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

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Placid Year in the Life

Add caption
Mr. and Mrs. Meredith quickly settled in at 18 Fahnestock Road, General Warren Village. Our address was Malvern, Pennsylvania, but we were on the outskirts of the town proper. General Warren Village was a fairly large development running up the side of a hill along Route 30. It was a few miles west of Paoli and a few miles east of Frazer, almost midpoint between them. These are all towns in Delaware County.
One day I walked up the hill to the top of my back yard. It ended with the crest overlooking  a cliff. It was like déjà vu of when I was 8 years old and crested the forbidden hill behind our Glenloch home. I had stood then looking down upon the mainline tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Here I stood looking down on the same tracks, but this time instead of woods beyond I was seeing the roofs of Malvern spread out below me like a Christmas miniature village.

General Warren Village claimed to be the only community to have its own bomb shelter, which was one of the bragging points made by the Developers. I don’t know if they meant “only” in Chester County, in Pennsylvania or in the nation. I’m not even certain they ever finished the shelter. I remember they once had a billboard along the Lincoln Highway stating this fact that they had one. Bomb Shelters had become big items in the late ‘fifties and early ‘sixties, especially after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik.
The existence of this community bomb shelter inspired a story I called, “Atom and the Eve”. My question on all this bomb shelter ballyhoo was, “How long would we have to stay there and what would the world be that we’d come out into?”

      I began the day of birth seated against the shelter wall. The morning was quiet. Outside the sky looked a great glassy blue without a cloud to mar it, like summer skies use to be. I imagined smelling new mowed grass in the fields and the long uneven rows where the mower passed. It’s a long time ago that any mower passed.
  The shelter is a long tube slanting toward an open door through which I saw the sky. I got up, walked pass the book shelves and through the portal into the cold. Now my great glassy sky was only a small shiny patch on the tattered cape of clouds.

     Many tribesmen milled aimlessly in the square, waiting nervously for news and wondering about the patch of blue sky. Some raised moisturized fingers to test the wind. They smiled. There was no wind. The patch would be ours until a breeze came to shove it from us. Then the clouds would move back. It would happen. “The wind goes toward the south and turns about to the north; it whirls about continuously and it would return again according to its circuits.” At the moment the wind blew elsewhere and there was a split in the heavens.

     The sun’s warmth still could not squeeze through. The earth was hard. It bruised the foot every step. Breath crystallized at my lips and hung like a gossamer veil. There was sparse growth in the fields. Not far away was snow that never melted. It lay the year through and was an ugly color.

     Horace approached me. Horace is a tribal elder and president of the council. He is quite old, an unusual fact. Most of the elderly died underground, but Horace is strong.

    “This is good,” he said of the blue patch.

     I nodded, but I don’t believe in omens.

    “We will have luck this time,” he said. “There will be stars tonight.”

    “The stars are always there,” I said.

    “Tonight we see them.”

    “If there is no wind,” I said.
  “Ah, no wind. No wind till late. We’ll see stars.” He paused to watch the sky. “It’ll be born by evening.”
   Horace left to wait the birth. What else was there to be done? “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done.”  I returned to the shelter’s inner-garden.  (Excerpt from “Atom and the Eve”, 1962)

General Warren Village bears the name of Major General Dr. Joseph Warren who died at the Battle of Bunker Hill. His death was the subject of a painting by John Trumbull called “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill” (how did he ever think of that title), which rallied the rebels and immortalized the General. The Builders of the village probably named it for the inn on the site more than the man. I am not sure why the inn was named after the General since he never left Massachusetts, like we didn’t have any Generals in Pennsylvania.

They could have named it after general Solomon Meredith, who commanded a brigade at Gettysburg.  Meredith, there's a good, solid American name. You can cross part of the Gettysburg Battlefield on Meredith Avenue. He did survive being struck in the head by shrapnel, which fractured his skull. He also suffered broken ribs and an injured right leg when his horse, killed by the same blow, fell on him. These wounds ended his military career.
Maybe if he had gone the final distance and died under his horse he could have won the honor of a tavern named for him. Of course, General Meredith was not really from Pennsylvania either. He was a Hoosier from Indiana.

General Warren Inn sat at the entrance to our street. It was originally built as The Admiral Vernon Inn in 1745. It was renamed the Admiral Warren in 1758 after Admiral Peter Warren. Admiral Warren was with the British Navy and he died at 48 years of age from an illness, not a battle. It was renamed the General Warren Inn in 1825, probably to honor an American, not a Brit. In 1786 the Penn family sold the land to Casper Fahnestock, thus the source of our street name. The Fahnestock Family (pictured left) almost doomed the inn during the 1820s when they forbade the sale of spirits. I have eaten at the Inn a couple times in my life. It is very expensive, thus why I visited only a couple of times.
All the General Warren Village homes were Cape Cods and essentially looked alike except for the color. Ours was a light green. William Lutz next door on the east had a darker green. The Frank Andrews to our west had a white one.

Lutz came over with his family and introduced themselves. They seemed nice enough, but Bill Lutz was a fanatic about his yard. He immediately advised me on how I should tend mine, especially to keep down pesky weeds like dandelions. I probably drove him up a wall thereafter. I didn’t have much interest in how the lawn looked. I kept it mowed (or many times my dad came and did this) and that was about it. He would be out in his own yard with some sort of blade on the end of a pole like he was lining up a putt on the golf course. He would even lie down on the ground and look to see if the blades of grass were even. If he saw a too tall blade he would whack it with the golf club shaped sickle.
Mrs. Lutz also seemed nice enough, but since Lois was working at this time we didn’t see much of her. They had a teenage daughter.

Lois and I slept in the master bedroom on the first floor. It was on the east front side. The second bedroom was to the east rear side. We put a daybed in that room and designated it as a guest room, although we seldom had any overnight guests to use it, except for occasionally my grandmother stayed in it.
The living room was the largest room. It was on the west front. There was a large picture window, the one with a view of The Great Valley. The stairs to the upper floor was right off the front of the living room. The kitchen and dining area were in the west rear. I made the west bedroom upstairs my den and office. That was where I went each night to write. There was really nothing in the east upper bedroom. We put a table over on one side and displayed some of the things we had gathered on our honeymoon (pictured below left).

One night I finished writing. The stairwell was between the two bedrooms and there was a small hallway between them, but no doors. When you walked to the stairs you could see directly through the second room and right out the side window. I walked to the top of the stairwell and I could see directly into the upper west bedroom of the Lutzes. This was the daughter’s room and she was standing just beyond her window undressing. She had her shade all the way up. I went down the steps assuming this was just an oversight on her part, but I soon found it was a regular thing. She would undress directly framed by her unobstructed bedroom window. It all struck me how well her timing was. I didn’t keep some rigid schedule when I wrote. Some nights I worked late, some just for an hour or so. Yet whenever I knocked off for the evening and headed for the stairs, there she would be. I can only guess that she watched for me to turn off my light as a signal to disrobe. I tried not to look, but it was difficult not to pause and glance over there. This was not some kid next door. She was a young woman, but given the circumstance of her behavior I hesitate in calling her a young lady.

In the beginning of the year the breakdowns in the car picked up. I would have it in a garage near my parents a good many times during 1962. On January 12 I had to take a taxi to and from the Paoil station since our car refused to start. My family came down the next day and dad determined I needed new spark plugs. My grandmother brought a cake she baked for the occasion.
I guess dad got the thing running because on the 20th I took it into a garage for service.
I did not help the car situation on February 14 when driving us to the train I put us in a spin and hit a tree. Lois took the train on to her job, but I stayed behind with the broken vehicle. Whether as a result of the accident or not, I bgan giving taxi service more business. On the 19th the car wouldn’t go, so I called a cab and again on March 6 when I returned in the evening and couldn’t get the car out of the Paoli train station lot.

Despite these growing car issues, I trusted it to take us on a long day trip on March 17. One place I had long wanted to go was Gettysburg. In March Lois and I took off on a Saturday and drove to the battlefield. We looked very dressed up for such a field trip, especially Lois in her black dress and big white pocketbook. I stopped by the Visitors’ Center for information and discovered you could buy a personal guide. I am not talking about a guidebook or some kind of recorded tape. I am referring to the purchase of a living, breathing human being. I paid the service fee.
A Park Ranger came out and got in the back seat of our car to direct us. He was not a young ma; oh no, he was not. I would say his Ranger duties were probably limited to telling tourists the history of the place. He looked old enough to have fought in Pickett’s Charge. He rode with us and pointed out all the important sites of the battle, but he did have a habit of repeating himself, especially one phrase as we twisted and turned on the roads through the park. “They must have followed a snake when they laid this road out,” he would say and chuckle. We found they had followed a lot of snakes.
In the photograph of Lois, she is sitting on a rock that forms the base for the statue behind her. Next to her is a small black sign. I did not take any notice of it when I asked her to pose for this picture. We have been back to Gettysburg a few times since then and in 2005 I finally read that little sign. It said, “Keep off this rock”.

In March of 1961 President John Kennedy had issued an executive order forming the Peace  Corps. Congress got around to authorizing it shortly after our marriage in September. Lois and I were reading about it and decided we wanted to join. I wrote to its director requesting applications, which we received. We filled these out and mailed them.
I don’t know what we were thinking. We were idealistic to a fault. We thought it a great idea to go off to some foreign land and help people in some way. I don’t know how I planned paying my mortgage if I went off working for some stipend to the darkest point in Africa. Nonetheless, we sat back and waited for our country to call us to duty.
I didn’t have to worry about it. We never heard back from the Peace Corps.

I can’t even imagine me going off to some foreign country where people spoke a language I didn’t know and attempting to communicate. I wasn't doing that well with English. t noticed I was having more difficulty with talking to people. I could communicate my thoughts well enough with my typewriter, but speaking face to face was a different story. With those I knew well, such as Ronald Tipton or Stuart Meisel there had not been any problem, but more and more I became tongue tied around strangers and people I didn’t know well. I was really deadly in large groups. I was certainly not a party animal, unless moles count. In group settings I tended to find a place in a corner and withdrawal from the action. If there was a magazine handy I would bury my face in it from cover to cover rather that converse or cavort with any other guests. This had not caused me any serious problems at work, yet, but my job pretty much allowed me to work in solitude.
Lois was suffering from Bipolar, though we didn’t know it yet, so the last thing in the world we needed was for me to develop full-blown Social Anxiety, but the markers were falling in place that was where I was headed.

I may have been shy and retiring face to face, but I was anything but when my confrontation could be done through the mail. I was on a kick writing what were very often nasty letters to anyone who I felt I had a grievance with, and if it were a corporation I always looked up the CEO and wrote to the big boss directly. I found you got more attention that way. Actually, I also seemed to get easily annoyed at everyone and everything.

I received an issue of “Life Magazine” in the mail. I was annoyed. A few weeks earlier I had received a bill and sent it back explaining I had never subscribed to the magazine and did not want the magazine. Now they sen me the blasted magazine. I wrote to the Circulation Department.

Dear Sir (Madam):

A few weeks ago I returned my bill and with a letter telling you to cancel my subscription. I received John Glenn in my mailbox this week. I am not the Larry E. Meredith who was once a subscriber. I am the honest Larry E. Meredith. I cannot take advantage of a super-special-let's-be-friends-and-buddies-and-back-slappin'-cousins-half-off belonging to a former subscriber who is not me.
It may have crossed your mind or at least your camera that if he had a subscription, he must also had a reason to stop said subscription.
Please do not send any more Life Magazines. Please do not send any more Life Magazines. Please do not send any more Life Magazines.
Not for one year.  Not for two years. Not for five years. I do not want Life for life. I want to live Life-less. I can read. I want body to my magazines, like Andy Panda Comics. In other words, something with a larger vocabulary than Life.
Please do not send me any more Life Magazines! Please do not send me any more Life Magazines! I shall begin sending them back C.O.D.!!!!!!! Please do not send me Henry Luce! Please do not call me early mornings. 
Please do not confuse me with any more former subscribers. I never subscribed to Life. I never wanted to subscribe to Life. I never shall subscribe to life.
If I receive any more issues I shall stop buying from your advertisers and I shall inform them why.

Larry E. Meredith
A Curtis Publication liker.

P.S. Don't, please do not sent me any more Life Magazines.


Guess what? I never got another Life Magazine or bill.
And by the way, I never have subscribed to “Life Magazine”.

In May I wrote Ronald. Our correspondence had fallen off in the first part of the year. That may have been partially due to his final post assignment, which was to Fort Meade near Washington DC. This was the extent he got to see the world while in the service. He went to Fort Dix, New Jersey for his Basic, Fort Devens, Massachusetts for his career training and finished his three year enlistment at Fort Meade, Maryland.  He was on duty at the NSA (National Security Agency). It was a two hour train ride away from his Downingtown home to any one of those facilities.
My letter was a bit of a jumble and I lot of boast. For instance, apparently bragging, I mentioned I had added up all 12 years of marks I received in public school and the average came within one-tenth of one percentage point within an A average, as if that really meant anything.
I informed him that Lois and I were making a combined $190 a week, $9,880 a year. That is the equivalent of nearly $78,600 annually in 2016 dollars. No wonder we were living it up, going to shows and eating at restaurants such as The Black Angus on a regular basis.  I did mention that a portion of this bounty was due to overtime I was earning.
I told him I got a prize in a writing contest, that I was buying a movie projector and that I wanted to recommend the following of my interests to him:
“Swan Lake”, the ballad suite; the books The Catcher in the Rye and Dante’s Divine Comedy. Finally, I suggested he see the movies, “West Side Story” and “The Children’s Hour”, based on the Lillian Hellman play.
I ended with a paragraph that I wonder what he made of since he knew something I didn't.

“We got two girls in our department at work who can shake you up a little. I mean they love each other. Comprehend? Like you walk by and they’re smooching. Everybody to their own taste.”

1 comment:

Jon said...

Just to let you know that I'm still enjoying your posts. You mentioned that you were shy and had trouble communicating with people (unless they were people that you knew well). I was exactly the same way, and I think it's a common trait with writers.

I'm very often tongue-tied face to face with someone, but I'm usually extremely good at communicating via the written word (and letter-writing). Writers have the advantage of being able to think before they say anything.