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 23, 2016

Summertime and the Guns Are Loaded

The narratives from this point will jump around probably even more than the Downingtown tellings did. It will be somewhat chronological, but not totally. My stories of my high school years will follow themes in my life and that of my acquaintances more than a strict timeline. Please keep that in mind and hopefully I don’t confuse anyone too much in the pages ahead. For instance this chapter begins and speaks to events in spring and summer of 1956 for the most part. The photo of me on the left, though, is the official tenth grade school portrait, so was taken a bit later than the events we will cover in this chapter. I doubt I changed that much in those few months. Note it is what I complained about since getting glasses, the two-third profile shot.  
The Fates are tricky little women and they played games with the relationship between my dad and my new friend, Richard Wilson. (pictured left: The Fates by Paul Thurman). 

Rich Wilson played the tough guy on the outside, quite a different persona from me, but inside we shared a commonality. Just a couple kids looking for approval. And as I stated, the Fates are fickle woman and Richard got approval from where I wanted to get it, from my dad.
 Rich possessed interests I did not. His demeanor was what my father viewed as manly however. My dad took an immediate liking to Rich quickly showing a friendliness toward him that he never demonstrated to my Downingtown friends. If Ronald or Stuart visited when dad was home, he was civil to a degree, but not overly welcoming. He spent more time grunting and ignoring them than talking, although he was never quite as putting off as Mr. Tipton. It was different with Rich. He treated Rich almost as if he was the son and I was the visitor.
Did it bother me? Yes, it did. I didn’t resent Richard because of it, but it certainly didn’t bring me closer to my dad. I was angry with him.
My father’s attention to him may have been therapeutic for Rich.  His relationship with his dad was as strained as mine. The fates did not arrange a similar flip-flop for me. Richard’s dad or mom never treated me as any more than a visitor. Truth be told, I didn’t much care for his parents at all.
Richard’s father was a truck driver as was mine, but he drove a dump truck for a local gravel quarry. Therefore, Richard had his dad home nightly, but Elmer Wilson was not exactly buddy-buddy with the eldest son. There may have been a cruel reason why.
Betty Wilson had been married and divorced from a former mayor of Pottstown and Richard was that man’s offspring. Tommy and Suzy were the result of the union between Elmer and Betty. His dad and mom constantly put Richard down. Nothing he did was up to their standards. Where he did shine and show talent, they ridiculed as childish foolishness.

Their favorite son was Tommy. “Why can’t you be like your brother, Tommy?” was a common refrain at the Wilson household. It didn’t come only from the parents, but from his grandmother as well when she was around. They had no scruples about comparing Richard to his brother and declaring he failed to measure up or criticizing Rich for any perceived failures in front of his friends. In truth, Tommy was a spoiled brat, sneak thief and agitator. Often Rich got the blame for mischief Tommy caused. Tommy was one of these kids who knew exactly what to say to adults to manipulate them, Rich wasn’t. (Elmer Wilson is the man with his hand up in the center of the photo on the left, 1956.)

My great grandparents Meredith had taken their anger at their own son and daughter-in-law out on my father. They felt my grandmother had seduced their son and gotten pregnant to force a marriage. My father was the result of that pregnancy and although he was an innocent baby, his grandparents acted as if he was somehow at fault.  Betty acted as if Richard was the fault for her own failures. Betty Wilson had been married previously to a Mayor of Pottstown and had a bitter divorce. Richard was the son of that union, not of the one with Elmer. Tommy and Sue were Elmer’s offspring. It appeared to me that Betty took out her resentment at her ex-spouse on their child while Elmer resented him for being another man’s son. (Betty Wilson is the woman with her pinky finger to her eye in the photo on the right.)

My father on the other hand doted on Richard. For instance, dad  sometimes took Richard fishing without even asking me along. I can’t say I totally blame him. Dad had tried interesting me in fishing when I was younger. I found the activity incredibly boring, but I tried to look enthusiastic. Fishing was my dad’s only activity outside of work. He took me on a trip with my uncle and cousin, Big Francy and Little Francy. It didn’t end well. We drove into the country and walked up an old railroad bed to get to the fishing spot. We had to cross a train bridge over a gorge. The bridge was open beneath the tracks. You stepped on the ties over these foot-wide spaces to go to the other side where the fishing hole was located. My acrophobia kicked in and I couldn’t go across. Dad was pretty angry. He didn’t take me fishing after that, at least, not field and stream type fishing.
Now Rich and I did occasionally go fishing together in a stream on the other side of Pughtown.  We’d hide our bikes under the bridge and wade out in the water wearing hip boots, but I never got to where I liked the fishing. I did enjoy the splashing through the rapidly flowing stream and being out in the country. I found the fishing part dull.

As country boys we owned weapons. You would have been hard pressed to find farm boys in that country that weren’t armed. My dad had several rifles in a case between bedrooms. He gave me a 16-shot, bolt action .22. Richard had a .22, but his was a single shot. Every time he fired it he had to hand feed another bullet into a slot.
Dad also owned an old twelve-gauge side-by-side double barrel shotgun. It was a smooth bore with hammers back of each barrel that you cocked with your thumbs before firing.

 We use to do a lot of target shooting in that big back yard with all our shootin’ irons. We’d set old cans far down in the field stacked on wooden boxes. Sometime someone would toss the cans in the air and we’d blast them out of the sky.  I was a very good shot. I liked shooting targets and would practice with my rifle on my own when I could afford shells.
I didn’t care much for the shotgun. It was scattershot, not precise like my rifle. It had a bad kick, but I could handle it. Dad had us out back one weekend firing it. Rich had never shot one before and didn’t expect the kick. He fired off one barrel and the recoil banged off the side of his face and into his shoulder so hard he went over on his rear end. Yeah, it was hard not to laugh. Actually, I did laugh. He learned after that to fit the butt snug and tight into his shoulder and rest his cheek on the stock for aiming.

I went small game hunting once. I didn’t want to, but dad
insisted. There were a group of men and their sons who came to our field. It was early morning and chilly when we set out. My feet got numb in no time. I purposely dragged behind the others and kept hoping I wouldn’t see any game. I didn’t want to shoot anything. Nonetheless, I had a stupid rabbit pop out of the grass and freeze directly ahead of me. I froze too and rabbit and I both stared at each other. I finally did exactly what I knew not to do. I jerked the trigger rather than squeezed. My shot went high and wide and the rabbit escaped. I was glad. It was a long day and I don’t remember anyone bagging much. That result didn’t make me unhappy.
However, before you think I was too soft toward the little creatures of our woods, let me tell you about Rich and my fur enterprise. There were muskrat living in the marshy strip between our backfield and the woods. Rich  came up with an idea based upon that fact. (I wonder why I never was the one coming up with these brainstorms? First it was always Stuart; now it was Richard.)
He showed up with some traps and we went into the muskrat fur business. We were going to catch a slew of these smelly rodents and get wealthy peddling their pelts. We didn’t make any money. We caught one muskrat and neither of us had the stomach for the cruel business of trapping after killing the poor beast. We pulled up those traps and forgot that idea.
Rich and I picked up where Ron and I had left off. We rode our bikes out and about the roadways in our area. Beside our swim trips to Kirkwood we would pedal down Route 23 to places named Warwick and the Village of St. Peters. The difference was Ronald and I went exploring. Rich went because there were some girls he wanted to impress who lived in these places. 

Because of my dad’s affinity for Rich, he was invited along on various trips with my family, especially to the auto races. Yeah, the watching of speeding cars on dirt tracks was back as a Meredith tradition. It wasn’t only stocks any more. We were going to a variety of tracks. Rich was right there with Dot Bernard and Elmer Lentz going to the Midget Racers in Lancaster on June 23 and came along to the stock cars with the Seibolds on July 7.

We played a lot of catch over the summer, but often Rich would want to take a bike ride just to escape his brother and sister. His sister (pictured left) especially wanted to tag along wherever Rich and I went. She was only in grade school and could be a pain. She was a definite tomboy and tried to out-do us in any dumb teenager stunt. On July 11 she was injured falling off her bike while riding with us. I think she was riding hands free or trying some stunt and hit debree in the road. She banged herself up pretty good. Mrs. Wilson blamed Richard, of course.
 She bounced right back a week later, Band-Aids here and there, accompanying my mom and grandmother, her brother Tommy and me on a trip to the Downingtown Farmers Market.

Rich and I took her out in the back field one day while we shot targets or should I say she trailed along like a yipping puppy. She nagged and nagged to shoot the rifles. Rich refused to let her. His brother Tommy was along and he and Rich took turns with their .22. It was Tommy’s turn, but instead of taking a shot he handed her the loaded rifle. She asked how to hold it, how to aim it and how to shoot while the whole time swinging about in a semi-circle pointing it at us. If she had accidently pulled the trigger on that single shot rifle she would have only got one of us, preferably Tommy. If I had given her my 16-shot repeater she could have wiped us all out and maybe some cars on the highway as well.
Kids shouldn’t play with guns.

There were a couple of pistols of dads he kept hidden in the bedroom. When no one was home, which was a lot, I used to fish them out from beneath his sox. One was a six-cylinder revolver; the other a .45 automatic you loaded with a clip into the handle. Dad hid them in his sock drawer thinking no one knew they were there, but I knew they were there and sometimes took them out just to handle. I had shot the revolver a few times, but that was always when he was home.

On June 24, only a couple of weeks after I had moved to the
new home, we found Topper dead in her box. We believe she accidently killed herself trying to escape from her pen. It was a shame. She was a loving gentle dog. She was only around 8 years old.

There was an enclosed shed off the kitchen and the clothes washer and dryer were there. We always used the shed door to enter and exit the house, never the front door. The front door was in the living room, but the front stoop was too close to the highway. We always  knew when strangers called because they knocked on the front door and not the shed one. Dad had been in the Navy during World War II. He had stashed his old sailor’s duffle in a cabinet in the side shed.

I saw it there while getting something from the cabinet for mom. I got nosy and the next time I was home alone went digging in his duffel. I went searching through that bag during times I was home alone, like I said, I was alone a lot and always looking for things to do. His old sailor uniforms were in it. I found this little booklet, “Gray’s Guide to War Ships” or some such title. It was interesting. It showed you how to identify all the different vessels on the seas during World War II.
What really drew my attention was a folder holding some ten-by-eight sheets of paper. They were pinup pictures, drawings of women in various predicaments that half pulled their clothing off.

 One girl with a picnic basket had her skirt caught atop a barbwire fence, which lifted it above her bottom.  In the distance stood a bull and on the ground halfway between was a spilled picnic basket. Another showed a woman blown by a strong wind that turned an umbrella inside out while blowing her skirt above her waist. I found them immediately arousing, but as I said arousal didn’t take much when I was 15. I put everything back, but I made several visits to his bag over the coming weeks.
Now, I still didn’t really understand this effect the pictures had on me, why looking at them caused a reaction in certain parts of my body or why that reaction felt so good. The cause was not important to me; the feeling good was. I was beginning to crave that feeling more and more.

I always liked taking baths as a kid.
My mom never had any difficulty getting me to bathe; she had trouble getting me out of the tub. In grade school I would play with boats or other toys. I had a little submarine you filled with baking soda or some such household ingredient and it  would float and dive in reaction to the water. When I reached my young teens I gave up the toys for books. I stayed in the water for an hour or more reading. I would wash myself, then slide down against the back of the tub with my book. I had turned 15 and not long after my birthday I was bathing in my usual manner. I ran a soapy washcloth down my chest to my groin area. When I reached my privates my penis got hard. This didn’t startle me because that happening had become a very common occurrence.  It seemed like almost anything would cause this reaction anymore, to the point it was sometimes a nuisance. Anytime we went some place in the car the motion would bring it on. I was constantly trying to guard against being embarrassed when I stood up at school. I still didn’t quite understand why this happened, although I knew by now I was far from the only boy with the problem. Anyway, it felt really good as I ran that warm washcloth over my privates.  It felt more intense than I had previously experienced and I couldn’t stop washing with the warm water and soap and suddenly…I had discovered masturbation.

As Labor Day approached I got nervous about starting school. Richard being my age I thought I had someone to ride the bus with and show me the ropes. This wasn’t the case. Richard was held back twice in his schooling and was two grades below me. We didn’t even go to the same school. He went to Warwick Junior High School. I was going in the opposite direction to North Coventry High, better known as Norco.

Norco was actually just inside the Pottstown City limits about five miles from my home. I had to take a school bus, which I hadn’t done since third grade. The bus stop was right at the top of our driveway next to our mailbox. I walked out to the stop the first day and Dave Bishop (pictured left) came across the street to wait as well. We said hello and chatted a bit. I assumed we’d sit together on the bus, but he entered first and immediately sat down next to someone he knew. There was an empty seat right behind him next to a skinny kid with a ducktail haircut and leather jacket. When I reached that seat this guy moved over toward the aisle and wouldn’t let me sit down. The two guys behind him giggled. Here we go again, I thought. I was the last stop going in before the school itself and I figured that was probably the last seat.  I kept moving back the aisle as the bus pulled away and a guy near the back motioned to an empty seat across from him.
Pottstown had its own high school where the Townies went.
North Coventry, known as Norco, was a county school for farm kids and country bumpkins like me. It only served tenth through twelfth grades. They were  currently building a new school out near where I lived that would consolidate all the scattered  district schools under one roof. Meanwhile the old decentralized system was it.
The county had built Norco in 1912. It was a brick, squat cube of a building with dark corridors lined with brown lockers. The classrooms were dingy and dirty. We had old-fashioned desks, bolted to the floor with seats that folded down from the front. 

My parents had told me when I entered ninth grade to forget college, I would not be going. At Downingtown despite their objections I took Academic and just about flunked ninth grade. I saw no reason to repeat that mistake. When we registered for the new school I did not chose Academic. My choices were limited, but I made one and boy when I reported on the first day was I ever shocked.


from Something Like a War (2002)

             Rising sun set the dogs barking. Tethered to the back bumper of a pickup, they pulled and strained to go, coughing in that ugly way dogs cough when chain collars tighten about necks.
“Easy, boy. Easy,” whispered different men at different moments, breath floating in mid-air, a permanent mist around their heads and hunched shoulders.
The heavy leather boots failed to keep feet from numbing.
Timmy O’Clare wiggled his toes till they hurt. He watched his dad carefully. His dad stood nearby lighting the ever-present pipe. The man’s nose rosy as he puffed flame into the tobacco and watched the dawn rise above a far wood. The match flickered, appeared to die, and then exploded to life, flashing broad butterfly wings that matched the sunrise. The smoke cut a white path through the hanging breath and the morning gray after the flame’s wings folded to ash. Timmy visualized last night’s fire, with the men huddled around the heat, talking low of hunting and hunts, and loudly bragging.
“’Bout light enough,” said a voice.
Men stirred from the midst of cars and campers and set loose the dogs. The dogs leaped about yelping, circling uncertainly, sniffing, settled on a direction and became a running, baying pack.

Huffing along behind the hounds, the hunting party entered tall grass. It was dryly brown, though wet with morning dew that stained the lower trouser legs. But these were men. They ignored discomfort. It was like the old days again, when they served in the war together, the big war, the old war, fighting slowly toward Germany in the bastard snows of Bastogne. This was the annual hunt that celebrated that they had lived through that together and had not died together.

1 comment:

Jon said...

Just to let you know that I'm still reading - and thoroughly enjoying - your well-written memoirs.