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

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Edmond O'Brien's in Drag, Mr. Peanut's in Burlap and the Mountains are in Papier-Mache

My Fifth Grade teacher was Mrs. Shellenberger and I liked her. She was very nice. She was kind to me. She was a big woman, tall with broad shoulders. She looked like the movie actor Edmond O’Brien. She could have been his sister or him in drag. (O’Brien is pictured right. Mrs. Shellenberger is on the left.) Just picture the actor with long hair wearing a print dress and clunky shoes.

We celebrated Halloween each year at East Ward. Everybody (well, the kids anyway; not so much the teachers) came in costume and the entire student body lined up and paraded around the schoolyard. In our classrooms we had parties afterward with treats and best costume contests. There were prizes for funniest, ugliest, scariest and most beautiful. I won a prize every Halloween from

Fourth grade through Sixth. I won in every category, a different one each year, except most beautiful. I might have even won that once. I dressed as a female one year.  People said I made a pretty girl. It was my eyes. Women would tell my mother they wished they had my eyes. “He has such long lashes,” they would say.
(Right: me as a Playboy Bunny, 1993 – “Pretty Woman, walkin’ down the street” – No? Yes?)

My costumes were always homemade, mostly by my grandmother. We purchased the masks, but everything else came from stuff around the house. I won a little book about birds for being The Ugliest in Sixth Grade. That year I was a witch. My clothes were just old pieces of my grandmother’s wardrobe dyed black. My hat was fashioned out of poster board. I was a rough looking hobo another year in my grandfather’s old clothes. I hate to say it, but the mask bore a resemblance to my Pap-Pap, especially since there was a cigar stub in one corner of the mouth.

One night my mother, grandmother and I went about door-to-door with my grandmother wearing the Witch costume sans hat, my mother as the Hobo and me as a very politically incorrect Black Woman.

The year I started Fifth Grade I also marched in the big Halloween Parade in West Chester. I was marching along having problems seeing through my costume when a man grabbed my arm and pulled me out of line. I wondered what I did wrong. Instead he told me I won third place in the most original costume category (five dollars). I  was dressed as Mr. Peanut. My body was an old potato sack with a cloth monocle sewed on around one eyehole. A pair of grandfather’s Long John’s my grandmother dyed black covered my arms and legs. My cane was one I won at a carnival. My hat was just cardboard cut, glued and taped together.

I received a gift that kept on giving that Christmas. Santa brought me an electric train (his last official visit. this being the year Iva and I had discovered the truth about that old man). Trains became a passion for the rest of my youth. My annual Christmas List included something for the train layout every year thereafter.

My father put a plywood platform in the dining room of 417. I don’t know if he or my grandfather built it. He said it was for the tree and put the tree up at its center. (He put the tree up and almost knocked everything down trying to place the star on top. His stepladder slipped off the edge of the platform.) Christmas morning I came down and a train was chugging around the tree.

Every year at Thanksgiving I would get to put my trains up. Each year I added more to my display. I would get another car or another Plasticville building. My train displays were my pride and joy.

Gary Kinzey (right with my dog, Topper) was a close friend during a few of those years. He was as passionate about electric trains as I, but more focused on the electricity. He made an elaborate control panel with a lot of dials and levers that controlled all aspects of his layout. I considered Gary an electronic genius. He had a Ham Radio in his room and in Junior High he came to class showing off a fountain pen. It wasn’t a working pen, however. He had gutted it of ink and built a radio receiver inside. When Gary became an adult he did go into the electronic field.

I was interested in the design of the layout rather than the power source. My landscape grew as I did. A tourist attraction called Roadside America in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania inspired me.  It billed itself as “The Worlds (sic) Greatest Indoor Miniature Village”.

I wanted to rival it. Thus I build mountains with tunnels by shaping wire mesh into shape and covering it with paper Mache. I placed a small mirror in a valley, built up banks around it to shape create a skating pond. I ran a string of Christmas tree lights beneath the platform and up holes beneath my buildings to give them inside lights that I could turn on and off at will. I hung a plywood sheet on an angle over one end of my little world. I drilled holes and stuck little bulbs through to create a night sky of stars. (Of course, I did a lot of these things as I became a teenager and had a bigger platform in the garage/basement of our home in Bucktown.)

Okay, I came up a little short of Roadside America, but give me a break, I was a kid!

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