Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Every Picture Tells a Story, Don’t It? (Part I)

Story 1 of 3: Cousin ‘E’
Well folks, today, July 28th is my birthday. And I’ve been holding out for almost a month to write this story. I’ve been waiting until now because I wanted to give it to myself as a present. This is a subject that takes me back to perhaps the happiest time of my childhood, when my life had few rules, even fewer responsibilities, and every day was an adventure.

I can’t remember a time in my life in which I’ve ever genuinely felt bored. I’ve always seemed to be able to occupy myself with something, either indoors or out, to spur my interest. If I had to be inside, I drew, primarily comic book superheroes, copying them from the collection of comic books I started sometime soon after we moved to Middletown. I have to chuckle when I think about it, but I had my younger brother, Alex, trained so that if I ever felt something resembling boredom coming on I would turn to him and (quite over-dramatically) say, “Alex…GOTTA DRAW! Immediately Alex would drop what he was doing and go scurry off to fetch my Academé Sketch Pad and box of pencils, and then blissfully away I would wile away an hour or more in my own little world, trying my best to mimic those comic artists from DC and Marvel who at even a young age I held in such high regard. These were the men who I so very much wanted to be when I grew up — but more on them later. While drawing was my passion, I rarely opted for staying inside when I could be outdoors, exploring the wonderland that was my adopted hometown. And I was never alone in my quest to build the coolest fort out of cardboard boxes and construction scraps, or to conquer the highest tree in the neighborhood, or even to capture the biggest craw-dad in the creek. No I had a partner in all my adventures, a boy who lived just down the block. He was not only my neighbor, he was family — my best friend, Cousin E.

E was the son of one of my Mother’s younger sisters, Aunt Lee. She and Uncle Dub had four children, all of whom were either the same age as, or within a year of my older brothers and me. Maggie was the oldest, the same age as my brother David. Mickey was TK’s age, and E was a year older than me. Their youngest, Samantha, was my age, with only a couple of days separating our birthdays. All of E’s siblings were good friends with their counterparts in my family, but E and I were by far the tightest. From the day we moved to Middletown in December 1964, until we left for California in September 1969, we were inseparable.

There will doubtless be many more stories in which I remember my friendship with E, one that sadly has all but completely disappeared since we became adults. I suppose it’s just one of those things, but after I left Indiana, although we exchanged both written and audio cassette “tape letters” to each other constantly for the first five years, high school life found us beginning to move in different directions, personality-wise. Finally, by the time we were in college, even reliving our old memories, complete with the exchange of childhood nicknames and secret handshakes, wasn’t enough to carry a conversation.

Now I promised myself that this story would be all positive, so that’s as far down that dim road as I’m willing to go right now. With that in mind, allow me say that another reason I wanted to write this story was to dedicate it to my friend, Cousin E. Without his companionship there’s no telling how much trouble I might have gotten into during that period of under-supervision in my life.

So here’s to ya Big E. I love you still after all the years that we’ve not spoken. You were an irreplaceable part of my childhood, and although the adventures we shared may not have inspired a Mark Twain novel, they were certainly enough to inspire the imagination and light a fire in the eyes of this scrawny, daydreamer you chose to call your friend.

Bike Hikes
Remember the photo booth picture in the previous chapter that I indicated was the focus of this series? Well the reason for that is that it is the one element that ties together the three separate, yet related stories that I have to tell.

Now that you’ve been properly introduced to my partner in crime, E, the first story is about how that booth photograph came to be taken in the first place. When I came across it again recently in an old scrapbook, it immediately mad me smile, as it has done each and every time I’ve laid my gaze upon it for the past 36 years.

I pulled it out of the bright blue photo scrap book that I had purchased the summer following my Senior in high school. My folks had given me a totally cool Kodak Instamatic Camera set for graduation and I had suddenly begun fancying myself as the next Ansel Adams. The concept of “self-adhesive” clear cellophane cover pages to hold the photos in place has long proved itself to be a dismal failure as breaking technologies will be ranked by historians someday.

The only good news in surveying my long-neglected book of treasured memories is that the yellowed, cracked and peeling cellophane pages didn’t do any actual damage to the photos that lay beneath them. The notable exception being the increased probability that they could now simply fall out or slip down into the binding and become accidentally creased or bent by the closing of the album or the turning of it’s pages.

When I determined to use that wonderful photo as the basis for this blog entry and removed it to scan, I was happy to notice that on the back I had written the month and year that it was taken. “Nov. ’68” was written in felt-tip pen by a much younger hand than the one which now held it. I just stood there grinning like an idiot, remembering that day so long ago.

It was somewhat of a regular adventure that E and I added to our repertoire as thrill-seekers. We just called them “Bike Hikes.” If you didn’t have a bicycle in rural Indiana back in the 60s, and you were a kid, chanced are you weren’t having much fun. We went everywhere on our bikes. They were our chariots to adventure. And unlike today, our parents didn’t ever become particularly concerned about it. As long as we were home by supper, or at least we called and let them know where we were, it was never a problem. Oh I so wish my kids could have grown up in a time where they could have been as carefree as we were back then. It is really a shame that the world has changed so very much.

Bike Hikes weren’t limited to, but usually involved a trip to Anderson. I don’t remember exactly how many E and I took together, but just for the sake of argument, let’s say four or five. Because of the date of the booth photo and the merchandise I was flashing in the two bottom frames, I’m pretty sure we took at least that many. I’m reasonably sure of this because of the fact that we were allowed to go as far as we had to go in order for me to display my precious comic cargo in those images.

To give you a quick lay of the land, Middletown was about six miles due east by southeast from Anderson. My neighborhood was a fairly new sub-division, surrounded by farmland. Our house was a half-block from the highway that led straight into town. It was a busy stretch between Middletown and Anderson, and the road, State Road 236, was one lane in either direction.

The first trip we took into Anderson was probably as much as two years previous to this, and E and I took the highway all the way into town. Needless to say, nobody in my family knew we were going to do that, because I really didn’t think to ask. It’s just the way things were. If we thought about doing something we just did it. I didn’t really have anyone to check in with. Well this time, the doo-doo hit the proverbial circular blade. It seems that E, who did have someone he had to check in with, my Aunt Lee, didn’t tell her the route we were taking either. Once Aunt Lee hit the roof, she told my Dad, so we were both in hot water. Although nothing bad happened out on the highway that day (not even close), we still got in trouble. But heck, we didn’t know. And I guess that’s what really saved us from worse punishment. It was decided that from then on, we would take back roads, not the highway to make our semi-annual adventure trip into Anderson.

Those first couple trips I remember were short and sweet. We went no further than the 109 Bypass, which intersects with St. Road 236 right at the beginning of that six-mile stretch between Anderson and Middletown. So with this later trip in November, the fact that we got as far as we did tells me that we had a lot more liberty to do so at that time, because we had obviously earned it by being safe and responsible.

The fact that I had comic books to show off in two of the booth photo frames is proof of how much leeway we were given by this time, as the place I had to go to buy those particular comics was an additional four miles beyond our previous boundary of the Highway 109 and State road 236 intersection.

On the way back home we stopped at a department store in the shopping center located at that intersection. We each had our picture taken that day. The brand new photo booth machine had just been installed. It was too cool. I'm pretty sure it cost fifty cents to have your picture taken in that thing, because I remember it being real expensive. However I just had to do it to mark the occasion. It was okay to splurge. That department store was the one place we always stopped on all of our Bike Hike journeys. I guess it was our touchstone, our mile marker of achievement.

My biking adventures with E were a great part of that brief period in my early years, although it seemed as though I lived an entire lifetime in those five years.

Next: Story 2 of 3: The Magazine Trading Post
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