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, March 8, 2016

Comic Books, Baseball Cards and Other Tools of War

I am not sure how far my new friendships had developed by the end of Fourth Grade. It is difficult to pinpoint many of the experiences I remember from my youth as to the exact period they occurred.
It may be that my friendship with Stuart Meisel developed from those puppet shows. It may have been that commonality which drew us to each other.
The earliest photographs I have of Stuart and me together (on right) were in 1952-53, but these were taken of an event at East Ward School. The earliest picture I have of me at Stuart’s home was taken in 1954 (left, in the Red Room). But that would have been during our junior high years and we would have been 12 or 13 years old depending if the photo was before or after the last week of June. I was born on the 27th and he on the 30th of that month.
I can’t trust photographs to pinpoint such things as exact dates. I was interested in photography as a child. I had a Kodak Brownie camera and took a lot of pictures. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what year I got that camera and the photos I took as a child have disappeared. The first photograph I have of Ronald and I together is the same 1953 event where Stuart appears. (Ronald is on the far left of the top row and I am on the far right. Stuart is kneeling directly in front of me.) The first picture I have of Ronald taken by me is 1956. I do know when and how Ron and I met and that was 1950.

I am certain Stuart and I as friends go back to 1950 or ’51, but remembering my being together with my childhood friends is like seeing a large and glorious garden. I can see the individual beds of flowers, but I can’t distinguish just where the garden path begins. However, in the case of Ronald, I know the blooms of friendship blossomed over those Third-Fourth Grade years.
Ronald Tipton and I were trading comic books.

I don’t have a photograph, but I have a picture in my head of us sitting on the sun porch at 417 Washington Avenue bargaining over those books. I carried a large cardboard box, one of those they had packed groceries in at the market, out to the porch. He would be waiting with whatever he could carry in his arms or brought in a shopping bag.
Ronald says I was tough. I was a natural born hoarder. It was difficult for me to give up certain things. I wanted to get the comics he had that I liked best, but not lose too many favorites of my own in the deal. Scrooge McDuck and Marge’s Little Lulu were probably the most difficult to yank from my hands. Or maybe they all were. I am sure I grumbled over giving up a Plastic Man or Green Lantern or Captain Marvel. I probably offered up things like Submariner or Captain America. I was never very fond of those.

I though Submariner was a little fishy (yes, pun intended) with his strange pointed ears on his pointed face. Namor the numbskull!
I much preferred DC’s Aquaman. I still might have been willing to part with some Aquamans; although, I not certain he had his own comic book that early. He was still appearing in "Adventure Comics", as was The Green Arrow at the time. He didn't get his own publication until much later. 

 I imagine I was also freer with Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Oswald Rabbit and Andy Panda comics; probably most of the Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies line and Mickey Mouse was never a big favorite, though I bought every new issue that appeared when I could afford to.
I am not certain what happened to that big stack of comic books in the storage room at the Swamp House. I obviously brought back a carton full pruned from that collection, but many of them simply disappeared, especially some of the older ones like Famous Funnies or Funnys on Parade My folks probably felt there wasn’t enough room for them all at my Grandparent’s and told me to pick out those I really wanted. Maybe those comics really had been in that house when we got there and so they just left them.
Ronald would have some comics in his offerings I had no interest in whatsoever. They had
words like “Love” or “Romance” in the titles. Who wanted those things? I didn’t know why he wanted to read that stuff. He did
have some of the EC titles, such as The Vault of Horror and a number of Archie Comics.
I was a big fan of Archie and collected most of the spinoffs as well, such as Jughead, Pep and Laugh Comics. Laugh was kind of a
seasonal collection in the Archie series and an anthology that featured stories centered around different characters in the Archie Family, such as Katy Keene. Pep also featured characters other than just Archie and his gang, such as Li’l Jinx and The Shield, a superhero.
Speaking of Archie spinoffs, Ronald had Katy Keene comics. I read her in Laugh, but seldom would buy her own comic. Katy Keene had a fashion element to her stories. There was a page of cutout paper dolls included in each issue. I had clipped pictures from magazines to play grocery store once upon a time, but I never had much interest in paper dolls.
Now looking at Katy in her underwear, I may have taken an interest in her comics a few years down the road. There would come a period when I traced over drawings of Betty and Veronica and left off their clothing. We’ll talk more about that chapter of my youth in the section of this book when I reach Junior High. At this stage of life, I had no interest in Katy Keene.

Ronald use to submit dress designs to the Katy Keene Fashions. It was a regular feature and contest. You too could create a gown for Katy’s semi-nude paper doll body to sport. Ronald was a good artist. He told me at one time in our childhood he wanted to be a designer when he grew up, not of women’s fashion so much, but of rooms. He could draw rooms well also. He talked of being an interior
designer. I don’t know if he still remembers that desire or what happened that he never pursued it. I thought he was quite good. In more recent times he has confessed to me he really wanted to be a fashion designer, but in our youth boys didn’t speak about such things publicly.
I was interested in art myself, but not in being a designer. (Painting left: “Night Flowers”, age 7.) I just liked to draw and sketch, especially trees. (Right, one of my bare trees in “Awakenings, done in colored charcoal.) In Fourth and Fifth grade some of my drawings were going up on the boards and displayed for any open house affairs at the school. My art was one of my few saving graces in Junior High, too. It was one of the few things anyone praised me for. I had developed my own ambitions in the field by then, but it wasn’t to be a portrait painter or a designer of any stripe. I wanted to be a cartoonist.

There was another trading activity I got into by Fourth Grade, but I don’t think Ronald was as much into Baseball Bubblegum Cards as I was. I could be wrong and maybe we did trade players or gamble for them.
Stuart may have been more involved in this activity and Michael Myers and some of the other boys on the street. I had bought (well, my mother bought for me after some wheedling and whining) my first few cards in 1948. I believe the modern cards only appeared on the market in 1947. I got a few more in 1949 and after that the floodgates opened. I was on my way to filling a couple of shoeboxes with cards.
It was a great deal. You got a large square of bubblegum and a card for one cent, and I even
liked the gum. There were nickel packs where you got a stick of gum and six players’ cards, even more cards during a time Topps and Bowman’s got competitive. Bowman’s was the leader in producing bubblegum baseball cards during the early ‘fifties, but was eventually surpassed by Topps.
Ironically, in 1947 when I had first began to buy Bowman bubblegum, one of their vice-presidents, Edward P. Fenimore, founded his own company in Havertown, Pennsylvania called the Philadelphia Gum Company. Twenty-two years after I purchased my first Bowman card I would go to work at the Philadelphia Gum Compay, but more about that will come much later in my tale.
There were certain players every boy wanted to get in his collection. I wanted Richie Ashburn and Stan Musial.
Ashburn was center fielder for the Phillies and I pictured myself as him. I had been a fan of
Stan Musial ever since my grandfather gave me his large bat in kindergarten. (The photo of Richie Ashburn on the left is not a baseball card, but a photograph taken inside the Phillies locker room by Mary Lou Marple. The year was 1958. Mary Lou was one of my wife-to-be’s best friends. The picture on the right is of my future wife and her friends looking over the program from the game the night they took the photos of the players. That is my wife-to-be, Lois, seated left, then Mary Lou Marple and Lynn Martin They were all attending Upper Darby High School together.)

 A lot of the kids wanted Mickey Mantle. Mantle was very difficult to get. I really think the gum companies only put out a limited number of the top name players to keep you buying all summer. You would get a lot more of Ted Kazanski (don’t confuse him with the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski) than of Ted Kluwzewski.
Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial seemed impossible to get. It took me years to get one card of Musial. We would trade all those “doubles” of Kazanskis in the bubblegum world to get somebody we were missing. It was the Kazanskis we most often gambled with as well.

 (Photo on right is Mickey Mantle, 1951. Not impossible, but then that is a Bowman Card. Topps was more difficult.)
How did we gamble baseball cards? The way we did it where I was involved was simple. You selected a card and your friend selected one from his pack. Now one or the other of you might reject an offering because they already had it or didn’t think the player was equal to their own. This didn’t happen very often. We usually just flipped. We didn’t flip a coin; we flipped the cards. We kind of wrist-snapped them against a wall or hard surface. If one card fell face up and the other didn’t, the owner of the face up card got both. If both cards fell face up or face down, you went again.
To tell the truth, I didn’t like to gamble very much. I am a born hoarder remember. I would
trade duplicates though.
I invented a lot of games with bubblegum cards. Some actually had to do with baseball. For instance, I would take a team of players and spread them out on the floor where their positions would be, First base, second Base, etc. My other team would bat. I would throw a little wad of paper with one hand and swing the batter card at it with the other.  Where it landed, if I hit it, determined how many bases the hitter took. If I missed it was a strike. If it landed on a fielder card the batter was out. I would play an entire nine-inning game doing that.
Or I would take a team, Phillies cards versus Cubs cards for instance and do a player match. In this I made two piles, one team in each or sometimes just various players. (I always separated pitchers out.) I would turn over a card from each pile and compare batting averages. Highest average won and that side took the player. The object was to capture one of the piles in total. It could take hours.
Another game I played was League Standings. I would mix up all the cards in my shoebox
and then put them back in order by team. I would lay a card face up on the floor; lets say it was of a Cardinal. I would then take the next card and lay it down. If it were a different team, say the Cubs, it would go to the right of the first card. If the next card were another Cub, then the Cub pile would leap over the Cardinal pile into first place. Eventually all teams would be in this game. (We only had eight teams in each league at that time.) If a team was in first and the next card was that team, I would set it next to the pile on the left. If the team in second was then drawn, the spare card for the first place team kept them in first, but it then went on top of their main pile.

Finally, I might just play a war game with my cards. This had nothing to do with baseball. I would pick certain face cards as the good guys, a little team of warriors to battle a hoard of cards with action poses. I would have battles, somewhat like the gambling. I would take a “Good Guy” and a “Bad Guy” and fling the two cards together. Whichever landed face down was dead. Being right-handed I always threw the Bad Guy with my left. That way the Good Guy usually won. Yeah, I cheated a little in my games.

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