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

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Jeannette of the Dimpled Eyes

In August of 1957 something happened that never had before. My parents took me along on their vacation trip. There had been a number of day trips during my youth. My mother and grandmother had taken me to the big department stores in Philadelphia every Christmas and to the city’s museums on my every birthday.
My folks drove me through Pennsylvania Dutch Country a few times over the years. It wasn’t overgrown with tourist traps yet. There was ONE Amish Homestead you could tour and learn about that sect, but mostly you rode around the beautiful farmland and saw the real Amish at work in the fields. Traffic wasn’t congesting Route 30 and the side roads. The only thing that slowed you up was an occasional horse and buggy clopping along.

There were only a couple of restaurants specializing in Pennsylvania Dutch menus where you could get some real Shoofly pie for desert. Miller’s Smorgasbord existed going back to 1929, but such now famous restaurants as Plain & Fancy and Good ‘n’ Plenty didn’t exist yet. We went on Saturdays. Nothing was open on Sunday, and still isn’t, out of respect for the Mennonite and Amish beliefs.
Of course today where you had open farm country you have strings of motels and restaurants, several homesteads giving tours, light shows and musical theater and a big amusement park called Dutch Wonderland. Once it was a land of unique people that drew your curiosity. Now merchants, cashing in on the Amish theme, have overrun the place with malls, outlet stores and phony tourist traps. They are driving the real Amish away.

There was the Strasburg Railroad in that area even back then. You could ride a steam train to Paradise and back. I was more comfortable with steam trains by the time I was sixteen, although I still gave the steam-hissing engines a wide berth.

Paradise wasn’t, but it did play well into all those suggestive names of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. You could always go from Bird in Hand to Intercourse, which lay between Blue Ball and Paradise, not far from Leacock and Lititz.
You know, that brings back something else I remember from Miss Hurlock’s class that I think she got a perverse pleasure out of it. It was a sexual reference that seemed out of place for the time and the place. We were reading some classic literary short story out loud in class and the author talked about his intercourse with a certain lady. Somebody giggled. Miss Turlock got this smirk on her face and said, “At that time intercourse meant correspondence and correspondence meant intercourse.” She sort of snickers when she said it.
At the time it was another of those things people said I didn’t understand, but it stuck in my mind until I did understand it and has never left.

My family took me to some amusement parks, such as Hershey, Dorney Park and Rocky Springs. Rocky Springs was my favorite. It wasn’t as large or splashy as Hershey or even Dorney Park, but much larger than Lenape. My grandfather took me there for the Downingtown Iron Works company picnic when he was still around. It was wonderful, one of the best days of my life. The gate attendants gave us little brown buttons to pin on our shirts as we entered. That pin meant we were with the Iron Works and it allowed us to ride all the rides as many times as we wished.
The ride I rode the most was The Whip. You sat in a car attached to a chain that wrapped about a center oval. The car whipped you around the corners at great speed (Pictured right).

They had a funhouse. It was the first one I ever saw where you rode through.  There was a penny arcade, too.
At the time Rocky Springs boasted the largest wooden roller coaster in the country. It was The Wildcat. When my parents took me to Rocky Springs a couple of times. My dad turned into a big kid at amusement parks. He was constantly harping on the roller coaster and why wouldn't I ride it. He ruined Rocky Springs for me by threatening to make me go on the huge Ferris wheel with him.

I had never been on an overnight trip with my parents, though, until that August, excluding the truck run I took with dad to Pittsburgh. We were going to Wildwood in New Jersey for a whole week. Not only were they taking me, Rich Wilson was invited along to keep me company.
My dad rented an apartment in one of those little boarding houses that fill the shore towns.
Rich and I had a room and my parents had a room. We hardly saw my folks except when we’d all have dinner in one of the eateries. Otherwise, they went their way and we went ours. We preferred it that way. We were usually up early and back late.
Rich and I would head out to the Boardwalk by midmorning, and then we would go and spend an afternoon on the beach or in the ocean. Rich would fling his shirt off as soon as we hit the sand. He wore a tight fitting swimsuit, something like a brief. I generally kept my shirt on, except when I went into the water. I wore boxer-style, less revealing swim trunks.

The first day on the beach Rich excused himself. He came back a few minutes later with two girls on his arms. They were the Siravo Sisters, Jeannette and Marilyn. Jeannette was the older and the one Rich had chatted up. Marilyn, the younger sister, tagged along. (In the photo with me is Marilyn on the left and Jeannette on the right, closest to me.)

We passed a good bit of our time that week with Jeannette and Marilyn. We met them on the beach every day and then after dinner we spent the evenings on the Boardwalk with them. We went to the amusement piers, played the games of chance or just walked in the moonlight holding hands.  As it happened, much to my surprise and delight, Jeannette preferred me to Richard so she became my girl for the week. Unfortunately, Rich wouldn’t accept her choice. He wasn’t use to girl’s rejecting his advances and he kept pushing himself upon her. She wrote about it later:
“How thoughtless he was, even at the dance that’s all he did was to kiss me all the time. I got pretty tired of it. All it was he had to have this dance. Remember the last night we were together, well, he made me cry a couple of times because I told him I liked you better than him.”
Dick Clark held one of his record hops in Wildwood at the Starlight Ballroom, which was the dance Jeannette was referring to. We took  the girls for a night of dancing. As we walked in Ballroom we were given these small autographed photos, sort of like Baseball Bubblegum Cards, one of Dick Clark and one of Pat Boone. I’m not sure why Pat Boone, he didn’t appear at the dance. Dick Clark always had a couple guest stars appear and perform at his dances. I say perform, but they only lip-synced to their recording. I don’t know whom he had that night. They were a couple of wanna-bes who later became never-weres.

What I remember most was dancing cheek to cheek with Jeannette, smelling her perfume and almost winning the Spotlight Dance. That was a feature of Clark’s hops. Everyone would dance and a spotlight swept the floor. If it came to a stop upon you, you had to leave the floor. The last couple remaining won some kind of prize. Jeannette and I came in third, which was as good as last since we got nothing. It was still fun to last that long.
I really liked Jeannette. She was very cute, especially when she smiled and these little dimples formed beneath her brown eyes. She did not like her dimples for some reason, but I guess my words to her about them began to change her opinion. In one of the letters she wrote me, she said:
“I’m beginning to like my dimples, but do they have to be in such a place?”
After the vacation we corresponded by mail for the next year. I even visited her in Langhorne where she lived. My parents were not so happy about this puppy love. After all, Jeannette was not only an Italian, but a Roman Catholic.
For some reason Ronald asked if he could write to her. Ronald was very big on Pen Pals, so I assume he wanted to add her to his collection. However, what he wrote her was a bit convoluted and not very well put:
“Larry’s is always raving and ranting about you. What is so attractive about you anyway?” (I don’t think he meant it in the way it sounds.)
“You can also tell me what happen (sic) in the park one nite when you and Larry, a couple of friends, were there one nite this past summer. He also said something that happen (sic) at school having something to do about biology room or teacher. I don’t know exactly what the circumstances were. I hope you understand what I’m talking about because I don’t!”
Well, I don’t know what he was talking about either and neither did Jeannette, but she did say she wasn’t going to write to Ronald anymore.
He finished up his letter by trying to get her to be a Pen Pal with some girl living in Brooklyn. Jeannette rejected that idea, too.
After a year or so it dissolved into just another summer romance memory for each of us. I wonder where she is today? I hope she had a nice life.
Gusty strokes of wind
Bring thoughts to mind,
Things that might have been.
            Whom do I mean?
            Her name was Jean.

Sunshine through the storm
Takes me from one dream
To find I dream of
Another sea scene.
Thinking you loved me.
Your Roman face and
Dimpled eyes I see
            On the beach we met.
            Your name was Jeannette.

No ghost or shadow
Will make this less true;
Yes, she was the first
Back when I was new.
            Whom do I mean?
            Her name was Jean.


That was the one and only vacation trip I ever shared with my parents.

The car gave me the freedom to do other activities. My friends and I took up bowling, which had become a big fad around that time. A decade earlier Bowling Alley were considered somewhat less than respectable places, on the same level as pool halls. They were places for hard men and course behavior. Now bowling alleys were springing up all over the place, large brightly lit caverns with snack bars and groups of young people tossing balls down the alleys.
There was also the appearing of a number of miniature golfing ranges. The best of the lot was just outside of Reading. It wasn’t the usual flat, side-boarded holes with windmill and clown obstacles. It was build up, over and around these rocks and it had waterfalls and sand traps, rather than those mechanical devises.

The other thing we got into was roller-skating. There was a skating rink in Exton we went to a lot. Sometimes they held sock hops there and we went to those as well. There was another skating rink in Berwyn that also held Saturday Night sock hops. We did both there, too, skate and dance. Dick Clark hosted some of the sock hops at Berwyn. Clark got around; he had his hops at Sunnybrook Ballroom in Pottstown, at the Starlight in Wildwood and at the Berwyn Skating Rink. He probably had others as well. I remember one of his musical acts at Berwyn, Danny and the Juniors (pictured left). Their recording of “At the Hop” was moving up the charts at the time. 
The bowling, miniature golf, roller skating and sock hops continued over the remaining years of my teens. I went to these sometimes with my various buddies and sometimes on a date with different girls. Helen Semibold and I had partied way by the summer of 1957. I was dating a girl from my church for awhile, and I thing Anne Schantz (right) was the first one I attended a sock hop with.

Ronald and I bowled often; I think Stuart joined us. Ronald may have gone miniature golfing with me. I think Ronald and I use to go to this Chip ‘n’ Putt south of West Chester along Route 202. It was a nice facility. Chip ‘n’ Putts had eighteen holes, but short fairways. You only used two clubs to play, a chipping iron and a putter, thus the name.
We would ride out to the course and after play, stop at Jimmy John’s for hot dogs and fries. Jimmy John’s had been built in 1940, two years later than Dick Thomas’s Brick Over. There were pictures on the walls of the original Jimmy John with celebrities. I remember Tom Mix in those photos. The restaurant also had these electric trains that ran along shelves on the walls and on a platform in the center.
In 2010 Jimmy Johns was going to have a big 70th Anniversary celebration. They had hired Duff Goldman to do the cake on his TV show “Ace of Cakes”. On the eve of the celebration there was a fire in the kitchen and the restaurant burned down. Duff donated the cake to the firemen who put out the flames. Happily, they were able to rebuild and Jimmy Johns is in business still today.

My mother took a job with Valley Maid Potato Chips in Phoenixville. You will find many people who agree that Valley Maid made the best potato chips ever. My mom liked working there except when they put her on the barbecue chip line. The seasonings played havoc with her lungs and she picked up a cough from the process.
The problem with my mom going to work was now my Grandmother was there all the time. She didn’t drive and with my mom working their frequent visiting came to an abrupt stop. On Saturday nights when my parents went on those toots with their pals my grandmother was home with me. Granted, I was often out on those nights too, either driving to Downingtown to see Ronald or going up the road to Richard’s. Still, I craved some alone time.
I got some alone time in October, when my grandmother had a heart attack on the 16th. I guess all the activity and stress after my grandfather died finally caught up to her. She had been through a lot, having to sell all her furniture and household goods and then moving in with us. She remained in the hospital until November 10. You can see she looked well by Christmas. She was 59 years old.

A partial solution to getting some alone time came from church. I had stewed about going to church every Sunday with the family since we moved to Bucktown. When I got the car, I made a deal with them. I would go to Sunday School, but not church. Sunday School was first, so I would drive to it and come home while they attended church service.
Sunday School was incredibly boring. Our teacher was a man with a monotone way of speaking. It was worth it to me enduring this torture because it gave me an hour with no one else in the house. That gave me enough time to get out my stash of naughty magazines and bring my fantasies to a conclusion before they came home.
In may have been an omen that what I was doing wasn’t right with God the first Sunday this bargain began. I had just gotten home and was digging in my treasure trove when there was a knock at the front door. It had to be a stranger. I went out to see and there were two ladies standing on the porch. I opened the door.
It cost me a dollar to buy the Jehovah Witness book called, “From Paradise Lost to Paradise Gained” just to get rid of them. Once they left I tossed their orange book aside for another of quite ungodly content and sought to gain my own temporary paradise.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Cars, Dreams of the Future and Our Secret Lives: The Soap Opera Continues

I don't want my head to be broken,
It’s the only one I got.
Darlin’, please be careful,
I know you’ve beared a lot.
Please, don’t break my head,
                                    I beg of you!

I don’t want my blood a-drippin’.
You know I’d hate to die,
And that’s what bound to happen
If your temper gets too high.
Darlin’, please don’t get so high,
I beg of you!

Hold my hand and promise,
You won’t make it black and blue,
Even if I know you hate me,
Hate me through and through.

Little girl, you got me miserable,
Must you shoot me too?
Please don’t take advantage
Of my bruises blue.
Darlin’, please, please don’t do,
                        I beg-g-g of you-u-u!

                                                            LEM 1957

On July 13, 1957 Elvis Presley released a single of the song “Don’t”, which quickly hit number one on “Billboard”. The B-side of that record was “I Beg of You”, which went to number 8 on the charts. I parodied “I Beg of You”, which is what I was about to say to the Trooper when I went back for my second driving test. "Please, sir, most wonderful state trooper, let me pass, I beg of you!" I guess “Don’t” would have fit the bill as well. “I don’t want to fail again!”
Surprise, surprise, they didn’t even make me take the written test again. I had a gentler examiner on this examination, one of encouraging words and gentle persuasion, and there was no scraping of any curbs on the 3-point turn. I passed easily. This meant freedom. I drove home or more correctly, floated home on cloud nine. As we pulled down the lane to behind our house my father, who had gone with me that day, said, “Go on and put it in the garage.”
He got out and opened the garage door on the right side for me. I pulled around to face the opening. I drove straight in, gently bouncing over the garage curbing and rammed the left front fender directly into the support beam. What an inglorious finish to my glorious day! This was the first dent in my car.

Yes, that’s right, you read me correctly, I said my car, the dream of every sixteen-year-old boy, his own car.
I was very conflicted about this.
When my grandfather died in February I inherited his car. Having someone you have loved die is not how you want to get that first car, yet you really, really, really do want that first car. I alternated between the joy of having it and the guilt of how it happened.
It was a Royal Blue 1954 straight-six Ford coupe. This was to put me at a slight disadvantage in a world where most guys drove V-8s, but if that were to be the worst thing I ever had to deal with I would have been very lucky indeed. Having a car and my driver’s license meant I was no longer trapped in Bucktown. I wasn’t dependent on my parents for wheels. I could go where I wanted when I wanted, provided if I could afford the gas. In 1957 I could almost fill the tank on two dollars because you could get gas at places like the Downingtown Farmers Market for less than nineteen cents a gallon.

The first solo trip I made was to West Chester, Pennsylvania, county seat of Chester County. I stopped in Downingtown and picked up Stuart and Ronald along my way. I drove to the town center and parked on West Market Street between Darlington and Church Streets Pictured left is across from where I parked that day.).
West Chester was full of stores in those days, rather than restaurants. There was a newsstand right across from where I parked and a Woolworths on Gay Street a block away. The main street running north-south is High Street; the main street running east-west is Gay. The riddle goes, where can you come in high and go out gay? Why, West Chester, of course! (Photo right of Gay Street and of Woolworth on the corner of Gay and High are from the Chester County Historical Society.)

We went to the newsstand and then walked around town a bit.
We returned to my car and there was a little yellow envelope beneath the windshield wiper, my first ticket. I had neglected to put money in the parking meter. How different were those days. There was no fine. I simply had to put a quarter in the envelope and drop it in a box at the end of the block. Forget to drop your quarter in a parking kiosk in Philadelphia these days and you’ll come back to a $35 fine.
During that summer I often drove to Downingtown to play baseball at Stuart’s with him and  our friend, Ronald, and then drive the main drag of Pottstown with Richard in the evenings. Stuart, Ronald and I would meet at Meisel’s and throw the baseball around. We would see who could make the most acrobatic catches. Each of us would throw the ball high enough to make the other guys run and dive for it. (The Photo of we handsome fellows in 1957, l. to r: me, Stu and Ron.)

A lot of times I would come down on Friday and takes us three to the Downingtown Farmers Market. We’d play out favorite pinball machines again or wander down the long corridors looking at the merchandise for sale. One favorite stop was at Trexler’s Records Stall where you could buy 45 RPM songs cheap. He had these open bins and we’d spend many minutes flipping through looking for something we liked. That was the whole purpose of shopping the Farmers market, the deals.

There was a new booth that opened that summer. It sold paperback books and magazines on the cheap. I don’t know how Trexler was able to cut his costs, but having been in the magazine business, I know how the magazine guy did it. His magazines had a third of the covers cut off. Retailers returned unsold magazines at the end of the month to the printer for rebate. They cut off a section of the cover. This indicated the magazine was to be recycled (ground back to pulp) and not sold. This guy somehow got hold of these recycled magazines before destruction. He was either paying somebody a low rate under the table to supply him or he was stealing them. No wonder he could sell them so cheaply.
The guy who owned the stand looked like Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy. I didn’t know that then, of course, since the movie didn’t come out until 1969, but it is how he looked, minus the limp. He was short with greasy slicked back black hair.

He had slotted racks erected around the sides of the booth, except the front which was open along the aisle. There were some bins of paperback books filling up the central floor space. Magazines were displayed in the rack slots, except on the one side.  There was a curtain held up by clothesline hiding this side of his space. It had a small opening on the left toward the back of the stand. I was browsing near this opening and peeking in I saw it was a whole other stall. I also noticed the racks behind that curtain contained men’s magazines. I edged closer. I had never heard of the magazines I could see beyond the flap. I kind of slipped one leg slightly through the opening despite a large sign saying, “No one under 21 admitted.”

I picked up one of the magazines and thumbed the pages. I saw nude women in various poses and almost no text. I was engrossed when a voice spoke behind me.
“Interesting, eh, kid?”
I slapped the magazine back into its slot and turned about trying to flee.  “Ratso” was blocking my exit.
“You like what ya see, do ya, kid?” he asked.
I was speechless.
“Look,” he said. “I can see you ain’t no twenty-one.” (No, I was barely 16.) “But you look like a nice kid. If I was to sell you that magazine, you wouldn’t tell no one where you got it, now would you?”
I shook my head no.
I bought three of “those” magazines.
They were digest size, mostly printed in Europe, especially Sweden. In the front they claimed to be for the artist or professional photographer to study the human form in varied lighting. One magazine was even titled, “Artist and Models” or something similar. The “artist models” in these publications looked hard-bitten. My guess is they were strippers or prostitutes.

I didn’t particularly care about their day jobs. I just wanted to look at the pictures
It was easy enough to smuggle these magazines into my bedroom where I had found a perfect hiding place. One wall of my room was made up of closets, plus the entry door. There was a large clothes closet next to a linen closet (pictured left). There was a shelf in the clothes closet with this opening that went back beyond the wall overtop of the linen closet. I stuffed my magazines in there and no one ever discovered them, this secret cache was the secret place for my secret life.
There was another secret still remaining. Although these publications displayed these women fully nude in provocative poses one essential part of the anatomy remained airbrushed out.

Ron and Stu and I talked about many things together. We talked about money. We spoke of how much we wished to make someday and how much seemed out of reach. Oh, if we could ever reach the princely sum of $100 a week. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? We would have it made. Ten thousand dollars a year was unreachable, which is what the really successful top executives made. That $10,000 was a lofty sum for most people in the mid-fifties. Its equivalent value today is $85,697.
Our dream of making  $100 a week would have been a salary of $44,463 annually in today’s dollars. We thought we would have it made in the shade at that sum. Well, that is under my current income and it doesn’t buy as much shade as we once thought. The most I ever earned in one year was around $75,000, which was getting close to that unreachable $85,697 and I was far from ever becoming a top executive. Actually in equivalence to today’s value, that $75,000 would be $105,403 now, so I guess I did suppress our teenage dreams.
You must keep in mind when we dreamed these goals in 1957 the average United States salary was $3,700 a year or $71.15 a week, or about $1.80 per hour, which would be $609.77 a week, or approximately $15.25 an hour,  in 2016.
We talked of a lot of things, jobs, marriage, death, cabbages and kings.  What we would become in life was a popular discussion. Stu once talked of being a doctor, Ron of designing rooms and women’s clothes and I of winning the Nobel Prize. Would I win it in what, science or literature or both?
Somehow we all ended up working in banks.
We all had a desire to be writers, but we didn’t really discuss that then.
I never had another friendship close to what I had with Ronald and Stuart. That bond was something special we shared. I could talk about more with them, be more open with them, dream more dreams with them than anyone, except my future wife. But friends and spouses are different parts of your life. There are things I would tell my friends I would not my wife and things I would share with my wife and not with friends. There are things I would not share with either.
In 2011 I wrote a poem for “Poetry Vortex” entitled “Painters and Poets”.

Edward Hopper lived in my world,
He and Andrew Wyeth, too.
Stark, dark and bare to the bones.
No pretentious guile within them,
Just lonely truth in the shadows.

Nighthawks and Yellow Labs
Cornered in expectations.
Naked women with corn silk hair
Or questioning eyes,
In poses of expressionless emotion.

Every person is a solitary figure
In the geometry of the city
Or the vastness of the country field.
Rooms are claustrophobic prisons
Streets are exit-less exiles of night.
John Donne was not right at all.
Every man is an island
That can never be explored.
Our shoreline might touch the sea of humanity
But our heart is a jungle impenetrable.

Like the ladies in the window light,
The woman of the “Morning Sun”
Staring straight into the view
Or the one of “Lovers” turned away
Every man’s mind is a mystery.

Illustrations:  “Morning Sun” by Edward Hopper
“Lovers” by Andrew Wyeth

“Poetry Vortex”
February 2011
Dallas Kirk Gantt, editor

Our secret lives are parts of us we keep hid from the world. No one knows the real “I”, except God and I, and maybe even the “I” is in the dark about some of itself. What we really think in our minds is a mystery. Everyone we touch in life knows only a part of us, some more, some less, but only what we allow. As close as Ron and Stu and I were, we didn’t know all our secrets. I doubt they knew how much I had become obsessed with my fantasy world of lust and pirate ladies.
Ronald had his secrets we didn’t know. He didn’t reveal his Homosexuality to us. He walked around with the burden of knowing and not feeling free to share. I wish he had, but I also don’t like playing the “if game”. I really don’t know how Stu or I might have reacted back in the sexually repressive 1950s to such a revelation. What would have been their reaction if I had said then, “You know what, fellows? I like to go back in Stuart’s woods and run about naked.”
I don’t know what Stuart’s secrets were. I certainly didn’t know at the time how much he was persecuted at Downingtown High School by teachers because of his religion.

I don’t even know what their reaction is to my secrets 60 years after the fact. I said when I began this opus I would be as honest as I could. That requires telling you my secret sins. On the dartboard of the Seven Deadly Sins I landed on Lust. I believe every person has a secret life and favorite deadly sin. Perhaps mine was not as bad as some of the other six. I was not a predator or an aggressor forcing my lusts on anyone else. My secret life was also very private. I kept it in that little space behind my walls.