Tag Archives: Rock Island Railroad

A lifetime of New Year’s Eve deja vu

Half-way through December, when it came time for me to resume my NaNoWriMo novel, to catch up on roughly 873 unread emails and blogs that I follow, and to breathe new, consistent life into Jackson’s Journal, I had a high-level meeting with myself and decided to extend my “down” time another 16 days.

Enough. I’m breaking the huddle, getting back in the game, shaking the dust off any other cliches that refer to getting the rust out of my routine. I’m pumped. In fact, I’m going to blog every single day of 2013. Or not.

First, I’m taking stock of the greatest blessing of my life. My bride (Kelly) and I did some calculating tonight and determined that since 1974, we’ve been together every single New Year’s Eve except one. Folks, that’s 38 NY Eves.

kelly-jodie

I love the story of Dec. 31, 1974. Kelly and her family and 36 other people — 41 in all — were at the green duplex in Belle, Mo., at Eighth and Shockley, a place that I prefer to remember as “Little Fenway,” on account of the house was the left field fence for the greatest Wiffle ball field ever known.

But it wasn’t wintertime Wiffle ball that drew a crowd.

It was a fish fry.

Dad was the pastor of the fledgling Faith Baptist Church, and as best I can remember, the evening started with a fine Southern Baptist tradition, the New Year’s Eve Watch-Night Service. Or maybe the evening didn’t start at the church, which was located in the former but brown recluse spider-infested Dahms Hardware Store in Main Street/Alvarado Avenue/Highway 28 in downtown Belle.

My Little Black Book of Great Adventures — aka, my childhood diary — recounts the important details, including the reference to brown recluse spider-infestation, but also the party in the house at Little Fenway. At one point earlier in the evening, someone — either my dad, Robert Thompson or Clifford McDaniel — had a wild-hair idea about having a fish fry. Robert had a freezer full of gigged Gasconade River fish and Clifford possessed the world’s all-time greatest hush puppy recipe. (It might have been the other way around; the Little Black Book of Great Adventures doesn’t provide clarification).

Someone brought a massive iron kettle and a grand fire was sparked on the bare spot normally reserved for second base. There was fish, hush puppies, drinks (absolutely non-intoxicating beverages, of course), pie, slaw, and, for the younger set, an unofficial yet also traditional activity of Southern Baptist teens and pre-teens: spin-the-bottle. (Not sure if it was this event or a future gathering where the spin-the-bottle experience came to an abrupt end when the bottle pointed to me and my sister, Kathy).

At the height of the NY Eve Fish Fry of ’74, we had 55 people in our house. At one point I retreated to my room — a chemistry lab and railroad-killed mammal dissection facility — to jot down my thoughts. I refer now to the Little Black Book of Great Adventures:

“It is 10:40 PM, Dec. 31, 1974. New Year’s Eve. It was a good year to me and I especially wan to thank God for leading me to a good year in science. He led me to all my specimens and stuff.” (Ed. note: living less than 100 feet from the Rock Island rail line also provided me an ample supply of biological diversity).

More about the year, recapping my thanks to my parents for letting me collect so much “stuff” and thanking my friends for helping me collec the “stuff.” (Ed. note: we had most of an entire but unassembled adult deer skeleton hauled into my room/lab before my mom drew a line on the amount of “stuff” I could have in my room/lab).

Finally, this:

“I joined a taxidermy school and I have come to a greater scientific knowledge. I am going out now to join the rest of the party. There are still 41 people hear at our house.” (Ed. note: Correctly spelled “knowledge,” but misspelled “hear.”)

Now let me fast-forward three years to New Year’s Eve 1977, back in the green duplex at Eighth and Shockley after moving back from Jefferson City, where I spent THE loneliest, saddest year of my life the previous year. My year-end recap included, “In mid-October, my parents got a divorce” and my sister, Sharon, visiting from Japan where she and bro-in-law Navy man Michael were stationed, had lost her babies (twin boys). And then this: “I am very much in love with Kelly Drewel, who I’ve been going with for 13 months.”

Finally, follow me back to (or is it “forward to?”) NY Eve 2012, where I’m making the resolution to finish the novels “Dixieland” and “Chasing the Devil” in 2013, with at least one of them published by year’s end.

And then I laugh as I glance again at the Little Black Book of Great Adventures and find this:

“Lately, I’ve been writing quite a bit. In the past I’ve started a few books that I never have finished, and I’ve got several ideas for books, stories and songs. I have written about 25 stories, 15 songs and started about 5 books. It takes time to write, so I think I’ll put aside more time to write.”

And then I listed some belated resolutions for getting that done: limit television; get my homework done at school; stick with something.

The date: Feb. 8, 1978.

The more things change …

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Filed under Family, Inspiration, Kelly, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, National Novel Writing Month 2012, Nature & Animals, Old Time Religion, WIPs

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

Memoir-In-Progress

 

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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Rock Island Rail snow tunnels: March 1975

This is a two-part story about the house where I lived in March 1975 and the perfect snow that cancelled school the entire first week of that month 37 years ago. Look for the conclusion on Tuesday.

Memoir-In-Progress

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 …

My list of Top 10 Weather Events of My Life, honorable mention, includes the heavy, wet snow that fell during the entire first week of March, except the 1st. The depth of the snow was memorable; but barely freezing air temperature created the most perfect snowman-building, tunnel-making snow of my life. My friends, Stacy and Lacy, lived just across the street, and the Rock Island Railroad ran within an easy snowball’s throw behind their house, chugging through Belle, Mo., on its route from Eldon to Union.

The rail was our ready-made path to adventure: animal bones (some complete skeletons of opossums, raccoons and similar critters, and skulls and other bones from deer and coyotes) that encountered the Rock Island train); the old vacation village of Gascondy and the Gascondy Railroad Trestle seven miles to the west, just south of Summerfield; and the much-closer Belle City Park Lake where we caught more than our share of bluegill, sunfish and bass for the better part of four years.

It seems like my family lived there so much longer, because when my mind goes back to the very best years of my childhood, I usually go back to the green duplex at the corner of Eighth and Swanson. The distance from my south-facing bedroom window to the railroad tracks was 25 paces. (Measured in 11-year-old boy paces).

That house was where I slept and ate and performed all imaginable – and unimaginable — chemistry experiments in my bedroom “laboratory.” If chemistry set Bottle A specifically warned, “Do not mix this chemical with Bottle B,” well, guess what? I’m pretty sure I passed out once or twice.

My “lab” shared space with two or more aquariums/terrariums that provided habitat for the snakes, field mice, crawdads, tadpoles, lizards, salamanders … well, everything I could catch. “My side” of the duplex is where my mom told me after school one day, “You know your father and I are getting a divorce.”

Some locations, some events — some exact moments — you never forget.

Just like I’ll never forget the joy and tragedy of the first week of March 1975.

Continued tomorrow …

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