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

Friday, February 26, 2016

Routine Life of a Swamp Rat

Photo is the Swamp Rat by the schizophrenic house in 1948.
I remember a time
when I was a lad
and all of my life
was wonderfully sad.

I had no friends,
all I knew were some ghosts
who would haunt my night.
I waited upon them
during the twilight.

I remember a time
when I was a lad
and all of my life
was excitingly sad.

Despite no friends
There were baseball cards
and motion picture shows,
while at home I had
records and radios.

I had some friends.

“At the Age of 8 or 9”
By Larry Eugene Meredith (1967)
“Personal Poetry”, 1970
Davis Ross, editor
Winchester, Va.

 Nabisco is the name to know.
 For a breakfast, you can't beat.
Nabisco Shredded Wheat!"
"Keen eyes fixed on a flying target... a gleaming arrow set against a rawhide string... a strong bow bent almost to the breaking point... and then... "
"Nabisco Shredded Wheat presents Straight Arrow, a thrilling new adventure story from the exciting days of the Old West!"
"To friends and neighbors alike, Steve Adams appeared to be nothing more than the young owner of the Broken Bow cattle spread, but when danger threatened innocent people, and when evildoers plotted against justice, then Steve Adams, rancher, disappeared. And in his place came a mysterious, stalwart Indian, wearing the dress and war paint of a Comanche, riding the great golden palomino Fury. Galloping out of the darkness to take up the cause of law and order throughout the West comes the legendary figure of..."
I hated Shredded Wheat. Shredded Carpet or Dried Straw was a more appropriate moniker for that stuff in my boyish opinion. I certainly wasn’t going to eat that horse food, but I talked my mom into buying it to get the box top for the Straight Arrow Mystic Wrist Kit containing a Golden Arrowhead. Straight Arrow always left one of these arrowheads behind when he rescued someone, much like the Lone Ranger’s silver bullet. I prized my Golden Arrowhead. It glowed in the dark, had a secret compartment for messages and a whistle to blow in case of danger. We often listened to that show during dinner hour too.
I thought Straight Arrow was much cooler than Superman.
I played Straight Arrow over and over during my life at Glenloch. There was an indentation along the edge of the swamp I used for my secret cave. I would go to my secret cave and change from ranch hand Steve Adams to emerge upon my horse, Fury, as Straight Arrow, Of course my Golden Arrowhead was always with me to aid in getting the bad guys.
Moving from town to the desolation of Glenloch might have been daunting to some. I found it a magical wonderland. When I explored the house after we moved in I discovered the storeroom, the extra bedroom across from my playroom. There wasn’t a lot stored there because my parents didn’t own much. Yet in the middle of this room were stacks of comic books.
There were a lot of comic books, two piles at least, and the one pile was taller than me. I assumed these belonged to my dad, but I’ve begun to wonder about it. A dime isn’t a great amount of money, but it had a lot more purchasing power in the
1940s than it has today. My dad was only making $11.67 a week. Whatever money he had made before I came along couldn’t have been much. Where did he get so many dimes? I wondered if those comic books had been left behind by whomever once lived in that house, the same person who left it half stucco, half cinder block?
There were not only every superhero comic created up to the mid-1940s, as well as all the various Warner Brothers and Walt Disney characters, there were some really old comics, historic comics. There were “Famous Funnies”, the compilations of Sunday newspaper strips. There were comics all in black and white. There was even “The Funnies Weekly”, the first original Dell comic book. I wish I had kept them all.

There were other stacks in the room, but these I knew were mom’s. There were about two-dozen Big Little Books. I think I read them all over the next couple of years. There were books based on comic strip heroes such as Dick Tracy or popular detectives like Bulldog Drummond. There was The Adventures of Tom Mix and even some classics such as David Copperfield (the Dickens' novel, not the magician).
Two attracted my attention more than the others. Both featured Frank “Bring ‘em Back Alive” Buck. Oh, wow, I read them and knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. It wasn’t a cowboy; forgive me, Roy Rogers. I wanted to be an explorer, go into the darkest jungles of Africa, capture wild beasts, and discover new civilizations. I was going to be the first person to capture the Yeti.
This was an interesting goal given my fear of heights and that the Abominable Snowman lived in the Himalayan Mountains, highest in the world.
Living in the swamp gave me a perfect setting to pretend explorer and practice for the future.
Meanwhile, when indoors I had other diversions. I played a lot of board games alone. One of my favorites was a car racing game. The box said, “For 2 to 6 players”, but it was perfect for one. It consisted of a large board that unfolded three times to form a racetrack. The track contained six lanes divided into blocks. (The track design was similar to the board game pictured left.) There were six little metal cars of different colors. 
I always used the green car. Green was my favorite color. I learned later that most race drivers avoided driving a green car; they considered the color bad luck just like the number 13. I didn’t care I liked green.

There was a plastic container shaped like a banjo, a large circle at the end of a long neck. Inside this odd tube were six colored balls, one for each racecar. You shook the plastic with the balls in the round part and let them roll down the neck. You placed the cars at the starting line in the order the balls fell.
You repeated this procedure each turn. You then threw a die for each car in the order
the balls were and moved it the number of blocks in its track. You could try to get to the inner track, since it was the shortest, but you had to use one count to move sideways before moving forward again.
I made up drivers for each car, not imaginary names, but kids I knew in Downingtown. I drove the green car, Billy Smith the red, Tim Mahan the Black and so forth. I did this with everything I played. It was only I making every move or acting every part, but I always pretended my friends were involved.
I became quite good at pretend. Living alone develops imagination. Everything I played had a plot. I never just played; it was always a story. The swamp wasn’t a marsh; it was a vast wasteland fraught with dangerous pools of quicksand and alligators. The distant cows in the pasture were prehistoric beasts or aliens from outer space. The hill behind the house was a mountain, the woods to the east of the cornfield an Amazon jungle. Sometimes the risks I took were not imaginary, but all too real.
I was alone and isolated. I may even have felt lonely at times, but I don’t remember ever getting bored. I could imagine myself surrounded by friends, but what I couldn’t do was learn the skills of dealing with the real thing. That was to be a problem when I had to intermingle with my contemporaries, but that was two years away.

Easter came on March 28 in 1948. There would be no stroll up to St. James Presbyterian Church (left) for pony rides this year. I sat in the kitchen with my mother Saturday evening as she helped me dye hard-boiled eggs. My grandmother had a method of removing the contents from fresh eggs through a tiny hole leaving only the shell. She painted funny faces on the shells and dressed them in little cardboard hats. She made an Abe Lincoln egg and a clown egg, etc. But this was just mom and I and we did nothing quite so fancy. I enjoyed the simplicity of dipping eggs in the various dyes.
Easter falls on Sunday, so my dad was home. He was usually home on major holidays anyway. He was home on Thanksgivings for the four-day weekend, something I was not thankful for. On Thanksgiving we would go to my
grandparents after noon for the big feast of a dinner. (Pictured right, Thanksgiving with my father and grandfather showing.) My grandmother went all out. The centerpiece would be a great golden turkey with her homemade bread stuffing. Her recipe for that stuffing went to the grave with her. There was so much food on Thanksgiving, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams with cherries and marshmallows, cranberry sauce, green beans, macaroni and cheese, Cole slaw, pickles and olives. I never had room on my plate for everything at once. She usually baked pumpkin and mincemeat pies; I loved pumpkin, but disliked the mince.
This was a meal repeated on Christmas.
On Easter we also went to grandmother’s for dinner in the afternoon. No one went to church, even on those high Holy days. The meal was lavish enough, but the meat was usually ham, which I wouldn’t eat. There was enough other food on the table for me. I was full of candy by dinnertime anyway.
On Easter morning I woke early. I didn’t allow my parents to sleep late on Christmas and Easter. We came downstairs and before any breakfast, other than coffee for my father, which he salted Navy style, I searched the house for those dyed eggs from the night before. Mother hid them hither and yon throughout the house. She counted the eggs in my basket. One did not want to find an overlooked egg come the heat of July.
I saw what the Easter Bunny left, but wasn’t allowed to touch until after our egg hunt and breakfast. I generally received a large woven basket of jellybeans, coconut crème eggs and yellow marshmallow peeps. There was also a large chocolate rabbit and maybe a giant crème egg as well.
Seven years of age may strike some as old for such a belief. I believed the myths of the Bunny and Santa Claus much longer than I suppose modern children do. Perhaps this was due to my isolation from other children who might know and tell me the truth or maybe it was just more innocent times with less public media to spoil the magic of childhood.
It probably helped that someone in a giant bunny costume didn’t come to the department stores in those day as Santa Claus did. (Photo left is my son about four years old with an Easter Bunny impersonator.) Kris Kringle was human looking after all. A fat man in a red suit with long white whiskers was certainly plausible to see. A giant rabbit was a bit different. If such a beast didn’t frighten a child, it certainly stretched even a kid’s credulity.
Anyway, I had eyewitness proof such beings existed.
March of 1948 had been fairly mild in the Philadelphia region. Temperatures averaged in the mid-sixties during the last half of the month, even having a one-day high of 84. There was a lot of light rain, drizzle and fog. Still, on the morning of the 28th there was a light snowfall and some snow lay in the shade near the house when I went outside after breakfast. As I walked about the house I saw the tracks.
There were rabbit tracks in the dusting of snow and in the mud of the drizzle. They came
across the yard from the back garden. Snowball was still in the hutch, so it had to be a wild rabbit or…

I followed the tracks and they curved along the side of the house right up to below the dining room window. They went from there down to the lane. It must have been the Easter Bunny, I thought. He entered through this window and left my basket of goodies on the dining room table. How a rabbit of normal size could have carried these large objects or reached the window sill never crossed my mind. I simply accepted these were the foot prints of The Easter Bunny.
It was on one of the Christmases at the Swamp House that I got my evidence that Santa existed. I think it was the second Christmas just before we moved again. I lay in bed awake on Christmas Eve, unable to sleep as usual, too full of expectation and excitement. It grew late and then I heard it, a whoosh, like a strong wind, circle the house and something thud on the roof over my head. Santa and his sled had arrived. I shut my eyes and pretended sleep.
To this day I don’t know what I heard that Christmas Eve, a sudden and single wind puff that blew a branch upon our roof perhaps? It sounded just as Santa’s sleigh should sound and confirmed my trust in Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick, at least for a while longer.
I will tell you how I lost my belief in Santa, even though it didn’t happen until we moved back
to Downingtown and into 417 Washington Avenue (pictured right). I must have been 10 years old by then. Denny Myers would tease me for believing in Santa. “It’s just your parents, you know,” but I didn’t believe him. Town kids were always trying to bring me down in those days and Denny, once a friend, was one of the leaders in teasing and bullying me.
It was getting near the big day and Iva Darlington (pictured left with Judy Baldwin on her left, 1952) and I were playing. No one was home at my house. Dad was on the road and
mother was working again at the Five ‘n’ Dime. Iva and I went into my house for a while. We began to snoop. I don’t know if it was her idea or mine. We were trying to find what my parents got me for Christmas. Normally I got clothes with perhaps a small toy or two from them, but we snooped anyway.
In the back of the closet in the spare bedroom we found a cache of
toys, the very things I wanted for Christmas. Oh, I was ecstatic. I was going to have quite a haul this Christmas, what with the toys Santa brought and all these from my parents as well. I could hardy wait. On the right is that spare bedroom, with Peppy on the bed and Chessie and her two kittens picture on the wall.
On Christmas morning I dashed downstairs and there about the tree were the toys Santa had left in unwrapped display. The same toys Iva and I had seen in the closet. I got the usual clothes from my parents and although I never let on to them, I now knew the truth. Another illusion on childhood was gone.

It is hard to distinguish time during the swamp years. The days remained so consistently the
same. There are several events I remember with great clarity, but not precisely when they happened or in what order. I can separate some by season, but not to a month or day.
We came in the beginning of 1948 and by Spring I was exploring further from the house. I had free reign to wander. The only restrictions were to stay away from Rt. 30 (the Lincoln Highway) and not to go over the crest of the hill behind us. I understood the first admonition well enough. I knew a truck or car could squash me just like the dog I had seen. I didn’t understand the second, but I was to hear the warning more than once over the months. Eventually I would discover why.
For the time being I was content to play my Bring ‘em Back Alive fantasies closer to the house. The swamp was only several yards from our front door and in the spring it blossomed with life. Redwing Blackbirds sailed into the reeds and cat o’nine tails of the marsh. They came in the mornings to breakfast on the water skimmers and mosquitoes. It singled the wetland was again swarming with awakening life.
I would amble along the shoreline with a butterfly net and Mason jar. I was stalking the ferocious tadpole. These baby frogs were massive, dark in color and shaped like sperm. They wiggled about in schools just below the water surface. I snatched up a bunch in my jar and toted it to my room. I wanted to watch these creatures turn into frogs, but when mom saw my captives she made me turn them loose. It was cruel, she said. “They’ll just a die in that jar.” So I returned them to their home and family.

I caught a snake down by the water one day. It was three feet long and probably a Garter Snake. They were fairly common in our part of the world. It isn’t poisonous. I doubt there were any poisonous snakes in our swamp, which was a good thing the way I pursued such things with my bare hands. I ran toward the house calling for mom excited by my catch. She came out the front door and saw what I carried, knowing I had every intension of taking it to my room as a pet.
“You put that down right now,” she yelled. “Don’t you be bringing that snake in this house. Let it go.”
Mom didn’t like snakes. She didn’t have the phobia toward them my grandmother had and she wasn’t going for a hatchet, but she still didn’t want that snake near her. She went back inside and I stood staring at the porch with indecision. I hated to lose my prize, but I dropped it. It wriggled up the yard and under the front stoop. I didn’t tell mom where the snake went. I didn’t think she’d be happy it was close to the house.
Things were little different when I explored the cow pasture across our lane. Sometimes there were cattle in the field, but most of the time there wasn’t. I would walk across the pasture when there wasn’t following this narrow stream that ran through it. The stream twisted about, sometimes doubling back on itself. It had high banks and a rapid current. It also had its own wildlife, but I never tried to scoop it up in a Mason jar.
The water was full of Crayfish as we called them. It some parts of the country they are known
as crawfish or Crawdads. I didn’t like the look of them. They reminded me of big bugs. They had these claws and I was afraid of being pinched. I left them alone.
There was watercress aplenty on the banks of this stream. I had heard of watercress sandwiches, Lord knows where. I plucked a few handfuls, took it home and plopped it between two slices of bread. A couple of bites were enough; I never had another watercress sandwich in my life.
The marsh disappeared into woods to the southeast end of the property. I went into this woods a couple times. Skunk cabbage covered the ground, which I was sure you didn’t put in sandwiches. I never went too deep into the trees for fear of getting lost. There was enough to interest me in the other fields about our home.
There was behind our house another home. It looked better than our place. It was all stone with no scaffolding. It didn’t have people though, except one summer a family came up the lane one day and stayed in that house for a month or so. I never spoke to them. At summer’s end they went away and I never saw them again.
I stayed away from that house.
I found our door locked arriving home from school one day. We used the back door as our main entrance and seldom locked it.  I walked to the front and found that door also locked. It was winter at the time and cold. I rapped on the door, but nothing. The house looked empty. I panicked. I found a large rock out in back and used it to smash out a cellar window, crawled through the frame and went up the steps to the first floor. My mom came down from upstairs as I entered. She was now the one in a panic. She had fallen asleep and not heard me come home.
I wasn’t punished for breaking the window. My mom was relieved I hadn’t cut myself to ribbons on the broken glass and I guess my dad admired my act as some how manly.
There was a long slopping hill behind the house and garden. Corn covered its surface. In the
fall trucks came up our drive. One pulled an odd contraption with a long shoot rising above one side and pointed funnel shaped tubes to the front. The farmer had come to harvest his crop.
I stood by the back of the yard watching and one of the men asked if I would like to ride in the truck with him. Sure, I would. I clambered up into the high cab and off we went. I discovered what the odd looking contraption did. It plucked the ears off the stalks. The pointy funnels pressed down the cornstalks and stripped off the cobs. The snipped off ears were somehow propelled up that long tube where they flew out of an opening into the bin of the truck I rode in. They spewed out fast and furious and occasionally an ear or more would sail through the open side windows of the cab and I would have to duck. The driver laughed at this. It was great.
The farm hands came that one fall for harvest and I never saw them again either, just like those summer visitors to that other house.
It snowed a good bit one of our winters there. That hill was great for sledding as long as I kept to the wagon path running along side the fencerow. If I moved too far into the field I would catch the sled runners on the broken stalks. I pulled my sled up the track by an old clothesline tied to the front. At the top I would sit on the sled and push with my hands to start. I never lay down facing forward to sled. I don’t know if I didn’t know how or was afraid.
As I trudged up the hill I saw something dark in the field. It was a bright morning. I assumed it was a shadow, but then it moved and I saw a second object, then a third. There were some kind of animals running out of the cornfield into the fencerow. I was a little nervous, but I continued on and didn’t see anything anymore that day.
At supper I told mother I saw groundhogs up on the hill.
She was a little dubious about this. I’m not sure she believed I saw anything. I made up so many stories she thought this was probably my imagination. She told me there were groundhogs in our woods, but they would be hibernating this time of year.
The next day I saw the spots again. This time I ran up the wagon track to get closer, my sled bouncing behind. The objects took off and ran into the fencerow as before and I followed them. The animals were nowhere in sight, but the ground was crisscrossed by tiny paw prints. There was an old fallen log in the center of the fencerow with a hole in the ground at the near end. The prints converged at the hole. It must be the groundhogs’ burrow, I decided.
As I stood there something moved in the brush nearby. Suddenly a puppy scurried from the brush and skittered down the hole. Another followed it. I got down on hands and knees and tried to see down the hole, but it was too dark. I picked up a stick and stuck it in, wiggling it about.
By now I was lying on the ground. I heard a low growl behind me. Rolling over I saw a large Collie up on a small rise of dirt. It was bearing its teeth and the fur stood up on its back. I didn’t even think. I jumped to my feet and ran. I grabbed my sled and belly flopped upon it, riding it down the hill into the yard. It was my first face forward sled ride. I rolled off the sled and ran up the back steps screaming for my mother. There was no sign that the dog had chased me.
My mother calmed me down and heard out my story. This time she didn’t question my truth. She called the Chester County SPCA and reported the incidence. An hour or so later a van came slowly up our driveway and mom went outside to meet it. She talked to two men and came back into the house. The men had some kind of pole and a cage, which they carried with them up the hill. They were up there for a time. When they came down they had the Collie, the mother dog, in the cage. After sliding this into the van they drove off.
“What about the puppies,” I asked her.
She shook her head. “I’m sure they’ll come back for them,” she said, but the men never came
back. She called the SPCA again. The men couldn’t get the puppies because they were down a groundhog hole she was told.
“Couldn’t?” she muttered, “Wouldn’t more like.”
Mother kept cans of dog food in one of the kitchen cabinets for feeding Peppy. I led my mom up the wagon track to where I found the log. She dumped some of the dog food at the edge of the hole.
We did this for a couple of days. My dad came home for the weekend and mom told him about the puppies. He got a pick and a shovel and carried them up the hill. Dad dug the pups out of that burrow and brought them all down the hill in an old picnic basket. My dad found a home for each of the pups with his truck driver buddies. The runt of the litter was the only one left and dad said I could keep him. He was the smallest of the group, but I named him Topper. (To the right that is Topper and I playing by the doghouse dad built for him out behind the swamp house.)

Topper was the nicest dog. He was also very handsome. He grew to look like a German Shepherd, which must have been the father, but with the sleeker more elongated muzzle of a Collie. Now I had two recruits for my explorations, Peppy and Topper.

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