Characters in a Small Town
It started with Blabber Lips. My parents and I had recently moved to a small town in Pennsylvania, and this lady with the most spectacularly red protrusive lips attracted my attention. Her ample lips transmogrified her face into a caricature. She must have worked at some nearby factory because I always fell in step with her as I walked home from school.
I was in the first grade and adults attracted my interest in a most peculiar way. I found them much more fascinating than my schoolmates. The lips on this delightful adult were much less instruments of speech than a piece of furniture she wore on her face. They were worthy of beguilement. My mother disagreed. She forbade me to walk home with this marvelous lady. Mom called her a gossip and blabber lips. Well, I didn’t know what a gossip was but I could tell by my mother’s tone that it wasn’t complimentary. I did think my mother should have been more charitable toward my friend’s lips.
My mother was delirious with horror at my continued camaraderie with Blabber Lips. Since my mother had not thought to enlighten me as to the meaning of gossip, I innocently told Blabber Lips (I never called her this to her face.) that my mother had forbidden me to walk along with her because she was a gossip. I’ll never forget how those red appendages formed a huge “Oh!” of surprise at this revelation. Our house, and the end of the street Blabber Lips and I shared, was separated by a bridge crossing the Casselman River. It was at this point Blabber Lips and I would separate so my mother couldn’t very easily witness the continuation of my society with this fascinating lady.
There was a genuine Lady who lived a few blocks up the street from us. Her name was Mrs. Fhauler and she owned a small grocery store. Since it was primarily my duty to make runs to her shop, it was me who cultivated her closest friendship to our family. Mrs. Fhauler subscribed to Life magazine. I would sit in a large foyer entrance to her store and read the latest issue while she filled my mother’s grocery order.
My father had taught me to read before I entered the first grade, so my proficiency in reading was far advanced. Mrs. Fhauler appreciated this, but she did not like the pronunciation of some of my words. For instance: I always asked for ketchup with the emphasis on “chup.” That is just the way our family said ketchup. Unfortunately for me, the brand of ketchup sold by Mrs. Fhauler was spelled “Catsup.” She always held the bottle before my eyes and asked me to spell this loathsome word. She refused to sell this red condiment to me until I pronounced the word correctly, according to the combination of sounds printed on the bottle.
The building that housed her store was of great interest to me. The floors were of shiny hardwood and inside the foyer was a huge beautiful staircase to a second floor that Mrs. Fhauler let out to tenants. I desperately wanted to climb this staircase and discover the mysteries above. I never had this opportunity. But, Mrs. Fhauler did take me on a tour of her private quarters behind the store. We spent a great deal of time in her bedroom as she shared with me pictures of her family, pieces of favorite jewelry and every other item in her ownership she thought I might value. I was enthralled and pleased that she thought so highly of me as to share these beloved and private objects.
In fact, Mrs. Fhauler thought so highly of me that she requested permission from my parents to take me to a Mother/Daughter Dinner being held at her church. My parents were equally impressed by her high regard of their daughter, so consent was instantaneous. Mrs. Fhauler purchased a new dress and a pair of white gloves for me to wear to this dinner. Before the illustrious evening she also sat me down at her own dinner table and taught me proper dinner manners. I was quite embarrassed when, during the dinner, I used my thumb to push some elusive peas into my spoon. The lack of propriety did not go unnoticed. Mrs. Fhauler quickly taught me that the proper way to capture resistant morsels was to use the knife to push the food onto the appropriate utensil.
There was one other lady with whom I became acquainted while living on the south-side of town. Her name was Vera. She worked at the Dairy Dale Restaurant four buildings up from our house. She took a special liking to me, so I always tried to capture her attention when I stopped for an ice cream cone. She would fill the cone to its greatest capacity.
I also liked it when she was my waitress when I dined at this restaurant. My parents never ate dinner out, but they allowed me to go out to dinner at this restaurant with my friends or cousins. But, oh how abysmally Mrs. Fhauler failed in her lessons of proper deportment in the area of public food consumption. Invariably, my first act was to pour sugar from the glass container into my hand and lick it off. In those days sugar didn’t come in individual packets. The waitresses chastised me for this glaringly rude abuse of their sweetener. Vera was much more tolerant. Once, when I spilled the entire contents of the container onto the floor, it was she who came running to clean the mess before other employees became aware of my latest errant behavior.
I think if it hadn’t been for Vera I would have been banished from this diner. It was she who also intervened in an altercation between me and another waitress. I ordered a cheese sandwich. In our home, a cheese sandwich was always a grilled cheese sandwich. I wasn’t aware that some people buttered their bread and slapped a piece of hard cheese between the slices and ate such a repulsive substance of nourishment. I ordered a cheese sandwich and it was the latter that came gracelessly to my table. I was indignant. The waitress was equally indignant. She proceeded to clear up the matter of how a cheese sandwich differed from a grilled cheese sandwich. Without the intervention of Vera, I would have been forced to consume my cheese sandwich! Vera politely grilled my order. Vera was quite a character. When she wasn’t working, she spent the majority of her time sitting on a barstool in one of our town’s barrooms.
Then, in the middle of my third grade year of school, we moved to the part of town called “The Bottom.” This was quite literally the end of town. The second house down from ours was the last house within the township. It was also the home of another town character, Cruella. Cruella lived alone, and in all the years she lived in that house we never saw any friends or family visiting. Just the house alone was enough to cause some curiosity. It lacked siding and was a plain board house.
Cruella was convinced that, if we kids in the neighborhood, rode our bikes or tricycles on her sidewalk, we were going to break it. Children are notoriously cruel. We deliberately rode our bicycles down her piece of pavement. Invariably, Cruella would catapult herself out her front door screaming at us to get off her sidewalk. We would laugh with great glee while, poor Cruella, in a state of hysteria, would threaten to beat us if she could catch us. Sometimes, we would try to be very quiet and sneak our forbidden rides on her pedestrian path, but she always caught us. I swear she must have sat at her window all the live long day watching for us. Much to the consternation of the neighbors, Cruella also fed about thirty or more stray cats.
My next new friend in “The Bottom” was a sincere gentleman. His name was Cass and he was blind. On the bottoms of his shoes he wore cleats that made a loud grating sound on the paved alley beside our house. I could hear him coming a block away; I would run to meet him. I had great respect for Cass. Everyday he walked down our sidewalk to the outside of town. He told me he had a relative, who lived outside the borough, with whom he shared dinner everyday. I would link my arm in his, (he never used a cane) and we would share a companionable walk to the end of Cruella’s sidewalk. Cruella didn’t mind this.
I was always amazed that he recognized me before I spoke. He would always say, “Here is my little lady.” One day I waited for Cass to come and he didn’t. He didn’t come the next day, or the day after that. I found out he had died. I don’t know if I ever stopped missing him.
Life is always bittersweet. It would be a perfect world if there were no sadness to disrupt our joy. But life isn’t perfect. Another friend acquired in “The Bottom” was a beautiful woman who remained a mystery to me. She doesn’t qualify as “a character” but my memories of the adults who peopled my young life would be incomplete without the inclusion of Cookie.
I met her one day when I was riding my bicycle behind her house. She was sitting on a swing beneath a grape arbor, and I was instantly attracted to her incredible beauty. Cookie had pale skin, black hair and lovely violet eyes. She always wore a diaphanous white nightgown with a matching negligee. Cookie was usually accompanied by a Cocker Spaniel named Christmas. In the summer, I visited Cookie everyday. We would sit on the swing in silence. I knew there was something most strange about Cookie, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I certainly knew it was odd not to converse. Instinctively, I kept our friendship secret. I feared that somehow discovery would take her away from me. She seemed to genuinely enjoy my silent companionship.
But one day she wasn’t beneath the arbor. I rode my bike to the front of her house and saw her sitting at an opened upstairs window. She didn’t speak but she motioned with her hand, giving me permission to sit on the swing under the arbor. I preferred to avoid those lonesome vines. Everyday I would ride to the front of her house, and everyday she would be sitting at the same upstairs window. I would stand, straddling my bike, and gaze up at her, silently wishing for her to join me under the arbor. I only asked her once, and she just shook her head no. A few weeks, after the beginning of this change, Cookie committed suicide. I was devastated. My parents never knew, but I went to the funeral home. It was a closed casket, but nonetheless I paid my respects and said goodbye. It took me about thirty-five years to come to grips with this loss. I finally wrote a poem and dedicated it to Cookie.
If Cookie was a great lady, and I believe she was, then Colonel Foy was her male counterpart. He lived up the street along the main highway through town. He spent a great deal of his time working outside in his lawn. When my mother or grandmother sent me to a grocery store, just on the other side of this main highway, I would often meet Colonel Foy. He very nearly bowed with his gentlemanly manner.
His house was a mansion with a glass staircase. In the naivety of my youth, I thought he was in love with me, and would prove to be the Prince Charming who would one day carry me off on a white horse. We always enjoyed some brief conversation to and from my walk to the store. Colonel Foy particularly appreciated a floppy brimmed hat I often wore through the summer. Eventually he married a woman not a whole lot older than me. I disliked her.
I promised myself that I would not exclude the characters within my own family. One of them was my mother’s sister, Bonnie. Bonnie liked to live life on the wild side. In the early-mid sixties Bonnie, unknowingly, married a Russian Spy who told her he was in the U.S. to train for the U.S. Olympic ski team. Imagine, Bonnie fell for that. Bonnie found out that he, at the very least, lied about that. For Christmas she gave him a surprise present of a weekend at a local Ski Resort. He didn't even know how to put the skis on.
I only met him once. I was probably about eight years old. It was Christmas, and I was very annoyed with him because Mom had bought me a bunch of grapes; he ate every one of them. It wasn't long after that when either the FBI or the CIA found him. What a charade. My family felt disgraced and never discussed it. Mom keeps an old, brittle and yellowed newspaper clipping of the article hidden away in her dresser drawer – amongst her panties. I used to sneak into her room and dig it out just to read about the grape snaffling slime bag.
Next, Bonnie married a serious biker from some gang. She purchased white leather pants, boots, jacket and helmet. She looked like a kitchen appliance. Bonnie also spent a lot of time sitting on the stools of the local barrooms. I think she spent just as much time falling off of them too. Her ordinary intake of alcohol was a fifth of Scotch a day.
So help me God, I am not lying when I expunge myself from this familial propensity to drink. My mother is a character, but she didn’t inherit this love for alcohol either. But, her biological mother did. The woman I called “Aunt Cot” was my biological, maternal grandmother. The woman I called “Grandma” was my biological aunt. This is the story:
Grandma was unable to have children. My “Aunt Cot” was quite proficient in this regard, and she had already given birth to two daughters when my mother was born. She offered my mother up for adoption to her sister, my grandmother, and her husband, Simon. Grandma and Simon were respectable people. They had no inclination toward the abuse of intoxicating potables.
I’m quite certain that, at least, one of the town taverns had the imprint of Aunt Cot’s butt on the stool too – probably right beside Bonnie’s and biker Spongepants Bob. Bonnie, her gigolo and Aunt Cot were nightly regulars. Of course, I never accompanied them on these excursions to the local tap houses; cousins kept me up-to-date about any recent inebriated inspired behavior.
Only three things stick out in my mind. Bonnie usually weaved and wobbled on her bar stool until her biker buddy slung her across the seat of his motorcycle and swept her home like a good Blended Scotch in shining armor. Once, while Aunt Cot was on a bender and went to Grandma’s house, she and my grandmother got into a fight; Aunt Cot broke Grandma’s collarbone. On a more mundane occasion, Aunt Cot chucked herself out the door of a barroom, only to find her feet situated beside a nice pair of slip on shoes. She was ecstatic. They fit, so she wore them home.
My mother was a character in her own right. She had the worst, most merciless and raucous phonation when she would screech, “Caryn, it’s time to get the hell home!” I was always very nearly home. I was rarely allowed out of our yard except to ride my bike around the block. Back then, The Bottom was filled with children. They always had to come to my house to play, and then we were not allowed to communicate above a whisper. On those very few occasions when I was allowed to go “up the alley” to play a game of four square ball with the gang, my mother would decide when I had, had enough fun.
There was a single window in the upstairs hallway of our house that had a view of our backyard and alley. My tiny 5’1” mother had to stand on her toes to peek just her eyes above the windowsill, like the eyes of an alligator swimming barely beneath the water. Her vocalization had no trouble transmitting for a quarter mile. Sometimes, I was so embarrassed I would say to my pals, “Wow, I’m going home before my mother yells like that.” Of course, I fooled no one. I was the only kid named Caryn.
Mom was always behind the times. Have you ever heard of the men’s clothing store named “Today’s Man?” Well . . . if there had been a counterpart store for “Yesterday’s Woman” that is where my mother would have shopped – with pride. When hemlines were short, my mother wore her skirts and dresses at or below the knee. When hemlines dropped to the calf or ankle, Mom had her skirts hemmed two inches above the knee.
Her own choice was bad enough, but when she tried to inflict the same onto me there was war. Many evenings found my mother, with a mouth full of pins, turning up the hem of my skirt or dress. She never made them short enough. It was the year of the MINI SKIRT. I wasn’t about to go to school with my hemline to the knee. She would allow a hem two inches above the knee joint. I insisted on five. Thinking she was wise, Mom decided that she would allow my grandmother to be the arbiter for this decision. Grandma lived downstairs, so I sought her out after I hiked the hem to about six inches above the knee. I knew what Grandma would do. She asked where Mom wanted the hem, and then, where did I want the hemline. She would pin the dress or skirt at a compromised length and I ended up with the five inches above the knee I wanted.
Thank God, Mom couldn’t impose upon my face her choice of eyeglasses. At some time in the past, more distant than I could remember, black cat eye glasses must have been a smashing fashion hit. Mom was still wearing them in the 70s and 80s. She refused to give up those glasses. She wore those same frames for over fifteen years. What kudos to the manufacturer. Every time she saw her optometrist, she insisted that he take her own frames and have the new lenses installed. By the late 80s, even my father could no longer tolerate this antiquated image. He teased her relentlessly; Dad loved to tell her she looked like a kamikaze pilot. Oh, Mom would seethe.
We finally found relief in the industry of eyeglasses. One day the optometrist delivered the most hateful news to my mother. Lenses could no longer be manufactured in the shape of cat eyes. Mom was forced to purchase a newer model frame. You would have thought the world had come to an end. Mom despised her new glasses. Back then, in the early 70s through the late 80s, Mom was a character in The Bottom.
Now, Mom is in her late sixties and has no trouble fitting in with the rest of the world. Her eyeglass frames are perfectly fine for fashion. She no longer wears skirts or dresses, forsaking them for sweatpants and sweatshirts in winter, and lighter weight slacks and pullovers for summer. Even her false teeth have a proper fit. Oh, and on those few occasions when she may be required to dress up for, say a funeral, she always asks me if her clothes “clash.” I have never had the heart to tell her she is using the antonym.
Town characters were not restricted to the South-Side or The Bottom. There were others to be found just about anywhere you looked. One of them was Bobby Morgan. Bobby was a mentally challenged young man. He was fortunate enough to have been taken in by a woman who cared for him as if he were her own son. Bobby was in his twenties.
He was delightful. Every political campaign season, he had the unique ability to recite, verbatim, every speech he heard. It was incredible. He would walk through the streets of downtown Meyersdale loudly reciting. At night, he would carry a lantern and recite some piece of poetry that included the stanza "and each one will carry his own lamp." I loved him.
Bobby was an enthusiastic individual. He was never in a foul mood. Local businessmen would hire him to clean their store windows. Those who spurned him, and they were few, deprived themselves of a joyful, congenial friend. My mother was one of those. She always did try to avoid Bobby, but one day, after he told her she had pretty legs, Mom really avoided poor Bobby. His compliment was innocent, and my mother did have beautiful legs. Bobby’s feelings would be hurt if he discerned that someone either didn’t like him or was making fun of him. Still, he was always happy and laughing.
Until his caregiver died. Bobby was probably in his thirties when she passed away. It nearly killed him. No one saw him after the funeral, which was quite odd because he was out on the streets everyday, and he was most conspicuous. Finally, someone went to the home of his dead caregiver. Bobby was found in a piteous state, ill to the point of near death. He was rushed to the local hospital where a friend of mine was on the crash team that took care of him that night. When Bobby came around, he sat up on the gurney and began to vomit. In the middle of retching, he managed to say, "Oh, it is so good to be alive!" Yet, he was so very ill. What an appreciation for life. What an exceptional man.
Unfortunately, after the death of his caregiver, Bobby suffered a drastic change in personality precipitated by a gang of degenerate hoodlums. But, I’ll save that sad story for later. For now, you will have to be content to hear about another town character my father befriended.
The fellow’s name was Jack Engle, but everyone called him Speedy. He didn’t acquire this name because he was speedy; he was quite the opposite, slow to move and slow to learn. Although Speedy aggravated my father, Dad felt sorry for him so he had regular association with this most unusual man. Speedy stopped by our house at least once a week. Dad took him hunting and fishing. Good Lord! The thought of Speedy with a weapon was downright terrifying. He could have been dangerous with a fishing pole. Once he showed up at our house with a permit to carry a pistol and some long discarded policeman’s badge, claiming he found a job protecting the citizens in town.
On another occasion, he appeared in a distressed state of mind, carrying a letter from Social Security Disability. He couldn’t read it with any comprehension, yet he was convinced it was a letter informing him that he would no longer receive Government checks. Poor Speedy kept proclaiming, “My eatin’ days are over!” It took my father days to convince Speedy that the letter stated no such thing. Everyday, until he was finally subdued, Speedy came to our home making the same proclamation, “My eatin’ days are over!”
There are numerous examples of exchanges between my father and Speedy that portray the total helplessness and intellectual challenge of poor Speedy’s scant mental acumen. Speedy purchased a new pair of hunting boots. When he and my father reached their hunting destination Speedy requested my father’s assistance in putting these new boots on his feet. He said he couldn’t tell the left boot from the right.
I witnessed this conversation. Dad handed Speedy one of the boots and told him it was the right boot. Speedy put the boot on. Then, he picked up the other boot, showed it to my father and asked, “Which foot does this one go on?” I swear to God. My father was very annoyed. His response was “Holy hell Speedy, how many feet do you have?” But Speedy would have given you the shirt off his back. Such intellectual kindness is far superior to any I.Q. rating.
Speedy was chums with two other town characters, Porky and Beans. Porky and Speedy were somehow related. When Speedy wasn’t available to take Porky to a town twenty-one miles away where there was a State Hospital, Porky would hitchhike. He always caught a ride. The State Hospital housed the debutantes of the Mental Health Community. It was here that Porky met Beans and they fell in love.
Beans was an unlovely sort of woman, and when she walked her body tilted to one side as though she were standing on the deck of a sinking ship. But, to Porky his Beans was the Heinz of all available debs. Her real name was Jeanie; she didn’t acquire the name Beans until her release from the hospital shortly after making the acquaintance of Porky. She and Porky could be seen, arms linked, walking all about town or thumbing their way to another.
On one of these jaunts to the State Hospital, Speedy fell hopelessly in love with a woman whose condition stood her no chance of release from custody. Speedy mourned the love loss of his life. It was really very sad. One day, late in the evening, Speedy came to visit in a distraught frame of mind. He told us that he couldn’t forget this lady. He said he couldn’t even read his comic books at night without seeing her face on the page. And he reminded us, “And you know how much I love my comic books.” Eventually, Speedy forgot about her and he, too, had a piteous end to his life. I’ll share that later, along with the end story of Bobby Morgan.
Oh, I can’t be remiss and forget the taxi driver’s family. There was only one taxi in our town. You called ahead and scheduled your ride a few days in advance to ensure your transportation. The couple who drove the taxi was ordinary enough, but the rest of their family was uncommon. These folks lived far out on the south-side of town. I suppose dishwashers weren’t an everyday appliance in those days of the mid-sixties. But, the Mognets found their own way of coping with the daily routine of washing dishes. At the end of their meal, each one licked their plate and utensils clean as a whistle. Then they were turned upside down on the table ready for the next meal.
Meyersdale also had its share of ever vigilant characters who spent their time in our little Uptown District which was comprised of a Five and Dime, two drugstores, an H.P. Department store, a couple of hardware stores, Kent’s Men’s Clothing Store, Baldwin’s Shoe Store, two Women’s Clothing Boutiques, a posh Tot and Teen’s clothing store, insurance offices, a jewelry store (which I will leave unnamed because it was really a front for suppliers of recreational drugs), a few restaurants and two Pizza Parlors, one of which was a front for the Mafia. Meyersdale also had a few competitive “filling stations” as gas stations were then called. There must have been half a dozen little Mom and Pop stores. They sold groceries on credit, and when you paid your bill, you got a good sized bag of candy bars out of appreciation for your business. I just loved this.
One of the drugstores had an old time soda fountain. This was a good place for a first date. And, if your date was smart, he went to Pasquale’s Greenhouse and bought you flowers. We also had a small diner that served tasty freeze ice cream through one of those little windows. You could also go inside and sit at a counter or at one of about six tables for a sit down lunch. Of course, there were as many barrooms and taverns as an ungodly number of churches. We had a shoddy Pool Hall with a corrupt reputation. There were a few car dealerships. We boasted two banks.
The most famous place to hang out was the Stagecoach Inn. It was considered the most sophisticated place in town. Among its patrons, it included the crowd who used drugs and the select businessmen who sold them. I was forbidden to even peer into the windows of this establishment. Since the entrance was below street level, I never dared to take even the quickest little peek. It still nettles me that my husband of thirty-four years, after a stint in Vietnam and before I met him, hung out there with great regularity. An entire part of my life was underprivileged due to my ignorance of this public institution’s singular worldliness.
Some of this deficiency was ameliorated when Bruce and I started to date. He was twenty-four and I was eighteen. The most distinctive and classiest of taverns was The White House. At least once a week, Bruce escorted me to this fashionable eating house. George, the owner, permitted me to order alcoholic beverages. As a matter of fact, I was his “taster.” When George would mix some new exotic cocktail, I was the first to imbibe this addition to his ever-growing list of cocktails.
At any given time, there were probably at least two or three other businesses trying to flourish. Now, as I write this little story with some thirty years between me and its current state of nothingness, Meyersdale has changed considerably. There are few stores left and the town has rather melted like the cheese in my grilled cheese sandwich. My point is this: those characters who found gratification hanging around uptown had a number of places to wander and socialize.
One character never left the uptown area. Her name was Rosie. I guess she had a serious nicotine addiction, but the inhospitableness of pauperism prevented her from purchasing cigarettes. Rosie had a sharp eye for any discarded cigarette butt to be found on the pavement. She was a nondescript little woman. Perhaps that was her disguise as she reaped the streets. There were those young men who found great fun in smoking half a cigarette, and then throwing the other half into her path just so they could watch her swoop down upon the butt like a Coopers hawk catching a mouse. I thought this was quite mean. My then future husband was much more kind. He would offer her a few whole cigarettes and occasionally an entire pack. Of course, I didn’t know that then.
If Rosie was always to be found uptown, and she was, then another chap, who was a friend of mine, was to be found everywhere. His name was Paul Fisher. I kid you not. It didn’t seem to matter where you were, Paul was there too. And he had the keen curiosity of a newspaper reporter. Paul was also very well-liked and friendly. He did later become a news reporter for our local newspaper. There isn’t much else to say about Paul except that I rather miss him.
I do not, however, miss Mr. Roger Lickty. This featherless bi-ped fell abysmally short in the area of brain activity. And, he was a character. Roger, who was nicknamed Maharajah because he drove a big fancy car, would ride around and around my block just waiting to pounce on me as soon as I would poke my nose out the door. He was my most persistent and willing suitor. But he didn’t suit me. My grandmother, with whom we lived, was my savior. When Roger caught me, which he invariably did, Grandma would call for me to come inside for something or other. I could make my escape with gracefulness and tact.
But this blockhead could not get the picture. I could have pasted a huge billboard in town that said, “NO, I, CARYN BROWN, WILL NOT DATE MR. ROGER MAHARAJAH LICKTY!!!!” and this dangerously stupid, anthropoid simpleton would have not gotten the message – not even in a bottle.
Roger would even call me on the phone. In those days we suffered without caller I.D. His attempts at speech communication were insufferable. Roger was incapable of forming a meaningful composition of articulation. He was so unbelievably, nauseatingly boring he could think of nothing to discuss. Roger’s futile attempts at conversation constituted Zippo. I don’t know what could have lit a fire under any intellect he may have possessed.
He would try to tell jokes. I never once got the punch line. First of all, his voice was high, nasal and toneless, which was surprising because he was a big man, not yet fat, but with a middle hinting toward impending amplitude. Roger would already be losing control of himself at the beginning of the joke. By the punch line, he was braying like a donkey. Then, when he had to intake some air for the next bray, he would make loud snorting sounds. No single word was distinguishable.
One time we shared a few words that could be called “conversation.” He asked me why I would not go out with him. I told him we had nothing in common. Roger asked me how I could know that without giving him a chance. I replied that I could tell by his jokes that he would not interest me. When we hung up the phone, Roger was in a whimpering panic, wondering if I would talk to him the next time he came around my house.
Not only did I have to dodge Rodg, there were The Three Wise Men who hung around the Five and Dime on Saturdays. One of them had dirty blond hair and seemed to know some English, although it’s a good thing he was born an American citizen. I don’t think he would have passed the test. His handle was Duck.
The second of these sagacious men always wore an army jacket. His moniker was Soldier Boy. If Soldier Boy was the Man of Arms, then Pheonie, the third fellow, was the Man of Letters, and he seemed to hold their nominal collective intellect. It was he who always made the troupe’s decisions. Pheonie would decide if it was time to move one block further down from the Five and Dime. Pheonie made the decisions about which females they would follow and applaud with wolf whistles. In other words, he was the choreographer for the weekend show of The Three Wise Men. They amused themselves by following me around the Five and Dime as I scurried between the isles hoping to dodge Duck and his two sidekicks.
I wish we could also dodge the sadness in our own lives and protect the lives of those special occupants in our hearts. But not everything in life has a good ending; we can’t even expect it, we can only hope for it. After Bobby Morgan’s caregiver died, The Hetz Brothers, four of the most cynical, envious and mean of men, corrupted Bobby who, at that time, was in a state of extreme vulnerability. They taught him the vilest of language. Bobby had that astounding ability to remember things he heard and to recite verbatim, so it didn’t take long for these contemptible, bastardly men to shatter Bobby’s personality. It was as though shards of Bobby were scattered, haunting all those places where we had loved to see him – washing windows, walking the streets reciting, chatting with the town’s citizens.
My husband and I lived in one of the few Penthouses in the uptown area. Bobby had shared a large part of my every day life. We were friends. Nearly everyday he was washing windows. Our uptown area was so small that every time I left our apartment it was inevitable that Bobby and I would meet one another. Our conversations were brief. Bobby was quite diligent and enthusiastic in his work; he didn’t take time to chat when he was busy. But, I regarded him as a special friend. I wish he could have lived his life out in our little home town. Were it not for the Hetz brothers, he would have.
Once The Hetz brothers gained control of Bobby, he was rarely seen in the uptown area. He was more likely to be seen at a bar along the main highway into town. When I did see Bobby uptown, he was impatient, rude and surly. He had been given distorted and immoral lessons in sex; he had been taught to disrespect women. I had been told he now had a repertoire of perversive jokes. I wouldn’t know. He had stopped speaking to me.
Sadly, while inside the bar, Bobby began to regularly expose himself. Eventually the police intervened, and Bobby was taken away to a group home in another town. Before he left, he had been downright hostile towards me. I knew why, but I’ll save that for the conclusion of my narrative. I would like to exit my story on a more lighthearted note. There usually is one.
Speedy was also taken away. He lost his mind; his new home was the Mental Hospital twenty-one miles away where he and Porky had socialized and fallen in love. Heartbreakingly, and in the greatest of irony, Speedy starved himself to death. The man who came to our home worried that his “eatin’ days were over” now refused to eat. He recognized none of his friends. There were many people in our town who mourned his death.
The betrayal of Bobby Morgan should never have happened. Those who are intellectually kind and cheerful, those who are child-like and malleable, merit our love, kindness, respect .and generosity. They have so much to offer us. They teach us to discard our inhibitions toward strangers. They teach us loyalty in our friendships.
Sometimes life is ugly and there is no humor or satire to be found.. But, with all fairness, I did promise to conclude with a bit of drollery. Here it is.
The Hetz brothers cherished an intense dislike for me. Two of the brothers were older than me, one was my age and the fourth was younger. The two youngest of the brothers did make a futile attempt to acquire some Christian decency. One summer they attended Vacation Bible School at my church. I was sitting at the same table, but on the opposite side directly across from them. It was obvious they were confused about some assignment. I didn’t know them, but it was apparent they put up a united front against outsiders. I was a little afraid and shy of the brothers, but I was sincere in my spiritual endeavors, so I offered them assistance if they needed it. What a mistake.
Years later, after I graduated from high school, and was working full time and living in an uptown apartment, I frequented a favorite restaurant for dinner. The four Hetz brothers were usually there too. They made snide remarks to and about me. Their hatred was so obvious it was downright embarrassing. Occasionally, my fiancé, Bruce, would join me at dinner. Then, the Hetz brothers kept their nasty comments to themselves, but I still endured the dirtiest of looks.
After Bruce and I married we developed an evening custom. After dinner we would take a seven mile walk that took us to the edge and beyond the south-side of town. Right past the Hetzs family home. Most of the time they were sitting on the porch, all four of them. The intensity of their animosity could be felt as we passed their abode where they sat like overgrown trolls. There was usually a little girl with them, and she always seemed to want to run down the sidewalk towards us in greeting. She was smiling, excited and happy, but there must have been some command from the four nasty gnomes which prevented her from ever finishing that run down the sidewalk or calling a cheery hello.
Until one day when she was outside alone. This delightful little girl with such innocent exuberance took eager pleasure at being able to finish that run down the sidewalk to make my acquaintance. And, the entire time she ran toward me, she kept calling to me, “Miss Priss, Miss Priss!” Bruce and I burst into laughter. We knew precisely what the Hetz brothers still thought of me. What a hoot.
There is one final character – Fat Grew. Fat Grew was not a corpulent man. Quite the opposite. He was of medium height and slim. His hair and beard were gray, and he wore his hair rather long, his beard quite scruffy and his clothing bedraggled. Fat looked like Buffalo Bill, and he referred to himself as such. Fat owned a piece of property outside of town. His house sat on a little knoll, and below the house there was an old garage with the gas pumps removed. Fat advertised the old garage as a “Novelty and Dry Goods Store.”
This might have been right handy for the farmers in the area if he really had sold such dry goods as corn, hay or chop, but about the only thing Fat had for sale were old deer hides he bought from local hunters, mud flaps and hubcaps, of which he had a most prodigious number. Ole’ Fat was a shrewd businessman. His supplier for the hubcaps and mudflaps were the most dependable potholes left by the many coal trucks that traveled the main highway. He could spot their glistening orbs a quarter mile distant.
These hubcaps were given the most illustrious exhibit at his novel ex-service center. They were strung by wire and hung inside the windows like sun catchers. There weren’t enough windows for his display; the remaining plenteous expose’ hung from trees or leaned against the outside walls of his novelty shop. You could never go about your patronage without protective gear. On a sunny day, it was imperative to provide yourself with protective eye gear. The flashing of light off metal was like the eruption of a solar flare. On a gusty day, you might have been eager for a pair of ear plugs. The clanging of the hubcaps was unequal to any set of wind chimes you may have ever heard. If you were easily spooked, the line, “For whom the bell tolls” could have made you more than a bit ill at ease.
Someone sold Fat Grew a set of Texas steer long horns. These were his cherished possession. Fat had them mounted on the grill of his car. Each horn sported a spur, giving Fat a pair of goading, nonconformist hood ornaments that turned sharp corners before he did. But, it was unlikely that any driver would have missed Fat’s approach around such a corner anyway. His advance was announced by the clucking chickens he kept in a coop on the roof of his car. A careful driver could only hope their sharp-sightedness would not be clouded by a palisade of feathers. To ensure his own able parking, Fat had curb finders all around his car – ten of them. He was probably one of those kids who, for sound effects, clipped a piece of cardboard to the spokes of their bicycle tires.
Most of these people, with the exception of the Hetz brothers, are gone. Meyersdale has passed its heyday. Somehow, with the closure of most of the uptown area, the people who added color to our town also left with no one to take their place. My parents still live there, so I have left a small connection to Meyersdale. I’m grateful for what the characters in this small town bequeathed my remembering. I probably would not be the same person had it not been for them. I wonder if my current neighbors would find me to be a character straight out of the town of Meyersdale?