On the third weekend I traveled to Bucktown, the weekend of May 26 through the 28th, I went out back with my rubber baseball and pitched what was becoming an obsessive game of imaginary baseball against the house. As I was retrieving a ball that came off the wall at an odd angle and eluded me I was startled by someone standing on the side yard watching. He looked my age and height, but heavier. I was very leery. This stranger looked threatening.
“Wanna have a catch,” he said.
That was how I met Richard Allen Wilson (pictured left).
Rich became my best friend in Bucktown, not that there were a lot of choices. Dave Bishop was too old and there wasn’t anyone else near my age in the Village. Rich lived a quarter of a mile up the Pottstown Pike north of me. He’d heard a new family moved into the old Seibold place with a boy his age. He had walked down to find out.
On the Sunday after meeting Richard my mom, dad and I attended, along with 22 other people, all strangers to me, a picnic at Richard’s home. His parents were Elmer and Betty Wilson. They became close friends with my parents. He had a younger brother named Tommy and an even younger sister named Sue.
On that first Saturday, Richard and I simply threw the ball back and forth for an afternoon, but in the summer and years ahead we were pretty close. Our times together would be varied, interesting and adventurous and I don’t think we ever had a disagreement. Our lives remained closely intertwined the next five years.
I officially moved to my new home on June 9, 1956. School was out for the summer and I had a lot of idle time now because I had to give up Boy Scouts, MYF and my paper route when we moved. I couldn’t walk over and see any of my friends anymore either. My dad’s schedule was just as always, so he wasn’t there during the week and my life returned to the old weekends at the grandparents routine. It was on one of those weekends (June 20, 1956) that I stayed in Dave Fidler’s loft and Ted Miller gypped the Coke machine [See Great Coca-Cola Heist: The Broadway Musical.])
My mother had decided after she learned we’d be moving out of Downingtown that she better learn to drive. She got her license shortly before the move.
One problem I had after the move was money. My paperboy job was very lucrative for those times and I was used to having plenty of spending cash. I had managed to save some from that job, but knew that wouldn’t last forever. Of course in the beginning of living where I did there wasn’t anywhere to spend anything anyway (pictured right, Bucktown from the air).
I did manage to get some work for a few weeks that summer picking tomatoes on one of my cousin’s farms. It didn’t pay a lot, not like the paperboy job, but it was better than nothing. It was a whole lot harder to do than riding along dropping papers on porches though. I really didn’t care for it at all. It wasn’t the work. It wasn’t the hot sun all day or the dirt and dust that covered me by the time I finished. It was the spiders. The tomato field was full of Daddy-Longlegs spiders. Despite the silly rumor that these were the most poisonous spiders in the United States, they were quite harmless. Even if they were poisonous (and all spiders are to an extent, it’s how they kill their prey) its fangs were too short to bite a human. Besides they don’t have venom because Daddy Longlegs aren’t really spiders, although they are arachnids. Spiders have two body sections and eight eyes. Daddy Longlegs have one section and only two eyes. They do have eight long legs. “Daddy” is a British and Canadian term for long legged flies, which are insects of course. The Daddy Longlegs isn’t an insect either. There is a long legged house spider that people also call a Daddy Longlegs. The Daddy Longlegs species had no kinship to that spider. Another name people give Daddy Longlegs is Harvestmen. Given the number in the tomato field Harvestmen is a better name anyway.
Although these things are harmless, it gets annoying when all day long they are running over your hands and arms. I would pick a tomato and disturb a nest of these buggers and they would scurry not away, but up my arms. I was glad to leave the tomato fields alone after that summer.
One thing happened after we moved to Bucktown that I didn’t like at all. I fought against the idea, but I lost. My parents forced me back to attending church. Mom and dad had not attended any church during my whole life up to that point, excepting sometimes at Easter or Christmas. My mother’s parents hadn’t attended either. Now a sudden my parents joined the Bethel United Methodist Church of Spring City , Pennsylvania (pictured left) and insisted I go with them every Sunday morning.
They give me no choice and so I go along to get along for the whole year. When I get my driver’s license there will be some adjustments made.
Kirkwood, the man-made lake my dad would take us swimming at, is only two miles or so south of Bucktown. Richard was familiar with this swimming hole too. We would pedal our bikes down the pike on hot days and swim. Rich was a good swimmer. He liked to do a lot of diving down at the deep end, but I stuck up in the shallows because I still hadn’t learned to swim.
I wanted to learn this skill. My father repeatedly tried to teach me by the old sink or swim method, but I preferred to avoid him in the water. It never crossed my mind that Rich might be able to teach me, so I never asked him.
We were going to go swimming one weekday, but Rich couldn’t come at the last minute. His parents were punishing him. They were always punishing him for something. It was hot and I had my trunks on ready to go, so decided to pedal out to Kirkwood anyway.
I arrived at the lake and there wasn’t a soul about. The place never had lifeguards, only a sign saying, “swim at your own risk”. I was use to the weekends with a good number of swimmers and sunbathers being about, but this was the middle of the week so people must have been working. I parked my bike over by the side and walked along the edge of a stonewall that bordered the water. I continued out to where the diving board jutted over the 12 to 15 foot depth. I took off my shirt and sneakers and I jumped in.
“I’ll throw you in and you’ll either sink or swim,” was my dad’s constant threat. I didn't do it for him. It was an impulse and it was do or die. There was nobody around to pull me out. I had watched others swim; I saw how they stroked with their arms and kicked with their feet.
I learned to swim that day or you wouldn’t be reading this now. I had long before become a risk taker to avoid ridicule, preferring dying in secret to failing publicly and being laughed at.
My life was full of secrets and I was soon to have some more.