in the 1940s. It was an all open front just like the twin porch next door. “Heil Hitler!” It was a simple game based on “Hot Potato”.
The participants would toss a ball in the air from one to another, but no one would actually catch it. Whoever it came to would immediately bat it back into the air toward someone else. We pretended the ball was a bomb about to explode. If a person batted at the ball and missed then he would goose-step across the porch to the edge then fall off to the ground while making the noise of an explosion. The rest of us raised one hand in that straight-arm salute accompanied with a shout of “Heil Hitler” as he stepped off the edge. We would see who could look the goofiest as they fell. We were mocking the blind following of Der Furher by the Nazis as he led Germany over a cliff. We really didn’t think of it that way in our four-year old minds, but that was what we were doing.
We would pause in this game or any other activity we might be engaged in if we heard planes.  During those years a number of warplanes in formation flew over town on their way somewhere. We would crane our heads skyward and try to identify the type. One time we even saw a Flying Wing pass over us.

When the Smith’s moved, the Shirks moved into their old house on Washington Avenue. The Shirks were Denny Myers parents. I had a tentative friendship with Denny from before I moved to the swamp, but it was to turn sour within the first few months after I returned to Downingtown. However, I became friends with his next younger brother, Michael Myers.
The Shirks were the first family on the block to get a television. Several of us gathered every afternoon in their living room to watch in amazement as Frontier Playhouse brought the Old West right into his home. Frontier Playhouse showed old B Westerns from the 1930s, stars such as Charles Starrett, Tim McCoy and Lash Larue. Lash Larue was a favorite of mine. He had competition from another Western hero named Whip Wilson (pictured left), but I preferred Lash. Their shtick was the same, both fought the bad guys with a bullwhip more than a gun, but I thought Lash was cooler.
Whip Wilson was too wimpy-looking in his white hat and well-scrubbed boyish face. Lash
came encased in all black giving him a more badass persona.
The picture of Whip Wilson is on a Dixie Cup lid. Dixie Cups were small ice creams and on the inside of the lids were pictures of movie stars. They were similar to the cards that come with bubblegum, except you had to lick the ice cream off the star’s face before putting it in a shoebox for safekeeping.
My real all-time favorites on Frontier Playhouse were a trio called “The Three Mesquiteers”. This trio changed over the years with different actors in the rolls of the three members. There were 51 Three Mesquiteer films out of Republic Pictures and even John Wayne played one of the bunch in eight of them. His character was named Stony Brooke. The best of the lot were the three actors who showed up most in those roles on Frontier Playhouse: Ken Maynard, Bob Steele and Hoot Gibson. If I remember correctly they went by the names Ken, Bob and Hoot in the films. No more cutesy “Stony Brookes”.

Frontier Playhouse came on from 4 to 5 every weeknight. The normal supper hour was 5 to 6, so around five Mrs. Shirk would shoo us home so her family could eat. We called it supper, not dinner back when I was a young boy.
Suppertime and the chicken’s fryin’
The potato’s mashed
And the gravy is rich..

I thought I’d throw in a little Gershwin.

My friendship with Billy Smith was one that linked three periods of my early life. He remained my Best Friend even when I left Downingtown for a couple years. We saw each other on weekends and then he was still a friend when I moved back. Unfortunately when I moved back, he moved away to Coatesville.
We still visited for a while, traveling by Short Line Bus between towns. (Just to be accurate, Downingtown was a borough and Coatesville was a city. Neither was either a town or a ville.) That was a brand new experience for me, riding the bus alone. I was nervous about it. I was fearful of missing my stop. It is a foolish fear. These buses stopped about every block. If you missed your stop you could get off at the next and not be very far from where you wanted to be.
I would get more and more anxious the closer I got to my stop. Coming home from Billy’s on
one occasion I totally panicked. The Short Line took two routes through Downingtown. On one route the bus would turn right in the center of town and go up Rt. 322 to West Chester. The other route continued straight through town and out to Exton where the Lincoln Highway crossed Rt. 202 before turning toward West Chester. On this trip I mistakenly thought I was on the Rt. 322 bus and as it came to the center square of town I hurried to exit. I pulled the cord to ring the bell that told the driver to stop. As I got up from my seat my small cardboard suitcase fell open and spilled all my clothes in the aisle. I was very embarrassed crawling about snatching up my skivvies and other apparel while the bus waited. I was further chagrinned when I got off and watched the bus go straight down Lancaster Avenue. If I had remained on board it would have taken me to Chestnut Street and let me off only a block from my home.

Billy festooned his bedroom with model airplanes. These hung from strings everywhere. His were the wooden models where the pieces were cut out of balsa wood with a Xacto knife not the plastic kits I glued together. Billy loved building those planes; I didn’t have the patience. I remember the airplane glue, though, a clear thick liquid you pressed from a tube and got high on the odor. It also stuck to your fingers and felt like pulling off skin when you peeled it.

This will be strange news to anyone who knows me now, covers of “Vault of Horror” and “Tales from the Crypt”. With my next best friend I would be trading for those ghoulish rags, but at Billy’s I didn’t even want to see the titles.
but Billy had an interest in something else I didn’t like, horror comics. Since I became a horror storywriter for the Pulps this doesn’t sound possible, but it is true. At the time I knew Billy horror comics gave me nightmares. Yet right there in his bedroom was a tub full of the ghastly
On one visit Billy’s family watched a TV show called Tales

of Tomorrow
. It began with eerie music and told spooky stories akin to the Twilight Zone. “Sleep No More” (1952) was the episode that particular evening and after watching it I couldn’t. The tale told of a man who every time he slept alien monsters entered the world through his dreams.
Billy’s family lived in Coatesville a brief time and then moved somewhere out in the country. After that our friendship just faded with the distance.

Tim Mahan (James F. "Tim" Mahan) died in 2009 at age 68.
 Gary Kinzey died in 2011 at age 70
Judy Baldwin (Nixdorf) died in 2012 at age 70
Denny Myers died in 2015 at age 74

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