I was deep into farm country, something that actually still existed around Chester County in the 1950s. I stopped on a long straight patch of totally empty as far as the eye could see macadam and decided to drag down its length for speed. I wanted to
see how high I could push the RPMs between shifts. (Remember, my Ford was standard transmission, so it was clutch-shift-clutch-shift-clutch-shift.) I guess I pushed the tach up a bit too hard and I heard this tinkle and rattle like metal on the road surface. My car suddenly didn’t want to go and I drifted over to the side out in nowhere.
I had to walk a couple miles to even fine a farmhouse where I could call for help (No cell phone in those days either). Dad was home and he came towed me.
He wasn’t happy.
He did get the car fixed for me. For all our differences and my feelings toward my dad growing up I have to admit he was forgiving and generous about my expensive driving habits.
I soon gave him another opportunity to be a forgiving and generous father. As I said, we would drive the High Street strip back and forth in Pottstown dragging anyone willing to take us on at the lights. Sometimes we drove Route 422 all the way to reading picking races with other cars. The “we” I refer to is Richard and I, but one night I was cruising alone and after racing some others out to Reading, I took on another guy coming back. We ran close all the way to Pottstown. I don’t know who won, probably no one. We split off separate ways when we hit the town limits.
Somewhere along the way I suddenly decided my Ford was sounding extra cool. It developed this deep throaty rumble almost as if I had duel glass pack mufflers. Hey, man, dig me with that hot rod sound. Since I didn’t actually have glass pack mufflers there had to be another explanation why my car sounded this way.
There was. I had blown the engine. I guess I didn’t technically blow it because my car was still starting and running. There was no smoke that I recall, just this sudden rumbling, popping engine noise. I was driving about feeling like I was all that for the rest of the week, watching heads turn as I rumbled pass, but then dad came off the road for his weekend home and heard me pull into the driveway that Friday night and he didn’t think things sound so cool.
Dad said we had to get the engine rebuilt and had my Ford towed it to a garage in Gap, Pennsylvania where he knew some garage owner. I don’t really know the exact damage that was done to the motor, but it seemed at least one cylinder had to be bored out and this meant at least one piston had to be replaced. My car was marooned in the Gap Garage for a week. On the last day, my Dad and I were hanging around in that garage as they finished up.
These guys and my father got along just fine. They were having a good old time, but I felt awkward and out of place. I hung back near a workbench, being quiet and watching. I didn’t understand the mechanical jargon that was tossed about and I wasn’t catching what the men sometimes chatted about. There were a lot of cuss words sprinkled through it. Sometimes they snickered or laughed, and it was usually a dirty laugh. Then I saw dad point toward me. Every last man looked over at me like I was a monkey about to do a dance.
“My son’s pretty good at drawing,” dad said.
“Yeah,” said one of them.
“Yeah,” said dad.
One of the guys said, “Let’s see.” He motioned to a piece of chalk lying on the workbench. “Go draw us a picture on that door,” he said.
My dad nodded.
I picked up the chalk and went to this designated door. “What’ll I draw?” I asked.
One of the men said, “A naked lady.”
So I drew a life-sized naked woman on the back of the door. I thought it looked pretty doggone good for a chalk drawing. Go ahead, give it a try, just a stick of chalk like teachers use to use on the blackboard and see how detailed you can get it.
One of the men said, “Oh hell, boy, you call that a woman?” Some of the others laughed.
He came over and took the chalk from me. He then scribbled this patch of public hair down in the smooth, empty crotch of my drawing.
The men tossed the chalk back to me. “There now,” he said, brushing the dust off his fingers, “that’s a woman. Damn, boy where you been?” And all the other men were laughing as they went back to work.
I was embarrassed. I felt I let my dad down. Nothing I ever did was good enough to make him proud. He was trying to show me off for once and they were laughing at me because I didn’t draw public hair on my sketch. Of course not, how the heck was I supposed to know women had hair down there? None of the women I had seen in any of those magazines had public hair. Even “Playboy” airbrushed it away,
I finally found some sources for seeing my first uncensored naked women. There was a day when everybody was out at the same time and I had the house to myself. Instead of pulling out one of my Girlie Magazines I went digging in dad’s old duffel for those pinups. Not sure why, I must have been feeling nostalgic or something. I dug deeper through the content than usual and discovered near the bottom a weathered, yellowing envelope containing photographs.
They were from World War II and I guess dad took them. He was only in a couple himself. There were several of seaman posing or clowning around on the deck of a ship, including sailors having a drunken brawl. There were photos of bombed out buildings in sections of Bataan (right), as well as other war scenes, troops and ships.
Then there were some shots of native peoples. There were two of a particular young South Pacific Islander girl. She was standing on a rock smiling toward the camera. It was similar to the photo on the left, except the girl was full length, alone and stark naked. There was no airbrushing here. I could see she had a triangle of dark pubic hair, just like that mechanic had scribbled on my drawing.
In his later years my dad used to bring out that picture and show it around. After his death I search the house and went through all the hundreds of photographs my parents left behind, but never found that particular photo again, along with a few others I had once seen of their Saturday night friends in which some risqué behavior took place. Some time in his or my mother’s last year of life they must have destroyed those pictures.
I did find a photograph in his wallet (right) of a woman whose face looked very much like the naked native girl. On the back was a date and place, May 1944, Stn. Craig, Manilla and written in a feminine handwriting beneath: “I hope you won’t forget! Candida Sanchez.”
This certainly raises questions in my mind. Who was this Candida and what kind of relationship did she and my father have? Whomever this lady was, my father chose to carry her picture with him his whole life.
This was the magazine of the Naturalist Society, people who believed in nudism as a way of life. They did not retouch or airbrush photographs in their magazines. Here was where I finally confirmed what the female had down there. It was also a magazine I got little arousal from. The photos were mundane, people having picnics, playing games , volleyball or swimming. They were of all ages and all shapes and sizes, and certainly not very erotic. Nude people doing everyday activities quickly loses any sense of the exotic or sensual.Frankly, nudity becomes boring.
It was a matter of not confusing “Sunshine & Health” with “Strength and Health”.
I had a collection of “Strength and Health” magazines. I bought a new issue every month when they hit the newsstand. Last year I came across a couple dozen of the “Strength and Health” magazines while cleaning out the storage closet. I chucked them in the trash. This probably means they were worth oodles of money to some collector somewhere. I hadn’t bought them as collector items nor did I buy them because of the “Beefcake” photos of musclemen. I bought them because I was trying to have a body like those guys.
At age 16 I was tired of being skinny, just a walking set of bones. I had bought the Course of Manly Art books and exercise charts, but didn’t think I was progressing fast enough. I talked my mother (as usual) into buying me a set of York Barbells and an exercise bench. (I just recently had 1-800-Got-Junk haul that set and bench away. )
There was a barbell, two dumbbells and various weights you slid on and locked in place. I worked out with these off and on most of my life. The set came with some workout books written by Bob Hoffman, the President of York Barbell and the York Weightlifters Association.
He was a champion weightlifter, but he didn’t have the usual bodybuilder look. He had a frame similar to mine or so I believed. He had a barrel chest. Here was someone I could more easily identify with than the slim, short cover boys of S"strength and Health" with their six-packs and perfect pectorals. Bob Hoffman looked deeper through the chest and thicker in the middle, just like me.
Although the picture on the right doesn’t seem to emphasize my barrel chest, remember I had started with a slim body and this was after I developed some muscle time.
October of 1957 was when Topper died. I know I spoke of her death earlier. She was the dog I originally found in the fence line out at the swamp house when I was 8. She was a pretty German Shepherd and Collie mix, a very gentle dog. She was only seven or eight when she passed away. We had a pen out along the field for her. My dad buried her down in that field.
(Photo left 1956 Ronald walking Topper.)
I also covered some of this correspondence earlier as well, so forgive me for repeating myself. I was receiving some letters from Jeannette Siravo around the time Topper died that cheered me some. Here are excepts:
“Thank you for the cartoons we both (Marilyn, her sister) got a good laugh from them.
“You can tell Ronald Tipton that he can write to me but I want to hear from you more than two times a month alright (sic).”
Ronald had asked if he could write to her. He was big on pen pals.
She changed her mind about Ronald writing to her in her next letter.
“Will you be kind enough to tell Ron that I won’t write to him because I don’t like to write to many boys? I will continue to write to you but that’s all.”
Richard Wilson had promised Marilyn (pictured left) he would write to her when we left Wildwood, but I don’t think he ever did. Instead he gave his brother Tom her address and tried to get Tom and Marilyn together. Tommy was a sneaky guy and he must have said things to try and make me look bad.
“Marilyn got Tom’s letter Saturday (I read it first because Marilyn wasn’t home but don’t say anything about it in your next letter OK) Do you know what Tom said? He said that you liked a girl.”
I didn’t have any girlfriend at that time. Tom was an instigator or maybe he was doing it for Richard. Richard couldn’t get over Jeannette preferring me over him.
I had been to her house in Langhorne for a visit shortly before this letter.
“You should have stayed longer or are you shy yet? I like both of your songs very much. Want to know something? Mother thinks you are very nice and also very thoughtful. Mother thinks Richard is too girl crazy especially when with another (meaning down at the beach).
“Remember when a bunch of girls would go by and Rich would say, ‘Larry, they’re not boys, you know.’ (All he wanted to say was why won’t you let me alone then.) You would just say, ‘I know it.’ How thoughtless he (Richard) 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.”
I guess Richard was doing a little bit of lying himself. In another letter she wrote:
“ Larry do you or Rich drive a car? I been wanting to find out for sure because Rich said that you didn’t drive.”
Interesting, because it was exactly the other way around. I not only drove, but I had a working car, which was more than Richard had at that time. As previously noted, I was chauffeuring Richard here, there and everywhere.
Over the course of the year Jeannette met some boys in Langhorne and she began dating one of them. By the next summer Wildwood became a memory for both Jeannette and I. She sent me her Senior picture a couple years later and that was the last I ever heard from her.
I came home one weekend and heard mom and dad fighting. I had never heard them arguing before, except about me. They stopped when they saw me. Mom was crying; dad looked angry.
“You know your mother’s seeing another man?” he said to me
No, I didn’t know anything about that. It was somebody she worked with at the Potato Chip factory. I still don’t know any details or how long her tryst went on.
“She might be going off with him,” my dad was saying. “If you go live with him, are you going to call him dad?”
I was stunned. I shook my head but said, "I guess I would have to." Dad stormed out and mom fled to her bedroom.
I don’t know what happened with that other man. There are mysterious entries in my mother’s diary for that year. In one entry she says she went out for the evening, but: “I was disappointed.”
My father was in Virginia hauling tomatoes at the time. A few days later she wrote that my dad had come home and they had went out and talked. She ended with, “I have to make the biggest decision of my life.” There was nothing else to explain these two entries, but it was around the time my father confronted me about that “other man”.
My mom and dad never divorced or separated. I assume she dropped this guy and my parents simply made up. Maybe that was the “biggest decision” she had to make. It certainly rocked my world for a while. I really thought they were going to part and I was going to move into some other man’s house and have a stepfather. As much as my father and I had our differences, I really didn’t want to go live with somebody else and have to call them my father.
Where would I live if that happened? Would I have to change schools again? I thought about running away. I even thought about suicide. I was suffering a deep depression. I couldn’t even talk to my mother for a while after I heard this. I couldn’t tell my grandmother because I didn’t know what she knew.
I retreated more into my room at night and to my typewriter. I was living in two fantasy worlds most of the time now. Why not, either were better than my reality. I was doing poorly at school, I didn't see much prospect of having a girlfriend and my parents appeared about to break up. I did quickly rule out suicide because how would I do it? I didn’t want something that hurt. What if I botched it and left myself badly injured or crippled? I was always the pragmatic or perhaps I was a coward.
By Christmas things had worked their way out. Mom and dad were acting like they always did. The thread of a breakup was over. Mom and I was able to have conversations as if that day had never happened. Now I could go back to brooding about my love life or lack thereof.
I made another deal with my mom about church. I was finding Sunday school hard to take. The teacher may have been a nice man and sincere in his belief, but he was no teacher. He was extremely difficult to listen to with his droning monotone and I found it hard to stay awake. I had enjoyed MYF at Downingtown and I decided to join it at Bethel. I told my mom I was going to go to the Methodist Youth Fellowship meetings on Sunday night instead of going to Sunday school. This decision let me sleep a little later on Sunday and I still had my alone time. It actually extended my alone time because I didn’t have to drive back from the church anymore.
I asked for a tape recorder for Christmas and I got one. It was a Belcor Reel to Reel. It said portable on the side, but you needed a forklift to carry it.
MYF and my tape recorder were going to play a larger role in my life after the New Year’s. So was my doodling and sketching.