Archive for the ‘Childhood’ Category

One of my Grandfather’s favorite places to find fishing worms was behind the old Freelandville, Indiana Mill, where tons of spent grain husks and chaff had piled up for decades. The resulting heap of decomposition produced layer upon layer of truly bizarre habitat, and one that to a small boy was downright frightening. Although “Papa” did most of the digging, he always brought along an extra small shovel and encouraged me to find my own worms. “Bigger fish will bite on worms you dig yourself,” he explained.

So, off I’d wander into the rank, steaming mounds of the old Freelandville, Indiana Mill, with coffee can, toy shovel, and teddy-bear in tow.


One day I had just uncovered a particularly nasty patch of compost. Underneath, was the biggest worm I’d ever seen. Even with small, kid’s fingers, the worm was twice as big around as my thumb. “Papa!” I shouted, grabbing hold of it. “There’s a great HUGE worm over here!”

Papa rushed over, thinking I had found a garden snake. He stared down at the worm. “Let’s see what you’ve got there,” he said, stooping as I let go of my discovery. The worm-thing began to pull itself deeper into the compost, its slimy coat glowing faintly as it contracted and expanded its body segments in an attempt at getting away. Papa grabbed it and began pulling on it. The worm tightened, giving up a foot or two, then broke in half, the severed ends exuding an awful smelling pea-green fluid. In his hand was a three feet section of— what?

The front end disappeared down the 3/4-inch diameter hole.

Papa examined the elongated tail section for several minutes. “I’ll be dog-gone if I know what this is!” he exclaimed, dropping the still squirming THING into my can, wiping his hands on his coveralls. (Meme wasn’t going to like that!) Then, we packed up our shovels, hopped in Papa’s 1950s  Ford, nicknamed “the Green Hornet” (based on the radio show series), and went fishing. Later that day I learned something very important to a fisherman’s way of thinking: not only do bigger fish bite on worms you dig yourself, even bigger fish will bite on BIGGER worms you dig yourself!

Thing in a Can Planet

Papa never mentioned the thing in a can again, and to this day, when I lie in bed, tossing and turning and unable to sleep, I sometimes think about the bygone Freelandville, Indiana Mill and wonder…

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I’m probably one of the few kids who actually LIKED taking cod liver oil. I remember in the 1950s Mom lining up my sister, Pat, and me at the refrigerator door every morning while she spooned out our daily dose of the smelly liquid. Every once in a while Pat would manage  to “sneak” her spoon to me when Mom wasn’t watching. I’d lick off her cod liver oil and “slip” her my clean spoon and collect a whole penny(!) for the favor. (Nowadays, I look at this arrangement as having been more of a symbiotic brother and sister agreement than it was — blackmail.)

This is probably why I think of those good ol’ cod liver oil days every time I open a can of sardines, or find a penny on the sidewalk.

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HO Trains

Fleischmann makes the best.

While my family was stationed near Athens Greece in 1960, I convinced Dad that I was serious about collecting “HO” trains. HO trains are tiny, scaled down versions of the more familiar “Lionel” trains. Within a week Dad was hard at work constructing a train “layout” in one our spare rooms. I knew I was in for a treat—  Dad never did ANYTHING half way.

Realism at its finest.

Over the span of a few months, the layout grew to astronomical proportions. Tunnels, round-house switching tables, push button roadway switches, whistles, tiny towns complete with people, street lights, trees, ponds, cows— you name it. The control panel looked like a nuclear reactor’s control room. Six different engines could be operated at the same time. An engineering degree was required just to turn the power on. Great stuff!

Issue # 1

But eventually we had to move back to the States. By then the train table was so large it couldn’t fit through the door. And FORGET shipping! Dad convinced me the best approach was to SELL the whole setup. One of his Greek coworkers agreed to buy the contents of the room. With tears in my eyes I watched a reciprocating saw slice “ANYTOWN USA” into four separate pieces.

A couple of years ago I picked up a model train magazine, and nearly ALL of my six German “Fleischmann” HO trains (circa 1959-1960) had become collector’$  items. But that’s okay. During that same move back to the United States, I lost my entire comic book collection, including the “Fantastic Four” Issue #1 (1961).

Flame ON!

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Alarm set for 9 o'clock

I always admired my father’s Benrus alarm watch. He used the alarm to remind himself of everything. It was the neatest watch in the whole wide world.

“BUZZZ!” I can still hear that sound and see Dad glancing at that Benrus, remembering an important meeting or something he needed to do. How cool was that?

Dad and I lost our watches somewhere next to a lifeboat in-between those two stacks, while learning an important life lesson.

On our way back to the States after assignment in Greece, our ship — the SS United States — docked briefly in Naples, Italy, where we were accosted by a young urchin selling watches on a street corner. Dad ended up falling in love with a gold-gilded beauty, and bought it on the spot. Later, as the ship passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, he said, “I want you to have this.” He gave me the Benrus alarm watch. “Don’t wear it until we get a chance to shorten the band.”

For two days I was in ecstasy secretly wearing that watch. It eventually slipped off my arm and fell overboard. Dad found me crying on the top deck that night, staring out at the cold Atlantic and our ship’s churning, phosphorescent wake. I explained what had happened. He removed his new watch and tossed it over the side.

His wrist had already begun to turn green from wearing it. “We both learned a lesson,” he said. “Let’s go get something to eat.”

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The Molly B

When I was a kid I mowed yards to supplement my allowance. Actually, I did quite well mowing yards. After the first year my client list had risen to nearly twenty-five yards. The end result was a surplus of funds, which I spent on whatever struck my fancy (including a riding lawn mower). Mom was only somewhat surprised one afternoon when my $21.95 mail-order canvas canoe kit arrived at the front door.

Within a week the sleek shape of the two-seater had begun to take form on the garage floor. The final procedures required wrapping the plywood frame in tightly-stretched canvas and fiberglass resin, and then coating everything with expensive epoxy paint, which was not included in the kit because marine quality paint cost almost as much as the kit. I selected a deep blue bottom color and pure white sides. Seeing as how the nearby shallow Lake Whitehurst was filled with stumps, Mom was dubious about the seaworthiness of a vessel made of canvas right from the get go. But she remained supportive of the venture providing I officially christened the new vessel to her liking: “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”. Very carefully, I painted “Molly B” on each gunnel in deep, midnight blue.

The “Molly B” was a fine ship.

Early one morning, Mom waved from the shore during the Molly B’s maiden voyage; I paddled off like a ghost across the quiet and misty lake into a new and independent wave of childhood.

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One of my favorite 1950s childhood toys was a shiny blue record player that had a huge round arm with a stylus as thick as a pencil lead. For hours every day, I sat on the floor in a pool of sunlight listening to the 78 rpm “The Flying Circus” album over and over again. Although I can’t be sure this is the correct title (I’ve searched for hours and it is not the Monty Python version!), I recall a particular opening scene in which a pin is dropped from a high trapeze. Down, down the pin hypnotically plunges into the center of a three ring circus, where a sinister ringmaster whispers: “It’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop!”

With eyes tightly shut, listening, listening, listening, I would drift away. A rustle of movement, a gray hulk of elephant the size of a mountain, the scent of popcorn and fresh manure. Sunlight tries to pry past my eyelids, where grease-painted clowns chase themselves in figure 8’s until they catch up with their own shadows. In a swirling cloud of sawdust, the circus tent is sucked into a diminishing spotlight like a black hole until the tent vanishes completely with me inside. A little boy frog materializes and discovers an ox grazing in a field. Awestruck by the size of the ox, the little frog hops home to tell his bullfrog father what he saw.

“Was he bigger than… THIS?” asks Daddy Bullfrog, inflating his balloon-like throat sac.

“Oh, MUCH bigger, Daddy, but—be CAREFUL!”

“Bigger than T  H  I  S ?” puffs up Daddy Bullfrog, even larger.

“POP!” goes the terrifying sound of Daddy Bullfrog exploding! Then, a kid’s song while the little boy frog happily patches Daddy Bullfrog up with a Band-Aid. There was an important “be who you are” lesson about life in those lyrics:

“Who wants to look like an ox anyway?
Hippity, Dippity, Dox.”

Although The Flying Circus allure — like most childish things — eventually wore off and the little blue record player was tossed away, the scratchy sounds and crisp images still swirl upon occasion inside my merry-go-round mind. And sometimes, very late at night, as I lie awake and secretly replay scenes from my childhood — imagining those grooves spiraling towards the center hole of that far away phonograph record galaxy — the darkness becomes so deathly still I can almost hear a pin drop.

+ + + + +

Tim says: the above lyrics are what I recall. When I searched on the Who wants to look like an ox lyrics, I discovered several references to the bullfrog analogy, none of which, unfortunately, pertained to my forgotten childhood album.

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One day while chasing a football across my front yard, I ran smack dab into the middle of a five feet tall yucca plant. In my mind, planting a yucca bush in one’s yard is tantamount to placing a spear-tipped sculpture in a play pen: nothing good will come of it.I can think of no plant less useful to a teenaged, soft-bodied, wannabe wide receiver. A bottle of iodine, a box or two of cotton balls, and a couple dozen Band-Aids later, I used a machete to prune the yucca plant down to its obnoxious and pulpy stub of a trunk. And then I dug that up and threw it in a garbage can.

“What happened to my yucca plant?” asked Mom when I showed up for dinner. She took one look at my bandaged body. “Oh!”

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