Tag Archives: Robert

Rock Island snow tunnels, ‘Little Fenway’ and other stories



From my Black Book of Great Adventures

March 5, 1975 — Four days ago I went fishing. Today is the fourth straight day of snow; about 18 inches on the ground, but not real cold. Our dog Mo-Mo is pregnent. Build more tunnels beside the tracks. Fritz got killed by the train, Leroy buried him. I said the prayer and thanked God for little dogs …

Rock Island Rail Snow Tunnels, March 1975, Part 2/Conclusion

Any account of my life at the green duplex and tales of adventures along the train tracks is incomplete without at least a review of my back yard at Eighth and Swanson. I called that lovely lawn Little Fenway, the best Wiffle ball field in the history of the planet. We lived in the house, of course, but the green duplex’s most important function was filling the role of Little Fenway’s “Green Monster,” our version of the left field fence at Boston’s Fenway Park.

My brother, Robert, and I played our most epic, one-on-one Wiffle ball games there.

Occasionally, other neighborhood Wiffle-ballers gathered for a game or a tournament. In the summer of ’78, just weeks before we moved to the house on Johnson Street – where the oversized yard and empty lot became Little Wrigley – Stephen White hit the longest home run ever in my Wiffle ball experience. His one-handed-swinging blast connected with the most perfect, fastest fastball I ever threw. The ball sailed over the house, err, I mean the Green Monster, across the front yard, over the street and halfway into Beulah Phelps’s front yard.

A hundred and fifty feet.

We silently formed a circle around the ball. A few of us recognized the sanctity of the moment, something so incomprehensible, powerful and reverent that all we could do was gaze at the ball the same way we would have stared in awed silence if someone had stumbled up on a vintage, 1927 Babe Ruth baseball card. It was that profound.

I felt tears well up from the surge of emotion, but I knew Stephen would probably beat up anyone who cried. My best bud Mike Thompson did cry. And Stephen beat him up.

Ah, good times.

The week-long snowstorm of March 1975 delayed the start of Wiffle ball season. We missed the entire week of school and spent Monday and Tuesday making tunnels down the side of the clay piles (small mountains of clay deposits from mining) in the field across the train tracks. One tunnel was large enough to actually take a sled through. The other was traversable only with your body laying flat with arms tight to the chest.

Both tunnels were absolutely terrifying.

And exhilarating beyond description.

The tunnels were on the west side of the steep, rocky hill. The east side was forbidden because it sloped down to the bank of the many-feet-deep clay pit that was covered with slushy ice.

Just west of Stacy and Lacy’s house, we made tunnels that connected two or three haphazard snow domes (similar to igloos) in the deep ditches that ran parallel to the north side of the railroad tracks. On Saturday that week, March 5, the three of us celebrated our week of snow-sculpting creations with a picnic — inside the snow domes.

Our constant companions that week were Stacy and Lacy’s dogs, Hobo and Fritz. Hobo, a terrier-mix mutt, was the most intelligent, bravest and smelliest dog I’d ever known up to that point in my life. His name was fitting for a dog that lived near railroad tracks. Fritz was a young Dachshund, a red wiener dog that was always a step or two behind us and light-years behind Hobo in terms of brain power.

Hobo and Fritz were outside the snow dome when we heard the Rock Island locomotive coming. Lacy shouted for the dogs to get in the tunnel and rejoin our picnic, and Hobo was beside us instantly. Lacy poked his head out of our snow bank hideaway and screamed at Fritz to “come.” The wiener dog was clumsy in the snow, so he preferred waddling between the rails where the snow wasn’t as deep. Lacy screamed again as the train barreled past.

Fritz didn’t make it.

A little while later, we had a short funeral for Fritz. Stacy and Lacy’s dad, Leroy, chopped at the soil and dug the hole. We all cried. Even Leroy.

I said the prayer and thanked God for little dogs …

Songs of the 70’s …

Television in the 70’s was full of “variety shows.” The Carol Burnett Show. Donnie and Marie. Sonny and Cher. Those were real productions with choreographed song and dance numbers, and comedy skits that often went awry (I’m thinking Harvey Korman and Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show).

Saturday night, March 5, 1975, was The Tony Orlando & Dawn Show. (No, I didn’t write about it in my journal. I had to Google this). Special guest star was Tony Randall. Charo was one of the performers. Tony Orlando and Dawn – Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent-Wilson – sang a “40’s Medley” and “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You).” 

The No. 1 song on the pop charts that week was Have You Never Been Mellow by Olivia Newton-John.

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I must have blinked …

Tonight I sat still long enough to identify what’s been eating at me for the past several, head-spinning days, from Grandma Nola peacefully slipping from this life into Heaven in the early hours of Dec. 21 to the funeral, a memorable but bittersweet Christmas Day, to my ka-thunk! onto the ice, a couple of days off to paint and primp granddaughter Kianna’s bedroom (and she’s not even here yet to make it really light up), to a somewhat whirlwind trip this morning to Warrensburg to visit my brother and mom.

Whew. (And an uber-long sentence to describe it all).

Me and my brother, Robert, on his 50th birthday. That was five years ago and he's seven years older than me. You do the math: in two years, I'll hit the Big Five-O.

I worked the odd-hour weekend shift at the Tribune tonight (and again tomorrow evening). Kelly texted me at about 6:30 to let me know Natasha’s boyfriend, Kory, had arrived from Virginia, and they were headed back to Centerview/Warrensburg. Once again, our nest was empty. But I could tell from my bride’s text that it wasn’t a happy empty. It was empty. During the emotional roller-coaster of the last several days, Natasha has been an anchor, a constant. When that dawned on me, it hit me: My baby girl is all grown up. I must have blinked, because her sister is eight months pregnant. My little girls are women. What’s even more amazing is how they can be so diametrically different in so many ways, yet resemble each other — and how they both reflect their mother’s incredible inner strength, undying optimism and passion for life. So much attention is focused more and more on yet-to-arrive Kianna, and our little family enjoyed that together this week.

Kishia and Natasha, once upon a time ...

I recently heard someone mention that a man had retired or changed jobs because he wanted to spend more time with his family, to which someone else remarked, “No one wants to spend that much time with their family.”
If those someones had my family, then yes, they’d absolutely want to spend more time with them. Our empty nest reminds us just how blessed we are.

All grown up in '08, a few weeks before the presidential election. Kishia just planted an Obama sticker on her conservative sister.


Natasha holding her prize Mini-Rex "Buddy" in a senior picture six years ago.

Kelly holding her prize Natasha, 24 years ago.

And me with a chicken on my shoulder four years ago. You’ve gotta love how the Creator brings order out of chaos, and sometimes you just have to embrace life’s random moments.

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Filed under MIP: Memoir-in-progress