It was 1955. I remember because I was on the receiving end of an older brother prank. (I have said before that I come by my prank-ing personality honestly – this is an example). In previous posts I tried to explain my pranks on my younger brothers in a manner that most excuses my errant behavior – I am told my efforts were futile. Back to 1955.
We walked to school. Probably a half mile or so and yes we walked in the winters. We also walked in the spring and fall. We even walked home for lunch. Mom never worked outside of the home and she had our lunch ready when we walked in the door. In 1955 I attended afternoon kindergarten at Thomas Alva Edison Elementary School For The Economically Impaired. Consequently my brothers escorted me to school after their lunch break. They also escorted me home after school.
My older brothers were my best friends for many years. This notion will be challenged as we progress in this story. I trusted them completely – a mistake it turns out. Not because they were untrustworthy or mean – but because they liked a good prank and I was the most willing and naive soul available. Frank was 3.4 years older than I and Dennis was 2.1 years older. Rick was 3 years younger and David five years younger than I. Then Yvonne and like five years later came Bill. Frank and Dennis and I were called ‘the big kids’ and the others were ‘the little kids’. These were important distinctions. When Frank got his first new bicycle Dennis and I also received a new bike. They had 24 inch bikes and I had a 20 inch. But I had a bike and we explored the world. But that is another story.
The fall of 1955 was characteristically crisp. The falling leaves swirled and drifted along our path to and from school. One fall day we were walking casually walking home. That short walk might take an hour because we had license to investigate anything that came along. Mom knew this – she issued the license. She knew we would be home for supper. I don’t remember whether it was Frank or Dennis who first introduced the prank – but the other caught on quickly and zealously reaffirmed the monster story. Yes – I believed in monsters – my brothers had educated me well.
We walked a north/south route on 22nd Street in St. Joseph, Missouri. North/South streets were numbered, East/West Streets had names. It seems there was a man who lived on Jules Street, three houses off 22nd Street, that liked to kidnap children, mostly boys – and mostly young boys. Those boys were never heard from again. It seems only my brothers knew who the culprit was; they had actually been to his home and saw the evidence.
I was not completely stupid. I knew to be wary of stories by these two. But here it was, hard evidence. They explained to me that I could go down the alley behind the Jules street homes to the monster’s back yard. All I had to do was to go through the yard, up to the house, and look in the basement window. The kidnapped children’s heads were hanging in the basement. They knew this because they had gone into the yard and looked, they had seen the evidence with their own eyes. Their notion was that children who entered the monster’s yard were quickly snatched up, like a spider on a bug in the web. They thought the monster probably tortured the children before he cut their heads off.
“How come the monster did not catch you when you went in his yard?” seemed the obvious question. Simple, they said, they went together and when one was looking through the basement window the other served as a lookout. Thus they were never caught. “So take me there so I can see too,” I implored. “Nope,” they said, “Too dangerous”. They were not going to push their luck. They offered to stand at the entrance to the alley and watch. I just had to walk about a hundred and fifty feet down the alley by myself. They would lose sight of me when I entered the yard because I would be behind a garage. They said if I did not come back out of the yard in one minute they would run on home and just tell mom I went on an adventure by myself. She probably would not worry until about supper time.
We are born with some personality traits that define our lives. There are not learned traits. Each of us has our own unique personality. I am a fool for a dare – a challenge – my ego spans continents. If my older brothers looked in that basement window then I must also take a look. I walked down that alley, often looking back. My brothers were true to their word, they stayed right there on 22nd Street, right at the entrance to the alley. It was actually comforting to know they were there.
I stopped at the corner of the garage that was the property line of the monster’s yard. This is the place where my brother’s would lose sight of me. I peeked around the garage. There was the house, about fifty feet from the alley; and there was a basement window – the light was on in the basement. I saw that window as a complete affirmation of the truth of my brother’s story. There was hard evidence that could not be ignored. The light in the window both scarred me and gave me hope – if the light was on then the Monster was in the basement and I could cross the yard, take a look, and be out of there before he could catch me. I started across the yard.
Some things seem out of our control. Things that we reasonably should be able to control. Like weak and shaky legs when under direct threat of being kidnapped and beheaded. I did not make it to the house. The fear in the depths of my soul overpowered my ego. Strength returned to my legs as I turned and ran. “Feet don’t fail me now” was a quote from a movie and I applied for mercy from God above.
When Frank and Dennis saw me running they also took to the wind. It was about two city blocks before I caught up with them. They never told me the story was not true.
Thomas Alva Edison was kindergarten through eighth grade. I walked that sidewalk for nine years, always crossing that alley with reservation. I did go back to that yard as an older child – when I finally convinced myself that my brothers were the monsters. Even then I stepped in that yard with caution. There was a basement window as I had recalled. There was a worn wood porch with rickety stairs. That garage was leaning to one side and in need of fresh paint.
I have other stories about Frank and Dennis (Franky and Denny at the time). My recollection is that I must have entertained them for years. I must say that whenever they went on an adventure, whether walking or on bikes, they always assumed that I was a part of the party. When we rode bikes they always waited patiently for me at the top of steep hills. When we returned home from the adventure they included me in the story of their great conquests.
They made me feel like one of the big kids – and once in a while I had to pay my dues.