The Battle of 1962

Belly crawling through thick dew covered grass I was one with the spiders and the bees jumping from one clover flower to the next. The fragrance of fresh grapes hanging above me hugged the ground tighter than me. With each slither I moved closer to the enemy that I knew was waiting for me at the end of the arbor. My rifle, a constant companion, was slung over my back secured with the sling. We share the same battle scars from a recent 18th street fire fight. A bayonet was secured to the end in case I needed it for unexpected close combat. Three bullets were loaded in the clip, and three more were stuck in the band of my helmet.

I finally reached the end of the arbor. Grape juice stained my shirt and arms giving me the appearance of already being in a thick encounter. I could see the enemy clearly. He had no idea I was coming up behind him. I decided he was not worth wasting a bullet on. I reached around, slid my friend off my back, checked the bayonet, making sure it was secure. My next move would either free the hostages or would bring me to a swift end. Either way, I had to try. Raising up slowly and about to lunge forward the attack took a terrible and abrupt turn. I heard the voice of my commander, “Brian, don’t you dare hit Butch with that knife, get in here right now and get cleaned up for lunch.”

Butch, aka the enemy, headed across the lawn to his grandmother’s house for his lunch break while I sulked through the back screen door smelling more like a wine-o than an eight year old soldier. I am sure I spent the next few minutes explaining to mom that I had no real intention of stabbing my best friend in the back with a rubber bayonet. There is little doubt she believed me. Of course it should also be mentioned that she was a contributor to this behavior so she was not entirely blameless. It started with her part in the Christmas gift of ’62.

Christmas 1962 was not unlike my previous eight. Although I have little recollection of one, two and three, four and up start to register with me. Christmas morning always started with Mass. A waste of time for a child. Any parent that takes more than one child to church on Christmas morning deserves some type of special dispensation for future sins. The worst torture for us kids was having to pass the tree, surrounded by irrefutable evidence of Santa and not even being allowed to walk into the same room as this splash of gifts.

Making things worse, Santa always left one special gift sitting on top the gifts. I know he did this just to torture us and make us feel like Msgr. Oberst Christmas sermon was longer than it really was. Once home, we dutifully ate breakfast, waited for dad to get off work from the Post Office and then we all finally gathered around the tree.

After Teresa opened countless toys geared for a three year old it was my turn. Sitting on top of my gifts was an official replica M1 Garand rifle equipped with a rubber bayonet and three wooden bullets in the clip. There was also helmet that somehow followed dad home from the Armory. Putting on the helmet and holding the rifle I assumed my best Vic Marrow pose. You can date yourself if you remember Vic as Sarge on Combat.

Dad had to be the one that snapped the picture with mom desperately trying to get out the picture. There is my evidence she must have known what this gift would lead to. The caption on the back of the snapshot says, “Brian pointing his new gun at Teresa.” To this day Teresa displays no visible effects from this incident.

Brian's new rrifle

Brian’s new rifle

The new rifle replaced a one piece rifle made by dad out of plywood. It was modeled after the guns carried by Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Unfortunately the gun was broken in one of the fierce battles over possession of the grape vine hedge that ran along the alley.

The new weapon elevated me to the rank of Sargent in the local NRA, (Neighborhood Recreational Army.) I was ready to defend the block. But there was more to come with more gifts to open. Opening a tin that smelled of dad’s pipe tobacco three more wooden bullets were revealed. These were fashioned by dad at his basement workbench. They were painted with gold lacquer and looked just like the ones Sarge kept in his front pocket. I was locked and loaded with ammo to spare.

This was the dawn of the great Christmas battle of 1962. Few history books every recorded it but it was a turning point in the history of urban warfare. My buddy Butch this same Christmas received a bazooka that launched plastic shells on the enemy. We spent the afternoon defending the block against an unsuccessful attack by a real enemy…adulthood. We were able to fight it off for several more years. There were numerous  battles which were eventually won by grass cutting jobs, homework and puberty, forces more powerful than wooden bullets, rubber knives and plastic shells.

In the end, it was all part of growing up.

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Cobbler, Guns and Coffee, Oh My!

The late fifties and early sixties was an age before television began to lull us inside and present a distorted view of reality. Life outside of the house was exciting and adventuresome. Inside was for eating, sleeping and homework. Outside was for quests, socializing, learning and getting into trouble.  When we were ushered outside to play, mom’s words went something like this; “Go outside, play, have fun and don’t get into trouble.” The problem was, my idea of trouble and mom’s was usually different.

Trying to stay out of mischief often necessitated belonging to some youth organization which parents believed would somehow mold us into responsible adults. If you were one to push the limits, the threat of reform school hung over your head. For those who were not as rebellious, organizations such as 4-H, FFA, sports or Boy Scouts did the trick.  I tried the football route but quickly learned I did not care for my face being stepped on by kids twice my size. Boy Scouts became the route to salvation and a somewhat un-criminal life.

My brother Tom started the scouting experience in our family. Tom earned the Eagle Scout rank, which was an accomplishment for a young guy fighting Cystic Fibrosis. On a hot Nebraska July night, Tom, along with four other scouts pinned on the rank of Eagle in front of a crowd that required the Jug Brown Football Stadium behind the high school to hold all the guests.

Tom was my first lesson in dealing with a person of limited resources. I refuse to call him disabled as many people would want to today. For Tom, the disease was an inconvenience and he dealt with it as such. It might be better to label it as a distraction, but for him, it was never a disability. By fifth or sixth grade I was already taller than him, but in my mind he was bigger because he was after all, my big brother. Years later, I was honored to join him in the Eagle brotherhood. Today I measure each new Eagle Scout against Tom’s accomplishments and life style.

Scouting in Falls City was the adventure you read about in Boys Life or in the Boy Scout Handbook as you thumbed through it in the Boy Scout section of the J. C. Penny store. I couldn’t wait to be a scout. All of the tenderfoot requirements were memorized well before I signed on. I had visions of camping in the timber outside of town, wearing my uniform to school on scout days and leading a patrol through town at the start of a hike, each member dutifully following behind the flapping flag of the wolf patrol.  As a troop we never went on a fifty mile hike, saved a life or helped old ladies cross the street. But, when no one was looking and without even knowing it, we saved our own lives and helped each other cross the street from puberty to manhood.

We were a camping troop as well as one which believed in initiation ceremonies, PBA (pink belly association) flashlight army, snipe hunting and a few other things that might run counter to today’s Boy Scout philosophy or practices. We had fun and we learned valuable life skills. Skills such as how to ride in the back of a pickup without being pitched out or better yet, how to drive the same pickup, pre-license of course. Each scout in the troop eventually mastered the skill of boiling the hell out of coffee, making it the best tasting beverage you’ve ever had on a cold night, how to pop milo “borrowed” from a nearby field, and God forbid, how to shoot a gun.

Our Scoutmaster, Bill, was the father of two girls, so I believe he looked at each one of us as his sons. Bill worked in a local shop that made the cabinets for mobile homes. He was the first guy I knew who looked like he shoved softballs under his skin making his shirt sleeves stop above the biceps. He wasn’t showing off, he was a hardworking man who came by his muscles honestly. I used to do push ups every night hoping my arms would match his. I gave that idea up years ago.

On occasion, Bill would announce a shooting night for the next meeting. On these announced shooting nights, we were to bring our .22’s. On scout night, one week later, you would see a half-dozen pre-teenage boys walking down Stone Street, the main street of Falls City, toting guns. No one thought anything of it. Today, it would probably generate a SWAT team response and it would definitely create some form of national news coverage. After the meeting we would cut down through the city park (read, Death Drives a Ford Fairlane Sept. 7) then hike by way of an old service road taking us past the water and light plant down to the Nemaha River. Once there, we would plink at whatever we felt was a good target.

Old LP records were some of our favorite targets. We would roll LPs down the banks of the river and try to hit them before they ever reached the river bottom. Thinking back now I realize how dangerous that really was but somehow Bill controlled it. There were never any close calls that I remember. I also wouldn’t mind having a few of those LP’s back.  What should have caused even more alarm for the locals, was these same boys walking home in the dead of night carrying armament. How would you react today if you were sitting on your front porch enjoying the evening air and listening to the crickets and you saw four boys, dirty, sweaty and carrying on walking down your street, each carrying a rifle?

It was from these nights that I learned to shoot, gain respect and responsibility for what a weapon could do; lesson never taught, but lessons learned.

As a troop we were good at winter camping. Understand Nebraska winters are as cold as Nebraska summers are hot. There are many January days when the high temperature is still below zero. There is a description of Nebraska cold that says; “It was so cold outside that all the people’s words froze in mid-sentence. When spring came along, all the words thawed at once and you couldn’t hear yourself think.” Few people in their right mind venture out unless they were required to. That is unless you were a member of troop 393. Bill would sign us up every year for what was called the Winter Freeze Out camporee.

The winter I learned to sleep naked in my sleeping bag (well almost naked) was the most memorable of all of the winter events and a source for a few more stories that will follow. It was January. A fresh snow fell in the afternoon and by the time we got the tents set up, we were all ready to pack it in and go home. We were cold, wet and hungry. This changed when Bill made some of his ground coffee elixir; coffee boiled with the grounds then served in a tin camp cup, (which I still have.) You could smell the aroma of the coffee sneaking through the campsite like a winter butterfly fluttering from one bare branch to the next looking for some warmth. Once touched by the aroma, you were prompted to change your attitude and begin the task of fixing your evening meal. Many chose to fix easy camp food like hot dogs or “hobo” dinners. You made “hobo” dinners at home by throwing on to tin foil ground meat, vegetables, and whatever else you wanted in your meal. (I always liked a little A-1 in mine.) You formed a pouch around the concoction with the foil and packed it away. Once at the campsite, all you had to do was pitch it in the coals until the hamburger was cooked. When you opened the foil, the steam fogged your glasses and thawed your nose. The bouquet of smells made you feel like you were back at mom’s table with her special one pot meal.

Bill was in charge of dessert. His Dutch-oven peach cobbler was the crowning glory of camp food. I still get a little teary eyed when I reminisce about the taste of this delicacy. It is a lost taste, which cannot be duplicated without the old seasoned ovens and subzero nights. Bill would mix the cobbler in several dutch ovens, then bury the ovens in campfires around the encampment. No one dared lift a lid until Bill gave the orders to sample. Once done, the ovens shared an oozing peach and dough creation. The edges burnt from the coals and peaches on the bottom, caramelized. To make it even better, on this encampment, someone had the great idea to bring ice cream which of course needed no freezer. The vanilla ice cream, on top of hot cobbler, fresh cowboy coffee; excuse me while I wipe away the tears and the drool.

As the camp evening wore on, the younger scouts played flashlight army or buried themselves in their mummy bags thinking for some reason that was the way to stay warm.  The older scouts, those of us who actually had a few whiskers, sat around the fire, drank coffee and finished off the cobbler dished up in Styrofoam cups while Bill sat there blowing smoke rings from little cigars. They say that smell is great reminder. When I catch a whiff of tobacco smoke, campfire or coffee, it’s easy for me to conjure up those nights around the fire. When we stepped away from the fire we realized how cold it really was but for some reason instead of feeling colder, we felt older for the experience.

It was all part of growing up.

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The Falls City Dribbling Idiot

Every person growing up has those moments when they wish they could crawl back into the womb and start all over again. Visualize that for a moment. Anyway, some of us have more of these situations than others. As you follow my blog, you will realize I should have started over a long time ago. Again, for many, these situations seem to pop up during our teenage years. You remember them, the days when you thought you were mature and sophisticated only to find that you were still just an over grown baby stumbling over your feet.

There were numerous traits that followed me into the teen years which I wish would have disappeared. Two of them were crooked teeth and gagging. Real qualities every teenage boy wants, especially if he is trying to impress any one of the opposite sex unless it was the girl next door that you grew up with and was more like a sister. Of course, she was probably going through the same transition period.

Crooked teeth. Today, kids get braces as soon as their baby teeth are out and I guess even sooner in some cases. When I was growing up I think they were hoping that gravity or a fist would straighten them out before money needed to be spent to do the job. In my case, neither of the mentioned options worked. My front teeth were crossed like two scissor blades. You guessed it, I was the famous “scissor tooth” I am sure you’ve heard of me. The formation was great for one thing. I could launch water out through the hole made by the crossing. Unfortunately, this was not a talent that was in high demand.

Dr. Hoban finally convinced the folks that if this boy is going to have any kind of acceptable social life or career, it might not be a bad idea to fix those teeth. I also think Dr. Hoban knew priesthood was in my future and he did not want to be looking at his potential future pastor and know that he could have fixed a major distraction to Sunday’s homily.

There were several options presented by Doc to the folks. Pull some teeth to make room for the expansion and then place permanent wires all through my mouth. An expensive option at that time. The other option, the “dime store” version, (remember Dime Stores) was a removable retainer that would slowly move the teeth into a somewhat respectable position.

Now the folks loved me. Mom would often say I was her special child. She passed without ever clarifying what she meant by that. Dad, never seemed to argue with her on that description. Anyway, they chose the Dime Store route for their special child, only because that is what resources allowed.

Most kids today, as mentioned before are getting their braces at seven or eight, but not me nooo, they waited until those transition years of the teens. Like I needed one more thing to add to my scissor toothed fame. What I did possess at this time was a job. When most kids my age were running newspapers or car hops and Mutt and Jeff’s, I had a real job with a major corporation. I was the after school floor sweeper at the J.C. Penny store. I walked the four blocks down the hill, not really a hill but we called it that, drop my books off at home, and walk the four blocks up in the opposite direction to the Penny store. I stayed there until closing time, sweeping the floors, dumping trash, cleaning windows and whatever Mr. Comfort assigned me to do.

I was good at my job and the work ethics instilled by the folks soon earned me a promotion to weekend shoe salesman. I loved my Penny’s family. I was a kid in an adult world and they depended on me. I was so important that for my weekend work, I wore a tie and took breaks with the rest of the employees in the break room, which was really just a table in the stockroom next to an old refrigerator. You bought your pop right out of the fridge, leaving your fifty cents in the coffee can on top.

Ok, let’s jump back to the teeth, just keep in mind the Penny store duties. Dr. Hoban prepared the retainer that would eventually stretch my teeth like a muscle man pulling apart the bars of a jail cell. This was accomplished after several attempts at sticking oozing globs of paste in my mouth to construct molds for the oral device. This process was agonizing for me and Doc. Remember, I was a gagger. He would stick that glob in my mouth and leave the room while it harden. Meanwhile, I could feel my little toe trying to work its way out of the back of my throat. When he came back in the room, moving slow t do to his advancing age, I was all but standing on my head trying to ward off the impending gut wrenching that was coming. After two or three attempts, we got it done.

Early on a Saturday morning, the device was ready. I walked up to Docs office prior to going to work to sell shoes. He wanted to fit me with the retainer and make the final adjustments. A great plan until I walked out of the office.

The office was two blocks south of the store. It was early Saturday morning, the sidewalks were busy with shoppers and people just out to socialize. Even to this day, downtown Falls City is a hub of activity compared to other small towns. I am one player in this crowd. Dressed in the best style of the day, white shoes, white belt, plaid slacks, probably a silky shirt and a tie wide enough to use as a tablecloth. I didn’t stand out at all next to the bib overall, blue jeans and chambray shirts.

Now, let’s go back to the gagging bit. I am walking up the street with this new gizmo stuck in my mouth pulling at my teeth. Right about in front of Brown’s Shoe Store the gag kicks in. I look like someone mid-way between and epileptic seizure and being shocked by a cattle prod. I am hanging on to the light pole talking myself out of losing breakfast right there in front of all of Falls City. Sweat is dripping from every available pore as well as drool coming from both corners of my mouth. Mothers were moving their kids away from me, politely ducking into stores they never intended to visit. Thank God cell phones and You Tube was not even imagined at this time. I would have been trending social media for sure.

I finally composed myself and made it to work. My tongue was bloody from being cut from all the wires in my mouth and my whole mouth felt like a fist was shoved inside of it.

So you think this is the worst of it. Not even close.

I was standing at my post, just inside the shoe department. I am practicing the slow breathing exercises Doc taught me to ward off the gags. I sounded like a man practicing to make obscene phone calls. In walked probably one of the prettiest girls I had seen up to this time. She was definitely and out of town girl, most likely a college girl and all she had on were bib overalls. Let that sink in, only bib overalls! Make things worse, she was walking directly towards the shoe department. Now you have a heavy breathing, gagging teenage boy, dressed like a seventies used car salesman being approached by what looked like a girl right out of the pages of Playboy, the College Coed edition. Now we have a story.

With half a gag being suppressed I was able to mouth, “Can I help you?”

She told me her size and what she was after. In those days, shoes were stored in backrooms with racks of shoes from floor to ceiling. You could always kill some time looking for a pair of shoes which gave you the advantage to plan your conversation with the customer, a sales trick taught to us by our manager. I needed the time to compose myself, let alone figure out what I was going to say.

I found her size and style and made my way back out. Again, these were the days when the sales person actually fit the shoes on the customer. We positioned ourselves in front of the customer so that we could slide the shoes on with our ever handy shoe horns. Okay, now on this stool I am level with the bib portion of this Delilah’s overalls. When she bent down to inspect her new slides, my treat was, well you can imagine, remember nothing but bib overalls.

So far I was able to maintain a level of professionalism required by the code of shoe salesmen. But then, I was painfully reminded that I had an extra piece of plastic in my mouth.  The saliva that was being held back by the second artificial roof of my mouth needed somewhere to go.  In a very professional manner, I leaned over to check the fit of her shoe, the gag kicked in. With a gaping open mouth providing the exit, the biggest wad of spit slid out from behind the plastic, trailed down in a long stream and landed perfectly on her beautiful bare ankle.

It’s all part of growing up.

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Death Drives a Ford Fairlane

My  memories filter in before the invention of Kodacrome. My life’s movie reel runs in black and white. This probably has something to do with our TV was black and white until I went off to college, most of the family photos were in black and white and when my brother bought his first Polaroid, yep, black and white.  All newspaper pictures were in black and white, with the exception of my favorite Sunday funnies. At some point in time, God invented color and a different world opened up, but it was too late for me. The color connecting neurons were already connected to only two shades. I say all of this because the following escape episode runs in my head in the black and white version. The colorized version has not been produced yet.

When Mr. Death and I had our first meeting, and there were a few we will explore later,  the population of my hometown, Falls City, NE was around 5,400. We were a big city by Nebraska standards. The next closest city of any size was Nebraska City, fifty miles north.  Falls City, like many small Midwest towns, provided a public swimming pool. You paid a quarter for a day of hanging out with your friends, burning your skin to a nice crisp brown and bleaching your hair to a fuzzy blonde. No one worried about skin cancer or the effects of chlorine.  We were more concerned about the rule of waiting a half hour before jumping back in the pool.

The pool didn’t open until after the noon whistle blew. The whistle controlled the actions of the town like the bells in a monastery. At noon, some stores even closed so the employees could go home for lunch.  Imagine today having the luxury of eating a relaxed lunch in your own home.  Up until noon the pool was used for the Red Cross swimming lesson. Every year mom would sign us up for lessons. Mom could not swim but she was determined that each of her kids would learn. I don’t know if dad could swim. Thinking about it now, I never asked him.  When they say anyone can learn to float, they are lying. It took me two summers to get beyond the beginners level which all you had to do was prove you could float and you passed.

The public pool was set in the middle of major sports complex for the city. There were two tennis courts, horseshoe pits, where the State horseshoe championship was held each year, two ball diamonds one having a wooden grandstand which was the tallest wooden structure in town. It was also the first thing to come down in a windstorm in the early 60’s. The wind laid it down like it was part of a pop up card that you could open up and it would be right back to the way it was. I can remember sitting in this grandstand with mom and watching a reenactment of a wagon train being attacked by Indians as part of the centennial celebration for the city in 1957. Try getting away with that scenario today in this politically correct world.

In the park was a large pavilion for displaying 4-H animals during the annual Horse Play Days. Next to the pavilion was the Rodeo center. During Horse Play Days we could stand outside the wooden split rail fence and watch the contestants race their steeds around the barrels. I think secretly we were hoping one would wipe out like NASCAR fans watching a race.

The park was shaded by plenty of old elms, many of which died off in the Dutch Elm disease blight, Maples and Catalpa’s with their long strings of seed pods we always thought were coffee beans. The park was the place for picnics, family reunions, and a favorite activity of many Falls Cityians, people watching. If you told anyone around the Richardson County area, “Meet us at the Falls City Park,” they knew where you meant.

In the evening, big flood lights surrounded the pool. They would kick with power and then buzz as they came to life. The walls of the pool also had lights which gave the water a strange glow. In the evening the pool was never crowded. The noise level was down and you could hear the power generating station at the water and light plant just a few blocks away, the diesel generators pumping to provide the power to light up the night. The slow cadence of those diesels is one of my earliest memories as a kid.

I was usually pretty compliant to my mom’s time for returning home from the pool. There was a Pepsi clock mounted in middle of the bath house. You could read it from any spot in the pool and it was your surrogate mother while swimming, always reminding you when it was time to go home. I guess this day I was either having too much fun or I just out right ignored mother clock. When I realized I was late I rushed out of the pool, turned in the pin attached to my swim trunks that corresponded to my basket of tennis shoes T-shirt and towel. I am sure I did not even take the required exiting shower. Outside, my bike was waiting for me. Stretched out on the ground, it looked like a tired old horse that decided to stretch out while a bunch of young banana saddled stallions stood at attention afraid to move or get a scratch.

Dad bought the bike for me from Mrs. Grimes who lived across the alley. Her boy went off to the Army and I guess she figured he was not coming back for the bike. It was my first big bike. Fat tubed tires, a true saddle style seat with two massive springs to absorb the bumps and butt. Fenders arched over the tires that occasionally required creative bending to avoid rubbing. The bike and I traveled all over town and it probably kept me in the best shape I have ever been.

I rolled my towel up like a cowboy’s bed roll and wedged it under the springs of the bike saddle. We headed up 12th street toward home. We lived on the east side of town. Four blocks east of the main downtown and four blocks west of the St. Peter and Paul church and school. We walked up to town and up to church. The up part is the lie. There really is no places in Falls City where you needed to walk up. The ride home was flat and fast. If I pumped hard, I figured I might still be able to squeeze in under the supper time curfew.

Falls City was a biker’s paradise. Good wide roads, flat and little traffic. There were probably times when bicycle traffic outnumbered four wheels. I passed over Stone street which ran north and south and was paved from one end to the other with bricks. Stone was the dividing line for town. You either lived on one side of Stone or the other. The upper end of Stone makes up the main part of the business district. The south end of Stone was all residential including a four story apartment building covered with white stucco. Planted in the sidewalk around the building were trees with cast iron protective fences. This corner always reminded me of the apartments in New York City pictured in movies; black and white of course.

The next intersection was Nebraska Highway 73. You could ride H73 all the way to Hiawatha and St. Joe going south or travel north to Nebraska City. The Greyhound bus made regular runs up and down 73 and was the main connector for many people. At this time H73 was a tree lined two lane highway. The trees were trimmed by tractor trailers which formed what looked like a square tunnel of trees. There were no traffic lights on H73 it was the only road in town you needed to look both ways before crossing.

Traveling south on H73 was a Ford Fairlane with a white top. It passed the Greyhound bus station and was coming up on the intersection just before the old Wittrock Creamery, the corner of 12th and Harland.

So was I.

Intent on getting home on time, I committed the grievous sin drilled into every Falls City kid, right up there with don’t play on railroad tracks. I shot across H73 never looking in either direction. The heavy steel left bumper of the Fairlane passed within a breath of my fender. It wasn’t until the horn blared and the tires screeched that I even realized a car was there. Our eyes met, two strangers brought together by fate and timing. We each knew a defining moment just occurred.

In one pump of the pedals I was safe on the other side of the highway. I cut up the nearest alley knowing for sure the driver, who I knew would be hunting me down for the scare I just gave him. Few knew the alleys and streets better than me. I was confident I could stay off his track and make it home undetected. I was like the crook that took every back alley to escape the pursuing police. My fear was the driver might have recognized me. With Dad working for the post office there were few people in town who did not know the Casey kids. I figured I was a marked man.

I made it home undetected. I even used the bad guy trick of going one block out of my way then doubling back, just in case he was a better tracker than I was giving him credit. I rolled one half of the garage doors open. The doors made a distinctive noise as they rolled across their bearings. The sound amplified through the corrugated tin structure. The family car was parked inside. Dad always walked to work and there were times the car, a ’54 Desoto, never left its stall until Sunday. I slid my bike alongside “Black Beauty” as she was known to the family.  Black Beauty was our first car and the only one to be named. Cars after that were just “the car.” Black Beauty was literally put out to pasture after the next owner finished with her. For years she sat in a field under the city water tower. I always wanted to go rescue her or at least check up on her. She sat there like some old great aunt never visited and forgotten by the family.

Supper was ready by the time I got in the house. I was late but still in the grace period and mom was too involved at the stove to holler at me. I sat at my place at the table smelling I am sure of chlorine and sweat. No one at the table had any idea of the life changing experience which was setting next to them. That night, the phone which hung on the wall next to the porch door, rang twice. It was rare that any one called our house. My heart jumped with each ring thinking Mr. Death had tracked me down and was waiting to bring me out of hiding. Or maybe it was someone who witnessed the near miss and was calling to tell my parents to get me off the road. It ended up the rings were just part of the party line connections.

I went to bed that night vowing to always behave, never to tell a lie, honor my father and mother, and never fight with my sister, if God would just let the Fairlane drive on to Hiawatha or St. Joe and never return to Falls City again. I also knew that somewhere a driver was laying down to sleep thanking the same God that he did not kill a crazy kid today.

Today that same intersection has stop lights which control the traffic of the four lanes. The trees are gone, Wittrock’s dairy is no more and the Greyhound does not even come through Falls City. The pool is gone, moved to the opposite end of town as part of a tree-less Water Park. The landmarks might be gone, but I can still stand on the corner and see a kid pumping his legs off crossing the highway, a Ford Fairlane minding his own business followed by the sound of horns and screaming rubber; all in black and white of course and all just part of growing up.

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