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

Monday, June 13, 2016

Autos and Houses and Best Men, Oh My!

Like an anticipated, but unavoidable avalanche, there were sudden snow slides to dig through and move as marriage approached. As the activity piled up I'm burning a grove between Bucktown and Drexel Hill via the old Shuylkill Expressway , more commonly known as the Schuylkill Parking Lot, in my 1954 Ford with the tied shut driver's door.  Somewhere along the route one night a consternation concerning the reliability of my faithful old chariot entered my mind.  Lois and I had plotted out a Honeymoon requiring a lot of driving.  I didn’t know if I trusted that Ford to get us there and back. Perhaps it was time to buy a new car.
My father had been a long time loyalist to Studebakers. There had been the 1949 Studebaker replaced by the 1953 Studebaker, which he was still driving. In the 1940s it was what ever that thing is behind the two desperadoes on the right. (Me and Bobby Lukens, not to be mistaken for Me and Bobby McGee.)

He took me to his Studebaker-Packard dealer in Oxford, Pennsylvania. Now there are two names you don’t see anymore, Studebaker Packard. Actually 1961 was the last year for the Packard name. The company dropped that division and became The Studebaker Corporation in 1962. Studebaker’s days were numbered too. I traded my Ford in on a 1960 Studebaker Lark. It was this rich dark green color. The car sold for about $2,000.  That would be a bit more that $16,000 in today’s prices.
I wonder if I was hasty? I was to have a constant back and forth to Oxford for repairs on that car over the next three years, which might explain why Studebaker didn’t survive all that many more itself. The last United States plant closed in 1963, about the time I was about to depart with my own version, and the last actual Studebaker rolled off the assembly line in Canada in 1966.

I was still reading while riding the trains, but my tastes were ever expanding. Oh course I couldn't very well sit in the coach reading "Art Models Baring All," could I?  I never did such a thing, but now I was stepping up from the H. P. Lovecraft , Fredric Brown and  Ray Bradbury titles to a more erudite group. In August of 1961 I was reading T. H. White’sThe Once and Future King, probably the best presentation of the King Arthur Myths I’ve ever read,  at least that's what I wrote Ronald. I followed it up with Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, The Unvanquished by William Faulkner, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and a lot of Edgar Allan Poe (okay I didn't completely true my back on horror); although, I never really finished Dostoyevsky (pictured right). I kept wrestling with those character names and finally they won the match and I surrendered. I mean Raskolnikov wasn't too bad, but Fyodor kept upping the ante. There came Altona Ivanovna and then Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov, who kept coming out as Marmalade, and it was all too darn distracting. I have promised myself for over 50 years to get back in the ring and finish the match, so what do you think are my chances?

I was writing my own stuff in the evenings. I put together the volume Little Plays that year, a collection of the skits, sketches, plays, music satires, monologues and other bits. Some were performed at Owen J or local venues as stand-up comedy, others just as party humor or for fun. I wrote the bulk of these, but did have some co-authors such as Ray Ayres, Richard Ray Miller and Richard Allan Wilson. I also produced another collection of poetry called “From a Further Room…”, a title taken from T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred
For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a further room.
So how should I presume?
T. S. Eliot (1915)

Oddly, when I was a teenager I wrote a number of poems dealing with old age and with death. I guess this made me a morbid child. Besides Poe and Stevenson, I became influenced by Edwin Arlington Robinson, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Edgar Lee Masters, Emily Dickinson and Claire McAllister.
Here is a poem I did on being old, written when I was 18:


Not so long ago I fell in love.
She was a young and gay girlish thing,
But I am old and my face is wrinkled
And my eyes have ceased to sing.
Yet she even looked my way this once,
But then she turned aside her stare.
After all, what she saw was an old man,
With his swarthy skin and faded hair.

The other man who was in love with her,
Being many years younger and more sublime,
Could do tricks upon a pedestal
That I couldn’t begin to climb.
He used his youth as something
To offer that I could never give,
For though I have saved some money,
How many years have I to live?

Ah, what slim chance had such as I?
She saw behind me an open grave
Hungrily waiting to eat me up.
All I had to give, I had already gave.

Now I dream the shadows from my past
And sleep, a silent island in life’s stream.
But remember, young man, when you turn old,
                       That once you laughed at an old man’s dream.

       Most of the poems contained in this collection eventually were published in various media.

More importantly to myself I gathered a bunch of short stories I had written as a teenager together and called the volume, "Never-Contented Things". The title was taken from a line in a Poe Poem called "Fairyl-Land":

Of which those butterflies
Of Earth, who seek the skies,
And so come down again
(Never-contented things!)
Have brought a specimen
Upon their quivering wings.

All the stories in the collection had an element of fantasy or horror and several were published at a later time in different magazines, especially "Magazine of Horror" and  "Startling Mystery Stories" This was the book Lois ferenced as typing her her letter quoted previously.

Lois and I escaped the pressure of wedding planning a few times by going to her Uncle Albert’s cabin on the Sassafras River in Maryland. There we spend the day swimming in the river, despite those tiny fish in the water that would swim against you and press mouths to your skin. They didn’t bite; it was just an odd sucking sensation, and I've stated before, Lois didn't like the fish very much. But who cared about the fish. This was an opportunity to be away from people, to be up close and to reach under the tranquil surface and explore each other's bodies hidden by the murky water.

Also August 19 was the time we made another deep sea fishing trip with my dad. This time Lois came along. Joining us was a long-time friend, a girl I had known since I was in early grade school, Patty Lilly and her boyfriend, Paul Miller. Paul was in my class at Owen J. , the boy whose yearbook writeup became mine, and his father and uncle were close friends of my dad. Paul’s father George also drove a truck out of the same Honeybrook terminal that my father now hauled from, in fact, I believed the Millers owned the business. They may be giants, note the picture. I was six foot and Lois was five foot ten, but both Patty and Paul towered over us (picture left). They eventually married and Paul also served as an usher for my wedding.

Lois was not use to being out to sea. She was game to try her luck at fishing, though, and she caught the first tuna of the day. From that point on she was seasick. I was never very susceptible to motion sickness, but I began to feel a bit woozy myself trying to comfort her. I think it was sympathy sickness. But we survived and had a nice haul to bring back to dock. We even caught the largest tuna landed by the fleet of charter boats that day, one over 90 pounds.

The only effect on me was not being able to eat a tuna fish salad sandwich for about the next six months. This photo of Lois, with her hair caught in the sea breeze, is one of my favorites.

But I had bigger fish to fry than tuna because in my usual grand way, I decided to buy a house. People didn’t think I could pull it off, but at the time I had my life pretty planned out and under control. That was probably the last time I could make that claim.  Much of my life has been fairly chaotic since, but I seriously believed I could buy a house for us to start out in and I  fully expected to have at least $10,000 saved by the time I was thirty. (Having $10,000 in the bank at age thirty was considered a sign of great success in 1961.) I would get a modest starter house to begin with, hold onto it for maybe fifteen years and then move to something grander.
We began house hunting in April. Alice Downing, a first cousin who once babysat me and whom I was closest to, was married to a realtor in 1961, Granville Barkley Cantrell. known as "Pete". I don't know where the "Pete" came from. Alice was ten years older than I and the youngest of the group of young women known as the Downing Girls. That is her and I in the picture on the right when I was 5 or 6 years old. Her husband assisted in finding a place I could afford. Granville died in 1993.
We quickly narrowed our search down to the Paoli area, not because we were so in love with the area, but we felt this would cause the least friction between the families. Paoli and environs were almost exactly halfway between my parent’s home in Bucktown and Mr. Heaney’s house in Drexel Hill. If we found a place there no one could claim we were playing favorites. Even more importantly, we  felt the distance was such there would not be a lot of pop-in visits from either side.
On one of our searches we were joined by Richard Brown, another First Cousin, and his wife, though we didn’t know he had a wife. He told us they just got married in May right after they graduated from West Chester High. The photo on the left is how he looked at that time. Richard would fill an important role for me at the wedding, but this wasn't know yet. he was scheduled to be an usher along with Richard Wilson.

On June 9 my mother, grandmother, Lois and I found a place we liked. We drove to Drexel Hill and brought Mr. Heaney back to look at it.

It was a four bedroom Cape Cod in General Warren Village. Now the centerpiece of the Village was and is the General Warren Inne (yes, with an e). It is an upscale eatery with a history back to the French and Indian War. Once upon a time it was named the Admiral Vernon Inn. Exactly why General Joseph Warren got this village and inn named for him I can't say, given he was born, raised and died in Massachusetts. I don't think he ever stepped a boot heel into Pennsylvania.
They had built the houses from the inn up the hill in the mid-to-late fifties starting around 1955. The one we were buying was one of the very last built and it sat atop the hill at the very apex facing out toward what was called The Great Valley. You could look out the living room picture window and see for miles, or could in winter when the blocking trees went naked. Besides the living room with its great view,  there was an eat-in kitchen, bath and four bedrooms, two downstairs and two upstairs. The two upstairs were very large. It had a full basement.
The house sat on 3,000 square feet of ground. It was a lot 100 feet wide by 300 feet deep. The house sat back from the street at the end of the first 100 feet. The other 200 feet ran up the hill  behind to its crest. There was a back yard level with the back door step, and then it went up a steep embankment to a grove. Beyond this plateau it sloped upward with woods. If you climbed to the crest of the hill you could stand overlooking the town of Malvern below.
I went to Alice Downing Cantrell and gave her a deposit on the place.
I paid about $12,000 for it. My mortgage payment was $98 a month, which included principle, interest and insurance. This was very affordable for us. I was making $60 a week and Lois was earning $64 and that 124 dollars a week easily covered the mortgage and car payments.
Not bad for a couple of teenagers, eh?

On June 20, I met Mr. Heaney and Lois in Paoli and we went and paid the down payment.
On June 23 I went home with Lois from work to her place. Mr. Heaney brought me home, but we had to stop on the way in Berwyn at Cantrell’s office to sign the papers for the mortgage. Settlement on the house was scheduled for July 3 in New Hope.
Ah ha, and there's the rub. It wasn't a bad del for a couple of teenagers and that my friends was the speed bump that rose up at settlement. It wasn’t any problem with finances or down payment. We had gathered in Cantrell’s office to finalize the papers. Lois, her father and I were there. A lawyer was representing the seller. Just when we reached for the pen to sign the final agreement did anyone think to ask our age.  This was the first the lawyer, seller or realtor realized I was just turned twenty years old and Lois was still nineteen. We were not twenty-one. We were minors. We could not sign contracts without an adult co-signer. Fortunately, Lois’ father, as persnickety, cheap and weird as he was, proved willing to do that.  (Harry Heaney pictured on left at piano. He played piano and violin.)

Other than the usual preparations one must perform before they have a wedding, life went on in pretty much the usual way. There was work each day and I was writing many a night. I went out some times with Dick Huzzard and Melvin Moyer.
On the third of August , Lois came home with me and we met Richard Wilson and his girlfriend, Marsha Kissing at the Royersford Train Station. We all went to dinner together and when we came home at 9:00 PM there were 34 people there giving Lois a surprise bridal shower.
We went out a few times with Richard and Marsha during the summer until one evening Marsha suggested we all get a motel room together. We were not into anything like that, yet, and turned them down. Marsha eventually became Richard's first wife.
On August 13 Ronald was home on leave and we went over to my cousin Bob Wilson to swim. Ronald had the girl he had invited to the Downingtown Senior Prom (he one he stood up)  along with him. He went with her awhile. Her name was Jeannette Pritchard. (Pictured on right, Jeannette Prichard and Ronald Tipton.)

Meanwhile I got all my blood tests and licenses. By this time Lois and I had given into our desires and on whatever chance we got to be alone and shed some clothes, we took.

The wedding was less than a month away when a letter came from Ronald dated August 22:
Dear Larry,
I’m afraid I have bad news for you. Enclosed is an NSA Bulletin which affirms the news I have for you. I won’t be able to be your best man. We fire annually for record and an unlucky as I am the 16th of September is when I fire and I’m afraid the only way I can get out of it is to either go AWOL or drop dead.
I’m sorry I couldn’t have found out sooner.
Sincerely, Ron
P.S. Please write.

 It had a NSA (National Security Administration) Bulletin attached. I had asked Ronald to be my Best Man and he planned to ask for leave so he could be home on September 16, when the wedding was scheduled. His letter explained he could not get the sixteenth off. They would grant no passes on the day of the annual rifle qualification test.
Passing in delivery was a letter I wrote him on August 24, which was before I got his “bad news”. In that letter I discussed some books I was reading, a little about Lois and my fishing trip and a paragraph on the recent suicide by Ernest Hemingway on July 2:
“I also wonder what you think about Hemingway. You know all that was left of his head was the chin, jaw and a little bit his his cheeks. Messy, huh?”
It was a delay in mail deliveries and I didn't have or answer his bad news until September 2:
Dear Ronald,
Sorry you can’t make it to be Best Man. At any rate you’re still the “best man”as far as I’m concerned. If by any luck you get home that weekend after all, please come as a guest.
Rich Brown will be my best man now
Paul Miller will be my new usher.
Forget the $8.32 ‘cause I’ll get it from Paul for his suit.
I’m sorry to hear about your Uncle John getting burnt so bad at Gindy’s. I suppose you heard about it from home. He got paint thinner or something on him when Gindy’s got on fire and went up like a torch. He’ll probably be okay though. He’s lucky to be alive, though critical, and I hope he pulls through.
When you get home let me know and you can see the house.
Nothin’ much else happened, so see ya, boy, your buddy, Larry

P.S. I’m sorry you won’t make it. I thought maybe I should threaten you, but I’m not mad, you couldn’t help it, after all. C’est la vie! Est a li vita! Etc. I was going to say you better go AWOL or you won’t have to drop dead, I’ll kill you! Just kidding! Honest, see you soon, I hope.

Sadly, his Uncle John did not survive his injuries. As a result, Ronald did get to come home, but for a far less sober affair than a wedding. Hour wedding was right around the corner.e came home for his uncle's funeral.

Time doesn't stop at the end of any event. It continues to tick away and  our wedding was lurking right around the corner. We seemed set. We had a car, a house. We just needed each other.

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